Archive | July 27th, 2017

House GOP Seeks to Curb Yemen War

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By Dennis J Bernstein | Consortium News 

Republicans are taking the lead in blocking U.S. participation in the Saudi slaughter in Yemen, which has plunged that country to the brink of starvation and sparked a cholera epidemic. Surprising to many, there was a vote by the Republican-led House of Representatives to block U.S. participation in the Saudi-led war.

The key amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act — prohibiting U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing of Yemen — was sponsored by Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio. Though the amendment gained bipartisan support — and another restrictive amendment was sponsored by Rep. Dick Nolan, D-Minnesota — the Republican leadership on this issue reflects the changing places in which Democrats have become the more hawkish party in Congress.

I spoke to Kate Gould, Legislative Representative for Middle East Policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation about this pressing issue of life and death in Yemen. We spoke on July 17.

Dennis BernsteinWell, this is a terrible situation and getting worse by the day. Could you please remind everyone what it looks like in Yemen on the ground?

Kate Gould: It is a catastrophic situation. According to the United Nations, it is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world right now. And despite the fact that this humanitarian crisis has been a direct result of the Saudi/United Arab Emirate-led war in Yemen, backed by the United States, most Americans have no idea that we are so deeply involved in this war.

A conservative estimate is that seven million people are on the verge of starvation, half a million being children. The people in Yemen are experiencing the world’s largest cholera outbreak. A child under the age of five is dying every ten minutes of preventable causes. Every 35 seconds a child is infected.

This is all preventable with access to clean water and basic sanitation. This war has destroyed the civilian infrastructure in Yemen. We’re talking about air strikes that have targeted warehouses of food, sanitation systems, water infiltration systems. The World Health Organization points out that cholera is not difficult to prevent. The problem is that so many Yemenis lack access to clean water as a result of the infrastructure being in ruins.

DBWhat about the medical infrastructure, what about the ability to deal with this kind of epidemic, or is it just going to get worse?

KG: Well, unless we do something to change the situation, it is definitely going to get worse. In Yemen, 90% of food is imported and the Saudis have made this much more difficult. They imposed more restraints on one of the major ports and have refused to allow Yemen to repair the damage caused by air strikes. Often it is difficult for ships to get permission to berth. All these complications have driven up the price of food so that even when food manages to be imported it is too expensive, even for those earning decent incomes. So what we are seeing is a de facto blockade as well as a war.

DBCould you say a few words about the campaign of the Saudi military and what kind of weaponry they are using? Later I would like to discuss US support for all of this.

KG: The Saudi-led war began about two and a half years ago in March, 2015. At that time they asked for US support and got it from the Obama administration. The air campaign has resulted in the carpet bombing of Yemen. It is the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates who have been driving this massive bombardment. There has been an all-out assault on civilians and civilian infrastructure.

And, of course, as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has pointed out, the Saudis would not have been able to carry out this bombing without full US support. Their planes cannot fly without US refueling capacity. In fact, since October the US has actually doubled the amount of fuel it provides to Saudi and Emirati bombers. Last October is significant because at that time there was a major bombing of mourners coming out of a funeral hall which killed about 140 civilians and wounded another six hundred. Since that atrocity, the US has doubled its refueling support.

DBHow does the US justify its support for the Saudis, from a human rights perspective?

KG: We’ve heard very little discussion of the human rights angle from the Trump administration. The Obama administration claimed to be pressuring the Saudis to take precautions to prevent civilian casualties, that this is why the US has provided precision-guided smart bombs, to limit civilian casualties. There has never been an official US response to the fact that the Saudis and Emiratis are deliberately pushing millions to the verge of starvation. They are using hunger as a political tool to get better leverage on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. This is really what is driving the humanitarian nightmare.

DBWe know that Trump was just in Saudi Arabia and signed a massive weapons contract. Will this weaponry contribute to the coming famine and cholera epidemic?

KG: Certainly. It is providing the Saudis a blank check for this devastating war in which direct casualties from airstrikes are conservatively estimated at around 10,000 and millions of people have been displaced. It sends the message that the United States is willing to support the Saudis despite massive human rights violations.

DBThere is no way the US or the Saudis can deny the tragedy. This has been thoroughly documented by US and international rights groups.

KG: But what they will often say is that a lot of the fault lies with the Houthi rebel groups. And it is certainly true that the Houthi rebels have committed massive human rights violations. But as far as the mass devastation of public infrastructure is concerned, which is leading to the humanitarian crisis, the majority of the blame can be assigned to the Saudi-led war and the US backing.

Repeatedly, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, responding to the scene of unlawful airstrikes against civilian targets, have found either unexploded US-made bombs or identifiable fragments of US bombs. This was the case with the bombing of the funeral procession last October. Still, the US government claims that it is trying to limit civilian casualties.

DBIt is interesting that the Republican-led House has voted to block US participation in the war in Yemen. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive.

KG: It is definitely surprising. Although I’ve been working around the clock on this recently, even I was surprised. What happened is that last week [week of July 9] the House of Representatives voted on the major military policy bill for fiscal year 2018. This is a major piece of national security legislation which authorizes funding for the Pentagon. It has to get passed every year and it provides an opportunity for members to vote on amendments that have to do with national security.

Two of these amendments were particularly consequential for Yemen. One was introduced by a Republican, Warren Davidson of Ohio, and the other by Rick Nolan, a Democrat from Minnesota. They added language that would require the Trump administration to stop providing refueling for Saudi and Emirati bombers, as well as to stop intelligence sharing and other forms of military support. It wouldn’t stop the weapons sales, which is another process, but it would stop military support for this indiscriminate war.

The Davidson amendment would prohibit US military action in Yemen that is not authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. Given that US participation in the Saudi-led war in Yemen is not targeting Al-Qaeda, it is not authorized by the 2001 AUMF and is prohibited by this amendment. The Nolan amendment prohibits the deployment of US troops for any participation in Yemen’s civil war.

This means that the House just voted to end US funding of our military for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. This is really unprecedented and it builds on the wave of congressional momentum that we saw last month when 47 senators voted against sending more of what we call “weapons of mass starvation” to Yemen. So we have clear signals from both the House and the Senate that there is no support for Trump’s blank check to Saudi Arabia for this devastating war.

DBSo now this goes to the Senate?

KG: Yes, and there we are going to face a more difficult fight. We’re preparing for that now. We definitely will see some important Yemen votes in the Senate. It could come up right after a health care vote in early August or it might not be voted on until the fall. But we will see votes on Yemen. It is unclear whether a Senate member will offer amendments similar to the Davidson or Nolan amendments.

Yemeni capital of Sanaa, Oct. 9, 2015 (Wikipedia)

After the Senate votes on the various amendments, they will both have versions of this and they will have to come back and conference a final version to send to the president. This is definitely a time to push our senators to follow suit with the House and oppose US involvement in this devastating war in Yemen.

DBFinally, who are some of these Republican Congressional members who stood up in this effort to restrain this oncoming famine? Who were some of the surprise votes?

