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[l] at 10/19/20 2:25pm

The latest iteration of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which has already claimed the lives of dozens of people, had been largely forgotten by the world before hostilities reignited in September. Only the collapse of the Soviet Union was able to bring about the end of the last war between these entrenched enemies in the 1980s and 1990s. Now, almost a quarter of a century later, the still contested region claimed under international law by Azerbaijan and de facto controlled by its ethnic Armenian majority has fallen under a new spell of violence thanks in large part to external actors vying for a larger war with another neighboring country: Iran.

Three weeks ago, a dispute over a piece of territory in the Caucasus Mountains erupted into a hot war between the two former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan and Armenia, sending civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh to seek cover in their basements from the aerial drone strikes raining death and destruction from above.

In a video analyzed by Franceinfo, a 1K Orbiter “kamikaze” drone was found intact on the streets of the ethnically-Armenian enclave near the Azeri-Armenian border. As its moniker implies, this class of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is so named because once its operators lock onto a target on the ground the UAV dives into them with an explosive charge.

That is one, very intact Orbiter 1K drone. #Azerbaijan #Armenia pic.twitter.com/wdaDdvJzU4

— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) October 4, 2020

The drone was developed by leading Israeli unmanned aerial systems (UAS) company Aeronautics Defense Systems, which has a manufacturing plant in Azerbaijan since 2011. The discovery of the drone’s use by Azeri forces in the disputed border region has highlighted the pivotal, yet largely underreported, role that Israel is playing in this conflict, giving the Azeri army a decided advantage against the overmatched Armenians.

In addition, Turkey’s clear support of the Azerbaijani state leaves the majority Christian nation of Armenia up against the two biggest regional powers aside from Russia, which five days ago called on both parties in the conflict to respect a second cease-fire agreement brokered on October 10, 2020, in Moscow. The truce was supposed to come into force on Saturday, but heavy artillery fire, missiles, and drones continued to fall in the conflict zone on Sunday, with both sides blaming the other for violating the tentative armistice. The religious nature of the conflict’s origins helps to disguise the active participation of outside interests that are intent on stoking it for their own geopolitical purposes.

 

Black gold in Baku

Control over natural resources underpins virtually every single military conflagration in the twentieth century and many of raging across the world at the start of the twenty-first. The escalating conflict in the Caucasus is no exception, despite the ostensibly religious motives some would like to ascribe to the parties involved.

While Muslim-majority Azerbaijan might seem like a natural enemy of majority Christian Armenia, at its core, the conflict unfolding in northern Eurasia is one that harkens to the very first oil well that was discovered in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku. Baku was the center of the black gold universe on the eve of World War I before Israel even existed as a state and just as Lord Balfour was on the verge of penning the infamous Balfour Declaration, which would eventually lead to its creation.

Today, the apartheid state obtains 40 percent of its oil from Baku, leaving little to the imagination about its interest in the regional conflict. In order to protect those interests, Israel has become one of Azerbaijan’s largest arms suppliers in recent years, providing up to 61 percent of all Azeri arms imports this past year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Claims made last week by an aide to the Azerbaijani president belittled Armenian condemnations of Israel’s role as “exaggerated” after the Armenian foreign ministry recalled its ambassador to Israel over the weapons sales. As if to underscore the Azeri official’s disingenuous statement, an Israeli high court dismissed a call by human rights activist Elie Joseph to halt arms sales to Azerbaijan two days later, citing a lack of evidence.

 

A powder keg

The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh could easily devolve into a wider war between far more powerful actors, like Turkey and Russia. The latter has a defense treaty with Armenia, while the former’s relationship to the oldest Christian country in the world is beset by its historic refusal to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide – the systematic mass murder and expulsion of Armenians from what was still the capital of Ottoman Empire during and after World War I.

Signs that the conflict is heading in the wrong direction are becoming more noticeable. On Friday, October 16, Russia announced that its navy was beginning military exercises in the Caspian Sea to the north of Baku. Meanwhile, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian said on Saturday that he is ready to travel to European headquarters in Brussels to confront NATO over Ankara’s actions, which include funneling mercenaries from Syria to Azerbaijan.

More importantly, Iran could also be dragged into a larger war and could hold the key to unraveling Israel’s geopolitical motivation for their significant involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Iran shares a common cultural heritage with Armenia, despite religious differences, and counts the Christian nation as a strategic partner.

One day before the second cease-fire was supposed to take effect, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry accused Armenian forces of launching rocket attacks into Iranian territory as a provocation, which led the Iranian Foreign Ministry to issue a statement clarifying that “aggression against our country’s territories by any party” in the conflict would not be tolerated.

Feature photo | A man fences off a tail of a multiple rocket after shelling by Azerbaijan’s artillery during a military conflict in Shushi, outside Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Oct. 18, 2020. Photo | AP

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

The post With an Eye on Nearby Iran, Israeli Weapons Fuel the Violence in Azerbaijan appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, 1K Orbiter, arms sales, Azerbaijan, Iran, Israel, Nagorno-Karabakh]

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[l] at 10/19/20 1:10pm

Bolivia’s Movement to Socialism (MAS) party is celebrating what appears to be a crushing, landslide victory in Sunday’s elections. Although official vote counting is far from over, exit polls show an overwhelming triumph for the socialists, and a repudiation of the right-wing military government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled since the coup last November. At the same time, the corporate press appears less than pleased about the return to democracy for the Andean country.

In order to win outright in the first round, the top candidate needs at least 40 percent of the popular vote and a lead of 10 points over their nearest rival, and multiple polls have indicated that the MAS ticket of Luis Arce and David Choquehuanca has won more than 50 percent, and have achieved a lead of over 20 points on their nearest challenger, Carlos Mesa (president between 2003 and 2005) — quite a feat in a five-way election. The MAS is also expected to have won a large majority in the senate. 

BREAKING: Exit polls show that Bolivia's Movement Towards Socialism have won the presidency in the 1st round with 52.4% of the vote. This is an even higher score than when Evo Morales won in 2019. pic.twitter.com/ZyoweE0U14

— Ollie Vargas (@OVargas52) October 19, 2020

Añez, who came to power in a coup overthrowing President Evo Morales last November, and whose government has constantly postponed the election throughout the year, knew the game was up and lauded the MAS on their remarkable achievement. “We do not yet have an official count, but from the data we have, Mr. Arce and Mr. Choquehuanca have won the election. I congratulate the winners and ask them to govern with Bolivia and democracy in mind,” she wrote . Añez decided to drop out of the election herself last month in an attempt to boost Mesa’s chances of stopping Arce. However, today Mesa accepted defeat as well. “The result is overwhelming and clear. The difference is wide,” he lamented

 

Media disappointment at return of democracy

Across the spectrum, corporate media endorsed the events of November, refusing to label them a coup. The New York Times editorial board claimed that the “increasingly autocratic” tyrant Morales had actually “resigned,” after “protests” over a “highly fishy vote.” The Washington Post did the same. “There can be little doubt who was responsible for the chaos: newly resigned president Evo Morales,” their editorial board wrote, as they expressed their relief that Bolivia was finally in the hands of “more responsible leaders” like Añez, (who, at the time, was giving security forces orders to shoot her opponents in the streets). Despite this, The Wall Street Journal’s board decided the events of November constituted “a democratic outbreak in Bolivia.”

Today, therefore, the corporate press is in a very tough spot, as they have to explain to their readers why the Bolivian people have just handed an overwhelming, landslide victory to a party they have been presenting as an authoritarian dictatorship who were overthrown by popular protests last year.

media bias Bolivia

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board decided the events of November constituted “a democratic outbreak in Bolivia.”

A number of outlets solved this by simply fastidiously avoiding reporting on the events of November or using the word “coup” to describe them. NPR’s Philip Reeves, for example, claimed Morales “resigned” amid an annulled election after “allegations of fraud,” leading to an “interim government” (Añez’s own public relations-minded phrase for her administration). The word “coup” only appears in the mouth of Morales, someone whose credibility the outlet has spent months undermining. Other organizations like Deutsche Welt and Bloomberg failed to use the word at all in their reporting.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, referenced the coup, but did not use the word, instead describing it as when “police and military leaders suggested he [Morales] leave.” It takes great linguistic skill to refrain from using by far the most appropriate word to describe events in Bolivia for what they are: a coup. Indeed, the linguistic gymnastics necessary to avoid using the word would be genuinely impressive were not an exercise in deceit and manufacturing consent for regime change.

CNN at least included the phrase “claims of a coup,” but presents it beside apparently equally justified “allegations of fraud among contested national elections.” But these two things are nothing like the same. One is a statement of fact while another is a debunked, discredited talking point used to overthrow a legitimate government.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s article on the election had an entire section called “why is the country so divided” which did not mention the massacres, the firesale of the country’s economy, the repression of media or activists, the persecution of the MAS or the U.S. role in overthrowing the elected government. Instead, it presented Morales himself as the prime agent of polarization, a common tactic among media discussing enemy states.

The New York Times also published a long, in-depth article on the election, yet it appeared that the only MAS “supporters” it was willing to quote were ones who constantly badmouthed Morales, the article also suggesting that MAS’ figures might be inflated, despite the fact they have now been accepted by Añez and Mesa as essentially accurate.

As such the corporate press refused to cover the incredible story of nationwide nonviolent resistance to authoritarian rule, forcing a government into accepting its own defeat, reminiscent of Gandhi’s campaign against the British in India.

Congrats to Bolivia in returning to a government for the people.

Condolences to all the journalists working for billionaires in the USA who have to try to spin democracy as "authoritarianism" in the next few years.

— Existential Comics (@existentialcoms) October 19, 2020

 

A year of political turbulence

Last October, Morales won an unprecedented and not uncontentious fourth term. Yet the U.S.-backed opposition refused to accept the results, claiming that they had been rigged. The Organization of American States immediately backed them up, producing a flawed report on election meddling, something that was almost immediately disproven. Nevertheless, the right-wing mobilized and began a widespread campaign of terror, targeting, attacking, and kidnapping MAS politicians. On November 10, police and military commanders joined the coup, demanding Morales resign or else they would take matters into their own hands. Morales decided to flee to Mexico but made clear he was only leaving to prevent a bloodbath.

The military picked Añez, a little known senator from a party who gained only four percent of the public vote, to become president. She immediately granted security forces total pre-immunity for all crimes committed during the “re-establishment of order.” Her new interior minister, Arturo Murillo, oversaw the creation of masked, black-clad paramilitary units specifically aimed at political subversives, foreigners, and human rights groups. Journalists were attacked and, in one case, beaten to death, while foreign and alternative media were shut down completely. Murillo promised to “hunt down” his opponents like dogs. Morales himself was charged with crimes against humanity and faces spending the rest of his life in prison if he returns to his home country. Other MAS leaders on yesterday’s ballot also face long prison terms on dubious charges.

A year ago in the midst of the coup in Bolivia, Mayor Patricia Arce was captured, beaten, had paint thrown on her and her hair chopped off, and was paraded through the streets by right wing thugs who wanted to intimidate MAS supporters.

Yesterday, she was elected Senator </div></dd>
<dt id=Chris Hedges: The Politics of Cultural Despair

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[l] at 10/19/20 8:28am

P rinceton, New Jersey (Scheerpost) — The physical and moral decay of the United States and the malaise it has spawned have predictable results. We have seen in varying forms the consequences of social and political collapse during the twilight of the Greek and Roman empires, the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires, Tsarist Russia, Weimar Germany and the former Yugoslavia. Voices from the past, Aristotle, Cicero, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Joseph Roth and Milovan Djilas, warned us. But blinded by self-delusion and hubris, as if we are somehow exempt from human experience and human nature, we refuse to listen.

The United States is a shadow of itself. It squanders its resources in futile military adventurism, a symptom of all empires in decay as they attempt to restore a lost hegemony by force. Vietnam. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Tens of millions of lives wrecked. Failed states. Enraged fanatics. There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, 24 percent of the global population, and we have turned virtually all of them into our enemies.

 
We are piling up massive deficits and neglecting our basic infrastructure, including electrical grids, roads, bridges and public transportation, to spend more on our military that all the other major powers on Earth combined. We are the world’s largest producer and exporter of arms and munitions. The virtues we argue we have a right to impose by force on others — human rights, democracy, the free market, the rule of law and personal freedoms — are mocked at home where grotesque levels of social inequality and austerity programs have impoverished most of the public, destroyed democratic institutions, including Congress, the courts and the press, and created militarized forces of internal occupation that carry out wholesale surveillance of the public, run the largest prison system in the world and gun down unarmed citizens in the streets with impunity.

The American burlesque, darkly humorous with its absurdities of Donald Trump, fake ballot boxes, conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state and Hollywood run a massive child sex trafficking ring, Christian fascists that place their faith in magic Jesus and teach creationism as science in our schools, ten hour long voting lines in states such as Georgia, militia members planning to kidnap the governors of Michigan and Virginia and start a civil war, is also ominous, especially as we ignore the accelerating ecocide.

All of our activism, protests, lobbying, petitions, appeals to the United Nations, the work of NGOs and misguided trust in liberal politicians such as Barack Obama have been accompanied by a 60 percent rise in global carbon emissions since 1990. Estimates predict another 40 percent rise in global emissions in the next decade. We are less than a decade away from carbon dioxide levels reaching 450 parts per million, the equivalent to a 2 degree Celsius average temperature rise, a global catastrophe that will make parts of the earth uninhabitable, flood coastal cities, dramatically reduce crop yields and result in suffering and death for billions of people. This is what is coming, and we can’t wish it away.

I speak to you in Troy, New York, once the second largest producer of iron in the country after Pittsburgh. It was an industrial hub for the garment industry, a center for the production of shirts, shirtwaists, collars, and cuffs, and was once home to foundries that made bells to firms that crafted precision instruments. All that is gone, of course, leaving behind the post-industrial decay, the urban blight and the shattered lives and despair that are sadly familiar in most cities in the United States.
It is this despair that is killing us. It eats into the social fabric, rupturing social bonds, and manifests itself in an array of self-destructive and aggressive pathologies. It fosters what the anthropologist Roger Lancaster calls “poisoned solidarity,” the communal intoxication forged from the negative energies of fear, suspicion, envy and the lust for vengeance and violence. Nations in terminal decline embrace, as Sigmund Freud understood, the death instinct. No longer sustained by the comforting illusion of inevitable human progress, they lose the only antidote to nihilism. No longer able to build, they confuse destruction with creation. They descend into an atavistic savagery, something not only Freud but Joseph Conrad and Primo Levi knew lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilized society. Reason does not guide our lives. Reason, as Schopenhauer puts it, echoing Hume, is the hard-pressed servant of the will.

“Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attacked,” Freud wrote. “They are, on the contrary, creatures among whose instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a result, their neighbor is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history, will have the courage to dispute this assertion? As a rule, this cruel aggressiveness waits for some provocation or puts itself at the service of some other purpose, whose goal might also have been reached by milder measures. In circumstances that are favorable to it, when the mental counter-forces which ordinarily inhibit it are out of action, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals man as a savage beast to whom consideration towards his own kind is something alien.”

Freud, like Primo Levi, got it. The moral life is a matter of circumstances. Moral consideration, as I saw in the wars I covered, largely disappears in moments of extremity. It is the luxury of the privileged. “Ten percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction,” Susan Sontag said.

To survive, it was necessary, Levi wrote of life in the death camps, “to throttle all dignity and kill all conscience, to climb down into the arena as a beast against other beasts, to let oneself be guided by those unsuspected subterranean forces which sustain families and individuals in cruel times. “It was, he wrote, “a Hobbesian life,” “a continuous war of everyone against everyone.” Varlam Shalamov, imprisoned for 25 years in Stalin’s gulags, was equally pessimistic: “All human emotions–of love, friendship, envy, concern for one’s fellowman, compassion, a longing for fame, honesty–had left us with the flesh that had melted from our bodies during our long fasts. The camp was a great test of our moral strength, of our everyday morality, and 99% of us failed it…Conditions in the camps do not permit men to remain men; that is not what camps were created for.”

Social collapse will bring these latent pathologies to the surface.

But the fact that circumstances can reduce us to savagery does not negate the moral life. As our empire implodes, and with it social cohesion, as the earth increasingly punishes us for our refusal to honor and protect the systems that give us life, triggering a scramble for diminishing natural resources and huge climate migrations, we must face this darkness, not only around us, but within us.

The dance macabre is already underway. Hundreds of thousands of Americans die each year from opioid overdoes, alcoholism and suicide, what sociologists calls deaths of despair. This despair fuels high rates of morbid obesity, some 40 percent of the public, gambling addictions, the pornification of the society with the ubiquitous of images of sexual sadism along with the proliferation of armed right-wing militias and nihilistic mass shootings. As despair mounts, so will these acts of self-immolation.
Those overwhelmed by despair seek magical salvations, whether in crisis cults, such as the Christian Right, or demagogues such as Trump, or rage-filled militias that see violence as a cleansing agent. As long as these dark pathologies are allowed to fester and grow–and the Democratic Party has made it clear it will not enact the kinds of radical social reforms that will curb these pathologies–the United States will continue its march towards disintegration and social upheaval. Removing Trump will neither halt nor slow the descent.

An estimated 300,000 American will be dead from the pandemic in December, a figure that is expected to rise to 400,000 in January. Chronic underemployment and unemployment, close to 20 percent when those who have stopped looking for work, those furloughed with no prospect of being rehired and those who work part-time but are still below the poverty line, are included in the official statistic instead of being magically erased from the unemployment rolls. Our privatized health care system, which is making record profits during the pandemic, is not designed to cope with a public health emergency. It is designed to maximize profit for its owners. There are fewer than 1 million hospital beds nationally, a result of the decades-long trend of hospital mergers and closures that have reduced access to care in communities across the nation. Cities such as Milwaukee have been forced to erect field hospitals. In states such as Mississippi there are no longer any ICU beds available. The for-profit health service did not stockpile the ventilators, masks, tests or drugs to deal with COVID-19. Why should it? That is not a route to increased revenue. And there is no substantial difference between Trump and Biden’s response to the health crisis, where 1,000 people a day are dying.

