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Instead of Taylor Force Act, Congress should consider Rachel Corrie Act, Orwah Hammad Act

From top left: Emily Henoschowitz, Tariq Abukhdair, Brian Avery, Tristan Anderson, Rachel Corrie, Orwah Hammad.
By Kathryn Shihadah | If Americans Knew | June 30, 2017

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring about change. The story of Taylor Force is one such tragedy. A young American in the prime of his life was stabbed to death in an unnecessary, unprovoked act of terrorism while  in Israel on a Vanderbilt University study program. Perhaps the only good that can come of such a dreadful event is in learning a lesson to ensure that it never happen again.

Our government wants to protect its citizens wherever they are in the world, so enacting some constructive legislation would be a smart move. Unfortunately, that’s not what Congress is currently contemplating.

The US Senate is debating a bill right now—the Taylor Force Act—that would prohibit foreign aid to the Occupied Palestinian Territories unless the Palestinian Authority ends stipends to the families of those who have been killed, injured, or imprisoned. Congressional reasoning is that the so-called “Martyrs’ Fund” encourages terrorism.

The United States currently gives The Palestinian Authority a relatively small amount of aid each year (in 2016 about $300 million, roughly 8 percent of what Israel receives); the Taylor Force Act would withhold about $230 million until the Fund disappears.

It is important to understand that this fund is not an incentive for Palestinians to commit terrorism. It is a social program to provide for the families of those killed, injured, or held prisoner by hostile forces. 

Most of the fund provides for those killed or injured while peacefully demonstrating, defending their property, or going about their business, and the thousands wrongly imprisoned or detained without charge. This is the program that would be shut down by the Taylor Force Act.

The fund also supports Palestinians killed by Israel while using armed resistance – in the case of Taylor Force, a knife – against a country that has one of the most powerful, advanced militaries on earth.

It is customary for members of an oppressed population to resist. In fact, it is an internationally recognized right, as stated by the UN in 1982:

The General Assembly…reaffirms the legitimacy of the struggle of all peoples for independence….and liberation from…foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.

Palestinians have engaged in this struggle for independence from foreign occupation since 1967, only to find themselves losing more lives, land, and rights every day.

Undeniably, the killing of Taylor Force and other civilians is a war crime, and it is legitimate to abhor such a crime–no matter the nationality of the criminal. All countries that engage in war have killed large numbers of civilians–nevertheless, all governments provide for the families of soldiers who have died in the line of duty. This includes the Palestinian government. Enabling these families to put food on the table is not an endorsement of any act of terrorism but a humane, compassionate act. No country should be required to withhold such support.

It must also be said that the shutdown of this social program would likely result in the opposite of the intended outcome: it may lead to yet more resentment and extremism.

Proposed legislation that could make things better, not worse

Perhaps instead of the Taylor Force Act, Congress should bring some other bills to the floor—bills that would begin to address the real problems in Israel/Palestine.

Here are a few suggestions.

We could start with the Rachel Corrie Act, prohibiting the U.S. from giving aid to countries that practice home demolitions. Rachel Corrie was killed in 2003 as she worked in Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Rachel, clearly visible with a neon vest and bullhorn, confronted an IDF soldier on a bulldozer, about to demolish the home of a Palestinian pharmacist, when she was run over in what is widely believed to be a deliberate act.

The incident was investigated by the Israeli army and deemed “a regrettable accident” (as is often the case when Israelis are violent). An IDF spokesman explained that the group of protesters that day were “acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger.” Interestingly, peacekeepers were the danger, not the demolition team at the home of an innocent man and his family.

The Rachel Corrie Act might discourage Israel from this ongoing, illegal practice. (Over 48,000 homes and other structures have been destroyed since the occupation began in 1967.) Rachel Corrie was from Washington, so Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D) from Washington should consider sponsoring such a bill. It might encourage Israel to desist from the collective punishment practice of demolishing homes.

Another idea for legislation would be the Brian Avery Act. This bill would prohibit the U.S. from giving aid to countries that use curfews as a form of collective punishment. Brian Avery was shot in the face in an unprovoked attack by Israeli soldiers during a curfew in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Curfews often last for days or weeks, sometimes even months, with only brief respites to obtain food. Sometimes the interludes are cut short without warning, and then enforced punitively. Palestinians have often been killed or injured during curfews; many more have their education disrupted, lose their jobs, or go out of business; the health of others suffers due to lack of medication or medical treatment. In addition, curfews often include home invasions and detentions.

Brian Avery, an American, was acting as an international observer during the curfew as he, like Rachel Corrie, worked for the ISM. He was wearing a reflective vest and had his hands up, but he was shot and seriously injured. His injuries were too severe to handle in the local hospital, but Israel spent several hours in negotiation before allowing him to be transported to an Israeli hospital. Even still, the ambulance was stopped at the border for an hour.

The investigation into this incident was completely botched and Brian’s injury was deemed “an unfortunate incident” because according to IDF Colonel Dan Hefetz, ISM activists “knowingly endanger themselves.” The Brian Avery Anti-Curfew Act might stop this dangerous form of collective punishment from causing any more tragedies. Brian came to Palestine from New Mexico, so Martin Heinrich (D) and Tom Udall (D) should consider sponsoring the bill. It could save the lives, careers, businesses, and health of many Palestinians.

Another possible piece of legislation would be the Emily Henoschowitz Act, which would limit aid to countries that illegally besiege another country or practice piracy on the high seas. Emily Henoschowitz is an Israeli-American who got involved with ISM in 2010 when she found the Palestinian situation too compelling to ignore.

While Emily was in Palestine, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, loaded with humanitarian aid and construction materials for Gaza, was attacked by Israel. Nine Turkish citizens (one also an American citizen) were killed. When Emily heard about this incident, she joined in a demonstration. She was hit in the face with a tear gas canister.

Emily resents the attention she has gotten over her injury, compared to hordes of Palestinians who are injured or killed daily without notice. “I’m white, I’m Jewish, I’m an Israeli citizen and American,” she points out. “When I’m hit by tear gas there are articles, the Israeli government gets involved. When Palestinians are hit, who gives a s***?”

The root of this issue is not Emily’s presence at a demonstration or even the act of piracy against the Freedom Flotilla. The root is the siege of Gaza—now in its tenth year—that necessitated international intervention. The siege by Israel has sealed off Gaza by land, sea, and air, and destroyed the region’s economy. Combined with “wars” against the people of Gaza, contaminated water, and electricity shortages—all perpetrated by Israel—the siege is the real problem. The Emily Henoschowitz Act might cause Israel to finally pull back its brutal blockade. Emily is from Maryland, so Senators Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D) should bring some accountability by sponsoring this bill.

The Tristan Anderson Act would limit U.S. aid to countries that restrict other countries’ freedom of movement by building barriers. In 2009, Tristan Anderson was in the town of Ni’lin, at one of the weekly demonstrations against the West Bank Barrier. Most of Ni’lin’s residents get their income from agriculture, and the wall was set to cut farmers off from 1/3 of their land. Israeli Border Police rarely allow such protests occur without reprisal. ISM describes the incident: “Tristan was shot in the face from about 60 meters away, crushing his skull, blinding him in one of his eyes, and sending shards of bone penetrating deep into his brain.” This occurred after the demonstration had finished.

Investigation showed that at the time of the incident, Tristan was half a mile from the wall and had not been near it for hours. Why he was shot with a tear gas canister is not clear—no one has given an explanation. Meanwhile, eight years later, “Tristan continues to require around the clock care because of cognitive impairment and physical disability. He is also paralyzed on half his body and uses a wheelchair.”

The “good” news is that Israel has since begun using a less lethal method of crowd control in Ni’lin. It is nicknamed “skunk water,” [see this video] and Reuters paints a vivid picture of the practice: “Imagine taking a chunk of rotting corpse from a stagnant sewer, placing it in a blender and spraying the filthy liquid in your face. Your gag reflex goes off the charts and you can’t escape, because the nauseating stench persists for days.”

In an official statement that denies freedom of speech and assembly to both Palestinians and visitors, the IDF announced its regret that “foreign nationals co-operate with violent rioters against the building of the security fence, whose purpose is saving the lives of Israeli citizens. [Anyone] who illegally participates in a violent demonstration takes upon himself the risk of personal harm during the dispersal of these disturbances.” The Tristan Anderson Anti-Barrier Act could give Israel the motivation to tear down that wall and so that Palestinians can enjoy the freedom that all people deserve. Tristan is from California, and his senators, Dianne Feinstein (D) and Kamala Harris (D) ought to sponsor this bill in order to encourage the deconstruction of the Wall.

