"Democracy Now" Again Misreports Nuclear Ban Treaty

Last October, I wrote the piece "'Democracy Now' Gets Nuclear Ban Vote Totally Wrong". 

This morning, again, "Democracy Now" got crucial information about the treaty wrong. The lead headline on this morning's show was: 

At the United Nations headquarters in New York, 122 countries have approved a global treaty to ban the use of nuclear weapons, despite the United States leading the opposition to the treaty.

Actually, unacknowledged in the transcript (and spliced on the current online version) is that during broadcast, Amy Goodman initially read the headline as "despite the United Nations leading the opposition to the treaty" -- and then corrected it at the end of headlines, which is somewhat darkly amusing.

But the core statement is not true [perhaps I should have written the core statement is an drastic understatement that distorts what's happening]. The treaty doesn't "ban the use of nuclear weapons" -- it bans possession. The name of the agreement is "Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons".


Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: (a) Develop, test, produce, manufacture, otherwise acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices;...

"Democracy Now" should correct this and be be far more serious about reporting on the role of the U.S. government in forcing the continued possession and threatening use of nuclear weapons. 

After a Terrorist Attack, Spain Rejected Its Hawks. Will Britain?

[This piece originally appeared at The Nation magazine on June 5.] 

Spanish voters turned against the incumbent conservative party after the 2004 Madrid bombings.

On March 11, 2004, just a few days before a critical election, a series of nearly simultaneous bombs exploded on four commuter trains in Madrid, killing over 190 people. Before the bombing, the Socialist Party (PSOE) was about five points behind in the polls, but it ended up winning by five points. The party promised that if it won the election, Spain would get out of Iraq in six months. That happened after only five. I can find no evidence of any Middle East–related terrorism in Spain since, though there apparently have been thwarted plots.

This history may offer a critical lesson to Britain now, just days away from an election following a series of attacks near London Bridge. Incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May has backed virtually every war that Britain has participated in. In contrast, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had criticized virtually every war.

The situation in Spain was heightened by the incumbent government of José María Aznar (now a director at Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation), which blamed the Basque group ETA for the attack. This move certainly crystallized public disgust with the government. But why did the government lie about ETA’s involvement in the first place? It assessed—probably correctly—that the Spanish people would be furious that so much blood had been shed in Madrid in retaliation for Spain’s involvement in the invasion of Iraq, which was already deeply unpopular.

Contrast the path that Spain took with that of France, which had originally criticized the invasion of Iraq. Since then, France has become more interventionist, particularly in Syria—a former French colony. It has also become far more of a target of terrorism in the name of Islam in recent years.

It’s noteworthy that the interrelation between the 2004 Madrid attacks and the election has been either ignored or totally misrepresented. Last year, following the massacre in Orlando by Omar Mateen, in a discussion about how that attack might affect the US election, Dina Temple-Raston, NPR’s “counterterrorism correspondent” exactly reversed the apparent lesson of Madrid. She claimed that after the Madrid attack “the more conservative party won.” NPR refused to offer an on-air correction for this brazen falsehood.

Of course, the election of a Corbyn government doesn’t guarantee an end to terrorist attacks in Britain. For one, it’s not clear that Corbyn will adhere to a pro-peace, non-interventionist stance. Recently, he has seemed to distance himself from prior positions, like withdrawal from NATO. While the Socialist Party in Spain pledged to withdraw from Iraq, the Labour Manifesto contains no such explicit pledge.

Theresa May, however, has supported interventionist policies that helped create the conditions for radicalization. Specifically, while May was home secretary, the UK allowed extremists from the Libya Islamic Fighting Group (of which the Manchester bomber was a member) to freely travel to Libya to take out Muammar Gaddafi (see John Pilger at Consortium NewsPaul Mason at The Guardian, and Max Blumenthal at Alternet). This is a point that Corbyn has raised in less specific but notable terms: “Many experts have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home.” He’s also added: “We do need to have some difficult conversations, starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fueled extremist ideology.”

