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Palestinian Worker Dumped at Israeli Checkpoint for Exhibiting Coronavirus Symptoms

PNN | March 24, 2020

Yesterday, Israeli occupation forces threw a worker by the side of the road at the “Beit Sira” checkpoint near the city of Nablus, over suspicion of him being infected with the novel Corona virus.

Locals filmed the man and called the medical crews who rushed to save the worker, who was left at the road, unable to move, for around three hours with high temperature.

He was rushed to the National Hospital of Nablus.

Government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said in his daily briefing on Tuesday morning that the sample of the worker showed that he was not infected with corona-virus.

Consequently, Melhem warned the Palestinian workers from going to the occupation workshops, where they are subjected to inhuman treatment and living conditions.

In the press conference as well, Melhem also announced that a woman was infected with Corona virus while returning to Ramallah from the United States, bringing the number of infected people to 60, including 16 recovered cases.

Melhem also confirmed that the samples taken for a citizen from Kufur Aqab and those in contact with an infected man have not yet emerged.

He added that the health condition of the patients in Bethlehem is stable and all of them are under health supervision.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Video | , , , | 1 Comment

Suspending the Constitution: Police State Uses Crises to Expand Its Lockdown Powers

By John W. Whitehead | Rutherford Institute | March 24, 2020

You can always count on the government to take advantage of a crisis, legitimate or manufactured.

This coronavirus pandemic is no exception.

Not only are the federal and state governments unraveling the constitutional fabric of the nation with lockdown mandates that are sending the economy into a tailspin and wreaking havoc with our liberties, but they are also rendering the citizenry fully dependent on the government for financial handouts, medical intervention, protection and sustenance.

Unless we find some way to rein in the government’s power grabs, the fall-out will be epic.

Everything I have warned about for years—government overreach, invasive surveillance, martial law, abuse of powers, militarized police, weaponized technology used to track and control the citizenry, and so on—has coalesced into this present moment.

The government’s shameless exploitation of past national emergencies for its own nefarious purposes pales in comparison to what is presently unfolding.

It’s downright Machiavellian.

Deploying the same strategy it used with 9/11 to acquire greater powers under the USA Patriot Act, the police state—a.k.a. the shadow government, a.k.a. the Deep State—has been anticipating this moment for years, quietly assembling a wish list of lockdown powers that could be trotted out and approved at a moment’s notice.

It should surprise no one, then, that the Trump Administration has asked Congress to allow it to suspend parts of the Constitution whenever it deems it necessary during this coronavirus pandemic and “other” emergencies.

It’s that “other” emergencies part that should particularly give you pause, if not spur you to immediate action (by action, I mean a loud and vocal, apolitical, nonpartisan outcry and sustained, apolitical, nonpartisan resistance).

In fact, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been quietly trotting out and testing a long laundry list of terrifying powers that override the Constitution.

We’re talking about lockdown powers (at both the federal and state level): the ability to suspend the Constitution, indefinitely detain American citizens, bypass the courts, quarantine whole communities or segments of the population, override the First Amendment by outlawing religious gatherings and assemblies of more than a few people, shut down entire industries and manipulate the economy, muzzle dissidents, “stop and seize any plane, train or automobile to stymie the spread of contagious disease,” reshape financial markets, create a digital currency (and thus further restrict the use of cash), determine who should live or die…

You’re getting the picture now, right?

These are powers the police state would desperately like to make permanent.

Bear in mind, however, that these powers the Trump Administration, acting on orders from the police state, are officially asking Congress to recognize and authorize barely scratch the surface of the far-reaching powers the government has already unilaterally claimed for itself.

Unofficially, the police state has been riding roughshod over the rule of law for years now without any pretense of being reined in or restricted in its power grabs by Congress, the courts or the citizenry.

The seeds of this present madness were sown several decades ago when George W. Bush stealthily issued two presidential directives that granted the president the power to unilaterally declare a national emergency, which is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.

Comprising the country’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, these directives, which do not need congressional approval, provide a skeletal outline of the actions the president will take in the event of a “national emergency.”

Mind you, that national emergency can take any form, can be manipulated for any purpose and can be used to justify any end goal—all on the say so of the president. Indeed, the U.S. military has reportedly already been given standby orders under COG for this present coronavirus pandemic.

So what is the bottom line here?

We are, for all intents and purposes, one crisis away from having a full-fledged authoritarian state emerge from the shadows, at which time democratic government will be dissolved and the country will be ruled by an unelected bureaucracy.

Thus far, we have at least pretended that the government abides by the Constitution.

The attempts by each successive presidential administration to rule by fiat merely plays into the hands of those who would distort the government’s system of checks and balances and its constitutional separation of powers beyond all recognition.

Remember, these powers do not expire at the end of a president’s term. They remain on the books, just waiting to be used or abused by the next political demagogue.

So, too, every action taken by Trump and his predecessors to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the executive branch of government has made us that much more vulnerable to those who would abuse those powers in the future.

