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Soberana 02: Could Cuba’s Covid Vaccine Break Big Pharma’s Grip on Production?

The worldwide Covid vaccine rollout has gone anything but smoothly, with only a handful of countries able to immunize even 10% of their populations yet with a first dose. Two primary causes of this have been rich nations hoarding precious doses and their refusal to waive the intellectual property rights to their creations, both of which have led to massive shortages across the world, particularly in the global south.

These practices have been denounced by charities and human rights groups alike. Oxfam expressed its dismay that, as a result of copyright rules, three of the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet are doing nothing to produce vaccines as they have not secured the rights to do so, even as up to 10,000 people die daily from COVID-19. Human Rights Watch has supported a proposal led by India and South Africa that Western governments should waive any restrictions on the production of lifesaving vaccines. But there appears to be little prospect of that happening soon.

 

Breaking Big Pharma

One spot of hope is coming from Cuba, however. The country’s self-produced Soberana 02 vaccine begins its third phase of trials today, a move that will see it tested on as many as 150,000 people in just a few weeks. Stage three trials are the final step before mass rollout.

The prospect of a vaccine developed in the global south that will not be subject to strict patent laws has many eagerly anticipating the results of the final tests. “March 1 will likely turn out to be a milestone in the global fight against Covid-19,” Arnold August told MintPress. August is the author of a number of books on the island, including “Cuba-U.S. Relations — Obama and Beyond.” “Cuba has a population of about 11 million. However, true to its international spirit, it is planning to produce 100 million doses for other countries. Pakistan, India, Vietnam, Iran, and Venezuela are among the countries that have already expressed interest,” he added.

Others seemed to agree. “A successful coronavirus vaccine from Cuba would help to break the global control of the market by the big pharmaceutical companies in the US and Europe,” wrote Antiguan Barbudan diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders yesterday.

However, the continuing U.S. blockade of the island is hampering production. Embargoed Cuba has trouble buying the raw materials necessary for vaccine development, while hospitals face huge obstacles importing lifesaving equipment from abroad. The country has also faced problems producing food and feeding its own citizens. The government in Havana claims that the blockade has cost it over $750 billion over its lifetime.

On top of the blockade, which effectively punishes any entities trading with the island, U.S. officials have tried to classify Cuba’s famous medical brigades as human trafficking operations, claiming that the doctors are coerced into participating and are unpaid or underpaid. On his way out the door, Donald Trump also designated Cuba a state sponsor of terror.

The country’s medical brigades were already well-known before the pandemic, but generated worldwide headlines as teams travelled to dozens of countries, including richer ones such as Italy, to fight the virus. As a result, they have been nominated dozens of times for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. 

MintPress spoke to Dr. Helen Yaffe of Glasgow University, author of “We Are Cuba!: How a Revolutionary People Have Survived in a Post-Soviet World,” who stated that:

While commentators in Europe and North America have been surprised by news that Cuba is among world leaders in domestic Covid-19 vaccine development, and the only country in Latin America to be in that situation, it will be little surprise for the global south. Even before the pandemic, Cuba was exporting its biotechnology products to 49 countries and had partnerships in nine.

 

Revolutionary medicine

Since March 2020, the island has sent out 53 brigades totaling around 3,700 professionals to 39 foreign countries and territories, August noted. Any benefits from the vaccine will likely be passed on to other countries at near cost price. “It is likely that any Covid-19 vaccines which Cuba sends to the global south will be charged according to each country’s ability to pay,” Yaffe added.

The coronavirus has hit Cuba’s tourism-centered economy particularly hard, shrinking by 11% in 2020, something that led to unemployment and shortages of goods. However, the country has come up with a novel way of enticing foreigners back: a potentially free vaccination for all tourists visiting the island. With an artificial scarcity across the world, this could be an attractive offer to many in richer nations.

Cuba’s medical internationalist tradition dates back over 60 years to its response to the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake, the most powerful tremor ever recorded. Emergency health workers rushed to Chile, where a quake measuring 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale was recorded, leading to thousands of deaths and a tsunami that killed people as far away as Japan. In the succeeding six decades, the government estimates that it has assisted nearly two billion people, performing over 14 million surgical operations and saving 8.7 million lives.

Breaking the corporate grip on coronavirus vaccine technology would be sure to save countless lives, one more reason why the Soberana 02 trials are being so closely watched across the globe.

Feature photo | A journalist takes a cell phone photo of a scientist working on the development of Abdala, an experimental vaccine for COVID-19, at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 25, 2021. Ramon Espinosa | AP

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

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British American Tobacco’s Illegal Smokes Burn Through Mali’s Quest for Self-Determination

Shortly after separatist militant groups took northern Mali in 2012, British American Tobacco (BAT) began flooding the West African nation with unbranded packs of cigarettes aided by another large tobacco company and the French-backed Malian state. The smuggled smokes arrive through ports in neighboring Guinea, Togo, and Benin from where they are transported to distribution points inside Mali and moved across the Sahara into Libya, Algeria, and Europe by an assortment of rebel militias, al Qaeda offshoots, and jihadists in a hugely profitable enterprise, that is further fragmenting the former French colony.

According to an in-depth investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), the illegal tobacco trade in Mali moves close to a 4.7 billion surplus cigarettes a year in “clean-label” Dunhill, American Legend, and Marlboro brands, which come mostly from BAT’s South African production facilities, though a solid number is hard to ascertain despite leaked BAT documents, trade data and information gleaned from customs officials.

OCCRP could not determine precisely how much profit British American Tobacco generates from its illicit business since it does not separate figures by country in its annual reports. However, gross annual revenue estimates ranging from $85 to $160 Million for Mali alone could place the number in the tens of millions.

Evidence of the sudden upsurge in tobacco products taking place after the north’s descent into a lawless war zone is provided by leaked tobacco industry documents published by the University of Bath, which show a marked increase in the supply from 2013 onwards. The latest calculations put the number of cigarettes available in Mali at around 8 billion, which contrasts sharply with the reported rate of smokers in the country of 19.6 million, estimated to be about 12 percent by the World Health Organization (WHO) or about 9.5 packs a day per every Malian smoker.

Propping up the illegal cigarette market might seem counterintuitive for the tobacco industry, but, in reality, it affords it an opportunity to boost profits by engaging in massive tax avoidance schemes, undermine domestic cigarette brands in many countries, and bypass any cultural or social constraints, such as those imposed by strict Islamic sects. The contraband trade also offers some indirect benefits to the broader Western presence in West Africa, specifically, as it helps grease the wheels of corruption in client states.

 

Smoke and mirrors

In 2012, the WHO came out with the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products or Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), which sought to curb the “grey market” distribution of tobacco in order to stem what it has deemed to be a considerable threat to public health. While this effort was reached after four years of negotiations with Big Tobacco, it remains vulnerable to the influence of the tobacco giants, who find ways to subvert the global “track and trace” (T&T) mandate of the ITP designed to reduce tobacco smuggling.

A 2017 study by the University of Bath found that tobacco industry cigarettes account for two-thirds of the worldwide trade in illicit tobacco and revealed how industry stalwarts like Philip Morris International (PMI) control the T&T standards through their own patented cigarette pack authentication system called Codentify. The “non-secure” product verification system was developed prior to the ITP protocol, which stipulated that the tobacco industry should play no part in the implementation of T&T methods.

Through a series of underhanded tactics and front companies, Codentify was sold as an independent counterfeit identification standard. Leaked British American Tobacco documents show how prior to the 2012 FCTC Conference where ITP was finally adopted, preparations were made to counter opposition to any industry solutions, and a number of front groups were established to obfuscate the technology’s origins.

ATOS, the French multinational technology company that was involved in the development of Codentity, promoted the digital coding system at the 2011 Asia-Pacific Tax Forum and actively participated in its implementation in Lithuania.

A pan-industry working group called the Digital Coding and Tracking Association (DCTA) was the main front group established by the tobacco industry to promote the adoption of Codentity. Launched in 2013 by the “Big Four” (BAT, PMI, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International (JTI), DCTA encouraged its acceptance among governments and law enforcement agencies, including INTERPOL and the European Union.

In 2016, DCTA sold Codentity for a single Swiss Franc to Inexto – a cloud serialization & tracking company and affiliate of French private equity firm Impala Group.

 

The ash bin of history

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Mali was at one point the center of trade in the ancient world and of Islamic thought in the famed city of Timbuktu. The Mali Empire reached the height of its power during the fourteenth century and later formed part of France’s colonial territory in West Africa, known as French Sudan, from 1880 until 1959. An attempt to unite the colonies into a single federation under a quasi-post-colonial arrangement, that maintained French control over the region’s natural resources, economic policies, currency, and defense while affording minimal self-determination to the West African members, did not prosper. Less than a year later, in 1960, tensions erupted in a conflict that would eventually lead to the dissolution of the federation and the creation of the modern-day Republic of Mali.

Today, France continues to have a significant influence over the nation’s affairs. The current conflict in Mali is directly related to the military operation it launched in 2013 at the request of the Malian French-backed government. Operation Serval was part of France’s “war on terror” and intended to drive out “Islamic militants” who were advancing southward from the north of the country. In August of 2020, the army seized power in a coup, which had been receiving assistance from the European Union and the United States as “part of international efforts to stabilize the West African country as it grapples with Islamist militants and a struggling economy.”

A clear trend is sweeping through the African nation, whose people are becoming increasingly wary of foreign interference, and French military operations, in particular. The last seven years of French intervention in Mali have not had the desired effect and, predictably, the West’s failures are being projected onto Russia, blaming the Kremlin for the coup, instead of using Occam’s razor to figure out that perhaps the Malian people do not want to remain under the thumb of European power.

The illicit cigarette trade in Mali is just another expression of the pernicious foreign influence in resource-rich West Africa, where so many Western companies extract the raw materials needed for their wares. The multi-million-dollar contraband market of Marlboros, Dunhills, and American Legends not only serves to line the pockets of a few of these foreign corporations but also contributes to the continued destabilization of the country and the wider West African region that allows their destructive impact to persist.

Feature photo | A French soldier lights up a cigarette outside a food store in Gao, northern Mali. Jerome Delay | AP

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

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After Years of Propaganda, American Views of Russia and China Hit Historic Lows

A new Gallup poll finds that U.S. public opinion on China and Russia has crashed to all time lows. Only 20% of Americans hold favorable views towards China. This is a remarkable decline, considering that only three years ago, the majority of the country saw the Asian giant in a positive light. The public image of Russia is barely any better, with just 22% of the country viewing the world’s largest nation in favorable terms and 77% holding unfavorable views towards the country.

Negative sentiment towards Beijing has risen across the board, but Republicans are most likely to hold it in low regard, with only 10% of GOP voters seeing China positively. Among Democrats, only 27% continue to hold a very or mostly favorable opinion of the country. Meanwhile, Democrats are particularly likely to feel hostility towards Russia, with fewer than one-in-six (16%) telling Gallup they maintained positive opinions about the country, as opposed to 25% of Republicans and 24% of independents.

The only countries considerably more unpopular with the public are North Korea and Iran. Canada and the United Kingdom are Americans’ preferred nations, with both enjoying an over 90% approval rating.

 

Retooling for an intercontinental war

Last year, American military planners advised that the U.S. should step up its campaign of psychological warfare against Beijing, including sponsoring authors and artists to create anti-China propaganda. The Pentagon’s budget request for 2021 makes clear that the United States is retooling for a potential intercontinental war with China or Russia. It asks for $705 billion to “shift focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China,” noting that it requires “more advanced high-end weapon systems, which provide increased standoff, enhanced lethality and autonomous targeting for employment against near-peer threats in a more contested environment.”

China’s rapid fall from admired business partner to hated enemy comes amid 12 months of U.S. government accusations that it covered up the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and helped spread the virus globally. President Trump was particularly fond of pointing the finger at Beijing, demanding that the United Nations “hold China accountable for their actions.” The World Health Organization’s refusal to solely condemn China for the coronavirus was a key factor in Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the organization in July. U.S. government officials such as Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas also spread Sinophobic conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus.

China’s rapid economic rise is alarming many U.S. policymakers. While the United States and others failed to control and eradicate the virus, causing massive economic stress, China had essentially reopened as normal by the end of spring and is posting strong growth figures. In this context, the U.S. has attempted to halt its rise through economic means, pressuring other nations not to give the go ahead to a 5G network operated by Huawei, attempting to suppress Chinese-owned video app TikTok and trying to ban electronics and telecommunications giant Xiaomi.

The U.S. has also tried to isolate China diplomatically and militarily, presenting itself as the champion of an oppressed Uyghur population while also building up its military presence around China’s borders. As a result of the negative publicity, racist attacks against Asian-Americans have dramatically increased.

Russia, meanwhile, has been the focus of Democratic Party ire since their defeat in the 2016 election. Prominent Democrats have accused Vladimir Putin of being behind the rise of Bernie Sanders, paying Afghans to kill American soldiers, and of helping spark the January 6 insurrection on the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. RussiaGate — the belief that Moscow managed to hack the 2016 election, swinging the result for Trump — has hardened liberal attitudes towards the country and drastically increased suspicion and fear of Russians. This was crystallized by former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s comments on NBC’s Meet The Press, where he claimed that Russians are “typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor.” As with China, the U.S. government has attempted to score diplomatic points, taking up the case of imprisoned politician Alexey Navalny.

 

A bipartisan effort

President Biden has shown a willingness to be as aggressive as Trump with regards to the nations considered to be America’s two primary adversaries. During the presidential campaign, the 78-year-old Delawarean routinely presented his opponent as a Kremlin stooge and soft on China. Only weeks into his term in office, he has already “confronted” Putin via telephone, condemning him for Russia’s treatment of Navalny and reaffirming his commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty (i.e. its allegiance to the West). A few weeks later, the new president called Chinese Premier Xi Jinping during New Year celebrations to excoriate him on human rights abuses in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. 

It appears as if the years of negative publicity against the two countries has had an effect, with Americans’ view of Russia and China even more negative than during the Cold War. Both pro- and anti-war voices have stated that the U.S. is on the cusp of entering a second Cold War. The new Gallup poll suggests that the groundwork for such a conflict has already been laid. 

Feature photo | Chinese made children’s shoes embroidered with Chinese maps and U.S. flags are on display at a shop in Beijing. Andy Wong | AP

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

The post After Years of Propaganda, American Views of Russia and China Hit Historic Lows appeared first on MintPress News.

Microchips and the Macro World: Semiconductor Shortage Ushers in East-West Tech War

WASHINGTON — A worldwide semiconductor shortage has upended the best laid plans of several major industries — including automobile, TV and laptop manufacturers — which have been forced to cut back on production and delay shipments as they try to weather the storm hitting one of the cornerstones of the global supply chain.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced a 100-day review of “key products including semiconductors and advanced batteries used in electric vehicles” as part of an executive order signed one day after Majority Leader Chuck Schumer directed the relevant Senate committees to “start drafting a legislative package to outcompete China,” based on a bill he introduced in May of last year called the Endless Frontiers Act.

Earlier this month, General Motors was forced to shut down three plants and slow down production at a fourth as a result of the semiconductor crisis. Automakers across the globe are facing similar problems, with Ford, Honda and Volkswagen – the world’s largest car maker – all slashing production as they try to find alternative suppliers of the critical piece of technology, which has been dominated by Taiwan since it overtook Intel as the largest manufacturer a few years ago.

Some have laid the blame for the $60 billion shortfall in chips on Covid, attributing the bottleneck to pandemic-related issues like remote-work logistics at car manufacturing plants and the diverting of chip production capacity to consumer electronics. That shift came in response to rising demand in the wake of “virtual working patterns” resulting from lockdown policies, according to Ford’s chief product platform and operations officer Hau Thai-Tang.

This narrative conceals the deeper realities of Washington’s pernicious influence in Taiwan and the impact of Trump’s trade war with China, with its direct attacks on Chinese technology company Huawei in particular, which set the stage for the shortage itself and possibly undermined America’s own position of strength in the Taiwanese semiconductor industry.

 

End of an era

The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corporation (TSMC) controls “half of the world’s foundry chip capacity” and maintained a position of dominance in the sector even before surpassing Intel, according to China-U.S. policy expert Peter Lee, who spoke to MintPress for this piece and whose semi-weekly podcast “China Threat Report” offers crucial insights into the relationship between the United States and the Asian superpower.

In a recent edition titled “Taiwan’s Silicon Shield Collides with its Silicon Lance,” Lee delves into the nuances of the semiconductor saga, which began with Trump’s 2018 ban on Chinese telecom giant ZTE for shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of U.S. embargo laws, a ban the Taiwanese government enforced through a license requirement on ZTE’s two chip suppliers.

