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Photoshopping, fraud and circular logic in research

By Mike Hearn | Daily Sceptic | July 22, 2021

It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgement of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Marcia Angell

Check out this image from a peer reviewed research paper that supposedly shows skin lesions being treated by a laser:

Left: before treatment for keratoses. Right: after they were airbrushed out. (image diff is available here)

On being challenged the authors said:

The photograph was taken in the same room with a similar environment; unfortunately the patient wore the same shirt.

The journal found this explanation acceptable and forwarded the response to the complainants.

It’s becoming clear that science has major difficulties with not only a flood of incorrect and intellectually fraudulent claims, but also literally faked, entirely made up papers with random data, imaginary experiments and photoshopped images in them. Some of these papers are sold by organised gangs to Chinese doctors who need them to get promoted. But others come from really sketchy outfits like (sigh) the National Health Service, to whom we owe the masterpiece seen above.

The British Government hasn’t noticed that its doctors are massaging medical evidence. Instead this example comes from Elizabeth Bik, who runs a blog where she and a few other volunteers try to spot clusters of fraudulent papers. She embarrassed the journal in public here, and the paper was finally retracted. But she’s just a volunteer who raises money on Patreon for her work. Here’s her assessment of what’s going on:

Science has a huge problem: 100s (1000s?) of science papers with obvious photoshops that have been reported, but that are all swept under the proverbial rug, with no action or only an author-friendly correction… There are dozens of examples where journals rather accept a clean (better photoshopped?) figure redo than asking the authors for a thorough explanation.

As the only people trying to spot these fake papers are bloggers, we can safely assume that far larger numbers of papers are fake than the “thousands” they have already found and reported. For example,

0.04% of papers are retracted. At least 1.9% of papers have duplicate images “suggestive of deliberate manipulation”. About 2.5% of scientists admit to fraud, and they estimate that 10% of other scientists have committed fraud.

Photos of supposedly different samples in which two images are identical. From “Anticancer activity of biogenerated silver nanoparticles: an integrated proteomic investigation”. The journal investigated and concluded that this is fine.

It’s been known for years that a lot of claims made by scientists can’t be replicated. In some fields, the majority of all claims appear to not replicate due to a large mix of issues like overly lax thresholds for claiming statistical significance, poor study design and other somewhat subtle errors. But how much research is deliberate falsehood?

The sad truth is the size of the fraud problem is entirely unknown because the institutions of science have absolutely no mechanisms to detect bad behaviour whatsoever. Academia is dominated by (and largely originated) the same ideology calling for the total defunding of the police, so no surprise that they just assume everyone has absolute integrity all the time: research claims are constantly accepted at face value even when obviously nonsensical or fake. Deceptive research sails through peer review, gets published, cited and then incorporated into decision making. There are no rules and it’d be pointless to make any because there’s nobody to enforce them: universities are notorious for solidly defending fraudulent professors.

So let’s turn over the rock and see what crawls out. We’ll start with China and then turn our attention back to more western types of deception.

Chinese fraud studios

In 2018, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced that: “For the first time, China has overtaken the United States in terms of the total number of science publications.” Should the USA worry about this? Perhaps not. After some bloggers exposed an industrial research-faking operation that had generated at least 600 papers about experiments that never happened, a Chinese doctor reached out to beg for mercy:

Hello teacher, yesterday you disclosed that there were some doctors having fraudulent pictures in their papers. This has raised attention. As one of these doctors, I kindly ask you to please leave us alone as soon as possible… Without papers, you don’t get promotion; without a promotion, you can hardly feed your family… You expose us but there are thousands of other people doing the same. As long as the system remains the same and the rules of the game remain the same, similar acts of faking data are for sure to go on. This time you exposed us, probably costing us our job. For the sake of Chinese doctors as a whole, especially for us young doctors, please be considerate. We really have no choice, please!

Note the belief that “thousands of other people” are doing the same, and that these doctors need more than one paper to keep being promoted, so the 600 found so far is surely the tip of an iceberg given China’s size. There are about 3.8 million doctors in China implying that there are quite possibly tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of these things in circulation.

