Archive | March 6th, 2017

VT Syria: Trump looks for a share in Syria after Aleppo and Palmyra liberation

NOVANEWS

Trump waging an oil and gas war, back on track with America’s globalist agenda

Nahed al al Husaini Damascus Bureau Chief

The Trump administration has a plan to extend the war in Syria.  Syria has considerable oil and gas reserves, some of which in Idlib and Latakia are easily accessible to the Mediterranean.   These are the largest gas reserves deliverable to Turkey and Southern Europe that can offset supplies from Russia and Iran and represent the reason Turkey, and this is how it is now being seen, took Aleppo in the first place and is now threatening Aleppo again.

Secret Oil Map of Syria

Syria’s oil and gas reserves have never been developed and were the relationship Trump outlined during the campaign to materialize, now seen as increasingly unlikely, the Eastern Mediterranean oil and gas reserves being exploited by Israel would be forgotten as major players would seek the much larger fields ashore in Syria and Northern Lebanon, long ago edited from the regions oil maps.

Gas supplies to last Europe until 2300

From Nafeez Ahmed:

US, British, French, Israeli and other energy interests could be prime beneficiaries of military operations in Iraq and Syria designed to rollback the power of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and, potentially, the Bashar al-Assad regime.

A study for a global oil services company backed by the French government and linked to Britain’s Tory-led administration, published during the height of the Arab Spring, hailed the significant “hydrocarbon potential” of Syria’s offshore resources.

The 2011 study was printed in GeoArabia, a petroleum industry journal published by a Bahrain-based consultancy, GulfPetroLink, which is sponsored by some of the world’s biggest oil companies, including Chevron, ExxonMobil, Saudi Aramco, Shell, Total, and BP.

GeoArabia’s content has no open subscription system and is exclusively distributed to transnational energy corporations, corporate sponsors and related organisations, as well as some universities.

Authored by Steven A. Bowman, a Senior Geoscientist for the French energy company CGGVeritas, the study identified “three sedimentary basins, Levantine, Cyprus, and Latakia, located in offshore Syria” and highlighted “significant evidence for a working petroleum system in offshore Syria with numerous onshore oil and gas shows, DHIs (direct hydrocarbon indicators) observed on seismic, and oil seeps identified from satellite imagery.”

France’s secret affair with Assad’s Syria

At the time, when civil unrest was sweeping across Syria, CGGVeritas was contracted to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Sources.

The French company is one of the world’s largest seismic surveyors. Backed by the French government which owns 18% voting rights in the firm, CGGVeritas had acquired seismic data on offshore Syrian resources in 2005, and since then has been the main point of contact for geophysical and geological datasets on behalf of the Syrian regime.

In 2011, the French firm had an exclusive contract with the Syrian government to provide technical support for that year’s Syrian International Offshore Bid Round for firms to explore, develop and produce oil and gas from three offshore blocks in the Mediterranean Sea by the Syrian coast.

“Exploration activity has increased in the Eastern Mediterranean in recent years following a series of major multi-TCF (trillion cubic feet) gas discoveries made in the offshore southern Levantine Basin,” wrote Bowman. “Licensing rounds are scheduled to be announced during 2011 for areas in offshore Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus, which are believed to share strong geological similarities with these discoveries.”

Describing offshore Syria as “a truly frontier area of exploration”, Bowman — who was also involved in CGGVeritas evaluations of seismic datasets of energy resources in Libya — noted the discovery of several “flat-spots” which, if real, “will represent billion-barrel/multi-TCF [trillion cubic feet] drilling targets given the scale and volumetrics of the structures within which they occur.”

The Turkish Army, heavily reinforced, is only 20 miles from Aleppo from the East and is now moving to encircle from the North.

Turkey, who claims to be an American ally against ISIS and who has an on again, off again agreement with Russia and Iran, has been shown, time and time again, to coordinate military moves with ISIS and al Nusra.

Where the Obama administration had planned to leave office with their Kurdish allies in control of Raqqah and Mosul in Iraq secure, it was the hand of Turkey that offset the US, pouring supplies to ISIS in Mosul, from the North, until threats from Iraq forced them to withdraw their military.

Inside Syria, Russia and the Syrian Army are all that protect not just the Kurds but US forces as well from slaughter in and around Manbij.  The Kurds fighting ISIS north of Aleppo, however, now face the Turkish Army as well, on three sides, while that army advances for a possible quick thrust into Aleppo City, an act that would well bring Russian retaliation, which Turkey believes NATO can offset.

[ Editor’s Note: NATO could not legally get involved responding to an attack on Turkish forces attacking the SAA in Syria. Turkey has publicly said as a member of the tripartite group that it recognized Syrian territorial sovereignty, but, like the US coalition, says it is only in Syria for “counter terrorism operations”. Iran and Russia are expected to deal with this issue firstJim W. Dean ]

High level sources informed VT that the Trump Administration is more concerned than ever to secure a share in Syria after the Syrian Army and its allies snatched Aleppo and Palmyra from the grip of terrorists.  Trump’s final objective is to invest in the Syrian crisis politically or economically by playing carrot and stick game with the Kurds and Turks, who are staunch allies of the US.

Sajur River, Aleppo Governate, Syria

The sources added that US led coalition forces which are patrolling the Sajour river are trying to prevent any collusion or clash between the Kurds and Euphrates shield forces.

VT has input saying that Erdogan has lost faith in Trump whose main goal is to strike a deal at the expense of his allies.  Erdogan will get closer to Putin again simply because he rethinks the possibility of retaking Aleppo if Raqqa became a Syrian-Russian held territory.   Some of the warring factions are now joining the Turkish backed Euphrates Shield to be listed on its payroll.  Those factions, which are tiny in size and influence, want to have leverage and money via a firm rooted coalition that is primarily Turkish Army.

The Euphrates Shield is comprised about 15 thousand fighters from the Free Syrian Army, al Shamieh Front, and Nour Al Dein Al Zinki movement.  The coalition is recruiting more mercenaries from the renegade factions located in Isis held Edlib and Al Nusra controlled areas.  It is expected that new realignments will appear after the rapid fall of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Al Nusra will be part and parcel of the new bloc that will be formed at a large scale level.  Al Nusra changed its name to Fatah al Sham to avoid US sanctions but still active and operating in Damascus and its suburbs, in addition to Daraa, Hama, Homs, and Lattakia countrysides.

The US policy is still vague though Trump declared that he is intending to seize Raqqa and set up safe zones to protect civilians.  The US Russian cooperation is still in gear and maybe will gain more momentum when Trump and Putin meets to Demarcate the new world map.

This year will be crucial for finding a solution for the Syrian crisis by peace or war.  The two giant powers which control the game are fully aware of the risks that entails any failure in Astana or Geneva

Trump administration is playing with fire and stalking for time to drag the war on to exhaust the Syrian army and its allies, believing that this strategy will eventually bear fruit and make the US project easily applicable.

The Syrian leadership which is fighting a military, political and a diplomatic war on all fronts is aware of Trump intentions and schemes.  The military organization in coordination with the Russians and the Iranians has preemptively draw a plan to counter the US next moves, especially in North-East Syria oil and gas rich areas.


The waiting game is boring but Syria and its allies will not get impatient as more players from the Gulf are getting ready to send troops in support of Trump’s mysterious “secret Pentagon plan,” more likely formulated by Netanyahu than any American.

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Act for I$raHell

NOVANEWS
Act for Israel

screen-shot-2017-03-04-at-9-33-38-am

1. Rep. Ron DeSantis (Likud, FL) sure does love Israel. He really loves Israel.  This former legal advisor to Seal Team 6 and haunter of the Joint Task Force in GTMO – and lover of GTMO as far as I can tell, but he loves Israel even more – but I am already digressing.

Okay, where was I?

Yes, this lover of Israel and frequent defender of Israel is doing something right now, and I mean literally right fucking now (RFN) that I want to get to. In a minute.

First let me tell you about the letter he wrote to Trump using his own US Israeli Congressional stationary, telling President to be Trump that he had damn fucking well better move the US Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. You can read the whole letter here on Desantis’ website. Please do note that DeSantis initiated the letter and then got 101 other Israel-suck ups to sign it. Here is an excerpt: (Note to Shas Party members, red-highlighting is done by today’s guest editor Ron Desantis:)

“During your campaign, you made a forceful pledge to move our American (sic) embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Hmmm. Let me digress. Since when do we pay for government officials to engage in metaphysics talking about the eternalness of anything? And if it is the capital of all Jews, then does DeSantis think that Jews should be loyal to Israel first – as he is even though he is not a Jew?

Anyway, the letter continues:

We write to express support for this policy and to urge you to take swift action to relocate our (sic) embassy to Jerusalem as soon as you take office. 

Israel is one of the United States’ closest allies and stands alone in the Middle East for its commitment to democratic ideals. Moving the embassy will strenghtn the unique alliance between Israel and the United States and send a clear message to the world that we support Israel in recognizing Jerusalem as its eternal capital.

You can read the whole letter here and see if your congressional rep was one of the signatories.

Not long after that letter was written DeSantis brought up the issue again in this really weird press release.

Washington, DC – Rep. Ron DeSantis (Likud-06), Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, today convened an Advisory Council for Israel and Middle East Security. Its membership of advisors from Florida and around the country will explore ways to repair U.S.–Israel relations and combat security threats facing Israel and the United States.

“With the pending relocation of our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and the arrival of the Trump administration, we have entered a new era in American-Israeli relations and have a great opportunity to chart a productive course,” DeSantis said. “My subcommittee conducts oversight over embassy issues and I have been active in highlighting the dangers of the BDS movement and the threat posed by militant Islam. I have no doubt that we will have a lot on our plate moving forward, and having an esteemed group of advisors willing to share their keen insights on these issues will be a great help to me. I thank them for their willingness to assist my efforts to support our friend and ally Israel.”

Nice how he got in the phrase “militant Islam” isn’t it. And of course the anti-BDS theme is there  too along with the let’s move the US embassy to Jerusalem verbiage.

And just to make sure we get the point, the document ends with this:

The Advisory Council for Israel and Middle East Security will help develop policies to help facilitate a more productive American posture in the Middle East, which includes moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

The Adisory Council is a pretty damn long list. Funny how the House’s National Security Subcommittee is in need of an “Advisory Council for Israel and Middle East Security” at all, and second that that council needs to be comprised of only people from Florida with Middle Eastern sounding names. Clearly a bunch of militant Islamists  have taken over the advisory council.

Jason Lyons, Boca Raton, FL, Chairman

Dr. Scot Ackerman, Jacksonville, FL

Richard Brody, Jacksonville, FL

Phil Cohen, Miami, FL

Dr. David Diamond, Orlando, FL

Andy Fiske, Aventura, FL

Stephen Fiske, Aventura, FL

Mark Gerson, New York, NY

Eli Gindi, Brooklyn, FL

Marc Goldman, Boca Raton, FL

Antony Gordon, Los Angeles, CA

Gabriel Groisman, Bal Harbour, FL

Eytan Laor, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Carlyn and Lothar Mayer, Boca Raton, FL

David Robbins, Jacksonville, FL

Phil Rosen, New York, NY

Joey Schottenstein, Columbus, OH

Rabbi Steven Weil, New York, NY

Farley Weiss, Boca Raton, FL

Okay, I can hear you all bitching and moaning “Mantiq, look he has to be this way, he’s in Florida and there you have to be anti-Castro and pro-Israel, though not necessarily in that. order. It’s not like he is advocating that Israel keep the Golan Heights.”

