Archive | August 6th, 2020

House Approves $740 Billion Pentagon Budget While Millions Can’t Afford Rent

U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the Washington Monument at the National Mall during the 2020 "Salute to America" event on Independence Day in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2020.
U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over the Washington Monument at the National Mall during the 2020 “Salute to America” event on Independence Day in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2020.

BY: Eoin HigginsCommon Dreams

Win Without War was among the anti-war voices on Friday issuing blistering condemnations of the passage in the U.S. House of a $740 billion defense bill as part of the 2021 Appropriations Minibus.

“A $740 billion Pentagon budget is inhumane at any time,” said the group’s executive director, Stephen Miles. “In the midst of a pandemic—as people across the country struggle to make rent, to pay their bills, to survive a deadly disease—it should be unthinkable. Once again, the House has voted to put the interests of weapons manufacturers and war hawks over the wellbeing of people here and abroad.”

Win Without War@WinWithoutWar
A $740 billion Pentagon budget is inhumane at any time. But the House’s vote to put the interests of weapons manufacturers & war hawks over the well-being of people here & abroad in the midst of a pandemic is just appalling. Read our full statement:


The bill passed the House on Friday by a 217 to 197 margin, largely along party lines, with 16 members not voting. Only 12 Democrats voted against the measure while 217 voted in favor. All Republicans in the House either voted against the bill or did not vote. Read the full roll call here.

The bill’s passage came after a vigorous debate over recent weeks that included votes on whether to cut military spending by 10% and whether or not to allow the Pentagon to continue using video game streaming platforms to recruit impressionable children. Both measures failed.

“Though last week’s votes on whether or not to cut the Pentagon budget by ten percent were hopeful signs of the shifting tides on Pentagon spending, this Appropriations bill is a reminder that there remains much to be done,” said Miles. “We are also disappointed that House Democrats have decided to once again couple passage of a bill that fuels militarism abroad with bills that fund our priorities at home, forfeiting the ability to challenge the former without undermining the latter.”

Miles did point to what he called “bright spots” in the bill, including two provisions from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that repeal the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force and require congressional approval before going to war with Iran and an amendment from Rep. Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) banning the Department of Defense from using funds to implement a ban on transgender Americans in the military.

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What Has Happened to Police Filmed Hurting Protesters? So Far, Very Little.

Portland police officers pursue a crowd of about 200 protesters after dispersing the group from in front of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office on August. 1, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.
Portland police officers pursue a crowd of about 200 protesters after dispersing the group from in front of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office on August. 1, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.

BYZipporah Osei & Mollie SimonProPublica

It has been almost two months since a Los Angeles Police Department patrol car accelerated into Brooke Fortson during a protest over police violence. She still doesn’t know the name of the officer who hit her or whether that person is still policing the city’s streets. The officer did not stop after hitting Fortson and instead turned around, nearly hitting other demonstrators in the process, and sped off.

The LAPD almost surely knows who the officer is. The squad car’s number is clearly visible in one of the multiple videos that captured the incident. But the department hasn’t released any information: not the officer’s name, or whether that person has been disciplined. The police say the incident is still under investigation.

As hundreds of videos of police violence during protests have circulated, ProPublica wanted to see what happened to officers in the aftermath.

We set out to see whether the incidents caught on camera were investigated, whether officers were named and what information we could get about any investigations or discipline. We found a widespread lack of transparency that made it difficult to find out even the most basic details about whether and what sort of investigations were taking place.

ProPublica looked through hundreds of viral videos and focused on those that most clearly show an officer using apparently disproportionate force. We ended up with 68 videos involving more than 40 law enforcement agencies across the country, in both large cities and small towns.

We asked each police department a few simple questions: Who were the officers in the video, were they under investigation and have they been disciplined?

The departments mostly declined to give any specific information.

We learned that officers from eight videos have been disciplined so far. Officers from eight others will not be disciplined. And for two videos, police departments still insist they’re unsure of whether the officers involved are their own.

While officers have the right to use force if their own or others’ lives are in danger, the widespread violence against protesters has been unwarranted, said Chris Burbank, the former chief of the Salt Lake City Police Department.

“When you have a peaceful protest, people sitting on the ground, does that justify the use of tear gas or pepper spray on them? It absolutely does not,” said Burbank, who is now the vice president of law enforcement strategy at the Center for Policing Equity. “I see that as a violation of policy, violation of state and city ordinance and as a violation of common decency and what is good about policing.”

The LAPD told us it has moved 10 unnamed officers to non-field duties while it investigates incidents related to the recent protests. The department declined to say whether the officer who struck Fortson is on that list. Fortson has filed a claim for damages with the city and has retained a lawyer instead of filing a complaint with the Police Department.

Here’s what we learned while looking into these videos:

Officers Remain Anonymous — Even When They’re Caught on Camera

Departments have only named officers in 17 of the cases we examined as of publication. A name can allow the public to learn more about the disciplinary history of an officer and to see any patterns in prior allegations. It also could allow us to see if officers appear in multiple videos involving use of force.

Minneapolis has a public database of officers’ complaint histories. Still, the police department declined to identify the officers in videos we compiled, making it impossible to check their records in the database.

As protests have continued across the country, many states are struggling with how far to go in revealing officers’ disciplinary records.

In June, New Jersey’s attorney general directed the state’s law enforcement agencies to name officers who have been cited for serious disciplinary violations. In his directive, he noted that prematurely naming those accused of misconduct can be unfair if allegations are not ultimately proven. But, he argued, the likelihood of officers misbehaving increases when they “believe they can act with impunity; it decreases when officers know that their misconduct will be subject to public scrutiny and not protected.”

In some states, there are union contracts and laws preventing the disclosure of officer names, said Phil Stinson, a former officer and now a professor at Bowling Green State University. In other instances, though, Stinson said, departments may just be “stonewalling” or trying to get rid of problem officers before things become public.

“They just try to ride it out and hope it quiets down,” Stinson said.

In Florida, Miami-Dade Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Erin Alfonso at first declined to provide the names of officers from a May 31 incident we examined. The video shows police abruptly arresting a man who was talking to them but not doing anything aggressive before an officer appears to grab him by his shirt. An internal report obtained by ProPublica through a public records request identified the officers as Roberto De la Nuez and Jorge Encinosa. Encinosa declined to comment on the arrest to ProPublica and De la Nuez did not respond to a request for comment. The department’s Professional Compliance Bureau is investigating the case, Alfonso said.

In San Jose, California, anti-bias trainer Derrick Sanderlin was shot in the groin with a rubber bullet after trying to talk to officers with his arms raised.

The incident, which took place May 29 and was reviewed by ProPublica, remains under investigation by the San Jose Police Department. Shivaun Nurre, the Independent Police Auditor for the city, confirmed that her office has received multiple complaints related to the incident. The office does not release the names of officers to complainants. According to a civil rights lawsuit filed by Sanderlin on July 18, three officers fired at him, but as of the initial filing, he had been unable to determine exactly who hit him and he was too far away to have caught badge names. “If someone else who wasn’t a police officer did the same thing, they would be held accountable,” Sanderlin said.

“All allegations, complaints, or concerns of the public will be taken seriously,” the San Jose Police Department said in a statement. The department said all videos provided by ProPublica are “part of an extensive Internal Affairs investigation. As such, this is a personnel investigation and [we] cannot communicate further.”

And in another instance, ProPublica requested the incident report related to a man’s arrest in Kansas City, Missouri. We were told that wouldn’t be possible to obtain because the charges against him and other protesters were dismissed and vacated by a city ordinance, meaning it was “as though it never happened,” a Police Department spokesperson said. The actions of the arresting officer remain under investigation, but without the report ProPublica is unable to obtain the officer’s name or see the rationale for the arrest. “We are not saying we don’t care and it isn’t a big deal,” the spokesperson said.

Investigations — if They Happen at All — Are Far From Transparent

In case after case, departments have cited ongoing investigations for not providing details such as whether officers captured in the videos remain on active duty; they also often can’t say how long the investigations might take. Sometimes, police union contracts prevent police departments from releasing such information.

In Portland, Oregon, the Bureau of Police would only say that all incidents of force were under investigation, including the two identified by ProPublica. Ross Caldwell, the director of the Independent Police Review, a civilian oversight office in the Portland auditor’s office, said that while he could confirm that both incidents were under investigation, he wasn’t “legally allowed to talk about these investigations.”

How long departments legally have to process complaints varies by jurisdiction. In at least 14 states, police officers have a “bills of rights” written into state law that provides special protections during investigations. There’s a one-year statute of limitations in California on police discipline cases. In Florida, investigations of police misconduct must conclude in 180 days. Both states have provisions to pause the clock if there’s a concurrent criminal investigation and California pauses for civil litigation, but otherwise, if a department can’t close out a case in time, officers cannot be disciplined, suspended, demoted or dismissed.

“They have gotten these protections, especially in state laws, through sheer political power and lobbying effort, and that’s a serious problem,” said Samuel Walker, a retired professor of criminal justice who has researched the bills of rights.

Officers Are Unlikely to Be Disciplined — at Least Publicly

Even in cases where victims are able to identify officers, they’re unlikely to see them face discipline.

