Thursday, July 27, 2017

Google's Real News Censorship

New Google algorithm restricts access to left-wing, progressive web sites

by Andre Damon and Niles Niemuth - WSWS

27 July 2017

 In the three months since Internet monopoly Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly.

On April 25, 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.”

The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared that it had “improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates” in order “to surface more authoritative content.”

Google continued,

“Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.” These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.”

Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings.

Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7 billion for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable.

The World Socialist Web Site has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in April 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70 percent.

Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate the World Socialist Web Site in Google searches.

Referrals from Google searches to the WSWS have fallen by about 70 percent

According to Google’s webmaster tools service, the number of searches resulting in users seeing content from the World Socialist Web Site (that is, a WSWS article appeared in a Google search) fell from 467,890 a day to 138,275 over the past three months. The average position of articles in searches, meanwhile, fell from 15.9 to 37.2 over the same period.

David North, chairperson of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, stated that Google is engaged in political censorship.

“The World Socialist Web Site has been in existence for nearly 20 years,” he said, “and it has developed a large international audience. During this past spring, the number of individual visits to the WSWS each month exceeded 900,000.

“While a significant percentage of our readers enter the WSWS directly, many web users access the site through search engines, of which Google is the most widely used. There is no innocent explanation for the extraordinarily sharp fall in readers, virtually overnight, coming from Google searches.
“Google’s claim that it is protecting readers from ‘fake news’ is a politically motivated lie. Google, a massive monopoly, with the closest ties to the state and intelligence agencies, is blocking access to the WSWS and other left and progressive web sites through a system of rigged searches.”

In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.

A broad range of left-wing, progressive, and anti-war sites have
had their traffic rankings fall in recent months

According to Google Trends, the term “fake news” roughly quadrupled in popularity in early November, around the time of the US election, as Democrats, establishment media outlets and intelligence agencies sought to blame “false information” for the electoral victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.

On November 14, the New York Times proclaimed that Google and Facebook “faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome,” and they would be taking measures to combat “fake news.”

Ten days later, the Washington Post published an article, “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say,” which cited an anonymous group known as PropOrNot that compiled a list of “fake news” sites spreading “Russian propaganda.”

The list included several sites categorized by the group as “left-wing.” Significantly, it targeted, which often reposts articles from the World Socialist Web Site.

After widespread criticism of what was little more than a blacklist of anti-war and anti-establishment sites, the Washington Post was forced to publish a retraction, declaring,

“The Post, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.”

On April 7, Bloomberg News reported that Google was working directly with the Washington Post and the New York Times to “fact-check” articles and eliminate “fake news.” This was followed by Google’s new search methodology.

Three months later, out of the 17 sites declared to be “fake news” by the Washington Post ’s discredited blacklist, 14 had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25 percent, and some sites saw their global reach fall by as much as 60 percent.

“The actions of Google constitute political censorship and are a blatant attack on free speech,” North stated.

“At a time when public distrust of establishment media is widespread, this corporate giant is exploiting its monopolistic position to restrict public access to a broad spectrum of news and critical analysis.”

Collateral Raqqa: An American War on Syrian Civilians

Burning Raqqa: The U.S. War Against Civilians in Syria

by Laura Gottesdiener - TomDispatch

July 27, 2017

It was midday on Sunday, May 7th, when the U.S.-led coalition warplanes again began bombing the neighborhood of Wassim Abdo’s family.

They lived in Tabqa, a small city on the banks of the Euphrates River in northern Syria. Then occupied by the Islamic State (ISIS, also known as Daesh), Tabqa was also under siege by U.S.-backed troops and being hit by daily artillery fire from U.S. Marines, as well as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes. The city, the second largest in Raqqa Province, was home to an airfield and the coveted Tabqa Dam. It was also the last place in the region the U.S.-backed forces needed to take before launching their much-anticipated offensive against the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa.

His parents, Muhammed and Salam, had already fled their home once when the building adjacent to their house was bombed, Wassim Abdo told me in a recent interview. ISIS had been arresting civilians from their neighborhood for trying to flee the city. So on that Sunday, the couple was taking shelter on the second floor of a four-story flat along with other family members when a U.S.-led airstrike reportedly struck the front half of the building. Abdo’s sister-in-law Lama fled the structure with her two children and survived. But his parents and 12-year-old cousin were killed, along with dozens of their neighbors, as the concrete collapsed on them.

As an exiled human rights activist, Wassim Abdo only learned of his parents’ death three days later, after Lama called him from the Syrian border town of Kobane, where she and her two children had been transported for medical treatment. Her daughter had been wounded in the bombing and although the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led troops had by then seized control of Tabqa, it was impossible for her daughter to be treated in their hometown, because weeks of U.S.-led coalition bombing had destroyed all the hospitals in the city. 
Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The Wrath of the U.S. Along the Euphrates River

You would barely know it, living in this country, but the essence of modern warfare is what our military tends to call “collateral damage”: the killing or wounding of civilians, not combatants. The Global War on Terror -- more than 15 years later a no-name set of conflicts still spreading across the Greater Middle East, parts of Africa, and now the Philippines -- has been typical of this. Civilians have died in startling numbers, both directly and thanks to the hardships these conflicts have brought on. Vast populations have been uprooted from their homes -- at one point more than a million people from the Iraqi city of Mosul alone -- and often sent fleeing across borders. In other words, from Afghanistan to Libya, the war on terror has (not to mince words) been murder on civilian populations.

In mainstream news coverage, real attention is paid from time to time (and quite rightly) to the continuing brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the civilian deaths caused by their insurgency. And that’s even more the case with the civilian carnage caused by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. When it comes to the U.S. role in civilian deaths, however, it’s been another matter. Clearly, it’s a subject the Pentagon would prefer that we not think about and yet the human toll is all too real. As I wrote back in 2015, “In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published studies based on scientific surveys of ‘excess Iraqi deaths’ since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticized figure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped. More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000 in 2013 to one million or 5% of the Iraqi population [in 2015].” The latest range of figures offered by the independent website Iraq Body Count for “documented civilian deaths from violence” since the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country is 177,941-199,231 (a conservative figure, given that word “documented,” and yet far higher than the one for combatants). And keep in mind that that’s just Iraq.

From the beginning, TomDispatch has made an effort to focus its attention regularly on the “collateral damage” from our conflicts. It’s been our conviction that we Americans should feel some responsibility for such carnage in a war that so infamously began with the “collateral” deaths of almost 3,000 innocent American civilians and shows no signs of ending in our lifetime. This website may, for instance, be the only news source that bothered to keep track of the number of wedding parties obliterated by U.S. air power since 100 or more revelers were wiped out in a village in Eastern Afghanistan by B-52 and B-1B bombers as 2001 ended. The total: at least eight weddings in three countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen), including brides, grooms, and even musicians hired to play at the ceremony.

In the same spirit, TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener, who covered the destruction of a hospital in Afghanistan by U.S. air power for this site back in 2015, turns to the American war against ISIS in Syria and the civilian mayhem taking place on the road to the “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa. Tom

Burning Raqqa: The U.S. War Against Civilians in Syria

by Laura Gottesdiener

A War Against Civilians

Islamic State fighters have now essentially been defeated in Mosul after a nine-month, U.S.-backed campaign that destroyed significant parts of Iraq’s second largest city, killing up to 40,000 civilians and forcing as many as one million more people from their homes. Now, the United States is focusing its energies -- and warplanes -- on ISIS-occupied areas of eastern Syria in an offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates.”