KG: Actually, this was added in a whole block of legislation so we can’t point to exactly who supported and who opposed it. It was good to see Warren Davidson taking a leadership role on this issue. He is relatively new in the Senate, having taken [Former House Speaker John] Boehner’s seat. It is noteworthy also that the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mac Thornberry from Texas, allowed this amendment to go forward. Just that the House Republican leadership allowed this to move forward is really interesting in itself.

DBYes, it is. It seems to me that the Democrats have really become out-of-control Cold Warriors, either lost in Russia-gate or dropping the ball on this very important foreign policy issue. We thank you, Kate Gould, Legislative Representative for Middle East Policy with the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

KG: And I just want to say that we can win on this one and we need everybody to get involved. You can go to our website, fcnl.org, to get more information. Again, 47 Senators voted last month to block these bomb sales and we only need 51 votes. And with Trump’s massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia, I’m sure we will have more votes on this. But it is really important to stay engaged and we need everybody to get involved and contact your members of Congress.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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US Air Force Admits to Poisoning Colorado Groundwater

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Sputnik 

On Tuesday, the US Air Force finally acknowledged responsibility for contaminating the water at a east Colorado Springs air base and its surrounding areas.

In a report released Tuesday, service investigators confirmed that groundwater surrounding Peterson Air Force Base had been tainted by perfluorinated firefighting foam chemicals, based on dozens of water and soil tests taken at the base last year.

Several sites where the chemicals had been sprayed directly on the ground by firefighters since the 1970s were highlighted in the report. Despite decades of research noting the danger of using the chemicals, they remained in wide use, and military officials are dealing with similar contamination issues all across the country.

Research has found that laboratory animals exposed to the chemicals suffered low birth weights and cellular and liver damage, according to KKTV.

The levels of perfluorinated chemicals found during testing at the Colorado Springs site were more than 1,000 times higher than the limit put forth by a national health advisory.

Greg Lauer, a council member from nearby Fountain City told the Denver Post, “It makes me really angry that it has taken them this long to get some numbers — and more than a little concerned.”

“We and our ratepayers are going to be dealing for a very long time with this problem we did not create.”

Roy Heald, who manages the Security Water and Sanitation District near Colorado Springs, said that after municipal wells were contaminated the agency spent $3.6 million on alternative water sources and pipelines. But the US Air Force has not yet furnished the $800,000 in reimbursements they promised.

Notably, Tuesday’s report said contamination at the base was most acute at Peterson’s fire training pit, despite there being a plastic liner in place to prevent the chemicals from leeching into the groundwater. Investigators blamed this on “overspray” from firefighters.

Though Air Force investigators admitted that Colorado Springs sewers had been used to dispose of contaminated waste, they glossed over any possible pollution of drinking water.

“The holding tank is occasionally drained into the sanitary sewer system, but such events are rare,” they wrote, adding that 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of chemical-laden wastewater was drained with each release.

Peterson officials last year admitted to storing chemical-tainted water from the fire pit in a tank nearby, pumping it into Colorado Springs’ sewers three times a year, likely tainting the Widefield Aquifer nearby, where high quantities of the chemicals were found last year. The aquifer serves about 65,000 residents, among them the 20,000 of Fountain City, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

When the water passes through the Colorado Springs Utilities’ treatment plant the chemicals are not removed, and once it leaves the plant that water heads for the aquifer’s primary water source, Fountain Creek.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) called for funds to be allocated for testing people for health issues related to toxic water and contamination clean up. “The people of the surrounding communities are patriotic Americans who will do whatever they can to help our national defense,” he said in a statement. “But they should not be called upon to suffer needless environmental burdens.”

READ ALSO:

Radioactive Contamination from Nuclear Waste Site Spreads in Washington

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Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is ‘Israel’ Losing the Syria War?

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Fear and Trepidation in Tel Aviv: Is Israel Losing the Syria War?
Image result for ISRAEL Syria War CARTOON

By Ramzy Baroud 

Israel, which has played a precarious role in the Syrian war since 2011, is furious to learn that the future of the conflict is not to its liking.

The six-year-old Syria war is moving to a new stage, perhaps its final. The Syrian regime is consolidating its control over most of the populated centers, while Daesh is losing ground fast – and everywhere.

Areas evacuated by the rapidly disintegrated militant group are up for grabs. There are many hotly contested regions sought over by the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and its allies, on the one hand, and the various anti-Assad opposition groups and their supporters, on the other.

With Daesh largely vanquished in Iraq – at an extremely high death toll of 40,000 people in Mosul alone – warring parties there are moving west. Shia militias, emboldened by the Iraq victory, have been pushing westward as far as the Iraq-Syria border, converging with forces loyal to the Syrian government on the other side.

Concurrently, first steps at a permanent ceasefire are bearing fruit, compared to many failed attempts in the past.

Following a ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia on 7 July at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, three provinces in southwestern Syria – bordering Jordan and Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – are now relatively quiet. The agreement is likely to be extended elsewhere.

The Israeli government has made it clear to the US that it is displeased with the agreement, and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been leading strong efforts to undermine the ceasefire.

Netanyahu’s worst fears are, perhaps, actualizing: a solution in Syria that would allow for a permanent Iranian and Hezbollah presence in the country.

In the early phases of the war, such a possibility seemed remote; the constantly changing fortunes in Syria’s brutal combat made the discussion altogether irrelevant.

But things have now changed.

Despite assurances to the contrary, Israel has always been involved in the Syria conflict. Israel’s repeated claims that “it maintains a policy of non-intervention in Syria’s civil war,” only fools US mainstream media US mainstream media.

Not only was Israel involved in the war, it also played no role in the aid efforts, nor did it ever extend a helping hand to Syrian refugees.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have perished in the merciless war; many cities and villages were totally destroyed and millions of Syrians have become refugees.

While tiny and poor Lebanon has hosted over a million Syrian refugees, every country in the region and many nations around the world have hosted Syrian refugees, as well. Except Israel.

Even a symbolic government proposal to host 100 Syrian orphans was eventually dropped.

However, the nature of the Israeli involvement in Syria is starting to change. The ceasefire, the growing Russian clout and the inconsistent US position has forced Israel to redefine its role.

A sign of the times has been Netanyahu’s frequent visits to Moscow, to persuade the emboldened Russian President, Vladimir Putin, of Israel’s interests.

While Moscow is treading carefully, unlike Washington it hardly perceives Israeli interests as paramount. When Israel shot down a Syrian missile using an arrow missile last March, the Israeli ambassador to Moscow was summoned for reprimand.

The chastising of Israel took place only days after Netanyahu visited Moscow and “made it clear” to Putin that he wants to “prevent any Syrian settlement from leaving ‘Iran and its proxies with a military presence’ in Syria.”

Since the start of the conflict, Israel wanted to appear as if in control of the situation, at least regarding the conflict in southwestern Syria. It bombed targets in Syria as it saw fit, and casually spoke of maintaining regular contacts with certain opposition groups.

