Saturday, June 16, 2018

Colombia's Stark Election Choice

Colombia’s Choice: ‘Fascism’ or ‘Protest Vote Without Program’ 


June 15, 2018

As Colombians vote in the presidential run-off election this Sunday, they face a stark choice between the far-right/fascist candidate Ivan Duque and the center-left Gustavo Petro. Even though the center-left has enough votes, infighting could very well keep Petro from winning, says Manuel Rozental of

Manuel Rozental is a longtime activist, communicator, and analyst. Also, he is the founding member of Pueblos en Camino, People on the Move, a grassroots initiative of resistance to capital.

A Tale of Two Take-Overs: Amnesia and Empire

The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness 

by Dan Kovalik - CounterPunch

June 15, 2018

I was stunned the other day to see an opinion piece by Stephen Kinzer in The Boston Globe in which he was portraying the violent anti-government protests in Nicaragua as some kind of revolutionary insurrection.

What is surprising about Kinzer’s position is that he is the individual who wrote the wonderful book, All The Shah’s Men – one of the essential readings about the CIA-backed coup against Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953. What is happening in Nicaragua right now looks a lot like what happened in Iran during this coup, and yet, Kinzer somehow does not see this.

Photo by Adam Baker | CC BY 2.0

 In this way, Kinzer typifies the utter confusion of so many in this country — including those who should know better, such as many self-described leftists — about what is happening in Nicaragua and in Latin America generally.

First of all, let us look at what Kinzer correctly describes as the tactics used by the CIA in overthrowing Mosaddegh and installing the Shah of Iran in his place. The main tactic was to organize, pay and direct violent street protesters to create a chaotic situation which would then provoke a violent response from the government – a response which could be used to justify the military’s moving in against Mosaddegh under the pretext of restoring order and democratic rule.

In All The Shah’s Men, Kinzer describes the days leading up the coup as follows:

The riots that shook Tehran on Monday intensified on Tuesday. Thousands of demonstrators, unwittingly under CIA control, surged through the streets, looting shops, destroying pictures of the Shah, and ransacking the offices of royalist groups. Exuberant nationalists and communists joined in the mayhem. The police were still under orders from Mosaddegh not to interfere. That allowed rioters to do their jobs, which was to give the impression that Iran was sliding towards anarchy. [CIA Bureau Chief Kermit] Roosevelt caught glimpses of them during his furtive trips around the city and said that they ‘scared the hell out of him.’

Kinzer explains that when this violence was not quite enough to provoke the desired crackdown by the government, Roosevelt sent the US Ambassador to Mosaddegh to trick him into using force against the rioters by claiming that this was necessary to protect Americans allegedly under attack in Tehran. Roosevelt knew that Mosaddegh, inevitably moved by the Iranians’ famous feelings of hospitality towards foreign guests, would have to act. And act he did, even going so far as to attack his own supporters in the interest of saving American lives, or so he was led to believe. The coup followed shortly thereafter.

But rather than restoring democracy to Iran, of course, the CIA, the Shah, and the dreaded SAVAK security and torture apparatus later set up by the CIA to keep the Shah in power destroyed Iranian democracy. Indeed, by the time of the insurrection against the Shah which ultimately toppled him in in February of 1979, Amnesty International described the Shah’s regime as having the worst human rights record in the world – quite a distinction.

The type of game plan run by the CIA in Iran, the very first of its kind, would be carried out again to topple progressive and nationalist governments in the future, most notably in countries like Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973.

However, as one of the foremost experts on such covert ops, F. William Engdahl, explains, in the 1980’s, NGOs largely took over for the CIA in carrying out these operations. As Enghdahl relates:

During the Reagan Presidency very damaging scandals were becoming public about CIA dirty operations around the world. Chile, Iran, Guatemala, the top secret MK-Ultra project, the student movement during the Vietnam War to name just a few. To take the spotlight away from them, CIA Director Bill Casey proposed to Reagan creating a “private” NGO, a kind of cut-out that would pose as private, but in reality, as one of its founders the late Allen Weinstein said in a later interview to the Washington Post, “doing what the CIA did, but privately.” This was the creation of the NGO named National Endowment for Democracy [NED] in 1983. . . 

Hiding very black dirty anti-democratic CIA operations behind private political NGOs waving the banner of “Human Rights” has been very effective for Washington’s global agenda of toppling un-cooperative regimes around the world. In effect the CIA has weaponized human rights.

It was the NED which was critical in supporting and helping to organize the coup in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez in 2002, a coup which thankfully was short-lived. It is important to remember that the precipitating event of this coup was the shooting of protesters by snipers who were originally accused of being Chavistas, but who later turned out to be right-wing provocateurs. This is well-documented in the film, The Revolution Will Not be Televised.

Meanwhile, on July 19, 1979, shortly after the Shah was ousted in Iran, tiny Nicaragua had its own revolution, led by the Sandinistas, which toppled a brutal US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza.

As we know, the US, through the CIA, quickly moved against the Nicaraguan revolution, arming Somoza’s former National Guardsmen, organizing them into the Contras, and overseeing a brutal terrorist war against Nicaragua which destroyed the infrastructure and economy of Nicaragua, and which claimed the lives of 50,000 Nicaraguans. This is equivalent to 2.5 million deaths in the United States.

Finally, in 1990, the Nicaraguans, exhausted by the Contra war and economic strangulation, voted the Sandinistas out of power. In short, the US terror campaign succeeded according to plan.

The Sandinistas were in the wilderness until 2006 when Daniel Ortega was voted in as President once more. And while many on the left have criticized the older Ortega as having abandoned his revolutionary and socialist principles, a few points must be made about this.

First of all, while Ortega certainly has made concessions to the business community, the conservative political opposition and the Catholic Church, I would ask his detractors to explain just what choice he has had.

Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Hemisphere, was so before the Sandinistas took power in 1979, and was still so when they took power again in 2006. When the Sandinistas took power the first time, they inherited an economy wrecked and pillaged by Somoza, a country still left in shambles by the 1972 earthquake because Somoza siphoned off the aid money for himself instead of rebuilding, and a country further destroyed by Somoza who aerially bombed neighborhoods in Managua to cling to power. When the Sandinistas took power the second time, they inherited a country still struggling to recover from a decade of the brutal Contra war and by the accompanying economic embargo.

Meanwhile, the Sandinistas never even attempted to rid Nicaragua of the leading elements of the ancien régime (as Cuba did after its 1959 Revolution) with which they now must contend. This of course has made governing much more difficult and more radical reforms even more so. But if the Sandinistas had moved against these elements, such as the bourgeoisie and the Church, then they would be criticized even more than they are now for being repressive and anti-democratic.

