TBR News May 31, 2017

May 31 2017

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. May 31, 2017:”The once-great and certainly powerful, New York Times is shrinking on a daily basis. The public, once solely informed by the press, now finds free news on the Internet. Times change and we must change with them. This explains why Obama and Sunstein wanted to take official control of the Internet. The US may have a much larger military than Russia, their perpetual scapegoat, but Russia has a much larger internet and computer force, as the Sainted Hillary discovered in the last election. If it is true that Trump once agreed to more or less normalize relations with Russia in exchange for their assistance in the election, he had best keep his end of the bargain. Otherwise, we will see WikiLeaks turning its spotlight on him.”

Table of Contents

  • US military tests ballistic missile interceptor in California amid North Korea threat
  • The UK Government Has Known Since 2003 That the Failed ‘War on Terror’ Could Cause an Attack Like the One in Manchester
  • Angela Merkel’s Tears
  • A Trans-Atlantic Turning Point: What Was Merkel Thinking?
  • The Meaning of Assange’s Persecution
  • Turkey blasts US for ‘extremely dangerous’ arming of Kurds in Syria
  • Ancestors of ancient Egyptians came from Europe and Middle East, says study
  • The Modern Man
  • The aircraft accident as a political weapon
  • New York Times offers buyouts, scraps public editor position
  • The Numbers Don’t Lie: White Far-Right Terrorists Pose a Clear Danger to Us All
  • More than 80,000 American service members remain missing in action
  • America’s Iran Hysteria


US military tests ballistic missile interceptor in California amid North Korea threat

The US has tested a missile defense system aimed at striking down intercontinental ballistic missiles, like the ones North Korea seeks to develop. The US army called the test result an “incredible accomplishment.”

May 31, 2017


The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor was fired Tuesday from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The US military announced that the test had been a success, with the interceptor striking a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

Vice Admiral James Syring, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, hailed the test as an “incredible success” and a crucial milestone in the US’ missile defense program.

“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Syring added in a written statement.

Defending a North Korea attack

The interceptor, designed to intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), would be crucial in defending the US from a North Korean attack, should it come to that.

Riki Ellison, the founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance based near Washington which advocates for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, described the test as “vital.”

“We are replicating our ability to defend the United States of America from North Korea, today,” Ellison said.

The test came amid growing fears about North Korea’s development of ICBMs capable of reaching the US. Pyongyang is also reported to be moving closer to being able to place a nuclear warhead on such a ballistic missile.

On Monday, the isolated communist country launched a ballistic missile that was believed to have traveled around 450 kilometers (280 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan. The US Pacific Command said the short-range Scud-class ballistic missile was tracked for six minutes before it disappeared.

Work still to be done

However, US military officials also played down expectations about the success of the GMD interceptor following the test.

Syring admitted that, while Tuesday’s test was a success, the Pentagon would continue to evaluate and improve on system performance based on data obtained during the test.

“We improve and learn from each test, regardless of the outcome. That’s the reason we conduct them,” said Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis.

“The system that we test today is a developmental system that’s being flown for the first time and we look forward to understanding the results so we continue to mature the system and stay ahead of the threat,” Davis added.

The US’ missile defense program has been hampered by setbacks in recent years and come under steady criticism. While the US military GMD interceptors have been declared technically ready for combat since 2004, five out of nine tests since then have failed.

The UK Government Has Known Since 2003 That the Failed ‘War on Terror’ Could Cause an Attack Like the One in Manchester

May 27, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

Jeremy Corbyn is correct in saying that there is a strong connection between the terrorist threat in Britain and the wars  Britain has fought abroad, notably in Iraq and Libya. The fact that these wars motivate and strengthen terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda and Isis has long been obvious to British intelligence officers, though strenuously denied by governments.

The real views of British intelligence agencies on the likely impact of Britain taking part in wars in the Middle East are revealed in a Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment dated 10 February 2003, just before the start of the invasion of Iraq led by American and British forces. It is marked “top secret”, but was declassified for use by the Chilcot Inquiry and, though it was referred to by several publications, attracted little attention at the time.

It says, “the threat from al-Qaeda will increase at the onset of any military action against Iraq. They will target Coalition forces and other Western interests ina the Middle East. Attacks against Western interests elsewhere are also likely, especially in the US and UK, for maximum impact. The worldwide threat from other Islamist groups and individuals will increase significantly.”

An earlier JIC assessment dated 10 October 2002, also declassified by Chilcot, says: “Al-Qaeda and associated groups will continue to represent by far the greatest terrorist threat to Western interests and that threat will be heightened by military action against Iraq.”

Corbyn is saying almost exactly the same today as the JIC predicted in 2003. He cites with approval experts pointing to “the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home”. He adds that their assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children, but that an informed understanding is essential in order to fight rather than fuel terrorism.

The JIC conviction about the benefits to al-Qaeda of the Iraq war was swiftly borne out after the invasion as it expanded from being a small group of militants, perhaps less than a 1,000-strong based mainly in the mountains of southern Afghanistan and north-west Pakistan, into a global movement. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, taking advantage of the destruction of the Iraqi state, developed into one of the most powerful and influential terrorist movements in history, and later transmuted in Iraq and Syria into Isis.

Corbyn says that “we must be brave enough to admit ‘the war on terror’ is simply not working”, adding that “we need a smarter way to reduce the threat from countries that nurture terrorists and generate terrorism.” Again, this is demonstrably true as vast resources have been poured into waging the ‘war on terror’ since 9/11, but Isis, al-Qaeda and similar Salafi jihadi movements are far stronger now than they were then. They have powerful military forces fighting in at least seven wars – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, North East Nigeria – as well as in insurgencies, large and small, such as in Sinai and north-west Pakistan. Individuals and cells carry out terrorist attacks everywhere from Orlando to Baghdad and Berlin to Mogadishu.

Seldom has a war been so comprehensively and visibly lost as ‘the war on terror’ and it is doing a favour to Isis and al-Qaeda not to recognise this and try for something better. Yet critics of Corbyn have unconsciously been doing just such a favour to al-Qaeda by demanding he stay silent. In a crass but unintentionally revealing interview, the Conservative Security Minister Ben Wallace claimed that Corbyn’s timing was “appalling”. He said that “we have to be unequivocal, that no amount of excuses, no amount of twisted reasoning about a foreign policy here, a foreign policy there, can be an excuse. The reality is, these people hate our values.”

Of course, this is the old political gambit, often deployed by politicians and journalists, of deliberately mistaking explanation for justification. More significantly, Wallace repeats the mantra usually expressed after terrorist attacks, when political leaders promote national unity and emphasise mass mourning to the exclusion of almost anything else. After the killing of journalists at Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris in 2015, some 40 world leaders walked through the streets in solidarity against terrorism. Such demonstrations are intended as a show of concern, but in practice they become a replacement for effective action.

Emotional outpourings, sincere or not, are politically convenient for governments because they divert attention from failed policies that may well have helped promote terrorist movements. Wallace is dismissive of “a foreign policy here, a foreign policy there” having any effect on terrorism, but the foreign policies most in question are those which led to Britain engaging in wars to overthrow Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003 and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. Both wars succeeded in their aims, but they also led to a collapse of the Iraqi and Libyan states and opened the door to al-Qaeda, Isis and their clones.

It should be firmly said that, if Saddam and Gaddafi had not been overthrown, it is unlikely that Salman Abedi would have been in a position to slaughter people in Manchester.

There has been much controversy over Britain’s decision to join the invasion of Iraq, but not enough about its role in overthrowing Gaddafi eight years later. The nature of British participation in the Libyan war and the consequence of its actions deserve to be the subject of an inquiry as thorough as Chilcot’s. This is because the British participation went well beyond airstrikes and training of Libyan rebels. Reports are emerging that it involved energising and facilitating the movements of known Salafi-jihadi British Libyans and Libyan exiles who wished to return to Libya to fight Gaddafi. In other words, the Islamic jihadi networks of the type to which Salman Abedi and his family belonged acted as useful proxies for the British state.

