The threat of a nuclear war between the US and Russia is now at its greatest since 1983

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When the Commander of NATO says he is a fan of flexible first strike at the same time that NATO is flexing its military muscle on Russia’s border, the risk of inadvertent nuclear war is real.

US Air Force Gen. Tod D Wolters told the Senate this week he “is a fan of flexible first strike” regarding NATO’s nuclear weapons, thereby exposing the fatal fallacy of the alliance’s embrace of American nuclear deterrence policy. 

It was one of the most remarkable yet underreported exchanges in recent Senate history. Earlier this week, during the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee of General Tod Wolters, the commander of US European Command and, concurrently, as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR) also the military head of all NATO armed forces, General Wolters engaged in a short yet informative exchange with Senator Deb Fischer, a Republican from the state of Nebraska.  

Following some initial questions and answers focused on the alignment of NATO’s military strategy with the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the US, which codified what Wolters called “the malign influence on behalf of Russia” toward European security, Senator Fischer asked about the growing recognition on the part of NATO of the important role of US nuclear deterrence in keeping the peace. “We all understand that our deterrent, the TRIAD, is the bedrock of the security of this country,” Fischer noted. “Can you tell us about what you are hearing…from our NATO partners about this deterrent?”

Wolters responded by linking the deterrence provided to Europe by the US nuclear TRIAD with the peace enjoyed on the European continent over the past seven decades. Fischer asked if the US nuclear umbrella was “vital in the freedom of NATO members”; Wolters agreed. Remarkably, Wolters linked the role of nuclear deterrence with the NATO missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere outside the European continent. NATO’s mission, he said, was to “proliferate deterrence to the max extent practical to achieve greater peace.”

Then came the piece de resistance of the hearing. “What are your views, Sir,” Senator Fischer asked, “of adopting a so-called no-first-use policy. Do you believe that that would strengthen deterrence?”

General Wolters’ response was straight to the point. “Senator, I’m a fan of flexible first use policy.”

Under any circumstance, the public embrace of a “flexible first strike” policy regarding nuclear weapons employment by the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe should generate widespread attention. When seen in the context of the recent deployment by the US of a low-yield nuclear warhead on submarine-launched ballistic missiles carried onboard a Trident submarine, however, Wolters’ statement is downright explosive. Add to the mix the fact the US recently carried out a wargame where the US Secretary of Defense practiced the procedures for launching this very same “low yield” weapon against a Russian target during simulated combat between Russia and NATO in Europe, and the reaction should be off the charts. And yet there has been deafening silence from both the European and US press on this topic.

There is, however, one party that paid attention to what General Wolters had to say–Russia. In a statement to the press on February 25–the same date as General Wolters’ testimony, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister stated that “We note with concern that Washington’s new doctrinal guidelines considerably lower the threshold of nuclear weapons use.” Lavrov added that this doctrine had to be viewed in the light “of the persistent deployment of US nuclear weapons on the territory of some NATO allies and the continued practice of the so-called joint nuclear missions.”

Rather than embracing a policy of “flexible first strike”, Lavrov suggested that the US work with Russia to re-confirm “the Gorbachev-Reagan formula, which says that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and it should never be unleashed.” This proposal was made 18 months ago, Lavrov noted, and yet the US has failed to respond.

Complicating matters further are the ‘Defender 2020’ NATO military exercises underway in Europe, involving tens of thousands of US troops in one of the largest training operations since the end of the Cold War. The fact that these exercises are taking place at a time when the issue of US nuclear weapons and NATO’s doctrine regarding their employment against Russia is being actively tracked by senior Russian authorities only highlights the danger posed.

On February 6, General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Chief of Staff, met with General Wolters to discuss ‘Defender 2020’ and concurrent Russian military exercises to be held nearby to deconflict their respective operations and avoid any unforeseen incidents. This meeting, however, was held prior to the reports about a US/NATO nuclear wargame targeting Russian forces going public, and prior to General Wolters’ statement about “flexible first use” of NATO nuclear weapons.

In light of these events, General Gerasimov met with French General Fançois Lecointre, the Chief of the Defense Staff, to express Russia’s concerns over NATO’s military moves near the Russian border, especially the Defender 2020 exercise which was, General Gerasimov noted, “held on the basis of anti-Russian scenarios and envisage training for offensive operations.”

General Gerasimov’s concerns cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather must be considered in the overall historical context of NATO-Russian relations. Back in 1983, the then-Soviet Union was extremely concerned about a series of realistic NATO exercises, known as ‘Able Archer ‘83,’ which in many ways mimicked the modern-day Defender 2020 in both scope and scale. Like Defender 2020, Able Archer ‘83 saw the deployment of tens of thousands of US forces into Europe, where they assumed an offensive posture, before transitioning into a command post exercise involving the employment of NATO nuclear weapons against a Soviet target.

So concerned was Moscow about these exercises, and the possibility that NATO might use them as a cover for an attack against Soviet forces in East Germany, that the Soviet nuclear forces were placed on high alert. Historians have since observed that the threat of nuclear war between the US and the USSR was at that time the highest it had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

US and NATO officials would do well to recall the danger to European and world security posed by the “Able Archer ‘83” exercise and the potential for Soviet miscalculations when assessing the concerns expressed by General Gerasimov today. The unprecedented concentration of offensive NATO military power on Russia’s border, coupled with the cavalier public embrace by General Wolters of a “flexible first strike” nuclear posture by NATO, has more than replicated the threat model presented by Able Archer ’83. In this context, it would not be a stretch to conclude that the threat of nuclear war between the US and Russia is the highest it has been since Able Archer ’83.

Reprinted with permission from RT.

Forever-Chemicals Tap Water  

Throughout the history of Western Civilization there are times, but only on rare occasions, when people en masse feel compelled to run into the streets, similar to the storming of the Bastille 1789, screaming at the top of their lungs: “Stop the Madness!”

Now is one of those times, as only recently Feb 2020 the Trump administration signed a regulation to remove America’s water resources from federal protection. This is the largest rollback of the Clean Water Act since passage into law in 1972. No other administration over the past 50 years has removed federal control over certain key aspects of the all-important landmark legislation known as the Clean Water Act.

“This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” according to the Southern Environmental Law Center.

This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.1

Trump’s disgusting and kinda creepy reversal of one of America’s longest-standing policies protecting the public from environmental muck, crud, slime, sludge, oozing glop and most significantly “manmade chemicals” affects every citizen all across the land. It goes right to the heart of the morality of the country.

Still, many Americans are already drinking chemically laced water, aka: Forever-Chemicals, straight out of the tap, yet they don’t know.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Washington, DC, for the first time: Toxic fluorinated chemicals, known as PFAS (a family of manmade Forever Chemicals – lasting forever in the environment) have been discovered in drinking water in dozens of cities, including the major metropolitan areas of America. These studies have not previously been reported to the public at large.

Accordingly, the number of Americans exposed to toxic chemicals has been drastically underestimated in prior studies by both the EPA and by EWG’s own research. This is not good news.

