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TBR News November 28, 2016

Nov 28 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C.  November 28, 2016: “Having lost the election, and hoped-for power, the various institutions that supported Clinton are not content with accepting defeat, they are predictably trying to blame their loss on someone not connected with themselves.

The Washington Post, which has lost 75% of its readership, is hysterically claiming that somehow the evil Russians were responsible.

There is no proof whatsoever that the Russians had anything to do with the election.

Clinton lost because the American public is tired of liars, thieves and amoral manipulators running the nation and the once-powerful American print media has become a bore to most Americans and has all the influence of a supermarket tabloid.

And we can expect both the Washington Post and the New York Times to have supported Clinton.

Both papers are well-known to have strong governmental connections.

They print what they are told to and do not print what the government does not want. Also, the Post and the Times are owned by Jewish families and inside the Beltway, at the very least, it is known that Hillary Clinton’s family were Jewish and originated in Poland.”


Recount, ‘faithless’ electors unlikely to thwart Trump

People who are hoping that two last-minute efforts might deny Donald Trump the presidency are facing likely disappointment. There’s little chance that recounts in key states or “faithless” electors will achieve that.

November 28, 2016


Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s push for a recount of the election results in three critical US states threw opponents of Donald Trump a lifeline. That Stein has so far been able to raise more than $6 million (5.7 million euros) fairly easily in a very short time – especially considering that she only raised $3.5 million for her presidential bid – shows the traction behind her effort.

Should a recount of the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – all of which Trump won – lead to a full reversal of that tally and make Hillary Clinton the victor, it would also sway the Electoral College outcome and make Clinton president.

Key supporters of the recount, such as the University of Michigan computer science professorAlex Halderman, have called the potential for hacking grounds for a new tally, but other scholars, including MIT’s Charles Stewart, have questioned those claims.

‘Infinitesimal’ chance

The Clinton team, which has joined the effort, found no grounds to call for a recount in its own analysis, as her counseldetailedin an article on Medium. The Obama administration announced last week that it had no evidence of foul play and believed that the election outcome had reflected “the will of the American people.”

But, regardless of the merit of those claims, two election law experts approached by DW have one word to describe the likelihood that the recount efforts will prevent Trump from becoming president: “infinitesimal.”

“The chances that Donald Trump will not become the next president are infinitesimal,” Joshua Douglas, an election law professor at the University of Kentucky, said via email. “The recounts will almost definitely not swing all three states in Clinton’s favor.”

“The odds of that happening are infinitesimal (next-to-none),” Edward Foley, the director of election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, wrote in an email. “Statewide recounts usually change no more than a hundred votes or so, and the tightest margin of the three key states, Michigan, is at last look around 10,000 votes.”

Historically the largest gain in a recount occurred in Florida in 2000, when Al Gore ended up with more than 1,200 additional votes in his race against George W. Bush – which was still not enough to win the state at the time the Supreme Court halted the tally.

To sway the outcome of the election, Clinton would not simply have to overcome a margin of about 10,000 votes in Michigan, but more than 68,000 in Pennsylvania and more than 27,000 in Wisconsin.

Congress has the last word

The second hope for people still looking for a way to keep Trump away from the White House is similarly far-fetched. More than 4.5 million people have signed an online petition urging the Electoral College’s electors, who will cast their ballots for president on December 19, to switch their vote and “Make Hillary Clinton President.”

According to the petition, if 149 electors in 14 states won by Trump would switch their votes to Clinton, she would become president. But the likelihood of that happening is remote, the professors said.

“There will not be enough ‘faithless’ presidential electors who will switch to Clinton,” Douglas said.

There is no historical precedent for such a move, Foley said, and, even if that many electors were to switch their votes, Clinton would still not become president – because “Congress would have to accept the result of electors being faithless.”

Congress is scheduled to receive the Electoral College results and then officially declare the winner on January 6.

“As long as the Trump campaign were able to submit to Congress an alternative to the votes of the faithless electors, Congress could choose to accept the Trump submission, rather than the submission on behalf of the faithless electors,” Foley said. “It seems highly unlikely that Congress would favor the faithless electors rather than Trump.”

The Witch-Hunters

Washington Post pushes campaign to censor alternative media

November 28, 2016

by Justin Raimondo


No one outside of a few obsessed cranks would’ve noticed it if the Washington Post hadn’t given it front page prominence last week: a formerly obscure web site, propornot.com, which purports to identify a “Russian active measures” campaign with some very specific goals in mind As Post “reporter” Craig Timberg put it:

“The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

While the Post piece doesn’t link directly to the propornot site – because doing so would’ve exposed its laughably amateurish “methodology” for all to see – Timberg does mention their list of online Boris Badenovs, including not only Antiwar.com but also the Drudge Report, WikiLeaks, David Stockman’s Contra Corner, the Ron Paul Institute, LewRockwell.com, Counterpunch, Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, Truthdig, Truth-out, and a host of others. These sites, according to the Post, not only promoted a barrage of “fake news” with the aim of defeating Mrs. Clinton, but they did so at the behest of a “centrally-directed” (per propornot) intelligence operation undertaken by the Russians. So what did this “fake news” consist of? Timberg “reports”:

“Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery – including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human ‘trolls,’ and networks of websites and social-media accounts – echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.”