The Islamic State’s brutal treatment of civilians in Syria has been well reported and publicized. And according to Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the U.S.-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the battle to "liberate" these regions from ISIS is the "most precise campaign in the history of warfare."

But reports and photographs from Syrian journalists and activists, as well as first-person accounts from those with family members living in areas under U.S. bombardment, detail a strikingly different tale of the American offensive -- one that looks a lot less like a battle against the Islamic State and a lot more like a war on civilians.

These human rights groups and local reporters say that, across Syria in recent months, the U.S.-led coalition and U.S. Marines have bombed or shelled at least 12 schools, including primary schools and a girls’ high school; a health clinic and an obstetrics hospital; Raqqa’s Science College; residential neighborhoods; bakeries; post offices; a car wash; at least 15 mosques; a cultural center; a gas station; cars carrying civilians to the hospital; a funeral; water tanks; at least 15 bridges; a makeshift refugee camp; the ancient Rafiqah Wall that dates back to the eighth century; and an Internet café in Raqqa, where a Syrian media activist was killed as he was trying to smuggle news out of the besieged city.

The United States is now one of the deadliest warring parties in Syria. In May and June combined, the U.S.-led coalition killed more civilians than the Assad regime, the Russians, or ISIS, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization that has been monitoring the death toll and human rights violations in Syria since 2011.

“This administration wants to achieve a quick victory,” Dr. Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairman of the Syrian Network for Human Rights recently told me, referring to the Trump White House. 
“What we are noticing is that the U.S. is targeting and killing without taking into consideration the benefits for the military and the collateral damage for the civilians. This, of course, amounts to war crimes.”

And nowhere is this war against civilians more acute than in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, where trapped families are living under dozens of airstrikes every day.

Hotel of the Revolution

Located at the confluence of the Euphrates and Balikh rivers in northern Syria, Raqqa was first settled more than 5,000 years ago. By the late eighth century, it had grown into an imperial city, filled with orchards, palaces, canals, reception halls, and a hippodrome for horse racing. Its industrial quarters were then known as “the burning Raqqa,” thanks to the flames and thick smoke produced by its glass and ceramic furnaces. The city even served briefly as the capital of the vast Abbasid Empire stretching from North Africa to Central Asia.

Toward the end of the thirteenth century, wars between the Mongol and Mamluk empires annihilated Raqqa and its surrounding countryside. Every single resident of the city was either killed or expelled. According to Hamburg University professor Stefan Heidemann, who has worked on a number of excavations in and around Raqqa, the scorched-earth warfare was so extreme that not a single tree was left standing in the region.

Only in the middle of the twentieth century when irrigation from the Euphrates River allowed Raqqa’s countryside to flourish amid a global cotton boom did the city fully reemerge. In the 1970s, the region’s population again began to swell after then-President Hafez al-Assad -- the father of the present Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad -- ordered the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam on the Euphrates about 30 miles upstream of Raqqa. Wassim Abdo’s father, Muhammed, was an employee at this dam. Like many of these workers and their families, he and Salam lived in Tabqa’s third neighborhood, which was filled with four-story apartment flats built in the 1970s not far from the dam and its power station.

Despite these agricultural and industrial developments, Raqqa remained a small provincial capital. Abdalaziz Alhamza, a cofounder of the watchdog group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which is made up of media activists from Raqqa living in the city as well as in exile, writes that the local news normally didn’t even mention the city in its weather forecasts.

In the mid-2000s, a drought began to wither the local cash crops: cotton, potatoes, rice, and tomatoes. As in other regions of Syria, farmers migrated from the countryside into the city, where overstretched and ill-functioning public services only exacerbated long-simmering dissatisfactions with the Assad regime.

As the 2011 rebellion broke out across Syria, Wassim Abdo and thousands of others in Raqqa, Tabqa, and nearby villages began agitating against the Syrian government, flooding the streets in protest and forming local coordinating councils. The regime slowly lost control of territory across the province. In March 2013, after only a few days of battle, anti-government rebels ousted government troops from the city and declared Raqqa the ​first ​liberated provincial capital​ in all of Syria. The city, then the sixth largest in Syria, became “the hotel of the revolution.”

Within less than a year, however, despite fierce protests and opposition from its residents, ISIS fighters had fully occupied the city and the surrounding countryside. They declared Raqqa the capital of the Islamic State.

Despite the occupation, Wassim’s parents never tried to flee Tabqa because they hoped to reunite with one of their sons, Azad, who had been kidnapped by ISIS fighters in September 2013. In retirement, Muhammed Abdo opened a small electronics store. Salam was a housewife. Like tens of thousands of other civilians, they were living under ISIS occupation in Tabqa when, in the spring of 2017, U.S. Apache helicopters and warplanes first began appearing in the skies above the city. U.S. Marines armed with howitzers were deployed to the region. In late March, American helicopters airlifted hundreds of U.S.-backed troops from the Kurdish-led militias known as the Syrian Democratic Forces​ to the banks of the dammed river near the city. Additional forces approached from the east, transported on American speedboats.

By the beginning of May, the Abdos' neighborhood was under almost daily bombardment by the U.S.-led coalition forces. On May 3rd, coalition warplanes reportedly launched up to 30 airstrikes across Tabqa’s first, second, and third neighborhoods, striking homes and a fruit market and reportedly killing at least six civilians. The following night, another round of coalition airstrikes battered the first and third neighborhoods, reportedly killing at least seven civilians, including women and children. Separate airstrikes that same night near the city’s center reportedly killed another six to 12 civilians.

On May 7th, multiple bombs reportedly dropped by the U.S.-led coalition struck the building where Muhammed and Salam had taken shelter, killing them and their 12-year-old grandson. Three days later, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced that they had fully seized control of Tabqa and the dam. The militia and its U.S. advisers quickly set their sights east to the upcoming offensive in Raqqa.

But for the Abdo family, the tragedy continued. Muhammed and Salam’s bodies were buried beneath the collapsed apartment building. It took 15 days before Wassim’s brother Rashid could secure the heavy machinery required to extract them.

“Nobody could approach the corpses because of the disfigurement that had occurred and the smell emanating from them as a result of being left under the rubble for such a long period of time in the hot weather,” Wassim told me in a recent interview.

That same day their bodies were finally recovered. On May 23rd, his parents and nephew were buried in the Tabqa cemetery.

“In Raqqa There Are Many Causes of Death”

A few days after the Abdos' funeral, the U.S.-led coalition began dropping leaflets over Raqqa instructing civilians to flee the city ahead of the upcoming offensive. According to photos of leaflets published by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, the warnings read, in part, “This is your last chance... Failing to leave might lead to death.”

ISIS fighters, in turn, prohibited civilians from escaping the city and planted landmines in Raqqa's outskirts. Nevertheless, on June 5th, dozens of civilians heeded the coalition’s warnings and gathered at a boat stand on the northern banks of the Euphrates, where they waited to be ferried out of the city. Before the war, families had picnicked along this riverbank. Teenagers jumped into the water from Raqqa’s Old Bridge, built in 1942 by British troops. A handful of river front cafés opened for the season.

“The river is the main monument of the city, and for many people there’s a romantic meaning to it,” Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, currently co-writing Brothers of the Gun, a book about life in ISIS-occupied Raqqa, told me.

