Mint Press News

Divide We Fall: America Has Been Blacklisted and McCarthyism Refashioned for a New Age

CHARLOTTESVILLE (Rutherford–– For those old enough to have lived through the McCarthy era, there is a whiff of something in the air that reeks of the heightened paranoia, finger-pointing, fear-mongering, totalitarian tactics that were hallmarks of the 1950s.

Back then, it was the government—spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee—working in tandem with private corporations and individuals to blacklist Americans suspected of being communist sympathizers.

By the time the witch hunts carried out by federal and state investigative agencies drew to a close, thousands of individuals (the vast majority of them innocent any crime whatsoever) had been accused of communist ties, investigated, subpoenaed and blacklisted. Regarded as bad risks, the accused were blacklisted, and struggled to secure employment. The witch hunt ruined careers, resulting in suicides, and tightened immigration to exclude alleged subversives.

Seventy years later, the vitriol, fear-mongering and knee-jerk intolerance associated with McCarthy’s tactics are once again being deployed in a free-for-all attack by those on both the political Left and Right against anyone who, in daring to think for themselves, subscribes to ideas or beliefs that run counter to the government’s or mainstream thought

It doesn’t even seem to matter what the issue is anymore (racism, Confederate monuments, Donald Trump, COVID-19, etc.): modern-day activists are busily tearing down monuments, demonizing historic figures, boycotting corporations for perceived political transgressions, and using their bully pulpit to terrorize the rest of the country into kowtowing to their demands

All the while, the American police state continues to march inexorably forward.

This is how fascism, which silences all dissenting views, prevails.

The silence is becoming deafening.

After years of fighting in and out of the courts to keep their 87-year-old name, the NFL’s Washington Redskins have bowed to public pressure and will change their name and team logo to avoid causing offense. The new name, not yet announced, aims to honor both the military and Native Americans.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, a delegate to the House of Representatives who supports the name change, believes the team’s move “reflects the present climate of intolerance to names, statues, figments of our past that are racist in nature or otherwise imply racism [and] are no longer tolerated.”

Present climate of intolerance, indeed.

Yet it wasn’t a heightened racial conscience that caused the Redskins to change their brand. It was the money. The team caved after its corporate sponsors including FedEx, PepsiCo, Nike and Bank of America threatened to pull their funding

So much for that U.S. Supreme Court victory preventing the government from censoring trademarked names it considers distasteful or scandalous.

Who needs a government censor when the American people are already doing such a great job at censoring themselves and each other, right?

Now there’s a push underway to boycott Goya Foods after its CEO, Robert Unanue, praised President Trump during a press conference to announce Goya’s donation of a million cans of Goya chickpeas and a million other food products to American food banks as part of the president’s Hispanic Prosperity Initiative.

Mind you, Unanue—whose grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Spain—also praised the Obamas when they were in office, but that kind of equanimity doesn’t carry much weight in this climate of intolerance.

Not to be outdone, the censors are also taking aim at To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about Atticus Finch, a white lawyer in the Jim Crow South who defends a black man falsely accused of rape. Sixty years after its debut, the book remains a powerful testament to moral courage in the face of racial bigotry and systemic injustice, told from the point of view of a child growing up in the South, but that’s not enough for the censors. They want to axe the book—along with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn—from school reading curriculums because of the presence of racial slurs that could make students feel “humiliated or marginalized.”

Never mind that the N-word makes a regular appearance in hip-hop songs. The prevailing attitude seems to be that it’s okay to use the N-word as long as the person saying the word is not white. Rapper Kendrick Lamar “would like white America to let black people exclusively have the word.”

Talk about a double standard.

This is also the overlooked part of how oppression becomes systemic: it comes about as a result of a combined effort between the populace, the corporations and the government.

McCarthyism worked the same way.

What started with Joseph McCarthy’s headline-grabbing scare tactics in the 1950s about Communist infiltrators of American society snowballed into a devastating witch hunt once corporations and the American people caught the fever.

McCarthyism was a contagion, like the plague, spreading like wildfire among people too fearful or weak or gullible or paranoid or greedy or ambitious to denounce it for what it was: an opportunistic scare tactic engineered to make the government more powerful.

The parallels to the present movement cannot be understated.

The contagion of fear that McCarthy helped spread with the help of government agencies, corporations and the power elite is still poisoning the well, whitewashing our history, turning citizen against citizen, and stripping us of our rights.

What we desperately need is the kind of resolve embodied by Edward R. Murrow, the most-respected newsman of his day.

On March 9, 1954, Murrow dared to speak truth to power about the damage McCarthy was inflicting on the American people. His message remains a timely warning for our age.

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular.

America is approaching another reckoning right now, one that will pit our commitment to freedom principles against a level of fear-mongering that is being used to wreak havoc on everything in its path.

The outcome rests, as always, with “we the people.” As Murrow said to his staff before the historic March 9 broadcast: “No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.”

Take heed, America.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this may be your last warning.

Feature photo | Nehemiah Nuk Nuk Johnson, left, with JUICE (Justice Unites Individuals and Communities Everywhere), confronts a counter protester who did not give his name in Martinez, Calif., July 12, 2020, during a protest calling for an end to racial injustice and accountability for police. Jeff Chiu | AP

John W. Whitehead is a constitutional attorney, author and founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  (SelectBooks, 2015) is available online at www.amazon.com. Whitehead can be contacted at johnw@rutherford.org.

The post Divide We Fall: America Has Been Blacklisted and McCarthyism Refashioned for a New Age appeared first on MintPress News.

Trump Tells Florida Crowd “Something Will Happen in Venezuela” Soon

On a trip to COVID-19 riddled Florida this weekend, President Donald Trump not-so-cryptically revealed that he had something big planned for Venezuela during a meeting with leaders of the U.S. military’s Southern Command. “Something will happen with Venezuela. That’s all I can tell you,” he said, before adding that Washington would be “very much involved” in what he was referencing.

On Trump’s orders, Southern Command moved large numbers of forces to the region, ostensibly to conduct a counter-narcotics operation against Venezuela, which the U.S. has described as a “narco state,” with the DEA offering a $15 million bounty for President Maduro’s head. This, despite the fact the U.S. government’s own reports on drug smuggling barely even mention Venezuela and official summaries show that U.S.-allies Colombia and Ecuador are the sources of the vast majority of South American drugs that end up in the U.S. In May, Juan Guaidó, the Washington-backed self-declared president of Venezuela, green-lighted a coup attempt led by American ex-Green Berets that ended in total failure.

Despite privately writing him off as a spent force, the “Beto O’Rourke of Venezuela,” President Trump continued to publicly back Guaidó, telling a group of hardline Venezuelan and Cuban expats in Miami-Dade County this weekend that he still “stands with the righteous leader of Venezuela.” A recent poll found that only three percent of Venezuelans recognize Guaidó as legitimate, and over 80 percent of the country say the entire opposition movement has “no credibility” whatsoever.

This weekend, Trump’s Special Advisor on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams announced brand new sanctions not just on Venezuela, which is under a virtual total blockade, but on any company found to be helping the importation of goods to the country in any way. Abrams has managed to force London-based Lloyd’s Registrar to withdraw insurance and registration to ships the U.S. deems to be helping break the blockade, meaning they are unable to dock anywhere in the world. “It’s just not worth the hassle or the risk for [companies],” he gleefully told Reuters. “There are people who don’t cooperate…We’ll go after the ship, the ship owner, the ship captain.” U.S. citizens breaking the embargo already face 30 years in prison. Thus, Abrams appears to have dusted off his Nicaragua strategy from the 1980s, where the country was sanctioned and attacked so badly that they eventually gave in and accepted the U.S.-backed candidate Violetta Chamorro as president in 1990.

US terrorist Elliot Abrams opens up about plans to cause a famine and deprive the poor of medicine in Venezuela https://t.co/gCAa3Ypy2d

— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) July 13, 2020

Washington’s power and influence have helped bring the Venezuelan economy to a standstill, with oil exports at their lowest in modern history. The sanctions regime was formally condemned by the United Nations; an American U.N. rapporteur visiting the country and estimating that over 100,000 people have been killed as a result, declaring the U.S. guilty of “crimes against humanity.” Sanctions are a bi-partisan endeavor, beginning under President Obama in 2015, who declared a “national emergency” due to the “unusual and extraordinary threat” Venezuela was posing to the United States.

Trump’s latest move to tighten the noose even further around the necks of Venezuelans appears to be at least partially motivated by his desire to shore up the vote of the large Latin American expat vote in Southern Florida, a state where polls show he is falling further behind Joe Biden. In the 2013 election, at least 92.5 percent of Venezuelans in Florida voted against Maduro and for the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski.

Biden has also taken a hard line on Venezuela and is attempting to out-hawk Trump on the issue. “It’s time for free and fair elections so that the Venezuelan people can turn the page on the corrupt and repressive Maduro regime,” he said, adding that, “Trump talks tough on Venezuela, but admires thugs and dictators like Nicolas Maduro. As President, I will stand with the Venezuelan people and for democracy.” Last month the largest Democratic Super PAC began running ads aimed at Latino Florida Latinos comparing Trump to Maduro, his predecessor Hugo Chavez, and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. A recent poll found that only 19 percent of Venezuelans had confidence that the situation would improve in the short term. The U.S.’ latest moves suggest they would be correct in their pessimism.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump speaks about the counternarcotics operations at U.S. Southern Command, July 10, 2020, in Doral, Fla. Evan Vucci | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Trump Tells Florida Crowd “Something Will Happen in Venezuela” Soon appeared first on MintPress News.

10 Reasons Why Defunding Police Should Lead to Defunding War

Since George Floyd was murdered, we have seen an increasing convergence of the “war at home” against Black and brown people with the “wars abroad” that the U.S. has waged against people in other countries. Army and National Guard troops have been deployed in U.S. cities, as militarized police treat our cities as occupied war zones. In response to this “endless war” at home, the growing and thunderous cries for defunding the police have been echoed by calls for defunding the Pentagon’s wars. Instead of seeing these as two separate but related demands, we should see them as intimately linked, since the racialized police violence on our streets and the racialized violence the U.S. has long inflicted on people around the world are mirror reflections of each other.

We can learn more about the war at home by studying the wars abroad, and learn more about the wars abroad by studying the war at home. Here are some of those connections:

  1. The U.S. kills people of color at home and abroad. The United States was founded on the ideology of white supremacy, from the genocide against Native Americans to upholding the system of slavery. U.S. police kill about 1,000 people per year, disproportionately in the Black community and other communities of color. U.S. foreign policy is similarly based on the white superiority-derived concept of “American exceptionalism,” in tandem with European partners. The endless series of wars the U.S. military has fought abroad would not be possible without a view of the world that dehumanizes foreign peoples. “If you want to bomb or invade a foreign country filled with black- or brown-skinned people, as the United States military so often does, you have to first demonize those people, dehumanize them, suggest they’re backward people in need of saving or savage people in need of killing,” said journalist Mehdi Hasan. The U.S. military has been responsible for the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of Black and brown people around the world, and the denial of their rights to national self-determination. The double standard that sanctifies the lives of U.S. troops and citizens, but disregards the people whose countries the Pentagon and its allies destroy is as hypocritical as the one that values white lives over Black and brown lives at home.

  2. Just as the U.S. was created by taking over the lands of Indigenous peoples by force, so America as an empire uses war to expand access to markets and resources. Settler colonialism has been an “endless war” at home against Indigenous nations, who were colonized when their lands were still defined as foreign territories, to be annexed for their fertile land and natural resources. The Army forts stationed in Native nations back then were the equivalent of foreign military bases today, and the Native resisters were the original “insurgents” who were in the way of American conquest. The “Manifest Destiny” colonization of Native lands morphed into overseas imperial expansion, including the seizure of Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, and other colonies, and the counterinsurgency wars in the Philippines and Vietnam. In the 21st century, U.S.-led wars have destabilized the Middle East and Central Asia, while increasing control over the region’s fossil fuel resources. The Pentagon has used the template of the Indian Wars to frighten the American public with the specter of “lawless tribal regions” that need to be “tamed,” within countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Meanwhile, Wounded Knee in 1973 and Standing Rock in 2016 show how settler colonialism can become remilitarized back in the U.S. “homeland.” Stopping oil pipelines and toppling Columbus statues shows how Indigenous resistance can also be renewed in the heart of the empire.

  3. The police and military are both internally plagued by racism. With the Black Lives Matter protests, many people have now learned about the origins of U.S. police in all-white slave patrols. It is no accident that hiring and promotion within police departments have historically favored whites, and officers of color around the country continue to sue their departments for discriminatory practices. The same is true in the military, where segregation was official policy until 1948. Today, people of color are pursued to fill the bottom ranks, but not the top positions. Military recruiters set up recruiting stations in communities of color, where government disinvestment in social services and education makes the military one of the few ways to not only get a job, but access to health care and a free college education. That’s why about 43 percent of the 1.3 million men and women on active duty are people of color, and Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces at five times the national average. But the upper echelons of the military remain almost exclusively a white-boys’ club (of the 41 senior commanders, only two are Black and only one is a woman). Under Trump, racism in the military is on the rise. A 2019 survey found that 53 percent of servicemembers of color said they had seen examples of white nationalism or ideologically driven racism among their fellow troops, a number up significantly from the same poll in 2018. Far-right militias have attempted to both infiltrate the military and collude with police.

