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Human Rights Watch Watches Out for US’ Bolivian Friends, Condemns Amnesty for Political Prisoners

NEW YORK — Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned a general amnesty for over a thousand Bolivians persecuted under the one-year dictatorship of Jeanine Añez. Yesterday, the Washington-based human rights organization decried the plan to drop all charges against people resisting the government as “opening the door to impunity.” Its Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said that the new law “undermines victims’ access to justice and violates the fundamental principle of equality before the law.” HRW alleges that a handful of anti-coup demonstrators carried out serious crimes, such as arson or kidnapping, while opposing the regime, thus making general amnesty seriously problematic.

New President Luis Arce won an overwhelming electoral victory in October after a citizens’ revolt paralyzed the country and forced Añez to hold an election. Human Rights Watch notes with concern that this new decree “suggests that anyone prosecuted by the Áñez government for actions during social protests had their rights violated,” something that many consider to be obvious and uncontroversial.

“Human Rights Watch is criticizing the Bolivian government for lifting the charges against leftists who were persecuted by the former coup regime (seriously). This is why Bolivians are suspicious of these U.S. NGOs,” reacted Bolivian journalist Ollie Vargas.

Human Rights Watch is criticising the Bolivian government for lifting the charges against leftists who were persecuted by the former coup regime (seriously). This is why Bolivians are suspicious of these US NGOs. https://t.co/pV8My0u9FU

— Ollie Vargas (@OVargas52) March 11, 2021

 

An odd position for a human rights org

A layperson might expect one of the best known human rights organizations in the world to celebrate the acquittal of over a thousand innocent people charged with “crimes” such as reporting on massacres in a way that displeased the government, hospital workers treating the regime’s victims, or calling Añez a “dictator” in WhatsApp conversations. Yet HRW strongly supported the coup as it was taking place, insisting that President Evo Morales was actually “resigning” of his own accord, and merely “traveling to Mexico” rather than fleeing at the barrel of a gun.

HRW’s executive director, Ken Roth, made a series of public statements on social media expressing his delight, even as security forces took over La Paz, massacring civilians and overthrowing a democratically-elected president. Roth also described the coup approvingly as an “uprising” and a “transitional moment” for Bolivia, while presenting Morales as an out-of-touch “strongman.” For Roth, Morales was “the casualty of a counter-revolution aimed at defending democracy…against electoral fraud and his own illegal candidacy,” falsely alleging that Morales had ordered the army to shoot protesters.

As Roth was making his pronouncements, Añez was signing a new law that gave security forces complete immunity for killing dissenters. HRW described this as a “problematic decree,” as if Añez had merely used insensitive language. The organization also attempted to hide who were the perpetrators of the ensuing massacres, telling readers that “nine people died and 122 were wounded” during a Cochabamba demonstration, but refusing to fill them in on who was dying and who was shooting.

Even in yesterday’s 2,800-word report, published 16 months after the incident, the word “coup” is completely absent. Instead, HRW states (emphasis added) that Morales “was forced to resign on November 10, 2019, after the commanders of the armed forces and the police asked him to step down.” Morales, however, made it clear at the time that he was leaving only to avoid a bloodbath.

HRW also continues to describe Añez as the “interim president” — her own, propagandistic word for her role — rather than “dictator,” and maintains that Morales’s election was “controversial” because of “allegations of electoral fraud.” This is despite the fact that the allegations were immediately debunked by independent statisticians. Last month, HRW demanded that Donald Trump be prosecuted because he promoted false theories of a “stolen election” in the U.S. Yet, in Bolivia, HRW itself is doing exactly the same thing — and based on just as shaky evidence.

 

A brief and brutal fascist interlude

Elected in 2005, Morales was the first leader in the country’s history to come from its indigenous majority. During his 14 years in office, his administration reduced poverty by 42% and extreme poverty by 60%, halving unemployment and increasing real GDP per capita by 50%. Taking the country down a more socialist path, he fostered links to like-minded neighboring countries such as Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, and was sharply critical of U.S. actions abroad. In October 2019, he won an unprecedented and controversial fourth term by over 10 points. However, sectors of the U.S.-backed Bolivian right-wing cried foul, alleging fraud, with the military and the police using the ensuing chaos to justify overthrowing him.

The military handpicked Morales’s successor, Añez, a little known senator from a far-right party that received 4% of the vote. A hardline Christian conservative, Añez sparked controversy by declaring the country’s indigenous majority as “satanic” and arguing that they should not be allowed to live in cities. She immediately started crushing dissent, targeting followers of Morales, media outlets, and human rights observers.

Añez also began privatizing the economy and reoriented the country’s foreign policy away from an independent path and towards the United States. Despite calling herself an “interim president,” she repeatedly canceled elections, leading many to believe she was attempting to stay in power indefinitely with help from the military, which ruled the country directly for much of the 20th century. However, a nationwide general strike in August shut the country down, forcing her to agree to an October election.

Morales was banned from running. But Luis Arce, his former economy minister, was elected in a 27-point landslide, gaining almost twice the votes of his nearest challenger.

 

Highly Reactionary Worldview

Unfortunately, this sort of behavior from Human Rights Watch is far from unusual. Headquartered in NYC, with a branch on D.C.’s Pennsylvania Avenue, the organization was originally established in 1978 as Helsinki Watch, an American group dedicated to exposing the crimes of Eastern Bloc countries and monitoring their compliance with the Helsinki Accords.

Its founder, Aryeh Neier, is a libertarian fundamentalist who equates the very idea of economic or labor rights with oppression, writing that they are “profoundly undemocratic.” “Authoritarian power is probably a prerequisite for giving meaning to economic and social rights,” he added. Thus, under this interpretation of rights, the Morales administration’s actions in reducing poverty, hunger and labor insecurity are not achievements, but black marks against it.

Since its establishment, HRW has consistently been criticized for being an agent of U.S. foreign policy, employing former U.S. government officials in key positions and displaying bias against leftist governments unfriendly to the United States. Vivanco himself penned a much-derided report on human rights in Venezuela, which, in an open letter, over 100 Latin American experts claimed “did not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility.” And while constantly describing Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator,” in May, Vivanco called Bolivia under Añez’s rule a democracy.

HRW worked hard to legitimize the U.S.-, British-, and Brazilian-backed coup. With this new report, it appears as if it is still trying to turn the clock back, showing that it all too often places Western imperial interests over liberty for oppressed peoples.

Feature photo | Masked police detain a supporter of Evo Morales after they launched tear gas at a massive funeral procession that was marching into La Paz, Bolivia, Nov. 21, 2019. Photo | AP

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

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Is China Committing Genocide? Behind the US Government’s Propaganda Campaign

XINJIANG PROVINCE, CHINA — Up is down. War is peace. And the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have accused China of genocide.

“This is forced labor, this is forced sterilization, this is forced abortions, …the kind of thing we haven’t seen in an awfully long time in this world,” declared then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

To be fair, the accusers are experts in genocide: the U.S. and its junior imperial partner, Canada, wiped out their indigenous populations. Today the U.S. is responsible for the three biggest human rights catastrophes in the world in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. And the Netherlands is just coming to terms with its massacres in Indonesia.

Mike Pompeo’s successor at the State Department, Antony Blinken, is sticking with the genocide claim. That’s despite the State Department’s top lawyers stating that whatever might be happening in Xinjiang, it’s not genocide. That’s right. Chinese Communist Party genocide denialists have infiltrated the U.S. State Department to impurify our precious bodily fluids.

 

Pure Zenz

So what did Pompeo and Blinken base their accusations of genocide on? There must have been a pretty strong body of on-the-ground reporting and research. Or not. It turns out that one guy is pretty much responsible for the whole narrative. His name is Adrian Zenz.

“Adrian’s research, as many of you know, has been key in establishing the existence of the camps in the first place, and in documenting the buildup of the PRC police state,” explained Hudson Institute fellow Eric Brown.

Zenz appeared almost overnight as a go-to expert on Xinjiang and Uighurs. Now he’s a regular on mainstream outlets and even on supposedly progressive news show Democracy Now. In fact, in Mike Pompeo’s official statement accusing China of genocide, he directly credited Zenz.

But most of his so-called research has been discredited, and he’s been revealed to be a straight-up fabulist. A Grayzone News investigation showed that Zenz’s claims of 1 million Uighur detained in camps were based “on a single report by Istiqlal TV, a Uyghur exile media organization based in Turkey, which was republished by Newsweek Japan.” In other words, no evidence, and not even an attempt.

Meanwhile, Zenz’s study accusing China of forced sterilizations didn’t contain any proof of coercion. The Grayzone showed how “Zenz consistently framed the expansion of public healthcare services in Xinjiang as evidence of a genocide in the making.”

Characterizing expanded access to birth control as genocide is what the Christian Right does. So it makes perfect sense that Zenz – an evangelical fundamentalist himself – holds this view.

Zenz’s first book is a psychedelic trip through the mind of a Rapture-ready Christer. Entitled “Worthy to Escape: Why All Believers Will Not Be Raptured Before the Tribulation,” the book claims that in the end times, “God’s refining process will wipe out all unbelieving Jews who refuse to come to Christ.” So Zenz writes racist fantasies about Jews, like me. Who knows what he thinks will happen to Uighur Muslims!

He also says that Satan is using postmodernism to attack gender-authority structures and undermine what he believes are God’s unique but different role assignments for men and women. Clearly, he is against women’s rights. So does he support criminalizing birth control in his native Germany and here in the U.S. where he now resides?

Even more deranged, Zenz’s big genocide study claimed that women in Xinjiang receive 800 to 1600 IUD insertions per capita. That means every Uighur woman is surgically implanted with 4 to 8 IUDs every single day of the year.

Evidently, none of the outlets that feverishly published his claims bothered to give even a cursory examination to the evidence, or lack thereof, that he presents.

 

Other reasons (besides genocide) for having fewer kids

In reality, the decrease in birth rate is a normal, predictable outcome of economic development. When people are more financially secure, they choose to have fewer kids and do it later in life.

In fact, China is pouring money into Xinjiang to develop its economy.

According to a 2015 U.S. government study, “To decrease ethnic instability in Xinjiang, the Chinese government’s plan is to economically develop the region.”

That’s right. Chinese Communist Party agents have also time-traveled to 2015 to infiltrate the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School and write a study trying to justifying genocide. Damn you Xi!!!

As a result of this economic development, China’s birth rate is falling at rapid rates in all regions, which comes with its own set of problems, like an aging population – similar to what the U.S. is dealing with. So Chinese lawmakers are now pushing for the universal two-child policy to be changed to three.

But this rapture-ready fanatic Adrian Zenz isn’t the only source for these claims of genocide, right?

Well, Newsweek cites Adrian Zenz.

How about CNN: the self-described most trusted name in news? CNN says its reporting found that some Uyghur women were being forced to use birth control and undergo sterilization… There it is. Can’t argue with that.

…The article was “based on a report by Adrian Zenz.”

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum accuses China of crimes against humanity and genocide against Uighurs. They reference “leaked government documents” and “researchers,” presumably referring to Zenz.

 

Zenz and the Genocide Choir

With Zenz at the center, a cast of shady characters have promoted this disinformation to support the phony genocide claim:

  • Rushan Abbas — former Pentagon contractor who worked for Radio Free Asia, a U.S. propaganda mouthpiece started by the CIA.
  • Darren Byler — a fellow at the Wilson Center, which is funded by the U.S. government and a host of other NATO governments, big banks and corporations. His resume shows he has also been funded to the tune of 100,000 dollars through the U.S. Department of Education.
  • He does panels with Louise Greve — the former vice president of the CIA cutout National Endowment for Democracy, who now runs the NED-funded Uyghur Human Rights Project.
  • There’s Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson — this cold-warrior wrote an op-ed in the liberal interventionist Foreign Affairs magazine calling for Biden to confront China over human rights. What the hell are the people at Human Rights Watch smoking to believe the guy who just bombed Syria and sponsors Israel’s project of apartheid has a shred of crediblity on human rights?
  • Then there’s the Australian Strategic Policy Institute – the self-declared independent, non-partisan think tank, which is totally dependent on funding from the Australian and American departments of defense, NATO, weapons makers, the Embassy of Japan, and the Embassy of Israel, among others.

 

2018 and the sudden “genocide” drumbeat

The Uighur genocide claim was virtually unheard of before 2018. Up until that point, Western media coverage of the issue was dramatically different.

Take The New York Times. In the 1980s, it published a series of articles about how Uighur Muslims were actually prospering and Islam was flourishing under Chinese rule.

By the 1980s, this separatist movement was becoming violent. In one 1997 incident, the Times reported on, about a thousand Muslim separatists of the Uighur ethnic minority rampaged through the town Yining on Wednesday, smashing cars, burning shops and beating up ethnic Chinese to protest Beijing’s rule.

In 1994, the Times reported that Uighur extremists were returning from Afghanistan, where the CIA spent a billion dollars arming what it called a “University of Jihad.” The Times noted that “Afghan veterans have fought in two western provinces, Uighur and Xinjiang, where they have armed and trained Chinese Muslim rebels.”

In the wake of the U.S. destruction of Yugoslavia, the Times noted the separatists fantasized about a NATO bombing campaign

This Uighur separatist movement, its violent anti-Han rampages, or the militants returning from Afghanistan are barely mentioned in any of the contemporary Times reports claiming genocide.

In 1981, The Washington Post wrote about growing ethnic tensions in Xinjiang, noting that “Peking has taken pains to ensure ethnic rights and elevate minority group members to leadership positions. In Xinjiang, a kind of affirmative action program has been started at the provincial university to guarantee that 60 percent of new students are from ethnic backgrounds.” Today, none of this gets mentioned in the Post’s coverage.

How about Newsweek? Back in 2000, it reported that Xinjiang was a weak point that threatened to fragment China along ethnic lines, that Uighur separatists threatened the security of Beijing, and some might even join forces with Islamic “holy warriors.” Now it’s all genocide, all the time.

With these misleading or outright false claims based on manipulated statistics, the only evidence for a Uighur genocide is anecdotal, which is hard to prove or disprove. But the testimony in Western media is often full of contradictions.

Take the case of Sayragul Sauytbay. In 2019, she told the UK tabloid The Daily Mail that she witnessed concentration camp “inmates being flayed, raped by guards in front of other prisoners, given injections that made them infertile and force-fed pork.” Keep in mind this is the same tabloid that has spent years peddling Islamophobic hysteria and once warned about Muslim fanatics hijacking the royal wedding. Sauytbay has told similar stories in more respectable newspapers like Foreign Policy, Haaretz and Deutsche Welle.

But back in 2018, Sauytbay told the Globe and Mail that “She did not personally see violence.” For some reason, she completely changed her story. Maybe she was fearful and traumatized, or maybe she falsified it. Apparently, none of the outlets that published her testimony bothered to check into that discrepancy.

Then there’s Tursunay Ziyawundun. She’s the central character in the forced-sterilization narrative cooked up by Adrian Zenz. She’s delivered teary testimonies for the BBC, CNN and Democracy Now. A few months before those reports, however, she told Buzzfeed News, “I wasn’t beaten or abused.” Again, why did she change her story? And why did all of these media outlets fail to do a basic check into her past statements?

 

Older rumblings

In my research, the first mention of Uighur genocide took place back in 1997, when several so-called “Chinese dissidents” testified to Congress. One woman named Rizvangul Uighur claimed that China’s birth control policy involved murdering babies as soon as they were born. She said the one-child policy was so strictly enforced that “babies are being killed in [the] delivery room without seeing the mother’s face and world.”

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) – a homophobic bigot from the Christian right – claimed that Uighur women “are often taken physically to the abortion mill. Forced abortions can be performed very late in pregnancy, even in the ninth month. Sometimes the baby’s skull is crushed with forceps as it emerges from the birth canal. Either the woman or her husband may then be forcibly sterilized.”

That’s the same Chris Smith who several months before was railing against abortion rights at the so-called March For Life rally and accusing Bill Clinton of murdering unborn children:

You are and your legacy will be abortion president. You know, mister president, that the scriptures admonish us to pray for those in authority. And we will be faithful to that. As believers we will pray and fast, and sincerely hope, that you reject the culture of death.”

Neither Rizvangul Uighur nor Smith bothered to mention that in 1997 Uighurs and other ethnic minorities were not subject to the one-child policy. So the birthrate in Xinjiang province was 19.66 – meaning there were nearly 20 births per 1,000 people. Meanwhile, in Beijing, the birthrate was 7.91.

Of course, there was a clear political goal in the bogus testimony delivered in Congress. It was coordinated to be released on the day that Bill Clinton met with President of China Jiang Zemin.

Members of Congress were demanding Clinton take a hardline approach to China, some even using racist epithets to warn of a Chinese invasion. “The White House will not wise up until there’s a full blown rice paddy on the east lawn,” warned Democratic Ohio Congressman James Traficant, whose career ultimately ended in a bribery conviction and expulsion from Congress.

After that, save for a couple of Voice of America articles, there was no mention in Western media about the Uighur genocide — until 2018.

 

The contemporary hypocritical propaganda barrage

It’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of American politicians taking up the supposed Uighur genocide cause are totally supportive of U.S.-sponsored genocides around the world. Like Chris Smith (yup, he’s still there).

The same Chris Smith who welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu with a statement of “unequivocal support for Israel” just a few months after it killed 551 Palestinians in Gaza.

Or Florida Senator Rick Scott – also a bestie of the butcher of Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The neocon Michael Pillsbury – the same Michael Pillsbury who in the 1980s, as a state department official, oversaw the CIA’s arming of the Afghanistan mujahideen with Stinger missiles, the same mujahideen who would train Uighur jihadists.

The Uighur genocide is almost perfectly tailored for right-wing agitators who want to portray socialism as a totalitarian system akin to Nazism. “When people say ‘never again’ they were (sic) full of crap. They’re just full of crap. This is one area where the United States should be taking a leading role… shaving people’s heads, shipping them on trains and to concentration camps where you force them into labor and/or sterilize them,” declared Ben Shapiro.

“Many of them women who, of their own volition, had the Chinese government paramilitary forcefully end those pregnancies. Forcefully sterilize,” said Tim Pool. “They’re trying to sterilize the Uighur population but force the Han population genetic code into other Uighur women,” his fellow podcaster claimed.

Should I mention here that the U.S. government forcibly sterilized 1,400 Black women in a California prison? Haven’t seen any U.S. government officials or news media talk about that!

This propaganda deluge is having a powerful impact on U.S. public opinion. In 2017, just before the Uighur genocide narrative kicked into high gear, 53% of Americans had a favorable view of China – the highest in three decades. That was accompanied by a 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes in U.S. cities.

