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Why UK report on ‘digital gangster’ Facebook is a thinly veiled call for censorship

RT | February 18, 2019

A new UK 108-page report on “disinformation and fake news” online strongly reprimands Facebook for its ongoing misuse of personal data — but also casually promotes unprecedented levels of political censorship on social media.

The report, which is the culmination of an 18-month investigation by a UK parliamentary committee, lambastes Facebook over its failure to protect its users’ data and accuses it of deliberate breaches of privacy and anti-competition laws. It offers numerous examples of Facebook sins, including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw the shady firm mine the personal data of 50 million users without permission.

The report also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of showing “contempt” towards the UK parliament for refusing three requests to appear before the committee and admonishes Facebook for behaving like a “digital gangster.”

Grand intentions?

Despite its wide-ranging criticisms, however, it is immediately evident that the overarching goal of the report appears to be to force Facebook to engage in censorship to the benefit of Western governments. It focuses heavily on “malign forces” posting content which is intended to cause “disruption and confusion” online. Lest there be any confusion about the identity of those malign forces, the word “Russian” is used 51 times in the report.

While the authors claim to be interested in ensuring a “plurality of voices” online, they are extremely quick to resort to forms of censorship as a solution to the existence of content that does not adhere to certain approved narratives.

Censorship solution

There have been multiple examples in recent months of Facebook willingly and enthusiastically working in conjunction with US government-funded think tanks to target content critical of the US government, including its temporary removal of the English-language page belonging to Telesur, a Venezuela-based outlet which questions US policy in Latin America.

Facebook’s removal of that page happened weeks after it partnered with the US government-funded Atlantic Council to combat “inauthentic” content online.

The report admits that while it’s impossible to completely rid the internet of this politically inconvenient content, governments must focus on “the enforcement of greater transparency in the digital sphere” so that citizens “know the source” of information.

Facebook’s recent suspension of pages partly owned by RT video agency Ruptly (purportedly due to their failure to prominently disclose its funding) would surely please the UK committee. The problem is, these new transparency rules are being arbitrarily applied to pages publishing content critical of Western governments, while content funded by those governments so far is subject to no such oversight.

Further proving that the (thinly veiled) intent of the report is censorship of foreign (i.e., Russian) media, the report praises a French law which allows the French national broadcasting agency “to suspend television channels controlled by or under the influence of a foreign state” if they disseminate “false” information.

Discredited sources

The British report has some glaring flaws and inconsistencies, including its use of the New Knowledge cybersecurity firm as a credible source of information on Russian influence online, despite the fact that it was recently exposed by the New York Times for faking a Russian disinformation campaign in order to influence a local US election. Nonetheless, the report describes New Knowledge as an “information integrity company.”

It also praises NewsGuard, an app with deep ties to the US government, which applies trust ratings to news websites. As RT has documented before, however, NewsGuard applies its criteria selectively and exhibits clear bias against content critical of US policies. It is also lobbying to have its ratings installed by default on computers in schools and universities around the US — and even to have them installed by default on smartphones.

Ironically, the report criticizes people for giving credence to information which “reinforces their views” while dismissing content which they do not agree with as “fake news.”

Russian influence, or online democracy?

The report also takes a look at the “influence” Russian media may have had on the 2016 Brexit referendum, specifically outlets like RT and Sputnik. In an admission which is unintentionally quite funny, the report states that articles which had the “heaviest anti-EU bias” are the ones that went “most viral” online during the campaign.

Of course, by highlighting the fact that so many people were enthusiastically sharing content critical of the EU, the report inadvertently concedes that anti-EU sentiment was widespread, rather than some kind of evil plot by Russia to “sow discord” in the West.

The report also notes, however, that Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright MP admitted that he has seen no convincing evidence that Russian interference has had any “material impact” on how people choose to vote. Similarly, in the US, little evidence has been presented to suggest that so-called Russian online influence had any impact whatsoever on the outcome of the 2016 election.

Nonetheless, the report suggests that the UK government should launch new investigations into past elections, including the Brexit referendum and the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 to dig for elusive evidence of Russian interference.

Say goodbye to ‘harmful’ content

To ensure that social media companies comply with all its various demands, the report recommends that “a new category of tech company is formulated” which tightens their liabilities and would see those companies assume legal liability for content identified as “harmful.” It also advocates the establishment of a “compulsory Code of Ethics” setting out exactly what constitutes harmful content.

The British government should also “explore the feasibility” of adopting a UK version of the US Foreign Agents and Registration Act (FARA), it says. FARA requires persons acting “as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity” to disclose this information publicly. Ironically, a similar ‘foreign agents’ law in Russia was heavily criticized by Western media and politicians for targeting dissenting voices.

US government-funded outlets like Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) both wrote reports critical of the law, with VOA even suggesting it had “echoes of Stalin-era denunciations” of dissidents. No such outrage emerged from those outlets when RT was forced to register as a “foreign agent” in the US last year.

Finally, the report suggests that companies like Facebook should also be required to finance digital literacy learning as “the fourth pillar of education” alongside reading, writing and math.

If this report is anything to go by, there is no doubt that learning to identify (and ignore) content critical of Western governments would be a major element of such “digital literacy” courses.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , | Leave a comment

11yo arrested after refusing to stand for Pledge of Allegiance to ‘racist’ flag in Florida

FILE PHOTO – Wikimedia Commons
RT | February 18, 2019

An 11-year-old boy was arrested in Florida after his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance escalated into an argument with his teacher, who called in security because she “did not want to continue dealing with him.”

The sixth-grade student at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Lakeland reportedly explained that he wasn’t standing for the pledge because he deemed the flag racist and the national anthem offensive to black people.

