Category Archives: USA

corona marginalia: techno-tyranny

“How do we really use new technology in the economy of tomorrow? And that’s the lesson that we’re all learning right: work from home; telemedicine; tele-education. It’s all about technology, and a better use of technology, and really incorporating the lessons into that. And probably the best mind in this country, if not on the globe to do this, is I believe a true visionary, especially in the field of technology, and that’s Eric Schmidt.”

This is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effusive welcome to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he joined him for the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday May 6th. Cuomo continues:

“[Schmidt] saw a future that no-one else envisioned and then developed a way to get there. And we’ve asked him to come work with us to bring that kind of visionary aspect to government and society. Let’s look at what we just went through. Let’s anticipate a future through that lens. And tell us how we can incorporate these lessons. And Mr Schmidt who has tremendous demands on his talent and his time has agreed to help us and head an effort to do this.”

Eric Schmidt, no less lavish in his praise for Cuomo, says:

“Thank you Governor. You have been doing an incredible job for our state and frankly for the nation, and I’m really pleased to help. The first priorities of what we’re trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those ways that will make things much, much better.”

The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein begins her latest article entitled “Screen New Deal” with reflections on this video meeting and Cuomo’s announcement that Schmidt “will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life”:

This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.

She continues:

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.

And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.

That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Adding:

Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future — but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.

And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt.

Klein notes: “Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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Eric Schmidt and the NSCAI

“[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them.”

— Chris Darby, President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the CIA and member of NSCAI. *

The second part of Klein’s article moves on to discuss the Sidewalk Labs division of Google’s parent company Alphabet and specifically their “smart cities” Toronto project. This is a topic I have addressed in my last post published as it happened on the eve of the project being shut down following what Klein describes as “two years of ceaseless controversy relating to the enormous amounts of personal data that Alphabet would collect, a lack of privacy protections, and questionable benefits for the city as a whole.”

But central to her article is an investigation into Schmidt’s other roles both as Chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments, and associated technologies.”

Specifically, Klein draws attention to slides from a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI back in May 2019, that have since been released following a Freedom of Information request made by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

In fact a week prior to Klein’s excellent piece, independent journalist Whitney Webb had already brought attention to the same document release; the presentation in question is titled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview”.

Webb writes:

This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”

In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.

Webb then highlights Eric Schmidt’s “similar concerns about ‘losing’ technological advantage to China”:

[Schmidt] argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.

Naomi Klein likewise draws attention to the NYT op-ed headlined “I used to Run Google. Silicon Valley Could Lose to China”, in which Schmidt had called for “unprecedented partnerships between government and industry” and is, in Klein’s words “once again, sounding the yellow peril alarm”. She then quotes the salient passages:

A.I. will open new frontiers in everything from biotechnology to banking, and it is also a Defense Department priority. … If current trends continue, China’s overall investments in research and development are expected to surpass those of the United States within 10 years, around the same time its economy is projected to become larger than ours.

Unless these trends change, in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure. … Ultimately, the Chinese are competing to become the world’s leading innovators, and the United States is not playing to win.

On this pretext of regaining competitive advantage over China, the NSCAI presentation goes on to cite the kinds of “structural factors” that need to be altered.

Here is Whitney Webb again:

Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems. […]

The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadly and horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.

Who are NSCAI? Webb provides us with a list of members and their interests:

Other members of the NSCAI are as follows:

  • Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
  • Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
  • Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
  • Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
  • Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
  • Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
  • Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
  • Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
  • Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
  • William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
  • Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
  • Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI

As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Techno-tyranny: How the US National Security State is using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision” published on May 4th at her official website Unlimited Hangout.

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Tele-everything!

In her article for The Intercept, Naomi Klein supplies an update and a glimpse of the headway already made by the tech giants in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to a subsequent op-ed by Eric Schmidt [passages in Italics], Klein writes:

Less than two weeks into New York state’s lockdown, Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that both set the new tone and made clear that Silicon Valley had every intention of leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation.

Like other Americans, technologists are trying to do their part to support the front-line pandemic response. …

But every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over. How could the emerging technologies being deployed in the current crisis propel us into a better future? … Companies like Amazon know how to supply and distribute efficiently. They will need to provide services and advice to government officials who lack the computing systems and expertise.

We should also accelerate the trend toward remote learning, which is being tested today as never before. Online, there is no requirement of proximity, which allows students to get instruction from the best teachers, no matter what school district they reside in. …

The need for fast, large-scale experimentation will also accelerate the biotech revolution. … Finally, the country is long overdue for a real digital infrastructure…. If we are to build a future economy and education system based on tele-everything, we need a fully connected population and ultrafast infrastructure. The government must make a massive investment—perhaps as part of a stimulus package—to convert the nation’s digital infrastructure to cloud-based platforms and link them with a 5G network.

Indeed Schmidt has been relentless in pursuing this vision. Two weeks after that op-ed appeared, he described the ad-hoc homeschooling programing that teachers and families across the country had been forced to cobble together during this public health emergency as “a massive experiment in remote learning.” The goal of this experiment, he said, was “trying to find out: How do kids learn remotely? And with that data we should be able to build better remote and distance learning tools which, when combined with the teacher … will help kids learn better.” During this same video call, hosted by the Economic Club of New York, Schmidt also called for more telehealth, more 5G, more digital commerce, and the rest of the preexisting wish list. All in the name of fighting the virus.

His most telling comment, however, was this: “The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.” He added that people should “be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now, and have really helped us out.”

Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.

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* From an article entitled “In-Q-Tel President Chris Darby on the intelligence community’s innovation challenges” written by Olivia Gazis, published in CBS News on April 24, 2019. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/intelligence-matters-in-q-tel-president-chris-darby-on-the-intelligence-communitys-innovation-challenges/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, mass surveillance, USA

the fix is in, or how the DNC robbed Bernie Sanders all over again

Court grants DNC the right to rig primaries

In June 2016, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz for violating the DNC Charter by rigging the Democratic presidential primaries for Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders. Even former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid admitted in July 2016, “I knew—everybody knew—that this was not a fair deal.” He added that Debbie Wasserman Schultz should have resigned much sooner than she did. The lawsuit was filed to push the DNC to admit their wrongdoing and provide Bernie Sanders supporters, who supported him financially with millions of dollars in campaign contributions, with restitution for being cheated.

On August 25, 2017, Federal Judge William Zloch, dismissed the lawsuit after several months of litigation during which DNC attorneys argued that the DNC would be well within their rights to select their own candidate. “In evaluating Plaintiffs’ claims at this stage, the Court assumes their allegations are true—that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz held a palpable bias in favor Clinton and sought to propel her ahead of her Democratic opponent,” the court order dismissing the lawsuit stated. This assumption of a plaintiff’s allegation is the general legal standard in the motion to dismiss stage of any lawsuit. The allegations contained in the complaint must be taken as true unless they are merely conclusory allegations or are invalid on their face.

From an article published by The Observer in August 2017 entitled “Court Concedes DNC Had the Right to Rig Primaries Against Sanders”.

The same piece concludes:

Jared Beck, one of the leading attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit told The Observer, “The standard governing the motion to dismiss requires the Court to accept all well-pled allegations as true for purposes of deciding the motion. Thus, the Court recited the allegations of the Complaint that it was required to accept as true, and in so doing, acknowledged that the allegations were well pled. Indeed, if you look at the Complaint, you will see that all of these allegations accepted by the Court specifically rely on cite materials that are readily available in the public record, and they support the inference that the DNC and the DWS rigged the primaries.” 1

Click here to read Michael Sainato’s full article.

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Anyone but Bernie

Joe Biden is very evidently not fit for office and everyone knows it. I do not write this because of the nepotism that secured his son Hunter an appointment to the board of Ukrainian natural gas giant Burisma Holdings Ltd. Nepotism and cronyism is just par for the course in US politics. Remember for instance, that George H W Bush provided son and future POTUS with a sufficient financial leg-up to establish an entire oil company, the aptly named Arbusto Energy. After it went belly up and was swallowed up by Harken Energy, Bush Jr was transferred to the board making a tidy sum in the process – it helps to be well-connected. The present incumbent of the White House is arguably more shameless still, appointing daughter Ivana his senior advisor alongside Ivana’s husband and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had been previously brought in to develop and run Trump’s digital media strategy.

Nor does Biden’s creepy behaviour around women, very young woman in particular, diminish his ‘electability’, if again we judge from recent history. Bill Clinton’s proclivities are hardly less scandalous while in the previous campaign The Donald was eventually forced to make a confession of his own “locker room” antics. As close acquaintances of convicted child trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, both Clinton and Trump obviously share a great deal with own disreputable HRH Prince Andrew. Judging on the basis of popularity – the main measure of ‘electability’ – the US electorate evidently cares very little in this regard.

But today Biden, a seasoned political campaigner, has an altogether different and insurmountable impediment, since no amount of disarming political slickness can disguise it. Not long ago, Biden, as unprincipled and seedy as he always has been, nevertheless maintained a rather sharp intellect, whereas in recent months he increasingly cuts the figure of a sad, confused and incoherent old man who is repeatedly caught off guard and otherwise seen humiliating himself in virtually every public appearance he makes. Time has swiftly caught up with Joe Biden and everyone knows it.

Sky News host Rita Panahi says “no matter how hard the Democrats and their allies in the media try, Biden’s cognitive issues can no longer be ignored”.

How then did he win out in the Democratic race to be nominated for presidential candidate? Put differently, how on earth did Bernie Sanders, who has lost none of his intellectual acuity, to say nothing of his boundless energy and enthusiasm, manage to lose badly enough in the earlier contests of the Democratic Primaries to be forced to step aside now?

The short answer is that Sanders was robbed – and every conceivable tactic to undermine his campaign has been deployed as we shall see – just as the candidacy was also stolen from him during the 2016 campaign (as DNC lawyers freely conceded in their bid to defeat the class action lawsuit).

The message from the DNC and the liberal media (which also backed Biden and deliberately marginalised Sanders) is loud and clear. Letting Trump be returned to office in the upcoming November contest is an outcome they have practically guaranteed with Biden’s nomination. So they have thrown the towel in, preferring to have Trump re-elected than run any risk of America choosing President Sanders.

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Rigging in plain sight

In an article published in Counterpunch on April 9th, the founder of the website VotePact.org, Sam Husseini points to multiple manoeuvres by both the DNC and fellow Democrat candidates, especially the so-called progressives, used to stymie Sanders’ campaign. Husseini says the “Bloody Monday” move — when Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar both endorsed Biden just after his South Carolina win and just before ‘Super Tuesday’ — was only the tip of the iceberg, and to support this he offers a list of further examples to consider:

* Kamala Harris and Cory Booker pulled out of the race before South Carolina, paving the way for Biden’s win there. Jim Clyburn of course endorsed Biden just before South Carolina. Tragically, Jesse Jackson only endorsed Sanders after.

* Warren split the progressive ranks throughout and ultimately refused to endorse Sanders.

* Even the choices of the candidates was useful to stopping Sanders. Pete Buttigieg was from Indiana and the net effect of his campaign was to deny Sanders a clear win in not-so-far-away Iowa. Amy Klobuchar was from Minnesota and so the net effect of her campaign was to throw that state to Biden so that Biden won something substantial outside of the south on Super Tuesday, making his rise appear national and therefore plausibly inevitable.

* Ostensibly antiwar candidate Tulsi Gabbard throughout refused to meaningfully criticize the war addicted Biden — even when she had a clear shot to do so during the debates on his Iraq war lies. Meanwhile, Sanders just kept saying Biden voted for the Iraq war while Sanders didn’t. Sanders never meaningfully made the case that Biden played key role in making the Iraq invasion happen and never really tore into his lies.

* Mike Gravel — who might have really tore into Biden — was excluded from the debate stage throughout.

* Julián Castro was marginalized shortly after he attacked Biden.

* Bloomberg coming in had the net effect of Warren going after him — for things she could well have gone after Biden about but didn’t. His demise effectively gave the base a sense of weird relief that Biden is the nominee: “Well, at least we didn’t get stuck with Billionaire Bloomberg”.

You couldn’t have planned it better for Biden if you tried. And lots of forces — from the DNC to the establishment media did try in thousands of ways. 2

Click here to read Sam Husseini’s full piece.

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Iowa, four years ago

“Based on this work, Election Justice USA has established an upper estimate of 184 pledged delegates lost by Senator Bernie Sanders as a consequence of specific irregularities and instances of fraud. Adding these delegates to Senator Sanders’ pledged delegate total and subtracting the same number from Hillary Clinton’s total would more than erase the 359 pledged delegate gap between the two candidates. EJUSA established the upper estimate through exit polling data, statistical analysis by precinct size, and attention to the details of Democratic proportional awarding of national delegates. Even small changes in vote shares in critical states like Massachusetts and New York could have substantially changed the media narrative surrounding the primaries in ways that would likely have had far reaching consequences for Senator Sanders’ campaign.”

This is the conclusion of a 96-page report entitled “Democracy Lost: A Report on the Fatally Flawed 2016 Democratic Primaries” published by Election Justice USA. (Note that I reprinted part of the report as an addendum to this earlier post.)

Here’s what the same report said about irregularities in the Iowa Caucus:

The Des Moines Register Editorial Board was so disgusted with the irregularities that they witnessed with their own eyes, and the Democratic establishment’s refusal to respond to them transparently, that it penned an editorial entitled: “Something Smells in the Democratic Party.” It notes that the whole process produced a “whiff of impropriety” and said that the Party response “reeks of autocracy.”

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A funny thing happened (again) on the way to the caucus

Iowa is a place that few people outside America could quickly locate on the map. A hop and a skip to the west of the Great Lakes, squeezed in neatly above and between the confluence of the great Missouri and Mississippi rivers, Iowa briefly came to the world’s attention earlier this year, when its population of a little over 3 million turned out to vote in the first of this season’s Democratic Party primaries.

Results are usually totted up overnight, but not on this occasion. Following delay after delay, and correction after correction, the numbers slowly trickled in, before it was eventually announced that outsider candidate Pete Buttigieg had narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders in terms of delegates (also the final tally still confirmed that Sanders won the popular vote). Curiously, although Sanders had entered the contest as clear favourite, it was Buttigieg alone of all the candidates who proclaimed victory in the midst of the Iowa meltdown:

Before discussing the ensuing fiasco of the Iowa Democratic 2020 caucuses, and “the app” behind the chaos, it is perhaps helpful to give a quick overview of how the archaic system of voting known as caucuses actually works. Dotted to cover each precinct across the state, people gather at designated venues including libraries, churches, schools and sometimes just private houses, not to cast paper ballots, but to physically divide into “preference groups” for the candidate they came to support. Once an initial count has been done, a complicated procedure then goes as follows:

Caucus participants have up to 30 minutes to join a preference group. After the caucus chairman determines which groups are viable, participants have another 30 minutes to realign, or join a different caucus group.