Think on this: the presidential election is right around the corner.

Suddenly, the improbable possibility of any incumbent president attempting to extend the police state’s stranglehold on power by using current events to justify postponing or doing away with an election—forfeiting the people’s rights to govern altogether—and establishing a totalitarian regime seems less far-fetched than it did even a few years ago.

The emergency state is now out in the open for all to see. Unfortunately, “we the people” refuse to see what’s before us. Most Americans, fearful and easily controlled, would sooner rouse themselves to fight for that last roll of toilet paper than they would their own freedoms.

This is how freedom dies.

We erect our own prison walls, and as our rights dwindle away, we forge our own chains of servitude to the police state.

Be warned, however: once you surrender your freedoms to the government—no matter how compelling the reason might be for doing so—you can never get them back.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, no government willingly relinquishes power.

If we continue down this road, there can be no surprise about what awaits us at the end.

The America metamorphosing before our eyes is almost unrecognizable from the country I grew up in, and that’s not just tragic—it’s downright terrifying.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , | Leave a comment

Riyadh’s “Oil War” on Russia has some Global Objectives

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 24.03.2020

The on-going Saudi ‘oil war’ with Russia has its roots in the logic of increasingly using natural resources for geo-political and geo-economic purposes. While this is not something entirely new, the latest push comes against the backdrop of increasing competition between the US and Russia for global leadership roles and the former’s attempts at forcing the latter out, squeeze its share in the global oil market to increase that of the US shale oil, thus denting Russia’s economic capacity and its ability to project power in regions beyond its borders.

Whereas the Saudis blame Russia for the ‘oil war’ and Kremlin’s refusal to further cut oil production, the proposed cut, as it stands, would have ultimately meant a further decrease in Russia’s share of the global market and a significant increase in the US’ shale-oil production and exports. Ever since OPEC+ agreement of 2016 and the related cuts in oil production, the output of US shale oil has soared by 4.5 million barrels a day. Whereas the Western political pundits have been speaking and writing of Russia as the ‘malign’ player targeting the US’ ‘booming’ shale oil industry, the fact of the matter is that the US shale industry would not have grown in the first place if there had been no OPEC+ agreement. Russia, as it stands, has only refused to further cut its production, and is willing to extend the OPEC+ to continue a stable system of oil production.

How the OPEC+ benefited the US shale oil is evident from the fact that balanced production of crude oil meant stable and high prices, which made the US shale oil more profitable, further allowing the US to use the scenario to build its production and export infrastructure. As it stands, since 2016 when the OPEC+ deal was struck, US oil exports have increased five-fold and shale production increased from 8.9 million barrels per day to 13.1 million barrels per day. Thus, to a significant extent, by refusing the Saudi proposal of further cuts in oil production, Russia essentially refused to allow the US shale oil industry a further free-way for global expansion.

At the same time, Russia continues to stick with the OPEC+ deal. The Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has said,

“We did not initiate the withdrawal from the agreement [OPEC+ deal]. On the contrary, we proposed to extend the agreement on the existing terms, at least until the end of the second quarter or for a year, so as not to complicate the situation that has developed with the spread of coronavirus.”

At the recent meeting between Russia’s Putin and energy officials, Putin reportedly said that:

“OPEC+ has “proved to be an effective instrument to ensure long-term stability on global energy markets. Thanks to that, we have obtained extra budget revenues and, what is important, provided a possibility for upstream companies to confidently invest in promising development projects.”

What becomes evident here is that the blame for reduced oil prices can hardly be put on the Russians. Its roots lie in the global struggle for market share. This struggle is taking place at two levels. The first is between the Russians and the Saudis whereby the latter, known for playing on the US side in every war, want to expand their share of the market to sustain their massively oil-dependent economy. The second level, linked as it is with the first, is again about reducing Russian share of the market and allowing for the shale-oil sector to expand. Since this expansion will theoretically come at the expense of Russian oil, the Saudis would still benefit.

There is as such a Saudi-US consensus behind the dropped oil prices. US President Donald Trump spoke on the phone to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the eve of the Vienna meeting, and their subject of discussion, according to the White House, was the “energy market.”

That the US and Saudi Arabia have a deep interest in squeezing out Russia’s share of the global hydrocarbon market is evident from the way the US has been trying to block and even sanction the joint Russian-German Nord Stream-2 pipeline project.

Who will win this war? Unlike the Saudis, Russia’s economy does not solely depend on oil prices, although it still does play a significant role in enabling the Russian government to fulfil its budgetary commitments. The Saudis would be thus at a loss much sooner than the Russians. If the US president called the Saudi ruler to discuss the “energy market” and it was mainly about finding ways of squeezing Russia, it was equally about finding a way to stabilise oil prices because the continuously falling oil prices would only make shale-oil companies suffer losses. According to a Bloomberg report, “The US shale sector is getting completely killed. A complete bloodbath. Billions of dollars in equity wiped out.”