According to a statement substitute teacher Ana Alvarez gave to the Polk School District, she then asked the boy, “Why if it was so bad here he did not go to another place to live?” After an exchange ensued with the boy, the teacher said she called the office because she “did not want to continue dealing with him,” Bay News 9 reports.

When the school resource officer arrived and asked the boy to leave, he initially refused and then “created another disturbance and made threats while he was escorted to the office,” the Lakeland Police Department said.

The child was arrested for refusing to follow multiple commands and being disruptive, allegedly threatening to beat the teacher and get the principal fired. However, his mother, Dhakira Talbot, disputes these claims, telling Bay News 9 the situation should have been “handled differently.”

“If any disciplinary action should’ve been taken, it should’ve been with the school. He shouldn’t have been arrested.”

Polk County Public Schools spokesman Kyle Kennedy said the student was not arrested for not participating in the pledge. The boy was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center and charged with disrupting a school function and resisting an officer without violence. Meanwhile, the teacher was removed from the school district and an investigation is underway.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , | Leave a comment

Walter Jones and the Vote to End US War on Yemen

By Ron Paul | February 18, 2019

In a fitting legacy for my friend Walter Jones, Jr. who passed away last week, the US House made history by voting in favor of H.J.Res. 37, a resolution “Directing the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” As George O’Neill wrote in the American Conservative magazine this week, the historic 248-177 victory for a bill demanding the end of the US participation in the nearly five year Saudi war of aggression “reflects how many hearts and minds were influenced by the late Congressman’s tireless efforts.”

Walter Jones did not care who controlled Congress. He was happy to join forces with any Member to end the senseless US global military empire, which sends thousands of young men and women off to patrol foreign borders, overthrow foreign governments, and needlessly put themselves at risk in missions that have nothing to do with the safety and security of the United States.

US participation in the Saudi war on Yemen is a classic example of the abuse of the US military that made Walter Jones most angry. When the Saudis decided in 2015 that they wanted their puppet to be Yemen’s president, they launched a brutal and inhuman war that many call the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. Millions face starvation as Saudi bombs and US sanctions combine to create a hell on earth that is unrelated in any way to US national security.

Why this ongoing support for Saudi death and destruction in Yemen? Washington’s neocons have successfully promoted the lie that the Saudi attack on Yemen is all about preventing Iran from gaining more strength in the Middle East. Ironically it was the neocon-backed US attack on Iraq in 2003 that provided the biggest boost for Iranian influence in the region. Now, after Iraq’s “liberation,” Baghdad’s ties to Tehran are closer than ever.

Meanwhile, who exactly are we supporting in Yemen? Even CNN, normally a big backer of US military actions overseas, has noticed something funny about US participation in the Saudi war on Yemen. As a CNN investigation found this month, “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States.” Does that sound like we are on the side of the “good guys” in this battle? We are helping the Saudis arm al-Qaeda? Is this really a smart move?

So we should be encouraged that Walter Jones’ legacy is being honored in the House vote to end the US participation in the Yemen war. While US “humanitarian” aid is being used as a weapon for regime change in Venezuela, the warmongers in Washington have never lifted a finger to help those suffering from a real genocide in Yemen.

If the Yemen War Powers resolution passes the Senate, which is likely, Congress will have provoked the first veto from President Trump. Such a veto should not discourage us. Even the strongest army cannot stop an idea whose time has come. Ending senseless US wars is an idea whose time has come. We can thank Walter Jones for his role in making it so.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Militarism | , , | Leave a comment

As Mainstream Journalists acknowledge Douma Attacks were “Staged,” Syria Regime-Change Network tries to Save Sinking Ship

“Humanitarian” regime-change network increasingly desperate to protect its influence and the power of its narratives, not just in Syria but in future conflicts.

By Whitney Webb and Vanessa Beeley | MintPress News | February 18, 2019

LONDON — Over the past few days, notable journalists and other figures in mainstream media have acknowledged that the alleged chemical weapons attack that occurred last April in the Damascus suburb of Douma, Syria was likely “staged” by “activist” groups such as the White Helmets. Their comments and investigations have largely vindicated the many journalists and academics who cast aspersions on the precipitous Western media campaign to blame that alleged attack on the Syrian government. Many of the dissenting voices were derided as “conspiracy theorists” or ignored entirely by mainstream sources.

Yet, now that these revelations are being voiced by acceptable figures in mainstream media, those who have built their careers on promoting the White Helmets and regime change in Syria are working to discredit these new dissenting voices. Among those on the counter-attack are individuals connected to the oligarch-funded “humanitarian” regime-change network that was the subject of a recent MintPress exposé.

The alleged Douma attack — notably used as the justification for a military attack launched against Syria by the U.S., the U.K. and France — returned to the news cycle earlier this month following a report from James Harkin, a journalist who has written for The Guardian, Harper’s and the Financial Times, and is currently the director of the Center for Investigative Journalism. Harkin’s report, which was published in The Intercept, cast doubt on the prevailing mainstream narrative surrounding the events that occurred in Douma last April.

Harkin, in visiting Douma and the surrounding area, confirmed past reporting by other independent journalists that no sarin gas had been used — which was also confirmed by the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) interim report — and claimed that the scenes filmed at the Medical Point in Douma, which were widely circulated by the mainstream media as evidence that a chemical weapons attack had occurred, had likely been staged. Harkin lamented the staging of the hospital scenes as a casualty of “Syria’s propaganda war.”

Elements of Harkin’s rather rambling report were rapidly corroborated by BBC producer Riam Dalati, who revealed on Twitter that he had proof, after a six-month investigation, that those same hospital scenes had been staged.

