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[l] at 7/9/20 8:12am

Trump’s much-ballyhooed “Operation Warp Speed” unveiled in May of this year to produce and deploy a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. is shaping up to be yet another scheme to funnel millions of dollars into a singularly corrupt pharmaceutical entity with deep ties to Robert Kadlec, the serving Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), who is in charge of the Strategic National Stockpile and is the architect of the legislative edifice which currently governs the nation’s public-private partnership (PPP) approach to health emergencies.

The task force’s latest and largest grant was awarded to Maryland-based Novavax, Inc. to cover late-stage testing and manufacturing of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Only the sixth company to receive federal funds from Trump’s program, the $1.6 billion infusion is intended to result in the production of 100 million doses by the start of 2021, according to Novavax CEO, Stanley Erck.

The other companies favored by Operation Warp Speed include AstraZeneca, which received $1.2 billion last May to develop its AZD1222 vaccine; ModernaTX, Inc. who was awarded nearly $550 million; Merck and IAVI with the relatively paltry sum of $38 million; Sanofi’s Protein Sciences got a little over $30 million and finally, Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary, Janssen Research & Development, LLC obtained $456 million back in February for its Ad26-based vaccine technology platform, which will ostensibly “maximize the probability of a successful vaccine and rapid deployment within the US and globally.”

Of these, the three largest award recipients have direct partnerships to manufacture their vaccines with one company. Emergent Biosolutions, who was awarded a $628 million dollar contract by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to provide “manufacturing support” for the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines across the U.S., has entered into agreements with Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to provide contract development and manufacturing (CDMO) services.

A March article in the Washington Business Journal characterizes Emergent Biosolutions’ contract with Novavax as hitting the pharmaceutical company’s “sweet spot of teaming up with the federal government to address public health threats, with major contracts to fuel the national stockpile […].” Indeed, Emergent’s track record with the federal government goes back decades, but it is anything but encouraging. Originally BioPort, Emergent Biosolutions was formed in the late 90’s for the sole purpose of acquiring the only anthrax vaccine manufacturing plant in the United States, which was then owned by the state of Michigan.

The events that subsequently transpired after the acquisition would reveal a scandalous pattern of cronyism, incompetence and outright criminality as the company siphoned off millions of dollars in federal contracts that went unfulfilled, to the point that the Pentagon was on the verge of rescinding the relationship and revoking their exclusive license for the production of the anthrax vaccine in August, 2001.

After the infamous anthrax “attacks” later that month, their license was reinstated for good and one of the most high-profile suspects surrounding Amerithrax, Jerome Hauer, would join their board of directors where remains to this day.

 

Emerging Questions

Serious questions surrounding Emergent Biosolutions’ history and links to Kadlec have surfaced as a result of this author’s collaborative investigation with Whitney Webb and subsequent investigations by the Washington Post and at least two letters from Congressional leaders inquiring about Kadlec’s failure to reveal his conflict of interests with Emergent Biosolutions and his dubious actions in his capacity of ASPR in relation to recent unilateral changes to BARDA policies.

So far, Kadlec has not publicly responded to questions regarding his ties to Emergent Biosolutions founder Fuad El-Hibri, with whom he co-founded East West Protections, a company that has provided biodefense services to countries around the world. Nor have issues raised by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez and Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., been addressed about the removal of former BARDA director Rick Bright and a subsequent “wholesale shift in strategy” at the agency tasked with procurement of medical materiel, drugs, and vaccines for the Strategic National Stockpile.

Fuad El-Hibri

MD Gov. Ehrlich, right, shakes hand with Fuad El-Hibri at a cutting ceremony in 2004, when Emergent was still making anthrax vaccines. Grant L. Gursky | AP

Among the most telling questions posed by Pascrell, Jr., and Menendez in their letter to Kadlec and acting BARDA director, Gary L. Disbrow revolves around BARDA’s role in Operation Warp Speed and whether or not any funding has been diverted from BARDA to that program.

The monies being disbursed by Operation Warp Speed shows clear signs of some sort of tacit agreement between Kadlec’s old friends at Emergent Biosolutions and the presumably independent “Manhattan Project-style” COVID-19 vaccine development program headed by the former head of research and development for the world’s largest vaccine company and a military general with expertise in logistics.

The story of how Emergent Biosolutions obtained and maintained a U.S. monopoly on the anthrax vaccine has been covered in detail in the Engineering Contagion series. It is a tale of corruption at the highest levels of both the public and private sectors, which exposes the vested interests of a shadowy cabal of global pharmaceutical firms and their agents in government who have been working in concert for decades to establish a mandated global market for vaccines and other drugs.

Kadlec’s central role in the execution of this scheme is only now beginning to be examined and the near-total grip of Emergent Biosolutions over the flow of federal dollars in relation to these biotech initiatives has been completely ignored by the media. One notable exception might be the financial press, which has been stealthily offering positive investment tips about Emergent, calling it an “under-the-radar stock,” which has “become the go-to manufacturing partner for companies looking to develop vaccines for the coronavirus.”

 

The Money Trail

As usual, following the money usually takes us to the center of the real action. In the case of the COVID-19 vaccine, Emergent’s “go-to” status is borne out by this tried and true method, and when we survey the agreements already in place with the companies most likely to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The value of Johnson & Johnson’s contract with Emergent Biosolutions, for instance, matches up almost exactly with the $456 million grant it received from the Trump administration; Emergent’s five-year manufacturing agreement with the American multinational is worth approximately $480 million.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate, which also received considerable funding from Operation Warp Speed, likewise reached an $87 million agreement with Emergent Biosolutions to manufacture its vaccine doses for the U.S. market. The contract also includes contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) services to manufacture the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm’s goal of more than “2 billion doses per year by 2021.”

Together with the Novavax contract, which has been in place since March, Emergent Biosolutions has positioned itself as the only known vaccine manufacturer for three of the six companies in the running to be approved for one. Only Moderna has an agreement with a different manufacturer, while the remaining vaccine candidates are being developed by companies with their own manufacturing capabilities.

Novavax says that it is “in the process of transferring its vaccine technology to an unnamed contract manufacturer that has two large manufacturing facilities” to meet its goal of producing 50 million doses a month in the United States and that Emergent is only tasked with helping with the manufacturing of smaller late-stage testing doses.

Emergent Biosolutions, however, has a total of five manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and a $628 million-dollar contract with the federal government to scale production of the successful vaccine candidate to the tune of “tens to hundreds of millions of doses.” Given the sordid history of incompetence and corruption of the company once called BioPort, it would not be surprising if Novavax would prefer to keep the full extent of that partnership secret.

Feature photo | From left, assistant secretary for preparedness and response for the Department of Health and Human Services Robert Kadlec, President Donald Trump, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and Vice President Mike Pence watch. Evan Vucci | AP

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

The post Firm Linked to HHS’ Robert Kadlec Poised to Become Exclusive Manufacture of COVID-19 Vaccines appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, COVID-19, emergent biosolutions, Operation Warp Speed, Robert Kadlec, Vaccine]

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[l] at 7/8/20 1:16pm

Wednesday, July 1, was meant to be the day on which the Israeli government officially annexed 30% of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and the Jordan Valley. This date, however, came and went and annexation was never actualized.

“I don’t know if there will be a declaration of sovereignty today,” said Israeli Foreign Minister, Gabi Ashkenazi, with reference to the self-imposed deadline declared earlier by Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. An alternative date was not immediately announced.

But does it really matter?

Whether Israel’s illegal appropriation of Palestinian land takes place with massive media fanfare and a declaration of sovereignty, or whether it happens incrementally over the course of the coming days, weeks, and months, Israel has, in reality, already annexed the West Bank – not just 30% of it but, in fact, the whole area.

It is critical that we understand such terms as ‘annexation’, ‘illegal’, ‘military occupation’, and so on, in their proper contexts.

For example, international law deems that all of Israel’s Jewish settlements, constructed anywhere on Palestinian land occupied during the 1967 war, are illegal.

Interestingly, Israel, too, uses the term ‘illegal’ with reference to settlements, but only to ‘outposts’ that have been erected in the occupied territories without the permission of the Israeli government.

MintPress News · How Israeli Annexation Could Turn the West Bank Into Another Gaza-Style Open Air Prison

In other words, while in the Israeli lexicon the vast majority of all settlement activities in occupied Palestine are ‘legal’, the rest can only be legalized through official channels. Indeed, many of today’s ‘legal’ 132 settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, housing over half a million Israeli Jewish settlers, began as ‘illegal outposts’.

Though this logic may satisfy the need of the Israeli government to ensure its relentless colonial project in Palestine follows a centralized blueprint, none of this matters in international law.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Conventions states that “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive”, adding that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Israel has violated its commitment to international law as an ‘Occupying Power’ on numerous occasions, rendering its very ‘occupation’ of Palestine, itself, a violation of how military occupations are conducted – which are meant to be temporary, anyway.

Military occupation is different from annexation. The former is a temporary transition, at the end of which the ‘Occupying Power’ is expected, in fact, demanded, to relinquish its military hold on the occupied territory after a fixed length of time. Annexation, on the other hand, is a stark violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations. It is tantamount to a war crime, for the occupier is strictly prohibited from proclaiming unilateral sovereignty over occupied land.

The international uproar generated by Netanyahu’s plan to annex a third of the West Bank is fully understandable. But the bigger issue at stake is that, in practice, Israel’s violations of the terms of occupation have granted it a de facto annexation of the whole of the West Bank.

So when the European Union, for example, demands that Israel abandons its annexation plans, it is merely asking Israel to re-embrace the status quo ante, that of de facto annexation. Both abhorring scenarios should be rejected.

Israel began utilizing the occupied territories as if they are contiguous and permanent parts of so-called Israel proper, immediately following the June 1967 war. Within a few years, it erected illegal settlements, now thriving cities, eventually moving hundreds of thousands of its own citizens to populate the newly acquired areas.

This exploitation became more sophisticated with time, as Palestinians were subjected to slow, but irreversible, ethnic cleansing. As Palestinian homes were destroyed, farms confiscated, and entire regions depopulated, Jewish settlers moved in to take their place. The post-1967 scenario was a repeat of the post-1948 history, which led to the establishment of the State of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine.

Moshe Dayan, who served as Israel’s Defense Minister during the 1967 war, explained the Israeli logic best in a historical address at Israel’s Technion University in March 1969. “We came to this country which was already populated by Arabs, and we are establishing a Hebrew, that is a Jewish state here,” he said.

“Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you, because these geography books no longer exist; not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there, either … There is no one place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population,” he added.

The same colonial approach was applied to East Jerusalem and the West Bank after the war. While East Jerusalem was formally annexed in 1980, the West Bank was annexed in practice, but not through a clear legal Israeli proclamation. Why? In one word: demographics.

When Israel first occupied East Jerusalem, it went on a population transfer frenzy: moving its own population to the Palestinian city, strategically expanding the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to include as many Jews and as few Palestinians as possible, slowly reducing the Palestinian population of Al Quds through numerous tactics, including the revocation of residency and outright ethnic cleansing.

And, thus, Jerusalem’s Palestinian population, which once constituted the absolute majority, has now been reduced to a dwindling minority.

The same process was initiated in parts of the West Bank, but due to the relatively large size of the area and population, it was not possible to follow a similar annexation stratagem without jeopardizing Israel’s drive to maintain Jewish majority.

Dividing the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C as a result of the disastrous Oslo accords, has given Israel a lifeline, for this allowed it to increase settlement activities in Area C – nearly 60% of the West Bank – without stressing too much about demographic imbalances. Area C, where the current annexation plan is set to take place, is ideal for Israeli colonialism, for it includes Palestine’s most arable, resource-rich, and sparsely populated lands.

It matters little whether the annexation will have a set date or will take place progressively through Israel’s declarations of sovereignty over smaller chunks of the West Bank in the future. The fact is, annexation is not a new Israeli political agenda dictated by political circumstances in Tel Aviv and Washington. Rather, annexation has been the ultimate Israeli colonial objective from the very onset.

Let us not get entangled in Israel’s bizarre definitions. The truth is that Israel rarely behaves as an ‘Occupying Power’, but as a sovereign in a country where racial discrimination and apartheid are not only tolerated or acceptable but are, in fact, ‘legal’ as well.

Feature photo | Young Palestinians use a ladder to climb over Israel’s apartheid wall in Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem. Majdi Mohammed | 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 (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, annexation, apartheid, Israel, jordan valley, occupation, West Bank]

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[l] at 7/8/20 1:04pm

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo revealed last night that he is strongly considering banning the hugely popular video app TikTok. “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at,” he told Laura Ingraham. When the Fox News anchor pushed him further, asking if anybody should download the app, he responded, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The news comes after India’s decision last week to block dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, following skirmishes along the countries’ Himalayan border that have left dozens dead. The decision dismayed the nearly half-billion Indian users (the app is ubiquitous across the sub-continent) but delighted U.S. officials. “Good to see India ban 59 popular apps owned by Chinese firms,” wrote Nikki Haley, former American Ambassador to the United Nations, “India is continuing to show it won’t back down from China’s aggression.”

Available in over 150 countries, TikTok is a video sharing platform that is particularly popular with Generation Z. It has over 800 million active users worldwide, including over 123 million in the United States, and is by far the most downloaded app in the Apple App Store. However, unlike other social media giants (Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Twitter, etc.), it is not based in Silicon Valley, but in China. While Pompeo and other U.S. officials allege the company works hand-in-glove with the government in Beijing, TikTok insists it would never comply with any requests made by the Chinese state to hand over user data or other sensitive information.

The accusations being lodged against TikTok are already a demonstrable reality with American-based social media giants. In 2018, Facebook announced that it was partnering with the Atlantic Council, a NATO cutout organization, outsourcing the curation of what they deem fake news and what is reliable information to a group with virtually every living ex-CIA director, as well as neoconservative stalwarts like Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell on its board. So intimately involved with the national security state is the platform that Mother Jones wrote that it is difficult to know where Facebook ends and the NSA begins. Reddit also recently appointed a former deputy director at the Atlantic Council to be its head of policy. Meanwhile, few even noticed when, last year, a senior Twitter executive was outed as an active officer in a British Army brigade dedicated to online and psychological operations.

After the Trump administration assassinated Iranian statesman Qassem Soleimani in January, it was also able to censor positive descriptions of the general from American-based social media platforms due to the fact that Trump had earlier labeled him a terrorist. “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its leadership,” said Facebook in a statement explaining their strict censorship of praise of Iran’s most popular figure. Thus, Iranians speaking to other Iranians in Farsi are unable to share majoritarian opinions online because speech is regulated by the dictates of Washington.

Last month MintPress also reported that a U.S-government-funded think tank was behind the decision to delete hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Russian and Turkish accounts from Twitter, a fate that has befallen Iranian and Venezuelan government officials as well, but not those of the U.S. or its allies, no matter how aggressive or threatening their behavior is.

Understanding the power of social media to influence people in any worldwide information war, Google executives Eric Schmidt and Larry Cohen wrote, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.” Their prediction appears to have been accurate.

The latest moves against TikTok mirror the panic over the rise of Huawei and its 5G network, something the United States has been trying to halt from being rolled out worldwide. However, most countries have not shared Washington’s concerns about supposed spyware, seeing their protestations more as angst over being outcompeted in the marketplace by superior Chinese products and services. Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, for instance, dismissed U.S. concerns, painting Washington as a jealous bully, threatening others: “If you are ahead I will ban you, I will send warships to your country…That is not competition, that is threatening people,” he remarked. As a result of its superior offerings, Huawei is continuing to grow in influence.

In recent months, both Democrats and Republicans have increased their anti-Chinese rhetoric, to the point where only 17 percent of Americans see the country as a friendly nation, with around 80 percent willing to support an all-out economic war against it. In February, the Pentagon released its 2021 budget request, which singled out Russia and China as the targets of a new intercontinental conflict and a catalyst for a new military build up. President Trump and Joe Biden have accused each other of being stooges of Beijing. Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, taking every opportunity to label it the “Wuhan China virus” has led to a surge in anti-Asian hate crimes, many of which targeted Asians of other backgrounds. Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also been guilty of fanning the flames of resentment, falsely labeling video conference app Zoom a “Chinese entity,” and not to be trusted. In fact, the company is based in the U.S., and its CEO and founder Eric Yuan, is an American citizen.