Several Libyans in Britain had been subjected to “control orders”, a form of house arrest introduced after the bombings in London in 2005, to stop them going to fight in Iraq according to a detailed report in the online magazine Middle East Eye. Citing interviews with Libyan Islamic militants, it says that British authorities adopted an “open door” policy for Libyans willing to fight Gaddafi. “I was allowed to go, no questions asked,” said one source.

Other Libyans, with known Salafi jihadi associations, were surprised not only to have “control orders” lifted, but their passports returned. Many joined the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group when back in Libya. Belal Younis, a British Libyan, who had been to Libya in 2011, is quoted as saying that he was stopped by police and immigration officials on his return and then interviewed by an MI5 officer who asked him, “Are you willing to go into battle?” Younis says: “When I took time to find an answer he turned and told me the British government have no problem with people fighting against Gaddafi.” It had no problem then, but it certainly has a problem now as it investigates Libyans in Britain and Libya whom it once aided in pursuit of a foreign policy that destroyed Libya and became a danger to Britain.

Angela Merkel’s Tears

Let them flow

May 31, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


Empires are continually confronted with the prospect of rebellions: that is one of the occupational hazards of imperialism. The Romans had to contend with those contentious Judeans, whose revolt arguably gave rise to one of the word’s great religions. The British lost control of their American colonies to a motley crew of libertarians. And now the Americans, in turn, are struggling with … well, something quite different.

The historical pattern follows the old Roman/British tradition: the imperial power launches a campaign to acquire territory, it conquers its enemies, and occupies the vanquished nation(s). The goal is not only to take new lands and spread the authority of the State beyond its traditional boundaries, but also to extract wealth from the defeated in the form of taxes, raw goods, and markets closed to competitors.

In the case of the American Empire, however, things have been turned on their heads, and nothing dramatizes this bizarre inversion more than the conflict now playing out between the US and, principally, Germany over the future of the NATO alliance.

When President Donald Trump, on his first overseas tour, lectured the assembled NATO-crats on their failure to pay their “fair share” of the alliance’s costs, the looks on their faces were a study in contemptuous annoyance. When he failed to reassert Washington’s commitment to Article Five of the NATO treaty, it was as if the Pope had refuted the divinity of Christ. The failure to reach accord on trade and “climate change” exacerbated the split in the Western alliance, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to respond.

“Speaking in a packed beer tent in Munich on Sunday, after a Group of Seven summit in Sicily and a NATO meeting in Brussels – both dominated by tensions with Trump – Merkel spoke with surprising frankness.

“’The times when we could fully count on others are over to a certain extent. I have experienced this in the last few days,’ Merkel said.

“’We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands, of course in friendship with the United States, in friendship with Great Britain, with other neighbors wherever possible, also with Russia,’ she continued.

“’But we must know that we need to fight for our future ourselves, as Europeans, for our destiny.’”

Merkel’s contention that the US – and, secondarily, Britain – cannot be “counted on” raises the question: counted on to do what? Since Germany has failed to fulfill its obligation to increase military spending to at least 2 percent of GDP, Merkel’s complaint opens her up to the charge of hypocrisy. Aside from that, however, one has to launch a more fundamental inquiry: isn’t the destiny of a nation always in the hands of its own citizens?

Well, no, it isn’t always so. A conquered nation, one that has been defeated in battle and subsumed by a foreign occupier, has lost control of its destiny – and that was certainly the case for Germany after World War II, when it was divided into zones of occupation by the victorious Allied powers, and only half reunited during the long cold war with the Soviet Union.

The fall of Soviet communism, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, and the reunification of Germany ushered in a new era, one that is only now starting to be reflected in the geopolitical arrangements of post-cold war Europe. It took a while – politicians always lag far behind changing realities – but history has now caught up with the NATO-crats, who find that the rationale for their existence has evaporated under their feet.

Despite the barrage of Atlanticist propaganda disgorged daily from the media,the thinktanks and the special interests that fund them, there is no possibility that the Russians are about to march into Paris – or even Warsaw. The Russian “threat” is a bogeyman, and not a very convincing one at that. When John McCain opines that Putin is a bigger threat to the West than ISIS, one wonders if the families of those killed and maimed in Manchester – or any of the other dozens of European cities hit by terrorists – would agree with him.

The original foundations of the NATO alliance were built on alleged military necessity: now that this argument is no longer viable, the NATO-crats are struggling to build new foundations that are fundamentally political – the creation of a European super-state. Of course, these two concepts are historically linked: the European project – aided and in large part originated by the US – was born as a adjunct to and in support of NATO as a bulwark against the spread of Soviet influence. Yet the campaign to create a European “patriotism,” a sense of nationality out of the disparate peoples of the continent, was always buttressed by the one factor that all nations depend on: fear. Fear, that is, of conquest by outsiders, aliens who would ride roughshod over their lands and traditions.

With the disappearance of the Soviet Union, this fear has largely dissipated. After all, the Russians are arguably half-European, at the very least: they are less alien than, say, the Turks, who enjoy NATO membership. During the cold war, the prospect of being assimilated into the Soviet borg conjured visions of the cultural transformation – and ruin – of ancient societies. Absent the ideological other-ness of “Putinism,” whatever that may be, no one imagines that Russian soldiers are about to rampage across Europe, burning  non-Orthodox churches and forcing everyone to memorize Putin’s favorite aphorisms.

And so the European project is now reduced to a cold abstraction: the effort to create a sense of “European-ness” over and above the traditional national identities. This campaign was decisively defeated in Britain: Brexit buried it, and populist insurgencies from Catalonia to Hungary threaten to upend it once and for all. In Britain, the London-based elites marched with EU flags, but this abstruse allegiance was rejected by ordinary people, i.e. the working class, and the same pattern is persistent throughout Europe.

Merkel’s reassertion of Germany’s “destiny” as the product of its own exertions may make her European neighbors nervous: after all, such invocations conjure unfortunate historical allusions that may, in themselves, lead to the further deterioration of the European project. Aside from that, however, her remarks illustrate the trade-off that Atlanticism, so-called, involved: the Europeans placed their destiny in Washington’s hands in return for what they imagined to be military and economic security.

What this meant, in concrete terms, was the presence of American troops on German soil – at a cost of billions, paid for by us – in exchange for Berlin luxuriating under the US nuclear umbrella. The terms of this rather lopsided bargain allowed them to pour resources into an extensive welfare state that is now taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees from America’s wars in the Middle East. It also meant favorable – i.e. one-sided – trade agreements with Washington, which allowed, say, German cars to flood the US market while keeping their tariff and regulatory walls high enough to keep out American competitors.

Similar arrangements were created in Eastasia, where the Asian “tigers” – South Korea, Japan, Taiwan – traded their separate destinies for one-way “free trade” and security guarantees.

This reversed the historical pattern followed by empires of the past: instead of looting our conquered provinces, they looted us. Rather than exploiting our conquests, we were exploited by them. It was a Bizarro World version of imperialism, in which everything went out and nothing came in. In the process, dozens of tripwires were erected, any one of which could set off another world war.

This was rationalized during the cold war era as the only alternative to subjugation by Moscow, but today – despite the best efforts of the Democratic party and John McCain to resurrect the cold war – that rhetoric rings hollow. The “empire of the bottomless purse,” as the writer Garet Garrett dubbed our postwar imperium, has reached the end of its supposedly limitless generosity: the purse is empty, and the empire is facing foreclosure.

So I say: let Germany have its destiny back. It was never ours to begin with. And let us take our own destiny back from the hands of our shiftless, lazy, back-stabbing “allies.” The lesson of this chapter in our history – which is coming to a close, despite Merkel’s tears and those of our Atlanticists – is that empires oppress not only the conquered, but also the conquerors.

A Trans-Atlantic Turning Point: What Was Merkel Thinking?

A historical turning point or mere campaign bluster? Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Sunday speech on relations with Donald Trump’s America has raised eyebrows the world over. What did she mean?

May 29, 2017

by Annett Meiritz, Anna Reimann and Severin Weiland


A “potentially seismic shift”  wrote the New York Times . A “new chapter in U.S.-European relations,”  proclaimed the Washington Post. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s comments made in a beer tent in Munich on Sunday have made headlines around the world. It was the kind of appearance the likes of which she will make hundreds of times ahead of Sept. 24 parliamentary elections in Germany. But in this speech, she clearly distanced herself from U.S. President Donald Trump. And she urged Europe to prepare for a future in which it has to be much more self-reliant.