Dalati had previously been the cause of some consternation among the pro-regime-change pundits when he had tweeted, immediately after the alleged Douma chemical attack, that he was “sick and tired of activists and rebels using the corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption.” Dalati was referring to the image of two children wrapped in a “last hug” that went viral on social media, eliciting sympathy for the “chemical attack” narrative.

Dalati pointed out that the two children had been photographed on separate floors in the building before being artfully arranged into the “last hug” position by the producers of this scene, which was picked up by the majority of corporate media and used to give the impression that the Syrian Arab Army had used chemical weapons against their own civilians as they were concluding final amnesty negotiations with Jaish Al Islam, the extremist group then occupying Douma.

Shortly after deleting the aforementioned tweet, Dalati protected his Twitter account before reiterating his observations in a less inflammatory tweet, while explaining that his first tweet had been “correctly deemed in breach of [BBC] editorial policy thru [sic] use of ‘sick/tired’ and by not providing context…”

Dalati had notably been a member of the production team of the notorious September 2013 BBC Panorama documentary “Saving Syria’s Children” — a report that was forensically investigated by independent researcher Robert Stuart, who concluded that “sequences filmed by BBC personnel and others at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 purporting to show the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a nearby school are largely, if not entirely, staged.”

So, Dalati, no stranger to controversy, appears to have once more broken with the ranks of mainstream media by admitting that the White Helmet “chemical attack” scenes in Douma Medical Point were “without a doubt” staged. One might ask why it took Dalati six months of investigation to arrive at the same conclusion as acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk and other on-the-ground journalists did just days after the attack occurred. At the time, those journalists had been labeled by Dalati and others as “conspiracy theorists.”

However, the recent statements made by Dalati and Harkin’s recent report have hardly created a consensus regarding the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma within the mainstream media. Instead, much the opposite has happened, with journalists and “experts” who have linked their professional reputations to the credibility of groups like the US/UK incubated and financed White Helmets now going on the offensive in an effort to trivialize the recent revelations regarding the events of April 7, 2018.

Following the renewed interest in the Douma incident as a result of Harkin’s report and Dalati’s subsequent tweets, Tobias Schneider — a research fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI) — accused people like Harkin and Dalati of “squabbling over the intricacies” of the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, later calling these independent investigations and statements “madness.”

We must presume that Schneider’s Twitter accusation would also be directed at genuinely independent journalists and academics who presented evidence to counter the dominant Douma narratives produced by the usual suspects in corporate media and groups like the White Helmets affiliated to Jaish Al Islam, the brutal armed group in control of Douma. Among those are journalists who actually visited Douma immediately after the attack — Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, Robert Fisk of the Independent, Uli Gack from ZDF, Germany  and Pearson Sharp of OAN (One America News Network). Also, potentially in Schneider’s crosshairs are the members of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda Media (WGSPM) established by Professor Piers Robinson who produced an extensive briefing scrutinizing the media anomalies in the Douma attack.

Unwilling to stop there, Schneider also announced that the GPPI would be publishing the first analytical study “on the logic underpinning the Syrian regime’s systematic use of improvised chlorine bombs in particular” that would use “the broadest dataset compilable and break down tactical, operational, strategic patterns” in order to claim that, despite a lack of evidence for chemical weapons use in Douma last year, other separate incidents form a pattern that would incriminate the Syrian government in the events alleged to have taken place last April. The report has now been published and has been picked up by the usual purveyors and promoters of the “chemical attack” narratives that are designed to criminalize the Syrian government.

A look into Schneider’s background and the organization that employs him hardly paints a picture of an objective observer of the evidence surrounding this hot-button issue. Quite the contrary, Schneider and the GPPI are directly connected to the “humanitarian” regime-change network that was exposed in a recent MintPress series for its efforts to exploit the death of the late MP Jo Cox in order to manufacture consent for regime change in Syria and whitewash both the U.K.-government connections to the White Helmets and the White Helmets’ own troubling track record in facilitating and even directly committing war crimes.

Who is Tobias Schneider?

According to his bio at the GPPI website, Tobias Schneider is a research fellow at GPPI who focuses on “insurgency and counterinsurgency in the contemporary Middle East,” among other related issues. Prior to working with GPPI, Schneider worked as a consultant on Syria and Yemen for the World Bank, an influential financial institution that a WikiLeaks document recently confirmed; is used as a “financial weapon” by the United States military.

He has also worked at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), a pro-NATO think tank located in Washington. CEPA’s stated mission is “to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure, and politically free Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States.” Its international advisory board includes former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who once stated that the death of half a million Iraqi children from U.S. sanctions was “worth it;” and Brian Hook, current Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department and Senior Policy Advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Zbigniew Brzeziński — former National Security Adviser in the Carter administration who is best known for his role in arming and creating the terror group Al Qaeda — was also a board member up until his death in 2017.

Currently, however, Schneider — in addition to serving as a GPPI research fellow — is an expert for the Atlantic Council’s “Rebuilding Syria” initiative. The Atlantic Council is a Washington-based think tank with strong ties to the U.S. military and NATO, and receives significant amounts of funding from American arms manufacturers, U.S. intelligence agencies, and foreign governments. This think tank, and its “Rebuilding Syria” initiative in particular have been particularly zealous in promoting regime change in Syria and in marketing hybrid groups like the White Helmets. This is hardly surprising given that the U.S. and U.K. governments have given millions of dollars to both groups and were instrumental in the creation of the White Helmets as a refined “propaganda construct”, their description by journalist, John Pilger.

Schneider also has made appearances at events hosted by “Friends of Syria”APPG (All Party Parliamentary Groups) the U.K. group that includes several MPs — including Jo Cox prior to her death — and has extensively promoted U.K. military intervention in Syria, with a particular emphasis on emotional appeals largely based on White Helmet testimony and footage. Chair of Schneider’s panel was Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP, former UK secretary of state for international development 2010-2012 and alongside Jo Cox, a fervent supporter of regime change in Syria and an unquestioning White Helmet acolyte.