In recent comments before European officials, Netanyahu admitted to striking Iranian convoys in Syria ‘dozens of times.”

But without a joint Israeli-US plan, Israel is now emerging as a weak party. Making that realization quite belatedly, Israel has become increasingly frustrated. After years of lobbying, the Obama Administration refused to [openly] regard Israel’s objectives in Syria as the driving force behind his government’s policies.

Failing to obtain such support from newly-elected President Donald Trump as well, Israel is now attempting to develop its own independent strategy.

On June 18, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has been giving “secret aid” to Syrian rebels, in the form of “cash and humanitarian aid.”

The New York Times reported on July 20 of large shipments of Israeli aid that is “expected to (give) ‘glimmer of hope’ for Syrians.”

Needless to say, giving hope to Syrians is not an Israeli priority. Aside from the frequent bombing and refusal to host any refugees, Israel has occupied the Syrian Golan Heights in 1967 and illegally annexed the territory in 1981.

Instead, Israel’s aim is to infiltrate southern Syria to create a buffer against Iranian, Hezbollah and other hostile forces.

Termed “Operation Good Neighbor,” Israel is working diligently to build ties with various heads of tribes and influential groups in that region.

Yet, the Israeli plan appears to be a flimsy attempt at catching up, as Russia and the US, in addition to their regional allies, seem to be converging on an agreement independent from Israel’s own objectives or even security concerns.

Israeli officials are angry, and feel particularly betrayed by Washington. If things continue to move in this direction, Iran could soon have a secured pathway connecting Tehran to Damascus and Beirut,

Israeli National Security Council head, Yaakov Amidror, threatened in a recent press conference that his country is prepared to move against Iran in Syria, alone.

Vehemently rejecting the ceasefire, Amidror said that the Israeli army will “intervene and destroy every attempt to build (permanent Iranian) infrastructure in Syria.”

Netanyahu’s equally charged statements during his European visit also point at the growing frustration in Tel Aviv.

This stands in sharp contrast from the days when the neoconservatives in Washington managed the Middle East through a vision that was largely, if not fully, consistent with Israeli impulses.

The famed strategy paper prepared by a US study group led by Richard Perle in 1996 is of little use now, as the region is no longer shaped by a country or two.

The paper entitled: “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm”, saw a hostile Arab world masterfully managed by US and Israel.

For a fleeting moment, Tel Aviv hoped that Trump would bring about change to the US attitude.

Indeed, there was that euphoric movement in Israel when the Trump administration struck Syria. But the limited nature of the strike made it clear that the US had no plans for massive military deployment similar to that of Iraq in 2003.

The initial excitement was eventually replaced by cynicism as expressed by this headline in al Monitor: “Netanyahu puts Trump on notice over Syria.”

In 1982, taking advantage of sectarian conflicts, Israel invaded Lebanon and installed a government led by its allies. Those days are long gone.

While Israel remains militarily strong, the region itself has changed and Israel is not the only power holding all the cards.

Moreover, the receding global leadership of the US under Trump makes the Israeli-American duo less effective.

With no alternative allies influential enough to fill the gap, Israel is left, for the first time, with very limited options.

With Russia’s determined return to the Middle East, and the decided retreat by the US, the outcome of the Syria war is almost a foregone conclusion. Surely, this is not the ‘new Syria’ that Israel had hoped for.

Read: Israel’s new occupation zone in Syria

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America’s Militarized Police

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Made in Israel?

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review 

The horrific execution by police of an Australian woman in her pajamas that took place last week in Minneapolis has again produced a torrent of criticism over killings initiated by law enforcement in situations in which the officers are in no way threatened. America has always been a violent place relative to much of the rest of the world, but even so there has been a noticeable shift in how, since the trauma of 9/11, some policemen believe themselves to be superior to and detached from the society they are supposed to be protecting. And the public is reciprocating, seeing the police frequently as a force that is no longer there to serve the people and instead something that should be feared. Even in the upper middle class predominantly white county that I live in, residents not infrequently discuss the increasingly visible and aggressive police presence. It is widely believed that arguing with cops or showing even the slightest attitude in contacts with them is done at one’s peril.

Even in low crime parts of the country, the police are able to deploy fully armed and equipped swat teams that are more military than civilian in their threatening demeanor as well in the body armor and weapons they carry. Many cities and counties now have surplus military armored vans for crowd control even if they have no crowds. Armed drones are increasingly becoming part of the law enforcement arsenal and it sometimes appears as if the police are copying the military as a model of “how to do it.”

The various levels of government that make up the United States seem to be preparing for some kind of insurrection, which may indeed be the case somewhere down the road if the frustrations of the public are not somehow dealt with. But there is another factor that has, in my opinion, become a key element in the militarization of the police in the United States. That would be the role of the security organs of the state of Israel in training American cops, a lucrative business that has developed since 9/11 and which inter alia gives the “students” a whole different perspective on the connection of the police with those who are being policed, making the relationship much more one of an occupier and the occupied.

The engagement of American police forces with Israeli security services began modestly enough in the wake of 9/11. The panic response in the United States to a major terrorist act led to a search for resources to confront what was perceived as a new type of threat that normal law-and-order training did not address.

Israel, which, in its current occupation of much of Palestine and the Golan Heights as well as former stints in Gaza, southern Lebanon and Sinai, admittedly has considerable experience in dealing with the resistance to its expansion manifested as what it describes as terrorism. Jewish organizations in the United States dedicated to providing cover for Israeli’s bad behavior, saw an opportunity to get their hooks into a sizable and respected community within the U.S. that was ripe for conversion to the Israeli point of view, so they began funding “exchanges.”

Since 2002 there have been hundreds of all-expenses-paid trips including officers from every major American city as well as state and local police departments. Some have been sponsored by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has also been directly funding trips since 2008, explaining that “As a people living under constant threat of attack, the Israelis are leading experts in security enforcement and response strategies.” The intent? To “learn” and “draw from the latest developments” so the American cops can “bring these methods back home to implement in their communities.”

AIPAC has several pages in its website dedicated to security cooperation between the two countries. It asks “Did you know? In May 2010, 50 retired Generals and Admirals wrote to President Obama, highlighting the value of U.S. Israeli cooperation.” It goes on to cite an Alabama sheriff who enthuses that “There is no other country [Israel] that shares the same values and overarching goal to allow others to live in peace.” Regarding airport security, it also quotes a U.S. “security expert” who states “We should move even closer to an Israeli model where there’s more engagement with passengers… We’ve just started to do that at TSA…” Indeed. That’s called profiling and pre-boarding interrogations.

Even the federal government has gotten onto the Israel bandwagon, perhaps not a surprise given the number of Israel Firsters in Congress. In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security established a special Office of International Affairs to “institutionalize the relationship between Israeli and American security officials.” The New York City Police Department has a branch in Israel and carries out frequent exchanges.