Making matters more challenging, recent tests exposed multiples of festering problems that include newly discovered toxic chemicals

… that are not commonly tested for presence in drinking water.2

In other words, testing for drinking water toxicity has been deficient for years. By all appearances, governmental rules and regulations should be greatly enhanced and expanded, not diminished or abolished, as has been the case over the past couple of years.

America’s president (Trump) comically boasts: “America is the cleanest. Our air is the cleanest. Our water is the cleanest in the world.” Trump’s misinformed, deeply disturbing blatant lying proves that he is the most dangerous uninformed ill-equipped president of all time.

Not only that, across the board, Trump has reversed decades of solid, established policies designed to safeguard U.S. citizens. Yes, he actually abolishes policies that protect the health of the very same voters who belly up, squeezing into tiny voting booths, to blindly vote for him. It’s horrific on the scale of Greek tragedies where the main character is eventually brought to ruin as a consequence of: (1) tragic character flaws, (2) moral weakness and (3) inability to cope. Trump scores on all counts.

Only recently, the self-congratulatory tragi-comic Trump pounded his chest for being the first president to successfully open up drilling to America’s most pristine wildlife refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). For decades, Congress steadfastly forbade drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Anybody with the slightest sensibility and moral courage would fight tooth and nail to prevent despoiling ANWR, which Trump flailed while admitting he’d never heard of ANWR, but he had no compunction whatsoever about removing restrictions for drilling and mining and/or private development, even though he’d never heard of ANWR. Presidential?

Trump’s lack of sensitivity, awareness, consciousness borders on the absurd and exposes a deep level of stupidity or maybe just plain ole ignorance that is seldom, if ever, exposed in the highest echelons of political office.

And, even worse, much-much worse, without giving a second thought, “congressional Trumpers” voted to reverse the long-standing policy of protecting America’s most pristine wilderness. Members of Congress achieved it via attachment to an “unrelated” 2017 tax bill, which is the weasel-out methodology for underhandedly killing policies that Americans are sensitive about. Hands down, ANWR is one of those.

Meanwhile, as for toxic water, EWG’s testing found 44 locations in 31 states; all but one had detectable PFAS in public drinking water with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia, New Orleans, northern NJ, and suburbs of NYC.

Not only that, it gets worse, as 34 locations that tested positive for PFAS toxic contamination had not been previously reported to the public by the EPA or by state environmental agencies.

Coincidentally, but not at all surprising since toxic chemicals disrupt, alter, and destroy healthy human cells, the number of Americans (150,000,000) diagnosed with chronic illness in America is off the charts.3

Along those same lines, it’s instructive to consider that the top three causes of death in 1900 were the infectious diseases pneumonia and flu, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Chronic diseases were not prevalent. Antibiotics led to dramatic declines in those infectious diseases. Whereas today, it’s no longer infectious disease that kills, it’s chronic disease like heart disease and cancer as the leading causes of death which are not caused or spread person-to-person, not infectious, and not fixed with antibiotics.

By all appearances, humanity’s modern-day surge in chronic diseases is due to alteration/destruction of bodily cell structure, which brings to mind somber troublesome questions about life environments.

According to Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit environmental law org:

Toxic chemicals known as PFAS are found in everyday products… They’re linked to cancer, and they’ve contaminated drinking water sources across the country.4

PFASs are chemical substances that don’t easily break down and persist in the human body, similar to ionizing radiation, where accumulation occurs over the years and leads to a series of chronic conditions in people, for example, cancer and Alzheimer’s.

Studies are just now starting to show links, connecting the dots for the first time, to chemical substances like PFAS to testicular cancer (every male’s biggest nightmare), kidney cancer, and endocrine disruption. Clearly, somebody somewhere should take responsibility for diligently cleaning up America’s water systems with more restrictive rules, not less enforcement.

Good news, bad news: The good news: PFASs have proven so toxic that manufacturers phased them out entirely by 2015, but (bad news) the contamination of water supplies is already a fait accompli, no turning back after decades of toxic exposure.

More bad news: Against the protests of 200 scientists, chemical companies have replaced older PFAS with new chemicals in the PFAS family called GenX, which unfortunately, act a lot like the old PFAS and may be equally dangerous. 5

Industrial release of PFAS is one major source of water contamination. For example, in 2016, researchers discovered “troubling levels of GenX in North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. The source was a PFAS manufacturing plant owned by The Chemours Company, a spin-off of DuPont.”5

PFASs also accumulate in the human body via food and food packaging, as discovered in a 2017 study when PFASs were found in 1/3rd of all fast food wrappers.

As for America’s Trump-crippled-EPA, more bad news: There are no PFAS listed on the EPA’s important “Toxics Release Inventory,” which is the primary tool for alerting communities across the country to toxic problems.

Not only that, and possibly making matters much worse (other than having Trump as president) on Feburary 14th, 2019 the EPA unveiled a long delayed Nationwide Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances Action Plan.

However, the plan is too little, too late, and falls short of what is needed to protect communities from a class of chemicals that are polluting drinking water and air, while exposing families, particularly children, to a myriad of heath risks, including cancer.5

All of which highlights gross incompetence, carelessness and/or heartlessness via governmental regulatory agencies under leadership of the White House.

EPA was first alerted to the toxic drinking water problem 20 years ago but ever since has failed to set an enforceable nationwide legal limit. In 2016 (pre-Trump) the EPA issued a drinking water advisory of 70 ppt, whereas, in sharp controversial contrast, independent studies and labs say the recommended safe level for PFAS in drinking water should be 1 ppt, and certainly, absolutely not 70 ppt!

EWG has already mapped PFAS toxic contamination of drinking water or ground water in 1.400 sites in 49 states. Older EWG studies concluded that 110 million Americans were drinking toxic water, an estimate that is probably way too low based on the more recent findings.

All of which, not alarmingly, coincides with the aforementioned Rand Corp study indicating that 150,000,000 Americans have chronic illnesses, like Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, Crohn disease, diabetes, epilepsy, heart disease, bipolar mood disorder, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

Henceforth, by slashing environmental rules and regulations (ninety-five [95] so far according to the New York Times, as of December 21, 2019) the Trump administration is stimulating/enhancing the likelihood of a veritable outbreak of chronic illnesses, well beyond the current massive numbers; expect multiple (2-3) chronic illnesses per person to mushroom, creating a drug-infested nation full of Mad Hatters.

Postscript: The EPA’s outside scientific advisory board issued a negative draft report (December 2019) stating the Trump water rule proposals were “…in conflict with established science… and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.” The majority of those members of the advisory board are handpicked Trump appointees. Will they be fired?

Post-Postscript: “This will be the biggest loss of clean water protection the country has ever seen,” Southern Environmental Law Center lawyer Blan Holman told The New York Times. “This puts drinking water for millions of Americans at risk of contamination from unregulated pollution. This is not just undoing the Obama rule. This is stripping away protections that were put in place in the ’70s and ’80s that Americans have relied on for their health.”1

  1. EcoWatch, January 23, 2020.
  2. Environmental Working Group (EWG) Washington, DC.
  3. Rand Corporation 2017 Study – Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence.
  4. “Breaking Down Toxic PFAS”, Earthjustice, February 12, 2020.
  5. Earthjustice.