Global Public Policy Institute’s place in regime-change network

Beyond Schneider’s conflicts of interests by virtue of his work history and current associations, the organization that employs him — the Global Public Policy Institute — is directly connected to an oligarch-directed and oligarch-funded regime-change network that specializes in manufacturing “humanitarian” justifications for Western military adventurism abroad. The main oligarchs who drive this network, as detailed in a recent articles series at MintPress, include Jeffrey Skoll, George Soros, Pierre Omidyar, and Ted Turner — philanthrocapitalists aligned with the neoliberal, globalist agendas of the U.S/U.K alliance.

In addition to its stated mission of “improving global governance,” in line with globalist designs, the GPPI is funded by the German and U.K. governments as well as the Open Society Foundations of controversial Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, whose many organizations have been intimately involved in promoting the White Helmets and related narratives that push for increased Western military intervention in Syria. Soros’ influence in the GPPI is demonstrated by the position his son, Alexander Soros, holds on the GPPI’s advisory board.

Another notable member of the GPPI advisory board is Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, which is funded by the Omidyar Network, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and the U.S. State Department, among others.

However, the most damning connection between the GPPI and the “humanitarian” regime-change network used by Western governments and oligarchs is the GPPI’s director, Thorsten Benner. Benner.  According to Benner’s  GPPI bio, he previously worked with the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, the UN Development Programme in New York, and the Global Public Policy Project in Washington, before co-founding GPPI.

Most notably, however, Benner is a director at More in Common, the international initiative founded, after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, by members of  the Jo Cox Four — exposed by the authors of this present article to be at the center of the aforementioned “humanitarian” regime-change network — to exploit Cox’s death to push for Western military intervention in Syria.

Other directors of More in Common include Sally Osberg, former president of the Skoll Foundation; Will Somerville, former member of the U.K. Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Tony Blair and current U.K. program director of Unbound Philanthropy. Somerville is also a Senior Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, which is funded by the Open Society Foundations, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank, Walmart, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.K. government.

In addition, two other directors of More In Common, who also co-founded the group, are Tim Dixon and Gemma Mortensen. Both Mortensen and Dixon have been directly connected to regime-change efforts in Syria and elsewhere. Interested readers can find much more information about Dixon, Mortensen, More in Common and the “humanitarian” regime-change network to which they are connected here, here and here.

Our narrative and we’re sticking with it

As the Syria conflict appears to be winding down with the regime-change effort having failed in its effort to overturn Syria’s current government, perhaps more critical attention by those in mainstream and independent media has come to focus on the manufactured narratives used by powerful interests and governments to make a case for military intervention to the public.

With these efforts having failed, we have perhaps begun to see several mainstream journalists break from the pack, perhaps as these individual journalists have little personal investment in backing the push for regime change in Syria. However, those journalists and “experts” who have staked their professional reputations on these narratives — such as the ubiquitous chemical weapon attacks blamed on the Syrian government — and who systematically protect the White Helmets as serial “do-gooders” — are scrambling to keep those narratives together lest they be revealed for the hollow manipulation of cherry-picked facts, images and videos that they are.

Schneider’s report is unlikely to impress the far more independent and qualified experts and journalists who have consistently questioned the Syria “chemical weapons” narrative — which has taken on the mantle of “weapons of mass destruction,” a previously debunked government and media canard that took us to war in Iraq. Schneider’s GPPI initiative, however, may just be a stitch in time to suture the leaks that are now emanating from the mainstream media and in particular from the BBC, a traditional bastion of protection for U.K. government foreign policy directives on Syria.

Dalati may genuinely be a rogue maverick, sickened by what he has seen. He may also be working at the behest of the BBC directors — to limit the damage to the BBC’s reputation were the OPCW to release its final report any time soon. Imagine that the OPCW final report errs toward a conclusion that no chemical attack took place in Douma: where would that leave the BBC and colonial media establishment? The trust gap would widen exponentially. Time will tell, but one thing is for sure, Schneider’s report is indicative of the distress signals being emitted by the “humanitarian” regime-change network floundering on the rocks of its own failed campaign to destabilize Syria and overthrow the majority-elected Syrian government.

When Professor Piers Robinson of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) heard of Schneider’s intention to produce the report, he told MintPress News:

It is extraordinary that, on the one hand, careful analysis of evidence in the case of Douma is being trivialized as ‘madness,’ while on the other, Schneider is suggesting that his think tank is about to publish careful and rigorous analysis regarding alleged chemical weapon attacks. He seems to be saying, in effect, that careful and detailed analysis and discussion regarding individual attacks is irrelevant to knowledge and understanding. This reflects very poorly both on him as a researcher and on the think tank that he works for.”

In his tweets, Schneider did indeed appear to trivialize serious research into the alleged Douma chemical attacks. This is extraordinary when one considers that the rush to judgment of corporate media, NATO-aligned think tanks and France/UK/US (FUKUS) government spokespersons led to the unlawful bombing of Syria only one week after the staged hospital scenes had appeared. Russia was accused of producing an “obscene masquerade” by bringing actual Syrian civilians to the OPCW headquarters in the Hague — to testify that no chemical weapons attack had taken place. The “obscene masquerade” had already taken place in Douma and had been marketed as truth by the media outlets invested in their governments’ destructive Syria campaign.

Schneider is very probably just another in a long line of willing instruments of the billionaire industrial complex, deployed to extinguish the failing “chemical weapons” narrative fire that threatens to consume their credibility for years to come. Douma and the exposure of all those who built and financed the edifice of lies surrounding this event may just be what brings the entire war machine grinding to a halt in Syria and beyond.