“The times in which we could completely rely on others are over to a certain extent. That is what I experienced in the last few days,” Merkel said. “That is why I can only say: We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.”

She went on to say: “Of course in friendship with the United States of America.” She emphasized friendship with the U.S. on a few other occasions in her remarks as well. But then said: “We have to fight for our own future, as Europeans, for our destiny.”

Merkel’s comments were unusual on several levels. It’s not just what she had to say that was interesting, but also why and when: at a folk festival following a series of summits during which she spent extensive amounts of time with Trump. The chancellor made direct reference to her strenuous week, during which the U.S. president managed to alienate his partners on several occasions.

Despite the directness of Merkel’s Sunday speech, however, there are several open questions that need to be answered:

  1. Why did her comments cause such a stir around the world?

On the eve of Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe, heads of state and government around the world were eager to put on a veneer of harmony. That effort, though, is over — and Merkel is one significant reason why. Since Trump’s victory last November, many see the German chancellor as the leader of the free world and her appearance on Sunday was a sharp break with the careful Trump-related rhetoric she had thus far employed. To be sure, she reminded him in her congratulatory message after he won the election of the values that form the basis for the trans-Atlantic relationship, but she had nevertheless consistently sought to emphasize commonalities rather than divisions. Merkel’s comments on Sunday are a turning point because she cast doubt on past convictions — and provided a clear indication that she is losing hope that she can ever work constructively together with Trump. Or — a slightly different interpretation — she is now willing to express those doubts that have been building for some time. Either way, she did so in a manner which was, for her, unusually blunt.

  1. Why did Merkel choose the words she chose?

Trump’s credo is “America First.” For Merkel, that consequentially means that Europe must take on a greater role. Trump’s policies make it necessary to redefine European interests: That is something of which both Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a senior member of the Social Democrats (SPD), are convinced. Much of the discussion has recently centered around increasing Germany’s defense spending, which is a highly controversial issue in the country. Trump may have watered down his criticism of NATO in a recent tweet, but he is still demanding that most European countries spend more on defense. One outcome of the NATO summit last week is that all alliance member states are to demonstrate annually how much progress they have made toward the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Thus far, only the U.S. and a couple of European countries meet this target, while Germany lags behind at 1.2 percent.

As such, Merkel’s comments aren’t just reflective of the state of the trans-Atlantic relationship. They are also an appeal to the Germans, and to Europeans more broadly, to shoulder more responsibility – and to confront even such emotionally charged proposals as the establishment of joint European defense and security policy.

  1. To what degree were Merkel’s comments part of the German campaign?

Merkel’s appearance was the clearest indication yet that foreign policy and the future of the European Union will be vital issues in the campaign. The SPD had been hoping that it could score points against Merkel on the basis of her erstwhile even-handed approach to Trump. But now, Merkel has positioned herself more clearly than ever before as Europe’s defender in the face of the Trump challenge — a role that her SPD challenger Martin Schulz had been hoping to play. The SPD can do little more than agree with the chancellor. On Monday, Schulz tweeted “the best response to Donald Trump is a strong Europe” — which is essentially exactly what Merkel said.

  1. What are the consequences of Merkel’s comments?

While there are no immediate consequences, the chancellor will have to substantiate her comments in the coming days and weeks. Otherwise, the SPD and other parties will be able accuse her of empty politicking. Already, though, Merkel has sharpened her focus on France, saying that she and President Emmanuel Macron have agreed on a “new push” in Franco-German cooperation and that the two countries intend to present a “roadmap” for desired reforms. Foreign Minster Gabriel, for his part, has presented a more concrete plan. In addition to strengthening the eurozone, it sketches out possible joint German-French investments, a joint defense fund and more intense cooperation on foreign policy.

Efforts at strengthening Europe, in other words, are on the way — and Merkel’s comments are an expression of that. They have also triggered a debate that Germans have historically found to be extremely uncomfortable: How much should Germany and Europe spend on their own defense? And how large should Germany’s role be in that defense. They are questions that promise to be a significant ones in the years to come.

The Meaning of Assange’s Persecution

The long legal ordeal of Julian Assange – and the continuing threats against the WikiLeaks founder – make a mockery of the West’s supposed commitment to press freedom and the public’s right to know.

May 29, 2017

by Marjorie Cohn

consortium news

Nearly five years ago, Ecuador granted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange political asylum at its London embassy. The original purpose of the asylum was to avoid extradition to the United States. Two years earlier, Swedish authorities had launched an investigation of Assange for sexual assault. Sweden has now dropped that investigation.

Assange called the Swedish decision to end the investigation an “important victory for me and for the U.N. human rights system.” But, he said, the “proper war was just commencing,” because the London Metropolitan Police warned if Assange leaves the Ecuadorian Embassy, they would arrest him on a 2012 warrant issued after he failed to appear at a magistrate’s court following his entry into the embassy.

The original reason for granting asylum to Assange remains intact. The U.S. government has been gunning for Assange since 2010, when WikiLeaks published documents leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning. Those documents, which included the Afghan and Iraq war logs and U.S. State Department cables, were ultimately published in the New York Times, the U.K. Guardian, and the German magazine Der Spiegel.

The leaked reports exposed 20,000 deaths, including thousands of children, according to Assange. Many of them contain evidence of war crimes. [Among the leaked material was the “Collateral Murder” video, a gruesome view from the gun-barrel of a U.S. helicopter gunship as it mowed down a group of Iraqi men, including two Reuters journalists, as they walked on a Baghdad street – and then killing a man who stopped to help the wounded and also wounding two children in his van.]

It was never clear what role Sweden played in the Assange saga. Criminal charges were never filed there. The long delay in the process resulted, in part, because the Swedish prosecutor insisted that Assange travel to Sweden to be interviewed. Assange declined, fearing that if he went to Sweden, that country would extradite him to the United States.

The Swedish investigation of Assange may have been instigated at the behest of the United States. Journalist John Pilger documented political pressure by the U.S. government on Swedish authorities: “Both the Swedish prime minister and foreign minister attacked Assange, who had been charged with no crime. Assange was warned that the Swedish intelligence service, SAPO, had been told by its U.S. counterparts that U.S.-Sweden intelligence-sharing arrangements would be ‘cut off’ if Sweden sheltered him.”

Although the Swedish investigation has now been dropped, the threat of arrest persists. The London police have indicated they will arrest Assange for failure to appear in a London Magistrates Court if he leaves the embassy. Britain would then likely extradite Assange to the United States for possible prosecution.

Arresting Assange a U.S. ‘Priority’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared in April that arresting Assange is a “priority” for the Department of Justice, even though the New York Times indicated that federal prosecutors are “skeptical that they could pursue the most serious charges, of espionage.” The Justice Department is reportedly considering charging Assange with theft of government documents.

A decision to prosecute Assange would mark a 180-degree change of direction for President Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign Trump declared, “I love WikiLeaks” after it published confidential emails from the Democratic National Committee that some U.S. intelligence agencies claim were obtained by Russian hackers (although Assange denies getting the material from Russia).

In March, WikiLeaks published CIA documents containing software and methods to hack into electronics. This was the beginning of WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” series, which, Assange wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post, contained “evidence of remarkable CIA incompetence and other shortcomings.”

The publication included “the agency’s creation, at a cost of billions of taxpayer dollars, of an entire arsenal of cyber viruses and hacking programs – over which it promptly lost control and then tried to cover up the loss,” Assange added. “These publications also revealed the CIA’s efforts to infect the public’s ubiquitous consumer products and automobiles with computer viruses.”

CIA Director Michael Pompeo called WikiLeaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

Pompeo said, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” Pompeo declared, “Julian Assange has no First Amendment privileges. He is not a U.S. citizen.”

But, the Supreme Court has long held that the Constitution applies to non-Americans, not just U.S. citizens. And, when the Obama Justice Department considered prosecuting WikiLeaks, U.S. officials were unable to distinguish what Wikileaks did from what the Times and Guardian did since they also published documents that Manning leaked. WikiLeaks is not suspected of hacking or stealing them.