The U.S. government has had nearly four years to express concern over TikTok’s supposed danger. That it is doing so during a wave of anti-China warmongering and only after the company has outcompeted its American rivals suggests that this move has more to do with re-establishing American control over social media in an era of a coming Cold War with Beijing. As writer Caitlin Johnstone remarked:

“They’re not talking about banning TikTok because of data mining, they are talking about banning TikTok because of data mining that isn’t run by western oligarchs and intelligence agencies.”

Feature photo | Donald Trump meets Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sept. 19, 2019, in the Oval Office. Joiyce N. Boghosian | White House

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 TikTok Could Become Latest Victim of US War on Chinese Competition appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, ban, China, Social Media, TikTok, United States]

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[l] at 7/8/20 10:57am

The man responsible for some of the most inhumane punishment of whistleblower Chelsea Manning stands a good chance of becoming a Democratic Congressional candidate. On July 14, Democrats in Alabama’s First District will go back to the polls to choose from one of two candidates. In the March primary, James Averhart finished less than 2,000 votes behind leader Kiani Gardner, forcing a runoff. A 30-year military veteran, Averhart began as a Marine infantryman in 1987 before transferring to the Military Police and becoming a corrections officer. Between 2010 and 2011, he was in charge of the military brig at Quantico, VA, where Manning was held on 22 counts of leaking classified information to Wikileaks.

During her time at Quantico, Manning was held in solitary confinement, a practice roundly condemned by human rights groups, the United Nations, and almost universally described as a form of torture. In her testaments and complaints, Manning singled out Averhart as a particularly sadistic torturer, claiming that he entered her cell, yelled at her, and declared that he was her “God,” implying he had total control over her life. Averhart repeatedly rejected psychiatrists’ constant recommendations that Manning should not be held in solitary in an 8-by-6 foot (2.4-by 1.8-meter) cell around the clock. According to Manning’s complaint:

On 18 January 2011, over the recommendation of Capt. Hocter and the defense forensic psychiatrist, Capt. Moore, CWO4 Averhart placed me under Suicide Risk. The Suicide Risk assignment resulted in me being required to remain in my cell for 24 hours a day. I was stripped of all clothing with the exception of my underwear. My prescription eyeglasses were taken away from me and I was forced to sit in essential blindness.”

On the matter, Amnesty International wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, expressing their dismay that Manning was being locked up in a windowless box and shackled during visits, claiming that her treatment violated both domestic U.S. and United Nations laws on the minimum standards of prisoner welfare. The Marine Corps Chief of Corrections would later testify that Averhart wrongfully kept Manning on suicide watch (meaning she was disturbed every five minutes). All this was for the pretrial detention of a suspect that should have been presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Averhart had previously led a task force dedicated to finding and arresting Vietnam War veterans who refused to fight. As The Guardian wrote in 2006: “Since he took over the Marine Corps Absentee Collection Centre in 2004, Chief Warrant Officer James Averhart has reopened cold cases and claims to have tracked down 33 deserters.” One 65-year-old Floridian was held in jail for five months for a desertion that occurred 40 years earlier. This zealous persecution, according to writer Andrew Perez, who first covered the Averhart story, was an attempt to discourage any modern-day deserters from the Iraq War.

Despite his history, the former soldier presents himself as a civil libertarian, his campaign website putting civil rights and criminal justice at the forefront of his message: “Averhart believes that all people have a right to participate in our government and our society without fear, oppression, or discrimination,” it reads, promising to “preserve and expand protections for all Americans” and “fight for end-to-end criminal justice reform.”

The most consequential of Manning’s leaks was the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which showed U.S. military personnel carrying out a massacre of civilians (including two Reuters journalists), in cold blood, laughing at the carnage they were creating. Neither the military units who carried out the atrocity nor their superiors faced any consequences, unlike Manning, who was prosecuted for sharing the tape and labeled an “ungrateful traitor” by Donald Trump. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison, although that was later commuted by President Obama. In 2018, she unsuccessfully ran for the Senate, challenging the incumbent Ben Cardin. Since then, she has faced constant harassment and was jailed again for refusing to testify against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

The runoff election on July 14 is sure to be a hard fought race, given the close outcome in March. Averhart’s opponent is Kiani Gardner, a former research scientist and biology professor from Hawaii, who has been endorsed by influential Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Feature photo | Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning speaks with reporters, after arriving at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., May 16, 2019. Cliff Owen | 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 Democratic Candidate James Averhart Personally Oversaw Solitary Confinement of Chelsea Manning appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Alabama, Chelsea Manning, Democratic Party, James Averhart, whistleblower]

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[l] at 7/7/20 10:47am

A two-pronged initiative by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security is set to substantially increase Israel’s already significant role in America’s digital health, artificial intelligence (AI), critical health infrastructure, as well as law enforcement, public and border protection and other key sectors.

Citing “health challenges” posed by COVID-19, the U.S.-Israel Business Initiative (USIBI), a venture of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is advancing a new eight-point policy framework to facilitate a “more robust bilateral collaboration” between Israeli and American companies to realize the “potential” of technologies emerging out of Israel relating to telehealth, robotic diagnostics and AI-powered applications in healthcare.

In a recent article, investigative reporter Whitney Webb uncovered the deep Israeli military roots of virtually every “health” tech startup to emerge in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and their extensive relationships with the U.S. government at both the federal and state level. Regarding the policy framework, Webb stated that it was likely “part of a broader effort aimed at using the coronavirus crisis to facilitate the integration of Israeli tech companies, particularly in the “digital health” sector, into the U.S. technology ecosystem. Many, if not the vast majority, of these companies”, she continued, “were either founded by ex-members of Israeli intelligence or military intelligence, but also serve as contractors to Israel’s government or its military.”

The policy paper issued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was developed by a “working group” of unnamed “leading global companies, investors, scientists, academics, and medical experts”. While the USIBI no longer lists their members on their website, archived pages from 2017 show large multinationals like Procter & Gamble, GE, and Caterpillar on the membership rolls, along with the Las Vega Sands Corporation, owned by Sheldon Adelson – the single biggest donor in all of U.S. politics, and TEVA Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd.; an American-Israeli generic drug manufacturer that was sued last year by 44 U.S. states for orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with 19 other companies. TEVA recently pulled out of settlement talks with the Department of Justice, betting that the Trump administration will not pursue further charges against them in the midst of the pandemic given that TEVA is among the companies making the President’s most hyped COVID-19 remedy, hydroxychloroquine.

 

Cui Bono?

The mystery behind their currently unpublished member list might be explained by what Webb described as “a policy that has been acknowledged by Israel’s government where intelligence operations are spun off into private entities and merged into large multinational corporations, specifically in the U.S., with the ultimate goal of ensuring cyber supremacy for Israel’s high-tech startups and mitigating the successes and popularity of the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement in the United States.”

First on the list of USIBI’s policy recommendations is the creation of a fund to support research and development for “technologies with commercial application in the health sector” modeled on the U.S.-Israel Energy Center of Excellence, which foments similar public-private partnerships in the energy sector.

Second on the list is strengthening the relationship between Israel’s Ministry of Health and its U.S. counterpart, HHS, and satellite organizations, such as the NIH, CDC and BARDA. Three of the eight points focus on intellectual property protections for Israeli biologics, artificial intelligence and their implementation in a new “U.S.-Israel Digital Trade Agreement” which will “foster open access to government-generated public data” and “promote government-to-government collaboration on cybersecurity issues.”

The proposed framework also calls for the establishment of a “Health Attaché” at Israel’s U.S. embassy and vice versa to “ensure continuity in government efforts” surrounding the policy recommendations.

The Department of Homeland Security has likewise issued its own “solicitation” for collaboration between the U.S. and Israel. In a press release from June 23, 2020, the Under Secretary for Science and Technology William N. Bryan, officially renewed the five-year-old program with a special focus on “the toughest challenges facing our missions today.” These include: combating cybercrime, securing critical infrastructure and public facilities, safe and secure cities, and unmanned aerial systems among others.

 

Diversification

The call for proposals was outlined in a joint initiative between the U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation and Israel’s Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), funded by DHS to “fulfill critical homeland security needs in both countries.” MOPS oversees Israel’s border police and prison system, while the BIRD foundation has been promoting” cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies” since 1977 and receives 50 percent of its funding from DHS’ Science and Technology program. Proposals are due in September and will be awarded in December of this year.

The implications for the average American citizen are far-reaching. As Webb explains, “these health “solutions” offered by these Israeli companies use AI or “digital solutions” require the accumulation of vast amounts of private medical and demographic data; data which is then shared with these foreign companies and their partners and clients, representing a clear threat to privacy.”

But, privacy is hardly the only concern. “Many of these companies that are now marketing these “healthcare” solutions,” says Webb, “were previously contractors for the IDF and used surveillance and predictive policing on Palestinians in occupied Palestine.”

“Those same algorithms,” she continues, “have been rebranded as health surveillance and as helping to predict future outbreaks of coronavirus, despite there being no data or case studies to show that such technological solutions have been effective. in fact, some of these programs, when piloted in Israel, were found to actually hamper the ability of Israeli physicians to respond to the pandemic.”

The dovetailing interests between the U.S. national security state and Israel are nothing new. Since its founding in 1948 to the present, American support of the Middle East’s apartheid state has been virtually unwavering and has served an Atlanticist agenda in the region and beyond.

But the level of interdependence in areas of technology and security has grown exponentially over the last two decades, in particular. The burgeoning presence of Israeli security firms in the U.S. should be of special concern given the murderous treatment it extends to Palestinians in the Gaza and the West Bank, not to mention the draconian policies embedded in its own domestic policies.

Artificial intelligence, in particular, is being peppered over practically Israeli tech startup initiatives as “several institutions, including the U.S.-Israel organization known as Start-up Nation Central, have partnered with Israel’s government to specifically market Israeli AI-based “healthcare” companies to foreign countries,” according to Webb. “Israel,” she states, “promotes itself as a world leader in AI, and part of this has to do with the extreme patronage of Israel’s government, intelligence-linked VC firms, and wealthy Zionists into this field. However, the greatest contributor of all has been the blurring of the line between the aspects of Israel’s national security state that produce AI algorithms, either for the military and intelligence, that are then repurposed and commercialized through these start-ups and start-up accelerators.

“Many of those algorithms,” she elaborated, “such as those produced by the IDF’s Unit 8200, are heavily subsidized by the $3.8 billion a year that Israel’s military receives in aid from the United States. Using the coronavirus crisis is a major selling point and has helped launch a major push towards worldwide integration of AI more deeply into our lives, with the field of healthcare being just one example.”

Feature photo | An Israeli man is tested by a healthcare worker for coronavirus at a drive-thru testing center in Tel Aviv, July 6, 2020. Sebastian Scheiner | AP

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

The post The Merging of US and Israeli National Security States is Accelerating Amid COVID-19 appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Chamber of Commerce, COVID-19, Israel, national security, U.S.-Israel Business Initiative, United States]

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[l] at 7/7/20 9:49am

MARIB, YEMEN — Saudi Arabia possesses around 18 percent of the world’s petroleum reserves. That fact though has done little to stifle the Kingdom’s apparent appetite for new sources of crude. Now, following over five years of all-out war against its southern neighbor, Saudi Arabia is scrambling to secure rights over Yemen’s potentially bountiful reserves of oil.

Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, is seeking decades-long strategic agreements with the internationally recognized government in exile of Abdul Mansour al-Hadi, which is backed by the Saudi-led coalition and the United States, to gain control of Yemen substantial oil and gas reserves, particularly in the oil-rich provinces of al-Jawf, Marib, Shabwa, and Hadramout, according to officials. The move could inflame enough anger among Yemen’s many warring and fractious parties to band together against what is increasingly viewed as an existential threat to Yemen’s sovereignty.

Officials in Yemen’s state-owned oil and gas company, known globally as Safer, as well as members of the transitional Hadi government who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, revealed to MintPress that negotiations are already taking place between Saudi Arabia and its allies with officials in Yemen’s ministry of oil and Safer to reach an agreement that would ostensibly hand control of much of Yemen’s oil and gas reserves to Saudi Arabia for decades to come.

A number of meetings have already taken place between high-ranking Saudi officials, including Saudi ambassador to Yemen Mohammed Al-Jaber and officials from Aramco, and Yemeni leaders, including interim vice president of the transitional government Ali Hussen al-Ahmer, governor of Marib Sheikh Sultan al-Arada and officials from both Safer and Yemen’s Ministry of Oil. Negotiators from French oil company TOTAL reportedly attended some of the meetings held in Marib, al-Mahrah, and the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

According to a source in Yemen’s transitional government, Saudi Arabia is seeking long-term lease agreements over the much of country’s oil reserves, particularly in what some officials have called “the oil triangle,” an area between al-Jawf and Marib provinces. Under the agreement, Saudi Arabia would be allowed to develop Yemen’s oil reserves and retain the profits from the sale of said oil in exchange for an annual remittance that would be paid by Aramco to certain members of the Yemeni government. The agreement stipulates that the payments are only required if the government remains friendly to Saudi Arabia.

Jalal al-Salahi, a Yemeni activist known to have close ties to decision-makers in the transitional government, recently released a video in which he claimed to be in possession of a draft document of an oil agreement between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In the video, which has already garnered nearly 90,000 views since it was published to YouTube on July 4, Al-Salah said the document shows that the Saudi government is to pay $15 billion to certain Yemeni officials in return for seventy years of oil concessions in al-Jawf. Sources in Yemen’s transitional government refused to deny or confirm the authenticity of the document but told MintPress that some of the claims being made on social media are true without specifying which ones.

According to official sources, under the Saudi deal, payments would go to a fund restricted to what the Kingdom calls “Yemen’s debts and reconstruction.” Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most repressive monarchies and wealthiest countries, launched a U.S.-backed scorched-earth campaign against its southern neighbor under the auspices of restoring the government of ousted President Hadi to power and is now pushing, along with the UAE, for Yemenis to compensate the Saudi-led coalition for the war it has waged on their country.

Negotiations to wrest long-term de facto control over Yemen ostensibly began in 2019 and have been marked by Saudi pressure and threats according to a source close to the negotiations. In fact, Riyadh has kept high-level officials in the Hadi government, including Hadi himself as well as Yemen’s members of parliament, under house arrest in Saudi Arabia. Yemeni officials that have been allowed to stay in Yemen are confined to coalition-controlled areas and cannot leave the country without permission from Riyadh and Abu Dubai.

The potential Saudi move is not without precedent. Saudi Arabia has been securing its objectives in Yemen by enabling its allies in the Yemeni government to take power in exchange for profitable long-term agreements for years. Yemen’s history is rife with these sorts of long-term agreements, including the Treaty of Taif signed in 1934 between the emerging Saudi state and the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, which handed Saudi Arabia control over the former Yemeni provinces of Jizan, Najran, and Asir.

Saudi forces and Yemeni tribal leaders with Saudi nationality, along with allied mercenary forces, have been blocking domestic oil exploration in al-Jawf since the war began and it is an open secret that Riyadh bribed former Yemeni government officials to keep them from drilling and exploration activities in the area. In fact, just last week Saudi armored vehicles crossed the border to bury a well that had been dug for water by Yemen’s 1st Brigade Border Guards, apparently fearing they could be covertly drilling for oil.

Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, has been preventing Yemen from capitalizing its own oil reserves since the 1970s, particularly in the al-Jawf Province which holds most of the country’s reserves and enjoys a unique status as a neighbor to two oil-rich regions of Saudi Arabia.

 

Yemen’s stolen oil

It was about 9:20 a.m. at the Block 18 oil field in Marib, Yemen when H.A.Y.K., an oil tanker driver who wished to be identified only by his initials, put his hand in his pocket to make sure that his recently acquired “official permit” to cross the Saudi border was where it was supposed to be. H.A.Y.K. was not alone, eight drivers had gotten into their trucks that morning and started their engines in preparation for the journey. Minutes later, the crude oil-laden convoy lurched ahead and was soon inside Saudi territory accompanied by at least six armored Toyota Land Cruisers from the Coalition-backed Al-Abra Military Brigade and laden with a shipment of crude oil stolen from Block 18.

H.A.Y.K told MintPress that after a treacherous drive through Yemen’s northeast border region, he crossed the Saudi border into the Bishah District in the southwestern Saudi province of Asir where he unloaded his truck. Saudi Arabia and UAE are believed to be transferring stolen oil into the Sharq Eaidh desert located between Shabwa and Marib provinces. It is then pumped through a pipeline owned by an unidentified Austrian company to the UAE-controlled Al-Nashima Port on the Arabian Sea where it is then transferred to small oil vessels.

