Aletho News


Salam Taha: 82 days of interrogation in the al-Moskobiyeh slaughterhouse

The following article, by Palestinian writer Hind Shraydeh, was originally published in Arabic at Hadf News :

Salam and Rubou’

The different meanings of “Peace”

To some who hold power and authority, “peace” is linked with settlement and accommodation, with privileges they aspire to obtain in exchange for crumbs of the historic Palestine. Salam, on the other hand, whose name in Arabic means “peace,” exemplifies another meaning for the term.

Salam Taha was born in the village of Deir Abu Misha’al, situated northwest of Ramallah city. He adores the sea, although he was deprived of enjoying it due to the occupation. Salam usually escapes from the noise of the city to Khirbet Al-Rachniyeh east of the village, to relish the green views of his secret place, gazing towards the occupied Palestinian coast, confronting his feelings with absolute silence, and spending time in spacious verdant fields.

“He is the most shy among us but the bravest too,” says his friend at university.

Arrested while caring for his child

Israeli military soldiers raided Salam’s house after exploding its door to make their entry. They attacked Salam, forcing against the wall and cowardly hitting his body with their rifles.

It was four o’clock in the morning, when Salam was awake caring for his one-month baby, Cana’an. He never knew it is going to be his last turn in the ongoing rotation with his wife, Rubou’  or that he would be unable to look after his child for quite a long time.

Salam was tied to the kitchen chair, while military soldiers ransacked his place, turning it upside down. They were looking for his older mobile phone, which was directly in front of them the entire time, but they claimed not to notice it while acting in such a vicious manner.

Salam remained placid, as if he was unbothered, and mocked the soldiers’ actions, an attitude that angered the chief officer, who tried to provoke Salam by cursing his wife Rubou’ and directing profane insults at her while she prepared some milk for her child to calm his continuous crying during the assault. He stared at the chief officer with a shaming look, as if asking, “Is this the way you are raised to respect mothers?!”

He hummed a melody, with unidentifiable lyrics, repeating the only recognized words of it, which were “you may.”

After the extensive vandalism inside the house, the Israeli soldiers handcuffed Salam’s hands and grabbed him tightly from the shoulders. Rubou’ quickly knelt down on the ground, trying to put her husband’s shoes on with all care and diligence.

Salam saluted her, saying, “It will not take so long… I will come back soon.”

“This is how my husband was abducted on a Friday at dawn, 30 August 2018, only two days before his master’s degree studies commenced, as he was registered in the International Studies Program at Birzeit University,” Rubou’ says.

Salam with baby Cana’an

Earning his undergraduate degree with several interruptions

Over 80 students at Birzeit University are currently imprisoned in Israeli prisons. 20 of them are held under administrative detention, without any charges or trial. Their detentions are based on the “predictions” of the area commander of the Israeli military occupation, that these students might pose a “security threat to the state of Israel.” The rest of the students face indictments in military court, mostly revolving around involvement in student activities inside the university.

Salam earned his BA degree in political science with a minor in public administration. His undergraduate studies were frequently interrupted by arrests, which extended the normal duration required to finish his studies,” Rubou’ stated.

There are students whose first university degree take them double the time they actually need to complete all their university requirements, in addition to courses related to their specialty. Students fail to join their classes, due to their repeated detentions, and yet try hard to resume their studies again at an older age with younger cohorts and sometimes different generations than the ones that launched their academic journey with them.

Last week, three more student leaders were abducted by Israeli soldiers, just days before the end of the semester: Izz Shabaneh from the village of Sinjil, Mehdi Karajeh from the village of Saffa, and Basil Barghouthi from the village of Beit Rima.

Salam’s secret weapon

The Sunday after the invasion, Rubou’ knew that her husband is being held at Al-Moskobiyeh interrogation center in Jerusalem, where Salam remained for 46 days of harsh interrogation, during which he was banned from seeing his lawyer. Salam visited Jerusalem not as a tourist visiting the Dome of the Rock or the Holy Sepulcher, but rather stuck in an underground dungeon with numerous torture methods that are hatefully designed in order to drain the prisoner’s will. Fluorescent lights were switched on 24/7, causing him a severe headache and irritating his eyes, coupled with echoes of endless screaming and low temperatures directed on his body by an air-conditioner were only some of the examples of the constant pressure and inhuman treatment.

