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open letter signed by 40+ rights groups calls for UK government to free Julian Assange

Dozens of press freedom, human rights, and privacy rights organizations across five continents have co-signed an open letter to the U.K. Government calling for the immediate release of imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The publisher, who turns 49 years old today in HMP Belmarsh, is facing extradition to the United States where he has been indicted under the Espionage Act for WikiLeaks’ 2010-11 publications of the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan War Diaries, and State Department cables. If convicted, Mr Assange would face up to 175 years in prison, “tantamount to a death sentence.”

Click here to read the full press release published today by Don’t Extradite Assange, the official website supporting his case.

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The letter is reprinted in full below:

Dear Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP [Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor],

On 8 June 2020, responding to a question in the House of Lords about the United Kingdom’s stance regarding the protection of journalists and press freedoms, Minister of State Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said, “Media freedom is vital to open societies. Journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference”.

We, the undersigned, agree with this statement and call on the UK government to uphold its commitment to press freedom in its own country. At the time of Lord Ahmad’s remarks, WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange had been imprisoned on remand in the high-security HMP Belmarsh for more than a year as he faces extradition to the United States on charges of publishing. We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange from prison immediately and to block his extradition to the US.

The US government has indicted Mr Assange on 18 counts for obtaining, possessing, conspiring to publish and for publishing classified information. The indictment contains 17 count sunder the Espionage Act of 1917 and one charge of conspiring (with a source) to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which uses Espionage Act language. This is the first ever use of such charges for the publication of truthful information in the public interest, and it represents a gravely dangerous attempt to criminalise journalist-source communications and the publication by journalists of classified information, regardless of the newsworthiness of the information and incomplete disregard of the public’s right to know.

On 24 June 2020, the US Department of Justice issued a second superseding indictment against Mr Assange, adding no new charges but expanding on the charge for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. This new indictment employs a selective and misleading narrative in an attempt to portray Mr Assange’s actions as nefarious and conspiratorial rather than as contributions to public interest reporting.

The charges against Mr Assange carry a potential maximum sentence of 175 years in prison. Sending Mr Assange to the US, where a conviction is a near certainty, is tantamount to a death sentence.

This is an unprecedented escalation of an already disturbing assault on journalism in the US, where President Donald Trump has referred to the news media as the “enemy of the people”. Whereas previous presidents have prosecuted whistleblowers and other journalistic sources under the Espionage Act for leaking classified information, the Trump Administration has taken the further step of going after the publisher.

Mr Assange himself has been persecuted for publishing for nearly a decade. In 2012, with fears of a US prosecution that later proved prescient, Mr Assange sought and was granted asylum from the government of Ecuador, and he entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Because the UK declined to guarantee Mr Assange wouldn’t be extradited to the US, the United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled that Mr Assange’s detention was indeed arbitrary and called on the UK to “immediately [allow] Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to walk free from the Ecuadorian embassy in London”.

President Obama’s administration prosecuted US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning for disclosing hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks on the US’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as State Department cables and files on inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison. But the administration, which had empanelled a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks as early as 2010, explicitly decided not to prosecute Mr Assange due to what it termed the “New York Times problem.” As the Washington Post explained in November 2013, “If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper”.

When President Trump came to power, then-Attorney General of the US Jeff Sessions announced that prosecuting Assange would be a “priority”, despite the fact that no new evidence or information had come to light in the case. In April 2017, in a startling speech against WikiLeaks’ constitutional right to publish, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and said, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges”.

On 11 April 2019, Ecuador illegally terminated Mr Assange’s diplomatic asylum in violation of the Geneva Refugee Convention and invited the British police into their embassy, where he was immediately arrested at the request of the US. Mr Assange served a staggering 50 weeks in prison for a bail violation, but when that sentence ended in September 2019, he was not released. Mr Assange continues to be detained at HMP Belmarsh, now solely at the behest of the US.

Even before the lockdown initiated by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Assange has been held in conditions approaching solitary confinement, confined to his cell more than 22 hours a day. Now under containment measures, Mr Assange is even more isolated, and he hasn’t seen his own children in several months. Furthermore, Mr Assange has been allowed extremely limited access to his lawyers and documents, severely hampering his ability to participate in his own legal defence. Following a visit to HMP Belmarsh accompanied by medical doctors in May 2019, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Nils Melzer determined that Mr Assange had endured psychological torture.