Congress might also consider a Tariq Abukhdeir Act, which would limit U.S. funding of countries that imprison and/or detain minors. Tariq Abukhdeir is an American citizen who was visiting his family in Palestine for the summer. His cousin Mohammed had been burned alive in a horrific act just a day earlier by Israeli settlers.

In the summer of 2014 Tariq, then 15 years old, was severely beaten by two Israeli police, then dragged and repeatedly kicked before being arrested for allegedly throwing stones. He adamantly denied the charge, but remained in prison for several days. In spite of a video of the assault, “showing at least two Israelis methodically delivering blows to Tariq’s limp body,” only one officer was prosecuted. He was found guilty and sentenced to 45 days of community service.

This case got wide attention because Tariq is an American citizen. At least 8,000 Palestinian children have been arrested since 2000 and placed in a military detention system “notorious for the systematic ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children.” Most are accused of throwing stones, which carries a potential maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years.

As for adults, If Americans Knew reports, “Since the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory in 1967, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been detained under Israeli military orders in the occupied Palestinian territory. This number constitutes approximately 20 percent of the total Palestinian population in the oPt and as much as 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population.”

The United States should not tolerate this excessive incarceration–especially of minors. The Tariq Abukhdeir Act might cause Israel to think twice before imprisoning children. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Tariq’s home state, need to lead the way by sponsoring this bill.

And finally, Congress should propose the Orwah Hammad Act, which would cut off funding to any country that encourages the practice of building of settlements inside other countries.  Orwah Hammad, an American citizen, was 14 years old in 2014 when he participated in a weekly demonstration in the town of Silwad. He was shot in the neck with a live bullet, and died that night. During his funeral, IDF soldiers fired rubber-coated steel bullets and tear gas.

Silwad residents have been fighting for their property and livelihood for 20 years, since Israel confiscated much of their farmland to build a settlement. This is an illegal act under international law.

International law hasn’t stopped Israel from building over 250 settlements all over the West Bank, with approximately 500,000 Israeli settlers. In addition to the built-up areas, Jewish-only roads and closed military zones—also illegal—give Israel control of fully fifty percent of the West Bank. The Orwah Hammad Anti-Settlement Act might cause Israel to rethink the wisdom of breaking yet another international law. Senators John N. Kennedy (R) and Bill Cassidy (R) of Orwah’s home state of Louisiana should sponsor the bill.

The stories of Rachel, Brian, Emily, Tristan, Tariq, and Orwah have been heard around the world because they are—or were—American citizens. A handful of European advocates for Palestinians have also been killed or injured, and have also made the papers. A number of Israelis have also tragically died or been hurt. But thousands of Palestinian children, women, and men have died; tens of thousands have been injured; hundreds of thousands live in poverty; millions are without hope and without help.

The Taylor Force Act would lead to more suffering for Palestinians, and more boldness on the part of Israel, as US complicity would only reinforce Israel’s current actions. Home demolitions, detention of minors, the West Bank barrier, settlements, curfews, and skunk water would all continue unchecked.

These illegal practices and collective punishment methods only make Palestinians angrier and more hopeless, resulting in an ever-escalating cycle of violence.

The Foreign Assistance Act, which “prohibits…assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognized human rights,” sounds like it can be applied to Israel. Why are we forking over $10 million a day, $3.5 billion a year, to the Israeli government?

The answer is in the fine print: “except when extraordinary circumstances exist which necessitate continuation of such assistance or the national interest of the United States requires such assistance.” Our leaders seem to think Israel’s continued human rights abuses are in our best interest.

How is a system of oppression and illegal occupation, that births resentment and violence, good for America? Or Israel? Or anyone?

Kathryn Shihadah is a staff writer for If Americans Knew

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , | Leave a comment

The Mad Chase for Russia-gate Prey

By Daniel Lazare | Consortium News | June 30, 2017

June is turning out to be the cruelest month for the Russia-gate industry. The pain began on June 8 when ex-FBI Director James Comey testified that a sensational New York Times article declaring that “members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials” was “in the main … not true.”

Then came Republican Karen Handel’s June 20 victory in a special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district, sparking bitter recriminations among Democrats who had hoped to ride to victory on a Russia-gate-propelled wave of resistance to Trump.

More evidence that the strategy was not working came a day later when the Harris Poll and Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies produced a devastating survey showing that 62 percent of voters see no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, while 54 percent believe the “Deep State” is trying to unseat the President by leaking classified information. The poll even showed a small bounce in Trump’s popularity, with 45 percent viewing him favorably as opposed to only 39 percent for his defeated Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The mainstream news media also came in for some lumps. On June 23, CNN retracted a story that had claimed that Congress was looking into reports that the Trump transition team met secretly with a Russian investment fund under sanction from the U.S. government. Three days later, CNN announced that three staffers responsible for the blooper – reporter and Pulitzer Prize-nominee Thomas Frank; Pulitzer-winner Eric Lichtblau, late of the New York Times ; and Lex Haris, executive editor in charge of investigations – had resigned.

Adding to CNN’s embarrassment, Project Veritas, the brainchild of rightwing provocateur James O’Keefe, released an undercover video in which a CNN producer named John Bonifield explained that the network can’t stop talking about Russia because it boosts ratings and then went on to say about Russia-gate:

“Could be bullshit, I mean it’s mostly bullshit right now.  Like, we don’t have any big giant proof. But … the leaks keep leaking, and there are so many great leaks, and it’s amazing, and I just refuse to believe that if they had something really good like that, that wouldn’t leak because we’ve been getting all these other leaks. So I just feel like they don’t really have it but they want to keep digging. And so I think the president is probably right to say, like, look, you’re witch-hunting me, like, you have no smoking gun, you have no real proof.”

Project Veritas also released an undercover video interview with CNN contributor Van Jones calling the long-running probe into possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia a “nothing-burger,” a position similar to the skepticism that Jones has displayed in his on-air comments.

True, the Bonifield video was only a medical reporter sounding off about a story that he’s not even covering and doing so to a dirty-trickster who has received financing from Trump and who, after another undercover film stunt, was ordered in 2013 to apologize and pay $100,000 to an anti-poverty worker whose privacy he had invaded.

Good for Ratings

But, still, Bonifield’s “president-is-probably-right” comment is hard to shake. Ditto Van Jones’ “nothing-burger.” Unless both quotes are completely doctored, it appears that the scuttlebutt among CNNers is that Russia-gate is a lot of hot air but no one cares because it’s sending viewership through the roof.

And if that’s what CNN thinks, then it may be what MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow thinks as she also plays the Russia card for all it’s worth. It may also be what The Washington Post has in the back of its mind even while hyperventilating about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy.”

The New York Times also got caught up in its enthusiasm to hype the Russia-gate case on June 25 when it ran a story slamming Trump for “refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks [on Democratic emails], and did it to help get him elected.”

The “17-intelligence-agency” canard has been a favorite go-to assertion for both Democrats and the mainstream news media, although it was repudiated in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan.

So, on June 29, the Times apparently found itself with no choice but to issue a correction stating: “The [Russia-hacking] assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

This point is important because, as Consortiumnews.com and other non-mainstream news outlets have argued for more than a month, it is much easier to manipulate a finding by hand-picking analysts from a small number of intelligence agencies than by seeking the judgments and dissents from all 17.

Despite the correction, the Times soon returned to its pattern of shading the truth regarding the U.S. intelligence assessment. On June 30, a Times article reported: “Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the unanimous conclusion of United States intelligence agencies that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 race.”

The Times’ phrase “unanimous conclusion” conveys the false impression that all 17 agencies were onboard without specifically saying so, although we now know that the Times’ editors are aware that only selected analysts from three agencies plus the DNI’s office were involved.

In other words, the Times cited a “unanimous conclusion of United States intelligence agencies” to mislead its readers without specifically repeating the “all-17-agencies” falsehood. This behavior suggests that the Times is so blinded by its anti-Trump animus that it wants to conceal from its readers how shaky the whole tale is.

Holes from the Start

But the problems with Russia-gate date back to the beginning. Where Watergate was about a real burglary, this one began with a cyber break-in that may or may not have occurred. In his June 8 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey conceded that the FBI never checked the DNC’s servers to confirm that they had truly been hacked.

COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN RICHARD BURR: Did you ever have access to the actual hardware that was hacked?  Or did you have to rely on a third party to provide you the data that they had collected?

COMEY: In the case of the DNC, and, I believe, the DCCC [i.e. the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee], but I’m sure the DNC, we did not have access to the devices themselves. We got relevant forensic information from a private party, a high-class entity, that had done the work.  But we didn’t get direct access.

BURR: But no content?

COMEY: Correct.

BURR: Isn’t content an important part of the forensics from a counterintelligence standpoint?