Washington, DC – Rep. Ron DeSantis (FL-06) issued the following statement of support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position that the Golan Heights will remain under the control of Israel:

“For almost 50 years, Israel has maintained peace in the Golan Heights region and I support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position that Israel should maintain control. If Israel were to cede the Golan Heights the area would become a magnet for terrorism and would give Israel’s enemies a launching pad from which to wage war against the Jewish state.  U.S. policy should support the Prime Minister’s position and recognize the Golan Heights as a part of Israel.”

Now you won’t find this on his website, or on his twitter feed, but Ronny boy is at this very minute on an official National Security Subcommittee-sponsored trip  to Jerusalem to investigate moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. It’s a short trip, just 24 hours and Desantis and his committee seem to be very quiet about it. But when he gets back he’ll continue to put the pressure on Trump.

Please let him know how much you appreciate his working for Israel. Go here:

https://desantis.house.gov/media-center

and you can look in the upper right hand corner for links to his social media sites.

Interesting enough, Rep.  Dennis Ross (Israel Home, Fl), who is reported to also be going on the trip is said to have denied that he is going according to this Press TV link.

2. Okay it is video time. Watch this unbelievable suck up to Israel. Can there be a bigger whore than this guy? Probably, but he does set the bar pretty high. Please make sure there are no children in the room when you watch this.

ِTime for a make up call.

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Proposed Trump Policy Threatens Critically Endangered Grauer’s Gorilla

NOVANEWS

Image result for OBAMA LOOK LIKE gorillas CARTOON

For weeks, the primatologists had followed a group of Grauer’s gorillas over rugged terrain — hacking through dense rainforest; following knife-edged ravines; and crossing a nearly impenetrable mountainous landscape in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Stuart Nixon, Chryso Kaghoma and their Congolese field team tracked Gorilla beringei graueri using GPS. They collected data on where the animals nested each night, what they ate, and other habits. But the researchers kept their distance, trailing a day behind the primate family, so as not to influence the group’s behavior or normalize them to people.

Or so the scientists thought. One day, while sitting quietly in the forest, Nixon heard the bushes move some 10 feet away. He looked up and into the blue-black face of a big silverback male. They made eye contact for a few very long seconds before the gorilla turned and ran off with the rest of his family back into the dense undergrowth.

It was a rare sighting of a great ape that was once dubbed “the forgotten gorilla” because it was so little studied and was absent from most of the world’s zoos.

In two decades — just one generation — numbers of Grauer’s gorillas have plummeted by 77 percent. Only about 3,800 remain in the wild, according to a major study published in 2016.

The reasons: civil war and mining for “conflict minerals” including tin ore and coltan, both used in cell phones, laptops and other consumer electronics. The gorillas are heavily poached by armed militias, miners, and to a lesser degree, refugees, and they are being eaten to near-extinction.

“Illegal hunting for bushmeat is the biggest threat,” says Liz Williamson, a researcher at Scotland’s University of Stirling and a member of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group.

Proposed Trump Policy Threatens Great Ape

Both Grauer’s gorillas and local communities could be placed in even greater danger from warlords, militias and miners if President Donald Trump signs a draft presidential memorandum leaked to Reuters in early February.

The new policy would allow US companies to buy conflict minerals freely — including gold, tin, tantalum, coltan and tungsten — without public disclosure. It would likely increase mining activities in the Congo basin, bringing in more workers that will hunt bushmeat to survive.

Trump’s memorandum would nullify the Conflict Mineral Rule for two years. The rule was passed with bipartisan support from Congress in 2010 as part of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Dodd Frank Act. At the time, it was opposed by business interests, while human rights groups and environmentalists supported it.

The regulation as it currently exists requires companies to disclose conflict minerals that come from the DRC or an adjoining country. When it was passed, then-SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro said, “In adopting this statute, Congress expressed its hope that the reporting requirements of the securities laws will help to curb the violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The Trump memorandum’s reasoning for the proposed rule suspension is that it has led to “some job loss” in the past. The administration did not respond to requests for comment from Mongabay.

African nations, however, immediately expressed concern: “This might ultimately lead to a generalized proliferation of terrorist groups, trans-boundary money laundering and illicit financial flows in the region,” the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) told Reuters. The ICGLR includes 12 African member states.

Counting Grauer’s Gorillas

In the 2016 survey — the largest ever conducted for Grauer’s gorillas — park staff, local people and scientists led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fauna & Flora International combed 7,450 square kilometers (nearly 3,000 square miles) to count the animals in the eastern part of the Congo, the only place they live. Researchers then used statistical analysis and computer modeling to estimate population size.

Their finding sparked international news coverage and a triage reaction from the conservation community.

Within months, Grauer’s status was changed’s status was changed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to the red-alert last stage before extinction in the wild: Critically Endangered.

Grauer’s joined three other gorilla subspecies on the IUCN list: the western lowland (G. g. gorilla) and Cross River gorillas (G. g. diehli), along with the other and far more famous eastern gorilla subspecies, the mountain gorilla (G. b. beringei), which attracts tourists from around the globe who come to see them in the Virunga Mountains.

All gorillas are now Critically Endangered.

“Most people have never heard of [Grauer’s gorillas], and [yet] they might be the first great ape to go extinct,” says Sonya Kahlenberg, who directs the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), the world’s only sanctuary for orphaned Grauer’s gorillas.

Catastrophic Decline

Back in 1994 when the Wildlife Conservation Society surveyed Grauer’s gorillas (in what was then Zaire), researchers estimated a population of 17,000.

But then in April of 1994, the Hutu ethnic majority in neighboring Rwanda launched a murderous campaign against the Tutsi minority, a genocide that pushed some two million refugees across the border into Zaire and Uganda. Many took refuge in national parks and forests, and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda and other militias set up operations there. Many survived on bushmeat, sparking what has become an ongoing gorilla “ecocide.”

The DRC government distributed arms to local communities to fight back. Many people fled. Forests became a major casualty — illegally logged both for fuel and the timber market. Hunting was rampant because of a deadly combination of hungry people and readily-available guns. Rangers and other law enforcement were forced to abandon national parks and other protected lands. The forests turned into slaughter grounds.

The stocky Grauer’s gorilla became a popular target. They are easy to track, moving on the ground in groups, and the animals provides lots of meat per bullet: they’re the world’s largest primate, with an average male weighing in at about 400 pounds. The largest tower six-feet three inches and weigh 600 pounds.

Conflict Minerals Stir the Pot

By the time the war was declared over in 2003, some 5.4 million people were dead. But conflict still reigns in the eastern DRC — the Grauer’s homeland — fueled by a quest for the region’s abundant minerals.

Although the country has the world’s second lowest GDP, it’s considered to be the richest in natural resources, with mineral deposits worth at least $24 trillion, according to the nonprofit World Without Genocide. That includes an estimated $28 billion worth of gold and a vast supply of columbite-tantalite, or coltan, coveted for its use in electronics.

Exploitation of these riches has attracted hoards of artisanal miners, unscrupulous corporations, the military and corrupt government officials. Insecurity has flourished. But the greatest threat comes from more than 70 heavily armed militias, says Damien Caillaud, who is research director for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Grauer’s gorilla program in DRC and a professor at the University of California, Davis.

Many of the militias control “conflict mineral” mines that have become the equivalent of fiefdoms, existing beyond government control, sometimes employing slave labor, and using profits to buy weapons and to support ongoing armed struggle.

Miners now operate deep within DRC national parks as well as in unprotected forests — the places where some gorilla groups managed to survive the civil war, and some of the last areas where Grauer’s gorillas live. The Belgium-based International Peace Information Service has documented more than 1,000 mines in the region, nearly all of them illegal.

The rogue miners present the greatest threat to Grauer’s ultimate survival.

It is illegal under national and international law to kill, capture or trade in either live gorillas or their parts and products. But armed groups and miners are hunting the apes at an astonishing rate, and at the same time, laying waste to the land, reducing lush rainforest to polluted, muddy moonscapes.

People, in close proximity to the great apes, also pose a pathogenic threat: gorillas are so closely related to homo sapiensthat they are susceptible to human respiratory infections and other illnesses. The common cold can kill a gorilla.

Gorillas Snared

A US-based organization, Gorilla Doctors provides care, when possible, for gorillas stuck in snares. One hopeful note amidst the carnage: more Congolese veterinary students are training in great ape medicine than ever, a discipline requiring a specialized skill set nearly as complex as caring for a human.

Killing one gorilla can have large collateral damage, ultimately causing the deaths of four or five others, says Caillaud, who explains why. Ninety percent of Grauer’s gorillas live in groups dominated by just one male, the silverback leader. Hunters generally target him, both because he’s the biggest, with the most meat, and because he’ll attack to protect his family. If he’s killed, the group disbands. No babies will be born until females find a new group to join. For those that already have a baby, it might not survive: a silverback may kill another male’s offspring, as lions do.

Rescuing Orphans

There was no place to care for young Grauer’s gorilla orphans that were seized by wildlife authorities until 2010. That’s when the GRACE sanctuary was founded in the DRC with the goal of raising orphaned gorillas and teaching them the skills they need to survive in the forest as a new family. The first four gorillas were airlifted to GRACE on a helicopter operated by the United Nations peacekeeping force in the DRC.

Orphans require significant care and often suffer from a variety of psychological and physical trauma. In 2011, for example, a 17 month-old male was discovered in a village where he had been illegally offered for sale. He was too young to be weaned, but had been given no milk and was fed only cassava for months — which is not gorilla food. When “Lubutu” arrived at GRACE, he was severely malnourished, had lost much of his hair, and was weak and dehydrated. But he’s one of the lucky ones; he survived and is thriving.

Today, GRACE cares for 14 Grauer’s gorillas, ranging from a two year-old toddler to a 16 year-old adult. The apes live in forest habitat in a surrogate family group where the older gorillas take on mothering roles, carrying and protecting newcomers. Human contact is kept at a minimum.

“Gorillas are social animals and we see orphans turn around quickly once they are reconnected with gorillas. They need each other as much as they need emergency care,” says Kahlenberg.

One reason GRACE is so successful at saving orphans, she explains, is that the facility partners with some of the world’s best zoos, whose gorilla experts train and advise the all-Congolese sanctuary staff. Zoos are consulted via frequent Skype calls, and experts have made 63 separate trips to GRACE since 2010.

The region suffered some of the worst atrocities during the war, and almost everyone on the GRACE staff lost a family member during the conflict or after.

But the local community wants to move forward and is strongly committed to conservation. GRACE recently started a farm to grow food for the gorillas, says Kahlenberg, and every week about 40 kids show up after school to help weed and care for the crops. “I get so much hope from the people here!” she says.

With fewer gorillas now left in the wild, the sanctuary arrival rate is dropping. Last year, it received just one. The goal is to eventually reintroduce at least some gorillas to the wild, aiding isolated forest populations. GRACE has pinpointed one potential release site. But this is uncharted territory: nobody has ever sent captive Grauer’s gorillas back into the wild.