After three months of detention, Rubou’ decided to take the risk in order to cheer her husband up and transfer to him good feelings to help him stay strong and carry on with a brave heart. She decided to provide her husband with a secret weapon while attending his court session.

How is that possible if even a tissue is not allowed to pass through the punitive inspections and searches?! She took extra care of her outfit, wore her favorite jacket, closed its buttons, and luckily succeeded to pass through the first inspection, the second one through an automatic inspection machine, and the last personal one, that looks like two harassing hands passing an electronic stick over your body. After she waited outside in the cold for hours, the security guard notified Rubou’ that it was time for Salam’s trial. She walked into the court room with her surprise and unbuttoned her jacket, where Salam was able to see his son Cana’an’s smiling face printed on Robou’s T-shirt. For two minutes long, the security guards were frozen in place. They did not know how to deter such a secret weapon!

Rubou’ laughed while recalling the incident, saying: “I felt that we had won a victory … the guards were frozen and did not know what to do! They think they can abolish the longing in our hearts, but we proved them wrong. This was my way of resistance and standing by Salam’s side.”

82 days of harsh investigation in the Al-Moskobiyeh slaughterhouse

Salam did not sleep for so long, he was immensely pale, and bleeding from his wrists due to the tight shackles around them. The prison administration employed a number of interrogators who created stories and fake scenarios about our family to weaken Salam. Some of their fabrications were about me, his wife, and our son Cana’an, found dead in a car accident, others were about bringing me for interrogation in a room adjacent to Salam’s cell”, Rubou said, recalling what Salam told her in one of her visits.

Rubou’ with Cana’an

Many deceptions and malicious tricks were practiced by the Israeli intelligence agency, known as the Shabak, in order to put pressure on Salam, with one sole aim: Extracting confessions from him in order to celebrate their delusional victory and prove their domination over Palestinians.

“Before his recent arrest, Salam underwent a colonoscopy, as he suffers from colon problems, stomach pains and hemorrhoids that caused him bleeding during the interrogation. The lawyer submitted Salam’s medical papers explaining his condition, but the fascist regime did not care about his medication, and refused to let him go to the bathroom frequently,” Rubou’ says.

The Israeli occupation deliberately mistreats prisoners, providing them with poor and inadequate health care in an attempt to exhaust the captives. As punishment for Salam’s steadfastness, the illegitimate military court sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

Just two weeks before the end of his sentence, when Rubou’ was wondering about the color of the dress that she planned wear to welcome her partner home, and the unique outfit she is preparing for her son Cana’an to wear, only two weeks before Salam’s sentence ended, the Israeli military forces sent him to the slaughterhouse of Al-Moskobiyeh once again. Salam underwent thirty-six days of cruel interrogation with an agitated and hysterical frequency, during which he was once again prevented from meeting with his lawyer.

Eighty-two days is the cumulative time of interrogation Salam has gone through, while the “civilized” world and the luckier youths of the colonial project live in isolation from the tragedies of the occupation, perhaps by playing soccer or baseball and setting some exciting plans for their travels to the Maldives. Eighty-two days of interrogation, and yet the occupation steals years from Palestinian youth: Their future, their families and their children.

Meanwhile, international human rights organizations act like Pontius Pilate, when he washed his hands of guilt for the blood of Christ. Such organizations’ roles are to adopt “codes of conduct,” or issue informative brochures, or to express their “mild” concerns about a rough death that happened in a sacred spot in the far reaches of the earth, called Palestine.

Salam is still detained without trial in the Eshel desert prison, after he was arbitrarily transferred in mid-March from Ofer prison overnight as a punitive measure, as a result of which he had to sleep a full night in the “Ramla crossing-point”, a place where prisoners are gathered before they are distributed to other prisons. This happened at a time when the occupation claimed to be cautious and to stop unnecessary movement between prisons, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“You may build a huge wall around me, and another wall around you, the enemy of the sun … Still I will not compromise” lyrics of an Arabic song

Eshel Prison differs in its structure from other prisons; it is more isolated and brutal. The square yard, known as the fora, in which the prisoners spend their outdoor time is covered, so that they do not see the sky at all, nor the sun’s light. It is not available all day, but only for specific hours, and it is also far from the prisoners’ rooms. When released prisoners describe this prison, some say: “The bathroom in Eshel does not accommodate a chubby person, and the showers are narrow. All can be coped with except the climate of the desert, the high humidity and temperature in the morning and extreme cold at night”.

