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Congress Should Begin Impeachment, But Not the Way You Think

March 26th, 2019 - by David Swanson / Let's Try Democracy

(March 25, 2019) — Back before Donald Trump was inaugurated, I wrote an article called “Fantasies About Russia Could Doom Opposition to Trump.” Perhaps it is less quixotic, or perhaps it is more, to hope that, after more than two years of being barraged with those fantasies, but with their main focus having publicly flopped, more people will now be open to trying something else. That pre-inauguration article read:

“Trump should be impeached on Day 1, but the same Democrats who found the one nominee who could lose to Trump will find the one argument for impeachment that can explode in their own faces. . . . Meanwhile, we have a man planning to be president later this month whose business dealings clearly violate the U.S. Constitution in terms of not only foreign but also domestic corruption. . . .

Beyond that, Trump is becoming president after election-day intimidation, the partisan-based removal of voters from the rolls, and opposition to attempting to count paper ballots where they existed. He’s arriving with the stated policies of unconstitutionally discriminating against Muslims, murdering families, stealing oil, torturing, and proliferating nuclear weapons.

In other words, Donald Trump will be from Day 1 an impeachable president, and Democrats will have already spent months building their campaign around the one thing that won’t work.

Imagine what will happen after all their hearings and press conferences, when their supporters find out that they aren’t even accusing Vladimir Putin of hacking into election machines, that in fact they are accusing unknown individuals of hacking into Democrats’ emails, and that they are then vaguely speculating that those individuals could have been sources for WikiLeaks, thereby informing the U.S. public of what was quite obvious and ought to have been widely reported for the good of the U.S. government, namely that the DNC rigged its primary.

By the time the Democrats beat themselves to the floor with this charade, more facts will likely have come out regarding WikiLeaks’ actual source(s), and more hostility will likely have been stirred up with Russia. The war hawks have already got Trump talking up nuclear escalation.”

On inauguration day, RootsAction.org (which I work for) and Free Speech for People launched a petition to impeach Trump for his blatant violation of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses of the U.S. Constitution, which forbid any appearance or possibility of financial conflicts of interest. Very quickly, over a million people added their support. This past January, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (Dem., Mich.) cosigned an article with Free Speech for People’s John Bonifaz that read:

“We already have overwhelming evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, including, just to name a few: obstructing justice; violating the emoluments clause; abusing the pardon power; directing or seeking to direct law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries for improper purposes; advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws; ordering the cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border; and conspiring to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments.

Whether the president was directly involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election remains the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But we do not need to wait on the outcome of that criminal investigation before moving forward. . . .”

I asked Tlaib what she thought the top grounds for impeachment were, and she named “three key areas where we already know the President has committed impeachable offenses: the Emoluments Clause (Trump Hotel), campaign finance violations (Cohen), and obstruction of justice (Firing Comey).”

Tlaib has publicly committed to introducing articles of impeachment. But her position is extremely rare. Most members of Congress who have spoken of impeachment at all, and most media outlets, have for over two years insisted that Trump should be impeached if and only if the Mueller report proves that Trump worked with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election.

Chair of the House Judiciary Committee Jerrold Nadler has called talk of impeachment “premature” and dependent on Russiagate, despite also admitting that Trump’s payoffs to silence mistresses are impeachable offenses, despite having proposed to “censure and condemn” Trump after Charlottesville, and despite having pursued the emoluments topic, on which many have argued that an overabundance of evidence is already public.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has told the Washington Post that she is opposed to impeaching Trump because doing so would be “divisive,” and because the United States is “great” and not in any “perilous state,” but would be if Trump had a second term.

“Among the most damaging words to our democracy during the Trump era,” RootsAction.org co-founder Jeff Cohen tells me, “have been these six words: ‘Let’s wait for the Mueller report.’

That strategy of the Democratic leadership — and the obsessive Mueller coverage in allied outlets like MSNBC and CNN — has dangerously narrowed public attention to the not-yet-proven charge of Russian collusion, while normalizing and marginalizing other more provable and impeachable Trump affronts to our Constitution.

Imagine, for example, if even one-tenth of the attention lavished on Russiagate had been focused instead on Trump’s ongoing business corruption and his refusal to divest in the face of the Constitution’s requirement that a president not financially benefit from his office.

While the public can readily understand greed and self-interest, exit polls in November showed few voters were moved by the Russia collusion issue. The ‘waiting for Mueller’ strategy has made little sense politically, or Constitutionally — and has pushed other Trump offenses to the impeachment sidelines: Muslim ban, racist incitement, infringements on the press, politicizing prosecutions, etc.”

One of the more curious aspects in the long-awaited collapse of the Mueller effort to prove that Trump and Russia stole or tried to steal an election is that most voices in the corporate media have spoken for years both of the need to investigate that possibility and of the supposedly already established fact.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Saturday March 23rd sent out an email reading:

“There is overwhelming evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to help his presidential campaign win in 2016. Robert Mueller has been working to investigate the collusion and now that his report has been finalized, it must be made public to the American people. Mueller’s report on Russian interference in our 2016 election and its findings impact the very foundation of our democracy. Our elections are supposed to be by the people, for the people — with zero interference from foreign powers.”

The evidence is so overwhelming that it is never actually cited, and more of it is desperately needed.

Public opinion has moved toward the more-evidence-is-needed view. Support for Trump’s impeachment reached half the country and three-quarters of Democrats last summer, topping his approval rating, and topping where it was prior to Congressional action for Richard Nixon, and of course for Bill Clinton (whose impeachment was never popular), and almost reaching where it was for George W. Bush.

But support has fallen with the fizzling out of the Mueller investigation, and with Pelosi’s statements opposing impeachment. Sadly and predictably, the new Cold War has not seen a similar reduction. Military spending is soaring, and the head of NATO has been invited to speak to a joint session of Congress on April 3rd.

RootsAction has produced 18 draft articles of impeachment, but they have thus far been drowned out by Russiagate. Has the focus on a non-Congressional investigation of Russia/WikiLeaks-related charges been helpful or harmful? I’ve found very few eager to answer that question.

“We don’t have anything to add to this story,” Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s communications person told me in a comment typical of a number of Congressmembers. Journalist and author of The Genius of Impeachment, John Nichols told me, “Every investigation has value. But I believe the most important investigations focus on Trump’s obstruction of justice as president, and on his glaring disregard for the emoluments clause. The president’s financial deeds and misdeeds have, to my mind, always been the richest vein for exploration.”

Journalist and radio host Glen Ford told me, “The ‘investigations’ — if the term is even applicable — have proven that Donald Trump is a sleazy businessman who cares nothing for the law and surrounds himself with hustlers of his own low moral and ethical standards. Capitalism has gotten another black eye, which is good.

However, after more than two years of trying, the probes have utterly failed to prove the ‘predicate’ offense, that ‘Russians’ hacked the DNC emails and gave them to Wikileaks. We must all now conclude that the charge is false — which is cause to open a new investigation into the collusion between the Democratic Party, the CIA, and the FBI, and various other actors to foment war hysteria against nuclear-armed Russia and political mayhem at home under false and criminally contrived pretexts. I think this qualifies as a crime against peace, under Nuremberg standards.”

Beyond the desire to investigate those who instigated Russiagate, and the need to address numerous other crises, the movement for Trump’s impeachment is also now up against the marathon election season — which, along with unverifiable vote counting, gerrymandering, the electoral college, a system of legalized bribery, biased debates, corrupt media, registration and ID hurdles, the stripping of names from rolls, and open intimidation, is an actual flaw in past U.S. elections.