Never mind that it was Hillary Clinton herself who heightened international tensions by threatening military retaliation against the Russians for supposedly unleashing via WikiLeaks a flood of embarrassing emails. In a speech touted as outlining her foreign policy platform, she railed:

“You’ve seen reports. Russia’s hacked into a lot of things. China’s hacked into a lot of things. Russia even hacked into the Democratic National Committee, maybe even some state election systems. So, we’ve got to step up our game. Make sure we are well defended and able to take the fight to those who go after us.

“As President, I will make it clear, that the United States will treat cyber attacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic and military responses.”

According to the “experts” at propornot – granted anonymity by Timberg due to alleged fear of “Russian hackers” – to so much as note this clear threat is to brand oneself as a “Russian agent of influence.”

And what about Mrs. Clinton’s health problems – was reporting on this driven by Russian spies embedded in the alternative media? Or was it occasioned by this video, which saw her falling to the ground after leaving the 9/11 ceremony early? Are the folks at propornot and their fans at the Washington Post saying the amateur videographer who took that footage is a Russian secret agent? Were the television networks and other outlets that showed the footage “useful idiots,” to employ a favorite cold war smear revived by propornot? Given their criteria for labeling people agents of the Kremlin, the answer to these questions has to be yes – and now we are falling down the rabbit hole, in a free-fall descent into lunacy.

Propornot’s “criteria” for inclusion on their blacklist is actually an ideological litmus test: if you hold certain views, you’re in the pay of the Kremlin, or else an “unwitting agent” – as former CIA head Mike Morell said of Trump. If you say anything at all positive about Russia or Putin – or a long list of entities, like China or “radical political parties in the US or Europe” (does this include the GOP?) – it’s a dead giveaway. We’re told to “investigate this by searching for mentions of, for example, ‘russia’, on their site by Googling for ‘site:whateversite.com Russia’, and seeing what comes up.”

If only Sherlock Holmes had had Google at his disposal, those detective stories would’ve been a lot shorter!

The propornot site is filled with complex graphs, and the text is riddled with “scientific”-sounding phrases, but when you get right down to it their “methodology” boils down to this: if you don’t fit within a very narrow range of allowable opinion, either falling off the left edge or the right edge, you’re either a paid Russian troll or else you’re being “manipulated” by forces you don’t understand and don’t want to understand.

Did you cheer on Brexit? You’re Putin’s pawn!

Are you worried about “World War III, nuclear devastation, etc.” instead of being content in the knowledge that their preferred policy – unmitigated hostility toward Russia — would “just result in a Cold War 2 and Russia’s eventual peaceful defeat, like the last time”? Well, then, clearly you’re either on Putin’s payroll, or else you’d like to be.

Other proscribed opinions include: “gold standard nuttery and attacks on the US dollar,” believing “the mainstream media can’t be trusted,” and “anti-‘globalism.’” And to underscore their complete lack of self-awareness, we’re told that additional warning signs of Putinism are “hyperbolic alarmism” and “generally ridiculous over-the-top assertions.”

In their world, it isn’t hyperbolic alarmism to point to ramshackle Russia, with a GDP equal to Spain’s and a declining military budget that pales before our own, as an existential threat to the West. And if you’re a reporter for the Washington Post, which has destroyed what reputation it had by effectively becoming the house organ of the Democratic National Committee, generally ridiculous overt-the-top assertions, such as those proffered by propornot, are “news.”

The Post piece also cites an article published on the “War On The Rocks” web site (which is exactly what it sounds like). The authors, a triumvirate of neocons, avers that they’ve been “tracking” “Russian propaganda” efforts since 2014, and they’ve concluded that the Grand Goal of the Russkies is to “Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions” – as if this process isn’t occurring naturally due to the depredations of a corrupt and arrogant political class.

Another insidious theme of Russian “active measures” as identified by these geniuses is “Stoking fears over the national debt, attacking institutions such as the Federal Reserve, and attempts to discredit Western financial experts and business leaders.” So we mustn’t talk about the national debt – because to do so brands one as a cog in Putin’s propaganda machine. Gee, based on these criteria, we can only conclude that every vaguely conservative politician running for office in the last decade or so is part of the Vast Russian Conspiracy, not to mention numerous economists.

And that’s not all – not by a long shot. Here’s a list of more Forbidden Topics we’re not supposed to discuss, except maybe in whispers in the privacy of our own homes: “Police brutality, racial tensions, protests, anti-government standoffs, online privacy concerns, and alleged government misconduct are all emphasized [by the Vast Russian Conspiracists – ed.] to magnify their scale and leveraged to undermine the fabric of society.” After all, Russia Today is “emphasizing” these issues – so mum’s the word!

Yes, these people are serious – but why should anyone take them seriously? Why is the Washington Post “reporting” this nonsense – and putting it on the front page, no less? In short, what’s the purpose of this virulent propaganda campaign? After all, Hillary Clinton has been defeated, along with her campaign theme of “A vote for Trump is a vote for Putin.” What does a continuation of this losing mantra hope to accomplish?