Salam spends most of his time reading and trying to maintain a healthy pattern by playing sports. He keeps humming his favorite song, as he walks in the fora: “You may steal the last inch of my land… You may feed the years of my youth to the prison … You may put down the flame I keep rising… You may prevent me from kissing my mother …You may defeat the dreams I have for tomorrow. You may deprive my children of wearing their Eid holiday outfits… You may build a wall and yet another taller one… In that act you assure to the world that you are the enemy of the sun. Still I will not compromise. Until the last pulse in my veins, I will continue fighting,” an Arabic song by Lebanese singer Julia Butros,

Fatherhood on hold

“It is not easy to raise a child on your own, while the pictures of the baby’s father are hung on the wall”, Rubou’ said. “Cana’an will turn two years old in July, while he does not know his father. I finally obtained a permit to visit Salam after being banned for almost a year. The long-anticipated permit allowed me to visit my husband three times only before the spread of COVID-19, after which visits were suspended.”

“We were born in pursuit of joy, and for joy we die”

“To see my husband in front of me through an insulated partition and isolating glass without being able to touch his hand, and to speak to him through telephones which the jailers control, is not easy at all. This increases the pain in my heart,” Rubou’ says. “Salam and I experienced a beautiful love story at university, which was completed in our marriage, and Cana’an is the fruit of our love.”

“With all the suffering that I live alone with Cana’an, and all the decisions I have to make, serving as mother and father at the same time, I return to remember what we insisted on highlighting in our wedding card. ‘We were born in pursuit of joy, and for joy we die.’ This is our conviction, and this is our belief in which we live every day, and we will raise our children to follow it as well,” Rubou’ concluded.

Salam and Rubou’s wedding card

Hind Shraydeh is a Palestinian writer and human rights advocate. She is also the wife of Palestinian prisoner Ubai Aboudi, the Executive Director of the Bisan Center. We encourage you to join the 1 June Day of Action for Ubai Aboudi and to sign the Scientists for Palestine petition supporting him.

Translation by Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Subjugation - Torture | , , | 1 Comment

US military presence in Iraq aimed at protecting Israel’s security, interests: PMU leader

Press TV – May 25, 2020

A high-ranking official with Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi, has strongly denounced US military presence in his country, saying such a deployment is meant to safeguard the security and interests of the Israeli regime.

“There is a national and courageous will, which rejects the presence of any foreign troops on Iraqi soil. There have been talks of US intentions to withdraw from Iraq, but we doubt them,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which is part of the PMU, was quoted as saying by the Lebanon-based and Arabic-language al-Ahed news website on Monday.

He added, “The US [military] presence in Iraq is meant to protect the security and interests of the Israeli regime. Neither are we warlords nor thirsty for blood, but rather patriots looking for the dignity and sovereignty of the Iraqi nation.”

“If the withdrawal [of US troops] does not take place, the foreign occupier must know that Iraqis will not accept the presence of its forces. The Americans, who will open negotiations [on the extension of their presence] in June, must remember the centenary of the Great Iraqi Revolution of 1920 against British forces,” Khazali pointed out.

He also praised the sacrifices made by Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy head of PMU, who were assassinated along with their companions in a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport early on January 3.

Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill two days later, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the targeted killings.

Later on January 9, former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.

The 78-year-old politician said Iraq rejected any violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military’s violation of Iraqi airspace in the assassination airstrike.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , | 5 Comments

How the U.S. response to COVID-19 failed and caused thousands of deaths

CGTN | May 25, 2020

There have been over 1.6 million #coronavirus cases and nearly 100,000 deaths in the U.S. While many countries are gradually recovering, no turning point for the pandemic in America is on the sight.