Forty-eight percent of front line workers remain ineligible for sick pay. Some 43 million Americans have lost their employee-sponsored health insurance. There are ten thousand bankruptcies a day, with perhaps two-thirds of them tied to exorbitant medial costs. Food banks are overrun with tens of thousands of desperate families. Roughly 10 to 14 million renter households, or 23 to 34 million people, were behind on their rent in September. That amounts to $12 to $17 billion in unpaid rent. And that figure is expected to rise to $34 billion in past due rent in January. The lifting of the moratorium on evictions and forecloses will mean that millions of families, many destitute, will be tossed onto the street. Hunger in U.S. households almost tripled between 2019 and August of this year, according to the Census Bureau and the Department of Agriculture. The proportion of American children who do not have enough to eat, the study found, is 14 times higher than it was last year. A study by Columbia University, found that since May there are eight million more Americans who can be classified as poor. Meanwhile, the 50 richest Americans hold as much wealth as half of the United States. Millennials, some 72 million people, have 4.6 percent of U.S. wealth.

Only one thing matters to the corporate state. It is not democracy. It is not truth. It is not the consent of the governed. It is not income inequality. It is not the surveillance state. It is not endless war. It is not jobs. It is not the climate crisis. It is the primacy of corporate power — which has extinguished our democracy, taken from us our most basic civil liberties and left most of the working class in misery — and the increase and consolidation of its wealth and power.
Trump and Biden are repugnant figures, doddering into old age with cognitive lapses and no moral cores. Is Trump more dangerous than Biden? Yes. Is Trump inepter and more dishonest? Yes. Is Trump more of a threat to the open society? Yes. Is Biden the solution? No.

Biden cannot plausibly offer change. He can only offer more of the same. And most Americans do not want more of the same. The country’s largest voting-age bloc, the 100 million-plus citizens who out of apathy or disgust do not vote, will once again stay home. This demoralization of the electorate is by design.

In America we are only permitted to vote against what we hate. Partisan media outlets set one group against another, a consumer version of what George Orwell in his novel 1984 called the “Two minutes of Hate.” Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, as Matt Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on manufactured political personalities. Civic discourse has been poisoned by invective and lies. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged.

Political coverage is modeled, as Taibbi points out, on sports coverage. The sets look like the sets on Sunday NFL Countdown. The anchor is on one side. There are four commentators, two from each team. Graphics keep us updated on the score. Political identities are reduced to easily digestible stereotypes. Tactics, strategy, image, the monthly tallies of campaign contributions and polling are endlessly examined, while real political issues are ignored. It is the language and imagery of war.

This coverage masks the fact that on nearly all the major issues the two major political parties are in complete agreement. The deregulation of the financial industry, trade agreements, the militarization of police — the Pentagon has transferred more than $ 7.4 billion in excess military gear and hardware to nearly 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies since 1990 — the explosion in the prison population, deindustrialization, austerity, support for fracking and the fossil fuel industry, the endless wars in the Middle East, the bloated military budget, the control of elections and mass media by corporations and the wholesale government surveillance of the population–and when the government watches you 24 hours a day you cannot use the word liberty, this is the relationship of a master and a slave — all have bipartisan support. And for this reason, these issues are almost never discussed.
This goal is to set demographic against demographic. This stoking of antagonism is not news. It is entertainment, driven not by journalism but marketing strategies to increase viewership and corporate sponsors. News divisions are corporate revenue streams competing against other corporate revenue streams. The template for news, as Taibbi writes in his book Hate Inc., the cover of which has Sean Hannity on one side and Rachel Maddow on the other, is the simplified morality play used in professional wrestling. There are only two real political positions in the United States. You love Trump or you hate him, which comes from the playbook of professional wrestling.

By voting for Biden and the Democratic Party you vote for something.

You vote to endorse the humiliation of courageous women such as Anita Hill who confronted their abusers. You vote for the architects of the endless wars in the Middle East. You vote for the apartheid state in Israel. You vote for wholesale surveillance of the public by government intelligence agencies and the abolition of due process and habeas corpus. You vote for austerity programs, including the destruction of welfare and cuts to Social Security. You vote for NAFTA, free trade deals, de-industrialization, a real decline in wages, the loss of hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs and the offshoring of jobs to underpaid workers who toil in sweatshops in Mexico, China or Vietnam. You vote for the assault on teachers and public education and the transfer of federal funds to for-profit and Christian charter schools. You vote for the doubling of our prison population, the tripling and quadrupling of sentences and huge expansion of crimes meriting the death penalty. You vote for militarized police who gun down poor people of color with impunity.  You vote against the Green New Deal and immigration reform. You vote for the fracking industry. You vote for limiting a woman’s right to abortion and reproductive rights. You vote for a segregated public-school system in which the wealthy receive educational opportunities and poor people of color are denied a chance. You vote for punitive levels of student debt and the inability to free yourself of those debt obligations even if file for bankruptcy. You vote for deregulating the banking industry and the abolition of Glass-Steagall. You vote for the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical corporations and against universal health care. You vote for defense budgets that consume more than half of all discretionary spending. You vote for the use of unlimited oligarchic and corporate money to buy our elections. You vote for a politician who during his time in the Senate abjectly served the interests of MBNA, the largest independent credit card company headquartered in Delaware, which also employed Biden’s son Hunter.

Biden was one of the principle architects of the wars in the Middle East, where we have squandered upwards of $7 trillion and destroyed or extinguished the lives of millions of people. He is responsible for far more suffering and death at home and abroad than Trump. If we had a functioning judicial and legislative system, Biden, along with the other architects of our disastrous imperial wars, corporate plundering of the country and betrayal of the American working class, would be put on trial, not offered up as a solution to our political and economic debacle.

The Democrats and their liberal apologists adopt tolerant positions on issues regarding race, religion, immigration, women’s rights and sexual identity and pretend this is politics. These issues are societal or ethical issues. They are important. But they are not social or political issues. The seizure of control of the economy by a class of global speculators and corporations has ruined the lives of the very groups the Democrats pretend to lift up. When Bill Clinton and the Democratic Party, for example, destroyed the old welfare system, 70 percent of the recipients were children. Those on the right of the political spectrum — and we must never forget that the positions of the Democratic Party would make it a far-right party in Europe — demonize those on the margins of society as scapegoats. The culture wars mask the reality. Both parties are full partners in the destruction of our democratic institutions. Both parties have reconfigured American society into a mafia state. It only depends on how you want it dressed up.
The power of politicians such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer or Mitch McConnell comes from being able funnel corporate money to anointed candidates. In a functioning political system, one not saturated with corporate cash, they would not hold power. They have transformed what the Roman philosopher Cicero called a commonwealth, a res publica, a “public thing” or the “property of a people,” into an instrument of pillage and repression on behalf of a global corporate oligarchy. We are serfs ruled by the obscenely rich, omnipotent masters who loot the U.S. Treasury, pay little or no taxes and have perverted the judiciary, the media and the legislative branches of government to strip us of civil liberties and give them the freedom to engage in tax boycotts, financial fraud and theft.

In the midst of the pandemic crisis what did our ruling kleptocratic rulers do?

They looted $4 trillion on a scale unseen since the 2008 bailout overseen by Barack Obama and Biden. They gorged and enriched themselves at our expense, while tossing crumbs out of the windows of their private jets, yachts, penthouses and palatial estates to the suffering and despised masses.

The CARES Act handed trillions in funds or tax breaks to oil companies, the airline industry, which alone got $50 billion in stimulus money, the cruise ship industry, a $170 billion windfall for the real estate industry. It handed subsidies to private equity firmslobbying groups, whose political action committees have given $191 million in campaign contributions to politicians in the last two decades, the meat industry and corporations that have moved offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. The act allowed the largest corporations to gobble up money that was supposed to keep small businesses solvent to pay workers. It gave 80 percent of tax breaks under the stimulus package to millionaires and allowed the wealthiest to get stimulus checks that average $1.7 million. The CARES Act also authorized $454 billion for the Treasury Department’s Exchange Stabilization Fund, a massive slush fund doled out by Trump cronies to corporations that, when leveraged 10 to 1, can be used to create a staggering $4.5 trillion in assets. The act authorized the Fed to give $1.5 trillion in loans to Wall Street, which no one expects will ever be paid back. American billionaires have gotten $434 billion richer since the pandemic. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, whose corporation Amazon paid no federal taxes last year, alone added nearly $72 billion to his personal wealth since the pandemic started. During this same time period 55 million Americans lost their jobs.

The molding of the public into warring factions works commercially. It works politically. It destroys, as it is designed to do, class solidarity. But it is a recipe for social disintegration. It propels us towards the kind of Hobbesian world Primo Levi and Sigmund Freud warned us about. I watched competing ethnic groups in the former Yugoslavia retreat into antagonistic tribes. They seized rival mass media outlets and used them to spew lies, mythological narratives exalting themselves, along with vitriol and hate against the ethnicities they demonized. This poisoned solidarity, which we are replicating, pumped out month after month in Yugoslavia, destroyed the capacity for empathy, perhaps the best definition of evil, and led to a savage fratricide.
The United States, awash in military-grade weaponry, is already plagued by an epidemic of mass shootings. There are death threats against critics of Trump, including Rep. Ilhan Omar. There was an aborted plot by 13 members of a right-wing militia group to kidnap and perhaps assassinate the governors of Michigan and Virginian and start a civil war. A Trump supporter mailed pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN, an effort to decapitate the hierarchy of the Democratic Party, as well as terrorize the media outlet that is the party’s principal propaganda platform.

The spark that usually sets such tinder ablaze is martyrdom. Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of the right-wing group Patriot Prayer, was wearing a loaded Glock pistol in a holster and had bear spray and an expandable metal baton when he was shot dead on August 29, allegedly by Michael Forest Reinoehl, a supporter of antifa, in the streets of Portland. A woman in the crowd can be heard shouting after the shooting: “I am not sad that a fucking fascist died tonight.” Reinoehl was ambushed and killed by federal agents in Washington state in what appears to be an act of extra-judicial murder. Once people start being sacrificed for the cause, it takes little for demagogues to insist that self-preservation necessitates violence.

Political stagnation and corruption, along with economic and social misery, spawn what anthropologists call crisis cults–movements led by demagogues that prey on an unbearable psychological and financial distress and champion violence as a form of moral purification. These crisis cults, already well established among followers of the Christian Right, right-wing militia groups and many followers of Donald Trump, who look at him not a politician but as a cult leader, peddle magical thinking and an infantilism that promises–if you surrender all autonomy–prosperity, restored national glory, a return to a mythical past, order and security. Trump is a symptom. He is not the disease. And if he leaves office far more competent and dangerous demagogues will rise, if the social conditions are not radically improved, to take his place.

I fear we are headed towards a Christianized fascism.

The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant, it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message–concern for the poor and the oppressed–was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith.
The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Trump, who preyed on this despair in his casinos and through his sham university, and these mega-pastors, champions of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that are the core beliefs of the Christian Right.

When I wrote American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America I was quite serious about the term “fascists.”

Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice erected by the Christian Right. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with liberal secular humanists and the deep state, along with Muslims, immigrants, feminists, intellectuals, artists and a host of other internal enemies, is seeking to destroy America. Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.

Trump has filled his ideological void with Christian fascism. He has elevated members of the Christian right to prominent positions, including Mike Pence to the vice presidency, Mike Pompeo to secretary of state, Betsy DeVos to secretary of education, Ben Carson to secretary of housing and urban development, William Barr to attorney general, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the televangelist Paula White to his Faith and Opportunities Initiative. More importantly, Trump has handed the Christian right veto and appointment power over key positions in government, especially in the federal courts. He has installed 133 district court judges out of 677 total, 50 appeals court judges out of 179 total, and two U.S. Supreme Court justices, and with Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination most likely three, out of nine. This is nineteen percent of the federal trial judges currently in service. Nearly all of the extremists who make up the judicial appointees have been rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, the country’s largest nonpartisan coalition of lawyers.
Trump has adopted the Islamophobia of the Christian fascists. He has banned Muslim immigrants and rolled back civil rights legislation. He has made war on reproductive rights by restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has stripped away LGBTQ rights. He has ripped down the firewall between church and state by revoking the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches, which are tax-exempt, from endorsing political candidates. His appointees, including Pence, Pompeo and DeVos, throughout the government routinely use biblical strictures to justify an array of policy decisions including environmental deregulation, war, tax cuts and the replacement of public schools with charter schools, an action that permits the transfer of federal education funds to private “Christian” schools. At the same time, they are building paramilitary organizations, not only through ad hoc militias but through mercenary groups of private contractors controlled by figures such as Erik Prince, the brother of Betsy DeVos and the former CEO of Blackwater now called Xe.

I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called German Christian Church which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volk messiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late.

Trump’s legacy will, I fear, be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. Noam Chomsky, for this reason, is right when he warns that Pence is more dangerous than Trump. For decades the Christian fascists have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools, colleges and law schools as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into positions of power. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power and been seduced by the boutique activism of identity politics. FRC Action, the legislative affiliate of the Family Research Council, already gives 245 members of Congress a 100 percent approval rating for supporting legislation that is backed by the Christian Right.

Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions of Americans. It is impervious to science and verifiable fact. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought and the secular society that almost destroyed them and their families and thrust them into deep despair. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we, too, have Christian “values.” This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own. These dispossessed people will either be reintegrated into the economy and the society and their shattered social bonds mended, or the movement will grow more virulent and more powerful.

The Christian Right is determined to keep the public focus on societal or ethical as opposed to economic issues. The corporate media, whether it supports or opposes the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, almost exclusively discusses her opposition to abortion and membership in People of Praise, a far-right Catholic sect that practices “speaking in tongues.” What our corporate masters, along with the Christian fascists, do not want examined is Barrett’s subservience to corporate power, her hostility to workers, civil liberties, unions and environmental regulations. Since the Democratic Party is beholden to the same donor class as the Republican Party, and since the media long ago substituted the culture wars for politics, the most ominous threat posed by Barrett and the Christian Right is ignored.

The road to despotism is always paved with righteousness.

All fascist movements paper over their squalid belief systems with the veneer of morality. They mouth pieties about restoring law and order, right and wrong, the sanctity of life, civic and family virtues, patriotism and tradition to mask their dismantling of the open society and silencing and persecution of those who dissent. The Christian Right, awash in money from corporations that understand their political intent, will use any tool, no matter how devious, from right-wing armed militias to the invalidation of ballots, to block Biden and Democratic candidates from assuming office.

Capitalism, driven by the obsession to maximizing profit and reduce the cost of production by slashing worker’s rights and wages, is antithetical to the Christian Gospel, as well as the Enlightenment ethic of Immanuel Kant. But capitalism, in the hands of the Christian fascists, has become sacralized in the form of the Prosperity Gospel, the belief that Jesus came to minister to our material needs, blessing believers with wealth and power. The Prosperity Gospel is an ideological cover for the slow-motion corporate coup d’état. This is why large corporations such as Tyson Foods, which places Christian Right chaplains in its plants, Purdue, Wal-Mart, and Sam’s Warehouse, along with many other corporations, pour money into the movement and its institutions such as Liberty University and Patrick Henry Law School. This is why corporations have given millions to groups such as the Judicial Crisis Network and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to campaign for Barrett’s appointment to the court. Barrett has ruled to cheat gig workers out of overtime, green light fossil fuel extraction and pollution, gut Obamacare and strip consumers of protection from corporate fraud. Barrett, as a circuit court judge, heard at least 55 cases in which citizens challenged corporate abuse and fraud. She ruled in favor of corporations 76 percent of the time.

Our corporate masters do not care about abortion, gun rights or the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. But like the German industrialists who backed the Nazi Party, they know that the Christian Right will give an ideological veneer to ruthless corporate tyranny. These oligarchs view the Christian fascists the same way the German industrialists viewed the Nazis, as buffoons. They are aware that the Christian fascists will trash what is left of our anemic democracy and the natural ecosystem. But they also know they will make huge profits in the process and the rights of workers and citizens will be ruthlessly suppressed.

If you are poor, if you lack proper medical care, if you are paid substandard wages, if you are trapped in the lower class, if you are a victim of police violence, this is because, according to the Prosperity Gospel, you are not a good Christian. In this belief system you deserve what you get. There is nothing wrong, these homegrown fascists preach, with the structures or systems of power. Like all totalitarian movements, followers are seduced into calling for their own enslavement.

As the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels understood: “The best propaganda is that which, as it were, works invisibly, penetrates the whole of life without the public having any knowledge of the propagandistic initiative.”

The tinder that could ignite violent conflagrations lies ominously stacked around us. It may be triggered by Trump’s defeat in the election. Millions of disenfranchised white Americans, who see no way out of their economic and social misery, struggling with an emotional void, are seething with rage against a corrupt ruling class and bankrupt liberal elite that betrayed them. They are tired of the political stagnation, grotesque, mounting social inequality and the punishing fallout from the pandemic. Millions more alienated young men and women, also locked out of the economy and with no realistic prospect for advancement or integration, gripped by the same emotional void, have harnessed their fury in the name of tearing down the governing structures and anti-fascism. These polarized extremes are inching closer and closer to violence.
There are three options: reform, which, given the decay in the American body politic, is impossible, revolution, or tyranny.

If the corporate state is not overthrown, then America will soon become a naked police state where any opposition, however tepid, will be silenced with draconian censorship or force. Police in cities around the country have already thwarted the reporting by dozens of journalists covering the protests through physical force, arrests, tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray.  This will become normalized. The huge social divides, often built around race, will be used by the Christian fascists to set neighbor against neighbor. Armed Christian patriots will attack those groups blamed for social collapse. Dissent, even nonviolent dissent, will become treason.

Peter Drucker observed that Nazism succeeded not because people believed in its fantastic promises, but in spite of them. Nazi absurdities, he pointed out, had been “witnessed by a hostile press, a hostile radio, a hostile cinema, a hostile church, and a hostile government which untiringly pointed out the Nazi lies, the Nazi inconsistency, the unattainability of their promises, and the dangers and folly of their course.” Nobody, he noted, “would have been a Nazi if rational belief in the Nazi promises had been a prerequisite.” The poet, playwright and socialist revolutionary Ernst Toller, who was forced into exile and stripped of his citizenship when the Nazis took power in 1933, wrote in his autobiography: “The people are tired of reason, tired of thought and reflection. They ask, what has reason done in the last few years, what good have insights and knowledge done us.” After Toller committed suicide in 1939, W.H. Auden in his poem “In Memory of Ernst Toller” wrote:

We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.

Once the internal enemies are purged from the nation, we are promised, America will recover its lost glory, except that once one enemy is obliterated another takes its place. Crisis cults require a steady escalation of conflict and a steady stream of victims. Every new crisis becomes more urgent and more extreme than the last. This is what made the war in the former Yugoslavia inevitable. Once one stage of conflict reaches a crescendo it loses its efficacy. It must be replaced by ever more brutal and deadly confrontations. It is what Ernst Jünger called a “feast of death.”

