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American Resistance To Empire

It is time to teach colonial history in British schools

It is time to teach colonial history in British schools

Growing up in Britain, I knew nothing of the many crimes the British Empire had committed against my Iraqi ancestors.

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Members of the Mesopotamia Commission at the 1921 Cairo Conference, including Gertrude Bell, T E Lawrence (fourth from the right, second row) and Winston Churchill (centre front row) [Getty]
Members of the Mesopotamia Commission at the 1921 Cairo Conference, including Gertrude Bell, T E Lawrence (fourth from the right, second row) and Winston Churchill (centre front row) [Getty]

If you grew up in Britain, like me, you probably would not be able to recall being taught anything substantial about British colonial history in school.

The British curriculum dedicates plenty of attention to the violence of others – in Nazi Germany or during the American Civil War – and goes into great detail on a few events in medieval and pre-Victorian English history, like the Plague, the Great Fire of London, and the reign of Henry VIII. But a British school would not teach you anything about the brutality of British colonialism.

We were told nothing of the concentration camps the British army ran during the Boer War, the Bengal famine of 1943 or the massacres of Kenyans in the 1950s.

In school, I heard nothing of the many crimes the British perpetrated against my Iraqi ancestors. No textbook ever mentioned that Winston Churchill, so deeply venerated as a hero and a brilliant statesman, openly endorsed a chemical attack on Iraqi civilians when they demanded independence from Britain.

The British curriculum did not teach me that Britain invited Iraqi leaders for negotiations, only to kidnap and imprison them, that it sent planes to bomb civilians when they refused to pay taxes or that it burned and destroyed villages and towns to quash revolts.

Since I left school thirteen years ago, the situation has hardly changed. When, in 2010, the British government decided to overhaul the curriculum, then-education secretary, Michael Gove, decided to invite an apologist of empire, historian Niall Ferguson, to help. As a result, British textbooks still whitewash the British Empire and fail to address the foundations of white supremacy on which colonialism was built and the lasting impact of imperial policies on colonised peoples.

It was only through the stories of my grandfather – who recounted watching from his window the British march through Baghdad – that I learned there was more to the British Empire than they were teaching us at school.

The uncomfortable feeling of not knowing led me to research extensively the shared history of Britain and Iraq, which inspired me to write a novel set during the colonisation of Mesopotamia.

For me, there’s something empowering about finally being able to level the playing field when it comes to one-sided narratives about the British Empire by telling the story of the colonised, rather than the coloniser.

Yet, the dominant whitewashed narrative of British colonial history seems to be deeply ingrained in the British psyche. Today 49 percent of Britons still think that the British Empire was a force for good that improved the lives of colonised nations and only 15 percent think it left them worse off, according to a survey by market research company YouGov.

There also seems to be a persistent nostalgia for that colonial past. The truth is that in today’s Britain, colonialism sells.

Brits still rush to buy products that play on their romantic notion of colonialism, whether cushions from UK retailer Dunelm Mill’s Colonial Chic line or an  Old Colonial burger from chain restaurant Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

They still enjoy watching TV shows about the lives and romances of rich white people in the colonial era, such as Downton Abbey and Indian Summers, which make no mention of how the wealth displayed on the screen was acquired.

They still go to cinemas to see Victoria and Abdul portray Queen Victoria as an exceptional open-minded monarch and a gracious friend of an Indian servant, as if she wasn’t profiting from the subjugation and oppression of Indians; or watch The Queen of the Desert tell the story of British diplomat and orientalist Gertrude Bell, conveniently leaving out the part about her enabling British colonialism in the Middle East and drawing the arbitrary borders of the Iraqi state.

The commodification of colonialism has even made it to institutions of higher education. In 2015, the Oxford Union decided it was a good idea to serve a drink called “colonial comeback” during a debate on colonial legacy and reparations.

In fact, Oxford University, an institution that has educated half of Britain’s political elite (its rival, Cambridge, educating the other half), has witnessed a pushback against its own colonial past.

Students have called for the decolonisation of the Oxford curriculum, which, they say, is Eurocentric and excludes contributions by women and people of colour.

They have also brought the Rhodes Must Fall campaign to campus, calling for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a British colonial official who is seen by many as the architect of apartheid in South Africa. Their struggle was suppressed by wealthy donors who threatened to cut funding to the institution.

There is still widespread support for revisionism and white-washing of history in conservative institutions like Oxford and beyond. It is unsurprising that it was an Oxford scholar who last year penned an op-ed in The Times defending Britain’s colonial legacy, telling Brits: “Don’t feel guilty about our colonial history”.

This attitude has been adopted by much of the British political elite as well. When asked in 2013 to apologise for the 1919 Amritsar Massacre, in which British troops shot dead hundreds of Indians, then-British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and to seek out things that we should apologise for.”

The problem with Cameron’s statement is that colonialism cannot be just relegated to history, forgiven and forgotten.

Its legacy continues to disadvantage former colonies, where artificial borders, the unequal distribution of resources, or their exhaustion have led to conflict, impoverishment and underdevelopment.

Its logic continues to inform political and foreign policy in Britain and elsewhere to this day. It was colonialist thinking that led PM Tony Blair in 2003 to drag the country into another occupation of Iraq, shattering its economy and security and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

We need a curriculum based on an honest, contextualised reading of British history which teaches about the brutality of colonialism. It should educate children about the economic, political and social advantages they enjoy today as a result of the colonial extraction and plunder their country engaged in during the colonial era.

We will not lose anything by acknowledging the crimes of our past. The only way to avoid repeating our mistakes is by learning from them.

As Indian politician and author Dr Shashi Tharoor has highlighted, it’s “a bit of an embarrassment that you can get a History A Level in this country without knowing anything about colonial history.”

It’s time to change that.

Ruqaya Izzidien’s novel The Watermelon Boys, set during and after the British conquest of Baghdad, is released on 30 August by Hoopoe Fiction.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

Balfour Declaration at 100: Seeds of Discord

Al Jazeera World

Balfour Declaration at 100: Seeds of Discord


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Pentagon Prepares False-Flag Attack In Idlib, In Last-Ditch Defense of Proxy AL-NUSRA Terrorist Forces, Led By the Dimutive Al-Jolani

[Lavrov: Russia Submitted Proof of Planned Chemical Attack in Idlib to UN, OPCW]

“Julani said al-Nusra had been instructed by the overall leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to avoiding launching attacks abroad that might jeopardise its operations in Syria…Al-Nusra Front doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West. We received clear orders not to use Syria as a launching pad to attack the US or Europe in order to not sabotage the true mission against the regime.”

(SEE: The layers of fiction surrounding Al Nusra chief Abu Mohammed Al Jolani).

[Looks a bit frail and weak, doesn’t he? (According to several independent sources, Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, is in critical condition, Russian Defense Ministry said —Russia’s Aerospace Forces eliminate 12 Jabhat al-Nusra commanders in Syria ).  The previous photo of the ghost leader below portrayed a full of life young terrorist.]

Syrian militant leader slams Turkey and defends evacuations in new video

Abu Mohammed al-Jolani said that the former al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham had become the ‘greatest defender of Sunnis’ in Syria

The leader of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) militant group has described it as the only legitimate defender of Sunni Muslims in Syria, and said Turkey was not a reliable ally against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

In a video posted on Facebook, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, leader of the group formerly known as the Al-Nusra Front, said that both HTS’s enemies and allies recognised that the group had “now become the greatest defender of Sunnis in Syria”.

He warned that the ceasefires agreed between rebel groups and pro-government forces in the south of country would not be repeated in the north, and urged rebel forces to shun negotiations with Assad.

Most previously rebel-held areas of Syria, including the major cities of Homs and Aleppo, have returned to government hands in recent years. Idlib, which is largely controlled by HTS and its allies, is the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country.

“The weapons of the revolution and jihad… are a red line on which concessions are unacceptable, and they will never be put on the negotiations table,” said Jolani.

“We urge our people in Aleppo to remain steadfast. The mujahideen will not fail you.”

He added that the rebels should not expect Turkish observation posts to protect them against Assad’s government. Under an agreement inked in Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia and Turkey have established observation posts across Syria to monitor “de-escalation zones” nominally designed to prevent hostilities.

He warned that the Turkish posts were “something we cannot rely on because the political positions may change at any moment”.

Jolani also defended the decision to allow the evacuation of the Shia-majority villages of Foua and Kafraya, claiming it had removed the danger of “sectarian militias” and denied Iran an excuse to attack.

The two villages, located in the Idlib governorate, had been besieged by rebel forces since 2015, and has been a major point of contention between the rebels and the government.

The evacuation saw 7,000 people leave the two villages in return for hundreds of prisoners being released from Assad’s prisons.

Idlib infighting

Idlib has seen massive unrest in recent years due to rebel infighting, the capture of much of the province by Turkish-backed forces, and the looming threat of an assault by Assad and his allies to retake the province.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, since April, 270 people – including 55 civilians – have been killed in attacks from all sides in Idlib, and adjacent parts of Hama and Aleppo provinces.

While much of the violence has been attributed to HTS and the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation, others have blamed sleeper cells belonging to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The Observatory said that the province had been witnessing “mass assassinations” and that since Monday alone at least 13 rebel fighters had been killed.

Although IS and Al-Nusra Front both originated as part of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State in Iraq, the two became enemies after the former declared a caliphate in 2014. Al-Nusra Front rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in July 2016, officially severing ties with al-Qaeda. In January 2017 they merged with other rebel groups to form HTS.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Assad against the use of chemical weapons in any future assault on Idlib.

“We now see plans for the Syrian regime to resume offensive military activities in Idlib province,” John Bolton told a press conference during a visit to Jerusalem.

“We are obviously concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again,” he said.

He added that the US would respond “very strongly” to any chemical attack.

The US, France and Britain launched joint missile strikes on Syrian in April targets in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in eastern Ghouta that killed scores of people.

Since 2011, following the brutal repression of anti-Assad protests, Syria’s civil war has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced millions.

Source: Syrian militant leader slams Turkey and defends evacuations in new video | Middle East Ey

 

Trump Preparing Secret Sneak-Attack Reversal of American Medical/Recreational Marijuana Movement

Inside The Trump Administration’s Secret War On Weed

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee wants to counteract positive marijuana messages and identify problems with state legalization initiatives, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Leah Millis / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The White House has secretly amassed a committee of federal agencies from across the government to combat public support for marijuana and cast state legalization measures in a negative light, while attempting to portray the drug as a national threat, according to interviews with agency staff and documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, as it’s named in White House memos and emails, instructed 14 federal agencies and the Drug Enforcement Administration this month to submit “data demonstrating the most significant negative trends” about marijuana and the “threats” it poses to the country.

In an ironic twist, the committee complained in one memo that the narrative around marijuana is unfairly biased in favor of the drug. But rather than seek objective information, the committee’s records show it is asking officials only to portray marijuana in a negative light, regardless of what the data show.

“The prevailing marijuana narrative in the U.S. is partial, one-sided, and inaccurate,” says a summary of a July 27 meeting of the White House and nine departments. In a follow-up memo, which provided guidance for responses from federal agencies, White House officials told department officials, “Departments should provide … the most significant data demonstrating negative trends, with a statement describing the implications of such trends.”

As several states have approved laws allowing adults to use and purchase cannabis, critics have contended lax attitudes will promote drug abuse, particularly among youth, and they have pressed for a federal crackdown. The White House at one point said more pot enforcement would be forthcoming, though President Donald Trump has never said he was onboard with that agenda and he announced in June that he “really” supports new bipartisan legislation in Congress that would let state marijuana legalization thrive.

However, the committee’s hardline agenda and deep bench suggest an extraordinarily far-reaching effort to reverse public attitudes and scrutinize those states. Its reports are to be used in a briefing for Trump “on marijuana threats.”

“There is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana.”

“Staff believe that if the administration is to turn the tide on increasing marijuana use there is an urgent need to message the facts about the negative impacts of marijuana use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security,” says the meeting summary.

The White House declined to discuss the committee’s process, but indicated it was part of an effort to remain consistent with the president’s agenda.

“The Trump Administration’s policy coordination process is an internal, deliberative process to craft the President’s policies on a number of important issues facing the American people, and ensure consistency with the President’s agenda,” Lindsay Walters, Deputy White House Press Secretary, told BuzzFeed News.

None of the documents indicate that officials are seeking data that show marijuana consumption or legalization laws, which have been approved in eight states, serve any public benefit or do a better job of reducing drug abuse.

Coordinated by White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the committee met on July 27 with many of the largest agencies in the federal government, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State. An unclassified summary of the meeting, obtained by BuzzFeed News, says the memo is “predecisional and requires a close hold.” And it says the notes were not to be distributed externally.

The White House followed up the next week by sending agencies and other departments — including the departments of Defense, Education, Transportation and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency — instructions to submit two-page, bulleted fact sheets that identify marijuana threats and issues with the initiatives by Aug. 10.

While spokespeople at those agencies declined to comment on the committee itself, asked if the Education Department had submitted its response to the White House, Liz Hill, a spokesperson for the agency, told BuzzFeed News this week, “I’m told we did turn it in on time to the WH.”

A State Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “The State Department regularly coordinates with ONDCP on a wide range of drug control issues. For specific questions about the Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee, we refer you to ONDCP.”

Neither the ONDCP officials or White House press office responded to requests from BuzzFeed News to comment on the committee.

Departments were told to “identify marijuana threats; issues created by state marijuana initiatives; and consequences of use, production, and trafficking on national health, safety, and security.”

Joseph Eid / AFP / Getty Images

The agencies should also provide an example of a “story, relating an incident or picture, that illustrates one or more the key areas of concern related to use, production, and trafficking of marijuana,” the White House guidance says. The agencies were asked to describe how the drug poses threats to their department and the consequences of marijuana “on national health and security.”

“We are asking each agency to provide information on marijuana,” White House ONDCP staffer Hayley C. Conklin wrote in an email to department leaders on Aug. 1. She cited the guidance document, saying, “it will assist you in providing the appropriate information.”

Contacted by BuzzFeed News about the committee, Conklin told BuzzFeed News, “Thank you so much for calling, but I cannot comment,” then hung up the phone.

A number of agencies also declined to comment — including the departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Transportation.

None of the 14 agencies BuzzFeed News contacted for this story, the DEA, or the White House denied the marijuana committee’s existence.

John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, blasted the committee’s slanted approach to the facts and the “alienating effort on behalf of the president. ”

“This is a terrible political move by the administration,” he told BuzzFeed, saying that the committee’s agenda betrays Trump’s pledges to protect states from federal intervention — a position with overwhelming public support.

Hudak added it would be “policy malpractice” to only collect one-sided data. “The coordination of propaganda around an issue that the president ostensibly supported is fairly unprecedented.”

“This is a president who is not serious about states rights and regulatory reform in areas like drug policy, and is not serious about telling the truth to the American people or members of Congress from his own party,” Hudak said, pointing to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, who authored legislation that would protect states rights on marijuana and has praised Trump on the issue.

Gardner’s office did not reply to requests to comment on the committee.

Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat who is also running for governor this year, slammed the committee in a statement Wednesday. ”Pres. Trump is flailing on marijuana policy, sometimes saying the states should decide, while also allowing the Attorney General and other prohibition supporters in his purview to run amuck. If the White House is actually spreading misinformation about marijuana to undercut states’ rights, it’s appalling but not out of the ordinary for President Trump and his gang of prohibition supporters,” Polis said.

Although the White House said last year that it expected “greater enforcement” of marijuana in states where it’s legal, Trump has since suggested he’d support Gardner’s legislation to allow states to legalize marijuana untouched by the Justice Department. The move seemed to jab at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has relentlessly threatened a pot crackdown. As leader of the Justice Department, Sessions has recited 1980s-style rhetoric about saying no to marijuana.

But Americans have diverged from the federal government’s hardline stance on pot prohibition — with eight states having now legalized its adult recreational use and authorizing systems to sell it like alcohol. A Quinnipiac University poll in April found that 63% of Americans support legalization.

While marijuana consumption rose in the 15 years before Colorado and Washington became the first states to start allowing adults to buy marijuana in 2013, according to JAMA Psychiatry, federal data indicate marijuana abuse disorder has dropped nationally since then.

CIA Arrogance and Imaginary “Invincibility” Handed 30 US Spies To Chinese Executioners

[Is the same thing now underway in Russia? (SEE: CIA’s Kremlin Spies Suddenly Go Dark)]

The CIA falsely believed it was ‘invincible’ in China — here’s how its spies were reportedly discovered and killed in one of the biggest blows to the agency

CIA Memorial Wall
The CIA Memorial Wall at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Alex Wong / Getty Images

 

  • A new Foreign Policy report cites sources detailing how the communication system between the CIA’s spies and handlers in China nearly a decade ago was compromised.

  • The vulnerability contributed to the deaths of at least 30 spies, the sources said.

  • This internet-based system, imported from operations in the Middle East, was apparently brought to China under the assumption that it could not be breached.

  • But, according to the report, the program actually had telltale links to the CIA that would have allowed China to work out what was going on.


A firewall used by the CIA to communicate with its spies in China compromised their identities and contributed to their executions by the Chinese government, several current and former intelligence officials told Foreign Policy magazine in a report published Wednesday.

In a two-year period starting in 2010, Chinese officials began accurately identifying spies working for the US.

Chinese authorities rounded up the suspects and executed or imprisoned them before their handlers were able to determine what was going on.

“You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing,” one of the US officials said in the report. “The Ministry of State Security were always pulling in the right people.”

“When things started going bad, they went bad fast.”

US intelligence officials cited in the report are now placing the lion’s share of the blame on what one official called a “f—– up” communications system used between spies and their handlers.

This internet-based system, brought over from operations in the Middle East, was taken to China under the assumption that it could not be breached and made the CIA “invincible,” Foreign Policy reported.

David Petraeus Leon Panetta
Two former CIA directors, David Petraeus and Leon Panetta.
Dan Kitwood/John Javellana/Reuters

 

“It migrated to countries with sophisticated counterintelligence operations, like China,” an official said.

“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable.”

Intelligence officers and their sources were able to communicate with each other using ordinary laptops or desktop computers connected to the internet, marking a stark departure from some of the more traditional methods of covert communication.

This “throwaway” encrypted program, which was assumed to be untraceable and separate from the CIA’s main communication line, was reportedly used for new spies as a safety measure in case they double-crossed the agency.

Unbeknownst to the CIA, however, this system could be used to connect with mainstream CIA communications, used by fully vetted CIA sources.

According to the report, the vulnerability would have even allowed Chinese intelligence agencies to deduce it was being used by the US government.

china police
A police officer in Beijing.
Flickr/shawnclover

 

The Chinese set up a task force to break in to the throwaway system, Foreign Policy said, but it was unclear how they ultimately identified people.

The consequences for this breach were grim.

About 30 spies were reportedly executed, though some intelligence officials told Foreign Policy that 30 was a low estimate.

The US officials were reportedly “shell-shocked” by the speed and accuracy of Chinese counterintelligence, and rescue operations were organized to evacuate their sources.

The last CIA case officer to meet with sources in China reportedly handed over large amounts of cash in hopes that it would help them escape, Foreign Policy said.

The CIA has since been rebuilding its network in China, but the process has been an expensive and long endeavor, according to The New York Times, which in 2017 first reported on the suspected vulnerability and sources’ deaths.

Joint Chief’s Chairman Dunsford Blasts Inflationary Pentagon/UN ISIS Force Estimates

“ISIS, like its parent organization, Al-Qaeda In Iraq, exists to serve the Pentagon’s need for a credible enemy, in the right place at the right time. Its force numbers have always been a matter of convenience for Pentagon/CIA public diplomacy efforts to paint the image of a convincingly threatening Islamist terrorist force. By both US and Russian kill estimates, the original force, originally estimated at 30,000 fighters, has been bombed into oblivion several times over. Remember the origin of ISIS.”

US General Dunford Casts Doubt On Pentagon Islamic State Report

By Jeff Seldin

A top U.S. military official is pushing back against the Pentagon’s own estimates which suggest the Islamic State terror group has retained significant capabilities in Iraq and Syria, and is “well-positioned” to rebuild its lost caliphate.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, challenged recent estimates from both the U.S. Defense Department and a United Nations report, indicating IS still has anywhere from 20,000 to 32,000 fighters in the two countries despite the collapse of its self-declared caliphate.

“I saw the recent reports of over 30,000 fighters,” Dunford told reporters Tuesday during a rare news conference with Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Pentagon. “I don’t have high confidence in those particular numbers.

“We’re focused on dealing with what remains a threat in [the] Euphrates River Valley. We know there are remaining residual pockets of ISIS inside Iraq,” Dunford added, using an acronym for the terror group. “But I certainly would not say ISIS has the same strength that it had at its peak.”

​Defense and intelligence officials have long been wary of using numbers alone to measure the effectiveness of the campaign to destroy IS, calling any such effort, at best, an imperfect science. And some senior officials have likewise voiced concerns, internally, that the newest estimates may be misleading, possibly counting family members or others with strong connections to IS, though not themselves likely to fight.

Iraq, Syria IS force strength

But the new estimates, contained in a report issued by the lead inspector general for Operation Inherent Resolve, along with a subsequent report from the United Nations, have raised concerns.

The inspector general report, citing Defense Department figures, said IS likely had more than 17,000 fighters in Iraq and another 13,100 to 14,500 in Syria, only 4,000 to 6,000 “remained in the U.S. military’s areas of operation.”

Together, the numbers come close to the U.S. Defense Department estimates of the size of the IS fighting force at its peak in 2015, when officials said the group had about 33,000 fighters at its disposal.

When questioned about the new estimates, the Pentagon told VOA via an emailed statement that IS “is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge.”

Such assessments are a dramatic departure from previous characterizations of the scope of the IS threat, in which collation officials have described a terror organization in “disarray” with fighters “hiding in onesies and twosies amongst the population.”

The new estimates have been even more alarming given that, to date, the U.S.-led coalition has carried out about 24,000 airstrikes, killing close to 70,000 IS fighters, according to some U.S. military officials.

Still, Dunford on Tuesday downplayed the significance of any estimates regarding the number of IS fighters.

“Here’s what I’m confident of — that over the last two-and-half years, ISIS has lost about 98 percent of the ground that they’ve held,” he said. “They’ve lost significant access to resources and the flow of foreign fighters has been significantly reduced. Those are all quantifiable.”

‘Fight is not over’

Dunford said, for now, the U.S. focus is on clearing out the last remaining “significant” pocket of IS fighters, cornered in a small area of Syria’s Middle Euphrates River Valley, an operation slated to get under way shortly with the help of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

​Once that is done, the challenge will be to stabilize the area so that IS cannot return, which Dunford said, “is going to take some time to do.”

“We recognize the fight is not over,” Defense Secretary Mattis said, standing alongside Dunford, adding the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria will stay there until ISIS is “taken out.”

“If the locals are able to keep the security, obviously during this time we might be reducing our troops commensurate with their ability to deny ISIS a return,” he said.

Yet aside from numbers of fighters, there are other indications the terror group is far from destroyed.

Just last week, IS’s reclusive leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, broke his silence for the first time in almost a year, urging his followers to be patient.

“For the mujahedeen, the scale of victory or defeat is not dependent on a city or town being stolen or subject to that who has aerial superiority, intercontinental missiles or smart bombs,” Baghdadi said in a recording released on social media.

There have also been more reports of a resurgent IS force in Iraq, with attacks reported in recent weeks in Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Kirkuk.

“It would be a mistake to think that the threat has dissipated and that this is just a mop-up operation at this point,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior analyst at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA.

Gartenstein-Ross has long thought the initial U.S. estimates for IS fighters in 2014 and 2015 were far too low, arguing the terror group likely had close to about 100,000 fighters at its peak.

But he said the newer estimates of up to about 32,000 IS fighters could well be accurate.

“They have lost territory. There’s no question. They have fewer resources,” he said. “The flipside is we’ve seen this before. Groups like ISIS, after they reach a point where they can no longer control territory, try to come back as insurgent forces, and that’s where numbers matter.”

Carla Babb contributed to this report at the Pentagon.

John McCain Has Finally Done Something for The Greater Good—Died

John McCain b8561

*(Image credit: Official Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mark Fayloga/flickr)

I hate to differ with the redoubtable Norman Finkelstein, but he was dead (pun intended) wrong when, toward the end of an unsparing obituary for the late dissident-cum-demagogue Christopher Hitchens, he wrote that “every death is a tragedy.” This seemed to me a silly thought from a serious mind. All deaths, after all, are not created equal—nor are all men, but that’s another story for another time. True, many deaths are tragic: civilian casualties of state terror; unarmed individuals gunned down by racist policemen; animals run over by cars in the street or, for that matter, carved up on the blood-soaked floor of the abattoir; anything involving children.

But death is not inherently tragic, any more than life is. To say that death is tragic is to say the same of life, since the former cannot exist without the latter. Death, like oxygen and water, is simply there. Circumstances alone determine whether a visit from the Grim Reaper is tragic, or neutral, or, as is often the case, favorable.

Was Pol Pot’s death tragic? Adolf Hitler’s? Joseph Mengele’s? How about another infamous Joe, surname Stalin—was his death tragic? Henry VIII’s? The Zodiac Killer’s, assuming he’s given up the ghost by now? Will it be tragic when Dick Cheney kicks the bucket? Only if he’s not waterboarded beforehand.

You get the point. None of the above-mentioned deaths were, or will be, tragic, and I don’t have to explain why. Nor should I have to explain why John McCain’s death, now the subject stomach-churning eulogies from every corner of our morally bankrupt “news” media, far from being tragic, is a decidedly happy occasion. But I’m going to anyway.

First things first. McCain was 81 years old. That means he surpassed by more than two years the average life expectancy in the United States, which, trending downward, currently sits at 78.6 years. So, however much we’d like to ascribe his cancer diagnosis to karma, we cannot. Actuarially speaking, McCain had already overstayed his welcome; he was tempting fate merely by being alive. But what’s this business about karma? As Henry Kissinger (a great favorite of McCain’s, incidentally) continues to demonstrate, it’s an illusory concept. Nevertheless, it’s useful in a rhetorical sense, and few if any public figures in the United States are more deserving of it than was John “Insane” McCain. What goes around comes around, as the cliché has it.

It’s no accident that a new bill allocating $716 billion—well over half the discretionary federal budget—to the Pentagon is called the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act. A frantic jingoist (or “patriot” in American newspeak) who never met a war by which he wasn’t visibly aroused, McCain was a walking billboard for US imperialism, and all the mayhem it continues to unleash upon the world. Of course, because our universe is devoid of justice, he died from natural causes rather than a direct hit from a drone strike.

The only tool in Old Man McCain’s shed was the sledgehammer. Consequently, every geopolitical issue looked to him like something that had to be obliterated, as opposed to resolved, and so a demolition project was invariably prescribed. Mother Jones once compiled a list of countries that McCain, at one point or another, wished to apply his patented sledgehammer treatment to.

The list is not exhaustive. It was published before the Euromaidan uprising and subsequent coup in Ukraine, about which, needless to say, McCain was very giddy. This in spite of, or probably because of, the fact that it was spearheaded by neo-Nazi thugs (for a primer, read up on Svoboda and Right Sector).

Video clips exist showing McCain delivering swashbuckling speeches to mobs of protesters in Kiev as the crisis approached its boiling point.

Likewise, McCain fetishized the al-Qaeda-led insurgency in Syria, traveling to the war-plagued country and posing for photographs with a few “freedom fighters” in 2013.

Nor did Mother Jones make reference to McCain’s role in the American empire’s war of destruction against Indochina, specifically Vietnam. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman summed up the outcome of that disastrous adventure in Manufacturing Consent, writing:

In the South, 9,000 out of 15,000 hamlets were damaged or destroyed, along with some twenty-five million acres of farmland and twelve million acres of forest. One-and-a-half million cattle were killed, and the war left a million widows and some 800,000 orphans. In the North, all six industrial cities were damaged (three razed to the ground) along with twenty-eight of thirty provincial towns (twelve completely destroyed), ninety-six of 116 district towns, and 4,000 of some 5,800 communes. Four hundred thousand cattle were killed and over a million acres of farmland were damaged.

Something like three million Vietnamese were killed as a result of the American invasion, most of them civilians. McCain was a bomber pilot during the war. He flew more than twenty criminal bombing missions over North Vietnam (the number of innocent people McCain directly killed is anyone’s guess) until, in October 1967, his plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile. He was captured in Hanoi and imprisoned for five years, eventually confessing to being a war criminal, something he claimed never to have lived down. But don’t get him wrong: McCain wasn’t ashamed of his crimes, just that he buckled under pressure and admitted to them.

In 1970, McCain was interviewed by Spanish psychiatrist Fernando Barral. The doctor, later maligned by McCain as a “Cuban propagandist,” didn’t mince words while speaking of our late, great war hero’s psychological makeup:

From the moral and ideological point of view he showed us he is an insensitive individual without human depth, who does not show the slightest concern, who does not appear to have thought about the criminal acts he committed against a population from the almost absolute impunity of his airplane, and that nevertheless those people saved his life, fed him, and looked after his health, and he is now healthy and strong. I believe that he bombed densely populated places for sport. I noted he was hardened, that he spoke of banal things as if he were at a cocktail party.

McCain would go on to flaunt his lack of human depth in various ways, on various occasions. While campaigning for president in 2000, he was asked a question pertaining to his experience as a POW in Vietnam. “I hate the gooks,” he replied, using the Asian equivalent of “kike” or “nigger.” “I will hate them as long as I live.” (This is hardly surprising—after all, can you carpet bomb a people you don’t hate?) Curiously, or perhaps not, the viciously racist comment barely registered with the press, and did no damage to his absurd reputation as a man of impeccable fortitude and probity. Indeed, he managed to secure the Republican nomination for president eight years later, selecting as his running mate the one and only Sarah Palin, a “very low IQ individual,” as Trump might say.