Lots of people are shocked at how America, the largest economy in the world, and a great country in the eyes of many, has got to this point. So to find out what led to this mess, let’s back up a little and take a look at the timeline.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

Telephone calls between Biden and Poroshenko reveal Kiev’s submission to Washington

By Lucas Leiroz | May 25, 2020

Recently, several phone calls made four years ago between former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden were revealed. The content of the talks is profound and controversial and reveals the high degree of American influence in the coordination of Ukrainian domestic politics, showing the advanced state of submission of Kiev to Washington.

According to the deputy of the Ukrainian Parliament (Supreme Rada), Andrei Derkach, the audio recordings were received from an anonymous investigative journalist. Derkach revealed the content of the recordings and declared full confidence in his informant.

On audio recordings, we can hear the former US Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that the leader of a formally independent state make decisions that are convenient for them, as well as a totally submissive posture on the part of Poroshenko, who is absolutely oblivious to Ukrainian national interests.

The demands made during the talks are diverse and impressive by the American boldness to interfere so deeply in other states. In one of the recordings, dated from 2015, it is possible to hear John Kerry demanding the resignation of Ukrainian attorney general Viktor Shokin, for not meeting American expectations. In another record, Poroshenko communicates with Biden saying he has “good news for him.” In the recording, Poroshenko says that while there was no charge or complaint against Shokin, he managed to convince the attorney to resign. The interlocutor replies: “Excellent”. So, Poroshenko reports that the dismissal of the attorney general is yet another “step in fulfilling his obligations” to the US.

In another phone call, the topic of appointing a new attorney is discussed. After a conversation between Poroshenko and his American counterparts, Yuri Lutsenko is chosen to be appointed to the office. Washington’s interlocutors make it clear that Lutsenko’s appointment is an essential condition for Kiev’s receipt of a loan of one billion dollars. Totally submissive, Poroshenko agrees with the terms of the agreement and the fees imposed without any dispute, consolidating the “partnership”.

In Washington, assistants of the former Vice President and current candidate Joe Biden informed The Washington Post that the recordings have been edited and are being used improperly to put pressure on the parties involved in the talks. However, the veracity of the existence of such telephone conversations has not been contested, which in itself is enough to create an atmosphere of tension and distrust towards the figures involved.

The fact is that the matter is still far from over. Whether or not they were edited, the recordings are apparently real. And, although the content of the conversations is contested, in truth, one billion dollars were withdrawn from the American public coffers and handed over to the president of another country, without the American population being informed of anything. After all, what will be the reaction of the American people when they understand that this money comes from their taxes and, instead of being invested in improvements to the national infrastructure, it is being used in obscure political maneuvers with other countries?

This all tends to strengthen Donald Trump in the upcoming election. The current American president until recently had an absolute majority of voting intentions and is now starting to weaken due to the way he has been dealing with the new coronavirus pandemic in the US – the global epicenter of the infection. Biden, although much less popular, progresses little by little and is already showing the ability to become a real opponent to Trump. However, as the scandals spread, it is likely that there will be a drop in Biden’s supporters or, at least, a greater atmosphere of collective distrust for him.

Still, Joe Biden’s reliability is not the main issue that comes up with the revelations of these recordings, but the level of American interference in the domestic politics of other national states. With these telephone records, Kiev proved to be a zone of foreign interference, where a president is coerced by members of the government of another country to make decisions that he would not like to make. This is not just an extremely demoralizing fact for Ukraine, but it also deeply destroys the myth of “Ukrainian nationalism,” so defended by the militias involved in the Euromaidan coup in 2014. However, more than that, the case may bring Petro Poroshenko to court. The recordings are sufficient evidence to accuse the former president of national treason. If formally accused and condemned, Poroshenko will have ended his political career in the worst possible way for a former president: being remembered as a traitor to his own country.

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

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Corruption, Deception | , , , , | 1 Comment

America Is Drowning in Problems

By Paul Craig Roberts | Institute for Political Economy | May 22, 2020

Washington is picking yet another fight with China. On top of the trade war we now have the coronavirus war. China is accused of being responsible for the virus by withholding information about it. Some in Washington want to make China pay for the cost of the virus by reneging on US debt held by China in the form of US Treasuries.

What information about coronavirus is China supposed to have withheld?

That China was doing coronavirus research? How could this information have been withheld when the US State Department knew about it, the N.I.H. was funding it, and US scientists were complaining about the danger?