Mr Assange’s extradition hearing, which commenced for one week in February 2020 and is scheduled to continue for three more weeks, is set to resume in September. But the coronavirus, which has reportedly already killed at least one fellow inmate at HMP Belmarsh and which continues to spread through prisons at an alarming rate, puts the health and well-being of Mr Assange, who suffers from a chronic lung condition that makes him especially vulnerable to Covid-19, at serious risk.

The continued persecution of Mr Assange is contributing to a deterioration of press freedom in the UK and is serving to tarnish the UK’s international image. Reporters Without Borders cited the disproportionate sentencing of Mr Assange to 50 weeks in prison for breaking bail, the Home Office’s decision to greenlight the US extradition request, and Mr Assange’s continued detention as factors in the UK’s decline in ranking to 35th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

We call on the UK government to release Mr Assange without further delay and block his extradition to the US – a measure that could save Mr Assange’s life and preserve the press freedom that the UK has committed to championing globally.

Signed:

Nathan Fuller, Executive Director, Courage Foundation

Rebecca Vincent, Director of International Campaigns, Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

Adil Soz,  International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech

Anthony Bellanger, General Secretary – International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

Archie Law, Chair Sydney Peace Foundation

Carles Torner, Executive Director, PEN International

Christine McKenzie, President, PEN Melbourne

Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN

Kjersti Løken Stavrum, President, PEN Norway

Lasantha De Silva, Freed Media Movement

Marcus Strom, President, MEAA Media, Australia

Mark Isaacs, President of PEN International Sydney

Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary, National Union of Journalists (NUJ)

Mousa Rimawi, Director, MADA- the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms

Naomi Colvin, UK/Ireland Programme Director, Blueprint for Free Speech

Nora Wehofsits, Advocacy Officer, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

Peter Tatchell, Peter Tatchell Foundation

Ralf Nestmeyer, Vice President, German PEN

Rev Tim Costello AO, Director of Ethical Voice

Robert Wood, Chair, PEN Perth

Ruth Smeeth, Chief Executive Officer, Index on Censorship

Sarah Clarke, Head of Europe and Central Asia, ARTICLE 19

Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch

William Horsley, Media Freedom Representative, Association of European Journalists Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa)

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

Bytes for All (B4A)

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR)

The Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP-Liberia)

The Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)

Free Media Movement Sri Lanka

Freedom Forum Nepal

IFoX / Initiative for Freedom of Expression – Turkey

International Association of Democratic Lawyers

International Press Centre (IPC)

The International Press Institute (IPI)

Media Foundation for West Africa

Mediacentar Sarajevo

National Lawyers Guild International Committee

Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)

Open Letter Calling To Free WikiLeaks Publisher Julian Assange

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Additional:

Yesterday, The Grayzone’s ‘Red Lines’ host Anya Parampil spoke with Kevin Gosztola, an editor with Shadowproof Media and co-host of the Unauthorized Disclosure Podcast, about the latest indictment handed down against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The indictment does not levy any new charges against Assange, so what purpose does it serve?

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The United States government expanded their indictment against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to criminalize the assistance WikiLeaks provided to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when staff helped him leave Hong Kong.

Sarah Harrison, who was a section editor for WikiLeaks, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former spokesperson, and Jacob Appelbaum, a digital activist who represented WikiLeaks at conferences, are targeted as “co-conspirators” in the indictment [PDF], though neither have been charged with offenses.

No charges were added, however, it significantly expands the conspiracy to commit computer intrusion charge and accuses Assange of conspiring with “hackers” affiliated with “Anonymous,” “LulzSec,” “AntiSec,” and “Gnosis.”