  4. The Pentagon’s troops and “surplus” weapons are being used on our streets. Just as the Pentagon often uses the language of “police actions” to describe its foreign interventions, police are being militarized within the U.S. When the Pentagon ended up in the 1990s with weapons of war it no longer needed, it created the “1033 Program” to distribute armored personnel carriers, submachine guns, and even grenade launchers to police departments. More than $7.4 billion in military equipment and goods have been transferred to more than 8,000 law enforcement agencies—turning the police into occupation forces and our cities into war zones. We saw this vividly in 2014 in the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown, when police flush with military gear made the streets of Ferguson, Missouri look like Iraq. More recently, we saw these militarized police forces deployed against the George Floyd Rebellion, with military helicopters overhead, and the Minnesota Governor comparing the deployment to an “overseas war.” Trump has deployed federal troops and wanted to send in more, much as active-duty troops were previously used against several workers’ strikes in the 1890s-1920s, the Bonus Army veterans’ protests of 1932, and Black uprisings in Detroit in 1943 and 1967, in multiple cities in 1968 (after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.), and in Los Angeles in 1992 (after the acquittal of the police who had beaten Rodney King). Sending in soldiers trained for combat only makes a bad situation worse, and this can open the eyes of Americans to the shocking violence with which the U.S. military tries, but often fails, to quell dissent in occupied countries. Congress may now object to the transfer of military equipment to police, and Pentagon officials may object to using troops against U.S. citizens at home, but they rarely object when the targets are foreigners or even U.S. citizens who live abroad.

  5. U.S. interventions abroad, especially the “War on Terror,” erode our civil liberties at home. Techniques of surveillance that are tested on foreigners have long been imported to suppress dissent at home, ever since occupations in Latin America and the Philippines. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, while the U.S. military was purchasing super drones to kill U.S. enemies (and often innocent civilians) and collect intelligence on entire cities, U.S. police departments began buying smaller, but powerful, spy drones. Black Lives Matter protesters have recently seen these “eyes in the sky” spying on them. This is just one example of the surveillance society that the U.S. has become since 9/11. The so-called “War on Terror” has been a justification for the tremendous expansion of government powers at home—broad “data mining,” increased the secrecy of federal agencies, No-Fly lists to prohibit people tens of thousands of people from traveling, and vast government spying on social, religious and political groups, from the Quakers to Greenpeace to the ACLU, including military spying on antiwar groups. The use of unaccountable mercenaries abroad also makes their use more likely at home, as when Blackwater private security contractors were flown from Baghdad to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to be used against the devastated Black community. And in turn, if police and armed far-right militias and mercenaries can commit violence with impunity in the homeland, it normalizes and enables even great violence elsewhere.

  6. The xenophobia and Islamophobia at the heart of the “War on Terror” has fed hatred of immigrants and Muslims at home. Just as wars abroad are justified by racism and religious bias, they also feed white and Christian supremacy at home, as could be seen in Japanese-American incarceration in the 1940s, and anti-Muslim sentiment that rose in the 1980s. The 9/11 attacks precipitated hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs, as well as a federally imposed travel ban that denies entrance to the U.S. for people from entire countries, separating families, depriving students of access to universities, and detaining immigrants in private prisons. Senator Bernie Sanders, writing in Foreign Affairs, said, “When our elected leaders, pundits, and cable news personalities promote relentless fear-mongering about Muslim terrorists, they inevitably create a climate of fear and suspicion around Muslim American citizens—a climate in which demagogues like Trump can thrive.” He also decried the xenophobia resulting from turning our immigration debate into a debate about Americans’ personal security, pitting millions of U.S. citizens against undocumented and even documented immigrants. The militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, using hyperbolic claims of infiltrating criminals and terrorists, has normalized the use of drones and checkpoints that bring the techniques of authoritarian control into the “homeland.” (Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel were also deployed to the borders of occupied Iraq.)

  7. Both the military and the police suck up enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars that should be used for building a just, sustainable, and equitable society. Americans are already participating in supporting state violence, whether we realize it or not, by paying taxes to the police and military that carry it out in our names. Police budgets account for an astronomical percentage of cities’ discretionary funds compared to other crucial community programs, ranging from 20 to 45 percent of discretionary funding in major metropolitan areas. Per capita police spending in the city of Baltimore for 2020 is an astounding $904 (imagine what every resident could do with $904). Nationwide, the U.S. spends more than twice as much on “law and order” as it does on cash welfare programs. This trend has been widening since the 1980s, as we have taken funds out of poverty programs to put into fighting crime, the inevitable consequence of that neglect. The same pattern is true with the Pentagon budget. The 2020 military budget of $738 billion is larger than the next ten countries combined. The Washington Post reported that if the U.S. spent the same proportion of its GDP on its military as most European countries do, it “could fund a universal child-care policy, extend health insurance to the approximately 30 million Americans who lack it, or provide substantial investments in repairing the nation’s infrastructure.” Closing the 800+ overseas military bases alone would save $100 billion dollars a year. Prioritizing the police and military means deprioritizing resources for community needs. Even President Eisenhower described military spending in 1953 as “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed.”

  8. Repressive techniques used abroad inevitably come home. Soldiers are trained to see most of the civilians they encounter abroad as a potential threat. When they return from Iraq or Afghanistan, they discover that one of the few employers that give priority to vets are police departments and security companies. They also offer relatively high salaries, good benefits, and union protections, which is why one in five police officers is a veteran. So, even soldiers who  come home with PTSD or drug and alcohol abuse, instead of being adequately cared for, are given weapons and put out on the streets. No wonder studies show that police with military experience, especially those who have deployed overseas, are significantly more likely to be involved in shooting incidents than those with no military service. The same relationship of repression at home and abroad is true of torture techniques, which were taught to militaries and police throughout Latin America during the Cold War. They were also used on Afghans at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base prison, and on Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison, where one of the torturers had practiced similar techniques as a prison guard in Pennsylvania. The purpose of waterboarding, a torture technique stretching back to counterinsurgency wars in Native America and the Philippines, is to prevent a person from breathing, much like the police chokehold that killed Eric Garner or the knee to the neck that killed George Floyd. #ICantBreathe is not only a statement for change at home, but also a statement with global implications.

  9. The War on Drugs has put more money into the police and military but has been devastating to people of color, at home and abroad. The so-called “War on Drugs” has devastated communities of color, particularly the Black community, leading to catastrophic levels of gun violence and mass incarceration. People of color are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, and harshly sentenced for drug-related offenses. Nearly 80 percent of people in federal prison and almost 60 percent of people in state prison for drug offenses are Black or Latinx. The War on Drugs has also devastated communities overseas. Throughout South America, the Caribbean, and Afghanistan in both drug production and trafficking areas, U.S.-supported wars have only empowered organized crime and drug cartels, leading to an upsurge of violence, corruption, impunity, erosion of rule of law, and massive human rights violations. Central America is now home to some of the world’s most dangerous cities, leading to the mass migration to the U.S. that Donald Trump has weaponized for political purposes. Just as police responses at home do not solve social problems that stem from poverty and despair (and often create more harm than good), military deployments abroad do not resolve historical conflicts that usually have their roots in social and economic inequalities, and instead create a cycle of violence that worsens the crisis.

  10. Lobbying machines solidify support for police and war industry funding. Law enforcement lobbies have long built support for police and prisons among state and federal politicians, using a fear of crime, and a desire for the profits and jobs that are funneled to its backers. Among the strongest backers are police and prison guard unions, which instead of using the labor movement to defend the powerless against the powerful, defend their members against community complaints of brutality. The military-industrial complex similarly uses its lobbying muscle to keep politicians compliant with its wishes. Every year billions of dollars are funneled from U.S. taxpayers to hundreds of arms corporations, who then wage lobbying campaigns pushing for even more foreign military aid and weapons sales. They spend $125 million a year on lobbying, and another $25 million a year on donating to political campaigns. Manufacturing weapons has provided millions of workers with some of the nation’s highest industrial wages, and many of their unions (such as the Machinists) are part of the Pentagon lobby. These lobbies for the military contractors have become more powerful and influential not only over the budget but also over the creation of U.S. foreign policy. The power of the military-industrial complex has become far more dangerous than even President Eisenhower himself feared when he warned the nation, in 1961, against its undue influence.

Both “defunding the police” and “defunding war,” while opposed by most elected Republicans and mainstream Democrats, are gaining public support. Mainstream politicians have long been afraid of being painted as “soft on crime” or as “soft on defense.” This self-perpetuating ideology reproduces the idea that the U.S. needs more police on the streets and more troops policing the world, or else chaos will reign. The mainstream media has kept politicians afraid to offer any kind of alternate, less militaristic vision. But the recent uprisings have turned “Defund the Police” from a fringe chant to a national conversation, and some cities are already reallocating millions of dollars from the police to community programs.

Likewise, until recently, calling for cuts to U.S. military expenditure was a great taboo in Washington D.C. Year after year, all but a few Democrats lined up with Republicans to vote for massive increases in military spending. But that is now beginning to change. Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced an historic, aspirational resolution proposing massive $350 billion in cuts, which is over 40 percent of the Pentagon budget. And Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with other progressives, introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to cut the Pentagon budget by 10 percent.

Just as we want to radically redefine the role of police in our local communities, so we must radically redefine the role of military personnel in the global community. As we chant “Black Lives Matter,” we should also remember the lives of people dying every day from U.S. bombs in Yemen and Afghanistan, U.S. sanctions in Venezuela and Iran, and U.S. weapons in Palestine and the Philippines. The killing of Black Americans rightly elicits masses of protesters, which can help open a window of awareness about the hundreds of thousands of non-American lives taken in U.S. military campaigns. As the platform of the Movement for Black Lives platform says: “Our movement must be tied to liberation movements around the world.”

Those who are now questioning an increasingly militarized approach to law enforcement should also question a militarized approach to foreign relations. Much as unaccountable police in riot gear are a danger to our communities, so, too, an unaccountable military, armed to the teeth and functioning largely in secret, is a danger to the world. During his iconic anti-imperialist speech, “Beyond Vietnam,” Dr. King famously said: “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

The protests to “Defund the Police” have compelled Americans to see beyond police reform to a radical reconceiving of public safety. So, too, we need a radical reconceiving of our national security in the slogan “Defund War.” If we find indiscriminate state violence in our streets appalling, we should feel similarly about state violence abroad, and call for divesting from both police and the Pentagon, and reinvesting those taxpayer dollars to rebuild communities at home and abroad.

Feature photo | Minneapolis riot police deploy to disperse protesters gathered for George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 26, 2020. Richard Tsong-Taatarii | Star Tribune via AP

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control

Zoltán Grossman is a Professor of Geography and Native Studies at The Evergreen If we find indiscriminate state violence in our streets appalling, we should feel similarly about state violence abroad, and call for divesting from both police and the Pentagon, and reinvesting those taxpayer dollars to rebuild communities at home and abroad. State College in Olympia, Washington. He is author of Unlikely Alliances: Native Nations and White Communities Join to Defend Rural Lands, and co-editor of Asserting Native Resilience: Pacific Rim Indigenous Nations Face the Climate Crisis

The post 10 Reasons Why Defunding Police Should Lead to Defunding War appeared first on MintPress News.

Five Years On, the Nefarious Goals of the Iran Nuclear Deal Reveal Themselves

Iran, due to its geopolitical position, has always been considered a jewel in the crown of the colonial powers. Attempts to conquer it through proxy started with Operation Ajax in August of 1953 at the behest of the British and were ultimately carried out by the CIA and not abandoned even with the ousting of America’s man, the Shah.  Although the Islamic Revolution reclaimed Iran’s sovereignty in 1979, America was not ready to abandon its plans of domination over Iran, and by extension, the Persian Gulf.

The Persian Gulf has been the lynchpin of U.S. foreign policy. “To all intents and purposes,” a former senior Defense Department official observed, “‘Gulf waters’ now extend from the Straits of Malacca to the South Atlantic.” Nevertheless, bases nearer the [Persian] Gulf had a special importance, and Pentagon planners urged “as substantial a land presence in them as can be managed.” (Anthony H. Cordesman, “The Gulf and the Search for Strategic Stability”, Boulder: Westview, 1984).

Having failed in numerous attempts, including the Nojeh coup during the nascent stages of Iran’s newly formed revolutionary government, war, sanctions, terrorism, and a failed color revolution, the United States needed other alternatives to reach its goal. Unlike the illegal war against Iraq, war with Iran was not a feasible option. The United States was aware of its inability to wage a successful war against Iran without serious damage to itself and its allies.

When George W. Bush took office, he commissioned a war exercise to gauge the feasibility of an attack against Iran. The  2002 Millennium Challenge was a major war game exercise conducted by the United States Armed Forces in mid-2002. The exercise, which ran from July 24 to August 15 and cost $250 million, proved that the U.S. could not defeat Iran. The U.S. even restarted the war games, changing rules to ensure an American victory, in reality, cheating itself. This led to accusations that the war game had turned from an honest, open, playtest of U.S. war-fighting capabilities into a controlled and scripted exercise intended to end in a U.S. victory to promote a false narrative of U.S. invincibility.

For this reason, the United States continued its attempts at undermining Iran’s sovereignty by means of sanctions, terror, and creating divisions among Iranians. The JCPOA would be its master plan.

A simple observation of Iran clearly suggests simple ideological divisions among the Iranian people (pro-West, anti-West, minorities, religious, secular) which have all been amply exploited by the United States and its allies. None of the exploits delivered the prize the U.S. was seeking and so it was that it was decided to exploit the one factor which united Iranians of all persuasions. Iran’s civilian nuclear program.

In a November 25, 2004 interview with National Public Radio, Ray Takyeh (of the Council on Foreign Relations and husband to Iran expert Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institute) stated that, according to polls, 75-80 percent of Iranians rallied behind the Islamic Republic of Iran in support of its nuclear program, including the full fuel cycle. In other words, the overwhelming uniting factor among Iranians was the nuclear program. A U.S.IA poll conducted in 2007 found that 64 percent of those questioned said that U.S. legislation repealing regime change in Iran would not be incentive enough to give up the nuclear program and full fuel-cycle. The next phase in America’s plan was to cause disunity on an issue that united Iranians of all stripes by negotiating away the nuclear program.