These crisis cults are, as Drucker understood, irrational and schizophrenic. They have no coherent ideology. They turn morality upside down. They appeal exclusively to emotions. Burlesque and spectacle become politics. Depravity becomes morality. Atrocities and murder, as the federal marshals who wantonly gunned down the antifia activist Michael Forest Reinoehl in Washington State illustrated, becomes heroism. Crime and fraud become justice. Greed and nepotism become civic virtues.

What these crisis cults stand for today, they condemn tomorrow. There is no ideological consistency. There is only emotional consistency. At the height of the reign of terror on May 6, 1794 during the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre announced that the Committee for Public Safety now recognized the existence of God. The French revolutionaries, fanatical atheists who had desecrated churches and confiscated church property, murdered hundreds of priests and forced another 30,000 into exile, instantly reversed themselves to send to the guillotine those who disparaged religion. In the end, exhausted by the moral confusion and internal contradictions, these crisis cults yearn for self-annihilation.

The ruling elites will no more restore these ruptured social bonds and address the deep despair that grips America than they will respond to the climate emergency. As the country unravels, they will reach for the familiar tools of state repression and the ideological prop provided by Christian fascism.

It is up to us to carry out sustained acts of nonviolent, mass resistance. If we mobilize in large and small ways to fight for an open society, to create communities that, as Vaclav Havel wrote “live in truth,” we hold out the possibility of pushing back against these crisis cults, holding at bay the brutality that accompanies social upheaval, as well as slowing and disrupting the march towards ecocide. This requires us to acknowledge that our systems of governance are incapable of being reformed. No one in power will save us. No one but us will stand up for the vulnerable, the demonized and the earth itself. All we do must have the single aim of crippling the power of the ruling elites in the hopes of new systems of governance that can implement the radical reforms to save us and our world.

The most difficult existential dilemma we face is to at once acknowledge the bleakness before us and act, to refuse to succumb to cynicism and despair. And we will only do this through faith, the faith that the good draws to it the good, that all acts that nurture and protect life have an intrinsic power, even if the empirical evidence shows that things are getting worse. We will find our freedom, our autonomy, our meaning and our social bonds among those who also resist, and this will allow us to endure, and maybe even triumph.

Feature photo | Art by Mr. Fish / Original to Scheerpost

Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact. 

The post Chris Hedges: The Politics of Cultural Despair appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, Chris Hedges, christian fascists, Christian right, fascism, United States]

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[l] at 10/16/20 5:10pm

There needs to be a fundamental change in the way Palestinian refugees are seen, no longer as victims but as people with rights who are entitled to shape their own destiny. This assertion is made in a new study whose importance cannot be overstated.

According to international law, Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes and land and receive restitution and compensation for their suffering and personal and communal losses. Furthermore, the State of Israel, which is responsible for Palestine’s ethnic cleansing, must pay for the repatriation, the rehabilitation, and the rebuilding that the return will necessitate. A thorough understanding of why millions of Palestinians live as refugees and what international law says about their situation is critical, and a recently published study sheds unprecedented light on the Palestinian refugee issue.

Palestinian Refugees in International Law” (2nd Edition), by Francesca P. Albanese and Lex Takkenberg, was published in May 2020 by Oxford University Press. It is a comprehensive body of work on the Palestinian refugee issue, and its importance cannot be overstated. This study sets the record straight on what caused the refugee crisis, provides vital statistics and fills in crucial pieces of information regarding what international law says regarding Palestinian refugees.

The study states at the outset that, “At the time of publication, the unresolved exile of Palestinian refugees has entered its eighth decade.” Some refugees are third or even fourth generation, and they account for “the largest group of refugees globally.” Furthermore, it says, “theirs is the most protracted refugee situation in modern history.”

 

Background

The original mass ethnic cleansing campaign of Palestinians by Zionist forces took place from 1947 to 1949. Although ethnic cleansing and internal displacement of Palestinians by Israel continued well into the 1950s, and in fact, continues to the present day, the ethnic cleansing campaign of 1947-1949 is what brought about the destruction of Palestine as it had been known for centuries. That campaign was responsible for the emergence of what the study calls “one of the largest and most protracted refugee crises of all times.” The majority of these refugees and their descendants, third and even fourth generation, are registered as ‘Palestine refugees’ with UNRWA and are commonly referred to as 1948 refugees.

The Palestinians who were exiled from the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in 1967 are commonly referred to as “displaced persons” or “1967 refugees.” Their fate and status under international law are similar to that of the 1948 refugees. Still, different terminology is used regarding them because of the status of the land from which they were displaced – the Kingdom of Jordan, which at that point was an independent state. Each year, the United Nations General Assembly passes a separate annual resolution focusing specifically on them.

 

Refugee rights

Suffering a violent assault on their lives and property and suddenly deprived of protection by the government of Mandate Palestine of which they were citizens, Palestinians became stateless refugees. They were admitted into neighboring countries on what many expected would be a temporary basis. However, one could argue, as I do, that this expectation stemmed from a serious misunderstanding of the objectives and influence of the Zionist movement.

“For historical and political reasons Palestinian refugees enjoy a distinctive regime made up of specific norms and institutional arrangements different from those for other refugees.” This reality has affected the protection Palestinians  deserve as refugees and often leaves them “excluded from the rights and standards of treatment afforded to other refugees.” In other words, Palestinian refugees are internationally recognized yet subject to a distinctive institutional regime compared to other refugees around the world. The distinction stems from special arrangements the UN had to make for them in 1948, seeing that the newly established Zionist state would not allow them to return.

One of the common mistakes people make regarding Palestinian refugees’ rights is the belief that securing rights in their host countries, including citizenship, will somehow undermine their claims towards Israel. This belief, according to this study, “must be put to rest.” In fact, the study goes on to state that for the rights of Palestinian refugees to be realized, the Palestinian community needs to make a paradigm shift, and international and regional diplomacy needs to provide a level of support “that has hitherto been largely lacking.”

Furthermore, the physical and political fragmentation that has befallen the Palestinian people and the diversity of legal frameworks and actors responsible for them have become features of their experience and misfortune. There needs to be a fundamental change in the way Palestinian refugees are seen, “not the victims of a failed political process, but as people with rights, entitled to shape their own destiny.”

 

Identity and numbers

“Today, out of over thirteen million Palestinians globally, about eight million are refugees.” 5.5 million are registered as ‘Palestine refugees’ with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency or (UNRWA) in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank.

The study estimates that some 1.5 million Palestinians are currently dispersed outside Arab countries, and their status and documentation make them statistically invisible and, therefore, difficult to track. As a result of their dispersal, Palestinian refugees’ identity is often hyphenated: Palestinian-Jordanian, Palestinian-Syrian, Palestinian-American, Palestinian-Iraqi, etc. It should be noted that for most Palestinians, long-term residence in host countries has not resulted in the protection afforded through citizenship.

Palestinian refugees

Palestinian refugees gather in the Bekaa refugee camp outside of Amman, Jordan, Oct. 28, 1970. Photo | AP

Another little known fact revealed repealed in this study is that since the late 1960s, more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees have been ejected from Arab countries, creating enormous challenges, including the need to seek asylum again in another country. What is worse is that the UN General Assembly did not confer a mandate to care for them. They are not included as a registered refugee population by UNRWA and do not receive comprehensive assistance from the agency.

 

A demographic issue

What has become known as the “demographic issue” is code for a Zionist obsession to establish a Jewish majority in Palestine – a territory that until then 1948 had a large Arab majority. This has been a pressing issue for Zionist leadership since the early years of the British Mandate. Still, despite British support for the Jewish national project and the waves of Jewish migration to Palestine since the late nineteenth century, at the end of 1947, Palestine’s Jewish population was only one-third of the total population of Palestine.

Britain facilitated Jewish migration to Palestine and turned hundreds of thousands of Jewish migrants from Europe into Palestine Mandate citizens. “The Citizenship Order of August 1, 1925, extended full citizenship rights to all Turkish (Ottoman) subjects habitually resident in Palestine.” This included the original 729,873 Ottoman citizens of Palestine, of whom the vast majority were Palestinian Arabs.

By 1946, the population of Palestine was estimated at 1,846,000. This included 1,203,000 Palestinian Arabs and 608,000 Jews. In the 30 years of British control over Palestine, the Jewish population grew over 30 percent compared to an average of 10 percent growth during the final 20 years of the Ottoman Empire, a time period already marked by increased Jewish immigration.

The idea of forcing the Arab Palestinians out of Palestine through expulsion and transfer had become ingrained in the Zionist leadership mindset very early on. As early as the 1930s, the Jewish Agency had established a Population Transfer Committee which devised schemes to remove the Palestinian population “by securing land for them in neighboring states, or by having Britain remove them.” During 1948, several Transfer Committees were set up by the Jewish Agency, and later the Israeli government to “facilitate the exodus.”

By the time the armistice agreements were signed in 1949 between the new State of Israel and its Arab neighbors, only 15 percent of Palestine’s pre-1948 Arab population remained in the area that would become Israel.

 

Criminalizing return and confiscating property

The State of Israel declared independence on May 14, 1948. By June of that year, the Israeli government had decided to bar refugees from returning. In 1952, Israel passed the Nationality Law, which effectively excluded over two-thirds of Palestinian Arab citizens from retaining citizenship in British Mandate Palestine, a land that was still their own country.

In 1954, Israel passed the ‘The Prevention of Infiltration Law,’ which effectively criminalized the return of Palestinian refugees. Soldiers who saw “infiltrators,” a term used to describe any Palestinian attempting to return to their home or lands, were authorized to shoot them on sight. Those who were caught and not killed on the spot were imprisoned and expelled again.

This was not merely motivated by Zionist cruelty but also by greed.

The wealth that Palestinians left behind “was strategic to the emerging State of Israel.” Palestinians left behind huge tracts of farmland, tools, livestock, shops, factories, houses of worship, private homes, financial assets, and personal belongings. Produce from fields and orchards was also left behind, with large citrus fruit stores waiting to be exported for hard currency.

Moveable property was sold by Israeli authorities. The government even leased abandoned stone quarries and sold cactus fruit from abandoned fields. “Beyond this monetary gain, control of the refugees’ property allowed Israel and the Jewish Agency to cheaply settle hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who began pouring into Israel after 1948.”

“The gap between such properties and their original owners/holders was further widened by the transfer, through ‘purchase agreements,’ to the Israeli Development Authority, and subsequently to the Jewish National Fund, for administration.” These Zionist institutions made it impossible for properties – both movable and immovable – of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced Palestinians to be restored to their rightful, legal owners.

In addition to severing the links between the land and its original owners, Israel transformed the territory to benefit its own economic growth. “By 1950, the Custodian had become the largest landlord in Israel.” It had acquired the legal authority to allocate Palestinian property to incoming Jewish immigrants.

In the 1950s, Absentee Property Laws consolidated the seizure of absentee properties and their transfer to the State of Israel for  exclusive benefit of the Jewish population. Absentee property played a huge role in turning Israel into a viable state. It allowed Israel to take over farms and urban homes of Palestinians and populate them with Jewish newcomers from Europe and Arab countries. Jewish kibbutzim and agricultural settlements began the process of expropriating the land of both refugees and that of the Palestinians who remained in what became Israel. Palestinians who remained had no choice but to work for the same Israeli owners who had stolen their land.

Palestinian refugees

A bulldozer clears land in Palestine to be used by Jewish Yemeni farmers, Sept. 4, 1950. Photo | AP

These enormous tracts of good, arable land were now held by the state and were used by Jewish settlements and individual farmers to grow crops and vegetables. Vacant Arab homes were used to accommodate immigrants. With time, emptied Palestinian villages were either transformed or destroyed. Some were turned into parks and forests; others were used for cultivation and development. “All these measures steadily rendered the possibility of a return of the refugees ever more remote.”

Israel and Zionist spokespeople worldwide like to claim that the Jews came to an empty, barren land and made it bloom. This study makes it clear that they came to an already prosperous country and stole its riches.

 

The report of the UN Mediator for Palestine

One would be remiss to discuss Palestinian refugees without mentioning the contributions and indeed sacrifice of the UN Mediator to Palestine, Count Folke Bernadotte. Bernadotte was a Swedish diplomat, who after successfully negotiating the rescue of some twenty thousand prisoners from Nazi concentration camps (more than half of whom were Jewish), was asked to take on the role of Mediator for Palestine. He visited the country several times and presented several reports.

Count Bernadotte presented his first report regarding the refugees to the United Nations on September 16, 1948. The report describes his efforts to obtain an agreement from the Provisional Government of Israel for a phased return of refugees. This study clearly states that “attempts at finding a diplomatic solution were unsuccessful because of the firm stance of the Provisional Government of Israel against the return of the refugees.” Bernadotte’s report underscored that:

The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.”

The Palestinian refugees ‘right’ to return and to be adequately compensated is recurrent in his report, notwithstanding the views expressed by the Provisional Government of Israel. The right of return was considered by Bernadotte to be among the most basic premises for the settlement of the conflict. The following passage of his report still resonates today:

No settlement can be just and complete if recognition is not accorded to the right of the Arab refugee to return to the home from which he has been dislodged … It would be an offence against the principles of elemental justice if these innocent victims of the conflict were denied the right to return to their homes while Jewish immigrants flow into Palestine, and, indeed, at least offer the threat of permanent replacement of the Arab refugees.”

The Mediator not only stressed the right of the refugees to return but also made clear that those rights be affirmed rather than established. This reflected the prevailing consensus regarding the norms of international law when dealing with refugees.

Bernadotte also made it clear that,

The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish-controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations.”

Count Bernadotte

Count Bernadotte, left, speaks with the Syrian leaders at a UN Security Council meeting on July 13, 1948. Photo | UN Archive

Bernadotte’s advocacy for the Palestinian refugees and his claim that Jerusalem – by then occupied and subjected to a thorough ethnic cleansing campaign – should come under international control and not Zionist control could not be tolerated by the Zionist government in Palestine. On September 17, 1948, one day after he submitted his progress report, Folke Bernadotte was assassinated in a terrorist attack by members of a Zionist militia.

The terrorists acted on an order to get rid of Bernadotte, and although it was later claimed that the assassins were part of a fringe extremist group and that the central provisional Zionist government formally condemned the assassination, there is little doubt that the entire Zionist established was complicit in Bernadotte’s murder.

Although the assassins were well known and had even given interviews, none were ever brought to justice. One of the people known to have been directly involved in the assassination was Yitzhak Shamir, though he was not a part of the terrorist squad that committed the murder. Shamir went on to serve in many important Israeli government posts, including Prime Minister.

 

Resolution 194

The UN General Assembly accepted Bernadotte’s recommendations when it adopted Resolution 194, and as a result of his death, established the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP), which took over the main functions of the Mediator. Concerning refugees, the resolution states that the General Assembly:

Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible;

Following Israel’s refusal to comply with the Mediator’s request to allow refugees to return to their homes, in paragraph 11, the General Assembly stressed that it,

Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations.

The work of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine (UNCCP) was completed in 1964. According to this study, records in the Commission’s archives reveal that it determined the worth of the Palestinian refugees’ privately owned land was 204,660,250 British Palestine pounds, equivalent to $9.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2019.

The study also states that the Commission’s estimates are considered to be “incomplete and conservative,” yet are the most methodologically accurate ones made to date. “Beyond land losses, a compensation regime should also consider movable property losses, disturbance allowance (representing the loss of income until a refugee could re-establish himself/herself), ex-gratia payment representing a general compensation for hardship, and reintegration costs.”

In August of 1961, at the U.S. government’s suggestion, the Commission appointed Dr. Joseph E. Johnson as a special representative. Johnson’s overall estimate of the amount owed to Palestinian refugees for compensation was $1.377 billion U.S. dollars in 1962. This is equivalent to $22.975 billion in 2019. All of this is for the refugees of 1948 only.

Resolution 194 is one of the most widely reaffirmed resolutions in UN history. This study states that “resolutions that have been reaffirmed hundreds of times not only confirm long-established international consensus but they acquire a legal character.” Resolution 194 has been repeatedly reaffirmed over the years, and it has even served as a precedent in international responses to other refugee crises.

 

Military Order 58

In the aftermath of the 1967 Israeli assault and conquest of Arab lands, and immediately after it seized the West Bank, the Israeli army issued Military Order 58. It authorizes the seizure of any property held by West Bank residents who were outside the area on June 7, 1967, and that of those who subsequently left. “Military Order 58 replicates the Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 for the 1967 territories, applying it to territory that Israel supposedly “merely occupies and over which it has no sovereignty.”

According to this study, Military Order 58 “has a broader scope than the Absentees’ Property Law,” in that it allowed Israel to take control over property that had been held by Jordan since 1948 and placed it under the control of the Custodian’s authority of Israel. Furthermore, it has no time restrictions, covers any Palestinian who leaves the West Bank, and remains in force to this day.

 

International law

The British government initially made two conflicting promises regarding Palestine, one to the indigenous Palestinian Arabs and the other to the immigrant-colonizer Jewish community. However, the British government’s actions made it clear that Britain favored the creation of what became known as a Jewish state – or more accurately, a Zionist state – in Palestine. As a side note, it is worth mentioning that the local Orthodox Jewish community residing in Palestine at the time vehemently opposed the Zionists and the creation of a Zionist state. They made their opposition known to the British, the United Nations, and the local Palestinian Arab leadership, with whom they had excellent relations.

British support for Zionist claims to Palestine allowed the all-out military assault by Zionist militias against the indigenous Palestinian community. This ultimately led to the creation of an independent Zionist state and the subjugation, dispossession, exile, and statelessness of indigenous Palestinian Arabs. It also brought about measures preventing the return of the Palestinians forcibly displaced while actively promoting Jewish immigration under the guise of return. As a result of this, there is currently an unresolved refugee crisis “that has evolved into the largest and most protracted in modern history.”

Palestine 1936

Palestinian homes destroyed with dynamite by British troops following clashes between Jewish militias and Palestinians in Jaffa on July 3, 1936. Photo | AP

A crucial point that must be recognized is that the rights of Palestinian refugees to return, restitution, and compensation, were already enshrined in international law in 1948. The UN General Assembly reaffirmed these rights in resolution 194 .

In 1948, the refugees already had the right to return to their homes. Instead, 750,000 refugees were denationalized en masse, prevented from returning to their houses, and forced into a seemingly endless exile. In other words, Israel had already violated its obligations under international humanitarian law and the law of state responsibility in 1948.

