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A 100-Year-Old Postcard Just Arrived in the Michigan Mail. A Family Search Begins.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here’s a post office puzzle that isn’t about the scapegoating of workers or the sabotaging of the universal delivery mandate by a corrupt president and an inept postmaster general. This one’s good; read the whole tale, an epic about a 1920 postcard that took its time reaching its mailbox this month, with a come-from-behind win thanks to the dedication of postal workers. Kudos to the Washington Post’s Sydney Page for piecing it together. Highlights:

—“Dear cousins,” the postcard starts. “We are quite well but mother has awful lame knees. It is awful cold here.”

—“Don’t forget to write us,” the note ends, followed by a question about whether ol’ Roy got his pants fixed yet.

—There’s a Halloween illustration on the front, with the words “Witch would you rather be, a goose or a pumpkin-head?”

—The one-cent George Washington stamp is legibly marked October 29, 1920.

—The 30-year-old who received it has pledged to help find members of the original family. “I was shocked,” she said. “At first I didn’t think much of it, other than that it’s old and interesting, but then I took a closer look.”

—A local librarian is pitching in to complete the puzzle; he has turned, in part, to the 1920 census. (If you’re a census neglecter, get on it.)

—The Facebook group Positively Belding is on the case.

—The letter is signed by one Flossie Burgess.

If you’re related to a Flossie Burgess, let Page know, or drop a line to recharge@motherjones.com. We hope Roy got his pants fixed.

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

Milky Way season is just about over here in the Northern Hemisphere. I had planned to take a short trip this week to around Lake Tahoe, with some nighttime side trips into Nevada to try out some new kinds of Milky Way photography, but the wildfires killed that idea—and by the time the smoke subsides it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get a decent view. So for now I’ll go ahead and post the second picture I took in April during a visit to Anza Borrego: a panoramic view that shows not only a large section of the Milky Way, but also the house and the cross on the ground. It’s not a huge panorama, which I’d like to try someday, but that’s because the conditions weren’t good enough to see all that much of the Milky Way anyway. A good viewing night in the dark skies of Nevada would help a lot on that score. Maybe next year.

April 25, 2020 — Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Federal Judges are Failing Incarcerated People During the Pandemic

ACLU News -

I am tired of members of my profession dismissing my clients’ humanity. Sadly, it happens a lot:

“Your clients are probably lying to you, which is unsurprising,” reads an email from a representative of the Texas State government.

“People get better medical care in jail,” claim people who have never been incarcerated a day in their lives as reason to keep people locked up during this pandemic.

“We can’t trust inmates to follow the law, so how could we trust them to quarantine from others if they were released?” asks a judge who swore an oath to protect the fundamental rights of these “inmates.”

It should not be news to anyone that the scales of justice are tipped in favor of the powerful, but it’s never been starker to me than now. I’ve spent the last six months on the frontlines of the legal battle to protect incarcerated people from preventable illness and death as jails and prisons fumbled their response to the COVID-19 crisis. What I’ve seen is a chasm between the courage and humanity of my clients — people discarded in crowded facilities trying against all odds to follow public health guidelines — and the officials who incarcerate them: bureaucrats ever ready to point the finger elsewhere as they deny incarcerated people adequate food, water, PPE, cleaning supplies, testin, the ability to socially distance, and subject COVID-positive patients to pepper spray.

More than 1,000 incarcerated people have died from confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 88 of the top 100 largest outbreaks in the country are in jails and prisons. Even this paints an incomplete picture: Around the country, we’re seeing facilities refuse to provide COVID-19 testing to incarcerated people to keep reported numbers artificially low. In Arizona, officials reportedly went so far as to order incarcerated people to refuse COVID-19 tests or else face a “beat-down.” Other jurisdictions, including in Texas and California, simply ignore COVID-19 case counts in prisons in order to increase their chances of reopening.

And when we sue to hold these legal system actors accountable, it increasingly becomes obvious: They are lying to maintain the status quo, despite the risk it poses to our clients.

The philosophy behind our legal system is that adversaries — usually lawyers — present evidence to a judge or jury, engage in vigorous advocacy, and the truth should win out. Even in ordinary times, this is a myth for most people accused of crimes: Public defenders are given vastly fewer resources than law enforcement and prosecutors, and the overwhelming majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargaining instead of trial (often to avoid the additional prison time that comes with exercising trial rights). When people do demand their day in court, decades of “tough on crime” rhetoric have manifested in juries and judges who view arrested people — particularly Black and Brown people — as presumptively guilty instead of innocent.

Unfortunately, in the COVID-19 context, judges continue to favor the demonstrably untrue accounts of jail officials over those of incarcerated people who testify at great personal risk. For example, in Memphis, Tennessee, the chief jailer testified under oath that the jail was following a policy of not returning a COVID-positive person to the general population until they had twice tested negative for COVID-19. He even said that failure to do so would create a high risk of transmission. However, his staff and colleagues had never implemented this testing policy and routinely moved COVID patients back into the general population without testing. 

Government officials routinely employ this strategy of plausible deniability: Supervisors who brush aside evidence of daily practices testify that all is well, while the reality is bleak for incarcerated people, as well as prison and jail staff. The temerity knows virtually no bounds: As incarcerated people suffer severe illness and die, jurisdictions like Miami and Orange County filed legal appeals to save themselves from the grave injury of having to provide detainees with soap.

Yet, the officials who I feel the most betrayed by this year are our federal judges. Federal judges are uniquely entrusted to protect the constitutional rights of all. Their lifetime appointments are meant to ensure their total independence and ability to fairly protect the rights of even those without political or social influence. The federal judiciary — at least in principle — is our government’s best hope to protect the rights of the systemically oppressed.

Many recent legal rulings on important matters of public health have fallen short. Many trial courts have cherry-picked evidence or misapplied the law to rule against incarcerated people. And when trial courts find that our clients’ rights were violated, courts of appeals ignore the record and go out of their way to reverse course — most notably when the Supreme Court recently paused a court order requiring increased protections in the Orange County Jail without offering any explanation, and despite rising COVID infections and dishonesty by jail officials (called out as “bad behavior” by Justice Sotomayor in her dissent).

While profoundly disappointing, these pro-incarceration instincts track the composition of the federal bench. Seven times more federal judges are former governments lawyers (prosecutors and civil attorneys) than lawyers who brought challenges to government action; 80 percent of federal judges are white — despite the vast racial disparities the criminal legal system perpetuates — and 73 percent are men, despite the fact that women have been the fastest growing population in prisons and jails for decades. Judicial nominees from presidents of both parties have overwhelmingly been former prosecutors and corporate attorneys: 85 percent of President Obama’s nominees had one of those backgrounds.

Representation and fair adjudication of cases have always mattered. This year, a lack of judges who understand the true horrors of our incarceration machine meant that incarceration has been a death sentence for far too many people. The United States’ unique obsession with mass incarceration also means that the pandemic is harder to mitigate here than in other countries without these super-spreader sites.