Whereas some in the West think that this is a Saudi-Russian project to destroy the US economy, this is not the case; for, if both oil producers had wanted this, they could have done this by doing a new OPEC+ deal in a way that would have allowed a cut in prices and still maintain production levels at agreed levels. This has not happened, and given the nature of deep Saudi interests in the US, it is difficult to conceive of a Saudi project to ‘kill’ the US economy. What it signifies is an attempt at squeezing the Russian share of the market. This explains the Saudi proposal for cutting oil production (and thus allowing that of the shale-oil grow further). The falling oil prices only indicate that the project is failing; Russia is resilient and has enough reserves to sustain itself for a decade.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistani foreign and domestic affairs.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group stricken in the Philippines

© Reuters / Kham
RT | March 24, 2020

Three US Navy sailors aboard aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt tested positive for coronavirus, the acting Naval Secretary has revealed. They will be airlifted off the ship, which hosts 5,000 troops in the Philippine Sea.

The three servicemembers are the first coronavirus cases discovered on board a deployed Navy ship, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told reporters at a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday. Currently in quarantine, the sick trio will be flown off the ship later today.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt was in Vietnam earlier this month. Last week, the Theodore Roosevelt Strike Group performed Expeditionary Strike Force maneuvers along with the America Expeditionary Strike Group and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit for three days in the South China Sea.

Pentagon officials diverged from President Donald Trump’s narrative during Tuesday’s briefing, which was conducted virtually, warning that the outbreak could occupy the nation for as long as three months. “I think we need to plan for this to be a few months long at least and we’re taking all precautionary measures to do that,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters. The Pentagon has reported 321 cases of coronavirus, including 174 active-duty personnel, 59 civilians, 61 dependents, and 27 contractors, as of Tuesday. A single contractor at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency died on Saturday after testing positive for the virus.

Trump, meanwhile, has declared he wants the US economy back up and running by Easter Sunday, less than three weeks away. The US has 50,206 confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 606 deaths.

Also on

US Defense Sec admits military readiness could be affected by Covid-19, insists Pentagon can still conduct ‘national missions’

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Militarism | | 1 Comment

On This Day 21 Years Ago: NATO Bombing of Yugoslavia in Numbers

Sputnik – March 24, 2020

21 years ago today, on March 24, 1999, NATO began a massive bombing campaign of Yugoslavia, bombarding the country with thousands of cruise missiles and bombs in what would become the largest military assault in Europe since the Second World War.

  • NATO’s campaign of air and missile strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which consisted of Serbia and Montenegro, lasted 78 days, ending on June 10, 1999.
  • During the campaign, dubbed ‘Operation Noble Anvil’ by NATO, alliance warplanes carried out some 2,300 sorties against 995 facilities, firing nearly 420,000 missiles, bombs and other projectiles with a total mass of about 22,000 metric tonnes.
  • The campaign included multiple violations of the laws of war, including the use of cluster bombs (37,000 of them), and depleted uranium projectiles, which led to major spike in oncological diseases, including juvenile cancer rates, after the war. According to Serbian doctors, the most widespread consequences of the use of such weapons have been thyroid disorders, cancers and foetus mutations. In 2017, Serbian scientist Ljubisa Rakic calculated that the amount of DU dropped on Yugoslavia was equivalent to about 170 Hiroshima bombs.
  • According to Serbian estimates, the strikes on Yugoslavia left as many as 5,700 people dead, with 12,500 injured.
  • NATO casualties included a US AH-64 Apache, an F-16C fighter, an AV-8B Harrier and an F-117A Nighthawk stealth bomber (the first and so far only case of a stealth fighter jet being destroyed in combat). On the Yugoslav side, military and police casualties included 631 troops and 325 policemen dead, with more than 50 missing. Due to the effective use of maskirovka or ‘military deception’ doctrine, The Yugoslav army was able to limit losses of military hardware (93 tanks lost out of an estimated 600), and other armoured vehicles, artillery and anti-aircraft systems.
  • The bombing is estimated to have caused as much as $100 billion in damage, destroying or damaging some 25,000 residential buildings, 470 km of roads, and 595 km of railway infrastructure. 14 airports, 19 hospitals, 20 health centers, 69 schools, 18 kindergartens, 176 cultural monuments and 38 bridges were destroyed. The bombing included a targeted raid on Radio Television of Serbia, which claimed 16 lives, and the accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy, which killed 3 Chinese nationals. All told, Serbian officials estimate that over a third of NATO’s targets were civilian.
  • NATO’s official justification for the strikes was its desire to protect Kosovar Albanians from ethnic cleansing and “a humanitarian catastrophe.” Before the war began, Albanian separatists allied to radical Islamist forces clashed with Serbian army and police forces in Kosovo, attacking authorities and attempting to drive ethnic Serbs out of the region. After the bombing campaign was completed and NATO troops entered the breakaway Serbian region in June of 1999, the separatists continued their campaign of violence against Serbs, in spite of NATO commitments to disarm the Kosovar militants.
  • In 2008, the province unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. This forced over 200,000 ethnic Serbs to leave their homes. Belgrade, Russia, and many other countries have refused to recognize the breakaway republic. NATO troops, meanwhile, have remained in the province since 1999, establishing Camp Bondsteel, the second-largest US military base in Europe.

Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo

© Photo : public domain Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo
  • In 2015, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg expressed his “sincere regret” over the deaths and suffering of Serbian civilians. However, three years later at an event in Belgrade, the NATO chief emphasized that the bombing was not aimed against ordinary Serbs, but actually meant “to protect civilians and stop the Milosevic regime.” According to Stoltenberg, Serbs should “look to the future” and continue to shore up the “excellent relationship” between Belgrade and the bloc.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 2 Comments

Moscow slams HRW chief for touting story on Russia’s rich grabbing life-saving ventilators

‘We need joint action, not fake news’

RT | March 24, 2020

Russia’s top diplomat in the US has demanded the Human Rights Watch chief stops spreading misinformation about Russia’s readiness to fight Covid-19, after he touted an article claiming it’s letting the wealthy buy up ventilators.

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s envoy in Washington, has penned a scathing rebuke to the group’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, who tweeted that the Kremlin was “doing nothing to stop wealthy Russians from buying up ventilators,” all that while “leaving ordinary Russians with a likely shortage of this life-saving equipment.”

Roth’s tweet was based on a report by the Moscow Times citing interviews with medical experts and anonymous “wealthy individuals,” said to be on the hunt for the coveted ventilators that help coronavirus-stricken patients breathe.

Although the article itself states that “Russia appears to be in a better starting position than other countries when it comes to ventilators,” with 5,000 devices ready to treat Covid-19 patients in state-run Moscow hospitals alone and “an average of about 29 ventilators per 100,000 residents” available nationwide (as opposed to Italy’s 8 per 100,000), the piece mentions that the majority of life-saving medical equipment is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

While that might prompt some concern, in reality, more than half of Russia’s 438 Covid-19 cases (262) have been reported in the capital, which is at the center of the country’s fight against the disease.

Firing back, Antonov said that Russia, which has so far been successful in containing the spread of the virus, has put “well-timed measures” in place that allowed it “to confront this new global threat far more effectively than in the countries that HRW generally avoids criticizing.”

“We urge the executive director of Human Rights Watch not to misinform his readers in New York and around the world about the activities of the Russian government in the fight against coronavirus infection.”

Antonov suggested that, instead of promoting “fake news” and inciting xenophobia and Russophobia, politicians and public figures in the US focus on pooling efforts with the rest of the international community to fend off the pandemic. “Today, more than ever, the combined efforts of the international community are important… Saving lives is the top priority now.”

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Fake News, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

Collective punishment has always been the stated goal of Iran sanctions hawks

By Eli Clifton | Responsible Statecraft | March 23, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact in Iran, which already claimed over 1,800 lives and infected more than 23,000 people, is one of the world’s more troubling examples of widespread infection, with insufficient medical resources to treat the victims and a staggering anticipated death toll.

While public health experts and human rights advocates all point to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions regime against Iran as contributing to the public health crisis, sanctions advocates in the Trump administration and at two ultra hawkish think tanks claim that the “humanitarian trade” sanctions exemption is sufficient to address Iran’s medical needs.

But the reality is that advocates of an expansive sanctions campaign have been working to deny Iranians the staples of daily life in pursuit of bringing the regime to its knees or fomenting regime collapse. And it’s likely why to this day, the Trump administration, and its pro-Iran war/regime change allies are reluctant to relent to massive domestic and international pressure to relieve sanctions on Iran.

Indeed, remarks and actions from sanctions hawks in the State Department, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) illustrate their desire to inflict collective punishment on Iran as a means of generating political instability and state collapse.

Amid the crisis, on March 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new sanctions against Iran, telling reporters, “We have an open humanitarian channel to facilitate legitimate transactions even while ensuring our maximum pressure campaign denies terrorists money.”

But that assessment of the humanitarian channel isn’t widely shared and, despite Pompeo’s repeated assertions that the Trump administration offered Iran help to deal with the coronavirus crisis, he hasn’t provided details of what those offers entail.

“Our research showed that in practice, humanitarian exemptions in the U.S. comprehensive sanctions regime have been ineffective in offsetting the strong reluctance of companies and banks to conduct trade with Iran, including the humanitarian trade that is presumably legal,” Human Rights Watch Iran researcher Tara Sepheri Far told Responsible Statecraft. “The Iranian healthcare system, both in terms of access to specialized medicine and also with regards to access to medical equipment, has taken a toll as a result of sanctions,” she added.

Even Pompeo acknowledged that collective punishment and threat of a humanitarian crisis were very much part of the sanctions strategy he was pursuing.

“The leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat,” said Pompeo in 2018. “They have to make a decision that they want to use their wealth to import medicine and not use their wealth to fund [Iran’s Quds Force commander] Qassem Soleimani’s travels around the Middle East, with causing death and destruction.”

