TBR News April 7, 2018

Apr 07 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. April 7, 2018: Between the obviously concocted story about Russian interests using “nerve gas” on a former agent and his daughter and the deranged fabrications of the American President, the main news stories sound like they were created in the back wards of some institution of mental patients. The ‘nerve gas poison’ story is so badly done that it is comical but Trump’s behavior as President is so essentially bizarre as to frighten most of official Washington. Because Jeff Bezos own the Washington Post and because the Post published articles and often are very critical of Trump, the President is screaming threat at Bezos and trying to shut down the Post. And because the FBI has discovered many unpalatable and dangerous facts about Trump’s Russian connections, he wants to abolish that agency and let his ‘good and genuine friends’ at the CIA run all the US intelligence agencies. Trump obviously in the the grip of a pre-Alzhemier’s situation and if Trump, like Congressmen caught in public having relations with roadkill, retires to ‘spend more time with his family,’ not only the nation but the rest of the civilized world would heave a great sigh of relief. And the growing cries of ‘Dump Trump’ will drown out more invented stories from the Oval Office about enormous Iranian armies poised to invade Topeka, Kansas and sexually violate all the women, and men,over ten.”


Table of Contents

  • Did Moscow Really Poison the Skripals?
  • The frantic rescue mission for Donald Trump’s indiscretions
  • The curious case of Yulia Skripal’s recorded phone call
  • Skripal Case Descends into a Propaganda War
  • What is the Donald Trump v Jeff Bezos feud really about?
  • President Trump and truth: Another difficult week
  • Israel Has Faced Little Criticism Over Palestinian Deaths
  • Teachers’ strikes are spreading across US after West Virginia victory
  • How the internet is clogging up city streets
  • Conspiracy theory’? US Homeland Security wants to track journalists & analyze media ‘sentiment’


Did Moscow Really Poison the Skripals?

April 7, 2018

by Tommy Raskin


The Trump administration confidently asserts that the Kremlin poisoned Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, on a public bench in Salisbury, England, at the beginning of March. The actual evidence appears inconclusive, though; as of Tuesday, investigating scientists at the Porton Down research laboratory had not uncovered any proof of Russian involvement.

Are our leaders making up “facts” again?

Particularly strange is how much they emphasize that “Novichok,” the poison reportedly used at Salisbury, first emerged in the Soviet Union. True enough, the Russians invented it during the Cold War – but the chemist Vil Mirzayanov later published the formula for Novichok in State Secrets, a widely available book about Moscow’s chemical weapons program. According to Mirzayanov himself, anyone with the book and requisite components could have concocted the nerve agent allegedly unleashed on the Skripals. How does that incriminate Russia?

The official narrative is questionable on other grounds, too. The Russians vehemently deny committing this crime, meaning that if they did it, they probably did not want the world to know. Why, then, use a nerve agent that everybody associates with Moscow? Are the Russians really that harebrained?

Maybe the Trump administration theorizes that the Kremlin’s master plan was to insist upon Russia’s innocence while still scaring the bejeebers out of Moscow’s detractors by using an obviously Russian poison that – in spite of Vladimir Putin’s face-saving denial – would inevitably trigger unease among Russian dissidents. According to this theory, Moscow was striving for a delicate balance, seeking to inspire fear of the Kremlin without jeopardizing Russia’s plausible deniability.

This “balancing act” theory is not ridiculous, but surely the Russians realize that any mysterious crime against a Russian ex-spy – conducted with or without a recognizable Russian poison – is enough to provoke suspicion (and therefore fear) of Russia. If the Russians wanted to intimidate their critics without sparking a huge Western backlash, then, they probably would have had reservations about choosing a poison that screams “Russia!” for the entire Western world to hear.

Okay, but who other than the Russians would have wanted to poison the Skripals? Gee, I don’t know – maybe someone keen to frame the Kremlin by engineering an attack that the impetuous “Confront Russia” crowd would happily blame on Moscow? In case it is not yet clear, there are bellicose people on both sides of the Atlantic eager to portray the Kremlin as a dire threat to Western civilization. Is it really so absurd to wonder whether some group of them, perhaps with the connivance of high-ranking U.S. or British officials, perpetrated this attack as a pretext for “retaliation” against Russia?

Of course, as time has passed and the government-peddled falsehoods about Saddam Hussein have faded from public view, it has become increasingly taboo again to acknowledge the mere possibility that Western officials lie. And yet they do lie, and some have indeed gone to the extraordinary lengths of hatching criminal plots to pin on their adversaries. The CIA’s Operation WASHTUB, for example, had operatives plant Soviet materiel in Nicaragua in 1954 in order to “prove” that Moscow was supporting Guatemalan Prime Minister Jacobo Árbenz. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lyman Lemnitzer followed that up in 1962 with Operation Northwoods, a proposal to overthrow Fidel Castro “in response” to a series of “Cuban” terrorist attacks to be conducted clandestinely by the U.S. government. It never came to fruition, though not for a lack of commitment on Lemnitzer’s part.

If it could happen during the Cold War, then why not today? Human nature hasn’t disappeared since then, and neither has the fraught U.S.-Russian relationship. The Cold War era’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization is still alive and kicking, and proxy wars between the U.S. and Russia have returned with a vengeance, accompanied by frenetic suggestions that we “need” to confront our dreaded enemies overseas. Admitting it may be uncomfortable, but the environment is ripe for U.S. and British chicanery.

To be sure, we may discover some day that this particular act of chicanery was Russian after all. But with the New Cold War fully on, it would be foolish just to take the Trump administration’s word for it. As we know by now, there are power brokers in Washington who, if given a free pass, will use even the most dubious accusations of Russian misconduct to intensify the drumbeats of war. We cannot let them get away with anything, lest the worst come to pass.


The frantic rescue mission for Donald Trump’s indiscretions

April 2, 2018

by Christian Jürs

On 4 March 2018, it is alleged that Sergei Viktorovich Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who secretly worked for, and was well paid by, British intelligence, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, allegedly with a “Novichok nerve agent.”

It was reported that the pair were observed on a public park bench, acting very ill and were taken to the Salisbury District Hospital and put into an intensive care unit.

No one was allowed to visit them but a British official claimed they had done so and assured the media they had been seen.

There have no medical bulletins concerning the Skripals since then.

Immediately, it was officially claimed that somehow the Russians were responsible and the British Prime Minister and their buffoon of a Foreign Minister made endless accusative public comments about Russian guilt.

The British Prime Minister May’s claim that the “novichok” formula allegedly used was a deep secret, known only to the Russians is, like the rest of the drama, entirely false.

There are currently a number of countries who have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the so-called ‘Novichok’ program since the end of the 1990s to the present: the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the United States and Sweden.

Russia is not one of them.

The near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research program which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesizing and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.

It should be noted that in England, where the alleged attack occurred, is home to the Porton Down facility

Porton Down, a secret British facility that works with, among other products, nerve gasses, is located northeast of the village of Porton near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England.

It is home to UK Government facilities: a site of the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)

Work carried out at Porton Down on usable nerve gasses has, to date, remained secret

Between 1963 and 1975 the MRE carried out trials in Lyme Bay in which live bacteria were sprayed from a ship to be carried ashore by the wind to simulate an anthrax attack.

