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The lockdown: One month in Wuhan

CGTN • February 28, 2020

At 10 a.m. on January 23, Wuhan went into lockdown. This was done to stop a deadly virus from spreading further across the nation. It was one day before Chinese New Year’s Eve, a major travel day for people planning to return home for the holidays.

This documentary is dedicated to all those who’ve been battling tirelessly against the COVID-19 virus in order to keep the epidemic at bay. Their efforts in safeguarding humanity from the virus will always be remembered.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Video | | Leave a comment

Hung jury results in mistrial for former CIA tech accused of handing ‘Vault 7’ docs to WikiLeaks

Assange trial rehearsal?

RT | March 10, 2020

Federal prosecutors were unable to convince a jury on any of the spying-related charges against an ex-CIA engineer accused of stealing reams of classified material – in what may be a dry run for the case against Julian Assange.

In a significant blow to prosecutors on Monday, jurors failed to come to a verdict on eight central counts against former CIA software engineer Joshua Schulte, who was charged for stealing thousands of pages of classified information on the agency’s secret hacking tools and passing them to WikiLeaks – what later became its ‘Vault7’ release, the largest breach of classified material in CIA history.

While Schulte was found guilty of contempt of court and making false statements to investigators, a hung jury on the remaining eight charges – including illegal gathering and transmission of national defense information – prompted District Judge Paul Crotty to order a mistrial and dismiss the jurors on the case, who had deemed themselves “extremely deadlocked” in a note to the judge.

The split verdict came after nearly a full week of messy deliberations, which saw one juror removed for researching the facts of the case against Crotty’s orders. She was never replaced, however, leaving a short-handed panel to deliver a final decision.

The former technician left his job in the CIA’s Langley headquarters in 2016 and was charged some two years later for his alleged role in the Vault 7 leak. But prosecutors had difficulty tying Schulte to the disclosure throughout his four-week trial, with jurors often mystified by a complicated maze of technical evidence.

The case may offer parallels to that of WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange, who faces 17 charges under the World War I-era Espionage Act and up to 175 years in prison over his role in the publication of the Iraq and Afghan war logs in 2010. Assange is accused of helping leaker Chelsea Manning (then known as Bradley) “hack” into military computers to obtain classified material, but if extradited from the UK to stand trial in an American courtroom, prosecutors would likely produce similar technical forensics to prove his involvement, precisely what the government was unable to do in Schulte’s case.

Arguing that the CIA’s computer network had widely known vulnerabilities, including poor password protections, Schulte’s defense insisted prosecutors had failed to prove his role in the breach. They noted it was possible another actor gained access to his work station, pointing to another CIA employee identified only as “Michael” as a potential culprit.

The CIA later placed the employee on administrative leave for refusing to cooperate with the investigation, which suggested the government had “doubt about the case against Mr. Schulte,” defense attorney Sabrina Shroff said in her closing argument on Monday.

Prosecutors are likely to demand a retrial for Schulte, and he still stands accused of possessing child pornography, allegedly stored on devices found during a search of his home. He will be tried separately on those charges, facing a total of 15 counts.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Coping with a Megadisaster: Katrina and Coronavirus

By Peter Lee | China Threat Report | February 29, 2020

The American media has indefatigably promoted the line that the PRC’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak has discredited the “Chinese model of governance” which is to say authoritarian rule implemented by party/state bureaucrats.

Now that the coronavirus is scratching at America’s door, the United States’ own capacity for handling a disaster like coronavirus has evolved from unexamined self-congratulatory propaganda to reality-based anxiety and borderline panic.

So, instead of looking at the platonic ideal of democratic transparency and responsible governance, let’s look at how the US system of governance actually responds to a real disaster in the real world.

To evaluate the Chinese response to coronavirus, it would be tempting to look at how the hard-striving up and coming wannabe super power of the early twentieth century, the United States, handled, mishandled, covered up and exacerbated the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918 with a combination of lies, denial, and junk science.

But comparing an early 20th century pandemic to a modern response isn’t really fair? Is it?

I’ll leave the 1918 epidemic in the rear view mirror with only one observation in light of the campaign by enemies of the PRC, including the Taiwan government, to humiliate China by persisting in the “Wuhan coronavirus” identifier for what is now officially Covid-2019.

The so-called Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 was actually the U.S. influenza epidemic of 1918 or, if you will, the Kansas influenza epidemic of 1918. The disease was spawned around the Camp Funston army base in Haskell County, Kansas and carried overseas by US soldiers in World War I, whereupon it ravaged Europe and first attracted the attention of the Anglophone press with an outbreak in Spain. It then returned home to the United States, where it killed an estimated 670,000 people on top of 50 to 100 million people worldwide.

How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America

Actually, make that two observations.

Here’s an anecdote from John Barry, a leading historian of the 1918 epidemic. He wrote:

I recall participating in a pandemic “war game” in Los Angeles… I gave a talk about what happened in 1918, how society broke down, and emphasized that to retain the public’s trust, authorities had to be candid. “You don’t manage the truth,” I said. “You tell the truth.” Everyone shook their heads in agreement.

Next, the people running the game revealed the day’s challenge to the participants: A severe pandemic influenza virus was spreading around the world. It had not officially reached California, but a suspected case—the severity of the symptoms made it seem so—had just surfaced in Los Angeles. The news media had learned of it and were demanding a press conference.

The participant with the first move was a top-ranking public health official. …He declined to hold a press conference, and instead just released a statement: More tests are required. The patient might not have pandemic influenza. There is no reason for concern.

I was stunned. … Instead of taking the lead in providing credible information he instantly fell behind the pace of events. He would find it almost impossible to get ahead of them again. He had, in short, shirked his duty to the public, risking countless lives.

And that was only a game.

Now, consider this tweet from a public health specialist with Ebola experience commenting on twitter:

In multiple Northern CA hospitals I work there is hesitance [to] test because it will set off alarm/panic & results will take days – no one wants to trigger that only to have [negative] result later

https://twitter.com/RanuDhillon/status/1233563777699696640

So China isn’t the only place that flinches when looking down the barrel of a potential pandemic.