It goes without saying that McCain was a big fan of NATO expansionism, a deranged policy pushing us to the brink of a military conflict with Russia—i.e. terminal nuclear war. Last year, McCain threw a temper tantrum on the floor of the Senate when Rand Paul thwarted his attempt to hold a vote on Montenegro’s prospective entry into NATO, accusing Paul of “working for Vladimir Putin.” In hindsight, Paul’s riposte seems prophetic. “I think [McCain] makes a really, really strong case for term limits,” he said. “I think maybe he’s past his prime. I think maybe he’s gotten a little bit unhinged.” Were the rogue cancer cells already eroding McCain’s gray matter? It’s difficult to say, as he was never exactly “hinged” to begin with.

If in spite of everything you’re still anxious about drinking to McCain’s death, bear in mind that he was instrumental in the US government’s disgraceful efforts to bury evidence that hundreds of American POWs were knowingly left behind in Vietnam. The sordid affair was presented in great detail by investigative journalist Syndey Schanberg; his myth-shattering article, “McCain and the POW Cover-Up” is required reading for anyone interested in the reality of the “Last Lion of the Senate,” as the New York Times saw fit to label him.

All in all, John McCain was a terrible scourge on our Republic and the world at large. I’d be lying if I said that, upon catching wind of his death, the air didn’t suddenly seem a little fresher, even here in smoggy Saigon. Good riddance to bad rubbish, indeed.

 

Map: All the Countries John McCain Has Wanted to Attack

Syria, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, and nine other nations the Arizona senator has been eager to bomb, invade, or destabilize.

Even before he was caught playing poker on his iPhone at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had already sent a message: Anything less than an extensive aerial assault on the Syrian regime by American forces would be an unacceptable approach to the conflict in the Middle East. This was hardly surprising. Over the last two decades, McCain has rarely missed an opportunity to call for the escalation of an international conflict. Since the mid-1990s, he’s pushed for regime change in more than a half-dozen countries—occasionally with disastrous consequences.Here’s a quick review of McCain’s eagerness for military action and foreign entanglements.

Syria

Fighting words: “Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign air power.”

What he wanted: Airstrikes, culminating in regime change.

What was it good for? TBD.

Angry McCains: Five

IRAQ (part II)

Fighting words: “Leaders always have choices, and history teaches that hard choices deferred—appeasing Hitler, choosing not to deter Saddam Hussein in 1990, failing to act sooner against Al Qaeda—often bring about the very circumstances we wished to avoid by deferring action, requiring us to react in freedom’s defense. America’s leaders today have a choice. It will determine whether our people live in fear behind walls that have already been breached, as our enemies plan our defeat in time we have given them to do it.”

What he wanted: Ground war culminating in regime change.

What was it good for? See above.

Angry McCains: Five

 

AFGHANISTAN

Fighting words: “We should make an immediate statement of our resolve that we no longer intend to tolerate sanction given to our enemies by any nation…Should the Taliban refuse our demand, then they must know that they will be treated as allies of our enemy, and, thus, are themselves our enemies, and will suffer much for their allegiance.”

What he wanted: Osama bin Laden’s head, at any cost.

What was it good for? Ground war culminating in regime change (ongoing).

Angry McCains: Five

?

 

LIBYA

Fighting words: “I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically-elected governments” (2000). “[I]t does take time, as it did during the period of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. But we were able to provide them with some weapons and wherewithal to cause the Russians to leave Afghanistan. So we can do it” (2012).

What he wanted: Regime change.

What was it good for? Regime change (12 years—and one ill-considered tweet) later.

Angry McCains: Five

 

Kosovo

Fighting words: “The best course for us, NATO, Kosovo, Russia and even Serbia is to begin fighting this war as if it were a war, with huge stakes involved, instead of some strange interlude between peace initiatives…To that end, we should commence today to mobilize infantry and armored divisions for a possible ground war in Kosovo.”

What he wanted: Ground war culminating in regime change.

What was it good for? Airstrikes.

Angry McCains: Four

 

IRAQ (part i)

Fighting words: “It is clear to me that if we fail to act there will be inevitably a succession of dictators, of Saddam Husseins, of which around the globe there is an abundance.”

What he wanted: Ground war in Kuwait.

What was it good for? See above.

Angry McCains: Four

 

Nigeria

Fighting words: “If they knew where they were, I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them, in a New York minute I would, without permission of the host country. I wouldn’t be waiting for some kind of permission from some guy named Goodluck Jonathan.”

What he wanted: Special ops raid against Boko Haram.

What was it good for? TBD.

Angry McCains: Four

image: mccain

 

Bosnia

Fighting words: “If [Bosnians] were equipped,especially with TOW missiles, some heavy armor, some tanks, then I think that we could foresee a stable situation.”

What he wanted: Air strikes and military assistance.

What was it good for? See above.

Angry McCains: Three

 

NORTH KOREA

Fighting words: “I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically-elected governments.”

What he wanted: Either regime change by aiding local opposition, or an outright military confrontation.

What was it good for? TBD

Angry McCains: Three

 

IRAN

Fighting words: “It’s that old Beach Boys song, ‘Bomb Iran’? Bomb bomb bomb…”

What was it good for? Unspecified air strikes; unspecified support for dissident groups.

What he got: TBD.

Angry McCains: Three

GEORGIA

Fighting words: “Today, we are all Georgians.”

What he wanted: Unspecified aggression toward Russia after invasion of Georgia.

What was it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Angry McCains: Two

 

RUSSIA

Fighting words: “Now is the time to fundamentally rethink our relationship with Putin’s Russia. We need to deal with the Russia that is, not the Russia we might wish for. We cannot allow today’s action by Putin to stand without serious repercussions…We should push for the completion of all phases of our missile defense programs in Europe, and move expeditiously on another round of NATO expansion.”

What he wanted: A new Cold War.

What was it good for? Absolutely nothing.

Angry McCains: Two

 

SUDAN

Fighting words: “NATO should immediately establish and enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur to ensure that Khartoum ends its offensive military flights and bombing raids, as the Security Council has already demanded…[T]he United States should intensify efforts to persuade UN members to commit troops and funds for the UN force in Darfur, and it should develop plans for US logistical support.”

What he wanted: UN troops.

What was it good for? UN troops.

Angry McCains: Two

 

MALI

Fighting words: “We need to have DOD assistance as much as feasible and necessary to prevent Mali from deteriorating further into a chaotic situation.”

What he wanted: Military assistance.

What was it good for? Military assistance.

Angry McCains: Two

 

CHINA

Fighting words: “The Arab Spring is coming to China.”

What he wanted: Totally unclear.

What was it good for? Nothing.

Angry McCains: One

FACT:

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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation so we can keep on doing the type of journalism that 2018 demands.

  • Tim Murphy

    Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Reach him at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

 

Hidden internal directive on Syria that got no UNSC approval DOES exist – Russian Foreign Ministry

Hidden internal directive on Syria that got no UNSC approval DOES exist – Russian Foreign Ministry

Hidden internal directive on Syria that got no UNSC approval DOES exist – Russian Foreign Ministry
The UN has devised internal guidelines for limiting cooperation with Syria until a “political transition” takes place there, and it was drafted without any consent from the Security Council, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said.

The document in question is entitled ‘Parameters and Principles of UN Assistance in Syria,’ the ministry wrote in a statement to RT. It was issued by the UN Secretariat in October 2017 and provides guidelines for the UN agencies and programs in their work with the war-torn country.

The Secretariat issued the paper without requesting consent or even consulting the UN Security Council or the UN member states, at least on an official level, the ministry noted, adding that the “guidelines” document still “penetrates deeply” into the political situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, thus “going beyond the issue of simple coordination between the UN structures.”

One particular provision of the document explicitly states that the UN “would be ready to facilitate reconstruction” in Syria only “once there is a genuine and inclusive political transition negotiated by the parties.” The Russian ministry described it as an apparent attempt to prevent the international organization from contributing to Syria’s recovery under the current circumstances, while enforcing a “politicized approach of the countries advocating a regime change.”

The directive also implicitly restricts the UN agencies’ cooperation with Damascus, the ministry said, adding that the text of the document says that “UN assistance must not assist parties who have allegedly committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.” The US and its allies in the West have repeatedly accused the Syrian government of various violations of international law and particularly blamed them for chemical weapons incidents that took place on Syrian soil. No hard evidence has ever been presented to substantiate those claims, while the West ignored relevant data provided by the Russian military operating in Syria.

“If some influential [UN] donors believe that … it is time to toughen the sanctions regime against Syria, it does not necessarily mean that the UN agencies should be guided by the same irresponsible approach,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement, expressing its hope that the UN Secretariat will review its methods as Syria’s need for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction aid grows, not least due to an increasing number of refugees returning home.

The issue of an alleged “secret directive” having been distributed by the Secretariat throughout the UN system in October 2017 was first raised by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday. He did not name the document but said that it “prohibited the agencies… from participating in any kind of projects aimed at restoring the Syrian economy” until a “political transition” there.

Lavrov also linked the release of the directive with the “absolutely deconstructive” stance of the US on the issue of Syria’s reconstruction. The next day, the office of the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general denied the existence of any such document by saying that neither its department of political affairs nor any other UN entity had issued a “secret directive” on Syria.

Meanwhile, the ‘not secret’ but rather hard-to-find document mentioned by the Russian Foreign Ministry apparently indeed exists: It was briefly mentioned on an official UN website in a temporary job description. However, the text of the document has never been officially made public by any UN agency.

However, a supposed copy of the text of the directive, entitled ‘Parameters and Principles of UN Assistance in Syria’ and dated October 2017, was included as an annex in another paper published by the Global Protection Cluster – a structure directly linked to such UN agencies as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This document is still available online.

After declaring its commitment to the UN Charter and the Security Council resolutions, the document indeed states that any UN aid to the reconstruction efforts would be possible only following “political transition.” It also states the UN work should de-facto focus on basic humanitarian assistance only, while any “development and reconstruction activities that are outside this will need to be reflected in other frameworks that are by nature a longer negotiation with governments.”

The paper also openly states that the UN “will not promote the return of refugees.” Apart from prohibiting cooperation with “parties who have allegedly committed war crimes or crimes against humanity,” the guidelines also state that assistance must be “prioritized based on the needs of the population (rather than government-driven),” in what might be potentially considered an indirect attempt to limit the UN agencies’ cooperation with the Syrian government.

Parameters and Principles of Assistance to Syria

 

ANNEX
Parameters and Principles of UN assistance in Syria
(October 2017)
The following initial parameters and principles shall apply to all UN actors operating in Syria in order to ensure support and assistance is provided to those in need in all areas of Syria. Note that these parameters and principles are to be developed further and would also require setting a due-diligence process to ensure implementation. These principles and parameters, including any further revisions, must also be consistent with the principles of the Charter of the UN and relevant Security Council resolutions.
PARAMETERS:
• Life-saving humanitarian needs remain enormous in Syria and assistance delivery through the most direct routes remains critical. Humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence apply to life-saving humanitarian assistance as well as early recovery and resilience activities with humanitarian objectives. The UN, with the active engagement of the Secretary-General, will endeavour to secure the maximum possible flow of humanitarian assistance into Syria, including through the most direct route, ensuring non-interference with its operations, to sustain operations envisaged in the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP).
• The HRP must remain humanitarian in order to ensure the United Nations can deliver on essential humanitarian activities to save lives and ensure the basic needs for people. Development or reconstruction activities that are outside this will need to be reflected in other frameworks that are by nature a longer negotiation with governments. This is essential given the complex legal and political issues involved.
• Early recovery and resilience activities in Syria, as currently outlined in the HRP, offer an opportunity to go beyond immediate life-saving assistance and offer minimum living conditions for local affected communities.
• The UN will advocate for the full range of durable solutions for IDPs and refugees, in the whole of Syria, support host communities and promote rights-based approaches in accordance with international law and standards. The UN will not promote the return of refugees and IDP, but will support returnees with a view to ensuring the safe, dignified, informed, voluntary and sustainable nature of return and reintegration, as well as the right of Syrians to seek and enjoy asylum.
• Only once there is a genuine and inclusive political transition negotiated by the parties, would the UN be ready to facilitate reconstruction.
PRINCIPLES
• The aforementioned activities are delivered under the following principles:
o Principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence in mind and keeping with basic principles of human rights-based approach to programming, including participation, empowerment, local ownership, and sustainability.
13
o Assistance must be prioritized based on the needs of the population (rather than government driven) with a particular focus on the needs of vulnerable groups and individuals, in a manner that protects human rights as an outcome.
o It must be delivered in a fair, equitable, non-discriminatory and non-politicized manner.
o The UN shall work directly with communities and households, such that United Nations assistance is delivered with uniformity throughout Syria, regardless of zones of influence.
o The UN shall consider carefully human rights and protection implications, especially with regard to where and how assistance is provided. UN assistance must not assist parties who have allegedly committed war crimes or crimes against humanity.
• UN assistance shall be determined consciously and explicitly without prejudice to the goals of accountability for serious human rights violations, and the goals of legitimate, equitable, and sustainable political settlement.
• The specific needs and vulnerabilities of women shall be at the forefront of UN response planning and implementation.
Implementation and next steps
• A multi-disciplinary working group under the auspices of the UN Syria Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) will monitor adherence to the principles and parameters agreed by the UN system in this strategy, including political, legal, and human rights as well as humanitarian and development dimensions, and will report on this to the Secretary-General.
• UN agencies, funds and programmes should strengthen internal control, monitoring and tracking systems for the implementation of UN and partner programmes in Syria, with a view of taking all reasonable steps to avoid the diversion of or interference with aid assistance.
• A consultative needs assessment would be required that takes account of both needs and principles, including future expectations. Rigorous standards of due diligence should apply, drawing from the principles of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy.
• The UN shall apply the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights in all areas of its work in Syria, including in its post-agreement planning.
• UN funding modalities should be independent of both government and donors, to the extent possible. In this context, the UN, with the active engagement and advocacy of the Secretary-General, will endeavour to ensure sufficient donor support.
• These agreed parameters shall form the basis of common positions and coordinated advocacy with key member states and donors.

Terror at the Factory Gate: The Price of Making Cement in Syria

 

Terror at the Factory Gate: The Price of Making Cement in Syria

(Bloomberg) — For three chaotic years starting in 2011, as Syria imploded into civil war, Lafarge SA of France kept churning out cement from its factory in the northern desert near the Turkish border.

To keep production going and safeguard the $680 million installation, according to the site’s former security manager, Jacob Waerness, the company had to resort to extreme measures including negotiating freedom for kidnapped employees and cutting supply deals with local fighters, whose allegiances shifted with the sands.

Jacob Waerness

Source: Jacob Waerness

Lafarge, which has since merged with Swiss rival Holcim Ltd. to become the world’s biggest cement maker, had invested in the Syrian plant in a bet that expansion in the then relatively-stable Middle Eastern country would turn a tidy profit.

Instead, like countless other multinationals with sprawling operations in far-flung regions, the French company learned the hard way that political tides can turn suddenly and violently. But unlike most companies caught in turmoil, whose actions don’t become public, Lafarge’s predicament in the war-torn country is now under the spotlight. In a 245-page book published last month in his native Norwegian, Waerness offers a rare insider view of corporate decision-making during times of strife.

“We didn’t do this to profit from a war situation,” he said in an interview. “We wanted to keep the factory running to avoid having it destroyed.”

Plant Seized

Lafarge may have misjudged the situation, according to the former manager, hanging on for too long in Syria until militant group Islamic State was literally outside the factory gates. The plant was seized by the group in September 2014. Waerness left the year before when his local contract expired and stopped working for Lafarge in Zurich in March this year.

Image result for Terror at the Factory Gate: The Price of Making Cement in Syria

Terror at the Factory Gate: The Price of Making Cement in Syria

In the early days of political turmoil, when other companies were pulling out of Syria, Waerness said Lafarge decided the best way to protect its factory and help the local community would be to try to ride out the storm. That decision has now earned the cement maker media attention as well as scrutiny from French lawmakers about whether it engaged with IS during the conflict.

“We said that if it came down to human lives we would shut down, but as long as it was only about hard work and adapting to a difficult situation, we would do everything to run the business in what we felt was a responsible way,” Waerness said. “That proved increasingly difficult.”

Islamic Extremists

To keep production going in Syria even as nearby cities fell to Islamic extremists, Lafarge went to such lengths as equipping trucks with armor for safer transport, smuggling a Filipino welder across the Turkish border to help with maintenance and indirectly helping groups like IS, according to the ex-manager, who said he accepts at least part of the blame for the company staying so long.

“When we realized that they were there to stay, we should have pulled out,” Waerness said. “We couldn’t operate in the region without those groups directly or indirectly benefiting from our operations.”

In response to questions about the book, Lafarge said that any benefit to IS “would be completely contradictory” to the company’s values and code of conduct, and that its first priority when the conflict reached the area of the plant was the safety and security of the employees. It’s carrying out an internal investigation into what happened in Syria during the period when the plant was surrounded by armed factions.

“This review is still ongoing and, at this stage, we have not made conclusions of any wrongdoing,” the company said. “We will include the assertions made in Mr. Waerness’s book in our review and we will also invite him to contribute to the review.”

French Lawmakers

A French parliamentary report published in July concluded that lawmakers didn’t have evidence that Lafarge or its local entities contributed — directly, indirectly or passively — to the financing of IS. French newspaper Le Monde, which reported in June about payments to IS to keep the plant working in 2013 and 2014, said the funding was indirect and management may not have even been aware.

Lafarge’s Jalabiyeh factory had only been operational for about six months when protests against the Syrian regime erupted in March 2011. Located east of Aleppo, about 87 kilometers northwest of Raqqa, which would become the capital of IS, the area was at first mostly peaceful, Waerness said.

Red Lines

Producing thousands of tons of cement daily and employing about 200 people, it was an important contributor to the local economy and the Kurdish-majority population in the area wanted production to continue, he said.

In the early days, Lafarge set out a number of “red lines” — such as the occupation by a militant group of the surrounding area — as situations that would require a pull out from the site. As civil war intensified, crossing the lines went from being exceptional to routine, he said.

The militants who gained local control when government forces withdrew were in favor of continued production, according to Waerness. Later more extreme groups increased their influence in the area until, he said, he was offered and declined a meeting with the IS finance chief in Raqqa in the summer of 2013.

After Waerness left Syria, Lafarge continued to operate the cement factory for another full year, and the final evacuation from the factory took place on Sept. 19, 2014. Days later, IS fighters took control. Lafarge has since written it off. This week, the 5 1/2-year war escalated with intense bombing in Aleppo that led to an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

“You operate in a constant state of emergency,” Waerness said. “The road is formed as you’re walking it, and it’s not until afterward that you can reflect and see that we did a lot of good things, but in some areas we went wrong.”

French Corporations/DAESH Cooperated To Corner Concrete Industry In War-Ravaged Syria

[SEE: Terror at the Factory Gate: The Price of Making Cement in Syria]

On the occasion of the release of Thierry Meyssan’s new book , «Right Before our Eyes. From 9/11 to Donald Trump», we are publishing a series of articles which develop a few of the numerous points he mentions.

After the comments by Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the debate for the French Presidential election, we shall begin with the true story of Lafarge-Holcim in Syria.

| Damascus (Syria)

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On 2 March 2017, the company Lafarge-Holcim admitted that its Syrian subsidiary, in violation of UNO resolutions, had «paid sums of money to third parties, including certain third parties who are under sanction, in order to facilitate arrangements with a number of armed groups with a view to maintaining the company’s activity and ensuring safe passage for its employees and supplies to and from the factory» [1].

The cement company has already been the object of two enquiries. The first was initiated by the associations Sherpa and ECCHR, on 15 November 2016, while the second was launched by the French Minister of the Economy. Both were reacting to the alleged revelations in Le Monde, according to which Lafarge paid money to Daesh, in violation of UNO resolutions.

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It’s important to note that the articles published on 2 March in Intelligence Online (a confidential site belonging to Le Monde) and in Le Monde itself on 22 June 2016, were written by a journalist who is not affiliated with these news outlets – Dorothée Myriam Kellou. This young woman studied at Georgtown University. Her statements were confirmed in a book by Jacob Waerness, Risikosjef i Syra, in which the ex-employee decribes the frightening security situation of Lafarge personnel in Syria. The author pursued his collaboration with the cement company after the publication of his book.

The pseudo-revelations of Le Monde were organised in coordination with Lafarge-Holcim in order to focus the attention of the public and the judges on a single point of detail – namely, should they have accepted being held to ransom by Daesh.

The truth is worse than that.

The preparation of the war against Syria

In June 2008, NATO organised the annual meeting of the Bilderberg Group [2] in Chantilly (United States) during which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama presented themselves to the participants.

Among the 120 people present were Bassma Kodmani (future spokeswoman for the Syrian National Coalition) and Volker Perthes (future assistant of Jeffrey Feltman at the UNO, for Syria). During a debate on the permanence of US foreign policy, they spoke up to commend the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood and the role they could play in the «democratisation» of the Arab world.

Jean-Pierre Jouyet (future Secretary General for the Elysée), Manuel Valls (future Prime Minister of France) and Bertrand Collomb (head of Lafarge) were present alongside Henry R. Kravis (future financial coordinator of Daech).

Lafarge in Syria

Lafarge is the world’s leading cement company. NATO entrusted it with the construction of the jihadists’ bunkers in Syria and the reconstruction of the Sunni part of Iraq. In exchange, Lafarge allowed the Alliance to manage its installations in these two countries, notably the factory in Jalabiyeh (at the Turkish border, north of Aleppo). For two years, the multinational supplied the materials and equipment for the construction of the gigantic underground fortifications which enabled the jihadists to defy the Syrian Arab Army.

Lafarge is currently directed by US citizen Eric Olsen, who has integrated into his company the factories of the Sawiris brothers and Firas Tlass. The latter is the son of General Moustapha Tlass, President Hafez el-Assad’s ex-Minister for Defence. He is the brother of General Manaf Tlass, whom France had once considered making the next Syrian President. He is also the brother of Nahed Tlass-Ojjeh, the widow of Saudi arms dealer Akram Ojjeh – she works with the journalist Franz-Olivier Giesbert.

The links between Lafarge and the French Special Forces are facilitated by the friendship between Bertrand Collomb (who became the honorary President of the multinational) and General Benoît Puga (Chief of Staff for Presidents Sarkozy and Hollande).

The lies of Le Monde

First of all, the online news outlet of the anti-Syrian mercenaires, Zaman Al-Wasl, published e-mails showing that Lafarge was paying money to Daesh. Then Le Monde published its articles and took the documents from Zaman Al-Wasl off its Internet site (although you can find them here on our Internet site).

According to Le Monde, the multinational was buying oil to keep its factory running. However, this is untrue – the factory in question runs almost exclusively on coal, which was still being delivered from Turkey. Without realising the enormity of its confession, the daily admitted that Lafarge produced 2,6 million metric tonnes of cement per year, destined for the «rebel zones».

Yet throughout this terrible war, civilians could not obtain permission to build in these zones.

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Daesh soldiers at the Lafarge-Holcim factory in Jalabiyeh (Syria)

The construction of the jihadists’ bunkers

2,6 million metric tonnes for two years adds up to at least six million metric tonnes produced for the «rebels». I’m putting the word «rebel» in quotes, because these combatants are not Syrians – they come from all over the Muslim world, including Europe.

This amount of concrete is comparable to that used by the German Reich, in 1916-17, to build the Siegfried Line. Since July 2012, NATO – including France – have organised a war of position in conformity with the strategy described by Abou Moussab «The Syrian» in his 2004 book, Management of Savagery.

We can imagine the number of military engineers from the NATO Engineering Corps – including the French – who were necessary to build these colossal structures.

Lafarge, the Clintons and the CIA

During the 1980’s, Lafarge was defended in its Alabama pollution trial by a famous lawyer, a certain Hillary Rodham-Clinton. She managed to reduce the fine imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencydown to only 1,8 million dollars.

During the mandate of George Bush Sr, Lafarge helped out the CIA by illegally transporting to Iraq the weapons which would be used later on during the rebellion, when Iraq was planned to invade Kuwaït, and the international Coalition was planned to come to liberate it.

During the same period, Hillary Rodham-Clinton became an administrator for the multinational, a post she left when her husband was elected to the White House. President Bill Clinton then reduced to 600,000 dollars the fine that his wife had been unable to avoid for Lafarge. Good relations continued between them, since the cement company donated 100,000 dollars to the Clinton Fondation in 2015, and its new CEO, Eric Olsen, never hesitates to have his photo taken with Hillary Clinton.

The Russian military intervention

Entrenched in their bunkers, the jihadists were not afraid of the Syrian Arab Army, and had no difficulty in holding their positions. For two years, the country was cut in two, since the government chose to save the population and thus to abandon the area.

When Russia stepped in, answering the request by the Syrian government, its mission was to destroy the jihadists’ bunkers with penetrating «bunker-buster» bombs. The operation was intended to last three months, from September 2015 until the Orthodox Christmas (6 January 2016). However, the extent of Lafarge-Holcim’s constructions proved to be so massive that the Russian Army needed six months to finish the job.

Conclusion

When the transnational company Lafarge-Holcim finished its mission in service of the Military Engineering Corps of NATO, it closed its factory and lent it to the Alliance. So the factory in Jalabiyeh was transformed into a headquarters for the Special Forces of the United States, France, Norway and the United Kingdom, who were occupying the North of Syria illegally.

Contrary to the smoke-screen raised by Le Monde, this is not at all the sad story of a construction company which was forced to negotiate with jihadists in order to save its personnel. Lafarge-Holcim’s responsibility is its central role in a vast military operation aimed at the destruction of Syria – a secret war which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

Translation
Pete Kimberley

Russia Opposes the Real (Secret) US Govt and the “Democratic” Puppet Govt. Which Fronts For It

The Western powers are moving inexorably towards Internet censorship, thereby facilitating the dissemination of propaganda and war indoctrination in their countries. In this context, an extremely violent tension is tearing apart the international scene. Aware of the increasing risk of general confrontation, Moscow is attempting to find credible interlocutors in the UNO and the United States. What is happening at the moment has seen no equivalent since 1938, and could degenerate in the same way.

| Damascus (Syria) 

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During a Press conference in Moscow, on 20 August, the Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sergueï Lavrov, denounced the instructions issued by the General Secretariat of the UNO to all their agencies, forbidding them to participate in any manner whatsoever in the reconstruction of Syria.

He was referring to a document entitled Parameters and Principles of UN Assistance, drawn up in October 2017 by the Director of Political Affairs and number 2 of UNO at the time, Jeffrey Feltman.

We can read the specific instructions – « The UN will be ready to assist in the reconstruction of Syria only when a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, negotiated by the Syrian parties in the conflict, is firmly under way ».

This text is contrary to the objectives of the United Nations, but defended by its General Secretariat. None of the member states of the UNO were ever involved in its composition, nor even informed of its existence. It corresponds to the point of view of the governments of the United Kingdom and France, but not that of the United States.

Mr. Lavrov declared he had asked the General Secretary, Portuguese Socialist António Guterres, for explanations.

As far as I know, this is the first time that a member state of the Security Council has ever questioned an internal political document of the General Secretariat. Yet the problem is not new. At the end of 2015, Russia learned about a group of internal UN documents known as the « Feltman Plan for Syria » [1]. This concerned a detailed project for the total and unconditional capitulation of the Syrian Arab Republic, even more drastic than the plan imposed on Japan by General McArthur [2].

Moscow then found itself in a very delicate situation. If it made these documents public, the credibility of the UNO in the service of peace would have been destroyed, and Russia would have had to propose new intergovernmental institutions to replace it. Vladimir Putin prudently decided to keep it secret, and to negotiate with Barack Obama to save the UNO.

However, in practice, nothing had changed – Feltman was removed from his functions by Guterres and then produced another document intended to sabotage peace. Today he has been replaced by his US compatriot, Rosemary DiCarlo, who has not invalidated his instructions.

This time, Russia will not accept excuses and delaying tactics. But is Guterres DiCarlo’s effective superior, or is there a double hierarchy within the UNO, one of them public and favourable to peace, and the other hidden and pushing for war?

At the beginning of the Cold War, the United States thought about how they would be able to survive a Soviet atomic attack which would have killed their President and parliamentarians outright. President Eisenhower therefore nominated a phantom government tasked with ensuring continuity in case such an attack should occur. This secret entity was renewed periodically by his successors and still exists today.

For eighteen years, I have been defending the thesis according to which the United States are no longer governed by their President and Congress, but by this replacement entity. Basing my work on official US documents, I interpreted the attacks of 11 September 2001 as a coup d’etat operated by this unelected authority. Fearing that I am contesting the democratic ideal, my critics have rejected my work in its entirety, without really discussing it nor even reading it.

We may believe that after George Bush Junior’s second mandate and that of Barack Obama, this debate has become obsolete. And yet, during his electoral campaign, Donald Trump denounced the existence of this « deep state » which, according to him, no longer serves the interests of the people, but those of transnational Finance.

Of course, no foreign state has ever taken a public stand about a question which concerns the interior politics and the sovereignty of the United States. Except that last week, President Vladimir Putin took steps in this direction. On 22 August – in other words two days after the public intervention of his Minister for Foreign Affairs against the UNO – while commenting Washington’s sanctions against his country, he declared – « And it is not only the position of the President of the United States which counts. It’s the position of the institution which pretends to be the state, the ruling class in the wider sense of the term. I hope that the realisation that this policy has no future will one day become clear to our partners, and that we will then be able to cooperate in a normal fashion » [3].

Yes, you have read that correctly. President Putin is stating that the United States are governed not by one Power, but two. The first is composed of the elected members of Congress and the Presidency, the second is illegitimate and sometimes more powerful.

In the space of two days, the Federation of Russia called into question the coherence of the United Nations and that of the United States.

Unfortunately, those people who have still not analysed the events of 9/11, nor drawn any conclusions about the wars which followed, are still stuck with the official vulgate. They will probably interpret the Russian position as a machination aimed at destabilising the Western democracies.