It was among the first salvos in a continuing “tech war” between the U.S. and China, which has included accusations of intellectual property theft against Chinese DRAM chip manufacturer Fujian Jinhua. That manufacturer’s production of low-end chips for domestic (Chinese) consumption was shut down by U.S. sanctions after a joint operation between Taiwanese law enforcement and the FBI against the company’s technical partner and second-largest foundry in Taiwan was used to declare Fujian Jinhua’s DRAM chips a threat to U.S. national security.

The result was the loss of a $5.6 billion investment by the Chinese company and heightening tensions between China and the U.S. According to Lee, the “mainland semiconductor technology drain” — which had been growing under the previous, more China-friendly Taiwanese government — was halted and coupled with the ensuing ban on chipsets furnished to China’s technology giant Huawei, produced by Taiwan’s semiconductor behemoth TSMC.

While Washington’s bullying tactics had a major impact on curbing Huawei’s growing domination of the smartphone manufacturing business and set back China’s own lower-end semiconductor production by a few years, U.S. actions have spurred massive investments by China into its domestic chip manufacturing sector — such as the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund recent $32 billion addition to enhance its domestic chip production capacity — in order to circumvent the tech-war sabotage.

More significantly, according to Lee, is the spotlight now being shone on Taiwan as the world’s sole-source supplier of high-end semiconductor technology, as a result of the global drought putting so much strain on the world’s industrial supply chain. This has predictably led other nations to look into developing self-sufficiency in the sector.

The question remains as to how such a shift will affect the geopolitical realities surrounding the volatile U.S.-Taiwan-China relationship. If the key element of Taiwan as the center of the semiconductor manufacturing universe were to be removed from the equation, would the U.S. relinquish its influence over the island or would it continue to use Taiwan as a pawn against the country that is increasingly being cast as the next global nemesis of the “free world”?

 

Adhering to Moore’s Law

As a result of the U.S.’s very public attack on Huawei and other Chinese tech firms, these companies — and every other company with product lines that rely on the semiconductors produced in Taiwan, such as Apple and virtually every processor firm in the world — began trying to get ahead of the game by placing advance orders, which had the inevitable consequence of tying up production for months on end.

Lee concludes that the resulting chip shortage was one of the unintended consequences of Trump’s trade war against China. But he add that in light of the increasingly aggressive rhetoric coming out of Washington, which looks to blame China for the pandemic, the fact that the semiconductor shortage is being tied to Covid in U.S. mainstream media outlets seems like the perfect storyline to buttress the Cold War revivalism currently unfolding in the United States, whose proponents are chomping at the bit to build China up to be the next Soviet Union.

Speaking to MintPress, Lee reflected that, given the fact that these production plants take years to construct, Taiwan’s preeminence in semiconductor manufacturing “can remain a vital strategic resource for the world for the next 5 to 10 years,” which he believes will suit the Pentagon “just fine.” Nevertheless, Trump’s late-term decision to bring a TSMC plant to Arizona may point to more long-term bipartisan policy goals.

In terms of Schumer’s initiative in the Senate, time will tell whether he’s simply angling to procure quick funds for his chip-manufacturing friends in upstate New York or whether the legislation that ultimately comes out of the forthcoming committee sessions will represent a more permanent shift towards the much-heralded “self-sufficiency.” In the meantime, Biden’s executive order will look into whether the “U.S. should incentivize new semiconductor manufacturing plants,” as the burgeoning “green revolution” promises to exponentially increase demand for this critical component.

Feature photo | An employee wearing protective equipment pushes a cart at a semiconductor production facility for Renesas Electronics during a government organized tour for journalists in Beijing, May 14, 2020. Mark Schiefelbein | AP

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

The post Microchips and the Macro World: Semiconductor Shortage Ushers in East-West Tech War appeared first on MintPress News.

Another Step Back for Biden: Attack on Syria Draws Establishment Cheers

WASHINGTON — Barely a month into his presidency, Joe Biden launched an airstrike on Syria yesterday. The attack was reportedly aimed at militias close to the Iraq border, killing 22 people — considerably more than the White House first claimed. In the attack, 1.75 tons of bombs were dropped on a small border-crossing village, according to The New York Times.

It was commonly reported that the target of the raid was pro-Iran forces — specifically, members of the Popular Mobilization Front, a contingent of Iraqi militia groups formed to fight ISIS that were eventually brought under the command of the Iraqi government. In its headline, the Times described the militias as such, although in the body of its report the paper admitted it had no evidence and was not sure this was the case.

U.S. government spokespersons framed the decision to bomb a country over 6,000 miles away as “defensive in nature” and as a response to attacks on American personnel in the region. The Syrian government characterized the incident as “cowardly” and a violation of international law.

NYT headline affirms Pentagon claim that the group the US bombed in Syria is backed by Iran, then admits it doesn't actually know if the group has any link to Iran.

The spirit of Judith Miller lives on at the Paper of Record.https://t.co/BIthsi6fWH

HT @MarkAmesExiled pic.twitter.com/cHjmN4lPkC

— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) February 26, 2021

 

Predictable cheers (and jeers)

The news was met with cheers from many of Biden’s more prominent supporters. “Good. Targeting our troops should carry a consequence,” wrote Time columnist David French. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul was of a similar opinion, tweeting his approval of the attack. “So different having military action under Biden. No middle school-level threats on Twitter. Trust Biden and his team’s competence,” reacted Amy Siskind, a prominent liberal writer.

Others in the press were equally delighted. “By authorizing air strikes, the U.S. president showed he won’t ignore Tehran’s provocations while pursuing diplomacy,” wrote Bloomberg columnist Bobby Ghosh. Ghosh claimed that the strike would be sure to snap Iran out of its “sense of impunity” and deter any more “aggression” against the United States.

So, @JoeBiden bombs Syria and kills the minimum wage hike, confirming every fear progressives had. Soon they'll renege on getting $2000 checks to everyone in the middle class by limiting who gets it (to appease their donors). The establishment is back! And it absolutely sucks.

— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) February 26, 2021

While the bombing drew applause from establishment Democrats, it also elicited condemnation from anti-war voices. “This is basically the polar opposite of getting back in the peace agreement, which was what [Biden] promised to do. A liar and a warmonger,” concluded political commentator Kyle Kulinski. “You will never bomb your way to peace,” reacted progressive activist and podcast host Jordan Uhl.

 

No step forward, two steps back

The news of the bombing came at the same time as reports that the new administration was planning to drop its attempts to pass a federal $15 minimum wage. Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that a $15 minimum wage could not be part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan. It is perfectly within the power of the Vice President Kamala Harris, serving in her capacity as president of the Senate, to overrule the decision and push forward with the plan regardless. However, reports suggest the Biden administration is not looking to do so. “Today Biden approved an airstrike in Syria and the Senate parliamentarian shot down the federal minimum wage hike through reconciliation. Dems can overrule her but Biden doesn’t want to. Dems will lose everything in the midterms and possibly the next general election. And they’ll deserve it,” fumed Ana Kasparian of “The Young Turks.”

The news capped off a month marked largely with disappointment for progressives. After campaigning on a promise to “immediately” send out a $2,000 check to every American, Biden has walked back that offer to a means-tested $1,400, something that is still stuck in negotiations and will only be sent out in the spring at the earliest.

Earlier this week, Trump-era child prisons along the Mexican border were reopened, this time with the word “bienvenidos” (Spanish for “welcome”) daubed on their exterior. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent insisted that Biden’s camps were fundamentally different. “What Biden is doing has nothing in common with ‘kids in cages,’” he wrote, describing them merely as “warehouse-like facilities.”

Have Syrians tried pushing Biden's bombs to the left?

— Alex Rubinstein (@RealAlexRubi) February 26, 2021

The new president’s Middle Eastern policies have left many pro-peace figures disappointed. While pledging to end the war in Yemen as part of his election campaigning, Biden has merely promised to halt support for “offensive” Saudi actions and pause “relevant” arms sales. Yet his administration simultaneously reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s right to defend itself and immediately began condemning supposed Houthi attacks on its neighbor to the north, suggesting that the change is one of semantics rather than policy. Earlier this week, State Department official Timothy Lenderking also, according to an official communication, bizarrely “expressed gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s generous support over the decades for the people of Yemen.” Biden has also approved the controversial Trump-era decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

While few expected him to be an anti-war president, the expectation on Iran was that Biden would return to the nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama, a deal that kept a lid on U.S. aggression against the country. However, the 78-year-old Delawarean is dragging his feet on that, too. This latest strike is hardly likely to improve matters.

Feature photo | Pentagon spokesman John Kirby speaks during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Washington, Feb. 17, 2021. Alex Brandon | 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 Another Step Back for Biden: Attack on Syria Draws Establishment Cheers appeared first on MintPress News.

Rethinking Israel’s Blank Check in Light of Palestinian Teen’s Death with US Weapon

JERUSALEM — Last year, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teenager with an American gun. Now human rights organizations, activists, and politicians are calling on the United States to investigate the killing and stop the flow of military support to Israel.

On Dec. 4, 2020, Israeli forces fatally shot Ali Abu Aliya in the stomach while he was watching a protest against the establishment of a new settlement in the West Bank. It was his fifteenth birthday. According to Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), Aliya wasn’t participating in the demonstration and did not pose a threat to Israeli soldiers.

“Under international law, intentional lethal force is only justified in circumstances where a direct threat to life or of serious injury is present,” DCIP said. “However, investigations and evidence collected by DCIP regularly suggest that Israeli forces use lethal force against Palestinian children in circumstances that do not appear to be warranted and may amount to extrajudicial or [willful] killings.”

Aliya’s death drew international condemnation and prompted the Israeli military police to launch a criminal investigation. In the U.S., calls are growing for President Joe Biden’s administration to investigate Aliya’s killing, given that he was shot with a weapon made on American soil.

 

American dollars fueling human rights abuses

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, acquiring an estimated $3.8 billion annually in aid. Roughly $800 million of the funds is dedicated to purchasing weaponry from inside Israel. In addition to American dollars maintaining Israel’s occupation of Palestine, American weapons are also being used in the deadly violence against Palestinians.

Aliya was shot with a Ruger rifle, a gun manufactured in the U.S. by Connecticut-based Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. This isn’t the first instance of the Ruger firearm being used by the Israel Defense Forces. The Ruger 10/22, the semiautomatic sniper rifle that killed Aliya, has been used by Israeli forces as far back as 1987 during the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation). Despite Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s code of ethics, the company has a distribution partnership with Israel.

The Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 contain provisions barring the sale of American weaponry to countries engaging in gross violations of human rights. And under the nation’s Leahy Law, the U.S. government is prohibited from providing assistance to foreign security forces committing human rights violations, such as extrajudicial killing.

With these laws in mind, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) — along with 29 human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, and DCIP — sent a letter to the State Department urging the agency investigate Aliya’s death “as a possible case of extrajudicial killing that is subject to sanctions under the Leahy Law.”

“The United States is obligated to investigate whether our tax dollars have contributed to gross violations of human rights,” AMP’s advocacy director, Raed Jarrar, told MintPress News. “Every year around 1,000 foreign units will get suspended,” Jarrar said. “It’s a very strong system that works very well in other parts of the world, but it has not been implemented a single time in Israel.”

The State Department responded to AMP’s letter addressing military training in the U.S. but not the larger issue of the U.S.’s yearly, billion-dollar military aid package to Israel. Currently, AMP is drafting a coalition response to the State Department. “What we are trying to do now is to say ‘enough is enough,’” Jarrar said. “It is time to hold Israel and all other foreign countries accountable. It’s time to hold all countries to the same standard.”

For Jarrar, the Biden administration’s decision on whether to follow through with the AMP letter’s requests is not just a matter of morality but a matter of law. “If the Biden administration chooses to break U.S. law and continue to equip and arm foreign units accused of gross violations of human rights, that will not only be a political issue, it’ll also be a legal violation,” Jarrar said.

 

A new administration, a new congress: greater accountability?

Human rights organizations aren’t the only ones pushing for an end to military support to Israel in light of Aliya’s killing. Just a few days after Aliya’s death, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) entered a statement into the Congressional Record, calling on the then “incoming administration of President-Elect Biden to investigate Israel’s killing of Ali Abu Aalya, as well as Israel’s ongoing pattern of using state sponsored military violence against Palestinian children.” McCollum explained:

 Members of Congress and the American people deserve to know whether U.S. taxpayer funding to Israel’s Ministry of Defense is being used directly or indirectly to facilitate or enable violence against Palestinian children. Committing human rights abuses with impunity and with U.S. taxpayer aid is intolerable and there must be accountability on the part of the U.S. Government.”

McCollum introduced a bill in 2019 and a bill in 2020, both of which focus on U.S. military funding to Israel. Promoting Human Rights for Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act bars foreign funds from being used for the military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of children. The bill currently has 24 cosponsors. The Israeli Annexation Non-Recognition Act, currently with 11 cosponsors, bans certain funds from supporting activities in West Bank areas annexed by Israel and activities facilitating annexation.

Grassroots activists are pressuring congressional leaders to stop the flow of American weapons to Israel. The US Campaign for Palestinian Rights launched a call to action demanding Congress hold Israel accountable and cease arms sales. And, on a more local level, Massachusetts Peace Action released a similar direct-action initiative for Massachusetts residents to urge their representatives to support the aforementioned bills.

The U.S. has been a great ally to Israel since the state’s inception, with some experts even arguing that Israel can’t survive without American financial support. But as Americans become increasingly critical of the Israeli government, foreign assistance is put under a microscope.

Recent polls have shown that Americans—particularly Democrats, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers—believe Israel has too much influence on American politics and support conditioning aid to Israel. This public shift is reflected in congressional support. “There’s been a really magnificent movement in Congress in the last two years.” AMP’s Jarrar said, continuing:

When I moved to Washington, D.C. 15 years ago, we used to have four or five members of Congress willing to step outside of the pro-Israel, hardcore line. And now sometimes we have 50 or 60 members of Congress who sign on to letters demanding accountability and justice in Israel and Palestine. So, the tide is definitely shifting and this administration feels the heat from Congress and change will come.”

Whether it’s Rep. McCollum, “the squad,” or Sen. Bernie Sanders, more and more of Congress’ progressive wing is speaking out against Israel’s actions. The majority of Americans and Congress are still largely supportive of Israel, but voices from the pro-Palestinian camp are getting louder.

With a slew of domestic problems spurred by the coronavirus, Americans want greater transparency when it comes to how their tax dollars are spent. And they appear less willing to tolerate their government’s complicity in human rights abuses in foreign nations.

“Public opinion has been shifting not only on Israel, but on the idea that the United States government can give its allies a blank check,” Jarrar said. “There’s a clear movement saying our government has to stop contributing to human rights abuses abroad. And Israel is no exception to that.”

Feature photo | Ali Abu Aliya. Photo | Aliya family release

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

The post Rethinking Israel’s Blank Check in Light of Palestinian Teen’s Death with US Weapon appeared first on MintPress News.

Futile: Saudi’s Decade-Long Attempt to Bottle Up Yemeni Youth Revolution is Failing

SANA’A, YEMEN — A decade has passed since a massive popular uprising was sparked in Yemen by the wave of pro-democracy protests surging across the Middle East and North Africa known as the Arab Spring. The protests called for the overthrow of dictatorial regimes and sought democracy, sovereignty, and the elimination of poverty and unemployment. For Radwan Ali al-Haimi, a Yemeni youth and one of the leaders of the uprising, the hope for a new era of freedom and democracy cannot be crushed by Saudi Arabia and will come true with time.

In early 2011 — in a square in Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a just outside of Sana’a University, in an area dubbed Change Square — thousands of people gathered to demand the overthrow of Saudi-backed strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had held power for more than three decades. The square was transformed into a sea of tents, flags, and banners. Despite the difference in their affiliations, all of the protesters slept, ate, chatted and chanted together, all the while peacefully calling for the end of a regime they viewed as corrupt, oppressive, and a mortgagee of Saudi Arabia.

The scale of the protests was rarely seen in Yemen before the uprising. “Our uprising aimed to overthrow the corrupt regime. We were looking to create a modern civil state, equality, a national army, sovereignty, and to liberate our homeland from Saudi tutelage,” Radwan — who had become a voice of the revolution — told MintPress.

 

A decade of oppression and destruction

For a decade, Saudi Arabia has worked to ensure Yemen’s steady dissolution from a nation hoping to transition to democracy during the Arab Spring to a nation fragmented by war and military intervention — a land of warring statelets, mass suffering, and despair. Today, Yemenis are living in worse conditions than they were before 2011, thanks in large part to Saudi oil riches.

While some leaders of Yemen’s youth-led revolution ended up as refugees or among the ranks of al Qaeda or ISIS, or as mercenaries of necessity allied with Saudi Arabia in order to earn a living, most continued their struggle for independence.