If that weren’t enough, impeachment must overcome the dread of Mike Pence. Author and professor Noam Chomsky tells me, “The top ground for getting rid of Trump is that he is carrying out policies designed to undermine the prospects for organized human life in the near future, and is doing so consciously — he understands the effects of global warming very well, as he and his administration have demonstrated. Whether this is grounds for impeachment can be argued, but it would do no good, because it would bring in Pence who is as bad or maybe even worse, because unlike Trump he is a ‘true believer,’ and if God tells him to proceed to destroy, so be it.”

Would it do no good? As opponents of impeachment are also very fond of pointing out, winning a conviction in the Senate would require a major transformation of U.S. politics — the sort of transformation that televised impeachment hearings could bring about, the sort of transformation that could leave a President Pence weaker than a President Gerald Ford and wary of facing his own impeachment.

Yet, rather than highlighting the existing facts, or producing new ones, such as Trump’s tax returns, Committee Chairs are complaining that Trump is refusing their requests for documents. An impeachment inquiry would produce those documents or new articles of impeachment for each subpoena not complied with.

I asked Congresswoman Tlaib if she expects the White House will comply with Congressional subpoenas if the President believes he will not be impeached. She replied: “They have not yet.”

There is also the option of impeaching Pence first. Early in the Bush-Cheney era, I met with several Congress Members and impeachment activists to brainstorm. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed impeaching Dick Cheney first. The idea was generally welcomed. But Congresswoman Barbara Lee stopped everyone by insisting that Congressman John Conyers would need to approve. Conyers followed the wishes of Pelosi, who has consistently opposed impeachment for Bush, Cheney, Kavanaugh, and Trump.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced articles of impeachment against both Bush and Cheney, including 35 articles against Bush that I had led a team of experts in drafting. But much of the Democratic Caucus and Judiciary Chair Conyers refused to budge.

What if the House had impeached Bush or Cheney, and the Senate failed to convict? We can’t answer that with certainty, but we do know what the failure to impeach them led to, what the failure to impeach Reagan for Iran-Contra led to, and what failure to impeach Trump is likely to lead to.

John Nichols thinks we should consult a better understanding of history. “We have never removed a president at the conclusion of an impeachment process,” he tells me. “We have had a president resign when faced with the prospect of removal. And the simple threat of hearings — usually coming in the context of a broader outcry — has caused presidents to alter policies and, I believe, rethink prospective reelection runs.

By any measure, hearings, in and of themselves, have the potential to constrain and conclude a lawless presidency. More importantly, hearings set a standard for when and how future presidents can be called to account. Hearings are, to my mind, essential to addressing the high crimes and misdemeanors of the sitting president AND to setting the standards that might prevent future presidents from committing high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Congresswoman Tlaib told me that she doubted an impeachment effort would lead to Trump complying with the law, including the Constitution’s emoluments clauses, but that, “as important is putting any future CEO who wants to become president of the United States on notice that he/she won’t get away with direct conflicts of interests and violations to Constitutional clauses without Congress investigating and holding all those involved accountable.”

‘Operation Stir Things Up’: US Sends Bombers Within 200km of St. Petersburg

March 26th, 2019 - by Marko Marjanović / Russia Insider

How would the US react if Russian bombers flew that close to Washington or NY?

(March 23, 2019) — NATO claims its rotation of fighter squadrons is a “policing mission”, i.e., it’s a defensive mission against the barbarian Russians who need policing. So then what is flying bombers, which are inherently an offensive weapon? Particularly the lumbering, eight-engine B-52 which is of little to no value in tactical roles against a heavily armed opponent such as Russia, but can deliver cruise missiles and nuclear bombs to level cities and bases.

Operation ‘Stir Things Up’—Task and Purpose:

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier on Thursday that it had scrambled two Sukhoi SU-27 fighter jets to intercept a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber which radar systems indicated was flying toward Russia’s borders, albeit at a considerable distance.

The ministry said the fighter jets had returned to base after the B-52 changed course and headed in the opposite direction. It did not say when the incident occurred.

The U.S. embassy in Poland said that B-52 bombers had flown to Lithuania and Poland on Wednesday to conduct interoperability training with NATO forces.

It said the planes, which were temporarily based in Britain, had carried out simulated bombing runs.

“Operating out of forward locations enables collective defense capabilities … needed to deter adversaries and assure our allies and partners,” it said in a statement.

Russian media reported that a B-52 bomber was spotted close to the border with Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad and the Leningrad region on Monday. At one point, the RBC news portal reported, the U.S. plane, which had flown from Britain, was less than 200 km (124 miles) from St Petersburg..

B-52s have an enormous range (14,000 km) and air-refueling capability. Even if a war broke out with Russia (and didn’t go nuclear in an instant) they would not operate from forward bases in Poland and Lithuania where they could be overrun by Russian ranks and destroyed on the ground by Russian land-to-land missiles.

They would operate from Britain, and fire off their cruise missiles from when they were still over Denmark. Taking them to Eastern Europen airfields and then paying a visit to Saint Petersburg serves no other purpose than to intentionally stir things up and hope for a Russian reaction so that NATO can continue to scare the continent about a supposed Russian menace.

In Show of Force, US Launches Missiles

Janene Scully / Noozhawk North County Editor

Twin contrails mark launch. One missile apparently fails.

(March 25, 2019) — A missile-defense test involving two launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base occurred Monday amid an unusual veil of secrecy.

At approximately 10:30 a.m., two weapons blasted off from underground silos on North Base, leaving parallel contrails visible in the skies above Santa Maria.

Vandenberg and Missile Defense Agency representatives remained mum about the upcoming test, although these missile-defense launches have been announced ahead of time for decades.

The test reportedly involved the Ground-based Midcourse Defense segment, which is designed to defend against a limited long-range missile attack.

In addition to hosting most of the previous flight tests, Vandenberg is home to four GMD interceptors with 40 others positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska.

At 11:10 a.m., a Vandenberg Public Affairs representative confirmed a missile test occurred but remained tight-lipped about details and said the Defense Department would release information later Monday. 

The secrecy surrounding the test hearkens back to the Cold War when Vandenberg launches occurred without official advanced notice. While the military kept the U.S. residents in the dark, the U.S. notified international governments so they did not mistake a rocket launch or missile test for an attack. 

Additional details were not immediately available.

US Regime Change Blueprint Proposed Venezuelan Electricity Blackouts as ‘Watershed Event’

March 26th, 2019 - by Max Blumenthal / Graystone & Consortium News

(March 12, 2019) — A September 2010 memo by a US-funded soft power organization that helped train Venezuelan coup leader Juan Guaidó and his allies identifies the potential collapse of the country’s electrical sector as “a watershed event” that “would likely have the impact of galvanizing public unrest in a way that no opposition group could ever hope to generate.”

The memo has special relevance today as Guaidó moves to exploit nationwide blackouts caused by a major failure at the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant at Guri dam—a crisis that Venezuela’s government blames on US sabotage.

It was authored by Srdja Popovic of the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), a Belgrade-based “democracy promotion” organization funded by the US that has trained thousands of US-aligned youth activists in countries where the West seeks regime change.

This group reportedly hosted Guaidó and the key leaders of his Popular Will party for a series of training sessions, fashioning them into a “Generation 2007” determined to foment resistance to then-President Hugo Chavez and sabotage his plans to implement “21st century socialism” in Venezuela.