Two of the most prominent groups advocating for “maximum pressure” against Iran, even in the face of the coronavirus epidemic, have repeatedly called for collective punishment against Iranians.

Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of FDD, a think tank that has regularly called for harsh sanctions and preventive military action against Iran, has repeatedly called for punitive measures against Iran’s entire population.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last April, Dubowitz urged lawmakers to “build a sanctions wall” with the goal of “crippl[ing] key sectors of the [Iranian] economy and lead to larger protests.” He added, “[T]he resulting economic and political instability could be leverage for a better, comprehensive deal.”

In a September Fox News appearance, Dubowitz again argued that widespread collective punishment of Iranians was a desirable strategy in bringing pressure on Iran’s leadership to negotiate with the Trump administration about their nuclear program.

“I think the Iranians are in a situation where they are running out of foreign exchange reserves, they’re not going to have the money to pay for imports that they need to run their factories, with factories closing they’re going to have massive unemployment, and so their situation is getting worse every day,” said Dubowitz. “And I think the administration, with a few moves, could actually bring about that kind of economic collapse which will then put the regime in a position where they’ll have to choose between negotiations and the survival of its regime.”

This mentality isn’t a recent phenomenon. Squeezing the Iranian people has been a goal for some time. FDD “freedom scholar” Michael Ledeen made this argument even more bluntly back in 2012 when he openly celebrated ordinary Iranians being unable to afford chickens, claimed this was largely the effect of sanctions, and applauded the fact that Iranians were blaming their leadership for hardships that were largely out of the government’s control.

“[T]here are a lot of very angry Iranians, who not surprisingly are blaming their government for this foul state of affairs,” wrote Ledeen. “In part, the government is blameless, since the cost of imports and the cost of feed grain have been driven up by the sanctions. But then again, the behavior of the government provoked the sanctions in the first place, and the singularly incompetent economic policies of the regime probably constitute the most important cause of the crisis.”

A U.S. senator at the time was even more explicit in promoting the strategy of denying Iranians basic foodstuffs. “It’s okay to take the food out of the mouths of the citizens from a government that’s plotting an attack directly on American soil,” said then-Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) in reference to sanctions that might impose food shortages on Iranians.

Kirk now serves on the advisory board of UANI, a group that has engaged in a lengthy campaign to pressure all companies, including those engaged in U.S. government licensed humanitarian trade with Iran, to halt their business with the Islamic Republic. (Kirk’s former foreign policy adviser, Richard Goldberg, later went to work at FDD where he promoted military options against Iran. And in an unusual arrangement, he later went to work in Trump’s National Security Council while FDD continued to pay his salary and travel expenses. There Goldberg advocated for an expansive sanctions regime against Iran.)

UANI applauded the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy for “wreaking maximum havoc on Iran’s economy” Its CEO Mark Wallace, endorsed “economic isolation … to the point of being unbearable.”

Indeed, both UANI and FDD’s fondness for imposing collective punishment on Iranian civilians in order to pressure Iran’s leadership to make concessions on its nuclear program is also reflected in statements from some of their biggest donors.

GOP and Trump megadonor Sheldon Adelson contributed at least $1.5 million to FDD by 2011 (FDD claims he is no longer a funder) and contributed nearly one-third of UANI’s 2013 budget, sending $500,000 to the group.

Adelson told an audience at Yeshiva University in October 2013 that Obama should launch a preventive nuclear attack on a swath of uninhabited Iranian desert and threaten that Iran will be “wiped out” if the country’s leadership doesn’t dismantle their nuclear program.

UANI’s top funder, billionaire Thomas Kaplan, is an investor whose companies have looked to profit from “political unrest” in the Middle East. At UANI’s 2018 conference, Kaplan was presented with a framed Iranian rial by Wallace to recognize his support of UANI and their shared efforts to devalue Iran’s currency.

The calls for economic collapse, military strikes, cheering food shortages, and demanding more “maximum pressure” come at a severe humanitarian cost. But for many in the Trump administration and their allies, that’s precisely the point, which explains why, up until now at least, that President Trump has refused to suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran.

“During last year’s nearly-nationwide flood relief, problems with licenses required for transferring funds to Iran slowed down the relief efforts,” said Far. “The COVID-19 outbreak is more of a serious threat by order of magnitude. There’s a collective responsibility to ensure Iran’s access to resources they need to protect the health of millions of Iranians.”

March 24, 2020 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , | 3 Comments

Afghan endgame enters the home stretch

Afghans celebrating the US-Taliban agreement of 29th February 2020, Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | March 24, 2020

In an extraordinary statement titled On the Political Impasse in Afghanistan, Washington has admitted the failure of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s mission to Kabul on Monday to heal the political rift among Afghan politicians and to urge them to form an inclusive government so as to implement the Doha pact of February 29.

In exceptionally strong words, Washington flagged its disappointment over the political rift between the factions led by Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah respectively, which has “harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonours those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure” in the 18-year old war.

