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Addressing America’s Homelessness and Squalor: What We Could Do If We Cared

WASHINGTON, WARD 1 — “I wanna know where the $2.5 million is – that’s my reaction.” Muhsin Boe Luther Umar — or as we call him, Uncle Boe — throws his hands up and shakes his head. In his role as both Resident Council President at Garfield Terrace and D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 1B03 Member, he’s had more than his fair share of dealings with D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA). So I had asked him what his reaction was upon hearing about the recent audit of three DCHA contracts, which found nearly $1.4 million in wasted funds.

“You’re talking $1.4, I’m talking about $2.5 million spent on one senior housing building,” he says. Back in 2018, D.C. is said to have spent $2.5 million on “weatherizing” improvements for Garfield Terrace, “$975,000 spent to keep the roof from leaking – it’s still leaking,” Boe says, pointing to the water stains on the ceiling. He went on:

That money was supposed to put new light fixtures in the building, which you don’t see. That money was supposed to redo the rooftop area. It wasn’t done. And solar panels that don’t work. And if it’s working, where’s that money going? There’s a monthly payout for solar programs – so where is that money? Or if it don’t work, why doesn’t it work? Where is the money?”

We’re standing in the community room on the ninth floor of Garfield Terrace, a senior-citizen public housing building in D.C.’s Ward 1. Cans and boxes of non-perishable food sit ready to give out to residents. Art projects dot the tables and Boe buzzes from the newly painted kitchen to the seeding room to show me all the veggies, fruits and herbs getting ready for potting in the rooftop garden. On either side of the community room, spring is budding and blooming – from strawberries to lemon cucumbers to a ridiculously delicious tasting salad he has me try, chuckling at my wide-eyed reaction.

Boe in the seeding room standing among freshly sprouting herbs and veggies. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

The rooftop is one of Boe’s many projects, along with making benches out of discarded shipping pallets, fine-tuning and improving the outdoor wheelchair accessible garden and hangout spot, and putting together new ideas for arts and crafts that the seniors can do to keep up their mental and physical acuity.

There’s also the COAN program, or “Check On A Neighbor,” which started soon after the pandemic and works just how it sounds: neighbors checking on neighbors to make sure needs are met, that folks are doing okay and have the resources and information they need to stay safe and healthy. Furthermore, with collaborative community partnerships, Boe estimates that some 60,000 meals have been served at Garfield Terrace. “And we served meals every day,” he says.  This was something that DCHA was supposed to have a handle on, Boe says, but ended up failing miserably at. “They contracted with a company named Terrific Inc., which falsified signatures, making millions of dollars saying that they were doing stuff that wasn’t being done,” he tells me. Terrific Inc. eventually left the building, but theirs is just one of the many stories and ways in which DCHA has battled Boe and his plans.

 

Housing Authority with the attitude of a weed-whacker

Last year, DCHA locked residents out of the community room, barring access to the kitchen and rooftop garden. They’ve called the cops on Boe, claiming he was causing a disturbance at the building only to find out that he was hundreds of miles away in Alabama. Whoops. Meanwhile, in his glass house throwing stones, DCHA Executive Director Tyrone Garrett is in the crosshairs of a whistleblower lawsuit after a former employee claimed that she was fired last August for raising concerns that Garrett was “neglecting the health and safety of DCHA employees and residents, violating the terms of her contract, and protecting his ‘friends,’ who hold high ranking positions in DCHA.”

This wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to the folks at Garfield Terrace. On top of the improvements they’ve contracted for but that have yet to materialize, DCHA owes Garfield Terrace roughly $15,000 in supplies that they green-lit back in 2018 and that would have prepared the seniors for the onslaught of the pandemic.

“We’re owed $29,000, and we were only planning on spending $15,000,” Boe says. “Podcasting and studio equipment, laptops and desktops for the seniors, printers, an upgrade to the kitchen, patio furniture for the rooftop, stuff to do hydroponics and aquaponics,” he specifies, counting them off on his fingers. “And this was in 2018. If we would’ve gotten that, we’d already have a garden up and running so that people could eat healthy. We were supposed to get sewing machines, so we could’ve made our own masks. We would’ve been prepared for the pandemic – for remote connection. We would’ve had the materials to engage, and protect the seniors,” he says.

 

Taking the fight to City Hall

As we continue our conversation, Boe reminds me that he still plans on getting that money. The fact that he can fill so many gaps left by DCHA doesn’t mean he’ll stop calling them out for their failures. And their reactions up till now show that they notice him. As the saying goes, “…then they fight you, then you win.”

Boe in the community room with some of the foodstuffs available to residents. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

Still, it’s a battle hard fought and even more hard won. While those officially tasked with protecting and serving the people fight our work to protect and serve our communities, the question arises as to how to hold them accountable – how to watch the watchers and get what we’re owed. To be sure, there’s not just one answer to that question, just as there isn’t one cure-all tactic. But regardless of where our expertise and energies lie, we should expect a messy morass made thick by reams of paperwork, tangential switch-backs and roadblocks.

Take, for instance, audits. Now audits are pretty routine, be they independent audits, like the aforementioned one in D.C. or the audits via the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Indeed, outside of the ready OIG list, all you have to do is google a random city and “audit” and you’ll find plenty of links to reports on misuse, fraud, misappropriation and more. Still, just because something is plentiful doesn’t mean it’s accessible. This DCHA audit, for example, has yet to be released to the public. When I spoke to Mitch Ryals, the journalist who broke the story on the $1.4 million audit, he said that “DCHA still hasn’t disclosed the audit despite an FOIA request.” According to an email sent to Ryals by DCHA spokesperson Tony Robinson, the DCHA doesn’t think the audit is legitimate and asked Ryals to not publish the story. Sure, that sounds legit.

Still, housing audits are just one of many keyholes through which to glimpse the inner workings of housing authorities. Deborah Thrope is Deputy Director of the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), a housing justice and tenants rights organization. In order to bolster advocacy for tenants and recommendations for housing authorities, she tells me that NHLP pulls from a lot of sources, but it’s hardly a one-stop shop. She explains:

Only some of [the data the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD collects] is accessible to the public, and the data it collects and publishes is sometimes not the data that is most helpful for advocates and tenants. In that case, tenants and advocates must rely on local housing authorities for the data, which can be challenging if the housing authority is unwilling to provide it. This results in unnecessary delays to collect the data because advocates and tenants have to do public record act requests.”

Now, there’s the obvious question of who, aside from experts and journalists, has the time or energy to dig into housing data or submit public record requests, and why there isn’t generally more transparency and accessibility. However, there’s also the question of what’s happening with all this data. After all, what’s the point of collecting performance information unless you expect to address and/or change that performance? Without action, these reports become paper-thin illusions of intent.

“So, that’s the problem. A lot of times these things just go into the abyss,” Thrope says. “There are over 4,000 housing authorities,” she explains, “and as far as I know there’s no standard operating procedure for following up to ensure that recommendations have been followed.” She emphasizes that the recommendations found in audits are also just that – recommendations. Enforcing a suggestion is as flimsy as it sounds, and whether or not the housing authority takes action to address the issues found in an audit seems to be up to them.

I reached out to the HUD Press Office with these same questions and got a reply oddly specified for the Cleveland Public and Indian Housing Office (PIH) stating that the field office conducts “follow-up activities for audits,” helps to develop “appropriate management corrective action strategies,” issues “management decisions for audit findings within six months after receipt of the audit report,” and ensures “the public housing authority takes appropriate and timely corrective actions.”

As to my question of how HUD ensures those corrective actions are taken, the response was simply to see the “established guidance outlined” earlier. The response doesn’t build overwhelming confidence – even in the Cleveland PIH which was for some reason the highlight of their reply. It seems that something is getting lost in communication, and not just between me and the press office.

 

Very selective foot-dragging

To take an example, in February of this year, a report by the OIG showed that for decades HUD knew about and ignored lead poisoning at a public housing project in East Chicago, Indiana. Back in 1985, the EPA discovered high levels of lead at the West Calumet Housing Complex, built atop a former lead smelting plant in 1972 – what a coincidence! Fast forward to 2009 and the development was declared a Superfund site and was finally demolished in 2019. One might wonder why it took 24 years to classify a lead-soaked heap as a Superfund site or why it took another 10 years on top of that to finally move residents and demolish the building. Well, then you might also wonder why the HUD field office in Indianapolis responsible for conducting environmental reviews for the building, didn’t. They also failed to alert residents to the unsafe environmental conditions in which they were living.

The report goes on to point out that thousands more public housing projects built on contaminated land could be at risk of similar mass poisonings. It’s no surprise when you consider the fact that 70% of hazardous waste sites officially listed on the National Priorities List are located within one mile of federally assisted housing.

Source | Earthjustice

And yet, a report done last year by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law states that housing agencies routinely approve new construction and “substantial rehabilitation while ignoring known environmental contamination.” After all, there’s a growing need for affordable housing and we couldn’t possibly stem the construction of luxury apartments and homes so let’s just throw ’em into contaminated cesspools.

 

Build Back Better for Whom?

A mid-March report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that there’s “a shortage of nearly seven million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters, those with incomes at or below the poverty level or 30% of their area median income.” Based on the fact that some eight million Americans plummeted into poverty between May and October of 2020, my guess is that seven million is a conservative estimate.

Meanwhile, in January 2020, the Wall Street Journal estimated that builders were on track to build 371,000 new units of housing – more than any year since the 1980s – with 80% of those being luxury or “Class A” properties. And as millions of Americans struggle to find housing or stay in their homes (as I covered in the previous housing article) a recent Boston Globe investigative report digs into what they call “wealth storage” in the form of luxury real estate. Essentially, the richest of the rich purchase condos through anonymous shell companies in order to house their millions rather than themselves and their families.

The examples given are grotesque and staggering. For instance, in 2014, 54% of all real-estate purchased in New York City for more than $5 million was bought by anonymous shell companies. Some 900 condos in Manhattan, the majority of which are owned by anonymous shell companies, are worth the equivalent of 20,000 average American homes. In Boston, massive luxury projects spring up like gilded pimples across the city, here again with anonymous shell company ownership – in one building, close to 80% of the units were anonymously owned.

The mere thought of 80% empty buildings when thousands are homeless is enough to send blood shooting out of your ears – but wait, it gets worse. The sheer scale of these projects requires a shit ton of material and of course energy. After all, you can’t have a luxury condo entryway that isn’t properly lit – even if only two people see it. It goes so far that for one project in Boston a natural gas pipeline was constructed solely to service the units of that one building.

Across the country in the San Marcos Foothills in Santa Barbara County, California, community members have mounted a campaign to save the beautiful public wildlife preserve from being decimated by an eight-home luxury construction project (yes, that’s eight (8) homes on 104 acres). The scale and arrogance of these projects highlight yet another casualty of luxury homes: public space and amenities – parks, schools, libraries, trails, and more. The goal is shuttered wealth, in all senses of that word – shuttered from taxes, shuttered from the unwashed masses.

In the shadow of these empty high-rises, these sparkling sentinels of peak capitalism, vast poverty knocks on bolted doors. A quick internet search will show you row after row of ‘CLOSED’ signs at housing authorities across the country. Here in D.C., the public housing waiting list “is currently closed to new applicants. There is no scheduled time to re-open the waitlist.” The Panama City Housing Authority has a closed waiting list notice from July of 2018.

From big cities and regions like Oakland Housing Authority and Orange County Hosing Authority, to smaller ones like Windsor Housing Authority in Connecticut and Kelso, Washington Housing Authority (which has had a closed waiting list since March of 2018), public housing may as well be a luxury condo for these folks in need. Based on the latest report by Opportunity Starts At Home, only 5.2 million households get federal rental assistance “to afford modest housing.” Four in ten low-income people are homeless or pay over half their income in rent, and some 16 million households in need are shut out of the bare minimum in rental assistance because of funding limits.

Thrope echoes this point in our conversation, making it clear to me that while her work focuses on pushing housing authorities to do better, there is a serious funding issue to contend with from the outset:

Housing authorities are extremely under-resourced, so they’re running programs for the most part on a shoestring. You want the housing authorities to do the right thing, but what is the stick – because cutting funding really isn’t an option. Because families need support. If you cut the funding, they’ll just serve less people.”

 

Follow the money — bring your sick-bag

Indeed — as Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, (NLIHC) testified to Congress in 2019 — “adjusting for inflation, the federal budget authority for housing assistance programs in the 1970s was nearly three times more than it is today, despite the significant growth in the number of low-income renters eligible for housing assistance.” To quote Boe:

Where is the money?”

Put simply, it’s misappropriation on a large scale.

It’s tax breaks for building luxury condos and letting those sit empty for the sake of shuttered wealth — then incentivizing the construction of more, devastating both environment and community.

It’s $107.5 billion dollars more spent on police than on public housing.

Boe’s workshop where he turns discarded pallets into benches with a message. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

It’s a military budget, which Biden proposed increasing, bolstering the world’s largest terrorist organization and largest polluter in one fell swoop. I guess that’s ‘building back better.’

And while it’s become somewhat cliché to point out how severely grotesque our military budget is (and that’s just the official military budget – not even stuff like the $21 trillion that’s gone ‘missing’), we have to keep pointing this out – broken record or repetitive nag though we may be. A complacent passivity for $753 billion spent on each year of death and destruction would be unacceptable even if everyone in the country had a luxury condo, free healthcare and a fair-wage job planting trees.

It is of course, even more unacceptable since that is hardly the case. Still, the military budget is but the most glaring and macabre of money pots to pull from. In this land of consumption, there are many more.

 

A few simple, obscene cost comparisons

For instance, an op-ed from May of last year points out that “the nation’s homeless population could be housed for $10 billion a year — less than the price of one aircraft carrier.” Between 2000 and 2018, Amazon – that’s one company — has received more than $1 billion in tax credits. Every year, American corporations dodge some $70 billion in taxes via the use of offshore tax havens. Just the annual cost of the mortgage-interest deduction, another name for a tax subsidy for wealthy homeowners, is $77 billion – that’s every year! Hell, you could make more than $70 billion a year just by taxing the goddamn churches. How about some separation of church and state for once?

It would take less than half of that to pull more than 2 million children out of poverty. Isn’t that a thing that churches supposedly care about? The Children’s Defense Fund proposed housing vouchers for “all families with children with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line, and for whom market rents are unaffordable.” This would come to roughly $22.3 billion annually, reducing child poverty by 22%.

 

Addressing our system’s deeply rotten and corrupt core

In other words, it’s not that we as a nation don’t have the money. It’s that the priorities on every rung of government are so painfully backwards.

It’s a combination of lack of funding in the right places and a lack of common sense, ethics, morals and/or a modicum of humanity when it comes to using that funding. Lest we forget, it was just a year and a half ago that then-Secretary of HUD Ben Carson was caught trying to buy $31,000 in office furniture. And let’s be honest, if you even get to the point where you’re spending $31,000 on office furniture, you shouldn’t be making decisions that affect people who make less than $31,000 in an entire year.

Likewise, there shouldn’t be a bill for $2.5 million in repairs when the roof is still leaking, when hallways and common spaces are in serious need of fixing.

There shouldn’t be recommendations for improvement – there should be deadlines for improvement.

There shouldn’t be questions about how much we can spend to house people, but rather how quickly we can get people into safe and comfortable homes.

And this is why piecemeal and shallow reforms won’t cut it – just as I wrote about in the previous article on housing. We need structural changes in order to address the deeply rotten and corrupt core of our system.

That takes time – it takes diversity of tactics. As Thrope says to me, “we’re always trying to think of creative ways to get housing authorities to comply with these recommendations, and in some cases requirements.” For Boe, a new tactic has been his position as an ANC member. “Being what you’d call an aggressive activist,” he says with a chuckle. “I’m not going away. It [the ANC position] gives we the people more leverage to be able to deal with DCHA. They gotta respect my position now.” However we advocate and fight for our communities, we gotta keep it up – we gotta grow and shift and build and spread – like the vines starting to climb on the trellis at Garfield Terrace’s rooftop garden.

From the south side of that garden, you can see the postcard view of D.C. – the Capitol, the Monument, cherry blossoms oozing color amidst the siege of gentrification. From the east side of the garden, you can see a brand new chic apartment building. Down the street there’s a Whole Foods. This is prime real-estate, and DCHA knows it. Last year a resident I met told me that her grandmother had once been a resident at Garfield Terrace – and back then it was the cream of the crop. It doesn’t take a house-flipping expert to see what’s at play here: make it deplorable, displace, raze, and that neoliberal dog whistle: build back better – for those who have the status to pay for better.

But Boe isn’t buying it and, as he shows me another outdoor space on the ground floor with overgrown concrete planters, he paints an idyllic picture of a vibrant garden retreat for residents, and neighbors. The antithesis of shuttered wealth – community. “Imagine it, sis,” he says, looking over at me, clearly smiling beneath his mask. “Not just for me, for us, for the whole community – and their kids, your kids and all of ’em, after I’m gone.”

Feature Photo |

Eleanor Goldfield is a creative radical, journalist, and filmmaker. Her work focuses on radical and censored issues via photo, video, and written journalism, as well as artistic mediums including music, poetry, and visual art. She is the host of the podcast, Act Out, co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp, and co-host of the podcast Silver Threads along with Carla Bergman. Her award-winning documentary film, “Hard Road Of Hope” is about West Virginia as both resource colony and radical inspiration. She also assists in frontline action organizing and training. See more of Elanor’s work @ ArtKillingApathy.com | HardRoadofHope.com

The post Addressing America’s Homelessness and Squalor: What We Could Do If We Cared appeared first on MintPress News.

Just Like in the US, Policing in Israel is Rooted in Racist Violence

HAIFA, ISRAEL — Israeli state violence manifests in several ways—police killings, home demolitions, displacement and detentions—but each is grounded in the same colonialist ideology spanning decades.

In the U.S., policing can be traced back to the nineteenth century slave patrols designed to control and suppress Black people. In Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Israeli security agency, Shin Bet, have roots in the Haganah, a Zionist militia group involved in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine (known as the Nakba) before Israel became a state.

The Haganah’s off-shoot organizations—Irgun and Lehi—committed atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre. On April 9, 1948, these Zionist fighters stormed the village of Deir Yassin, “executed over 100 men, women and children, and then burned their dead bodies.”

Israeli history of the Haganah often tries to separate it from the right-wing Irgun and Lehi paramilitary organizations, but massacres were a core part of the Haganah’s strategy. During the Nakba, the Haganah carried out bombings, executions, and even castration.

Miko Peled, a human rights activist whose father served in the Israeli Army and was part of the Haganah, considers the Zionist group a terrorist organization.

“Their entire existence was to execute the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. So, there’s no way to execute ethnic cleansing other than [by] terrorizing the population,” Peled said, adding:

The Haganah became the Israeli Army after May of 1948, but in terms of their mode of operations and ideology, they were really just the same terrorist organization glorified now as an army.”

Zionist militia members walk in front of an Arab hotel bombed by Haganah in Jerusalem, May 6, 1948. Jim Pringle | AP

While the IDF originates from the Haganah, the Israel Police derives from the Palestine Police Force. Established by the British, the organization grew from a primarily Palestinian institution at its founding in 1920 to one mostly comprised of British and Jewish officers by 1948.

Specifically, the Jewish forces dominated the Notrim, a branch of the service defending Jewish settlements. The majority of its members were recruited from the Haganah. The Notrim became what is known today as the Israeli Military Police. Between 1947 and 1948, Palestinian police officers joined Arab forces defending Palestine, while Jewish police collaborated with Zionist militias.

Peled explained that these interconnections between the different police and military forces still exist:

The police, the military, and the Shabak [Shin Bet] all work together. A lot of officers retire from the military and go to the police or the Shabak. They were all raised on the same ideology and the mode of operation is Palestinian lives don’t matter.”

The violence and racist beliefs of slave patrols, the Haganah, and the Palestine Police Force can still be witnessed today in American policing and the Israeli Army.

 

The police brutality crisis in Israel-Palestine

On March 29, Munir Anabtawi’s mother called police to help subdue her mentally ill son, who had a knife, in their home in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood of Haifa. The police arrived but instead of diffusing the situation, an officer shot Anabtawi twice in the chest, killing him.

The incident sparked renewed concern over the Israel Police’s treatment of marginalized communities, specifically of Palestinians with and without Israeli citizenship.

Anabtawi, 33, was a Palestinian citizen of Israel. His killing is still under investigation, but the officer who fatally shot him is now back at work after Israel’s Ministry of Justice accepted his claim he shot in self-defense. According to the officer, Anabtawi tried to stab him. A knife was found at the scene.

Palestinians from the occupied city of Haifa protest following the murder of Munir Anabtawi, March, 30, 2021. Photo | Activestills

Both Public Security Minister Amir Ohana and the Commander-in-Chief of Police have come out in support of the officer.

Alber Nahas, the lawyer for the Anabtawi family, disputes the police’s self-defense reasoning. He argues the police are professionals and should know how to de-escalate a confrontation without killing an individual.

“They could have shot him in the legs, not the chest,” Nahas told MintPress.

The Israel Police placed a gag order on Anabtawi’s case to stop further reporting. Anabtawi’s family requested an autopsy be performed by their own representative. Yet Nahas said the autopsy’s results remain unknown as a result of the gag order.

A day after Anabtawi’s death, crowds waved Palestinian flags outside his family’s home in protest of the police killing.

In recent weeks, massive demonstrations have erupted across Palestinian communities inside Israel over police brutality against Palestinian citizens of Israel and law enforcement’s mishandling of violence stemming from organized crime.

Video footage from a February protest in Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel shows police officers using excessive force against participants. The severe use of tear gas and stun grenades by police resulted in a protester requiring head surgery.



In February, Ahmad Hejazi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a bystander, was fatally shot when police opened fire during a crime scene.

These actions have pushed human rights organizations such as Adalah (The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel) and Palestinian members of Israel’s parliament to charge that police officers view Palestinian citizens as enemies of the state.

“The killing of 33-year-old Munir Anabtawi is merely the continuation of the aggressive treatment practiced by the police toward Arab citizens,” Ayman Odeh — head of the Joint List, a coalition of Israel’s main Arab political parties — told the Times of Israel. “The police see Arab citizens as enemies, not equal citizens.”

According to the Mossawa Center, an advocacy organization for Palestinians in Israel, Israeli police have killed 62 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and 47 of those deaths can be attributed to racism. Suha Salman Mousa, Mossawa’s executive director, explained how this violence is rooted in racism.

Since 2000 we see that the chief of police, the police officers, and the whole system are dealing with Arab citizens of Israel in a different way. And this is part of the racism we suffer from. We suffer from racism in the form of police brutality, we suffer from racism in laws approved by the Knesset [Israeli parliament], and we suffer from racism with home demolitions. We suffer from racism in all aspects of life, and one of them is police brutality.”

 

Black Lives Matter, Palestinian Lives Matter

Last year, in the wake of the horrific police murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Palestine-Israel was having its own Palestinian Lives Matter movement.

On May 30, 2020, Israeli border police fatally shot Iyad Hallak, a Palestinian man with autism, in Jerusalem. The reason for the deadly firing? Officers suspected Hallak was armed. It was revealed after his death that he wasn’t carrying a weapon.