That coronavirus was ravaging Wuhan? How was this information withheld when it was in the media every day?

The United States and its vassals knew about the virus outbreak in China two months prior to its outbreak in the West and did nothing. Through either inaction or intent, the US, Canada, and Europe imported the virus. The governments refused to stop flights in and out of China and to prevent cruise ships from welcoming passengers from infected areas. Governments did not want to interfere with profits, which came before public health. Absolutely nothing was done. No efforts were made to stockpile protective masks and gear, or to protect nursing homes, or to segregate hospital facilities, or to think outside the box about treatments. The Swedish government was so unprepared that it did not even try to do anything and just let the virus run its course with devastating effects on the elderly. [Note: There is much disinformation about Sweden from those who believe the virus is a plot to impose police state controls, such as claims that Sweden has kept the economy open without paying for it in a higher death rate and is gaining “herd immunity” against Covid-19. These claims are contradicted by news reports. For example: here  and here.]

In an attempt, more or less successful, to reduce the infection rate so that health facilities were not over-burdened, every other country imposed social distancing rules, bans against crowd events, and workplace closures. As little was known about the disease and the Chinese mortality rate was believed to be vastly understated, there was no responsible alternative to the so-called “lockdowns.” It remains to be seen whether the concern for profits has produced a premature reopening that will result in a second wave of rapid infection rates. Many suspect that Big Pharma and Bill Gates want to keep the infection spreading in order to panic us into being vaccinated with an inadequately tested vaccine.

The blame China game is really an effort to cover-up the failure of Western governments to deal with a crisis.

The failure of governments to deal with crisis is ubiquitous. Just think Katrina, the hurricane that devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. If you don’t remember or are too young to have experienced the 2005 hurricane via TV, read Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge.

Everyone knew that the levies protecting New Orleans and surrounding areas were unable to withstand a storm of Katrina’s intensity. The city was a bowl waiting to fill up with the water that wiped out 80% of New Orleans and 150 miles of Gulf Coast communities. Evacuation orders came too late. There were no steps taken to evacuate those without cars and resources. The sick and elderly were left in place. The few steps that were taken to assemble buses, boats, and first responders located the scanty resources in areas that flooded. The New Orleans Police Department went AWOL. Some joined in the looting. FEMA was a total failure. President George W. Bush and Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff were not focused on the unfolding tragedy but on their creation of a terrortist hoax that was used to justify 20 years of US bombing and invasions of Middle Eastern and North African countries. As Bush had deployed Louisiana’s National Guard to Iraq, the Louisiana governor had to borrow guardsmen from other states.

The US Coast Guard, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries personnel, and private individuals formed the force of first responders. People from Louisiana and from other states showed up on their own time, their own money, and with their own boats and began organizing rescues. There were many heroic and generous people involved in the rescue. As most of the rescuers were white southerners and most of the rescued were black, it put the lie to the propagandistic picture of the white southern racist. For example, Sara Roberts and her husband Buisson, a descendant of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, organized the Cajun Navy. Sara enlisted clients of her accounting firm who came up with 35 boats and crews to man them. One of her clients, Ronny Lovett, paid his construction crews triple wages for their rescue time and spent $200,000 of his money equipping the boats with food, water, medical supplies, chain saws, life jackets, spotlights, ropes and whatever else could contribute to successful rescues. It was individual citizens, not the governments in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Washington that rescued many thousands of people who otherwise would have perished.

From its founding day, New Orleans was a man-made disaster waiting to happen. Dredging, canals, watercourse alterations, pipelines and a variety of other environmental damaging mistakes had over the years destroyed the wetlands that protected the city and Gulf Coast. In order to serve private profit, failure was built into the system. The Great Deluge is an external cost of a political and economic system that puts private profits first.

We are undergoing it again at this moment as areas of Michigan are inundated from floods caused by dam failures. One of the dams, the Edenville Dam was a long known public safety hazard . Boyce Hydro, the owner of the dam, repeatedly failed despite the intervention of regulators to address the known risk. Not only was Boyce Hydro negligent, but also were the government authorities that permitted the known risk to persist unaddressed. The loss of life and property from the flooding is an external cost imposed on third parties by Boyce Hydro whose agenda was limited to its profits.