No sooner than the failure of Pompeo’s mission became clear, the state department disclosed that the Trump administration is cutting back its aid to the Afghan government — “a responsible adjustment to our spending in Afghanistan” by $1 billion immediately and another $1 billion next year — and will also “initiate a review of all of our programs and projects to identify additional reductions, and reconsider our pledges to future donor conferences for Afghanistan.” A calibrated Plan B with President Trump’s approval is unfolding, for sure.

Importantly, the state department statement added ominously, “We have made clear to the (Kabul) leadership that we will not back security operations that are politically motivated, nor support political leaders who order such operations those who advocate for or support parallel government.”

The reference is unmistakably to the the troika of hardliners surrounding Ghani, comprising “Vice-President” Amrullah Saleh, NSA Hamdullah Mohib and Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid.

However, the state department statement leaves the door open to “revisit the reviews initiated”, provided the Afghan leaders “choose to form an inclusive government that can provide security and participate in the peace process.”

The alacrity with which this statement has come implies that President Trump directed Pompeo to convey to the Kabul elite that his patience has run out and to reiterate that no matter the shenanigans of Afghan politicians, “We are proceeding with the conditions-based withdrawal of our forces in accordance with the U.S.-Taliban agreement.”

This is the nearest Trump has come to threatening that if push comes to shove, he may unilaterally end the war and wash his hands of it.

Evidently, Washington is calling Ghani’s bluff who bragged recently that Kabul has the necessary resources to carry on for at least two years even without any US assistance, signalling his grit to dissociate from the US’ peace talks with the Taliban.

On its part, Washington has put Ghani on notice that if the game plan of the hardliners in his circle is to precipitate security situations with a view to drag the US military into violent confrontations with the Taliban and thereby destroy the understanding forged painstakingly through the negotiations in Doha during the past year and more, that won’t happen.

Equally, Washington has distanced itself from the political rift between Ghani and Abdullah by making it clear that it has no favourites.

The startling development has three dimensions to it. First and foremost, will the Trump administration’s shock therapy have a sobering effect on the rival Afghan factions locked in a struggle for power?

The answer is, unfortunately, that such a probability is unlikely to happen as per current indications — given the vaulting ambitions of the protagonists. Both Ghani and Abdullah also have associates who would have their own agenda.

Having said that, Afghans also have a great tradition of reaching compromises and consensus at the last minute before an irrevocable break-up. Such a fortuitous turn of events can happen in the present circumstances only if Ghani accepts a coalition government with power-sharing of key security portfolios.

Arguably,  the struggle may even take an ugly form and become “physical” unless great self-restraint is exercised. There are ominous reports that the warlords have come out of the woodwork and are marshalling their militia.

The government also commands shadowy militia groups beyond the pale of law who have been trained by the US to function as a state within the state. Indeed, Afghanistan has a violent history and its democratic temper is only skin-deep. Peaceful transfer of power is a recent phenomenon under the US diktat.

Second, what will be the impact on the security situation? The critical factor here is that, undeniably, there are ethnic undertones to the Ghani-Abdullah political rift and how they might impact the cohesion of the Afghan army and security forces is anybody’s guess. Of course, the US has been bankrolling the Afghan army.

To jog memory, it was Najib’s inability to pay the salaries of the Uzbek militia guarding Kabul city in the critical period since the Soviets withdrew aid that ultimately became a clincher for Rashid Dostum’s treacherous defection to the Mujahideen camp of Ahmed Shah Massoud that in turn resulted in the roof coming down on the communist regime.

Third, how will the Taliban react to these big shifts in the politico-military alignment? Clearly, the Taliban are already at peace with the US forces. Strict orders have been given to the commanders not to engage the US military.

Thus, the state department’s assurance that the US military will not be a party to any conspiracies by the hardliners in Kabul to precipitate confrontations with the Taliban becomes important. In good measure, Pompeo also flew to Doha to meet the Taliban leaders to discuss the current impasse. The Taliban will make careful note of Washington’s eagerness to stick to the Doha pact — and it will reciprocate. 

Now, if Ghani resorts to delaying tactics much longer in releasing the Taliban, it may provoke the Taliban into ending the current (tacit) ceasefire and step up its operations against the Afghan security forces with a view to demoralise them.

There are also indications of the Taliban having infiltrated the Afghan army and police and security agencies.

Suffice to say, it will come as a surprise if the Taliban does not take advantage of a most conducive situation arising in Afghanistan — a rump administration ruling the roost in Kabul, lacking in political legitimacy (and the US distancing from it); the grim political struggle for supremacy amongst the Afghan factions that may take a violent form; the chain of command of Afghan forces coming under stress due to the ethnic fissures; and, the strong possibility of Trump unilaterally extricating the US out of the war at some point in a near future.

The big question is whether the Taliban will be savvy enough to wait for Kabul to fall like a rotten apple or will they hastily pluck it as a low-hanging fruit.