And yet, there are some who argue that, somehow, the Sandinistas have failed by not building socialism in one country upon such a weak foundation, in a country with few natural resources and in the face of hostility from a much more powerful enemy in the United States. Never mind that such critics generally believe that socialism in one country is unachievable even in good conditions. In short, the Sandinistas are criticized for not achieving the impossible.

All of this recalls to mind the words of Michael Parenti in his wonderful article, “Left Anticommunism: The Unkindest Cut”:

The pure socialists regularly blame the Left itself for every defeat it suffers. Their second-guessing is endless. So we hear that revolutionary struggles fail because their leaders wait too long or act too soon, are too timid or too impulsive, too stubborn or too easily swayed. We hear that revolutionary leaders are compromising or adventuristic, bureaucratic or opportunistic, rigidly organized or insufficiently organized, undemocratic or failing to provide strong leadership. But always the leaders fail because they do not put their trust in the “direct actions” of the workers, who apparently would withstand and overcome every adversity if only given the kind of leadership available from the left critic’s own groupuscule. Unfortunately, the critics seem unable to apply their own leadership genius to producing a successful revolutionary movement in their own country. . .
To be sure, the pure socialists are not entirely without specific agendas for building the revolution. After the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an ultra-left group in that country called for direct worker ownership of the factories. The armed workers would take control of production without benefit of managers, state planners, bureaucrats, or a formal military. While undeniably appealing, this worker syndicalism denies the necessities of state power. Under such an arrangement, the Nicaraguan revolution would not have lasted two months against the U.S.-sponsored counterrevolution that savaged the country. It would have been unable to mobilize enough resources to field an army, take security measures, or build and coordinate economic programs and human services on a national scale.

Meanwhile, the Sandinistas, within the constraints of world capitalism as well as the immutable laws of physics, have done many positive things within the realm of the possible. Thus, they have done much to alleviate poverty in Nicaragua, to build homes for the poor, to successfully combat illiteracy and to bring a remarkable level of economic prosperity and stability to this once war-torn country. Even the New York Times recently acknowledged that “[m]any poor people who receive housing and other government benefits support” Sandinista President, Daniel Ortega.

Long-time Nicaragua solidarity activist, Chuck Kaufman, recently summarized these achievements, explaining that Daniel Ortega’s first action after being re-elected as President in 2006

“was to end school fees, allowing 100,000 children into the schools whose poverty had kept them uneducated. This was rapidly followed by his administration building the free public health system into a robust institution that treated people rather than just wrote prescriptions that the patients were too poor to fill. The peasant agriculture sector was revitalized bringing hundreds of thousands up out of abject poverty, especially women and children.
Impoverished Nicaragua became one of the first countries in the world to achieve the UN Millennial Challenge to cut poverty in half by 2015. Along the way, the Ortega government achieved sustained economic growth of 5% and achieved labor stability through the famous Tripartite Model in which unions and big business negotiated semi-annual increases in the minimum wage with the government intervening when the two other parties couldn’t agree. The World Bank, IMF, and European countries all praised Nicaragua for its lack of corruption and effective use of grants and loans. Finally, Nicaraguan women’s participation in public and private affairs raised Nicaragua to one of the top four countries in the world for gender equality.

As a result of the foregoing, Nicaragua has been the only Central American country touched by the brutal wars of the 1980s not to be contributing to the recent mass migration to the US. Indeed, a May, 2016 DNC email released by Wikileaks explains, “Our neighbors in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala are in a crisis of uncontrolled violence. Women and children from these countries are coming to our Southwest border in search of refuge. Essentially, no one is coming from Nicaragua . . . .”

In addition, Ortega has taken some very bold moves on the international stage, for example when he took in the deposed Honduran President, Manuel Zelaya, after the 2009 coup, and when he offered for Miguel D’Escoto to serve as Libya’s Ambassador to the UN when Libya, in its death throes from the 2011 NATO bombing, had no UN representative. Ortega also stopped sending Nicaraguan troops to be trained at the School of the Americas (SOA) after meeting with SOA Watch founder, Father Roy Bourgeois.

And, up until the recent events in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega enjoyed sky-high approval ratings. Indeed, just several months before the current events rocking Nicaragua, Ortega had an astounding approval rating of nearly 80 percent!

Now, we are told, by such folks as Stephen Kinzer, Amy Goodman and by a number of “pure socialists,” that the people are suddenly rising up against President Ortega. And, some on the American left are arguing that we should welcome and support this uprising as a new stage of the Nicaraguan revolution which will finally bring true socialism to that poor, isolated country.

I believe that such commentators could not be farther from the truth. What is happening now in Nicaragua is not revolution, but in fact counterrevolution. And, this is no less true because there are some self-described leftists who are participating in and cheering on this uprising, just as Steven Kinzer tells us that a number of communists and socialists unwittingly supported the protests which unseated Mosaddegh in Iran.

Indeed, in an interesting article entitled, “My Contra Parents Are Marching For a New ‘Old’ Nicaragua: Are We, Too?”, Melissa Castillo expresses reasonable skepticism about the prevailing narrative surrounding the protests in Nicaragua:

Another suspicious aspect of this opposition is that it claims to include former Sandinistas who have now turned against Ortega because of his corruption. This is confusing because the opposition’s social media platform does not seem to consist of any socialist groups. The Sandinistas were built on socialism and the leaders at the time of the revolution were largely Marxists. A group involved in the opposition, for instance, is the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The MRS are Social Democrats who have partnered with a right-wing coalition in recent years in order to expand their base. By now, the MRS seems to have grown more centrist and devotes much of its platform to anti-Ortega rhetoric.
Leftists and Sandinista supporters may have legitimate concerns about Ortega, but that does not mean these are the same people joining forces with right-wingers and the U.S. government or appealing to the American public to “share” images of unrest on social media. I believe true leftist concerns include the concessions Ortega has made to the private sector in his economic policy, the power he has ceded to the church, his softening towards capitalist policies, and the increasing influence of Western international entities in public sector decision-making. It would not rationally be in the interest of leftists to join a coalition led by a private sector interested in pulling Nicaragua further to the right.

The impetus for the current demonstrations was Ortega’s April 16, 2018 announcement of very modest social security reforms designed to keep Nicaragua’s near-bankrupt social security system solvent past 2019. Ortega actually rejected the more drastic reforms demanded by the IMF and the business community, and then demonstrations began which the business community supported. But, to Castillo’s point, the business community wants more draconian cuts; it has obviously not supported the protests to advance progressive social change.

Moreover, it was college students who really moved the protests to a new level. But college students are not generally concerned about reforms to social security which will not affect them for decades.