It should be noted from the git-go that Israel is no more knowledgeable about possible responses to acts of terror than is anyone else. The techniques employed to create physical barriers, to develop sources for intelligence gathering, and to train in tactical responses are quite familiar to anyone who has studied modern-style terrorism since it emerged in Western Europe in the 1970s.

Most countries that have a high or even moderate risk level deriving from terrorists, either domestic or foreign, have recruited and trained special police and paramilitary forces that are familiar with the basic techniques and are quite capable of responding. Ironically, even though the United States government and local police forces have tended to look at the “real pro” Israelis for guidance, state of the art resources for learning about how to deal with terror are available right here at home. JSOC has teams that are every bit as effective – and lethal – as anything the Israelis can muster and the CIA and FBI together know far more about terrorists and how they behave than do the ideologically driven Mossad and Shin Beth.

The American policemen who go on the “exchanges” are probably only dimly aware that what they are being shown is part of Israel’s military justice system, which has nothing to do with Israeli criminals, but instead is designed to keep the lid on the millions of Palestinians who live in what has become a virtual outdoor prison camp. It is an apartheid police state that uses deadly force as a form of crowd control. And the Palestinian former residents of the lands Israel now holds are the “terrorists” that Israel is protecting itself against.

You can bet that the American guests for their part clearly do not realize that they are being trained as prison guards and you also can be sure that they never catch so much as a glimpse of the 300 child prisoners that Israel continues to hold without charges.

Israel’s reputation for “dealing with” terrorism has in any event been glamorized by the Israel-friendly media and entertainment industry while also being promoted by Jewish organizations. It has meant in practical terms that many of the contract security firms operating at airports in the United States and Europe are Israeli. They have also infiltrated state Homeland Security agencies and corporate security in the U.S. Many of the Israeli companies with offices in the United States work closely with Mossad and might reasonably be considered arms of the Israeli government.

Where Israel really excels is in its willingness to kill large numbers of Arabs of all ages and genders using the excuse that they are terrorists. It does so with impunity because Israeli courts almost never hold the army and police accountable for whatever they do. It might reasonably be suggested that when American police officers go through their training in Israel they acquire at least a bit of that attitude from their instructors.

Recognizing that Israel is not exactly a model to be emulated when it comes to the human rights of its Palestinian victims, there is an alternative viewpoint which suggests that American law enforcement might just be learning the wrong things when it travels to Israel. Amnesty International asks “With Whom are Many U.S. Police Departments Training? With Chronic Human Rights Violator Israel.” It notes that last August when the Department of Justice documented numerous violations by the Baltimore Police Department the report failed to mention that policemen from that city had received training in Israel.

Amnesty makes clear what we are dealing with when our policemen are being trained – “… military, security and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years… carrying out extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, using ill treatment and torture (even against children). Suppression of freedom of expressions/association, including through government surveillance, and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.”

And actually, it is worse than that. The American visitors will be welcomed to contemplate the Potemkin village miracle of a democratic, multicultural, inclusive, clever Israel. They will not be allowed to see how the soldiers training them, representatives of “the most moral army in the world,” force Palestinian women to give birth at military checkpoints and watch their babies die, shoot Palestinian teenagers as they are running away for throwing stones, drag men and women out of their beds and kill them while terrorizing their children and dragging them off to jail during midnight raids.

Amnesty’s article documents many of the abuses by Israeli security forces and concludes that using “Public or private funds spent to train our domestic police in Israel should concern all of us. Many of the abuses [in the U.S.] parallel violations by Israeli military, security and police officials.” I would also add that the training provided by JINSA, ADL and the AJC is also partly on the American taxpayers’ dime as the organizations are all tax exempt.

Finally, Israel’s ability to market its state sponsored brutality has even become a form of light entertainment. A company in Israel called Caliber 3 that was set up by a reserve colonel in the Israeli army is offering what has been described as a two hour boot camp counter-terrorism experience. It includes a life size target consisting of a man in Arab attire holding a cell phone. The mostly Jewish American audience ponders if he should be shot, but the instructors eventually intervene and declare that he does not quite meet the standard for being killed. Visitors are also treated to simulations of Israeli commandos taking down terrorists and can even shoot live rounds from a semi-automatic weapon at a firing range. Ironically, the Caliber 3 gated compound camp is located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc on the West Bank, land that was stolen from the Palestinians.

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ELN Seeks ‘Temporary and Renewable’ Ceasefire in Colombia

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Image result for National Liberation Army (ELN) LOGO
teleSUR 

The chief negotiator of the National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia’s peace talks, Pablo Beltran, said on Tuesday that the objective of the third round of negotiations is to reach a “temporary and renewable” bilateral ceasefire, a process which he said takes time because it requires “very precise procedures.”

During an interview with TeleSUR on the Enclave Politica program, Beltran said that the ELN is committed to peace talks and the peace process, and that a consensus has emerged among its members that there “must be a bilateral ceasefire.”

The task of the third round of dialogue is “to make the agreement, design the protocols, sign them, and then apply them. This round must be about the bilateral ceasefire that we want to last beyond the visit of Pope Francis,” according to Beltran.

Beltran emphasized that the group’s motto has always been to “be with the people, and that there is a large sector of Colombian society that wants peace.” The ELN has been accused by some of those opposed to peace talks for allegedly only being interested in peace because their political project has “failed.”

The reason for being in the ELN, he said, is to always be with the people and acting where there is social change and struggle. Beltran said that at the heart of the peace talks is “that there is participation so that the people say how Colombian democracy should be… that is why there are sectors of the right that oppose peace.”

“Some sectors in the government want an expedited negotiation, but we want things to be done well so that it is durable,” he said regarding delays in the process.

“We have lost 26 months in the negotiations because of the government tactic to place the ELN negotiations behind those with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC),” he said. “There is a sector of the hard right that is going to oppose anything that signals peace.”

While dialogue progresses, the ELN still is active and present in several regions of Colombia, where the chief negotiater said they have programs and popular support. “The ELN is alive, it is acting,” he said.

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The Guardian’s Propaganda on Venezuela

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By Ricardo Vaz | Investig’Action 

With the Constituent Assembly elections due to take place on July 30th, the Guardian published a piece titled Venezuela elections: all you need to know. But instead of breaking through the fog of falsehood and misinformation that is typical of the mainstream media’s coverage of Venezuela, the Guardian comes up with another propaganda piece laden with lies, distortions and omissions. In this article we go through the Guardian’s piece, clarifying the falsehoods, adding the conveniently omitted information and questioning the whole narrative that is presented.

*****

What is happening on 30 July?

To be fair to the Guardian, there is one almost-informative paragraph, where the electoral procedure is explained. In a previous article the Guardian stated that

“[…] election rules appear designed to guarantee a majority for the government even though it has minority popular support”,

instead of presenting said electoral rules and letting the reader decide if they are so designed. This time they do present the rules, only omitting to say that everyone not currently holding public office can run for a seat. But then the Guardian brings in the propaganda artillery to ensure the reader’s conclusions do not stray too far off from those of the State Department.