Because there’s no federal mandate for police agencies to report details about the civilian complaints they receive, the most recent nationwide dataset about how many complaints are fully investigated and “sustained,” meaning the allegations of wrongdoing are confirmed, was published in 1993 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, according to Carol Archbold, a police accountability expert and professor at North Dakota State University.

In New York City, where 10 of the videos we examined took place, the Civilian Complaint Review Board investigates allegations of excessive force against the police. The board investigated more than 3,000 allegations of misuse of force in 2018, but only 73 of them were substantiated. Los Angeles, which handles its complaints internally unless an officer asks for a review by a citizen Board of Rights, had 5% of complaints from the public sustained that same year.

In California, only investigations that result in sustained findings or those involving deadly force, discharge of a firearm or “great bodily injury” become public.

The picture is similar at smaller departments. Of the 206 citizen allegations against Omaha police officers in 2018, only 17% were sustained by the department’s internal review process. In Indianapolis, where a video from the protests captured officers beating a woman, that number was 7%.

When asked about a video showing officers kicking a protester who was backed up to a fence, the Omaha Police Department said all use of force incidents are being reviewed and that officers from other agencies were assisting. The department declined to comment further and said it is “bound by contractual language that prevents us from disclosing the contents of any personnel matter.”

Hundreds of Complaints Are Overwhelming the Oversight Agencies

Departments now face a mountain of work to sift through the events of the protests. There have been more than 750 complaints filed with New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board since protests began in late May, leading to over 200 open investigations. The LAPD has assigned 40 investigators to sift through protest complaints.

The Seattle Office of Police Accountability, an independent oversight body, has been contacted over 18,000 times about police actions at the protests and is aiming to increase transparency.

The agency’s new Demonstration Complaint Dashboard shows 28 ongoing investigations, but the department is continuing to work its way through complaints and plans to continue updating the tracker, said Anne Bettesworth, the deputy director of public affairs for OPA.

It typically takes 180 days for Seattle to investigate civilian allegations against officers, but Bettesworth said the agency is working to complete as many protest-related investigations as possible in under 90 days. It’s an “all hands on deck situation,” she said.

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800,000 Low-Income Households May Have Had Electricity Disconnected Amid COVID

Despite temporary bans on shutoffs, roughly 800,000 low-income households may have recently lost their electricity.
Despite temporary bans on shutoffs, roughly 800,000 low-income households may have recently lost their electricity.

BYSanya Carley & David KoniskyThe Conversation

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, lower-income families are struggling to pay their energy bills. That’s a big concern during extreme events like summer heat waves, which can be deadly – especially for elderly people, young children, people of color and the poor.

We ran a nationally representative survey in May 2020 of U.S. low-income households to measure energy insecurity. We found that 13% of respondents had been unable to pay an energy bill during the prior month, 9% had received an electricity utility shutoff notice and 4% had had their electric utility service disconnected.

More than half of the states temporarily barred utilities from disconnecting customers who were unable to pay their bills due to financial hardship in the early months of the economic downturn. Still, extrapolating our findings to the national level suggests that approximately 800,000 low-income households may have recently had their electricity disconnected.

And the problem could get worse as the economy continues to struggle. As scholars who study energy policythe environment and energy justice, we believe energy assistance should be a central part of ongoing state and federal relief efforts.

Many U.S. households are struggling with energy bills during the COVID-19 pandemic

Percentage of respondents who reported being unable to pay an energy bill from late April through late May of 2020, by demographic group. (FPL = Federal poverty level)05101520WhiteBlackHispanicMaleFemaleNo children under 5Children under 5No disabled household membersDisabled household membersNo household member with medical deviceHousehold member with medical device100% FPL100-150% FPL150-200% FPLChart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Survey of Household Energy Insecurity in the Time of COVID Get the data

Energy Insecurity Affects Well Being

Energy insecurity is already a widespread problem in the U.S. It disproportionately affects those at or below the poverty line, Black and Hispanic households, families with young children, people with disabilities and those who use electronic medical devices. Our survey is the first to try to quantify it among low-income households.

When families cannot afford to keep their lights on, or heat or cool their homes to comfortable temperatures, they suffer physically and mentally. Risks include exposure to dampness, mold and humidity; dangerous practices, such as using stoves for space heating; and feelings of chronic stress, anxiety and depression.

Before 2020, energy insecurity was expected to worsen due to rising energy costs, coupled with more frequent heat waves and cold spells due to climate change. Now the COVID-19 pandemic presents an additional, unprecedented challenge.

Unemployment remains high. Power shutoff moratoriums in many states are reaching their expiration dates. Many households will struggle to cover monthly expenses such as energy bills, along with necessities such as rent and groceries.

Energy use by types of homes, 2015 

On average, more than half of a U.S. household’s annual energy consumption is for space heating and air heatingair conditioningwater heatinglightingrefrigerationall otherAll homes43%8%19%5%21%Single-family detached46%8%17%5%21%Single-family attached47%7%19%5%20%Apartments, 2-4 units39%5%27%5%21%Apartments, 5+ units25%7%32%7%5%24%Mobile homes33%9%24%5%26%Chart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: EIAGet the data

Job Losses, Energy Challenges

We surveyed a nationally representative sample of households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is about US$51,500 for a family of four. YouGov, a private polling and market research firm, conducted the survey online from April 30, 2020 through May 25, 2020 for our Indiana University research team.

The survey was taken by 2,381 respondents. It included questions about energy expenses, household energy behavior and activities since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

About a quarter of survey respondents had lost jobs, had their hours reduced or been placed on furlough without pay since the start of the pandemic. Of those with a change in employment status, approximately 15% lost their health insurance, and an additional 10% experienced a reduction in benefits. Before the pandemic, 22% had already lacked health insurance.

[You need to understand the coronavirus pandemic, and we can help. Read The Conversation’s newsletter.]

Households facing such hardships must choose between covering energy costs and other expenses. Approximately 22% of respondents reported that in the previous month they had reduced or put off expenses for basic needs like medicine or food in order to pay their energy bills.

Consumers are cutting back on basic needs during COVID-19

Percentage of respondents who report spending less on core household needs due to the pandemic and associated recession.0510152025303540Feed my familyObtain medical carePay my rent/mortgageChart: The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Source: Survey of Household Energy Insecurity in the Time of COVID Get the data

Energy Insecurity Has Increased

As people spend more time at home through the hot summer months, many are using more energy for essential services. They are running air conditioners, refrigerators, cooking appliances and electronic and medical devices. And, as the school year begins, students attending school from home will need to power computers and other devices.

The combination of rising energy use and falling incomes is likely to increase low-income households’ energy burdens – the proportion of their incomes they spend on energy. We expect that this trend will move a whole new population of households into energy insecurity. Some may try to cope without important energy uses, such as air conditioning, fans and refrigeration.

Federal and state governments can help. For example, Congress could pass legislation imposing a universal moratorium on utility shutoffs. And state regulators could prevent utilities from charging late and reconnection fees while the pandemic persists and people remain unemployed. Following a moratorium, regulators could also consider debt forgiveness as households recover.

Governments and organizations – public, private and nonprofit – can also offer bill assistance to vulnerable households and financial assistance to small businesses. One way would be to expand the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, or other financial assistance programs, such as unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Program. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, provided $900 million in supplemental funding for LIHEAP, but this only scratches the surface of what is needed.

Governments should also consider increasing funding for the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. This program represents a longer-term solution that can help low-income households save money on energy bills by repairing and upgrading key components like furnaces and ducts, and ensuring that houses are well insulated, sealed and ventilated.

So far in the pandemic, federal and state governments have focused on Americans’ immediate material needs. But millions of households are currently struggling to cover their energy costs, and living without energy could be a matter of life or death. Governments have the ability to help prevent this kind of secondary disaster, and more generally to recognize that energy is a basic and essential human need.

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White House Health Experts Warn Pandemic Is Entering “New Phase”

Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx speaks with President Trump in background on May 20, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Response coordinator for White House Coronavirus Task Force Deborah Birx speaks with President Trump on May 20, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

BY: Chris WalkerTruthout

Health experts within the White House issued a grave warning over the weekend, stating that “we are in a new phase,” with the novel coronavirus spreading beyond city centers and entering rural areas.

“What we are seeing today is different from March and April,” said Deborah Birx, who serves as response coordinator for the White House’s coronavirus task force. “It is extraordinarily widespread” in city as well as rural centers, she added.

“To everybody who lives in a rural area: You are not immune or protected from this virus,” Birx added.

Birx’s recommendations for controlling the spread of the pandemic, which has claimed at least 154,000 American lives so far, go beyond what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advocated in its guidelines regarding wearing masks in public places. According to Birx, individuals who live in multigenerational households should also wear masks, even when they’re inside their own homes, to prevent the possible spread to at-risk populations, such as elderly persons.

Individuals in such homes should assume they already have the disease, Birx added, and take necessary precautions to protect each other.