The spirit of the 1918 influenza epidemic lives on in US disaster response and, I think, in the hearts of any public health official, be they communist or capitalist or socialist, trying to decide if they want to light the fuse on a national panic and a multi-billion dollar anti-pandemic response.

That’s why I chose to assigned China a passing grade, B, in evaluating its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

But there’s another factor to consider: the magnitude and unfamiliarity of the crisis.

The original hot take was that China botched a simple public health challenge: monitoring people with flu symptoms to stay ahead of an outbreak. Well, the hot take needed some adjustment because, you know, it was a new coronavirus, not a strain of flu, and its existence had to be teased out from the noise of the pneumonia and flu data. Then the hot hot take was that China had botched the crisis by failing to act promptly in recognizing the node of the outbreak and shutting down the Huanan Seafood wet market, the pangolin-dealing forbidden zone that supposedly spawned the virus.

Well, now it looks like the coronavirus was burbling along in Wuhan for several months hiding among other ailments; it’s highly communicable; it has a long incubation period which allows infectees a lot of opportunity to stray across populations and territories before detection; and it looks like transmission by asymptomatic infectees also occurs. A report from Hong Kong implies you might even get it from your dog. Even after a month of exhaustive scientific and media attention, key characteristics of the virus remain undetermined.

When the coronavirus outbreak took unmistakable shape it required a massive national response which the Chinese government, after some dithering, decided to deliver.

This makes coronavirus in China look like a special kind of crisis, an unexpected worst case manifestation of a previously unknown virus.

The way coronavirus outbreaks are getting handled and mishandled in diverse jurisdictions like Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy despite weeks of advance warning and scientific inquiry support the perception that this is a uniquely nasty piece of business.

This perception is also supported by a look back at how the government, public, and media responded to another unexpected crisis: the flooding of New Orleans post-Katrina in 2005.

When I set out to do a compare and contrast on Katrina and coronavirus, I expected a relatively simple narrative of screwed up federal response to Katrina—you know, the Superdome, the unused schoolbuses, the million dollars worth of ice shipped around the country and abandoned, the FEMA trailers, the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” thing—with the relatively straightforward and straightforwardly brutal injection of massive national government power into the Wuhan coronavirus crisis.

Well, the truth is, as usual, more complicated and more interesting.

A recent book, Managing Hurricane Katrina: Lessons from a Megadisaster, makes the point that the flooding of New Orleans was not just a disaster, it was a mega disaster. In other words, the local, state, and federal government had a pretty robust regime for responding to a disastrous hurricane, which performed reasonably well in determining needs and capabilities, evacuating the city, in coordinating and delivering disaster relief assistance to New Orleans—up to a point.

For instance, the Superdome was notoriously understocked with food, medical facilities, and sanitary equipment not because disaster planning was run by idiots but because the Dome was expected to be pretty much an overnight hideyhole for people who couldn’t or wouldn’t evacuate but were expected to return to their homes promptly after the hurricane moved on.

The city’s attitude toward the Superdome as a shelter of last resort that it wanted cleared out as soon as possible after the hurricane moved on was perhaps colored by disdain for the poor, largely African American citizens it expected to take refuge there. “It’s not a hotel” as one official put it. Before the storm the National Guard dropped off enough Meals Ready to Eat for 15,000 for 3 days and that was it.

But the flooding of New Orleans after the levees breached and put 80% of the city under water kept 50,000 people marooned in the Superdome and Convention Center for an agonizing week with nowhere else to go, little food, no power, no sanitation, little medical care, stifling heat, and flood waters burbling up to cover the playing field.

The flooding was a megadisaster that not only overwhelmed the city of New Orleans but also the state of Lousiana. FEMA, the federal organization designed to step up when cities and states were overwhelmed, was itself overwhelmed.

FEMA, which was designed to respond to state and city government requests for additional assistance, not run a local relief operation itself, had almost nobody on the ground in New Orleans. When local communications collapsed, the federal government lacked what it deemed reliable intelligence and it was loath to act based on incomplete information. Amazingly, it took three days for Department of Homeland Security to accept reports that the levees had indeed breached and not just overtopped.

The megadisaster contingency had never been effectively worked out. The result was widespread cognitive collapse and furious tussling between FEMA, the department of homeland security, the White House, the state of Louisiana, and the city of New Orleans over a desperate ad hoc proposal to “federalize” the disaster operation—in other words, put it in the hands of the military as if it were a terrorist attack, with everybody taking orders from the Pentagon.

The lack of a prepositioned mechanism to handle the megadisaster caused an epidemic of blameshifting as the various players struggled to formulate a response and cover their behinds while under a blinding and critical media spotlight. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin led the charge against Washington, Department of Homeland Security chief Chertoff dumped on FEMA and Michael Brown, and the White House allegedly decided that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco should serve as the fall gal.

With this context of dysfunction and admitted incapacity, the media seized on the narrative of “anarchy in New Orleans” instead of “valor under impossible conditions”, a state of affairs which observers of Western coverage of the PRC’s struggle with coronavirus will find quite familiar.

The authors of “Managing Hurricane Katrina” make a couple of points. First, the media coverage was ghastly and keyed off rumor and sensationalism often irresponsibly peddled by local officials. Second, the media coverage had real life consequences. As they put it,  “Katrina created a dangerous feedback loop that the key players did not recognize…”

The authors quote from a House of Representatives report: “The hyped media coverage of violence and lawlessness, legitimized by New Orleans authorities, served to delay relief efforts by scaring away truck and bus drivers, increasing the anxiety of those in shelters, and generally increasing the resources the needed to be devoted to security.”

Bus drivers delivered their vehicles and keys to staging areas in New Orleans, but refused to drive in because of the horror stories they had heard about violence inside New Orleans.

When the buses were finally available to evacuate the convention center, the military waited until it could send in 1000 heavily armed National Guardsmen prepared to conduct an armed assault to retake the facility. Instead of an insurrection, they found thousands of desperate and bewildered people wondering why they were being treated like prisoners of war…and why the evacuation had taken so long.