“[…] voter turnout will be exclusively pro-government – and likely very low, given that Maduro’s approval rating hovers around 20%”1

One assumes the Guardian is citing Datanalisis, their favourite Venezuelan anti-government pollster. Putting aside the fact that othermore reliable polls, demonstrate larger levels of government support, and the massive turnout for last Sunday’s dry-run, there are two obvious questions here. If turnout will be so low, why is the opposition hell-bent on stopping the vote from taking place, barricading streets and killing candidates? And if the opposition has such an overwhelming majority, why did they decide not to participate? This might have been their chance to introduce a Platt Amendment into the Constitution.

“The current constitution was written by an assembly called in 1999 by Maduro’s predecessor and political father, Hugo Chávez. But Chavez made sure he had popular support for the rewrite, by calling a referendum first. This time around, Maduro ordered the constituent assembly by decree.”

Chávez needed to call a referendum because he was working within the legal framework of the 1961 Constitution which did not have anything about such a mechanism. In the 1999 Constitution, article 348 states who can convene a Constituent Assembly.

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly urged opposition leaders to engage in dialogue and has backed the Constituent Assembly to guarantee peace.

“On 16 July, a symbolic plebiscite against Maduro’s initiative held by the opposition drew more than seven million people – more than those who voted for Maduro in the 2014 election.”

When it comes to the Venezuelan opposition, the Guardian checks all the journalism tools at the door. In a recent Investig’Actionarticle we examined the opposition’s highly doubtful numbers, Venezuelanalysis did the same. At least the Guardian refrained from explicitly saying this vote could have recalled Maduro, something the opposition could not manage even with a lot of number-cooking (see footnote 2).

“Amid mounting pressure, Maduro vowed last month to hold a popular vote at the end of the process to approve or reject the new constitution.”

This was announced almost two months ago, and if it had been due to “mounting pressure” the mainstream media would have done a victory lap. Here another question springs up: why are the Venezuelan opposition and the Guardian so scared of this process? If they represent this huge majority, can they not just vote down the Constituent Assembly proposal?

Why did Maduro call this vote?

The final paragraph of this section contains the mandatory red-baiting and waving of the Cuban bogeyman.

“Venezuela has been rocked by nonstop street protests since the government’s attempt in late March to strip Congress of its right to legislate. Although the move was partially reversed, demonstrations have continued against an increasingly authoritarian government widely blamed for the country’s tanking economy and soaring crime rate.”

Again, there is very little journalism here to be found. It was not the government that overrode the National Assembly, but the Supreme Court. And they did it because the National Assembly is currently in contempt of court. Three legislators from Amazonas state are being investigated for electoral fraud, and despite repeated warnings from judicial authorities, the opposition went ahead and swore in these legislators. One can agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s initiative, but omitting this fact is pure dishonesty.

This is also a good point to notice how only the “authoritarian” government and the “beleaguered” president have earned adjectives. “Protests” are referred to five times without a single reference to their violent nature, and a few adjectives (“divided”, “US-backed”, “coup-plotting”) also come to mind when describing the opposition.

“[…] violence and state repression have escalated since, with more than 100 people killed and hundreds arrested.”

Sophisticated newspapers like the Guardian are careful not to state directly that everyone was killed by state repression, only heavily implying it. A breakdown of the cases shows that it is the opposition’s political violence that has been responsible for the large majority of casualties.

What does the opposition say?

“The coalition of opposition forces known as the Democratic Unity Roundtable (known by its Spanish initials, MUD) rejected the move from the start. But criticism extends far beyond the political opposition. According to one pollster, eight out of 10 Venezuelans oppose a new constitution and would prefer general elections.”

One would think this would be an opportune moment to remind readers of the opposition’s constant, repeated calls for a Constituent Assembly in the recent past. And according to a different pollster, 79% of Venezuelans agree that the process should take place, 54% think the process will defend social gains of recent years, and 65% agrees with holding elections in 2018.

Opposition leaders Freddy Guevara and Maria Corina Machado had called for a Constituent Assembly in the past. (Tweets by Misión Verdad)

What happens next?

“Pressure is set to rise after the MUD called a two-day national strike for Wednesday and Thursday, and then mass protests dubbed the “taking of Caracas” on Friday.”

To anyone familiar with the recent history of Venezuela these announcements sound eerily like the events leading up to the failed 2002 coup. In fact, this would be the time to mention that many of the opposition leaders, including Henrique Capriles, Julio Borges, Leopoldo López and Maria Corina Machado, were directly involved in the 2002 coup attempt. Why is there never a mention that the opposition leadership is full of protagonists from that US-backed military coup that ultimately failed? Quite simply because it would undermine the entire “democracy vs. dictatorship” propaganda narrative.

“Maduro has been very vague about the scope of the new constitution – prompting fears that this is simply a move to tighten the government’s hold on power rather than to solve the country’s many problems.”

This is again a distortion. Maduro proposed nine issues to be tackled by the ANC, including the economy, national sovereignty, social missions, communes, and more. Granted, there is some ambiguity on what a “post-oil economy” stands for, with radical sectors looking for a deepening of the Revolution and business leaders looking for more incentives to private investment. But is down to the individual candidates to bring forward their proposals during the campaign. If Maduro specifically said what changes he wanted made to the Constitution, would he not fit into the “authoritarian” label that the Guardian loves to use?

“Maduro threatened to jail two high profile opposition leaders for “treason to the motherland”…”

Once more, it would be useful to put the actions of the Venezuelan opposition in context. There is hardly any other place in the world where opposition leaders openly call for a US military invasion or urge foreign agents to create a financial blockade against their own country!

“According to human rights groups…”

Which rights groups? Why not link to the reports and disclose who funds these groups? Because groups like Human Rights Watch have been beyond partisan when it comes to Venezuela, not to mention the revolving door that puts former US officials as human rights “guardians”. UNICEF, for example, has criticised the use of children in the opposition’s violent protests and the opposition’s attack against a maternity hospital.

“The next presidential elections – which Maduro seems likely to lose – are currently scheduled to be held in 2018, but it is unclear whether this would remain the case under a new constitution.”

Maduro has said that, rain or shine, there will be a presidential election in 2018. And he said it after convening the Constituent Assembly. The omission of this statement is again plain dishonest journalism.

Chavistas march on May 1st. The Venezuelan opposition is fearful of a large turnout for the Constituent Assembly elections on July 30th.

What is the international community doing?

“The Organization of American States has tried repeatedly to chastise Venezuela diplomatically, but Caracas has used oil diplomacy to ensure that small Caribbean states reliant on subsidised oil voted against critical resolutions or abstained.”

It is amazing that countries that are part of PetroCaribe are bullied by oil diplomacy, and yet countries that receive billions in US (military) aid and host US military bases are moved by a genuine love for democracy and human rights. Does it not occur to a journalist that, for a small Caribbean country, if a US-dominated organisation such as the OAS is dictating to Venezuela which elections can take place and when, then soon enough the same will happen to them? By rejecting this interference they are actually asserting their own independence.