From Moscow’s point of view, the war of aggression – by the intervention of jihadist proxies – against Syria must cease, and the unilateral sanctions by the US, Canada and the European Union against Russia must be lifted. The problem that we must all now face is not the defence of democracy, but the danger of war.

Void of any legitimacy, a parallel hierarchy in New York and Washington intends to plunge the world into a generalised conflict.

Translation
Pete Kimberley

Source
Al-Watan (Syria)

Encouraging Politically-Based Gender Confusion In Very Young Children IS A Form of Bullying

““We should have accountability for bullying. I think the child should. Because the child knows it’s wrong,” she told KDVR. “The child wouldn’t want someone to do it to them.

I think the parent should be held because obviously the parents are either teaching them to be like that, or they’re treating them like that.””

[SEE: China Tries the Other Path, Fighting the Feminization of Little Boys w/Ideology of “Manhood” ]

Leia Pierce Facebook page

Mom: 9-year-old boy killed himself after coming out as gay, being bullied at school

Jamel Myles

 

A Colorado mother says her son killed himself after being bullied at school.

Leia Pierce told KDVR that her 9-year-old son, Jamel Myles, came out to her as gay over the summer.

“And he looked so scared when he told me. He was like, ‘Mom I’m gay.’

–[Didn’t bother to ask questions like, where did you get that idea? who told you that you might be gay? Do you even know what sex is? Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity was Why does the possibility of being gay scare you?  Instead of asking these simple, yet vital questions, the mother proudly embraced her little political “warrior”, apparently without thinking that his path might get him hurt or “martyred” for ruthless, neoliberal Democratic Party politics.  Children are born innocent, without sin, neither are they “homosexual at birth”.  All 9-year old boys and girls are innocent little vacuum tubes, unable to even understand what sex is or that they themselves are products of their own parents’ sexuality.]

“Pierce said her son came out as gay this summer and began wearing fake fingernails on Aug. 20, the first day at school.”-DENVER POST

[When you let your boy go to the first day of school wearing fake fingernails, on a mission to tell all the bullies in Aurora, Colorado just how “Gay” he was, you embraced what was to follow.]

And I thought he was playing, so I looked back because I was driving, and he was all curled up, so scared. And I said, ‘I still love you,'” Pierce said.

Myles also told his family he wanted to dress more femininely.

“And he goes, ‘Can I be honest with you?'” Pierce said. “And I was like, ‘Sure,’ and he’s like, ‘I know you buy me boy stuff because I’m a boy, but I’d rather dress like a girl.'”

He began fourth grade at Joe Shoemaker Elementary School in Denver last Monday. Pierce said her son wanted to tell his classmates that he was gay.

“He went to school and said he was gonna tell people he’s gay because he’s proud of himself,” she said.

Just four days after the first day of school, Jamel killed himself in his home, Pierce said. The Denver Police Department confirmed the death is being investigated as a suicide.

The boy’s mother believes bullying was a factor in his decision to end his life.

“Four days is all it took at school. I could just imagine what they said to him,” Pierce said. “My son told my oldest daughter the kids at school told him to kill himself. I’m just sad he didn’t come to me.”

A letter from Denver Public Schools to families said extra social workers and a crisis team will be made available to students. The district wrote that it will offer support to the family.

Pierce hopes to spread awareness about the effects of bullying.

“We should have accountability for bullying. I think the child should. Because the child knows it’s wrong. The child wouldn’t want someone to do it to them. I think the parent should be held because obviously the parents are either teaching them to be like that, or they’re treating them like that,” she said.

How Gaddafi’s Grim Prophecy for Europe is Coming True

[Europe: Burning as Gaddafi promised11 Sep, 2015, The Herald, Zimbabwe]

© Sputnik / Alexei Druzhinin

Ceuta Onslaught: How Gaddafi’s Grim Prophecy for Europe is Coming True

The flow of migrants coming to Europe from Africa is likely to grow in the coming years, writes Sputnik Germany contributor Bernhard Schwarz. For decades Libya served as a firewall halting the tide of refugees heading to the EU. Now when Libya lies in ruins European leaders see that late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was right, Schwarz stressed.

Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s “prophecy” is turning into reality with destitute Africans violently storming the Spanish-Moroccan border on July 26, writes Sputnik Germany contributor Bernhard Schwarz, stressing that the event sends a strong signal to Berlin.

“Driven by desperation and hunger, they are ready to risk their own lives and the lives of border guards to get to Europe. They will not take no for an answer. Their brutality against the police is shocking and should set the alarm bells ringing for Brussels. So far, the EU has not reacted to the incident, but unless a concrete action plan is presented soon, there is a risk that damaging violence and anarchy will be at the heart of Europe,” the German journalist warned.

On July 26, 800 migrants from Africa stormed a seven-meter high fence separating Morocco from Spain in an attempt to cross the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta with 602 migrants making it onto Spanish soil. The migrants threw stones, sticks, Molotov cocktails, feces and hashish at law enforcement officers. The assault resulted in 132 migrants and 15 police officers being hurt.

The International Organization for Migration earlier reported that since the beginning of the year 3,125 African nationals had crossed the Spanish border through the enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta and entered the EU.

Gaddafi’s Warning to NATO

“Now listen, you people of NATO,” Gaddafi said on the eve of NATO’s invasion of Libya in 2011. “You’re bombing a wall which stood in the way of African migration to Europe and in the way of al-Qaeda terrorists. This wall was Libya. You’re breaking it.”

Libya has ended up as a failed state ruled by two governments which have yet to establish law and order in the country. Predictably, Libyan rebels did not return to their patron the weapons, generously provided to them by France and the US. Additionally, Gaddafi’s arms stocks were looted turning Libya into one of the largest black markets for weapons.

“A similar situation could be observed after the American intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, and also in Syria before Russia stepped in there [in 2015],” Schwarz pointed out, stressing that most asylum applications are coming to Germany from the aforementioned countries.

He remarked, however, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approach to the refugee problem evokes strong memories of the helplessness of the Roman Empire shortly before its fall, adding that the chancellor’s policies differ a lot from those of her predecessors, Willy Brandt, who served as chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1969 to 1974 and Helmut Schmidt who occupied this position from 1974 to 1982.

 

Both Brandt and Schmidt warned against unregulated migration saying that it would not be without grave consequences for German society. Currently, about 10.6 million foreigners live in Germany, while refugees continue to arrive in the country.

In this March 12, 2018 photo, from left, Olaf Scholz, acting chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, and the chairman of the German Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer, arrive for a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany
© AP Photo / Michael Sohn, file
In this March 12, 2018 photo, from left, Olaf Scholz, acting chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), German Chancellor and chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, and the chairman of the German Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer, arrive for a joint press conference in Berlin, Germany

Seehofer’s Master Plan

To tackle the migration crisis German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer presented a plan envisaging the creation of special centers and conducting necessary procedures to slow down the refugee tide. In early July, Seehofer and Merkel agreed to accelerate the return of migrants to the countries where they initially applied for asylum.Meanwhile, Bavarian police began patrolling the German-Austrian border on July 18 to prevent illegal entries.

Commenting on Seehofer’s plan to turn migrants away to where their demand was registered, Schwarz referred to the recent incident on the Spanish-Morocco border.

“After the storming of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta, the question arises — how these centers should work and how they should be protected. The population of Africa is growing rapidly; by 2050 it will grow twice to 2.5 billion. The flow of refugees is likely to grow due to hunger, poor economic conditions, corruption and lack of prospects for the population. It is very probable that the refugees won’t be stopped by a rejection of their application and will try to enter Europe,” the German journalist opined.

He pointed out that over 75 percent of refugees heading to Europe by sea come from Libyan ports, first of all these are the inhabitants of Niger, Eritrea, Somalia and Chad.

According to Schwarz, Syria may emerge as an example of how the migration problem could be solved: Following Russia’s involvement, the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad is gradually restoring order in the country which facilitates the return of Syrian asylum seekers from Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. That means that Syria won’t repeat the fate of Libya and will reduce the flow of Syrian nationals seeking asylum in Europe.

The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

US Fake World War 2 History Underlies Permanent Bipartisan Hostility Toward Russia

US Fake World War 2 History Underlies Permanent Bipartisan Hostility Toward Russia

Bruce A. Dixon, BAR managing editor

There’s fake news. And then there’s fake history. Fake news lies about the world as it is. But fake history is the context for fake news. Fake history sanctifies abominations past and present. Fake history erases the struggle over thousands of years between those many who produced the planet’s wealth and the greedy few who appropriate it for themselves.

Being born in the US the middle of the 20th century, I got the same massive doses of fake history as everybody else. They told me told the Greeks were the world’s only early adopters of democracy. I was taught the fairy tale of the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. I played cowboys and Indians. My history books spoke glowingly of the Manifest Destiny bestowed upon white America to devour the continent of North American, murdering and dispossessing its inhabitants. I learned a very little about slavery in school, very little, and much more, almost everything of any value, afterward.

And like everybody else, I was treated to an entirely fabricated history of the Second World War. Lying about the World War 2, what came before and afterward was and remains today a central facet in the US mythology which justifies and undergirds its settler state at home and its global empire abroad.

Briefly, we’re taught that Nazi Germany was just plain inexplicable evil, that this Hitler dude came to power with his Nazi party, they persecuted Jews, gypsies and dissidents, they conquered France and they menaced England but were stopped short when they lost the battle of Britain in the air. Eventually the US joined the war, invading North Africa, defeating the Nazis there, going on to fight the Germans in Italy, and eventually staging the D-Day invasion of France. They marched into Germany to finally defeat the Nazis and hanged a number of Nazi officials for war crimes and genocide at Nuremberg. The Russians, the Soviet Union at the time, we were taught, were sort of in the war too as allies but soon after the defeat of the Nazis they became enemies, and have been that ever since.

Nearly all of that is horseshit.

When the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, the US used troops already in Europe to fight the Germans in World War 1 to joinewith Britain, Japan and more than a dozen countries and invade the new nation, taking part in the bloody and disastrous Russian Civil War. The Bolsheviks won that civil war and founded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s first avowed socialist country. The US did not diplomatically recognize the USSR until 1933, and ruling elites in the US and Europe conspired constantly to undermine and subvert the USSR at every means and at every turn.

In February1933, a month after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, a mysterious fire in the Reichstag, the German Parliament building was blamed on the Communists. It became the excuse to grant absolute power to Hitler and his Nazi party, which promptly opened up concentration camps for communists, socialists, union members, Jews, gypsies, dissidents of all kinds. Nazism became the official ideology of the German state, holding among other things that the main threat to civilization was Jewish-led communism. Hitler spells it all out in a book called Mein Kampf, how Germans were the center of a so-called aryan race destined to rule over the rest of lesser humanity, and obligated in the very short run to make war upon the subhuman populations to their east from Poland to the steppes of Russia and Siberia, also eliminating communism from the face of the earth.

Hitler very much admired the example of North America, which he regarded as an exemplary model of white supremacist conquest, murdering and thoroughly dispossessing a native population. He named his personal armored train Amerika.

Western elites including prominent US corporations like Texaco and bankers who included the Bush family, and IBM did business with Hitler and aided the rearming of Germany. In 1939 and 1940 Nazi Germany absorbed Austria, Czechoslovakia, invaded Poland and beat the French army down enough to force French leaders, many of whom sympathized with the Nazi ideology anyway to collaborate with Hitler. Germany bombed Britain but stopped short of invading the British isles to turn east toward the Soviet Union, and the ultimate Nazi goals of conquering and displacing entire populations of what it regarded as subhumans there and ending communism once and for all.

The Nazi invasion of the USSR was, all by itself the largest and bloodiest war in human history. Germany sent more than 3 million men in 149 divisions into Russia. They plundered and burned and razed entire rural districts, villages, slaughtered the populations of entire ancient cities, and made a point of rounding up Jews and communists. In many places they found significant numbers of like-minded collaborators. They killed millions of Soviet civililans and soldiers, and aimed to starve out the Russian population to make room for German settlers in the near future.

Multiple standalone battles, like Stalingrad in 1942-43 or the 900 day seige of Leningrad accounted for a million or more deaths each, dwarfing the US loss of some 400,000 during the entire war in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. The USSR lost 26 million lives in the war, about a third of them military the other two thirds civilians starved or murdered. The USSR spent a million lives liberating Poland, and another million plus liberating Hungary, Romania, parts of Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The battle of Berlin alone cost the lives of yet another million Soviet soldiers. The USSR is 25 years gone now, but Russians remember.

The USSR begged Britain and the US to open a second front in the west, and Franklin Roosevelt promised to do just that before the end of 1942. But he allowed the Brits, led by Winston Churchill to dissuade him. Britain thought it more important to preserve its own empire, first by securing the link to India and the Far East through Suez, so the Americans landed in North Africa instead of France. Some American politicians, like Harry Truman who would succeed Roosevelt as US president argued that the US should help the Nazis if the Soviets were winning and the Soviets if the Nazis were winning so as many as possible would die. When the North Africa campaign was wrapped up, the Americans and Brits invaded Italy instead of France, prompting US General George Marshall to accuse his superiors of “periphery pecking” instead of fighting the war. The US conducted bombing raids from bases in Britain, but delayed its land invasion of France till June 1944 when the defeat of Nazi Germany was already assured, and the outcome of the war no longer in doubt.

There’s a famous photo of US Marines raising a flag at the end of the horrific battle of Iwo Jima in the Pacific. But there are no pics of Brits or Americans raising the Union Jack or the stars and stripes over the ruins of Berlin in 1945. That’s because the Brits and Americans never got to Berlin, they never intended to. American forces never faced more than an eighth of the German land forces at any time during World War 2. The Soviet Red Army raised the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag at war’s end. At the victory celebration in Moscow, the Red Army threw the hundreds of the banners of Hitler’s legions on the pavement before Lenin’s tomb. The Brits and Americans didn’t capture enough of these to make a good parade.

US president Roosevelt died 3 weeks before the Nazi surrender, and was succeeded by Harry Truman, who instantly adopted a profoundly hostile policy toward the USSR. American use of the first atomic bombs against Japan, which had been seeking to surrender was perceived as a threat to the USSR, rather than a military necessity to end the war. US intelligence agencies aided the escape of thousands of Nazi war criminals to the Western hemisphere. America placed other ex-Nazis in positions of responsibility in the German regime set up in their occupied zones, and prevented the early reunification of Germany, turning the boundary between Soviet and Western occupation zones into a fortified international border. Truman’s warlike stance against communism and the USSR was inherited and greatly expanded upon by his successors, former General Dwight D. Eisenhower and John Kennedy, both of whom menaced the USSR with nuclear weapons and placed nuclear missiles in Turkey next to the Soviet borders. Russians remember this too.

Sixty million people perished in World War 2, but the US emerged with relatively light losses, most of the planet’s intact manufacturing capacity and as the world’s leading creditor, owed money by friend and former foe alike. It was to be the dawn of an American Century, in which the US called the shots for the entire world. The fake history we were and still are taught purposefully erase the fact that it was the Russians, the Soviets at the time, who defeated Nazi Germany, not the Americans and Brits. Without the defeat of Nazi Germany, the last 70 years would be vastly different. To cite only a couple of possibilities, Brazil’s ruling classes were firmly pro-Nazi and Brazil has the largest black population of anyplace outside Africa. What would have happened there? How would decolonization in Africa have proceeded in a world dominated by Nazis?

Today in Eastern Europe, where the US has installed anti-communist and often pro-fascist regimes, the graves of fallen Soviet soldiers who liberated those places from the Nazis are being defaced. Polish governemnt officials just hosted a gathering of 60,000 pro-Nazi demnstrators from across Europe. School children in Austria and Lithuania are being taught today that the Russian communists started the war, and Obama’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (along with key Republicans – it’s a bipartisan thing) directly and conspicuously aided forces that included open neo-Nazis to stage a coup in Ukraine, on the western borders of Russia. Neo nazi units are now incorporated into the Ukrainian Army.

None of the US antics over the last 70 years are remotely justifiable without the fake history we were taught, and still allow to be taught about the Second World War. For more than 70 years now the politicians of both US capitalist parties – both US government parties, have built their politics on this fake history. US troops are still in Germany, still in Japan more than two generations after the war, and the US maintains an empire of a thousand military bases on six continents and fleets in every ocean.

Hostility toward whatever regime sits in Moscow has been the bipartisan bedrock and staple of US imperial policy for a century since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. This week Congress passed a record Pentagon spending bill, earlier in the legislative cycle than any time since the 1990s. Most of House Democrats, the so-called “resistance” to Trump supported it, in their continuing bid to be more warlike than Trump and the Republicans.

The rest of the world will do what it must, but only Americans can shut down the American empire. And we can only do that if we begin to shake ourselves free from our fake history, and face the real world around us.

For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com,

US “Schizophrenia” is the Symptom of War Within the US Power Elite

trump-putin

US “Schizophrenia” is the Symptom of War Within the US Power Elite

A few weeks ago Trump_and_Putin_met, indicating a more constructive approach by the US Administration towards bilateral issues with Russia. Now the sanction-regime against Russia is again_to_be_expanded, based on the bogus “Skripal_Case”, it might inflict economic_sufferings_on_Russia for some time. Is this a case of schizophrenia? We have to be careful with medical, psychological or psychiatric comparisons if countries, even if Governments or Power Elites are concerned.

No doubt, the US Power Elite is united in its desire for world domination as well as in its nightmares. But there are deep splits within the US Power Elite, as analyzed in this previous article. The splits concern strategies and tactics to gain the desired world domination and the way to deal with the US Power Elite´s nightmare_of_the_Eurasian_Cooperation. In a simple formulation: whom to put on top of the „Eating List“, who comes second, who third. The different revenues of different parts of the Power Elite play an important role as well. The deep split surfaced also some years ago under the Obama Administration concerning the option_of_an_Iran_war (which Israel is very eager to wage).

The fact that Trump is still in office and even alive despite the permanent fire on him by US politicians and the mainstream media shows that he might also have a faction of the Power Elite behind him, indicated for example by his close contact with Kissinger (who stands for the school of „Realism“ within the Power Elite). But he had to compromise a lot with the Neocons, shown by inclusion of the_notorious_Neocon_Bolton (representing the Deep State´s long_enmity_toward_the_people_of_Iran) and the like into US Government. And an important part of the British Power Elite as well as Israel are „on_his_neck“.

When it comes to Iran, Trump´s announcement „away from regime change wars“ is also forgotten, likewise in the case of Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The fact is: as for the most important field of US politics, the US-Russian relation, including the danger of a military confrontation that could lead to mankind´s extinction, US policy seems paralyzed. The Neocon faction might know on one side (and they are bypassing the US President many times via their „Deep_State“ apparatus) that they cannot win an open military confrontation with Russia, so what is on their agenda is forcing Russia – and China – on their knees by an arms race (which they might have lost already) in combination with parts of the „Soft Power“ faction and their economic war by infiltration and sanctions. And the Neocons´ henchmen like Bolton are right within the Government.

The weakest „opponent“ with respect to the feared „Eurasian Cooperation“ is Europe, and they will attack Europe on various levels in which Trump and his administration seems willing to help a lot. Trump has already declared_economic_war_against_Europe.

Europe must know it could quite be on top of the „Eating List“ in the sense that the US Power will try to blow the ill constructed EU with the ill constructed Euro (which is nevertheless a „dangerous“ competing currency) up! The battle_is_on! Possibly Europe_may_be_the_main_front_of_the_hybrid_war.

It is up to the real Left in Europe to expose what is going on and to take the chance to push for a real socialist movement against Trans-Atlantic domination, against the imperial destruction of Europe´s surrounding, against the final expropriation of the European masses and against the ecologic destruction of this world!

Andreas Schlüter

My articles on the USA: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/list-of-my-articles-on-the-usa/

Geo-Politics–The Core of Crisis and Chaos, the Nightmares of the US Power Elite!

I´ve written a lot about the US Power Elite and their internal divisions (http://tinyurl.com/zv32w7m), though they might only count about 100 people today. It appears that finally the Neocon faction of the Power Elite has taken control, especially since they took over the Democratic Party (http://tinyurl.com/zy4t6er), clearly signaled by the spearhead of the Neocons in that party: Hillary Clinton!

Nightmare One:

The Southern Hemisphere – the „Non-White World“ – Getting Independent

The US Power Elite (predominantly WASP, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants) would be rightfully called the „Deep State“ of the USA (http://tinyurl.com/ho2nz87). And this Deep State has become more and more ruthless over the time. They have brought nightmares over the Southern Hemisphere by installing brutal dictatorships (http://tinyurl.com/kkpvcf7) in their interest and waging bloody colonial wars, in the last one and a half decades especially with their „War on Terror“ (http://tinyurl.com/nrxxej5). One of their aims is to prevent countries of Africa, Latin America, Near and Middle East and Southern Asia from choosing their trade partners freely and from making use of their resources and industrialize, since that would mean a division of resources and allowing them their part of „consuming ecologic Earth capacity“. To fight this the US Power Elite is even ready to resort to Bio warfare:

“US Power Elite Declared Bio War on the Southern Hemisphere, East Asia

and all Non-Western Countries in September 2000”: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2016/03/13/us-power-elite-declared-war-on-the-southern-hemisphere-east-asia-and-all-non-western-countries-in-september-2000/

There is quite a number of people – among myself – who suspect that the „Deep State“ of the US could be behind some outbreaks of epidemics Africa (http://tinyurl.com/mwgjhoo) and Latin America (http://tinyurl.com/hfxvkq6). Furthermore it becomes more and more obvious that US „Intelligence“ was (and is) deeply involved in pushing fanatic Islamism (http://tinyurl.com/h7s3y7e) in order to counter the Socialist block (formerly) but more so to counter progressive Arab/Islamic nationalism that could develop their own regions full of resources (http://tinyurl.com/nu3zv9n). Unfortunately the US strategy seems to be relatively „successful“ in the desire to keep the South under control.

In fact the US lead Western policy has established a „Ring of Fire“ around Europe (http://tinyurl.com/gp48dhw) and European governments have been so stupid for a long time to lend a helping hand to „Big Brother“ in doing so. In fact this ring of fire stretches from Libya throughout Africa (http://tinyurl.com/le2hlpx) over Near and Middle East, the Balkans up to the Ukraine. Actually one gets the impression that the fire burns into Europe with Terror (http://tinyurl.com/zrwrk3k) adding also together with the refugee crisis to the financial problems threatening to blow even the EU up. Is the US having a hand also in this dramatic development? Absurd? Weakening their allies/vassals? We have to have a look at further geo-political challenges the US Power Elite is facing.

The Role of the European Union and the Changes in it

In the perception of many people at the core of the European Union´s history stands the French German relationship, and not without reason. Long Nazi-German occupation during WW II has humiliated France (and saw a lot of collaboration on the French side). The more it might astonish how relatively fast France and the Western part of Germany (Federal Republic of Germany) developed some sort of neighborly closeness and somehow friendship in post war times under De Gaulle and Adenauer.

Not only the war tired youth gave additional impulses but a strong part did the hysteria about the (not real) danger of a Soviet invasion and the cold war. France was soon stripped off his official colonial empire (as happened to the Germans with theirs after WW I) though keeping (a disastrous) dominance in many of its former colonies. The war torn countries saw a close cooperation (also with other smaller countries) in basic industrial fields as favorable (German: „Montan Union“). The members of this European Coal and Steel Community ‚ECSC‘ (“ the six“: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany) joined the EEC, the competing body  in Europe became the “European Free Trade Association” ( EFTA). As much as European powers (and the US) wanted the BRD to be enshrined in supranational structures France was resisting to be too much absorbed by such developments. Likewise France was member of NATO (French: OTAN) but did not integrate into the military structures and built its own “Force de frappe”.

The other side of the story is that the EU and its predecessors were also a means to keep the (West)-European allies/vassals under extended US control (http://tinyurl.com/zhocuew). And especially by the close French-German relationship the French with their desire for „independence“ as well as Germany could be better controlled being „bound together“ (not to forget that the German „Intelligence“ agencies were via old Nazis under full US control)

The EU has also become a means of US-lead Western expansion into East Europe and the former domain of the Soviet Union and later Russia, culminating in the Ukraine Crisis.

But there are changes in the US-European relationship. After World War II the roles were clear: the United States of America being the „Workbench of the World“ (http://tinyurl.com/pqp2mpp), creating more than half of World´s GDP, were the master, the war stricken West European countries the „clients“. With the vast de-industrialization of the US (and the UK) in the last decades and the turning to mostly finance-capitalist activities the European Union has become an enormous industrial power, quite ahead of the US. As problematic as the construction of the Euro is, it has become a dangerous competing currency for the Dollar.

And now we should look at the second nightmare of the US Power Elite, probably for them even much more frightening than the first one.

Nightmare Two, Most Troublesome:

The Iron Silk Road, the AIIB and the Eurasian Cooperation

China is actually supposed to bypass the US economically by 2018 (http://tinyurl.com/gr8z842), if one takes into consideration that many of the processes within the USA contributing to the GDP are somehow of „virtual“ nature, China´s real economic power might already be greater. Russia has to a certain extend recovered from the catastrophes linked to the collapse of the USSR. Both countries are in the BRICS „club“ (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). China and Russia are eager to strengthen the Eurasian economic cooperation. This is also manifested in the Iron Silk Road, the railway connection from China to West Europe, now only used for goods (http://tinyurl.com/hpz6cra). In connection to this and moreover important is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which is also threatening to compete with the World bank. This is probably the greatest nightmare for the US Power Elite.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/banksandfinance/11476533/Joining-Chinas-World-Bank-is-in-UKs-national-interest-depsite-Washington-anger.html

& http://www.businessinsider.com/hank-paulson-on-asian-infrastructure-investment-bank-2015-4?IR=T

& https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/mar/13/white-house-pointedly-asks-uk-to-use-its-voice-as-part-of-chinese-led-bank

& http://business.financialpost.com/fp-comment/john-browne-chinese-bank-challenges-u-s-supremacy

& http://www.hangthebankers.com/united-states-facing-global-economic-isolation/

asian-infrastructure-investment-bank

A look at the map showing the countries participating in it makes the US anger and fear understandable. In fact European industrial capital could benefit a lot from such an intensified cooperation developing the center of the Eurasian double continent. It opens a very peaceful mutual cooperation. Now one must know that the US Power Elite has taken over – with some regional modification – the ideas of Sir Halford John Mackinder, a British Geographer and political analyst having formulated the „Heartland Theory”. Quote:

Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.

http://www.indrastra.com/2016/06/PAPER-Heartland-Theory-of-Mackinder-Relevancy-in-Central-Asia-Geopolitics-002-06-2016-0043.html

How far this goes shows a view on the way the US Military High Commands for the various regions of this World are organized:

us-military-commands

In fact the US High Command for the region in the center of the old tri-continent Asia, Europe, Africa, is called US CENTCOM, Central US Military High Command, (http://tinyurl.com/jjowlkc). Under normal circumstances one would expect a big power – if so arrogant anyway to divide the World into sections for “colonial” military organization – to name the region of their own country as “CENTCOM”.

The concept of the Eurasian cooperation and the Iron Silk Road with the AIIB stands directly in opposition of the US Power Elite´s will to control the World by controlling the “Heartland”. Even the United Kingdom like many European countries is participating (http://tinyurl.com/zkk8746) in the AIIB. Also the old US ally Turkey has dared to join the Silk Road project and the AIIB. Could that have been a reason for a “US hand” in the coup attempt against Erdogan (http://tinyurl.com/gpp5fch)? And most of Europe, practically all of the EU involved in the Eurasian project, reason enough for US politics to take action?!

As one of the last attempts to get the EU “in line” is to be seen in the US efforts to get the EU into the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). As the US Ambassador with the EU has bluntly stated: “We need this deal to help solidify further the transatlantic alliance, to provide an economic equivalent to NATO “ (http://tinyurl.com/zoo9owg).

But resistance against TTIP and CETA (the Canadian-European equivalent) in Europe is growing rapidly, especially also in France. It looks as if it might (hopefully) not happen.

So, what if the US Power Elite has come to the conclusion: it´s time to blow up what we´ve built to control Europe better, since it has developed a dynamics which is now an obstacle to our world dominating strategy? A Europe pushed into complicated conflicts among the various states as well as within the respective societies might also be easier prevented from slipping into a Eurasian cooperation and they might always call „Big Brother“ to mediate in their quarrels. And also to this perspective fits the US strategy (in which stupid European governments have helped again and again) to create a „Ring of Fire“ around Europe from Libya through Africa and Near & Middle East to the Ukraine, moving millions of people (miserable poor victims of the warmongers) into Europe and creating enormous problems and conflicts between European states as well as within the European societies. As far as this aspect is concerned, this is my suspicion since quite some time.

So it might be that the “Deep State” of the US has come to the conclusion: what we can not control, we have to destroy! Thus the “European Project” might have died for the US.

And we have a „Neocon“ “crown witness” to this strategic concept, George Friedman, founder of Stratfor (retired from it 2015), presenting a speech at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeLu_yyz3tc

After all the „Deep State“ within the USA (http://tinyurl.com/ho2nz87) is famous for „False Flag attacks“, often perpetrated by Operation Gladio. A famous blueprint is Operation Northwoods, a project from the early 60ties for terror attacks on US targets outside and inside the US to be blamed on Cuba as a pretext for a full scale invasion of the hated country. It was stopped by Kennedy, which he didn´t survive long (http://tinyurl.com/ndzt8ho). After all the most famous False Flag is the event which the Genius James Corbett presented in five Minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgrunnLcG9Q

Maybe US politics takes a last measure to frighten especially France and Germany by Terror „to order“. That´s why one should think into „all directions“ when it comes to the tragic terror attacks and otherwise tragic or painful events hitting the two countries:

Staged „prevented“ Terror Attacks – Staged Terror?!“ https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2016/07/27/staged-prevented-terror-attacks-staged-terror/

Truly Europe has to be on alert!