Wild gorillas do accept changes to their family groupings, reveals Kahlenberg, “but we don’t know how much is group-learned. We don’t know how the [sanctuary-raised animals] will react around a wild silverback. There are so many question marks.”

Protection and Research: A Risky Business

Defending wildlife in the DRC is an extremely dangerous business. Access to these remote areas by law enforcement agencies, including national park service rangers or environment ministry personnel, is very difficult and risky. More than 200 park guards have been murdered over the last 20 years defending wildlife. The two most recent victims are Oscar Mianziro and Munganga Nzonga Jacques, who were ambushed in separate incidents by armed militias in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in 2016.

Many of those who have lost their lives fighting to conserve gorillas, elephants and other animals, had large families of their own, with eight, nine, ten kids, says Stuart Nixon (who works now as the Africa Field program coordinator for the Chester Zoo, UK). Those murders not only impact the families, but also the tight knit village communities where the men lived. “It’s quite humbling,” says Nixon. “You don’t often see that kind of dedication in the West, let alone in the developing world.”

Lawlessness and violence in the DRC has made it nearly impossible to study Grauer’s gorillas. As a result, much of what scientists “know” has been extrapolated from a half-century of research on mountain gorillas living in the nearby Virunga Mountains within the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

G. b. graueri was named for Rudolf Grauer, an Austrian zoologist who worked in Africa at the turn of the 20th century. He was the first to recognize this great ape as a distinct subspecies. While these animals resemble their mountain gorilla relatives, their limbs are longer, they have shorter hair, and they live at lower altitudes, from 1,900 feet to 9,500 feet above sea level.

This last distinction is important, notes Caillaud, because habitat significantly shapes behavior. That means that mountain gorilla research isn’t 100 percent relatable: the size and use of habitat, for example, can differ between lowland and upland gorilla subspecies. So does diet — researchers know that Grauer’s rely more heavily on fruits than their high-mountain dwelling cousins. These differences can sharply impact great ape social systems and habits.

Despite the constant risk of violence, researchers including Andy Plumptre (a biologist with WCS), Williamson, Nixon and others have continued working in the DRC rainforests for years.

Nixon contacted eminent field biologist George Schaller before a major trip to ask him about his research, field work that dated to 1959 — the first on-the-ground study of Grauer’s gorillas. Using the maps Schaller shared with him, Nixon located about 15 groups that were living in the exact same locations they’d been in more than a half-century before. “They were surrounded by thousands of square miles of forest, but they hadn’t expanded their range,” says Nixon. “We don’t know why.”

Nixon’s 2005 study produced some disturbing results: “We were starting to realize that there were big areas where [Grauer’s had been] in the 1960s — and they were gone,” he says. New sub-populations that his team discovered that year were hunted out by 2010. “We had a feeling that the decline was catastrophic. But you have to think about what’s left,” he says.

Those working to conserve Grauer’s gorillas — government officials, park guards, conservationists and local community members — came together in 2012 to draw up a Conservation Action Plan. It identified cooperative strategies to build sustainable community livelihoods, and defined roles and collaborations for constituents, including the underfunded Ministry of Environment and Congolese Wildlife Authority, tasked with protecting DRC wildlife.

A Grauer’s gorilla silverback male and his three-year old son. Photo by Damien Caillaud/Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

The consortium realized the need to quantify the severity of the Grauer’s decline with a broad survey. From 2013 to 2015, huge teams, often numbering 10-15 people, roamed the rainforest on physically challenging expeditions. Many surviving gorilla groups live in nearly inaccessible places, some as much as 30 miles from the nearest village or drivable road. All gear and rations had to be carried in on people’s backs, and security was a constant concern.

That exhaustive survey confirmed the continued, drastic decline of Grauer’s gorilla and led directly to the IUCN’s reclassification of the subspecies as Critically Endangered.

Points of Light

“It’s possible that this terrible period is slowly coming to an end,” says Liz Williamson with surprising optimism. “In some places [national] park guards have regained control.”

She points to one relative success in an area key to the gorillas’ survival: the highland sector of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, site of the first-ever gorilla tourism in the 1970s. Before the civil war, this area was home to about 270 Grauer’s, a population that was halved by the slaughter.

Areas of the park that are now relatively stable have been secured through dedicated, cooperative efforts between the Congolese government; the country’s parks authority (ICCN); Fauna & Flora International, WCS and other nonprofits; park guards (working beside the military); along with local communities. Kahuzi-Biega has seen some level of protection since 2003, says Nixon. Today the population of G. b. graueri in one part of the park is back up to about 200 individuals.

There is also hope for gorillas in remote regions such as Usala forest, at the heart of the eastern Congo’s 30,000 square kilometer (11,600 square mile) Maiko-Tayna region. Nixon’s team investigated anecdotal reports from Schaller and confirmed the Grauer’s presence in 2007. Since the area is very far from roads or settlements, there is a chance the great apes could survive here over the long term.

“Despite all the pressure, this proves that with focus and targeted resources, these successes are possible,” Nixon says.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has run a field station in the isolated heart of Grauer’s territory since 2012, in unprotected forest that lies between reserves. The facility’s Congolese staff patrols and collects gorilla data, and works closely with eight families who own vast tracts of land. Together, they are conserving gorillas and other wildlife. The families are poor villagers, not rich property owners, but they have chosen to control and reduce human activities on their land. As a result, wildlife is slowly increasing. “In just a few years, protection has had a detectable impact,” reports Caillaud.

About 25 percent of Grauer’s gorilla habitat first mapped by George Schaller had been razed by 2008. But today, even though some populations are isolated, there is still plenty of rainforest left. Though conservationists note that with growing human population, that won’t be the case forever.

So efforts are underway to protect key forest areas, with 2016 bringing a big success on that front. A new multiple-use protected area was created that benefits both wildlife and people — the Itombwe Natural Reserve, which stretches from lowlands to mountains and is one of the most biodiverse in Africa.

Consumer Choices Can Help Save Gorillas

Few people realize when they buy electronics that the supply chain for those items can stretch deep into African rainforests. Parts for these products may come from mines that are run by ruthless militias and can contain “blood coltan.”

The insatiable international hunger for Playstations, laptops and cell phones — if not adequately regulated — contributes to insecurity, threatens the safety of local people and is killing gorillas and other animals. If the Trump administration’s presidential memorandum again allows US companies to buy conflict minerals freely, without public disclosure, the gorillas — and many communities — will face even greater danger as mines expand.

“I’d hope this makes people think about the supply chain for this equipment,” says Williamson, commenting on the real cost of conflict minerals. It comes down to consumer choices: if people care about African communities and great apes, “they should pressure the manufacturers and find out if they’re getting materials from credible, legitimate sources, which is difficult in DRC.” Even when mining operations are legal, supply chains may rely on militia that act as middlemen, she warns.

Conservationists note that consumers can help by upgrading electronics less frequently.

The stakes are high: Few Grauer’s gorillas exist in captivity, Kahlenberg concludes. And if this great ape becomes extinct in the wild, it will be effectively lost forever.

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Farmers, Indigenous Peoples and NGOs Take to Streets in Ten Cities Demanding an End to World Bank’s Morally Bankrupt Development

NOVANEWS

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Washington, D.C. — On October 10, 2014, NGOs, farmers’ groups, and indigenous organizations from across the world are coming together as part of the Our Land Our Business campaign to denounce the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings. The campaign, endorsed by over 235 organizations, will be staging  “creative resistance” events at the Bank’s annual meetings in Washington D.C. and nine other cities around the world. The D.C. event is drawing support from a wide range of activist communities, including Occupy groups who will join representatives of impacted communities from Kenya, Mali, and Ethiopia.

“Under the banner #WorldVsBank, this movement is calling for the end of the Doing Business rankings and the new Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture project. They are tools of a pro-corporate, anti-poor, environmentally unsustainable model of development. If the World Bank keeps promoting economic activity that destroys biodiversity and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and indigenous communities, they should not have a mandate to exist,” said Alnoor Ladha of /The Rules.

The World Bank’s lending to developing countries reached $35 billion in 2012. The Doing Business rankings play a critical role in determining what form of economic development takes place around the world. According to the World Bank’s own literature, they are “an incomparable catalyst for business reforms initiatives.” In practice, this has meant liberalizing developing country economies so that large-scale land investment and western corporations can move in unimpeded. The casualties are the smallholder famers and providers who currently feed 80% of the developing world but who are all too often rendered invisible or actively dispossessed.

“Working for the World Bank’s Social Fund in Gambella, I protested the widespread coercion and forced relocation of people. Today I live in political exile in Kenya. I am protesting the World Bank on October 10 because I know firsthand how their policies negatively impact communities,” said Okok Ojulu who will share his experiences at actions planned in D.C.

To coincide with the #WorldVsBank mobilization, the Oakland Institute, one of the world’s leading think tanks on land issues, is releasing a new study tackling the Bank’s approach to land, agriculture, and development, Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank’s Myths on Agriculture and Development. In addition, the Institute will also release six new country fact sheets that expose the reforms promoted by the World Bank in Kenya, Uganda, DRC, Laos, Cambodia, and Uruguay. In each country, the Bank’s policies have served as a catalyst for massive land grabs, dispossession, and forced eviction of countless small-scale farmers.

“If you look behind many of the recent land grabs, you will find World Bank policies that enable investors to come in with projects that promise benefits to communities but don’t follow through. We can keep going after each corporation and investment group but it would be more effective if the World Bank stopped using their immense political and financial power to pave the way for what has become the systematic exploitation of land and people,” said Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute.

Our Land Our Business is also launching the world’s first transnational “missed call” campaign–uniting a call-to-action across multiple countries. The idea is to make a call to a local phone number; the mobile number is then registered as an expression of support, then supporters receive free text messages to get further involved (e.g. showing up at a creative resistance). In parts of the world where first-generation mobile phones are ubiquitous but computers and the Internet are costly and inaccessible, this is a new powerful tool for mass engagement in political action.

On October 10, a street mobilization featuring speakers and artists will take place at 4pm in Rawlins Park, Washington D.C. This is followed by further action on October 11 when activists and concerned citizens from around the world will again gather outside the World Bank at 11am to protest the Bank’s attempt to dismantle critical protections for people and the planet that are currently enshrined in its operational policies. These changes come at a time when the Bank is making plans to scale up its lending to the private sector and return to the sort of risky mega-projects that characterized its now-discredited structural adjustment programs in the 1980s.

The October 10 – 11 actions send a message to the Bank that the world won’t stand for its exploitive practices.

For more on the two-day event, please visit www.ourlandourbusiness.org.

Download Unfolding Truth: Dismantling the World Bank’s Myths on Agriculture and Development and the country fact sheets.  