The next President has a moral and institutional obligation to appoint judges who will counterbalance this bias against people who have been accused or convicted of crimes by appointing judges who are civil rights advocates and criminal defense attorneys, not just private corporate attorneys and prosecutors. Given how overwhelmingly lopsided our current judiciary is, the next President should aggressively appoint judges with underrepresented backgrounds to help restore our judiciary’s independence and our national trust in our courts.

I am tired of the disdain members of my own profession exhibit toward my clients. However, some of this comes with the territory of combatting our national obsession with incarceration. What should not be expected, or tolerated, is the absence of a fair and impartial judiciary who will tip the scales of justice back into balance.

Gorgon Stare: A “Persistent Eye in the Sky” May Be Coming to a City Near You

Mint Press News -

Gorgon Stare will be looking at a whole city, so there will be no way for the adversary to know what we’re looking at, and we can see everything. That same persistent eye in the sky may soon be deployed over U.S. cities.

At the time he made that comment about surveillance drones over Afghanistan, Maj. General James Poss was the Air Force’s top intelligence officer. He was preparing to leave the Pentagon, and move over to the Federal Aviation Administration. His job was to begin executing the plan to allow those same surveillance drones to fly over American cities.

This plan was ordered by Congress in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act. It directed the Departments of Defense and Transportation to “develop a plan for providing expanded access to the national airspace for unmanned aircraft systems of the Department of Defense.” Gen. Poss was one of nearly two dozen ex-military officers who, starting in 2010, were put into positions at the FAA to oversee drone integration research. With little public scrutiny, the plan has been moving forward ever since.

If you’re thinking that this is a partisan issue, think again. This plan has been enacted and expanded under Presidents and Congresses of both parties. If you’re uncomfortable with a President Biden having the ability to track the movements of every Tea Party or Q-Anon supporter, you should be. Just as we should all be concerned about a President Trump tracking…well, everybody else.

Along with civil liberties, a major concern must be safety. The military and the drone manufacturers, principally General Atomics, are arguing that the technology has advanced far enough that flying 79-ft. wingspan, six-ton drones over populated areas and alongside commercial air traffic is safe. We have one response: self-driving cars. Self-driving cars present a technological problem that is an order of magnitude simpler than aircraft flying hundreds of miles per hour in three dimensions. Yet they still can’t keep these cars from plowing into stationary objects like firetrucks (or people) at 60 mph in two dimensions. Are we really comfortable with pilotless aircraft operating in the same airspace as the 747 at 30,000 feet that is bringing your children home for Christmas? These drones have a troubled history of crashing and unfortunately, the process for determining whether these drones are now truly safe has been compromised by having the military, which wants this approval, largely in charge of the testing.

Which brings us to San Diego. Last October, General Atomics announced that they would be flying their biggest, most advanced surveillance drone yet, the SkyGuardian, over the City of San Diego sometime this summer. The stated purpose was to demonstrate potential commercial applications of large drones over American cities. In this case, the drone would be used to survey the city’s infrastructure.

But when General Atomics first began preparing for the flight, the goal was a very different one: Back in 2017, military technology analysts were predicting that by 2025, drones similar to those used in Afghanistan and Iraq would be hovering above U.S. cities, relaying high-resolution video of the movement of every citizen to police departments (and who knows who else). When there was public pushback to this police department drone use—even a pro-industry reporter called the idea “dystopian”—General Atomics changed the purpose of the flight from providing data to the police to “mapping critical infrastructure” in the San Diego region.

The FAA, which is responsible for granting permission to General Atomics, has kept the process secret. When the Voice of San Diego asked for more information, the FAA refused on the grounds that this supposed commercial demonstration was actually “military.” The Voice of San Diego is now suing to get answers and the ACLU has also expressed concern about the flight. Amid the scrutiny, General Atomics quietly announced that the flight was cancelled, but this is certain to be a small hiccup in their long-term plan.

In fact, General Atomics’ drones are already being used domestically. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flies Predators over parts of the U.S.- Mexico and U.S.-Canadian borders. Recently, CBP has expanded their reach, using these drones to assist police in Minneapolis, San Antonio and Detroit in the wake of protests against police brutality. Deeply concerned, members of Congress wrote to federal agencies denouncing the chilling effect of government surveillance on law-abiding Americans and demanding an immediate end to surveilling peaceful protests.

The concerns of these members of Congress should be echoed by the general public. What are the possible effects on our civil liberties from having high-tech surveillance platforms circling over millions of Americans, gathering information about our every move? We know from past experience that every government surveillance technology that can be abused has been abused. Allowing this powerful technology to be taken from overseas wars and turned inward on American citizens isn’t something that should happen without a robust public debate. The implications for civil liberties are too profound.

Feature photo | Thomas J. Cassidy, Former President and CEO of General Atomics, is reflected in the camera gimbal on a prototype Predator B, Sept. 6, 2001 in El Mirage, Calif. Doug Benc | AP

Medea Benjamin is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control and codirector of the peace group CODEPINK. 

Barry Summers is an activist living in North Carolina who has been researching military drone integration since 2014.

The post Gorgon Stare: A “Persistent Eye in the Sky” May Be Coming to a City Near You appeared first on MintPress News.

Journalists Need to Be Clear About a Clear Threat to Democracy

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

When the president of the United States has:

…then the evidence threshold has been more than satisfied for journalists to declare that he is trying to steal the 2020 election. Journalists and newsrooms have an obligation to report that the most powerful person in the country is trying to subvert the election and retain power illegitimately, and a failure to blow the whistle on a clear threat to democracy is journalistic malpractice.

Despite abundant evidence, corporate media so far have treated the question of whether Trump is trying to steal the election as a matter of opinion (USA Today, 8/16/20).

Yet, while one can find several op-eds (e.g., The Week, 8/11/20; USA Today, 8/16/20) pointing out the obvious fact of President Donald Trump trying to steal the 2020 election, it appears to be taboo for journalists at the biggest newsrooms in the country to straightforwardly report the fact that Trump is trying to do so.

The ACLU’s Dale Ho (Vanity Fair, 6/14/20), an attorney fighting against GOP voter suppression lawsuits, has argued that, ultimately, lawyers cannot litigate their way out of Trump’s election theft efforts, and that a “news media fight” has to be waged to prepare US voters’ expectations. However, it’s hard for US citizens to prepare if the US media aren’t reporting that Trump is trying to steal the election.

FAIR conducted a Nexis search for “Trump” + “election” + “steal” of the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Star Tribune, Los Angeles Times and USA Today—most of the biggest newspapers in the country by circulation—from July 7 to September 7. Out of all the results pertaining to the election, there wasn’t a single article reporting that Trump is trying to steal the 2020 election.

The closest things one can find to corporate media plainly stating that Trump is attempting to commit election theft are various scenarios of how Trump could steal the election, columns asking what would happen if Trump refused to concede the election if he lost, or reports on Democratic Party politicians asserting that Trump is trying to steal the election.

