Archive | September 29th, 2020

AOC’s withdrawal from Rabin memorial is shocking blow to liberal Zionism

BY PHILIP WEISS

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire/Getty Images)

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ. (PHOTO: WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN/NBC/NBC NEWSWIRE/GETTY IMAGES)

As you may know, a landmark event in the politics of Palestine took place yesterday: Congressional star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York withdrew from participation in an October memorial to Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister who was slain in 1995 by a rightwing extremist, after critics pointed out Rabin’s human rights record.

Rabin is a liberal Zionist hero, maybe the greatest hero of liberal Zionism; and AOC’s withdrawal from an Americans for Peace Now virtual event to honor the 25th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, hosted by actor Mandy Patinkin– “We would have peace today had he been with us all this time, I am absolutely certain of that,” Patinkin says– is a true shocker.

Al Jazeera says that AOC’s office confirmed her withdrawal in an email.

AOC’s sole comment on the event was a response yesterday to journalist Alex Kane of Jewish Currents, who had written: “In the US Rabin is viewed as a liberal peacemaker but Palestinians remember him for his brutal rule suppressing Palestinian protest during the First Intifada, as someone who reportedly ordered the breaking of Palestinian bones.”

AOC wrote:

Hey there – this event and my involvement was presented to my team differently from how it’s now being promoted. Thanks for pointing it out. Taking a look into this now.

Many Palestinians had assailed the appearance. Adalah Justice Project announced the withdrawal yesterday.

It’s official. @AOC has withdrawn her participation from an event memorializing Yitzhak Rabin. His legacy is one of violence and dispossession for Palestinians. Thank you AOC for listening to the lived experience of the Palestinian people.

The Electronic Intifada published an article by Ali Abunimah asking, “Why is AOC honoring a war criminal?” Abunimah wrote, “AOC shows total contempt for Palestinian lives by honoring Yitzhak Rabin, the unrepentent war criminal who personally oversaw the Lydda Death March [ethnic cleansing operation during the Nakba in 1948] and ordered soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian kids demanding freedom from occupation. Just disgusting!”

Diana Buttu describes Rabin as an architect of apartheid:

Amount of whitewashing Rabin’s crimes is incredible. While he was purportedly “seeking peace” he continued to build Israeli settlements and when a settler massacred Palestinians in Hebron in 1994 instead of removing settlers he fortified them. He had choices: he chose apartheid.

Noura Erakat also describes the trap of the two-state solution:

Thank you @AOC for modeling humility and principle. The fact that the liberal Zionist camp in the US is trying to resist Trump’s Israeli apartheid by advocating for putting Palestinians back into the Oslo trap- liberals’ Apartheid- at least makes the fault lines clear for all.

Novelist Susan Abulhawa tweeted video of soldiers brutalizing Palestinian teens with rocks and wrote:

Yitzak Rabin was the architect of the “Break Their Bones” doctrine, whereby Israeli soldiers literally went house to house and broke the bones of entire generations of Palestinians. For shame @AOC is attending a celebration of his life. Here’s a glimpse of his legacy.

Alex Kane’s comment on Rabin evidently caused AOC to withdraw. He reports she did so because she wasn’t told it was a memorial to Rabin.

Source told me that @PeaceNowUS framed event as focusing on Oslo and Rabin, and APN wanted her to speak on her Congressional work on the issue. It wasn’t framed to her as a Rabin memorial. That’s why she canceled.

Kane’s interpretation:

Here’s the bottom line on @AOC withdrawing from the Rabin memorial: This would not have happened five years ago. Here we have a wildly influential Congresswoman listening to Palestinians and the broader Palestinian rights movement.

Democratic Majority for Israel is outraged. It tweeted a photo of Yasser Arafat shaking Rabin’s hand at the Oslo signing ceremony at the White House in 1993.

Congresswoman, the guy on the right who brought a gun to the UN rostrum, murdered civilians, highjacked airplanes & blew up pizza parlors & discos not only shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand but paid a condolence call on his widow. Now you have questions about honoring Rabin? Seriously?

The evaporation of Rabin’s image clearly reflects the dismal failure of the Oslo process. The peace process has turned out to be a giant charade led by a mediator that was actually Israel’s advocate, the United States. If it had produced a Palestinian state, as was promised, within five years, Rabin might still be heroic. As it is, he is just another Israeli leader who hornswoggled Palestinians into sacrificing control of their own lands and lives. And plays on Broadway commemorating Oslo win Tony awards.

That is the great news here, the shift in the American discourse. Even as many Democrats try to run to Trump’s right on Israel and Joe Biden brags about all the arms that he gave Israel, the progressive camp is unified around democratic principles: It’s time for Palestinians to have basic, and equal, rights under Israeli rule.

As I have written, the pressure is on liberal Zionists and progressive Democrats. The rightwing Israel supporters have no problem with apartheid or occupation and they don’t sanctify the two-state solution. But liberal Zionists oppose apartheid, and they continue to parrot the two-state mantra as an answer, though it’s proved to be a delusion. What do you really care about, democracy or Jewish nationalism? AOC’s action highlights that contradiction, and if/once Biden is elected, the battle will break out in full inside the Democratic Party.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

Saluting WWII Heroes on the 70th anniversary of V-Day (Pt. 1)

Donald Gallegos

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The “Fighting Girlfriend”

VE-article-Mariya-Okyabrskaya1
Mariya Oktyabrskaya

In April of 1943, 38-year-old Ukrainian Mariya Oktyabrskaya (originally from a peasant family in the Crimean Peninsula) learned that her husband had been killed on the eastern front two years before. The devastating news angered her to a point where to vent her rage she sold all her possessions and used the money to buy a T-34 medium tank for the Red Army on the condition that she’d be the driver.

After five months of training, Oktyabrskaya and her tank, the “Fighting Girlfriend,” joined the 26th Guards Tank Brigade near Smolensk, Russia. On October 21, 1943, Oktyabrskaya and her tank took part on an assault on the German lines. Any impression that the “Fighting Girlfriend” was merely a propaganda ploy or a stunt were swept away when she smashed Nazi machine gun nests and artillery pieces to smithereens.

On several occasions when Oktyabrskaya’s tank was damaged she would jump out and make repairs to get her crew back in the fight. Oktyabrskaya’s luck ran out in the village of Shvedy near Vitebsk while, when crushing German trenches and machineguns, her tank was hit by an anti-tank shell. After repairing the tank’s tracks a shell exploded near Oktyabrskaya and she was hit in the head with shrapnel. She remained in
a coma for two months before dying on March 15, 1944.

Mariya Oktyabrskaya was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Mikhail Devyatayev
Mikhail Devyatayev

Escaping from the Nazis in a Nazi bomber

When 27-year-old Mordovian Senior Lieutenant Mikhail Devyatayev (from the Romanian speaking minority in the Western USSR) bailed out of his burning aircraft, he hit the plane’s stabilizer, knocking himself unconscious. Landing in German held territory, he was soon captured. After being held first at the Łódź concentration camp in Poland, then later the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany, Devyatayev knew being an ace pilot put his life in danger, so he managed to trade identities with a dead Soviet infantryman.

With his new identity Devyatayev was transferred to a camp in Usedom, an island in the Baltic Sea, working as part of a forced labor crew for the German missile program, repairing runways and clearing unexploded bombs by hand. It was there that he along with other Soviet nationals became convinced that it would be better to die trying a daring escape than die as prisoners.

So, on February 8, 1945, Devyatayev and nine other Soviet POWs went to work on the runway where one member of the group killed the guard with a crowbar and stripped him of his uniform. Devyatayev, the only pilot among them, lead them to the hangar where they stole the camp commandant’s Heinkel Bomber.

Flying east, the escapees evaded German fighters and landed in Soviet territory. The escapees provided crucial information about the German missile program, including the V-2 rocket, the first man-made object to cross the boundary of space. However, Soviet law enforcement thought it was impossible that prisoners could have taken over an airplane and escaped without cooperation from the Germans. Believing the escapees to be spies, Devyatayev and the others spent the remainder of the war in penal military units or prison.

Later when the head of the Soviet Space Program, Sergey Korolyov, personally argued that the Soviet space program owed its efforts to the information provided by Mikhail Devyatayev and the other escapees, Devyatayev’s name was finally cleared.