The fake papers are remarkable:

  • They are so good they are undetectable in isolation. The NHS photo is an aberration – normally these papers get spotted by noticing re-used technical images across papers that claim to be different experiments by different people. The fake papers are probably produced by real scientists with access to real lab equipment. The use of spammy-looking Gmail accounts is also a signal because Gmail is banned in China (e.g. The reliance on bot-generated Gmail accounts implies enormous scale.
  • They are peer reviewed and published in western journals. For instance, the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry by Wiley or Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy by Elsevier. They claim to be doing advanced micro-biology on serious diseases: a typical title is something like “MicroRNA-125b promotes neurons cell apoptosis and Tau phosphorylation in Alzheimer’s disease”. Journals have no way to detect these papers and aren’t trying to develop any.
  • Some of them present traditional Chinese medicine as scientific. TCM is more or less the Chinese equivalent of homeopathy with lots of herbal remedies, eating body parts of exotic animals to cure erectile dysfunction, and so on. But the Chinese Government is obsessed with it and thinks it’s the same as normal medicine. From the top down, Chinese scientists are expected to produce papers claiming that TCM works, and they do! Mostly this stuff stays in Chinese but the ever increasing reliance of western universities on Chinese funding means it’s now finding its way into the English language literature as well, e.g. “Probing the Qi of traditional Chinese herbal medicines by the biological synthesis of nano-Au” was published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Advert by a research faking operation. Credit to “Smut Clyde” and “TigerBB8”.

Most western scientists are too clever to buy a completely fake paper (or so we hope). But their promotion incentives are identical, and there are other techniques that let you publish as many fake papers as you want. Let’s turn our attention to…

Impossible numbers in western science

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet

How many scientists just make up their data? A well known recent case of this was the Surgisphere scandal, in which a paper appeared in The Lancet that claimed to be based on a proprietary dataset of nearly 100,000 COVID-19 patients across over 670 U.S. hospitals. This figure was larger than the official case counts of some entire continents at the time, and there was no reason for hospitals to share tightly controlled medical data with a random company nobody had heard of, so the claim was implausible on its face. Sure enough, when challenged it turned out none of the authors had ever actually seen the data, just summaries of it provided by one guy, who on investigation had a long track record of dishonesty. The Lancet probably accepted this paper because it made Trump look bad and the editor (Horton, quoted above) appears to hate Trump more than he hates bad science.

There are some other cases like this that came to light over the years, like the story of Brian Wansink, or that of Paolo Macchiarini, who left a trail of dead patients in his wake. But while anecdotes about individual cases are interesting, can we be more rigorous?

One clue comes from automated tools that scan research papers looking for mathematically impossible numbers, which can sometimes be detected even in the absence of the raw original data. In recent years a few such tools have been developed and deployed, mostly against psychology and food science.

  • The statcheck program showed that “half of all published psychology papers… contained at least one p-value that was inconsistent with its test”.
  • The GRIM program showed that of the papers it could verify, around half contained averages that weren’t possible given the sample sizes, and more than 20% contained multiple such inconsistencies.
  • The SPRITE program detected various experiments on food that would have required subjects to eat implausible quantities (e.g. a child needing to eat 60 carrots in a single sitting, or 3/4 kilogram of crisps).

Being flagged by a stats checker doesn’t guarantee the data is made up: GRIM can detect simple mistakes like typos and SPRITE requires common sense to detect that something is wrong (i.e., no child will eat a plate of 60 carrots). But when there are multiple such problems in a single paper, things start to look more suspicious. The fact that half of all papers had incorrect data in them is concerning, especially because it seems to match Richard Horton’s intuitive guess at how much science is simply untrue. And the GRIM paper revealed a deeper problem: more than half of the scientists refused to provide the raw data for further checking, even though they had agreed to share it as a condition of being published. This is rather suspicious.

