Ali Shukri Amin is 17-years old, a minor under American law, yet he was just sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced as an adult for providing material support for terrorists. This is a crime defined in any way the government wants it to be. Amin had a twitter account, @amreekiwitness, devoted to the group Islamic State, ISIS. He also helped a friend travel to Syria in hopes of joining ISIS. That is the substance of his crime, online opinion and facilitating travel.
The crime of providing material support for terrorists only came into existence with the Patriot Act passed in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. There are now people serving very long prison terms for providing humanitarian aid, translating documents, sending money abroad, or expressing views in support of nations or groups the United States classifies as terrorist. These crimes are vaguely defined and are often of little consequence to ISIS or any other organization the federal government designates as an enemy.
The prosecutions of Amin and others are meant to make the case for continuing the “war on terror.” This is actually a war of American terror used to justify endless interventions around the world. The Department of Justice would have us believe that a teenager tweeting about making donations to ISIS via bitcoin posed a serious threat. Of course, the United States government is the biggest threat to life in the world. It is the most violent organization with the largest number of kills.
The application of the material support for terror statute is used to capture innocent or harmless people. Some are hoodwinked by agent provocateurs or, like Amin, pose little or no danger. Most importantly, ISIS would not be a credible force in Syria or Libya were it not for American machinations. The United States created the monster and now wants to punish anyone who interacts with it.
At one point Amin, who lived in a Virginia suburb of Washington, DC, had over 4,000 twitter followers who conversed about a variety of issues, including protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
“They cower in fear of us whilst they massacre and oppress you! It’s time to strike fear into the hearts of the oppressors. #FergusonUnderIS”
“May be time to organize Muslims in America upon haqq and mobilize to #Ferguson. Defend the oppressed, start jihad here.”
While Amin and thousands of others expressed their outrage about deadly police brutality, the State Department actually engaged in online debates with the teenager. A bizarre social media program called Think Again, Turn Away is a useless attempt to influence young Muslims who want to fight imperialism through jihad. Aside from having a name reminiscent of a love song title, the effort allowed Amin to engage in argument with and troll the State Department. When the would-be jihad deprogrammers pointed out that ISIS “slaughters innocent people,” Amin had a ready and accurate retort:
“slaughter innocents? You mean like AbdurRahman al-Awlaki, the 16 year old boy not involved with any militants? or what about the thousands killed in drone strikes weekly that make the news? The thousands that don’t? you are nothing more than criminals who betray the Muslims you claim to defend across the globe, butchering them 1.7 million in Iraq, hundreds of thousands in Afghanistan, left, right, everywhere. only an ignoramus who knows nothing about American foreign policy or any Muslim country could accept your lies.”
A few months after these embarrassing interactions, Amin’s mother and his imam unwisely reported him to the FBI in an effort to stop his online involvement with ISIS. He would not have been discovered otherwise.
Killer cops roam the streets with no fear of federal prosecution, but a confused teenager is sent to prison because he holds and expresses opinions contrary to those of the government. Prosecutors use children to make names for themselves and climb the ladder in a corrupt system. American terror is not just carried out abroad with drone strikes and invasions, but it is carried out on a daily basis by the criminal injustice system.
While the Saudis, Israelis and their allies use American money and arms to target civilians for death, anyone who crosses over the thin line of expression is at risk of prosecution and many years in prison. The hypocrisy is stunning but not really surprising. This system will use a child to make its point clear. We live in a police state and anyone who dares to speak up against it is at risk of being made an example.
The federal government does not operate any juvenile facilities. Ali Shukri Amin is now in custody in an adult facility. One need not be a follower of ISIS to see that this is a gross injustice unworthy of a country which claims to be a democracy.
Margaret Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.
By training, I am a plant biologist. In the early 1990s I was busy making genetically modified plants (often called GMOs for Genetically Modified Organisms) as part of the research that led to my PhD. Into these plants we were putting DNA from various foreign organisms, such as viruses and bacteria.
I was not, at the outset, concerned about the possible effects of GM plants on human health or the environment. One reason for this lack of concern was that I was still a very young scientist, feeling my way in the complex world of biology and of scientific research. Another reason was that we hardly imagined that GMOs like ours would be grown or eaten. So far as I was concerned, all GMOs were for research purposes only.
Gradually, however, it became clear that certain companies thought differently. Some of my older colleagues shared their skepticism with me that commercial interests were running far ahead of scientific knowledge. I listened carefully and I didn’t disagree. Today, over twenty years later, GMO crops, especially soybeans, corn, papaya, canola and cotton, are commercially grown in numerous parts of the world.
Depending on which country you live in, GMOs may be unlabeled and therefore unknowingly abundant in your diet. Processed foods (e.g. chips, breakfast cereals, sodas) are likely to contain ingredients from GMO crops, because they are often made from corn or soy. Most agricultural crops, however, are still non-GMO, including rice, wheat, barley, oats, tomatoes, grapes and beans.
For meat eaters the nature of GMO consumption is different. There are no GMO animals used in farming (although GM salmon has been pending FDA approval since 1993); however, animal feed, especially in factory farms or for fish farming, is likely to be GMO corn and GMO soybeans. In which case the labeling issue, and potential for impacts on your health, are complicated.
I now believe, as a much more experienced scientist, that GMO crops still run far ahead of our understanding of their risks. In broad outline, the reasons for this belief are quite simple. I have become much more appreciative of the complexity of biological organisms and their capacity for benefits and harms. As a scientist I have become much more humble about the capacity of science to do more than scratch the surface in its understanding of the deep complexity and diversity of the natural world. To paraphrase a cliché, I more and more appreciate that as scientists we understand less and less.