On August 15, 1957, Devyatayev, the youngest of 13 children born to a Mordovoan peasant family, became a Hero of the Soviet Union and an honored citizen of the Mordovian Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic. Within months, the USSR launched the first ever artificial satellite into Earth orbit. Devyatayev died in 2002 at the age of 85.

Lethal Soviet “Night Witches”

On October 8, 1941, Joseph Stalin ordered the creation of three all-women’s aviation regiments. One in particular, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, became more famously known by their World War II Gernman nickname, Nachthexen, or Nightwitches (pictured above). From June 1942 to May 1945 the 588th flew nonstop missions. One woman, Nadezhda Popova, flew 18 missions in one night.

In a war where the latest technology was applied to the weapons of war, the 588th were given Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes to fly, usually used for training or crop-dusting. The light Po-2s were held together with wood, wire, and fabric, carried no guns or parachutes, and only had a cruising speed of 68mph and maximum speed of 98mph. Often when the plane went in for an attack the pilot would bring the engine to an idle or shut it off completely to silently glide in to drop six bombs at a time. The bombardier would then have to climb out to crank-start the engine in midair.

For their bravery on the Taman peninsula, during the battle of the Caucuses, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment was renamed the 46th Taman Guards Night Bomber Regiment. Together, they flew 24,000 sorties and dropped over 23,000 tons of bombs on the invaders. At its height, the 588th/46th Taman Guards numbered forty pilots, thirty were shot down. None were captured. Twenty three were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.

Posted in Europe, Politics, World0 Comments

Why are Azerbaijan and Armenia on the brink of war?

What's going on between Azerbaijan and Armenia in Tovuz region? | | SETA

Walter Smolarek

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Intense fighting that broke out on Sunday between Armenia and Azerbaijan has left scores dead and hundreds wounded as the two neighboring states teeter on the brink of all-out war. At issue is the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave surrounded and claimed by Azerbaijan but de-facto controlled by forces representing the region’s Armenian majority.

Armed clashes were registered on the morning of September 27. Both Armenia and Azerbaijan blame the other side for initiating hostilities, but within hours battles were taking place involving artillery, airpower and ground forces. The two countries’ governments have both declared martial law.

All-out war between the two sides has not been seen since 1994, when an internationally-brokered ceasefire ended years of fighting that left tens of thousands dead. But fears are mounting that warfare on this scale could resume. Members of the Minsk Group — the guarantor states led by Russia, France and the United States that is tasked with monitoring the 1994 ceasefire — are attempting to mediate.

The conflict is made more complex by a number of geopolitical factors. The chauvinistic, ultra right wing government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan views Armenia as an enemy state, a position held by successive Turkish capitalist governments with roots in the genocide against Armenians initiated by the Ottoman Empire in 1915. Turkey is a member of the imperialist NATO military alliance, and uses its diplomatic and military weight to support Azerbaijan. Israel is also a top supplier of weaponry to the government of Azerbaijan.

Armenia, on the other hand, maintains a key alliance with Russia. Although it was conceived as a bloc to combat the Soviet Union, NATO has maintained its hostile posture towards Russia even after the dissolution of the USSR.

Another layer to the conflict is Azerbaijan’s substantial oil and gas reserves. Azerbaijan’s economy is in large part dependent on the export of these resources, and its most important artery to carry this out is the Baku–Tbilisi–Ceyhan pipeline. The BTC pipeline’s principal investor is corporate giant BP, and U.S. oil monopolies Chevron and ExxonMobil also own significant stakes. In addition, natural gas exports from Azerbaijan factor in heavily to the U.S. and European Union-backed “Southern Gas Corridor” strategy aimed at isolating the Russian energy sector.

Conflict rooted in overthrow of Soviet Union

The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent restoration of capitalism led to a wave of deadly conflict between the nationalities that had previously lived peacefully alongside one another under socialism. This tragic phenomenon was felt in a particularly bloody way in Nagorno-Karabakh.

One of the core principles of the 1917 socialist revolution that established the Soviet Union was the right of oppressed nations to self-determination. In place of an empire that brutally oppressed all non-Russian peoples, the Soviet Union was a federation composed of 15 co-equal Soviet Socialist Republics. Smaller nationalities that did not have full republic status expressed self-determination through administrative units called “autonomous oblasts”.

All nationalities were guaranteed the right to use their own language, practice their own culture, and received preferential economic treatment as necessary to overcome historic inequalities. The structure of the Soviet government gave nationalities a framework to peacefully resolve conflicts when they arose.

Both Armenia and Azerbaijan enjoyed full republic status in the USSR. However, within the borders of the Azeri Soviet Socialist Republic, there was a concentration of ethnic Armenians in the region now in dispute between the two countries. Nagorno-Karabakh was given the status of an autonomous oblast inside of Azerbaijan.

The Soviet Union began to unravel as a result of the disastrous policies pursued by the government of Mikhail Gorbechev in the second half of the 1980s. The weakening of the Soviet state led to outbreaks of violence between Azeris and Armenians, driven in large part by tensions over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh. After the USSR was completely dissolved in 1991, the two sides engaged in full-scale, state-to-state warfare.

The tragic loss of life currently underway in the present-day conflict is yet another reminder that only socialism can guarantee peaceful relations between nations.

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COVID-19 In Palestine: Economy Under Pressure

BY YUMNA PATEL

This is the fourth episode in a five-part series produced by Mondoweiss on COVID-19 in Palestine. The series explores how the virus is affecting the social, economic, and political situation in the occupied territory, where Palestinians are living under both a global pandemic, and the Israeli occupation. You can view the entire series here – mondoweiss.net/covid19series.

If you were to walk right now into the Church of Nativity in the city of Bethlehem, you would find it completely empty: a rare sight for one of the most religiously significant and historical places in the world. 

So why is the birthplace of Jesus completely empty? In short, the answer is COVID-19.

Like the rest of the world, Palestine has been hit hard with the coronavirus pandemic, and is still struggling to flatten the curve.

But the city of Bethlehem in particular has perhaps been impacted the most by the pandemic. 

At any given time of year, the streets of Bethlehem’s Old City would be filled with tourists from all over the world, visiting religious sites, and buying tokens of the holy land to take home with them. 

But now, shops have been closed and the streets are empty, and people in Bethlehem have been wondering, if life here will ever return back to normal.

“If we want to describe Bethlehem during this time, you can see Manger Square is like the Square of Ghosts,” Nabil Giacaman, the owner of a local souvenir shop in Manger Square, told Mondoweiss. 

“It’s not just Manger Square, it is all of Bethlehem. Even in the refugee  camps, in the streets, there used to be tourists walking around, and staying the night in Bethlehem. Now all of these things are gone,” he said. 

“When you talk about Bethlehem you are talking about 90% in the tourism industry. Ninety percent of [Bethlehem] has been destroyed.”

Before the first coronavirus lockdown in March shop owners like Giacaman had stocked up on their inventory in order to get ready for the peak tourist season in Bethlehem, which happens between March and April, around Easter holidays. 

But this year, their souvenirs never got sold. Since then they’ve been sitting on the shelves collecting dust 

“We didn’t think it would last this long. I was thinking maybe one or two months, that’s it and done,” Giacaman said of the pandemic. 

“But now you can see, we are in the sixth month, and Bethlehem is still closed, and we still don’t know. Every once in a while they say oh ‘maybe next month’, but nothing happens,” he continued. 

“My life, financially and psychologically, has changed completely.  Unfortunately, I feel like I’ve been set back 20 years. And the same for my family who work in this industry. And we don’t know when we will come back from this.”

Estimates indicate that Bethlehem attracts anywhere between one to three million tourists each year, with a spike in recent years of political and solidarity tours, on top of religious pilgrimages. 

According to local experts, short-term losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic reached up to 500 million dollars in the city of Bethlehem alone. 

“Before the coronavirus, there was a 21% unemployment rate. Unemployment has increased because we stopped working, so now the unemployment has doubled, to 40-42% percent,” Sameer Hazoubn, a Palestinian economist told Mondoweiss.  

“The number of residents that don’t have work has become really large because of the coronavirus. And it’s not just right now that people don’t have work, they are going to be without work for a long time, in my opinion, because we don’t know when the coronavirus will end.”