Politician and media-stoked fears of rioters also contributed to the infamous blockade of the Crescent River Bridge across the Mississippi by police from the little town of Gretna in order to prevent people from New Orleans walking across for refuge.

While the media beguiled itself with largely fabricated visions of the black underclass running amok in the Superdome, raping babies and throwing people off the balconies, the greatest horror of the crisis was not revealed until a year later: how some *ahem* white middle class members of the medical staff of Memorial Hospital allegedly lost their moral compass and euthanized several dozen severely ill patients so they could evacuate instead of staying behind to comfort the victims in their hours of need and wait for help.

I would say that Katrina and coronavirus offer useful parallels in analyzing the crises not as mismanaged disasters but as megadisasters, unprecedented events addressed with ad hoc responses and a good amount of flailing when no firm plan for management existed and until exceptional resources could be mobilized.

In both New Orleans and Wuhan, the initial period of desperate grappling with the crisis sparked a blame game between local and national officials that seeped into the media and ended in centralization: the US federalizing the Katrina response and the CCP literally putting China on a national war footing.

In both cases, the struggles in organizing a response led to conspicuous loss of life and an exacerbation of suffering and to the central government losing control of the narrative and eliciting over-the-top responses in order to regain control.

The United States pumped thousands of heavily armed troops and agents into New Orleans to counter the narrative that America was surrendering the city to anarchy.

The PRC deluged Wuhan with makeshift hospitals, medical workers, and military personnel to demonstrate its commitment to conquering the epidemic.

This distorted the response in New Orleans; how much the PRC actions in Wuhan skew the overall battle against coronavirus remains to be seen.

A similar struggle to gain control both over the outbreak and the narrative appears to be playing out in the United States as a coronavirus cases continue to pop up and the U.S. handling of the outbreak encounters some early difficulties.

The CDC stumbled out of the gate when its diagnostic kits for coronavirus turned out to be defective and had to be held back from local health departments.

Just as Wuhan tried to keep a lid on things with limited reporting as it tried to get its arms around the elusive transmission characteristics of the virus, the CDC tried to keep a lid on things by establishing strict guidelines for testing to provide local hospitals and health departments criteria and pretexts to refuse to test people who certainly looked like they might have coronavirus.

As it is, the delay in testing may very well be a factor in the CDC’s grim prediction that Covid-2019 is going to become a community virus that’s around to stay.

The ad hoc response to an inability to definitively identify and track infectees backward and forward in time: hospitals sent people who might have had coronavirus home to self-quarantine well kinda self quarantine and maybe infecting their family, friends, and neighbors, which is exactly what helped fuel the disaster in Wuhan.

With the coronavirus response not going great and given the serious political divisions in the United States, it hasn’t taken long for our emerging coronavirus response to get politicized with perhaps fatal consequences for the US capacity to respond to the epidemic.

Democrats attacked Trump for slashing pandemic preparedness funding, and for appointing the religiously inclined and science averse Vice President Mike Pence as his coronavirus czar.

Republicans turned around and attacked the PRC for letting the coronavirus cat out of the bag, despite the two month warning the U.S. had received, and aimed fire at the WHO as China’s lackey.

And the media, both prestige media and social media, that is, is at hand to pour gasoline on the fire.

This carnival of dysfunction has consequences.

Today, America is not in a state of shared resolve and social and political unity needed to support the logical solution to the outbreak: a massive and expensive infringement of civil liberties that would be necessary to stamp out the virus with compulsory quarantines of infectees and asymptomatic contacts, and extensive lockdowns, you know, like they do in China.

If that’s off the table, it means we’re entering a world of unpleasant contingencies and difficult choices beyond the simple public health goal of eradication of a lethal pathogen.

What I predict:  when faced by the huge social, political, economic, and legal barriers to instituting a full coronavirus eradication regime, the U.S. will opt for Plan B.

That means, instead of defeating coronavirus America will find a way to live with Covid-2019 or, to put it another way, not care about it too much.

That’s because Covid-2019 mainly kills old people. There’s a melancholy statistic in epidemiology called “YLL” or “Years of Life Lost”, which measures the impact of an epidemic in terms of how many years of additional life it strips from a population. In the YLL equation, a young life, with decades of productive labor ahead of it, is worth more than an old life.

Put that way, the cost of shielding an old life with a costly expenditure of resources seems, well, excessive. Especially if you’re a Chicago School economist who jumps at the chance to put a dollar value on human life. By this metric, we’re way smarter than the communists because we’re not going to sacrifice tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars in direct costs and indirect GDP losses to save a few hundred thousand pensioners.

I’ve already seen a recommendation to be “cost efficient” in “mitigating” the outbreak instead of trying to eliminate the coronavirus. Thin the herd! That’s the ticket.

In other words, tolerate a death rate of 10% or so among senior citizen infectees as long as they die quietly instead of dropping dead in the street or in the hallway of a mobbed hospital emergency room.

Then mass produce the vaccine, turn Covid-2019 deaths into archived mortality statistics, and come up with a final body count in a medical journal a few years after the bodies have been buried and the families have moved on.

After all, a postmortem 4 years after the swine flu or H1N1 pandemic of 2009 calculated that global deaths numbered 200,000—that’s ten times the original estimate.

2009 Swine-Flu  Death Toll 10 Times Higher than Thought

So, I predict that America will survive Covid-2019, not because of a superior system of government but because of superior callousness. We’ll simply be extra creative in thinking up ways not to care. We’re good at that.

As an end note, Wuhan and New Orleans’ ordeal do differ in one important respect. Wuhan’s disaster grew out of bugs and bats and whatever lurks in biology’s darkest places; New Orleans’ problems were entirely man-made. Make that US-government made.

Note, as America’s insurance companies did, New Orleans was not leveled by Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Katrina did not hit New Orleans directly; the main damage from high winds occurred eastward along the Gulf Coast towards Biloxi. When catastrophe occurred, Katrina and its winds were already pretty much gone.