Throughout this process, members of a preference group may attempt to persuade other caucus-goers, especially members of non-viable groups, to join their preference group. Non-viable groups may merge to gain enough members to meet the viability threshold. Or members of non-viable groups may choose to join the uncommitted preference group. Or they can choose not to join any group.

When the preference groups are set, the caucus chairman will determine the number of county convention delegates each preference group is entitled to elect. When those numbers are totaled at the state level, the “winner” of the Democratic caucus is the one with the most delegates. 3

At this year’s caucuses, the Iowa DNC took the understandable decision to introduce an app to simplify the counting process, but instead “an unspecified ‘coding issue’ with the software [that] led to it producing only partial and unreliable results”. Officially this is the end of the story, however, the same Associated Press report quoted above then delves deeper:

[The makers of the app] Shadow Inc. was launched by ACRONYM, a nonprofit corporation founded in 2017 by Tara McGowan, a political strategist who runs companies aimed at promoting Democratic candidates and priorities. McGowan sought to distance herself from Shadow’s IowaReporterApp on Monday night, characterizing the app developer as an “independent” company. In a separate statement, an ACRONYM spokesman said the nonprofit organization is an investor in several companies, including Shadow, but was “eagerly awaiting more information from the Iowa Democratic Party with respect to what happened.”

But business and tax records show ACRONYM and Shadow are registered at the same Washington, D.C., street address, which belongs to a WeWork co-working location. Shadow CEO Gerard Niemira previously served as the chief operating officer and chief technology officer at ACRONYM, according to an online resume.

And if as it wasn’t bad enough that Tara McGowan, the founder of the company behind the app, the wife of Michael Halle, a senior strategist for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, and that Buttigieg’s campaign also paid Shadow Inc. $42,500 for software, it also transpires that:

[O]n Sunday [the eve of the Iowa caucus], McGowan tweeted pictures from a birthday celebration that included her husband and Troy Price, the chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party. 4

Click here to read the full article published by Associated Press on February 4th.

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California purging, then and now

This is what the EJUSA reported from the California Democratic Primary with regard to evidence of voter suppression back in 2016, in which tremendous efforts we made to disqualify “no-party-preference” voters (NPP) – a subject I shall return to shortly:

Voter suppression by California elections officials targeting no-party-preference (NPP) voters: 1) Refusal to include NPP presidential voting options on regular ballots; 2) Refusal to mail presidential ballots to NPP vote-by-mail voters unless explicitly requested; 3) Refusal to provide mandatory notices to vote-by-mail NPP voters of their right to a Presidential Preference ballot; 4) Refusal to inform NPP voters at the polls of their right to a Presidential Preference ballot; 5) Refusal to provide adequate ballots and/or voter indexes, despite the State Law requirement of 75% voter roll coverage; 6) Refusal to clarify to voters that American Independent is a political party and does not signify “independent” (NPP) status. We filed a lawsuit in an attempt to address these issues, but relief was not granted.

Testimonies and statistics detailing voter suppression in California:

1) Testimony from CA voters who were given provisional ballots by pollworkers despite their names being on the Democratic voter rolls.

2) Testimony from CA Democratic voters who received the wrong ballot type in the mail.

3) Testimony/video evidence from CA Democratic voters who were given provisional ballots instead of being directed to a recently-changed polling location.

4) Testimony from poll inspectors about a shortage of ballots: in some cases, fewer than 39% of registered voters would have been covered by the number of ballots provided for Los Angeles

County precincts, despite a CA State Law requirement that 75% coverage be guaranteed. We also have testimony from voters who were forced to use provisional ballots due to ballot shortages.

5) Poll workers did not count or keep a roster of provisional ballots in CA, hence no chain of custody is possible.

With regards to registration tampering, which “involves changes made to party affiliation or registration status without a voter’s knowledge or consent”:

We have also received testimony and affidavits from over 700 California voters who experienced voting and registration problems. Of these respondents, 84 were switched to another party without their knowledge or consent. In some cases, these changes were back-dated such that they were listed as made before the voter initially registered.

Of illegal voter purging:

We have received testimony and affidavit material from more than 700 CA voters who experienced problems voting, 78 of which had been purged or were not on the poll books of their polling place. These accounts are corroborated by hard evidence in the form of document scans.

And lastly, of fraudulent or erroneous voter machine tallies:

A well-controlled California early voter exit poll (Capitol Weekly/Open CA) consisting of 21,000 data points matched early returns for down-ballot races, but was off by ~16% for Sanders v. Clinton, with the discrepancy in Clinton’s favor. According to the L.A. County elections chief, Dean Logan, early/mail-in votes are reported first, strongly suggesting a miscount of mail-in ballots.

Do please note that the same report from 2016 cites evidence of serious irregularities in at least 16 other states including Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York.

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Bringing us back up to the present investigative journalist Greg Palast, an expert in the field having covered voter suppression and other forms of election rigging for the past two decades for the Guardian, Rolling Stone magazine and the BBC’s Newsnight, has again published many reports from this season’s Democratic Primaries.

The following is an extract from just one of those reports in which he explains how “California’s arcane and complex voting system is [my note: again] stealing hundreds of thousands of votes from Bernie Sanders”:

Sanders, as expected, won the plurality of California’s votes, but he could well be shorted out of hundreds of thousands of votes and scores of delegates.

How did this happen? While Californians, including independent voters, vote overwhelmingly for Democrats in general elections, and 5.3 million Golden State voters register “NPP”, no party preference.

These 5 million independents legally have the right to vote in the Democratic primary, but the Democratic party created an inscrutable obstacle course for them to do so, one that amounts to another type of voter suppression.

The problem begins with a postcard.

Last autumn, all 5 million NPP voters were mailed a postcard allowing them to request a ballot with the Democratic party presidential choices. However, as many states have learned, postcards with voter information largely look like junk mail and get thrown out.

If the independents don’t respond to the postcards, they get a ballot without presidential choices. But they have one more chance to vote for a candidate in the primaries: at the ballot box.

At the polling station, though, things remain confusing. According to rules set by the national Democratic party, the independent voters have to bring in their NPP ballot to the polling station and request to exchange it for a “crossover Democratic” ballot that lists the candidates.

However, if the voter fails to ask for the “crossover” ballot by its specific name, the poll worker is barred from suggesting it and they won’t receive it. 5

Click here to read Greg Palast’s full report entitled “Bernie kost 553,000 Votes to California Dem Party Rules”.

Such “disenfranchisement by postcard” which exploits loopholes in the rule for “no-party-preference” is just one of many ploys that have once again enabled voter suppression both in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic Primaries.

However, beyond the overwhelming evidence of major voter suppression, there are once again widespread and significant statistical discrepancies that are recognised indicators of direct election fraud – in this regard it is important to point out that correlations between exit polls and official vote counts provide one of the crucial and standard checks carried out by election observers across the world to ensure legitimacy (read the part below about recent historical precedents).

To find evidence of statistically significant exit poll versus official vote count mismatches in the latest Primaries (as were also discovered in 2016) I recommend an excellent website called TDMS|Research, where a comprehensive series of reports makes direct mathematical comparisons for many of the state primary results. Reproduced below is an extract of analysis for just the 2020 California primary – for ease of reference a table of results for all candidates is also provided with attached notes explaining the meaning of data for each of the columns:

Election results from the computerized vote counts of the 2020 California Democratic Party presidential primary differed significantly from the results projected by the exit poll conducted by Edison Research and published by CNN at poll’s closing. According to the exit poll Sanders won big in CA (by 15%). The unobservable computer counts cut his lead by half (to 7.3%). […]

The combined discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Biden currently totals 7.7%; more than double the 3.1% margin of error for the exit poll difference between the two. Warren’s and Biden’s discrepancies totals 5.6%, double the 2.5% margin of error. All margin of errors calculated at 95% confidence interval (CI).  See table note 5.  Values greater than the margin of error are considered statistically significant. The discrepancies in favor of Biden in California as in many of the other states to date, substantially exceed the margin of error at 99% (CI).

The discrepancies between the exit poll and the vote count for candidates Sanders and Bloomberg totals 6.7%; more than double the 2.6% margin of error for the exit poll difference between the two. Warren’s and Bloomberg’s discrepancies totals 4.6%, about double the 2.1% margin of error. To date, California computers totaled 250,600 less votes for Sanders and Warren than projected by the exit polls and 236,700 more votes for Biden and Bloomberg.

The discrepancies between the exit polls’ projections of each candidate’s vote share and the vote shares derived from unobservable computer counts have a considerable impact on the apportionment of delegates to each candidate. The apportionment of delegates is, after all, the main reason for these state primaries. 6

[1] Exit poll (EP) downloaded from CNN’s website by TDMS on election night, March 3, 2020 at 11:00 PM ET. Candidates’ exit poll percentage/proportion derived from the gender category. Number of EP respondents: 2,350. As this first published exit poll was subsequently adjusted towards conformity with the final computerized vote count, the currently published exit poll differs from the exit poll used here and available through the link below.

[2] Candidates’ percentage/proportion of the total computer-generated vote counts derived from reported counts (94% reporting) updated on March 6, 2020 and published by The New York Times. Total number of voters: 3,290,429

[3] The difference between the exit poll proportion and reported vote proportion for each candidate (subtracting values in column two from the values in column three). A positive value indicates the candidate did better and received a greater share of the total reported count than projected by the exit poll. For example, candidate Biden, reported percentage/proportion of the total vote increased by 4.5% compared to his exit poll share.

[4] This column shows the percentage increase or decrease from the candidate’s exit poll projection (difference in column four divided by exit poll proportion in column two).  Shown only for candidates with 4% or more share in the exit poll.

[5] This column presents a distinct Margin of Error (MOE) of the exit poll (EP) for the differences between candidate Biden and each of the other candidate’s EP results. The exit poll MOE, for example, between Biden and Sanders is 4.0% and the MOE between Biden and Warren is 3.9%.  For simplicity MOE not shown for candidates with less than 4% share in the EP.  MOE calculated at 95% CI according to multinomial formula in:  Franklin, C. The ‘Margin of Error’ for Differences in Polls. University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin. October 2002, revised February 2007. Available at:  https://abcnews.go.com/images/PollingUnit/MOEFranklin.pdf 

[6] The disparities between the exit poll and the reported computer-generated vote counts comparing Biden and each of the other candidates (subtracting each candidate’s difference between exit poll and computer count from Biden’s difference of 4.5%.). Disparities for candidates Sanders and Warren are double their respective MOE. For example, candidate Biden’s unverified computerized vote count exceeded his EP projected vote proportion by 4.5% while Sander’s computerized count understated his EP projected vote proportion by 3.7% for at total discrepancy of 8.2%. This 8.2% disparity, greatly exceeding the statistical 4.0% margin of error based on their exit poll proportions, is significant as it cannot be attributed to the MOE.

Click here to read the full article published by TDMS|Research on March 9th.

Analysis of many other state primaries is also available at TDMS|Research including for Michigan, Massachusetts, Missouri, Vermont, Texas, South Carolina and New Hampshire.

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Election fixes past: as American as ‘hanging chads’

Exit polls are the standard by which the US State Department measures the honesty of foreign elections. Exit polling is, historically, deadly accurate. The bane of pre-election polling is that pollsters must adjust for the likelihood of a person voting. Exit polls solve the problem.

But three times in US history, pollsters have had to publicly flagellate themselves for their “errors.”  In 2000, exit polls gave Al Gore the win in Florida; in 2004, exit polls gave Kerry the win in Ohio, and now, in swing states, exit polls gave the presidency to Hillary Clinton.

From an article by Greg Palast published two days after Trump’s victory on November 11th 2016 that was entitled “The Election was Stolen – Here’s How…” He continued:

So how could these multi-million-dollar Ph.d-directed statisticians with decades of experience get exit polls so wrong?

Answer:  they didn’t.  The polls in Florida in 2000 were accurate.  That’s because exit pollsters can only ask, “How did you vote?”  What they don’t ask, and can’t, is, “Was your vote counted.”

In 2000, in Florida, GOP Secretary of State Katherine Harris officially rejected 181,173 ballots, as “spoiled” because their chads were hung and other nonsense excuses.  Those ballots overwhelmingly were marked for Al Gore.  The exit polls included those 181,173 people who thought they had voted – but their vote didn’t count.  In other words, the exit polls accurately reflected whom the voters chose, not what Katherine Harris chose.

In 2004, a similar number of votes were invalidated (including an enormous pile of “provisional” ballots) by Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.  Again, the polls reflected that Kerry was the choice of 51% of the voters.  But the exit polls were “wrong” because they didn’t reflect the ballots invalidated by Blackwell.

Gore Vidal was prominent amongst those who spoke out about the serious discrepancies uncovered during the 2004 election in Ohio:

Notably, two weeks after the 2004 US election, the US State Department refused to recognize the Ukraine election results because the official polls contradicted the exit polls.

And here we go again. 2016: Hillary wins among those queried as they exit the polling station—yet Trump is declared winner in GOP-controlled swings states. And, once again, the expert pollsters are forced to apologize—when they should be screaming, “Fraud!  Here’s the evidence the vote was fixed!” 7

Click here to read Palast’s full article.

Palast afterwards released a documentary The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and this companion piece.

Click here to read an earlier post which includes Palast’s BBC Newsnight reports on the US election in 2000 and 2004.

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Nothing to see here…

The evidence presented by Greg Palast and a few independent journalists back in 2016 was solid and warranted serious investigation and widespread news coverage, but instead the liberal media were hugely distracted as they force-fed their audience a fantastical nothing-burger known as ‘Russiagate’. As Palast wrote in a separate report for Democracy Now!:

Officially, Donald Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes. But a record 75,335 votes were never counted. Most of these votes that went missing were in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, majority-black cities.

How could this happen? Did the Russians do it? Nyet. You don’t need Russians to help the Michigan GOP. How exactly do you disappear 75,000 votes? They call them spoiled votes. How do you spoil votes? Not by leaving them out of the fridge. Most are lost because of the bubbles. Thousands of bubbles couldn’t be read by the optical scanning machines.

This is a single example of the plethora of irregularities that eventually led Green candidate Jill Stein to call for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – states where Donald Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton. But, as Palast explained on Democracy Now!, the recounts in turn were just another travesty:

Instead of allowing that eyeball count of the votes that are supposedly blank, they said, “Oh, we’ll just run them back through the machines.” It’s like betting on an instant replay. It’s the same game. They just put them through the bad machines again. This is not just a bad way to count the ballots; it’s a way to not count African-American ballots.