 

Trillions of dollars worth of “caring”

So what is this all about? Why did corporate media and militaristic right wing politicians, along with a surprising number of progressive dupes, suddenly start freaking out about a supposed genocide in China?

Xinjiang is the heart of China’s Belt and Road initiative, the economic plan that connects Asia to Europe and the Middle East. It’s an alternative model to the dictatorship of the U.S. dollar, where the World Bank and International Monetary Fund turn countries into neo-colonies for American corporations – a system backed up with the constant threat of military invasion.

The U.S. can’t deal with legitimate competition, so it’s resorting to smears in an attempt to isolate China diplomatically and slow its economic growth.

It’s either that, or the government and military that forcibly sterilized minority women in prisons, tortured in Abu Ghraib, relies on prison labor, and is waging genocidal wars against multiple Muslim-majority countries, just simply cares a whole lot about the Uighurs.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

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

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Chris Hedges: Bandaging the Corpse

Princeton, New Jersey (ScheerpostThe established ruling elites know there is a crisis. They agreed, at least temporarily, to throw money at it with the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 bill known as American Rescue Plan (ARP). But the ARP will not alter the structural inequities, either by raising the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour or imposing taxes and regulations on corporations or the billionaire class that saw its wealth increase by a staggering $1.1 trillion since the start of the pandemic. The health system will remain privatized, meaning the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations will reap a windfall of tens of billions of dollars with the ARP, and this when they are already making record profits. The endless wars in the Middle East, and the bloated military budget that funds them, will remain sacrosanct. Wall Street and the predatory global speculators that profit from the massive levels of debt peonage imposed on an underpaid working class and loot the U.S. Treasury in our casino capitalism will continue to funnel money upwards into the hands of a tiny, oligarchic cabal. There will be no campaign finance reform to end our system of legalized bribery. The giant tech monopolies will remain intact. The fossil fuel companies will continue to ravage the ecosystem. The militarized police, censorship imposed by digital media platforms, vast prison system, harsher and harsher laws aimed at curbing domestic terrorism and dissent and wholesale government surveillance will be, as they were before, the primary instruments of state control.

This act will, at best, provide a momentary respite from the country’s death spiral, sending out one time checks of $1,400 to 280 million Americans, extending $300 weekly unemployment benefits until the end of August and distributing $3,600 through a tax credit for children under the age of 6 and $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17 starting on July 1. Much of this money will be instantly gobbled up by landlords, lenders, medical providers and credit card companies. The act does, to its credit, bail out some 1 million unionized workers poised to lose their pensions and hands $31.2 billion in aid to Native communities, some of the poorest in the nation.

But what happens to the majority of Americans who get government support for only a few months? What are they supposed to do when the checks stop arriving at the end of the year? Will the federal government orchestrate another massive relief package? I doubt it. We will be back where we started.

By refusing to address the root causes of America’s rot, by failing to pump life back into the democratic institutions that once gave the citizen a voice, however limited, and make incremental and piecemeal reform possible, by not addressing the severe economic and social inequality and dislocation that afflicts at least half the country, the anomie and ruptured social bonds that gave rise to a demagogue like Donald Trump will expand. The American empire will not staunch its disintegration. The political deformities will metastasize.

When the next demagogue appears, and the Republican Party has banked its future on Trump or his doppelgänger, he or she will probably be competent. The Republican Party in 43 states has proposed 250 laws to limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting and mandate stricter ID requirements, as well as reduce the hours at voting sites and the numbers of voting locations potentially disenfranchising tens of millions of voters. The party has no intention of playing by the rules. Once back in power, cloaked in the ideological garb of Christian fascism, the new or the old Trump will abolish what little is left of democratic space.

The established elites pretend that Trump was a freakish anomaly. They naively believe they can make Trump and his most vociferous supporters disappear by banishing them from social media. The ancien régime, will, they assert, return with the decorum of its imperial presidency, respect for procedural norms, elaborately choreographed elections and fealty to neoliberal and imperial policies.

But what the established ruling elites have yet to grasp, despite the narrow electoral victory Joe Biden had over Trump and the storming of the capital on January 6 by an enraged mob, is that the credibility of the old order is dead. The Trump era, if not Trump himself, is the future. The ruling elites, embodied by Biden and the Democratic Party and the polite wing of the Republican Party represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, is headed for the dustbin of history.

The elites collectively sold out the American public to corporate power. They did this by lying to the public about the consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade deals, dismantling welfare, revoking Glass-Stegall, imposing austerity measures, deregulating Wall Street, passing draconian crime bills, launching endless wars in the Middle East and bailing out the big banks and financial firms rather than the victims of their fraud. These lies were far, far more damaging to the public than any of the lies told by Trump. These elites have been found out. They are hated. They deserve to be hated.

The Biden administration — and Biden was one of the principal architects of the policies that fleeced the working class and made war on the poor — is nothing more than a brief coda in the decline and fall, set against which is China’s rising global economic and military clout.

The loss of credibility has left the media, which serves as courtiers to the elites, largely powerless to manipulate public perceptions and public opinion. Rather, the media has divided the public into competing demographics. Media platforms target one demographic, feeding its opinions and proclivities back to it, while shrilly demonizing the demographic on the other side of the political divide. This has proved commercially successful. But it has also split the country into irreconcilable warring factions that can no longer communicate. Truth and verifiable fact have been sacrificed. Russiagate is as absurd as the belief that the presidential election was stolen from Trump. Pick your fantasy.

The loss of credibility among the ruling elites has transferred political influence to those outside established centers of power such as Alex Jones, celebrities and those, such as Joe Rogan, Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi who were never groomed by the media conglomerates. The Democratic Party, in an effort to curb the influence of the new centers of power, has allied itself with social media industry giants such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Substack and Spotify to curtail or censor its critics. The goal is to herd the public back to Democratic Party allied news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. But these media outlets, which in the service to corporate advertisers have rendered the lives of the working class and the poor invisible, are as reviled as the ruling elites themselves.

The loss of credibility has also given rise to new, often spontaneous groups, as well as the lunatic fringe that embraces conspiracy theories such as QAnon. None of these groups or individuals, whether they are on the left or the right, however, have the organizational structure, coherence and ideological cohesiveness of radical movements of the past, including the old Communist Party or militant labor unions. They traffic in emotional outrage, often replacing one outrage with another. They provide new forms of identity to replace the identities lost by tens of millions of Americans who have been cast aside. This energy can be harnessed for laudable causes, such as ending police abuse, but it is too often ephemeral. It has a tendency to transform political debate into grievance protests, at best, and more often televised spectacle. These flash mobs pose no threat to the elites unless they build disciplined organization structures, which takes years, and articulate a vision of what can come next. (This is why I support Extinction Rebellion, which has a large grassroots network, especially in Europe, carries out effective sustained acts of civil disobedience and has a clearly stated goal of overthrowing the ruling elites and building a new governing system through people’s committees and sortition.)

This amorphous, emotionally driven anti-politics is fertile ground for demagogues, who have no political consistency but cater exclusively to the zeitgeist of the moment. Many of those who support demagogues know, on some level, they are con artists and liars. But demagogues are revered because, like all cult leaders, they flout conventions, are outrageous and crude, claim omnipotence and disdain traditional decorum. Demagogues are weaponized against bankrupt well-heeled elites who have stripped the public of opportunities and identities, extinguishing hopes for the future. A cornered population has little left but hate and the emotional catharsis expressing it brings.

The engine of our emerging dystopia is income inequality, which is growing.  This bill does nothing to address this cancer. The bottom 50 percent of households in 2019 accounted for only 1 percent of the nation’s total wealth.  The top 10 percent accounted for 76 percent.  And this was before the pandemic accelerated income disparity.  More than 18 million American depend on unemployment benefits, as businesses contract and close.  Nearly 81 million Americans struggle to meet basic household expenses, 22 million lack enough food and 11 million say they can’t make their next house payment.  Only deep structural reforms accompanied by New Deal-type legislation can save us, but such changes are an anathema to the corporate state and the Biden administration.  History has amply demonstrated what happens when income disparities of this magnitude afflict a country.  We will be no exception.  Lacking a strong left, the United States will in desperation embrace authoritarianism, if not proto-fascism.  This will, I fear, be Biden and the Democratic Party’s real legacy.

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

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

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Palestinian Elections Under Fire: An Impossible Democracy Dilemma

Many Palestinian intellectuals and political analysts find themselves in the unenviable position of having to declare a stance on whether they support or reject upcoming Palestinian elections which are scheduled for May 22 and July 30. But there are no easy answers.

The long-awaited decree by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last January to hold legislative and presidential elections in the coming months was widely welcomed,  not as a triumph for democracy but as the first tangible positive outcome of dialogue between rival Palestinian factions, mainly Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas.

As far as inner Palestinian dialogue is concerned, the elections, if held unobstructed, could present a ray of hope that, finally, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories will enjoy a degree of democratic representation, a first step towards a more comprehensive representation that could include millions of Palestinians outside the Occupied Territories.

But even such humble expectations are conditioned on many “ifs”: only if Palestinian factions honor their commitments to the Istanbul Agreement of September 24; only if Israel allows Palestinians, including Jerusalemites, to vote unhindered and refrains from arresting Palestinian candidates; only if the US-led international community accepts the outcome of the democratic elections without punishing victorious parties and candidates; only if the legislative and presidential elections are followed by the more consequential and substantive elections in the Palestinian National Council (PNC) – the Palestinian Parliament in exile – and so on.

If any of these conditions is unsatisfactory, the May elections are likely to serve no practical purpose, aside from giving Abbas and his rivals the veneer of legitimacy, thus allowing them to buy yet more time and acquire yet more funds from their financial benefactors.

All of this compels us to consider the following question: is democracy possible under military occupation?

Almost immediately following the last democratic Palestinian legislative elections in 2006, the outcome of which displeased Israel, 62 Palestinian ministers and members of the new parliament were thrown into prison, with many still imprisoned.

History is repeating itself as Israel has already begun its arrest campaigns of Hamas leaders and members in the West Bank. On February 22, over 20 Palestinian activists, including Hamas officials, were detained as a clear message from the Israeli occupation to Palestinians that Israel does not recognize their dialogue, their unity agreements or their democracy.

Two days later, 67-year-old Hamas leader, Omar Barghouti, was summoned by the Israeli military intelligence in the occupied West Bank and warned against running in the upcoming May elections. “The Israeli officer warned me not to run in the upcoming elections and threatened me with imprisonment if I did,” Barghouti was quoted by Al-Monitor.

IDF soldiers patrol the Palestinian side of Israel’s apartheid wall in front of a mural of Marwan Barghouti. Nasser Shiyoukhi | AP

The Palestinian Basic Law allows prisoners to run for elections, whether legislative or presidential, simply because the most popular among Palestinian leaders are often behind bars. Marwan Barghouti is one.

Imprisoned since 2002, Barghouti remains Fatah’s most popular leader, though appreciated more by the movement’s young cadre, as opposed to Abbas’ old guard. The latter group has immensely benefited from the corrupt system of political patronage upon which the 85-year-old president has constructed his Authority.

To sustain this corrupt system, Abbas and his clique labored to marginalize Barghouti, leading to the suggestion that Israel’s imprisonment of Fatah’s vibrant leader serves the interests of the current Palestinian President.

This claim has much substance, not only because Abbas has done little to pressure Israel to release Barghouti but also because all credible public opinion polls suggest that Barghouti is far more popular among Fatah’s supporters – in fact all Palestinians – than Abbas.

On February 11, Abbas dispatched Hussein al-Sheikh, the Minister of Civilian Affairs and a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, to dissuade Barghouti from running in the upcoming presidential elections. An ideal scenario for the Palestinian President would be to take advantage of Barghouti’s popularity by having him lead the Fatah list in the contest for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Hence, Abbas could ensure a strong turnout by Fatah supporters, while securing the chair of presidency for himself.

Barghouti vehemently rejected Abbas’ request, thus raising an unexpected challenge to Abbas, who now risks dividing the Fatah vote, losing the PLC elections, again, to Hamas and losing the presidential elections to Barghouti.

Between the nightly raids and crackdowns by the Israeli military and the political intrigues within the divided Fatah movement, one wonders if the elections, if they take place, will finally allow Palestinians to mount a united front in the struggle against Israeli occupation and for Palestinian freedom.

Then, there is the issue of the possible position of the ‘international community’ regarding the outcome of the elections. News reports speak of efforts made by Hamas to seek guarantees from Qatar and Egypt “to ensure Israel will not pursue its representatives and candidates in the upcoming elections,” Al-Monitor also reported.

But what kind of guarantees can Arab countries obtain from Tel Aviv, and what kind of leverage can Doha and Cairo have when Israel continues to disregard the United Nations, international law, the International Criminal Court, and so on?

Nevertheless, can Palestinian democracy afford to subsist in its state of inertia? Abbas’ mandate as president expired in 2009, the PLC’s mandate expired in 2010 and, in fact, the Palestinian Authority was set up as an interim political body, whose function should have ceased in 1999. Since then, the ‘Palestinian leadership’ has not enjoyed legitimacy among Palestinians, deriving its relevance, instead, from the support of its benefactors, who are rarely interested in supporting democracy in Palestine.

The only silver lining in the story is that Fatah and Hamas have also agreed on the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which is now largely monopolized by Abbas’ Fatah movement. Whether the democratic revamping of the PLO takes place or not, largely depends on the outcome of the May and July elections.

Palestine, like other Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, does have a crisis of political legitimacy. Since Palestine is an occupied land with little or no freedom, one is justified to argue that true democracy under these horrific conditions cannot possibly be achieved.

Feature photo  | Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti appears in an Israeli court. Bernat Armangue | 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). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Palestinian Elections Under Fire: An Impossible Democracy Dilemma appeared first on MintPress News.

Digital Health Pass: IBM and Moderna Hook Up to Capitalize on COVID Reset

ARMONK, NEW YORK — IBM is partnering with Covid-19 mRNA vaccine maker Moderna to track vaccine administration in real time through its various blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and hybrid cloud services. According to a company press release, the collaboration will “focus on exploring the utility of IBM capabilities in the U.S.,” such as a recently unveiled pilot program for a Covid-19 Digital Health Pass in the State of New York, which effectively deputizes private businesses to enforce government-imposed Covid-19 regulations.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the initiative, billed as the “Excelsior Pass,”  during his 2021 State of the State Address in January and the program’s initial phase was tested at the Barclays Center during an NBA game, followed by another test at Madison Square Garden for an NHL game on March 2.

According to the state’s official website, the trial runs were designed to maximize “return on investment and saving development time” before submitting the “wallet app” to the Google and Apple app stores.

“The Excelsior Pass will play a critical role in getting information to venues and sites in a secure and streamlined way,” said Cuomo, who in February rolled out the state’s reopening guidelines for sports and entertainment venues, which would pave the way “to fast-track the reopening of these businesses and getting us one step closer to reaching a new normal (emphasis added).”

A promotional image showing the Excelsior Pass

Built on IBM’s Digital Health Pass technology, the QR code-based health data tracking app is only one of multiple blockchain ledger applications the company will leverage as part of its partnership with Moderna. Others include their Blockchain Transparent Supply and Food Trust services, which use the open-source Hyperledger technology to share supply-chain and food sourcing “credibility” data respectively with enterprise customers.

ANNOUNCING: IBM Digital Health Pass will integrate with @salesforce Work. com to help businesses, schools and governments verify vaccine and health status in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learn more: https://t.co/tNW8zM767y. pic.twitter.com/yCMBHiZczu

— IBM Watson Health (@IBMWatsonHealth) December 18, 2020

IBM’s Blockchain World Wire cross-border payment processing service rounds out the blockchain ecosystem that will serve to “enhance” supply chain visibility and “real-time” vaccine management and administration.

 

Transparent coercion

Using what have already become clichéd industry buzzwords like “transparency,” “trust,” and even “privacy,” IBM’s Digital Health Pass marketing literature describes the mass tracking app as a “smart way to return to society” that allows people to “return to the activities and things they love.”

Still in the “voluntary” stages of use, according to IBM’s Steve LaFleche, the Digital Health Pass and similar mobile health verification apps, like CommonPass, cease to be so once government guidelines and regulations force the private sector to enforce their implementation, as in the case of New York’s reopening rules for stadiums, theaters and other venues.

Fans are welcomed back to the arena at Madison Square Garden with new more “robust” guidelines, Feb. 26, 2021. Bruce Bennett | Pool Photo via AP

In addition to the already widely-enforced capacity limits, social distancing and mandated facial coverings, Cuomo’s guidelines for venue operation now include the requirement that “all staff and spectators receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event,” as well as the collection of contact information of everyone in attendance in order to “inform contact tracing efforts.”

IBM’s partnership with Moderna allows many of these requirements to be carried out unobtrusively and with minimal fuss for the general population, who are by now used to interfacing with the world on their smartphones. As LaFleche writes, the app “can interoperate easily with other solutions so that people won’t have to rely on multiple apps when going about their daily lives.”

 

Tethered to the blockchain

The development of these health-tracking, blockchain-based technologies as part of a broader redesign of supply chain and capital organization structures — often referred to as the “new normal” or the “Great Reset — has been in the works since at least 2016. It began with the “Use of Blockchain in Health IT and Health-related Research Challenge,” co-hosted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), where IBM submitted its white paper, “Blockchain: The Chain of Trust and its Potential to Transform Healthcare – Our Point of View.”

Since April 2020, these efforts have sped up considerably through initiatives like the COVID-19 High Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium, a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) “spearheaded” by IBM and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which brought Big Tech players like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft together with academic institutions and federal agencies to apply an “unprecedented scale of computing power to support COVID-19 research.”

The PPP applied its “unprecedented” computing power to controversial research topics like the supposed genetic predisposition among African Americans to Covid-19 infection and other areas of focus, such as potential treatments and “medicinal plants,” which can now all be integrated as part of IBM’s blockchain-based applications across the entire economic spectrum.

As covered by MintPress in a recent three-part series by this author, the intersection between blockchain technology and health data is at the center of a global campaign to recreate capitalism as a data-driven economic model based on a so-called “impact investment” paradigm, which purports to solve the world’s health, social and environmental problems through market-based solutions.

 

“Hacking the software of life”

The collection of our genomic data lies at the core of the fraudulent concept of creating financial incentives around human misery. DNA is the single point of data convergence across humanity that allows for these new “moral” economic models to generate enough volume to replicate present-day economies of scale and design financial instruments to exploit human beings at a cellular level.