As much as Schneider and his backers continue to protect the propaganda producers — the White Helmets — the evidence building against this multi-million funded construct is overwhelming. The White Helmet concept will surely go down in history as one of the most elaborate propaganda heists that failed, thanks to the concerted efforts of very few to expose the true agenda of the group — an agenda which is driven by the same government agencies and predatory capitalists that have sponsored Schneider’s report.

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and has contributed to several other independent, alternative outlets. Her work has appeared on sites such as Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire among others. She also makes guest appearances to discuss politics on radio and television. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

Vanessa Beeley is an independent journalist, peace activist, photographer and associate editor at 21st Century Wire. Vanessa was a finalist for one of the most prestigious journalism awards – the 2017 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism – whose winners have included the likes of Robert Parry in 2017, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Nick Davies and the Bureau for Investigative Journalism team. You can support Vanessa’s journalism through her Patreon Page.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, False Flag Terrorism, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , | 3 Comments

The Ukrainian Election: When No News Is Bad News

By Dmitry BABICH | Strategic Culture Foundation | 15.02.2019

As the Ukrainian presidential election, scheduled to take place on March 31, draws ever closer, Western politicians are going out of their way to protect it from “Russian meddling.” This protection, which became a sort of peculiar Anglo-Saxon sport in the United States and the UK, will figure highly on the agenda of the meeting of the European Union’s foreign ministers on February 18, slated for a discussion of the coming Ukrainian election. A naïve reader of the Western press might wonder why the president of the “newly Westernized” Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, has an approval rating of just 14%, trailing the comedian Vladimir Zelensky with his 21.9% and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with her 19%. Obviously, some “meddling” must have taken place…

A COUNTRY THAT’S A THREAT TO ITSELF

Upon a closer look, however, the Ukrainian election appears to be more in need of protection from its own forms of Ukrainian extremism and what to the untrained eye might appear to be idiocies, rather than from any meddling from the Russian side. Suffice it to present a brief list of the recent suggestions and real policy moves (some of them coming from the very top echelon of government) which were made in the heat of electoral hysteria. Not surprisingly, most of these suggestions and moves are tied to Russia.

Presidential candidate Vitaly Kupryi simply suggested that Ukraine should officially declare war on Russia, obliging president Petro Poroshenko to announce an immediate mobilization and to use a special law to start moving troops against the “aggressor.” Since Kupryi is a deputy in the Supreme Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), his draft bill, which enjoys the support of a group of equally belligerent deputies, has been officially registered and waits to be reviewed by parliamentarians. Until now, the Supreme Rada has demurred from traveling along this somewhat suicidal path, preferring other, longer, more oblique routes toward a catastrophe. Last week, the Rada made Ukraine’s road towards NATO and the EU legally binding through another special law, altering Ukraine’s constitution, where the neutral, non-bloc status of the country had been enshrined since the 1990s. The parliamentarians also continued working on a draft bill, which makes “denial of Russian aggression against Ukraine” (that is, stating the truth that the war in the Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine is a civil conflict) a criminal offence, punishable by several years in jail. The leading candidate, acting President Petro Poroshenko, has not allowed his parliament to outpace him in belligerent idiocies. He declared the visits by Russian citizens of the Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula to be “heinous crimes — breaches of the Ukrainian border,” which should all be punished by several years in Ukrainian jail. (6.8 million Russian tourists visited Crimea in 2018 alone, so theoretically Poroshenko could land Ukraine into the Guinness Book of World Records as the country with the highest potential prison population).

FAKE CHOICE: “EITHER PUTIN OR POROSHENKO”

As for “Russian meddling” in the elections, some of the candidates, including Poroshenko, are manufacturing this “meddling” themselves, by continuously campaigning not for Ukraine, but rather against Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. For example, Poroshenko’s campaign ad, which was unveiled on the day his candidacy officially launched on January 29, showed a Photoshopped image of the acting Ukrainian president confronting his Russian colleague, with the caption: “Either Poroshenko or Putin.”

The reason why Poroshenko continuously tries to redirect the attention of voters away from the country’s real problems and toward Russia’s ostensible “invasion” is obvious. “Ukraine’s catastrophic economic situation does not leave Poroshenko any room for self-promotion. Economically, this candy billionaire, who became rich working in all the governments, from Kuchma’s to Yanukovich’s, turned up to be rather helpless,” says Mikhail Pogrebinsky, the head of the Kiev-based Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies.

In the last quarter of the year 2018, the average income of a Ukrainian household was 9,400 hryvnas (about $350). This prompted the IMF to declare Ukraine the poorest country in Europe: Ukraine has even bested Moldova for this dubious honor, a nation that was previously at the top of the poverty rankings with an average salary of $375. Oleg Lyashko, a flamboyant nationalist candidate from Ukraine’s Radical party, accused Poroshenko of “taking us to Europe via Africa.”

A SAD END FOR THE FOREIGN “SAVIORS”

No wonder Poroshenko stopped talking about fighting corruption and introducing Western standards of state management, the two pillars of his plans for Ukraine at the beginning of his presidency in 2014. The “parachuting” of foreign specialists into the government (the Georgians Mikheil Saakashvili and Alexander Kvitashvili, the Lithuanian national Aivaras Abromavicius, as well as an American citizen, Natalie Jaresko) ended in dishonorable resignations, coupled with scandals and mutual accusations. When he quit, former Minister of Economy and Trade Abromavicius and former Governor of Odessa Saakashvili accused Poroshenko’s entourage of far-reaching corruption, much worse than the practices under the former president, Viktor Yanukovich. It is interesting to note that both Saakashvili and Poroshenko’s first prosecutor general, Vitaly Yarema, initially justified violent protests against the “corrupt” Yanukovich in 2013 and 2014, when 38 policemen were killed by the US-supported “peaceful protesters” from Maidan. But they both now acknowledge that “corruption schemes have become even more intricate and harmful” for society today compared to the Yanukovich era. Not surprisingly, Yarema was fired days after making such statements.