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The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaragua

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. (Credit: Luis Martínez / IPS)

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. (Credit: Luis Martínez / IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the US-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. (Credit: Carlos Herrera / IPS)

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. (Credit: Carlos Herrera / IPS)

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organize and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 percent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Foreign Aid Is Not the Problem — Inequality Is

At a feeding center supported by World Vision, local staff check children for malnourishment in Doolow, Somalia, Aug. 27, 2011. The World Health Organization now sees Somalia at risk for its third famine in 25 years. The last famine left over a quarter-million dead. (Photo: Sven Torfinn / The New York Times)

At a feeding center supported by World Vision, local staff check children for malnourishment in Doolow, Somalia, August 27, 2011. The World Health Organization now sees Somalia at risk for its third famine in 25 years. The last famine left over a quarter-million dead. (Photo: Sven Torfinn / The New York Times)

Americans on average, pollsters report, believe that over a quarter of the federal budget — 26 percent — goes for foreign aid. But outlays for foreign aid, the actual budget numbers show, make up just 1 percent of what the federal government annually expends.

Don’t expect this startling gap between perception and reality to narrow anytime soon. We now have in the White House a President who’s exaggerating — at every opportunity — what the United States spends on foreign assistance.

“For too long, we’ve watched our middle class shrink as we’ve exported our jobs and wealth to foreign countries,” Trump pronounced February 28 before a joint session of Congress. “We’ve financed and built one global project after another, but ignored the fates of our children in the inner cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, and so many other places throughout our land.”

The United States, Trump continued, has “spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while our infrastructure at home has so badly crumbled.”

Real life has a different story to tell. Over recent years, U.S. tax dollars have been about as likely to bomb bridges in other lands as build them. A huge share of our tax dollars that flow overseas go for armaments, ammunition, and other forms of military assistance.

In the current federal fiscal year, for instance, we’re spending $3.67 billion outfitting the security forces in Afghanistan, but only $3 billion worldwide on development assistance.

Overall, we are spending $25.6 billion trying to help people in other nations on non-military levels, adding up outlays for everything from global health programs to the Peace Corps. That total certainly seems substantial. But this particular story has another side: Among the world’s wealthy nations, no nation spends as little on building up people and infrastructure abroad as the United States.

United Nations resolutions currently ask developed countries to contribute 0.7 percent of their gross national income toward foreign assistance. The United States contributes just 0.17 percent, less than a quarter of the recommended giving level. Developed nations, on average, contribute almost twice as large a share of their national incomes as the United States.

Some nations exceed the UN recommendation. Sweden, for instance, contributes double what the UN recommends, a share of national income over eight times as large as the United States contributes.

The nations that exceed the UN guidelines on foreign assistance contributions, the British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in their landmark 2009 book The Spirit Level, all share a common characteristic. They have much more equal internal distributions of income than nations that contribute little.

“More unequal countries,” Wilkinson and Pickett note, “spend significantly lower percentages of their income on foreign aid.”

More unequal nations turn out to share their own sets of characteristics. Unequal societies spend less on public services. They have higher levels of crime and lower levels of trust. People in more unequal nations live shorter lives, struggle with more personal debt, and face more mental health problems.

People who live amid high levels of inequality, in short, have plenty of reasons to feel stressed and frustrated. They also tend to have plenty of politicians hovering around eager to exploit that frustration — and distract attention from the rich and powerful and the inequality their grand private fortunes engender.

“Foreign aid” has always been an easy target for these exploiters. But foreign aid has never been the problem. The problem has been — and remains — a distribution of income and wealth that privileges the few at the expense of the great many.

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Reason, Creativity and Freedom: The Communalist Model

NOVANEWS

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“Whether the twenty-first century will be the most radical of times or the most reactionary … will depend overwhelmingly upon the kind of social movement and program that social radicals create out of the theoretical, organizational, and political wealth that has accumulated during the past two centuries… The direction we select … may well determine the future of our species for centuries to come.”—Murray Bookchin, The Communalist Project (2002)

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election, devastating images and memories of the First and Second World Wars flood our minds. Anti-rationalism, racialized violence, scapegoating, misogyny and homophobia have been unleashed from the margins of society and brought into the political mainstream.

Meanwhile, humanity itself runs in a life-or-death race against time. The once-unthinkable turmoil of climate change is now becoming reality, and no serious attempts are being undertaken by powerful actors and institutions to holistically and effectively mitigate the catastrophe. As the tenuous and paradoxical era of American republicanism comes to an end, nature’s experiment in such a creative, self-conscious creature as humanity reaches a perilous brink.

Precisely because these nightmares have become reality, now is the time to decisively face the task of creating a free and just political economic system. For the sake of humanity — indeed for the sake of all complex life on earth as we know it — we must countervail the fascism embodied today in nation-state capitalism and unravel a daunting complex of interlocking social, political, economic and ecological problems. But how?

As a solution to the present situation, a growing number of people in the world are proposing “communalism”: the usurpation of capitalism, the state, and social hierarchy by the way of town, village, and neighborhood assemblies and federations. Communalism is a living idea, one that builds upon a rich legacy of political history and social movements.

The Commune From Rojava to the Zapatistas

The term communalism originated from the revolutionary Parisian uprising of 1871 and was later revived by the late-twentieth century political philosopher Murray Bookchin (1931-2006). Communalism is often used interchangeably with “municipalism”, “libertarian municipalism” (a term also developed by Bookchin) and “democratic confederalism” (coined more recently by the imprisoned Kurdish political leader Abdullah Öcalan).

Although each of these terms attempt to describe direct, face-to-face democracy, communalism stresses its organic and lived dimensions. Face-to-face civic communities, historically called communes, are more than simply a structure or mode of management. Rather, they are social and ethical communities uniting diverse social and cultural groups. Communal life is a good in itself.

There are countless historical precedents that model communalism’s institutional and ethical principles. Small-scale and tribal-based communities provide many such examples. In North America, the Six Nations Haudenasanee (Iroquis) Confederacy governed the Great Leaks region by confederal direct democracy for over 800 years. In coastal Panama, the Kuna continue to manage an economically vibrant island archipelago. Prior to the devastation of colonization and slavery, the Igbo of the Niger Delta practiced a highly cosmopolitan form of communal management. More recently, in Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatista Movement have reinvented pre-Columbian assembly politics through hundreds of autonomous municipios and five regional capitals called caracoles (snails) whose spirals symbolize the joining of villages.

Communalist predecessors also emerge in large-scale urban communities. From classical Athens to the medieval Italian city-states, direct democracy has a home in the city. In 2015, the political movement Barcelona en Comú won the Barcelona city mayorship based on a vast, richly layered collective of neighborhood assemblies. Today, they are the largest party in the city-council, and continue to design platforms and policies through collective assembly processes. In Northern Syria, the Kurdish Freedom Movement has established democratic confederalism, a network of people’s assemblies and councils that govern alongside the Democratic Union Party (PYD).

These are just a few examples among countless political traditions that testify to “the great theoretical, organizational and political wealth” that is available to empower people against naked authoritarianism.

Power, Administration and Citizenship 

The most fundamental institution of communalism is the civic assembly. Civic assemblies are regular communal gatherings open to all adults within a given municipality — such as a town, village or city borough — for the purpose of discussing, debating and making decisions about matters that concern the community as a whole.

In order to understand how civic assemblies function, one must understand the subtle, but crucial distinction between administration and decision-making power. Administration encompasses tasks and plans related to executing policy. The administration of a particular project may make minor decisions — such as what kind of stone to use for a bridge.

Power, on the other hand, refers to the ability to actually make policy and major decisions — whether or not to build a bridge. In communalism, power lies within this collective body, while smaller, mandated councils are delegated to execute them. Experts such as engineers, or public health practicioners play animportant role in assemblies by informing citizens, but it is the collective body itself which is empowered to actually make decisions.

With clear distinctions between administration and power, the nature of individual leadership changes dramatically. Leaders cultivate dialogue and execute the will of the community. The Zapatistas expresses this is through the term cargo, meaning the charge or burden. Council membership execute the will of their community, leadership means “to obey and not to command, to represent and not to supplant…to move down and not upwards.”

A second critical distinction between professional-driven politics as usual and communalism is citizenship. By using the term “citizen”, communalists deliberately contradict the restrictive and emptied notion of citizenship invoked by modern-day nation-states. In communal societies, citizenship is conferred to every adult who lives within the municipality. Every adult who lives within the municipality is empowered to directly participate, vote and take a turn performing administrative roles. Rather, this radical idea of citizenship is based on residency and face-to-face relationships.

Civic assemblies are a living tradition that appear time and again throughout history. It is worth pausing here to consider the conceptual resources left to us by classical Athenian democracy. Admittedly, Athenian society was far from perfect. Like the rest of the Mediterranean world at that time, Athens was built upon the backs of slaves and domesticated women. Nonetheless, Athenian democracy to this day is the most well-documented example of direct, communal self-management:

Agora: The common public square or meetinghouse where the assembly gathers. The agora is home to our public selves, where we go to make decisions, raise problems, and engage in public discussion.

Ekklesia: The general assembly, a community of citizens.

Boule: The administrative body of 500 citizens that rotated once every year.

Polis: The city itself. But here again, the term refers not to mere materiality, but rather to a rich, multi-species and material community. The polis is an entity and character unto itself.

Paeida: Ongoing political and ethical education individuals undergo to achieve arete, virtue or excellence.

The key insight of classical Athenian democracy is that assembly politics are organic. Far more than a mere structure or set of mechanisms, communalism is a synergy of elements and institutions that lead to a particular kind of community and process. Yet assemblies alone do not exhaust communal politics. Just as communities are socially, ecologically and economically inter-dependent, a truly free and ethical society must engage in robust inter-community dialogue and association. Confederation allows autonomous communities to “scale up” for coordination across a regional level.

Confederation differs from representative democracy because it is based on recallable delegates rather than individually empowered representatives.Delegates cannot make decisions on behalf of a community. Rather, they bring proposals back down to the assembly. Charters articulate a confederacy’s ethical principles and define expectations for membership. In this way, communities have a basis to hold themselves and one another accountable. Without clear principles, basis of debate to actions based on principles of reason, humanism and justice.

In the Kurdish Freedom Movement of Rojava, Northern Syria, the Rojava Social Contract is based on “pillars” of feminism, ecology, moral economy and direct democracy. These principles resonate throughout the movement as a whole, tying together diverse organizations and communities on a shared basis of feminism, radical multi-culturalism and ecological stewardship.

A Free Society 

There is no single blueprint for a municipal movement. Doubtlessly, however, the realization of such free political communities can only come about with fundamental changes in our social, cultural and economic fabric. The attitudes of racism and xenophobia, which have fueled the virulent rise of fascism today in places like the United States, must be combated by a radical humanism that celebrates ethnic, cultural and spiritual diversity. For millennia, sex and gender oppression have denigrated values and social forms attributed to women. These attitudes must be supplanted by a feminist ethic and sensibility of mutual care.

Nor can freedom cannot come about without economic stability. Capitalism along with all forms of economic exploitation must be abolished and replaced by systems of production and distribution for use and enjoyment rather than for profit and sale. The vast, concrete belts of “modern” industrial cities must be overhauled and rescaled into meaningful, livable and sustainable urban spaces. We must deal meaningfully with problems of urban development, gentrification and inequality embodied within urban space.

Just as individuals cannot be separated from the broader political community of which they are a part, human society cannot be separated from our context within the natural world. The cooperative, humanistic politics of communalism thus work hand in hand with a radical ecological sensibility that recognizes human beings a unique, self-conscious part of nature.

