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Jerusalem Cable Car Project Passes Over Objections from Many Quarters

Political interests drive tourism plan that would blight historic city’s skyline and bypass Palestinians

By Jonathan Cook • The National • May 14, 2019

East Jerusalem has received new impetus from the rise of the Israeli far right and Washington’s decision to move its embassy to the city. But if completed, critics say, the long-running proposal would contribute to erasing the visibility of Palestinians in the city they hope to make their capital.

Planning for the $55 million tourism project continues despite unifying archaeologists, architects, Palestinians, and a tiny community of Jews against it – in a sign of Israel’s ever-growing confidence in making unilateral moves in occupied parts of Jerusalem.

Critics say the cable car will help hide the local Palestinian population from the roughly 3 million tourists who visit Jerusalem each year, turning the city into a “Disneyland” focused on promoting Israeli interests.

“The advantage for Israel is that visitors can be prevented from having any dealings with Palestinians,” said Aviv Tartasky, a researcher with Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for equal rights in Jerusalem.

“The local population will be largely erased from the experience of visiting Jerusalem. Tourists will pass over Palestinian residents, via the cable car, and then pass under them via tunnels.”

Israel’s Ministry of Tourism dismissed the criticism. In a statement to The National, the ministry said the cable car project was “a significant milestone in the promotion of Jerusalem and the strengthening of its status as a world tourism capital”.

Settler-run tours

The cable car, the largest project of its type undertaken by Israel, could be completed as early as in two years, its destination the slopes in occupied East Jerusalem just below the Old City, next to Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Some 72 cabins have the capacity to ferry up to 3,000 visitors an hour above mainly Palestinian homes.

Tourists will be channelled from the cable car into a visitor centre run by Jewish settlers in the heart of the crowded Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. They will be led by settler-approved guides underground, through tunnels under Palestinian homes to the foot of the Western Wall.

Blueprints show that visitors will be able to shop in the tunnels, bypassing local Palestinian traders in the Old City market who have long depended on tourism. Israeli officials accelerated the project by bypassing routine planning procedures, even though urban planning specialists warn that it will damage the Jerusalem skyline and archaeological sites revealing the origins of modern civilisation.

Equally important, critics say, the Benjamin Netanyahu government and settler groups view the cable car as helping block any possibility of a Palestinian state emerging with East Jerusalem as its capital. They have been emboldened by President Donald Trump’s 2017 decision to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“It should set off alarm bells that a huge state project like this is being intertwined with a private settler organisation, physically forcing visitors to go through its visitor centre, channelling them into its attractions and activities,” Mr Tartasky said.

He said the cable car was one of the ways Israel was connecting disparate settler compounds in the Palestinian neighbourhoods of occupied Jerusalem.

“It will physically strengthen these settler areas, and mean their organisations have an even greater influence on Israeli authorities.”

Encircling Al-Aqsa

The project has been forcefully promoted by the Israeli tourism ministry, headed by Yariv Levin, an ally of Mr Netanyahu, and Jerusalem’s mayor, Moshe Lion. Tenders will be issued as soon as the National Planning Council approves the project, which is expected to be a formality.

In violation of international law, Israel has treated East Jerusalem as annexed territory since it occupied the city in 1967. More than 200,000 Jewish settlers have moved there over subsequent decades

Hanna Swaid, a Palestinian planning specialist and former member of the Israeli parliament, said the cable car was illegal because international law allows major changes in occupied territory only out of military necessity or for the benefit of the population under occupation.

“Even in its own planning justifications, the Israeli authorities are clear the cable car is designed only for the benefit of tourists, Israeli developers and the settler groups overseeing it, not the local Palestinian population. In fact, it will serve to actively harm Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Mr Swaid said.

“It will parachute tourists to Jewish sites like the Western Wall, and marginalise Muslim and Christian sites,” he added.

Palestinians are concerned that the cable car will serve to tighten Israel’s control over access to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the highly sensitive holy site in the Old City. For decades Israeli authorities have moved to weaken the control of Islamic religious authorities, the Waqf, on Al Aqsa, contributing to repeated clashes at the site.

Jews believe the mosque is built over the ruins of a major Jewish temple. The Western Wall, which supports the mosque compound, was originally a retaining wall of the long-lost temple.

“The cable car looks suspiciously like another means for encircling Al Aqsa, for laying siege to it,” Mr Swaid said.

Tunnels under Palestinians

According to official plans, dozens of cabins will run hourly along a 1.5-kilometre route from West Jerusalem, inside Israel’s recognised borders, to the occupied Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside the Old City walls and in the shadow of Al Aqsa.

Tourists will disembark in Silwan into a large visitor centre, the Kedem compound, to be run by a settler organisation called Elad that has close ties with the Israeli government.

The Kedem centre is the latest venture in the City of David complex, an archaeological site that the settlers of Elad have been using for more than two decades as a base to seize control of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Visitors will be taken on tours to explore Jerusalem, moving through ancient sewage tunnels that run under Palestinian homes and reach to walls of Al Aqsa.

Additional plans will eventually see the cable car alight at other sites in East Jerusalem. Among them are the Mount of Olives, which includes an ancient Jewish cemetery; the Church of Gethsemane, at the reputed site where Judas betrayed Jesus; and the Pool of Siloam, a bathing area referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Yonatan Mizrahi, the director of Emek Shaveh, a group of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the misuse of archaeology and tourism by Israel, said: “The purpose is to offer tourists a one-dimensional narrative about Jerusalem and its history. They should see all layers of the city’s rich history. Instead they will hear only the parts that relate to Jewish history.”

Mr Mizrahi has been among those leading the criticism of the project. “No other historic city in the world has built a cable car – and for very good reason,” he said.

Jerusalem ‘not Disneyland’

In March about 30 international architects – some of whom have worked on projects in Jerusalem – wrote to Mr Netanyahu urging him not to pursue what they called short-term interests.

“The project is being promoted by powerful interest groups who put tourism and political agendas above responsibility for safeguarding Jerusalem’s cultural treasures,” the letter said.

The letter followed a statement by 70 Israeli archaeologists, architects and public figures against the cable car in November, when the project was sped up. They said: “Jerusalem is not Disneyland, and its landscape and heritage are not for sale.”

A French firm, Safege, which worked on the initial feasibility study, pulled out in 2015, reportedly under pressure from the French government over concerns that the project violated international law.

In an apparent bid to ensure the project would go through, the previous Netanyahu government changed planning laws to remove the cable car from local and regional oversight. It also ensured the public could not submit objections.

Instead the scheme is being treated as a “national infrastructure” project, similar to a new railway line or gas pipeline. The National Planning Council offered a curtailed period for organisations to lodge reservations that ended on March 31.

Mr Swaid, who is the director of the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning, drew up a list of reservations on behalf of the Supreme Religious Council of Muslims in Israel.

Other critical comments were submitted by lawyers for the Silwan neighbourhood, the archaeologists of Emek Shaveh, the planning group Bimkom, a Palestinian merchant association in the Old City, and a tour guides group.