COMEY: It is, although what was briefed to me by my folks — the people who were my folks at the time – is that they had gotten the information from the private party that they needed to understand the intrusion by the spring of 2016.

The FBI apparently was confident that it could rely on such “a high-class entity” as CrowdStrike to tell it what it needed to know. Yet neither the Democratic National Committee nor CrowdStrike, the Irvine, California, cyber-security firm the DNC hired, was remotely objective.

Hillary Clinton was on record calling Putin a “bully” whose goal was “to stymie, to confront, to undermine American power” while Dmitri Aperovitch, CrowdStrike’s chief technical officer, is a Russian émigré who is both anti-Putin personally and an associate of the Atlantic Council, a pro-Clinton/anti-Russian think tank that is funded by the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and the Ukrainian World Congress. The Atlantic Council is one of the most anti-Russian voices in Washington.

So, an anti-Putin DNC hired an anti-Putin security specialist, who, to absolutely no one’s surprise, “immediately” determined that the break-in was the work of hackers “closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.”

Comey’s trust in CrowdStrike was akin to cops trusting a private eye not only to investigate a murder, but to determine if it even occurred. Yet the mainstream media’s pack journalists saw no reason to question the FBI because doing so would not accord with an anti-Trump bias so pronounced that even journalism profs have begun to notice.

Doubts about CrowdStrike

Since CrowdStrike issued its findings, it has come under wide-ranging criticism. Cyber experts have called its analysis inconsistent because while praising the alleged hackers to the skies (“our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis”), CrowdStrike says it was able to uncover their identity because they made kindergarten-level mistakes, most notably uploading documents in a Russian-language format under the name “Felix Edmundovich,” a reference to Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police.

“Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker,” wisecracked cyber-skeptic Jeffrey Carr.

Others noted how easy it is for even novice hackers to leave a false trail. In Seattle, cyber-sleuths Mark Maunder and Rob McMahon of Wordfence, makers of a popular computer-security program, discovered that “malware” found in the DNC was an early version of a publicly available program developed in the Ukraine – which was strange, they said, because one would expect Russian intelligence to develop its own tools or use ones that were more up to date.

But even if the malware was Russian, experts pointed out that its use in this instance no more implicates Russian intelligence than the use of an Uzi in a bank robbery implicates Mossad.

Other loose threads appeared. In January, Carr poured cold water on a subsequent CrowdStrike report charging that pro-Russian separatists had used similar malware to zero in on pro-government artillery units in the eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian ministry of defense and the London think tank from which CrowdStrike obtained much of its data agreed that the company didn’t know what it was talking about. But if CrowdStrike was wrong about the Ukraine case, how could everyone be sure it was right about the DNC?

In March, Wikileaks went public with its “Vault 7” findings showing, among other things, that the CIA has developed sophisticated software in order to scatter false clues – which inevitably led to dark mutterings that maybe the agency had hacked the DNC itself in order to blame it on the Russians.

Finally, although Wikileaks policy is never to comment on its sources, Julian Assange, the group’s founder, decided to make an exception.

“The Clinton camp has been able to project a neo-McCarthyist hysteria that Russia is responsible for everything,” he told journalist John Pilger in November. “Hillary Clinton has stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That’s false – we can say that the Russian government is not the source.”

Craig Murray, an ex-British diplomat who is a Wikileaks adviser, disclosed that he personally flew to Washington to meet with a person who was either the original source or an associate of the source. Murray said the motive for the leak was “disgust at the corruption of the Clinton Foundation and the tilting of the primary election playing field against Bernie Sanders.”

Conceivably, such contacts could have been cutouts to conceal from WikiLeaks the actual sources. Still, Wikileaks’ record of veracity should be enough to give anyone pause. Yet the press either ignored the WikiLeaks comments or, in the case of The Washington Post, struggled to prove that WikiLeaks was lying.

Unstable Foundation

The stories that have been built upon this unstable foundation have proved shaky, too. In March, the Times published a front-page exposé asserting that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort “had regular communications with his longtime associate – a former Russian military translator in Kiev who has been investigated in Ukraine on suspicion of being a Russian intelligence agent.” But if the man was merely a suspected spy as opposed to a convicted one, then what’s the problem?

The article also noted that Jason Greenblatt, a former Trump lawyer who is now a special White House representative for international negotiations, met last summer with Rabbi Berel Lazar, “the chief rabbi of Russia and an ally of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin.” But an Orthodox Jew paying a call on Russia’s chief rabbi is hardly extraordinary. Neither is the fact that the rabbi is a Putin ally since Putin enjoys broad support in the Russian Jewish community.

In April, the Times published another innuendo-laden front-page story about businessman Carter Page whose July 2016 trip to Moscow proved to be “a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump’s campaign.”

Page’s sins chiefly consist of lecturing at a Moscow academic institute about U.S.-Russian relations in terms that The New York Times believed “echoed the position of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia” and, on another occasion, meeting with a suspected Russian intelligence agent in New York.

“There is no evidence that Mr. Page knew the man was an intelligence officer,” the article added. So is it now a crime to talk with a Russian or some other foreign national who, unbeknownst to you, may turn out to be an intelligence agent?

Then there is poor Mike Flynn, driven out as national security adviser after just 24 days in office for allegedly misrepresenting conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – exchanges during the Trump transition that supposedly exposed him to the possibility of Russian blackmail although U.S. intelligence was monitoring the talks and therefore knew their exact contents. And, since the Russians no doubt assumed as much, it’s hard to see what they could have blackmailed him with. [See Consortiumnews.com’sTurning Gen. Flynn into Road Kill.”]

Yet the mainstream media eagerly gobbled up this blackmail possibility while presenting with a straight face the claim by Obama holdovers at the Justice Department that the Flynn-Kislyak conversations might have violated the 1799 Logan Act, an ancient relic that has never been used to prosecute anyone in its entire two-century history.

So, if the scandal is looking increasingly threadbare now, could the reason be that there was little or nothing to it when it was first announced during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign?

Although it’s impossible to say what evidence might eventually emerge, Russia-gate is looking more and more like a Democratic version of Benghazi, a pseudo-scandal that no one could ever figure out but which wound up making Hillary Clinton look like a persecuted hero and the Republicans seem like obsessed idiots.

As much as that epic inquiry turned out to be mostly a witch-hunt, Americans are beginning to sense the same about Washington’s latest game of “gotcha.”

The United States is still a democracy in some vague sense of the word, and “We the People” are losing patience with subterranean maneuvers on the part of the Democrats, the neoconservatives, and the intelligence agencies seeking to reverse a presidential election.

Like Benghazi or possibly even the Birthergate scam about President Obama’s Kenyan birthplace, the whole convoluted Russia-gate tale grows stranger by the day.


Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , | Leave a comment

‘Forcing us to give up Russian gas to sell own is unacceptable’ – German FM blasts US sanctions bill

RT | June 30, 2017

A US bill threatening to sanction European companies taking part in construction of a Russian pipeline is seen as unacceptable in Berlin, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, especially if it actually aims to push America’s own gas exports.

“We deem it absolutely unacceptable when a bill demands that Europeans give up on Russian gas so that they could sell American instead, at a much higher price,” Gabriel said in Krasnodar, Russia, on Thursday as cited by Handelsblatt daily.

Gabriel was referring to new sanctions passed by the US Senate in mid-June. Initially outlined as an amendment to a bill imposing sanctions against Iran, the Russian part of the document threatens penalties for companies doing business with Russian oil and gas firms, possibly affecting the participation of BASF, Shell, Engie, OMV, Wintershall and Uniper in the Nord Stream 2 project.

It also states clearly that US exports are on the agenda.

“The United States government should prioritize the export of United States energy resources in order to create American jobs, help United States allies and partners, and strengthen United States foreign policy,” the bill says, as cited by Bloomberg.

The amendment was approved by the US Senate in mid-June by a majority of 98 to two, but still requires approval by the House of Representatives and the signature of the US president.

The move caused a wave of indignation in the EU and particularly in Germany, which is a prime beneficiary of Nord Stream 2. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also called the bill a “peculiar move” while Gabriel released a statement saying that “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, and not the United States of America!”

“Sanctions as a political instrument should not be linked to economic interests,” the statement read, adding “the actual goal” of the bill is “to provide jobs for the US gas and oil industry.”

Foreign Minister Gabriel, who has been visiting Russia for the third time since his appointment in February, also said on Thursday that Berlin was determined “to open a new, positive chapter in the history of our relations,” as quoted by RIA Novosti.