The Flawed Processes of GMO Risk Assessment
Some of my concerns with GMOs are “just” practical ones. I have read numerous GMO risk assessment applications. These are the documents that governments rely on to ‘prove’ their safety. Though these documents are quite long and quite complex, their length is misleading in that they primarily ask (and answer) trivial questions. Furthermore, the experiments described within them are often very inadequate and sloppily executed. Scientific controls are often missing, procedures and reagents are badly described, and the results are often ambiguous or uninterpretable. I do not believe that this ambiguity and apparent incompetence is accidental. It is common, for example, for multinational corporations, whose labs have the latest equipment, to use outdated methodologies. When the results show what the applicants want, nothing is said. But when the results are inconvenient, and raise red flags, they blame the limitations of the antiquated method. This bulletproof logic, in which applicants claim safety no matter what the data shows, or how badly the experiment was performed, is routine in formal GMO risk assessment.
To any honest observer, reading these applications is bound to raise profound and disturbing questions: about the trustworthiness of the applicants and equally of the regulators. They are impossible to reconcile with a functional regulatory system capable of protecting the public.
The Dangers of GMOs
Aside from grave doubts about the quality and integrity of risk assessments, I also have specific science-based concerns over GMOs. I emphasise the ones below because they are important but are not on the lists that GMO critics often make.
Many GMO plants are engineered to contain their own insecticides. These GMOs, which include maize, cotton and soybeans, are called Bt plants. Bt plants get their name because they incorporate a transgene that makes a protein-based toxin (usually called the Cry toxin) from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. Many Bt crops are “stacked,” meaning they contain a multiplicity of these Cry toxins. Their makers believe each of these Bt toxins is insect-specific and safe. However, there are multiple reasons to doubt both safety and specificity. One concern is that Bacillus thuringiensis is all but indistinguishable from the well known anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis). Another reason is that Bt insecticides share structural similarities with ricin. Ricin is a famously dangerous plant toxin, a tiny amount of which was used to assassinate the Bulgarian writer and defector Georgi Markov in 1978. A third reason for concern is that the mode of action of Bt proteins is not understood (Vachon et al 2012); yet, it is axiomatic in science that effective risk assessment requires a clear understanding of the mechanism of action of any GMO transgene. This is so that appropriate experiments can be devised to affirm or refute safety. These red flags are doubly troubling because some Cry proteins are known to be toxic towards isolated human cells (Mizuki et al., 1999). Yet we put them in our food crops.
A second concern follows from GMOs being often resistant to herbicides. This resistance is an invitation to farmers to spray large quantities of herbicides, and many do. As research recently showed, commercial soybeans routinely contain quantities of the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate) that its maker, Monsanto, once described as “extreme” (Bøhn et al 2014).
Glyphosate has been in the news recently because the World Health Organisation no longer considers it a relatively harmless chemical, but there are other herbicides applied to GMOs which are easily of equal concern. The herbicide Glufosinate (phosphinothricin, made by Bayer) kills plants because it inhibits the important plant enzyme glutamine synthetase. This enzyme is ubiquitous, however, it is found also in fungi, bacteria and animals. Consequently, Glufosinate is toxic to most organisms. Glufosinate is also a neurotoxin of mammals that doesn’t easily break down in the environment (Lantz et al. 2014). Glufosinate is thus a “herbicide” in name only.
Thus, even in conventional agriculture, the use of glufosinate is hazardous; but With GMO plants the situation is worse yet. With GMOs, glufosinate is sprayed on to the crop but its degradation in the plant is blocked by the transgene, which chemically modifies it slightly. This is why the GMO plant is resistant to it; but the other consequence is that when you eat Bayers’ Glufosinate-resistant GMO maize or canola, even weeks or months later, glufosinate, though slightly modified, is probably still there (Droge et al., 1992). Nevertheless, though the health hazard of glufosinate is much greater with GMOs, the implications of this science have been ignored in GMO risk assessments of Glufosinate-tolerant GMO crops.
A yet further reason to be concerned about GMOs is that most of them contain a viral sequence called the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV) promoter (or they contain the similar figwort mosaic virus (FMV) promoter). Two years ago, the GMO safety agency of the European Union (EFSA) discovered that both the CaMV promoter and the FMV promoter had wrongly been assumed by them (for almost 20 years) not to encode any proteins. In fact, the two promoters encode a large part of a small multifunctional viral protein that misdirects all normal gene expression and that also turns off a key plant defence against pathogens. EFSA tried to bury their discovery. Unfortunately for them, we spotted their findings in an obscure scientific journal. This revelation forced EFSA and other regulators to explain why they had overlooked the probability that consumers were eating an untested viral protein.
This list of significant scientific concerns about GMOs is by no means exhaustive. For example, there are novel GMOs coming on the market, such as those using double stranded RNAs (dsRNAs), that have the potential for even greater risks (Latham and Wilson 2015).
The True Purpose of GMOs
Science is not the only grounds on which GMOs should be judged. The commercial purpose of GMOs is not to feed the world or improve farming. Rather, they exist to gain intellectual property (i.e. patent rights) over seeds and plant breeding and to drive agriculture in directions that benefit agribusiness. This drive is occurring at the expense of farmers, consumers and the natural world. US Farmers, for example, have seen seed costs nearly quadruple and seed choices greatly narrow since the introduction of GMOs. The fight over GMOs is not of narrow importance. It affects us all.
Nevertheless, specific scientific concerns are crucial to the debate. I left science in large part because it seemed impossible to do research while also providing the unvarnished public scepticism that I believed the public, as ultimate funder and risk-taker of that science, was entitled to.
Criticism of science and technology remains very difficult. Even though many academics benefit from tenure and a large salary, the sceptical process in much of science is largely lacking. This is why risk assessment of GMOs has been short-circuited and public concerns about them are growing. Until the damaged scientific ethos is rectified, both scientists and the public are correct to doubt that GMOs should ever have been let out of any lab.