On top of fighting a second wave of the coronavirus, that has resulted in close to 50,000 cases of the virus in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Palestinian Authority has been caught in its own financial and political crisis and has offered little to nothing to Palestinians in the West Bank in terms of financial and humanitarian relief.

“We do not have a social security system or unemployment benefits, it’s not available [in Palestine]. The government tried to start a program to distribute relief packages to the people. But these packages gave some of the unemployed people 700 shekels, That’s around $200,” Hazboun said. 

“Someone cannot live on $200; it’s not enough for rent, electricity, or water. So this is a big problem,” he continued. “I am not a pessimist, but this is the reality.”

“The reality is that the people lost their income, lost their job, and lost their money. How can we live? If the [coronavirus] continues until the end of this year with this strong wave of the corona, and we are unable offer more resources, I believe there will be a disastrous affect on the Palestinian community.”

In just a few months, the city of Bethlehem will adorn its streets and holy places with bright lights and festive decorations for the Christmas Holidays — a time when the city would typically be flooded from tourists from around the world.

This year, however, things are expected to be a little different. 

“We hope when the borders open back up, we are waiting for you all in Bethlehem city, the city of peace really misses everyone,” Giacaman said. 

“People used to fill all of our streets, not just financially and economically, it was nice to see people visiting us. Put the economy on the side, the liveliness of Bethlehem, we need it,” he continued. 

“A big part of the life in Bethlehem has been shut off. Like blowing out a candle, Bethlehem’s light was shut off.” 

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Trump sanctions ICC officials over their investigation into alleged U.S. war crimes

BY MICHAEL ARRIA

U.S. Army Capt. Michael Riha, left, re-enlists Spc. Rodriguez on top of Ghar Mountain at Kabul Military Training Center in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 6, 2009. (Photo: US Department of Defense)

U.S. ARMY CAPT. MICHAEL RIHA, LEFT, RE-ENLISTS SPC. RODRIGUEZ ON TOP OF GHAR MOUNTAIN AT KABUL MILITARY TRAINING CENTER IN KABUL, AFGHANISTAN, FEB. 6, 2009. (PHOTO: US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the U.S. government will impose sanctions on International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, over her investigation into whether or not American troops committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

Pompeo also said that Phakiso Mochochoko, who runs the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, has also been blacklisted as a result of the investigation. The United States is able to block of the ICC officials and prohibit them from entering the country. The Trump administration successfully blocked Bensouda’s entry visa last year, but she able to brief the U.N. Security Council as a result of an agreement worked out with the United Nations.

Bensouda is the former minister of justice in Gambia, and she was a part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after the Rwandan genocide. She has been the ICC’s chief prosecutor since 2012. In March, she began investigating war crimes that were allegedly committed by the U.S. military, the Taliban, and the Afghan military.

The Trump administration’s move has been condemned by human rights organizations, and attorneys throughout the world. “Secretary of State Pompeo’s announcement today marks a stunning perversion of US sanctions, devised to penalize rights abusers and kleptocrats, to persecute those tasked with prosecuting international crimes,” said Human Rights Watch International Justice Director Richard Dicker in a statement. “The Trump administration has twisted these sanctions to obstruct justice, not only for certain war crimes victims, but for atrocity victims anywhere looking to the International Criminal Court for justice.”

“This attempt to use executive power to infringe upon the independence of a judicial institution contravenes established principles of judicial independence both in the U.S. and around the world,” reads a statement from the New York City Bar. “The broad language of the Executive Order is also likely to have a chilling effect on those who would otherwise have a legitimate interest in ensuring that genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are properly investigated and prosecuted.”

In May, members of the House and Senate sent Pompeo letters urging him to protect Israel from any potential probes from the ICC. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that the international court is “politicized and obsessed with carrying out a headhunt against Israel and the United States.”

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Fracking Company Has Made It Rain Toxic Water Upon New Mexico Without Penalty

Rain over New Mexico state flag as oil pipes and methane flare
Is New Mexico’s state government aiding and abetting fracking companies’ damage to humans and the environment?

BYDahr Jamail

Truthout

Penny Aucoin, her husband Carl Dee George, their son Gideon and their daughter Skyler have had their lives devastated by the fracking industry.

There was no oil and gas infrastructure where they lived when they moved to Carlsbad, New Mexico. But six years ago, during a massive expansion of drilling across the Permian Basin that spans West Texas and southeastern New Mexico — one of the most prolific oil and gas basins in the United States — the drilling began.

It was so loud they had to provide hearing protection for Skyler. Then when the flaring commenced, dead birds began literally falling out of the sky right next to their home, and one of their chickens died.

Shortly after that, Penny began feeling the health impacts. Blisters appeared on her face as more drilling pads were installed, some of them literally across the street from their home. Their bedroom walls shook as the drilling pads were constructed nearby, installing both a physical and psychological invasion on the family home. Skyler started having nosebleeds, respiratory issues beset them all, and Penny had ongoing headaches. Carl discovered a nodule on his tongue.

Then, when a pipeline near their home burst this January, they, along with their home and their animals were showered with toxic chemicals. When they walked outside to investigate the bang they heard, which was followed by gushing fluids, they believed it was raining. But what they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking. According to the American Geosciences Institute, this toxic byproduct is full of corrosive salts, oil residues (oil is a hazardous material), fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds. These proprietary chemical blends created by industry and protected under trade secret law are highly carcinogenic.

Since then, the family’s days are filled with doctor’s appointments, and Carl, a veteran, regularly visits the VA in Albuquerque, hoping the nodule on his tongue doesn’t turn into cancer. Any dream of their life returning to what it was before the oil and gas invasion is long gone, and now it is a matter of survival.What they thought was rain was, in fact, “produced water,” the byproduct of fracking, full of corrosive salts, oil residues, fracking chemicals, bacteria and dissolved organic compounds.

They are just one family who are paying the price for a virtually unregulated drilling and fracking industry that has created one of the largest environmental disasters of modern times.

report by Physicians for Social Responsibility released in 2019 outlines, in detail, the dire health impacts caused by fracking. The many public health effects it cites include these examples:

In Pennsylvania, hospitalizations for pneumonia among the elderly are elevated in areas of fracking activity, and one study found significantly elevated rates of bladder and thyroid cancers. In Colorado, children and young adults with leukemia were 4.3 times more likely to live in an area dense with oil and gas wells. Drilling and fracking operations in multiple states are variously correlated with increased rates of asthma; increased hospitalizations for pneumonia and kidney, bladder, and skin problems; high blood pressure and signs of cardiovascular disease; elevated motor vehicle fatalities; symptoms of depression; ambulance runs and emergency room visits.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) recently released a Permian Basin-wide study on the emissions of methane and other volatile organic compounds. The study found methane releases across the Permian at a rate three times that which was reported nationally by the Environmental Protection Agency. Furthermore, the EDF found a leak rate 15 times higher than the goal set by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group of 10 oil and gas CEOs representing one quarter of the industry’s entire global production. The group committed to investing in projects that will accelerate commercial deployment of low-carbon energy technologies. The amount of wasted gas alone could meet the energy needs of every home in Dallas and Houston combined, and the EDF estimates these methane emissions cost New Mexican taxpayers as much as $43 million in revenue, annually.

It is against that backdrop that a Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths. “The results of this paper suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” the authors wrote.A Harvard nationwide study recently revealed a link between air pollution and higher rates of COVID-19 deaths.

Direct assaults from air and environmental pollution, noise impacts, and chemical exposure for anyone living within 200 feet of oil and gas infrastructure are known to bring cancer, respiratory diseases, asthma, heart disease, and injury to small children, pregnant women and fetuses.

Now, in addition to these health threats, Penny Aucoin and her family are faced with the reality that they are more than twice as likely to contract COVID-19 compared to people not living among oil and gas drilling and fracking operations.

Adding insult to injury, Williams Production and Exploration Energy, Inc. (WPX), based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the company responsible for the burst pipeline, offered to buy them a new chicken coop and water bowl, and told them to keep the chickens off the ground for five days. That advice was contradicted by people from the Department of Health, the Eddy County Extension Office (Agriculture), and their vet who all deemed their yard too dangerous for the animals. Aucoin moved the family’s chickens and goat to the vet after the pipeline burst. Those officials, and the vet herself, all told Aucoin to have the chickens put down and not to eat the eggs. “They also told us not to grow food on the land because it is contaminated,” Aucoin told Truthout.