The theft of crude has become a daily occurrence in Safer’s Blocks 4, 5, and 18, as well as in other oil fields in the province, including the al-Uqlah Block (S2) located in the Marib-Shabwa Basin east of Block 18. Thefts have also become prolific in the Shabwa, Hadremout, and al-Mahrah provinces.

But the presence of crude oil-filled trucks crossing the Saudi border tripled in the second week of March when the Saudi-Russia oil price war was at its peak, according to oil engineers and tanker drivers that spoke to MintPress. This could suggest that Saudi Arabia was likely pumping oil stolen from Yemen into the international market, albeit in small quantities, at a time when losses by oil-producing companies in the U.S. were skyrocketing. Hedging untapped Yemeni oil reserves would give Saudi Arabia an important advantage in negotiations with competing oil-producing countries like Russia and the United States.

According to economists and officials who spoke to MintPress, up to 65 percent of Yemen’s oil produced since 2015, when the war began, has been looted by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and international oil companies and some 18-23 percent of crude production, including that produced by Safer and Petrol Masilah, is being looted by tribal leaders and black market traders allied with the Saudi coalition.

Militant groups and tribal factions allied with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in Marib and other eastern provinces, particularly the El-Eslah Party and the Southern Transitional Council as well as personnel close to Hadi, including his son Jalal, are all involved in the looting of Yemen’s oil and gas and have used heavy equipment belonging to Safer and TOTAL to extract crude oil assisted by engineers from both companies.

Safer pipeline Yemen

This undated photo shows workers performing maintenance on a crude pipeline in the remote Marib desert. Photo | Safer

MintPress witnessed small bootleg oil refining operations scattered through the Neqm and Shaharh oil fields. Local residents, as well as oil smugglers, told us that similar machinery could be found throughout Marib, Shabaw, and other districts. These operations, according to witnesses, are owned by members of the Hadi government as well as local tribal leaders who are stealing crude from fields and pipelines belonging to Safer. Pipelines are punctured and the crude oil is siphoned off into small and medium trucks and brought to large open storage pits or floor tanks to be refined or sold on the black market.

The financial returns for the plundered oil are not used to invest in Yemen’s infrastructure or bolster the local economy to keep the value of the Yemeni Riyal from tanking. In fact, they rarely even make it into Yemen’s banks, instead going directly into the personal bank accounts of corrupt Saudi-allied officials or to fund infighting between warring militant groups. Money from plundered Yemeni oil is rumored to have made it into the bank accounts of corrupt officials across the Middle East, and as far off as Turkey.

Ansar Allah leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi said in a televised speech that more than 120 million barrels of crude oil have been looted by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since 2016, amounting to nearly 80 billion Yemeni Rials worth of lost revenue per month. Ahmed Daris, Ansar Allah’s Sana’a-based Minister of Oil, claimed that Saudi Arabia has looted more than 18 million barrels of oil exports in 2018 alone and that the profits from that oil are now in the Saudi National Bank.

According to an official database maintained by the Hadi government, Yemen used to produce some 300-350 thousand barrels of oil per month before 2010, however, due to Saudi Arabia’s active suppression of Yemeni exploration and development of its oil fields as well as internal conflict, Yemeni crude output has plummeted sharply. The low point was reached at the end of 2015 after oil fields were closed on Saudi orders. At the time, Yemeni production hovered around 35,000 barrels per day. In 2019, the Yemeni government loyal to Saudi Arabia said that it had managed to bump that number up to some 70,000 barrels per day.

Although these figures are likely inaccurate, as many known oil fields were not included in the official lists of the state and international oil bodies such as OPEC, it had long been confirmed that Saudi Arabia has deprived Yemen of revenues from the sale of at least 70,000 barrels a day and at least 126,000,000 barrels over the course of five years of war. That amounts to a total of over six billion dollars based on an average $50 per barrel price of oil. That revenue would have been sufficient to pay the salary of every government employee for at least four years.

 

The Saudi clock is ticking

Hoping to thwart Saudi ambitions in their oil-rich provinces, some Yemeni tribes have begun an armed uprising against Saudi Arabia and their allies in the province, sparking fear among the Kingdom and its allied militants and triggering a cruel campaign against the families of tribes who have announced their opposition to the Saudi Coalition. Sheikh Mohsen Suba’yan was among the tribal leaders opposed to the Saudi regime. On June 29, he and six of his relatives were killed when their home was surrounded and burned to the ground.

The completion of any long-term contracts with the internationally-recognized Hadi government is very important for Saudi Arabia as Ansar Allah is close to recapturing the Marib Province after gaining control of most of al-Jawf. Just four months ago, Yemeni forces backed by Ansar Allah took control over the rich-oil province of al-Jawf after fierce battles with Saudi forces backed by al-Qaeda and IS militants and supported by American advisers.

Ansar Allah, supported by tribes disenfranchised with de facto Saudi rule, hope to secure the oil for domestic consumption in the country amid an acute fuel crisis that has halted the delivery of much-needed fuel to Yemen.

Feature photo | A Saudi soldier guards a cargo plane at an air base in Marib, Yemen, Feb. 1, 2018. Jon Gambrell | AP

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

The post Revealed: Saudi Arabia Tripled its Theft of Yemen’s Oil amid Price War with Russia appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Top Story, Yemen Coverage, crude oil, Marib, Safer, Saudi Arabia, Yemen]

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[l] at 7/6/20 1:38pm

Vanessa Neumann, the U.K. ambassador of self-declared President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, claims that she is working closely with the FBI in an investigation exposing a “transnational criminal network” of journalists, including John McEvoy, Pablo Navarette, independent outlet Venezuelanalysis and former MintPress News contributor Camila Escalante.

From the Twitter account of her communications firm, Asymmetrica, Neumann said that the four sources were involved in a “criminal conspiracy” supporting Venezuelan vice-president Delcy Rodriguez. “There is a price on your head” she informed them, “welcome to the rule of law, guys.”

Extraordinary and unacceptable threats by a woman of unknown diplomatic status against a British journalist on British soil. Juan Guaido’s overseas team very unhappy with those pursuing Freedom of Information requests – but why? ‘Democratic opposition’ meh pic.twitter.com/frIW7VqVVS

— Julia Buxton (@BuxtonJulia) July 6, 2020

Neumann was tweeting from an organizational account because earlier she tweeted “death to Maduro!” from her personal account. After serious pushback online she claimed she had been hacked, she also claimed that “disseminating false information,” by which she appears to mean commenting on or retweeting her “death to Maduro” outburst, is a crime that the FBI is looking into.

MintPress spoke with McEvoy today, who seemed baffled by the affair, saying:

The accusations made against myself and other journalists by Asymmetrica, owned by Juan Guaidó’s UK representative Vanessa Neumann, are at once serious and laughable. Without basis, Neumann has accused various journalists of forming part of a ‘transnational crime network’ and ‘hacking’ her Twitter account, adding that there is a ‘price on your head’. This is no way for anybody, let alone a ‘diplomat’, to behave – and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should now seriously reconsider its recognition of her in the UK.”

Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, McEvoy, an investigative journalist, had recently revealed how Neumann was secretly meeting with the U.K. government to coordinate the overthrow of Maduro and discuss a “reconstruction” plan that promoted the interests of British corporations in a Guaidó-led Venezuela, adding fuel to speculation that this is an attempt to silence journalists.

Days after she called for the death of Venezuelan President @NicolasMaduro, Guaidó shadow puppet @vanessaneumann threatens a journalist’s life bc he exposed her plot to loot Venezuela

What is she smoking? Imperialist elitism is a helluva drug https://t.co/sR7pAloEDQ

— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 5, 2020

 

Juan Guaidó’s tenuous claim to power

The United Kingdom is one of the key supporters of Guaidó, who proclaimed himself president of Venezuela in January 2019, despite never standing for the position. He maintains he is the legitimate head of state despite only 3 percent of the Venezuelan population recognizing him as such. His own political party, ironically named Popular Will, expelled him in January. Last week a U.K. court rejected President Maduro’s attempts to access his country’s $1 billion gold reserves held in the Bank of England on the grounds that Guaidó was the legitimate ruler of Venezuela, a decision compared to modern piracy by many. It was also revealed that Donald Trump used at least $601 million of confiscated Venezuelan money to build his border wall with Mexico.

There is bipartisan support for Guaidó in Washington as well. On July 3, Venezuela’s Independence Day, the State Department announced that it “remains committed to supporting Venezuela’s peaceful, democratic transition and free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.” Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released an almost identical statement: “On this Venezuelan Independence Day, my thoughts are with Venezuelans who continue to work tirelessly for the cause of democracy. It’s time for free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people can turn the page on the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime,” he wrote. Guaidó was a guest of honor at Trump’s State of the Union address in February, where he received a standing ovation from Democrats and Republicans alike. A May poll of Venezuelans found only 4.1 percent believed Guaidó was capable of governing the country.

The U.S. and U.K. have not managed to convince the international community to recognize Guaidó, nor to overthrow the Maduro administration, despite many attempts. The two countries have supported at least six separate coup attempts by Guaidó since January 2019, all of which have failed. In May, a group of mercenaries led by ex-Green Berets attempted an amphibious invasion of the country, intending to shoot their way to the presidential palace. However, the highly trained, well-armed fighters were immediately overpowered by a handful of disgruntled members of the House of Socialist Fishermen collective in the sleepy coastal village of Chuao, the event being christened the “Bay of Piglets” fiasco by the New Yorker. Leaked documents show that Guaidó had agreed that the mercenaries were allowed to kill anyone they pleased and that, after the coup, they were to become leaders in his private death squad, suppressing any dissent to his rule. In joining the coup, the mercenaries were attempting to collect a $15 million bounty the U.S. government had placed on Maduro’s head, the soldiers believing they had Washington’s approval to do so.

It is in this context that McEvoy found Neumann’s choice of words so distasteful. “To say that there is a ‘price on your head’ is especially sinister given the very real price that the U.S., in collaboration with the Venezuelan opposition, has put on the heads of Venezuelan officials,” he told MintPress. “It seems that no amount of scandals, crises, and violent acts can dissuade these organizations from associating with the Venezuelan opposition. The next time Neumann feels the urge to take to Twitter to attack U.K.- and Latin America-based journalists, I would advise her to refrain, and avoid embarrassing herself any further.”

Few people seem to believe Neumann. Indeed, her attacks have shocked and alienated even strong critics of the Maduro administration who applauded the U.S. sanctions. “Let me see if I understand. As part of a struggle against an undemocratic government that uses false accusations and judicial harassment against its opponents, Juan Guaidó’s ambassador to the U.K. Vanessa Neumann is not trying to weaponize the FBI to harass and intimidate her critics?” asked David Smilde of the Washington Office on Latin America. Seeing as her claims appear to be backfiring, perhaps the best course of action would be to claim her account was hacked again. It would be in keeping with the bluff-heavy Guaidó playbook.

Feature photo | Vanessa Neumann is pictured with disgraced Trump advisor John Bolton in Aug, 2019. Photo | @vanessaneumann

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 Guaido Representative Threatens FBI Investigation Into Journalists Exposing Her Dealings appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Asymmetrica, FBI, journalists, Juan Guaido, Vanessa Neumann, Venezuela]

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[l] at 7/6/20 11:18am

It is the height of California’s dangerous forest fire season. But despite blazes currently raging, the state’s fire department is dangerously understaffed. That is because many firefighters today are not the burly full time professionals of another era, but underpaid convict laborers risking their lives for pennies. Almost 40 percent of California’s firefighters are prisoners. But the state’s penitentiaries are themselves ablaze with COVID-19 outbreaks, leading to widespread lockdowns in what has become a routine for American’s dealing with competing crises.

Jails have been among the deadliest hotspots for transmission of the coronavirus. At the notorious San Quentin State Prison just north of San Francisco, there are nearly 1,400 active cases. Meanwhile, the state has announced the deaths from COVID-19 of 16 inmates at the California Institute for Men in Chino, San Bernardino County. In response to the crisis, prison authorities have enacted strict lockdowns, including at CCC Susanville, the home of the wildfire training program, where there are 224 confirmed active cases of the virus.

This is severely hampering the fight against wildfires. Approximately 3,100 inmates work with the fire department tackling blazes, around 2,200 in the front line, and 900 in support roles. Only those with the least serious convictions are considered. Prisoners are paid between $2.90 and $5.12 per day (less than the average income of a sweatshop laborer in Nicaragua), plus $1 per hour of hazard pay during active emergency situations like the deadly fires that engulfed the state late last year. They work alongside full-time firefighters making an average of $91,000 per year before overtime pay and bonuses but tend to do the harder, less desirable, or more dangerous tasks, leading to multiple deaths in recent years. This has led to widespread condemnation of the practice as akin to “modern slavery,” especially because inmates are effectively barred from even applying to the fire department once their sentences are over. In order to become a firefighter, an emergency medical technician license is required, something that is all but impossible to achieve with a criminal record. Despite this, prisoners still “volunteer” as the work is far more fulfilling than the alternative: more time locked up.

The practice is a perfectly neoliberal solution to the growing threat of climate change. The 2019-2020 winter was among the driest on record, with much of Northern California seeing no rain whatsoever in February, leading to forest fires far earlier than usual. Instead of wholesale changes in energy production or consumption, or a great increase in professional firefighters, the state has opted to use extremely cheap prison labor to tackle the inevitable blazes. The measure allows for the government to continue cutting public service budgets, while also acting as a check on wage and working condition demands from public unions, as the threat of being replaced by someone who is effectively a slave, increases.

There are currently two active fires in Morgan Hill, just south of San Jose. Local officials announced that around 1,750 acres had been burned in total, with local evacuations starting Sunday afternoon. While the Fire Department said they were making good progress tackling the problem, the low humidity and gusty winds made conditions ripe for more wildfires.

California Wild Fire </div></dd>
<dt id=Podcast Panel: Israeli Annexation Could Turn the West Bank Into a Gaza-Style Open Air Prison

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[l] at 7/3/20 12:19pm

Welcome to MintCast, the official MintPress News podcast hosted by Mnar Muhawesh. MintCast is an interview podcast featuring dissenting voices, independent researchers and journalists the establishment would rather silence.

In this episode, we are joined by Dr. Ramzy Baroud, Robert Inkalesh and Miko Peled to discuss the so-called “Deal of the Century,” a plan promoted by U.S. President Donald Trump together with his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as Israel’s annexation plans for the Jordan Valley located in the Palestinian West Bank, and the implications of the so-called deal for Palestine and the broader region.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a Palestinian-American journalist, media consultant, author, columnist, and editor of Palestine Chronicle. He is a former Managing Editor of Middle East Eye and former Deputy Managing Editor of Al Jazeera online. He has authored five books and a contributor to many others, the latest of which is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggles and Defiance in Israeli Prisons.

Miko Peled is an Israeli-American human rights activist. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

Robert Inkalesh is a journalist, writer and political analyst who has lived in and reported from the occupied Palestinian West Bank. His latest documentary film, “Steal Of The Century’ Trump’s Palestine-Israel Catastrophe,” premiered in June and can be viewed for free on YouTube.

The Netanyahu-led Israeli government was expected to initiate its plan to annex as much as 35 percent of the West Bank in the Jordan Valley earlier this week, formally declaring it part of Israel along guidelines laid out in President Trump and his son in law Jared Kushner’s so-called “Deal of the Century.” After international criticism and even caution from some members of the U.S. Congress, a delay in the plan has been announced. Nonetheless, critics fear that Israel will begin annexing Palestinian land soon.

Israel’s annexation of the region would put the over 70,000 Palestinians under full Israeli authority, giving the Israeli military control over all movement, agriculture, water, and all imports and exports, forcing residents to endure apartheid-like conditions experienced by those living in Gaza.  

The plan would also cut out a part of the West Bank, allowing Israel to encircle the region militarily and control all Palestinian access to the outside world similar to the apartheid-like policies it carries out in Gaza. Not only does Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century hand de facto control to the Israeli military over all Palestinian movement, but it also opens up the doors to over 100,000 illegal Jewish only colonies on indigenous Palestinian land and prevents the two million Palestinian refugees who have the legal grounds to return to their land from ever doing so. 