As Palast’s investigation also revealed, Black voters already most affected by faults in the machines were being further disenfranchised by methods of voter suppression including, most notably, a system called Crosscheck:

After reading my report on the Kobach/Koch/Trump operation, which has removed tens of thousands of minority voters from the rolls in the swing states that surprisingly shifted to Trump, former federal judge (and now Congressman) Alcee Hastings told me Crosscheck is a criminal violation of federal law. Hastings has called for criminal indictments and written an official Congressional member letter to ask for investigation. 8

As Palast said on Democracy Now!:

Well, you know, people are looking for Russians, but what we had is a real Jim Crow election. Trump, for example, in Michigan, won by less than 11,000 votes. It looks like we had about 55,000 voters, mostly minorities, removed by this racist system called Crosscheck. In addition, you had a stoppage—even before the courts ordered the complete stop of the vote in Michigan, you had the Republican state officials completely sabotage the recount. […]

There were 87 machines in Detroit that were—that didn’t function. They were supposed to count about a thousand ballots each. You’re talking about a massive blockade of the black vote in Detroit and Flint, enough votes, undoubtedly, to overturn that election.

And you saw a mirror of this in Wisconsin, where, for example, there were many, many votes, thousands of votes, lost in the Milwaukee area, another African-American-heavy area.

But the question is: Where are these ballots not counted? They are not counted in African-American areas, in Dearborn, where there’s a heavy Arab-American community, in Latino communities. So, while we’re discussing hacking the machines, a lot of this was old-fashioned Jim Crow tactics, you know, from way back. And by the way, a lot of this is the result of the destruction and the gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which this is the first election post the Voting Rights Act. So, we saw—and Jill Stein said it correct—she expected to see a lot of hacking. What she found was, as she said, a Jim Crow election.

It is unsurprising, of course, that the Republicans and Trump actively opposed the recounts. The behaviour of Obama and the liberal media, not to mention Clinton herself, is harder to understand. For rather than backing Jill Stein’s efforts – the only action that could have successfully challenged the final election result – they instead chose to distract the public by demonising Russia with their nonsensical CIA concoction about hacking.

Click here to read a full transcript and to watch the report and follow-up interview on the Democracy Now! website.

On December 13th, Greg Palast was interviewed by Thom Hartmann on RT’s The Big Picture about evidence he has uncovered of vote rigging and the role of Kris Kobach, “Crosscheck” and the Koch Brothers in alleged voter suppression:

Palast said: This is a criminal conspiracy – that’s what Hastings said – by Republican operatives for Trump, particularly Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, and his cronies, the Secretaries of State in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Arizona too.

I spoke to Jill Stein about this the other night. She says, “Okay, if there is, like you say, evidence that the Russians picked our president for us, we want to know it – show the evidence, let’s stop getting distracted by it.” She’s worried that people are going to forget that in fact what happened here is what she calls ‘a Jim Crow election’. And that’s what happened, we had a Jim Crow election.

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1 From an article entitled entitled “Court Concedes DNC Had the Right to Rig Primaries Against Sanders”, written by Michael Sainato, published in the Observer on August 26, 2017. (Updated on August 29, 2017.) https://observer.com/2017/08/court-admits-dnc-and-debbie-wasserman-schulz-rigged-primaries-against-sanders/ 

2 From an article entitled “Sanders Suspends: What Happened? What Now?” written by Sam Husseini, published in Counterpunch on April 9, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/04/09/sanders-suspends-what-happened-what-now/

3 From an article entitled “What happens at a caucus?” written by James Q Lynch, published in The Gazette on November 19, 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20071222142101/http://www.iowacaucus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=%2F20071119%2FIOWACAUCUS%2F71119004

4 From an article entitled “Maker of glitch Iowa caucus app has Democratic Party ties” written by Michael Biesecker and Brian Slodysko, published in Associated Press on February 4, 2020. https://apnews.com/5232ce5601996c1de440806ad30fa4fb

5 From an article entitled “Bernie kost 553,000 Votes to California Dem Party Rules” written by Greg Palast, published on March 9, 2020. https://www.gregpalast.com/bernie-lost-553000-votes-to-california-dem-party-rules/ 

6 From an article written by Theodore de Macedo Soares, published in TDMS|Research on March 9, 2020. https://tdmsresearch.com/2020/03/09/california-2020-democratic-party-primary/

7 From an article entitled “The Election Was Stolen – Here’s How…” written by Greg Palast, published on November 11, 2016. https://www.gregpalast.com/election-stolen-heres/

8 From an article entitled “Crosscheck Is Not Just Crooked, It’s Criminal” written by Greg Palast, published on December 5, 2016. http://www.gregpalast.com/crosscheck-not-just-crooked-criminal/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, election fraud, Greg Palast, USA

Mike Pompeo’s ‘democratic plan’ for Venezuela and Juan Guaidó’s alleged involvement in terrorist regime change operations

After bizarrely placing Nicolás Maduro top of a wanted list on charges of drug trafficking, the Trump administration then unveiled a so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ that calls for the ouster of the Venezuelan President in exchange for a five-person “Council of State”.

Irrespective of the hardships already suffered by the people of Venezuela under the current sanctions programme, and heedless to a worsening situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the US is threatening “increased” sanctions if Venezuela does not comply.

Yesterday, Aaron Maté from The Grayzone spoke to Latin America policy analyst and campaigner with Codepink, Leonardo Flores, about the latest US effort to starve Venezuelans into submission in order to force a regime change.

Towards the end of the interview, Leonardo Flores describes the extraordinary revelations of Cliver Alcalá, who is one of those indicted by the US Department of Justice on accusations of narco-trafficking. Shortly after the DOJ press conference ended, Alcalá actually confessed on Twitter that he was involved in plots including terrorist attacks to overthrow Maduro.

Additionally, he said weapons confiscated by Colombian police were paid for with money provided by Juan Guaidó. However, Alcalá was not only implicating Washington’s choice for Venezuelan President, Juan Guaidó, scandalously seen photographed with members of the infamous Los Rastrojos drug cartel, but also an unspecified number of US advisors, who he claims met with him on no less than seven different occasions. Alcalá has now been turned over to US authorities.

The transcript of the interview below is mine [interview begins at 1:50 mins].

Aaron Maté: What is your reaction to this so-called ‘democratic transition plan’ from Pompeo?

Leonardo Flores: My reaction really is bewilderment. Because a few days ago, as you just said, the Department of Justice unveiled indictments against Maduro and 13 other former and current government officials and members of the military; immediately ramping up the pressure. And then this transition proposal seems to be kind of a step back.

First of all it’s a total non-starter. It’s not going to go anywhere. It wasn’t negotiated with anyone in Venezuela on the side of the government. It’s a plan that supposedly came from Juan Guaidó in part, but really it’s been designed in the State Department itself.

AM: The thinking here in the White House, what do you think it is? They’ve been trying now for more than a year to overthrow Maduro. They’ve tried to spark some military uprisings. It hasn’t worked. Now they’ve shifted to this bounty last week on Maduro’s head. Wat do you think is the strategy going on inside Washington? What are they hoping to achieve with these narco charges against Maduro, and now this new so-called plan?

LF: Well, in a sense they’re just trying to throw everything at the wall to just see what sticks. But, particularly with this plan, I think it’s to alleviate the pressure that’s coming on them due to the sanctions.

We’ve seen everyone from the UN to the EU to other multilateral organisations and NGOs call for a lifting of the sanctions. We’re seeing a letter being sent around the Senate that has at least 11 people who’ve signed on led by Senator Chris Murphy calling for humanitarian relief for Venezuela and Iran: lifting the sanctions during this pandemic. And so I think that’s maybe getting to the Trump administration and this is their way of sending some kind of olive branch to these more moderate factions in Washington. But, you know, it’s not a serious proposal.

Side note: “It hurts our nation’s security and our moral standing in the world when our sanctions policy results in innocent people dying. I am particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on the COVID-19 response in Iran and Venezuela”

— Sen. Chris Murphy

AM: What I think has been overlooked in the discussion of all this is that in trying to install Guaidó, the Trump administration has portrayed this picture where it has been basically Maduro versus Guaidó, and there’s no-one in between. But meanwhile, there have been negotiations between Maduro and elements of the Venezuelan opposition, just not the one that includes Guaidó’s faction. Can you talk about this and how it’s been ignored.

LF: Sure. So, the last time Guaidó participated in negotiations seriously – his faction I mean – was in August 2019. And those talks were undermined when the Trump administration imposed what the Wall Street Journal called an economic embargo; they really ramped up the sanctions on August 5th.

After that, about a month later, Nicolás Maduro and the Venezuelan government began negotiating with more moderate sectors of the political opposition – sectors of that really want to engage in democracy and engage in politics and aren’t looking for regime change. And coincidentally, those months of 2019, I’m talking about September, October and November; they were the most stable months in a really crazy year for Venezuela, that started off with this attempted coup by the Trump administration and Juan Guaidó.

Now, those negotiations are still ongoing. There’s ongoing dialogue. They resulted with – in early January – with a new election for the President of the National Assembly. This new President of the National Assembly was from the same party as Juan Guaidó. I think he was expelled from that party – but I’d have to check up on that to be honest. And what we’re seeing is that Juan Guaidó got kind of pushed out and these extremist opposition sectors got pushed out a bit from these attempted negotiations. So this is their way back in, so to speak.

AM: So, if you could address someone who might look at this plan now from Pompeo and – the way Pompeo’s framing it is that, you know, the US has no preference for who leads Venezuela aside from Maduro. We want him gone. In fact, Pompeo said as much today. Let me play you a clip…

Mike Pompeo: We’ve made clear all along that Nicolás Maduro will never again govern Venezuela, and that hasn’t changed.

AM: That’s Mike Pompeo. Well first of all, let me just ask you to respond to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State of the United States, declaring that the leader of another country will never govern there again.

LF: I mean it’s completely ridiculous. Maduro has been governing since 2013 and he has been governing throughout this whole time when the State Department has been trying to portray Venezuelan government as nonexistent and they’re trying to force Juan Guaidó as the so-called “interim president”.

But what’s really curious to me is that there’s contradictions within the White House. So that’s a very interesting Pompeo quote, but earlier today, Elliot Abrams, who’s the Special Representative for Venezuela for the Trump administration; he told Reuters that “while Maduro would have to step aside” – and this is a direct quote [the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile ] – “the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and he even suggested that he ‘could theoretically’ run in the election.

So Abrams is saying ‘hey maybe Maduro can run’, Pompeo’s saying ‘Maduro is never again going to be able to govern’. There’s clear disconnect. It’s kind of indicative of what we’ve seen in the White House since Trump to office, with lack of communication between different sectors of the executive branch.

AM: Let’s say that Abrams, what he suggests, is the proposal that the US is putting forward, then somebody might look at that and say, hey you know listen the US shouldn’t be involved in Venezuela, but it is, and the fact is that right now they’re putting forward this plan where they’re offering to relieve these crippling, murderous sanctions if Venezuela just agrees to this new transition and hold new elections. Why not just abide by that to help ease the suffering of Venezuela?

LF: Well, Venezuela has a constitution. I mean that’s the biggest thing we have to talk about. It is a sovereign country that has a constitution, and is guided by that constitution. And so the Trump administration used that constitution, and made these kind of quasi-legal arguments, to say that Juan Guaidó was actually the real President because Maduro was ‘not officially in power’. And now they’re turning around and saying well you know what, forget that constitution and let’s talk about this whole ‘democratic framework transition’ that has no constitutional basis in Venezuela at all.

But what I think we really need to emphasis is that if the Venezuelan government decided to hold new elections – new presidential elections – after coming to an agreement with the opposition, they’re well within their rights. But this plan is being imposed from abroad, it lacks any sort of popular support within Venezuela, and in that regard it’s a non-starter.

AM: Just to stress this point, I do think holding new elections – that has been under discussion in Maduro’s negotiations with the opposition, right?

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean first of all there have to be new elections – I mean parliamentary elections because those are due this year. And after those parliamentary elections there is the possibility that you might have new presidential elections in Venezuela.

But there’s no way that those presidential elections can be carried out while Venezuela is under sanctions from the US and the EU; particularly by the US sanctions. This is reminiscent of Nicaragua in the ’90s when the Nicaraguan people had an election and the US government said that if the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] then wins, then the sanctions will continue, but if the opposition wins then the sanctions will be lifted.

AM: Let me play for you a clip on that front. This is John Stockwell, he is a former CIA officer, and he was describing this tactic the US uses of basically making countries like Nicaragua submit to US demands or starve.

John Stockwell [speaking on December 27th 1989]: The point is to put pressure on the targeted government by ripping apart the social and economic fabric of the country. Now that’s words, you know, social and economic fabric: that means making the people suffer as much as you can until the country plunges into chaos, until at some point you can step in and impose your choice of governments on that country.

AM: So that’s a former CIA officer describing the US approach to countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela. Leo, what’s your sense of where the Venezuelan people are at? They’ve been suffering for a long time now under these sanctions. There was just a poll that was shared by the opposition economist Francisco Rodríguez pointing out that two-thirds of Venezuelans say that US sanctions are causing huge misery inside their country.

What is your sense of where the electorate is at inside Venezuela? The people: are they at the point where they’re willing to give up [and] to submit to US demands, whatever they are, in return for some relief from this blockade?

LF: No, I wouldn’t say they are. I mean we have to be clear though, Venezuela is a very polarised country. So we have this sector that votes for the opposition – that a good percentage of it would likely welcome Pompeo’s plan. But then you have the Chavistas, which represent at least 40% of the electorate, and of all eligible voters, and they would absolutely reject this plan.

It’s absolutely true though that sanctions have completely destroyed the economic fabric of Venezuela. But one of the reasons that Venezuela has been able to overcome the pressure from the United States is due to the social fabric, and due to the organising at the community level, and due to the organising that the government enables from above.

AM: Okay, so you mentioned the Venezuelan electorate. Let me ask you quickly about this, because a huge talking point that the US administration uses and its parroted across the political establishment – even Democrats who oppose the sanctions parrot this talking point –which is that Maduro is not a legitimately elected leader, and they point to alleged fraud in the 2019 Venezuelan elections.

I know it’s complicated but can you give us the simplest case for why this talking point is false.

LF: Right. So, there’s actually no evidence that there was fraud, and really the argument that there was fraud only comes from the United States.

What happened in the 2018 elections is that sectors of the opposition just decided to boycott the election. And they boycotted at the direction, or under the instructions of the State Department.

In early 2018 there was dialogue between the government and the opposition. The two sides were very close to signing an agreement – they actually had an agreement written down. They were negotiating in the Dominican Republic, they went back to Venezuela for one week to consult with various parties involved; during that interim week, then-Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, threatened an oil embargo, and he also suggested that if the military were to overthrow Maduro, that this move would be welcomed by the United States.

Also during that week, the State Department said that they would not recognise any elections in 2018: that Maduro had to go first before there were elections. That’s what leads to these kind of claims of fraud because of this opposition boycott. But really there was no fraud: the parties that did participate, participated fully; there were international observers; there was a vote that was audited; and Maduro won in a landslide election.