A week before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee, “WikiLeaks is an important focus of our attention.” He said the Justice Department’s position “has been [that] newsgathering and legitimate news reporting is not covered, is not going to be investigated or prosecuted as a criminal act,” adding, “Our focus is and should be on the leakers, not those [who] are obtaining it as part of legitimate newsgathering.”

But Comey said, “a huge portion of WikiLeaks’ activities has nothing to do with legitimate newsgathering, informing the public, commenting on important controversies, but is simply about releasing classified information to damage the United States of America.”

As Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, wrote at Just Security, Comey was drawing the line “not between leaking classified information and publishing it, but between publishing it for ‘good’ reasons and publishing it for ‘bad’ ones.”

And, “[a]llowing the FBI to determine who is allowed to publish leaked information based on the bureau’s assessment of their patriotism would cross a constitutional Rubicon,” Goitein wrote.

Other advocates for civil liberties also defended WikiLeaks as a news organization protected by the First Amendment. “The U.S. government has never shown that Assange did anything but publish leaked information,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told the Times.

Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, stated in an interview with the Times, “Never in the history of this country has a publisher been prosecuted for presenting truthful information to the public.”

Assange’s Detention Called Unlawful

In 2016, following a 16-month investigation, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Assange’s detention by Britain and Sweden was unlawful. It stated, “[A] deprivation of liberty exists where someone is forced to choose between either confinement, or forfeiting a fundamental right – such as asylum – and thereby facing a well-founded risk of persecution.”

The U.N. group found, “Mr. Assange’s exit from the Ecuadorian Embassy would require him to renounce his right to asylum and expose himself to the very persecution and risk of physical and mental mistreatment that his grant of asylum was intended to address. His continued presence in the Embassy cannot, therefore, be characterized as ‘volitional’.”

Thus, the U.N. group concluded that Assange’s continued stay in the embassy “has become a state of an arbitrary deprivation of liberty,” in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Alfred de Zayas, U.N. Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order, told Consortiumnews, “What is at stake here is freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.” He cited Article 19 of the ICCPR, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression.

“Whistleblowers are key human rights defenders in the Twenty-first Century, in which a culture of secrecy, behind-closed-door deals, disinformation, lack of access to information, 1984-like surveillance of individuals, intimidation and self-censorship lead to gross violations of human rights,” said de Zayas, who is also a retired senior lawyer with the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Secretary for the UN Human Rights Committee.

Moreover, the Johannesburg Principles of National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, issued in 1996, provide, “No person may be punished on national security grounds for disclosure of information if the public interest in knowing the information outweighs the harm from the disclosure.”

Even some mainstream news organizations that have been critical of WikiLeaks for releasing classified U.S. information have objected to the idea of criminal prosecution. A Washington Post editorial in 2010 entitled “Don’t Charge Wikileaks” said: “Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.”

In the U.S. government’s continued legal pursuit of WikiLeaks, there is much more at stake than what happens to Julian Assange. There are principles of press freedoms and the public’s right to know. By publishing documents revealing evidence of U.S. war crimes, emails relevant to the U.S. presidential election and proof of CIA malfeasance, Assange did what journalists are supposed to do – inform the people about newsworthy topics and reveal abuses that powerful forces want concealed.

Assange also has the right to freedom of expression under both U.S. and international law, which would further argue for Great Britain dropping the failure-to-appear warrant and allowing Assange to freely leave the embassy and to finally resume his life.

Turkey blasts US for ‘extremely dangerous’ arming of Kurds in Syria

May 31, 2017


The US’ decision to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria is an “extremely dangerous” mistake that should be reversed, Turkey’s foreign minister has said. Earlier on Tuesday, the US announced that it was starting to deliver weapons to the Syrian Kurdish militia.

“Such steps are extremely dangerous for Syria’s unity and territorial integrity,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the media on Wednesday.

“If we are looking for stability in Syria, we should row back from those mistakes,” he told a press conference, while speaking alongside his Slovenian counterpart, Karl Erjavec.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Pentagon said deliveries of small arms, machine guns and other military equipment to Kurdish fighters in Syria began this week, saying the move is necessary to help the militias fight the Islamic State terrorist group (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) near the city of Raqqa.

This runs counter to earlier reports which said that as many as 100 trucks loaded with US weapons and ammunition had already been delivered to SDF over the past few weeks.

The Pentagon said it considers the multiethnic Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), which is dominated by the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG), to be the only military contingent on the ground capable of taking the IS stronghold Raqqa.

Ankara is opposed to arming the SDF, saying the weapons may end up in the hands of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish militant movement based in Turkey that has been waging a guerrilla war against the Turkish government since the 1980s. Both Turkey and the US consider the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

The US first announced that it intended to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria shortly before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s May 16 visit to Washington.

“The president clearly expressed our position and concerns during his Washington visit. It was stressed how risky and dangerous the support given to the YPG was,” Cavusoglu said. “These weapons could be used against all humanity, not just Turkey,” the Turkish FM added.

Last week, the Pentagon was forced to release a 2016 report from the Inspector General’s office that said the US military had lost track of weapons worth over $1 billion in Iraq. The hardware, part of the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), was meant to help Baghdad fight IS.

Announcing the Kurdish arms deliveries this week, the Pentagon said it would take great care to monitor the use of the weapons and investigate any alleged misuse or diversion.

Ancestors of ancient Egyptians came from Europe and Middle East, says study

May 31, 2017


Ancient Egyptians were more closely related to people from the Middle East and Europe than those from Central Africa, according to a genetic analysis of mummies’ DNA.

A team of international scientists from the University of Tuebingen and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany analyzed the DNA of 90 Egyptian mummies dating from approximately 1400 BCE to 400 CE

Amazingly, the team’s findings revealed that the mummies’ closest kin were ancient farmers from the Levant  – a historical term for a large geographic area in the eastern Mediterranean that includes Israel and Jordan.

The study, published in Nature, also claims that ancient Egyptians were closely related to Neolithic populations from the Anatolian Peninsula, an area made up of the majority of modern-day Turkey and Europe.

The genetics of the Abusir el-Meleq community did not undergo any major shifts during the 1,300-year timespan we studied, suggesting that the population remained, genetically, relatively unaffected by foreign conquest and rule,” said Wolfgang Haak, from the Max Planck Institutes.

What is perhaps even more interesting is the revelation that modern Egyptians are closer to sub-Saharan African populations than their ancient counterparts, a finding which Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institutes believes was caused by “an increase in Sub-Saharan African gene flow into Egypt within the last 1,500 years.”

The research cited improved mobility down the Nile River, increased long-distance trade between sub-Saharan Africa and Egypt, and the trans-Saharan slave trade that began around 1,300 years ago.

Some 151 mummified remains were initially sampled from the archaeological site of Abusir el-Meleq, along the Nile River in Middle Egypt.

Mitochondrial genomes, DNA passed from mother to child, were recovered from 90 mummies while rare genome-wide datasets, the DNA of both parents, were acquired from three mummies.

Acquisition of detailed nuclear DNA has traditionally been difficult due to contamination issues. For this study, researchers carefully screened the DNA to rule out contamination from anyone who had handled the mummies since their excavation a century ago.

The Modern Man

May 31, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

The Cro-Magnon were the first early modern humans (early Homo sapiens sapiens) of the European Upper Paleolithic. The earliest known remains of Cro-Magnon-like humans are radiometrically dated to 35,000 years before present.

Cro-Magnons were robustly built and powerful. The body was generally heavy and solid with a strong musculature. The forehead was straight, with slight browridges and a tall forehead. Cro-Magnons were the first humans (genus Homo) to have a prominent chin. The brain capacity was about 1,600 cc (100 cubic inches), larger than the average for modern humans.The Cro-Magnons were long limbed and adult males would often reach 6 feet 3 inches (190 cm).

The Cro-Magnons lived in Europe between 35,000 and 10,000 years ago. They are virtually identical to modern man, being tall and muscular and slightly more robust than most modern humans.