“We have differences in terms of political values, but we don’t have to abandon cooperation between our societies as it is important to establish better relations on a societal level,” he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with German Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel © Sergey Guneev / Sputnik

President Vladimir Putin, who received the German diplomat later on Thursday, said Russia also wanted to do its part to strengthen ties between Moscow and Berlin. “Our relations are developing despite certain difficulties,” Putin said in Moscow, praising “positive trends” in the dialogue.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | 2 Comments

WaPost Wipes Out 1913 Record Temperature

By Paul Homewood | Not A Lot Of People Know That | June 30, 2017

The history revisers are at it again!

From The Washington Post :

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A city in southwest Iran posted the country’s hottest temperature ever recorded Thursday afternoon, and may have tied the world record for the most extreme high temperature.

Etienne Kapikian, a forecaster at French meteorological agency MeteoFrance, posted to Twitter that the city of Ahvaz soared to “53.7°C” (128.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Kapikian said the temperature is a “new absolute national record of reliable Iranian heat” and that it was the hottest temperature ever recorded in June over mainland Asia. Iran’s previous hottest temperature was 127.4.

If that 129.2 degrees reading is accurate, it would arguably tie the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth in modern times.

Christopher Burt, a weather historian for Weather Underground, has exhaustively analyzed world temperature extremes and determined the 129.2 degree readings posted in Mitribah, Kuwait on July 21, 2016, and Death Valley, Calif., on June 30, 2013, are the hottest credible temperature measurements that exist in modern records.

It has long been accepted that the highest temperature recorded on Earth was 134F, set at Greenland Ranch, Death Valley in California, way back in 1913. But Weather Underground’s Chris Burt has now taken it upon himself to write that out of the records, as being “essentially not possible”.

Perhaps somebody might tell the real experts at NOAA’s State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC). They collate all record temperature data for each state.

According to the SCEC website:

The SCEC will compile a list of the extant records listed in Table 1 for each state of the United States. These records will be reviewed to determine their validity and, if found to be acceptable, will be recommended to the NCEI Director for inclusion in the statewide records data set. As of April, 2010 NCEI has reviewed and updated the statewide extremes tables for all-time maximum and minimum temperature, 24-hr precipitation and snowfall, and all-time greatest snow depth.

After reviewing its validity, the SCEC is perfectly happy that the Greenland Ranch still stands.

image

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/scec/records

Regardless of the Death Valley figure, just how meaningful is this new, supposed record in Iran?

How long, for instance, have temperatures been measured there? We have seen in the UK how “record temperatures” have been gleefully declared by the Met Office at stations, such as Gravesend and Faversham, which turn out to only have records since the 1990s.

Nobody knows whether higher temperatures have actually occurred there, even in the recent past.

We also learn from the WaPost that Ahvaz, where the temperature was set, is a city of 1.1 million, so the Urban Heat Island effect will be massive.

But none of this will stop the usual fraudsters claiming that this is evidence of global warming.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | | 4 Comments

On the mainstream media coverage of nuclear war risks and nuclear abolition

By Jan Oberg | Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research | June 30, 2017

You’re probably an avid consumer of news and reports in one or more daily media – local, national or global. You want to be well-informed and say interesting things when you meet friends and colleagues.

And you certainly don’t want to find out that you’ve been taken for a ride by fake news, half-truths, bias or omissions by media that you trusted because you thought you could.

Now ask yourself whether you remember to have seen one or more of these essentially important initiatives and reports recently, all pertaining to nuclear weapons, the risk of nuclear war and advocacy of nuclear abolition:

1) That a large majority of UN members have drafted a treaty that shall declare nuclear weapons illegal, once and for all?
If not, go here and enlighten yourself on one of the most constructive and visionary initiatives in today’s otherwise gloomy world situation.

2) That a conference is taking place these very days about that goal and its process?
If not, go here.

3) That a scary new film shows why Americans should be very nervous about nuclear arsenals?
If not, go here.

4) That the Marshall Islands filed a lawsuit against all 9 nuclear weapons states for failing to comply with their international legal obligations?
If not, go here and see how the smallest actor of all took responsibility on behalf of 7 billion people.

5) That the Nuclear Crisis Group advocates – just a couple of days ago – that steps be taken urgently to de-escalate nuclear flash points such as NATO-Russia and North Korea?
It consists of predominantly former nuclear weapons commanders, ambassadors and scholars, mostly American
If not, go herethis report has not be mention by one single mainstream/make-believe media!

6) That there is an open letter written to Trump and Putin, meeting in Hamburg soon, urging them to declare that a nuclear war can’t be won and must never be fought and to cooperate on a series of other issues?
If not, go here – they are politicians, ministers and ambassadors from the US, Russia, Germany and England.

How many of these had you any knowledge about?

How prominently do you think they were featured if you saw them in the mainstream media – given their importance for the very survival of humankind?

If there were more than one or two you had never heard about, consider this:

They all involve NATO countries which possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. NATO is an alliance that is built on the right to use nuclear weapons.

There has never been a referendum about the desirability of nuclear weapons in any of the countries – also not those who call themselves democracies – that have acquired nuclear weapons. One must assume the reason to be that most normal citizens would not like to be “defended” by nuclear weapons.

It’s a tiny minority of countries, most of them NATO members who have nuclear arsenals. Many more countries have decided to never acquire nuclear weapons.

Let’s say that there are about 100 people in each of the nuclear countries who decide on whether or not to use nuclear weapons in a given situation – thus around 1000 people. It’s the largest concentration of power ever in human history – a God-like power to decide whether or not human beings worldwide shall continue to exist, or not.

In short, non-constituted, dictatorial and non-democratic. No one should be given the power to decide about the existence or destruction of 7 billion people. No political goal can justify it.

And finally ask yourself: Why do most of these so-called ‘leading’ media systematically ignore these issues today? Why is it that any sex scandal or details of the Cosby trial is more important? What should be our priorities?

Would it not be natural for them to provide public education and offer a fair hearing of the pros and cons of nuclear weapons and the whole mental and societal construction underlying these weapons – the nuclearism of our times?

Admittedly, I’ve got a nasty hunch: If citizens around the world were given free press balanced information instead of being kept in the dark, there would be a much stronger worldwide movement for the abolition of each and every nuclear device anywhere.

Further, thanks to humanity’s civilisational process these Evil weapons would be condemned and/or thrown on the heap of history as other evil constructs: slavery, cannibalism, absolute monarchy, dictatorships, child labour, pedophilia – and we would begin to question whether the exact same should not be done to non-nuclear weapons and wars too.

In the name of ethics, humanity, common sense and civilisation. The US $100 billion which are spent annually on nuclear weapons systems alone could be allocated to alleviating human suffering.

Top editors of the ‘leading’ media look to what they believe would sell on the – shrinking – market. If they served humanity’s 7 billion instead of about 1000 masters of (nuclear) war they might well get more readers and sell more subscriptions and be seen by citizens as a force for the common good, not an integral part of MIMAC – the Military-Industrial-MEDIA-Academic Complex – that runs all these wars.

Yes, I know I’m just using the main argument of the Zeitgeist: the market and what will sell and yield a profit to shareholders.

If media people would think in terms of common sense, ethics and civil courage too and give us diverse, balanced and critical coverage of nuclear war risks, so much the better! Until then, bless the struggling independent truth-seeking media on the Internet!

Make-believe coverage of the feasibility or legitimacy of nuclear weapons and war as well as omissions of the nuclear facts of our daily lives contributes to increasing that very risk – the risk of the unthinkable: the end of humanity and the world as we know it.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

Germany approves bill to fine social media up to €50mn over online hate speech, fake news

RT | June 30, 2017

The German parliament has voted to fine social media networks up to €50 million ($56 million) if they fail to remove hateful content or fake news. The networks will be given 24 hours to block or delete any inappropriate content.

“Freedom of speech ends where criminal law begins,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas said, adding that the measure “end[s] the internet law of the jungle.”

The law gives social media 24 hours to remove or block the illegal content. If a case is more complicated, the platform will be given a week to deal with it. The networks also obliged to report back to those who filed the complaint about the case details and how they dealt with it.

The measure won’t be imposed after only one violation, but only after a company systematically refuses to delete or block illegal content, the bill suggests.

The companies will have to publish a report every six months, describing in detail how they have dealt with complaints of hate speech on their platforms, the bill suggests.

According to Maas, who proposed the bill back in March, the number of hate crimes in Germany jumped by over 300 percent in the last two years.

“This law is the logical next step for effectively tackling hate speech since all voluntary agreements with the platform providers have been virtually unsuccessful,” the Central Council of Jews in Germany said, praising the measure, as cited by Reuters.

However, the companies affected, including Facebook, did not welcome the bill, saying it could crack down on free speech.

“This law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important social problem,” a Facebook statement said.