The first round of nuclear negotiations in 2003-2005, dubbed the Paris Agreement, between Iran and the EU, proved to be futile and as one European diplomat put it: “We gave them a beautiful box of chocolate that was, however, empty.” As the West’s fortune would have it, the same Iranian officials who participated in the 2003-2005 negotiations, would later negotiate the JCPOA.

Around the time of the end of the first round of negotiations, another Brookings Fellow, Flynt Leverett, senior advisor to the National Security Center, published a book “Inheriting Syria, Bashar’s Trial by Fire.” In it, Leverett argued that instead of conflict, George W. Bush should seek to cooperate with Syria as Assad was popular, but instead seek to weaken Assad’s position among his people by targeting the Golan Heights by inducing him to give them up so that he would lose popularity among Syrians. The JCPOA was designed, in part, along the same line of thinking. What more, Leverett’s wife Hillary had a prominent role in ‘selling’ the Iran Deal.

Secret negotiations between the Americans and ‘reform-minded’ Iranians never ceased, bypassing both Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, and the President at the time – Mahmood Ahmadinejad. In a 2012 meeting at the University of Southern California, present members of the Iran Project team had no reservations about suggesting that it was more beneficial to engage Iran than to attack it. They went as far as stating in the Q&A session to this writer that “they had been engaged with the “Green” (the opposition movement in the failed 2009 color revolution) for years, but Ahmadinejad won,” referring to Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. But Ahmadinejad would soon leave office and be replaced by Rouhani – a more amenable player.

 

Why negotiate with America’s archnemesis?

Fully appreciating the challenge of attacking Iran, in 2004, the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), presented its policy paper “The Challenges of U.S. Preventive Military Action” authored by Michael Eisenstadt. It was opined that the ideal situation was, and continues to be, to have a compliant ‘regime’ in Tehran.   Eisenstadt was of the opinion that unlike the Osiraq nuclear power plant which was bombed and destroyed, Israel and the U.S. would not be able to bomb Iran’s Bushehr reactor with the same ease. In particular, Eisenstadt claimed that Israel may have benefited from French aid in destroying Osiraq. French intelligence reportedly placed a homing beacon at Osiraq to help Israeli pilots locate the facility or target a critical underground structure there.

In this light, it was recommended that the principal goal of U.S. action should be to delay Iran’s nuclear program long enough to allow for the possible emergence of new leadership in Tehran.  Failing that, war would have been facilitated.

It was thought the Paris Agreement talks would fail, (much as the JCPOA was designed to fail) and as such, the following were among the suggestions made:

• harassment or murder of key Iranian scientists or technicians;

• introduction of fatal design flaws into critical reactor, centrifuge, or weapons components during their production, to ensure catastrophic failure during use;

• disruption or interdiction of key technology or material transfers through sabotage or covert military actions on land, in the air, or at sea;

• sabotage of critical facilities by U.S. intelligence assets, including third country nationals or Iranian agents with access to key facilities;

• introduction of destructive viruses into Iranian computer systems controlling the production of components or the operation of facilities;

• damage or destruction of critical facilities through sabotage or direct action by U.S. special forces.

As with the murder and terror of Iranian nuclear scientists as well as the infection of nuclear reactors with the Stuxnet virus, the JCPOA enabled personnel on the ground in Iran to carry out extensive sabotage as has been observed in recent days and weeks.  Rouhani’s visa-free travel opened the flood gates to spies and saboteurs – dual citizens who easily traveled with passports other than American, British, and Australian. Iran even managed to cancel the accreditation of an IAEA inspector who triggered an alarm at one of its nuclear facilities. But it would seem, Iran has not been able to stop other intruders and terrorists – not yet.

 

Why else negotiate with Iran?

According to studies, as of 2008, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor had 82 tons of enriched uranium (U235) loaded into it, according to Israeli and Chinese reports. This amount was significantly higher both before and during negotiations. History has not witnessed the bombing of a nuclear power plant with an operational nuclear enrichment facility.  Deliberate bombing of such facilities would breach containment and allow radioactive elements to be released. The death toll would be horrifying. The Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated 3 million deaths would result within three weeks of the bombing of nuclear enrichment facilities near Esfahan, and the contamination would cover Afghanistan, Pakistan, all the way to India.

The JCPOA significantly reduced the amount of enriched uranium, reducing potential casualties in the event that a strike is carried out.

The Deal buys time. Iran’s strength has long been its ability to retaliate to any attack by closing down the Strait of Hormuz. Given that 17 million barrels of oil a day, or 35 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports, go through the Strait of Hormuz, incidents in the Strait would be fatal for the world economy. Enter Nigeria (West Africa) and Yemen.

In 1998, Clinton’s national security agenda made it clear that unhampered access to Nigerian oil and other vital resources was a key U.S. policy. In the early 2000s, Chatham House determined that African oil would be a good alternate to Persian Gulf oil in case of oil disruption. This followed the release of a strategy paper prodding the U.S. to move toward African oil. The push for Africa’s oil was on Dick Cheney’s desk on May 31, 2000. In 2002, the Israeli based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies suggested an American push towards African oil. In the same year, Boko Haram was ‘founded.’

In 2007, AFRICOM helped consolidate this push into the region. In 2011, a publication titled: “Globalizing West African Oil: U.S. ‘energy security’ and the global economy” outlined ‘U.S. positioning itself to use military force to ensure African oil continued to flow to the United States.’ This was but one strategy to supply oil in addition to, or as an alternate, to the passage of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

 

The JCPOA as a starting point

It is now abundantly clear that the Iran Deal was simply JCPOA 1.0.  Other deals were to follow and disarm Iran even further, to stop Iran’s defensive missile program, and to stop Iran from helping its allies in the region.  This would have been relatively easy to achieve had Hillary Clinton been elected – as had been the hope.

The plan was to allow trade and neoliberal policies which the Rouhani administration readily embraced, a sharp increase in imports (harming domestic production and self-reliance) while building hope – or as Maloney called it ‘crisis of expectation’.

It was thought that with a semblance of ‘normalcy’ in international relations and free of sanctions, Iranians would want to continue abandoning their sovereignty, their defenses, and rally around pro-western politicians at the expense of the core ideology of the Islamic Revolution, the conservatives and the IRGC. In other words, regime change.  Several meetings took place that spoke to this policy.

 

The players

The most prominent, one could argue, was President Obama. Obama was not about peace.  The biggest threat to an empire is peace. Obama had chosen feigned diplomacy as his weapon, but before picking up the mantle of diplomacy, he had proposed terrorism – sanctioned terrorism.

Obama, while a junior senator, introduced S. 1430 in 2007  and had “crippling sanctions” in mind for the Iranian people.  As president, his executive orders assured this.

Addressing AIPAC as a candidate, he said,

Our willingness to pursue diplomacy will make it easier to mobilize others to join our cause. If Iran fails to change course when presented with this choice by the United States it will be clear to the people of Iran and to the world that the Iranian regime is the author of its own isolation and that will strengthen our hand with Russia and China as we insist on stronger sanctions in the Security Council. And we should work with Europe, Japan, and the Gulf States to find every avenue outside the United Nations to isolate the Iranian regime from cutting off loan guarantees and expanding financial sanctions to banning the export of refined petroleum to Iran to boycotting firms associated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard whose Kuds forces have rightly been labeled a terrorist organization.”

It is no wonder then that he would later be dubbed America’s “first Jewish president.”

Not to be left unmentioned was the darling of the theatrics of this deal – Federica Mogherini. So enamored were some of the Iranian parliamentarians with her that to the embarrassment of Iran, the internet was abuzz with these MPs taking pictures with her.   Perhaps they looked at her and not her years as a German Marshall Fund Fellow.

The German Marshall Fund (GMF) sounds harmless enough, but perhaps Russia may not view it that way. And Iran shouldn’t either. The GMF pushed for bringing Ukraine into NATO’s fold. Furthermore, it gives funding to American Abroad Media (AMA). AMA boasts of some of the most dangerous anti-Iran neoconservatives who have shaped America’s policies, including Dennis Ross, James Woolsey, Martin Indyk (responsible for the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act later to become ISA and still in place after the JCPOA), and Tom Pickering, one of the main proponents of the Iran Deal and member of the Iran Project. Supporters of the AMA are not limited to the GMF, others include the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and the NED.

One of the most active proponents of the JCPOA was none other than NED recipient, Trita Parsi. Parsi was personally thanked for his role in pushing the JCPOA through. Job well done for a three-time recipient of NED funds. No wonder the Soros–Koch foundation’s Quincy Institute selected him as their Executive Vice President.

And last but not least, Hillary Mann Leverett (wife of aforementioned Flynn Leverett) who persuaded her audiences that the JCPOA was akin to “Nixon going to China.” While some in Iran naively believed this to be the case and even defended her, they failed to realize that when Nixon went to China, it was to bring China on board against Russia.   And Israel was not a player. It was not an opening to befriend Iran any more than Nixon’s trip had altruist motivations.

 

The role of Russia and China

The Russians and the Chinese were so eager to embrace a long-awaited peace after all the calamity caused by the United States that they fully embraced this deal, even though doing so was detrimental to their interests.

America’s animosity and never-ending schemes encouraged cooperation between Russia, China, and Iran. Although the lifting of sanctions post-JCPOA would have facilitated trade and enhanced diplomacy between Iran and the West at a cost to China and Russia, they stood steadfast by the deal. Peace was more valuable, but far more importantly, the two powerful nations allowed the United States to be the arbitrator of an international treaty – the NPT.

During the Shah’s reign, President Ford had signed onto a National Security Decision Memorandum (NSDM 292, 1975) allowing and encouraging Iran to not only enrich uranium but sell it to neighboring countries to profit America. The United States then decided that since the Islamic Republic of Iran did not serve the interests of the United States, the United States would determine how the NPT should apply to Iran.

But their efforts at peace and the West’s efforts at regime change all came to naught.  What is important to bear in mind is that America’s efforts at war, sabotage, and terrorism have not ended. Imposing unilateral sanctions – terrorism against the Iranian people, has not ceased. Although the Iranian people and their elected representative in the new Iranian parliament are far more aware of and have an aversion to America’s ploys and the Iran Deal, China and Russia must do their part not only as guarantors of peace, but also to maintain their integrity in a world where both aspire to live in multilateralism. The world already has a superpower without morals and integrity; it does not need other great powers that act similarly.

Iran has fended off another assault on its sovereignty. However, saboteurs and terrorists are soliciting war with their recent string of terrorism in Iran. As the fifth anniversary of this trap approaches, the world needs to understand and step up in order to defend peace, international law, and social justice. The future of all depends on it.

And to American compatriots:  Make sure Trump understands that war will not get him reelected.

Feature photo | Rescue workers search for survivors at the scene of a mysterious explosion at the Sina At’har Health Center in the north of Iran’s capital Tehran on June 30, 2020. Amir Kholousi | ISNA

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the role of lobby groups in influencing U.S. foreign policy. 

The post Five Years On, the Nefarious Goals of the Iran Nuclear Deal Reveal Themselves appeared first on MintPress News.

Gladio Links Remain Unsolved as Sweden Identifies New Olof Palme Assassin

Last week, Swedish authorities held a press conference to announce that they had finally identified the real killer of controversial Swedish Prime Minister, Olof Palme, gunned down outside of a theater more than 30 years ago. The third man accused of murdering the head of state since the shocking incident took place more than thirty years ago.

Stig Engström, a Swedish graphic designer who had “not advanced at his job” and had no “family [or] prospects in sight” is the third man accused of murdering the head of state since the shocking incident occurred on a cold night in Stockholm in 1986; ostensibly putting an end to numerous “conspiracy theories” surrounding his death, which included ties to Chilean fascists, Kurdish rebels, Apartheid South Africa and Operation Gladio – a secret post war alliance between the CIA, the Vatican and the Mafia, which recruited former Nazi officials to form so-called “stay behind units” all over Europe in order to sabotage and destroy left-wing movements and governments throughout the continent.

A resolution passed by the European Parliament in 1990 condemning Gladio and demanding a full investigation was ignored by the NATO secretary general at the time, Manfred Wörner, and then U.S. president, George H.W. Bush.

But, recent inquiries into the Palme affair have revived suspicions about the role covert intelligence operations may have played in the death of the Swedish PM who was known as a left-wing idealist that supported many third world liberation movements and was a strong critic of the United States, as well as other superpowers.

Palme’s position on issues like nuclear disarmament and his attempts to normalize relations with Soviet Russia have been raised as the possible motives for his assassination. He opposed the war in Vietnam and was the first head of state to visit Cuba after the revolution; he had collected many enemies on the opposite side of the political spectrum at a time when the climate was “significantly polarized”, according to Carl Bildt, also a former Swedish PM who served after Palme between 1991 and 1994.

Bildt, himself, has been shown to have had extensive links to a covert intelligence operation which collected information on left-wing sympathizers, called the Information Bureau (IB), as well as to Operation Gladio’s stay-behind units in the country. These links have been confirmed by Lars Christiansson, Bildt’s press manager while in office, who was interrogated by Palme investigators about his contacts and sources in 2018.

Christiansson admitted that he had regular meetings with members of the stay behind units and counted several people inside IB as his contacts while part of Bildt’s inner circle, whom he had been closely acquainted with since the 1960s. Investigators have long tried to find a link between Palme’s accused killer and these covert networks, but Christiansson has denied Engström’s presence among them.