AM: Maduro received over six millions votes, and, if I have the history correct, the main opposition candidate, Henri Falcón, who ran, he was even threatened with US sanctions if he kept participating in the elections.

LF: That’s right. And not only was Henri Falcón threatened with sanctions, but so was Allup who was leader of Acción Democrática – Democratic Action Party – this is one of the bigger opposition parties. It’s slightly more moderate than Juan Guaidó’s party. But he said, I think it was in March of 2019, excuse me 2018, he pondered ‘why would I run, if the US isn’t going to recognise my victory?’

And so the US made it clear that even if an opposition leader had won, that they were not going to recognise it because it wasn’t going to be the opposition leader that they wanted.

AM: So let me ask you about these narco-trafficking charges that have been unveiled against Maduro and other top officials. The allegation – and maybe you can explain it for us – because it’s pretty bewildering: is that Maduro and the other top Venezuelan officials have been engaged in a criminal conspiracy to flood the US with drugs, going back many years.

LF: Yeah, that’s correct. And so the DOJ talks about a plan to plot to flood the US with cocaine since 1999. Maduro wasn’t even in power in 1999. In 1999, he was a member of the National Constituent Assembly and he was helping to draft Venezuela’s constitution.

So one of the interpretations of these accusations in Venezuela is that these aren’t accusations against individuals, it’s really an accusation against the entire Bolivarian revolution. And going a little bit deeper, this plot claim by the DOJ is patently ridiculous, I mean, the US government’s own statistics show that over 90% of the cocaine in the United States is either from Colombia, or has travelled through Colombia. Those same statistics show that less than 7% of the cocaine that the United States has transited through Venezuela at some point.

Venezuela doesn’t produce coca – the coca leaf – it doesn’t produce cocaine, whereas Colombia is the biggest producer of both coca and cocaine in the entire world. It’s clear that these accusations – these charges – are completely politically motivated and they’re not based on any sort of reality.

If they were, then really the conspiracy to flood the United States with cocaine – you have to look at the President of Colombia and the prior President Álvaro Uribe and really the kind of entire Colombian social structure, which enables narco-paramilitaries to control their society and to support cocaine.

AM: And you’ve written about, for The Grayzone, a piece that explains that one consequence of this indictment, is that it’s triggered a confession – a very serious confession – by one of the people charged of a violent US-based plot against Maduro. Can you explain what happened there?

LF: Right. So one of the people indicted, his name is Cliver Alcalá, he was a former member of the military. He used to be very close to Chavismo. He flipped to the opposition in 2016 and since 2017, give or take, he’s been involved in various plots and coup attempts [including] attempted terror plots in Venezuela. He’s been linked to them.

And so immediately after the DOJ press conference last week that indicted Mr Alcalá, he posted some videos on Twitter and other social media confessing to a terror plot in Venezuela from about a week and a half ago —

So a bit of back story: the Colombian police seized 26 high-powered rifles and several other weapons of war and military equipment. Alcalá claimed that the weapons were his – that they were bought using money from Juan Guaidó. That he and Juan Guaidó had entered into a contract for the weapons. That the weapons were going to be used to help overthrow the Venezuelan government by causing a terror plot and by targeted assassination of Chavista leaders.

Alcalá now has been turned over to US authorities. It’s unclear what’s going to happen with him, but what is clear is that he implicated not just Juan Guaidó in this terror plot, but US advisors – he claims that he met with US advisors on at least seven different occasions.

AM: And just to put a final point on this, he says that Guaidó paid him money for this plot. And so those weapons that were seized in Colombia were paid for by Guaidó, and then presumably the US which backs up Guaidó, and is actually using money initially intended for Central American aid to pay for Guaidó and his fellow coup-plotters.

LF: Yeah, that’s right. The money wasn’t necessarily going to Alcalá directly, it was going to the weapons that Alcalá purchased. And Juan Guaidó’s only source of financing is the US government, which basically is us US taxpayers.

AM: So finally, as part of its coup effort in Venezuela, the US has been putting heavy pressure on anybody engaged in business with Venezuela, and that’s included sanctioning Russia’s state oil company, Rosnef.

Rosnef was recently forced to basically divest its holdings in Venezuela and then transfer it to another Russian government – in fact, the wholly Russian government owned company. Will this be enough to keep Venezuela afloat, or do you think that the power of the US is just too strong here?

LF: I think it would be enough under slightly different circumstances, but the fact is that oil is plummeting right now and so it’s unclear what’s happening with Venezuelan government’s finances.

I don’t think the Venezuelan government is going to fall due to financing. I think in that sense, you know, China and Russia have a lot invested in Venezuela, and Venezuela has other means of securing financing, whether it’s through gold or rare earth minerals. But it does make the situation much more difficult and it has led to gasoline shortages recently in Venezuela.

AM: And finally, in terms of what can be done here in the US, you mentioned that there’s now increased talk from Congress – increased pushback from Congress – asking them not to suspend the sanctions entirely, but to simply pause them during the coronavirus pandemic, which I suppose is better than nothing.

But as we are dealing now with economic troubles of our own here at home, what do you think can be done right now to push back on the Trump administration’s coup effort, and to try to stop the regime change plot on Venezuela – and to drop the sanctions?

LF: Well, I think for starters the issue of Venezuela has become incredibly toxic in mainstream politics. So if you take any sort of position that is deemed friendly to the Venezuelan government, even if it’s actually not necessarily friendly to the government, like say humanitarian relief and [lifting] sanctions, you’re immediately going to be seen with mistrust by a certain element of the political establishment.

And so I think that really what’s most important is that to highlight what the Trump administration has been doing to sabotage dialogue in Venezuela. If it were not for Trump, I think we would already have a political agreement in Venezuela and the country would be much more stable. But he’s in thrall to his financers in Florida, the Cuban-American lobby in Florida and rich Venezuelans in Florida; it all boils down to Florida unfortunately.

I think really that the best hope that the Venezuelan government has is to hold out until after the November elections. Even if Trump is re-elected I think it opens up a possibility of negotiations between the Trump administration and the Maduro government.

AM: Yeah, on that front it doesn’t inspire confidence that Joe Biden has fully embraced Trump’s coup attempt, and has recognised Juan Guaidó as the President, but certainly, no matter what happens, November will be a key date in all this and other issues of course.

Leo Flores, Latin American policy expert and campaigner with Codepink, thanks very much.

LF: Thank you Aaron.

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Covid-19 vs. freedom and democracy: let us not sacrifice one to defeat the other

A primer: ‘The clairvoyant ruling class’

“The ruling class exists, it’s not a conspiracy theory. They operate as a class, too. They share the same values, the same sensibility and in Europe and North America they are white. They act in accordance with their interests, which are very largely identical. The failure to understand this is the single greatest problem and defect in left discourse today.”

— John Steppling, Author, Playwright

“This report is crucial reading for anyone interested in creatively considering the multiple, divergent ways in which our world could evolve.”

— Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation

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Scenario planning for corporate strategy was pioneered by Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s. [Further reading on scenario planning: The Art of the Long View] The following excerpts are highlights from the May 2010 “Scenarios for the Future of Technology & International Development” report produced by The Rockefeller Foundation & Global Business Network.

Please note: The excerpts below are from the “Lock Step” scenario, but excerpts from all four scenarios are available in the original article published by Wrong Kind of Green.

“In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit. Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain — originating from wild geese — was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic-prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting nearly 20 percent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults. The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.” […]

“The pandemic blanketed the planet — though disproportionate numbers died in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central America, where the virus spread like wildfire in the absence of official containment protocols. But even in developed countries, containment was a challenge. The United States’s initial policy of “strongly discouraging” citizens from flying proved deadly in its leniency, accelerating the spread of the virus not just within the U.S. but across borders. However, a few countries did fare better — China in particular. The Chinese government’s quick imposition and enforcement of mandatory quarantine for all citizens, as well as its instant and near-hermetic sealing off of all borders, saved millions of lives, stopping the spread of the virus far earlier than in other countries and enabling a swifter postpandemic recovery. [p 18]

“China’s government was not the only one that took extreme measures to protect its citizens from risk and exposure.  During the pandemic, national leaders around the world flexed their authority and imposed airtight rules and restrictions, from the mandatory wearing of face masks to body-temperature checks at the entries to communal spaces like train stations and supermarkets. Even after the pandemic faded, this more authoritarian control and oversight of citizens and their activities stuck and even intensified. In order to protect themselves from the spread of increasingly global problems — from pandemics and transnational terrorism to environmental crises and rising poverty — leaders around the world took a firmer grip on power.” […]

“At first, the notion of a more controlled world gained wide acceptance and approval. Citizens willingly gave up some of their sovereignty — and their privacy — to more paternalistic states in exchange for greater safety and stability. Citizens were more tolerant, and even eager, for top-down direction and oversight, and national leaders had more latitude to impose order in the ways they saw fit. In developed countries, this heightened oversight took many forms: biometric IDs for all citizens, for example, and tighter regulation of key industries whose stability was deemed vital to national interests. In many developed countries, enforced cooperation with a suite of new regulations and agreements slowly but steadily restored both order and, importantly, economic growth.” [p 19]

Click here to read the full article entitled “The Clairvoyant Ruling Class” published by Wrong Kind of Green.

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Fighting the invisible enemy today

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Benjamin Franklin 1

In the fight against Covid-19, the government of South Korea has arguably shown a way for other democracies to follow. First and foremost it established a comprehensive system of testing to confirm positive cases. This was backed up by contact tracing, targeted isolation and quarantine. Imposing sensible restrictions on travel also helped to slow and limit the spread of the outbreak. By acting promptly and enacting the precise measures called for by the scientists at the World Health Organisation, the Koreans managed to swiftly and effectively control the spread of Covid-19 infection and thereby averted a developing crisis.

One criticism of the South Korean approach surrounds its intrusive use of mobile phone technology to track movement and contacts. Though understandable perhaps (given cultural differences), such an infringement of privacy was non-essential, and there is really no need or justification whatsoever for western democracies to follow a similar course. That GCHQ in Britain and the NSA in America are already able to access and record private digital information including personal communications, metadata and location is actually an open secret. Of course, the opportunity now presents itself for such covert practices to be rolled out very publicly and given full legal sanction; moves that ought to be opposed. In other regards, however, the Korean model is surely exemplary.

The graph below is a snapshot of an interactive chart that you can access here.

Snapshot taken on March 28th

In stark contrast to Korean efficiency that halted the spread of infection, government responses across the western world have been comparatively slow to act, muddled, and in some respects negligent. The unfolding situation in Italy tragically illustrates a clear lack of preparedness on the part of the authorities there, where in spite of several weeks advantage over the Koreans, an initially lax approach allowed community-spread of the infection. It was not until a full-blown public health crisis emerged that increasingly draconian and sometimes overnight emergency measures were put in place.

On this Sky News report from March 11th, which was recorded prior to the full lockdown, many Italians were already asking why so little, so late:

Virtually all other European countries have failed to learn the lessons from Italy.

A fortnight later on March 27th, Sky News reported from Spain, where once again action to prevent and slow the spread of the virus came too late:

In France and Britain, where the clampdown has been more gradual and less severe up to now, the implementation of restrictions has been similarly confused and inexplicably overdue. Who knows how many more people became infected in the days and weeks leading up to the eventual (and inevitable) closure of sporting events, entertainment venues, gyms and pubs, let alone during the time lost as schools, offices and building sites continued to operate; the government’s preference for business as usual.

On the other hand, the overreach shown by North Derbyshire police who decided to fly their drones over The Peak District last week in order to shame anyone out walking the dog or just taking a quiet stroll was not just unwarranted, but entirely counterproductive. In a time of national crisis, you have to ask why our news media chose to broadcast this footage and reinforce such a stark police state message:

The situation facing America is set to be worse, with its lack of social safety nets and a system of healthcare provision that makes it a privilege millions simply cannot afford. Compounding these problems, the response so far has been more complacent and shambolic than our own governments in Europe; Trump theatrical as ever, recently telling everyone that it’ll all be over by Easter. Meanwhile, after weeks of non-intervention and exponential rates of infection (a terrible spike in numbers in New York especially) with other states like Florida taking no actions at all to check the spread of disease, one indication of the growing desperation is the panic-buying not just of toilet rolls, but of firearms.

On March 26th, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed New York City emergency room doctor Craig Spencer, a survivor of Ebola, which he contracted while fighting its outbreak in Africa. He says: “I think, in a week, we will be Italy. At least here in New York City, we’re already seeing that” [at 15:30 mins]:

Behind the scenes, on the other hand, dramatic moves are now being taken to tackle the pandemic, including ones that will sideline constitutional rights altogether. Indeed, there are clear parallels with actions taken during immediate aftermath of 9/11, its shadow lengthened by the coincidentally mysterious anthrax attacks, which enabled then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to fast-track the Patriot Acts. Likewise, today’s Justice Department is in the process of launching a raft of new legislation that further undermines civil liberties and chips away at fundamental human rights:

Documents reviewed by POLITICO detail the department’s requests to lawmakers on a host of topics, including the statute of limitations, asylum and the way court hearings are conducted. POLITICO also reviewed and previously reported on documents seeking the authority to extend deadlines on merger reviews and prosecutions. […]

In one of the documents, the department proposed that Congress grant the attorney general power to ask the chief judge of any district court to pause court proceedings “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

The proposal would also grant those top judges broad authority to pause court proceedings during emergencies. It would apply to “any statutes or rules of procedure otherwise affecting pre-arrest, post-arrest, pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures in criminal and juvenile proceedings and all civil process and proceedings,” according to draft legislative language the department shared with Congress. […]

The request raised eyebrows because of its potential implications for habeas corpus — the constitutional right to appear before a judge after arrest and seek release.

“Not only would it be a violation of that, but it says ‘affecting pre-arrest,’” said Norman L. Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “So that means you could be arrested and never brought before a judge until they decide that the emergency or the civil disobedience is over. I find it absolutely terrifying. Especially in a time of emergency, we should be very careful about granting new powers to the government.” 2

Click here to read the full article published by Politico.

In an article published by Mint Press News a few days later, Whitney Webb picked up where Politico left off, highlighting plans for ‘Continuity of Government’ (COG) and the use of a controversial database known simply as ‘Main Core’ that lists American dissidents and “potential troublemakers”:

Though Main Core was reportedly in use after September 11 to target “unfriendly” individuals for increased domestic surveillance, concern that COG plans in the age of coronavirus could take a more drastic turn and involve the detention of Americans included in that database now seems more plausible than ever. On Saturday, Politico reported that the Department of Justice has demanded new “emergency powers” during the current pandemic and these powers include being able to indefinitely detain Americans without trial. Politico also noted that the DOJ’s controversial new requests “span several stages of the legal process, from initial arrest to how cases are processed and investigated.” Per the DOJ’s requests, indefinite detention would emerge through a new ability whereby the Attorney General or a judge could pause court proceedings whenever courts are “fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.”