Brzezinski's Biggest Disaster: Camp David

On Tuesday's "Morning Joe," Zbigniew Brzezinski was eulogized by Jimmy Carter along with the MSNBC show co-hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski — daughter of the former national security advisor.

The segment, of course, avoided issues that Brzezinski has been criticized for, see "How Jimmy Carter and I Started the Mujahideen." Though even the New York Times obit noted: "But in at least one respect — his rigid hatred of the Soviet Union — he had stood to the right of many Republicans, including Mr. Kissinger and President Richard M. Nixon. And during his four years under Mr. Carter, beginning in 1977, thwarting Soviet expansionism at any cost guided much of American foreign policy, for better or worse. He supported billions in military aid for Islamic militants fighting invading Soviet troops in Afghanistan."

The shadow cast by such policies quite arguably lead to the 9/11 attacks and a great deal of other pain and suffering in the Mideast and beyond. 

Few have delved into the depths and aims of Brzezinski's anti-Russian bias. He wrote in “A Geostrategy for Eurasia” in the journal Foreign Affairs (1997): “A loosely confederated Russia — composed of a European Russia, a Siberian Republic, and a Far Eastern Republic — would also find it easier to cultivate closer economic relations with its neighbors. Each of the confederated entities would be able to tap its local creative potential, stifled for centuries by Moscow’s heavy bureaucratic hand. In turn, a decentralized Russia would be less susceptible to imperial mobilization.” 

Indeed, two main strains that we see in our current foreign policy owe a great deal to Brzezinski. One is a desire of much of U.S. establishment to further neuter — if not actually break up — Russia. The other — being employed in Syria now — is using militarized fanatics fighting in the name of Islam for foreign policy purposes.

What was highlighted by Carter and others after Brzezinski's death was the "triumph" of the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt. 

And this is something that few question, though such praise leads to some wild statements, as in this MSNBC interview. 

Joe Scarborough claimed: "Mr. President, I was talking to Mika's daughters this weekend and trying to explain the impact that you all had on the world and talking about the Middle East. You hear about the Middle East peace. But you know, President Carter's peace efforts between Israel and Egypt prevented a ground war in the Middle East for 40 years."

Huh? Joe Scarborough is unaware of any ground wars in the Mideast over the last 40 years. He must have tuned out the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War, as well as the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Never mind the numerous Israeli invasions of Lebanon. 

And it's quite arguable that Camp David actually set the stage for all those things. As the late Eqbal Ahmad stated in 1990 (at an event I attended):

There has been nothing (that I have seen) in the media about what compels Saddam Hussein's extraordinary ambitions. ... What has suddenly in 1990 compelled his ambition, that requires 350,000 American troops to control? What did it?

No one has named the Camp David Accords. And Saddam Hussein's ambitions are directly attributable to the Camp David Accords. I won't go into details of it — just in two sentences, remember the following. Since the decline of the Ottoman Empire (in other words, since the beginning of the 19th Century) Egypt has played the role of the regional influential in the Arab World. Politically, culturally, even militarily, Egypt has led the Arab World (and ideologically). The Camp David Accords' supreme achievement was to isolate Egypt from its Arab milieu.

When Anwar Sadat signed that piece of paper, his hope had been that this would lead to the return of Egyptian territory to Egypt. Occupied territories, one (which he did get). And two, a modicum of justice for the Palestinians. So that, over time his isolation will be ameliorated. And that minimum that was promised to Sadat in the Camp David Accords was not honored. In fact, the maximum was dishonored.

To remind you of one reality alone, Carter, and Saunders, and William B. Quandt — the three American negotiators from top to the bottom (with Carter at the top, Saunders in the middle, and Quandt at the bottom) — have testified and recorded in their books that in the last three days of the Camp David negotiations, the negotiations had broken down on one issue. And the issue was Sadat's insistence that there should be written in the Camp David Accords that Israel will put up no more settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. And Begin would say, "I am willing to agree on it informally, but won't do it in writing." And Carter weighs in and says, "You must understand Begin's difficult position. I give you guarantee that there will be no settlements. ...