In the 2010 memo, published by WikiLeaks, CANVAS’s Popovic declared, “A key to Chavez’s current weakness is the decline in the electricity sector.” Popovic explicitly identified the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant as a friction point, emphasizing that “water levels at the Guri dam are dropping, and Chavez has been unable to reduce consumption sufficiently to compensate for the deteriorating industry.”

Speculating on a“grave possibility that some 70 percent of the country’s electricity grid could go dark as soon as April 2010,” the CANVAS leader stated that “an opposition group would be best served to take advantage of the situation and spin it against Chavez and towards their needs.”

Flash forward to March 2019, and the scenario outlined by Popovic is playing out almost exactly as he had imagined.

On March 7, just days after Guaidó return from Colombia, where he participated in the failed and demonstrably violent Feb. 23 attempt to ram a shipment of US aid across the Venezuelan border, the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant experienced a major and still unexplained collapse.

Days later, electricity remains sporadic across the country. Meanwhile, Guaidó has done everything he can “to take advantage of the situation and spin it” against President Nicolas Maduro—just as his allies were urged to do over eight years before by CANVAS.

Rubio Vows ‘Period of Suffering’

Venezuela has placed the blame squarely on Washington, accusing it of sabotage through a cyber-attack on its electrical infrastructure. Key players in the US-directed coup attempt have done little to dispel the accusation.

In a tweet on March 8, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo framed the electricity outage as a pivotal stage in US plans for regime change:

At noon on March 7, during a hearing on Venezuela at the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee, Sen. Marco Rubio explicitly called for the US to stir “widespread unrest,” declaring that it “needs to happen” in order to achieve regime change.

“Venezuela is going to enter a period of suffering no nation in our hemisphere has confronted in modern history,” Rubio proclaimed.

Around 5 p.m., the Simon Bolivar Hydroelectric Plant experienced a total and still unexplained collapse. Residents of Caracas and throughout Venezuela were immediately plunged into darkness.

At 5:18 p.m., a clearly excited Rubio took to Twitter to announce the blackout and claim that “backup generators have failed.” It was unclear how Rubio had obtained such specific information so soon after the outage occurred. According to Jorge Rodriguez, the communications minister of Venezuela, local authorities did not know if backup generators had failed at the time of Rubio’s tweet.

Back in Caracas, Guaidó immediately set out to exploit the situation, just as his CANVAS trainers had advised over eight years before. Taking to Twitter just over an hour after Rubio, Guaidó declared, “the light will return when the usurpation [of Maduro] ends.” Like Pompeo, the self-declared president framed the blackouts as part of a regime change strategy, not an accident or error.

Two days later, Guaidó was at the center of an opposition rally he convened in affluent eastern Caracas, bellowing into a megaphone:

“Article 187 when the time comes. We need to be in the streets, mobilized. It depends on us, not on anybody else.”

Article 187 establishes the right of the National Assembly“to authorize the use of Venezuelan military missions abroad or foreign in the country.”

Upon his mention of the constitutional article, Guaidó’s supporters  responded, “Intervention!  Intervention!”

Exploiting Crisis

As Dan Cohen and I reported here at the Grayzone, Guaidó’s rise to prominence—and the coup plot that he has been appointed to oversee—is the product of a decade-long project overseen by the Belgrade-based CANVAS outfit.

CANVAS is a spinoff of Otpor, a Serbian protest group founded by Srdja Popovic in 1998 at the University of Belgrade. Otpor, which means “resistance” in Serbian, was the student group that worked alongside US soft power organizations to mobilize the protests that eventually toppled the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

CANVAS has been funded largely through the National Endowment for Democracy, a CIA cut-out that functions as the US government’s main arm of promoting regime change.  According to leaked internal emails from Stratfor, an intelligence firm known as the “shadow CIA,” CANVAS “may have also received CIA funding and training during the 1999/2000 anti-Milosevic struggle.”

leaked email from a Stratfor staffer noted that after they ousted Milosevic,“the kids who ran OTPOR grew up, got suits and designed CANVAS… or in other words an ‘export-a-revolution’ group that sowed the seeds for a NUMBER of color revolutions. They are still hooked into US funding and basically go around the world trying to topple dictators and autocratic governments (ones that US does not like ;).”

Stratfor subsequently revealed that CANVAS “turned its attention to Venezuela” in 2005, after training opposition movements that led pro-NATO regime change operations across Eastern Europe.

In September 2010, as Venezuela headed for a parliamentary election, CANVAS produced a series of memos outlining the plans they had hatched with “non-formal actors” like Guaidó and his cadre of student activists to bring down Chavez. “This is the first opportunity for the opposition to get back into a position of power,” Popovic wrote at the time.

In his memo on electricity outages, Popovic highlighted the importance of the Venezuelan military in achieving regime change.

“Alliances with the military could be critical because in such a situation of massive public unrest and rejection of the presidency,” the CANVAS founder wrote, “malcontent sectors of the military will likely decide to intervene, but only if they believe they have sufficient support.”

While the scenario Popovic envisioned failed to materialize in 2010, it perfectly describes the situation gripping Venezuela today as an opposition leader cultivated by CANVAS seeks to spin the crisis against Maduro while calling on the military to break ranks.

Since the Grayzone exposed the deep ties between CANVAS and Guaidó’s Popular Will party, Popovic has attempted to publicly distance himself from his record of training Venezuela’s opposition.

Today, however, Popovic’s 2010 memo on exploiting electricity outages reads like a blueprint for the strategy that Guaidó and his patrons in Washington have actively implemented. Whether or not the blackout is the result of external sabotage, it represents the “watershed event” that CANVAS has prepared its Venezuelan cadres for.

This article was also published on the Grayzone.

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and the author of books including best-selling “Republican Gomorrah,” “Goliath,” “The Fifty One Day War” and “The Management of Savagery,” which will be published in March 2019 by Verso. He has also produced numerous print articles for an array of publications, many video reports and several documentaries including “Killing Gaza” and “Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie.” Blumenthal founded the Grayzone Project in 2015 to shine a journalistic light on America’s state of perpetual war and its dangerous domestic repercussions.

16 Years Later, How the Press That Sold the Iraq War Got Away With It

March 26th, 2019 - by Matt Taibbi / Rolling Stone

In an excerpt from his new book Hate Inc., Matt Taibbi looks back at how the media built new lies to cover their early ones

 (March 22, 2019) —Sixteen years ago this week, the United States invaded Iraq. We went in on an unconvincing excuse, articulated by George W. Bush in a speech days before invasion:

“Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. This regime has already used weapons of mass destruction against Iraq’s neighbors and against Iraq’s people.”

To the lie about the possession of WMDs, Bush added a few more: that Hussein “trained and harbored terrorists, including operatives of al-Qaeda.” Moreover, left unchecked, those Saddam-supplied terrorists could “kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country.”

The disaster that followed cost over a hundred-thousand lives just in Iraq and drained north of $2 trillion from the budget. Once we were in and the “most lethal weapons ever devised” were not discovered, it quickly became obvious that large numbers of people at the highest levels of society had either lied, screwed up, or both.

The news media appropriately caught a huge chunk of the blame. But a public that had been fooled once was not prepared for the multiple rounds of post-invasion deceptions that followed, issued by many of the same pols and press actors. These were designed to rewrite history in real time, creating new legends that have now lasted 16 years.

These have allowed people like Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer — through whose mouth many of the chief lies of the era flowed — to come out this week and claim it was a “myth” that “Bush lied, people died.”

