CONFIRMED: Chemical Weapons Assessment Contradicting Official Syria Narrative Is Authentic

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The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has begun responding to queries by the press about a leaked document which contradicts official OPCW findings on an alleged chemical weapons attack last year in Douma, Syria. The prepared statement they’ve been using in response to these queries confirms the authenticity of the document.

To recap, a few days ago the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media (WGSPM) published a document signed by a man named Ian Henderson, whose name is seen listed in expert leadership positions on OPCW documents from as far back as 1998 and as recently as 2018. It’s unknown who leaked the document and what other media organizations they may have tried to send it to.

The report picks apart the extremely shaky physics and narratives of the official OPCW analysis on the gas cylinders allegedly dropped from Syrian government aircraft in the Douma attack, and concludes that “The dimensions, characteristics and appearance of the cylinders, and the surrounding scene of the incidents, were inconsistent with what would have been expected in the case of either cylinder being delivered from an aircraft,” saying instead that manual placement of the cylinders in the locations investigators found them in is “the only plausible explanation for observations at the scene.”

To be clear, this means that according to the assessment signed by an OPCW-trained expert, the cylinders alleged to have dispensed poison gas which killed dozens of people in Douma did not arrive in the locations that they were alleged to have arrived at via aircraft dropped by the Syrian government, but via manual placement by people on the ground, where photographs were then taken and circulated around the world as evidence against the Syrian government which was used to justify air strikes by the US, UK and France. There were swift military consequences meted out on what appears now to be a lie. At the time, the people on the ground were the Al Qaeda-linked Jaysh Al-Islam, who had at that point nothing to lose and everything to gain by staging a false flag attack in a last-ditch attempt to get NATO powers to function as their air force, since they’d already effectively lost the battle against the Syrian government.

We now have confirmation that, for whatever the reason may be, this assessment was hidden from the public by the OPCW.

British journalists Peter Hitchens and Brian Whitaker have both published matching statements from the OPCW on this report. Hitchens has been an outspoken critic of the establishment Syria narrative; Whittaker has been a virulent promulgator of it. The statement begins as a very mundane and obvious assertion that it takes information from numerous sources and then publishes its conclusions, but concludes with an admission that it is “conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.” This constitutes an admission that the document is authentic.

Here is the text of the statement in full; the portion I’m drawing attention to is in the second-to-last paragraph:
The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed. All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question.

At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.
This should be a major news headline all around the world, but of course it is not. As of this writing the mass media have remained deathly silent about the document despite its enormous relevance to an international headline story last year which occupied many days of air time. It not only debunks a major news story that had military consequences, it casts doubt on a most esteemed international independent investigative body and undermines the fundamental assumptions behind many years of western reporting in the area. People get lazy about letting the media tell them what’s important and they assume if it’s not in the news, it’s not a big deal. This is a big deal, this is a major story and it is going unreported, which makes the media’s silence a part of the story as well.

Also conspicuously absent from discussion has been the war propaganda firm Bellingcat, which is usually the first to put the most establishment-friendly spin possible on any development in this area. If Eliot Higgins can’t even work out how to polish this turd, you know it’s a steamer.

As near as I can tell the kindest possible interpretation of these revelations is that an expert who has worked with the OPCW for decades gave an engineering assessment which directly contradicted the official findings of the OPCW on Douma, but OPCW officials didn’t find his assessment convincing for whatever reason and hid every trace of it from public view. That’s the least sinister possibility: that a sharp dissent from a distinguished expert within the OPCW’s own investigation was completely hidden from the public because the people calling the shots at the OPCW didn’t want to confuse us with a perspective they didn’t find credible. This most charitable interpretation possible is damningly unacceptable by itself, because the public should obviously be kept informed of any possible evidence which may contradict the reasons they were fed to justify an act of war by powerful governments.

And there are many far less charitable interpretations. It is not in the slightest bit unreasonable to speculate that the ostensibly independent OPCW in fact serves the interests of the US-centralized power alliance, and that it suppressed the Henderson report because it pokes holes in the narratives that are used to demonize a longtime target for imperialist regime change. That is a perfectly reasonable possibility for us to wonder about, and the onus is now on the OPCW to prove to us that it is not the case.

Either way, the fact that the OPCW kept Henderson’s findings from receiving not a whisper of attention severely undermines the organization’s credibility, not just with regard to Douma but with regard to everything, including the establishment Syria narrative as a whole and the Skripal case in the UK. Everything the OPCW has ever concluded about alleged chemical usage around the world is now subject to very legitimate skepticism.

“The leaked OPCW engineers’ assessment is confirmed as genuine, which means the final report actively concealed evidence that the Douma chemical attack was staged by jihadists and the White Helmets,” tweeted British journalist Jonathan Cook. “The OPCW’s other Syria reports must now be treated as worthless too.”

When I first reported on the Henderson document the other day, I received a fair criticism from a Medium user that I was actually far too charitable in my reporting on just how thoroughly the official Douma narrative was rejected.

“This article doesn’t really express just how damning the report actually is,” the user said. “It’s much more than just on balance their observations are inconsistent with the cylinders being dropped from aircraft. Just about everything about the official narrative is shown to be plain impossible, from the angles of the broken rebar in the roof, through the damage to the gas cylinders, to the pile of fins on the balcony that couldn’t have been attached to the cylinder, and more. There’s simply no way they were dropped from helicopters.”

I strongly encourage readers to check out the 15-page document for themselves to understand its claims and make up their own minds, and then sit a bit to really digest the possible implications. We may have just discovered a major piece of the puzzle explaining how seemingly independent international organizations help deceive us into consenting to wars and regime change interventionism around the world.

The narrative that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is a monster who gasses his own people has been used to justify western interventionism in that nation which has included arming actual terrorist groups, enabling them to leave a trail of blood and chaos across Syria, as well as an illegal occupation of Syrian land and sanctions against the Syrian economy. This narrative is being used currently to maintain support for continuing to uphold the crippling sanctions that are making life hell for the average Syrian, today. This is not in the past, this is happening now, and there is no telling when these siege efforts towards regime change will be ramped up further into more overt forms of military action. The violence, displacement and economic hardship that is being inflicted upon the Syrian people by this interventionism is causing incalculably immense suffering, and it is all made possible by false narratives sold to the public.

Remember, they wouldn’t work so hard to manufacture your consent if they didn’t require that consent. So don’t give it to them. The first step to ending the suffering caused by western interventionism is to help free public consciousness from the incredibly complex and well-oiled propaganda machine which manufactures the consent of the governed for unconscionable acts of violence and devastation. Wake people up to what’s going on so we can all cease consenting.

Reprinted with author's permission from Medium.com.
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Trump Administration Withholds Information That Could Debunk Russian Interference Claims

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On Tuesday Russia's President Putin again rejected US claims that his country interfered in the 2016 elections in the United States. Additional statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov provide that there is more information available about alleged Russian cyber issue during the election. He pointed to exchanges between the Russian and US governments that Russia wants published but which the US is withholding.

On Tuesday May 14 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Sochi to meet with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and with the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. It was Pompeo's first official visit to Russia. Pompeo's meeting with Lavrov was followed by a joined news conference. The statements from both sides touched on the election issue.

The State Department published a full transcript and video of the press conference in English language. The Russian Foreign Ministry provided an official English translation of only Lavrov's part. Both translations differ only slightly.

Here are the relevant excerpts from the opening statements with regard to cyber issues.

Lavrov:
We agreed on the importance of restoring communications channels that have been suspended lately, which was due in no small part to the groundless accusations against Russia of trying to meddle in the US election. These allegations went as far as to suggest that we colluded in some way with high-ranking officials from the current US administration. It is clear that allegations of this kind are completely false. [...] I think that there is a fundamental understanding on this matter as discussed by our presidents during their meeting last year in Helsinki, as well as during a number of telephone conversations. So far these understandings have not been fully implemented.
Pompeo:
[W]e spoke, too, about the question of interference in our domestic affairs. I conveyed that there are things that Russia can do to demonstrate that these types of activities are a thing of the past and I hope that Russia will take advantage of those opportunities.
During the Q & A Shaun Tanron of AFP asked Pompeo about the election issue:
[I]f I could follow up on your statement about the election, you said that there are things that Russia could do to show that election interference is a thing of the past. What are those things? What do – what would you like Russia to do? Thank you very much.
Lavrov responded first to the question. He said that there is no evidence that shows any Russian interference in the US elections. He continued:
Speaking about the most recent US presidential campaign in particular, we have had in place an information exchange channel about potential unintended risks arising in cyberspace since 2013. From October 2016 (when the US Democratic Administration first raised this issue) until January 2017 (before Donald Trump's inauguration), this channel was used to handle requests and responses. Not so long ago, when the attacks on Russia in connection with the alleged interference in the elections reached their high point, we proposed publishing this exchange of messages between these two entities, which engage in staving off cyberspace incidents. I reminded Mr Pompeo about this today. The administration, now led by President Trump, refused to do so. I’m not sure who was behind this decision, but the idea to publish this data was blocked by the United States. However, we believe that publishing it would remove many currently circulating fabrications. Of course, we will not unilaterally make these exchanges public, but I would still like to make this fact known.
The communication channel about cyber issues did indeed exist. In June 2013 the Presidents of the United States and Russia issued a Joint Statement about "Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs)". The parties agreed to establishing communication channels between each other computer emergency response teams, to use the direct communication link of the Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers for cyber issue exchanges, and to have direct communication links between high-level officials in the White House and Kremlin for such matter. A Fact Sheet published by the Obama White House detailed the implementation of these three channels.

One inference from Lavrov's statement is that the "fundamental understanding on this matter" between the two presidents that has "not been fully implemented" is the release of the communications about cyberspace incidents. The Russians clearly think that a release of the communications with the Obama administration would exculpate them. That would also exculpate Trump from any further collusion allegations. Why then does the Trump administration reject the release? Who is blocking it?

Pompeo did not respond to Lavrov's points. His next meeting that day was with President Putin.

Putin let him wait for three hours. Both sides issued short opening statements. The English translations of what Putin said differ. In the version provided by Russia Putin explicitely denies the alleged election interference:
For our part, we have said many times that we would also like to restore relations on a full scale. I hope that the necessary conditions for this are being created now since, despite the exotic character of Mr Mueller’s work, he should be given credit for conducting what is generally an objective inquiry. He reaffirmed the lack of any trace or collusion between Russia and the current administration, which we described as sheer nonsense from the very start. There was no, nor could there be any interference on our part in the US election at the government level. Nevertheless, regrettably, these allegations have served as a reason for the deterioration of our interstate ties.
The State Department version does not include the Russian denial of election interference but doubles the rejection of the collusion claim:
On our behalf, we have said it multiple times that we also would like to rebuild fully fledged relations, and I hope that right now a conducive environment is being built for that, because, though, however exotic the work of Special Counsel Mueller was, I have to say that on the whole he had a very objective investigation and he confirmed that there are no traces whatsoever of collusion between Russia and the incumbent administration, which we’ve said was absolutely fake. As we’ve said before, there was no collusion from our government officials and it could not be there. Still, that was – that was one of the reasons certainly breaking our (inaudible) ties.
An English language live translation of that paragraph (vid) by the Russian sponsored Ruptly does not include the word 'election' in the highlighted sentence, nor does a live translation (vid) by PBS.

It seem that the Kremlin later inserted the explicit denial of election interference into Putin's statement. It is quite possible that Putin, who did not read from a prepared paper, mangled the talking point that Lavrov had already made.

After the meeting Putin, Pompeo held a short press availability with the US journalists accompanying him. There is no mentioning of Lavrov's point.

There were secret communications between the Obama administration and the Russian government about the alleged election interference and 'hacks' of the DNC and of Clinton's campaign manager Podesta. They are not mentioned in the Mueller report nor in any other open source. As Russia wants these communications released it might be possible to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to press for their publication. The Trump administration response to such a FOIA request could at least reveal the reasons why it is withholding them.

The allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections are partly based on the fact that a commercial Russian enterprise used fake characters on Facebook to sell advertisement. A review of the themes and ideological positions those fake characters provided demonstrates that they were not designed to influence the US elections.

In contrast to those Russian fakes other fake characters on Facebook, provided by an Israeli company and revealed today, were clearly designed to influence elections:
Facebook said Thursday it banned an Israeli company that ran an influence campaign aimed at disrupting elections in various countries and has canceled dozens of accounts engaged in spreading disinformation.
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Many were linked to the Archimedes Group, a Tel Aviv-based political consulting and lobbying firm that boasts of its social media skills and ability to "change reality."
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On its website, Archimedes presents itself as a consulting firm involved in campaigns for presidential elections.

Little information is available beyond its slogan, which is "winning campaigns worldwide," and a vague blurb about the group's "mass social media management" software, which it said enabled the operation of an "unlimited" number of online accounts.
Don't expect any protest from Washington DC about such obvious election interference in other countries.

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Hat tip to Aaron Maté for pointing out Lavrov's statement

Reprinted with permission from MoonOfAlabama.

Trump De-escalating? Satellite Intel Based On Tehran ‘Misreading’ US Intentions

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Soaring tensions of the past nearly two weeks paving the way for a potential direct military clash in the Persian Gulf between the US and Iran could be de-escalating as rapidly as they began as the president attempts to reign in hawks in his own administration, per a new report in FT:
President Donald Trump said he hoped the US would not go to war with Iran, cooling tensions at the end of a week in which worries spiked over the risk of conflict between the US and the Islamic republic. As he stood outside the West Wing waiting to meet Swiss president Ueli Maurer on Thursday, Mr Trump was asked by a reporter whether the US was going to war with Iran. He replied: “I hope not.”
This as the WSJ also reports Trump is fast reigning in his two Iran hawk horsemen of the apocalypse Bolton and Pompeo: "There are sharply differing views within the Trump administration over the meaning of intelligence showing Iran and its proxies making military preparations, people familiar with the matter said," according to the report.

So Trump doesn't want war, and now with the Senate demanding it be given a comprehensive briefing on just what the increased Iran threat constitutes and the intelligence consensus behind it (or lack thereof), it looks like the war train could be grinding to a halt.

Bloomberg also agrees, per its latest report:
President Donald Trump is wary of drawing the US into a war with Iran, in part out of concern that an armed conflict with the Islamic Republic would imperil his chances at winning a second term, according to people familiar with the matter. US’s evidence of Iran threat readied for release by Pentagon.
But the Pentagon war machine's next move could hinge on what's been revealed as the initial key piece of intelligence "evidence" of Iran's "attack preparations" that got us here in the first place, starting with Bolton's May 5th announcement of a major Iranian threat escalation. The "smoking gun" that started it all apparently hinges on satellite photos showing Iranian paramilitary forces moving missiles on boats in the Persian Gulf (perhaps even in their own territorial waters!?).

The New York Times cited three defense officials who confirmed that, “The intelligence that caused the White House to escalate its warnings about a threat from Iran came from photographs of missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces.”

But crucially, according to US intelligence officials cited by the WSJ, the "missile movement" satellite photographs may have just been picking up on Iranian defensive measures that came in reaction to Tehran's belief that a US military attack was on the horizon.

"Intelligence collected by the US government shows Iran’s leaders believe the US planned to attack them, prompting preparation by Tehran for possible counterstrikes, according to one interpretation of the information," reports The Wall Street Journal's Warren Strobel, Nancy Youssef, and Vivian Salama.
However, what was originally set in motion itself has momentum enough to spark confrontation, given on Thursday two Navy destroyers have entered the Persian Gulf as the American military continues to add to its assets in the region to head off any planned Iranian "aggression," USNI reported.

The USS McFaul and USS Gonzalez traveled through the Strait of Hormuz Thursday afternoon without being challenged by IRGC forces. They joined the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is stationed in the Gulf of Oman, as well as a strike force that includes several B-52 bombers out of Qatar.

So there it is: formula for de-escalation; however, the chances of some "accident" happening which leads to clashes remains high and unpredictable, at which point the intelligence debate Congress is demanding could turn into a moot afterthought, as is the pattern with many US wars.

Reprinted with permission from ZeroHedge.

Survey by Charter School Supporters Shows Broad Public Opposition to Charter Schools

A May 2019 report of a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 Presidential voters conducted late spring of last year shows that broad public opposition to charter schools persists.1 About half of all those polled are Democratic primary voters.

The survey was commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), an astroturf group2 created by Wall Street in 2007 to privatize public schools to further enrich millionaires.

DFER wanted the survey to show that charter schools are great, popular, have no problems, and should keep multiplying. The survey did not mention anything about widespread fraud and racketeering in the test-obsessed charter school sector, or how nonprofit and for-profit charter schools increase segregation, are run by non-elected officials, often perform poorly, oppose teacher unions, selectively enroll students, and have high student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.

The survey distorts reality and results in other ways as well, including by: (1) pitting minorities and white people against each other and dividing the polity in unprincipled ways, (2) reducing matters of broad public interest to a matter of voting and “voters,” and (3) failing to understand the identity of education in a modern society while putting forward a rendering of charter schools that favors the outlook and narrow agenda of neoliberals and privatizers. For example, the DFER erroneously and repeatedly refers to privately-operated charter schools that fail and close regularly as “public charter schools.” It also uses oxymorons like “progressive charter advocates” and cynically confounds “choice” with “school choice” to create the illusion that there is broader support for charter schools than there really is. While all surveys have some limitations, the DFER survey is unsound in many other ways as well.

Notwithstanding these serious limitations, the survey is unable to hide the fact that strong opposition to charter schools persists. Many people have a negative view of charter schools despite decades of intense corporate disinformation that charter schools are positive and great.

A key finding from the survey shows that:

Among all Democratic primary voters, a slight majority held an unfavorable view of public charter schools while slightly more than one-third had a favorable view. Democratic voters were more aware than Presidential voters overall of public charter schools as only about one in 10 Democrats say they were  unfamiliar with charter schools. (2019, p. 2, emphasis added)

About one-third of Black democratic voters and one-third of Hispanic democratic voters had an unfavorable view of charter schools. As more poor, low-income, and vulnerable urban families are betrayed by hundreds of charter schools that close each year and thousands of other charter schools that “push out” kids they do not want, it is likely that these numbers will increase.

It is important to recall that about 60% of charter schools in the country are located in urban settings. Charter school promoters have long targeted urban school systems and poor, low-income, and vulnerable minority families whose own public schools were starved, demonized, and are now being privatized by the same wealthy elite behind charter schools. Vilified and beleaguered large urban school systems mandated to fail by the neoliberal state represent the biggest bang for the buck from the perspective of Wall Street and charter school promoters.

Survey results also show that only 50% of all Presidential voters have a favorable view of charter schools (which have been around for more than 25 years). Nearly one third of all Presidential voters polled had an unfavorable view of these privately-operated schools.

The fact that so many voters, even when not necessarily super-informed about charter schools, and even when taking a survey that spins charter schools in a positive light, voice some sort of opposition to charter schools, is a sign that many others in the broader public also oppose charter schools—something that has been borne out in other surveys as well.

The real number of charter school opponents nationwide is higher than DFER and their survey would have us believe. It is revealing and telling that the average person who may not know much about charter schools quickly concludes that charter schools are undesirable just after hearing a 15-minute cogent and concise presentation of some well-researched and well-documented basic facts and trends in the charter school sector. Most are shocked at what they hear and cannot believe charter schools are allowed to exist, let alone expand. They find it appalling. Consciousness free of neoliberal disinformation, corporate school reform ideology, and prejudice reaches warranted conclusions effortlessly. Support for charter schools remains tenuous.

At the end of the day, the results of this or that survey may not be that critical or decisive. The fact is that thousands of teachers, thousands of their supporters, so many parents and education advocates, and more and more experts, scholars, researchers, journalists, blogs, government reports, and think tank reports exposing charter schools spells bad news for the rich and their charter schools. In many ways, charter schools are their own worst enemy. The road ahead is likely to get more rocky for these privately-operated deregulated schools.

Supplemental Note: “Voters” And “The Public” Are Not Identical

One of the many ways the ruling elite routinely undermines the public interest and the rights of the people is by constantly reducing major matters of public concern to “voters” and “voting.” Another way is by reducing everyone to “investors” or “consumers.” Both approaches are extremely narrow and based on an anachronistic outlook of society and the polity. Neither approach opens the path of progress to society or captures the identity of the modern human personality.

“Voters” are only a subcategory of the public. “Voters” is not synonymous with the public. In many places and most elections voters are not even the majority of the people. The DFER survey does not address this.

The public is a much larger category than “voters,” and it is the public interest that matters more when it comes to the broadest concerns of the people and what is needed for the extended reproduction of society. From this perspective, the main issue is not “voter turnout” or “what voters think,” but what serves the public interest first and foremost.

The content, direction, and results of education matter to everyone, whether they vote or not. It is not just the views and opinions of voters that counts, it is the views of all and the objective needs of society that must come first.

There is no reason to believe that public rejection of charter schools will diminish in the months and years ahead. Based on what has been unfolding in the sphere of education over the past year, it looks like resistance to charter schools will continue to steadily and surely increase. Charter school supporters and promoters are rightly worried.

The nation is ready for more individual and collective actions against charter schools and in defense of public education and public right. An opening has presented itself to further expose and oppose charter schools, and to recognize the necessity for fighting for a pro-social human-centered alternative free of the burden and demands of capital.

  1. Barone, C., Laurens, D., & Munyan-Penney, N. (2019, May). A democratic guide to public charter schools: Public opinion.
  2. Astroturf  groups are fake grass-roots organizations whose main aim is to trick the public into supporting ideas, policies, and arrangements that are harmful to their interests. See Sharyl Attkisson’s TEDx Talk on astroturf groups, propaganda, and disinformation here

Taking On Spotify: Why We Need A Global Campaign



How should independent musicians survive in the streaming age? There seems to be mostly a lot of hopelessness, along with a few dead-end ideas. I have another idea: demand streaming justice. Fight back against the vulture capitalists of Stockholm. How did we get to this point? Here are my two cents.

Extinction Rebellion is challenging the workings of modern capitalism and the ecocidal society it has tortured into existence. They say we must find a different way to live before our species — and so many others — is extinct. Meanwhile, this same system of unregulated global capitalist insanity has, in the name of modernity, technology, freedom and smart phones, duped so many of us into believing that there is something positive and futuristic about viciously predatory, completely destructive vulture corporations such as Uber and Spotify. Just as cab drivers around the world are organizing on behalf of what’s left of their profession, and Uber and Lyft drivers are also organizing, waking up to the realization that they are a super-exploited work force who are increasingly unable to make a living, since they were never an important part of the business model in the first place, me and my fellow musicians need to organize for streaming justice.

Spotify has behaved in exactly the same ways as Uber on the global corporate and political stage, pouring unbelievable amounts of money into a platform in order to make it totally dominant, at which point they go in for the kill. It is a debt-based form of vulture capitalism that is leaving the entire indy music industry in a shambles, benefiting only a handful of pop stars, so-called legacy acts, or their record labels, and viral sensations, while everybody else moves into their cars and signs up for Food Stamps.

The final straw that led to my realization that the only way forward is a global campaign targeting Spotify and other streaming corporations until they transparently meet our demands for a minimum rate per stream, was learning from veteran music journalist Anil Prasad that the payout rate per stream from Spotify was actually decreasing, rather than increasing. More evidence that Spotify is committed to the same predatory business model as that practiced by Uber.

With the extreme speed at which everything constantly changes these days, it’s impossible to keep up, and there’s a huge lag time between when everything breaks and when most people realize it broke. To use some good old Marxist analysis of the trends, different situations involve different sets of contradictions, and depending on what those contradictions are, different sorts of tactics are called for. The tactic that is called for now, most especially, is not forming alternate platforms, or embracing a life of poverty. What is called for now is direct confrontation — independent artists organizing for our class interests, against the interests of our class enemies, represented in their most devastating form (for us) by Spotify and other “budget” streaming platforms.

I’ll explain my thoughts. I think the best way to go about that is first to back up and take a little look at where my fellow musicians have been in, say, my lifetime. Being a musician, especially an independent one, has never been an easy profession, regardless of the mythology and the small handful of superstars. But certainly in my lifetime there has never been a more difficult time to be a singer/songwriter than now — despite what you will hear all over the corporate press about how things are starting to look up for musicians. This statement is only true if you think, or want us to think, that the interests of the Big Three record labels have anything to do with the interests of the vast majority of working musicians in the world alive today. But they don’t.

Once upon a time, the interests of musicians, record labels and music-lovers were a bit more aligned. Few people in society or in the music business in the US were fully cognizant back then that if the music business ever had a golden age, it was largely due to government regulation. For most of the radio age there were laws in the US that severely limited how many radio stations a person or corporation could own, and what they could do with them. This allowed for a local music scene to exist in every region of the country. Similar laws in other countries fostered local music, and at the same time helped prevent local radio in, say, Canada, from being dominated by artists from the much bigger US music scene.

In the US, the Reagan administration changed all that as soon as it came to power in 1981. What changed for independent artists? Well, before 1981, life wasn’t fair and neither was the music industry, but there were local music scenes, there was relative musical diversity between them, different genres and different local styles within those genres. The genres were too strictly defined by the corporate industry, artists were always being put into boxes they didn’t want to be in, pushed to create art they didn’t want to create and not make the art they wanted to make. Things were very imperfect. But despite that, there were legitimate avenues for independent artists to sign deals with independent record labels, get local radio play, tour, and have a career of some kind, maybe even a really good one. Lots of great artists fell through the cracks, but enough didn’t that for most musicians wanting to pursue a career as touring performers, the path of least resistance was to line up some kind of record deal.

Enter the 1980’s. Independent commercial radio and, with it, independent record labels, began their rapid decline. With these avenues now cut off, more and more artists gave up on the idea of finding a record deal, gave up on the dream of being “discovered,” and started doing it themselves. There was a flourishing of a new DIY culture, with new tape-pressing outlets opening up all over the place, with artists forming lots of one-person record labels, releasing their own recordings, spreading the word about gigs, tours, and recordings through word of mouth, zines, underground press, community radio, mixed tapes, and by other means.

The flourishing of DIY culture in the 1980’s has often been explained by technology — specifically the popularity of the cassette tape and the photocopying machine, which made self-recording and self-publishing especially accessible. I think this aspect has been wildly exaggerated, however, and the main reason for the growth of DIY culture in the 80’s was a consequence of the closing-off of all other reasonable avenues. DIY became the path of least resistance because it was basically the only path available. If we weren’t using cassette tapes, it would have been something else.

Soon it was — it was CDs. Enter the 90’s. Now we’re talking about my own lived experience, because that’s when I started making a living as a singer/songwriter and touring all over the US, Europe and elsewhere. It was a lot like the 80’s, but far more so in many ways. The corporate record industry overall was more insular, elitist and bland than ever in the history of the music business. But the independent music scene thriving on self-made and self-distributed recordings was doing even better than it had been a decade earlier, with the advent of the internet, email lists, bulletin boards and other forms of online publicity. The idea of seeking a major label record contract was as distant an idea as it could possibly have been for me, but it also didn’t interest me at all, knowing that no major record label would ever want to sign someone like me in the first place. But it was also a distant idea because I was doing just fine, selling several thousand of my self-produced CDs on tour every year, making tens of thousands of dollars on CD sales alone — after the expenses involved with recording, mixing, mastering, artwork, duplication, etc., were covered.

This was the period when the corporate music industry was at its most monopolistic peak. It has since been in a state of free-fall, up until the past couple years. And what has happened to independent artists during this period of industrial collapse?

Let’s examine this carefully — which is hard to do, because statistics are often unavailable or misleading, often intentionally. Universally, record industry executives will lament the Naughties, the period during which they were basically suffering colony collapse, lost at sea, with the future completely uncertain. The reason? Well, their whole business model had fallen apart.

Namely, you spend lots of money to sign an artist, spend lots to record them, spend far more to promote them, and then once you’ve spent all this money and done all this work so that everybody has now heard of this pop star you’re pushing, you then reap your rewards in the form of millions of CD sales. But by now we had MP3’s. So what most people were now doing, come the early 2000’s, was hearing from the TV or radio about this band’s new album, but then instead of going to buy it at Wal-Mart, they were downloading it for free on Napster or somewhere else on the internet.

This is the phenomenon that caused the corporate music industry to collapse, and this is why they are so happy about streaming platforms that pay them something — billions, in fact — unlike the illegal ones of the Naughties. Their executives will talk about the Naughties as the Dark Ages of their industry, and they almost always make the unspoken assumption that this was also true for independent musicians.

That assumption, however, is wrong, from my own copious experience of making a good living touring all over the world throughout the Naughties, selling thousands of CDs every year as I had in the Nineties, but also developing a new and bigger following globally as a direct result of the increasing popularity of the internet and the free MP3. I gave away all my music online in MP3 form throughout the Naughties, yet I sold as many CDs as ever.

Why did I and many other people voluntarily give away all our music during this period? There are many different reasons for doing this, and they differ depending on who you ask. For me, it was about many things — getting the music out there to the widest possible potential audience, discovering new places to tour as a result, and other practical considerations, but most especially, giving away your music was now a new way to challenge the hegemonic dominance of the Big Three record labels and other hegemonic corporate entities such as the evil Clearchannel. We could do an end run. For us, the act of giving away the music was the promotion. For them, they already spent millions promoting the album, which is why people heard about it, so then they got it for free, rendering all that promotion useless.

For us, people were hearing our music who never would have heard it otherwise. For them, everyone knew their music through “conventional” means. For us, giving away our music was generally something we did ourselves, by uploading tracks to platforms that we had control over. By the early Naughties people had downloaded more than a million of my songs, just on one now-extinct platform alone. If I came out with a new CD that I didn’t upload myself to the internet, however, generally no one else would bother ripping it and uploading it themselves. People did this with pop stars on a daily basis, but with artists like me they didn’t bother — it was just a little bit too much trouble to go doing something that took some time, and that most fans of my music wouldn’t want to do in the first place. Paths of least resistance, once again.

Enter the 2010’s. This is the decade when everything changed for me and other independent artists in the most profoundly negative way. This is also the decade when things started looking up for the very shrunken but still surviving corporate music industry. What changed? In a nutshell, the record companies, at about one fifth the size they had been in the Nineties, made peace with streaming. Now it’s not just the indy artists, but the big record labels that are giving everything away. Well, not giving it away, but selling it for a fraction of a cent per song streamed. Which, of course, only works on a practical basis if you are getting hundreds of thousands or millions of streams per month on the full-spectrum dominant platform of Spotify — not tens of thousands or fewer, like me and the vast majority of working singer/songwriters on the planet. And with the new deals the industry is making with Spotify, the percentages for indy artists are set to get worse, as the percentages for the big record companies get better — as those with the most influence make the best deals with their new, vulture capitalist puppet-masters from Stockholm.

Now the central contradictions have changed, and we must change with them. Now, the path of least resistance for people — by far — is to listen to free music on their phones. Spotify Premium comes bundled with many cell phone accounts. People are led to believe they are helping artists by listening to their music on the platform, and helping us even more by getting a Premium account. It is actually much easier to find an album on Spotify than it is to stick a CD in a CD player which you no longer own. No need to look around on the Dark Web for bittorrents that may be infected with malware. And we cannot possibly compete with free.

This is exactly why crowdfunding took off in the 2010’s, and not in the Naughties. The concept has existed for a very long time, and has been successfully implemented by NPR and Pacifica Radio for many decades, along with the Girl Scouts and loads of other organizations. It’s not new, and although the technology of the internet is very helpful in setting up a crowdfunding operation, it’s far from necessary. Crowdfunding became popular in the 2010’s for the simple reason that independent musicians could not afford to record albums or otherwise survive by any other means, unless they quit doing music or got a second, or a third, job.

Most crowdfunding campaigns fail, however, and so many others never happen because musicians don’t feel comfortable with the idea. They never used to have to beg. Most of them have never even been buskers. Suddenly it seems to have become the only way to survive for so many of us in the so-called gig economy. I’m sure that in the very near future, Uber drivers will be doing crowdfunders to buy their next car, since their wages as drivers won’t possibly allow them to save up for one — just as our income from streaming doesn’t even come close to covering the cost of making the next album, unless you’re making it with your cell phone. And forget about paying the rent.

And just as the idea of forming an alternative company to compete with Uber’s race to the bottom is a dead-end idea, just as the idea of forming an alternate social media platform to the completely dominant Facebook hasn’t worked, the idea of forming a different platform to compete with Spotify’s race to the bottom is a pointless undertaking. Spotify is the infrastructure for streaming. Me, you, no one has the means to create a new one. We can keep crowdfunding, sure. We can roll over and play dead, or look for other ways to get by.

Or we can fight. We can organize, and we can win. History shows that memes can spread and have a huge impact, when they are spread in the form of art, music and lots of civil disobedience. The contradictions have changed. This is not the time for entrepreneurial innovations. This is not the time for more venture capital. This is not the time for making peace with a new form of serfdom. The new system, the infrastructure for music distribution on the planet, is now here. It is streaming, it is “free,” and it is led by the vulture capitalists of Spotify, devouring the corpse of an industry they have destroyed — but in such a hip and fashionable way, with an aperitif in between courses.

Fighting back against Spotify means demanding streaming justice. My suggestion is that our initial demand from these corporate vermin be that there be a minimum payout per song streamed of one US cent, without exceptions. A simple demand. Consistency, predictability, something we can understand, not a mysterious algorithm with a payout that radically changes month to month, despite our listenership increasing. If a streaming platform’s business model does not start with paying artists at least a penny per song streamed, then screw their business model and their business. They can go out of business, and return the internet to the pirates, if a tiny fraction of a cent is what they think is acceptable.

A relatively small number of very committed people can, history indicates, change everything. Fellow artists and those who care about the survival of artists, and by extension other people victimized by the same sort of predatory practices of corporations like Uber and Spotify, and anyone else with a conscience, I ask you: who will join me in a campaign of music, art, and civil disobedience against Spotify? The beta version of the Penny Campaign is up at davidrovics.com/penny. Check it out and tell me what you think.

Musicians of the world, unite! We have nothing to lose but our chains. I’ll meet you in Stockholm.

Science Won’t Save the Planet, New Values Will

I don’t write much directly about climate collapse, even though by any measure it is by far the most important issue any of us will face in our lifetimes. And I can gauge from my social media accounts that, when I do write about environmental issues, my followers – most of whom I assume share my progressive positions – are least likely to read those blog posts or promote them.

I have to consider why that is.

As I explained in my last piece, the environment has been a concern to me since my teenage years, back in the early 1980s. It should now be a concern to everyone. And while polls in the UK show that most people are worried to some degree about climate change and the state of the planet, the majority are either still not concerned at all or concerned only a little.

Part of the problem, I start to think, is that we are approaching climate change all wrong. And that addressing it correctly is just too difficult for most of us to contemplate because it demands something profound from us, something we fear we are incapable of giving.

When I share climate change material on social media, it is invariably graphs produced by climate scientists showing the alarming trends of a warming planet. Others, I see, do the same.

But really is that what all this is about? Most of us – at least the ones sharing this stuff – understand that the science is now conclusive. Even, I suspect, those who deny climate change do so not because they believe the data are wrong but because accepting the reality is too overwhelming, too terrifying.

And this gets to the heart of what we need to talk about. Those persuaded by the graphs and the data no longer need those materials, and those unpersuaded aren’t going to heed the science anyway.

So maybe we need to talk less about the science, the graphs and climate change, and much more about ideology, about the inconvertible fact that the planet is dying before our very eyes and about how we have conspired in that act of ecocide. What got us into this mess wasn’t science, what got us here was ideology.

Consumerism our god

In my last blog I noted that scientists kept a low profile when they most needed to speak out, back in the 1990s and 2000s – in part because they were denied a platform, but chiefly because they failed to push themselves forward. That was when the evidence of climate collapse was irrefutable and there was time to start changing our societies to avoid it.

The reason the scientists held back is significant, I think. It wasn’t because they had doubts, it was because the dominant paradigm of our societies – the paradigm shared by almost all of us, the scientists included – was so deeply in conflict with what was needed to bring about change.

For decades – until the financial collapse of 2008 raised the first doubts – we were driven exclusively by a paradigm of endless economic growth, of ever-increasing resource exploitation, of a spiralling personal accumulation of goods. Consumerism was our individual god, and the Stock Market our collective one.

They still are. It’s just that the real, physical world – not the one we constructed out of narrative and ideology – keeps slapping us in the face to try to wake us up from our slumber.

The oceans didn’t fill with plastics last year. Some 1 million species didn’t start facing extinction this month. And the atmosphere wasn’t suddenly polluted with the greenhouse gas CO2 this week. These are trends that have been observable for decades.

The question we have to ask is why did David Attenborough and the BBC suddenly start noticing that everywhere they filmed – from the high seas to the deepest ocean beds – was polluted with plastic? This wasn’t new. It’s that they only recently decided to start telling us about it, that it was important.

Again, scientists haven’t just worked out that there has been a massive loss of biodiversity even in the remotest jungles, that insect populations needed to maintain the health of our planet have been disappearing. The mass die-off of species has been going for decades, even before temperatures started rising significantly. So why have we only just started seeing articles about it in liberal media like the Guardian?

And, fuelled by greenhouse gases, temperatures have been steadily increasing for decades too. But only over the past year have all the record highs, the wildfires and anomalous weather conditions been reported – sometimes – in the context of climate breakdown.

Identifying with the enemy

The cause of these failures is ideology. The reality, the facts simply didn’t stack up with the way we had organised our societies, the way we had come to believe the world, our world, operated. We didn’t see ourselves – still don’t see ourselves – as in nature.

Rather, we have viewed ourselves as outside it, we have seen nature as something to entertain us, as parkland in which we can play or as an exotic place to observe through a screen as a reassuring David Attenborough narrates. Instead of considering ourselves part of nature, we have seen ourselves variously conquering, taming, exploiting, eradicating it.

Derrick Jensen, sometimes described as an eco-philosopher, offers a simple, but telling life lesson. He observes that when you get your food from a convenience store and your water from a tap, your very survival comes to depend on the system that provides you with these essentials of life. You inevitably identify completely with the system that feeds and shelters you, however corrupt, however corrupting that system is. Even if it is destroying the planet.

If you hunt and forage for food, if you collect water from streams, then you identify with the land and its water sources. Their health means everything to you.

We saw those two identification systems playing out as a terrible, tragic theatre of confrontation at the Standing Rock protests through 2016-17, between those trying to stop an oil pipeline that would destroy vital natural resources, risking the pollution of major rivers, and heavily armed police enforcing the system – our system – that puts corporate oil profits above the planet and our survival.

Anyone watching footage of those protests should have understood that the police were not just there to carry out law enforcement. They were not just there on behalf of the state and federal authorities and the corporations. They were there for us. They were there to keep our way of life, our suicidal pattern of living, going to the bitter end. To the point of our extinction.

Like them, we are battle-ready, heavily armed enforcers of an ideology, an insane ideology needed to protect a self-harming, nihilistic system.

A virus killing its host

This is not a question of science. None of those charts and graphs and data are actually necessary to understand that the planet is dying, that we have become a virus gradually killing its host. That is obvious if we look inside ourselves, if we remember that we are not police officers, or civil servants, or arms makers, or oil executives, or tax collectors, or scientists. That the system is not us. That we do not have to identify with it. That we can cure ourselves by learning humility, by rediscovering our inner life, by being in nature, by reconnecting with others, with strangers, by protesting against the system and its values, by listening to those the system wants to denigrate and exclude.

In fact, most of the scientists are very much part of the problem. They, like the media, now tell us how bad things are only because the patient is on life support, because her condition is critical. But those scientists are not ecological doctors. They are not qualified to offer solutions for how to revive the patient, for how to get her back to health. Those scientists who worked their way up through the institutions that awarded their qualifications of expertise are as identified with this suicidal ideological system as the rest of us.

We need more ancient wisdoms, dying wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples who still try to live in nature, to live off the land and in harmony with it, even as we make the conditions to do so impossible for them. We urgently need to find ways to simplify our lives, to ween ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, and to seek leaders who are ahead of us in that struggle for wisdom.

First buds of resistance

In my last blog post, I called for more populism – not the reactionary kind created by our current leaders to confuse us, to justify more repression, to strengthen their own hand – but a populism that seeks to take power away from those who rule over us in their own, narrow self-interest, to re-educate ourselves that the system is a menace, that we need new social, political and economic structures.

Some readers objected to my call for more Extinction Rebellions, more Greta Thunbergs, more school strikes, more Green New Deals, more climate emergencies. They believe these groups, these strategies are flawed, or even that they are colluding with our corporate rulers, coopted by the system itself.

Let us set aside for a moment the cynicism that assumes all protests to stop us killing the planet are pointless, not what they seem, or intended to derail real change.

Yes, of course, the corporations will seek to disrupt efforts to change the system they created. They will defend it – and their profits – with all their might and to the death. Yes, of course, they will seek to subvert, including from within, all protests of all kinds against that system. We cannot reach an accommodation with these structures of power. We must overthrow them. That is a given. There are no accolades for pointing out these obvious truths.

But protests are all we have. We learn from protest. From their response, their efforts to subvert, we identify more clearly who the real enemies of change are. We grow in wisdom. We find new allies. When we discover that the institutional and structural obstacles are even greater than we imagined, we learn to struggle harder, more wisely, both to change the reality outside ourselves and the reality inside. We find new values, new models, new paradigms through the struggle itself.

Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes aren’t the end of the process, our last shout. They are the very first buds of a rapid evolution in our thinking, in our understanding of where we stand in relation to the planet and the cosmos. These buds may be clipped off. But stronger, more vigorous shoots will surely replace them.

Modern Merchants of Death: The NSO Group, Spyware and Human Rights

Arms manufacturers of old, and many of the current stable, did not care much where their products went.  The profit incentive often came before the patriotic one, and led to such dark suspicions as those voiced by the Nye Committee in the 1930s.  Known formally as the Special Committee on Investigation of the Munitions Industry, the US Senate Committee, chaired by US Senator Gerald Nye (R-ND) supplies a distant echo on the nature of armaments and their influence.

The Nye Committee had one pressing concern: that the United States might fall for the same mistake it did in 1917 in committing to a foreign conflict while fattening the pockets of arms manufacturers.  As Chairman Senator Nye promised, “When the Senate investigation is over, we shall see that war and preparation for war is not a matter of national honour and national defence, but a matter of profit for the few.”

Despite the current sophisticated state of modern weaponry, along with modern offshoots (cybertools, spyware, the use of malware), the principle of ubiquitous spread is still present.  Companies in the business of developing malware and spyware, modern merchants of disruption and harm, face charges that their products are being used for ill, a nastiness finding its way to hungry security services keen to monitor dissent and target contrarians.  While the scale of their damage may be less than those alleged by Nye’s Munitions Committee, the implications are there: products made are products used; the ethical code can be shelved.

The NSO Group, a tech outfit based in Herzliya, a stone’s throw from Tel Aviv, specialises in producing such invasive software tools as Pegasus.  The reputation of Pegasus is considerable, supposedly able to access data on targeted phones including switching on their cameras and microphones.

NSO’s spyware merchandise has now attained a certain, viral notoriety. When Mexican investigative journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was butchered in broad daylight on a street in Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, something reeked.  The killing on May 15, 2017 had been designated a cartel hit, an initially plausible explanation given Valdez’s avid interest in prying into the affairs of organised crime in Sinaloa.  But the smell went further.  As Mexican media outlets reported in June 2017, the government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto had purchased the good merchandise of Pegasus.  Three Mexican agencies had purchased spyware to the tune of $80 million since 2011.

Since then, Canadian research group Citizen Lab, in collaboration with Mexican digital rights outfit R3D and freedom of expression group Article 19, have made the case that the widow of the slain journalist, Griselda Triana, became a target of Pegasus spyware within 10 days of her husband’s death in 2017.  According to the report, she was also targeted “a week after infection attempts against two of Valdez’s colleagues, Andrés Villareal and Ismael Bojórquez.”  The group behind the infection attempts, named RECKLESS-1, is alleged to have links with the Mexican government.

Canadian-based Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz can also count himself amongst those targeted by Pegasus.  In 2018, he claimed that his phone was tapped by NSO-made spyware, leading to a gruesome implication: that the Saudi authorities would have had access to hundreds of messages exchanged with the doomed Saudi journalist and fellow comrade-in-dissent Jamal Khashoggi.

In December, a suit was filed in Israel by Abdulaziz’s representatives Alaa Mahajna and Mazen Masri, alleging that the NSO Group had hacked his phone in the service of Riyadh.  In court papers, it was alleged that the dissident was harangued by the same individuals behind Khashoggi’s murder, insisting that he pack his bags and return to Saudi Arabia.

Buried in the court documentation was the receipt of a text message purportedly tracking the shipment of a package; instead, it masked a link to the NSO Group.  Once clicked, the link installed the spyware, turning the phone into an effective agent of surveillance.  Soon after this took place, Abdulaziz’s family home in Jidda was raided by Saudi security forces.  Two brothers were subsequently detained.

Last January, Maariv, an Israeli daily, investigated reports about telephone spyware supposedly used to bug the phone of the murdered Khashoggi.  Khashoggi’s ending at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, facilitated by a death squad, was not handiwork NSO wanted to be associated with.  The group had been, according to a statement in December, “licensed for the sole use of providing governments and law enforcement agencies the ability to lawfully fight terrorism and crime”.  Misuse of products would lead to investigation and, depending on appropriate findings, a suspension or termination of the contract.

Shalev Hulio, the company’s CEO, was clear to emphasise his humanity, before distancing himself and his company from the killing.  “As a human being and as an Israeli, what happened to Khashoggi was a shocking murder.”  Hulio was also adamant that “Khashoggi was not targeted by any NSO product or technology, including listening, monitoring, location tracking and intelligence collection.”  Could such precise denials be inadvertent confessions?

The cooperative umbrella for Israel is broadening. It seeks allies, or at least some form of accommodation with regional powers, to counter common enemies.  With Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, one common foe remains a constant: Iran.  The Israeli state’s licensing of such companies as the NSO Group implicates the policy of permitting the distribution of Pegasus and such products.  License their use; license their consequences.  Molly Malekar, of Amnesty International’s Israeli office, puts it simply: “By continuing to approve of NSO Group, the Ministry of Defence is practically admitting to knowingly cooperating with NSO Group as their software is used to commit human rights abuses.”  Monitoring and killing dissidents and intrepid journalists tend to be nasty by-products.  They, in a sense, have become the modern merchants of death, whose clients remain unsavoury regimes.

Why Shouldn’t the Boston Marathon Bomber Vote? U.S. Politicians Radicalized Him

Last month, 2020 U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders stirred controversy at a CNN town hall after answering a loaded question about whether his position on extending voting rights to incarcerated felons barred any exceptions such as the Boston Marathon bomber currently on death row. It was impossible for Sanders to respond honestly without being entrapped by the inclusion of Dzhokar Tsarnaev as an example, but the self-professed ‘democratic socialist’ gave a reflective explanation of the complexities of the issue behind his reasoning. The 77-year old Senator from Vermont’s thoughtful answer possibly avoided a campaign fate like that which befell 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis after he gave a widely perceived clinical reply in the presidential debates to whether he favored the death penalty for a hypothetical rapist and murderer of his own wife. Nevertheless, enough damage was done for a brief media firestorm to ensue following the televised event.

The backlash was entirely predictable across mainstream media, as were the reactions on both sides of the isle exemplifying the all too familiar shallow discourse of U.S. politics. Fox News and Donald Trump did the expected flag-waving, while Democratic Party ‘progressives’ tried to salvage the legitimate issue of voter suppression distorted by the question in what was another coordinated hit by CNN. The network previously exploited its conflicts of interest with the political establishment by colluding with the Democratic National Committee (DNC) against Sanders in 2016 with then-host and party chair Donna Brazile’s slipping of debate questions to his primary opponent, Hillary Clinton. While the Democratic status quo continues to sabotage any remotely progressive candidates in its field, Trump has created a distraction from the GOP’s systematic disenfranchisement campaign that purged ballots of racial minorities and the poor with wild exaggerations of the number of illegal immigrants registered to vote. It is hardly surprising that the world superpower with more than 800 military bases around the globe would also have such a large prison population that enfranchising its inhabitants would swing the outcome of its elections. Meanwhile, the bankrupt Democratic leadership has shown little concern for the voter suppression attacks compared to its ongoing obsession with bogus allegations of Russian meddling.

Sanders’ opponents gave rebuttals including South Bend, Indiana “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg who staunchly opposed such a measure. Buttigieg, who has risen in recent polls, is a former naval intelligence officer and in addition to opposing enfranchising all Americans has even spoken out against former President Barack Obama’s granting of clemency to army intelligence whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Buttigieg is the latest example in what has been an extraordinary amount of ex-military and intelligence operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and U.S. State Department to run for public office as Democratic entrants in the past year, including 11 who were victorious in the 2018 mid-term elections. In fact, the recent inundation of intelligence personnel into positions of government during the Trump era as a whole is without parallel. Buttigieg is joined in the race by Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a House Armed Services Committee member and affiliate of the Serve America Political Action Committee, an organization which channels corporate donations to political candidates with previous experience in the intelligence community, military branches or D.C. foreign policy blob. This trend illustrates the party’s overall hawkish turn to the right where the military-security complex has taken advantage of the anti-Russia hysteria by implanting a batch of veterans of the U.S. war industry into refashioning the Democratic Party to its liking. Not to say Obama didn’t already expand Bush policies, but the latest ‘blue wave’ has fully congealed the party structure with the intelligence apparatus.

It’s no surprise that Sanders’ center-right rivals with military-intelligence backgrounds would contradict his position on granting political suffrage to all citizens, including the 25-year old Kyrgyzstani-American convicted terrorist of Chechen descent awaiting execution at ADX Florence in Colorado. Completely missing from the subsequent conversation, however, is that the surviving Boston Marathon bomber was radicalized as a result of the military-security complex and its vaguely defined but never-ending ‘War on Terror’ that every candidate, including Sanders himself, supports. More disturbing is that Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s alleged path to extremism under the wing of older brother Tamerlan was not simply in purported retaliation to U.S. wars but was possibly more direct. The Chechen brothers may have become Oswald-like patsies in a FBI and CIA-coordinated sting operation gone wrong as a close look at the evidence surrounding the April 2013 bombings which killed 3 people and injured hundreds of others suggests a high probability the attack was facilitated by the U.S. domestic intelligence services who entrapped the Tsarnaevs for recruitment as assets or informants. They were then likely coaxed into committing a crime they never otherwise would have, if they even committed it at all.

No real understanding of the ‘War on Terror’ can be grasped without first revisiting the history of U.S. foreign policy which precipitated the present crisis the world is in today. A path can be traced from current domestic terrorism back to the catastrophic U.S. foreign policy move during the Carter administration under his National Security Adviser, the vehemently Russophobic Warsaw-native Zbigniew Brzezinski, who directed the Pentagon to provide covert support for the Afghan Mujahedin as part of the CIA’s Operation Cyclone program. This decision was made while the spy agency was still reeling from its discredited reputation after the Church-Pike Committees and Rockefeller Commission exposed its numerous abuses and illicit activities in the decades prior. Thereafter, the use of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) became the CIA’s modus operandi to serve as go-betweens shielding its activities using think factories like the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and other innocuously named “soft power” organizations to achieve its foreign objectives.

Support for the mujaheddin proxy army forced the Marxist Afghan government into requesting military assistance from the USSR, which was then framed by the West as a Soviet “invasion.” The U.S. backing of the jihadists was a deliberate effort to siphon Soviet involvement into a Vietnam-esque quagmire at Brzezinski’s own callous admittance. Continuing through the 1980s under the Reagan Doctrine, the CIA followed his blueprint providing arms and funds to the Afghan Islamist insurgency waging a guerrilla campaign against the socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in coordination with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and Saudi Arabia. As a consequence, U.S. money and weapons ended up in the hands of militants who would later form the nucleus of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

After the Berlin wall fell, the Anglosphere continued its support of jihadists to facilitate the breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s where U.S. subsidies went to Al-Qaeda elements in the Bosnian mujaheddin and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in their war against Serbia, the Balkan nation with the closest cultural and economic ties to Moscow. Meanwhile, the former Soviet states and Eastern bloc were granted their ‘independence’ with the stumbling block of IMF lending enslavement. However, one area remained a federal subject within the new Russian Federation to the dissatisfaction of Brzezinski and his elite cohorts who coveted a total dismemberment of Eurasia following the reestablishment of free enterprise in Eastern Europe. The Chechen Republic with Western encouragement sought its independence from Russia resulting in a decade of violence and two wars while its close proximity of less than 70 miles from the oil-rich Caspian Sea made it a target for destabilization.

Brezinski had previously formed the Nationalities Working Group (NWG) which had been devoted to undermining the Soviet Union by whipping up ethnic divisions, particularly the many different non-Russian Muslim groups of the Caucausus. Meanwhile, the wellspring of the puritanical Wahhabist strain of Islam, Saudi Arabia, had spread its ultraconservative ideology from the Middle East to Russia’s predominantly Muslim southern border region. Tasked with fomenting secessionist terrorism and instability in the area once the Iron Curtain dissolved was the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya NGO, founded by the neocon cabal Freedom House, as well as The Jamestown Foundation, a Eurasia-centered think tank established during the Cold War by former CIA director William Casey, a man who once famously stated “We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.”

Those able to see through the war propaganda in Syria today have been horrified by the West’s rebranding of salafist groups in the Levant as ‘moderate rebels.’ Yet, that is exactly how the same media marketed Islamist terrorists in the Chechen Wars who committed countless deadly attacks including the barbaric seizure of hundreds of innocent schoolchildren, hospital patients and theatre goers as hostages throughout Russia. In a 2009 WikiLeaks cable, Deputy Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Vladimir Nazarov confronted the U.S. Director for Russian and Eurasian Affairs on the National Security Council, William Solomon, about the ties between Western NGOs and Chechen “rebels”:

Nazarov complained about U.S. NGOs that ostensibly foster separatist and extremist sentiments in the region and noted that for leaders in the region foreign interference is a sore subject. Nazarov claimed there are documented connections between terrorists in the North Caucasus and groups in Afghanistan and Iraq. Moreover, he claimed Russia has evidence that one of the participants in the 2004 Beslan school massacre met with individuals in London (Nazarov appeared to be pointing to a connection with British special services, but could have also been alluding to Chechen leader in exile Zakayev). Because of this, Nazarov said, the Russian government did not believe the UK government is serious about counter-terrorism cooperation.

In 1977, when Brzezinski was in the Carter White House, the CIA Station Chief in Kabul was an operations officer named Graham Fuller. Under Ronald Reagan, Fuller was promoted to vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council and became infamous for penning the study that influenced the administration’s decision to use a covert route selling arms to Tehran to fund another group of anti-communist “freedom fighters” in Nicaragua which culminated in the Iran-Contra scandal. Pushed into abrupt retirement amid the fallout, Fuller became a political scientist for foreign policy think tanks such as the RAND Corporation in the vein of Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger and Samuel P. Huntington, who even cited Fuller’s work in his highly influential The Clash of Civilizations. Fuller’s orientalist writings mostly focused on geopolitical questions in relation to the Muslim world, and his activities are so extensive he is currently facing an arrest warrant in Turkey for his links to the Islamic cleric Fetullah Gülen whom the Erdogan government believes directed the 2016 coup attempt that has strained relations between Washington and Ankara. In 1999 Fuller wrote of how Islam was useful for Western regime change aspirations:

In the West the words Islamic fundamentalism conjure up images of bearded men with turbans and women covered in black shrouds. And some Islamist movements do indeed contain reactionary and violent elements. But we should not let stereotypes blind us to the fact that there are also powerful modernising forces at work within these movements. Political Islam is about change. In this sense, modern. Islamist movements may be the main vehicle for bringing about change in the Muslim world and the break-up of the old “dinosaur” regimes.

It just so happens that Ruslan Tsarni, one of the uncles of the Tsarnaev brothers, was married to Fuller’s daughter Samantha in the 1990s while he was an employee for the CIA-contracted RAND Corporation. In the aftermath of the bombing in Boston in 2013, interviews with ‘Uncle Ruslan’ by the media were widely circulated where he gave an overdone performance condemning his two nephews while verifying everything in the FBI’s portrayal of them. Are we really supposed to believe this connection is by chance? The media gave virtually no attention to the fact that Tsarni not only worked as a consultant for CIA-fronts like RAND and USAID and as a contractor for Halliburton but even established an entity called the Congress of Chechen International Organizations which supplied Islamic separatist militants in the Caucasus while using his father in-law Fuller’s home address in Maryland as its registered place of residence.

Tsarni’s feigned denunciation of his nephews could not have contrasted more with the wholehearted and impassioned pleas by the mother of the two suspects, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, who insisted that her two sons were set-up by the FBI and alleged that the family had contact with agents long before the bombing took place. The FBI was forced to admit they had indeed investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev two years prior after being warned by the Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia that he was a follower of radical Islam, but this didn’t prevent the Islamophobic legacy media from smearing the grieving mother as a crazed anti-American. The yellow press downplayed the significance of the 2011 tip from the FSB likely because it came after the older Chechen brother had attended workshops in Tblisi, Georgia while traveling abroad that were operated by an organization called the Caucasus Fund of Georgia. According to documents obtained by the Moscow-based Isvestia newspaper from Georgian counter-intelligence, the Caucasus Fund was financed by none other than the Jamestown Foundation. Graham Fuller himself has given keynote speeches at Jamestown events and corporate media could only have purposefully avoided piecing together the glaring ‘coincidences’ surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers and their uncle.

The FBI’s previous contact with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and their inability to prevent the April 2013 attack, as has been the case with so many others like it, increases the likelihood that the brothers could very well have been part of a undercover operation gone awry like their mother believes. Leaving aside the extremely suspicious death of Ibragim Todashev, Tamerlan’s friend, at the hands of agents where he had allegedly confessed in an interview to an earlier triple homicide that implicated his deceased companion, FBI records indicate that the domestic security service has proliferated its use of sting operations in recent years as part of its counterterrorism program. Nearly three quarters of all suspects apprehended in foiled plots who professed allegiance to ISIS have been through undercover deception, raising significant ethical questions about the agency’s practices. The New York Times reported in 2016:

The F.B.I. has significantly increased its use of stings in terrorism cases, employing agents and informants to pose as jihadists, bomb makers, gun dealers or online “friends” in hundreds of investigations into Americans suspected of supporting the Islamic State, records and interviews show.

If nearly two out of every three terror plots is being engineered with the ensnaring of vulnerable individuals whom the FBI believes have sympathies toward extremism, how many would not have attempted such acts had the operations not taken place? It is clear that the War on Terror has a business model and in order to meet its quotas, terrorist attacks that would otherwise happen randomly and infrequently are being manufactured on an industrial scale. If ISIS poses such a serious threat to homeland security, why are such orchestrations by the FBI necessary? Like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Afghan-born suspect in the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Omar Mateen, had been surveilled by the FBI for a full year prior to the 2016 Florida massacre in a sting operation, while his father had been a longtime confidential informant. One can’t help but wonder how many of these tragedies are such cases of entrapment with deadly outcomes or if it would explain the increasingly routine nature of domestic terrorism in the U.S.

Samuel Huntington argued in The Clash of Civilizations that in the post-Soviet sphere, Islam would emerge as the primary foe of Western hegemony. It is worth noting that Huntington did not include the Christian Orthodox nations of Serbia, Russia, Belarus or Armenia as part of the West in his nine “core civilizations” but rather as “torn countries” divided between their civilizational heritage and close ties with Asia. His false paradigm became a conceptual justification for the U.S. empire’s unilateral dominion where an amorphous ‘war on Islamic terrorism’ replaced the absence of another superpower or viable threat after the end of the Cold War. That was until the return to the international stage of a competent Moscow and Beijing in today’s multipolar world where the machinations of Brzezinski and his apprentices like Fuller are still useful on the global chessboard in stoking the flames of religious fundamentalism to undercut the East.

It is significant that Brzezinski never considered himself a neocon and saw the post-9/11 management of empire by the Bush administration in the Middle East as the U.S. falling into the same trap he had laid for the Soviets in Afghanistan, despite the Wolfowitz Doctrine being an obvious inevitable outgrowth of the chain of events he set in motion. As for his colleague Huntington, the recent attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand against Christians and Muslims alike show the far reach of consequences from his prophesy of civilizational conflict. Like Brzezinski, the neocons carried out Huntington’s international relations thesis into what the author saw as a mutation of his vision. Indeed, 9/11 has been used to murder and displace millions of Muslims in seven nations, none of which ever attacked the U.S. Nevertheless, both Atlanticist manipulators gave birth to a cycle with blowback like the Boston Marathon bombing that will only be repeated if the lessons of our hidden history remain unlearned.

Venezuela Peace Talks Open In Norway; US Neocons Raging Mad!

The last time negotiations were planned between Venezuelan government and opposition forces, opposition leader (and US puppet) Guaido launched his ill-fated coup and the talks were scuttled. Today a new effort, brokered by Norway, is being launched to solve the conflict without further bloodshed. What kind of monkey wrench will the neocons throw into the mix this time? Tune in to today's Liberty Report...

Iran Is Not a Major Sponsor of Terrorism, Not Even Close

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Self-delusion and denial with regards to Iran's alleged status as the leading sponsor of international terrorism are rampant in Washington and among the punditry. It is crazy, it is dishonest and it is wrong. This is not my opinion. I can do math. I can count. If Iran was actually continuing to act like it did 30 years ago, when it was a major sponsor of terrorism, then we would be able to point to those attacks. 

Here are the statistics for 2018. Do not take my word for it. Count them yourself. The vast majority of terrorism continues to be carried out by Sunni extremists that have support from places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

Consider the numbers for January, February, March and December of 2018. There were 160 attacks recorded in January 2018. Only one of the groups listed as perpetrators is supported by Iran--that is Hamas. The incident recorded for Hamas in January was a drive by shooting that killed one person. Six groups accounted for 56 percent of all attacks. All are Sunni extremist groups--Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Islamic State aka ISIS and the Taliban. None of these are funded or supported by Iran. In fact, Iran and Hezbollah have been fighting and killing ISIS fighters in Syria.

We see the same pattern repeated in February, March and December.  There were 184, 176 NS 238 attacks respectively. A majority of the attacks and casualties were caused by the same five groups listed in the preceding paragraph.

The memo I drafted more than 18 months ago that was published by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity aka VIPS still stands. I wrote:
The depiction of Iran as ‘the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism’ is not supported by the facts. While Iran is guilty of having used terrorism as a national policy tool in the past, the Iran of 2017 is not the Iran of 1981. In the early days of the Islamic Republic, Iranian operatives routinely carried out car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations of dissidents and of American citizens. That has not been the case for many years.
These facts are absent from the public debate. We ignore them at our peril.

January 2018--160 terrorist attacks.
9 by Al Qaeda
15 by Al Shabaab
3 by Allied Democratic Forces
1 by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Saudi)
1 by Atomwaffen Division
1 by Baluch Liberation Front
4 by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
3 by Barisan Revolusi Nasional
19 by Boko Haram
2 by Coordinadora Arauco Malleco
5 by Communist Party of India (Maoist)
8 by ELN (Colombia)
3 by FARC
2 by Hamas
1 by Hizbul Mujahideen (Pakistani sponsored)
32 by Islamic State
4 by Jaish Mohammed
1 by Kosovo AlbanianMilitants (suspected)
2 by Lashkar-e-Taiba (suspected)
1 by Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (suspected)
4 by New People's Army
1 by Palestinian nationalist
1 by Paraguayan People's Army
2 by PKK
23 by Taliban
7 by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
3 by YPG/PKK
1 Unknown

February 2018--186 terrorist attacks
4 by Abu Sayyaf
11 by Al Qaeda
14 by Al Shabaab
3 by Allied Democratic Forces
1 by Arm na Poblachta
1 by Armed Revolutionary Struggles
1 by Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia
1 by Baluch Liberation Front
1 by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
3 by Barisan Revolusi Nasional (suspected)
11 by Boko Haram
1 by Coordinadora Arauco Malleco
5 by Communist Party of India
11 by ELN
5 by FARC Dissidents
1 by Free Papua Movement
1 by GNLA
1 by Hizbul Mujahideen
34 by Islamic State
1 by Islamist
12 by Jaish-e-Mohammed
1 by Jaysh al-Islam (suspected)
1 by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
3 by Lashkar-e-Taiba
5 by New People's Army
1 by Northern Alliance (suspected)
2 by Palestinian nationalist
2 by PKK
1 by Popular Resistance Committees
1 by Rakhine nationalists (suspected)
1 by rightwing extremnist
1 by Tahrir al-Sham (suspected)
31 by Taliban
8 by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
1 by Unknown
3 by YPG / PKK

March 2018--174 terrorist attacks
2 by Abu Sayyaf
8 by Al Qaeda
12 by Al Shabaab
5 by Allied Democratic Forces
1 by Anarchist
1 by Balochistan Liberation Army
1 by Barisan Revolusi Nasional (suspected)
9 by Boko Haram
1 by Coordinadora Arauco Malleco
13 by Communist Party of India
1 by ELN
2 by EPL
1 by FAI FAR
5 by FARC Dissidents
1 by Hamas
1 by Hasma Movement
4 by Hizbul Mujahideen
40 by Islamic State
2 by Islamist
1 by Jaish ul-Adl
3 by Jaish-e-Mohammed
1 by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar
1 by Jaysh al-Islam (suspected)
2 by Lashkar-e-Taiba
1 by Mark Anthony Conditt
1 by National Socialist Council of Nagaland
1 by NDFA
3 by New People's Army
3 by Palestinian Nationalist
2 by PKK
1 by Sendero Luminoso
1 by Tahrir al-Sham (suspected)
1 by Takfir wal-Hijra
20 by Taliban
3 by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan
2 by Unknown
1 by Volcanic Group Rupture Network Domination
4 by YPG/PKK

December 2018--238 terrorist incidents
1 by Abu Sayaaf
8 by Al Qaeda
14 by Al Shabaab
3 by Allied Democratic Forces
4 by Ambazonia Defence Forces
6 by Ambazonia Separatist
2 by Anarchists
5 by Ansar Al Sunna
1 by Ansar Al-Furqan
1 by Balochistan Liberation Army
1 by Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters
2 by Barisan Revolusi Nasional (suspected)
16 by Boko Haram
1 by Celulas de Ataque contra la Devastacion de la Tierra
1 by Chadian Militants
1 by Cherif Chekatt
1 by Circulo Iconoclasta Michelle Angiolillo and N.A.N.G.U
2 by Coordinadora Arauco Malleco
1 by Cow Vigilante
2 by Communist Party of India
3 by Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda
2 by Dissident Republican
1 by East Indonesia Mujahideen
3 by ELN
1 by EPL
2 by FARC dissidents
1 by Free Papua Movement
3 by Fulani Herdsmen
2 by Grupo de Ataque Antipatriarcal Claudia López and N.A.N.G.U
1 by Guardians of Religion Organization (suspected)
2 by Hamas
4 by Hizbul Ahrar
1 by Iconoclastic Sect
1 by Immediate Action Group
1 by Individualistas Tendiendo a lo Salvaje
3 by Thai Insurgents
1 by Irish National Liberation Army (suspected)
1 by Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (suspected)
36 by Islamic State
5 by Islamists
2 by Jaish-e-Mohammed
1 by Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin
1 by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi
2 by Lashkar-e-Taiba
2 by Militants
1 by National Socialist Council of Nagaland
8 by New People's Army
1 by Oromo Liberation Front
2 by Paraguayan People's Army
4 by PLGA
1 by Popular Fighters Group
1 by Rouse the Believers
1 by Sendero Luminoso
1 by Sociedad Silvestre Salvaje
1 by Sophia Perovskaya Cell
5 by Tahrir al-Sham
43 by Taliban
3 by Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (suspected)
1 by ULFA
2 by Unknown
1 by Wilayah al-Qawqaz
1 by Wrath of Olives
4 by YPG

Reprinted with permission from Sic Semper Tyrannis.