The move is nothing short of territorial conquest and military occupation as defined by the United Nations Charter and the annexation is illegal under International Law. Indeed, t he United Nations’ High Commissioner on Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has declared Israel’s annexation plans both  “illegal” and “disastrous.” This will, without a doubt, create another preventable man-made humanitarian disaster at the hands of Western powers that will fuel the military-industrial complex and stimulate profits off of the theft of indigenous land and blood of indigenous people. If the plan is not stopped, the West Bank could very well become a sprawling open-air prison and ghetto similar to Gaza.

Despite the international opposition, Israel enjoys full support from the United States, the world’s only superpower, and plans to complete the annexation before Trump’s reelection run in November.

This program is 100 percent listener supported! You can join the hundreds of financial sponsors who make this show possible by becoming a member on our Patreon page.

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud. Please leave us a review and share this segment.

Mnar Muhawesh is founder, CEO and editor in chief of MintPress News, and is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups.

The post Podcast Panel: Israeli Annexation Could Turn the West Bank Into a Gaza-Style Open Air Prison appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, MintCast, News, Top Story, annexation, Deal of the Century, Israel, jordan valley, West Bank]

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[l] at 7/2/20 8:20am

This is not a column defending Donald Trump.

Across my career, I have said more positive words about the scolex family of intestinal tapeworms than I have said about Donald Trump. (Scolex have been shown to read more.)

No, this is a column about context. When The New York Times reports anonymous sources from the intelligence community say Russia paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers, context is very important.

Some of that context is that Mike Pompeo said, “I was the CIA director – We lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses.” So we know for certain that U.S. intelligence agencies lie to you and me. We saw it with WMD, and we might be seeing it again now.

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

We could talk about the context of the fact that the Taliban does not need to be paid to kill American soldiers because their entire goal for the past twenty years has been to kill American soldiers. Paying them a bounty would be like offering the guy sleeping with your wife twenty bucks to sleep with your wife.

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

We could talk about the fact that the U.S. has been funding the Taliban for years! Yes, we fund them, sometimes arm them, and then fight them. This is barely a secret. So for all intents and purposes, the U.S. does the same thing our corporate media is now accusing Russia of doing (with no proof).

But that’s not the context I’m referring to.

No, the context I’m referring to is how our military industrial complex (with the help of our ruling elite and our corporate media) have stopped Trump from pushing us toward the brink of peace. …Yes, the brink of peace.

Now, I’m not implying Trump is some kind of hippy peacenik. (He would look atrocious with no bra and flowers in his hair.) No, the military under Trump has dropped more bombs than under Obama, and that’s impressive since Obama dropped more bombs than ever before.

However, in certain areas of the world, Trump has threatened to create peace. Sure, he’s doing it for his own ego and because he thinks his base wants it, but whatever the reason, he has put forward plans or policies that go against the military industrial complex and the establishment war-hawks (which is 95 percent of the establishment).

And each time this has happened, he is quickly thwarted, usually with hilarious propaganda. (Well, hilarious to you and me. Apparently believable to people at The New York Times and former CIA intern Anderson Cooper.)

I know four things for sure in life. Paper beats rock. Rock beats scissors. Scissors beat paper. And propaganda beats peace. All one has to do is look at a calendar.

Trump has essentially threatened to create peace or pull U.S. troops out of a war zone in three countries – North Korea, Afghanistan, and Syria. Let’s start with Syria.

April 4, 2018: President Trump orders the Pentagon to plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.

This cannot be allowed because it goes against the U.S. imperial plan. So what happens within days of Trump’s order?

April 7, 2018: Reports surface of a major chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria.

What are the odds that within days of Trump telling the Pentagon to withdraw, Bashar al-Assad decides to use the one weapon that will guarantee American forces continue attacking him? Assad may not be a chess player, but I also don’t think he ate that many paint chips as a kid. And sure enough, over the past two years we’ve now heard from four whistleblowers at the Organization for The Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) saying the so-called chemical attack didn’t happen. (Notice that the number “four” is even bigger than the numbers “one,” “two,” and “three.”)

But establishment propaganda beats peace any day and twice on Sunday. The false story succeeded in keeping America entrenched in Syria.

 

The DPRK

Let’s move on to North Korea. As you surely know, Donald Trump “threatened” to create peace with the hermetic country. Simply saying he would attempt such a thing sent weapons contractor stocks tumbling—one of the many reasons peace had to be stopped.

Feb 27, 2019: Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un meet in Vietnam.

The summit fails, and reports begin emerging that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton succeeded in napalming any progress.

March 15, 2019: Pompeo and Bolton deny derailing North Korea nuclear talks.

From The Nation, “There were reports from South Korea that the presence at the talks of John Bolton, Trump’s aggressively hawkish national-security adviser, helped torpedo the talks.“

But just destroying the peace talks wasn’t enough. The American people needed some good, solid propaganda to reassert the idea that Kim Jung Un was a dastardly bloodthirsty dictator.

March 30, 2019: The New York Times reports North Korea executed and purged their top nuclear negotiators.

Yes, apparently Kim Jung Un must’ve fed his top diplomats to his top alligators. Then, two months later we learn…

June 4, 2019: The fate of the North Korean negotiator “executed” after the failed summit “grows murkier” with new reports that he’s still alive.

One would have to say that his being alive does indeed make the report that he’s dead “murkier.” Within the next day or two it becomes quite clear the diplomat is very much in the land of the living. But the propaganda put forward by The New York Times and many other outlets has already done its job.

Far more people saw the reports that the man had been murdered than saw the later retraction. And to this day, the Times has not removed the initial article saying he was executed. Exactly how wrong does propaganda have to be, to warrant an online deletion? Dead versus alive is a pretty binary designation.

And now we get to the outrage du jour, and it’s a bombshell!

 

Bounties!

May 26, 2020: Pentagon commanders begin drawing up options for an early Afghanistan troop withdrawal, following Trump’s request.

June 16, 2020: “President Donald Trump confirmed in public for the first time his administration’s plans to cut the U.S. military troop presence in Germany from its current level of roughly 35,000 to a reduced force of 25,000.” – ForeignPolicy.com

June 26, 2020: The New York Times reports Russia paid the Taliban to attack U.S. troops. (According to anonymous sources from an intelligence community that proudly admits they lie to us all the time, sometimes just to amuse themselves.)

So when this story first came out, I thought, “You know, Trump has been stopped from withdrawing troops in the past by ridiculous propaganda that seems to land like a giant turd right after he announces his intentions. Maybe I’ll check what happened in the days preceding this jaw-dropping story.”

So just days after Trump goes against the military industrial complex and against the ruling establishment by announcing he’ll be withdrawing about a third of our troops from Germany, and just weeks after announcing an early withdrawal from Afghanistan, a seemingly mind-blowing story drops about Russia paying the Taliban to kill American troops.

This serves to remind everyone what a threat Russia is (so we better put more troops in Germany!) and serves to keep us in Afghanistan (because screw those Russian-funded Taliban!).

Look, I’m not saying Trump is a hero or a great guy or even a man who wants peace. I’m not even saying he’s a man. He very well may be a giant blood-sucking leech in a human skin suit. (A poorly tailored human skin suit.)

All I’m saying is the timing doesn’t add up. Either these landmark stories that destroy every chance of peace are false (in fact we’ve already proven two out of three of them are false), or peace has exceedingly, ridiculously, laughably bad timing.

Feature photo | Abdullah Abdullah, right, President Ashraf Ghani’s fellow leader under a recently signed power-sharing agreement, holds a meeting with U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad aimed at resuscitating a U.S.-Taliban peace deal signed in February, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 20, 2020. Credit | Sapidar Palace via AP

Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of the weekly comedy news TV show “Redacted Tonight With Lee Camp” on RT America. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.

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

The post Lee Camp: How the Media Used the Bounty Scandal to Stop the ‘Threat’ of Peace in Afghanistan appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, Afghanistan, Media, peace talks, Russia, Taliban, United States]

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[l] at 7/1/20 1:16pm

Based on anonymous intelligence sources, The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal released bombshell reports alleging that Russia is paying the Taliban bounties for every U.S. soldier they can kill. The story caused an uproar in the United States, dominating the news cycle and leading presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to accuse Trump of “dereliction of duty” and “continuing his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin.” “This is beyond the pale,” the former vice-president concluded.

However, there are a number of reasons to be suspicious of the new reports. Firstly, they appear all to be based entirely on the same intelligence officials who insisted on anonymity. The official could not provide any concrete evidence, nor establish that any Americans had actually died as a result, offering only vague assertions and admitting that the information came from “interrogated” (i.e. tortured) Afghan militants. All three reports stressed the uncertainty of the claims, with the only sources who went on record — the White House, the Kremlin, and the Taliban — all vociferously denying it all.

The national security state also has a history of using anonymous officials to plant stories that lead to war. In 2003, the country was awash with stories that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, in 2011 anonymous officials warned of an impending genocide in Libya, while in 2018 officials accused Bashar al-Assad of attacking Douma with chemical weapons, setting the stage for a bombing campaign. All turned out to be untrue.

“After all we’ve been through, we’re supposed to give anonymous ‘intelligence officials’ in The New York Times the benefit of the doubt on something like this? I don’t think so,” Scott Horton, Editorial Director of Antiwar.com and author of “Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan,” told MintPress News. “All three stories were written in language conceding they did not know if the story was true,” he said, “They are reporting the ‘fact’ that there was a rumor.”

Horton continued: “There were claims in 2017 that Russia was arming and paying the Taliban, but then the generals admitted to Congress they had no evidence of either. In a humiliating debacle, also in 2017, CNN claimed a big scoop about Putin’s support for the Taliban when furnished with some photos of Taliban fighters with old Russian weapons. The military veteran journalists at Task and Purpose quickly debunked every claim in their piece.”

Others were equally skeptical of the new scandal. “The bottom line for me is that after countless (Russiagate related) anonymous intelligence leaks, many of which were later proven false or never substantiated with real evidence, I can’t take this story seriously. The intelligence ‘community’ itself can’t agree on the credibility of this information, which is similar to the situation with a foundational Russiagate document, the January, 2017 intelligence ‘assessment,’” said Joanne Leon, host of the Around the Empire Podcast, a show which covers U.S. military actions abroad.

 

Suspicious timing

The timing of the leak also raised eyebrows. Peace negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban are ongoing, with President Trump committing to pulling all American troops out of the country. A number of key anti-weapons of mass destruction treaties between the U.S. and Russia are currently expiring, and a scandal such as this one would scupper any chance at peace, escalating a potential arms race that would endanger the world but enrich weapons manufacturers. Special Presidential Envoy in the Department of the Treasury, Marshall Billingslea, recently announced that the United States is willing to spend Russia and China “into oblivion” in a new arms race, mimicking the strategy it used in the 1980s against the Soviet Union. As a result, even during the pandemic, business is booming for American weapons contractors.

“The national security state has done everything they can to keep the U.S. involved in that war,” remarked Horton, “If Trump had listened to his former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, we’d be on year three of an escalation with plans to begin talks with the Taliban next year. Instead Trump talked to them for the last year-and-a-half and has already signed a deal to have us out by the end of next May.”

“The same factions and profiteers who always oppose withdrawal of troops are enthusiastic about the ‘Bountygate’ story at a time when President Trump is trying to advance negotiations with the Taliban and when he desperately needs to deliver on 2016 campaign promises and improve his sinking electoral prospects,” said Leon.

What kind of monstrous country would fund and recruit fighters to attack occupying troops from an adversary country? It's an unprecedented breach of international ethics in all cases, but it's especially morally grotesque to do it against a foreign military in Afghanistan.</div></dd>
<dt id=Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia Must Demand a French Apology

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[l] at 7/1/20 12:20pm

The visit by newly-elected Tunisian President Kais Saied to France on June 22 was intended to discuss bilateral relations, trade, etc. But it was also a missed opportunity, where Tunisia could have formally demanded an apology from France for the decades of French colonialism, which has shattered the social and political fabric of this North African Arab nation since the late 19th century.

A heated debate at the Tunisian parliament, prior to Saied’s trip highlighted the significance of the issue to Tunisians, who are still reeling under the process of socio-economic and political transitions following the popular uprising in 2011.

Sadly, the Tunisian parliament rejected a motion forwarded by the centrist Karama coalition calling for a French apology, despite a fifteen hours’ long debate.

“We are not animated by any bitterness or hatred, but such apologies will heal the wounds of the past,” Seifeddine Makhlouf, head of Al-Karama, said during the debate. Makhlouf is under no moral obligation to explain his motives. A French apology to Tunisia, and many other African countries that have endured French colonialism for hundreds of years, is long overdue.

Ravaged by a relentless economic crisis, and still largely dependent on France as a foremost trade partner, Tunisia fears the consequences of such a just demand, which, if officially made, will also include a call for compensation as a result of nearly 75 years of exploitation and the subsequent collective trauma suffered by several generations.

A particular statement made by Osama Khelifi of the Qalb Tounes party delineates the unfortunate reality that continues to govern the thinking of Tunisia’s political elites. “We are not going to feed Tunisians with such notions,” he said.

Inconsequential to Khelifi, and others among the parties that rejected the motion is that coming to terms with the past is a prerequisite for any nation that wishes to start anew. What would be the point of revolutions and revolutionary discourses if Tunisian politicians insist on merely trying to get along with a status quo that is imposed on them by outside forces?

While Saied was paying his diplomatic dues to Paris, statues were tumbling down across the Western world; some of former slave owners, others of racist ideologues and pioneers of colonialism.

On June 7, the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th-century slave trader, was taken down in the English town of Bristol. This was only one of many other monuments that were destroyed or defaced throughout the United States and Europe.

However, across the English Channel, the French government remained obstinate in its refusal to take down any similar statues, as if insisting on its refusal to revisit – let alone take responsibility – for its sinister past, especially the bloody and tragic events that shattered the African continent.

Statues are built to honor individuals for their great contributions in any society. They are also erected as a reminder to future generations that they must emulate these presumably great individuals. France, however, remains the exception.

Unsurprisingly, French government officials are engaging in nonsensical arguments as to why such statues, like that of Jean-Baptiste Colbert – a white aristocrat who, during the 17th-century reign of King Louis XIV, established the horrific ‘Black Code’, the rules according to which black slaves were to be treated in the colonies – should remain intact.

Macron himself has made it clear that “the Republic  … won’t remove any statues.”

The collective rethink underway in various Western societies, which have greatly benefited from the exploitation of Africa, was ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of American police officers in Minneapolis.

Spontaneous popular movements, led mostly by the youth, connected the dots between racism, slavery, and colonialism, taking to the streets in their millions to demand a complete overhaul of the status quo.

Yet, France’s political elites continue to embrace French exceptionalism, arguing that, unlike the American experience with race and slavery, French law was never, at any point in the past, purposely racist.

Tunisia French colonialism

French troops round up Arabs in a search for “nationalist agitators” in Kelibia, Tunisia on Jan. 31, 1952. Photo | AP

In truth, past arrogance – ‘mission civilisatrice’ – continues to define France’s attitudes towards the present. This is why the French colonial experience was particularly keen on composing a clever discourse to account for its exploitation of Africa and other regions in the world.

In this skewed rationale, France’s invasion of Algeria in 1830 was dubbed as something else entirely. Algeria was now an integral part of France, they argued. Other countries, like Tunisia and Morocco, were made protectorates, ruled indirectly through corrupt local authorities. The rest of France’s African colonies were ravaged mercilessly by greedy French administrators.

Unlike other European experiences, the French colonial connection to Africa did not disintegrate in recent decades. Instead, it took on different forms, known by the now disparaging term ‘Françafrique’.

The expression ‘Françafrique’ was introduced in 1955 to describe the ‘special relations’ between France and the newly-independent African countries, now bound with what France called ‘cooperation agreements’. It was rightly understood that France was entering a new phase of colonialism in Africa: neo-colonialism.

Despite former French president, François Hollande, pledging to eradicate the term ‘Françafrique’ and its practical meaning, little has changed between France and its former African colonies.

Indeed, France can be found in every aspect of life, whether political, military, economic or even cultural, in many African countries. In the cases of Mali and Libya, the French intervention takes on an even more crude manifestation: domineering and violent.

To appreciate French neo-colonialism in Africa, consider this: fourteen African countries are still economically bound to France through the use of special currency, the CFA franc, designed specifically by France to manage the trade and economies of its former colonies. This jarring example of French neo-colonialism in Africa is consistent with France’s colonial and racist past.