As Barbara Moore, a long-time solidarity activist living in Nicaragua, explains in her, “Letter From Nicaragua: A Catastrophic Well-Orchestrated Event Is Occurring,”

On April 19 student-led protests began what the Mainstream media and international NGOs would describe as a pro-democracy uprising. Initially at issue were the social security reforms. For reasons no one has been able to explain, the students were highly agitated over the 1% rise in worker contributions, the 3.5% rise in employer contributions (over time) and a 5% cut in the benefit which was also a trade-off for expanded medical coverage. The alternate proposals rejected by the Ortega government and favored by the private sector COSEP and the IMF involved much greater cuts, raising the retirement age, cutting benefits completely (the little pensions) and the privatization of clinics.

Vietnam veteran and long-time peace activist, S. Brian Willson, who is currently in Nicaragua and who famously lost his legs on September 1, 1987 while sitting in on railroad tracks to block arms shipments bound for Central America, sent Barbara Moore’s letter to Popular Resistancewith a note which reads, in pertinent part: “This is a very good assessment of the orchestrated coup in Nicaragua. The author is a Gringo [sic.] who lives in Managua working at the Ben Linder house who happens to be stuck in Granada because we are under siege by many thugs armed I am sure with help of the US.” I note that I was in Nicaragua doing reforestation work and learning about the brutality of US foreign policy at the time Brian lost his legs in protest. His great sacrifice has had a huge impact on many of us, and I find it quite sad that the voices of people like Brian Willson are not being heard on the issue of Nicaragua at this critical time.

Meanwhile, what we do know is that one of the main student groups behind the current protests – the Civil Youth Movement (MCJ) “was created by and received funding from the National Democratic Institute (NDI)” — the NDI, in turn, being one of the three pillars of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which took over a number of covert operations for the CIA in the 1980’s. Indeed, between 2014 and 2017, the NED has given $4.2 million to opposition groups in Nicaragua for the purpose of “democracy promotion” (aka, “regime change”).

At the same time, there is no doubt that the protests, which began peacefully on April 17, accelerated due to violence and the great loss of life which has taken place since the protests began, with certainly over 100 people killed. However, there has been much disinformation about this violence both within Nicaragua and in the Western press.

First and foremost, whenever you see a tally of the deaths, all of the responsibility for them is laid at the feet of the Nicaraguan security forces even though members of the security forces themselves are included in the tally, as are government supporters and bystanders. Indeed, one of the first people killed in the protests was a police officer, and many have been killed since – some at their homes and even in their barracks after Ortega ordered the police off the streets. But you are never told this. You are also never told of the fact that, up until these very recent events, “Nicaragua’s community based policing, and their women’s police stations, specializing in domestic violence, were studied by police departments throughout the world and were famous for their record of positive community relations.”

My friends in Nicaragua tell me that what seems suspicious is that some of the student groups, armed as they immediately were with an arsenal of well-constructed weapons, were so obviously prepared in advance to start a violent uprising, and clearly used the opportunity of the protests against the social security reforms as a mere pretext to start and provoke violence. As one commentator explains, while “most of the media reports have portrayed the opposition groups and protestors as a ‘rag tag’ team of students, . . . examples of opposition violence, such as opposition use of ‘homemade mortars’ and ‘gas bombs’ as well as the burning of public buildings has received minimal coverage in the Western media.”

And, it was these well-armed protesters who became predominant two days after the protests began. As the independent media collective, Tortilla Con Sol, reported, “from April 19 onward, extremist opposition activists hijacked the student protests, attacking hospitals, government and municipal authority offices, public buildings of all kinds, university precincts and even the brand new national baseball stadium.”

Quite tellingly, the violent groups calling for Ortega to step down in the midst of his presidential term – despite the fact that he won re-election in 2016 with about 70% of the vote — have been attacking symbols of the Sandinista Revolution which overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza. Again, this reveals these groups to be more counter-revolutionaries than revolutionaries.

Another aspect of the violence which is largely being ignored is the strong evidence of snipers (remember the key role snipers played in the coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002) in carrying out precision killings which are then later blamed on the police.

Barbara Moore, citing the forensics described in a report by the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, explains:

“The opposition claimed and continues to claim the National Police had used lethal and deadly force, firing indiscriminately into crowds with live ammunition. Yet that seems impossible given the forensics, nearly every fatality occurred in a precise, specific, even clean shot to the head, neck or chest. Not exactly what one would expect given the street battles filled with heightened levels of chaos or that when police do shoot to kill they are trained to aim for the mid-section.
“The public, deceived by press reports, the international mainstream media and rightfully outraged over the killings continued over the following weeks to take to the streets. Almost always the same pattern repeated itself; more killed- always a male, despite the fact the early protests were well attended by females. The victims continued to be shot with incredible precision always in the head or neck, sometimes in the chest. These facts, incidentally corroborate government claims that snipers were responsible for the killings. As the death toll continues to rise this pattern has remained entirely constant.

This brings us full circle back to Stephen Kinzer’s piece in The Boston Globe. Kinzer begins this piece by describing a key incident which has further inflamed the situation in Nicaragua:

“As a mass of unarmed protesters filed past Dennis Martínez Stadium in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 30, snipers inside the stadium began firing at them. That day’s casualties joined a list of about 100 dead and 1,000 wounded and missing in the last two months.
“Among those outraged was the person for whom the stadium is named. Dennis Martínez is the most celebrated of all Nicaraguan baseball players, immortalized by pitching a perfect game for the Montreal Expos in 1991.” (emphasis added).

Kinzer then goes on to explain how Daniel Ortega is allegedly responsible for the violence that has been taking place in Nicaragua, and to criticize him for remaining “defiant” in his refusal not to step down from his elected office. Meanwhile, Kinzer neglects to mention how opposition groups ransacked the Dennis Martínez stadium.

What is remarkable about this piece — written by a man who literally wrote the book on the CIA’s manipulation of violence in unseating Iran’s Mohammad Mosaddegh — is that Kinzer does not even try to identify who these unnamed “snipers” were. And, while he makes a passing reference much later in his piece to alleged “paramilitary gangs” of Ortega, he does not attempt to connect them to this sniper firing at the stadium. In short, Kinzer glosses over the most important detail of the narrative, and that is because it is the most inconvenient one for him in his apparent crusade to urge Ortega’s resignation.

If these snipers are, as the Nicaraguan government claims, part of the violent opposition’s attempt to overthrow Ortega, then what is happening in Nicaragua must be seen in a very different light than what we are being told by the likes of Kinzer. And, this is the only logical conclusion. There simply is no incentive for the Nicaraguan government, over one month into the protests, to incite even more protest and opposition by firing into a crowd of demonstrators. This could only serve the interests of those waging the coup operation, and it indeed has served these interests quite well. Indeed, Kinzer himself rightly points this out, explaining that “[f]uneral marches balloon into new protests, and when they are attacked [again, we are not told by whom], the spiral intensifies.”