Soldiers push back protestors demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Saleh in Taiz, Yemen, April 9, 2011. Yemen Lens | AP

Many of the youth that participated in the uprising told MintPress that they place some blame on all of Yemen’s political forces for the failure of their movement, but most of their ire is reserved for Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia has crushed our revolution, turned our lives into hell because our uprising was interpreted by the ruling family as a threat to [their] influence and because of their fear of the revolution spreading to the Saudi interior,” artist Aisha Ali Saeed told MintPress. Aisha joined the youth revolution hoping for a decent life; instead, she now struggles to secure her next meal.

 

Bottling up the uprising

After the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia took down their respective Saudi-backed strongman leaders, Riyadh devoted itself to encircling Yemen’s youth revolution there and maintaining its paternalistic role and influence over its southern neighbor. In fact, just months after the outbreak of the uprising (which bore the slogan of independence and sovereignty as one of its goals), Saudi Arabia flew Saleh and members of the youth-led opposition to Riyadh. A power-sharing political settlement was signed in November 2011 dubbed the GCC Initiative.

The initiative not only granted Saleh unconditional immunity, but it also replaced him with then-Vice President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who was more loyal to Saudi Arabia. Hadi, a southern military leader, had been appointed by Saleh in the wake of the 1994 war as a reward for betraying the South and likely because his inefficiency and weakness of personality posed little threat to Saleh. To this end, the GCC initiative included a number of anti-democratic mechanisms, including presidential elections with Hadi as the only name on the ballot.

Saudi Arabia’s claim of legitimacy for Hadi’s presidency is tenuous at best. In the wake of the one-candidate election in 2012, Hadi overstepped his mandate, which was supposed to be just two years long. His two-year term was extended for one year in 2014 and, following mass protests in the wake of rising fuel prices, Hadi fled the capital south to Aden and then eventually on to Riyadh after submitting his resignation to the House of Representatives. That resignation was used as a pretext to invite foreign intervention in March 2015. Now, Hadi’s term as propped-up president has become indefinite.

 

Youth and Houthi alliance

To many of the participants in Yemen’s youth movement, it was clear that their demands had been swept aside. Not only by the political parties known as “the Joint Meeting Parties” — led by the Islah Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s branch in Yemen — but also by the United States and Saudi Arabia, which were pursuing their own agendas in Yemen and gave Hadi international legitimacy. Without an ally or a movement, many of the participants of the youth revolution did not stand by while their dreams faded. Instead, they decided to close ranks behind Ansar Allah (Houthis), a partner who rejected the GCC Initiative and saw it as little more than an attempt to crush the Arab Spring in Yemen.

Houthi fighters escort protesters during a four-day march from Taiz to Sanaa demanding the prosecution of Saleh, Dec. 23, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

The Houthis were committed to the principles of the revolution that had sparked the initial uprising in 2011, and together they thwarted the Gulf Initiative and continued to organize rallies and demonstrations until the United Nations-sponsored National Dialogue Conference in 2013. The conference included disenfranchised representatives from the youth movement, the Houthis, and the Southern Movement — all parties that were excluded from the Gulf Initiative.

 

Saudi sabotage, airstrikes, fail to quench Yemeni determination

Instead of entering the talks inspired by goodwill, and respecting Yemen’s sovereignty and bridging points of view between the various parties, Saudi Arabia further polarized and torpedoed the nearly year-long National Dialogue Conference, which was meant to bring Yemen’s various factions to a consensus on how to address the country’s most pressing issues. The Kingdom attempted to impose a six-region federation of Yemen, a move that was refused by the conference’s other parties, which saw it as a project to break up the country.

Still, Yemeni parties were close to signing a settlement under the auspices of the United Nations when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia surprised the world by launching Decisive Storm in March 2015. Jamal BenOmar — the former UN envoy to Yemen, who worked with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter on human rights issues — confirmed that a political deal was close before the Saudi airstrikes began.

The young relative of a protester killed in clashes with security forces prays next to his grave in Sanaa, Yemen, Dec. 30, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

Chants of independence and patriotism were not the only factor for Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was driven by concerns that, should new players be empowered, ones with whom Riyadh was not experienced in dealing, the result could lead to unforeseen and uncontrollable developments in Yemen. Hence, the first motives for their fierce war against the country in 2015. This Saudi approach, however, failed to take into consideration how the youth revolution had merged with Ansar Allah and risen to prominence in a form fundamentally different from what the Saudis had previously known.

Like many members of his generation, Radwan took the street in Bab al-Yemen in the capital city of Sana’a on Friday to call for the liberation of areas still under the control of the Saudi Coalition forces — particularly the oil-rich Marib province, which is witnessing an unprecedented mobilization of youth volunteers, tribes and the Yemeni army to liberate it from the Saudis.  Radwan declared, “We are determined to achieve the goals of our revolution, and we believe that victory is closer than ever.”

Feature photo | Protestors run through the streets holding peace signs during a demonstration demanding the prosecution of Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Nov. 24, 2011. Hani Mohammed | AP

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

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Media Completely Ignore American Secret Agent’s Trial for Terrorism in Venezuela

CARACAS — Unless you read the local Venezuelan press, you are unlikely to know that an American secret agent is currently standing trial in Venezuela on charges of terrorism and weapons trafficking.

Matthew John Heath was arrested in September outside Amuay and Cardon oil refineries in possession of a submachine gun, a grenade launcher, C4 explosives, a satellite phone and bricks of $20 bills. The Venezuelan government also alleges that he was found carrying a small coin or badge that CIA employees use to prove their identity to one another without raising suspicions. On Wednesday, Heath pled not guilty to all charges.

Situated in Falcon state in the west of the country, the Amuay and Cardon facilities are the largest refineries in the oil-rich nation, considered an enemy of the United States since it elected socialist president Hugo Chavez in 1998. The facilities have been the site of controversy before: in 2012, a fire at the plants killed 55 people; after conducting hundreds of interviews with experts and witnesses and carrying out over 200 inspections and technical tests, the Venezuelan government claimed that the evidence of sabotage was “overwhelming.”

 

A spy falls

A former marine, Heath is also widely reported to have been a CIA agent, serving the agency as a communications operator between 2006 and 2016, at which time he took a job at security firm MVM (for obvious reasons, the CIA does not confirm or deny the identity of its staff). Although MVM is technically a private company, it was founded by three former Secret Service agents and continues to work closely with Washington. According to business directory Dun & Bradstreet, the firm “provides security staffing and consulting services, primarily to U.S. government entities.” Indeed, the only clients listed on its website are American government agencies. “Need a secret agent?” begins its description of the company.

There is not a hint of this, however, on MVM’s public-facing website, which describes the organization as merely “providing extensive domain expertise in the areas of counter-narcotics, criminal and civil investigations, public safety, and national security.” MVM’s 800 employees, it states, are here to offer “professional and administrative services, … informational technology services, … and mission solutions.”

This follows a broader trend of the U.S. government outsourcing clandestine operations to private contractors — a process that ensures there is less accountability and public scrutiny, as well as one that keeps its more controversial actions at arm’s length. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” said Allen Weinstein, cofounder of the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that funds pro-American groups worldwide.

 

Radio silence

One might think that a supposedly innocent American citizen on trial for terrorism inside a hostile enemy country, facing decades behind bars in Venezuela’s notorious prisons, would spark a nationwide media furor — especially as Heath claims that he was tortured while incarcerated. But far from it. In fact, there has been zero mention of the case in national U.S. media this week, including nothing in The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, The Washington Post, Fox News, or USA Today. This is striking, as the news was published on the largest newswire service, Reuters, meaning that virtually every outlet in the West must have seen it and could freely republish it themselves or use its material for a story.

Virtually the only Western media outlets touching the story were local news stations in Tennessee, Heath’s home state. Yet none of those outlets mentioned Heath’s alleged background as a secret agent, nor the incriminating items in possession of which he was arrested, rather presenting him as a completely innocent victim of an authoritarian regime. Few even offered an explanation as to why, amid a raging pandemic, he would leave the U.S. and go to Venezuela of all places. NBC affiliate WBIR Channel 10 was the only exception, claiming he had traveled there to gain “more boating experience,” a defense that is unlikely to convince many Venezuelan prosecutors.

The State Department, which rarely misses an opportunity to denounce Venezuela’s Maduro government for human rights transgressions, has also been largely silent over the case. Its entire comment on the situation amounts to one tweet from spokesman Ned Price, in which he tepidly asks Venezuela for a “fair trial.”

 

Limited hangout

The deafening silence from Washington and from corporate media suggests that Heath was indeed in Venezuela on official business and that the government has made a conscious decision to cut ties to him, leaving him to his fate so as to not draw more attention to its own actions. Kicking up a storm of protest would entail inviting far more scrutiny upon itself and potentially losing any plausible deniability that it is not engaged in a campaign of international terrorism against the South American nation.

The United States has been carrying out a decades-long push for regime change against the Venezuelan government, supporting coup attempts, funding and training political movements, and propping up self-declared president Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful ruler. In January, the U.S. lost its most powerful ally in the cause, as the European Union chose to stop recognizing Guaidó after he lost his seat in the Venezuelan National Assembly in recent elections.

Earlier in the year, the U.S. was similarly caught with its hand in the cookie jar, after two former Green Berets led an amphibious invasion on Venezuela with the goal of shooting their way to the presidential palace and installing Guaidó as dictator. The attempt failed spectacularly, and few of the heavily armed fighters managed to even make it to land, the event quickly being dubbed Donald Trump’s “Bay of Piglets.” Trying to defend themselves, the American mercenaries implicated a number of key figures, including Trump himself, as well as former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince. The coup plotters even claim they met at the Trump Doral resort in Miami. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put out a half-hearted denial, claiming only that “there was no U.S. government direct involvement” in the botched coup attempt.

Heath’s case is the latest in a series of U.S. cloak and dagger moves against the Caribbean nation. Whether he is found guilty or not, it appears that he will be receiving no help from the U.S. government. When things go wrong in espionage, you are apparently on your own.

Feature photo | Items found on Heath at the time of his arrest according to Venezuelan authorities. Photo | Venezuelan Foreign Ministry

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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Joe Biden Tells the World “America Is Back” — Not That It Ever Really Went Anywhere

WASHINGTON — “America is back,” President Joe Biden bellicosely proclaimed in his major foreign policy priorities speech at the Munich Security Conference on February 19. Repeating it for effect, Biden signaled the end of the Trump interregnum.

No more assuring words could have been uttered for George W. Bush’s former Defense Secretary Colin Powell and the 70-odd Republican national security officials who had written an open letter endorsing Biden out of fear that Donald Trump would upset the bipartisan foreign policy consensus of regime change, forever wars, and the NATO alliance. Republican neocons now shelter in the Democrats’ big tent, today’s party of war.

The major difference from his predecessor is that the new U.S. president promises a greater reliance on multilateral diplomacy and international cooperative agreements to achieve U.S. imperial goals. Biden pledged to remain in the World Health Organization and to return to the Paris Climate Agreement, although compliance with the latter is voluntary and Biden defends fracking. Where Trump withdrew the U.S. from the UN Human Rights Council three years ago, the U.S. will now re-engage as an observer. And Trump’s “Muslim ban” was reversed on Biden’s first day in office.

Regardless of the changing of the guard in Washington, the imperial goal of “full spectrum dominance” endures from one administration to the next. The global network of up to a thousand foreign military bases will not be shuttered.

The fact that the U.S. can with impunity punish a third of humanity (39 nations) with illegal sanctions – what the UN calls unilateral coercive measures  – is a measure of its hegemonic standing. These sanctions are a form of “hybrid warfare,” which can be just as deadly as outright war. Although Biden is reviewing the sanctions policy in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is expected to “keep using [the] U.S. sanctions weapon but with sharper aim,” as reported by Reuters.

The new secretary of state, Antony Blinken, asserted that his policies would follow his predecessor’s, but will “more effectively target” official enemies such as Venezuela, and will double down on Russia. Following Trump, Biden is appealing to the UK High Court to extradite Julian Assange.

 

“We’re at an inflection point”

Biden warned, in his foreign policy priorities speech, about “competition among countries that threaten to divide the world,” caused by “shifting global dynamics.” The threat to “divide the world” that concerns the U.S. president is precisely any deviation from U.S. domination. Biden was referring to the emergence of potential rival powers. His warning affirms and extends Trump’s 2017 National Security Strategy doctrine of “great-power competition” and swings away from Barack Obama’s earlier and subsequently abandoned conception of “international interdependence.”

Biden’s “shifting global dynamics” are what Obama’s Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel referred to as “challenging the world order that American leadership helped build after World War II.” In other words, the world’s sole superpower is averse to an emerging multipolar world.

Biden’s speech concluded, “We’re at an inflection point” caused by “new crises.” While not identified by Biden, this is implicit recognition of the impending crisis of legitimacy of the neoliberal world order. The U.S. is the main beneficiary, proponent, and enforcer of a global political economy that increasingly is seen as failing to meet people’s needs. Class disparities are ever more evident in the U.S. and internationally during an economic recession. Here in the U.S., billionaires have added $4 trillion to their net worth since the onset of the pandemic.

 

Return to Atlanticism and NATO expansion

While still president, Trump spoke against the U.S. as the world’s gendarme: “The plan is to get out of endless wars to bring our soldiers back home, not be policing agents all over the world.” For a variety of reasons, Trump’s iconoclastic words never found their way into policy. And Biden’s speech writers certainly will never give him similar words to read.

Rather, Biden said in his foreign policy speech that the U.S. is “fully committed to our NATO Alliance” and “welcome[s] Europe’s growing investment in [its] military capabilities.” The U.S. mission in Iraq will be expanded and more U.S. troops will be sent to Germany.

Biden justifies the NATO military encirclement of Russia, with intimations that Ukraine and Georgia may eventually join, by “the threat from Russia.” However, Russian reactions to staging hostile war games and nuclear-capable facilities on its border are plausibly defensive. Meanwhile the U.S.-led military alliance has long since broken loose from its Atlantic-centric borders, with NATO Partners Across the Globe extending to Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

 

Africa and the Middle East

The new administration will expand U.S. military presence in Africa through its Africa Command (AFRICOM), which in 2019 deployed Special Forces in 22 countries and was in active combat in at least 13 of them. The largest ever U.S. military exercise in Africa, African Lions 21, is scheduled for June with “partner nations.”

Biden’s State Department approved a $200 million arms sale to Egypt, a country headed by the man Trump called his “favorite dictator.” The U.S. continues to be the world’s largest purveyor of military equipment, eclipsing the combined sales of the next four highest war profiteers.

Oil and gas are strategic resources, and their international flows are key factors for imperial control. Absent oil and gas sales, 60% of its GDP, Russia would be a minor economy.

Now that the U.S. is a net oil exporter, the oil-rich Gulf monarchies are both allies and potential competitors.

Trump extended the U.S.’s “special relationship” in the Middle East with Israel and Saudi Arabia; Biden continues this trajectory. Trump’s provocative move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will not be reversed by Biden, nor will Palestinian rights be recognized.

Ignoring nuclear-armed Israel, the Biden team continues the U.S.’s obsession with Iran’s nuclear program. Biden has committed to renegotiate “a better deal” regarding Iran after Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the deal retains Trump’s demand to include Iran’s whole regional policy.

The new U.S. administration will be augmenting troops in Syria and expanding and building new military bases there. Damascus is in a weakened state, facing the pandemic, economic blockade, and continued military hostilities by the U.S. and its “partners.”

Biden announced that the U.S. will no longer support “offensive operations” in the Saudi-led war on Yemen that has precipitated a human rights catastrophe. It remains to be seen what continuing lethal “defensive” aid to the Saudis entails. The Saudis have the world’s fifth largest military, costing an astronomical 8% of their GDP. Some U.S. military sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been temporarily suspended. In response, the CEO of military merchant Raytheon commented: “Peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon.” He should know, as Biden’s defense secretary formerly sat on his company’s board of directors.

 

“America’s backyard” – 21st century Monroe Doctrine

Treatment of Latin America and the Caribbean as the U.S.’s proprietary backyard, under the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, is being challenged by a rising “pink tide:” recent leftist electoral wins in Mexico, Argentina, and Bolivia, and a possibility in Ecuador in April; popular uprisings in Argentina, Haiti, and elsewhere; and continued resistance by Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.

Biden, the day he entered office, had the power of executive order to restore Obama’s openings to Cuba that had been reversed by Trump. Now, with over a month in office, Biden has not ended limits on remittances, restrictions on travel, or other illegal sanctions on Cuba. Biden continues the illegal policy of regime change for Cuba of the previous twelve U.S. presidents: covert and overt destabilization, blockade, and occupation of Guantánamo. It should be noted that Obama’s openings to Cuba were not a deviation from previous policy but an attempt to achieve regime change by different means.

Venezuela featured prominently in the presidential campaign speeches of Trump and Biden, with both promoting regime change. U.S.-anointed counterfeit president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, has lost his credentials with the European Union. But the farce – initiated in 2019 by Trump – is nonetheless being continued by Biden, who backed down on his campaign pledge to possibly negotiate directly with the democratically elected president, Nicolás Maduro.