Whether France chooses to come to terms with its past is entirely a French affair. It is, however, the responsibility of Tunisia – and the whole of Africa – to confront France and other colonial and neo-colonial regimes, not merely by demanding apologies and compensation, but insisting on a complete change of the present, unequal relations as well.

“In the colonial context the settler only ends his work of breaking in the native when the latter admits loudly and intelligibly the supremacy of the white man’s values,” wrote Frantz Fanon in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’.

The opposite must also be true. Tunisia, and many African countries, must demand a French apology. By doing so, they declare ‘loudly and intelligibly’ that they are finally free from the ‘white man’s (selfish and racist) values,’ and that they truly see themselves as equal.

Feature photo | A worker from Paris’ City Hall cleans the statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, a 17th century royal minister who wrote rules governing slaves in France’s overseas colonies, in Paris, June 23, 2020. Thibault Camus | 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 (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Tearing Down the Idols of Colonialism: Why Tunisia Must Demand a French Apology appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, colonialism, France, French colonialism, Tunisia]

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[l] at 7/1/20 11:30am

The Israeli Ministry of Defense has launched a project to analyze people’s voices and breathing patterns using artificial intelligence (AI) in order to determine if they have COVID-19. The software allegedly listens for detectable “signs of distress,” ostensibly from the respiratory effects of the virus. A May 27 report in the Jerusalem Post stated that the research was already being conducted at several hospitals in Israel, where confirmed COVID-19 patients were asked to provide voice samples to be compared to those of a control group from the general population.

Results from the research were expected sometime in June. However, the study has now been expanded beyond Israel’s borders. Over one million voice recordings are currently being collected in the United States through a mobile app developed by Massachusetts-based Vocalis Health, under the auspices of the Israeli government.

While growth in the biomarker sector is strong, the applications of voice biomarker technology lean heavily towards surveillance and language parsing, as opposed to diagnostic applications, which are virtually non-existent at the moment. Vocal biometric data has already been making its way into American law enforcement for at least two years.

Thousands of police departments across the United States, for instance, use a voice-recognition technology called “Dragon Law Enforcement” developed by Nuance Communications. This same company has established a strong presence in the healthcare sector as well. In 2018, Nuance partnered with the healthcare software giant, Epic Systems, which is said to hold two-thirds of medical records in the U.S., and its Dragon Medical speech recognition software is used by half a million clinicians throughout the country.

Epic and Nuance Communications are only a few of several companies lurching into the freshly-minted Coronavirus tech marketplace along with at least 150 Israeli startups that began working on ideas relating to COVID-19 back in 2019 – many under the guise of healthcare. But, their value as a medical diagnostic tool looks certain to be outweighed by its broader applications in burgeoning pre-crime law enforcement technologies that are now proliferating across the United States and the world.

 

Unproven Science

Founded just weeks after U.S. intelligence agencies alerted the Israeli government about the threat posed by the novel coronavirus in November 2019, the company was formed from the merger of two Israeli tech companies, Beyond Verbal and Healthymize. Israeli life sciences venture fund Amoon raised the initial $9 million capital for the new company, which focuses on developing artificial intelligence and voice analysis applications for the health sector.

Vocalis Health CEO, Tal Wenderow, said he decided to make a $1.1 billion exit from his medical robotics company, Corindus in 2019 and pursue opportunities in “health, voice, and AI” after realizing “the untapped sense of the human body” presented him with “a very good opportunity.” The “COVID-19 Voice Study” initiated by the Israeli Ministry of Defense and actualized by Vocalis Health will seek 100,000 volunteers to conduct the research which is slated for completion by December 1 with an anticipated product release by the beginning of 2021.

Vocalis Health’s AI-enabled research of the voice recordings in order to “triage, screen and monitor COVID-19 virus” will utilize a platform developed by NeuroLex Laboratories, Inc, called the Voiceome Study – the “world’s largest clinical study to collect voice information labeled with health traits” according to their Indiegogo campaign. Eventually, Vocalis intends to use “this technology as a population health screening tool that could be applied to vast quantities of data collected from call centers or devices”.

NeuroLex founder and CEO, Jim Schwoebel claims voice biomarker technology is analogous to genetic code and can “use machine learning models on speech features to infer health conditions.” While voice biomarkers have been used to aid in the diagnosis of neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and others, which may manifest in voice patterns, the scientific validity of these being of any use in diagnosing specific viral infections is still an open question. Along with finger tapping speed, sleep movements and walking, it is one of the forms of digital biomarkers under investigation in this nascent area of scientific inquiry and, as NeuroLex’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hosseini Ghomi noted in 2019, “the field of digital biomarkers is still very fragmented because there are no standards for voice recording or an organizing force.”

 

A Dubious Proposition

The platform that Vocalis Health used to bootstrap its app, Voiceome, also received funding from a venture capital firm with strong ties to Israel and the IDF through one of its partners, David Gussarsky, a former head of software development teams for the Israel Defense Forces and former IDF special ops commander, Tal Morgenstern. The ubiquitous presence of Israeli defense interests versus health in this endeavor raises questions about the ultimate goal behind it.

Multiple difficulties are posed by the very literature and disclosures published on the COVID-19 Voice Study’s own site. Among the most salient red flags is the consent form offered volunteers, which makes no mention of COVID-19 as one of the “medical and behavioral health conditions” they seek to identify. It does, however, name the neurological conditions NeuroLex designed its algorithms to detect. But, even these are completely undermined by Jim Schwoebel, himself, in the “Risk and Challenges” portion of the Indiegogo campaign where he reminds us of that if the proposed project doesn’t work, Voiceome “can still provide […] relevant reports” on machine learning models for medical questionnaires like PHQ-9, a depression scoring model and UPDRS, a rating scale for Parkinson’s disease.

The “product,” which will eventually result from the study in January of 2021 according to their development timeline, is supposed to “alert about early symptoms and monitoring at home by only using a smart phone,” notifying authorities who can then implement the requisite measures based on unproven technology.

Feature photo | Israeli medical personnel wearing protective gear checks identifications before a government COVID-19 test in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 31, 2020. Ariel Schalit | AP

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

The post Israel Defense Ministry Launches COVID-19 Voice Test for Americans appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, COVID-19, Israel, Surveillance, United States, Vocalis Health, Voice Biomarker]

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[l] at 7/1/20 10:43am

California-based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences has announced that a five-day course of its antiviral drug Remdesivir — shown in tests to effectively fight COVID-19 — will cost $3,120 to Americans with health insurance and $2,340 to those on Medicaid. Yet research published in April calculated that the drug could be produced at a profit for as little as $0.93 per day.

The study, led by Dr. Andrew Hill from the Department of Translational Medicine, University of Liverpool, U.K., and published in the Journal of Virus Eradication, found that a five-day course of lifesaving Remdesivir could be mass-produced for less than the cost of a Subway sandwich. So cheap is the drug that the saline solution and the syringe needed to administer it would be more costly. MintPress spoke with Dr. Hill, who was dismayed by the company’s announcement.

We are in a health emergency. We can’t have a situation right now where people are unable to access medicine because the prices are too high. Remdesivir is a drug that has had its development costs paid for, in large part, by independent donors like governments and ministries of health in China, the WHO, and the U.S. government. So why should a company be making money in the middle of a pandemic by selling a drug which has largely been developed independently of them?” he said.

It will cost $3120 for people with private insurance in the US. Gilead is now worth 101 Billion dollars. That’s a 30% increase since the pandemic. Welcome to the American dream https://t.co/OuCkLrrTme

— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) July 1, 2020

News of the decision led to an explosion of public anger. “As Gilead charges $3,120 for its COVID drug, Remdesivir, remember that the drug was developed with a $70,000,000 grant from the federal government paid for by American taxpayers. Once again, Big Pharma is set to profit on the people’s dime,” wrote former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. “This isn’t healthcare. It’s extortion,” appeared to be the overwhelming sentiment on social media.

Gilead itself, however, seemed not to share this sentiment. Indeed, its press release on the subject positioned its decision as a selfless and magnanimous gesture of corporate philanthropy. “We approached this with the aim of helping as many patients as possible, as quickly as possible and in the most responsible way,” said its CEO, Daniel O’Day, adding that, “under normal circumstances” the company would have charged the public $12,000 per patient.

 

“A new low”

Remdesivir is an intravenous antiviral drug that has been used to fight other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS and has shown some effectiveness against Ebola. Although far from a miracle treatment, studies have concluded that it aids recovery, reducing the average hospital visit for COVID-19 patients from 15 days to 11 days when compared to a placebo. Like with everything coronavirus-related, there is no absolute scientific consensus. In late April, the WHO accidentally leaked a Chinese study that suggested Remdesivir may not be as effective as Gilead claims it to be. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has now bought up the entire world’s stock of the drug, effectively confiscating it and shutting out every other country from the medicine.

“I’ve been working in medicine for 32 years and I have never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen a country be that brazen. We have to work together. This could be a taste of the future. They’ve tried to also do this with advanced orders of vaccines. Imagine if we had a 100 percent effective vaccine and it only went to Americans,” Dr. Hill told MintPress.

At the moment people don’t quite understand the gravity of the decision that the American government has made. This is a worldwide epidemic and we have got to remember that the clinical trials of Remdesivir were not just conducted in the United States; they were conducted around European and Chinese centers. Patients put themselves at risk to take part in an experimental drug trial, and the gratitude we get as other countries after our people were involved in these studies is to be shut out of the future supply of the drug?!… It is simply ethically unacceptable. I think there are serious questions to be answered. This is a new low ground, unfortunately,” he added.

Twitter deleted @markaprovost’s viral tweet. COPY, PASTE, SHARE:

Pharma giant Gilead announced they’ll charge $2500 for Remdesivir, a COVID-19 treatment.
US taxpayers invested $70 million developing Remdesivir. The cost of making it is $10.
This isn’t healthcare. It’s extortion. pic.twitter.com/IbRpiNqPeN

— Leah McElrath </div></dd>
<dt id=Learning From the Past: History Provides Clues into Israel’s West Bank Annexation

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[l] at 6/30/20 9:43am

Palestine has been annexed, occupied, stolen, and Palestinians have been dispossessed, exiled, caged, detained, subjected to an apartheid regime, and killed by the state of Israel for over seven decades. Every few years the world wakes up to protest some aspect of Israeli apartheid, occupation, or a massacre, and then it returns safely to its deep slumber.

Every so often, Israel manages to awaken the angst of the European Union and other international organizations with some announcement or another, a murderous attack on Palestinians, a declaration of annexation or “sovereignty,” and then, as if under the influence of a spell, the angst disappears just as fast as it arose. What usually follows is a long procession of world leaders coming to visit Israel or inviting the Israeli prime minister to their capital to bestow their love and respect for him and the so-called Jewish State.

This time seems to be no different. The Israeli annexation of the Palestinian Jordan River Valley has brought about the world’s displeasure. “A violation of human rights,” says Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We hear that it is a violation of international law and the end of the prospect for peace, as though this is unprecedented and as though it was unexpected. It has long been clear that Israel would annex part of the West Bank, and it was obvious that the Jordan River Valley – the eastern part of the West Bank – was the most likely to be first.

Israel Annexation

A Palestinian shepherd herds his flock in the Jordan Valley, June 30, 2020. Oded Balilty | AP

Annexing the entire eastern part of the West Bank means Palestinians will be cut off from the international border with Jordan and will be surrounded by Israel on all sides. Israel wants access to that land, which currently provides West Bank Palestinians some 50 percent of their agricultural products, and wants complete access to the Jordan River.

 

What Will It Mean

What exactly is the declaration of sovereignty and annexation? No one seems to know for sure. Israeli military experts admit they were not informed as to the details of the move. Israeli politicians are vague and Palestinians, well, no one talked to them, and in any case, people in positions of power don’t care what they think.

Saeb Erikat, who still holds to the title of Palestinian Chief Negotiator, said in an interview with the Israeli television channel Ynet, that “the situation is very severe.” “I have never seen it more severe than I see it now.”

Much of the Israeli press is focused on what the potential Palestinian response may be, and particularly if Israelis should expect violence. Considering the fact that for over seven decades now, Palestinians have been on the receiving end of Israeli violence, it is a cynical thing to ask. According to leaks from a meeting of Israel’s top security chiefs though, the answer to that question is unclear. While the army and Shabak (Israel’s secret police) chiefs claim there will be a violent reaction and that Israelis will see “terrorism” rise, the Mossad chief claims that scenario is unlikely. Either way, Israel never cared much for what Palestinians think and is not concerned with their reactions.

Knowing all too well where his support lies in the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech to Christians United for Israel (CUFI). CUFI is amongst the largest pro-Israel groups in the United States. Netanyahu spoke of the annexation of in biblical terms. He spoke of biblical lands and what he called “Israeli sovereignty over Jewish communities.”

Benjamin Netanyahu kids

Netanyahu watches kids play an interactive biblical game in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in the West Bank, Aug. 27, 2012. Gali Tibbon | AP

He also made the point that these areas are also a part of what he called, “Christian identity,” and part of “Our common civilization.” His speech, like previous comments he’s made on the topic, did not clarify what the annexation will entail.

 

Who Wants Annexation

Israel’s most influential political block, known as the Right Block, wants all of the Palestinian West Bank to be annexed and for Israeli sovereignty to be declared on all of its Jewish settlements. Israel’s political right is made up largely, though not exclusively, of religious Zionists, and settling the West Bank is their number one priority. Annexation will not only give them a political boost, it will make the construction of new Jewish settlements much easier. Whereas today, construction of new Jewish settlements in the West Bank must be approved by the prime minister, Israel’s declaration of sovereignty would make it a matter for local councils.

 

Learning from the Past

In 1948, the Western part of Jerusalem was conquered by Israeli forces and Palestinian residents were forcibly exiled. Not a single Palestinian was permitted to remain or return and overnight, the city became the capital of Israel. The world stood still then, and it stood still when the eastern part of the city was taken in 1967.

Then, in 1980, Israel announced its sovereignty over East Jerusalem, or in other words, annexed the eastern part of the city. The UN Security Council reacted by passing resolution 476, which among other things reaffirmed that “acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible.” The resolution stated that the Security Council was “Gravely concerned over the legislative steps initiated in the Israeli Knesset with the aim of changing the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.” Furthermore, it stated that it “Strongly deplores the continued refusal of Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly.” It also reiterated that “all such measures which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

Israel Annexation

Palestinian laborers line up at the Maale Adumim checkpoint near Jerusalem, June 30, 2020. Oded Balilty | AP

A year later, in 1981, Israel declared its sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights. The UN security council passed resolution 497 which states, among other things, that it is once again “Reaffirming that the acquisition of territory by force is inadmissible, in accordance with the United Nations Charter, the principles of international law, and relevant Security Council resolutions.” The Security Council declared that it “Decides that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction, and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect. It even “Demands that Israel, the occupying power, should rescind forthwith its decision.” Israel, of course, did not adhere to the UN resolutions, and no action was taken to sanction Israel.

 

There is no Israel proper

In 1948, the Zionist movement created the state of Israel in Palestine. By year’s end, 78 percent of Palestine had become Israel, and close to one million Palestinians were forcibly exiled. The rest of Palestine became Israel in 1967. Israel has annexed, occupied, taken, destroyed, built, and renamed everything from individual homes and property to public spaces, to historic monuments. And it has no intention, or reason, to stop.

The issue at hand is not a “proper Israel” doing something that is illegal. It is an illegal entity that has planted itself in Palestine continuing its pursuit of illegal activity. The race to create the mythical Greater Israel in Palestine, with the new temple in place of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in its center has been going on in full force. It is a  never-ending project that is well funded, well planned, and very well executed. Only isolation, boycotts sanctions, and divestment have the ability to stop it and to save Palestine.

Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sept. 10, 2019, where he vowed to begin annexing West Bank settlements if he wins national elections. Oded Balilty | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Learning From the Past: History Provides Clues into Israel’s West Bank Annexation appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Top Story, annexation, Israel, Jewish settlements, United Nations, West Bank]

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[l] at 6/29/20 1:20pm

Social media giant Twitter took the step of suspending the official account of MintPress News on Saturday. Without warning, the nine-year-old account with 64,000 followers was abruptly labeled as “fake” or “spam” and restricted. This move is becoming a frequent occurrence for alternative media, especially those that openly challenge U.S. power globally.