Since then, the policies and practices of successive Israeli governments continue to prevent the return and self-determination of Palestinian people. Israel denies Palestinian refugees the right to return, restitution, and compensation, and Israeli leaders even continue to deny the very existence of a Palestinian people. Israel justifies its actions by challenging the foundation of its obligations and that of the rights of Palestinians, and the international community has been weak and unwilling to intervene.

The practice that has evolved since the Second World War affirms that individual and collective claims of refugees are not mutually exclusive but rather reinforce each other. In fact, these are challenges found in other cases of mass displacement, serious human rights violations, and where the passage of time has increased the number of claimants. The high number of possible claimants among Palestinian refugees is often seen as justifying Israel in its refusal to recognize Palestinian refugees’ rights in general. However, given the clarity of the individual rights and the nature of violations involved in the Palestinian case, “individual claims and claims en masse for groups of individuals must be addressed.”

These are issues that can be overcome, as was demonstrated by the reparations to victims of Nazi persecution. They included multiple claims in different jurisdictions within different countries and on different continents, with settlements being achieved many decades after the violations took place.

The Israeli government aggressively encourages Jews from around the world to settle in Israel while pressing for restitution laws to be adopted regarding losses suffered by the Jewish people. Simultaneously, it adamantly denies Palestinians the right to return and resettle in their homeland and receive restitution. Being that Israel is a settler-colonial state these policies are not unusual, one wonders, however, at what point the international community will intervene on behalf of the millions of Palestinian refugees waiting to retun.

 

Right to return

Israel objects to the return of the Palestinian refugees claiming it is an existential threat. However, what Zionist institutions fear equally as much are demands under international law that they pay restitution and compensation for the properties both private and public, and for the natural resources stolen from the Palestinian people.

In 1949, the Geneva Convention elaborated regarding the prohibition of deportation and expressly referred to the repatriation of protected persons. Article 49 of GCIV prohibits “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportation of protected persons from occupied territory.” It goes on to say that “All protected persons who may desire to leave the territory at the outset of, or during a conflict, shall be entitled to do so.”

Zionist institutions and spokespeople claim that the refugee issue has somehow reached some imaginary statute of limitations. However, the legal foundation of the rights of the Palestinian refugees to repatriation, restitution, and compensation  – as affirmed in resolution 194 – not only has not expired but, according to this study, “has since become even stronger.” Furthermore, according to the Articles on State Responsibility, “the state responsibility does not diminish with the passing of time.”

It is only for political reasons that the rights of the Palestinian refugees continue to be side-lined. Zionist institutions around the world, with the support of the United States government, are doing all they can to undermine the severity of the Palestinian refugee issue and to absolve Israel of any responsibility. The fall of the Zionist- apartheid regime in Palestine and the emergence of a free and democratic Palestine in its place is arguably the only development that can realistically bring about the return of the refugees.

Feature photo | Palestinian refugees carry their belongings as they flee across the wrecked Allenby Bridge over the Jordan River from the Israeli-occupied section of Jordan, June 22, 1967. Bernard Frye | 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 A Historical Reckoning: Oxford Study Challenges Israel’s Claims Concerning Palestinian Refugees appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Israel, Oxford, Palestinian Refugees, right of return, study]

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[l] at 10/16/20 1:42pm

Citing “censorship outcry” from the three branches of government, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced yesterday via tweet the agency’s intention to move forward with regulation of social media by looking to modify Section 230 of the Communications Act, which protects the likes of Facebook and Twitter from the parts of the U.S. code that opens publishers to legal challenges over the content posted to their platforms, which inevitably puts content creators, themselves, in the cross hairs of the legal system without the benefit of their first amendment rights.  

I intend to move forward with an @FCC rulemaking to clarify the meaning of #Section230.

Read my full statement below. pic.twitter.com/LhUz5XMdSC

— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) October 15, 2020

Despite claims of bipartisan support for the reform initiative, one of Section 230’s original authors, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), directly challenged Pai’s authority to change the law altogether. Pai has claimed that FCC lawyers have assured him the agency has legal standing to amend the law.

Meanwhile, FCC commissioner and Democratic party member Jessica Rosenworcel denounced Pai’s timing as “absurd” and decried the Chairman’s decision to kowtow to Trump’s executive order, issued earlier this year calling for the agency to reinterpret the law.

Rosenworcel was confirmed for her second stint as FCC commissioner in August 2017, even though Trump had reportedly withdrawn his nomination of the Obama holdover, likely worried over her track record on the commission and her dissenting opinion on Pai’s scrapping of Net Neutrality soon after Trump’s election.

 

The Twitter setup

The Chairman’s intention to slap the ‘publisher’ tag on social media companies and make them legally liable for the content that appears on their platforms comes in the wake of the Twitter’s censorship of a New York Post article two days ago, which covered allegations against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, in the Ukraine oil company scandal.

The article’s purge from the social media platform elicited strong reactions on both sides of the issue and the aisle, including Senator Ted Cruz, who accused Twitter of “election interference.” On Thursday, Republican Senators called for Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, to be subpoenaed and appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the company’s actions.

The social media giant has since backtracked, going as far as changing the policy it cited as justification, which “prohibits the use of our service to distribute content obtained without authorization.” Notably, the Department of Homeland Security had released its first-ever Homeland Threat Assessment only days prior, where it declared that “denigrating” Joe Biden constitutes grounds for de-platforming.

 

Stonewalling America

Appointed FCC Chairman by Barack Obama in 2010, former Verizon company lawyer and the most hated man on the Internet, Ajit Pai, has systematically weakened privacy and access protections for the average Internet user in the service of the giant tech companies like his former employer, which was embroiled in a data privacy scandal in 2013 after leaked documents disclosed classified orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, compelling the largest cell phone carrier network in the country to turn over millions of phone records to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Pai has earned the public’s distrust, especially due to his repeal of Net Neutrality rules, which overwhelmingly favored big Telecom by allowing the industry to manipulate Internet traffic for discriminatory or profit motives. Verizon was one of the first companies to take advantage of the deregulation in ways that contradicted Pai’s own argument regarding the destruction of Net Neutrality, which rested on many of the same free-market clichés used to rationalize all sorts of corporate abuses.

While still at Verizon in 2003, Pai and another colleague produced an amateur skit comedy video where they plot to install a puppet at the FCC. The video, which Pai himself played at the annual FCC Chairman’s Dinner in 2017, led Gizmodo to file a FOIA for “any communications records from within the chairman’s office referencing the event or the Verizon executive,” which the FCC has yet to release.

Pai’s FCC has a long history of stonewalling FOIA’s and being generally opaque about its moves in what is perhaps the most pivotal moment for the future of the Internet. As the power of the tech giants grows by leaps and bounds, reinterpreting Section 230 to make social media companies liable for the content on their platforms may seem like a check on said power, but it is only another restriction on the voice of the people, who are the ones creating the very content lining their shareholders’ pockets and the ones who will ultimately face the brunt of any laws designed to muzzle the first amendment rights of all Americans.

Feature photo | Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says goodbye after a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Federal Communications Commission spectrum auctions program for FY2021 on Capitol Hill, June 16, 2020 in Washington. Chip Somodevilla | Pool via AP

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

The post FCC Head and Internet’s Most Hated Man Ajit Pai Just Vowed to Kill First Amendment Rights Online appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Ajit Pai, Communications Act, FCC, Section 230, Social Media]

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[l] at 10/16/20 1:22pm

Eleven months after a U.S-backed military coup overthrew the democratically elected Evo Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party, Bolivians will go to the polls on Sunday, offering them a chance to repudiate the coup government of Jeanine Añez, who has ruled the country since last November.

The last year has been a period of constant political struggle, as the self-described “interim government” has fought to impose its rule on a rebellious population, attempting to bring sweeping changes to the Andean state. Yet despite the arrest, exile, and repression of his colleagues, polls show MAS candidate Luis Arce as the clear frontrunner among many, with some suggesting he could win the election outright in the first round of voting.

Although the conflict is a political one, it is impossible to deny the clear and overt racial dynamic at play. While the country’s right-wing parties draw their support from rich, upper-class white Bolivians, many of whom live in eastern areas, the MAS is inordinately backed by the country’s indigenous or mixed lower-class majority.

MintPress has been speaking with a number of major MAS actors in this weekend’s election. Most of them see the event as an opportunity to reassert racial equality and reject an older model of white domination that ruled the country since the Spanish Conquest until Morales’ election in 2006.

“On October 18th we have to bury the fascist right…look at who the candidates for the right are, they’re people descendants from the Spanish, from Croatians, from all those empires. They don’t believe in our sovereignty or our culture,” said Juan Vilca of the Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia.

What we’re excited about is that we have a winning formula, Luis Arce for president, he represents economic stability and can reach the middle class, and for vice president, we have an indigenous campesino, our brother David Choquehuanca, he’ll make sure that our culture and identity are respected, he’ll make sure our poncho, our chicote [whip], our chuspa [traditional bag], our sombrero, our dress, is respected.”

Bolivia Elections

A woman walks past a wall full of electoral posters in El Alto, Bolivia, Oct. 15, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Morales, who escaped persecution in November by fleeing to Mexico, and later Argentina, was the country’s first indigenous leader since the Spanish conquest. Coming from the Aymara nation, he was a poor peasant farmer before becoming politically active in trade unions. Morales, with his strong indigenous features, made racial equality a central focus of his administration. The 2009 constitution officially changed the country’s name to the “Plurinational State of Bolivia” to recognize its multi-ethnic nature, with the indigenous Wiphala flag granted equal status to the more traditional tricolor design seen internationally. This did not please Bolivia’s wealthy, mostly white, westernized elite.

Addressing a crowd, Eva Copa, president of the Bolivian senate and herself an Aymara from the city of El Alto, said of her political opponents, “They call us Indians as if it’s an insult, but I’m proud to be an Indian!” later adding at a MAS rally that,

In this election we’ll vote against racism. October 18 is where we recover the dignity of our indigenous cultures, where we say no to hate and division. We’ll say no to violence, because we come from the culture of peace. We’ll destroy the whole idea of ‘fraud’ [referring to Morales’ disputed electoral victory last year] which they used to steal the election from Bolivia’s indigenous peoples. The city of El Alto has always been a tomb for tyrants and we’ll prove that again on October 18.”

Part of indigenous identity in Bolivia is a respect, even reverence, for the natural environment, which they call “Pachamama” (Mother Earth). Leonardo Loza, a leader of the Chimore Union Federation and MAS candidate for senate in the city of Cochabamba explained why so many inside the country see this election as a turning point in the country’s history.

Our identity and culture is at play in this election, our lives are at play, our way of life is at play, our harmony with Pachamama is at play, our coexistence between Bolivians is at play, and of course, democracy is at play. That’s why the October 18 elections are so important.”

A little known senator from a party that received only four percent of the vote in last October’s election that Morales won (before being ejected by the military on spurious vote rigging charges), Jeanine Añez was an unlikely choice for president. A strongly conservative Christian, she arrived at the presidential palace brandishing a massive, leather bound bible, proclaiming that God was returning to government. Much of Bolivia’s Christian right see indigenous people as lesser citizens. Añez herself had previously described the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic” and suggested they should not be allowed to live in cities but should be relegated to the highlands or the deserts. In this election, Bolivia’s far-right have campaigned on the slogan “creemos” (we believe), presenting themselves, the true believers, against the satanic non-believers who still worship Mother Earth.

During the November coup, leaders burned the Wiphala flag in the streets, while security forces ripped off and burned the Wiphala patch that was added to their uniforms, a gesture symbolizing a return to a country with a strict racial hierarchy. “The burning of our Wiphala was what hurt the most, absolutely,” said Franklin Flores, an Aymara MAS lawmaker. “The way our mothers, our sisters, our daughters were beaten with sticks and gassed by the police, just for being indigenous. That hurt our soul and it always will, we’ll never forget those moments. With our vote now we can overcome all that and give back dignity to our people.”

In order to force the recently re-elected Morales from office in November, the country’s right-wing relied on a campaign of violence against MAS officials. Patricia Arce, mayor of the town of Vinto, for example, was captured, had her hair shaved off, and her body painted red before she was publicly dragged through the streets barefoot, her captors abusing her forcing her to agree to leave office. Morales made clear that he was only leaving to avert a bloodbath.

Once in power, Añez certainly did not have it all her own way, and was met with stiff but mostly uncoordinated resistance to the coup from the country’s indigenous and working-class. She quickly signed an official order pre-exonerating all security services from any crimes committed during the “re-establishment of order,” effectively giving the army and the police a license to kill anyone who opposed her. This they immediately used, carrying out a number of massacres against MAS supporters.

“During this coup, we, as indigenous women, have been treated worse than animals, I think to them we don’t exist, but that pain hasn’t been for nothing,” said Juanita Ancieta, Secretary of International Relations for the MAS, and an indigenous Quechua woman.

Our children have risen up with enormous strength in defense of indigenous women, that brings us huge joy, huge pride. These elections are the chance to end that discrimination, that racism, and we’ll do it with our vote, we don’t need violence because we want to build a government of peace. I want to say to the right, that we are Bolivians too, even if we have ideological differences, we’re all humans in our Pachamama,” she added.

Since the European conquest, much of Latin America has been exploited as a vast mineral resource, enriching Europeans, and later, North Americans. Bolivia was no exception. From its discovery in 1545, the vast silver mountain of Potosí (which, for centuries, produced more than half the world’s supply of silver) enriched the Spanish king and funded Madrid’s escapades around Europe and the world. Just 50 years after its founding, the city of Potosí had a population equal to that of London or Paris. Today, the silver is mostly gone. But Bolivia is still rich in tin, hydrocarbons, and lithium. Morales attempted to redress the balance by nationalizing the country’s mineral wealth, using the proceeds to fund ambitious anti-poverty projects. This may have sealed his fate; Morales contends that the events of November constituted a “lithium coup,” a notion backed up by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. When challenged on his role in the coup, the billionaire (whose electric vehicles require vast amounts of lithium for batteries) responded, “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

During his time in office, Morales emerged as one of the world’s foremost critics of the international system, continually asserting that unfettered capitalism was the root cause of human suffering. Internationally, he opposed U.S. imperialism and attempted to build far reaching networks with other independently-minded Latin American countries, all while promoting Palestinian rights and Boycott Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. In 2015, his presidential plane was grounded in Europe after it was alleged that American dissident Edward Snowden might be on board en route to a new life of asylum in Bolivia. Diego Pary, an indigenous Quechua and Morales’ Foreign Minister until the 2019 coup, said that,

The diplomacy of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples reached the world during the last government. From the foreign ministry we showed the world what Bolivia really is, we showed the world our indigenous cultures, but sadly that indigenous diplomacy, that values unity and integration, has been abandoned. With this election we can rebuild Bolivia’s standing in the world, the values of our indigenous cultures have so much to contribute internationally.”

Bolivia Elections

A Queen Elizabeth I monument is covered in an Indigenous “Chola” outfit during a protest against colonization in La Paz, Oct. 12, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

As they wrap up their election campaign, the Movement to Socialism appears in a confident mood. A recent poll shows Luis Arce at 42 percent nationally, more than 9 points ahead of his nearest challenger Carlos Mesa (who was president between 2003 and 2005). Under the Bolivian system, if any candidate wins over 40 percent of the vote in the first round and is 10 points clear of second place, there is no second round runoff election. The Bolivian right obviously sees the danger, with Añez herself recently dropping out of the race to rally support around one candidate. Thus, unless projections are wildly inaccurate, a fair vote on Sunday will have the MAS in a strong position.

Yet there are serious concerns the election (which has already been postponed multiple times) will be far from fair. “Citizen observers” are being directly paid by U.S. government organizations USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, groups expelled from Bolivia under Morales’ premiership for interference in domestic affairs. In the wake of the coup, the U.S. expressed its delight at what it called the “preservation of democracy,” releasing a statement that all but said, “we did it.” Since then, it has continued to back Añez.

Añez’s government is also trying to impose a 48-hour lockdown straight after the election, claiming it is an anti-COVID-19 measure. However, critics allege it could be an attempt to stop protests against upcoming electoral fraud.

Henry Nina, the president of the Intercultural Confederation, the country’s largest indigenous organization, was confident that justice would be achieved.

We’re going to win back our identity, as the 36 indigenous and Afro nations of Bolivia, recognized by the constitution that we fought for. They’ve discriminated against us, they’ve dismantled our institutions such as the Ministry of Culture, a people without origin and without culture is not a people. This is why we have to rebuild democracy on October 18, so as to be able to rebuild our culture and our identity.”

Sunday represents Bolivia’s best chance to secure lasting peace, with a resounding MAS victory being a repudiation of the right’s military coup in November. Already, through constant struggle, the country’s indigenous groups and trade unions have forced the government to concede to an election. The question remains, however, if it loses, how will the government react?

Feature photo | An opponent of former President Evo Morales fights a supporter of the Movement Towards Socialism Party in La Paz, Bolivia, Oct. 5, 2020. Juan Karita | AP

Oliver Vargas is a British-Bolivian journalist covering the ongoing coup in Bolivia for MintPress News. His writing has appeared in teleSUR, Redfish and The Grayzone among others.

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 Bolivia: First Election Since US-Backed Coup Pits Right against Left, Rich Against Poor and White against Everyone Else appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Bolivia, coup, Elections, Luis Arce, United States]

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[l] at 10/16/20 11:29am

SANA’A, YEMEN — “Lak Al Hamd Ya Allah.” These words, which translate roughly from Arabic into “All thanks be to God,” were the first uttered by a 60-year-old Yemeni mother upon seeing her son for the first time in five years. The tearful reunion took place in Yemen’s Sana’a International Airport on Wednesday after the young man was released from Saudi Arabia’s notorious Khamis Mushait military prison near the Yemen-Saudi border. She was among hundreds of mothers, wives, and children reunited with loved-ones after a hard-won prisoner exchange between the Houthis (Ansar Allah) on one side and Saudi Arabia and the United States on the other.

In a reception replete with pomp and ceremony, freed prisoners were greeted by a number of Ansar Allah officials, ministers, members of Parliament as well as military leaders and social figures amid patriotic music and folk dances.

The surprise prisoner exchange is the largest to have taken place since the war erupted in 2015 and was overseen by the International Committee of the Red Cross. It would likely have never taken place had American prisoners not been involved. ”If there were no American prisoners, we would not have seen our families again,” one fisherman freed in the release told MintPress.

According to the Red Cross, some 1,081 prisoners from all sides were released as a part of an UN-brokered peace deal struck quietly in Switzerland last month. The UN envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said in a briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday that the prisoner exchange offers a glimmer of hope for Yemen, adding that it may be the largest operation of its kind in history.