After traveling to 14 states over the past three weeks, Birx said she witnessed a lack of safeguards among the public to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“As I traveled around the country, I saw all of America moving. If you have chosen to go on vacation into a hotspot, you really need to come back and protect those with comorbidities and assume you’re infected,” she said.

On Monday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned the world that there may not be a single way to stop the spread of coronavirus, even if a vaccine is developed later on.

“A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” he said. “However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment — and there might never be.”

In the meantime, the most effective measures include mask-wearing when out in public, social distancing as much as possible, and washing one’s hands regularly.

“The message to people and governments is clear: ‘Do it all,’” Tedros explained.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, continued to spout disinformation regarding testing, asserting that the United States would have less cases as compared to the rest of the world if testing was paused or limited.

“We have more cases because we have tested far more than any other country, 60,000,000. If we tested less, there would be less cases,” Trump claimed.

A number of epidemiologists have pointed out the flaws in Trump’s statements on testing, explaining that stopping tests wouldn’t reduce cases, but limit our understanding about the spread of the virus.

The U.S. continues to see more coronavirus cases, as well as more deaths as a result of the disease, than any other nation. According to the CDC, deaths due to COVID-19 are expected to climb in the coming weeks, as the agency predicts around 11,000 Americans will die weekly from COVID-19 for the month of August.

The month of July saw a significant spread of coronavirus, in spite of assurances from the Trump administration that things were starting to head in the right direction.

Toward the end of June, the president suggested the disease would be “going away,” echoing comments he made as early as February. Yet in the month of July, 1.9 million new cases of COVID-19 were identified across the country, and at least 25,000 deaths were attributed to the disease.

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Journalists Struggle for Press Freedoms in a Time of Repression and Surveillance

BY: Monica Lopez

A journalist runs past federal officers during a nighttime protest
A journalist runs past federal officers after he was caught behind a police line during a protest against racial injustice and police brutality in front of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in the early hours of July 30, 2020, in Portland, Oregon.

Journalists have been violently targeted by police and arrested alongside demonstrators at Black Lives Matter protests across the country. In this episode we’ll look at the struggle for press freedoms during a time of repression and surveillance.

Transcript below


  • Christopher Mattias: Journalist covering the far right for Huffington Post
  • Kirstin McCudden: Managing Editor of the US Press Freedom Tracker
  • Nora Benavidez: Director of the US Free Expression Programs at PEN America
  • Dave Maas: Senior Investigative Researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation


  • Black Ant: Fater Lee
  • Radio Pink: Blue Dot Sessions — 2019 — I Recall
  • Architect: Blue Dot Sessions — 2019 — Li Fonte
  • Click Clack: David Szesztay
  • Subway — Instrumental Version: David Szesztay


Monica Lopez: This week on Making Contact.

At Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. journalists have at times been violently targeted by police and arrested alongside demonstrators.

Nora Benevides, Director of the US Free Expression Programs at PEN America:

I was so shocked to see such an egregious violation of basic First Amendment rights of reporters trying to just cover a protest. One of the things that we noted is that then legal observers started getting picked up and arrested as well. And so it kind of echoed the way journalists were being targeted. Any effort to document or observe or provide witness to what was happening at the protests officers were trying to limit and clamp down on.

Moncia Lopez: And later in the show, we’ll hear from Dave Maas of the Electronic Frontier Foundation about a project he’s been working on to track the use of police surveillance technology in local communities.

Dave Maas: When we talk about defunding the police or we talk about reducing police budgets. One of the big things that police departments spend money on is surveillance technology.

Monica Lopez: Journalists are considered essential workers. Yes, in a democratic society, a free press is essential. But specifically, during the BLM protests and Covid 19 pandemic, reporters were exempted from curfews as essential workers in many cities— not all of them. In the cities where reporters were exempt they were supposed to be allowed to report on events on behalf of the public. But we’ve heard a disturbing number of accounts of journalists being arrested and attacked by police during the Black Lives Matter protests. It had gotten so bad that the ACLU of Minnesota filed a lawsuit this summer against the city of Minneapolis on behalf of journalists. But as Making Contact producer Salima Hamirani reports, it’s not just a problem in Minneapolis.

Sound of protest and person saying: We’ve been fired at with rubber bullets and my cameraman has been hit.

Salima Hamirani: You’re listening to police knock down two journalists on assignment for Australia’s Channel Seven. They were covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, D.C. when a police officer hit the cameraman with a shield.

Anchor back at studio: [00:02:10] Ameilia can you hear us? Ameilia are you OK? or your cameraman? Hello, Ameilia.

Salima Hamirani: [00:02:16] The incident was captured live and went viral, prompting a harsh response from the Australian government and shock from around the world. But it’s just one instance of what’s becoming a pattern during the protests. Police seeming to target and attack journalists even while the journalists are clearly filming and wearing press badges. We got to talk to Christopher Matias, a journalist who covers the far right for Huffington Post, about his experience in Brooklyn, where he was also arrested for trying to cover a protest.

Christopher Matias: It was on May 30th and it was at a protest march in Flatbush, which is a section of Brooklyn. It started off as a rally near a train station about three o’clock in the afternoon. And then around dusk, there started to be clashes with police. Various corners, some cop cars were set on fire and police routinely started to charge at protesters and pepper spray them and tackle them and arrest them.

I witnessed cops like charge after protesters screaming “Come here —bleep—.” You know, I saw them pepper spraying protesters while protesters were retreating. I saw them violently tackle people on the ground.

The cops were charging and I was walking backwards with the retreating protesters and filming as the cops approached and a cop kind of went out of his way to bump into me and told me to get out of his way, even though I was never in his way. I was a little worked up from everything I’d seen that day. So I said “bleep” to the cop, he was already five yards past me when he turned around and came back and put a police baton into my chest, knocked me over, my phone fell out of my hand and a few cops kind of climbed on top of me and started twisting my legs and arms in different directions and cursing at me and telling me to stop resisting arrest even though I was not resisting arrest.

Sounds of the arrest—

Christopher Matias: And by the way, I should mention that my press pass was clearly visible during this entire thing, and I also kept identifying myself verbally as a journalist.

Sounds from the scene— Look at my press pass. I’m a journalist. You’re arresting a journalist. — Well you shouldn’t have gotten in my way!

Salima Hamirani: The police arrested Chris and then they put him in the back of a police van.

Christopher Matias: And then to the police precincts where I was in custody for probably for three hours at two precincts.

They put me in a cell with about 15 other guys, and we were put a tiny cell where it was impossible to socially distance. Most people didn’t have masks or weren’t supplied with masks. I ended up getting a test after that experience, and fortunately, came back negative. But there’s been many stories now about outbreaks of COVID in jails and prisons across the US.

Salima Hamirani Remember that Chris covers the far right. So it’s not the first time I’ve seen the police become violent with protesters.

Christopher Matias: But, yeah, I mean, I’ve seen like in Portland, police be incredibly aggressive in these flashbang grenades against antifascist protesters. And then, you know, on the opposite side, I was in Charlottesville in 2017 where I saw Nazis, you know, push back against riot cops demanding that the cops back up, the cops back down. So I think there is demonstrative differences in how cops treat certain protesters often.

Salima Hamirani: Still Chris found the police response at the George Floyd protests unusual.

Christopher Matias: I’ve witnessed a lot of police brutality at protests over the years, but I personally have not experienced this level of aggression.

Salima Hamirani: And despite his experience, Chris says he feels lucky in some ways.

Christopher Matias: I am a white journalist and probably had the most privileged experience of this that a person can have. And it was still incredibly scary. So it stands to reason that they are treating people that aren’t white and that aren’t journalists much more harshly.

Salima Hamirani: It’s hard to tell from anecdotal evidence whether the police are actually targeting the press more than usual. We live in the digital age, so we’re able to capture and disseminate information a lot easier.

Kirstin McCudden: So in part, there are just more protests, more danger zones for journalists. Also, every protest, every year that there’s a protest, there’s the ability to capture more and more of what’s happening. There are more cameras out there, more phones.

Salima Hamirani: That’s Kirstin McCudden.

Kirstin McCudden: And I’m the managing editor of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. That’s a project that documents aggressions against the press in the United States.

Salima Hamirani: We talked to Kirstin to get some sense of the real numbers. And what Kirsten told us is that actually they’ve never seen anything like these arrests before.

Kirstin McCudden: They’re unprecedented. I think we will wear out the word unprecedented before the summer is over. But the scope and scale of what we are seeing, this is really a it’s a turning and defining moment for journalists in the U.S.

Salima Hamirani: The tracker has been aggregating data about the assaults since the Black Lives Matter protests started.

Kirstin McCudden: And to date, we’re in the middle of July. Nearly 500 aggressions against the press have been reported in the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. We’re working independently to verify 68 arrests of journalists covering these protests and documenting what’s going on. Two hundred and twenty physical attacks. That is everything from being hit with a projectile to assaults. More than one hundred reports of chemical agents being used, that’s tear gas, pepper spray and also about 70 equipment damages. And you have to think of how important this is for a journalist, that’s newsroom damage, but that’s also cameras broken, bicycles being stolen.

Salima Hamirani: And here’s how those numbers compare to what the Tracker has seen in the past.

