All posts by Rick Sterling

How Russiagate replaced Analysis of the 2016 Election

An honest and accurate analysis of the 2016 election is not just an academic exercise. It is very relevant to the current election campaign. Yet over the past two years, Russiagate has dominated media and political debate and largely replaced a serious analysis of the factors leading to Trump’s victory. The public has been flooded with the various elements of the story that Russia intervened and Trump colluded with them. The latter accusation was negated by the Mueller Report but elements of the Democratic Party and media refuse to move on. Now it’s the lofty but vague accusations of “obstruction of justice” along with renewed dirt digging. To some it is a “constitutional crisis”, but to many it looks like more partisan fighting.

Russiagate has distracted from pressing issues

Russiagate has distracted attention and energy away from crucial and pressing issues such as income inequality, the housing and homeless crisis, inadequate healthcare, militarized police, over-priced college education, impossible student loans and deteriorating infrastructure. The tax structure was changed to benefit wealthy individuals and corporations with little opposition. The Trump administration has undermined environmental laws, civil rights, national parks and women’s equality while directing ever more money to military contractors. Working class Americans are struggling with rising living costs, low wages, student debt, and racism. They constitute the bulk of the military which is spread all over the world, sustaining continuing occupations in war zones including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and parts of Africa. While all this has been going on, the Democratic establishment and much of the media have been focused on Russiagate, the Mueller Report, and related issues.

Immediately after the 2016 Election

In the immediate wake of the 2016 election there was some forthright analysis. Bernie Sanders said, “What Trump did very effectively is tap the angst and the anger and the hurt and pain that millions of working class people are feeling. What he said is, ‘I Donald Trump am going to be a champion of the working class… I know you are working longer hours for lower wages, seeing your jobs going to China, can’t afford childcare, can’t afford to send your kids to college. I Donald Trump alone can solve these problems.’ …What you have is a guy who utilized the media, manipulated the media very well. He is an entertainer, he is a professional at that. But I will tell you that I think there needs to be a profound change in the way the Democratic Party does business. It is not good enough to have a liberal elite. I come from the white working class and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”

Days after the election, the Washington Post published an op-ed titled “Hillary Clinton Lost. Bernie Sanders could have won. We chose the wrong candidate.” The author analyzed the results saying, “Donald Trump’s stunning victory is less surprising when we remember a simple fact: Hillary Clinton is a deeply unpopular politician.” The writer analyzed why Sanders would have prevailed against Trump and predicted “there will be years of recriminations.”

Russiagate replaced Recrimination

But instead of analysis, the media and Democrats have emphasized foreign interference. There is an element of self-interest in this narrative. As reported in “Russian Roulette” (p127), when the Clinton team first learned that Wikileaks was going to release damaging Democratic National Party emails in June 2016, they “brought in outside consultants to plot a PR strategy for handling the news of the hack … the story would advance a narrative that benefited the Clinton campaign and the Democrats: The Russians were interfering in the US election, presumably to assist Trump.”

After losing the election, Team Clinton doubled down on this PR strategy. As described in the book Shattered (p. 395) the day after the election campaign managers assembled the communication team “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up and up …. they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”

This narrative has been remarkably effective in supplanting critical review of the election.

One Year After the Election

The Center for American Progress (CAP) was founded by John Podesta and is closely aligned with the Democratic Party. In November 2017 they produced an analysis titled  “Voter Trends in 2016: A Final Examination“. Interestingly, there is not a single reference to Russia. Key conclusions are that “it is critical for Democrats to attract more support from the white non-college-educated voting bloc” and “Democrats must go beyond the ‘identity politics’ versus ‘economic populism’ debate to create a genuine cross-racial, cross-class coalition …” It suggests that Wall Street has the same interests as Main Street and the working class.

A progressive team produced a very different analysis titled Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. They did this because “the (Democratic) party’s national leadership has shown scant interest in addressing many of the key factors that led to electoral disaster.” The report analyzes why the party turnout was less than expected and why traditional Democratic Party supporters are declining. It includes recommendations to end the party’s undemocratic practices, expand voting rights and counter voter suppression. The report contains details and specific recommendations lacking in the CAP report. It includes an overall analysis which says “The Democratic Party should disentangle itself – ideologically and financially – from Wall Street, the military-industrial complex and other corporate interests that put profits ahead of public needs.”

Two Years After the Election

In October 2018, the progressive team produced a follow-up report titled “Autopsy: One Year Later“.  It says, “The Democratic Party has implemented modest reforms, but corporate power continues to dominate the party.”

In a recent phone interview, the editor of that report, Norman Solomon, said it appears some in the Democratic Party establishment would rather lose the next election to Republicans than give up control of the party.

What really happened in 2016?

Beyond the initial critiques and “Autopsy” research, there has been little discussion, debate or lessons learned about the 2016 election. Politics has been dominated by Russiagate.

Why did so many working class voters switch from Obama to Trump? A major reason is because Hillary Clinton is associated with Wall Street and the economic policies of her husband President Bill Clinton. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), promoted by Bill Clinton, resulted in huge decline in manufacturing jobs in swing states such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Of course, this would influence their thinking and votes. Hillary Clinton’s support for the Trans Pacific Partnership was another indication of her policies.

What about the low turnout from the African American community? Again, the lack of enthusiasm is rooted in objective reality. Hillary Clinton is associated with “welfare reform” promoted by her husband. According to this study from the University of Michigan, “As of the beginning of 2011, about 1.46 million U.S. households with about 2.8 million children were surviving on $2 or less in income per person per day in a given month… The prevalence of extreme poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011. This growth has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.

Over the past several decades there has been a huge increase in prison incarceration due to increasingly strict punishments and mandatory prison sentences. Since the poor and working class have been the primary victims of welfare and criminal justice “reforms” initiated or sustained through the Clinton presidency, it’s understandable why they were not keen on Hillary Clinton. The notion that low turnout was due to African Americans being unduly influenced by Russian Facebook posts is seen as “bigoted paternalism” by blogger Teodrose Fikremanian who says,The corporate recorders at the NY Times would have us believe that the reason African-Americans did not uniformly vote for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats is because they were too dimwitted to think for themselves and were subsequently manipulated by foreign agents. This yellow press drivel is nothing more than propaganda that could have been written by George Wallace.”

How Clinton became the Nominee

Since the 2016 election there has been little public discussion of the process whereby Hillary Clinton became the Democratic Party nominee. It’s apparent she was pre-ordained by the Democratic Party elite. As exposed in the DNC emails, there was bias and violations of the party obligations at the highest levels. On top of that, it should now be clear that the pundits, pollsters and election experts were out of touch, made poor predictions and decisions.

Bernie Sanders would have been a much stronger candidate. He would have won the same party loyalists who voted for Clinton. His message attacking Wall Street would have resonated with significant sections of the working class and poor who were unenthusiastic (to say the least) about Clinton. An indication is that in critical swing states such as Wisconsin and Michigan Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race.

Clinton had no response for Trump’s attacks on multinational trade agreements and his false promises of serving the working class. Sanders would have had vastly more appeal to working class and minorities. His primary campaign showed his huge appeal to youth and third party voters. In short, it’s likely that Sanders would have trounced Trump. Where is the accountability for how Clinton ended up as the Democratic Party candidate?

The Relevance of 2016 to 2020

The 2016 election is highly relevant today. Already we see the same pattern of establishment bias and “horse race” journalism which focuses on fund-raising, polls and elite-biased “electability” instead of dealing with real issues, who has solutions, who has appeal to which groups.

Mainstream media and pundits are already promoting Joe Biden. Syndicated columnist EJ Dionne, a Democratic establishment favorite, is indicative. In his article “Can Biden be the helmsman who gets us past the storm?” Dionne speaks of the “strength he (Biden) brings” and the “comfort he creates”. In the same vein, Andrew Sullivan pushes Biden in his article “Why Joe Biden Might be the Best to Beat Trump“. Sullivan thinks that Biden has appeal in the working class because he joked about claims he is too ‘hands on’. But while Biden may be tight with AFL-CIO leadership, he is closely associated with highly unpopular neoliberal trade deals which have resulted in manufacturing decline.

The establishment bias for Biden is matched by the bias against Democratic Party candidates who directly challenge Wall Street and US foreign policy. On Wall Street, that would be Bernie Sanders. On foreign policy, that is Tulsi Gabbard. With a military background Tulsi Gabbard has broad appeal, an inclusive message and a uniquely sharp critique of US “regime change” foreign policy. She calls out media pundits like Fareed Zakaria for goading Trump to invade Venezuela. In contrast with Rachel Maddow taunting John Bolton and Mike Pompeo to be MORE aggressive, Tulsi Gabbard has been denouncing Trump’s collusion with Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Netanyahu, saying it’s not in US interests. Gabbard’s anti-interventionist anti-occupation perspective has significant support from US troops. A recent poll indicates that military families want complete withdrawal from Afghanistan and Syria. It seems conservatives have become more anti-war than liberals.

This points to another important yet under-discussed lesson from 2016: a factor in Trump’s victory was that he campaigned as an anti-war candidate against the hawkish Hillary Clinton. As pointed out here, “Donald Trump won more votes from communities with high military casualties than from similar communities which suffered fewer casualties.”

Instead of pointing out that Trump has betrayed his anti-war campaign promises, corporate media (and some Democratic Party outlets) seem to be undermining the candidate with the strongest anti-war message. An article at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) says, Corporate media target Gabbard for her Anti-Interventionism, a word they can barely pronounce.”

Russiagate has distracted most Democrats from analyzing how they lost in 2016. It has given them the dubious  belief that it was because of foreign interference. They have failed to analyze or take stock of the consequences of DNC bias, the preference for Wall Street over working class concerns, and the failure to challenge the military industrial complex and foreign policy based on ‘regime change’ interventions.

There needs to be more analysis and lessons learned from the 2016 election to avoid a repeat of that disaster. As indicated in the Autopsy, there needs to be a transparent and fair campaign for nominee based on more than establishment and Wall Street favoritism. There also needs to be consideration of which candidates reach beyond the partisan divide and can energize and advance the interests of the majority of Americans rather than the elite. The most crucial issues and especially US military and foreign policy need to be seriously debated.

Blaming an outside power is a good way to prevent self analysis and positive change. It’s gone on far too long.

Tulsi Gabbard Comes to San Francisco

I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

— Tulsi Gabbard

Introduction by Rick Sterling

Tulsi Gabbard visited the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend. The 3 term Congresswoman from Hawaii is 37 years old and ethnically diverse. Remarkably, she has 15 years military experience in the US Army and National Guard as well as substantial political experience. She was elected to the Hawaii State Assembly at age 21.