Yemen Prisoner Exchange

Freed Houthi fighters are helped off of a plane at Sana’a International Airport, October, 14 2020. Photo | AMC

Saudi Arabia and its local allies reportedly released 710 Yemeni soldiers and abducted expatriates in the deal in exchange for 3 Americans, one of them deceased, 15 Saudi troops, 4 Sudanese soldiers, and 400 Saudi-backed Yemeni militants.

Kash Patel, the Deputy Assistant to Donald Trump, identified the freed U.S. nationals as Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada. Loli claimed to be an aid worker conducting humanitarian work in Yemen and Gidada said he was an American businessman conducting business in the country when he was detained by the Houthis. The remains of Bilal Fateen, the third U.S. captive who died during clashes with Houthi fighters, were transported to Oman. The Houthis claim that they have documents proving that the American detainees were arrested conducting intelligence activity on behalf of the United States and Saudi-led coalition.

U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said in a statement on Wednesday that “the United States welcomes the release today of U.S. citizens Sandra Loli and Mikael Gidada from Houthi custody in Yemen. He added, “We send our condolences to the family of Bilal Fateen, whose remains will be repatriated as well.”

Abdul Qader Al-Murtaza, chairman of the Houthi-run Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, said that 250 prisoners were freed from Saudi prisons and 220 from prisons in Marib province on Thursday, in four separate batches. Al-Murtaza said that 680 prisoners were originally supposed to have been released into Houthi custody but the “coalition excluded tens [of] prisoners from the prisons of Marib province, which prompted us to exclude prisoners.”

The oil-rich Marib province has been the scene of fierce fighting between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition. Houthi spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Saree revealed on Thursday that Saudi Arabia was concerned about the Houthi advance in Marib, making the Kingdom eager to negotiate.

 

Another October surprise

Speaking on behalf of the Trump administration, Patel said that the released Houthis did not pose a major threat to Saudi security interests, adding that the individuals were not on any terrorism watch lists. He also said that an undisclosed number of “high-risk” fighters were blocked from release.

According to a senior Hothi official who spoke to MintPress on the condition of anonymity, “The deal was initially discussed at the start of 2020 by an Omani broker, but the American administration postponed the exchange until today to use it as leverage in the coming presidential election.” The exchange took place less than three weeks before the start of the U.S. election.

According to a senior Hothi official who spoke to MintPress on the condition of anonymity, “The deal was initially discussed at the start of 2020 by an Omani broker, but the American administration postponed the exchange until today to use it as leverage in the coming presidential election.” The exchange took place less than three weeks before the U.S. election season kicks off.

Despite what appears to many Yemenis to have been little more than a political stunt, Houthis officials remained positive about the move, confirming that they are open to other deals with the United States to end the war in Yemen. Mohammed AbdulSalam, the spokesman for the movement, said in the wake of the deal, “These steps restore hope in building peace. We have made offers to implement such a step, and we expect it to be positively reflected in the political file.” He claimed the release of Saudi and Sudanese prisoners was aimed at encouraging the other side to move towards peace. “We made a major concession in this regard.”

Feature photo | US citizens, Sandra Loli, right, and Mikael Gidada, left, are pictured in Muscat, Oman on October 14, 2020 after being released from Houthi custody back to the United States as part of a massive prisoner exchange.

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

The post Questions Surround Timing and Details of Trump’s Recent Yemen Prisoner Exchange appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Yemen Coverage, Houthi, mikael gidada, Prisoner exchange, sandra loli, Yemen]

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[l] at 10/16/20 8:24am

Democratic Congressman David Price wants the CIA to come clean about its Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program which detained, interrogated, disappeared, and tortured potentially thousands of Muslims at CIA “black sites” around the world from the fall of 2001 until 2009 when its discovery led to its notorious end.

In a letter addressed to CIA director Gina Haspel last week, the North Carolina representative and chairman of the Transportation and HUD appropriations subcommittee asked for more details about his state’s role in the covert operation, requesting the release of certain classified materials pertaining to the use of North Carolina facilities and residents in the rendition process.

Price raises important questions that remain unanswered despite several years of research and pressure by activist organizations and journalists into the still elusive truth about the systematic policy of kidnapping and torture instituted via a secret memorandum signed by George W. Bush only six days after the events of September 11, 2001.

Congressman Price frames his letter to Haspel in terms of concern for the people of his home state of North Carolina, which is enough to embody at least the pretense of justice. But, given the unspeakable suffering and horrors visited upon the unknown number of innocent victims of the RDI program, Price’s late and limited election-time appeal smacks of political showmanship.

Laudable as the Congressman’s efforts may be, they still fall short of probing the darkest truths behind the RDI program, which threaten to expose the American war machine and the interests that motivate it.

 

Vacation in Macedonia

Khaled El-Masri was about to ring in 2004 in one of the oldest parts of the old world when he was forcibly abducted by a crew of seven or eight armed men and held in a hotel for 23 days. It would mark the beginning of a heart-wrenching ordeal for El-Masri, a German-Lebanese citizen who never imagined his vacation in Macedonia would include a nearly five-month layover in a CIA torture facility.

According to investigators with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a lawsuit on his behalf in 2007, El-Masri was chained, hooded, drugged and flown to the American-occupied city of Kabul in Afghanistan via Baghdad aboard a Boeing aircraft with a tail number registered in North Carolina. He was held in a small concrete cell inside a former brick factory outside of Kabul with no bed for the following five months, where he was beaten, tortured, and interrogated by Arabic-speaking men about his supposed and never-proven links to the September 11 hijackers. In May of 2004, El-Masri was flown to Albania and unceremoniously dumped in the foreign country to fend for himself.

CIA torture

A composite image of CIA torture victims from a senate ‘torture report’ released as part of a ACLU lawsuit

His story was repeated hundreds, if not thousands of times with baselessly targeted Muslims, including children and pregnant women, who were abducted by CIA-backed mercenaries under the auspices of the RDI program. The official number of victims acknowledged by the U.S. government sits at just over 100 people, but the full scope of the covert torture operation has yet to be revealed since the government’s own Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program remains classified.

Nevertheless, independent studies of the RDI program have unearthed enough evidence to conclude that the scale of the illegal CIA-run operation far exceeds the tally so far. The plane used to fly El-Masri was one of two aircraft owned by a CIA front company and operated out of North Carolina in a highly-protected corner of the state’s Global TransPark – a multi-modal center that houses major aerospace manufacturing facilities, like Spirit AeroSystems and Boeing and military facilities.

The airplane in question, tail number N313P, is linked back to a small company called Aero Contractors, Ltd., which is cited in the Congressman’s letter and is at the center of many of the independent inquiries into the matter. However, Aero Contractor’s role – while significant – is much more narrow than that of the company to which the aircraft was sold to before the renditions began.

 

The shell in the shell

Founded in 1979 by a former pilot with the CIA’s Air America, Aero Contractors works through several shell companies. One of these companies, Premier Executive Transport Services, purchased the N313P aircraft within weeks of the RDI program’s start and performed a number of technical upgrades to the plane, including the installation of vertical fins to help it take off from short runways or rough weather conditions, as well as boosting fuel efficiency, among other tweaks to improve the airplane’s overall range.

Investigative reporter and expert in clandestine military installations, Trevor Paglen, together with ProPublica staff reporter A.C. Thompson, manage to pull the curtain back somewhat in their book, Torture Taxi: On the Trail of the Cia’s Rendition Flights, disclosing that after the modifications were made, the plane was sold to another shady outfit registered in Reno, Nevada called Keeler and Tate Management Group LLC., which they traced back to one of the most powerful lobbying firms in DC, the Paul Laxalt Group, and run by its now-deceased founder, Paul Laxalt and his brother Peter.

While Aero Contractor pilots and mechanics continued to take care of the technical operation of the aircraft, it was the CIA-front Nevada company, Keeler and Tate Management, that was in charge of the renditions and other more germane aspects of the RDI.

CIA torture North Carolina

The only known photo of a CIA plane on CIA property taken at CIA leased facilities at the Johnston County Airport, North Carolina. Photo | Clayton Hallmark

The lack of attention to this particular detail speaks volumes, considering that Paul Laxalt, a former Republican governor of Nevada and one of the biggest names in the state’s politics, was also a liaison between the Senate and the White House during the Iran-Contra scandal. In addition to being a close confidant to Ronald Reagan and thrice running his election campaigns, Laxalt was also late CIA director William Casey’s good friend.

Laxalt’s lobbying firm, now run by his daughter Michelle Laxalt, has an extensive clientele and was representing many defense industry stalwarts like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell, and many others in 2001. His relationship to the company that owned N313P and N379P – the two aircraft used to carry out over 77 illegal rendition flights, that are still unaccounted for – has been ignored by most investigations into the RDI program.

The North Carolina Congressman’s letter to Gina Haspel focuses on Aero Contractors and never mentions Laxalt or Keeler and Tate, the front company he ran for the CIA. Stopping the inquiry about one of the most egregious and coordinated abuses of human rights in modern times at the feet of a contractor seems a disservice to the truth and to the possibly thousands of illegally detained and tortured men, women, and children of Muslim persuasion.

 

The unaccounted for

According to annex B included in Congressman David Price’s letter to the CIA director, the mission of 77 “suspicious circuits flown” by the two aforementioned aircraft operated by Aero Contractors “remains to be determined.” It is a form of political sophistry to give Aero Contractors the benefit of the doubt, considering that all the evidence points towards the obvious.

In the rendition flight logs that have been disclosed, 49 prisoners were transported to multiple locations throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Like El-Masri, many abductees were dropped in countries they knew nothing about. Afghanistan, Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Iraq, and, of course, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are among the destinations several of these victims of naked U.S. imperialism were shuttled to and tortured.

The fate of the majority of these victims is unknown and is one of the questions Price poses to Haspel. But, in light of events that have transpired in the world since 9/11 and the proliferation of ISIS and other terrorist groups, it behooves us to not fall into our own sophistries and pretend that we really don’t know.

Feature photo | This photo depicting two people, appearing to be bound, was released the by Department of Defense as part of a long-running ACLU lawsuit relating to CIA torture on February 5, 2015.

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

The post David Price Takes on the CIA Over Its Secret Torture Program, But Is He Asking the Right Questions? appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, CIA, David Price, North Carolina, rdi program, Torture]

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[l] at 10/14/20 12:32pm

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the central organism tasked with collecting, compiling, and analyzing data in the southeast Asian nation, has begun a large-scale, house-to-house canvassing operation to preregister 9 million heads of households and other adults in the country’s lowest income brackets.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the flagship program will initially be carried out in regions where COVID cases are low, and only on a voluntary basis. Despite reportedly widespread support for the new system (upwards of 70 percent), concerns over privacy have dogged the identification system since it was mandated by the Philippine Identification System Act and signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018.

The legislation, originally drafted by a former head of the Philippine National Police, will include information already held by the PSA as well as the eventual inclusion of biometric data, such as iris scans and full fingerprint sets. Filipino researcher Josh Malonzo, from the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, tweeted out an all-caps warning on Monday about how the national ID program will dovetail with the highly controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, resulting in de facto mass surveillance.

Much of the justification for the national ID system revolves around efforts to consolidate the country’s 46 existing government-issued IDs and facilitating payments across commercial sectors. The central bank of the Philippines is among the major institutions pushing for the new system, which it hopes will increase the number of Filipinos with bank accounts from the current 29 percent to 70 percent by 2023.

Other powerful supporters of the nascent ID system are two of the nation’s biggest telecom companies, PLDT and Globe Telecom, who have been trying to introduce e-payments into a country where the majority of the population still prefers to use cash for day-to-day transactions, mirroring similar initiatives by banking and transnational corporations in other developing nations.

The preregistration period will run from October 12, 2020, until December 30 and overlap slightly with the beginning of the full registration process, slated to begin in November. The current chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP), Gen. Camilo Cascolan, instructed his charges to coordinate with the PSA and Local Government Units (LGUs), to carry out the pre-registration process, which will begin in the country’s rural areas and move on to the metropolitan regions next year. The PSA aims to enroll 108 million Filipinos by the end of 2022.

 

Working excuses

The momentum for a national ID system is not stopping at the borders of what the financial industry calls “emerging markets”, however. In the United States, legislation for a new national ID is currently sitting in the U.S. Congress awaiting passage. Introduced by U.S. Congressman Bill Foster on September 11, 2020, the Improving Digital Identity Act of 2020, avails itself of many of the same justifications used in the Philippines to generate consensus for a national ID, such as the coronavirus crisis, which has “exposed the lack of a comprehensive digital identity strategy,” in the United States, according to the bill’s advocates.

Nevertheless, in a country where digital payments are already ubiquitous, the raison d’etre used in the Philippines – namely, the desire to bring millions of unbanked Filipinos into the banking system – is not necessarily going to work as well in America, where the threat of cyberattacks and cybersecurity issues, in general, are instead cited as the top reason for the implementation of a national ID system, featuring many of the same biometric features Duterte’s compatriots will soon be compelled to provide to their government.

Foster’s bill quotes the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Treasury Department (FinCEN), Kenneth A. Blanco, to make its case by blaming identity theft as the root cause “behind much of the fraud and cybercrime affecting our nation today.” Just a few weeks later, the infamous FinCEN leaks conveniently revealed the global extent of fraudulent activities engaged in by the world’s largest financial institutions, covered by this author.

 

Pincer movement

The COVID-19 crisis and worldwide lockdowns have afforded governments across the planet the opportunity to implement measures of population control that were unimaginable only a few years ago and relegated to Hollywood’s most dystopian productions.

The commander of the Philippines’ Joint Task Force COVID Shield, Police Lt. Gen. Guillermo Lorenzo Eleazar, reflected this new reality when he revealed to the Manila Bulletin that the implementation of the national ID system has “always been factored in during the meetings of the National Task Force on COVID-19” and other health agencies.

In the United States, such considerations revolve around the effects COVID-19-related issues are having on unemployment agencies, which have been reportedly targeted for fraud through cyberspace. The same justifications for an unprecedented expansion of the surveillance state are being used in Canada, whose own national ID system is also relying on emergency measures brought on by the pandemic to push through draconian tracking and personal data collection technologies.

Implementation in the United States will also be aided by the imposed obsolescence of previous forms of ID, such as the drivers’ licenses currently held by 62 percent of Americans, but which the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), has announced will no longer be valid to travel by plane domestically or internationally by the end of 2021.

Feature image | MintPress News

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

The post Philippines to Roll Out National ID as Surveillance State Spreads Across the World appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Foreign Affairs, News, Top Story, COVID-19, National ID, Philippines, Surveillance]

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[l] at 10/14/20 12:01pm

More than 55 million people in seven countries are in desperate need of COVID-19-related famine relief. That is according to a new report from international charity Oxfam, entitled “Later will be too late.” The report details how 55.5 million people in seven countries — Yemen, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Somalia — are living in severe-to-extreme levels of food insecurity or even famine conditions, thanks largely to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, the United Nations called for $10.3 billion in emergency funding to deal with the worldwide humanitarian impact the pandemic was expected to bring. Unfortunately, it has received barely a quarter of what it has asked for from donors. Every sector, including gender-based violence (58 percent funded), protection (27 percent), health (27 percent), and water, sanitation and hygiene (17 percent) are chronically under-funded. But the worst underwritten parts of its coronavirus response plan are food security (11 percent) and nutrition (3 percent). Indeed, in 5 of the 7 countries noted, the UN has received nothing at all to deal with the crisis. Oxfam called the international community’s response “dangerously inadequate.”

“The Committee for World Food Security must raise the alarm at the UN that famine is imminent on its watch and not enough is yet being done to stop it. We need a fairer and more sustainable food system that supports small scale producers. Years of neglect mean that millions upon millions of people remain unnecessarily vulnerable to shocks like COVID, climate change and conflict,” said Oxfam’s International interim Executive Director, Chema Vera.

Official estimates suggest that around 1.1 million people have died from COVID-19 globally since its emergence in China late last year. While the United States has seen the most cases and deaths overall, it is now countries in the global south that are the most intense hotbeds of the virus, with Brazil, Mexico, and India right behind the U.S. There are currently over 800,000 active cases in India alone.

As nations all over the world have scrambled to take emergency action in the wake of COVID-19, businesses have been disrupted, supply lines cut and economies stunted. As a result of the mass unemployment, the number of food insecure people has greatly increased in many countries. In northern Nigeria, for instance, that number has increased to 8.7 million from 4.7 million three years ago. No one in Burkina Faso in 2017 fell into the food insecure category, however, that number has jumped to 3.3 million today, according to Oxfam. Meanwhile, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s food insecure population has rocketed from 7.7 million in 2017 to 21.8 million today.

Yemen was already considered the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” by the United Nations before the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks largely to the Saudi-led onslaught against the country. Over 20 million people are dependent on foreign food aid to survive. In April, the World Food Program warned that a “famine of biblical proportions” could be on the way in the country. And yet, following U.S. government pressure, aid to Yemen has sputtered to just $0.25 per person per day, nothing like what is needed to change the course of the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo successfully pressured the international community to reduce its aid to the beleaguered nation in a bid to starve the country’s Houthi rebels of aid. As a result, Yemen may be reaching a humanitarian tipping point in the near future.

Partly because of the inaction, Oxfam has suggested that more people could die from COVID-19-linked hunger than of the virus itself, warning that up to 12,000 people could perish daily if more action is not taken. But even as the UN desperately begs for just $10 billion to avert a massive famine, food and beverage companies have paid out over $18 billion in dividends to shareholders between January and July, suggesting that a lack of funds is not the principal problem.

People in the United States, too, have had problems with food insecurity, although nothing like the severity of those in sub Saharan Africa or in Yemen. 56 million Americans were forced to use a food bank during the crisis, as tens of millions were left unemployed almost overnight. While Americans do not have to worry about a potential famine in their country, those in the African and Asian countries highlighted by the report are not as lucky.

Feature photo | Iraqi children sit on bags of rice from the World Food Program (WFP) at a school that serves as a shelter for internally displaced people in Baghdad’s eastern district of Jamila, Iraq. Karim Kadim | 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 55 Million People Face Famine as COVID-Ravaged Economies Fail To Meet Funding Goals appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, COVID-19, famine, hunger, Oxfam, report]

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[l] at 10/14/20 10:32am

In a secret ballot at the United Nations yesterday, Saudi Arabia was rejected for a position on the body’s 47-country Human Rights Council (HRC). The only country that did not receive the required number of votes from member states, the failure has been seen as a repudiation of the Kingdom’s abysmal human rights record and its decreasing international support.