While managing our own needs and desires, we have the capacity to be outward-thinking and future-oriented. The Haudenasaunee (Iroquis) Confederacy calls this the “Seven Generations Principle.” According to the Seven Generations Principle, all political deliberations must be made on behalf of the present community — which includes animals and the broader ecological community — for the succeeding seven generations.

While even a brief sketch of all the social changes needed today far exceed the scope of a short essay, the many works of Murray Bookchin and other social ecologists provide rich discussions about the meaning of a directly democratic and ecological society. From the Green Movement, the Anti-Globalization Movement, Occupy Wall Street, to Chile and Spain’s Indignados Movements, communalist ideals have also played a growing role in social and political struggles throughout the world. It is a growing movement in its own right.

Communalism is not a hard and rigid ideology, but rather a coherent, unfolding body of ideas built upon a core set of principles and institutions. It is, by definition, a process — one that is open and adaptable to virtually infinite cultural, historical and ecological contexts. Indeed, communalism’s historical precedents in tribal democracy and town/village assemblies can be found in nearly every corner of the earth.

The era of professional-driven, state “politics” has come to an end. Only grassroots democracy at a global scale can successfully oppose the dystopian future ahead. All the necessary tools are at hand. A great wealth of resources have accumulated during humanity’s many struggles. With it — with communalism — we might remake the world upon humanity’s potential for reason, creativity and freedom.

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Big Pharma Quietly Enlists Leading Professors to Justify $1,000-Per-Day Drugs

To persuade payers and the public, the pharmaceutical industry has deployed a potent new ally.

To persuade payers and the public, the pharmaceutical industry has deployed a potent new ally. (Photo: Pixabay)

This story was co-published with Consumer Reports.

Over the last three years, pharmaceutical companies have mounted a public relations blitz to tout new cures for the hepatitis C virus and persuade insurers, including government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, to cover the costs. That isn’t an easy sell, because the price of the treatments ranges from $40,000 to $94,000 — or, because the treatments take three months, as much as $1,000 per day.

To persuade payers and the public, the industry has deployed a potent new ally, a company whose marquee figures are leading economists and health care experts at the nation’s top universities. The company, Precision Health Economics, consults for three leading makers of new hepatitis C treatments: Gilead, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and AbbVie. When AbbVie funded a special issue of the American Journal of Managed Care on hepatitis C research, current or former associates of Precision Health Economics wrote half of the issue. A Stanford professor who had previously consulted for the firm served as guest editor-in-chief.

At a congressional briefing last May on hepatitis C, three of the four panelists were current or former Precision Health Economics consultants. One was the firm’s co-founder, Darius Lakdawalla, a University of Southern California professor.

“The returns to society actually exist even at the high prices,” Lakdawalla assured the audience of congressional staffers and health policymakers. “Some people who are just looking at the problem as a pure cost-effectiveness problem said some of these prices in some ways are too low.”

Even as drug prices have come under fierce attack by everyone from consumer advocates to President Donald Trump, insurers and public health programs have kept right on shelling out billions for the new hepatitis C treatments, just as Precision Health Economics’ experts have urged them. With a battle looming between the industry and Trump, who has accused manufacturers of “getting away with murder” and vowed to “bring down” prices, the prestige and credibility of the distinguished academics who moonlight for Precision Health Economics could play a crucial role in the industry’s multipronged push to sway public and congressional opinion.

While collaboration between higher education and industry is hardly unusual, the professors at Precision Health Economics have taken it to the next level, sharpening the conflicts between their scholarly and commercial roles, which they don’t always disclose. Their activities illustrate the growing influence of academics-for-hire in shaping the national debate on issues from climate change to antitrust policy, which ultimately affect the quality of life and the household budgets of ordinary Americans — including what they pay for critical medications.

The pharmaceutical industry is digging in, with one of its trade groups raising an additional $100 million for its “war chest.” For years, it has spent millions of dollars lobbying politicians, hoping to enlist their support on a wide range of legislation. It has similarly wooed doctors, seeking to influence what they research, teach and prescribe. Now, it’s courting health economists.

“This is just an extension of the way that the drug industry has been involved in every phase of medical education and medical research,” said Harvard Medical School professor Eric G. Campbell, who studies medical conflicts of interest. “They are using this group of economists it appears to provide data in high-profile journals to have a positive impact on policy.”

The firm participates in many aspects of a drug’s launch, both advising on “pricing strategies” and then demonstrating the value of a drug once it comes on the market, according to its brochure. “Led by professors at elite research universities,” the group boasts of a range of valuable services it has delivered to clients, including generating “academic publications in the world’s leading research journals” and helping to lead “formal public debates in prestigious, closely watched forums.”

Precision Health Economics may be well-positioned to influence the Trump administration. Tomas Philipson, an economist at the University of Chicago and the third co-founder of Precision Health Economics, reportedly served briefly as a senior health care adviser for the Trump transition team. He did not respond to requests for comment. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, reported to be a candidate for commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine and a former “academic affiliate” of Precision Health Economics, according to its website.

Although it’s hard to gauge the firm’s precise impact, associates of Precision Health Economics have often waded into the political fray. Last fall, big pharma spent more than $100 million successfully defeating a California referendum that would have controlled the prices of both generic and name-brand drugs. Testifying in September at a state Senate hearing on a generic drug, co-founder Goldman steered the discussion to name-brand drugs, such as the hepatitis C treatments, arguing that their prices should not be regulated.

“We have to ensure access to future innovation, and that’s going to require some recognition that if someone develops an innovative drug, they’re going to charge a lot for it,” Goldman said.

Prescription drugs on average cost more than twice as much in the US as in other developed nations. That’s mostly due to name-brand drugs. They represent 10 percent of all prescriptions but account for almost three-quarters of the total amount spent on drugs in the US Their prices have doubled in the past five years.

The US grants drugmakers several years of market exclusivity for their products and remains one of the only industrialized countries that allows them to set their own prices. These protections have allowed the pharmaceutical industry to become one of the economy’s most profitable sectors, with margins double those of the auto and petroleum industries.

To justify the value of expensive drugs, the professors affiliated with Precision Health Economics rely on complicated economic models that purport to quantify the net social benefits that the drugs will create.

For one industry-funded hepatitis C study, Lakdawalla and nine co-authors, including three pharmaceutical company researchers, subtracted the costs of the treatment from the estimated dollar value of testing all patients and saving all livers and lives. By testing and treating all patients now, they concluded, society would gain $824 billion over 20 years.

Critics have at times questioned the assumptions underlying the consultants’ economic models, such as the choice of patient populations, and suggested that some of their findings tilt toward their industry clients. For example, some have tried and failed to reproduce their results justifying the value of cancer treatments.

Precision Health Economics allows drugmakers to review articles by its academics prior to publication in academic journals, said a former business development manager of the consulting group. Such prior review is controversial in higher education because it can be seen as impinging on academic freedom.

“Like other standard consulting projects, you can’t publish unless you get permission from the company,” the former employee said. Carolyn Harley, senior vice president and general manager of the firm, said that pre-publication review was not company policy, but “in some cases, client contracts provide them the opportunity for review and comment before submission.”

“I have never published anything that I am not comfortable with or prepared to defend, nor have I ever been asked to,” said Lakdawalla about his firm’s research.

Goldman says the firm’s research is independent, and its clients don’t influence its findings. “From my perspective it’s very clear: I say things that piss off my sponsors, I say things that piss off the detractors,” he told ProPublica. “People are coming to us because they have an interest in sponsoring the research that’s generated. These are our ideas. This is how you get your ideas recognized.”

He said his consulting work does not involve setting prices of specific drugs, and his academic research focuses only on categories of drugs, rather than on particular brands.

The professors’ disclosure of their ties to the firm and to the pharmaceutical industry in scholarly articles is inconsistent: sometimes extensive, sometimes scanty. Members of Precision Health tend to reveal less about their paid work in blogs, public forums like conferences, and legislative testimony. At the Capitol Hill briefing last May on hepatitis C drugs, Lakdawalla didn’t mention his affiliation with Precision Health Economics, though it was listed in the journal issue, which was provided to attendees.

“Conflicts are always a concern, which is why it is important to be transparent about study methods — that way they can be scrutinized and debated in the academic literature,” said Lakdawalla, adding that he has disclosed his ties to the firm in at least 33 publications over the past three years.

Goldman said he and other academics at Precision Health Economics disclose their ties whenever appropriate, but typically journal editors and conference sponsors decide how to make that information available. “I wear two hats,” Goldman said in an interview. “And I try to reveal what that might mean in terms of perceived conflict of interest.”

The issues at stake aren’t just academic. Goldman says that pharmaceutical companies need to reap financial rewards from the enormous time and expense they invest in developing better medical treatments. Yet the high prices of some drugs have left government health programs strapped, or forced them to limit coverage. For example, one promising hepatitis C treatment is so expensive that some state Medicaid programs have chosen to cover its cost for only the sickest patients.

“Triage, triage, triage,” said Emily Scott, a Tennessee factory worker with hepatitis C who was denied coverage for the new treatment. “They set their price so high that we poor folks can’t afford it.”

Despite such cases, four researchers from Precision Health Economics warned in an article last month that any government controls on drug prices could actually shorten the average American’s life by two years by discouraging development of new drugs.

“As the pace of innovation slows, future generations of older Americans will have lower life expectancy relative to the status quo,” they wrote. The article, funded by the pharmaceutical trade group PhRMA, was published in Forum for Health Economics & Policy, of which Goldman is the editor-in-chief and co-founder. More than half of the editors listed on its masthead are current or former consultants at the firm.

Just after Precision Health Economics co-founder Dana Goldman completed his Ph.D. in economics at Stanford, in 1994, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. He was 29 years old. With a pump he wears every day, he takes insulin to treat the disease.

“I would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars if I could take one pill that would make me better,” Goldman said.

His desire for a cure led to a new scholarly interest: the economics of medical innovation. Because there were few government funders for research in the field, he turned to industry. In 2005, Goldman established the firm with Lakdawalla and Philipson.

The headquarters of Precision Health Economics sits in a West Los Angeles office building flanked by palm trees, about 10 miles from Goldman’s academic center at USC. Goldman’s assistant at USC is also an executive assistant at the consulting firm. Daniel Shapiro, director of research compliance at USC, said that both Goldman and Lakdawalla were in compliance with the university’s standards on consulting.

Precision Health Economics has counted at least 25 pharmaceutical and biotech companies and trade groups as clients. The roster includes Abbott Nutrition, AbbVie, Amgen, Biogen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, Gilead, Intuitive Surgical, Janssen, Merck, the National Pharmaceutical Council, Novartis, Otsuka, Pfizer, PhRMA, rEVO Biologics, Shire and Takeda. The firm has 85 staff members in nine locations.

Over the years, the founders recruited an impressive cadre of high-profile academics to consult for these clients. Early in 2016, the firm boasted more than two dozen academic advisers and consultants from top universities on its website. (The site later stopped identifying professors by their university affiliations.) The list of associates has also included some policy heavyweights who recently left the government, including a top official from the Congressional Budget Office, a senior economist from the White House’s Council of Economic Advisors, and an FDA commissioner. About 75 percent of publications by the firm’s employees in the past three years have either been funded by the pharmaceutical industry or have been done in collaboration with drug companies, a ProPublica review found.