Moderna’s former Chief Medical Officer, Tal Zacks, is well aware of the opportunities. On February 25, Moderna announced their CMO’s intention to step down in September as he looks forward to the “next leg of his career.” Zacks will leave a wealthy man, after regularly selling Moderna stock over the course of 2020, making him approximately $1 million a week, according to SEC filings.

In 2017, Zacks delivered a TED Talk in which he plainly states what many of the mRNA vaccine detractors have been warning about. Namely, that these novel vaccination technologies are, in fact, mechanisms designed to manipulate the human genetic code.

Zacks mirrors much of what his colleague and fellow vaccine credential promoter, Dr. Brad Perkins, said in a similar presentation that same year, in which he expounded on the massive potential for profits of these kinds of technologies — and the collection of genomic data, in particular — across the healthcare and insurance industries.

“I’m here today to tell you,” Zacks informed the spectators, “that we’re actually hacking the software of life.” Aiming at a more general audience, Zacks wasn’t as forward as Perkins in his description of the implications, limiting himself to emotional appeals through anecdotal accounts of former patients who might have been saved had they lived through the “phenomenal digital and scientific revolution” of mRNA “information therapy” solutions from which he has profited so handsomely.

Conveniently, IBM’s strong presence in the law enforcement space, as one of the largest providers of digital profiling technologies and AI policing systems in the world, may also help with any obstacles Moderna may face among vaccine-hesitant populations — such as the 3,000 Romanians who took to the streets of Bucharest to protest mass vaccinations, or the refusal of entire communities in Mexico to have their personal sovereignty violated by the world’s newest crop of snake oil salesmen.

Feature photo | IBM | Editing by MintPress News

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

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Judge Rejects Application of Israeli Law in Landmark Defamation Case Against Palestinian Activist

SANTA ANA, CALIFORNIA — A Palestinian-American activist has vowed to continue fighting Apartheid after winning a court case brought against her in the U.S. by a former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldier. Suhair Nafal was facing a defamation suit over a 2018 Facebook post condemning the murder that summer of Palestinian nurse Razan al-Najjar during the Great March of Return. The case was brought by Israeli-American Rebecca Rumshiskaya, who was seeking $6 million in damages after Nafal described her as “evil” for joining the Israeli military.

Bizarrely, Rumshiskaya was also attempting to convince the California court to try Nafal under Israeli law. The attempt backfired, however, as Orange County Superior Court Judge Craig Griffin rejected the suit, even ordering Rumshiskaya to pay Nafal’s legal costs under anti-SLAPP laws, effectively deeming it an attempt to intimidate Nafal into silence.

Nafal moved to the U.S. as an eight-year-old and was relatively apolitical until she saw images of the destruction caused by Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza that cost the lives of more than two thousand people. Since then, she has gained an online following and joined a number of pro-Palestinian organizations, including New Generation for Palestine. The post that triggered the lawsuit can be seen below.

Nafal’s Facebook post and the impetus for the lawsuit against her

While the post makes no connection between Rumshiskaya and al-Najjar’s murder, other, copycat posts did, explicitly claiming Rumshiskaya was the nurse’s killer. Rumshiskaya’s complaint states she was inundated with hateful and violent messages as a result. But it remains unclear why she sued Nafal and not others who did make demonstrably false accusations. 

 

“Not going to let them silence me”

Rumshiskaya is a Jewish American from Brookline, Massachusetts. In 2012, she decided to emigrate to Israel and join the IDF. Not content with a non-combat role she had been assigned, she transferred to a combat intelligence unit. The IDF used images of her in its promotions, which is how she came to Nafal’s attention. Rumshiskaya left the military in 2015, long before al-Najjar was killed. Her lawsuit describes Nafal as an “extremist” who “viciously defamed” her, and the Great March of Return as a Hamas-sponsored riot filled with terrorists using civilians as human shields.

An IDF Facebook post featuring Rumshiskaya, left, and a photo of Nafal provided to MintPress, right

This conflicts with reports from human rights organizations, which describe the events as a demonstration, pinning the blame for the deaths on Israeli forces and noting that 70 of the 183 Palestinians killed were shot in the head. Seventy-eight journalists and medics were also shot. No Israelis were killed. “Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed,” the IDF stated. There was no evidence of human shields being used, although the IDF have used Palestinian children as such in the past.

“To be honest, I was in disbelief,” Nafal said, when first learning about the accusations, “I was stunned by their audacity… But truth be told, I sort of saw it coming. I knew the day would come where I was going to be pursued by them, based on my visibility on social media.” Nafal rejects the characterization of her as an extremist, telling MintPress, “If extremist political ideology means advocating on behalf of people who are occupied, oppressed, starved, and killed with impunity by colonialist occupiers who justify their violence based on a claim of their own religious supremacy then yes. I’m a extremist.”

Nafal told MintPress that she was determined not to be intimidated by the news:

I had no choice but to continue what I was doing. I was not going to let them silence me. I continue to post like I’d always posted. I did not shy away, for one minute. And I will continue to share news of what is happening. And I am going to continue doing what I am doing. If anything, I am going to do more of it.”

 

No Israeli First Amendment

Perhaps the strangest thing about the case was that the plaintiff’s team attempted to convince the Orange County court to apply Israeli law to the case between a Bostonian and a Californian. “The pleadings they filed make it clear this was all about Israeli interests, although they used Rebecca as the anchor for the lawsuit,” said Haytham Faraj, Nafal’s attorney.

Faraj told MintPress that any future attempts to silence criticism of Israel have been dealt a serious blow by the ruling, noting the fundamental disconnect between Israeli law and the First Amendment:

What this judge brilliantly uncovered is that Israeli law is inherently inconsistent with American values. The truth is always a defense to defamation virtually the world over in democracies — except in Israel, where it is not a defense unless it is in the state’s interests… So if they do try to [pursue] other challenges, they will be unsuccessful.”

MintPress spoke via email to Rumshiskaya’s attorney, Michael Weiser, who expressed his disappointment with the decision. Weiser disputes Faraj’s reading of events, stating that the case was “dismissed on procedural grounds and the merits of what happened were never addressed.”

 

Attempts to chill

If Nafal had lost the case, she would have been required to pay the plaintiff $6 million in damages, which she does not have. Because of this, all her property and possessions and even future earnings could be taken or garnished. Furthermore, interest in these cases accrues in California at 10% per year, meaning that she would have been destined for a life of poverty. Fortunately for her, Judge Griffin dismissed the case, even ordering Rumshiskaya to pay her defense costs. Faraj saw this case as much larger than just Nafal:

This is a lawsuit that attempted to establish precedent in the U.S. for exercising Israeli law against criticism of Israel and Israeli agents. It is nothing but that. She could have sued Suhair under U.S. law within the few weeks that followed the post when there was the most amount of activity and she was, presumably, most affected by it. But this is not just a lawsuit by Rebecca, this is a lawsuit by an enterprise that seeks to silence anyone who would dare criticize Israel.”

The legal nature of criticism of Israel in the United States is in limbo. “Anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism” outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flatly stated in January, adding that BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, the practice of refusing to economically cooperate with Israel until it retreats from the Occupied Territories) is a manifestation of anti-Jewish racism.

 

Targeting BDS

Currently, the majority of American states require those receiving public funds (such as state employees) to sign pledges not to practice BDS on pain of termination. A number of Texas employees have lost their jobs after refusing to sign. Last year, a Georgia university also shut down a media literacy conference after journalist Abby Martin refused to sign the pledge. Martin is currently suing the state.

In 2019, the U.S. Department of Education ordered both Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to alter their joint Middle Eastern Studies programs, as it had determined they were presenting Israel in too negative a light. Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure described the Trump administration’s interference as a “chillingly inappropriate political intrusion into curricular decisions best made by faculty.”

On BDS, Nafal categorically rejects the Trump position:

BDS is one of the most important non-violent tools of resistance we have. And it is working. And that is precisely why they are investing and rallying around to try to shut it down. It is probably their biggest threat, in my opinion, along with social media. They are being exposed.”

The Biden administration has, so far, shown little break with its predecessor when it comes to Israel and Palestine. The president has decided to keep the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a controversial Trump-era decision that effectively rubber-stamps the occupation. Last week, Vice-President Kamala Harris met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm the administration’s “unwavering commitment” to Israeli security. For Nafal, however, change comes from below:

It is not about the administration. It is going to take the efforts of everybody in the United States and internationally to push the truth. And in time, justice will prevail.”

Feature photo | Pictured left is a photo of Rumshiskaya taken for an IDF promotional campaign, and right, a photo of Nafal provided to MintPress.

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

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Massive Secret UK Propaganda Campaign in Former Soviet Republics Seeds Contempt

LONDON — Standing against the scorching blue backdrop at the EU podium in late 2017, then British Prime Minister Theresa May mendaciously promised to “counter [Russian] disinformation” in all the former Soviet republics of Eastern Europe, Eurasia and the Baltics by pledging €110 Million ($130 Million) over five years to fight the Kremlin’s influence in the region.

A massive data leak published by the Anonymous hacktivist group this past February has revealed how some of that money was used to create and disseminate disinformation, alternate narratives and effectuate the outright manipulation of media by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) through a number of partnerships with stalwart disinformation outfits like Bellingcat, established information warfare specialist firms like the Zinc Network among dozens more that were working in secret with the governmental entity responsible for promoting British interests around the world.

Several different operations dedicated to a specific region or country have been discovered so far, as reporters sift through the trove of documents. Highly sophisticated and disturbingly insidious propaganda campaigns to influence society, mold perceptions about Russia, and affect political outcomes were carried out by teams of Western media organizations, consultants, paid assets, and operatives from the Baltics to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The Open Information Partnership (OIP), as one of these far-reaching operations is named, received funding from the FCDO, according to RT, of at least £10 Million and was comprised of 44 partners, among which the aforementioned Bellingcat and Zinc, were joined by the Atlantic Council’s DFRLab and London-based NGO Media Diversity Institute and others.

A signed contract between info broker Albany Associates and the British foreign office

Billed as a “diverse network of organisations and individuals united in our determination to expose and counter disinformation,” OIP’s partners had their agents strewn across Central and Eastern Europe to deliver on the scope of work delineated in its contracts with the FCDO, which would determine what locations to target at any given moment.

North Macedonia was selected early on and Zinc initiated the operation by identifying the largest media outlet in the country, MOST Network. The information warfare outfit and OIP partners approached DFRLab and Bellingcat to offer a two-week course on “cyber security training, mentoring on digital forensics, open source investigation and media ethics.” Although the documents don’t provide specific dates, it is inferred that the 2019 election in North Macedonia was what moved the FCDO to prioritize it at that time, given the choice between pro-EU and pro-Russia candidates.

 

Subversion in the Baltics

A recent RT exposé revealed disinformation efforts by the UK that predate May’s speech by at least a year, targeting ethnic Russians in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A 2016 request for proposal issued by the FCDO seeks contractors to “provide overt innovative soft power interventions that will foster better links between the United Kingdom and individuals in the Baltic States whose primary language is Russian.”

Ethnic Russians who live in the three Baltic countries compose about one-sixth of the region’s population. Estonia and Latvia never afforded them full citizenship after the collapse of the Soviet Union, rendering a full two-thirds of them “effectively stateless.” The document profiles the older generation of this particular demographic and warns its prospective partners that changing their attitudes might prove more difficult than it is worth. Instead, the FCDO suggests going after younger Russophones, given their “medium-high awareness, knowledge and interest of Euro-Atlantic narratives and ‘culture’” which “may make them more open to alternative narratives” and thus “less vulnerable to Russian propaganda.”

The extent to which Western propaganda mercenaries were willing to go in order to infiltrate Baltic cultural idiosyncrasies is made evident by one of the FCDO’s partners, Albany Associates, which has worked with the UK before, targeting children in Syria. Leveraging its track record of subverting young minds, Albany made a number of propositions in response to the FCDO’s request, including using the sons and daughters of the older ethnic Russians in the Baltics to “amplify a distinct “Euro-Baltic” identity.”

Leaked documents reveal Albany’s research into how the UK could best flex its soft power in the Baltics

This would be accomplished by organizing a number of outreach activities, social media amplification strategies, and generally, “ideas and concepts of cultural outreach and strategic communications derived from methodological innovations proven in other relevant and/or similar contexts”.

Facebook would be used to “disseminate information on Baltic Euro-leaning heritage, advertise, aggregate and amplify the activities and media content” and “key dates and events of significance to Russian speakers, such as WWII celebrations” would be exploited to deliver distinctly anti-Russian sentiment.

All of these tactics would be expanded as the operation grew and incorporated other FCDO partners like Zinc, which offered “clandestine support” to people in the Baltic states who could be used to hone the propagandists’ reach. Essentially creating “influencers” by teaching them how to “develop, pitch and place articles with national and international media outlets” as well as receive training in digital marketing for their “chosen social media platform.”

 

Leave our grandparents alone

The breadth and scope of these operations are not limited to the spread of alternative narratives, however. A separate document from the FCDO disclosed the desire to dig deep into the psychological makeup of the ethnic Russians in the Baltics, seeking to fund research into the “socio-cultural background of individuals and their general perceptions and attitudes, and specifically their attitudes towards the UK and the West” for the benefit of British policymakers.

The document lists the main themes that this research should comprise, including “satisfaction with government, attitudes towards life and attitudes towards the future.” The FCDO wished to pinpoint their “current life motivations and desires” and “key interests,” such as hobbies; Insight into their “biggest fears” and how they interact with the media they are exposed to.

Such granular levels of information could only be dreamed of by Allen Dulles and the CIA’s disinformation efforts behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. But, today, our digitally-integrated world allows for such dystopian dreams to become a reality. At the same time, it makes exposing these operations that much easier.

From the Skripal affair to Navalny’s rise to the Russian Olympic doping scandal, all of which occurred after May’s speech in Brussels where she pledged to “call out hostile Russia,” these damning revelations about a concerted and continuous effort by a major Atlanticist power to seed unfavorable narratives through co-option and subversion against an enemy state should be enough to dispel any notions of truth in what the UK and allies like the United States tell its own citizens through its mainstream media outlets and the social media landscape it controls.

As independent, critical thinkers, instead of approaching media from the standpoint of fleshing out “fake news” through compromised fact-checking organizations or popular influencers, we might be better served by assuming everything we see and hear over these channels and platforms is an attempt to manipulate us with half-truths and skewed interpretations. It is up to us to trust our own ability to find out what is true and what is not and leave our grandpa out of it.

Feature photo | A young Lithuanian boy holds a US soldier’s rifle during the US-led ”Dragoon Ride II” military exercise in Kupiskis, Lithuania, June 12, 2016. Mindaugas Kulbis | AP

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

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Govt-Linked CSIS Urges DC To Partner with Social Media Firms To “Promote Protests Movements”

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new report from Washington D.C.-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concludes that the U.S. government should work closely with social media companies to ensure that protest movements around the world result in an outcome more conducive to American interests. Along with intern Riley McCabe, the organization’s senior fellow, Samuel Brannen, argued that the White House, State Department, and intelligence community must explore deeper coordination with major tech companies that provide global media platforms:

The U.S. government should think creatively about public-private partnerships that can expand its toolkit to defend the legitimate rights of political protestors globally, including preserving the digital rights of peaceful democratic activists while muting harmful mis- and disinformation from violent state and nonstate actors seeking to tip the balance in various countries.”

While the language used couches the potential move as defending democracy, the rest of the article makes clear that the fight of the future lies between the democratic U.S. and other “like-minded governments” versus “authoritarian states — especially China and Russia.”

Widespread protests were a feature of 2020, engulfing 68 nations, according to the CSIS. However, they appear to be most preoccupied with those in China and Russia. The CSIS applauded American sanctions on Russia that followed the imprisonment of anti-Putin politician Alexei Navalny, calling them “a step in the right direction” — phrasing which suggests they want to see far more aggressive action taken against Moscow. Beijing’s moves against the Hong Kong protests, meanwhile, amounted to the “totalitarian conclusion” and the destruction of democracy in the city-state.

The U.S. has been intimately involved in protest movements against its enemies. In 2014, then-vice-president Joe Biden traveled to Ukraine to gin up the protagonists of the anti-Moscow Maidan Revolution, with senior U.S. official Victoria Nuland even photographed handing out cookies to protestors. Washington was also a major actor in the Hong Kong protests, funding and training many of its leaders, and spending at least $29 million on “pro-democracy” projects in the region.

More Americans were arrested after barely a week of protests following the killing of George Floyd than in over one year of demonstrations in Hong Kong, and protest organizers and journalists alike are still facing lengthy sentences for their roles in them. Yet, the CSIS presents the U.S. response to internal strife as exemplary, stating that “the United States is uniquely positioned to make its own handling of political dissent and protest a centerpiece of U.S. outreach to the world,” claiming that it can “lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

 

A bastion of neocon thought

The CSIS is one of the most influential and well-connected think tanks in Washington. War planners like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, military commanders like Brent Scowcroft and James L. Jones, and former Secretaries of Defense such as William S. Cohen and Harold Brown occupy key positions on its advisory board.

The organization is also funded by virtually every Western government, major weapons contractors including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Boeing, as well as the foundations of notable billionaires like Pierre Omidyar, Bill Gates, and Charles Koch. It can also boast current Secretary of State Anthony Blinken as a former senior fellow at the think tank. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that its output represents a dominant strain of thinking within the foreign policy establishment.

Regime change advocate and war hawk John Bolton, left, is a frequent guest at CSIS events. Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP

“The CSIS masquerades as an independent, objective think tank, but has historically close ties to U.S. intelligence and the military industrial complex,” Tim Shorrock of The Nation told MintPress News in 2019, “it’s abundantly clear that everything it does reflects the interests of its government and corporate donors, which include every major U.S. defense contractor.”

The think tank has also supported regime change through protest movements before. In Bolivia, for example, it applauded the far-right takeover of the country in November 2019, falsely suggesting that the previous month’s elections were fraudulent while presenting the military handpicking obscure senator Jeanine Añez to be president as “according to the Bolivian constitution,” which it certainly was not.

A few months earlier, it went past just promoting protest movements in Venezuela to hosting a secret conference exploring the feasibility of a U.S. invasion of the country in order to finally overthrow the ruling United Socialist Party.

 

Cyber wars

The United States is already engaged in online warfare against its enemies and long ago enlisted the support of Silicon Valley corporations. On the advice of similarly hawkish think tanks, Twitter and other social media platforms have taken action against what they claim were foreign government attempts to game their services, deleting hundreds of thousands of accounts supposedly linked to enemy regimes, be they Russian, Chinese, Iranian, Cuban or Venezuelan. Yet they appear to never be able to find the American government or its allies doing the same thing, despite the fact that it was revealed 10 years ago that the U.S. has similar influence projects.