The news articles that do discuss the ongoing efforts to steal the election frame it as a hypothetical possibility (Washington Post, 8/16/20).

Slate (8/3/20) and the Washington Post (8/16/20) ran articles describing how Trump could potentially steal the election by “blocking the counting of mail-in ballots,” because more Democrats are in favor of mail-in ballots—which take longer to be counted—and the potential for Trump to prematurely “declare himself the victor” should initial results based on in-person voting show him winning. That’s in addition to preventing the Postal Service from delivering mail-in ballots to voters and to elected officials promptly.

Investigative journalist Greg Palast (Salon, 8/25/20) argues that “the real theft of the 2020 presidential election is not the lack of mailboxes,” but the “lack of commitment to counting ballots by both parties.” Mail-in voting and absentee ballots are already rejected at a much higher rate than in-person voting, especially from younger and minority voters, and some projections are estimating that absentee ballot rejections could be tripled in battleground states for November (AP, 9/7/20).

There have been reports of Democratic Party politicians like Beto O’Rourke (Houston Chronicle, 5/13/20) and Joe Biden (Washington Post, 7/23/20) warning that they believe Trump will “do everything within his power” to steal the election, and that “this president is going to try to indirectly steal the election by arguing that mail-in ballots don’t work.” However, corporate media also give space for Trump to air his accusations that it’s Democrats who are trying to commit election theft (Politico, 7/31/20; Fox News, 8/20/20; The Hill, 8/24/20), making this more “he said, she said” reporting, rather than an independent assessment of Trump’s plans and actions.

Other outlets ran articles (New Yorker, 7/21/20; Washington Post, 7/22/20; Politico, 9/4/20) and op-eds (CNN, 8/17/20) considering different scenarios of what could happen if Trump refused to leave office if he loses the election. Other op-eds (Washington Post, 7/9/20, 8/18/20) essentially advised Americans to trust the “bureaucracy and legal procedure,” even if it might “sound naive,” because “there are laws that stop others from using the authorities of the Executive Branch on behalf of anyone other than the legitimate president.” There are also laws forbidding officials from using government property for political purposes, but that didn’t stop the Trump campaign from turning the White House into a stage set for the Republican National Convention.

While contemplating different scenarios is valuable, these articles presume that American citizens are supposed to be passive spectators, rather than active political participants, since they include no calls to action, as a few other op-eds have (Intercept, 8/11/20; New York Times, 9/3/20). Neither do such articles point out why Americans need to contemplate these scenarios in the first place: President Donald Trump is trying to steal the election.

By referring to protests against assertions of re-election victory as an “insurrection,” Trump is threatening to use the military to enforce his claim to power—an anti-democratic stance Politico (9/11/20) legitimizes by referring to such protests as “riots.”

A bipartisan group of about 80 political operatives and academics have played out various scenarios where Trump loses the election but refuses to concede, and several of them have ended in violence (Newsweek, 7/26/20). Trump has already stated he would “very quickly” suppress Election Night protests against his claims of victory—what he calls an “insurrection,” a term that outlets like The Hill (9/11/20) and Politico (9/11/20) bolster by calling protests against his reelection “riots.”

Trump’s rhetoric seems to echo that of his longtime confidant (and convicted felon) Roger Stone’s advice for Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 to declare martial law to seize power if “cheating” costs him the election.

Michael Caputo, assistant secretary for public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (who serves as a sort of political commissar over the CDC), likewise asserted that Trump and his supporters will need to use force to defend Trump’s impending victory against false charges that he didn’t actually win: “When Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” Caputo said in a video posted to Facebook.  “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

It’s especially important for US media to inform their audiences about Trump’s election-theft efforts, because the US Constitution doesn’t actually grant citizens the right to vote for the president—only a college of electors [does]—with states having nearly unlimited power to decide how those electors are chosen (Atlantic, 3/29/20). Republican politicians have been almost entirely steadfast and uniform in their support of Trump, to the point that they have no official platform other than his reelection, and refused to even hold hearings when he was impeached by the House for abuse of power. Legal scholar Lawrence Douglas (Vox, 6/3/20) pointed out that there are no federal laws or constitutional procedures to guide Americans in a contested election where neither side refuses to concede, since the peaceful succession of power relies more on norms (which Trump regularly runs roughshod over) than on laws or institutions.

If the 2020 election is stolen, it wouldn’t be the first time in US history. In 1876, following the Hayes/Tilden election, electoral results in four states were contested, with Democratic and Republican officials sending competing electoral certificates to a divided Congress—a situation the Twelfth Amendment (which lays out the procedure for electing a president and vice president) doesn’t say anything about. (In the event, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, who received 47.9% of the popular vote to Democrat Samuel Tilden’s 50.9%, was declared president in the Compromise of 1877, which involved withdrawing federal troops from former Confederate states and the end of Reconstruction.)

The establishment media’s first instinct is to legitimize illegitimate power (New York Times, 1/21/01).

In 2000, in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court bestowed the presidency on George W. Bush by stopping the recount of Florida votes—an usurpation strenuously assisted by corporate media (Extra!, 3–4/01), as exemplified by a front-page news analysis in the New York Times (1/21/01)  in which R.W. Apple assured readers that images of the Oval Office and the sounds of “Hail to the Chief” are really what “confer the mantle of authority and legitimacy on a leader.”

While FAIR  (9/27/19, 11/22/19) has often criticized the false objectivity of news coverage in the Trump era, the division between the news and opinion sections still remains a valuable distinction because of the implication that straight news coverage deals with delivering factual information, which leaves less room for disagreement. When the media are unable to present as fact that Trump is trying to steal the 2020 election, they are implying that there is room for debate about what his intentions are, simply because he hasn’t explicitly stated: “I am trying to steal the election.”

Trump is already notorious for lying, cheating and stealing, and has every motive to steal the election because he’s behind in the polls, and once he leaves office faces the possibility of prosecution for crimes he has already confessed to committing. During this critical time, it’s important for US media not to propagate the myth of US exceptionalism, which often makes false accusations of “election theft” against Global South countries like Bolivia and Venezuela, and misleads Americans into thinking election theft “can’t happen” here because the US has more “legitimate” institutions. US elections have been stolen before, and it’s important to make sure another election isn’t stolen again.

Trump Promotes False Conspiracy Theory Accusing Biden of Pedophilia

Mother Jones Magazine -

President Trump shared a video on Tuesday of Joe Biden embracing the wife of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter during a 2015 ceremony at the White House with the hashtag #PedoBiden, marking the president’s first public entry into the categorically false conspiracy theory accusing the Democratic presidential candidate of pedophilia.

“We can beat them at their game,” the tweet said in a caption, which has since been retweeted more than six thousand times. 

The clip ostensibly aims to demonstrate improper, potentially pedophilic behavior by Biden. It doesn’t—and Stephanie Carter, an adult, has written about how the encounter has been taken out of context to denigrate Biden. In reality, she notes, the former vice president had been comforting her during an “uncharacteristically nervous” moment after she had fallen on ice shortly before her husband’s swearing-in ceremony.