Ortega, who currently has the reins of government, has all the incentive for the status quo of peace and calm to return to Nicaragua, for this means he remains in his position as president. It is the opposition who needs a game changer – one which could only be brought about by dramatic events such as those that took place at the baseball stadium on May 30. But these realities do not seem to be worth considering by those like Kinzer who, ironically parroting the coup plotters who overthrew Mosaddegh, are pontificating in the press about the need to promote democracy by unseating an elected leader.

What all parties can certainly agree on is that the current events in Nicaragua are indeed calamitous, and becoming more so with each passing day. The economy has already suffered about $250 million in losses– a hefty sum for such a small country. And, this figure will surely climb as businesses, burned down by the violent opposition, do not re-open, and as tourism, a major source of national revenue, surely dries up. Indeed, just today, American Airlines announced that it is suspending flights to Managua as a result of the violence there.

No one in their right mind could wish any of this upon another nation – especially upon a nation which has suffered so much as Nicaragua. And I guarantee you that if Ortega is forced out of office by this violence, the result will not be, as some on the ostensible left would have us believe, a deepening of democracy and socialism. Rather, it will result in a return of the right- wing to power, an end to the social programs which have greatly benefitted the poor and the further destruction of the symbols and memorials of the very laudable Sandinista Revolution. The result, in other words, will be a counterrevolution. Anyone calling themselves a leftist, or even a humanitarian, must oppose such an end.
Daniel Kovalik, the author of The Plot to Attack Iran, wrote this piece with the significant help and encouragement of friends in Tehran.
More articles by:Dan Kovalik

In the Wind: Rumours of Imminent Syria Gas Attacks Reminiscent of False Flags Past

Russian-Syrian Warnings of a Coming False-Flag Chemical Attack Have Ring of Truth

by Whitney Webb - MintPress News

June 15, 2018

Both Russia and Syria have sounded the alarm over an impending ‘chemical weapons provocation,’ a possibility compounded by the U.S.’ Truman’ strike group’s recent deployment to Syria.

In recent days, speculation has swirled regarding whether another chemical-weapons attack will soon take place in Syria, as sources in both Syrian intelligence and the Russian military have warned that U.S.-backed forces in the U.S.-occupied region of Deir ez-Zor are planning to stage a chemical weapons attack to be blamed on the Syrian government.

Concern that such an event could soon take place has only grown since the U.S. government announcement this past Thursday that the U.S. would provide $6.6 million over the next year to fund the White Helmets, the controversial “humanitarian” group that has been accused of staging “false flag” chemical weapons attacks in the past.

Notably, the White Helmets were largely responsible for staging the recent alleged chlorine gas attack in Eastern Ghouta, which led the United States, the United Kingdom and France to attack Syrian government targets.

That same attack in Eastern Ghouta had been predicted weeks prior by the Russian military and Syrian government, who are warning once again that a similar event is likely to occur in coming weeks.

An additional and largely overlooked indication that another staged attack could soon take place has been the recent movements of U.S. military assets to the Syrian coast, particularly the deployment of the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group (HSTCSG).

As MintPress previously reported, the deployment of the HSTCSG – which consists of some 6,500 sailors — was first announced in April prior to the U.S., France and U.K. bombing of Syria. However, the group did not arrive until after that bombing had taken place.

While the April bombing was called a “one-time shot” by U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the fact that the Truman strike group’s deployment to the region was not canceled after the bombings occurred led some to suggest that the U.S. may have been anticipating more strikes against Syria’s government in the coming months. Indeed, soon after the U.S.-led bombing of Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, declared the U.S. was “locked and loaded” should the Syrian government again be accused of using chemical weapons.

Now, amid claims from both the Syrian and Russian governments of another chemical weapons provocation, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets, the strike group’s deployment directly off the Syrian coast has only given greater credence to those previously voiced concerns.

According to a recent announcement from the U.S. Navy:

“Bringing the Harry S. Truman strike group back into the fight against ISIS sends a powerful message to our partners that we are committed to peace and security in the region, and anywhere threatened by international terrorism.
“Once again, we demonstrate the incredible flexibility and capabilities of a carrier strike group: we are combat-proven and ready to answer the call anytime and anywhere to carry out any mission we are directed [sic].”

The statement also noted that fighter squadrons would be working with the strike group to “conduct precision strikes on ISIS targets” as part of the U.S. coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve, which claims to be aimed at eliminating the presence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

In addition to the strike group, a report from SouthFront last month provided evidence that the U.S. had recently established a military garrison near the Jafra oil field, the exact location cited by both Syrian and Russian sources as the likely location for the future staging of a chemical weapons attack.

Fog of war: U.S. aiding the very terrorists it vowed to exterminate

While the U.S. has publicly claimed to be moving military assets as part of its campaign against ISIS, the fact that the U.S. has recently been accused of aiding ISIS in Syria — both as a pretext for its indefinite occupation of Syria’s Northeast and as a means of distracting and weakening the Syrian government that it has long sought to topple — casts doubt on the official narrative.

Indeed, since the U.S. and its proxy force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), took control of northeastern Syria – nearly a third of the entire country – last November, neither group has done anything to target the ISIS pockets in the area until the recent June 4 announcement by Mattis that the U.S. and the SDF had “re-commenced” their offensive after a lengthy hiatus.

The U.S. has yet to offer an explanation for the hiatus and reports have not yet surfaced regarding the specific actions of the new offensive to target ISIS.

Unidentified U.S.-backed Syrian rebels surround a piece of artillery 
during training by American special forces member in Southeastern 
Syria near Tanf. Photo | Hammurabi’s Justice News

However, during the “hiatus”, and despite its occupation of the territory, the U.S. has re-trained ISIS fighters and regrouped them into small militias which have been placed under the SDF banner. In addition, SDF defectors have asserted that the U.S. and SDF regularly collaborate with the terror group.

More recently, the U.S. again threatened the Syrian government over the latter’s planned offensive aimed at removing militant groups from the Dara’a governorate in the south of Syria. On Friday, the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S. would issue a “decisive response” if the offensive goes forward as planned.

Given that the militants in the Dara’a governorate are either ISIS, Al Qaeda or their affiliates, the U.S. threat against a Syrian military offensive targeting these groups has been largely interpreted as a U.S. move actually aimed at protecting ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Given that the U.S. has been documented to be retraining ISIS fighters and protecting ISIS in the portion of Syria it occupies and elsewhere in the country, the movement of U.S. military assets such as the Truman strike group suggests that the official claim that those assets will be used in “the fight against ISIS” may not be what it appears.

