In the old days of journalism, we were taught that there were almost always two sides to a story, if not more sides than that. Indeed, part of the professional challenge of journalism was to sort out conflicting facts on a complicated topic. Often we found that the initial impression of a story was wrong once we understood the more nuanced reality.
Today, however, particularly on foreign policy issues, the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.
Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.
So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.
A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.
Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.
To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.
Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”
Ergo, in Rutenberg’s sophistry, the “prevailing notion in the [U.S.] news” must be accepted as true, regardless of the checkered history of such confidence in the past, i.e., the “prevailing notion” that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in Iraq in 2003. Today, to shut down any serious evaluation of the latest WMD claims about Syria just say: “Alex Jones.”
Thus, any evidence that the April 4 incident might have been staged or might have resulted from an accidental release of Al Qaeda-controlled chemicals must be dismissed as something on par with believing the wildest of silly conspiracy theories. (Indeed, one of the reasons that I detest conspiracy theories is that they often reject hard evidence in favor of fanciful speculation, which then can be used, in exactly the way that Rutenberg did, to undermine serious efforts to sort through conflicting accounts and questionable evidence in other cases.)
In the case of the April 4 incident, there were several alternative explanations that deserved serious attention, including the possibility that Al Qaeda had staged the event, possibly sacrificing innocent civilians in an attempt to trick President Trump into reversing his administration’s recent renunciation of the U.S. goal of “regime change” in Syria.
This notion is not as nutty as Rutenberg pretends. For instance, United Nations investigators received testimonies from Syrian eyewitnesses regarding another attempt by Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists and their “rescue” teams to stage a chlorine attack in the town of Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, and then spread word of the bogus attack through social media.
“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report stated. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”
The rebels and their allies also made preposterous claims about how they knew canisters of chlorine were contained in “barrel bombs,” by citing the supposedly distinctive sound such chlorine-infused bombs made.
The U.N. report said, “The [rebel-connected] eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”
Of course, the statement could not be corroborated because it was crazy to believe that people could discern the presence of a chlorine canister inside a “barrel bomb” by its “distinct whistling sound.”
Still, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack. The failure of the Syrian government to provide those records of flights that it said did not happen was then cited by the U.N. investigators as somehow evidence of Syrian guilt, another challenge to rationality, since it would be impossible to produce flight records for flights that didn’t happen.
Despite this evidence of a rebel fabrication – and the lack of a Syrian military purpose from using chlorine since it almost never kills anyone – the U.N. investigators succumbed to intense career pressure from the Western powers and accepted as true two other unverified rebel claims of chlorine attacks, leading the Western media to report as flat-fact that the Syrian government used chlorine bombs on civilians.
The Dubious Sarin Case
Besides the dubious chlorine cases – and the evidence of at least one attempted fabrication – there was the infamous sarin attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, when there was a similar rush to judgment blaming the Syrian government although later evidence, including the maximum range of the sarin-carrying missile, pointed to the more likely guilt of Al Qaeda-connected extremists sacrificing the lives of civilians to advance their jihadist cause.
In all these cases, the Times and other Western news outlets behaved as if there was only one acceptable side to the story, the one that the U.S. government was pushing, i.e., blaming the Syrian government. It didn’t matter how implausible the claims were or how unreliable the sources.
In both the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin case and the current April 4, 2017 case, Western officials and media ignored the obvious motives for Al Qaeda to carry out a provocation, foist blame on the government and induce the U.S. to intervene on Al Qaeda’s side.
In August 2013, the Syrian government had just welcomed U.N. investigators who came to Damascus to investigate government allegations of rebels using chemical weapons against government troops. That the Syrian government would then conduct a poison-gas attack within miles of the hotel where the U.N. investigators were staying and thus divert their attention made no logical sense.
Similarly, in April 2017, the Syrian government was not only prevailing on the battlefield but had just received word that the Trump administration had reversed the U.S. policy demanding “regime change” in Damascus. So, the obvious motive to release chemical weapons was with Al Qaeda and its allies, not with the Syrian government.