Kirstin McCudden: The tracker was started in 2017— from 2017 to the end of 2019, we documented a little bit more than four hundred press freedom aggressions. We are independently verifying 496 that have come in in the past eight weeks alone. That is more than the trackers entire history.

Salima Hamirani: And it’s not just the number of attacks it stands out, but the level of violence itself.

Kirstin McCudden: The more police departments that have more pepper spray, more rubber bullets. With that comes a higher number of incidents of assaults. We have at least two journalists who have lost either complete vision in one eye or may lose vision in one eye. This is the militarization of police departments at local levels. I think it does make a difference with what’s being used out there and the damage that it can do to citizens and also to journalists.

Salima Hamirani: So what’s going on here? To understand why the number of attacks on journalists have increased and what’s at stake. I talked to Nora Benavides, the director of the US Free Expressions programs at Pen America. Nora Benevides says that since Trump has been elected, she’s witnessed a trend.

Nora Benavides: Here in the United States, there has been a rise over the last several years in threats to free expression. That includes a lot of threats to our free press and to the ability of reporters to give readers to give the public information about our government and to hold government accountable. And so much of what we’re seeing now and why I’m so concerned about the state of free expression in the United States is that I think we are seeing a very targeted effort to minimize certain groups from being able to engage in public discourse. And what we see quite a bit is journalists, for example, that try to portray or cover, for example, the Trump administration in critical ways— They are targeted.

I think we’ve seen some compounding crises here, we’ve seen the pandemic. And then we have seen anti-lockdown protests that sprang up around the country. Some of those were lauded by our president. And, you know, those people were seen, for example, by him and characterized as very good people. And so in all of that, there was kind of this fever pitch of rising tension between how certain protesters in the anti-lockdown arena were being characterized by our leaders. And then a rise in efforts to really come together in solidarity around the George, Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests.

Omar Jimenez: I’m sorry, OK. Do you mind telling me why I’m under arrest or why? Why am I under arrest sir?

Nora Benavides: And I remember back at the end of May when Omar Jimenez of CNN was arrested in Minneapolis. He and his crew were arrested while trying to cover a protest.

CNN crew member: We were just out here reporting the closure of the streets. They just… Omar was just arrested. I believe we’re all about to be arrested, that’s our producer… {being hancuffed}

Nora Benavides: I remember in that moment it was like the next morning. I was so shocked, as I know a lot of my colleagues were to see such an egregious violation of basic First Amendment rights of reporters trying to just cover a protest. But then that started happening again and again and again. And I honestly think that it’s really a sign of the times and that we are seeing efforts to limit how people can understand what’s happening around those protests.

If there are no reporters to report on the police misconduct or how police officers are treating protesters, protesters may simply not know what’s really going on. And so it’s absolutely an effort to frame and very carefully frame what {information} people have access to.

Salima Hamirani: One of the questions I had for Nora was the role that race played in the level of police aggression. And she said, at least in terms of who getting arrested, it seems to be all kinds of journalists.

Nora Benavides: The interest in stamping out journalists presence at protests is not confined to journalists of color. One of the things that we noted is that then legal observers started getting picked up and arrested as well. And so it kind of echoed the way journalists were being targeted. Any effort to document or observe or provide witness to what was happening at these protests officers were trying to limit and clamp down on.

Salima Hamirani But what is also clear from her research is that race actually plays a huge role in which movements are targeted by the police and by the government.

Nora Benavides: Recently, Pen American released a report that looks at the last five years of legislative proposals that have been introduced around the country to either increase penalties for protesters or somehow create new types of penalties for people who are engaging in protected activity.

And what we largely saw was that there were a few ways these bills try to target groups and they don’t try to target all groups. They specifically target people who engage in activities that are known to be tactics used by Black Lives Matter and Dakota pipeline protesters. So dozens and dozens of bills over the last several years have been introduced, we found, namely, to criminalize people who march on public roadways. That was over the last several years, a tactic used by Black Lives Matter. We’ve also then seen dozens and dozens of bills introduced that criminalize people who are protesting near critical infrastructure sites.

Salima Hamirani: And protesting critical infrastructure such as oil pipelines is a tactic of indigenous protests.

Nora Benavides: All of which seems to suggest in our data and analysis that it’s really these racial justice and often Black, indigenous and other people of color that are targeted by government.

Salima Hamirani: So what do we do? How do we protect journalists in this kind of environment? If you look at some of the recommendations online right now, journalists are being told to go into work dressed as if they’re entering a battlefield and that actually bothers Nora.

Nora Benavides: We should not be in the position of giving civilians or reporters ways to adapt their practices to meet what a new normal is in a more militarized environment. But we need to be looking at why we have a more militarized environment that silencing people’s free expression.

Salima Hamirani: But there are two ways we can really start to push back against this level of violence. To start, we can force public officials to hold the police accountable.

Nora Benavides: Well, one of the things that Pen America is doing is we’ve been working with a coalition and leading efforts to call on governors and local mayors offices to actually investigate and then hold police departments accountable for their violations of press freedom. We know that many of the cities that have the highest attacks on journalists have been places like Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. And so in many jurisdictions, we’ve actually been working with dozens of press freedom and media coalition groups to try to put pressure where we can on officials: 1.) for them to call out that these types of attacks are violations of the First Amendment and 2.) bring forward bigger accountability efforts so that in the months to come, when we do not anticipate a dampening of people’s protests and civic engagement, we want local and state officials to be there at the ready to defend both reporters’ and protesters’ First Amendment rights.

Salima Hamirani: The second fix is a broader cultural change in newsrooms themselves. And this might seem unrelated, but part of the problem with journalism and how the media portrays protests, especially protests led by Black and indigenous leaders, is that there aren’t actually that many journalists of color reporting on these issues. So values like objectivity take precedence over values such as anti-imperialism or antifascism. And that’s partially why we’re in the position we’re in now.

Nora Benavides: A lot of reporters said there’s this reckoning over objectivity. And so we need to have Black and brown reporters in the mix reporting on issues that frankly, other reporters that are not of color, not Black, not brown, are simply not attuned to, and not thinking about what the systemic consequences are here. And when we only have a monopoly in our publishing world and in the media of white reporters, that is a failure to hold our larger communities and our government accountable for certain oversights.

I mean, I loved seeing, for example, you know, Wesley Lowery did a piece in The New York Times on this: It was called “The Reckoning over Objectivity, Led by Black Journalists,” and it was led by Black journalists. And I think that this is one of those moments where one of the questions that has to be wrestled with now is how do we deal with what the traditional standards of journalism mean when one of those is objectivity? Because that simply isn’t good enough now, in many instances to say “it’s one of our hallmarks of good and practical and ethical journalism.” Instead, we now have to think about, well, what is the role from an equity lens and the value, the important value of having Black and brown reporters able to actually hold accountable those that they’re reporting on.

Salima Hamirani: You were just listening to Christopher Mattias, Kirstin McCudden and Nora Benevides and reporting from Oakland, I’m Salima Hamirani.

Monica Lopez: You’re listening to “A Thin Black Line: Press Freedom, Repression and Surveillance,” on Making Contact. This and all of our shows are offered for free to radio stations across the country and around the world. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Our handle is @making_contact.

And now back to “A Thin Black Line.”

A rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement has been to defund police departments with multibillion-dollar budgets and millions in damages from excessive force lawsuits paid by taxpayers. One big ticket item on some police budgets is surveillance technology. Dave Maas is a senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a visiting professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, Reynolds School of Journalism, where he and hundreds of students built what they call the Atlas of Surveillance.

Dave Maas: You know, as a as a researcher in surveillance at EFF, I get two kinds of questions asked all the time by reporters and researchers and by local community members. And the first question is, how is a particular surveillance technology spreading across the country? Who has face recognition in the US who have license plate readers? The second question I get is not about a specific technology, but about a specific place. I live in Chicago or I live in Seattle or I live in Albuquerque. And what are all the technologies that my local law enforcement agencies are using? And there wasn’t a good resource for answering these questions. And so eventually, you know, we were approached by the University of Nevada Reno’s journalism school, and they asked whether we had some sort of project we could do with a larger number of students, perhaps more than one hundred and fifty students.

And immediately I thought we can build this database that people can come to to learn about the surveillance state, to learn about what kind of technologies are in their communities, whether they’re in someplace rural or in a major metropolitan area. So now, after having spending 18 months with hundreds of both student researchers, as well as volunteers, members of the EFF community, we’ve put together the first version of the Web site, its Atlas’s surveillance dot org. And it has a way for you to play around with a map to flip on and off switches, to see which technologies are used by which police departments. There’s also a fairly robust search where you can put in where you live, your state, your county, your city, and don’t return a list of all the technologies we’ve gathered for that area, along with out links that you can you can visit in order to get more information.

One of the things that we do is that we work with local organizations and grassroots groups to try to pass ordinances that require this technology to go through a public process before it’s adopted. So what I mean by that is that when a police department wants body or cameras or drones, the idea is that police shouldn’t be able to just make that decision, you know, in a back room with a sales person from the company. Instead, they need to write up a policy. They need to assess what the impact will be on privacy and civil liberties. And they need to bring that policy and their entire proposal to the city council or board of supervisors, whoever the elected body is, to have permission. And that gives the community the opportunity to weigh in and say what they think is appropriate or not appropriate for communities.