Indeed, accusations by Russia and Syria of an imminent “false flag” chemical weapons attack, as well as the U.S.’ renewed funding of the White Helmets to the tune of over $6 million, instead suggest that the Truman strike group’s new deployment to Syria is in preparation for the U.S.’ predetermined response to anticipated accusations regarding the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

In Thoughts and Song: Britain's Satire Police Sentence Singer

Trouble Clef

by Gilad Atzmon

June 14, 2018

The Jewish Chronicle seems dismayed that the singer-songwriter Alison Chabloz has escaped jail time, at least for the time being. But the message conveyed by Ms. Chabloz’s conviction is devastating for Britain. This kingdom has, in just a short time, become a crude authoritarian state.

For posting so-called ‘grossly offensive songs’ on the internet, Chabloz was sentenced by District Judge John Zani to 20 weeks imprisonment suspended for two years. It seems that now music is deemed a major threat to Britain.

Chabloz was also banned from posting anything on social media for 12 months. I am perplexed. What kind of countries pre-vet social interaction and intellectual exchange?

Israel imposes such prohibitions on its Palestinian citizens. Soviet Russia banned certain types of gatherings and publications and, of course, Nazi Germany saw itself qualified to decide what type of texts were healthy for the people and actively burned books. I guess that Britain is in good company.

Chabloz was further “ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work.” This amounts to something in the proximity of 90 Jazz gigs. And Chabloz is required to attend ‘a 20-day rehabilitation programme.’

In 21st century Britain, a singer songwriter has been sentenced to ‘re-education’ for singing a few tunes that offended some people. The initial objective of the Nazi Concentration camp was also to ‘re-educate the people.’ Dachau was built to re-educate cosmopolitans, dissenter communists and to make them into German patriots.

I wonder what this particular rehab program will entail for the revisionist singer?

Chabloz was guilty of introducing new lyrics to Ava Nagila, will she have now to learn to sing Ava Nagila in Yiddish, or maybe to try to fit her own original ‘subversive’ lyrics to the music of Richard Wagner? Who is going to take care of Chabloz’s education, and what happens if the singer insists on continuing to mock the primacy of Jewish suffering or far worse, compare Gaza to Auschwitz?

Satire aside, the Chabloz trial and other recent legal cases suggest to me that Britain is no longer the liberty-loving place I settled in more than two decades ago. If liberty can be defined as the right to offend, Britain has voluntarily removed itself from the free world. In contemporary Britain, exercise of the ‘right to offend’ evidently leads to conviction and possible imprisonment.

And who defines what establishes ‘an offence’?

British law fails to do so. Chabloz was disrespectful to some Jewish cult figures such as Elie Wiesel and Otto Frank (the father of Anne Frank). Would Chabloz be subject to similar legal proceeding if she offended the Queen, the royal family or Winston Churchill? What message is Judge Zani sending to British intellectuals and artists?

Since every person, let alone Jews, can be offended by pretty much anything, Britain is now reduced to an Orwellian dystopia. We may have to accept that our big Zionist brother is constantly watching us. If we want to keep out of trouble, we better self-censor our thoughts and learn to accept the new boundaries of our expression.

Democracies are sustained by the belief that their members are qualified to make decisions regarding their own education: they decide what films to watch, what books to read and what clubs to join. Seemingly, this is no longer the case in Britain. Decisions regarding right and wrong thoughts are now taken by ‘the law’.

According to the JC, Judge Zani told Chabloz that:

“The right to freedom of speech is fundamental to a fully-functioning democratic society. But the law has clearly established that this right is a qualified right.”

While many of us believe that freedom of speech is an absolute right, Judge Zani made it clear today that this is not the case or at least not anymore. Freedom of speech in Britain is now a ‘qualified right.’ In other words Government and the Judicial system are allowed to interfere with such right at any time.

Just two years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service didn’t think that Chabloz should stand trial. Presumably at the time the CPS didn’t believe that Chabloz’ rights should be qualified or quantified. Two years later there has been a clear change in speech that is prosecuted.

Article 19e of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed by Great Britain and enacted in 1948 declares:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

This was the law in 1948. In 2018, freedom and democracy are rights we have to remember, we experience them no more.

To Support Gilad's Legal Defence Fund


Mega Media Merger Unfair for Viewers Says FAIR

AT&T – TimeWarner Merger: A Disaster for Consumers when Combined with Net Neutrality Repeal (Pt. 1/2)


June 14, 2018

A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the proposed eighty-five billion-dollar merger between AT&T and Time Warner may proceed because it does not violate U.S. antitrust laws. Judge Richard J. Leon, of the United States District Court in Washington, argued that the merger would not reduce competition because AT&T and Time Warner operate in different markets. AT&T distributes content, while Time Warner, which owns HBO, CNN, Warner Brothers Studios among other divisions, create content.

Now, during the 2016 presidential campaign, then candidate President Trump complained about the proposed merger, saying that, as president, he would stop it.

The argument that this merger, which will create one of the world’s largest media giants, is not anti-competitive lacks all basis in reality, says Jeff Cohen of and FAIR.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bird on a Barbed Wire: Extinction Now

The Plight of Birds and the Hand of Man in the Sixth Great Extinction 

by Arshad Khan - CounterPunch

June 13, 2018  
As birds become fewer, wildflowers vanish, butterflies disappear, and animals in the wild are threatened, extinction and a grim future haunts. How often did Rumi write about birdsong … there is a reason. Nature revives the spirit.

June 5th was World Environment Day. A UN outreach program hosted by a different country each year, it is designed to draw attention to its environmental challenges and to offer it support. This year the host country is India and the theme is beating plastic pollution.

But plastics are not just a blight on the landscape, they are in the seas destroying coral and the species it shelters, painfully killing whales and other creatures … including birds. Yet, it is far from the only cause of bird distress and their sharply declining numbers.

Photo: Mark Gillow | CC BY 2.0

One example comes from the Arctic, where receding ice has taken with it the nutritious cod, which favor cold waters, and has endangered the black guillemot now forced to feed their chicks on the bony and difficult-to-digest fourhorn sculpin.

When the EU commissioned a State of Nature report, they expected bad news but not quite as dire a result. Prepared by the European Environment Agency and sourced from EU-wide data, it found one in three bird species threatened and only a little over half secure. It also drew a bleak picture of European habitats finding over half of those studied to be unfavorable. Habitat loss, pesticides particularly neonicotinoids, even excessive hunting, notably in southern Europe, are all to blame.