The Karaites, a small Jewish sect whose ancient cemetery lies in the path of the cable car, in the Biblical Hinnom Valley, said the project showed “contemptuous disregard for the dignity of the deceased and the Karaite community in general”.

Benjamin Kedar, a former chairman of the Israel Antiquities Authority, lodged a protest too.

Loss of all privacy

One of the Silwan homes in the path of the cable car belongs to the Karameh family. The cabins may pass only four metres above the flat roof where toddlers play and the family of 20 hang their washing. Support columns for the cable car may end up being driven into the family’s garden, one of the few green spots in Silwan.

“Nowhere in Israel do cable cars travel over houses, let alone a few metres above,” said Mr Mizrahi. “It seems clear why in this case. Because the houses belong to Palestinians.”

Samer Karameh, a 24-year-old lorry driver, said everyone in Silwan was opposed to the cable car, as it would be helping settler groups like Elad trying to take over their neighbourhood. But he was shocked to learn that it would pass so close to his house.

“We’ll lose all privacy. We won’t be able to open the windows without being seen by thousands of strangers. And it can’t be safe to have these cars travelling just over the heads of our children,” Mr Karameh said.

“We know we won’t be the beneficiaries,” he added. “The authorities won’t give us a permit to build anything here, so all the business will go to the settlers.”

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , | 2 Comments

Leaked Report: Douma “Chemical Attack” Likely Staged

By Kit Knightly | OffGuardian | May 14, 2019

An apparent classified internal report from OPCW suggests that the Douma chemical attack – which allegedly took place in April 2018 – was in fact staged.

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2: “The Patio”

Location 4: “The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again.

This is not the first hole that has been blown in the Douma chemical bomb story (pun very much intended).

Firstly, initial reports from US-backed NGOs were that sarin had been used, not chlorine. This was dropped from the narrative after a preliminary OPCW report found “no evidence” of sarin being deployed.

Also, within days of the alleged attack, noted war reporter Robert Fisk was on the ground in Douma, talking to doctors who claimed no chemical attack had taken place at all.

Later, other witnesses came forward – including a young boy prominently featured in the “shocking footage”. They testified, at the OPCW meeting in The Hague, that no such attack had ever happened.

So, this report is but the latest piece of evidence which seriously undermines the establishment narrative of the so-called, “Douma chemical attack”.

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version. We suggest you download it and share it widely. This is exactly the kind of document that could get memory-holed.

The Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) have released their detailed analysis of the report, we suggest you all read it here. They are an excellent group, and have done sterling work on this topic.

Kit Knightly is co-editor of OffGuardian. The Guardian banned him from commenting. Twice. He used to write for fun, but now he’s forced to out of a near-permanent sense of outrage.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Deception, False Flag Terrorism | | Leave a comment

History’s Dire Warning: Beware False-Flag Trigger for Long-Sought War with Iran

By Whitney Webb | MintPress News | May 14, 2019

With the beat of Washington’s war drums continuing to grow, particularly following the Monday revelation of a government plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to counter Iran, the threat of an “accidental” provocation or a “false flag” is also becoming increasingly likely. As MintPress recently reported, the possibility of an “accident” leading to open conflict between the U.S. and Iran is now being openly stated by top European officials — such as U.K. Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt — following meetings with noted Iran hawk and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

In Part I of this series, MintPress explored how current events — including seemingly unrelated regional events, such as the Israeli government’s bid to occupy the West Bank and the Syrian offensive against Al Qaeda-held Idlib — were converging to create a “now or never” scenario for those most eager for regime change in Iran and a U.S.-Iran military confrontation, particularly Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.

This installment will also reveal how Trump’s top political patron Sheldon Adelson — who is also the top donor to Netanyahu and a long-time confidant of Bolton, whom he helped install in his powerful post in the Trump administration — may be the deciding factor whether Trump authorizes the use of military force against Iran.

Yet, while the endgame for Bolton, Adelson and Netanyahu, as well as Pompeo, has long been a U.S.-led war with Iran, public justification for such hostilities must be given in order to manufacture American consent for a war against a country significantly larger than Iraq, complete with a more powerful army. Historically, the U.S. government has frequently planned and used false flags in order to justify the initiation or expansion of hostilities, with the best-known examples being Operation Northwoods and the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

However, given the current situation, it is essential to revisit two other incidents that reveal that the key players pushing for war in Iran — Israel’s government and neoconservatives of the Bush era (Bolton chief among them) — have planned and attempted to execute false flag attacks to push the U.S. into a major war that the American public would not normally support.

Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty

On June 8, 1967, one of the worst attacks on a U.S. naval vessel during peacetime took place, an attack that the U.S. government has kept shrouded in secrecy over 50 years later in what many have called a cover-up.

Around two in the afternoon on a cloudless, sunny day, unmarked aircraft and torpedo boats attacked the U.S.S. Liberty — a largely defenseless naval intelligence vessel flying visible American flags — without provocation. The attack saw the aggressors commit several war crimes, including attacking with unmarked aircraft and vessels; shooting survivor-bearing lifeboats out of the water with machine-gun fire; and the jamming of the Liberty’s ability to use international distress frequencies.

Thirty-four American sailors lost their lives and 173 were wounded, and the Liberty — which cost U.S. taxpayers $40 million to build — was so badly damaged it was subsequently sold for scrap metal for pennies on the dollar.

During the attack and in its immediate aftermath, Liberty survivors were puzzled as to why the U.S. Department of Defense ordered the recall of U.S. ships that were on route to aid the Liberty from the hostile attack, which many sailors had assumed at the time was being conducted by Egyptian or Arab forces in light of the ship’s proximity to the Sinai Peninsula.

Indeed, the attack on the Liberty took place during the Israeli-Arab Six Day War, a war that Israel claimed to have started as a preemptive means of self-defense but that was later revealed to have been the culmination of years of planning for a war of aggression. This fact was openly admitted by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the early 1980s. Israel, an American ally, was not suspected by Liberty crewmen at the time of the attack as being their potential assailants.

However, no Arab nation had attacked the Liberty that day, though that assumption by Liberty sailors was what their true assailants had hoped they and the American public would believe. Instead, it had been Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats that had fired on the clearly-marked American vessel with torpedoes, machine gun fire and even napalm. The Israelis “officially” maintain to this day, with little challenge from the U.S. government, that the attack was an accident, a fact that has been and continues to be heavily contested by the attack’s survivors.

Yet, beyond the testimony of survivors, the most compelling evidence that the attack on the Liberty was no accident comes from the Israelis themselves. Intercepted Israeli communications from the time of attack, made public only in recent years, reveal that the ship had been identified as American prior to the attack and, despite that, the plan was to sink the U.S.S. Liberty and ensure that there were no survivors. The goal of the attack was to place the blame on Egyptian forces, which necessitated there being no American survivors who could dispute the claim. If the Liberty had been sunk, it would have provided the United States legal cover and popular support for a more central role in the conflict and its crucial diplomatic aftermath. Indeed, the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty was a false flag, one that failed to achieve its intended goal of goading the U.S. into a major war.