Andreas Schlüter

My articles on the USA: https://wipokuli.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/list-of-my-articles-on-the-usa/

U.S. illegal presence in Syria

U.S. illegal presence in Syria

Syria

The devastating seven-year Syrian civil war is moving swiftly to a logical conclusion, and it’s hard not to agree with this statement. This is evidenced by the rapid advance of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and the allied forces in the south-western part of the country when within a month and a half the government forces managed to liberate 4,000 square kilometers of the territories as well as more than 70 towns and settlements. Due to the humanitarian aid from Russia, Syria gradually returns to peace. For the past two months, more than 7,000 Syrian refugees have already returned to their homes.

It’s worth noting that the liberation of the south-western province has been a strategic matter for President Assad as it was the birthplace of the sedition that began on March 6, 2011. The city had been run by both the Syrian opposition and HTS militants.

The military successes of the Syrian troops play into Assad’s, whose defeat in 2015 seems to be a matter of time. At that time the SAA suffered heavy losses in all sectors of the front, and ISIS terrorists controlled more than 70% of the Syrian territories, including major cities and key oil and gas fields.

The involvement of Damascus allies represented by Iran and Russia in fighting terrorism, diplomatic and political gains both at Astana and Sochi platforms as well as increasing confidence among the local population allowed the Syrian leader to reverse the course of events and tip the balance towards peace.

Apart from the Russian Air Force, Iranian military advisers, and Hezbollah units yet another state takes part in the Syrian conflict. Its involvement was merely destructive. This is about the United States.

Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, the then U.S. President Barack Obama supported the opposition and supplied it with arms and weapons. Then in 2014, under the pretext of combating ISIS, the international coalition was created. Its fighter jets in 15,000 indiscriminate air strikes killed at least 6,000 civilians.

The so-called liberation of the Raqqa city could be clarified as another key milestone of the U.S. interference. While carrying out numerous airstrikes, the U.S. leadership doesn’t reckon with casualties among civilians. According to various human rights organizations, from 1,400 to 2,000 Syrians were killed during the operation of ‘liberators’. Currently, 90% of the urban infrastructure is destroyed and lies in ruins where hundreds of civilians were buried alive. The locals still suffer from the lack of water and electricity supplies, and explosive devices left by ISIS continue to claim the lives of children.

It’s worth noting that in 2017 the U.S. and some Western states unanimously announced to allocate funds for the restoration of the urban infrastructure of the city. However, in March 2018, the Trump Administration betrayed the Syrians, freezing payment of $200 million to stabilize the regions that had previously been controlled by ISIS.

There are also other facts of the U.S. intervention in the course of the Syrian crisis that has repeatedly been reported by mainstream media. It is militants training, the evacuation of ISIS high-ranking field commanders from Syria’s Deir Ezzor, the illegal establishment of a 55-kilometer zone in Al-Tanf and many other things.

Indeed, the U.S. failed to reach its goals of separating Syria from quasi-states and overthrowing Assad.

However the position of the past and current head of the White House on Syria varies considerably. Trump, unlike Obama, is explicit about leaving Syria to Moscow after destroying the Islamic State. Most likely, he looked at the 2003 invasion of Iraq and decried how it destabilized the region, empowered Iran, damaged relations with Washington’s allies, and fueled extremist violence, undermining the U.S. position in the area.

Finally, following all the brutalities committed by the U.S. the only one way for it to remain in Syria is to contact the official government on the return of refugees and displaced persons.

US Continues Meddling w/Hong Kong Politics…War On China By Other Means

[Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Nominates Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Umbrella Movement for the Nobel Peace Prize ; Comm. Party of China Warns Hong Kong of “Unimaginable Consequences”–I Imagine Tiananmen Square ; The West’s Protest-generating Apparatus]

This picture taken on April 27, 2016 shows Hong Kong pro-independence leader Andy Chan, who set up the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) in March, standing in Tamar Park in front of the Hong Kong Legislative Council buildings.
This picture taken on April 27, 2016 shows Hong Kong pro-independence leader Andy Chan, who set up the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) in March, standing in Tamar Park in front of the Hong Kong Legislative Council buildings.
Isaac Lawrence—AFP/Getty Images
August 3, 2018
China’s Foreign Ministry has attempted to block a planned address by a pro-independence activist in Hong Kong, in the latest sign that Beijing’s tolerance is wearing thin for pro-democratic discourse in the semi-autonomous financial hub.

Andy Chan Ho-Tin, the 27-year-old convener of a political party that advocates for the territory’s independence from China, was scheduled to speak next week at the Foreign Correspondents Club Hong Kong, an internationally recognized hub for professional journalists and a regional stronghold of free speech.

News website Hong Kong Free Press reported that a representative of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the club, known by its acronym FCC, “to reconsider its decision” to host Chan, whose Hong Kong National Party is being scrutinized by local authorities and faces potentially being banned because its pro-independence platform could constitute a national security threat.

FCC acting president Victor Mallet confirmed to TIME that a representation was made, emphasizing that the club regularly hosts a diverse range of voices and opinions, and welcomes the views of both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments on issues of public importance.

“Our position is that we are a club that is a very strong defender of freedom of the press, and freedom of speech,” Mallet said. “We provide a platform and a venue for speakers of many different political views and opinions.”

Speaking to TIME Friday, Chan said trying to block the event amounted to an attempt by China to “colonize Hong Kong.”

“[The Chinese government is] restraining journalists from reporting news to the international society,” Chan said, “just like how they do it in China.”

Read more: Hong Kong Makes History With First Pro-Independence Rally

An official flyer for the event said the talk would cover a brief history of Chan’s HKNP party, “and touch on what Mr. Chan feels it means to be at the helm of a movement trying to construct a national identity for Hong Kong, and his reaction to the strong pushback from the government faced by his party.”

Last month, police advised the Hong Kong government that a case could be made to ban Chan’s party under an obscure national security provision. Since a 1997 handover from British rule to Chinese sovereignty, the former colony has maintained a high degree of autonomy and still enjoys a liberal economy and more social and political freedoms than communist China.

But many say Beijing is steadily encroaching; authorities have shown little sympathy for activists and politicians who advocate for democracy in Hong Kong, and no tolerance for those seeking independent nationhood for the territory.

In what could become a precedent-setting case, Hong Kong authorities presented Chan with a dossier containing hundreds of pages of surveillance collected over the past two years and an ultimatum to respond by September.

Hong Kong protests fade as China integrates former UK colony

Hong Kong activists see continual encroachment by Beijing against the “one country, two systems” formula meant to govern the former British colony.     © Reuters

 

Hong Kong protests fade as China integrates former UK colony

 

 

Beijing’s political pressure and infrastructure push erode ‘one country, two systems’

 

HONG KONG — The “one country, two systems” formula under which Beijing promised to administer Hong Kong looks worse for wear as the former British colony marks the 21st anniversary of its return to Chinese rule on July 1.

Hong Kong’s legislature voted in June to let immigration officials from mainland China operate at West Kowloon station, the terminus of a new high-speed, cross-border train line. Mainland laws also will apply in a designated part of the station.

The separation of law enforcement has represented the linchpin of the “one country, two systems” formula applied to Hong Kong since 1997.

“This is a bad precedent,” said Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller who came to prominence in late 2015 when he vanished from Hong Kong only to surface months later in the custody of mainland authorities. “What if [mainland officials] set up more checkpoints in different districts in Hong Kong in the future? We will have nowhere to escape. Many people may be detained by Chinese authorities in Hong Kong.”

Yet the new ordinance sparked no widespread public protest. In 2014, students and other citizens occupied major streets in the territory for 79 days as they called for democratization in connection with an election to choose Hong Kong’s chief executive, the region’s top official.

The student-led pro-democracy protests, dubbed the “Umbrella Movement,” brought Hong Kong to a standstill. But the movement failed to achieve its goals, and the push toward integrating the island with mainland China has gathered momentum instead.

Symbolizing the shift toward integration is the Greater Bay Area development initiative linking Hong Kong, Macau and several nearby cities in Guangdong Province as a huge metropolitan area. Construction proceeds steadily on the high-speed rail line linking Hong Kong with Guangzhou, as well as a long bridge to span the waters between Hong Kong and Macau.

Lam Wing-kee’s store, Causeway Bay Books, was forced to close amid his disappearance and that of four of his colleagues. He told the Nikkei Asian Review last year, after his return to Hong Kong, that he planned to reopen his store in Taipei. However, Lam told Nikkei recently that his prospective local partner pulled out of the venture under pressure.

New initiatives and infrastructure, like the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge that is to open soon, are designed to hasten Hong Kong’s integration with neighboring Chinese cities.    © Reuters

Distributing books about the politics of Tibet and Taiwan has grown difficult in Hong Kong. Bookstores controlled by Chinese government agencies dominate as foreign-owned and independent shops close.

But protests by Hong Kong citizens have been limited, as many locals apparently wish to distance themselves from politics. A survey last year by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that one in every three Hong Kongers intended to emigrate to foreign countries, given the political pessimism surrounding the city.

Political activists in Hong Kong have been imprisoned during the past year, with one protester involved in a 2016 clash sentenced to seven years in jail.

Demosisto, a political party established by student leaders of the Umbrella Movement, said in May that it will cease trying to win a majority through elections, instead becoming a political organization focusing on social movements. The declaration came as local authorities refuse to permit Demosisto candidates.

Political activists have received prison sentences in Hong Kong in recent months.    © Reuters

Agnes Chow Ting, a Demosisto executive, was blocked from running in a legislative by-election in March.

The Umbrella Movement’s failure caused a dramatic change in Hong Kong society, Chow said, and many people feel the government is so strong that nothing can be changed. Demosisto will continue working to boost interest by young people through social networking sites, she said.

Global advocacy group Human Rights Watch demanded Wednesday that Hong Kong’s government lift restrictions on the right to run for election, as well as investigate the extent of Beijing’s interference with publishing freedom in the territory. The New York-based watchdog made the statement in a letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Companies also sense changes in Hong Kong, and an erosion of its reputation as a free economic city could drive businesses elsewhere.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong polled U.S. companies with bases in the territory, and said 53% replied that the “one country, two systems” formula and the “rule of law” are being undermined.

A survey by KPMG, an international accounting firm, also showed that 46% of companies with global operations have their Asian headquarters in Singapore, compared with 37% in Hong Kong. Information technology companies such as Apple, Facebook and Microsoft also tend to choose Singapore as the location for their Asian headquarters.

Oil and gas geopolitics–pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Oil and gas geopolitics: no shelter from the storm

There could be widespread ramifications from US energy independence and looming US sanctions on Iran and Russia; states in Central Asia could be hit hard, as well as serious possible impacts on global oil production and the West

A man stands at an oil terminal at Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates.
Photo: Karim Sahib / AFP

A man stands at an oil terminal at Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates. Photo: Karim Sahib / AFP

Oil has spiked as high as $80 a barrel – unheard of since 2014. A production spike could certainly halt the trend. At the same time, key supply players would rather keep crude futures at $70-$80 a barrel. But the price could even hit $100 before the end of the year, depending on the impact that US sanctions have.

Persian Gulf traders told Asia Times the current oil price would be “much higher today if the Gulf States played their usual role at OPEC and cut back production” – to 10% or 15% or 20% of OPEC supply. According to an Abu Dhabi trader, “present OPEC cutbacks only target 1.8 million barrels a day, which is ridiculous, and indicates that the US is still pressuring to hold down the price.”

A Saudi-Russia deal could certainly turn the tables.

And then there’s the further issue of depleting OPEC supplies. There’s a consensus among traders that, “the depletion that has to be replaced is about 8% of total supply, which comes out to approximately 8 million barrels a day per year. Most of this has been made up by pre-2014 drilling but in the next four years will fall short very considerably as drilling has collapsed 50%.”

So, uncertainty seems to be the rule. To add to this, Societe Generale has forecast that US sanctions might remove as much as 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian crude from the global market.

And that leads us to the real big story for the foreseeable future, as Asia Times cross-referenced analyses from Persian Gulf traders with diplomats in the European Union; beyond technical issues, the point is how oil and energy markets are hostage to geopolitical pressure.

The US is in a relatively comfortable position. US oil production has reached 10.7 million barrels per day – enough for domestic needs. And shale oil production is expected to rise to a record 7.18 million barrels a day next month, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

The US imports only 3.7 million barrels a day – three million of them from Canada. As traders in the Persian Gulf confirmed, the US “imports heavy and exports light oil. In three years the country will be essentially totally independent.”

Sanctions or bust

Once again, the heart of the matter concerns the petrodollar. After the Trump administration’s unilateral pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), European Union diplomats in Brussels, off the record, and still in shock, admit that they blundered by not “configuring the eurozone as distinct and separate to the dollar hegemony”. Now they may be made to pay the price of their impotence via their “outlawed” trade with Iran.

The EU – at least rhetorically – now wants to pay for Iranian oil in euros. Add to it the Trump administration’s ultimatum to Chancellor Merkel: give up the Nord Stream II gas pipeline from Russia or we will slap you with extra tariffs on steel and aluminum – to gauge the incandescence of current US-EU relations.

This Deutsche Bank Research report has the merit of highlighting the advantages of Nord Stream 2. It hits one of the nerves, when it stresses that, “Russian gas flows through the Ukraine look set to continue following the expiry of the old contracts in 2019”. That “may foster acceptance of Nord Stream 2.”

But that does not tell the whole story.

EU diplomats fear that “the US can strangle Iran by blocking them from SWIFT and CHIPS [payment systems] so that they cannot clear their transactions, and can possibly strangle them with sanctions.” Meanwhile, in the Persian Gulf, it’s no secret among traders that sooner or later it must be factored in that Iran, in the eventuality of a US attack, “has the power to bring down Western economies by destroying 20% of the oil production in the Middle East. And Russia has that power too. Russia is largely self-sufficient for its needs. It can win this as an economic battle rather than a military one”.

The US seems to be extending the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” to the EU; an elusive, assured delivery of LNG in the (unlikely) event of a cutoff of Russian natural gas to the European Union.

First of all, Gazprom has no intention to ditch its extremely lucrative European market. Moreover, this supposed American LNG capacity “does not exist as yet in the United States. The US cannot replace Russian oil or gas for the EU”, traders said, even as “Russian oil deliveries to the EU have dropped 40% while exports of Russian oil to China have risen about 30%.”

Oblivious to facts, Capitol Hill, through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), is getting ready to slap Russian defense and energy sectors with devastating secondary sanctions applied to nations doing business with Moscow.

And this sanction double trouble, on both Iran and Russia, is bound to have immense repercussions not only in Europe but all across Central Asia.

Trouble in Kazakhstan

Take Kazakhstan’s massive top three energy projects: Tengiz, Kashagan and Karachaganak. The majority of Kazakhstan’s crude exports flow through the 1,500km-long Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) – partially owned by Moscow (Transneft owns 24% compared to 15% by Chevron and 7.5% by Exxon Mobil).

The expansion of both Tengiz and Kashagan, which pump roughly 950,000 barrels a day to the Russian Black Sea coast, depends on Russian transit routes.

Karachaganak’s 250,000 barrels a day of condensate go into the CPC, and most of its 18 billion cubic meters of gas a year go to Russia and are marketed by Gazprom.

Chevron and Exxon Mobil have stakes in Tengiz, Exxon in Kashagan and Chevron in Karachaganak.

Russian oil and gas executives have been caught in the US sanctions web. Transneft has been under sanctions since 2014. Now imagine Washington deciding that Chevron and Exxon Mobil cannot continue to do business with Russian companies.

Compound it with the reaction from Russia. A recent law criminalizes Russian companies which abide by US sanctions – and further retaliation may include cutting off US companies from access to Russian infrastructure.

Persian Gulf traders argue that if Russia was finally convinced to  “divert their oil and natural gas supplies to China, and the EU becomes totally exposed to the Middle East for their oil supplies based on the grave instability of the Gulf states, then Europe could find itself collapsing in an economic sense by a Gulf states oil cutoff.”

The nuclear option

And that plunges us into the heart of the geopolitical game, as admitted, never on the record, by experts in Brussels; the EU has got to reevaluate its strategic alliance with an essentially energy independent US, as “we are risking all our energy resources over their Halford Mackinder geopolitical analysis that they must break up Russia and China.”

That’s a direct reference to the late Mackinder epigone Zbigniew “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski, who died dreaming of turning China against Russia.

In Brussels, there’s increased recognition that US pressure on Iran, Russia and China is out of geopolitical fear the entire Eurasian land mass, organized as a super-trading bloc via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), is slipping away from Washington’s influence.

This analysis gets closer to how the three key nodes of 21st century Eurasia integration – Russia, China and Iran – have identified the key issue; both the euro and the yuan must bypass the petrodollar, the ideal means, as the Chinese stress, to “end the oscillation between strong and weak dollar cycles, which has been so profitable for US financial institutions, but lethal to emerging markets.”

And that’s why the Shanghai oil futures experiment is such a game-changer, already deepening China’s sovereign bond market. Persian Gulf traders show a keen interest in how Asian traders are profiting from the fact the petro-yuan may be redeemed for gold. Iranian oil being sold in Shanghai will further expand the process.

It’s also no secret among Persian Gulf traders that in the – hopefully unlikely – event of a US-Saudi-Israeli war in Southwest Asia against Iran, a real scenario war-gamed by the Pentagon would be “the destruction of oil wells in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]. The Strait of Hormuz does not have to be blocked as destroying the oil wells would be far more effective.”

And what the potential loss of over 20% of the world’s oil supply would mean is terrifying; the implosion, with unforeseen consequences, of the quadrillion derivatives pyramid, and consequentially of the entire Western financial casino superstructure.

Call it a nuclear financial weapon of mass destruction chain reaction. Compared to that, the 2008 financial crisis would be little more than a walk in an ecologically friendly park.

The Great Fraud Called the “War On Terror”, Lots of Dead Muslims In Past Two Years, But Only One of Them Was Al-Qaeda

 

It is a matter of debate how much Al Qaeda’s remaining Afghan presence still focuses on launching attacks overseas | Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

Whatever happened to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan?

It’s a mystery if remaining remnants of the group that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks are still even plotting overseas attacks.

The troops waging America’s 17-year-old war in Afghanistan are confronting a puzzle: What has become of the enemy who drew them there?

Al-Qaeda, the group whose September 11 terror attacks provoked the U.S. invasion in 2001, has shrunk to relative obscurity among the military’s other missions in Afghanistan, supplanted by newer threats such as a local branch of the Islamic State. And it is a matter of debate how much al-Qaeda’s remaining Afghan presence still focuses on launching attacks overseas, according to current and former military officers and government officials, experts, and Afghans from areas where the group operates.

Only a small portion of the 15,000 American troops in Afghanistan are involved in the counterterrorism mission that the military calls its “core objective” there. Even fewer of those are hunting al-Qaeda, whose presence in the country has dwindled after years of drone strikes. Instead, U.S. special operations forces are focusing on the Afghan branch of ISIS, a less secretive group that in some way offers an easier target.

The changing complexion of the American mission, aimed primarily at aiding the Afghan government in its civil war against the Taliban, underscores how the conflict has morphed away from its original focus: preventing a reprise of 9/11 and punishing its perpetrators. That was also the intent of Congress’ 2001 war authorization, which the Pentagon still relies on as it sends combat troops to countries across the Middle East and Africa.

“We have decimated al-Qaeda” in Afghanistan, the next American general set to take command of the U.S. and NATO mission told Congress in June. A military assessment published the same month concluded that the few senior al-Qaeda figures remaining in Afghanistan “are focused on their own survival,” while members of a local al-Qaeda subgroup are mainly helping the Afghan Taliban on the battlefield instead of plotting attacks abroad.

“The Washington priority became all ISIS” — Seth Jones, terrorism scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies 

But some experts warn that it’s risky for the military to shift its focus from the group. They say al-Qaeda tries hard to fly under the radar and mask its true intentions, making it extremely difficult for U.S. intelligence agencies to track and assess.

“Al-Qaeda may have decided, let’s forget about external attacks for the time being and focus inside Afghanistan on helping the Taliban,” said Seth Jones, a terrorism scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who has consulted for military counterterrorism units. “That may be a strategic decision for the moment, and then at some point down the road they shift back.”

Experts also say there is little evidence the Afghan ISIS branch is involved in planning attacks in the United States. The ISIS affiliate is mainly made up of Afghans and Pakistanis, according to U.S. intelligence assessments, and is fighting against both the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Under the Obama administration, the core task of the top-secret military counterterrorism task force in Afghanistan was to hunt a few members of al-Qaeda’s global leadership cadre. Those include a handful who U.S. intelligence believed were still, more than a decade after September 11, actively coordinating future attacks on the West from isolated hideouts in the country’s rugged northeast.

But a military drone strike killed the senior-most of those operatives in late 2016. Since then, strikes against ISIS have far outpaced those against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to two special operations officers speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified operations.

“The Americans are still going after al-Qaeda with drone strikes and special operations here, but ISIS is more of a priority for them now,” said Bilal Sarwary, a parliamentary candidate and journalist from Kunar, a northeastern province with a longstanding al-Qaeda presence, in an interview.

Afghan officials say al-Qaeda activity in the area has also decreased after years of drone strikes. “There are very few Arabs in the mountains now. They are just trapped there,” Mawlawi Shahzada Shahid, a cleric from Kunar who has acted as a liaison between the government and Afghan insurgents, said in an interview last year. “They go to Syria and Libya and Iraq now instead of coming here.”

That matches with a 2017 military analysis that described an exodus of “key Al Qaeda personnel” from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Middle East. While the group would probably remain active in Afghanistan, the report predicted, “the future strategic direction of core Al Qaeda will likely align more closely with dynamics in the Levant,” a reference to a stronghold al-Qaeda has carved out amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war.

A United Nations Security Council report released last month suggested that al-Qaeda “military and explosives experts” have recently moved from Afghanistan to Syria.

“From al-Qaeda’s perspective, I don’t know why they would replace senior people in Afghanistan anymore when they are killed when Yemen and Syria are much more permissive for their purposes,” echoed Jonathan Schroden, director of the special operations program at the Center for Naval Analyses, a government-funded think tank.

“We’ve been actively hunting al-Qaeda from the lowest rifleman up to their emir and everyone in between” — General John Nicholson

But “I don’t think they’re ever going to go away from Afghanistan completely,” cautioned a senior special operations officer with counterterrorism experience there. “They’re great at going to ground and reappearing in other forms.”

That, say some experts who study al-Qaeda, is exactly what the group is doing in Afghanistan — switching its focus from a small group of foreign operatives secretly planning global attacks to a larger, newer regional subgroup, called al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

Founded in 2014, the Indian subcontinent subgroup has sometimes been dismissed as “not real al-Qaeda,” said Thomas Joscelyn, a terrorism analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies — in part because it is composed mostly of locals, not the Arabs who fill many of al-Qaeda’s top positions.

While most senior al-Qaeda personnel “are trying to hide,” General John Nicholson, the outgoing top commander in Kabul, said last year, the subgroup members are “more active” but are focused on training Taliban members who are fighting the Afghan government.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan John Nicholson (L) walks with Marine Brigadier General Roger Turner at Leatherneck Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand | Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Afghanistan’s defense minister claimed this week that foreign militants were involved in the Taliban’s assault on the eastern city of Ghazni, the capital of a province where the al-Qaeda subgroup has operated alongside Taliban fighters in recent years.

The last time the military touted the death of a well-known al-Qaeda leader, it was a Pakistani national who was second-in-command of the subgroup. The military’s announcement of his death — in a strike outside Ghazni last December — described him as an adviser to the Taliban and made no mention of planning attacks outside Afghanistan.

By contrast, when a drone strike killed al-Qaeda‘s long-standing top commander in Afghanistan in 2016, a dual Saudi-Qatari national named Farouq al-Qahtani, the military said that he had been “directly involved in planning threats against the U.S. in the last year.”

Joscelyn said drawing a sharp distinction between the main group and the regional subgroup is a mistake. “There’s not a firm line between the personnel planning attacks overseas and those training local insurgents,” he said, noting that Qahtani, who was widely viewed as a member of al-Qaeda’s management layer, had also been deeply involved in training local Taliban fighters.

The military insists it has never taken its eye off the al-Qaeda ball in Afghanistan, despite the scarcity of announced strikes against the group and the nearly two years that have passed since it announced the death of a well-known senior operative involved in external plotting.

“We’ve been actively hunting al-Qaeda from the lowest rifleman up to their emir and everyone in between,” Nicholson said in a POLITICO interview earlier this year.

A spokesman for Nicholson’s headquarters said military operations had killed 65 al-Qaeda members this year, but would not estimate how many were part of the subgroup or how many were foreigners. This week, U.S.-backed Afghan commandos reported killing an al-Qaeda operative — apparently an Egyptian — who had been assisting the Taliban in the south, far from the northeastern region the military has long described as the group’s main Afghan stronghold.

Yet Nicholson has also acknowledged that “the majority” of counterterrorism air strikes are now against ISIS targets.

Afghan policemen stand guard after explosions at a Shiite cultural center in Kabul on December 28, 2017 | Shah Marai/AFP via Getty Images

Devoting more drones and other assets to striking ISIS in Afghanistan has left fewer resources to go after al-Qaeda, the two special operations sources said.

Until 2016, the counterterrorism force in Afghanistan was largely restricted to hunting al-Qaeda. But with a new ISIS branch storming through eastern Afghanistan, the Obama administration told the counterterrorism troops to use their lethal mix of drones and ground raids to blunt the offensive.

“The concern was that if the U.S. wasn’t careful, what happened in Mosul and Ramadi might happen in Afghanistan,” said Jones, the terrorism analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to ISIS’s 2014 rampage through Iraq. “The Washington priority became all ISIS” — even though, Jones said, there were few indications that ISIS fighters in Afghanistan had ambitions of launching attacks outside South Asia.

That’s still the case today. Asked this week whether ISIS’s Afghan branch poses a direct threat to the United States or Europe, U.S. Central Command leader Gen. Joseph Votel gave an ambiguous answer, saying there had “probably” been overseas plots linked to the Afghan group but that he couldn’t think of any.

Last month’s United Nations report suggested that “some recent plots detected and prevented in Europe had originated” with ISIS in Afghanistan, citing authorities in an unspecified country.

But the few pieces of public evidence, such as a 2016 plot to attack New York City, suggest that while ISIS leaders in Afghanistan may maintain indirect contact with homegrown militants who hatch their own plots overseas and then seek the group’s blessing, ISIS has not planned or ordered its own overseas attacks from Afghanistan, as al-Qaeda has.

The Army Rangers running the counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan have been eager to target ISIS, the two special operations sources said. That’s in part because, compared with al-Qaeda operatives who live in the mountains and are adept at avoiding surveillance, ISIS controls whole districts and can easily be spotted and struck from the air.

ISIS “became the focus because there was pressure from the top to clamp down on their expansion, and it was a target-rich environment,” said one of the officers. “With al-Qaeda, it was a lot of long-term development and surveillance — very labor-intensive.” But with ISIS, “you’d put up a drone, see some activity, and strike.”

That has continued into the Trump years. “We have the OK to go after a target set with a lot of low-hanging fruit, and that’s a lot more rewarding than developing al-Qaeda targets for months and months and then having maybe one shot at them,” said the second officer.

“Many attackers today don’t need overseas training anyway” — Seth Jones, terrorism scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies 

During the nearly two years since the last killing of a major al-Qaeda plotter in Afghanistan — Qahtani — the counterterrorism task force has killed a succession of top ISIS leaders in Afghanistan.

Divining the true intentions and capabilities of a particular branch of a covert group like al-Qaeda has always been difficult and “subjective” and always will be, said Jeff Eggers, a former Navy SEAL commander who was a senior Obama administration counterterrorism official. “Someone might assess that they have the intent but not the capability right up until the day they execute an attack in the West.”

It’s wise to treat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan as an international threat even if the evidence is ambiguous, agreed Joshua Geltzer, a former senior counterterrorism official in both the Obama and Trump administrations, because intelligence on the group’s true intentions is so scarce.

The intelligence community’s official assessment is that whether or not they are planning missions abroad, both the remaining members of the main al-Qaeda organization in Afghanistan and their colleagues in the Afghan subgroup “maintain the intent to conduct attacks against the United States and the West.”

If Al Qaeda can’t be destroyed in Afghanistan, the default alternative for the military is “perpetual targeting to keep them in hiding,” said Eggers. “That may be effective, but it is also costly, and raises questions of sustainability.”

Endless military operations can never disrupt al-Qaeda’s attacks completely, though, said Jones, because the group could always switch to the ISIS attack model — remotely cultivating homegrown extremists who never set foot outside the West, let alone make the arduous journey to a training site in the Afghan mountains. That approach has allowed ISIS to claim credit for local extremists’ shootings, bombings, stabbings, and truck attacks from the United States and Canada to the United Kingdom and France.

“Many attackers today don’t need overseas training anyway,” Jones said. “They may not have really needed it in the past either, but attacks like Manchester and Nice show that they certainly don’t now.”

Forced Oral Sodomy Absolved w/Holy Water Rinse?–boys and girls Servicing Catholic “Men of God”

[ The grand jury report ]

[THE FULL REPORT –1356 pages]

Former priest James Faluszczak, who says he was molested by a priest as a teenager, reacts as Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018. A Pennsylvania grand jury says its investigation of clergy sexual abuse identified more than 1,000 child victims. The grand jury report released Tuesday says that number comes from records in six Roman Catholic dioceses. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

 

Report on clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania says church brushed off complaints

By Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo, Associated Press


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed.

Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water.

One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him.

Those children are among the victims of roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, according to a sweeping state grand jury report released Tuesday that accused senior church officials, including a clergyman who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up complaints.

The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said.

U.S. bishops adopted widespread reforms in 2002 when clergy abuse became a national crisis for the church, including stricter requirements for reporting accusations to law enforcement and a streamlined process for removing clerics who abuse children. But the grand jury said more changes are needed.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that “it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”

In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two as a result of the grand jury investigation, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty, though some of those named had been charged years ago.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.

