TBR News August 26, 2020

Aug 26 2020

The Voice of the White House


Comments for August 26, 2020:  Whenever a disaster happens that, unlike a volcanic eruption or a huge forest fire, cannot be immediately explained, a great gathering of self-serving individuals begin to spout forth theories, plans, tales of “secret documents,’ and “confidential communications” with unnamed “experts.” The purpose of expounding these weird tales generally is to draw attention to the expounder. That no reputable segment of any media bothers with discussing these theories is always attributed to control by an irate Government who are furious at the brilliance of the theorist and who spend endless hours spying on them, opening their solicitations from NAMBLA and installing microphones in their desks at the local Humane Society.


The Table of Contents

  • Facial recognition designed to detect around face masks is failing, study finds
  • US Republican convention: Melania calls for racial understanding, Pompeo speech sparks investigation
  • ‘Coming here is a necessity’: demand for food aid soars in US amid job losses
  • Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession
  • All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus
  • Clashes between US, regime forces present new challenges for Russia in Syria
  • The Encyclopedia of American Loons

 Facial recognition designed to detect around face masks is failing, study finds

Every algorithm saw increases in error rates once masks came into the picture.

August 25, 2020

by Alfred Ng


Many facial recognition companies have claimed they can identify people with pinpoint accuracy even while they’re wearing face masks, but the latest results from a study show that the coverings are dramatically increasing error rates.

In an update Tuesday, the US National Institute of Standards and Technology looked at 41 facial recognition algorithms submitted after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in mid-March. Many of these algorithms were designed with face masks in mind, and claimed that they were still able to accurately identify people, even when half of their face was covered.

In July, NIST released a report noting that face masks were thwarting regular facial recognition algorithms, with error rates ranging from 5% to 50%. NIST is widely considered the leading authority on facial recognition accuracy testing, and expected algorithms to improve on identifying people in face masks.

That day has yet to come, as every algorithm experienced marginal increases in error rates once masks came into the picture. While some algorithms still had accuracy overall, like Chinese facial recognition company Dahua’s algorithm error rate going from 0.3% without masks to 6% with masks, others had error rates increasing up to 99%.

Rank One, a facial recognition provider used in cities like Detroit, had an error rate of 0.6% without masks, and a 34.5% error rate once masks were digitally applied. In May, the company started offering “periocular recognition,” which claimed to be able to identify people just off their eyes and nose.

Rank One CEO Brendan Klare said the company wasn’t able to submit that algorithm to NIST because of the agency’s limit to one submission per organization.

“Thus, the NIST mask study does not reflect our ability to perform identification in the presence of masks,” Klare said in an email.

TrueFace, which is used in schools and on Air Force bases, saw its algorithm error rate go from 0.9% to 34.8% once masks were added. The company’s CEO, Shaun Moore, told CNN on Aug. 12 that its researchers were working on a better algorithm for detecting beyond masks.

TrueFace didn’t respond to a request for comment.

While every facial recognition algorithm suffered a higher error rate once masks got added, some error rates were as low as 3%, indicating that it’s not impossible for algorithms to identify people even when their faces are covered.

Face masks are proven tools for limiting the novel coronavirus’ spread, and governments around the world have mandated people wear coverings to reduce the outbreak’s impact. Health experts expect the majority of people will need to continue wearing masks for years, pushing facial recognition companies to improve their algorithms.

NIST has an ongoing report on how masks have affected facial recognition algorithms, using 6 million images from its database, and digitally adding a mask onto the photos.

It’s possible that the error rates could be higher if NIST used real photos of people in masks, rather than a digitally added covering, since physical masks may have different shading, textures and patterns that also confuse algorithms.


US Republican convention: Melania calls for racial understanding, Pompeo speech sparks investigation

As Republicans aimed to strike a more conciliatory tone the second night, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spurred an outcry over his controversial appearance. The convention’s many speeches were peppered with falsehoods.

August 26, 2020


The Republican National Convention’s second night on Tuesday saw a keynote speech made by first lady Melania Trump touting racial understanding as well as sympathy for coronavirus victims, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broke with tradition by making a controversial appearance.

“I want you to know, you are not alone,” Melania said, addressing those suffering amid the “terrible pandemic.” Her speech, staged in the White House Rose Garden, was aimed at female voters who have abandoned Trump. Opinion polls for Trump have plunged in recent months, particularly among women.

She acknowledged the effects of the pandemic — a sharp contrast to most other speakers at the Republican Party’s national convention.

“I want to acknowledge the fact that since March, our lives have changed drastically,” she said. “My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one.”

The first lady also reflected on the protests and racial unrest that has swept the country in the months since the May death of George Floyd.

“I urge people to come together in a civil manner so we can work and live up to our standard American ideals,” she said. “I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice and never make assumptions based on the color of a person’s skin.”

Peppered with misinformation

Many of the night’s speeches — which touched on topics including US relations with China, military wages and the economy under US President Donald Trump — contained misinformation and exaggerations.

Both Melania Trump, officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and Trump’s son Eric, pushed falsehoods over military wages, the “Islamic State” (IS), relations with China, and Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Melania claimed that Trump was the first president to address a special session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) “to call upon countries across the world to end religious persecution and honor the right of every person to worship as they choose.” However, Trump is not the first president to do so. Several predecessors, as well as former President Barack Obama, also addressed the UNGA to discuss religious tolerance.

Pompeo breaks with tradition

Pompeo, who gave his address from Jerusalem, touted Trump’s “America First” vision. “It may not have made him popular in every foreign capital, but it’s worked,” he said.

His taped appearance broke with decades of tradition of secretaries of state refraining from involving themselves in domestic politics. The appearance was so unusual, that the chairman of a Democrat-led House of Representatives subcommittee announced an investigation into whether Pompeo’s appearance broke federal law and regulations.

“The Trump administration and Secretary Pompeo have shown a gross disregard not only of basic ethics, but also a blatant willingness to violate federal law for political gain,” Joaquin Castro, head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s oversight subcommittee, said in a statement.

Pompeo praised the US president’s handling of the relations with China, saying that Trump “ended ridiculously unfair trade deals with China that punched a hole in our economy” and that the president “has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world.”

However, Pompeo did not mention Trump’s initial praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping for his handling of the virus early on in the pandemic. Trump had earlier called Xi “extremely capable” and said he’s “doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”

Pompeo also said that “because of the president’s determination and leadership, the ISIS caliphate is wiped out.” However, the IS still exists and continues to pose a threat.

Meanwhile, Trump’s son, Eric, claimed that “Biden has pledged to defund the police.” Biden has made no such pledge and has even rejected calls from some on the political left to defund the police — instead proposing more money for departments to improve their practices.

He also claimed that President Trump “increased wages for our incredible men and women in uniform,” but the military pay has been raised every year for several decades.