The folks at propornot are explicit about their goal: they want the government to step in. They want to close down these “agents of influence.” In their own words, they want the FBI and the Department of Justice to launch “formal investigations” of the sites on their blacklist on the grounds that “the kind of folks who make propaganda for brutal oligarchies are often involved in a wide range of bad business.” They accuse the proprietors of the listed web sites – including us, by the way – of having “violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, and other related laws.”

Oh, but they say they want to “avoid McCarthyism”! They just want to shut us down and shut us up.

These people are authoritarians, plain and simple: under the guise of fighting authoritarianism, they seek to ban dissenting views, jail the dissenters, and impose a narrow range of permissible debate on the public discourse. They are dangerous, and they need to be outed and publicly shamed.

To be included on their list of “subversives” is really a badge of honor, and one we here at Antiwar.com wear proudly.

Washington Post has gone ‘full conspiracy,’ claiming any other media that tells the truth is working for the Kremlin

November 28, 2016

by J. D. Heyes


You have to believe that the managing editors at the Washington Post saved the tin foil from their Thanksgiving meal office party so they could issue it out as headgear for their reporting staff.

Because only tin foil hat-wearing conspiracy nuts posing as journalists would churn out the kind kooky theory the paper published over the holiday as a legitimate “news” story.

It seems like any independent media outlet that actually reports that truth – that would include ours, by the way – is really just a Russian intelligence asset working for Moscow.

You can’t make this stuff up.

As noted by Zero Hedge, the Post is continuing the crumbling establishment media post-presidential election narrative that its chosen nominee, Hillary Clinton, only lost the election to Donald J. Trump because of “fake news” and “the Russians stole the election.”

The Russians did it with ‘fake news’ planted in hundreds of alternative media sites!

The Post cited “two teams of independent researchers” to claim that “Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery…echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal…” The paper further names Drudge, Zero Hedge, the Ron Paul Institute and Natural News, among many others.

Consider us a part of the throng of “useful idiots” that real American patriots should be leery of.

Citing a report from some group called PropOrNot listing more than 200 web sites that supposedly pushed Russian propaganda routinely to more than 15 million Americans, the Post – without irony – declared that somehow constituted “scientific evidence” of Russian election-tampering:

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

But then the Post story included this passage:

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders.

So, which is it, boys and girls at the Post – Russia did tilt the election in Trump’s favor or it didn’t?

‘Neo-McCarthey hysteria

That can be addressed easily, as it has already been answered. Not mentioned in the Post article is the fact that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, whose site released a trove of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, has said the documents did not come from Moscow.

“The Clinton camp has been able to project a neo-McCarthyist hysteria that Russia is responsible for everything,” he said in denouncing the Clinton campaign’s accusations. “”Hillary Clinton has stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That’s false—we can say that the Russian government is not the source.”

But to the Post and the sycophants in the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, anyone and everyone who is not a Left-wing media shill and drone is now a Russian plant. The absurdity of that allegation is only surpassed by its comical nature.

Several things.

First, you’ll note from the Post report that there is no evidence of Russian tampering using “fake news” planted in sites like ours, mind you – just goofy conspiratorial charges under the facade of “scientific research.” That’s what we like to call the “Harry Reid Factor” – just throw out unsubstantiated charges no one can prove or disprove and hope they stick.

You’ll also note that the Post got to decide the ‘research’ it cited came from groups it also decided on its own were ‘independent.’ We don’t know that; for all we know, these groups could be filled with some of the most Left-wing activists in the country.

For another thing, Russian propaganda did not start with this election – and it won’t end with it, either. Even the Post acknowledged that. The Russians – then the Soviets – have attempted to “undermine” American democracy for decades during the Cold War. That didn’t stop with the collapse of the former Soviet Union. So the assertion that all of a sudden Russia is attempting to subvert U.S. democracy is just stupid, and it makes you wonder if this would even be a “story” if Clinton had, in fact, won.

Mainstream press trying to deflect from Clinton’s pathetic second presidential loss

And why does Russian President Vladimir Putin have so much animus against Hillary Clinton? By all accounts their meetings when she was Obama’s secretary of state went alright; in fact, only meetings between Putin and Obama go badly. The Post never bothered to explain this, either, claiming generically that there was some Russian “goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton” while “helping Republican Donald Trump.”

Furthermore, why does Putin want to ‘help’ Trump? It only makes sense that no matter who is in the Oval Office, an American president will pursue policies that are in our country’s best interests (Obama was the exception), and those generally do not align with Russian interests. Trump has given every indication he is willing to work to repair U.S.-Russian relations, but Clinton did not. Could that be the reason? Trump’s approach is the right one because what sense does it make to have raucous relationships with a major nuclear power if you don’t have to?

The Post’s wild conspiracy theory about “fake news planted by the Russians” is nothing more than a childish attempt to deflect from Clinton’s pathetic second loss in her bid for the White House – and the establishment media’s inability to push her over the finish line.

But we’ll have great sport poking fun at the Post and others for making such a claim with a straight face. And don’t forget, you can always access truth sites via GoodGopher.com.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2016, Issue No. 97

November 28, 2016


In what must be one of the very last national security-related posts to be filled in the Obama Administration, national security lawyer and former CIA officer Mark A. Bradley was named as the next director of the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO), which is responsible for oversight of the national security secrecy system government-wide.