The investigation of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses— Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — is the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state, according to victim advocates. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.

Until now, there have been just nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to the Massachusetts-based research and advocacy organization, BishopAccountability.org.

The Philadelphia archdiocese and the Johnstown-Altoona diocese were not included in the investigation because they have been the subject of three previous scathing grand jury investigations.

The grand jury heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal diocesan documents, including reports by bishops to Vatican officials disclosing the details of abusive priests that they had not made public or reported to law enforcement.

The panel concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police, used confidentiality agreements to silence victims and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.

The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds: police or prosecutors sometimes did not investigate allegations out of deference to church officials or brushed off complaints as outside the statute of limitations, the grand jury said.

Diocese leaders responded Tuesday by expressing sorrow for the victims, stressing how they’ve changed and unveiling, for the first time, a list of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

James VanSickle of Pittsburgh, who testified he was sexually attacked in 1981 by a priest in the Erie Diocese, called the report’s release “a major victory to get our voice out there, to get our stories told.”

The report is still the subject of an ongoing legal battle, with redactions shielding the identities of some current and former clergy named in the report while the state Supreme Court weighs their arguments that its wrongful accusations against them violates their constitutional rights. It also is expected to spark another fight by victim advocates to win changes in state law that lawmakers have resisted.

Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials’ concealment of it. U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church going back to 1950.

The report comes at a time of fresh scandal at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis last month stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and committed sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.

One senior American church official named in the grand jury report is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, for allegedly helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.

Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said the report did a good job of highlighting the two crimes of church sex abuse scandals: the abuse of a child and the cover up by church officials that allows the abuse to continue.

“One thing this is going to do is put pressure on prosecutors elsewhere to take a look at what’s going on in their neck of the woods,” McKiernan said.

___

Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Vatican City, Claudia Lauer and Michael Rubinkam in Pennsylvania and David Porter in New Jersey contributed to this report.

 

 

Pentagon Rushes River of Weapons To Kurdish SDF Forces, Setting Fire To Turkish/US Relations

BEIRUT, LEBANON (11:30 A.M.) – The U.S. Coalition transported over 250 trucks filled with weapons to the Euphrates River Valley this morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported.

According to the SOHR report, the 250+ vehicles were not only transporting weapons, but also, military hardware for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the Deir Ezzor Governorate.

The SOHR said that this large supply transport comes shortly after the U.S. Coalition began expanding their military bases and airports across Syria.

While U.S. President Donald Trump stated earlier this year that he wanted to quickly withdraw his forces from Syria; it actually appears that the opposite is taking place.

The expansion of bases and airports in northern and eastern Syria indicates that the U.S. plans to be inside the country for quite some time.

In response to the U.S.’ presence, the Syrian government has slammed the former’s continued expansion in Syria, while often demanding that all Coalition nations immediately end their occupation

The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible

In the digital age, the jobs we work at, the entertainment we divert ourselves with, and the ways we communicate with one another are increasingly defined by the internet and the computers, tablets, and cell phones that connect us to it. None of this would be possible were it not for sand.
Discovery FootageSource/Getty Images

The Ultra-Pure, Super-Secret Sand That Makes Your Phone Possible

The processor that makes your laptop or cell phone work was fabricated using quartz from this obscure Appalachian backwater.

Fresh from church on a cool, overcast Sunday morning in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, Alex Glover slides onto the plastic bench of a McDonald’s booth. He rummages through his knapsack, then pulls out a plastic sandwich bag full of white powder. “I hope we don’t get arrested,” he says. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

Glover is a recently retired geologist who has spent decades hunting for valuable minerals in the hillsides and hollows of the Appalachian Mountains that surround this tiny town. He is a small, rounded man with little oval glasses, a neat white mustache, and matching hair clamped under a Jeep baseball cap. He speaks with a medium‑strength drawl that emphasizes the first syllable and stretches some vowels, such that we’re drinking CAWWfee as he explains why this remote area is so tremendously important to the rest of the world.

Spruce Pine is not a wealthy place. Its downtown consists of a somnambulant train station across the street from a couple of blocks of two‑story brick buildings, including a long‑closed movie theater and several empty storefronts.

Excerpted from The World in a Grain by Vince Beiser.

Penguin Random House
The wooded mountains surrounding it, though, are rich in all kinds of desirable rocks, some valued for their industrial uses, some for their pure prettiness. But it’s the mineral in Glover’s bag—snowy white grains, soft as powdered sugar—that is by far the most important these days. It’s quartz, but not just any quartz. Spruce Pine, it turns out, is the source of the purest natural quartz—a species of pristine sand—ever found on Earth. This ultra‑elite deposit of silicon dioxide particles plays a key role in manufacturing the silicon used to make computer chips. In fact, there’s an excellent chance the chip that makes your laptop or cell phone work was made using sand from this obscure Appalachian backwater. “It’s a billion‑dollar industry here,” Glover says with a hooting laugh. “Can’t tell by driving through here. You’d never know it.”
Rocks like these high-grade silica samples mined near Charlotte, North Carolina, are the basis for modern computer chips.
Charles O’Rear/Getty Images

In the 21st century, sand has become more important than ever, and in more ways than ever. This is the digital age, in which the jobs we work at, the entertainment we divert ourselves with, and the ways we communicate with one another are increasingly defined by the internet and the computers, tablets, and cell phones that connect us to it. None of this would be possible were it not for sand.

Most of the world’s sand grains are composed of quartz, which is a form of silicon dioxide, also known as silica. High‑purity silicon dioxide particles are the essential raw materials from which we make computer chips, fiber‑optic cables, and other high‑tech hardware—the physical components on which the virtual world runs. The quantity of quartz used for these products is minuscule compared to the mountains of it used for concrete or land reclamation. But its impact is immeasurable.

Spruce Pine’s mineralogical wealth is a result of the area’s unique geologic history. About 380 million years ago the area was located south of the equator. Plate tectonics pushed the African continent toward eastern America, forcing the heavier oceanic crust—the geologic layer beneath the ocean’s water—underneath the lighter North American continent. The friction of that colossal grind generated heat topping 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, melting the rock that lay between 9 and 15 miles below the surface. The pressure on that molten rock forced huge amounts of it into cracks and fissures of the surrounding host rock, where it formed deposits of what are known as pegmatites.

It took some 100 million years for the deeply buried molten rock to cool down and crystallize. Thanks to the depth at which it was buried and to the lack of water where all this was happening, the pegmatites formed almost without impurities. Generally speaking, the pegmatites are about 65 percent feldspar, 25 percent quartz, 8 percent mica, and the rest traces of other minerals. Meanwhile, over the course of some 300 million years, the plate under the Appalachian Mountains shifted upward. Weather eroded the exposed rock, until the hard formations of pegmatites were left near the surface.

Unimin’s North Carolina quartz operations supply most of the world’s high‑ and ultra‑high‑purity quartz.
Jerry Whaley/Alamy

Native Americans mined the shiny, glittering mica and used it for grave decorations and as currency. American settlers began trickling into the mountains in the 1800s, scratching out a living as farmers. A few prospectors tried their hands at the mica business, but were stymied by the steep mountain geography. “There were no rivers, no roads, no trains. They had to haul the stuff out on horseback,” says David Biddix, a scruffy‑haired amateur historian who has written three books about Mitchell County, where Spruce Pine sits.

The region’s prospects started to improve in 1903 when the South and Western Railroad company, in the course of building a line from Kentucky to South Carolina, carved a track up into the mountains, a serpentine marvel that loops back and forth for 20 miles to ascend just 1,000 feet. Once this artery to the outside world was finally opened, mining started to pick up. Locals and wildcatters dug hundreds of shafts and open pits in the mountains of what became known as the Spruce Pine Mining District, a swath of land 25 miles by 10 miles that sprawls over three counties.

Mica used to be prized for wood‑ and coal‑burning stove windows and for electrical insulation in vacuum tube electronics. It’s now used mostly as a specialty additive in cosmetics and things like caulks, sealants, and drywall joint compound. During World War II, demand for mica and feldspar, which are found in tremendous abundance in the area’s pegmatites, boomed. Prosperity came to Spruce Pine. The town quadrupled in size in the 1940s. At its peak, Spruce Pine boasted three movie theaters, two pool halls, a bowling alley, and plenty of restaurants. Three passenger trains came through every day.

Toward the end of the decade, the Tennessee Valley Authority sent a team of scientists to Spruce Pine tasked with further developing the area’s mineral resources. They focused on the money‑makers, mica and feldspar. The problem was separating those minerals from the other ones. A typical chunk of Spruce Pine pegmatite looks like a piece of strange but enticing hard candy: mostly milky white or pink feldspar, inset with shiny mica, studded with clear or smoky quartz, and flecked here and there with bits of deep red garnet and other‑colored minerals.

For years, locals would simply dig up the pegmatites and crush them with hand tools or crude machines, separating out the feldspar and mica by hand. The quartz that was left over was considered junk, at best fit to be used as construction sand, more likely thrown out with the other tailings.

Working with researchers at North Carolina State University’s Minerals Research Laboratory in nearby Asheville, the TVA scientists developed a much faster and more efficient method to separate out minerals, called froth flotation. “It revolutionized the industry,” Glover says. “It made it evolve from a mom‑and‑pop individual industry to a mega‑multinational corporation industry.”

Froth flotation involves running the rock through mechanical crushers until it’s broken down into a heap of mixed‑mineral granules. You dump that mix in a tank, add water to turn it into a milky slurry, and stir well. Next, add reagents—chemicals that bind to the mica grains and make them hydrophobic, meaning they don’t want to touch water. Now pipe a column of air bubbles through the slurry. Terrified of the water surrounding them, the mica grains will frantically grab hold of the air bubbles and be carried up to the top of the tank, forming a froth on the water’s surface. A paddle wheel skims off the froth and shunts it into another tank, where the water is drained out. Voilà: mica.

The remaining feldspar, quartz, and iron are drained from the bottom of the tank and funneled through a series of troughs into the next tank, where a similar process is performed to float out the iron. Repeat, more or less, to remove the feldspar.

It was the feldspar, which is used in glassmaking, that first attracted engineers from the Corning Glass Company to the area. At the time, the leftover quartz grains were still seen as just unwanted by‑products. But the Corning engineers, always on the lookout for quality material to put to work in the glass factories, noticed the purity of the quartz and started buying it as well, hauling it north by rail to Corning’s facility in Ithaca, New York, where it was turned into everything from windows to bottles.One of Spruce Pine quartz’s greatest achievements in the glass world came in the 1930s, when Corning won a contract to manufacture the mirror for what was to be the world’s biggest telescope, ordered by the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Making the 200‑inch, 20‑ton mirror involved melting mountains of quartz in a giant furnace heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit, writes David O. Woodbury in The Glass Giant of Palomar.

Once the furnace was hot enough, “three crews of men, working day and night around the clock, began ramming in the sand and chemicals through a door at one end. So slowly did the ingredients melt that only four tons a day could be added. Little by little the fiery pool spread over the bottom of the furnace and rose gradually to an incandescent lake 50 feet long and 15 wide.” The telescope was installed in the observatory in 1947. Its unprecedented power led to important discoveries about the composition of stars and the size of the universe itself. It is still in use today.

In the 1930s, Corning won a contract to manufacture the mirror for what was to be the world’s biggest telescope, ordered by the Palomar Observatory in Southern California. Making the 200‑inch, 20‑ton mirror involved melting mountains of quartz in a giant furnace heated to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images

Significant as that telescope was, Spruce Pine quartz was soon to take on a far more important role as the digital age began to dawn.

In the mid‑1950s, thousands of miles from North Carolina, a group of engineers in California began working on an invention that would become the foundation of the computer industry. William Shockley, a pathbreaking engineer at Bell Labs who had helped invent the transistor, had left to set up his own company in Mountain View, California, a sleepy town about an hour south of San Francisco, near where he had grown up. Stanford University was nearby, and General Electric and IBM had facilities in the area, as well as a new company called Hewlett‑Packard. But the area known at the time as the Santa Clara Valley was still mostly filled with apricot, pear, and plum orchards. It would soon become much better known by a new nickname: Silicon Valley.

At the time, the transistor market was heating up fast. Texas Instruments, Motorola, and other companies were all competing to come up with smaller, more efficient transistors to use in, among other products, computers. The first American computer, dubbed ENIAC, was developed by the army during World War II; it was 100 feet long and 10 feet high, and it ran on 18,000 vacuum tubes.

Transistors, which are tiny electronic switches that control the flow of electricity, offered a way to replace those tubes and make these new machines even more powerful while shrinking their tumid footprint. Semiconductors—a small class of elements, including germanium and silicon, which conduct electricity at certain temperatures while blocking it at others—looked like promising materials for making those transistors.

At Shockley’s startup, a flock of young PhDs began each morning by firing up kilns to thousands of degrees and melting down germanium and silicon. Tom Wolfe once described the scene in Esquire magazine: “They wore white lab coats, goggles, and work gloves. When they opened the kiln doors weird streaks of orange and white light went across their faces . . . they lowered a small mechanical column into the goo so that crystals formed on the bottom of the column, and they pulled the crystal out and tried to get a grip on it with tweezers, and put it under microscopes and cut it with diamond cutters, among other things, into minute slices, wafers, chips; there were no names in electronics for these tiny forms.”

Shockley became convinced that silicon was the more promising material and shifted his focus accordingly. “Since he already had the first and most famous semiconductor research and manufacturing company, everyone who had been working with germanium stopped and switched to silicon,” writes Joel Shurkin in his biography of Shockley, Broken Genius. “Indeed, without his decision, we would speak of Germanium Valley.”

Shockley was a genius, but by all accounts he was also a lousy boss. Within a couple of years, several of his most talented engineers had jumped ship to start their own company, which they dubbed Fairchild Semiconductor. One of them was Robert Noyce, a laid‑back but brilliant engineer, only in his mid‑20s but already famous for his expertise with transistors.

William Shockley worked with the element germanium, as well, before becoming convinced that silicon was the more promising material.
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
In 1959, when Robert Noyce and his colleagues at Fairchild Semiconductor figured out a way to cram several transistors onto a single fingernail‑sized sliver of high‑purity silicon. He went on to found Intel.
Ted Streshinsky/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The breakthrough came in 1959, when Noyce and his colleagues figured out a way to cram several transistors onto a single fingernail‑sized sliver of high‑purity silicon. At almost the same time, Texas Instruments developed a similar gadget made from germanium. Noyce’s, though, was more efficient, and it soon dominated the market. NASA selected Fairchild’s microchip for use in the space program, and sales soon shot from almost nothing to $130 million a year. In 1968, Noyce left to found his own company. He called it Intel, and it soon dominated the nascent industry of programmable computer chips.

Intel’s first commercial chip, released in 1971, contained 2,250 transistors. Today’s computer chips are often packed with transistors numbering in the billions. Those tiny electronic squares and rectangles are the brains that run our computers, the Internet, and the entire digital world. Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, the computer systems that underpin the work of everything from the Pentagon to your local bank—all of this and much more is based on sand, remade as silicon chips.

Making those chips is a fiendishly complicated process. They require essentially pure silicon. The slightest impurity can throw their tiny systems out of whack.

Finding silicon is easy. It’s one of the most abundant elements on Earth. It shows up practically everywhere bound together with oxygen to form SiO2, aka quartz. The problem is that it never occurs naturally in pure, elemental form. Separating out the silicon takes considerable doing.

Step one is to take high‑purity silica sand, the kind used for glass. (Lump quartz is also sometimes used.) That quartz is then blasted in a powerful electric furnace, creating a chemical reaction that separates out much of the oxygen. That leaves you with what is called silicon metal, which is about 99 percent pure silicon. But that’s not nearly good enough for high‑tech uses. Silicon for solar panels has to be 99.999999 percent pure—six 9s after the decimal. Computer chips are even more demanding. Their silicon needs to be 99.99999999999 percent pure—eleven 9s. “We are talking of one lonely atom of something that is not silicon among billions of silicon companions,” writes geologist Michael Welland in Sand: The Never-Ending Story.

Getting there requires treating the silicon metal with a series of complex chemical processes. The first round of these converts the silicon metal into two compounds. One is silicon tetrachloride, which is the primary ingredient used to make the glass cores of optical fibers. The other is trichlorosilane, which is treated further to become polysilicon, an extremely pure form of silicon that will go on to become the key ingredient in solar cells and computer chips.

Each of these steps might be carried out by more than one company, and the price of the material rises sharply at each step. That first‑step, 99 percent pure silicon metal goes for about $1 a pound; polysilicon can cost 10 times as much.

Semiconductors are a small class of elements, including silicon, which conduct electricity at certain temperatures while blocking it at others.
Getty Images

The next step is to melt down the polysilicon. But you can’t just throw this exquisitely refined material in a cook pot. If the molten silicon comes into contact with even the tiniest amount of the wrong substance, it causes a ruinous chemical reaction. You need crucibles made from the one substance that has both the strength to withstand the heat required to melt polysilicon, and a molecular composition that won’t infect it. That substance is pure quartz.

This is where Spruce Pine quartz comes in. It’s the world’s primary source of the raw material needed to make the fused‑quartz crucibles in which computer‑chip‑grade polysilicon is melted. A fire in 2008 at one of the main quartz facilities in Spruce Pine for a time all but shut off the supply of high‑purity quartz to the world market, sending shivers through the industry.Today one company dominates production of Spruce Pine quartz. Unimin, an outfit founded in 1970, has gradually bought up Spruce Pine area mines and bought out competitors, until today the company’s North Carolina quartz operations supply most of the world’s high‑ and ultra‑high‑purity quartz. (Unimin itself is now a division of a Belgian mining conglomerate, Sibelco.)

In recent years, another company, the imaginatively titled Quartz Corp, has managed to grab a small share of the Spruce Pine market. There are a very few other places around the world producing high‑purity quartz, and many other places where companies are looking hard for more. But Unimin controls the bulk of the trade.

The quartz for the crucibles, like the silicon they will produce, needs to be almost absolutely pure, purged as thoroughly as possible of other elements. Spruce Pine quartz is highly pure to begin with, and purer still after being put through several rounds of froth flotation. But some of the grains may still have what Glover calls interstitial crystalline contamination—molecules of other minerals attached to the quartz molecules.

That’s frustratingly common. “I’ve evaluated thousands of quartz samples from all over the world,” says John Schlanz, chief minerals processing engineer at the Minerals Research Laboratory in Asheville, about an hour from Spruce Pine. “Near all of them have contaminate locked in the quartz grains that you can’t get out.”

Some Spruce Pine quartz is flawed in this way. Those grains are used for high‑end beach sand and golf course bunkers—most famously the salt‑white traps of Augusta National Golf Club, site of the iconic Masters Tournament. A golf course in the oil‑drunk United Arab Emirates imported 4,000 tons of this sand in 2008 to make sure its sand traps were world‑class, too.

The very best Spruce Pine quartz, however, has an open crystalline structure, which means that hydrofluoric acid can be injected right into the crystal molecules to dissolve any lingering traces of feldspar or iron, taking the purity up another notch. Technicians take it one step further by reacting the quartz with chlorine or hydrochloric acid at high temperatures, then putting it through one or two more trade‑secret steps of physical and chemical processing.

The result is what Unimin markets as Iota quartz, the industry standard of purity. The basic Iota quartz is 99.998 percent pure SiO2. It is used to make things like halogen lamps and photovoltaic cells, but it’s not good enough to make those crucibles in which polysilicon is melted. For that you need Iota 6, or the tip‑top of the line, Iota 8, which clocks in at 99.9992 percent purity—meaning for every one billion molecules of SiO , there are only 80 molecules of impurities. Iota 8 sells for up to $10,000 a ton. Regular construction sand, at the other end of the sand scale, can be had for a few dollars per ton.

At his house, Glover shows me some Iota under a microscope. Seen through the instrument’s lens (itself made from a much less pure quartz sand), the jagged little shards are as clear as glass and bright as diamonds.

Unimin sells this ultra‑high‑purity quartz sand to companies like General Electric, which melts it, spins it, and fuses it into what looks like a salad bowl made of milky glass: the crucible. “It’s safe to say the vast majority of those crucibles are made from Spruce Pine quartz,” Schlanz says.

The polysilicon is placed in those quartz crucibles, melted down, and set spinning. Then a silicon seed crystal about the size of a pencil is lowered into it, spinning in the opposite direction. The seed crystal is slowly withdrawn, pulling behind it what is now a single giant silicon crystal. These dark, shiny crystals, weighing about 220 pounds, are called ingots.

Polysilicon is placed in quartz crucibles, melted down, and set spinning.
Kay Chernush/Getty Images
Dark, shiny crystals of silicon called ingots are sliced into thin wafers. Ingots of the highest purity are polished to mirror smoothness and sold to a chipmaker like Intel.
Getty Images

The ingots are sliced into thin wafers. Some are sold to solar cell manufacturers. Ingots of the highest purity are polished to mirror smoothness and sold to a chipmaker like Intel. It’s a thriving multi-billion dollar industry in 2012.

The chipmaker imprints patterns of transistors on the wafer using a process called photolithography. Copper is implanted to link those billions of transistors to form integrated circuits. Even a minute particle of dust can ruin the chip’s intricate circuitry, so all of this happens in what’s called a clean room, where purifiers keep the air thousands of times cleaner than a hospital operating room. Technicians dress in an all‑covering white uniform affectionately known as a bunny suit. To ensure the wafers don’t get contaminated during manufacture, many of the tools used to move and manipulate them are, like the crucibles, made from high‑purity quartz.

The wafers are then cut into tiny, unbelievably thin quadrangular chips—computer chips, the brains inside your mobile phone or laptop. The whole process requires hundreds of precise, carefully controlled steps. The chip that results is easily one of the most complicated man‑made objects on Earth, yet made with the most common stuff on Earth: humble sand.

The total amount of high‑purity quartz produced worldwide each year is estimated at 30,000 tons—less than the amount of construction sand produced in the United States every hour. (And even construction sand is in high demand; there’s a thriving black market in the stuff.) Only Unimin knows exactly how much Spruce Pine quartz is produced, because it doesn’t publish any production figures. It is an organization famously big on secrecy. “Spruce Pine used to be mom‑and‑ pop operations,” Schlanz says. “When I first worked up there, you could just walk into any of the operations. You could just go across the street and borrow a piece of equipment.”

Nowadays Unimin won’t even allow staff of the Minerals Research Laboratory inside the mines or processing facilities. Contractors brought in to do repair work have to sign confidentiality agreements. Whenever possible, vice‑president Richard Zielke recently declared in court papers, the company splits up the work among different contractors so that no individual can learn too much.Unimin buys equipment and parts from multiple vendors for the same reason. Glover has heard of contractors being blindfolded inside the processing plants until they arrive at the specific area where their jobs are and of an employee who was fired on the spot for bringing someone in without authorization. He says the company doesn’t even allow its employees to socialize with those of their competitors.

It was hard to check out Glover’s stories, because Unimin wouldn’t talk to me. Unlike most big corporations, its website lists no contact for a press spokesperson or public relations representative. Several emails to their general inquiries address went unanswered. When I called the company’s headquarters in Connecticut, the woman who answered the phone seemed mystified by the concept of a journalist wanting to ask questions.

She put me on hold for a few minutes, then came back to tell me the company has no PR department, but that if I faxed (faxed!) her my questions, someone might get back to me. Eventually I got in touch with a Unimin executive who asked me to send her my questions by email. I did so. The response: “Unfortunately, we are not in a position to provide answers at this point in time.”

So I tried the direct approach. Like all the quartz mining and processing facilities in the area, Unimin’s Schoolhouse Quartz Plant, set in a valley amid low, thickly treed hills, is surrounded by a barbed‑wire‑topped fence. Security isn’t exactly at the level of Fort Knox, but the message is clear.

One Saturday morning I go to take a look at the plant with David Biddix. We park across the street from the gate. A sign warns that the area is under video surveillance, and that neither guns nor tobacco are allowed inside. As soon as I hop out to snap a few photos, a matronly woman in a security guard uniform popped out of the gatehouse. “Watcha doin’?” she asks conversationally. I give her my friendliest smile and tell her I am a journalist writing a book about sand, including about the importance of the quartz sand in this very facility. She takes that all in skeptically, and asks me to call Unimin’s local office the following Monday to get permission.

“Sure, I’ll do that,” I say. “I just want to take a look, as long as I’m here.” “Well, please don’t take pictures,” she says. There isn’t much to see—some piles of white sand, a bunch of metal tanks, a redbrick building near the gate—so I agree. She lumbers back inside. I put away my camera and pull out my notebook. That brings her right back out.

“You don’t look like a terrorist”—she laughs apologetically— “but these days you never know. I’m asking you to leave before I get grumpy.”

“I understand,” I say. “I just want to take a few notes. And anyway, this is a public road. I have the right to be here.”

That really displeased her. “I’m doing my job,” she snaps. “I’m doing mine,” I reply.

“All right, I’m taking notes, too,” she declares. “And if anything happens . . .” Leaving the consequences unspecified, she strides over to my rental car and officiously writes down its license plate number, then asks for the name of “my companion” in the passenger seat. I don’t want to get Biddix in any trouble, so I politely decline, hop in, and drive off.

Unimin guards its trade secrets fiercely. Whenever possible, vice‑president Richard Zielke recently declared in court papers, the company splits up the work among different contractors so that no individual can learn too much.
Vince Beiser
If you really want a sense of how zealously Unimin guards its trade secrets, ask Tom Gallo. He used to work for the company, and then for years had his life ruined by it.Gallo is a small, lean man in his 50s, originally from New Jersey. He relocated to North Carolina when he was hired by Unimin in 1997. His first day on the job, he was handed a confidentiality agreement; he was surprised at how restrictive it was and didn’t think it was fair. But there he was, way out in Spruce Pine, with all his possessions in a moving truck, his life in New Jersey already left behind. So he signed it.

Gallo worked for Unimin in Spruce Pine for 12 years. When he left, he signed a noncompete agreement that forbade him from working for any of the company’s competitors in the high‑purity quartz business for five years. He and his wife moved to Asheville and started up an artisanal pizza business, which they dubbed Gallolea—his last name plus that of a friend who had encouraged him.

It was a rough go. The pizza business was never a big money‑maker, and it was soon hit with a lawsuit over its name from the E. & J. Gallo Winery. Gallo spent thousands of dollars fighting the suit—it’s his name, after all—but eventually decided the prudent course would be to give up and change the company’s name. The five‑year noncompete term had run out by then, so when a small startup quartz company, I‑Minerals, called to offer Gallo a consulting gig, he gladly accepted. I‑Minerals put out a press release bragging about the hire and touting Gallo’s expertise.

That turned to be a big mistake. Unimin promptly filed a lawsuit against Gallo and I‑Minerals, accusing them of trying to steal Unimin’s secrets. “There was no call, no cease‑and‑desist order, no investigation,” Gallo says. “They filed a 150‑page brief against me on the basis of a press release.”

Over the next several years, Gallo spent tens of thousands of dollars fighting the suit. “That’s how billion‑dollar corporations terrify people,” he says. “I had to take money out of my 401(k) to defend myself against this totally baseless lawsuit. We were afraid we would lose our house. It was terrifying. You can’t imagine how many sleepless nights my wife and I have had.” His pizza business collapsed. “When Unimin filed suit, we had just gotten over the Gallo thing. It was the sledgehammer that broke the camel’s back. We’d worked on it for five years. It was more than we could handle emotionally, psychologically, and financially.”

Unimin eventually lost the case, appealed it to federal court, and finally dropped it. I‑Minerals and Gallo separately countersued Unimin, calling its suit an abuse of the judicial process aimed at harassing a potential competitor. Unimin eventually agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to have the suits withdrawn. Under the terms of the settlement, Gallo can’t disclose the details, but says bitterly, “When you get sued by a big corporation, you lose no matter what.”

For all the wealth that comes out of the ground in the Spruce Pine area, not much of it stays there. Today the mines are all owned by foreign corporations. They’re highly automated, so they don’t need many workers. “Now there’s maybe 25 or 30 people on a shift, instead of 300,” Biddix says. The area’s other jobs are vanishing. “We had seven furniture factories here when I was a kid,” he says. “We had knitting mills making blue jeans and nylons. They’re all gone.”

Median household income in Mitchell County, where Spruce Pine sits, is just over $37,000, far below the national average of $51,579. Twenty percent of the county’s 15,000 people, almost all of whom are white, live below the poverty line. Fewer than one in seven adults has a college degree.

People find ways to get by. Glover has a side business growing Christmas trees on his property. Biddix makes his living running the website of a nearby community college.

One of the few new sources of jobs are several huge data processing centers that have opened up in the area. Attracted by the cheap land, Google, Apple, Microsoft, and other tech companies have all opened up server farms within an hour’s drive of Spruce Pine.

In a sense, Spruce Pine’s quartz has come full circle. “When you talk to Siri, you’re talking to a building here at the Apple center,” Biddix says.

I pull out my iPhone and ask Siri if she knows where her silicon brains came from.

“Who, me?” she replies the first time. I try again.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” she says.

From THE WORLD IN A GRAIN by Vince Beiser. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Vince Beiser.

about the author

Vince Beiser is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in WIRED, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Mother Jones, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, he lives in Los Angeles.

Is the Taliban Asking the Pentagon For Help Against ISIS In Nangarhar, Or For the US To STOP Helping ISIS In Nangarhar?

TALIBAN TO U.S.: Help us wipe out ISIS death cult

[Afghan] Govt Rejects Possibility Of Talks Between US And Taliban

The Taliban is seeking the help of the U.S. in ridding Afghanistan of ISIS killers.GETTY IMAGES

The ISIS death cult is even too bloodthirsty for the Taliban.

During secret talks between the Taliban and the United States, the Afghans have asked for American help in ridding the country of ISIS, according to The Times of London.