The bottom line is that the Taliban (and Pakistan which mentors it) would see that the political ascendance of the Taliban in Kabul, whenever it is due, happens with international legitimacy. The Trump administration’s stated preference still is to reach a negotiated peace settlement as envisaged under the Doha pact through intra-Afghan dialogue. And the Taliban too adheres to the Doha pact. 

It is unlikely that the Taliban will opt for a decision to grab power through force. The preference at this stage will be to pitch for an interim government that is inclusive so as to carry as many Afghan factions as possible.

Make no mistake that time works in the Taliban’s favour. Unlike in the past, the Taliban has networked extensively with the international community in the recent years — especially with the major regional states — and its interest lies in securing world recognition for any future government under its leadership.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | 6 Comments

How to Practice Proper Social Distancing – #PropagandaWatch

Corbett • 03/24/2020

We are being told to flatten the curve by practicing social distancing. We are being told to quarantine shame those who break the new societal taboos. So how exactly do you introduce entirely new cultural norms across much of the world in the space of just a few weeks? Watch and learn.

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Watch this video on BitChute / / YouTube

Man screams out window, makes international news

New Yorkers Do Their Part to Help ‘Flatten the Curve’ … by Yelling Out Their Windows

‘Quarantine shaming’: US navigates radical new social norms

Federal, local governments consider fines, prison to enforce social distancing

It’s Time To Reject “The New Normal”

Coronavirus Crackdown – Beware “the new normal”

We’re not going back to normal

The Propaganda Report – Normalizing Our Virtual Future, Olympics Postponed, New York Sex Advisory

WHO Changes ‘Social Distancing’ to ‘Physical Distancing’

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular, Video | Leave a comment

4 NATO soldiers in Afghanistan test positive for coronavirus, 38 more isolated with ‘flu-like symptoms’

RT | March 24, 2020

Four newly arrived NATO servicemen have tested positive for Covid-19 in Afghanistan, while dozens more have been quarantined with symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus, the US-led mission said.

Information about the four infected servicemen will be withheld “pending release from the appropriate national authorities,” the NATO Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan said on Tuesday.

Around 1,500 soldiers and civilians have been quarantined by the mission as a “preventive measure.” Most of them have either recently arrived in Afghanistan, or returned from leave. Of the quarantined servicemen, 38 were isolated after displaying “flu-like symptoms,” which are frequent among Covid-19 patients.

On Friday, US Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy told reporters that 45 people within the Army have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, including 21 soldiers, six civilians, eight family members and ten contractors.

Last month, all US military sites in South Korea were placed on lockdown after an employee at one of the bases tested positive for Covid-19.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 34 Comments

Yemen’s Ansarullah welcomes UN call for global ceasefire to tackle coronavirus pandemic

Press TV – March 24, 2020

Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement has welcomed a call by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a ceasefire in all conflicts worldwide amid a global fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Committee of Yemen, said in a tweet on Monday that Sana’a welcomes the UN chief’s call and supports a halt in attacks by the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies against Yemen.

The movement, he said, also seeks the lifting of an aerial and maritime blockade imposed on Yemen by the Saudi regime and its coalition allies since early 2015, to facilitate the adoption of preventive measures against the coronavirus outbreak.

The United States and Britain are not part of the Saudi-led alliance but have been providing all sorts of support to the bloody war.

Speaking to reporters from the UN headquarters in New York on Monday, Guterres called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” adding, “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on true fight of our lives, pull back from hostilities and put aside mistrust & animosities.”

The United Nations has been trying to mediate an end to conflicts in countries including Syria, Yemen and Libya, while also providing humanitarian assistance to millions of civilians.

Guterres warned that in war-torn countries health systems have collapsed and the small number of health professionals left were often targeted in the fighting.

While Yemen has not recorded any COVID-19 cases to date, the possibility of an outbreak threatens the war-ravaged country’s already fragile healthcare system.

Last week, Houthi warned that the Saudi-led coalition of aggressors will be responsible for a possible spread of the virus to Yemen, citing the negative impacts of the siege.

Houthi’s comments come as Yemen is preparing to mark, on March 26, the fifth anniversary of the military campaign, which the Saudi regime and a number of its vassal states launched to reinstall a Riyadh-backed former regime in Yemen.

The Western-backed offensive, coupled with a naval blockade, has destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

The aggression has also led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where over 1,000 people, including many kids, were killed and hundreds of thousands afflicted by cholera, diphtheria, measles and dengue fever in 2019, according to the World Health Organization.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Brazilian President’s son creates diplomatic crisis between Brazil and China

By Lucas Leiroz de Almeida | March 24, 2020

Federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, has started a serious diplomatic crisis between Brazil and China. On March 18, the congressman published on a social network: “Whoever watched Chernobyl will understand what happened. Replace the nuclear plant with the coronavirus and the Soviet dictatorship with the Chinese. Once again a dictatorship preferred to hide something serious rather than exposing it with wear and tear, but that would save countless lives. China is to blame and freedom would be the solution”. Then Eduardo published several accusations to the Chinese government of being responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Chinese response was immediate. China’s ambassador to Brazil, Yang Wanming, said that “the Chinese side vehemently repudiates the deputy’s words, and demands that he withdraw them immediately and apologize to the Chinese people.” He also said that he would express his repudiation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chamber of Deputies. The reaction of the Chinese Embassy website itself was even more incisive: “His words are extremely irresponsible and sound familiar. They are still an imitation of your dear friends. Upon returning from Miami, he unfortunately contracted a mental virus, which is infecting friendships among our peoples”.