Instead of responding with indignation, then-President Lyndon Johnson — whether it occurred before or during the attack is disputed — ordered that the Liberty not be rescued during the course of the attack, allegedly not wanting to harm relations with or “embarrass” an ally even if it meant consigning the 294-person crew of the Liberty to death.

Damage to the starboard side of the USS Liberty following Israeli attacks, June, 1967. Photo | NSA Archive

Those who survived the assault of the Liberty owe their lives to the then-23-year-old Terry Halbardier, who valiantly navigated the Liberty’s napalm-glazed deck and managed to rig an antenna and send out an SOS signal to the Navy’s Sixth Fleet. Upon intercepting that distress signal, the Israelis immediately broke off the attack. Halbardier’s heroism prevented the massacre of all 294 crewmen and allowed them to live to tell their stories, despite Johnson’s having left them for dead.

Yet many Liberty survivors were unable to tell their stories for decades, as the U.S. government issued gag orders and threatened them with being court-martialed for speaking to anyone, even their spouses, about the incident. The Navy’s Board of Inquiry, which abetted the cover-up, was headed by Admiral John S. McCain Jr., the father of the late Senator John McCain of Arizona.

To this day, the U.S. government has failed to conduct a full, public inquiry into the attack. Liberty survivors who have since spoken out have been accused of “anti-Semitism” and of slandering Israel for discussing their personal and traumatic experiences of the attack, significantly compounding their suffering and post-traumatic stress.

While the survivors of Israel’s assault on the Liberty have been denied closure, the U.S. government’s response has endangered the lives of American personnel by clearly signaling to Israel that they will suffer no consequences for such “false flag” attacks, regardless of whether American servicemen are wounded or killed. As former CIA intelligence analyst Ray McGovern has previously noted for Consortium News, “the U.S. cover-up [of the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty ] taught the Israelis that they could literally get away with murder.”

In a 2015 interview on the Real News Network, McGovern warned that the attack on the Liberty still holds “current relevance” and that he felt that “the Israelis are capable of doing this kind of thing when they see their supreme national interests at stake.” McGovern further stated that Israeli officials may well have considered a provocation, such as false flag, to throw a wrench in the Iran nuclear deal, which was being negotiated at the time.

McGovern — in an open letter to President Barack Obama, co-authored with former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for the Near East in the National Intelligence Council Elizabeth Murray — noted that Admiral Mike Mullen, former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Bush administration, had flown to Israel in 2003 and told the Israeli government emphatically “to disabuse themselves of the notion that U.S. military support would be knee-jerk automatic if they somehow provoked open hostilities with Iran. According to the Israeli press, Mullen went so far as to warn the Israelis not to even think about another incident at sea like the deliberate Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty.”

McGovern and Murray cited Mullen’s statements to Israeli officials as the first time that “a senior U.S. official braced Israel so blatantly about the Liberty incident.” In an email to MintPress, McGovern stated that he was unsure whether current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford “can be counted upon to play a similar restraining role” in preventing hostilities with Iran. Notably, Dunford was in attendance along with Bolton at the recent CIA meeting to discuss “highly sensitive covert actions” in relation to Iran.

An “accident” waiting to happen

Since Bolton announced the movement of the Lincoln carrier strike group towards the Persian Gulf, some have pointed out that the vessels could well be destined for use in a “false flag” provocation, such as one planned by former Vice President Dick Cheney in 2008 (to be discussed shortly) and another conducted by Israel in 1967. Indeed, as MintPress noted the day after Bolton’s announcement, the carrier strike group’s deployment was actually announced a month prior and was a routine deployment.

The political analysis blog Moon of Alabama also noticed that Bolton had framed this routine deployment as something more dire for his own purposes, writing:

The carrier deployment to the Gulf is routine. It had been announced on April 8. The U.S. has bombers on rotation in the Middle East since 2001. Moreover – a carrier in the Persian Gulf is a sure sign that the U.S. will not attack Iran. Within the restricted waters of the Persian Gulf a carrier is a too easy target. The idea though may be to provide for an ‘accident’’ as Iran’s Foreign Minister [Javad Zarif] described it in a recent CBS interview.”

In an interview late last month with CBS’ Face the Nation, Zarif explicitly told journalist Margaret Brennan his concern about an imminent “false flag” to trigger war with Iran by John Bolton in collaboration with Israeli, Saudi and Emirati leadership:

Foreign Minister Zarif | I don’t think military confrontation will happen. I think people have more prudence than allowing a military confrontation to happen. But, I think the U.S. administration is putting things in place for accidents to happen. And there has to be extreme vigilance, so that people who are planning this type of accident would not have their way.

Margaret Brennan | What do you mean? What kind of accident are you talking about?

Zarif | I’m talking about people who have — who are designing confrontation, whose interest —

Brennan | Who’s doing that?

Zarif | My ‘B’ team. I call —

Brennan | What do you mean ‘B’ team?

Zarif | I call the group ‘B’ team who have always tried to create tension, whose continued existence depends on tension. Ambassador Bolton, one ‘B,’ Bibi Netanyahu, second ‘B,’ Bin Zayed, third ‘B,’ Bin Salman, fourth ‘B.’ And I’m not just making accusations.

With an aircraft carrier little more than a sitting duck in the area amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, an “accident” may well occur. As was noted in Part I of this mini-series, such a possibility was directly stated by British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt on Monday.

Hunt told reporters “We are very worried about the risk of a [U.S.-Iran] conflict happening by accident, with an escalation that is unintended really on either side but ends with some kind of conflict.” Hunt notably made the statement after meeting with Pompeo, who is currently in Europe meeting with European heads of state to discuss Iran. The Associated Press noted that the Trump administration had warned European officials, Hunt included, that “Iran or its proxies could be targeting maritime traffic in the Persian Gulf region.”

The possibility of such an “accident” is further compounded by Bolton’s aforementioned and “highly unusual” meeting about Iran and “highly sensitive covert actions” at CIA headquarters last week. Declassified CIA documents show that the agency had previously planned to stage terror attacks on U.S. soil and murder Americans to blame on Cuba in order to justify invading the Caribbean nation in the 1960s. That plan, known as Operation Northwoods, further called for the destruction of U.S. military vessels to be blamed on Cuba and also the staging of fires and mortar attacks on U.S. military installations in Cuba (i.e., Guantanamo Bay) or nearby (i.e., in Florida). Though Operation Northwoods was never enacted, the agency has been accused of orchestrating numerous “false flags” in the decades since.

As was recently seen with the alleged “sabotage” of Saudi oil tankers near Iran, there are many potential targets for provocation. However, the incident that would most assuredly force U.S. involvement in a military conflict would be an attack on an American military target. While some have dismissed Bolton’s announcement of the carrier’s movements as a self-serving manipulation of the facts, it may have had the added purpose of framing the lead-up to an unfortunate “accident” targeting American vessels in the area, particularly the Lincoln carrier strike group or one of the other subsequent U.S. naval deployments to the Middle East.