One of the difficulties with detecting scientific fraud is that the line between dishonesty and simple absurdity can get quite blurry. Sometimes scientists “calculate” data that is clearly wrong, but don’t actually try to hide or it may even admit to it in the paper, knowing full well that nobody cares and nonsensical data won’t actually matter. Here’s an example from a COVID modelling paper:

The model was allowed to calculate that the average Brit must live with 7 other people, because it couldn’t obtain data fit otherwise (actual number=2.4). This one comes from University College London, is written by 12 neuroscientists, passed peer review and has 37 citations. The peer reviewer noticed that the incorrect number was in the paper but signed off on it anyway.

For decades psychiatrists published research into the “gene for depression” 5-HTTLPR. They created an entire literature not only linking the gene to depression but explaining how it worked, linking it to parenting styles, developing treatments based up on it. Over 450 papers were published on the topic. Eventually a geneticist discovered what they were doing and used DNA databanks to point out that none of those papers could possibly be true.

Sometimes numbers aren’t “wrong” but are instead logically vacuous. The Flaxman et al paper from Imperial College that tried to prove lockdowns work had the usual problem of statistically implausible numbers, but more importantly was built on circular logic: their model assumed only government interventions could end epidemics. This is obviously nonsense and they breezily admitted it in the paper, where they said their work was “illustrative only” and that “in reality even in the absence of government interventions we would expect Rt to decrease”. No problem: this fictional illustration got published in Nature and the authors presented the model’s outputs as scientific proof of their own assumption to the media. The paper is vacuous mathematical obfuscation, but scientists either can’t tell or don’t care: it has racked up over 1,300 citations and the number is still growing rapidly. To put that number in perspective, in physics the top 1% of all researchers have around 2,000 citations over their entire career.

Time to assume that health research is fraudulent until proven otherwise?

Earlier this month, the BMJ published an astounding blog post with the same title as this section. There’s no need to add anything because simply quoting it is sufficient:

The anaesthetist John Carlisle analysed 526 trials submitted to Anaesthesia and found that… when he was able to examine individual patient data in 153 studies, 67 (44%) had untrustworthy data and 40 (26%) were zombie trials… [Ben] Mol’s best guess is that about 20% of trials are false. Very few of these papers are retracted.

We have now reached a point where those doing systematic reviews must start by assuming that a study is fraudulent until they can have some evidence to the contrary.

Richard Smith

Richard Smith is a former editor of the BMJ, cofounder of the Committee on Medical Ethics (COPE), for many years the chair of the Cochrane Library Oversight Committee, and a member of the board of the U.K. Research Integrity Office.

Or put another way, an overseer of the Research Integrity Office believes research has no integrity.

What can be done?

600 fraudulent papers here, 450 over there, 1300+ citations of just one bad paper… pretty quickly it starts adding up.

We’re often told science is self-correcting. Is that true? Probably not. “The Science Reform Brain Drain” is perhaps the bleakest essay I’ve read this year. Reformers like the men who developed SPRITE and GRIM have been giving up and leaving science entirely. Pointing out in public that your colleagues are dishonest is never a great career move, and the work was often futile. One scientist who quit and went into industry summed up his fraud detection work like this:

The clearest consequence of my actions has been that Zhang has gotten better at publishing. Every time I reported an irregularity with his data, his next article would not feature that irregularity.

Even when a bull enters the China shop and gets a few papers retracted, it doesn’t actually matter because it has little effect: retracted papers keep getting cited for years afterwards and actually may be cited more than non-retracted papers, because one of the effects of retraction is that the article becomes free to download.

In the past year most talk of bad science has been about models with bad assumptions. This is an issue but has been hiding problems that are far worse: scientists are buying fake papers, Photoshopping evidence, refusing to upload their data, knowingly publishing numbers that cannot be correct, citing papers that were retracted for being fraudulent and (of course) presenting mathematical obfuscations of what they want to be true as if it were science. Journals usually ignore fraud reports entirely, or when put under pressure let scientists submit “corrected” versions of their papers. And worst of all, the journal editors that are responsible for scientific gatekeeping know all this is happening, but aren’t doing anything about it.

In fact, very little can be done because above all, universities rely on reputation and don’t want anyone to find out about bad behaviour, so they fight tooth and nail to protect academics no matter how badly they are behaving. There are no rules. Any rules that are alleged to exist turn out when tested to be illusions.