“We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure safety for the people on our platform.”

A Facebook spokesperson told RT in an emailed statement that the company has always viewed hate speech as a serious issue, but does not believe that the German law can “improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem.”

“We share the goal of the German government to fight hate speech. We have been working hard on this problem and have made substantial progress in removing illegal content,” the statement read.

Facebook said it was adding 3,000 people to its community operations team, on top of the 4,500 it already has, and was “building better tools to keep our community safe.”

“We believe the best solutions will be found when government, civil society and industry work together and that this law as it stands now will not improve efforts to tackle this important societal problem. We feel that the lack of scrutiny and consultation do not do justice to the importance of the subject,” it added.

In the “background points” provided with the statement, Facebook said that the law was criticized by legal experts for being rushed through parliament despite contradicting the German constitution and EU laws.

According to the company, the legislation would allow deleting “content that is not clearly illegal” and shift complex legal decision-making from the government to tech firms.

In May Reporters Without Borders said the group “fears censorship resulting from German law on online hate content.”

“RSF opposes this bill, which would just contribute to the trend to privatize censorship by delegating the duties of judges to commercial online platforms and making them decide where or not content should be deleted, as if the Internet giants can replace independent and impartial courts,” said Elodie Vialle, the head of RSF’s Journalism and Technology desk.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , | 1 Comment

7 Dead as Venezuela Violence Escalates

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim and Lucas Koerner – Venezuelanalysis – June 29, 2017

Seven people have died across Venezuela over the past 48 hours, as violent anti-government protests continue nationwide.

The latest deaths include Isael Macadan Aquino, who was shot while participating in a protest in Anzoategui. Details of the shooting remain unclear, though local media has reported the protest may have devolved into looting, and authorities have stated Aquino is believed to have been shot during an “irregular situation” inside a commercial property. Two men have been arrested in connection to the shooting, though authorities are yet to suggest a motive.

Meanwhile in Venezuela’s second largest city of Maracaibo, protester Luigin Paz (20) died Wednesday at an opposition barricade when, according to the Public Prosecution (MP), he was “run over by a tanker truck”. Further details have yet to be made public.

In a separate incident in Maracaibo that same day, an unnamed motorcyclist was also fatally run over by a truck at an opposition barricade.

The death occured when the truck came under attack by opposition protesters, according to local press reports.

“We came across the barricade .. and those who had blocked the way began throwing stones at us to loot the truck and when we went in reverse, we hit the motorcycle,” said Jose Bravo, a passenger in the truck.

“[The motorcyclist] lay injured on the road and then they threw Molotov cocktails at us and set the truck on fire. The boy burned to death and my colleague and I were rescued,” Bravo told reporters.

According to Emergency Services Director Jorge Galindo, Bravo suffered burns on 95 percent of his body and is currently hospitalized undergoing treatment.

A fourth death was also publicly announced in Caracas late Tuesday, when protester Jhonatan Jose Zavatti Serrano died of gunshot wounds sustained the day before. According to the MP, Zavatti was walking in Petare Monday evening when he came across a protest and was shot in the head. A district attorney has been dispatched to investigate.

A further death has been confirmed in the north-central state of Aragua. Alfredo Figuera (18) was walking down a street in Maracay Monday afternoon when he passed a demonstration and was hit in the head by a bullet allegedly fired by two suspects on a motorcycle, the MP has reported. The youth died in the hospital on Thursday. Maracay has been the scene of heavy anti-government rioting in recent days, which on Monday alone saw the looting of 68 businesses as well as attacks on public institutions and left-wing political party offices.

Two more deaths have also been reported in Venezuelan media, but haven’t been confirmed by authorities. These include Roberto Duran, who was allegedly killed during violence at a protest in Lara state, and Victor Betancourt in Sucre. The circumstances of Betancourt’s death remain fiercely disputed, with opposition supporters claiming he was killed during a protest, while at least one local journalist has suggested he may have been involved in a traffic incident while returning from buying bread.

The latest deaths bring the overall death toll in 13 weeks of violent anti-government protests to at least 92, including 13 dead at the hands of authorities and 24 attributable to opposition political violence.

More unrest has also been reported in Caracas, with the opposition-controlled National Assembly (AN) allegedly coming under attack late Tuesday. Opposition figures have accused government supporters of shooting fireworks at the assembly building, and there were reports of improvised explosives being used outside. Amid the chaos,  a video went viral on social media of a military officer arguing with AN head and opposition leader Julio Borges. The argument ended with the National Guard’s Colonel Vladimir Lugo shoving an enraged Borges out of the room.

The latest unrest came in the wake of a high profile terrorist attack on Venezuela’s Supreme Court and the offices of the Ministry of Justice. Carried out by a rogue police officer, the assailant used a stolen helicopter to drop grenades and fire at government buildings. The helicopter was found abandoned in an isolated region of Vargas state, though the pilot remains at large.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

More Reasons Have Emerged To Doubt The Official Narrative About Syria

By Caitlin Johnstone | Medium | June 25, 2017

The highly decorated Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh is back again, throwing yet another monkey wrench in the propaganda narratives of the US war machine.

Hersh’s latest piece, titled “Trump’s Red Line”, was published in the German publication Welt am Sonntag, reportedly after London Review of Books backed out for fear that it would make them “vulnerable to criticism for seeming to take the view of the Syrian and Russian governments”. LRB’s decision is understandable in light of today’s fact-free McCarthyist feeding frenzy given the criticism they’d already received from establishment loyalists for publishing Hersh’s explosive 2013 report “Whose Sarin?”, which attacked establishment allegations of Assad having used chemical weapons that year. Their decision points straight at the invisible state censorship that goes on within the editorial boards of every western outlet and the self-censorship that goes on in the minds of every western journalist when confronted with these uncomfortable and seemingly unreportable truths. The ruling class can make life very difficult for you if you don’t sing their propaganda song.

Hersh’s central source, whom Welt reportedly was able to contact and confirm the veracity of, describes a US president hell bent on attacking Syria regardless of facts, evidence, logic, or what he was being told by his own advisors. Hersh writes that it was known within defense and intelligence agencies that there was not sufficient intel to justify such an attack, breaking down some of the many plot holes in the establishment narrative about the alleged sarin gas strike on civilians in the Idlib province on April 4, but there was no dissuading Trump from an attack which ultimately manifested on April 6 in the form of a cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase.

Asked by Welt if government lies still infuriate him as much as they did in the early days of his career, Hersh replied,

“It is more than being upset about lying — it’s about the reluctance of us in the press to hold the men and women who run the world’s governments to the highest possible standards. We have a President in America today who lies repeatedly about the most meaningless of information, but he must learn that he cannot lie about the intelligence relied upon before authorizing an act of war. There are those in the Trump administration that understand this, which is why I learned the information I did. If this story creates even a few moments of regret in the white house it will have served a very high purpose.”

We can all be forgiven at this point, I think, for indulging in a little feigned astonishment at the fact that a damning report on some deeply reprehensible behavior by Donald Trump has been forced to seek publication in Germany instead of at the Washington Post or the New York Times. The story has everything these outlets have become known for since November: it makes Trump look evil, it hints at the possibility of a hidden conspiracy that the US public is not privy to, its assertions are reportedly based on the testimony of anonymous insiders, and it describes conflict and a lack of cohesion within the administration. Oh, oops, except this one contains highly critical information about a despicable act of war, something these mainstream outlets have consistently stumped for and which they unequivocally applauded on April 6.

Predictably, there was an instant attack on this article from the intensely shady neocon propaganda outlet Bellingcat. You may remember Bellingcat as the outlet which has defended the known Al Qaeda propaganda network White Helmets and made the absolutely pathetic and indefensible argument that Bana Alabed is a perfectly legitimate Twitter account and not the blatant psy-op that it unquestionably is.

Bellingcat is run by a man named Eliot Higgins, who is thoroughly exposed for the establishment propagandist he is in this excellent piece by Graham Phillips. Higgins is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, an extremely suspicious virulently anti-Kremlin think tank which is funded by both Saudis and a Ukrainian billionaire, which Paul Craig Roberts has labeled “the marketing arm of the military-security complex”. You may also remember the Atlantic Council as the home of the chief technical director of CrowdStrike, the cyber security firm which to this day is the only organization which has ever directly examined the servers alleged to have been hacked by Russia.

So things are already being shaken up a bit. It is absolutely infuriating that a mere 14 years after the US and coalition forces perpetrated the evil and unforgivable invasion of Iraq based on lies there is so little public skepticism of the narratives being promoted about the US war machine’s next target. I’m glad there are still a few real journalists like Seymour Hersh out there trying to get people asking the questions they should be asking.