What Politico did not include in its report is that current Attorney General William Barr has spent the past several months fine-tuning and implementing a “pre-crime” program. Officially known as the “National Disruption and Early Engagement Program” (DEEP), it aims to “identify, assess and engage” potentially violent individuals “before they strike.” Barr first announced this program last October in an official memorandum and therein stated that the program was to be implemented sometime over the course of 2020 and would involve “an efficient, effective and programmatic strategy to disrupt individuals who are mobilizing towards violence, by all lawful means.”

Whitney Webb continues:

In his memorandum, Barr further notes that the program’s “early engagement tactics” were “born of the posture we adopted with respect to terrorist threats” following the September 11 attacks, essentially stating that this pre-crime program will utilize methods from the “War on Terror” domestically and on a massive scale.

Adding:

Furthermore, with the FBI having recently flagged “conspiracy theorists” (and by extension those who distrust or question government narratives of both past and present) as a “domestic terror threat,” the DOJ could even make the case that failure to blindly trust government narratives presents a threat to the public order. Given that the Main Core database in its current form contains bulk surveillance gathered from social media, phone conversations/messaging apps and even financial information (i.e. purchasing history, etc.) on Americans deemed unfriendly “often for the slightest and most trivial reason,” this unprecedented power grab by the DOJ has an authoritarian and Orwellian potential to target legitimate dissent like never before. 3

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’”.

Moreover, under the pretext of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Washington recently extended FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act), and specifically the three Patriot Act provisions:

With the nation’s attention fixed on the rapidly spreading coronavirus, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation to extend FBI surveillance powers that were set to expire on March 15.

The bill, formally titled the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, cleared the House by a vote of 278 to 136, with 152 Democrats and 126 Republicans voting yes. View the full roll call here.

The legislation, strongly opposed by civil liberties groups and privacy advocates, is the product of bipartisan negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.).

Attorney General William Barr voiced his support for the measure in a statement on Wednesday.

If passed by the Senate, advocacy group Free Press warned, legislation would “reauthorize abusive government surveillance powers.”

“The bill would reauthorize Section 215 powers Congress established under the USA Patriot Act in 2001,” Free Press noted. “Section 215 is the provision national security agencies cited in the past to support their unwarranted collection of phone records of hundreds of millions of people in the United States.” 4

Click here to read the full report published by Common Dreams.

There has been a terrible recent history when it comes to the emergency management of disasters in America. These legislative preparations and the tightening of lockdowns to tackle coronavirus recall not only the power grab after 9/11 but also, and just as alarmingly, the institution of de facto martial law when New Orleans was flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

When Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans poet Shelton Alexander to evacuate his home, he took his truck and video camera to the Superdome. He escaped the chaotic shelter a few days later with a truckload of people and video documentation of history:

It is rather too easy to take our rights and democratically enshrined freedoms for granted, when in fact these are constantly under attack. And during times of crisis, when an opportunistic executive is able to avoid scrutiny, when lawmakers can retreat into the shadows to begin reshaping long-held constitutional rights, democracy is especially vulnerable. In abandoning its democracy principles, all in the name of protecting its citizens from this new invisible enemy, America seems to be trailing the way as it did after 9/11 (Israel too – see the video below), and the rest of the world would do well to pay attention.

On March 25th, Greg Wilpert, host of ‘The Real News Network’, spoke with Antony Loewenstein, author of ‘Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe’, about how the Israeli government’s state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic is being used to shut down political debate and the right to protest:

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Update: New coronavirus law ‘bestows unlimited powers’ on Orbán government

On the same day I posted this article [March 30th] Amnesty International issued the following press release:

Following a decision by the Hungarian parliament to pass a new law that will allow the Government to rule by decree – without a clear end date or periodic reviews – under an extended state of emergency, David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, said:

“This bill creates an indefinite and uncontrolled state of emergency, and gives Viktor Orbán and his Government carte blanche to restrict human rights.

“This is not the way to address the very real crisis that has been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need strong safeguards to ensure that any measures to restrict human rights adopted under the state of emergency are strictly necessary and proportional in order to protect public health. This new law bestows unlimited powers to the government to rule by decree beyond the pandemic.

“During his years as Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán has overseen a rollback of human rights in Hungary, stoking up hostility towards marginalised groups and attempting to muzzle Hungary’s critical voices. Allowing his government to rule by decree is likely to speed up this rollback.”

Rule by decree

The new law will allow Hungary’s Government to rule by decree without a sunset clause or any other provision that would guarantee parliament can exercise proper oversight. It also creates two new crimes which would mean that anyone who publicises false or distorted facts that interfere with the “successful protection” of the public, or that “alarm or agitate” the public, could be punished by up to five years in prison. Anyone who interferes with the operation of a quarantine or isolation order could also face a prison sentence of up to five years, a punishment that increases to eight years if anyone dies as a result.

Amnesty is warning that these measures are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards. Plans for the new law were criticised last week by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the International Press Institute, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Click here to read the same press release on the Amnesty International website.

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1 Quote originally used by Benjamin Franklin for the Pennsylvania Assembly in its “Reply to the Governor” (November 11, 1755).

2 From an article entitled “DOJ seeks new emergency powers amid coronavirus pandemic” written by Betsy Woodruff Swan, published in Politico on March 21, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/21/doj-coronavirus-emergency-powers-140023

3 From an article entitled “Coronavirus: What Newsweek Failed to Mention About ‘Continuity of Government’” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on March 23, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/coronavirus-what-newsweek-failed-mention-continuity-government/265954/ 

4 From an article entitled “152 House Democrats Join GOP to Reuathorize ‘Abusive Government Surveillence Powers’” written by Jake Johnson, published by Common Dreams on March 12, 2020. https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/03/12/152-house-democrats-join-gop-reauthorize-abusive-government-surveillance-powers

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Europe, Hungary, Israel, Korea (North and South), mass surveillance, police state, USA

lobby your MP: lift sanctions on Iran immediately!

The COVID-19 virus has had an unprecedented effect on the entire world and Iran is no exception. Iran is being ravaged by the virus and now has more cases than any other country in the world with the exception of China and Italy.

Millions in Iran are likely to die, not just because of the virus but because US imposed sanctions are preventing countless innocent people from accessing vital medical care.

Write to your MP to force the British government to put public pressure on Trump’s administration to end inhumane sanctions at this desperate time.

Click here to find a template letter to send to your MP.

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Update:

The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.

Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by coronavirus, with its death toll climbing to 1,284 and one person dying from it every 10 minutes and 50 becoming infected every hour, the health ministry said.

The United States, which argues that its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear, missile and regional activities does not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, imposed new sanctions this week.

The Trump administration blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three in mainland China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa for trade in Iran’s petrochemicals.

“Washington’s increased pressure against Iran is a crime against humanity,” an Iranian official told Reuters. “All the world should help each other to overcome this disease.”

Click here to read the full Reuters report

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Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif accused the US of taking its policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran to a “new level of inhumanity” by imposing new sanctions on Iran as it struggles to cope with a huge surge of Covid-19 cases.

Zarif tweeted on Friday that The Trump administration was “gleefully” taking pride in “killing Iranian citizens” on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20 this year. He said US policy betrayed an “utter contempt for human life.”

His rebuke comes shortly after the US blacklisted five companies based in the United Arab Emirates for trading in Iranian petrochemicals. Three companies in China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa were also added to the list this week, as Washington attempts to choke off Tehran’s oil revenues.

Click here to read the full report on RT.

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solidarity with Julian Assange on the eve of his extradition hearing: journalism is not a crime

“The broad and vague nature of the allegations against Julian Assange, and of the offences listed in the indictment, are troubling, as many of them concern activities at the core of investigative journalism in Europe and beyond. Consequently, allowing Julian Assange’s extradition on this basis would have a chilling effect on media freedom, and could ultimately hamper the press in performing its task as purveyor of information and public watchdog in democratic societies.”

— Dunja Mijatović, Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe.

“Will the Prime Minister agree with the Parliamentary report that’s going to the Council of Europe that this extradition should be opposed and the rights of journalists and whistleblowers upheld for the good of all of us?”

— Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the House of Commons.

“I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation, in fact, longer. I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars.”

— John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor.

“When we speak about dictatorships, we call this brainwashing: the conquest of minds. It is a truth we rarely apply to our own societies, regardless of the trail of blood that leads back to us and which never dries.

WikiLeaks has exposed this. That is why Assange is in a maximum security prison in London facing concocted political charges in America, and why he has shamed so many of those paid to keep the record straight. Watch these journalists now look for cover as it dawns on them that the American fascists who have come for Assange may come for them, not least those on the Guardian who collaborated with WikiLeaks and won prizes and secured lucrative book and Hollywood deals based on his work, before turning on him.”

— John Pilger from a recent article entitled Julian Assange Must Be Freed, Not Betrayed.

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Australian citizen Julian Assange’s extradition hearing is set to start at Belmarsh Prison, London, on Monday 24th February.

The United States government wants to extradite the journalist and whistleblower to face charges under the Espionage Act for conspiracy to receive, obtain and disclose classified information. Much of the prosecution’s case relates to files released that exposed crimes committed by the US in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and which Australia was, and is, a willing participant.

Below is a list of the protests being organised in Australia, USA and Britain.

Friday 21st February
Darwin:
Parliament House, 11am
Melbourne: State Library, 6.30pm

Saturday 22nd February
London: Australia House, 71 Aldwych WC2B 4HN at11:30am, march 12:30pm to Parliament Square

Sunday 23rd February
Perth:
US Consulate, 3pm

1st Week of Assange’s Hearing: Monday 24th February

Australia

Adelaide: Parliament steps, 5pm
Brisbane: British Consulate, 100 Eagle Street, 12pm
Hobart: Parliament Lawns, 12.30pm
Nowra: 59 Junction St (Cnr Berry Street), 12pm
Melbourne: British Consulate, 10am-5pm
Sydney: Martin Place Amphitheatre, 12pm

USA

New York City: Global Protest at the UK Consulate in NYC to mark the beginning of Julian Assange’s full extradition hearing on February 24th.

Britain

HMP Belmarsh: Protest in front of Belmarsh Prison each day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing, February 24-28th

Protests commence at 9:30am

HMP Belmarsh
4 Belmarsh Road
Thameshead,
London SE28 OHA

For a list of the global events visit FreeAssangeGlobalProtest on Facebook.

Click here to find upcoming events on the Defend Wikileaks website.

And here for further information and resources from DontExtraditeAssange.com

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Filed under Australia, Britain, campaigns & events, internet freedom, John Pilger, USA

the united colours of Bilderberg — a late review of Montreux 2019: #2 (un)stable strategic order

This is the second of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.

This piece focuses on issues relating to China and Russia:


A schematically enhanced version of last year’s ‘key topics’

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The price of “full spectrum dominance”

“I have said earlier that the United States is now totally frank about putting its cards on the table. That is the case. Its official declared policy is now defined as ‘full spectrum dominance’. That is not my term, it is theirs. ‘Full spectrum dominance’ means control of land, sea, air and space and all attendant resources.” [from 38:30 mins]

These sobering words come from Harold Pinter’s acceptance speech after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Dying from cancer and confined to a wheelchair, Pinter courageously seized the occasion and used it as a final opportunity to speak truth to power.

He continued:

“The United States now occupies 702 military installations throughout the world in 132 countries, with the honourable exception of Sweden, of course. We don’t quite know how they got there but they are there all right.

“The United States possesses 8,000 active and operational nuclear warheads. Two thousand are on hair trigger alert, ready to be launched with 15 minutes warning. It is developing new systems of nuclear force, known as bunker busters. The British, ever cooperative, are intending to replace their own nuclear missile, Trident. Who, I wonder, are they aiming at? Osama bin Laden? You? Me? Joe Dokes? China? Paris? Who knows? What we do know is that this infantile insanity – the possession and threatened use of nuclear weapons – is at the heart of present American political philosophy. We must remind ourselves that the United States is on a permanent military footing and shows no sign of relaxing it.” 1

In March 2018 ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed former New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer, author of “Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq”. Kinzer reminds us of just a few of the many U.S.-backed coups and invasions beginning with the overthrow of Nicaraguan President José Santos Zelaya (1909) to the toppling of democratic Prime Minister Mosaddegh in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état to the Dominican Republic to Honduras to Cuba. He also discusses the radical anti-imperialism of Mark Twain:

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During the decade and a half that has passed since Pinter gave his impassioned speech, the US State Department under Hilary Clinton pressed for the disastrous Nato-led regime change operation to topple Gaddafi in Libya (2011), while under the pretext of fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the same Obama administration simultaneously waged war on Yemen, a conflict that since 2015 was further escalated under a Saudi-led and US-backed coalition. 2

A UN report on Yemen released in September accuses the Saudi-led coalition of killing tens of thousands since 2015 and of starving to death a further 85,000 children as a deliberate war tactic. It further accuses America, Britain and France, who have armed and provided logistical support and intelligence to the Saudis, of complicity in those war crimes:

Tamer Kirolos, Country Director of Save the Children said:
“It’s unacceptable that those responsible for the killing, maiming and other grave violations against thousands of Yemeni children are yet to face any consequences. The report even notes the use of starvation as a weapon of war, resulting in thousands of children facing severe malnutrition. Children are not only dying from bombs and bullets, they are being smothered silently because they are denied food.” 3

[Bold highlights as in the original]

Meanwhile, under Timber Sycamore and other clandestine operations, the US and its Gulf State allies has also supplied weapons, training and funding directly to Islamist terrorist groups in repeated efforts to destabilise Syria.

And today, as Trump and the neo-con faction surrounding him continue to heighten tensions with Iran, the US already has forces, many of which are private contractors, deployed widely across the Middle East, Africa and further afield:

The U.S. military reportedly has more than 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with more than 200,000 of them stationed overseas in nearly every country in the world. Those numbers are likely significantly higher in keeping with the Pentagon’s policy of not fully disclosing where and how many troops are deployed for the sake of “operational security and denying the enemy any advantage.” As investigative journalist David Vine explains, “Although few Americans realize it, the United States likely has more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation, or empire in history.”

Don’t fall for the propaganda, though: America’s military forces aren’t being deployed abroad to protect our freedoms here at home. Rather, they’re being used to guard oil fields, build foreign infrastructure and protect the financial interests of the corporate elite. In fact, the United States military spends about $81 billion a year just to protect oil supplies around the world.

The reach of America’s military empire includes close to 800 bases in as many as 160 countries, operated at a cost of more than $156 billion annually. As Vine reports, “Even US military resorts and recreation areas in places like the Bavarian Alps and Seoul, South Korea, are bases of a kind. Worldwide, the military runs more than 170 golf courses.”

This is how a military empire occupies the globe.

The extract above is taken from a recent article written by John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People, who continues:

War spending is bankrupting America.