Palestinians and Israeli activists made a connection between Floyd and Hallak’s deaths. Floyd’s face was painted on the Apartheid Wall, the barrier separating the West Bank and Israel. Activists demonstrating against Hallak’s killing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem held signs reading “Palestinian Lives Matter,” an obvious reference to the ongoing civil rights struggle in the U.S.

A mural depicting George Floyd on Israel’s apartheid wall in the Palestanian city of Bethlehem, April 9, 2021. Maya Alleruzzo | AP

Anabtawi’s killing brings back to mind Hallak’s. “[Anabtawi] could have been taken over without live fire, according to his sister,” Palestinian member of the Knesset Ahmad Tibi said. “The names Iyad Hallak and Mustafa Yunis Zel come up again. Very light hand on the trigger.”

Just as Black individuals are seen as suspects by American police, so are Palestinians by Israeli forces.

“Whenever the police see an Arab, he immediately becomes a target,” one of Hallak’s relatives, Hatem Awiwi, told Al-Monitor days after his death.

For Mousa, police violence in the U.S. and Israel-Palestine is the product of a shared pervasive issue: “If you compare it with Black Lives Matter and the police officers in the U.S., it’s racism. It’s almost the same.”

 

An American-Israeli police alliance

American police killed 1,127 people in 2020 — 28% of those killed were Black; the U.S. population is just over 12% Black.

On the other side of the world — in Palestine-Israel — the numbers tell a similar story. In 2019, 13 people are known to have been killed by the police, 11 of them were Palestinians and two others were of Ethiopian descent.

Despite the difference in statistics, an ongoing exchange of militant practices and abusive tactics entwines the two organizations together.

In 2002, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) launched a law enforcement exchange between Israeli and American police forces. Its success birthed an official exchange program between the allies, under which every year hundreds of American police officers travel to Israel for training with military and police personnel. Thousands more participate in conferences and workshops led by Israeli officials in the U.S.

According to a 2018 report by Researching the American-Israeli Alliance (RAIA), while the exchanges are touted as an opportunity for American police to partner with a foreign ally and gain invaluable counter-terrorism experience, they actually reinforce discriminatory practices embedded in law enforcement. Specifically, these exchanges enhance strategies of surveillance, racial profiling, and forceful suppression of protests among American police officers. RAIA wrote:

Upon their return, U.S. law enforcement delegates implement practices learned from Israel’s use of invasive surveillance, blatant racial profiling, and repressive force against dissent. Rather than promoting security for all, these programs facilitate an exchange of methods in state violence and control that endanger[s] us all.”

Overall, this “Israelization” of the U.S. police leads to increased militarization of an already heavily militarized police force.

In Israel, citizens are obliged to spend two years in the army. The Anabtawi family’s lawyer said he would like to believe police officers coming from the IDF understand the difference between a citizen and an enemy. Alber Nahas explained:

When you are with the army, you are fighting the enemy. If you are fighting the enemy, it’s easier to shoot, to kill the enemy, but the police should not look at the Arab people, the citizens inside the country, as enemies. So, the government should better educate the police so this doesn’t happen.

Because the statistics are saying to us that there are more Arabs who were killed by policemen than non-Arabs. And this shouldn’t be accepted as a human being.”

Feature photo | Haganah recruits march from a secret camp used by the organization beofre they are sent to the secure outlying Jewish colonies. Photo | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Just Like in the US, Policing in Israel is Rooted in Racist Violence appeared first on MintPress News.

NED-Funded Uyghur Separatist Network and CAIR Director Rally Around Cold War Propaganda

WASHINGTON — On March 30, demonstrators gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Washington, calling on the U.S. Congress to pass the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention and Human Rights Protection Acts.

This legislation would ban the import of products alleged to be made from forced labor in China. It also authorizes President Biden to sanction anyone believed to be responsible for labor trafficking.

Despite their tiny numbers, these protesters have a powerful force backing them: the U.S. government. Several of them are funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, an ostensible non-governmental organization that itself is funded by Congress. Over the last two decades, through the NED, the U.S. government has poured millions of dollars into a network of organizations advocating for a neo-Ottoman separatist state in China’s Xinjiang province, what they call East Turkestan.

Indeed, these Uyghur exiles pose as grassroots activists attempting to pressure the very same Congress that is funding their activities. Most prominent among them is Rushan Abbas.

 

Rushan Abbas’s resume

“The Chinese regime is waging war against humanity. Against the basic rights God has given to us and waging war against our ethnicity and religion,” Abbas told the crowd.

Her profile – now scrubbed from the internet – boasts of “extensive experience working with U.S. government agencies, including Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, and various U.S. intelligence agencies.” Most famously, she worked as a translator for Uyghur detainees at the notorious Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Abbas also worked at Radio Free Asia – what The New York Times described as a “Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the C.I.A.” Today, she heads the Campaign For Uyghurs, an organization funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Also in attendance was Elfidar Iltebir, secretary of the Uyghur American Association. This is a subsidiary of the World Uyghur Congress, the main NED-funded organ of the separatist movement. The NED has granted millions of dollars to the World Uyghur Congress since its founding, and gave it the Democracy Award in 2019.

“As the world has witnessed in the last decade, Chinese communists, instead of respecting religious beliefs, and embracing democracy, [has] become more racist, fascist and tyrannical,” Iltebir said.

Days before the rally, Iltebir took part in a Uyghur caravan denouncing a “Stop Asian Hate” rally. Fellow caravan participants shouted obscenities at the protesters.

Really wild stuff downtown. A Stop Asian Hate rally is clashing with a Pro-Uighur drive by. The pro-Uighur group is shouting “F— China!” The Asian rally is responding by calling them “racist.” pic.twitter.com/h8a2hB4Oqe

— Nic Rowan (@NicXTempore) March 21, 2021

 

Unreliable narrators

The director of the Uyghur American Association is Kuzzat Altay. An investigation by Ajit Singh, published in The Grayzone, revealed that Altay and his brother Faruk have been trained by a former U.S. Army ranger as part of a Uyghur militia called Altay Defense.

Elfidar Iltebir’s sister is Elnigar Iltebir, who in 2019 was appointed to be the Trump administration’s director for China at the National Security Council.

I asked Abbas and Elfidar Iltebir about the allegations of a Uyghur genocide.

“More than three million Uyghurs are taken to concentration camps,” Abbas told me.

“So according to the State Department, two million — and the Pentagon, three million — Uyghurs. We believe it’s more than three million Uyghurs are in concentration camps in East Turkestan,” Iltebir said.

On Mike Pompeo’s last day heading Donald Trump’s state department, he published a report accusing China of genocide, claiming more than 1 million civilians are in concentration camps and likening them to the Nazi Holocaust.

Pompeo directly referenced Adrian Zenz, the evangelical Christian fundamentalist whose claims of forced sterilization and labor – the basis of the genocide label – have been discredited as the product of data abuse and outright fraud.

In May 2020, several months before Pompeo’s genocide claim, then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver suggested the number was much higher, though he offered no evidence.

“The detention camps, given what we understand to be the magnitude of the detention, at least a million but likely closer to three million citizens,” Schriver told reporters.

I asked how many people have died in the alleged concentration camps.

“It’s hard to tell because the numbers China gives are never trustworthy. So according to the camp survivor Mihrigul Tursun, when she was in the camp for three months, nine out of 60 detainees were dead,” Iltebir told me.

Mihrigul Tursun is a Uyghur whose claims have been central to the genocide narrative and who has been featured in the CIA cutout National Endowment for Democracy’s promotional videos.

She was the central witness in a Congressional Executive Committee on China hearing chaired by the neoconservative Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

The very same Marco Rubio who, in 2016, denounced then-president Obama’s visit to a mosque, accusing him of dividing and pitting people against each other.

At the hearing, Tursun claimed to have had her head shaved, been tortured and nearly killed in an electric chair, and witnessed deaths of fellow inmates.

Harrowing testimony, to be sure. But is it factual? Well, it’s hard to say. However, the Chinese state media outlet CGTN caught Tursun lying to CNN about the death of her son.

So the claim of Uyghurs being killed comes down to the testimony of one person whose own mother was revealed to be a liar. If Mihrigul Tursun is lying, it wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. government would have a sympathetic character give teary-eyed but false testimony in order to justify military aggression. That testimony, of course, turned out to be a lie cooked up by a member of congress and a PR firm.

Back at the rally, Rushan Abbas couldn’t cite any actual figures, but insisted Uyghurs are being killed en masse.

“We may not know that there’s going to be like tens of thousands of dead bodies somewhere or gas chambers, but everything that the Chinese government is doing in our homeland is exterminating the Uyghur people and killing the Uyghurs basically,” Abbas explained.

 

Crematoriums and credulity

Both Rushan Abbas and Elfidar Iltebir also claimed that China has constructed crematoriums next to concentration camps, evoking imagery of the Nazi Holocaust.

“Also China built crematoriums around the camps,” according to Iltebir.

“Crematoriums are built next to it, next to those concentration camps, for a culture that doesn’t practice cremation. Right there, that should give a warning signal.” Abbas alleged.

But unlike in the Nazi death camps, there’s no evidence of Chinese crematoriums. Instead, there are a handful of articles from the U.S. propaganda organ Radio Free Asia where Abbas used to work.

This Radio Free Asia article about crematoriums references claims to have aerial photos delivered by the Uyghur Transitional Justice Database, a Norway based organization that is also funded by the National Endowment For Democracy. Yet the supposed photos of the alleged crematoriums are not provided.

Instead, the article contains a blurry image of what it claims is an internment camp, provided by serial fabulist Adrian Zenz, and says “there might be a cremation site near the camps.”

Source | Radio Free Asia

The Radio Free Asia article also references a previous article that alleges the regional government listed tenders for contractors to build nine quote “burial management centers” that include crematoria.

A native Mandarin speaker searched the website of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and found nothing corroborating this claim.

The same report claims the existence of a job posting listed on the Xinjiang official government website seeking 50 security personnel to work in a crematorium.

There is no link to the job posting, a screenshot of any kind of evidence or of this job posting; and, again, research by a native Mandarin speaker came up empty.

It is, however, true that the Chinese government mandates cremation. Except, this only applies to the ethnic Han majority. Ethnic minorities including Uyghurs are exempt.

This 2003 document explains the policy, citing respect for customs of ethnic minorities, and instead allows them land for cemeteries.

“Ethnic minorities which traditionally practice inhumation are exempt from the government requirement of cremation, and are allotted special land for cemeteries,” the document says.

In fact, the cover photo of the first Radio Free Asia article shows a newly constructed and weatherproof Uyghur cemetery in Xinjiang. The traditional form of dirt burials had left them vulnerable to the elements, as this CGTN report explains.

Those Radio Free Asia articles were authored by Uyghur exile Gulchehra Hoja. In 2019, Hoja and Tursun were photographed proudly shaking hands with former CIA director and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Met with survivors and family members of China's campaign of repression and mass detention against #Uighurs, ethnic #Kazakhs, and other members of minority groups in #Xinjiang. I call on China to end these counterproductive policies and release all arbitrarily detained. pic.twitter.com/g803O23bej

— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 27, 2019

 

Just lobby, like the Uyghurs

At the rally, I asked Elfidar Iltebir what she thought about the U.S. government’s treatment of Muslims.

“Do you think Mike Pompeo and Antony Blinken are good allies to Muslims,” I asked?

“I believe so. I believe so,” Iltebir told me. “They do have strong beliefs which we see, you know? And they do stand up for human rights. And I believe they are indeed from the heart, care about humanity.”

Iltebir assured me that despite the U.S.-sponsored catastrophes in Muslim-majority countries like Yemen, Syria, and Palestine, the U.S. is actually taking care of their rights and they should simply lobby congressional lawmakers like the Uyghurs have.

“I am sure the U.S. did enough for their rights. Because I’m in the Uyghur diaspora I read more about those, so I may not have enough information to make a comment on that. But I would recommend those from Yemen and others to get together and do advocacy work and inform the Congress, inform the Senate, inform the government officials about what is going on. And if they know enough, I think they will take an action,” she assured. So what I suggest is for other Muslim countries to keep doing the advocacy work, lobbying.”

“Same with the Palestinians, for example,” I asked.

“Yes, and reach out for help. Reach out for other groups too,” she continued.

“Would you call what’s happening to the Palestinians a genocide,” I asked.

“Umm, as I said, because I don’t have enough information like I don’t read, I’m not up to date with what’s going on, I’m not the right person to make that comment,” Iltebir told me.

 

A very selective concern

When I asked Rushan Abbas why the U.S. is supposedly interested in the rights of Uyghurs while committing atrocities in Muslim-majority countries, she assured me that the U.S. is taking steps to ensure their rights.

“Why does the U.S. care about human rights for the Uyghur people but not about the Yemeni people, not about Palestinians,” I asked.

“I’m sure that they have, you know, other projects funding and supporting to end those atrocities as well,” Abbas told me.

Abbas then warned that China is seeking to imprison the entire world in concentration camps:

Look at the Uyghur today and imagine the future of the free, democratic world. Because that’s what Chinese government wants. If they win over the Uyghurs or win over the people like criticizing the Western countries or this and that, and they let us concentrate on something else and get away with what they are doing, then the darkness of what the Uyghurs are facing will be the future of the entire world.”

Finally, Abbas lashed out at Daniel Dumbrill, a Canadian vlogger based in China whom she accuses of making money from the Chinese government.

“They are very actively using the social media, using those famous YouTubers to spread disinformation and false narratives,” she claimed.

“Who are these people?” I asked.

“This is a guy, Daniel Dumbrill, he is supposed to be Canadian, living in Shenzhen, making money from the Chinese government. He has a brewing company,” she explained.

“He’s paid by the Chinese government?” I responded.

Well he has a company in Shenzhen supported by the Chinese regime because the Chinese regime is always advertising his brewing company in state-owned media… He accuses me of being paid by the US government or CIA but I’m not going to do what he is doing because I don’t have evidence.”

But Rushan Abbas has long been on the payroll of the U.S. government and continues to be funded by the National Endowment For Democracy, a fact she didn’t deny when I had brought it up earlier in our interview.

“What do you say to criticism about the funding that you’ve gotten and still get from the U.S. government,” I asked her.

“Because the U.S. cares about the human rights for the Uyghur people,” Abbas told me.

While Abbas acknowledges that she doesn’t have evidence that Daniel Dumbrill is paid by the Chinese government, she insisted on portraying him as its beneficiary.

“One thing you should think,” she said, “if he can use Youtube and Twitter and social media, which none of the other people who are living in China can use, if he has a brewing company being supported and advertised by the Chinese regime, what do you say?”

I contacted Daniel Dumbrill, who denied Abbas’s allegations that the Chinese government affords him special internet privileges and that Chinese media runs advertisements for his business, explaining:

I don’t think Rushan truly believes that millions of people accessing social media from China don’t know how to use a VPN and their only option is to do favors for the Chinese government. As for her other claim, I actually made a special note that if any media outlet came to interview me about my politics or vlogging, that they not mention my business. I didn’t want to conflate the two. Ironically it’s my critics that speak about my business more than I do. And this is a really good opportunity. Ask Rushan to provide any evidence to this claim and you’ll find, like many of her other claims, there’s just nothing there to back it up because it’s simply not true.”

Indeed, I asked Abbas for evidence but she declined to provide it, saying she is “not interested in anything he had to say.”

 

CAIR weighs in

Yet it wasn’t only Uyghur separatist figures linked to intelligence agencies at the rally. Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), attended too.

“We ask the Biden administration to fulfill its promise to put human rights on the top of their agenda,” Awad told the small crowd.

While on one hand defending the civil rights of Muslim-Americans and refugees targeted by the U.S. government in the post 9/11 era, CAIR has also been a key proponent of destructive U.S. wars in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2011, CAIR backed the Obama administration’s decision to launch a NATO regime-change war on Libya, which plunged the country into chaos and brought open-air slave markets back to the African continent. In 2015, CAIR supported the U.S. dirty war on Syria, calling for a no-fly zone – a euphemism for the U.S. to shoot down Syrian and Russian military aircraft.

CAIR has called on its membership to pressure Congress to pass the so-called Caesar Act, the most crippling sanctions on Syria to date. These sanctions have criminalized international aid, created severe energy shortages, and caused a devastating famine. According to Foreign Policy magazine, “it has brought starvation, darkness, plague, misery, robbery, kidnappings, and the destruction of a nation.”

Now, under the guise of humanitarianism, CAIR is throwing its weight behind the U.S.’s new cold war against China.

Dr. Talibi Shareef, the Imam and president of Washington’s historic Masjid Muhammad mosque, attended too.

“We are asking that America, its government, its president, its leaders, put pressure on China to treat every one of their citizens as the creation of the Almighty God the Creator,” he said, “as has been identified, in the precious document that established this country: this Declaration of Independence.”

Imam Shareef told me that Congress passing this legislation targeting China would be a sign of the U.S. living up to the ideals expressed in its founding documents, and he seemed to suggest the U.S. should take military action.

“So if the U.S., for example, recognizes this Uyghur genocide, and advances legislation to challenge it, you think that will be a sign that the U.S. is advancing towards a more harmonious, racially tolerant atmosphere?” I asked.

“Absolutely it would be a sign. And it’s really the least they should be able to do. I served in the military for over thirty years. So I know they have different instruments of power,” he assured me.

 

Pompeo finishes with a full-split

But the Uyghur genocide narrative was the project of former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, one of the most extreme Islamophobes in U.S. politics.

After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Pompeo remarked that “silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts.” Pompeo has accepted awards from the hate group ACT for America, whose founder Brigitte Gabriel said that an American Muslim  “cannot be a loyal citizen” and that Islam is the “real enemy.”

But for Imam Shareef, Pompeo’s last-day genocide designation wasn’t an attempt to irreversibly ramp up aggression with China, but a sign of genuine change of heart.

“Why do you think someone like Mike Pompeo, who is widely considered an Islamophobe, is so serious about this issue?” I asked.

“Well, I think some of that had to do with some sense of consciousness to speak the truth,” Imam Shareef told me, adding:

He was on his way out. He knew he was on his way out. Because we got to look at the whole time he was in in terms of how he addressed it. And this is a short period of time, and for him, I think in terms of consequences to him, were inconsequential for him to make that statement at that particular time even if it was going against the interests of the one that he was representing. That’s why I think he said it. But again, I do see him as one who represents that right extremist population. “

“So you think, just on this issue, kind of at the end he kinda came to his senses and said, ‘I’m gonna be in solidarity with these people?’” I asked.

“I do,” he affirmed. “I do.”

With little pushback, the Uyghur issue is the central component of a bipartisan push to weaken and divide China and is now at the top of Washington’s foreign policy agenda.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

Dan Cohen is the Washington DC correspondent for Behind The Headlines. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. He tweets at @DanCohen3000.

The post NED-Funded Uyghur Separatist Network and CAIR Director Rally Around Cold War Propaganda appeared first on MintPress News.

The Hawks Who Want War With Iran Are Working Overtime

WASHINGTON (Jacobin) Just as talks between the United States and Iran were taking place last week in Vienna, a cyberattack was carried out on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Reports are that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, was behind the attack that blacked out the facility just one day after Tehran launched new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, and as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Israel speaking about the United States’ “enduring and ironclad” commitment to the Jewish state.

This is the latest in a series of Israeli attacks on Iran designed to scuttle negotiations. Last summer, a number of explosions attributed to Israel broke out across Iran, including a fire at the Natanz site. These took place while US elections were in full swing and Biden was promising that if elected, he would return the United States to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA) that Trump withdrew from in 2018. In November 2020, Israeli operatives assassinated Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist in the city of Absard outside Tehran. Had Iran responded, the United States might have been dragged into an all-out war.

Israeli officials have also directly lobbied the US Congress to quash the deal. In 2015, Netanyahu traveled to Washington, DC in 2015 to address a joint session of Congress in an attempt to uncut Obama’s original negotiations. This time, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen will be traveling to Washington to meet with top White House and US intelligence officials, and he hopes with Biden directly, to convince the administration that Iran has been concealing details about its nuclear program and therefore can’t be trusted. This is indeed ironic coming from a country that, unlike Iran, actually has nuclear weapons and refuses to disclose any information about its program.

Like Israel, the powerful US lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is trying to convince Biden not to go back into the JCPOA. Last month, they organized bipartisan letters in the House and Senate, urging the Biden administration to insist on an expanded deal that included missiles, human rights, and Iran’s activities in the region. Since Tehran has been clear that an expanded or amended deal is a nonstarter, such “advice” was an attempt to quash talks.

The neoconservative think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), which worked inside the Trump administration during and after Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, has been relentlessly pushing for war with Iran. After the United States recklessly assassinated Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz gloated, tweeting that the death of Soleimani was “more consequential than the killing of [Osama] #BinLaden”; and on April 11, the same day as the Natanz blackout, former CIA officer and FDD fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht, speaking on CNN, voiced disappointment that Trump hadn’t taken the United States and Iran into an all-out war.

Another group against a deal with Iran is Christians United for Israel (CUFI), one of the most powerful pro-Israel voices in the United States. In March 2021, CUFI urged the Senate not to confirm Colin Kahl for a top policy position at the Pentagon, claiming, “Kahl is a serial Iran appeaser” who “helped advance the disastrous Iran nuclear accord.” In response to the blackout at Natanz, they cheered Netanyahu, tweeting “‘Battling Iran is a colossal mission,’ Netanyahu says following blackout at Iranian nuclear plant.”

The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, which the United States had previously designated as a terrorist organization and is known for assassinations and bombings it has carried out, is virulently opposed to US-Iran diplomacy. In March 2021, a number of US Senators attended a virtual event organized by the MEK-aligned Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) calling for continued US sanctions and “bringing down the regime.” Senator Bob Menendez, the powerful chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among several Democrats in attendance.

The opponents of the Iran deal are trying to keep in place the draconian wall of sanctions that the Trump administration imposed precisely to make it more difficult for a future US administration to rejoin the JCPOA. But these sanctions are causing immense suffering for ordinary Iranians, including runaway inflation and skyrocketing food and medicine prices. According to the UN, they contributed to the government’s “inadequate and opaque” response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit Iran particularly hard.

While “successful” in inflicting harm on the Iranian people, the sanctions have failed to broaden the terms of the talks, led the nation to increase its uranium enrichment, negatively impacted the human rights situation, and put the United States and Iran on the brink of an all-out war on multiple occasions.

That’s why so many people in Iran, and those who care about them, have been encouraged by this new round of diplomatic engagement. But Israel, AIPAC, CUFI, FDD, MEK, Menendez, and the like are probably instead hoping that Iran carries out the revenge that Iranian officials have called for in response to the Natanz blackout. But as the saboteurs of diplomacy hope for a violent escalation, let’s keep in mind — and hope Iran agrees — that the best revenge would be a revived JCPOA.

Feature photo | Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, April 7, 2021. Heidi Levine | Pool via AP

Ariel Gold is the national codirector and senior Middle East policy analyst with CODEPINK for Peace.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The post The Hawks Who Want War With Iran Are Working Overtime appeared first on MintPress News.