New Orleans was flooded when its levees failed owing to a series of engineering errors, many of which can be laid at the feet of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of flood control on the Mississippi down New Orleans way.

The worst example of human error was the collapse of the levee containing the 17th Street Canal. The Army Corps of Engineers goofed in calculating the project requirements, and sunk the sheetpile—that’s the wall that’s supposed to form the core of the levee that holds the waters in—17 feet instead of 31 to 46 feet deep. When the storm waters rushed into the canal, they pushed aside the levee wall like a giant hand—while the flood waters were still five feet below the maximum design height.

That was only one of many breaches.

The worst loss of life was as a result of multiple breaches of the Industrial Canal, which was fatally connected to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet or MRGO waterway. The MRGO was a classic engineering botch executed by the Army Corps of Engineers that was intended to provide New Orleans with a profitable shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico, one that avoided the twists and turns of the Mississippi. Instead, it was underutilized, inadequately reinforced, and improperly maintained.

As the MRGO deteriorated and widened to five times its design width it became a “shotgun pointed at the heart of New Orleans” as a study warned pre-Katrina: a lethal superhighway for Katrina’s storm surge to funnel into the Industrial Canal at such a high rate of flow that the canal’s earthen levees were chewed to pieces. Breaches occurred up and down the length of the canal, inundating the Ninth Ward and accounting for most of the fatalities.

After the flood, New Orleans sued the Army Corps of Engineers for $77 billion dollars. A federal court found that the Army Corps of Engineers was indeed responsible but, thanks to the immunity of the U.S. government to lawsuits for botched flood control projects, it was off the hook.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had built the MRGO, never admitted it caused the disaster; but after Katrina it immediately blocked the MRGO channel and for good measure built a $1 billion dollar surge barrier on a crash program in case another hurricane got the idea of reexcavating the channel and charging into New Orleans.

INHC-Lake Borgne Surge Barrier

Government culpability for the disaster was dodged at the cost of a few billion dollars for levees.

Dodged, though not permanently.

As a report in Scientific American put it, After a $14-Billion Upgrade, New Orleans’ Levees Are Sinking

Sea level rise and ground subsidence will render the flood barriers inadequate in just four years.

That article was written in 2019, 11 months after the Army Corps of Engineers completed the work.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , | 2 Comments

Wikipedia Slashes Spanish Flu Death Rate

From 20% to 2% is a quite a drop. What’s going on?

By Catte Black | OffGuardian | March 9, 2020

We’ve had a couple of people BTL take issue with us regarding the case fatality rate (CFR) of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Citing Wikipedia and the CDC we gave that rate as being between 10-20%. A couple of commenters, however, insisted the actual CFR was 2-3%, and this led us to look further.

What we found was quite interesting.

This is the pre-February 22 2020 opening paragraph of the ‘Mortality’ section on the Wiki page for the Spanish flu (our emphasis):

The global mortality rate from the 1918–1919 pandemic is not known, but an estimated 10% to 20% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio). About a third of the world population was infected, and 3% to 6% of the entire global population of over 1800 million[51] died.[2]

This is how the same paragraph reads now:

It is estimated that one third of the global population was infected,[2] and the World Health Organization estimates that 2–3% of those who were infected died (case-fatality ratio).

That’s quite a big change in a pretty short time.

What’s going on? Why is the CFR suddenly being downgraded so dramatically?

The WHO report they use as a source is not about the Spanish Flu, but simply mentions it in passing. It does indeed say 2-3% of those infected died, but gives no source for this, and also claims this represents 20-50 million people.

The trouble with that is the higher range of this estimate (50 million as 2% of total cases) gives a figure of 2.5 billion total cases. Which is higher than the entire population of the world at the time! (1.8 billion).

So something is clearly amiss.

Worse still, the WHO is the only source we have found so far that claims a death toll of 20 million. Most sources, such as the CDC (and see here), broadly agree that between 50 million and 100 million people died of the Spanish Flu (although one recent study wildly differs, see below). In order for 50-100 million deaths to be 2-3% of total cases there would have had to be 2.5 billion – 5 billion cases.

Obviously totally impossible.

Clearly there is something wrong with that newly revised figure of 2-3%. The only way to make it work is to also dramatically revise downward the number of deaths. And indeed there’s evidence of editors trying to do that on Wiki with someone citing a December 2018 study which used a controversial “new methodology” to establish a mortality figure of just 17 million. Given that this number has previously been estimated for India alone, this is remarkable revisionism.

Now, of course, there are debates about numbers of infections versus fatalities in every case study in epidemiology. It’s not an exact science. It’s fluid. Of course, estimates will vary and errors will be made and corrected. There’s more to be said about the inherent uncertainties in these cases, and we are currently talking to a respected virologist with the intention of covering the question further in future. Maybe the previous estimates of infection and fatality were too high. Maybe there is a rational case to be made for lowering them.

But is that what we are seeing on Wiki?

We all know Wikipedia is a micro-managed propaganda organ, so the fact its page on the Spanish Flu began a huge uptick of edits in December 2019, rising steadily until February 2020, and that the bulk of these edits seem concerned with – subtly and overtly – downgrading the severity of the 1918 pandemic has to be of interest.

Why the sudden decision to vastly downgrade the estimated CFR for the 1918 pandemic and source to a rather obscure WHO article that doesn’t even focus on that issue? And, more importantly, why does this extreme downgrade still exist on the page even when editors are pointing out the impossibility of the figures?

At least this new editorial policy by Wiki is well-timed for those looking to stoke fear, and unfortunate for those trying to bring reason to bear. It allows the media and others to cite the newly downgraded 2-3% CFR as evidence that COVID19 is as dangerous as, or more dangerous than, the Spanish Flu and will end up killing millions. That’s some nice clickbait right there.

Is it just human confusion? Maybe.

There is a report by a virologist, and cited by the CDC, that confirms the heretofore commonly accepted 500 million cases and 50-100 million deaths and adds this is a CFR of ‘over2.5%’. Which of course it is. It’s a CFR of 10-20%, as he would be the first to recognise. And 10-20% is over 2.5%.