Some academics worry that a tight relationship with industry might suggest bias. “I personally find, when your enterprise relies so substantially on a particular source of funds, you will tend to favor that source,” said Princeton economist Uwe Reinhardt.

Goldman says his industry connection has helped him ask better questions.

“The right way to do these things is not to push away the private sector, but to engage them,” he told ProPublica. “If we end up with a world where everyone who has a voice in a debate must be free of perceived bias, we lose the importance of the diversity of ideas.” In a later interview, he added, “You have to separate the appearance of the bias with actual bias.”

These ideas were recently echoed in an op-ed that he wrote with Lakdawalla in the online publication The Conversation.

“To be sure, collaboration with industry supplements our income through consulting fees. But no matter who funds our research — foundations, government, or companies — we apply the same template to our work,” wrote Goldman and Lakdawalla. “The ivory tower is not always the best place to understand the social benefits of treatments, the incentives for medical innovation, and how aligning prices with value can aid consumers.”

Engaging the private sector has indeed boosted Goldman’s income. According to federal conflict of interest forms filed last year, when he served on an advisory panel to the Congressional Budget Office, Goldman earned consulting income from the firm in the range of $25,000 to $200,000, on top of his income as a USC professor. He also has more than $500,000 in equity in the firm. Precision’s Harley says Goldman and Lakdawalla each have equity stakes of less than 1 percent, indicating that the firm is worth at least $50 million. Lakdawalla and Philipson have not publicly disclosed their consulting incomes.

In April 2015, Precision Health Economics was acquired by a privately held biotech company, Precision for Value. Terms weren’t disclosed.

Precision Health Economics raised its profile in 2013 when the president’s annual economic report cited a cancer study by several of the firm’s principals and consultants. To some critics, though, the study showed how industry funding can taint academic research.

Originally published in Health Affairs, where Goldman also serves on the editorial board, the study found that Americans paid more for cancer care than Europeans but had better survival gains.

As the study acknowledged, it was funded by Bristol-Myers Squibb, a company that at the time was developing a much-anticipated cancer treatment. It was priced at more than $150,000 per year when it eventually came on the market. All three founders of Precision Health Economics were listed as authors of the Health Affairs article, alongside one of their employees, yet none of the founders disclosed their ties to their consulting firm in the published study. In an interview, Goldman said this might have been an “oversight.”

Goldman later emailed ProPublica to clarify that the journal was aware that the study was a Precision Health Economics publication and that Goldman and his co-founders were affiliated with the firm. Goldman has published more than 25 articles and letters to the editor in Health Affairs since co-founding Precision Health Economics, and only five have listed the connection.

“This affiliation is clearly not a secret and I include it where relevant,” Goldman wrote in the email. “The bottom line is that disclosure policies vary across journals, journal editors, and over time. Definitions of what is ‘relevant’ are also subject to their own judgments.”

Donald Metz, executive editor of Health Affairs, said the journal followed its policy of leaving disclosure to the “authors’ discretion.” Its editorial staff did not exclude any information on conflicts or affiliations that the authors provided alongside their draft, he said.

As the cancer study gained national recognition, its methodology and findings came under fire. Researchers from Dartmouth College tried and failed to reproduce the results. Cancer care in the US, their research found, may actually provide less value than cancer care in Europe, considering cost.

“We know that [the US health care system] is more disorganized and disorganization is more expensive, so it’s surprising to believe that the US would perform better in a cost-effectiveness sense,” said Samir Soneji, one of the authors of the counter-study and an assistant professor of health policy at Dartmouth. The science in the original study, Soneji says, was “questionable.”

Soneji was not alone in his criticism. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrics professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, reviewed the methodology and concluded that the Precision Health Economics researchers had used a measure that can frequently be misinterpreted. Instead of relying on mortality rates, which factor in a patient’s age of death, the study employed survival rates, looking at how long people live after diagnosis. Cancer screening, which can increase survival rates, is more frequent for some cancers in the US than in other countries, Carroll says.

“When they wrote that paper using survival rates, they were clearly cherry picking,” Carroll told ProPublica. “If the arguments are flawed and people keep using them, I would be concerned that they have some other motive.”

The founders of Precision Health Economics defended their use of survival rates in a published response to the Dartmouth study, writing that they “welcome robust scientific debate that moves forward our understanding of the world” but that the research by their critics had “moved the debate backward.”

Precision Health Economics has become a prominent booster of a new way of setting drug prices — based on their overall value to society. Value is determined by comparing the drugs’ cost with their effectiveness in saving lives and preventing future health expenses.

Pharmaceutical companies have traditionally justified their prices by citing the cost of research and development, but recent research on drug pricing has challenged this argument. Many of the largest drug companies spend more on sales and marketing than on developing their drugs. And notably, one researcher has found that about 75 percent of new molecular entities, which are considered the most innovative drugs, trace their initial research funding back to the government.

“There is substantial evidence that the sources of transformative drug innovation arise from publicly funded research in government and academic labs,” said Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School whose research looks at the cost of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical pricing, he says, is primarily based on what the market can bear.

Many early proponents of value pricing, including American health insurers, saw it as a way to rein in drug prices. Some nations, particularly those with national health systems, like the UK, rely on official cost-effectiveness analyses to decide which drugs to pay for. Overpriced drugs are sometimes denied coverage. This powerful negotiating tool has helped keep drug prices down abroad.

Efforts to establish similar practices in the US, however, have been stymied by lobbying from patient groups, many of them funded by the pharmaceutical industry, contending that value pricing could lead to rationing of health care. More recently, though, the industry has used academic consultants to help it redefine the concept of “value” to justify its pricing.

At the congressional briefing on the new hepatitis C drugs, Harvard Medical School associate professor Anupam Jena, a Precision Health Economics consultant, suggested that part of a drug’s value is earning enough profit that pharmaceutical companies are enticed to develop treatments for other diseases. Otherwise, Jena said, “you don’t incentivize innovations that actually deliver value, and so the next cure … may not be developed.”

Princeton’s Reinhardt said pricing drugs based on this notion of value could give the industry carte blanche to charge whatever it wants. “If you did value pricing and say it’s OK for the drug companies to charge up to what the patient values his or her life to be, you are basically saying that the pharmaceutical companies can take your savings,” he said. “American society will not stand for that.”

Not long after the controversy over its cancer research, Precision Health Economics became embroiled in another academic spat related to a client’s product. This time, it was over a breakthrough treatment that, injected one to two times per month, could help millions of Americans with high cholesterol. At the $14,000-per-year price set by one of its makers, Amgen, the PCSK9 inhibitor could also hike the nation’s annual prescription drug costs by an unprecedented $125 billion, or 38 percent. Its price in the US is twice as much as in the UK.

The US price of the drug has come under vigorous attack from the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review. ICER, which began as a small research project at Harvard Medical School, studies the cost-effectiveness of drugs, balancing their value to patients against the impact of their cost on society. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a new rule in March 2016 that includes the use of value-based pricing studies, specifically citing the work of ICER.

The industry has attacked many of the institute’s studies, particularly those that find a treatment is overpriced. Some patient groups have contended that ICER emphasizes cost savings because it receives funding from health insurers. However, foundations are ICER’s biggest source of funding, and it is also supported by the pharmaceutical industry and government grants. The pharmaceutical lobby has similarly attacked the Drug Effectiveness Review Project, a coalition of state Medicaid agencies and other payers, accusing it of using its studies to justify “rationing.”

ICER concluded in 2015 that the new cholesterol treatment, the PCSK9 inhibitor, should cost about one-fifth what Amgen is charging. A few months later, Philipson, the Precision Health Economics co-founder, and Jena wrote an op-ed in Forbes, citing the institute’s research and deriding its approach to value pricing as “pseudo-science and voodoo economics.” Only Philipson disclosed his ties to Precision Health Economics, and neither academic disclosed that Amgen was a client of the firm.

After being asked by ProPublica about the lack of transparency, Forbes added a disclosure statement to the op-ed. “Manufacturers of PCSK-9 inhibitors and novel treatments for hepatitis C, such as Amgen, Gilead, and Abbvie, are clients of Mr. Philipson’s consulting firm, Precision Health Economics, for which Dr. Jena also works,” the publication noted. “In general, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies which retain Precision Health Economics benefit from higher drug prices.”

Goldman, along with Precision Health Economics employees and two Harvard professors, including Jena, published their own study on the cholesterol drug in the American Journal of Managed Care, where Goldman serves on the editorial board. They found that the new cholesterol drugs were indeed cost-effective at the listed prices. The article disclosed the authors’ ties to Precision Health Economics and the source of funding: Amgen.

The drug is “not cheap, but it’s a good deal” for patients who need it, Goldman said, after his team’s economic models calculated its net value between $3.4 trillion and $5.1 trillion over 20 years.

ICER’s finding that the PCSK9 inhibitor was overpriced was later affirmed in a related study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA. Associates of Precision Health Economics again rushed to Amgen’s defense. Philipson and an Amgen executive wrote a letter to the editor of JAMA to dispute the study’s conclusion that the price should be about $4,500 per month, less than a third of the drug’s average price.

The two studies made different assumptions that shaped their conclusions. Dr. Dhruv Kazi, one of the authors of the JAMA study and an associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, said that the Precision Health Economics study assumed that there were fewer eligible patients who would take the drug, lowering the cost to society. It also posited that they had a higher risk of cardiac events, like heart attacks, boosting the drug’s value as measured in lives saved.

“This is an example where you would end up assuming that the population is at higher risk than is true for the real world population and that would make your drug look better,” Kazi said. “It’s not a wild idea to think that a cost-effectiveness study funded by industry would look more favorable” to the industry’s viewpoint, he said. “If that weren’t the case, they wouldn’t fund it.”

Jena said the patient population for the Precision Health Economics study more accurately reflected the real world. One should not automatically assert that a study is “invalid or flawed” because of industry funding, he added.

The JAMA study “over-exaggerated the cost” of the drug and “unnecessarily rang ‘alarm bells,'” said Amgen spokeswoman Kristen Neese.

Amgen has ties to all three founders of Precision Health Economics. Working for other firms, Philipson has twice testified as an expert witness for Amgen, defending the company’s rights to drug patents, according to his curriculum vitae. The other two founders, Goldman and Lakdawalla, are principals at the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at USC, which received $500,000 in late 2016 from Amgen for an “innovation initiative,” according to public disclosures. Goldman said the funds were unrestricted and could be used at the center’s discretion. Robert Bradway, the CEO and chair of Amgen, is on the advisory board of the university center, and Leonard Schaeffer, a professor at USC and the namesake of the center, sat on Amgen’s board of directors for nearly a decade.

With funding from Amgen, the Schaeffer Center hosted a forum in Washington, D.C., in October 2015 on the affordability of specialty drugs. Before a panel focused on the new cholesterol treatment, Goldman cautioned against lowering drug prices.

“We know that the pricing of these treatments is often controversial,” he told the crowd of policymakers, which included Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a physician who sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “If we dropped all the prices today, in the long run, we wouldn’t have any innovation.”