And if they are going to allow a surveillance technology into their community, what the restrictions are on how it might be used.

Monica Lopez: Particularly with everything that’s been going on recently with the federal police going out to various municipalities during these protests. What is the significance of a database tool like this?

Dave Maas: You know, one of the reasons we put this out into the world, this is something we’ve been working on for a very long time, but it’s also the sort of project that never ends. And we had to make a decision when were we going to cut this off and just go live? We can keep collecting data, you know, month after month after month. But when is enough for us to put it out into the world? And so as these protests have been raging on, not just, you know, we don’t just have concerns about how surveillance is being used against protesters, but the protests themselves about the growth of the police state implicates all of these technologies.

When we talk about defunding the police or we talk about reducing police budgets. One of the big things that police departments spend money on is surveillance technology. And so we decided that it was very important to get this out into the world as soon as possible. And so what we see in terms of people using the site is that certainly in cities where there is a lot of unrest going on or where federal law enforcement is stepping in. We see people searching our site for information about those areas. Sometimes that might become useful when, you know, you’re making a decision about how you’re going to dress and what kind of mask. And obviously, people are wearing masks quite a lot now. But, you know, because of the pandemic, but even in previous times before the pandemic, there might be a decision you might want to make about whether to wear masks or not based on whether police are using body worn cameras. You know, you might want to keep an eye out for drones.

You might want to have an idea of what technology is being used, because maybe weeks later somebody might get arrested and you might wonder what kind of evidence was gathered on this person. A lot of these technologies are kept secret from defense attorneys. And so it’s important to know what the police have. So defense attorneys can go and ask for evidence from them.

Monica Lopez: So I saw a description on the EFF website of what looks like a preliminary atlas of surveillance project that focused more regionally on the border communities in the Southwest. And there seemed to be some pretty clear parallels between the tactics used by U.S. Border Patrol and ICE and the monitoring and the arrest of immigrant communities and the tactics that have been used by federal agents during these demonstrations against repressive policing. Is that something that EFF or the Atlas project is keeping track of as well?

Dave Maas: So what you’re talking about is our Atlas of Surveillance focusing on border communities. This was our pilot project last year just to see whether we could collect the data in a useful way, how the students would be interacting with the research and interacting with our tools. And so we started, instead of looking at the full country, we looked at the twenty three counties along the U.S. Mexico border. And based on that success, we started moving around more broadly across the United States. But what we’ve seen is that, you know, in border areas, that is where federal money is flowing in to purchase technology either by the federal government themselves or the federal government is funding programs like Operation Stonegarden, which gives money to local law enforcement agencies to buy technology for, you know, quote, border security purposes. And so then you start seeing iris recognition, face recognition, license plate readers, cell sites, simulators, the whole range of technologies starting to creep in to even the smallest border towns in the southwest. And then that technology kind of moves its way upwards.

The city of San Diego, for example, is very much a testing bed for a lot of these technologies. You see some of the larger commercial drones being tested in San Diego. San Diego had one of the earliest mobile face recognition programs. And a lot of this is just coming in because it’s a border region because, you know, the courts have looked at at civil liberties around the border and decided that there’s, you know, diminished rights when you’re near a border. And that has resulted in the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency administration, U.S. Marshals and a variety federal agencies collaborating with local law enforcement to enhance data collection, surveillance technology, creating these these Real-Time Crime Centers and intelligence centers that are analyzing data all the time. So you’re exactly right. The border is indicative of what is to come elsewhere in the country.

The Atlas of Surveillance is meant to be a collaborative project. We do want the site to serve as a resource for people trying to gather more information. But we also want to encourage people to participate and help us collect more data so we can fill out the entire map. We have information on something like three thousand police departments across the country. There are close to 20,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. And so certainly we need to build up our research base in order to cover more ground. The more people who are becoming literate to these issues, who are understanding how the press is covering these issues, are learning how to read public documents about these issues. So for us, part of the utility of a project like this is building up a movement that is cognizant of of the rise of surveillance in addition to just learning about it.

Monica Lopez : And where can people go? They just go to To

Dave Maas: I really encourage people to click “search the data,” which is going to give a lot more information about where they live. But there will also be a tab called Collaborate, which we have a lot of opportunities to get involved.

Monica Lopez: Again, that was Dave Maas, senior investigative researcher at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This has been “A Thin Black Line: Press Freedom, Repression and Surveillance,” on Making Contact.

This show was produced by Salima Hamirani and Monica Lopez. The Making Contact team is executive director Sonya Green, director of production initiatives, Lisa Rudman, producers Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani and Monica Lopez. Web updates by Sabine Blazin. And I’m this week’s host. Monica Lopez. Thanks for listening to Making Contact.

Posted in USA, Human Rights, MediaComments Off on Journalists Struggle for Press Freedoms in a Time of Repression and Surveillance

“Israeli Settlers Make a Living Out of Our Suffering,” Says Palestinian Activist

Palestinians kneel on the ground in prayer while being closely surveiled by armed soldiers and military vehicles
Ein al-Hilweh, north of the Jordan Valley. Although Palestinians have been living there since before the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel declared this space a military training area in 1993.

BY: Joshua TartakovskyTruthout

The Jordan Valley lies on the eastern part of the West Bank, occupied by Israel in 1967, and shares a border with Jordan. The Israeli government, with the blessing of Donald Trump, is hoping to annex the Jordan Valley. This plan has drawn international condemnation, from Germany and France as well as from Israel’s Arab neighbors — Egypt and Jordan — with whom it shares borders and a peace treaty. The Israeli nongovernmental organization B’Tselem states that the Valley, which constitutes roughly 30 percent of the West Bank, is home to 10,000 Israeli settlers and about 65,000 Palestinians. Thousands of Palestinians have been protesting against the annexation plan.

The July 1 annexation target date has passed, and according to The Times of Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week said that the plan is being held up by the U.S. administration, although annexation is not off the table.

Israel has viewed the Valley as a buffer zone between itself and the broader Middle East for decades; as early as in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, Israeli labor minister Yigal Allon devised a plan to annex the Valley in order to provide Israel with a strategic depth against a potential future invasion. Indeed, Israel has insisted many times on keeping its armed forces in the region even if an independent Palestinian state were to be established. Many observers, including supporters of Israel, believe that annexing the Jordan Valley would make a future two-state solution impossible.

A melon vendor operating within a tent in late May 2020. Israel does not allow Palestinians to establish a shop in the area so they built a tent from which to sell instead. The army confiscated all of the melons in the Bardala village in the northern Jordan Valley and they demolished this shelter.

So far, Israel has no plans to provide citizenship for the Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley if and when it annexes the land. Israel has recently been active demolishing Bedouin tents and solar panels, quite possibly so that they will be forced to relocate. That Israel has carried out these actions prior to its annexation may reveal it has designs for the area in question. Israeli settlers have welcomed the annexation plans; indeed, the Trump peace plan effectively allows Israel to go ahead with annexing the area, even though recently White House officials had some misgivings about the timing. However, a U.S.-Israel committee whose purpose was to decide which areas Israel was to annex has seen its work come to a halt due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

The situation in the Jordan Valley is one that resembles apartheid in its most stark condition. Barren land, lack of water, Bedouin tents demolished by the Israel Defense Forces. Water wells are destroyed and trees are cut down by the same armed forces. Freedom of movement of peasants to their agricultural lands is forbidden — but only, of course, if they are Palestinian. Israeli villagers get not only free movement, they also get free land — free because it is stolen, and because of subsidies for agricultural development thanks to the Israeli taxpayer. It pays to be an Israeli in the Jordan Valley. To be Palestinian is to live a life of countless suffering there. No wonder, then, that a slogan developed by the Jordan Valley Solidarity group is “To exist is to resist.”

I knew the Jordan Valley well. I served there in the Israeli armed forces between 2001-2002. We put Palestinians under siege, did not allow them to reach their agricultural lands, stopped and detained people randomly. Physical violence was used against Palestinians at the checkpoints on occasion. Homes and schools were searched. Children’s studies interrupted by soldiers entering in with guns. That was nearly 18 years ago. But now a change to the status quo may be coming.

Sireen Khudairi is a long-time Palestinian activist and teacher who resides in the Jordan Valley. She spoke to Truthout about the upcoming annexation and how the Israeli occupation of the Jordan Valley is a business occupation.It pays to be an Israeli in the Jordan Valley. To be Palestinian is to live a life of countless suffering.

Joshua Tartakovsky: Can you please tell me more about yourself — where were you born, where do you live, what do you do for a living?

Sireen Khudairi: I have been a volunteer with the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign since 2005. I led the learning center for youth in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem, a camp that is recognized by [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)]. I worked in the reservation department at a hotel in Bethlehem. Several years ago, I was kidnapped by Israeli forces while I was walking on the street from my university to my home. Subsequently, I was placed in solitary confinement for a period of two months. Following this period, I was told in the Israeli court that I was arrested due to my political activity on Facebook that posed a threat to the security of the State of Israel. While I was born in Nablus, I grew up in the Jordan Valley.