The myths had enormous utility to the working press, whose gargantuan errors have been re-cast as honest mistakes of judgment. A lot of the people who made those mistakes are still occupying prominent positions, their credibility undamaged thanks to a new legend best articulated by New Yorkereditor David Remnick, who later scoffed, “Nobody got that story completely right.”

Nobody except the record number of people who marched against the war on February 15, 2003 — conservative estimates placed it between six and ten million worldwide (I marched in D.C.). Every one of those people was way ahead of Remnick.

None were marching because they disbelieved the WMD claims. Most marched because they saw the WMD issue as irrelevant at best, an insultingly thin excuse for a wrong war that had some other, darker, still-unreleased explanation.

In my forthcoming book Hate Inc.(which I’ve been publishing in serial form here), I’ve been looking at the major media deceptions of this century. WMD became the archetype of a modern propaganda campaign, a key component of which is the rewarding of the people who sell the lie.

This was accomplished after Iraq via a series of deceptions tweaked over and over, myths piled atop myths. In order, the biggest surviving Iraq lies:

Only a Small Portion of the Industry Screwed Up

In the popular imagination, the case for war was driven by a bunch of Republicans and one over-caffeinated New York Timesreporter named Judith Miller. Even the attempts to make comprehensive lists of Iraq cheerleaders post-invasion inevitably focus on usual suspects like Fleischer, current Trump official John Bolton, neoconservatives like Max Boot, David Frum, and Bill Kristol, and winger goons like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. But we expect the worst from such people.

It’s been forgotten this was actually a business-wide consensus, which included the enthusiastic participation of a blue-state intelligentsia. The New Yorkerof Remnick, who himself wrote a piece called “Making the Case,” was a source of many of the most ferocious pro-invasion pieces, including a pair written by current Atlanticeditor Jeffrey Goldberg, one of a number of WMD hawks who failed up after the war case fell apart. Other prominent Democrat voices like Ezra KleinJonathan Chait, and even quasi-skeptic Nick Kristof (who denounced war critics for calling Bush a liar) were on board, as a Full Metal Jacketcharacter put it, “for the big win.”

The Washington Postand New York Timeswere key editorial-page drivers of the conflict; MSNBC unhired Phil Donahue and Jesse Ventura over their war skepticism; CNN flooded the airwaves with generals and ex-Pentagon stoolies, and broadcast outlets ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS stacked the deck even worse: In a two-week period before the invasion, the networks had just one American guest out of 267 who questioned the war, according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Exactly one major news organization refused to pick up pom-poms, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain. All the other major outlets, whether they ostensibly catered to Republican or Democratic audiences, sold the war lie. The bipartisan nature of the deception has been obscured in history by a second legend:

The War Was about WMDs

We now know, from leaks like Britain’s Downing Street memos and the U.K.’s later Chilcot report, that the WMD issue was a concoction, designed for the narrow purpose of giving Tony Blair political cover to support Bush’s real reason for war, “regime change.”

Few in the media noticed at the time that key neoconservatives close to the Bush administration like Kristol and Robert Kagan (who are still more than welcome on cable today), had been articulating a goofball global domination plan called “benevolent hegemony” in public dating back to the mid- and late-1990s.

The idea was, now that the Soviets were gone, the U.S. should be more aggressive, not less. We should bail on the “peace dividend” Bill Clinton touted in the early nineties. We should also, neoconservatives said, resist the nationalist version of the “peace dividend,” the urge to concentrate “energies at home” in policies like Pat Buchanan’s “America First” plan.

Instead, we should secure a “preponderance of influence” over all countries, having a plan for “change of regime” for anycountry not under our control, from Cuba to Iran to China.

How to justify this dressed-up version of “pre-emptive war”? We know from Bush speechwriter David Frum’s bootlicking account of having served that administration, The Right Man, that the “Axis of Evil” concept was something Frum found flipping through history books about World War II.

There, he came up with the idea that America’s enemies were so crazy with hatred for us, they couldn’t be trusted to behave rationally even if threatened with annihilation. “If deterrence worked,” he noted, “there would never be a Pearl Harbor.”

Tony Blair was fine with regime change, but felt he couldn’t sell the concept politically. In 2009 he admitted this and said he’d have “deployed” different arguments without WMD if he had it to do over. From the Chilcot inquiry we know his foreign policy advisor David Manning had dinner with Condoleezza Rice in March of 2002, and afterward wrote a damning memo to Blair.

“I said that you would not budge in your support for regime change,” he wrote. “But you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different.”

So they cooked up the idea of invading Iraq as a response to longstanding violations of a UN inspections regime, a reason that they hoped would provide Blair with the fig leaf of UN Security Council approval.

Later, British intelligence officials like Sir John Scarlett worried the public would not buy a case for war against Iraq because Iraq wasn’t “exceptional” even compared to other states like Libya, Iran, and North Korea.

This means all the marchers were right to ask all those obvious questions about the war from the start.

Why were we invading a country with no connection to 9/11? If this had something to do with supporting terrorists, why were we invading a state ruled by a secular Baathist dictator, a type hated by religious extremists like bin Laden almost as much as the United States is hated? If rogue states with weapons were the problem, why Iraq and not Iran, Libya, or especially North Korea? If WMD were the issue, why not wait until inspections were finished?

Millions of ordinary people, without intelligence sources or experiences traveling in the Middle East or access to satellite photos, identified the key questions long before we went to war. One of the most damning revelations of the Chilcot report is that British officials were extremely worried the case was so thin, journalists would see right through it.

An assistant to Blair spokesman Alistair Campbell named Phillip Bassett wrote on September 11, 2002: “Think we’re in trouble with this.” Foreign Office communications chief John Williams suggested he and his colleagues target “people, as opposed to journalists,” because the latter would surely see “There is no ‘killer fact… that proves Saddam must be taken on now.”

They had it backwards. Large portions of the public were skeptical from the start.

Only reporters were dumb enough, or dishonest enough, to eat the bait about WMDs. Moreover, American reporters on their own volition rallied to the idea that Saddam was a Hitler-Satan whose “exceptional” evil needed immediate extinguishing.

Goldberg: “Saddam Hussein is a figure of singular repugnance, and singular danger… No one else comes close… to matching his extraordinary and variegated record of malevolence…” Chait: “He’s in league with a Stalin in terms of internal repression.” Remnick said he was a “modern Nebuchadnezzar II” who’d vowed to “vanquish the United States, and rule over a united Arab world.”

But even that wasn’t the worst issue:

The Deception Wasn’t about WMDs or Iraq, but about Domestic Attitudes

After we invaded, and the WMD hunt turned out to be a crock, nearly all of our professional chin-scratchers found ways to address their errors. Most followed a script: I was young (Ezra Klein literally said, “I was young”), I believed the intel, and on the narrow point of WMDs being in Iraq, I screwed up.

None walked back the rest of the propaganda, which is why even as the case for invading Iraq fell apart, our presence in the Mideast expanded. While Judith Miller became a national punchline, the “continuing exertion of American influence” became conventional wisdom.

Defense budgets exploded. NATO expanded. The concept of a “peace dividend” faded to the point where few remember it ever existed. We now maintain a vast global archipelago of secret prisons, routinely cross borders in violation of international law using drones, and today have military bases in 80 countries, to support active combat operations in at least seven nations (most Americans don’t even know which ones).

The WMD episode is remembered as a grotesque journalistic failure, one that led to disastrous war that spawned ISIS. But none of the press actors who sold the invasion seem sorry about the revolutionary new policies that error willed into being. They are specifically not regretful about helping create a continually-expanding Fortress America with bases everywhere that topples regimes left and right, with or without congressional or UN approval.