Now, obviously, Camp David meant moral, ideological, political isolation of Egypt from its Arab milieu. There would be a political vacuum in the Middle East after Camp David. And smaller players — like Syria and Iraq — would love, would aim at, would have the ambition, to fill that vacuum.

Similarly, the late Patrick Seale wrote in 2011 in "The future of the (de)stabilizing Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty": 

By removing Egypt — the strongest and most populous of the Arab countries — from the Arab line-up, the treaty ruled out any possibility of an Arab coalition that might have contained Israel or restrained its freedom of action. As Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan remarked at the time: "If a wheel is removed, the car will not run again."

Western commentators routinely describe the treaty as a "pillar of regional stability," a "keystone of Middle East diplomacy," a "centerpiece of America’s diplomacy" in the Arab and Muslim world. This is certainly how Israel and its American friends have seen it.

But for most Arabs, it has been a disaster. Far from providing stability, it exposed them to Israeli power. Far from bringing peace, the treaty ensured an absence of peace, since a dominant Israel saw no need to compose or compromise with Syria or the Palestinians.

Instead, the treaty opened the way for Israeli invasions, occupations and massacres in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, for strikes against Iraqi and Syrian nuclear sites, for brazen threats against Iran, for the 44-year occupation of the West Bank and the cruel blockade of Gaza, and for the pursuit of a "Greater Israel" agenda by fanatical Jewish settlers and religious nationalists.

In turn, Arab dictators, invoking the challenge they faced from an aggressive and expansionist Israel, were able to justify the need to maintain tight control over their populations by means of harsh security measures.

All these factors deflated Arab Nationalism and ultimately opened the way for Saudi dominance of much of the region. This helped lead to the collapse of the three other major secular states in the region: Iraq, Syria and Libya. Egypt itself has been relegated to the role of puppet police state and may descend further given the current dynamics. 


Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org. Thanks to Berkley Bragg for research help.

Postol: The New York Times Video Analysis of the Events in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017: NONE of the Cited Forensic Evidence Supports the Claims

[I just received this from Theodore A. Postol (professor emeritus of science, technology, and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) regarding claims put forward by the New York Times and others about Syria. Note full report is PDF at bottom.] 

May 30, 2017 

The New York Times Video Analysis of
the Events in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017:
NONE of the Cited Forensic Evidence Supports the Claims

Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Summary

On April 26, 2017 the New York Times released a video titled How Syria and Russia Spun a Chemical Strike.  This video provides extensive forensic evidence that the New York Times used to develop its conclusions about an alleged nerve agent attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017.  In this report, I show that NONE of the forensic evidence in the New York Times video and a follow-on Times news article supports the conclusions reported by the New York Times.

The forensic evidence and analytical claims in all of these reports can be traced back to a single source, an organization called Bellingcat.  This organization represents itself as “specializing in analyzing information posted online.”  As will be shown in what follows, not a single claim made by Bellingcat is supported by the forensic evidence it used to reach its conclusions.

The particular evidence of concern in this report are claims made by Bellingcat about three sites that were attacked by air on April 4, 2017 in Khan Sheikhoun with general-purpose bombs.  Bellingcat’s claims about forensic evidence of an alleged sarin release in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017 are addressed in my previous report, The Human Rights Watch Report of May 1,2017 Cites Evidence that Disaffirms Its Own Conclusions About the Alleged Nerve Agent Attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Syria on April 4,2017, issued on May 8, 2017.  This earlier report shows that Bellingcat’s claims of forensic proof for the sarin release site is based on evidence that does not exist.

This report shows that NONE of the bomb-damage areas identified by Bellingcat and shown in the New York Times video show any indication of bomb damage from 500 to 1000 pound bombs.  That is, the data from a composite panoramic view that is the foundation of the Bellingcat and New York Times analyses is clearly and unambiguously inconsistent with the claims of bomb damage from before and after satellite photographs used in the same analyses.  In fact NONE of the forensic data claimed by Bellingcat and the New York Times as evidence of general-purpose bomb damage on April 4 supports the conclusions that are said to have been derived from the forensic data.  In all, when these false claims about information provided in the forensic data are brought together with the claims about a sarin release site, the conclusion is inescapable that all of the evidence referred to by Bellingcat in the New York Times contains no forensic proof to support their narrative.