He was selected by Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero (ISOO is housed at the National Archives) and his appointment was approved last week by President Obama (the ISOO director reports to the President).

Mr. Bradley is an intriguing choice for ISOO director, since he is one of a very small group of individuals who have engaged with government secrecy policy both as an outsider-critic and as an insider-defender.

“We have a broken system that is manufacturing way too many secrets,” he told the Wall Street Journal late in the Clinton Administration (“Case of Lost-and-Found Disk Drives Demonstrates Weakness of U.S. Systems for Protecting Secrets” by Neil King, July 5, 2000).

More recently, however, he has been the voice of the secrecy system itself, defending the government from Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the New York Times, EPIC, Judicial Watch, and others. He did not simply represent the government’s position. Rather, as a Top Secret original classification authority at the Department of Justice National Security Division, he actually made many of the decisions to retain the classification of information that was sought by FOIA requesters in those cases.

If it was a mistake to classify the collection of Americans’ telephone metadata records by the National Security Agency (under the “215” program), then Mr. Bradley bears a slice of responsibility for that decision.

In 2013, about two months before the metadata collection program was publicly disclosed (in The Guardian) by Edward Snowden, Mr. Bradley told a court that a request by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for information about the program must be denied.

“The withheld material contains specific descriptions of the manner and means by which the United States Government acquires tangible things for certain authorized investigations pursuant to Section 215,” Mr. Bradley wrote in an April 2013 declaration. “Disclosure of this information would provide our adversaries and foreign intelligence targets with insight into the United States Government’s foreign intelligence collection capabilities, which in turn could be used to develop the means to degrade and evade those collection capabilities.”

In retrospect, this proved to be a narrow and incomplete assessment of the issue. While the 215 program information was indeed properly classified under the terms of the executive order, it should have been released anyway. That, at least, was the conclusion that was ultimately reached — long after the question was moot — by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper.

“I probably shouldn’t say this, but I will,” DNI Clapper told Eli Lake of the Daily Beast in 2014. “Had we been transparent about this from the outset… we wouldn’t have had the problem we had.”

Importantly for his ISOO role, Mr. Bradley is not “just” a former intelligence officer and national security lawyer. He is also an historian who has done archival research and worked with declassified records to produce a well-regarded volume called A Very Principled Boy: The Life of Duncan Lee, Red Spy and Cold Warrior (Basic Books, 2014). So he will bring multiple relevant dimensions of expertise to his new responsibilities at ISOO.

Mr. Bradley’s tenure as ISOO director will begin on December 25. The previous ISOO director, John P. Fitzpatrick, left last January to join the National Security Council staff. William A. Cira has been serving as acting director in the interim.

Among his many other responsibilities, the ISOO director serves as the Executive Secretary of the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB), an official advisory body. The PIDB has scheduled a public meeting at the National Archives on December 8 “to discuss recommendations for improved transparency and open government for the new Presidential Administration.”

Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said that it will hold a hearing on December 7 to “examine overclassification and other failures of the classification system.”

Syrian government drives rebels from swath of Aleppo

November 28, 2016

by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam


BEIRUT-The Syrian army and its allies announced the capture of a large swath of eastern Aleppo from rebels on Monday in an accelerating attack that threatens to crush the opposition in its most important urban stronghold.

Two rebel officials said the insurgents, facing fierce bombardment and ground attacks, had withdrawn from the northern part of eastern Aleppo to a more defensible front line along a big highway after losses that threatened to split their enclave.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the northern portion of eastern Aleppo lost by the rebels amounted to more than a third of the territory they had held, calling it the biggest defeat for the opposition in Aleppo since 2012.

Thousands of residents were reported to have fled. A rebel fighter reached by Reuters said there was “extreme, extreme, extreme pressure” on the insurgents.

Part of the area lost by the rebels was taken over by a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia from another part of Aleppo in what rebels described as an agreed handover, a rare example of cooperation between groups that have fought each other.

Hundreds of miles to the south, people started to leave the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Khan al-Shih for other parts of the country controlled by insurgents under a deal with the government, the Observatory said.

It is the latest such agreement, characterised by Damascus as “reconciliations” but decried by rebels as the forcible removal of the populations of opposition areas, and a model that the government has suggested could be employed in east Aleppo.

Capturing eastern Aleppo would be the biggest victory for President Bashar al-Assad since the start of the uprising against him in 2011, restoring his control over the whole city apart from a Kurdish-held area that has not fought against him.

For Assad, taking back Aleppo would shore up his grip over the main population centres of western Syria where he and his allies have focused their firepower while much of the rest of the country remains outside their control.

It would be seen as a victory for his allies, Russia and Iran, which have outmanoeuvred the West and Assad’s regional enemies through direct military intervention.

“What happened in the last two days is a great strategic accomplishment by the Syrian army and allies,” a fighter with a militia on the government side in the Aleppo area said.

Rebels say their foreign patrons including the United States have abandoned them to their fate in Aleppo.

Assad, whose backers also include the Lebanese group Hezbollah, has gradually closed in on eastern Aleppo this year, first cutting the most direct lifeline to Turkey before fully encircling the east, and launching a major assault in September.