That to one side, there exists a secret CIA report that gives the lie to the allegations of Russian poisoning.

Origins of the purported nerve gas attack

Michael Richard Pompeo is an American politician and businessman who has been serving as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency since January 23, 2017, following his nomination by President Donald Trump.

Previously, he was the member of the United States House of Representatives for Kansas’s 4th congressional district (2011–2017).

He is a member of the radical right wing Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. He was a Kansas representative on the Republican National Committee and member of the Italian American Congressional Delegation.

Pompeo is also an Evangelical Christian.

In August of 2017, Pompeo took direct command of the Counterintelligence Mission Center, the department which helped to launch an investigation into possible links between Trump associates and Russian officials.

Former CIA directors expressed concern since Pompeo is known to be an ally of Donald Trump

William Evanina is currently the head of NCIX, which is the executive officer of the United States Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive (ONCIX), and who is also the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

The London branch of this secret organization is located at 33 Nine Elms Ln. London SW11 7.

Formerly, it was headquartered at Caversham Park.

A supposedly secret communication from Evanina’s office in question is marked USA/GBR/ EYES ONLY and addressed to M. Aubineau in the UK office of ONCIX (detailed information from Booth)

Part of the document reads:

Necessary to remove Skripal from any possibility of allowing him to be interviewed via Judicial Assistance Request, by on-going U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump/Russian working agreements. If possible try to make this look like some kind of a negative Russian intelligence operation, thus killing two birds with one stone. Note that Skripal is of considerable value to UK intel so termination with extreme prejudice not suggested.”

And further in the same document:

“President Trump does not tolerate anything that he views as opposed to his will. For that reason, he has developed a very strong dislike for the Justice Department’s FBI because of their ongoing investigation of his extensive contact with Russian entities. He has been contemplating abolishing the FBI and turning its domestic intelligence programs over to the CIA, creating one massive surveillance entity that he can easily control.”

The British agency involved in the purported “nerve gas attack” scenario is the National Domestic Extremism and Disorder Intelligence Unit (NDEDIU)

In May 2013, the NDEDIU was split into two units:

a )Protest and Disorder Intelligence Unit. This unit collates and provides strategic analysis relating to protest and disorder across the UK; and b) Domestic Extremism Intelligence Unit. This unit provides strategic analysis of domestic extremism intelligence within the UK and overseas.

The NDEU had been created in 2011 following a merger of the three domestic extremism units under the National Coordinator for Domestic Extremism – the National Domestic Extremism Team, National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU).

The quid pro quo for Pompeo’s cooperation in keeping devastating information about Trump’s clandestine political deals with Russia away from hostile investigators is evident.

On March 13, 2018, Trump announced his intention to nominate Pompeo as the new United States Secretary of State, on March 31, 2018, succeeding Rex Tillerson who had the audacity to disagree with Trump.

There is absolutely no question whatsoever that Russian intelligence was able, by the offering of large amounts of money for rigged hotel business deals as well as securing his interest through the activities of very attractive women, to get Trump to work with them closely in the event he was able to secure election to the American presidency.

U.S. Congressional committees also have been investigating Russia and the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

It is now known that the Trump people hired the Facebook people to influence the election and it is also known, but only in top intelligence circles, that the WikiLeaks organization that released damning emails about the Clinton organization is entirely owned by Russian intelligence.

Trump, therefore, bought support with cash from Facebook and promises of cooperation from Russian top level sources.


Persona involved


  • Sergei Viktorovich Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s. In December 2004, he was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and later tried, convicted of high treason, and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He settled in the UK in 2010 following the Illegals Program spy swap and became a British subject.
  • Christopher David Steele is a former British intelligence officer with the Secret Intelligence Service MI6 from 1987 until his retirement in 2009. He is also the founding director of Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based private intelligence firm

Steele later went to for work for Fusion GPS a commercial research and strategic intelligence firm based in Washington, D.C.

The firm was subsequently hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through their shared attorney at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias. The purpose was to create a document that could be used to accuse Trump of having improper contact with the Russians.

Fusion GPS then hired Steele to investigate Trump’s Russia-related activities. According to CNN, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee took over the financing of the inquiry into Donald Trump and produced what became known as the Trump dossier.

According to an official British analysis, Steele was in contact with Skripal and claimed he used much of Skripal’s information for his Trump report.

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian influencing the 2016 U.S. election, and potential collusion in this by Trump aides. Russia has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it meddled in the election and Trump has said there was no collusion between his campaign and Moscow officials.

Mueller has indicted several Trump associates and more than a dozen Russians.

When it was learned in Washington that Steele was on Mr. Mueller’s prime list to interrogate, fears that Skripal, an associate, who was known to give information to anyone willing to pay for it, was also considered a subject for interrogation under oath, a form of panic arose in the White House and the CIA spoke with their opposite numbers in England.

The thrust of this intended contact was that American intelligence and political entities did not want Skripal to be deposed.

Steele has been privately warned about speaking out of turn but Skripal was considered to be a “loose cannon.”

The concocted story about “nerve gas attacks” served to hide Skripal and his daughter in a safe house and prevent him from further revelations that could well spell the end of Trump’s presidency.


The curious case of Yulia Skripal’s recorded phone call

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the poisoned double agent Sergei Skripal, allegedly called her cousin in Russia to tell her “everyone was recovering.” Yulia had been found with her father and had spent weeks in a coma.

April 6, 2018

by Darko Janjevic


A recent audio recording, said to capture the conversation between the poisoned Yulia Skripal and her cousin in Russia, raised new questions about the widely publicized spy saga on Thursday.

The recording was broadcast on an evening talk show program of Russia’s state broadcaster Rossiya 1, with Skripal’s cousin Viktoria appearing in the studio. Viktoria stated she was confident she had been talking with Yulia Skripal, although presenters said the authenticity of the recording could not be verified.

During the brief call, Yulia apparently says that “[e]verything is fine, everything is solvable, everyone is recovering and everyone is alive.”

She also tells Viktoria that she was given a “temporary” phone. The cousin then tells her she intends to visit London and see her on Monday, with the woman’s voice replying “They are not going to give you a visa, Vik.”

Asked about her father, the woman described as Yulia responds that Sergei Skripal is “resting now, sleeping.” Sounding slightly choked up, she adds that “everyone’s health is normal and there are no irreversible things.” She then says her goodbyes.

Notably, the woman gives no details on last month’s poisoning in Salisbury.

Talking to Russian media, Viktoria Skripal said her cousin sounded “healthy” and “normal.” The phone call was presumably recorded without Yulia’s knowledge, with Viktoria saying all her phone calls were recorded automatically due to the nature of her work in finance.

Rossiya 1 hosts said Viktoria Skripal volunteered the recording to be broadcast.

‘I hope that you’ll respect my privacy’

Less then an hour after the recording aired in Russia, UK police published a separate statement by Yulia Skripal, where she thanked “the people of Salisbury that came to my aid” when she and her father were found unconscious last month.

“I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily,” she said in the comments published in English.

“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence.”