It is as difficult to understand the liberal and progressive belief in government as it is to understand the libertarian belief in the efficacy of the invisible hand that allegedly causes private greed to serve the public’s interest. Humans are a built-in failure machine. Their time perspective is short term. They are always surprised by the unintended consequences of their own thoughtless actions and inaction.

Throughout America, state, local, and federal government epitomize failure. Trillions of dollars have been poured into weapons systems that cannot be used without destroying the United States along with the rest of the world, while dams fail, bridges collapse, communities deteriorate, and homelessness grows. The government in Washington spends time, effort, and money manufacturing enemies to justify the budget of the military/security complex, while jobs and the US economy are offshored, the environment is degraded, and health care needs go unaddressed. The US rivals third world countries in terms of the percentage of its population that has no savings, no access to health care, and no prospects for advancement in life.

But we can blow up the world several times over and make mindless interventions in the natural environment that multiply the destructive power of storms, heavy rains, and other natural phenomena.

Another election approaches and yet again there is no acknowledgement of the real problems our country faces or any interest in discussing what to do about them. America and the Western World in general are simply going to drown in their unaddressed problems just as New Orleans drowned in Hurricane Katrina.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Book Review, Timeless or most popular | | 2 Comments

Iran surges in Venezuela in defiance of US sanctions

Iranian oil tanker Clavel crossing the Gibraltar stretch heading for Venezuela, May 20, 2020
By M. K. BHADRAKUMAR | Indian Punchline | May 25, 2020

Escorted by the Venezuelan navy and air force, an Iranian oil tanker named Fortune has entered that country’s waters on Sunday, amidst intense speculation whether the US would interfere with the delivery. The US has imposed oil sanctions against Venezuela and Iran and had said it is monitoring the Iranian tanker.

In fact, five Iranian tankers carrying about 1.5m barrels of fuel passed through the Suez Canal earlier this month, according to shipping data on Refinitiv Eikon, and were heading for Venezuela. The other four Iranian tankers — Forest, Petunia, Faxon and Clavel — are approaching the Caribbean en route to Venezuela.

A flotilla of US Navy and Coast Guard vessels is patrolling the Caribbean Sea on a mission to counter illicit drug trafficking. But the Pentagon has stated that there are no plans to stop the Iranian tankers.

At the same time, a Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, while saying on Thursday he was not aware of any operations related to the Iranian cargoes, also added, “We have continued to say that Iran and Venezuela – both two outliers in the international order – [are] clearly violating international sanctions on both nations with this transaction.”

The US sanctions on Venezuela are aimed at increasing pressure on President Maduro to step down. Thus, arguably, Iran is frontally challenging the Trump administration’s stated policy of ‘regime change’ in Venezuela. The Iranian move comes just three weeks after the abortive coup attempt masterminded by the White House on May 1 with the participation of two former US Green Berets aimed at capturing Maduro and transport him to the US in American helicopters to be put on trial on fake drug trafficking charges.

The coup attempt showed the extent of desperation in Washington to overthrow the Maduro government before the US presidential election in November, which President Trump hopes would help him garner Hispanic votes. Iran has now offered a lifeline to Venezuela.

In an historical context, this becomes a frontal assault by Iran on the Monroe Doctrine dating back to the 19th century, which in US foreign policy calculus regarded the Western Hemisphere as its sphere of influence. According to a Reuters report, the Trump administration said earlier this month it was “considering measures” it could take in response to the Iranian shipments, without providing specifics.

No doubt, this is a deliberate sanctions-busting enterprise by Iran. Venezuela desperately needs fuel for up to 1,800 gasoline stations that have been partially closed for weeks due to insufficient supply from state-run refineries.

Venezuela’s gasoline output is now limited to a single facility, the Amuay refinery, but most fuel produced is low octane as most of the country’s alkylation units are out of service. Imported alkylate could improve the quality of domestic gasoline. Venezuela’s refineries are in poor condition. Shipments of equipment in flights by Iran’s Mahan Air have arrived in Venezuela in recent weeks to start repair work.