Earlier, a comprehensive study conducted by University of Exeter (UK) professor Richard Inger and colleagues had analyzed avian biomass across 25 countries over 30 years. Using data from Birdlife International and the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme, they discovered a surprisingly large and troubling decline: from 1980 to 2009 the estimated total avian population had been reduced by 421 million birds.

Meanwhile, research in the US with far-reaching consequences places blame squarely on human activity. It examines avian consequences of noise pollution. If certain constant noises irritate humans — think of road repair and a pneumatic drill — then birds are no exception. Noise from oil and gas operations is stressing out birds and harming reproduction. They exhibit signs of chronic stress, lay fewer eggs or fewer eggs hatch, and nestling growth is stunted.

So reports a study by Nathan Kleist and colleagues in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (unfortunately not available to the general public without a fee). The authors studied three species of cavity nesting birds (the ash-throated flycatcher, the mountain bluebird and the western bluebird) breeding near oil and gas operations on Bureau of Land Management property in the San Juan Basin in New Mexico.

The researchers placed 240 nest boxes on 12 pairs of sites, close to and at varying distances from the drilling pads where loud compressors operated non-stop. The team took blood samples of adult females and nestlings from all the nest boxes for three years. They also examined nestling body size and feather length — less well developed in both noisy and lower noise areas, suggesting any level of irritating noise disrupts.

Baseline levels of a key stress hormone, corticosterone, showed high stress in birds nesting closest to the noise. And nestlings in noisy areas produced significantly greater stress hormones than those in quiet areas when subjected to the test of being held for 10 minutes.

It also turned out that the western bluebird was the only species willing to nest in the sites closest to the compressors; such behavior had led to the belief it was immune to noise. Not so, the study results revealed.

Environmental stress is increased by noise pollution and that it degrades avian reproductive success is the conclusive message of this study. With background noise constantly increasing in the US, even protected areas are no longer immune.

If the anthropocene is our age, it is also our look in the mirror to see what the human footprint has wrought, even if unwittingly. Global warming, extreme weather events becoming more severe, plastic pollution and stressed wildlife, record extinctions, insect declines … all portents of an impaired future warning humans repeatedly of urgency.

The sixth mass extinction is underway but it will take centuries if not thousands of years, and man can help by alleviating global warming and preservation efforts. Related to CO2 levels, global warming has been the culprit in the previous five. CO2 levels are already in excess of 0.04 percent perilously close to the 0.05 percent calculated to melt icecaps through temperature rise causing serious flooding of coastal areas.

Are leaders and decision-makers listening?  

Arshad M. Khan is a former professor who has, over many years, written occasionally for the print and often for online media outlets.
More articles by:Arshad Khan

Palestine's Most Urgent Moment: Beating the US Veto

Beating the US ‘Veto’: Palestinians Need Urgent Protection from Israel

by Ramzy Baroud -

June 13, 2018

What is taking place in Palestine is not a 'conflict'. We readily utilize the term but, in fact, the word 'conflict' is misleading. It equates between oppressed Palestinians and Israel, a military power that stands in violation of numerous United Nations Resolutions.

It is these ambiguous terminologies that allow the likes of United States UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, to champion Israel's 'right to defend itself', as if the militarily occupied and colonized Palestinians are the ones threatening the security of their occupier and tormentor.

In fact, this is precisely what Haley has done to counter a draft UN Security Council Resolution presented by Kuwait to provide a minimum degree of protection for Palestinians.

Haley vetoed the draft, thus continuing a grim legacy of US defense of Israel, despite the latter’s ongoing violence against Palestinians.

It is no surprise that out of the 80 vetoes exercised by the US at the UNSC, the majority were unleashed to protect Israel. The first such veto for Israel’s sake was in September 1972 and the latest, used by Haley was on June 1.

Before it was put to the vote, the Kuwaiti draft was revised three times in order to 'water it down'. Initially, it called for the protection of the Palestinian people from Israeli violence.

The final draft merely called for "The consideration of measures to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in the Gaza Strip."

Still, Haley found the language "grossly one-sided."

The near consensus in support of the Kuwait draft was met with complete rejection of Haley's own draft resolution which demanded Palestinian groups cease "all violent provocative actions" in Gaza.

The 'provocative actions' being referred to in Haley’s draft is the mass mobilization by tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, who have been peacefully protesting for weeks, hoping that their protests will place the Israeli siege on Gaza back on the UN agenda.

Haley's counter draft resolution did not garner a single vote in favor, save that of Haley’s own. But such humiliation at the international stage is hardly of essence to the US, which has wagered its international reputation and foreign policy to protect Israel at any cost, even from unarmed observers whose job is merely to report on what they see on the ground.

The last such 'force' was that of 60 – later increased to 90 - members of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH).

TIPH was established in May 1996 and has filed many reports on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian city, especially in Area H-2, a small part of the city that is controlled by the Israeli army to protect some of the most violent illegal Jewish settlers.

Jan Kristensen, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Norwegian army who headed TIPH had these words to say, following the completion of his one-year mission in Hebron in 2004:

"The activity of the settlers and the army in the H-2 area of Hebron is creating an irreversible situation. In a sense, cleansing is being carried out.
"In other words, if the situation continues for another few years, the result will be that no Palestinians will remain there."

One can only imagine what has befallen Hebron since then. The army and Jewish settlers have become so emboldened to the extent that they execute Palestinians in cold blood with little or no consequence.

One such episode became particularly famous, for it was caught on camera. On March 24, 2015, an Israeli soldier carried out a routine operation by shooting in the head an incapacitated Palestinian.

The execution of Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, 21, was filmed by Imad Abushamsiya. The viral video caused Israel massive embarrassment, forcing it to hold a sham trial in which the Israeli soldier who killed al-Sharif received a light sentence; he was later released to a reception fit for heroes.

Abushamsiya, who filmed the murder, however, was harassed by both the Israeli army and police and received numerous death threats.

The Israeli practice of punishing the messenger is not new. The mother of Ahed Tamimi, Nariman, who filmed her teenage daughter confronting armed Israeli soldiers was also detained and sentenced.

Israel has practically punished Palestinians for recording their own subjugation by Israeli troops while, at the same time, empowering these very soldiers to do as they please; it is now in the process of turning this everyday reality into actual law.

A bill at the Israeli Knesset was put forward late May that prohibits "photographing and documenting (Israeli occupation) soldiers", and criminalizing "anyone who filmed, photographed and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duty."

The bill, which is supported by Israeli Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, demands a five-year imprisonment term for violators.

The bill practically means that any form of monitoring of Israeli soldiers is a criminal act. If this is not a call for perpetual war crimes, what is?