Maybe his slightly ambiguous wording has led people astray? Maybe people consulting his work, as many do, including the Wiki editors, have taken ‘over 2.5%’ to mean just over, or even to mean exactly 2.5%? Maybe that’s all this is.

Maybe.

But at any rate, the error, whatever it is, wherever it came from, isn’t ours. We didn’t make up the 10-20% CFR of Spanish Flu. It was the standard assessment until very, very recently. It still exists, though somewhat hidden now by ambiguous wording and confusion.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Deception | 1 Comment

UK press acts as ‘appendage of the state’ when reporting on foreign policy, new analysis shows

RT | March 9, 2020

A new analysis of British media’s coverage of foreign policy has found that, by and large, the UK press acts as “an appendage of the state” and has been “misinforming the public” and “failing to report” completely on key issues.

The statistical analysis was carried out by Declassified UK, a new “public service journalism” project investigating Britain’s foreign,military and intelligence policies and run by journalist and historian Mark Curtis.

On Twitter, Curtis said the current state of UK press reporting on foreign policy is “shocking” and that the media was “systematically misinforming” the public on numerous issues, as well as routinely “falsely reporting” on the UK’s “supposed benevolent role” around the world.

Among its findings, Declassified UK said that the term “rules-based international order” has been used in 339 press articles over the past five years — and that Britain is invariably cast as an upholder of that order, despite being “as much a violator of international rules as any official enemy.”

Yemen, Syria and the OPCW

When it comes to the war in Yemen, the press has “overwhelmingly failed” to report the extent to which this is also a British war due to its key role in arming Saudi Arabia.

While many articles covered UK arms exports to Riyadh, “no articles could be found” mentioning the UK’s role in storing and issuing bombs for Saudi aircraft and maintaining warplanes at key operating bases.

The UK media has also mostly “ignored” British military support programs in Saudi Arabia itself, showing a “lack of interest on the part of journalists to expose key aspects of UK foreign policy,” it said.

On the war in Syria, the Times and Telegraph have reported only “sporadically” on Britain’s involvement in the conflict, while the Guardian has accused the UK of having “failed to act” in the war-torn country — despite the fact that Britain began covert operations in Syria as early as 2011.

In addition, comments from former OPCW director Jose Bustani noting “irregular behavior” in the watchdog’s controversial Douma investigation were reported in “only one” press outlet — the Mail on Sunday. Three whistleblowers raised the alarm last year about what they claim was the suppression of key information from the OPCW’s official report on the alleged chemical attack, but their concerns have received little airing by British journalists.

Failure on Assange

The UK press has also failed in its duty to report fully on the case of jailed WikiLeaks founder and whistleblower Julian Assange, the analysis found. “No UK press outlet” has written about UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer’s letter to the government calling for officials to be investigated for “criminal conduct” in relation to Assange’s case. Melzer has repeatedly said that Assange is being subjected to “psychological torture” at Belmarsh Prison.

In contrast, the British press frequently highlights UN reports on the torture and imprisonment of journalists in foreign countries, it noted.

Israel and GCHQ

Despite reporting in Israeli media on the “unprecedented” recent British-Israeli military cooperation, there was no coverage by the UK press of Israel’s first-ever deployment of fighter jets to Britain last year — or of an admission in parliament in 2018 that the UK was offering military training to Israel.

The analysis also found that GCHQ’s covert action program known as JTRIG has been specifically mentioned “less than a dozen times” in the national press since Edward Snowden revealed it in 2014 — and all were brief mentions in articles focusing on other subjects. “This is in sharp contrast to the vast attention paid to Russian covert programmes,” Curtis wrote.

The research, which is the first in a two-part series, covered national print media and did not include the national broadcasters like the BBC.

Ultimately, the study found that the British public is being “bombarded” by views which support the priorities of UK policymakers and there is only a “very small space” in the British press for independent analysis of foreign policy.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | | 1 Comment

Joe Biden: Father of the Drug War’s Asset Forfeiture Program

By Chris Calton – Mises Institute – 03/06/2020

In 1991, Maui police officers showed up at the home of Frances and Joseph Lopes. One officer showed his badge and said, “Let’s go into the house, and we will explain things to you.” Once he was inside, the explanation was simple: “We’re taking the house.”

The Lopses were far from wealthy. They worked on a sugar plantation for nearly fifty years, living in camp housing, to save up enough money to buy a modest, middle-class home. But in 1987, their son Thomas was caught with marijuana. He was twenty-eight, and he suffered from mental health issues. He grew the marijuana in the backyard of his parents’ home, but every time they tried to cut it down, Thomas threatened suicide. When he was arrested, he pled guilty, was given probation since it was his first offense, and he was ordered to see a psychologist once a week. Frances and Joseph were elated. Their son got better, he stopped smoking marijuana, and the episode was behind them.

But when the police showed up and told them that their house was being seized, they learned that the episode was not behind them. That statute of limitations for civil asset forfeiture was five years. It had only been four. Legally, the police could seize any property connected to the marijuana plant from 1987. They had resurrected the Lopes case during a department-wide search through old cases looking for property they could legally confiscate.

Asset forfeiture laws once applied only to goods that could be considered a danger to society—illegal alcohol, weapons, etc. But with the birth of the modern war on drugs, lawmakers pushed for something with more teeth, which they achieved with the 1970 passage of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Although many are familiar with the story of the steady expansion of civil asset forfeiture laws, many overlook the fact that presidential candidate Joe Biden helped put these laws on previously apathetic law enforcement agents’ radar and, worse, played a significant role in broadening their application. Biden has effectively aided and abetted the police state’s sustained assault on American subjects’ property rights.

Expanding Asset Forfeiture, Phase I: The RICO Act of 1970

In 1970, the targets of asset forfeiture were wealthy crime bosses. It was prosecutor G. Robert Blakey, who had worked under Attorney General Robert Kennedy and various congressmen, who set about broadening its scope. He helped draft a bill for a new legal concept, “criminal forfeiture,” which would allow police to seize the illegally acquired profits of a convicted criminal.