In their book titled, “The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business,” Eric Schmidt and fellow Google executive Jared Cohen wrote, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first,” suggesting that the new battleground is virtual, and that big tech companies are willing to be the U.S.’ top weapon in maintaining global supremacy.

While that prediction might have seemed surprising eight years ago when the book was first published, a number of moves in recent years suggest that Schmidt and Cohen will be proven correct. In 2018, Facebook announced it was partnering with a NATO cutout organization, the Atlantic Council, to root out disinformation and promote accurate data. Last month, it went further, hiring a former NATO press officer as its new intelligence chief. Meanwhile, Jessica Ashooh left her job as a Deputy Director of Middle Eastern Strategy for the Atlantic Council to join Reddit as its Director of Policy.

One notable case of the U.S. government directly working with social media to inflame protests was in Iran, where the Obama administration convinced Twitter to delay a temporary maintenance shutdown of its operations in order to aid the coordination efforts of anti-government demonstrations. Last year, the Trump administration ordered Facebook to suppress any positive mention of Qassem Soleimani on its platforms. Trump had recently given the order to assassinate the statesman, sparking global indignation. Facebook complied with the request, stating that, “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.” Soleimani was widely beloved in the country (a U.S. poll found over 80% of the public held a positive opinion of him). This meant that Facebook was suppressing the speech of Iranians talking to other Iranians in Farsi, sharing a majority opinion, all at the behest of the American president.

It is a standard response of authoritarian governments the world over to claim that protests against them are illegitimate, and spurred on by outside enemies intent on seeing them destroyed. This even happens in the U.S., where senior politicians have suggested that political strife of all sorts, from Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to the George Floyd protests, to the storming of the Capitol Building on January 6, had been amplified by Russia. This latest CSIS offering will only add weight to those governments who see an American hand behind domestic dissent.

Feature photo | An anti-China protester stands wrapped in an American flag as police block a street in Hong Kong, Dec. 1, 2019. Ng Han Guan | AP

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

The post Govt-Linked CSIS Urges DC To Partner with Social Media Firms To “Promote Protests Movements” appeared first on MintPress News.

Public Fatigue, Distrust and Fear Taint Chauvin Trail Before it Even Begins

The Hennepin County Courthouse will soon be teeming with satellite-equipped news media trucks and throngs of reporters from around the country as the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd is only weeks away. Charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree unintentional murder, Chauvin could soon face an additional charge of third-degree murder.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said he agreed with the decision in an official statement last Friday and stated that “adding this charge is an important step forward in the path toward justice.” Whether or not Ellison’s hope will translate to local public opinion as the trial unfolds remains an open question. But, preparations by law enforcement on the ground show that Minneapolis authorities are gearing up for the worst.

Community activists are concerned about the “aggressive police posture” assumed by municipal and state law enforcement agencies as the trial date approaches. Operation Safety Net is a “multi-pronged” plan recently unveiled by Police Chief Medaria Arradondo and other city and state government leaders, that seeks to “avoid a repeat of the widespread destruction” of last spring.

 

Operation Safety Net

According to Minneapolis police commander Scott Gerlicher of the Minneapolis Police Department’s special operation and intelligence division, Operation Safety Net is divided into four operational phases that will follow the trial’s various stages, beginning with the jury selection process, which could last weeks, followed by the opening arguments, closing arguments and the verdict.

The verdict phase will comprise the most comprehensive deployment and will even include members of the National Guard, who will provide backup to firefighters and EMS crews in addition to the regular law enforcement officials protecting “property, government buildings, infrastructure, police precincts, pedestrians and officers.”

Deputies and National Guard troops block the Hennepin County Government Center, March 8, 2021, in Minneapolis. Jim Mone | AP

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Binder has criticized her colleagues for failing to adequately address the “pain and suffering” of the people and condemned efforts to use force to “police ourselves out of police violence.” While not directly referencing Operation Safety Net, Binder expressed her disagreement over the fact that “too many city leaders think that the most grownup response to a problem is always with force”.

The operation is, nonetheless, moving forward despite opposition and according to Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, state and federal investigatory agencies are “absolutely in lockstep working to make sure that information-sharing and intelligence-gathering is going forward.”

 

A jury for the last 20 years

In September 2020, the New York Times reported that the jury pool in Hennepin County was 80% white and 8% black, representing a considerable gap compared to the state as a whole, which draws a pool of 64% white to 19% black. This is just one of the many complications confronting the jury selection process for Chauvin’s trial, with the case’s notoriety being among the most problematic.

Given the intense nationwide coverage of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis Police and the subsequent civil unrest, the prospect of finding a group of jurors with no knowledge of the case is practically zero. In order to mitigate that, the usual pre-trial questionnaire given to juries has been expanded to include potential juror’s “deepest attitudes on some of the most important political and social topics of the day”, according to Cornell Law School Professor Valerie Hans, interviewed by the BBC.

Other factors that could not only influence the jury selection process but the trial’s outcome itself, are the shifting views on George Floyd’s death. A USA Today/Ipsos poll released last Friday revealed a significant change in attitudes nationwide, with a 24-point drop in the number of Americans who believe Chauvin committed murder since June 2020 and other statistics that could point to a backlash against the Black Lives Matter movements and last spring’s civil unrest.

A typical jury selection process can take days and, in many cases, weeks as a result of both the defense and prosecution staking out any possible advantage for their side before the opening statements even begin. Pre-trial motions, jury selection vetting, and objections can drag the process out considerably. In a case as high-profile as this one, these tactics are likely to push the trial’s start date beyond current projections.

Protestors and activists are prepared for the long haul, however, and on Sunday hundreds gathered for a march that began at the Hennepin County Government Center and continued through downtown Minneapolis carrying a casket with George Floyd’s picture on it and a list of the names of every Minnesotan who has been killed by police in the last 20 years.

The marchers stopped at Hennepin Avenue and Fourth Street to read the names of each victim aloud, in what was the only verbalization during the “chant-free, silent protest” calling for justice to be served in the case of George Floyd, who has now become a symbol for all the others taken by the scourge of police brutality in the past, and who protestor Kaia Hirt pointedly observed had been “loved by a family, by a brother or a sister or a child or friends.”

Feature photo | Cortez Rice, left, of Minneapolis, sits with others in the middle of Hennepin Avenue on Sunday, March 7, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn., to mourn the death of George Floyd a day before jury selection was set to begin in the trial of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who is accused of killing Floyd. Jerry Holt | Star Tribune via AP

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

The post Public Fatigue, Distrust and Fear Taint Chauvin Trail Before it Even Begins appeared first on MintPress News.

‘Is This Who We Are?’: Gitmo is America’s Enduring Shame

Washington — “That’s certainly our goal and our intention.” This was the non-committal answer given by White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, when, on February 12, she was asked by a reporter whether the new Joe Biden administration intends to shut down the notorious Guantánamo Bay Prison by the end of the president’s first term in office.

Psaki’s answer may have seemed reassuring, that the untold suffering experienced by hundreds of men in this American gulag – many of whom were surely innocent – would be finally coming to an end. However, considering the history of Guantánamo and the trail of broken promises by the Barack Obama Administration, the new administration’s pledge is hardly encouraging.

Compare the new language with that of Obama’s impassioned diatribes about humanity, justice and American values, which he utilized whenever he spoke of Guantánamo. “Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America that flouts the rule of law,” Obama said at a speech at the National Defense University in May 2013.

Enamored with his every word, Obama’s audience clapped with enthusiasm. When he delivered that particular speech, Obama was then serving his second term in office. He already had ample opportunity to shut down the prison which operated with no international monitoring and entirely outside the realms of international and US laws.

Obama is likely to be remembered for his words, not his actions. Not only did he fail to shut down the prison which was erected by his predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2002, but the Guantánamo industry continued to thrive during his terms. For example, in his speech, Obama made  reference to the high cost of “a hundred and fifty million dollars each year to imprison 166 people.” According to the New Yorker, reporting in 2016, Guantánamo’s budget had morphed to “$445 million last year,” when Obama was still in office.

Yet, as the budget grew by leaps and bounds, the number of Guantánamo prisoners dwindled. Currently, there are only 40 prisoners still residing in that massive edifice of metal, concrete and barbed wire located at the eastern tip of Cuba, built atop a piece of land ‘leased’ by the US in 1903.

It is easy to conclude that the US government keeps the prison open only to avoid international accountability and, arguably, to extract information by torture, an act that is inconsistent with American laws. But this cannot be it. On the one hand, the entire wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal under international law. Such a fact hardly stopped the US and its allies from savagely invading, humiliating, and torturing entire populations with no regard whatsoever to legal or moral arguments.

On the other hand, Guantánamo is merely one of many American-run prisons and detention centers throughout the world that operate with no manual of rules and according to the most ruthless tactics. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib, a US military detention center in Baghdad, only became famous when direct evidence of the degrading, and incredibly violent conduct that was taking place within its walls was produced and publicized.

A detainee is carried on a stretcher before being interrogated at Guantanamo’s Camp X-Ray. Lynne Sladky | AP

In fact, many American officials and members of Congress at the time used the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 as an opportunity to whitewash and rebrand American crimes elsewhere and to present the misconduct in this Iraqi prison as if an isolated incident involving “a few bad apples”.

The ‘few bad apples’ argument, made by G. W. Bush was, more or less, the same logic utilized by Obama when he championed the closure of Guantánamo. Indeed, both Presidents insisted that neither Abu Ghraib nor Guantánamo should be made out to represent what America is really all about.

“Is this who we are?” Obama animatedly and passionately asked, as he made a case in favor of the closure of Guantánamo, speaking as if a human rights advocate, not a Commander-in-Chief who had direct authority to shut down the entire facility. The truth is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were not ‘a few bad apples’ and Guantánamo is, indeed, a microcosm of exactly what the US is, or has become.

From Bagram, Afghanistan, to Abu Ghraib, Iraq, to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the many ‘floating prisons’ –  news of which was leaked by US media in 2014 – the US government continues to make a mockery of international and humanitarian laws. Many American officials, who genuinely advocate the closure of Guantánamo, refuse to acknowledge that the prison is a symbol of their country’s intransigence and refuse to accept that, like any other country in the world, it is accountable to international law.

This lack of accountability has exceeded the US government’s insistence to ‘act alone, as in to launch wars without international mandates. One US administration after another has also made it clear that, under no circumstances, would they allow accused war criminals to be investigated, let alone stand trial, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The message here is that even America’s bad apples’ can potentially walk free, regardless of the heinousness of their crimes.

Just months after the Trump administration imposed sanctions on ICC judges to punish them for the potential investigations of US crimes in Afghanistan, it freed the convicted criminals who carried out horrific crimes in Iraq. On December 22, Trump pardoned four American mercenaries who belonged to the private military firm, Blackwater. These convicted murderers were involved in the killing of 14 civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007.

What became known as the ‘Nisour Square massacre’ was another example of whitewashing, as government officials and mainstream media, though expressing outrage at the unlawful killing, insisted that the massacre was an isolated episode. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians, were killed as a result of the American invasion seems irrelevant in the country’s skewed logic in its never-ending ‘war on terror’.

Whether Biden fulfills his promise of shutting down Guantánamo or not, little will change if the US remains committed to its condescending attitude towards international law and to its undeserved view of itself as a country that exists above the universal rights of everyone else.

That said, Guantánamo, on its own, is a crime against humanity and there can never be any justification to rationalize why hundreds of people are held indefinitely, without trial, without due process, without international observers and without ever seeing their families and loved ones. The explanation often offered by the pro-Guantánamo pundits is that the prison inmates are dangerous men. If that was, indeed, the case, why were these supposed criminals not allowed to see their day in court?

According to a report by Amnesty International published in May 2020, of the 779 men who were taken to that facility, “only seven have been convicted.” Worse, five of them were convicted “as a result of pre-trial agreements under which they pleaded guilty, in return for the possibility of release from the base.” According to the rights group, such a trial by ‘military commission’ “did not meet fair trial standards”.

In other words, Guantánamo is – and has always been – a fraudulent operation with no real inclination to holding criminals and terrorists accountable and to preventing further crimes. Instead, Guantánamo is an industry, and a lucrative one. In many ways, it is similar to the American prison military complex, ironically dubbed the ‘criminal justice system.’  Referring to the unjust ‘justice system’, Human Rights Watch derided the US for having “the largest reported prison population in the world”.

“The (US) criminal justice system – from policing and prosecution, through to punishment – is plagued with injustices like racial disparities, excessively harsh sentencing and drug and immigration policies that improperly emphasize criminalization,” HRW stated on its website.

The above, too, can be considered an answer to Obama’s rhetorical question, “Is this who we are?”. Yes, Mr. Obama, in fact, this is precisely who you are.

While offering the world’s most miserable detention conditions to hundreds of potentially innocent men, Guantánamo also offers career opportunities, high military perks and honors, and a seemingly endless budget for a small army to guard only a few shackled, gaunt-looking men in a far-away land.

So, even if Biden is able to overcome pressure from the military, from the CIA, and from Congress to shut Guantánamo down, justice will still be absent, not only because of the numerous lives that are forever shattered but because America still refuses to learn from its mistakes.

Feature photo | Demonstrators, dressed as detainees, protest against the U.S. military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Jan. 11, 2013.

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). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net. This article was first published in Politics Today.

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Social Media Microtargeting and the Evolving Ministry of Truth

WEST POINT, NEW YORK — If you’ve ever wondered how that cookware ad happened across your internet browser window after you’d spent ten minutes searching for a turkey baster last Thanksgiving, the answer is that you – or more precisely, the devices you use to surf the net – have been microtargeted.

People’s search habits, social media post history, and even retail transaction details are among the many kinds of data up for sale in our cybernetic Elysian Fields, to which advertisers, hackers and political operatives can all gain access in order to sell us a coffee maker, extort money from us, or ostensibly change our vote in an election.

The solution, according to cyber-defense researchers, is the development of regulatory frameworks that can parse through the content and designate its appropriateness for mass consumption. A “Ministry of Truth,” so to speak, that can mitigate any disruptions to the status quo that might seep through in the Wild West of social media platforms.

The treasure trove of data currently being gathered through social media networks and other electronic means is a completely unregulated space, with microtargeting, in particular, spurring intense discussion in the wake of widely publicized allegations of Russian “interference” in the 2016 U.S. elections and the liberal use of data analytics, by Brexit promoters in the UK and the Trump campaign itself, to sway voters.

Hovering in the background of the simmering debate is the growing power of Facebook, Apple and other platform owners, whose monopolistic business practices are facing increasing push back around the world. Nevertheless, our content landlords still hold the key to the big-data realm by virtue of their dominant position, and whoever wants access to the new oil must kiss the ring of the Big Tech overlords.

As the Biden administration gets underway, an emphasis on cybersecurity as a matter of national security is solidifying. CIA Director nominee William Burns, on his last day of confirmation testimony this past Wednesday, told lawmakers that cyber threats “pose an ever greater risk to society” and promised to “relentlessly sharpen [the CIA’s] capabilities to understand how rivals use cyber and other technological tools, anticipate, detect and deter their use.” The Senate Intelligence Committee had previously approved Burns’ appointment in a unanimous closed-door vote on Tuesday, setting up a vote by the full Senate, where the career diplomat is expected to be confirmed.

Mitigating the “risk to society” Burns warns about is the focus of research scientists at the Army Cyber Institute (ACI), a military think tank established in 2012 at West Point Military Academy with a mandate to engage the Pentagon and federal agencies with “academic and industrial cyber communities” to “build intellectual capital … for the purpose of enabling effective army cyber defense.” A popular cybersecurity industry podcast called CyberWire brought on Maj. Jessica Dawson, Ph.D. from ACI to discuss her paper on microtargeting as a form of information warfare and the ideas floating around this relatively new military outfit regarding the mitigation of microtargeting’s ostensible threat to society.

 

A question of legitimacy

Right off the bat, Dawson admits that “we don’t actually know” what effect political microtargeting operations like those carried out by Cambridge Analytica in 2016 actually have and whether or not they really can serve as forms of “manipulation or mind control.” Nevertheless she believes it is a threat that should be taken seriously. She contends that the lack of regulatory oversight in the social media sphere leaves the door wide open to foreign and domestic influence campaigns that “pollute” what she defines as the “U.S. cognitive” domain.

“We are not really recognizing the way that this space can be weaponized,” says Dawson, drawing little distinction between “normal actors, who are just seeking to get a rise out of folks and go viral,” and “domestic actors who are seeking to use this space for power and possibly profit and … foreign actors who are seeking to erode the United States from within.”

Dawson — whose research interests on her ACI bio page include “morality, status, culture” and “moral change” — omits advertisers from the list of threatening actors, stating that microtargeting by “Pampers,” for example, is a totally benign use of data as a commodity that “nobody would probably freak out about.” Corporations that want to sell you a product are not, in her eyes, any kind of menace to society (as long as they are American). But, issues emerge when the product turns out to be an ideology and, specifically, a foreign ideology, according to Dawson, who stresses that content designed to “erode [social] cohesion” poses the gravest threat.

A still from Peter Rathvon’s film version of Orwell’s 1984

The cohesion argument is immediately framed by the researcher in terms of the Covid-19 mask protocols, which Dawson illustrates through a hypothetical scenario where “some random soldier decides not to mask and gets exposed, well now their whole squad has to go into quarantine.” She goes on to expand on the principle by pointing out that the “messaging” around the 2020 election, which cast a shadow of doubt over the results, can interfere with members of the armed forces “following the orders of the office of the President.”

Curiously, Dawson concedes that social media did not originate the questions over the legitimacy of the commander in chief, observing that such misgivings have been around since “Bush v. Gore.” Despite her candor, the effort to corral such expressions under a potential regulatory framework reveals the myopic nature of her approach to what is, in reality, a much more profound existential crisis of a nation that has already lost its legitimacy around the world.

 

The Ministry of Truth

One of the suggestions Dawson proposes for ways the government can “regulate who is allowed to advertise inside of the United States’ cognitive space,” is the creation of a federal agency that would credential advertisers who wish to promote their message on social media. Paying lip service to the inevitable questions about free speech that such an agency would elicit, Dawson grants that it is a “wicked problem to solve” — throwing in a sinophobic quip for good measure, assuring listeners that “we don’t want to start regulating everything using the artificial intelligence censors that, for example, China is rumored to be using.”

