Archive | July 16, 2017

Creating a Better World*

Creating a Better World*

‘When people’s minds are opened up, there is no end to the possibilities,’ says Corbyn

By Jessica Corbett

 

U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who led his party to secure more of the vote share than any party leader since WWII, recently met with The Intercept’s Naomi Klein in London. (Photo: @NaomiAKlein/Twitter)

 

“Social justice isn’t copyrighted,” U.K. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Naomi Klein in an interview published at The Intercept on Thursday.

Klein, a jouranlist and author of the new book No Is Not Enough, asked Corbyn about U.K. conservatives trying to co-opt his policies to appeal to young voters. The pair recently met up in London to discuss Labour’s stunning results in last month’s elections, the Trump administration, Bernie Sanders, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Grenfell Tower fire, and much more.

Corbyn made international headlines in June when he led Labour to secure more of the vote share than any party leader since WWII. The election results—described by journalist and Labour supporter Owen Jones as “the most incredible amazing political upset in British history”—were in part thanks to the mass mobilization of young people who turned out to support the party.

As Jonathan Cook wrote for Common Dreams following the election:

“With Corbyn, the election campaign proved that there is a huge appetite for his honesty, his passion, his commitment to social justice—at least when audiences got a chance to hear from him directly, rather than having his policies and personality mediated and distorted by a biased and self-serving corporate media. Unlike [Tony] Blair, who destroyed Labour to turn it into a Thatcher-lite party, Corbyn is rebuilding Labour into a social movement for progressive politics.”

Despite his personal success in politics, Corbyn said:

“It’s not about me. It’s about a cause, it’s about people…. When people’s minds are opened up, there is no end to the possibilities.”

Although there are still political battles to be fought—in future races, the Labour Party hopes to win the overall majority in Parliament—Corbyn shared with Klein his bold vision for the future:

“The picture of the world is a crucial one. It is about what we do to deal with issues of injustice and inequality and poverty, and above all, hope and opportunity for young people. Hope that they can get to college or university, opportunity they can get a decent job. And it’s also about the contribution we make to the rest of the world and the relationship we have with the rest of the world. I want a foreign policy based on human rights, based on respect for international law, recognizing the causes of the refugee flows, the causes of the injustice around the world.”

Watch The Intercept’s full interview with Corbyn below:

Source*

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G20 Leaders Forced to Stay Indoors by Protests*

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No Outsiders to be Allowed to Investigate Burma’s Rohingya Genocide*

No Outsiders to be Allowed to Investigate Burma’s Rohingya Genocide*

Burma has refused entry to any members of the U.N. coming into their country to investigate the ongoing killing, abuse, and oppression that the Rohingya Muslims are facing, as an official has stated.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has stated that they will refuse to cooperate with a U.N. mission. Speaking to The Telegraph, permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs Kyaw Zeya said:

“If they are going to send someone with regards to the fact-finding mission, then there’s no reason for us to let them come.” He also added that visas would not be issued to anyone coming into the country to work on the mission.

Based in the Rakhine State, there have been many claims and allegations that the Rohingya Muslims are victims of violence and genocide, however these have all been denied by the Burmese government who labelled the accusations as propaganda and fake news.

A report published by the U.N. in February found that babies and children were reportedly being slaughtered with knives during “area clearance operations”

Additionally, the report concluded that counter military operations carried out by security forces left Rohingya people subject to mass gang rape, ruthless beatings, and disappearances.

People in Burma view the Rohingya people as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and the Burmese leader, Ms. Suu Kyi, has been criticised many a time for not standing up and facing the Rohingyas, the population of whom exceeds one million.

After security operations carried out by the Burmese army last year, approximately 75,000 Rohingyas have fled the state of Rakhine and gone to Bangladesh. Allegations of abuse in the North of the country were looked into by the E.U., who called for a mission in March and appointed Indira Jaising, an advocate from the supreme court of India, in May, to lead said mission.

However, Burma insists that a domestic investigation led by the first vice president of Myanmar, Myint Swe, is sufficient and there is no need for any outsiders to get involved.

Last month, speaking in Brussels, Ms. Suu Kyi had a disagreement with the E.U. over the need and necessity to send an international fact-finding mission to Burma. She made clear her belief that this mission would not address the needs of the ground and that the country needs time more than anything else to recuperate from the distrust between these two communities.