On Friday, doctors in the Salisbury hospital said Sergei Skripal was also no longer in critical condition. The 66-year-old former colonel of Russia’s military intelligence was responding well to treatment and “improving rapidly,” they said.


The Thursday statement and the phone call mark the first published communication from Yulia and Sergei Skripal, who found themselves in the center of a major international scandal.

Following the apparent gas attack on the Skripals on March 4, London stated they were poisoned by a nerve toxin dubbed Novichok, which was first developed by Russian scientists. UK doctors were fighting to save their lives as the two were reported to be in a coma.

Meanwhile, the UK accused Moscow of being the most likely culprit behind the attack and launched a wide-ranging diplomatic offensive against Russia. The UK’s position, however, was significantly undermined earlier this week, when the head of a key UK laboratory publicly stated that the substance used in the attack could not yet be traced back to any specific country.

Russia has repeatedly rejected any involvement, portraying the scandal as a smear campaign to tarnish Moscow’s image. On Thursday, Russia’s ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia described it as a “megaprovocation” set up by “secret services of certain countries.”

Skripal’s dead pets trigger suspicion

He also restated Russia’s previous inquires about Sergei Skripal’s pets, saying that their health and whereabouts could provide clues to the investigation. Earlier, UK authorities said the two guinea pigs died, most likely of dehydration, in the sealed-up Skripal apartment in Salisbury. The cat “was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanize the animal to alleviate its suffering.” the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a statement.

The Russian embassy in the UK also commented on reports that the pets’ bodies have been cremated to eliminate the risk of poisoning.

“Regarding the dead guinea pigs and the malnourished cat, it is said unofficially that they were taken to the Porton Down facility and incinerated there,” a spokesperson said. “But it remains unclear if their remains were ever tested for toxic substances, which would constitute useful evidence, and if not, why such a decision was made.”

Yulia came to visit her father

Russia also decried the UK for not giving Russia’s diplomatic staff access to the Skripals. Sergei still holds dual Russian and British citizenship despite being convicted for treason in Russia over his work for the MI6. He arrived in the UK after a Cold War-style spy exchange in 2010.

His 33-year-old daughter Yulia moved with him, but soon returned to Russia and was based in Moscow, where she had spent most of her life. She reportedly came to the UK to visit her father on March 3.

Last week, the UK said it was considering the request of Moscow to allow consular access, but added they were taking into account “our obligations under international and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal.”

Viktoria Skripal to travel to Salisbury

The news of the Skripals’ recovery prompted Russia to once again insist on being granted access on Thursday and Friday. Following Yulia’s statement, Russia’s London embassy said it received an “urgent note” from the UK’s foreign office. According to the note, Yulia had received the embassy’s suggestion to “organize consular access.” The embassy did not say if Yulia agreed to it.

Yulia’s cousin Viktoria, who recorded the phone call, may prove to be instrumental in the dispute. She was intent on traveling to the UK on Monday to visit Yulia in the hospital and eventually bring her back to Russia. Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, publicly pledged assistance to Viktoria Skripal during her visit. Separately, Viktoria said she was in contact with Yakovenko and praised him for helping her obtain her passport. Yakovenko reportedly promised that embassy employees would meet her at the airport, were she to be approved for a visa. On Friday, however, the UK’s Home Office rejected her application because it “did not comply with the Immigration Rules,” a spokesman said. RIA news agency later quoted Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying that Moscow wants explanations regarding the visa refusal.

Viktoria has repeatedly stated doubts about London’s account of the Skripal poisoning and floated alternative theories, including poisoning by bad fish or an attack by the mother of Yulia Skripal’s boyfriend.


Skripal Case Descends into a Propaganda War

In its rush to assign guilt to Moscow for the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, the British government now finds itself on the defensive. Some German politicians have their doubts. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

April 7, 2018


A voice from someone still thought to be gravely ill could be heard on Russian television on Thursday. It allegedly belonged to Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former spy Sergei Skripal, who was poisoned together with her father in the English town of Salisbury five weeks ago. She was apparently speaking on the phone from a British hospital with her Russian relatives.

“Everything’s okay,” said the voice. “Everything can be solved, everything can be healed.” In reference to her father, the voice said: “He’s resting now, he’s sleeping. Everyone’s health is okay. Nothing irreversible happened.”

It hasn’t yet been confirmed that the voice did in fact belong to Yulia Skripal, and the question likewise remains open as to whether it was really her relatives who recorded the call. It is indeed surprising that the daughter of Sergei Skripal is already able to speak on the phone following the nerve toxin attack. Did she perhaps receive a lower dose than first thought? The Russia government immediately demanded clarification.

The alleged telephone call was just the most recent twist at the end of a turbulent week in which Britain suddenly found itself under growing pressure to provide more substantial evidence for the accusations it has leveled at Moscow. The facts of the case, of course, haven’t changed much since British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a caustic speech before the House of Commons three weeks ago. In that address, she said that British intelligence considered it “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack, in part because the substance in question, Novichok, was developed in the former Soviet Union. It was the first use of such a chemical weapon in Europe since the end of World War II. Britain’s allies in NATO and in the European Union quickly issued statements expressing support for May’s position.

Nevertheless, London found itself on the defensive this week — initially because of an interview, then because of a tweet and finally because of Boris Johnson, Britain’s perpetually impetuous foreign secretary.

The Noise

The interview in question was between Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, and the broadcaster Sky News. Aitkenhead said that the substance used had been identified as a military-grade variant of the nerve agent Novichok, but that the laboratory could not identify its precise origin. He added that such a determination was not DSTL’s “job.” The result was numerous headlines claiming that the British government was unable to prove that the nerve agent originated in Russia. Yet Aitkenhead also said that in making its determination regarding the substance’s source, the British government had relied on information from the country’s intelligence services. And he said that it was likely that only a state actor was in a position to deploy such a nerve agent. That message, though, was largely drowned out by the noise created by the headlines.

Then, the British Foreign Office deleted a tweet in which it falsely claimed that the DSTL had in fact verified the source of the Novichok. The Russian Embassy in London immediately chose to interpret that to mean that Britain had something to hide — and the deletion was sent out as a push notification from newsrooms around the world. The Foreign Office had ignored a fundamental rule of the digital battlefield: Only amateurs delete problematic tweets.

Finally, it was the turn of Boris Johnson, who has spent weeks launching attacks on Russia that are far more bellicose than those of his prime minister. He has claimed on several occasions that DSTL had identified the source of the Novichok used in the attack despite the inaccuracy of such claims. And he has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the attack himself.

Britain’s definitive accusations against Russia have faced a significant problem from the very beginning: There is no definitive evidence that the Russia state is behind the attempted murder. There is only a long chain of strong indications. That lack of clear evidence opens the door to a propaganda war — and Russia has a certain amount of experience in this métier. After all, the country has been waging a permanent propaganda war for the last several years.

It was the case in 2014 when the first little green men appeared in the Crimea and when a passenger jet was shot down by pro-Russian separatists over eastern Ukraine. It was true in 2017, when the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, which enjoys Russia’s protection, deployed sarin in an attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun — here, too, there was no definitive proof. In each instance, Russia unleashed a storm of wild theories that had the primary goal of sowing confusion. In the above cases, though, clear proof did ultimately emerge that Russia or its allies were behind the incidents. The Skripal case, however, could prove to be more complicated.