But on June 5th, as the families were waiting to cross the river to escape the impending U.S.-backed offensive, coalition warplanes launched a barrage of airstrikes targeting the boats, reportedly massacring as many as 21 civilians. The coalition acknowledges launching 35 airstrikes that destroyed 68 boats between June 4th and June 6th, according to the journalistic outlet Airwars. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend later boasted about the tactic, telling the New York Times: “We shoot every boat we find.”

The day after the attack on fleeing civilians at the boat stand, the long-awaited U.S.-backed ground offensive officially began.

After three years of ISIS rule, Raqqa had become one of the most isolated cities in the world. The militants banned residents from having home internet, satellite dishes, or Wi-Fi hotspots. They arrested and killed local reporters and banned outside journalists. On the day U.S.-backed troops launched their ground offensive against the city, ISIS further sought to restrict reporting on conditions there by ordering the imminent shutdown of all Internet cafés.

Despite these restrictions, dozens of Syrian journalists and activists have risked and still risk their lives to smuggle information out of besieged Raqqa -- and their efforts are the only reason most Western reporters (including myself) have any information about the war our countries are currently waging there.

Every day, these media activists funnel news out of the city to exiled Syrians running media outlets and human rights organizations. The most famous among these groups has become Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, which won the 2015 International Press Freedom Award for its reporting on the ISIS occupation and now publishes hourly updates on the U.S.-backed offensive. All this news is then compiled and cross-checked by international monitoring groups like Airwars, whose researchers have now found themselves tracking as many as a half-dozen coalition attacks resulting in civilian casualties every day.

It’s because of this work that we know the Raqqa offensive officially began on June 6th with a barrage of airstrikes and artillery shelling that reportedly hit a school, a train station, the immigration and passport building, a mosque, and multiple residential neighborhoods, killing between six and 13 civilians. Two days later, bombs, artillery shells, and white phosphorus were reportedly unleashed across Raqqa, hitting -- among other places -- the Al-Hason Net Internet café, killing a media activist and at least a dozen others. (That journalist was one of at least 26 media activists to be killed in Syria this year alone.) Other bombs reportedly hit at least eight shops and a mosque. Photos also showed white phosphorus exploding over two residential neighborhoods.

White phosphorus is capable of burning human flesh to the bone. When exposed to oxygen, the chemical ignites reaching a temperature of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s so flammable that its burns can reignite days later if the bandages are removed too soon.

U.S. military officials have not denied using white phosphorus in the city. The Pentagon has, in fact, published photos of U.S. Marines deployed to the Raqqa region transporting U.S.-manufactured white phosphorus munitions. Its spokesmen claim that the U.S. military only uses this incendiary agent to mark targets for air strikes or to create smoke screens and therefore remains in accordance with international law. But in the days after the reported attack, Amnesty International warned: “The US-led coalition’s use of white phosphorus munitions on the outskirts of al-Raqqa, Syria, is unlawful and may amount to a war crime.” (Amnesty similarly accused the U.S. of potentially committing war crimes during its campaign against ISIS in Mosul.)

Following the reported white phosphorus attacks on June 8th and 9th, Raqqa’s main commercial and social avenue -- February 23rd Street -- reportedly came under three straight days of bombing. Syrian journalist Marwan Hisham, who grew up in that city, recalls how that street had once been lined with cafés, entertainment venues, and shops. Its western edge runs into Rashid Park, one of the city’s main public spaces. Its eastern edge stretches to the ancient Abbasid Wall.

Between June 9th and June 11th, as many as 10 civilians were killed in repeated bombings of February 23rd Street and its major intersections, according to reports compiled by Airwars. (These sorts of air strikes, ostensibly aimed at limiting the mobility of ISIS fighters, were also employed in Mosul, parts of which are now in ruins.) On those same days, four adults and four children were reportedly killed in airstrikes on Raqqa’s industrial district, another 21 civilians were killed in the west of the city, and at least 11 more civilians, again including children, when airstrikes reportedly destroyed homes on al-Nour street, which is just around the corner from the al-Rayan Bakery, bombed less than two weeks later.

On that day, June 21st, a Raqqa resident named Abu Ahmad was returning from getting water at a nearby well when, he later told Reuters, he began hearing people screaming as houses crumbled. He said that as many as 30 people had died when the apartment flats around the bakery were leveled. “We couldn't even do anything,” he added. “The rocket launchers, the warplanes. We left them to die under the rubble.” Only a few days earlier, coalition warplanes had destroyed another source of bread, the al-Nadeer bakery on al-Mansour Street, one of Raqqa’s oldest thoroughfares.

In July, the U.S.-led coalition bombed the ancient Abbasid Wall, and U.S.-backed troops breached Raqqa’s Old City. U.S. advisers began to operate inside Raqqa, calling in more airstrikes from there.

More and more names, photographs, and stories of the coalition’s victims were smuggled out by local journalists. According to these reports, on July 2nd, Jamila Ali al-Abdullah, her three children, and up to 10 of her neighbors were killed in her neighborhood. On July 3rd, at least three families were killed, including Yasser al-Abdullah and his four children, A’ssaf, Zain, Jude, and Rimas. On July 5th, an elderly man named Yasin died in an airstrike on al-Mansour Street. On July 6th, Anwar Hassan al-Hariri was killed along with her son Mohammed, her daughter Shatha, and her toddler Jana. Five members of the al-Sayyed family perished on July 7th. Sisters Hazar and Elhan Abdul Aader Shashan died in their home on July 12th, while seven members of the Ba’anat family were killed on July 13th, as was Marwan al-Salama and at least ten of his family members on July 17th.

Hundreds more were reportedly wounded, including Isma’il Ali al-Thlaji, a child who lost his eyesight and his right hand. And these are, of course, only some of the reported names of those killed by the U.S.-led coalition.

“In Raqqa, there are many causes of death,” the journalists at Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently wrote. These include “indiscriminate airstrikes by international coalition warplanes, daily artillery shelling by Syrian Democratic Forces, and ISIS mines scattered throughout the surrounding landscape.”

For those who survive, conditions inside the city only continue to worsen. Coalition bombing reportedly destroyed the two main pipes carrying water into the city in the 100-degree July heat, forcing people to venture to the banks of the Euphrates, where at least 27 have been reportedly killed by U.S.-led bombing while filling up jugs of water.

A Coalition in Name Only

The United States has launched nearly 95% of all coalition airstrikes in Syria in recent months, meaning the campaign is, in fact, almost exclusively an American affair. “The French and British are launching about half a dozen strikes a week now,” Chris Woods, director of Airwars, explained to me. “The Belgians maybe one or two a week.” In comparison, in Raqqa province last month the U.S. launched about twenty air or artillery strikes every single day.

In June alone, the U.S.-led coalition and U.S. Marines fired or dropped approximately 4,400 munitions on Raqqa and its surrounding villages. According to Mark Hiznay, the associate director of Human Rights Watch’s arms division, these munitions included 250-pound precision-guided small diameter bombs, as well as MK-80 bombs, which weigh between 500 and 2,000 pounds and are equipped with precision-guided kits. The bombs are dropped by B-52 bombers and other warplanes, most taking off from the al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, or the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier stationed off Syria’s coast in the eastern Mediterranean.

Hundreds of U.S. Marines, most likely from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, are also positioned outside Raqqa and are firing high explosive artillery rounds into the city from M777 Howitzers. In late June, the Marines’ official Twitter feed boasted that they were conducting artillery fire in support of U.S.-backed troops 24 hours a day.