“The rule of oligarchs over the economy and the extortion of bribes from citizens by state officials have not diminished since Yanukovich’s rule,” writes a popular Kiev-based blogger and political expert Viktor Datsyuk. “What is even worse, the greediness of the ruling elite destroyed the ‘oligarchic consensus’ that had existed in Ukraine for years.” In Datsyuk’s opinion, this may lead to a new Hobbesian “war of all against all” in Ukraine.

SUBMISSION TO THE WEST AS THE NEW CONSENSUS

Upon a closer look, again, a certain “oligarchic consensus” still exists in Ukraine, and that consensus is based on the total submission of the local oligarchs to the “overseers” of Ukraine, who operate from Washington and Brussels.

At the peak of the presidential campaign, Ukraine simply exploded with anger when Poroshenko refused to obey a ruling from Kiev’s administrative court. The court removed Ulyana Suprun from her office — an American of Ukrainian descent, the last of the “foreign specialists” still operating in the Ukrainian government with an American passport. Legally, the ruling of the court was correct: Suprun has been “performing the duties” of the country’s health minister without being officially appointed in due course and in violation of a law that prohibits non-citizens of Ukraine from occupying government positions.

“I gave her citizenship through my own decree,” Poroshenko said, brushing off questions about Suprun NOT relinquishing her American citizenship, as required by the Ukrainian law.

The last time the Western elite was so up in arms to protect a “foreign specialist” inside the Ukrainian elite was in 2017, when Poroshenko suddenly canceled his own decree granting Ukrainian citizenship to Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president. At the time, Saakashvili was in Western Europe, but somehow he made his way back to Ukraine through a border checkpoint inside a crowd of supporters in September 2017, and was met “by chance” on the Ukrainian side of the border by the heads of influential Rada factions Yulia Tymoshenko (the “Fatherland” party) and Andrei Sadovoy (from the Samooborona, or “Self-Defense” movement). Somehow, the border checkpoint was also visited at that moment by Valentin Nalivaichenko, the former head of the fearsome Ukrainian Security Service (SBU).

They all embraced Saakashvili with grim faces, not quite in keeping with a miraculous and “spontaneous” breakthrough across the heavily guarded border.

A few months later, when Saakashvili somehow fell out of grace with his Western supervisors and was evicted from Ukraine by Poroshenko’s special forces via a chartered flight to Europe, his “friends” Tymoshenko and Nalivaichenko did not lift a finger in his defense.

THE INEVITABLE INCUMBENT

Obviously, after the US and the EU allowed Poroshenko to eject Saakashvili from Ukraine without punishment, it became clear that they had no other serious alternative to Poroshenko. Most likely, they will “allow” Poroshenko to win, using the hugely negative public image of Tymoshenko (70% of Ukrainians do not want to see her as their president under any circumstances).

As for the people who are suggesting realistic alternatives to the current disastrous course, they are being stigmatized as “Russian agents” or, worse, “Putin’s friends.”

This is not a situation in which no news is good news, though. Poroshenko’s continued hold on power in Ukraine means the continued threat of another war in the Donbass, the persecution of political opponents, and dispossession and the loss of legal status for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate. So, Poroshenko should not complain, when, as he himself told journalists, Vladimir Putin refused to take his phone call. “I did not want to help Poroshenko in his electoral campaign,” Putin explained. He had a good reason to say so.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , | Leave a comment

Blocked RT-Linked Facebook Accounts Sign of Geopolitical Confrontation

Sputnik – 18.02.2019

Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Sputnik and RT, said that Facebook’s suspension of accounts operated by Maffick Media over ties to RT was a sign of “open geopolitical confrontation,” where media platforms are being used as “tools.”

“Obviously, things will be getting only worse. Nobody even tries to believe in any freedom or talk about any freedom. This has already become an open geopolitical confrontation, where media platforms… serve as tools,” Simonyan said.

The editor-in-chief of RT pointed out that Facebook had no complaints about the videos on the suspended pages or their content in general.

“However, since CNN contacted [Facebook] and asked ‘how could you allow these Russians to communicate with our population,’ Facebook removed this account,” Simonyan said.

According to the RT editor-in-chief, CNN acted as “the right hand… of the State Department, NATO and everything linked to that.”

CNN admitted it had been tipped off about Maffick Media’s funding by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, an advocacy group that is part of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) policy research centre. The fund considered an “undesirable organization” under the Russian law, receives some of its funding from the US and German governments, NATO and other organizations. According to CNN, the ASD does not receive financing from the GMF and is supported through private funds and grants, rather than by governments.

Facebook said it would ask the three suspended accounts — Soapbox, Back Then and Waste-Ed — to submit information on their affiliations.

“People connecting with Pages shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them. Just as we’ve stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behaviour and financially motivated spam over the past year, we’ll continue improving so people can get more information about the Pages they follow,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement, as quoted by RT.

Moscow considers the blocking of Facebook pages related to RT unacceptable, adding that these authoritarian actions violate the principles of freedom of expression. Moreover, Russia is waiting for a response from “OSCE structures” to these actions, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

However, the social network has not, until now, required accounts to disclose information about their parent companies. Maffick remarked in its statement that plenty of media outlets supported in part by governments do not post information about their funding on their Facebook pages.