Claims made by scientists are automatically trusted by the majority of people. Maybe they shouldn’t be?

Mike Hearn is a former Google software engineer. You can read his blog at Plan 99.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular | 1 Comment

British Disinfo Machine Out of Whack: The Guardian’s Trump-Russia ‘Bombshell’ Reeks of Forgery

By Ekaterina Blinova – Sputnik – 22.07.2021

The Guardian’s latest “bombshell” story about how President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian spies at a closed session of the National Security Council to use “all possible force” to make Donald Trump win in 2016 has not got as much media attention as it was apparently planned.

The article written, by Luke Harding, Dan Sabbagh, and Julian Borger appeared on The Guardian’s website on 15 July at 10:00 GMT. Another op-ed on the matter with a byline containing only Harding and Sabbagh was published on the same day at 17:05 GMT. The news was also advertised in the website’s First Thing section on 15 and 16 July and yet, surprisingly, just a “few Western mainstream media outlets have written or reported on what they were all speculating and salivating about for all four years of the Trump presidency”, notes Mark Sleboda, a US military veteran and international affairs and security analyst.

Still, there’s an obvious explanation why the MSM has not taken the bait: the so-called “leak” smacks of an obvious bunk, according to the analyst, who outlines some obvious discrepancies in The Guardian’s “exposé”:

First, it’s absolutely unclear how the supposed “leaked docs” ended up in The Guardian’s hands: there is no chain of custody or explanation at all.

Second, despite The Guardian’s claims that Western intelligence agencies have had these documents for months, no Western government or intelligence agency, neither the British nor the Americans, has so much as made a comment or peep about it.

Third, almost universally native Russian speakers have noticed and called out numerous incidences of lexical awkwardness and mistakes in the snippets, suggesting that the text was written by a non-native Russian speaker with limited cultural fluency.

Fourth, the Russian National Security Council is a formal political body which is not designed for discussing sensitive clandestine operations.

Fifth, the President’s Expert Directorate headed by economist Vladimir Simonenko – named by The Guardian as the apparent author of the grand design to take over the US elections – in fact deals entirely with domestic matters, including the financing of the president and the presidential administration’s activities, as well as collecting, analysing and preparing materials for the president’s annual addresses.

Sixth, the alleged secret meeting took place in January 2016 when Donald Trump was not even considered as a serious presidential candidate, let alone the Republican nominee.

Seventh, the article is riddled with hedging words and expressions, papers “appear to show”, “documents suggest”, “assessed to be”, etc., as if the authors knew that they were peddling disinformation.

​The Guardian report “reeks of disinformation operation”, former Director of Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs remarked on 15 July. Krebs echoes another cybersecurity expert, Thomas Rid of John Hopkins University, who listed a series of issues with the “Kremlin leak” in a Twitter thread.

Many more former Western intelligence operatives and experts publicly questioned the documents’ veracity in both media and social media, including Director of Russian Studies at CNA Michael Kofman, former Information Security Specialist for GCHQ Matt Tait, and former US NSC staff Gavin Wilde.

​Even Dmitri Alperovitch, a co-founder and former CTO of Crowdstrike, who groundlessly blamed “Russian hackers” for breaching DNC servers back in 2016, has weighed in, dismissing the “leak” as forgery.

​What’s Behind the ‘Kremlin Leak’ Story?

On the surface, the “leak” appears to confirm practically every Russiagate fantasy and makes an oblique reference to unspecified “kompromat” on Trump – an apparent reference to ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s “dirty dossier” on the then presidential candidate and his campaign, Sleboda points out.

The analyst highlights that one of the authors of The Guardian’s latest exposé – Luke Harding – has long been an ardent adept of the Steele dossier, despite the ex-British spook’s bizarre claims having neither been corroborated nor confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.

“There seems a likely possibility that these new ‘Kremlin documents’ like the previous Steele dossiers, were fabricated by British intelligence or elements within it, for the same purposes of discrediting Trump and preventing any, even faint, detente in US-Russian relations, whether under Trump or Biden”, suggests Sleboda.