The mention to Miami made in the publication refers to the last official trip by President Jair Bolsonaro and his entourage, to the USA, two weeks ago, in which 22 Brazilian state officials contracted the new coronavirus. The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Rodrigo Maia, responded quickly to the Chinese demand, posting on his social network profile: “On behalf of the Chamber of Deputies, I apologize to China and Ambassador @wanmingyang for the thoughtless words of the deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro”.

However, the attitude of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ernesto Araújo, was not the same as that of Rodrigo Maia. The head of Brazilian diplomacy spoke out in defense of the Bolsonaro family and sharply criticized the Chinese response: “It is unacceptable for the Chinese ambassador to endorse or share an offensive post to the head of state of Brazil and its voters. (…) We expect a retraction for his offense to the head of state. Brazil wants to maintain the best relations with the government and the Chinese people, promoting business and cooperation for mutual benefit, without ever leaving aside mutual respect”.

Clearly, Ernesto Araújo tries in his speech to reverse the logic of the discussion between Eduardo and the Chinese ambassador. Instead of appeasing the situation by acknowledging the parliamentarian’s mistake and advising him to retract, the Minister demands an apology from the ambassador of the country which Eduardo Bolsonaro publicly offended. Due to the nature of his position, as head of Brazilian diplomacy, Ernesto Araújo should seek to reestablish good relations between countries, without prejudice to either side. However, in the opposite direction, the minister intensified the discussions and deepened a crisis between Brazil and its biggest trading partner, proving its complete inability for the diplomatic exercise.

The Brazilian vice-president himself, General Hamilton Mourão, expressed himself more appropriately, claiming that the views of Eduardo Bolsonaro do not represent the official views of the government. Subsequently, Eduardo spoke again: “I’ve never intended to speak for the Brazilian government, but, due to all this repercussion, I leave here crystal clear that my intention, once again, was never to offend the Chinese people or to hurt the good relationship between our countries (…) I have never offended the Chinese people, such an interpretation is totally unreasonable. I clarify that I shared a post that criticizes the Chinese government’s action in preventing the pandemic mainly in sharing information that would have been useful on a global scale”.

We can see here a good example of the political praxis of the current Brazilian government. A parliamentarian offends China; China responds to offenses; the head of Brazilian diplomacy starts to demand excuses from China and; the parliamentarian returns to say that he did not offend China, distorting his own speech instead of acknowledging his mistake and asking for forgiveness. The case reveals the total unpreparedness and the most complete malpractice with which the Brazilian government deals with its main relations. The result is simple: now, not only the strategic relations between Brazil and China are shaken, but also their own diplomatic ties.

Making the situation even worse, the crisis comes amid a global pandemic scenario. Unlike Brazil, where the number of cases grows every day and the State remains silent in the face of social chaos, China knew how to deal with the situation very well and already has COVID-19 under control. Stable, Beijing seeks to help other countries affected by the virus, stimulating international cooperation. One of those countries that China had committed to helping was Brazil. In response to a desperate request from the Brazilian Ministry of Health, China was sending medical equipment to Brazil to help fighting the coronavirus. This relationship now does not give any certainty about the future, which, in the event of a cancellation, will represent a great loss for Brazil.

Finally, the Brazilian president himself, Jair Bolsonaro, tried to contact personally with Chinese President Xi Jinping in order to resolve the situation and justify his son’s irresponsible attitude. Xi, however, ignored him and refused to answer, making it clear that China is not willing to “forget” Eduardo’s offense. A new note from the Chinese Embassy was published, this time criticizing and rejecting the administration carried out by Ernesto Araújo.

The attitude of Brazilian politicians is only a reflection of the neoliberal and pro-US ideology behind Jair Bolsonaro. Other similar testimonies have already been made by Brazilian public figures, even stating that COVID-19 may be a biological weapon produced by China itself – the biggest country affected by the pandemic. In addition, sinophobia is growing in the country, with an insurgent hatred against Asians, who are being seen as “propagators of COVID-19”. The collective madness implanted by the Bolsonaro phenomenon is already causing Brazilians to refer to the coronavirus as “Chinese flu” or “Asian virus”. The fact is that the biggest loser in all this is Brazil itself, which is in serious danger of breaking ties with its biggest economic partner.

Lucas Leiroz de Almeida is a research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

March 24, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , | 1 Comment