ARCHIVE: Russian military inspect suspected chemical weapons workshop in Aleppo © Ruptly
The Syrian Air Force has destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province, where ammunition dump containing chemical weapons was being produced by militants before being delivered to Iraq, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman has said.
The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic gas, Konashenkov said. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly used there, he added, pointing out that both Iraq and international organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.
The same chemical munitions were used by militants in Aleppo, where Russian military experts took samples in late 2016, Konashenkov said.
The Defense Ministry has confirmed this information as “fully objective and verified,” Konashenkov added.
According to the statement, Khan Sheikhoun civilians, who recently suffered a chemical attack, displayed identical symptoms to those of Aleppo chemical attack victims.
Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, rejected Russia’s version of the incident, saying the rebels had no military positions in the area.
“Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas,” he told Reuters.
“Likewise, all the civilians in the area know that there are no military positions there, or places for the manufacture [of weapons]. The various factions of the opposition are not capable of producing these substances,” he added.
At least 58 people, including 11 children, reportedly died and scores were injured after a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun was targeted in a suspected gas attack on Tuesday morning, Reuters reported, citing medics and rebel activists. Soon after a missile allegedly hit the facility, people started showing symptoms of chemical poisoning, such as choking and fainting.
The victims were reportedly also seen with foam coming out of their mouths. While the major Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, and other pro-rebel groups put the blame on the attack onto President Bashar Assad’s government, the Syrian military dismissed all allegations as propaganda by the rebels.
“We deny completely the use of any chemical or toxic material in Khan Sheikhoun town today and the army has not used nor will use in any place or time, neither in past or in future,” the Syrian army said in a statement.
The Russian military stated it did not carry out any airstrike in the area either.
However, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, commenting on the incident, was quick to point to the Syrian government as a culprit, saying that it bears responsibility for the “awful” attack.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed Mogherini, accusing the Syrian government of perpetrating the attack calling it “brutal, unabashed barbarism.” He argued, that besides the Syrian authorities, Iran and Russia should also bear “moral responsibility” for it.
The suspected nerve agent attack on a rebel-held area on Tuesday has underlined the regime’s confidence – bolstered by the Trump administration
The Guardian | April 4, 2017
Heartbreaking images of desperate patients and dead children in Syria are, sadly, too familiar. But Tuesday’s attack in rebel-held Idlib province has forced a reaction: it is one of the worst suspected chemical attacks in the six-year war. It claimed at least 67 lives, and the symptoms suggest the use of a nerve agent, probably sarin. It hit an area where thousands had taken shelter from fighting nearby. It was followed by attacks on medical facilities treating victims. It had “all the hallmarks of a regime attack”, said Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations. The White House accused the Syrian government of a “heinous” attack. […]
Some have already drawn a link between what seems to be the use of a more deadly agent and the US shift on Syria. The secretary of state said last week that Mr Assad’s future was a matter for the Syrian people, while the ambassador to the UN said removing him was no longer the priority (though she later tempered that remark).
Those comments dangerously reinforced, rather than created, the regime’s certainty that it can carry out war crimes with impunity. As a candidate, Donald Trump said Mr Assad’s future was “secondary” to defeating Isis. In February, Russia and China vetoed a security council resolution imposing sanctions over chemical weapons use; Wednesday’s meeting on the issue is unlikely to change much. … Full editorial
The mainstream U.S. media is never more unctuous and unprofessional as when it asserts that it alone must be the arbiter of what is true and what is not, regardless of what the evidence shows or doesn’t show.
For instance, New York Times columnist Charles W. Blow declared on Monday that the public can no longer debate whether Russia leaked to WikiLeaks the emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta despite the failure of the U.S. government or private researchers to present evidence that establishes that claim as fact.
Blow acknowledged that “We are still not conclusively able to connect the dots on the question of whether there was any coordination or collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians … but those dots do continue to multiply at an alarming rate.”
But Blow also asserted that “It is absolutely clear that the Russians did interfere in our election. This is not a debatable issue. This is not fake news. This is not a witch hunt. This happened.”
Blow chastised people who still wanted evidence of this now non-debatable issue, seeing them at fault “because this fact [of the Russian meddling] keeps getting obscured in the subterfuge of deflection, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing about what has yet to be proven.”
So, if you insist on asking for proof of the core allegation in Russia-gate, you are guilty of “subterfuge…, misdirection and ideological finger-pointing.”
And if that indictment doesn’t quiet you up, there’s the column by The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. who explains that the real victims in Russia-gate are the accusers who have promoted this guilt-by-association scandal that has impugned the integrity of a growing number of Americans who either talked to Russians or who expressed doubts about the investigation.
While the Russia-gate accusers have essentially deemed these Americans “traitors” or the Kremlin’s “useful idiots” or some other derogatory phrase, Dionne sees the much greater offense coming from the people so accused who have complained about what they see as McCarthyism. Dionne writes:
“These days, any liberal who raises alarms about Trump’s relationship with Russia confronts charges of McCarthyism, hysteria and hypocrisy. The inclination of many on the left to assail [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is often ascribed to partisan anger over his success in undermining Clinton’s candidacy.
“There’s no doubt that liberals are angry, but ask yourself: Shouldn’t everyone, left, right and center, be furious over Russia’s efforts to inject calumny and falsehood into the American political bloodstream?”
So, Dionne suggests that people who question the credibility of the Russia-gate allegations are somehow un-American by favoring the injection of “calumny and falsehood into the American political bloodstream.” But that mainstream hostility toward skepticism has been at the heart of the Russia-bashing campaign that we have witnessed for the past several years.
And, that campaign indeed has been replete with McCarthyism. You even have The Washington Post promoting a blacklist of 200 Internet news sites (including Consortiumnews.com and other prominent independent-minded outlets) as guilty of “Russian propaganda” for reporting skeptically on some State Department claims about the New Cold War.