Immediately preceding the ban, MintPress had been sharing stories about Israeli government crimes against Palestinians, the Saudi-led onslaught in Yemen (both funded and supported by Washington), and about activists challenging chemical giant Monsanto’s latest plans. However, MintPess correspondent Ollie Vargas, stationed in Bolivia and covering the coup and other events there, had another theory on the suspension. Vargas noted that his account, along with union leader Leonardo Loza and independent Bolivian outlets Kawsachun Coca and Kawsachun News were all suspended at the same time. “There was a coordinated takedown of numerous users & outlets based in Chapare, Bolivia. Thousands of fake accounts appeared after the coup. We believe they’re being mobilized to mass report those who criticize the regime,” he said. Since the November coup, Bolivia has been the sight of intense political struggle, with MintPress one of the only Western outlets, large or small, extensively covering the situation (and from a perspective that directly challenges the official US government line). Vargas added that all those accounts suspended appeared in his Twitter bio.

In December, MintPress reported how the strongly conservative Bolivian elite is treating social media as a key battleground in pushing the coup forward, with over 5,000 accounts created on the day of the insurrection tweeting using pro-coup hashtags. With the new administration still lacking both legitimacy and public support, it appears the next step is to simply silence dissenting voices online like they have been silenced inside the country. Kawsachun Coca and Kawsachun News, located in the Chapare region, still not under government control, are among the only remaining outlets critical of the Añez administration.

As Twitter has developed into a worldwide medium of communication, it has also grown an increasingly close relationship with Western state power. In September, a senior Twitter executive was unmasked as an active duty officer in a British Army brigade whose specialty was online and psychological warfare. It was almost entirely ignored by corporate media; the one and only journalist at a major publication covering the story was pushed out of his job weeks later. Earlier this month, Twitter announced it worked with a hawkish U.S.- and Australian-government sponsored think tank to purge nearly 200,000 Chinese, Russian and Iranian accounts from its platform. It has also worked hard to remove Venezuelan users critical of U.S. regime change, including large numbers of government members. Meanwhile, despite detailed academic work exposing them, Venezuelan opposition bot networks remain free to promote intervention.

Facebook has also been working hand-in-hand with the Atlantic Council, a NATO think tank, to determine what users and posts are legitimate and what is fake news, effectively giving control over what its 2.4 billion users see in their news feeds to the military organization. Reddit, another huge social media platform, recently appointed a former deputy director at the council to be its head of policy.

Earlier this year, Facebook announced that it was banning all positive appraisals of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian general and statesman assassinated by the Trump administration. This, it explained, was because Trump had labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terrorist organization. “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the IRGC and its leadership,” it said in a statement. This is particularly worrying, as Soleimani was the country’s most popular public figure, with over 80 percent of Iranians holding a positive view of him, according to a University of Maryland poll. Therefore, because of the whims of the Trump administration, Facebook began suppressing a majority view shared by Iranians with other Iranians in Farsi across all its platforms, including Instagram. Thus, the line between the state, the military industrial complex, and big media platforms whose job should be to hold them to account has blurred beyond distinction. The incident also once again highlights that big tech monopolies are not public resources, but increasingly tightly controlled American enterprises working in conjunction with Washington.

More worryingly, it is the tech companies themselves who are pushing for this integration. “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century,” wrote Google executives Eric Schmidt and Larry Cohen in their book, The New Digital Age, “technology and cyber-security companies [like Google] will be to the twenty-first.” The book was heartily endorsed by Atlantic Council director Henry Kissinger.

After an online outcry including journalists like Ben Norton directly appealing to administrators, the accounts were reinstated today. However, the weekend’s events are another point of reference in the trend of harassing and suppressing independent, alternative or foreign media that challenges the U.S. state power, an increasingly large part of which is linked to the big online media platforms we rely on for free exchange of ideas, opinions and discourse.

On the incident, MintPress founder Mnar Muhawesh said:

Twitter’s ban hammer and censorship army of flaggers is an attempt to re-tighten state and corporate control over the free flow of information. That’s why it’s no wonder independent media like MintPress News, Kawsachun, and watchdog journalists covering state crimes like Ollie Vargas have been targeted in what appears to be an organized effort to silence and censor dissent. Twitter’s message is very clear: our first amendment is not welcome, as long as it challenges establishment narratives.”

Feature photo | A coca leaf producer kneels holding a bible with his arms outspread asking police to open the way so a march by supports of Evo Morales may continue to Cochabamba, Bolivia, Nov. 16, 2019. Juan Karita | 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 Twitter Targets Accounts of MintPress and Other Outlets Covering Unrest in Bolivia appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, Bolivia, Censorship, coup, kawsachun news, Ollie Vargas, Twitter]

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[l] at 6/29/20 10:17am

Clad in full riot gear, wielding batons and pepper spray, police in Aurora, Colo, broke up last night’s vigil to the memory of 23-year-old massage therapist Elijah McClain  — a man killed by the same police force last August. The day had begun with demonstrations organized by the local chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. At 8.30 p.m. a somber violin vigil was held in the city’s Center Park, where dozens of musicians, including children from local orchestras, congregated to mourn his killing last year. Videos of the event show the police charging the sizable crowds, spraying protestors with pepper spray and beating them with their batons.

Aurora PD breaking up the peaceful violin vigil for the very kid they murdered. #ElijahMclain pic.twitter.com/OP4TlawVk5

— Jessie B (@jessiedesigngal) June 28, 2020

As #Aurora municipal security forces lost patience with how long it was taking to illegally evict us from the #ElijahMcClain violin vigil, they began deploying chemical agents directly into protesters faces and at protesters that were fleeing while attempting to make arrests pic.twitter.com/ElDeu8Q4LD

— dula lipa (@dulapalooza) June 28, 2020

Elijah McClain was an introverted 23-year-old black man killed by the police in August of 2019. A quirky, pacifistic vegetarian, he was described by those who knew him as a “child-like spirit.” A lover of music, in his spare time he would visit shelters to play his violin to the homeless cats and dogs, believing it comforted them (hence yesterday’s violin vigil). On the evening of August 24, he was on his way home from buying his brother an iced tea at the convenience store, when he was accosted by three officers, Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema, who claimed they were on the lookout for a suspicious person.

The officers quickly put McClain in a now-banned carotid chokehold, cutting off blood supply to his brain. They claimed that the 5’6” 140-pound McClain, medically diagnosed with anemia, fought back with “crazy strength,” and therefore instructed medics to inject him with ketamine, a drug often reserved for tranquilizing horses. He was pronounced brain dead after arriving at the hospital.

Bodycam footage from the event, however, tells another story, showing McClain gasping for air repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” and officers threatening to unleash their dogs on him if he moved a muscle. Officers also admit that he had done nothing illegal. His final words were:

I can’t breathe. I have my I.D. right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.

His last words pleading for air closely resemble those of other high profile black victims of police violence, Eric Garner (choked to death by NYPD in 2014) and George Floyd (choked to death by Minneapolis police in May). Indeed, without the protest movement engulfing the nation, it is very likely that McClain’s name would have been forgotten, becoming a statistic; one of over 1,000 civilians police kill, on average, every year in the U.S.

Like with Garner and Floyd’s killers, there has been no justice for McClain. A series of courts refused to prosecute the NYPD officer filmed killing Garner, and he was only fired from his job in 2019. Meanwhile, authorities declined to arrest Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin until protestors threatened to take over the entire city. It was only on June 20, after huge local rallies and a petition signed by over 3.8 million people that the Aurora Police Department even removed all the officers involved in the killing from regular duty. The message delivered appears to be that it is not the officers’ conduct that led to their censure, but the public outcry forcing police to act.

The actions of the Aurora Police Department come at a time of heightened scrutiny of law enforcement and are sure to add fuel to the fire to those calling for the defunding or abolition of the police entirely. Between May 26 and June 3 the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker identified 180 assaults on journalists covering the protest, 149 of them by the police. This weekend the NYPD broke up an LGBT pride march celebrating the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where cops ransacked a gay bar in Manhattan. Meanwhile, in Detroit, a police car plowed through a crowd of around a dozen Black Lives Matter activists yesterday. The incident was caught on camera.

Detroit Police Department drove into 10-12 protesters including myself. Multiple people are going to the hospital. #NoJusticeNoPeace #detroitpolice #GeorgeFloyd #BreonnaTayor #PoliceBrutality pic.twitter.com/etj3a6ejzN

— Activist Ethan Ketner (@DJEazyTwist) June 29, 2020

A recent Reuters poll found that 39 percent of Americans favored entirely dismantling the police altogether. It is unlikely that the event in Aurora will endear them to any of the undecided population concerned about police brutality.

Feature photo | Officers in riot gear guard the police department Saturday, June 27, 2020, in Aurora, Colo., during a rally and march over the death of Elijah McClain. David Zalubowski | 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 Aurora Police Violently Crackdown on Peaceful Vigil for Black Man Killed in Police Chokehold appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, aurora police department, Elijah McClain, Police, Police Brutality]

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[l] at 6/29/20 9:22am

Rahway, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — When Lawrence Bell, an orphan living in an abandoned house in Camden, New Jersey, went to prison he was 14-years-old. Barely literate and weighing no more than 90 pounds, he had been pressured by three Camden police detectives into signing a confession for a murder and rape he insisted at his trial he did not commit, although admitted he was in the car of the man who dragged a young mother into the bushes where she was sexually assaulted and strangled to death. It made no difference. The confession condemned him, although there was no scientific evidence or any independent witnesses tying him to the crime. He would not be eligible to go before a parole board for 56 years. It was a de facto life sentence.

But on Sunday, thanks to the dogged work of Jennifer Sellitti, an attorney who is in charge of training the Public Defender’s office’s 600 lawyers, Lawrence walked out of East Jersey State Prison after serving thirty years and one day. Sellitti, who devoted two-and-a-half years to freeing Lawrence and who openly wept in court, used Lawrence’s case as a prototype for re-sentencing hearings for juveniles that were tried as adults. Lawrence will attempt, with no money and few connections, to start a life interrupted by a dysfunctional judicial and prison system, filled mostly with 2.3 million poor men and women like Lawrence. It was a tiny victory in a sea of defeats.

Lawrence and I walked the two blocks from the prison to the QuickChek, a ritual for most prisoners released from East Jersey State Prison. The convenience store, which can be seen from the barred windows, has a mythic status in the prison, a symbol for those locked inside of the outside world.

Lawrence Bell

Lawrence Bell [right], moments after being released from East Jersey State Prison on Sunday, is greeted by his friend Ron Pierce [left], who was also incarcerated for three decades.

“I feel a mixture of excitement and trepidation,” he said. “It feels so strange right now to be walking outside without handcuffs and shackles.”

“How long has it been since you walked outside as a free man?” I asked.

“Thirty years and one day,” he said. “June 27, 1990 I came into prison at 14-years-old. I’m now going on 45-years old. It’s amazing. It’s scary. But it’s here.”

He said he was up at 4:00 a.m. to wait by his cell door. He was released at 8:30.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said of his release. “A lot of these guys I grew up with. They’re my brothers, they’re not my friends. As happy as I am to be leaving, I won’t ever forget the fact that I’m leaving people I love and care for behind. But this is just a chance to help ‘em, man, to come back for ‘em, just like everybody came back for me. We got to go back for them, too. As I say, it’s bittersweet, but somebody got to go at some point to start bringing other people home. And that’s just the way I try and keep it in focus, keep myself from having like survivor’s guilt.”

“The hardest thing about getting out is the unknown, not knowing what I’m gonna face, not knowing what’s gonna be there, what’s not gonna be there, who’s gonna be there, particularly for me coming in as a kid, as literally a child,” he said. “These are my first steps in the free world as a grown man. I don’t know how to pay a bill. I don’t know how to open a bank account. I don’t know how to apply for insurance. There are so many things I don’t know, and I think that is probably the scariest thing for me, trying to figure out how to exist as a grown man in a free world after 30 years.”

“When you thought about getting out was there one thing you wanted to do in particular?” I asked.

“As crazy as this sounds, I want to ride a bike and go swimming,” he said. “I don’t know why. I think that might be a reflection of the fact that I got locked up as a child. I kind of think about the things that I left off doing as a child. I also look forward to getting up that first morning and sitting outside and having myself a cup of coffee on the steps, just quiet, just enjoying freedom.”

Lawrence entered the QuickChek, clutching some cash friends had handed to him, and came out with a bouquet of flowers for his lawyer.

The police violence in the streets of American cities is savage and lethal, but its counterpart is our monstrous prison system where the poor are railroaded into cages by courts that coerce 94 percent to take plea deals rather than jury trials. The poor are imprisoned for decades for crimes they did not commit or with sentences for crimes they did commit that are four or five times longer than in any other industrialized country. We have 25 percent of the world’s prison population but are 4 percent of the global population. Half of those in our prison system have never been charged with physically harming another person.

The poor rarely get adequate legal representation and once locked up usually depend on self-taught prison paralegals to help them file desperate appeals, although many sentences increasingly come with the stipulation that there can be no appeals. Hiring an outside attorney to file an appeal costs as much as $100,000, a sum neither they nor their families can obtain.

Prisons, along with the police, are the twin pillars of social control. They are used by the ruling elites to keep those discarded by deindustrialization and austerity fearful, intimidated and neutralized. Break the reigns of terror by the police and the bonds of the world’s largest prison system and the ruling elites will stand naked before us. And this is why the reigning oligarchs, despite gaslighting us with promises of reform, have no intention of weakening the two principle institutions that keep those they have betrayed in bondage and themselves in power.

Lawrence, who I taught in the B.A. program in the New Jersey prison system run by Rutgers University and who has a 4.0 GPA, never had a chance. He lived at 14 different addresses, a common experience for the poor who are repeatedly evicted from their homes and often suffer from the same perimigration trauma I witnessed among refugees and the displaced in war zones. (Perimigration is the phase between initial displacement and eventual resettlement.)

Like orphaned children buffeted by war, Lawrence endured extreme poverty, chronic instability, physical abuse and the early death of his parents. He lived in constant fear, even terror, amid street violence — Camden per capita was often ranked as the most dangerous city in America — was exploited by drug dealers, deprived of his most basic needs, and was rejected and outcast by the wider society. He never had an adequate income or sufficient food.

Lawrence, terrified and alone in the Camden police interrogation room, was repeatedly assured by the detectives that they wanted to help him, that if he signed the papers he could go home, that 10 years would immediately be taken off his sentence. He had no family to intercede on his behalf or legal representation. His father had died when he was about two. His mother, who had raised him and his sister, had died in June 1985 when he was nine. His forlorn efforts at his trial to recant the confession, to insist he did not commit the crime and did not understand what was in the confession or its consequences, were brushed aside by Judge Isaiah Steinberg.

He was charged with murder, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, and related offenses in the 1990 rape and murder. Steinberg, when he announced the aggregate sentence of life plus 50 years with 55 years to be served without parole, sneeringly called Lawrence in the courtroom a “despicable coward.” Lawrence was 14 at the time of the crime. He was 15 when the court told him he was an adult. He was 16 during his trial. He would be 70 before he could see a parole board.

Lawrence, who I taught in several classes, was one of my most dedicated and gifted students. If I mentioned a book that was not required reading, he made huge efforts to obtain it and read it. At the end of a history course I taught called Conquest — we read Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, and The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution — Lawrence waited until the classroom was empty. He told me, “I know I am going to die in this prison, but I work as hard as I do so one day I can be a teacher like you.”

Lawrence’s life was a train wreck of abuse and neglect, one that defines the lives of many of my students. He suffered terrible physical abuse from his mother’s boyfriend Reggie. The tragic struggles of the poor are rendered largely invisible by a corporate media that caters to the demands of advertisers and is addicted to ratings. This is why protestors in poor neighborhoods attack camera crews. It is why crowds trashed the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. The poor know that these reporters only appear to film or write about looting, fires and rioting, never exposing or explaining the long slow drip of neglect, poverty, police terror, mass incarceration and humiliation that make the eruptions comprehensible.

“My earliest memory is of coming home from kindergarten,” Lawrence said. “My mom and I would watch TV shows together in the afternoons. That day, I came in through the door and saw my mom sitting on the couch with Reggie holding a shotgun to her head. And she said in a very calm voice, ‘Go upstairs.’ And so, I did. Something didn’t feel right, but I didn’t understand what was going on. At that age, you believe your mom, so I thought everything must be OK.”