But Trump’s retweet comes as the twisted conspiracy theory continues QAnon’s rapid rise among the highest ranks of the Republican party. As my colleague Ali Breland has reported, the increasingly mainstream, once far-right movement—which is constantly mutating to incorporate new false, pro-Trump conspiracy theories—is centered around an unnamed federal agent within the Trump administration whose job it is to fight what they describe as Democratic-run, global pedophilia rings. While Trump has frequently used social media to promote QAnon followers, his latest retweet signals what’s all but certain to become a central theme to his reelection campaign as November nears: falsely accusing Biden and Democrats of pedophilia. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., has repeatedly promoted the Biden conspiracy theory in recent weeks.

The president gave QAnon a significant public boost last month when, rather than forcefully condemn the movement, he told reporters that he had heard QAnon believers “are people who love our country.” He added, “I don’t know much about the movement—other than I understand that they like me very much.”

Trump’s retweet on Tuesday continues QAnon’s increasing influence on the Republican party this year. After the president himself, a number of Republican congressional candidates are among the movement’s most prominent GOP supporters.

Steve Bannon’s Plans for a Privately-Funded Border Wall Are Crumbling

Mint Press News -

A three-mile private border wall in South Texas backed by Steve Bannon’s We Build The Wall non-profit is at risk of failing, according to a new engineering report that questions the structural integrity of the controversial barrier.

Bannon’s scheme was started back in December of 2018 by Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage, who set up a GoFundMe page and raised $17 million online in its first week to “build a border wall faster than the government and at a fraction of the price,” as alleged by the National Butterfly Center, one of the parties currently suing We Build The Wall and contractor Fisher Industries. “They fail to mention that they can build it faster and cheaper because they do not (1) get approvals for their plans, (2) comply with any laws regarding construction or (3) conduct any studies to ensure that they will not cause more harm than good,” states the recently amended complaint.

Fisher Industries, which built the South Texas wall, has “severed ties” with Bannon’s organization after receiving only $1.5 million of the $8 million it was promised. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is pursuing its own case against Bannon and his association. Bannon was arraigned last month on federal charges of defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through the We Build The Wall project.

The scheme was compromised from the start. GoFundMe had warned Mr. Kolfage that he would have to return the money he had collected if he failed to find a “legitimate nonprofit organization” to handle the money. It was at this point where Bannon entered the picture with an old business associate and venture capitalist, Andrew Badolato, as well as Timothy Shea and his wife, Amanda, who served as the non-profit’s CFO.

Kolfage, it is claimed by prosecutors, received $100,000 upfront and a $20,000 salary from the newly-incorporated 501c4, despite claims that he did “not get a cent” from the initiative, which was enthusiastically embraced by Donald Trump and his son, Don Jr. In August 2019, Amanda Shea posted a photo of herself and other members of We Build The Wall and President Trump to her Instagram account, captioned: “A summer of winning came to a high note in the Hamptons.” Donald Trump, Jr., meanwhile, had earlier attended a We Build The Wall event in July of that year, where he was recorded saying that “This is what capitalism is all about. This is private enterprise at its finest.” Both father and son Trump have since distanced themselves from the organization.

 

The first wall

Before the wall in South Texas, We Build The Wall, erected another $8 million-dollar private metal wall in Sunland, New Mexico, which was equally rife with controversy. Raised over Memorial Day weekend in 2019, municipal authorities issued a cease-and-desist order after it was discovered that the application submitted by American Eagle Brick Company, the owner of the land, was incomplete.

Sunland Mayor Javier Perea found that in addition to violating a city ordinance, the privately-funded border wall created a different set of problems for the city, as it potentially encroached on federal and international laws and would require consultation with “other state and federal organizations, such as the International Boundary and Water Commission.”

A screenshot from “We Build the Wall” shows progress on the privately-funded border wall.

Advocates, like Border Network for Human Rights executive director Fernando Garcia, exposed the socio-political implications of the New Mexico wall: “They are part of the same militia groups that are posing as law enforcement agents, arresting migrants at gunpoint and promoting fear in Southern New Mexico,” he said in a story carried by the El Paso Times. “These extremist groups do not belong to our border community,” he continued, “they do not know our border and we will not allow them to come and define it for us.”

 

No boundaries

In the Justice Department’s indictment, Brian Kolfage is accused of secretly taking more than $350,000 in donations and spending it on home renovations, boat payments and many other lifestyle expenses, including cosmetic surgery. In a recently resurfaced video, Bannon is seen joking about how Kolfage took the We Build The Wall money to buy himself a yacht, which turned out to be somewhat ironic when Bannon, himself, would later be arrested aboard a yacht owned by Chinese billionaire and alleged fugitive, Guo Wengui.

“This entire fiasco is to stop people who want to build the wall, Bannon told reporters as he left federal court on $5 million bail. Predictably, Trump attempted to disassociate himself from the project run by his former campaign manager, stating that he didn’t “like that project,” and thought paying for the border wall privately was “inappropriate.”

The federal investigation had been ongoing for, at least, one year when President Trump fired SDNY prosecutor, Geoffrey S. Berman, on June 20. The federal prosecutor’s office in Manhattan gave Attorney General William P. Barr, who had been briefed on the inquiry months prior, notice that the indictment would be unsealed on Thursday, according to the New York Times. In May, the federal government determined that a stretch of the private border wall south of violates a 1970 international boundary treaty between the United States and Mexico.

Feature photo | President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon leaves federal court, Aug. 20, 2020, after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall. Craig Ruttle | AP

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

The post Steve Bannon’s Plans for a Privately-Funded Border Wall Are Crumbling appeared first on MintPress News.

In the Face of “Normalization” Congressional Dems Lobby to Protect Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge”

Mint Press News -

Since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, every U.S. president has formally upheld the strategic priority of Israel through what today has become an official policy of the United States government called “Qualitative Military Edge” or QME. Enshrined as law in 2008, it essentially calls for Israel to “build and maintain a military that is qualitatively better than any other in the region.” The concept is credited to none other than Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion, who established QME as “its basic defense doctrine” and is the backbone of the U.S.-Israeli relationship writ large.

A group of Democratic members of Congress has taken it upon themselves to remind President Trump that he should not lose sight of the law requiring the U.S. to preserve Israel’s military advantage as reports emerge about the Administration’s “push” to sell advanced stealth F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the eve of the official enactment of the historic Israeli-UAE normalization treaty.

In a letter signed by nine Congressional Democrats led by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and joined by eight others, the representatives began by praising the U.S. role in “broker[ing]” the Israeli-UAE deal and an odd appeal to “a more peaceful future for the region,” before embarking on the subject of keeping Israel the most armed nation in the Middle East.

Download the PDF file .

Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose adjacent districts 22 and 23, respectively in the state of Florida hosts the highest concentration of Israeli defense industry companies of any other region in the United States, joined with their signatures, along with Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Ted Lieu (R-Calif.), Elaine Luria (D-Va.), Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) and Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.).