Biden has already deported thousands of emigres back to Haiti and other countries. This represents “a disappointing step backward from the Biden administration’s earlier commitments to fully break from the harmful deportation policies of both the Trump and Obama presidencies,”  according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

 

Pivot to Asia

U.S. foreign policy reflects the personal qualities of the person occupying the Oval Office, party affiliation, and the constellation of state and corporate powers behind the administration. But eclipsing these factors are larger geopolitical developments, especially now with the emergence of China as the world’s workshop.

China is an upcoming rival but falls short as a peer of the U.S. in terms of economic power. China’s remarkable economic growth has been predicated on its integration into, and indeed dependence on, the international capitalist market, which is dominated by the U.S. Although China is the world’s leading exporter, only a minuscule 4% of the international exchange of currencies is denominated in the Chinese yuan, compared to 88% in U.S. dollars. Tellingly, close to half the trade between China and Russia, two countries sanctioned by the U.S., is denominated in U.S. dollars.

Following Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2012, Biden’s policy portends a continuation of Trump’s hostility toward China, only with further intensification. The U.S. military buildup to confine China includes land, air, sea, and even space forces, with the South China Sea as a hotspot of contention.

Trump negotiated a peace agreement between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, now in its twentieth year of war. The Biden administration has indicated that it will not honor the agreement, which requires a U.S. troop drawdown instead of Biden’s announced buildup.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is entering its 71st year of official war with the U.S. with no end in sight. When Trump met with DRPK President Kim Jong-un in 2019, the Democrats screamed “treason.” To be sure, Biden will not make the patriotic mistake of trying to reduce tension between the two nuclear powers.

 

Nuclear policy – 100 seconds before midnight

The U.S. is ringing Russia and China with “missile defense systems,” which had been illegal until George W. Bush abrogated the U.S.-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002. A “missile defense system” is designed to shield against a retaliatory response after a first-strike nuclear attack. Congress recently authorized a new generation of U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

China’s official policy is “not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” Russian policy is to use nuclear weapons only “when the very existence of the state is threatened.” In contrast, the U.S. reserves the right to “first use” of nuclear weapons.

A trillion-dollar-plus nuclear weapons modernization, started by Obama and continued by Trump, lurches on under Biden, with the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal scheduled to be upgraded. The consequences are far greater risks of launching an accidental nuclear war and an accelerated arms race with Russia and China. Head of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, Admiral Charles A. Richard, warned just this month that in a conflict with Russia or China “nuclear employment is a very real possibility.”

Given such an international climate, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists set the 2021 doomsday clock to 100 seconds before midnight. Although the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons became international law on January 21, the U.S. has not ratified it. On the brighter side, Biden extended the New START nuclear arms treaty for four years.

 

Another world is possible, another U.S. is necessary

The story ends just 100 seconds before disaster, but that is only half the story. The other half is the resistance to U.S. imperialism. “American leadership” of the world, touted by both Republicans and Democrats, is not democratic. No one elected the U.S. to be the world’s nanny. International polls show the U.S. is rated among the most feared, hated, and dangerous countries in the world, and the greatest threat to world peace. The Vox Populi project reports majorities or pluralities of the U.S. people support reducing the military budget, achieving peace by avoiding foreign intervention, negotiating directly with adversaries to avoid military confrontation, decreasing U.S. troops overseas, and constraining the president’s ability to attack a foreign adversary.

Feature photo | Biden tours the African Americans in Service Corridor at the Pentagon, Feb. 10, 2021, Patrick Semansky | AP

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights organization Task Force on the Americas and on the executive committee of the U.S. Peace Council.

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Elections Are Not Democracy: Call To Boycott Upcoming Israeli and Palestinian Votes that Don’t Matter

JERUSALEM — Elections for the Israeli Knesset are scheduled for next month. It has also recently been announced that in May and June there will be elections held for the Palestinian Authority’s legislative and executive branches. Since both the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel exist to deny Palestinians the rights and freedom they deserve, one may question the wisdom of the Palestinian Authority holding elections, and further, ask whether or not Palestinian citizens of Israel should bother participating in the elections for the Israeli Knesset.

 

The Joint List

Between 40% and 60% of Palestinian citizens of Israel participate in the elections. In the last elections there was a considerable increase and this time around the expectation is that the number will go down dramatically.

When in 2015 the Joint List was formed, many thought it was a miracle. No one thought that the different political groups that represent the Palestinians of 1948 could ever agree to unite under a single coalition. But the Socialists and the Islamic Movement and everyone in between sucked it up for the good of the cause and they ran together. They won an unprecedented 13 seats; and in the 2019 elections, they again did what no one thought was possible: they won 15 seats, making them the largest block in the Knesset.

But, although the list is made of serious hard-working legislators, they have relatively little to show for their hard work, and the most pressing issue in the Palestinian community of 1948 has only become worse.

Violent crime within these communities is at an all-time high, with the proliferation of arms reaching absurd proportions. Granted, this violence is perpetrated by the State with the Israeli police standing by, and the source of the weapons is the Israeli military. Had these arms been used for political aims, their flow would have been halted long ago or else they would have overthrown the government.

Home demolition; lack of budgets and infrastructure; and the deepening of the racist laws and policies, not to mention discourse, have never been so bad. So if this is what happens when Arab representation is high in the Knesset, why bother? One should note that these outcomes are not the fault of the Palestinian parliamentarians but stem rather from the impossible environment in which they operate. An environment that is dedicated to making them fail. In fact, the Joint List could have doubled its number of seats, and still they would largely be ignored.

The Zionist parties will never collaborate with the “Arabs.” They will never join them in a coalition. As we saw after the last election, former General Benny Gantz gave up the chance to be the first one to beat Netanyahu in over ten years and become Prime Minister because he might have had to rely on the support of the “Arab” members of Knesset. So instead he turned it all down, broke his promise to the voters, and joined a Netanyahu-led government. Cooperation with the Palestinians is a red line that no Zionist politician will cross.

Now the Joint List is no longer what it was. The Islamic Movement broke away and voted with Netanyahu against dissolving the Knesset. They also cite differences with the rest of the List on issues like LGBTQ rights. It seems unlikely they will carry enough votes to get even a single seat this time around. There is also a great general sense of disillusionment and it is expected that Palestinian citizens will vote in lesser numbers, which will bring what is left of the Joint List to only seven or eight seats.

 

Call to boycott

When calls to boycott the elections are raised at this point, there is good reason to listen. Even when Palestinian political parties are at their record best, they are still unable to make a difference. The State has proven beyond any doubt that it will never end the policies of neglect and discrimination, so why play the game that Israel wants them to play?

In a piece in Aljazeera on the announcement of elections in the Palestinian Authority, Yara Hawari writes that “elections are merely technical procedures and are in no way interchangeable with democracy. They regularly take place not only in democracies but also in countries where democratic characteristics are lacking or completely absent.”

Translation | The grassroots campaign to boycott the Zionist Knesset elections

She writes this regarding the PA but the same can be said about Israel. The fact that Palestinian citizens may vote is merely a procedural matter and has little to do with democracy.

Two main forces have been boycotting the elections and calling on others to do the same. The first is the Northern Islamic Movement — which is not a part of the Islamic Movement that did run for the Knesset (that one was outlawed by the Israeli authorities and is led by the now-imprisoned Sheikh Ra’ed Salah). Leading the current boycott campaign, the Popular Campaign to Boycott the Elections, is the secular, progressive movement of Abna’ Al-Balad.  Raja Eghbarieh, the longtime leader of the Abna’ Al-Balad, has also been detained and is constantly persecuted by the State.

In a statement issued by the Popular Campaign to Boycott the Knesset Elections, the leaders of the campaign called on Palestinian citizens of Israel to avoid participating in what are now the fourth elections in two years. This, the statement says, confirms that the Zionist state is in crisis.

This will be the election for the twenty-fourth Knesset. The statement calls on potential Palestinian voters to avoid the “risk of being deceived for the 24th time! … Our position in principle is that the entire Zionist Knesset represents the crimes of the Zionist occupation of Palestine, the displacement of its people, racism, killing, the destruction of our homeland and preventing the right to self-determination of our people.”

The current reality, the campaign leaders correctly state, is that the most likely candidates for prime minister are one of three racists — namely Gideon Saar, Naftali Bennett, and Benjamin Netanyahu. And it is far more likely that the first two will end up working for Netanyahu in a government led by him.

 

The Palestinian Authority

There are signs of excitement in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in preparation for the elections. Unofficial sources state that over 90% of the people who reside in those two enclaves have registered to vote.

One has to wonder, however, what the point is in participating in elections that at best promise to be a charade, if they are not canceled altogether. The Palestinian Authority itself has little authority and is seen by many as little more than a sub-contractor doing Israel’s dirty work by arresting Palestinian activists and providing intelligence to the Israeli secret police.

Even if the PA elections do take place, that only means that a small fraction of Palestinians are represented. Israel will never allow Palestinian residents of Jerusalem or the refugees in the camps outside of Palestine to participate. The most we will see is a reshuffling of chairs that will bring no change and no relief to the lives of Palestinians.

 

Elections that matter

Elections matter when they are a vehicle of democracy. Otherwise, they are nothing more than a process to legitimize a nondemocratic regime. Since Palestine is occupied and under an oppressive regime, there is no democracy and no reason for anyone to rejoice in elections, let alone participate. Be it under the pretense of a democratic PA or a democratic Israel, either way, the right move is to take a stance and to boycott, rather than lend them legitimacy.

Elections will matter in Palestine when they are called to include all people who live between the River and the Sea — one person, one vote for a single legislature and executive in a Palestine that is liberated. That will be the right time to vote. In a liberated Palestine with all political parties free to run and Palestinian leaders now in Israeli occupation jails free to lead — those will be elections that matter. Nothing less should be accepted.

Feature photo  | A poster that reads, “leave,” lies on the ground during a demonstration against a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the northern Arab city of Nazareth, Israel, Jan. 13, 2021. Sebastian Scheiner | AP

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

The post Elections Are Not Democracy: Call To Boycott Upcoming Israeli and Palestinian Votes that Don’t Matter appeared first on MintPress News.

Lee Camp: It’s Time for Major Wealth Redistribution — Yes, I Mean It.

Princeton, New Jersey (ScheerpostIt’s time for wealth redistribution. There, I said it.

I know it’s the third rail of politics, but I’m not running for a damn thing, which makes me free to speak the truth. (Well, I am running for president of my neighborhood elementary school’s PTA, but I’m pretty sure I’ll win easily since my campaign slogan is “Extend the school day to 20 hours because we don’t want to deal with those little monsters. You take ‘em!” . . . Well, I’ll win as long as they don’t find out I don’t have a child.)

Anyway, we desperately need wealth redistribution. And before anyone starts yelling something about Joseph Stalin, here’s the part that’s going to blow your mind — in the United States we’ve already had wealth redistribution for decades.

Fifty trillion dollars has been redistributed from the poorest Americans to the top one percent over the past several decades. That’s right, a new study shows the richest people in the world have stolen trillions from average Americans. To put this in easier to access terms — you know how mad you get when someone takes the last donut? Well, imagine that multiplied by 50 trillion. (Quick reminder: If you make $40,000 a year, it would take you 1.25 Billion years to make $50 trillion.)

The new study reveals, “…that the cumulative tab for our four-decade-long experiment in radical inequality has grown to over $47 trillion from 1975 through 2018. At a recent pace of about $2.5 trillion a year, that number we estimate crossed the $50 trillion mark by early 2020.”

And to be clear, this money has been stolen from nearly every American. Had income distribution and buying power remained the same as it was from the end of World War II to 1975, ” . . . the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is … enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.”

The richest people in America are pilfering over $1,100 from you personally and everyone you know every single month of every single year. Just imagine what each living soul in America could do with an extra $13,700 per year — how many people that would feed, how much less stressful their lives would be, how many fewer foreclosures there would be, and how many more people would get the healthcare they need. Yet every time the most modest tax increases are proposed on the richest Americans, or every time someone so much as mumbles about putting in a public jungle gym or putting in filters to take the metal chunks out of the water or fixing the holes in our bridges that are bigger than the ones in Maria Bartiromo’s head — every time someone brings up these common sense solutions, the elites of our society (who own the media outlets and the levers of the state and the law enforcement and the courts) start screaming from their wine-soaked ski resort orgy balconies, “That’s wealth redistribution! That’s class war!”

Meanwhile, most so-called “progressives” tip-toe around this subject, saying things like, “Well, we just want to slightly increase the taxes on the giant swimming pools filled with money of the wealthiest people. It would only impact people with billions of dollars, which is only a few individuals. We’re sorry. We’re so sorry to ask for this, Mr. Boss Man. Please forgive us.”

Enough of the pussy-footing. It’s time to demand true, full-on wealth redistribution. It’s time to say to the billionaires, “We’re taking your shit, and we’re giving it back to the society you stole it from. We’re taking your cars and your marble statues of your own ass and your boats that park inside your other boats and your emerald bathtubs filled with naked man servants and your inbred cross eyed ugly-ass dogs! . . . But you can keep your children. We don’t want those sociopaths in training. But other than that, we’re taking your stuff because this level of inequality is what most rational economists call ‘fucking nuts’.”

I will however give one caveat to make this go smoother. We only take back everything over $10 million. It’s estimated that there are about 1.4 million American households who have over $10 million. So that means what I’m proposing would impact less than one-half of one percent of Americans. The average American has never even met someone with over $10 million unless they shook Jim Carrey’s hand one time on a sidewalk in New York.

So we — the 99 percent — would take everything over $10 million from the people who have over $10 million. And we would give it out with the bottom 50 percent getting the vast majority of it. This means 99.5 percent of Americans would benefit from this redistribution of wealth. So, before you argue against this idea — Remember: you benefit. You would receive money. Because I promise there is no one with over $10 million reading this column right now, unless one banker accidentally clicked on this because it was next to the Wall Street Journal in his Twitter feed.

Do you need more numbers to hammer home the point? The billionaires in this country have increased their wealth by over $1.3 Trillion, an increase of 44 percent, just since the beginning of the pandemic.

One out of every three people in America have had trouble paying their bills during this pandemic.

Nearly 15 million people have lost their healthcare coverage just since the beginning of this pandemic.

And if you are the one person with over $10 million reading this, don’t give me that horse shit about, “I worked for that money. I earned that money.” No, no, no, no, you did not earn over $10 million. I know you didn’t because that’s impossible. It’s madness. It’s Gary Busey inside Charlie Sheen inside Ted Nugent. Taking the laws of physics into account, there is no way you worked a thousand times harder than a janitor or a sanitation worker or a nurse or a busboy or a fluffer or a fluffer’s second assistant fluffer intern. It’s physically impossible that you worked a thousand times harder than every “essential worker.” (Yes, fluffers are essential.)

What you did was merely take advantage of a system that is set up to exploit the vast majority of the society while most people don’t even realize what happened. That’s what you did because you’re a sociopath. Indeed, most of the Americans with over $10 million are sociopaths. They would kick a puppy down a flight of stairs into the teeth of a wool thresher if it meant they could make an extra $1,000. But I will acknowledge that not all of them are sociopaths. Some of them are relatively okay people working inside a breathtakingly corrupt system. So for the ones who are sociopaths, why should we feel bad for taking their wealth — over $10 million — and redistributing it? (They’re sociopaths after all. Lest we forget: they kick puppies.)

And then for the other ones, who are not sociopaths but still have over $10 million, they’re not going suffer because at the end of the day, they still have ten million goddamn dollars! It’s not like they’d suddenly be scraping by, clothing their children with cardboard boxes painted to look like shirts and bow ties.

So the next time someone says to you, “You can’t raise the taxes on the top 1% because that’s class war. It’s redistribution of wealth,” don’t respond the way most squishy liberals respond — “Ummm, ahhh, errr, no, uhhhh, I’m sorry.” Instead respond, “You’re damn right it is! I want redistribution of wealth. I want a nonviolent class war — because it has been done to the rest of us for the past 50 years at least. We have been exploited and abused, beaten down and defeated, kicked and slapped and scratched and drained and sucked dry and extracted and even burgled!” (Oh man, do I hate being burgled.)

Now is our time to fight back against this terrible machine that has allowed this unbelievable level of exploitation. Screw this system that allows some people to have enough money to end world hunger (literally Jeff Bezos could end world hunger many times over) and yet never do it, while other individuals sleep on a bench hoping no one steals their one box of cereal in the night. To put my conclusion into more sophisticated academic language — Fuck that.

This is an abusive relationship, and it’s time to get out.

Feature photo | Original illustration by Mr. Fish

Lee Camp is the host of the hit comedy news show “Redacted Tonight.” His new book “Bullet Points and Punch Lines” is available at LeeCampBook.com and his stand-up comedy special can be streamed for free at LeeCampAmerican.com.

The post Lee Camp: It’s Time for Major Wealth Redistribution — Yes, I Mean It. appeared first on MintPress News.