From an article entitled “US Government Expands Assange Indictment to Criminalize Assistance Provided to Edward Snowden, written by Kevin Gosztola, published in Shadowproof on June 25, 2020. https://shadowproof.com/2020/06/25/assange-indictment-wikileaks-staff-criminalized-help-snowden/

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Norman Finkelstein on Netanyahu’s options for Israel’s illegal annexation of Palestine

With Israel poised to illegally annex parts of the West Bank on Wednesday 1st July, author and scholar, Norman Finkelstein, discussed Netanyahu’s options with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté. Finkelstein says Netanyahu is exploiting a brief window of opportunity under Trump and will use the deadline to swallow up valuable West Bank while pretending to be making a compromise:

“If there were an Oscar for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year,” Finkelstein says. “And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the Occupied Territories that will preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state — they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, gut-wrenching compromise. I could write the script.”

The transcript below is mine:

Aaron Maté: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a date of July 1st to begin Israel’s annexation of major parts of the Occupied West Bank. Under Netanyahu’s plan Israel would declare sovereignty over all of the illegal settlements built on Palestinian land since 1967 including in the Jordan Valley.

Netanyahu has a green light from Washington. The Trump administration has said it will recognise Israel’s annexation of up to 30% of the West Bank. For the rest of the world, the annexation move is the latest grave escalation of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. In a statement, a group of 47 independent UN legal experts call the annexation plan “a vision of a 21st century apartheid.”

Well, joining me is Norman Finkelstein, author and scholar: his latest book is called “I Accuse!” Norman welcome to Pushback.

Uncertainty still about what Netanyahu is going to do on July 1st, but what do you think people should know about his talk of annexing the West Bank?

Normal Finkelstein: Well, there are several things. First of all, it’s clearly illegal under international law. Secondly, what seems to have prompted it is not law but brutal politics; namely, Mr Netanyahu is of the opinion, which is probably correct, that he has an opportunity that won’t come again to carry out a large scale ‘legal’ annexation of parts of the West Bank, and that Trump may not be around after November. It’s a question mark. And he wants to take advantage of that opportunity. And I would say thirdly, you have to always bear in mind two things about Mr Netanyahu:

Number one: he is a showman. He’s not really a statesman; he’s a showman. He’s a performance artist. And number two: he is acutely aware of political opportunities. In that regard he’s a politician for sure. He takes advantage of – he exploits – political opportunities as they come along.

There are many examples: actually you’d be surprised, there’s actually a scholarly and academic literature showing how Israelis exploit – take advantage of – political opportunities that come along in order to achieve their goals. Media opportunities, I should say.

So that in mind, there is the possibility that an annexation will occur, although it’s still a question mark. My own opinion is there seem to be three main variations. (Obviously, there are subdivisions of the variations.) But one is annex the Jordan Valley. Two is annex the settlement blocs. And three is annex large chunks of the West Bank: the official figure is 30%; I’m more inclined to believe it’s 40%, but that’s beside the point.

I do not believe he will annex the Jordan Valley, because it’s a question of how it looks. The image projected. So, I said at the beginning, Mr Netanyahu is basically a showman – a performance artist – and so if you look at the map: what it would look like if on one end is Israel and on the other end is Jordan Valley, and in the middle, sandwiched between, are all these Palestinians who don’t have any voting rights.

If you look at the map, it looks like apartheid. Because it looks like if one border is the Jordan Valley, the other border is what’s called the Green Line; namely Israel before the June 1967 war; and then in between are all these Arabs who have no voting rights. It looks like one state where a large chunk of the population is disenfranchised. That looks like apartheid. So I don’t think he’s going to do that.

September 2019 annexation proposal by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jordan valley shown in orange and the rest of the West Bank including Jericho shown in white.

A second possibility is annexing the whole of the West Bank, or large chunks of it. Again, same problem: how do you represent to the world all those Arabs in the West Bank who have no rights? Who have no voting rights, which are the baseline for any rights in our world. Or rights in a state, which is citizenship; and they don’t have citizenship. So that doesn’t look good.

But there’s a third possibility. The third possibility is the settlement blocs. Now, if you look at the map – if you annex the settlement blocs – they border the Green Line, mostly. So that looks okay on the map.