A military news service run by Hezbollah declared the northern portion of eastern Aleppo under full state control.

The Russian Defence Ministry said about 40 percent of the eastern part of the city had been “freed” from militants by Syrian government forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian army’s advances with members of his Security Council on Monday, Russian news agencies quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.

Officials with two Aleppo rebel groups said rebels had withdrawn to areas they could more easily defend, particularly after losing the Hanano housing complex area on Saturday.

“It is a withdrawal for the sake of being able to defend and reinforce the front lines,” an official in the Jabha Shamiya rebel group told Reuters.


Citing a military source, Syrian state TV said the army and its allies had seized another key eastern Aleppo neighbourhood, al-Sakhour. The Jabha Shamiya official said part of it had been evacuated so it would become part of the new frontline.

The Kurdish YPG militia which controls the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo moved into at least two of the areas left by rebel forces. The YPG, a U.S. ally in the war with Islamic State, has been hostile to the Aleppo rebel groups.

Rebel officials said the YPG had moved into areas on Sunday night in an agreement with the insurgents.

While some of the rebels in Aleppo have received support from states such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United States during the war, they say their foreign backers have failed them as Assad and his allies unleash enormous firepower.

“The situation is very bad and the reason is the round the clock shelling with all types of weapons,” said Abdul Salam Abdul Razaq, military spokesman for the Nour al-Din al-Zinki group, one of the main Aleppo rebel factions.

“There is very fierce fighting going on now and the regime and its supporters are destroying whole areas to allow themselves to advance,” he told Reuters. Another fighter said there was heavy attrition in “people and ammunition”.

Aleppo’s Civil Defence group of rescue workers operating in rebel areas said the only fuel it had left was what remained in its vehicles and equipment.

The fighting has forced thousands of residents of eastern Aleppo to flee. Some have gone to the Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud district, others have gone over to government territory, and others have moved deeper into remaining rebel-held areas.

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent registered 4,000 people in the government-held Jibreen district of western Aleppo after they fled the rebel-held east in recent days, the UN’s humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said on Monday.

Mohammad Sandeh, a member of the opposition city council of Aleppo, told Reuters that many people were on the move but staying in the remaining rebel-held parts of Aleppo.

“The bombardment is still heavy. There’s big displacement from the eastern neighbourhoods. They are going towards the areas that are somewhat further (from the front lines),” he said. “There’s fear that the regime will advance more.”

Saleh Muslim, joint head of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, told Reuters that between 6,000 to 10,000 people had fled to Sheikh Maqsoud, where they were being received.

The Observatory said several thousand more had crossed front lines in other parts of eastern Aleppo and had been taken to government-controlled areas of western Aleppo.

A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said exact figures for the number of displaced were difficult to gauge, adding that more than 2,000 had left eastern Aleppo for the government-controlled district of Jibreen.

(Reporting by Tom Perry, Laila Bassam, Angus McDowall, Ellen Francis in Beirut, and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Tom Miles in Geneva, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

 Dakota pipeline protesters ‘won’t be evicted’

US authorities have said they have no plans to remove protesters near the Dakota Access Pipeline construction project. Thousands of Native American activists are resisting efforts to build the pipeline near tribal lands.

November 29, 2016


The US Army Corps of Engineers said Sunday it has “no plans for forcible removal” of protesters who have been camping in North Dakota to protest the pipeline. The Corps had notified tribal leaders Friday that all federal lands north of the Cannonball River would be closed to public access December 5 out of “safety concerns.” The move sparked fears of a violent confrontation with law enforcement officials as they attempted to evict thousands of activists from the Oceti Sakowin camp erected in April.

Protesters and local law enforcement have regularly clashed over efforts by activists to disrupt final construction of the 1,172-mile (1,885-kilometer) pipeline that would move crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

But in a statement the Army Corps’ district commander in Omaha, Nebraska clarified that federal agencies aren’t planning to forcibly evict protesters.  “I am very concerned for the safety and well-being of all citizens at these encampments on Corps-managed federal land, and we want to make sure people are in a safe place for the winter,” Colonel John Henderson said.  “We fully support the rights of all Americans to exercise free speech and peacefully assemble, and we ask that they do it in a way that does not also endanger themselves or others, or infringe on others’ rights.”

The Standing Rock Sioux have challenged the project in federal court, saying the pipeline’s more than 200 water crossings, including one less than a mile upstream of the reservation, would imperil drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions downstream. Activist organizers told a news conference on Saturday at the main protest site where about 5,000 people are camped that they had no intention of moving. There are smaller camps on land not subject to the planned restrictions, including an area south of the Cannonball River where the Corps said it was establishing a so-called “free-speech zone” by authorities.

Tribal activists from across the country and their sympathizers argue the $3.8 billion (3.57 billion euros) Dakota Access Pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners LP, poses a threat to water resources and sacred Native American sites.

The Obama administration postponed final approval of a permit required to allow tunneling beneath the Missouri River in September. That emboldened resistance to the project with frequent clashes between demonstrators and heavily armed local police prompting complaints of excessive force.

Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault told the Associated Press he and the Morton County Sheriff – who enjoys the backing of the state’s Republican governor and attorney general – have met several times, though each meeting has been tense and unproductive. “I don’t think aggressive force is necessary and he thinks it’s necessary,” Archambault said.

But don’t look for apologies from the North Dakota sheriff. “We are just not going to allow people to become unlawful,” Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier told AP.  “It’s just not going to happen.”

Energy Transfer Partners won’t give ground

More than 525 people from across the country have been arrested. In the most recent clash between police and protesters, which was near the path of the pipeline and spanned Sunday night into Monday morning, officers used tear gas, rubber bullets and large water hoses in freezing weather. Organizers said at least 17 protesters were taken to the hospital, some for hypothermia and one for a serious arm injury, and one officer was injured.

Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren has said that the pipeline won’t be rerouted and the company has no alternative other than to stick to its plan. President-elect Donald Trump holds stock in the company and pipeline opponents worry those investments will sway his presidential administration.

Arrests of Journalists at Standing Rock Test the Boundaries of the First Amendment

November 27 2016

by Alleen Brown

The Intercept

Pat Boyle, a Denver-based journalist, was shot in the abdomen last Sunday by a rubber bullet as he reported from North Dakota on a clash between demonstrators and police that would end with 26 protesters sent to hospitals and 300 requiring other medical treatment. One woman was severely injured and underwent emergency surgery on her arm after officers unleashed “less than lethal” weapons, including rubber bullets, icy cold water, and, reportedly, concussion grenades on the crowd. Police were reacting to an attempt by Dakota Access pipeline opponents to tow away burned vehicles that officers had secured in place to act as a highway blockade, preventing access to pipeline construction sites down the road. The rubber bullet that hit Boyle tore right through his press pass, leaving a jagged hole through the words “Unicorn Riot,” his news organization’s name.

This wasn’t Unicorn Riot’s first run-in with police while covering the pipeline conflict, nor was it the media collective’s most serious. Reporters for Unicorn Riot have been arrested three times in North Dakota and twice while covering Dakota Access pipeline protests in Iowa. In North Dakota, at least seven journalists in total have been arrested while covering the clashes, according to a count by the Bismarck Tribune. Others have been stung by tear gas, pepper spray, or rubber bullets.

The arrests of journalists and filmmakers covering the front lines of the Dakota Access pipeline fight highlight the limits of press protections and the central role of police, prosecutor, and court discretion in deciding whether or not members of the press should face legal consequences when covering protests. The arrests and violent crowd suppression tactics also reflect the refusal of police to discriminate between peaceful protesters, aggressive agitators, and journalists.

Unicorn Riot was one of the few media outlets that showed up on April 1, when members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe arrived on horseback to set up a camp called Sacred Stone as a base for prayer and protest against the planned Dakota Access Pipeline, which if completed will transport half a million barrels of oil per day from the Bakken shale region of North Dakota to a hub in Illinois. And the media collective has remained a presence as the standoff reaches into the winter months with few signs of abating.

On Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers issued the Standing Rock Sioux tribe an eviction notice, demanding that thousands of people clear out of a second camp, known as Oceti Sakowin, located on land the Corps controls. “This decision is necessary to protect the general public from the violent confrontations between protesters and law enforcement officials that have occurred in this area, and to prevent death, illness, or serious injury to inhabitants of encampments due to the harsh North Dakota winter conditions.” The letter directed inhabitants to a site farther away from the pipeline construction area, dubbed a “free speech zone.”

“They’re giving us notice because the Corps of Engineers wants to reduce their liability when something serious happens,” said Standing Rock tribal chairman Dave Archambault during a press conference Saturday. “If [the Morton County Sheriff’s Department] wanted to, they would be able to come in and remove us. I don’t think that will happen.”

Nick Tilsen, co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples Power Project, which trains native people in direct action tactics, added, “Indigenous people are here to stay. And we’re not going to move unless it’s on our own terms, because this is our treaty land, this is our ancestral land, this is where our people have been for thousands of years.”

If nothing else, the eviction notice is likely to amplify tensions between pipeline opponents and police. The dynamic will play out on the front lines of protest actions, a space Unicorn Riot specializes in covering. It’s a space that can be legally precarious for journalists, where citizens with grievances meet publicly funded police straining (or failing) to balance law and order with constitutional speech rights. These situations often test the limits of the First Amendment, so video dispatches from the front lines provide distinct information about public life and the use of force to control a dissenting citizenry.

For example, video published by Unicorn Riot and others of tear gas canisters and water cannons sprayed directly into crowds of protesters last Sunday night, when temperatures stood well below freezing, countered police claims that the water was being used primarily to protect people from fire.

By comparison, footage published by the local Morton County Sheriff’s Department of a projectile landing on the far side of the police line came off as tame.

Unicorn Riot’s coverage is sympathetic to the pipeline opponents and is rarely favorable to the police, and its members are often mistaken for activists. They can be counted on to provide live-streams of pipeline protests that are later edited into more easily digestible short pieces. More immersive than mainstream media and more polished than the work of most activist documentarians, the collective’s coverage has been essential to understanding the events in North Dakota.