They’re sorry about Iraq, maybe, but as Chait later said, “Libya was not Iraq.” This he said to “liberal anti-interventionists,” in explaining why “I have not embraced their worldview.”

We had successfully “contained” the much more powerful Soviet Union for ages, to say nothing of smaller, weaker countries subject to flyover regimes like Iraq. To start the war, Americans had to be talked out of the idea that these policies were still viable.

To this end, people like Remnick told us “a return to a hollow pursuit of containment will be the most dangerous option of all.” Fred Hiatt’s Washington Posteditorial page warned “not poking the hornet’s nest” was a “strategy of accommodation, half-measures and wishful thinking.”

Today we mostly laugh about serial word-strangler columnist Thomas Friedman of the Times,but he was a key voice. His infamous “Chicken a l’Iraq” editorial insisted America couldn’t risk containment and had to be willing to be as unpredictable as rogue enemies – that in a game of realpolitikchicken, we had to throw out our steering wheel and be “ready to invade Iraq tomorrow, alone.”

The first rule of modern commercial media is you’re allowed to screw up, in concert. There’s no risk in being wrong within a prevailing narrative. That’s why the chief offenders kept perches or failed up. The job isn’t about getting facts right, it’s about getting narratives right, and being willing to eat errors discovered in service of pushing the right subtext.

Failure to self-audit after Iraq led the media business to mangle of a series of subsequent stories. From the still-misreported financial crisis of 2008 to the failure to take the rise of Donald Trump as an electoral phenomenon seriously to the increasingly sloppy coverage of our hyper-aggressive foreign policies, we’ve gotten very loose with facts and data, knowing there’s no downside to certain kinds of misses.

A British non-profit called Reprieve years ago even discovered journalists were routinely repeating government assertions that certain terror suspects had been killed in drone strikes, failing to notice the same suspects had been reported killed years before or in different countries, sometimes not even twice but three or four times.

We’re particularly bad when it comes to regime-change stories, and have seen this just recently.

Multiple news organizations, including the New York Times,reported forces loyal to Venezuela’s Maduro (our latest regime change target) burned food aid sent by Western humanitarian convoys. It turned out the opposition burned the cargo. A CNN reporter said it was a “classic case of how misinformation spreads… from an unconfirmed rumor… to the mass media,” failing to realize the screwup started when a CNN crew claimed they saw the burning episode.

This slapstick idiocy was like something out of Evelyn Waugh. It was so bad the Onionran a story called, “New York Times Corrects Story By Admitting They Burned Venezuelan Aid Convoy.”

The press in the wake of the WMD affair assumed the safety-in-numbers instincts of herd animals: like wildebeest, the instant 51% of the pack decides to run in a direction, they all run that way, even if it means bounding off a factual cliff. That the landscape is currently split into two different sets of wildebeest is not much of a comfort. Reporting these days is more a matter of manufactured, behind-the-scenes consensus building than an individuated process of following facts wherever they lead, no matter how inconvenient.

The damage this story did to our collective reputations is still poorly understood in the business. In fact, “Why do they hate us?” stories are one of an increasing number of feature ideas we routinely botch. We’ll never get rid of the scarlet letter from those years until we face how bad it was, and it was so much worse than we’re admitting, even now.

Excerpted from Hate Inc., which can be found in serial form at Taibbi.substack.com.

How the Media Distort News From Venezuela

March 25th, 2019 - by Reese Erlich / AntiWar.com

Whenever officials in Washington, D.C. set out to overthrow a foreign government, mainstream US media outlets are there to give a helping hand. All pretense of fairness and balance disappear in favor of outrageous distortion. For the most recent example, let’s look at Venezuela.

Both high-level Republicans and Democrats have decided it’s time for Venezuela, with the world’s largest oil reserves, to rejoin the US sphere of influence. Hawks may call for direct military intervention while doves seek punishing sanctions, but all agree that the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro has got to go.

Mainstream media took a particularly rightward turn in January after Juan Guaidó anointed himself as Venezuela’s president, with the blessings from the administration of President Donald Trump. Guaidó is president of the opposition-dominated National Assembly and had never even run for president. A January opinion poll showed he was unknown to 81 percent of the people. He represented an unstable alliance of opposition parties. As I’ve written before, lack of legality didn’t stop the United States and its allies from declaring Guaidó president and pretending he ran an actual government.

As if responding to a bat signal in the skies above Gotham City, the mainstream media rushed to back the Trump team’s policies. The administration, which has proven incompetent and dangerous on other issues, was suddenly a reliable source of information on Venezuela. Statements from the administration and Venezuelan opposition leaders were uncritically reproduced, no matter how untethered to reality. Allow me to offer some examples.

In February, Guaidó announced plans to deliver international aid to starving Venezuelans by mobilizing massive demonstrations at the Venezuela-Colombia border, hoping a significant number of military officers would defect. The plan was obviously flawed because military leaders continued to back Maduro. Sure enough, the aid convoy didn’t get through, and military officers didn’t defect.

Many media outlets reported that Maduro’s security forces burned an aid truck as it attempted to enter Venezuela. In reality, aerial and other photos reported in real time by the leftist website Venezuela Analysis indicated that the fire was started by an anti-government protester. Weeks later, The New York Times got around to reporting that Maduro’s forces didn’t start the fire.

Another example of bias: The Times and other US media focused exclusively on the US aid, ignoring that donated by Russia and Cuba without incident.

In mid-March, Venezuela’s electric grid went out nationwide, causing huge economic dislocation and dozens of deaths. President Maduro said a US cyber attack caused the shutdown. CBS News reported this claim, but gave it no credence, dutifully saying US officials “dismissed the Venezuelan government’s accusation as absurd and an attempt to divert attention from its own chronic failings.”

The Maduro government has yet to provide proof of its assertion. But as a commentary in Forbes showed, the United States could well have launched such an attack. Remember, the US and Israel initially denied creating the Stuxnet virus that disabled Iranian nuclear facilities.

Why Distortions?

I’ve been a foreign correspondent for forty years and have reported from Venezuela since 1994. I’ve met many journalists in the mainstream media, from The New York Times to CNN and NPR. None see themselves as government mouthpieces, and in private, many will criticize Trump. So why the distorted coverage?

Mainstream reporters and editors take their cues from Washington, DC Since bipartisan leaders see Venezuela as beyond the pale, so do the media. They see Maduro as “hard left,” similar to the leaders of Cuba or the old USSR. As a result, they accept US government assertions pretty much without question. They often make no effort to get Maduro’s side, or even to find academics or former government officials who can balance a story with a pro-Maduro views.

In one particularly egregious article, theThe New York Times Washington, DC, bureau recently quoted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at length about how Russia and Cuba are “propping up Venezuela,” an absurd claim given Cuba’s own economic problems and Russia’s distance. The article contained one perfunctory paragraph with the Venezuelan government viewpoint.

Vicious Attacks  

Reporters know there are few consequences for misreporting about Maduro and his allies, but that the roof caves in if they report negatively about the opposition.

In 2017, I filed a series of stories on Venezuela for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s daily website. While reporting government-sponsored brutality, I also noted that the opposition engaged in violent tactics against the police. I wrote that the momentum was shifting away from the antigovernment demonstrators. I came under vicious attack online in a clear effort to discredit not only the articles but me as a reporter.

To their credit, CBC editors defended my reporting. A few weeks later, the opposition demonstrations petered out as the country prepared to vote for a Constituent Assembly.