It is precisely because this kind of bullying that Venezuela left the OAS. On the other hand, regional organisations that have been formed in the last decade precisely to counter US hegemony, like ALBA or CELAC, have come out in support of Venezuela and its sovereignty. International meetings like the People’s Summit or the Foro de São Paulo have also rejected the imperialist aggression against Venezuela.

“Previous US sanctions have targeted Venezuelan officials accused of drug trafficking or involvement in human rights abuses.”

These accusations have always been very big in terms of publicity and very thin in terms of evidence. They are always based on dubious sources mentioning all-powerful, yet unheard-of, drug cartels, Hezbollah training camps in Latin America and the like.

In summary, the Guardian is passing a pure propaganda piece under the guise of clarifying the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections in Venezuela. Quite clearly the next few days will be crucial, as the opposition ramps up its violent regime change efforts and the US blares out its threats, while on the other side chavismo is mobilising for this important step and (true) solidarity movements are standing with the Venezuelan poor and working-class.

As for the Guardian, whenever they ask you to support “quality, independent journalism”, you should look for it someplace else…)

  1. Even if this number were true, that would still make Maduro more popular than the presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, staunch US allies in the region.

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Turkey Needs Russian S-400 System as Shield Against ‘Western Plan’ in Mideast

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Sputnik 

Russia and Turkey are currently at the final stage of negotiations on the delivery of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system to Ankara. According to Turkish security expert Abdullah Ağar, the deal indicates a major shift in Turkey’s policy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday that there is no reason for Washington to be concerned over the Ankara-Moscow talks on the delivery of the S-400 system.

“Why should this be a concern? Each country should take certain measures to ensure its security. How many times have we talked with America, but it did not work out, so like it or not, we began to make plans about the S-400,” Erdogan said at a press conference in Ankara.

The United States recently signaled that Turkey buying the S-400 from Russia would become a major concern for Washington.

“There was a media report that was incorrect. They have not bought the S-400 air defense system from Russia. That would be a concern, were they to do that, but they have not done that,” Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Saturday at a security forum in Colorado.

Earlier, Pentagon chief James Mattis said that the possible deal raises questions about the technical and operational compatibility of the S-400 with NATO’s standards and Turkey would have to explain for itself the choice of the Russian-made weapon.

According to Turkish defense and security expert Abdullah Ağar, the reason behind the concerns of the US is more than the possible S-400 deal and relates to Turkey’s resoluteness to oppose plans that would “threaten Ankara’s territorial integrity.”

“The situation in the region has significantly changed. As for the last three years, Turkey has come to know the threats it faced as well as the actions of its Western partners in this situation. On the one hand, the West works with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates in Syria and Iraq. On the other hand, the US and other Western countries support the Gülen movement [FETÖ, designed by Ankara as a terrorist organization] which poses a serious threat to Turkey,” Ağar told Sputnik Turkey.

According to the expert, since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the West has been implementing a “plan to re-draw the Middle East map,” which resulted in a growing terrorist threat near Turkey’s border, including the rise of Daesh.

“Such a policy may result in new foreign invasions in the region. Turkey needs a new approach to oppose this policy. The delivery of the S-400 is part of a big puzzle,” Ağar pointed out.

At the same time, the situation should not be reduced to arms contracts and should be taken in its connection to shifts in the global geopolitical balance of power.

“There is a trend that may result in a [global power shift] from the US and Europe towards Asia. The West knows it, but continues to support organizations that pose a threat for Turkey. At the same time, the West doesn’t want to lose Turkey. In such a situation, Turkey is looking for the solution to this puzzle,” the expert said.

Ağar also said that the West is losing Ankara’s credibility due to its policy of supporting groups that want to “tear Turkey apart.”

“Of course, Turkey will not stay bound hand and foot. Otherwise, the country will found itself in a big trouble in the future. There is no special reason for Ankara to give credibility to West’s promises,” the expert said.

Furthermore, Ağar underscored that Ankara was not allowed to deploy US-made Patriot missile defense systems and as a result Ankara decided to focus on cooperation with Russia.

“The S-400 [deal] is part of a bigger picture of [Russia-Turkey] bilateral cooperation in various fields, primarily energy and security. The supplies of the S-400 are a sign that Turkey is drifting away from the Western world,” the expert concluded.

The negotiations on the matter between Russia and Turkey have taken place since 2016. In March, Sergei Chemezov, CEO of Russia’s Rostec Corporation, said Ankara was ready to buy the S-400 systems with a loan granted by Moscow. On July 18, Chemezov said technical issues of the contract for the supply of the S-400 systems to Turkey had been resolved, with only administrative ones remaining.

The S-400 Triumph is a next-generation mobile surface-to-air missile system that can carry three different types of missiles capable of destroying aerial targets at a short-to-extremely-long range. It is designed to track and destroy various types of aerial targets, from reconnaissance aircraft to ballistic missiles.

As of today, Russia has a deal on supplying the system only with China. In addition to Turkey, talks are also underway with India.

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SIRHAN SIRHAN: A “REEL BAD” ARAB?

NOVANEWS
By J. Michael Springmann | Hausfrau Leaks 

On July 20, 2017, William F. Pepper, Ed.D., J.D., spoke at the National Press Club about his previous day’s filing of a 200-page petition regarding Sirhan Sirhan.  Sirhan, jailed since 1968, is the alleged killer of Robert F. Kennedy, late New York U.S. senator and Democratic presidential candidate.  Organized by Andrew Kreig, J.D., editor of the Justice Integrity Project (http://www.justice-integrity.org/), the well-attended conference enabled Dr. Pepper to discuss his long-sought evidentiary hearing.

As Sirhan’s lawyer for many years, Pepper conceded that the legal remedies for his client in the United States have been exhausted–at both the State and federal levels.  California, where Kennedy had been murdered in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen, did not assure a fair trial.  Essentially, ineffective assistance of counsel got the accused wrongly convicted.  Grant Cooper, his attorney, under threat of a sealed felony indictment, did almost nothing to defend Sirhan.  He failed to investigate the matter, obtain the autopsy report, or examine ballistics tests.  He spent most of the court proceedings arguing that Sirhan was guilty and, that because of diminished capacity, should not be given the death penalty.

Sirhan also got no relief in the federal system, neither with with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, nor with the extremely liberal and contrarian U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, nor with the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to review the case.

Now, Pepper is staking Sirhan’s chances on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an Organization of American States (OAS) body. His goal is either a new trial or an evidentiary hearing. The filing alleges that the California and U.S. justice systems violated Sirhan’s right to a fair trial, as required under the OAS Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. By treaty, the IACHR may review U.S. cases and those from 34 other nations when domestic remedies have been exhausted.

Pepper, who had been a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, is known for his winning defense of King’s supposed murderer, James Earle Ray, during a 1993 mock trial on HBO.  In a celebrated wrongful death proceeding in 1999, Pepper obtained a symbolic award based on 10 years of dogged pursuit of relevant evidence and witnesses.  He is doing the same now with Sirhan.