She also believes that rather than making Rakhine a safe place for the Rohingyas, the U.N. resolution of having a mission like this would further increase the hostility between the two communities.

Source*

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Modern Day Colonnialism: The Uyghurs versus China*

Congress Trying to Sneak Through Major Giveaway to Defense Contractors*

Congress Trying to Sneak Through Major Giveaway to Defense Contractors*

U.S. Marines advance on the Black Sea shore during a military training exercise in Romania on March 20, 2017.

 

By David Dayen

Congress is on the brink of a major giveaway to defense contractors, tucking language into a must-pass piece of legislation that would broadly expand their ability to gouge the federal government on sole-source contracts.

The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, is practically the only bill Congress passes on time every year. The last 50 NDAA’s, which authorize funds and set policy for the Department of Defense, have reached the president’s desk without a holdup. Education, healthcare, and jobs can wait, but supporting the troops — actually, supporting the defense contractors who make the weapons — must never face a delay. The bill even goes through a regular process, with dozens of amendments and bipartisan votes. It’s like nothing else in Washington.

This year’s version of the NDAA, which authorizes $696 billion in military spending, includes a nice gift for contractors, particularly those that have monopolized a particular part the Pentagon needs. Buried in the NDAA, which is scheduled to pass the House Friday, is an increase in the amount of products which can be sold to the military without providing cost information — data about the price of manufacturing and labor. Without this information, monopoly contractors could enjoy a huge markup on their sales to the government without anyone knowing about it.

Section 803 of the House NDAA raises the threshold for cost information in “noncompetitive” contracts — meaning contracts that are sole-source, with no other supplier for the government — from $500,000 to $2.5 million. The Senate version, in Section 813, raises that threshold to $1 million. If both pass as written, the gift to contractors will be assured; the only question would be how big.

Hiding cost information benefits a small group of sole-source contractors, including TransDigm, which I wrote about for The Intercept in April. TransDigm, a private equity-style conglomerate, specializes in cornering the market for proprietary parts for military aircraft and then jacking up the price. Several Democrats in Congress have highlighted TransDigm’s practices, and the Defense Department’s inspector general is actively investigating the company.

Increasing the threshold for disclosure could allow TransDigm to further avoid sharing information with the Pentagon. Critics charge that TransDigm has subverted the cost information requirement by creating the illusion of multiple suppliers for a product, when in fact they are all owned by TransDigm. The company wouldn’t need to always resort to such subterfuge if this new loophole becomes law. They can also split up contracts to stay under the dollar threshold and avoid disclosure.

The change updates the Truth in Negotiations Act (TINA), an important law passed in 1962 that almost nobody knows about. That law was part of a strong anti-monopoly tradition in military procurement, dating back to the exposure of profiteering by the Truman Committee during World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Pentagon favored competitive bidding, and under TINA, any sole-source contracting required cost information, so procurement officers at the Defense Logistics Agency could ensure they were only paying a reasonable markup, without price gouging.

This model of competition in defense contracting ran aground after the Cold War, when policymakers made streamlining the primary objective. The number of audits of contractor facilities fell. Experienced procurement officers were let go. Buy American mandates were loosened. Contractors won an exception to cost information disclosure if they listed their items as “commercial.” Indeed, the House’s justification for raising the cost information threshold, obtained by The Intercept in a summary of the NDAA, is to “reduce administrative burdens” and “improve process timelines for smaller contracts.” Keeping costs down is no longer the focus.

In addition to creating fake markets, TransDigm uses the commercial item exception routinely (even if there’s no commercial market for the products), according to an Inspector General’s report in 2006. The increased threshold exemption just adds to the company’s bag of tricks.

Partially due to these procurement changes, the defense contractor sector has concentrated significantly since the 1990s. A handful of companies control the sector, and all these loopholes for disclosure prevent public understanding of whether the taxpayer is being harmed by exorbitant pricing.

This document photographed in Washington on in January details the announcement of a five-year, $500 million contract. Photo: Jon Elswick/AP

 

 

“There’s a very serious monopoly problem in the defense industrial space, and it’s time Congress start taking it seriously,” said Matt Stoller, a fellow with the Open Markets Program of the New America Foundation, who is also an Intercept contributor.