But Dionne also is dishonest in claiming that the alleged leaks blamed on Russia are “falsehoods”. The central allegation in Russia-gate is that the Russians obtained two batches of Democratic emails and released them to the American public via WikiLeaks. Even if that is the case, nothing in those emails was fabricated.
The emails represented real news including evidence that the DNC displayed improper bias against Sen. Bernie Sanders’s insurgent campaign; excerpts of Hillary Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street that she was trying to hide from the voters; and revelations about pay-to-play aspects of the Clinton Foundation’s dealing with foreign entities.
So, even if the Russians did give the emails to WikiLeaks – although WikiLeaks denies that the Russians were the source – the core reality is that the emails provided real information that the American people had a genuine right to know. But Dionne and the mainstream U.S. media have conflated this truth-telling with cases of “fake news,” i.e., made-up stories that investigations have shown had no connection to Russia, simply to sleazy entrepreneurs seeking to make some money via lots of clicks. In other words, Dionne is lying or engaging in “fake news” himself.
Such phony journalism is reminiscent of other shameful chapters of the mainstream media’s history of serving as propaganda conduits and marginalizing independent reporters who displayed professional skepticism toward the dangerous groupthinks of Official Washington.
A pivotal moment in the chaos that is now consuming the planet came on Feb. 6, 2003, when The Washington Post’s editorial and op-ed pages presented a solid phalanx of misguided consensus that ruled out any further dissent about the existence of Iraq’s WMD after Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his slam-dunk case before the United Nations the day before.
The Post’s editorial board – led by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt – judged Powell’s WMD case “irrefutable,” an opinion echoed across the Post’s op-ed page.
“The evidence he [Powell] presented to the United Nations – some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail – had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them,” wrote Post columnist Richard Cohen. “Only a fool – or possibly a Frenchman – could conclude otherwise.”
The Post’s senior foreign policy columnist Jim Hoagland then demanded the surrender of any WMD-doubting holdouts: “To continue to say that the Bush administration has not made its case, you must now believe that Colin Powell lied in the most serious statement he will ever make, or was taken in by manufactured evidence. I don’t believe that. Today, neither should you.”
This enforced WMD consensus contributed to arguably the most disastrous U.S. foreign policy decision in history as President George W. Bush launched an illegal invasion of Iraq that got nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers killed along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and spread bloody chaos across the Middle East and now into Europe. There was also the problem that no hidden caches of WMD were discovered.
So, you might assume that editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt and other prominent mainstream journalists who pushed the bogus WMD claims and pushed the few dissenters to the fringes of the public debate, received some appropriate punishments – at least being unceremoniously fired in disgrace. Of course, if you thought that, you don’t understand how the U.S. mainstream media works. To this day, Fred Hiatt is still the editorial-page editor of The Washington Post.
Slandering Dr. King
One might note, however, that historically the mainstream U.S. media has performed no better than it has in recent years.
Fifty years ago, on April 4, 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of the most important speeches in U.S. history, taking to task American militarism and the Vietnam War. Famously and courageously, King denounced his own government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”
King, whose life was increasingly at risk, was then put at even greater risk by being denounced by The New York Times and The Washington Post. The Post blasted King for spreading what today we might call “fake news,” accusing him of “sheer inventions of unsupported fantasy.” The Times chimed in that King’s words were “facile” and “slander” while urging him to focus instead on “the intractability of slum mores and habits,” i.e. those lazy and immoral black folks. (Exactly a year later, King was shot dead.)
But you might ask, don’t the Post and Times at least get the big investigative stories right and thus warn the American people about abuses to their democratic process? Well, not exactly.
Take, for example, the case of Richard Nixon conspiring with South Vietnamese leaders to sabotage President Lyndon Johnson’s Paris peace talks in fall 1968 so Nixon could eke out a victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Nixon’s manipulation of that election – while half a million American soldiers were in the war zone – was treated by the Post and Times as a conspiracy theory for nearly half a century, even as honest journalists chipped away at Nixon’s denials by uncovering evidence of the deal that continued the war for another four years.
Some reporters, such as the Christian Science Monitor’s Beverly Deepe, were onto the story in real time. Others, including Seymour Hersh, advanced knowledge about these events over the decades. Five years ago, I uncovered a top secret file that Johnson’s National Security Adviser Walt Rostow dubbed “The X-Envelope” which contained wiretap proof of what Johnson called Nixon’s “treason.” Besides writing up the details, I posted the documents on the Internet so anyone could see for themselves.
Yet, as recently as last October, The New York Times ignored all this evidence when referencing the supposed “October Surprise” of 1968, citing — instead of Nixon’s peace-talk sabotage — the fact that Johnson had ordered a bombing halt of North Vietnam. In other words, the Times was still promoting Nixon’s version of the story nearly a half century later.
Only early this year, when a scholar uncovered some cryptic notes by Nixon’s chief of staff H.R. Haldeman that seemed to reference Nixon’s instructions regarding the sabotage did the Times finally deign to acknowledge the reality (because the Times published the finding on its op-ed page, which I guess makes it true). But the Times did so without acknowledging all the hard work that journalists had done over the years so the cryptic notes would fit into a complex puzzle that made sense.
Nor did the Times acknowledge its own role in obscuring this history for so long.
To add insult to the historical injury, the Times pretended that it was right to have ignored the earlier work. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof dismissively treated those decades of investigative journalism by writing: “Nixon’s initiative, long rumored but confirmed only a few months ago, was meant to improve his election chances that year.”
“Long rumored”? The reality was that Nixon’s perfidy had long ago been proven by independent-minded journalists but their work was ignored by The New York Times and pretty much everyone else in the mainstream media until the self-proclaimed truth monitors decided that the discovery of one new piece of the mosaic was the appropriate time to proclaim that the reality could now be accepted as a reality.