Last week Facebook suspended pages of projects run by Maffick Media, an independent journalistic group that is partly owned by the Ruptly video agency, which is a subsidiary of RT. Facebook did not give Maffick Media any prior warning. According to Maffick’s statement, the social network was “pressured” into doing this by CNN, which ran a story on Maffick Media and its perceived ties to the Kremlin.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , | Leave a comment

Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

By Tsvetana Paraskova | Oilprice.com | February 15, 2019

Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | , , , | Leave a comment

Iranian Spying? or Neocon 9/11 Coverup?

Questioning the USG/NYT official story on Marzieh Hashemi, Monica Witt, New Horizon…and yours truly

Monica E. Witt, a former United States Air Force intelligence officer, is accused of espionage on behalf of Iran. Credit: FBI/EPA, via Shutterstock/New York Times
By Kevin Barrett • Unz Review • February 18, 2019

It wasn’t the first time I’ve been prominently libeled in The New York Times. Nor was it the worst.

Compared to Stanley Fish’s grotesquely mendacious 2006 op-ed trashing me for something I never did—advocating 9/11 truth in the classroom[1]—Alan Blinder, Julie Turkewitz and Adam Goldman treated me fairly well on Sunday’s NYT front page by calling me a “controversial scholar of Islam” while accurately reporting what I said about Monica Witt, the ex-Air Force officer accused of spying for Iran.

The arguably libelous part came in the previous paragraph. I was introduced as part of “a crowd filled with fringe academics, Holocaust deniers and the lover of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal” where “Ms. Witt at last found herself among people as critical of her country as she was.” This is an absurdly libelous description of attendees at the February 2013 Hollywoodism Conference, a rubric of the Tehran Film Festival that was not a New Horizon[2] conference. Leaving aside the question of how a whole conference could be “filled by… the lover of the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal” (Carlos liked really big women?) the bit about America-hating “fringe academics” and “Holocaust deniers” is seriously misleading.

Most of the US attendees might better be described as sincere American patriots. Former Senator Mike Gravel (D-Alaska), whom I personally recruited for the conference, is widely acknowledged as an all-American hero for his principled stance against the Vietnam war, his role in exposing the Pentagon Papers, and his courageous advocacy of 9/11 truth. Merlin Miller, a family values oriented filmmaker who once ran for president, is another all-American hero who attended the Hollywoodism Conference. Merlin Miller’s pro-American, anti-Zionist-Hollywood perspective is as patriotic as it gets. And then there was Culture Wars editor E. Michael Jones, another conservative American patriot who wants to take his country back. While all three all-American heroes are in varying degrees critical of Israel and its occupation of American politics and media, none could possibly be viewed as America haters.

The bit about “Holocaust denial” is also misleading. The Holocaust was not on the agenda, in any way, shape, or form, at the Hollywoodism conference, nor at any New Horizon Conference.[3] The New York Times apparently chose to lob this gratuitous insult because a tiny handful of the hundreds of attendees at New Horizon conferences have published on this issue—an issue that in any event merits fearless discussion and debate, as readers of Ron Unz’s “Holocaust Denial” will discover.

The New York Times, echoing the US government’s indictment of Monica Witt and the Treasury Department’s sanctioning of New Horizon, offers a narrative almost entirely unsupported by any evidence. According to the official narrative, New Horizon and Press TV anchor Marzieh Hashemi are somehow responsible for Monica Witt’s decision to move to Iran and allegedly share secrets she learned in the Air Force. Leaving aside the questions of whether Monica Witt actually did move to Iran, and if so whether she shared any secrets, and if so whether those secrets were genuinely important, the cases against New Horizon and Marzieh Hashemi are obviously bogus.

First consider the case against Ms. Hashemi, a leading international news anchor, who was kidnapped by the FBI without charges and held for ten days under circumstances bordering on torture. The rationale for kidnapping Ms. Hashemi was the claim that she was a “material witness” to Monica Witt’s alleged spying. But Ms. Hashemi was never charged with a crime. After several interrogations, she was released without charges. Yet the indictment of Monica Witt states that “Individual A” who can only be Ms. Hashemi “engaged in acts consistent with serving as a spotter and assessor on behalf of the Iranian intelligence services.” Obviously if there were any actual evidence that Marzieh Hashemi was so employed, she never would have been released without charges. So we may assume that “acts consistent with” really means: “Marzieh Hashemi is a journalist who reports critically and fearlessly on American issues, and in so doing interviews sources who might be characterized as whistleblowers or dissidents.” In other words, Hashemi regularly commits a crime called “journalism.” And just as journalist Glen Greenwald, in the course of his journalistic duties, interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Russia (Edward Snowden) it seems that Marzieh Hashemi may have interviewed a whistleblower who wound up living in Iran (Monica Witt). But, contra USG, neither Greenwald nor Hashemi are spies. Both are journalists who, unlike certain mainstream media hacks, actually do their jobs.

The case against the New Horizon NGO is as bogus as the one against Marzieh Hashemi. The only “evidence” against New Horizon is that Monica Witt spoke at the February 2013 Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran. But that was not even a New Horizon conference! It was actually part of the Tehran Film Festival. So if the Treasury Department thinks the Hollywoodism Conference was guilty of something, it should sanction the Tehran Film Festival, not the New Horizon NGO, which only had a peripheral role in that event.

But why blame the conference at all? The official narrative seems to be that Witt had such a wonderful time there that she later decided to move to Iran (and supposedly spill some secrets). If that were true—and I can testify that just about everybody who attends Iran-based conferences has a wonderful time—the conference organizers would be guilty of the crime of putting on a wonderful conference. Last I checked, that wasn’t grounds for Treasury Department sanctions.