Other speakers on Tuesday night included White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, and Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky. The convention will continue through August 27.


‘Coming here is a necessity’: demand for food aid soars in US amid job losses

Nationwide the need for aid at food banks and pantries has surged amid worst unemployment rate in modern times

by Nina Lakhani in Pittsburgh and Beaver county

August 26, 2020

The Guardian

Neisha Davis cradles brown paper lunch bags in the crook of one arm, while holding on to Demitri, her wriggling baby son, in the other and keeping a careful eye on Naya, her four-year-old daughter, as she runs around the church car park with another little girl.

It’s hectic but the free packed lunches have become a crucial part of their daily nutrition. So everyday at noon the family make the two-mile journey from Homewood, a low income predominantly African American Pittsburgh neighbourhood with no grocery stores, to the East End Community Ministry’s pop-up lunch stall in East Liberty.

“The lunches help a lot, the food is healthy and it fills them up, the food stamps are never enough,” said Davis, 36, who has enough freshly cooked hot dogs, fruit pots, carrots, and milk and juice cartons for her eldest two children who stayed home.

Once a week or so Davis also picks up groceries from the food pantry which provides fresh produce rarely available at her local convenience stores. “I was raised to be humble, and right now I’ve no work so I need help. The alternative would be my kids going hungry.”

Davis is not alone. The number of people relying on the pantry is up 150% compared to pre-pandemic times.

And it’s not just here: nationwide the demand for aid at food banks and pantries has soared amid unprecedented job losses and the worst unemployment rate in modern times.

A recent census bureau survey found 12% of American households did not have enough food sometimes or often during the previous week – compared to 9% before the pandemic. For families the situation is even worse, with 15% of households with children now experiencing food insecurity.

Hunger always impacts children hardest.

An estimated one in four children, the equivalent of 18 million minors, could need food aid this year – a 63% increase compared to 2018, according to analysis by Feeding America, the national food bank network.

This pandemic has also exposed – and exacerbated – structural inequalities including access to affordable, nutritious food. Overall, almost half the city lives in a food desert – a neighbourhood with high rates of poverty and no supermarket within half a mile – but black residents are disproportionately affected.

“There’s enough food, it’s about who gets access to quality food,” said Carlos Thomas, 29, one of the Pittsburgh’s few black cordon bleu chefs and cofounder of Feed the Hood, a project training young chefs and serving up nutritious meals to underserved communities in food deserts like Homewood.

Mental health matters

According to the census bureau, half of all adults – 105 million – reported feeling down, depressed or hopeless on at least several days during the third week of July. Then, one in nine Americans were reliant on unemployment benefits to cover living expenses.

Davis used to worked 25 hours a week as a home healthcare assistant, helping the sick and elderly with shopping and meal prep while juggling school runs and daycare for her children aged one to 14.

The lockdown made working impossible, however the family was better off as the federal stimulus cheque and unemployment benefit helped Davis catch up on bills, and buy some much needed furniture and shoes for the children – items she usually struggles to afford.

At the end of July, the weekly $600 enhanced unemployment benefit ended for millions of Americans due to a partisan stalemate over the next federal stimulus bill. Senators went home for recess, but for ordinary people the money worries continued.

“The money stopped but the bills won’t, and winter is coming so the gas bill will get really high, it’s very frustrating and worrying. I’m hoping the pandemic ends or the unemployment is sorted… until then I’ll have to juggle things, make the food last longer,” said Davis.

“We don’t talk enough about the mental health implications of food insecurity, and the courage it takes asking for help,” said Lisa Scales, president of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

In Pennsylvania, where more than 2.03 million people have applied for unemployment since mid-March, the number of households receiving food aid has more than doubled. The statewide unemployment rate rose to 13.7% in July, while nationwide it fell to 10.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.

Unemployment figures suggest that the job market is recovering more slowly in the Pittsburgh and surrounding counties than the rest of the state and country.

But it is not just the unemployed who are going hungry. Before the pandemic, the working poor made up a large proportion of food bank users. Now, competition for work is higher, with about 14 million more Americans unemployed than there are job openings, and more low wage workers are struggling.

Shafon Willis, 35, also a healthcare assistant, went back to work in June but her hours have been cut by 50%. This is her second time at the food pantry, and she’s taking home eggs, fish sticks and lots of bread.

The coronavirus infection rate has recently stabilized in Pennsylvania, with 600 to 800 new cases each day, but experts fear a winter surge and Willis fears its consequences.

“I’ve spent my money keeping up with bills, I need food … this is stuff the kids will eat, we’re now eating to survive,” said Willis. “My biggest concern is that we shutdown again and now there’s no unemployment.”

Rural hunger

Beaver county, situated 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh bordering Ohio and West Virginia, was once home to some of the world’s largest steel mills, but the industry’s demise has contributed to a 20% decline in the population since 1980.

It’s a blue collar, predominantly white, county hit hard by the opioid epidemic – a former Democrat stronghold where almost three fifths of voters chose Trump in 2016.

At least 73 people have died from Covid and the 14.5% unemployment rate is one of the highest in the region.

The Faith Restorations pantry in Monaca currently provides food to a thousand or so people each week – compared to 300 before the pandemic. At the peak of the lockdown, as many as 3,000 people relied on the pantry for weekly groceries.

On one night last week, volunteers had pre-packed 102 shopping carts of food with bagels, meat, coleslaw, milk, bananas and a party sized frosted cake. Everything was gone within an hour. The elderly, mostly maskless, volunteers scrambled to prepare more boxes, as dozens of cars waited in line.

Among them was first-timer Marissa Campbell, 39, a school bus driver with two children, aged five and 12, who’s desperately worried about making ends meet without the federal unemployment cheques.

“Honestly, I’ve broken down thinking about food. I’m here because I can’t let my pride stop me from doing what I need to do. Without this, I don’t know what I’d have done at the end of the week.”

Campbell’s youngest child Lilly has underlying health issues, but for financial reasons she is desperate to get back to work. “Half the county was shutdown but I don’t know anyone with the virus. It’s very stressful but we have to open back up, people have to live.”

Not everyone agrees.      

It’s been a tough few months for Mike Wooley, who’s survived off odd jobs and food aid since losing his cash-in-hand restaurant job in March. He didn’t qualify for unemployment. “Coming here is a necessity, without this I’d be really struggling… Look at the queue [of cars], it doesn’t feel like we’re the richest country in the world.”

At times Wooley, 55, says he feels depressed and panicky about paying bills and getting a new job at his age, but would rather be poor than sick. He doesn’t have health insurance.

“I believe the pandemic is true, a lot of people don’t, and I want my elderly parents to be able to live out their lives … I’ve seen enough scary movies to know that we’re screwed.”



Unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession

June 11, 2020

by Rakesh Kochar


The COVID-19 outbreak and the economic downturn it engendered swelled the ranks of unemployed Americans by more than 14 million, from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. As a result, the U.S. unemployment rate shot up from 3.8% in February – among the lowest on record in the post-World War II era – to 13.0% in May. That rate was the era’s second highest, trailing only the level reached in April (14.4%).

The rise in the number of unemployed workers due to COVID-19 is substantially greater than the increase due to the Great Recession, when the number unemployed increased by 8.8 million from the end of 2007 to the beginning of 2010. The Great Recession, which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10.6% in January 2010, considerably less than the rate currently, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

The unemployment rate in May might have been as high as 16%, by the U.S. government’s estimate. But it is not recorded as such because of measurement challenges that have arisen amid the coronavirus outbreak. Also, a sharp decline in labor force participation among U.S. workers overall may be adding to the understatement of unemployment. In May, 9 million Americans not in the labor force were in want of a job compared with 5 million in February, per government estimates. But these workers are not included in the official measure of unemployment. Thus, the COVID-19 recession is comparable more to the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the unemployment rate is estimated to have reached 25%.

Unemployment among all groups of workers increased sharply in the COVID-19 recession. But the experiences of several groups of workers, such as women and black men, in the COVID-19 outbreak vary notably from how they experienced the Great Recession. Here are five facts about how the COVID-19 downturn is affecting unemployment among American workers.

1The unemployment rate for women in May (14.3%) was higher than the unemployment rate for men (11.9%). This stands in contrast to the Great Recession, when the unemployment rate for women had peaked at 9.4% in July 2010 compared with a peak of 12.3% for men in January 2010.

One reason women have seen a greater rise in unemployment in the current downturn is that they accounted for the majority of workers on the payrolls of businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector and educational services sector in February. Employment in these two sectors fell by 39% and 15% from February to May, respectively, leading most other sectors by a wide margin. By contrast, job losses in the Great Recession arose primarily from the construction and manufacturing sectors, where women have a much lighter footprint than men.

Hispanic women experience a steeper rise in the unemployment rate than other women in COVID-19 downturn2The unemployment rate for black men in May (15.8%) was substantially less than the peak rate they faced in the Great Recession (21.2%). Black men are the only group among those examined in this analysis for whom such a notable gap exists. The reasons for this are not entirely clear but are likely rooted in the occupation and industry distributions of black men. Recessions in which the turmoil is centered in goods-producing sectors, such as the Great Recession, appear to take a greater toll on the job prospects of black men. The unemployment rate for black men previously topped 20% in the twin recessions of the early 1980s, when manufacturing employment also took a sharp dive.

Among other men, Hispanic workers faced an unemployment rate of 15.5% in May, higher than the rates for Asian (13.3%) and white (9.7%) men. While the unemployment rates for Asian and white men increased sharply in the COVID-19 recession, they remain below the rates for black and Hispanic men.

Hispanic women had the highest rate of unemployment in May (19.5%), compared with other women or men among the nation’s major racial and ethnic groups. The unemployment rate among white women jumped nearly fivefold, climbing from 2.5% in February to 11.9% in May. A steep increase in the unemployment rate among Asian women also pushed their unemployment rate in May (16.7%) to near parity with the unemployment rate among black women (17.2%). The recent experience of white and Asian women stands in contrast to their experience in the Great Recession, when their unemployment rates peaked at levels substantially below the levels reached for black and Hispanic women.

Unemployment among immigrants increases more than among U.S.-born workers in COVID-19 downturn3Immigrants saw their unemployment rate jump higher than the rate for U.S.-born workers in the COVID-19 downturn, mirroring their experience in the Great Recession. In February, immigrants and U.S.-born workers had similarly low rates of unemployment, 3.6% and 3.8%, respectively. By May, the unemployment rate for immigrants had risen to 15.7%, compared with 12.4% for U.S.-born workers.

The steeper increase in the unemployment rate for immigrants is driven by the experience of Hispanic workers who comprised 47% of the immigrant workforce in February, compared with 12% of the U.S.-born workforce. Compared with non-Hispanic workers, Hispanic workers are relatively young and are less likely to have graduated from college. Additionally, 44% of Hispanic immigrants in the labor force are estimated to have been unauthorized in 2016. These characteristics of Hispanic workers make them more vulnerable to job losses in economic downturns.

About one-in-four young adult workers are unemployed in COVID-19 downturn4Workers in all but one age group saw their unemployment rate climb into the double digits in May due to the COVID-19 outbreak, unlike the Great Recession when this was true only for younger workers. The unemployment rate among young adults ages 16 to 24 (25.3%) exceeded the rate among other workers by a substantial margin in May, more than double the rate among workers 35 and older. A key reason is the concentration of young adults in higher-risk industries, such as food services and drinking places, that were more affected by the need for social distancing and government mandated shutdowns.

Changes in the unemployment rate by age in the COVID-19 recession are consistent with patterns in past recessions. During the Great Recession the unemployment rate for young adults peaked at 20% in June 2010, compared with no greater than 10.9% among older workers.

Less-educated workers are seeing higher unemployment in COVID-19 downturn, as in the Great Recession5Unemployment rates in the COVID-19 downturn are lower among workers with higher levels of education, as in the Great Recession. The unemployment rate in May was lowest among workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher education (7.2%), the only group among those examined not to experience an unemployment rate in the double digits. In contrast, 18.5% of workers without a high school diploma were unemployed in May. In the Great Recession, the peak unemployment rates for the different groups ranged from 5.3% among those with a bachelor’s degree or higher education to 17.9% among those without a high school diploma.

A unique factor in the COVID-19 recession is the significance of teleworking in keeping people on the job. The option to telework varied considerably across workers in February depending on their education level, with those with a college degree six times as likely to have the option as those without a high school diploma, 62% vs. 9%. Nonetheless, the May unemployment rate among college graduates was nearly four times that of February.


All the President’s Lies About the Coronavirus

An unfinished compendium of Trump’s overwhelming dishonesty during a national emergency

by Christian Paz

August 17,2020

The Atlantic

`President Donald Trump has repeatedly lied about the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s preparation for this once-in-a-generation crisis.

Here, a collection of the biggest lies he’s told as the nation endures a public-health and economic calamity.

On the Nature of the Outbreak

When: Friday, February 7, and Wednesday, February 19

The claim: The coronavirus would weaken “when we get into April, in the warmer weather—that has a very negative effect on that, and that type of a virus.”

The truth: It’s too early to tell if the virus’s spread will be dampened by warmer conditions. Respiratory viruses can be seasonal, but the World Health Organization says that the new coronavirus “can be transmitted in ALL AREAS, including areas with hot and humid weather.”