To explain the near half-century gap in the Times’ failure to investigate this historic act of treason, the Times then smeared the journalists who had done the investigating as rumor-mongers.
So, in light of the mainstream media’s dismal performance over the decades, what is one to make of the dictate now that we must accept that the Russians did leak the emails to WikiLeaks even if no one is showing us the evidence? It also appears that we are supposed to dismiss the contents of the emails as “fake news” (even though they are genuine) so that will buttress the narrative that Russia is undermining our democracy by disseminating “fake news.”
Perhaps getting people to accept this false narrative is crucial to giving credibility to the Times’ full-page ads professing the newspaper’s undying love of the truth and to The Washington Post’s new melodramatic slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
While there’s no doubt that truth is important to an informed electorate, there is something scary when the mainstream media, which has such a checkered history of misreporting the truth, asserts that it is the one that gets to decide what the truth is.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
DAMASCUS – The command of the Syrian Armed Forces decisively rejected accusations of using chemical weapons in Idlib province and placed responsibility for that on militants and their patrons.
“The army command and the Armed Forces categorically deny the use of any chemical weapons in the town of Khan Shaykhun in the suburb of Idlib today,” according to a Syrian Armed Forces command statement copy obtained by Sputnik.
The document also said the responsibility for the chemical attack in Idlib lies with militants and their patrons.
Earlier in the day, the Syrian National Coalition of Revolution and Opposition Forces claimed that nearly 80 people were killed and some 200 injured in an attack by the use of chemical weapons in Idlib, placing the blame for the reported attack on the Syrian army. However, a source in the Syrian army told Sputnik that the army did not have chemical weapons and the allegations could be part of anti-Damascus propaganda.
“The armed terrorist groups regularly blame the Syrian Army of using chemical weapons against members of this group, as well as against civilians, every time they fail to reach their objectives. And they do everything to justify their defeats on the ground to their financial patrons,” the statement added.
A UN Security Council meeting has been called by the United States to discuss the issue, while the United Nations said it could not verify if the attack took place. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has set up a Fact Finding Mission (FFM) to gather information about the alleged incident.
In 2013, Damascus agreed to place its chemical weapons under international control for its destruction. The move was made in order to prevent the weapons from being captured by militants in the course of the civil war in the Middle Eastern state.
So far, there has been a number of reports on use of chemical weapons in Syria, putting responsibility for attacks both on Syrian authorities and Daesh terrorist group.
In October 2016, the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the chemical weapons use in Syria said that the Syrian authorities used chemical weapons at least three times throughout 2014-2015, while an earlier report said the IS was also responsible for several attacks.
Despite lack of conclusive evidence, a number of countries, in particular the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, blamed the Syrian government for the chemical attacks. Syrian President Bashar Assad though denied all accusations, claiming the reports failed to provide conclusive evidence of its culpability and putting blame on the terrorist groups. The Russian authorities have repeatedly called on necessity to double-check such kind of reports, stressing that conclusions cannot be simply made on interviews of several local residents.
In late October-early November 2016, a number of chemical attacks were conducted in Syria’s city of Aleppo by militants, killing dozens of Syrian servicemen and civilians. The Syrian government urged the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to conduct the investigation, while the Russian Defense Ministry handed the results of the chemical use probe to Syria’s national regulator in charge of implementing the OPCW convention.
Earlier on February, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it expected more effective work from the OPCW, adding that the organization’s act-finding mission in Syria had conducted its activity over the past years remotely by interviewing witnesses, which raised questions over information’s credibility.
Since 2011, Syria has been engulfed in a civil war, with government forces fighting against numerous opposition and terrorist groups, including al-Nusra Front and Daesh, banned in a range of countries, including Russia.
Assad: West ‘Demonizes’ Damascus Through Chemical Weapons Use Allegations
Oscar for White Helmets: Hollywood Gave Credibility to ‘Terror-Affiliated’ Group
A golden opportunity for Medicare for all is at hand
Now that ObamaCare is “the law of the land” for the foreseeable future, as House Speaker Ryan grimly conceded after the failure of RyanCare, a new situation is upon us. The time is past for comparing ObamaCare to what preceded it. This sort of comparison has been done with fulsome praise of Obama’s health care concoction by all too many progressives; the result has been that the real shortcomings of ObamaCare were hidden or played down. But now with RyanCare lying in ruins, the GOP-hatched health plans are not the problem nor is the problem what went before ObamaCare. ObamaCare is now the problem, and it is important to recognize what a big problem it is – if we are to realize the potential of this moment for Single Payer as Ralph Nader and others suggest we might. So just how bad is ObamaCare?
Just How Bad is ObamaCare?
To answer that let us turn to one of the daily columns of the Senior Policy Fellow of Physicians For a National Health Program (PNHP), Dr. Don McCanne, columns that he labels modestly “Quote of the Day”. These columns, each of which tersely summarizes and dissects a single article from the all too voluminous health care literature, are a must read for those interested in health care policy. In one of his columns, Dr. McCanne spells out where we stand under ObamaCare. I call it the Column of the “Only’s”. McCanne writes:
“… Where do we stand today (under ObamaCare, jw).
* ONLY 63 million adults say they went without health care or medication they needed because of the cost;
* ONLY 25 percent of adults buying plans on their own say they found it difficult or impossible to find a plan that fit their needs;
* ONLY 31 percent of adults with health problems say it was difficult or impossible to find a plan that fits their needs;
* ONLY 26 percent of adults with low incomes and health problems say it was difficult or impossible to find a plan that fits their needs;
* ONLY 20 percent of adults say they did not go to a doctor when they were sick because of the cost;
* ONLY 19 percent of adults say they did not fill a prescription because of the cost;
* ONLY 18 percent of adults reported they had skipped a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up visit because of the cost;
* ONLY 70 million adults said they had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months or were paying off medical bills over time; and,
* ONLY 46 million adults are currently paying off medical debt over time (unchanged from 2012).”