The neocon plan for a Liberty-like attack

If any sort of provocation blamed on Iran should occur, it is important to consider that a powerful group of U.S. politicians — the neo-conservatives — have long sought to plan provocations that would drag the U.S. into war with Iran. One of the most recent examples took place during the George W. Bush administration when then-Vice President Dick Cheney held a meeting with other administration officials in 2008 aimed at provoking war with Iran.

The details of that meeting were revealed by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh, who described some of the ideas considered in that Cheney-led meeting as follows:

There were a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don’t we build in our shipyard four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up. Might cost some lives.

And it was rejected because you can’t have Americans killing Americans. That’s the kind of, that’s the level of stuff we’re talking about. Provocation.

Silly? Maybe. But potentially very lethal. Because … if you get the right incident, the American public will support bang-bang-kiss-kiss. You know, we’re into it.”

It is unknown if any Bush officials now in the Trump administration were present at that meeting where the use of a “false flag” pitting Americans against Americans disguised as Iranian was discussed. However, what is known is that John Bolton — who was a member of the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century, along with Cheney, and who also served in the Bush administration — has zealously sought war with Iran for nearly two decades. Indeed, the New York Times recently described Bolton as “one of the administration’s most virulent Iran hawks, whose push for confrontation with Tehran was ignored more than a decade ago by President George W. Bush.” It is also known that Bolton has a history of playing fast and loose with unconfirmed intelligence and also distorting intelligence to fit his pre-determined narrative.

As MintPress reported last year, former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Gillerman has stated that Bolton, when serving in the Bush administration, was prone to “direct fire on his own forces,” — i.e., the U.S. government — in order to advance the goals of the Israeli government, especially with respect to Iran. For instance, in more than one instance while in the Bush administration, Bolton traveled to Israel in violation of State Department rules and negotiated privately with Israeli officials, including the then-head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, to lay the groundwork for a war with Iran. As journalist Gareth Porter has noted, Bolton did this in an effort to directly undermine Colin Powell, Bolton’s superior, just as Powell “was saying administration policy was not to attack Iran.”

Worse still, Bolton has pressured Israeli officials to initiate a war with Iran, even when they didn’t support such a move. One such case was Shaul Mofaz, former Israeli defense minister, who told Israeli media last March that Bolton “tried to convince me that Israel needs to attack Iran,” even though Mofaz did not see such a war as “a smart move — not on the part of the Americans today or anyone else until the threat is real.”

Pompeo’s Holy war and rapture

Furthermore, Bolton is not the only top Trump administration official who has long promoted a war with Iran, as current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had also called for the preemptive bombing of Iran long before he joined the Trump administration. Pompeo’s desire to push the U.S. towards war with Iran is based on his fervent adherence to Christian Zionism. As a result of the admitted influence his beliefs hold over his foreign policy, Pompeo sees an “apocalyptic” war between Israel and Iran as a necessary precursor to the Second Coming of Christ and the “rapture.”

Pompeo is on record speaking about the rapture on several occasions, particularly as CIA director when he spoke about the event — which holds that “true believers” will ascend to Heaven prior to the tribulations and trials of the “end times” — so often that he made veteran intelligence officers uncomfortable. As a result, some have asserted that Pompeo is “a man who appears to view American foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.”

The fact that the actions of the current Secretary of State are influenced by his Christian Zionist faith was on display last month, when American Christian journalist Chris Mitchell of the Christian Broadcasting Network asked Pompeo: “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this … to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” Pompeo responded that this was definitely “possible.”

If Adelson has his way . . .

Yet, perhaps the most dangerous force driving the U.S. towards a war with Israel is not the public face of the Trump administration’s foreign policy but its private face. Sheldon Adelson — the top donor to Trump, the entire Republican Party, and also the top political donor to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu — has long sought war with Iran, and several of Adelson’s desired policies have already been enacted by Trump. These include recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, replacing H.R. McMaster with Bolton as National Security Advisor, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Several reports have asserted that pressure from Adelson was a deciding factor in Trump’s fulfillment of these policies.

Adelson’s influence over Trump again takes on great significance, given recent events with respect to Iran, as Adelson has previously advocated for a U.S. nuclear attack on Iran without provocation, just so the U.S. could “impose its demands [on Iran] from a position of strength.”

Per Adelson’s plan, the U.S. would drop a nuclear bomb in the middle of the Iranian desert and then threaten that “the next one is in the middle of Tehran” to show that “we mean business.” Tehran, Iran’s capital, is home to nearly 9 million people with 15 million more in its suburbs. Were Tehran to be attacked with nuclear weapons, an estimated 7 million would die within moments, according to a 2013 study jointly conducted by researchers at the University of Georgia and Harvard.

Yet, any sort of diplomatic engagement with Iran, according to Adelson, is “the worst negotiating tactic I could ever imagine.”

In other words, Adelson has called for dropping nuclear weapons on a country, including its heavily populated capital city, for no reason other than to show that the U.S. “means business” and considers nuclear war a negotiating tactic.

While some media reports have suggested that Trump is unwilling to go to war with Iran and is uneasy with the hawkish policies of Bolton and Pompeo, he will have a hard time ignoring Adelson. Adelson, who poured $35 million into Trump’s 2016 campaign and spent $55 million on Republican primary campaigns last year, is the party’s most influential donor and angering him could well mean the end of Trump’s political career.

Would Trump resist a push for war from not just Netanyhu, Bolton and Pompeo but Adelson as well? It seems unlikely. Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen told ProPublica in 2018 that he “would put Adelson at the very top of the list of both access and influence in the Trump administration,” a sentiment that was also echoed by Alan Dershowitz, who has done legal work for Adelson and advised Trump. Dershowitz told ProPublica that Adelson “just calls the president all the time. Donald Trump takes Sheldon Adelson’s calls.” As MintPress has noted on several occasions, those calls often translate into policy decisions.

Unfortunately, Trump — even when he tries to follow a different path, as he attempted to do in Syria — often ends up conceding to the neo-conservatives and Zionist extremists who surround (and fund) him.

History issues a warning

The combination of current tensions and the documented history of both Israel and Bush-era neo-conservatives planning and even executing false flag attacks in order to justify U.S. military action against a desired target — should set off alarm bells. Instead, most corporate media outlets are playing up unfounded or baseless claims of the “Iranian threat” and Iran’s unproven role in recent acts of “sabotage” in Saudi Arabia and in the UAE in ways that are strikingly similar to the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Furthermore, the history and mindset of both Bolton and Pompeo, in addition to the unprecedented influence of Sheldon Adelson in the Trump administration, add yet another layer to this increasingly complex yet undeniably troubling situation.

As a consequence, it is imperative for people around the world, particularly in the United States, to be skeptical of any act of violence blamed on Iran before a full investigation is completed, and to resist a rapid push to begin a conflict with Iran that could well follow such an act.