The UK has played a special role in the Trump-Russia story: “There has long been a widely held belief by many because of the prominence of the Steele dossier during the whole Russigate episode that there was a significant degree of the British tail wagging the US political dog”, the analyst says.

Four years ago, Harding claimed that the UK intelligence service GCHQ became aware of “suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents” as early as in 2015, well before their American counterparts. Citing unnamed sources in the UK intelligence community, the journalist presumed that British and EU spies collected information on Trump between late 2015 and summer 2016.

“It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information”, Harding asserted on 13 April 2017. “The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets”.

Furthermore, “[Harding] has previously claimed in The Guardian that British intelligence and Foreign Office was given the Steele dossier before it was sent to the United States and vouched for Steele’s ‘credibility’ in reference to it”, Sleboda remarks.

In 2021 alone, the British media has published a number of articles in support of Steele’s debunked narrative:

·         in January, The Guardian ran an outlandish story of Trump being “cultivated” by the Soviet KGB for 40 years;

·         in May, The Telegraph broke a story about a “second dossier” written by Steele during Trump’s presidency;

·         four days prior to Harding’s “bombshell”, Guardian contributor Charles Kaiser tried to rehabilitate at least part of Steele’s “dirty dossier”, alleging that Trump aide Carter Page may have struck a lucrative deal with Russia’s Rosneft, something that wasn’t confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The fact that Steele’s story is being kept alive in the British media would seem to indicate that the UK establishment is still backing Steele’s anti-Trump/anti-Russia disinformation campaign, the security analyst believes.

If the “Kremlin documents” were indeed deliberately planted by the UK intelligence elements to target Trump’s potential 2024 election bid as well as US-Russia relations under Biden, this is “an extremely important and dangerous situation”, according to Sleboda.

“It would mean that the British government and/or intelligence have repeatedly conducted active measures to manipulate and interfere in both US domestic elections and foreign policy, destabilising the US political system domestically and putting the entire world at risk by deliberately increasing tensions between the world’s two foremost nuclear armed powers”, he says. “There will likely be no investigation or accountability into this latest Guardian piece of disinformation about Russia in the Western MSM but there most certainly should and desperately needs to be one”.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , | Leave a comment

UK law commission recommends making speech offenses based on “likely psychological harm”

The vague terms used to suppress speech

By Didi Rankovic | Reclaim the Net | July 22, 2021

Recommendations unveiled by the UK’s Law Commission are seeking to establish a new offense by criminalizing communications that could cause “likely psychological harms.”

Another offense that is recommended in the document concerns “knowingly false communications.” This is a serious threat to freedom of expression, and a chance for the authorities to get the last word on what is perceived as true and false.

The recommendation defines “harm” as something that causes “serious distress,” while “psychological harm” is also being mentioned. As for defining “serious distress” – the Commission refers to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

The proposed reforms are aimed at protecting victims of online abuse, but there are fears that the vague language and prioritizing subjective perception of speech over objective content could have dangerous consequences.

And the fact that identity and characteristics of the recipient of a communication is also given center stage leaves the door wide open for censorship based on identity politics.

Ironically, in presenting and explaining the recommendations, the Commission justifies them as necessary to right precisely the wrongs that critics are now pointing out this type of reform could introduce. Namely, the Commission says that rules that currently define what constitutes for serious crimes from online abuse are “vague” and sometimes interfere with free speech.

“Grossly offensive” and “indecent” are some examples of what the Commission sees as “vague” – and they would instead “clarify” matters by criminalizing “likely psychological harm.”

Earlier drafts of the recommendations even toyed with the idea of criminalizing communications that are perceived as causing “emotional distress.”

And the document’s authors claim that their take on how to better protect people from abuse online will actually protect freedom of expression more effectively. The rationale here is that the proposals would narrow the reach of the criminal law – rather than, as those critical of the whole thing say, set a very low threshold.

The organization’s Criminal Law Commissioner Penney Lewis is quoted as saying that the goal of the recommendations is to prevent “untold harm” that can arise from online behavior, singling out cyberflashing and pile-on harassment.

People found to be “knowingly” posting false communications would face criminal charges if their action is found to have caused “non-trivial emotional, psychological, or physical harm to the likely audience, without a reasonable excuse.”