For FinTech Magnates: Digital Dollars for the Poor, Exponential Profits for the Rich

In a virtual conference hosted by The New York Times, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen gave her nod of approval to the idea of “sovereign digital currencies” to solve the riddle of financial inclusion in America.

According to recent data, approximately 7.1 million, or 5.4 percent of households, in the United States have no access to a bank account and almost 20 percent more are underbanked, leaving tens of millions of people at the mercy of predatory pay-lending services and other means to receive or make payments. While these numbers do seem to be on a downward trend, they are still far above those of most developed countries, such as France and Germany.

Further compromising the positive data is the pandemic’s role in rising unemployment, depletion of savings, and reduced access to credit. Even simple loss of proximity to banking facilities is contributing to the problem, as the biggest banking chains pull out of low-income neighborhoods.

Yellen suggested “that a digital dollar — a central-bank digital currency — could help with” the problem, though she conceded that there were multiple “issues” surrounding the concept of implementing a system of virtual money, such as the “impact on the banking system” and what role the Federal Reserve, which she led between 2010 and 2014, would play at the retail and wholesale levels.

The former Fed chair warned about cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, and the “staggering” amount of energy it requires, calling the blockchain-based token “an extremely inefficient way of conducting transactions,” seemingly unaware of the contradiction that a Fed-controlled digital coin would be based on the same technology. Her biggest concern seemed to revolve around crypto’s use for “illicit finance” as well as its volatility. Nevertheless, Yellen supports researching the “viability” of creating a digital dollar and, if recent movement in the FinTech (financial technology) sector is any indication, a brave new world of virtual benjamins may soon become a reality.

Yellen’s comments can also be read as a tacit acceptance of the fact that the U.S. will soon be facing stiff competition as the world’s reserve currency, stemming from a proposed banking law in China that would create a digital Yuan pegged to a cryptocurrency token issued by the People’s Bank of China. Regardless, all signs are pointing to significant change in the works.

 

A bank by any other name

On February 19, a financial management software company called Brex filed for a bank charter license in Utah, looking to “expand upon [its] existing suite of financial products and business software” by  providing “credit solutions and FDIC-insured deposit products to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs),” according to the press release.

The proposed bank will be able to work outside some of the federal regulations imposed on commercial banks and will escape Fed supervision altogether by incorporating as an industrial bank, which are state-chartered financial institutions otherwise known as industrial loan companies (ILCs) that are currently chartered in only seven U.S. states.

ILCs differ from regular banks in that they can be owned by non-financial commercial businesses and are prohibited from accepting demand deposits – funds that can be withdrawn at any time. ILCs instead take deposits as “investment shares,” which are then used to provide loans to small businesses or low-income workers who are unable to qualify for credit at “traditional lending institutions” — falling halfway between a payday lender and a full-fledged bank. Notably, federal and state oversight do not extend to the controlling company itself.

Industrial bank charters have been the subject of intense criticism and controversy. In 2005, Walmart filed for an ILC charter for the “purpose of reducing credit and debit card transaction fees,” unleashing widespread opposition from commercial banks, which see ILCs as a threat to the banking industry. The protests resulted in a moratorium issued by the FDIC on all industrial bank applications a year later. In 2020, the Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) lobby group released a statement strongly condemning the FDIC’s approval of Square Inc.’s ILC bank charter application (also in Utah) in March of that year.

Square has recently purchased $170 Million worth of Bitcoin, adding to a previous investment of $50 Million, pumping as much as 5 percent of the company’s cash into the cryptocurrency in order to offer Bitcoin transaction facilities to its merchants. Motivated by the wave of FinTech companies moving into the banking space through ILCs, the ICBA published a white paper in 2019 warning about the “dangers of mixing banking and commerce” through what they consider to be a regulatory “loophole” that allows Big Tech firms to take advantage of federal protections while eschewing “legal restrictions and company oversight” as they make their incursions into the banking sector.

 

Digital money machines

The writing may be on the wall for the ICBA and other independent bank policy and lobby organizations, who in July of 2020 asked for a new three-year moratorium on ILC charter approvals by the FDIC. But, with Yellen signaling her openness to exploring digital dollar alternatives, and the FDIC fine-tuning ILC rules such as requiring their parent companies to always maintain a line of credit or pool of capital available to the bank it owns, the future does not bode well for the keepers of the traditional banking torch.

The FDIC’s approval of Square Inc.’s application may have been the clue that the coast was clear for other FinTechs like Brex to start sailing in. Should its application go through, “Brex Bank” will be led by Bruce Wallace, formerly the chief operating officer and chief digital officer at Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) – one of the largest banks in the U.S., founded in 1982 “over a poker game,” according to its Wikipedia entry. One of the early investors in Cisco Systems, SVB has been a major player in the facilitation of venture capital for tech startups over its 35-year existence.

 

Just “Wise” now

Perhaps a more innocuous sign that banking as we know it is about to go the way of the dodo bird is the name change of one of the largest payment processing startups of recent years. British payments group TransferWise is dropping the “Transfer” from its brand 10 years on from its founding. “We’ve evolved to fix more than just money transfer,” says Wise CEO Kristo Käärmann.

Processing about $6.35 billion in payments every month for its 10 million worldwide customers, Wise is looking to make sure that its name doesn’t interfere with its rapidly scaling business. James Greenfield of Koto branding agency, interviewed by Sifted about the name change, described the difficulties involved in changing the name of a company that might better describe the feelings of traditional commercial banks, which are seeing their domain overtaken by FinTechs like Brex and, potentially, Wise in the near future. “The process of change is hard for a lot of people to go through,” said Greenfield, adding that the “the mourning around a name they have an emotional relationship with is tough to navigate.”

Somehow, it doesn’t seem like Peter Thiel — one of TransferWise’s early backers and founder of his own, quite well-known FinTech (PayPal) — or other Big Tech players who are thinking of entering the banking business will much care about the names they will be putting on their digital dollar-denominated, sparsely-regulated money machines.

Feature photo | A man wearing a face mask due to COVID-19 concerns stands outside a check cashing service center in the Brooklyn borough of New York, April 3, 2020. Bebeto Matthews | AP

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

The post For FinTech Magnates: Digital Dollars for the Poor, Exponential Profits for the Rich appeared first on MintPress News.

Twitter Deletes Dozens of Russian Accounts for “Undermining Faith in NATO”

Social media giant Twitter announced yesterday that it has deleted 373 accounts it claims were linked to Russia, Iran, and Armenia. In a blog post entitled “Disclosing networks of state-linked information operations,” it claimed that it had taken the decision to remove 69 Russian accounts primarily because they were “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability.”The move sparked controversy on Twitter itself, with many users joking that their own fealty to NATO was insufficiently zealous.

I'm sorry but, what? https://t.co/CmcUCrXP9h pic.twitter.com/HYHOXXzUCS

— Vincent Bevins (@Vinncent) February 24, 2021

 

Twitter’s glass house

Twitter justified the decision by pointing to its rules regarding the prohibition of state-controlled disinformation networks. Yet it failed to fully explain exactly how it knew these users were in the pay of the Kremlin or under the control of the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei. Indeed, the supposedly “independent investigation and analysis” team at the Stanford Internet Observatory, to which Twitter contracted out its work, itself has troubling connections to the (U.S.) state. For example, its non-resident fellow Matt Masterton was, until recently, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, the whole observatory is located within the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, headed by former American Ambassador to Russia (and noted Kremlin hawk) Michael McFaul.

Supposed “experts” accuse users of being Russia-linked disinformation agents with great regularity. Ben Nimmo, data journalist and former NATO press officer, falsely asserted that a noted Ukrainian concert pianist and a Welsh pensioner were Kremlin bots. Nimmo was recently announced as Facebook’s chief of intelligence.

This is far from the first time that Twitter has taken action against those spreading information it does not like. However, its targets seem invariably to be enemies of the United States and NATO. In June, on advice from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Twitter banned nearly 200,000 accounts from China, Russia, and Turkey, all of which it accused of “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China,” the Kremlin or Istanbul. Yet ASPI itself is funded by both the U.S. and Australian governments, as well as a myriad of weapons contractors, all of whom have a distinct and strong interest in heightening tensions with NATO’s adversaries. Four months later, Twitter took action against a number of Iranian accounts on the suggestion of the FBI.

Unfortunately, the extent of the collaboration between big tech and the national security state extends beyond mere collaboration on whom to delete. In 2019, it was revealed that a senior Twitter executive was in fact a high-ranking officer in the British Army’s 77th Brigade, its division devoted to psychological operations and online warfare. How he could have achieved such a high position at Twitter without the knowing cooperation of the tech giant is unclear. Even less certain is why the story was almost completely ignored in the mainstream media and how he maintains his job at Twitter to this day.

In addition to the appointment of NATO man Nimmo, Facebook also maintains a close relationship with the military organization. In 2018, it announced a partnership with the NATO-cutout group the Atlantic Council, whereby the council would help curate the news feeds of its 2.8 billion users.

Reddit also hired a former Atlantic Council deputy director of its Middle East Strategy Task Force as its director of policy, a move that linked the popular social news aggregation site to the national security state. Other big tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM have signed multi-billion dollar commercial deals with the CIA, a move that brings virtually the entire industry into the orbit of the national security state.

 

The MIC of the “New Digital Age”

“What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century,” wrote Google executives Eric Schmidt and Larry Cohen in their book “The New Digital Age,” “technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.” Their book was heartily endorsed on its back cover by Atlantic Council Director Henry Kissinger.

NATO was founded in the wake of the Second World War as a supposedly defensive alliance against the Soviet Union. However, with that nation’s dissolution in 1991, NATO was not scrapped; in fact, it was expanded, both in member nations and its remit. NATO began to declare that its purview spread across the entire world and into cyberspace. At the organization’s 70th anniversary in 2019, its former supreme commander, Admiral James Stavridis, declared that it would henceforth be “far more engaged in…cyber security” and would employ a far greater “offensive cyber capability.” Twitter’s latest actions suggest that his proclamations were accurate.

 

Stealth propaganda

While the Soviet government effectively controlled its entire media apparatus, its citizens were at least cognizant of that fact and distrusted it accordingly. In the West, however, the level of state penetration into both commercial and social media is rarely discussed. A propaganda system is far more effective — and dangerous — when those inside are unaware of it and believe themselves to be free from influence. Worse still, big social media companies like Twitter and Facebook dominate the world, not just one country, meaning their influence is global. The fact that Twitter is taking action against accounts because they undermine faith in NATO is a sure sign of the organization’s growing influence in Twitter’s internal affairs.

Feature photo | Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., listens as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Nov. 17, 2020. Bill Clark | Pool via 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 Twitter Deletes Dozens of Russian Accounts for “Undermining Faith in NATO” appeared first on MintPress News.

The Empire’s Hidden Hand: How The US Established, Sustains and Benefits From Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara



WESTERN SAHARA — On November 13, 2020, commanders from the United States and Morrocan militaries met to plan annual joint exercises. The following day, 1,000 Moroccan soldiers and 200 vehicles stormed into the Guerguerat border crossing – a key highway in the occupied Western Sahara that connects Morocco to Mauritania, built in violation of international law.

The indigenous people, known as Sahrawis, had been staging daily protests in this demilitarized zone and blocking the road for three weeks prior. Though no one was injured in Morocco’s attack, it shattered a 29-year ceasefire and reignited an independence struggle in Africa’s last extant colony, Western Sahara.

After the Morrocan attack, the Sahrawi armed resistance group known as the POLISARIO Front evacuated the civilian protesters and returned fire. Since then, Sahrawi men and women enlisted in the resistance group have battled Moroccan forces, using aging weaponry from the Soviet Union.

 

The fog of war, the clarity of U.S. geopolitics

The Moroccan military doesn’t allow journalists to enter the occupied territory, creating a media blackout. The POLISARIO Front has provided videos of its military operations, but there is no information about casualties and family members of fighters have no way to contact them.

“I don’t know if my brothers are still alive, I don’t know if my family that lives there are alive. Because we don’t have that information, we don’t have any contact,” says Sahrawi refugee Nana Salem.

As the battle raged, then-President Donald Trump announced U.S. recognition of Morrocan sovereignty over the Western Sahara and that Morocco would follow the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and formally normalize relations with Israel. At the center of this effort was Jared Kushner.

“By recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara, President Trump is rejecting the failed status quo, which benefits no one, and instead is driving toward a just, lasting, and mutually acceptable solution,” Kushner explained. But this mutual recognition of occupying states with expansionist ideologies is little more than a rebranding of a status quo that has long benefited Morocco, Israel and the United States.

 

A long struggle for independence

The territory of Western Sahara is the last settler-colony in Africa. Eighty percent of the territory is under Moroccan occupation and settlers now constitute two-thirds of the population of 500,000.

The Sahrawi struggle for independence predates Morrocan occupation. In 1884, Spain began to colonize the Western Sahara, referring to it as the Spanish Sahara and its inhabitants as the Sahrawis. In 1957-58 the Sahrawis began an uprising against Spain that formed a national consciousness. This was backed by international law: in 1972, UN Resolution 2983 affirmed “the inalienable right of the people of the Sahara to self-determination and independence.”

Polisario freedom fighters prepaare tea in the Western Sahara region of Tifariti, May 20 2008. Daniel Ochoa de Olza | AP

In the early 1970s, Sahrawi El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed, influenced by the revolutionary writer Franz Fanon, founded the POLISARIO front – an armed resistance group dedicated to ousting the U.S.-backed fascist dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco.

But Hassan The Second, the king of Morocco – which had gained independence from France and Spain in the 1950s – was weakened after two failed military coup d’etats. To bolster his nationalist credentials, Hassan looked to expand borders south as part of a Greater Morocco vision, setting up for a clash with Spain and international rulings.

In 1975, the United Nations Security Council issued a report in favor of the Sahrawi and independence, and the International Court of Justice issued an opinion against Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to the territory, signifying its status as the last colony of Africa.

Franco was on his deathbed and worried that a renewed colonial war in Africa would undermine his regime’s stability.

 

Swept up in the Cold War board game

For Washington, Morocco was an important Cold War ally essential to projecting anti-communist influence over the Mediterranean, Africa, and into southwest Asia. The former United States Ambassador to Morocco, Joseph Verner Reed Jr., remarked, “It is obvious that the next pressure point for the Soviets is going to be the Kingdom of Morocco, situated strategically as it is on the Straits of Gibraltar.” Thus Washington secretly arranged for the Spanish to withdraw from the Western Sahara and cede it to Morocco and Mauritania.

The United States and Saudi Arabia helped Morocco plan what is known as the Green March. King Hassan ordered 350,000 volunteers, flanked by military forces, to storm the Western Sahara, portraying an armed invasion as an act of liberation. The marchers carried Qurans as well as Moroccan, American and Saudi flags. While it’s called the Green March for the often-green-colored Qurans carried by marchers, some carried the red-white-and-blue American flag.

Moroccan soldiers acted with unrestrained brutality as they carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Witnesses described widespread torture, rape, and murder. Forty thousand Sahrawi civilians fled to the interior of the territory. There they were attacked by Moroccan warplanes that fired napalm and white phosphorus. Others fled to safety in neighboring Algeria, where they built refugee camps.

 

Independence declared, battle continued

Defiant, El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed and the Sahrawis declared the independence of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. “In the name of God and with the help of God, to materialize the will of the Arab people, and in loyalty to our righteous martyrs and as a culmination of the sacrifices of our people, today on the land of Saguia el-Hamra and Oued Ed-Dahab the flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic will be raised,” Sayed declared.

Sahrawi schoolchildren in the Smara refugee camp, Tindouf, Algeria, March 4, 2016. Toufik Doudou | AP

The POLISARIO front continued to battle the much larger militaries of Morocco and Mauritania, winning impressive successes. By 1979, Mauritania was forced into an agreement and withdrew. The POLISARIO – backed by Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya and Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s Algeria – continued to battle the U.S.- and EU-backed Moroccan forces.

While Israel and Morocco developed ties in secret and the Mossad helped stamp out Moroccan opposition movements, Palestinian revolutionary leader George Habash visited the Sahrawi refugees to declare support for their cause.

 

World’s longest military wall

In 1981, Morocco began construction of a 1,600-mile wall – the longest military barrier in the world – made of sand, loaded with sensors supplied by the U.S. and France, booby-trapped with millions of mines, and patrolled by tens of thousands of soldiers. This would prevent the return of the Sahrawi refugees in Algeria and cement Moroccan control of the majority of the territory.

In the wake of the Iranian revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed Shah, the Carter and Reagan administrations increased economic and military aid to prop up the king of Morocco, which was facing an internal crisis from importing food and energy, drought, and its expensive occupation. The two countries signed an agreement allowing the U.S. to use its military airbases. Washington saw this as a crucial step in projecting its influence.