Israel officially claims to annex the settlement blocs would mean annexing 5% of the West Bank. In fact it would be 10% because they play with the numbers, they cook the numbers. It would be about 10% of the West Bank. And if you look at the map, there are two settlement blocs, one called Ariel and one called Ma’ale Adumim. Now those settlement blocs on the ground, they bisect the West Bank, more or less at the centre; because Ma’ale Adumim stretches more or less to Jericho. And then there’s the second settlement bloc, Ariel Shomron, which will bisect the northern half of the West Bank.

Green Line indicated with the Ariel settlement located top left and Ma’ale Adumim centre right

However, if you look at the map, it doesn’t quite look that way because the map doesn’t show the mountainous areas, which means it doesn’t look fully like a bisection of the West Bank. The point is, in my view, without going into all the technicalities, you probably can get away with annexing the settlement blocs. First of all, all of the Democrat Party and Republican Party leadership has always said that Israel would get the settlement blocs anyhow in a final settlement. That’s what Dennis Ross says…

AM: Dennis Ross being the so-called “peace envoy” for the Clinton administration.

NF: Yes, and he’s actually recommended now that Israel annex, not the whole West Bank, not the Jordan Valley, just annex the settlement blocs. He’s officially on record supporting that.

And so first of all the political elites have supported the annexation of the Israeli settlement blocs already. Secondly, you can put the pretence, or make the pretence, that there’s still the possibility of a Palestinian state because “it’s only 5% of the West Bank”. Thirdly, it can be cast as Netanyahu making a gut-wrenching compromise: he wanted the whole of the land of Israel and he had to appease the right-wing of his coalition – and so he makes his gut-wrenching compromise to annex some territory because otherwise his coalition is going to fall apart.

AM: Similar to what they did in Gaza back in 2005, around then, when Sharon reluctantly gave up Gaza, and there was this huge staged performance and there were the scenes of the settlers being pulled out, and they were wailing and we were supposed to feel sorry for them. Meanwhile Israel, as it’s pulling out of Gaza, it’s consolidating its control and expanding its control over the much more valuable territory in the occupied West Bank.

NF: Listen, I’ve said many times if there were an Academy Award – an Oscar – for Best Dramatic Performance by a Nation-State, Israel would win hands down every year; there wouldn’t even be competition. It would be like comparing Sir Lawrence Olivier with Brad Pitt.  I mean Israel is so practised at the art of performance.

And so they will manage to turn this illegal annexation, which will enable Israel to appropriate some of the best farmland, agricultural land in the occupied Palestinian Territories that will effectively preclude the possibility of a Palestinian state for geographic and economic reasons which I don’t want to bore listeners with – they’ll manage to turn it into another agonising, anguishing, gut-wrenching compromise by Israel. I could write the script.

So I think that’s probably what will happen. And everybody will be a celebratory mood – no quite the contrary, take that back…

The Israeli right-wing – I should say Israeli right-right-right-wing, because there’s a right-right-right-right-wing and there’s a right-right-right-wing, and there’s a right-wing. There’s no centre and there’s no left in Israel: so an unusual state in the world in that regard. But the right-right-right-right-wing and the right-right-[wing] will be so angry, and they’ll be so indignant, and everybody else, [like] The New York Times, will be celebrating the fact that Netanyahu made a very pragmatic decision that kept the two-state solution alive.

AM: There are countries though around the world who are, at least publicly, criticising this. Does this open up the way possibly for some actions like sanctions to be taken against Israel if it illegally annexes territory that it is not legally entitled to?

NF: I don’t believe that will happen because of the way it is going to be presented to the world. It will be presented as a pragmatic compromise. It won’t be presented as an illegal annexation. They’ll keep repeating the fake figure of 5%. They’re going to keep saying, anyhow, we all know that in the final settlement the settlement blocs would have been annexed by Israel in a land swap. And they’ll make it all legitimate, and there will be no reaction.

I’m very sceptical of the kinds of apocalyptic scenarios which are conjured up, and in fact apocalyptic scenarios abet Netanyahu’s agenda, and probably he does it intentionally – I don’t know how much he calculates down to the fine points, but he likes the idea of these apocalyptic scenarios because then he’s going to say “well it’s only 5%”. And it’s going to make him look reasonable.

So all this talk about sanctions – Did anything happen after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? No.