“I had a couple of guinea pigs that I would take care of, and they can be dirty and will, you know, make a mess everywhere,” he said. “One day, Reggie told me to clean up after them, and I said, ‘Yeah, OK,’ but I didn’t clean up the mess right away. So, later on, without saying anything, he brought his dog up to the second floor where the guinea pigs were kept. He let his dog behind the gate at the top of the stairs and the dog went in and ate the guinea pigs. He would do things like that. Just sadistic. Another time, we had some small dogs like poodles that were outside one night — and this was winter — and he took some water and threw it all over them and closed the door with them still outside. They froze to death.”

“It was like walking on eggshells all the time. Everyone would have to be quiet whenever he was home. My mom would try to keep us all quiet by having us play board games or do other quiet things. The door was set up with a lock on the inside and the outside, so you would need a key to get out of the house. And we couldn’t go into the basement or their bedroom. They were off limits. I don’t think I saw into my mom and Reggie’s bedroom until I was maybe seven or eight years old. I can remember hearing fights going on upstairs. Like, you would hear things being thrown around and breaking or like my mom being thrown around. And then, after a few minutes, there would just be silence. He would come downstairs like nothing had happened and leave. Then we would go find my mom and she would have a swollen face and bruises, putting ice on her face in front of the mirror. And I just remember wanting to get bigger so I could beat him up. I wanted to kill him for doing that to my mom. The saddest thing was that even when he wasn’t home, we would still act like he was. Because he drove a tow truck for work, we didn’t know when he was going to show up, so we always acted like he was home.”

Lawrence’s oldest brother, Gary, was about 20. He was in and out of prison. He was “everybody’s hero because he would stand up to Reggie.” By the time Lawrence was seven or eight the only children left in the house were his sister, who Reggie sexually molested, and himself. His sister once jumped from the attic window trying to escape from Reggie and broke her ankles. Reggie’s fury and violence intensified. His mother tried to leave, but Reggie would take Lawrence or his sister hostage until his mother returned. Reggie once took Lawrence when he was about seven or eight to the apartment of a stranger after picking him up from school. Reggie called his mother and said he was going to give Lawrence pills, which he told Lawrence was candy. His mother shouted over the phone for him not to swallow the pills. She agreed to come back to Reggie if he would hand her son back to her.

“For a long time, I was angry with her for not leaving,” he said. “I blamed her for allowing us to be abused by him. But later on, as I thought more about it, I could see how she couldn’t leave. I learned about Battered Woman Syndrome and how people can be manipulated, and I know that that’s what happened to her. After being angry with her for years, I was able to let go of blaming her. I forgave her. And then I also had to forgive myself for ever blaming her.”

On June 22, 1985 his mother collapsed in the kitchen.

“We called 9-1-1,” he said. “I held her head in my lap while we waited for the ambulance to come. It was a blood clot in her lung, a pulmonary embolism. She was dead there on the floor, but I think they revived her at the hospital. Then she died on the operating table, if I remember correctly.”

Reggie came home that night from the hospital.

“Your mother died, and I don’t want to hear anything out of you,” he told the children.

“He forbade us from crying about it,” Lawrence said. “I remember the exact song that was playing when he told us she died. My sister and I just sat there in the living room for what must have been a long time. For months after she died, I wouldn’t speak to anyone. Sometimes I would whisper to my sister, but I stopped talking to other people for a while. Before she died, I didn’t smoke weed. Before she died, I was a good student. I started getting into trouble at school after that. I got into my first fight that year in school, my first physical fight. A kid said something about my mom, some joke about her being stupid. I grabbed a chair and hit him with it. I think there was a rage inside of me that wasn’t there before. No school counselor or anyone else talked to me. I am the epitome of systemic failures. If you want to talk about how systems fail, just look at my life. There isn’t anyone available to help you in that situation. I never remember the police coming around the house except for maybe once when my brothers were brought home for playing hooky. So, after the police left, we all watched as they got beaten. But no one ever intervened.”

The death of Lawrence’s mother deeply affected his older brother Troy who was manic-depressive and an alcoholic. Troy, after his mother’s death, tried to kill himself by cutting his arm from his wrist almost to his elbow with a hunting knife.

“I was sitting on the porch with my sister when Troy called once,” Lawrence said. “He was crying and drunk. He told her that he was going to kill himself. So, I got in my car, I had been driving since I was twelve, and drove over to the cemetery where my mom was buried. He was sitting at her grave. He was drunk and crying and said he wanted to die. I went over to talk to him. And I’m not sure if it was a moment of clarity or a moment of acceptance, but I went back to my car and got my gun. I loaded it and handed it to him and said, ‘Here. If you want to die, put it in your mouth. You won’t miss.’ He looked at me for a moment, then he got up and walked to my car and got in.”

Troy later tried to commit suicide by stabbing himself in the stomach. Troy visited Lawrence in prison a few times.

“He died a few years ago from heart complications, tuberculosis, alcoholism — you pick the reason,” Lawrence said.

Six months after his mother died Reggie was arrested and sent to prison. Lawrence moved in with an older woman, a friend of his mother’s, who lived across the street, who he called Grandma. But she soon left for New York City and passed Lawrence into the care of her daughter Debbie, who was bipolar and physically abusive.

“Debbie was sort of like my guardian, if you can call her that, but she wasn’t officially my guardian,” he said. “That’s now an issue in my case — to this day, the state of New Jersey doesn’t know who my legal guardian was after my mom died. Debbie wasn’t legally responsible for me, so she wasn’t able to give the police permission to interrogate me like they claimed. I got left with Debbie because I guess Grandma thought it would be good for Debbie to have the responsibility of taking care of me. She thought it would calm her down and give her more stability.”

“Reggie’s abuse was sometimes physical but mostly psychological, but Debbie’s was just physical,” he said. “It would get to the point where it was a preemptive beating. When I’d come home from school, she’d say, ‘I know you did something,’ and beat me. And she was smoking and selling weed. The house was raided by police multiple times when I was staying there. She got me to sell weed for her. She’d say that if I wanted new sneakers, I would need to earn them. I’d see other boys I knew selling drugs and making money. One day Debbie asked me where my friends were getting their money from, and I said drugs. She said, ‘Well, why don’t you go out there with them?’ So, I started selling for her. I’d sell dime bags. One package was 35 bags, so I’d give $300 to Debbie and keep $50 for myself. That was a standard cut at the time. After that, I always had money. I saved a lot of what I made. I was the kind of kid who would keep at least $20 in my shoe at all times. I would take my money, go buy an ounce of weed, pack it up into bags, and sell it myself. I was making more that way. That was the end of depending on her.”

He still had a key to his old house on 25th Street, although it was abandoned. He started sleeping there at night. He carried a gun, a .32 special, fearful of being robbed.

“Before I went to sleep, I’d spread some gravel over the porch so that I could hear if anyone came up to the house during the night,” he said. “I could sell drugs and take care of myself without her. My sister was still around. She would argue with me and tell me I needed to stop selling, but at the same time, she was accepting my help. She had little kids by now and she was struggling financially. So, even though she didn’t want me to sell drugs, she needed Pampers for her kids and she accepted my money.”

He got a girl pregnant when he was thirteen. She had an abortion.

“It felt like another loss,” he said. “I never had suicidal thoughts or a desire to die like Troy, but I will say that I was sort of numb. I didn’t care about living. One night … I was sitting on my porch smoking weed and taking pain pills. I was drinking beer, too. I had been given a prescription for the pills because I was hit by a car and broke both of my knees. I also had head trauma from the car accident. I was sitting in a chair on my porch with my legs propped up because they were in a soft cast, and taking these pills, but they weren’t helping. I took another one, and nothing. I took a few more, still nothing — no help with the pain. A friend of mine had some Xanax, so he gave me some, and I took one or two. Not long after that, my sister came over and saw me on the porch with the pills. And she said, ‘What are you doing mixing those pills with all of that? You’re gonna kill yourself.’ And my response was just, so? That was my attitude toward life then – I didn’t care if I died.”

“Imagine that you are fourteen, still a kid, and you are brought into a courtroom,” he said. “You have these adults around that you’ve never met before and they are saying things you don’t understand. You catch a few words like ‘murder’ and ‘rape,’ but you still don’t know what they are talking about. It happens really fast and then they take you away, back to the youth house — the correctional facility. That’s what it was like. That whole hearing was like a blur. Next thing I know I’m in the youth house, I was meeting with a lawyer, then going to see a psychiatrist for an evaluation. But I don’t fully understand what’s going on. That’s why I never want to be in a situation where I can’t follow what the people around me are saying. Part of what drives me to learn and be ready for anything, any conversation, is wanting to prevent that from ever happening again.”

He spent 22 months in jail before going to trial.

“The judge decided to charge me as an adult because of the seriousness of the crime,” Lawrence said. “He said I didn’t seem remorseful. But what they didn’t think about was the effect that being in jail had on me. I saw two people get killed when I was there. During the trial, my mind was partially focused on that, keeping myself prepared for going back into that situation. They interpreted that as indifference and a lack of remorse. One thing that the judge said has stuck with me. He called me ‘irredeemable.’ I’ve been working hard and working on myself all this time to prove him wrong. I want him to be able to look at me and admit that he was wrong about [that]. If I saw him again, I’d tell him, ‘You were wrong about me. But that’s OK, it’s OK as long as other kids — babies — don’t end up being locked up like I was.’”

“After the trial, they took me away, stripped me down and put me in a jail uniform,” he said. “That’s when it became real and I knew what was happening. I went to the jail that night, but the people at the jail didn’t want to admit me at first. I was so small and looked young. They were calling their supervisors to find out what to do with me. That first night I was put in a holding cell with other guys. And one of the guys was staring at me, looking at me funny. I started a fight with him — I felt like I had to. I was taken away and I ended up being placed in protective custody. It’s a block for anyone who can’t be in the general population. I was in isolation. It’s called ‘23 and one’ — 23 hours in isolation and one hour outside of your cell each day. I would count all the bricks in my cell, all the lines on the walls. I still do that. I will count all of the photos in a magazine or every time a word or phrase shows up in a book. I learned that habit while in isolation. The hardest part, probably, is being alone with your thoughts. They were concerned for my safety because I was so small and skinny. But there were, I think, six pedophiles on that block. I wanted out. So, I signed a waiver so that I could join the general population.”

Lawrence’s brother Gary was known within the prison population. His friends watched out for Lawrence, who was now 17-years-old and at Garden State prison.

“A man named Salaam, who was like a father figure to me, really took care of me,” he said. “Whenever I was getting into trouble or fights, he’d come and talk to me. Reverend Du Bois was another person who helped me a lot. He was the head chaplain at Garden State. He showed me respect and really cared about me even though I was Muslim, and he was Christian.”

“There was a time when members of the Bloods tried to take over the chapel,” he said. “Some guys, including me, intervened on behalf of Reverend Du Bois. He was really well-liked and respected by everyone. In the end, the Bloods backed off. I bring up this story because not all Christians were as accepting of me as a Muslim as Rev. Du Bois. Years ago, I wrote to Centurion ministries asking for help with my case. They said they wanted to help but that they were focused on helping Christians, not Muslims. They might have felt differently about taking on my case if they had known how I’d put my neck on the line to help Christians like Rev. Du Bois.”

“When I was young, people didn’t give me chance,” he said. “Nobody intervened, nobody tried to help or took me aside and said that they believed in me. But once I got to prison, I encountered people who cared about me and really wanted to help. As soon as I was given a chance, I took to it like a fish to water. So many teachers and classes have had an impact on me over the years. My teachers have been mentors. They stand as examples of what I want to be and show me what is possible. Every day, I am trying to make progress and be a little better than I was yesterday. I’m always learning, growing. It may be that today I learn a new word or work through a puzzle – anything that challenges me. Something in me pushes me to keep getting better. My most prized possessions are my books. I have nice, hardbound editions of The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and others. I love reading Homer and Ovid and the classics. I’ve read everything that Shakespeare has written. I actually have a one-volume edition of Shakespeare’s works. I like his sonnets and comedies the most. My favorite book is probably Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown. I read that one a long time ago and still like it. You’ve read Dante’s Divine Comedy, right? Right now, I am writing a book that follows my life as a journey through the different stages in the Divine Comedy. It sees my own experiences as part of a journey that leads to the discovery of self. I remember thinking when I first read the Divine Comedy that his idea of Purgatory is sort of what it feels like being in prison.”

Lawrence would not have walked out of East Jersey State Prison on Sunday without Sellitti.

“When I first started as a lawyer, my boss in Wooster was this guy named Mike Hussy, who is an amazing attorney,” Sellitti told me. “He’s retired now. And I would go to court all the time, and I would come back from court, you know this little new lawyer, and he would say to me, ‘Doing justice?’ And on the days when I did something great in court, when I got a great victory for a client, I’d be like ‘Yeah! Yeah! I’m doing justice!’ And on the days when things went wrong, I’d be like, ‘No, no justice today.’ And then finally, one day, I believed my client was innocent, but he got such a good deal and he really wanted to take it. I didn’t want him to, but I understood what he was doing, and he took it. I came back to the office and he asked, ‘Doing justice?’ I said, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’ He said, ‘I’ve been asking you that question for two years, and you finally got the answer right.’ And that’s like, kind of the best way you can look at the system. Half the time, I’m like, I don’t know.”

Those who know Lawrence and who were released before him have used the last few weeks to fill my garage with household items. We applied for and received a grant from the Lilah Hilliard Fisher foundation to rent a small apartment in East Orange, NJ. In the fall he will finish his degree at Rutgers. We will pool our meager resources, because no one else will, to help him resurrect his life. It is a victory for us. But it does nothing to halt the onslaught that continues around us. There is only triage, the attempts, often by those most abused by the system, to extract a little justice. I cling emotionally to these tiny victories — a job for a student who was released, covering the rent for a student who got out and was evicted from his fiancée’s trailer because of his conviction 30 years earlier, buying a computer for a student who matriculated to Rutgers but did not have any money. These victories keep me going, but they do little to blunt our callous indifference to the most vulnerable among us.

You become fatalistic, you strive against a monolithic evil knowing that whatever you achieve is Pyrrhic, that the system flourishes despite your efforts. And yet, what binds you, what keeps you going, are these relationships. How can you walk away? How can you do nothing? If you stand with the oppressed and are defeated have you failed? Or does one succeed by simply being willing to make that journey, to show them they are not forgotten, not alone? And while Lawrence’s release is minuscule when set against the vast injustice around us, it is not minuscule to us.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the last volume of the Gulag Archipelago, once he is released and sent into internal exile, writes of a Serb, a teacher, also in forced exile, named Georgi Stepanovich Mitrovich. He, too, had been recently freed from the gulag. Mitrovich would not give up his dogged battle with local authorities for justice for his students.

“His battle was utterly hopeless, and he knew it,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “No one could unravel that tangled skein. And if he had won hands down, it would have done nothing to improve the social order, the system. It would have been no more than a brief, vague gleam of hope in one narrow little spot, quickly swallowed by the clouds. Nothing that victory might bring could balance the risk of rearrest — which was the price he might pay.” (Only the Khrushchev era saved Mitrovich).

“Yes, his battle was hopeless, but it was human to be outraged by injustice, even to the point of courting destruction! His struggle could only end in defeat — but no one could possibly call it useless. If we had not all been so sensible, not all been forever whining to each other: ‘It won’t help! It can’t do any good!’ our land would have been quite different.”

Feature photo | East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey, on July 12, 2018. Photo | Brendan McDermid | Reuters

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: My Student Comes Home appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Insights, National, News, Chris Hedges, criminal justice, East Jersey State Prison, incerceration, Lawrence Bell]

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[l] at 6/29/20 8:33am

The perpetual occupation of Afghanistan has become so normalized that it mostly serves as background noise to most Americans. It’s even jokingly referred to as the “Forever War,” accepted as just another constant reality. A soldier dies now and again, a couple of dozen civilians get killed in another bombing. It’s never enough to stir the population to pressure Washington enough to stop it. And the endless war drags on.

From George W. Bush to Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, every U.S. president has promised to end the war. But their plans to bring the troops home inevitably require first sending more troops to the country. You can’t look at all this rhetoric and reality and not conclude that the United States wants to stay in Afghanistan forever. And there is a reason, despite an unresolvable military quagmire, that the Empire won’t let go of Afghanistan.

In this latest “Empire Files” documentary, journalist Abby Martin covers reveals the reality of  America’s Wars in Afghanistan, from the CIA construct of the 1980s through today’s senseless stalemate. MintPress brings you documentary in its entirety, published with permission from filmmaker Abby Martin.