The evidence against Mr. Engström is largely circumstantial and relies on the “lone gunman” theory, which so often arises in Gladio and CIA-related assassinations. Engström had “the right timing, the right clothing”, according to the journalist who posited the theory and “had close access to guns of the right type”. The prosecutor in the case, nevertheless, left open the possibility that Engström – who committed suicide in 2000 – was part of a larger conspiracy. His wife vehemently rejects the idea, stating that her late husband was “too much of a coward” to do such a thing.

Police search for the weapon used Palme’s assassin in Stockholm, March 2, 1986. Kryster Nyman | AP

 

Palme’s enemies

Olof Palme led Sweden’s Social Democratic party from 1969 until his murder. During that time, he had accumulated a number of powerful enemies both in and out of his native country. He criticized the United States and the USSR in equal measure and was a vocal opponent of South Africa’s apartheid regime, which was at one point blamed for his murder by a South African police colonel who claimed in a court proceeding that one of its most notorious spies, Craig Williamson, had been sent to kill Palme.

Palme compared the U.S.’ bombing of Hanoi to Nazi massacres and supported nuclear disarmament at the height of the Cold War. But he also backed labor over big business interests, which drew the ire of Swedish industrialists like the Wallenberg family. He called Margaret Thatcher “a true extremist” and warned of the “crazy monetarists” on the horizon. He has been compared to John F. Kennedy in posthumous retellings of his life, but also had an odd affinity with Henry Kissinger.

His friendship with a figure like Kissinger, architect of the very policy in Vietnam he abhorred, may also point to Palme’s own complexities as a scion of wealthy Swedish elites, himself, and tacit complicity in the Iran-Contra affair during his tenure as a UN mediator in the Iran-Iraq war when Swedish/British arms manufacturer Bofors was sending explosives and gunpowder to Iran.

Palme’s outward stance as a champion of social justice and an advocate of national self-determination may have been more than mere political posturing, but men who reach his position are rarely able to avoid rubbing elbows with the most ruthless agents of political power.

 

The Gladio Nexus

Operation Gladio remains one of the least examined – or even acknowledged – long-term, covert ops of modern times. The sheer breadth and scope of the secret plot to subvert any inkling of left-leaning ideologies the world over makes most people balk when first hearing of it. After all, a joint multi-decade subversive project involving the Sicilian and Turkish mafias along with the Vatican and the CIA sounds like a reach, even for a Bond film.

It was, however, exactly this “unholy alliance” as Paul Williams describes it in his seminal book on the matter, which hovered over Europe and Latin America for the better part of forty years maintaining a covert army of former Nazis with hidden weapons caches to call upon should the need arise, as it did in Italy’s so-called “days of lead” when Italian business men were kidnapped and Prime Minister Aldo Moro was assassinated by Gladio operatives, but blamed on the communists to discredit them.

Similar, if less flamboyant, ops were carried out in other European countries, like Sweden. Lars Christiansson, Bildt’s press manager questioned by Swedish officials regarding links of the Swedish leadership with Gladio’s “stay behind units” and a secret police tasked with surveilling left-wing groups was unapologetic about the government’s role, saying that “there was a political agreement [on the stay behind units]”, and that it was “good” that such covert operations were standing at the ready to “intervene if there was a crisis”.

Among the many theories that circle around Olof Palme’s murder is one about Chilean fascists taking the Swedish Prime Minister out over his opposition to the dictator’s brutal regime and the thousands of Chilean refugees who were given asylum there throughout the 70’s and 80’s. Given the direct role played by Gladio operatives in the rise of Pinochet and other extreme right-wing dictators in Latin America of that era, it is no wonder that Swedish investigators have been following those leads for years.

A German investigative journalist and a former Pentagon advisor have claimed that Palme was murdered by a “former Iranian agent with CIA training” sent by NATO over his attempts to normalize relations with the Soviet Union and his stance against nuclear weapons. The authors of “In the Spider Web of the Secret Services” make a case that the assassinations of Uwe Barschel, William Colby (one of the creators of Gladio) and Olof Palme were all linked together by the same rouge network.

Feature photo | Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme during his visit to Cuba in 1975. Here together with Fidel Castro in cheerfully conversation. Lars Astrom | AP

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

The post Gladio Links Remain Unsolved as Sweden Identifies New Olof Palme Assassin appeared first on MintPress News.

As Syria Struggles Under COVID-19 Lockdown, America’s Scorched Earth Policy Ensures Food Insecurity

In a world dominated by American exceptionalism and neo-colonialism, hunger has become a weapon of war. “The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare is prohibited” under international humanitarian law yet the U.S. regularly reduces entire nations to dangerous levels of food insecurity in order to subjugate them.

Food, next to life itself, has become our greatest common denominator. Its availability, quality, price, its reflection of the culture it feeds and its moral and religious significance make it quite literally history’s staff of life.’ Today, in the never-ending worldwide struggle to determine who will control its production, quality and accessibility, food is no longer viewed first and foremost as a sustainer of life. Rather, to those who seek to command our food supply it has become instead a major source of corporate cash flow, economic leverage, a form of currency, a tool of international politics, an instrument of power, a weapon!” – A.V. Krebs, “The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness

The U.S. Coalition’s hybrid war strategy on Syria under the cover of COVID-19 is so vast and interconnected that a single article could never give it the breadth it deserves. In this article, I will demonstrate that the U.S. and its allies are deliberately seeking to plunge Syria into a state of blockade, food insecurity, and aggravated poverty. Infuriated by a failed military campaign to remove the Syrian leadership and government, the U.S. Coalition is now turning the economic screws on a nation that has endured a 10-year brutal war of attrition waged by extremist mercenaries power-multiplied by the U.S. supremacist alliance.

 

Criminal Caesar Law

On June 17, 2020, the Caesar Act went into effect. According to Morgan Ortagus, U.S. State Department Spokesperson, the law is a sustained campaign of sanctions targeting the Syrian government.

Today, we begin a sustained campaign of sanctions against the Assad regime under the Caesar Act. The individuals and entities targeted today have played a key role in obstructing a peaceful, political solution to the conflict.”

The law targets 39 officials or entities associated with the Syrian government. First Lady, Asma Al Assad is identified as a “war profiteer” and her financial dealings will be restricted alongside other members of her family, even those not living in Syria. Journalist Eva Bartlett, who has spent time in Syria and has consistently challenged dominant, U.S. narratives, recently wrote movingly, for MintPress News about the initiatives set up by the First Lady to heal her war-battered country contrary to the Caesar Law interpretation of her role.

Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban, political and media advisor to President Bashar Al Assad, has spoken extensively on the Caesar Act and the economic war on Syria. Dr. Shaaban says that the Caesar Act is a concerted attack against Syria’s allies and that pressure will be brought to bear upon those who have steadfastly supported Syria in its campaign to rid itself of the terrorist occupation financed and equipped by the “regime change” alliance led by the U.S. Dr. Shaaban’s full statement can be heard here:

Rime Allaf, a Syrian analyst deeply embedded in the Western institutions that continue to drive the political campaign to criminalize the Syrian government, confirmed Dr. Shaaban’s opinion of such multi-spectrum-war strategies. “Any company, any government, any entity around the world is going to be sanctioned if they deal with the Syrian regime elite who the State Department believes are responsible for committing these atrocities,” she wrote.

The U.S. has already threatened the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with coercive measures should it dare “violate the Caesar Law.” The UAE recently began working to normalize relations with the Syrian government as the military victory against terrorist factions the UAE once supported becomes a reality.

Banksy-style graffiti on a wall on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. Photo | local source

The Caesar Act is intended to derail Syria’s post-war reconstruction efforts. Several Emirati companies have visited Damascus in recent months and have indicated an interest in collaborating with the Syrian government to rebuild specific areas of the country. Immediately prior to the launch of the Caesar Act, the Syrian parliament approved “oil exploration contracts signed with Mercury LLC and Velada LLC,” both Russian companies with a focus on Damascus and Northeast Syria, which is currently occupied by U.S. Coalition forces and allied militants, predominantly the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Effectively, the Caesar Act and all preceding economic sanctions are designed to prevent the necessary restoration and maintenance of essential infrastructure and basic services that provide stability, food, water, electricity, fuel, income, and medical care to the Syrian people.

The U.S.-led occupation of Syria’s oil fields is meant to prevent access to that oil for the Syrian people and to provide revenue for the U.S. Coalition’s proxy forces. The reality is that the U.S. and its allies are intent upon blockading, besieging and suffocating the Syrian people in a final bid to turn the nation against its government.

Where military measures have failed, economic pressure will now be increased with devastating consequences for a population that has already endured the horrifying effects of war and sectarian violence for 10 long years.

Researcher Rick Sterling’s carried out a thorough investigation into the fraud that was the Caesar Report and wrote a follow-up article detailing the U.S. legislative power grab through the Caesar Act that may be turned against any individual or entity perceived to be violating U.S. full-spectrum dominance with regards to Syria. An important point is made in Sterling’s article:

The exception to punishing sanctions are 1) Idlib province in the North West, controlled by Al Qaeda extremists and Turkish invading forces and 2) north east Syria controlled by U.S. troops and the proxy separatists known as the “Syrian Democratic Forces”. The U.S. has designated $50 million to support “humanitarian aid” to these areas. Other U.S. allies will pump in hundreds of millions more in aid and “investments”. U.S. dollars and Turkish lira are being pumped into these areas in another tactic to undermine the Syrian currency and sovereignty.”

Caesar Law exemptions. #WhiteHelmets #ISIS #SDF #AlQaeda & all associated extremist, sectarian organisations or so-called NGOs.

"Specifically, s.302 allows Trump to waive the application of any sanction with respect to NGOs providing *humanitarian assistance* in #Syria"

— vanessa beeley (@VanessaBeeley) June 21, 2020

 

Resource theft and the war on wheat

Just before the Caesar Act went into effect, the Syrian permanent representative to the UN, Dr. Bashar Al Jaafari, launched a stinging attack on the U.S.’ coercive measures that remorselessly target the Syrian people. Jaafari referred to the burning of trucks containing aid from the UN World Food Programme, set on fire by sectarian factions in Lebanon before they could reach Syria.

He describes the “symptoms of political schizophrenia” demonstrated by the West.

When the United States daily steals 200.000 barrels of oil from the Syrian oil fields, 400.000 tons of cotton, 5.000.000 sheep and sets fire to thousands of hectares of wheat fields, and deliberately weakens the value of the Syrian pound, and when it imposes coercive economic measures aiming to choke the Syrian people and occupying parts of the Syrian lands, and when the U.S. representative expresses her concern over the deteriorating situation of the Syrian citizen’s living conditions the logical question will be : are not these acts the symptoms of political schizophrenia? Does that not indicate an acute disease?”

Section 401 of the Caesar Act outlines the conditions for the lifting of sanctions against Syria. The final demand is “accountability for “perpetrators of war crimes in Syria and justice for victims of war crimes.” I have deliberately omitted the reference to the Syrian government. Why? The U.S. Coalition-aligned complex of media and UN agencies focus primarily upon the criminalization of the Syrian “regime” with scant regard for the war crimes being committed by the U.S. and the various terrorist or extremist groups indirectly and directly under their command. Yet there is surely a case for holding the U.S. Government accountable for war crimes and to demand justice for the victims of this protracted psychological war against the Syrian people, those who are rarely if ever mentioned in western media reports.

 

America’s scorched earth policy in Syria

The essence of food security for any country, but particularly during a grueling and destructive 10-year war, is in locally produced and controlled food sources. A very important element of the war against Syria has been the occupation, destruction, and theft of resources.

In May 2020, the U.S. forces in northeast Syria dropped thermal balloons from Apache helicopters over agricultural lands south of Hasaka which ignited serious crop fires that burned extensive areas of wheat and barley. Local sources reported that American helicopters also buzzed farmhouses and villages, terrorizing local populations.

On May 24, sources in the Hasaka countryside reported that Turkish militias had torched wheat and barley fields in the Tal Tamr and Abo Raseen areas. An estimated 2,000 hectares were devastated by these fires. While ostensibly Turkey’s agenda in Syria is separate from that of the U.S., Turkey is still a NATO member state and therefore it cannot be ruled out that the U.S. and Turkey were collaborating to deprive Syrians of their livelihoods, infrastructure, and food sources while enabling mercenary militias to benefit from the black market trade of resources, with Turkey as one of the main trading routes and receiving hubs.

According to estimates, 130,000 hectares of wheat and 180,000 hectares of barley have been destroyed by these fires to date.

A map produced by researcher and former Syrian Arab Army soldier, Ibrahim Mohammad, based in Aleppo, pinpoints areas that are being affected by the crop infernos. During a recent trip to the southeast, specifically to the villages east of Sweida city that were savagely attacked by U.S.-protected ISIS terrorists on the July 25, 2018 – I was told of fires mysteriously ignited to the West of Sweida destroying food crops there. The reemergence of extremist militia forces to the West of Daraa and in the south, including Nusra Front and ISIS, may point to the culprits responsible for the fires.

Map showing all the crop-fires raging intermittently across Syria. Credit | Ibrahim Mohammad

Another important and related element of this multi-spectrum war against Syria is the potential British intelligence role in training and equipping these armed groups that are now resurfacing and carrying out regular assassinations of government employees or targeting Syrian Arab Army vehicles with IEDs, kidnapping and running familiar subversive operations against the Syrian government and loyalists. A clandestine intelligence war is being ignited south of Damascus which forms part of the US Coalition hybrid war strategy designed to destabilise Syria without the need for all-out war. It is these same armed groups that are suspected, by local sources, to be responsible for the crop fires in the south of the country.