When: Thursday, February 27

The claim: The outbreak would be temporary: “It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

The truth: Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned days later that he was concerned that “as the next week or two or three go by, we’re going to see a lot more community-related cases.”

When: Multiple times

The claim: If the economic shutdown continues, deaths by suicide “definitely would be in far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about” for COVID-19 deaths.

The truth: The White House now estimates that anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19. Other estimates have placed the number at 1.1 million to 1.2 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But the number of people who died by suicide in 2017, for example, was roughly 47,000, nowhere near the COVID-19 estimates. Estimates of the mental-health toll of the Great Recession are mixed. A 2014 study tied more than 10,000 suicides in Europe and North America to the financial crisis. But a larger analysis in 2017 found that while the rate of suicide was increasing in the United States, the increase could not be directly tied to the recession and was attributable to broader socioeconomic conditions predating the downturn.

When: Multiple times

The claim: “Coronavirus numbers are looking MUCH better, going down almost everywhere,” and cases are “coming way down.”

The truth: Coronavirus cases are either increasing or plateauing in the majority of American states. Increases in state-level testing do account for some of the increase in cases and, on average, the country’s positive-test rate is lower than it was in March and April. But those numbers obscure the situation in more than a dozen states where cases are still increasing.

When: Wednesday, June 17

The claim: The pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.”

The truth: Trump made this claim ahead of his rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when the country was still seeing at least 20,000 new daily cases and a second spike in infections was beginning.

When: Thursday, July 2

The claim: The pandemic is “getting under control.”

The truth: Trump’s claim came as the country’s daily cases doubled to about 50,000, a higher daily case count than seen at the beginning of the pandemic, and the number continues to rise, fueled by infections in the South and the West.

When: Saturday, July 4

The claim: “99%” of COVID-19 cases are “totally harmless.”

The truth: The virus can still cause tremendous suffering if it doesn’t kill a patient, and the WHO has said that about 15 percent of COVID-19 cases can be severe, with 5 percent being critical. Fauci has rejected Trump’s claim, saying the evidence shows that the virus “can make you seriously ill” even if it doesn’t kill you.

When: Monday, July 6

The claim: “We now have the lowest Fatality (Mortality) Rate in the World.”

The truth: The U.S. has neither the lowest mortality rate nor the lowest case-fatality rate. As of July 13, the case-fatality rate—the ratio of deaths per confirmed COVID-19 cases—was 4.1 percent, which places the U.S. solidly in the middle of global rankings. It has the world’s ninth-worst mortality rate, with 41.33 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

When: Multiple times

The claim: Mexico is partly to blame for COVID-19 surges in the Southwest.

The truth: Even before Latin America’s COVID-19 cases began to rise, the U.S. and Mexico had jointly agreed in March to restrict nonessential land travel between the two countries, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection says illegal border crossings are down compared with last year. Health experts say blaming Mexican immigrants for surges is misguided, especially when most of the individuals crossing the border are U.S. citizens who live nearby.

When: Multiple times

The claim: Children are “virtually immune” to COVID-19.

The truth: The science is not definitive, but that doesn’t mean children are immune. Studies in the U.S. and China have suggested that kids are less likely than adults to be infected, and more likely to have mild symptoms, but can still spread the virus to their family members and others. The CDC has said that about 7 percent of COVID-19 cases and less than 0.1 percent of COVID-19-related deaths have occurred in children.

Blaming the Obama Administration

When: Wednesday, March 4

The claim: The Trump White House rolled back Food and Drug Administration regulations that limited the kind of laboratory tests states could run and how they could conduct them. “The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing,” Trump said.

The truth: The Obama administration drafted, but never implemented, changes to rules that regulate laboratory tests run by states. Trump’s policy change relaxed an FDA requirement that would have forced private labs to wait for FDA authorization to conduct their own, non-CDC-approved coronavirus tests.

When: Friday, March 13

The claim: The Obama White House’s response to the H1N1 pandemic was “a full scale disaster, with thousands dying, and nothing meaningful done to fix the testing problem, until now.”

The truth: Barack Obama declared a public-health emergency two weeks after the first U.S. cases of H1N1 were reported, in California. (Trump declared a national emergency more than seven weeks after the first domestic COVID-19 case was reported, in Washington State.) While testing is a problem now, it wasn’t back in 2009. The challenge then was vaccine development: Production was delayed and the vaccine wasn’t distributed until the outbreak was already waning.

When: Multiple times

The claim: The Trump White House “inherited” a “broken,” “bad,” and “obsolete” test for the coronavirus.

The truth: The novel coronavirus did not exist in humans during the Obama administration. Public-health experts agree that, because of that fact, the CDC could not have produced a test, and thus a new test had to be developed this year.

When: Multiple times

The claim: The Obama administration left Trump “bare” and “empty” shelves of medical supplies in the national strategic stockpile.

The truth: The 2009 H1N1 outbreak did deplete the N95 mask supply and was never replenished, but the Obama administration did not leave the stockpile empty of other materials. While the stockpile has never been funded at the levels some experts have requested, its former director said in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic, that it was well-equipped. (The outbreak has since eaten away at its reserves.)

When: Sunday, May 10

The claim: Referring to criticism of his administration’s response, Trump tweeted: “Compare that to the Obama/Sleepy Joe disaster known as H1N1 Swine Flu. Poor marks … didn’t have a clue!”

The truth: It is misleading to compare COVID-19 to H1N1 and to call the Obama administration’s response a disaster, as my colleague Peter Nicholas has reported. In 2009, the CDC quickly flagged the new flu strain in California and began releasing antiflu drugs from the national stockpile two weeks later. A vaccine was available in six months.

Another claim: Trump later attacked “Joe Biden’s handling of the H1N1 Swine Flu.”

The truth: Biden was not responsible for the federal government’s response to the H1N1 outbreak, as Nicholas has also explained.

On Coronavirus Testing

When: Friday, March 6, and Monday, May 11

The claim: “Anybody that needs a test, gets a test. We—they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful” and “If somebody wants to be tested right now, they’ll be able to be tested.”

The truth: Trump made these two claims two months apart, but the truth is still the same: The U.S. does not have enough testing.

When: Wednesday, March 11

The claim: In an Oval Office address, Trump said that private-health-insurance companies had “agreed to waive all co-payments for coronavirus treatments, extend insurance coverage to these treatments, and to prevent surprise medical billing.”

The truth: Insurers agreed only to absorb the cost of coronavirus testing—waiving co-pays and deductibles for getting the test. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the second coronavirus-relief bill passed by Congress, later mandated that COVID-19 testing be made free. The federal government has not required insurance companies to cover follow-up treatments, though some providers announced in late March that they will pay for treatments. The costs of other non-coronavirus testing or treatment incurred by patients who have COVID-19 or are trying to get a diagnosis aren’t waived either. And as for surprise medical billing? Mitigating it would require the cooperation of insurers, doctors, and hospitals.