A More Strident Chord

And now, Britain’s blundering is threatening to erode the solidarity of what had been a more or less united European front. London already encountered difficulty in getting countries like Italy and Greece to support accusations of guilt against Moscow in the statements they released on the attack, and not all European countries have been in favor of expelling Russian diplomats. Now, skeptical politicians in Germany have likewise begun speaking up. On Tuesday, North Rhine-Westphalia Governor Armin Laschet, a member of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and a close confidant of the chancellor’s, tweeted: “If you force almost all NATO member states to show solidarity, shouldn’t you also have clear proof?”

Thus far, there hasn’t been much criticism leveled against the German government’s path from politicians belonging to the coalition parties. Even the Social Democrats (SPD), traditionally more of a pro-Russian party, have been largely silent. But some members of the center-left party now believe their initial concerns about Germany’s recently appointed foreign minister, Heiko Maas, a member of the SPD, were justified. Maas began his tenure by striking a much more strident chord on Russia than had his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel.

For Burkhard Lischka, the SPD’s domestic policy spokesman, the information he has seen is not enough to justify quick and decisive measures against Russia. “I do wonder why the chancellor also immediately jumped on the bandwagon. It could turn into a boomerang if the ongoing investigation does not confirm current suspicions,” Lischka says. “As a lawyer, I have a more sober view. In court, you would say: Yes, those are strong clues, but they are far from sufficient.”

German parliamentarian Axel Schäfer, an SPD member who has long been engaged in European Union affairs, is even more explicit. “Statements from British ministers who lied extensively about Brexit should be approached with caution,” he says. “A Russian background to the poison attack is certainly plausible, but not inevitable.” The “massive Western reaction,” Schäfer says, “was extremely rushed, hopefully it wasn’t premature.”

But the British government finds itself under pressure at home as well. Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour Party, criticized May’s certainty from the very beginning. Just how dangerous the situation could become for May became apparent this week when the BBC interviewed Security Minister Ben Wallace and compared the Skripal case to the trauma of the Iraq War. In 2003, British troops joined the U.S. invasion of Iraq on the strength of faulty intelligence information regarding Baghdad’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Salisbury is a completely different situation, Wallace told the BBC, saying that it was clear that a chemical agent had been used in the attack. Regarding who was behind the attack, he said: “We can say that all roads lead to Russia, that we are beyond reasonable doubt that the Russian state is behind this.” But the role of those who must prove beyond the shadow of a doubt something that is difficult to prove is much more difficult than the role of those seeking to spread that doubt.

No Plausible Alternative

From the perspective of most Western experts, the situation is as follows: Even if it is not 100 percent certain that Russia is behind the Novichok attack, that explanation remains much more likely than any other explanation. There is simply no plausible alternative at the moment, they agree.

German security officials point out that in intelligence, there is almost never such a thing as definitive evidence. Assumptions and probabilities always play a role. And ultimately, it isn’t the agencies themselves that appraise the information, but the governments on behalf of which the information is gathered. The origin of the weapon used, the details of the crime and the motive are all part of constructing a reasonable explanation — and taken together, say senior German security experts, those elements clearly point to Russia.

Britain presented such an explanation both to its partners within the European Union and to its NATO allies in Brussels. According to a senior official, the evidence was “credible but there was no ‘smoking gun.'”

According to reports, the first part of the presentation consisted of a mass spectrometry analysis of the nerve agent used, a process which involves comparing the substance to a “library” of chemical compounds as a means of identification. The result was a determination that the liquid variant of Novichok, known as A-234, was used. The origin can only be clearly established when the sample is of sufficient quality and when a reference sample from the source laboratory is on hand.

The second part focused on the public threats from Russia that it is intent on killing defectors, as it did in 2006 with the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko using polonium. Russia’s history of provocation and disinformation likewise played a role in the presentation.

The third part, according to reports, consisted of unspecified information gathered by British intelligence, either by spies or intercepted communications.

But there is plenty of disagreement as to just how reliable the evidence is in the Skripal case, and that disagreement is also present in the German security community. Many officials believe that it is extremely likely that Russia is behind the nerve agent attack. One security source, though, says that the British “have gotten ahead of themselves for understandable reasons.” The evidence thus far provided, he says, is “extremely thin” and, while it may be enough to point the finger at Russia, it is not sufficient to blame the Russian government. It is, says the security source, “astonishing that an international solidarity movement has come into existence on the basis of such meager evidence.” The Russian government could indeed be behind the attack, the critic says, but so too could renegades within Russian intelligence agencies who acted on their own — or even organized crime, which, the security source adds, is closely linked to security agencies.

Derision, Mockery and Cynicism

One thing is clear: There is hardly a chemical weapon around that more clearly points to Moscow’s involvement than Novichok, a group of agents that was developed in extreme secrecy in the Soviet Union. The agents were produced in the town of Shikhany on the Volga River for use in battle, says scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who publicized the existence of the agents in 1992 and later published elements of the formula used to manufacture them.

The divulgence of the program triggered extreme concern among Western experts at the time and raised a number of urgent questions: Can our sensors detect the agent? Is our protective equipment good enough? What exactly are the substance’s effects? German security experts are unsure whether Western countries subsequently produced the substance themselves to test it and to try out antidotes. The British chemical weapons expert Alistair Hay says: “I’d be surprised if chemical defense laboratories didn’t produce at least small amounts of the stuff.” He too thinks it probable that the toxin used in Salisbury came from a source that is a state actor. The experts in the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, Hay notes, established that the substance used was military grade. “That means it was extremely pure,” Hay says. “You can’t brew something like that at home in your sink.”

For the political evaluation in Germany and Britain, the behavior of Russia following the attack is likewise instructive. Instead of expressing dismay at the use of a chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union and immediately offering assistance in the investigation, the only thing that came out of Moscow was derision, mockery and cynical comments. In the Russian media, alternative explanations and conspiracy theories have been making the rounds, many of which end with the conclusion that Britain itself was behind the attack. A suspect that seeks to obfuscate instead of cooperating tends to intensify suspicion — but additional support from sympathizers is likely also a consequence.

For weeks, the Russians have been hammering away at weaknesses in the British argumentation and now, that strategy has begun to show at least some results. If the British don’t release additional details or evidence, there is a danger that the Skripal case will become a matter of faith rather than of fact.

A Message to Would-Be Defectors

Should that happen, the West will find itself in the uncomfortable position of having drawn a line in the sand over a case that will forever be in doubt — consistent with the constant Russian claims that they are nothing but the victims of the West. In the worst case, such a scenario could even threaten the Western alliance’s unity on other issues as well.

The findings of the British investigation thus far apparently continue to rely heavily on indications rather than solid evidence. According to media reports, investigators believe that the toxin was smeared on the door handle of Skripal’s home. According to British sources cited by the New York Times, the operation is considered to be “so risky and sensitive that it is unlikely to have been undertaken without approval from the Kremlin.” Only a professional trained in handling chemical weapons, the British authorities told the paper, could have applied the toxin to the door handle in such a manner that they could be reasonably certain that it would poison their target.