From RussiaGate to UkraineGate: Route to Apocalypse

KIEV, UKRAINE — Within three months of the ascendancy of Joseph Biden to the presidency of the United States, the world teeters on the edge of nuclear war, whether by design or accident, as Russia reports that the U.S. is placing considerable pressure on Ukraine to attack the independent republics of the Donbass for which Russia provides logistical support. The U.S. European Command has raised its alert status to the highest level and warned of a “potential imminent crisis.”

Mounting tension is an entirely foreseeable outcome of the sludge-like flow over the past four years of Democratic Party fables about Russia, RussiaGate, Ukraine, and U.S. national security, on behalf of the Incubus, a sordid network of military, defense and surveillance industries, militarized academe and think tanks, and complicit Western mainstream media.

In his first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, U.S. President Joseph Biden affirmed his country’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s allegedly ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea. Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, in a conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, added his assurances of U.S. support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations (i.e., Ukraine’s ambition to acquire full membership in both NATO and the EU), which, if achieved, would add a further 1400 miles to the boundary between NATO and Russia and cement the encirclement of Russia.

In as many months as Biden has held the presidency the U.S. has shipped three consignments of arms to Ukraine, adding to the $2 billion of security assistance the U.S. has extended to Ukraine since 2014. The U.S. has deployed nuclear-capable B-1 bombers to Norway for the first time in NATO’s history. This year’s NATO war exercises include U.S.-led Rapid Trident and Sea Breeze, British-Ukrainian Cossack Mace and Warrior Watcher, Romanian-Ukrainian Riverine, and Polish-Ukrainian Three Swords and Silver Sabre.

A dangerous new joker in the pack is Turkey, relatively fresh from assisting Azerbaijan’s 2020 victory against Armenia in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, now participating in NATO-Ukrainian military exercises against Russia. This move threatens escalation of tensions between Moscow and Ankara in Turkey’s seeming bid with NATO to seal off the Black Sea from Russian presence, as part of which Ukraine hopes to establish two new military bases (with financial help from the U.K.), help steal the major Russian naval port of Sebastopol for Ukraine, and consolidate Turkish control over oil and gas deposits to which Turkey lays claim. Turkish frigates have joined U.S. and Ukrainian navies in the Black Sea since January.

 

The contribution of RussiaGate demonization

There were many solid grounds for an upswell of both establishment and public alarm as Donald Trump eked out electoral victory in 2016 and as he unfolded his agenda over the succeeding four years. His relations with Russia were not among them. Far more important and evidentiary was his stubborn refusal to acknowledge the threats of climate change. Not only did he repudiate evidence that climate change might well lead to the end of the human species within a generation or two, but he actively reversed weak countermeasures already in place. Worse, he malevolently sought to amplify the threat, among other things by boosting fossil fuel interests and doubling back on transition to lower fuel emissions from petroleum cars.

He exacerbated the shameless verticalization of wealth inequality in the U.S., obfuscating this with sordid appeals to racist and fascist instincts of his base in decayed, industrial wastelands vacated by a U.S.-globalized economy. Where capital accrues in private hands to a degree that it can compete against and corrupt the public sphere and — through disproportionate, anonymous advocacy, lobbying, campaign finance and bribery — undermine attempts to regulate corporate and plutocratic power, there is no meaningful democracy. Trump’s behavior towards the end of his period in office and apparent incitement of a violent coup d’etat, testify to an unhinged oligarchic impulse to narcissistic promotion of personal and class interest above all competing considerations, even above annihilation of the species.

As though none of these concerns provided sufficient political ammunition, the Democratic Party throughout much of Trump’s presidency allowed just one meme to drown out almost everything else: RussiaGate. Not only did this fable get little traction with the majority of people living in the real world, the RussiaGate narrative has proven to lie somewhere between disinformation and egregious hoax.

A woman looks at front pages from around the nation on display at the Washington Newseum, March 23, 2019. Alex Brandon | AP

It was founded on at least three dubious chains of argument:

  1. A piece of opposition research cobbled together by a former MI6 agent and paid for by the Democratic Party (the “Steele dossier”);
  2. Perhaps the shallowest Intelligence Community Assessment ever published (the ICA of January 2016); this piece of theatre provided little to no actual evidence of significance, disavowed any claim to accuracy, but legitimized claims of a private contractor, CrowdStrike (hired by the DNC but with previous FBI links), for which the company later admitted it had no direct evidence, that DNC servers had been hacked by Russians;
  3. An FBI investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, that proceeded amidst increasing awareness of the problematic, deeply partisan character of the Steele dossier, which it deployed in the process of seeking FISA warrants to investigate a Trump adviser whom it knew to have been a CIA informant (information it tried to hide).

Did Trump and his campaign team have connections to Russians? Of course, some of them did. Yet a two-year-long investigation by a former FBI director, drawing on the assistance of over a dozen FBI agents, was unable to establish that there had been coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Its most significant indictments against Russians fell apart when challenged. Robert Mueller was barely able to establish obstruction because there had been no fundamental criminality whose investigation could be obstructed.

Those who received any punishment were charged with offenses that had little or nothing at all to do with the fundamental reason why the special counsel had been appointed. Donald Trump, in his campaign, had wisely recognized the advantages of building more positive relations between Russia and the U.S. (disincentivizing Sino-Russian bonding not the least of them). Under the cloud of RussiaGate suspicion fomented ceaselessly by the Democrats and their media allies, the only Russia-related measures that Trump took while in office undermined U.S.-Russia relations, recklessly plunging the world towards the nuclear abyss from a precipice admirably suited for none other than his successor, President Joe Biden.

 

The 2014 Ukraine coup

Trump had been roundly castigated, and impeached, for pressurizing a new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Trump’s likely rival, Joe Biden, for the 2020 election, in return for expediting U.S. arms support to Ukraine in its struggle against separatist republics of eastern Ukraine (the Donbass). Whatever its legality, Trump’s behavior certainly did not favor Russia. It could be argued that there was a stronger actual tie between Ukraine and President Biden than ever existed between former President Trump and Russia. Trump was unable even to interest Moscow or Russian President Vladimir Putin in a proposal for a Moscow Trump Tower. Biden left a much deeper impression on Ukraine.

In 2014 the Obama administration — in part through the offices of Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs — supported a coup d’etat in Ukraine that, through persistent street demonstrations in which neo-Nazi militia played a key role, toppled Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych. Although labeled pro-Russian by Western mainstream media, Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, advised in part by none other than key RussiaGate player Paul Manafort (later and for a brief period appointed chair of the Trump campaign in 2016), tilted towards acceptance of an agreement with the European Union that would have unquestionably cemented the EU as Ukraine’s major patron in rivalry with Russia.

Yanukovych fatefully switched direction from the EU in favor of Russia at the last moment (possibly because Russia was offering a more attractive, less patronizing, and ultimately less invasive deal), thus provoking the Maidan protests, U.S./EU (and Biden’s) egging them on, and Yanukovych’s departure. Protestors met with deadly resistance by State forces but there were also resistance snipers who shot protestors with a view to further inflaming international support in their favor.

In its initial deliberations, the emerging coup regime following the departure of Yanukovych expressed considerable hostility towards the influence of Russia, Russian language, Russian media, and Russian culture through many parts of southern and eastern Ukraine that were predominantly Russian speaking (just as Zelensky is doing once more in 2021). This would explain and possibly justify Russia’s concern for the welfare of the considerable population of Russian-speakers in Crimea, which had belonged to Russia (or the former Soviet Union) for over two hundred years and whose economy was built around Sebastopol on the Crimean Peninsula. That city has long been a major Russian naval center and one of Russia’s few major seaports, leased by Russia under treaty with Ukraine that allowed for the presence of several thousand Russian troops.

A threatening, anti-Russian government in Kiev guaranteed that Russia would protect its security interests and the interests of most of the Crimean population. This it did, but only after a referendum of the Crimean people and a subsequent formal request from Crimea to Russia that it be permitted to rejoin Russia. Reliable polls from both before and after the return of Crimea to Russia indicate consistently strong popular support for the measure in Crimea.

 

The Big Lie

Biden’s support for Ukraine’s membership in NATO contravened the firm promise given in 1990 to the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, by James Baker, secretary of state to George H.W. Bush, that in return for Soviet conceding of the unification of Germany, NATO would never extend further east of the new European behemoth (RT, 2017). As vice-president, Biden had visited Ukraine six times in seven years. Biden had long advocated that Ukraine, along with other post-Soviet Russian states, become a member of NATO. Before any other consideration, this casts Biden’s relations with the current Ukraine regime in a very problematic light, a possibly deadly one for the future of the human species.

Explanation requires a revisit to the Obama administration and then-Vice President Biden’s support for the 2014 coup in Kiev and his later stern demands, delivered even in the Ukrainian Rada itself, that the succeeding coup regime of President Petro Poroshenko apply itself to anti-corruption efforts. These have been somewhat ineffective. In the absence of any very senior prosecutions, critics have suggested that the more important function of the West’s campaign against corruption in Ukraine has been to establish a network of new institutions — whose legitimacy derives from western pressure and which undermine the country’s existing, if ponderous legal system — while providing scope to local power holders in the corruption matrix for blackmail.

Obama staffer Victoria Nuland offers cookies to pro-EU protesters in Kiev, Dec. 11, 2013. Andrew Kravchenko | AP

Corruption and supposed efforts to reduce it have become a neoconservative weapon of choice with which to operate the controls on the funding sluice gates to acolytes of the U.S.-led international neoconservative empire. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, was offered a lucrative position on the board of Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company controlled by an oligarch, almost certainly because of his father’s prominence. The oligarch in question was Mykola Zlochevsky, former minister of natural resources under the allegedly “pro-Russian” Yanukovych. Trump administration figures claimed that Joe Biden had pressed the post-coup government of President Poroshenko to sack its top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to discourage him from investigating Burisma. Burisma had been under scrutiny for alleged improper acquisition of licenses (unrelated to Hunter Biden’s position on the board). Biden and a group of U.S. allies were said to have urged Shokin’s ouster in 2015, on the grounds that he was turning a blind eye to corruption. Shokin has claimed that his actions as general prosecutor did not suit Biden’s interests and that Biden was motivated by his son’s connection to Burisma.

 

Poroshenko and Zelensky

Ukraine’s two presidents since the 2014 coup, Petro Poroshenko (2014 to 2019) and Volodymyr Zelensky (2019 to the present), each started with strong support that quickly waned. The country has scarcely improved. Gross National Product peaked in December 2013; unemployment has increased from 7% to over 10%; Ukraine remains the second poorest country in Europe per capita.

Corruption, the supposed key force behind popular support for the elections of both Poroshenko and Zelensky, continues to be rampant. Kiev’s policies of stand-off with Russia have been dramatically counter-productive and have deprived Ukraine of Crimea and control of major industrial areas of the Donbass. Some 14,000 lives have been taken, 1.4 million people displaced, and 3.5 million remain in need of humanitarian assistance.

With Russia’s development of Nord Stream 2, bitterly contested by the U.S., Ukraine stands to lose $3 billion a year in transit fees that with more prudent negotiation it might have hoped to retain. Kiev administrations have been unwilling to progress the Minsk Protocol, agreed in 2015 to end the struggle in the Donbass and signed by Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Under the agreements, Ukraine was required to pardon the participants of the conflict, carry out local elections, and recognize a de facto autonomy of the region in the Constitution. Russia was obliged to return its equipment and mercenaries to Ukraine, ensure that local military formations laid down arms, and cede to Ukraine control over its border with Russia.

Ukraine has complained that, as warfare is ongoing, elections are hardly possible and that fair elections are not achievable before it secures control of the border. Russia insists that amnesty should be granted in advance of the elections and before Ukraine regains control of the border, while Ukraine considers that an amnesty can happen only after these events and after public discussion. The Kiev administration has been wedded to a highly centralized vision and finds the idea of greater regional autonomy repugnant. It claims that Russia supports greater autonomy because that gives it greater control over the Donbass. It would be truer to say that Ukraine is an ethnically riven polity in which the dominant ethnicity does not have sufficient political will to risk taking the only measures that can yield a lasting peace.

Locals visit their homes to collect belongings after shelling near a frontline outside Donetsk, April 9, 2021. Photo | AP

Any indication that Poroshenko might move in the direction of Minsk provoked far-right paramilitary opposition. His successor, Zelensky, is a former comedian, a neoconservative cutout who achieved power on the basis not of actual policies but of the imaginary policies of his satirical show (aired on a channel owned by anti-Russian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky) — also the title of his political party, Servant of the People.

As Zelensky loses support (his party performed disastrously in local elections in November 2020 – it did not win a single mayoral race or even a majority in any regional parliament or city council), he has escalated action of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Donbass (despite some ministerial appointments that appear pro-Russian), in an apparent bid to establish greater political legitimacy for his party in western Ukraine but at the cost of a steeply rising number of weekly ceasefire violations. He has continued to collaborate in joint actions with NATO and allied forces in military exercises along the Russian border that appear designed to provoke Russia (whose 4,000 troops mustered there remain insufficient for invasion, given the estimated total number of 100,000 NATO and Ukrainian troops participating in exercises during 2021).

In recent months he has introduced measures to sanction pro-Russian opposition leaders, shut down pro-Russian media outlets owned by opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk, and restrict Russian language use, while he condemns opposition leaders who back a negotiated settlement with Moscow.

In March, Zelensky signed Presidential Decree No. 117/2021, declaring it was official Ukraine policy to take back Crimea. He approved plans to admit foreign troops for military exercises led by UN and NATO nations and asked NATO to monitor airspace across the border with Russia. His new military strategy emphasizes subjugation of Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea. In 2020, NATO designated Ukraine an “Enhanced Opportunity Partner,” giving it the same status as Georgia, Sweden, Finland, Australia and Jordan (Ritter, 2020), to promote the “partnership interoperability” initiative, which in effect means that NATO extends greater trust to Ukraine to follow NATO’s orders and interests.

Actual full membership in NATO is unlikely, given European opposition to this, the rift between Russia and Ukraine over Crimea, the persistence of corruption, and Ukraine’s dispute with Hungary over curbs on minority rights. Yet the lure is sufficient for Zelensky to offer Ukraine to NATO as a suitable battleground for possible nuclear war. Understandably, this enthusiasm for NATO is not shared by most Ukrainians.

Zelensky may believe, in the face of European opposition, that playing footstool to NATO aggression will secure full membership in NATO for Ukraine and NATO intervention in the Donbass to secure victory for the Armed Forces of Ukraine — despite the fact that Ukraine’s rift with Russia would need first to be resolved before full membership is possible under the conditions that must be met for membership, and even though direct NATO intervention would be tantamount to a declaration of war that could turn nuclear at any point. There is no conceivable advantage to the Ukraine, the U.S. or Russia in this scenario. But mad pursuit of idiotic objectives is de rigueur machismo among adherents to neoconservative ideology at the service of corporate and plutocratic power, much as it is for the politics of resistance to meaningful solutions to climate change.

Feature photo | Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visits the war-hit Donbass region amid heightened tensions with Russia, April 9, 2021. UPPO via AP

Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, and at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is an expert on international media, news, and propaganda. His writings can be accessed by subscription at Substack.

The post From RussiaGate to UkraineGate: Route to Apocalypse appeared first on MintPress News.

Safely Past Another Election, Israel Turns Attention Back to De-Arabization of The Zionist State

JERUSALEM — As these words are being typed, The Holy Month of Ramadan is about to begin and I want to begin by wishing my Muslim brothers and sisters, friends, and all Muslims around the world Ramadan Karim. I was born and raised in Jerusalem, which has been an Arab and Muslim city for over 1,500 years. The sight of this beautiful ancient city during Ramadan is unforgettable. The lights and decorations, the festivities, and the families enjoying all of this are heartwarming.

Sadly, since the Zionist invasion of Palestine 73 years ago, and particularly since the savage conquest of the Old City 54 years ago, this city has been under attack. The very essence of the city, its monuments and holy places, are constantly threatened by Zionist fanatics who want to see Al-Aqsa Mosque destroyed and replaced by what they refer to as a “Jewish Temple.” They make no secret of their intentions, as the entire world saw when the U.S. ambassador to Tel-Aviv, David Friedman, received as a gift a poster-size photo of the Haram El-Sharif in which Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock were replaced by another structure.

 

Israel votes to plough ahead

After holding four elections in two years, it is clear that for the foreseeable future Benjamin Netanyahu will continue to be Israel’s prime minister. He has won an overwhelming number of seats in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, and it is obvious that, by and large, Israeli voters are happy to see him lead the Zionist State. His strategy of divide and rule has been very successful at fragmenting any opposition he may have had, and now we will see those who ran against him coming to him asking for a piece of the pie.

All of the religious parties and the religious-Zionist parties, as well as the parties associated with the right in general, are already in Netanyahu’s pocket. It is not unlikely that some of the “center” and “center left” parties that ran against Netanyahu will end up sitting in his coalition as well, and that gives him a comfortable majority.

All the reports that there is a logjam and that Netanyahu’s Likud Party may not be able to reach a majority coalition are mere reflections of negotiating positions. Most if not all of these positions will soften or disappear and a coalition government with Netanyau as prime minister will emerge.

 

Kahanists are here

When Israelis want to talk about extreme neo-fascist racists within Israeli politics they bring up the infamous racist Meir Kahana, who prescribed a fanatic Zionist-religious ideology and had a sizeable following among Israelis who settled in the West Bank. He was the founder of the notoriously violent, supremacist Jewish Defense League, or JDL.

Among the known members of the JDL are Keith Fuchs and Andy Green, who are implicated in the 1988 assassination of Palestinian Alex Odeh in California. Another known follower of the JDL and Kahana was Baruch Goldestein, who committed the massacre at the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Old City of Hebron in 1994.

There are several members of the Knesset who are ideologically aligned with the Kahana brand of Jewish supremacy and in this last election at least one new one was added, attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir is loud and proud of his reputation as a Kahana follower but ideologically he is really no different from other, less provocative Israeli politicians.

One of the names that comes to mind is Ben-Gvir’s political ally Bezalel Smotrich, who was a member of a previous Netanyahu government and a member of the inner security cabinet. Others include Rafi Peretz, who is the minister for Jerusalem affairs; Naftali Benet, who served as minister of education and even as minister of defense for a short while. However, the more worrisome issue is that Benjamin Netanyahu himself is aligned with the same racist, supremacist ideology that sees the elimination of Palestinians from Palestine as a goal.

 

The Joint List

Another accomplishment of Netanyahu’s fragmentation strategy is the demise of the Joint Arab List. The United Arab List, which is an Islamic party, left the Joint List and ran on its own, managing, contrary to most expectations, to get four seats in the Knesset. The Joint List, which had 15 seats in the previous election, got only six his time. The Islamic Party warmed up to Netanyahu and is apparently expecting some sort of political reward for leaving the Joint List.

It is hard to imagine that any Zionist politician would work with an Arab political party and any expectation that Netanyahu would reward them is plain ludicrous. One of the more ridiculous claims that has risen since the elections is that Mansour Abbas, who leads the Islamic United Arab Party, will somehow be part of a future coalition and even become “kingmaker.”

This claim shows a lack of understanding of Zionism in general and particularly of Israeli politics. The racist Zionist ideology runs like a thread through all of Israel’s Zionist political parties and it is thus impossible for any Palestinian to be part of an Israeli government.

 

The vision ahead

People very often ask what the Zionists see as the “end game.” What do Zionists envision as the future? Well, as James Baldwin might say, what they think or imagine we may never know, but we can certainly see what they do and how they act. We are also able to view their plans and hear what they say. Based on all of that, we know that the Zionist State intends to continue to destroy Palestine as we know it. They fully intend on de-Arabizing the country and erasing any remnants of its glorious Islamic history.

There are several declared members of the Knesset and even of the government who are openly in favor of the destruction of Al-Aqsa and the building of what they call a “Third Temple.” One can safely assume that most if not all members of the Israeli political spectrum would view the destruction of Al-Aqsa favorably. The difference would be how far would they go in actually acting on it. Regardless, there is an imminent danger to Jerusalem, to Palestine, and certainly to Palestinian people.

The Zionists openly say that they will allow Palestinians to choose whether they remain in “Israel” as residents without rights, leave, or fight and be killed by the Israeli forces — these same forces that have been killing them for more than seventy years.

Feature photo | A man feeds pigeons near the Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, April. 11, 2021. Oded Balilty | AP

Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Safely Past Another Election, Israel Turns Attention Back to De-Arabization of The Zionist State appeared first on MintPress News.

How Bellingcat Launders National Security State Talking Points into the Press

AMSTERDAM — Investigative site Bellingcat is the toast of the popular press. In the past month alone, it has been described as “an intelligence agency for the people” (ABC Australia), a “transparent” and “innovative” (New Yorker) “independent news collective,” “transforming investigative journalism” (Big Think), and an unequivocal “force for good” (South China Morning Post). Indeed, outside of a few alternative news sites, it is very hard to hear a negative word against Bellingcat, such is the gushing praise for the outlet founded in 2014.

This is troubling, because the evidence compiled in this investigation suggests Bellingcat is far from independent and neutral, as it is funded by Western governments, staffed with former military and state intelligence officers, repeats official narratives against enemy states, and serves as a key part in what could be called a “spook to Bellingcat to corporate media propaganda pipeline,” presenting Western government narratives as independent research.

 

Citizen journalism staffed with spies and soldiers

An alarming number of Bellingcat’s staff and contributors come from highly suspect backgrounds. Senior Investigator Nick Waters, for example, spent three years as an officer in the British Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, where he furthered the British state’s objectives in the region. Shortly after leaving the service, he was hired by Bellingcat to provide supposedly bias-free investigations into the Middle East.

Former contributor Cameron Colquhoun’s past is even more suspect. Colquhoun spent a decade in a senior position in GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), where he ran cyber and Middle Eastern terror operations. The Scot specializes in Middle Eastern security and also holds a qualification from the U.S. State Department. None of this, however, is disclosed by Bellingcat, which merely describes him as the managing director of a private intelligence company that “conduct[s] ethical investigations” for clients around the world — thus depriving readers of key information they need to make informed judgments on what they are reading.

Bellingcat fails to inform its readers of even the most glaring conflicts of interest

There are plenty of former American spooks on Bellingcat’s roster as well. Former contributor Chris Biggers, who penned more than 60 articles for the site between 2014 and 2017, previously worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — a combat support unit that works under the Department of Defense and the broader Intelligence Community. Biggers is now the director of an intelligence company headquartered in Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington (close to other semi-private contractor groups like Booz Allen Hamilton), that boasts of having retired Army and Air Force generals on its board. Again, none of this is disclosed by Bellingcat, where Biggers’s bio states only that he is a “public and private sector consultant based in Washington, D.C.”

For six years, Dan Kaszeta was a U.S. Secret Service agent specializing in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and for six more he worked as program manager for the White House Military Office. At Bellingcat, he would provide some of the intellectual ammunition for Western accusations about chemical weapons use in Syria and Russia’s alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

Kaszeta is also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank funded by a host of Western governments as well as weapons contractors such as Airbus, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Its president is a British field marshal (the highest attainable military rank) and its senior vice president is retired American General David Petraeus. Its chairman is Lord Hague, the U.K.’s secretary of state between 2010 and 2015.