Tulsi Gabbard: Presidential candidates must also condemn election interference by US intelligence agencies

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Reckless claims by anonymous intelligence officials that Russia is “helping” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are deeply irresponsible. So was former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s calculated decision Tuesday to repeat this unsubstantiated accusation on the debate stage in South Carolina. Enough is enough. I am calling on all presidential candidates to stop playing these dangerous political games and immediately condemn any interference in our elections by out-of-control intelligence agencies.

A “news article” published last week in the Washington Post, which set off yet another manufactured media firestorm, alleges that the goal of Russia is to trick people into criticizing establishment Democrats. This is a laughably obvious ploy to stifle legitimate criticism and cast aspersions on Americans who are rightly skeptical of the powerful forces exerting control over the primary election process. We are told the aim of Russia is to “sow division,” but the aim of corporate media and self-serving politicians pushing this narrative is clearly to sow division of their own — by generating baseless suspicion against the Sanders campaign.

It’s extremely disingenuous for “journalists” and rival candidates to publicize a news article that merely asserts, without presenting any evidence, that Russia is “helping” Bernie Sanders — but provides no information as to what that “help” allegedly consists of.

The American people have the right to know this information, in order to put Russia’s alleged “interference” into proper perspective. It is a mystery why the Intelligence Community would want to hide these details from us. Instead they are relying on highly dubious and vague insinuations filtered through their preferred media outlets, which seem designed to create a panic rather than actually inform the public about a genuine threat.

All this does is undermine voters’ trust in our elections, which is what we are constantly told is the goal of Russia.

If the CIA, FBI or any other intelligence agency is going to tell voters that “Russians” are interfering in this election to help certain candidates — or simply “sow discord” — then they need to immediately provide us with the details of what exactly they’re alleging. Otherwise, all they are doing is fomenting a sense of powerlessness and paranoia in the voting public, which could suppress engagement in the electoral process. And, at least according to the anonymous officials speaking menacingly to the media, that is precisely what Russia wants.

If our political leaders and those in the media were really concerned with protecting the integrity of our elections from outside manipulation — instead of just making money from manufactured hysteria — they would presumably devote more coverage to proposals to institute backup paper ballots, which would ensure that no malicious actors can ever alter our votes or hack into our election infrastructure. The bill I reintroduced last year, the Securing America’s Elections Act, does exactly that — but the media has never shown much interest because it would not generate the so-called “bombshell” headlines they so desperately crave.

The FBI, CIA or any other intelligence agency should immediately stop smearing presidential candidates with innuendo and vague, evidence-free assertions. That is antithetical to their role in a free democracy. The American people cannot have faith in our intelligence agencies if they are pushing an agenda to harm candidates they dislike.

Any attempts to keep the American people quiet — with the threat that if they dare criticize the Democratic Party establishment, they will be labeled hostile foreign agents — are unacceptable and disgraceful.

This new McCarthyism must be renounced by every presidential candidate, otherwise we must conclude they lack the foresight and integrity required to lead our country. If candidates are too afraid to stand up against those who would suppress the voices of the American people with McCarthyist smears, they are not real leaders. They are just power-hungry, self-serving politicians whose goal is to play-act as president — rather than actually defend the freedoms enshrined in our Constitution.

It is now clear that the mainstream corporate media and the warmongering political establishment are seeking to do two things:

1) Create enough suspicion around Sanders, by falsely tarnishing him as a puppet of Russia, that he loses the election.

2) Or, at the very least, if Bernie wins the Democratic nomination, force him to engage in inflammatory anti-Russia rhetoric and perpetuate the New Cold War and nuclear arms race, which are existential threats to our country and the world.

That strategy worked very well with Trump. Trump has spent his entire presidency trying to "prove" to the media that he is not Putin’s puppet by carrying out extremely aggressive policies that have brought us closer to nuclear war with Russia than we have been in decades.

If Sanders is the Democratic nominee, the corporate media will do everything they can to turn the general election into a contest of who is going to be "tougher" on Russia. This tactic is necessary to propagandize the American people into shelling over their hard-earned tax dollars to the Pentagon to fund the highly lucrative nuclear arms race the that military-industrial complex craves. In the most recent appropriations bill last year, the Pentagon was handed $738 billion — which includes a blank check for dangerous new nuclear warheads and destabilizing missile systems that increase the likelihood of catastrophic war with Russia.

The question facing any potential Democratic nominee is this: Am I going to allow myself to be manipulated and forced into a corner by overreaching intelligence agencies and the corporate media where, in order for me to win the presidency, I'm going to have to do what I know is not in the interests of the American people and world peace?

Or will I stand up to the corrupt neocon and neoliberal establishment, condemn their lies and smears, and act with the integrity and foresight necessary to forge a rational policy that will serve all our interests?

The problem with President Trump is that he talks tough against the media and the intelligence agencies, but he was not strong enough to stand up to their pressure. He was cowed into trying to prove that he’s not a puppet of Russia, and as a consequence has brought us closer and closer to nuclear war. The Democratic nominee cannot make the same mistake; our country and the world are depending on it.

Reprinted from The Hill.

I’ve Been Infected With Coronavirus!

I was just informed I have cornavirus!

You can imagine how I felt when I was informed, and when the doctor told me I only had a 97% chance of living, I admit it, I’m a strong supple male, but I broke down in tears for a while upon hearing the news.

But actually the odds of living are usually much better. Based on age and other factors the risk is probably way less than 1%, and I might even return to normal next week, but still, a whole week of being sick? I was horrified.

They are in the process of shutting down the town I’m in and thank god. I’d hate it if this spread everywhere and we’d all have to take a week off while sick. I was a fool for taking this lightly.

And it’s a good thing the economy is reacting properly to this awful threat, which at present the Dow is down a couple thousand points in just this week. And, it’s really amazing how an economy that ignores huge other threats like climate change and the obliteration of the food web has now gauged this threat perfectly as a world altering pandemic. And, it’s most certainly not potentially an economic false flag to hide the fact the economy has been on the brink of a collapse since 2008 and only through massive injections of central banking money in the form of quantitative easing and supplying massive funds to REPO markets, along with self-cannibalizing corporate stock buybacks that it was able to stay upright this long. And, no, it’s not a broken corrupt financial system along with a capitalist economic system in whole that’s incompatible with life on earth that is the issue; rather it’s that damn deadly virus. If it wasn’t for that virus, the financial markets would be normal right now.

It’s also odd how the corporate media so rarely talks about how unsustainable this way of life is and continuously downplays environmental threats but in no time at all this ever so deadly coronavirus threat makes headlines internationally. Funny irregularities, and I probably should dismiss them as kooky conspiracy theory. It’s not like bankers, billionaires, politicians, and those who own all the media outlets ever talk to each other for mutual benefit or anything. Because, yeah, we’re talking about good folk on the up and up here who have historically never lied to the public for their own self serving reasons.