A Positive Exception

Of course, the mainstream media is not monolithic. Knight-Ridder, now owned by McClatchy, accurately reported that weapons of mass destruction didn’t exist in Iraq during the run up to the 2003 war.

McClatchy reporters have now uncovered covert US arms shipments from Miami to Venezuela. Their article explored possible links between the charter airline carrying the weapons and the CIA’s program in the 2000s of kidnapping and taking civilians to black sites. I hope other reporters follow up—but am not holding my breath.

The government of Venezuela certainly deserves a lot of criticism. Inflation is skyrocketing. Venezuelans face shortages of food and medicine. Unemployment is increasing as work places shut down because of the crisis. But that doesn’t justify US efforts to overthrow Maduro and install an opposition leader.

Reese Erlich’s nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears regularly in The Progressive. His book, The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy – is now available. Follow him on Twitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him on Facebook; and visit his webpage.

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Dirty Water 20 Times Deadlier to Children in Conflict Zones Than Bullets

March 25th, 2019 - by Kate Hodal / Guardian UK

World Water Day study highlights lethal nature of unsafe sanitation and hygiene for children, especially under-fives

 (March 24, 2019) — Children under five who live in conflict zones are 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoeal diseases linked to unsafe water than from direct violence as a result of war, Unicef has found.

Analysing mortality data from 16 countries beset by long-term conflict – including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen – the UN children’s agency also found that unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene kills nearly three times more children under 15 than war.

Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said the findings, published in a report published on Friday to mark World Water Day, underline the need for access to safe water and sanitation to be treated as a human right rather than a privilege.

“Deliberate attacks on water and sanitation are attacks on vulnerable children,” said Fore.

“The reality is that there are more children who die from lack of access to safe water than by bullets. Water is a basic right. It is a necessity for life.”

The report compared World Health Organization data on “collective violence” and “diarrhoeal disease” from 2014 to 2016 in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene kills an average of 72,000 children under five each year, while direct violence from war kills an average of 3,400, according to the report.

Diarrhoea killed more children under five in each of the 16 countries analysed bar Libya and Syria, the report found. Under-15s were more likely to die from diseases related to unsafe water everywhere but Libya, Iraq and Syria.

“Human beings can run away or take shelter from bullets or bombs, but they will run towards and seek out water at any cost,” said Omar El Hattab, Unicef’s regional chief of water, environment and sanitation for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Unfortunately, unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene reaches every household, and will still be demanded by people – if people are thirsty, they will drink any kind of water. In Yemen, a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes, and many of those causes – malnutrition, cholera, diarrhoea – are related to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene.”

Lack of access to adequate water and sanitation adversely affects girls more than boys, making them vulnerable to sexual violence as they collect water or use latrines, said the report.

Yet the changing nature of conflict means that water, sanitation and hygiene systems are often targeted as a means of attacking civilians, which is in breach of the Geneva convention, said Sian White, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Hospitals and water and sanitation infrastructure used to be ‘off limits’, with warring parties respecting their value to human life, but recent experience indicates that this is no longer the case,” said White.

“Perpetrators of conflict are increasingly viewing water and sanitation systems as an asset of war that can be harnessed to gain power and destroyed to inflict harm on civilians.”

The bombing of a water production plant in Hodeida last July deprived more than 1 million people of drinking water, said El Hattab. Fighting in Syria has also resulted in key water, sanitation and electricity systems being repeatedly damaged since conflict broke out in 2011, with deliberate shutdowns affecting as many as 2 million people at a time, said the report.

“Water, sanitation and hygiene services should never be interrupted or politicised: access to safe water is a human right, not a privilege,” said El Hattab.

“Indiscriminate attacks on water and sanitation services must be stopped, and personnel for power supply, and water and sanitation workers should be allowed to access facilities for repairs and maintenance irrespective of where those facilities exist.”

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Why You’ll Never Meet a White Supremacist Who Cares About Climate Change

March 25th, 2019 - by Rebecca Solnit / Guardian UK

Behind the urgency of climate action is the understanding that everything is connected; behind white supremacy is an ideology of separation.

 (March 24, 2019) — As the news of the Christchurch mosque massacre broke and I scoured the news, I came across a map showing that the Friday morning climate strike in Christchurch was close to the bloodbath. I felt terrible for the young people who showed up with hope and idealism, wondered whether the killer or killers chose this particular day to undermine the impact of this global climate action. It was a shocking pairing and also a perfectly coherent one, a clash of opposing ideologies. Behind the urgency of climate action is the understanding that everything is connected; behind white supremacy is an ideology of separation.

Of separation as the idea that human beings are divided into races, and those in one race have nothing in common with those in others. Of separation as the idea that though white people have overrun the globe, nonwhite people should stay out of Europe, North America, and now even New Zealand and Australia, two places where white settlers came relatively recently to already inhabited places – as a fantasy of resegregating the world.

Of a lot of ideas and ideals of masculinity taken to a monstrous extreme – as ideas of disconnection, of taking matters into your own hands, of feeling no empathy and exhibiting no kindness, of asserting yourself as having the right to dominate others even unto death. And of course, of guns as the symbols and instruments of this self-definition.

Climate change is based on science. But if you delve into it deeply enough it is a kind of mysticism without mystification, a recognition of the beautiful interconnection of all life and the systems – weather, water, soil, seasons, ocean pH – on which that life depends. It acknowledges that everything is connected, that to dig up the carbon that plants so helpfully sequestered in the ground over eons and burn it so that returns to the sky as carbon dioxide changes the climate, and that this changed climate isn’t just warmer, it’s more chaotic, in ways that break these elegant patterns and relationships. That chaos is a kind of violence – the violence of hurricanes, wildfires, new temperature extremes, broken weather patterns, droughts, extinctions, famines. Which is why climate action has been and must be nonviolent. It is a movement to protect life.

That includes human life whether it’s the people of Central America impacted by failed harvests or of the Gulf Coast by hurricanes or the Arctic and their traditional relationships to seals, caribou and other species in crisis from climate change or the people of California, like the 82 killed in the inferno that in one day destroyed the town of Paradise last year. And it includes all life, because human beings are not separate from the fate of insects, of birds, of the life in the sea, of the forests that sequester carbon, of the diseases that will thrive on a warmer planet. I know a lot of climate activists, and I know what motivates them: it’s love. For the whole planet, for the most vulnerable people on it, for the idea of a livable future.

It’s no accident that climate denial is integral to rightwing thinking, that Republicans in the US have been freaking out about the Green New Deal, that maximizing fossil fuel development and profit seems to be a cornerstone of their libertarian-capitalist ideology. To acknowledge that everything is connected is to acknowledge that our actions have consequences and therefore responsibilities they are unwilling to shoulder. Also that the solutions to climate change require cooperative work at all levels from local energy transition to national policies that stop subsidizing fossil fuels to international agreements to set emissions goals.

In contrast, so much of rightwing ideology now is about a libertarian machismo in the “I can do anything I want” vein. It’s the pro-gun myth that we can each protect ourselves with a weapon when in reality we’re all safer with them out of our societies. It’s the idea that we can deregulate the hell out of everything and everyone can just look out for themselves whether it’s food safety or infrastructure safety or air and water quality.

To kill someone, you have to feel separate from them, and some violence – lynching, rape – ritualizes this separateness. Violence too comes out of a sort of entitlement: I have the right to hurt you, to determine your fate, to end your life. I am more important than you. It seems like, among other things a miserable mindset, one that aggrandizes your ego but withers your soul.