The result of this type of warfare, says Airwars’ Chris Woods, is a staggering increase in civilian casualties. According to an analysis by the group, since President Trump took office six months ago, the U.S.-led campaign has reportedly killed nearly as many civilians in Syria and Iraq as were killed in the previous two and a half years of the Obama administration.

And for surviving civilians, the conditions of war don’t end once the bombing stops, as life today in the city of Tabqa indicates.

As of mid-July, according to Wassim Abdo, Tabqa still has neither running water nor electricity, even though displaced families have begun returning to their homes. There’s a shortage of bread, and still no functioning schools or hospitals. The Tabqa Dam, which once generated up to 20% of Syria’s electricity, remains inoperable. (U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reportedly damaged the structure repeatedly in February and March, when they burned the main control room, causing the United Nations to warn of a threat of catastrophic flooding downstream.) The U.S.-backed troops in Tabqa have, according to Abdo, banned the Internet and U.S. officials admit that children in the area are being infected by diseases carried by flies feeding off corpses still buried in the rubble.

Meanwhile, less than 30 miles to the east, the battle for control of Raqqa continues with tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside the besieged city. Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend has indicated that the U.S.-led coalition may soon increase the rate of airstrikes there yet again.

From Wassim Abdo’s perspective, that coalition campaign in Syria has so far killed his parents and nephew and ruined his hometown. None of this, understandably, looks anything like a war against ISIS.

“My opinion of the international coalition,” he told me recently, “is that it’s a performance by the international community to target civilians and infrastructure and to destroy the country.” 
And this type of warfare, he added, “is not part of eliminating Daesh.”

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and a news producer with Democracy Now! Her writing has appeared in Mother Jones, Al Jazeera, The Nation, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and frequently at TomDispatch. Special thanks on this piece go to Alhasan Ghazzawi.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer's dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt's Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Laura Gottesdiener

Clinton's Militant Moderates Still Hold Sway in the DNC

The Democrats Are A Lost Cause

by Ted Rall - CounterPunch

July 26, 2017

There they go again.

Hillary was a two time loser. Weirdly, her people are still in charge of the Democratic Party. Clintonista militant moderates haven’t learned a thing from Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump — so they’re trying to sell Democratic voters on more of the same.

Remember what happened when Hillary ran on “never mind your crappy low wage job, vote for me because ‘first woman president'”? Now we’re supposed to get excited about center-right California Senator Kamala Harris because she ticks off two boxes on the identity politics hit parade.

Remember the ugly optics when Bill and Hillary took their excellent fundraising adventure to the Hamptons?

Kamala 2020 is already doing the same thing.

Remember how it well worked out when Hillary snubbed Bernie and insulted his progressive supporters, then ran a tack-to-the-right general-election campaign that targeted Republicans who were never going to vote for her? Here comes Kamala with rhetoric that makes her sound like a Rand Paul Republican: “I agree we must be talking about wasteful spending in our country…we must be talking about tax reform.” Also lots o’ tasty “tough on crime” (since she’s black it can’t possible be the racist dog whistle it sounds like).

The DNC is still partying like it’s 1999: Third Way/DLC/center-right triangulation is king. Dick Morris, call Kamala.

Memo to the Dumocrats: Trump’s polls are in the toilet. Still, Trump (or, if Trump gets impeached, Pence) might beat the Dems again in 2020. “Double haters” — voters who hated Trump and Clinton — were a deciding factor in 2016, accounting for “3% to 5% of the 15 million voters across 17 battleground states,” according to political author Joshua Green. They broke for Trump.

They — and Bernie voters snubbed by Hillary who sat home on election day — cost Hillary the 2016 election.

To be fair, some establishment Democrats know how to count. “American families deserve a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests. Today, Democrats will start presenting that better deal to the American people,” Chuck Schumer wrote in The New York Times yesterday.

Sounds great. So what exactly is in Chuck’s stillborn (Republican president, Republican House, Republican Senate) Better Deal?

“Rules to stop prescription drug price gouging… allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers… giving employers, particularly small businesses, a large tax credit to train workers for unfilled jobs.”

These are good ideas.

But they’re so small.

If enacted, the Dems’ Better Deal wouldn’t do a thing about the problems that afflict most voters.

The #1 problem is the economy. There aren’t enough jobs. The jobs there are don’t pay enough. Bosses have too much power over workers.

A massive new WPA-like program, in which the federal government hires millions of Americans to rebuild our crumbled infrastructure, would create jobs. A $25/hour minimum wage — that’s about what it would be if raises had kept up with inflation — would guarantee that a full-time job yields full-time pay. Abolishing America’s inhuman, archaic “at-will” employment, which gives employers the right to fire you without a good reason, would restore balance to labor-management relations. The U.S. is the only nation with at-will.

The #2 problem is healthcare. Attempts by Republicans to repeal Obamacare have made the ACA more popular than ever. Most Democrats want single-payer, where the government pays for healthcare — why doesn’t the Democratic Party?

The answer, of course, is that the party leadership is owned by Wall Street, the Fortune 500 and big-monied special interests in general. Figures like Harris and Schumer and Clinton will never give the people what we want and need because their masters will never allow it. The question for us is, when do we stop giving them our votes — and start organizing outside the dead-end of the electoral duopoly?

Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for, is the author of the book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower.
More articles by:Ted Rall

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A World On Fire: High Heat as New Normal

Is Extreme Heat the New Normal?


July 26, 2017

The Real News team spoke with first responders and science and medial experts in Arizona, where high temperatures have grounded planes and significantly increased health emergencies

Philippines: Media Distortions of Duterte's ISIS Battle

Philippines: Western Media is Distorting Reality - People and Army Unite to Battle ISIS

by Andre Vltchek - 21st Century Wire

July 25, 2017

At the beginning of July, I visited Mindanao as one of only a few foreigners allowed inside the besieged city of Marawi and to its surrounding area. I spoke to local people, to the IDPs [internally displaced persons] – those who managed to escape the city taken over by the jihadists.

Andre Vltchek with military leaders
in Marawi, Philippines

I also managed to discuss the situation with the highest commanders of the military in charge of the combat, including General Ramiro Rey and Lt. Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera.

I encountered many soldiers, civil servants, and relief workers. My contacts in the capital informed me via text messages that I had been “red-flagged,” clearly, by the pro-US faction in the Philippine military. So before my presence was finally cleared from Manila, I was detained and held in a provisional military base in the city of Saguiaran. Here I was “softly” interrogated by military intelligence. A few steps away, a howitzer was firing artillery toward ISIS positions in Marawi, some 10 kilometers distant.

“So you believe the United States is responsible for spreading terrorism all over the world,” I was asked late at night by one of the officers, point blank, while local starlet was imitating old Chuck Berry’s hit “Johnny B. Goode” on TV, sound blasted all over the barracks. It was clear that someone ‘behind the scenes’ was busy studying my published work.

The Western establishment media and various servile NGOs (including those which are “defending human rights” in several rebellious and independent-minded countries) consistently demonize President Duterte, an anti-imperialist, progressive leader who enjoys well over 80 percent approval rating. It is no secret in the Philippines there are two distinct factions inside the military – one supports the president and his drive for independence from the West. The other, which is trained and often corrupted by Washington and other Western capitals, would love to see him go.

The pro-Western faction obviously wanted me out, detained, perhaps even disappeared. The other one that stands by its president wanted me to see the truth, even to be allowed into Marawi.

A final decision was made late at night in Manila. I was released and granted permission to work in the besieged city. But even when the top commanders personally called the camp, there was, at least for a while, apparent reluctance to let me go.