Citing QME’s “importance to members of Congress and the American people,” they went on to highlight the “strenuous opposition” of Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gantz and the “Israeli national security community,” in general, to the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. “As stalwart supporters of Israel,” the letter concluded, “we will oppose any arms sale that would threaten Israel’s QME, and we will take every opportunity to advocate for Israel’s security. In accordance with US law, we firmly expect your Administration to keep Congress fully apprised of any pending arm sales to the region.”

 

Birth of the QME

The adoption of QME as a pillar of U.S. policy in Israel occurred after the Six-Day war, when LBJ took over France’s role as Israel’s arms supplier. The occasion was marked by the sale of 50 F-4 Phantom fighters and 90 A‐4 Skyhawk jets in 1968 after then-Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense, Paul Warnke worked out a deal together to “massively” upgrade the Israeli Air Force’s capabilities.

In 2016, President Barack Obama caused an uproar when he publicly questioned the necessity of QME, frustrated that pending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states were being held up by the provisions of Title 22 of U.S. code § 8604. Obama was trying to sell warplanes and drones to the Saudis at unprecedented levels, with overtures totaling more than $115 billion to the Middle East, alone.

The demand is coming from the ongoing human tragedy in Yemen, of course, which is on route to claiming another hundred thousand lives and untold devastation. The worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century is being fueled by American weapons of war and its NATO allies, such as France and Germany.

The Middle East accounted for 49 percent of U.S. arms exports in the second term of the Obama Administration and Trump’s term is expected to eclipse the $278 billion in foreign-arms sales Obama racked up by the end of his presidency.

 

Agree to disagree

Already the world’s leading arms exporter, the United States under the Trump Administration is ramping up global arms sales, and the UAE is a big target market. The U.S.-brokered Israeli-UAE normalization pact seems to be, at its core, a way to subvert the “deliberate policy of arms purchase diversification” presently enforced by Arab states. Some have even accused the president of using the F-35s as a reward to the UAE for their cooperation with the apartheid state, according to the New York Times.

The division this issue has spurned in Israel’s government reveals it to be a case where U.S. policy supersedes Israel’s wishes, which are so often granted. The letter addressed to president Trump by the nine members of Congress may have been a futile reflex of the shadow Israeli lobby that inhabits the House via the likes of Wasserman and Deutch. U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, tried to quell the maelstrom in February when plans for the F-35 sale to the UAE were published by the Israeli press. “The QME process will kick in as it has before,” he assured readers of the Jerusalem Post.

The only thing everybody seems to agree on is the continued sale of the tools of war. According to a 2018 article from The National Interest, Trump planned to take over where Obama left off, focusing more on selling air defense systems and munitions, whereas Obama had preferred to peddle fighter jets and helicopters.

Feature photo | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches to one of the first two next-generation F-35 fighter jets after it landed during an unveiling ceremony upon arrival in Nevatim Air Force base near Beersheba, Southern Israel, Dec. 12, 2016. Ariel Schalit | AP

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

The post In the Face of “Normalization” Congressional Dems Lobby to Protect Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge” appeared first on MintPress News.

Wildfires Rage Across Syria in Wake of Increased US-Led Economic Warfare

Mint Press News -

For nearly two weeks, Syria has been battling a new wave of fires that have engulfed much of the agricultural and forest-rich mountainous areas of western Syria. Thanks to a corporate media blackout, very few in the West are aware of the devastation that is affecting the Syrian people already crippled by U.S.-led economic sanctions, recently magnified by the criminal “Caesar Law” which is inhibiting reconstruction aid for Syria.

Any allies who would offer help to Syria will be economically punished for doing so by the US Global police state. The following video footage shows many of the fires:

 
Western Syria is burning or as a young Syrian in Lattakia, one of the areas affected, told me “please ask people to save green Syria. We are tired of hearing we are burning or we are dying. Please help us to live, please help Syria to renew itself”. Syria has been experiencing temperatures as high as 51 degrees celsius with strong winds and the fire has taken hold with an unprecedented ferocity. It is estimated that even in the first few days several thousand hectares of land have been incinerated across forests near Latakia and Hama governorates. The north western areas of Homs City have also been badly affected.

Previous fires deliberately started by the US occupying forces and their allies had decimated wheat and barley crops pushing Syria further into food insecurity in addition to the US-induced freefalling economy.

I was in Al Sqeilbiyyeh, a Syrian Christian town in northern Hama on the night of the 5th September. We could see the fires snaking down the mountainside around 20km to the north. The sound of sirens filled the night air but the fire was spreading at an alarming rate, almost impossible to extinguish from the ground alone.

Over the next two days, the local volunteer National Defence Forces joined the Syrian Arab Army, REAL Syrian Civil Defence teams and local fire brigades to battle the fires and to provide assistance for displaced civilians driven from their homes by the advancing inferno. Russian fire-fighting teams from the military base in Hmeimim, Tartous, also came to their aid.

The REAL Syrian Civil Defence are not the terrorist-linked, US Coalition-funded White Helmets – they are the genuine fire-fighters and civil defence units established inside Syria in 1953 and the only civil defence recognised by the Geneva-based International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO). While the White Helmets receive accolades and praise from western media, UN agencies and interventionist governments, the Syrian Civil Defence and fire brigades are working under crushing sanctions that ensure their equipment is outdated and literally falling apart. Many of the vehicles are European and parts are impossible to secure under sanctions.

Equipment is maintained by local engineers who do their best to repair and restore machinery which is old and tired. Much of their equipment was stolen by the terrorist groups and the White Helmets when they invaded and occupied areas of Syria from 2011 onwards. These invading groups included Al Qaeda, Ahrar Al Sham, Jaish Al Islam, ISIS and various other offshoots of these dominant extremist factions. Groups which were proven to be financed and armed by the US alliance following the publication of a 2012 declassified Intelligence Department report which identified these hardline terrorist groups as the vanguard of the insurgency in Syria endorsed and supported by the West and their allies, including the Gulf States.

Under the sanction regime imposed by the US Coalition, it has been impossible for the authentic Syria Civil Defence to replace the stolen equipment. Meanwhile the western-backed White Helmets receive a regular supply of state-of-the-art equipment via the Turkish border, much of it coming from Europe and the UK.

#Syria needs an urgent help in dousing a massive wildfire that erupted in al-Ghab Plain in north-western #Hama countryside.

The wildfire is so big that it requires assistance of fire fighting planes which Syria doesn't have. pic.twitter.com/dILEjBPwvp

— H.K (@Ibra_Joudeh) September 5, 2020

Entire forests and outstanding-natural-beauty conservation areas have been consumed by the flames in Slunfeh, the Masyaf mountains, Lattakia and Al Ghab, Hama even extending as far as north-west Homs. The fires have raged across agricultural land, destroying many of the prized and ancient Olive trees only a few weeks before harvest.