To which I might add:
*ONLY 29 million Americans are without health insurance;
*ONLY 15-20% of the health care dollar is allowed for non-medical expenses; i.e., for bureaucracy and profits. (Medicare is an exception where less than 2% is spent on administration and where insurer profits do not exist since it is government provided insurance); and,
*ONLY ~18% of GDP is spent on health care – compared to Canada’s ~11% of GDP for its “Medicare for All” program which covers everyone and gives better results than ObamaCare. And the U.S. expenditure is rising whereas Canada’s has remained stable as a percentage of GDP for many decades.
On this last point the meaning of our 18% of GDP versus Canada’s 11% merits some examination and some effort to put it into perspective. The difference is a bit more than 6% when rounding errors are taken into account. This 6% difference in our roughly $17 trillion GDP amounts to a bit over $1 trillion per year for the U.S. By this calculation, we could save ~ $1 trillion a year by substituting Single Payer for ObamaCare. Astounding when one thinks of it. For comparison, the US military budget amounts to $700 billion per year, and the entire “national security budget” (military plus spying on you and me and everyone else on the planet, etc) amounts to about $1 trillion. That $1 trillion would buy a lot of infrastructure, a lot of inner city schools, a lot of college education – and on and on it goes.
The fundamental flaw with ObamaCare and RyanCare is the same
Interestingly White House guru Steve Bannon complained with some irritation that RyanCare was “written by the insurance companies.” But so too was ObamaCare. That simple fact is the fundamental flaw in both plans. As long as the Big Insurers are in charge, they will work to game the system, to decrease care, increase costs to the patients and so increase their profits.
And that means that the system will grow ever more expensive and less satisfactory. This is nothing new. The superb scholars and critics of the health care system, Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, leaders of PNHP, have long said this about ObamaCare and all other schemes based on Big Insurance Inc.
And Bernie Sanders, who is showing signs of getting weak kneed in his support of SP of late, now delaying reintroduction of his SP legislation that brought him so many votes in 2016, said on CNN, “Obamacare has serious problems. Deductibles are too high, and premiums are too high, and the cost of health care is going up at a much faster rate than it should.” Even Donald Trump is saying that ObamaCare will “explode.” (As its equally evil twin RyanCare would have, we might add.) This conclusion is escaping almost no one (save perhaps for Paul Krugman) although the Democratic and Republican Establishments are fleeing from it in a panic.
The developing “explosion” of ObamaCare is a recipe to anger voters in 2018 and 2020 even more than it did in 2016. And that anger is an opening for SP, Medicare for All. The people are fed up. That is why we are entering a golden moment now for putting SP back on the table. But there is a danger confronting the Single Payer movement. In the past Single Payer activists have been played by the Democratic Establishment, which is always working feverishly to keep the Insurers happy. Every time the question of ObamaCare vs. SP has come up, the SP activists have been pressured to bow to the Obamabots for the sake of “unity.” At the present golden moment of opportunity, that would be a mistake of monumental proportions.
We will now be offered ObamaCare 2.0 by the Establishment. Fool us once, shame on us. Fool us 2.0, etc. Let that not be our fate. Medicare for All is within sight.
John V. Walsh can be reached at email@example.com.
Russia strongly opposes sanctions imposed by the US and EU on Syria, which punish ordinary Syrians and prevent the delivery of aid to a country facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The sanctions and war have severely destabilized the Syrian economy, transforming a once prosperous country into an aid-dependent nation. They block access to aid, particularly medicines. Medical equipment, fuel, food, building materials, are desperately needed today.
A report by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia describes the sanctions as some of the most complicated and far-reaching ever imposed. For example, sanctions on Syrian banks have made the transfer of money into the country nearly impossible, preventing, among other things, aid groups from paying local staff and suppliers. Pharmaceutical factories that haven’t been destroyed by the fighting have been forced to shut down because of the sanctions-related restrictions on raw materials and foreign currency. US trade restrictions on Syria prescribe items that contain 10 percent or more of US content, including medical equipment, which is banned from sale to Syria.
According to independent reports, the sanctions became the main reason for the shortage of goods and rampant inflation, plunging over 80 percent of Syrians into poverty.
The work of Syrian charities and humanitarian organizations is severely impeded under the pretext that they have links to the people from the so-called inner circle of President Bashar Assad. One can recall the campaign in the British media criticizing the UN for cooperating with the Syrian Government in the distribution of humanitarian aid.
Unfortunately, on March, 20 the EU imposed a new set of sanctions on Syria, showing disregard for the aspirations of the Syrians for the better future. The statements of our Western partners about the need to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people contradicts their sanction policy. We hope that common sense and compassion will prevail over political and ideological considerations.
The West has been wrong on Syria from start to finish. Maybe, now is the time to bring its narrative in line with reality on the ground and the real needs of Syrians.
Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011). Follow him on Twitter @Amb_Yakovenko
Britain’s secret war-fighting operations using special forces, drones and similar clandestine methods are folly in an age of information and public demand for accountability, according to a report by the Remote Control Project.
The think tank, run by the Oxford Research Group, examines the rise of clandestine warfare.
Its study, titled ‘All Quiet On The ISIS Front? British secret warfare in an information age,’ looks at where and how the UK is fighting wars, using means which are largely unaccountable.
The UK shields its secret activities behind a long-standing ‘no comment policy,’ which lags behind those of other modern democracies, it says.
The report points out that countries like Australia and the US often detail special forces deployment in a way which the UK does not.