Although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure, spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined.

In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

The American military-industrial complex has erected an empire unsurpassed in history in its breadth and scope, one dedicated to conducting perpetual warfare throughout the earth.

Since 2001, the U.S. government has spent more than $4.7 trillion waging its endless wars.

Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $32 million per hour.

In fact, the U.S. government has spent more money every five seconds in Iraq than the average American earns in a year.

Future wars and military exercises waged around the globe are expected to push the total bill upwards of $12 trillion by 2053. 4

Click here to read John Whitehead’s full article entitled “Come Home America: Stop Policing the World and Waging Endless Wars” published by Counterpunch.

On Monday 13th, Taya Graham of ‘The Real News Network’ spoke to CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin about why special interests are promoting conflict with Iran, the nearly inevitable veto of the War Powers resolution vote, and the urgent need for popular antiwar resistance:

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Sanctions against China: the flagrant lies and double standards

On December 3rd, the US House of Representatives passed by a vote of 407 to 1 the Uighur Intervention and Global Humanitarian Unified Response Act (UIGHUR Act), a stronger amended version of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019, which had previously passed the Senate by unanimous consent on September 11th. This revised bill is now awaiting approval by the Senate:

[The bill] adds provisions that require the president to sanction Chinese government officials responsible for the repression of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic ethnic group, and places restrictions on the export of devices that could be used to spy on or restrict the communications or movement of members of the group and other Chinese citizens. […]

Among other provisions, the bill requires the president to submit to Congress within 120 days a list of senior Chinese government officials guilty of human rights abuses against Uighurs in Xianjiang or elsewhere in China. That list would include Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and officials responsible for mass incarceration or “re-education” efforts that single out Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities.

The president would be required to impose visa and financial restrictions on the listed individuals under the Global Magnitsky Act. 5

Click here to read the full article published by Bloomberg on December 3rd.

A fortnight earlier on November 20th, the House had passed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 (HKHRDA) by 417-1 which again allowed for targeted sanctions.

The justification for the introduction and tightening of sanctions on China is twofold. Firstly it is to protect human rights protesters in Hong Kong and secondly to protect the Uyghurs, a largely Muslim population who live in the Xinjiang province of the north-west.

I have discussed the Hong Kong protests in previous articles (for instance here) and the evidence is overwhelming that genuine grievances have been deliberately inflamed by agencies working on behalf of the US State Department. Such strategies for fomenting colour revolution are tried and tested and other recent examples have included the failed coup attempt in Venezuela and the victorious Maidan in Ukraine. Today neo-Nazis from Ukraine who have flown out to Hong Kong are actively helping out:

With their flamboyant waving of US and British colonial flags and tendency to belt out the American national anthem on megaphones, anti-China separatists in Hong Kong have made themselves a magnet for the US far-right. Staff of the website InfoWars, right-wing social media personality Paul Joseph Watson, and the ultra-conservative group Patriot Prayer are among those who have made pilgrimages to the protests.

The latest collection of extreme-right activists to reinforce the ranks of the Hong Kong separatists are from Ukraine. They call themselves Gonor and have tattoos on their upper torsos with undeniable symbols of white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

These extremists previously fought in a notoriously brutal neo-Nazi militia called the Azov Battalion, in Ukraine’s war against pro-Russian militants. 6

Click here to read the full report by Ben Norton published in The Grayzone.

No mention of this is ever reported by the corporate media, of course; just as the neo-Nazi presence during the original Maidan was deliberately downplayed and ignored. You do not want to have your colour revolution spoiled by uncomfortable facts leaking out.

Which brings me to consider another often-repeated mainstream story: how the Chinese government has arrested and detained a million or more Uyghur, who are being held and tortured inside secret “re-education camps”. Such is the sheer scale of this alleged programme of ethnic cleansing that it encourages comparison to the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia or the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. So what is the hard evidence and how reliable are sources?

The claim that China has detained millions of ethnic Uyghurs in its Xinjiang region is repeated with increasing frequency, but little scrutiny is ever applied. Yet a closer look at the figure and how it was obtained reveals a serious deficiency in data.

While this extraordinary claim is treated as unassailable in the West, it is, in fact, based on two highly dubious “studies.

The first, by the US government-backed Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders, formed its estimate by interviewing a grand total of eight people.

The second study relied on flimsy media reports and speculation. It was authored by Adrian Zenz, a far-right fundamentalist Christian who opposes homosexuality and gender equality, supports “scriptural spanking” of children, and believes he is “led by God” on a “mission” against China. 7

The assessment is made by investigative journalists Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal writing in The Grayzone. The same piece continues:

The “millions detained” figure was first popularized by a Washington, DC-based NGO that is backed by the US government, the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD).

In a 2018 report submitted to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – often misrepresented in Western media as a UN-authored report – CHRD “estimate[d] that roughly one million members of ethnic Uyghurs have been sent to ‘re-education’ detention camps and roughly two million have been forced to attend ‘re-education’ programs in Xinjiang.” According to CHRD, this figure was “[b]ased on interviews and limited data.”

While CHRD states that it interviewed dozens of ethnic Uyghurs in the course of its study, their enormous estimate was ultimately based on interviews with exactly eight Uyghur individuals.

[Bold highlights as in the original]

Continuing:

In its mounting pressure campaign against China, the US is not only relying on CHRD for data; it is directly funding its operations. As Ben Norton and Ajit Singh previously reported for The Grayzone, CHRD receives significant financial support from Washington’s regime-change arm, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

For anyone who remains unfamiliar with the work of the NED, please read this earlier article.

Click here to read the full article which provides a detailed profile of born-again Christian, Adrian Zenz, who:

“recently explained in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. ‘I feel very clearly led by God to do this,’ he said. ‘I can put it that way. I’m not afraid to say that. With Xinjiang, things really changed. It became like a mission, or a ministry.’”

*

The fact that Beijing operates a repressive authoritarian regime is not in dispute. There is also irrefutable evidence that China incarcerates many thousands of political prisoners, amongst whom members of the Uygher minority are disproportionally targeted. Others are secretly executed. Why then would the West bother to engage in a campaign that exaggerates the level of human rights abuses taking place?

The short answer is that China is now singled out because America and its close allies wish to isolate and impose sanctions just as they have done previously with Russia, Syria and, most recently, Iran. Sanctions are, of course, the basic tool for economic warfare.

The slightly longer answer is that in order to satisfy their objective, Chinese human rights abuses need necessarily be portrayed as categorically different from the crimes of Western allies. This falsehood is maintained in large part by comparative silence concerning, for instance, the human rights violations under the totalitarian rule of military dictator Abdel el-Sisi in Egypt; the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Kashmir carried out by Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi; or the daily crimes against humanity perpetrated by Israel and Saudi Arabia…

Saudi Arabian dissidents do not expect to live for very long. Instead they expect to be tortured, beheaded and ‘crucified’. Or in the case of Washington Post correspondent, Jamal Khashoggi, dismembered alive with a bonesaw on the personal orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Meanwhile, under Israel’s apartheid system, which was formalised after the passing of the Nation-State Law in 2018, one third of the five million registered Palestinian refugees, born of families who lost their homes when their land was ethnically cleansed at the time of the 1948 Nakba, remain crammed into permanent refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank. Another third (1.85 million to be exact) exist under a constant economic blockade inside Gaza’s open-air prison and are subjected to periodic military assaults which Israeli strategists and hardliners casually describe as “mowing the lawn”. Those brave enough to protest against these dire conditions are routinely shot at with live ammunition. During the last two years Great March of Return, nearly two hundred unarmed people including many women and children have been killed by IDF snipers, while another six thousand are now maimed for life.

So this becomes a numbers game, with the figures for Uygher victims necessarily measured in excess of the less deserving victims of Egypt, India, Israel or Saudi Arabia, whose plight is correspondingly under-reported and forgotten. Moreover, although the unrelenting war and blockade of Yemen has caused a prolonged cholera epidemic and mass starvation that amounts to actual genocide, this grotesque crime against humanity is seldom if ever mentioned in the news, which prefers to reserve hyperbolic comparisons to Nazi Germany for China rather than India and Saudi Arabia (or allies Britain and France).

*

The grey zone

On June 13th, BBC Newsnight broadcast a report on a new mission for the SAS and other UK special forces, which, should ministers choose to authorise it, is set “to counter Russian and other forces around the world.”

As Newsnight’s Diplomatic and Defence Editor, Mark Urban, reported in a related BBC news article:

The plan [called ‘Special Operations Concept’] is currently being considered by military chiefs, Whitehall insiders tell me, and will soon be sent to ministers and is likely to be approved.

The Ministry of Defence has said it does not comment on the UK Special Forces.

UK Special Forces are meant to provide more options for low-profile actions in places where overtly committing conventional troops would be difficult.

For example, under the new plan, an operation might be mounted in a Baltic republic or African country in order to uncover and pinpoint Russian covert activities. […]

The new missions would take UKSF units in a less “kinetic” or violent direction – after almost 20 years of man-hunting strike missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan – and into closer cooperation with allied intelligence agencies and MI6.

The same piece continues:

The role of the SRR [Special Reconnaissance Regiment: one of the three main elements of the UK’s Special Forces working along the SAS and SBS], which carries out covert surveillance, would grow under the Special Operations Concept.

Military chiefs believe Russia has been using its military intelligence arm, the GRU, effectively in Ukraine, Syria and Africa.

“Right now, you do nothing or you escalate,” one senior officer says. “We want to expand that competitive space.”

Adding:

At a London conference earlier this month, Chief of General Staff General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith referred to “authoritarian regimes” rather than mentioning Russia by name, noting they had managed to “exploit that hybrid space between those two increasingly redundant states of ‘peace’ and ‘war’”. 8

The quote drawn from Sir Mark Carleton-Smith’s speech delivered at RUSI is startling: “those increasingly redundant states of ‘peace’ and ‘war’”; and the tone is made all the more alarming due to the placement of quotation marks around the words ‘war’ and ‘peace’. Is this really what the Chief of General Staff intends when he talks about “the grey zone”: that ‘war’ and ‘peace’ now have purely relative meanings and signify nothing at all in any absolute sense? It is hard to imagine anything more Orwellian than this. Moreover, the leaked plans to redeploy Special Forces in preemptive action against other states are very likely in breach of the UN Charter, as the Russian embassy in London subsequently pointed out:

“In fact, this would mean that UK defense agencies are paving the way for removing the existing restrictions imposed by the international law and to claim the right to carry out military operations beyond the limits of self-defense, which constitutes a direct breach of the UN Charter,” the embassy said. “This would not just become a yet another step towards deliberately destroying the world order based on the international law, but also create major risks of those ‘hybrid’ operations evolving into full-fledged armed conflicts as a result of various coincidences and misunderstandings.” 9

*

Russia & cyber threats

Having returned from Montreux, National Security Correspondent for The New York Times, David E. Sanger, quickly put together a piece that helps us to better understand the interconnecting parts of another two of last summer’s Bilderberg key topics (Russia & Cyber Threats):

The United States is stepping-up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said. 10

‘Current and former government officials said…’ Pompeo and Petraeus by any chance? Just taking a wild guess, of course, because there were others mingling in Montreaux with specialist knowledge who arguably better fit the bill as sources: take for instance, James H. Baker, the Director of the Office of Net Assessment; or alternatively, Matthew Daniels from New Space and Technology Projects, another whose post is under the aegis of the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Just as plausibly, Sanger may have got the lowdown from Matthew Pottinger, Senior Director of the National Security Council (NSC) while partaking of some of the fine comestibles with NSC colleague and Director for China, Matthew Turpin. And if you’re wondering whether the colleagues at NSC were officially booked into adjacent rooms with a view, do please take note that:

“Thanks to the private nature of the Meeting, the participants take part as individuals rather than in any official capacity” (according to the Bilderberg website) 11

On the same basis we must therefore surmise that US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was driven to this year’s summit by his own fleet of black limousines!

…Although attended by, as Charlie Skelton wryly observes, “a small army of secret service bodyguards, a bunch of State Dept staff and advisors, and the US Ambassador to Switzerland.”

Officially at least, the White House mustn’t have known two of their senior staffers were even going to Montreux!

David Sanger’s article continues:

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow.

Adding:

Power grids have been a low-intensity battleground for years.

Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid.

But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.

What the article casually describes as “the daily digital Cold War”, if true, is actually nothing of the sort. The Cold War did not involve daily attacks on enemy infrastructure, which is part of the reason why thankfully it remained a cold war. Such an admission of US attacks is again in clear breach of international law, and yet coolly reported as mundane tit-for-tat exchanges justified on the back of entirely unsubstantiated rumours of Russian sabotage.

The article continues:

Mr. Trump issued new authorities to Cyber Command last summer, in a still-classified document known as National Security Presidential Memoranda 13, giving General Nakasone [head of United States Cyber Command] far more leeway to conduct offensive online operations without receiving presidential approval.

But the action inside the Russian electric grid appears to have been conducted under little-noticed new legal authorities, slipped into the military authorization bill passed by Congress last summer. The measure approved the routine conduct of “clandestine military activity” in cyberspace, to “deter, safeguard or defend against attacks or malicious cyberactivities against the United States.”

Under the law, those actions can now be authorized by the defense secretary without special presidential approval. […]

Two administration officials said they believed Mr. Trump had not been briefed in any detail about the steps to place “implants” — software code that can be used for surveillance or attack — inside the Russian grid.

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

Which is the single aspect of Sanger’s article that we can know without doubt is true, since under section 1632 of the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2019 (H.R. 5515) which passed the Senate on August 1st 2018, and which Trump subsequently signed into law on August 13th, he thereby removed the need for his own presidential authorisation to launch a cyberattack:

Affirming the authority of the Secretary of Defense to conduct military activities and operations in cyberspace. 12

It is a piece of legislation that conjures to mind the essential plot device in Dr Strangelove: a presidential pre-delegation of first-strike nuclear weapons use that grants permission to demented General Jack D. Ripper of Kubrick’s satire to personally launch his nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. 13

On the other hand, claims that Russia and America have already inserted viruses inside each other’s primary infrastructure demands evidence, and without any, the story clearly lacks credibility. So besides fearmongering, what would be the aim of putting out these purported ‘leaks’?

Well, it may help in the construction of a pretext for a genuine attack. A prospect which brings us to consider this admission (quoted again from Sanger’s NYT piece):

In a previous post, General Nakasone had been deeply involved in designing an operation code-named Nitro Zeus that amounted to a war plan to unplug Iran if the United States entered into hostilities with the country.

Given the current climate Iran would seem to be a more likely target then Russia – it is also the country most conspicuous by its absence from this year’s Bilderberg ‘key topics’. Did Mike Pompeo really spend the weekend at Bilderberg and not talk about Iran? When indeed was the last time the region of the Middle East failed to feature in Bilderberg’s published agenda? (I cannot remember a single occasion.)