The assets that could be seized would now consist of anything that was funded with money connected to criminal activity. To appease those who were worried about abuses of power, Blakey assured them that prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the criminal was guilty of a crime before the assets could be seized. There was nothing to worry about; only legitimate bad guys would suffer.

The new policy was passed as part of the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act in 1970. Blakey was a fan of the 1931 movie Little Caesar, and the acronym was crafted to honor Blakey’s favorite character from the movie, the gangster Rico Bandello.

The RICO Act wasn’t designed to be part of the war on drugs; it was just meant to target criminals. But when Richard Nixon took office, the RICO Act was one of a number of new tools that the members of his newly created Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (precursor to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)) could use to fight his drug war. Combined with other legal innovations, such as no-knock raids and mandatory minimum sentences, Nixon and his administration would cure America of the drug menace.

Still, the pesky “conviction” requirement stood in the way of law enforcement’s ability to seize criminal assets. In 1978, Jimmy Carter’s director of the Office of Drug Abuse (the title “drug czar” is often retroactively applied), Peter Bourne, decided that the law needed to be changed. Bourne learned of an incident at the Miami International Airport in which a suitcase had been left on the baggage carousel for three hours before police picked it up and found $3 million inside. If drug kingpins could afford to abandon so much money, they must be flush with enough cash to hardly worry about criminal forfeiture laws.

So, at Bourne’s urging, Congress modified the RICO Act to allow the DEA to confiscate assets without a conviction. The burden of proof wasn’t entirely gone (yet), but the government only needed an indictment, rather than a full conviction, to justify asset seizure. After all, the government knew who a lot of these kingpins were, but the criminals continued to get rich while the DEA struggled to build cases against them.

Even then, though, real estate was off limits. Asset forfeiture had evolved from the seizure of dangerous items into criminal profit following a conviction, and now into criminal profit (and its “derivative proceeds”) without the conviction requirement. But real estate—such as the Lopes house—still couldn’t be touched.

But through the 1970s, the RICO Act was still largely ignored by prosecutors. Blakey was holding seminars out of Cornell University, which were attended by federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors, urging them to take advantage of the RICO Act in the war on drugs. He made few inroads. The law was unwieldy, and prosecutors were overworked. More often than not, it wasn’t worth their time. While Blakey was proselytizing the virtues of his law to little effect, he was unwittingly gaining an ally in Congress: Senator Joe Biden.

Expanding Asset Seizure, Phase 2: Biden and the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984

Biden, a young Senator from Delaware, had to do something to show that despite his “liberal” reputation, he could be just as tough on crime as his Republican colleagues. He took notice of the RICO Act, and he realized that law enforcement agencies were not taking advantage of it, particularly in waging the drug war. He turned to the General Accounting Office and asked them to produce a study on the potential uses of RICO for drug enforcement.

The report showed that the RICO Act granted enormous powers to police to confiscate drug-related assets but that these powers were not being taken advantage of: “The government has simply not exercised the kind of leadership and management necessary to make asset forfeiture a widely used law enforcement technique,” the report stated. By the time the report came in, Ronald Reagan was settling into office and getting ready to renew the war on drugs.

Reagan brought the FBI into the drug war, and he gave the director, William Webster, a mission. His agents would use the powers of the RICO Act to find drug rings and take away their assets. Drug cartels must be rendered unprofitable. As the 1980s progressed, the war on drugs would be the country’s biggest political issue. Politicians from both parties would work to show that they could out–drug warrior their opponents. One Democratic representative from Florida, Earl Hutto, said, “In the war on narcotics, we have met the enemy, and he is the U.S. Code.”

Biden brought the RICO law to the attention of the federal government, Reagan enlisted the FBI to use it against drug traffickers, and both parties would now work to dismantle any limitations that the law might still impose.

The drug war became a contest of political one-upmanship. Reagan’s Justice Department fought for all kinds of new powers. Attorney General Edwin Meese and Assistant Attorney General William Weld (yes, that Bill Weld) railed against the limitations on their legal prerogative. Weld went so far as to argue in favor of the legality of using the Air Force to shoot suspected drug-smuggling planes out of the sky, a policy that even his boss was unwilling to endorse.

But Meese, Weld, and everyone else seemed to agree that forfeiture laws didn’t go nearly far enough. By requiring an indictment, the government still had to meet some standard of reasonable guilt before seizing property, which allowed far too many criminals that law enforcement knew to be guilty (but couldn’t build a case against) to keep their ill-gotten gains. To take things further, the Justice Department argued that law enforcement should be allowed to take “substitute” property: they knew that they wouldn’t be able to take everything that had been paid for with drug money, so it stood to reason that they should be able to take legally acquired assets of equal value (however that might be determined). And finally, with real estate off limits, the government was unable to seize marijuana farms, drug warehouses, and criminal homes.

The Comprehensive Forfeiture Act fixed all of these problems. Biden introduced the new bill in 1983, and its provisions became law the next year. Under this law federal agents had nearly unlimited powers to seize assets from private citizens. Now the government only needed to find a way to let local and state police join the party.

Biden’s bill was passed as part of the 1984 Comprehensive Crime Control Act. In addition to a slew of new powers for prosecutors, the burden of proof for asset seizure was lowered once again (agents had to only believe that what they were seizing was equal in value to money believed to have been purchased from drug sales). More significantly, the bill started the “equitable sharing” program that allowed local and state law enforcement to retain up to 80 percent of the spoils.

The law took effect in 1986, the year before Thomas Lopes pled guilty to charges of growing a marijuana plant in his parents’ backyard. In 1987, when Thomas faced the judge, the government had just made it so that his local police had an enormous incentive and unchecked authority to seize property from private citizens, so long as they could show any flimsy connection to drugs. By 1991, the Maui police were running out of easily seized property, so they started combing through case files within the five-year limit to find new sources of enrichment for their precinct using the expanded RICO powers. One such file brought the Lopes home to their attention.