 
Feature photo | A young boy carries a sack of goods on his back walks past a mural depicting Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 5, 2020. Rahmat Gul | AP

The post Every American Should Watch Abby Martin’s New Afghanistan War Documentary appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Abby Martin, Afghanistan War, Afghanistan War Exposed: An Imperial Conspiracy, documentary, Empire Files]

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[l] at 6/26/20 2:31pm

M enifee, CA (IAK) — Reuters reported Wednesday on the latest “alleged car-ramming incident” in which a Palestinian was killed at an Israeli military checkpoint. The news story – from the outlet that reaches “more than one billion people every day” – was brief, yet included statements from both an Israeli police spokesperson and a relative of the Palestinian man who was killed.

While this may suggest that the coverage of the incident was balanced, in reality, it was not.

This is part of two ongoing – and longstanding – trends: impunity on the part of Israel in its violent policies toward Palestinians, and a strong pro-Israel bias in American mainstream media (MSM).

Below is a look how Reuters reported the alleged car-ramming incident. Original (abridged) text is in italics; additional details are from (MSM source) Associated Press, and (alternative news sources) Mondoweissthe New ArabDemocracy Now!Palestine News Network, and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), as well as two Israeli online newspapers (two articles from Ha’aretz and one from Times of Israel) and Twitter.

Concluding remarks on the coverage of the Palestinian issue follow.

 

The alleged car-ramming

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police on Tuesday shot dead a Palestinian man who they said had tried to ram his car into an officer at a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the 27-year-old [Ahmed] Erekat lightly injured an officer when he drove his vehicle into a barrier at a checkpoint near the town of Abu Dis, east of Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials questioned the police’s account of Ahmad Erekat’s death. They said he was rushing to nearby Bethlehem to pick up family members from a hair salon on his sister’s wedding day.

“(He) got out of the car and approached officers who responded by shooting” him.


PCHR, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, includes details that paint a clearer, more accurate picture of the incident, as well as providing background information on the victim – factual information that gives the reader a completely different perspective on Ahmed Erekat:

“On Tuesday, 23 June 2020, Israeli occupation forces (IOF) killed a Palestinian civilian after opening fire at his vehicle, which collided into the traffic island in the center of al-container military checkpoint, east of Bethlehem.

“According to PCHR’s investigations and eyewitnesses’ testimonies, at approximately 15:53 on Tuesday, Ahmed Mostafa Mousa Erekat (26), from Abu Dis village in occupied East Jerusalem, was waiting in queue at al-container military checkpoint in eastern Bethlehem, to cross into Bethlehem where he was supposed to pick up his mother and sisters from a beauty salon in the city and return to Abu Dis village to attend his sister’s, Eman, wedding.

“At approximately 15:55, when Erekat vehicle approached the checkpoint, it deviated from its path and collided into the traffic island opposite the glass room where Israeli border guard soldiers stationed. The soldiers immediately opened fire at the vehicle, wounding Erekat with several live bullets in his upper body.”

 

The aftermath

“[H]e died at the scene,” [Israeli police spokesperson] Rosenfeld added.

Video showed Israeli troops placing a plastic sheet over the man, who lay shirtless on the ground next to his vehicle.


Again, PCHR provides missing information: “They pulled him out of the vehicle, threw him on the ground and prevented Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS)’s medical crew from approaching him or providing first aid; leaving him to bleed to his death on the dirt at the checkpoint.”

Ahmed Erekat

Ahmed’s fiancee grieves following his death. Photo | PNN

The Israeli paper Ha’aretz corroborates, “Video footage obtained by Haaretz shows Erekat was left to bleed to death for at least 30 minutes, sources say, and was not given immediate medical treatment.”

Ha’aretz also adds that the Israeli police officer “who was injured lightly” was “evacuated to a Jerusalem hospital.”

Elsewhere, a Ha’aretz op-ed by a relative adds the detail that Erekat’s body was taken away by the Israeli police, and has been since withheld from his family.

 

Comments on the incident

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the man killed was his relative, and that his wedding was set for next week.

“This young man was killed in cold blood. What the occupation army (Israeli military) claims, that he was trying to run someone over, is a lie,” he said.


On Twitter, Noura Erekat, the well-known Palestinian American attorney, author, and human rights activist echoed her relative’s sentiment as she addressed Israel’s accusation that Ahmed Erekat was a terrorist: “You lie. You kill. You lie. This is my baby cousin,” adding, “The only terrorists are the cowards who shot to kill a beautiful young man and blamed him for it.”

You lie. You kill. You lie. This is my baby cousin. He was on his way to pick up his sister from the salon for her wedding tonight. He was 27 & full of life. His name is Ahmed. The only terrorists are the cowards who shot to kill a beautiful young man and blamed him for it. https://t.co/M7FPgyu6I2

— Noura Erakat (@4noura) June 23, 2020

Palestinian Center for Human Rights again brings in critical details about the checkpoint killing: “PCHR stresses that IOF used disproportionate force, especially that the victim posed no real threat to the soldiers’ lives in light of the heavy fortifications at the checkpoint.”

 

Context

Tensions have risen in recent weeks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet due on July 1 to begin discussing annexation of the West Bank, territory Israel captured in a 1967 war and that Palestinians seek for a state.

Palestinians vehemently oppose the annexation plan, as do most world powers.


(The annexation plan is illegal under international law, and seeks Israeli sovereignty over land illegally captured in 1967. Israel has relocated – again, illegally – hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews on this Palestinian land. Its annexation would result in Palestinian “bantustans” and the permanent loss of self-determination and justice for the Palestinian people.)

MSM giant Associated Press adds, “In recent years, Israel has seen car-ramming attacks, shootings and stabbings carried out mostly by lone Palestinian attackers with no apparent links to armed groups.”

This statement from AP is loaded: Palestinians are labeled “attackers,” – not even using the word “alleged,” or acknowledging the many instances, like Ahmed Erekat’s, when there is doubt about Israeli claims. The IDF has allegedly planted weapons on or next to dead Palestinians, apparently to justify their deaths. A notable example: in 2015, a 16-year-old boy was killed at the same checkpoint where Erekat was killed; after the incident, Israeli police are believed to have planted a knife on him.

(In instances where a Palestinian clearly does attack an Israeli, the context of a decades-long brutal occupation, part of an ongoing genocide, is key to understanding the incident.)

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Noura Erakat reminded viewers of the bigger questions behind the killing: “Why is there a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Abu Dis, two Palestinian cities? Why are there checkpoints anywhere? Just think about those questions as we answer this broader question of the context that Ahmed was killed in.” (See her full interview here.)

PCHR continues the thought: “It should be noted that al-container military checkpoint separates villages located in south-eastern occupied East Jerusalem from eastern Bethlehem.”

Times of Israel references a leader of the Abu Dis Popular Resistance Committee member: “[Dr. Abdullah] Abu Hilal claimed that the Container Checkpoint, where Ahmad was shot, was notorious in Abu Dis for the degree of harassment Palestinian residents received by Israeli soldiers while crossing.”

Ahmed Erekat

The container checkpoint where at least 4 Palestinians have now been killed. Photo | PNN

The New Arab quotes several Palestinian sources, including Omar Shakir, the director of Human Rights Watch for Israel-Palestine, who said that Erekat’s death was part of a series of “daily gut-wrenching outrages” that “stem from decades-long failure of [the international] community to hold Israel to account for serious abuses.”

Palestinian academic Yara Hawari tweeted, “Palestinians live in a space-time continuum of trauma. Just as we start to move on from one loss, another happens almost immediately. It’s a space of constant grieving and hurt. Imagine what that does to our bodies. It’s exhausting.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a PLO top leader, released a statement condemning the killing and demanding an end to Israel’s “kill first, justify later” policy. She added, “[Israel] attempted to slander Ahmad and excuse his murder. It is part of a tragically familiar pattern, where Israel habitually uses false pretexts that are all too familiar now to justify the murder of Palestinians by trigger happy soldiers.”

Palestine News Network points out that Ahmed Erekat is the 316th Palestinian body to be withheld from its family. Most are buried in “cemeteries of numbers,” where they are reserved for Israel as bargaining chips. This is a violation of international law.

 

A pattern of misrepresentation and underrepresentation

Early in 2018, If Americans Knew presented a study on how the Associated Press reports the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians. The study showed that AP had completely different ways of reporting on the two groups (much the same is true of other news outlets, as IAK has shown elsewhere). Inaccurate reporting on the Ahmed Erekat incident is an example of the trend that is at least half a century old:

In AP’s 2018 news reports on deaths, the headlines reported on on Israeli deaths at a rate nearly four times greater than they reported on Palestinian deaths.

The articles themselves similarly focused more on Israeli deaths than on Palestinian deaths, with news reports on Israeli deaths averaging 471 words in length, while reports on Palestinian deaths averaged 171 words.

Reports on Israeli deaths included statements by high ranking officials condemning the attacks. These were often strongly worded, politically charged statements that conveyed the Israeli narrative: “[Israel will] do everything possible in order to apprehend the despicable murderer”; “There is no justification for terror…This is not the path to peace!” “Hamas praises the killers and PA laws will provide them financial rewards. Look no further to why there is no peace.”

By contrast, these AP reports rarely included statements by Palestinian officials condemning the killing of Palestinians, which would have provided another perspective for readers…

Such Palestinian viewpoints, largely accurate and readily available, were never reported in the AP articles on deaths.

AP reports often leave out critical facts.

Perhaps more significant, essential facts about the greater issue are virtually never included.

Nowhere in these reports does AP tell readers that the U.S. gives Israel over $10 million per day. Without this information, American readers will incorrectly feel this is a foreign issue that has nothing to do with them.

Basic information that would give the reader an understanding of the context of the hostility is absent.

This phenomenon of poor journalism even in world-class news outlets may partly be blamed on pro-Israel manipulation of reporting.

At a time when the world is crying out for justice, it behooves Israel to reverse its destructive policies toward Palestinians – and responsible journalism to ignore the bullies and tell the truth.

Feature photo | Israeli police linger around the body of a Ahmed Erekat. Erekat was killed by Israeli police at a checkpoint near Jerusalem, June 23, 2020. Mahmoud Illean | AP

The post The Killing of Ahmad Erekat by Israeli Police Puts Western Media Bias on Full Display appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, Insights, News, Ahmad Erekat, Bias, Israel, Media, Palestine, Reuters]

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[l] at 6/26/20 2:11pm

Through the magic of Internet meme culture, most Millennials will be familiar with the famous opening scene of the 1942 film, “Casablanca,” where two policemen stop a civilian in the “old Moorish section” of Nazi-occupied French Morocco and ask him for his “papers.” The subject is taken away at once after failing to produce the required documents. The cinematic exchange has been used ever since as a popular reference to the ever-encroaching hand of the state, which is now on the verge of attaining a level of control over people’s movements that puts the crude Nazi methods to shame.

A British cybersecurity company, in partnership with several tech firms, is rolling out the COVI-PASS in 15 countries across the world; a “digital health passport” that will contain your COVID-19 test history and other “relevant health information.” According to the company website, the passport’s objective is “to safely return to work” and resume “social interactions” by providing authorities with “up-to-date and authenticated health information.”

These objectives mirror those that Bill Gates has been promoting since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. In an essay written by Gates in April, the software geek-cum-philanthropist lays out his support for the draconian measures taken in response to the virus and, like an old-timey mob boss, suggests the solutions to this deliberately imposed problem. Ironically, Gates begins to make his case for the adoption of mass tracking and surveillance technology in the U.S. by saying that “For now, the United States can follow Germany’s example”; He then touts the advantages of the “voluntary adoption of digital tools” so we can “remember where [we] have been” and can “choose to share it with whoever comes to interview you about your contacts.”

COVI-Pass APP

COVI-Pass promises to work as digital health passport, allowing users deemed uninfected to attend public gatherings among other privileges

Gates goes on to predict that the ability to attend public events in the near future will depend on the discovery of an effective treatment. But he remains pessimistic that any such cure will be good enough in the short term to make people “feel safe to go out again.” These warnings by the multi-billionaire dovetail perfectly with the stated purposes of the aforementioned COVI-PASS, whose development is also being carried out in partnership with Redstrike Group – a sports marketing consultancy firm that is working with England’s Premier League and their Project Restart to parse ticket sales and only make them available to people who have tested negative for the virus.

 

VST Enterprises goes viral

VST Enterprises Ltd (VSTE) is led by 31-year old entrepreneur, Louis-James Davis, who very recently stepped down from a “science & technology ambassadorship” in the African nation of Zimbabwe to focus on the company’s role in the UN’s SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) Collaboratory initiative, comprising a series of “cyber technology projects across all 193 member states of the United Nations.”

These will use the same proprietary VCode and VPlatform technologies underpinning the COVI-PASS that will reportedly tackle issues such as illegal mining and counterfeiting. This “third generation” barcode technology overcomes the limitations of older “second generation” versions like QR-codes, according to Davis. “Data and sensitive information scanned or stored in either a QR code and barcode can be hacked and are inherently insecure,” Davis claims, “leaving data and personal details to be compromised.” These, and other flaws of the prevailing “proximity apps” were exploited by VST Enterprises to position itself to land large government and private sector contracts.

 
By all measures, the strategy has proven wildly successful and VST now enjoys strong favor in the highest circles of the UK government as evidenced by the ringing endorsement of former Prime Minister Theresa May, prominently displayed on the COVI-PASS website. More practically, VST now has a direct partnership with the UK government and has secured contracts to deploy its technology in 15 countries, including Italy, Portugal, France, India, the US, Canada, Sweden, Spain, South Africa, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

In May, VST signed a deal with international digital health technology firm and owner of COVI-PASS, Circle Pass Enterprises (CPE) to integrate VST’s VCode into the biometric RFID-enabled “passports” which can be accessed via mobile phone or a key fob will flash colored lights to denote if an individual has tested negative, positive or is to be denied entry to public locations. Awarded the ‘Seal of Excellence’ by the EU, VCode® technology will ensure that all of our most sensitive personal and health information can be accessed by authorities at a distance, dispensing with messy and potentially dangerous face-to-face encounters with police or other enforcement personnel.

 

Infusing the narrative

So far, the concerns over the digital health passport’s threat to freedom and privacy have been lukewarm at best and it seems as if the world has already accepted that full-fledged population control methods such as these will simply be a fact of life. While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly done much to bring the public over to this way of thinking, the campaign to normalize this sort of Orwellian power-grab has been ongoing for many years and Bill Gates – who many media outlets have whitewashed out of stories related to these measures – has been at the forefront of its promotion.

The Innovation for Uptake, Scale and Equity in Immunisation (INFUSE) project was launched in Davos, Switzerland in 2016. The program was developed by an organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called GAVI (The Vaccine Alliance), which has been calling for a digital health ID for children along with partners in the broader !D2020 initiative like the Rockefeller Foundation and Microsoft.

In a recent interview, the deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Hassan Damluji, derided the idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was in any way subsiding and even warned that, far from receding, the pandemic was “deep into wave three.” His remarks were specifically targeted to the very regions he oversees for the foundation, which include the Middle East and parts of Asia, which he stressed would be the focus of the next wave. Damluji was “most recently involved in a five-year fundraising cycle for GAVI,” an effort led by Saudi Arabia, whose investment he praised as a powerful “signal [that] others had an obligation to follow.”

Gates concludes his editorial with a comparison to World War II, stating that said conflict was a “defining moment of our parents’ generation” as the COVID-19 pandemic is to ours, implying that the changes taking place now are akin to the Allied forces’ defeat of the Third Reich. Except, of course, that immunity passports or digital health certificates sound exactly like what Hitler wished for the most. After all, wasn’t the idea of a superior race based on considerations of superior health and vitality over the ostensibly sick and unfit? Hard to argue against the idea that a universal health passport is nothing less than the ultimate fulfillment of that dystopian nightmare.

Feature photo | Salt Lake County Health Department public health nurse Lee Cherie Booth performs a coronavirus test outside the Salt Lake County Health Department in Salt Lake City, May 20, 2020. Rick Bowmer | AP

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

The post Mass-Tracking COVI-PASS Immunity Passports Slated to Roll Out in 15 Countries appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, Bill Gates, COVI-PASS, COVID-19, digital health passport, Privacy, Surveillance, tracking] [Link to media]

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