Map of fires affecting wheat and barley crops in July 2020. Credit | Ibrahim Mohammad

Previously, deliberately started fires had destroyed vast swathes of Syrian wheat and barley crops just prior to harvest. An estimated 130,000 hectares of wheat and 180,000 hectares of barley were destroyed by those fires. The US Coalition, Israel and their proxy forces, occupying the areas that were torched, were responsible for this deliberate scorched earth policy designed to ensure food insecurity for the besieged Syrian people. The fact that the most recent fires have targeted the Olive plantations must lead to speculation that these latest fires are another element of the US-led hybrid war strategy in Syria. Particularly as many of the areas burning are close to areas controlled and occupied by the extremist armed groups.

Currently, half the productive areas for olives and olive oil are under control of the Turkish-controlled Al Qaeda-led groups. Turkish traders are making huge profits from buying olive oil at low prices from their client militia, blending with lower quality Turkish oil and exporting to Europe for high prices. A local doctor in Masyaf informed me that on the 6th September, 3 fires started in the mountains behind his home, each one ignited about an hour apart. He said “this is deliberate, it is not accidental”. With half the Syrian olive production under the control of terrorist groups, providing a lucrative market for NATO-member Turkey, the burning of sections of the remaining olive groves would have a devastating impact upon the Syrian economy and food security for the coming winter.

The aftermath of one of the fires in western Syria. The smouldering remains. Photo | Ibra Joudeh.

Syria is already suffocating under sanctions. One week ago we were informed that fuel would only be available in Damascus and the surrounding countryside. Since then fuel supplies have almost dried up in Damascus. The quality of fuel is so poor it is destroying the car engines over time. The queues for fuel are up to two kilometers long, most stations are now closed. Electricity is constantly rationed, in my area of Damascus we have electricity for three hours, cut for three hours. Many in the surrounding village are lucky to have supply for more than a few hours per day. Syrian people generally make food during the summer to freeze for the winter months. Much of this precious food supply has been destroyed in the soaring heat of the last few months, with freezers not able to function.

On the 23rd August, a huge explosion tore into a gas pipeline between the towns of Al-Dhumayr and Adra. Syrian Oil Minister, Ali Ghanem, told local media that it had been caused by “a terrorist act”. The 1,200 kilometre Arab Gas Pipeline which transports natural gas from Egypt into Jordan, Lebanon and Syria supplies three electrical power stations in Syria’s south, including Damascus. This led to increased outages for the days leading up to the repair of the damage caused. This was the latest in a long history of sabotage of Syrian infrastructure, electrical power grids, power stations, oil pipelines, supply pipelines which combined with the occupation of Syrian oil fields by US Coalition proxy forces, the Kurdish separatist groups (SDF), has maximised the pressure brought to bear upon the Syrian people making life for many unbearable.

 
 

Who is helping Syria during a humanitarian crisis?

Few in the west are registering their government’s role in the US Coalition military and economic rapacious campaign to destroy Syria. They are distracted by the draconian measures being introduced globally on the back of Covid-19 narratives produced by the Big Pharma corporatocracy and aligned governmental or UN agencies. While aid is facilitated, by US officials and the UN, into the terrorist held areas of Idlib via two Turkish border crossing points that double up as Al Qaeda trading hubs, no international assistance from the imperialist axis has been forthcoming for Syria during this humanitarian crisis.

An Iranian fire-fighting plane assists Syrian Air-force helicopters in battling fires. Photo: SANA.

Iran has come to the aid of the Syrian air-force helicopters from Hama airport that were transporting water from Sourani Dam in Tartous to limit the expansion of the fires burning in the inaccessible mountain ranges, impossible to reach with fire brigade vehicles. The risk for Iran to assist Syria in this campaign is huge. The terrorist groups are equipped with the US-manufactured ground to air missile launchers which have been used in the past to bring down Syrian aircraft. Fire-fighting planes must necessarily fly low and slow to be most effective which makes them a relatively easy target for the Al Qaeda-linked armed groups armed by the US Coalition members.

 

Are these fires a deliberate policy orchestrated by the US Coalition?

Local media have been reporting the arrest of people suspected of starting some of the fires that have raged across western Syria. However, many I have spoken to, including officials and local farmers, have confirmed my suspicions that the fires were deliberately started by groups or individuals hostile to the Syrian government and state. It is too early to say whether members of the US Coalition have issued instructions to their proxies to carry out these criminal acts but preceding involvement in similar acts of savagery can lead to the conclusion that their influence may well be behind this latest ruination of Syrian territory and livelihoods.

The US-led consortium which includes the UK, EU, Israel, Turkey, Gulf States and Australia has effectively been increasing maximum pressure on Syria incrementally since the war against this non-aligned nation began, in earnest, in 2011. The Syrian people have endured untold misery, poverty, insecurity, starvation and displacement ever since the criminal campaign to impose regime change began.

A recent Watson Institute report – “Creating refugees: Displacement caused by the United States post 9/11 wars” has estimated conservatively that at least 37 million people have been displaced globally since 2001 as a result of the endless American “wars on terror”. Renowned journalist, John Pilger, described them more accurately as “wars of terror”.

The combination of a ten year military war, maximum pressure economic sanctions, the deliberate destruction of essential civilian infrastructure and the blatant scorched earth policies of the American neocolonialist foreign policy-managers are designed to reduce Syria to another failed state following NATO’s Libya blueprint. The Syrian people will not capitulate to any amount of pressure to enable their colonisation by predatory and hostile rogue states but they are suffering and they are being slowly suffocated by these sadistic measures.

Modern day “shock and awe” is the slow trickle of death under the US-manufactured economic jack-boot exacerbated by the accompanying multi-spectrum war tactics which are intended to decimate the State’s ability to provide for its people. Washington’s vision is that this will foment chaos and dissent among a beleaguered population and pressure them to rise up against a government that has withstood 10 years of such schemes.

The fires are a symbol of this insatiable globalism and military-complex supremacist policies engulfing non-aligned prey-nations. A ban on economic sanctions must be campaigned for to bring an end to these barbaric measures and to allow the Syrian people to breathe and Syria to recover its equilibrium, stability and security.

Feature photo | People fled their homes as the fires advanced towards mountain villages and farmhouses. Photo: | Ibra Joudeh

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist and photographer who has worked extensively in the Middle East – on the ground in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, while also covering the conflict in Yemen since 2015.

The post Wildfires Rage Across Syria in Wake of Increased US-Led Economic Warfare appeared first on MintPress News.

Quote of the Day: Donald Trump and “Low Income Projects”

Mother Jones Magazine -

From Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, on Donald Trump’s racist attempts to scare white suburban women:

“If I don’t win,” Trump alleges, “America’s Suburbs will be OVERRUN with Low Income Projects, Anarchists, Agitators, Looters and, of course, ‘Friendly Protesters.’ ” There is no possible interpretation of “Low Income Projects” in this context that does not involve the incitement of racism. The same might be said for the use of “Looters” and “Protesters.” Trump is conflating protests against racial injustice with criminal activity and warning that angry faces are coming to suburbia if Biden wins.