Bøhn, T, Cuhra, M, Traavik, T, Sanden, M, Fagan, J and Primicerio, R (2014) Compositional differences in soybeans on the market: Glyphosate accumulates in Roundup Ready GM soybeans. Food Chemistry 153: 207-215.
Droge W, Broer I, and Puhler A. (1992) Transgenic plants containing the phosphinothricin-N-acetyltransferase gene metabolize the herbicide L-phosphinothricin (glufosinate) differently from untransformed plants. Planta 187: 142-151.
Lantz S et al., (2014) Glufosinate binds N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors and increases neuronal network activity in vitro. Neurotoxicology 45: 38-47.
Latham JR and Wilson AK (2015) Off - target Effects of Plant Transgenic RNAi: Three Mechanisms Lead to Distinct Toxicological and Environmental Hazards.
Mizuki, E, Et Al., (1999) Unique activity associated with non-insecticidal Bacillus thuringiensis parasporal inclusions: in vitro cell- killing action on human cancer cells. J. Appl. Microbiol. 86: 477–486.
Vachon V, Laprade R, Schwartz JL (2012) Current models of the mode of action of Bacillus thuringiensis insecticidal crystal proteins: a critical review. Journal of Invertebrate Pathology 111: 1–12.
A dozen black and Latino police officers are suing the New York Police Department and the city claiming that their bosses forced them to carry out illegal arrest quotas “against their own minority community.” The NYPD has denied ever using quotas.
The class action lawsuit, filed in the Manhattan federal court on Monday, argued that by forcing police officers to comply with the “illegal quota system,” New York City and the NYPD subjected black and Latino cops to unfair evaluations and discipline, according to the New York Post.
The suit also said performance evaluation was not evenly applied to all precincts. Police officers in precincts with lots of minorities had to make more arrests and issue more tickets than officers in “a precinct located in a predominantly white residential area,” the suit states.
The lawsuit cites testimony and news articles dating to 2010 that provide evidence of a quota system under former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. The suit said quotas have remained under Commissioner Bill Bratton.
“The reality is that one year later, quotas remain alive and well and the NYPD is aggressively pursuing a numbers driven agenda with regard to arrests, tickets and summonses,” the suit reads.
The 12 named plaintiffs in the suit are all black and Latino NYPD officers who claim to have been penalized for reporting and complaining about “the illegal quotas and its racially discriminatory application against the minority community,” the suit states.
The suit alleges that police officers were being forced to make at least one arrest and issue 20 summonses a month.
The top NYPD spokesman told the Post that the department doesn’t use quotas.
“There are no numerical enforcement quotas established by the NYPD,” spokesman Stephen Davis said in a statement, according to the New York Post. “Performance evaluations are conducted for all department employees based on an assessment of their duties, responsibilities and specific conditions of their assignments.”
An NYC Law Department spokesman said the city would evaluate the merits of each of these claims and respond accordingly once they are served.
One of the lead plaintiff’s in the suit is Adhyl Polanco, a Latino police officer who first complained to the media in 2009 about how arrest and summons quotas affected communities of color. He testified in the high-profile federal stop-and-frisk case.
Polanco also filed a separate lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court on Monday against the NYPD and the city, according to the New York Daily News, claiming his whistleblowing about quotas and discrimination has resulted in a sustained campaign of retaliation by fellow police officers and management, including repeated suspensions, promotion denials and suggestions that he was mentally ill.
In the first part of a series, Brandon Martinez of Non-Aligned Media unravels the murky origins of ISIS and unveils how the group’s meteoric rise in Iraq and Syria is a continuation of US psychological warfare designed to facilitate the Zionist-Neocon agenda of toppling seven sovereign Middle Eastern and North African States.
The newly-released batch of Hillary Clinton emails provides further proof that Freedom of Information (FOI) law has been blatantly violated. The documents include material directly responsive to a FOI request I made back in 2012 after the Benghazi terrorist attacks on the U.S. compounds. However, the material was not produced at the time, as required by law. Once again, there appears to be nobody who holds government officials and agencies accountable for their routine violation of this law. So the infractions occur frequently and with impunity. If nobody polices our government officials and agencies–if they are above the law–then how does a lawful society function?
Click here to view the WSJ database of emails. One of the many emails that should have been provided under FOI in 2012, but was not, is to Clinton from Huma Abedin on Sept. 14, 2012. Others include Clinton communications on Benghazi with her chief aide Cheryl Mills.
Several local police forces in California got on the police body-cameras bandwagon well before police killings around the nation in the summer of 2014 triggered a broad push for their adoption. The Rialto Police Department was the focus of a 2013 New York Times story that emphasized how much body cameras improved interactions between officers and the public.
But in Oakland, it appears authorities will only release the body-camera videos when they exonerate police, and that the video will be kept from the public and the media in other circumstances on the grounds that it is part of an ongoing investigation. The East Bay Express recently reported on how the Oakland police are dealing with four police killings. In two cases, Police Chief Sean Whent won’t release any body-cam footage. In the other two cases, police wouldn’t release the footage to the public. Instead, on Aug. 19, the Oakland Police Department held a screening for 11 members of the media.
This account is from the East Bay Express :
[The] videos included police body camera footage taken by officers who were chasing Richard Linyard and Nathaniel Wilks (in two separate incidents). On July 19, Linyard was allegedly fleeing the police on foot when he was later found wedged between two buildings. A coroner’s report said Linyard died from injuries he suffered when he was apparently stuck between the buildings.
On August 12, Wilks allegedly fled the police in a vehicle and then on foot. Several officers confronted and shot Wilks near the intersection of 27th Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.
Watson said OPD showed videos to select members of the media in order to dispel inaccurate reports that officers beat Linyard, and claims that Wilks was shot in the back. Both incidents sparked protests. “We held the viewing in the interest of the public, to be able to share information through fair and balanced reporting,” said Watson.
Watson, however, said that the video footage will not be released to the broader public, and that OPD believes the California Public Records Act allows the department to withhold the footage because it is evidence in several ongoing investigations.