As for our collective health and the health of financial markets, I guess we’ll soon see if it’s a blip or maybe it’s the start of something more insidious. Time will tell.

But if you don’t hear from me again, I’ll see ya on the flip side. I’ll stay strong for you, my peeps.

I’ve Been Infected With Coronavirus!

I was just informed I have cornavirus!

You can imagine how I felt when I was informed, and when the doctor told me I only had a 97% chance of living, I admit it, I’m a strong supple male, but I broke down in tears for a while upon hearing the news.

But actually the odds of living are usually much better. Based on age and other factors the risk is probably way less than 1%, and I might even return to normal next week, but still, a whole week of being sick? I was horrified.

They are in the process of shutting down the town I’m in and thank god. I’d hate it if this spread everywhere and we’d all have to take a week off while sick. I was a fool for taking this lightly.

And it’s a good thing the economy is reacting properly to this awful threat, which at present the Dow is down a couple thousand points in just this week. And, it’s really amazing how an economy that ignores huge other threats like climate change and the obliteration of the food web has now gauged this threat perfectly as a world altering pandemic. And, it’s most certainly not potentially an economic false flag to hide the fact the economy has been on the brink of a collapse since 2008 and only through massive injections of central banking money in the form of quantitative easing and supplying massive funds to REPO markets, along with self-cannibalizing corporate stock buybacks that it was able to stay upright this long. And, no, it’s not a broken corrupt financial system along with a capitalist economic system in whole that’s incompatible with life on earth that is the issue; rather it’s that damn deadly virus. If it wasn’t for that virus, the financial markets would be normal right now.

It’s also odd how the corporate media so rarely talks about how unsustainable this way of life is and continuously downplays environmental threats but in no time at all this ever so deadly coronavirus threat makes headlines internationally. Funny irregularities, and I probably should dismiss them as kooky conspiracy theory. It’s not like bankers, billionaires, politicians, and those who own all the media outlets ever talk to each other for mutual benefit or anything. Because, yeah, we’re talking about good folk on the up and up here who have historically never lied to the public for their own self serving reasons.

As for our collective health and the health of financial markets, I guess we’ll soon see if it’s a blip or maybe it’s the start of something more insidious. Time will tell.

But if you don’t hear from me again, I’ll see ya on the flip side. I’ll stay strong for you, my peeps.

The Threat of a Russia-Turkey-NATO Hot War Over Idlib is a Godsend for US Foreign Policy

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Turkey is calling for NATO’s protection after 33 of its soldiers were killed in an apparent Syrian airstrike in Idlib, allegedly while fighting in terrorist ranks. In the regional chaos that ensues, only one player stands to gain.

Speculation over what’s to come next has seen #article 5 trending on Twitter in the hours following the attacks, after Omer Celik, spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AKP party, indicated to reporters in Ankara that he was looking at requesting formal NATO protection against Damascus and, by proxy, the Russian air force.

“We call on NATO to [start] consultations. This is not [an attack] on Turkey only, it is an attack on the international community. A common reaction is needed. The attack was also against NATO,” Celik told Turkish media.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty says an attack on one member is an attack on them all.

The US State Department also condemned the attack, stating that it stands by its “NATO ally Turkey.” It further stated that it continues to “call for an immediate end to this despicable offensive by the Assad regime, Russia and Iranian-backed forces.” Never one to let us down, the US envoy to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson also told journalists that “everything is on the table.”

However, it is unclear if NATO has the stamina to back Turkey in any meaningful way in a war against a Syrian government which is backed by Russian air power. It is also unclear if Article 5 extends to NATO allies when they have effectively invaded a foreign entity. In fact, even if no corporate media entity would willingly admit it, the nation defending itself in this specific set of facts is Syria – not Turkey.

That being said, Ankara has found a way to ensure that European nations do not flat-out ignore the situation. Just recently, Turkey reportedly opened up the Idlib border to allow an influx of Syrian refugees to flee to Europe, which will surely magnify regional tensions to a significant extent.

Moscow has responded to the situation by highlighting Ankara’s relationship with the various jihadist entities in Syria. According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, the airstrike was carried out when the Syrian Army was repelling an offensive by Syria’s official al-Qaeda offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, inside the Idlib “de-escalation zone.” Of course, anyone who has been paying attention to the war in Syria can appreciate that Ankara’s material and financial support for terrorist groups in Syria, including and especially Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), has long been documented.

Whether a hot war is on the table or not, the current situation is almost ripe for the United States foreign policy establishment, which has been dreaming of putting Russia and Turkey on a collision course for a while now. If you doubt this, you need only look to this final paragraph of a recent Guardian article:

“Kay Bailey Hutchison, the US ambassador to Nato, said Thursday’s events should show Turkey “who is their reliable partner and who isn’t” and prompt it to drop its purchase of a major Russian missile defence system, which Washington says threatens the western alliance.” [emphasis added]

The US has been seriously troubled by Turkey’s move to procure Russia’s S-400 missile system. Washington is also concerned by Turkey’s desire to join the China-Russia dominated Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), which could see Turkey in an alliance with not only Russia and China, but Iran as well.

The US is willing to back Turkey into a corner in which it finds itself confronting Russia, with or without the full support of the NATO alliance, if it means that what was looking like a budding fruitful relationship between Ankara and Moscow will fall completely apart.

On the other hand, Moscow, a key ally of the Syrian government, is unlikely to stand by while Turkey insists on invading Syrian territory and defending the various jihadist groups which have wreaked havoc in Syria for close to a decade.

Perhaps this is what Donald Trump was hinting at when he recently said he would pass the fight against IS over to Iraq, Syria, Iran and Russia while he focused on maintaining control of oil and resources. The US can sit on the sidelines and watch other nations fight among themselves, while the US concentrates on the spoils of war.

The divide-and-conquer strategy of the American empire is still alive and well. Given the risk of a heightened conflict involving a NATO member who holds a significant stock of US nukes, one can only hope that cooler heads will prevail and avert the ignition of such a regional powder keg. 

Reprinted with permission from RT.

Israel’s Moral Culpability

Four ethical theories — Kantian, utilitarian, virtue-based, and religious — demonstrate the lack of moral foundation in the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and especially in Trump’s “deal of the century”. In my previous article I discussed Kantian and utilitarian moral theories, and in the following I cover the virtue-based and religious theories as they apply to the occupation.

The theory of virtue ethics, whose greatest advocate is still Aristotle, says that an act is moral if it is performed as a result of having a virtuous character. Virtue ethics is not primarily about codifying and applying moral principles, but developing the character from which moral actions arise. In this context, the Israeli occupation, which Trump’s “deal of the century” effectively perpetuates, while having a major adverse effect on the Palestinians, also has a morally corrupting influence on Israelis, themselves, and massive adverse repercussions on Israel’s moral standing.

Virtue ethics recognizes the importance of acquiring the habit to act ethically which involves moral upbringing; as Aristotle is to have said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” The occupation is not educating Israeli youth towards moral virtues, but hardening their hearts as they can live with regular prejudices, discrimination, and dehumanization against the Palestinians.

As such, the occupation fails to meet the principles of virtue ethics because it creates an environment which degrades the moral substance of the Israelis, themselves. As a result, they continue to commit transgressions against the Palestinians without any sense of moral culpability.

One might argue from a certain Israeli perspective (i.e. the settlement movement) that the occupation engenders virtues such as national solidarity, social cohesiveness, loyalty, courage, and perseverance. While this may appear to be true on the surface, the occupation is, in fact, tearing the Israelis’ social and political fabric apart and undermining the conditions under which moral virtues such as caring, compassion, and magnanimity can grow and thrive.

Moreover, the longer the occupation persists, the greater the damage is to Israel’s moral character, and Israel will become increasingly disposed to compromising its fundamental values and ideals as a democracy committed to human rights.

Finally, we need to consider the religious moral theory, which says morality is acting in accordance with what divinity commands from us. In this regard, there are two basic theories, both of which can be traced back to Plato’s Euthyphro where Socrates raises the question: “…whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.”

The first is the divine command theory, which states that what makes an action moral or right is the fact that God commands it and nothing else. The second theory, defended by Socrates, is that God commands us to do what is right because it is the right thing to do. In other words, morality precedes God’s will and is irreducible to divine command.

In the context of this ancient debate, the usurpation and annexation of Palestinian land may appear to be defensible on the basis of the divine command theory because if God requires us to perform any set of actions, then by definition it would be the moral thing to do.

Many orthodox Jews hold to the divine command theory, as they interpret the concept of “mitzvah” (good deed) first and foremost as “command,” the goodness of which cannot even be contemplated apart from the fact that this is what God has commanded us to do.

As such, those who take the Bible as the revelation of God’s commands use it to justify the concept of Greater Israel. As a result, they view the Palestinian presence as an impediment God placed before them to test their resolve. Therefore, their harsh treatment of the Palestinians becomes morally permissible because it is consistent with divine decree.

By adopting the command theory, they are ascribing to a position which has and continues to be used to justify acts which are blatantly immoral. The defender of this theory may counter that because God is good, he does not command anything which is immoral.

However, this argument is hollow because if morality is simply what God approves of, to say that God is good is merely to assert that he approves of himself and his own will. In this case, there is still no safeguard against the extremists who use the command theory to justify even the most heinous crimes. Furthermore, if the command in question satisfies a deep-seated psychological need — say, for a God-given Jewish homeland — then what humans ascribe to God eventually becomes ‘the will of God.’

Another problem with the divine command theory is that, as the philosopher Gottfried Leibniz observed, it turns God into a kind of Tyrant unworthy of our love and devotion: “For why praise him for what he has done, if he would be equally praiseworthy for doing just the opposite?”

Turning to the theory that God commands us to do the good because it is good, what becomes clear is that any action must derive its moral worth independently of God’s will. In that case, the Israeli policy toward the Palestinians will have to be morally justifiable without reference to some divine mandate. We have already examined, however briefly, Israel’s policy in light of deontology, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics, and found that it comes up short and fails to meet the basic requirement of these theories. Therefore, it lacks independent moral justification on which God’s commands could possibly be based.

Israel’s perpetual occupation, as Trump’s plan will certainly lead to, cannot be defended on moral grounds or in terms of national security. Israel can defend itself and prevail over any of its enemies now and in the foreseeable future, but it is drowning in moral corruption that the continued occupation only deepens. It is that — the enemy from within — that poses the greatest danger Israel faces.

• Read Part One here

Toxic Agriculture and the Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was launched in 2000 and has $46.8 billion in assets (December 2018). It is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. One of the foundation’s stated goals is to globally enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty.

The Gates Foundation is a major funder of the CGIAR system (formerly the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) — a global partnership whose stated aim is to strive for a food-secured future. Its research is aimed at reducing rural poverty, increasing food security, improving human health and nutrition and ensuring sustainable management of natural resources.

In 2016, the Gates Foundation was accused of dangerously and unaccountably distorting the direction of international development. The charges were laid out in a report by Global Justice Now: ‘Gated Development – Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?‘ According to the report, the foundation’s strategy is based on deepening the role of multinational companies in the Global South.

On release of the report, Polly Jones, the head of campaigns and policy at Global Justice Now, said:

The Gates Foundation has rapidly become the most influential actor in the world of global health and agricultural policies, but there’s no oversight or accountability in how that influence is managed.

She added that this concentration of power and influence is even more problematic when you consider that the philanthropic vision of the Gates Foundation seems to be largely based on the values of ‘corporate America’:

The foundation is relentlessly promoting big business-based initiatives such as industrial agriculture, private health care and education. But these are all potentially exacerbating the problems of poverty and lack of access to basic resources that the foundation is supposed to be alleviating.

The report’s author, Mark Curtis, outlines the foundation’s promotion of industrial agriculture across Africa, which would undermine existing sustainable, small-scale farming that is providing the vast majority of food across the continent.

Curtis describes how the foundation is working with US agri-commodity trader Cargill in an $8 million project to “develop the soya value chain” in southern Africa. Cargill is the biggest global player in the production of and trade in soya with heavy investments in South America where GM soya monocrops (and associated agrochemicals) have displaced rural populations and caused health problems and environmental damage.

According to Curtis, the Gates-funded project will likely enable Cargill to capture a hitherto untapped African soya market and eventually introduce GM soya onto the continent. The Gates foundation is also supporting projects involving other chemical and seed corporations, including DuPont, Syngenta and Bayer. It is effectively promoting a model of industrial agriculture, the increasing use of agrochemicals and patented seeds, the privatisation of extension services and a very large focus on genetically modified crops.

What the Gates Foundation is doing is part of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, which is based on the premise that hunger and malnutrition in Africa are mainly the result of a lack of technology and functioning markets. Curtis says AGRA has been intervening directly in the formulation of African governments’ agricultural policies on issues like seeds and land, opening up African markets to US agribusiness.

More than 80% of Africa’s seed supply comes from millions of small-scale farmers recycling and exchanging seed from year to year. But AGRA is promoting the commercial production of seed and is thus supporting the introduction of commercial (chemical-dependent) seed systems, which risk enabling a few large companies to control seed research and development, production and distribution.

The report notes that over the past two decades a long and slow process of national seed law reviews, sponsored by USAID and the G8 along with Bill Gates and others, has opened the door to multinational corporations’ involvement in seed production, including the acquisition of every sizeable seed enterprise on the African continent.

Gates, pesticides and global health

The Gates Foundation is also very active in the area of health, which is ironic given its promotion of industrial agriculture and its reliance on health-damaging agrochemicals. This is something that has not been lost on environmentalist Dr Rosemary Mason.

Mason notes that the Gates Foundation is a heavy pusher of agrochemicals and patented seeds. She adds that the Gates Foundation is also reported to be collaborating in Bayer’s promotion of “new chemical approaches” and “biological crop protection” (i.e. encouraging agrochemical sales and GM crops) in the Global South.

After having read the recent ‘A Future for the World’s Children? A WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission’, Mason noticed that pesticides were conspicuous by their absence and therefore decided to write to Professor Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health, who is the lead author of the report.

In her open 19-page letter, ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’, she notes in the Costello-led report that there is much talk about greater regulation of marketing of tobacco, alcohol, formula milk and sugar-sweetened beverages but no mention of pesticides.

But perhaps this should come as little surprise: some 42 authors’ names are attached to the report and Mason says that in one way or another via the organisations they belong to, many (if not most) have received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is a prominent funder of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. Gates has been the largest or second largest contributor to the WHO’s budget in recent years. His foundation provided 11% of the WHO’s entire budget in 2015, which is 14 times greater than the UK government’s contribution.

Perhaps this sheds some light on to why a major report on child health would omit the effects of pesticides. Mason implies this is a serious omission given what the UN expert on toxics  Baskut Tuncak said in a November 2017 article in the Guardian:

Our children are growing up exposed to a toxic cocktail of weedkillers, insecticides, and fungicides. It’s on their food and in their water, and it’s even doused over their parks and playgrounds. Many governments insist that our standards of protection from these pesticides are strong enough. But as a scientist and a lawyer who specialises in chemicals and their potential impact on people’s fundamental rights, I beg to differ. Last month it was revealed that in recommending that glyphosate – the world’s most widely-used pesticide – was safe, the EU’s food safety watchdog copied and pasted pages of a report directly from Monsanto, the pesticide’s manufacturer. Revelations like these are simply shocking.

Mason notes that in February 2020, Tuncak rejected the idea that the risks posed by highly hazardous pesticides could be managed safely. He told Unearthed (GreenPeace UK’s journalism website) that there is nothing sustainable about the widespread use of highly hazardous pesticides for agriculture. Whether they poison workers, extinguish biodiversity, persist in the environment or accumulate in a mother’s breast milk, Tuncak argued that these are unsustainable, cannot be used safely and should have been phased out of use long ago.

In his 2017 article, he stated:

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified international human rights treaty in the world (only the US is not a party), makes it clear that states have an explicit obligation to protect children from exposure to toxic chemicals, from contaminated food and polluted water, and to ensure that every child can realise their right to the highest attainable standard of health. These and many other rights of the child are abused by the current pesticide regime. These chemicals are everywhere and they are invisible.

Tuncak added that paediatricians have referred to childhood exposure to pesticides as creating a “silent pandemic” of disease and disability. He noted that exposure in pregnancy and childhood is linked to birth defects, diabetes, and cancer and stated that children are particularly vulnerable to these toxic chemicals: increasing evidence shows that even at ‘low’ doses of childhood exposure, irreversible health impacts can result.

He concluded that the overwhelming reliance of regulators on industry-funded studies, the exclusion of independent science from assessments and the confidentiality of studies relied upon by authorities must change.

However, it seems that the profits of agrochemical manufacturers trump the rights of  children and the public at large: a joint investigation by Unearthed and the NGO Public Eye has found the world’s five biggest pesticide manufacturers are making more than a third of their income from leading products, chemicals that pose serious hazards to human health and the environment.

Mason refers to an analysis of a huge database of 2018’s top-selling ‘crop protection products’ which revealed the world’s leading agrochemical companies made more than 35% of their sales from pesticides classed as “highly hazardous” to people, animals or ecosystems. The investigation identified billions of dollars of income for agrochemical giants BASF, Bayer, Corteva, FMC and Syngenta from chemicals found by regulatory authorities to pose health hazards like cancer or reproductive failure.

This investigation is based on an analysis of a huge dataset of pesticide sales from the agribusiness intelligence company Phillips McDougall. This firm conducts detailed market research all over the world and sells databases and intelligence to pesticide companies. The data covers around 40% of the $57.6bn global market for agricultural pesticides in 2018. It focuses on 43 countries, which between them represent more than 90% of the global pesticide market by value.

While Bill Gates promotes a chemical-intensive model of agriculture that dovetails with the needs and value chains of agri-food conglomerates, Mason outlines the spiraling rates of disease in the UK and the US and lays the blame at the door of the agrochemical corporations that Gates has opted to get into bed with. She focuses on the impact of glyphosate-based herbicides as well as the cocktail of chemicals sprayed on crops.

Mason has discussed the health-related impacts of glyphosate in numerous previous reports and in her open letter to Costello again refers to peer-reviewed studies and official statistics which indicate that glyphosate affects the gut microbiome and is responsible for a global metabolic health crisis provoked by an obesity epidemic. Moreover, she presents evidence that glyphosate causes epigenetic changes in humans and animals – diseases skip a generation then appear.

However, the mainstream narrative is to blame individuals for their ailments and conditions which are said to result from ‘lifestyle choices’. Yet Monsanto’s German owner Bayer has confirmed that more than 42,700 people have filed suits against Monsanto alleging that exposure to Roundup herbicide caused them or their loved ones to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that Monsanto covered up the risks.

Mason says that each year there are steady increases in the numbers of new cancers and increases in deaths from the same cancers, with no treatments making any difference to the numbers; at the same time, she argues, these treatments maximise the bottom line of the drug companies while the impacts of agrochemicals remains conspicuously absent from the disease narrative.

She states that we are exposed to a lifetime’s exposure to thousands of synthetic chemicals that contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested – “a global mass poisoning.”

Gates Foundation in perspective

As part of its hegemonic strategy, the Gates Foundation says it wants to ensure global food security and optimise health and nutrition.

However, Rosemary Mason alludes to the fact that the Gates Foundation seems happy to ignore the deleterious health impacts of agrochemicals while promoting the interests of the firms that produce them, but it facilitates many health programmes that help boost the bottom line of drug companies.  Health and health programmes seem only to be defined with certain parameters which facilitate the selling of the products of the major pharmaceutical companies which the foundation partners with. Indeed, researcher Jacob Levich argues that the Gates Foundation not merely facilitates unethical low-cost clinical trials (with often devastating effects for participants) in the Global South but also assists in the creating new markets for the “dubious” products of pharmaceuticals corporations.

As for food security, the foundation would do better by supporting agroecological  (agrochemical-free) approaches to agriculture, which various high-level UN reports have advocated for ensuring equitable global food security. But this would leave smallholder agriculture both intact and independent from Western agro-capital, something which runs counter to the underlying aims of the corporations that the foundation supports – dispossession and market dependency.

And these aims have been part of a decades-long strategy where we have seen the strengthening of an emerging global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping linked to sovereign debt repayment and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives. The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the consolidation of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of many countries from food self-sufficiency into food deficit areas.

While Bill Gates is busy supporting the consolidation of Western agro-capital in Africa under the guise of ensuring ‘food security’, it is very convenient for him to ignore the fact that at the time of decolonisation in the 1960s Africa was not just self-sufficient in food but was actually a net food exporter with exports averaging 1.3 million tons a year between 1966-70. The continent now imports 25% of its food, with almost every country being a net food importer. More generally, developing countries produced a billion-dollar yearly surplus in the 1970s but by 2004 were importing US$ 11 billion a year.

The Gates Foundation promotes a (heavily subsidised and inefficient – certainly when the externalised health, social and environment costs are factored in) corporate-industrial farming system and the strengthening of a global neoliberal, fossil-fuel-dependent food regime that by its very nature fuels and thrives on, among other things, unjust trade policies, population displacement and land dispossession (something which the Gates Foundation once called for but euphemistically termed “land mobility”), commodity monocropping, soil and environmental degradation, illness, nutrient-deficient diets, a narrowing of the range of food crops, water shortages, pollution and the eradication of biodiversity.

At the same time, the foundation is helping powerful corporate interests to appropriate and commodify knowledge. For instance, since 2003, CGIAR (mentioned at the start of this article) and its 15 centres have received more than $720 million from the Gates Foundation. In a June 2016 article in The Asian Age, Vandana Shiva says the centres are accelerating the transfer of research and seeds to corporations, facilitating intellectual property piracy and seed monopolies created through IP laws and seed regulations.

Besides taking control of the seeds of farmers in CGIAR seed banks, Shiva adds that the Gates Foundation (along with the Rockefeller Foundation) is investing heavily in collecting seeds from across the world and storing them in a facility in Svalbard in the Arctic — the ‘doomsday vault’.

The foundation is also funding Diversity Seek (DivSeek), a global initiative to take patents on the seed collections through genomic mapping. Seven million crop accessions are in public seed banks.

Shiva says that DivSeek could allow five corporations to own this diversity and argues:

Today, biopiracy is carried out through the convergence of information technology and biotechnology. It is done by taking patents by ‘mapping’ genomes and genome sequences… DivSeek is a global project launched in 2015 to map the genetic data of the peasant diversity of seeds held in gene banks. It robs the peasants of their seeds and knowledge, it robs the seed of its integrity and diversity, its evolutionary history, its link to the soil and reduces it to ‘code’. It is an extractive project to ‘mine’ the data in the seed to ‘censor’ out the commons.

She notes that the peasants who evolved this diversity have no place in DivSeek — their knowledge is being mined and not recognised, honoured or conserved: an enclosure of the genetic commons.

This process is the very foundation of capitalism – appropriation of the commons (seeds, water, knowledge, land, etc.), which are then made artificially scarce and transformed into marketable commodities.

The Gates Foundation talks about health but facilitates the roll-out of a toxic form of agriculture whose agrochemicals cause immense damage. It talks of alleviating poverty and malnutrition and tackling food insecurity but it bolsters an inherently unjust global food regime which is responsible for perpetuating food insecurity, population displacement, land dispossession, privatisation of the commons and neoliberal policies that remove support from the vulnerable and marginalised, while providing lavish subsidies to corporations.

The Gates Foundation is part of the problem, not the solution. To more fully appreciate this, let us turn to a February 2020 article in the journal Globalizations. Its author, Ashok Kumbamu, argues that the ultimate aim of promoting new technologies – whether GM seeds, agrochemicals or commodified knowledge — on a colossal scale is to make agricultural inputs and outputs essential commodities, create dependency and bring all farming operations into the capitalist fold.

To properly understand Bill Gates’s ‘philanthropy’ is not to take stated goals and objectives at face value but to regard his ideology as an attempt to manufacture consent and prevent and marginalise more radical agrarian change that would challenge prevailing power structures and act as impediments to capitalist interests. The foundation’s activities must be located within the hegemonic and dispossessive strategies of imperialism: displacement of the peasantry and subjugating those who remain in agriculture to the needs of global distribution and supply chains dominated by the Western agri-food conglomerates whose interests the Gates Foundation facilitates and legitimises.

The full text of Rosemary Mason’s 19-page document (with relevant references) — ‘Why Don’t Pesticides Feature in the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission?’ — can be accessed via the academia.edu website)  

Julian Assange, the Glass Cage and Heaven in a Rage: Day Four of Extradition Hearings

Thursday, February 27, Woolwich Crown Court.  The first round of extradition hearings regarding Julian Assange’s case concluded a day early, to recommence on May 18th.  It ended on an insensible note very much in keeping with the woolly-headed reasoning of Judge Vanessa Baraitser, who is of the view that a WikiLeaks publisher in a cage does not put all heaven in a rage.  On Wednesday, Assange’s defence had requested whether he would be able to leave the confines of his glass cage and join his legal team. As Assange had explained in response to his nodding off during proceedings, “I cannot meaningfully communicate with my lawyers.”  There was little point in “asking” if he could follow proceedings without enabling his participation.

This was not a point that fell on reasonable ears.  The judge felt it came too close to a bail application, and was initially refused as posing a potential risk to the public.  Gibberish was duly thrown at counsel for both sides, with “health and safety”, “risk assessment” and “up to Group 4” featuring as meaningless terms on the obvious: that Assange could pose no threat whatsoever, as he would be in the continuous company of security guards.  As former UK diplomat Craig Murray observed, “She started to resemble something worse than a Dalek, a particularly stupid local government officer of a very low grade.”

According to the judge, to permit such a measure of access between Assange and his team effectively constituted a departure from court custody, a striking nonsense of Dickensian dimensions.  Not even the prosecution felt it unreasonable, suggesting that one need not be so “technical” in granting such applications.

Thursday’s proceedings reaffirmed Judge Baraitser’s stubborn position.  Her first gesture was to permit Assange a pair of headphones to better enable him to hear the proceedings, followed by a brief adjournment to see if his hearing had, in fact, improved.  Assange was unimpressed, removing them after 30 minutes.

Her stretched reasoning found Assange sufficiently accessible to his lawyers despite his glassed surrounds; he could still communicate with them via notes passed through the barrier.  “It is quite apparent over the past four days that you have had no difficulty communicating with your legal team.”  The judge was willing to permit Assange a later start in proceedings to enable a meeting with the legal team and adjourn should the defence wish to meet their client in a holding cell.

That so complex a case as extradition can be reduced to sporadic notes passed to legal counsel and staggered adjournments suggests the continued hobbling of the defence by the authorities. Its invidiousness lies in how seemingly oblivious the judicial mind is to the scope of the case, complexity reduced to a matter of meetings, small points of procedure and law.

The defence team submitted that the process of consultation suggested by the judge unduly prolonged proceedings, rendering them cumbersome and insensible.  The court might have to adjourn ever three minutes for a 20-minute break.  To constantly take Assange to and from his holding cell  would unnecessarily lengthen proceedings and complicate matters.  Judge Baraitser was dismissive of such argument, claiming that the defence was merely exaggerating.

The legal issues discussed on the fourth day centred on quibbling over the issue of espionage and its nexus with political activity.  Espionage, suggested James Lewis QC for the US-driven prosecution, need not be political.  Nor did it seem that Assange was intent on bringing down the US government.  “It can’t possibly be said that there is a political struggle in existence between the American government and opposing factions.”

Lewis, as has been  his approach from the start, preferred a more restrictive interpretation about what a “political” offence might be, notably in connection with extradition.  “Extradition is based on conduct, it is not anymore based on the names of offences.”  In a rather crude, end-of-history line of thought, Lewis argued that political offences were “dated” matters, hardly applicable to modern societies which no longer see dissidents upholding the values of liberal democracy. (It seems that the tree of liberty, according to the US prosecution, no longer needs urgent refreshment.)

Besides, argued Lewis, the court did “not need to resolve these issues, but they demonstrate that any bare assertion that Wikileaks was engaged in a struggle with the US government was in opposition to it or was seeking to bring about a policy change would need to be examined far more closely.”

That is exactly what the defence contended.  Assange’s core activities in publishing had been based on altering US policy, with Iraq and Afghanistan being key theatres.  “Why was he seeking to publish the rules of engagement?”, posed the defence.  “They were published to show that war crimes were being committed, to show they breached their own rules of engagement.”  Ditto the publication of the Guantanamo files, an act done to reveal the extent of torture being undertaken during the course of the “war on terror”.  All these, contended Edward Fitzgerald QC for the defence, did change government policy. “WikiLeaks didn’t just seek to induce change, it did induce change.”

The documentary record on Assange’s political activity in this regard is thick, much of it from the contentions of US officials themselves.  The US State Department preferred to see him, as former spokesman PJ Crowley did in 2010, a “political actor” with “a political agenda”, rather than being a journalist.

Incidentally, Crowley’s link with WikiLeaks has a curious end, with his resignation in 2011 following comments made about the treatment of Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning at the Quantico marine base in Virginia.  “What is being done to Bradley Manning,” he claimed at an MIT seminar that March, “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid on the part of the department of defence.”  Not an entirely bad egg, then.

A Difficult Peace

Nearly a thousand of us were gathered in Chicago beneath the alarming edifice of Chicago’s “Trump Tower.” Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani had been brutally murdered the day before in Iraq, with several of his associates; and the welcome surprise of Iran’s relatively measured response was yet a few days off.  A region-wide conflagration seemed just on the verge of engulfing perhaps millions of lives, and consuming, as well, much of the species’ remaining time and attention needed to face our direst threats: with the new war we could fear continued paralysis in the face of an unfolding climate collapse, a terrifying new Cold War (now with hypersonic missiles), and a global far-right resurgence driven by shocking inequality and violence.

I’d been to Iran a year before with Voices’ Sarah Ball on a CODEPINK delegation and, addressing the crowd, I thought of how little attention Trump’s worst crimes, his war crimes, now receive from his critics in both parties.  I wondered aloud if the right-wing trend that had made Trump commander-in-chief was not, as is often argued, a backlash by the poorest Americans against the same kind of contemptuous disregard that American power also shows for the dignity and safety of the people of Iran.

Tragically, in its “forever wars” the United States consistently denounces authoritarianism and religiosity among the world’s poorest, but only as an excuse to violently drive the people of those countries even further from security, democracy, and peace. The U.S. condemns the global poor it claims so ardently to wish to protect, too frequently as a shallow pretext for military and economic subjugation.  Americans, correct to denounce Iran’s theocratic regime, ignore what Iranians are quick to recognize, that Iran’s worst enemy remains not its own government, but that of the United States.

On our first day in Tehran, reformist foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with us and quipped that Iran veers rightwards whenever the war-hawk John Bolton is anywhere near the levers of U.S. power.  Today the White House would seem to have moved to the right of its stance under Bolton, while Trump’s enemies in both parties alarmingly hail Bolton as an ally in their quest to encircle Russia — Iran’s largest ally.  Predictably, if tragically, this past Friday, religious hardliners swept Iran’s parliamentary elections, with help from a Tehran regime secure as never before in the knowledge that, with U.S. hardliners rampant, Iranians have nowhere else to turn.  Iran’s brave dissidents generally rush to reject all expressions of support from U.S. leaders, hastening to agree on one point only with the many Iranians who support the theocracy: that the United States (along with its Saudi and Israeli cats paws) remains the worst threat which Iranians must face.

There is no reason for U.S. voters to suppose that their government’s hostility towards Iran is aimed at realizing anyone’s human rights.  Staunch U.S. support for the brutal Saudi dictatorship puts the lie to any such claim. Iran’s military support for its regional allies is massively dwarfed in destructive impact by the Saudi role, directly and through proxies, in bloodily destabilizing the region.  The U.S.’ own 2003 invasion of Iraq remains the century’s worst human rights violation (if the Saudis’ U.S.-backed, famine-assisted war in Yemen doesn’t catch it up).  An untold number of Iranians facing dire economic hardship were recently gunned down protesting the greed (perhaps more than the strict religion) of Iran’s clerical oligarchs; but the U.S. had, through its crushing sanctions, imposed this hardship deliberately and with the stated intent of callously forcing Iranians to topple the regime for them.

The idea that a U.S.-driven regime change, either through sanctions or through war, might somehow democratize Iran is popular in the U.S., but it’s a prospect for which few Iranians would ever want to vote.  Social scientists place Iran among Earth’s most nationalistic countries, with many in Iran acutely aware of the U.S.-driven coup which crushed Iran’s stubborn bid for secular democracy in 1953. The Islamism which revolutionary Iran adopted in 1979 was widely considered an anti-colonialist necessity, a “return to ourselves” required to resist further U.S. cooptation and violence. Today, Iranians well note that U.S. leaders’ regime-change plans tend to involve installing, as Iran’s ‘democratic’ rulers, Iran’s most feared terror group, the “Mojahedin-e Khalq”. In 1988, during the Iran-Iraq war, the cult-like “MEK” actually invaded Iran, on Iraq’s behalf, from Iraqi soil, and with air cover from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Outside Tehran I visited the chief graveyard of that war, resting place for hundreds of thousands.  It’s an odd definition of “democracy” under which we hope to impose, through war, the would-be leaders Iranians fear most.

US Den of Espionage Museum, Tehran

We gathered at a terrible moment this winter beneath the unsightly bulk of Chicago’s Trump Tower, but far more ominous threats loom on our horizon, whether a U.S. war on Iran can be averted or not.  Our forever wars, nightmarish enough in themselves, should terrify us for the truly existential crises they prevent us from addressing.  Trump’s worst crimes are his war crimes, and both of the U.S.’ political parties seem focused on urging Trump towards more war, not less. No mere election but a grassroots movement of never-before-witnessed scope would seem needed to turn our government, in this late hour, away from empire and towards the goal of human survival. But to succeed, that movement will need to involve and empower the bases of both parties, including many of Trump’s voters who it would seem easier to simply dismiss and denounce.

When the U.S. settles for condemning Iran, it drives Iran and the world even further towards dictatorship and annihilatory violence. The most urgent threats facing our species aren’t enemies, like a country or a political party, that we can simply defeat, at however unacceptable a cost, but existential deadlines implicit in our nation’s own wealth and frightened arrogance, deadlines we can’t meet without our “enemies'” freely offered assistance. The path we must follow within the U.S. seems also to be the sole survivable path the U.S. has left that it can follow abroad – to somehow redress those of our neighbors’ real grievances to which their undeniable failings should never have blinded us; to build a movement for species survival which no-one will join if we won’t share our wealth and our power; and to empower those who, like Iran, we’re most inclined to condemn – in the desperate hope of forging a difficult peace.