In 1991, a United Nations peacekeeping mission brokered a ceasefire that was to be followed with a referendum on whether to join Morocco or become independent. But Moroccan intransigence and UN malfeasance prevented the referendum from ever taking place.

 

Raping the resources

Over the decades, the Moroccan settler population expanded while the United States and European Union have illegally exploited the Western Sahara’s resources, mining phosphates, fishing in its waters, and in recent years, drilling for oil and gas.

Phosphates are an essential ingredient in fertilizers for growing crops, and thus for agri-business, which has a major impact on U.S. policy. One analysis states that “U.S. phosphate supplies will run out within the next four decades, but Morocco has a supply of at least 300 years,” adding that “the issue has the potential to alter current appraisals of American strategic interests in the region.”

Perhaps even more valuable in the short term than Western Sahara’s mineral deposits are the fish in its coastal waters. But unregulated Moroccan and European fishing have depleted those stocks. An independent study commissioned by the European Union in 2011 found that Western Sahara’s fish supply had been decimated.

A Moroccan flag flies in front of a phosphate production facility in Jorf Lasfar. Abdeljalil Bounhar | AP

While Sahrawi refugees are forced to rely on pittances from the European Union, Morocco illegally sells their fish resources to foreign countries. Western Sahara Resource Watch found that “[t]he value of the exports of fishmeal from the occupied territory to Turkey, alone, equals three times the entire amount that is donated in multilateral aid to the refugees in one entire year… The EU today pays Morocco more to get access to Western Sahara’s fish banks than they give in aid to the refugees.”

What’s more, a document from the Moroccan Foreign Ministry leaked in 2014 revealed that Morocco strategically embroils other countries in its occupation in order to shield it from international law. The document proposed to “Implicate Russia in activities in the Sahara, as is already the case in the field of fisheries.… In return, Russia could guarantee a freeze on the Sahara file within the UN.” Indeed, the UN has stalled out time and time again in delivering any semblance of justice for the people of the Western Sahara.

 

A key outpost of Western imperialism

Nearly 50 years after its occupation of the Western Sahara began, Morocco remains a key outpost of Western imperialism in Africa. It’s a major non-NATO ally and hosts the African Lion and Phoenix Express exercises with the U.S. military.

Morocco is also a major recipient of American weapons. Ninety-one percent of its arms imports are from the United States. And in 2019, Morocco spent $10.3 billion dollars on U.S. weapons – more than any other country in Africa or the Middle East — and signed a ten-year military cooperation agreement with the Trump administration.

In some regards, Morocco’s occupation of the Western Sahara is a project of the United States. Moroccan military officers study at the U.S. Army War College and National Defense University in its International Military Education and Training program. The majority of these officers are deployed to the Western Sahara upon graduation, where they oversee an occupation regime dedicated to stamping out the Sahrawi national cause. Protests are met with brute force and severe beatings.

Morocco is also a partner in the secretive, U.S.-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership; yet its political, social and economic dynamic produces a disproportionate number of jihadists that have fought in Afghanistan, Syria, Bosnia and Chechnya, and carried out a series of bombings in Madrid in 2004.

The same geopolitical dynamic from the Cold War exists today. Morocco’s militarization has sparked an arms race for dominance of the skies with neighboring Algeria, which has been a long-time supporter of the POLISARIO and hosts Sahrawi refugees. In May 2020, Algeria agreed to purchase Russian weapons, cementing its status as the continent’s top importer of Russian military equipment.

 

Occupation and empty promises

For Sahrawis, decades of Moroccan occupation and empty promises from the international community have bred frustration and militancy. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made life in the refugee camps even more unbearable.

As for what the Biden administration might do, his secretary of defense, Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin, was clueless when he was asked his opinion on the Western Sahara, responding: “Well, that’s an issue that I certainly would want to take a closer look at before I gave you a detailed answer. But it’s one of the things that I look at right away, if confirmed, going into the position.”

With little information coming out of the battle between Morrocan occupation forces and the POLISARIO front, only time will tell whether the Sahrawi struggle for independence will succeed and whether Morocco’s refusal to end its rule will spark a wider war.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

Dan Cohen is a journalist and filmmaker. He has produced widely distributed video reports and print dispatches from across Israel-Palestine. Dan is a correspondent at RT America and tweets at @DanCohen3000.

The post The Empire’s Hidden Hand: How The US Established, Sustains and Benefits From Morocco’s Occupation of Western Sahara appeared first on MintPress News.

Twitter’s Attempt to Suppress Grayzone Reporting Backfires as Warning Label Becomes Meme

SAN FRANSICO — “These materials may have been attained through hacking.” That is the warning message that any Twitter users coming across a recent Grayzone investigative report are met with, replete with a large exclamation point (!) signaling danger.

The report, penned by Grayzone’s editor Max Blumenthal, exposes how influential media outlets like Reuters, the BBC and Bellingcat have been secretly working hand in hand with the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to promote regime change inside Russia and lead a campaign of demonization against it internationally.

Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to "weaken Russia," leaked docs reveal https://t.co/R7bpqP91xP via @TheGrayzoneNews

— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 23, 2021

However, Twitter, which itself was exposed as having intimate ties to the UK military and secret services, attempted to suppress the report’s spread. Those attempting to retweet posts containing a link to the Grayzone article were met with another alert about sharing hacked information. Many users also claimed that interacting with the post caused their Twitter apps to crash.

Blumenthal saw the decision as an attempt to stifle unwelcome revelations, telling MintPress this morning:

By applying a scare label exclusively to my article, Twitter has contributed nothing to the public’s understanding of news or disinformation. Instead, it has confirmed the veracity of my reporting, which shows some of the most powerful and esteemed news organizations acting as UK Foreign Office-funded information warfare weapons. Further, the Twitter scare label illustrates the threat this kind of factual reporting presents to a national security state that must employ social media censorship to conceal its agenda from the public.”

 

Double standards

The Grayzone maintains that the documents it used were leaked, not hacked. Yet the line between the two is not always clear. Anonymous leaks are the lifeblood of journalism. But without a name to go with a document, it is virtually impossible to prove good intentions on the part of the leaker. Governments and other powerful entities or individuals can consequently claim that any information portraying them in a bad light was hacked, shutting down any discussion or reporting of it online. This has already happened with YouTube, which announced in August that it would remove all content containing hacked information.

Twitter did not extend the same warning label to The Intercept’s recent article on the Chinese police force’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, nor to The New York Times’s report on Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s trip to Cancun amid a winter blackout in his home state. Both of these stories were based on confidential information that was either leaked or hacked. According to Twitter, the Grayzone report was the first time they used their powers to slap on the label.

“Twitter is ad hoc inventing new soft-censorship tools as leaked information reveals clandestine military intelligence disinformation networks operating across a variety of mainstream news outlets,” journalist Dan Cohen, who has published with the Grayzone (as has the author of this article), told MintPress. Others, such as the host of the “Chapo Trap House” podcast, Will Menaker, joked that the warning sign was actually a new feature that alerted users to “journalism that is especially important.” Meanwhile, Ian Goodrum, a journalist from China Daily, shared a doctored image of the warning message that read “These materials make the US State Department mad.”

 

Unintended consequences

What Twitter did not expect to happen was for its massive user base to turn the warning label into a meme, sharing pictures and joke information along with a link to the Grayzone report, ensuring that the phrase “These materials may have been attained through hacking” was prominently displayed on the tweet. At the time of writing, a new tweet featuring a link to the article was being sent around once every 25 seconds, turning the situation into the latest example of the Streisand Effect — a phenomenon whereby attempts to remove, suppress or censor information has the unintended effect of further publicizing it.

Twitter tried to suppress @TheGrayzoneNews' reporting exposing Bellingcat and Reuters' ties to the UK govt.

But it has backfired as gaming twitter turned their warning messages into a meme.

This tweet will come with a warning label too. https://t.co/OGSKQ01pJG pic.twitter.com/RisWmNqEZN

— Alan MacLeod (@AlanRMacLeod) February 24, 2021

“It was thanks to the creativity and utterly hilarious intervention of thousands of Twitter users, who discovered that the scare label was prime meme material, that the censorship could not be swept under the rug. Now Bellingcat is trending, and not for the reasons its UK FCO-backed directors would like it to be,” Blumenthal told us.

 

A familiar pattern

The Grayzone has long been on the receiving end of strongarm tactics from internet giants. Like MintPress, it was fully censored from Wikipedia last year, meaning that it is no longer allowed to be used as a source. It has also felt the wrath of Google’s algorithmic changes, meaning that it will rarely appear as the top result for many searches, throttling traffic to the site.

Twitter also announced yesterday that it was deleting hundreds of accounts linked to Russia. Among the primary reasons it gave for the decision was that these users were “undermining faith in the NATO alliance.” It appears that, as big tech and big government become increasingly indistinguishable, there will be a diminishing ability to expose or challenge the actions of Western nation-states online.

Feature photo | MintPress 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 Twitter’s Attempt to Suppress Grayzone Reporting Backfires as Warning Label Becomes Meme appeared first on MintPress News.

What Planet Is NATO Living On?

The February meeting of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Defense Ministers, the first since President Biden took power, revealed an antiquated, 75-year-old alliance that, despite its military failures in Afghanistan and Libya, is now turning its military madness toward two more formidable, nuclear-armed enemies: Russia and China.

This theme was emphasized by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a Washington Post op-ed in advance of the NATO meeting, insisting that “aggressive and coercive behaviors from emboldened strategic competitors such as China and Russia reinforce our belief in collective security.”

Using Russia and China to justify more Western military build-up is a key element in the alliance’s new “Strategic Concept,” called NATO 2030: United For a New Era, which is intended to define its role in the world for the next ten years.

NATO was founded in 1949 by the United States and 11 other Western nations to confront the Soviet Union and the rise of communism in Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, it has grown to 30 countries, expanding to incorporate most of Eastern Europe, and it now has a long and persistent history of illegal war-making, bombing civilians and other war crimes.

In 1999, NATO launched a war without UN approval to separate Kosovo from Serbia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War killed hundreds of civilians, and its close ally, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, is now on trial for shocking war crimes committed under cover of the NATO bombing campaign.

Far from the North Atlantic, NATO has fought alongside the United States in Afghanistan since 2001, and attacked Libya in 2011, leaving behind a failed state and triggering a massive refugee crisis.

The first phase of NATO’s new Strategic Concept review is called the NATO 2030 Reflection Group report. That sounds encouraging, since NATO obviously and urgently needs to reflect on its bloody history. Why does an organization nominally dedicated to deterring war and preserving peace keep starting wars, killing thousands of people and leaving countries around the world mired in violence, chaos and poverty?

But unfortunately, this kind of introspection is not what NATO means by “reflection.” The Reflection Group instead applauds NATO as “history’s most successful military alliance,” and seems to have taken a leaf from the Obama playbook by only “looking forward,” as it charges into a new decade of military confrontation with its blinders firmly in place.

NATO’s role in the “new” Cold War is really a reversion to its old role in the original Cold War. This is instructive, as it unearths the ugly reasons why the United States decided to create NATO in the first place, and exposes them for a new generation of Americans and Europeans to examine in the context of today’s world.

Any U.S. war with the Soviet Union or Russia was always going to put Europeans directly on the front lines as both combatants and mass-casualty victims. The primary function of NATO is to ensure that the people of Europe continue to play these assigned roles in America’s war plans.

As Michael Klare explains in a NATO Watch report on NATO 2030, every step the U.S. is taking with NATO is “intended to integrate it into U.S. plans to fight and defeat China and Russia in all-out warfare.”

The U.S. Army’s plan for an invasion of Russia, which is euphemistically called “The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations,” begins with missile and artillery bombardments of Russian command centers and defensive forces, followed by an invasion by armored forces to occupy key areas and sites until Russia surrenders.

Unsurprisingly, Russia’s defense strategy in the face of such an existential threat would not be to surrender, but to retaliate against the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons.

U.S. war plans for an assault on China are similar, involving missiles fired from ships and bases in the Pacific. China has not been as public about its defense plans, but if its existence and independence were threatened, it too would probably use nuclear weapons, as indeed the United States would if the positions were reversed. But they’re not—since no other country has the offensive war machine it would need to invade the United States.

Michael Klare concludes that NATO 2030 “commits all alliance members to a costly, all-consuming military competition with Russia and China that will expose them to an ever-increasing risk of nuclear war.”

So how do the European people feel about their role in America’s war plans? The European Council on Foreign Relations recently conducted an in-depth poll of 15,000 people in ten NATO countries and Sweden, and published the results in a report titled “The Crisis of American Power: How Europeans See Biden’s America.”

The report reveals that a large majority of Europeans want no part in a U.S. war with Russia or China and want to remain neutral. Only 22% would support taking the U.S. side in a war with China, 23% in a war with Russia. So European public opinion is squarely at odds with NATO’s role in America’s war plans.

On transatlantic relations in general, majorities in most European countries see the U.S. political system as broken and their own countries’ politics as in healthier shape. Fifty-nine percent of Europeans believe that China will be more powerful than the United States within a decade, and most see Germany as a more important partner and international leader than the United States.

Only 17% of Europeans want closer economic ties with the United States, while even fewer, 10% of French and Germans, think their countries need America’s help with their national defense.

Biden’s election has not changed Europeans’ views very much from a previous survey in 2019, because they see Trumpism as a symptom of more deeply rooted and long-standing problems in American society. As the writers conclude, “A majority of Europeans doubt that Biden can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

There is also pushback among Europeans to NATO’s demand that members should spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense, an arbitrary goal that only 10 of the 30 members have met. Ironically, some states will reach the NATO target without raising their military spending because COVID has shrunk their GDPs, but NATO members struggling economically are unlikely to prioritize military spending.

The schism between NATO’s hostility and Europe’s economic interests runs deeper than just military spending. While the United States and NATO see Russia and China primarily as threats, European businesses view them as key partners. In 2020, China supplanted the U.S. as the European Union’s number one trading partner and at the close of 2020, the EU concluded a comprehensive investment agreement with China, despite U.S. concerns.

European countries also have their own economic relations with Russia. Germany remains committed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a 746-mile natural gas artery that runs from northern Russia to Germany—even as the Biden administration calls it a “bad deal” and claims that it makes Europe vulnerable to Russian “treachery.”

NATO seems oblivious to the changing dynamics of today’s world, as if it’s living on a different planet. Its one-sided Reflection Group report cites Russia’s violation of international law in Crimea as a principal cause of deteriorating relations with the West, and insists that Russia must “return to full compliance with international law.” But it ignores the U.S. and NATO’s far more numerous violations of international law and leading role in the tensions fueling the renewed Cold War:

  • illegal invasions of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • the broken agreement over NATO expansion into Eastern Europe;
  • U.S. withdrawals from important arms control treaties;
  • more than 300,000 bombs and missiles dropped on other countries by the United States and its allies since 2001;
  • U.S. proxy wars in Libya and Syria, which plunged both countries into chaos, revived Al Qaeda and spawned the Islamic State;
  • U.S. management of the 2014 coup in Ukraine, which led to economic collapse, Russian annexation of Crimea and civil war in Eastern Ukraine; and
  • the stark reality of the United States’ record as a serial aggressor whose offensive war machine dwarfs Russia’s defense spending by 11 to 1 and China’s by 2.8 to 1, even without counting other NATO countries’ military spending.

NATO’s failure to seriously examine its own role in what it euphemistically calls “uncertain times” should therefore be more alarming to Americans and Europeans than its one-sided criticisms of Russia and China, whose contributions to the uncertainty of our times pale by comparison.

The short-sighted preservation and expansion of NATO for a whole generation after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R and the end of the Cold War has tragically set the stage for the renewal of those hostilities – or maybe even made their revival inevitable.

NATO’s Reflection Group justifies and promotes the United States’ and NATO’s renewed Cold War by filling its report with dangerously one-sided threat analysis. A more honest and balanced review of the dangers facing the world and NATO’s role in them would lead to a much simpler plan for NATO’s future: that it should be dissolved and dismantled as quickly as possible.

Feature Photo | NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference, after a meeting of NATO defense ministers in video format, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Feb. 18, 2021. Virginia Mayo | AP

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

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

The post What Planet Is NATO Living On? appeared first on MintPress News.

Part II – Western Capital’s Long Chinese Mission: From Opium to COVID Vaccine Credentials

WASHINGTON — In “The Disarticulation of Pandemic War Propaganda,” a transparent attempt to frame China as the instigator of worldwide lockdown policies was revealed to be the work of a group of self-styled libertarian-minded individuals. Their links to the UK, the United States, and Canadian governments tie a neat Pentagon-size bow around ongoing efforts to demonize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The ‘specter of communism,’ which worked well during the twentieth century as an intimidation factor to break down protectionist policies and impose oppressive debt regimes, is now being revived to resuscitate an economic paradigm that is long past its sell-date.