Elsewhere, Trump has warned that “low income housing and projects” will undermine the “American Dream.” Note Trump’s consistent use of the word “projects,” which evokes images of decaying and dangerous apartment buildings filled with minorities. Trump’s twisted definition of the American Dream is White flight from urban poverty and decay.

Will this work? A poll from All In Together suggests it won’t. Women usually support the Democratic candidate for president, and this year is no different: Biden leads Trump among women by 11 points. Among suburban women that increases to 14 percentage points, but they support him more on some subjects than on others. Here’s how it nets out among suburban women:

The issue on which suburban women support Biden the most is race relations. This suggests that Trump’s racist incitements are not only falling flat, but probably losing him support. Suburban women look around their neighborhoods and they simply don’t buy the apocalypse that Trump is selling. What they want, presumably, is a president who will calm things down, not one who’s deliberately inflaming white bigotry and making things worse.

None of this means that Trump can’t possibly win. In 2016 he went all-in on Hillary Clinton as a criminal and then got lucky when James Comey wrote a letter shortly before the election that seemed to confirm it. This year he’s going all-in on racist scaremongering, and he could get lucky again if something happens late in the game that scares white suburban women. Liberals need to be careful not to let that happen, especially since Trump doesn’t precisely need to rely just on luck this time around. He’s been doing his best to incite violence for the past couple of months, and there’s no reason to think he won’t keep trying right up until November 3.

No More Forced Prayers in School

ACLU News -

For years, the Smith County School System in Carthage, Tennessee, has violated the separation of church and state with impunity. But no more.
 
Yesterday evening, a federal district court issued a permanent injunction that requires the school district to stop an array of unconstitutional activities that have included, among other practices, imposing prayer on students, displaying religious symbols and messages throughout school facilities, and inviting the Gideons International, an evangelical Christian association, to distribute Bibles to fifth-graders during homeroom.
 
The court’s order comes in the form of a consent decree, meaning the school district — to its credit — recognized that these practices are legally indefensible and agreed to an injunction to resolve a lawsuit filed last year by the ACLU and ACLU of Tennessee on behalf of two families.
 
The families, including three high-school students and one middle-school student, were repeatedly subjected to official prayer at athletic events and practices, assemblies, graduation ceremonies, and other school activities. Teachers proselytized the students by reading biblical scripture in class and soliciting prayer requests. And school hallways and walls were adorned with religious posters and symbols, including a giant Latin cross painted next to the words “In God We Trust” in the school’s athletic center. These practices created a religiously hostile school environment, alienating minority-faith students and non-believers, including our clients.
 
As atheists bombarded with religious messages and forced prayer, our clients felt unwelcome and deeply uncomfortable at school. But school officials didn’t care in the slightest and rebuffed our clients when they tried to express their concerns. In one instance, a mandatory Veterans Day assembly included not one, but two prayers. Our client Kelly Butler, a U.S. Army veteran who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, attended the assembly with his children.  When he later approached the principal to tell her that he found the prayers disrespectful of his and other veterans’ service, she shouted at him and asked police officers who were present at the event to escort him off school property.
 
Unfortunately, our clients’ experience with Smith County Schools is not unusual for minority-faith and atheist families. One study published last month found that atheist and Muslim families faced significant discrimination in public schools across the country. In conjunction with the study, researchers emailed the principals of more than 45,000 public schools in 33 states, assuming the identity of parents considering enrollment of their children and asking for a meeting with the principal. The emails randomly indicated a particular religious affiliation or belief, such as Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, or atheist.
 
The results of the study were alarming but not surprising: Muslim and atheist parents were heavily discriminated against. When they revealed their beliefs in the signature part of their emails, school officials were much less likely to send a reply. Additionally, the study found discrimination against Muslim and atheist parents increased dramatically if they asked about the compatibility of the school with their beliefs and practices or requested accommodations. This is just one example of the type of discrimination students and families of non-majority faiths may face in public schools.
 
As the study concluded — and as our clients’ own experiences demonstrate — religious equality for all students in America’s public schools remains elusive. Victories like today’s mark an important milestone in this fight, but there is still much more work to be done. Every student, regardless of their faith, should be able to access public education without discrimination and religious influence by school officials. Now, in Smith County — thanks to our brave clients — they will.

Coronavirus Growth in Western Countries: September 14 Update

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here’s the coronavirus death toll through September 14. The raw data from Johns Hopkins is here.

France is starting to show a slight uptick in deaths, as is Spain (not shown). In fact, so is the United States, which was declining slowly for a month before a weeklong increase interrupted things. Maybe it’s just a blip. Then again, maybe it’s not.

While Trump Berates Portland Looters, the US Gov’t Continues to Plunder Syria with Impunity

Mint Press News -

The United States and Turkey has been plundering Syrian infrastructure for years. Beginning in late 2012 and continuing through 2013, some 300 industrial factories were dismantled and taken to Turkey from Aleppo, the industrial capital of Syria. “Machinery and goods were loaded on trucks and carried off to Turkey through the Cilvegozu and Ceylanpinar crossings. Unfortunately, ‘plundering’ and ‘terror’ have become permanent parts of the Syrian lexicon when explaining their saga.”

In October 2019, Turkish forces invaded Syria and now occupy a strip of land in the northeast. The area is controlled by the Turkish military and pro-Turkish militia forces misnamed the “Syrian National Army.” Turkish President Erdogan dubbed the invasion “Peace Spring” and said the goal was to create a “safe zone.” The reality was that 200,00 Syrians fled the invasion and over 100,000 have been permanently displaced from their homes, farms, workplaces, and livelihoods.

The industrial-scale looting continues. As reported recently in a story headlined “Turkish-backed factions take apart power pylons in rural Ras Al-Ain”: “Reliable sources have informed SOHR that Turkish-backed factions steal electricity power towers and pylons in ‘Peace Spring’ areas in Ras Al-Ain countryside.”

Turkey now controls the border city of Ras al-Ain and the nearby Allouk water treatment and pumping station. This is the water station supplying safe water to the city Hasaka and the entire region. Turkish forces are using water as a weapon of war, shutting down the station to pressure the population into compliance. For over two weeks in August, with daily temperatures of 100 Fahrenheit, there was no running water for nearly one million people.

With no tap water, civilians were forced to queue up for hours to receive small amounts from water trucks. Unable to buy the water, other civilians took their chances by drinking water from unsafe wells. According to Judy Jacoub, a Syrian journalist originally from Hasaka, “The residents of Hasaka and its countryside have been pushed to rely on unsafe water sources… Many residents have been suffering from the spread of fungi, germs and dirt in their hair and bodies as a result of using well water that is not suitable for drinking and personal hygiene. The people of Hasaka remain vulnerable to diseases and epidemics because of the high temperatures and spread of infectious diseases. If the situation is not controlled as soon as possible, the spread of Corona virus will undoubtedly be devastating.”  A hospital medical director says many people are getting sick from the contaminated water.