Thus, the narratives put forward by the New York Times, and the closely related Human Rights Watch report of May 1, are all based on forensic evidence and conclusions that are unambiguously false.

The specific problems with the forensic analysis produced by Bellingcat are as follows:

In Search of an Empire without an Emperor: Dynamics Behind the Comey Firing

In a very short amount of time, it's become something of cliche to talk of Trump's firing of Comey as the equivalent of Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre, in which Nixon fired anyone at the Department of Justice unwilling to fire the Watergate independent prosecutor.

If that does turn out to be an apt analogy, it's hardly surprising that this is happening in many respects.

The crimes of Watergate came out of the Vietnam War, though this is poorly understood. The Watergate “plumbers“ were originally set up to plug the leaks about the Vietnam War.

And so, with the rise of the imperial presidency, it was hardly surprising that someone like Nixon would use the mechanisms of Empire -- the capacity for secrecy, for surveillance and for violence -- for his own political purposes. Indeed, Hoover, atop the FBI, had been doing so for decades.

The late Watergate historian Stanley Kutler writes in his book Abuse of Power that Nixon railed to his aides about papers regarding the Vietnam War that he thought were at the then liberal Brookings Institution.

“I want it implemented…. God damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get it.” 

The documents Nixon apparently wanted to get hold of allegedly showed that Johnson curtailed the bombing of Vietnam in 1968 to boost the Democrats’ election prospects of winning the election that year. 

A great irony now is that the establishment Democrats are going after Trump in a number of personal ways, but collude in others, and indeed stiffen up his use of violence. When Trump uses military violence in Yemen or Syria, he is lauded by presumed liberals like Van Jones and Fareed Zakaria as presidential. 

Johnson was thought to curtail bombing for political gain. Trump now gains politically when he engages in bombing. 

The U.S. establishment seems to want an Emperor who will go around the world spying on people and killing them as he sees fit, but want to make sure he abides by legal niceties in the U.S. 

The obsessiveness over secrecy and the intense “principless“ partisanship give us a situation where the political factions spew allegations to the public that are at best difficult to discern, even if you follow politics full time, much less if you're trying to hold down a regular honest job. 

This leads to a political culture based on loving or hating various political figures, or just checking out of politics, which much of the political establishment may want for large sectors of the public. 

The secrecy and the surveillance are sold to the public as necessary for their own protection, but the opposite is true. The little known Katharine Gun case highlights how the actual target of surveillance is frequently not "terrorism", but the threat of peace. 

So, the Trump administration's ridiculous claims about the reasons for the Comey firing are fairly similar to the lying pretexts that U.S. officialdom used to justify the Iraq invasion. Empire is compatible with democracy only with a series of dehumanizing triple standards. It's fine there, just don't do it here. 

After all, the main victims of the Iraq invasion were the Iraqi people, and they are off screen and the officials who inflicted horrors on them have all walked away nice and clear. 

The mechanisms of Empire are tolerated, until someone like Trump seems to be using them for his own personal ends. 

In terms of Trump's own crimes, he is quite impeachable on the domestic emoluments clause, but the establishment Democrats seem quite uninterested in pursuing that.

They have focused on his apparent ties to Russia. There may well be something there, Trump is a corrupt figure and it's well within his capacities to engage in massive, if at times possibly buffoonish, coverup. But it is incredibly dangerous that the establishment Democrats seem intent on risking escalations with the other major nuclear power on the planet so they can beat Trump over the head.


Sam Husseini is communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and founder of VotePact.org, which encourages principled progressives to work with conscientious conservatives. 


Comey Firing: Springtime in Berlin

Hard time sleeping in Berlin...

With Comey firing, my mind is going to how nefarious foreign policy instruments eventually get turned against political opponents. But the political culture cares not for the fp dimension bc the victims are non people.

Nixons "plumbers" originally stopped leaks re Vietnam War. ... Katharine Gun exposed how the target of surveillance is not "terrorism", but threat of peace in Iraq. ...

Greenwald wrote: "In fact, the idea of collecting everything was something pioneered by Gen. Alexander when he was deployed in Baghdad during the Iraq war. What we really have now is a communications strategy that was developed for an enemy population in a time of war that has now been imported onto American soil and aimed at our own population. I think that’s an expression of just how radical it is.”

God knows the result of the massive surveillance in Iraq. Hard to know, but I suspect any political actor not going along with US was targeted in one way or another.

Comey firing ridiculous pretexts remind me of fairly typical ridiculous US fp pretexts -- but they are generally accepted in that arena. Empire is compatible with democracy only with a series of dehumanizing triple standards.

Beyond Being Drones

Frederick Clarkson notes in an Institute for Public Accuracy (where I work) news release today that the Trump administration, following a long standing agenda, is using "religious liberty" to pursuing anti-women and anti LGTB policies, on this, National Prayer Day. 

A microcosm of how the U.S. government is aggressor and paints itself as victim, the religious right at times attempts to play the role of the oppressed while oppressing others. 

But what gets me is that we don't talk about other people being prosecuted by the state for religiously inspired actions. When religious folks fought against slavery, their religious motivation was properly cited by them and others (I think). 

But now, we have for example, people protesting against U.S. government drone assassinations in upstate New York outside Hancock Air Force base where drones are being operated to kill people in the other countries. My colleague Norman Solomon just wrote an important piece about what's happening there: "Finding New Homes for Lethal Drones." 

Some -- though certainly not all -- of the protesters against drone killing emanating from upstate New York are people associated with the Catholic Worker or other religious movements. And they are frequently using religious imagery. Norman notes that one protest outside the military base had a nativity tableau. The signs featured around Christmas time were "Peace on Earth" and "If Herod Had Drones, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph Would Have Been Incinerated" outside the military base. 

Around Easter time, just last month, protesters depicted three people being crucified upon drones. Read their "Good Friday" statement: "As Jesus and others were crucified by the Roman Empire, drones are used by the U. S. Empire in a similar fashion. In Roman times, crosses loomed over a community to warn people that they could be killed whenever the Empire decided. So too, our drones fly over many countries threatening extrajudicial killings of whoever happens to be in the vicinity."

Years ago, I wrote a piece for the media watch group FAIR about how the major media ignore the religious left. But part of the reason for that is that frequently the left -- including at times even the religious left -- ignores the religious left. 

And part of the reason for that might be that because the religious right has so dominated discourse around religion that people don't want to be associated with being a "bible thumper" who forces their beliefs on others. Jesus did instruct his followers to pray in private -- but then, seemingly contradictorily, admonished them not to hide their light. 

Of course, lots of people are "against" drone killing in that they might say something about it, blog about it, tweet about it. What's interesting about what's going on in upstate New York is that they are confronting it, frequently facing jail time. (They are hardly alone in this -- as I write, activist Desiree Fairooz of CodePink is facing jail time for laughing at Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearings.) 

We're all weak in many ways, but I've found that frequently, people who are religiously motivated are -- sometimes for good and sometimes for ill -- more prone to putting themselves on the line. It's possible that religious conviction and community embolden people to act out their convictions. 

And the folks in upstate New York don't seem to be doing what they're doing because they hate Trump; they didn't start doing it a few years ago because they hated Obama. They don't hate the people at the military base. They are doing it because they love the people -- who they don't know -- who are being killed by their government using drone technology. And perhaps they love the people at the military base enough that they don't want them destroying their souls by killing their fellow human beings on the other side of our planet. 

The challenge before us is to develop ways of relating with each other, working with each other, to achieve a more peaceful and more just world. To do that, we need to develop the structures that are both steeped in meaning, drawing from the best of traditions, while they are universal, free from chauvinism. 