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Full Spectrum Dominance | , | 4 Comments

US Used Military Bases in Afghanistan to Keep Watch on Entire Region, Russian Diplomat Says

Sputnik – 22.07.2021

MOSCOW – Russia’s special presidential envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said on Thursday that nearly half of the US military bases in Afghanistan were used to keep strategic tabs on the wider region.

“Of the 19 [US bases] that we know of, somewhat about seven or eight had nothing to do with Afghanistan and had nothing to do with the situation there”, Kabulov told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

The diplomat emphasised that the American contingents were conveniently placed in Afghanistan to be closer to the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia and China.

“[The US military] kept an eye on the Pakistani and Indian nuclear arsenal”, Kabulov added.

The United States and NATO began pulling their ground forces out of Afghanistan on 1 May. The withdrawal resulted in a flare-up of tensions between the government forces and the Taliban. The radical movement stepped up the territorial advances and is believed to have captured large rural areas in the country’s north.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | 7 Comments

Iraqi politicians slam Turkey’s interventionist remarks, vow strong response

Press TV – July 22, 2021 

A number of Iraqi politicians and lawmakers have reacted to recent interventionist remarks by Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu during his recent visit to the city of Sirnak in southeastern Turkey, vowing a strong response to any infringement of the Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.

According to a report by Rudaw news agency on Thursday, during his visit to Sirnak, the Turkish minister claimed that establishing peace in Muslim countries, including Iraq and Syria, was Turkey’s responsibility.

Soylu’s comment reverberated widely through social media platforms, enraging Iraqi people and politicians.

Ra’ad Hussein, representative of Saairun Alliance affiliated with Iraq’s influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said the sovereignty of Iraq is beyond all considerations and the positions of the Sadr movement in this regard are clear.

“The Sadr movement is totally Iraqi and has no links to foreign countries, and it prefers the interests of Iraq over all interests, and to this end, the head of al-Sadr’s bloc decided to withdraw from the elections,” Hussein said.

“Our position is firm, which means that we will sever ties with any of the neighboring or regional countries if they do not have a positive attitude towards Iraq,” he added.

Hussein underlined that such statements, whether made by Turkish or other officials, are unacceptable and no one will ever be able to encroach on a single inch of Iraqi soil.

Iraqi Shia cleric Ammar al-Hakim took to Twitter on Wednesday, calling on neighboring countries to respect Iraq’s sovereignty.

Hakim, who heads Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement political bloc, said, “Achieving peace in the region and the world comes through the interaction of states among themselves in accordance with international covenants and cooperation based on the foundations of mutual relations and common interest.”

He added, “It is not allowed to compromise the sovereignty of Iraq and for its land to be infringed,” without making any direct reference to Turkey.

Meanwhile, Iraqi MP and member of the Law Coalition, Kadhem Finjan al-Hamami, reacted to Turkish minister’s remarks, saying that the Turkish provocations were not the first of its kind in clear reference to Turkey’s deforestation of Kurdish areas and the continuous attacks on the Iraqi territory under the pretext of fighting Kurdish separatists.

“There have been no reactions from the Iraqi government or the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) towards all these attacks on Iraqi lands,” he said, adding that the Turkish government believes that “Iraq and the neighboring countries are a subject of the Ottoman Empire.”

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment

Whither Afghanistan? Getting Out Is Harder Than Getting In

By Philip Giraldi | Strategic Culture Foundation | July 22, 2021

The inability of the United States to comprehend what it was becoming involved in when, in the wake of 9/11, it declared a Global War on Terror, has to be reckoned one of the singular failures of national security policy over the past twenty years. Not only did the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq make bad situations worse, but the fact that no one is Washington was able to define “victory” and think in terms of an exit strategy has meant that the wars and instability are still with us. In their wake has been hundreds of thousands of deaths and trillions of dollars spent to accomplish absolutely nothing.