Dawson calls for a “national discussion” to figure out what the U.S. is going to “allow to be advertised” on social media, arguing that it is already done for “cigarettes and alcohol.” She also agrees, in principle, with the host’s suggestion of an FDA-like entity to make algorithms go through a testing and approval process before release.

As the interview was reaching its conclusion, the analogies being used to describe the problem of messaging on social platforms veered into puritanical territory, with certain types of social media content being likened to “pollution,” with potential solutions mirroring what was done through environmental legislation in the 1970s to limit the toxic waste giant corporations were releasing into the environment. Dawson wholeheartedly embraced this particular one as a “very, very good analogy” when it comes to the “pollution of the public sphere,” and added that putting it in terms of mental health is a “critical way of thinking about this.”

Lost in the conversation was the ability of regular people to use their own, individual critical thinking skills to sift through the content they may come across. For Dawson, Burns, and others in the growing cybersecurity industry, the “U.S. cognitive space” is a new theater of war that is not to be fought through education and open dialogue, but through hard and fast rules about what you can and cannot think about.

Feature photo | A cyber warfare operations journeyman monitors live cyber attacks at Warfield Air Base, Md. Photo | DVIDS

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

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US, Allies Drop 46 Bombs Per Day for 20 Years, New CODEPINK Research Reveals

VENICE, CALIFORNIA — The United States and its allies have dropped at least 326,000 bombs and missiles on countries in the greater Middle East/ North Africa region since 2001. That is the conclusion of new research by Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies of anti-war group CODEPINK.

Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen are the countries that have felt the worst of the violence, but Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine and Somalia have also been targeted. The total amounts to an average of 46 bombs dropped per day over the last 20 years.

CODEPINK’s numbers are based primarily on official U.S. military releases, as well as data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Yemen Data Project, and the New America Foundation. As striking as the figure of 326,000 is, it is an underestimate, as the Trump administration ceased publishing figures of its bombing campaigns in 2020, meaning there is no data for Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan for either of the previous two years. Also not counted are bombs or missiles used in helicopter strikes, AC-130 gunship attacks, strafing runs from U.S. bombers, or any counterinsurgency or counter-terrorism operations in other parts of the world.

 

Tough but nice?

Last week President Joe Biden gave the order to attack Iraqi militias in Syria, dropping 1.75 tons of bombs on a border village and killing 22 people — something that brought cheers from Washington insiders and corporate media pundits alike. The move was reportedly in response to strikes on U.S. military bases in Iraq — bases that, last year, the Iraqi parliament unanimously demanded be closed.

Yesterday, anonymous administration officials claimed that Biden called off a second Syria strike after being warned that women and children were in the area. Though no evidence was offered and the officials refused to go on record, corporate media diligently parroted the State Department line, allowing the new administration to simultaneously present itself as getting tough on its enemies and as a champion of human rights.

 

War, war, and more war

The United States has been at war for nearly every year of its existence as an independent nation, fighting in 227 years of its 244-year history. While both Barack Obama and Donald Trump offered up anti-war rhetoric when they were on the campaign trail, both moved steadfastly away from that position once in office. By 2016, Obama was bombing seven countries simultaneously and had earned the moniker “Drone King.” Trump, meanwhile, escalated the war in Yemen and even carried out the targeted assasination of Iranian leader Qassem Soleimani while he was in Iraq for regional peace talks. The 45th president also authorized the use of the “Mother of All Bombs,” a 21,000 pound (9,500 kg) explosive dropped on Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province in April 2017.

Many of the Biden administration’s early moves signal that there will be more continuation of than rupture with previous U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. While Biden had pledged to end the U.S. role in Yemen, the State Department’s qualifying language makes it clear that the U.S. is merely returning to Obama’s position on the conflict. Biden promised only to end support for “offensive” Saudi campaigns and limit “relevant” arms sales. Yet his administration immediately began emphasizing and denouncing Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia, and reaffirming its commitment to help Riyadh “defend” itself from Houthi aggression. U.S. envoy Timothy Lenderking even went so far as to praise Saudi Arabia for its “generous support over the decades for the people of Yemen.”

Residents carry the body of several civilians killed in a US airstrike in Mosul, Iraq on March 24, 2017. Felipe Dana | AP

On Israel, Biden has fully supported Trump’s decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a controversial move effectively approving the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Today, Vice-President Kamala Harris had a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which she reaffirmed the White House’s “unwavering commitment” to Israel and its security.

Meanwhile, on Iran, Biden has dragged his feet on lifting sanctions and returning to the negotiating table to bring the U.S. back to the nuclear deal Trump abandoned. He also framed his Syria attack as a “message” to Iran.

Despite its spending almost as much as every other country combined on defense, the impact of war is largely unfelt in the United States. As Benjamin and Davies write: “The American public and the world are left almost completely in the dark about the death and destruction our country’s leaders keep wreaking in our name.” With studies such as this one, CODEPINK hopes to change that fact.

Feature photo | US airstrikes strike the Old City a day after Iraq’s prime minister declared “total victory” in Mosul, Iraq, July 11, 2017. Felipe Dana | AP

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

The post US, Allies Drop 46 Bombs Per Day for 20 Years, New CODEPINK Research Reveals appeared first on MintPress News.

Podcast: Raul Diego on the Rise of Digital Currencies and Human Capital Markets



Welcome to MintCast — an interview series featuring dissenting voices the establishment would rather silence — I’m your host, Mnar Adley.

Today we’re joined by Raul Diego, a MintPress staff writer, filmmaker and photojournalist who will discuss the anti-Chinese lockdown propaganda and how the COVID economic disaster is paving the way for surveillance, digital currency and human capital markets based on a series of articles he wrote for MintPress News.

A recent letter addressed to the FBI, entitled “The Chinese Communist Party’s Global Lockdown Fraud,” has been gaining considerable traction. The letter — signed by a number of prominent individuals, including military commanders and government advisers — essentially suggests that China, and Xi Jinping in particular, tricked the world into pursuing authoritarian responses to the pandemic.

However, the anti-Chinese lockdown narrative is obscuring a much broader effort by the financial and tech sector to create state-backed digital currency that will turn humanity into data assets. The world’s most powerful hedge funds and transnational corporations can use this data to create more profits for themselves and their clients, while rendering the poor poorer.

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: Raul Diego on the Rise of Digital Currencies and Human Capital Markets appeared first on MintPress News.

NATO Video Talks ‘Diversity, Respect, Embrace’ But Critics See Through the Wash Job

BRUSSELS — Earlier this week, NATO put out a promotional video celebrating their diversity. The heavily-produced video featured a range of smiling people of all ages, genders and races, painting the international military alliance as a progressive force.

“At NATO, diversity is our strength. We speak many languages. We have different skills, our own unique personalities. We come from all over the world, from every walk of life. No two of us are the same. We work together. Respect our needs. Embrace our differences. Because we all have one thing in common: we are NATO,” the advertisement said.

 

Woke imperialism?

Few on social media appeared to be impressed. “More intersectional imperialism from this U.S.-led military cartel of neocolonial gangsters. NATO claims it loves diversity, after destroying Libya, the most prosperous country in Africa, bringing it slavery,” reacted The Grayzone’s Ben Norton — adding, “NATO says ‘zero discrimination’ after supporting ex-Nazis in Operation Gladio.” Journalist Richard Medhurst was similarly unmoved: “Unless you change your name from NATO to NATX don’t even speak to me about diversity. I want to see rainbows on those bombs,” he tweeted.

Other responses included “We might bomb innocent civilians but at least we’re not bigots;” “NATO will foist superficial diversity on our graves;” and “Imperialism, but make it woke.”

pic.twitter.com/07zGVj2mw3

— #WarIsARacket (@For2000years) March 3, 2021

The video is part of a wider rebranding exercise for the alliance of European and North American nations. On NATO’s official YouTube page, it also has a video titled “NATO celebrates Human Rights Day,” as well as ones dedicated to celebrating female service members, Sikh soldiers, and military dogs. All feature the slogan #WeAreNATO, a public relations attempt to market the organization domestically in the face of mounting skepticism. The campaign dates back to 2017 in an apparent effort to counter then-President Donald Trump’s criticism of the organization, and was created by MHP Communications and Agenda, two corporate PR firms based in London and Washington respectively.

 

The real NATO

NATO was founded in 1949 with the goal of being a defensive organization dedicated to stopping a possible Soviet invasion of Europe. In this role, it joined forces with many regressive elements in post-war Europe, indeed promoting a number of prominent Nazis to senior positions. For example, in 1961, Hitler’s chief of staff, Adolf Heusinger, was made chairman of its military committee. However, with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, NATO moved from guard dog to attack dog, expanding its domain from Europe to across the world, taking part in attacks on Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also expanded into cyber warfare. At its 70th birthday celebrations in 2019, the former  supreme allied commander of NATO, James Stavridis, declared that in 10 years NATO would be “far more engaged in… cyber security” and would have much greater “offensive cyber capability.” NATO’s semi-official think tank, the Atlantic Council, already works closely with Facebook on content curation.

Last month, the Atlantic Council published a 26,000-word report arguing that it should move closer to war with China. The U.S., it advises, must use the power of its military to draw a number of red lines around the Asian nation. If China crosses these, then the U.S. must respond militarily or suffer international “humiliation.” The Atlantic Council has also been at the forefront of pushing for increased hostilities with Russia.

In recent years, public support for NATO has been falling in many of its key member states. The organization is far less popular with Europeans who place themselves on the left of the ideological spectrum. In Sweden, for instance, only 38% of leftists see NATO in a favorable light, compared to 79% of those on the right. This move towards using inclusive, progressive rhetoric appears to be part of an appeal to a more liberal audience.

 

Organizations unwashed

NATO is far from the only organization attempting to rebrand itself as woke. The FBI, which spied on Dr. Martin Luther King and even sent him a letter advising that he kill himself, celebrates the reverend every January, attempting to position itself as on the same side of the fight for justice as was the noted civil rights campaigner.

Look out, too, for corporations and government entities celebrating International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8, presenting themselves as bastions of feminist thought. Last year, petroleum giant Shell even rebranded to “She’ll” for the day, in an effort to pink-wash its poor public image. Other giant corporations, such as Dow Chemical, have attempted to present themselves as LGBT-friendly businesses.

Meanwhile, Israel has tried to “vegan-wash” its international image by promoting itself as a land of tolerance and compassion towards animals. Members of its armed forces are able to illegally occupy its neighbors while wearing cruelty-free boots and uniforms made of entirely synthetic or plant-based materials.

Ultimately, NATO’s latest video is another example of how superficially progressive language is used to put a gloss on fundamentally regressive institutions. Selling war as woke, however, might be a bridge too far, judging by the response to it.

Feature photo | MintPresss News

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

The post NATO Video Talks ‘Diversity, Respect, Embrace’ But Critics See Through the Wash Job appeared first on MintPress News.

Israel: Orthodox Religious Parties Shaken by Supreme Court Ruling on Law of Return

JERUSALEM — In a groundbreaking eight-to-one decision, the Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to any Jewish person who comes to Israel, applies to anyone who converted to Judaism while in Israel through a non-orthodox conversion. This ruling has created a great deal of political turmoil and anger among Zionist-religious parties and the State chief rabbinate.

In a political system like the one in Israel, where small political parties are crucial to any coalition government and are often the determining factor as to who becomes prime minister, this distress is problematic. In the Israeli Knesset, the religious parties wield a great deal of power and quite often act as kingmakers, giving their votes to one of the two larger parties and thus sealing the fate of Israeli politics one way or another. Upsetting the status quo on religious matters before a general election is bad for politics.

Luckily, the Israeli Supreme Court is not an elected body and doesn’t need to worry about coalition issues, and so, its justices are free to make rulings as they see fit. What brought the court to this particular ruling, however, was a lack of ability on the part of the legislature and the State institutions to rule on this very sensitive issue.

In Israel, Orthodox Judaism has a monopoly over all of a person’s life-cycle issues: birth, marriage, divorce and death. It also governs everything that has to do with determining the validity or purity of one’s Jewishness. The chief rabbinate of the State — not to be confused with the non-Zionist rabbinical institutions that do not recognize the State-appointed rabbinical authorities — has a monopoly on all conversions as well. It refuses to recognize conversions made by non-Orthodox rabbis.

 

A third-rail issue

This is true inside Israel. Outside of Israel, though, Orthodox Judaism is not the majority, and has no control over the life of Jewish people. In the United States, for example, the largest Jewish community is that of Reformed Judaism, which only barely resembles Orthodox Judaism.

For example, members of Reformed, and even the Conservative streams of Judaism, will drive to services on Friday evening or Saturday morning and the family will sit together in the sanctuary during the service, much as one might see in a church. This is in total contradiction to the tenets of Orthodox Judaism. According to Orthodox Judaism, driving on the Sabbath is strictly forbidden, and men and women must sit in separate parts of the sanctuary, which must be divided so that they cannot see each other.

A Jewish immigrant from North America kisses the ground at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. Ariel Schalit | AP

The State of Israel is obliged to support Reform and Conservative communities, as they comprise the majority of Jews outside of Israel and are also deeply Zionist. If the State of Israel denied the validity of their Jewishness or the legitimacy of their rabbinical institutions, it would be a serious slap in the face to millions of Jewish people around the world, particularly in the United States.

These non-Orthodox communities are the very Jewish communities that contribute to Israel financially and make up the foot soldiers for Israel in the halls of power in Washington. However, they do not vote in the Israeli elections and do not possess the ability to determine who will be prime minister in Israel. The Orthodox religious parties in Israel are relatively small and do not represent large communities, yet they possess the ability to do just that. It is for this reason that Israeli politicians have done everything in their power to avoid dealing with the issue of who qualifies as a Jew under the Law of Return.

 

The Law of Return

Zionists claim that all Jews are descendants of an ancient tribe that lived in parts of historic Palestine several thousand years ago. This, Zionists claim, gives all Jewish people the right to “return” to Palestine and reside there as citizens of the State of Israel, a state that has occupied Palestine and imposed an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people since 1948.

The Law of Return was passed in 1950. The Jewish Agency, whose mission is to “ensure that every Jewish person feels an unbreakable bond to one another and to Israel,” says the following about the law:

With the inception of the State of Israel, two thousand years of wandering were officially over. Since then, Jews have been entitled to simply show up and request to be Israeli citizens, assuming they posed no imminent danger to public health, state security, or the Jewish people as a whole. Essentially, all Jews everywhere are Israeli citizens by right.

This law also stands in contrast to Israeli laws that make it impossible for Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and their land and receive their property, both private and public, and that deny them citizenship in their own homeland. The Law of Return is one of the first laws passed by the Israeli Knesset that clearly define Israel as an Apartheid State, a state where there is one set of laws that affords privileges to Jews, even if they do not live there, and a different set of laws that denies Palestinians their rights to the land.

 

Who is a Jew?

Where the law gets into trouble is when attempting to answer the question “Who is a Jew?” This is a question that Zionists have no idea how to answer and so they have been trying to avoid it, but it keeps returning to haunt them. According to Judaism itself, a Jewish person is someone who accepts the Almighty and follows the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. One can be born Jewish and one can also convert to Judaism.

The religious authorities in the State of Israel view all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism as not Jewish and do not recognize their conversions. However, for the purposes of the Law of Return, the State recognizes any conversions undergone outside of Israel as long as they were carried out by recognized Jewish authorities, even non-Orthodox ones.

 

Non-Orthodox conversion in Israel

In 2005, several cases of converts who converted to Judaism in Israel but with non-Orthodox institutions (the minority in Israel) were brought before the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the matter needed to be decided by the legislature. Since then, cases were brought in front of the court several times, and each time the State requested more time so that the Knesset could resolve this issue of non-Orthodox conversion that took place in Israel.

Ethiopian Jews hold photos of relatives in Israel at a solidarity event. Ethiopian Jews were forced to convert to Orthodox Judaism before emigrating to Israel. Mulugeta Ayene | AP

The Knesset, however, was not able to do so, and the Court made its ruling: since the Law of Return does not discriminate between Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversions when Jews come to settle in Israel, there should be no such discrimination when the conversion takes place in Israel.

The Orthodox conversion process is far more difficult and takes longer than the non-Orthodox conversion and much of the criticism directed at this ruling has to do with the concern that African asylees who have lived in Israel for decades may take advantage of it. There is an entire movement within Israel that wants to see Africans who live and work in Israel (in some cases for decades) deported and that movement fears that Africans may utilize the less stringent non-Orthodox conversion in order to establish themselves as Jews and therefore deserving of the benefits of the Right of Return, namely lawful citizenship.

 

Zionist chauvinism raises its head

This ruling by the Supreme Court is a serious slap in the face of the State Rabbinate, which until now had the monopoly on conversions. Right-wing religious politicians like Naftali Bennett, who is eyeing the prime minister’s seat, and Bezalel Smotrich — who are both inherently chauvinistic and racist and represent the religious-Zionist political parties — immediately expressed their displeasure with the Supreme Court’s intervention in this issue.

The religious right in Israel has been at odds with the Supreme Court for years, as it is considered to be too liberal for their taste. Mixing politics and religion creates a toxic reaction, and Israel is no exception. Zionism and its distortion of what it means to be Jewish have created a deeply racist, chauvinistic state. The sooner the Zionist regime is removed and Palestine is free, the better it will be for everyone involved.

Feature photo | Israeli soldiers and relatives of new Jewish immigrants from the US and Canada, wave Israeli flags to welcome them as they arrive at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ariel Schalit | AP

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

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Aurora Police Killed Without Consequence, Now Their Protestors Face 48 Years for “Kidnapping” Cops

DENVER — Elijah McClain would have turned 25 last week. However, in 2019, the introverted Black massage therapist was killed on the street by police in his native Aurora (a part of the Denver metropolitan area). None of the officers involved have faced charges for the incident. Yet the leaders of mass protests against the killing are now facing up to 48 years in prison on a host of charges they see as retaliation for standing up to police power.

Three activists — Lillian House, Joel Northam, and Eliza Lucero — were in court this week and face another preliminary hearing on March 9. A fourth, Terrence Roberts, is also facing similar, though more minor charges.

The most serious of the charges against them is that of kidnapping, an indictment that stems from a peaceful protest they led in July. A ring of demonstrators surrounded a police station in Aurora, which effectively trapped officers inside. This appears to be the extent of the kidnapping.

Protesters stand in front of the exit to the precinct of the officers who killed McClain, July 3, 2020. Kevin Mohatt | Reuters

Constitutional and civil rights attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard was alarmed at the precedent any conviction could set, explaining:

If you think about the labor movement and all the struggles that have been engaged in over the last century and are commonly engaged in when people want to send a message. Think about a picket line; a picket line is always outside of a building. People are marching back and forth. Sometimes they are chanting. That is a classic labor protest, and crucial to labor struggles in the United States. That same type of protest could be charged the same way this was, with decades in prison.”