The talks have produced “very positive signals”, the newspaper said. A Taliban called the discussions “friendly”.

ISIS executioner The Bulldozer. Apparently ISIS is too nutty for the Taliban.

Now, the Taliban are launching a major offensive to drive ISIS out of one of their last redoubts.

They want the U.S. to stop airstrikes in Nangarhar so they don’t kill Taliban fighters attempting to flush out the terrorists.

According to the fabled British newspaper, the request comes as the Taliban and U.S. engage in peace talks following an Eid ceasefire last year.

Taliban forces plan on hitting three ISIS areas next week with fighting expected to last several weeks spearheaded by their Red Unit.

Smoke ya later. The Taliban wants the U.S. to curtail airstrikes while they flush out ISIS. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The Red Unit commando fighters will participate in the Nangarhar operation. They are already fighting against IS in other eastern provinces,” a member told The Times.

“You can’t call it peace talks … These are a series of meetings for initiating formal and purposeful talks. We agreed to meet again soon and resolve the Afghan conflict through dialogue,” the Taliban source told The Times.

Afghans on both sides of the 17 year war are tired of fighting. GETTY IMAGES

Last month, U.S. special forces wiped out a major ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan killing 167 militants with no friendly casualties.

Sources said that following the obliteration of the ISIS caliphate, the terror group has been trying to colonize Afghanistan.

 

America’s Other Hiroshimas–more dead from napalm than from nukes

The Other Hiroshimas: A Review of Napalm: An American Biography

Fire-weapons have been used from ancient times. Napalm-like weapons were used by and against the Romans and Greeks. One term used for them was “wildfire”; another was “Greek fire”, as incendiaries were widely used by the Greeks. Some ships were equipped to shoot other vessels with flaming oils emitted from tubes in their bows. Individual soldiers were equipped with flaming oils that they could shoot through reeds in a kind of fire-breath. But the use of incendiaries declined as longer-range projectiles were created, such as rockets (e.g. the British rockets mentioned in the US national anthem).Incendiaries were always regarded with particular awe and horror, as they invoked the terrors of hell and being burned to death.

As the ability to project incendiaries over long ranges increased in the 19th century, the weapon again came into use. The major turning point that would see an unprecedented rise of fire-weapons was World War II. With Germany leading the way, Japanese and British forces also used incendiaries to devastating effect, but the weapon would be taken to new heights by the United States. Initially, US officials said they wanted to avoid the “area bombing” – killing everyone in a large area – that was being carried out by the above groups on various cities. But soon they abandoned this approach and embraced the method. Wanting to further increase their ability to destroy large areas, and with particular regard to the wooden cities of Japan (66), the US Chemical Warfare Service assembled a team of chemists at Harvard to design an incendiary weapon that would be optimal for this goal.

As the team progressed in its development, the military built replicas of German and Japanese civilian homes – complete with furnishings, with the most attention devoted to bedrooms and attics – so that the new weapon, dubbed “napalm” (a portmanteau of chemicals napthenate and palmitate) could be tested. In all of these replica structures, which were built, burnt, and rebuilt multiple times, only civilian homes were constructed – never military, industrial, or commercial buildings (stated multiple times, e.g. 37). In 1931, US General Billy Mitchell, regarded as the “founding inspiration” of the US Air Force, remarked that since Japanese cities were “built largely of wood and paper”, they made the “greatest aerial targets the world has ever seen. … Incendiary projectiles would burn the cities to the ground in short order.” In 1941, US Army chief of staff George Marshall told reporters that the US would “set the paper cities of Japan on fire”, and that “There won’t be any hesitation about bombing civilians” (66). While napalm was first used against Japanese troops in the Pacific Islands, the campaign of “area bombing” of Japanese civilians was led by a man with the “aura of a borderline sociopath” who had, as a child, enjoyed killing small animals (70): Curtis LeMay. LeMay said the goal was for Japanese cities to be “wiped right off the map” (74). To this effect, on March 9, 1945, the US “burned a flaming cross about four miles by three into the heart” of Tokyo, which crew information sheets said was the most densely populated city in the world at the time: 103,000 people per square mile. In the first hour, 690,000 gallons of napalm were used. The city was essentially undefended. Japanese fighters, mostly unable to take flight, did not shoot down a single US aircraft, and air-defense batteries were defunct.

By the next morning, fifteen square miles of the city center were in ashes, with approximately 100,000 people dead, mainly from burning. Streets were strewn with “carbonized” figures and rivers were “clogged with bodies” of people who had tried to escape the firestorms. The text contains numerous descriptions and survivors’ accounts, but here I’ll just mention one: A survivor saw a wealthy woman in a fine, gold kimono running from a firestorm. The winds, which reached hundreds of miles per-hour, whipped her high into the air and thrashed her around. She burst into flame and disappeared, incinerated. A scrap of her kimono drifted through the air and landed at the feet of the survivor.

On the US end, multiple bombers reported vomiting in their planes from the overpowering smell, blasted skyward by the windstorms, of “roasting human flesh” – a sickly “sweet” odor (81).

In Washington, Generals congratulated each other. General Arnold cabled LeMay that he had proved that he “had the guts for anything.” Mission commander Power boasted that “There were more casualties than in any other military action in the history of the world.” Neer says this assessment is correct: this was the single deadliest one-night military operation in the world history of warfare, to the present (83).

Some 33 million pounds of napalm were used in the campaign overall, with 106 square miles of Japan’s cities burned flat. 330,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed, with burning “the leading cause of death”. Chief of Air Staff Lauris Norstad said the destruction was “Nothing short of wonderful” (84).

After both atomic bombings (which, individually, inflicted less damage than the March 9 Tokyo area-firebombing), and after the Japanese surrender, but before it had been officially accepted, General Hap Arnold called for “as big a finale as possible.” Accordingly, 1,014 aircraft were used to further “pulverize Tokyo with napalm and explosives”. The US did not incur a single loss in the raid (85).

Japan’s best ability to attack the US mainland was seen in its hanging of bombs from balloons and drifting them into the eastward Jetstream. The Japanese government thus managed to kill five people in Oregon.

While the atomic bomb “got the press”, American napalm was thus established as the truly “most effective weapon”. While each atomic bombing cost $13.5 billion, incinerating cities with napalm cost only $83,000 “per metropolis” – relatively speaking, nothing. Napalm was now understood by the US military as the real bringer of “Armageddon”, and was then used accordingly in its next major military campaigns in foreign countries.(North America and Australia remain the only two continents where napalm has never actually been used on people. It has been used by many other militaries, largely US clients, but no one has used it to the extent of the United States [193]).

While the text continues tracing the use of napalm up to the present, the sections on the development of napalm and then its first major use, on Japan, are the most powerful – even though, after determining napalm’s power, the US used it more extensively on Korea and Vietnam (in the latter case, mostly, as the author notes, in South Vietnam, where there was no opposing air-force or air-defense). I think this is somewhat intentional, since part of the author’s goal, I argue below, is to justify the US’s use of napalm. This is much easier to do regarding WWII, as it is overwhelmingly interpreted by Americans as a “good war” and thus requires no justification, whereas the selectively “forgotten” Korean war or the often shame-invoking Vietnam war require historical manipulations or omissions to make US actions at least semi-thinkable. So, from here I will give a broader summary and critique of the book.

One important theoretical and historical argument that the author makes is that while there was virtually no American opposition to the use of napalm in WWII or against Korea (indeed, there was celebration; in WWII, the press did not even mention human victims in its initial reports of the raids, only property damage [82]), in the course of the Vietnam war, massive disgust and opposition resulted from the US’s widespread use of the incendiary chemical concoction. (During the Korean war, there was foreign opposition to the US’s use of napalm to incinerate Korean cities. Even Winston Churchill, who oversaw the brutal torture or killing of millions of people elsewhere, such as in India, remarked that the US’s napalm use was “very cruel”: the US was “splashing it all over the civilian population”, “tortur[ing] great masses of people”. The US official who took this statement declined to publicize it [102-3].) Because of concerted opposition to napalm and corporations (particularly Dow Chemical) that produced napalm for the military, the gel became regarded as a “worldwide synonym for American brutality” (224).Neer asserts that a reason for this is that “authorities did not censor” during the Vietnam war to the extent that they did “during World War II and the Korean War” (148). Images of children and others horrifically burnt or incinerated by napalm therefore became available to the public and incited people like Dr. Bruce Franklin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to engage in group actions to stop the war and the use of napalm. What this says about the effectiveness of imagery and government and corporate control of imagery, and information generally – and about Franklin’s observation that censorship was increased in response to opposition to the Vietnam war (Vietnam and Other American Fantasies) – may be disquieting.

However, Neer points out (and in part seems to lament), the image of napalm was never salvaged, except for within a sub-group of personality-types (in this text limited to the rabble) who had always enthusiastically supported its use, referring to its Vietnamese victims in racist and xenophobic terms such as “ungodly savages”, “animals” (130), etc., or with statements such as “I Back Dow [Chemical]. I Like My VC [Vietcong] Well Done” (142).These kinds of statements were often embarrassing to corporate and government officials who tried to defend their use of the chemical on “humanitarian” and other such grounds, in apparent contrast to the low-brow rabble that simply admitted it liked the idea of roasting people alive. When W. Bush used napalm and other incendiaries against personnel in his invasion of Iraq, initiated in 2003, the weapon’s reputation was then such, on balance, that the administration at first tried to deny that it was being used (e.g. 210). In academic biographies of the main inventor of napalm, Louis Fieser, Neer notes that the fire-gel goes mysteriously unmentioned.

Attention on napalm due to American use of it in Vietnam resulted in multiple experts and expert panel assessments of the weapon, and the issue was repeatedly raised in the UN General Assembly – which, since the Korean War and the rise of the decolonization climate, had drifted increasingly away from purely Western colonial, American-led control. (During the Korean War, China had not been admitted to the UN and the USSR abstained from participation [92].) In 1967, Harvard Medical School instructor Peter Reich and senior physician at Massachusetts General Hospital Victor Sidel called napalm a “chemical weapon” that causes horrific burns, and said it is particularly dangerous for children and has a devastating psychological clout. They said doctors should familiarize themselves with napalm’s effects (133). In 1968, the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution deploring “the use of chemical and biological means of warfare, including napalm bombing” (175).In 1971, the UNGA called napalm a “cruel” weapon. In 1972, it again overwhelmingly approved a resolution deploring the use of napalm “in all armed conflicts”, noting it regarded the weapon “with horror” (178).An expert panel agreed, calling napalm a “savage and cruel” “area weapon” of “total war” (176). The United States abstained from or opposed all of these overwhelmingly approved resolutions.

While napalm ultimately lost the battle for public opinion, its use today is only technically outlawed against civilians and civilian areas – an agreement reached in 1980 and finally ratified by the US, with self-exceptions of dubious legality, in 2009.

While the text is highly informative and readable, my main critique is that as it presents the reality of napalm and its use, it drifts – seemingly out of nationalistic necessity – into a partisan defense of the United States. My problem with this is that Neer does not state this position outright but argues it implicitly, through omission. Regarding WWII, defending US actions requires little work. Most people who would read this book, including myself, know that the crimes committed by Germany and Japan were perpetrated on a scale far vaster than the violent actions carried out by the US at the time. However, there is an interesting point within this observation, which Neer should be commended for not necessarily shying away from: if we imagine a parallel situation of a group attacking a second group that a) militarily attacked the first group and b) is universally recognized for performing terrible acts, it does not mean the first group is angelic and thereafter morally justified in anything it wants to do. (An example to illustrate the parallel might be Iran’s anti-ISIS campaign, which Iran is using in ways similar to how the US uses WWII, to legitimate itself and justify subsequent actions.) The first group, even if less criminal, can still be incredibly brutal, and can easily issue self-serving justifications (such as expediency, “humanitarianism”, etc.) for its brutality. This is a dynamic that may be illustrated in, for example, the fact that the US’s March 9 attack on Tokyo was and remains the single deadliest one-night act of war in world history. Germany and Japan were far worse overall at the time, but this does not mean the people in the US administration were Gandhi, or that everything the US did should be celebrated or issued blanket justification. Robert McNamara, for example, LeMay’s top lieutenant in WWII and later architect of the efficiency-maximizing “body-count” policy in Vietnam (See Turse,Kill Anything that Moves), said the firebombing of Tokyo “was a war crime” (226). Still, Neer limits understanding here, and covers for “his” side, by omitting any discussion of racism (more on this below), and may only be more willing to detail US actions because of the distance in time and the feeling that any action in WWII is justified by Germany and Japan’s unthinkable criminality. (We might also note that, for example, Zinn, in his history of the United States, argues that the US was supportive of both German and Japanese state terrorism and aggression before the two nations made their desperate go-for-broke bids for empire-extension and colonization-avoidance, and that, in terms of Germany, as the documentary record illustrates, the US was not motivated by a desire to save Jewish people.)

Regarding the Korean War, Neer’s method for “justifying” the US’s use of napalm is to omit literally everything that happened contextually before North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel, and to act as if the UN imprimatur for the Western war in Korea was meaningful, and not essentially the US approving its own war-plans. He does say that China and Russia did not participate in the UN then (China because it was not allowed and Russia by protest of China’s exclusion, according to Neer), but he does not explicitly note, as, say, does Banivanua-Mar in Decolonizing the Pacific, that the UN at this point was simply a Western colonial (and neocolonial) military alliance utterly dominated by the United States, with no opposition. Thus, UN imprimatur meant nothing like what it would mean today, when it is still highly problematic. “UN forces”, as Neer implicitly illustrates at one point, were basically US forces.[i] On the other issue, Neer has no excuse for omitting everything that happened before NK troops crossed the 38th parallel because (for other reasons) he cites Bruce Cumings, whose authoritative seminal study The Korean War: A History points out that before DPRK (NK) troops entered, the US had itself invented the 38th parallel by looking at a map and guessing the halfway point. The line was an arbitrary US creation to serve US interests and tactics, not a Korean one. The US then propped up a dictator in the South and exterminated one or two hundred thousand people before the NK troops “invaded” by crossing the US’s arbitrary line. The troops from the North, like much if not most of the population, did not accept the artificial division or the US-backed dictatorship that was exterminating people in the South. Cumings also says the US war on North Korea constituted “genocide”, and says the NK troops empirically, i.e. simply by the numbers, behaved far better than American or South Korean forces, as unacceptable as this is to the mind of a fanatically ‘anti-communist’ culture. Reckoning with the US’s pouring of “oceans of napalm”[ii]on Korea in this light thus becomes more challenging – even more so if racism is not omitted, as it also is in Neer’s account. Cumings, by contrast, notes that Americans referred to “all Koreans, North and South”, as “gooks”, and to the Chinese as “chinks”. This was part of a “logic” that said “they are savages, so that gives us a right to shower napalm on innocents.”[iii]

Neer even engages in this a bit himself, demonstrating some of what historian Dong Choon Kim notes was an attitude of dehumanization of the “other”. Kim writes that the “discourse and rhetoric that US and ROK [South Korea] elites used dehumanizing the target group (‘communists’) was similar to what has occurred in … cases of genocide”.[iv] Neer, for example, says, using the US’s self-serving ideological framing, that napalm “held the line against communism” in the 1950s and then “served with distinction” in Vietnam – characterizations seemingly intended to evoke strength, honor, and rightness.

Neer also says China “invaded” North Korea (96). This is false. The US didn’t like it, but China was invited into North Korea by the DPRK regime. Unlike the US, China did not cross the US’s 38th parallel. The characterization of China as invader in this context is also curious given that Neer never once says the US (or UN) invaded North Korea or Vietnam. US actions are thus never characterized as invasions, while China’s invited defense of North Korea, which remained entirely within that territory, is.

Regarding Vietnam, Neer again justifies US action through omission of context such as the Geneva Accords of 1954[v]and the US’s own findings that the vast majority of the Vietnamese population supported the independence/anti-colonial/communist movement that the US was trying to prevent from holding the nationwide unification vote mandated by the Geneva Accords. Also interestingly in this chapter, Neer gives his only editorial characterization of the use of napalm as an “atrocity” – in describing a “Vietcong” use of napalm, which Neer says the Vietcong barely used – flamethrowers were a small part of their arsenal. Yet a relatively minor use of napalm by the “Vietcong” merits a casual editorial value-judgment by Neer as an “atrocity” while no other action in the text does so.

Neer at one point says that Cuba and the USSR used napalm against “pro-Western forces in Angola in 1978” (194). In this case, omission is used to condemn, rather than justify, napalm use, since Neer fails to mention that those “pro-Western forces”, which indeed were pro-Western and US-supported, were Apartheid regimes massacring black people and trying to maintain openly white supremacist dictatorships. Thus, when the nature of a regime serves the purpose of justifying American use of napalm, it is highlighted, but when, if the same logic were applied, it might “justify” a non-Western use of napalm, the nature of the regime is imbued with a positive hue as “pro-Western” – thus implicitly condemning the nonwestern forces’ use of napalm.

One gets virtually zero sense in the book of the prevalence of racism in US culture during these time periods. It is reduced to a couple of unknown, fringe civilians making comments in favor of napalm – comments then contrasted with the more sophisticated producers of napalm, who are characterized as embarrassed by the ugly racist remarks. The omission of racism stands in sharp contrast to many other histories of the eras, such as Dower’s history of WWII (War Without Mercy), in which he notes that an exterminationist ethos towards the Japanese was present in a minority of the US population generally, but much more prevalent in elite political circles carrying out the US’s military actions. Dehumanizing terms like “Jap” and “gook” are thus never mentioned once in Neer’s text, though they were used all the time. One gets the sense that Neer feels that including the extent of American racism (even race-law; see Hitler’s American Model, by Whitman, or The Color of the Law, by Rothstein) along with his accounts of America blanketing defenseless Asian cities with napalm would allow an image of the US that, though historically accurate, would be too unpalatable to be acceptable.

All of this may not be completely surprising given that Neer teaches a course about US history called “Empire of Liberty”, which, for example, includes two texts by Max Boot, often regarded as a “neocon”. I have no issue, in theory, with taking this position, but if doing so requires omissions as large as some of those mentioned above, in at least one case even flirting with genocide-denial, or at least avoidance of the debate, (i.e., completely omitting US-backed South Korean dictatorship), I start to question the position’s validity.

Overall, though, if one wants to learn about napalm and some things it illustrates about US history and ideology, this text should certainly be read – in conjunction with others that give a fuller picture of the reality of the times.

Notes:

[i]Neer notes that Eighth Army Chemical Engineer Corps officer Bode said that of the approx. 70,000 pounds of napalm being thrown on Korea on “a good day”, about 60,000 pounds of this was thrown by US forces. P. 99.

[ii]Cumings, Bruce. The Korean War: A History. Modern Library. 2011. P. 145.

[Iii]Ibid. p. 81, 153.

[iv]Kim, Dong Choon. “Forgotten War, Forgotten Massacres—the Korean War (1950–1953) as Licensed Mass Killings.”Journal of Genocide Research, vol. 6, no. 4, 2004, pp. 523–544. P. 17.

[v]Neer does mention other Vietnam-related events in the 1950s, thus giving at least some broader context.

Robert J. Barsocchini is working on a Master’s thesis in American Studies. Years serving as a cross-cultural intermediary for corporations in the film and Television industry sparked his interest in discrepancies between Western self-image and reality.

Trump’s Anti-Russian/Anti-Iranian Economic Warfare Empowered Caspian Sea Convention and Sealed Long-Stalled Delimitation Treaty

At the Caspian Summit. From left: the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan .
At the Caspian Summit. From left: the presidents of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan . Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/Tass

Vladimir Putin met the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, on Sunday at the close of a dramatic week in which each had been threatened with punishing economic sanctions by the US.

But they were not meeting to publicly agree a united response to the act of “economic warfare”, as Russia described the sanctions. The two presidents were in the small Kazakh coastal city of Aktau to sign a legal convention on the Caspian Sea.

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations – Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan – agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water, which bridges Asia and Europe and has reserves of oil and gas as well as being a habitat for sturgeon.

Diplomats described the document as a regional constitution.

Putin told a room where presidents and foreign ministers were present: “Our summit is exceptional if not truly epoch making.”

Rouhani was more circumspect: “Today we have taken a very important step but we should recognise there are more important issues that need to be addressed.” He thanked his Caspian partners for their support since the withdrawal by the US from the nuclear deal known as the joint comprehensive plan of action.

This was a hard-won diplomatic victory. As late as last week Iranian analysts reported that Tehran was “50:50” on whether to sign. The main sticking point was how to apportion the seabed. Many favour division by a line equidistant from the five coastlines, but Iran – with the smallest coastline – does not.

Russia was reluctant to allow Turkmenistan to pursue its proposed 300km gas pipeline to Azerbaijan, which would open up its huge, cheap, gas reserves to a European market at present dominated by Gazprom.

The solution, it seems, has been to keep the wording vague and delay divisive decisions. On Sunday the five nations agreed to 15 miles of sovereign waters, in addition to a further 10 nautical miles of fishing area, beyond which there would be common waters.

“What does this mean? Who knows,” one delegate told the Guardian. “The lawyers will have to tell you.”

The thorny issue of how to split up the hydrocarbon-rich subsoil territory has been put off. Reading from the convention document, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, the Kazakh foreign minister, told the press: “The methodology for establishing state base lines shall be determined in a separate agreement among all the parties according to this convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. This is a key phrase, especially important for our Iranian partners.”

The Caspian Sea, which was once controlled by Iran, is a sensitive issue for that country. It lost the northern part of the sea in a defeat by Russia in the 1820s and the loss seems still traumatic. Rouhani’s critics will paint any perceived concession at the summit as national betrayal.

But Rouhani is not well placed to quibble with his neighbours. Since the US president, Donald Trump, issued his twitter threat to unleash “the most biting sanctions ever imposed” on Iran with a promise that “anyone doing business with Iran will not be doing business with the United States”, Tehran has been scrambling to fill dangerous new holes in its economy.

Its preference has long been to reach for trade and diplomatic partnerships in Europe but now the US has effectively cut this market off, Iran has been forced to turn to Russia, China and its regional allies to keep its economy afloat.

Asked if they feared sanctions on the two big regional players would undermine the Caspian’s trading potential, Aktau delegates responded with wait-and-see pragmatism.

“We will have to look into this issue, but for us Iran is an opportunity. It’s a huge country and a huge market. We should not miss this opportunity of cooperating with them,” said a senior Kazakh diplomat. “Iran is our neighbour and our inevitable partner.”

Trump’s goal to reduce Iranian oil sales to zero by November is looking increasingly implausible. On Friday, Iran’s biggest oil customer, China, said it would keep doing business with Iran. Rouhani would have used his bilateral meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the summit to seek similar assurances.

“Putin and Rouhani have very good personal relations. They understand each other,” Stanislav Pritchin, a political analyst and Caspian Sea expert said. “They will discuss sanctions and how to deal with the new circumstances – also the Syrian situation, especially Israel’s attempts to force Iranian troops from Syrian territory, which is completely unacceptable for Iran. But the Russian media won’t cover these meetings. The signing of the convention is the real outcome – that is the great success.”

A legally binding convention that prevents Caspian nations from opening their borders to third-party aggressors – such as the US or Nato – or allowing any foreign military presence at all on Caspian waters is a triumph for Putin. For Rouhani, a strategic display of Russian support is more pressing.

Ariane Tabatabai, a political scientist and co-author of Triple Axis, Iran’s relations with Russia and China, said: “Rouhani needs to indicate to [the Iranian] public he’s doing everything he can to address their economic grievances and reassure the population it’s not isolated. That’s been the major talking point for the Iranian government in the past few weeks.

“The best possible outcome for the Iranians will be to walk away with something tangible to take back to Tehran that says we’re doing just fine with or without US sanctions.”

But bound by sanctions of its own Russia has not got much to give in the way of economic lifelines. The best Putin can offer is assistance in developing Iranian gas fields or some form of cooperation between state-owned institutions already blighted by existing sanctions and written off as toxic.

When it comes to substantial reassurances which Rouhani can take back to an anxious Tehran, an awkward alliance with some trade-friendly neighbours might have to do.

Combative Saudi foreign policy stirs international ire

Saudi Arabia and Their “Toy Prince” Really Pissing-Off the World

[SEE: Saudis Want Global Gag On Criticism of Wahhabism (Counterfeit Islam)]

[SEE: Clinton Working To Implement “Universal Blasphemy Law” To Prevent Criticism of Wahabbi Islam ]

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has sought to tame critics with an aggressive foreign policy, but a deadly air raid in Yemen following an acrimonious spat with Canada will only amplify international pressure on the country, according to analysts.

An air strike by the Saudi-led coalition hit a bus in rebel-held northern Yemen on Thursday, killing over 20 schoolchildren, with the United States and United Nations both calling for an investigation.

The coalition insisted Houthi rebel combatants were aboard the bus, but international media have photographed dazed and bloodied children flooding into hospitals struggling to cope with a three-year conflict that the UN has dubbed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The war is becoming increasingly unpopular with the international community, including in the US Congress,” Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst in Washington, said.

“(This) attack has unfortunately become the norm and not the exception.”

The coalition has repeatedly been accused of striking civilians in Yemen since it launched an intervention in 2015 to try to restore the internationally recognised government after the Iran-backed Houthi rebels drove it out of the capital Sanaa.

The coalition called Thursday’s strike a “legitimate military action” in response to a rebel missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan city a day earlier that resulted in the death of a Yemeni national.

But that did not quell the outpouring of global condemnation.

“No excuses anymore!” tweeted Geert Cappelaere, Unicef’s regional director in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Does the world really need more innocent children’s lives to stop the cruel war on children in Yemen?” Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, tweeted.

“Grotesque, shameful, indignant. Blatant disregard for rules of war when bus carrying innocent schoolchildren is fair game for attack.”

‘Shutting the door to criticism’

The bombing raid, part of an intervention that reflects Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s increasingly assertive foreign policy, follows the country’s diplomatic rupture with Canada earlier this week.

Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy and froze all new trade and investments after Ottawa publicly demanded the “immediate release” of rights campaigners jailed in the country.

A furious Riyadh also moved to pull out thousands of Saudi students from Canadian universities, state airline Saudia suspended flights to Toronto, and Riyadh pledged to stop all medical treatment programmes in Canada.

The Saudi reaction could impinge on its efforts to attract badly needed foreign investment to fund its ambitious reform plan to pivot the economy away from oil, experts say.

The move illustrates how Saudi Arabia is unwilling to brook any criticism — foreign or domestic — under its young crown prince.

“The top leadership is not particularly concerned with Canada’s global influence,” said analysis firm Eurasia Group.

“Instead, it is interested in shutting the door to broader criticism, also from European countries, and on other issues in the future.”

But Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to back down and asserted that his country will continue to speak out on human rights.

Saudi officials privately insist that respect for cultural sensitivities and closed-door diplomatic engagement is a more effective approach than public denunciations.

Growing discontent

Canada is quietly consulting Germany and Sweden — targets of previous Saudi backlashes for calling out the kingdom over human rights abuses — to help resolve the row, according to a government source.

Canada also plans to reach out to regional heavyweight the United Arab Emirates and to Britain, which has strong historical ties to Saudi Arabia. Canada has expressed disappointment that Western powers including the US — which has provided arms worth billions of dollars to the Saudi-led coalition — did not publicly support Ottawa.

“Absent a strong US voice (under President Donald Trump) on human rights and democratic values, Arab leaders have become less willing to tolerate Western advice on either political refo­rm or governance,” said the Eurasia Group.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2018

Saudi Arabia and Their “Toy Prince” Really Pissing-Off the World

[SEE: Saudis Want Global Gag On Criticism of Wahhabism (Counterfeit Islam)]

The Guardian view on Saudi Arabia: time to back Canada

Riyadh’s thin-skinned response to Ottawa’s justified criticism is intended as a warning to others. Europe should take heed

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Photograph: Abd Rabbo Ammar/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock 

It is famously hard to pick a fight with Canadians, but Saudi Arabia’s forceful crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is not a man to be held back by what others think. That trait has led to both reforms (allowing women to drive) and a crackdown on those advocating them (arresting women who campaigned for the right). When Ottawa responded by calling for the immediate release of peaceful activists, including Samar Badawi, who has family in Canada, Riyadh lashed out at what it called reprehensible interference in its internal affairs. It expelled the Canadian ambassador, cancelled flights to Canada, froze new trade and investment, and is reportedly selling Canadian assets. Some measures – withdrawing students, and transferring home patients currently undergoing treatment – seem more damaging to those Saudi citizens than their hosts.

This absurd overreaction reflects the bullishness of the man who led the charge to war in Yemen and the blockade which has failed to bring Qatar to its knees as planned. But he has surely been emboldened by Donald Trump’s embrace, and the US president’s own attacks on Canada. It was little surprise when the state department said it would stay out of this row; more disappointing is the reticence of others. The UK has merely urged restraint on its two “close partners” and said it regularly raises rights concerns, including recent arrests.

Riyadh is sending a message to others, and while these measures are harsh, they are not entirely unprecedented: German businesses have reportedly paid for Berlin’s criticism of Riyadh’s role in Lebanese politics last year. It is in European countries’ own interests to stand together and tell the crown prince that such actions are not cost-free for Saudi Arabia. Like his anti-corruption coup, they are unlikely to reassure potential partners; and his mission to modernise the kingdom will require foreign support.

AP Blasts US Support To Pro al-Qaida Coalition In Yemen

ATAQ, Yemen (AP) — Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West.

Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot.

That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.

These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.

The black al-Qaida flag is sprayed on the wall of a damaged school in Taiz. (AP Photo)

The deals uncovered by the AP reflect the contradictory interests of the two wars being waged simultaneously in this southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

In one conflict, the U.S. is working with its Arab allies — particularly the United Arab Emirates — with the aim of eliminating the branch of extremists known as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP. But the larger mission is to win the civil war against the Houthis, Iranian-backed Shiite rebels. And in that fight, al-Qaida militants are effectively on the same side as the Saudi-led coalition — and, by extension, the United States.