Just to be sure, a second bill is proposing to give immunity to soldiers suspected of criminal activities during military operations.

The bill is promoted by deputy Defense Minister, Eli Ben Dahan, and is garnering support at the Knesset.

"The truth is that Ben Dahan’s bill is entirely redundant," wrote Orly Noy in the Israeli 972 Magazine.

Noy cited a recent report by the Israeli human rights organization ‘Yesh Din’ which shows that "soldiers who allegedly commit crimes against the Palestinian population in the Occupied Territories enjoy near-full immunity."

Now, Palestinians are more vulnerable than ever before, and Israel, with the help of its American enablers, is more brazen than ever.

This tragedy cannot continue. The international community and civil society organizations, - independent of the US government and its shameful vetoes - must undertake the legal and moral responsibility to monitor Israeli action and to provide meaningful protection for Palestinians.

Israel should not have free reign to abuse Palestinians at will, and the international community should not stand by and watch the bloody spectacle as it continues to unfold.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is

Gorilla Radio with Chris Cook, John Helmer, Kees van der Pijl, Janine Bandcroft June 14, 2018

This Week on GR

by C. L. Cook -

June 14, 2018

O! Canada, what have you done NOW? Apparently, the Make America Great Again crowd's unhappy and up and declared war on the Great White North. Incredibly, the fully prostrate boot-licking of Canada's immaculately coiffured Justin Trudeau hasn't proven enough to spare us the wrath of the MAGA Khan!!!

The proverbial poo hit the Twitter fan Saturday as Donald Trump departed the Charlevoix, Quebec G7 fiasco, bound for greater glory in Singapore.

It was left for Trump economic acolytes Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro to shovel the load the leader left in the bilateral trade commode upon his allies' heads, and across America's myriad Sunday morning shows.

Listen. Hear.

The strain of the effort apparently triggered a "very mild heart attack" in the former, and a brain fart from the latter that ripped across the mediasphere as a miasmic and unprecedented damnation to Hell's foul and sulphured core for our Prime Minister.

John Helmer is a long-time, Moscow-based journalist, author, and essayist whose website, Dances with Bears is the only Russian-based news bureau “independent of single national or commercial ties.” He’s also a former political science professor who’s served as advisor to governments on three continents, and regularly lectures on Russian topics.

Helmer’s book titles include: ‘Uncovering Russia,’ ‘Urbanman: The Psychology of Urban Survival,’ ‘Bringing the War Home: The American Soldier in Vietnam and After,’ and ‘Drugs and Minority Oppression’, among others.

His latest article, 'Defecation in Public - Was It Soft or Hard When White House Officials Did It On the Canadian Prime Minister? Is Chrystia Freeland Also Aiming at Justin Trudeau?' gets to the bottom of the sewering Canada/US relationship.

John Helmer in the first half.

And; last month, the Dutch Joint Investigation Team tasked to look into the MH17 disaster came down with an opinion of how the Malaysian airliner came to be shot down over Ukraine in 2014, and who it believes is responsible.

The JIT report unsurprisingly concludes Russia is the culprit, as it argued from the beginning, but is there another possibility? The impartiality of the panel in charge of the nearly four years-long probe has been questioned, with criticism coming mainly from Russia and the separatists of Eastern Ukraine who have fought a bitter war against the NATO-sponsored coup regime in Kyiv.

Kees van der Pijl is emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Sussex and Fellow of the Centre for Global Political Economy. The Dutch political scientist is known for his critical approach to global political economy as found in his trilogy 'Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy'.

Kees' other works include; 'Global Rivalries from the Cold War to Iraq', 'Transnational Classes and International Relations', and 'The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class'. Pijl's also known as one of the World's foremost authorities on the MH17 crash, and the fate of his book dealing with the crash, due out later this month, is now in question.

Kees van der Pijl and getting to the truth of MH17 in the second half.

And, Victoria-based activist and CFUV Radio broadcaster, Janine Bandcroft will be here at the bottom of the hour with the Left Coast Events Bulletin of some of the good things to get up to in and around our town in the coming week. But first, John Helmer and a really very sh*tty week for Justin Trudeau and Canada/US trade relations.

Chris Cook hosts Gorilla Radio, airing live every Thursday between 11-Noon Pacific Time. In Victoria at 101.9FM, and on the internet at:  He also serves as a contributing editor to the web news site, Check out the GR blog at:

With Friends Like These...Trump's Trade War(s)

Defiant Trump Ignites Trade War with Canada and G-7 Allies


June 12, 2018

Citing national security issues to get around WTO rules, Trump ordered tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports from Canada and EU countries.


William Black and Gerald Epstein discuss the implications of these tariffs on the different economies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Trump-Kim Sign Agreement in Singapore

Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit 

via ICH

June 12, 2018

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
  2. The United States and DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit -- the first in history -- was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulations in the joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.

President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and the security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.

President of the United States of America

Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

June 12, 2018
Sentosa Island

Monday, June 11, 2018

Finding Your Neo: Looking Through the Corporate Media Illusion

The corporate media’s world of illusions 

by Jonathan Cook

11 June 2018

For several years now, I have been writing these regular blog posts with one end in mind: to help open a door for readers and encourage them to step through. I select issues, usually those that dominate western media coverage and represent a consensus that we might term the Great Western Narrative, and try to show how this narrative has been constructed not to inform and enlighten but to conceal and deceive.

It is not that I and the many other bloggers doing this are cleverer than everyone else. We have simply had a chance – an earlier one – to step through that door ourselves, because of a jarring life experience that the Great Western Narrative could not explain, or because someone held the door open for us, or more usually because of a combination of the two.

My personal awakening

It is easy for me to identify my own process of awakening. It began with the dislocation of moving to Nazareth and being immersed in someone else’s narrative – that of the Palestinians. Then, I faced for the first time in my career as a journalist an impenetrable wall of opposition, even from my own former newspaper, the Guardian, as I tried to explain that counter-narrative. In fact, I found that the Palestinian narrative was invariably misrepresented as anti-semitism. These were dark years of disillusionment and the loss of a professional and ideological compass.

It is in such a moment of bereavement – deprived of the consolation of the Great Western Narrative – that one searches for a door to enlightenment. It can be a long journey to find it.

My door appeared while reading about the Propaganda Model of Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky in their book Manufacturing Consent, as well as stumbling across a website called Media Lens. They helped me understand that the narrative problem was not restricted to Israel-Palestine, but was a much more general one.

In fact, the Great Western Narrative has been developed and refined over centuries to preserve a tiny elite’s privileges and expand its power. The role of journalists like me was to keep feeding these illusions to readers so they would remain fearful, passive and deferential to this elite. It is not that journalists lie – or at least, not most of them – it is that they are as deeply wedded to the Great Western Narrative as anyone else.