To oppose it means in part standing up for those under attack – black churchgoers in Charleston, Jews in Pittsburgh, Muslims in Christchurch, among them. But it also means being the opposite of their ideals and their actions. It means generosity, respect, inclusion, nonviolence.

I asked Hoda Baraka, who is both Muslim and 350.org’s global communications director, how it all looked to her in the wake of the climate strike and the massacre, and she said “In a world being driven by fear, we are constantly being pitted against the very things that make this world livable.

Whether it’s people being pitted against each other, even though there is no life without human connection, love and empathy. Or fear pitting us against the very planet that sustains us, even though there is no life on a dead planet. This is why fighting against climate change is the equivalent of fighting against hatred. A world that thrives is one where both people and planet are seen for their inextricable value and connectedness.”

Our work as climate activists arises from the recognition that acts have consequences, and consequences come with responsibilities, and we are responsible for the fate of this earth, for all living things now and in the future we are choosing with our actions– or inactions – in the present. But also from the recognition that ecological connectedness contains a deep beauty tantamount to love. Our goal as climate activists is to protect life. Those children and youth standing up for the future in Christchurch and in more than 1,700 other cities around the world were already the answer we needed.

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New Zealand Killer Tied to US-backed Ukrainian Nazis The Transnational Network That Nobody is Talking About

March 25th, 2019 - by Intel Brief / The Soufan Center

Bottom Line Up Front

  • There are possible links between the recent New Zealand mosque shooter and a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist white supremacist paramilitary organization called the Azov Battalion.
  • The Azov Battalion is emerging as a critical node in the transnational right-wing violent extremist (RWE) movement.
  • Recruits from the U.S., Norway, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Sweden, and Australia, among others, have reportedly traveled to train with the Azov Battalion.
  • The global nature of these groups is just one of several similarities between RWEs and Salafi-jihadists.

(March 22, 2019) — In the wake of the New Zealand mosque attacks, links have emerged between the shooter, Brent Tarrant, and a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist, white supremacist paramilitary organization called the Azov Battalion.  Tarrant’s manifesto alleges that he visited the country during his many travels abroad, and the flak jacket that Tarrant wore during the assault featured a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion.

Tarrant’s transnational ties go beyond Ukraine, however. Tarrant claimed that he was in touch with Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, and he took trips throughout Europe, including the Balkans, visiting sites that symbolized historical battles between Christians and Muslims. During the video of his attack he could be heard listening to a song that glorified Bosnian-Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic, and his gun featured racial messages and names of white supremacists from around the world. 

The Azov Battalion is emerging as a critical node in the transnational right-wing violent extremist (RWE) network. This group maintains its own ‘Western Outreach Office’ to help recruit and attract foreign fighters that travel to train and connect with people from like-minded violent organizations from across the globe. Operatives from the outreach office travel around Europe to promote the organization and proselytize its mission of white supremacy.

In July 2018, German-language fliers were distributed among the visitors at a right-wing rock festival in Thuringia, inviting them to be part of the Azov battalion: ‘join the ranks of the best’ to ‘save Europe from extinction.’ It has also established youth camps, sporting recreation centers, lecture halls, and far-right education programs, including some that teach children as young as 9 years old military tactics and far-right ideology. This aggressive approach to networking serves one of the Azov Battalion’s overarching objectives to transform areas under its control in Ukraine into the primary hub for transnational white supremacy. 

Too often, the focus on foreign fighters has been relegated to Sunni jihadists, but in a globalized world, the foreign fighter phenomenon has deep roots across ideologies, from foreign fighters assisting the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, to Shi’a militants traveling from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Lebanon to join with Iranian-backed foreign fighter networks operating in Syria.

It is now evident that RWE networks are also highly active in recruiting fighters worldwide to its cause, with the Azov Battalion and other ultra-nationalist organizations playing a significant role in the globalization of RWE violence. Indeed, the Azov Battalion is forging links with RWE groups, hosting visits from ultra-nationalist organizations such as members of the Rise Above Movement (R.A.M.) from the U.S. and the British National Action from the U.K., among other white supremacists from around the world.

In the United States, several R.A.M. members (all American citizens) who spent time in Ukraine training with the Azov Battalion were recently indicted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) for their role in violently attacking counter-protestors during the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA in August 2017. 

Ironically, there are similarities in ideology, strategy and recruitment tactics between Salafi-Jihadist organizations, such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State, and RWE groups. Both types of violent groups seek to implement their own versions of what they consider to be a ‘pure’ society. There are striking resemblances between al-Qaeda’s Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) and the Azov Battalion’s ‘Western Outreach Office,’ both of which had the responsibility for promoting the cause and helping recruits reach the battlefield. Just as Afghanistan served as a sanctuary for jihadist organizations like Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in the 1980s, so too are parts of Ukraine becoming a safe haven for an array of right-wing violent extremist groups to congregate, train, and radicalize.

And just like the path of jihadist groups, the goal of many of these members is to return to their countries of origin (or third-party countries) to wreak havoc and use acts of violence as a means to recruit new members to their cause. Unlike jihadis who are attempting to strike Western targets, though, radicalized white supremacists have the added advantage of being able to blend in seamlessly in the West, just as Tarrant was able to do. 

The Christchurch shooter was not simply a lone actor, but the product of a broader network of right-wing violent extremists. If the evidence ultimately proves that Tarrant went to Ukraine to train with like-minded individuals, then the attack in New Zealand was possibly the first example of an act of terrorism committed by a white supremacist foreign fighter. And unless the international community recognizes the danger posed by these transnational networks, the New Zealand attack is unlikely to be the last. 

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Why Stopping Wars Is Essential for Stopping Climate Change

March 24th, 2019 - by Elaine Graham-Leigh / CounterFire

The US military is the world’s biggest polluter

Elaine Graham-Leigh / CounterFire


(March 22, 2019) — War isn’t just a waste of resources that could be used to tackle climate change, but is itself a significant cause of environmental harm, argues Elaine Graham-Leigh

War is not often mentioned in mainstream discussions about the causes of climate change. The 1992 Kyoto Protocol indeed explicitly excluded greenhouse gas emissions from military action from its emissions targets. This automatic exclusion was removed in the 2015 Paris Agreement, but it is still not mandatory for signatory countries to track and reduce their military carbon emissions.

The enormous cost of the military machine in both the US and the UK gives the lie to claims that dealing with climate change would be unaffordable for Western governments. When proposers of a Green New Deal in US are told that ‘there’s no money to pay for it’, it’s natural to look to the $716bn of US military spending as a potential source of those elusive funds. Similarly, in the UK, we should not forget that a government which apparently can’t find money for the NHS, public services or green infrastructure can find £205bn for renewing Trident.  

The connections between war and climate change however go further than simple competition for government funding. War isn’t just a waste of resources that could be used to tackle climate change, but is itself a significant cause of environmental harm. The armed forces have considerable carbon footprints. This is most true of the US military, but the UK armed forces will have similar practices, albeit on a smaller scale.

The US military admits to getting through 395,000 barrels of oil every day, including jet fuel consumption which makes it the single largest consumer in the world. This is an astonishing figure which is nevertheless likely to be a considerable underestimate. Once all the oil use from military contractors, weapons manufacturing and all those secret bases and operations that get missed out of the official figures are factored in, the real daily usage is likely to be closer to a million barrels. As even supporters of the military admit, ‘vast swathes of our military are big carbon emitters – tanks, jeeps, Humvees, jet planes’, as Steven Groves from the Heritage Foundation put it in 2015. To put the figures into perspective, US military personnel on active service make up around 0.0002% of the world’s population, but are part of a military system which generates around 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of these emissions are from the military infrastructure that the US maintains around the world. The environmental cost of war itself is considerably higher. It has been estimated that the Iraq war between 2003 and 2007 accounted for 141 million metric tonnes of CO2, more than 60% of all the countries in the world.