A Bellingcat article covering the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a story covered heavily by the organization. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

All of this matters if a group is presenting itself as independent when, in reality, their views align almost perfectly with the governments funding them. But yet again, Bellingcat fails to follow basic journalism ethics and inform readers of these glaring conflict of interests, describing Kaszeta as merely the managing director of a security company and someone with 27 years of experience in security and antiterrorism. This means that unless readers are willing to do a research project they will be none the wiser.

Other Bellingcat contributors have similar pasts. Nour Bakr previously worked for the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office while Karl Morand proudly served two separate tours in Iraq with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.

Government and intelligence officials are the opposite of journalists. The former exist to promote the interests of power (often against those of the public) while the latter are supposed to hold the powerful to account on behalf of the people. That is why it is so inappropriate that Bellingcat has had so many former spooks on their books. It could be said that ex-officials who have renounced their past or blown the whistle, such as Daniel Ellsberg or John Kiriakou, have utility as journalists. But those who have simply made the transition into media without any change in positions usually serve only the powerful.

 

Who pays the piper?

Just as startling as its spooky staff is Bellingcat’s source of funding. In 2016 its founder, Eliot Higgins, dismissed the idea that his organization got money from the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as a ludicrous conspiracy theory. Yet, by the next year, he openly admitted the thing he had laughed off for so long was, in fact, true (Bellingcat’s latest available financial report confirms that they continue to receive financial assistance from the NED). As many MintPress readers will know, the NED was explicitly set up by the Reagan administration as a front for the CIA’s regime-change operations. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” said the organization’s co-founder Allen Weinstein, proudly.

Higgins himself was a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, NATO’s quasi-official think tank, from 2016 to 2019. The Atlantic Council’s board of directors is a who’s who of state power, from war planners like Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell to retired generals such as James “Mad Dog” Mattis and H.R. McMaster. It also features no fewer than seven former CIA directors. How Higgins could possibly see taking a paid position at an organization like this while he was still the face of a supposedly open and independent intelligence collective as being at all consistent is unclear.

Bana Alabed, an outsoken anti-Assad child activist, promotes Bellingcat at an Atlantic Council event. Photo | Twitter

Other questionable sources of income include the Human Rights Foundation, an international organization set up by Venezuelan activist Thor Halvorssen Mendoza. Halvorssen is the son of a former government official accused of being a CIA informant and a gunrunner for the agency’s dirty wars in Central America in the 1980s and the cousin of convicted terrorist Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez in turn was a leader in a U.S.-backed coup in 2002 and a wave of political terror in 2014 that killed at least 43 people and caused an estimated $15 billion worth of property damage. A major figure on the right-wing of Venezuelan politics, Lopez told journalists that he wants the United States to formally rule the country once President Nicolas Maduro is overthrown. With the help of the Spanish government, Lopez escaped from jail and fled to Spain last year.

Imagine, for one second, the opposite scenario: an “independent” Russian investigative website staffed partially with ex-KGB officials, funded by the Kremlin, with most of their research focused on the nefarious deeds of the U.S., U.K. and NATO. Would anyone take it seriously? And yet Bellingcat is consistently presented in corporate media as a liberatory organization; the Information Age’s gift to the people.

 

The Bellingcat to journalism pipeline

The corporate press itself already has a disturbingly close relationship with the national security state, as does social media. In 2019, a senior Twitter executive was unmasked as an active duty officer in the British Army’s online psychological operations unit. Coming at a time when foreign interference in politics and society was the primary issue in U.S. politics, the story was, astoundingly, almost completely ignored in the mainstream press. Only one U.S. outlet of any note picked it up, and that journalist was forced out of the profession weeks later.

Increasingly, it seems, Bellingcat is serving as a training ground for those looking for a job in the West’s most prestigious media outlets. For instance, former Bellingcat contributor Brenna Smith — who was recently the subject of a media storm after she successfully pressured a number of online payment companies to stop allowing the crowdfunding of the Capitol Building insurrectionists — announced last month she would be leaving USA Today and joining The New York Times. There she will meet up with former Bellingcat senior investigator Christiaan Triebert, who joined the Times’ visual investigations team in 2019.

The Times, commonly thought of as the United States’ most influential media outlet, has also collaborated with Bellingcat writers for individual pieces before. In 2018, it commissioned Giancarlo Fiorella and Aliaume Leroy to publish an op-ed strongly insinuating that the Venezuelan state murdered Oscar Perez. After he stole a military helicopter and used it to bomb government buildings in downtown Caracas while trying to ignite a civil war, Perez became the darling of the Western press, being described as a “patriot” (The Guardian), a “rebel” (Miami Herald), an “action hero” (The Times of London), and a “liberator” (Task and Purpose).

Until 2020, Fiorella ran an opposition blog called “In Venezuela” despite living in Canada. Leroy is now a full-time producer and investigator for the U.K.-government network, the BBC.

 

Bad news from Bellingcat

What we are uncovering here is a network of military, state, think-tank and media units all working together, of which Bellingcat is a central fixture. This would be bad enough, but much of its own research is extremely poor. It strongly pushed the now increasingly discredited idea of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, attacking the members of the OPCW who came forward to expose the coverup and making some bizarre claims along the way. For years, Higgins and other members of the Bellingcat team also signal-boosted a Twitter account purporting to be an ISIS official, only for an investigation to expose the account as belonging to a young Indian troll in Bangalore. A leaked U.K. Foreign Office document lamented that “Bellingcat was somewhat discredited, both by spreading disinformation itself, and by being willing to produce reports for anyone willing to pay.”

Ultimately, however, the organization still provides utility as an attack dog for the West, publishing research that the media can cite, supposedly as “independent,” rather than rely directly on intelligence officials, whose credibility with the public is automatically far lower.

Oliver Boyd-Barrett, professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University and an expert in the connections between the deep state and the fourth estate, told MintPress that “the role of Bellingcat is to provide spurious legitimacy to U.S./NATO pretexts for war and conflict.” In far more positive words, the CIA actually appears to agree with him.

“I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we love [Bellingcat],” said Marc Polymeropoulos, the agency’s former deputy chief of operations for Europe and Eurasia. “Whenever we had to talk to our liaison partners about it, instead of trying to have things cleared or worry about classification issues, you could just reference [Bellingcat’s] work.” Polymeropoulos recently attempted to blame his headache problems on a heretofore unknown Russian microwave weapon, a claim that remarkably became an international scandal. “The greatest value of Bellingcat is that we can then go to the Russians and say ‘there you go’ [when they ask for evidence],” added former CIA Chief of Station Daniel Hoffman.

Bellingcat certainly seems to pay particular attention to the crimes of official enemies. As investigative journalist Matt Kennard noted, it has only published five stories on the United Kingdom, 17 on Saudi Arabia, 19 on the U.S. (most of which are about foreign interference in American society or far-right/QAnon cults). Yet it has 144 on Russia and 244 under its Syria tag.

In his new book “We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People,” the outlet’s boss Higgins writes: “We have no agenda but we do have a credo: evidence exists and falsehoods exist, and people still care about the difference.” Yet exploring the backgrounds of its journalists and its sources of funding quickly reveals this to be a badly spun piece of PR.

Bellingcat looks far more like a bunch of spooks masquerading as citizen journalists than a people-centered organization taking on power and lies wherever it sees them. Unfortunately, with many of its proteges travelling through the pipeline into influential media outlets, it seems that there might be quite a few masquerading as reporters as well.

Feature photo | Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins talks to the press at College Green in London, October 9, 2018. David Mirzoeff | PA Wire | Alamy

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post How Bellingcat Launders National Security State Talking Points into the Press appeared first on MintPress News.

Biden’s Empty Gesture: Houthis No Longer “Terrorists” but Yemen’s Suffering Only Grows

SAADA, YEMEN — In explaining a much-lauded move, President Joe Biden said that the reason the United States was removing Yemen’s Ansar Allah movement from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list was to avoid exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the war-torn country and to allow much-needed aid to reach local residents. Yet images of children with jutting ribs, swelling bellies, and loose skin that have come to symbolize the war for the past six years can still be found all over Yemen.

Four-year-old Gharam Sha’ib stands at a bed covered with blue sheets in Hayden Rural Hospital in the northern Governorate of Saada. She is bare-boned with haunting eyes wide open and the outlines of her ribs are clearly visible through her skin. The malnourished girl arrived at the hospital this week from the Al-Sumayk village in western Saada, an area far removed from the waves of famine that have washed over Yemen in the past six years.

Gharam’s mother, who was hiding a tired face and emaciated body in a voluminous black abaya robe and hijab, recounted her story to MintPress as her arm was wrapping around her daughter`s stick-thin body: “There is not enough food, no aid organization or person to help us. It was the 50,000 YR ($85 U.S.) fare we received that saved my child.”

The farmer’s wife struggles to feed her children amid the soaring prices of food, fuel and medicine. She said that her life has turned to hell since the beginning of the year. ”I am now in my thirties. I have never faced circumstances worse than now. What have we done to America and Saudi Arabia to deserve this! I ask God not to forgive whoever caused this,” she said, crying.

Gharam was lucky, as she was discovered by a health worker and then transported to the hospital at the administration’s expense with assistance from Doctors Without Borders. Salah Radwan, the director of the Health Bureau in Haydan, told MintPress that because of the blockade malnutrition is widespread in Saada. “There are hundreds of children in the district suffering from severe malnutrition, but unable to arrive at the hospital because of the high cost of transportation,” he said.

 

Even worse under Biden

Symptoms of severe acute malnutrition — the most extreme and dangerous form of under-nutrition — include jutting ribs and loose skin, with visible wasting of body tissue. Swelling in the ankles, feet and belly, as blood vessels leak fluid under the skin, are other symptoms. During the six years of war, thousands of Yemeni children have borne these symptoms. But since Biden promised to end the war on humanitarian grounds upon assuming power in January, painful scenes of thousands of children with symptoms of acute malnutrition have been recorded in new areas where no cases were previously recorded, and at a higher rate than even during the era of former President Donald Trump, according to Yemen’s local health sources.

Four-year-old Gharam Sha`ib is examined at Hayden Rural Hospital in Saada. Ali Shurgbai | MintPress

The same source said, in a statement given to MintPress, that many districts in Saada, Amran, Hajjah, Hodeida, Aden and Lahj provinces saw record jumps in the number of malnourished children this year, with at least 100,000 cases of severe acute malnutrition in the first three months of the Biden presidency alone. That number represents a massive increase from the same period at the onset of the Trump presidency, when 5,000 cases were recorded. This is likely because the blockade has continued unabated, according to officials.

In fact, the average Yemenis daily caloric intake is only 800 calories. This is insufficient even for small children, leading to a slew of disorders related to malnutrition – scurvy, tuberculosis, dysentery, rickets, marasmus, as well as wasting and stunting across Yemen. Official statistics attribute nearly 70% of deaths in the country to starvation caused by the blockade. Famine also opens a new window to Covid-19, which is inevitably causing disproportionate suffering among those already weakened by malnutrition and related diseases.

The Ministry of Health in Sana’a said in March that “more than 2.6 million children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and other 500,000 children are threatened by severe malnutrition due to the blockade.” The ministry confirmed that the Saudi blockade has caused an increase in the death rate of children under five to 300 per day. While more than 8,000 women die from it annually, 1.8 million women suffer from malnutrition and another million from complications from the effects of the blockade.

 

No relief from blockade’s strangulation

In February, four United Nations agencies — including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — said that nearly 2.3 million children under the age of five in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021. Of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from cases so severe that they could lead to death. The groups warned that these were among the highest levels of severe acute malnutrition recorded in Yemen since the escalation of conflict in 2015. “This is exactly what is going on thanks to the blockade supported by the Biden administration,” Dr. Ali Askar, the manager of Haydan rural hospital said in frustration.

In March 2015 when the war began, Saudi Arabia, supported by the United States, moved immediately to strangle the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs into Yemen. Now, armed with a list of 100 banned items, Saudi naval ships, supported by the U.S. Navy, are still patrolling the seas around Yemen, intercepting and detaining thousands of merchant ships carrying food, fuel, and fertilizer that are vital to agriculture, under the guise of halting arms smuggling into the country. On occasion the ships are released after months of detention, carrying damaged goods. The ongoing naval blockade shows no signs of easing, despite recent talk of the U.S. ending support for the war and with it the suffering of 30 million in the war-torn country.

The restrictions imposed on Yemen are not just targeting the sea; the country’s airspace is dominated by the Saudi-led Coalition, which is preventing thousands of sick Yemeni civilians from seeking urgent medical treatment outside of the country. Thousands of wounded patients have died prematurely because they were unable to travel abroad for treatment. Much of Yemen’s own medical equipment, including in major cities, is obsolete and urgently needs to be replaced. Moreover, the almost total blockade of commercial shipments of medicine through the airport, coupled with the restrictions on imports through the Hodeidah seaport, has caused prices to more than double, making essential medicines unaffordable for most of the population.

 

So why the blockade?

On Wednesday, hundreds of trade union workers took the street in front of UN headquarters to condemn the blockade, demanding that the United States and its allies lift the blockade imposed on Sana’a International Airport and allow ships carrying fuel to reach the country in accordance with international law.

“I need to travel abroad for treatment of my children,” Mutahir Ali Zamal, a Yemeni father of four who participated in the protest said. His children all suffer from xeroderma, a skin disease caused by a lack of proper hydration. Dr. Abdullah Thawabeh, the general director of the Cancer Hospital in Sana’a, said that the disease has led to skin cancer in the children due to the presence of chemicals found in internationally prohibited munitions.

Mutahir Ali Zamal’s sons suffer from xeroderma, a disease caused by a lack of clean water and made worse by the war. Ahmed AbdulKareem | MintPress

Months ago, Saudi warplanes dropped a U.S.-made bomb near their home in Kitaf, north of Saada, as the children were playing nearby. In the wake of the airstrike, large brownish spots with darker speckles began to appear on their faces, according to their father.

Dr. Thawabeh said the hospital can not deal with the case because it lacks the necessary medicine and equipment due to the blockade, adding that the children must be evacuated abroad immediately. “America said that it removed Houthis from its terrorist list for us. If that was true, why were food, fuel, and medicine not allowed to reach us?” he asked.

The CEO of Yemen Petroleum Company (YPC), Ammar Al-Adrai, told MintPress that at least 10 oil tankers have been detained. The tankers, Al-Adrai says, have been held despite being checked, cleared, and issued permits by both the Saudi-led Coalition and the United Nations. He confirmed that the vessels are loaded with oil derivatives needed to run generators at hospitals, water pumping stations, and sewage plants.

Feature photo | A malnourished child is seen at the malnutrition treating ward of Al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen, on Nov. 24, 2020. Mohammed Mohammed | Xinhua via Alamy

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

The post Biden’s Empty Gesture: Houthis No Longer “Terrorists” but Yemen’s Suffering Only Grows appeared first on MintPress News.

Lee Camp: How Corporate America Supports Racism, Hatred & Exploitation (in New & Fun Ways!)

Princeton, New Jersey (ScheerpostIf you’ve been paying even a modicum of attention to the world at large, you’ve noticed that white supremacists constitute a bit of a problem in America. They led an insurrection at our Capitol recently. They’ve been involved in many mass shootings. I, along with many others, was nearly killed by one a few years ago in Charlottesville, Va.after he tried to murder as many peaceful protesters as possible. Our police forces are brimming with white supremacist assholes. And I think they had a popular TV show about ducks and beards not too long ago.

So I believe we can all admit that there are large groups of racist pricks wandering around our country — usually armed, rarely friendly. Everyone knows it. I bet even the racist parents of a 32-year-old white supremacist know he’s a dick. At Thanksgiving dinner they probably tell him, “Listen, Robbie. We’re very proud of you. We love what you’ve done with hating Black people online. But the thing is — you’re kinda a dick. Can you just be more polite? Just approach people slowly and kindly ask if they would like to be racist with you. You don’t have to make such a scene — with all the guns and the camo.”

Anyways, I bring this up because I don’t think we’re going to solve America’s militant hate group problem until we get the help of Fruit by the Foot and Gushers. …You heard me.

We all know that this country will not heal without further efforts from the gummy candy community. I mean, you remember when they solved racist policing in this country, don’t you? In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Gushers literally tweeted, “Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black community and your voices. We’re working with Fruit by the Foot on creating space to amplify that. We see you. We stand with you.”

Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black community and your voices. We’re working with @fruitbythefoot on creating space to amplify that. We see you. We stand with you. pic.twitter.com/7y1DgUYitN

— Gushers (@gushers) June 6, 2020

It just brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it? Gushers was there for Black lives. (Although this tweet does raise the question, “If Gushers wouldn’t be Gushers without the Black Community” then what would it be? Do gummy candies taste different if there aren’t Black people around? What would be the point of that? Why invent a racist candy like that?)

Point being, after Gushers’ unprecedented alliance with Fruit by the Foot (both of which are owned by General Mills), racist police brutality in America ceased to exist (one assumes). And so, building on that success, I think we clearly need another gummy-based Manhattan Project to tackle the unnerving prevalence of extremist hate groups and racist ideology. Perhaps if they made a statement that only good little Proud Boys get Fruit by the Foot? That might do it.

Or perhaps (he writes knowingly) this could be just one of the countless examples of corporate America trying to act like they aren’t an actual negative force on community, sustainability, fairness, and equality.

Chevron and ExxonMobil and banks and credit card companies and franchise restaurants all often tell us they care about Black Lives or care about the LGBTQ+ community or are working to create a safe space for folks with disabilities or they tell us we’re all in this together.

black lives matter. words from our leaders: https://t.co/Dl1WEKdCJe pic.twitter.com/pjyZEWx498

— Chevron (@Chevron) June 5, 2020

No. We. Aren’t.

Corporations only care about you as far as they can extract profit from you. That is their only goal. The moment Black lives or white lives or Asian lives don’t make them a profit, they no longer give a shit. The moment people try to demand something from them that will benefit the community and world but not improve their bottom line, those companies are not there to listen — just look at  the current fight for unionization at Amazon. Or try going up to Wells Fargo and saying, “Hey, I saw your ad that we’re all in this together. I was so glad to hear that. Really made me feel blisstastic. Seeing as we’re all in this together, I would like to ask you to stop funding oil pipelines that are killing, um, everything. Oh, and also can you stop working with weapons contractors, too? They like to kill children and stuff. So what do ya say? ….Hello? Hello? I thought we were in this together? …Does this mean you also won’t babysit my cockatoo next week?”

Corporate America does not care about you or me or any of us outside of what they can extract from us, and that’s as true for Betty Crocker as it is for ExxonMobil. For example, it has become a problem in America that workers (the ones lucky enough to still have a job or three) are working themselves to the bone. People literally fall asleep or collapse on the job. They’re trying to work non-stop in order to afford meaningless consumer goods like, well, health care. And it’s kind of common sense that if we raised the minimum wage or gave workers free child care and more paid time off then they wouldn’t be suffering so much. So Ford Motor Company saw this problem and said, “Hold my beer.”

The good people at Ford have come out with a new answer to this tragic issue. It’s a hat that keeps you awake while you’re collapsing on the job. No, really. The commercial writes itself — “Just strap this thing to your fucking head while your subconscious brain is telling you that if you don’t sleep soon you’ll DIE, and the hat will tell your conscious brain, “NO! Fight the urge to give in to your urgent biological needs!”

This trucker hat was designed to keep drivers awake pic.twitter.com/tRClAfT2kb

— Business Insider (@BusinessInsider) January 11, 2021

I’m hopeful Ford will soon come out with a version of this dystopian headgear that connects to a long tube which you just place up your backdoor so it can vacuum out any waste your body needs to expel. Once you have that device bolted into your skull and secured up your rear, you’ll actually be able to drive for upwards of 56 hours without hitting the brake pedal once. There is a small chance brain matter will ooze out your ears and your heart will explode. But if that happens — guess who’s getting Employee of the Month?!

Corporate America consists of totalitarian entities laser-focused on short-term greed. These corporations have become largely decoupled from reality, from humanity, from sustainability, and from the environment. Any time they take a breather from their rapacious, glutinous greed to belch out some tired exclamation of care for social justice or care for environmental rejuvenation or care for ending inequality and hate — those moments are beyond meaningless. In fact, those moments are actually harmful due to the number of people who honestly believe they mean something, who think the corporate world can ever be a force for good rather than the center of our own waltz off the cliff.

If we want to end oppression, we must end inequality. If we want to end inequality, we must evolve beyond our rancid exploitative socioeconomic system and the corporations that thrive in it.

Feature photo | Workers adjusts “Rude Cop” at right, a screen print on paper, by British artist Banksy, a day before the unveiling of an exhibition in Rome, Sept. 7, 2020. Alessandra Tarantino | AP

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his podcasts and livestreams are available at LeeCamp.com.

The post Lee Camp: How Corporate America Supports Racism, Hatred & Exploitation (in New & Fun Ways!) appeared first on MintPress News.

Moth-Eaten Eviction Moratorium Leaves Hundreds of Thousands Without a Roof

WASHINGTON — “Raise your hand if you can’t pay rent,” she yelled sharply and resolutely into a microphone. A Spanish translation echoed her words as hands shot up across the crowd. “Now make that into a fist. Because we gotta fight! It’s only when we fight that we can win!” Cheers and hollers muffled by face masks reverberated off the brick facades. Cars honked as they drove by, throwing solidarity fists at the “Cancel Rent” posters lined up along the sidewalk. A woman with a “Food not Rent” banner waved back with encouragement.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “some 22 million adults reported that their household didn’t have enough to eat,” with Black and Latino households more than twice as likely as white residents to go hungry. Based on data collected from March 3 to March 15, 2021, an estimated one in six renters was not caught up on rent — and here, again, Black, Latino, and Indigenous households were twice as likely as White renters to be behind. One can imagine then the raised hands of millions turning into fists – literally the hungry, the tired and poor, “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” which our Statue of Liberty so ironically wears as a welcome to those coming in to the country. That’d be a hell of a sight – and a hell of a force.

Sierra Ramírez, the tenant organizer at the Woodner Apartments in Washington, continued, calling on all her fellow renters to stop paying rent and to organize not just for rent cancellation but for their overall human dignity: “What is possible when we come together as a working class? Everything. Everything is possible.” She asked those gathered to think about the big picture, to think “about the kind of dignity we want for our community, for our society,” and to build it. In this way, she said, “we can stop anything – even war.”

As the late March afternoon flecked sun halos across the pavement and grass where kids ran around playing, the community building that Ramírez spoke about was palpable. Folks picked through groceries from the mutual-aid tables and boxes while others spoke to those standing by the tenant union table. Neighbors chatted behind masks and bilingual signs that read “Defund the Police,” and “Don’t Exclude Immigrants!” Organizers connected with tenants of other buildings who were curious about this push. Folks pulled out instruments and started to play. The action was part celebration, part protest, and 100% grassroots.

A DC Ward 1 Mutual Aid table set up at a Cancel Rent rally to support tenants. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

The movement to cancel rent is in this sense nothing new. It’s another branch of the tree rooted in justice, human rights, and a livable future for all, intersecting with and encompassed by racial justice, public health, environmental justice, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, and more. Growing from the call and demand that housing is a human right, this branch stretches across the country – the richest nation in the world — where we sure as shit can afford to house the homeless, provide affordable housing, and stop evictions.