Yet police have repeatedly questioned the press status of Unicorn Riot reporters, and during mass arrests, they and other journalists have often been swooped up with protesters. “I’m not participating. I’m not building the barricade. I’m not pushing off against the police. I’m not going to pray at the water ceremony. I’m literally there observing,” said Lorenzo Serna, another Unicorn Riot reporter.

“If you come from too radical perspective, your right to report is somehow in question, because you’re outside the ideological frameworks,” said Chris Schiano, who has also been arrested covering the protests. “Most news organizations assume that nation states are legitimate and should exist. We try to report things outside of some of the central assumptions.”

The first time members of Unicorn Riot were detained in North Dakota was on September 13, during one of the earliest mass arrests. Pipeline protesters had locked themselves to construction equipment, and 26-year-old Chris Schiano came with Niko Georgiades, 34, to film it. By the end of the day, 23 people were arrested, including the two reporters.

As police moved in, Unicorn Riot’s Facebook live-feed was cut off. Facebook told Motherboard it was because of a mistake by an automatic spam filter. In a video of their arrests, Schiano can be seen standing apart from a throng of police clad in riot gear as he points to his press ID before he’s cuffed. Georgiades, filming the arrest, was detained shortly afterward and can be heard declaring, “I’m press, sir. I’m press.”

Georgiades’s press status didn’t count for much: The First Amendment does not protect journalists from trespassing charges. Ultimately, whether or not to arrest a journalist covering a protest on private property is up to the cops, and that day the two men were treated as protesters.

A month later, another Unicorn Riot reporter, 30-year-old Jenn Schreiter, was arrested and charged with trespassing while covering a lockdown at a Dakota Access construction site in Iowa.

Chief Deputy Scott Bonar of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said deputies don’t distinguish between protesters and journalists when it comes to trespassing. “They were told by security and deputies to leave the property. They could have walked to the roadway and did reporting there. They stayed on property and were arrested.”

In response, Schreiter said, “It’s part of the organization I work for, a nonprofit, educational media organization, to report from the front lines. The equipment I had was my cellphone. In order to capture audio and video, I needed to be where the action was.”

When Schreiter’s colleagues went to inquire about the reporter’s whereabouts, a deputy replied, “You don’t have a journalist. You claim you’re press; you don’t even have credentials.”

His words echoed those of Ladd Erickson, the McLean County state attorney in North Dakota who charged Democracy Now host Amy Goodman with trespassing on September 3. Goodman and a film crew had followed a group of people opposing the pipeline onto private land, where they were met with pepper spray and biting dogs.

“She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions,” Erickson told the Bismarck Tribune, arguing that Goodman’s reporting hadn’t noted alleged injuries to private security guards. “Is everybody that’s putting out a YouTube video from down there a journalist down there, too?” The charges against Goodman were eventually changed to rioting, then dropped entirely.

“In the old days you could count on them dismissing those charges,” said Lucy Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s journalism school. “But increasingly public officials are not cutting journalists much slack.”

Dalglish blames the shift on “a lot more people having cameras and saying I’m not a journalist, I’m a documentarian. I’m going to document police brutality. This kind of puts cops on edge. They’re thinking, ‘You’re going to think the worst of me? Well guess what, buddy, I’m going to get you, too.’ Plus, you cannot dismiss the tension that is out there in situations like Dallas, where there is a demonstration and cops end up being assassinated.”

Dalglish agreed that political objectivity is not a prerequisite for calling a product journalism. “This country was founded by a bunch of folks who were crusading journalists. There’s nothing that says you can’t do that,” she said. However, she added, “If [police] see you being really friendly with some folks that they have their eyes on, it probably does put you at risk.”

Unicorn Riot came together as a project in 2014. Some of the founding members met while filming direct actions in support of movements like Occupy Wall Street and Tar Sands Blockade. The idea for a collective grew out of a desire to control the production and publication of their work but also out of an interest in watching out for one another when undertaking legally risky reporting. They are volunteer-run, and their meager budget comes from viewer donations.

The project drew early attention for its coverage in 2015 of protests in Minneapolis after Jamar Clark was shot and killed by local police. While covering the shut-down of Interstate 94, Georgiades was arrested along with 33 others. Unlawful assembly and traffic charges were eventually dropped.

“There’s been a lot of times where one of these guys will get arrested and our team is remotely getting us out of jail,” said 33-year-old Andrew Neef, another reporter for the collective. “We keep track of each other and make sure that we’re watching out for each other.”

Unicorn Riot reporters carry cards identifying them as members of the press, but the bullet hole in the card Boyle carried is a pretty good metaphor for how police view the IDs. And a document recently uncovered by the collective via a public records request provides insight into law enforcement’s approach to interpreting press badges. It’s a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manual that was recently emailed to the director of training for the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, declaring, “Some protesters will attempt to design fictitious media credentials to gain access to events or special consideration by law enforcement.”

At the Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota, which serves as a base for opposing the pipeline, volunteers distribute press IDs that give journalists permission to take photos on camp premises, after they attend an orientation. When I was at the camp recently, pass distributors suggested putting the passes away during protest actions, saying that pass carriers seemed to become police targets.