“Elements of the U.S. military are clearly aware that much of what the U.S. is doing in Yemen is aiding AQAP and there is much angst about that,” said Michael Horton, a fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a U.S. analysis group that tracks terrorism.

“However, supporting the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against what the U.S. views as Iranian expansionism takes priority over battling AQAP and even stabilizing Yemen,” Horton said.

The AP’s findings are based on reporting in Yemen and interviews with two dozen officials, including Yemeni security officers, militia commanders, tribal mediators and four members of al-Qaida’s branch. All but a few of those sources spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. Emirati-backed factions, like most armed groups in Yemen, have been accused of abducting or killing their critics.

Coalition-backed militias actively recruit al-Qaida militants, or those who were recently members, because they’re considered exceptional fighters, the AP found.

The coalition forces are comprised of a dizzying mix of militias, factions, tribal warlords and tribes with very local interests. And AQAP militants are intertwined with many of them.

Adnan Rouzek, center, stands with fighters in Taiz. (AP Photo)

One Yemeni commander who was put on the U.S. terrorism list for al-Qaida ties last year continues to receive money from the UAE to run his militia, his own aide told the AP. Another commander, recently granted $12 million for his fighting force by Yemen’s president, has a known al-Qaida figure as his closest aide.

In one case, a tribal mediator who brokered a deal between the Emiratis and al-Qaida even gave the extremists a farewell dinner.

Horton said much of the war on al-Qaida by the UAE and its allied militias is a “farce.”

“It is now almost impossible to untangle who is AQAP and who is not since so many deals and alliances have been made,” he said.

The U.S. has sent billions of dollars in weapons to the coalition to fight the Iran-backed Houthis. U.S. advisers also give the coalition intelligence used in targeting on-the-ground adversaries in Yemen, and American jets provide air-to-air refueling for coalition war planes. The U.S. does not fund the coalition, however, and there is no evidence that American money went to AQAP militants.

The U.S. is aware of an al-Qaida presence among the anti-Houthi ranks, a senior American official told reporters in Cairo earlier this year. Because coalition members back militias with hard-line Islamic commanders, “it’s very, very easy for al-Qaida to insinuate itself into the mix,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under the terms of the briefing.

More recently, the Pentagon vigorously denied any complicity with al-Qaida militants.

“Since the beginning of 2017, we have conducted more than 140 strikes to remove key AQAP leaders and disrupt its ability to use ungoverned spaces to recruit, train and plan operations against the U.S. and our partners across the region,” Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, wrote in an email to the AP.

A senior Saudi official commented by saying that the Saudi-led coalition “continues its commitment to combat extremism and terrorism.”

An Emirati government spokesman did not reply to questions from the AP.

But on Monday, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted that the UAE-backed counter-terrorism strategy is working. He said it had “removed” thousands of militants and deprived them of safe havens.

AQAP is “at its weakest since 2012,” he wrote, adding that the UAE and its allies “have all lost troops in the fight.”

The coalition began fighting in Yemen in 2015 after the Houthis overran the north, including the capital, Sanaa. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are determined to stop what they consider a move by their nemesis, Iran, to take over Yemen, and their professed aim is to restore the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

Al-Qaida is leveraging the chaos to its advantage.

“The United States is certainly in a bind in Yemen,” said Katherine Zimmerman, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “It doesn’t make sense that the United States has identified al-Qaida as a threat, but that we have common interests inside of Yemen and that, in some places, it looks like we’re looking the other way.”

Within this complicated conflict, al-Qaida says its numbers — which U.S. officials have estimated at 6,000 to 8,000 members — are rising.

An al-Qaida commander who helps organize deployments told the AP that the front lines against the Houthis provide fertile ground to recruit new members.

The black al-Qaida flag and the slogan in Arabic “al-Qaida passed here,” on the right wall, are sprayed on a damaged school that was turned into a religious court in the southern city of Taiz.

“Meaning, if we send 20, we come back with 100,” he said.

The well-known commander communicated with AP via a secure messaging app on condition of anonymity because he had no authorization from the group to talk to the news media.

___

The Associated Press reported this story with help from a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

___

A FAREWELL DINNER FOR AL-QAIDA

In February, Emirati troops and their Yemeni militia allies flashed victory signs to TV cameras as they declared the recapture of al-Said, a district of villages running through the mountainous province of Shabwa — an area al-Qaida had largely dominated for nearly three years.

It was painted as a crowning victory in a months-long offensive, Operation Swift Sword, that the Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had proclaimed would “disrupt the terrorist organization’s network and degrade its ability to conduct future attacks.”

The Pentagon, which assisted with a small number of troops, echoed that promise, saying the mission would weaken the group’s ability to use Yemen as a base.

But weeks before those forces’ entry, a string of pickup trucks mounted with machine guns and loaded with masked al-Qaida militants drove out of al-Said unmolested, according to a tribal mediator involved in the deal for their withdrawal.

The U.S. has killed al-Qaida’s top leaders in a drone strike campaign that accelerated in recent years. But in this victory — as in the others touted by the coalition — the mediator said armed U.S. drones were absent, despite the large, obvious convoy.

Under the terms of the deal, the coalition promised al-Qaida members it would pay them to leave, according to Awad al-Dahboul, the province’s security chief. His account was confirmed by the mediator and two Yemeni government officials.

Al-Dahboul said about 200 al-Qaida members received payments. He did not learn the exact amounts, but said he knew that 100,000 Saudi rials ($26,000) were paid to one al-Qaida commander — in the presence of Emiratis.

Under the accord, thousands of local tribal fighters were to be enlisted in the UAE-funded Shabwa Elite Force militia. For every 1,000 fighters, 50 to 70 would be al-Qaida members, the mediator and two officials said.

Saleh bin Farid al-Awlaqi, a pro-Emirati tribal leader who was the founder of one Elite Force branch, denied any agreements were made. He said he and others enticed young al-Qaida members in Shabwa to defect, which weakened the group, forcing it to withdraw on its own. He said about 150 fighters who defected were allowed into the Elite Force, but only after they underwent a “repentance” program.

A former al-Qaida commander, Harith al-Ezzi, walks through streets destroyed in fighting in the southern Yemeni city of Taiz. (AP Photo)

The clearing of al-Qaida from Shabwa and other provinces did not completely take place without fighting. Clashes erupted in some villages, usually with al-Qaida remnants that refused to play ball.

One former al-Qaida member told the AP that he and his comrades turned down an offer of money from the Emiratis. In response, he said, an Elite Force squad besieged them in the town of Hawta until they withdrew.

Overall, deals that took place during both the Obama and Trump administrations have secured al-Qaida militants’ withdrawal from multiple major towns and cities that the group seized in 2015, the AP found. The earliest pact, in the spring of 2016, allowed thousands of al-Qaida fighters to pull out of Mukalla, Yemen’s fifth-largest city and a major port on the Arabian Sea.

The militants were guaranteed a safe route out and allowed to keep weapons and cash looted from the city — up to $100 million by some estimates — according to five sources, including military, security and government officials.

“Coalition fighter jets and U.S. drones were idle,” said a senior tribal leader who saw the convoy leaving. “I was wondering why they didn’t strike them.”

A tribal sheikh shuttled between AQAP leaders in Mukalla and Emirati officials in Aden to seal the deal, according to a former senior Yemeni commander.

Coalition-backed forces moved in two days later, announcing that hundreds of militants were killed and hailing the capture as “part of joint international efforts to defeat the terrorist organizations in Yemen.”

No witnesses reported militants killed, however. “We woke up one day and al-Qaida had vanished without a fight,” a local journalist said, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Soon after, another accord was struck for AQAP to pull out of six towns in the province of Abyan, including its capital, Zinjibar, according to five tribal mediators involved in the negotiations.

Again, the central provision was that the coalition and U.S. drones cease all bombings as AQAP pulled out with its weapons, the mediators said.

The agreement also included a provision that 10,000 local tribesmen — including 250 al-Qaida militants — be incorporated into the Security Belt, the UAE-backed Yemeni force in the area, four Yemeni officials said.

For nearly a week in May 2016, the militants departed in trucks. One of the mediators told the AP that he threw the last of the departing fighters a farewell dinner among his olive and lemon orchards when they stopped at his farm to pay their respects.

Another mediator, Tarek al-Fadhli, a former jihadi once trained by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, said he was in touch with officials at the U.S. Embassy and in the Saudi-led coalition, keeping them updated on the withdrawal.

“When the last one left, we called the coalition to say they are gone,” he said.

___

‘WE WILL UNITE WITH THE DEVIL’

To think of al-Qaida as an international terror group is to miss its other reality. For many Yemenis, it is simply another faction on the ground — a very effective one, well-armed and battle-hardened.

Its members are not shadowy strangers. Over the years, AQAP has woven itself into society by building ties with tribes, buying loyalties and marrying into major families.

Power players often see it as a useful tool.

Hadi’s predecessor as Yemen’s president, long-ruling strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, set the model. He took billions in U.S. aid to combat al-Qaida after the 9/11 attacks, even as he recruited its militants to fight his rivals. Hadi’s current vice president, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a military chief for decades, also has been accused of enlisting jihadis.

An explosion raises a cloud as coalition-backed fighters advance on the Red Sea port town of Mocha. (AP Photo)

In that light, it would almost be more startling if the militants were not involved against the Houthis, especially since al-Qaida militants are extremist Sunnis seeking the defeat of the Shiite rebels.

Al-Qaida militants are present on all major front lines fighting the rebels, Khaled Baterfi, a senior leader in the group, said in a previously unpublished 2015 interview with a local journalist obtained by the AP.

Last month, Baterfi said in a Q&A session distributed by al-Qaida that “those at the front lines for sure know of our participation, which is either actual fighting with our brothers in Yemen or supporting them with weapons.”

Al-Qaida has reduced attacks against Hadi’s and Emirati-linked forces because assailing them would benefit the Houthis, Baterfi said.

The branch is following guidance from al-Qaida’s worldwide leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, to focus on fighting the rebels, another top AQAP member said in written answers to the AP.

In some places, militants join battles independently. But in many cases, militia commanders from the ultraconservative Salafi sect and the Muslim Brotherhood bring them directly into their ranks, where they benefit from coalition funding, the AP found. The Brotherhood’s Yemen branch is a powerful hard-line Islamic political organization allied to Hadi.

Two of the four main coalition-backed commanders along the Red Sea coast are allies of al-Qaida, the al-Qaida member said. The coalition has made major advances on the coast, and is currently battling for the port of Hodeida.

Video footage shot by the AP in January 2017 showed a coalition-backed unit advancing on Mocha, part of an eventually successful campaign to recapture the Red Sea town.

Some of the unit’s fighters were openly al-Qaida, wearing Afghan-style garb and carrying weapons with the group’s logo. As they climbed behind machine guns in pick-up trucks, explosions from coalition airstrikes could be seen on the horizon.

An AQAP member interviewed in person by the AP in May viewed the video and confirmed the fighters belonged to his group. His affiliation is known from his past involvement in AQAP’s rule over a southern city.

The impact of the intertwining of al-Qaida fighters with the coalition campaign is clearest in Taiz, Yemen’s largest city and center of one of the war’s longest running battles.

In the central highlands, Taiz is Yemen’s cultural capital, a historic source of poets and writers and educated technocrats. In 2015, the Houthis laid siege to the city, occupying surrounding mountain ranges, sealing the entrances and shelling it mercilessly.

Taiz residents rose up to fight back, and coalition cash and weapons poured in — as did al-Qaida and Islamic State militants, all aimed at the same enemy.

One liberal activist took up arms alongside other men from his neighborhood to defend the city, and they found themselves fighting side by side with al-Qaida members.

“There is no filtering in the war. We are all together,” said the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said commanders received weapons and other aid from the coalition and distributed it to all the fighters, including al-Qaida militants.

Abdel-Sattar al-Shamiri, a former adviser to Taiz’s governor, said he recognized al-Qaida’s presence from the start and told commanders not to recruit members.

“Their response was, ‘We will unite with the devil in the face of Houthis,’” al-Shamiri said.

He said he warned coalition officials, who were “upset” but took no action.

“Taiz is in danger,” al-Shamiri said. “We will get rid of the Houthis and we will be stuck with terrorist groups.”

Coalition-backed fighters help a wounded man during an advance on Yemen’s Red Sea port town of Mocha. (AP Photo)

The activist and officials in the city said one of the main recruiters of al-Qaida fighters is Adnan Rouzek, a Salafi member tapped by Hadi to be a top military commander.

Rouzek’s militia became notorious for kidnappings and street killings, with one online video showing its masked members shooting a kneeling, blindfolded man. Its videos feature al-Qaida-style anthems and banners.

Rouzek’s top aide was a senior al-Qaida figure who escaped from a prison in Aden in 2008 along with other AQAP detainees, according to a Yemeni security official. Multiple photos seen by the AP show Rouzek with known al-Qaida commanders in recent years.

In November, Hadi named Rouzek head of the Taiz Operations Rooms, coordinating the military campaign, and top commander of a new fighting force, the 5th Presidential Protection Battalion. Hadi’s Defense Ministry also gave Rouzek $12 million for a new offensive against the Houthis. The AP obtained copy of a receipt for the $12 million and a Rouzek aide confirmed the figure.

Rouzek denied any connection to militants, telling the AP that “there is no presence of al-Qaida” in Taiz.

Another coalition-backed warlord is on the U.S. list of designated terrorists due to his ties to al-Qaida.

The warlord, a Salafi known as Sheikh Aboul Abbas, has received millions of dollars from the coalition to distribute among anti-Houthi factions, according to his aide, Adel al-Ezzi. Despite being put on the U.S. list in October, the UAE continues to fund him, al-Ezzi told the AP.

The aide denied any links to militants and dismissed his boss’s designation on the U.S. terror list. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that “al-Qaida has fought on all the front lines alongside all factions.”

Right after the AP team spoke to him in Taiz, the team saw al-Ezzi meeting with a known senior al-Qaida figure, warmly hugging him outside the home of another former AQAP commander.

Aboul Abbas runs a coalition-funded militia controlling several districts in Taiz. A 2016 video produced by al-Qaida shows militants in black uniforms with al-Qaida’s logo fighting alongside other militias in districts known to be under his control.

A former security official in Taiz said militants and Aboul Abbas’ forces attacked security headquarters in 2017 and freed a number of al-Qaida suspects. The officer said he reported the attack to the coalition, only to learn soon after that it gave Aboul Abbas 40 more pick-up trucks.

“The more we warn, the more they are rewarded,” the officer said. “Al-Qaida leaders have armored vehicles given to them by the coalition while security commanders don’t have such vehicles.”

___

Wilson contributed from Washington. Keath contributed from Beirut. AP correspondent Desmond Butler also contributed to this report.

Malaysia shuts down Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre

Petrosaudi, The Next Embarrassment for Malaysia and Saudi Royals

Malaysia To Withdraw Troops Stationed In Saudi Arabia, Who Were NEVER Part of Grand Coalition

Malaysia shuts down Saudi-backed anti-terrorism centre

 

Mahathir’s reforms could put Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the spot

Newly elected Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir is adopting policies that could reshape the Southeast nation’s relations with powerful Gulf states.

A series of anti-corruption measures as well as statements by Mr. Mahathir and his defense minister, Mohamad (Mat) Sabu, since this month’s upset in elections that ousted Prime Minister Najib Razak from office, are sparking concern in both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Mahathir, who has cautioned in recent years against widespread anti-Shiite sectarianism in Malaysia, has questioned together with Mr. Sabu Malaysia’s counterterrorism cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Mahathir has also reinvigorated anti-corruption investigations of Mr. Razak,  whom Qatari media have described as “Saudi-backed.”

Mr. Razak is suspected of having syphoned off billions of dollars from state-owned strategic development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The fund as well as Saudi and UAE entities allegedly connected to the affair are under investigation in at least six countries, including the United States, Switzerland and Singapore.

Apparently anticipating a possible change in relations, political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, whose views are often seen as reflecting UAE government thinking, disparaged Mr. Mahathir and the Malaysian vote days after the results were announced.

Mr. Abdullah focused on Mr. Mahathir’s age. At 92, Mr. Mahathir is the world’s oldest elected leader.

Mr Abdulla also harped on the fact that Mr. Mahathir had been Mr. Razak’s mentor before defecting to the opposition and forging an alliance with Anwar Ibrahim, Mr. Mahathir’s former deputy prime minister and an Islamist believed to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he helped put behind bars.

UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is known for his intense opposition to political Islam, including the Brotherhood.

“Malaysia seems to lack wise men, leaders, statesmen and youth to elect a 92-year-old who suddenly turned against his own party and his own allies and made a suspicious deal with his own political opponent whom he previously imprisoned after fabricating the most heinous of charges against him. This is politics as a curse and democracy as wrath,” Mr. Abdulla said on Twitter, two days after the election.

Similarly, Malaysian officials have signalled changing attitudes towards the Gulf. Seri Mohd Shukri Abdull, Mr. Mahathir’s newly appointed anti-corruption czar, who resigned from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) in 2016 as a result of pressure to drop plans to indict Mr. Razak, noted that “we have had difficulties dealing with Arab countries (such as) Qatar, Saudi Arabia, (and the) UAE.”

Those difficulties are likely to recur.

Mr. Sabu, the new defense minister, noted in a commentary late last year that Saudi (and UAE) wrath was directed “oddly, (at) Turkey, Qatar, and Iran…three countries that have undertaken some modicum of political and economic reforms. Instead of encouraging all sides to work together, Saudi Arabia has gone on an offensive in Yemen, too. Therein the danger posed to Malaysia: if Malaysia is too close to Saudi Arabia, Putrajaya would be asked to choose a side.”

Putrajaya, a city south of Kuala Lumpur, is home to the prime minister’s residence and a bridge with four minaret-type piers that is inspired by Iranian architecture.

Mr. Sabu went on to say that “Malaysia should not be too close to a country whose internal politics are getting toxic… For the lack of a better word, Saudi Arabia is a cesspool of constant rivalry among the princes. By this token, it is also a vortex that could suck any country into its black hole if one is not careful. Indeed, Saudi Arabia is governed by hyper-orthodox Salafi or Wahhabi ideology, where Islam is taken in a literal form. Yet true Islam requires understanding Islam, not merely in its Quranic form, but Quranic spirit.”

Since coming to office, Mr. Sabu has said that he was reviewing plans for a Saudi-funded anti-terrorism centre, the King Salman Centre for International Peace (KSCIP), which was allocated 16 hectares of land in Putrajaya by the Razak government. Mr. Sabu was echoing statements by Mr. Mahathir before the election.

The opening of the centre was twice postponed because Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cancelled his planned attendance. Malaysian officials said the kingdom had yet to contribute promised funds for the centre.

Shahriman Lockman, an analyst with the Kuala Lumpur-based Institute of Strategic and International Studies cautioned that Malaysia would have manoeuvre carefully.

“Whether we like it or not, whatever we think of them, Saudi Arabia is a major player in the Muslim world and in the Middle East. Their administration of the haj makes it crucial for Muslim-majority countries to get along with them,” Mr. Lockman said.

The fact that Mr. Mahathir’s election has sparked hopes that he will move Malaysia away from Mr. Razak’s embrace of Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative Islam as a political tool, despite the prime minister’s history of prejudice towards Jews and past anti-Shiite record, is likely to reinforce Saudi and UAE concern that his moves could favour Iran.

Mr. Mahathir has vacillated in his statements between banning Shiism to avert sectarianism and calling on Sunni Muslims in Malaysia to accept the country’s miniscule Shiite minority as a way of avoiding domestic strife.

What is likely to concern the Saudis most is the fact that Mr. Mahathir has said that  accepting Shiites as fellow Muslims was necessary because of the growth of the Iranian expatriate community in Malaysia. Analysts say the presence has sparked a greater awareness of Shiism and Sunni animosity because of Mr. Razak’s divisive policies.

Saudi and UAE worries about the reinvigorated anti-corruption investigation are rooted in the potential implication in the scandal of a Saudi commercial company, members of the Saudi ruling family, and UAE state-owned entities and officials.

The investigation is likely to revisit 1MDB relationship’s with Saudi energy company PetroSaudi International Ltd, owned by Saudi businessman Tarek Essam Ahmad Obaid as well as prominent members of the kingdom’s ruling family who allegedly funded Mr. Razak.

It will not have been lost on Saudi Arabia and the UAE that Mr. Mahathir met with former PetroSaudi executive and whistle blower Xavier Andre Justo less than two weeks after his election victory.

A three-part BBC documentary, The House of Saud: A Family at War, suggested that Mr. Razak had worked with Prince Turki bin Abdullah, the son of former Saudi King Abdullah, to syphon off funds from 1MDB.

UAE-owned, Swiss-based Falcon Bank has also been linked to the scandal while leaked emails documented a close relationship between Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE’s high-profile ambassador to the United States and confidante of Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and controversial Malaysian financier Jho Low, a 27-year-old Wharton graduate who helped Mr. Razak run 1MDB.

The Wall Street Journal, citing not only emails, but also US court and investigative documents, reported last year that companies connected to Mr. Otaiba had received $66 million from entities investigators say acted as conduits for money allegedly stolen from 1MDB.

The UAE embassy in Washington declined to comment at the time but admitted that Mr. Oteiba had private business interests unrelated to his diplomatic role. The embassy charged that the leaked emails were part of an effort to tarnish his reputation.

Bank statements and financial documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal suggest that Khadem al Qubaisi, a director of an Abu Dhabi-owned investment company, who has also been implicated in the scandal, facilitated the purchase by UAE deputy prime minister Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s brother of a $500 million yacht with 1MDB funds.Khadem al Qubaisi

“The impact of this election will reverberate far beyond Malaysia’s borders,” said Asia director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue Michael Vatikiotis.

Mr. Vatikiotis was looking primarily at the fallout of Mr. Mahathir’s victory in Southeast Asia and China. His analysis is however equally valid for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where it could also prove to be embarrassing.

 

Saudis Continue Reign of Video Terrorism…This Time the Threat Is Against Canada

https://youtu.be/gIqCPuto9gU

[Here is a previous Saudi-produced video portraying a shoot-down of a Qatari jet.]

Saudi Arabia appeared to threaten Canada with a 9/11-style attack in a feud over human rights

saudi arabia canada tweet
Saudi state-run media’s message to Canada.  @infographic_KSA

 

  • Saudi Arabia’s state media on Monday tweeted a graphic appearing to show an Air Canada airliner heading toward the Toronto skyline in a way that recalled the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
  • Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador after an official account called for the release of detained women’s rights activists in the kingdom.
  • Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens, and Osama bin Laden, the attack’s mastermind, was a Saudi who has family there.
  • The Saudi media account deleted the tweet and reposted another without the airliner.

Saudi Arabia’s state media on Monday tweeted a graphic appearing to show an Air Canada airliner heading toward the Toronto skyline in a way that recalled the September 11, 2001, terrorist hijackings of airliners that struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

The graphic warned of “Sticking one’s nose where it doesn’t belong!” and included the text, “As the Arabic saying goes: ‘He who interferes with what doesn’t concern him finds what doesn’t please him.'”

Last week, Global Affairs Canada tweeted that it was “gravely concerned” about a new wave of arrests in the kingdom targeting women’s rights activists and urged their immediate release

Saudi Arabian citizens comprised 15 of the 19 hijackers that crashed planes on September 11. The attacks’ organizer, Osama Bin Laden, came from a prominent Saudi family and still has family there including a son who the Bin Ladens say is looking to avenge his father.

Saudi Arabia has already expelled Canada’s ambassador and frozen all new trade and investment with Ottawa in response to the criticism.

The tweet came from @ Infographic_ksa , an account that had just hours before tweeted another infographic titled “Death to the dictator” featuring an image of the supreme leader of Iran, Saudi’s main regional rival.

Saudi Arabia has long stood accused of funding radical Muslim Imams around the world and spreading a violent ideology called Wahabbism. Under the new leadership of young ruler Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has undertaken a number of sweeping reforms looking to reduce the funding for and spread of radical ideology as well as elevate human rights.

But a surge of arrests apparently targeting prominent women’s rights activists who previously campaigned to abolish the country’s driving ban against women has caused international alarm and prompted the tweet from Canada.

Saudi Arabia deleted the tweet featuring the plane and later reuploaded one without the airliner pictured.

Failed Drone Assassination Attempt On Venezuelan President Maduro, Blamed Upon Colombia and U.S.

A video shows the moment of the detonation of the drone a few meters from Caracas Avenue

This was the explosion of one of the drones during the military act of the dictator Nicolás Maduro

 

One day after the drone attack against Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro , a video was released of the moment one of the unmanned aircraft explodes.

The material, shared by RUNRUNES on its YouTube platform , shows the drone flying over Bolívar Avenue, in Caracas, during the military act for the 81st anniversary of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB).

While listening to the speech of the Bolivarian leader, in a matter of seconds the unmanned plane explodes causing a loud roar.

After two detonations, the act was stopped, and officers of the military corps escorted the dictator and the Chavez leadership.

In another video you can see the reaction of some officers, who after the explosions ran.

This Sunday the Minister of Interior and Justice, Néstor Reverol, indicated that each of the drones carried a kilogram of explosive C4.

“The other drone lost control and fell into a building near Avenida Bolivar detonated on the first floor of the building. The investigations have shown that it is a crime of terrorism and assassination, “he said.

After what happened, Maduro said it was an assassination attempt and blamed the Venezuelan opposition and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos , who later repudiated those accusations.

Reverol, meanwhile, reported that six people were already arrested and did not rule out new apprehensions.

Source: INFOBAE

 

Two explosions attributed to drones interrupt Maduro’s speech

Attempt? The Venezuelan president accused the opposition of threatening his life. “They have tried to kill me,” he said hours after suspending his speech at a military rally . There would be seven soldiers wounded. Opponents to the regime still were not pronounced until the closing of this edition.

Caracas, Aug 4 The Minister of Information of Venezuela , Jorge Rodríguez, said that President Nicolás Maduro was the victim of an attack with “drone-type flying devices that contained an explosive charge”, and that he escaped unharmed from the incident, which occurred during an act with members of the military Caracas .

After the incident, President Nicolás Maduro addressed the Nation in a message in which he said that “God protects me” and feels strengthened to continue in the fight for “the revolution” and accused the opposition and the president of Colombia to attempt against his life.

YOU CAN SEE Maduro: Colombian Government Responds to President’s Accusations Against Santos

“This is an attempt to kill me, they have tried to assassinate me today (…), I have no doubt that the name of Juan Manuel Santos is after this attack,” said Maduro in an address broadcast on radio and television .

In a statement, the Colombian president rejected Maduro’s accusation, saying he does not have time to plan attacks.

Minister Rodríguez reported that several drones with explosive charges detonated in the vicinity of the stage where Maduro offered a speech on the occasion of the celebration of the 81 years of the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), leaving as balance “some injuries” in seven military .

This “does not evidence but the desperation that we had already noticed in some spokesmen of the far right -opposition- Venezuelan, which shows only the hatred that we have permanently denounced those (…) who do not stop resorting to criminal practices “added Rodriguez.

GENERAL PANIC

The television broadcast showed the trained military break ranks and how they evacuated the Minister of Defense , Vladimir Padrino.

On the stage, along with Maduro , besides Padrino and the first lady, Cilia Flores , there were representatives of all the public powers of the country.

These events occur amidst the severe economic crisis in Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserves on the planet, which translates into a shortage of all kinds of products, hyperinflation and a terrible provision of public services.

For these reasons, dozens of protests are taking place daily in the country, demanding food, transportation, water, electricity and better salaries, among other demands.

INTERRUPTION

“We are going to bet for the good of the country, the time for economic recovery has come, and I need …” were the words pronounced by the Venezuelan ruler, Nicolás Maduro, when he was interrupted by the explosion on Avenida Bolívar in Caracas .

During the confusing situation, all the officials, including the defense minister , Vladimir Padrino López, fled escorted by their bodyguards.

The incident was broadcast on radio and television . Before the images were cut, it was possible to hear how the president’s departure was coordinated.

The last thing that could be seen on television was the military running scared in search of protection before the detonations.

A source consulted by the Republic , said the act was intended to be a sample of the military power of Chavism to contain anti-government protests, but the goal was not achieved.

After removing the president from the area of ​​the alleged attack, the area was cordoned off and the few means that were found were removed.

In the local media VivoPlay his equipment was removed, so the National Union of Press Workers (SNTP) reported the fact.

In social networks, the video of Maduro’s interrupted speech quickly became a trend and various versions began circulating, initially it was thought that it was an accident; However, the Venezuelan government later reported that it was an attack.

In Lima, the situation generated expectations because there are thousands of Venezuelans who have arrived in our country escaping the economic crisis that is experienced in the regime of Nicolás Maduro .

The analyst Diego Olivera said that the crisis is getting worse and now we are entering the investigation stage to see the origin of this drone that is for military use and was implemented with explosive charges .

It is not a family drone, but a military one, which shows that there is some Venezuelan paramilitary organization that would be behind the attack, said the analyst, who warned that this could lead to an escalation of violence in Venezuela.

He also said that one should be very careful with the reaction of the Venezuelan State and the groups that support Maduro, since the response could be violent.

BLAME TO ULTRADERATE

The government attributed the attack to the “extreme right”, as the opposition usually refers.

The president of the Constituent Assembly and number two of the Chavism, Diosdado Cabello , also turned against the opposition, deeply divided.

“The right insists on violence to take spaces that can not for the votes, our brother President Nicolás Maduro and the political and military high command left unharmed after the terrorist attack … They will not be able to do it with us,” Cabello wrote in Twitter

Evo Morales and Raúl Castro back him

– The president of Bolivia, Evo Morales , described as “crime against humanity” the attack, as it was called by the Government of Venezuela , suffered by its president, Nicolás Maduro, in Caracas.