My first reaction after visiting the Marawi front was one of shock and outrage. What I witnessed was fundamentally different from what has repeatedly been said by most of the Western mass media outlets, as well as pro-Western local news channels broadcasting from Manila.

It is evident, right from the start, that Marawi is not “totally destroyed,” as has been reported. Most of it is standing and standing firm. I would estimate that only between 20 and 30 percent of the houses and buildings, (most of them in the wealthy core center of the city) have sustained heavy damage.

It was explained to me during the presentation by top army commanders that the ISIS-related jihadists began their offensive on May 23rd 2017 and their plan was to take full control of the town by the time Ramadan was to begin (May 26th). The military spoiled their plans; it counter-attacked and managed to contain the terrorists in just one neighborhood, retaining or regaining control of all the other ‘barangays.’

Undoubtedly there were heavy losses, and, because of the palpable sense of fear after tremendous brutality unleashed by the terrorists, a substantial movement of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons). But it was never 400,000 people escaping the area, as reported in the West, but approximately 200,000 (the number once peaked at about 300,000 for a short time).

There has been no “indiscriminate bombing” of the civilians. I witnessed both incoming and outgoing howitzer fire and also very limited bombing from the air; it was all targeted and mostly precise, aiming at the position of the terrorists. As in all other war zones where I have been working, I refused any protection, including helmets and bulletproof vests. That allowed me to remain more mobile. I did manage to come ‘very close’ to the front. It was clear the fighting and bombing were strictly contained to one area, no more than one-kilometer square. Even there, the mosques and almost all other buildings and houses were still standing, as is demonstrated on my photographs.

Anti-Duterte NGOs and many Western governments claim that they ‘worry’ about the martial law imposed on Mindanao Island. I was told that in and around Marawi (or anywhere else on the Island), the martial law carried no brutal consequences. Even the curfew (9PM-5AM) is laxly implemented.

General Rey, head of Joint-Task-Force, Ranao (photo Andre Vltchek)

Brigadier General Ramiro Rey (head of the Joint Task Force Group, Ranao) explained to me in Marawi City:

“The difference between this martial law and those that were imposed during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos is that now the military is mainly doing real fighting while providing assistance to the civilians. I absolutely don’t interfere with the work of local elected government officials. I’m actually encouraging them to do their job as before, asking them to contact me only when my assistance is needed. I never took, and I don’t intend to take, control of the area.”

Local government officials and volunteers working for various relief agencies and NGO’s operating in the area have confirmed what General Rey said.

During my work in the conflict zone, I detected no fear among the residents. The relationship between the army and civilians was clearly friendly and cordial. As the military convoys were moving between the cities of Illigan and Marawi, both children and adults were smiling, waving, some cheering the soldiers.

In the camps housing the IDPs, there was almost unanimous consensus: while many citizens of Mindanao Island in general and the Marawi area in particular would most likely welcome more autonomy from Manila, during this ongoing and brutal conflict almost all local people have been supportive of the military and government efforts.

“We hope that both Filipino and foreign jihadi cadres would soon be crushed,” was an almost unanimous statement coming from the local people.

The Military Perspective

In the cities of Illigan and Marawi I was shown detailed maps clearly indicating positions of the ISIS and the military.

Both Lt. Colonel Jun Abad from Ranao Camp and the commanding officer, General Rey, gave me a clear and detailed briefing. As of July 3rd, the Agus River represented the ‘borderline’ between the ISIS-held area and the zone liberated and controlled by the army.

General Rey explained during our meeting in the Municipality of Marawi City (now the complex is also serving as the headquarters of the war theatre):

“The ISIS wants to establish their state on the island of Mindanao – an Islamic caliphate – right here in the Province of Lanao del Sur.”

But that’s not what the majority of local people want. Before President Duterte came to power little over one year ago, social situation in many parts of Mindanao was desperate and therefore there was at least some support for radical ‘solutions’. Since then, however, things changed dramatically. Healthcare, education and public housing are improving. Indiscriminate mining by multi-national companies has been deterred. People here; as well as in almost all other parts of the Philippines finally feel hopeful and optimistic about their future.

This converts into great support for both the government and the military.

Marawi ground-zero (photo Andre Vltchek)

There is no doubt the entire city will be freed, soon, most likely in July or August. The only reason why it did not happen yet is that the terrorists are using hostages, both Christians and Muslims, as human shields. President Duterte, General Rey, and other civilian and military officials are trying to avoid unnecessary human losses.

Cultural topography’ of the area is also very complex. Near the front line I was told by one of the top commanding army officers:

“We could take the city in just one day, but there would be great civilian casualties. The houses in this area are very sturdy; they are 2-3 stories high and fortified, as there are constant and brutal family feuds, called’ rido’, raging here, and have been for centuries.”

But to delay the liberation of Marawi is also very dangerous.

“The terrorists began using captured women as sex slaves,” explained Major Malvin Ligutan, standing in front of a temporary military base in Saguiaran.

Despite all the horrors of the Marawi war, the army refused to use brutal tactics, even after it found out that various local citizens clearly miscalculated and before the conflict began, offered substantial support to the ISIS-related terrorists.

Captain John Mark Silva Onipig clarified:

“These people belonging to the ISIS are not only terrorists, but they are also criminals. They were dealing in drugs… And some local people knew that… Actually, locals knew quite a lot; they knew about the presence of the terrorists in the area long before all this started, but they never reported it to the authorities.”

“How did the terrorists get hold of so many weapons?” I wanted to know.

“In the Philippines, those who have money can buy as many weapons as they want on the black market.”

The situation is extremely sensitive as there is clearly the involvement of foreign fighters. On June 30th, in Saguiaran, Major Malvin Ligutan admitted, hesitantly:

“In one of the safe houses, we found passports issued in Indonesia, Malaysia and several Arab countries.”

A month ago I wrote an essay exposing the complex network of Western-sponsored terrorism in Asia (“Washington Jihad Express: Indonesia, Afghanistan, Syria and Philippines”). I argued that in the 1980’s, Indonesian and Malaysian jihadists, indoctrinated by the Southeast Asian brand of extreme anti-Communism, went to fight in Afghanistan against the socialist governments of Karmal, and then Mohammad Najibullah, with the ultimate goal of destroying the Soviet Union.

Hardened and further brainwashed, they returned home to Southeast Asia, participated in several ethnic strives and pogroms (including those in Ambon and Poso), and then, in order to ‘bridge the generational gap’, embarked on the coaching of a young generation of terrorists, who eventually ended up fighting in Syria and recently in the Philippines.

My essay was full of facts, and I put into it various testimonies of Southeast Asian academics, thinkers, and even of one active and prominent ‘jihadi cadre’ who is now living in Jakarta.

In the Indonesian city of Bandung, Prof. Iman Soleh, a professor at the Faculty of Social and Political Science (University of Padjadjaran- UNPAD) offered his take on why the West is now so obsessed with destabilizing and smearing the Philippines and its current rebellious administration:

“Since World War Two, the U.S. was afraid of so-called ‘domino effects’. Among other things that are now happening in the Philippines under president Duterte, the government is curbing activities of the multi-national mining conglomerates, and the West cannot accept that. Philippines are putting its environmental concerns above the short-term profits! For the millions of left-wing activists here in Indonesia and all over Southeast Asia, President Duterte is a role model.”

It is no secret that the West punishes such ‘bad paradigms’ brutally and decisively.