The fact is, the Cro-Magnon man was, compared to the other “anatomically modern humans” around him, practically a superman. They were skilled hunters, toolmakers and artists famous for the cave art at places such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira. They had a high cranium, a broad and upright face, and cranial capacity “about the same as modern humans” (can we say larger?), but less than that of Neanderthals. The males were as tall as 6 feet.

They appeared in Europe in the upper Pleistocene, about 40,000 years ago and “their geographic origin is still unknown”.

Their skeletal remains show a “few small differences from modern humans”. Of course, the “out of Africa” theory advocates suggest that Cro-Magnon came from Sub Saharan Africa and a temperate climate and that, “they would eventually adapt to all extremes of heat and cold”. In this way, the “slight differences” between Cro-Magnon and other forms of anatomically modern humans can be explained away as an adaptation to cold.

But, as we will see, this idea doesn’t hold water.

Cro-Magnon’s tools are described as the Aurignacian technology, characterized by bone and antler tools, such as spear tips (the first) and harpoons. They also used animal traps, and bow and arrow. They invented shafts and handles for their knives, securing their blades with bitumen, a kind of tar, as long as 40 thousand years ago. Other improvements included the invention of the atlatl, a large bone or piece of wood with a hooked groove used for adding distance and speed to spears.

They also invented more sophisticated spear points, such as those that detach after striking and cause greater damage to prey.144 The Cro-Magnon type man was also the “originator” of such abstract concepts as “time”. They marked time by lunar phases, recording them with marks on a piece of bone, antler or stone. Some of these “calendars” contained a record of as many as 24 lunations.

Cro-Magnon people lived in tents and other man-made shelters in groups of several families. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers and had elaborate rituals for hunting, birth and death. Multiple burials are common in the areas where they were found. What is most interesting is that from 35 to 10 thousand years ago, there was no differentiation by sex or age in burials.

They included special grave goods, as opposed to everyday, utilitarian objects, suggesting a very increased ritualization of death and burial..

They were the first confirmed to have domesticated animals, starting by about 15 thousand years ago (though ancient sapiens may have domesticated the dog as much as 200 thousand years ago).

They were the first to leave extensive works of art, such as cave paintings and carved figures of animals and pregnant women. Huge caves lavishly decorated with murals depicting animals of the time were at first rejected as fake for being too sophisticated. Then they were dismissed as being primitive, categorized as hunting, fertility or other types of sympathetic magic.

The Upper Paleolithic signals the most fundamental change in human behavior that the archaeological record may ever reveal. The only explanation for this tremendous change is that a new kind of human appeared on the earth stage.

When we consider the difficulties of such an event, in terms of “evolution”, we find that this presents a huge difficulty in our understanding.

First of all, we still have the problem of a 60,000-year time lag between the appearance of the sub-Saharan modern type man who was on the scene with no “improvements” in his technology for that length of time.

If Cro-Magnon evolved in Africa, why isn’t there a continuous record of incremental developments?

By the same reasoning, if he evolved only after crossing the Mediterranean to Europe, why isn’t there a continuous record of incremental developments?

The most effective and popular way that science deals with this crisis is to ignore it, to deny it, or to seek to twist the facts to fit the theory.

The aircraft accident as a political weapon

May 31, 2017

by Harry von Johnston, PhD

General Wladyslaw Sikorski headed the Polish government-in-exile in London and had long proven to be a thorn in the sides of the Allied leaders. He had demanded clarification of any postwar Russian/Polish borders, a demand that enraged Stalin who would not respond.

Roosevelt had no wish to offend either his ideological friend, Stalin, nor the large Polish minority in the United States. Roosevelt once told Stalin, “I have several million Poles in the United States…”

The friction grew critical in April 1943. On the 13th of that month, German troops had discovered mass graves of thousands of murdered Polish officer prisoners of war at a place called Katyn, west of Smolensk.

They had been alerted by local inhabitants who told the Germans that Stalin’s murderous NKVD had used the forest area as a burial ground for their numerous victims. This area was then explored and a large number of mass graves were uncovered which contained the remains of some of the 14,000 Polish officers who had been taken prisoner by the Soviets in 1939.

This information was made public by the Germans and on April 17, the Polish minister of national defense in London, publicly announced that his government was requesting the Swiss Red Cross to inquire into the matter. Stalin was infuriated and on April 26, he severed diplomatic relations with the Polish government-in-exile. Roosevelt attempted to persuade Stalin to reterm his break as a ‘suspension of conversation’ rather than a formal break in relations. He stressed to Stalin the number of Polish voters in the United States. Stalin was not willing to alter his attitude and hurled recriminations at Roosevelt and Churchill for their apparent lack of interest in supporting his Soviet Union that he claimed was bearing all the brunt of the European war.

Sikorski refused to alter his stance in spite of great pressure applied locally by Churchill, and from a distance, by Roosevelt. As the investigations into the Soviet murders spread with considerable international publicity, Stalin demanded that Sikorski abandon his course and called him a Nazi collaborator. Roosevelt objected to this but agreed that the Poles had made an error in asking outside assistance from the Swiss.

With Sikorski’s death, the Katyn slaughter vanished from the headlines and after the war, the Soviets tried , with no success, to blame the murders on the Germans. It is now recognized that the dead Poles were only the tip on an immense iceberg and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, documents were found in former Soviet files concerning the fate of the Polish officers. Stalin had scrawled ‘liquidate’ across the pages.

The Duke of Kent was a younger brother of the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII. His pro-German views were well-known and a source of embarrassment to Churchill.

He died in a plane crash during the war. Even Charles de Gaulle, once a favorite of Churchill’s but later in conflict with him over de Gaulle’s role in a liberated France, had the steering controls of his British transport plane tampered with. Only a delayed takeoff prevented a fatal crash.

And then there is the latter-day crash of the Polish government aircraft at Smolensk on April 10, 2010.

This virtually wiped out the top level of the Polish government. Although US sources, and Polish, have hinted at Russian involvement, it was to establish a better relationship with Russia that the visit was undertaken. Such a rapprochement was not viewed favorable in Langley.

Que bono.


New York Times offers buyouts, scraps public editor position

May 31, 2017

by Jessica Toonkel and Narottam Medhora


The New York Times Co (NYT.N) said on Wednesday it was offering buyouts to its newsroom employees to streamline production systems and reduce the number of editors.

The newspaper said it would eliminate the in-house watchdog position of public editor as it shifts focus to reader comments.

“Today, our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be,” publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr said in a memo, which was revieed by Reuters.

The Times is opening up the majority if its articles to comments from readers, up from 10 percent currently, according to the memo.

The latest round of buyouts will be mostly offered to editors, as the Times seeks to shift the balance of editors to reporters, according to a memo filed with regulators from Dean Baquet, executive editor, and Joe Kahn, managing editor.

“If we do not get enough takers to fund our ambitious plans to reduce the editing staff and hire more reporters, we will unfortunately have to turn to layoffs,” Baquet and Kahn said.

Liz Spayd, the current public editor, will leave the paper on Friday, according to the memo from Sulzberger.

“The one thing an ombud or public editor can almost always do is hold feet to the fire, and get a real answer out of management,” Margaret Sullivan, former public editor at the New York Times, said in a Twitter post in response to the news

“The role, by definition, is a burr under the saddle for the powers that be,” she said.

The Times said it expected to take a charge of up to $23 million related to workforce reductions, with about $17 million to be recorded in the second quarter.

“I think an ombudsman-like role is vital and I find the Times decision disappointing,” Merrill Brown, the former editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com and currently director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University, said via email.

(Additional reporting by Laharee Chatterjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Hay and Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

 The Numbers Don’t Lie: White Far-Right Terrorists Pose a Clear Danger to Us All

May 31, 2017

by Mehdi Hasan

The Intecept

O Sean Duffy, where art thou?

Back in February, the Republican congressman from Wisconsin told CNN’s Alysyn Camerota that white terrorists of the far right variety did not pose the same level of danger to Americans as so-called “Islamist” or “jihadist” terrorists. Why? “I don’t know, but I would just tell you there’s a difference,” proclaimed Duffy, who went on to dismiss as a “one-off” the attack on a mosque in Quebec by a Trump-supporting white nationalist, in which six Muslim worshippers were killed.