When: Friday, March 13

The claim: Google engineers are building a website to help Americans determine whether they need testing for the coronavirus and to direct them to their nearest testing site.

The truth: The announcement was news to Google itself—the website Trump (and other administration officials) described was actually being built by Verily, a division of Alphabet, the parent company of Google. The Verge first reported on Trump’s error, citing a Google representative who confirmed that Verily was working on a “triage website” with limited coverage for the San Francisco Bay Area. But since then, Google has pivoted to fulfill Trump’s public proclamation, saying it would speed up the development of a new, separate website while Verily worked on finishing its project, The Washington Post reported.

When: Tuesday, March 24, and Wednesday, March 25

The claim: The United States has outpaced South Korea’s COVID-19 testing: “We’re going up proportionally very rapidly,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall.

The truth: When the president made this claim, testing in the U.S. was severely lagging behind that in South Korea. As of March 25, South Korea had conducted about five times as many tests as a proportion of its population relative to the United States. For updated data from each country, see the COVID-19 Tracking Project and the database maintained by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When: Monday, May 11

The claim: America has “developed a testing capacity unmatched and unrivaled anywhere in the world, and it’s not even close.”

The truth: The United States is still not testing enough people and is lagging behind the testing and tracing capabilities that other countries have developed. The president’s testing czar, Brett Giroir, and Fauci confirmed the need for more testing at a May 12 Senate hearing too. They said that the country won’t be able to perform 50 million tests, about what the country needs to safely reopen, until the fall.

Another claim: The United States has conducted more testing “than all other countries together!”

The truth: By May 18, when Trump last made this claim, the U.S. had conducted more tests than any other country. But it had not conducted more tests than the rest of the world combined. (As of May 27, more than 14 million tests have been administered in America.)

When: Multiple times

The claim: “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country.”

The truth: COVID-19 cases are not rising because of “our big-number testing.” Outside the Northeast, the share of tests conducted that come back positive is increasing, with the sharpest spike happening in southern states. In some states, such as Arizona and Florida, the number of new cases being reported is outpacing any increase in the states’ testing ability. And as states set new daily case records and report increasing hospitalizations, all signs point to a worsening crisis.

On Travel Bans and Travelers

When: Wednesday, March 11

The claim: The United States would suspend “all travel from Europe, except the United Kingdom, for the next 30 days,” Trump announced in an Oval Office address.

The truth: The travel restriction would not apply to U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, or their families returning from Europe. At first, it applied specifically to the 26 European countries that make up the Schengen Area, not all of Europe. Trump later announced the inclusion of the United Kingdom and Ireland in the ban.

Another claim: In the same address, Trump said the travel restrictions would “not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo but various other things as we get approval.”

The truth: Trump followed up in a tweet, explaining that trade and cargo would not be subject to the restrictions.

When: Thursday, March 12

The claim: All U.S. citizens arriving from Europe would be subject to medical screening, COVID-19 testing, and quarantine if necessary. “If an American is coming back or anybody is coming back, we’re testing,” Trump said. “We have a tremendous testing setup where people coming in have to be tested … We’re not putting them on planes if it shows positive, but if they do come here, we’re quarantining.”

The truth: Testing is already severely limited in the United States. It is not true that all Americans returning to the country are being tested, nor that anyone is being forced to quarantine, CNN has reported.

When: Tuesday, March 31

The claim: “We stopped all of Europe” with a travel ban. “We started with certain parts of Italy, and then all of Italy. Then we saw Spain. Then I said, ‘Stop Europe; let’s stop Europe. We have to stop them from coming here.’”

The truth: The travel ban applied to the Schengen Area, as well as the United Kingdom and Ireland, and not all of Europe as he claimed. Additionally, Trump is wrong about the United States rolling out a piecemeal ban. The State Department did issue advisories in late February cautioning Americans against travel to the Lombardy region of Italy before issuing a general “Do Not Travel” warning on March 19. But the U.S. never placed individual bans on Italy and Spain.

When: Multiple times

The claim: “Everybody thought I was wrong” about implementing restrictions on travelers from China, and “most people felt they should not close it down—that we shouldn’t close down to China.”

The truth: While the WHO did say it opposed travel bans on China generally, Trump’s own top health officials have made clear that the travel ban was the “uniform” recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services. Fauci and Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the coronavirus task force, both praised the decision too.

When: Multiple times

The claim: The Trump administration’s travel restrictions on China were a “ban” that closed up the “entire” United States and “kept China out.”

The truth: Nearly 40,000 people traveled from China to the United States from February 2, when Trump’s travel restrictions went into effect, to April 4, The New York Times reported. Those rules also do not apply to all people: American citizens, green-card holders and their relatives, and people on flights coming from Macau and Hong Kong are not included in the “ban.”

On Taking the Pandemic Seriously      

When: Tuesday, March 17

The claim: “I’ve always known this is a real—this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic … I’ve always viewed it as very serious.”

The truth: Trump has repeatedly downplayed the significance of COVID-19 as outbreaks began stateside. From calling criticism of his handling of the virus a “hoax,” to comparing the coronavirus to a common flu, to worrying about letting sick Americans off cruise ships because they would increase the number of confirmed cases, Trump has used his public statements to send mixed messages and sow doubt about the outbreak’s seriousness.

When: Thursday, March 26

The claim: This kind of pandemic “was something nobody thought could happen … Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”

The truth: Experts both inside and outside the federal government sounded the alarm many times in the past decade about the potential for a devastating global pandemic, as my colleague Uri Friedman has reported. Two years ago, my colleague Ed Yong explored the legacy of Ebola outbreaks—including the devastating 2014 epidemic—to evaluate how ready the U.S. was for a pandemic. Ebola hardly impacted America—but it revealed how unprepared the country was.

On COVID-19 Treatments and Vaccines

When: Monday, March 2

The claim: Pharmaceutical companies are going “to have vaccines, I think, relatively soon.”

The truth: The president’s own experts told him during a White House meeting with pharmaceutical leaders earlier that same day that a vaccine could take a year to 18 months to develop. In response, he said he would prefer if it took only a few months. He later claimed, at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, that a vaccine would be ready “soon.”

When: Thursday, March 19

The claim: At a press briefing with his coronavirus task force, Trump said the FDA had approved the antimalarial drug chloroquine to treat COVID-19. “Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it’s—it was approved very, very quickly and it’s now approved by prescription,” he said.

The truth: FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who was at the briefing, quickly clarified that the drug still had to be tested in a clinical setting. An FDA representative later told Bloomberg that the drug has not been approved for COVID-19 use, though a doctor could still prescribe it for that purpose. Later that same day, Fauci told CNN that there is no “magic drug” to cure COVID-19: “Today, there are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus.”