‘Completely wrong’ to withhold some video
As the Bay Area News Group reported, giving the police the right to pick and choose which videos to release outraged local civil-rights lawyer Jim Chanin. “I think it’s completely wrong to have selective showings of one shooting and not another shooting, depending on how the department feels . … There’s an inference now that if (police) don’t show you a video, there could be something wrong or improper about (another) shooting,” he said.
Meanwhile, in Sacramento, a bill that would establish statewide procedures on access to and use of policy body-camera footage appears to have failed, U-T San Diego columnist Steve Greenhut wrote on Friday.
In April, a comprehensive bill by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, passed its initial committee vote. Per its official description, “Assembly Bill 66 would provide guidelines about when the cameras are to be operated, require notification of those being recorded, and prohibit law-enforcement officers involved in serious use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death from viewing the video until they have filed an initial report.” Whent, the Oakland police chief, testified in favor of the bill.
But Weber’s bill was effectively killed within weeks. As Dan Walters wrote in the Sacramento Bee :
Weber’s body camera bill was beaten up in the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee. Police unions, whose endorsements politicians crave, strongly opposed it as unfair, and the committee insisted that only local authorities decide when cops can see body videos.
Fifty thousand refugees have arrived recently in Europe and many more are on the way. They include Palestinians reliving their original catastrophe — the Nakba of 1948 — as they search for shelter. Hundreds, even thousands, have lost their lives in the process.
Until 2011, nearly half a million Palestinian refugees lived in Syria. It was generally understood that they were living the most stable lives compared to their compatriots. Yarmouk, the largest Palestinian refugee camp outside of Palestine, was described as “the capital of the Palestinian Diaspora”, and it basically became a residential extension of Damascus before it was turned into a scene of ruin, death and hunger by the Syrian conflict.
The tragedy that hit Syria has dispelled all illusions, though, with the realisation that the Palestinian refugee communities are actually extremely fragile and very quickly pay the price for any turbulence and crises in the host countries. This has happened before in Lebanon, Kuwait and Iraq.
Compared to the masses of refugees now flocking to Europe, the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria has its own characteristics. This lies in the fact that they are forced to endure a new “exodus” and suffering as they seek a place of safety, even though their homeland is little more than an hour’s drive from their refugee camps. The Palestinian families must make the long, perilous journey across borders, coasts and mountains, meeting the outrageous demands of the greedy, criminal gangs of human traffickers in order to reach Europe.
However, Europe is so preoccupied by the refugee crisis that it does not care about the essence of the problem that created it. As far as the Palestinians coming from Syria are concerned, the issue is fairly clear, so why doesn’t the European Union work towards the most logical and practical solutions, such as returning them to their own land, at least temporarily? Why is such a discussion missing from Europe’s meetings held to figure out ways to contain the crises on its borders?
Over a third of a million Palestinians, many of whom are refugees driven from their homes and camps, live in Europe. We are witnessing new chapters in their suffering; these human beings whom the Israelis have forbidden from returning to their land from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967. They are not even allowed to visit their country, in a clear violation of international laws and conventions.
Logic dictates that we empower the Palestinian refugees with their legitimate right to return to their land and homes, which are nearby. If not, they will continue to be forced to look for safe havens across continents after disaster-ridden journeys. There is no doubt that a huge part of the responsibility for this lies with Europe, which created the historical conditions that resulted in the tragedy of the Palestinian people in the first place.
EU officials talk about the importance of linking aid to Eastern European countries with their willingness to accept their share of refugees, and there are even those who call for linking negotiations about joining the European Union to the countries’ treatment of refugees. Isn’t such discourse also required with the “Israeli partner” which benefits from many European economic, educational and military privileges and treaties?
Why is Europe unable to even think about using its influence to put pressure on the Israeli government to activate the Palestinian right of return, which was endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 194? The Palestinians, many of whom still have the keys to their homes in occupied Palestine, have the right to live in their homeland. The routes to their cities, towns and villages are well-known to those who want to ask about them, and maps are readily available.
If the European Union and the international community do not address the core of this issue by reviving and implementing the legitimate Palestinian right of return, then thousands will continue to head for Europe and many will die along the way. Which of these two possibilities does the EU and the rest of the world prefer?
The United Nations has called for a freeze on Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, dozens of aid agencies and the European Union have joined in the protest, and even the U.S. State Department has voiced its dismay. Yet, even as the outcry has become an international issue and reached the highest ranks of our own government, we find a resounding silence at The New York Times.
Times readers are unlikely to know that 31 international organizations recently called on Israel to stop the “wanton destruction of Palestinian property,” including “basic humanitarian necessities,” such as solar panels, animal pens, latrines and tents supplied by the European Union. The groups asked world leaders to take “urgent action,” to hold Israel accountable for “grave breaches” of international law, and to demand reparations for the destruction of their charitable gifts.
The State Department joined both groups with statements made during a press briefing Aug. 19. When spokesman John Kirby was asked about the issue, he had a prepared declaration ready to hand.
The department was “deeply concerned” and “very troubled,” he said, calling the demolitions and evictions “harmful and provocative and indicative of a damaging trend.” He referred to the “destruction of dozens of structures and the displacement of over 150 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this month alone.”
His words got the attention of Israeli media, which published his comments at length, but they failed to arouse the interest of the Times.
In fact, Israel’s cruel (and illegal) policy of demolishing Palestinian property has been a constant story in alternative and Palestinian media outlets over the years, and the spate of international protests appearing this past month is not the first. Last February, for instance, some 400 rabbis from around the world urged Israel to halt demolitions in the West Bank.
Israeli forces have destroyed houses, tents, animal shelters, shops and farming structures throughout the West Bank at a steady clip, leaving 486 Palestinians displaced in 2015 as of Aug. 24. The destruction has hit the poorest and most vulnerable populations hardest, as Israel attempts to clear the land for Jewish settlers.