The PCSK9 inhibitor’s price inhibits access for some patients who need it. Scott Annese, a 50-year-old computer technician from South Daytona, Florida, has diabetes and a total blood cholesterol level topping 260. After he suffered a heart attack and had two stents inserted in his left coronary artery, his doctor prescribed a statin, a low-cost drug to lower cholesterol. However, the statin combined with his diabetes to cause painful side effects, including muscle aches, cramping, and soreness in his legs that incapacitated him, he said. Amgen’s drug, his doctor told him, was the only other option.

But Annese, who makes $13.50 an hour, couldn’t afford the new drug. He doesn’t have health coverage through his job and says Obamacare, especially with its rising premiums, is too expensive for him. He tried to get insurance through Medicaid, but he earns too much to qualify. His last option, he said, is Amgen’s patient assistance program, which he has applied for. His application is pending.

“If you’re in the industry to help people, you’re not helping them if you raise the drugs to the point that they can’t afford it,” said Annese. “The drug companies are hurting the people who need it most.”

Gilead Sciences’ $84,000 list price for its highly effective treatment for the hepatitis C virus prompted dozens of state Medicaid programs and prison systems to restrict treatment to only the sickest patients. A congressional investigation in 2015 found that Gilead, which purchased the drug from a smaller pharmaceutical company, had set the price of the treatment at the peak it thought the market could bear, more than double what the drug’s original developers had suggested.

“Gilead pursued a calculated scheme for pricing and marketing its hepatitis C drug based on one primary goal, maximizing revenue, regardless of the human consequences,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., when he presented the findings of the congressional investigation.

While Precision Health Economics often portrays itself as an advocate for wider access to vital medications such as the hepatitis C drugs, the high price of those drugs forces some payers, such as the Medicaid programs, to ration them. As a result, the professors may influence who ultimately gets the drug and who doesn’t. The impact is reverberating in the rugged hills of eastern Tennessee, where hepatitis C is spreading due to the opioid epidemic. Because the virus can be asymptomatic for years, only a fraction of those infected know they are carriers, leading many to spread the potentially fatal liver disease unknowingly, mostly by sharing needles.

Over the past seven years, the number of acute cases of hepatitis C in Tennessee has tripled. The state has estimated that more than 100,000 residents are likely to have a chronic version of the disease without realizing it. Just last year, the state issued a public-health advisory addressing the crisis, but the rates of infection continue to rise.

It took years for Emily Scott, the factory worker from the Cumberland Gap region of eastern Tennessee, to find out she had the virus. After donating blood in January 2016, she received a certified letter from the blood bank informing her that her blood could not be accepted because it had tested positive for hepatitis C.

She didn’t believe the letter at first, hoping they had mistaken her blood with that of another donor. After all, she had never experienced any symptoms. But a local doctor reran her blood work and her diagnosis was confirmed.

Like many in her community, Scott had battled an addiction to drugs, mostly painkillers, and she had used syringes in the past for her highs. She’d been clean for the past four years but believes that she contracted the disease through her drug use.

“I made some mistakes,” said the 26-year-old Scott. “But I didn’t ask to be sick.”

Shortly after her diagnosis, Scott learned from a television advertisement that the new drugs had a cure rate of 90 percent. But getting the treatments would prove elusive.

Raising her two sons on her own, Scott barely supports the family with her weekly income of about $350 from sewing shirts at an apparel factory. She is one of more than 11,000 Tennesseans on Medicaid who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, according to the most recent state data. If all of them received the new medication, the state estimated that it would cost over $1.6 billion, more than double what Tennessee’s Medicaid program spends on drugs in a year.

“There isn’t an endless bank account,” said Darin Gordon, Tennessee’s former Medicaid director, who was in charge when the hepatitis C cure was launched. “States have to balance budgets, and this came in and hijacked our budget.”

Tennessee quickly limited the treatments to the sickest patients. After reviewing the scientific literature, Gordon’s medical team determined that it was only medically necessary to treat patients whose livers had begun to show scarring, a sign that the disease had progressed beyond the initial latent stage. Even if patients’ conditions stabilize while they await the treatment, they are still contagious. Once the treatment is finished, they no longer can spread the virus.

Under this policy, less than 10 percent of diagnosed Medicaid patients have been treated, still costing the program more than $100 million in the past two years. Patients like Scott, whose liver has no significant scarring, were forced to wait for the disease to progress before being prescribed any of the new drugs.

The state denied Scott’s request for the cure in March 2016. But she wouldn’t let that stop her. She appealed and was granted a hearing in Knoxville, which she had to attend by phone because it was two and a half hours’ drive from her home. She explained to the judge that she was a single mother of two young boys and could not risk her health declining. A few days later, she received a court order in the mail, denying her access to the treatment.

By forcing Tennessee Medicaid and other public payers to delay coverage, the high price of the hepatitis C drugs incurs a social cost. While waiting to become sick enough for treatment, patients may transmit the disease. Some, including Scott, begin to feel symptoms like fatigue and muscle pains, which may hinder their ability to work.

“The drug companies do not have people’s interest in mind, they have money in mind,” Scott said. “It’s not fair that they are playing with people’s lives.”

Since the firm’s sale in 2015, Precision Health Economics’ three founders have taken roles in its parent company. Goldman is an executive economist at Precision for Value and chairs an advisory board focused on “value and evidence.” Lakdawalla is the chief scientific officer, and Philipson is listed as chief economist and the chair of the strategy and innovation board.

On its website, Precision for Value lays out how it can help biotech companies with “preliminary pricing, access, and evidence strategy” and “launch price strategy.” The company says that it can “pressure test” a company’s proposed messaging strategy on value with key stakeholders and determine how willing the market might be to pay future drug prices.

Under its new ownership, Precision Health Economics recently launched a group focused explicitly on assessing the value of innovative drugs. The firm’s three founders are involved with this Innovation and Value Initiative, which bills itself as an “unparalleled convergence of academic leaders and scientific experts.” Lakdawalla serves as executive director of the initiative. On the initiative’s health advisory panel, which is supposed to steer the research agenda, Goldman and Philipson sit alongside mostly executives from pharmaceutical companies and trade groups.

The initiative also has a scientific advisory group for internal peer review. All of its members are current or former Precision Health Economics consultants or staffers. Lakdawalla said in an email that all of its projects “either undergo academic peer review at a journal, or include an external peer reviewer outside [the firm].”

To promote the new initiative, Precision Health Economics has launched an extensive advertising campaign, sponsoring content in Health Affairs, writing op-eds in The Washington Post and Forbes, and even buying ads on Google.

In a phone conversation, Goldman was asked whether the stratospheric drug prices bolstered by the professors at Precision Health Economics deprive low-income patients, like Emily Scott, of vital treatments. He responded that it’s important to take a longer-term view.

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What’s Happening in Brazil? Exactly What the Coup Leaders Said Would Happen

NOVANEWS

By Ted Snider, Truthout 

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil during an interview with foreign correspondents at her office in Palacio do Planalto, Brasilia, Brazil. March 24, 2016. As Rousseff wages a last-ditch battle to stave off impeachment, she has accused her rivals in Congress of creating turmoil, saying they are orchestrating a coup d’etat to oust her. (Tomas Munita/The New York Times)

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil during an interview with foreign correspondents at her office in Palacio do Planalto, Brasilia, Brazil on March 24, 2016. (Tomas Munita / The New York Times)

The social democratic, left-wing government of Brazil was removed in a coup.

Though that striking statement could be ripped from the headlines of newspapers today, it also describes the headlines of half a century ago, in April of 1964.

The Brazilian coup gets forgotten in the crowd of Latin American coups. In discussions of Latin American interventions, it often gets lost in the press of the 1954 Guatemalan coup against Jacobo Árbenz or the 1973 Chilean coup against Salvador Allende. But the Brazilian coup that was sandwiched between them was significant and merits more attention.

In Who Rules the World, Noam Chomsky explains that in 1962, President John F. Kennedy made the policy decision to transform the militaries of Latin America from defending against external forces to “internal security” or, as Chomsky puts it, “war against the domestic population, if they raised their heads.” The Brazilian coup is significant because it may have been the first major manifestation of this shift in the US’s Latin American policy. The Kennedy administration prepared the coup, and it was carried out shortly after Kennedy’s assassination. Chomsky says that the “mildly social democratic” government of João Goulart was taken out for a “murderous and brutal” military dictatorship.

The evidence that the US cooperated in the coup that removed Goulart from power is solid. The field report of the CIA station in Brazil shows clear US foreknowledge of the coup: “A revolution by anti-Goulart forces will definitely get under way this week, probably in the next few days.” President Lyndon B. Johnson gave Under Secretary of State George Ball and Assistant Secretary for Latin America Thomas Mann the green light to participate in the coup: “I think we ought to take every step that we can, be prepared to do everything that we need to do.”

And the steps were substantial. Ambassador Lincoln Gordon told CIA Director John McCone, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Secretary of State Dean Rusk that those steps should include “a clandestine delivery of arms … pre-positioned prior any outbreak of violence” to the coup forces, as well as shipments of gas and oil. Gordon also told them to “prepare without delay against the contingency of needed overt intervention at a second stage” after the covert involvement. Rusk would then send Gordon a list of the steps that would be taken “in order [to] be in a position to render assistance at appropriate time to anti-Goulart forces if it is decided this should be done.” The list, sent in a telegram on March 31, 1964, included dispatching US Navy tankers with petroleum and oil, an aircraft carrier, two guided missile destroyers, four destroyers and task force tankers for “overt exercises off Brazil.” The telegram also lists as a step to “assemble shipment of about 11 tons of ammunition.”

This little-known historical record is interesting for its demonstration that the last time Brazil had a “mildly social democratic” government, the US cooperated in its removal. The next social democratic government would be the now removed Workers’ Party government of Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff.

How do we know that the maneuverings that removed Dilma Rousseff from power were a coup dressed in the disguise of parliamentary democracy? Because the coup leaders have told us so. Twice now.

A published transcript of a 75-minute phone call between Romero Jucá, who was a senator at the time of the call and soon to be the planning minister in the new Michel Temer government, and former oil executive Sergio Machado lays bare “a national pact” to remove Dilma and install Temer as president. Jucá reveals that, not only opposition politicians, but also the military and the Supreme Court are conspirators in the coup. Regarding the military’s role, Jucá says, “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” And, as for the Supreme Court, Glenn Greenwald reports that Jucá admits that he “spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court.” Jucá further boasted that “there are only a small number” of Supreme Court justices that he had not spoken to.

According to Greenwald, the Brazilian newspaper that first published the transcript, Folha de São Paulo, says that Jucá makes it very clear in the phone call that he believed the coup would “end the pressure from the media and other sectors to continue the Car Wash investigation,” the corruption investigations that were closing in on many members of the government, including many of the coup participants, leaders and the coup president, Michel Temer, himself.

According to Jucá, the head of Michel Temer’s party then, one of the intended purposes of the coup was to protect the coup leaders from the corruption investigation that was closing in on them.