According to the New York Times, the British also believe that the perpetrators intentionally used a toxin that would clearly point to Russia as a way of sending a message to other would-be defectors or informants.

And how is it possible that Skripal and his daughter are still alive and apparently convalescing? If the toxin is absorbed through the skin, experts say, the effect is much weaker. If, for example, the target noticed that the door handle was wet when grabbing it and then wiped that hand off, the effect could have been compromised.

The Russian Embassy is now demanding to be allowed to visit Yulia Skripal in the hospital and the Russians want to bring her home to Moscow as quickly as possible. From a propaganda perspective, at least, there could hardly be anything more valuable than a recovered Yulia Skripal on Russian television decisively rejecting the theory of Russian responsibility for the attack.

By Markus Becker, Christian Esch, Matthias Gebauer, Christoph Hickmann, Martin Knobbe, Valentyna Polunina, Mathieu von Rohr, Christoph Scheuermann, Jörg Schindler and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt


What is the Donald Trump v Jeff Bezos feud really about?

Trump’s obsession with Bezos is cutting the value of US tech stocks – and the source of his irritation is more than just ‘an uneven playing field’

April 7, 2018

by Edward Helmore in New York

The Guardian

One is the world’s richest man, the other is the world’s most powerful.

Together they are locked in a personal feud that is shaving billions off the value of US tech stocks. But is Donald Trump’s onslaught against Amazon chief Jeff Bezos really about the president’s concern that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is getting a raw deal for delivering Amazon parcels?

Or is the source of his extreme irritation actually the Washington Post, the rejuvenated Bezos-owned title which has held the president and his administration to account under a portentous masthead line which reads “Democracy dies in darkness”?

For much of last week, Trump has been raging against his new favorite target, Amazon – accusing the company of putting “fully tax paying retailers” out of business, and using the USPS as its “Delivery Boy” at the expense of American taxpayers.

He has also chided “The Fake News Washington Post”, Amazon’s “chief lobbyist”, railing against what he sees as its many “phony headlines” and bad reporting.

His Twitter rants continued in person as he addressed reporters on Air Force One, telling them: “Amazon is just not on an even playing field. They have a tremendous lobbying effort, in addition to having the Washington Post … What they have is a very uneven playing field.”

Amazon stock has dropped from a $1,600 high on 12 March to $1,443 now. That is a $73bn drop in market capitalization over the past month. Based on estimates of Bezos’s stock holdings, the Amazon founder may have lost $16bn from his personal fortune, the world’s largest, over the same period.

For now, Bezos isn’t reacting. “I would not have bought the Washington Post if it had been a financially upside-down salty-snack-food company,” he told Fortune magazine in 2016.

Trump says the title is “used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER”. But the Washington Post has consistently rejected suggestions that Bezos has a hand in the paper’s editorial decision making.

Publisher Frederick Ryan Jr said in a Post analysis that its proprietor has “never proposed a story”.

“Jeff has never intervened in a story. He’s never critiqued a story. He’s not directed or proposed editorials or endorsements,” Ryan said.

Last week, Wells Fargo analyst Ken Sena estimated that for $250m the paper cost Bezos personally in 2013, the purchase could end up costing Amazon $75bn. But if Trump is hoping to pressure regulators to make a case against the company, it would ultimately fail.

“We don’t see how the current presidential rhetoric helps a US case against Amazon,” Sena wrote.

The online retailer has reportedly doubled its number of in-house lobbyists from 14 to 28 since Trump’s election, more than double that of Facebook or Apple. While Google spends more on lobbying ($18m in 2017 to Amazon’s $12m), Amazon’s lobbyists span its sprawling interests: drones, autonomous vehicles and air cargo, cybersecurity, data privacy and intellectual property and cloud computing.

Big tech’s Washington lobby presence parallels its growing vulnerability as, one by one, the tech giants are drawn into political disputes, with Facebook next in the spotlight: CEO Mark Zuckerberg is due to appear before Senate and House committees next week to answer questions on its failures to protect users’ data.

Dean Garfield, president and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, a global lobbying group for tech companies, said that big tech is preparing for battles ahead.

“The question is no longer whether this is an intellectual exercise,” he said. “There is the Washington bubble/elite conversation about techlash, and there is real consumer concern around a host of issues, including how the tech sector uses and enables control over data.”

How those two conversations now join together is dependent to some degree on the president and how his populist, anti-Amazon agenda plays with the political mainstream that is now looking at ways to limit the power of big tech companies.

Larry Kudlow, Trump’s new economic adviser, appears to back the president’s assault on Amazon. “I just think he wants a level playing field with respect to taxing,” Kudlow told Fox Business on Thursday. Kudlow’s remark seemed to ignore Trump’s own assertion during the presidential campaign that his own record of paying zero tax “makes me smart”.

Kudlow was referring to Amazon’s tax advantages. Since its beginnings as an online bookseller in 1994, Amazon has taken an independent approach to taxes, collecting no state sales tax for many purchases until recently, and still does not pay local tax in some cases.

Moreover, Amazon is not always obligated to raise sales tax on sales through third party vendors, giving both vendors and Amazon advantages over brick-and-mortar retailers already suffering from changes in consumer habits.

Then there is the issue of the post office. According to Trump last Sunday: “the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars.”

He continued into the week. “I am right about Amazon costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy,” Trump said on Twitter. “Amazon should pay these costs (plus) and not have them bourne [sic] by the American Taxpayer.”

The reality is more complex. Over the past decade, the USPS has lost around $60bn despite a 60% increase in shipping and package revenue. Amazon’s contract with USPS isn’t public, but its use of the postal service to deliver packages for “last mile” delivery has helped the service make up for a steep drop in the volume of letter mail it delivers. In other words, the USPS needs more Amazons, not fewer.

According to Vanity Fair, Trump is discussing new ways to escalate his attacks. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told the magazine. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another.

But how far can he take the fight? Trump conjoined the Washington Post and Amazon into a single enemy with a tweet in December 2015, immediately after the paper reported his campaign call for a ban of Muslim immigrants, and has continued the attacks on and off since.

After the Post published a story critical of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in July last year Trump claimed the Post was a lobbying arm for Amazon and that Amazon costs  the postal service to deliver its packages.

Trump was apparently gleaning that information from a Wall Street Journal article published days earlier titled Why the Post Office Gives Amazon Special Delivery that argued that Amazon was using its size to take advantage of the postal service.

According to Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist with Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group, there’s no question Trump attacks Amazon as a surrogate for Bezos and the Washington Post.

“He’s hoping Bezos will apply some pressure on the Washington Post to back down on its criticisms,” said Holman. “I seriously doubt that’s going to happen. The Washington Post is a seriously independent newspaper, and Jeff Bezos is much wealthier as a result of Trump’s tax cuts. This won’t have much of an impact.”

Last week, Business Insider published a study comparing Trump voters (63 million) with Amazon Prime members (in the region of 60 million, according to some estimates). In a showdown that might threaten US consumers’ access to free shipping, the outcome is a no-brainer.