Ein al-Hilweh, north of the Jordan Valley, is an empty area. There is a water spring there where Palestinians come to provide water for their flock. The Israeli military stated the area must be used for military training purposes. It is forbidden for sheep and people to enter the area now.

What do residents expect regarding the upcoming annexation plans? Have they been approached regarding this plan by the Israeli occupation authorities who run the affairs of the Jordan Valley?

The people are expecting that the Bedouin community will be removed, and that the villages in the valley will be isolated, with freedom of movement taken away. This will have an immediate effect on the areas of access to education, health and economic opportunities. Villagers in Fasayil and al Zubeidat have been approached by Israel, who demands that they pay for electricity. Until now, they managed by connecting cables to electric power sources. The electricity is free for settlers in the Jordan Valley and also in other areas such as the South Hebron Hills. [Settlers] are benefiting from living on stolen land and using stolen water and are doing business on the suffering of the people in the Jordan Valley.

I think the occupation of the Jordan Valley is a business occupation. They do business from everything they can. From the land, the stolen water, the projects they do with the settlers, to the demolition of Palestinian homes. Before they demolish a home, the Israeli authorities confiscate things inside that belong to Palestinians, and then tell them that if they want these things back, they have to pay. For each tank of water they confiscate, they ask people to pay $1,160 (in U.S. dollars).Israeli authorities confiscate things inside that belong to Palestinians, and then tell them that if they want these things back, they have to pay.

The Israelis are benefiting economically as long as they are controlling the land and the water of the valley. More than a million palm trees belong to the settlers who have 36 agricultural colonies in the valley. The settlers benefit from the labor of Palestinian workers who work without permits. They are paid 60 percent less of what Israelis would have been paid in the same position. They do not have health insurance and take on dangerous work. Four hundred women and children work in the Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.

Some people believe that if Israel annexes the Jordan Valley, due to international pressure, it may be compelled to give citizenship to Palestinian residents of the valley over the long run. They argue that the number of Palestinians in the valley are not that big, and that Israel can deal with this from a demographic perspective due to its emphasis on the need to keep a Jewish majority. What is your response?

I think that Israel’s annexation plan evades international law. We don’t want an Israeli nationality. What we want is our rights.

Ein al-Hilweh, north of the Jordan Valley. Although Palestinians have been living there since before the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli declared this space a military training area in 1993.

How do you view the Israeli soldiers occupying you? What have they recently been up to in your area?

The soldiers are inhumane and … they are active in the demolition of homes, cutting down trees, cutting off water pipes, kidnapping and killing people, running over and killing sheep. On July 1, 2020, Israeli soldiers destroyed four homes in the village of Fasayil. Eighty five olive trees were cut down by the Israeli army in the Bardalla village, located in the north of the Jordan Valley, in June 2019. As we like to say, in the Jordan Valley, to exist is to resist.

What is the relationship between Palestinians and Bedouin in the Jordan Valley?

The relationship between the farmers and the Bedouin is good. After all, we are all Palestinians. We are all struggling for the same aim. We all share good memories of living together in the same land.

How do most Palestinians earn their living in the Jordan Valley?

Most of the people living in the valley are shepherds who raise sheep or are farmers who produce dates. That’s how they earn money. In the city of Tubas, which lies west of the Jordan Valley and is under Palestinian security control, there is a yogurt and cheese factory, a food factory and a factory producing soap.

Bardala village in the northern Jordan Valley. This land belonged to Sireen Khudairi’s family. Her father left the area after the water was confiscated by the Civil Administration in the West Bank [Israel] following the 1967 Six-Day War.

How do Palestinians deal with the water shortage in the valley?

Palestinians deal with the shortage of water by using water only for our main needs, such as watering agriculture. Palestinians mostly plant plants that will grow in the winter season. Each square cubic meter of water costs $7.20 (in U.S. dollars), and … people have to go 12 miles to arrive at a water source that is not controlled and 12 miles to get back. Even getting there, Palestinian residents need to pass by a checkpoint manned by Israeli soldiers. Three Palestinian communities are locked by a gate manned by Israeli soldiers. Residents cannot go in or out without passing through their careful scrutiny. Palestinian residents in these three communities need to drive through a mountainous road to bypass the Israeli soldiers. If they are caught by Israeli soldiers unexpectedly, they are detained and accused of illegally passing through a military road and a firing zone.Before the occupation of the Jordan Valley by Israel in 1967, 200,000 Palestinians lived here. Now there are just 56,000 people. This is because of Israel’s policy.

The aim of the Israeli occupation authorities is that the Palestinians will leave the area. They are trying to put pressure on the people, so that they will decide on their own to leave the area. They make life hard for the people, so people will not be able to live without electricity, without water, and they have to pay a lot of money as well.

You know, before the occupation of the Jordan Valley by Israel in 1967, 200,000 Palestinians lived here. Imagine if this many people stayed in the Jordan Valley, how many people there would have been living here by now? Now there are just 56,000 people. This is because of Israel’s policy. They put a lot of pressure on people, so that people will leave the area.

Bardala village in the northern Jordan Valley. This land belonged to Sireen Khudairi’s family. Her father left the area after the water was confiscated by the Civil Administration in the West Bank [Israel] following the 1967 Six-Day War.

Are the Medjool dates from Palestine in Turkey or Germany from Palestinians, or from Israeli colonialists?

Before 1967 my father told me that they used to export the product to Lebanon and Jordan. Nowadays they export but less than before. And it is controlled by two Palestinian companies. And unfortunately, these two companies have their business with Israeli companies as well…. Israel lost $29 million in 2013 because of [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement]. And after that, [according to] a documentary made by Al Jazeera, one settler from Mehola settlement said that they started to write on their products “Made in Palestine” instead of “[Made] in Israel” because of the boycott movement….

I think that’s why Israel … arrested me at that time. They were crazy about all activists who were active with the boycott movement. And who were writing reports about what was happening in the Jordan Valley. And how Israeli economic projects were affecting the lives of Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.

Sireen Khudairi and her husband.

What happened to you in prison? What did they accuse you of? Did you have a trial or did they detain you without a trial?

What is more important than the situation of being in jail, was after being released, I was so weak. Hopeless. I kept myself in my room.… I worked a lot on my character to move on after this horrible experience. That’s why I joined a theater … In that time, [for] two months, I was not allowed to see a lawyer, not allowed to talk to my family. After a week, they took me to a trial. The judge was giving reasons why they put me in jail. They said it was because [I was] threatening the security of Israel. No details, nothing.

Did they provide any evidence that you were “threatening the security of Israel?”

There are some details, maybe people don’t know about it. For example, when they search the prisoner without clothes, with nothing, it’s horrible. The way they do it is really horrible. They didn’t allow me to change my clothes for two months. After a week, I wanted to see my face. I wanted a mirror. There are small details…. I was allowed to take a shower once every three days and for five minutes.

They did not provide any evidence, nothing. That is why I was released later. They were always telling me to give us information. And they were pressuring me to even invent things. They wanted any information. To give a reason for them to keep me in jail.

How long were you in prison in total?

In total, four months, and another three months home jail. Not allowed to talk to my friend, not allowed to use the telephone. Not allowing anyone to visit me.

They [also] used dogs. And that’s the most horrible thing that has happened to me.… They beat me. They tied my legs and my hands. And the captain who was asking questions … he started to shout at me; he said to me, “You have to respect the state in which you live — Israel, which is the only democracy in the Middle East” … I said to him, yes, it is a democratic state, so your state, they use democracy to vote in the Israeli Knesset, the parliament, to destroy 300 houses in the al Naqab [Negev desert]. So yes, you use your democracy to destroy others’ lives.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Human RightsComments Off on “Israeli Settlers Make a Living Out of Our Suffering,” Says Palestinian Activist

Massive blast rocks Beirut


At least 100 people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured in the blast that damaged half the cityAugust 4, 2020 at 4:56 pm | Published in: LebanonMiddle EastNewsVideos & Photo StoriesAugust 4, 2020 at 4:56 pm

Joyce Karam@Joyce_KaramBREAKING: Explosions in Beirut #Lebanon • 2 explosions in last 15 min • One at Port, one inside Beirut • Reports it’s near ex PM Hariri residence in city center • Second very loud, shook city, houses • This week is International Tribunal verdict into killing of Rafik Hariri4:23 PM · Aug 4, 20204.9K6.2K people are Tweeting about this

Two explosions, which were felt as far away as Cyprus, struck Beirut today razing the city’s port, shattering windows, and destroying nearby buildings.

Official reports initially claimed the explosions were a result of fireworks that had malfunctioned, but later said the blasts were caused by a cache of highly explosive ammonium nitrate which was confiscated more than a year ago and stored in a warehouse in Beirut’s port.

Videos circulating online show huge clouds of smoke visible across the city, with a large black plum seen by the sea.

In the video below, from the explosion in the port, smaller explosions, possibly fireworks, can be seen in the smoke plume, before the large explosion.