The environmental damage caused by war is not limited, of course, to climate change. The effects of nuclear bombing and nuclear testing, the use of Agent Orange, depleted uranium and other toxic chemicals, as well as land mines and unexploded ordinance lingering in conflict zones long after the war has moved on, have earned the US military a deserved reputation as ‘the greatest single assault on the environment.’ It has been estimated that 20% of all environmental degradation around the world is due to military and related activities, much of which of course has involved the US and the UK.

The US military is particularly secretive about its energy requirements. Journalists have commented that it is easier to get casualty figures out of the Department of Defense than it is to get statistics on military oil use. US military behaviour tells us however that there is an absolute commitment to continue to get through oil at the current, astonishing rate, even when there might be good, military reasons for reducing it. When the US Defense Science Board reported in 2001 that the military would need either to develop more oil efficient weapons or better support systems to be able to keep themselves supplied, ‘the generals seem to have chosen a third option: capturing access to more oil’ (Ian Angus, Facing the Anthropocene, (Monthly Review Press 2016), p.161). This indicates the fundamental truth about the military and climate change: that the modern way of war emerged from and is only possible with profligate use of fossil fuel.

The rapid rise in greenhouse gas emissions that created the current climate crisis began in around 1950; in other words, in the period immediately following the Second World War. This is not a coincidence. Oil had been important in the First World War, but controlling access to oil supplies was crucial in the Second. The Allies would not have won had they not been able to cut off German access to oil and to maintain it for themselves. The lesson for the US in particular after the war was that continuing access to and monopolisation of the world’s oil was essential if it was to be the world’s superpower. This made oil a central military priority, and also cemented the dominant position of the petroleum/automotive sector in the US. These were preconditions for a system dependent on greenhouse gas emitting technologies for military and domestic production; the source of the climate change we are facing now.  

The last seventy years have been seventy years of imperialist wars and seventy years of climate change. These are not unrelated unfortunate facts, but a demonstration of how greenhouse gas emissions and environmental destruction are inescapably part of modern warfare.

We can have wars for oil, or we can have a moderate climate and an inhabitable planet. It is increasingly clear that we cannot have both.

Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade, focusing on issues of climate change and social justice. She speaks and writes widely on green issues and is a member of Counterfire. Her book, A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change, will be published in April 2015 by Zero Books.]

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Ex-UN Human Rights Expert Blasts ‘Manipulation’ on Venezuela: ‘We Are Swimming in an Ocean of Lies’

March 24th, 2019 - by Ben Norton / The Gray Zone

Ben Norton / The Gray Zone

Former UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas criticized the human rights commissioner’s past reports on Venezuela, calling them “unprofessional” and politicized, denouncing an “ocean of lies”

 (March 20, 2019) — A former United Nations human rights expert and top legal scholar has harshly criticized the international body’s reporting on Venezuela, calling it “unprofessional,” politicized, and unfairly slanted in favor of the country’s right-wing opposition.

“We are swimming in an ocean of lies,” explained Alfred de Zayas. “When I went to Venezuela, I expected to find a humanitarian crisis.”

“I was predetermined to find a humanitarian crisis,” he continued. “I walked the streets, I spoke to people of all kinds, and that was not the case.

“That means I had been manipulated. I had been lied to. And I resent that.”

De Zayas previously served as UN independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. A renowned legal scholar, he spent decades working as a senior lawyer for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and is today a professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations.

He made these remarks during a side event panel on Venezuela at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on March 19, where he spoke alongside The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal and Anya Parampil.

Venezuelan Government Willing to Negotiate

Alfred de Zayas was the first UN expert to visit Venezuela in 21 years. He traveled to the South American nation for an investigation from November 26 to December 5, 2017, during his time as a special rapporteur.

After his trip, de Zayas produced a detailed report on Venezuela (PDF), which details how economic warfare and sanctions led by the United States government have devastated Venezuela and drastically hurt its civilian population. De Zayas presented this report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018, but it was ignored.

In his time in Venezuela, De Zayas met with a wide variety of groups, including opposition leaders, NGOs, and Fedecámaras, the opposition-dominated chamber of commerce; as well as government officials. He said that he faced harsh personal attacks from the Venezuelan opposition while inside the country.

On the “Propaganda vs. Reality” side event at the UN this March, De Zayas insisted that the leftist government of President Nicolás Maduro had demonstrated a clear willingness to negotiate when engaged in good faith.

At the end of his trip, de Zayas recalled that he handed Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza a six-page memo with several demands that the government promptly obliged.

De Zayas said he requested the release of 23 people, and the Venezuelan government went above and beyond, releasing 80. He also requested increased Venezuelan collaboration with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Caracas agreed.

De Zayas said he also called on Arreaza to negotiate the release of the German journalist Billy Six, who had worked closely with the opposition and was accused by Caracas of being a spy. After two months, the Venezuelan government agreed to release Six and returned him to Germany.

“If you have good faith, if you want to mediate, if you want to have dialogue, the government is willing to have dialogue,” de Zayas said at the UN panel. “But if all you want to do is say, ‘Maduro is corrupt,’ and ‘Maduro is a criminal,’ then you are not likely to get any cooperation from the government.”

Condemning regime change attempts, foreign intervention, and sanctions, de Zayas instead called for the international community to support the Montevideo mechanism, a dialogue process proposed by the governments of Mexico and Uruguay in order to reach a peace settlement between Venezuela’s government and US-backed opposition.

Past OHCHR Venezuela Reports ‘Unprofessional,’ Politicized

On the panel, Alfred de Zayas also criticized previous reports on Venezuela by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which he said were “unprofessional” and politicized.

Two past OHCHR reports, conducted by former High Commissioner Zeid Raad al-Hussein, “were simply unprofessional,” de Zayas argued, “because they violated the most fundamental principle of methodology, the principle Audiatur et altera pars — that you have to listen to all sides, and you have to reflect the information that you get from all sides, and not that you get from the political opposition.”

“Those two reports, unfortunately, are political pamphlets,” de Zayas said. “And that is unworthy of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”

In December 2018, De Zayas noted, the Venezuelan government invited the UN’s new high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, to visit in order to investigate the human rights situation in the country. Bachelet agreed to do so, and prepared a team.

De Zayas said Bachelet’s investigation must go much deeper than the previous reports. “It is imperative not just simply to say, ‘There is an economic crisis,’ we know that already; ‘there is hunger,’ we know that already; ‘there are problems with distribution,’ we know that,” he said.

“What she has to find out is why. Which are the causes of this so-called ‘humanitarian crisis,’” de Zayas continued.

“She has to go into the internal and external economic war. Because it’s not just the sanctions; it’s not just the financial blockade; it’s not just the induced inflation.”

If she investigates the effects of the US government’s sanctions on Venezuela, de Zayas said, Bachelet and her team “will realize the adverse impacts of the sanctions.”

“The credibility of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights depends on it,” cautioned de Zayas, who stressed that he worked for decades as a senior lawyer for the UN body.

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer. He is a reporter for The Grayzone, and the producer of the Moderate Rebels podcast, which he co-hosts with Max Blumenthal. His website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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