As a result, Iraq is unstable and leans more heavily towards America’s adversary Iran than it does to Washington. The Iraqi Parliament has, in fact, asked U.S. forces to leave the country, a request that has been ignored both by Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Trump actually threatened to freeze Iraqi bank assets to pressure the Iraqis into accepting the continued U.S. occupation. At the same time, American troops illegally present in neighboring Syria, continue to occupy that country’s oil fields to deprive the government in Damascus of much needed resources. Neither Iraq nor Syria threatens the United States in any way.

Given that history, it should be no surprise that the withdrawal from the twenty year-long nation building project in Afghanistan, long overdue, is not quite going as smoothly as the Pentagon and White House apparently planned. U.S. forces pulled out of their principal base in the country, Bagram Air Base, in the middle of the night without informing the incoming Afghan base commander. A frenzy of looting of the left behind equipment followed.

The Taliban are racking up victory after victory against U.S. and NATO trained Afghan government forces who have the disadvantage of having to defend everywhere, making them vulnerable to attacks on an opportunity basis. The Taliban now plausibly claim to control 85% of the countryside, to include crossing points into Pakistan and several important towns and provinces. They recently shocked observers by executing 22 Afghan Army commandos who had run out of ammunition and surrendered. The U.S. government is quietly expecting a similar fate for the thousands of Afghans who collaborated with the regime installed by Washington and is hurriedly arranging for visas to get the most vulnerable out, eventually seeking to resettle them in friendly Middle Eastern countries as well as in the U.S..

By one estimate as many as 18,000 Afghans worked for U.S. forces and they also have families that will have to go with them. There is particular concern that former interpreters, who would have been privy to decision making by Washington, will be most particularly targeted. The Biden White House has responded finally to the urgency of the issue – lives are at stake – by approving special flights to remove the most vulnerable to a third country for processing before determining if they can be allowed to take up residence in the United States or elsewhere.

To be sure, the struggle to rid the world of the wrong kind of terrorists has left the United States weaker and more unfocused than it was in 2001. China, Russia and Iran are already maneuvering to fill the impending power vacuum in Central Asia by coming to terms with the likely Taliban takeover, which might come sooner than Joe Biden expects. If some kind of Afghan coalition government does emerge, it will belong to Russia and China, not the U.S..

Meanwhile, the U.S. military itself, under the Biden Administration, is weaker and more riven by controversy than ever before. A recent 23-page report suggests that since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s February order to “stand down” the entire U.S. military for commanders to address “extremism” in its ranks morale has sunk and many top soldiers have either retired or quit in disgust. During his confirmation hearings, Austin pledged that he would “rid our ranks of racists and extremists” but the reality is quite different, with the witch hunt in the ranks and endless promotion of diversity even hurting normal military readiness training.

By next month the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will be reduced to a battalion of infantry to guard the Embassy and CIA station in Kabul, which is itself not sustainable unless some kind of workable Afghan government coalition can be achieved. Given the recent Taliban successes, that outcome appears to be increasingly unlikely. Maintaining the Embassy will also require a viable lifeline to the city’s airport and talks are underway with Turkey to determine if Ankara will be willing to base a stay behind battalion to maintain the air link. The Taliban have already announced that a Turkish presence at the airport will be unacceptable and warned Turkey that there would be revenge attacks against any remaining NATO troops after the U.S. pulls out. Their spokesman issued a statement declaring that “The continuation of Turkey’s occupation will provoke feelings of hatred and enmity in our country towards Turkish officials, and will harm bilateral relations.”

The U.S. is also seeking an over the horizon offensive capability once the military has formally left Afghanistan. The intention would be to be able to strike targets in Afghanistan if a new government forms any alliances with terrorist groups that potentially threaten the United States, as unlikely as that might be. At the present time, there are few options as the U.S. would not be able to launch cruise missile or airstrikes through the neighboring countries that surround Afghanistan to the south, east and west, though a long-distance strike from warships in the Persian Gulf is technically possible.