Lebanese Red Cross@RedCrossLebanon
Beirut Port Explosion:


more than 30 teams are responding to the explosion. Please make way to our ambulances!


5:15 PM · Aug 4, 2020

At least ten people have been reported dead, including Nizar Najarian, the Secretary-General of Lebanon’s Kataeb party, while hundreds more are thought to have been wounded in the blast.

Pictures and videos circulated online showing possible victims amidst hundreds of people covered in blood.


Local reports showed hospitals, which were already struggling as a result of the economic crisis and coronavirus pandemic, were overwhelmed by the influx of patients. In one case, in an eastern area of Beirut, doctors were pictured treating the wounded in the car park.

Local media reported Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s wife, children, and advisors were injured in the blast.

Diab has since declared tomorrow a national mourning day.

Meanwhile, Israel has denied involvement in the explosion, Reuters cited an Israeli official as saying. While the White House spokesperson said the US administration was monitoring the situation closely.

Israel has offered humanitarian assistance to Lebanon after a massive explosion rocked its capital Beirut on Tuesday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said, reports Reuters.

“Israel has approached Lebanon through international security and diplomatic channels and has offered the Lebanese government medical and humanitarian assistance,” a written statement from Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.

Posted in Lebanon, Middle EastComments Off on Massive blast rocks Beirut

Nazi regime turning mosques into synagogues, bars

The Omari Mosque in Tiberias, built by Zahir [Wikipedia]

The Omari Mosque in Tiberias, built by Zahir [Wikipedia]

One of the landmarks of Tiberias, the mosque, also known as the Zaydani mosque, was built on the Mameluke architecture, with a big dome and a minaret.

“Like most Palestinians, the Tiberias residents have fled to Syria and Lebanon following the Nakba,” Kamal Khatib of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens, told Anadolu Agency.

“The Zaydani family, however, moved to the adjacent city of Nazareth,” he said.

Khatib said the Zaydani family had asked the Nazi authorities to give them permission to renovate the Umari mosque.

“The Tiberias Municipality, however, refused, arguing that it would renovate it, but nothing happened,” he said.

“Even since the mosque has been closed with ‘Israeli’ authorities banning worshippers and visitors from entering it,” he said.

The study also showed that 40 mosques were either destroyed, closed, or abandoned, while 17 others were turned into bars, restaurants, or museums.

For example, the Al-Ahmar Mosque in the northern town of Safed was turned into a concert hall, while Al-Jadid Mosque in the city of Caesarea was changed into a bar, according to the study.

Khatib recalled that mosques in the pre-Nakba era were teeming with worshippers. “After the Nakba, however, mosques were destroyed, particularly those in villages. Other mosques were either turned into synagogues, bars, museums, cafes or restaurants.”

Khatib lamented that the Israeli policy “disregards the sentiments of Muslims”, citing the al-Isaaf cemetery in Jaffa, where tombs were razed despite protests from local residents.

Khatib said Israeli authorities have enacted legislation to confiscate the property of Palestinians, who fled their homes.

“The Knesset (Israel’s parliament) passed the law of absentees, under which Israel confiscated buildings and property of Arab citizens [who left their homes to other areas],” he said.

The Nazi regime denies the accusations of using mosques for other purposes than worshipping.

In October 2015, the Nazi Foreign Ministry said there were around 400 mosques in ‘Israel’ and that the number of worshippers doubled five times over the past 25 years.

Khatib, however, dismisses the Nazi claim, saying “The Israeli government has never built a mosque in the country’s history”.

Judaisation of Jerusalem - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI, Environment, Human RightsComments Off on Nazi regime turning mosques into synagogues, bars

Second spike looms: Boris opts for ‘whack-a-mole’ over having a good plan

On every level, the performance of socialist countries in dealing with Covid-19 is putting the profiteering, anti-worker ethos of capitalism to shame.

Proletarian writers

North Korea’s strict precautions, taken on the principle of ‘better safe than sorry’ have ensured that the country has so far been completely free of Covid-19.

The soothing mood music emanating from Downing Street is aimed at giving workers the impression that the health crisis is calming down and the government, guided by sober science, is now judiciously engaged in fine-tuning the gradual easing of the lockdown. The reality is quite other, however: the illness is not going away any time soon.

Every day, a further 8,000 people are getting infected by Covid-19, and there is every possibility of the illness building to a lethal second spike, thanks to the disorderly stampede back to work, the precipitate reopening of schools and the loosening of restrictions on social contact – a loosening driven not by science but by a desire to court cheap popularity and to reduce losses to big business and costs to the Treasury.

The reality is that Britain has so far notched up the second-highest death rate in Europe, narrowly pipped at the post by Spain, as measured by excess mortality figures. The Financial Times explains: “Excess mortality is calculated by counting everyone who has died in a country and subtracting the average number of people who passed away over the same period in the past five years,” and notes that “Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, called excess deaths ‘the key metric’.”

By this internationally recognised measure, Britain “has registered 59,537 more deaths than usual since the week ending 20 March, indicating that the virus has directly or indirectly killed 891 people per million”.

And unlike other countries, which have managed to contain the worst of the virus mostly to within one or two geographical areas, in Britain the excess death rate rose sharply across the whole country. Given the tardiness of the government in imposing lockdown in the first place, and the precipitate way in which restrictions are now being eased, the conclusion drawn by the FT article makes sobering reading:

“Examining the cause of the high death rates in certain countries, the strongest link appears at this stage to be between the date of a country’s lockdown and the probable number of infections that already existed when restrictions were applied.” (UK suffers second-highest death rate from coronavirus by John Burn-Murdoch and Chris Giles, 28 May 2020)

Guided by the science?

The scientific establishment, until now tending to keep any concerns it may have had about public policy under wraps, is starting to show signs of discomfort at being asked to lend its professional credibility to help fill the government’s own gaping credibility gap.

No less than three of the government’s scientific advisors have started vigorously blowing their whistles over the latest batch of mixed signals issuing from Number Ten.

“Professor John Edmunds OBE sits on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) – advising ministers on its response to the pandemic. The professor has warned Covid-19 incidents remain ‘really quite high’ in England, warning on the easing of restrictions: ‘We can’t lift things very much at all.’

“Prof Edmunds’ concerns join a growing list of expert advisers to the government expressing apprehension about England’s easing of lockdown. Prof Edmunds was joined by Professor Peter Horby, of the University of Oxford, and Sir Jeremy Farrar to warn that ministers are taking risks. All three are members of the Sage committee.

“Speaking to ITV News, Prof Edmunds said: ‘I think we are taking a bit of a risk at the moment, there’s a couple of things. One, the reproduction number is only just below one at the moment, so we don’t have a lot of headroom, we can’t lift things very much at all.

“‘Secondly, the incidents are really quite high, so [according to] the ONS survey we are getting 8,000 new infections every day in England, in just the community, that’s not counting cases that may occur in hospitals and care homes, and even other settings such as prisons. That’s quite a lot of cases, 8,000 every day.’” (Easing lockdown is ‘taking a bit of a risk’ warns top scientific adviser to government, ITV, 30 May 2020)

Another expert to speak out was a former director of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Professor Anthony Costello. He warned that the country could face a “resurgence” of the disease.

Ever since news of the pandemic hit the headlines, the government has been inconsistent in its handling of the situation. It delayed implementing a lockdown in the first place, allowing major crowd events like the Cheltenham races to claim their crop of victims. Once the lockdown was in place, the official advice came out in piecemeal form with many mixed signals, with even the police struggling to make sense of the rules.

And now that the government has begun to relax the rules in fits and starts, it is suddenly getting enthused about test, track and trace as the panacea that will fix everything – having dragged its feet for months on testing, and having as yet only got so far as launching eleven track-and-trace pilot experiments.

Boris Johnson’s ‘whack-a-mole tactics’

Boris Johnson’s reaction to the recent Covid outbreak in Weston hospital neatly sums up the chaotic opportunism which takes the place of any real planning.

When news broke that 40 percent of the staff who had been tested for the virus came out as positive (many of them asymptomatic) and more than 60 patients were infected, necessitating the closure of the hospital to new patients, the prime minister seized on this disaster to blow his own trumpet, claiming that it demonstrated the efficacy of government policy.

Rather than ponder about what such an occurrence might warn us about encouraging day trippers to head en masse to seaside locations like Weston, he claimed that the decision to close the hospital was in accordance with a grand plan to enforce more localised measures in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.

Johnson claimed: “We will be working with the local outbreak committees, and those responsible for dealing with whatever happens locally, and we will go through the local resilience forums which are leading on this.

“The Joint Biodiversity Centre will be looking at, for instance, the other day you saw there was an outbreak in Weston-super-Mare. We moved very quickly to close things down there to try to sort it out. That is the kind of whack-a-mole tactics that we are going to use as we keep driving the virus down and keep reducing the incidents.” (‘Whack-a-mole’ closure of Somerset hospital is first example of new localised lockdown tactics to curb coronavirus spread – Boris Johnson by Tomas Malloy, Somerset Live, 27 May 2020)

Or, in other words, keep on reacting to events, keep on fighting individual brush fires, and muddle through with no real plan.