“If Trump were to take action that caused Amazon’s shipping costs to go up, the relevant stakeholders – including nearly 100 million American customers – would be broadly united on Amazon’s side of their business dispute with Trump,” predicted the publication.

Still, says Holman, there is concern that Trump’s continued attacks on Amazon and the Washington Post will feed into existing distrust of the media and, increasingly, of tech giants through which the news media is distributed and who are now gearing up for regulatory battles.

“He’s using every avenue he can think of to undermine the credibility of the independent press,” Holman says. “But I have the feeling Trump is out in the wilderness and he’s not going to succeed in his efforts to undercut the Washington Post or the mainstream media.” Americans, he says, “have become for good reason much more skeptical of his intentions”.


President Trump and truth: Another difficult week

April 7, 2018

by Dan Balz

Washington Times

President Trump’s capacity to make things up is one of the defining features of his presidency. His loose adherence to the truth, when it suits his political purposes, seems to know few limits.

The president was at a roundtable discussion in West Virginia on Thursday for an event designed to highlight the new tax law, which Republicans are counting on to hold down expected losses in the November midterm elections.

Theatrically, he tossed aside the pieces of paper that were to be the highlights of his message. In going off script, he wandered into territory he had explored earlier in his presidency — the claim that there were millions of illegal votes cast in the 2016 election. It’s the reason, he said, that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.

But if his bottom line was unchanged, remarkably, he had a revised claim about what happened on Election Day. His earlier charge was that 3 million to 5 million people had voted illegally. He offered no evidence, and White House advisers were flummoxed when asked to back up what the president said because there was no proof.

Eventually, Trump used the baseless claim to order up a national commission to investigate what he insisted was widespread voter fraud in the United States. The commission was chaired by Vice President Pence, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach serving as vice chair, principal administrator and chief advocate of Trump’s assertion.

The commission quickly devolved into a pool of partisan wrangling and some months later was dissolved by the president. No evidence was ever discovered that the election had been marred by significant voter fraud.

Trump, however, cannot let go. On Thursday, he found his way back to the issue during a rambling discussion of illegal immigration, border security and his plan to send the National Guard to police the U.S. border with Mexico.

He argued that Democrats have a vested interest in the current immigration system, particularly the provision that allows family members of immigrants to apply for admission. “This is what the Democrats are doing to you,” he told the audience. “And they like it because they think they’re going to vote Democrat. Okay? Believe me, they’re doing that for that reason.” The audience applauded.

Trump said immigrants allowed into the country under the so-called chain or family migration provision would overwhelmingly vote for Democrats rather than Republicans. And then came this: “In many places, like California, the same person votes many times.” The audience laughed. “You probably heard about that. They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.”

So now the claim is not just that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally, but that millions and millions of people are voting many times each, in California alone.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as more of the same — mostly harmless commentary tossed out to an audience of supporters by the president — all in keeping with what he does. Yet each time he comes back to this particular claim, it strikes anew at one of the foundations of a democratic society. Every time he makes the accusation, he threatens to undermine confidence in the electoral system, which is already under assault by Russia and which will be tested anew in 2020.

Then there was the president’s week-long obsession with the “caravan” of migrants heading from Central America into Mexico and, as he tweeted, threatening to come across what he suggested was the porous U.S.-Mexico border. He made it sound like an invading army marching north. “ ‘Caravans’ coming,” he tweeted at the beginning of the week. “Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW.”

He claimed Mexico had “absolute power” to stop the caravan from entering that country, so as to prevent it from passing through to the United States. In contrast, he said this country “has no effective border laws.” He claimed new legislation is needed to prevent the “massive inflow of Drugs and People.”

He later tweeted, “Caravans are heading here. Must pass tough laws and build the WALL. Democrats allow open borders, drugs and crime!” He said the caravan was heading toward “our ‘Weak Laws’ Border.” He then decided that, in the absence of the wall, he would order the National Guard to the border.

At his West Virginia event, Trump returned to something he had raised on the day he announced his candidacy in June 2015. At his announcement, he charged that Mexico was sending its worst people across the border illegally, including rapists. On Thursday, he brought charges of rapes to the story of the caravan, though in a different context, with women in the caravan as victims.

“Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, when I opened [the campaign],” he said. “Everybody said, ‘Oh, he was so tough,’ and I used the word ‘rape.’ And yesterday, it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before.” No one was quite sure where Trump came up with the claim, nor were his advisers able to provide evidence or background to support it.

On the day Trump was speaking, the caravan was beginning to break up. Some in the group were intent on reaching the border with the United States, where they hoped to be able to seek asylum. But others had no intention of staging the kind of invasion the president seemed to believe was imminent. The caravan appeared to be the same as it has been in recent years: no major threat.

The president credited Mexico’s “strong immigration laws” for the dispersal of the caravan and then returned to another theme since he became president, the fact that illegal border crossings were at historic lows. “Because of the Trump Administrations [sic] actions, Border crossings are at a still UNACCEPTABLE 46 year low,” he tweeted.

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal editorial page opined, “President Trump can’t seem to decide whether his border-control plan is a success or an imminent national crisis.” The Journal editors noted that the strong U.S. economy probably was attracting more immigrants (border crossings were higher last month than in March 2017). The editorial urged Trump to make a deal on immigration legislation, one that would trade greater security for changes to allow more legal immigrants. The editorial concluded with this: “Then he wouldn’t have to pull stunts like hyping a band of poor migrants as an invading army.”

Flying back from West Virginia on Thursday, the president answered a few questions from reporters. He was asked whether he had known about the $130,000 payment to adult-film star Stormy Daniels by Michael Cohen, his personal lawyer, shortly before the 2016 election. “No,” Trump replied. Daniels claims to have had a brief affair with the president more than a decade ago. The president told reporters to ask Cohen why the payment was made. He did not respond to a question about whether he had established a fund from which Cohen could draw money.

Perhaps all that is the truth.

Dan Balz is chief correspondent at The Washington Post. He has served as the paper’s deputy national editor, political editor, White House correspondent and Southwest correspondent.


Israel Has Faced Little Criticism Over Palestinian Deaths

April 6, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

Thousands of protesters returned to the border this Friday, burning great heaps of tyres to produce a black smokescreen which they hoped would hide them from Israeli snipers. Gaza’s health ministry has said that five people were killed and 1,070 people were wounded on Friday, including 293 by live fire.

The demonstrators know what to expect. A video from the first day of the march shows a protester being shot in the back by an Israeli sniper as he walks away from the fence separating Gaza from Israel. In other footage, Palestinians are killed or wounded as they pray, walk empty-handed towards the border fence, or simply hold up a Palestinian flag. All who get within 300 yards are labelled “instigators” by the Israeli army, whose soldiers have orders to shoot them.

“Nothing was carried out uncontrolled; everything was accurate and measured, and we know where every bullet landed,” claimed a tweet from the Israeli military the day after the mass shooting on 30 March at the start of 45 days of what Palestinians call the “Great March of Return” to the homes they had in Israel 70 years ago. The tweet was deleted soon after, possibly because film had emerged of a protester being shot from behind.