Others believe it’s less about targeting and more about police who decline to discriminate between journalists and activists. “I think that as the boundaries between journalists and non-journalists continue to erode, and any definition of journalism becomes more elusive, journalists have to realize that their rights are not protected by the special realm of press freedom,” said Carlos Lauría, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ program director for the Americas. Instead, he said, reporters should seek protection by “guaranteeing that the rights of free expression are extended to all.”

As of November 14, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, 473 people had been arrested attempting to stand in the oil pipeline’s way. Freelance reporters, documentary filmmakers, producers of movement-building media, and independent activists armed with cellphones have all been swept up in mass arrests that have been carried out almost weekly since October.

Sara Lafleur-Vetter, a filmmaker who has been covering the pipeline fight since August, was charged on October 22 with trespassing and engaging in a riot in one of the largest mass arrests, when 127 were detained. Her camera was confiscated and eventually returned without its memory cards, and she said her bail agreement stipulated that she should not have any direct or indirect contact with Dakota Access pipeline property. “I can still go out,” she said. “I just have to be really careful.”

Serna was arrested that day, too, and issued the same charges as Lafleur-Vetter. It was more than a week before his camera was returned.

“By the time we go to court, we’ll have a new president,” Lafleur-Vetter said. “It’s scarier now. The risks are bigger now.”

Human Rights observers have also been prevented from monitoring protests. Twenty-five people were arrested on November 15 for protesting at a Dakota Access equipment site against the disappearances and murders of indigenous women. Demonstrators blocked a road used to access the equipment yard, and police in turn blocked off a public thoroughfare adjacent to the site, preventing journalists and human rights observers from monitoring the events.

In response, Amnesty International director Margaret Huang wrote a letter to Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. “Our observers are wearing yellow shirts clearly identifying them as human rights observers and carry with them authorization letters from Amnesty International USA explaining their role in the observation of protests taking place in North Dakota,” she wrote. “Providing access to legal and human rights observers and journalists is a necessary component of policing protests to ensure that police facilitate the right to protest and that the rights to peaceful assembly and association are protected as required under international law and standards.”

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Amnesty has visited Dakota Access protests during two other visits. “It’s worrisome and troubling when you have law enforcement really overzealously engaging in mass arrests that are actually geared at shutting down a protest,” said spokesperson Eric Ferrero. “If the whole mindset is that protesters are the enemy, and they’re on some kind of a battlefield, those are not police that are being set up to facilitate peaceful protest.”

“Ultimately our concern is that these interactions chill people’s human rights to free speech,” he said.

Unicorn Riot reporter Neef predicted Donald Trump’s election victory would increase the frequency of protests the collective covers. It has certainly diminished the chances that an executive branch order will halt the pipeline, but he was less sure that Trump would significantly alter the dynamics of the front line. “We might go through more tear gas filters for our gas masks, but it’s pretty much the same stuff that we’re dealing with,” he said.

“There’s a militarized fortress around the drill pad, enforced by mercenaries with automatic weapons, supported by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department,” said Serna. “Where does it go from here?”

Kerry making ‘unbelievable effort’ to save Syrian rebels from Trump, Russia confirms

November 28, 2016


US Secretary of State John Kerry has significantly intensified contacts with Russia on Syria, the Kremlin has confirmed, substantiating a report that Kerry wants to seal a deal with Moscow before Donald Trump assumes the US presidency in January.

The report by Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin says Kerry is making a last-ditch effort to stop the Syrian operation in eastern Aleppo, because the Trump administration may end up being “squarely on the side of dictator [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov confirmed that Kerry has intensified contacts with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to discuss the situation in Syria as of late.

“This [effort] could be called unbelievable, in terms that there have never been so many phone calls between the Secretary of State and Russia’s FM which were focused on discussing a single issue – Syria,” he told journalists. Ushakov refrained from commenting on whether there was had been any progress.

According to the Post piece, which cites four unnamed US officials with the knowledge of the situation, Kerry hopes to secure a localized ceasefire in Aleppo by offering to separate members of the so-called moderate opposition from terrorist groups like Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Al-Nusra Front). The report says that Kerry has brought in other nations, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, at times, Iran, in a bid to seal the deal.

“Officials acknowledge that a frustrated Kerry still has not been given authority by the White House to bring any meaningful pressure to bear against Assad or Russia, placing him in a weak negotiating position. The prospect of Hillary Clinton being elected president gave Kerry some leverage, because she was expected to pursue a more hawkish Syria policy,” Rogin wrote.

A ceasefire in Aleppo on Kerry’s terms may be hard to sell, as Russia insists that the US’ failure to separate moderates from the terrorists, which was a key point in the truce agreement negotiated by Moscow and Washington in September, was the reason that the ceasefire collapsed in the first place.

The Syrian government’s operation to retake eastern Aleppo from armed groups also appears to be progressing, with the latest reports saying that the militants have lost a third of their territory to the advancing army. Stopping the siege now could give those fighters time to regroup, rearm, and mount a counteroffensive.

Moscow appears to be reluctant to strike any significant deal with the outgoing administration and is waiting for the Trump administration to take power.

“We will patiently wait for that team to take their seats and then we are interested in having intensive dialogue with them,” Ushakov said.






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