15 positions were filled yesterday, although most of them were pre-selected. Only the Asia-Pacific region faced an open vote from UN member states. Pakistan received 169 “yes” votes out of a possible 193, Uzbekistan 164, Nepal 150, and China 139. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, received just 90.

Saudi Arabia’s allies in the West had actually been campaigning to halt the election of states that draw Washington’s ire, including China, Russia, and Cuba, trying to organize opposition against those nations, but were ultimately unsuccessful. China received 41 fewer votes than it did in 2016, amid increased global concern over the alleged treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang Province, but ultimately comfortably surpassed the 50 percent threshold for admission.

U.N. Watch, a western NGO that has a history of attacking Washington’s enemies and has condemned the UN for its supposed antisemitic bias over its criticism of Israeli human rights abuses, claimed that “electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade.”

The reaction from the U.S. government, which left the HRC in 2018 over its perceived bias against Israel, was similarly angry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement claiming that the election of countries like China, Russia, Cuba (and Venezuela in 2019) has shown that the institution is now broken beyond repair.

“The United States’ commitment to human rights consists of far more than just words,” Pompeo said, as he boasted of employing sanctions against all those nations. “Our commitments are spelled out clearly in the UN’s Declaration, and in our record of action. The United States is a force for good in the world, and always will be,” he added. Yet earlier this year Pompeo himself said that the U.S. should abandon most of the rights enshrined in the UN Declaration and focus only on property rights and religious freedoms.

 

The spin war

Much of the media today has been in a furor that the “world’s worst abusers” (The Times) like China, Russia, and Cuba are set to join or rejoin the council. The Guardian suggested that the institution’s credibility is at stake. Yet in the talk of human rights violators joining the council, the election of other states with questionable records was never discussed. Bolivia, whose murderous far-right government came to power in a U.S.-backed military coup in November, was also elected, but with no fanfare or condemnation. As was Cameroon, whose dictatorial head of state Paul Biya has been in charge of the country since Gerald Ford was president of the United States. Other states with contentious records included were Narendra Modi’s India, Rodrigo Duterte’s Philippines, and the Qatari dictatorship.

UN Media coverage

Both the Guardian, left, and the Times, right, failed to report on other human rights violators being elected to the council

Saudi Arabia was elected twice to the HRC between 2014-2016 and 2017-2019. Its new failure to secure more than 90 votes is a sign of increasing discontent with its policies in Yemen, declared the world’s worst humanitarian disaster by the United Nations, where 24 million people (80 percent of the country) need some form of humanitarian assistance. Yet under pressure from the U.S. government, aid has been cut to just 25 cents per person, per day. The kingdom has played a key role in stymying any international action to deal with the humanitarian catastrophe, using its position at the HRC to block UN inquiries into its own abuses in Yemen.

Internally, the country is often described as the most repressive regime on the planet, with millions of people suffering under slave-like conditions, according to Human Rights Watch. While on the council, it attempted to block a resolution that condemned the use of torture by law enforcement and reaffirms the human rights of LGBT people. Inside Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty.

Ultimately, while yesterday’s election is the sign of a slightly more multipolar world, the results are unlikely to seriously change the direction of the organization, with the United Nations constantly blocked from taking action unless all of the world’s superpowers allow it.

Feature photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, listens to Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during their meeting at the State Department, Oct. 14, 2020, in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta | 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 Western Anger as China, Russia Elected to UN Human Rights Council and Saudi Arabia Rejected appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Human Rights, Saudi Arabia, UN Human Rights Council, United States]

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[l] at 10/13/20 7:39am

The Church of God in Christ, or COGIC, is certainly not the first evangelical group to embrace the state of Israel. But unlike most evangelical denominations, this one is mostly African American. Its leadership includes the newly-minted and first-ever “Bishop of Israel,” Dr. Glenn R. Plummer, who now resides in Jerusalem – and he cherishes his new post.

The Plummers’ move from their Detroit home is the culmination of a years-long targeted outreach by pro-Israel organizations to the African American Christian community, including a carefully curated public relations campaign that oscillates between portraying Israel as a victim of Palestinian violence and ignoring Palestinian existence completely.

 

The mission: American dollars for Israel

Plummer defines his mission in terms of creating mostly commercial ties between African Americans and Jewish Israelis. The two million Muslim and Christian Palestinians who live in Israel do not figure into his plans. As he explains it:

It’s a perfect time to show our support for the Jewish people, and for Israel in particular, and we intend to do that in very tangible ways. There are more than 40 million Black Americans, they spend more than $1.3 trillion a year, so we’re a measurable market, a measurable group of people, easily identified, and we think we can also contribute to the advancement of Israel.”

COGIC Israel

Plummer, pictured in a matching tracksuit and Nike fanny pack, with a member of his congregation during a 2019 tour in Jerusalem. Photo | COGIC

Plummer’s wife, who now claims the title “the first lady of Israel,” adds that the couple hopes to correct what she calls “misunderstandings” about Israel among Black Americans. “God blesses those who bless Israel, she said, “We want to make sure that Black Americans understand that the way to bless Israel is to speak well of Israel.”

Last month, the foundation Israel Allies named Plummer one of Israel’s “Top 50 Christian Allies.”

 

African American views on Israel

Black Americans as a group are primarily Protestant – a characteristic usually associated with robust support for Israel – but also predominantly Democrats, the less pro-Israel party. 

Most African American Christians lean left when it comes to the Jewish State. Less than half — 48 percent — endorse Israel, and 27 percent sympathize with the Palestinians.

Although traditional religious teaching in many denominations calls on believers to support Israel, the majority of Black Christians sympathize equally with both Israeli and Palestinian struggles (seventy percent); over forty percent also believe that Israel denies Palestinians their basic human rights and that Israeli laws discriminate against Palestinians (about the same percentage say they don’t know).

 

The link: pro-Israel charity

The modern African American connection to Israel can be traced back to the late American Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who in 1983 created a collaborative charity called the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). Eckstein has since grown it into a $100 million-a-year organization. IFCJ claims to support the Israeli military, provide aid to needy Jewish families, and promote Jewish emigration to Israel.

Eckstein Black churches

Eckstein addresses a Baptist Church in Detroit during the Martin Luther King Day weekend. Photo | Phil Lewis | The Fellowship

In 2014, after over thirty years of cultivating support for the Jewish state among White American Christians, Eckstein began pursuing the African American Christian community. He found the work tricky. Black Christians, after all, tend to be Democrats and not supportive of the more hawkish pro-Israel policies for which he sought backing. But Eckstein had a secret weapon.

He targeted COGIC because of one particular doctrine: a belief that the creation of the State of Israel was ordained by God.

 

Selective pilgrimage

By 2015 a group of COGIC ministers, including the Plummers, visited Israel with Eckstein, taking in a hand-picked list of Jewish and Christian holy sites, a bomb shelter in Tel Aviv, and the Holocaust memorial.

In 2017, with financial assistance from Hobby Lobby, another COGIC group visited Israel. Notably, the week-long trip did not include Bethlehem, which is in Palestinian territory, or any meetings with Palestinians. A senior COGIC delegate explained that the purpose of the visit was to focus on the strength of Israel, adding, “that’s not to say the Palestinian issue is not deserving of consideration as well. Anything that helps humanity.”

The itinerary for African American church leaders included a stop in southern Tel Aviv, where most of Israel’s 45,000 African asylum-seekers live. The group discussed the challenges these immigrants faced, including racism and economic inequity. But again, the narrative was incomplete.

Israel has been openly trying for over ten years to stop the flow of refugees from Africa and to deport those already present. Human Rights Watch reported that it “recognized fewer than one percent of asylum applicants,” choosing instead to “bully” them or ignore their applications. The government even funded a wall on its border with Egypt and then initiated a policy of detention and expulsion, housing African refugees in large camps in the middle of the southern desert.

Despite the carefully curated itinerary, one church leader summed up his takeaway from the trip thusly, “[D]espite the achievement of some [Africans in Israel], educational and economic inequity remain.”

 

“From Ferguson to Palestine”

Just before the COGIC trip to Israel, the U.S. saw a surge of Black support for the Palestinian cause – something Plummer has yet to acknowledge.

The summer of 2014 highlighted the parallel issues faced by African Americans and their Palestinian brethren. As Blacks in America protested the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Israel waged a brutal war against the people of Gaza. Over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, 65 percent of them civilians. More than 500 Palestinian children lost their lives in the Israeli campaign along with 73 Israelis, just eight percent of whom were civilians.

The 2015 Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine, signed by over 1,000 activists and 39 organizations, was born of this shared adversity and read, in part:

The past year has been one of high-profile growth for Black-Palestinian solidarity. Out of the terror directed against us—from numerous attacks on Black life to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank—strengthened resilience and joint-struggle have emerged between our movements.

 

Neighborhood watch

Bishop Plummer and his wife made their new home in an upscale Israeli suburb of Jerusalem called Mevaseret Zion, a neighborhood whose backstory is noteworthy if one is willing to search it out.

Before 1948, Mevaseret Zion was the site of the mostly-Arab Palestinian village of Qalunya, population: 1,056. The violent Jewish paramilitary force, the Haganah, destroyed the village as recounted by historian Walid Khalidi, author of “All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948.” The village was one of over five hundred depopulated and demolished in the wake of Israel’s creation.

Plummers IDF

Plummer poses with African members of the IDF in Jerusalem in 2016. Photo | COGIC

Ottoman records indicate that it had been in existence since at least 1596. Its Palestinian farmers grew (and paid taxes on) wheat, barley, and vegetables, and tended citrus and olive trees.

Kerem Navot, a non-profit Israeli group that monitors land policy, recently pointed out that Mevaseret Zion lies partly inside Palestine. But instead of resolving the trespassing issue, Israel recently approved plans for further construction in the town, requiring the appropriation of yet more Palestinian land.

 

Zooming toward racism

On June 4, Bishop Plummer participated in a video conference vigil hosted by Yehudah Glick on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Its objective: to pray for racial reconciliation in the United States following the death of George Floyd.

Plummer and his colleagues may not have been aware that following a 1967 agreement, only Muslims are supposed to be allowed to perform religious rituals on the Temple Mount, the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and one of Islam’s most revered sites.

In recent years, Israeli radicals have stormed the mosque compound more and more frequently, often under the protection of Israeli police. Despite having exclusive access to the Wailing Wall, a nearby Jewish holy site, they storm the compound under the auspices of a desire to pray in the mosque compound, a move seen by many Muslims as intentionally provocative. Yehudah Glick’s prayer vigil was both illegal and provocative.

Glick also ignored the fact that both the religious establishment and the Israeli government openly discriminate against the Palestinians in their midst to the point that many experts have described the government’s actions as apartheid. And even as Glick urged his listeners to chant “no more violence,” his country observed the 53rd anniversary of its brutal occupation of Palestine.

Israel’s widely publicized narrative of innocence overshadows the reality of its intolerance, though both Israeli and Palestinian historians have chronicled it thoroughly.

The state of Israel displaced 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 simply because they were not Jewish. It defied international law by refusing to allow them to return; appropriated 78 percent of their land in 1948, and occupied the rest in 1967, with no end in sight.

Numerous human rights organizations have been tallying and reporting on Israel’s decades of ongoing human rights abuses.

In Gaza alone 7,400 Palestinians have been killed through direct Israeli violence (thousands more due to lack of food and medicine caused by the now fourteen-year-old blockade); during the same time period, about 250 Israelis were been killed by Palestinians in Gaza.

Glick mourned the May 25 death of George Floyd and the nationwide unrest in its aftermath. He left unspoken the name of Eyad al Hallak, a disabled Palestinian man executed by Israeli police on May 30 in Jerusalem – not far from where Glick’s own vigil was held.

Feature photo | Antonio Cabrera

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

The post How a Black Evangelical Denomination was Duped into “Blessing” Israel appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, black americans, Christianity, COGIC, Glenn Plummer, Israel, Yechiel Eckstein]

[*] [+] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 10/12/20 2:51pm

In “The Grand Chessboard,” Zbigniew Brzezinski warned his fellow ruling class cohorts that the onset of the information age would require disinformation strategies to mitigate any potential threat from an increasingly politically-aware population.

Five years before Brzezinski’s book was published, a white separatist and former Marine named Randy Weaver would be targeted by federal agents in what came to be known as the Ruby Ridge standoff; a landmark event in the formation of an anti-government subculture in the U.S., underpinned by a loose framework of White Supremacist ideologies rooted in the foundational myths of American settler culture and encouraged by their radical billionaire patrons who built a political machine at their expense and have set the stage for our current political reality.

Stoked for decades by an extremist capitalist oligarchy which has slowly and methodically disabled the levers of democracy to achieve its interests, the latent racial tensions that haunt America’s collective psyche are being exploited in ways never before possible with the advent of online disinformation mashups, like QAnon, Antifa, BLM and others along the spectrum of modern-day social media constructs.

As we near the 2020 presidential election, the skeletons in America’s closet are being dressed in the latest fashion and paraded before a terrified citizenry, whose health and peace of mind is under siege as a result of the pandemic crisis while simultaneously bombarded with apocalyptic scenarios of societal collapse and civil war, like the alleged conspiracy to kidnap and murder Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer as part of a larger plan to storm the Michigan State Capitol with hundreds of armed men.

But, considering the fact that all of the individuals charged in the plot had been under intense scrutiny by the Federal Bureau of Investigation months prior to the scheme being hatched, it is not surprising that suspicions of entrapment by the FBI have begun to swirl around the high profile case, which was filed before the U.S. District Court of Western Michigan last Tuesday.

 

Coloring over the lines

Ruby Ridge has long been a rallying cry for white separatists and is considered as the inspiration for the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh and Michigan native, Terry Nichols in 1995. Together with the tragedy at Waco, which occurred in 1993, these events form the holy trinity of the domestic terrorist narrative now crystallized into law at the federal level.

The standoff at Ruby Ridge stands as the most extensively documented case of overt terroristic procedures and techniques employed by the FBI and has been called a “dress rehearsal for Waco,” as many of the same agencies and personnel that participated in the seven-day siege at Ruby Ridge would turn their guns on the Branch Davidian complex soon thereafter.

In an apparently unrelated incident a few days before the FBI filed the affidavit against the alleged conspirators in the Whitmer case, FBI agents killed 43-year old Eric Mark-Matthew Allport during a shootout at a restaurant in a northern suburb of Detroit.

Allport had been at Ruby Ridge as a teenager and witnessed his friends and neighbors get massacred by federal agents. His death at the hands of police immediately lifted Allport into martyr status by members of the so-called Boogaloo Bois and other self-styled anti-government groups, despite the curious role Bill Grider, Allport’s father, played in the Ruby Ridge affair.

According to testimony by Deputy U.S. Marshal David Hunt, who used Grider to carry messages to and from Weaver’s cabin, Allport’s father offered to kill Randy Weaver for the feds. “He said he was going to kill him, and I wouldn’t have to pay him,” Hunt claimed under cross examination at the trial. While Hunt’s claims about Grider – who counted Weaver was a friend – were never confirmed, it is not uncommon to find infiltrated members of the armed forces and police among groups that threaten the state, but the ideological overlap between elements of law enforcement, military and secessionist groups also allows for a measure of sincere allegiance by such individuals.

Dar Leaf, the Sheriff of Barry County, which is located just south of Grand Rapids, reflected this reality in an interview with a local FOX affiliate on Thursday in which he unequivocally states that the kidnapping of Whitmer – in his eyes – should be treated as an attempt by concerned citizens to make a felony arrest of the governor for violating the constitution. Leaf had earlier been captured on video at a rally with one of the suspects.

 

A rising target

Prior to the 2018 midterm victory that put her in the governor’s mansion, Whitmer had served in the Michigan state Senate from 2006 until 2014. More recently, she had assumed the role of interim Ingham County prosecutor in 2016 after the serving prosecutor had to resign over a lurid sex scandal. Whitmer beat Republican Bill Schuette to take the governorship and after just one year in office, she came into the national spotlight for the first time when she was selected to deliver the Democrats’ response to the Trump’s last State of the Union address in February, which also coincided with the start of the FBI’s investigation into her would-be kidnappers.

In August, Whitmer again garnered national attention amid speculation that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was going to choose her as his running mate. By then, the FBI had compiled hours of conversations between the ragtag crew of convicted criminals and U.S. Marines, who in June, allegedly targeted Governor Whitmer as part of a grand plan to storm the Michigan State Capitol with 200 men and take hostages before the upcoming presidential election.

Gretchen Whitmer kidnappers

Suspects in the Whitmer case. From top left: Paul Bellar, Daniel Harris, Ty Garbin, Brandon Caserta, Kaleb Franks, Joseph Morrison, Pete Musico, and Adam Fox

The group’s motivation is said to come from Whitmer’s “unilateral” lockdown policies, extending the state’s coronavirus emergency measures beyond the original April 30 cut-off date through executive order. The move elicited an immediate reaction from conservatives in the state and the very influential Koch-funded Mackinac Center, which filed an injunction against the governor’s executive action in May.

After challenges to the governor’s orders were struck down in lower courts, the Republican-majority Michigan Supreme Court last week added fuel to the fire by ruling Whitmer’s executive orders to be unconstitutional and setting off a firestorm of controversy on the same day FBI agents murdered Eric Mark-Matthew Allport in Detroit and just before the FBI decided to submit their affidavit against the Whitmer plotters.

 

Truants and tyrants

The “tyrant bitch,” as aborted coup leader Adam Fox called Whitmer in a Facebook group later that month, was to be tried for treason in mock trial after which she would be executed, according to a recorded conversation that took place in the basement of a vacuum repair retail establishment owned by a long-time friend of Fox and former U.S. Marine, Brian Titus.

The term “tyrant” as used by Fox isn’t gratuitous but is yet another link to Ruby Ridge and the language adopted by white nationalists to refer to their enemy. The language used by Randy Weaver’s wife, Vicki, in letters where she quotes the founder of a White Supremacist prison gang organization called The Order: “Do you hear the approaching thunder?” she writes. “It is that of the awakened Saxon. War is upon the land. The tyrant’s blood will flow.”

After the conversation in the repair shop’s basement, the kidnapping plot seems to pick up speed. Less than a month later, the conspirators were getting together in Wisconsin for combat drills and an “alliance” with the White Supremacist Wolverine Watchmen group was effectuated soon thereafter in August after Adam Fox was introduced to one of their leaders at a gun rally.