Having nearly exhausted the bounty of the natural world, global capital is now forced to create new markets out of thin air to continue its relentless march toward oblivion. Abstractions like “intellectual property” will still need to rely on the extraction of tangible goods like minerals and – as it has from the beginning – the exploitation of human life.

In this second part of “Dragon’s Blood Harvest at the Dawn of Human Capital Markets,” we will examine the virtually unbroken history between American power-brokers and the highest echelons of power in China — a history that harkens back to the earliest days of capitalism, slavery, and the opium trade and that established a permanent pipeline for the transfer of technology and medical and scientific knowledge to China through Western philanthropic organizations dating back to the early nineteenth century.

Towards the second half of the twentieth century, even as China’s post-war communist revolution seemed to diminish Western influence in the country, these early links to American academic, scientific, and banking circles were never completely severed. By 1971, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Mao’s China were officially restored, just in time for the wholesale transfer of American manufacturing to China under the auspices of the “opening” of the Asian continent.

Nearly half a century later, “the best enemy money can buy” – to borrow Antony C. Sutton’s relevant turn of phrase – was sold to the American public by Donald Trump, whose anti-China rhetoric during his presidential campaign and policies of his admininstration would color the new Cold War with China and usher in what independent researcher Alison McDowell has described as “digital chattel slavery.” McDowell describes that slavery in terms of the burgeoning blockchain-anchored human capital markets, which are anchored to an emerging biosecurity state being rolled out under the guise of the pandemic, covered in a later installment of this series.

 

Setting up the “new Cold War”

On February 10, the Department of Defense released a fact sheet announcing plans to establish a “China Task Force.” It was to be headed by Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin; advisor and former Executive Vice President of the D.C.-based national security think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Ely Ratner; and 15 yet-to-be-announced “civilian and uniformed” DoD employees.

The task force’s unveiling came just days after Austin released a statement addressing the Pentagon’s intention to reassess the U.S. military’s “global posture” away from the counterinsurgency missions that have characterized it since 2001 and back to a high-intensity war footing between nation-states.

In 2014, during his time as an associate political scientist at the RAND Corporation, Ratner co-authored a research paper titled “China’s Strategy Toward South and Central Asia,” examining the threat posed by China to U.S. interests in Central Asia. He concluded that no substantial threat existed. Ratner and his co-authors dismissed China’s show of strength in the region as an “empty fortress” – a reference to one of the 36 Chinese stratagems of war (ostensibly devised in the Dynastic Era), which involve deceiving the enemy through reverse psychology.

Ratner’s views seem to have undergone a transformation since he served as then-Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy national security advisor in 2015 and as a Maurice R. Greenburg senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in 2017.

Soon after Ratner joined CNAS, he began publishing far more hostile takes on China. He decried the failure of America’s noble expectations of “openness” with China, met by what he called “defiance” by Xi Jinping, and called for “clear-eyed rethinking of the United States’ approach to China” without concern for the potential risks of “inviting a new Cold War.”

In January 2019, Ratner issued a statement in his capacity as executive vice president of CNAS praising Trump’s aggressive trade policies against China and putting forth a kind of draft of the “whole-of-government approach,” so named in a follow-up report by CNAS one year later. That report, co-authored by Ratner, was aptly titled “Rising to the China Challenge” and called for that same “whole-of-government” approach that has now been adopted by the Biden White House and enjoys enthusiastic bipartisan support.

Republicans are eager to join in on the Cold War revivalism sweeping through Washington. This was attested to by a telling spat that took place during a House Armed Services Committee Zoom session in the summer of 2020 over a relatively small item in the 2021 Defense Authorization Bill. Silicon Valley’s Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna was trying to transfer approximately $1 billion from the $740.5 billion defense budget to a pandemic preparedness fund. Specifically, he was trying to take it from a $1.52 billion line item apportioned to Northrup Grumman’s $100 Billion nuclear missile project contracted by the U.S. Air Force. The proposal enraged Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who blasted Khanna for suggesting the money should go to a pandemic preparedness fund since, according to her, “the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, is directly responsible for the deaths that we’ve seen in the United States and around the world, directly responsible for the economic devastation.”

Cheney found it “shameful” that a “member of the United States Congress” would propose diverting funds away from a nuclear deterrent device (of which the USAF plans to buy 600) to a pandemic response initiative.

Cheney’s tantrum ultimately saved Northrup Grumman’s down payment. But to fully grasp the logic behind her reaction we have to go all the way back to the beginning — to what makes America what it really is and the driving forces that have kept this nation at war for virtually every minute of the twenty-first century.

 

The ground rules of free market capitalism

Long before Henry Kissinger took his poisoned olive branch to Beijing in his infamous secret trip to “open” China to American commercial interests, agents of colonialism had been reaping massive fortunes from illegal opium smuggling operations carried out across the Asiatic continent as they drove a stake into the heart of one of the world’s oldest civilizations in their relentless quest for capital accumulation.

American drug cartel capos like Thomas Handasyd Perkins and his brother James had started out in the slave business, trafficking human bodies on commission between Boston and Cap-Français in Saint-Domingue (in modern-day Haiti), in addition to commodities like flour and cod. The Haitian Revolution made business even more profitable, as Perkins, Burling & Co. became one of the main suppliers of food and ammunition for the French army.

The Perkinses moved on from the slave trade in 1793 to the far more lucrative China trade,, which produced enormous profits for them and the rest of the fledgling Eastern Establishment. Worthless U.S. banknotes, which neither ports of call nor Chinese suppliers of the prized silks and teas in demand throughout the Western world would accept as payment, had to be substituted for with Turkish opium paste.

The Perkinses’ experience and their connections to a powerful Chinese merchant known as “Howqua” made their ventures particularly successful — so much so that the Perkins-Howqua partnership was the sole focus of a 1821 inquiry by the British House of Lords into the inroads being made by American smugglers into the Crown’s massive opium trafficking business through the East India Company.

A stacking room in an East India Company opium factory circa 1850. Credit | Wellcome Collection

The scale and scope of the Perkinses’ operation has been described by Michael E. Chapman, associate professor of history at Peking University, as a “transnational conglomerate, operating at a supra-governmental level.” According to Chapman, the Perkinses’ ocean-faring business practices — which included spreading risk via cargo insurance, pooling investors for each voyage, and apportioning capital across vessels — laid down the “ground rules that underwrote American free-market capitalism.”

Such ‘ground rules’ weren’t entirely unprecedented in history and virtually all of the ‘free-market’ innovations mentioned by Chapman had already been put into practice by maritime superpower Venice centuries earlier. But, the British and their colonial cousins in the United States – who were in many ways directly descended from Venetian merchant traditions – enjoyed advances in shipbuilding, which made the frequency and volume of their exploits much greater.

An obsession with the Far East was another idiosyncrasy they inherited from their sea-bound forbearers, albeit couched in a much less romanticized view of the Orient than that of the legendary son of Venice, Marco Polo.

 

Shooting down from the moral high ground

The colossal fortunes accrued by the Perkinses and other drug smuggling magnates like Samuel Wadsworth Russell were sometimes funneled into educational institutions like Yale and Harvard universities. The Boston Athenæum, one of the nation’s oldest libraries, owes its existence to the Perkins brothers, who donated the lion’s share of its initial funding; while the notorious Skull & Bones Society at Yale was founded by William Huntington Russell, cousin of Samuel Russell, who by that time had overtaken the Perkinses to become the largest opium smuggler in China.

The celebrated academic institution located in New Haven, Connecticut, has, in conjunction with Protestant missionaries, played a central role in America’s relationship with China over the course of nearly two centuries. Western medicine, in particular, was the vehicle used by religiously-inclined foreigners motivated to convert the heathen masses of China and the opium trade loomed large in their efforts. As the “vanguard of Western cultural penetration,” Christian missionaries performed a crucial function in the protracted entrenchment of American commercial interests in Asia through the establishment of medical practices in Guangzhou and, eventually, other parts of China.

The first Western-style ‘hospital’ in China was founded by Peter Parker in 1835, fresh from obtaining his Medical Doctor’s degree from Yale Medical School and ordained as a Presbyterian minister upon completion of his theological studies at the same institution. Opened as an “eye infirmary” in Guangzhou, the project was admittedly just a means to gain the trust of the locals in order to sell them on the Judeo-Christian concepts Parker was keener to impart. An initiative of a Christian missionary organization called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), the medical venture proved to be more profitable than expected and the infirmary was expanded to treat multiple diseases with the support of American businessmen in the port city.

A brochure soliciting donations for Parker’s Canton Hospital circa 1920. Credit | Trinity College Digital Repository

Subsumed under the Medical Missionary Society in China three years later, Parker’s hospital depended heavily upon the contributions of American businessmen – the majority of whom were involved in the opium trade – and particularly dependent on the financial help of none other than the Perkinses steadfast associate Howqua to keep its doors open. One exception to Parker’s opium-linked patrons was David Olyphant, co-founder of Olyphant and Co., which engaged in the trade of silk and heavy fabrics and allowed Parker to utilize the company’s warehouse space in Guangzhou to house patients.

Olyphant, however, was among a minuscule minority who opposed the opium trade and, perhaps to his business’ ultimate detriment, did so vocally. Other Westerners in China who may have harbored reservations about “one of the greatest evils afflicting Chinese society” kept their misgivings to themselves, including China’s first missionary and founder of the ABCFM, E.C. Bridgeman, who preferred that his views remain hidden from the public given the political and economic consequences of broaching this “most delicate subject.” Bridgeman eventually felt secure enough in his position to openly challenge the opium trade, along with other missionaries in the port city, but refrained from directly attacking the British and American merchants responsible for the trade itself. After all, it was these same merchants that funded the Protestant missionary’s philanthropic ventures.

 

The re-education of China

Any attempts to curb the opium business were quashed by the foreign interests and governments that drove it and the illicit drug continued to flood China over the next several decades, leading to repeated clashes with Western colonial powers known as the Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60. Faced with the relentless destabilization campaign by British, French and American forces, along with tacit approval and cultural subversion by Christian missionaries, China would grow increasingly weak and succumb to the demands of its enemies.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the erstwhile kingdom had become highly fragmented both geographically and socially. The British had managed to tear Hong Kong away from China in the Treaty of Nanking at the conclusion of the First Opium War and reliance on Guangzhou diminished as other points of entry to the mainland were progressively granted.

Yale University, in tandem with the missionaries, continued to cultivate its leading role as a purveyor of Western knowledge among Chinese nationals and in 1850, Samuel Robbins Brown, an ABCFM missionary and Yale graduate, brought a young man he’d had under his tutelage since the age of 19 at the Macau Missionary School to pursue a four-year college degree at the Connecticut campus. Yung Wing became the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university and would establish the Chinese Educational Mission – a program that placed Chinese students in schools throughout the United States in the 1870s.

The first Chinese Educational Mission students arrive in Hartford circa 1872. Credit | Connecticut Historical Society

According to Yale’s website, these select pupils went on “to become leaders in fields such as engineering, diplomacy, and academia.” One of these bright lights, Tang Guo’an, would become the first president of Tsinghua College (today Tsinghua University), a prestigious institution of higher learning in China and Xi Jinping’s alma mater, which to this day maintains a close relationship with some of the most powerful Western business leaders and unsavory former government officials of our time.

The symbiotic relationship between Western and Chinese academic circles only intensified as the nineteenth century drew to a close and, by the beginning of the next one, these became more formalized through federal programs like the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program of 1908. This program was the result of a Congressional resolution intended to return a portion of the $333 million punitive settlement with which Western powers had collectively saddled China after the Boxer Rebellion, but was instead used as a means to effectuate “American-directed reform in China” by funding the education of Chinese nationals in U.S. colleges.

In 1906, three Western Christian missions — including the aforementioned ABCFM, along with the London Missionary Society and the Medical Missionary Association of London — founded the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC) in cooperation with the soon-to-be overthrown Qing government of China. Two years after the Xinhai Revolution that put an end to China’s Imperial Dynasty, the Rockefeller Foundation assumed financial control of the PUMC and carried out the “transfer of Western science and medicine to China,” which included specialized technology and training methods as well as funding staff member salaries, and which over the next four decades, would amount to the creation of “a new medical elite.”

 

The Rockefeller dynasty

The wealthiest of America’s newest crop of plutocrats, John D. Rockefeller, had developed lucrative business interests in the Far East through his oil company and, like his predecessors, bolstered these through philanthropic contributions to missionary outfits in China. The Boxer Rebellion and growing resentment of the Western presence in China moved the robber baron to redouble efforts to restore American tutelage in the Asian country.

In 1908 — on the advice of his most trusted advisor, Baptist minister Frederick T. Gates, and future University of Chicago President Ernest DeWitt Burton — Rockefeller funded a program called the Oriental Education Commission at the university, itself a Rockefeller-funded institution.

The Commission’s report determined that the establishment of an educational program in China would bring about the desired “social revolution” by inculcating Western moral and political standards in the Chinese people. The initial recommendations were tweaked by Gates to circumvent the perfectly justified animosity of the Chinese to the West’s concepts of morality and society. In order to clear this hurdle, Gates proposed an alternate approach: to use medicine to do “what we had failed in our attempt to do in University education.”

Not without opposition by those who believed a university project was a better bet, the newly-established Rockefeller Foundation would make the first of many investments in medical programs for China, in part to avoid too much scrutiny from the U.S. government into its foundation and, as John D. himself presciently described the choice, to focus on medicine as “a nonpartisan work and one which would interest all of the people regardless of the government change.”

Members of the Rockefeller’s Oriental Education Commission visit Chengdu, China in 1909. Credit | University of Chicago Photographic Archive

The China Medical Board (CMB) was created by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1914 to grant assistance to medical schools in China, which were all operated by the Protestant missions like the ABCFM and their British and Canadian counterparts established since the early nineteenth century. In 1917, the CMB purchased the Peking Union Medical College campus for $200,000 and inaugurated the pre-medical program of the new PUMC.

The institution remained under the control of the Rockefeller Foundation until Mao Zedong nationalized it in 1951 and merged with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS) six years later. While China’s communist revolution might seem like a watershed moment that closed off Western access to and influence over China’s scientific and medical establishment, John D. Rockefeller’s confidence that his investment would survive “regardless of the government change” is supported by a 2015 paper published by the University of Cambridge, which looks at how PUMC remained “a prominent symbol of Western medical science and education in China” from 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was established, through 1985.

The Cambridge study reveals how it was the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), itself, that took on the task of protecting PUMC’s position as the “premier establishment of Western biomedicine in China,” despite the strong criticism of any form of Western imperialism that was so prevalent during the early years of Mao’s reign. In addition, the guiding tenets of the CCP’s health policy, as delineated by Mao in 1950, contradicted PUCM’s own foundational tenets. In order to reconcile this inconsistency while maintaining the school’s methodologies and Western approach to medicine, an anti-imperialist discourse was promoted at the institution and its name was changed several times. But, according to the paper’s author, Mary Brazleton, no significant reforms were carried out at PUMC and, until the cultural revolution of 1966, the institution continued to operate much as it had before 1949.

 

Red Scare on life support

Just four years later, Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, made his ‘secret’ trip to China and started down the road to a Sino-American rapprochement that would in time fully restore the West’s presence in the communist nation. The scientific and medical “elite” envisioned by Rockefeller’s philanthropic venture would reassert itself, as well, with a growing level of cooperation between Chinese and Western research scientists.

Economic cooperation with communist China would also receive a major and much-needed boost through yet another Rockefeller creation called the Trilateral Commission, a policy group formed and chaired by John D.’s grandson, David, which would begin rebuilding the Western commercial networks in China that had atrophied over the course of Mao’s revolution.

Though billed as an organization to “foster closer cooperation” among Japan, the United States, and Western Europe, the Commission’s fundamental purpose was to keep communist China afloat and pave the way for American manufacturing firms to exploit cheap Chinese labor ­– slave labor, in some cases – by moving operations from more expensive (and organized) labor in the United States and Mexico.

By the time Jimmy Carter was elected president and had appointed no fewer than 17 Trilateral Commission members to his administration, China had started to recover from the brink of collapse. A series of contracts with Western companies — including deals with Ingersoll-Rand, Boeing, and U.S. Steel — had helped to revitalize its failing infrastructure. Sweet insider deals, further illustrating the hypocrisy of American capitalists, were also there for the taking, one example being the soft-drink monopoly in China given to major Carter supporter, Trilateral Commission member, and Coca-Cola CEO John Paul Austin.

Kissinger, left, and Chinese premier Chou-En-Lai drink a toast in the Great Hall in Beijing, Nov. 10, 1973. HWG | AP

Rockefeller’s own Chase Manhattan Bank and Citicorp (in which the Rockefellers also had important interests) benefited the most from the Trilateral era, which lasted well into Reagan’s time in office. The latter bank highlights the very real historical links between modern-day American plutocracy and its ignominious origins in the slave and opium trade. Nearly a century after T.H. Perkins Co. had dumped its first illegal drug shipment in Guangzhou, James H. Perkins’ namesake and grand-nephew in 1929 became chairman of National City Bank, which later reorganized as Citicorp in 1967.