Prof. Soleh continued:

“I think all that is happening is not just to ‘destabilize’ the Philippines, but also because the country has conflict areas that could be ‘nurtured’. The best example is the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao, vs. the rest of the Philippines, which is predominantly a Catholic country…”

The West is regularly using ‘jihad,’ directly and indirectly, to destabilize socialist, anti-imperialist, and just patriotic countries and governments. In the past, it managed to ruin countries like Afghanistan, Indonesia (1965) and Syria. Many believe that the Philippines is the latest addition to the ‘hit-list.’

Soldiers ready for the front (photo Andre Vltchek)

The China & Russia Connection

As Drei Toledo, a prominent Philippine journalist, educator and pro-Duterte activist, originally from Mindanao, explained:

“The reason why the West is hostile toward President Duterte is simple: he is working hard to reach a peace agreement with China, a country that is seen by Washington as its arch-enemy. Another ‘adversary of the West,’ Russia, is admired by Duterte and increasingly by his people. Recently, Russia and the Philippines signed a defense agreement. The president is also forging close ties with Cuba, particularly in the area of health… Before Duterte became our President, poverty by design in Philippines was restored and perpetuated by the U.S. and Malaysia-controlled Cojuangco-Aquino clan.

Foreign and local entities that have long benefited financially from Philippines being a weak state are now threatened overwhelmingly by President Duterte’s unifying agenda to create a socialist system in the Philippines.”

Ms. Toledo pointed her accusative finger at Malaysia:

“Malaysia benefits from Mindanao being in a perpetual state of chaos and conflict because this means we can never reclaim oil-rich Sabah.”

She also doesn’t spare Indonesia and its sinister political (anti-socialist and anti-Communist) as well as economic interests:

“As exposed by Rigoberto D. Tiglao, a Filipino diplomat and writer, Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim, not only does have total control or substantial stakes in local mainstream media papers and networks, his conglomerate in Philippines is also based on telecoms, power, water distribution, and other public utilities.”

Or more precisely: it is based on making sure that ‘public utilities’ will never become truly ‘public’, remaining in private hands. Salim’s ‘empire’ already brought great damage to India, particularly to West Bengal where, some argue, because of allowing it to operate and to implement its brutal feudal-capitalist practices, the CPI (M) (Communist Party of India – Marxist) managed to thoroughly disgust local voters and to lose power.

The Human Cost

Nobody could deny the gravity of the situation.

I witnessed exhausted glances of the people from Marawi, now living in a rescue center built on the land of the town hall of Saguiaran.

“Yesterday two infants died,” I’m told by Amer Hassan, a student volunteer from Mindanao State University (MSU).

The reason was “different water, malnutrition, exhaustion…”

I wanted to know more, and Amer continues:

“People are still in shock… They can’t believe what is happening. Especially those whose houses were destroyed; those who lost their relatives, everything…”

While the West is constantly criticizing, does it provide help? Amer just shrugs his shoulders:

“There is no foreign help coming… Almost all that we have here comes from Manila, either from the government or local agencies. Duterte is working very hard, helping our people.”

A family of three, Camal Mimbalawag, his wife Ima and one-month-old baby Mohammad, is squeezed into a tiny space at the center. Their memories are bleak. Ima gives her account almost mechanically:

“We were in Marawi during the first stage of the attack. I was pregnant, ready to give birth. We were in the city hall when ISIS attacked… They erected checkpoints; divided people into groups… they pointed guns at us… They asked: ‘Muslim or not?’…and ‘If Muslim, then recite ‘Shahadat.’ If cannot, you get killed or taken as a hostage… We saw corpses of those killed, eaten by dogs under the burning sun…”

The battle for the city of Marawi is raging. I face it from the highest floor of the building, destroyed by ISIS snipers, a place where an Australian reporter was hit just two days earlier.

Family in Marawi (photo Andre Vltchek)

It is not Aleppo, but it could have been, if not for the heroic counter-attack of the army.

Marawi is just one new chapter in the already long book of horrors of brutal religious terrorist acts, most of them directly or indirectly triggered by Western imperialism. In the first wave of its fight again the secular socialist Muslim governments, the West destabilized Iran, Egypt and Indonesia. Then came the Afghanistan ‘gambit’, followed by the arch-brutal destruction of Iraq and Libya. Then it was Syria’s turn.

‘Jihad’ is consistently used against Russia, China as well as the former Central Asian Soviet republics.

All this I described in my 840-page book: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”, but one can never write fast enough and fully catch up with the crimes committed by the West.

It is often easy to pinpoint Western involvement in the religious conflicts, particularly in such places as Afghanistan and Syria. In the Philippines, the link is still indirect, well concealed, but it certainly exists.

To rebel against the Western Empire is always a costly and bloody affair. It often leads to coups sponsored by Washington, London or Paris, and even to direct military conflicts, interventions and full-scale wars.

But by now, the people of the Philippines have had it ‘up to here’. They had enough of being submissive; enough of being plundered while remaining silent. They are assembling behind their president. Duterte’s popularity is still around 75%. The army is clearly winning the war against the hardened local and foreign jihadists. Relief operations are effective and well organized. Things are just fine.

In only one year, the country has diametrically changed. To break the spirit of the liberated masses, to force people back onto their knees would be difficult, perhaps almost impossible, even if jihadi terror is unleashed brutally.

Almost 100 soldiers already lost their lives. Just one day before I encounter General Rey, six of his men were injured. It is said that 800 or more civilians died. Nobody knows exactly how many terrorists were killed. It is real war: tough and merciless as all wars are, but in this case, the ‘newly independent’ country is clearly winning.

It is an incredible sight: some soldiers, patriotic and determined, are still wearing those helmets with the US flags engraved into them, or some old Israeli bulletproof vests. But have no doubts: this is real, new country! Totally different Philippines and Marawi is one of the first and toughest tests it will have to endure.

The war united people and the army. No matter what the West and local corporate media are saying, most Filipinos know: this is their struggle; this is their president and their military fighting against something extremely foreign, violent and dreadful.

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are revolutionary novel “Aurora” and two bestselling works of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire” and “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. View his other books here. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Al-Mayadeen. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo. After having lived in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

Source: 21st Century Wire

Sea Shepherd and Crew Launch 'Virus Hunter II'

Sea Shepherd Research Vessel Returns to Canada to Investigate Farmed Salmon Industry

by Sea Shepherd Society

July 26, 2017

Biologist Alexandra Morton, actor/activist Martin Sheen, environmentalist David Suzuki kick off campaign on July 27th

View campaign details here

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is re-teaming with renowned Canadian biologist Alexandra Morton for Operation Virus Hunter II, the non-profit's wild salmon defense campaign. It launches July 27th with a 1pm press conference at Vancouver’s False Creek Harbor aboard Sea Shepherd’s R/V Martin Sheen.

Morton, environmental activist and broadcaster David Suzuki, and Traditional First Nation leaders Willie Moon and Farron Alexander Soukochoff of the Dzawada’enuxw First Nation tribe will be among the speakers at the press conference. Actor/activist Martin Sheen, the ship’s namesake, will also be in attendance.

July 27, 2017

False Creek Harbor Authority,
1505 W. 1st Ave. Vancouver, BC

1p.m. @ Dock XX

Pacific Northwest salmon are threatened by open-net salmon farms that share the same migratory route. These farms are breeding grounds for disease and parasites which spread to the surrounding waters and put wild salmon in danger.

As with last year’s inaugural Operation Virus Hunter campaign, Morton will once again travel aboard the Sheenover the course of several weeks, stopping at various salmon farms to conduct audits for disease and other factors.