It will be interesting to see whether the US Navy would interdict any of the other four Iranian tankers before they enter Venezuelan waters. Tehran has sternly warned the US that it would retaliate if any such attempt is made. On Saturday, Tehran raised the ante with President Hassan Rouhani explicitly warning, “If our oil tankers in the Caribbean Sea or anywhere else in the world get into trouble caused by the Americans, they (US) will run into trouble reciprocally.”

Washington is well aware of Iran’s capability to create big problems for the US Navy deployed in the Persian Gulf, especially the Strait of Hormuz. Last week, in a precautionary step, US Navy, via the Maritime Safety Office run by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, alerted all international maritime traffic to maintain a safe distance of at least 100 meters from US naval vessels in international waters and straits. Pentagon officials separately confirmed that the stay-away warning to marine traffic in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman was actually intended for Iran.

In geopolitical terms, Iran’s strategic defiance of the US in the Western Hemisphere makes an interesting case study not only of the decline in American influence in its backyard to the south but the entire efficacy of the “sphere of influence” concept in contemporary world politics. This is one thing.

More importantly, in the backdrop of the Iranian tanker reaching Venezuela, Caracas has described Iran as a “revolutionary partner” in the struggle against US imperialism. From the Iranian viewpoint, Venezuela becomes a part of the “axis of resistance” against the US. To be sure, the audacity of the two countries will irritate Washington to no end.

How far the Iran-Venezuela axis will deepen and expand will bear watch. Importantly, the UN Security Council embargo against Iran exporting arms to other countries is expiring in October. The US move to extend the timeline of the embargo is unlikely to succeed, given the strong negative reaction by Russia and China. It is entirely conceivable that a matrix of military cooperation may commence in a near future involving Iran and Venezuela.

Iran’s indigenously developed missile capability acts as a deterrent against US aggression. Iran has transferred missile technology to Hezbollah, which is estimated to have the capability today to inflict significant damage to Israel in the event of any aggression by the latter on Lebanon. Significantly, the deterrence is working and Israel no longer stages attacks on Lebanon.

A similar shift in the strategic balance with Iran’s help can create more space for Venezuela to push back at the US. All in all, Iran appears to be working on a strategy to help Venezuela to maintain its strategic autonomy. There is enormous potential for cooperation and coordination between Iran and Venezuela. If Venezuela has the largest known oil reserves in the world, Iran too has massive reserves of oil and gas. 

The despatch of oil to lubricate the beleaguered Venezuelan economy may prove to be the harbinger of an assertive Iranian power projection elsewhere in Latin America too. Surely, in the near term, it is a rebuff to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure strategy against Iran. In a longer-term perspective, a concerted regional strategy in Latin America by Russia, China and Iran can seriously erode the US influence in the continent.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | 2 Comments

Racism, Magical Thinking & the Coronavirus

Rather than quarantining travelers, our leaders chose a course of action that led to entire countries being locked down. 

January 28th article, published in Canada’s largest circulation newspaper; click for source
By Donna Laframboise | Big Picture News | May 25, 2020

By the third week of January, the entire world knew the Chinese government was so spooked by a lethal, never-before-seen virus that it had locked down Wuhan. That city is home to 10 million people, about the same number as reside in Paris, London, and Chicago.

Back in January, Wuhan had a shortage of hospital beds and a shortage of doctors. Medical personnel from other parts of the country had been deployed, but the caseload remained overwhelming.

In January, the entire world knew flights from Wuhan to other parts of China had been halted. Highways were being closed. Soldiers wearing face masks were barricading the train station. Because the virus was raging in a particular locale, it was eminently sensible try to prevent its spread within China.

Elsewhere, governments watched these events unfold. Rather than safeguarding their own citizens and their own economies, rather than taking immediate, concrete steps to prevent the virus from spreading beyond China, they indulged in magical thinking.

If only they avoided doing anything discriminatory, all would be well. If only they walked on eggshells, careful not to fuel anti-Asian stereotypes, this infectious disease would apparently evaporate of its own accord.

January 28th article, disseminated by Canada’s national, publicly-funded broadcaster; click for source

Thus, a medical problem connected to a specific geographical location was transformed, reconfigured, and repackaged. Journalists, left wing media outlets, and petty politicians accomplished this in a trice.