While WPX paid for the boarding at the vet, “they only offered us an insulting amount of money for compensation for everything,” Aucoin said. “But that doesn’t compensate us for the property damage, nor does it take into account our ongoing sickness, or having to move and start all over.”

“Now, because the land is contaminated, we can’t grow food or eat from the animals,” Aucoin said. “But we are still here, seven months later, and we are still in it. They didn’t evacuate us, or remediate the property.”

WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information to the family about the contaminated water that rained down upon them because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

Aucoin and her family have received no assistance from the State of New Mexico, and no actions have been brought against WPX by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and her relevant governmental “regulatory” groups. The Oil Conservation Division (OCD) performed no independent investigation of the incident and closed the case against WPX without a warning, fine, civil or criminal penalty, or revocation of their permit to drill.

A History of Environmental Destruction

Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office in early 2019, there have been 87 incidents, some of them major, by WPX alone.

WPX has a history of egregious failures, which wouldn’t have been possible without complicity of several New Mexico authorities, including the governor.WPX does not have to release relevant health and toxicity information because the makeup of this so-called “produced water” is considered proprietary.

In July 2016, 36 of WPX’s oil and “produced water” tanks caught fire in San Juan County, setting off several explosions and causing the closure of a nearby highway. New Mexico’s OCD had approved the development of the site, despite warnings about the company.

“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts,” advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote in 2015, “and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania.”

In November 2019, a pipeline failure at a WPX well caused a large amount of “produced water” to be released into a nearby pasture. Despite the fact that an initial estimate of thousands of gallons of potentially carcinogenic produced wastewater were released onto an adjacent farm, neither the governor, New Mexico Environmental Department (NMED), Energy Minerals Natural Resource Department (EMNRD), nor OCD required WPX to even notify the adjacent property owner of the potentially hazardous release. OCD later downgraded the total amount of “produced water” that was lost to 1,260 gallons, but the case remains open.

Of the aforementioned 87 self-reported spills in New Mexico that have occurred since Governor Lujan Grisham took office, most of these have been fracked waste water and crude oil, with a total volume of at least 169,470 gallons, with WPX stating the majority of the incidents resulted from “equipment failure.”

Evidence gathered in preparation of a potential lawsuit by the Aucoin family, provided to Truthout, shows that WPX has repeatedly failed to take actions to mitigate harm to both people and the environment, and that the aforementioned New Mexico state entities, which are tasked with protecting citizens and the environment and overseeing the oil and gas industry in the state, have “repeatedly failed to hold WPX and other Oil and Gas companies accountable for committing that harm,” according to research conducted for the family.

The findings of the evidence also show numerous and egregious environmental violations WPX has carried out both in and outside of New Mexico.Since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico.

WPX has been involved in numerous lawsuits that have alleged egregious environmental violations, particularly regarding water contamination. In one instance on February 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined WPX Energy Appalachia $1.2 million for contaminating drinking water.

In just one source alone, “Hydraulic Fracturing Tort Litigation Summary” published on July 15, there were at least three other lawsuits against WPX. One example that is eerily similar to the issues WPX is involved with in New Mexico, on page 52 of the document, reads: “On July 2, 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered WPX Energy Appalachia LLC to restore or replace the water supply of Virginia and Glen Kalp after determining that WPX’s fracking activities were responsible for contamination of the water.”

WPX is not alone in their malfeasance; since Governor Lujan Grisham took office two years ago, at least 901 incidents have been reported by the 10 largest companies operating in New Mexico. Other major violators include XTO Energy, which has had, at the time of this writing, 280 incidents in the same time period; Devon Energy, which has had 165; and Oxy USA with 153.

The findings also reveal that Governor Lujan Grisham and all the relevant state agencies responsible took “little to no action … to supervise, monitor, control, or penalize the companies,” even for “major” incidents” which were most commonly spills of “produced water,” natural gas, or crude oil.

Failure to Regulate

The State of New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.New Mexico does not even have legal standards for some of the top carcinogens found in the toxic wastewater produced by fracking.

The State of New Mexico holds all natural resources within its borders in public trust for the benefit of the people of New Mexico. The way Penny Aucoin sees it, the State of New Mexico has, according to their complaint, “failed in its fiduciary duty to recognize and prevent substantial impairment to the environment, control of pollution and control despoilment of the air, water, and other natural resources in violation of its Constitutional and statutory duties, thereby injuring these Plaintiffs.”

The very agencies that are charged with the protection of New Mexico’s air, land and water, and are “obligated to monitor, regulate, control, and enforce against oil and gas pollution” have failed in that responsibility causing injury to Aucoin and her family, as well as all New Mexicans.

Due to WPX’s contamination of Aucoin’s family and property with toxic, carcinogenic and other ultra-hazardous materials, they have suffered the usual things people suffer from when they live in the impact zone of the oil and gas industry: loss of the use and enjoyment of their property and their living space, loss of health, loss of quality of life, emotional distress, and other damages. They have no idea what the long-term impacts of their exposure will be, but the risks associated with long-term exposure to volatile organic compounds like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes — including growth reduction, cancer and birth impacts like low birth weight — are well known.

What makes Aucoin’s potential lawsuit special is that it is challenging the entire fracking method of oil and gas extraction in New Mexico, as well as all of the state entities complicit with the oil and gas companies engaging in fracking.

In the company’s own words, WPX is “focused on profitably exploiting, developing and growing our oil positions in the Williston Basin in North Dakota and the Permian and San Juan Basins,” and includes ownership, operation, construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, production and maintenance of certain natural gas wells.

Aucoin’s and her family’s claims arise precisely out of these very activities.

The NMED, EMNRD and OCD are all obligated to monitor, supervise, regulate, control and enforce against oil and gas pollution. Yet they all have grossly failed their responsibility to do so. None of them ever issued compliance actions, required remediation plans, assessed penalties, suspended permits, or launched civil or criminal actions against WPX or any other bad actors in the oil and gas industry in New Mexico. This means that the government entities and their negligence of their official policy responsibilities have directly caused the harms to Aucoin and her family, as well as depriving them of their rights, which are protected by New Mexico’s laws and constitution.The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant.

“Additionally, although not authorized by written law, such practices of extreme leniency,” reads the complaint, “including failure to investigate, failure to execute effective measures of enforcement or penalize violations, meaning that there are no proper proceedings for redress, by Defendant governmental entities, are so permanent and well settled as to constitute a ‘custom or usage’ with the force of law that encourage a ‘wild west’ or ‘anything goes’ environment that WPX and other oil and gas entities enjoy which caused the injuries to Plaintiffs.”

The harms aren’t just to human health. The toll on the state’s water resources is significant. New Mexico is already facing extreme water scarcity exacerbated alongside the climate crisis. Drilling one well required more than 11 million gallons of water per day in 2016, which is enough to fill 17 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to one study.

And for every barrel of oil produced, four barrels of toxic “produced water” come with it. “Produced water” presents a dangerous and costly waste issue. According to the NMED, in 2018, New Mexico wells generated 42 billion gallons of this toxic wastewater, which is enough to cover 8,000 football fields with a foot of water every day. High levels of carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste have already contaminated New Mexico’s lands and waterways. According to the OCD, there were 1,523 reported spills in New Mexico in 2018, which is roughly one spill every six hours. Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released, according to industry self-reporting. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

What is the state’s answer to this ever-increasing waste problem? OCD released a proposed rule amendment in July with new mandates established in the state Produced Water Act, which was signed into law in 2019. The law was hailed by New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf as one of the greatest environmental achievements in the state’s history, but critics have raised concerns that the Produced Water Act and subsequent rule-making could open the door for carcinogenic and radioactive fracking waste fluids to be “re-purposed” in other sectors, such as road construction and management, and even irrigation. Whether that is the intention of the bill’s sponsors is unclear.

Speaker Egolf submitted written comments to the OCD, according to research for the Aucoin family, stating, “I urge you to take care in the crafting of these regulations to ensure that none of the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to House Bill 546 inadvertently allow or purport to permit any use, application, or discharge of produced water outside of oil and gas operations. The people of New Mexico will be best served by the adoption of stringent regulations of produced water that put public health and safety first and clearly state that any use of produced water outside of oil and gas operations is prohibited.”