Here’s a hyperlink to Hersh’s article again, here’s a link to Welt’s article about their involvement in its publication, and here’s a link to a chat protocol Hersh provided of a security advisor and an active American soldier on duty at a key base near the Syria strikes.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Militarism | , | 2 Comments

BMD Program in Europe and Asia Undermines US and Allies’ Security

By Peter KORZUN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 30.06.2017

The US is pursuing an ambitious space policy to include vast missile defense plans. True, the existing systems may not be the most effective means to counter the ballistic missiles, but the United States is working hard to achieve technological breakthroughs to make missile defenses more reliable. Moreover, a US conventional Prompt Global Strike could hypothetically provide the potential capability for a disarming first strike against Russia to downgrade its retaliatory strike potential successfully neutralized by enhanced ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems.

On June 21, a US and Japanese missile test conducted in Hawaii missed its target. The firing involved a sea-based SM-3 Block IIA missile which is built for the Aegis ballistic missile defense system (BMD) destined to shoot down medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. This was the missile’s second intercept test. The first, which took place in February, was a success. The event goes to show that the US and its allies continue to apply intensive efforts to create BMD potential in the proximity of Russian borders.

All in all, the US Navy has 22 guided-missile cruisers and 62 guided-missile destroyers equipped with the Aegis system. Japan has six Aegis destroyers with plans for more. South Korea also operates Aegis-equipped destroyers.

The Aegis system operates similar to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) system which has been partially deployed in South Korea. Each THAAD unit consists of six truck-mounted launchers, 49 interceptors, a fire control and communications unit, and AN/TPY-2 radar. The X-band radar can spot missile as far as 2,000 km with forward-based mode and 600 km with terminal mode. It can be changed into the radar with a much longer detectable range.

It should be taken into consideration that the THAAD deployed in South Korea will be added to the THAAD battery deployed on Guam, two AN/TPY-2 radars deployed in Japan (at Shariki and Kyogamisaki), space-based assets, plus a range of ship-borne radars and larger land-based radars in other parts of the Pacific theatre. The deployment in South Korea might not guarantee the interception of ICBMs as they move fast while sophisticated penetration-aids confuse missile interceptors but it will greatly improve early tracking of Russian and Chinese missiles, depending on their launch point.

The first operational deployment of the system was to Hawaii in 2009, followed by Guam in 2013 and there are currently five THAAD batteries worldwide, including in the United Arab Emirates. The THAAD system has been deployed in South Korea on the basis of military-to-military agreement without the knowledge of the president and parliament.

Russia and China see the US BMD systems in the region as destabilizing. Last year, Russia warned that the US deployment of an advanced missile defense system in South Korea would have «irreparable consequences». Speaking at an economic forum in St Petersburg (June 1-3, 2017), Russian President Vladimir Putin said, «What is happening is a very serious and alarming process. In Alaska, and now in South Korea, elements of the anti-missile defense system are emerging. Should we just stand idly by and watch this? Of course not. We are thinking about how to respond to these challenges. This is a challenge for us». «This destroys the strategic balance in the world», he added.

Russia and China have been saying that the deployment is unnecessary and would tip the balance of power in the Pacific towards the United States. Beijing sees THAAD as a serious threat. For example, the US-deployed system would potentially be able to intercept Chinese intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Beijing also believes the radar deployed with THAAD is able to see far into its territory. It will give Washington the potential to track China’s military capabilities. The deployment of the AN/TPY-2 radar system lays down the basis for regional BMD upgrade and expansion to counter Russian and Chinese strategic nuclear potentials.

Japan is also considering the option of deploying THAAD. It is reasonable to expect Russia and China to develop technology that would render THAAD useless; thus the beginnings of an arms race. The deployment of THAAD to South Korea could be the catalyst that sets the United States and Russia/China) on a collision course.

In late May, a Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, system located at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California successfully intercepted a mock intercontinental ballistic missile target. In May, a group of senators introduced a bipartisan bill that seeks to bolster homeland missile defense and sharply increase the number of GMD interceptors.

In May, 2016, the Aegis Ashore system in Deveselu, a US naval support facility in southern Romania, was operationally certified. The land-based BMD system is designed to detect, track, engage, and destroy ballistic missiles in flight outside the atmosphere. It is equipped with the same phased-array SPY-1 radars and Aegis Combat Systems as are installed on many of the US Navy’s surface ships. The SM-3 Block IB missile has a range of up to 1,200 km. It has a robust capability against medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The Deveselu site comprises three batteries (24 missiles) of SM-3 Block IB interceptors. After the system is ramped up, it’s easy to increase the number of missile launchers.

In response, the Russian Ministry of Defense has taken a decision to deploy a squadron of long-range, supersonic bombers Tu-22М3 with variable sweep wing to Crimea with the option of eventually sending an entire regiment to the peninsula in response to Eastern European NATO allies’ reinforcement plans.

The ground-based missile defense site is an element of a larger European shield and US global ballistic missile defense effort to be expanded to cover Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, Japan and South Korea. Another Aegis Ashore system based in the missile defense site located at Redzikowo, Poland, near the Baltic Sea is to become operational next year. The European Interceptor Site (EIS) in Poland will consist of 24 SM-3Block IIA middle range missile interceptors.

The missile defense system in Europe also includes a radar in Turkey, a command center in Ramstein, Germany and interceptor ships. An early warning radar station in Malatya, Turkey, has been in service since 2012. The operational center became active the same year. Four missile defense-capable Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers were deployed to Rota, Spain, in 2015 for rotational patrols in the Mediterranean.

The construction of sophisticated new radar system known as Globus 3 in Vardø, Norway, has already been launched. The site is an element of the US-led NATO BMD. The radar located in Svalbard (the Arctic) can also be used by US military for missile defense purposes. The radar is installed in violation of the 1925 treaty which states that Svalbard has a demilitarized status.

The North Korean threat in the Asia Pacific and a threat from Iran for NATO European allies are used as pretexts for efforts aimed at reducing Russia’s capability to respond in case it comes under a nuclear attack. The Iranian program is under international control now, leaving NATO with no explanation for proceeding with its BMD plans.

The Aegis Ashore systems installed in Europe use the naval Mk-41 launching system, which is capable of firing long-range cruise missiles. The Aegis Ashore launchpad is practically identical to a system used aboard Aegis warships that is capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles. This is an outright violation of the INF Treaty, banning land-based cruise and medium-range missiles with a range from 300 to 3,400 miles. This fact has been emphasized by Russia’s officials.

The short flight time of these missiles diminished to mere minutes provides little time to decide whether to launch a second strike, raising the risks of mishaps. Military leaders are prone to believe that if the enemy’s intentions are unclear they should be interpreted as aggressive (otherwise, they could be late to respond). That leaves the military alone in a vicious spiral of inevitable decisions.

Russia has put forward a number of proposals related to cooperation with NATO in the field of missile defense making conditional the right of joint decision over the configuration and parameters of the system, as well as international legal guarantees that the system will not undermine Russia’s nuclear potential, to no avail. It has also come up with the initiative on introduction of sectoral missile defense, in which the Russian armed forces would take responsibility for the defence of NATO’s eastern region. All the proposals have been rejected.

The decision to continue with BMD plans is fraught with very serious consequences. The Aegis Ashore systems pose a threat to Russia’s key infrastructure installations located in the western part of the country. Russia has no choice but to respond in kind. Missile defenses provide a false sense of security, as they invite more tensions with Russia – which has recently placed Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad to target the Polish site. The Russian military has also placed Bastion missile launchers in Kaliningrad, the exclave bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania. This could threaten the prospective NATO BMD site in Poland. Russia could respond to the BMD plans by increasing its cyber weapons potential to target BMD sites as well spurring its efforts to create space-based anti-missile systems. Russia also could increase the number of fake missiles it has coming down on targets so more interceptors go to the wrong missile. And the tactical aviation is in high readiness to knock out the NATO BMD installations.

The United States abandoned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 to greatly complicate further arms control talks. The document had been the cornerstone of the strategic weapon limitation process for the previous thirty years. The countries which host BMD sites, such as Romania, Poland, South Korea and, if the plans go through, Japan automatically become targets for Russia’s military.

The BMD shield which the United States has activated in Europe and is activating in Asia is a step to a new arms race. The BMD deployment dashes hopes for achieving progress in nuclear disarmament talks at a time the arms control regime is disintegrating. Russian officials say there is no »political logic and common sense in proposals ‘to disarm’ in conditions when the current US administration has been making concerted effort to undermine the defense and the military-industrial potential of Russia through its sanctions policy for a long time».