Politically correct thought is rote dogmatism. It is non-thought. It is knee-jerk, censorious, and uncharitable. But its grip is compelling. In January 2020, among Canada’s political class, fear of being labelled a racist far outweighed anyone’s fear of a deadly virus. Please read that sentence again. We desperately need to learn this lesson.

Juanita Nathan, the chair of a north Toronto school board (whose left wing, community activist credentials are described here), lectured parents about “demonstrating bias and racism”:

while the virus can be traced to a province in China, we have to be cautious that this not be seen as a Chinese virus…At times such as this, we must come together as Canadians and avoid any hint of xenophobia, which in this case can victimize our East Asian Chinese community…Situations such as these can regrettably give rise to discrimination based on perceptions, stereotypes and hate. [bold added; see here, here, and here]

Heaven deliver us from elected officials who imagine their job is to instruct taxpayers on how to think or speak about any issue. In the Canadian political system, school trustees are bottom of the barrel. This is a part-time job in which budgets are overseen, and parental concerns are addressed. Trustees are not priests, and have no business preaching morality to anyone.

Concerned parents, many of whom were Asian, were told by Nathan not to send their children to school with face masks, even though classmates had just returned from visits to China. Parents were told mask wearing “heightens anxiety.” In the words of Nathan:

Wearing a mask really singles out some kids in the classroom when they don’t need to and that’s what we’re addressing at the moment – just having those conversations to give knowledge to the parents why they don’t need to at this moment.

And so it went. Leaders of the world’s most advanced economies assured the public the risk was low. We were told to wash our hands, that seasonal influenza was more dangerous, that everything was under control.

But things weren’t under control. Flights from China were not halted. Nor were flights from other hot spots. Travelers returning home weren’t required to self-quarantine until it was far too late.

An information sheet published by the Canadian government on February 24th didn’t instruct returning travelers to self-quarantine. Rather, these people were asked to monitor themselves for “fever, cough and difficulty breathing” and to “avoid places where you cannot easily separate yourself from others if you become ill.”

Self-isolation was recommended only if they developed symptoms. Since many infected people suffer no symptoms, mild symptoms, or symptoms other than those listed by the Canadian government, such measures were wholly inadequate.

Weeks ticked by. Thousands of international flights continued to take off and land. People visiting China, Iran, and Italy brought the virus back home with them. To Seattle. To New York City. To Brazil, IndiaSouth Africa, Australia, and to Canada (see here, here, here, and here).

By the time they were diagnosed, some of these people had infected those who’d shared the same flight or the same airport shuttle. They’d spread the virus at their workplaces, on public transit, at houses of worship, birthday parties, and funerals. As late as March 22nd, the Times of London ran a story about Heathrow airport, headlined Coronavirus: Flights from Italy, Iran and China still landing.

Today, four months after the lockdown of Wuhan, a grim milestone will be achieved. The number of Americans who’ve died of the coronavirus is expected to surpass 100,000.

Here in Canada, 6,400 people have perished so far (back in 2003, SARS claimed 44 Canadian lives).

Between them, Italy, Spain, and France have lost 90,000 souls.

In Brazil, where the virus is still gathering steam, the death toll exceeds 22,700 already.

Public health officials, including the World Health Organization, let this happen. Politicians let this happen. There was a time to take targeted action. There was a time to respond strategically and decisively. They failed.

The sorrow associated with those hundreds of thousands of corpses is just the beginning of this disaster. Entire populations have spent weeks to months confined to their homes, harassed by the police for walking their dog. The economic damage is monstrous – for individuals, business, and nations.

Disruption. Job loss. Home repossession. Despair.

Rather than shutting down a few flights, our leaders chose a course of action that led to virtually all flights, everywhere, being grounded. For goodness knows how long.

Rather than quarantining a subset of travelers for a couple of weeks, our leaders chose a course of action that led to entire populations being locked down. For goodness knows how long.

This is where politically correct thought leads. This is where our ugly, destructive preoccupation with hints of xenophobia takes us.

Legitimate concern about the spread of a pernicious virus was silenced. Leaders who wanted to do the right thing faced serious social disincentives. No one wants to be called a racist.

Going forward, we can live in a community in which our leaders think clearly and act sensibly. Or we can stifle other important discussions – and pay a terrible price.

May 25, 2020 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science | | Leave a comment