AM: But let’s point out something positive, which is that Bernie Sanders came somewhat close to the nomination, and during the process his advocacy of basic Palestinian rights was popular, and that message is increasingly resonant inside the Democratic base. So in terms of holding Israel accountable, pushing back on the Trump administration’s support for Israeli annexation, do you see a ray of light possibly, right here inside the US when it comes to sentiment towards Israel, and people no longer being willing – except for those in Congress – to stand by as it commits its atrocities?

NF: Trump’s biggest ally in the world is Netanyahu. That doesn’t play very well with a lot of people, you know even people who support Israel. It just doesn’t play well because you’re supposed to be anti-Trump if you’re a Democratic Party member or if you support any of the popular causes you’re supposed to be anti-Trump. So it doesn’t play very well that Trump has the closest alliance to any world leader with Netanyahu. So there is an unexpected consequence of the Trump presidency which it ended up even further discrediting the Palestinian cause in even mainstream American politics because of that Trump-Netanyahu alliance.

AM: [clarifying Finkelstein’s remark] Not discrediting the Palestinian cause?

NF: Discrediting the Israeli cause because of that alliance.

Yes, so it’s been a positive development. It’s part of, as I said, the long-term shift in public opinion as Israel has moved further and further to the right, and a lot of the truth has come out making the cause indefensible.

A lot will depend on whether you can make the Palestinian cause again a salient issue in American political life. If for example the Palestinians found the wherewithal to demonstrate and engage in collective action, there’s some reason for hope. It’s going to be very tough under Biden, if he wins; impossible under Trump.

It’s just a very difficult period right now. I don’t believe in giving people false hope. I think it’s a very tough period right now, but as you say, the positive thing is public opinion is shifting; it’s becoming more manifest as against latent; more active as against passive; and it’s an opportunity for people to work for their so-to-speak cause within a larger progressive or radical framework. So there are possibilities. That’s the most I can say.

From a very young age I read a speech by the African revolutionary at the time Amílcar Cabral, who was a leader of a movement called the PAIGC in a tiny, tiny, tiny, little country called Guinea-Bissau. And he had given a speech and the title was “Tell no lies, claim no easy victories”. So that resonated with me. I thought that’s the right approach to politics: Tell no lies, claim no easy victories.

So I’m not one for pep talks. I try to be analytical. I try to be objective. I try to be realistic. Because otherwise I feel it’s patronising. It’s like ‘I know the truth, but I can’t tell you the truth because you’re not ready for it – you’re not equipped for it’. So I have to pretend as if things are better than they actually are so as to lift your spirits because you need useful lies to keep you going, but I don’t. No, I don’t do that.

I think that you can be honest about a situation – I’m honest about the situation with myself – I recognise that we’re at a very difficult moment. But truth be told, it doesn’t diminish an iota of the energy I invest in this, because for me it’s not about Palestinians, it’s not about Jews.

At one point in my life, yes it was. And I’ll acknowledge that. I just felt revulsion at what these people – how they had exploited and corrupted the memory of my parents’ suffering during World War Two for an insidious cause. It’s not about that anymore for me: it’s not about Palestinians; it’s not about Jews; it’s not about corrupting the memory of what my parents’ endured during World War Two.

For me it’s about two very basic things – and it took me a very, very long time to reach this point in my life – that it’s no longer about anything personal. It is about people because the memory of my parents’ suffering is permanently engraved in me. But fundamentally, at root, at its core, it’s about Truth and Justice: those eternal values.

And when I see them sullied, or prostituted, it nauseates me. It makes me so angry that people can be so cheap; sell themselves at such a low price: for a mess of professional porridge [sic], they’ll sell out those values.

It’s a very interesting thing for me, and we’ll leave it at that, that all of these stupid leftist, postmodernists, who say that there’s no such thing as truth, there’s no such thing as Justice – these are all social constructions – these intellectually impoverished morons… and then you go to the demonstrations against police brutality, in commemoration of what happened to George Floyd and many others, and what’s the slogan that’s most popular at these demonstrations?  What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

And I think to myself while all these stupid intellectually impoverished so-called academics sit around at stupid, ignorant, irrelevant conferences talking about how Justice and Truth are all just social constructions. When the moment comes we all reach back to those same fundamental values: Truth and Justice. What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!