A pattern emerging is of a deliberate scorched earth policy being waged by the U.S. Coalition and its assets on the ground across the country. At the same time, Turkey is reported to be forcing Syrian farmers to sell their wheat to Turkey in exchange for Turkish currency and U.S.-backed Kurdish contras have restricted the sale of wheat to Damascus and are stockpiling reserves in areas they control, which account for an estimated 70 percent of total Syrian wheat production.

Anger among local farmers over the restrictions and hijacking of their livelihoods has grown. On June 30, civilians were filmed blocking trucks that were transporting stolen wheat into Turkey.

On June 14, 2020, Turkish-backed militant groups set fire to large areas planted with wheat and barley on the outskirts of Ras Al Ain and in the suburbs of Abou Rasseine in the north and northwest of Hasaka. The villages of Macharfa and Om Kheir, under occupation by Turkey-backed militants, had their crops devastated by these fires. Civilian homes were burned to the ground by the rampaging fires.

An elderly Assyrian man, Issac Esho Nissan, was one of the victims of the flames that raged in the Hasaka agricultural region. His hands and face were badly burned by the fire but he still valiantly fought the blaze in an attempt to prevent the ravaging of more crops by occupying forces. As elsewhere in Syria throughout this 10-year war, Syrian civilians have been forced to protect their meager resources against overwhelming and disproportionate force. According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) at least two civilians have perished in the fires. The economic devastation and psychological pressure brought to bear upon an already war-ravaged population are hard to quantify and even harder to imagine.

The SDF is not the benevolent force in the region that they are often portrayed to be in the western media, which, along with the U.S. Coalition has attempted to mold them into a “democratic” alternative autonomy to Damascus. They have played an important role in furthering the U.S. Coalition’s plan to balkanize Syria and they are pivotal to U.S. and Israeli plans to occupy the Syrian territory east of the Euphrates, the nation’s bread and oil basket.

On June 27, SDF groups took over the building of the regional Syrian Grain Corporation administration center and occupied it by force. They now also occupy the General Electricity Company in Hasaka and employees have been forcibly removed from the premises. The SDF has effectively flip-flopped between Damascus and the U.S., now reaffirming allegiance to the renewed U.S. occupation of the territory managed by the SDF.

To date, the SDF is still occupying buildings in Hasaka. According to local sources, they have increased their military presence in the complex in order to prevent the return of government employees and the restoration of services to civilians. The SDF is also preventing the delivery of flour to the Al-Baath bakery in Qamishli City which is the main provider of bread to civilians in the area.

On July 2, Israeli forces patrolling the Golan Heights in southern Syria set fire to crops in Sehita, Quneitra (previously occupied by U.S.-backed militants and the White Helmets). Israeli soldiers then fired live ammunition on farmers and civilians who went to battle the flames.

Turkey, the U.S., and Israel form a monstrous triad of marauding forces who have entered Syrian territory in violation of international law and are in the process of asset-stripping on an industrial scale without a single ounce of outrage from the international community, who claim to defend the rights of Syrian citizens. How are these rights defended when their entire infrastructure is being reduced to bare bones by the military vulturism of the “humanitarian” hypocrites? Syria has multiple American knees on its neck, but still, we see no worldwide protests against the slow suffocation that Syrians are being forced to bear.

 

The mythical US troop withdrawal

While Trump had announced the prospect of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syrian territory in October 2019, the U.S. has, contrary to that announcement, steadily increased its military footprint in the north and northeast under cover of COVID-19. Convoys of military vehicles and equipment have been steadily pouring into the oil-rich region since borders were closed globally to allegedly prevent the spread of the virus. U.S. troop movement is apparently not restricted by social distancing and quarantine regulations.

On July 1, 2020, U.S. forces established a new military and airbase in Al Yarubiya, Hasaka. Reports from the area by SANA indicated that U.S. troops and the SDF are collaborating to secure wheat supplies, reinforcing the base with concrete blocks, and posting SDF guards to protect the perimeters of the camp and the wheat silos.

While reoccupying previously evacuated illegal military bases and imposing new ones upon Syrian territory, the U.S. and the SDF continue their theft of Syrian oil. Simultaneously the US Coalition media and UN “humanitarian” agencies are actively peddling the global Covid-19 “pandemic” narrative in Syria and supporting the push for a crippling lockdown in this already besieged nation.The U.S. “exceptional” and predatory neocolonial campaign continues unhindered by concerns about the spread of the virus to troops on the ground intent on looting a country of all it needs to survive.

On July 1, a convoy of U.S.-commissioned oil-tankers with a U.S. military escort drove through Syria and into Iraq via the “illegal” Semalka crossing in Al Malikiyah city in northeast Hasaka. These convoys are draining Syria of its life-blood. It is summer now and electricity outages caused by a lack of fuel to run generators are not as long or as disruptive, but come the winter, when rural areas could be reduced to one hour of electricity per day, this resource plundering will have a devastating effect upon the Syrian people.

The Trump administration is blatant about the exploitation of Syrian oil to provide revenue for their separatist poster boys in the SDF. In a recent statement, Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, head of US Central Command (CENTCOM) said:

Additionally, we’re there to assist the SDF in the maintenance of the oil facilities for their use to help them generate income, which could be used for a variety of things, some of which would be to continue operations against ISIS,” (emphasis added)

The SDF is conducting similar looting campaigns in the northeast under the supervision of the U.S. Coalition. Entire railway tracks, running between Deir Ezzor and Hasaka are being dismantled and the looted iron is being traded across the border by what are effectively criminal racketeers. Nothing is left intact, railway stations that have weathered decades of history are stripped bare and all the metal is reportedly transferred to Turkey where it is melted down and transformed into new railway tracks to be sold outside of Syria.

There have also been reports of the U.S. installing Patriot air defense systems in northeast Syria. While this has not been categorically confirmed, sources inside Syria believe that it is a provocative move by the U.S. neoconservative lobby and the Pentagon, the prospect of which is very possible, especially when the considerable amount of territory actually being reoccupied by the U.S. military is factored in.

 

Deliberate and inhumane environmental warfare

Another byproduct of U.S. occupation is the pollution and contamination of water sources and agricultural lands. The SDF, who benefit most from the illegal oil revenue, appears to have neglected the maintenance of the dilapidated pipelines. Crude oil and waste products, many of which are carcinogenic, are seeping into rivers and streams. Inevitably when these rivers overflow onto agricultural land bordering their banks, the toxic waste is transferred to the crops.

Recent reports highlight the increase in cancer cases in these areas. The primitive refineries are breeding disease, birth defects, meningitis, skin conditions, and severe respiratory sickness. The birth defects include hypothyroidism at birth, thalassemia, hemophilia. All these horrifying effects on the Syrian population are concentrated in the areas around the oil-wells under control of the U.S. Coalition and their various proxies.

Trees are dying, many of the green spaces are reportedly shrinking due to the air and soil pollution that is ignored by the occupying forces intent only upon the short-term revenue, not the long term preservation of the environment. Needless to say, this environmental disaster will not make it onto the agenda at any of the international meetings to discuss the “humanitarian” crisis in Syria. Creating waves over the mismanagement of occupied resources by a U.S.-sponsored occupier is apparently not an option. The chronic contamination of the vast network of rivers and streams that cover much of the northeast will ensure the toxicity of crops and livestock for decades to come. Plunder without conscience, the shameful hallmark of U.S. neocolonialism.

It must also be noted that the U.S. has admitted to the use of depleted uranium in northeast Syria which is likely also contributing to the toxic waste which is already having a devastating effect upon the Syrian population. This use of WMDs in an illegal interventionist war against the people of Syria is, of course, never mentioned by the U.S.-appointed arbiters of war crimes in Syria whose focus is on the alleged “chemical attacks” that have been hugely discredited by experts from within the OPCW who have exposed the organization to be corrupt and compromised – in particular with regards to the incident in Douma, eastern Damascus in April 2018.

The legacy of depleted uranium radioactive waste and its subsequent, horrifying mutilation of the human form is not something the U.S. is a stranger to. The level of contamination in Iraq after the U.S. allied aggression at various times in their history is still frighteningly high, and the transferral of irradiated scrap metal, often by dealers who are children, is ensuring the spread of the toxic waste. Recovery from U.S. invasion, occupation, and devastation of all resources either by obliteration, theft, or pollution are slow and painful, leaving entire generations suffering from the debilitating consequences while the U.S. walks free, a war criminal at large.

 

Hydro hegemony and water theft

In addition to the aforementioned “maximum pressure” measures, water is also being weaponized in order to collectively punish the Syrian people for withstanding 10 years of war without abandoning their support for their government, army and their allies.

Map showing the Euphrates river that dissects much of the region with its source in Turkey

Recently, local Syrian media and activists have been reporting the “shocking” reduction in water levels of the Euphrates river, the largest in Syria. From the city of Jarablus to the Tishreen Dam, Syrians are witnessing a substantial decrease in the water levels which threaten drought conditions if it continues. This is due to Turkey, a NATO member state, closing two dams that release water into Syria, located in Turkish territory, including the giant Elisu Dam.

As part of an agreement signed in 1987, Turkey committed to pumping a minimum of 500 cubic meters per second, yet that rate has now fallen to 150 cubic meters per second, agonizingly reduced for the people of the region and the whole of Syria. In Damascus, we are already feeling the effects as electricity outages have increased because of greater downtimes in running the hydroelectric power stations.

Over the years Turkey has periodically violated this agreement but water hegemony is now a savage instrument of war for the neo-Ottoman would-be emperor Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Drinking water is restricted in the north and northeast and agricultural production is at risk from drought-like conditions.

The administration of Tishreen Dam, the second-largest hydroelectric station in Syria, has warned of devastating consequences for the economy of the local communities if Turkey continues to reduce water levels. Food insecurity and drought threaten to decimate the population. The Euphrates and Tishreen hydroelectric stations have had to reduce their shifts from 18 to 10 hours starting in mid-June. As already mentioned, this will have a knock-on effect upon the remainder of Syrian territory. Amateur video filmed by a member of the local community shows the result of Turkey cutting the water supply to an area in northeastern Syria,

Dr. Al Jaafari has highlighted the Turkish war-crimes at the UN but without any outrage from the “international community” that a NATO member state is effectively cutting off the water supply to more than one million Syrian civilians. Al Jaafari did not hesitate to point out this hypocrisy during his address:

We are saddened that those who are self-appointed defenders of the right of Syrians to restore their daily security and stability – whether from Western States, OCHA or United Nations specialized agencies, have not said a word to condemn these inhumane practices.”

Certainly, it is evident that whether it is Turkey, Israel, or the U.S., water, food, and essential infrastructure, including health and humanitarian sectors, are now being targeted in an effort to further pressurize the blockaded, besieged Syrian people. Criminal operations among the various contra factions are exacerbating the situation on the ground and intensifying economic misery and deprivation.

 

ISIS airlifts and thermal balloons on Syrian land

I will cover the hypocrisy of UN agencies and western “aid” organizations in another part of this series but in connection with the resource hegemony discussed in this Part One, it is worth pointing out the double-speak deployed by such agencies when it comes to covering the “humanitarian” situation in Syria.

There has been a huge outcry over the apparent inaccessibility for foreign “aid” into northeast Syria due to Russia and China’s veto of a UN resolution to keep “aid” flowing into the U.S.-Turkish-SDF occupied region via the Al Yarubiah crossing that links northern Iraq to northeastern Syria.

It is no secret that aid that enters this region may be hijacked by Turkish or American-backed “boots on the ground,” but there is another element to this issue that should raise eyebrows. While the claim is that “aid” is not reaching these U.S.-controlled areas, the U.S. is allegedly transporting ISIS fighters from Syria across the border into Iraq. So the movement of troops during a “global pandemic” crisis is not restricted to the U.S. Army but also to the terrorist group which has been the pretext for the “war against terror” on Syrian soil.

While the U.S. can move client terrorist fighters around on Syrian territory and is quite happy to transport them into Iraq, the U.S. does not apply itself to providing genuine humanitarian aid to the Syrian people effectively under their control. The hue and cry at the UN and among aligned human rights groups like Amnesty International are based upon the usual deliberate obfuscation of reality on the ground.

How many of you actually thought about COVID-19 while reading about the U.S. military and economic strategy that has been ramped up against Syria while we are all focused on a virus that has brought the world to a standstill? For the U.S. alliance, business as usual, supporting terrorism, destroying the planet and bringing misery, poverty, and starvation to yet another nation in the name of “democracy” because the government does not comply with U.S.-dominated foreign policy.

 

The Syrian government’s defense of agricultural lands

The genuine resource crisis in the northeast is being used to further criminalize the Syrian government by the UN and aligned media in the West.

A recent article in the Financial Times sheds copious crocodile tears over the starvation of Syrian children without one mention of U.S. Coalition sanctions, resource theft, the fraudulent Caesar Act and the 10-year war waged by the U.S. alliance to remove the Syrian government in violation of any applicable version of international law. This lying-by-omission has been a regular tactic used by the war-mongering establishment media outlets when it comes to Syria. Nor does the article mention the measures being taken by the beleaguered Syrian government to combat the agricultural crisis.

The Syrian government has increased the purchase price of wheat from 225 Syrian pounds (SYP) to 400 SYP per kilogram in order to support the agricultural sector. The funding plan to combat the effects of the U.S. scorched earth policy with regards to wheat and barley crops amounts to 800 billion SYP per annum in “extraordinary” response to the looming crisis generated by hostile external forces.

Anyone who is being misled by western media into believing the Syrian state would relish the starvation or wholesale deprivation of its citizens should read this enlightening essay by a former research intern at the British Embassy, Damascus, Louis Allday. Allday describes the Syrian government, comprising a complex of national institutions, civil society organizations and charitable institutions, as responding proactively and rapidly to the drought that ravaged the country from 2006 until the start of the U.S. allied aggression in 2011.