“This provides reporters, and the general public, with an important opportunity to question government strategy and debate the implications of their involvement in conflicts overseas,” the authors argue.
The report also highlights that special forces operations are often only reported as a result of leaks.
The study cites numerous reports in papers like the Express and the Sun which tell selective tales of military daring in places such as Libya and Syria.
“[UK special forces] are unique in their exemption from parliamentary oversight,” the report says.
“Greater inspiration” should be drawn from increased scrutiny on spy agencies where there is “an attitude of acceptance that greater transparency is necessary in today’s world,” it adds.
The study cites the example of MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker who, in the wake of a number of recent major leaks, said: “We recognize that in a changing world we have to change too. We have a responsibility to talk about our work and explain it.”
Leaks such as those regularly carried in tabloids and via whistleblowers, the authors state, “makes the idea of blanket opacity increasingly outdated, and the benefits of maintaining such a policy should be critically examined in light of the more transparent practices of Britain’s allies.”
The report also argues that secret operations run contrary to democratic aspects of British military doctrine because, unlike normal troop deployments, they sidestep the need for a vote in Parliament.
The normal doctrine “does not capture the many elements of remote warfare, which are often considered ‘non-combat,’ supporting, or assisting roles,” the report says.
Tory MP and former soldier Crispin Blunt told RT last year it is high time for more oversight of such activities.
Blunt said at the time there is no formal parliamentary process for overseeing SAS missions and “there’s obviously an issue as to whether the intelligence and security committee would be the proper vehicle for oversight of these kinds of operations, but we are not there at the moment.”
A new war powers act proposed in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns could include requirements for increased democratic oversight of UK forces.
Supporters of the idea include Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who told the Middle East Eye in 2016: “I’m very concerned about this because [former Prime Minister] David Cameron – I imagine [Prime Minister] Theresa May would say the same – would say parliamentary convention requires a parliamentary mandate to deploy British troops. Except, and they’ve all used the ‘except,’ when special forces are involved.”
“If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
So President Donald Trump warns, amid reports North Korea, in its zeal to build an intercontinental ballistic missile to hit our West Coast, may test another atom bomb.
China shares a border with North Korea. We do not.
Why then is this our problem to “solve”? And why is North Korea building a rocket that can cross the Pacific and strike Seattle or Los Angeles?
Is Kim Jong Un mad?
No. He is targeting us because we have 28,500 troops on his border. If U.S. air, naval, missile and ground forces were not in and around Korea, and if we were not treaty-bound to fight alongside South Korea, there would be no reason for Kim to build rockets to threaten a distant superpower that could reduce his hermit kingdom to ashes.
While immensely beneficial to Seoul, is this U.S. guarantee to fight Korean War II, 64 years after the first wise? Russia, China and Japan retain the freedom to decide whether and how to react, should war break out. Why do we not?
Would it not be better for us if we, too, retained full freedom of action to decide how to respond, should the North attack?
During the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, despite John McCain’s channeling Patrick Henry — “We are all Georgians now!” — George W. Bush decided to take a pass on war. When a mob in Kiev overthrew the pro-Russian government, Vladimir Putin secured his Sebastopol naval base by annexing Crimea.
Had Georgia and Ukraine been in NATO, we would have been, in both cases, eyeball to eyeball with a nuclear-armed Russia.
Which brings us to the point:
The United States is in rising danger of being dragged into wars in half a dozen places, because we have committed ourselves to fight for scores of nations with little or no link to vital U.S. interests.
While our first president said in his Farewell Address that we might “trust to temporary alliances” in extraordinary emergencies, he added, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.”
Alliances, Washington believed, were transmission belts of war. Yet no nation in history has handed out so many war guarantees to so many “allies” on so many continents, as has the United States.
To honor commitments to the Baltic States, we have moved U.S. troops to the Russian border. To prevent China from annexing disputed rocks and reefs in the South and East China Seas, our Navy is prepared to go to war — to back the territorial claims of Tokyo and Manila.
Yet, our richest allies all spend less on defense than we, and all run trade surpluses at America’s expense.
Consider Germany. Last year, Berlin ran a $270 billion trade surplus and spent 1.2 percent of GDP on defense. The United States ran a $700 billion merchandise trade deficit and spent 3.6 percent of GDP on defense.
Angela Merkel puts Germany first. Let the Americans finance our defense, face down the Russians, and fight faraway wars, she is saying; Germany will capture the world’s markets, and America’s as well.
Japan and South Korea are of like mind. Neither spends nearly as much of GDP on defense as the USA. Yet, we defend both, and both run endless trade surpluses at our expense.
President Trump may hector and threaten our allies that we will not forever put up with this. But we will, because America’s elites live for the great game of global empire.
What would a true “America First” foreign policy look like?
It would restore to the United States the freedom it enjoyed for the 150 years before NATO, to decide when, where and whether we go to war. U.S. allies would be put on notice that, while we are not walking away from the world, we are dissolving all treaty commitments that require us to go to war as soon as the shooting starts.
This would concentrate the minds of our allies wonderfully. We could cease badgering them about paying more for their defense. They could decide for themselves — and live with their decisions.
In the Carter era, we dissolved our defense pact with Taiwan. Taiwan has survived and done wonderfully well. If Germany, Japan and South Korea are no longer assured we will go to war on their behalf, all three would take a long hard look at their defenses. The result would likely be a strengthening of those defenses.
But if we do not begin to rescind these war guarantees we have handed out since the 1940s, the odds are high that one of them will one day drag us into a great war, after which, if we survive, all these alliances will be dissolved in disillusionment.
What John Foster Dulles called for, over half a century ago, an “agonizing reappraisal” of America’s alliances, is long, long overdue.
Copyright 2017 Creators.com
I’ve always been intrigued by the major questions not asked by reporters at press conferences, not asked by legislators at public hearings or even the questions citizens at town meetings don’t ask public officials. It’s not that they do not know about or could not easily become informed enough about a given issue and ask substantive questions. It’s just that so many taboos are packed into these questioners’ ideological mindset, career goals or concern with what other people over them might think. Maybe it is a culturally-rooted fear of challenging entrenched power brokers.
Decades ago, I noticed that press conferences, symposia and formal studies and reports on the toll of highway traffic fatalities never mentioned the role of motor vehicle design and construction.
The focus was almost entirely on the driver, or what some auto bosses called “the nut behind the wheel.” What the drivers were driving – vehicles without seatbelts, padded dash panels, rollover and side protection from collisions, but with faulty tires and brakes or poor handling – never came up. Construction defects in vehicles were never formally recalled to be fixed by the culpable manufacturers.
Questions never asked assure that answers, solutions and public awareness will not emerge.
Today, reporters who go to the Pentagon press briefings rarely, if ever, ask about dubious test results from the unproven ballistic defense project costing taxpayers over three decades, rising to nine to ten billion dollars a year. Or when the Department of Defense is going to obey a 1992 law and provide auditable data to the Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) so that DOD’s massive budget, with its waste and redundancies, can be audited.
Lengthy Congressional hearings on the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justices do not produce questions to the nominee about corporate personhood (corporations being considered people for constitutional purposes) or rampant corporate crime. Both issues are important matters for judges.
Think about all the news conferences and hearings about rescheduling marijuana, by taking it off the DEA’s Schedule I controlled substances list. Far less attention is paid to legalizing the domestic growing of industrial hemp – grown by our founding fathers – which provides food, fuel, clothing, paper, car parts and lubricants, among hundreds of other uses.
In meetings with reporters and editorial writers, politicians pledge to lower deficits and prevent waste, but almost never have to answer questions about instances of massive fraud on the taxpayers (such as corporate vendors ripping off Medicare other government programs).
With all the blather officials, such as former Rep. Tom Price (now Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services) devote to repressing medical malpractice lawsuits, when will the first reporter ask: “But Secretary Price, what are you going to do about the loss of 250,000 lives a year in our hospitals due to mishaps, incompetence, hospital-induced infections, etc. (documented by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professors last May)? What will you do to prevent the 5,000 people in America losing their lives each week because of such failures?”
Back in 2000, the great Washington Post reporter, Morton Mintz, submitted numerous questions to the major presidential candidates. No response. So a group called TomPaine.com placed an advertorial on the New York Times op-ed page with the heading “Mort Wants to Know – Hard Questions Reporters Don’t Ask.” While reporters may not ask such questions, this group understood they were certainly the kind that voters welcome. Three questions were selected, as follows:
“Do you take campaign contributions from Exxon-Mobil, ARCO and other oil companies that cheated taxpayers out of billions of dollars owed for oil pumped from public land?”
“Should Congress investigate drug pricing by companies like Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Novartis, which charge Americans more for drugs that in other countries they sell for much less?”
“Rules pending in Congress would deny federal contracts to chronic corporate lawbreakers – those that repeatedly violate environmental, worker safety, tax and other laws. Where do you stand on these Rules?”
I would add one additional question to the many reporters bored with daily routine coverage of the major party candidates on the road: “What in the world keeps you from freeing your minds and asking the obvious and important questions?”
More generally, time and again reporters do not respond to declarations and assertions by those in positions of power with two fundamental questions:
1. What is your legal authority for this decision?
2. What is your evidence to back up your claim, policy or practice?
Sure, we’re all likely to be against censorship. But let’s pay attention to the enablers of the censors – the self-censoring career questioners whose lack of inquisitiveness does the censors’ job for them.
To read stories from reporters who ask the hard questions, visit FAIR.org and projectcensored.org.
More chickenhawks on parade for war with Russia
The latest Democratic Party shill to demonize Russia is, I am ashamed to say, my state of Virginia’s Senator Mark Warner, who, on Thursday said “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a deliberate campaign carefully constructed to undermine our election.” Last Thursday, Warner was the top Democrat on a Senate Intelligence Committee panel investigating Moscow’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election. The panel inevitably included carefully selected expert witnesses who would agree with the proposition that Russia is and was guilty as charged. There was no one who provided an alternative view even though a little Googling would have surfaced some genuine experts who dispute the prevailing narrative.
Warner joined many of his esteemed colleagues in Congress who have completely accepted the allegations that Russia meddled in the election in spite of the failure of the Obama Administration to provide any indisputable evidence to that effect. Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland has called Moscow’s claimed interference an “attack” and labeled it a “political Pearl Harbor.” A number of other congressmen, to include Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Eric Swalwell of California have called it an act of war. And then there are echo chambers Senators John McCain and Mark Rubio on the Republican side of the aisle while former Vice President Dick Cheney was speaking at a business conference in New Delhi saying the same thing. Yes, that Dick Cheney. Why anyone in India would pay to hear him speak on any subject escapes me.
Democrat Adam Schiff of California is leading the charge for his party as he is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. He outlined his case against Russia two weeks ago, providing a heap of minimally factual “information”, relying heavily instead on supposition and featuring mostly innuendo. And again, it was largely evidence-free. One assertion is almost comical: “In July 2016, Carter Page, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, traveled to Moscow after being approved to do so by the Trump campaign. While there, Page gave a speech in which he was critical of the U.S. and its efforts to fight corruption and promote democracy.”
Almost everyone I know who follows such matters is also critical of U.S. (hypocritical) efforts to promote democracy, a formulation wildly popular among Hillary Clinton style Democrats to enable attacking Muslim countries that have somehow offended either Israel or the Washington Establishment. But what is particularly disturbing about the constant denigration of Russia and Vladimir Putin in the media and among the political class is the regular invocation of war doctrine, that hacking a server by a foreign power, if it took place, is in the same category as the attack on Pearl Harbor. That World War 3 would be a nuclear holocaust does not seem to have occurred to politicians seeking a punchy line so they can get cited in The Washington Post. It leads one to the inevitable conclusion that war is far too serious a business to be left to politicians.
But what particularly offends me personally about those eager to go toe to toe with the Russians is their complete venality and fundamental cowardice. As a Vietnam era vet, I understand full well how it feels to have your life disrupted to go off and possibly die to fight a war that was totally meaningless. Our crowd of politicians is fond of talking about war as if it were some kind of diversion being featured on a monopoly board and that is precisely because they have no skin in the game. They somehow fancy that a shooting war will somehow not happen, that Russia will back down in a confrontation with force majeur, and they deep down feel completely immune to the consequences that might result from their ill-advised actions. And they are unfortunately in large part correct to feel so, as no one was ever held accountable for Iraq. Consequences that apply to the “little people” in the U.S. do not apply to them.
Under the rule of our bipartisan war-loving elites the United States has evolved from a bumbling giant into something far more threatening. The completely useless wars since 9/11 have killed nearly 10,000 American soldiers and contractors as well as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the inhabitants of the countries that we have attacked. I would hold Congress, the White House and the mainstream media as directly responsible for those deaths. As former Ambassador Chas Freeman puts it, “America has now chosen publicly to redefine itself internationally as the foreign relations equivalent of a sociopath – a country indifferent to the rules, the consequences for others of its ignoring them, and the reliability of its word. No nation can now comfortably entrust its prosperity or security to Washington, no matter how militarily powerful it perceives America to be.”
Which inevitably leads to the subject of Dick Cheney. When it comes to hypocrisy over war as a constant state for the American Republic with absolutely no consequences for those who lead, no one takes a back seat to good old Dick. Dick had five deferments during Vietnam and he has explained that he had had “other priorities.” He and his consigliere Scooter Libby, together with Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, might have had more to do with America’s march to war in Iraq than any other individuals in the Bush Administration. And none of them paid any price except Libby who was convicted of having committed perjury connected to his apparent outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame as revenge for her husband’s refutation of claims about Iraq buying uranium from Niger. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison but had his jail time commuted by President George W. Bush.
One might even suggest that the architects of devastating policies were actually rewarded, most particularly Wolfowitz, who was named president of the World Bank before having to resign over a sex scandal that he initiated. Today Wolfowitz is a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and Libby is a Senior Vice President at the neocon Hudson Institute. Cheney is retired comfortably on the somewhere between $19 and $86 million he made, mostly while working for five years at defense contractor Halliburton. His truly frightening daughter Liz is in congress representing Wyoming, continuing the family legacy of bone headed knee jerk reactionaryism combined with egregious self-aggrandizement that Dick is best known for.
Note that neither Cheney, nor Wolfowitz nor Libby ever served in the U.S. military, exhibiting thereby their willingness to let other American die for the dreadful policies that they initiated. That pattern also holds true for the Democrats who seem to have found Russia as a useful scapegoat for their failure to elect Hillary Clinton president. If the Kremlin did it then the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign are off the hook, aren’t they? And even better if one can simultaneously discredit Donald Trump by implying that he or his associates might be subjected to blackmail by Moscow, making them little more than agents of Vladimir Putin and therefore traitors to the United States.
Senator Mark Warner, a lawyer by training, founded a venture capital firm called Columbia Capital before being elected Governor of Virginia and then Senator in 2008. He is reported to be the wealthiest U.S. Senator, worth $200 million. He has a 15 acre farm in Rappahannock County Virginia where he produces wine as a hobby.
Warner has three daughters who will never serve in the U.S. military, which is precisely the problem. The more our “ruling class” in Washington has little or nothing to do with the average American or, to be more precise, the class of Americans called upon to fight and die in the wars that are constantly being promoted, the more we will engage in senseless wars and sabre rattling. As Warner appears willing to use the threat of war to pillory Trump, he perhaps should step back, take a deep breath, and try to think of the consequences of the politically loaded claims that he is promoting.
Ben Cardin and Adam Schiff are a lot like Warner in that they are reliable partisan Democrats who are seeking to milk as much benefit out of beating on Russia as they can. Both are unimpeachable liberals who wrap their arguments in the good old American flag by claiming that Moscow is seeking to threaten our democracy while completely ignoring the fact that the U.S. intelligence agencies have been regularly overthrowing governments and corrupting elections since the Second World War. They both have children who will never serve in uniform or see the inside of a barracks. War for them is an abstraction which serves as a useful tool, in this case, for bringing down Donald Trump. And they are bringing down with Trump any hope of rapprochement with Russia, a readjustment in policy that is desperately needed.
I am reminded frequently of the ancient Greek way of war. Armor was expensive and only the wealthy and powerful could afford it. And those with the armor stood in the front line as they were most able to engage in the cutting and thrusting and still survive. Armor was also heavy and they could not run away, so wars were only fought when vital interests were at stake and they were fought to the death for most of those on the battlefield. I fancy a phalanx of hoplites with Warner, Cardin, Schiff, Wolfowitz, Cheney and Libby arrayed on the front line in their fine armor manufactured by Halliburton. That way they could have all the war they want and experience it first-hand. I doubt they would last very long as they are both moral and physical cowards, but given that reality, they just might think a bit harder about promoting the type of fearmongering that will only end by sending the children of other Americans off to war.
Eleven were killed and 51 injured in a suspected suicide bomb blast inside a train in the St. Petersburg Metro, but you won’t see the expression of solidarity in European cities often displayed when other nations suffer similar heinous attacks.
That fact was not lost on the curious few who took to Twitter to question if Paris, Berlin, London or other Western capitals would be granting the victims of Russia the same acknowledgement given to so many in the wake of several terrorist attacks.
Many world leaders expressed their condolences with those impacted by the attack, including the Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo.
However, no landmark was decorated with Russia’s national colours Monday evening, although some creative types did try their best to rectify the snub.
Germany’s Brandenburg Gate has a history of showing solidarity with nations after similar attacks in Paris, Brussels, London, Orlando, Istanbul, Nice and Jerusalem, according to Berliner-Zeitung, but a senate speaker from the German press agency said the landmark would not radiate the Russian national colours because St. Petersburg is not a partner city of Berlin, and “exceptions should only be made in exceptional cases.”
Israel, however, did express its condolences and solidarity with the victims of the attack by lighting up city hall in Tel Aviv with the colours of the Russian flag.
Polish prosecutors say they have evidence proving that Russia “deliberately provoked” the 2010 plane crash over Smolensk which resulted in the death of President Lech Kaczynski. Commenting on the claims, journalist Andrei Veselov lamented that Polish politics seems to have degenerated into paranoia over a mysterious ‘hand of Moscow’ at every turn.
Almost seven years ago, on April 10, 2010, the Polish Presidential Tu-154M airplane carrying President Kaczynski, his wife, and a number of high-ranking Polish civilian and military officials crashed outside Smolensk, western Russia, killing all 96 passengers and crew on board. Official investigations by both the Russian and Polish sides concluded that pilot error was to blame. The pilots, according to investigators, lacked adequate training for operations in adverse weather conditions, and did not approach the landing field in a safe manner amid foggy weather in the area on the day of the crash.
In the years since, conspiracy theories have circulated in Poland, particularly among the country’s conservative anti-Russian forces, claiming that the crash was a deliberate plot by Moscow to assassinate Polish leaders. Until recently, these conspiracy theories were generally ignored by the country’s leaders, who said that there was absolutely no evidence to support this claim in the official findings.
However, following presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015, which resulted in the Law and Justice Party, led by Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw coming to power, the ‘Russian trace’ conspiracy quickly transformed into official dogma. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long maintained that the Kremlin deliberately ‘assassinated’ his brother. Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz has gone even further, claiming that Poland and Russia have actually been ‘in a state of war’ since the 2010 catastrophe.
On Monday, Poland’s Public Prosecutor’s Office gave ammunition to the conspiracy theorists, announcing that prosecutors had amassed evidence against Russian air traffic controllers which showed that Russia had “deliberately provoked” the disaster. The Prosecutor’s Office claimed the presence of a mysterious “third person” in the air traffic control tower on the day of the crash, but did not elaborate.
Moscow responded in an extremely calm manner to the offensive claims. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova recalled that Russia had carried out its own, very detailed investigation, which concluded that the air traffic controllers had nothing to do with the crash. “Warsaw knows this very well,” she noted. Presidential spokesman Dmitri Peskov added that as far as the Kremlin is concerned, the causes of the catastrophe had been determined, “and of course it is not seen as possible to agree with [the] conclusions” reached by prosecutors.
Polish authorities, Zakharova noted, were actively trying to “use the tragedy to settle political scores in their country. We consider this tactic futile [and] damaging to Russian-Polish relations, which are already not in the best condition,” she added.
What are these political scores? Well, for one thing, they include Warsaw’s longstanding conflict with European Council President Donald Tusk. Authorities have accused the politician of everything from shady contacts with Russian intelligence, to illegal dealings with Russian companies on the repair of the presidential plane shortly before it crashed, to bending to Russian interests following the disaster to prevent an objective investigation from taking place. “Prime Minister Tusk and Vladimir Putin made an illegal deal to the detriment of Poland, and he must answer for this before a court,” Defense Minister Macierewicz has said.
In reality, anyone familiar with Tusk’s record on Russia, both as prime minister and as the head of the EU, has a pretty good understanding that the politician is anything but pro-Russian. As European Council president, Tusk has been at the forefront of EU politicians accusing Russia of ‘aggression’, and has repeatedly said that sanctions must be extended. Meanwhile, during his time as prime minister, Tusk balanced a policy of ‘rapprochement’ with Moscow with an active effort by his foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, to rip Russia’s western partners out of Moscow’s orbit via the so-called ‘Eastern Partnership’ program. That effort ultimately culminated in the 2014 Maidan Coup in Kiev.
Furthermore, as RIA Novosti contributor Andrei Veselov points out, Warsaw has yet to present any hard evidence to back up its conspiratorial accusations, even against Tusk, much less about Russia’s alleged role in the Smolensk tragedy.Lawmakers from the Civic Platform Party, Poland’s main opposition group, have sent a letter to Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, demanding an explanation for why the full version of the official Polish government report on the plane crash, published in July 2011, is being taken down from public sources online. The party complained that the subcommission convened by Macierewicz is not working with the official report, and noted that its removal from official internet resources makes the Russian side’s report the only official document on the investigation that’s publically available.
However, as Veselov pointed out, Civic Platform lawmakers too are not being entirely honest: “The Russian report is not the only one. In 2011, the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) released its final report on the technical investigation into the disaster. According to its experts, the crash was caused by the crew’s decision not to go to the alternative aerodrome. Furthermore, it said, there were shortcomings in flight support and the crew’s training.”
In other words, Warsaw’s decision to dig up the investigation, and to ignore the findings of a diverse collection of aviation experts, all of whom have reached nearly identical conclusions, indicates that spokeswoman Zakharova is right: Warsaw is out to settle old political scores, not find any hidden ‘truth’. And given the stakes involved (including the alleged murder of a statesman in peacetime by another state), the campaign is not only distasteful, but simply detestable.