Noting that the U.S. media is controlled, by high level businessmen, bankers, and other influential figures who move in and out of government, such as John J. McCloy one-time U.S. High Commissioner for Germany and member of the Warren Commission, Sirhan’s lawyer said that the “conclusive evidence” reported as news was, in realty, extremely weak.  There was never a hearing on the facts, he commented.  Such an investigation would have shown that Sirhan, the claimed criminal, was nowhere near Kennedy when the shooting started.  Thomas Noguchi, Los Angeles’ chief medical examiner at the time, swore that Kennedy was struck by three shots fired within inches of his body, from behind.  Sirhan got off two shots at Kennedy from a six-foot distance, in front. Sirhan was immediately tackled and pinned down while still pulling the trigger on his handgun.  However, Sirhan fired only eight shots total yet a carefully-examined sound recording heard thirteen rounds.  Moreover, the shots came from different directions.

Yet, the Los Angeles Police Department, Pepper revealed, failed to preserve the physical evidence from the crime scene, such as ceiling tiles, doors, and door frames with bullets buried in them.  The cops’ excuse?  There was no space in which to store them.  Pepper went on to say that the Los Angeles police had long-standing and very close ties to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

The suspicion is, Pepper remarked, that Sirhan appeared to fit the parameters of the infamous CIA drug and consciousness-altering program, MK-ULTRA.  (Its former director, Sid Gottlieb, destroyed most of the operation’s records in 1973.)  Dr. Daniel Brown, Harvard Medical School, spent nearly 70 hours examining Sirhan through hypnosis and questioning, concluding that the Palestinian Christian had undergone a variety of procedures coupled with drugs to make him controllable.  Notably, Pepper said, this could have occurred while Sirhan had mysteriously disappeared for two weeks before the assassination.  Seen as a patsy, he was prepped as a distraction while the real murderer fired the close-up shots killing Kennedy, Pepper continued.  Sirhan had apparently had a handler, a woman in a polka dot dress, the attorney remarked.  She disappeared after she pinched the scapegoat on the neck, apparently triggering Sirhan’s belief that he was really shooting at a paper, man-shaped target from a firing range.

COMMENT.  Despite Andrew Kreig ‘s extensive and most vigorous efforts, only a few members of the press turned up at the conference: an intern from the Washington Times, a representative from Al-Mayadeen TV, Beirut, along with a knowledgeable White House correspondent for an alternative news site.  This appeared to validate Dr. Pepper’s view of the heavily-managed American media.  And it bodes ill for what seems to be the attorney’s goal in filing with the OAS–to generate enough adverse publicity to force the United States to re-examine the questionable trial of Sirhan Sirhan.  Indeed, a casual search of the Internet turns up a number of references about “conspiracies” revolving around the problematically convicted man.

Perhaps everyone involved in this matter should take a look at Dr. Jack Shaheen’s writings on Arabs, notably Reel Bad Arabs:  How Hollywood Vilifies A People.

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Impressions of Iran

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By Robert Fantina | Aletho News

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of visiting Iran. I spent time in the capital city of Tehran, the country’s largest city, and Mashhad, a large city in the northern part of Iran. I saw what I expected to see: each was a bustling city. The downtown area of each was crowded and busy, not unlike other cities I’ve visited in different parts of the world.

Where I gained the impression that Iran was a prosperous, modern nation before my visit, I don’t know. Prior to my departure, when I announced to friends and acquaintances that I would soon be visiting Iran, I was met with shocked reactions. Here are some of the questions I was asked at that time:

  • Is it safe?
  • Don’t you worry about being arrested?
  • Don’t people disappear there all the time?

Following my invitation to visit, but before the actual visit, Tehran experienced its first terrorist attack in several years. I was then asked if I was still going. My response: ‘London has had a few terrorist attacks, but if I were planning a visit there, I’d still go’. This seemed to make sense to my questioner.

Since my return, some of the questions I’ve been asked indicate that my view of Iran as a modern nation is not shared by everyone else. The following are some of the questions I’ve been asked about my visit to Iran:

  • How do the people there live?
  • Did you feel safe?
  • Did anyone stop you from taking pictures?
  • Were you afraid when visiting mosques?

The U.S. demonizes Iran, mainly because it is a powerful country in the Middle East, and Israel cannot countenance any challenge to its hegemony, and when Israel talks, the U.S. listens. Apparently, this demonization is working at least somewhat successfully, judging by the comments I received concerning my trip there.

I have to wonder how this is acceptable in the world community, but then again, there really isn’t much question. The U.S. uses its military might and its declining but still powerful economic strength to intimidate much of the world. This is why the Palestinians still suffer so unspeakably, but that is a topic for another conversation. The U.S. again, in the last few days, asserted that Iran is complying with the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement that regulates Iran’s nuclear development program. Yet it continues to sanction Iran; for some bizarre reason, Iran must comply with its part of this agreement, but the U.S. government doesn’t feel any obligation to maintain its part. If Iran’s leaders were to say that, since the U.S. was not keeping to its word, Iran has no obligation to do so, the U.S.’s leaders would then say, ‘See? We told you so! Iran isn’t living up to the agreement!’.

The U.S.’s continued criticism and sanctions of Iran adds to the impression that it is a rogue nation, funneling all its money into the military, while its oppressed citizens cower in the streets, awaiting arrest for just about anything.

How much, however, does this impression actually mirror the U.S? A few facts are instructive:

  • Currently, the U.S. is bombing 6 nations; Iran, none.
  • The U.S. has used nuclear weapons, resulting in the horrific deaths of hundreds of thousands of people; Iran has never used such weapons.
  • Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has invaded, destabilized and/or overthrown the governments of at least 30 countries; Iran hasn’t invaded another country in over 200 years.
  • The U.S. has the largest per capita prison population in the world: 25% of all people imprisoned in the world are in prisons in the U.S. In the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’, 716 of every 100,000 people are in prison. Iran’s rate is 287 per 100,000.
  • The U.S. finances the brutal apartheid regime of Israel, and has full diplomatic relations with that rouge nation and Saudi Arabia, both of which have human rights records that are among the worst in the world. Iran supports Palestine, and the Palestinians’ struggle for independence.
  • The poverty rate in the U.S. is 13.1%; between 2009 and 2013, Iran’s poverty rate fell from 13.1% to 8.1% (that has increased somewhat since 2014, but details were not readily available).

Based on this limited information, it seems that despite its somewhat successful efforts to demonize Iran, the U.S. is, in fact, the more dangerous and threatening nation.

But such facts are not what interests Congress. Beholden first and foremost to the lobbies that finance election campaigns, and Israeli lobbies chief among them, truth, justice, human rights and international law all take a back seat. And so the propaganda continues, with Iran being portrayed as an evil empire, when all evidence contradicts that view.

It is unfortunate that not everyone in the U.S. is able to visit Iran, to learn for themselves that it is nothing like what the corporate-owned media, working hand-in-hand with the government, portrays. The U.S. government seems anxious to extend its wars to Iran; this would be a global disaster. It is to be hoped that such a catastrophe can be prevented.