Verheyden-Hilliard is one of a number of high-profile figures to sign a letter demanding all charges be dropped. 

After the protest ended, police reacted, forcefully arresting its leaders, even bringing a tank-like armored fighting vehicle to apprehend Northam. The three were held in jail for eight days before being brought before a judge.

From left to right, Joel Northam, Lillian House, and Eliza Lucero upon release from the Adams County Jail on July 24, 2020. Courtesy | Lillian House

MintPress spoke to Lillian House — who is facing the most charges among the group: 12 felonies, 13 misdemeanors — earlier this week:

There is absolutely no legitimacy to the charges. We did nothing wrong, and nothing illegal. The reason that the police targeted us — the reason they arrested us in such terrifying and invasive ways, including surrounding me with numerous cop cars and sending a SWAT team to Joel’s apartment and dragging him out in front of his neighbors; the reason that they held us under horrible conditions in jail for eight days; the reason that they stacked this case of ridiculous and extreme charges on us; and the reason that they are forcing us to go through this grueling legal battle — is that we led an extremely successful and popular campaign to hold them accountable.”

MintPress also reached out to the Aurora Police Department and City Hall but both declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case as a reason.

 

An innocent man

On the evening of August 24, 2019, Elijah McClain was on his way home from a convenience store when he was accosted by three officers — Nathan Woodyard, Jason Rosenblatt, and Randy Roedema — who said they were on the lookout for a suspicious person.

Elijah McClain

McClain was a 5’6”, 140-pound, anemic vegetarian. Yet officers claimed he fought all three of them with “crazy strength,” enough to warrant placing him in a now-banned carotid chokehold, cutting off blood supply to his brain, and injecting him with ketamine, a drug often used to tranquilize horses.

Bodycam footage of the incident tells a different story, however, showing McClain gasping for air, repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe” while the officers ignore his pleas and threaten to unleash their dogs on him if he moves a muscle. Three days after arriving in hospital, McClain was pronounced brain dead.

“The fact that Elijah McClain was someone who played violin to cats at a shelter and was an innocent person who wouldn’t hurt a fly but the police still killed him and are still trying to make it seem as if he were a criminal. It tells us…what we already know, it is a criminalization of blackness in and of itself,” said activist-defendant Northam.

 

 

A vindictive police response

To this day, Aurora Police classify McClain as a “suspect” in a case, meaning that his family cannot seek compensation, even for funeral costs. At the height of the Movement for Black Lives last summer, activists organized a mass protest for McClain, including a somber violin vigil in the city’s Center Park. Musicians (including children) from all over the city and further afield congregated to mourn the death of one of their own. The event was broken up by masked, black-clad police in full riot gear, wielding batons and pepper spray.

“We challenged their impunity, we challenged their ability to kill without consequence, and the protests we led brought thousands of community members together in a city that had never witnessed a mass protest movement before” House said.

For young Black men like McClain, police violence is a gruesome fact of life. Around one in every thousand Black men and boys can be expected to die at the hands of law enforcement. According to the Mapping Police Violence project, cops killed 1,127 civilians in 2020. Indeed, there were only 18 days last year when cops did not use lethal force.

The Aurora Police Force has developed a reputation for being particularly ruthless. Since 2013, it has been responsible for killing 20 people. Nearly half of those have been Black, despite African-Americans constituting just 16.5% of the city’s population.

Last month, one police officer was fired for “excessive use of force” after he punched then tased a man for 27 seconds in a supermarket over a minor incident. The same week, three Aurora officers lost their appeal against their sacking after photos emerged of them mocking the killing of McClain near a memorial set up in his memory. A fourth resigned over the incident. Erica Marrero, Kyle Dittrich, and Jaron Jones were on duty at a memorial for McClain when they decided to pose for photos, placing each other in mock choke holds like the one used on McClain. They sent the pictures to Rosenblatt (an officer involved in McClain’s killing) and others in the department for their own amusement. Rosenblatt responded with laughter.

For eight months, police authorities knew of the incident, but took no action. Only after the pictures were leaked did it become a scandal. House calls laughing about killing a man right outside the house he lived in “disgusting and outrageous.”

 

Radio silence

While the national media are happy to cover the persecution of political actors, such as Russia’s Alexey Navalny or the leaders of the Hong Kong protest movement, in enemy nations halfway around the world, there has been near silence on this case far closer to home.

A search for “Lillian House” elicits zero relevant results on the websites of The New York Times, CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, or USA Today. There is also no mention of House’s case from Fox News, although one article from last summer described her as part of an “anti-cop mob,” full of “tyrannical, left-wing anarchists [who] hate free speech,” according to the then-Acting Deputy Homeland Security Secretary. Thus, it is unlikely she will be receiving any coverage — sympathetic or otherwise — from them.

Virtually the only coverage of the Aurora case comes either from local Colorado sources or small independent websites such as Liberation, the outlet of the Party of Socialism and Liberation, a party with which the defendants are affiliated. It appears that big media outlets, many of which supported the Movement for Black Lives in the summer, have deemed House, Northam, and Lucero unworthy of attention or sympathy, despite the implications for freedom of speech and association their cases bring up.

Support the struggle to drop the charges against anti-racist organizers!

Sign the petition https://t.co/d2SZyYWIhE

Donate to the legal and support fund https://t.co/B5DKY8li4J

Spread the word: #JusticeForElijahMcClain and #DropTheChargesCOpic.twitter.com/v3a0JCX73z

— Party for Socialism and Liberation (@pslweb) October 23, 2020

House understands her predicament as less about her and more about sending a message to other, would-be troublemakers:

Police in Aurora are not used to being held under a spotlight, and when they are, they have a lot to lose. And so when we led these mass protests, when we brought together thousands of people in the streets, when we forced the city to start making reforms, they began to target us. They want people to see what we are going through — the conditions of our arrests, our experiences in jail, and our legal battle — and they want them to be afraid to protest. The cops and the district attorneys want people to see what we are going through, and to think that this is what you risk when you stand up against them.”

Feature photo | Jillian House, left, and Joel Northam. Courtesy | Jillian House

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

The post Aurora Police Killed Without Consequence, Now Their Protestors Face 48 Years for “Kidnapping” Cops appeared first on MintPress News.

Emboldened by Trump and Netanyahu, Jewish Settler Terrorism is Spiking

OCCUPIED WEST BANK — On the night of Jan. 28, Alaa Sawafteh was driving back with his family to Tubas from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank when his car was attacked by around 30 Israeli settlers.

The Israelis, from the nearby settlement of Beit El, smashed the car windows, opened the doors, and struck his three-year-old son’s face with a rock, leaving him with a scar on his forehead. Sawafteh’s family was supposed to be celebrating his son’s birthday, but instead the family spent the night in the hospital.

Settler violence is a daily reality for Palestinians living in the West Bank, but in recent months the attacks have increased in severity and frequency. In 2020, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OCHA) recorded 772 incidents of settler violence. So far, in 2021, the OCHA has reported 152 acts of settler violence.

The violence includes attacks against Palestinians and damage to their properties, such as uprooting agriculture, setting fire to crops, denying Palestinians access to their natural resources, vandalizing buildings with racist slogans, pelting moving vehicles with rocks, and establishing caravans in order to expand settlements. Physical attacks against Palestinians include live fire, beatings, and stone-throwing.

Right: Alaa Sawafteh’s car after Israeli settlers attacked his family while driving. Left: Alaa Sawafteh’s son bleeding after being attacked by Israeli settlers throwing stones. Credit | Alaa Sawafteh

Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has also recorded a sharp rise in settler attacks since December, documenting 73 incidents from mid-December to mid-February. Media reports have attributed the spike in violence to the death of Israeli settler Ahuvia Sandak on Dec. 21, 2020. The 16-year-old was killed by Israeli police during a car chase after he was suspected of throwing stones at Palestinians.

Settlers often retaliate against perceived threats on settlement expansion by attacking Palestinians in what’s known as the “price tag” phenomenon. “The attacks are partially driven by the ideology that ‘every attack on settler interests should draw a response,’” Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq said in a January report on settler violence. “Accordingly, when the [Israel Occupation Forces] attempts to impose restrictions on settlement construction and/or expansion, for the affected settlers — Palestinians ought to pay an additional price.”

“Whenever we see restrictions by the Israeli government or attacks by Palestinians, we do observe a spike and an intensification in settler attacks,” Aseel AlBajeh, legal researcher and advocacy officer at Al-Haq, said, adding “This policy of price tag is part and parcel of the Israeli settler colonial regime, which is facilitated by the government when they are not enforcing the law to prosecute and investigate these attacks.”

 

With impunity, settler violence rages on

While Israelis were celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim last week, Palestinians remembered the anniversary of the Ibrahimi Mosque massacre. On Feb. 25, 1994, American-Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein stormed Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 worshippers.

Goldstein was a follower of Kahanism, a movement founded by American rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahanism espouses racist beliefs, such as maintaining that non-Jews shouldn’t have civil rights.

Despite Kahane’s Kach Party being banned from Israeli politics in 1988, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently pushed for a right-wing alliance with Itamar Ben-Gvir, Kahanist and defense lawyer for price tag campaigners, in the upcoming Israeli election. His decision arguably allows for Kahanism to become mainstream.

For Palestinian activist and founder of Youths Against Settlements Issa Amro, Netanyahu’s political move takes Israel’s culture of impunity to another level. “It’s a signal for the Israeli youth and the new generation that by violence, by aggression, by extremism, by terror, you can reach the Knesset [Israeli parliament],” Amro said. “Impunity [for] any kind of violence may encourage settlers to repeat the Ibrahimi massacre somewhere else.”

Settlers are rarely, if ever, held accountable for the violence they commit. According to Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din, 91% of investigations into Israeli crimes against Palestinians are closed without an indictment.

Sawafteh, whose family now suffers from post-traumatic stress as a result of the settler attack in January, understands this first-hand. Despite having photos and videos of the attack, he was told by the Israeli authorities that charges couldn’t be filed because there wasn’t evidence.

And Amro, who has been attacked by settlers multiple times and even filed three complaints in the last year, has yet to see a settler arrested.

I filed a compliant to Israeli police today against a settler who threw stones at me when I was working in my yard, One hit my arm, the soldier saw what happened, but the settler was not arrested & he will not, the police will close the file soon. It is #ApartheidIsrael pic.twitter.com/VyiP1YtCLb

— Issa Amro عيسى عمرو (@Issaamro) February 12, 2021

Even worse, B’Tselem indicates that Israeli forces are often complicit or directly involved in attacks against Palestinians. “In many cases, Israeli security forces are present and do nothing to protect the Palestinians who are being attacked and sometimes even participate in the violence toward them,” B’Tselem spokesperson Amit Gilutz, said. “So, the lack of law enforcement following up with these violent incidents, of course, green-lights the continuation of these events.”

 

Trump policies encouraging settler violence

Donald Trump’s rhetoric incited white supremacists to such an extreme that his presidency ended with a riot at the Capitol spurred by Trump’s own words. But the former president’s language and actions didn’t just influence racists in the United States.

For Amro, it’s not just the Israeli government that’s fostering a climate of tolerance toward Jewish terrorism. He emphasized that the previous American administration as well has helped provoke settler attacks against Palestinians. “The settlers told me many times that they are backed up by Trump,” Amro said. “I saw a lot of settlers be proud of attacking Palestinians, be open about annexation and apartheid — all of this behavior came out during the Trump administration.”

According to a recent report from West Bank Jewish Population Stats, the settler population in the West Bank grew at a higher rate under Trump, increasing by 13% since 2017, when Trump took office. Settlement watchdog group Peace Now reported settlement construction and infrastructure serving the settlements also increased during Trump’s term. From 2017-21,11,815 tenders for settlement construction were issued and 33,756 housing units were promoted in the settlements. For comparison,10,331 housing units were promoted in the settlements between 2013-2016.

A sign hangs on a building under construction in Jerusalem on Jan. 20, 2017. Ariel Schalit | AP

Trump’s reversal of standard American policy on Israeli settlements allowed the settlement movement to grow unchecked. Under his administration, settlements were no longer considered “illegal;” U.S. exports of settlement goods were labeled as “made in Israel;” and his peace plan included Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

However, Israel’s failure to annex the West Bank over the summer may also be contributing to a rise in settler violence. Amro explained:

The settlers wanted to create facts on the ground because the annexation plan was not successful in theory. So they are trying to do it in practice by making life for the Palestinians harder so they leave these areas and then the settlers can confiscate the Palestinian land and build more settlements.”

But whether it’s a Republican or Democratic president in the White House, human rights groups stress that the real issue is that settler violence is supported by the Israeli state. The attacks may dip or spike over the years, but the violence remains ongoing. B’Tselem’s Gilutz summed it up:

From our perspective, what’s more important is the fact that the conditions are set for these violent outbursts to occur again and again, and that even if there isn’t a peak, as there has been in recent weeks, settler violence is one of the most fundamental facts of life in the West Bank for Palestinians. This is state policy. It’s sanctioned by the state and backed by the state.”

Feature photo | Israeli soldiers and settlers attack Palestinian protesters in the Occupied West Bank town of Salfit, Nov. 30, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP

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

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The Bits and Bytes of The Great Reset: COVID-19 and the Scaling Up of Data-Capitalism

LONDON — According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, an economy is “the system of trade and industry by which the wealth of a country is made and used.” For the last few centuries, this system has been dominated by the paradigm of capitalism, in which the private owners of capital, and not the state, control the trade of goods and services.

The slave trade and plantation economy of the early colonial period in America were among the original manifestations of this economic paradigm, as the European propertied classes asserted their newfound power over dwindling tributary systems and the interim feudal arrangements were replaced with John Locke’s quasi-religious notions of private property, which would come to conquer Western economic theory for the next three hundred years.

Today, that paradigm has exhausted the moral justifications its proponents have relied upon to maintain its supremacy and the naked truth of capitalism’s rapaciousness is laid bare, once again, as wealth inequality skyrockets while millions sink into poverty and resource wars continue to ravage entire nations across the world.

Having squeezed every last drop of “value” from the earth, and with no more land to settle or markets to discover, capital’s approaching apotheosis finds it looking for a lifeline by creating a virtual copy of itself, where intellectual property supplants physical property and human biological and behavioral processes are recast as a grotesque form of human labor.

Efforts are now underway to “translate” the real world into a digital counterfeit that can provide financial markets with the figures and statistics it needs to execute the contracts of the incipient human capital markets – an insidious new form of capital assembled from our genetic code and other kinds of data that will form the basis of a financialized wonderland, enforced by blockchain technology and constantly monitored and updated through the burgeoning biosecurity state.

Led by the world’s most powerful hedge funds and transnational corporations, the so-called Great Reset amounts to little more than a campaign to turn humanity into datasets, which they can use to create more profits for themselves and their clients.

For now, they don’t have enough to make it happen and we still have the power to make sure they can’t.

 

Step right up

A return “to anything like normal” will require a Covid vaccination certificate, according to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has been among the many world leaders advocating for vaccine passports, which the European Union expects to roll out as soon as this summer across its member states. The need for “a digital vaccination certificate” has reached total consensus in Europe, according to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while countries outside of the EU might soon get standards and enforcement protocols for vaccine credentials designed by a team of researchers and academics from the UK, Australia, Canada and the Caribbean.

Andy Knight, the University of Alberta political scientist who is leading the latter endeavor, funded by the Worldwide Universities Network’s (WUN) Research Development Fund, stressed in a recent interview that vaccination should not be treated as “a nationalistic issue,” asserting that global “security is no longer about military threats — it’s about health threats,” and warned against “a splintering of international cooperation,” which he said should be met through “an intersection between the public and the private” sectors.

Indeed, Knight’s sponsors are committed to the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) – a set of 17 climate change-centered objectives, planned around public-private-philanthropic partnerships, which his research team will also knit into the six-month policy study. Backed by the Rockefeller Foundation and its associated philanthropic organizations, the UN’s SDG program stands out as one of the cornerstones of the Great Reset, which now features Covid-19 as the fulcrum of that project and underlies what pioneering independent researcher Alison McDowell, interviewed by MintPress for this article, calls “theological technofascism.”

Christened as the fourth sector, this merger of “the corporate state […] with nonprofits and religion,” as McDowell puts it, operates through so-called “benefit corporations,” a novel incorporation structure the rules of which were developed and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s B Lab. Based on the “environmental social governance” or ESG framework, Certified B Corporations allow company executives to be shielded to a considerable extent from their shareholders and, therefore, provided with an unprecedented measure of freedom as a result of the ostensibly socially and environmentally beneficial entity.

This new face of capitalism intends to function under the aegis of what is referred to as the “Impact Economy” — an idea that arose out of the ashes of the controlled demolition of the global financial system in 2008, which paved the way for hedge funds to replace banks as the dominant force in the world of global capital. That world is currently ruled by The Blackstone Group Inc., which controls a mind-boggling half trillion dollars under asset management, not to mention having the distinction of being the world’s biggest landlord and, ominously, the owner of the largest private DNA database on the planet.

The manufactured outrage of the richest banks and regulatory institutions in the aftermath of the 2008 subprime mortgage lending debacle elicited calls for a more “humane” capitalism. As the Great Recession was unfolding, the term “impact investment” was introduced to describe an economic model that delivers “social value through market-based practices” while birth was given to the buzzwords, like “sustainable development” or “carbon neutral,” coming out of organizations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) or the United Nations.

Sir Ronald Cohen, whom McDowell identifies as one of the key figures in its development, as recently as 2019 declared that the impact economy was “overthrowing the dictatorship of profit and putting impact firmly by its side to keep it in its place.” The sophistry in this statement may not be immediately apparent, but the cunning words spoken by the chairman of an impact investment firm called Global Steering Group (CSG) reveal the magic trick the owners of capital want to pull on the world.

The Global Steering Group, funded by some of the world’s most powerful interests, hope to make “social justice” profitable. Source | GSG

Yet, despite Cohen’s brash confidence and that of his fellow evangelizers on the impact investment bandwagon, not everyone is convinced. Even the Rockefeller Foundation has found that bringing major players on board can be an uphill battle, admitting that it has yet to garner “support from funder collaboratives, despite trying for some of the well-known ones like MacArthur Foundation” and others. Nevertheless, perhaps no one understands that “upheaval can yield new understanding and opportunity” better than the Rockefeller Foundation.