 

A moratorium full of holes

Here some might point to the eviction moratorium as proof that we at least have that covered. Allow me to unceremoniously burst your bubble. According to ongoing tracking by The Eviction Lab at Princeton University, during the pandemic, landlords have filed for 284,490 evictions – and that’s just in five states and 27 cities.

But how could this be? After all, a moratorium shouldn’t allow for hundreds of thousands of households to fall through the cracks. Well, let’s just say that “moratorium” is a misnomer. This moratorium is more like a bottleneck on a freeway: it’ll eventually let up, but things are just a little slowed down right now.

What should have been a fierce and clear-cut roadblock allows for landlords to evict tenants for reasons other than non-payment, and in places where leases have to be renewed by the landlord, they can just choose not to renew them. Furthermore, the burden lies on the tenant to provide their landlord with a signed CDC declaration that took me, a journalist, 10 minutes to find online when I already knew what I was looking for. And lest we forget, internet access is not a luxury every American can afford.

Only 52% of households earning less than $25,000 own or use a computer and, as reported by TruthCo, “78% of Whites, 68% of African Americans, and 66% of Latinos nationwide use the internet. In rural areas, however, only 70% of White Americans had adopted the Internet, compared to 59% of African Americans and 61% of Latinos.” In other words, that online declaration form might as well be a Willy Wonka golden ticket. Indeed, just knowing that you need to fill out a declaration is a fact seemingly more well-guarded than KFC’s secret sauce recipe. Age and gender also play a role here so, when taken all together, the most marginalized people are the most at risk of being evicted simply because they don’t have access to information about the measly protections available to them.

Tenants and supporters hold signs facing the street. One on the left reads, ‘because of the pandemic, no food, no rent.’ Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

Landlords take advantage of this information gap and move forward with eviction proceedings – a trap into which thousands have fallen. After all, landlords can still file for eviction – Step Two in the five-step process of eviction: Notice, Filing, Hearing, Court Decision and Enforcement. So people see that notice on their door and think it’s all over when in fact, it’s really only just begun. That being said, many courthouses are moving forward with eviction proceedings and in several states, governors and state legislatures have effectively refused to pause evictions.

For example, here in D.C., a Superior Court judge ruled back in December that “legislation passed by the D.C. Council earlier this year banning landlords from filing eviction proceedings is unconstitutional and violates property owners’ rights.” So landlords are free to file away, leading to instances, as noted above, where people think they have to leave their homes in the midst of a pandemic. Fast forward to today, when the D.C. City Council voted to pass a bill that would allow landlords to evict tenants who pose a “current and substantial threat” to their neighbors, household members, and building staff — with housing advocates concerned that this will be used against any and all tenants that landlords want to get rid of, not least of all tenant organizers and those who haven’t been able to pay rent.

The bill, put forward by Councilmember Anita Bonds, is backed by the city’s Rental Housing Strike Force, a council put together by Mayor Muriel Bowser to address tenant/landlord issues that is suspiciously lacking in tenant voices, centering instead the voices and interests of landlords and developers. Ultimately the bill passed with some amendments — requiring, for instance, that alternative housing be secured in some cases prior to eviction — but housing advocates remain wary of the manifold opportunities for landlords to abuse this bill.

 

From California to the New York island…

D.C. is hardly alone in its struggles against a vague and weak ‘moratorium.’ In Idaho, tenants who have tried to use the moratorium as a defense have had judges knock it down as invalid or insufficient. As The Idaho Statesman reported in late March, the Boise-based nonprofit Jesse Tree, which works with folks facing eviction, says they’ve seen the moratorium “successfully” used as a defense in only one case out of hundreds. And that person was ultimately evicted anyway. So, I guess, not that successful after all. In Akron, Ohio a couple who are both battling stage 4 cancer was evicted via Zoom court proceedings because their landlord sold the property, yet another glaring loophole in the “moratorium.” A fellow Akron resident didn’t know she had to bring that shifty CDC declaration to court, so her eviction proceedings went ahead as well.

Meanwhile, the CDC is duking it out in court with several states and judges who say the moratorium, despite all its loopholes, doesn’t apply to them. In other words, these states are arguing for the right to kill more people. A November 2020 study by SSRN found that states that lifted eviction moratoriums had a combined 433,700 excess COVID cases and 10,700 excess COVID deaths. But hey, I guess from their perspective, it makes more sense to just let COVID kill people than to have to deal with all sorts of stupid delays before evicting them. Still, even if the CDC wins these absurd cases, the question of how local courts will interpret both the moratorium itself and any related cases is anyone’s guess.

 

Self-help evictions (whoops, did someone change the locks?)

And yet, these are just official court proceedings. A far more insidious beast lies in the ‘informal’ eviction — aka illegal, aka self-help (it’s really called that) eviction. Here in D.C., while landlords are allowed to move forward with official filings, tenants are (for now) supposedly protected from being evicted until the moratorium is lifted. Well, words like “official” and “supposedly” don’t mean much when you come home to find that the landlord has changed the locks on your front door. Here again, landlords take advantage of the fact that so many of these low-income tenants don’t have access to information that would protect them from their landlord’s illegal actions. Immigrant renters and those without immigration status are at particularly high risk, as many are afraid of retaliation from the likes of ICE if they do assert their rights.

A member of the DC DSA’s anti-eviction and tenant organizing campaign, Stomp Out Slumlords. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

The Eviction Lab estimates that these ‘informal’ evictions are twice as common as official evictions, and last June The National Law Housing Project released a report that surveyed 100 legal aid and civil rights attorneys in 38 states and found that 91% of them reported illegal evictions in their area, with 53% actually seeing tenants being illegally locked out of their homes by landlords. Other intimidation and eviction tactics include cutting off utility service, refusing to make repairs, making threats, providing misinformation, and a slew of lease-violation accusations – such as a satellite dish or a partner who spends the night more than allotted for in the “guest” section of a lease.

 

Desperate Landlords of Beverly Hills?

On the flip side, several media outlets have been quick to point out the desperation many landlords are facing as they struggle to make ends meet themselves during the pandemic. It’s true that there are many small-scale landlords who, say, only own one property or rent out a basement of their home. But first of all, we have to make the distinction between losing some income and losing your home. Secondly, a report by CBS Money Watch from late March of this year shows that landlords, in general, are actually doing fine, and in many cases making big bucks off the pandemic.

For instance, Invitation Homes, the largest renter of single-family residences in the country, made $50 million more last year than in 2019. Mid-America Apartment Communities, owner of some 100,000 units, saw profits skyrocket by 60% last year. At the same time, apartment owners are doing perhaps the best of anyone in terms of staying up on their rent. January figures show that “just 2.3% of apartment building owners were behind on their rent, compared with 19% of hotel and 13% of mall proprietors.” They also have plenty of legal backing: 90% of landlords nationally have legal representation while only 10% of tenants do.

And when it comes to arguing for the so-called ‘mom and pop’ landlords, Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, points out that “With the latest stimulus bill, Congress has now put in billions in rental assistance, with most of that money going straight to landlords.” Meanwhile, you’d be hard pressed to find a renter who has come across any of those billions earmarked for rental assistance. Could it be that here again, we see a sadistic obstacle course of eligibility and accessibility issues combined with straight-up systemic dumbshittery? Indeed, we do. From state and local rollouts moving as slowly and crookedly as molasses through a pinball machine to having to “demonstrate a risk of homelessness,” it’s no wonder renters, the people who need aid the most, are not the ones getting it. And to be fair, even if they did get some assistance now, what good will that do when the debts are called in after the moratorium?

 

Here’s a little to tide you over

At the “Cancel Rent” rally, Ramírez took out a piece of paper and lifted it high into the air. “This is a bill,” she said. “It says I owe $13,000.” The crowd booed and gasped in response. According to the eviction “moratorium,” Ramírez will have to pay that and then some at the end of this sick purgatory. Renters not only are responsible for the rent they’ve missed but can also be looking at extra fees like late fees and interest. It’s yet another show of how vehemently out-of-touch our sociopathic politicians are that they think someone’s inability to pay $2,000 now will somehow translate into their being able to pay $20,000 later.

Of course, this could all be solved by comprehensive and loophole-free language. No forms, no golden tickets. If you have a home and it’s safe, stay in it. If you don’t, let’s get you one. Numbers from 2014 show that empty homes outnumber the homeless six to one and, while those stats have likely shifted in the past seven years, there are still plenty of homes for everyone, and more small-scale and creative solutions popping up all the time – like the tiny-house movement that’s been a benefit to the unhoused, those forced to downsize, and the minimalists alike.

 

The context is the crisis

This raises yet another important point: eviction was a crisis before the pandemic, and it will likely be one after. For instance, back in 2014, the MacArthur Foundation released a report showing that in Milwaukee, “a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict roughly 16,000 adults and children from 6,000 units each year. That’s 16 households evicted every day.” Black women were the most frequently evicted, prompting the report to draw parallels between Black men being locked up due to systemically racist mass incarceration, and Black women being locked out due to systemically racist eviction practices.

Likewise, giant, greedy, and shitty landlords were also a problem pre-pandemic. A 2019 investigative piece in The Atlantic showed that after the 2008 economic collapse, the federal government didn’t just bail out Wall Street, it gave them oodles of deals on things like empty houses, allowing them to easily purchase foreclosed homes by the hundreds: “Between 2011 and 2017, some of the world’s largest private-equity groups and hedge funds, as well as other large investors, spent a combined $36 billion on more than 200,000 homes in ailing markets across the country.” Tenants were promised competitive rent, 24/7 on-call maintenance, oodles of money to spend on upkeep, and more. Instead, investors took these promised perks straight to their banks and left renters in the lurch.

A banner with a message to DC Councilmember Anita Bonds reading: ‘30% of our families cannot pay rent.’ Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

More than 100 million people rent in the U.S. — that’s more than 30% of the population, a percentage that’s been growing rapidly since 1965. And here again, even before the pandemic, rent was unaffordable in every single state (plus D.C.): according to a report last year from National Low Income Housing Coalition, the national housing hourly wage in 2020 for a modest two-bedroom was $23.96, a full $16.71 above the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The national housing wage is based on what a minimum-wage earner would need to afford a rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on rent, the idea being that above 30% you’re unable to pay for other necessities such as food and healthcare.

These problems are systemic. While rent cancellation and an actual eviction ban are necessary for the duration of the pandemic, the issues go far deeper and further back. A quick glance at housing-rights and rent-cancellation organizations from across the country shows many of the same demands — from short-term demands, such as those voiced by Cancel Rent DC, that “tenants will not accrue debt for nonpayment,” to the broader and more long-term goals set forward by Housing Justice for All in New York, demanding an end to homelessness and the reclamation of millions of apartments as social housing for all, protected from the private market.

 

Not like we’ve never done this

These demands are hardly unrealistic. After all, following significant pressure from the working class, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt instituted a social security system, a strong (unlike today’s measly $7.25) minimum wage with unemployment compensation, and a federal jobs program that employed millions during the economic collapse of the late 1930s. And then of course came the massive shift to a war economy in the 1940s. It’s clear that in a time bolstered by far more technological advancement, it’s not a matter of ability. It’s a matter of giving a shit. And while corporate media has been quick to compare President Joe Biden to Roosevelt, let’s be sure to point out, as Richard D. Wolff did on a recent episode of his show “Economic Update,” that Roosevelt’s changes were structural, not paltry bread crumbs that only lasted a few months. Biden is certainly no Roosevelt.

Structural changes require more work but they’re the only changes that are in fact change. I’ve written before about the importance of not lambasting so-called stop-gap issues such as universal healthcare, universal basic income, or indeed rent cancellation simply because these measures would exist within the confines of our capitalist system. Some things are worth fighting for despite their imperfections simply because they will support people in the here and now. They will lessen the oppressive weight of capitalism upon people’s lives.

Our battles should be waged based on what benefits our communities, not just what will benefit them in the dawning of a new world. The shit the Dems offer up as the “best they can do” is not worth fighting for. A consolation $1400 that many in need won’t get, kicking the eviction can (or, as we’ve seen, not even kicking it), or a small pot of federal funds earmarked for rental assistance that’s harder to get to than an actual pot of gold, are not worth fighting for. They, like the Democrats, represent hope in relief that’ll never come. They’re smoke and mirrors – a cheap magic trick played on a stage littered with broken promises, early graves and Orwellian machinations. We must not think that what the Dems put forward is either what we need or in fact the best they can do. It is neither. What will support the people, what will allow folks to not just survive but to thrive – there we must put our energies, our fight.

At the Cancel Rent action, a little girl rushes past me with a hot dog and I see another kid eyeing it with that pure, youthfully unveiled look of craving. More events like these are planned across the city – across the country — actions that combine immediate demands with community building for long-haul imagining and manifesting. From these times and spaces, we learn to color outside the lines of specific issues, to get messy with it. We learn and remember to not ask anything of the ruling class, but rather to ask it of each other. For, as Ella Jo Baker said, “if you have strong people, you don’t need strong leaders.” Strong people, raised fists. One building, and one block at a time.

Just Shelter has a clickable map that allows users to find housing rights organizations in your area: https://justshelter.org/community-resources/ 

This is part one of a two-part series on housing. 

Feature photo | Two posters with messages for DC Council members Pinto and McDuffie behind supply tables at the rally. Eleanor Goldfield | ArtKillingApathy.com

Eleanor Goldfield is a creative radical, journalist, and filmmaker. Her work focuses on radical and censored issues via photo, video, and written journalism, as well as artistic mediums including music, poetry, and visual art. She is the host of the podcast, Act Out, co-host of the podcast Common Censored along with Lee Camp, and co-host of the podcast Silver Threads along with Carla Bergman. Her award-winning documentary film, “Hard Road Of Hope” is about West Virginia as both resource colony and radical inspiration. She also assists in frontline action organizing and training. See more of Elanor’s work @ ArtKillingApathy.com | HardRoadofHope.com

The post Moth-Eaten Eviction Moratorium Leaves Hundreds of Thousands Without a Roof appeared first on MintPress News.

The Coming Antibiotic-Resistance Pandemic that Could Make COVID Look Like the Flu

GENEVA — Big pharmaceutical companies have not come out of COVID-19 looking like model global citizens. Pfizer has been accused of bullying South American governments after demanding they put up military bases as collateral in exchange for vaccines. Meanwhile, Bill Gates persuaded Oxford University to sign an exclusive deal with AstraZeneca for its new offering, rather than allow it to be copied freely by all. The British/Swedish multinational quickly announced it would fall 50 million vaccines short on its first shipment to the European Union.

But what if there were a looming health crisis that could make COVID look almost minor in comparison? The World Health Organization (WHO) has been warning of just such a case for some time now, predicting that antimicrobial resistance will kill up to 10 million people every year by 2050 — almost four times as many as the coronavirus has killed in the past 12 months.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today,” they write, noting that without effective antibiotics all manner of conditions — including pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis — could become far more deadly. Drug companies are making this situation worse by encouraging the overuse of our precious stores of antibiotics, particularly in the Global South and also by refusing to invest enough resources into creating new ones.

 

Global overuse

The more antibiotics are used, the more resistant bacteria become to them, meaning that humanity must guard its reserves and slow down the pathogens’ adaptive evolution by using them only when necessary. Between 2000 and 2015, antibiotic consumption decreased by 4% in rich nations but increased by 77% in developing ones, and their overuse has become rampant across the world. The poorer enforcement of medical laws in these countries leads manufacturers to “adopt unethical marketing approaches and develop creative ways to incentivize prescribing among healthcare providers,” in the words of Dr. Giorgia Sulis, an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at McGill University, Quebec.

As Sulis explained to MintPress:

India is perhaps the best example in this regard, due to its large pharmaceutical market and the predominant role of the private sector in healthcare delivery. A private sector that is highly fragmented and largely unregulated, where a substantial proportion of providers lack any sort of formal medical training, is extremely vulnerable to [these kinds] of bad business strategies.”

Superbugs already kill an estimated 58,000 babies inside the country each year.

While India does have a national healthcare system, it is chronically understaffed and underequipped, leaving most of the population to rely on one of the millions of informal providers — health workers who have no official qualifications. Informal providers vastly outnumber trained professionals.

“There is a very haphazardly integrated type of medicine, which is practiced all over India. We have a professionalized modern healthcare system with regulations. But it is a system that is limited” in its size and scope, explained the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Meenakshi Gautham, an expert on antibiotic use in South Asia. “Informal providers or para-health workers are the ones who continue to meet the healthcare needs of millions of people who don’t have access to the formal health system.”

A man sorts through a bag of expired and partially used medication in New Delhi. Saurabh Das | AP

These informal providers are a goldmine of profits for big pharma. A 2019 study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that a host of drug companies ply them with cash incentives, gift cards, medical equipment, vacations, televisions, free samples, and discounts on bulk purchases — all of which were intended to increase antibiotic use, thereby risking overprescription. Some salesmen admitted to undercover reporters that they knew the drugs were being misused, but that they were motivated purely by profit. They also revealed that they would promote drugs to informal providers based on their profitability, not their efficacy.

These informal workers are commonly written off derisively as “quacks” who give out treatments mindlessly. While Dr. Gautham’s work found that they often do have major holes in their medical understanding, she defended them as a vital part of a healthcare system under which seeing a qualified doctor is beyond the financial means of millions. “You might assume that they are illiterate and they are quacks and they do not know what they are doing but that is not true. What we found was that about 30% may even be graduates or postgraduates,” she said, adding that most had worked as doctors’ assistants and continued to be mentored by them.

Informal practitioners are usually respected and important members of their communities and, when in doubt, often consult qualified doctors on the best course of action. Dr. Gautham’s study also found that they did not prescribe any “reserve” antibiotics — powerful medications considered a last resort and therefore used in hospitals as sparingly as possible.

Unfortunately, informal practitioners routinely prescribe less than full courses of antibiotics, despite the fact that this is a huge driver of resistance. This is not done out of ignorance, but rather because India is such an unequal society that poor patients simply cannot afford long courses of antibiotics. “Packages are customized based on patients’ paying capacity. If the patient cannot afford a full course, then they will be given two or three days of antibiotics — or even less,” Dr. Gautham noted. The effect of this is that bacterial infections become stronger and more resistant to treatment with antibiotics. And bacteria do not respect borders. Consequently, the extreme inequality in much of the Global South is a direct threat to human survival elsewhere.

Thus, any top down approach simply banning informal practitioners from handing out antibiotics would surely do more harm than good, given the huge shortage of qualified doctors. Furthermore, Dr. Sulis’s study found that qualified practitioners were actually more likely to prescribe antibiotics than the so-called “quacks.” This could be because licensed professionals are subject to exactly the same incentives and financial rewards that their unlicensed peers are under — a system that also prevails across the United States.

In 2019, ProPublica found more than 700 American doctors who had received more than $1 million each from drug and medical device companies. It is commonplace for U.S. doctors to receive financial and other rewards for prescribing certain drugs, a system that undermines their neutrality. Across the world, big pharma wines and dines medical professionals in expensive resorts, claiming these events are educational conferences. But the line between informative events and expense-paid vacations is not always easy to distinguish.

 

Making a big problem bigger

A second way in which giant pharmaceutical corporations are aiding the spread of resistance is their refusal to devote the necessary resources towards replenishing stores of new antibiotics. Investment in the area has rapidly dwindled. “The big problem is that we do not have any novel antibiotics in the pipeline that we can expect to see in the near future… So we really have to protect those that we do have,” Dr. Gautham told MintPress.

And while the Global South overprescribes antibiotics, in the West farm animals are pumped full of them, farmers even giving them to healthy animals so they can be packed tighter in ever-increasing herd sizes. The WHO notes that in many countries, 80% of medically important antibiotic consumption goes to farm animals and has strongly recommended a wholesale reduction of the practice.

Herds of cattle at a factory farm in Coalinga, California. Gary Kazanjian | AP

Antibiotics used in farms spill over into the surrounding environment through run-off and waste, creating resistance to drugs and endangering human health. Unfortunately, the for-profit corporate agriculture sector has little regard for the consequences. As one paper in the British Journal of General Practice noted,

In animals and fish, antibiotics are used as a substitute for good hygiene, with little understanding of how this might impact on antimicrobial resistance in humans. As a society we must urgently reconsider how we use antimicrobials to preserve this valuable resource for future generations.”

The hyper-exploitation of animals is also leading to dangerous outbreaks of zoonotic (animal to human) diseases.

Ultimately, the problem of antibiotic overprescription is structural in nature, and there is little end to it in sight. As Dr. Sulis told MintPress: “The industry has no interest at all in raising awareness on the importance of using antibiotics wisely and the potential implications of inappropriate use, including overprescription,” although she noted that it was difficult to accurately weigh up the proportion of blame they deserved and to disentangle their role from other key drivers of the crisis.

 

Nothing to see here, just a looming disaster

The negative effects of this looming scenario are profound. Since the adoption of penicillin in the 1940s, the widespread use of antibiotics is estimated to have extended average life expectancy by 20 years. Dr. Gautham noted that “as antibiotic overuse keeps increasing, then all those antibiotics that we have today will slowly become ineffective against even the most common infections.”

Thus the conditions of the past will become the maladies of the future. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, cesarean sections, and other common surgeries will be in major jeopardy, as they require antibiotics to prevent any post-surgical and opportunistic infections. Healthcare costs will spike as conditions that were treatable in a few days will draw on for weeks, and some cases may not be recoverable. As Dr. Sulis warned:

The consequences ultimately affect everyone on the planet. We are already facing a dramatic increase in incidence of multi-drug- and extremely drug-resistant infections, but we are running out of effective therapeutic options. This scenario is bound to get worse over the next few years and, in the absence of countermeasures, it will have an impact on healthcare as a whole, not to mention the economic losses.”

For such a profound problem, which threatens the very foundation of modern medicine, the story is receiving barely any attention in the media. Indeed, so uninterested is the press in pharmaceutical profiteering accelerating superbugs that media-literacy group Project Censored chose it as one of their top 25 most censored stories of 2019-2020. The only substantial corporate reporting on the unethical sale of antibiotics, their research showed, was a single 2016 investigation by The New York Times.

Unlike with COVID, there is still time to prevent mass suffering. And yet this systemic problem appears to be getting worse, not better, as we move closer towards it. If the past year has taught humanity anything, it is that bugs do not respect borders and increased global planning and cooperation are vital to meet the planet’s most pressing problems head-on. Unfortunately, it seems we are sleepwalking into another preventable catastrophe. And few are even talking about it.

Feature photo | MintPress News | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post The Coming Antibiotic-Resistance Pandemic that Could Make COVID Look Like the Flu appeared first on MintPress News.

Biden Picks Kamala Harris to Carry the Carrot and Stick in Central America

WASHINGTON — The White House announced recently that Vice President Kamala Harris would take charge of the Biden administration’s “efforts to deter migration to the southwestern border by working to improve conditions in Central America.” The effort would oversee an infusion of billions of dollars into the “ravaged economies” of the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA), comprising the nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

According to the Pew Research Center, immigration to the United States between 2007 and 2015 from these three countries outpaced all others, growing by 25%. More recent data provided by the UN Refugee Agency shows how the pandemic has exacerbated the endemic problems of violence and extortion that motivate the emigrants’ departure, causing over half a million people from the region to migrate in 2020.