In the midst of this, the Times has seen fit to report on only one official demolition action this summer: the destruction of illegal Jewish settler homes in the West Bank. (This event was accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of plans for 500 news settlement homes to replace them.)
When the demolitions have made their way into the pages of the Times, the reports have failed to reveal the full extent of the problem. This year, for instance, the paper took notice of the threatened destruction of the West Bank village Susiya, when international media attention made it impossible to ignore, but dozens of other actual demolitions found no mention in the newspaper.
Again, when bureau chief Jodi Rudoren wrote about East Jerusalem demolitions last year, she underreported the extent of the damage by omitting over 46,000 structures that have been destroyed over the years and mentioning only the 675 that took place for “punitive reasons” during the second intifada.
Although demolitions are a constant threat to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Times prefers to ignore this reality. Palestinian media, however, issue reports almost daily, and monitoring groups such as the United Nations and the Israeli organization B’Tselem struggle to keep tallies.
These groups also note that demolitions fly in the face of international rules. As the UN release states, they contravene “Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under humanitarian law and human rights law.”
Behind the numbers cited by the United Nations and other groups are thousands of individual stories: herders struggling to shelter their flocks as Israeli forces tear up sheds and corrals, children robbed of playgrounds and schools, communities forced to pay for water deliveries after bulldozers crush their pipelines, families pulling prized possessions out of the rubble of their homes.
These stories find little notice in the Times, even as aid organizations and governments from the European Union to the U.S. State Department have spoken out with alarm and dismay. On many levels, Israeli demolitions are eminently newsworthy, but this is not enough for the Times, which prefers to shield Israel above all.
They won’t anyway and it will cost us much more
There are a lot of expressions about standing up to bullies being the best policy. Unfortunately the White House has difficulty in following that sound advice when it comes to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition of racists and thugs. And one might also add that the reticence also applies to dealing with Israel’s many friends in Congress, some of whom have apparently extorted their pound of flesh in exchange for their votes on the Iran deal.
Israel is already the military colossus in the Middle East, with formidable high tech ground, sea and air forces backed up by a semi-secret nuclear arsenal with modern delivery systems and several defensive missile system referred to as Iron Dome, Arrow 4 and David Sling. The defense systems were developed and deployed using $3 billion of U.S. Treasury special “grants” while roughly 20% of Israel’s annual total defense budget comes directly from the American taxpayer. This is all justified on the basis of sustaining Israel’s “Qualitative Military Edge,” an expression that has its own acronym QME and that is much loved by America’s national legislators, the White House and the media. In reality, Israel possesses an enormous military superiority relative to all its neighbors combined and has benefited from that capability for many years, all thanks to the United States of America.
But for some, too much is never enough. President Barack Obama is struggling to line up sufficient Democratic votes to block any congressional veto of his Iran agreement. At this point it looks like he will succeed, but the effort has brought with it the type of backstage politicking that most Americans have come to despise. Both Netanyahu and select Congressmen are being treated to a package of bribes for Israel that defies all reason, particularly given the fact that even the Israeli defense and intelligence establishments have split with Bibi’s government and sensibly declared the agreement with Iran to be better than any alternative. So even though defanging Iran is good for Israel, Washington nevertheless feels compelled to sweeten the pot, with actual American interests as usual ignored or not even considered.
How it all works has been revealed by Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, who apparently has seen a copy of a personal letter from President Obama that was sent to Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, a representative from New York who was hesitating over how to cast his vote regarding Iran. Nadler’s district is reported to be heavily Jewish and the congressman, himself Jewish, has long been an outspoken advocate for Israel. The letter he received may have been similar or even identical to letters presumably sent to other Congressmen who have also been sitting on the fence over the Iran deal.
Obama, to give him his due, cleverly focuses on “our enhanced support for Israel” as the way to get to Nadler’s vote, thereby enabling the Congressman to cite what Israel will be getting out of it as he explains to his angry constituents why he is defying the call by Netanyahu to vote down the deal.
President Obama, boasting in the letter that “no administration has done more for Israel’s security than mine,” adds that he is “prepared to further strengthen the relationship.” Indeed he does. He commits the United States to extend the U.S. commitment to provide Israel with $3.5 billion per year for purchasing military equipment for an additional decade after the current George W. Bush era program expires in 2018. The letter notes a “unique element” in the purchase agreement which allows Tel Aviv to spend up to 26.3% of the money on Israeli manufactured equipment.
Beyond the $3 billion plus per annum, Obama also pledged to continue extra funding for “collaborative research and development for tunnel detection and mapping technologies,” a program that only benefits Israel. Israel will also be the only country in the Middle East to receive the new advanced F-35 fighter when it finally becomes operational next year, all paid for by the American taxpayer.
Apart from the fact that the United States is inexplicably giving billions to an Israel that has a thriving economy with Western European levels of income, there are a number of problems with this Obama deal and the nature of the “special relationship” that it represents. For Washington, Israel is the squeaking wheel that is constantly requiring applications of grease to keep quiet. The grease is liberally applied, but the wheel keeps squeaking, the noise generally emanating from the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been directly interfering in U.S. politics since 2012.
One problem is that the United States is allowing Israel to use the money to be armed and equipped in a fashion which is directly contrary to American interests. A May offering of $1.88 billion in new equipment to Israel included 50 BLU-113 5,000 pound bombs with special penetrating nose cones that can be used against underground targets. Those targets would include Iran’s nuclear facilities, most notably its Fodrow underground uranium enrichment plant. Israel’s friends have also been agitating for the much larger 30,000 pound version of the bomb together with the heavy bombers needed to drop it on target. If past history is anything to go by it is merely a matter of time before they are granted their wish.