Morton’s findings from the 2016 research mission were summarized in this end-of-campaign video:

“I have worked to protect wild salmon from the catastrophic impact of salmon farms for 31 years,” said Morton.
 “I am enormously grateful to Sea Shepherd, because they dare to take a close look at exactly what is happening in these industrial facilities.”

"The farming of this exotic alien species (Atlantic salmon) is a lethal assault on wild salmon populations, an insensitive assault on the First Nations, and a shocking assault upon the marine ecology of British Columbia’s marine ecosystems,” added Sea Shepherd founder and C.E.O. Captain Paul Watson.
“The government’s duty should be to protect the rights of the First Nations, to defend the wild salmon and not to cater to a foreign controlled destructive salmon farming industry.”

To learn more about Operation Virus Hunter and what you can do to help, click here:

JULY 24, 2017

Media Inquiries: Zorianna Kit - or call

ABOUT ALEXANDRA MORTON: Alexandra Morton has dedicated over three decades to protecting wild salmon from the disease and sea lice that pours out of salmon farms. Morton has been featured on 60 Minutes, published dozens of scientific papers on impact of salmon farms, and has taken the fishing industry to court among other efforts. She began studying wild orcas in 1984 and moved her focus to salmon farms when they arrived and began to negatively affect the whales and the environment.

ABOUT THE R/V MARTIN SHEEN:The R/V Martin Sheen is a 92-foot sailing ketch acquired in Los Angeles in 2014 and named for long-time celebrity supporter, Martin Sheen. The Martin Sheen conducts a combination of research, education and anti-poaching work. To learn more about the ship and the man who bears its name, click here:

For media inquiries please email Zorianna Kit or call323-697-5307.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Foreign Investment and Housing Crises

Foreign Investment and The UK Housing Crisis


July 25, 2010

Real Media speaks to Anna Minton, the author of "Big Capital: Who Is London For?" about the causes, effects and potential remedies for the housing crisis that has been growing for 30 years in London and beyond.

Kushner on Russia: Fallen Apples from the Stupid Tree

Jared Kushner's Testimonial to Stupidity and Unfitness - American and Russian

by John Helmer - Dances with Bears

July 25, 2017

Moscow  - Stupidity isn’t a crime; it’s a life sentence. Not so for power. Supposing everything Kushner has written in his presentation to the US Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday is true, then one conclusion from a half-dozen bits of evidence he testifies to is obvious – Kushner is unfit to rule, and so are the Russians whom he mentions.

Jared Kushner’s title is Director of the Office of American Innovation at the White House, a new function for the old one of overseeing everything in the US Government for the benefit of the incumbent president.

He’s also ranked Senior Advisor to the President, and by marriage he is son-in-law to President Donald Trump.

Here are the eleven pages of Kushner’s public statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. His committee appearance and additional testimony were behind closed doors, lasting about two hours. Kushner gave his testimony on Monday (July 24). Reading the statement isn’t difficult because the vocabulary is simple, the logic of presentation rudimentary, the style impersonal.

Two slips are revealing, but they have so far gone undetected in the voluminous US media coverage. The first reveals just how ignorant Kushner, his legal and other advisors are of Russia, although it is the target of the proceeding. At page 8, he claims “Nvgorod [is] the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus.”

This looks like a typo for Novgorod (literally, “new town”), the ancient Russian city west of Moscow. It is more than 200 kilometres from the current Russian frontier with Belarus and the historical border with the territory which for a thousand years has been occupied by Lithuanian, Polish, German and Russian imperial as well as Soviet forces. Kushner’s grandparents actually came from Navahrudak (Навагрудак), spelled in Russian as Новогрудок (Novogrudok). The meaning of the word, which was first used for the place in the 11th century, is “new little town”. When the Germans arrived in July 1941, there were 20,000 residents, 10,000 of whom, including the Kushners, were Jewish. The Kushners escaped; the majority who didn’t were killed. Kushner reveals he doesn’t know. His, and everyone else’s mistake, is 834 kilometres off the mark.

Also, by the M1 highway direct between Minsk, the current capital of independent Belarus, and Moscow, the distance is 856 kms. If Kushner’s father-in-law launched a nuclear attack on Russia, followed up by NATO missiles and forces from Poland, the Baltic Sea and the shore territories, it’s likely Novogrudok would be bypassed; and depending on which way the wind was blowing, the radioactive fall-out, too. Kushner reveals he doesn’t comprehend these things.

Kushner’s second slip is evidence on the issue, as he states it, of collusion with Russia during the election campaign and during the presidential transition, before Trump was inaugurated on January 20. Kushner claims at the end of his testimony:

“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts.”

But Kushner admits that during the campaign he “had incoming [sic] contacts with people from approximately 15 countries.” He also had “hundreds” of “calls, letters and emails from people…outside the United States.” He says he asked Henry Kissinger for “advice on policy for the candidate, which countries/representatives with which the campaign should engage, and what messaging would resonate.” He says he spoke once for “less than a minute” with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak at an April 2016 Trump campaign speech in Washington, when the Russian was accompanied by three other foreign ambassadors; Kushner doesn’t name them.

He denies any record of receiving or remembering two reported telephone calls with Kislyak between April and November, and had forgotten his name when, on November 9, an official congratulatory note arrived for Trump from President Vladimir Putin. From November 9 to January 20, Kushner says he received “over one hundred contacts from more than twenty countries…They included meetings with individuals such as Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Luis Videgaray Caso and many more.”

A neophyte in foreign affairs as Kushner confesses himself to be, he doesn’t reveal that Videgaray and he set up candidate Trump’s visit to Mexico City to meet the Mexican President on August 31. The Mexican reaction to that was extremely hostile. Videgaray was forced to resign as finance minister on September 7, but promoted to foreign minister on January 4. Videgaray might be charged with colluding with the Americans to advance himself, with Kushner as co-conspirator, but no senator on the Intelligence Committee is reported to have asked Kushner about that.

Kushner may not know the nicknames of Videgaray or King Abdullah, but he certainly refers to the Israeli prime minister as Bibi, an appellation well-known to Israelis and Jews worldwide. His official name is Benjamin, and there is ample evidence that Kushner has been familiar with Netanyahu for many years. Kushner’s father is also widely reported in Israel as Netanyahu’s personal friend. Kushner’s slip in yesterday’s evidence was to reveal just how familiar he is with that foreign official, who met with Trump and Kushner for a campaign appearance in Israel in June, five months before Election Day.

The special relationship between Israel and the US cannot be collusion – that’s a rule of US politics. The rule wasn’t quite so fixed in the 1980s when the FBI caught US officials at spying, stealing and smuggling on behalf of Israel, and sent one of them to prison; click for details.

Nor can God and the Orthodox Jewish group known as Chabad-Lubavitch be reported as colluding in Trump’s victory, despite the evidence that Kushner and his wife Ivanka prayed for it at a Lubavitcher shrine on the weekend before the poll.

The Israeli and Jewish community media also claim the possibility that Kushner’s pilgrimage reminded God to intervene when there was a suspected assassination attempt against Trump in Arizona at the same time.

The inadvertence of these slips in Kushner’s statement reinforces his claim that he knows the difference between collusion with Russians and special relationships with Mexican, Israeli and Lubavitcher friends. The US press and the US Senate appear convinced of the same thing.