Judy Jacoub explains what has happened most recently:”After Syrian and international efforts exerted pressure on the Turkish regime, 17 wells and three pumps were started . The main reservoirs were filled and pumping was started toward the city neighborhoods.  However, despite the Turkish militia’s resumption of pumping water again, there is great fear among the citizens.”

 

Looting Syrian Oil and Plundering the Economy

The US also has occupying troops and a proxy military force in northeast Syria. The proxy army is misnamed the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) and how they got that name is revealing. They took on this name as they came under the funding and control of the US military as documented by Reuters, US Army General Ray Thomas told their leadership, “You have got to change your brand. What do you want to call yourselves besides the YPG?’ Then, as he explained, “With about a day’s notice they declared that they are the Syrian Democratic Forces. I thought it was a stroke of brilliance to put democracy in there somewhere.”

There are numerous parties and trends within the Syrian Kurdish community. The US has been funding and promoting the secessionist element, pushing them to ally with Turkish backed jihadists against the Damascus government. The violation of Syrian sovereignty is extreme and grotesque.

Prior to the war, Syria was self-sufficient in oil and had enough to export and earn some foreign revenue. The primary oil sources are in eastern Syria, where US troops and proxy forces have established bases. It is desert terrain with little population.

To finance their proxy army, the US has seized control of the major Syrian oil pumping wells. It is likely that President Trump thinks this is a brilliant bold move – financing the invasion of Syria with Syrian oil.

In November 2019 President Trump said, “We’re keeping the oil… The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.” Recently, it was revealed that a “Little known US firm secured a deal for Syrian oil“. Delta Crescent Energy will manage and escalate the theft of Syrian oil.

What would Americans think if another country invaded the US via Mexico, set up bases in Texas, sponsored a secessionist militia, then seized Texas oil wells to finance it? That is comparable to what the US is doing in Syria.

In addition to stealing Syria’s oil, the US is trying to prevent Syria from developing alternate sources. The “Caesar sanctions” on Syria threatens to punish any individual, company, or country that invests or assists Syria to rebuild their war-damaged country and especially in the oil and gas sector.

The US establishment seems to be doing everything it can to undermine the Syrian economy and damage Syrian currency. Due to pressure on Lebanese banks, in addition to the Caesar sanctions, the Syrian pound has plummeted in value from 650 to 2,150 to the US dollar in the past 10 months alone.

Northeast Syria is the breadbasket of the country with the richest wheat and grain fields. There are reports of US pressuring farmers not to sell wheat to the Syrian government. One year ago, Nicholas Heras of the influential Center for New American Security argued Assad needs access to cereal crops in northeast Syria to prevent a bread crisis in the areas of western Syria that he controls… Wheat is a weapon of great power in this next phase of the Syrian conflict.” Now, it appears the US is following this strategy. Four months ago, in May 2020, Syrian journalist Stephen Sahiounie reported that US Apache helicopters flew low in the Shaddadi countryside south of Hasaka ad dropped incendiary weapons, causing the wheat fields to explode into flames while the hot dry winds fanned the raging fire, according to residents of the Adla village.

After delivering their fiery pay-load, the helicopters flew close to homes in an aggressive manner, which caused residents to fear for their lives. The military maneuver was delivering a clear message: don’t sell your wheat to the Syrian government.”

To better loot the oil and plunder the Syria economy, in the past weeks the US is sending more heavy equipment and military hardware through the Kurdish region of Iraq.

In the south of Syria, the US has another base and occupation zone at the strategic Al Tanf border crossing. This is at the intersection of the borders of Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. This is also the border crossing for the highway from Baghdad to Damascus. The US controls this border area to prevent Syrian reconstruction projects from Iraq or Iran. When Syrian troops have tried to get near the area, they are attacked on their own soil.

Meanwhile, international funds donated to “Syrian relief” efforts are disproportionally sent to assist the last strong-hold of al-Qaeda in Idlib on the northwest border with Turkey.  The US and its partners evidently want to sustain the armed opposition and prevent the Syrian government from reclaiming its territory.

 

International law and the UN Charter

The US and Turkey have shown how easy it is to violate international law. The occupation of Syrian land and attacks on its sovereignty is being done in broad daylight. But it is not just a legal issue. Stopping the supply of safe drinking water and burning wheat fields to create more hunger violate the most basic tenets of decency and morality.

With supreme hypocrisy, the US foreign policy establishment often complains about a decline in the “rule of law,” yet In practice, there is no greater violator than the US itself.

In his speech to the UN Security Council, Syrian Ambassador Ja’afari decried this situation thusly: “international law has become like the gentle lamb whose care is entrusted to a herd of wolves.”

Feature photo | File photo – American soldiers patrol Syrian oil fields. Baderkhan Ahmad | AP

Rick Sterling is a journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com

The post While Trump Berates Portland Looters, the US Gov’t Continues to Plunder Syria with Impunity appeared first on MintPress News.

At the Polls, Episode 1: What to Expect on Election Day 2020

ACLU News -

We usually know what to expect on any given presidential Election Day. After all, they happen every four years. But this is the first election in our lifetime to occur during a global pandemic, and there have already been significant changes to the electoral process as more voters plan to mail in their ballots than ever before. How will that change our quintessential American tradition of watching the results roll in on election night? 

Today, the ACLU’s At Liberty podcast launches At the Polls, a weekly mini-series on this election and all things voting. In the first episode, At the Polls host and ACLU voting rights lawyer and organizer Molly McGrath talks about what to expect this year with election law scholar Rick Hasen and election administrator Rachel Rodriguez.

https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/893268934

The big question this year is how long it may take to get the results. On a typical Election Day, TV networks report results bit by bit until finally declaring a winner the same night. This year it will likely take much longer. Mail-in ballots take longer to process and count, and many states don’t start to count them until Election Day. A delay on election night could mean that ballots are still getting counted, and that the process is working like it should. There’s also bound to be some litigation and maybe even a recount.  

The last time we saw a lag in declaring the winner was two decades ago, when it took 36 days to declare George W. Bush the winner over Al Gore after a hotly contested recount in Florida. While we don’t yet know how long it will take this year, what’s certain already is that Election 2020 will be one for the history books. 

Listen to the full kickoff episode of At the Polls and subscribe to learn more about what to expect on Election Day 2020 — in the courts, in the media, and on the ground. 

Pandemic Profiteering: Amazon Caught Price Gouging as Jeff Bezos's Wealth Soared to $200 Billion

Democracy Now! -

The online giant Amazon has made an extraordinary amount of money during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many people shelter at home and shop online. A new Public Citizen report documents how Amazon set prices for essential products during the crisis at levels that would violate price gouging laws in many states, and marked up some products by as much as 1,000%. “This is an ongoing thing. They are doing this currently. They’ve been doing it throughout the pandemic,” says Alex Harman, competition policy advocate for Public Citizen and author of the report. “They are looking to maximize profit during a pandemic.”

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