The time for resistance, ideally, would be before such an attack occurs, making critical the widespread dissemination of relevant information left unmentioned by the corporate media, such as that contained in Parts I and II of this series. The crucial context here is the well-documented willingness of both the Israeli and U.S. governments to sacrifice (i.e., kill) Americans in order to plunder the natural resources of “unfriendly” nations and pursue the objectives of the political and economic elite of both countries.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, False Flag Terrorism, Wars for Israel | , , , | 5 Comments

Forensic Experts: No Evidence Couple Shot at Police in Houston Botched Drug Raid

By Carlos Miller | Photography is Not a Crime | May 13, 2019

Despite claims by Houston police that they engaged in a fierce gunfight with a couple they raided in January, a team of forensic investigators who spent four days in the house say there is no evidence the couple ever shot at police.

That contradicts the claim by Houston police that four cops were shot as they entered the home in what turned out to be a botched raid based on fabricated information.

The couple were killed and the cops were not wearing body cameras, so police probably did not expect evidence to surface that would contradict their claims.

According to the Houston Chronicle :

A four-day independent forensics review at 7815 Harding Street found a cache of evidence left behind by the city’s crime scene teams after a botched drug raid at the home left dead a couple suspected of selling drugs

Hired by the relatives of Rhogena Nicholas and Dennis Tuttle, the new forensics team found no signs the pair fired shots at police — and plenty of signs that previous investigators overlooked dozens of pieces of potential evidence in what one expert called a “sloppy” investigation.

“It doesn’t appear that they took the basic steps to confirm and collect the physical evidence to know whether police were telling the truth,” said attorney Mike Doyle, who is representing the Nicholas family. “That’s the whole point of forensic scene documentation. That’s the basic check on people just making stuff up.”

And it does not appear as if Houston police are conducting any type of “robust investigation” as Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo promised back in February after previous attempts of spin and deception failed.

It appears that they are doing just what we expected them to do, which is to let this drag out in the hopes people will forget about it.

Already the cop who lied on the search warrant and has a history of lying on search warrants has retired, so he’ll be collecting a pension when he probably should be sitting in prison.

The forensic experts found more inconsistencies:

Though police said they started shooting when the dog lunged as they came through the door, Maloney’s forensics team found that the dog was shot and killed at the edge of the dining room, 15 feet from the front door. Authorities never picked up the shotgun shell when they collected evidence.

And police said that Tuttle started firing at them, but Maloney’s team did not find clear evidence of that.

“The initial bullet trajectories appear to be somewhat contradictory,” said Louisiana-based attorney Chuck Bourque, who is also representing the Nicholas family. “We see no evidence that anybody inside the house was firing toward the door.”

Some of the bullet holes outside the house appeared at least a foot from the door, a fact that Doyle flagged as troubling.

“You can’t see into the house from there,” he said, “you’re firing into the house through a wall.”

The four-day investigation was led by independent forensic expert Mike Maloney, a retired supervisory special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception | , | 1 Comment

The UN is a mouthpiece for Israeli propaganda, not a threat to the colonial state

By Ramona Wadi | MEMO | May 14, 2019

Only a few days before the Palestinian commemoration of the 1948 Nakba, in which the indigenous people of Palestine were massacred, displaced and ethnically cleansed to pave the way for the European Zionist colonial project, Germany issued a statement declaring its intention to oppose “any unfair treatment” allegedly exhibited at the UN towards Israel. “Germany’s historic responsibility for the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and its security is part of our raison d’être,” the German government declared. “Germany will always work, including in the UN, to ensure that Israel’s right to exist is never called into question.”

Germany deliberately chose to issue its statement on the 70th anniversary of Israel becoming a full UN member state. On this day, despite purportedly championing human rights, the UN abdicated its responsibilities in order to embrace a new colonial power and celebrate its own role in the process of normalising colonialism. The UN has also conveniently and consistently overlooked the fact that Israel’s membership of the organisation was conditional upon it allowing Palestinian refugees to return to their land.

At the UN, Israel faces no threats whatsoever. Its recent bombing of Gaza and official statements from the international community testify to this fact. Yet Germany has jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that Israel is treated unfairly in the international arena and citing its allegiance to the settler-colonial state as a “historic responsibility”. Does Germany also extend the same sentiment and diplomatic commitment to other minorities murdered during the Holocaust?

Israel was a planned political project mooted in the late nineteenth century, as historical documents and research show very clearly. The Holocaust facilitated its implementation but did not create the demand for a “Jewish State”. However, historic responsibility and Israel’s settler-colonial apartheid state are incompatible. Furthermore, such responsibility which Germany has towards all of the minorities murdered in the Nazi era does not cancel out the collective historic responsibility towards Palestinians, from which the entire world has absconded.

Meanwhile, Germany has also attributed its stance to the “firm belief that the UN lies at the heart of the multilateral, rules-based order” for achieving peace and security. It is a fact that the UN has excelled in neither, not least in terms of the impunity with which Israel is allowed to act. The German government, therefore, is merely affirming its commitment to the propagation of ongoing human rights violations which, of course, suits Israel’s interests.

At a time when the least that the international community can do is shift its attention to the Nakba commemoration, Germany is determined to score diplomatic points for Israel which have more to do with the ongoing colonisation of Palestine than Nazi horrors during the Second World War.

“Israeli interests” constitute nothing more than wanting an international commitment against the decolonisation of Palestine. In its statement, Germany is refusing the possibility of questioning Israel’s right to exist, in line with Israel’s purported security and “self-defence” narrative and justification for its violence against Palestinians.

Why not turn the narrative around? Surely, just as Israel demands unconditional support for its existence, Palestinians have a greater claim and legitimacy in asking why the people and their land were ethnically cleansed. If justice truly existed, the UN — and Germany — would not hesitate to call Israel’s creation and existence in such a manner into question. As things stand, however, the UN continues to be a mouthpiece for Israel and its allies, while Palestinians are butchered by the colonial entity that does not hesitate to profit from terms such as “historic responsibility”.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

UK admits MI5 in ‘serious’ breach of surveillance safeguards

Press TV – May 14, 2019

Britain’s interior minister Sajid Javid has admitted that the country’s main domestic intelligence agency MI5 has breached safeguards on protection of data obtained from citizens during interception operations.

The Guardian newspaper said in a Tuesday report that Javid had sent a letter to members of the British parliament last week notifying them of “serious” breaches in MI5 operations regarding how private data of millions of citizens, including private messages, digital browsing histories and location information, has been handled by the intelligence agency.

That comes after the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO), the official body responsible for overseeing government surveillance practices, sent a team of inspectors to the MI5 to investigate how the secuirty organization had failed to comply with the safeguards regarding how it should use and preserve the data.

The IPCO has said in a report that breaches committed by the MI5 had been “serious and required immediate mitigation”.

Javid has announced that his ministry, the Home Office, had established an independent review to “consider and report back” on the findings of the IPCO report.

The evolving scandal comes as human rights organization Liberty is taking legal action against the government over what it and other rights campaigners allege are excessively intrusive surveillance powers given to the security apparatus.

The new revelations about the MI5 have intensified concerns that the British government is sharing the private data of citizens with foreign intelligence agencies.