Once one is prepared to step through the door, to discard the old script, the new narrative takes its hold because it is so helpful. It actually explains the world, and human behaviour, as it is experienced everywhere. It has genuine predictive power. And most importantly, it reveals a truth understood by all figures of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment throughout human history: that human beings are equally human, whether they are Americans, Europeans, Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, Russians, Venezuelans, or Iranians, whether they are North or South Koreans.

The term “human” is not meant simply as a description of us as a species, or a biological entity. It also describes who we are, what drives us, what makes us cry, what makes us laugh, what makes us angry, what elicits compassion. And the truth is that we are all essentially the same. The same things upset us, the same things amuse us. The same things inspire us, the same things outrage us. We want dignity, freedom, safety for us and our loved ones, and appreciate beauty and truth. We fear oppression, injustice, insecurity.

Hierarchies of virtue

The Great Western Narrative tells us something entirely different. It divides the world into a hierarchy of “peoples”, with different, even conflicting, virtues and vices. Some humans – westerners – are more rational, more caring, more thoughtful, more fully human. And other humans – the rest – are more primitive, more emotional, more violent. In this system of classification, we are the Good Guys and they are the Bad Guys; we are Order, they are Chaos. They need a firm hand from us to control them and stop them doing too much damage to themselves and to our civilised part of the world.

The Great Western Narrative isn’t really new. It is simply a reformulation for a different era of the “white man’s burden”.

The reason the Great Western Narrative persists is because it is useful – to those in power. Humans may be essentially the same in our natures and in our drives, but we are very definitely divided by power and its modern corollary, wealth. A tiny number have it, and the vast majority do not. The Great Western Narrative is there to perpetuate power by legitimising it, by making its unbalanced and unjust distribution seem natural and immutable.

Once kings told us they had blue blood and a divine right. Today, we need a different kind of narrative, but one designed to achieve the same end. Just as kings and barons once owned everything, now a tiny corporate elite rule the world. They have to justify that to themselves and to us.

The king and the barons had their courtiers, the clergy and a wider circle of hanger-ons who most of the time benefited enough from the system not to disrupt it. The role of the clergy in particular was to sanction the gross imbalance of power, to argue that it was God’s will. Today, the media function like the clergy of old. God may be dead, as Nietzsche observed, but the corporate media has taken his place. In the unquestioned premises of every article, we are told who should rule and who should be ruled, who are the Good Guys and who the Bad.

To make this system more palatable, more democratic, to make us believe that there is equality of opportunity and that wealth trickles down, the western elite has had to allow a large domestic middle class to emerge, like the courtiers of old. The spoils from the rape and pillage of distant societies are shared sparingly with this class. Their consciences are rarely pricked because the corporate media’s function is to ensure they know little about the rest of the world and care even less, believing those foreigners to be less deserving, less human.

Nothing more than statistics

If western readers, for example, understood that a Palestinian is no different from an Israeli – apart from in opportunities and income – then they might feel sympathy for a grieving Palestinian family just as they do for an Israeli one. But the Great Western Narrative is there precisely to ensure readers won’t feel the same about the two cases.

That is why Palestinian deaths are invariably reported as nothing more than statistics – because Palestinians die in large numbers, like cattle in an abbatoir. Israelis, by contrast, die much more rarely and their deaths are recorded individually. They are dignified with names, life stories and pictures.

Even when a moment arrives to single out a Palestinian from the mass of death, western corporate media show great reluctance to do so. Just take the case of Razan al-Najjar, the 21-year-old Palestinian medic executed by a sniper’s bullet as she tended to the unarmed demonstrators regularly being killed and wounded at the perimeter fence encaging them in the prison of Gaza.

Gaza is slowly sinking into the sea, but who cares? Those primitive Palestinians live like cavemen amid the rubble of homes Israel has repeatedly destroyed.

Their women are hijabbed and they have too many children. They don’t look like us, they don’t speak like us. Doubtless, they don’t think like us. They cannot be us.

Even those young Palestinian demonstrators, with their faces covered with strange scarves, launching flaming kites and throwing the odd stone, look different. Can we imagine ourselves standing in front of a sniper to protest like that?

Of course not. We cannot imagine what it is like to live in one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, in an open-air prison over which another nation serves as jailers, in which the water is becoming as saline as seawater and there is no electricity.

So how can we put ourselves in the demonstrators’ shoes, how can we empathise? It is so much easier to imagine being the powerful sniper protecting the “border” and his home.

But al-Najjar undermined all that. A young, pretty woman with a beautiful smile – she could be our daughter. Selflessly tending to the wounded, thinking not of herself but of the welfare of others, we would be proud to have her as our daughter. We can identify with her much better than the sniper. She is a door beckoning us to step through and see the world from a different location, from a different perspective.

Which is why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar’s death with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week as he noted in correspondence with the editor that the Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When he tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

The Guardian’s editors argued that his cartoon was anti-semitic. But the deeper truth is that al-Najjar is dangerous. Because once you step through that door, you are unlikely to come back, you are unlikely ever again to believe the Great Western Narrative.

The true message of Israel

Israel-Palestine offered me that door, just as it has so many others. It is not, as Israel’s apologists – and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative – will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like us, its cities look rather like our cities, its TV shows are given a makeover and become hits on our TV screens. If you don’t stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US.

But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly amiss about Israel.

A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our sons. That is the true horror of Israel.

We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel – because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it, because it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative – justifying its actions – is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the Other than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realisation – that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers – that prevents many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshhold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

Equally human

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix.

Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realise that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed. Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, inexplicable. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too – that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code – that he becomes strong enough to triumph. 

Back to us. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza. From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia’s Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as rational, or irrational, and as criminal as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal – not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but simply because they enjoy less power and face more constraints in trying to impose their will. The issue is not about who is better. They are the same humans. It is about who has more force at their disposal – and more will to use it – to perpetuate their power.

Enslaved to power

The conclusion from this is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspective, on stepping through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo living in his dream world.

And if we step only to the threshhold, glimpsing the shadows on the the other side, we will be equally in thrall to illusions, just as Neo took his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies.

This danger can be seen in the case of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel inflicts on Palestinians justifiably radicalise many observers. But not all step fully through the door. They linger at the threshhold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and beatifying Palestinians as nothing more than victims. Some manage to find false consolation again, this time accepting readymade conspiracies that “the Jews” are pulling the levers that make such outrages – and western inaction – possible.

To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, the false consciousness as profound.

Our planet and our children’s futures depend on us liberating ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity. That other humans are not our enemies, only those who wish to enslave us to their power.

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