The sheer scale of the casualties on the first day of the protest a week ago is striking, with as many as 16 killed and 1,415 injured, of whom 758 were hit by live fire according to Gaza health officials. These figures are contested by Israel, which says that the injured numbered only a few dozen. But Human Rights Watch spoke to doctors at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City who said that they had treated 294 injured demonstrators, mostly “with injuries to the lower limbs from live ammunition”.

Imagine for a moment that it was not the two million Palestinian in Gaza, who are mostly refugees from 1948, but the six million Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who had staged a march to return to the homes that they have lost in Syria since 2011. Suppose that, as they approach the Syrian border, they were fired on by the Syrian army and hundreds of them were killed or injured. Syria would certainly claim that the demonstrators were armed and dangerous, though this would be contradicted by the absence of casualties among the Syrian military.

The international outcry against the murderous Syrian regime in Washington, London, Paris and Berlin would have echoed around the world. Boris Johnson would have denounced Assad as a butcher and Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, would have held up pictures of the dead and dying before the Security Council.

Of course, Israel would furiously deny that there was any parallel between the two situations. Its government spokesman, David Keyes, rebuked CNN for even using the word “protest” when “what actually happened is that Hamas engineered an event where they wanted thousands of people to swarm into Israel, to crush Israel, to commit acts of terror. Indeed, we have captured on camera pictures of people shooting guns, people placing bombs, people shooting rockets.”

In the event, no pictures of these supposedly well-armed protesters ever emerged. But four days later, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Israel: Gaza Killings Unlawful, Calculated. Officials Green-Light Shooting of Unarmed Demonstrators, which said that it “could find no evidence of any protester using firearms”. It added that footage published by the Israeli army showing two men shooting at Israeli troops turned out not to have been filmed at the protest.Israeli ministers are unabashed by the discrediting of claims that the demonstrators pose a military threat to Israel. Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israeli soldiers had “warded off Hamas military branch operatives capably and resolutely … They have my full backing.” The free-fire policy is continuing as before and, as a result, the Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has launched a campaign called “Sorry Commander I Cannot Shoot”, which encourages soldiers to refuse to shoot unarmed civilians on the grounds that this is illegal.

Why is the surge in Palestinian protests coming now and why is Israel responding so violently? There is nothing new in Palestinian demonstrations about the loss of their land and Israel’s aggressive military response. But there may be particular reasons that a confrontation is happening now, such as Palestinian anger at President Trump’s decision in December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the move of the US embassy to there from Tel Aviv. This trumpeted Washington’s unconditional support for the Israeli position and the US disregard for the Palestinians and any remaining hopes they might have to win at least some concessions with US support.

Strong support from the Trump administration is reported by the Israeli press to be further reason why the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, feels that bad publicity over the shootings in Gaza will not damage Israel’s position in the US. In the past, controversy over the mass killings of Palestinian or Lebanese by Israel has sometimes provoked a negative US response that has curbed Israel’s use of force.

So far, Israel has faced little criticism from an international media uninterested in the Gaza story, or else is happy to go along with Israel’s interpretation of events. The vocabulary used by news outlets is often revealing: for instance, the BBC website on 31 March had a headline reading “Gaza-Israel border: Clashes ‘leave 16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured”. The word “clashes” implies combat between two groups capable of fighting each other, though, as Human Rights Watch says, the demonstrators pose no threat to an all-powerful Israeli military machine – a point reinforced by the fact that all the dead and wounded are Palestinian.

Possibly, the Israelis are miscalculating the impact of excessive use of force on public opinion: in the age of wifi and the internet, graphic images of the victims of violence are immediately broadcast to the world, often with devastating effect. As in Syria and Iraq, the political price of besieging or blockading urban areas like Gaza or Eastern Ghouta is rising because it is impossible to prevent information about the sufferings of those trapped inside such an enclaves becoming public, though this may have no impact on the course of events.

Contrary to Keyes’ claims, the idea of a mass march against the fence seems to have first emerged in social media in Gaza and was only later adopted by Hamas. It is the only strategy likely to show results for the Palestinians because they have no military option, no powerful allies and their leadership is moribund and corrupt. But they do have numbers: a recent report to the Israeli Knesset saying that there are roughly 6.5 million Palestinian Arabs and an equal number of Jewish Israeli citizens in Israel and the West Bank, not counting those in East Jerusalem and Gaza. Israel has usually had more difficulty in dealing with non-violent civil rights type mass movements among Palestinians than it has had fighting armed insurgencies.

Keyes claims that the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, but here again he is mistaken on an important point because witnesses on the spot say that the impetus for the protests is coming from non-party groups and individuals. They voice frustration with the failed, divided and self-seeking Palestinian leaders of both Hamas and Fatah. The most dangerous aspect of the situation in terms of its potential for violence may be that nobody is really in charge.


Teachers’ strikes are spreading across US after West Virginia victory

Thousands walked out in Oklahoma in a call for better funding, while New Yorkers decried another police shooting

April 7, 2018

by Adam Gabbatt

The Guardian

Arab spring for teachers’

Thousands of teachers went on strike in Oklahoma this week, demanding higher wages and better funding for schools.

The Oklahoma action follows strikes in West Virginia and Kentucky as teachers follow the lead of their students, who have walked out of school and marched for gun control reform.

“It’s like the Arab spring, but it’s a teacher spring,” Toni Henson, a geography teacher, told the Guardian.

Oklahoma has cut funding more than any other state in the country over the past nine years, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Teachers have been emboldened by their colleagues in West Virginia, who went on strike for nine days in February, eventually winning a 5% pay raise.

Arizona, where teachers are among the lowest paid in the US, could be the next state to face a strike.

Noah Karvelis, one of the leaders of the “Red for Ed” campaign, which has seen thousands of teachers stage demonstrations in Arizona, told the Guardian watching high school students take action over gun control had “empowered everyone”.

“They’re so inspirational to us,” Karvelis said. “You don’t have to just sit there and take it.”

‘They had no right to shoot him down’

Hundreds took to the streets in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights on Thursday to protest about yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man.

Saheed Vassell, whose father said he had mental health problems, was shot nine times by officers on Wednesday afternoon. Vassell was holding the end of a welding torch and had been pointing it at people on the street.

People marched to the 71st police precinct after the rally, and projected Saheed’s name on to the building.

“They need to lose their jobs and they need to be put in jail – the same as if someone kills a cop,” said Ramel Johnson, 38. “It’s become clear they have no respect for human life.”

Black people are much more likely to be killed by police in the US. According to the Washington Post, 289 people have been shot and killed by police in 2018.

Of those, 124 were white, 60 were black and 38 Hispanic – the Post defined nine people as being of other race and the race of 58 people was unknown. Of the people whose race was known, 25.9% were black. Black people make up 12.7% of the US population.

The New York attorney general has opened an investigation into Vassell’s death.

Wednesday marked 50 years since Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. King was celebrated across the country. But the philosopher and writer Cornel West warns that in remembering King, we should not “sterilize” his legacy:

We now expect the depressing spectacle every January of King’s ‘fans’ giving us the sanitized versions of his life. We now come to the 50th anniversary of his assassination, and we once again are met with sterilized versions of his legacy. A radical man deeply hated and held in contempt is recast as if he was a universally loved moderate.