How that drought may well have been orchestrated by Turkey in order to tenderize the population prior to the fabrication of the “Arab Spring” charade in Syria, is a subject for another article at a later date.

 

Turning a blind eye to the causes of Syrian misery

At the end of June, “donor nations” from within the U.S. Coalition that has plunged Syria into the abyss of war and economic anguish for the last 10 years, pledged a total of $ 7.7 billion to tackle the “deepening” humanitarian crisis in Syria. COVID-19 was cited as one of the factors compounding the misery of 17 million Syrians – to date, Syria has had 372 confirmed cases, 14 deaths and 126 recoveries from the virus. The majority of cases have been found in Damascus or the surrounding countryside, many among those returning from abroad.

I have outlined the flaunting of global “lockdown” policies by the U.S. military and their affiliates on the ground in Syria so this pseudo protectionism towards the Syrian people over COVID-19 is exposed as the fraud it really is.

“EU Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic announced the total at the end of a day-long online pledging conference organized by the EU and United Nations” – he said:

We have today expressed solidarity with the Syrian people, not only with words, but with concrete pledges of support that will make a difference for millions of people.”

I will be investigating the destination of the financial and material “aid” that enters areas of Syria not under the control of the internationally recognized Syrian government, at a later date. However for these nations to be genuinely in solidarity with the Syrian people they should be campaigning for America and allies to lift their knee from the neck of these people and to end sanctions, to banish the Caesar Law which is illegal and immoral and to end the support for terrorist and separatist factions inside the country.

Professor Michel Raimbaud, a former French diplomat, argues that the Western silent complicity with economic terrorism must come to an end. Raimbaud said:

Imposing sanctions on countries is more barbaric than military confrontation which is nearing an end – it is an illegal and immoral war. It is a stain on humanity. These sanctions must be lifted immediately and unconditionally.”

What we are seeing in Syria is the unfolding of the US/UK-led neo-colonialist blueprint that was previously used against Iraq. In 1991 the U.S. alliance deliberately bombed Iraq’s water purification and electricity infrastructure before imposing sanctions that prevented their restoration. Sanctions that are more accurately described as a military blockade, just as we are seeing now in Syria. In both 1991 and 2003, US allied bombing campaigns targeted animal feed stores, poultry farms, fertilizer warehouses, water pumping stations, irrigation systems, fuel depots and agricultural installations. These destructive tactics designed to undermine the survival mechanisms of the nation under attack are being replayed in Syria with similar cataclysmic consequences.

One of the areas of natural beauty in Lattakia that came under terrorist attack. Photo | Vanessa Beeley

Late 2019, I had a meeting with the administration of the Ministry of Agriculture in Lattakia on the Syrian coast. During the meeting, I was informed that the US Coalition-sponsored occupying forces have decimated 30% of the Syrian livestock sectors, 60-70,000 beehives have been stolen and merchanted in Turkey. Villages they invaded were looted, agricultural equipment was either destroyed or sold in Turkey. Over 30% of Syrian forestry has been cut down and the wood sold to Turkey. Between 2012-2015, terrorist groups occupied protected zones in an area about 47km away from Lattakia – this led to extensive damage to land that had nurtured 260 rare plant species including 65 species of medicinal plants.

Around 650,000 hectares of Syrian land are planted with an estimated 90 million Olive trees. In Afrin (north-west of Aleppo) there are 18 million trees under control of the Al Qaeda-led militants. Aleppo has traditionally been the leading producer, followed by Idlib, Tartous, Homs, Lattakia and Hama. The average annual production is 150,000 tonnes of oil and 350,000 tonnes of olives. There are 800 distilleries across Syria with most of them clustered in the above mentioned provinces. Currently, about half the productive areas are under the control of Turkish proxy forces, dominated by Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria). Turkish traders have made huge profits buying Olive oil at low prices, blending with Turkish oil and exporting to Europe at elevated prices.

US Coalition economic sanctions do not affect Syrian resources stolen by coalition members. Syrians who, themselves, might attempt to revive trade with Europe would be immediately punished and restricted by these unilateral economic shackles.

American barbarism and genocidal supremacism must be called to account. The rogue-state standards that the U.S. is setting for the world will threaten all Humanity now and in the future. Syrian lives matter because without this beleaguered nation setting us the example for resilience, resourcefulness and resistance against neo-colonialist hegemony, perpetual war will be the status quo for the foreseeable future.

Special thanks for help with research for this article and the double checking of information goes to Ibrahim Mohammad, Syrian activist and researcher, former Syrian Arab Army soldier.  

Feature photo | Workers disinfect the streets to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Qamishli, Syria, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Baderkhan Ahmad | AP

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist and photographer who has worked extensively in the Middle East – on the ground in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, while also covering the conflict in Yemen since 2015. In 2017 Vanessa was a finalist for the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism which was won by the much-acclaimed Robert Parry that year. In 2018 Vanessa was named one of the 238 most respected journalists in the UK by the British National Council for the Training of Journalists. In 2019, Vanessa was among recipients of the Serena Shim Award for uncompromised integrity in journalism. Vanessa contributes regularly to MintPress News, Russia Today, UK Column, The Last American Vagabond, Sputnik radio, 21st Century Wire and many other independent media outlets. Please support her work at her https://www.patreon.com/vanessabeeley Patreon Page.

The post As Syria Struggles Under COVID-19 Lockdown, America’s Scorched Earth Policy Ensures Food Insecurity appeared first on MintPress News.

Mexico State Oil Company Files $22 Billion Debt Swap amid IMF Threats and White House Visit

Mexico’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known colloquially as AMLO, arrived back in his nation’s capital yesterday aboard an American Airlines flight after his first state visit to the United States since taking office in a historic, landslide victory in 2018. The commercial flight included a stopover at Miami International Airport as coronavirus-induced protocols have resulted in the suspension of direct flights in and out of the North American country.

AMLO’s choice of traveling commercial instead of flying on the official presidential airplane is part of a carefully-crafted everyman image he has been cultivating for years since he left the ranks of the once immovable conservative ruling party, the PRI, and joined the left-leaning PRD in the late 1980s. In 2014, Obrador formed a new party called MORENA after having served as Mexico City’s mayor for four years and later losing his first bid to become president in 2006.

The Trump White House hosted AMLO on Wednesday, one day after Pemex – the embattled Mexican state-owned petroleum company – announced a $22.4 billion debt swap to mitigate its massive financial liabilities. The swap will be the largest of the recent refinancing operations carried out by the once state-owned company; and while the filing with the U.S. SEC did not specify when the bonds would be issued, the action was intended to alleviate pressure mounting on the oil giant, which Obrador had planned to use as a “pillar” in his strategy to turn the Mexican economy around. Falling oil prices, however, have severely hampered the execution of that idea.

In addition, the coronavirus-induced economic crisis is being evoked by entities like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to predict a veritable collapse of the Mexican economy. In their June World Economic Outlook Update titled “A Crisis Like No Other, An Uncertain Recovery,” the Atlanticist organization forecasts a devastating 10.5 percent contraction for Mexico this year, nearly four percent lower than its April forecast.

 

The IMF threatens Mexico

The IMF’s dire estimate comes on the heels of the official start of the USMCA, which went into effect on July 1 and comprised a significant portion of the state visit’s agenda. The revamped NATFA agreement has mostly modest improvements over its predecessor and has served mostly as a political tool by all three heads of state.

The one sector that did get a complete overhaul in the new trilateral agreement was the U.S. tech sector, which secured important concessions from both Canada and Mexico, such as the fact that they cannot be sued for “the content appearing on their platforms” or forced to store their data on in-country servers. Intellectual property protections heavily skewed in favor of American companies were also expanded.

Related to these provisions are ones surrounding biotechnology that could have critical implications for the agricultural sector provisions in the trade deal. The original NAFTA made Mexico a net corn importer through unfair rules allowing the U.S. to subsidize its own corn industry while prohibiting the same of the country that gave birth to corn, itself. New biotech rules are sure to exacerbate these problems for the Mexican agricultural sector and a multitude of groups have come out in opposition.

 

The USMCA’s “new normal”

In a letter signed by more than 80 agricultural associations in Mexico petitioned the government to prohibit the introduction of GMO seeds into the country. The coalition, which calls itself “Group in Defense of Agricultural Diversity and Mexican Food Against Genetically Modified Organisms” warns of the “grave danger” posed by the lack of defined rules against the introduction of GMOs throughout the national territory. In addition, the group condemns the provisions in the USMCA, which forces Mexican farmers to adhere to the UPOV 91 protocol that makes seed hoarding and trading illegal.

Casting a shadow over the implementation of the USMCA is compliance to the extraneous COVID-19 “new normal” policies, which are forcing a “rethinking about global supply chains” and are sure to affect exactly how the new trade deal is ultimately enforced.

AMLO’s trip to D.C. may have been a signal to the Atlanticist power bloc that he is ready to give in to their demands, recently outlined in an article authored by a CFR senior fellow, where the Mexican president is called on to “save his presidency” by embracing globalization lest the country slip into a more severe recession. Presciently, the author recommends that AMLO “welcome foreign money and expertise into the energy sector,” foreshadowing the debt swap announcement a day prior to Obrador’s official White House visit.

“Adherence to market-based rules” are also endorsed by the perennial Atlanticist mouthpiece as a way to carve a “path out of the permanent poverty of subsistence farming” by enabling the “specialization in more profitable fruits, vegetables, coffees and other products,” a strategy first implemented by NAFTA and which has resulted in the precise opposite effect.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wait to sign a joint declaration at the White House, July 8, 2020, in Washington. Evan Vucci | AP

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

The post Mexico State Oil Company Files $22 Billion Debt Swap amid IMF Threats and White House Visit appeared first on MintPress News.

Africa to Become Testing Ground for “Trust Stamp” Vaccine Record and Payment System

A biometric digital identity platform that “evolves just as you evolve” is set to be introduced in “low-income, remote communities” in West Africa thanks to a public-private partnership between the Bill Gates-backed GAVI vaccine alliance, Mastercard and the AI-powered “identity authentication” company, Trust Stamp.

The program, which was first launched in late 2018, will see Trust Stamp’s digital identity platform integrated into the GAVI-Mastercard “Wellness Pass,” a digital vaccination record and identity system that is also linked to Mastercard’s click-to-play system that powered by its AI and machine learning technology called NuData. Mastercard, in addition to professing its commitment to promoting “centralized record keeping of childhood immunization” also describes itself as a leader toward a “World Beyond Cash,” and its partnership with GAVI marks a novel approach towards linking a biometric digital identity system, vaccination records, and a payment system into a single cohesive platform. The effort, since its launch nearly two years ago, has been funded via $3.8 million in GAVI donor funds in addition to a matched donation of the same amount by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In early June, GAVI reported that Mastercard’s Wellness Pass program would be adapted in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Around a month later, Mastercard announced that Trust Stamp’s biometric identity platform would be integrated into Wellness Pass as Trust Stamp’s system is capable of providing biometric identity in areas of the world lacking internet access or cellular connectivity and also does not require knowledge of an individual’s legal name or identity to function. The Wellness Program involving GAVI, Mastercard, and Trust Stamp will soon be launched in West Africa and will be coupled with a Covid-19 vaccination program once a vaccine becomes available.

The push to implement biometrics as part of national ID registration systems has been ongoing for many years on the continent and has become a highly politicized issue in several African countries. Opposition to similar projects in Africa often revolves around the costs surrounding them, such as the biometric voter management system that the Electoral Commission of Ghana has been trying to implement ahead of their 2020 general election in December. Bright Simons, honorary VP of the IMANI policy think tank, has questioned the “budgetary allocation” for the new system, claiming that the “unnecessary registration of 17 million people all over again” represents millions of dollars “being blown for reasons that nobody can explain in this country.”

 

Masking ulterior motives

Trust Stamp’s biometric identity system, largely funded by Mastercard’s massive investment in the company in February, utilizes a technology it calls Evergreen Hash that creates an AI-generated “3D mask” based on a single photo of a person’s face, palm or fingerprint. Once this “mask” is created, much of the original data is discarded and encryption keys are created in place of a person’s name or other more traditional identifiers.

“Only a small percentage of the data that originally existed is in the hash,” Trust Stamp CEO Gareth Genner has stated. “What you have is something safer for storing because it can’t be used to directly identify you. No one would recognize you in this huge jumble of numbers.” The result, according to Genner, is an “irreversible non-personally identifiable information” system that “protects privacy, reduces potential for misuse and allows effective inclusion when there is no other form of legal record.”

Genner also explained in a recent press release that the unique “hash” is capable of “evolving” as a new hash with updated health information is created every time a child or individual gets a vaccine. Trust Stamp’s AI algorithms can accurately determine if different hashes belong to the same individual, meaning that “the hash evolves over time just as you evolve,” said Genner.

It is unclear how much the Wellness Pass initiative is motivated by public health concerns as opposed to free market considerations. Indeed, the GAVI alliance, largely funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, as well as allied governments and the vaccine industry, is principally concerned with improving “the health of markets for vaccines and other immunization products,” rather than the health of individuals, according to its own website. Similarly, Mastercard’s GAVI partnership is directly linked to its “World Beyond Cash” effort, which mainly bolsters its business model that has long depended on a reduction in the use of physical cash.

 

Dual use tyranny

Trust Stamp also shares this market-focused vision for its digital identity system as the company has stated that it is looking for new commercialization options for its Evergreen Hash technology, specifically with prison systems. Talks with private and public prison systems have revealed an interest in their utilization of Trust Stamp’s technology to provide identification for individuals on parole “without making them pay for pricey ankle bracelets that monitor their every move,” as Trust Stamp’s platform would ostensibly provide that same function but in a “touchless” and less expensive manner.