Those values will, so long as humankind endures, forever resonate.

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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

corona marginalia: grand theft redux

The bailout package that US Congress just passed represents a $500 Billion+ transfer of wealth from the public sphere into the coffers of the corporations. Arguably, it is the largest theft in US history.

The following extract from an article written by Pam and Russ Martens examines the small print to reveal how this latest bailout – one of  the largest corporate bailouts in US history – has been deliberately crafted to dodge oversight:

The U.S. Senate voted 96-0 late yesterday [March 25th] on a massive bailout of Wall Street banks versus a short-term survival plan for American workers thrown out of their jobs – and potentially their homes. The text of the final bill was breathtaking in the breadth of new powers it bestowed on the Federal Reserve, including the Fed’s ability to conduct secret meetings with no minutes provided to the American people. The House of Representatives has yet to vote on the bill.

The bill provides specific sums that can be made as loans or loan guarantees to passenger airlines ($25 billion), cargo airlines ($4 billion), and loans and loan guarantees to businesses necessary to national security ($17 billion). But when it comes to the money going to the Federal Reserve and then out the door to Wall Street, the legislation says only this:

“Not more than the sum of $454,000,000,000…shall be available to make loans and loan guarantees to, and other investments in, programs or facilities established by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the purpose of providing liquidity to the financial system….”

Why does the Federal Reserve need $454 billion from the U.S. taxpayer to bail out Wall Street when it has the power to create money out of thin air and has already dumped more than $9 trillion cumulatively in revolving loans to prop up Wall Street’s trading houses since September 17, 2019 – long before there was any diagnosis of coronavirus anywhere in the world.

The Fed needs that money to create more Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) — the same device used by Enron to hide its toxic debt off its balance sheet before it went belly up. With the taxpayers’ money taking a 10 percent stake in the various Wall Street bailout programs offered by the Fed, structured as SPVs, the Fed can keep these dark pools off its balance sheet while levering them up 10-fold. […]

Adding to the suspicions that the Fed doesn’t want to have to battle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests (sunshine law requests) again in court, as it did and lost during the last financial crisis to keep its outrageous $29 trillion bailout program to Wall Street a secret from the public, the Senate-approved stimulus bill repeals the sunshine law for the Fed’s meetings until the President says the coronavirus threat is over or the end of this year. That could make any FOIA lawsuits to unleash details of what’s going on next to impossible since it has been codified in a federal law. The bill states the following:

SEC. 4009. TEMPORARY GOVERNMENT IN THE SUNSHINE ACT RELIEF. (a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection 8 (b), notwithstanding any other provision of law, if the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System determines, in writing, that unusual and exigent circumstances exist, the Board may conduct meetings without regard to the requirements of section 552b of title 5, United States Code, during the period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act and ending on the earlier of— (1) the date on which the national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID–19) outbreak declared by the President on March 13, 2020 under the National Emergencies Act (50 20 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) terminates; or (2) December 31, 2020.

This could mean that the American taxpayer may never learn why it went into debt to the tune of $454 billion if no records are being maintained.

Click here to read the full article by Pam Martens and Russ Martens, published by Wall Street on Parade.

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Meanwhile Rob Urie asks: where is the bailout of the people?

Most readers probably don’t know this, but the Federal Reserve began re-bailing out Wall Street early last Fall, well before the coronavirus hit. Why this matters is that it indicates that nothing was fundamentally fixed through earlier bailouts. Hedge funds of the sort that pay their executives tens of millions of dollars created the market dislocations they claim to be able to exploit. In 2007 these strategies were derided as ‘picking up pennies in front of a steamroller’ for their tendency to earn regular profits until they give them all back plus some when they blow up.

The socially and economically rational solution to these types of blow-ups is to unwind the trades — the bailout, and then shut the hedge funds down and make their managers find honest work in other industries. However, what the Federal Reserve has been doing, following from the Obama administration’s decision to keep insolvent banks on life support in perpetuity, is to manage markets so that losing trades don’t result in loses.