“It is possible, from what is known, that millions of innocent people’s data is being shared widely with foreign governments. If the government has its way, we will never know if this is the case,” said Megan Goulding, a lawyer at Liberty.

“If the UK’s surveillance regime is to have a semblance of legitimacy, the public needs to know what happened, and how badly our privacy and the security of our information were put at risk,” Goulding added.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , | Leave a comment

Iranian MP Blames ‘Israeli Mischief’ for ‘Sabotage’ Against Tankers at UAE Port

Sputnik – 14.05.2019

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman earlier called for an investigation into attacks on several vessels off the UAE coast on Sunday, having warned against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers” and “adventurism by foreigners” to undermine the region’s stability.

Iranian parliamentary spokesman Behrouz Nemati has blamed the “sabotage” against four vessels off the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) coast on Sunday on Israel, according to IRNA.

“The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief”, Nemati said, without going into details on what role Israel could have played in the incident.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in turn, said that he had foreseen this sort of “suspicious activities”, which he stressed were “aimed at escalating tension in the region”.

The comments come shortly after several unnamed US officials told AP that “Iranian or Iranian-backed proxies” are alleged to be behind the attack.

Tehran has denied any involvement and urged for an investigation into the matter, calling the incident “worrisome and dreadful” and cautioning against any “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers”.

In a parallel development, US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid said that Washington should take what he described as “reasonable responses short of war” once it determined who is behind the attacks on oil tankers.

“We need to do a thorough investigation to understand what happened, why it happened, and then come up with reasonable responses short of war. It’s not in (Iran’s) interest, it’s not in our interest, it’s not in Saudi Arabia’s interest to have a conflict”, Abizaid told reporters in Riyadh.

The remarks follow news of four commercial ships being targeted in what the UAE Foreign Ministry described as “acts of sabotage” near Fujairah, one of the seven emirates, without revealing the nature of the attack.

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those targeted; the attack didn’t cause an oil spill or any casualties, but is said to have led to significant damage to the structures of both ships. The two other ships are alleged to belong to Norway and the UAE.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , | 2 Comments

Getting to Medicare for All

I had the opportunity to testify yesterday before the House Rules committee on Medicare for All. Incredibly, this was apparently the first time the topic had been explicitly addressed in a congressional hearing. In my testimony, I argued that a Medicare for All program would be affordable, but the key factor was reducing the cost of input prices, like prescription drugs, medical equipment, and doctors’ pay. I also briefly laid out what I considered the key features of a transition from the current system. I want to go into this issue in a bit more detail here.

I listed four main steps as being key in the transition:

1) Fix the current Medicare system;

2) Allow a Medicare buy-in;

3) Take measures to reduce input prices;

4) Lower age of Medicare eligibility to 64.

These four steps should allow for an orderly phase in of a universal Medicare system. They also should quickly provide substantial benefits to most of the population in the form of better quality/lower cost health care.

Fixing Traditional Medicare

The first point largely involves reversing the effort over the last few decades by right wingers to sabotage traditional Medicare and drive people into private Medicare Advantage plans or to require them to buy private supplemental insurance if they remain in traditional Medicare.

The most obvious fix here is to impose a cap on out-of-pocket spending. This is actually required for Medicare Advantage plans, but for some reason, no cap was ever put in place for traditional Medicare. We can start with a cap of $6,000, which is roughly the cap for Medicare Advantage. As we move towards the more comprehensive system envisioned by proponents of Medicare for All, this cap can be lowered, but the first step is simply to have a cap in place comparable to the cap for Medicare Advantage plans.

The second important fix is to roll part D drug benefits into the traditional Medicare program. Requiring a separate insurance package for prescription drugs makes little sense except as a way to force beneficiaries to give money to the insurance industry. Stand-alone prescription drug insurance plans do not exist in the private sector; it is absurd that the Bush administration insisted on going this route on 2003 as a condition of providing a prescription drug benefit.

It would also be desirable to merge Medicare Part A and Part B as part of a single system, to reduce complexity. This would require some fundamental revamping of the program (Part A is financed by the designated payroll tax, while Part B is paid partly by premiums and mostly out of general revenue), but this revamping will be necessary at some point in the movement towards Medicare for All in any case. Even if Part A and Part B are not immediately merged for current beneficiaries, they should certainly be merged for those opting to buy into the program.

The third part of a fix is to eliminate the effective subsidies that Medicare Advantage plans obtain from “upcoding” their enrollees. Medicare reimburses Medicare Advantage plans based on the health of the people they have enrolled. Recent research indicates Medicare Advantage plans systematically upcode their enrollees, implying their health is worse than is actually the case, in a way that could increase payments by as much as 16 percent.

The program should move quickly to end these excess payments. One route would be to assume that the insurers lie about the health of their enrollees and adjust payments according. For example, if the average overpayment is found to be 10 percent, then the payment to Medicare Advantage plans can simply be reduced by 10 percent.[1]

Alternatively, improper coding of enrollees could be treated like the fraud which it is. This would mean severe civil penalties for the companies that engage in the practice and possible criminal penalties for the corporate executives that design the policy. There are plenty of people in prison for stealing cars that might be worth just a few thousand dollars. There is no reason that insurance executives, who might be stealing tens of millions from Medicare, should not face punishment that is at least as harsh.

Allowing a Medicare Buy-In 

After putting in the fixes discussed above (which should be quickly doable), people of all ages should be allowed to buy into the Medicare program, so that the system competes directly with private insurers. This buy in would be either through the exchanges, with households being able to apply whatever subsidies they for which they are eligible under the exchanges, or alternatively through employer-based coverage, with employers able to pay an age-adjusted rate for their workers, as is the case now for private insurers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

This buy-in would serve four purposes. First, it should give every person in the country access to a decent insurance plan. A reformed Medicare plan will provide access to a large number of providers and avoid the harassment that often proves so profitable for private insurers. It also is likely to provide an attractive option to employers who current provide insurance for their workers. There is no reason not to allow employers to replace a current private plan with Medicare, and undoubtedly many would choose to do so.

The second benefit is that it would provide a serious competitor for private insurers. This is especially important in markets where consolidation of insurers have limited the availability of plans to just one or two insurers, but a reformed Medicare plan, if priced at cost, should be an attractive option everywhere.

The third benefit is that reformed Medicare program, with a buy in option, should have enormous market power. The existing plan, with 40 million enrollees, already has substantially market power. But if we assume that half of those currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage switch to a reformed Medicare plan, along with 10 percent of the pre-Medicare age population, the reformed Medicare plan would have almost 80 million people enrolled, or just under a quarter of the population. Since this group includes most of the elderly and disabled, it would account for an even larger share of health care spending.

This would be such a large share of the market that it is likely that providers in many areas would opt only to deal with Medicare in order to avoid the administrative costs associated with dealing with a variety of smaller insurers. There would be even more market power with a merged Medicare-Medicaid program, which together with a modest degree of voluntary buy-ins, would account for well over half of the country’s health care spending, and far more than half in particular markets. Insofar as providers decided to rely on Medicare only, it would allow for the administrative efficiencies sought by proponents of Medicare for All.