The BMD plans have become a major obstacle on the way of reviving the arms control dialogue between the US and Russia. The administration will have to address Russia’s deep concerns about US missile defense in Europe and elsewhere if it believes the arms control regime to be important enough to get the dialogue out of the present deadlock. According to Steven Pifer from the Brookings Institution, «A future U.S. administration interested in a treaty providing for further cuts in strategic nuclear forces may find that it can go no further if it is not prepared to negotiate a treaty on missile defense».

The US allies who host the systems should realize that such moves greatly reduce their security, turning them into the first strike targets for the Russian military. This BMD is a burning issue to be immediately addressed at the round table. Instead, the United States is stubbornly intensifying efforts to boost its BMD capabilities in an attempt to intimidate Russia. The result could be quite the opposite than expected – the policy would undermine the security of the United States and its allies.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

OPCW’s Syrian Sarin Gas Report Based on Doubtful Data – Russian Foreign Ministry

Sputnik – 30.06.2017

MOSCOW – Russia believes the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report on the use of a nerve agent in Syria last spring is based on doubtful data, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday.

The OPCW said earlier in the day that its fact-finding mission had established the use of sarin in the April 4 incident in Khan Sheikhoun in the province of Idlib.

“Unfortunately, we are forced to state on the first reading of the document that its conclusions are still based on very doubtful data,” the Russian ministry’s information and press department said.

It noted that the OPCW’s data was “obtained from the same opposition and the same notorious NGOs of the White Helmet type, and not at the site of the tragedy but in a certain ‘neighboring country’.”

“Therefore, it is not surprising that the content of the OPCW special mission’s report is largely biased, suggesting the presence of a political order in this structure’s activity,” the ministry said.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | Leave a comment

NORTH KOREA’S FAST TRACK MISSILE DEVELOPMENT: How Far It’s Come and Why it Has the U.S. on Edge

By Gregory Elich | Zoom In Korea | June 29, 2017

Since President Trump took office, North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile tests, triggering a wave of condemnation by U.S. media and political figures. The reaction contains more than an element of fear-mongering, and it is sometimes implied that once North Korea has an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), it is liable to launch an unprovoked attack on the U.S. mainland.

What tends to be lacking in such reports is any sense of sober reflection, and much confusion is sown concerning the actual state of North Korea’s program. This article takes a closer look at North Korea’s recent missile launches and argues that they pose a threat–not to the safety of the U.S. population, as the corporate media claim, but to the United States’ strategic calculus in the region.

Pukguksong-2

First tested on February 11, the Pukguksong-2 is a medium-range ballistic missile based on the design of the submarine-launched Pukguksong -1. The main advantage the Pukguksong-2 has over North Korea’s other land-based ballistic missiles is that it relies on solid fuel. For that reason, the Pukguksong-2 is far more mobile and survivable than North Korea’s other medium-range missiles that outperform it. The other missiles are liquid-fueled and therefore hampered by the need to be accompanied by tanker trucks while on the move. Their necessity of a lengthy fueling process before launch makes them vulnerable to attack.

Flying on a nearly vertical trajectory, the Pukguksong-2 travelled 500 kilometers and soared to an apogee of 550 kilometers. That translates into a range of 1,200 kilometers, were the missile to be fired at a regular trajectory using the same payload.

One of the reasons for the unusually steep trajectory of the test was so that technicians would be within technical monitoring range to gather data on performance.  The unusual flight path may have also been undertaken, as North Korea indicates, to avoid the political sensitivities of overflying Japan.

The missile was again tested on May 21 and followed a trajectory similar to the first. Despite North Korea’s claim that the missile should go into mass production, more testing is needed to solidify reliability and accuracy. It does not appear that the reentry vehicle was tested on this occasion, as it lacked the fins or thrusters necessary for terminal guidance capability. According to missile expert John Schilling, it “will likely take at least five years” for the Pukguksong-2 to become “the mainstay of North Korea’s strategic missile force, and even then, only in a first-generation version with a non-maneuvering warhead.”

The differing performance of the two tests indicates that there are unmet challenges in the engine manufacturing process so that it can produce consistent results.

Hwasong-12

After three failed launches in April of this year, the intermediate-range Hwasong-12 finally achieved success on May 14. Unlike the Pukguksong-2, this missile is liquid fueled.  By all accounts, the performance of the Hwasong-12 demonstrated a significant technological advance over any of North Korea’s other missiles. In the last test, the missile flew at a steep 85-degree angle and achieved a height of 2,111 kilometers. It is calculated that a normal trajectory would give the missile a range of 4,500 kilometers, making it capable of striking the U.S. strategic bomber force in Guam.

More importantly, this marked North Korea’s first successful test of a reentry vehicle. A nuclear warhead must be able to withstand the enormous heat generated from reentering the earth’s atmosphere for it to reach its target. Without that capability, North Korea would not have an effective nuclear deterrent. South Korean monitoring equipment picked up data communications between the descending warhead and North Korean ground control, confirming the success of the test.

Anti-Ship Missiles

On May 29, North Korea tested an upgraded version of the Hwasong-7. Among the improvements were fins to improve stability during the boost phase, an engine in the middle section for speed control, and terminal guidance technology to provide greater accuracy.  The missile is said to have a range of 1,000 kilometers and is intended to strike targets at sea.

Little more than a week later, North Korea launched several anti-ship cruise missiles, which demonstrated excellent maneuverability and precision. According to North Korean media, the missiles “accurately detected and hit the floating targets on the East Sea of Korea after making circular flights.”  The flight distance was estimated at 200 kilometers, and like North Korea’s other missiles tested this year, the cruise missiles are newly designed.

The cruise missiles were fired from tracked transport vehicles that are capable of travelling across rough terrain, thus allowing them to go where they would be harder to spot and destroy.

The ICBM in North Korea’s Future

Western media, long on speculation and short on information, would have us believe that North Korea is on the verge of testing an ICBM any day now. There are technological challenges involved in developing an ICBM that will be much harder for North Korea to overcome than was the case with the Hwasong-12.

The longer the range of a ballistic missile, the higher the amount of total heat a reentry vehicle must be able to withstand. The rate of heat associated with range – and therefore speed – increases so rapidly that a successful test of an intermediate ballistic missile’s reentry vehicle says nothing about how it would fare in an ICBM. A reentry vehicle launched by an ICBM must absorb far more punishment than is the case with shorter-range missiles. It took the United States several years to master the challenge of designing a survivable ICBM reentry vehicle.

A nuclear warhead must be miniaturized to reduce the weight enough for it to be deliverable in a missile. As military technology specialists Markus Schiller and Theodore Postol point out, “It is unlikely that North Korea now has a nuclear weapon that weighs as little as 1000 kg. It is also unlikely that such a first-generation nuclear weapon would be capable of surviving the unavoidable 50 G deceleration during warhead reentry from a range of nearly 10,000 kilometers.”  

It is thought that the Hwasong-12 could provide the basis for developing an ICBM.  However, the missile would need to be redesigned to add another stage to do so. Recently, North Korea ground tested a rocket engine, which U.S. officials speculated could be intended to power the last stage of an ICBM. Based only on satellite imagery, that conclusion is nothing more than supposition. Regardless of the nature of the engine test, a significant amount of work remains to be done to retool an existing missile as an ICBM and to perfect associated technology, such as the guidance system and reentry vehicle.

Moreover, before a missile can be considered operationally ready, it must undergo multiple tests to ensure that it meets performance and reliability standards. The Hwasong-12 was only successful in one of its four tests.

Threats and Provocations

It is an article of faith in the West that each missile test by North Korea is a “threat” or “provocation.” But is it true? Over the last several months, India tested its Agni-2 medium-range and Agni-3 intermediate-range ballistic missiles, as well as an Agni-5 ICBM, producing only yawns of indifference. Pakistan fired an Ababeel medium-range ballistic missile, capable of delivering multiple warheads, while China and Russia both tested ICBMs. The United States, as it was roundly condemning North Korea for its tests, launched Minuteman 3 and Trident missiles. None of these tests by nuclear powers were deemed provocative. Nor was note taken of the hypocrisy of the Trump administration in expressing outrage over North Korea doing what it was doing.

Objectively speaking, there is no difference between North Korea’s missile tests and the others, although it should be pointed out that the U.S. arsenal of nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads dwarfs that of North Korea.

As the North Korean foreign ministry observed, “Not a single article or provision in the UN Charter and other international laws stipulates that nuclear test or ballistic rocket launch poses a threat to international peace and security.” The political and economic might of the United States gave it the means to prod other members of the UN Security Council to agree to its demand to impose sanctions on North Korea. As a result, North Korea is the only nation singled out by UN sanctions that forbid it from testing the same types of missiles as other countries are free to do. There is no legal basis for this double standard, which is primarily a product of U.S. influence.