When: Friday, April 24

The claim: Trump was being “sarcastic” when he suggested in a briefing on April 23 that his medical experts should research the use of powerful light and injected disinfectants to treat COVID-19.

The truth: Trump’s tone did not seem sarcastic when he made the apparent suggestion to inject disinfectants. Turning to Birx and a Department of Homeland Security science-and-technology official, he mused: “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? … It would be interesting to check that.” When he walked this statement back the next day, he added that he was only asking his experts “to look into whether or not sun and disinfectant on the hands [work].”

When: Friday, May 8

The claim: The coronavirus is “going to go away without a vaccine … and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time.”

The truth: Fauci has repeatedly said, including during a Senate hearing on May 12, that the coronavirus’s sudden disappearance “is just not going to happen.” Until the country has “a scientifically sound, safe, and effective vaccine,” Fauci said last month, the pandemic will not be over.

When: Multiple times

The claim: Taking hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 is safe and effective. “I happen to be a believer in hydroxy. I used it. I had no problem. I happen to be a believer,” Trump said on one occasion. “It doesn’t hurt people,” he commented on another.

The truth: Trump’s own FDA has warned against taking the antimalarial drug with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, which Trump has also promoted. Several large observational studies in New York, France, and China have concluded that the drug has no benefit for COVID-19 patients, and Fauci and Trump’s testing czar, Brett Giroir, have also cautioned against it as the president has repeated this claim in recent months.

Another claim: “One bad” study from the Department of Veterans Affairs that found no benefit among veterans who took hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 was run by “people that aren’t big Trump fans.” The study “was a Trump-enemy statement.”

The truth: There’s no evidence that the study was a political plot orchestrated by Trump opponents, and it reached similar conclusions as other observational reports. The VA study was led by independent researchers from the University of Virginia and the University of South Carolina with a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Another claim: Many frontline doctors and workers are taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19.

The truth: Multiple trials are under way to determine if health-care workers should take the drug as a preventative. But there are no conclusive numbers for how many workers are taking the drug outside of those studies.

When: Thursday, August 6

The claim: A coronavirus vaccine could be ready by Election Day.

The truth: The timeline Trump proposes contradicts health experts’ consensus view that early 2021 is likely the earliest that a vaccine could be approved.

On the Defense Production Act

When: Friday, March 20

The claim: Trump twice said during a task-force briefing that he had invoked the Defense Production Act, a Korean War–era law that enables the federal government to order private industry to produce certain items and materials for national use. He also said the federal government was already using its authority under the law: “We have a lot of people working very hard to do ventilators and various other things.”

The truth: Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor told CNN on March 22 that the president has not actually used the DPA to order private companies to produce anything. Shortly after that, Trump backtracked, saying that he had not compelled private companies to take action. Then, on March 24, Gaynor told CNN that FEMA plans to use the DPA to allocate 60,000 test kits. Trump tweeted afterward that the DPA would not be used.

When: Saturday, March 21

The claim: Automobile companies that have volunteered to manufacture medical equipment, such as ventilators, are “making them right now.”

The truth: Ford and General Motors, which Trump mentioned at a task-force briefing the same day, announced earlier in March that they had halted all factory production in North America and were likely months away from beginning production of ventilators, representatives told the Associated Press. Since then, Ford CEO James Hackett told CNN that the auto company will begin to work with 3M to produce respirators and with General Electric to assemble ventilators. GM said it will explore the possibility of producing ventilators in an Indiana factory. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, whose company Trump highlighted in a tweet, has said that the company is “working on ventilators” but that they cannot be produced “instantly.”

On States’ Resources

When: Tuesday, March 24

The claim: Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York passed on an opportunity to purchase 16,000 ventilators at a low cost in 2015, Trump said during the Fox News town hall.

The truth: Trump seems to have gleaned this claim from a Gateway Pundit article. That piece, in turn, cites a syndicated column from Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, which includes a figure close to 16,000. The number comes from a 2015 report from the state’s health department that provided guidance for how New York could handle a possible flu pandemic. The report notes that the state would need 15,783 more ventilators than it had at the time to aid patients during “an influenza pandemic on the scale of the 1918 pandemic.” The report does not include a recommendation to Cuomo for additional purchases or stockpiling. Trump “obviously didn’t read the document he’s citing,” a Cuomo representative said in a statement.

Another claim: Trump also repeated a claim from the Gateway Pundit article that Cuomo’s office established “death panels” and “lotteries” as part of the state’s pandemic response.

The truth: The 2015 report and the accompanying press release announced updated guidelines for hospitals to follow to allocate ventilators. The guidelines “call for a triage officer or triage committee to determine who receives or continues to receive ventilator therapy” and describes how a random lottery allocation might work. (Neither should be the first options for deciding care, the report notes.) Cuomo never established a lottery.

When: Sunday, March 29

The claim: Trump “didn’t say” that governors do not need all the medical equipment they are requesting from the federal government. And he “didn’t say” that governors should be more appreciative of the help.

The truth: The president told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday, March 26, that “a lot of equipment’s being asked for that I don’t think they’ll need,” referring to requests from the governors of Michigan, New York, and Washington. He also said, during a Friday, March 27, task-force briefing, that he wanted state leaders “to be appreciative … We’ve done a great job.” He added that he wasn’t talking about himself, but about others within the federal government working to combat the pandemic.

When: Sunday, March 29, and Monday, March 30

The claim: Hospitals are reporting an artificially inflated need for masks and equipment, items that might be “going out the back door,” Trump said on two separate days. He also said he was not talking about hoarding: “I think maybe it’s worse than hoarding.”

The truth: There is no evidence to show that hospitals are maliciously hoarding or inflating their need for masks and personal protective equipment when reporting shortages in supplies. Although Cuomo reported anecdotal stories of thefts from hospitals early in March, he was referring to opportunists trying to price-gouge early in the pandemic. Reuters has reported a handful of stories of nurses hiding masks to conserve supplies amid shortages, but not wide-scale thefts as Trump claimed.

On China

When: Tuesday, April 14

The claim: Asked about his past praise of China and its transparency, Trump said that he hadn’t “talk[ed] about China’s transparency.”

The truth: Trump lauded the country in tweets he sent in late January and early February. In one, he highlighted the Chinese government’s “transparency” about the coronavirus outbreak.

When: Friday, May 29

The claim: The WHO ignored “credible reports” of the coronavirus’s spread in Wuhan, the Chinese city that first reported the new virus, including those published in The Lancet medical journal in December.

The truth: The Lancet said it did not publish such reports in December. Its first reports on the virus’s spread in Wuhan were published on January 24.

Another claim: Taiwanese officials had warned the WHO about human-to-human transmission of a new virus by December 31.

The truth: Taiwan did not cite “human to human” transmission in the communications Trump referenced, but it did ask for more information and compared the virus to SARS.