The Missing Migrants Project, which tracks incidents involving migrants on their way to an international destination, reveals how dangerous such journeys can be – in particular for those who attempt the 2,000-mile excursion through Mexico towards the U.S. – with 65% of the 4,000 deaths recorded from 2014 until 2020 occurring along this migration corridor alone.

The brutality of this humanitarian catastrophe is underscored by the recent massacre of 19 Guatemalan migrants in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas in January by cartel-linked, U.S.-trained state police special forces called Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPES). Early reports had pointed to drug cartel assassins looking to sabotage a competing cartel’s migrant smuggling business, but evidence increasingly mounted against the GOPES and 12 of its officers were formally charged with the heinous crime two weeks later.

News of Harris’s selection came one day after a delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, arrived in the Mexican capital to engage in high-level talks between the governments to address the “root causes” of the ongoing immigration crisis at the border. The axiom seems to be an agreed-upon phrase that will be used as part of any public-facing discourse of this multilateral initiative, but it is unclear how far down into those actual roots any of the governments involved will be willing to dig.

 

The politics of the matter

Leading on one of the most polarizing and complicated issues in American politics is already being billed as Kamala Harris’s ‘signature’ issue. It comes on the heels of intense media scrutiny over the actions of the Biden administration, which has been accused of hypocrisy after it restored migrant detention facilities to “pre-pandemic” capacity, relying on its press secretary and establishment media to distinguish its approach from the previous administration’s family separation policy.

Despite their arguments, photos released by Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) of a crammed U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) detention center in his state, the day before the bilateral meeting was scheduled to take place in Mexico, reveal that conditions have changed little for migrants.

Photo | Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar via AP

Photo | Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar via AP

CBP released its own photos and video in response to Cuellar, accompanied by a statement assuring the public that it is doing the best it can to “transfer unaccompanied minors to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As the golden goose egg of American politics, immigration will give Harris an opportunity to carve out a strong national profile and, with her background as California’s top cop, she is perfectly positioned to reap the political benefits sure to come her way as she parries predictable blows from the opposition, like Arizona governor Doug Ducey’s characterization of her as “the worst possible choice” for the assignment.

When children are ripped from their parents and put in cages, immigration justice is on the ballot. pic.twitter.com/gtSlFQAn5V

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) November 11, 2019

Attacks from a three-term Republican governor who signed Trump’s patch of border wall will help Harris to gloss over her troubling history as a state prosecutor and questionable track record as a member of Congress, which go right to the heart of those “root causes” she has now been tapped to address in relation to the crisis at the border.

 

Progressive deception

Among the litany of horrors hiding in the broad definition of the migrant crisis are issues like child labor, sex trafficking, kidnapping, organ trafficking, and the so-called war on drugs, which is often part and parcel of these crimes and goes hand in hand with the carceral state where Harris made her career.

During her tenure as attorney general for the state of California, Harris presented herself as a “progressive prosecutor.” Nevertheless, her record left a lot to be desired in terms of any actual progressive results and she has been roundly criticized for controversial stances on the death penalty and her staunch defense of California’s notoriously racist and trigger-happy police forces.

One of the California AG’s most high-profile cases centered on the issue of sex trafficking when she “zealously” prosecuted Backpage.com, forcing the online publication to shut down as part of her office’s ostensible campaign to prioritize the fight against human trafficking. The actual consequences of the state’s victory had the opposite effect of its purported goal, further pushing the sex trade underground and opening sex workers to greater risks of abuse and exposure to criminal networks, according to critics.

As a member of the Senate, Harris once again played a key role in the issue, this time at a national level with the passage of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), which were signed together into law as the FOSTA/SESTA by Donald Trump in 2018. The legislation has come under fire from sex workers and LGBTQ advocacy groups for worsening conditions for victims of sex trafficking by removing “safe” venues for sex workers to sell their services.

According to Nina Luo of Decrim NY:

[The law] targets, arrests, and incarcerates clients of sex workers; as well as drivers, landlords, family members, partners, who provide services and care to sex workers; and sex workers collaborating to keep each other safe [and] puts people who trade sex at increased risk of violence, economic instability, and labor exploitation.”

Significantly, Harris’s participation was geared exclusively towards working with Big Tech and their concerns over how the bills would affect their business. In fact, Harris ­– along with Bernie Sanders – refrained from sponsoring the bills until these matters were settled to the satisfaction of Google, Facebook, and others represented by the Internet Association, which testified on their behalf in the Senate regarding the legislation.

 

Immigrant Song

Beyond Harris’s familial ties to Silicon Valley through her brother-in-law, who is Uber’s chief legal counsel, California’s former top cop has displayed an abiding interest in technology applied to government, which is especially concerning given her law enforcement background and the job she has now been tasked with in regards to the dispossessed of Central and North America.

In 2015, Harris launched a “first-of-its-kind” smart criminal justice platform called OpenJustice, which she touted as a way for the state to measure “effectiveness in the criminal justice system with data and metrics.” The platform’s publicly available dashboard features statewide data on arrest rates, death in custody, and arrest-related deaths, as well as law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. A year later, Harris expanded the system with URSUS – a use-of-force data reporting and collecting mechanism developed by social entrepreneurship non-profit organization Bayes Impact in conjunction with the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Crime Information and Analysis.

OpenJustice partnered with the White House to create multiple versions of the software that other states could implement. The “OpenJustice team” focuses on different parts of the criminal justice system, develops “roadmaps” for juveniles, and conducts “deep data dive[s]” into the “school-to-prison pipeline,” according to Justin Elrich who was Harris’s special assistant attorney general on tech policy matters and is currently head of trust & safety policy at Americans for TikTok. Another OpenJustice project, taken on by Stanford and Facebook engineers, revolved around “understanding of what goes on in jails and state prisons, as well as ending the vicious cycle of recidivism.”

Last year, Harris’s successor at the California attorney general’s office, Xavier Becerra, unveiled the newest OpenJustice dashboard before leaving to head the Department of Health and Human Services, which is the lead agency that provides housing for undocumented children coming across the U.S.-Mexico border. Add the former Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Alejandro Mayorkas — who Harris swore in on February 2 as the seventh Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and direct boss of CBP — and the stage is set for a massive tech overhaul of the migrant crisis.

 

Bread and circus and data

By the time Becerra had filed the one-hundredth lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump, the political circus was already drawing to a close. California had been the butt of Trump’s jokes since the early days of the campaign, and his crude insults against Mexicans and promises to build a wall that the neighbors would pay for made what was once the northernmost part of Mexico a natural ally of the “resistance” that ended up carrying Biden into office.

At the end of March 2019, only about 50 lawsuits had been filed by the California DOJ, but the tarp was still up and Trump was in the middle of the John Bolton epoch of his administration, which featured a number of very loud saber-rattling incidents targeting multiple Latin American nations. The world was living through the “migrant caravans,” the height of the Juan Guaidó quasi-regime-change efforts in Venezuela, and the short-lived “troika of tyranny” – a derisive moniker coined by Bolton to lump together all the “evil socialism” of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Nicolas Maduro’s government that failed to catch on.

That month, the President would announce the discontinuation of aid to the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala in an ostensibly punitive move designed to teach the countries a lesson about keeping their unruly border-crashing citizens home. About $500 million in financial assistance was paused while Mike Pompeo’s state department developed “a list of criteria that governments of the three countries have to meet in order for U.S. assistance to resume.

The spectacle hid the reality. While some funds were cut, most were repurposed to serve the interests of the U.S. national security state in those countries. Approximately 58% of the revamped 2019 Central American aid budget was allocated to a program developed jointly by the Obama and Bush administrations called the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), which funds equipment, training, and technical assistance for the military and police in those regions.

Numerous companies were involved in CARSI. Israel’s Cellebrite, profiled by MintPress in a previous article, received $782,000 to furnish the Honduran police with its proprietary UFED mobile data extraction technology. IBM, Pen-Link, CellXion, and JSI Telecom are just a few of the many private sector security technology firms that have been benefiting from America’s vast transnational law enforcement client-state apparatus.

A migrant and her daughter have their biometric data taken at a Homeland Security holding facility in Donna, Texas, March 30, 2021. Dario Lopez-Mill | AP

Most significantly, no aid was cut to federal programs working with NTCA countries to establish “information exchange mechanisms in the fight against human trafficking and other crimes,” most of which are conducted through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) International Operations Division, such as a program called Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program (BITMAP), first created in 2011.

The Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program Authorization Act of 2018 was passed despite strong objections from the ACLU and other civil rights advocacy groups decrying the lack of privacy protections and allows ICE agents to provide biometric training and equipment in countries around the world. In addition, the data collected is shared with U.S. biometric databases like HART, developed by Northrop Grumman for DHS and intended to become the “largest database of biometric and biographic data on citizens and foreigners in the United States.”

According to Privacy International, a DHS presentation of HART in 2017 projected it would be able to “scoop up” 180 million “new biometric transactions per year by 2022.” The staggering figure won’t come from NTCA countries alone: BITMAP has already been deployed to more than 14 countries, with “near-term plans to expand” to others.

 

Show and tell

Harris has now been given the green light by the White House to “pump billions of dollars” into the economies of the Northern Triangle countries in order to “address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.” Considering that human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry and the concomitant drug war waged by the government Harris represents produces many multiples of that, it would take a rather serious investment to pull those “root causes” from the ground.

The language dovetails with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s own exhortations calling for Washington to “spur development” in Central America in order to address the “root causes behind migratory flows in the region” — as posited in a statement by Mexico’s foreign ministry issued after the first leg of the talks, which were supposed to continue in Guatemala but were postponed thanks to a volcanic eruption.

Formal deployments by the Mexican military in the state of Chiapas and the ostensible closure of the border with Guatemala to “stop the spread” of Covid-19 show that Mexico is on board with the Biden party line. But, for now, the crisis at the U.S. border remains a political priority and hundreds of Central American migrants continue to cross daily into Mexico through deliberately unguarded portions of the border.

Any actual halt to the unfettered passage of refugees on their way north would also put a halt to the political ambitions of Kamala Harris, who is poised to make immigration the highest yielding asset in her burgeoning “portfolio,” which will be modeled on Biden’s own path to the Oval Office when he took the lead on these same issues during his time as Barack Obama’s VP.

According to La Jornada reporting from the ground in Chiapas, established transportation channels over land and water continue to funnel migrants through the Lacandon jungle as they make their way north to their intended destination.

“Look,” Harris told CBS, “we are addressing it. We’re dealing with it. But it’s going to take some time.”

Feature photo | MintPress News | AP

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

The post Biden Picks Kamala Harris to Carry the Carrot and Stick in Central America appeared first on MintPress News.

Faced with ICC Investigation, Apartheid Israel Asserts Moral Superiority Over The Victims of Its Terror

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Israel’s army chief of staff, General Aviv Kochavi, recently commented on the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to investigate Israel for war crimes. In his speech, General Kochavi said:

There is a moral abyss that exists between us and our enemies. They do everything in order to target civilians; we do everything to prevent hurting their civilians. They rejoice when our civilians are killed; we investigate when theirs are killed.”

Sounds like a pretty good opening statement for his defense once the trial at The Hague commences. The only problem is, none of what he said is true.

As these words are being written, Israel is in the process of figuring out the results of its fourth elections in two years. These elections mark what could be the final step in a political strategy that would make Machiavelli proud. This strategy is one that was planned and executed brilliantly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and that brought about the total disintegration of his opposition. 

All that is left of those who ran against him are tiny fragments. The hungry politicians who lead these fragments cannot possibly compete with Netanyahu’s domestic political acumen. 

Similarly, no Israeli politician is able to compete with Netanyahu’s gravitas in the international arena. This is something that was clearly demonstrated by the recent visit to Tel-Aviv by the Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, and the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, to discuss cooperation among the three countries.

 

“A moral abyss”

The speech given by the Israeli army chief represents a righteous indignation that is typical of Israeli officials. He says that “a moral abyss” exists between Israel and its enemies, and that is a very interesting choice of words. One might think it is self-defeating for the Israeli military and political officials to bring up morality. And yet, here is yet another general who made a career of killing civilians and maintaining a brutal military regime claiming moral superiority.

In truth, a moral abyss does exist between Israel and the Palestinian people. A quick comparison shows the following: From its very founding, Israel had invested billions of dollars in developing and maintaining its military; Palestinians have never had as much as a tank, much less a military force.

For decades Palestinians have been searching for ways to make Palestine peaceful again. Palestinians had suggested establishing a secular democracy with equal rights. When that was rejected, they had agreed to end their resistance and recognized the State of Israel. Then the Palestinian Liberation Organization entered negotiations with Israel and accepted that all it would receive was a small Palestinian State on less than one-quarter of historic Palestine.

When this proved to be impossible, the Palestinians initiated a peaceful, dedicated, and morally just campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanction against the State of Israel. The demands set out by this call are all remedial and are all rooted in international law.

During these same decades, Israel had been engaged in dispossession, land theft, and violence. Palestinians are targeted by Israel regardless of their status or geographic location. Be they citizens of Israel, residents of the West Bank or Gaza, internally displaced, or refugees in camps outside of Palestine, Palestinians are living without rights — pushed off of their lands, prevented from access to basic resources like water, roads, and health care — and are killed on a daily basis.

Israel will not even provide Palestinians with a Covid vaccine. So yes, General Kochavi is right about the moral chasm. However, he and his army have nothing to be proud of.

 

“Our enemies”

One constantly hears that Israel is surrounded by enemies and that therefore it has no choice but to maintain a strong military force and strike whenever and wherever it sees a threat.

This is not unlike criminals who steal and are then afraid of retribution from their victims or the authorities. The criminals are constantly in need of more weapons, more recruits, and they must always hit first in order to strike fear into their potential enemies.

The State of Israel was established by acts that constitute crimes. Killing, mass displacement of a civilian population, theft of property and money, and the creation of an apartheid regime. Israel then built a military force that to this day continues to terrorize Palestinians and occasionally its neighboring countries, referring to them all as “enemies.”

One could argue, and indeed should argue, that Israel created enemies by its own criminal behavior. Then Israel feels it has the right to protect itself from the very people it alienated through criminal acts.

 

They rejoice

Driving south from Jerusalem towards Gaza, one reaches an intersection just north of the first entry point into Gaza, called Erez. Then you drive down a road that goes along the Gaza Strip just east. At one intersection there is a gas station and a dirt road that winds from behind the gas station and up a sandy hill.

At the top of the hill, there are a few trees — one can see the Mediterranean from there, and also Gaza City. When Israel drops bombs on Gaza one can see the smoke and hear the explosions from that spot. Someone dragged up a couch and a few chairs, turning this spot into a favorite for Israelis who enjoy the spectacle.


A Danish news report shows Israelis watching the 2009 bombing of Gaza. TV2 Denmark | YouTube

In fact, a piece in the British paper The Guardian describes the place and the scene during the 2014 assault on Gaza: “People drink, snack and pose for selfies against a background of explosions as Palestinian death toll mounts in ongoing offensive.”

It goes on, describing what I too personally witnessed:

A group of men huddle around a shisha pipe. Nearly all hold up smartphones to record the explosions or to pose grinning, perhaps with thumbs up, for selfies against a backdrop of black smoke…Some bring their children.”

 

“We investigate”

Kochavi claimed the army investigates, though clearly Israel’s investigations of its own crimes are few, far between, and rarely end up with the violators being held accountable.

“We do everything to prevent killing their civilians,” he says, which should make us wonder in what world General Kochavi lives. Israel not only does not do anything to prevent the death of civilians but for decades has been targeting civilians in both Palestine and Lebanon. This is obvious because, as stated earlier, Palestinians have never had an army.

As the world wonders what the next Netanyahu government will look like, it is clear that Palestinians will continue to live in fear of Israeli terrorism. One has to wonder at what point the world is likely to end the destruction of Palestine and its people by Israel.

Feature photo | Palestinians block Israeli soldiers targeting peaceful protesters near a Jewish settlement Beqa’ot in Jordan Valley in the West Bank, Feb. 29, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP

Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

The post Faced with ICC Investigation, Apartheid Israel Asserts Moral Superiority Over The Victims of Its Terror appeared first on MintPress News.

As Tide Turns, Houthis Reject US, Saudi “Peace” Deals for the Recycled Trash They Are

SANA’A, YEMEN — March 26 marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-backed Saudi bombing campaign in the war-torn country of Yemen and massive demonstrations took place across the country on Friday in commemoration.

Hundreds of thousands of people took the streets in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a near the besieged Sana’a International Airport, and in Hodeida, home of the country’s largest and most important seaport. In fact, thousands of Yemenis gathered in more than twenty city squares across the northern provinces, carrying Yemeni flags and holding banners emblazoned with messages of steadfastness and promises to liberate the entire country from Saudi control. Images of the demonstrations show a sea of Yemeni flags, posters bearing pictures of Houthi leader Abdulmalik al-Houthi, and the slogan “Six years of aggression — We are ready for the seventh year — We will win.”

“We are here to send a message to both the United States and Saudi Arabia that we are ready to make more sacrifices against the Saudi-led Coalition,” Nayef Haydan, a leader of the Yemeni Socialist Party and member of the Yemeni Shura Council, said. “Any peace initiative must contain a permanent end to the war, lift the blockade completely, include a detailed reconstruction program, and compensate Yemenis,” he added.

 

Having bombed for six years, Saudis now talk peace

For six years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two of the richest countries on the planet, have relentlessly bombed the poorest nation in the Middle East, with crucial assistance from three consecutive U.S. administrations. For 2,160 days — six years straight — the Royal Saudi Air Force and the UAE Air Force have, with American assistance, launched nearly 600,000 airstrikes in Yemen. The bombing has targeted civilian homes, schools, hospitals, roads, funerals, food facilities, factories, mosques, water, pumps and sewage, markets, refugee camps, historical cities, fishing boats, fuel stations, a school bus full of children, and Bedouin camps, making any potential reconstruction very long and costly.

The bombing continues even as talks of new peace initiatives begin to surface. Just last Sunday, March 21, consecutive Saudi airstrikes destroyed a poultry farm in Amran province. The attack was especially egregious as Yemen is suffering from one of the most severe famines in recent history. In fact, the country faces a humanitarian, economic, and political crisis of a magnitude not seen in decades. According to the United Nations, almost 16 million Yemenis live under famine, with 2.5 million children suffering from malnutrition. And thousands of Yemeni state workers now face hunger as their salaries have gone unpaid for years after the Saudi Coalition seized control of the country’s central bank.

 

Relentless destruction

As the war enters its seventh year, the country’s war-weary masses face grim new milestones. The fastest growing outbreak of cholera ever recorded and outbreaks of swine flu, rabies, diphtheria and measles are among the man-made biological threats facing Yemen. Meanwhile, hundreds of Yemenis are dying of Covid-19 every day amid a collapsed and destroyed health system. Many of these diseases and crises are not natural but have been created, artificially and intentionally, by Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-backed Saudi Coalition has completely or partially destroyed at least 523 healthcare facilities and bombed at least 100 ambulances, according to a report from the Sana’a-based Ministry of Health issued last Tuesday.

Years after Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports, halting life-saving supplies, Yemenis are still suffering from a lack of food, fuel and medicine. Hodeida Port, which is the primary entry point for most of Yemen’s food imports, is still under a strict Saudi blockade; even humanitarian aid is prevented from reaching the port. Sana’a International Airport, which has been bombed heavily by the Saudi Air Force in the past two weeks, has been blocked almost since the war began, leaving thousands of medical patients to die prematurely because they were unable to travel abroad for treatment.

Yemenis for their part, have resorted to targeting the Saudi Coalition in its own backyard. Hoping that taking the battle to the Kingdom will exact enough of a toll on the Saudi monarchy to cause it to rethink its quagmire in Yemen, Houthi missiles and drones have had increasing success in striking Saudi oil infrastructure, airports and military bases, leaving Saudi soil exposed to daily bombardment for the first time since the Al Saud family established their state.

In a recent statement, the spokesman for the Ansar Allah-backed Yemen Army claimed that its Air Force had carried out more than 12,623 drone strikes and reconnaissance operations during the past six years and that, in the past two months alone, 54 high-precision ballistic missiles have been fired at vital Saudi targets, some of them deep inside Saudi Arabia.

Last Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s Abha Airport was attacked by a number of drones, and on Friday, a facility belonging to Saudi state-owned oil giant Aramco in the Saudi capital of Riyadh was hit with six drones, causing damage to the facility, according to Yemen military sources.

 

Saudi futility

Despite its enormous onslaught, lethal Western weapons, and hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on this war, Saudi Arabia has been unable to crush the will of the Yemeni people, who continue to fight for independence and sovereignty. At the end of March 2015, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman promised confidently that it would all be over within a few weeks and that Ansar Allah would quickly surrender. Now, after six years of war, Bin Salman has not only been unable to defeat The Houthis. Instead, it is The Houthis remain steadfast in their resistance and have grown even more powerful, leading to much consternation in Saudi Arabia and a half-hearted attempt by Bin Salman to ask The Houthis to accept his country’s version of peace and free the Kingdom from the quagmire it has created for itself in Yemen.

As Yemenis make their final push to recapture the strategic city of Marib, amid failed U.S. efforts to protect their Saudi ally from Houthi ballistic missiles and drones, both Washington and Riyadh have presented peace initiatives in an effort to stem the tide of Saudi Coalition military defeats. Those initiatives, however, fail to address or alleviate the humanitarian plight of Yemenis, end the war, or even lift the blockade.

 

Sour wine in new bottles

On March 12, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking announced an initiative to end the war during a webinar with the Atlantic Council. The plan is essentially a recycled version of a previous proposal presented by Mohammed Bin Salman and the Trump administration one year ago in Oman, dubbed “The Joint Declaration.” It contains a matrix of Saudi principles and conditions aimed at the surrender of the Yemen Army, the Houthis, and their allies, in exchange for an end to the war. Lenderking’s initiative gives no guarantee that the Coalition will take any measures to lift its blockade and end the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

On March 22, Saudi Arabia announced its own “ceasefire initiative” to end the war it announced from Washington D.C. six years ago. Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan revealed the initiative, which would include a nationwide ceasefire under the supervision of the UN and a partial re-opening of the Sana’a International Airport to certain destinations. It also included a revenue-sharing plan that would guarantee the Saudi government access to a portion of the wealth generated by Yemen’s oil and gas deposits in Marib.

 

Come back when you’re serious

Both initiatives were rejected by Sana’a. “We reject the American and Saudi peace initiatives because they do not meet the demands of the Yemeni people,” Khaled Al-Sharif, chairman of the Supreme Elections Committee, said of the proposals during a meeting held in Sana’a on Monday. According to many Yemenis, including decision-makers in Sana’a, the U.S. and Saudi plans are not intended to achieve peace, but to advance their political goals in the face of an imminent military failure following six costly years of war. The measures, according to officials in Sana’a, are also about saving face and presenting an untenable plan, so that when it is inevitably rejected the tide of public opinion will turn in favor of the Saudi-led Coalition.

In a live televised speech commemorating the sixth anniversary of the war on Thursday afternoon, ِAbdulMalik al Houthi, the leader of the Houthis, refused Washington and Riyadh’s initiatives, explaining:

The Americans, the Saudis, and some countries have tried to persuade us to barter the humanitarian file for military and political agreements. We refuse that.