However, a public records request revealed the OCD is working with industry on “pilot projects” for off-field application before the state’s Consortium on Produced Water has completed a public safety review. Experts at the two-day hearing also pointed out that restricting produced water’s reuse to the “oilfield” is a legal fiction: What constitutes the oil field? Penny, Carl, Gideon and Skyler’s home is technically outside of the well pad — but that didn’t protect them from the impacts of exposure. The Aucoin/George family, like tens of thousands of others, live inside a checkerboard of “oil and gas operations.”

Searching for Justice

Already in 2020, 1.6 million gallons of produced waste liquid have been released. These “spills” and “releases” are not considered a violation of any law, and operators face no punitive consequences.

When asked what WPX is doing to compensate or “make whole” the Aucoin/George family for their ongoing health issues, and the fact that the family no longer feels safe living where they do because of the proximity to the oil and gas operations, WPX spokesperson Kelly Swan told Truthout, “It’s difficult to ascertain the status of their health situation without undertaking an extensive discovery process, which would include an examination of historical medical records. However, a member of the Aucoin family publicly testified in October 2019 about blisters, headaches, asthma and nosebleeds. Those conditions obviously pre-date the rupture that occurred on our water line near their property in January 2020.”

Swan stated that since the accident, WPX has repaired the line and conducted safety and pressure tests, buried part of the line that was aboveground, and shut the oil well that fed the line. He also said soil testing and remediation was conducted, and the results were reported to OCD.

“Data from this work confirms that any misting from the tear in the line that may have impacted the family’s property has been remediated and cleaned up to NMOCD standards,” Swan said. “On Aug. 4, the NMOCD approved the completion of our remediation work.”

When asked what his company is doing to remedy what appears to be a history of accidents, spills and contaminating water sources, Swan said:

In 2019, WPX had 366 spills while managing more than 188 million barrels of produced water and oil on our drilling and production sites in Texas, New Mexico and North Dakota. That’s enough liquid to fill about 12,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Of that amount, we kept 99.988% of the water and oil where it was supposed to be — in pipes, tanks, equipment, trucks, etc. In addition to state reporting requirements, we make this information publicly available in an ESG report on our website.

He added that his company spends millions of dollars on prevention, maintenance, training and research into the causes of spills, and that in 2019, WPX reduced the volume of its spills by 29 percent compared to 2018.

As for what WPX is doing to compensate the Aucoin/George family, Swan said, “WPX had someone on-site to shut-in the well and stop the release within 24 minutes of learning about the incident. We have remained engaged with the family ever since and will continue to address their claims.”

Meanwhile, Penny, Carl and Skyler’s nosebleeds, headaches and rashes continue. Gideon, their son, will soon have his nose cauterized again in an attempt to stem the nosebleeds, and Carl’s skin rashes have spread across his back and shoulders.

Aucoin wants WPX to make things right, but also simply wants acknowledgement of the suffering that has been caused to her family.

“We want them to realize we are people, and that they’ve ruined our lives,” she said. “They need to get us out of there and move us to a safe place.”

Carl told Truthout that WPX needs to “replace all that we’ve lost,” including the loss of his family’s home, and strained relations within his family.

“This has ruined our lives in so many different ways,” Aucoin said. “Our health, family relations, financial problems, literally all aspects of our lives. It has become a living nightmare. It’s like the company does not realize how they have impacted and changed every aspect of our lives.”

New Mexico is faced with this fundamental issue: Does it fill its coffers with blood money, sacrificing the health of its people in order to reap funding from the oil and gas industry? Or does it hold accountable an entire industry that is poisoning its people and the Land of Enchantment?

New Mexico’s current administration has chosen the former.Sooooo close!

Posted in USA, Environment0 Comments

“Defund Police” Doesn’t Mean Hire Private Guns — But Cities Are Doing Just That

Private security guards with specially trained dogs stand in front of a boarded up and razor wired Saks Fifth Ave amid protests against the death of George Floyd on June 3, 2020, in New York City.
Private security guards with specially trained dogs stand in front of a boarded up and razor wired Saks Fifth Avenue amid protests against the death of George Floyd on June 3, 2020, in New York City.

BY: Candice Bernd

Truthout

When the uprisings against police-perpetrated violence first hit Chicago in late May, the phone lines of AGB Investigative Services started ringing off the hook.

The private security firm employs more than 750 security guards throughout 12 states and the District of Columbia. Its clients typically include government agencies, businesses and individuals seeking security and concealed carry training.

Since May, though, the firm has been deluged with requests from business owners worried that uprisings will target their store windows and merchandise; wealthy residents on the city’s North side fearing for their gated communities; and the city itself, seeking to supplement its own police force.

During a weekend in June, Chicago spent up to $1.2 million to hire AGB and two other private security firms to supply more than 100 unarmed guards “to protect the local retail shops, grocery stores and pharmacies,” on the city’s South and West sides, according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office. The contract was temporary, but Tifair Hamed, AGB’s vice president of marketing and communications, says the city can tap the firm’s services on an ongoing basis.

Overall, Hamed says, business has increased by about 25 percent for both the firm’s retail sector and concealed carry training services since May. Hours for guards stationed at retail shops, utility substations and commercial real estate have increased, and the firm’s clientele has expanded to include hotels. The company is looking to hire as many guards as possible, she says.

But Lightfoot’s decision to hire private security to patrol the city in June raised concerns from activists, as well as at least two freshman aldermen who said they’re worried about Chicago’s liability, and that security guards aren’t subject to the same (albeit minimal and grossly inadequate) accountability measures as police.

“We’ve heard from hundreds of neighbors this week who feel police make them feel less safe, not more,” tweeted Alderman Matt Martin on June 5. “We need to take these concerns seriously, and not add unaccountable security officers to the streets.” Following additional criticism from Alderman Daniel La Spata, Mayor Lightfoot released a statement promising that the guards would be unarmed and wear ID.

Chicago isn’t the only city increasingly relying on private security firms to supplement patrols amid national uprisings over racist police-perpetrated violence. Portland, Oregon, has also hired private security amid the uprisings. The city approved a $10 million contract with the firm G4S Security Solutions just for security at City Hall last year.

Like Chicago, Portland levies a special tax on property owners in certain business districts for services including extra police, transportation, graffiti removal — and private security. But a city audit released last month found that the city failed to conduct oversight over how these “Enhanced Service Districts” spend their collected funds.

The audit found that three private security firms employed by the districts treat unsheltered people in those areas more harshly. It also found that renters have little say in their districts because they are largely controlled by property and business owners, and that the city failed to even collect complaints made against security guards in the districts.

It’s also likely federal private contractors were deployed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to repress Portland’s uprisings in July. One DHS unit deployed by the Trump administration this summer, the Federal Protective Service (FPS), employs 13,000 security guards nationwide through its contracts with private security firms.“We need to take these concerns seriously, and not add unaccountable security officers to the streets.”

In fact, FPS spends $1.5 billion on “incident response” to contract security guards to conduct crowd control at federal properties, such as those FPS was tasked with protecting in Portland. Many of the agency’s contractors come from security firms like Triple Canopy, which merged with Erik Prince’s Academi, formerly Blackwater, in 2014. (Speculation that federal agents in Portland were mercenaries for the private security company ZTI or contracted by Prince turned out to be false, however.)

Security guards are flooding into other major cities like New York and Seattle, as retailers and homeowners hire private protection for their properties amid national rebellions. Demand for both unarmed and armed security guards in “every market is as high as it has ever been,” according to a New Jersey security firm cited in The Wall Street Journal.

This year’s surge in demand is accelerating a neoliberal policing trend that was already well underway over the past two decades. The ranks of security officers began to outnumber those of public sector cops in the U.S. after many police department budgets saw cuts following the economic crash of 2008. Those cuts, however, didn’t result in less policing but rather, an overall shift toward privatization.

Today, the U.S. has more than 1.1 million private security guards, compared to 666,000 police officers. Private security workers outnumber police in more than 40 countries, according to The Guardian. The industry now dwarfs what is spent trying to end global poverty.

Civil liberties proponents warn that this year’s flood of private security into major cities could become the new normal. They caution that municipalities may respond disingenuously to the movement to defund police by decreasing public policing budgets while quietly fueling an even greater shift toward privatization of policing and surveillance.

While organizers are clearly calling for the dismantling of policing — whether public or private — city officials may attempt to simply reallocate budgets from local police departments to hired guns.