Another claim: In mid-January, the WHO said the coronavirus could not be transmitted between humans.

The truth: The WHO did say on January 12 that early investigations by China could find “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan, but it did not rule such transmission out. Two days later, a WHO official said during a press conference that “it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission” among families, and warned hospitals around the world to prepare for a greater outbreak.

On Democrats

When: Multiple times

The claim: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged people to attend “parties” and a parade in San Francisco’s Chinatown to “show that this thing doesn’t exist.”

The truth: Pelosi did visit San Francisco’s Chinatown in late February to encourage residents not to fear the coronavirus in the city. “Precautions have been taken” and the city was “on top of the situation,” she said. But Pelosi did not urge people to attend a parade or parties. San Francisco reported its first case of COVID-19 on March 5, a week later, and the Bay Area ordered residents to shelter in place three weeks after the speaker’s visit.

Another claim: Pelosi was “dancing in the streets of Chinatown, trying to say, ‘It’s okay to come to the United States. It’s fine. It’s wonderful. Come on in. Bring your infection with you,’” Trump said in May.

The truth: Trump is embellishing his original lie: Pelosi was not dancing in Chinatown or urging sick people to bring the coronavirus to the United States.

On Protests

When: Sunday, April 19 and Tuesday, April 21

The claim: Protesters who gathered in a handful of states over the weekend to oppose social distancing were “doing social distancing” themselves and “were all six feet apart.”

The truth: Protesters have clogged streets in at least seven states after an April 15 demonstration at the Michigan state capitol grabbed national attention. In California, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, demonstrators did not seem to be following the CDC’s safety guidelines, local news outlets reported, and photos and videos from the ground show tightly packed protests.

Another claim: Racial-justice protests and demonstrations fueled a surge in coronavirus cases.

The truth: There is no evidence to support Trump’s claim, though epidemiologists did fear at first that protests would trigger more infections. A recent study by Northeastern, Harvard, and Northwestern suggests that widespread mask wearing and the outdoor nature of the protests mitigated the spread. Some economists have argued that the protests in more than 300 U.S. cities might have actually encouraged more Americans to stay home during the civil unrest.


Clashes between US, regime forces present new challenges for Russia in Syria

Northeastern Syria’s volatile mix of players is proving to be a tough test for Russia.

August 25, 2020

by Kirill Semenov


A US military facility in northeastern Syria, in the eastern part of the Deir ez-Zor region, came under rocket fire Aug. 19, with several shells falling in the vicinity of a US base near the Conoco oil field. On Aug. 17, an armed incident occurred between an American patrol and Syrian military personnel near the city of Qamishli in adjoining Hasakah province. After the sides exchanged fire at a checkpoint, a Syrian solider was killed; while the Syrian state news agency SANA said the soldier was killed by fire from US helicopter gunships, the US command said there was only an exchange of ground fire.

These incidents should serve as another signal for the Russian command, which has found itself in a very risky position in the so-called trans-Euphrates region. Moscow does not have the necessary leverage on the Syrian regime to prevent Syrian provocations against the Americans, nor does it have sufficient forces to carry out effective military operations. The region in question is the left bank of the Euphrates river, which Russian and Syrian troops entered last fall on the basis of an agreement with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in order to prevent the advance of Turkish troops during Operation Peace Spring.

In this area Russian and Syrian troops do not have full territorial and administrative control. The US-backed SDF continues to maintain its presence, with its affiliated civil administration, not to mention US military installations.

Unlike the American contingent stationed in this region, the three battalions of the Russian military police in the trans-Euphrates region are deprived of aerial support. Russian aircraft cannot be deployed without the approval of the United States, which controls the airspace over northeastern Syria. This makes the positions of the Russian and allied Syrian forces more precarious in the event of possible clashes with local groups, whether pro-Turkish or Kurdish.

At the same time, while at the end of 2019 the threat of escalation in the northeast was most likely between Damascus and the opposition Syrian National Army, which jointly conducted Operation Peace Spring with Turkey, now the risk of clashes is higher between the regime forces and the SDF. Since the United States has decided to stay in eastern Syria, the SDF command is less and less inclined to compromise with the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The regime’s secret services — known in Arabic as the mukhabarat — are allegedly playing a role this conflict between Damascus and the SDF. The mukhabarat are trying to drive the protests of the Arab tribes living in Deir ez-Zor into an open armed uprising against the SDF, so that then some local elders associated with the Syrian mukhabarat will ask Assad to intervene and support them. To achieve these goals, the secret services are ready to carry out various kinds of provocations to aggravate the split between the SDF and the tribes, including contract killings of tribal authorities that can be blamed on the SDF. This work by Assad’s agents is already yielding results.

A number of elders from the al-Uqaydat tribe — the largest tribe in Deir ez-Zor province — announced the creation of the Army of al-Uqaydat with the aim of organizing “popular resistance to the American occupation and its mercenaries.” Apparently, it is these forces that were behind the shelling of the American military facility near the Conoco field Aug. 19. It is significant that they were supported by one of the sheikhs of the Bakara tribe, Nawaf al-Bashir, who in 2017 announced his support for Assad and is associated with Iran. He announced the beginning of a liberation war for the region east of the Euphrates and called for the formation of military forces and political bodies “that will coordinate the fight against the US and Kurdish terrorists.”

However, such a radical scenario cannot be supported by Russia, which is aware of both its own military weakness in the northeast of Syria, as well as of the insufficient level of support for Damascus from the Deir ez-Zor tribes (despite the strong loyalty of some individual sheikhs). The Russian side also fears that escalation in the region could lead to a direct conflict between the Syrian regime and the SDF, which would be directly supported by the United States. In such a situation, Moscow is unlikely to be able to help Assad and will be forced to play the role of an observer, which would negatively affect the image of the Kremlin.

At the same time, on the whole, Russia is ready to encourage the desire of the Arab tribes of the northeast and east of Syria to free themselves from the patronage of the SDF, but not involve them in direct confrontation with the Kurds and the United States. Moscow will only try to attract the Arabs to its side, including by involving and recruiting military formations operating under the auspices of Russia.

The Russian side last fall negotiated with Jamil Rashid al-Khafal, one of the sheikhs of the al-Uqaydat tribe, offering him a plan of “reconciliation” with the regime according to the same formula that was used with rebels in Daraa in southwestern Syria. At the same time, the forces of the Military Council of Deir ez-Zor (a military structure of the SDF, consisting of Arab tribes) would become the basis of new brigades of the 5th assault corps, which is directly linked to the Russian military command. The tribes, however, ignored the Russian proposal after Washington said that its forces would remain in eastern Syria to protect oil fields.