The last advantage of a buy-in is that it would increase people’s familiarity and comfort with getting their insurance through Medicare. It would make the step to a universal Medicare program seem far less drastic.

Getting Health Care Input Prices in Line with the Rest of the World

The United States pays roughly twice as much for our health care inputs – drugs, medical equipment, doctors – as do people in other wealthy countries. This both makes it much more difficult to pay for universal Medicare and also leads to poorer quality health care.

This is most clear in the case of prescription drugs and medical equipment. Because these items are expensive in the United States, doctors and patients often choose inferior courses of treatment. In the case of prescription drugs, they may take a less effective drug because it is cheaper. Alternatively, many people take half doses in order to economize on their drug spending. In the case of medical equipment, they may not take advantage of new technological developments because they are too expensive.

These health endangering efforts at saving money are especially painful because it is government policy that makes drugs and medical equipment expensive. Specifically, they are expensive because the government grants patent monopolies as the way it pays for the research and development costs for new drugs and medical equipment.

Without these government-granted monopolies, drugs and medical equipment would almost invariably be cheap. In the case of prescription drugs, new breakthrough drugs would sell for the same price as generic drugs long on the market. There would be no issue of debating whether the government or private insurers should have to pay for a new drug that cost tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands a year, since new drugs would rarely cost more than a few hundred dollars a year.

The same applies to medical equipment. The most modern scans would not cost much more than a simple X-Ray. There would be no economic reason for doctors not to prescribe the best method for examining a patient.

If we did not rely on government-granted patent monopolies, the government would need another mechanism for financing research. The obvious alternative is direct government funding. This would likely be an enormous money saver.

We will spend more than $430 billion a year this on prescription drugs that would likely cost less than $80 billion in a free market without patent or related protections.[2] For this additional $350 billion in spending, we get roughly $70 billion in research from the pharmaceutical industry. The government currently spends more than $40 billion a year through the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. If it were to double or triple this spending, it should be able to replace the research currently being supported through patent monopolies.

This publicly funded research would have two major advantages over the current system. First, all the results would be fully public, this would be a condition of receiving the money.[3] This should allow research to advance more quickly, since researchers could quickly build on each other’s’ successes or failures.

The other great advantage is that it would eliminate the incentive to lie about the safety and effectiveness of drugs. This is a widely recognized problem with the current system where pharmaceutical companies often engage in questionable or even illegal practices to promote their drugs. In extreme cases, they push drugs in contexts where they can be harmful to patients, as is alleged to be the case with Perdue Pharma promoting OxyContin as being non-addictive, even though it knew it was. No one would be lying to increase sales of OxyContin if it sold for the same price as generic aspirin.

We will not get a system of publicly funded research overnight, and even if we did, it would take many years before the research yielded fruit. However, we can ramp up funding, with the explicit intention of bringing new drugs onto the market at generic prices. In the meantime, we can use the same sort of price controls to bring prices in the U.S. in line with other wealthy countries.

A bill proposed by Senator Sanders and Representative Khanna provides a great example of how this can be done. It would require companies to charge no more than the median price available in the next seven largest wealthy countries or lose their patent monopoly. A separate bill introduced by Senator Warren and Representative Schakowsky would limit abuses of monopoly power in the generic market by creating a government manufacturing capability that would allow it to quickly enter markets where excessive concentration has allowed generic producers to jack up prices, as happened with Martin Shkreli and Daraprim, an important treatment for AIDS patients.

These are measures that could in the near term allow for hundreds of billions of dollars of savings annually on prescription drugs. We can also enact comparable measures for medical equipment, getting our costs in line with other wealthy countries.

In the case of doctors and dentists, who earn on average twice of what their counterparts make in other wealthy countries, we can look to measures to increase the supply through rules that allow qualified foreign doctors practice in the United States. We can also change licensing rules to allow lesser paid medical professionals, such as nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants, do tasks for which they are fully competent, like prescribing drugs, which are now typically performed by doctors. A reformed Medicare can also lower compensation rates.

If we look to get doctors’ pay in line with other wealthy countries we should also cover most of the cost of their education, as is the case in other wealthy countries. In addition, we should look to loan forgiveness for those who acquired large debts from their education. Even with paying more for medical education, there should still be large savings. If we paid $100,000 a year towards the education of 60,000 medical and dental students, it would come to $6.0 billion a year, less than 2.0 percent of what we pay doctors and dentists each year.

Taking these and other steps to reduce the cost of health care inputs would both immediately lower the cost of health care to everyone and also make an eventual transition to a universal Medicare system far more affordable. If the cost of health care inputs in the U.S. were in line with other wealthy countries, the government would already be paying almost enough to cover the cost of Medicare for All.

Lowering the Age of Medicare Eligibility to 64

The most obvious way to extend Medicare coverage is to expand the age group that is automatically eligible. There have been a variety of proposals to lower the age to 60, 55, or 50 as a major step towards including the whole population. While these age reductions are reasonable policies, they would undoubtedly be big steps. Just lowering the age to 60 would add close to 20 million people to program.

By contrast, lowering the age of eligibility to 64 is not a big step. It is just one year, roughly doubling the number of new enrollees that Medicare would see in a normal year. Also, the cost would be limited since many of 64-year olds would already be getting Medicare through the Social Security disability program, or alternatively would be receiving Medicaid.

It is likely that at least 40 percent of this age group already is having their health care paid by the government, and this would include the highest cost patients, since these are often the people receiving disability. Given this skewing, the additional cost of adding 64-year olds to Medicare would probably be in the neighborhood of $12 to $14 billion a year, the sort of money Congress adds to the military budget without a second thought.

While this would be a small step, it would nonetheless be an important one. First, it would directly extend Medicare coverage to millions of people, providing them with a much greater level of health care and financial security. It would also move the year of eligibility one year closer for many people with health issues who are approaching 65.

This modest extension of coverage would also give insights into the problems that would be encountered in a larger expansion. There will inevitably be mistakes in any large scale expansion of the program, but the experience of taking a smaller step, like lowering the age to 64 should, make the system better prepared to deal with a larger expansion.

This simple step will also make the idea of an expanded Medicare program very concrete. The system was set up to cover people over age 65, and the disabled more than fifty years ago, with no change in the age of eligibility. (There have been some efforts to raise it.) If we can successfully lower the age to 64, this will be a new fact on the ground. Everyone will know that lowering the age of eligibility is possible and that we can move to universal Medicare system.

[1] Medicare Advantage plans can be given an option to show that they had actually been honest in their coding, but this would require full public disclosure of data on services provided per enrollee.

[2] The basis for this calculation is described in more detail here.

[3] A system of direct funding could still have private pharmaceutical companies doing the research, they would just be paid upfront instead of looking to profit from patent monopolies.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | | 1 Comment

“Saving Syria’s Children”: Response to the HuffPo

Corrections and clarifications to “Keith Allen Thinks The BBC May Have Faked ‘Apocalyptic’ Attack In Syria”

Saving Syria’s Children: Did The BBC Lie? from Robert Stuart on Vimeo.