Bombing Iran is not exactly a U.S. interest at the moment – quite the contrary. Is it far-fetched to imagine Netanyahu staging such an attack to upset the apple cart and destroy any chance of Iranian rapprochement with Washington? A month ago I would have said no, but last week former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak revealed that both he and Netanyahu did indeed want to bomb Iran in 2010-2012 but backed down because of technical issues and also due to the refusal of key cabinet members and military officers to support the decision.
A second problem is the authorization for Israel to spend American taxpayer money on equipment produced locally. Israel is a major weapons supplier worldwide, sometimes both selling and providing training to regimes that many consider unsavory. Its own military industrial complex was built up using the largesse coming from the United States and it now competes with American companies. It also has a well-established record of stealing United States developed military technology and then re-exporting it under its own label, a win-win for Israel but a lose-lose for American companies.
While I am far from a fan of America’s military industrial congressional complex, using American tax dollars to subsidize a foreign competitor is the height of insanity. It will cut into exports and cost American jobs. Combining that reality with the fact that no amount of bribery will make Netanyahu shut up and that Israel will likely use some of the gifted weapons in ways that will cause difficulties for Washington the constant introduction of more money and more arms for Israel is just not a good idea. Kudos to Obama for having proceeded as far as he has with the Iran agreement but if a Congressman from New York cannot for once perceive that a deal is good for America he should resign his seat and go home. Constantly playing the Israel card has not been good for politics in the United States and it has also not been good for Israel itself as well as for the Middle East region. It is time to cut the tie that binds.
If Congress derails the hard-won “P+5” nuclear deal with Iran, much blame will fall to powerful New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the first Senate Democrat to join the partisan Republican congressional majority in opposing President Obama’s landmark foreign policy achievement.
Schumer’s insistence on maintaining economic sanctions against Iran supports the undisguised neoconservative agenda of regime change in Iran. Critics of Schumer’s position have demonstrated that his arguments against the deal are disingenuous and misleading. So were his arguments for regime change in Iraq, starting with his bogus claim that Saddam Hussein’s “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons” made him a “terrible danger to the people to the United States.”
Less well known is the fact that Schumer began almost a quarter century ago to push dubious arguments for aggressive regime change in the Middle East to serve the interests of Israeli hard-liners. His focus then was on Syria, led by Hafez Assad, the father of today’s president. And the issue, then as now, was framed around economic sanctions.
In 1990, Israeli officials and their American allies confronted a potential crisis: a thaw was developing in U.S.-Syrian relations under President George H. W. Bush. That spring, Damascus won Washington’s gratitude by obtaining the release of two American hostages held in Lebanon. Later, Syria earned major credit as one of three Arab nations to commit troops to the multinational coalition in the first Gulf War. In November 1991, following the coalition victory, Syria attended a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace forum in Madrid and announced its willingness to negotiate a settlement with Israel.
Washington rewarded Assad by granting him a meeting with President Bush, the first between the two countries’ heads of state in 13 years. Syria continued its diplomatic offensive by releasing thousands of political prisoners and providing exit permits to Syrian Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel.
Israel and its close allies — including Schumer — fought back by trying to implicate Syria in one of the most emotionally loaded issues of the day: drug trafficking. As one American official observed at the time, “It is in the Israelis’ interest to spin the drugs claim in order to keep Syria on the U.S. State Department list of countries involved in drug trafficking.”
As I describe in my book The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic, no one questioned the fact that large amounts of drugs were cultivated in and shipped out of Syrian-occupied lands in Lebanon in the 1980s. At the time, during the height of the Lebanese civil war, Syrian troops occupied a section of Lebanon that included the fertile Beka’a Valley, a region long notorious for growing cannabis and opium poppies. Syria had been invited into Lebanon in 1976 by a Christian-led government to help maintain peace on terms favorable to the country’s Christian population.
The Reagan administration invoked a section of the Foreign Assistance Act to bar aid to Syria on grounds that it failed to cooperate fully with the United States in the war on drugs. But after President George H. W. Bush took office, State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration officials stated that they had no evidence that Syrian forces were running drugs as a matter of state policy, although some individual commanders were corrupt.
Their agnosticism riled Israeli officials and their U.S. allies. In 1990, the American adviser to the Israeli mission at the United Nations, writing in The Washington Post, lamented that “Washington ignores Syrian complicity in the drug trade,” which he claimed was being directed by “the inner circle of Syria’s government.” Later, pro-Israeli sources such as the controversial “terrorism expert” Steven Emerson and Michael Widlanski, who would become a “strategic affairs adviser” to the Israeli Ministry of Public Security, launched a major publicity campaign to implicate Syria’s regime in drug trafficking.
The same campaign included an undocumented but searing public indictment of Syria issued in December 1992 at the request of Rep. Charles Schumer by the Democratic staff of the House Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, which he chaired. The report, which was not endorsed by the full committee, had a partisan as well as an anti-Syria slant, as suggested by its title: “Syria, President Bush, and Drugs: The Administration’s Next Iraqgate.”
Schumer’s political indictment declared that the Bush administration “simply refuses to admit the extent to which drug corruption has been institutionalized in the Syrian military forces now occupying Lebanon.” Without specific evidence, it claimed that the Syrian government and military were collecting upward of a billion dollars a year “from those who seek to peddle their poison in the United States.”
Based on Syria’s “continued support of terrorist groups based in Lebanon,” its “repeated attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction” and “its persistent involvement with known drug traffickers,” the report insisted that “Syria has the capacity to become as great a threat to American interests in the Middle East as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq ever was.”
It added, with a nod to the Bush administration’s invasion of Panama to oust the Noriega regime in late 1989, “The Justice Department must prosecute not only ‘corrupt, crooked and rotten cops’ from Panama, but also the unscrupulous Syrian generals who conspire to put dope on American streets.”
Such inflammatory language foreshadowed Schumer’s rhetoric about Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The charge of Syrian military complicity had at least some substance, in that some commanders undoubtedly had unclean hands. But more credible authorities than Schumer pointed out that Syria actually had limited control over the portions of Lebanon that it occupied and thus had chosen not to provoke further armed conflict by cracking down on heavily armed drug clans. In much the same way, NATO forces in Afghanistan consciously decided not to eradicate opium fields for fear of driving peasants into the arms of the Taliban.
As President Assad himself told an interviewer in 1993, “our real fear was for our soldiers, who live among the people in Lebanon where drugs have for a very long time been a source of income.” In the Beka’a Valley, he said, Syria had intervened “to solve a political problem and end the civil war,” not to “chase smugglers.” Nonetheless, he maintained, Syria was helping Lebanon to eradicate drugs, though “of course smuggling is something which continues.”
Assad’s efforts bore fruit. The State Department reported in 1996, six years after the end of the civil war, that Lebanon had worked a near miracle against drug production with Syria’s help:
“Lebanon appears to have won the fight against illicit crop cultivation to the joint Lebanese-Syrian eradication efforts since 1992. There appears to be no cultivation of opium poppy and cannabis (for hashish production) has all but disappeared. . . The joint Syrian-Lebanese effort since 1992 to eradicate the cultivation of cannabis and opium in the Beka’a Valley is a significant accomplishment which has been confirmed by a variety of sources.”
Despite tough lobbying by Israel, the Clinton administration removed Syria from the State Department’s list of major drug producers in late 1997. Chuck Schumer’s attempt to destroy bilateral relations with Syria using the drug issue had failed.
However, efforts by Israeli hardliners and U.S. neoconservatives to derail warming relations with Syria succeeded once again after George W. Bush took office. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess.”] We are today living with the ghastly human and economic costs of their violent efforts to “remake the map of the Middle East.”
The Iran nuclear deal offers the first clear opportunity in years to shift U.S. policy toward a more constructive and peaceful role in the region. To make that possible, the American people must repudiate the latest round of fear-mongering by Schumer and fellow hawks.
“Now we do not have an Iron Curtain, we have a newspaper curtain.”
Evgeny Yevtushenko (a prominent Russian poet)
– RT interview, Sept 2009.
Though Russia went through significant domestic changes since 1991, the extent of Russia’s domestic achievements had rarely been acknowledged in the United States. Instead, Russia has been continuously criticized for not democratizing fast enough. American media ignores positive developments in Russia and concentrates on the negative. Russia made significant changes from the Soviet totalitarian system, but instead of acknowledging this progress, Russia is characterized by exploiting misleading historical analogies as ‘closed’, associated with the KGB, the Soviet Union, ‘relentless propaganda’, ‘government control’. The opinions of the Russian citizens on their political system or their president as well as the actions by the Russian state that do not fit the description of ‘dictatorial power’ are typically omitted from Western media coverage. The result of this “selection bias” builds up over time to construct a negative overall image of the country and its president.
Creating an external threat perception in the eyes of the Americans and Europeans becomes an instrument of uniting the public on foreign policy issues, as expressed by Zbigniew Brzezinski in his text, The Grand Chessboard: “As America becomes an increasingly multi-cultural society, it may find it more difficult to fashion a consensus on foreign policy issues, except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” (p.211)
The news on Russia became consistently negative after 2000. Positive developments inside Russia, or news regarding Russia’s positive international involvements, were ignored while the negative news received immediate attention. A few examples from the period will illustrate this phenomenon:
William Safire’s article in The New York Times in 2004 concluded: “NATO must not lose its original purpose: to contain the Russian bear.” In 2006, the Wall Street Journal editorial described Russian foreign policy as “openly, and often gratuitously, hostile to the U.S.” and therefore it concluded that “it’s time we start thinking of Vladimir Putin’s Russia as an enemy of the United States.”
In July 2007, US Neoconservative Richard Pipes, who has been for decades a fierce critic of Russia, declared to Corriere della Sera that “For Europe, Russia could be even more dangerous than the threat of Islam, more hazardous than Bin Laden”. According to Pipes, Russia is trying to regain its superpower status and will use economic tools as pressure on the European or even global economy to achieve its goals. Pipes insisted that Russia has always been hostile to the West, and that the best policy that the West should adopt toward Russia is to avoid any contact. Oil companies should stop making contracts with Russia, and banks should cut out any investments. Not surprisingly, Pipes has been a fervent supporter of the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, which hides behind the pretense of avoiding the spread of Russian influence there.
Similar to Pipes’ Russophobic stance, Vice President Dick Cheney frequently characterized Russian foreign policy as threatening to the United States and therefore has been advocating a policy of isolating Russia. Other officials in the George W. Bush administration who helped to inflate anti-Russian rhetoric are the Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Senator Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.).
David Kramer is particularly descriptive of Russia’s sins: “With this renewed sense of pride comes an arrogance, cockiness, assertiveness, self-confidence, and even aggressiveness that is combined at the same time with paranoia, insecurity, and hypersensitivity.” And journalist Michael Bohn sees Moscow acting out of stubbornness, and as a ‘spoiler’: “Now Moscow has trouble projecting its power…one way it can still project its strength globally and particularly vis-à-vis the United States is to be the spoiler in international affairs, a modern-day version of ‘Mr. Nyet.’” One must ask: What precisely is Moscow ‘spoiling’, and why? Said answers are tellingly avoided in much of this predominantly Western-based anti-Russian commentary.
The commentators, politicians and media personalities consistently portray a negative picture of Russia: ‘aggressive’, ‘non-cooperative, ‘imperialist’ are very common descriptions in the mainstream Western media. Negative media on Russia became especially intense after the brief Russo-Georgian War of 2008, which lasted only five days due in large part to Russia.