In support of this alternative thesis, the article also contains this curious and conspicuous passage:

Both General Nakasone and Mr. Bolton, through spokesmen, declined to answer questions about the incursions into Russia’s grid. Officials at the National Security Council also declined to comment but said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times’s reporting about the targeting of the Russian grid, perhaps an indication that some of the intrusions were intended to be noticed by the Russians.

Noticed by the Russians, the Chinese, the Venezuelans, and the Iranians too presumably… leaks of alleged “intrusions” that the public would know literally nothing whatsoever about were it not for the fact that the whole matter was conveniently brought to the attention of NYT-Bilderberg insider David E. Sanger by those “officials at the National Security Council”. Leaks much to the advantage of those with an interest to heighten tensions and incubate the new cold war.

Author of the piece David Sanger, on the list of Bilderberg participants as it was originally released on May 28th, has since gone missing.

By Friday June 1st, and with the conference well underway, his name was expunged.

As these screenshots show:

Like Mike Pompeo, he is another of last year’s Bilderberg disappeared.

*

A reconstructed world order

On the day of the anniversary of the D-Day landings, as Angela Merkel joined fellow western leaders to commemorate the sacrifice of the allied soldiers during the Second World War, two nations fighting alongside the victors were quietly snubbed. Russia and China each lost more than twenty million lives in their struggles against Germany and Japan respectively; the Russian Red Army doing more than all of the other allied forces to halt the march of the Nazis, battling alone against four-fifths of the Wehrmacht and forcing their thousand mile retreat from Moscow to Berlin.

However the isolation and the US-led encirclement of Russia and China has had the inevitable if unintended consequence of forging a closer alliance, and so as British, French, Canadian and American dignitaries laid wreaths on Normandy’s beaches, uninvited leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin were instead meeting in Moscow – it would be their thirtieth get-together in just the past six years – a tightening Eurasian partnership that has been relatively under-reported by the western press.

The following is taken a BBC news report:

The alliance between the two countries has intensified since both Moscow and Beijing feel alienated by Europe and especially the US.

Moscow’s relationship with the West turned sour when Russia was put under sanctions for its involvement in the Ukraine conflict five years ago. It has also been criticised for assisting the Assad regime in Syria in 2015.

China’s ties with the US have deteriorated since the Trump administration appeared to turn its back on globalisation in favour of economic national protectionism.

The two countries are currently embroiled in a trade war and tit-for-tat tariffs that intensive talks have so far failed to resolve.

With a shared sense of rejection from the West, Russia and China have hence moved closer together, both in economic and military cooperation, observers say.

The partnership has already seen an increase in trade, which grew by 25% in 2018 to hit a record $108bn (£85bn) according to the Kremlin. 14

There is no mention of the D-Day snub, of course, although the same piece does include a useful breakdown of the burgeoning economic ties between the two superpowers along with this observation:

During Xi’s visit to Moscow, the two sides have promised to deepen military and economic cooperation in the future.

Among the business deals signed there is one that stands out: Russian telecoms company MTS will allow controversial Chinese tech giant Huawei to develop a 5G network in Russia.

Click here to read the full BBC news report entitled “China’s Xi praises ‘best friend’ Putin during Russia visit”.

Such deals represent a direct response to, on the one hand, the West’s sanctions imposed on Russia ostensibly for its annexation of Crimea, and on the other, Trump’s imposition of tariffs on China. As the trade war against both counties is ratcheted up, once again it is inevitable that they are pushed into forming closer mutual ties. Moreover, Trump’s blustering has effectively backed America into a corner, as economist Michael Hudson explains:

The US is making impossible demands for economic surrender – that no country could accept. What appears on the surface to be only a trade war is really a full-fledged Cold War 2.0.

At stake is whether China will agree to do what Russia did in the 1990s: put a Yeltsin-like puppet of neoliberal planners in place to shift control of its economy from its government to the U.S. financial sector and its planners. So the fight really is over what kind of planning China and the rest of the world should have: by governments to raise prosperity, or by the financial sector to extract revenue and impose austerity. […]

The objective is to gain financial control of global resources and make trade “partners” pay interest, licensing fees and high prices for products in which the United States enjoys monopoly pricing “rights” for intellectual property. A trade war thus aims to make other countries dependent on U.S.-controlled food, oil, banking and finance, or high-technology goods whose disruption will cause austerity and suffering until the trade “partner” surrenders.

The best approach left open to China according to Hudson is to “stand aside and let the US self-destruct”, although he also advocates, albeit a little tongue-in-cheek, that Xi should nominate Trump for next year’s Nobel Peace Prize:

We know that he wants what his predecessor Barack Obama got. And doesn’t he deserve it more? After all, he is helping to bring Eurasia together, driving China and Russia into an alliance with neighboring countries, reaching out to Europe.

Trump may be too narcissistic to realize the irony here. Catalyzing Asian and European trade independence, financial independence, food independence and IT independence from the threat of U.S. sanctions will leave the U.S. isolated in the emerging multilateralism. 15

Click here to read Hudson’s full article entitled “Trump’s Trade Threats are really Cold War 2.0” published on June 13th.

*

On July 8th Ross Ashcroft, host of RT’s ‘Renegade Inc’, was joined by the journalist and Middle East based commentator Sharmine Narwani to discuss how Iran and the Middle East is reshaping the world order. Narwani explained how the battle over Syria (which she refers to as ‘Ground Zero’) has marked a turning point in the large-scale, two-decade long, neo-colonial ‘third world war’ raging across the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa:

*

Additional: Iraq, Soleimani and the threat of petroyuan

The following is an extended extract from a recent article entitled “How a Hidden Parliamentary Session Revealed Trump’s True Motives in Iraq” by Whitney Webb published in Mint Press News:

[T]he use of the petrodollar has created a system whereby U.S. control of oil sales of the largest oil exporters is necessary, not just to buttress the dollar, but also to support its global military presence. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the issue of the U.S. troop presence in Iraq and the issue of Iraq’s push for oil independence against U.S. wishes have become intertwined. Notably, one of the architects of the petrodollar system and the man who infamously described U.S. soldiers as “dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy”, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has been advising Trump and informing his China policy since 2016.

This take was also expressed by economist Michael Hudson, who recently noted that U.S. access to oil, dollarization and U.S. military strategy are intricately interwoven and that Trump’s recent Iraq policy is intended “to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves,” and, as Hudson says, “to back Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi troops (ISIS, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the U.S. dollar.”

Hudson further asserts that it was Qassem Soleimani’s efforts to promote Iraq’s oil independence at the expense of U.S. imperial ambitions that served one of the key motives behind his assassination.

“America opposed General Suleimani above all because he was fighting against ISIS and other U.S.-backed terrorists in their attempt to break up Syria and replace Assad’s regime with a set of U.S.-compliant local leaders – the old British “divide and conquer” ploy. On occasion, Suleimani had cooperated with U.S. troops in fighting ISIS groups that got “out of line” meaning the U.S. party line. But every indication is that he was in Iraq to work with that government seeking to regain control of the oil fields that President Trump has bragged so loudly about grabbing. (emphasis added)”

Hudson adds that “…U.S. neocons feared Suleimani’s plan to help Iraq assert control of its oil and withstand the terrorist attacks supported by U.S. and Saudi’s on Iraq. That is what made his assassination an immediate drive.”

While other factors — such as pressure from U.S. allies such as Israel — also played a factor in the decision to kill Soleimani, the decision to assassinate him on Iraqi soil just hours before he was set to meet with Abdul-Mahdi in a diplomatic role suggests that the underlying tensions caused by Iraq’s push for oil independence and its oil deal with China did play a factor in the timing of his assassination. It also served as a threat to Abdul-Mahdi, who has claimed that the U.S. threatened to kill both him and his defense minister just weeks prior over tensions directly related to the push for independence of Iraq’s oil sector from the U.S.

It appears that the ever-present role of the petrodollar in guiding U.S. policy in the Middle East remains unchanged. The petrodollar has long been a driving factor behind the U.S.’ policy towards Iraq specifically, as one of the key triggers for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s decision to sell Iraqi oil in Euros opposed to dollars beginning in the year 2000. Just weeks before the invasion began, Hussein boasted that Iraq’s Euro-based oil revenue account was earning a higher interest rate than it would have been if it had continued to sell its oil in dollars, an apparent signal to other oil exporters that the petrodollar system was only really benefiting the United States at their own expense.

Beyond current efforts to stave off Iraq’s oil independence and keep its oil trade aligned with the U.S., the fact that the U.S. is now seeking to limit China’s ever-growing role in Iraq’s oil sector is also directly related to China’s publicly known efforts to create its own direct competitor to the petrodollar, the petroyuan.

Since 2017, China has made its plans for the petroyuan — a direct competitor to the petrodollar — no secret, particularly after China eclipsed the U.S. as the world’s largest importer of oil. As CNBC noted at the time:

“The new strategy is to enlist the energy markets’ help: Beijing may introduce a new way to price oil in coming months — but unlike the contracts based on the U.S. dollar that currently dominate global markets, this benchmark would use China’s own currency. If there’s widespread adoption, as the Chinese hope, then that will mark a step toward challenging the greenback’s status as the world’s most powerful currency….The plan is to price oil in yuan using a gold-backed futures contract in Shanghai, but the road will be long and arduous.”

If the U.S. continues on its current path and pushes Iraq further into the arms of China and other U.S. rival states, it goes without saying that Iraq — now a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative — may soon favor a petroyuan system over a petrodollar system, particularly as the current U.S. administration threatens to hold Iraq’s central bank account hostage for pursuing policies Washington finds unfavorable.

It could also explain why President Trump is so concerned about China’s growing foothold in Iraq, since it risks causing not only the end of the U.S. military hegemony in the country but could also lead to major trouble for the petrodollar system and the U.S.’ position as a global financial power. Trump’s policy aimed at stopping China and Iraq’s growing ties is clearly having the opposite effect, showing that this administration’s “gangster diplomacy” only serves to make the alternatives offered by countries like China and Russia all the more attractive. 16

[Bold highlights as in the original]

Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article published on January 17th.

*

1 Harold Pinter’s Nobel Lecture was pre-recorded, and shown on video on December 7, 2005, in Börssalen at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm. A complete transcript is available here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/2005/pinter/lecture/ 

2

Although the Trump administration vastly escalated the counter-terrorism war in Yemen, the war began under President Obama. Over his entire presidency, President Bush had conducted only a single strike in Yemen in 2002.

From an article entitled “Drone Strikes: Yemen” written by Peter Bergen, David Sterman and Melissa Salyk-Virk, published in New America https://www.newamerica.org/in-depth/americas-counterterrorism-wars/us-targeted-killing-program-yemen/ 

3 From a statement released by Save the Children entitled “Time to Bring Killers of Children in Yemen to Justice” published on September 3, 2019. https://www.savethechildren.net/news/statement-time-bring-killers-children-yemen-justice

4 From an article entitled “Come Home America: Sop Policing the World and Waging Endless Wars” written by John W. Whitehead, published in Counterpunch on January 13, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/01/13/come-home-america-stop-policing-the-world-and-waging-endless-wars/ 

5 From an article entitled “U.S. House Passes Xinjiang Bill, Prompting Threat From China” written by Daniel Flatley, published in Bloomberg on December 3, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-12-03/u-s-house-ramps-up-china-tensions-with-uighur-human-rights-bill

6 From an article entitled “Ukrainian neo-Nazis flock to the Hong Kong protest movement” written by Ben Norton, published in The Grayzone on December 4, 2019. https://thegrayzone.com/2019/12/04/ukrainian-nazis-hong-kong-protests/ 

7 From an article entitled “China detaining millions of Uyghurs? Serious problems with claims by US-backed NGO and far-right researcher ‘led by God’ against Beijing” written by Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal, published in The Grayzone on December 21, 2019. https://thegrayzone.com/2019/12/21/china-detaining-millions-uyghurs-problems-claims-us-ngo-researcher/

8 From an article entitled “UK’s special forces set for new Russia mission” written by Mark Urban, published in BBC news on June 13, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48624982

9 From a report by Tass entitled “Russian embassy alarmed by London’s plans to shift focus of UK special forces” published on June 15, 2019. https://tass.com/world/1063933

10 From an article entitled “U.S. Escalates Online Attacks on Russia’s Power Grid” written by David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth, published in The New York Times on June 15, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/15/us/politics/trump-cyber-russia-grid.html

11

The Bilderberg Meeting is a forum for informal discussions about major issues. The meetings are held under the Chatham House Rule, which states that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s) nor any other participant may be revealed.

Thanks to the private nature of the Meeting, the participants take part as individuals rather than in any official capacity, and hence are not bound by the conventions of their office or by pre-agreed positions.

https://www.bilderbergmeetings.org/meetings/meeting-2019/press-release-2019

12 https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr5515/text

13

As declassified U.S. documents show, such pre-delegation existed beginning in 1956 when then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized U.S. air defenses to use nuclear weapons to defend against Soviet bomber forces in the event of an attack. This was further solidified with Eisenhower approving pre-delegation instructions for the use of nuclear weapons in 1959. Some form of nuclear pre-delegation existed at least until the end of the 1980s, as Bruce G. Blair has shown.

Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level nuclear war planner in the 1960s, notes in The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner that during the Cold War years, pre-delegation was seen as an integral part in the nuclear arms race with the Soviets for a simple reason: Its absence would undermine nuclear deterrence. Ellsberg writes: “The theatrical device represented by the president’s moment-by-moment day-and-night access to the ‘football’, with its supposedly unique authorization codes, has always been that: theater — essentially a hoax.”

From an article entitled “Dr. Strangelove and the Insane Reality of Nuclear Command-and-Control” written by Franz-Stefan Gady, published in The Diplomat on January 5, 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/dr-strangelove-and-the-insane-reality-of-nuclear-command-and-control/ 

14 From a report entitled “China’s Xi praises ‘best friend’ Putin during Russia visit” published by BBC news on June 6, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48537663

15 From an article entitled “Trump’s Trade Threats are really Cold War 2.0” written by Michael Hudson posted on his own website on June 13, 2019. https://michael-hudson.com/2019/06/cold-war-2-0/

16 From an article entitled “How a Hidden Parliamentary Session Revealed Trump’s True Motives in Iraq”  written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on January 17, 2020. https://www.mintpressnews.com/hidden-parliamentary-session-revealed-trump-motives-iraq-china-oil/264155/

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no war with Iran: protests taking place across the country

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The following statement from Stop the War Coalition was recieved today:

The assassination of Qasem Soleimani last week has made the world a more dangerous place. That is the only conclusion we can draw from the further threats by Donald Trump to attack Iranian sites, including cultural ones, and now the retaliation by Iran with missile strikes on US bases. We do not know what further escalation there may be but we do know that any war in the Middle East will have a deadly impact on the ordinary people there.