Such structures need to be resilient enough to withstand the onslaught of oppressive corporate and state forces -- and gentle enough so that people want to be part of them. Such structures, should they succeed in bringing about a better world, may well be the same structures that provide what we actually need as humans in that future world. It's possible that attempts like those happening in upstate New York are some of those structures in embryonic form. 

The Twistedness of "No Trump Accomplishments" in First 100 Days

A CNN headline blares a few days before the end of his "First 100 Days": "Trump's race against the clock to do something."

Similarly, "Democracy Now" headlines a segment: "'It Has Not Gone Well': 100 Days of President Trump and No Major Achievements."

It certainly hasn't gone well, but Trump has in fact accomplished a great deal. Neil Gorsuch was put on the Supreme Court using the rhetoric of "pro-life" and has already facilitated death. His ascension basically consolidates rightwing control over all three branches of government. 

Trump has assembled a incredible cabinet of corporate bosses and Wall Street and pro-war apparatchiks. 

He has adroitly broken the letter and spirit of virtually any positive promises he made to curtail U.S. interventionism and warmaking around the world; to take on Wall Street; to up taxes on the wealthy, etc. He appears to be escalating Obama's war on whistleblowers to a war on publishers

What are euphemistically called "flip flops" are actually betrayals of the interests of most of the people who actually voted for Trump. 

This is a phenomenal accomplishment. 

Like Obama before him, he has ensured the continued solidification of an oppressive pro war and pro Wall Street establishment that runs at odds to the aspirations and interests of much of U.S. public, to say nothing of the global public. 

By putting forward the "crit" that Trump has "no major achievements," do alleged opponents of Trump pretend that they are helping prevent further damage by him?

Trump could be carrying out horrific policies and many would ignore that if he just makes a dumb comment. Oh, wait, that's what's happening. He can bomb human beings in any nation and it gets minimal coverage because -- stop the presses -- the White House misidentified Steven Mnuchin as "commerce secretary" when he's actually treasury secretary. 

They should identify Mnuchin as a Goldman Sach insider, foreclosure king, or someone whose net financial worth -- estimated at $46 million -- is only a fraction of that of Wilbur Ross, the actual commerce secretary, who has $2.5 billion. 

This non-crit of Trump will actually empower him to do more damage. 

The problem here is quite similar to how George H. W. Bush was depicted early in his administration by liberals: "A wimp." The typically sensible media watch group FAIR even ran a piece way back then scrutinizing the Bush administration's attempts to characterize him as a "rough rider."  

This depiction of Bush as "wimp" actually helped enable his use of military violence, with the invasion of Panama and then the first attack on Iraq in the early 90s. 

It's clear that when Van Jones calls Trump "presidential" when he uses military violence, that that increasing the likelihood of more violence. But a similar effect is achieved in other ways. 

And as Trump racks up "accomplishments" -- as he and his cabal of corporate bosses cut deals with Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell -- the liberal "crit" of Trump "not accomplishing anything" will deserve an assist on every one of those "accomplishments." 

Mission accomplished? 

How Trump and Obama are Exactly Alike

Not until faithfulness turns to betrayal
And betrayal into trust
Can any human being become part of the truth.
-- Rumi

Trump won the 2016 nomination and election largely because he was able to pose as a populist and anti-interventionist "America Firster". 

Similarly, Obama won the 2008 election in good part because he promised "hope and change" and because he had given a speech years earlier against the then-impending invasion of Iraq.

Short of disclosure of diaries or other documents from these politicians, we can't know for certain if they planned on reversing much of what they promised or if the political establishment compelled them to change, but they both eventually perpetrated a massive fraud.

What is perhaps most striking is actually how quickly each of them backtracked on their alleged purpose. Particular since they were both proclaimed as representing "movements".

Even before he took office, Obama stacked his administration with pro-war people. He incredibly kept Bush's head of the Pentagon, Robert Gates; nominated Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, who he beat largely because she voted for giving Bush authorization to invade Iraq. Other prominent Iraq War backers atop the administration included VP Joe Biden, Susan Rice and Richard Holbrooke. Before he was sworn in, Obama backed the 2008 Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. See from 2008: "Anti-War Candidate, Pro-War Cabinet?