Tulsi Gabbard supports progressive domestic policy issues including criminal justice reform, healthcare-for-all, national and international steps to protect the environment. She has a high approval rating on gay issues.

What makes Gabbard really distinctive is her emphasis and approach to US foreign policy. While other candidates largely avoid the subject, Tulsi Gabbard says the issue is “central” to all other issues. She says we need to change the policy of “regime change wars” and “new cold war” with Russia and China. She advocates cooperation instead of conflict.

Gabbard said “We are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history.” She described the scare of an incoming nuclear missile attack which occurred in Hawaii last year. Even though the alert turned out to be false, the threat is real. “It should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.”

Tulsi Gabbard says that as a soldier in a medical unit she has seen the “costs of war” first hand. Thousands of US soldiers never made it home alive. Many others suffer visible and invisible wounds of war. Where the US has intervened or invaded, the people are worse off not better. The “costs of war” are trillions of dollars which should be spent at home.

Gabbard says the bad policies are the result of ‘self-serving politicians, greedy corporations and special interests.” She calls out the military industrial complex and decries the “powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long.”

No wonder there is so much misinformation and attacks on Gabbard. She is challenging the core policy of US exceptionalism and identifying who benefits and “who pays the price” for those policies.

Her 35 minute presentation at the University of San Francisco can be viewed here. Following is the text of her speech followed by her response to questions regarding Bernie Sanders, her religion and age.

Tulsi Gabbard Speaks, University of San Francisco / 16 March 2019

It’s tough sometimes when we see what is happening in our country. There are a lot of challenges that we’re facing and it’s heartbreaking to see in so many different ways how we are being torn apart as people, how our country is being divided, how that vision that our founders had for us as a country, as a united country with a government of, by and for the people has been lost. It’s heartbreaking to see how people are suffering.

Our family, our friends, our neighbors are dealing with things that we shouldn’t have to be dealing with in this country. We’re in a place where we have a government that is not of the people, by the people and for the people, but rather a government that is controlled and influenced by self serving politicians, greedy corporations and those special interests who can afford to buy their seat at the table as laws are being made.

Who pays the price? We do. Who suffers as a result? We do. Who is left behind? We are.

The place that we are in as a country right now is exactly counter to the vision that our founders had for this great country: where we have leaders elected by the people, who are of the people and for the people and whose sole interest and focus is on serving the interests of the people of this country, putting the well-being of our people, our planet, and our future at the forefront of those decisions that are being made. Instead, what we see is what’s happening in Washington where we have people who live in a bubble that is so disconnected from the reality that we are living in our lives across this country. And this corruption of spirit that’s casting a dark shadow over us is what we must defeat. There’s only one way to do that. And to me, this is why we’re gathered here today because we care. We care for each other. We care for our country, we care for our planet and our future. We want to do something about it, right?

YOU are why I am hopeful because gathering together in this spirit of  – what we in Hawaii call Aloha – is truly the answer of how we overcome the challenges that we face. Now, a lot of people know Aloha is a word that means hello or goodbye, right? Because this is how we greet each other in Hawaii. But there’s a reason why we start our conversations and our gatherings with this word Aloha because there is so much power in what it actually means. When we greet each other with Aloha and we gather in the spirit of Aloha, what we’re really saying is I love you, I care for you, I respect you, and I recognize that we are all brothers and sisters, we’re all children of God regardless of where we come from or the color of our skin, who we love, how much money we make or don’t make, what kind of education we have.

All of those things that are so often used to divide us, whether it’s by politicians or corporations or people in positions of power who pit one group of us against the other for their own gain, who tear us apart, raising fear and suspicions and fomenting bigotry between us for their own gain, without any care for the — the pain and the harm and the impact that it has on all of us. This Aloha spirit is what has the power to defeat that darkness with love and care for each other and that love for our country. It is this spirit of Aloha that unites us, that reminds us and inspires us about how we can build that path forward, that path that leads to a future that is bright, that is peaceful, that is prosperous, that provides that opportunity and justice and equality for every single one of us.

So we look throughout history, especially during those darkest moments and we see how we have found our way through. It has always been when we, the people, stand up and stand together, when we speak as one for what is right and what is just and for each other. And it is this time that we are in now that calls upon us to once again rise up and stand together knowing that when we do that, when we stand together, motivated by this care for each other, this love for our country, there is no obstacle that we cannot overcome.

The obstacles seem great and this is why sometimes it’s easy to feel disheartened and frustrated and to say how do we move forward? How can we ever overcome? Just a couple of weekends ago in the days leading up to the anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, I had a chance to go and walk on a civil rights pilgrimage led by congressman John Lewis, who was one of the youngest leaders of the civil rights movement at that time. And it was an incredible experience to hear directly from him as we walked through those steps where he and Dr. King and so many others were beaten and bloodied. They were called every name in the book. They were threatened, their very lives on the line as they worked for justice. They worked for equality. They worked for the right to vote to make sure that their voices were heard and it was heart wrenching to hear from him about what they went through. It was inspiring because of how they responded to that hatred and that darkness, how they responded to that physical violence that they endured, they did not respond to that hate with hate. As Dr. King said, they knew that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.

Their example and those wise words are what inspires us today. They show how we can bring about the real change that we need to see. How we can pass legislation like Medicare For All to make sure every single person has health-care.

How we can bring about real criminal justice reform.

How we can pass legislation that I’ve introduced to end the federal prohibition on marijuana. That will have an incredible impact on this country. In the press conference that we held as we were introducing this legislation, which is the only bipartisan piece of legislation to end the federal prohibition on marijuana in Congress, we had a few people there who shared their stories. We had small business owners and people who were working on providing medical marijuana to those who need it. We had researchers who are gathering evidence and data to say this is important to help impact people’s lives. We had people who are helping those who are fighting opioid addiction. We’re seeing every day how in places where medical marijuana is legal, opioid addiction is dropping, opioid related deaths are decreasing, and people who are going through very difficult problems are finally finding help.

We also had a guy named Harry from Virginia who was there who shared his own story about how when he was in college about 10 years ago, studying computer science, furthering himself and seeking better opportunities. He was convicted of marijuana possession and thrown into prison for 10 years: two mandatory minimum sentences of five years each. This was for marijuana possession. He talked about how his cellmate was convicted of murder and he got out of prison before Harry did.

The injustice that exists within our country because of the failed war on drugs and our broken criminal justice system has to end. We cannot have another generation of people whose lives are ruined in this failed war on drugs.

You know, there are a lot of different issues that we need to address. I’ve mentioned a few of them. Dealing with the climate crisis that we’re facing in this country and in the world is an urgent one that we all must stand up to demand real change to address. We’ve been talking about this issue for a while. We’ve been talking about how our policies and the way that we live has a negative impact on our environment. But we have not yet seen that kind of bold action and recognition from our leaders. That has to change. We also have to recognize how important it is that even as we take aggressive action to address this climate crisis in this country, that alone will not be enough. This is a problem that is facing our planet. It is facing every country in this world and in order to tackle it, it will require us to build relationships based on cooperation, not conflict with other countries in the world and work together to address this crisis.

Things like re-entering the Paris accords is a necessary and important step, but that alone will not be enough. Retracting from the world and treating other countries in this zero sum mentality where you’re either with us or against us, with this approach of conflict rather than cooperation must end.

I want to close by talking about an issue that is central to all of these others that are pressing and urgent and impact our everyday lives and that is the issue of the cost of war.  I am a major in the army national guard, serving now for almost 15 years, deployed twice to the Middle East where I served in a medical unit on that first deployment to Iraq in 2005. I saw firsthand every day the high human cost of war and who pays the price. I saw it in friends of mine who were killed in combat, who never made that trip home with us. I see it in my brothers and sisters, our veterans who continue to pay the price after coming home, dealing with wounds both visible and invisible, the lack of quality care and benefits provided to them to help them when they come home. The price for these wars that people don’t often recognize is the one that every single one of us pays. The fact that we are spending trillions of dollars on wasteful regime change wars and this new cold war between the United States and nuclear armed countries like Russia and China. Tensions continue to increase and a nuclear arms race has been been kicked off by actions like the one President Trump took recently by withdrawing from this historic INF treaty negotiated between Reagan and Gorbachev.

These actions have put us as a country and the world in a position where we are at a greater risk of nuclear catastrophe than ever before in history. Now, what’s interesting is that, as I share this information and talk about these issues with leaders in Washington, they say “Really? Really? More than the Cuban missile crisis? More than the Cold War with the Soviet Union?” . Yes, the answer is yes. This is the reality of the existential threat we’re facing today. And it should alarm every one of us here that leaders in Washington are either not paying attention, they don’t know, or they don’t care. This should alarm every one of us because that means not only are we not addressing this threat, but the actions that leaders in Washington are taking are actually making it worse.

I want to get to why this issue is important to every one of us. We in Hawaii had a huge wake-up call about a year ago when there was a text alert that went out to over a million phones all across our state that said, “Missile incoming. Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill.” I want to let that sink in for a second. We all have phones in our pockets. Imagine that on a Saturday morning like today, people in Hawaii, were just waking up, maybe thinking about going to the beach or going to hang out with friends, when this message came across their phones. Think about what you would do and how you would feel, who you would think about, where you would go if you got that message. As we’re sitting here today, think about knowing there are just minutes to live.

It was terrifying.

People thought “Where can I take my family? Where can I find shelter? Where can we be safe?” A father was trying to figure out which of his children he would spend the last minutes of his life with. Another father lowered his little girl down a manhole thinking that may be the only place where she could be safe.

That alert turned out to be false, but the reason why we reacted the way that we did is because this threat is real. And it’s important for us to recognize this. Not because we should sit here and be afraid and think we’re doomed, but because we have to recognize the power lies in our hands to make sure this is not our future.

Because it doesn’t have to be this way. We have the power and we must take action to change direction, to bend this arc away from war and towards peace, to make sure that our foreign policy is one that actually serves the interests of our people, that secures our country and moves us closer to peace rather than nuclear catastrophe and war.

This is why I’m running for president. Because none of you should have to go through what we went through in Hawaii. No family in this country should have to go through what our families went through in Hawaii. Not a single person in this country should have to live at any point in the day thinking about what would I do if I got that message?

We must change our foreign policy, the way we are relating to different countries and build those relationships based on cooperation, not conflict and work towards this future where we are getting rid of nuclear weapons rather than building more of them.

To build this future we need to take those trillions of dollars being spent on wasteful regime change wars and a nuclear arms race.  We need to take those dollars and bring them to serve the needs of people here at home, to make sure that we have health-care for everyone, to make sure our kids have a great education and a great future, to invest in a green, renewable energy based economy that serves us today and for generations to come, to make sure that we are investing in the right kind of infrastructure and sustainable agriculture.

There are so many things that we need to do right now to invest in a bright future for every single American. In order to do that, we have to change the course we are on. We need to take those dollars wasted on regime change wars and a nuclear arms race in a new cold war. We need to place our priorities put those dollars where they need to be, which is right here on our people, on our families and on our future.

To do that requires strong leadership, leadership and all of us standing together, standing up against those in the military industrial complex and those who benefit and continue to push for these regime change wars and this nuclear arms race. The only thing that will overcome those powerful forces that have ruled over both parties in Washington for far too long are us.  We, the people are the only ones who have the power to make this change.  No one else is going to do it for us,

We cannot forget or underestimate the power that we have in our own hands and we cannot take lightly the threats that we face in the urgent need for us to stand up, speak out, and make sure that our voices are heard now. Not tomorrow, not next year, not in five years or 10 years. Now our future is in our hands. I ask for your support.

I ask you to stand with me so that together we can take on those challenge and shape a bright future for every single one of us.

In the Q & A following the speech, one person asked about Bernie Sanders and her religion. Her response was as follows:

Bernie remains a good friend and I think he brings such an important voice to this country and the conversations that we’re having.

My decision to run for president was really based on the recognition that the most important job that a president has is as commander in chief. So the experiences that I have in serving as a soldier for almost 15 years, of being deployed to the Middle East and seeing and experiencing firsthand the cost of war and the consequences of the failed policies of this country directly firsthand [are crucial]. I am not someone who is going to go into the White House and sit back and rely on the foreign policy establishment in Washington to tell me what to do. I don’t have to.

That is what differentiates me from every other candidate who’s running for president right now. Because I’m walking in on day one with that experience both as a soldier directly, but also as a member of Congress who served on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees for years, who has engaged with leaders of other countries who has held the feet to the fire of people like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m not intimidated by the stars that someone wears on their shoulders.

I am not intimidated by the military industrial complex and what they are fishing for. I’m not running for president to be president. I’m running for president to be able to bring about this sea change in our foreign policy that is so necessary for us and for the world.

Quickly regarding the last question, I’m a practicing Hindu. I practice Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga. I dedicate my life to do my best every day, to be of service to God and to be of service to others. That pretty much sums up my spiritual foundation and my motivation throughout my life.

Another person asked how her young age as potentially the youngest president in US history and how she would cater to the needs of young people.  She responded as follows:

What matters most to what I bring to the White House and the presidency is the experience and perspective. In 2020 millennials will be the largest demographic. Millennials will actually be that majority to determine what kind of future we want for ourselves.

To me this is not about catering, that I’m going to cater to quote unquote ‘oung people or this group or that group. The message that I shared with you today about why I’m running and the kind of change that I seek to bring about is the kind of change that serves every person in this country, not just one group or another, not one age or another, one race or another, one religion or another. This is about every single one of us.

The key to that, rather than pandering to one group or another, the kind of change we’re talking about is centered around putting people first, putting people ahead of profits, putting people ahead of politics, putting people ahead of the powerful, really working and centering our policies around how does this best serve the people of this country and our planet? That’s my goal. That’s my objective.

Marie Colvin, Homs and Media Falsehoods about Syria

Introduction

In April 2014 I was part of an international delegation which visited Syria for five days. The delegates came from many different countries. Among the notables were the Irish Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire, a Syrian-British heart surgeon and Julian Assange’s father. We spent time in Damascus, then traveled by bus to Latakia and then Homs. In each city we had meetings with political, religious and social leaders but also had time to wander about and talk with people on the streets.

In Latakia, I met Lilly Martin, an American woman who married a Syrian and has lived there, raising a family for the past twenty-five years. She told me how wrong the western media coverage was. Contrary to media claims, she said protests in Latakia were violent from the start. After the first outbreak of violence, Syrian police and military were ordered to not carry weapons. Protesters continued to burn and destroy government offices with incidents of knifing and shooting unarmed police.

Peaceful Homs Street (Photo:  Rick Sterling)

When we visited Homs I was struck by how normal it looked. The streets were full of people and the city looked fine. It was dramatically different than the images portrayed in western media. It was only when we were driving out of Homs that we passed an area where there was widespread destruction and battle damage. There was a sharp contrast between most of the city and the few neighborhoods where battle had raged.

Homs (Photo: Rick Sterling)

The American journalist Marie Colvin died in February 2012 in one of those neighborhoods. It was called Baba Amr. Ten days after her death, the militants and remaining civilians had all departed Baba Amr. It’s unfortunate that Marie Colvin did not talk with Lilly Martin or visit the majority of Homs where the war was not raging. It could have provided much needed balance to her perspective.

Marie Colvin and Homs

According to many of her colleagues, Marie Colvin was charming and courageous, ambitious and fun to be with. She had a knack for including personal details, descriptions and emotions that engaged the reader. Unfortunately, Colvin’s reports and interviews from Syria were inaccurate and a huge distortion of the situation.

It is useful to examine Colvin’s reporting now, seven years later, because there is a wave of new articles, books and movies about her and how she died in Syria.

Colvin and photographer Paul Conroy were smuggled into Syria from Lebanon in February 2012. They spent some days in the town of Al Buwaydah and then were taken into the city of Homs using a drainage culvert to avoid Syrian Army checkpoints. Their guides and minders for the trip were from the Farouq Battalion associated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Beginning in the Fall 2011, militants from the Farouq Battalion set up checkpoints, killed security and soldiers and gradually took control of the Homs neighborhood called Baba Amr. They called it a “liberated zone”. By the time Marie Colvin and other journalists arrived, most of the civilians had fled the fighting to stay with friends and family in other parts of the city.

Colvin and Conroy spent a few days in Baba Amr but then left through the tunnel when it was rumored that Syrian forces were going to attack. After learning that the attack did not take place, the journalists made the difficult journey back into Baba Amr. The second morning after returning, Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Olchik died as the Syrian forces launched mortar and missile attacks.

Biased and Inaccurate Reporting from Syria

Marie Colvin’s reports and interviews from Syria were broadcast widely in the UK and USA. She wrote an article titled “A vet is only hope for Syrian wounded“. The article begins “Wounded civilians arriving at a makeshift clinic in the Syrian city of Homs are relying on a vet to save their lives because there is no doctor to treat them.” As documented in Conroy’s book, they were not in Homs; they were in the town Buwaydah when they observed a vet working as a medic. Actually, there were hundreds of doctors performing medical duties and treating civilians and soldiers injured in the conflict in Homs.

Colvin’s major story for the Sunday Times was titled “Final dispatch from Homs, the battered city“.  It begins  by describing a “widows basement” with 300 “frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs”.  The report of 300 women and children is an exaggeration. Another journalist estimated half that number which is likely an exaggeration itself, since the photos and video show fewer than 50 women and children.

Colvin continued her report saying, “The widows’ basement reflects the ordeal of 28,000 men, women and children clinging to existence in Baba Amr.” This is a huge falsehood; there was a tiny fraction of that number of civilians remaining in the neighborhood. Paul Conroy wrote as follows: “It became increasingly unbelievable that there were an estimated 28,000 people still living in Baba Amr. I hadn’t seen a single one.” (page 188, “Under the Wire”)

The night before her death, Marie Colvin did live interviews on BBC, Channel 4 and CNN. The CNN interview began by showing video of a baby dying from a shrapnel wound. CNN believed Marie Colvin was an eye-witness to the baby’s death. Anderson Cooper asked Colvin what it was like to be in the room. Marie Colvin replied that the room was chaotic and the baby’s death heartbreaking. She dramatized the situation by speaking about the baby’s grandmother being a volunteer in the room when the baby arrived. However, Colvin was not in the room at all. Marie Colvin and the media activists were shown the video on a laptop computer by their FSA guide. (page 155, “Under the Wire”).

In her CNN interview Colvin described Baba Amr as “28,000 civilians, men, women and children, hiding, being shelled, defenseless…. There are no military targets here…. So it’s a complete and utter lie that they (Syrian military) are only going after terrorists…. The Syrian Army is simply shelling a city of cold, starving civilians.” In reality, Baba Amr was the primary base for militants of the Farouq Battalion. If there was an “utter lie”, it was pretending that this was primarily a civilian neighborhood.

The Syrian Reality Which Colvin Did Not Report

Like most western coverage of Syria, Colvin’s reporting did not provide important context such as the following:

* How the conflict began in Homs. An eyewitness reported “From the start, the protest movements were not purely peaceful. From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

* How Baba Amr was taken over. In October 2011 militants from the Farouq Battalion set up checkpoints within Baba Amr, attacked and killed Syrian Army soldiers and other security forces, and killed or expelled government supporters. The process was similar to what was documented by a civilian in Aleppo: “Nine days from my window in Aleppo“.

* Attacks on infrastructure. In December 2011, militants blew up the pipeline to Homs’ oil refinery, a major source of oil for the country.

In mid January, an Arab League report documented the results of their investigation. They said:

The Observer Mission witnessed acts of violence being committed against Government forces and civilians that resulted in several deaths and injuries. Examples of these acts include the bombing of a civilian bus, killing eight persons and injuring others, including women and children, and the bombing of a train carrying diesel oil. In another incident in Homs, a police bus was blown up, killing two police officers. A fuel pipeline and some small bridges were also bombed.

Militants in Baba Amr destroyed government tanks and used their own tank to attack government forces.

Abu Sa’eed, Free Syrian Army Unit Commander

On 2 February 2012, FSA militants attacked a government checkpoint, killing ten soldiers and taking another 19 as prisoners. That was evidently the last straw for the government. The next day, February 3, the intense bombardment of Baba Amr began.

Promoting External Intervention

Marie Colvin’s reports from Baba Amr had a political goal of spurring Western intervention. This is made clear in emails to her Sunday Times editor. “It is sickening that the Syrian regime is allowed to keep doing this …. I think again to focus on Baba Amr, 28,000 defenceless under shelling….” (pp 196-197, “Under the Wire”).

Her reports were missing crucial facts, sensationalized the suffering on one side, ignored the suffering on the other side and demonized the government which was the target for overthrow.

Amateur Video Homs

In her interview with CNN, Colvin used the video of the dying little baby to urge western intervention. “That baby probably will move more people to think, ‘What is going on, and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day?”

In her final article for the Sunday Times Colvin says, “In Baba Amr, the Free Syrian Army (FSA)…. have virtually unanimous support from civilians who see them as their defenders.” This claim is highly dubious. The vast majority of civilians had left Baba Amr. All that were left were family members of FSA militants and others who had nowhere to go.

The bias in Marie Colvin’s reports and interviews was not unique. On the contrary, nearly all NATO and Gulf state reporting on Syria has been biased. Stephen Kinzer would later write “The media are misleading the public on Syria.” Patrick Cockburn would later write that “Nearly everything you have read about Syria and Iraq could be wrong“.

How Marie Colvin Died

It is claimed that Marie Colvin was intentionally targeted by the Syrian government. This is unlikely. Her death brought opprobrium on Damascus and helped the militant opposition. A few months after Marie Colvin’s death, a prominent British journalist reported that the same Syrian rebels tried to get him and his team killed. “I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus.”

It is also claimed that Syrian intelligence determined the location of Marie Colvin by identifying a satellite phone signal used in her interviews. This is false. Colvin told her editor at the Sunday Times that the Thuraya satellite phones did not work. For her Skype interviews she used the same antenna uplink used night and day by media activists in Baba Amr.

Marie and Remi were working in a battle zone, guided and effectively embedded with armed insurgents. Their deaths were another tragic consequence of the war.

Ten days after Colvin’s death, the militants and remaining civilians withdrew from Baba Amr. There was no massacre, just a street parade and celebration in other parts of Homs.

Syrian Journalists Killed (Photo: Rick Sterling)

The deaths of Marie Colvin and Remi Olchik sparked many tributes and widespread publicity. Largely unknown in the West, hundreds of Syrian journalists have also died in the conflict. In a sense, they are all victims of the proxy war on Syria. In another sense, the equivalence is not fair. The war has been encouraged by some and imposed on others.

Why is Canada Punishing this Brave Woman?

In the Fall of 2012, a young man from Calgary Alberta, Damian Clairmont, received a new Canadian passport. He received this despite the fact that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had been secretly monitoring Damian and several others in Calgary and knew the young men were planning to join an armed extremist organization in Syria. At least five youth from Calgary did travel to Syria and Iraq where they all died with one becoming a suicide bomber reportedly killing 46 Iraqis.

In a bizarre contrast, in the spring of 2016, the Canadian government forced Damian’s mother, Christianne Boudreau, to surrender her Canadian passport. This article examines the strange circumstances and seeming irrationality.

Christianne Boudreau Countering Extremism

Unlike her son, who had been indoctrinated then recruited to join a terrorist group, Christianne Boudreau has worked with other parents internationally to create and promote educational programs to counter extremism. She converted her grief at the loss of Damian to help educate others how to prevent the same thing happening again.

Dr. Daniel Koehler, Director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, described her role:

Christianne Boudreau was one of the first mothers to speak out publicly against violent radicalization with her own painful personal experience of losing her son Damian. Together with Christianne, I built up a network of affected parents around the world: the Mothers for Life Network, which currently includes about 150 families from 11 countries. It is the only international parental self-help group addressing the needs of those parents. I also trained Christianne to be a family counsellor to help other parents of children undergoing violent radicalization.

Mothers for Life works with the important goal of countering extremist ideology and violence which has exploded in the West as well as the Middle East. It uses human connections and sharing among families who have experienced radicalization, not just lectures and lofty seminars.

Christianne Boudreau has travelled and spoken at many places across Canada and internationally. She says the problem is not Islam or religion. A writer documented Chris’s visit to the Islamic Institute of Toronto in an article titled “Christianne Boudreau’s visit to Toronto left us inspired“. The writer reported:

Chris was asked, ‘Do you blame Islam and Muslims for the death of your son?’ Everyone held their breath. I couldn’t look her in the eyes. ‘No, I don’t blame Muslims or Islam for what happened to my son. I blame misguidance and bad choices. It is ideology similar to that of gangs and cults. It is the same. They prey on young impressionable adolescents and exploit them.

In addition to this organizational work, Chris Boudreau has been exceptional in another way: she has dared to criticize the intelligence security service of her native Canada. When CSIS agents first contacted her in January 2013 and told her they had been monitoring Damian for nearly two years, she asked why they had not warned her about his real intentions. Why did they not prevent him from getting a new Canadian passport?

CSIS “Research” 

After Damian’s death in January 2014, Chris Boudreau said she thought CSIS had some responsibility for his actions and death. In May 2014 she wrote a letter to CSIS politely expressing her questions and complaints. “We as a family have a right to know what has happened, and how our system has failed us.” She described her efforts to get answers over the previous year, how a CSIS agents had asked her to stop speaking out and asking questions. Finally, almost one half year later, CSIS Director Michel Coulombe responded to Chris’ inquiries. He did not answer her specific questions yet concluded that “the Service acted professionally and within its legislated mandate.” Regarding the warning of a CSIS agent, Director Coulombe evaded the issue by saying,“We have found no indication of an attempt to interfere in your relationship with other parties.” Regarding the disturbing consequences of radical indoctrination and violence, Coulombe said that CSIS “is conducting research to better understand this phenomenon in Canada.” This “research” is small comfort to a woman whose son was misled into joining a violent terrorist group, perhaps killing innocent Syrians and being killed himself.

Canada Takes Away Christianne Boudreau’s Passport

Fifteen months later, in February 2016, Citizenship and Immigration Canada acted in a way which definitely restricted and interfered with “her relationship with other parties”. While Chris and her son Lucas were visiting family in France, the Canadian government ordered her to surrender her Canadian passport. Christianne and her son were stuck in France, dependent on the generosity of family, for the next eighteen months. Chris was without income or ability to return home. Finally in November 2017, when Lucas’ father was dying of cancer, the Canadian embassy in France provided temporary emergency documentation so that Chris and her son could return home to Calgary.

The Official Reason Canada Took Away her Passport

Chris Boudreau has tried repeatedly to get her passport back. The official reason it was taken away and cannot be returned is that she provided “false or misleading information” in the passport application for her son Lucas. The “false and misleading” information was that she did not include the name of Lucas’ father on the passport application and did not disclose court orders from 2004-2007 which had defined the father’s visiting rights with baby Lucas (born in 2004).

In fact, Ms Boudreau was never married to the father, they did not live together when Lucas was born and Lucas’ birth certificate did not include the father’s name because the father wanted no responsibility. The applications for Lucas’ previous passports in 2007 and 2010 were filled out just the same way with no question or objection by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. In addition, there was a court order and signed agreement between Ms. Boudreau and the father in January 2016 which confirmed a summer visit with the father.

Ironically, Lucas was unable to visit the father as specified because CIC took away the passports of him and his mother in the spring of 2016. Ms. Boudreau and Lucas were unable to return to Canada until November 2017 when they received emergency travel documents as the biological father was in a terminal stage of cancer.

“Very few people have been denied passports”

Ray Boisvert, former head of CSIS counter-terrorism was previously asked why CSIS did not prevent Damian Clairmont from receiving a passport if CSIS knew about his radicalization and intentions. Boisvert responded that denying a passport to a Canadian citizen was an infringement on freedom of movement and required solid evidence. “There have been very few people who have been denied passports because the threshold is so high. And rightfully so.”

If Boisvert’s assertion is true, then why has CIC acted so harshly against Christianne Boudreau? The violation in the passport application caused little or no harm. The complaint by the biological father was resolved in the January 2016 court order and agreement. This was not an issue of parental joint custody because Christianne Boudreau had been the sole parental custodian for Lucas since his birth.

Christianne Boudreau’s Effectiveness in Countering Extremism

This extreme decision is not only harming Christianne Boudreau and her children. It is also hurting the international campaign against extremism and violent radicalism.

Dr. Koehler, Director of the German Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies says:

Christianne’s work depends on her ability to travel, meet with other parents, participate in workshops, educate about the threat of violent radicalization and help affected families around the world. She was a main driving force behind the Mothers for Life Network and her absence from these important activities have caused serious harm to global issue of helping families in need.

Dr. Amar Amarasingam, Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society at University of Waterloo has said:

Since the loss of her son Damian, Christianne Boudreau has been tirelessly working to try and prevent other young men and women from traveling abroad to fight. She traveled around the world to meet with other parents and families, gave talks and conducted workshops. Especially now, with ISIS fighters and families being captured by Kurdish forces and parents in Western countries trying to get in touch with them, Chris’s activism is much-needed. She is trusted by families the world over and would be an invaluable resource today. I’m not too familiar with the particulars of her case, but her ability to travel is fundamental to her work and I hope it gets sorted out soon.

In 2016, as Christianne Boudreau was having her Canadian passport revoked, CBC produced a documentary describing her good work. The producer Gail McIntyre and director/writer EileenThalenberg have recently written:

Christianne Boudreau was the focus of our film, A Jihadi in the Family, which was broadcast on CBC – TV in 2016. Over a period of two years, we covered her important work as founder and driving force behind the movement Mothers for Life. This organization was set up to support families and to inform educators, the public and policy makers about the early signs of radicalization and how to prevent it. Her work in this area was far-reaching – uniting mothers in North America and Europe…. Without her passport, she is unable to continue with her high profile work.  This not only impacts anti-radicalization efforts, it severely affects her ability to support her herself and her son.

Public Appeal to “Return Christianne Boudreau’s Passport!”

Chris Boudreau, born in Toronto, is still being denied a Canadian passport. She has the anguish of knowing her son died in a foreign land. She has the pain of not knowing what he might have done with others in the terrorist group. She has difficulty finding a job when employers easily see and identify her as the “jihadi’s mother”. She was punished and impoverished by being left in a foreign country without a passport for a year-and-a-half.

Why is Canada denying this woman her right to travel, guaranteed to all citizens under the Canadian Charter? Most importantly, why is Canada preventing this brave woman from continuing her effective work countering international extremism?

A petition to “Return Christianne Boudreau’s Canadian Passport!” has been launched and can be seen here.

• The original version of this article was published by rabble.ca

Western Media Launch Attack on Critics of Controversial White Helmets Group

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A White Helmets uniform found during a search of al Qaeda-lined rebel headquarters in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Morad Saeed | Sputnik

The October 16 issue of NY Review of Books has an article by Janine di Giovani titled “Why Assad and Russia Target the White Helmets”. The article exemplifies how western media promotes the White Helmets uncritically and attacks those who challenge the myth.

A Crude & Disingenuous Attack

Giovani’s article attacks several journalists by name. She singles out Vanessa Beeley and echoes the Guardian’s characterization of Beeley as the “high priestess of Syria propaganda”. She does this without challenging a single article or claim by the journalist. She might have acknowledged that Vanessa Beeley has some familiarity with the Middle East; she is the daughter of one of the foremost British Arabists and diplomats including British Ambassador to Egypt. Giovanni might have explored Beeley’s research in Syria that revealed the White Helmets founder (British military contractor James LeMesurier) assigned the name Syria Civil Defence despite the fact there is a real Syrian organization by that name that has existed since the 1950’s. For the past several years, Beeley has done many on-the-ground reports and investigations in Syria. None of these are challenged by Giovanni. Just days ago Beeley published a report on her visit to the White Helmets headquarters in Deraa.

Giovanni similarly dismisses another alternative journalist, Eva Bartlett. Again, Giovanni ignores the fact that Bartlett has substantial Middle East experience including having lived in Gaza for years. Instead of objectively evaluating the journalistic work of these independent journalists, Giovanni smears their work as “disinformation”. Presumably, that is because their work is published at alternative sites such as 21st Century Wire and Russian media such as RT and Sputnik. Beeley and Bartlett surely would have been happy to have their reports published at the New York Review of Books, Newsweek or other mainstream outlets. But it’s evident that such reporting is not welcome there. Even Seymour Hersh had to go abroad to have his investigations on Syria published.

The New McCarthyism

Max Blumenthal is another journalist singled out by Giovanni. Blumenthal is the author of three books, including a NY Times bestseller and the highly acclaimed “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”. Giovanni describes his transition from “anti-Assad” to “pro-Assad” and suggests his change of perspective was due to Russian influence. She says, “Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterwards, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped.” Instead of examining the facts presented by Blumenthal in articles such as “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm that’s Lobbying for Regime Change in Syria”, Giovanni engages in fact-free McCarthyism. Blumenthal explained the transition in his thinking in a public interview. He also described the threats he experienced when he started to criticize the White Helmets and their public relations firm, but this is ignored by Giovanni.

Contrary to Giovanni’s assumptions, some western journalists and activists were exposing the White Helmets long before the story was publicized on Russian media. In spring 2015 the basic facts about the White Helmets including their origins, funding and role in the information war on Syria were exposed in my article “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”. The article showed how the White Helmets were a key component in a campaign pushing for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It confirmed that the White Helmets is a political lobby force.

In spring 2016, Vanessa Beeley launched a petition “Do NOT give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets”. That petition garnered more support than a contrary petition urging the Nobel Prize committee to give the award to the White Helmets. Perhaps because of that, the petition was abruptly removed without explanation from the Change.org website. It was only at this time, with publicity around the heavily promoted nomination of the White Helmets for a Nobel Peace Prize that RT and other Russian media started to publicize and expose the White Helmets. That is one and a half years after they were first exposed in western alternative media. ‘

White Helmets and Chemical Weapons Accusations

Giovanni ignores the investigations and conclusions of some of the most esteemed American journalists regarding the White Helmets and chemical weapons incidents in Syria.

The late Robert Parry published many articles exposing the White Helmets, for example, The White Helmets Controversy and Syria War Propaganda at the Oscars. Parry wrote and published numerous investigations of the August 2013 chemical weapons attack and concluded the attacks were carried out by an opposition faction with the goal of pressuring the US to intervene militarily. Parry also challenged western conclusions regarding incidents such as April 4, 2017 at Khan Shaykhun. Giovanni breathlessly opens her article with this story while Parry revealed the impossibility of it being as described:
Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe.
Legendary American journalist, Seymour Hersh, researched and refuted the assumptions of Giovanni and the media establishment regarding the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. Hersh’s investigation, titled The Red Line and Rat Line, provided evidence the atrocity was carried out by an armed opposition group with active support from Turkey. A Turkish member of parliament provided additional evidence. The fact that Hersh had to go across the Atlantic to have his investigation published suggests American not Russian disinformation and censorship.

In addition to ignoring the findings of widely esteemed journalists with proven track records, Giovanni plays loose with the truth. In her article she implies that a UN investigation blamed the Syrian government for the August 2013 attack. On the contrary, the head of the UN investigation team, Ake Sellstrom, said they did not determine who was responsible.
We do not have the evidence to say who did what ….The conflict in Syria is surrounded by a lot of rumors and a lot of propaganda, particularly when comes to the sensitive issue of chemical weapons.
First Responders or Western Funded Propagandists?

Giovanni says, “But the White Helmets’ financial backing is not the real reason why the pro-Assad camp is so bent on defaming them. Since 2015, the year the Russians began fighting in Syria, the White Helmets have been filming attacks on opposition-held areas with GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets.”

In reality, the "White Helmets” have a sophisticated media production and distribution operation. They have much more than GoPro cameras. In many of their movie segments, one can see numerous people with video and still cameras. Sometimes the same incident will be shown with one segment with an Al Qaeda logo blending into the same scene with a White Helmets logo.

Giovanni claims “The Assad regime and the Russians are trying to neutralize the White Helmets because they are potential witnesses to war crimes.” However, the claims of White Helmet “witnesses” have little credibility. The White Helmet “volunteers” are paid three times as much as Syrian soldiers. They are trained, supplied and promoted by the same western states which have sought to regime change in Syria since 2011. An example of misleading and false claims by a White Helmets leader is exposed in Gareth Porter’s investigation titled “How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media”. His conclusion could be directed to Giovanni and the NYReview of Books:
The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.
When the militants (mostly Nusra / al Qaeda) were expelled from East Aleppo, civilians reported that the White Helmets were mostly concerned with saving their own and performing publicity stunts. For example the photo of the little boy in east Aleppo looking dazed and confused in the back of a brand new White Helmet ambulance was essentially a White Helmet media stunt eagerly promoted in the West. It was later revealed the boy was not injured, he was grabbed without his parent’s consent. Eva Bartlett interviewed and photographed the father and family for her story “MintPress Meets the Father of Iconic Aleppo Boy and says Media Lied About his Son”.”

A Brilliant Marketing Success

The media and political impact of the White Helmets show what money and marketing can do. An organization that was founded by a military contractor with funding from western governments was awarded the Rights Livelihood Award. The organization was seriously considered to received the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize just three years after its formation.

The Netflix infomercial “The White Helmets” is an example of the propaganda. The scripted propaganda piece, where the producers did not set foot in Syria, won the Oscar award for best short documentary. It’s clear that lots of money and professional marketing can fool a lot of people. At $30 million per year, the White Helmets budget for one year is more than a decade of funding for the real Syrian Civil Defence which covers all of Syria not just pockets controlled by armed insurgents.

Unsurprisingly, it has been announced that White Helmets will receive the 2019 “Elie Wiesel” award from the heavily politicized and pro-Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This, plus the recent “rescue” of White Helmets by the Israeli government, is more proof of the true colors of the White Helmets. Vanessa Beeley’s recent interview with a White Helmet leader in Deraa revealed that ISIS and Nusra terrorists were part of the group “rescued” through Israel.

The Collapsing White Helmets Fraud

Giovanni is outraged that some journalists have successfully challenged and put a big dent in the White Helmets aura. She complains, “The damage the bloggers do is immense.

Giovanni and western propagandists are upset because the myth is deflating. Increasing numbers of people – from a famous rock musician to a former UK Ambassador – see and acknowledge the reality.

As described in Blumenthal’s article, “How the White Helmets Tried to Recruit Roger Waters with Saudi Money”, rock legend Roger Waters says:
If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions…
Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria, sums it up like this:
The White Helmets are jihadi auxiliaries… They are not, as claimed by themselves and by their supporters… simple rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals of disinformation.
Giovanni claims her article is a “forensic takedown of the Russian disinformation campaign to distort the truth in Syria.” In reality, Giovanni’s article is an example of western disinformation using subjective attacks on critics and evidence-free assertions aligned with the regime change goals of the West.

Reprinted with permission from MintPressNews.

Western Media Attacks Critics of the White Helmets

Introduction

The October 16 issue of NY Review of Books has an article by Janine di Giovani titled “Why Assad and Russia Target the White Helmets“. The article exemplifies how western media promotes the White Helmets uncritically and attacks those who challenge the myth.

Crude and Disingenuous Attack

Giovani’s article attacks several journalists by name. She singles out Vanessa Beeley and echoes the Guardian’s characterization of Beeley as the “high priestess of Syria propaganda”. She does this without challenging a single article or claim by the journalist. She might have acknowledged that Vanessa Beeley has some familiarity with the Middle East; she is the daughter of one of the foremost British Arabists and diplomats including British Ambassador to Egypt. Giovanni might have explored Beeley’s research in Syria that revealed the White Helmets founder (British military contractor James LeMesurier) assigned the name Syria Civil Defence despite the fact there is a real Syrian organization by that name that has existed since the 1950’s. For the past several years, Beeley has done many on-the-ground reports and investigations in Syria. None of these are challenged by Giovanni. Just days ago Beeley published a report on her visit to the White Helmets headquarters in Deraa.

Giovanni similarly dismisses another alternative journalist, Eva Bartlett. Again, Giovanni ignores the fact that Bartlett has substantial Middle East experience including having lived in Gaza for years. Instead of objectively evaluating the journalistic work of these independent journalists, Giovanni smears their work as “disinformation”. Presumably that is because their work is published at alternative sites such as 21st Century Wire and Russian media such as RT and Sputnik. Beeley and Bartlett surely would have been happy to have their reports published at the New York Review of Books, Newsweek or other mainstream outlets. But it’s evident that such reporting is not welcome there. Even Seymour Hersh had to go abroad to have his investigations on Syria published.

The New McCarthyism

Max Blumenthal is another journalist singled out by Giovanni. Blumenthal is the author of three books, including a New York Times bestseller and the highly acclaimed “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel”. Giovanni describes his transition from “anti-Assad” to “pro-Assad” and suggests his change of perspective was due to Russian influence. She says, “Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterwards, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped.” Instead of examining the facts presented by Blumenthal in articles such as “Inside the Shadowy PR Firm that’s Lobyying for Regime Change in Syria“, Giovanni engages in fact-free McCarthyism. Blumenthal explained the transition in his thinking in a public interview. He also described the threats he experienced when he started to criticize the White Helmets and their public relations firm, but this is ignored by Giovanni.

Contrary to Giovanni’s assumptions, some western journalists and activists were exposing the White Helmets long before the story was publicized on Russian media. In spring 2015 the basic facts about the White Helmets including their origins, funding and role in the information war on Syria were exposed in my article “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators“. The article showed how the White Helmets were a key component in a campaign pushing for a “No Fly Zone” in Syria. It confirmed that the White Helmets is a political lobby force.

In spring 2016, Vanessa Beeley launched a petition “Do NOT give the Nobel Peace Prize to the White Helmets“. That petition garnered more support than a contrary petition urging the Nobel Prize committee to give the award to the White Helmets. Perhaps because of that, the petition was abruptly removed without explanation from the Change.org website. It was only at this time, with publicity around the heavily promoted nomination of the White Helmets for a Nobel Peace Prize that RT and other Russian media started to publicize and expose the White Helmets. That is one-and-a-half years after they were first exposed in western alternative media.

White Helmets and Chemical Weapons Accusations 

Giovanni ignores the investigations and conclusions of some of the most esteemed American journalists regarding the White Helmets and chemical weapons incidents in Syria.

The late Robert Parry published many articles exposing the White Helmets, for example “The White Helmets Controversy” and “Syria War Propaganda at the Oscars“. Parry wrote and published numerous investigations of the August 2013 chemical weapons attack and concluded the attacks were carried out by an opposition faction with the goal of pressuring the US to intervene militarily. Parry also challenged western conclusions regarding incidents such as April 4, 2017 at Khan Shaykhun. Giovanni breathlessly opens her article with this story while Parry revealed the impossibility of it being as described.

Buried deep inside a new U.N. report is evidence that could exonerate the Syrian government in the April 4 sarin atrocity and make President Trump look like an Al Qaeda dupe.

Legendary American journalist, Seymour Hersh, researched and refuted the assumptions of Giovanni and the media establishment regarding the August 2013 chemical weapons attacks near Damascus. Hersh’s investigation, titled “The Red Line and Rat Line“, provided evidence the atrocity was carried out by an armed opposition group with active support from Turkey. A Turkish member of parliament provided additional evidence. The fact that Hersh had to go across the Atlantic to have his investigation published suggests American not Russian disinformation and censorship.

In addition to ignoring the findings of widely esteemed journalists with proven track records, Giovanni plays loose with the truth. In her article she implies that a UN investigation blamed the Syrian government for the August 2013 attack. On the contrary, the head of the UN investigation team, Ake Sellstrom, said they did not determine who was responsible.

We do not have the evidence to say who did what ….The conflict in Syria is surrounded by a lot of rumors and a lot of propaganda, particularly when comes to the sensitive issue of chemical weapons.

First Responders or Western Funded Propagandists?

Giovanni says, “But the White Helmets’ financial backing is not the real reason why the pro-Assad camp is so bent on defaming them. Since 2015, the year the Russians began fighting in Syria, the White Helmets have been filming attacks on opposition-held areas with GoPro cameras affixed to their helmets.”

In reality, the ‘White Helmets” have a sophisticated media production and distribution operation. They have much more than GoPro cameras. In many of their movie segments one can see numerous people with video and still cameras. Sometimes the same incident will be shown with one segment with an Al Qaeda logo blending into the same scene with a White Helmets logo.

Giovanni claims “The Assad regime and the Russians are trying to neutralize the White Helmets because they are potential witnesses to war crimes.” However, the claims of White Helmet “witnesses” have little credibility. The White Helmet “volunteers” are paid three times as much as Syrian soldiers. They are trained, supplied and promoted by the same western states which have sought to regime change in Syria since 2011. An example of misleading and false claims by a White Helmets leader is exposed in Gareth Porter’s investigation titled “How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media” . His conclusion could be directed to Giovanni and the NYReview of Books:

The uncritical reliance on claims by the White Helmets without any effort to investigate their credibility is yet another telling example of journalistic malpractice by media outlets with a long record of skewing coverage of conflicts toward an interventionist narrative.

When the militants (mostly Nusra/al Qaeda) were expelled from East Aleppo, civilians reported that the White Helmets were mostly concerned with saving their own and performing publicity stunts. For example, the photo of the little boy in east Aleppo looking dazed and confused in the back of a brand new White Helmet ambulance was essentially a White Helmet media stunt eagerly promoted in the West. It was later revealed the boy was not injured, he was grabbed without his parent’s consent. Eva Bartlett interviewed and photographed the father and family for her story “Mintpress Meets the Father of Iconic Aleppo Boy and says Media Lied About his Son“.

A Brilliant Marketing Success

The media and political impact of the White Helmets shows what money and marketing can do. An organization that was founded by a military contractor with funding from western governments was awarded the Rights Livelihood Award. The organization was seriously considered to receive the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize just three years after its formation.

The Netflix infomercial “The White Helmets” is an example of the propaganda. The scripted propaganda piece, where the producers did not set foot in Syria, won the Oscar award for best short documentary. It’s clear that lots of money and professional marketing can fool a lot of people. At $30 million per year, the White Helmets budget for one year is more than a decade of funding for the real Syrian Civil Defence which covers all of Syria not just pockets controlled by armed insurgents.

Unsurprisingly, it has been announced that White Helmets will receive the 2019 “Elie Wiesel” award from the heavily politicized and pro-Israel Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. This, plus the recent “rescue” of White Helmets by the Israeli government, is more proof of the true colors of the White Helmets. Vanessa Beeley’s recent interview with a White Helmet leader in Deraa revealed that ISIS and Nusra terrorists were part of the group “rescued” through Israel.

The Collapsing White Helmets Fraud

Giovanni is outraged that some journalists have successfully challenged and put a big dent in the White Helmets aura. She complains, “The damage the bloggers do is immense.”

Giovanni and western propagandists are upset because the myth is deflating. Increasing numbers of people – from a famous rock musician to a former UK Ambassador – see and acknowledge the reality.

As described in Blumenthal’s article, “How the White Helmets Tried to Recruit Roger Waters with Saudi Money“, rock legend Roger Waters says:

If we were to listen to the propaganda of the White Helmets and others, we would encourage our governments to start dropping bombs on people in Syria. This would be a mistake of monumental proportions…

Peter Ford, the former UK Ambassador to Syria, sums it up like this:

The White Helmets are jihadi auxiliaries… They are not, as claimed by themselves and by their supporters… simple rescuers. They are not volunteers. They are paid professionals of disinformation.

Giovanni claims her article is a “forensic take down of the Russian disinformation campaign to distort the truth in Syria.” In reality, Giovanni’s article is an example of western disinformation using subjective attacks on critics and evidence-free assertions aligned with the regime change goals of the West.

Camilo Comes to San Francisco and Analyzes the Soft Coup Attempt in Nicaragua

Western media has described the unrest and violence in Nicaragua as a “campaign of terror” by government police and paramilitary. This has also been asserted by large non governmental organizations (NGOs). In May, for example, Amnesty International issued a report titled “Shoot to Kill: Nicaragua’s Strategy to Repress Protest”.

A Miami Herald op-ed summarized, “It’s not like there’s any confusion over who’s to blame for the recent killings amid Nicaragua’s political violence. Virtually all human rights groups agree that Ortega’s police-backed paramilitary goons are the culprits.”

Much less publicized, other analysts have challenged these assertions. They claim the situation is being distorted and the reality is very different. For example, Camilo Mejía wrote an open letter condemning the Amnesty report for being biased and actually contributing to the chaos and violence.

To learn more about the situation, Task Force on the Americas (TFA) invited Camilo Mejía to speak in the San Francisco Bay Area. TFA has a long history of work in Central and South America educating the public, lobbying around US foreign policy and leading delegations to see the reality in Central and South America.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) quickly agreed to co-sponsor events with Camilo in San Francisco and Oakland. Veterans for Peace also has a long history with Nicaragua. VFP was founded partially in response to US aggression in Central America. VFP members protested against US shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. VFP member Brian Willson had both legs cut off when a train carrying weapons destined for Central America ran over him. The current VFP president, Gerry Condon, was at that protest and helped stop the blood gushing from Willson’s severed legs. Brian Willson lives in Nicaragua today.

Camilo Mejía was born in Nicaragua, the son of famous musician Carlos Mejía Godoy. His mother was a staunch Sandinista activist but separated from the father soon after his birth. She brought Camilo to the United States as a single mother in 1994, four years after the Sandinista electoral defeat. Living in Florida, Camilo struggled to make ends meet and joined the US Army to pay for college. Just a few months before completing his service, Camilo was ordered into the 2003 invasion of Iraq. After serving one tour of war duty, he refused to return and was imprisoned for 9 months.

Camilo was honored as a “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International. Thus Camilo’s criticism of the Amnesty report on Nicaragua has special significance. Camilo is Nicaraguan, a member of Veterans for Peace, and a hero to both VFP and Amnesty. He is also the author of the compelling autobiography Road from Ar Ramadi.

As news of Camilo’s upcoming visit to San Francisco was spread, we quickly started to feel a reaction. There is a large and diverse Nicaraguan exile community in San Francisco. While some support the Sandinista government, others are adamantly opposed and some even supported the Contras decades ago. Anti-Ortega Nicaraguan exiles in San Francisco began organizing a protest.

Camilo’s visit to speak on Nicaragua also prompted a reaction from some Americans who had once supported the Sandinistas but now support the opposition. They campaigned to have their viewpoint presented at our events. TFA and VFP organizers thought there was no need to include the opposition voice since their characterization of the conflict is widespread. However, Camilo wanted to be transparent and not exclude the opposition. He thought that if we allowed an opposition supporter to speak briefly, they were more likely to listen to his analysis and he could directly address their concerns.

At the San Francisco event, protesters arrived early in front of the War Memorial Veterans Building. When the event started, protesters flooded into the venue. As promised, an opposition supporter was invited to speak briefly.The audience of about 120 was split between those who wanted to hear Camilo and those who came to protest. Camilo’s talk was repeatedly interrupted and police arrived to prevent violence. Camilo asked what kind of “democracy” was this they claimed to want for Nicaragua when they would not listen or allow him to speak here in San Francisco?

Camilo showed two short video clips. The first video showed opposition activists torturing a Sandinista supporter under the oversight of a Catholic priest and the remains of a Sandinista burned alive.

A second video showed a statement from an American who has lived in Nicaragua for many years. He described how gangs had invaded his town, set up road blocks, intimidated and abused local civilians. He described the joy of the community when the roadblocks were removed and masked “protesters” departed.

The audience got increasingly disruptive during the question period. A prominent Nicaraguan opposition supporter came forward, offering to quiet the disrupters. After receiving the microphone from Camilo, she did the opposite. The disruptions escalated and the event had to be ended early. The protesters had completed their mission: they had prevented Camilo from being able to present his perspective.

Organizers from TFA and Veterans for Peace decided the Sunday event in Oakland needed to be handled differently. Members of Veterans for Peace, including chapter president Paul Cox and others, prevented the protesters from entering. Ultimately the venue was packed with interested listeners. The anti-Ortega crowd protested on the sidewalk and street but were not able to disrupt the event.

Camilo Mejía speaking in Oakland (Photo by Bill Hackwell)

With the loud opposition outside, Camilo was introduced by VFP President Gerry Condon. He gave a clear and concise history of key events in Nicaraguan political history including:

* Nicaragua was connected to the gold rush in California in the the mid 1800’s. That is when the idea of a trans-oceanic passage through Nicaragua was born.

* When Cesar Sandino launched guerrilla war in the 1920’s and 30’s there were two priorities: advancing the working class and anti-imperialism.

* The Frente Sandinista which carried out the 1979 revolution had nine commanders: three from each of three factions.

After the Sandinistas lost the 1990 election, splits emerged and ultimately Sergio Ramirez formed the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS). The more affluent members plus intellectuals, writers, and musicians gravitated toward it. But though they were well connected to western solidarity activists, they had no popular platform nor base. They did poorly in elections and moved toward neoliberal policies and the NGO world.

* Since taking power in 2007, Daniel Ortega and Sandinistas have improved living conditions for the poor with free healthcare, free education and better economic policies. Nicaragua now supplies 80 – 90% of its own food needs.

* Up until April, Nicaragua was vastly safer than neighboring countries. Their “community policing” is considered a model.

* Support for Ortega and the Frente Sandinista has steadily increased. In 2006, they won 38% of the vote; in 2011, it increased to 62%; in 2016 support increased to 72% with 68% turnout.

* There has been much misinformation about the proposed changes in social security which sparked the protests in April. To stabilize the social security funding, the IMF wanted to implement an austerity plan which would have doubled the work requirements and raised the qualification age from 60 to 65. The Sandinista proposal was much more progressive, requiring wealthy individuals and businesses to pay much more with minor changes for others.

* The death count has been manipulated. Some deaths are counted twice; people who were said to be dead have turned up alive; dead Sandinista supporters have been counted as protesters. The first deaths on April 19 were one student, one police officer and one bystander killed by sniper fire. Camilo asks: Was this done by the government or by outside forces?

* The National Endowment for Democracy and other US agencies have trained students and others in using social media, video and symbols to stir up dissent and destabilize Nicaragua.

At the Oakland event, Camilo showed a torture video which demonstrates opposition violence. He also showed video of the huge July 19 celebration of the the revolution anniversary. His talk was followed by many questions including from opposition supporters.

At times during the event, there was tension and concern about violence from the protesters outside. Some Nicaraguan families were afraid for their safety. After the event, they had to be escorted with protection to their cars. The car of one Nicaraguan family was besieged by the anti-Ortega crowd. Camilo and his young daughter had to be quickly taken away amidst shouts and waving placards.

Ultimately Camilo’s visit accomplished the goal. Media interviews in Spanish and English reached many thousands.  In these and the public presentations, he brought information and analysis which has been largely censored or ignored in coverage of Nicaragua.

Camilo believes Nicaragua has temporarily defeated a “soft coup” attempt but the danger is not over. The opposition forces internally and internationally are still there.

Tribute to Robert Parry: Investigative Journalist and Patriot

Robert (Bob) Parry was born in 1949 and died suddenly from pancreatic cancer in January 2018. An enthusiastic tribute to him and his work was recently held in Berkeley California. A video of the event is online here.

Although Robert Parry never became personally famous, many readers will recall news stories he played a key role in bringing to public consciousness. He uncovered the “Iran-Contra scandal” where the US secretly sold weapons to Iran via Israel with profits supporting mercenary “Contras” attacking the Nicaraguan government. He uncovered Lt. Col. Oliver North secretly working at the Reagan White House to supervise support for the Contras. He exposed CIA collusion with criminals sending weapons to the Contras and receiving tons of cocaine on return flights from Colombia and Central America.

In 1988, Parry co-authored an article which documented CIA and State Department activities to misinform the public to promote the desired public policy.

Next, Parry worked with the television documentary “Frontline” to uncover the “October Surprise”. That story involved Ronald Reagan’s election team clandestinely negotiating to delay the release of American hostages held in Iran. These stories appeared in mainstream media but were ultimately swept under the carpet.

The CIA-Contra-Cocaine Connection

The story about CIA complicity with drug-dealers was especially explosive because of the impact of drugs in poor communities across the US. There was an epidemic of cheap crack cocaine flooding poor and especially African American communities.

Robert Parry originally reported the CIA-Contra-Cocaine story in the mid 1980’s. Ten years later, in 1996,  investigative journalist Gary Webb uncovered what happened after the cocaine arrived in the U.S.: crack cocaine had flooded poor and African American communities, especially in California. The negative consequences were huge. The San Jose Mercury News published Gary Webb’s investigation as an explosive front page 3-day series titled “Dark Alliance“.

The story was initially ignored by the foreign policy and media establishment. But after two months of rising attention and outrage, especially in the African American community, a counter-attack was launched in the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times. The LA Times alone assigned 17 reporters to what one reporter dubbed the “Get Gary Webb team“. They picked apart the story, picked apart Gary Webb’s personal life and distorted what he wrote. The attack succeeded. The Mercury News editors published a partial “correction” which was taken to apply to the whole story. Gary Webb was demoted and then “let go”. His reputation was destroyed and he ultimately committed suicide. An 2014 movie titled “Kill the Messenger” made in consultation with Gary’s family and Bob Parry, depicts the events.

When the establishment media was going after Gary Webb, with the quiet encouragement of the CIA, many journalists were silent or joined the pack attack. Later, when an internal CIA investigation confirmed the veracity of Webb’s research and writing, they mostly ignored it. Robert Parry was one of the few national journalists to defend Gary Webb and his reporting from beginning to end.

At the Berkeley tribute, journalist Dennis Bernstein recalled being with Bob Parry and Gary Webb:

I remember the power that those guys had with audiences. It was easy to understand why people would be afraid of them. They were truth tellers.

The Birth of Consortiumnews

As other western journalists were being pressured into compliance or driven out of the profession, Robert Parry chose a different path. Together with his oldest son Sam Parry, he launched the first investigative magazine on the internet: Consortiumnews. In his last article Bob Parry explained:

The point of Consortiumnews, which I founded in 1995, was to use the new medium of the modern internet to allow the old principles of journalism to have a new home, i.e., a place to pursue important facts and giving everyone a fair shake.

For the past 23 years, Consortia has published consistently high quality research and analysis on international issues. To give just a few examples: In March 1999, Bob Parry surveyed the dangers of the Russian economic collapse cheered on by Western neoconservatives while Mark Ames exposed the reality of Russian economic gangsters. In February 2003, Consortia published the First Memorandum to the President by Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) after Colin Powell addressed the UN Security Council. VIPS presciently warned of “catastrophic” consequences if the US attacked Iraq.

In 2005, Bob Parry exposed the bias and deception behind the rush to blame the Syrian government after Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri was assassinated. In April 2011, as the US was pushing to overthrow Gadaffi in Libya, Parry drew parallels to the disastrous consequences of overthrowing the socialist leaning Afghan government three decades earlier.

Beginning in 2014, Bob Parry exposed the dubious accusations regarding the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH-17 in Ukraine. Over the past two years, Bob Parry wrote and edited dozens of articles exposing the bias and lack of evidence behind “Russiagate”. A few examples can be seen here.

Commitment to Facts and Objectivity

Sam and several other speakers at the Berkeley Tribute noted that Robert Parry was not ideological. He believed in following the leads and facts wherever they led.  The new editor of Consortia, Joe Lauria, said:

Bob was not a lefty radical… He was just reporting the facts and where they led. That turned out to be kind of a left wing position in the end because that’s what happens when you follow the facts wherever they go. But he didn’t start out from an ideological position or have a preconceived notion of what the story should be.

Bob Parry’s investigations in the 1980’s revealed the U.S. administration plans and propaganda aiming to “glue black hats” on the Nicaraguan government and “white hats” on the Contra opposition. Thus he was well prepared to critically examine the disinformation campaigns accompanying “regime change” campaigns over the past decades: from Yugoslavia to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and others.

Under Bob Parry’s leadership, Consortia has exposed “fake news” at the highest levels. As journalist Norman Solomon said at the tribute:

It’s important to remember that the most dangerous fake news in the last few decades has come from the likes of the front page of the New York Times and Washington Post. There are a million dead Iraqis and many dead Americans to prove it.

Bob Parry wrote several books including Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, The Press and Project Truth (1999), Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom (1992), and America’s Stolen Narrative: From Washington and Madison to Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes to Barack Obama (2012).

Challenging the New McCarthyism

In his last article, published just two weeks before his death, Parry informed Consortia readers about his health issue. He speculated on possible contributing factors including “the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism.”

Parry described the decline in journalistic standards and objectivity:

This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending journalistic principles of skepticism and even-handedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well…. The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The US media approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda.

At the Berkeley event, writer Natylie Baldwin addressed this issue. In her presentation she said:

Robert Parry referred to the phenomena of careerism and group think. He argued that it was ruining journalism …When our most experienced academic expert on Russia, Stephen Cohen, can hardly get an interview on CNN and cannot get an op-ed published by the New York Times or the Washington Post, but a neo-con ideolog like Michael Weiss, who has no on the ground experience or educational credentials about Russia can be hired as a commentator by CNN on the subject, it’s dangerous. When someone like Rachel Maddow, who from her past investigative reporting knows better, has allowed herself to be used as a cartoonish purveyor of anti Russia propaganda, virtually ignoring coverage of more immediate issues facing average Americans and distracting them away from confronting the Democratic Party’s failures and dishonesty, it’s dangerous.

Natylie Baldwin elaborated on the current critical situation and need for honest and objective journalism, stating:

Our media, like our political system, is in crisis. Indeed, these two crises reinforce each other as both our media and our political system are corrupted by money and have been largely reduced to a cheap spectacle. According to polls, large majorities of millennials have contempt for these establishment institutions. They’re open to and looking for alternatives to these broken systems. This makes Robert Parry’s legacy and the space for genuine investigative journalism that he fostered at Consortia more important than ever.

Reflections on Bob Parry

Joe Lauria said:

Bob was a skeptic but not a cynic – there’s a big difference.

Sam Parry said:

Dad was a patriot. I think that he really loved America. He loved our ideals, he loved the people, he loved the idea of holding the institutions that govern us accountable. That was his passion. That was what he was all about and what really drove him and propelled him through his life.

Australian journalist John Pilger wrote about Robert Parry:

His founding of Consortia was a landmark. He was saying in effect, ‘We must not lie down in the face of media monoliths, the Murdochs, the liberal pretenders, censors and collaborators.’

Bob Parry exposed the double standards and bias of mainstream media but maintained connections there. At the east coast Celebration of the life of Robert Parry, former neighbor, family friend and executive editor of the NY Times, Jill Abramson, made the understated but accurate summary:

Bob Parry certainly did his part to challenge the established order.

Robert Parry’s website continues; his work and life continue to inspire.

Palestinian Courage Should Spur International Action

After 70 years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still unresolved. The conflict simmers for a few years, then erupts again with new massacres and violence. This article describes recent events, the failure of the “two state solution” and need for a different approach.

In the past couple months, Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers have killed 118 Palestinian protesters and seriously wounded many thousands more. The protesters were unarmed and no threat to the soldiers. Gaza hospitals overflow with victims.

In the wake of this violence, human rights groups filed a legal petition to make it unlawful for Israeli soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters. Last week the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the petition.

Israeli violence is usually portrayed as a “response” to Palestinian violence, but the reality is the opposite. The sequence of recent events is as follows:

– From the end of March til May 25, Palestinians in Gaza protested against their oppression as close as they could get to the border fences. About 118 were killed and many thousands seriously injured by Israeli snipers. They were all shot inside Gaza.

– On May 27 – 28, the Israeli military launched tank mortars at Palestinian military outposts inside Gaza, killing four.

– Next day, on May 29, Palestinian militants launched unguided mortars into nearby Israel. Most of them fell harmlessly and there were no Israeli casualties.

– Next day, on May 30, Israeli jets and helicopters launched guided missiles and bombs on 65 different locations within Gaza.

Clearly, the violence started with Israelis killing protesters and then militants inside Gaza, but it’s not portrayed that way. Time magazine began its article with, “Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel….”

Pro Israel advocates wish to prevent people from seeing what is really happening. They know the potential damage if people see video such as Israeli snipers celebrating the shooting of unarmed protesters. To prevent this, a proposed law will make it illegal to photograph or video record Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists have condemned this attempt to criminalize journalism.

The Reality of the Israeli Occupation

Israel calls itself the “Startup Nation” because of the economic and technological achievements. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Israeli policies and actions strangle the economies and worsen living conditions.

Palestinians in Gaza are kept separate from Palestinians in the West Bank. There is no trade, travel or inter-family visitation. This is in violation of international agreements including the Oslo Accords.

The claim that Israel “departed” Gaza is false. Israel controls the borders, sky and waters around Gaza, a coastal strip just 5 miles wide by 25 miles in length. Unemployment in Gaza is approaching 50%, the highest unemployment in the world. Fisherman are prevented from going out into deeper waters and shot at when they go beyond Israel’s imposed zone. Gazan farmers cannot export independently. Israel frequently blocks the import and export of crops and products. It is almost impossible to leave Gaza. Even outstanding students winning international scholarships may have their exit denied. The electrical and water treatment facilities have been bombed and destroyed by Israel. Nearly all the drinking water is contaminated. Israel restricts the amount of food permitted to enter Gaza so there is continual shortage leading to nutritional deprivation, stunted growth and anemia.

This situation is not new. Eighteen years ago, Israeli journalist Amira Hass described the history, the facts and statistics as well as her personal experience living in Gaza in the profound book Drinking the Seat at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege. The situation was extremely grim then but keeps getting worse.

At the northern Gaza border, Israel is now building a sea barrier extending far out into the Mediterranean. It will be above and below the water line. A major reason for this expensive project is to block sewage and pollution from the waters in front of Gaza. Because of Israeli attacks on sewage treatment and electrical infrastructure, sewage flows into the sea. Last summer, Zikim Beach in southern Israel had to be closed due to the inflow of sewage from Gaza. The ‘sea barrier’ now in construction will block the sea currents. This will keep the Israeli beach clean and greatly compound the problem in Gaza.

The strangulation, impoverishment and oppression is not confined to Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli settlements continue to expand. This increases the number of check points, restrictions and repression. Travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is impossible for most Palestinians. The majority of West Bank water from the aquifers is transferred to Israel or provided cheaply to settlers while Palestinians must buy water and store it in tanks on their rooftops. In the last few years, Israel has made it increasingly difficult or impossible for humanitarian groups to provide medical support including breast cancer screening. A compelling new book titled The Other Side of the Wall describes the daily struggle in the West Bank where Palestinians and international allies protest against the theft of land, abuses, random killings and imprisonments.

Defiant Courage

There seems to be a trend toward greater Palestinian unity and strategic agreement. The tens of thousands of Palestinians protesting in Gaza were unarmed and united behind the Palestinian flag rather than separate party or movement flags of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP, etc..    

The Palestinian protesters in Gaza show remarkable courage. Beginning on Friday March 30, they have returned week after week despite seeing thousands of their fellows shot and wounded or killed.

In an article titled “The Gaza Fence that Separates the Brave from the Cowardly“, Amira Hass wrote:

The desperate courage demonstrated by tens of thousands of citizens of Gaza over the past few weeks in general and on Monday in particular hints at the energies, the talents, the dreams, the creativity and the vitality of the inhabitants of this strip of land – who have been subjected to a 27 year policy of closure and siege aimed at suffocating and crushing them.

Steadfast and Persistent

Palestinian resistance continues despite Israeli violence and bloodshed. Seven years ago Palestinian refugees in Syria and Lebanon held “March of Return” protests at the northern borders. Israeli soldiers killed 13 and wounded many more.

In recent days, Gazans have again challenged the Israeli port blockade which prevents ships from departing or arriving. International solidarity with the Palestinian cause is also persistent. Three ships (two Swedish and one Norwegian) recently departed Scandinavia heading for the Mediterranean Sea and Gaza. Named the 2018 Freedom Flotilla, the ships are carrying dozens of international citizens to again demand that Israel stop its blockade of Gaza.

Despite the huge imbalance today, time may be on the side of the Palestinian cause. Systemic apartheid in South Africa existed for a long time and seemed strong. But ultimately it collapsed quickly. The same may unfold in Israel/Palestine.

Today, South Africa is an important supporter of the Palestinian cause. South Africa was the first nation to recall its ambassador to protest the “indiscriminate and grave Israeli attack” in Gaza.

Israel has the military might but Palestinian resistance and courage persists. The Palestinian population is steadfast, persistent and growing. They have increasing number of allies who support their cause. Young American Jews are unlike their parents and increasingly critical of Israeli policies. Some courageous Israelis, such as Miko Peled, speak out unequivocally that Israeli apartheid must end and be replaced by one state with democracy and equality for all. A million registered Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon and Syria, patiently waiting. They have not forgotten their legal claim and right to return.

The recent bloodshed and massacres underscore the fact that there is no solution on the current path. It only leads to increasingly unlivable conditions in Gaza plus more illegal settlements and oppression in the West Bank. The so-called “two state solution” has been dead for many years and should be forgotten. As happened in South Africa, the international community can and should help. It is time to increase international pressure and expand BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel to help bring a peaceful end to this conflict with its constant oppression and recurring massacres.

The alternative is very grim. As described by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy:

The truth is that Israel is well prepared to massacre hundreds and thousands, and to expel tens of thousands. Nothing will stop it. This is the end of conscience, the show of morality is over. The last few days’ events have proved it decisively. The tracks have been laid, the infrastructure for the horror has been cast. Dozens of years of brainwashing, demonization and dehumanization have borne fruit. The alliance between the politicians and the media to suppress reality and deny it has succeeded. Israel is set to commit horrors. Nobody will stand in its way any longer. Not from within or from without.

Palestinian courage should spur international action.

Iranian Movie about ISIS in Syria

The “West” is competing against the “East” on the Syrian battle-field, in conflicting news and analysis, and now also in the cultural and film arena. A new full-length action movie, titled Damascus Time, gives an Iranian perspective on the battle against ISIS in Syria.

The movie comes from Iranian screenwriter and film director Ebrahim Hatamikia. Two award winning Iranian actors, Hadi Hejazifar and Babak Hamidian, play father and son pilots trying to rescue civilians besieged and attacked by ISIS forces in eastern Syria. The pilots have come to help the townspeople escape in an aging Ilyushin cargo plane.

Syrian and Iraqi actors play Syrian civilians and ISIS terrorists hell bent on blowing up the plane or using it on a suicide mission against Damascus.

The movie portrays sensational scenes from real ISIS atrocities with a backdrop showing the Syrian desert and famous ruins of Palmyra. The city where civilians are surrounded and besieged is similar to the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor which was in real life surrounded and attacked by ISIS for years. During that time, the townspeople and soldiers depended on air dropped food and ammunition to hold off the attackers, as shown in the movie.

Damascus Time starkly portrays the violence and nihilism of ISIS. The ISIS individuals are shown to have human feelings, but they are wrapped in sectarianism and hate-filled violence.

Life’s complexities are portrayed in the Iranian pilots where the younger pilot has left his pregnant wife to be alongside his father. The mother-in-law of the young pilot bitterly criticizes him for leaving his wife. He says this will be his last trip away.

While the story is fictional, the portrayed setting, human drama and conflict between forces of moderation versus extremism and violence is real. Hundreds of thousands of real Syrians and Iraqis have died due to the creation and promotion of the Frankenstein monster represented by ISIS.

One of the ironies of modern history is that Western politicians criticize Iran for being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism.” In reality Iran has a record opposing sectarianism and extremism. Different faiths are respected within Iran, and Iranian Jews are represented within parliament, in contrast with Israeli propaganda.

In reality, it is the US and UK who have sponsored terrorism for decades. As documented in Devil’s Game: How the US Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam, the US and UK promoted a violent and sectarian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the nationalist and socialist policies of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt. Starting in 1979, the US and Saudi Arabia promoted the founders of Al Qaeda to attack the socialist leaning government of Afghanistan.

This policy has continued to the present. In the summer of 2012, the US Defense Intelligence Agency outlined their strategy in a secret document: “THERE IS THE POSSIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING A DECLARED OR UNDECLARED SALAFIST PRINCIPALITY IN EASTERN SYRIA (HASAKA AND DER ZOR).”  The US looked favorably on the creation of the Islamic State: “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME…”.

The true “state sponsor of terrorism” is not Iran; it is the West and their allies. Thus it is appropriate that the first feature length movie depicting the battle against terrorism and ISIS in Syria comes from Iran.

Iran has come to the assistance of Syria by supplying militias plus technical and military advisers. Hundreds of Iranians have given their lives alongside their Syrian and Iraqi comrades. Damascus Time is not the product of Hollywood fantasy; it’s the product of actual human drama and conflict occurring in the Middle East today.

The Iranian Foreign Minister and head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard were reportedly moved by the movie. Damascus Time is fictional but based on a real conflict with actual blood, atrocities, tragedies and martyrs.

The movie is currently being shown at movie theaters throughout Iran. In recent weeks it was the second highest ranking movie. It should be available for viewing in the West in the near future, unless western sanctions and censorship are extended to culture and film.