Trump’s behaviour has frightened even many of those close to him, but it is clear from the response of Boris Johnson that the British government is also terrified of offending Trump. We can therefore expect Johnson to follow the line, as when he justified keeping British troops in Iraq.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq. This begins with a public meeting tonight (8th Jan) in London and a demonstration on Saturday.

On Saturday, we are marching from the BBC (Portland Place) to Trafalgar Square where the demonstration will be addressed by a wide range of speakers including Stop the War President Brian Eno and Joe Glenton from Veterans for Peace alongside Iranian and Iraqi speakers as well as notable Labour Party figures including Diane Abbott. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

We also need volunteers to help out with stewarding and facilitating the demo. If you can help please email office@stopwar.org.uk as soon as possible.

Here is a list of protests and events taking place across the UK:
·  08 Jan | Cardiff | No War with Iran!
·  09 Jan | Birmingham | No War With Iran, US/UK Troops Out Of Iraq – Protest
·  09 Jan | Edinburgh | No to War on Iran Vigil
·  11 Jan | Chesterfield | No War on Iran
·  11 Jan | Manchester | No War with Iran
·  11 Jan | Newcastle | Don’t Attack Iran Rally
·  11 Jan | Liverpool | Don’t Attack Iran
·  11 Jan |Bristol | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  11 Jan | Sheffield | No War With Iran
·  12 Jan | Bradford | No War with Iran – Demonstration
·  18 Jan | Swansea | Don’t Attack Iran: Protest at Donald Trump’s Act of War
·  18 Jan | Canterbury | No War on Iran
·  19 Jan | Warrington | No War With Iran

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Update:

We are pleased to announce that our former Chair and leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will be speaking at the ‘No War on Iran’ demonstration taking place this Saturday in Central London. He has been steadfast in his condemnation of Donald Trump’s assassination of Qasem Soleimani and US aggression towards Iran more widely, as he has been for the past decade and more.

The demonstration in London on Saturday, which is co-organised by CND, and those taking place across the country are vital in rejecting our government’s policy and in asserting opposition to yet another disastrous intervention in the Middle East. Please do everything you can to get along to the demonstration and spread the word amongst family, friends and colleagues.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at London’s ‘No War on Iran’ rally:

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Craig Murray on why the assassination of Soleimani was “act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple”

In one of the series of blatant lies the USA has told to justify the assassination of Soleimani, Mike Pompeo said that Soleimani was killed because he was planning “Imminent attacks” on US citizens. It is a careful choice of word. Pompeo is specifically referring to the Bethlehem Doctrine of Pre-Emptive Self Defence.

Developed by Daniel Bethlehem when Legal Adviser to first Netanyahu’s government and then Blair’s, the Bethlehem Doctrine is that states have a right of “pre-emptive self-defence” against “imminent” attack. That is something most people, and most international law experts and judges, would accept. Including me.

What very few people, and almost no international lawyers, accept is the key to the Bethlehem Doctrine – that here “Imminent” – the word used so carefully by Pompeo – does not need to have its normal meanings of either “soon” or “about to happen”. An attack may be deemed “imminent”, according to the Bethlehem Doctrine, even if you know no details of it or when it might occur. So you may be assassinated by a drone or bomb strike – and the doctrine was specifically developed to justify such strikes – because of “intelligence” you are engaged in a plot, when that intelligence neither says what the plot is nor when it might occur. Or even more tenuous, because there is intelligence you have engaged in a plot before, so it is reasonable to kill you in case you do so again.

I am not inventing the Bethlehem Doctrine. It has been the formal legal justification for drone strikes and targeted assassinations by the Israeli, US and UK governments for a decade. Here it is in academic paper form, published by Bethlehem after he left government service (the form in which it is adopted by the US, UK and Israeli Governments is classified information).

So when Pompeo says attacks by Soleimani were “imminent” he is not using the word in the normal sense in the English language. It is no use asking him what, where or when these “imminent” attacks were planned to be. He is referencing the Bethlehem Doctrine under which you can kill people on the basis of a feeling that they may have been about to do something.

The idea that killing an individual who you have received information is going to attack you, but you do not know when, where or how, can be justified as self-defence, has not gained widespread acceptance – or indeed virtually any acceptance – in legal circles outside the ranks of the most extreme devoted neo-conservatives and zionists. Daniel Bethlehem became the FCO’s Chief Legal Adviser, brought in by Jack Straw, precisely because every single one of the FCO’s existing Legal Advisers believed the Iraq War to be illegal. In 2004, when the House of Commons was considering the legality of the war on Iraq, Bethlehem produced a remarkable paper for consideration which said that it was legal because the courts and existing law were wrong, a defence which has seldom succeeded in court.

(b)
following this line, I am also of the view that the wider principles of the law on self-defence also require closer scrutiny. I am not persuaded that the approach of doctrinal purity reflected in the Judgments of the International Court of Justice in this area provide a helpful edifice on which a coherent legal regime, able to address the exigencies of contemporary international life and discourage resort to unilateral action, is easily crafted;

The key was that the concept of “imminent” was to change:

The concept of what constitutes an “imminent” armed attack will develop to meet new circumstances and new threats

In the absence of a respectable international lawyer willing to argue this kind of tosh, Blair brought in Bethlehem as Chief Legal Adviser, the man who advised Netanyahu on Israel’s security wall and who was willing to say that attacking Iraq was legal on the basis of Saddam’s “imminent threat” to the UK, which proved to be non-existent. It says everything about Bethlehem’s eagerness for killing that the formulation of the Bethlehem Doctrine on extrajudicial execution by drone came after the Iraq War, and he still gave not one second’s thought to the fact that the intelligence on the “imminent threat” can be wrong. Assassinating people on the basis of faulty intelligence is not addressed by Bethlehem in setting out his doctrine. The bloodlust is strong in this one.

There are literally scores of academic articles, in every respected journal of international law, taking down the Bethlehem Doctrine for its obvious absurdities and revolting special pleading. My favourite is this one by Bethlehem’s predecessor as the FCO Chief Legal Adviser, Sir Michael Wood and his ex-Deputy Elizabeth Wilmshurst.

I addressed the Bethlehem Doctrine as part of my contribution to a book reflecting on Chomsky‘s essay “On the Responsibility of Intellectuals”

In the UK recently, the Attorney General gave a speech in defence of the UK’s drone policy, the assassination of people – including British nationals – abroad. This execution without a hearing is based on several criteria, he reassured us. His speech was repeated slavishly in the British media. In fact, the Guardian newspaper simply republished the government press release absolutely verbatim, and stuck a reporter’s byline at the top.

The media have no interest in a critical appraisal of the process by which the British government regularly executes without trial. Yet in fact it is extremely interesting. The genesis of the policy lay in the appointment of Daniel Bethlehem as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Chief Legal Adviser. Jack Straw made the appointment, and for the first time ever it was external, and not from the Foreign Office’s own large team of world-renowned international lawyers. The reason for that is not in dispute. Every single one of the FCO’s legal advisers had advised that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, and Straw wished to find a new head of the department more in tune with the neo-conservative world view.

Straw went to extremes. He appointed Daniel Bethlehem, the legal ‘expert’ who provided the legal advice to Benjamin Netanyahu on the ‘legality’ of building the great wall hemming in the Palestinians away from their land and water resources. Bethlehem was an enthusiastic proponent of the invasion of Iraq. He was also the most enthusiastic proponent in the world of drone strikes.

Bethlehem provided an opinion on the legality of drone strikes which is, to say the least, controversial. To give one example, Bethlehem accepts that established principles of international law dictate that lethal force may be used only to prevent an attack which is ‘imminent’.

Bethlehem argues that for an attack to be ‘imminent’ does not require it to be ‘soon’. Indeed you can kill to avert an ‘imminent attack’ even if you have no information on when and where it will be. You can instead rely on your target’s ‘pattern of behaviour’; that is, if he has attacked before, it is reasonable to assume he will attack again and that such an attack is
‘imminent’.

There is a much deeper problem: that the evidence against the target is often extremely dubious. Yet even allowing the evidence to be perfect, it is beyond me that the state can kill in such circumstances without it being considered a death penalty imposed without trial for past crimes, rather than to frustrate another ‘imminent’ one.

You would think that background would make an interesting story. Yet the entire ‘serious’ British media published the government line, without a single journalist, not one, writing about the fact that Bethlehem’s proposed definition of ‘imminent’ has been widely rejected by the international law community. The public knows none of this. They just ‘know’ that drone strikes are keeping us safe from deadly attack by terrorists, because the government says so, and nobody has attempted to give them other information

Remember, this is not just academic argument, the Bethlehem Doctrine is the formal policy position on assassination of Israel, the US and UK governments. So that is lie one. When Pompeo says Soleimani was planning “imminent” attacks, he is using the Bethlehem definition under which “imminent” is a “concept” which means neither “soon” nor “definitely going to happen”. To twist a word that far from its normal English usage is to lie. To do so to justify killing people is obscene. That is why, if I finish up in the bottom-most pit of hell, the worst thing about the experience will be the company of Daniel Bethlehem.

Let us now move on to the next lie, which is being widely repeated, this time originated by Donald Trump, that Soleimani was responsible for the “deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans”. This lie has been parroted by everybody, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Really? Who were they? When and where? While the Bethlehem Doctrine allows you to kill somebody because they might be going to attack someone, sometime, but you don’t know who or when, there is a reasonable expectation that if you are claiming people have already been killed you should be able to say who and when.

The truth of the matter is that if you take every American killed including and since 9/11, in the resultant Middle East related wars, conflicts and terrorist acts, well over 90% of them have been killed by Sunni Muslims financed and supported out of Saudi Arabia and its gulf satellites, and less than 10% of those Americans have been killed by Shia Muslims tied to Iran.

This is a horribly inconvenient fact for US administrations which, regardless of party, are beholden to Saudi Arabia and its money. It is, the USA affirms, the Sunnis who are the allies and the Shias who are the enemy. Yet every journalist or aid worker hostage who has been horribly beheaded or otherwise executed has been murdered by a Sunni, every jihadist terrorist attack in the USA itself, including 9/11, has been exclusively Sunni, the Benghazi attack was by Sunnis, Isil are Sunni, Al Nusra are Sunni, the Taliban are Sunni and the vast majority of US troops killed in the region are killed by Sunnis.

Precisely which are these hundreds of deaths for which the Shia forces of Soleimani were responsible? Is there a list? It is of course a simple lie. Its tenuous connection with truth relates to the Pentagon’s estimate – suspiciously upped repeatedly since Iran became the designated enemy – that back during the invasion of Iraq itself, 83% of US troop deaths were at the hands of Sunni resistance and 17% of of US troop deaths were at the hands of Shia resistance, that is 603 troops. All the latter are now lain at the door of Soleimani, remarkably.

Those were US troops killed in combat during an invasion. The Iraqi Shia militias – whether Iran backed or not – had every legal right to fight the US invasion. The idea that the killing of invading American troops was somehow illegal or illegitimate is risible. Plainly the US propaganda that Soleimani was “responsible for hundreds of American deaths” is intended, as part of the justification for his murder, to give the impression he was involved in terrorism, not legitimate combat against invading forces. The idea that the US has the right to execute those who fight it when it invades is an absolutely stinking abnegation of the laws of war.

As I understand it, there is very little evidence that Soleimani had active operational command of Shia militias during the invasion, and in any case to credit him personally with every American soldier killed is plainly a nonsense. But even if Soleimani had personally supervised every combat success, these were legitimate acts of war. You cannot simply assassinate opposing generals who fought you, years after you invade.

The final, and perhaps silliest lie, is Vice President Mike Pence’s attempt to link Soleimani to 9/11. There is absolutely no link between Soleimani and 9/11, and the most strenuous efforts by the Bush regime to find evidence that would link either Iran or Iraq to 9/11 (and thus take the heat off their pals the al-Saud who were actually responsible) failed. Yes, it is true that some of the hijackers at one point transited Iran to Afghanistan. But there is zero evidence, as the 9/11 report specifically stated, that the Iranians knew what they were planning, or that Soleimani personally was involved. This is total bullshit. 9/11 was Sunni and Saudi led, nothing to do with Iran.

Soleimani actually was involved in intelligence and logistical cooperation with the United States in Afghanistan post 9/11 (the Taliban were his enemies too, the shia Tajiks being a key part of the US aligned Northern Alliance). He was in Iraq to fight ISIL.

The final aggravating factor in the Soleimani murder is that he was an accredited combatant general of a foreign state which the world – including the USA – recognises. The Bethlehem Doctrine specifically applies to “non-state actors”. Unlike all of the foregoing, this next is speculation, but I suspect that the legal argument in the Pentagon ran that Soleimani is a non-state actor when in Iraq, where the Shia militias have a semi-official status.

But that does not wash. Soleimani is a high official in Iran who was present in Iraq as a guest of the Iraqi government, to which the US government is allied. This greatly exacerbates the illegality of his assassination still further.

The political world in the UK is so cowed by the power of the neo-conservative Establishment and media, that the assassination of Soleimani is not being called out for the act of blatant illegality that it is. It was an act of state terrorism by the USA, pure and simple.

Click here to read the same post entitled “Lies, the Bethlehem Doctrine, and the Illegal Murder of Soleimani” published yesterday on Craig Murray’s website.

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Additional:

Yesterday’s The Jimmy Dore Show welcomed independent journalist Max Blumenthal to discuss the illegality of America’s drone assassination of Qassam Soleimani and the “laughably horrible” news coverage [warning: strong language throughout]:

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no war with Iran: call for action from Stop the War Coalition

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Stop the War is asking all its members and supporters to step up organising now against the threat of war on Iran.

As Lindsey German’s statement says, the drone attack that killed Qassem Soleimani is an act of war by Donald Trump which risks creating a cycle of violence.  Both Iran and Iraq are likely to retaliate and it will draw in other players across the region and beyond.

The anti-war movement needs to respond strongly and quickly. In London we have called a protest outside Downing Street at 2-3pm tomorrow (Saturday).

We are asking our groups, members and supporters to help in the following ways:

– Organise protest where you are.
– Use the statement signed by Jeremy Corbyn as the basis for a petition in your workplace, university and community.
– Pass resolutions against war with Iran in your union branch, Labour Party or student union.
– Organise a public meeting locally or invite a Stop the War speaker to your union, campaign group of Labour Party branch.

Don’t hesitate to e-mail us or phone if you need advice or help.
Phone 020 7561 4830 office hours or 07930 536 519 otherwise.
Email office@stopwar.org.uk

The statement is here:

The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance. The UK government should urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US, and stand up to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.

Jeremy Corbyn MP

Update:

We must do everything we can to oppose war with Iran and attacks on Iraq.

This begins with a public meeting in London on Wednesday and a demonstration on Saturday.

Other protests and events will be taking place across the country and you can stay notified of them on our events page here.

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