Without an investigation of the sources of the conflict, Western media nonetheless immediately took the side of the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in the conflict and disregarded any evidence that Russia submitted to the United Nations, calling Russia the “aggressor”. While the Russian State’s account of the event did not receive any Western media coverage, nonetheless Saakashvili’s pleas for ‘protection’ were afforded front page positioning in major Western newspapers.
After Joe Biden visited Georgia and Ukraine in 2009, he expressed his predictions in The Wall Street Journal that Russia will collapse in no less than 15 years, given its “withering economy” and shrinking population base. Biden dismissed any Russian goodwill on nuclear disarmament, attributing it to Russia’s inability to maintain commitment to such a policy: “All of sudden, did they have an epiphany and say: ‘Hey man, we don’t want to threaten our neighbors?’ No. They can’t sustain it.”
Russian analyst, Sergey Roy, expressed the feeling in Russia toward the negative remarks by Biden on Russia:
“Biden’s harangues have done more good than harm. Russia’s leaders, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev, have been too gullible in their dealings with the United States and the West generally. Biden’s Dick Cheney-like stance shows only too clearly the kind of “partner” with whom we are supposed to enter “a new era of mutual respect and improved relations,” as promised by Obama.
Walter Isaacson, the former Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees US media coverage directed at foreign audiences, was very open at calling Russia an enemy. Thus, in October 2010, Isaacson called for even more money for the BBG to combat America’s “enemies,” which he identifies as Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and China. “We can’t allow ourselves to be out-communicated by our enemies,” Isaacson bluntly, indiscreetly stated.
The Foreign Affairs journal ran an article by Charles Kupchan, where Russia is listed among other US enemies: Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Myanmar. According to the article, Russia is an adversary, “a rivalry that Washington hopes to tame,” it is “on the wrong side of history.” Kupchan compares “recalcitrant autocrats” Putin and Medvedev to Iranian president Ahmadinejad, and Cuban President Raul Castro in their use of anti-Americanism in order to bolster domestic Russian support.
In 2011, The Economist published an article entitled, “The mood of Russia: Time to Shove Off,” where the publication concluded that the most educated and successful Russians are ready to emigrate as a response to Russia’s domestic ‘situation’. The article was based on the statistics provided by Levada-Center stating that 22% of Russians are interested in emigrating out of the country. What The Economist piece forgot, however, was to compare this figure to similar figures from other nations, such as Great Britain, where said figure would be closer to 33%, or to those from Chile, where the number of people wishing to emigrate is 35%, according to a Gallup poll. Mark Adomanis from Forbes responded: “The Economist does have a quite nasty habit of excluding evidence and limiting perspective when it serves its own interests, and the publication has long made clear that it considers Mr. Putin to be a figure of extreme, if not unique, malevolence.”
Russia’s efforts to restore its national pride are misread in Washington as somehow Russia’s efforts toward the restoration of the old USSR. Since most Russians appreciate the increased stability and security prevalent since Putin first assumed the Office of President, the ongoing criticism of Russia from Washington makes Russians wonder: “When we hear US criticism of what’s going on here, it sounds to Russians as if Americans want us to be weak. They want to provoke chaos – not to democratize, but to destroy.”
President Putin’s oft quoted phrase regarding the collapse of the USSR as “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe,” got misquoted numerous times by politicians, analysts, and the media. To those who quote it, the phrase apparently signals Putin’s dreams of rebuilding the Russian Empire. What Putin actually said carried a different meaning than that which is usually attached to the quote:
“The demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain. I see that not everyone in the West has understood that the Soviet Union has disappeared from the political map of the world and that a new country has emerged with new humanist and ideological principles at the foundation of its existence.”
American media’s assault on Russia started right after Putin came to power, yet it took on new heights during the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, which coincided with the protests in Ukraine at the end of 2013. The distortions and twisting of facts to create an image of Russia as an enemy is achieved best by using the technique of ‘personalization of a threat’. In Russia’s case, the whole focus of attention is concentrated on the personality of Putin and his role in conducting Russia’s foreign policy. ‘Personalization of a threat’ leads to downplaying substantive discussions of events and the role of the United States in provoking Russia’s foreign policy responses.
Newsweek, in its August 1st, 2014 issue, featured a cover page with a picture of Putin alongside huge letters stating: ” Putin’s Ukraine Mistakes Have Made Him a Pariah” The article, written by Owen Matthews gave a summary verdict of Putin’s involvement in the crash of the Malaysian airline, despite no formal investigation of the accident having even taken place.
One of the more recent examples of a ‘shaper’ of media messages about Russia in the West is that of writer and foreign investment fund manager Bill Browder. In 2003, when Browder was still making billions in Russia, he backed Putin’s decision to arrest former Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saying, “A nice, well-run authoritarian regime is better than an oligarchic mafia regime — and those are the choices on offer.” After Khodorkovsky’s arrest, Browder said: “People will forget in six months that Khodorkovsky is still sitting in jail.” During Khodorkovsky’s trial in 2005, Browder attacked the oligarch for the same asset-stripping behavior which Browder supported and profited from, telling the BBC: “Mr. Khodorkovsky is no martyr. He has left in his wake aggrieved investors too numerous to count and is widely credited with masterminding much of the financial trickery that plagued the Russian capital markets throughout the 1990s.” Browder tried to encourage Westerners to invest in Russia by writing in the New York Times : “Putin cares about foreign investors; he just doesn’t care about them enough to allow one oligarch to use his ill-gotten gains to hijack the state for his own economic purposes.” After Browder became unwelcome in Russia, he completely changed his narrative and started demonizing Putin and Russia as a state.
Examples of negative media are too many to mention, but the main victim of this negative media coverage of Russia is U.S. foreign policy itself. Instead of trying to understand complex issues, Russian foreign policy actions and internal developments are presented in a caricatured, black and white dichotomy, resulting in mistrust and making continuing reasonable dialogue between the two nations quite difficult.
Angela Borozna is pursuing a Ph.D in political science, writing her dissertation on Russian foreign policy.