Well into the twenty-first century, the mission to rescue red China is complete and its relationships with the pinnacles of Western oligarchic power have been restored to shining beauty. Less than a decade ago, Blackstone CEO Steven Schwartzman founded a scholarship program at Tsinghua University to educate the “next generation of global leaders,” boasting a star-studded advisory board featuring former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, indicted in 2016 on corruption charges; Nixon’s “back channel” man to China, Henry Kissinger; and none other than insider hatchet man of the 2008 subprime mortgage debacle Henry “Hank” Paulson, who also shares an honorary membership in another Tsinghua University program with the former CEO of AIG — a company, holding a major stake in Blackstone, that was the linchpin of the “great recession” that set the stage for the rise of the fourth sector.

 

The not so New World Order

Founded as American Asiatic Underwriters in Shanghai in 1919 by Cornelius Vander Starr, American International Group (AIG) has never strayed too far from its government spook origins. Vander Starr was an American intelligence asset who collaborated extensively with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. His New York office space doubled as intelligence fronts and he was U.S. Air Force Commander Claire Lee Chennault’s chief handler, having been a U.S. Air Force pilot who’d been tasked with putting together a covert, OSS-funded, 100-plane bomb wing to be flown by American and Chinese mercenaries against Japanese targets during WWII. The “Flying Tigers,” as the bomb wing is known, was initially intended to prop up the Western-backed government of Chiang Kai-shek, but would eventually partner with RAF squadrons to protect British colonies in Southeast Asia as well.

Vander Starr’s protégé, Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, would take over Starr’s insurance business as the company’s CEO in 1968 and transform it into the global powerhouse it had become just prior to the 2008 financial crisis, when its stock had reached stratospheric levels. During his tenure, Greenberg continued the firm’s strong focus in China and would, in turn, become one of the most important figures in the reopening of China after his old friend Henry Kissinger’s trip to Beijing in 1971 served to land him the first foreign insurance contract with China.

In 1987, Greenberg appointed Kissinger to be chairman of AIG’s International Advisory Board, while he went on to establish deep ties with the People’s Republic of China, sitting on the International Advisory Council of the China Development Research Foundation and the China Development Bank. Despite admitting to massive accounting fraud in 2017 and plundering his retirement plan as revenge for his 2005 ouster, Greenberg remains on the Advisory Board of the Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management alongside Paulson.

AIG was the center of the 2008 credit default swap (CDS) storm. The biggest insurance and investment firm on the planet had the largest exposure because it had bought all of the risk when it insured the CDS transactions of banks and pension funds all over the world. So, when the house of cards came tumbling down and AIG began defaulting on every claim, the fate of the global financial system rested on its shoulders.

Outrage over Wall Street’s irresponsibility was met with a promise to conduct its business in a more responsible manner and the idea of “ethical investing” was born. In reality, the concept wasn’t so new. Protestant missionaries in China had tried their best to place an aura of righteousness over the depraved capitalist instincts of their merchant compatriots, but the ruse never quite prospers.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to closing the sale and if that means disgraced British Prime Minister and Schwarzman Scholar advisory board member Tony Blair has to go out and hawk COVID-19 vaccine credentials to convince you to buy in, then – as will be made clear in Part III of this series – that’s exactly what he’ll do.

Feature photo | Graphic by Antonio Cabrera

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

The post Part II – Western Capital’s Long Chinese Mission: From Opium to COVID Vaccine Credentials appeared first on MintPress News.

A Good Start: Minnesota’s Return of Dakota Land Makes Space for Healing

The state of Minnesota returned 114 acres of land to the Lower Sioux tribe after the final vote of the Minnesota Historical Society completed the last step in a four-year process that capped off a long fight by the sovereign Dakota nation to recover official title to their original home.

Mni Sota Makoce is the Dakota phrase that the name for “Minnesota” is derived from, which means Land Where the Waters Reflect the Clouds (or Cloud-tinted Waters). Incorporated as the thirty-second state of the Union in 1858, the ancestral home of the Anishinaabe and Dakota people saw the gradual arrival of French fur traders and loggers followed by other Western Europeans looking to make their fortunes mining for iron ore and exploiting other natural resources in a place settlers would later describe in the much more banal terms “land of ten thousand lakes” in tourism brochures of the early twentieth century and embossed on the state’s license plates since the 1950s.

The difference in how each called the vast territory exposes the cultural and spiritual discrepancies that simmer at the core of every conflict between Native populations and the European invaders of North America.

In Minnesota, a century of skirmishes and broken treaties would erupt in what is known as the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 between the incipient federal government of the United States and the Native Dakota. The brief, yet bloody conflict, would change the course of history and lead to a 30-year period of First Nation genocide across the Western and Southern parts of the country, including mass internment of women and children and the forced displacement of entire Native communities through the so-called Trail of Tears.

More than 150 years later, the government of Minnesota is walking back some of those traumatic events by returning 114 acres of land to descendants of the people who were forcibly removed from their homeland.

The Lower Sioux Tribe is one of the 11 federally-recognized sovereign tribes in Minnesota and the original inhabitants of the region, which they call Cansa’yapi – “where they marked the trees red”. Lower Sioux Community Council President Robert Larsen stresses that the transfer is “not a sale” and highlights the fact that his Sioux ancestors “paid for this land over and over with their blood, with their lives”.

 

Taking the land back

The historic transfer had been approved by the Minnesota State Legislature in 2017 and had been in the process of clearing the necessary procedures, such as environmental impact assessments, to execute the final conveyance that took place earlier this month. Larsen, who represents the approximately 1,000 enrolled members of the Lower Sioux, expressed his wish that the action will allow them to “try to reclaim that relationship with the land and hopefully we can continue the healing.”

Among the things Larsen and others hope the transfer will help to achieve is the revival of the disappearing Dakota language, which has been enjoying a resurgence thanks to classes offered to middle and high school students in the Lower Sioux Indian Reservation. In addition, the language has also been placed on the curriculum as a high school-level credit course in Southern Minnesota.

The ten other tribes that make up the remainder of the broader Dakota community are also part of a larger effort to restore Native American culture and traditions, which Dennis Olson Jr., executive director of Minnesota’s Indian Affairs Council, says is a part of a national trend.

According to Olson, “language revitalization” programs administered through the institution have received increased funding since 2010 and at least $2.4 Million have been allocated to “Indian immersion schools” through the state’s Legacy Amendment funding program.

The land transfer, however, is just a drop in the bucket for Larsen, who hopes that it is “just a kick-start to showing people that it can be done.” 130 acres of the total area that is part of Cansa’yapi Oyate is still owned by the state and managed by the private Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). Lamenting that “local farmers [still] have more land than the tribe”, Larsen hopes for a greater share of the territory would require legislative approval and a review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

 

A path towards healing

At the very least, the partial land return opens the door to a long-overdue rapprochement between the United States government and the original inhabitants of the land that was stolen from them. Flandreau Santee Sioux member Kate Beane and director of Native American Initiatives at MHS is confident that the action is “more than symbolic” and can lead to “actionable things that some agencies and organizations can do to help support the healing.”

The wounds are deep, as attested to by the hanging of the 38 Dakota men Abraham Lincoln sentenced to death in the largest mass execution in U.S. history as a direct consequence of the five-week war at Cansa’yapi Oyate in 1862 – an act which, has been commemorated by Dakota tribal members in a 330-mile journey on horseback from Lower Brule to the site of the execution in Mankato Minnesota for the last 15 years.

Beyond the significance of returning 114 acres of land to its rightful owners, there is also a matter of cultural recognition that must be addressed. While most Native communities in Minnesota, such as the Ojibwe and others fighting pipeline projects through their land recognize that their fight for sovereignty is far from over, the land transfer to the Lower Sioux is a good, if small start in countering centuries of whitewashed history like the “charming” tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood in Minnesota’s early settler days, that many Americans know through the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Settler accounts like these should always be accompanied by the stories of Little Crow and how he avenged his people’s starvation and death at the hands of Ingalls Wilder’s progenitors at Cansa’yapi Oyate, setting off the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

A deeper appreciation of the other is the only possible path towards healing. For centuries, Native Americans have been trying to communicate their pain to the White man, like Chief Wabasa did to the first Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, Henry Whipple, when the latter seemed bothered by the “foolish dances” of the Dakota youth. “It is because their hearts are sick,” Wabasa responded, “They don’t know whether these lands are to be their home or not.”

Feature photo | A plaque stands in Fort Snelling State Park at a memorial at the site of what was a concentration camp where some 1,600 Dakota people were imprisoned in the aftermath of the 1862 U.S. – Dakota Conflict. Jim Mone | AP

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

The post A Good Start: Minnesota’s Return of Dakota Land Makes Space for Healing appeared first on MintPress News.

Saturday Night Live Controversy Hides Greater Issues Around Israeli Apartheid

Saturday Night Live (SNL) has come in for a storm of criticism after airing a joke critical of Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout policy. The show’s anchor Michael Che quipped that “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of their population. And I’m going to guess it is the Jewish half.” Despite addressing the topic for fewer than seven seconds before moving on, Che’s words sparked a chorus of denunciations from conservative Jewish groups and supporters of the Middle Eastern nation.

“We find the use of age-old anti-Semitic tropes on last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live to be deeply troubling,” wrote the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who accused the show of “propagating Jew hatred under the guise of comedy.” The American Jewish Committee claimed that Che’s words were “a modern twist on a classic antisemitic trope that has inspired the mass murder of Jews.” Meanwhile New York radio host and pro-Israel activist Dov Hikind claimed that SNL has a “long record of anti-Semitism” and that Israel was vaccinating its Arab citizens at the same rate as its Jewish ones.

Even progressive figures expressed their unease with the joke. “I watched that and cringed. Enough that the Israeli govt does is worthy of legitimate criticism; lying about what they do is just as bad,” reacted Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson.

"Israel is reporting that they've vaccinated half of their population. I'm gonna guess it's the Jewish half."

They say there’s a grain of truth to every joke, but this SNL one has 5 million — the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who have yet to receive vaccines. pic.twitter.com/IccgJBgbch

— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) February 21, 2021

And while other Jewish organizations came out to defend Che’s brief remarks, the debate has largely glossed over some of the more pertinent facts of life in Israel and Palestine today. Israel has indeed been immunizing its non-Jewish citizens at a similar rate to its Jewish ones. As of Friday, over 85% of the population has received at least one injection, leading to drops in both new infections and hospitalizations. Yet these figures ignore the 4.7 million Palestinians living in either direct or indirect occupation in one of dozens of small enclaves surrounded by Israel, largely or entirely cut off from each other and the rest of the world. Article 55 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that,

…The occupying power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

Far from providing Palestinians with vaccines, as human rights groups have demanded they do, the government has blocked their importation. Only on February 17 (and after international pressure) did they allow 2,000 Sputnik V doses to enter Gaza, enough to immunize less than 0.1% of the population. The fact that Israel has the power to block all imports and exports from the region undermines the government’s argument that they are not an occupying force and therefore not responsible for the health and well-being of Palestine. Yet the country’s Health Minister Yuli Edelstein flippantly remarked that he has no more responsibility for Palestinians’ health than his Palestinian counterpart has to the well-being of dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea. While settlers illegally occupying land outside of Israel’s 1967 borders have been inoculated, the indigenous population has been shut out of receiving treatment. Some Israeli lawmakers have even argued that they should withhold vaccines entirely until they can extract more political concessions from Hamas.

 
In July, Israeli forces bulldozed a newly-built COVID-19 field hospital and test center in Hebron in the West Bank on the grounds that it did not have planning permission. Of course, planning permission must be sought from a foreign, occupying power who has been unwilling to cooperate. The destruction was also a grave breach of the Geneva Convention, Article 56 of which states that occupying powers have the responsibility to maintain public health and hygiene in the occupied territories “with particular reference to the adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics.

”Ultimately, the discussion around whether or not Che’s brief remarks were anti-Semitic obscures the larger picture of a systematic and ongoing occupation. “The real joke here is how this extremely obvious reality is taboo and calling any attention to it is subject to a massive pressure campaign when the real pressure campaign should be against Apartheid, not those calling attention to it.” remarked journalist Abby Martin.

Feature photo | Palestinians walk past murals encouraging the wearing of face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, on the main road of Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza. Adel Hana | 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 Saturday Night Live Controversy Hides Greater Issues Around Israeli Apartheid appeared first on MintPress News.

Former US Ambassador Claims He Never Met Navalny but Unearthed Photo Shows Otherwise

Outspoken former American Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul was in hot water yesterday after internet sleuths found pictorial evidence contradicting his claims that he never met Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Replying to an assertion that Navalny is an American puppet, the loquacious diplomat and academic known for his propensity for social media drama insisted that “Navalny has never received one dime from the U.S. government. That is a complete myth. 100% false. When I was the U.S. ambassador to Russia, he wouldn’t even meet with me. Not once.”

McFaul’s assertions were undermined somewhat when Russian journalist Murad Gazdiev responded with a picture of McFaul meeting him at a dinner in 2012, during his time in office in Moscow. The pair apparently conversed for long enough for it to be newsworthy to local media, who noted that “At the other end of the hall, Alexei Navalny — clad in a dark sweater and blue jeans — spoke with U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who preferred more formal attire.”

“He wouldn’t even meet with me. Not once” pic.twitter.com/WFqcVDhYbX

— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) February 21, 2021

McFaul brushed off the evidence as inconsequential. “That was a Moscow Times 20th anniversary dinner. We were both invited as guests. We spoke for 2 minutes. We never had an actual meeting ever,” he responded, adding, “Bumping into someone at a dinner for 2 minutes is not a ‘meeting.’”

While this is certainly a defensible position, the former ambassador has not afforded it to his political opponents, whom he has declared guilty by association. McFaul has, on more than one occasion, attacked 2016 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein as being a Russian stooge, citing her appearance at a media conference in Russia hosted by state broadcaster RT, in which she sat at the same table as Vladimir Putin (although she claims she did not speak to him).

Many seemed skeptical of the 57-year-old ex-diplomat’s claims. “McFaul is prohibited by law from telling the truth, and has no choice but to parrot the official party line. As the head of the Russia Desk at National Security Council, and later as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, he was deeply involved in highly classified programs where Navalny factored greatly,” said former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter, also claiming that McFaul was key in securing Navalny a prestigious World Fellowship award from Yale University.

I'm so tired of people not in the Democratic Party – ie Trump and Stein – giving "Dems" advice on how we are supposed to vote in our party. Those who attend RT bday parties with Putin are especially annoying. Go away please. Let us take care of our own business. cc: @donnabrazile https://t.co/nKzmr7MZgs pic.twitter.com/iQlWJpJSMO

— Michael McFaul (@McFaul) March 8, 2020

Inside Russia, McFaul is perhaps best known for a separate 2012 incident where one of his first acts in his new position was to invite a swath of prominent anti-Putin activists who had led the previous year’s protest movement to the embassy for talks. The incident was filmed by national media and caused a minor scandal.

While most ambassadors are cagey with their words and choose “diplomatic” language when discussing another country’s politics, McFaul has been consistently forthright in sharing his opinions. Having left the diplomatic core, he became a professor of international studies at Stanford University and a regular columnist for The Washington Post. He has made no secret of his deep admiration for Navalny, describing him as a “heroic symbol” of democracy, nor his contempt for the president. “Vladimir Putin is evil,” he flatly stated, claiming he has turned Russia into a “ruthless dictatorship.” “Navalny’s heroic struggle is no different from what Gandhi, King, Mandela and Havel fought for. While Navalny has not succeeded yet, there should be no doubt that his cause is good and just,” he wrote in his Post column last year.

Navalny’s politics are not easy to define on a Western spectrum. While commonly described as a liberal, he has also espoused a number of conservative social opinions, as well as strong nationalistic sentiments. He is best known in Russia as an anti-corruption campaigner, releasing a widely-shared documentary alleging that Putin is constructing a huge palace on the Black Sea, reportedly costing over one billion U.S. dollars. He was arrested by Russian authorities in January upon his return to the country, sparking nationwide protests. He had been in Germany for some months previously, recovering from what he says was a poisoning attempt by Putin’s henchmen. In December, CNN released a video purporting to show him tricking a secret service agent into revealing how exactly he was poisoned.

A few weeks later, RT published a video of the Executive Director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation meeting with a British official, William Thomas Ford, suggesting that he secure tens of millions of dollars of funding for them. The Russian government considers Ford to be an MI6 agent.

As with so much in the world of spies and diplomacy, the public never has all the information. This latest piece in the Navalny mystery underlines the point that few people are telling the truth all of the time.

Feature photo | Alexei Navalny flashes the victory sign to reporters during a court appearance in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 20, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko | 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 Former US Ambassador Claims He Never Met Navalny but Unearthed Photo Shows Otherwise appeared first on MintPress News.

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