By Robert Stuart | OffGuardian | May 13, 2019

News and opinion website The Huffington Post has written about my campaign to crowdfund a documentary about the 2013 BBC Panorama programme Saving Syria’s Children.

Keith Allen Thinks The BBC May Have Faked ‘Apocalyptic’ Attack In Syria was published on May 4th 2019. Some notes in response follow.

Stuart says he has spent nearly six years compiling “a mountain of evidence” that shows the BBC’s footage was “faked”. He claims the national broadcaster worked “cheek by jowl with Isis” to produce the Panorama documentary, which was broadcast in September 2013.

Evidence that sequences in Saving Syria’s Children were fabricated is set out on my blog. Readers are free to make their own topographical analogies.

During the programme’s making BBC Panorama reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway were embedded with then ISIS partner group Ahrar al-Sham – a group described elsewhere by the BBC as “hard-line Islamist”. Less than three weeks earlier Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS and other groups together killed over 190 civilians, including women, children and elderly men, and kidnapped over 200 mostly women and children.

In the programme’s climactic scenes of the aftermath of an alleged incendiary attack the BBC crew filmed at close quarters an ambulance prominently bearing the ISIS emblem and its militarily attired occupants, at least one of whom was armed.

In an interview with TalkRadio on Friday, Stuart claimed “the only source of [this attack] is the BBC”. However, the strike was also reported by NBC News who interviewed doctors who described the “apocalyptic” attack in detail, documented in painstaking detail by the Violations Documentation Centre in Syria (VDCS), and confirmed by Human Rights Watch.

The NBC News article cited features an interview with a single volunteer doctor named “Roula”. This is clearly Dr Rola Hallam. Dr Hallam and Dr Saleyha Ahsan were being followed by the BBC Panorama team of reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway as they visited hospitals run by the UK charity Hand in Hand for Syria. As such Hallam was central to the BBC reports in question and cannot be considered an independent commentator. [1] [2] [3] [4]

The Violations Documentation Centre in Syria report cited gives the time of the alleged attack as follows:

On 26 Aug 2013, at 02:00 pm, the Syrian air forces shelled ‘Iqraa’ Institution in Orm Al Kubra in Aleppo, which had been under the Free Army’s control for several months then.

The VDCS report also quotes Mustapha Haid, “Head of ‘Doulati Organization/My State Organization’”:

At 3 in the afternoon, On 26 Aug 2013, I was in Al Atareb City and I heard rumours about a ‘chemical attack’ on Orm Al Kubra and that tens of casualties were brought to Al Atareb Hospital.

However the BBC has categorically stated in complaints correspondence that:

The attack happened on the 26th of August at around 5.30pm at the end of the school day.[5]

The VDCS report quotes a second witness, Issa Obeid, “Head of Nursing Department in Al Atareb Hospital”, who provides a first-hand account of his actions at Atareb Hospital:

We washed the casualties with water and serums after taking off their clothes. We used ‘Florasline’ liniment on the burnt areas and provided the casualties with fluids and some of them were given tranquilizers like Morphine.

However on 26 August 2013 Issa (or Iessa) Obied would appear not to have been present at Atareb but to have been attending a battle first aid training course in Antakia, Turkey. [6]

Iessa Obied has been photographed posing with an arsenal of weaponry including assault rifles, an anti-aircraft gun and a shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. [7] [8]

The Huffington Post reports that the strike was “confirmed by Human Rights Watch”. However Mary Wareham, Advocacy Director of HRW’s Arms Division, stated in a contemporary (August 2013) article that Human Rights Watch has “not investigated this incident“. [9]

HuffPost UK asked a team of ex-military and medical professionals who teach hostile environment training to view the full Panorama footage to comment on its authenticity.

Questions about Hostile Environment Awareness Training, the company cited by the Huffington Post, are raised by journalist Kit Klarenberg. “With the predictability of Chinese water torture, York’s once again written a propagandistic ad hominem hatchet job on an independent researcher, in this case @cerumol. Leaving aside his puerile insults, the ‘experts’ he apparently consulted are worthy of close investigation…”

They described it as “legitimate” and “consistent with chemical exposure”, adding the select footage in Stuart and Allen’s promotional video had been “cleverly” edited in a way to manipulate the viewer.

The BBC has been at pains to assert “that this was an attack using an incendiary device, rather than a chemical weapon.”

As noted on my blog a GMC registered doctor with burns experience has concluded that the scenes of alleged incendiary bomb victims arriving at Atareb Hospital in Saving Syria’s Children were “an act”. Further sceptical comment by medical professionals, including former UK and US military personnel, plus observations by lay people with experience of burns victims, is collated here. [10]

None of the BBC footage used in the crowdfunding video has been altered in any way, save for basic editing techniques such as freeze frame and fade.

Stuart also takes issue with the fact the documentary makers – reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway – worked alongside the armed Islamist groups that controlled the Aleppo region where Atarib is situated.

When required, all major media organisations negotiate access with whoever controls the area in question. Numerous journalists have risked their lives to report on what is happening inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Hamas-controlled Gaza or Boko Haram-controlled Nigeria, for example.

It is clearly in the public interest for BBC audiences to be made aware that a portion of their license fee revenue has apparently been paid to a jihadist group co-founded by “one of Osama bin Laden’s most trusted couriers”.

The BBC rebutted the claims made by Stuart and Allen in a statement to HuffPost UK, saying there is “absolutely no evidence that any part of the programme was fabricated”.

It added: “Any such suggestion is offensive to the victims, medics and reporters.”

This statement was published on Facebook by BBC Panorama editor Rachel Jupp over two years ago in response to challenges made by film, television and radio producer Victor Lewis-Smith.

An RT report based on Stuart’s work was found to be in breach of Ofcom broadcasting rules and described as “materially misleading”.

Some important caveats in Ofcom’s finding against the RT programme in question have been noted by OffGuardian :

To be clear, according to OfCom’s own description of its remit, in the dispute between RT and the BBC, OfCom did not look into the BBC’s accuracy or credibility. Nor did OfCom investigate whether RT’s allegations of fakery were true or false. In fact the Broadcast Bulletin makes it clear OfCom ruled in favour of the BBC based solely on two things:

A) a finding that RT had broken “Rule 7 of the Code”, which requires a broadcaster to allow sufficient right of reply to anyone accused.

B) a finding that RT had infringed “Rule 2.2 of the Code” which requires a broadcaster not to present facts in a way likely to “mislead the viewer” – based on the fact RT had referred to Robert Stuart’s ongoing investigation into the BBC’s Panorama program as a “massive public investigation”, when OfCom thought the size of his investigation did not merit such an epithet.

Anyone can visit Robert Stuart’s website and decide for themselves if his investigation can fairly be described as “massive”, but the extent to which OfCom’s findings are themselves factual inaccuracies I’ll leave for others to explore. The most significant point here is that OfCom has specifically not cleared the BBC of suspicion of wrongdoing, and is not claiming to have done so.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment