Iraqis Rise Up Against 16 Years of ‘Made in the USA’ Corruption

As Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, Iraqis were mourning 40 protesters killed by police and soldiers on Thursday in Baghdad, Najaf and Nasiriyah. Nearly 400 protesters have been killed since hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets at the beginning of October. Human rights groups have described the crisis in Iraq as a “bloodbath,” Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi has announced he will resign, and Sweden has opened an investigation against Iraqi Defense Minister Najah Al-Shammari, who is a Swedish citizen, for crimes against humanity.

According to Al Jazeera, “Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.” Only 36% of the adult population of Iraq have jobs, and despite the gutting of the public sector under U.S. occupation, its tattered remnants still employ more people than the private sector, which fared even worse under the violence and chaos of the U.S.’s militarized shock doctrine.

Western reporting conveniently casts Iran as the dominant foreign player in Iraq today. But while Iran has gained enormous influence and is one of the targets of the protests, most of the people ruling Iraq today are still the former exiles that the U.S. flew in with its occupation forces in 2003, “coming to Iraq with empty pockets to fill” as a taxi-driver in Baghdad told a Western reporter at the time. The real causes of Iraq’s unending political and economic crisis are these former exiles’ betrayal of their country, their endemic corruption and the U.S.’s illegitimate role in destroying Iraq’s government, handing it over to them and maintaining them in power for 16 years.

The corruption of both U.S. and Iraqi officials during the U.S. occupation is well documented. UN Security Council resolution 1483 established a $20 billion Development Fund for Iraq using previously seized Iraqi assets, money left in the UN’s “oil for food” program and new Iraqi oil revenues. An audit by KPMG and a special inspector general found that a huge proportion of that money was stolen or embezzled by U.S. and Iraqi officials.

Lebanese customs officials found $13 million in cash aboard Iraqi-American interim Interior Minister Falah Naqib’s plane. Occupation crime boss Paul Bremer maintained a $600 million slush fund with no paperwork. An Iraqi government ministry with 602 employees collected salaries for 8,206. A U.S. Army officer doubled the price on a contract to rebuild a hospital, and told the hospital’s director the extra cash was his “retirement package.” A U.S. contractor billed $60 million on a $20 million contract to rebuild a cement factory, and told Iraqi officials they should just be grateful the U.S. had saved them from Saddam Hussein. A U.S. pipeline contractor charged $3.4 million for non-existent workers and “other improper charges.” Out of 198 contracts reviewed by the inspector general, only 44 had documentation to confirm the work was done.

U.S. “paying agents” distributing money for projects around Iraq pocketed millions of dollars in cash.The inspector general only investigated one area, around Hillah, but found $96.6 million dollars unaccounted for in that area alone.  One American agent could not account for $25 million, while another could only account for $6.3 million out of $23 million. The “Coalition Provisional Authority” used agents like these all over Iraq and simply “cleared” their accounts when they left the country. One agent who was challenged came back the next day with $1.9 million in missing cash.

The U.S. Congress also budgeted $18.4 billion for reconstruction in Iraq in 2003, but apart from $3.4 billion diverted to “security,” less than $1 billion of it was ever disbursed. Many Americans believe U.S. oil companies have made out like bandits in Iraq, but that’s not true either. The plans that Western oil companies drew up with Vice President Cheney in 2001 had that intent, but a law to grant Western oil companies lucrative “production sharing agreements” (PSAs) worth tens of billions per year was exposed as a smash and grab raid and the Iraqi National Assembly refused to pass it.

Finally, in 2009, Iraq’s leaders and their U.S. puppet-masters gave up on PSAs (for the time being…) and invited foreign oil companies to bid on “technical service agreements” (TSAs) worth $1 to $6 per barrel for increases in production from Iraqi oilfields. Ten years later, production has only increased to 4.6 million barrels per day, of which 3.8 million are exported. From Iraqi oil exports of about $80 billion per year, foreign firms with TSAs earn only $1.4 billion, and the largest contracts are not held by U.S. firms. China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) is earning about $430 million in 2019; BP earns $235 million; Malaysia’s Petronas $120 million; Russia’s Lukoil $105 million; and Italy’s ENI $100 million. The bulk of Iraq’s oil revenues still flow through the Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) to the corrupt U.S.-backed government in Baghdad.

Another legacy of the U.S. occupation is Iraq’s convoluted election system and the undemocratic horse-trading by which the executive branch of the Iraqi government is selected. The 2018 election was contested by 143 parties grouped into 27 coalitions or “lists,” plus 61 other independent parties. Ironically, this is similar to the contrived, multi-layered political system the British created to control Iraq and exclude Shiites from power after the Iraqi revolt of 1920.

Today, this corrupt system keeps dominant power in the hands of a cabal of corrupt Shiite and Kurdish politicians who spent many years in exile in the West, working with Ahmed Chalabi’s U.S.-based Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ayad Allawi’s U.K.-based Iraqi National Accord (INA) and various factions of the Shiite Islamist Dawa Party. Voter turnout has dwindled from 70% in 2005 to 44.5% in 2018.

Ayad Allawi and the INA were the instrument for the CIA’s hopelessly bungled military coup in Iraq in 1996. The Iraqi government followed every detail of the plot on a closed-circuit radio handed over by one of the conspirators and arrested all the CIA’s agents inside Iraq on the eve of the coup. It executed thirty military officers and jailed a hundred more, leaving the CIA with no human intelligence from inside Iraq.

Ahmed Chalabi and the INC filled that vacuum with a web of lies that warmongering U.S. officials fed into the echo chamber of the U.S. corporate media to justify the invasion of Iraq. On June 26th 2002, the INC sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee to lobby for more U.S. funding. It identified its “Information Collection Program” as the primary source for 108 stories about Iraq’s fictitious “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and links to Al-Qaeda in U.S. and international newspapers and magazines.

After the invasion, Allawi and Chalabi became leading members of the U.S. occupation’s Iraqi Governing Council. Allawi was appointed Prime Minister of Iraq’s interim government in 2004, and Chalabi was appointed Deputy Prime Minister and Oil Minister in the transitional government in 2005. Chalabi failed to win a seat in the 2005 National Assembly election, but was later elected to the assembly and remained a powerful figure until his death in 2015. Allawi and the INA are still involved in the horse-trading for senior positions after every election, despite never getting more than 8% of the votes – and only 6% in 2018.

These are the senior ministers of the new Iraqi government formed after the 2018 election, with some details of their Western backgrounds:

Adil Abdul-Mahdi – Prime Minister (France). Born in Baghdad in 1942. Father was a government minister under the British-backed monarchy. Lived in France from 1969-2003, earning a Ph.D in politics at Poitiers. In France, he became a follower of Ayatollah Khomeini and a founding member of the Iran-based Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) in 1982. Was SCIRI’s representative in Iraqi Kurdistan for a period in the 1990s. After the invasion, he became Finance Minister in Allawi’s interim government in 2004; Vice President from 2005-11; Oil Minister from 2014-16.

Barham Salih – President (U.K. and U.S.). Born in Sulaymaniyah in 1960. Ph.D. in Engineering (Liverpool – 1987). Joined Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1976. Jailed for 6 weeks in in 1979 and left Iraq for the U.K.  PUK representative in London from 1979-91; head of PUK office in Washington from 1991-2001. President of Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) from 2001-4; Deputy PM in interim Iraqi government in 2004; Planning Minister in transitional government in 2005; Deputy PM from 2006-9; Prime Minister of KRG from 2009-12.

Mohamed Ali Alhakim – Foreign Minister (U.K. and U.S.). Born in Najaf in 1952. M.Sc. (Birmingham), Ph.D. in Telecom Engineering (Southern California), Professor at Northeastern University in Boston 1995-2003. After the invasion, he became Deputy Secretary-General and Planning Coordinator in the Iraqi Governing Council; Communications Minister in interim government in 2004; Planning Director at Foreign Ministry, and Economic Adviser to VP Abdul-Mahdi from 2005-10; and UN Ambassador from 2010-18.

Fuad Hussein – Finance Minister and Deputy PM (Netherlands and France). Born in Khanaqin (majority Kurdish town in Diyala province) in 1946. Joined Kurdish Student Union and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) as a student in Baghdad. Lived in Netherlands from 1975-87; incomplete Ph.D. in International Relations; married to Dutch Christian woman. Appointed deputy head of Kurdish Institute in Paris in 1987. Attended Iraqi exile political conferences in Beirut (1991), New York (1999) and London (2002). After the invasion, he became an adviser at the Education Ministry from 2003-5; and Chief of Staff to Masoud Barzani, President of the KRG, from 2005-17.

Thamir Ghadhban – Oil Minister and Deputy PM (U.K.). Born in Karbala in 1945. B.Sc. (UCL) and M.Sc. in Petroleum Engineering (Imperial College, London). Joined Basra Petroleum Co. in 1973. Director General of Engineering and then Planning at Iraqi Oil Ministry from 1989-92. Imprisoned for 3 months and demoted in 1992, but did not leave Iraq, and was reappointed Director General of Planning in 2001. After the invasion, he was promoted to CEO of Oil Ministry; Oil Minister in the interim government in 2004; elected to National Assembly in 2005 and served on 3-man committee that drafted the failed oil law; chaired Prime Minister’s Advisors’ Committee from 2006-16.

Major General (Retd) Najah Al-Shammari – Defense Minister (Sweden). Born in Baghdad in 1967. The only Sunni Arab among senior ministers. Military officer since 1987. Has lived in Sweden and may have been member of Allawi’s INA before 2003. Senior officer in U.S.-backed Iraqi special forces recruited from INC, INA and Kurdish Peshmerga from 2003-7. Deputy commander of “counterterrorism” forces 2007-9. Residency in Sweden 2009-15. Swedish citizen since 2015. Reportedly under investigation for benefits fraud in Sweden, and now for crimes against humanity in killing of over 300 protesters in October-November 2019.

In 2003, the U.S. and its allies unleashed unspeakable, systematic violence against the people of Iraq. Public health experts reliably estimated that the first three years of war and hostile military occupation cost about 650,000 Iraqi lives. But the U.S. did succeed in installing a puppet government of formerly Western-based Shiite and Kurdish politicians in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, with control over Iraq’s oil revenues. As we can see, many of the ministers in the U.S.-appointed interim government in 2004 are still ruling Iraq today.

U.S. forces deployed ever-escalating violence against Iraqis who resisted the invasion and hostile military occupation of their country. In 2004, the U.S. began training a large force of Iraqi police commandos for the Interior Ministry, and uunleashed commando units recruited from SCIRI’s Badr Brigade militia as death squads in Baghdad in April 2005. This U.S.-backed reign of terror peaked in the summer of 2006, with the corpses of as many as 1,800 victims brought to the Baghdad morgue each month. An Iraqi human rights group examined 3,498 bodies of summary execution victims and identified 92% of them as people arrested by Interior Ministry forces.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency tracked “enemy-initiated attacks” throughout the occupation and found that over 90% were against U.S. and allied military targets, not “sectarian” attacks on civilians.  But U.S. officials used a narrative of “sectarian violence” to blame the work of U.S.-trained Interior Ministry death squads on independent Shiite militias like Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The government Iraqis are protesting against today is still led by the same gang of U.S.-backed Iraqi exiles who wove a web of lies to stage manage the invasion of their own country in 2003, and then hid behind the walls of the Green Zone while U.S. forces and death squads slaughtered their people to make the country “safe” for their corrupt government.

More recently they again acted as cheerleaders as American bombsrockets and artillery reduced most of Mosul, Iraq’s second city, to rubble, after twelve years of occupation, corruption and savage repression drove its people into the arms of the Islamic State. Kurdish intelligence reports revealed that more than 40,000 civilians were killed in the U.S.-led destruction of Mosul. On the pretext of fighting the Islamic State, the U.S. has reestablished a huge military base for over 5,000 U.S. troops at Al-Asad airbase in Anbar province.

The cost of rebuilding Mosul, Fallujah and other cities and towns is conservatively estimated at $88 billion. But despite $80 billion per year in oil exports and a federal budget of over $100 billion, the Iraqi government has allocated no money at all for reconstruction. Foreign, mostly wealthy Arab countries, have pledged $30 billion, including just $3 billion from the U.S., but very little of that has been, or may ever be, delivered.

The history of Iraq since 2003 has been a never-ending disaster for its people. Many of this new generation of Iraqis who have grown up amid the ruins and chaos the U.S. occupation left in its wake believe they have nothing to lose but their blood and their lives, as they take to the streets to reclaim their dignity, their future and their country’s sovereignty.

The bloody hand-prints of U.S. officials and their Iraqi puppets all over this crisis should stand as a dire warning to Americans of the predictably catastrophic results of an illegal foreign policy based on sanctions, coups, threats and the use of military force to try to impose the will of deluded U.S. leaders on people all over the world.

Will Deval Patrick be president? Not if his past scandals have anything to say about it.

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Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick entered the presidential race last week. Patrick is touted as a centrist Democrat and is reportedly former president Barack Obama’s favorite candidate. Patrick is also the only candidate in the race responsible for disastrous coverups at both the federal and state level.

Patrick was assistant attorney general for Civil Rights in the Clinton administration. Shortly before Clinton won the 1992 election, US marshals killed 14-year-old Sammy Weaver and an FBI sniper shot Randy Weaver and killed his wife, Vicki Weaver, as she held their baby in the cabin door at Ruby Ridge.

An Idaho jury found Weaver not guilty on almost all charges and federal judge Edward Lodge slammed the Justice Department and FBI for concealing evidence and showing “a callous disregard for the rights of the defendants and the interests of justice.” A task force of 24 FBI and Justice Department officials compiled a 542-page report detailing federal misconduct and coverups and suggested criminal charges against FBI officials involved in Ruby Ridge. Patrick rejected the task force’s recommendation, ruling instead that the FBI sniper who killed Vicki Weaver had not used “excessive force” and did not intend to violate her civil rights.

When the facts came out, Patrick barely flinched

In June 1995, the secret report leaked out and made a mockery of Patrick’s “no excessive force” ruling. One FBI SWAT team member at Ruby Ridge recalled the Rules of Engagement: “If you see 'em, shoot 'em.” The report condemned that rule as practically a license to kill that flagrantly violated the US Constitution. The task force was especially appalled that the Weavers were gunned down before receiving any warning or demand to surrender, noting that the FBI’s tactics “subjected the government to charges that it was setting Weaver up for attack." Patrick apparently shrugged off such concerns.

Top FBI officials were suspended on suspicion of committing perjury on the case the following month. Though Patrick had effectively absolved the government, the Justice Department paid $3 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit from the Weaver family. When the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Ruby Ridge later that year, five FBI officials (including the sniper who killed Vicki Weaver) involved in the case invoked their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid incriminating themselves. In 1997, the chief of the FBI’s violent crimes section was sent to prison for destroying a report on the FBI’s failures at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

If Patrick had accepted the task force’s recommendation and permitted prosecutions, the Weaver case might not have swayed so many Americans to believe that FBI agents can kill gun owners with impunity. When FBI snipers swarmed on the scene of the Bundy Ranch five years ago, memories of Ruby Ridge spurred legions of gun-toting activists to race to the scene to protect the Bundy family. (FBI lies and misconduct in that case resulted in charges being dismissed and a federal judge condemning the bureau last year.)

In 2006, Patrick was elected governor of Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most liberal states. In July 2012, Patrick declared that “warehousing non-violent offenders is a costly policy failure” and proudly signed a bill that offered parole to a few hundred non-violent drug offenders. But despite the governor’s rhetoric, Massachusetts continued rounding up and locking away vast numbers of people caught with prohibited substances. Patrick strongly opposed decriminalizing marijuana.

The Massachusetts drug-conviction assembly line relied on state laboratories which assessed suspected narcotics. In September 2012, Massachusetts state lab chemist Annie Dookhan was arrested for falsifying tens of thousands of drug tests, “always in favor of the prosecution. Worse, when she was feeling especially helpful, she’d add bogus weight to a borderline sample,” as Rolling Stone reported. Dookhan routinely certified samples she received as illicit narcotics without ever testing them.

Governor Patrick described Dookhan as an isolated “rogue chemist” but the Boston Globe concluded that the lab debacle “crushes any hope Patrick may have had of finishing his term unburdened by scandal.” Patrick responded to the scandal by announcing plans to "create a kind of boiler room, or a war room where some folks who can work through the documents… from different agencies to make sure we get a comprehensive list" of people potentially wrongfully convicted thanks to Dookhan.

The lab scandal continued

Five months after the Dookhan scandal broke, another Massachusetts state lab chemist, Sonja Farak, was arrested for tampering with evidence as well as heroin and cocaine possession. Patrick quickly assured the media: “The most important take-home, I think, is that no individual’s due process rights were compromised” by Farak’s misconduct.

Actually, Farak had personally abused narcotics from her first day on the job in 2004 — sometimes even cooking crack cocaine on the single burner in the lab and snorting meth and cocaine in courthouse bathrooms when she was called to testify. She detailed her drug adventures in hundreds of pages of diaries, including the day she was “freaking out” and “crawling on the floor... trying to find crack, which I thought was there.”

The state attorney general’s office insisted that Farak had only started consuming narcotics at work a few months before her arrest and blocked all efforts to expose her drug binges since 2004. Massachusetts state lawyers also withheld reports “showing that the machines used for testing in Farak’s lab were issuing faulty reports” that could lead to unjustified convictions.

Though Patrick, whose second term ended in early 2015, had promised speedy justice to the wrongly convicted, state officials scorned due process and decency. Slate reported in 2015 that “district attorneys take the position that it is not their responsibility to help identify Dookhan or Farak defendants....[P]rosecutors have no special duty to notify defendants that their convictions might have been obtained with evidence that was falsified by government employees.” A ProPublica investigation noted in 2016 that “it took four years for prosecutors to even attempt to systematically notify the thousands of defendants that their convictions might have been won unfairly.” Most of the victims could not afford lawyers to challenge their convictions, resulting in innocent people spending more months and years in prison. In 2016, a judge condemned two prosecutors overseeing the challenged convictions for their “intentional, repeated, prolonged and deceptive withholding of evidence from the defendants.” More than 61,000 drug convictions were eventually overturned due to the state laboratory abuses.

Deval Patrick does not bear responsibility for either Ruby Ridge or the Massachusetts drug lab debacles, but he does bear responsibility for his responses. He compounded the first scandal, failing to stand up for the Weaver's civil rights. And he failed to honor his pledge for speedy relief of injustice in the second scandal.

That's not a record that qualifies Patrick for the presidency.

James Bovard, author of "Attention Deficit Democracy," is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JimBovard

Reprinted with author's permission from USA Today.

Iran May Be the Only Winner in Iraq

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Intelligence documents reveal how Tehran took advantage of US blundering

The American invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of that nation’s government in 2003 has rightly been described as the greatest foreign policy disaster in the history of the United States. Eight thousand one hundred and seventy five American soldiers, contractors and civilians have died in Iraq since 2003 as well as an estimated 300,000 Iraqis. By some more expansive estimates the so-called “global war on terror,” of which Iraq was the major component, may have directly killed 801,000, of which at least 335,000 were civilians. Other estimates indicate that the total dead from collateral causes, to include disease and starvation, could exceed 3 million, overwhelmingly Muslims.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone have also cost, according to the same Brown University study, an estimated $6.4 trillion and still counting as the money to pay for it was borrowed.

The invasion destabilized the entire region and shattered forever the relatively stable status quo whereby minority Sunni dominated Arab Iraq served as a check on Shia dominated Persian Iran’s ambitions. The two countries had in fact gone to war in 1980-1988. The United States provided support to Iraq in that conflict, which killed as many as half a million military and civilians on each side.

After the US invasion, as Shia were a majority in Iraq it was inevitable that the country’s new “democratic” government installed by the victors would eventually find much in common with its eastern neighbor in spite of Washington’s efforts to prevent such a development. The resulting armed conflict that also involved the independence minded Kurdish minority was something like a civil war. It primarily pitted the displaced Sunni against the ascendant Shia militias and was a contributing factor in the subsequent birth and development of the terrorist group Islamic State, also referred to as Daesh.

A remarkable 700 pages of documents relating to Iran’s role in Iraq has surfaced and was printed recently in The Intercept, which received the material, and also in The New York Times, which agreed to help validate and process the information. The Times headlined its piece on the documents with Leaked Iran Cables: Key Findings From Secret Documents: Leaked spy cables reveal how Iran came to dominate the political and military spheres in Iraq. Here’s what the hundreds of documents tell us. For The Intercept, the key insight provided by reviewing the documents was how the “devastation that followed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq gave Iran a golden opportunity to build a political and social order there that was more favorable to their interests.”

The documents consist of copies of original reports and cables written in Farsi that have been sourced to the Iranian external spy service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). They mostly date from 2013 through 2015. Many of them are field reports that detail the routine of spying – secret meetings, paying bribes, surveillance and countersurveillance. They were sent to The Intercept anonymously by what would appear to be a disgruntled Iraqi official who expressed a desire to “let the world know what Iran has been doing in my country Iraq.” Even though the material is extremely interesting and undeniably genuine, the stories in the Times and Intercept unfortunately only had a short run before disappearing into the mass of impeachment coverage.

As a former intelligence officer, my take on the story was to wonder why anyone should be surprised at what had happened. Iran, operating on internal lines from a position of strength, was working assiduously to infiltrate and place under control a neighboring country that had gone to war with it 30 years before and had killed half a million of its citizens. It was also working to penetrate and manage the new, hostile American presence which was sitting right next door. Spying on one’s friends and enemies alike and co-opting politicians is routine and expected from any competent intelligence service. It is precisely the same formula used by the United States, admittedly more openly, in Afghanistan to this day and also in Iraq after the invasion of 2003.

Just as the United States placed its proxies in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran has clearly exploited its own relationships with Iraqi Shiites, some of whom actually lived in exile in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein. The Iranian intelligence service developed special working relationships with many of those individuals and also sought new recruits within the increasingly Shiite government in Baghdad. Current Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi is known to have a “special relationship” with Tehran through his Iranian official contacts operating in Baghdad.

The documents, in fact, make clear that the Iranian government considers Iraq a client state whose friendly government has to be propped up at all costs. It has indeed penetrated virtually every government ministry at nearly every level. The documents reveal how in 2014 an Iraqi military intelligence officer met with an Iranian spy carrying a message from his boss in Baghdad Lieutenant General Hatem al-Maksusi, commander of military intelligence in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. His message was “Tell them we are at your service. Whatever you need is at their disposal. We are Shiite and have a common enemy. All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence — consider it yours.” The Iraqi described secret targeting software provided by Washington and offered to provide it to Iran, saying “If you have a new laptop, give it to me so I can upload the program onto it.”

From the American perspective, the documents reveal that the meetings between senior American diplomats and their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad and Kurdistan were regularly reported back in considerable detail to Tehran. The Iranians were particularly interested in developing agents who had once worked for the US government and were able to provide information on the CIA and DIA intelligence networks remaining in Iraq after the US military was forced to leave in 2011. The documents reveal, for example, that a CIA asset operating under the pseudonym “Donnie Brasco” offered to sell to Iranian intelligence officers the locations of Agency safe houses, details of training and also the identities of other Iraqis who had worked for the Americans.

The documents indicate that Iranian efforts in Iraq were coordinated by Major General Qassim Suleimani, commander of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who worked with the existing Iraqi-Shiite militias that had become increasingly powerful during the fighting with the Sunnis. The papers reveal that though there was some fumbling, the Iranian intelligence officers were generally very professional, objective oriented and effective.

Suleimani sought with considerable success to construct a vast network of informants and co-optees within the Iraqi government, many of whom are named in the reports. Interestingly, the Iranians have experienced some of the same problems in seeking to manage the fragile Iraqi political situation that previously plagued the United States, though they have benefited from the Shiite relationship. Deadly anti-government protests currently taking place in Iraq that have killed more than 300 have focused on the country’s pervasive corruption, but there have also been numerous calls for an end to Iranian influence. The Iranian Consulate in Baghdad has been attacked and burning Iranian flags have been a regular feature in the violence. Iran clearly was more successful than the US in the contest for influence over Baghdad, but the reports suggest that it has failed to fully appreciate the genuine Iraqi desire for independence from both Washington and Tehran.

If there is a lesson to be learned from the documents it is that if you blunder around the world breaking countries that you know little about, you will wind up with up doing more damage to yourself. It should have been obvious even in Washington that Iran, with its Shiite connection and first-rate intelligence service, would be well placed to convert Iraq into a Persian satrapy after the removal of Saddam Hussein, but imperial hubris at the Pentagon and White House did not permit any consideration of “What comes next?”

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Irresponsible Charter School Promoters Blocked from Further Lowering Teaching and Learning Standards

Despite the vehement objections of thousands of teachers, parents, college professors, public school advocates, state officials, and teachers’ unions, in late 2017 the State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustee’s charter school committee voted 4 to 1 to unilaterally and illegally lower training and preparation standards for teachers employed at privately-operated charter schools approved by SUNY (about 165 across the state). State officials called SUNY’s irresponsible decision to put more unqualified teachers in classrooms “an insult to the teaching profession.”

The anti-democratic SUNY decision meant that many privately-operated charter schools across New York would be able to certify their own teachers. Even worse, teachers in these schools could be hired without meeting many of the requirements fulfilled by thousands enrolled in traditional teacher preparation programs. For example, prospective charter school teachers would only have to sit for the equivalent of a month of classroom instruction and practice teaching for 40 hours before becoming certified. And unlike teachers on a traditional certification path in New York, they will not be required to earn a master’s degree or take all of the state’s teacher-certification exams. Standards were lowered in other ways as well.

SUNY “argues” that lowering teaching and learning standards is necessary because it is hard to find, attract, and keep good teachers. SUNY ignored the extensive literature that shows that the teacher turnover rate in charter schools across the nation is extremely high because working conditions in charter schools are inferior to working conditions in public schools. More than 90% of charter school teachers are not unionized and many leave their position in under three years. Student and principal turnover rates are also exceptionally high in charter schools across the country. Instability and upheaval have defined much of the market-oriented charter school sector for more than 27 years.

To be clear, charter school teachers, on average, are paid less, have fewer benefits, and typically work longer days and years than their peers in public schools. They also tend to have less experience and fewer credentials than public school teachers. And, as in the corporate world where workers are usually voiceless and devalued, charter school teachers are considered “at-will” employees, which means that they can be fired at any time, for almost any reason, and without any recourse for redress. Due process has never been big in non-profit and for-profit charter schools.

Naturally, with the support of the public, New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which represents more than 600,000 workers across the state, sued SUNY for its reckless decision. And, on October 17, 2019, Courthouse News Service reported that, “New York’s largest teachers union scored a victory in the war over charter schools Thursday with an appeals court ruling that state policymakers [SUNY] overstepped by diluting certification requirements for charter school educators.”1 The court made it clear that only the state education commissioner has the power to establish teacher-certification rules. SUNY has been rebuffed. SUNY cannot set its own standards for certifying teachers. Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers, said, “The state’s Appellate Court made it clear that SUNY charter schools can’t dumb-down teacher certification standards.”

Charter school advocates have been watering down standards for teaching and learning for years. SUNY is self-serving and pragmatic. It is incapable of understanding that becoming a good teacher takes extensive preparation, reflection, experience, assessments, practice, and more. It is not a form of work you can wing with minimal or superficial training and preparation, especially when we are talking about the future of youth, society, and the economy.

This court decision represents a victory for public education and democracy. It shows that antidemocratic and antisocial decisions by the rich and their allies are recognized by many as being illegitimate and harmful. More importantly, it shows that when the weight of the public is put behind a pro-social agenda, the public can prevail and the rich can be defeated—often quite easily.

Power has always rested with the public. It just has to be harnessed effectively in the complicated present to bring about major changes favoring society, including an economy that has as its aim ensuring the well-being of all. An outdated economic system that reduces everything to “cost considerations” and guarantees the rich become even richer and more powerful and violent each year is detrimental to the natural and social environment. It is dangerous and must be consciously rejected and combatted, individually and collectively.

Many more battles lie ahead. Neoliberals and corporate school reformers are constantly plotting new ways to destroy the public interest under the veneer of high ideals. At the same time, the public increasingly recognizes that the rich and their representatives in various spheres serve only to negate the public interest. The public cannot afford to not analyze and act collectively in its own interest.

  1. Russell, J., “Court nixes watered-down standards for Charter School Teachers“, Courthouse News Service, October 17, 2019.

Alien Invaders and the Ethic of the Earth

Imagine this rather typical SF scenario: alien invaders arrive on Earth. They are vastly superior in intelligence, technology, and most importantly, ethics. They quickly perceive that Earthlings are a dire mortal threat to the Earth’s biosphere. They reason that they must take decisive action soon, or else the Earth will meet its biological death. What are they to do?

First, they take up a consequentialist position and reason that eliminating a significant portion of the human population would immediately alleviate Earth’s acute environmental problems while saving countless numbers of species.

Second, they reason deontologically according to a “planetary ethic” that the biosphere of a planet and all the species that inhabit it are sacred and must be protected at all costs. If one species is destroying it, it must be destroyed before it is further able to inflict greater and lasting damage to it.

However, some aliens see the problem more complexly. They in their turn try to work out a maximally “virtuous” solution that will both ensure the continuance of the human race and the flourishing of the biosphere.

Of course, in this tale, most humans would root for the third option.

The question for us then is how do we get there?

If we adopt a mix of all three perspectives perhaps we will be closer to a solution.

If we accept some version of a “categorical planetary ethic” then we as a species have an absolute duty to both the biosphere and all its inhabitants. We have a sacred duty of care and preservation.

If this first premise is widely agreed upon then a number of possible restrictive actions follow:

1) Human reproductive freedom should/must be immediately limited to a rate of replacement and thus 0 growth. It is neither rational nor ethical that human population growth should be unlimited while the capacity of the biosphere to sustain such growth is not.

2) Human economic, political, scientific endeavors should be structured/organized in such a way as to produce the maximum benefit to the biosphere and its inhabitants. The source of all life takes precedence over particular lives and their parochial interests.

3) Humans should be educated and sensitized to their universal duty to the planet viewing themselves not just as “cosmopolitans” but as “defenders of the biosphere”.

4) Radical green politics should coordinate their policies on a voluntary, if urgent, worldwide foundation. Thus, Global governance should “green” with time.

These, of course, are just some basic ideas. The future of the Earth and not just humanity depends on both a change of consciousness and new ethical practices. We must leave our old nationalist, productivist, consumerist, paranoically competitive identities behind and become a new collectivity of planet loving “aliens” who have come to rescue us from ourselves.

Visiting Britain’s Political Prisoner

I set out at dawn. Her Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh is in the flat hinterland of south east London, a ribbon of walls and wire with no horizon. At what is called the visitors centre, I surrendered my passport, wallet, credit cards, medical cards, money, phone, keys, comb, pen, paper.

I need two pairs of glasses. I had to choose which pair stayed behind. I left my reading glasses. From here on, I couldn’t read, just as Julian couldn’t read for the first few weeks of his incarceration. His glasses were sent to him, but inexplicably took months to arrive.

There are large TV screens in the visitors centre. The TV is always on, it seems, and the volume turned up. Game shows, commercials for cars and pizzas and funeral packages, even TED talks, they seem perfect for a prison: like visual valium.

I joined a queue of sad, anxious people, mostly poor women and children, and grandmothers. At the first desk, I was fingerprinted, if that is still the word for biometric testing.

“Both hands, press down!” I was told. A file on me appeared on the screen.

I could now cross to the main gate, which is set in the walls of the prison. The last time I was at Belmarsh to see Julian, it was raining hard. My umbrella wasn’t allowed beyond the visitors centre. I had the choice of getting drenched, or running like hell. Grandmothers have the same choice.

At the second desk, an official behind the wire, said, “What’s that?”

“My watch,” I replied guiltily.

“Take it back,” she said.

So I ran back through the rain, returning just in time to be biometrically tested again. This was followed by a full body scan and a full body search. Soles of feet; mouth open.

At each stop, our silent, obedient group shuffled into what is known as a sealed space, squeezed behind a yellow line. Pity the claustrophobic; one woman squeezed her eyes shut.

We were then ordered into another holding area, again with iron doors shutting loudly in front of us and behind us.

“Stand behind the yellow line!” said a disembodied voice.

Another electronic door slid partly open; we hesitated wisely. It shuddered and shut and opened again. Another holding area, another desk, another chorus of, “Show your finger!”

Then we were in a long room with squares on the floor where we were told to stand, one at a time. Two men with sniffer dogs arrived and worked us, front and back.

The dogs sniffed our arses and slobbered on my hand. Then more doors opened, with a new order to “hold out your wrist!”

A laser branding was our ticket into a large room, where the prisoners sat waiting in silence, opposite empty chairs. On the far side of the room was Julian, wearing a yellow arm band over his prison clothes.

As a remand prisoner he is entitled to wear his own clothes, but when the thugs dragged him out of the Ecuadorean embassy last April, they prevented him bringing a small bag of belongings. His clothes would follow, they said, but like his reading glasses, they were mysteriously lost.

For 22 hours a day, Julian is confined in “healthcare”. It’s not really a prison hospital, but a place where he can be isolated, medicated and spied on. They spy on him every 30 minutes: eyes through the door. They would call this “suicide watch”.

In the adjoining cells are convicted murderers, and further along is a mentally ill man who screams through the night. “This is my One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” he said. “Therapy” is an occasional game of Monopoly. His one assured social gathering is the weekly service in the chapel. The priest, a kind man, has become a friend. The other day, a prisoner was attacked in the chapel; a fist smashed his head from behind while hymns were being sung.

When we greet each other, I can feel his ribs. His arm has no muscle. He has lost perhaps 10 to 15 kilos since April. When I first saw him here in May, what was most shocking was how much older he looked.

“I think I’m going out of my mind,” he said then.

I said to him, “No you’re not. Look how you frighten them, how powerful you are.” Julian’s intellect, resilience and wicked sense of humor – all unknown to the low life who defame him — are, I believe, protecting him. He is wounded badly, but he is not going out of his mind.

We chat with his hand over his mouth so as not to be overheard. There are cameras above us. In the Ecuadorean embassy, we used to chat by writing notes to each other and shielding them from the cameras above us. Wherever Big Brother is, he is clearly frightened.

On the walls are happy-clappy slogans exhorting the prisoners to “keep on keeping on” and “be happy, be hopeful and laugh often”.

The only exercise he has is on a small bitumen patch, overlooked by high walls with more happy-clappy advice to enjoy ‘the blades of grass beneath your feet’. There is no grass.

He is still denied a laptop and software with which to prepare his case against extradition. He still cannot call his American lawyer, or his family in Australia.

The incessant pettiness of Belmarsh sticks to you like sweat. If you lean too close to the prisoner, a guard tells you to sit back. If you take the lid off your coffee cup, a guard orders you to replace it. You are allowed to bring in £10 to spend at a small café run by volunteers. “I’d like something healthy,” said Julian, who devoured a sandwich.

Across the room, a prisoner and a woman visiting him were having a row: what might be called a ‘domestic’. A guard intervened and the prisoner told him to “fuck off”.

This was the signal for a posse of guards, mostly large, overweight men and women eager to pounce on him and hold him to the floor, then frog march him out. A sense of violent satisfaction hung in the stale air.

Now the guards shouted at the rest of us that it was time to go. With the women and children and grandmothers, I began the long journey through the maze of sealed areas and yellow lines and biometric stops to the main gate. As I left the visitor’s room, I looked back, as I always do. Julian sat alone, his fist clenched and held high.

  • First published at Information Clearing House.
  • The Personal has Always Been Political for Rich People

    The personal is political for Donald Trump, even though he is certainly no feminist. The president, who was a young adult at the time this women’s liberation slogan was popular — to point out that what happens in a woman’s private life was part of a larger political problem of male supremacy — may have unintentionally absorbed the words, but never understood their meaning.

    Ironically, while the slogan can express an important feminist truth, “the personal is political” also seems an apt characterization of a Republican 21st century, neoliberal, Ayn Randian and evangelical Protestant tinged belief system in which everything is personal, including politics, the economy, culture, morals, religion etc. Right-wing hero Maggie Thatcher captured the sentiment well with her quote: “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.”

    Why do religious bigots care so much about a woman’s right to choose an abortion or gay marriage? Because they see even the choices of other people as a personal affront to their morals.

    Trump, with his actions and words that have set the impeachment process in motion, demonstrates he truly does not understand the difference between his personal interests and the political role a head of state is supposed to play.

    Of course this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has paid even passing attention to his career; the Trump brand has always been about being a celebrity. And to be one of those, to self-consciously promote yourself over decades, to constantly insert yourself into the “news” through the use of publicists and marketers both requires and reinforces the narcissism that so clearly affects the POTUS. After 40 years of building his brand before becoming president, why would he abandon what has gotten him where he wanted to go?

    The Trump triumph in the 2016 election can be seen as a sort of culmination of celebrity culture. To the outside world The Donald is, was and always will be a caricature of the Ugly American — a Frankenstein-like creation made from recently harvested parts of a used car salesman, game show host, TV preacher, military man much like the colonel played by Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now and an ex-child movie star who has long grown out of his charm but not really grown up. Yet he, more or less, won the election. And apparently tens of millions of people old enough to vote still support him.

    Makes people across the planet wonder who else could be elected. Or makes them hopeful that if Donald Trump is the best that the system currently has to offer then this form of capitalism must be near its end.

    The impeachment process is a sign that some very important people do worry that the president could bring down the entire neoliberal world order. One suspects this is more about image than policy. Certainly most of Trump’s policies have been great for the billionaires and multi-millionaires who own enough politicians to get their way, damn the consequences to the majority of the world’s people. And it’s not as if the rich and powerful really object to using the government’s power to promote private interests. They have always believed that their personal interests are political. And they’ve been pretty damn successful at it. To give just a few examples from a very long list:

    · In 1947 the U.S. government passed the Taft-Hartley Act to weaken the power of unions because that was in the personal interest of factory owners and other capitalists.

    · In 1953 the CIA overthrew an elected government in Iran because that was in the personal interest of the owners of major oil companies.

    · In 1954 the CIA overthrew an elected government in Guatemala because that was in the personal interest of the owners of the United Fruit company.

    · In 1961 the CIA organized an invasion of Cuba because that was in the personal interest of some major organized crime families.

    · In 2017 the U.S. government passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act because that was in the personal interest of rich people in general.

    What Trump doesn’t get is that the president is supposed to represent the collective self-interest of rich people, not just his or those of his financial backers. Real politicians learn this early in their careers, but he was never a real politician. Presidents are not supposed to disgrace the wealthy and powerful, but Trump clearly embarrasses a certain segment of the American ruling class.

    Perhaps the majority of the wealthy and important have gained what they wanted from his tax cuts and judge him now to be a liability, a danger to their system of command and control. Perhaps the thought of President Trump in charge during a widely expected serious recession has spooked them into supporting impeachment.

    But will he be impeached? Or win a second term? It depends. Not upon what the majority of American citizens think, because that’s not how the system works. But rather it depends on what the majority of the wealthy and important judge to be in their self-interest. Because the personal for them always becomes political and they have money to buy the politicians.

    The Secret War in Africa

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    The Warsaw Pact may no longer exist, but by contrast the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is expanding its perceived role – the enforcement of western interest - especially in resource-rich Africa.  NATO's expansion in Africa is intended to assert western corporate influence, where Macron's France apparently wishes to usurp Germany as the major influential European power.

    But corporate interest is not the only driver for NATO's war in Africa since the Russian Federation has significant ambitions there too. Russian non-governmental private military contractors or 'Chastnaya Voennaya Kompaniya' include:

    - Centre R-Redut
    - Antiterror-Orel
    Shchit (Shield)
    - PMC Wagner
    - SlavCorps
    - ATK Group
    - MAR

    Cossacks Group

    …where PMC Wagner and Shield are particularly active in Africa.

    The list above may seem impressive but does not compare with the list of western private military contractors operating in the Middle East and Afghanistan, which have existed far longer, are larger and better funded, and in many instances directly employed by the states they serve -- including and especially the United States. By contrast, these Russian contractors operate on a small scale, are flexible, and employ a wide range of nationalities and skills. 

    Russian Chastnaya Voennaya Kompaniya (Private Military Contractors, or PMC) are correctly called 'mercenaries' because they may not, by law, act on behalf of the Russian Federation’s government. It is clear too that these PMC groups are mainly employed by corporate interests where those corporate interests may conflict with Western corporate interests. *

    Regardless, the Neoliberal Clinton-backed magazine Foreign Policy has already pronounced the demise of PMC Wagner and related Russian military contractor groups in Hauer’s hit piece The Rise and Fall of a Russian Mercenary Army

    Foreign Policy’s article appeared on October 6th, 2019, precisely the same day that Mozambique announced Exxon’s success in obtaining a liquid natural gas contract in Cabo Del Gado province worth $30Bn USD. No doubt Foreign Policy’s inspiration to publish Hauer’s troubled view of private Russian military contractors was based on the outcome of Exxon’s battle with Russian gas giant Gazprom for the contract

    And trouble it is. Mozambique nearly crushed mining giant Rio Tinto with its Riversdale coal scandal when Mozambique refused to allow coal transport down the Zambezi. And Rio Tinto is not the only corporate giant to come to grief in Mozambique. Mozambique has a major IMF debt problem too with widespread poverty and insurrection in parts of the country, where one of the most troubled regions is Cabo del Gado -- source of Mozambique’s liquified natural gas.

    Back when Gazprom was still barely in the running for the Cabo del Gado liquid natural gas contract, Mozambique’s government decided that drug-fueled takfiri terrorists roaming the province needed to go, and opted for the lowest-bid security contractor to clean up there.

    The Mozambique security service bid resulted in the hire of PMC Wagner which quickly found their police action mired in exceedingly difficult terrain, opposed by anarcho-psychotics far more dangerous and characteristic of drug-crazed homicidal maniacs than of ISIL Jihadi terrorists.

    Then by November of this year Wagner’s Cabo del Gado contract turned to tragedy when the Moscow Times reported the death of seven Russian mercenaries there. According to one source PMC Wagner is no longer operating in the province.

    Russian Chastnaya Voennaya Kompaniya contractors have been active in the Central African Republic (CAR) as well, alleged to be protecting diamond mines there while negotiating with rebels in control of the Ndassima gold fields.

    Three Russian filmmakers were tragically killed near there while investigating Wagner’s activities in the CAR at the time, provoking a western conspiracy theory that the reporters were killed based on their investigatory work. The truth however is far more mundane, that the reporters crossed a bridge too far in rebel territory without adequate armed protection.

    One further but unconfirmed report claims that a Russian PMC contractor is missing in action in Somalia while two hundred PMC contractors have recently arrived in Libya. Meanwhile more than 1,100 Wagner Group contractors are operating in both Cyrenaica and Tripolitania.  That is pursuant to Wagner and related PMC groups expanding in Libya, Cameroon, Uganda, Angola, and the Sahel… all to the great consternation of the US military of course.    

    Whether or not the above reports are exaggerated is irrelevant. The overall picture is certain to be misunderstood in the west. Russia’s intent in Africa – whatever it may be – is certainly as misunderstood now as it was leading up to the Suez crisis of 1956. That crisis led to a dangerous and pre-emptive invasion and occupation of Nasser’s Egypt hatched in a crackpot conspiracy involving Israel, France, and Britain.

    The potential parallel to Suez in 1956 re NATO versus Russia in Africa today is not altogether preposterous. Because there is another side to the coin in what appears to be a nascent Russian Federation attempt at taming Africa for its own -- and perhaps China’s! -- corporate interests, being the toxic effect of AFRICOM/ NATO and its abject mismanagement of resources and subversion of the African right to progressive state self-determination.

    That’s because the United States and NATO operate the largest military infrastructure in Africa with thirty-four bases (some secret) and thirty new US military or NATO construction projects underway in Africa spanning four countries. 

    The US military has more sites in Niger – five, including Niamey, Ouallam, Arlit, Maradi, and a secret base in Dirkou - than all other countries combined in Western Africa.

    Chebelley drone base in Djibouti is the largest drone base in the world where the US can strike any target in the Sahel or for that matter Iran. And AFRICOM is building a larger base, Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez, capable of striking Algeria or any location in the Sahel region while the US operates a secret drone base in Tunisia (Sidi Ahmed) now opposed by president Qays Sayed (Kais Saied).

    There are five more bases in Somalia including secret bases supporting AFRICOM’s ‘Lightning Brigade’ also known as the Danab Advanced Infantry Brigade. Now guess who is training the Danab? Private US military contractors of course, Bancroft Global Development.

    Kenya sports four more US military bases including Manda Bay and Mombasa, where the Manda bay base has consistently launched US drone strikes against Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. There are three more secret US/NATO base locations located along the Libyan coast to carry out drone strikes as far-ranging as Pakistan.

    Then there is Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti where approximately 4,000 US and NATO personnel are stationed. Camp Lemonnier is claimed to be the ‘only permanent US base in Africa’ – perhaps because so many new US/NATO bases are under construction while many of the rest are secret or simply addressed by some arcane acronym known only to the military.

    Cameroon, Mali, and Chad also host what the US military calls ‘contingency locations’ no doubt leveraged by NATO in its rather lame attempt to control the Sahel. They include Garoua drone base, Douala, and Salak ...  bases which train private military contractors and track US drone strikes versus the immortal and indestructible Boko Haram terrorists, of course.

    Another secret US base in Chad is the historic site of Faya Largeau. The present operational status of Faya Largeau is of course officially unknown. Gabon’s Libreville location exists to allow US military or NATO quick access for a rapid influx of US forces analogous to the base in Dakar, Senegal, which serves the same strategic purpose.

    The list of NATO and US bases in Africa (whether secret or not) might continue on, however hopefully the point has been made that the mighty US/NATO presence in Africa extends far beyond the imagination of even the most devoted follower of military affairs.

    That such a behemoth of an operation as represented by the US/NATO military presence in Africa could be seriously undermined by an influx of a small number of lightly armed and under-resourced Russian military contractors is not only laughable, but patently absurd.

    To the contrary, what every citizen of the world should truly be concerned about is the bloated, dangerous, deadly, expensive, and destructive influence of NATO and the US military and its Surveillance State in Africa. That’s because the US military is essentially fighting itself - like Shiva the destroyer - the creator of terror.

    Algeria, now a progressive forward-looking democracy with a presidential election eminent coming December 12th, 2019, is certainly aware of that. Algeria has deep understanding of western Neo-colonialism and its rule, and has avoided the western-inspired morass of IMF debt.

    Algeria presently exports more oil to the rest of the world than Iran. Algeria has a stable economy and low inflation compared to other African nation, and potentially faces a bright future devoid of western meddling. Hence Algeria’s concern that it is surrounded on all sides by the tools of the US hegemon and its interventionism.

    In a sense, Algeria provides an example to the rest of Northern Africa where Algeria is pursuing its right to self-determination. Most other nations in Africa cannot because they have already been subverted by the wars-for-resources and profit so favoured by corporate Washington.

    The counter to this is of course Russia regardless of how feeble its efforts may seem, and how misunderstood Russia’s goals in Africa may be. But the Russian counter to US/NATO destruction and corruption in Africa may not be as straightforward as the reader imagines.

    That’s because our source informs us that Russia is paving the way for China in Africa - a supposition that makes perfect sense. China is not now and has never been a Neo-colonial power. China is only too aware of the destruction wrought by loss of the people’s right to self-determination when China itself was colonized by western interests.

    That Russia and China should cooperate in Africa is just as inevitable as Washington’s inability to maintain its self-bloated and expanding militarist behemoth in Africa in perpetuity.

    This is the realization to be proved by time and by Washington’s continuing failure to comprehend the grievous and tragic mistakes of its hegemonic past – mistakes that the US is now only building on, exemplified only in part by the rabid anti-Russia hysteria now consuming it. And for the future of Africa… we can only hope.   

    *The Battle for Conoco in Syria is one specific instance

    Steve Brown is the author of "Iraq: the Road to War" (Sourcewatch) editor of "Bush Administration War Crimes in Iraq" (Sourcewatch) "Trump's Limited Hangout" and "Federal Reserve: Out-sourcing the Monetary System to the Money Trust Oligarchs Since 1913".

    New Study: ‘Russian Trolls’ Did Not ‘Sow Discord’ – They Influenced No One

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    The US has claimed that the Russia government tried to influence the 2016 election through Facebook and Twitter.

    Russia supposedly did this through people who worked the Internet Research Agency (IRA) in St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Russia. The IRA people ran virtual persona on US social networks which pretended to have certain political opinions. It also spent on advertising supposedly to influence the election. US intelligence claimed that the purpose of the alleged Russian influence campaign was to "sow discord" within the United States.

    But the IRA had nothing to do with the Russian government. It had no interests in politics. And a new study confirms that the idea that it was "sowing discord" is blatant nonsense.

    The Mueller investigation indicted 13 Russian persons and three Russian legal entities over the alleged influence campaign. But, as we wrote at that time, there was more to it than the media reported:
    The published indictment gives support to our long held belief that there was no 'Russian influence' campaign during the US election. What is described and denounced as such was instead a commercial marketing scheme which ran click-bait websites to generate advertisement revenue and created online crowds around virtual persona to promote whatever its commercial customers wanted to promote. The size of the operation was tiny when compared to the hundreds of millions in campaign expenditures. It had no influence on the election outcome.
    The IRA hired people in Leningrad for little money and asked them to open accounts on US social media. The virtual persona they created and ran were to attract as many persons to those accounts as possible. They did that by posting funny dog pictures or by taking strong political positions. They were 'influencers' who sold their customers' products to the people they attracted.

    The sole purpose was the same as in any commercial media. Create content to attract 'eyeballs', then sell those eyeballs to advertisers.

    As Point 95 of the Mueller indictment said:
    Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the [financial] accounts to receive money from real US persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain US merchants and US social media sites between 25 and 50 US dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false US persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist.
    The was no Russian government campaign to influence the 2016 election. There was only a Russian commercial media enterprise that used sock-puppet accounts with quirky content to attract viewers and sold advertisement space to US companies.

    The IRA also bought advertisement to attract more people to its accounts. But the amount it spent was tiny. The final price tag for the 2016 election was $6.5 billion for the presidential and congressional elections combined. The IRA spend a total of $100,000 to promote its own accounts. But only some $45,000 of that was spend before the election. It was 0.000007 cent for every election dollar that was spend during that time. It is statistically impossible that the mostly apolitical IRA spending had any effect on the election.

    That the IRA ran a marketing machine and not a political operation was also obvious when one analyzed the content that those sock puppet accounts posted. Most of it was apolitical. Where it was political it covered both sides. Some IRA accounts posted pro-Trump content, others posted anti-Trump stuff. Some were pro-Clinton others against her.

    US intelligence services tried to explain that away by claiming that the Russians wanted to "sow discord". There is zero evidence that this was really the case. It is simply an explanation that was made up because they failed to find a better one.

    The real answer to the question why different IRA accounts posted on different sides of the political spectrum is that the IRA wanted to maximize its income. One has to cover both sides if one wants to optimize the number of eyeballs one attracts.

    FOX News is not pro-Trump because it wants to sow discord. Nor is CNN anti-Trump to serve that purpose. Both are in the business of attracting viewers to - in the end - sell advertisements. People flock to the TV station that fit to the opinion they already have. Both stations promote by and large similar products.

    The virtual IRA persona worked in a similar ways. They took political positions to attract people who already had a similar one. One persona did that for the left, another one for the right. Neither changed the opinions of their followers.

    A recently published study which looked at Twitter users who followed IRA sock puppet accounts and their content confirms that. It found that the IRA sock puppets had no influence on the opinions of their followers.

    The study by US and Danish researchers is headlined Assessing the Russian Internet Research Agency’s impact on the political attitudes and behaviors of American Twitter users in late 2017. It found:
    Using Bayesian regression tree models, we find no evidence that interaction with IRA accounts substantially impacted distinctive measures of political attitudes and behaviors over a 1-mo period. We also find that interaction with IRA accounts were most common among respondents with strong ideological homophily within their Twitter network, high interest in politics, and high frequency of Twitter usage. Together, these findings suggest that Russian trolls might have failed to sow discord because they mostly interacted with those who were already highly polarized.
    Most hardcore Republicans watch FOX New, most hardcore Democrats watch CNN. Neither TV station changes the core opinions of their viewers. They reinforce them.

    The "Russian trolls" were virtual persona created to cover -in total- a wide spectrum. Some persona played hardcore Republican, other played hardcore Democrats. They created and posted content that fit to the role they played. Each attracted followers with opinions similar to those the virtual persona pretended to have. No opinion was changed through those contacts. No discord was sown.

    The IRA then sold advertisement space to vendors to monetize all eyeballs its virtual personas attracted.

    The US intelligence agencies pretended that the commercial IRA was a political agency. It helped them to sell animosity against Russia and to pretend that Trump was somehow colluding with Putin.

    But it all never made any sense.

    Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.

    Chief Rabbi Mirvis is Helping Stoke Antisemitism

    Chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has not only misrepresented the known facts about Labour and its supposed antisemitism crisis. He has not only interfered in an overtly, politically partisan manner in the December 12 election campaign by suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn – against all evidence – is an antisemite.

    By speaking out as the voice of British Jews – a false claim he has allowed the UK media to promote – his unprecedented meddling in the election of Britain’s next leader has actually made the wider Jewish community in the UK much less safe. Mirvis is contributing to the very antisemitism he says he wants to eradicate.

    Mirvis’ intervention in the election campaign makes sense only if he believes in one of two highly improbable scenarios.

    The first requires several demonstrably untrue things to be true. It needs for Corbyn to be a proven antisemite – and not just of the variety that occasionally or accidentally lets slip an antisemitic trope or is susceptible to the unthinking prejudice most of us occasionally display, including (as we shall see) Rabbi Mirvis.

    No, for Mirvis to have interfered in the election campaign he would need to believe that Corbyn intends actively as prime minister to inflame a wider antisemitism in British society or implement policies designed to harm the Jewish community. And in addition, the chief rabbi would have to believe that Corbyn presides over a Labour party that will willingly indulge race-hate speeches or stand by impassively as Corbyn carries out racist policies.

    If Mirvis really believes any of that, I have a bridge to sell him. Corbyn has spent his entire political career as an anti-racism campaigner, and his anti-racism activism as a back-bencher was especially prominent inside a party that itself has traditionally taken the political lead in tackling racism.

    Rising tide of nationalism

    The second possibility is that Mirvis doesn’t really believe that Corbyn is a Goebbels in the making. But if that is so, then his decision to intercede in the election campaign to influence British voters must be based on an equally fanciful notion: that there is no significant threat posed by antisemitism from the right or the rapidly emerging far right.

    Because if antisemitism is not an issue on the right – the same nationalistic right that has persecuted Jews throughout modern history, culminating in the Nazi atrocities – then Mirvis may feel he can risk playing politics in the name of the Jewish community without serious consequence.

    If there is no perceptible populist tide of white nationalism sweeping Europe and the globe, one that hates immigrants and minorities, then making a fuss about Corbyn might seem to make sense for a prominent Jewish community leader. In those circumstances, it might appear to be worth disrupting the national conversation to highlight the fact that Corbyn once sat with Hamas politicians – just as Tony Blair once sat with Sinn Fein leaders – and that Corbyn’s party has promised in the latest manifesto to stop selling weapons to Israel (and Saudi Arabia) of the kind that have been used to butcher children in Gaza. Mirvis might believe that by wounding Corbyn he can help into power a supposedly benevolent, or at least inoffensive, Tory party.

    But if he is wrong about the re-emergence of a white nationalism and its growing entry into the mainstream – and all the evidence suggests he would be deeply wrong, if this is what he thinks – then undermining Corbyn and the Labour party is self-destructiveness of the first order.

    It would amount to self-harm not only because attacking Corbyn inevitably strengthens the electoral chances of Boris “watermelon smiles” Johnson. It plays with fire because Mirvis’ flagrant intervention in the election campaign actually bolsters a key part of the antisemitic discourse of the far right that is rapidly making inroads into the Conservative party.

    Succour to white nationalists

    White nationalists are all over social media warning of supposed Jewish global conspiracies, of supposed Jewish control of the media, of supposed Jewish subversion of “white rights”. It was precisely this kind of thinking that drove European politics a century ago. It was arch-antisemite Arthur Balfour who signed off the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that sought to end Britain’s “Jewish problem” by encouraging European Jews to move far away, to a part of the Middle East then known as Palestine.

    That is, of course, why today’s white supremacists love Israel, why they see it as a model, why they call themselves “white Zionists“. In creating a tribal democracy, and one heavily fortified, land hungry, belligerent and nuclear-armed, Israel has done for Jews exactly what white nationalists hope to do again for their white compatriots. The white supremacists’ love of Israel is intimately bound up with their hatred and fear of Jews.

    Mirvis has given succour to white nationalist discourse both because he has spoken out against Corbyn without offering evidence for his claims and because those entirely unsubstantiated claims have been echoed across the media.

    There is good reason why the billionaire-owned print media and the Establishment-dominated BBC are happy to exploit the antisemitism smears – and it has nothing to do with concern for the safety of Jews. The corporate media don’t want a Labour leader in power who is going to roll back the corporate free-for-all unleashed by Margaret Thatcher 40 years ago that nearly bankrupted the rest of us in 2008.

    But that is not what those flirting with or embracing white nationalism will take away from the relentless media chorus over evidence-free antisemitism claims.

    Mirvis’ intervention in the democratic process will drive them more quickly and more deeply into the arms of the far-right. It will persuade them once again that “the Jews” are a “problem”. They will conclude that – though the Jews are now helping the right by destroying Corbyn – once the left has been dealt with, those same Jews will then subvert their white state. Like Balfour before them, they will start thinking of how to rid Britain and Europe of these supposed interlopers.

    This is why Mirvis was irresponsible in the extreme for meddling. Because the standard of proof required before making such an intervention – proof either that Cobyn is an outright Jew hater, or that white nationalism is no threat to the UK – is not even close to being met.

    The left’s anti-imperialism

    In fact much worse, all the evidence shows the exact reverse. That was neatly summed up in a survey this month published by The Economist, a weekly magazine that is no friend to Corbyn or the Labour party.

    It showed that those identifying as “very left-wing” – the section of the public that supports Corbyn – were among the least likely to express antisemitic attitudes. Those identifying as “very right-wing”, on the other hand – those likely to support Boris “piccaninnies” Johnson – were three and a half times more likely to express hostile attitudes towards Jews. Other surveys show even worse racism among Conservatives towards more obviously non-white minorities, such as Muslims and black people. That, after all, is the very reason Boris “letterbox-looking Muslim women” Johnson now heads the Tory party.

    The Economist findings reveal something else of relevance in assessing Mirvis’ meddling. Not only is the real left (as distinguished from the phoney, centrist left represented by Labour’s Blairites) much less antisemitic than the right, it is also much more critical of Israel than any other section of the British public.

    That is easily explained. The real left has always been anti-imperialist. Israel is a particularly problematic part of Britain’s colonial legacy.

    Elsewhere, the peoples who gained independence from Britain found themselves inside ruined, impoverished states, often with borders imposed out of naked imperial interest that left them divided and feuding. Internal struggles over the crumbs Britain and other imperial powers left behind were the norm.

    But in a very real sense, Britain – or at least the west – never really left Israel. In line with the Balfour Declaration, Britain helped to establish the institutions of a “Jewish home” on the Palestinians’ homeland. British troops may have departed in 1948, but waves of European Jewish immigrants were either encouraged or compelled to come to the newly created state of Israel by racist immigration quotas designed to prevent them fleeing elsewhere, most especially to the United States.

    The west helped engineer both the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and Israel’s creation to solve Europe’s “Jewish problem”. It provided the components necessary for Israel to build a nuclear bomb that won it a place at the international top table and ensured the Palestinians were made Israel’s serfs in perpetuity. Ever since, the west has provided Israel with diplomatic cover, military aid and special trading status, even as Israel has worked relentlessly to disappear the Palestinian people from their homeland.

    Even now, our most prized rights, such as free speech, are being eroded and subverted to protect Israel from criticism. In the US, the only infringements on the American public’s First Amendment rights have been legislated to silence those seeking to pressure Israel over its crimes against the Palestinians with a boycott – similar to the campaign against apartheid South Africa. In the UK, the Conservative manifesto similarly promises to bar local councils from upholding international law and boycotting products from Israel’s illegal settlements.

    Rewarding war crimes

    The real left focuses on this continuing colonial crime against the Palestinians not because it is antisemitic (a claim the Economist survey amply refutes), but because the left treats Israel as emblematic of British and western bad faith and hypocrisy. Israel is the imperial west’s Achilles’ heel, the proof that war crimes, massacres and ethnic cleansing are not only not punished but actively rewarded if these crimes accord with western imperial interests.

    But ardent friends of Israel such as Mirvis are blind to these arguments. For them, one western antisemitic crime – the Holocaust – entirely obscures another western antisemitic crime: seeking to rid Europe of Jews by forcing them into the Middle East, serving as pawns on an imperial chessboard that paid no regard to the Palestinians whose homeland was being sacrificed.

    In his state of historical and political myopia, Mirvis cannot begin to understand that there might be political activists who, in defending the Palestinian people, are also defending Jews. That they, unlike him, understand that Israel was created not out of western benevolence towards Jews, but out of western malevolence towards “lesser peoples”. The real left in Britain speaks out against Israel not because it hates Jews but because it holds dear a commitment to justice and a compassion for all.

    Mirvis, on the other hand, is the Zionist equivalent of a little Englander. He prefers particularist, short-term interests over universalist, long-term ones.

    It was he, remember, who threw his full support behind Israel in 2014 as it indiscriminately bombed Gaza, killing some 550 children – a bombing campaign that came after years of an Israeli blockade on the Palestinian population there. That siege has led the United Nations to warn that the enclave will be uninhabitable by next year.

    It was Mirvis, along with his predecessor Jonathan Sacks, who in 2017 endorsed the fanatical Jewish settlers – Israel’s equivalent of white supremacists – on their annual march through the occupied Old City of Jerusalem. This is the march where the majority of the participants are recorded every year waving masses of Israeli flags at Palestinians and chanting “Death to the Arabs”. One Israeli newspaper columnist has described the Jerusalem Day march as a “religious carnival of hatred”.

    It was Mirvis and Sacks that encouraged British Jews to join them on this tub-thumping trip to Israel, which they suggested would provide an opportunity to spend time “dancing with our brave soldiers”. Those soldiers – Israeli, not British – occupy West Bank cities like Hebron where they have locked down life for some 200,000 Palestinians so that a handful of crazed religious Jewish bigots can live undisturbed in their midst.

    What is so appalling is that Mirvis is blind to the very obvious parallels between the fearful Palestinians who hastily have to board up their shops as a Jewish mob parades through their neighbourhood and today’s white supremacists and neo-Nazis in the west who seek to march provocatively through ethnic minority communities, including Jewish neighbourhoods, in places like Charlottesville.

    Mirvis has no lessons to teach Corbyn or the Labour party about racism. In fact, it is his own, small-minded prejudice that blinds him to the anti-racist politics of the left. His ugly message is now being loudly amplified by a corporate media keen to use any weapon it can, antisemitism included, to keep Corbyn and the left out of power – and preserve a status quo that benefits the few at the expense of the many.