But the Lopeses are only one example out of millions. In the year their home was confiscated by police for a minor, four-year-old drug charge, $644 million in assets were seized. In 2018 alone, the Treasury Department’s Forfeiture Fund saw nearly $1.4 billion in deposits . The Lopes story merely illustrates that criminals (regardless of how one might feel about drug laws) are hardly the only people falling victim to this policy.

The decades-long abuse of this policy has reached such extreme proportions that people on all sides of the political aisle have been turning against it. At this writing (February 20, 2019 for the original version of this article), the Supreme Court has unanimously voted in favor of Tyson Timbs , whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized in 2015 following a conviction for selling $400 in heroin. The court is asserting that asset forfeiture constitutes a fine and that the Eighth Amendment—which protects citizens from excessive fines—applies to both state and local governments. The consequences of the ruling remain to be seen, but it seems nearly certain that the unanimous decision was motivated by the increasing outrage against the civil asset forfeiture policies.

In the fight against the egregious violation of property rights that is asset forfeiture, Americans must not forget who promulgated these laws and birthed a new paradigm of government aggression against private persons that is proving difficult to overturn.

References

Baum, Dan. 1996. Smoke and Mirrors: The War On Drugs and the Politics of Failure. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.


Chris Calton is a 2018 Mises Institute Research Fellow and an economic historian. He is writer and host of the Historical Controversies podcast.

See also his YouTube channel here.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , | Leave a comment

US marines arrive on Yemen’s Socotra to support UAE forces

MEMO | March 9, 2020

A new batch of US Marines arrived on the Yemeni island of Socotra on Saturday, according to local sources, installing Patriot defence systems.

Sanaa Post reported that the American soldiers were received by the “occupying” UAE forces at their headquarters on the island.

There is speculation that the US intends to establish its own military base amid reports that America had sent military experts to equip observation points to deploy radars and air defence points on the strategically located island overlooking the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

US forces had previously arrived on Socotra in December of last year and reportedly started installing a Patriot missile system in order to protect the Saudi and Emirati forces on the island at the time.

According to the sources, on 21 December of last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the UN-recognised, exiled Yemeni government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to lease the entire island to the UAE for a period of about 95 years. Saudi and Emirati forces began to arrive on the island in April 2018, the Saudi deployment was reportedly coordinated with the Yemeni government, whilst the UAE arrived without prior coordination with the Saudi-backed Yemeni authorities.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Saudi arms imports increased by 130%

MEMO | March 9, 2020

The global arms industry has enjoyed a major boon period over recent years with the rise of tension and military conflict across the globe.

The US has seen the largest financial windfall from the sale of arms while Saudi Arabia continues to be the world’s largest importer of arms according to a new report released today by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

According to SIPRI, which keeps the only publicly available database on the transfer of arms, “arms imports by countries in the Middle East increased by 61 per cent between 2010-14 and 2015-19, and accounted for 35 per cent of total global arms imports over the past five years.”

Saudi Arabia has seen a 130 per cent increase compared with the previous five-year period making it the world’s largest arms importer in 2015-19. The volume of weapons purchased by Riyadh accounted for 12 per cent of the global arms imports in that period.

The USA and the UK remain the main source of arms for the kingdom. A total of 73 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports came from America while 13 per cent of its arsenal were supplied by UK, despite major concerns in both countries over Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has been militarily involved in Libya as well as Yemen over the past five years, was the eighth-largest arms importer in the world between 2015-19. The US supplied two-thirds of the arms imported by Abu Dhabi.

SIPRI noted that in 2019, when foreign military involvement in Libya was condemned by the United Nations Security Council, the UAE had major arms import deals ongoing with a number of other countries including, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.

Turkish arms imports were 48 per cent lower between 2015-2019 than in the previous five-year period, even though its military was fighting Kurdish rebels and was involved in the conflicts in Libya and Syria. The SIPRI report explained that the reason for this decrease was due to delays in deliveries of some major arms; the cancellation of a large deal with the USA for combat aircraft; and developments in the capability of the Turkish arms industry.

The main supplier of weapons worldwide is still the US, which has increased its arms exports by 23 per cent, according to SIPRI.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

Anti-Interventionist Think Tank’s Debut is a Dud

By Gareth Porter | Consortium News | February 28, 2020

Given the current epochal political upheaval against entrenched political-economic elites driven in part by popular discontent over endless U.S. wars, the debut of the anti-interventionist Quincy Institute on Wednesday should have been an explosive event.

But it seemed more like a toy pop gun than a political bombshell.

Perhaps that was the intention of Quincy’s leadership. The organization, whose full name is the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, has eschewed an all-out attack on the national security elite in favor of the catch-phrase “realism and restraint.” That doesn’t raise the flag of political struggle against the existing policymaking system but rather suggests it will merely nibble at its edges.

So, one shouldn’t be shocked that Quincy’s first policy event was a partnership with Foreign Policy magazine, whose editorial slant is decidedly aligned with the interests of the dominant national security elite. It was Foreign Policy magazine that advanced the idea of having former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus as the big name draw for the conference, according to people familiar with the origins of the conference.

Quincy needed a way to highlight the weaknesses of the status quo elite’s ideas and the power of its own alternative, and a debate between Petraeus and a highly articulate opponent of his position and argument would have done that. That was a talking point for the defense of Petraeus as a representative of the war system offered by one Quincy officer in advance of the conference.

But Petraeus was not about to agree to any such exercise. He is used to speaking from a position of power and not having to defend against sharp rebuttals and tough arguments. A one-on-one debate with an articulate opponent would have exposed him even more clearly as a vacuous windbag.

Softballs for Petraeus

Foreign Policy’s Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Tupperman. (Twitter)

Instead of witnessing such a riveting confrontation, the audience got Petraeus being fed softball questions from FP Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Tupperman and giving carefully memorized answers, including what he called “five big ideas we should have learned” (examples: “Ungoverned spaces will be exploited by Islamist extremists;” “The United State has to lead.”) [This from Petraeus who once said the U.S. was right to partner  with al-Qaeda in Syria.]