Manufacturing a Motive
The West has struggled to explain why President Assad would pick that time – and a town of little military value – to drop a sarin bomb. The Times and other mainstream media have suggested that the answer lies in the barbarism and irrationality of Arabs. In that vaguely racist thinking, Assad was flaunting his impunity by dropping sarin in a victory celebration of sorts, even though the predicable consequence was a U.S. missile attack and Trump reversing again the U.S. policy to demand Assad’s ouster.
On April 11, five days after Trump’s decision to attack the Syrian airbase, Trump’s White House released a four-page “intelligence assessment” that offered another alleged motivation, Khan Sheikhoun’s supposed value as a staging area for a rebel offensive threatening government infrastructure. But that offensive had already been beaten back and the town was far from the frontlines.
In other words, there was no coherent motive for Assad to have dropped sarin on this remote town. There was, however, a very logical reason for Al Qaeda’s jihadists to stage a chemical attack and thus bring pressure on Assad’s government. (There’s also the possibility of an accidental release via a conventional government bombing of a rebel warehouse or from the rebels mishandling a chemical weapon – although some of the photographic evidence points more toward a staged event.)
But we’re not supposed to ask these questions – or doubt the “evidence” provided by Al Qaeda and its allies – because Alex Jones raised similar questions and Russian news outlets are reporting on this scenario, too.
There’s the additional problem with Rutenberg’s sophistry: Many of the April 4 sarin claims have been debunked by MIT national security and technology expert Theodore Postol, who has issued a series of reports shredding the claims from the White House’s “intelligence assessment.”
For instance, Postol cited the key photographs showing a supposed sarin canister crumpled inside a crater in a roadway. Postol noted that the canister appeared to be crushed, not exploded, and that the men in the photos inspecting the hole were not wearing protective gear that would have been required if there actually were sarin in the crater.
All of these anomalies and the problems with “evidence” generated by Al Qaeda and its allies should put the entire meme of the Syrian government using chemical weapons in doubt. But Rutenberg is not alone in treating this official groupthink as flat-fact.
Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler awarded “four Pinocchios” – reserved for the most egregious lies – to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice for asserting last January that the Syrian government had surrendered all its chemical weapons as part of a 2013 agreement.
Kessler declared: “The reality is that there were confirmed chemical weapons attacks by Syria – and that U.S. and international officials had good evidence that Syria had not been completely forthcoming in its declaration [regarding its surrendered chemicals], and possibly retained sarin and VX nerve agent …. and that the Syrian government still attacked citizens with chemical weapons not covered by the 2013 agreement,” i.e., the chlorine cases.
But Kessler has no way of actually knowing what the truth is regarding Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use. He is simply repeating the propagandistic groupthink that has overwhelmed the Syrian crisis. Presumably he would have given four Pinocchios to anyone who had doubted the 2003 claims about Iraq hiding WMD because all the Important People “knew” that to be true at the time.
What neither Rutenberg nor Kessler seems willing or capable of addressing is the larger problem created by the U.S. government and its NATO allies investing heavily in information warfare or what is sometimes called “strategic communications,” claiming that they are defending themselves from Russian “active measures.” However, the impact of all these competing psychological operations is to trample reality.
The role of an honest press corps should be to apply skepticism to all official stories, not carry water for “our side” and reject anything coming from the “other side,” which is what The New York Times, The Washington Post and the rest of the Western mainstream media have done, especially regarding Middle East policies and now the New Cold War with Russia.
The American people and other news consumers have a right to expect that the Western media will recall the old adage that there are almost always two sides to a story. There’s also the truism that truth often resides not at the surface but is hidden beneath.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
US Defense Secretary James Mattis says the conflict in Yemen needs to be resolved “as quickly as possible” through UN-brokered peace negotiations.
“Our aim is that this crisis can be handed to a team of negotiators under the aegis of the United Nations that can try to find a political solution as quickly as possible,” Mattis told reporters on Tuesday as he flew to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“We will work with our allies, with our partners to try to get it to the UN-brokered negotiating table,” the Pentagon chief said.
Mattis is expected to meet senior Saudi officials, including King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman.
Several UN brokered ceasefires and peace talks have so far failed to end the conflict in Yemen.
Mattis gave no details on what additional support, if any, the United States would provide to the Saudi-led coalition. Washington already provides intelligence as well as aerial refueling to coalition warplanes carrying out air strikes in Yemen.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen for causing civilian casualties. The campaign has claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people, most of them civilians.
Saudi Arabia launched its deadly campaign against Yemen in March 2015 with the alleged goal of pushing back the Houthi Ansarullah movement from the capital, Sana’a, and to reinstate the regime of Yemen’s former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a staunch ally of Riyadh.
Yemeni students study in a classroom on March 15, 2016, which was damaged in a Saudi air strike. (Photo by AFP)
The Saudis and their allies have also suffered considerable casualties in the operation on Yemen as official estimates say more than 500 soldiers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have been killed since March 2015.
Some officials in US President Donald Trump’s administration have called for more American military support for the Saudi-led coalition.
In late January, US special forces carried out an attack against a purported position of al-Qaeda militants in the central Yemeni province of Bayda, killing about 30 civilians.
The raid, in which just about everything went wrong, was the first known American-led ground mission in Yemen since December 2014.
The White House hailed the operation as a success, but critics said it was a failure since it resulted in the death of civilians and 36-year-old Navy SEAL Ryan Owens.
The US military carried out a flurry of air strikes in Yemen after the botched raid, involving a mix of manned and unmanned aircraft.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken advantage of the chaos and breakdown of security in Yemen to tighten its grip on the southern and southeastern parts of the Arab country.
The Russian embassy in London is calling on Britain to explain its testing of an alleged chemical weapons attack site in Syria, adding it hopes the UK’s “takeover exercise” does not destroy the possibility of an impartial investigation.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs British scientists found sarin or a sarin-like substance in samples obtained at the scene of a chemical incident in Syria’s Idlib province.
“We know from shell fragments in the crater that not only had sarin been used, but sarin carrying the specific chemical signature of sarin used by the Assad regime,” Johnson said.
“And given that samples from the victims showed conclusively that they had been exposed to sarin gas, there is only one conclusion: that the Assad regime almost certainly gassed its own people in breach of international law and the rules of war.”
Russia has consistently called on both the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN to undertake a separate investigation of the site.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Russian embassy in London questioned why British scientists were attempting to update the OPCW, an international body. It says it would like Britain to clarify elements of its investigation, including the procedure and site of the sampling, what specific samples were taken and whether OPCW standards of safety and integrity in collecting evidence were upheld.
“Do we understand correctly that the British side gained access to Khan Sheikhoun, and if so, can it assist in providing full and safe access directly to the site of the chemical incident in Khan Sheikhoun for the OPCW inspectors in order to conduct a comprehensive and objective investigation?” the embassy said.
“If the samples were not taken at the scene of the events … then what, in London’s opinion, is the value of such an analysis?”
The embassy adds that Russia continues to insist on an immediate on-site investigation under the auspices of the OPCW and UN, despite Johnson claiming otherwise.
“We hope this entire takeover exercise is not meant to destroy the very possibility of an impartial international investigation into this incident,” the statement says.
Damascus has refuted allegations of any involvement in a chemical weapons incident in Idlib.
John McCain cackles in laughter at how the swamp is completely sucking in US President Trump:
I’m no expert about Syria, so why these blogposts? The initial stimulus was realising that people of good will and similar ethics can have some markedly contrasting views of the situation in Syria. This was a puzzle to me. And given the gravity of what’s at stake, I felt an obligation to try and solve it.
The basic disagreement could not be explained by familiar sorts of political bias. It cuts across left-right and authoritarian-libertarian lines; a person’s stance on it can not even be predicted by their stance, say, on Palestine, or Cuba. Attitudes to Russia can be a better indicator, but if my own case is anything to go by, this has nothing particularly to do with political views and is anyway an effect rather than a cause. What Putin says about Syria tends to resonate with what I’ve come to think; I have never thought that any statement was true because Putin made it. I also just don’t think it very intellectually mature or responsible to suppose that something is false because he says it!
Still, it is understandable that people would rather accept the consensus view of our news outlets, especially since it is echoed by the vast majority of our politicians and opinion formers, along with NGOs like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and MSF. They present Assad as the problem in Syria and regime change as the solution.
The general public do not perceive that view as a controversial one. It seems established beyond the range of normal political debate that ‘Assad must go’. ‘Assad’s regime’ is regarded, like Hitler’s, as beyond the pale of reasonable disagreement. The only kind of debate there can be on this basis is whether Assad is as bad as Hitler. In fact, US spokesperson Sean Spicer recently suggested Hitler was less bad.
As karma would have it, the hapless Spicer also let us know, with a slip of the tongue, that America’s “first goal is to destabilise Syria”.
Should we believe the official narrative or the one that, while suppressed, still sometimes slips out? I have asked this question of reports from Channel 4, from BBC, from Amnesty International, from Doctors Without Borders, and from UK Government. I’ve shared my findings in the five blogs respectively linked. I have concluded that none of those reports provides credible evidence to support the mainstream account of what has been happening in Syria these past six years.
I ask nobody to take my word for it, though, and I would urge everybody, who gets the chance, to look more closely for yourself. This is not a matter on which any established authority should simply be assumed reliable.
It is not a matter of normal political loyalties. On Syria I now have more faith in the views of Peter Hitchens or Peter Oborne writing in the Daily Mail, for instance, than in those of George Monbiot in the Guardian; I got blocked on Twitter by Paul Mason for asking an awkward question; I’ve even questioned the wisdom of a statement by Caroline Lucas (here). I feel all the more resolutely ecologically socialist for recognising that independently conservative thought can sometimes be more astutely resistant than that of progressives to the deceptions of a delinquent neoliberal globalism.
The issue here is not a normal part of political argument. Politics can even serve to distract us from what I believe is a serious matter of truth against war. The agenda underlying foreign states’ investment in the war in Syria is continuous with what came to fruition in Iraq and Libya. We have good reasons to fear that it will lead on to a still more catastrophic confrontation with Iran and even Russia.
Perhaps that’s why those who do not accept the mainstream narrative can be presented as ‘siding with the Russians’, who don’t want war either! But I’d go further and say there are people of no nation on this planet who want war. That is why we should not let ourselves be deceived into thinking that anything we truly want can only be achieved at the price of war.
As for the war in Syria, please don’t believe me. Please just don’t let yourself be deceived. This is too important, not only for you and me, but for our children, and everyone else too. Please ask questions about who wants war and why, and please then think about how they can be stopped from getting it.
Who do I believe? I tend to believe those I find sincere and whose statements are coherent, consistent, and not belied by their actions. I believe ISIS when they say they want to destroy the Syrian secular state and create their caliphate. I believe Al Qaeda and the multitude of other Islamist terror organisations that threaten terrible violence of the kind they routinely execute. I believe the ordinary people who live in Syria and say they just want to be left to live their lives in peace. I find I also believe, on the basis of scores of interviews I’ve now seen, that the Syrian president is doing all he can to fulfill the wish of the latter against threats of the former. I believe his claims that the foreign states’ regime change agenda has nothing to do with trying to do right by the Syrian people. If that makes me an ‘Assad Apologist’, I make no apology. For anyone who thinks Iraq or Libya today have better governance than Syria’s government-protected areas do is not someone I would feel capable of debating with. Of course, Syria could do a lot better still, and the Syrian people should be free to choose their government. My instinct, for what it’s worth, tells me that Bashar Al Assad and the First Lady Asma Al Assad long for such a day to come. But the nation’s sovereignty has first to be fully restored.
I have stopped believing reports about Syria from Amnesty International, an organisation I actively supported for two decades. For no report I have seen produces credible evidence to support its claims about the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Syrian government. I illustrate this here, and here, and I further show how the organisation has been captured by people with no interest in human rights here. I fear there seems to be a similar problem even in some parts of MSF’s organisation. As for the news outlets, with almost nobody on the ground, they provide little coverage of areas that are under legitimate government, while, from occupied areas, they rely heavily on terrorist sources like Al Qaeda, under its various rebrandings. And our government? It provides funds, weapons and training for Al Qaeda. Some of this goes into the PR campaign sustained as White Helmets. If you are inclined to believe what the White Helmets say, then I suggest you watch the Oscar-winning documentary about them and ask yourself one simple question: where are the terrorists? I assume that anyone who is reading these words does not need me to make any comment about poor little Bana Alabed. But you might know people who do, so please be gentle with them. We are all at different stages of learning about how we are misled.
Turkish authorities have detained a former official involved in a controversial 2014 search of Syria-bound trucks. While media reported the vehicles were full of ammunition, Ankara claimed they carried “aid for the Turkmen” and branded the search “treason.”
Former Prosecutor Yasar Kavalcioglu was detained after an ID check on a passenger bus in Istanbul early on Monday, according to Anadolu news agency. Kavalcioglu was put on search list for his role in the truck issue, the Daily Sabah notes.
In January 2014, when Gendarmerie intercepted trucks belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), after prosecutors of the Adana province got a tip-off that the trucks were carrying weapons for rebel and terrorist groups in Syria.
The search exposed large amount of munitions under a thin layer of medical supplies in large containers marked ‘FRAGILE’. The discovery, however, led only to arrests of the officials involved in the search of the vehicles.
The truck incident got international attention in May 2015 when the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s website released footage allegedly showing the inspection. The MIT trucks had been carrying over 80,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers, some 1,000 mortar shells and hundreds of grenade launchers projectiles, the newspaper reported.
Turkish officials made quite contradictory statements after the paper’s report, either admitting or denying the weapons’ presence, denying the existence of the delivery altogether and eventually settling on the story that the convoy carried “aid destined for the Turkmen.”
In 2015, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that the trucks belonged to MIT, but were merely carrying “aid.” He added that the prosecutors had no right to search the vehicles, and accused them of “treason and espionage” and being part of a “parallel state” run by his political enemies, who are determined to discredit the government.
In the aftermath of the last year’s botched coup, the 2014 truck incident gained a new “understanding,” as a former top gendarmerie official openly branded it a “coup attempt that targeted our president” by followers of Erdogan’s rival, Fethullah Gulen, who later “attempted to turn into a plot inside gendarmerie.”
A week ago another prosecutor involved in the trucks case, Aziz Takci, who has been under arrest since 2015, faced up to 15 years in jail on charges of being a part of the Gulen movement, according to judicial sources, quoted by Turkish media.
The chair of the “Friends of Israel” caucus of Britain’s UK Independence party (UKIP) apologized recently for tweeting a picture of himself burning a New Testament.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports that Shneur Odze, a candidate for mayor of Manchester, found the New Testament in his synagogue.
He took the offending volume outside and set it on fire, then posted photos of the book burning and wrote on Twitter: “Grateful to whoever put a missionary bible amongst our synagogue’s books. Was wondering what I’d burn my Chametz with.”
According to JTA, Odze “felt he had no choice but to burn the book because he did not want to pass on what he believes is false religion to someone else and said that throwing a religious text in the garbage was distasteful, especially because it also contains the Five Books of Moses.”
The Times of Israel reports that the New Testament was in a Hebrew-English Bible published by the Society for Distributing Hebrew Scriptures, and had been placed in the synagogue without permission by a member of the Christian group.
JTA reports that Odze, a former city councilman for north London for the Conservative Party, is a rabbi and member of Chabad-Lubavitch.
Parliament Today reported in 2014 that at a UKIP Friends of Israel reception, Rabbi Odze said: “UKIP doesn’t just talk the talk on its support for the people of Israel. Only last week UKIP Councillors in Dudley blocked an attempt by Labour to impose a sanctions policy on the Council. It was UKIP Councillors in Dudley that had this proposal quashed. And it is UKIP Councillors who are leading the fight against anti-Semitism in town halls across the country.”
School-issued computer devices – provided to one-third of school children across the US – collect excessive amounts of highly sensitive personal data on the students without parental consent or even prior notice, a new study finds.
Electronic devices distributed in US schools collect unprecedented amounts of personal data on children as young as five years old, according to a new report by Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), dubbed ‘Spying on Students’ – the result of a two-year study.
The surveillance comes under the guise of “personalized education.” Roughly one-third of primary and secondary education (K-12) students have received various electronic devices. Many tech companies provide electronic devices for free or a steeply reduced fee, as they seek their share in the $8 billion education technology (ed-tech) market.
Ed-tech, however, can be described as “the world’s most data-mineable industry by far,” according to the report, as the devices use apps and software which collect highly sensitive personal information, including names, dates of birth, browsing history and location data of children. Providers of ed-tech services, however, often fail to protect sensitive data.
The researchers “investigated the 152 ed tech services reported as in use in classrooms, and found troubling trends in their privacy policies regarding lack of encryption, opaque data retention practices, and inadequate data aggregation and de-identification.” Only 118 of them had published privacy policies, while some sort of encryption was mentioned in only 46 of them, and de-identification or aggregation of user data was mentioned in 51. De-identification – the prevention of linking a person’s identity with information – was almost exclusively mentioned in connection with providing information to third parties about their services, according to the report.
The potentially dangerous devices are also often distributed without parental consent or notice. Parents sometimes do not receive any information about ed-tech until after the technology is implemented, according to the study.
“We were given no information about our first-grader receiving a device – a tablet – this year. And when we ask questions, there is little information given at every level,” the report quoted parents from Maryland as saying.
Teachers and school officials are also obliged to use the school-issued devices, often without their consent as well.
“Staff and student details – that is, full names and school email addresses – were passed to Google to create individual logins without consent from staff. I’m not sure about consent from parents,” a teacher wrote on social media, according to the report.
Parents who expressed privacy concerns were often not able to opt out of the programs, as the authorities for some reasons protected interests of ed-tech providers instead of users. For example, when a California teacher allowed a schoolgirl to use her own device instead of a school-issued device after her parents voiced concerns over her privacy, district officials intervened and prohibited such exceptions, according to the report.
“While schools are eagerly embracing digital devices and services in the classroom – and ed tech vendors are racing to meet the demand – student privacy is not receiving the attention it deserves,” the study concluded. “Meaningful improvements in student data protection will require changes in state and federal law, in school and district priorities, and in ed tech company policies and practices.”
Russian Defence Minsitry: No one has asked for antidotes or medicines around location of alleged Idlib chemical attack
A puzzling new development has emerged in the aftermath of the alleged chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib Governorate from the 4th of April.
Since the incident, apparently no one in the Khan Shaykhun area in question has asked for any antidotes for exposure to toxic sarin gas, the chemical allegedly deployed on the 4th of April.
Many have consequently questioned whether the images presented of sarin gas victims were entirely inauthentic.
Thus far, the only video of the alleged attack’s aftermath have been provided by the White Helmets, an organisation widely exposed as fraudulent, comprising known and open supporters of al-Qaeda factions in Syria.
Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov has described the rather strange and incongruous developments at the location of the alleged attack over the last weeks,
“The impact zone in Khan Shaykhun, from where locals had to be evacuated, has not been identified. The town is living its life. Neither locals nor pseudo-rescuers have even asked for medicines, antidotes, (nor) decontaminants.
It is clear that, as in Iraq and Libya, there are simply no plans to carry out a qualified investigation in Khan Shaykhun by the current ‘schemers’ of the chemical attack”.
“It has been exactly two weeks after the incident with the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun. However, the only ‘proof’ of the use of chemical weapons remain only two White Helmets videos”.
These revelations may indicate that the incident was more than even a false flag, it may have been a false attack in totality.
Did Syria actually use chemical weapons?
Sounds like we’ve heard it all before, because we have, back in August 2013, and that turned out to be less than convincing. Skepticism is likewise mounting over current White House claims that Damascus used a chemical weapon against civilians in the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4th. Shortly after the more recent incident, President Donald Trump, possibly deriving his information from television news reports, abruptly stated that the government of President Bashar al-Assad had ordered the attack. He also noted that the use of chemicals had “crossed many red lines” and hinted that Damascus would be held accountable. Twenty-four hours later retribution came in the form of the launch of 59 cruise missiles directed against the Syrian airbase at Sharyat. The number of casualties, if any, remains unclear and the base itself sustained only minor damage amidst allegations that many of the missiles had missed their target. The physical assault was followed by a verbal onslaught, with the Trump Administration blaming Russia for shielding al-Assad and demanding that Moscow end its alliance with Damascus if it wishes to reestablish good relations with Washington.
The media, led by the usual neoconservative cheerleaders, have applauded Trump’s brand of tough love with Syria, even though Damascus had no motive to stage such an attack while the so-called rebels had plenty to gain. The escalation to a war footing also serves no U.S. interest and actually damages prospects for eliminating ISIS any time soon. Democratic Party liberal interventionists have also joined with Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio to celebrate the cruise missile strike and hardening rhetoric. Principled and eminently sensible Democratic Congressman Tulsi Gabbard, has demanded evidence of Syrian culpability, saying “It angers and saddens me that President Trump has taken the advice of war hawks and escalated our illegal regime change war to overthrow the Syrian government. This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia—which could lead to nuclear war. This Administration has acted recklessly without care or consideration of the dire consequences of the United States attack on Syria without waiting for the collection of evidence from the scene of the chemical poisoning.” For her pains, she has been vilified by members of her own party, who have called for her resignation.
Other congressmen, including Senators Rand Paul and Tim Kaine, who have asked for a vote in congress to authorize going to war, have likewise been ignored or deliberately marginalized. All of which means that the United States has committed a war crime against a country with which it is not at war and has done so by ignoring Article 2 of the Constitution, which grants to Congress the sole power to declare war. It has also failed to establish a casus belli that Syria represents some kind of threat to the United States.
What has become completely clear, as a result of the U.S. strike and its aftermath, is that any general reset with Russia has now become unimaginable, meaning among other things that a peace settlement for Syria is for now unattainable. It also has meant that the rebels against al-Assad’s regime will be empowered, possibly deliberately staging more chemical “incidents” and blaming the Damascus government to shift international opinion farther in their direction. ISIS, which was reeling prior to the attack and reprisal, has been given a reprieve by the same United States government that pledged to eradicate it. And Donald Trump has reneged on his two campaign pledges to avoid deeper involvement in Middle Eastern wars and mend fences with Moscow.
There have been two central documents relating to the alleged Syrian chemical weapon incidents in 2013 and 2017, both of which read like press releases. Both refer to a consensus within the U.S. intelligence community (IC)and express “confidence” and even “high confidence” regarding their conclusions but neither is actually a product of the office of the Director of National Intelligence, which would be appropriate if the IC had actually come to a consensus. Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the Director of CIA were present in a photo showing the White House team deliberating over what to do about Syria. Both documents supporting the U.S. cruise missile attack were, in fact, uncharacteristically put out by the White House, suggesting that the arguments were stitched together in haste to support a political decision to use force that had already been made.
The two documents provide plenty of circumstantial information but little in the way of actual evidence. The 2013 Obama version “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013,” was criticized almost immediately when it was determined that there were alternative explanations for the source of the chemical agents that might have killed more than a thousand people in and around the town of Ghouta. The 2017 Trump version “The Assad Regime’s Use of Chemical Weapons on April 4, 2017,” is likewise under fire from numerous quarters. Generally reliable journalist Robert Parry is reporting that the intelligence behind the White House claims comes largely from satellite surveillance, though nothing has been released to back-up the conclusion that the Syrian government was behind the attack, an odd omission as everyone knows about satellite capabilities and they are not generally considered to be a classified source or method. Parry also cites the fact that there are alternative theories on what took place and why, some of which appear to originate with the intelligence and national security community, which was in part concerned over the rush to judgment by the White House. MIT Professor Theodore Postol, considered to be an expert on munitions, has also questioned the government’s account of what took place in Khan Sheikhoun through a detailed analysis of the available evidence. He believes that the chemical agent was fired from the ground, not from an airplane, suggesting that it was an attack initiated by the rebels made to appear as if it was caused by the Syrian bomb.
In spite of the challenges, “Trust me,” says Donald Trump. The Russians and Syrians are demanding an international investigation of the alleged chemical weapons incident, but as time goes by the ability to discern what took place diminishes. All that is indisputably known at this point is that the Syrian Air Force attacked a target in Idlib and a cloud of toxic chemicals was somehow released. The al-Ansar terrorist group (affiliated with al-Qaeda) is in control of the area and benefits greatly from the prevailing narrative. If it was in fact the actual implementer of the attack, it is no doubt cleaning and reconfiguring the site to support the account that it is promoting and which is being uncritically accepted both by the mainstream media and by a number of governments. The United States will also do its best to disrupt any inquiry that challenges the assumptions that it has already come to. The Trump Administration is threatening to do more to remove Bashar al-Assad and every American should accept that the inhabitant of the White House, when he is actually in residence, will discover like many before him that war is good business. He will continue to ride the wave of jingoism that has turned out to be his salvation, reversing to an extent the negative publicity that has dogged the new administration.
“Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem?” tweeted President Donald Trump on Easter Sunday.
Earlier, after discovering “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had confided, “I explained … that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!”
“America First” thus takes a back seat to big-power diplomacy with Beijing. One wonders: How much will Xi end up bilking us for his squeezing of Kim Jong Un?
Trump once seemed to understand how America had been taken to the cleaners during and after the Cold War. While allies supported us diplomatically, they piled up huge trade surpluses at our expense and became virtual free-riders off the U.S. defense effort.
No nations were more successful at this than South Korea and Japan. Now Xi is playing the game — and perhaps playing Trump.
What is the “North Korean problem” Beijing will help solve in return for more indulgent consideration on future U.S.-China trade deals?
North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. As 80 percent of Pyongyang’s trade comes through China, Trump believes that Beijing can force Kim to stop testing missiles and atomic bombs before he produces an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S.
But what is to prevent Xi from pocketing Trump’s concessions and continuing on the strategic course China has long pursued?
For in many ways, Pyongyang’s goals parallel China’s.
Neither could want an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. For Kim, this would devastate his country, bring down his regime, and cost him his life. For China, war could mean millions of Koreans crossing the Yalu into Manchuria and a disruption of Beijing’s march to Asian hegemony.
A continuing crisis on the peninsula, however, with Trump and the U.S. relying on Beijing’s help, could leave Xi in the catbird seat.
And now that North Korea has declared its goal to be building missiles with nuclear warheads that could hit all U.S. bases in Asia — and even California — the clock is running for the White House.
“It won’t happen,” Trump has said of North Korea’s developing an ICBM that could hit the United States. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
“The threat is upon us,” says outgoing deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland. “This is something President Trump is going to deal with in the first year.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have declared that our policy of “strategic patience” with Pyonyang is at an end.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster said Sunday the U.S. has “to take action, short of armed conflict, so we can avoid the worst” in dealing with “this unpredictable regime.”
With a stunning parade of missiles in Pyongyang on Saturday, the North’s failed firing of a solid-fueled missile that same day, and the promise of new missile tests weekly, Kim is forcing our hand.
Either he backs away from building atomic bombs and long-range missiles or Trump and his generals must make good on their warnings.
How did we get to this point?
Why, 64 years after the Korean War, a quarter-century after the Cold War, are we still obliged to go to war to defend South Korea from a North with one-half the South’s population and 3 percent of its gross domestic product?
Why are we, on the far side of the Pacific, still responsible for containing North Korea when two of its neighbors — Russia and China — are nuclear powers and South Korea and Japan could field nuclear and conventional forces far superior to Kim’s?
How long into the future will containing militarist dictators in Pyongyang with nuclear missiles be America’s primary responsibility?
Another issue arises. Before the U.S. launches any pre-emptive strike on North Korea, Congress should be called back into session to authorize any act of war against the North.
Perhaps this time, Congress would follow the Constitution.
Though Korea is the crisis of the moment, it is not the only one.
Not since 9/11 have the Afghan Taliban been stronger or controlled more territory. The United States’ commanding general there is calling for thousands more U.S. troops. Russia and Iran are reportedly negotiating with the Taliban. Pakistan is said to be aiding them.
To counter Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we have moved U.S. and NATO troops into Poland, the Baltic States, Romania and Bulgaria. We have fired missiles into Syria. We are reportedly preparing to back the Saudis in the latest escalation of their war on the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Twenty-four years after “Black Hawk Down,” the weekend brought reports of U.S. troops returning to Somalia.
The promise of a Trump presidency — that we would start looking out for our own country and own national interests first and let the rest of the world solve, or fail to solve, its own problems — appears, not 100 days in, to have been a mirage.
Will more wars make America great again?