According to Temer, the coup had a second purpose. In a post-coup speech in front of members of multinational corporations and the US policy establishment in New York on September 22, 2016, Temer brazenly boasted of his successful coup. Temer clearly told his American audience that elected President Dilma Rousseff was not removed from power for “violating fiscal laws by using loans from public banks to cover budget shortfalls, which artificially enhanced the budget surplus,” as the official charge stated. She was — the new, unelected president admitted — removed because of her refusal to implement a right-wing economic plan that was inconsistent with the economic platform on which Brazilians elected her. Temer’s economic plan featured cuts to health, education and welfare spending, as well as increased emphasis on privatization and deregulation.

Rousseff was not on board. So she was thrown overboard. In the words of Temer’s confession:

And many months ago, while I was still vice president, we released a document named ‘A Bridge to the Future’ because we knew it would be impossible for the government to continue on that course. We suggested that the government should adopt the theses presented in that document called ‘A Bridge to the Future.’ But, as that did not work out, the plan wasn’t adopted and a process was established which culminated with me being installed as president of the republic.

The second purpose, then, was the implementation of an unpopular right-wing economic plan.

So what’s happening now in Brazil? What did Jucá and Temer say would be happening in Brazil? They are protecting themselves from prosecution for corruption and making real a radically right-wing economic plan.

The attempt to insulate themselves from the prosecution that was sure to come if Dilma remained president began quickly with the Brazilian Congress’ attempt to pass a law that would retroactively protect members of the Congress from corrupt election financing. Temer and others have been implicated in the “caixa dois,” or second box scandal in which they accepted undeclared contributions as bribes. Temer himself interestingly declared that he would not veto the amnesty law.

The plan to protect themselves continued to unfold when, a few months later, the lower house of Brazil’s congress passed a law that would allow members of congress accused of corruption to accuse the prosecutors and judges of abusing their authority. This law, then, would allow politicians accused of corruption to pursue the prosecutors who were pursuing them. After protests on the streets of Brazil and legal challenges to annul the vote, the proposal is back at square one in the house. The progress of the bill will be decided after the ministers return from recess this month. The president of the senate has expressed the desire to continue with the proposal. Though the outcome is unknown, the introduction and the continued pursuit of the law clearly expose the coup government’s intent.

So, that’s part one of the coup plan unfolding according to plan. And part two is also predictably unfolding as Temer announced in New York. In his short time in office, Temer has ushered in a host of privatization and austerity measures. But the feature presentation was still to come.

In October 2016, the Chamber of Deputies approved the draft of a constitutional amendment that would limit annual increases in government spending to the inflation rate of the previous year for the next 20 years. What they passed was not just a draft of a law, but of an amendment locked into place for the next two decades by the constitution. The amendment would effectively freeze spending on social and welfare services, including health and education, just as Temer promised in New York, despite the government’s assurances that it will not affect health and education.

In December 2016, Brazil’s Senate passed the draft into law. Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said, “This … radical measure … will place Brazil in a socially retrogressive category all of its own.” He went on to say that the “amendment would lock in inadequate and rapidly dwindling expenditure on health care, education and social security, thus putting an entire generation at risk of social protection standards well below those currently in place.” The UN special rapporteur condemned the amendment as “clearly violat[ing] Brazil’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it ratified in 1992, not to take ‘deliberately retrogressive measures’ unless there are no alternative options and full consideration has been given to ensure that the measures are necessary and proportionate.”

So, events in Brazil are unfolding exactly according to the expressed plans of the coup leaders. The removal of Dilma Rousseff was a coup, and the coup was executed to protect the coup leaders from corruption charges and to allow them to return Brazil to the regressive right-wing road it was on prior to the more socially progressive left-wing governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff that the oligarchs and corporations so opposed.

Unlike the 1964 coup, the degree to which the US was complicit is not yet known. Though, according to Latin American expert Mark Weisbrot, “there is no doubt that the biggest players in this coup attempt — people like former presidential candidates José Serra and Aécio Neves — are US government allies.”

But the US is at least tacitly complicit, because the day after the impeachment vote, Sen. Aloysio Nunes of the new coup government began a three-day visit to Washington. Nunes is no small player in the coup government; he was the vice-presidential candidate on the 2014 ticket that lost to President Rousseff and a key player in the effort to impeach Rousseff in the Senate. Nunes scheduled meetings with, amongst others, then-chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker and Ben Cardin, as well as with Undersecretary of State and former Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon.

The willingness to go ahead with the planned meetings with Nunes right after the coup suggests at least tacit acceptance or approval on the part of the Obama administration. And now, despite President Trump’s assurances that his government would not follow the interventionist path of Presidents Clinton and Obama, Trump has already offered Brazil the same tacit approval and support. In December 2016, Temer and Trump agreed on a phone call “to improve business relations.” According to Temer’s office, the two presidents “agreed to launch, immediately after the swearing in of the new American president, an agenda for Brazil-US growth.”

So, what’s happening in Brazil today? Just what the coup leaders said would be happening in Brazil today.

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Syria: S.A.A LIBERATES 8 MORE VILLAGES AND TOWNS IN ALEPPO

NOVANEWS
SYRIAN ARMY LIBERATES 8 MORE VILLAGES AND TOWNS IN ALEPPO; ABOUT TO ENTER MANBIJ; CRUSHES ALQAEDA ATTACK IN HOMS; RAT MORALE CRASHING

Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is taking the high road in Syria. We know this because the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are realigning with the Syrian government. The SDF knows that the Turk cockroach, Erdoghan, will order his army to move into Manbij to evict them at some point citing his obsessive condition when it comes to Kurdish existence and Kurdish resolve to battle Turkish oppression. Instead of acting as bait for Erdoghan, the largely Kurdish SDF has decided wisely to acquiesce to the Syrian Army’s entry into the city thus blunting any argument Erdoghan may have to further encroach on Syrian sovereignty. Moreover, and happily, the city’s administration is anxious to restore Manbij to the writ of the central government for reasons having to do with security, open pathways to the industrial capital of Aleppo City, and, possibly, to thwart Erdoghan’s plans to invade even further.

That Erdoghan is losing ground in Syria should not be lost on anyone. Rex Tillerson has reportedly sacked scores of politically appointed employees at Foggy Bottom, many of whom were allied with the Neo-Con plan to dismember Syria. Mr. Tillerson, is also keen on keeping the U.S. out of Levantine politics for the short term which is proven by the curious absence of American influence at the latest Geneva Conference which, notably, resulted in a “working agenda” agreed to by all parties except the “Riyaadh Platform”, a Saudi controlled group of child molesters and wanted felons. In can be expected that the “Riyaadh Platform” will no longer receive any invitations from DeMistura unless its terrorist members comply with the wishes of the majority. This has been a great victory for Dr. Bashar Al-Jaafari who, finally, was able to push through the “basket” which would address the presence of terrorism inside Syria. Needless to say, the Saudis, who were pulling the strings of their Syrian sycophants, will not agree to any discussion of their own support for terrorists.

Manbij: The Syrian Army delegation and supported by Arabic-speaking Russian officers are meeting with the SDF head, Talaal Sillu, to put together an agreement to open a corridor to Aleppo City in order to revitalize trade in the region. In truth, the Syrians and Russians want to kibosh Erdoghan’s plan to invade while, at the same time, improving the living conditions of citizens. The Turks now occupy a village north of Manbij, Al-Kuraydiyya, and intelligence reports indicate a strengthening of the Turk forces there.

8 more towns and villages have been liberated east of Aleppo City with ISIS continuously redeploying rear-ward toward Tabqa. The villages are:

Rasm Al-Kibaar, ‘Alfa, Abu-Jareen, Tal Maa’izz, Al-Rawdha, Tal Al-Za’raayaa, Umm Al-Talaatil, Umm Al-‘Amad. These towns were freed after the Syrian Air Force and SAA artillery laid waste to all ISIS fortifications. In all, 10 tanks, which were booby-trapped, by the way, were destroyed. At present, the SAA Engineering Corps are dismantling the network of IEDs and mines laid by the fleeing or dying ISIS rodents.

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IDLIB:

Tarmala: On March 1, 2017, the citizens of this town broke out in a demonstration supporting Dr. Assad’s government. Many readers were concerned about the eventual reaction of the terrorist hyenas to this event. So far, no reports of vengeance have arrived.

Tarmala and Hassaana in south rural Idlib: The SAAF has destroyed 3 pickups, 1 with a 23mm cannon, and the others carrying rodents belonging to Alqaeda/Nusra. We can confirm the deaths of 3 vermin, all of whom were Uighers.

Tarmala Area around Sinjaar: SAA rangers armed with Kornet rockets and launchers destroyed a truck loaded with ammunition from Turkey/Saudi Arabia killing all aboard and creating quite a mess I am told.

Ma’arrat Al-Nu’maan: Women had their own demonstration yesterday demanding the release of a terrorist “media propagandist” named ‘Aadil Ballaani who is being held by “Hay`at Tahreer Al-Shaam”, another Alqaeda affiliate.

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HAMA:

Al-Lataamina: The SAA killed 4 rats in their headquarters in a stunning raid which saw the vermin run out of the deathtrap only to be gunned down like, well, rodents. One of them was a regional commander by the name of “’Abdul-Qaadir Al-Jiddi”, a Saudi Arabian monkey rapist.

Sukayk: On the border with Idlib Province, the SAA put `Ammaar Dayoob to death with a single sniper shot.

Kafr Zaytaa Town: 1 pickup and 1 mortar launch pad reported destroyed.

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HOMS: The Syrian Army foiled a Nusra/Alqaeda plan to overrun army checkpoints at ‘Ayn Al-Danaaneer and Tallat Al-Qatari. Complete flop leaving several rodents dead in their tracks.

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AL-RAQQA: The SDF has clashed with ISIS here at Suwaydiyya Kabeera just north of the Tabqa Dam.

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DAYR EL-ZOR: On February 28, 2017, the SAAF swooped down on a large convoy of trucks carrying weapons from Al-Raqqa and turned the convoy into a bracelet of flames.

Block Factories near the Security Brigade and Engineers’ Complex in the shadow of Tharda Mountain and Hill 23, the SAA rained death down on a group of ISIS terrorists killing over 10 of them and wounding scores.

City: 6 ISIS vultures were killed today after quarreling over who owned a particular male child catamite. Unbelievable, but, true.

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NEWS AND COMMENT:

Brandon explains how the plan to destroy Syria started in 1983:

1983 CIA Document Reveals Plan To Destroy Syria, Foreshadows Current Crisis

Patrick Henningsen writes with acerbity about the Academy Award for the White Helmets documentary – a pure propaganda piece:

Forget Oscar: Give The White Helmets the Leni Riefenstahl Award for Best War Propaganda Film

Eleonora sends us this documentary from Bulgaria about how the rodent half-breed, Obama, sent weapons to Alqaeda to help it in Kasab:

Samer Hussein covers the pro-Syrian demonstration against a concert supporting the terrorist White Helmets in Grand Central Station:

http://www.fort-russ.com/2017/03/pro-syrian-activists-disrupt-concert.html

Read more at http://syrianperspective.com/2017/03/syrian-army-liberates-8-more-villages-and-towns-in-aleppo-about-to-enter-manbij-crushes-alqaeda-attack-in-homs-rat-morale-crashing.html#AFBTtlBXM5w0j6Mb.99

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