How the internet is clogging up city streets

April 7, 2018

BBC News

Traffic in New York is slowing down. Jams are endemic in Manhattan, especially in its business districts. Daytime traffic in the busiest areas now moves almost 20% more slowly than it did five years ago.

It seems a place ripe for wide use of ride-hailing apps that, you might think, would alleviate some of the congestion.

Except, those apps appear to be making things worse as traffic has slowed in line with the growing popularity of apps such as Uber and Lyft, suggests a study by transport expert Bruce Schaller.

Over the four years of the study, the number of cars in Manhattan seeking ride-hailing fares increased by 81%. There are now about 68,000 ride-sharing drivers across New York city. That’s about five times the number of distinctive yellow cabs licensed to operate there, he found. There are so many, his work suggests, that they spend about 45% of their time empty just cruising for fares. That is a lot of unused cars clogging a lot of busy streets.

Simple physics explains why such a glut of ride-sharing vehicles is causing, not curing, congestion, said Jarrett Walker, a public transport policy expert who has advised hundreds of cities about moving people.

“Lots and lots of people are deciding that, ‘Oh, public transport is just too much of a hassle this morning,’ or whenever, which causes a shift in patronage from public transport to ride-sharing services,” he told the BBC.

“That means moving people from larger vehicles into smaller ones, which means more vehicles to move the same people.

“Therefore, more traffic.”

What is clear is that the current situation cannot continue, he said, adding that many urban authorities are keen to clear congestion.

“I think we are going to continue to see stronger and stronger regulatory interventions to manage the impact of these companies.”

Data gathered about ride-sharing drivers illustrates how they contribute to congestion, said Prof Christo Wilson, a computer scientist at Northeastern University who has studied the services.

“You can look at the traffic pattern for the Uber vehicles and it perfectly matches the peaks for the rush hour and the peak time of day,” he said. “They are out there in force at the worst possible times.”

And, he said, the ability to summon a car via a smartphone app has other unforeseen consequences that are also thickening the jams.

“It is increasing the total number of trips and these are discretionary trips that these people would not have taken if not for cheap, available ride-sharing,” said Prof Wilson. “So, that is almost certainly increasing congestion.”

Congestion charges

For their part, ride-sharing firms dispute the claim that they are the main cause of clogging the streets in the busiest cities.

“Congestion is a really complicated issue,” said Andrew Salzberg, head of Uber’s transport policy.

He says other factors at play include economic growth, road construction and the policies cities introduce to streamline traffic.

“The number of drivers we have on the road is one of the easiest things to measure and that often becomes the focal point of the conversation,” he said.

And, he pointed out, it’s not just taxis and private-car owners who are frustrated when they are stuck in motionless traffic.

“We don’t win as a company from congested conditions,” he said. “Road conditions that make it impossible for people to get around are not good for our business.”

Mr Salzberg said it was also a mistake to think that Uber and other ride-sharing firms want to replace public transport.

“We have come out many, many times and said, in the core of dense cities, there is no more efficient way to move people around than public transport,” he said.

The patronage of both ride-sharing services and public transport have a huge chance to grow substantially if people can be persuaded to do away with their own cars, said Mr Salzberg.

Encouraging them to use buses, trams and trains as well as ride-hailing firms could ease traffic.

The question is how to do it?

For Uber, said Mr Salzberg, road-pricing is one good approach. As with London’s congestion charge this would levy fees on people who drive themselves to an inner-city destination in their own car.

Alongside this, he said, would go partnership schemes that pair public transport and ride-sharing. One such example of this was already operating in and around Innisfil in Ontario.

This uses Uber cars to deliver people from their homes to central points where they then catch buses and trams to reach the centre of Toronto.

Innisfil’s local authority also subsidises Uber fares to ensure the system is attractive to those sections of the population who typically don’t own a car, he said.

There is a definite need to manage the changes that are rippling through cities as ride-sharing and autonomous cars develop and mature, said Carlo Ratti, a professor of urban technologies at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

In 2014, Prof Ratti demonstrated how smart routing and car-pooling could cut the amount of traffic needed to move people around cities by 80%.

He stands by that prediction today but said work had to be done to soften the impact of those changes.

Prof Ratti said studies had shown it would be “disastrous” to simply swap our existing system of high personal car ownership for one in which everyone owns a robot car that follows them around.

Increased pollution, gridlock, a massive increase in urban sprawl and huge impacts on the transport industry would be the results if that scenario played out unchecked, he said.

“It is imperative that we view these new technologies with a critical eye – and guide them toward the societal goals we desire,” he said.

“If we can manage the transition in a thoughtful way, self-driving cars could help us achieve a safer and more pleasant urban experience.”


Conspiracy theory’? US Homeland Security wants to track journalists & analyze media ‘sentiment’

April 7, 2018


The US Department of Homeland Security is looking to build a media monitoring database. When some reporters objected, a DHS spokesman dismissed their concerns as fodder for “black helicopter conspiracy theorists.”

Service providers who want to bid for the program have until April 13 to submit a capabilities statement, according to the notice posted on the federal contractor website by the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), a division of DHS charged with protecting the “physical and cyber infrastructure.”

This has led Michelle Fabio of Forbes to wonder if the DHS is trying to use the cries of “Russian meddling” to justify creating a database of journalists and social media influencers. When the Committee to Protect Journalists retweeted Fabio’s article, DHS spokesman Tyler Houlton chimed in to say the database is “nothing more than the standard practice of monitoring current events in the media.”

“Any suggestion otherwise is fit for tin foil hat wearing, black helicopter conspiracy theorists,” he added.

Houlton adopted a similar tone in responding to an inquiry from Alex Kasprak of the fact-checking site Snopes. “You are embarrassing yourself with these questions and wild conspiracy theories,” he wrote.

With Houlton being less than helpful, perhaps the Statement of Work attached to the bid request could shed some light on what the DHS is actually looking to build. According to the six-page document, the contractor shall “provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers.”

There are six tasks being required of the contractors, starting with the ability to track more than 290,000 global news sources in over 100 languages, “including Arabic, Chinese and Russian,” and the ability to instantly translate the articles to English.

The next step would be a password-protected online platform enabling the DHS to access search results on “online articles and social media conversations,” an interactive dashboard providing “real-time monitoring, analysis, and benchmark of media coverage” and the ability to analyze the coverage in terms of content, volume, sentiment, geographical spread, influencers, language and momentum, among other things.

All this should be available in an encrypted mobile app, with enabled email alerts and customer service support.

Most interestingly, listed under “Media engagement” is the ability to access “contact details and any other information that could be relevant,” for any influencer in the database, including the publications the influencer writes for, and an overview of the influencer’s previous coverage. This database would have to be searchable, including in languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian.

Oh, and any staff working on the contract would have to have appropriate security clearances, ranging from Secret all the way to Top Secret with SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information).

The DHS spokesman’s snark has certainly raised some eyebrows, as official denials in Washington are never quite so forceful. One is reminded of how former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress the NSA does not “wittingly” spy on Americans. Unfortunately for Clapper, just a few months later whistleblower Edward Snowden showed the entire world that the NSA was doing just that.




No responses yet

Leave a Reply