Access to oil products, food, medical and basic materials is a human and legal right that cannot be bartered in return for military and political extortion.

We are, [however], ready for an honorable peace in which there is no trade-off for our people’s right to freedom and independence or to Yemen’s legitimate entitlements.”

The Houthi leadership views the policies of the Biden administration as not far removed from those of his predecessor, Donald Trump. “Biden’s administration is following the same policies as those of former President Donald Trump. [They] have not offered a new plan for peace in Yemen. Washington has rather presented an old plan for the resolution of the conflict,” Ansar Allah spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam said, adding that the U.S. plan does not offer anything new. ”The plan has placed conditions for the opening of the Hodeida port and Sana’a International Airport, which are unacceptable,” he concluded.

 

No retreat, no surrender

The Houthis — empowered by six years of perseverance amid one of the most violent wars against some of the world’s most powerful military forces, not to mention the ability to reject the proposals set forth by those same powers — have little incentive to accept Riyadh’s offer. They see the end to the conflict coming from Washington in the form of an announcement of an immediate ceasefire, a departure of all foreign forces from the country, and lifting of the air and sea blockade as a pre-condition for any deal. “They should have demonstrated their seriousness for the establishment of peace by allowing food and fuel to dock at the port of Hodeida rather than put forth proposals,” Mohammed Ali al-Houthi said.

Over two thousand consecutive days of war have proven that Saudi Arabia is not ready to bring peace to war-torn Yemen. With the exception of a fragile ceasefire in Hodeida and a small number of prisoner releases, negotiations between the two sides generally reach a dead end, as Bin Salman looks for total surrender and nothing else. Numerous negotiations between Saudi Arabia and Yemen have failed, including UN-brokered peace talks in Switzerland in 2018. The Yemenis, who are now on the offensive, are unlikely to retreat or surrender. The offensive to recapture oil-rich Marib and sweep the shrinking areas that remain in Saudi control shows no signs of slowing down and, according to high-ranking military officials, the Saudi-controlled gas-rich province of Shabwa will be the next to be liberated. Moreover, retaliatory ballistic missiles and drone attacks against Saudi targets will continue.

Despite recent peace initiatives, the Saudi-led Coalition has only intensified military maneuvers in Yemen this week. Saudi warplanes are seen regularly above highly populated urban areas in the north of the country, dropping hundreds of tons of ordnance, most supplied by the United States. There is a near-consensus among the leadership of the Yemeni army and Ansar Allah that the current U.S. administration is participating in the battles taking place in the oil-rich Marib province. However, the Houthis have not directly accused the Biden administration of being involved in the fighting and are waiting for more evidence to do so. They may not have to wait long. On Tuesday, a sophisticated, U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drone was downed with a surface-to-air missile as it was flying over the Sirwah district in Marib.

Feature photo | A Houthi supporter holds a weapon as he attends a rally marking six years of the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen in Sanaa, March 26, 2021. Hani Mohammed | AP

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

The post As Tide Turns, Houthis Reject US, Saudi “Peace” Deals for the Recycled Trash They Are appeared first on MintPress News.

Will Lula Make a Comeback? Global Imperialists and Resource Extractors Shudder at the Prospect

BRASILIA, BRAZIL — Will the world’s sixth most populous country move away from fascism and towards a social democracy putting economic justice and anti-imperialism first once more?

That is the question on Brazilian minds right now, as earlier this month the Supreme Court dismissed all charges against former President Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva. A colossal figure in domestic and world politics, Lula was falsely convicted of fraud in 2017, and spent more than 18 months in prison, becoming, in the words of renowned academic Noam Chomsky, “the world’s most prominent political prisoner.”

Yesterday, the Supreme Court also ruled that the judge who sentenced Lula, Sergio Moro, made a biased decision. Secret documents show that Moro was actually working with the prosecution to ensure Lula was convicted, paving the way for fascist candidate Jair Bolsonaro to assume the presidency. In a staggering display of quid pro quo, Moro then accepted the job of Bolsonaro’s Minister of Justice.

 

A massive turnaround

“There is a sense of elation for [Lula’s] supporters and those that stood by him for so many years,” said Michael Fox, a filmmaker based in the southern city of Florianopolis, who likened following Brazilian politics to a ride on a rollercoaster:

In just a few weeks, Lula’s charges have been annulled and now the once super-star judge Sergio Moro is under formal investigation for judicial bias, a felony charge. It’s a massive turnaround and it can’t be understated.”

“This is victory for democracy. We again have hope of a better Brazil with Lula free,” one jubilant supporter of the former president told Fox.

A support of Lula demonstrates outside the Supreme Court in Brasilia, Brazil, March 9, 2021. Eraldo Peres | AP

Lula was the runaway favorite to be re-elected in 2018; just six weeks before the election, polls showed that more than twice as many people intended to vote for him as for Bolsonaro. But the courts ruled that he was barred from running, even from the prison cell Moro put him in, a decision that virtually ensured a Bolsonaro victory. A recent poll found that more than half of Brazil said they would definitely or possibly vote for him in next year’s presidential election, despite the fact he has not yet even made a decision about standing.

“The chances of Lula’s re-election are huge,” Brazilian journalist Nathália Urban told MintPress. “He is still tremendously popular, and is being especially favored in the face of this polarized scenario, which places him as the only one capable of beating Bolsonaro.”

“Bolsonaro is scared. His approval rating is dropping,” Fox noted. “If Lula decides to run, and he is not somehow again blocked from running, like in 2018, he has every chance of winning in 2022.” Fox added that, after a year of Bolsonaro’s downplaying or outright denying the virus that has killed over 300,000 Brazilians, Lula’s freedom has spurred the current president to act more responsibly. Things got so bad at one point last year, armed, criminal gangs chastised Bolsonaro’s recklessness, unilaterally imposing a lockdown in areas under their control. “We want the best for the population. If the government won’t do the right thing, organized crime will,” read an official communique from a group of drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro.

 

A towering figure

Despite being coy about next year, Lula is behaving as if he is already president, releasing statements urging his countryfolk to wear masks and inviting U.S. President Joe Biden to an emergency coronavirus summit on vaccine equity.

A towering figure in his homeland, the former street urchin and shoe-shine boy turned union leader was elected president in 2002 and served until 2011, leaving office with an 83% approval rating. The economy grew steadily and poverty was halved under his stewardship. While the U.S. was invading Afghanistan and Iraq, Lula declared his own domestic war — against hunger. His signature policy was the Bolsa Família package; a deal whereby mothers were given cash transfers of up to $150 per month if they enrolled their children in school and ensured they were immunized against yellow fever and other deadly diseases. An estimated 50 million people benefited from it. It was policies like these, Urban noted, that built his support among the country’s popular classes.

“Lula’s impact on Brazil and on Latin America cannot be overstated. He dominated politics in both from being first elected as president in 2002, and he continues to dominate Brazilian politics,” said Dr. Barry Cannon, a sociologist from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, who also noted that, under Lula’s rule, Brazil was “remarkably stable socially and economically.”

Lula is carried by supporters a day after he was released from prison in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil. Nelson Antoine | AP

Needing the support of liberals and more centrist forces, Lula was not as radical as many social movements that helped him into power would have liked, and did not challenge U.S. power as directly as other governments like those in Venezuela or Bolivia. But — as Steve Ellner, a retired political scientist from the Universidad de Oriente in Venezuela, explained to MintPress — activists saw his government as a “friendly” administration; one that would listen to them and certainly not repress them in the ways previous governments had done.

Perhaps his most important impact, however, was on international affairs. Lula was one of the leaders of the so-called “Pink Tide” — a wave of Latin American countries that began electing leftist, pro-poor, anti-imperialist governments in the 2000s. By 2011, a large majority of the region was ruled by these forces. Leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa rankled officials in Washington by nationalizing key resources and denouncing capitalism and inequality. Lula was not as radical, but, as leader of the world’s fifth-largest country by area and population, he was arguably the most important.

 

Resisting efforts to divide the Pink Tide

Using the “divide and rule” tactic, U.S. officials tried to separate “good” leftist leaders (like Lula), who refrained from expropriating resources from Western corporations and pursued more reformist measures from the “bad left” of Chavez, Morales, Correa and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But Lula would have none of it, openly campaigning for Chavez’s re-election in 2012. “Chavez, count on me, count on the Brazilian Worker’s Party, count on the solidarity and support of each…democrat and each Latin American. Your victory will be ours…and thanks, comrade, for everything you have done for Latin America,” he said in an endorsement speech. Thus, many Pink Tide leaders saw themselves as part of the same struggle against the American-dominated economic and political system, with differences in their policies less about ideology and more about domestic realities.

While not denouncing imperialism openly like the “bad” left, Lula was still a huge check on American ambitions in Latin America, blocking attempts to isolate other states and rejecting a U.S.-supported secessionist movement in Bolivia. Brazil was also a key participant in a number of new regional organizations aimed at replacing discredited, U.S.-dominated ones.

Lula also traveled to Iran independently and convinced president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to sign a nuclear deal based on commitments the Obama administration had written up. He naively expected President Barack Obama, who had previously endorsed him as “the most popular politician on Earth,” to be delighted. But, instead, Obama tried to stop Ahmadinejad from signing the deal the U.S. had agreed to, shattering the pretense that Washington cared about securing peace in the region. In response to the deal, Obama increased sanctions on Iran and treated Lula, in the Brazilian’s words, as a “persona non grata on the international political stage.”

In Cannon’s view:

Globally [Lula] symbolized hope for the left — here was a phenomenally successful leftist politician that everyone seemed to like. It is hard to conceive of the Pink Tide of leftist politics, which dominated Latin America from the turn of the millennium until the coup against Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s successor, in 2016, without Lula. He was its undisputed leader.”

After having secretly wiretapped the Brazilian government for years, the United States government was deeply involved in the phony anti-corruption drive that saw Dilma impeached and Lula jailed. The U.S. Department of Justice secretly attempted to pay the “anti-corruption” taskforce $682 million in kickbacks for its work. Recorded conversations show that Lula’s lead prosecutor described his arrest as a “gift from the CIA,” while FBI agents boasted about their work “toppling governments” in Brazil. President Joe Biden’s advisors told The New York Times that his administration “would seek to revive” the “anti-corruption campaign” pioneered in Brazil and extend it across the region.

 

impact, political and economic

If Lula and the Workers’ Party do come back to power, it seems likely that they will stymie many U.S. foreign policy goals, including isolating Venezuela, China and Russia. Yet Bolsonaro has proven so incompetent a leader and manager that both Ellner and Cannon believe that many in Washington will at least attempt to work with Lula, trying to move him to a more moderate position. However, the currently deeply divided political climate in Brazil does not bode well for centrists, as Ellner explained:

Most likely, the 2022 elections will be polarizing, which means that more ‘moderate’ candidates will be shunted aside. In that case, it is unlikely that the Washington establishment will distance itself much from Bolsonaro or manifest any sympathy for the Workers’ Party candidate.

Lula, second from right, poses with (left to right) Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa at a 2008 summit in Brazil. Eraldo Peres | AP

Certainly, the investor class is not happy at the prospect of a return to the rule of the Workers’ Party: on the news of the annulment of Lula’s charges, the Brazilian stock exchange plunged by 4%; Reuters told its business readers that his release would have “dire consequences.” Presumably not for Brazilians, but for asset prices, as Bolsonaro’s “market-friendly economic reform agenda” (a euphemism for the firesale of state assets, huge cuts to public sector wages and pensions, and tax breaks for the wealthy) would come to an end.

However, the news that Lula is finally free has many across the region hoping for a better future. While Lula led the rebel alliance in the 2000s, the empire struck back in the 2010s, with many conservative or reactionary governments coming to power, often with the help of U.S-backed coups, dark money or lawfare tactics, as seen in Brazil. However, with the election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico and Alberto Fernandez in Argentina, the defeat of the Bolivian coup, and the likely imminent return of progressive forces in Ecuador, there is a new hope across Latin America and beyond.

“If Brazil turns left again, especially with Lula in power, it will galvanize the left in the region once again,” Cannon stated, noting that a friendly Brazil would give its neighbors breathing space to grow independently while warning that the country desperately needs to find new political leaders younger than the 75-year-old former steelworker and that the region has to look beyond extractivism as the basis of the economy. “[Lula’s] election will be a godsend for the multipolar world” Ellner added.

Feature photo | Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is carried by supporters in front of the metal workers union headquarters in Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, Nov. 9, 2019. Nelson Antoine | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consentas well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazineand Common Dreams.

The post Will Lula Make a Comeback? Global Imperialists and Resource Extractors Shudder at the Prospect appeared first on MintPress News.

An Old Green Colonial Trick: Israel Masking Land Grabs as Environmental Conservation

OCCUPIED EAST JERUSALEM — For decades, a Palestinian village on the southern tip of Jerusalem has lived on and cultivated the land. But a series of recent efforts by Israel is not only threatening their way of life but potentially displacing them from their homes.

On January 25, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee rejected the residents of Palestinian village al-Walaja’s plan to legalize their homes and further develop the community. Instead, the committee declared their land an ancient agricultural area in need of environmental conservation that should be transformed into a national park.

The notion of environmental integrity struck Amy Cohen, director of international relations and advocacy at Israeli non-profit Ir Amim, as contradictory.

“The planning committee and the [Israel] Civil Administration within the West Bank [have] been promoting and advancing plans within the same area for Jewish settlers,” Cohen said. “It shows massive discrimination in how [Israel] treats Palestinian areas in order to suppress the residential development.”

The committee’s decision paves the way for the lifting of the demolition freeze on 38 al-Walaja homes. On April 26, Israel’s Supreme Court will convene for a hearing on al-Walaja’s 2018 petition over its resident-initiated outline plan.

The portion of al-Walaja (spelled Al Walajeh on this map) facing mass demolitions is shaded in brown within the purple circle between the apartheid wall (red line) and the Jerusalem municipal border/annexation line (blue line). Credit | Ir Amim

Ibrahim A’raj, 37, grew up in al-Walaja. The home he built for his family in 2016 is now under threat of demolition. A’raj expects the court will not rule in al-Walaja’s favor in April and his house will be demolished.

“It’s not logical or legal,” A’raj said, referring to the Planning Committee’s rejection of the development plan for environmental reasons. “The village is surrounded by settlements and the wall, which destroyed the nature and environmental landscape.”

The Planning Committee did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Zones and no permits

When Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it took the northern section of al-Walaja as well. Today, al-Walaja is split between Jerusalem and Areas B and C of the West Bank, so one-third of the land is controlled by the Jerusalem Municipality and the rest by the Bethlehem Governorate.

The Jerusalem area of al-Walaja has been at risk of forced displacement for a decade as a result of the Planning Committee’s refusal to discuss an outline plan. This refusal has made it impossible for the community to obtain building permits, so A’raj had to construct his house without one.

Amid the absence of building permits, demolition orders have increased. More than 20 homes have been razed in al-Walaja since 2016.

 

An isolated village cut off from its surroundings

Israeli authorities have prevented al-Walaja from developing while expanding Jewish settlements around the village and the apartheid wall (the barrier separating the West Bank and Israel).

Construction of the wall on three sides of al-Walaja cut off the village from nearly 300 acres of its agricultural land and turned that land into Nahal Refaim National Park. Har Gilo settlement lies to the south of al-Walaja. The Israel Civil Administration’s proposed expansion of the Har Gilo settlement to the west of the village will extend the wall, thereby enclosing al-Walaja and fully isolating it from its surroundings. The Civil Administration did not respond to requests for comment.

“The wall and the settlements deprived us from accessing our own land that we worked so hard to cultivate,” A’raj said, mentioning how the villagers are now blocked from the olive trees they harvested before the wall was built.

Ancient agricultural terraces in al-Walaja (left) and Israel’s destruction of ancient terraces to build the wall (right). Photos | B’Tselem

Al-Walaja residents experience harassment daily from Israeli settlers and authorities. A’raj explained:

The Civil Administration confiscates our equipment when we start building a new house. The settlers around us use drones to take pictures when we start building and send them to the Civil Administration. The police put checkpoints at the entrance of the village and sometimes inside the village and the Walaja Bypass Road [connecting Har Gilo settlement to Jerusalem] gets a lot of traffic, so it limits our movement.”

A’raj lamented that if his home is demolished, he will likely leave al-Walaja, the place he’s called home his whole life. “It’s a huge tyranny that I have to leave my own house and my own land,” he said.

Israel doesn’t provide alternative or temporary housing for Palestinians whose homes they demolish. Sari Kronish — East Jerusalem planner for Bimkom, an Israeli planning rights organization — described the government’s lack of consideration in helping displaced families find housing as one of the “dark sides of the Israeli regime at the moment.”

“The very sad reality is that the authorities don’t offer [the uprooted Palestinians] anything. They just treat them as lawbreakers who are receiving their penalty,” Kronish said. “People just become homeless and become displaced.”

Ir Amim’s Cohen emphasizes that what Israel is enacting isn’t just the wide-scale displacement of Palestinians but also an attempt at annexation. She elaborated:

It’s an acute humanitarian toll that’s exacted upon the families, but it is also in service to the Israeli objective of consolidating control, which completely undermines any sort of conditions for a two-state solution based on two capitals. Because if you can completely segment Palestinian contiguity and advance steps toward de facto annexation of these areas, then you’re foiling a prospect of an agreed resolution.”

 

Not just al-Walaja

In what many Palestinians have described as a continuation of the Nakba (Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign in Palestine), Israel is currently in the process of expelling thousands of Palestinians from East Jerusalem under the pretext of preservation.

“More and more open areas in East Jerusalem are being designated as preservation or national parks, and this is clearly in order to prevent Palestinian urban development,” Kronish said.

In the Al-Bustan neighborhood of the East Jerusalem district of Silwan, mass dispossession looms over the residents in order to make room for the touristic venture, Garden of the King. The community of Sheikh Jarrah is experiencing displacement at the hands of settler groups for the Shimon HaTzadik National Park.

Israel has long employed the practice of stealing Palestinian land and claiming it for recreational purposes. Many of Israel’s prized national parks were built on top of Palestinian villages destroyed during the Nakba. In Jerusalem, for instance, the remains of the village of Lifta are now a national park and hotel. Garbage and graffiti adorn what’s left of Lifta’s stone houses. Most of the village’s inhabitants, who were expelled in 1948, and their descendants live in refugee camps around Jerusalem — unable to return to home.

“It’s a form of institutional confiscation and settlement in the guise of green protection,” Kronish said.

Displacing indigenous peoples under the claim of conservation is an inherently settler-colonialist tactic spanning regions and centuries. Most well-known national parks in the United States like Yellowstone and Yosemite were once Native American tribal territories. In order to create an “uninhabited wilderness,” the federal government first had to remove the native peoples living on that land.

Modern environmentalism ignorantly dictates Some environmentalist assumptions suggest humans cannot coexist with wildlife. But that racist assumption idea ignores the history of indigenous communities living with and preserving nature.

Native Americans understood how to sustainably tend to the land. And just as in al-Walaja, maintaining the land is part of their livelihood.

Kronish explained:

This type of agricultural lifestyle is very dependent on people living [on] and working the land harmoniously. Once people are displaced, attempts at preservation become artificial. The residents would argue that by continuing to live there, they are more able to continue to preserve. For them, it’s not a question of preservation. It’s a question of a way of life and connection to the land.”

Feature photo  | A Palestinian man cut off from his family by the Israeli wall, looks out of his house at the Jewish settlement of Gilo, in Al-Walaja. February 18, 2020. Mussa Qawasma | Reuters

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post An Old Green Colonial Trick: Israel Masking Land Grabs as Environmental Conservation appeared first on MintPress News.

US, Lobbyists and Arm Dealers Scramble to Reposition Amid Impending Saudi Defeat in Yemen

WASHINGTON — In his last months in office, former President Donald Trump gave American defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Reaper drone manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems billions in projected earnings through a controversial $23 billion arms deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a deal now “under review” by the Biden administration.

President Joe Biden’s temporary halt to the U.S. arms deal and his decision to remove the Yemeni Houthi rebels from the state department’s list of global terrorist organizations have been touted as a harbinger of peace in Yemen, where a civil war that erupted during Barack Obama’s second term in office has persisted and expanded to include regional powers.

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states has dropped more than 22,000 bombs in Yemen since its intervention in 2015 and has contributed to the death of nearly a quarter of a million people since the conflict began. American weapons systems have played a key role in the genocidal war that has produced millions of war refugees in what can only be characterized as the greatest human tragedy of the 21st century.

As the American arms industry rides a wave of record sales to the Saudi regime and the Middle East in general, a pause to the relentless advance of the biggest war economy on the planet strikes one as a political strategy, widely telegraphed by Biden even before he became the Democratic nominee. As soon as the former vice president was projected as the winner of the 2020 election, Saudi Arabia went on a lobbyist hiring spree to prepare for what the regime led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman knew was coming.

Nevertheless, a bleaker reality may be conspiring to quash the designs of American arms dealers. Recent developments in the war are increasingly pointing to the possibility that Biden’s ostensible moves towards peace may simply be an attempt to control the narrative and save face around what is looking like yet another defeat in the long-running American-sponsored global “war on terror” and, more awkwardly, an attempt to protect the defense industry from a spectacular debacle.

 

The high stakes of defeat

Major advances by Houthi forces on the strategically vital oil and gas hub of Marib last week have forced Saudi Arabia to offer a ceasefire agreement to the rebels. The offer came on Monday, after the rebel army seized Mount Hilan, threatening the Yemeni military’s first line of defense and causing a disruption in global energy prices.

The ceasefire proposal includes collecting “taxes, customs and other fees generated” by oil imports in the Red Sea port of Hodeida in a joint account that would be accessible to the Houthis. Further evidence that the Saudi-led coalition finds itself with their backs against the wall is the partial loosening of the oil blockade, as four fuel ships were given the go-ahead to dock at Hodeida on Wednesday.

The bid for a truce came two days after Saudi Coalition-manned American warplanes carried out airstrikes against Houthi targets in Marib, with Saudi media claiming heavy losses on the side of the rebel forces. But the partial lifting of the blockade by the Saudi Coalition and the UN-backed Yemeni government indicates that it is the Houthis who are making headway.

The fall of Marib would mean Houthi control of one of the key production centers of natural gas in Yemen — one that supplies the entire country — as well as oil fields owned by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco. Given that the Houthis already control most of Yemen’s urban centers, taking Marib would likely tilt the momentum irreversibly in the Houthis’ favor.

In light of the Houthis’ bolstered position in the conflict, Biden’s decision to remove them from the list of global terrorist organizations, while overtly maintaining continued U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s “security” needs could very well be a signal that Washington has tacitly admitted that their proxy war in Yemen is not yielding the desired results. Meanwhile, in a joint statement, last week as preparations for Friday’s major attack on Marib were in the offing, Western governments attempted to make a show of strength in the press in lieu of actual results on the battlefield.

“We, the governments of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America,” said the statement, “condemn the sustained Houthi offensive on the Yemeni city of Marib and the major escalation of attacks the Houthis have conducted and claimed against Saudi Arabia.”

 

Who will think of the arms dealer?