– The president of Cuba , Miguel Diaz-Canel, and the ex-President Raul Castro condemned “energetically” the attack suffered, according to the confirmation of the Government of Venezuela, by his ally, the ruler Nicolás Maduro , to whom they reiterated the “unrestricted support” of the island.

Nicolás Maduro was about to finish his speech when a noise caught his attention and he looked up at the sky.

– “Tapa, tapa, tapa hasta …”, was heard on the part of one of the president’s bodyguards, who replied “let’s go to the right”. “Up, my commander,” a soldier told him in the midst of enormous tension.

What Happens When Facebook Controls the News

What Happens When Facebook Controls the News

By

Photo: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images 

In the face of criticism over its status as a conduit for harmful misinformation, Facebook has emphasized a commitment to “diverse” viewpoints. Everyone should be able to speak and be heard, and just as importantly for Facebook, be liked and shared. To that end, in countries without media environments as robust as the United States, Facebook has become a primary news source. That includes countries like Myanmar, where an ethnic-cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims is currently underway.

Facebook has already come under fire for taking down posts made by activists documenting the violence. The company is using small countries to test a new organizing method that removes publishers from the primary News Feed. Yesterday, the New York Times showed more examples of how an information ecosystem controlled by Facebook distorts reality.

The paper reports:

“Kalar [an epithet for the Rohingya] are not welcome here because they are violent and they multiply like crazy, with so many wives and children,” he said

Mr. Aye Swe admitted he had never met a Muslim before, adding, “I have to thank Facebook because it is giving me the true information in Myanmar.”

Social media messaging has driven much of the rage in Myanmar. Though widespread access to cellphones only started a few years ago, mobile penetration is now about 90 percent. For many people, Facebook is their only source of news, and they have little experience in sifting fake news from credible reporting.

The filter bubble is now a key factor in propaganda and genocide.

Kushner’s Secret Plan Is To Decertify Palestinians As “Refugees”

Trump and Allies Seek End to Refugee Status for Millions of Palestinians

In internal emails, Jared Kushner advocated a “sincere effort to disrupt” the UN’s relief agency for Palestinians.

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner stands with U.S.. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Middle East issues on Feb. 20. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner stands with US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at a UN Security Council meeting on Middle East issues on Feb. 20. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has quietly been trying to do away with the UN relief agency that has provided food and essential services to millions of Palestinian refugees for decades, according to internal emails obtained by Foreign Policy .

His initiative is part of a leader to push by the Trump administration and its allies in Congress to strip these Palestinians of their refugee status in the region and take their issue off the table in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, according to both American and Palestinian officials . At least two bills now making their way through Congress address the issue.

Kushner, who Trump has charged with resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been contacted to speak publicly about any aspect of his Middle East diplomacy. A peace plan he’s been working on with other US officials for some 18 months has been one of Washington’s most closely held documents.

But his position on the refugee issue and his animus towards the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is evident in internal emails written by Kushner and others earlier this year.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupted UNRWA,” Kushner wrote about the agency in one of those emails, dated Jan. 11 and addressed to several other senior officials, including Trump’s Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt.

“This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and does not help peace,” he wrote.

The United States has helped fund UNRWA since it was formed in 1949 to provide relief for Palestinians displaced from their homes following the establishment of the State of Israel and ensuing international war. Previous administrations have viewed the agency as a critical contributor to stability in the region.

But many Israel supporters in the United States today see UNRWA as part of an international infrastructure that has artificially kept the refugee issue alive and kindled hopes among the exiled Palestinians that they might someday return home-a possibility Israel flatly rules out.

Critics of the agency point in particular to its policy of granting refugee status not just to those who fled Mandatory Palestine 70 years ago but to their descendants as well-accounting that puts the refugee population at around 5 million , nearly one-third of whom live in camps across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza.

By trying to unwind UNRWA, the Trump administration appears ready to reset the terms of the Palestinian refugee issue in Israel’s favor-as it did on another key issue in December, when Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In the same January email, Kushner wrote: “Our goal can not be keep things stable and as they are. … Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there. “

One Repub. Congressman Intends To End Forever, the Concept of “Forever Wars”

Presidents Will Be Impeached For Starting Wars Without Congressional Approval If This Republican Gets His Way

The footsteps from Republican Congressman Walter Jones reverberated off the white marble floors of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

He was frustrated to the point of anger as he walked past the more than 290 portraits of dead service members he had hung outside his doorway—office number 2333. The faces within the frames staring back at onlookers were only a mere fraction of what has been lost in the war on terror.

Jones, 75, has represented the third congressional district of North Carolina for 23 years. Yet, despite his considerable understanding of the complexities of the beltway, he could not help his own vexation over the topic that has dogged him for the majority of his tenure in Congress—Afghanistan.

As presidential administrations changed, President Donald Trump had his generals draw up a new war strategy in the country known as the ‘Graveyard of Empires,’ amid blunt assertions out of the Pentagon: “We are not winning in Afghanistan,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee; a fact combatant commanders and war veterans had known for years.

Jones’s office is littered with war memorabilia and appreciation awards. In the summer of 2017, he was confronted with more bad news out of Afghanistan. “It says eight [Afghan] generals, 11 commanders of detachments and 296 other officers are among those suspected of crimes, including bribery, theft and murder,” Jones read.

“I mean, shit. Excuse me for saying that, but how much more are we going to fund it? That’s why I don’t vote for the [Department of Defense] Bill,” Jones said as he threw down a copy of The Washington Post.

Jones either didn’t vote or voted no for passing the National Defense Authroization Act— the series of federal laws authorizing the Pentagon’s budget and expenditure—for years 2017 and 2018. Congress is currently working on the NDAA for fiscal year 2019, which will start in October—Jones has already voted no.

We just keep funding it. We are apart of the problem just as much as these damn [corrupt] officials in Afghanistan,” he told Newsweek in 2017.

GettyImages-478166031 WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) speaks during a press conference at the Cannon House Office Building on March 12, 2014. On July 18, 2018, Jones and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hi) introduced a House resolution requiring congressional approval of all U.S. wars. Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Jump to this past Wednesday, Jones found himself still fighting to bring a debate on Afghanistan to the House floor as two more American service members—U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Maciel and U.S. Army Ranger Sergeant First Class Christopher A. Celiz—were killed in the 17-year war. Outside of Afghanistan, combat operations involving U.S. forces continue in places like Iraq; Syria; Somalia and Niger, under umbrella names like “Inherent Resolve” or “Resolute Support” where advise, train and assist missions sometimes sound and feel like combat operations during a war—except the term “war” is never used.

Jones, along with Democratic Representative and serving U.S. Army National Guard Major Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, held a press conference to introduce a House resolution requiring congressional approval of all wars, including operations that don’t use the “war” term, but are in reality a war.

“This resolution, that Tulsi Gabbard and I have put in, jails any president—doesn’t matter if it’s Trump or somebody else, this is isn’t a partisan issue,” Jones told Newsweek by phone. “Congress needs to be consulted with, debate and vote, if we want to send our troops to fight a war.”

The bipartisan resolution would mandate that if the president of the United States sends troops to fight or support any type of operation that could be interpreted as a war, then the president has engaged in “co-belligerency” triggering violations of “high crimes and misdemeanors” under the U.S. Constitution, leading to impeachment by Congress.

The resolution would extend to the president, vice president and all civil officers of the United States in keeping with the U.S. Constitution; however, it does not prevent the president from exercising executive authority to use military force when responding to “actual or imminent aggression or a declaration of war against the United States,” according to the proposed resolution.

“The last time Congress officially declared war was December 8, 1941, the day the United States entered World War II,” Gabbard told reporters on Wednesday. “Ever since, Congress has failed to uphold its constitutional responsibility and has seated this power to the president—presidents of both parties, so our country continues to remain in a constant state of perpetual war at a great cost to the American people and to the innocent civilians around the world, who are affected by these wars, with no declaration of war by congress and no say by the American people.”

Gabbard added: “The direct and indirect cost of these presidential wars are astounding. They take a toll on our troops, on our veterans and every single American.”

Besides the human cost of war that leaves familes devastated, the finanical waste of American taxpayer dollars is astounding, Jones lamented.

Jones told Newsweek that the proposed resolution does not directly address the two Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) bills currently authorizing the Pentagon to continue combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq—instead, the resolution prevents the current and future administrations from sending U.S. forces into countries that have not attacked the United States or where there is not credible intelligence to suggest the country or organization is showing imminent aggression.

The AUMFs currently in place were signed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to fight al-Qaeda and other militant groups and to allow for the defense of the United States against the “continuing threat posed by Iraq,” allowing for the 2003 invasion.

Bruce Fein, a Harvard educated constitutional lawyer was present at the lawmakers press conference.

He said Wednesday that the resolution is not an “anti-Trump resolution” and that the problem has been a chronic one. He explained that it does not retroactively prevent current operations but instead targets future operations, adding, that the resolution sets precedent for the executive branch to consult the legislative branch before sending troops to combat.

Former U.S. Marine Corps Captain Matthew Hoh, an Iraq War veteran who later worked as a political officer on U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan for the State Department, was also present at the press conference.

He told Newsweek prior to the resolution announcement that it all comes down to accountability.

“How do we hold someone accountable? Right now, there’s no way to hold anyone accountable…and both parties are guilty of this, the Democrats are just as bad as Republicans,” Hoh said.

In 2009, Hoh resigned in protest his post with the State Department while in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan.

“We’re asking young men and women to not just go there and die, but to come home maimed and in [physical or psychological] trouble for the rest of their lives that destroy entire families because of that,” Hoh said. “How many families have been destroyed not because of combat casualties, but also because of the psychological casualties in these forever wars?”

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Laughs At American Paranoia That Russia Is Destroying the US With “MEMES”

‘Hilarious & paranoid’: Lavrov laughs at idea that Russia uses memes to destroy US democracy

'Hilarious & paranoid': Lavrov laughs at idea that Russia uses memes to destroy US democracy

“It’s just hilarious when I hear that funny pictures can undermine American democracy,” Lavrov told reporters on Thursday, answering RT correspondent’s question about the latest US Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on alleged Russian interference in US domestic affairs.

Experts, brought as witnesses to testify before the Senate on Wednesday, spoke about Russia allegedly using the “less news, more memes” approach online to divide the US public. This led the lawmakers to raise concerns over how Russian “meme-sharing” affects American voters.

“I think that’s just paranoia that goes off the scale,” Lavrov chuckled, saying that talk of weaponizing memes only makes the Senators themselves look bad. “It’s not respectable for American lawmakers to make a sensation out of nothing.”

US politicians consistently accused ‘Russian trolls’ of waging a coordinated campaign to influence elections in the country – something Moscow denies. During repeated hearings in Congress, lawmakers failed to provide any concrete evidence that the alleged nefarious online activity was tied to Russia, and to present data on the effects such a campaign might have caused.

In fact, last year, tech giants Facebook, YouTube and Twitter told Senators that the content allegedly produced by “Russian operatives” made up a tiny fraction of their feeds.

Is France Playing “False Flag” Games Against Russia In Central Africa?

[Assassination of the three Russian journalists in the Central African Republic: we met the chauffeur witness of the scene and some villagers]

Two of the slain Russian Journalists–Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal

CENTRAL AFRICA: Assassination of three Russian journalists: a game from France?

 

 

It is now clear that France is behind the perpetual crises that paralyze the Central African Republic. The one who has long been the unconditional ally of the rebels, including the seleka, has come out strongly in the assassination of the three Russian journalists in the Seleka area.

A few days ago, the country was shaken by the unbalanced and puzzling report of a French media FRANCE 24 that praised and propagated the rebel Abdoulaye Hisseine. And yet, these French journalists, directors of this documentary had never feared their safety by going to Ndele, the Seleka stronghold.

This French report was probably part of many rants of France on the eve of the dialogue initiated by the African Union.

A few days later, it was around the Russians, journalists of their state, to suffer what can be described as cowardly assassination by the rebels seléka Nourrédine Adam who still control the surroundings of the city of Dékoa.

The journalists Orhan Dzhemal, Aleksandr Rastorguyev, and Kirill Radchenko were on the Dékoa axis about 23 km from the city of Sibut for the shooting of a documentary. According to our sources, they were first kidnapped, auditioned and then murdered.

The big mistake is that the three journalists were unescorted, but had their press cards.

It is rare to see Western journalists murdered in the Central African Republic with the exception of Camille LEPAGE, whose murder was commissioned from her country of origin according to some indiscretions.

The assassination of these three journalists is a strong signal to the Bangui authorities. Moreover, France has never hidden its contempt vis-à-vis Russia, which is advancing its pawns in the Central African Republic.

A Russian friend tells us that the assassination of Russian journalists will never stop President Putin from helping the Central African Republic to take a step forward.

Case to follow …

 

Russia to deploy military police on Golan Heights

[Russia: Iran-backed forces withdraw from Golan frontier]

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will deploy its military police on the Golan Heights frontier between Syria and Israel, its defense ministry said on Thursday, after weeks of mounting volatility in the area.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant General Sergei Rudskoi speaks during a news briefing, with a map showing the territory of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria seen in the background, in Moscow, Russia August 2, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sweeping away of rebels in southwestern Syria has worried Israel, which believes it could allow his Iranian backers to entrench their troops close to the frontier.

Underlining the tensions, Israel killed seven militants in an overnight air strike on the Syrian-held part of the Golan Heights, Israeli radio said on Thursday.

Sergei Rudskoi, a senior Russian defense ministry official, said that Russian military police had on Thursday begun patrolling in the Golan Heights and planned to set up eight observation posts in the area.

He said the Russian presence there was in support of United Nations peacekeepers on the Golan Heights who, he said, had suspended their activities in the area in 2012 because their safety was endangered.

“Today, UN peacekeepers accompanied by Russian military police conducted their first patrols in six years in the separation zone,” Rudskoi told a briefing for journalists in Moscow.

“With the aim of preventing possible provocations against UN posts along the ‘Bravo’ line, the deployment is planned of eight observation posts of Russia’s armed forces’ military police,” Rudskoi said.He said the Russian presence there was temporary, and that the observation posts would be handed over to Syrian government forces once the situation stabilized.

The deployment of the Russian military police highlights the degree to which the Kremlin has become an influential actor in Middle East conflicts since its military intervention in Syria which turned the tide of the war in Assad’s favor.

Israel has been lobbying the Kremlin to use its influence with Assad, and with Tehran, to try to get the Iranian military presence in Syria scaled back.

Israel sees Iran, and Iran’s allies in the Hezbollah Shi’ite military, as a direct threat to its national security.

That message was conveyed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in Moscow last month, a senior Israeli official said.

Iranian forces have withdrawn their heavy weapons in Syria to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, TASS quoted a Russian envoy as saying on Wednesday, but Israel deemed the pullback inadequate.

Saudi Tanker Hit By Missile In Red Sea, While Iran Practices Closing the Persian Gulf

[ Iran To Practice Blockading Strait Of Hormuz As Saudis Say Mandeb Strait Is No Longer Safe ]

Current location of Saudi tanker Arsan

Today’s tanker traffic–[tankers red, cargo ships green]

Analysis: A Mysterious Attack on Saudi Oil Tanker, Amid Trump-Iran Duel

Washington fears Iranian-led attack on troops in Iraq

■ Israeli politicians say fight to stop Iran in Syria proved successful, but military remains skeptical

Houthi supporters hold up rifles as they rally to protest the killing of a senior Houthi official by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike, Hodeidah, Yemen, April 25, 2018.
Houthi supporters hold up rifles as they rally to protest the killing of a senior Houthi official by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike, Hodeidah, Yemen, April 25, 2018.\ ABDULJABBAR ZEYAD/ REUTERS

>> Update: Netanyahu Warns Iran: Block Mouth of Red Sea and Be Met by Force

An incident on Thursday that generated relatively little media coverage is attracting a great deal of attention among intelligence organizations in the region and from the oil industry. A huge tanker with a shipment of oil from Saudi Arabia bound for Egypt was damaged by a missile attack from the northern Bab el-Mandeb strait in the Red Sea. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, armed and financed by Iran, were responsible for the attack. It happened in the wake of the renewed exchange of threats between the United States and Iran, which could also hurt the oil market.

The tanker, the Arsan, was flying a Saudi flag and transporting some 2 million barrels of oil to Egypt. It was struck by missiles near the port of Hodeida in Yemen where Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been attacking the Houthis for the past few months. According to the Washington Institute the tankers were hit by a rocket fired from a fast-attack vessel or a ground-to-sea missile fired from Yemen, possibly a C-802, which Iran supplies to the rebels. The Houthis claimed responsibility for the attack and the Saudis announced that they were suspending tanker shipments in the Red Sea until the situation was sorted out and marine traffic was safe again. The Washington Institute researchers wrote that the Red Sea is the third most important shipping lane in the word (the first is Hormuz in the Persian Gulf).

Houthi fighters watch from the roof of a building as they secure the site of a rally, Sanaa, Yemen July 13, 2018.
Houthi fighters watch from the roof of a building as they secure the site of a rally, Sanaa, Yemen July 13, 2018.\ MOHAMED AL-SAYAGHI/ REUTERS

The incident happened in the midst of a typical Twitter duel between U.S. President Donald Trump and the Iranian leadership, during which the Iranians threatened to disrupt international oil shipments if the United States imposes sanctions that hurt the Iranian oil industry. The commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, has accused Saudi Arabia over the past few days of responsibility for the “unsafe” conditions in the Red Sea.

The United States is worried about Soleimani, who directly threated Trump last week, for other reasons as well. There is concern that the Revolutionary Guards might deploy Shi’ite militias, armed and financed by Tehran, to strike U.S. troops in Iraq. In the beginning of this decade, the United States accused Iran of a similar wave of attacks against it in Iraq. This is one of the reasons for the hostility that U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis harbors against the Iranians. Mattis was commander of the U.S. Army’s CENTCOM at the time, and he accused Iran of killing his troops in Iraq.

Endgame in Syrian Golan

The Israeli conflict with the Iranians focuses mainly on events in Syria, in light of the Assad regime’s successes in the civil war. The raising of the Syrian flag at the Quneitra crossing on the Golan Heights on Thursday shows that Assad’s assault to renew control over the Syrian Golan Heights is nearing an end. Meanwhile, heavy bombardments by the Syrian army and the Russian air force continue on the last positions held by ISIS-backed rebels in the southwestern corner of the Syrian Golan. Israel is preparing for the full return of the UN observer force, UNDOF, on the Golan when the situation stabilizes on the Syrian side.

>> Explained: Why Saudi Arabia and ‘Little Sparta’ still can’t defeat Iran in Yemen

>> Instead of crafting a strategy on Iran, Trump plays with the lion’s tail | Analysis

The Israeli cabinet believes Israel has so far been very successful in its fight to stop the Iranians in Syria. Iranian pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to allow them to establish an airport and a seaport under their control was apparently to no avail. An Iranian plan to deploy a large Shi’ite militia in Syria, with tens of thousands of fighters, has been delayed after one of the intended militia bases was bombarded. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the Hariri government is working to stop the construction of assembly lines for the production of precision rockets, following American pressure based presumably on precise intelligence.

Israel’s immediate demand from Russia involves the presence of Iran and the militias within 100 kilometers of the Israeli Golan boundary. Moscow has promised to work to remove the Iranians when the Syrian Golan is fully retaken. The issue also came up in the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki two weeks ago.

Compared to the optimism of Israeli politicians on this matter, the IDF is more skeptical, and is worried that over time, the Iranians will break the agreement and the Russians will not enforce it.

OPIATE WITCH HUNT–Doctors Violate Hippocratic Oath To “Do No Harm” To Comply w/Political Mandates

“What few doctors or patients know is that Pfizer, faced with hundreds of complaints about injuries and complications related to the shots, asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban that type of treatment five years ago. The company cited the risk of blindness, stroke, paralysis and death — a request that neither the agency nor Pfizer made public.

 

[The following article is for other victims of the Opioid witch-hunt.]

“Doctors are the most guilty in this entire travesty, simply because stopping vital treatment to suffering individuals on the say so of anybody else is a clear violation of the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm” as the first calling of a doctor.

Here in Ohio, the “war against opoids” is clearly more of a witch-hunt, since the politicians in Columbus seized the opportunity to forcing patients to enter drug-monitoring programs on suspicion of “drug diversion” to continue not only pain meds, but for other non-opoid drugs as well, neurontin, lyrica and tramadol.

If doctors are so squeamish and insecure that they cannot resist such government abuse and opportunism, even though it directly effects the health of their patients, then they should lose their licenses to practice. Doctors with a conscience should feel duty-bound to sue governments and insurance companies for interference with patients and doctors rights.

After all, doctors have historically been the “pushers” for the pill companies in this national disgrace. When these powerful new drugs were first introduced, doctors eagerly responded to smartly-dressed drug company reps and poured prescriptions into the general population, with little to no warning of the dangers involved. Pharmacists were likewise guilty of malpractice for dispensing these drugs at street prices $5/pill for vicodin. When my deteriorating condition first warrented switching from darvocette to Lortab, my doctor did his best to convince me to take oxycontin instead.”

 

[SEE: Steroid Shots No Better for Back Pain Than Placebo]

 

After Doctors Cut Their Opioids, Patients Turn to a Risky Treatment for Back Pain

Sherry Brandt said she was told she would be prescribed opioid painkillers for her chronic back pain only if she agreed to an epidural steroid injection.CreditShawn Poynter for The New York Times

 

WASHINGTON — An injectable drug that the manufacturer says is too dangerous to use along the spine is growing in popularity for back pain as doctors turn away from opioids.

The anti-inflammatory drug, called Depo-Medrol and made by Pfizer, is approved for injection into muscles and joints. Once a drug is approved, however, doctors may legally prescribe it however they see fit. And doctors have long given Depo-Medrol shots, or the generic equivalent, close to the spinal cord for painful backs, necks and conditions like spinal stenosis.

What few doctors or patients know is that Pfizer, faced with hundreds of complaints about injuries and complications related to the shots, asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban that type of treatment five years ago. The company cited the risk of blindness, stroke, paralysis and death — a request that neither the agency nor Pfizer made public.

The F.D.A. declined to issue a ban but toughened the label warning. Other countries — among them Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand and Switzerland — heeded Pfizer’s request.

After concerns were raised about the off-label treatments, use of the injections declined. But the opioid epidemic appears to be spurring their popularity despite risks known to public health officials and doctors.

According to the F.D.A., back problems are the most common cause of disabling, chronic pain. Weekend classes to train physicians in the procedure are flourishing. Critics like Dr. Terri A. Lewis, a rehabilitation specialist and lecturer at the Southern Illinois University, say they are responsible for transforming pain clinics into “drill mills.”

And in June, as part of legislation to tackle the opioid crisis, the House of Representatives approved an increase in Medicare reimbursement for the procedure.

The number of Medicare providers giving steroid injections along the spine, including Depo-Medrol and other drugs, had increased 13 percent in 2016 from 2012. The number of Medicare beneficiaries receiving these injections is up 7.5 percent. The Department of Veterans Affairs reported a 17 percent increase in the injections from 2015 to 2017.

And total sales of brand name and generic Depo-Medrol grew 35 percent to $185 million from $133 million from 2015 to 2017, according to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, a health data firm.

It’s a troubling trend to researchers and experts like Dr. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University.

“The victims of our era of aggressive opioid prescribing are being exploited in some cases by interventional pain doctors, who will continue them on opioids in exchange for allowing them to perform expensive procedures that they don’t need,” said Dr. Kolodny, who is also executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing. “These are not benign procedures. Patients can be harmed and are harmed.”

Pfizer, in 2013, quietly asked the F.D.A. and regulators in other countries to ban Depo-Medrol for epidural use. “It must not be used by the intrathecal, epidural, intravenous or any other unspecified routes,” the company wrote.

A doctor preparing a Depo-Medrol shot to treat chronic back pain.CreditDr. P. Marazzi/Science Source

It is unusual for a drug company to request a contraindication for one of its own products. In this case, some doctors say Pfizer was worried about liability from the off-label use, which does not give a manufacturer the same degree of protection as approved uses.

When the F.D.A. authorized a stronger warning in 2014, it noted that giving steroid shots close to the spine could cause rare but catastrophic injuries or death. The warning applied to the entire class of epidural steroid injections, estimated at about nine million a year — and not to be confused with the pain blocks, often called epidurals, given to women during childbirth.

Now, interviews with dozens of pain specialists show that pressure to wean patients off opioids is prompting many doctors to refer patients to pain intervention specialists who promote the shots. The cost per shot varies widely, from $100 up to $800, with an additional fee going to the hospital or clinic where it is administered.

“The truth underlying it is that doing an injection is faster and results in higher reimbursements, compared to other ways of managing the same pain,” said Dr. James P. Rathmell, chairman of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It was Dr. Rathmell who first brought the issue to the F.D.A. and oversaw a panel charged with recommending guidelines on safety.

“The use of injections has increased dramatically, yet the prevalence of back pain has remained relatively unchanged,” Dr. Rathmell said.

Doctors can choose among several types of epidural steroid injections. Depo-Medrol has a major share of the market. Epidural steroid injections in the cervical (neck) area and mid-back are considered the most dangerous.

They work like this: A steroid is injected into the epidural space within the spinal canal. Most of the injuries occur if the needle misses its target and directly injures nerves or places the drug into the spinal fluid or arteries, depriving the spinal cord of blood.

A review of F.D.A. records show that there were 2,442 serious problems reported from Depo-Medrol injections from 2004 through March 2018, including reports of 154 deaths. Pfizer declined to comment on the deaths, pointing to the product’s warning label: Serious neurologic events, some resulting in death, have been reported with epidural injection of corticosteroids. Specific events reported include, but are not limited to, spinal cord infarction, paraplegia, quadriplegia, cortical blindness, and stroke.”

In West Virginia, the heart of the opioid epidemic, anesthesiologist Dr. Brian Yee said more general practice physicians are referring patients to his clinic for epidural steroid injections and other procedures, like spinal cord stimulation, than in past years.

Dr. Yee believes spinal injections are valuable if administered properly. But he worries that weekend classes aren’t sufficient training.

“With people trying to take away opioids now, we are opening up another doorway for people to overutilize other options that can be helpful with the right doctors and the right patients,” he said.

Carrie Flaten thinks she was one of the wrong patients. A self-described Montana cowgirl, Ms. Flaten badly injured her back and shoulder in a car accident at age 28 in 2007. Months later, she was still in terrible pain and began physical therapy, along with a series of epidural steroid injections.

At first the shots made her feel better. But the relief never lasted, and she ended up having so many Depo-Medrol and other injections over the years that a nurse started calling her “our pincushion.”

Her last shot, in late 2015, left Ms. Flaten in what she described as frequent excruciating pain, with difficulty walking, little bladder control and loss of sexual function. Ms. Flaten said she could not return to her job as a mechanic, and still has trouble keeping up with her children.

When Ms. Brandt went to a different clinic to seek treatment for her pain, they also told her they would only prescribe painkillers if she agreed to an epidural steroid injection, she said.CreditShawn Poynter for The New York Times

Ms. Flaten said her clinic has refused to give her any painkillers unless she resumes the injections — something she does not want to do. Had someone told her that Pfizer sought a ban on using the shots this way, “I would have said absolutely no,” Ms. Flaten said.

Sherry Brandt did say no, and claims that refusal led her pain clinic to dismiss her as a noncompliant patient. The 56-year-old Tennessee resident had suffered back pain for years, and received several epidural steroid injections that did not seem to harm her. But she said they did not help, either.

Physical therapy and opioid painkillers left her stable, but she still had difficulty standing or walking — which worsened after a back surgery several years ago. She said she became more reliant on painkillers until her doctor, nervous about continuing to prescribe them in the current climate, referred her to a local pain specialist. The clinic staff suggested more shots, but by then Ms. Brandt had discovered their risks and declined.

Then she got hit by a truck.

Ms. Brandt went to another pain clinic, where doctors also told her they would only prescribe painkillers if she agreed to an epidural steroid injection, she said. Again she declined, fearing it could worsen her condition. “It’s blackmail,” she said.

The clinics that Ms. Flaten and Ms. Brandt visited declined to comment.

Dennis J. Capolongo often fields calls from people like those patients. The former photojournalist became a patient advocate after epidural Depo-Medrol injections for hip pain in 2001 inflamed his nerves, leaving him bedridden for nearly three years.

Mr. Capolongo, who lives in Potomac, Md., said he still suffers from debilitating central nervous system disorders. He has been campaigning for years for the F.D.A. to ban Depo-Medrol for spinal use.

Pfizer said it cannot track how much Depo-Medrol is used for off-label shots. Company spokesman Thomas Biegi said without an F.D.A. ban, there was nothing Pfizer could do to stop the off-label shots.

“We believe this is a question of medical practice and defer to clinicians and pain experts who utilize these medicines in their practices for the treatment of pain conditions,” Mr. Biegi said.

Dr. Laxmaiah Manchikanti thinks that’s as it should be. Chief executive of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, Dr. Manchikanti does not use Depo-Medrol in his own practice but believes it is safe for the lower spinal area.

In May, after the physicians’ group met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, proposed raising Medicare reimbursement rates for epidural steroid injections and other interventional procedures.

The doctors’ political action committee had donated $20,000 to Representative Shimkus’s 2016 and 2018 campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political contributions. Democratic co-sponsor Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois, also received a $10,000 donation during this election cycle, and $5,000 during his 2016 race.

The House approved the plan in June, which would reverse previous cuts of 16 to 25 percent. The Senate may consider whether to include a similar plan in its version of the opioid legislation.

Dr. James Patrick Murphy, an anesthesiologist and addiction specialist in Kentucky, believes that recent studies showing the shots do not work better than physical therapy for many patients are reason enough not to use them on so many patients. He also thinks they cost too much.

“The physician fee is usually somewhere between $100 and $300,” Dr. Murphy said, “but the hospital fee for the procedure, the separate fee, can be anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. That’s a lot of expense for somebody when you really can’t promise you’re going to cure them.”

 

Rachel Shorey contributed to this article.