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With Donald Trump’s threat to ‘get America working again’ by Easter (April 12th), the same tactic that turned Italy’s pandemic from tragedy to catastrophe is being repeated on a much larger scale here. And for what? In an economy where the richest 1% takes all the gains while the poor and working class haven’t seen a raise in four decades, it is the rich who will reap the benefits while workers get sick and die. It is finance capitalism that is being bailed out when it should have suffocated under its own weight in 2009.

Where are the bailouts for the people? $1,200 checks against $30,000 bills for being treated for coronavirus? Why isn’t providing healthcare for all of the people the primary objective of the bailouts? Mr. Trump says he will send workers back to work while Democrats leave them no alternative but to work or starve. Without providing them the means— assured by meager bailouts, Democrats are every bit as guilty as Donald Trump of sending working people to die in a pandemic to add a few more dollars to the bank accounts of the rich.

More to the point, where are the virus test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health care workers and the rest of us? Nick Turse of The Intercept puts a lie to the claim that the need for these couldn’t have been foreseen. For decades epidemiologists and health care professionals have been shouting from the rooftops about the need to prepare for a pandemic caused by a respiratory virus. Successive neoliberal governments dismissed the warnings and here we are to suffer the consequences.

When Mr. Trump uttered ‘our country wasn’t built to be shut down,’ one could be forgiven for asking whose country he was talking about and why it can’t be shut down? The country that most of us inhabit has been in the process of being shut down for some four decades through outsourcing, privatization, austerity and cuts to the social safety net. The region I live in was completely shut down in 2008 and stayed closed until just recently. That’s how long it took the last round of bailouts to land here.

Implied in the statement is that we, the people, must comport ourselves with the dictates of ‘the economy’ rather than the other way around. For all of the talk of freedom and democracy, the economy is theorized to exist in a realm where human needs are secondary, a mere matter of opinion. The coronavirus pandemic can’t in any meaningful sense be said to have been chosen. Neither are the marginal existences many of us live. In this way, deference to the economic system is cover for power relations, not a natural order.

Click here to read the full article written by Rob Urie, published in Counterpunch.

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The alternative: Economist Michael Hudson calls for a corona debt jubilee

America’s 2008 bank crash offered a great opportunity to write down the often fraudulent junk mortgages that burdened many lower-income families, especially minorities. But this was not done, and millions of American families were evicted. The way to restore normalcy today is a debt write-down. The debts in deepest arrears and most likely to default are student debts, medical debts, general consumer debts and purely speculative debts. They block spending on goods and services, shrinking the “real” economy. A write-down would be pragmatic, not merely moral sympathy with the less affluent.

In fact, it could create what the Germans called an “Economic Miracle” — their own modern debt jubilee in 1948, the currency reform administered by the Allied Powers. When the Deutsche Mark was introduced, replacing the Reichsmark, 90 percent of government and private debt was wiped out. Germany emerged as an almost debt-free country, with low costs of production that jump-started its modern economy.

Critics warn of a creditor collapse and ruinous costs to government. But if the U.S. government can finance $4.5 trillion in quantitative easing, it can absorb the cost of forgoing student and other debt. And for private lenders, only bad loans need be wiped out. Much of what would be written off are accruals, late charges and penalties on loans gone bad. It actually subsidizes bad lending to leave them in place.

In the past, the politically powerful financial sector has blocked a write-down. Until now, the basic ethic of most of us has been that debts must be repaid. But it is time to recognize that most debts now cannot be paid — through no real fault of the debtors in the face of today’s economic disaster.

The coronavirus outbreak is serving as a mind-expansion exercise, making hitherto unthinkable solutions thinkable. Debts that can’t be paid won’t be. A debt jubilee may be the best way out.

Click here to read Michael Hudson’s full article calling for a “Corona Debt Jubilee”.

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On Episode 1278 of the Keiser Report [September 11th, 2018], Michael Hudson discussed the historical precedents for a debt jubilee:

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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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Filed under USA, Venezuela

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

*

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.

*

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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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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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.’”

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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).

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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

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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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Filed under analysis & opinion, Charlie Skelton, China, Iran, Iraq, Russia, USA, Yemen

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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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, Iran, Iraq, USA

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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Filed under Britain, Craig Murray, Iran, Iraq, USA