The impact investment model is facing a challenge many startups do, which is a problem of scale. However, that’s a challenge it is well-positioned to meet and a problem that the model’s agents have been making sure they overcome by tapping into the largest horizontal market of all time: healthcare.

 

The God complex

In October 2020, MintPress covered an organization called The Commons Project, which at the time was carrying out the first official tests of its CommonPass health passport app in Newark, New Jersey in the presence of CDC officials and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. A cursory look at the founders’ backgrounds revealed their ties to the CDC and covert intelligence operations around the world. One of the project’s founders, in particular, bears closer examination as we stand on the eve of a worldwide biosecurity regime.

Dr. Bradley A. Perkins led the CDC’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks as its Meningitis and Special Pathogens chief, making him the agency’s top anthrax expert. He would later be appointed as the agency’s Deputy Director of the Office of Strategy and Innovation, eventually heading the division, placing him in charge of a $11.2 billion budget and over 50 branch offices around the world. Perkins had risen in the ranks from his 1989 stint supervising a team of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS), a special unit originally formed to “catch the communists if they started spreading plague over the Korean peninsula.” Perkins was head of the CDC’s bioterrorism unit when he was tapped, along with five of his colleagues, to lead the anthrax investigation.

One could say that Perkins had reached the peak of his public service career during that time, working closely with then-CDC Director Julie Gerberding to create a “state-of-the-art” $2 billion emergency response capability for the Bush administration in the wake of the H5N1 Avian Flu epidemic. He would remain an influential voice at the nation’s top disease prevention outfit, where he seemed to be very intent on radically overhauling the country’s approach to public health – a desire he has carried over to his endeavors in the private sector, which include nearly four years as Chief Medical Officer of Human Longevity, Inc, a DNA sequencing firm founded by Dr. Craig Venter, the first man to sequence the human genome.

In 2017, just before Perkins would step down as Human Longevity’s CMO, he gave a rather enlightening presentation at the Aspen Institute’s Abu Dhabi Ideas conference. held at NYU that year, in which he went into considerable detail about what he and his colleagues in the DNA sequencing business really mean when they talk about changing public health. Sharing the panel session with other transhumanists pushing the genomic revolution on the world, like Aubrey de Grey, who currently serves as science advisor to Jeffrey Epstein’s transhumanist project, (now renamed Humanity +), Perkins expounds on the virtues of genomics as the next frontier in healthcare.

In a talk titled “Synthetic Life to Human Health,” Perkins explains how genomics is “going to be the next accelerant in extending high-performance human lifespan” and the four factors that have made this possible. First and foremost is the “radical decrease in the cost of whole genome sequencing,” which fell from approximately three billion dollars initially to roughly one thousand dollars or “about three thousand dollars if you include the analytic component” per DNA code map. The advent of cloud computing, which according to Perkins is “just barely adequate to begin to host this voluminous data, [which allows] us to manipulate and analyze it,” and the mainstream adoption of machine learning (AI) to “interpret” the data round out the next two factors.

 
Lastly, Perkins highlights the critically important shift from “volume-based health care to value-based health care.” Perkins is referring here to cold, hard cash as the rest of his seminar makes clear, given how genomics “will drive tremendous progress in life and health insurance [as well as] tremendous progress in healthcare delivery by powering a next generation of healthcare and healthcare models.”

“What we are about to embark on,” Perkins boldly predicts, is nothing less than “hacking the software of life,” and “for the first time, trying to understand all the instructions that build, operate and reproduce us as humans.” He illustrates his point with a disturbing anecdote about how genomic pioneer Venter “sat down at a computer with the notion that he could actually design a genome, a sequence of DNA letters; produce that genome artificially; insert it into a membrane and boot up life from scratch.”

Perkins considers that Venter’s 2010 brainstorm might have been even “more important” than the sequencing of the human genome, itself. The eureka moment when a Western scientist developed a God-complex is what will change “medicine from a clinical science supported by data to a data science supported by clinicians,” according to Perkins, who goes on to warn of the “profound disruption in our current format for the practice of medicine,” that he confidently states will no longer “be possible in the place that we’re going very shortly.”

Stored in Amazon’s cloud servers, Human Longevity’s bioinformatics platform is only one of several next-generation sequencing technologies designed to perform the type of comparative genome sequencing work Perkins and his life science industry colleagues are counting on to carry out what he estimates is “probably the largest scale enterprise ever” of “translating the language of biology in the form of linear DNA code into the language of health and disease.”

Perkins admits that “the genome in isolation, it’s not very useful” and that what the business of genomics basically boils down to is the “building [of] integrated health records,” in order to be able to correlate “high-quality clinical data” with the whole genome sequence. “We’re in the business of building a large database,” Perkins reveals. Without that, the genomic revolution is dead in the primordial waters, so to speak.

But, with CommonPass, Perkins is continuing to do all he can to build that database. After all, a biometric passport required at all ports of entry would go a long way to procuring a goldmine of genomic data. An opportunity not lost on the majority shareholders of another company Perkins was involved with even before launching the nonprofit or joining Human Longevity.

Fresh out of his long career at the CDC — and just a year after exhorting his fellow federal employees to pay heed to the “serious game” the agency was rolling out to “examine the estimated health impacts and costs associated” with major policy and health system changes “over a five-decade period” — Perkins joined Vanguard Health System as its Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer.

The publicly-traded cross-national operator of hospitals and clinics was controlled by The Blackstone Group from 2004 until it was sold off to Tenet Healthcare in 2011, forming the third largest investor-held hospital network in the United States. Tenet, like many other private equity-owned healthcare operations, has been roiled by controversy and corruption. Perkins took a tidy $1.9 Million package and moved on from Vanguard just before the merger. Just last year, Blackstone acquired Ancestry.com Inc. for a cool $4.7 billion, making the world’s largest private landlord the owner of the largest private DNA database in the world as well, containing the genome of 18 million people across 30 countries.

 

The new wine of slavery

“Everything [needs to be] big and fast and scalable,” asserts Alison McDowell, who has been following the development of the burgeoning impact investment models being piloted across multiple verticals on her blog “Wrench in the Gears.” Named in honor of Mario Savio’s emotional speech to his fellow Berkeley students at the height of the anti-war movement in the United States, McDowell has managed to expose many of the “gears” that are moving this reinvention of capitalism based on the aggregation and manipulation of data in all its forms.

McDowell credits a talk she attended in 2017 at The Whitney Museum of American Art called “Race, Finance and the Afterlife of Slavery,” delivered by UC Davis professor Justin Leroy, for waking her up to the machinations behind the emerging models of financial exploitation and, in particular, the racialized nature of the novel financial instruments created for them, such as social impact bonds or SIBs.

Leroy presciently describes them as “racial capitalist instruments” and traces their lineage to maritime insurance and other financial innovations of the slave trade, positing that it was the slave trade itself that served as the “primary motivator leading to the development of robust insurance networks.” His citation of the Zong slave ship massacre – where hundreds of captive men were thrown overboard and later claimed as insured property by the ship’s captain –  dovetails perfectly with the reality of how social impact bonds replicate capitalism’s penchant for commodifying human life.

In layman’s terms, a social impact bond secures funding for a given social program from private investors, who “risk” their money for a return based upon the “successful” completion of the program’s stated goals. As with any bond, these forms of securitized debt can be traded on the open market just like a repackaged subprime mortgage loan. More specifically, social impact bonds are investment vehicles that are tied to the value of a social service provided by a government entity, such as healthcare, or a function of the state, such as incarceration. It’s net effect, as Leroy points out, results in the transfer of public wealth into private hands.

Alison McDowell’s great contribution has been to track down how and where these kinds of impact investment tools are being tested — drawing the vital link between smart contracts, which rely on blockchain technology, and these new forms of dynamic securitized debt. “The data analytics informs the value of the securitized debt,” she told MintPress, stressing that the data itself will necessarily “be based on ‘baseline’ predictive profiling,” using “very simple and narrow” metrics in order to satisfy the scale and speed required by institutions like Goldman Sachs, which will be handling these assets.

“These are not meaningful numbers in terms of the person who’s in the [social] program,” McDowell says; since the success metrics will not be based on “an individual [data] quarry, it would be [from] groups of people” instead. This crucial fact — reflecting the predatory, common-denominator nature of capitalism — is vital to grasping the inherent danger built into these forms of “social finance” and how the noble-sounding names they’re wrapped in do not mitigate the harm that will inevitably result.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in the healthcare space, where massive quarries of genomic data are being hoarded by Blackstone and others, like Richard Branson’s recent acquisition of 23andMe in January through a special-purpose vehicle, in order to take the consumer DNA company public.

“When it comes to genetics, you need extraordinarily large data sets,” says Federation Bio CEO Emily Drabant Conley in regard to questions about Blackstone’s DNA trove. The former 23andMe executive explains that since “the genome itself is so vast and complicated and there’s so many differences between people,” the “low end of the bar” for potential customers like Big Pharma hovers around datasets of 10 million people.

Blackstone’s ability to monetize our DNA is not limited by existing markets, however. Its significant stake in healthcare, insurance and retail companies gives the private equity firm the capacity to mix-and-match the collective data sets they own to spin off new segments, along the lines of Ancestry.com’s Spotify partnership to design “DNA-designed music playlists” and other less benign behavioral and genetic dataset combinations.

An “all-encompassing picture of consumer behavior,” as a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business finance professor describes Blackstone’s enviable position, is only one side of the dystopian coin. Merged with genomic data, these data can produce truly nightmarish scenarios of fascist control. Much of McDowell’s research has focused on the education side of impact investing, which relies heavily on behavioral data via facial recognition and AI to create the financial social investment instruments around schooling.

Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman (left), pictured with the prime minister of Singapore and his wife, Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Henry Kissinger at an event for the “Appeal of Conscience Foundation.” Diane Bondareff | AP

Initiatives like the World Bank’s Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition (BSIC) are promoting the creation of “Ethereum blockchain solutions and applications that address global social and environmental issues” through its IXO protocol, which “enables anyone to deliver, evaluate or invest in sustainable development impacts, with crypto-economic proof of Impact.” Outfits like Social Finance Israel, founded by Sir Ronald Cohen, are driving the implementation of such protocols through multiple pilot programs to assess metrics like real-time data analytics, last-mile impact verification, and the viability of impact tokens (bond-specific cryptocurrencies) in education and other areas.

The Hong Kong-based Impact Oxygen Foundation (iO2) operates a social impact service platform in China called ShanZhai City, which deploys blockchain-based impact projects in that country as well as in Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Brazil. In 2018, the social impact startup’s CEO was invited to attend a two-day workshop created by banking giant UBS and the IXO Foundation “to create the next generation of impact financing mechanisms, using Web3 and blockchain technologies.” Earlier that year, ShanZhai City entered into a “strategic partnership” with IXO to “revolutionize social finance infrastructure.

This revolution entails the ability to “measure, evaluate, value, and tokenize verified impact data” obtained through our ubiquitous data-gathering, surveillance technologies, which will, in turn, hand it over to financial institutions to profit from the bets they make on poverty and misery around the world. In the meantime, the problem of scale persists and, as McDowell points out, all of their pilot programs put together do not add up to anything substantial. “My sense,” McDowell proposes, “is that the biometric health passport is what they’ll need” to achieve critical mass and finally kick off the fourth industrial revolution.

 

Interlocking Web of deceit

When Donald Trump cut funding to USAID’s PREDICT program in March 2020, there was some chatter about the irresponsibility of ending a program that for the last ten years had focused on collecting bat-borne coronaviruses in Asia just as a coronavirus pandemic was being declared. But, for all intents and purposes, the program had long been concluded.

The program’s creator Dr. Dennis Carroll; its global director Dr. Jonna Mazet; and Peter Daszak, the star scientist who had deposited thousands of coronavirus samples in the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s database, had already gone on to form a new nonprofit to develop “a strategic response to the growing need to better predict, prevent, and respond to future viral pandemic threats and to protect us all from their worst consequences.”

Named the Global Virome Project (GVP), it quickly partnered with The Trinity Challenge, a global coalition “of partners united by the common aim of developing insights and actions to contribute to a world better protected from global health emergencies.” Its “founding members” include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Facebook, Google, The London School of Economics, Glaxo-Smith Klein, McKinsey & Company, Microsoft, Tencent and many others.

Perhaps more interesting is its list of ostensibly regular members, among whom we find

Pierre Omidyar’s Palantir, which has a controversial data management deal with the UK’s NHS; the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), whose board member and former chief medical advisor to the UK, Dame Sally Davies, leads the Trinity Challenge itself; and the ever-present Tsinghua University, to name just a few.

The web of interlocking memberships and associations between virtually all of these groups is an interminable and recursive rabbit hole, that eventually leads to the conclusion that it is all one big club striving to reach the same goal. In one particularly salient case, one of the most notorious names associated with the drive for global vaccination regimes, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is linked to a “boutique” social impact investment firm that backs a Trinity Challenge member.

The Trinity Challenge’s web of interlocking memberships. Source | thetrinitychallenge.org

Global Impact Advisors is a consulting firm out of San Mateo, California, which is headed by CEO Amy Adelberger, a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation alum who had the unique distinction of launching a $33 million tuberculosis mitigation partnership with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology during her time there. Focusing “on the application of market-based solutions to global health and development challenges,” Adelberger’s firm seems to draw most of its clients from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and — given her role as the program manager of the TB program in China, her company’s continued focus on TB-related issues, and a nuanced reading of the section on public-private partnerships on the company website — it seems more than likely that Adleberger is simply fulfilling Gates Foundation’s own “hope” to effectuate the “national scale-up of [the] innovations across China” for which this and other multi-million-dollar partnerships with the same Chinese government entity were intended.

The Commons Project, as well, shares many of the same intertwining relationships with Big Pharma, Big Tech, academia and federal organizations on its board, leaving us with the inescapable feeling that a very well-organized, but relatively small collection of power brokers are hell bent on fashioning a data-driven economy in a desperate attempt to breathe new life into a system that nobody can buy into any more.

The missionaries of “free-market economics” are pulling out all the stops to convince us that they really do have the people’s best interest at heart this time, after centuries of ceaseless war, ruthless corruption and environmental devastation. Suddenly, a public health emergency has managed to peer into their soulless chasm and not only sparked a long-dead sense of compassion, but coincidentally provided them with all the solutions. The only catch is that we have to give up our humanity and live behind screens and speak to each other via encrypted messaging apps only.

Other than that, they assure us, everything is as it always should have been. They’ve seen the error of their ways and are ready to usher in a more humane, a more “sustainable” economic paradigm, in which the wealthy finally invest in the poor, the sick and the homeless as part of a new “moral” economy. But, the obvious question is, if misery becomes profitable, what incentive is there for its eradication?

 

A human economy

Capitalism has invested in misery as long as it has existed and always found it immensely profitable. Creating a “digital twin” of the world affords immeasurably greater opportunities for profit, but also takes real human life offline and replaces it with “dots and dashes and electrical signals” that McDowell understands are of any use only to the financial markets.

A long, protracted, manufactured Cold War with China and revamped Eastern bloc has the potential to produce more refugees, more poverty, more trauma and more prisoners. In other words, more assets for the human capital markets. But, before that happens, they need our DNA to scale the pilot project and feed the starving leviathan as it thrashes about in a finite planet.

In his moving presentation about race, slavery and finance, Justin Leroy quoted America’s first African American doctor, James McCune Smith, to elucidate how the true nature of capitalism is never lost on its most exploited classes. The relevance of Smith’s exposition demands that this, the third and final part of “Dragon’s Blood Harvest at the Dawn of Human Capital Markets,” end with the physician’s seminal words published just before the end of the Civil War in 1864.

Smith’s clarity of vision allowed him to appreciate the treacherous heart of the system he knew was a slaver’s system, no matter what it chooses to label itself:

There is no political, religious or philanthropic agency at work that can encompass the entire abolition of slavery. In slave society, labor lies prostrate and capital dictates its own terms, which are perpetual subjugation. In other words, perpetual slavery. Far from this war diminishing the wish or power for capital to own labor, it will increase both. Colossal monopolies are parceling out even the free states for their ownership. The slave in the South will have namesakes in fact, if not in title, north of the Mason/Dixon line.”

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

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

The post The Bits and Bytes of The Great Reset: COVID-19 and the Scaling Up of Data-Capitalism appeared first on MintPress News.

Engaging the World: The ‘Fascinating Story’ of Hamas’s Political Evolution

On February 4, representatives from the Palestinian Movement, Hamas, visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest development on the unity talks between the Islamic Movement and its Palestinian counterparts, especially Fatah.

This was not the first time that Hamas’s officials traveled to Moscow on similar missions. In fact, Moscow continues to represent an important political breathing space for Hamas, which has been isolated by Israel’s Western benefactors. Involved in this isolation are also several Arab governments which, undoubtedly, have done very little to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.

The Russia-Hamas closeness is already paying dividends. On February 17, shipments of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, have made it to Gaza via Israel, a testament to that growing rapport.

While Russia alone cannot affect a complete paradigm shift in the case of Palestine, Hamas feels that a Russian alternative to the blind and conditional American support for Israel is possible, if not urgent.

Recently, we interviewed Dr. Daud Abdullah, the author of ‘Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy’, and Mr. Na’eem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg, which published Dr. Abdullah’s book.

Abdullah’s volume on Hamas is a must-read, as it offers a unique take on Hamas, liberating the discussion on the Movement from the confines of the reductionist Western media’s perception of Hamas as terrorist – and of the counterclaims, as well. In this book, Hamas is viewed as a political actor, whose armed resistance is only a component in a complex and far-reaching strategy.

 

Why Russia?

As Moscow continues to cement its presence in the region by offering itself as a political partner and, compared with the US, a more balanced mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, Hamas sees the developing Russian role as a rare opportunity to break away from the US-Israel imposed isolation.

“Russia was a member of the Quartet that was set up in 2003 but, of course, as a member of the (United Nations) Security Council, it has always had an ability to inform the discourse on Palestine,” Abdullah said, adding that in light of “the gradual demise of American influence, Russia realized that there was an emerging vacuum in the region, particularly after the (Arab) uprisings.”

“With regard to Hamas and Russia the relationship took off after the (Palestinian) elections in 2006 but it was not Hamas’s initiative, it was (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who, in a press conference in Madrid after the election, said that he would be willing to host Hamas’s leadership in Moscow. Because Russia is looking for a place in the region.”

Hamas’s willingness to engage with the Russians has more than one reason, chief among them is the fact that Moscow, unlike the US, refused to abide by Israel’s portrayal of the Movement. “The fundamental difference between Russia and America and China … is that the Russians and the Chinese do not recognize Hamas as a ‘terrorist organization’; they have never done so, unlike the Americans, and so it made it easy for them to engage openly with Hamas,” Abdullah said.