Curiously, most of the other members who came together to condemn the Houthis’ advance on Marib have also publicly halted their own arms trade with Saudi Arabia or its coalition forces, in one way or another. Nonetheless, sub-surface efforts continue to bolster Saudi security in the region.

France, which last week voted to end the sale of security equipment “that fuels conflict in Yemen,” was nevertheless second behind the U.S. in arms exports to Saudi Arabia, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and reports have surfaced of French private mercenary companies training Saudi soldiers in Yemen. Meanwhile, the UK authorized a $1.9 billion arms deal after a ban imposed by a court ruling in 2019 had expired.

The arms trade report released on March 15 by SIPRI shows that, between 2016 and 2020, arms exports to the Middle East grew by a staggering 25% — an increase led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Qatar.

According to an Open Secrets report, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the second-biggest buyer of U.S. arms, with $26 billion in sales reported to Congress since 2017. Riyadh is also the sixth largest spender by any foreign lobbying operation in the U.S., racking up nearly $108 million in U.S. influence operations over the last five years.

In addition, the top four defense contractors that count the kingdom as one of their best clients – F-35 fighter jet-maker Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Boeing – also grace the top five defense-related companies that spend the most on wooing Washington lawmakers, with approximately $40 million spent among them in 2020 alone.

Despite the hold announced by the Biden administration, arms sales have not been entirely stopped. On February 17, Biden approved a $200 million arms sale to Egypt, which has pledged its support for the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels and has been taking in thousands of refugees from the war-torn area since 2015.

 

Seller beware

Since December 2020, when most of the world was confident Joe Biden would be the next president of the United States, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia added a few new lobbying organizations to its payroll. According to CNBC, one of the most recent contracts was signed with a “full-service grassroots mobilization, public affairs and public relations consulting firm” called Arena Strategy Group through the Larson Shannahan Slifka Group, or LS2group, which signed a $1.5 million retainer agreement with the Kingdom in 2019.

Both organizations have deep ties to the Republican Party. Their services — which will revolve around “informing the public, government officials, and the media about the importance of fostering and promoting strong relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” — were mainly sought to influence the Republican-controlled Congress on behalf of Saudi interests.

The arms trade lobby, for its part, is coming off substantial victories from the previous administration — which, among other things, loosened drone export laws, directly benefiting companies like General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and its pending $3 billion drone purchase order, which is part of the $23 billion arms deal currently on hold.

Squire Patton Boggs (“a perennial K Street powerhouse,” per Open Secrets), Akin Gump, and American Defense International are three of the top defense industry lobbying firms that alternate between representing defense contractors like Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman, and their weapons systems manufacturers’ biggest clients in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to push through legislation and secure government contracts their customers require.

But, perhaps there is a much more mundane reason why all these multi-billion-dollar contracts are on hold and it’s that the potential buyers simply can’t – or won’t – pay for the merchandise.

Despite all the glamour and fantastical riches ascribed to the Saudi royal family, their wealth is quite literally all in one basket. If the price of oil plummets, so does the ability of the Saudi princes to close billion-dollar weapons deals. In 2017, when the colossal $110 billion arms deal was made between the Trump administration and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, thanks to the work of Squire Patton Boggs, only $14.5 billion had been “earned” one year later.

The reality is that such deals are hardly worth the name. They are mostly comprised of letters of intent and proposals, which prospective buyers may or may not take up. In the case of American client states, like Saudi Arabia, there are ways to make them loosen the purse strings, but when these strings are tied to resources like oil extracted out of a foreign country teeming with armed groups intent on asserting their sovereignty, deals have a tendency to fall through.

However, it would be naïve to believe that the biggest war economy in the world would turn back and leave tens of billions of dollars on the table. If Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners can’t come up with the cash, history has shown that the Military Industrial Complex would not shy away from the chance to bring others to the negotiating table and expand the war to do so.

Feature photo | US special envoy for Yemen Timothy Lenderking, accompanied by State Department spokesman Ned Price, right, speaks via teleconference during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 16, 2021. Andrew Harnik | AP

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

The post US, Lobbyists and Arm Dealers Scramble to Reposition Amid Impending Saudi Defeat in Yemen appeared first on MintPress News.

After 10 Years of Civil War in Syria, US (Quietly) Declares Defeat but Won’t Go Home

DAMASCUS, SYRIA — This March marks the 10-year anniversary of the Arab Spring and the protests that rocked Syria, which were a starting point for the ongoing civil war. That conflict has led to over half a million deaths and nearly 13 million people displaced, according to some estimates.

Now, after 10 years of attempts to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad, it appears that many in the U.S. government and media are quietly conceding defeat.

“We tell Syria’s human stories so that the ‘victors’ don’t write its history,” ran the headline of a CNN article marking the anniversary. Who the victors are is not spelled out explicitly, although it is clear that the reference is to the Syrian government. In explaining the reasons for the violence, the article tells us:

The Assad regime gunned down those who called for a peaceful transition to democracy. Gulf countries sent in suitcases of cash with a wink and a nod towards more religiously conservative fighting units. Assad let former al-Qaeda members and other criminals out of jail. The U.S., at the peak of its involvement, half-heartedly trained some ‘moderate’ rebels, many of whom went on to join the ranks of extremist groups.

Thus, Assad is presented as an ally of al-Qaeda, while forces the U.S. and its allies “half-heartedly” supplied and trained register merely as “religiously conservative fighting units” and “moderate rebels,” inverting reality on its head.

The New York Times was less cryptic in its description of the outcome of the conflict, its headline reading “Having Won Syria’s War, al-Assad Is Mired in Economic Woes.” While accepting military defeat in Syria, the U.S. appears to be using its economic power to make sure there can be no clear victory for Assad, enacting waves of sanctions that have crushed the country’s economy, leading to power outages, food shortages, inflation and falling wages.

In its article covering a potential change in Syria policy by the Biden administration, the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted one former Obama official who said the international take-home message is that “the Syria war is over, Assad has won, Assad will be in power as long as he is breathing oxygen.”

Those in the current administration are more tacit in their acceptance of the situation on the ground. A joint statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his European counterparts last week asked for a nationwide ceasefire, promising that they were not “abandoning” the conflict or Syria’s people, whatever it might look like. The statement also condemned the fast-approaching presidential elections as neither free nor fair, historically a very good indicator that they expect the result to go against their interests. “It’s clear that the regime will leverage the upcoming presidential elections in May to unfairly claim Assad’s legitimacy,” said the United States’ acting deputy ambassador to the UN, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, last week. “The United States will not recognize these elections unless they are free, fair, representative of Syrian society, and supervised by the United Nations,” he added.

The prospect of holding a proper election in a country destroyed by ten years of constant war is indeed very dim. With food prices rising, millions displaced, and millions more having fled abroad, just surviving is a task enough for many. Last month the World Food Program warned that a record 12.4 million Syrians — more than half of the population — are currently food insecure. This is an increase of around 4.5 million from last year. Over the past 12 months, the price of basic foodstuffs has increased by an average of 236%. Some of this is down to U.S. sanctions, with Washington apparently deciding that — as in Venezuela, Cuba and other nations — if the U.S. cannot overthrow the government, it will fall back on starving the country as a punishment.

 

Ten years of violence

While the conflict is universally described as a civil war, from the outset it has been dominated by foreign groups. March 15, 2011 saw the Arab Spring spread to Syria, with large demonstrations against Assad’s rule in many major cities. However, this unrest was quickly overtaken by armed groups whose goal was to take the country by force. In July of that year, the Free Syrian Army was established, quickly receiving considerable Western backing. Almost immediately, the country of 21 million people became a proxy war for various regional and world powers, including Turkey, the United States and its European allies, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. At one point, the CIA was spending almost $1 billion per year training and fielding an army of jihadists. Fighters came from as far afield as Libya and Xinjiang province in China to join their ranks.

A US-backed anti-government fighter mans a heavy machine gun next to a US soldier in al Tanf. Hammurabi’s Justice News | AP

The bitter fighting and terrible violence on all sides led to a refugee crisis for a country that had historically been a haven for victims of war in the region. The famously secular nation also became a stronghold for the Islamic State. With the help of Russian forces, ISIS was beaten back, but to this day, a number of foreign powers continue to occupy the country militarily. One of them is the United States, which last month launched a strike on a town on the Syria/Iraq border, dropping 1.75 tons of explosives and reportedly killing 22 people. Between 2014 and 2019, the U.S. and its allies dropped at least 118,000 bombs and missiles on Iraq and Syria. The U.S. also continues to militarily occupy Syria’s oil fields, hamstringing the nation’s efforts to recover economically.

 

A short spring, a long winter

Unfortunately, Syria is far from the only country that has been left in a much worse state than what it was in ten years ago. In 2011, the Arab Spring sparked hope across the Middle East, capturing the world’s attention for months as, one after another, movements arose challenging the power of undemocratic governments. Yet few, if any, can be said to have succeeded.

Egypt was the centerpiece of the uprising, as hundreds of thousands of people poured into Tahrir Square in Cairo. Dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign and Mohamed Morsi was elected president in a democratic election. Yet barely a year later many were in the streets again, begging the military to overthrow him. The resulting coup brought General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power, establishing a dictatorship every bit as brutal as Mubarak’s. Sisi has signalled his intent to remain in power until at least 2034, which, considering his age, is effectively a lifetime appointment.

In Libya, protests against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s rule were used as a pretext by NATO for regime change, sparking a bitter civil war, Gaddafi’s assasination, and the rise of Al-Qaeda and other jihadist forces that turned the once-rich country into a failed state, replete with slave markets.

Meanwhile, Yemen is now commonly described as the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” where 24 million people need assistance, including 20 million with little or no access to clean water. Yesterday, Oxfam warned that the country is reaching a tipping point, amid a massive spike in COVID-19 cases and a feared outbreak of cholera. The cause for the crisis is clear: the Saudi-led onslaught against the country, which, in turn, has its roots in the constitutional crisis sparked by the Arab Spring protests.

Few remember that the Arab Spring actually started in Western Sahara. But over the past 10 years, the country is being progressively eroded, as Morocco continues to occupy it militarily, building a succession of walls and annexing its most valuable land. As a result, the fortunes of the Sahrawi people are as bad as ever.

After a decade of bombing, invasions, exoduses and economic strife, it is clear that there are precious few winners in the Syrian Civil War — or from the rest of the Arab Spring, for that matter. There are, however, millions of losers. Chief among them are the people of Syria, who have seen their country torn apart as foreign powers, great and minor, wrestle for control of their nation. While the U.S. and its media might be tacitly conceding defeat, few are proclaiming victory.

Feature photo | A Syrian army soldier places a Syrian national flag during a battle with rebel fighters at the Ramouseh front line, east of Aleppo, Syria. Photo | AP

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post After 10 Years of Civil War in Syria, US (Quietly) Declares Defeat but Won’t Go Home appeared first on MintPress News.

US Gins Up a “Credible” Iranian Nuclear Menace Befitting Its Own Stockpile

WASHINGTON — According to The Telegraph, “new revelations” from an unnamed senior Western intelligence source show “that Iran is trying to conceal vital elements of its nuclear programme from the outside world [and] has no intention of complying with its international obligations under the terms of the nuclear deal.”

Led by Israel and the United States, the narrative of a nuclear-armed Iran wreaking havoc on the Middle East and the world has been unrelenting and co-signed by the broader Western media establishment, which has been complicit in a long-running campaign that goes back to the early 2000s.

Relegated to a secondary news item since the Covid crisis took over, the story is now resurfacing as the Biden administration revisits the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a.k.a. the Iran Nuclear Deal, which was famously shelved by Donald Trump in 2018. Despite promises made during his campaign to restore the treaty, Biden has stopped short of doing so and has conditioned the re-implementation of the agreement on vague “changes from Tehran.”

Manufacturing a “credible” nuclear menace is vital to the interests of the most heavily nuclear-armed country in the world, after all, and the smoke and mirrors used to place Iran in that role serves to justify the Pentagon’s ballooning nuclear budget and projects like the $100 billion nuclear bomb currently in development.

In addition, the political circus surrounding Trump’s scrapping of the nuclear deal and its aftermath has helped to conceal an ongoing redeployment of the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal stationed in Europe since the Cold War, as America and its NATO allies upgrade their nuclear warhead technology.

 

Moving pieces around

The Congressional Research Service, an independent policy advisory organization known as “Congress’ Think Tank,” recently issued a report in which it disclosed to lawmakers that a third of the United States’ nuclear warheads scattered throughout the old continent have been redeployed from their warehouses in Europe and Turkey.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published in January, the redeployments were carried out because of a “reduction of operational storage capacity” at several bases. The Bulletin also reported that, per Sputnik, approximately 130 B61 thermonuclear bombs are now being “stored at bases in the U.S. and kept ready for operations in Asia or other locations outside Europe.”

The Los Alamos Study Group takes aim at plans to ramp up the nation’s nuclear arsenal near Bernalillo, N.M., Feb. 17, 2021. Susan Montoya Bryan | AP

Continued violations of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons by Atlanticist powers since its signing in 1968 have only garnered skepticism over the stated motives of the redeployment. Russian government officials believe the movement of the nuclear weapons probably has more to do with their modernization, as opposed to any efforts to actually reduce the number of atomic bombs in the region, a belief buttressed by the UK’s recent increase of its own nuclear stockpile.

The removal and redeployment is likely due to the development of smaller nuclear weapon technology — such as the B61-12, tested last year in the Nevada desert, which can carry in the bay of an F-35 jet a payload three times larger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Russian Armed Forces Lt. Gen. Evgeny Buzhinsky, interviewed by local Russian media, does not believe a reduction in the American nuclear arsenal is actually taking place and, moreover, U.S. officials have not announced any changes to their nuclear arsenal in Europe.

 

Twisted logic

A topic that seemed to be lost in the dustbin of history is being revived by the last remaining members of the generation that grew up in the midst of Cold War hysteria and foisted upon a new generation, which is expected to adopt the same fears and suspicions that fueled the exponential growth of the military industrial complex and established America’s war economy as the world’s preeminent economic paradigm.

Vinton Cerf and Martin Hellman, two individuals who’ve had a role in keeping the specter of nuclear annihilation alive in the 21st century, recently published a dual opinion piece detailing the reasons they believe that the “risk of a nuclear war is unacceptably high” and why “risk reduction measures are urgently needed” from a qualitative and quantitative approach respectively.

Hellman, a cryptographer involved with nuclear deterrence in the waning years of the Cold War with the Reagan administration, and Cerf — one of the developers of a military communication protocol designed to withstand a nuclear attack, the precursor to the internet called ARPAnet — both harbor alarmist viewpoints that were so common during the post-war years.

Banal comparisons between marriage and nuclear war, such as Hellman employs as a thesis for his book “A New Map for Relationships,” are coupled with hyperbolic statements like “a child born today may well have less-than-even odds of living out his or her natural life without experiencing the destruction of civilization in a nuclear war,” to propagate the idea that the threat of a nuclear conflagration is as terrifying as it is a fact of life.

Cerf and Hellman are among several scientists and deterrence policy experts participating in a series of workshops organized by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), which began in February and is scheduled to have its fourth meeting in April. The ad hoc committee project, titled “Risk Analysis Methods for Nuclear War and Nuclear Terrorism,” will issue a report at the project’s conclusion to deliver assessments informing the development of a new nuclear security strategy for the United States.

 

The real enemy

In Hellman’s mathematical calculations, the probability of nuclear war is extrapolated from what “we would expect on the order of ten major crises comparable to Cuba 1962; 100 lesser crises comparable to the 1995-1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis, the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine that started in 2014.” Cerf’s quantitative analysis likewise focuses on the Cuban missile crisis, but opts for the 1999 war in Kosovo and a false incoming ballistic missile alert in Hawaii three years ago as examples.

While taking different routes, both arrive at the same basic conclusion that the only way to avoid a nuclear holocaust is to raise the level of perceived risk so high that it, in turn, spurs a concerted effort to reduce said risks.

Given the languishing Cold War narratives decades after that war’s denouement, the creation of a new nuclear threat in Iran and North Korea becomes vital to the reestablishment of America’s teetering war economy, which has spent the last few decades since Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union looking for ways to quash its real enemy – peace.

Feature photo | Iranian troops participate in a military drill, the latest in a series of exercises amid escalating tensions over Washington’s so-called maximum pressure campaign against Tehran. Photo | Iranian Army via AP

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

The post US Gins Up a “Credible” Iranian Nuclear Menace Befitting Its Own Stockpile appeared first on MintPress News.

Viral Video Shows IDF Arresting Vegetable-Picking Palestinian Kids at Behest of Israeli Settlers

OCCUPIED WEST BANK — On March 10, five Palestinian boys hoped to spend their day foraging for vegetables south of their home in the occupied West Bank. Instead, they spent it detained for hours in Israeli custody.

The children — ages eight to thirteen — were violently arrested by Israeli forces in southern Hebron while picking akoub, a wild, thistle-like vegetable that blooms in spring. Video of the arrest sparked international condemnation and called into question Israel’s routine practice of detaining Palestinian children.

In the video, the visibly frightened children are seen being pulled and shoved into army vehicles by soldiers. Bystanders are heard shouting as the boys cry and struggle to get away from the soldiers.

Nasser Nawajaa, a field researcher for Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, captured the children’s arrest on camera. “One of B’Tselem’s volunteers called me and said, ‘The army is chasing children who are picking akoub,’” Nawajaa said. When he arrived from nearly two miles away, Nawajaa immediately began filming.

“There were [dozens] of soldiers around, and one of the soldiers dragged one of the children to the vehicle and the other soldiers followed and started to arrest them,” Nawajaa said. “We begged the soldiers to wait until the children’s families could come and talk to their families, but that didn’t help.”

The children were taken to a police station in the nearby Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba and detained from 12:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m., Nawajaa said. The two older boys, ages 12 and 13 — were called back into the police station for questioning on March 21 because they are over the age of criminal responsibility, which is 12 according to Israeli law. Nawajaa said they were interrogated for about two to three hours before their release.

 

Arrested at the “request of settlers”

The children were collecting akoub near the illegal settlement outpost of Havat Ma’on — notorious for settler violence. While all Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, they are not illegal under Israeli law. Only settlement outposts are considered illegal by Israeli authorities because they are built without government approval. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Palestinian children had to be escorted by the military when going to school because of frequent settler attacks.

Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem’s international advocacy officer, said on Twitter that the children were arrested at the “request of settlers” for allegedly stealing parrots from the outpost.

Israeli Army officers arresting children at the request of settlers.
This is what occupation and apartheid look like. https://t.co/4eUm8iNtG6 pic.twitter.com/tlBwkH4aG4

— Sarit Michaeli (@saritm0) March 10, 2021

Here’s a video of the Israeli soldiers arresting the children (from @btselem ) pic.twitter.com/I5JKW3eAU7

— Bel Trew (@Beltrew) March 10, 2021

However, Roy Yellin, director of public outreach at B’Tselem, said the army’s accusation that the children were caught stealing parrots came out only after B’Tselem published the video. “According to Gaby Lasky, the children’s lawyer, the allegations of stealing parrots did not come up in the interrogation,” Yellin said.

“It’s also unclear why the army operated at the behest of the settlers and took their rather outlandish version of events at face value,” Yellin continued. “I can swear to God that if a child in Tel Aviv had stolen parrots from a pet shop, nothing like this would have ever happened to him.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement that the children were arrested for “entering a private property.” A military patrol located the children and then “transferred them to the Israeli police for further processing,” the IDF told MintPress News.

Israel Police did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

 

Everyday reality for Palestinian children

Forceful arrest and hours-long detention is a normal part of Palestinian childhood.

Milena Ansari, international advocacy officer at Palestinian prisoner rights organization Addameer, stated:

The Israeli occupation forces use the policy of absolute brutality and aggressiveness while arresting Palestinians in general. And this brutality begins from the moment of arrest and continues to the interrogation phase, the detention phase — during the whole process children are subject to brutality by the Israeli occupation forces.”

Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP) estimates that Israeli forces detain and prosecute 500 to 700 children between the ages of 12 and 17 every year. According to Addameer, 140 children are currently imprisoned by Israel and two are under administrative detention, where Israeli authorities detain an individual without charge. The reason for the detention is unknown to the detainee and lawyer, and considered a matter of security.

In some cases of child detention, DCIP said, “Israeli forces’ treatment may amount to torture.”

Israeli police place a Palestinian boy in a chokehold in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 17, 2017. Mahmoud Illean | AP

“Nearly three-quarters of children have reported to DCIP that they were subjected to physical violence at the hands of Israeli forces, and close to 60% are verbally abused, humiliated and intimidated, most often during their arrest and subsequent transfer to an interrogation center,” Shaina Low, advocacy officer at DCIP said in an email. She continued:

Nearly all children (95%) have their hands bound and around 86% are blindfolded. The vast majority of children (85%) are not informed of the reason for arrest, and two-thirds of children are not properly informed of their rights. Nearly all children are interrogated without a parent present, and children have no right to an attorney during interrogation. One third of children report being threatened and coerced into confessing.”

Yet while detention can be physically tormenting for children, the psychological aspect of it is what stays with children in the long-term.

“It’s a social thing for Palestinians,” Addameer’s Ansari said. “When children get detained and imprisoned, they become men and it deprives them from living their innocence and imposes on them to become tough and try to overcome the obstacles that they are under.”

 

International outcry

B’Tselem’s video of the arrest was widely circulated online and even caught the attention of Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-MN). In an interview with Middle East Eye, McCollum said:

Seeing the images of heavily armed Israeli soldiers manhandling and detaining these five pre-teen Palestinian children is extremely disturbing. Using Israeli soldiers to capture little boys who were reportedly ‘gathering wild vegetables’ in occupied Palestinian land is wrong.”

Dylan Williams — senior vice president of J Street, an American organization advocating for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — also called the arrest “disturbing.”

This is very disturbing.

It must be investigated, including whether any of that military equipment is American-made and being used in violation of US law. https://t.co/j60p7NNoXC

— Dylan Williams (@dylanotes) March 10, 2021

“It must be investigated, including whether any of that military equipment is American-made and being used in violation of U.S. law,” Williams wrote on Twitter.

Just two days after the controversial arrest, progressive members of Congress sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken two letters pushing for Palestinian rights. The House letter, whose dozen signatories included Rep. McCollum, covered Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, the issue of annexation, and Israel’s obligation under international law to vaccinate all Palestinians. The letter specified:

“We request that the State Department undertake an investigation into Israel’s possible use of U.S. equipment in these home demolitions and determine whether these materials have been used in violation of the Arms Export Control Act or any U.S.-Israeli end-use agreements…

“Israel’s ongoing colonization of the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, alongside its demolition of Palestinian homes, is a form of ongoing, de facto annexation, which needs to be unequivocally opposed by the United States…

“The message from this Administration must be clear: settler colonialism in any form — including Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — is illegal under international law and will not be tolerated.”

The Senate letter urged President Joe Biden’s administration to pressure Israel to vaccinate all Palestinians. The letter was signed by five senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Traditionally, American politicians have turned a blind eye to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians. But the status quo appears to be shifting as the progressive wing of Congress grows louder with their calls for Palestinian liberation and condemnation of Israel’s violence.

Feature photo  | B’Tselem

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

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