The evidence presented on Kushner’s meetings with Russians between April 2016 and January 20, 2017, adds up to four occasions for durations he reports of “less than” 1 minute + 10 minutes (“or so”) + 20-30 minutes + 20 – 25 minutes. That makes a total of 66 minutes at most, with several accompanying witnesses.

“Ten or so” of the minutes involved the recently reported meeting in New York on June 9, 2016, at which Kushner’s brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. was hosting a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and her associates. Supposing that Kushner is telling the truth about the meeting on two points — that its subject was “the issue of a ban on US adoptions of Russian children”, and that he was uninterested and left prematurely – this time ought to be subtracted from the serious time Kushner admits he did spend on matters of state policy towards Russia. That leaves 56 minutes.

There are revelations in Kushner’s testimony about what transpired in this time. The first is that Dmitri Simes was involved with Kushner in arranging Trump’s campaign speech in April 2016, and that Simes fixed Kushner’s 1-minute introduction to Ambassador Kislyak. Simes runs the think-tank called Center for the National Interest, which was the creation of former President Richard Nixon. A Center press release reveals the other ambassadors Kushner shook hands with but doesn’t name were from Italy, Singapore and the Philippines. The names of others attending can be found here, without mention of Kushner, plus Trump’s speech.

About Russia on that occasion, Trump said:

“Russia, for instance, has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism. I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Simes (Дмитрий Саймс), son of Jewish dissidents expelled from the Soviet Union to the US in 1978, is the Uriah Heep of Russian-American advisors, ingratiating themselves to both sides and making a living out of obsequious intermediation. He was Richard Nixon’s factotum when the disgraced president visited Moscow. Nixon died in 1994 leaving Simes his think-tank as an inheritance. Its motto is “America’s Voice for Strategic Realism”. Kissinger is the honorary chairman, succeeding the American International Group (AIG) fraudster Hank Greenberg.

From left to right: Simes, Greenberg and Kissinger. This month Greenberg was 
given the Center’s “Lifetime Achievement Award” in Kissinger’s presence, 
along with a general, an admiral, and four senators. Source: 

When there is escalating conflict between the US and Russian governments, Simes is of next to no value to either side. His advice has also been worthless when there is booming business between the Russian oligarchs and their US counterparts. The long dominance of Russia policy by the Clinton and Obama Administrations has been bad for Simes’s business; war between the White House and the Kremlin allows him no room for manoeuvre at all. So cultivating Kushner and Trump in the spring of 2016 was a business opportunity Simes exploited. Trading that to the Washington embassies of Italy, Singapore, the Philippines and Russia was Simes’s bread and butter. Kislyak and the other envoys got their minute with the candidate. They are likely to have paid for it.

Kushner now reveals how Kislyak tried cashing in. Kissinger and Simes continued being helfpul to the Trump campaign once they were sure he would win the Republican Party nomination. When Kushner’s memory of Kislyak’s name failed, he didn’t google for it — he says he sent Simes an email. Evidently, the name wasn’t urgently needed. Simes has continued to be as ingratiating to Kushner as he was at first to Nixon, and since then with every other candidate with the main chance.

What Kushner reveals with Simes, again inadvertently, is how inconsequential the Russian ambassador’s links were in Washington in 2016, despite starting his term eight years before, in 2008. If Simes was the go-between with Kislyak – if Kislyak couldn’t have gone straight to Kissinger, for example – then this is evidence of haphazard collision, not of calculated collusion.

Kislyak (right) meets Kissinger at the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, 
with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in May 2017. Kissinger was directly 
courted by the Kremlin immediately before the US poll with election to the 
Russian Academy of Sciences, voted on October 28; for details, read this.

Kushner reveals more. According to his Senate testimony yesterday, Kislyak told Kushner “he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his ‘generals’.” Supposing Kushner to have heard right, it is a remark which may be as novel for the Russian General Staff as it is new for the US Senate to hear. Was a diplomat really proposing to talk about operations on a war front with the enemy? And was Kislyak asking Kushner and General Michael Flynn, then the US National Security Advisor in waiting, for “a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation”?

Never mind that Kushner and Flynn said no, and “so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration.” Accepting that Kushner didn’t ask for a back-channel, as he claims, the disclosure that Kislyak asked for one in this fashion — if Kushner is telling the truth — is a blunder of Kislyak-sized proportions. It begs the question: what were the ambassador’s instructions from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, and what clearance had been given by the Security Council for such a meeting, with such a script, to take place?

Putin chaired Security Council meetings on November 8 – before the 
election result in the US was known – and on November 17 (pictured above) 
and November 28. Between November 17 and 28 Putin was travelling. 
Kislyak met Kushner on December 1, and asked for a follow-up session on 
 December 6. That didn’t occur until December 12. In Moscow the Security 
 Council met with Putin in the chair on December 1, 7, 13, and 24.

Kushner has one more disclosure to make of significance. He says that Kislyak kept pestering for another meeting but that he declined because he was too busy. Kislyak then proposed, and Kushner agreed, on a meeting between Kushner’s assistant and Kislyak. That happened on December 12.

Next, according to Kushner, “my assistant reported that the Ambassador had requested that I meet with a person named Sergey Gorkov who he said was a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together. I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent, said he had a direct relationship with the President, and because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a couple days. I made room on my schedule for the meeting that occurred the next day, on December 13.”

Gorkov, head of the state bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), had met Putin in August of 2016 (pictured below, left), when they discussed development banking policy. They were to meet again, officially, on February 10 of this year (below, right).

Kushner now says he met Gorkov for “twenty to twenty-five minutes”. 
That’s shorter shrift than Kushner gave Kislyak.

“He told me a little about his bank,” Kushner testifies, “and made some statements about the Russian economy. He said that he was friendly with President Putin, expressed disappointment with U.S.-Russia relations under President Obama and hopes for a better relationship in the future. As I did at the meeting with Ambassador Kislyak, I expressed the same sentiments I had with other foreign officials I met. There were no specific policies discussed. We had no discussion about the sanctions imposed by the Obama Administration. At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.”

Kushner omits to say whether he employed an interpreter, notetaker or taperecorder at the meeting, and if Gorkov did the same. If Kushner didn’t, he cannot have been following Kissinger’s advice. That Gorkov’s VEB is not a commercial bank, and not intended to conduct the kind of business Kushner has operated for his family raises the questions of what Gorkov was intending to achieve with the call-in, why Kislyak requested it, and who in Moscow decided to push it.

Again, supposing the meeting with Gorkov was as anodyne as Kushner testifies, there is one little thing which stands out on the Russian side. Make that two little things. Kushner describes how Gorkov opened their meeting:

“He introduced himself and gave me two gifts — one was a piece of art from Nvgorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus, and the other was a bag of dirt from that same village.” 

Kushner has told the Senate the fact that he immediately registered the gifts with the presidential transition office proves that he wasn’t trying to conceal the meeting.

But what was Gorkov doing making a gift of anything? If Putin’s power vertical was running normally, this should have required a chain of memoranda, approvals, and instructions running from Putin through the Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and Kislyak. Whose idea was it to make a gift at such a place and time, and what gift options were discussed at the Kremlin?

Whatever the Russian calculation was on December 13, it appears now, in Kushner’s inadvertent retrospect, to have failed disastrously. He can’t remember the name or how to spell his grandparents’ natal village.

It is a traditional Jewish custom to bury the faithful with a phial of earth from the Holy Land. But Kushner, apparently not as faithful as he might be, says Gorkov gave him “a bag of dirt”. That phrase says everything.