To the north there are, however, former Soviet central Asian states, the so-called “‘Stans,” that might be suitable for hosting some arrangement to base American equipment, aircraft and a caretaker force. Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, or Uzbekistan might be amenable to such a development, but both Tajikistan and Kazakhstan are members of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that any U.S. presence in a CSTO country would need the approval of the alliance, which the Kremlin will veto. One might suggest that there is mistrust about the reliability of Joe Biden and company as a strategic partner, even though there is widespread concern that Afghanistan might become a rogue state. Nevertheless, Washington’s bullying in Iraq, Syria and also against Iran has failed to convince anyone that the U.S. Air Force would make a good neighbor.

So getting out of Afghanistan will be a lot trickier than going in. The U.S. clearly wants to have some ability to intervene using air resources if the Taliban take over and misbehave, but that just might be a fantasy as the door is closing on options while China is waiting for its own door to open to bring the Afghans into their New Silk Road. And there is no escaping the fact that the entire Afghan adventure was one hell of a waste of lives and resources. Next time, maybe Washington will hesitate to charge in, but given the lack of any deep thinking going on in the White House, I suspect we Americans could easily find ourselves in yet another Afghanistan.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , | 4 Comments

Taliban Claim Control of Some 90% of Afghanistan’s Border Areas

Sputnik – 22.07.2021

The Taliban controls approximately 90% of Afghanistan’s border with neighbouring countries, Zabiullah Mujahid, the movement’s spokesman, told Sputnik on Thursday.

“The borders of Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran — about 90% of the borders are under our control … The border with Turkmenistan and the border with Iran are completely under our control. The borders of Pakistan (with the exception of a few small sections) are also under our control”, Mujahid said.

The statement comes after Moscow noted earlier in the day that the hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan had resulted in a major shift, with the Taliban taking almost complete control of the Tajik border.

The war-torn nation has been witnessing major clashes between the Taliban movement and government forces in recent months. The militants gained momentum as American troops started pulling out on 1 May, in accordance with an agreement that the Taliban and the United States struck in Doha in February 2020.

According to the Taliban, its forces are now in control of nearly 85 percent of Afghanistan.

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Aletho News | | 8 Comments

Why are the Vaccines working so much better in the US than in Israel?

Is it plausible that the vaccinated make up 0.8% of COVID deaths in the US but 75% in Israel?

By Marko Marjanović | Anti-Empire | July 20, 2021

Fauci says that an incredible 99.2% of those who die of COVID in the US are now unvaccinated:

Fauci, the country’s top public health official, has said that in June, 99.2% of Covid deaths in the US could be attributed to those who are unvaccinated.

92% would be a high enough number to raise eyebrows but 99.2% is just incredible. But hey, the better these things work the happier. Who doesn’t love a nice life-saving medical intervention?

The problem is this. In Israel the 60% who are vaccinated instead contributed 75% of the deaths so far in July.

The upper left, the bottom left, and the bottom right are broken down between vaccinated (green) and unvaccinated (red). Orange are vaccinated with one dose.
Vaccinated Israelis are also contributing the clear majority of COVID hospitalizations, and of severe cases.

Some days all new severe hospitalizations are vaccinated Israelis.

Sure enough, the sample size in Israel is small. They’ve had just 12 deaths whole July (of which 9 were vaccinated) so far. Thus one shouldn’t rush to too many conclusions from here.

Also, one always has to keep in mind that the vaccinated are considerably older on average, so it is not surprising that they remain overrepresented among hospitalizations.

Much of the unvaccinated in Israel is made up of children who are not going to end up hospitalized with COVID either way:

Nonetheless, the discrepancy between the vaccine outcome reported by Fauci and reported in Israel is just too big to be accepted without an explanation.

How is it that the 60% vaccinated Israelis contributed 75% of Israeli COVID deaths in July, but the 52% Americans vaccinated by June contributed just 0.8% of deaths that month?

How come the difference in COVID outcomes between the two groups is so much greater in America than in Israel? How come the vaccines work so much better in Americans than in Israelis?

Is the vaccine anti-semitic?

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science | | 6 Comments

A Conversation with Dr. Byram Bridle

Supervisor Jim Desmond | April 13, 2021

We sat down with Dr. Byram Bridle, an associate Professor of Viral Immunology, Department of Pathobiology at the University of Guelph.  Here’s the article that we discussed:…

July 22, 2021 Posted by | Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , | 1 Comment