Trust Stamp’s interest in providing its technology to both COVID-19 response and to law enforcement is part of a growing trend where numerous companies providing digital solutions to  COVID-19 also offer the same solutions to prison systems and law enforcement for the purposes of surveillance and “predictive policing.”

For instance, contact tracing software originally introduced as part of the COVID-19 response has since been used by police departments across the U.S. to track protesters during the country’s recent bouts of protests and civil unrest. Similarly, a controversial Israeli tech firm currently being used in Rhode Island offers AI-powered predictive analytic to identify likely future COVID-19 hotspots and individuals likely to contract COVID-19 in the future, while also offering governments the ability to predict future locations of and participants in riots and civil unrest.

What is perhaps most alarming about this new “Wellness Pass” initiative, is that it links these “dual use” digital solutions to cashless payment solutions that could soon become mandated as anything over than touchless, cashless, methods of payment have been treated as potential modes for contagion by GAVI-aligned groups like the World Health Organization, among others, since the pandemic was first declared earlier this year.

Feature photo | A boy sells fish at his street stall in front of an informational mural warning people about the dangers of the new coronavirus and how to prevent transmission, with words in Swahili reading “We are the Cure” painted by youth artists from the Uweza Foundation, in Nairobi, Kenya, July 8, 2020. Brian Inganga | AP

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

The post Africa to Become Testing Ground for “Trust Stamp” Vaccine Record and Payment System appeared first on MintPress News.

Latin America’s Neoliberal Leaders Are Making the Coronavirus Pandemic Far Worse

While other continents have largely dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, much of Latin America is in meltdown, as cases soar, bodies pile up, and anger mounts. Its new wave of neoliberal leaders, mistrustful of collective action in any situation and extolling the virtues of individualism in a collective public health crisis, are making the problem far worse.

Despite having months to prepare for the worst, over 100,000 people have (officially) died in South America already, over two-thirds of them in Brazil. The country’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, who came to power in a highly dubious election in 2018 marked by the imprisonment of the runaway favorite Lula da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party, has constantly downplayed the threat, describing it as merely a “little flu” and decrying the decision by the governor of Sao Paulo to initiate a lockdown, calling it a “hysterical” overreaction. Even amidst a deadly wave of disease, he continued to hold public rallies, declaring that the coronavirus was nothing to worry about. In a remarkable turn of events, Rio de Janeiro’s criminal gangs showed themselves to be more responsible and committed to public safety than the government, imposing their own curfew to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We want the best for the population. If the government won’t do the right thing, organized crime will,” read their statement. “We are at the mercy of a deranged lunatic,” concluded independent outlet Brasil Wire.

Now, Bolsonaro himself has tested positive for COVID-19. But he still refuses to wear a mask all the time, saying they are only for “fairies” or “faggots,” depending on the translation. The Brazilian Press Association is suing him for deliberately endangering them by not self-isolating but telling them face-to-face, without a mask, about his positive test.

Bolsonaro took off his mask while announcing in a press conference that he tested positive for #COVID19 https://t.co/j7QSBMZ5sS

— Nathália Urban (@UrbanNathalia) July 7, 2020

Ecuador has given up even pretending to record infections. On April 24, it announced 7,595 had tested positive; the two days after that, zero cases. Its president, Lenín Moreno, was elected on a promise to further Rafael Correa’s social-democratic agenda. Instead, on orders from Washington and the IMF, he slashed the country’s health budget by 36 percent, rescinded the country’s support for whistleblower Julian Assange and began persecuting Correa, who was forced to flee to Belgium. Like in Brazil and Bolivia, the Ecuadorian government quickly purged the country of its contingent of Cuban doctors, some of the only medical professionals serving Latin America’s popular classes. The coastal city of Guayaquil is thought to be the worst-affected in the world by COVID-19.

Hardline Christian conservative Jeanine Añez came to power in Bolivia in November in a military coup that ousted Evo Morales and his Movement Towards Socialism Party. She wasted no time in mass privatization of the country’s state-owned resources, leading hospitals across the countries to close. Añez herself has now tested positive for the virus, and six of the country’s seven worst days for total infections have happened in the past week.

Cuban doctors in Bolivia provided free healthcare until they were pushed out by the US-backed coup. The hospitals they worked at are still closed, leaving working class communities vulnerable. Report from @OVargas52 pic.twitter.com/s3m0K8E3v7

— MintPress News (@MintPressNews) January 8, 2020

In Chile, billionaire president Sebastian Piñera has seen his personal wealth increase substantially during the lockdown. This week the pro-business leader vetoed a bill with bipartisan support that protected important public services during the pandemic, ensuring they remained open to all. Critics say the move is hardly likely to improve the situation across the country and puts profits before people.

Meanwhile, in Colombia, neoconservative president Ivan Duque is opening up the economy, even as the pandemic reaches new heights. Thursday saw a new record number of infections in the country, 5,335, beating Tuesday’s previous high of 4,213. Duque, who came to power in a highly questionable election that, had it occurred in an enemy state, would have likely been labeled a sham. His leftist challenger, Gustavo Petro, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt from government-aligned paramilitaries, while American election observers, mistaken for ordinary citizens, report being offered money to vote for Duque. The president is now using the pandemic to end the country’s long peace process while government-linked paramilitaries are taking the opportunity of the lockdown to assassinate their foes, including union leaders and activists. The economic and social confusion has led to large numbers of people crossing over the long and porous border to Venezuela, contributing to an increase in cases there as well.

One of the few bright spots in the region is Cuba, the island having squashed its curve. The worst days in the past month have seen only 15 new cases and one death. Its strong public services, particularly its famous health system, have aided the fight against the virus. In March, MintPress spoke to an American student doctor training in Havana, who said she was optimistic about the country’s preparedness in dealing with COVID-19. “I am very confident of Cuba’s public health and epidemiology system, it is all very organized: nationally, provincially, regionally and locally,” she said.

While these governments might have got what they want by deposing the wave of progressive, anti-imperialist governments in the last decade, their ideological drive to privatize and destroy any public institution is reaping what it sowed during this pandemic. Unfortunately, it is the people of Latin America who are suffering the most because of it.

Feature photo | Employees and family members during collective burials at Vila Formosa Cemetery, east side of São Paulo, Brazil on July 10, 2020. Bruno Rocha | Fotoarena | Sipa

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Latin America’s Neoliberal Leaders Are Making the Coronavirus Pandemic Far Worse appeared first on MintPress News.

As White Jesus Debate Rages, Islam Undergoes its Own Racial Reckoning

While the vigorous and often bitter debate around depictions of “White Jesus” continues to rage, a similar, but quieter discussion is taking place within Islamic communities on the subject of overly white illustrations of key figures in the Muslim tradition, particularly the twelve imams so revered in Shiaism, an subsect of Islam that comprises approximately ten percent of the world’s Muslim population. Depictions of humans are far less common in Islamic art, especially in Sunni Islam which tends to have much more iconoclastic tendencies, but a growing number of Muslims are voicing their discomfort over how portrayals of these leaders make them out to look far more European than they were.

“If there is talk about anti-black racism and working against mental colonization, then it makes sense that Muslims, as well as Christians, decolonize these depictions of prophets and saintly people,” Dawud Walid, Executive Director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told MintPress. “It’s about time, to say it bluntly,” said Zeinab Chami, a public school educator from Michigan and a practicing Shia, “now is the time for a change.” Sakina Syedda, co-founder of the Shia Racial Justice Coalition, agreed, telling MintPress that Muslims too should question any implicit racial biases encoded in their day-to-day lives: “It’s something that we know needs to be addressed. And we are beginning to see efforts in doing so.”

The idea that Jesus — a Jew living in Palestine 2,000 years ago — was “white,” is so ingrained into the public consciousness that it appears as an uncontroversial fact to many. Fox News host Megyn Kelly laughed at the idea of a non-white Jesus, calling it “ridiculous.” “Jesus was a white man,” she said, claiming fourth century Saint Nicholas, born in southwestern Turkey, as one of her own too: “Santa just is white… he is what he is.” If this level of understanding of one’s own culture is the norm, it is perhaps unremarkable to see the same in Islam. In the wake of writer and activist Shaun King’s comments that images of white Jesus should be removed (something that led to threats on his life), Georgia Republican Congressional candidate Angela Stanton King responded, “Threaten to tear down statues of the Prophet Muhammad and see how many death threats you get,” seemingly not realizing that Muslims would be all too happy to help her in her task.

In reality, the scholarly consensus on the historical Jesus is that he likely had a dark complexion, not unlike that of many living in the Levant or Arabia today. As The Atlantic’s Jonathan Merritt wrote in 2013: “If he were taking the red-eye flight from San Francisco to New York today, Jesus might be profiled for additional security screening by the TSA.” Like with Jesus, many of the key figures in early Islam were far darker than many often suppose.

“The reality is that perhaps almost half of the imams were what we would now call black; we would see them and think they are black or African-American,” said Chami, “And I don’t know why that would be hard for some people to accept. If that is the case there needs to be some soul searching done.”

When most Americans imagine Jesus, there is a good chance that they are picturing the same 1940 portrait by Chicago artist Warner E. Sallman. Depicting Jesus as young, light-skinned, and Nordic-looking, “The Head of Christ,” is said to be the best-known American artwork of all time, having been produced over a billion times, the image adorns churches across America and was printed out and handed to troops in World War Two by the Salvation Army and the YMCA.

Warner Sallman’s now-ubiquitous “Head of Christ” circa 1940

 

Black Skin, White Masks

“The Head of Christ” is the epitome of the nineteenth and twentieth-century attempts to whiten Jesus. Throughout the period, European nations justified their imperial conquests on the ground that they were saving “savages” from damnation. The French called it their “civilizing mission.” Making sure that the image of religious authority looked just like they did was a crucial psychological weapon. By negating his true identity as a dark-skinned revolutionary with anti-imperialist tendencies, slavers and imperialists were able to better justify the strict racial hierarchies they were imposing around the world. If Jesus was white then authority is white. The radical postcolonial intellectual Frantz Fanon understood this explicitly. In his seminal 1961 work, “The Wretched of the Earth,” he wrote:

The Church in the colonies is the white people’s Church, the foreigner’s Church. She does not call the native to God’s ways but to the ways of the white man, of the master, of the oppressor. And as we know, in this matter many are called but few chosen.”

Malcolm X saw Islam as an escape from the fundamentally racist power structures ruling the United States. In his famous letter from Mecca, he wrote that:

America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white — but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam.”

Due to his experiences in Mecca, he began to see racism as a spiritual problem that required a spiritual solution. “In that same vein, we can see this move toward accurate portrayals of our holy figures as more than a decolonization of our minds,” argued Chami, “it can be a shift at the soul level, and, God willing, a healing process within our individual spirits and our communities at-large.”

Unlike with Christianity, the European depictions of the twelve imams who followed the Prophet Muhammad appear to have been far less deliberate, being brought from Persia. If that is the case, then is there really a problem? “Imagery is important,” says Walid. “Especially when we are talking about anti-blackness and trying to discuss history the way that it truly was. A number of those imams actually had African mothers and were described as being brown to black in skin color, so the depictions of all of them looking white is the erasure of blackness from within early Islamic history.”

Hussein Nasreddine, 50, shows his tattoo of Imam Abbas, who is said to have died in battle fighting a tyrannical government, May 10, 2016. Hassan Ammar | AP

Halema Wali, another co-founder of the Shia Racial Justice Coalition, also notes that black erasure can have a powerful psychological influence. “Anti-Blackness can be perpetuated by not having religious figures accurately depicted and/or whitewashed. Whether intentionally or not, what ends up happening is the desire to be close to whiteness not just through beauty standards, but also via religiousness,” she told MintPress.

For her colleague Syedda, the significance of the matter transcends the religious domain:

A lot of countries around the world have been colonized by European nations and that creates power structures and hierarchies that tie into what people perceive as powerful, beautiful or aspirational. And you can see that reflected in all kinds of areas…whether it is fashion or beauty or art you have to stop and think, and people are starting to do that a lot more now.”

The whole point of her religion, for Chami, is about grasping at the fundamental truths of existence:

We learn about Islam through the lives of the prophet and the imams. We think of these people as the living Koran; they lived the message of God. So when you see resonance with these people, you see yourself in them. There is power there. But when they look a particular way, a way that you are told is the best way and it doesn’t look like you, that can be problematic. And for me, the ultimate issue is that these white depictions are not the truth. And we do not want to perpetuate something that is dishonest…And this movement is moving us closer to truth.”

 

I Can’t Breathe

The power of the image to have a profound effect on behavior and the human psyche is precisely the reason this debate is happening at this moment. George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25. Without video of the incident, circulated widely on social media, Floyd would have become just another statistic: one of the 1,000 American victims of police violence every year, a footnote in history. Instead, the killing sparked millions to demonstrate nationwide and across the world and has completely changed the paradigm of how we collectively understand race. Ideas like defunding or abolishing the police entirely, once-fringe positions, have gained popular support almost overnight. There is a new sense that change is possible, and within grasp, if it is demanded. On the topic of inaccurate depictions in Islam, Walid said, “There are some people who always saw this as problematic, but now there are people who are actually organizing around the issue to bring awareness to it.”