Currently, this idea can be partially revived. We can talk about attracting the forces of the Arab tribes of the northeast into a new pro-Russian structure, which may become the 6th assault corps. However, in the first stage, units from Arab tribes will only join the pro-Russian units, without being transferred control over the territories. Also, this new formation should involve fighters of local units of the pro-government National Defense Forces, which the Iranians helped set up.

It’s worth keeping in mind that the right bank of the Euphrates river to the southeast of the city of Deir ez-Zor and up to the Iraqi border is controlled by pro-Iranian groups associated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Here, from the city of Boukamal (also known as Abu Kamal), begins the so-called “Shiite corridor” that links Iran through Iraq with Syria and Lebanon, and new Iranian bases are being created. In this regard, the facilities of the IRGC and pro-Iranian groups in this region serve as targets for attacks by Israeli jets.

A well-informed source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Iran intends to continue to build up its presence in eastern Syria and for this will likely use, as in Daraa, the cover of the Syrian army’s elite 4th Armored Division. The latter, which is commanded by the president’s brother Maher al-Assad, is charged with defending the government from internal and external threats and has begun recruiting local residents in the city of Mayadin, in northeastern Syria, for its new units. As a result, many pro-Iranian groups in this region will be able to “mimic” the regular units of the 4th division. Thus, the 4th division, both in the Syrian southwest and in the northeast of Syria, will be Russia’s main competitor in attracting local tribal and opposition formations to the ranks of its proxy forces.

Russia’s plans to consolidate its position in the northeast of Syria and create loyal formations there can be supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which themselves are actively working with the Arab tribes of the region. The deployment of pro-Russian military structures in northeastern Syria could lead to the creation of a “buffer zone” there, free from the Iranian presence, which also meets the interests of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh. This would serve as a guarantee that if American troops leave the region, their place would be taken not by pro-Iranian formations but rather ones created and controlled by Moscow. At the same time, such a scenario is unlikely to be in the interests of Turkey, which — in response to the attempts of Russia and the Assad regime to expand control over the territories ruled by the SDF — will try to find a way to increase its Peace Spring security zone. In addition, Ankara could consider strengthening its position in the Syrian northeast through some concessions to Russia in Idlib.

Although northeastern Syria is in the “shadow of Idlib,” in reality it is an equally volatile region and any incident that occurs there carries the risks of escalation between the United States and Russia. In the Syrian northeast there are armed forces and armed formations of Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, Assad, the Syrian opposition, the Kurds, Arab tribes, the PKK and the Islamic State. In this region as well, the interests of Turkey come into conflict with the interests of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. All this creates an extremely explosive mixture that even a small spark can ignite.


The Encyclopedia of American Loons

Chelsen Vicari

The Concerned Women for America (CWfA) is a group of wingnut fundies that was founded by Beverly LaHaye and is opposed to anything that can be interpreted as sympathetic toward homosexuality or marriage equality. Chelsen Vicari is one of the crazies who has made a bit of a name for herself as a leader and recurring spokesperson for the group. She is currently Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, where she seems to be promoting most of the same nonsense she promoted in her CWfA days.

A good example is her 2013 attack on Starbucks for supporting marriage equality, something she claimed would lead to anti-straight discrimination; Vicari called Howard Schultz “prejudicial and bigoted” for telling some anti-gay activist (Thomas Strobhar) to sell his shares in the company if he was overly distraught over Starbucks’ endorsement of same-sex marriage legislation in Washington state, and claimed that Starbucks “refuses pro-marriage supporters service” and “is only tolerant of approximately 2 percent of America’s 300 million citizens who live homosexual lifestyles.” That first complaint is telling: not only is supporting gay rights, in itself, anti-straight bigotry as Vicari sees it, but being heterosexual is incompatible with promoting marriage equality: if the Starbucks CEO is supportive of marriage equality then Starbucks might as well have “two separate drinking fountains for liberals and conservatives or ‘now hiring’ signs reading, “Heterosexuals Need Not Apply.’”

Diagnosis: Silly, bigoted fundie. Yeah, there are lots of them, but Vicari seems to have achieved a position of moderate influence. Should be watched.

Linda Moulton Howe

Another legend among UFO enthusiasts, Linda Moulton Howe is a ufologist and “investigative journalist”, and a mainstay on the Coast to Coast AM radio show and the Ancient Aliens TV series. She is in particular associated with cattle mutilation nonsense, starting with her 1980 documentary A Strange Harvest, where she investigated what she concludes to be unusual animal deaths (but really a mix of hearsay and the readily naturally explainable) caused by “non-human intelligence and technology”. Her conclusions were based on careful investigation of the evidence after ruling out, prior to investigation, the possibility of a natural explanation. She followed up with more “evidence” in the 1989 book Alien Harvest. Howe also claims to have seen secret government documents that supposedly prove that aliens are mutilating cattle, abducting people and generally flying around military bases. Indeed, in 1983 she was shown a secret presidential briefing paper that revealed how “extraterrestrials created Jesus” and placed him on earth “to teach mankind about love and non-violence” (but apparently also randomly mutilate cattle). The documents were allegedly shown to her by Richard Doty. We have covered Doty and his documents before.

Howe runs her own website called “EarthFiles.com”, which charges a subscription fee of $45 a year to access her body of work. Some of it, however, has been published in reputable journals disseminated in radio programs hosted by luminaries like Art Bell, George Noory and Whitley Strieber. That material contains, in addition to cattle mutilation tripe and reports of “unexplained” lights and sounds reported from all over the US:

“Bigfoot DNA”: Melba Ketchum (to be covered) apparently has proof that Bigfoot exists.

“The Return of Ezekiel’s Wheel”, based on recent “eyewitness sightings”.

“Pyramids Discovered in Alaska and Turkey”: “Immense structures not only built, but used in some unknown way for a thousand years.”

“Missing Time”: Howe has managed to unearth “a rare case of documented missing time”.

“Unknown objects in our skies. What are we NOT being told”: Yes, the government is conspiring to deny the presence of UFOs, for the usual nebulous reasons.

“The Rendlesham Code”: Howe investigates endorses a UFO contactee’s claims to have telepathically downloaded binary code numbers from aliens.

“Project Serpo”: Yup, Howe fell for that one, to no one’s surprise.

Howe also does crop circles and a variety of other environmentalist conspiracies (eg. colony collapse disorder and Monsanto).

By the way, the aliensdidit “explanation” for cattle mutilations seems to have received some competition from even more exotic hypotheses. Tom Bearden, for instance, thinks the “mutilations are the physical manifestation of the whole human unconsciousness which is somehow aware that the Soviets will, probably within three years, invade and destroy the Western world;” so there is that.

Diagnosis: Crazy, but her most characteristic trait seems to be that she’s amazingly gullible and will fall for anything you serve her if it concerns UFOs – unless it is based on reason and evidence, of course.





















































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