Replacing Police With Private Security

At least 13 cities have cut funding from police department budgets or decreased officer numbers since Minneapolis led the charge by voting to disband the city’s police department in June. Several more have initiated the defunding process.

Austin, Texas, is the latest city to decrease funding for its police department, joining cities in other red states like Norman, Oklahoma, and Salt Lake City, Utah, as well as major coastal centers like New York and Los Angeles. Last week’s unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has renewed calls to shift city funds toward community health, safety and violence prevention programs.

But some of the same cities that have voted to cut police funding have also experienced an influx of private security guards in recent months. In addition to wealthy residents and businesses hiring more security in New York and Los Angeles, Minneapolis council members came under fire for spending $4,500 per day to hire private guards for their own protection after voting to disband the city’s municipal police.

As Truthout has previously reported, even before this year’s movement to defund police emerged, the past decade saw cash-strapped cities like Detroit, Oakland, New Orleans, Baltimore and Atlanta hire private security to supplement their police departments.

Private security officers as a replacement mechanism, however, has become most pronounced in local school districts where school boards are replacing school resource officers (SROs) with security guards.

In June, for instance, the Minneapolis Board of Education canceled its school security contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department. The next month, it posted 11 job openings for “public safety support specialists,” with law enforcement experience whose responsibilities would include breaking up fights. Unlike SROs, the security officers are not allowed to carry guns on campus or make arrests.“There is zero reason to put so much money into [security officers] who don’t need to be [at schools] right now.”

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers discovered the job postings and quickly organized a protest of about 100 teachers and families outside the district headquarters. The district later released a statement saying the job postings mistakenly required a law enforcement background, and that most of the people scheduled for interviews do not have that experience. Despite the protests, the district moved forward with its hiring decisions but did ultimately allow teachers to sit in on interviews with candidates.

Federation President Greta Callahan, a teacher at the city’s Bethune Community School, says the district’s hiring of security officers doesn’t make any sense, especially since classes are being held remotely this semester amid the pandemic.

“There is zero reason to put so much money into [security officers] who don’t need to be there right now,” Callahan says. “We see this like everything else; this is about profiting off of our children. Public schools are being dismantled…. So, if they can create distrust within the system, then they can defund it. If they can defund it, they can privatize.”

Callahan said she’d rather see the district hire from within, reallocating the funding for security officers to underpaid education support professionals like counselors and other social workers already familiar with students. The Federation wants to see the district’s schools fully funded so that it doesn’t have to rely on security officers in the first place.

“We just view [security guards] as a Band Aid,” Callahan said. “We actually want to solve the real issues, which is that our students need support and help, and we’re not giving it to them. By defunding us for three decades, we have lost a lot of the people who could have helped with many of the issues we’re seeing in our schools right now.”

Beyond Minneapolis, the Denver public school district passed a resolution in July to reduce its SRO unit by 25 percent by the end of 2020 and eliminate all remaining officers by the end of the 2020-2021 school year. Yet the district will retain 100 unarmed and armed security officers.

Some of the nation’s largest private police forces already patrol college campuses, such as the University of Chicago Police Department, which has jurisdiction over more than 65,000 Chicago residents and has the same power to search, ticket, arrest and detain citizens as a municipal police force. Student organizers are pushing university leaders to defund, and eventually abolish, the school’s police force.“We see this like everything else; this is about profiting off of our children.”

Meanwhile, the libertarian right is hailing private security as the solution to systemic police-perpetrated violence as cities reimagine public safety in response to growing calls to defund municipal police departments. Private security, libertarians argue, gives “rise to positive competitive dynamics” that allow citizens to gauge their respective performance and “cost effectiveness.”

The reality is that guards operate with even less oversight than public police: Shootings by private security are rarely investigated or even reported. In fact, most state regulatory agencies don’t require security guards to file firearm discharge reports. Further, citizens’ legal protections in encounters with guards are often unclear.

Outsourcing Accountability

The private security industry’s problems mirror those of municipal police departments, including civil rights violations, excessive force and guard-perpetrated shootings. Armed guards who shoot fleeing suspects at shopping malls, apartment complexes and parking lots seldom face any consequences, even in states where security companies are required to file firearm discharge reports.

Typically, regulatory agencies tasked with monitoring the private security industry only take action when a conviction of an armed guard has been secured in the courts first. Regulators usually rely on slow criminal investigations to determine whether or not a firearm license should be revoked.

Moreover, security guards typically receive only a small fraction of the training municipal police must undergo to work as beat cops. Concerns over lax oversight and training have prompted bills in state legislatures over the past decade, but the industry’s growth continues to outpace regulation.

As security expert Bruce Schneier notes, laws designed to establish due process and other legal protections from municipal police often don’t apply to the private security industry. While a complaint regarding a municipal officer can be taken to an elected board of police commissioners, no such mechanism even exists for security guards.

Likewise, private firms can’t be compelled to open up their records to the public, even when, in many cases, they are performing public functions. The Freedom of Information Act and other state open records laws typically don’t apply to private security firms.

The private sector also has wider latitude to collect private information, often the same information the government is prohibited from collecting from citizens. That information is then sold to the police, who often moonlight part time as security guards.

AGB Investigative Service’s Hamed argues the company’s security guards “come from the neighborhoods which we’re protecting” and “are the largest community policing resource for the city of Chicago.”

But just as “community policing” and other reforms fail to deal with the systemic racism and violence endemic to policing, similar approaches in the private sector are likely to simply exacerbate economic inequality and the already violent and racist culture of public policing as the industry expands.

Posted in USA0 Comments

Waiting For Mahmoud Abbas To Die With No Rallying Plan In Sight…Yet

Cartoon – Worried about Arab Spring coming to #Palestine, #Israel agent  Abbas starts to pray | Latuff Cartoons

Rima Najjar

Image for post
Hani Al Masri, the highly respected Director General of Masarat — The Palestinian Center for Policy Research & Strategic Studies, during its ninth annual conference titled “Palestine after Trump’s vision: What’s to be done?”

As I watched the proceedings in Ramallah of Masarat’s landmark ninth annual conference from my home in the US while also being bombarded on social media by the unfolding shameful travesty of the Israeli-Emirati detente, my need for comfort was desperate in its urgency.

For those participating in the sixteen conference sessions from various locations, especially among the young, the need to vent naked pain and strongly held beliefs was palpable.

Ideas for change, however, remained mired in a babel of voices. Because of that, there was ultimately no comfort to be had from this conference — no comfort in the old order and no comfort in the opaque promise of the new.

No comfort but ultimately hope from a conference titled “Palestine after Trump’s vision: What’s to be done?”

“The achievement of Masarat’s ninth annual conference is that it has signaled, loudly and clearly, that change in Palestine is inevitable and that it is Palestinians themselves who will shape it.”

We already knew coming to the conference that the old is useless. What this conference made clear is that, if the new is to rise up at all, it has to be nothing short of a tidal wave that sweeps away disagreements and divisions, and plants in its wake a unified vision that rallies all Palestinians around it.

That’s a tall order for a conference; it is a radical order for a revolution.

The conference was meant to explore how “to change reality by acknowledging it and dealing with it without submission and surrender, extremism or adventurousness… … We ask ‘what is to be done?’ because the old has collapsed and appears incapable of renewal, change or reform, and the new has yet to be born, and will be born from the womb of the old by preserving its achievements and strengths, and bypassing mistakes, sins, weaknesses and shortcomings.”

But as Hani Al Masri, Director General of Masarat, continues in his summing up, what emerged from this conference is far from a rallying cry. He minces no words in pointing out the degree and depth of disagreement:

“The most prominent characteristic of the opinions and observations that were presented in the conference was their diversity, and indeed wide disagreement, for everyone sings to their own drummer without the aid of a crystallizing single vision. There is an absence of a common denominator or consensus or a decisive central current that enjoys the support of a clear majority. There were many self-justifying, defensive and evangelizing interventions that lay blame on opponents without presenting an effective, initiative and integrated alternative.”

“To me, this conference seems like the first vote of a sequestered jury in a complicated criminal case who still need many days of deliberation before reaching a unanimous vote.”

Hani Al Masri describes the plethora of beliefs and opinions as follows (my translation from Why is the question of ‘what to do’ still on the table?):

The conference reflected disagreements about almost everything. There were disputes over what we want, how to achieve it, and why we have reached the catastrophic situation in which we live. Is the latter the result of external or internal factors, or both?