Shaun King may have gone too far when he called for the removal of statues of white Jesus from Christian places of worship. His “damn fool idea” caused hysteria in conservative circles, with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson telling his older, white audience that “the mob” was coming to destroy their churches. But it also received huge pushback from the left, who saw it as an overzealous, iconoclastic demand. Yet on the issue of replacing Europeanized versions of Islam’s most important figures with more historically accurate ones, it appears that activists are pushing at a door already somewhat open. Syedda noted she had not received much resistance from her predominantly South Asian Shia community. “People of faith should be primarily interested in truth,” said Chami, adding:

For people who are resisting this movement because they see it as some kind of imposition of our modern notions of race and racial justice on to the ancient traditions of our faith, the reality is that we know that these depictions are inaccurate so why would we want to prevent them from being more truthful? Why have we accepted these inaccuracies without question? And why would we resist these changes? For people who are resisting this, and I know some people who are, I think they should all do some soul searching and ask why.”

Feature photo | Ali, 22, poses for a photo showing off his tattoo of Shia Muslims’ first Imam Ali, in the southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, May 31, 2016. Hassan Ammar | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post As White Jesus Debate Rages, Islam Undergoes its Own Racial Reckoning appeared first on MintPress News.

Private Prison Simulation Game Goes Viral on Apple App Store

A new game called “Prison Empire Tycoon” is going viral. Released in late May, it has risen to become the current number one strategy game in Apple’s App Store and has been among the top 20 most popular games overall since its launch, with at least  3 million downloads to date. In line with many other popular business simulation games like the “Railroad Tycoon” and “Rollercoaster Tycoon” series, where users create huge transport networks or design and run their own theme parks, the point of “Prison Empire Tycoon” is to make money running a private American prison.

During the tutorial at the start, a baton-wielding guard instructs you, telling you that “the state pays us good money” to manage the “lowlifes” they send your way. “It’s a perfect business,” he says, as he shows you how to send inmates to solitary confinement, something that is near-universally described as torture.

The game is undeniably well put together, with a clear, functioning world and appealing, chunky graphics. And judging from the extremely positive reception the game has received, users see nothing wrong with its content either. Indeed, the biggest complaints in the negative reviews left online are that it has a number of bugs, has a tendency to crash, and features a lot of annoying ads and in-app purchases.

With almost 2.3 million people locked up across a sprawling network of thousands of facilities, the United States has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world, significantly worse than brutal dictatorships in Africa, Latin America or Central Asia. The U.S. imprisons its citizens at over ten times the rate of European countries like Denmark or Sweden, and over seventeen times that of Japan. Three-quarters of people held in jails have not been convicted of anything.

For-profit private prisons are a growing phenomenon. Since 2000, the number of people incarcerated in them has increased by 39.3 percent, compared to an overall rise of 7.8 percent. Some states have seen their private prison industry explode. Arizona’s private prison population for example has grown nearly sixfold over the last 20 years. Indiana and Ohio’s have quadrupled, while Florida’s has tripled.

Private prison corporations have a clear and perverse incentive to keep their charges in their custody for as long as possible and to make sure they return. In 2010, a federal grand jury convicted Pennsylvania judges of taking $2.6 million in bribes from for-profit juvenile detention facilities in exchange sending thousands of children to jail, often over the protestations of their probation officers.

Writer and prison critic Chris Hedges, who has taught at a number of penitentiaries, called prisoners the ideal American worker; they do not receive any benefits or pensions, are not paid overtime, cannot organize or go on strike, have no vacations or sick days, never show up late to work, cannot complain, and if they try to protest they can be beaten or tortured in solitary confinement. As such, he concludes, prisons “are models for what the corporate state expects us all to become.” According to a 2017 study by the Prison Policy Initiative, incarcerated workers in non-industry prison jobs are paid between $0.86 and $3.45 per day, a significant decline from previous years.

These wages are used as a battering ram against wages across society. Right now, California is facing a critical shortage of firefighters to tackle the summer forest fires, precisely because the state has relied on prison labor, rather than unionized firefighters. California’s prison population is currently on lockdown after particularly severe COVID-19 outbreaks across the state’s correctional facilities.

While many people are working to change or abolish the institution altogether, the massive prison population and terrible conditions found inside have become so accepted that Chelsea Manning’s jailer is running a successful campaign for Congress in Alabama, as a Democrat. The runoff election is on Tuesday.

Video games are also used to sanitize other inherently violent institutions. Among the most popular genres of games are hyper-realistic first-person shooters like the “Call of Duty” franchise, where players play as American troops gunning down huge numbers of faceless Arabs. The U.S. Army has its own eSports team which it uses to groom suggestible teenagers into joining the military. Indeed, the Air Force has a recruitment tool game on its own website which allows you to drone bomb Iraqis and Afghans. Players who perform well are prompted whether they would like to do this in real life.

The fact that the reception to “Prison Empire Tycoon” has been overwhelmingly positive, with few people remarking on its problematic content, goes to show how normalized the prison industrial complex has become and how few people recognize the dystopian depths that society has sunk to.

Feature photo | An screenshot shows a series of images from Digital Things’ “Private Prison Tycoon”

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Private Prison Simulation Game Goes Viral on Apple App Store appeared first on MintPress News.

Podcast: West Virginia’s Exploited Communities Stand Up to Coal, Oil & Gas Giants

Welcome to MintCast — an interview series hosted by Mnar Muhawesh Adley featuring dissenting voices the establishment would rather silence.

In this episode, we are joined by activist, journalist and documentary filmmaker Eleanor Goldfield whose new documentary, “Hard Road of Hope,” shares the stories of people in West Virginia and their struggle against the corporate state.

West Virginia. It’s been dubbed as a throwaway state with throw away people.  

It’s a region in America often brushed under the rug in mainstream corporate media but its significance is major: this state and its story are a microcosm of U.S. exploitation of working class Americans at the hands of the corporate state, most notably the oil, gas and coal industry. 

Journalist Chris Hedges describes its coal-rich mountains as an economic and ecological sacrifice zone to capitalism, one of the areas richest in resources in all of America, yet filled with some of the poorest and most powerless people in the country. West Virginia is home to the opioid crisis, theft of indigenous land, environmental disaster, water and soil contamination, oil pipelines and extraction, coal mining, fracking, and slavery. 

“Hard Road of Hope,” tells the story of the poorest state in the union by per median household income, the ecological damage done by extractivist corporations plundering the region’s mineral resources, and how communities are coming together to fight back. Goldfield’s debut feature-length documentary is a sad, angering, and inspiring account. 


Of the film, Paul Corbit, President of the ecological group Keeper of the Mountains said:

So many have come to West Virginia to tell our story- some have done so better than others. But Eleanor’s film is one of the very few that told our story in our own words; succinctly, and with a clarity and dignity that can’t be ignored. Our story is yet another in a long line of wake up calls happening around the world. Eleanor’s film sounds that alarm in a way that can’t be denied.”

Today, we discuss the reasons Goldfield chose to make a documentary about West Virginia, the environmental devastation that huge energy companies have caused, and the community’s fight back against the corporate state. 

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

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

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

The post Podcast: West Virginia’s Exploited Communities Stand Up to Coal, Oil & Gas Giants appeared first on MintPress News.

VenezolanosConBiden and MAGAzuela: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Biden campaign held an online event on Wednesday, July 8 pitched as the former Vice President’s “vision for Venezuela and Venezuelans in the U.S.” Spoiler alert: his vision for Venezuela barely differs from President Trump. This event, which didn’t merit an appearance from Biden himself, was aimed at getting Venezuelan-Americans to volunteer for “Uncle Joe,” as Representative Darren Soto (D-Fl) called him. It was an hour and a half of shilling for votes and influence, and it demonstrated that when it comes to Venezuela, policies of regime change, sanctions and a refusal to engage in dialogue unite VenezolanosConBiden (the group hosting the event) with MAGAzuela (the term for Trump-supporting Venezuelans).

There are only two policy differences in the Biden and Trump approaches to Venezuela. One is about TPS, or temporary protected status, which is an immigration policy that allows people from ten specific countries affected by disasters to live and work in the U.S. Biden supports TPS for Venezuelans, while Trump allies have blocked it in the Senate and Trump himself ended the program and has refused to issue it for Venezuelans. According to one of Biden’s surrogates, there are 150 thousand Venezuelans in the U.S. who are either undocumented or are here on expired visas.

The other difference is the border wall, which is now being built in part using Venezuelan funds. The Trump administration has diverted $601 million dollars in assets stolen from the Venezuelan people to build the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. This money was previously held in the Treasury Department’s “forfeiture fund”, which is typically used to finance law enforcement operations. It is part of the estimated $24 billion that the U.S. and its allies have frozen and looted from Venezuela in their regime change efforts. Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed interim president, has yet to comment on how the Trump administration is using these Venezuelan funds, but his “ambassador”, Carlos Vecchio, admitted to working with the Justice Department to “establish a formal agreement … to define the percentage” of how much of the seized Venezuelan funds will go to the United States. According to Guaidó and his associates, it is “normal” for the Trump administration to take a cut.

TPS and the wall are the only two points on which Biden and Trump differ. Biden’s surrogates claim he will grant TPS to Venezuelans on Day One of his administration and Biden says he will stop financing the wall. These differences are minimal though, especially considering that Biden will continue the policies that have led millions of Venezuelans to flee in the first place and he has given every indication that more funds will be frozen.

Biden’s vision is more of the same magical thinking that the Trump administration has engaged in for years. His campaign says the sanctions will continue and actually intensify. A Biden administration would seek “a huge increase in aid”, not just for Venezuela but for Colombia and other countries with Venezuelan migrants. They would build an “international coalition” to rebuild Venezuela. They would persecute key supporters of the Venezuelan government, regardless of where they are in the world. According to Juan González, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under Obama and current advisor to Biden on Latin America, they will give the government of President Nicolás Maduro one option: elections observed by a respected (and unnamed) multilateral institution and he must leave office.

Biden’s surrogates warn that Venezuela is a national security issue for the U.S., that the country has been infiltrated by terrorist groups and everything must be done to end Russian, Chinese, and Cuban influence. They responded to a question about the impact of sanctions by blaming the “humanitarian crisis” on chavismo. They say Biden will not negotiate with Maduro. The Biden campaign attacked Trump for suggesting he would meet with Maduro, forcing Trump to backtrack on the offer, and has been running ads in Miami accusing Trump of being soft on Maduro.

Biden’s policies are the same policies and exact rhetoric used by the Trump administration. Since 2017, the U.S. has imposed sanctions that have cost 100,000 Venezuelans their lives and led to economic losses of $130 billion. But according to Biden supporter Rep. Soto, “there hasn’t been enough of a crackdown” on the Maduro government. Trump has spent three years building an approximately 60-country anti-Maduro coalition and Secretary of State Pompeo has traveled the world seeking more aid allegedly for Venezuela, but that ends up in countries with Venezuelan migrants. They have sanctioned foreign companies doing business with Venezuela and sought to arrest Venezuelan businessmen overseas.

On the issue of military intervention, the Biden surrogates claimed Trump’s threats of a military option were empty and insisted other options must be explored and all other avenues of pressure exhausted (except, of course, dialogue) before considering military action. They did not say whether U.S. intervention should be “on the table”, and framed the discussion around the U.S. public’s alleged aversion to another war rather than on the catastrophic consequences this would have for the Venezuelan people, let alone the illegality of any sort of military intervention.

It is no secret that regime change in Venezuela is a bipartisan objective, and Trump’s tactic of pandering to right-wing Latinx extremists in Florida has led the Democrats to do the same. The Biden campaign strategy is clear: mimic the administration’s Venezuela policy while offering TPS to draw votes away from Trump. The surrogates also repeatedly insisted that Biden is not a socialist – apparently a common misconception among the MAGAzuela crowd.

It should be no surprise that this is all about Florida and the 2020 election. Trump not only won the state in 2016, but his allies took the governorship and a Senate seat in 2018, albeit by small margins. Republican governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott both accused their opponents of being socialists who are soft on Venezuela. The Biden camp is doing its utmost to prevent those types of attacks from sticking against their candidate.

There is no reason to believe that Biden will change course on Venezuela if elected. There are too many votes in Florida at stake, as well as donations to be had from wealthy Venezuelan ex-pats – who at this point are playing both sides and doing so very well. A Biden presidency, just like another four more years of Trump, looks to be disastrous for the Venezuelan people.

Feature photo | Joe Biden meets with Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro on the sidelines of the 2015 inauguration of Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto Palace. Photo | AP

Leonardo Flores is Latin American policy expert and campaigner with CODEPINK.

The post VenezolanosConBiden and MAGAzuela: Two Sides of the Same Coin appeared first on MintPress News.

Firm Linked to HHS’ Robert Kadlec Poised to Become Exclusive Manufacture of COVID-19 Vaccines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Emerging Questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Money Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed

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

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

But does it really matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature photo | Young Palestinians use a ladder to climb over Israel’s apartheid wall in Al-Ram, north of Jerusalem. Majdi Mohammed | AP

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

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

TikTok Could Become Latest Victim of US War on Chinese Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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

Democratic Candidate James Averhart Personally Oversaw Solitary Confinement of Chelsea Manning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feature photo | Former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning speaks with reporters, after arriving at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., May 16, 2019. Cliff Owen | AP

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

The post Democratic Candidate James Averhart Personally Oversaw Solitary Confinement of Chelsea Manning appeared first on MintPress News.

The Merging of US and Israeli National Security States is Accelerating Amid COVID-19

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

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

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

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

 

Cui Bono?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Diversification

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revealed: Saudi Arabia Tripled its Theft of Yemen’s Oil amid Price War with Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yemen’s stolen oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Saudi clock is ticking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guaido Representative Threatens FBI Investigation Into Journalists Exposing Her Dealings

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

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

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

— Julia Buxton (@BuxtonJulia) July 6, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 5, 2020

 

Juan Guaidó’s tenuous claim to power

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan MacLeod is a Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. He has also contributed to Fairness and Accuracy in ReportingThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin MagazineCommon Dreams the American Herald Tribune and The Canary.

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

Pages