One-off? Seriously? Has Duffy been reading the news in recent days? On May 20, Richard Collins III, a black, 23-year-old U.S. Army second lieutenant, was murdered while visiting the University of Maryland by a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich: Nation.” According to University of Maryland police chief David Mitchell, the group promotes “despicable” prejudice against minorities “and especially African-Americans.”

On May 26, 53-year-old U.S. Army veteran Rick Best and 23-year-old recent university graduate Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were murdered, while 21-year-old poet Micah David-Cole Fletcher was severely injured, by a knife-wielding white supremacist when the three of them tried to prevent him from harassing a Muslim woman in a headscarf on their commuter train in Portland, Oregon.

Why isn’t Duffy back on CNN decrying the threat posed by such vile domestic terrorists? Why aren’t the Republican political and media establishments loudly alerting voters to the white-skinned far right menace in their midst?

Can you imagine the tweetstorm from President Donald Trump if two U.S. soldiers — one serving, one a veteran — had been killed on U.S. soil by Islamist terrorists in the space of a single week? Can you imagine the rolling coverage on Fox News if it had been a ranting Muslim man who had slashed the throats of three Good Samaritans trying to protect two women on a train in Portland?

For far too long, those of us who have warned of the threat from far right, white supremacist terrorists have been accused of trying to shift attention away from the threat of ISIS and Al Qaeda — of acting as Muslim apologists.

For far too long, a veritable industry of politicians, pundits and self-styled security “experts” have strived to minimize the domestic terror threat from far right groups while inflating the threat from foreign jihadists.

Compare and contrast: Islamist terrorists are depicted as wild-eyed fanatics driven to kill by their religious faith or ideology, while far right terrorists — be it the shooter of two Hindus in a bar in Kansas in February, or the killer of nine black worshippers in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, or the murderer of six Sikh worshippers in a temple in Duffy’s own state of Wisconsin in 2012 — are almost always “mentally ill.” After the recent double murder in Oregon, it didn’t take long for Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson to announce: “We don’t know if [the suspect] has mental-health issues.” (Isn’t it weird how we Muslims seem somehow immune to “mental-health issues”? Mashallah.)

Today, the terror threat from far right white supremacists is the terror threat that dare not speak its name. Leading conservatives, and even some liberals, are keen to downplay the danger that they pose and to divert and deflect attention away from home-grown white extremists and towards what President Trump likes to call “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Yet the numbers don’t lie — even if the Islamophobes do. “Since September 12, 2001,” noted a recent report prepared for Congress by the Government Accountability Office, “the number of fatalities caused by domestic violent extremists has ranged from 1 to 49 in a given year… fatalities resulting from attacks by far right wing violent extremists have exceeded those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists in 10 of the 15 years, and were the same in 3 of the years since September 12, 2001.” Imagine that.

The report continues: “Of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far right wing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73 percent) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27 percent).” That’s a margin of almost three to one.

The report points out that “the total number of fatalities is about the same for far right wing violent extremists and radical Islamist violent extremists over the approximately 15-year period,” with the latter edging out the former by 119 to 106. However, the report also acknowledges that “41 percent of the deaths attributable to radical Islamist violent extremists occurred in a single event — an attack at an Orlando, Florida night club in 2016.”

Islamist terrorists, it seems, are more deadly in terms of the number of people killed in each of their attacks, yet far right terrorists are far more active in carrying out attacks on U.S. soil. A plethora of reports and studies — from the New America Foundation to the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point — have backed the GAO on this point. One group of researchers even found that “compared to Islamist extremists, far-right extremists were significantly more likely to… have a higher level of commitment to their ideology.”

Meanwhile, U.S. law enforcement agencies, according to a survey carried out by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, “consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.”

Forget Congressman Duffy: these agencies won’t get much sympathy from their new Republican president either. As Reuters reported in early February, less than two weeks after Trump’s inauguration, the White House expressed a desire to “revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism… and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”

The news was met with glee in far right circles. “Donald Trump,” wrote Andrew Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, “is setting us free.”

Why would a president who has repeatedly retweeted white supremacist Twitter accounts such as WhiteGenocideTM, appointed a white nationalist to be one of his delegates in California, accepted campaign donations from white nationalist leaders, picked a white nationalist as his chief strategist in the White House, and been officially endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, want to turn a blind eye to the domestic terror threat from white supremacists and nationalists and put American lives in danger?

I couldn’t possibly imagine.

More than 80,000 American service members remain missing in action

May 29,2017

by Philip Bump

The Washington Post

Bernie O. Aaberg was an Army private with the 170th Engineer Combat Battalion from Minnesota who went missing in the Philippines during World War II. Frank W. Zywicki of New York also went missing in that war, a Naval quartermaster lost when his submarine, the USS Cisco, is believed to have been sunk by Japanese bombers in the South China Sea in late 1943.

Aaberg and Zywicki have the distinctions of being, alphabetically, the first and last service members on the U.S. military’s list of those missing in action. Between the two of them are more than 80,000 others.

Data from the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) outlines the scale of the number of those still considered lost in action. The missing originated from each of the 50 states and any number of U.S. territories — including the Philippines, which was an American commonwealth at the time of the war. The three states with the most missing native sons and daughters are New York, California and Pennsylvania. (Were it a state, the Philippines would rank fourth on this list, with 4,533 service members listed as missing.) Relative to population, West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Iowa are missing the most service members.

The geography of those losses maps to the most significant U.S. conflicts of the 20th century. More than 10,000 Americans are considered missing after service in the Philippines, with thousands more missing in the surrounding waters. About 5,800 are missing in the Solomon Islands. More than 5,000 are missing on the Korean Peninsula. Thousands are missing in the South Pacific, in the North Atlantic and across Western Europe.

The DPAA continually updates its data as it locates the remains of those missing in action. On May 19, the agency announced that it had accounted for the remains of Marine Corps Reserve Cpl. Henry Andregg Jr., who was killed on the first day of fighting at Tarawa atoll in November 1943. Andregg’s remains had been interred in Honolulu and were identified this month using laboratory analysis.

More than 2,000 others have been similarly accounted for.

Many, particularly those lost at sea, probably never will be.

‘Human tragedy’: LA homelessness jumps to record-breaking level

The humanitarian crisis has drawn comparisons to poverty in the developing world, as more than 55,000 counted living in shelters and on the street.

May 31, 2017

by Alastair Gee

The Guardian

San Francisco-The numbers of homeless people in Los Angeles has jumped to a new record, as city officials grapple with a humanitarian crisis of proportions remarkable for a modern American metropolis.

Municipal leaders said that a recent count over several nights found 55,188  homeless people living in a survey region comprising most of Los Angeles County, up more than 25% from last year. It is the highest number observed there, according to federal data that begins in 2007.

The total includes those in shelters and also those subsisting outside, who make up three-quarters of the population and can be found everywhere from the sidewalks of Skid Row to the beachside boulevards of Venice and the concrete channel of the Los Angeles river.

“It just bespeaks the human tragedy that’s been going on in Los Angeles for decades and decades,” said Philip Mangano, a former head of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, which guides national policy. “There’s a certain group of Americans who have living situations closer to a third-world favela than what one would expect in the entertainment capital of the world.”

Tom Waldman, a spokesperson for the homeless services authority, confirmed that “we appear to have set a record this year”, and added that the region has the “tools and resources” to resolve it.

While national numbers for 2017 have not yet been released, until last year homelessness had trended downward in the US. But a number of states – including in the west, which has some of the highest per-capita rates of homelessness in the country – have gone the opposite direction in recent years. California’s and Washington state’s numbers have been rising; Hawai’i is up more than 30% since 2007. High rents and a low supply of affordable housing are often labeled as the main culprits.

America’s Iran Hysteria

The Irrationality of Iran Vilification

May 31, 2017

by Danny Sjursen

Tom Dispatch

“Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on a mid-April visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “you find Iran.”

I must admit that when I stumbled across that quote it brought up uncomfortable personal memories.