Meanwhile, the stick needed to enable this ‘whack-a-mole’ strategy to be implemented – testing, tracking and tracing – is noticeably absent. Test results still routinely take 48 hours to arrive, despite the fact that effective contact tracing needs to be done within two days of a person becoming symptomatic.
Moreover, although some 2,000 people a day are presently being tested positive for coronavirus, the contact tracing that is supposed to follow diagnosis is not actually in place.

In the first four days of the tracing system going live, many of the 3,000 clinical caseworkers and 15,000 non-clinical ‘tier 3’ tracers who have been employed to do this vital job reported being unable to log into the system in order to carry out training modules, or unable to see any cases when they had logged on.

As one tracer put it, there is “an awful lot of money being poured into people to sit around not doing the job they were hired to do”. Despite all the evidence from other countries that this infrastructure would be our only route to contain the virus and first prevent and then come out of lockdown, the government only began seriously to discuss it in late April. (Contact tracers claim they have no work in ‘shambolic’ system by Billy Kenber, The Times, 1 June 2020)

Capitalism serves profit, not the people

Only a national plan driven by the welfare of the population, not by the capitalist market, would deal with the pandemic in the most humane and sane way, and only socialism can deliver that, as demonstrated in ChinaCuba and the DPRK.

In a recent article in the Guardian, George Monbiot pointed to what he describes as “the pernicious role of corporate power in public policy”, and how that hampers efforts to deal with health crises like the current pandemic.

A case in point has been the tragic farce over getting hold of the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Monbiot notes that some lucky manufacturing companies “have mysteriously been granted monopolies on the supply of essential equipment. These private monopolies have either failed to meet their contracts, or provided defective gear to the entire NHS, like the 15m protective goggles and the planeload of useless surgical gowns that had to be recalled.

“Instead of stockpiling supplies, as emergency preparedness demands, companies in these chains have been using just-in-time production systems, whose purpose is to cut their costs by minimising stocks. Their minimised systems could not be scaled up fast enough to meet the shortfall.”

An approach to inventory control like this may be superb for generating profits but has proved a disaster when it’s a question of protecting the health of key workers.

Again, speaking of the wholesale privatisation of the care sector, Monbiot notes: “Even before the pandemic, the system was falling apart, as many care companies, unable to balance the needs of their patients with the demands of their shareholders, collapsed, often with disastrous consequences.

“Now we discover just how dangerous their commercial imperatives have become, as the drive to make care profitable has created a fragmented, incoherent system, answerable sometimes to offshore owners, that fails to meet basic standards, and employs harassed workers on zero-hour contracts.”

And if the moneybags fear that emergency steps taken by a national government to deal with a national crisis may harm a hair on the head of their profit-taking, they will not hesitate to go to a (bourgeois) court to defend the rights of private property against the people’s health and welfare.

Monbiot cites a report by the Corporate Europe Observatory, which “shows how law firms are exploring the possibility of suing governments for the measures they have taken to stop the pandemic. Many trade treaties contain a provision called ‘investor state dispute settlement’. This enables corporations to sue governments in opaque offshore tribunals, for any policies that might affect their ‘future anticipated profits’.

“So when governments, in response to coronavirus, have imposed travel restrictions, or requisitioned hotels, or instructed companies to produce medical equipment or limit the price of drugs, the companies could sue them for the loss of the money they might otherwise have made.” (Tory privatisation is at the heart of the UK’s disastrous coronavirus response by George Monbiot, The Guardian, 27 May 2020)

Socialist planning serves the people

Such is the morality of the degenerate capitalists, shaping the morality of the societies they dominate. It is past time for it to be seen off by the revolutionary morality of the working class.

When apologists for capitalism furrow their brows and tell us how complicated it is to plan to meet the needs of society, we should invite them to take a look at how China and Cuba have been dealing with the pandemic. Or have a look at how the DPRK has been coping, despite the imposition of US sanctions, which seek to punish the Korean people for choosing the socialist path.

In a recent interview, Russian ambassador to Pyongyang Alexander Matsegora paid tribute to the vigorous measures that the north Korean government has taken to protect the health of its people.

“I must say that the leadership of the DPRK has taken the most resolute and strict measures to prevent this infection from entering the country. And it did so before anyone else. Even China still kept its borders open, but here entry/exit restrictions were introduced at the end of January, and since the beginning of February, the outer borders were tightly closed with an iron lock.

“Since then, it has become absolutely impossible to come here, even for north Korean citizens who are abroad – all of them still cannot get to their homeland (as you know, it is the compatriots returning from abroad who are the main distributors of infection for any country). The border provinces that have the most advanced ties with China were isolated from the rest of the country, as, by the way, was Pyongyang, where Chinese tourists came back in January.

“As for those who entered here after the outbreak of the epidemic in China, all of them, including foreigners, were placed in an unconditional 30-day quarantine, followed by daily checks by visiting teams of doctors for another month.

“Already in February, everyone here wore masks, and in every institution, in every entrance to residential buildings, their temperature was measured at the entrance and their hands and shoes were disinfected. School children and students were placed in complete isolation in mid-February, which began to weaken only in early May.

“Now there has been further easing of the measures. We are able to visit the market and all major shopping centres and the country has gradually begun to import goods again, but there is no international passenger traffic, and masks and widespread disinfections remain.”

Countering those who dismiss the DPRK’s efforts to combat the pandemic and accuse the government of secrecy about the virus, Matsegora pointed out: “Pyongyang does not hesitate to give World Health Organisation (WHO) and international humanitarian organisations comprehensive information about such diseases as tuberculosis or dysentery (and receives substantial assistance for their treatment).” (Russia unhappy at dialogue deep freeze between Pyongyang and Washington, The Communists, 31 May 2020)

It is the imperialist media in the west that try to conceal the successful efforts of the socialist countries in dealing with the virus, eager to hide their success, fearing that the world’s peoples might learn from their example.

Posted in Health, UKComments Off on Second spike looms: Boris opts for ‘whack-a-mole’ over having a good plan

PPE scandal: crony capitalists make a killing while frontline workers sacrificed

Meanwhile, the system’s defenders are worried that workers might learn the right lessons.

Proletarian writers

First there was the Iraq war, then there was economic collapse and austerity. Now, hot on the heels of the four-year Brexit shambles, the PPE scandal is hammering one more nail into the coffin of public trust in the institutions of capitalist rule.

The government’s refusal to commandeer the production and distribution of the personal protective equipment so vitally needed by hospitals and care homes, if necessary by bringing the manufacture of PPE under public direction for the duration of the health crisis, can only be ‘justified’ by the argument that (a) the rights of property in the means of production must be respected at all costs, and (b) in any case the best value for taxpayers’ money is best secured by free competition on the open market.

No capitalist government will ever dare state baldly that, when push comes to shove, the property rights of an exploiting minority must trump public health every time. So instead, bourgeois spin doctors stake everything on the assertion that free competition will always, by the alchemy of free market economics, serve the best interests of society.

Yet the shambolic mess that this government has made of the provision of PPE has not only shown what a disaster it has been to leave supply in the hands of the private sector in the first place, but is also exposing the way that monopoly capitalism effectively rigs the market, making a mockery of the very notion of ‘free competition’.

A pressure-group calling itself the Good Law Project is in the process of exposing some instructive examples of market-rigging and cronyism in the ‘competitive’ tendering of contracts for the supply of PPE.

In one case, the government awarded a £32m contract for the supply of surgical gowns to a pest control firm called PestFix without advertising the contract or opening it up to competition, despite there being many other companies willing and able to do the job.

PestFix doesn’t actually make surgical gowns, and simply undertook to order them from China. The company itself has assets of only £18,000, and was given a deposit worth 75 percent of the contract to make the purchase. Worse still, at the last reckoning, only half of the gowns ordered have yet to get to Britain, and those that have arrived are reportedly stuck in a warehouse in Daventry.

In an article in the Guardian, George Monbiot cited numerous similar cases unearthed by the GLP, including “the employment agency with net assets of £623 that was awarded an £18m government contract to supply face masks; the confectionery wholesaler that according to the GLP was given a £100m contract to supply PPE; and the £250m channelled through a ‘family office’ registered in Mauritius, specialising in currency trading, offshore property and private equity, also to supply protective medical equipment. Altogether, billions of pounds’ worth of contracts appear to have been granted, often to surprising companies, without competition.” (When secret coronavirus contracts are awarded without competition, it’s deadly serious by George Monbiot, The Guardian, 15 July 2020)

Monbiot’s conclusion, that “transparent, competitive tendering is a crucial defence against cronyism and corruption” and is “essential to integrity in public life and public trust in politics” feeds the illusion that capitalism can be cleaned up and rejigged to serve the interests of society at large.

On the contrary, monopoly, imperialist capitalism is incapable of changing its moribund and parasitical nature, and must be overthrown. The best possible political outcome from the deadly farce over the supply of PPE will be precisely what Monbiot fears: the further erosion of public trust in rancid bourgeois politics and the exposure of the complete absence of any integrity in public life.

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