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Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind

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By John W. Whitehead | The Rutherford Institute 

Let’s not mince words.

Jeff Sessions, the nation’s top law enforcement official, would not recognize the Constitution if he ran right smack into it.

Whether the head of the Trump Administration’s Justice Department enjoys being the architect of a police state or is just painfully, criminally clueless, Sessions has done a great job thus far of sidestepping the Constitution at every turn.

Most recently, under the guise of “fighting crime,” Sessions gave police the green light to rob, pilfer, steal, thieve, swipe, purloin, filch and liberate American taxpayers of even more of their hard-earned valuables (especially if it happens to be significant amounts of cash) using any means, fair or foul.

In this case, the foul method favored by Sessions & Co. is civil asset forfeiture, which allows police and prosecutors to “seize your car or other property, sell it and use the proceeds to fund agency budgets—all without so much as charging you with a crime.”

Under a federal equitable sharing program, police turn asset forfeiture cases over to federal agents who process seizures and then return 80% of the proceeds to the police. (In Michigan, police actually get to keep up to 100% of forfeited property.)

This incentive-driven excuse for stealing from the citizenry is more accurately referred to as “policing for profit” or “theft by cop.”

Despite the fact that 80 percent of these asset forfeiture cases result in no charge against the property owner, challenging these “takings” in court can cost the owner more than the value of the confiscated property itself. As a result, most property owners either give up the fight or chalk the confiscation up to government corruption, leaving the police and other government officials to reap the benefits.

And boy, do they reap the benefits.

Police agencies have used their ill-gotten gains “to buy guns, armored cars and electronic surveillance gear,” reports The Washington Post. “They have also spent money on luxury vehicles, travel and a clown named Sparkles.”

Incredibly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that, according to The Washington Post, “in 2014, law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.” As the Post notes, “the Treasury and Justice departments deposited more than $5 billion into their respective asset forfeiture funds. That same year, the FBI reports that burglary losses topped out at $3.5 billion.”

In 2015, the federal government seized nearly $2.6 billion worth of airplanes, houses, cash, jewelry, cars and other items under the guise of civil asset forfeiture.

According to USA Today, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that allowing departments to keep forfeiture proceeds may tempt them to use the funds unwisely. For example, consider a 2015 scandal in Romulus, Michigan, where police officers used funds forfeited from illicit drug and prostitution stings to pay for …  illicit drugs and prostitutes.

Memo to the rest of my fellow indentured servants who are living through this dark era of government corruption, incompetence and general ineptitude: this is not how justice in America is supposed to work.

We are now ruled by a government so consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population that they are completely unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

Our freedoms aren’t just being trampled, however. They’re being eviscerated.

At every turn, “We the People” are getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

Americans no longer have to be guilty to be stripped of their property, rights and liberties. All you have to be is in possession of something the government wants. And if you happen to have something the government wants badly enough, trust me, their agents will go to any lengths to get it.

If the government can arbitrarily freeze, seize or lay claim to your property (money, land or possessions) under government asset forfeiture schemes, you have no true rights.

Here’s how the whole ugly business works in a nutshell.

First, government agents (usually the police) use a broad array of tactics to profile, identify, target and arrange to encounter (in a traffic stop, on a train, in an airport, in public, or on private property) those  individuals who might be traveling with a significant amount of cash or possess property of value. Second, these government agents—empowered by the courts and the legislatures—seize private property (cash, jewelry, cars, homes and other valuables) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity.

Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, without any charges being levied against the property owner, or any real due process afforded the unlucky victim, the property is seized by the government, which often divvies it up with the local police who helped with the initial seizure.

In a Kafkaesque turn of the screw, the burden of proof falls on the unfortunate citizenry who must mount a long, complicated, expensive legal campaign to prove their innocence in order to persuade the government that it should return the funds they stole. Not surprisingly, very few funds ever get returned.

It’s a new, twisted form of guilt by association, only it’s not the citizenry being accused of wrongdoing, just their money.

Motorists have been particularly vulnerable to this modern-day form of highway robbery.

For instance, police stole $201,000 in cash from Lisa Leonard because the money—which Leonard planned to use to buy a house for her son—was being transported on a public highway also used by drug traffickers. Despite the fact that Leonard was innocent of wrongdoing, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the theft on a technicality.

Police stole $50,000 in cash from Amanee Busbee—which she planned to use to complete the purchase of a restaurant—and threatened to hand her child over to CPS if she resisted. She’s one of the few to win most of her money back in court.

Police stole $22,000 in cash from Jerome Chennault—which he planned to use as the down payment on a home—simply because a drug dog had alerted police to its presence in his car. After challenging the seizure in court, Chennault eventually succeeded in having most of his money returned, although the state refused to compensate him for his legal and travel expenses.

Police stole $8,500 in cash and jewelry from Roderick Daniels—which he planned to use to purchase a new car—and threatened him with jail and money-laundering charges if he didn’t sign a waiver forfeiting his property.

Police stole $6,000 in cash from Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson and threatened to turn their young children over to Child Protective Services if they resisted.

Tenaha, Texas, is a particular hotbed of highway forfeiture activity, so much so that police officers keep pre-signed, pre-notarized documents on hand so they can fill in what property they are seizing.

As the Huffington Post explains, these police forfeiture operations have become little more than criminal shakedowns:

Police in some jurisdictions have run forfeiture operations that would be difficult to distinguish from criminal shakedowns. Police can pull motorists over, find some amount of cash or other property of value, claim some vague connection to illegal drug activity and then present the motorists with a choice: If they hand over the property, they can be on their way. Otherwise, they face arrest, seizure of property, a drug charge, a probable night in jail, the hassle of multiple return trips to the state or city where they were pulled over, and the cost of hiring a lawyer to fight both the seizure and the criminal charge. It isn’t hard to see why even an innocent motorist would opt to simply hand over the cash and move on.

Unsurprisingly, these asset forfeiture scams have become so profitable for the government that they have expanded their reach beyond the nation’s highways.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Justice received $2.01 billion in forfeited items in 2013, and since 2008 local and state law enforcement nationwide has raked in some $3 billion in forfeitures through the federal “equitable sharing” program.

So now it’s not just drivers who have to worry about getting the shakedown.

Any American unwise enough to travel with cash is fair game for the government pickpockets.

In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been colluding with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and local police departments to seize a small fortune in cash from American travelers using the very tools—scanners, spies and surveillance devices—they claimed were necessary to catch terrorists.

Mind you, TSA agents already have a reputation for stealing from travelers, but clearly the government is not concerned about protecting the citizenry from its own wolfish tendencies.

No, the government bureaucrats aren’t looking to catch criminals. (If so, they should be arresting themselves.)

They’re just out to rob you of your cold, hard cash. … Full article

Posted in USAComments Off on Policing for Profit: Jeff Sessions & Co.’s Thinly Veiled Plot to Rob Us Blind


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