Titus has been quoted in several stories about Fox, whom he now repudiates, despite knowing the young man since he was 17 and recently letting him squat in his shop’s basement. “I had no idea what was going on,” Titus told local CBS affiliate WWMT, though he conceded that Fox had “some dark secrets” and characterized him as an “anti-police, anti-government” man to another outlet.

On Sunday, CNN reported that military records confirmed two other suspects, Daniel Harris 23, and Joseph Morrison 26, are also former Marines. Morrison was actively serving in the reserve forces until last week, while Harris concluded his stint in 2019. The younger of the two is facing federal charges along with Fox and four other men. Morrison is among the seven facing state charges. Members of a Michigan militia known as the Wolverine Watchmen were also among those accused by state officials on Thursday of targeting police and helping to plan Whitmer’s kidnapping.

The generous interpretation of these events would credit the FBI with foiling the kidnapping plot against the Democratic governor of Michigan by a group of alleged domestic terrorists whose trail the agency had followed for three months short of a year and, despite knowing of the plan early in the summer of 2020, decided to sit on the case until less than a month before the presidential election and right on the heels of Trump’s “stand back and stand by” soundbite at the infamous presidential debate last week.

A more probable scenario is that the FBI, as it’s done time and again, led the subjects of their investigation down the road to entrapment by guiding their actions to the desired result and providing a narrative that politicians can use to further lead us down the road to an inescapable surveillance state where dissent is rebranded as a hate crime against our benevolent overlords.

Feature photo | Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a campaign stop for Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., at the Detroit Pistons practice facility in Detroit, Sept. 22, 2020. Paul Sancya | AP

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

The post Kidnapping Dissent: The Whitmer Plot and the End of Freedom appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, entrapment, FBI, Gretchen Whitmer, kidnapping, Ruby Ridge]

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[l] at 10/12/20 12:39pm

Nineteen years ago last week the United States invaded Afghanistan, a country halfway around the world that few in America had heard of and even fewer knew anything about. Today, thousands of U.S. soldiers and many more private military contractors continue to pace and patrol exactly the same routes as their predecessors did in 2001, fighting a seemingly endless and pointless conflict that both the American and Afghan public have long since soured on.

One example of this is Master Sgt. Trevor deBoer, deployed to the country three times with the 20th Special Forces Group. “When we started this, people asked why I was going, and my response was, ‘So my sons don’t have to fight this war,’” deBoer told military news site Stars and Stripes.

But, ironically for deBoer, Afghanistan is exactly where his son, Spc. Payton Sluss ended up, metaphorically and literally walking in his footsteps. “My feet were walking the same land you were,” Sluss said to his father. This father-son dynamic is not as unique as one might expect; Stars and Stripes also profiled a number of other parents and children in the same situation.

The story was another case of life imitating art, as it bore an eerie resemblance to a three-year-old article in the satire outlet The Onion, called “Soldier Excited To Take Over Father’s Old Afghanistan Patrol Route.” In it, a fictional interviewee claims that “It’s just so incredible that I’ll soon be walking the very same footpath as my old man, securing the perimeter of Camp Chapman in Khost Province just like he did so many years ago,” expressing his pride in taking flak from the same angry rebel groups and dodging IEDs on the same deserted roads. But reality is increasingly driving satirists out of a job these days.

A new poll found that Americans are extremely weary of the conflict and want it to come to an end as soon as possible. Nearly 62 percent of the country backed a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban signed in February, with the number of respondents who want to keep troops in Afghanistan until “all enemies have been defeated” dropping from 30 percent in 2019 to just 15 percent today. The poll also found that Americans want a decrease in foreign interventions and military presence around the world. About twice as many favor cutting the military budget than increasing it.

President Trump appeared to be on the verge of pulling out of Afghanistan for good in the summer and was in negotiations for a peace deal. However, anonymous intelligence officials leaked stories to The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal alleging that Russia, and later Iran, were paying off the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers, causing a media storm that was used as the basis to postpone the withdrawal. Trump is now claiming only that U.S. troops “should” be out by Christmas.

 

A costly humanitarian war

The United States and its allies quickly invaded Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, citing the Taliban’s refusal to hand over chief suspect Osama Bin Laden. Yet the Taliban were, in fact, willing to negotiate through neutral third parties, but were not given the chance. Bin Laden was captured and killed in 2011 — over nine years ago — yet the United States has still not left the country.  The Trump administration has even ramped up the war, dropping the “Mother of All Bombs” — the largest non-nuclear explosion in world history — in 2017. Between January and October of 2018, it dropped 5,982 more bombs, the highest number in over a decade.

The humanitarian cost of the war is debated, with little agreement about the scale of the violence perpetrated against Afghanistan’s people. What is not in doubt is the attitude of Afghans. A poll published last year found that zero percent of respondents described themselves as “thriving,” and 85 percent described their situation as “suffering.” Less than half the country said they experienced any enjoyment in the previous day, while 52 percent admitted to constantly worrying. The $2 trillion conflict has much to do with it.

The war has a serious effect on American lives too, and not just those of the military. The state of Oregon, for instance, was not able to effectively tackle this summer’s record-breaking wildfires because their firefighting helicopters had been requisitioned by the Department of Defense and sent to Afghanistan to continue bombing the country. Over 1 million acres of Oregonian land was destroyed, and eleven people were killed as a result. Continuing to send fathers and sons off to fight in foreign lands will mean fewer resources at home.

Feature photo | An Afghan boy watches Cpt. Chris Esrey of Havelock, North Carolina, with India, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, First Marine Division, company, scan the area during a patrol in Sangin, south of Kabul, Afghanistan. Dusan Vranic | 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 In Afghanistan, American Troops Patrol the Same Routes Their Fathers Did appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Alan MacLeod]

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[l] at 10/12/20 10:43am

The enormous economic dislocation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic offers a unique opportunity to fundamentally alter the structure of society, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) if using the crisis to implement near-permanent austerity measures across the world.

76 of the 91 loans it has negotiated with 81 nations since the beginning of the worldwide pandemic in March have come attached with demands that countries adopt measures such as deep cuts to public services and pensions — measures that will undoubtedly entail privatization, wage freezes or cuts, or the firing of public sector workers like doctors, nurses, teachers and firefighters.

The principal cheerleader for neoliberal austerity measures across the globe for decades, the IMF has recently (quietly) begun admitting that these policies have not worked and generally make problems like poverty, uneven development, and inequality even worse. Furthermore, they have also failed even to bring the promised economic growth that was meant to counteract these negative effects. In 2016, it described its own policies as “oversold” and earlier summed up its experiments in Latin America as “all pain, no gain.” Thus, its own reports explicitly state its policies do not work.

“The IMF has sounded the alarm about a massive spike in inequality in the wake of the pandemic. Yet it is steering countries to pay for pandemic spending by making austerity cuts that will fuel poverty and inequality,” Chema Vera, Interim Executive Director of Oxfam International, said today.

These measures could leave millions of people without access to healthcare or income support while they search for work, and could thwart any hope of sustainable recovery. In taking this approach, the IMF is doing an injustice to its own research. Its head needs to start speaking to its hands.”

Oxfam has identified at least 14 countries that it expects will imminently freeze or cut public sector wages and jobs. Tunisia, for example, has only 13 doctors per 10,000 people. Any cuts to its already scant healthcare system would cripple it in its fight against the coronavirus. “If people can’t afford testing and care for COVID-19 and other health needs, the virus will continue to spread unchecked and more people will die. Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses were a tragedy before the pandemic, and now they are a death sentence,” Vera added.

 

An IMF case study

Ecuador is a perfect example of the consequences of IMF actions. Previously ruled by the radical administration of Rafael Correa, who made poverty reduction a priority, condemned the IMF and its sister organization the World Bank, and gave asylum to Western dissidents like Julian Assange, the country has been ruled by Lenin Moreno since 2017. Moreno immediately began unpicking Correa’s legacy, even attempting to prosecute him. In 2019, on orders from the IMF, Moreno slashed the country’s health budget by 36 percent in exchange for a $4.2 billion loan from the IMF, a move which provoked massive, nationwide protests that threatened to derail his administration.

The results were near-apocalyptic, as the country’s largest city, Guayaquil, became the worldwide hotspot for coronavirus, with bodies left to rot in the streets for days as services were overwhelmed. The city suffered more deaths than New York City at its height, and with far less infrastructure to deal with the problem. While the official number of cases in the country is low, the death rate has been among the highest in the world, suggesting that services have been completely overwhelmed.

Earlier this month, Moreno announced a new $6.5 billion deal with the IMF, who has advised his government to backtrack on emergency increases in health spending, stop cash transfers to those unable to work due to the virus and to cut fuel subsidies for the poor.

 

In crisis, opportunity

The IMF also directly interferes with the internal politics of sovereign nations. In March, it refused to lend to the Venezuelan government because of the “lack of clarity” about who was in charge, suggesting that the democratically-elected Nicolas Maduro would have to step down before they would consider lending to the country. At the same time, however, self-declared president and opposition figure Juan Guaidó announced that he had secured a $1.2 billion commitment from the organization on the proviso that Maduro resigns and allow an “emergency government” to take control of the country. A poll taken in the same month by a sympathetic pollster found that only three percent of Venezuelans backed Guaidó.

In crisis, there is always opportunity. For many, the pandemic is an opportunity to reorient the economy away from mass consumption and towards a more ecologically sustainable system. For the IMF, however, it is being used to push through more privatizations and austerity measures that invariably enrich the wealthy and weaken the poor and the powerless. It appears that, if the organization has its way, that it will be the poor who pay for the pandemic, while the rich prosper.

Feature photo | A demonstrator holds a banner against International Monetary Fund during a protest in Quito, Ecuador, May 18, 2020. Photo | Dolores Ochoa. Editing by MintPress News

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 IMF Seizes on Pandemic to Pave Way for Privatization in 81 Countries appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Austerity, coronavirus, IMF, Privatization]

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[l] at 10/9/20 12:36pm

Yesterday the State Department announced the beginnings of yet more sanctions on Iran, this time targeting the country’s financial industry. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed the move was necessary to “further deprive the Islamic Republic of Iran of funds to carry out its support for terrorist activities and nuclear extortion that threatens the world,” adding that his actions were part of a “maximum economic pressure campaign” that will continue until Iran ceases its “malign behavior.”

Pompeo insisted that the sanctions “do not affect existing authorizations and exceptions for humanitarian exports to Iran, which remain in full force and effect.” Yet existing sanctions have already wreaked havoc on the Islamic Republic, killing thousands. Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch condemned the Trump administration for “drastically constraining the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines and medical equipment,” its executive director Kenneth Roth describing Washington as “compounding Iranians’ misery by depriving them of access to the critical medical resources they urgently need.”

Iran was one of the first countries to be hit badly by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the U.S. used the opportunity to cause maximum devastation by intimidating other nations into refusing to sell or donate them medical supplies, lest they be hit with secondary sanctions. As a result, Iran was woefully under equipped to deal with the problem. In the end, the World Health Organization stepped in, sending supplies themselves — part of the reason the Trump administration was so keen to leave the organization. Washington insiders openly discussed using the pandemic to force the Iranian government out of office and implement a regime more suited to their needs.

While the government claims that the sanctions are “directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond,” it is widely understood that the attack on the banking center will affect Iran’s ability to function and even purchase basics like food from abroad.

The National Iranian American Council (no lovers of the current administration in Tehran) condemned the action as “heartless and sadistic,” claiming the sanctions were explicitly designed to “choke off humanitarian exports to Iran” and displayed the cruelty of the Trump administration. “It is critical that the American people and our elected representatives put an end to this cruel, inhumane, and strategically catastrophic suffering and humiliation that is being imposed on innocent Iranians in our names,” they concluded.

“I don’t know how many times I have to read a headline about #Iran that breaks my heart. Why are the lives of Iranians disposable? Do we not have compassion for the hurt, the pains, the struggles of the people of Iran? Why must we be so callous?” asked Leila Gharagozlou, a producer at MSNBC.

I don't know how many times I have to read a headline about #Iran that breaks my heart. Why are the lives of Iranians disposable? Do we not have compassion for the hurt, the pains, the struggles of the people of Iran? Why must we be so callous?https://t.co/DHmWdje5AG

— Leila Gharagozlou (@Lghara93) October 8, 2020

“Contrary to the US claims, humanitarian goods and services are affected by the cruel sanctions. Financial institutions fear the US vengeance, which is why the financial channels created to facilitate transactions for humanitarian commodities, have had no tangible results,” said Mohammad Zareyian, an Iranian representative at the United Nations General Assembly.

The sanctions have already caused serious hardship on Iran, sending the prices of consumer goods soaring and the value of its currency, the rial, plummeting. Like in Venezuela, oil production has sputtered, as the Islamic Republic can find few buyers for its main national export. The price of food has also become a serious issue for many. “The sanctions deliberately target ordinary Iranians, women and children,” Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature at the University of Tehran told MintPress last week. “They are designed to kill hospital patients and to create poverty. They have had partial success.”

there's no word in English to describe the infuriating irony of Trump's regime introducing add'l sanctions on Iran (that will DEVASTATE access to food & medicine mid-pandemic) & called a "threat" to the US while he is literally responsible for the death of 210k+ bc of COVID ALONE

— Hoda Katebi هدی کاتبی (@hodakatebi) October 8, 2020

The U.S. has dreamed of a change of government in Tehran since the Iranian Revolution in 1979 overthrew the American-backed Shah and installed Ayatollah Khomeini as leader. To that end, it has propped up dictators like Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, fomented protest movements, supported virtual shadow governments like the MEK, and imposed suffocating sanctions on the nation.

Earlier this year, Trump assassinated top general Qassem Soleimani as he was attending regional peace talks in Baghdad. In the summer it imposed new “snapback” sanctions on Iran for its refusal to comply with the nuclear deal, despite the fact that the U.S. had already walked away from the same deal. In August, Trump appointed disgraced Iran-Contra hawk and regime change specialist Elliott Abrams as his chief advisor on Iran, a signal to all those paying attention that increased hostilities were in the offing.

There is speculation that Trump will attempt to increase hostilities with Iran before the election, provoking an international incident. If that is the case, these sanctions are merely a prelude to something bigger.

Feature photo | A member of the Iranian army walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, March 26, 2020. Ebrahim Noroozi | 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 Critics Say New Iran Sanctions Designed To “Choke off Humanitarian Exports” Amid Pandemic appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Coronvirus, humanitarian exports, Iran, Sanctions, United States]

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[l] at 10/9/20 10:22am

A new report from the World Bank estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world will increase by between 88 and 150 million by 2021, thanks in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents an increase in the number, calculated as those living on less than $1.90 per day, for the first time in 20 years, according to the World Bank, rising to nearly 10 percent of the global population. The convergence of the coronavirus pandemic, combined with global conflict and climate change has put the goal of ending global poverty by 2030 virtually out of sight, the report warned.

82 percent of those newly impoverished live in middle-income countries, as vast numbers of people around the world lose their jobs, either to lockdown measures or due to the economic fallout that will follow the pandemic.

Yet the working class in richer and poorer countries are also suffering the brunt of the impact of the virus. 56 million Americans (including well over a third of poor Americans) have been forced to rely on a food bank during the pandemic, according to Pew Research. And by late July, 54 million had filed for unemployment insurance after the economy was shut down in an attempt to deal with the virus’ spread. One third of Americans also had to take a pay cut.

Meanwhile, those in poor countries are faring even worse. In April, the World Food Program warned of a potentially massive global hunger epidemic as the world’s poorest would no longer be able to afford food to eat.

David Beasley, the World Food Program’s Director-General, spoke of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” emerging, primarily in Yemen and the Horn of Africa. Yet following pressure from the Trump administration, aid to Yemen has been cut to just 25 cents per person per day, less than half of what the United Nations estimates is needed.

Over 36 million people worldwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, and there have been over 1.068 million deaths, although this is likely a conservative estimate. The countries with the highest official death tolls are the United States, Brazil, India, and Mexico.

 

A boon for billionaires

At the same time, the coronavirus has been a boon to the world’s elite, with large businesses able to withstand the pressure and adapt better than small ones. Even as huge numbers of people have had their lives’ work destroyed, the wealth of the planet’s billionaires has increased by around one-third ($1.5 trillion) during the pandemic. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has seen his fortune more than triple to $92 billion, despite the fact that his California Tesla plant was temporarily shut down due to the virus’ spread.

“The World Bank’s report shows clearly that billions of people were more vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19 because of decades of economic policies which have kept them living one paycheck away from poverty, while the richest in society accumulate ever more wealth,” wrote Oxfam.

While the global economic devastation from the coronavirus pandemic is not in doubt, the World Bank’s poverty numbers have long been a source of contention, with many alleging they intentionally fiddle with their definitions of poverty in order to falsely make it seem like progress is being made. For decades, the organization has moved the goalposts on what constitutes extreme poverty, not taking into account other factors like inflation. Furthermore, while $1.90 might be enough to live on in some of the world’s poorest countries, it is laughably inadequate for a nation like the United States. In 2005, the government itself calculated that $4.50 was the minimum needed merely to meet nutritional requirements alone. Others have calculated that the $1.90 figure is not enough to ensure a standard life expectancy, but that increasing the figure would undermine the idea that progress is being made in the fight against poverty. And when figures from China (a country that has not taken the same path as the one the World Bank recommends), worldwide poverty reduction figures look even worse.

 

Fudging the numbers?

Critics of the World Bank say the Washington-based organization is far too close to the U.S. government and has effectively become a weapon of imperialism, forcing countries to open up their economies to Western multinationals and privatize national assets in exchange for loans, and that their advice to developing countries has only increased the poverty and misery of the people, leading to “lost decades” of development. As Jo Erickson wrote in MintPress, World Bank policies are expressly about “benefiting the wealthy and making poor poorer.”

“The figures are a damning indictment of the failed economic policies that will push hundreds of millions more people into destitution during this pandemic. Urgent action must be taken to protect labor rights, boost social safety nets and deliver a fairer tax system to close the gap between the richest and the rest,” said Oxfam.

Feature photo | A homeless women sleep outside on a mattress in the “Villa 31” neighborhood during a government-ordered lockdown to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in Buenos Aires, Argentina. May 6, 2020. Natacha Pisarenko | 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 World Bank: Up to 150 Million More People Will Live in Extreme Poverty by 2021 appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, coronavirus, Poverty, report, World Bank]

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[l] at 10/9/20 9:35am

Ten-year-old Ahmed Radwan al-Khazan holds his father’s photo in one hand and a wilted rose in the other. He sits on a chair surrounded by rubble and ash in what is left of Mourning Square. Dozens of children, along with their young widowed mothers, are perched on dozens of rows of chairs under a very long tent, its shadow cast across the wreckage of the Al Kubra Grand Hall building. There, family members of 240 people killed gathered yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the attack that saw Saudi warplanes drop an MK82 guided bomb on a funeral hall. There were at least 1,000 mourners inside Al Kubra, located in Yemen’s capital city of Sanaa, when the bombs struck on October 8, 2016.