Is there any evidence that New Horizon conferences are really about recruiting spies, not exchanging ideas? The notion is preposterous. Just look at the participants lists! Virtually none of the conferees are people who could be expected to hold any secrets. On the contrary, the many New Horizon conferences I have attended have been—up until May 2018—remarkably bereft of US military and intelligence veterans.

I know the New Horizon organizers fairly well, and even helped them on more than one occasion by suggesting prospective guests. When I repeatedly suggested that they invite such illustrious ex-military/intel types as Veterans Today Senior Editor Gordon Duff, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, ex-State Department issuer of Visas for al-Qaeda Mike Springmann, former US Army counterterrorism and psy ops expert Scott Bennett, and others from USG backgrounds, I was told that while the New Horizon NGO would love to do so, the Iranian government makes it hard for such people to get visas. Finally, in May 2018, in an attempt to foster goodwill and trust, the Iranian government relented. Giraldi, Springmann, Bennett, and Michael Maloof were invited and attended. On the final day of that Conference, Bennett and others spearheaded an attempt to convince the Iranian government to bring 9/11 truth into an American federal courtroom.

I believe the real reason for the witch hunt against New Horizon and Marzieh Hashemi is New Horizon’s and Press TV’s success at fostering dialogues that include voices that are suppressed and censored in the US and the rest of the West. The 9/11 truth movement, in particular, obviously terrifies the Establishment. When the May 2018 New Horizon conference in Mashhad nearly persuaded the Iranian government to throw its full support behind a major 9/11 truth initiative—one that could have led to discovery proceedings forcing suspected 9/11 perpetrators like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and others to testify under oath— the neoconservative element of the Establishment must have panicked. The current witch-hunt is their way of lashing out.

Think about it: If this is really about Monica Witt supposedly spilling secrets, why did they wait so long? According to the feds, Witt, supposedly possessing vital national security secrets, has been living in Iran as a Shia Muslim convert since summer 2013. Since Witt was on US authorities’ radar screen as a dissident and potential whistleblower long before that, it seems obvious that damage limitation measures would have been taken by mid-2013 at the latest. Any operations Witt could have compromised would have been shut down or revamped at that time, if not earlier. So the narrative that Witt has gravely damaged US national security, and we are only hearing about it now, seems implausible. Instead, the timing of the indictment, and the simultaneous persecution of Marzieh Hashemi and sanctioning of New Horizon, suggests that the neocon Deep State is panicking over Press TV’s and New Horizon’s success at fostering dialogue on suppressed issues like 9/11 truth—dialogue inclusive of loyal and patriotic US military and intelligence insiders. Presumably the neocon Deep State has invented a fake or exaggerated tale of Monica Witt’s alleged spying as an excuse to try to persecute and silence truth-loving journalists and intellectuals.

But let’s consider all the possibilities. In the unlikely event that Monica Witt really has spilled important national security secrets to Iranian intelligence—this according to the neocon Deep State tale that the entire mainstream media has swallowed uncritically—who would really deserve the blame? Journalists who covered her whistleblowing? Conference organizers who offered her a completely transparent platform? That’s the propaganda line. But it’s preposterous.

Anyone who has spoken extensively with Monica Witt, as I did at the Hollywoodism conference in 2013, knows that she is a highly intelligent, deeply sincere person who was horrified and traumatized by the war crimes in which she was forced to participate. Today’s New York Times article cites her classmate Cory Ellis:

“‘She would talk about how she couldn’t sleep at night, the stuff she saw and was a part of,’ said Mr. Ellis. Ms. Witt, he remembered, would mention drone strikes, extrajudicial killings and atrocities against children, all of which she claimed her colleagues in the military would brag about.”

As a whistleblower, she testified about some of these atrocities to journalists, including Marzieh Hashemi, and apparently also approached Wikileaks. And of course she participated in the Hollywoodism Conference in Tehran.

So who is really at fault here? The journalists? The conference? (Kill the messengers!) Or the war criminals who rape and dismember children, massacre women and children in drone strikes, and engage in sexual assault against their fellow service members with impunity?

If the US government wants to prosecute the people responsible for Monica Witt’s decision to move to Iran, they should begin by investigating the US military personnel who committed the atrocities she witnessed—the atrocities that traumatized her and forced her to follow her conscience, wherever it may have led her.

Notes

[1] I was witch-hunted in 2006 by State Rep. Steve Nass for “teaching 9/11 conspiracy theories” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But in fact I had never done so, nor had I any plans to do so. While teaching African Studies, Folklore, and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison between 2001 and 2006, I had never once revealed to students my personal views of 9/11, nor did I ever discuss the research that gave rise to those views. None of my students up to that point even knew what my views of 9/11 were, unless they had stumbled upon one of my occasional teach-ins, or read my published work on the issue, which I did not bring into the classroom. Yet Stanley Fish lied brazenly about me in his NYT op-ed, libelously claiming: “Mr. Barrett, who has a one-semester contract to teach a course titled ‘Islam: Religion and Culture’ acknowledged on a radio talk show that he has shared with students his strong conviction that the destruction of the World Trade Center was an inside job perpetrated by the American government.” In fact I neither acknowledged nor did any such thing. I immediately wrote to The New York Times urging them to correct their libelous error. They refused to do so. Instead, they published several other letters all taking for granted Fish’s outrageous and utterly baseless lie.

[2] New Horizon is an Iranian NGO dedicated to fostering intellectual exchange among genuinely independent thinkers and activists from all over the world. It has sponsored on average one conference each year, mostly in Tehran, since around 2012.

[3] The New Horizon NGO had nothing to do with the December 2006 Holocaust Conference in Tehran—a conference whose primary purpose was to defend human rights by challenging the West’s annihilation of free speech and free thought on this important topic.

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 1 Comment