From the North Korean perspective, the large-scale military exercises that the United States regularly conducts in tandem with South Korea are threatening. These drills rehearse the invasion of North Korea, including decapitation operations to kill North Korean leaders. Recently, American B-1B bomber planes executed a series of flights over South Korea, practicing the carpet bombing of North Korea. Originally designed to deliver nuclear weapons, the B-1B underwent conversion to a conventional weapons only role ten years ago. The plane is still a formidable weapon, however, and can carry three times the payload of a B-52.

In the Western mindset, none of these actions can be construed as being “provocative” or a “threat” to North Korea. But it is easy enough to imagine the hysterical reaction if Russia were to conduct joint military exercises in Cuba, practicing the bombing and invasion of the United States, along with the assassination of U.S. political leaders.

Refusal to Recognize North Korea as a Nuclear State

Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” is based on the principle that the United States will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state. But what does this mean? North Korea, as everyone knows, is a nuclear state.

What the U.S. means is that it won’t recognize North Korea’s right to be a nuclear state. Why is this important?

According to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), only the five countries that already had nuclear weapons when the treaty went into force in 1970—the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China—are internationally recognized as nuclear weapon states. The treaty requires them to reduce their nuclear arsenal towards eventual elimination and prohibits all other signatories from possessing nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the five nuclear weapon states are far from achieving their commitment to disarmament and that the United States is spending $1 trillion to modernize its nuclear arsenal. The United States’ primary concern is the second half of the NPT’s stated goal—that no one else besides the five officially-recognized nuclear weapon states should have nuclear weapons. As such, North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, in the U.S.’ view, is an affront to this doctrine and the country should be punished accordingly.

But what about India, Pakistan and Israel—also countries with nuclear weapons that are not parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), you might ask. Does the United States refuse to recognize them as nuclear states?

Therein lies the greatest hypocrisy behind U.S. condemnation of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. Because the U.S. has no problem with India, Pakistan and Israel possessing nuclear weapons, it has seen no need to make such a pronouncement.

North Korea’s Accelerating Missile Development: Threat to U.S. Hegemony

It has not gone unnoticed that the pace of North Korea’s missile testing has accelerated in recent months. When the year began, North Korea found itself in a somewhat vulnerable position, given the Trump administration’s aggressive rhetoric. North Korea had a nuclear weapons program but no tested reentry vehicle–which meant that it had no means of delivery.  The north’s conventional arms are sufficient to inflict heavy damage on South Korea. But in a conflict, harm to U.S. forces would be relatively mild, especially if the U.S. launched a first strike to eliminate much of North Korea’s military capability. The window of opportunity for attacking North Korea would permanently close once it could demonstrate an effective means of delivering a nuclear weapon and the ability to strike U.S. warplanes stationed in Guam and aircraft carriers off the coast of the Korean Peninsula. Thus for North Korea, the race was on.

The North Koreans have taken note of the experience of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya, and arrived at the conclusion that a small nation relying on conventional arms alone has no chance of deterring attack by the United States. North Korea says its nuclear program “is a legitimate and righteous measure for self-defense to protect the sovereignty and the right to existence” of the nation.

That is a conclusion the U.S. is keen to discourage. For the United States, it is a fundamental principle of its foreign policy that it should be able to attack any nation of its choosing, and that no country ought to have the means of defending itself. And therein lies the source of U.S. concern. The reason why stopping North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile program is a priority for the Trump administration is not because it truly believes North Korea will launch an ICBM at the United States. Rather, it’s that if North Korea succeeds in establishing an effective nuclear deterrent, then this could have serious geopolitical implications for U.S. policy, as other targeted nations may follow North Korea’s example to ensure their survival.

For this reason, the United States has branded North Korea a pariah state and sponsored harsh UN sanctions. North Korea faces a dichotomy between policy objectives. If it does not denuclearize, then it risks succumbing to the economic strangulation imposed by the United States. But if it abandons its nuclear program, it becomes far more vulnerable to military strikes by a hostile U.S. The lesson of Libya’s fate after it abandoned its nuclear weapons program is not forgotten.

The United States declares that it will not engage in talks with North Korea unless it denuclearizes as a precondition while receiving nothing in return. That position shuts down any possibility of diplomacy, and it is hard to visualize any way out of the current impasse as long as Washington clings to that attitude. It is to be hoped that South Korean President Moon Jae-in can persuade the Trump administration to adopt a more flexible approach. The time has come for South Korea to take the lead in finding a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute.

Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and the Advisory Board of the Korea Policy Institute. He is a member of the Solidarity Committee for Democracy and Peace in Korea, a columnist for Voice of the People, and one of the co-authors of Killing Democracy: CIA and Pentagon Operations in the Post-Soviet Period, published in the Russian language. He is also a member of the Task Force to Stop THAAD in Korea and Militarism in Asia and the Pacific.

June 30, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

NYT Finally Retracts Russia-gate Canard

By Robert Parry | Consortium News | June 29, 2017

The New York Times has finally admitted that one of the favorite Russia-gate canards – that all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred on the assessment of Russian hacking of Democratic emails – is false.

On Thursday, the Times appended a correction to a June 25 article that had repeated the false claim, which has been used by Democrats and the mainstream media for months to brush aside any doubts about the foundation of the Russia-gate scandal and portray President Trump as delusional for doubting what all 17 intelligence agencies supposedly knew to be true.

In the Times’ White House Memo of June 25, correspondent Maggie Haberman mocked Trump for “still refus[ing] to acknowledge a basic fact agreed upon by 17 American intelligence agencies that he now oversees: Russia orchestrated the attacks, and did it to help get him elected.”

However, on Thursday, the Times – while leaving most of Haberman’s ridicule of Trump in place – noted in a correction that the relevant intelligence “assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”

The Times’ grudging correction was vindication for some Russia-gate skeptics who had questioned the claim of a full-scale intelligence assessment, which would usually take the form of a National Intelligence Estimate (or NIE), a product that seeks out the views of the entire Intelligence Community and includes dissents.

The reality of a more narrowly based Russia-gate assessment was admitted in May by President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan in sworn congressional testimony.

Clapper testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on May 8 that the Russia-hacking claim came from a “special intelligence community assessment” (or ICA) produced by selected analysts from the CIA, NSA and FBI, “a coordinated product from three agencies – CIA, NSA, and the FBI – not all 17 components of the intelligence community,” the former DNI said.

Clapper further acknowledged that the analysts who produced the Jan. 6 assessment on alleged Russian hacking were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and NSA.

Yet, as any intelligence expert will tell you, if you “hand-pick” the analysts, you are really hand-picking the conclusion. For instance, if the analysts were known to be hard-liners on Russia or supporters of Hillary Clinton, they could be expected to deliver the one-sided report that they did.

Politicized Intelligence

In the history of U.S. intelligence, we have seen how this selective approach has worked, such as the phony determination of the Reagan administration pinning the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II and other acts of terror on the Soviet Union.

CIA Director William Casey and Deputy Director Robert Gates shepherded the desired findings through the process by putting the assessment under the control of pliable analysts and sidelining those who objected to this politicization of intelligence.

The point of enlisting the broader intelligence community – and incorporating dissents into a final report – is to guard against such “stove-piping” of intelligence that delivers the politically desired result but ultimately distorts reality.

Another painful example of politicized intelligence was President George W. Bush’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD that removed State Department and other dissents from the declassified version that was given to the public.

Since Clapper’s and Brennan’s testimony in May, the Times and other mainstream news outlets have avoided a direct contradiction of their earlier acceptance of the 17-intelligence-agencies canard by simply referring to a judgment by “the intelligence community.”

That finessing of their earlier errors has allowed Hillary Clinton and other senior Democrats to continue referencing this fictional consensus without challenge, at least in the mainstream media.

For instance, on May 31 at a technology conference in California, Clinton referred to the Jan. 6 report, asserting that “Seventeen agencies, all in agreement, which I know from my experience as a Senator and Secretary of State, is hard to get. They concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign, to influence voters in the election.”

The failure of the major news organizations to clarify this point about the 17 agencies may have contributed to Haberman’s mistake on June 25 as she simply repeated the groupthink that nearly all the Important People in Washington just knew to be true.

But the Times’ belated correction also underscores the growing sense that the U.S. mainstream media has joined in a political vendetta against Trump and has cast aside professional standards to the point of repeating false claims designed to denigrate him.

That, in turn, plays into Trump’s Twitter complaints that he and his administration are the targets of a “witch hunt” led by the “fake news” media, a grievance that appears to be energizing his supporters and could discredit whatever ongoing investigations eventually conclude.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.

June 29, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , , , | Leave a comment