Disagreement arose over the plan, the goals and the required action, how to deal with leaders, with existing forces with the tools at our disposal; there was dispute over whether to have a clean break from the existing political system as something that must necessarily be demolished or simply to bring down the leadership. There are those who justify and defend each proposition and those who criticize both deeply and call for change, even though the seeds of change have not matured yet despite the intensified need for them. This could mean that the collapse of the old order without an alternative will create a vacuum and ensuing chaos that the occupation is able to take advantage of, especially in light of its desire to alter the Palestinian Authority for the fourth time in sync with the new reality created by racist settler colonialism, which has striven for decades to create a fait accompli and facts on the ground that make the Israeli plan the only solution on the table, and the only game in town.

In this context, differences arose among the advocates of the one state and the so-called “two-state solution.” There is more than one school among those who advocate for the liberation of Palestine and the establishment of a single democratic state on the ruins of the settler colonial project: a bi-national state, a state for all its citizens, a state with multiple regimes, a racist Jewish state within which to struggle for equal rights, or a state based on the historical reconciliation between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian national movement … etc. Needless to say, neither of these two propositions is within reach, and there are different approaches to achieving each of them.

There are those who are calling for adherence to the negotiated settlements, while moving away from US sponsorship and expanding the framework of the Quartet.

And there are those who are calling for an end to the attempts to revive the negotiated settlement that Israel killed long ago and now wants to bury in the annexation plan it developed and is waiting for the appropriate time to implement.

There are those who do not see a contradiction [in working toward several goals at different stages or simultaneously] — ending the occupation and creating a state within the borders of 67, achieving individual and national equality for the Palestinians of the interior [citizens of Israel], the right of return, and at the same time struggling to establish a single democratic state on the ruins of the settler-colonial apartheid project. This group recognizes the limits of what can be achieved at this stage. At the same time, they refuse to abandon Palestinian national and strategic goals and the historical context of the struggle.

Disagreements [among activists] about how to organize also arose over questions about whether the Palestinian Authority could be reformed and rebuilt, or whether it has committed suicide in Oslo and since then, and therefore a new and creative way must be found to deal with the current reality [of Israeli expansionism]. There were also disagreements about what to do with the existing power structure [the Palestinian Authority], whether it is necessary to preserve it or whether it has to collapse –i.e., be dissolved, handing its keys over to the occupation, whether to preserve it despite the occupation’s plan to destroy it, or transform it into a tool of the national program within the Palestinian Liberation Organization after rebuilding the latter, or transform the existing power structure into a state.

Debate and disagreement arose again about the question of holding elections; should they be both presidential and legislative or only legislative? Or elections for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization? Or just for the National Council? And is this to be done electronically or in person? Are elections the magic wand that is able to resolve the Palestinian predicament, or are elections a means rather than a goal, one of the general tools of democracy within a comprehensive Palestinian resolution. Additionally, speakers disagreed on the form of resistance required [for liberation] — whether it ought to be armed or peaceful popular protest, or include all forms of struggle?

Hani Al Masri has long been clear on what needs to be done — to revive and redefine (resuscitate) the Palestinian national project that’s been hollowed out by the Oslo agreement [the hoped-for state] dwarfed into bantustans, leaving us with divided dysfunctional powers under occupation.

“The most that can be achieved in the current situation is to keep the Palestinian cause alive,” Masri concludes, “and to make it possible for the Palestinian people to continue to exist in their homeland within a general and organized national framework that includes wider representative participation by all political blocs, independents, youth, women and Palestinians in exile, as well as by new developing forces and groups, especially since the old order has collapsed and seems incapable of renewal, change or reform, and the new has not yet been born, and it will be born from the womb of the old by preserving its achievements and strengths, and bypassing mistakes, sins, weaknesses and shortcomings.”

How and in which direction to go remains an open question, but the great achievement of Masarat’s ninth annual conference is that it has signaled, loudly and clearly, that change in Palestine is inevitable and that it is Palestinians themselves who will shape it.

To me, this conference seems like the first vote of a sequestered jury in a complicated criminal case who still need many days of deliberation before reaching a unanimous vote.

SEE ALSO (friendly links):

I Won’t Lie To You; My Hopes Were Up
Palestine In Search Of Unity
In Saeb Erekat, ‘There Is No Life In The One You’re Calling’ لا حياة لمن تنادي
Now What? The Million Dollar Question Before the Palestinian Authority

Posted in Palestine Affairs, ZIO-NAZI0 Comments

The Twilight of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

by MELVIN GOODMAN

Photograph Source: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-P098967 – CC BY-SA 3.0 de

It is time for the United States to debate the downsizing, if not the dissolution, of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  U.S. national security would be strengthened by the demise of NATO because Washington would no longer have to guarantee the security of 14 Central and East European nations, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  European defense coordination and integration would be more manageable without the participation of authoritarian governments in Poland and Hungary.  Key West European nations presumably would favor getting out from under the use of U.S. military power in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, which has made them feel as if they were “tins of shoe polish for American boots.”

Russia would obviously be a geopolitical winner in any weakening—let alone the demise—of NATO, but the fears of Russian military intervention outside of the Slavic community are exaggerated.  The East European and Baltic states would protest any weakening of NATO, but it would be an incentive for them to increase their own security cooperation.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was created seven decades ago as a political and military alliance to “keep the United States in Europe; the Soviet Union out of Europe; and Germany down in Europe.”  The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989; the Warsaw Pact and the East European communist governments in 1990; and the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the high water mark for the alliance.

For the past three decades, however, the United States has weakened NATO by forcing a hurried and awkward expansion on the alliance.  Most recently in 2020, North Macedonia was admitted as its 30th member, further weakening the integrity of the alliance. Did President Donald Trump actually believe that the presence of North Macedonia as well as 13 other Central European states would strengthen U.S. security?

The enlargement of NATO demonstrated the strategic mishandling of Russia, which now finds the United States and Russia in a rivalry reminiscent of the Cold War.  President Bill Clinton was responsible for bringing former members of the Warsaw Pact into NATO, starting in the late-1990s; President George W. Bush introduced former republics of the Soviet Union in his first term.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel deserves credit for dissuading Bush from seeking membership for Ukraine and Georgia.

The United States justified the expansion of NATO as a way to create more liberal, democratic members, but this has not been the case for the East European members.  Russia, moreover, views the expansion as a return to containment and a threat to its national security. Russia was angered by the expansion from the outset, particularly since President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker assured Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze that the United States wouldn’t “leap frog” over Germany if the Soviets pulled their 380,000 troops out of East Germany.

NATO’s success from 1949 to 1991 was marked by a common perception of the Soviet threat, which is the key to solidarity in any alliance framework.  In 2020, however, the 30 members of NATO no longer share a common perception of the Russian threat in Europe.  The United States has one view of Russia; the key nations of West Europe have a more benign view; and the East Europeans perceive a dire threat that the others do not share.  The United States has always expressed some dissatisfaction with the asymmetric burden sharing and risk sharing within the alliance, and the Trump administration has threatened to withdraw from NATO over the burden sharing issue.

Turkey has rapidly become the outlier within NATO, and there have been a series of confrontations in the eastern Mediterranean that threaten the integrity of the alliance.  Greek and Turkish warships collided in August, creating the first such confrontation between the two navies since 1996, when the Clinton administration mediated the problem.  The United States no longer acts in such diplomatic capacities, so French President Emmanuel Macron has stepped into the breach by sending jet aircraft to the Greek island of Crete as well as warships to exercise with the antiquated Greek navy.  Greece and Turkey, which joined NATO together in 1952, are rivals over economic zones in the Mediterranean where there are important deposits of oil and natural gas.  Greece and Turkey have squabbled since 1974 over the divided island of Cyprus.

Turkey and France have additional differences over Turkey’s violations of the UN arms embargo on Libya.  The two NATO allies had a confrontation in the Mediterranean when a French warship tried to inspect a Turkish vessel.  Last week, France joined military exercises with Greece and Italy in the eastern Mediterranean following a Turkish maritime violation of contested waters.  Paris backs Athens in the conflicting claims with Ankara over rights to potential hydrocarbon resources on the continental shelf in the Mediterranean.