That format allowed Petraeus to answer Tupperman’s question whether the United States can continue to use military force to maintain the “liberal world order” in light of the popular support for President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential contender Senator Bernie Sanders by claiming smugly, “I’m for restraint as well,” then adding the lamest line of the day (which he apparently thought was clever): “We should be for more restraint until we shouldn’t be.”

Then the Petraeus segment was over, with Tupperman observing that there was no time left for audience questioning of the man still venerated in a regime of worshipful media coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan as the man that had saved us from defeat in Iraq and had been successful in Afghanistan until he wasn’t successful. The mysterious failure of Tupperman to have left time for questions averted any possibility of someone in the audience recalling how Petraeus had played a crucial role in the unfolding of sectarian violence in Iraq by arming and training a sectarian Shiite militia — the Wolf Brigade — that was then sent into virtually every major Sunni population center in 2004-05.

Then Representative Ro Khanna, the smartest and most articulate congressional advocate for a non-interventionist viewpoint, laid out in an exchange with Cato Institute supporter Will Ruger a sharp critique of U.S. military interventions in the Middle East, starting with the enormous boost that U.S. interventions gave to the previously weak al Qaeda, which went from a presence in three countries before 9/11 to 23 countries today.  

Debate Stifled

It was a thoughtful and persuasive case for a sharp turn in U.S. policy. But there was no real debate with Petraeus. In the absence of debate, the conference lacked any dramatic moment announcing the arrival of a powerful new voice for radical change in U.S. policy.

Much of the rest of the conference, moreover, had a tenor and pace reminiscent of many dozens of Washington think tank events on national security policy attended by this writer for years before giving them up a few years ago. That’s because it consisted of brief and almost always polite exchanges between advocates of new policies and representatives of centrist think tanks that are deeply enmeshed in those policies and the institutional interests underlying them.

The closing session pitted Quincy Institute Deputy Director Stephen Wertheim against Rosa Brooks of New America and Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution, both of whom rejected the very idea of ending America’s existing wars. They argued that the U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria are really “counter-terrorism operations” rather than “wars.” Brooks even uttered the word identifying her as a member of the national security elite in good standing by calling for a “robust” policy.

The panel billed as “A New Vision for America’s Role in the World” didn’t actually offer that at all. That phrase turned out to be simply a convenient catch-all for the views of foreign policy advisers to both Bernie Sanders (Matt Duss) and former Vice President Joe Biden (former NSC official Julianne Smith), neither of whom articulated anything resembling a new policy vision.

Ironically, on the day that Politico’s “Morning Defense” reported Sanders’ clear lead in the Democratic race had triggered fears among military contractors of “an unprecedented threat to the status quo,” the most daring suggestion from Duss was that Sanders was for diplomacy with Iran.

Military ‘Wants Out’

There were a few moments that unexpectedly elevated the discussion well above the usual humdrum Washington think tank chatter. In a panel on the Middle East independent journalist Mark Perry, who has long had access to senior military officers on background, reported that his military contacts “want out” of the wars in the Middle East.

He added, moreover, that Trump has those officers’ trust, because they believe he wants out, too. But Perry’s most important contribution was to challenge the whole idea that the United States is capable of accomplishing anything positive with its serial military interventions in the Middle East. “We can’t do this,” said Perry, “so what are we doing?”

No Full, Unfettered Analysis

The lesson of Quincy’s debut seems reasonably clear: You can’t hope to disrupt the national security elite’s grip on policy by playing by the establishment’s rules. Foreign Policy was never going to agree to a format that would permit a direct confrontation over the key issues, much less, a full, unfettered analysis of the system of power that underlies that elite’s public role in defending America’s endless wars.

An organization devoted to attacking its illicit and increasingly unpopular policies can only gain traction by offering an analysis that will appeal to the anti-elite sentiments that have already shaken the U.S. political system to its foundations.

That would mean going beyond “realism and restraint” and talking about the need for fundamental change in the system of national security institutions themselves.  Of course, taking that lesson on board might not be in line with the thinking of major funders. It could imply a major reorganization and even a much smaller staff.  But if it doesn’t heed the lesson of its initial conference, Quincy is likely to find that the real action in bringing about change in U.S. foreign and policy is coming from political forces involved in the larger national power struggle.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Militarism | , | Leave a comment

Hamas condemns continued detention of Palestinian officials in Saudi Arabia

Press TV – March 9, 2020

A Hamas spokesman has condemned the continued detention and prosecution of Palestinian figures in Saudi Arabia over their support for the Palestinian resistance movement, urging Riyadh to immediately release them.

“The national and pan-Arabism duty requires honoring those people and not trying them in this way,” Hazim Qassim told Lebanon’s Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television on Sunday.

He added that Arab countries should reinforce the Palestinian cause and “not weaken its resistance with such trials”.

The spokesman said Hamas has contacted various parties to secure the release of Palestinian detainees in the kingdom, expressing hope that Saudi authorities would respond to those efforts and release the detainees.

His remarks came as a Saudi court on Sunday held the first hearing in the case of 68 Palestinian and Jordanian detainees.

According to al-Mayadeen, the detainees are charged with “supporting terrorism and financing it” and belonging to “a criminal terrorist entity”.

Senior Hamas official Muhammad al-Khudari and his son Hani, who were arrested last April, were among those who stood trial on Sunday.

Al-Khudari represented Hamas in Saudi Arabia between the mid-1990s and 2003. He has held other important positions in the Palestinian resistance movement as well.

Saudi Arabia’s repressive measures against the Palestinian resistance movement as well as those seeking to collect donations for people living in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip come as the kingdom and Israel are believed to be planning to publicize their secret ties.

Gaza has been blockaded by the Israeli regime since 2007.

Last month, Saudi authorities launched a new campaign of “arbitrary” arrests against Palestinian expatriates on charges of supporting Hamas.

The Prisoners of Conscience, a non-governmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced on February 12 that the kingdom had detained a number of Palestinians, including the relatives or children of those imprisoned last April for the same reason.

Over the past two years, Saudi authorities have deported more than 100 Palestinians from the kingdom, mostly on charges of supporting Hamas financially, politically, or through social networking sites.

March 9, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | , , , , , | 6 Comments