 

On Hamas’s ‘Strategic Balance’

In his book, Abdullah writes about the 1993 Oslo Accords, which represented a watershed moment, not only for Hamas but also for the entire Palestinian liberation struggle. The shift towards a US-led ‘peace process’ compelled Hamas to maintain a delicate balance “between strategic objectives and tactical flexibility.”

Abdullah wrote,

Hamas sees foreign relations as an integral and important part of its political ideology and liberation strategy. Soon after the Movement emerged, foreign policies were developed to help its leaders and members navigate this tension between idealism and realism. This pragmatism is evident in the fact that Hamas was able to establish relations with the regimes of Muammar Gaddhafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both of whom were fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In our interview, Abdullah elaborated:

From the very beginning, Hamas adopted certain principles in respect to its international relations and, later on, in the formation of a foreign policy. Among these, there is a question of maintaining its independence of decision-making; non-alignment in conflicting blocks, avoidance of interference in the affairs of other states.”

Mr. Jeenah, an accomplished writer himself, also spoke of the “delicate balance.”

“It is a delicate balance, and a difficult one to maintain because, at this stage, when movements are regarded and regard themselves as liberation movements, they need to have higher moral and ethical standards than, for example, governments,” Jeenah said.

For some reason, we expect that governments have to make difficult choices but, with liberation movements, we don’t, because they are all about idealism and creating an ideal society, etc.”

Jeenah uses the South Africa anti-apartheid struggle which, in many ways, is comparable to the Palestinian quest for freedom, to illustrate his point:

When the liberation movement in South Africa was exiled, they took a similar kind of position. While some of them might have had a particular allegiance to the Soviet Union or to China, some of them also had strong operations in European countries, which they regarded as part of the bigger empire. Nevertheless, they had the freedom to operate there. Some of them operated in other African countries where there were dictatorships and they got protection from those states.”

 

Hamas and the Question of National Unity

In his book, which promises to be an essential read on the subject, Abdullah lists six principles that guide Hamas’s political agenda. One of these guiding principles is the “search for common ground.”

In addressing the question of Palestinian factionalism, we contended that, while Fatah has failed at creating a common, nominally democratic platform for Palestinians to interact politically, Hamas cannot be entirely blameless. If that is, indeed, the case, can one then make the assertion that Hamas has succeeded in its search for the elusive common ground?

Abdullah answers:

Let me begin with what happened after the elections in 2006. Although Hamas won convincingly and they could have formed a government, they decided to opt for a government of national unity. They offered to (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas and to (his party) Fatah to come into a government of national unity. They didn’t want to govern by themselves. And that, to me, is emblematic of their vision, their commitment to national unity.”

But the question of national unity, however coveted and urgently required, is not just controlled by Palestinians.

“The PLO is the one that signed the Oslo Accords,” Abdullah said, “and I think this is one of Hamas’s weaknesses: as much as it wants national unity and a reform of the PLO, the fact of the matter is Israel and the West will not allow Hamas to enter into the PLO easily, because this would be the end of Oslo.”

 

On Elections under Military Occupation

On January 15, Abbas announced an official decree to hold Palestinian elections, first presidential, then legislative, then elections within the PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC), which has historically served as a Palestinian parliament in exile. The first phase of these elections is scheduled for May 22.

But will this solve the endemic problem of Palestinian political representation? Moreover, is this the proper historical evolution of national liberation movements – democracy under military occupation, followed by liberation, instead of the other way around?

Jeenah spoke of this dichotomy: “On the one hand, elections are an opportunity for Palestinians to express their choices. On the other hand, what is the election really? We are not talking about a democratic election for the State, but for a Bantustan authority, at greater restraints than the South African authority.”

Moreover, the Israeli “occupying power will not make the mistake it did the last time. It will not allow such freedom (because of which) Hamas (had) won the elections. I don’t think Israel is going to allow it now.”

Yet there is a silver lining in this unpromising scenario. According to Jeenah, “I think the only difference this election could make is allowing some kind of reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank.”

 

Hamas, the ICC and War Crimes

Then, there is the urgent question of the anticipated war crime investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet, when the ICC agreed to consider allegations of war crimes in Palestine, chances are not only alleged Israeli war criminals are expected to be investigated, but the probe could potentially consider the questioning of Palestinians, as well. Should not this concern Hamas in the least?

In the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014, Hamas, along with other armed groups had no other option but to “defend the civilian population,” Abdullah said, pointing out that the “overriding concept” is that the Movement “believes in the principle of international law.”

If Hamas “can restore the rights of the Palestinian people through legal channels, then it will be much easier for the Movement, rather than having to opt for the armed struggle,” Abdullah asserted.

 

Understanding Hamas

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to understand Hamas, not only as part of the Palestine-related academic discourse, but in the everyday political discourse concerning Palestine; in fact, the entire region. Abdullah’s book is itself critical to this understanding.

Jeenah argued that Abdullah’s book is not necessarily an “introductory text to the Hamas Movement. It has a particular focus, which is the development of Hamas’s foreign policy. The importance of that, in general, is firstly that there isn’t a text that deals specifically with Hamas’s foreign policy. What this book does is present Hamas as a real political actor.”

The evolution of Hamas’s political discourse and behavior since its inception, according to Jeenah, is a “fascinating” one.

Many agree. Commenting on the book, leading Israeli historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, wrote,

“This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must-read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian Movement.”

[Dr. Daud Abdullah’s book, Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy, is available here.]

Feature photo | Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, waves during a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the founding of Hamas, in Gaza city. Khalil Hamra | AP

Romana Rubeo is an Italian writer and the Managing Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. Her articles appear in many online newspapers and academic journals. She holds a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literature and specializes in audio-visual and journalism translation.

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). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) and also at the Afro-Middle East Center (AMEC). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post Engaging the World: The ‘Fascinating Story’ of Hamas’s Political Evolution appeared first on MintPress News.

Chris Hedges: The Age of Social Murder

Princeton, New Jersey (ScheerpostThe two million deaths that have resulted from the ruling elite’s mishandling of the global pandemic will be dwarfed by what is to follow. The global catastrophe that awaits us, already baked into the ecosystem from the failure to curb the use of fossil fuels and animal agriculture, presage new, deadlier pandemics, mass migrations of billions of desperate people, plummeting crop yields, mass starvation, and systems collapse.

The science that elucidates this social death is known to the ruling elites. The science that warned us of this pandemic, and others that will follow, is known to the ruling elites. The science that shows that a failure to halt carbon emissions will lead to a climate crisis and ultimately the extinction of the human species and most other species is known to the ruling elites. They cannot claim ignorance. Only indifference.

The facts are incontrovertible. Each of the last four decades have been hotter than the last. In 2018, the UN International Panel on Climate Change released a special report on the systemic effects of a 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) rise in temperatures. It makes for very grim reading. Soaring temperature rises — we are already at a 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.16 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels — are already baked into the system, meaning that even if we stopped all carbon emission today, we still face catastrophe. Anything above a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius will render the earth unhabitable. The Arctic ice along with the Greenland ice sheet are now expected to melt regardless of how much we reduce carbon emissions. A seven-meter (23-foot) rise in sea level, which is what will take place once the ice is gone, means every town and city on a coast at sea level will have to be evacuated.

Roger Hallam, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, whose nonviolent acts of mass civil disobedience offer the last, best chance to save ourselves, lays it out in this video:

 
As the climate crisis worsens, the political constrictions will tighten, making public resistance difficult. We do not live, yet, in the brutal Orwellian state that appears on the horizon, one where all dissidents will suffer the fate of Julian Assange. But this Orwellian state is not far away. This makes it imperative that we act now.

The ruling elites, despite the accelerating and tangible ecological collapse, mollify us, either by meaningless gestures or denial. They are the architects of social murder.

Social murder, as Friedrich Engels noted in his 1845 book “The Condition of the Working-Class in England,” one of the most important works of social history, is built into the capitalist system. The ruling elites, Engels writes, those that hold “social and political control,” were aware that the harsh working and living conditions during the industrial revolution doomed workers to “an early and unnatural death:”

When one individual inflicts bodily injury upon another such that death results, we call the deed manslaughter; when the assailant knew in advance that the injury would be fatal, we call his deed murder. But when society places hundreds of proletarians in such a position that they inevitably meet a too early and an unnatural death, one which is quite as much a death by violence as that by the sword or bullet; when it deprives thousands of the necessaries of life, places them under conditions in which they cannot live — forces them, through the strong arm of the law, to remain in such conditions until that death ensues which is the inevitable consequence — knows that these thousands of victims must perish, and yet permits these conditions to remain, its deed is murder just as surely as the deed of the single individual; disguised, malicious murder, murder against which none can defend himself, which does not seem what it is, because no man sees the murderer, because the death of the victim seems a natural one, since the offence is more one of omission than of commission. But murder it remains.”

— Friedrick Engels, “The Condition of the Working-Class in England”

The ruling class devotes tremendous resources to mask this social murder. They control the narrative in the press. They falsify science and data, as the fossil fuel industry has done for decades. They set up committees, commissions and international bodies, such as UN climate summits, to pretend to address the problem. Or they deny, despite the dramatically changing weather patterns, that the problem even exists.

Scientists have long warned that as global temperatures rise, increasing precipitation and heat waves in many parts of the world, infectious diseases spread by animals will plague populations year-round and expand into northern regions. Pandemics such as HIV/AIDS, which has killed approximately 36 million people, the Asian flu, which killed between one and four million, and COVID-19, which has already killed over 2.5 million, will ripple across the globe in ever more virulent strains, often mutating beyond our control. The misuse of antibiotics in the meat industry, which accounts for 80 percent of all antibiotic use, has produced strains of bacteria that are antibiotic resistant and fatal. A modern version of the Black Death, which in the 14th century killed between 75 and 200 million people, wiping out perhaps half of Europe’s population, is probably inevitable as long as the pharmaceutical and medical industries are configured to make money rather than protect and save lives.

Even with vaccines, we lack the national infrastructure to distribute them efficiently because profit trumps health. And those in the global south are, as usual, abandoned, as if the diseases that kill them will never reach us. Israel’s decision to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to as many as 19 countries while refusing to vaccinate the 5 million Palestinians living under its occupation is emblematic of the ruling elite’s stunning myopia, not to mention immorality.

What is taking place is not neglect. It is not ineptitude. It is not policyfailure. It is murder. It is murder because it is premeditated. It is murder because a conscious choice was made by the global ruling classes to extinguish life rather than protect it. It is murder because profit, despite the hard statistics, the growing climate disruptions and the scientific modeling, is deemed more important than human life and human survival.

The elites thrive in this system, as long as they serve the dictates of what Lewis Mumford called the “megamachine,” the convergence of science, economy, technics and political power unified into an integrated, bureaucratic structure whose sole goal is to perpetuate itself. This structure, Mumford noted, is antithetical to “life-enhancing values.” But to challenge the megamachine, to name and condemn its death wish, is to be expelled from its inner sanctum. There are, no doubt, some within the megamachine who fear the future, who are perhaps even appalled by the social murder, but they do not want to lose their jobs and their social status to become pariahs.

The massive resources allocated to the military, which when the costs of the Veterans Administration are added to the Department of Defense budget come to $826 billion a year, are the most glaring example of our suicidal folly, symptomatic of all decaying civilizations that squander diminishing resources in institutions and projects that accelerate their decline.

The American military — which accounts for 38 percent of military spending worldwide — is incapable of combating the real existential crisis.  The fighter jets, satellites, aircraft carriers, fleets of warships, nuclear submarines, missiles, tanks and vast arsenals of weaponry are useless against pandemics and the climate crisis. The war machine does nothing to mitigate the human suffering caused by degraded environments that sicken and poison populations or make life unsustainable.  Air pollution already kills an estimated 200,000 Americans a year while children in decayed cities such as Flint, Michigan are damaged for life with lead contamination from drinking water.

The prosecution of endless and futile wars, costing anywhere from $5 to $7 trillion, the maintenance of some 800 military bases in over 70 countries, along with the endemic fraud, waste and mismanagement by the Pentagon at a time when the survival of the species is at stake is self-destructive.  The Pentagon has spent more than $67 billion alone on a ballistic missile defense system that few believe will actually work and billions more on a series of dud weapons systems, including the $22 billion Zumwalt destroyer. And, on top of all this, the U.S. military emitted 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon emissions between 2001 and 2017, twice the annual output of the nation’s passenger vehicles.

A decade from now we will look back at the current global ruling class as the most criminal in human history, willfully dooming millions upon millions of people to die, including those from this pandemic, which dwarf the murderous excesses of the killers of the past including the Europeans that carried out the genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Nazis that exterminated some 12 million people, the Stalinists or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. This is the largest crime against humanity ever committed. It is being committed in front of us. And, with few exceptions, we are willfully being herded like sheep to the slaughter.

It is not that most people have faith in the ruling elites. They know they are being betrayed. They feel vulnerable and afraid. They understand that their misery is unacknowledged and unimportant to the global elites, who have concentrated staggering amounts of wealth and power into the hands of a tiny cabal of rapacious oligarchs.

The rage many feel at being abandoned often expresses itself in a poisoned solidarity. This poisoned solidarity unites the disenfranchised around hate crimes, racism, inchoate acts of vengeance against scapegoats, religious and ethnic chauvinism and nihilistic violence. It fosters crisis cults, such as those built by the Christian fascists, and elevates demagogues such as Donald Trump.

Social divisions benefit the ruling class, which has built media silos that feed packaged hate to competing demographics. The greater the social antagonisms, the less the elites have to fear. If those gripped by poisoned solidarity become numerically superior — nearly half of the American electorate rejects the traditional ruling class and embraces conspiracy theories and a demagogue — the elites will accommodate the new power configuration, which will accelerate the social murder.

The Biden administration will not carry out the economic, political, social or environmental reforms that will save us. The fossil fuel industry will continue to extract oil. The wars will not end. Social inequality will grow. Government control, with its militarized police forces of internal occupation, wholesale surveillance and loss of civil liberties, will expand. New pandemics, along with droughts, wildfires, monster hurricanes, crippling heat waves and flooding, will lay waste to the country as well as a population burdened by a for-profit health care system that is not designed or equipped to deal with a national health crisis.

The evil that makes this social murder possible is collective. It is perpetrated by the colorless bureaucrats and technocrats churned out of business schools, law schools, management programs and elite universities. These systems managers carry out the incremental tasks that make vast, complicated systems of exploitation and death work. They collect, store and manipulate our personal data for digital monopolies and the security and surveillance state. They grease the wheels for ExxonMobil, BP and Goldman Sachs. They write the laws passed by the bought-and-paid-for political class. They pilot the aerial drones that terrorize the poor in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan. They profit from the endless wars. They are the corporate advertisers, public relations specialists and television pundits that flood the airwaves with lies. They run the banks. They oversee the prisons. They issue the forms. They process the papers. They deny food stamps and medical coverage to some and unemployment benefits to others. They carry out the evictions. They enforce the laws and the regulations. They do not ask questions. They live in an intellectual vacuum, a world of stultifying minutia. They are T.S. Eliot’s “the hollow men,” “the stuffed men.” “Shape without form, shade without color,” the poet writes. “Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.”

These systems managers made possible the genocides of the past, from the extermination of Native Americans to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians to the Nazi Holocaust to Stalin’s liquidations. They kept the trains running. They filled out the paperwork. They seized the property and confiscated the bank accounts. They did the processing. They rationed the food. They administered the concentration camps and the gas chambers. They enforced the law. They did their jobs.

These systems managers, uneducated in all but their tiny technical specialty, lack the language and moral autonomy to question the reigning assumptions or structures.

Hannah Arendt in “Eichmann in Jerusalem” writes that Adolf Eichmann was motivated by “an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” He joined the Nazi Party because it was a good career move. Arendt continued:

The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal.

The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else. No communication was possible with him, not because he lied but because he was surrounded by the most reliable of all safeguards against words and the presence of others, and hence against reality as such.”

— Hannah Arendt, “Eichmann in Jerusalem”

The Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in his book “Forever Flowing” observed that “the new state did not require holy apostles, fanatic, inspired builders, faithful, devout disciples. The new state did not even require servants — just clerks.” This metaphysical ignorance fuels social murder.

We cannot emotionally absorb the magnitude of the looming catastrophe and therefore do not act.

In Claude Lanzmann’s Holocaust documentary “Shoah,” he interviews Filip Müller, a Czech Jew who survived the liquidations in Auschwitz as a member of the “special detail., ”

One day in 1943 when I was already in Crematorium 5, a train from Bialystok arrived. A prisoner on the ‘special detail’ saw a woman in the ‘undressing room’ who was the wife of a friend of his. He came right out and told her: ‘You are going to be exterminated. In three hours, you’ll be ashes.’ The woman believed him because she knew him. She ran all over and warned to the other women. ‘We’re going to be killed. We’re going to be gassed.’ Mothers carrying their children on their shoulders didn’t want to hear that. They decided the woman was crazy. They chased her away. So, she went to the men. To no avail. Not that they didn’t believe her. They’d heard rumors in the Bialystok ghetto, or in Grodno, and elsewhere. But who wanted to hear that? When she saw that no one would listen, she scratched her whole face. Out of despair. In shock. And she started to scream. How do we resist? Why, if this social murder is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we even fight back? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not withdraw and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs and desires? We are all complicit, paralyzed by the overwhelming force of the megamachine and bound to its destructive energy by our allotted slots within its massive machinery.”

— Filip Müller to Claude Lanzmann, “Shoah”

Yet, to fail to act, and this means carrying out mass, sustained acts of nonviolent civil disobedience in an attempt to smash the megamachine, is spiritual death. It is to succumb to the cynicism, hedonism and numbness that has turned the systems managers and technocrats that orchestrate this social murder into human cogs. It is to surrender our humanity. It is to become an accomplice.

Albert Camus writes that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warns. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”

The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, to refuse to cooperate, to wreck the megamachine, offers us the only possibility left to personal freedom and a life of meaning. Rebellion is its own justification. It erodes, however imperceptibly, the structures of oppression. It sustains the embers of empathy and compassion, as well as justice. These embers are not insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human. They keep alive the possibility, however dim, that the forces that are orchestrating our social murder can be stopped. Rebellion must be embraced, finally, not only for what it will achieve, but for what it will allow us to become. In that becoming we find hope.

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

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

The post Chris Hedges: The Age of Social Murder appeared first on MintPress News.

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