President Macron took a particularly tough line in stating that he was setting “red lines” in the Mediterranean because the “Turks only consider and respect…a red-line policy,” adding that he “did it in Syria” as well.  Macron’s tough stance is somewhat surprising in view of the concern of France and other European NATO countries regarding Turkey’s ability to turn on the refugee spigot, which would cause economic problems in southern Europe.  Turkey has been using the refugee issue as leverage since 2015, when huge numbers of refugees in West Europe led to a rightward shift in European politics.

There is also the problem of Turkey’s purchase of the most sophisticated Russian air defense system, the S-400, which was developed to counter the world’s most sophisticated jet fighter, the U.S. F-35.  As a result of the purchase of the S-400 system, the United States reneged on the sale of eight F-35s to Turkey at a loss of $862 million, creating additional problems between Trump and Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey had planned to buy 100 F-35s over the next several years, and had begun pilot training in the United States.

Trump’s constant harangues about burden sharing have created more friction within NATO.  Trump falsely takes credit for increased European defense spending, but it was the Obama administration that successfully arranged greater Canadian and European defense spending in 2014 in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Crimea. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg panders regularly to Trump on the issue of increased defense spending, ignoring Trump’s false claims that NATO spending will increase by $400 billion annually.  The $400 billion is in fact the increased spending over an eight-year period.

With Trump’s drift toward isolationism and unilateralism (“America First”), there is incentive for the European Community to take control of its own “autonomous” defense policy.  The Europeans have reason to believe that a second presidential term for Trump could lead to a sudden U.S. withdrawal from NATO.  The unilateralist character of U.S. foreign and defense policy strengthens the case for building European defense cooperation along side of an undetermined transatlantic relationship with the United States.

Posted in USA, NATO0 Comments

The U.S. is Determined to Make Julian Assange Pay for Exposing the Cruelty of Its War on Iraq

by VIJAY PRASHAD

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

On September 7, 2020, Julian Assange will leave his cell in Belmarsh Prison in London and attend a hearing that will determine his fate. After a long period of isolation, he was finally able to meet his partner—Stella Moris—and see their two sons—Gabriel (age three) and Max (age one)—on August 25. After the visit, Moris said that he looked to be in “a lot of pain.”

The hearing that Assange will face has nothing to do with the reasons for his arrest from the embassy of Ecuador in London on April 11, 2019. He was arrested that day for his failure to surrender in 2012 to the British authorities, who would have extradited him to Sweden; in Sweden, at that time, there were accusations of sexual offenses against Assange that were dropped in November 2019. Indeed, after the Swedish authorities decided not to pursue Assange, he should have been released by the UK government. But he was not.

The true reason for the arrest was never the charge in Sweden; it was the desire of the U.S. government to have him brought to the United States on a range of charges. On April 11, 2019, the UK Home Office spokesperson said, “We can confirm that Julian Assange was arrested in relation to a provisional extradition request from the United States of America. He is accused in the United States of America of computer-related offenses.”

Manning

The day after Assange’s arrest, the campaign group Article 19 published a statement that said that while the UK authorities had “originally” said they wanted to arrest Assange for fleeing bail in 2012 toward the Swedish extradition request, it had now become clear that the arrest was due to a U.S. Justice Department claim on him. The U.S. wanted Assange on a “federal charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to break a password to a classified U.S. government computer.” Assange was accused of helping whistleblower Chelsea Manning in 2010 when Manning passed WikiLeaks—led by Assange—an explosive trove of classified information from the U.S. government that contained clear evidence of war crimes. Manning spent seven years in prison before her sentence was commuted by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

While Assange was in the Ecuadorian embassy and now as he languishes in Belmarsh Prison, the U.S. government has attempted to create an air-tight case against him. The U.S. Justice Department indicted Assange on at least 18 charges, including the publication of classified documents and a charge that he helped Manning crack a password and hack into a computer at the Pentagon. One of the indictments—from 2018—makes the case against Assange clearly.

The charge that Assange published the documents is not the central one, since the documents were also published by a range of media outlets such as the New York Times and the Guardian. The key charge is that Assange “actively encouraged Manning to provide more information and agreed to crack a password hash stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a United States government network used for classified documents and communications. Assange is also charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion for agreeing to crack that password hash.” The problem here is that it appears that the U.S. government has no evidence that Assange colluded with Manning to break into the U.S. system.

Manning does not deny that she broke into the system, downloaded the materials, and sent them to WikiLeaks. Once she had done this, WikiLeaks, like the other media outlets, published the materials. Manning had a very trying seven years in prison for her role in the transmission of the materials. Because of the lack of evidence against Assange, Manning was asked to testify against him before a grand jury. She refused and now is once more in prison; the U.S. authorities are using her imprisonment as a way to compel her to testify against Assange.

What Manning Sent to Assange

On January 8, 2010, WikiLeaks announced that it had “encrypted videos of U.S. bomb strikes on civilians.” The video, later released as “Collateral Murder,” showed in cold-blooded detail how on July 12, 2007, U.S. AH-64 Apache helicopters fired 30-millimeter guns at a group of Iraqis in New Baghdad; among those killed were Reuters photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen and his driver Saeed Chmagh. Reuters immediately asked for information about the killing; they were fed the official story and told that there was no video, but Reuters futilely persisted.

In 2009, Washington Post reporter David Finkel published The Good Soldiers, based on his time embedded with the 2-16 battalion of the U.S. military. Finkel was with the U.S. soldiers in the Al-Amin neighborhood when they heard the Apache helicopters firing. For his book, Finkel had watched the tape (this is evident from pages 96 to 104); he defends the U.S. military, saying that “the Apache crew had followed the rules of engagement” and that “everyone had acted appropriately.” The soldiers, he wrote, were “good soldiers, and the time had come for dinner.” Finkel had made it clear that a video existed, even though the U.S. government denied its existence to Reuters.

The video is horrifying. It shows the callousness of the pilots. The people on the ground were not shooting at anyone. The pilots fire indiscriminately. “Look at those dead bastards,” one of them says, while another says, “Nice,” after they fire at the civilians. A van pulls up at the carnage, and a person gets out to help the injured—including Saeed Chmagh. The pilots request permission to fire at the van, get permission rapidly, and shoot at the van. Army Specialist Ethan McCord—part of the 2-16 battalion that had Finkel embedded with them—surveyed the scene from the ground minutes later. In 2010, McCord told Wired’s Kim Zetter what he saw: “I have never seen anybody being shot by a 30-millimeter round before. It didn’t seem real, in the sense that it didn’t look like human beings. They were destroyed.”

In the van, McCord and other soldiers found badly injured Sajad Mutashar (age 10) and Doaha Mutashar (age five); their father, Saleh—who had tried to rescue Saeed Chmagh—was dead on the ground. In the video, the pilot saw that there were children in the van; “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” he says callously.

Robert Gibbs, the press secretary for President Barack Obama, said in April 2010 that the events on the video were “extremely tragic.” But the cat was out of the bag. This video showed the world the actual character of the U.S. war on Iraq, which the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan had called “illegal.” The release of the video by Assange and WikiLeaks embarrassed the United States government. All its claims of humanitarian warfare had no credibility.

The campaign to destroy Assange begins at that point. The United States government has made it clear that it wants to try Assange for everything up to treason. People who reveal the dark side of U.S. power, such as Assange and Edward Snowden, are given no quarter. There is a long list of people—such as Manning, Jeffrey SterlingJames HitselbergerJohn Kiriakou, and Reality Winner—who, if they lived in countries being targeted by the United States, would be called dissidents. Manning is a hero for exposing war crimes; Assange, who merely assisted her, is being persecuted in plain daylight.

On January 28, 2007, a few months before he was killed by the U.S. military, Namir Noor-Eldeen took a photograph in Baghdad of a young boy with a soccer ball under his arm steps around a pool of blood. Beside the bright red blood lie a few rumpled schoolbooks. It was Noor-Eldeen’s humane eye that went for that photograph, with the boy walking around the danger as if it were nothing more than garbage on the sidewalk. This is what the U.S. “illegal” war had done to his country.

All these years later, that war remains alive and well in a courtroom in London; there Julian Assange—who revealed the truth of the killing—will struggle against being one more casualty of the U.S. war on Iraq.

Posted in USA, Human Rights, Politics, UK0 Comments

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