East Baghdad, January 25, 2007: my patrol had missed a turn and so we swung onto the next grimy avenue instead.  As platoon leader, I rode shotgun in the second of our four vehicles, yakking away on the radio.  The ensuing explosion rocked the senses: the sound, the blinding dust, and the smell — a mix of burnt metal and, well… I still can’t bring myself to describe it.

Our lead HMMWV, a military utility vehicle, aimlessly swerved right and came to rest beside a telephone pole. Only then did the screams begin.

The “cost” would be two wounded and two dead: my then-unborn son’s namesakes, Specialist Michael Balsley and Sergeant Alexander Fuller.  These were our first, but not last, fatalities.  Nothing was ever the same again.  I’m reminded of poet Dylan Thomas’s line: “After the first death, there is no other.”

The local militia had shredded our truck with an advanced type of improvised explosive device that was then just hitting the streets of Baghdad — an explosively formed projectile, or EFP.  These would ultimately kill hundreds of American troops.  Those EFPs and the requisite training to use them were provided to Iraqi militias by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s a detail I’m not likely to forget.

Still, there’s one major problem with bold, sweeping pronouncements (laced with one’s own prejudices) of the sort Secretary of Defense Mattis recently offered on Iran: they’re almost always wrong.  It’s the essential flaw of “lumping” — that is, of folding countless events or ideas into one grand theory.  But, boy, does it sound profound!  The truth is that Iran is simply not behind most of the turmoil in the Middle East, and until Washington’s policymakers change their all-Iran-all-the-time mental model, they are doomed to failure.  One thing is guaranteed: they are going to misdiagnose the patient and attack the wrong disease.

Look, I’m emotionally invested myself.  After all, I fought Iranian-trained militiamen, but a serious, workable national strategy shouldn’t rely on such emotion.  It demands a detached, rational calculus.  With that in mind, perhaps this is the moment — before the misdiagnosis sets in further — to take a fresh look at the nature of America’s thorny relationship with Iran and the Islamic Republic’s true place in the pantheon of American problems in the Greater Middle East.

Let’s start this way: How many Americans even realize that there are only three countries in the world with which their country has no ongoing diplomatic relations at all? Actually, the number was four until the Obama administration began slowly normalizing bilateral ties with one longtime member of the naughty list: Cuba.  How many could name the three remaining states on that roll of shame?  The first and easiest to guess is surely North Korea; the most obscure is Bhutan (the “Switzerland of the Himalayas”).  And, yes, of course, last but by no means least is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Think of all the scoundrels not on that list: Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe; our Pakistani “frenemy”; Vladimir Putin’s Russia; Equatorial Guinea with its craven, 40-year dictator, accused of cannibalism; and, until 2012, Bashar al-Assad’s grim Syrian regime.  Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. kept an embassy in the Soviet Union and it similarly maintained formal relations with apartheid South Africa.  As of 2014, the State Department officially dealt with nine-tenths of the globe’s most abusive regimes, according to the Human Rights Risk Atlas.

So, is the secretary of defense correct? Is Iran really behind all regional trouble in the Greater Middle East?

Hardly.  In fact, such an assertion — and the language of absolutes that goes with it — is by definition problematic.  In a Washington filled with Iranophobes, the demonization of that country is already a commonplace of everyday political chatter and it almost invariably rests on three inflated assumptions about Iran’s menacing nature: that it is on an eternal quest to develop and perhaps employ nuclear weapons (especially against Israel); that it massively supports regional “terrorists” and their proxies; and that it regularly exhibits an unquenchable desire to establish its regional hegemony by force of arms.  All three suppositions rest on another faulty assumption: that Iran has a straightforwardly dictatorial system of fundamentalism led by irrational “mad mullahs.”

Let’s consider each of these propositions.

The Iran Exaggeration

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a Middle Eastern country — no, not Israel — but one with a sizeable, protected Jewish community, a place where Islam is the state religion but its president regularly tweets Rosh Hashanah greetings for the Jewish New Year.

Sounds like somebody’s wild fantasy, but it’s actually Iran.  In fact, the Islamic Republic sets aside one mandatory seat in its parliament for a Jew, three for Christians, and another for a Zoroastrian.  It would be a mistake to conclude from such token gestures that Iran is a paragon of tolerance.  But they do speak to the complexity of a diverse society full of paradox and contradiction.

It certainly is a land in which hardline fundamentalists chant “Death to America!” It’s also a country with an increasingly young, educated populace that holds remarkably positive views of Americans.  In fact, whatever you might imagine, Americans tend to have significantly more negative views of Iran than vice versa.   Don’t be shocked, but Iranians hold more positive views of the U.S. government than do the citizens of Washington’s allies like Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.  In reality, there’s long been a worrying paradox in the region: an inverse relationship between the amiability of a government’s relationship with Washington and the favorability ratings of this country among its people.

In other words, when it comes to Iran… well, it’s complicated.  The trouble is that Americans generally don’t do nuance.  We like our bad guys to be foreign and unmistakably vile, even if such a preference for digestible simplicity makes for poor policy.

If you want to grasp this point more fully, just think about Secretary of Defense Mattis’s recent statement again. He assures us that Iran’s shadow hovers over every regional crisis in the Middle East, which is empirically false.  Here, for instance, are just a few recent conflicts that Iran is not behind or where its role has been exaggerated:

* The Arab Spring and the subsequent chaos in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.  Iran didn’t start or significantly influence the uprisings in those countries.

* Turkey’s decades-long war with separatist Kurds in its southeast provinces.  Again, not Iran.

* The ongoing spread of al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and on the Arabian Peninsula.  Iran actually abhors such groups, and certainly wasn’t behind their rise.

* Or, if you want, take Yemen, since supposed Iranian meddling in the Middle East’s poorest state happens to be one of the favorite drums Washington’s Iranophobic hawks like to beat.  And yet a range of credible reports suggest that the much-decried collusion between Iran and the Houthi rebels, who are the focus of the Saudi war in that country, is highly exaggerated.

Look, Iran is a significant, if often thwarted and embattled, regional power and a player, sometimes even a destabilizing one, in various regional conflagrations.  It supports proxies, funds partner states, and sometimes intervenes in the region, even sending in its own military units (think Syria).  Then again, so does Saudi Arabia (Yemen and, in funding terms, elsewhere), the United Arab Emirates (Yemen), Russia (Syria), and the United States (more or less everywhere).  So who’s destabilizing whom and why almost invariably turns out to be a matter of perspective.

The State Department and various other government agencies regularly label Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” — and that couldn’t sound more menacing or impressively official and authoritative.  Yet to tag Iran as #1 on any terror list is misleading indeed.  The questions worth asking are: Which terrorists?  What constitutes terrorism?  Do those “terror” outfits truly threaten the U.S. homeland?

As a start, in 2016, the State Department’s annual survey of worldwide terrorism labeled ISIS — not Iran, Hezbollah, or the Houthis — as “the greatest [terror] threat globally.” How do we square that “greatest sponsor” stamp with an Iran that has proven both thoroughly hostile to and deeply invested in the fight against ISIS and various al-Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq and Syria?

Iran does support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.  However, lumping regionally focused nationalist organizations like Hezbollah with genuine global jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda (in its proliferating forms) is deceptive, often purposely so.  The Lebanon-based Hezbollah, for example, is largely fixated on Israel, but has sometimes even fought ISIS in Lebanon and Syria.  In other words, Hezbollah, though it had previously attacked U.S. troops in the region, isn’t sending its operatives to crash planes into American buildings.

To think of it another way, more foreign ISIS volunteers hail from Belgium or the Maldives Islands than from Iran. In fact, most of the top sources of ISIS’s foreign recruits (Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan) turn out to be “friendly” American “partners.”  From 1975 to 2015, Iranian-born terrorists inflicted zero deaths in attacks on U.S. soil.  In contrast, citizens of key U.S. allies — Saudis, Egyptians, and Lebanese — killed thousands on 9/11.  In fact, since then, 85% of domestic terrorists turned out to be American citizens or permanent residents.  Most were American-born.  Of the 13 U.S. citizens involved in such fatal terror attacks, none were Iranian-American.

As to the charge that Iran is by nature an aggressive power, there can be little question that the Islamic Republic aggressively pursues its regional interests.  That, however, by no means makes its moves automatically antagonistic to Washington’s interests in the region.  If anything, as a Pentagon assessment concluded in 2014, its military strategy is ultimately defensive in nature and based on a feeling of being threatened, which makes sense when you think about it.  After all, when it comes to American power — from the 1953 CIA-British coup that overthrew Iran’s elected prime minister and installed the autocratic Shah to Washington’s support for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Tehran (1980-1988) to the present administration’s all-in support for the autocratic Saudis in an anti-Iranian partnership, they have legitimate reasons to feel threatened.

In addition, unlikely as it may seem to most Americans, on certain issues like a Taliban-free Afghanistan, the U.S. and Iran actually have had converging, if complex, interests. Additionally, though Iran once promoted Iraqi Shiite militias that attacked and killed U.S. troops (including my soldiers, Mike Balsley and Alex Fuller), today, both countries desire a relatively stable, ISIS-free Iraq. None of this is easy to swallow (least of all by me), but prudent strategy demands a dispassionate, rational assessment of inherently emotional issues.  Unfortunately, when it comes to Iran, that’s hardly an American predilection at the moment.

The Company We Keep

In 1957, the U.S. supplied a key regional leader with his first (“peaceful”) nuclear reactor, as well as the necessary scientific training for those who would run it and some weapons-grade uranium to power it. Then, in the 1970s, American experts began to fear that their partner might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons on his own.  A few years later, revolutionaries overthrew him and inherited that American-originated program. That leader was, of course, the man the Americans had installed as ruler of Iran in 1953, Reza Shah Pahlavi.

It always struck me as odd that Iran made the cut for the very exclusive membership in George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.”  After all, unlike those 15 Saudi hijackers and perhaps even the Saudi government, it had no connection to 9/11 and was “comprehensively helpful” in the initial takedown of the Afghan Taliban and the arrest of fleeing al-Qaeda fighters.

By contrast, consider just a few of Washington’s “partners” in the region:

* Saudi Arabia: this monarchy enforces a strict brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam not so terribly different from the basic theology of ISIS.  The Saudi government publicly executes an average of 73 people per year, including juveniles and the mentally ill.  Beheading is the favored technique. (Sound familiar?)  Nor are all the victims convicted murderers.  According to a 2015 Amnesty International report, “Non-lethal crimes including adultery, robbery, apostasy, drug-related offenses, rape, ‘witchcraft,’ and ‘sorcery’ are punishable by death.”  In addition to its citizens carrying out the 9/11 attacks, Saudi Arabia supported a branch of al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) in the Syrian conflict.  Furthermore, its ongoing U.S.-backed air strikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been killing numerous civilians and may have helped to cause and further intensify a disastrous famine. The U.S. response: a record-breaking $110 billion arms deal for the Saudis.

* Egypt: In the wake of a 2013 coup d’état led by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi against an elected government, that country’s military gunned down hundreds of demonstrators.  Since then, its strongman has used “mass, arbitrary arrests,” tortured detainees, and conducted “extrajudicial executions” — all in the interest of retaining power.  The U.S. response: $1.4 billion in (mostly military) foreign assistance in fiscal 2017.  To top it off, President Trump recently invited Sisi to the White House, lauded the dictator’s “fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” and is planning a future visit to Egypt.

* Turkey: this formal ally boasts NATO’s second largest military and hosts an important U.S. airbase.  Unfortunately, Turkey is increasingly unstable thanks to a recent coup attempt, its ongoing war with Kurdish separatists, and an escalating intervention in Syria’s civil war.  Worse yet, after relaunching an internal war against Kurdish rebels, its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken the country into distinctly autocratic terrain in the wake of a narrow victory in a referendum that does away with the office of prime minister and further centralizes executive power in his hands.  Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record includes the pre-trial detention of more than 40,000 coup “suspects,” the summary dismissal of 90,000 civil servants, the shuttering of hundreds of offices of nongovernmental organizations and media outlets, and the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern part of the country. The U.S. response: $3.8 million in direct (military) assistance in fiscal 2017, and promises to continue arms sales which topped $2.3 billion last year.

This motley crew has one thing in common — they’re no angels.

“Rip It Up”

Iran hawks live on both sides of the political aisle.  In 2015, for example, Hillary Clinton told an audience at Dartmouth College that Iran represents “an existential threat to Israel.”  Though she expressed tacit support for Obama’s then-pending nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — she added that “even if we do get such a deal, we will still have major problems… [Iran is] the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism.”

When it comes to real rancor toward Iran, however, you have to look to the right.  Senator John McCain, for instance, immediately cried foul about the JCPOA, calling it a “bad deal” likely to “nuclearize” the Middle East.  More colloquially, as both a candidate and as president-elect, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “rip it up,” while former governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee accused President Obama of “marching the Israelis to the door of the oven.”

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, intelligence and congressional testimony indicate that Iran is complying with the JCPOA.  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey — not exactly a dove — believed that the deal reduced the risk of Iran weaponizing its nuclear power. All the appeals from the president, various pundits, neocons of every sort, and congressional hawks to withdraw from it also neglect an obvious reality: the JCPOA is a multilateral deal and none of our partners (Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany) will support “tearing up” the agreement.  Imagine the optics of a future American unilateral abrogation of an agreement Iran is complying with: the onus will be on Washington alone; its allies will continue to abide by the deal and, with genuine justification, Iran’s leaders will be able to depict the Americans as destabilizing “cowboys.”

Here’s the reality of the present situation: despite decades of sanctions and the military containment of Iran, the U.S. has not significantly affected its policies or stance in the region.  Few in Washington display the courage to ask the crucial question: Why continue?  Why not a creative new approach — the gradual normalization of relations?

Though you wouldn’t know it, given the prominence of Iranophobes in Washington, the U.S. has little to lose.  Current policy is counterproductive in so many ways, while Washington’s never-ending bellicosity and threats to “rip up” the nuclear agreement only undercut Iran’s moderates and the eminently sensible President Hassan Rouhani, who recently won a smashing electoral victory against a hardline, fundamentalist opponent in which a stunning 73% of Iranian voters cast ballots. Why not make it more, not ever less, difficult for Iran’s conservatives to vilify the U.S.?

Forty Years of Failure

There’s an uncomfortable truth that Washington needs to face: U.S. policy toward Iran hasn’t achieved its goals despite almost four decades of effort since an American-installed autocrat was overthrown there in 1979.  Foreign policy hawks — Democrats and Republicans alike — will undoubtedly fight that reality tooth-and-nail, but as with the Cuban embargo, Iranian isolation has long outworn any imagined usefulness.  That ostracizing Iran remains fashionable reflects domestic political calculus or phobic thinking, not cogent strategy, and yet our new president just traveled to Saudi Arabia, a truly autocratic country, and in the wake of an Iranian election that was by all accounts resoundingly democratic, denounced that land as despotic and all but called for regime change.

So here’s a question that, believe it or not, is okay to ask and is not actually tantamount to treason: What exactly does Iran want and fear?  It wants international legitimacy, security, and a reasonable degree of regional power (not world domination). It fears continued isolation, any coalition of hostile Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia (assisted by Israel), and U.S.-sponsored attempts at regime change. If you think that makes the Iranians sound paranoid, just check out the recent celebratory get-together in Saudi Arabia or remember how, just before the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, Newsweek quoted a senior British official summing up the situation in Washington this way: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”

In sum, U.S. policy in the Middle East is confused, contradictory, counterproductive, and dangerous.  It could leave Washington involved in a war with Iran. (And given our recent wars in the region, imagine where that’s likely to land us.)

The U.S. doesn’t require more enemies. Its hands are already full enough without additional faux “existential” threats or, as John Quincy Adams warned so long ago, eternally going “abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

Oddly enough, the Trump administration has a unique opportunity to normalize relations with Iran.  While President Obama’s modest overtures toward that country were greeted with scathing partisan scorn, President Trump might just be able to garner enough Republican support to do so much more, were he ever to try.  At the moment, he clearly possesses no such plans, and yet, as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Trump can go to Tehran!

My small bit of advice, however: don’t hold your breath…






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