 
Many of the children that survived the horrific event are still too young to fully grasp the gravity of the moment. Some carried red roses or white flowers, while the others carried posters emblazoned with images of their lost relatives. “American bombs killed my father. We will never forget that” Ahmed said angrily, his eyes brimming with tears. His mother pulled him away protectingly, tugging at his hand and saying, “your dad has gone to heaven.”

Images of the charred and mutilated remains of funeral-goers are still fresh in the minds of survivors and witnesses who spoke to MintPress. Sami Abdullah, who is now wearing newly fitted prosthesis to replace his missing left leg lost in the attack, said “We arrived early, at noon, and shook hands with the family members of al-Ruwayshan, after a while, we heard the loud screaming sound of a jet and then a bombing with big pressure… shrapnel… fire… and intense black smoke.  Everything turned upside down, then, I stood up and ran and realized I had lost my leg. When I was a few steps from the gate, a second bomb hit the tent.” A UN panel of experts would later find that the timing of the attack “coincided with a time when the funeral was expected to receive the highest number of mourners.”

 

US arms sales fuel the carnage

The bombing of the funeral was the deadliest single attack in Yemen’s six-year war, but was not the first Saudi attack on a civilian target, nor was it the last. But what made it different was its sheer scale, the fact it occurred in broad daylight, and that the Saudi military used by a double-tap airstrike to assure maximum carnage. Like the Saudi attack on a school bus that took place in August of 201  that killed more than 40 children and also used a U.S.-made MK82 guided bomb, justice for the victims of the Al Kubra attack has not been served. The United States still supplies weapons to Saudi Arabia and all attempts to put limits on those sales have been ignored.

MK82 bomb fragments found in the rubble of Al Kubra are seen at a crime lab in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 8, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

Since 2015, UN investigators have repeatedly warned of the heavy civilian death toll from the Saudi-led Coalition’s bombing campaigns, which almost exclusively use U.S.-made munitions. Yet the U.S. has continued selling arms to the Kingdom resulting in numerous massacres and the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians like those lost in the Al Kubra Hall attack. The catastrophic impact that western weapons, particularly American weapons, have had on Yemen is clear not only in terms of loss of life but in the creation of refugees, mental turmoil, and the destruction of vital infrastructure, especially the country’s healthcare system.

The United States claims that it does not make targeting decisions for the Saudi Coalition. But it does support Coalition operations through training, arms sales, the refueling of Saudi combat aircraft, and the sharing of intelligence. Those arms sales include precision-guided missiles as well as precision guidance parts used on the same warplanes responsible for civilian casualties in the Saudi-UAE’s military campaign in Yemen.

According to mourners gathered to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the funeral hall bombing, the carnage will continue until Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who are still using U.S. and British weapons, are held accountable. Until that happens, they say, they will continue to gather and mourn bombing victims until justice is served.

The anniversary of the Al Kubra Massacre must serve as a reminder of the need for justice to be served, but also as a remember that death in Yemen’s war comes in many forms. Thousands are dying without shedding a drop of blood as a direct result of the war. Hunger, COVID-19, and a deadly cocktail of diseases have set upon the country. In a message to the United Nations on Thursday, the Presidium of Yemen’s Parliament warned that thousands of children in Yemeni hospitals now face death along with thousands of kidney failure patients as the country’s store of petroleum withers amid a U.S.-backed Saudi blockade.

Feature photo | A forensic expert displays glasses and other personal items of a victim as he inspects the destroyed funeral hall, two days after a Saudi-led airstrike targeted it, in Sanaa, Yemen, Oct. 10, 2016. Hani Mohammed | AP

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

The post Four Years Ago, US Bombs Killed Hundreds at a Yemeni Funeral. Those Bombs Are Still Used Today appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Yemen Coverage, Al Kubra Funeral Hall, arms sales, MK82, Saudi Arabia, United States, Yemen]

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[l] at 10/8/20 10:04am

The POC (point-of-care) diagnostics market stands at about $18.8 billion globally, according to recent market trends, and is expected to grow by a third to $24.1 billion this year and projected to explode by 2024 to $46.7 billion. The main driver for these highly optimistic forecasts is the surge in healthcare technology demand brought on by the pandemic crisis, which is lining the pockets of big pharma and big tech, aided and abetted by the Defense Department’s various tentacles into the private sector, like DARPA or In-Q-Tel, where federal dollars are channeled into private enterprise through direct investment, stock purchasing, and grants, representing one of the clearest examples of how the military industrial complex works.

The “detection” of COVID-19 is among the most crowded segments of the POC diagnostics market and recent advances in the life sciences have made new technologies, such as mRNA-based vaccines and testing possible. The U.S. government, through the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has been intimately involved in helping these technologies along, and in the case of mRNA, specifically, has made considerable investments in its development dating back to November 2019 in the case of one company developing an mRNA-based COVID-19 diagnostic tool.

But in a paper published on the FDA’s website, independent journalist Jon Rappaport discovered that the CDC – at least in the summer of 2020 – had no virus isolates of the novel coronavirus “currently available” and reveals that all the assays used to design diagnostic testing algorithms for COVID-19 were of other isolates meant to “mimic clinical specimen.”

In other words, the tests aren’t designed to detect COVID-19 at all, which raises a number of questions, including why the Defense Advanced Research Agency (DARPA) just awarded $1.1 million to a molecular diagnostic firm that is working on a machine-learning diagnostic test for COVID-19, that uses mRNA biomarkers to read the immune system’s response.

 

Verified COVID

The company’s “host-response diagnostics technology,” or HostDx, was initially hypothesized by Inflammatix’s co-founder, Timothy E. Sweeney, during his time at Stanford University’s Khatri Lab, which focuses on developments in machine learning applied to biomedical research. Founded in 2016, the young company was incubated by the University’s now-defunct StartX fund and is run by four Stanford University alumni.

The Stanford University “spinout” company named its COVID detection product CoVerityTM, which is billed as a way to help doctors make better decisions for COVID-19 patients upon arrival at hospital emergency rooms, through its mRNA rapid detection technology. Originally geared towards creating a more accurate and faster diagnosis method for detecting sepsis, which Sweeney calls one of the “holy grails of medicine,” Inflammatix’s core technology was expanded to include influenza testing with host-response biomarkers in November 2019, when it received a cost-sharing contract from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) worth up $72 million.

BARDA’s contract was followed up by $32 million in private venture capital funds, and in March 2020, a full week before the World Health Organization declared a global coronavirus pandemic, Inflammatix co-founders Sweeney and Purvesh Khatri – principal investigator for Khatri Lab – published a study in Nature Communications announcing “Improved identification of bacterial and viral infections through a “29-mRNA neural-network classifier.” The study cited “recent advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence” that can help distinguish “between bacterial, viral, and non-infectious inflammation.”

Another study published in April focused on the cost-effectiveness of the “Novel Multi-mRNA Host Response Assay for Diagnosis and Risk Assessment of Acute Respiratory Tract Infections,” which concluded that Inflammatix’s HostDx technology provided “substantial cost savings.” Among the lead researchers for the study was Inflammatix COO Jonathan Romanowsky, whose Linked-In profile describes him as an “expert in commercializing novel molecular diagnostics.”

The patently commercial feel of this endeavor is buttressed by the company’s origins in the Stanford’ start-up incubator, which was sued by another Stanford researcher and StartX fund beneficiary for using the fund “as a mask by using non-profit employees and resources to run a venture capital enterprise.” While the University denies any wrongdoing, StartX was quietly closed in 2019 as litigation in that case continues.

 

Proprietary singularity

The technology being developed by Inflammatix to predict the risk of severe respiratory failure in patients with COVID-19 links directly to an implantable biochip, also developed with DARPA money and covered by this author, by virtue of its reliance on mRNA markers and health surveillance data sets to execute its algorithm.

CoVerity requires the kind of technology made possible by DARPA’s hydrogel paired with a light sensor technology, like that provided by Profusa, Inc. for DARPA’s biochip, which can deliver binary signals for the algorithm to process and make the diagnosis. Related technology has also been developed by one of Inflammatix’s board members, Steve Tablak, whose company GeneWeave BioSciences was acquired by Roche in 2015 for its “Smarticles technology,” which binds to family-specific DNA sequences of pathogens to produce a “luciferase reporter” or binary light emission that can be read by technology such as CoVerity.

Inflammatix CEO Timothy Seeney is confident that his algorithm is the best “method for test development that involves analyzing raw data [to] discover the best gene sets for specific applications.” Investors, apparently, agree and is the reason why the start-up decided to bring in onetime Roche exec, Oliver Liesenfeld, as the company’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to oversee the product’s clinical trials and the road to regulatory approvals as it looks for FDA approval by early 2021.

 

Just like Wall Street

If you ask MedWhat’s CEO Arturo Devesa, the Stanford University Medical School researcher who sued his alma mater’s start-up accelerator StartX for fraud, the experience “has made him question everything he believed about Stanford’s high-minded pursuit of innovation and Silicon Valley’s promise of meritocracy.”

“I was really naive, and now I just see it for what it is,” Devesa told a San Jose news outlet in a 2019 interview. “It is not this amazing entrepreneur-friendly thing that everybody talks about,” he continued. “it’s just business. It’s like Wall Street.”

Given Stanford’s deep ties to U.S. military intelligence dating back to the cold war, through an early version of StartX called the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), Devesa’s assessment might reveal more about the true nature of Wall Street as an arm of the U.S. military industrial complex, which seems poised to make a killing on the brave new world of implantable biochips and AI-enabled diagnostic tools that are on the brink revolutionizing the healthcare industry.

Feature photo | MPN | AP

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

The post New DARPA-Funded Tech Promises to Diagnose COVID-19 Through Implantable Biochip appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: National, News, Top Story, CoVerity, COVID-19, DARPA, hydrogel, Implantable Chip]

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[l] at 10/7/20 11:46am

Veolia, one of the world’s largest private water corporations, has just announced the acquisition of 29.9 percent of Suez Water, another of the planet’s largest multinationals, with a plan to gain full control at a later date.

Based in France, Veolia already employs nearly 100,000 people worldwide, and this deal is set to greatly expand that. In order to get around French anti-monopoly laws, Suez will continue to operate in France, but Veolia will take over its operations around the world, including in the United States.

The company’s CEO, Antoine Frérot, has presented the move as a triumph for the environment. “I am very happy to lay the foundation stone in France today for a world super champion of the ecological transformation,” he said, adding that this was a “wonderful opportunity” for both investors and the planet.

Others were not so sure this takeover was such a positive move. Activist group Food and Water Watch decried the deal. “Veolia’s global domination of public water services is becoming a terrifying reality,” wrote its Public Water for All Campaign Director Mary Grant, warning of a host of negative consequences for humanity at large.

The merger of the world’s largest water corporations will erode any semblance of competition for water privatization deals. This lack of competition will lead to unaffordable costs for families, slack maintenance and safety procedures, loss of union jobs, and potentially rampant corruption. Water privatization has been a disaster for communities across the United States and around the world.”

 

“Lead seems to be a problem, do not pass this on”

The water and waste management firm is perhaps best known in the United States in connection to the Flint water crisis (2014-present), where it was employed in a number of lucrative roles by the city. While much of the public outrage has been directed at local and national officials, many in Flint blame Veolia for its alleged reckless disregard for their lives. In 2016, Michigan residents sued the company, accusing it of professional negligence, a charge Veolia called “outrageous,” claiming that people are “trying to create a corporate villain where one does not exist.”

However, last year, leaked email exchanges show that senior employees knew about the dangerous levels of lead and other carcinogens in the water but did not go public with the information. As a result, months passed before the city was forced to admit there was a deadly problem. The emails, published by The Guardian, are explicit, with officials communicating that “lead seems to be a problem” and instructing others, “do not pass this [information] on.”

In general, allowing private corporations to control water supplies has not been beneficial for local populations. For example, in the United Kingdom, water was privatized in 1989, with the cost of water to the consumer increasing at 40 percent above inflation ever since. Shareholders received $17.5 billion in dividends between 2010 and 2019, but the companies refuse to plug leaks that spill over 650 million gallons every year. As a result, the United Kingdom — a notoriously wet collection of islands — is facing a water shortage by 2045.

In 1997 the World Bank strong-armed Bolivia into privatizing its water system as a condition of a loan agreement. Almost overnight, prices soared. A water and sewer connection for a single household cost $445 in El Alto, where many residents earned less than $2 per day. Nevertheless, private companies managed to get the government to pass laws banning the collection of rainwater. The result was mass thirst, and anger that spilled over into the streets and set the tone for two decades of radical politics in the country, especially after U.S. corporation Bechtel sued the country for $25 million for canceling its municipal contract with them.

The United Nations recognizes the right to water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. Yet when the profit motive is injected into the equation, and it is treated as a commodity to be bought and sold, those without the ability to pay often miss out. Food and Water watch categorically warns against privatization.

“As the fiscal realities of the COVID crisis begin to set in for struggling municipalities, some may consider selling off their valuable water systems as a short-term solution. But this would create long-term harm. Communities must revert all privatized water and sewer systems to public control to ensure safety and affordability for all,” Grant added.

Feature photo | A student gets water from a cooler in the hallway at Gardner Elementary School in Detroit, Sept. 4, 2018, due to elevated lead levels in public water. Paul Sancya | 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 Flint-Linked Veolia Merger Brings Water Privatization Closer to “Global Reality” appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, National, News, Flint, merger, monopoly, Privatization, Veolia, water]

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[l] at 10/7/20 10:27am

Home to what the United Nations has described as “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” Yemen is on the brink of total disaster after five years of protracted war. Yet crucial international aid to the country has been cut this year to just 25 cents per person, per day, around half of what was given in 2019. That money translates to just 200 grams (less than half a pound) of beans, three eggs, or 200ml of cooking oil inside the country, where food prices are soaring.

The aid has been channeled primarily through the United Nations. But the organization warns that what they received is less than half of what is necessary to supply clean water, food, shelter, and medicine to the 24 million people (80 percent of the population) who need humanitarian assistance.

Much of the blame for the drop in aid can be placed at the door of the United States with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly pressuring the U.N. to scale back humanitarian assistance to the country in an attempt to starve the rebels of aid. In March, Pompeo traveled to U.N. headquarters to meet with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to make his case.

Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director, Muhsin Siddiquey, pleaded with the international community to do more to help the country. “While the economic fallout unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of the globe, in Yemen millions are on the brink of starvation. Yemenis cannot afford aid to be cut, people need more help to survive, not less,” he said.

 

Cashing in on a crisis

Furthermore, the countries that have contributed the most in aid — the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates — are the very same ones directing the onslaught against Yemen, with Saudi and Emirati troops leading the fight, supported by British and American arms sales and political cover. Saudi Arabia, for example, is responsible for 49 percent of all weapons purchases, while it has committed to buying $350 billion worth of U.S. arms in the coming years. This economic power has allowed the four to play politics with international aid, directing to groups that allow them to advance their agenda instead of where it is needed most.

“Countries should stop cashing in on this appalling humanitarian crisis and instead put people’s lives above arms manufacturers’ profit,” Siddiquey said. “The Yemenis who’ve had to flee their homes, go without food and clean water, and endure outbreaks of disease need a nationwide ceasefire and inclusive peace talks to end this war so they can rebuild their lives.”

The World Bank has warned of a “famine of biblical proportions,” with over 20 million people also lacking access to clean water. Because of the lack of funds, the U.N. has had to reduce services at 300 health and food distribution centers across Yemen. These sites are already in short supply, as the Saudi-led coalition intentionally targets their Yemeni counterparts, attacking water or medical facilities once every ten days on average since the war began in 2014.

Two-thirds of all districts in the country are already pre-famine, the U.N. explains, and one-third face a convergence of multiple acute vulnerabilities. These include deadly outbreaks of cholera and COVID-19. Officially, the country has seen only 2,047 COVID-19 cases and cholera numbers have dropped from last year. But, as Oxfam warned, these low figures do not show that the country has the epidemics under control. Quite the opposite: it shows their embattled health systems have been completely overwhelmed and are unable to record the devastation wrought.

 

From Arab Spring to Abraham Accord

While the conflict has its origins in the 2011 Arab Spring, the war officially began three years later, when armed Shia Houthi rebels rose up against what they saw as a corrupt and undemocratic government led by Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Hadi initially fled the country but was given strong support by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf monarchies, and Western powers, who accused Iran of arming and funding the Houthis. However, without many boots on the ground, they have been unable to dislodge the Houthis from their strongholds in the populous south and west of the country, preferring to bomb the country from above. While the official death toll of the war stands at over 100,000, most believe this is a serious underestimate.

Unfortunately, the war is unlikely to cool down in the foreseeable future. The recently signed Abraham Accord between Bahrain, the U.A.E., and Israel, for example, allows for the transfer of high-tech American and Israeli weaponry to the Gulf states, who will doubtless be keen to use it in Yemen.

“The U.A.E. is one of the central protagonists in the cataclysmic war of aggression against Yemen,” Greg Shupak of the University of Guelph, Ontario, told MintPress. “So there is a strong possibility that it will unleash these killing machines on the impoverished Yemeni population that it has already done so much to devastate…Likewise, increased intelligence sharing between Israel and the U.A.E. could entail Israel helping the U.A.E. having more, and possibly more advanced, information that it can use to maim and kill Yemenis.”

Despite promising to draw down its role in the conflict, Sudan is sending hundreds of more troops to the country via Saudi Arabia. A foreign ministry spokesperson also recently revealed that the country is in talks with Israel to normalize relations. Saudi Arabia has also recently begun building a military base in the Hawf nature reserve in eastern Yemen, a crucial oasis in the largely arid country. As always, there appears to be plenty of money for weapons, but not enough for crucial humanitarian aid.

Feature photo | A medic checks a malnourished newborn inside an incubator at Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, June 27, 2020. Hani Mohammed | 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 Following US Pressure, Aid to Yemen Falls to Just 25 Cents Per Day appeared first on MintPress News.

[Category: Daily Digest, Foreign Affairs, News, Yemen Coverage, Aid, Mike Pompeo, United Nations, Yemen]

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