It’s hard to identify how this loophole got into the NDAA, because the process is so secretive. Citing national security, the Senate Armed Services Committee did all its work on the bill this year in closed sessions. While the House Armed Services Committee markups were open, some of the subcommittee hearings lasted as little as 2 minutes, merely recording votes on their part of the bill. Seventeen organizations, led by the Project on Government Oversight, protested the closing of the NDAA committee process, insisting, “It’s time to bring the NDAA into the light of day.”

Some people are watching over the process: the ones paid by their defense contractor clients. Lobbying by the defense industry has exceeded $70 million annually for five of the past six years.

The Armed Services Committees claim they are cracking down on the acquisition process. The Senate bill authorizes a study on software acquisition, and enhanced training for procurement officers. The House version requires more oversight in service contracts, which make up about half of Pentagon contract spending. There’s even a provision in the House bill inserted by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who has led the charge on TransDigm, to study the ownership structures of defense contractors, to prevent “hidden monopolists with unreasonable prices.”

But the NDAA also gives a boost to another monopoly provider — Amazon. Both the House and Senate encourage the Pentagon to use online commercial sites for procurement, with speed and convenience again being the primary goal.

So far, no amendments have been filed in either chamber to eliminate the increase on sole-source cost information thresholds. If it becomes law, it’ll be hard to even gauge its impact, because the entire point is to prevent disclosure of how much monopoly defense contractors are overcharging the government.

Source*

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Secrets of Ancient Japan Informs Modern Japanese Technology

Secrets of Ancient Japan Informs Modern Japanese Technology

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Aleppo Rising: Swimsuits, Concerts and its First ISIS -Free Summer*

Aleppo Rising: Swimsuits, Concerts and its First ISIS -Free Summer*

By Tyler Durden

When taxi and bus drivers take journalists into Syria via the Beirut-Damascus Highway these days, there’s a common greeting that has become a kind of local tradition as the drivers pull into their Damascus area destinations. They confidently tell their passengers: “welcome to the real Syria.” Local Syrians living in government areas are all too aware of how the outside world perceives the government and the cities under its control. After years of often deceptive imagery and footage produced by opposition fighters coordinating with an eager Western press bent on vilifying Assad as “worse than Hitler”, many average Syrian citizens increasingly take to social media to post images and scenes of Syria that present a different vision: they see their war-torn land as fundamentally secular, religiously plural, socially tolerant, and slowly returning to normalcy under stabilizing government institutions.

As the most intense phase of fighting in Aleppo was unfolding in 2016, veteran journalist Stephen Kinzer took to the editorial pages of the Boston Globe to remind Americans that the media has created a fantasy land concerning Syria. Kinzer painted a picture quite opposite the common perception:

Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press… For three years, violent militants have run Aleppo. Their rule began with a wave of repression. They posted notices warning residents:

“Don’t send your children to school. If you do, we will get the backpack and you will get the coffin.”

Then they destroyed factories, hoping that unemployed workers would have no recourse other than to become fighters. They trucked looted machinery to Turkey and sold it…

The United States has the power to decree the death of nations. It can do so with popular support because many Americans — and many journalists — are content with the official story.

Now, during the first summer of relative calm Aleppo residents have seen in over four years of grinding conflict, the city commonly referred as “the jewel of Syria” is once again rising from the ashes. Foreign journalists are also accessing places like East Aleppo and the heart of the walled ‘old city’ for the first time. Some few honest correspondents, unable to deny the local population’s spirit of hopefulness and zeal with which they undertake rebuilding projects, acknowledge that stability and normalcy have returned only after the last jihadists were expelled by the Syrian government and its allies.

Aleppo orchestra concert, Summer 2017/via Sarah Abdallah

A Western press and political class which generally mourned the liberation of the city from al-Qaeda groups like Nusra (AQ in Syria), calling government actions a ‘massacre’ and ‘genocide’, now finds a reality that can’t be ignored or denied: Aleppines are returning to ravaged parts of the city to rebuild, they are enjoying nightlife, going to music concerts, staying out late at cafes; families are swimming at local pools, women are strolling around in t-shirts and jeans free of the oppressive Wahhabi fighters that once ruled parts of the city.

Kinzer’s Boston Globe piece further concluded that the entire web of assumptions on Syria woven by the media and fed to the public over the years were “appallingly distant from reality” and warned that these lies are “likely to prolong the war and condemn more Syrians to suffering and death.” As new photos continue to emerge of the real Aleppo and the real Syria it is essential to revisit the most destructive among the lies that have helped serve to prolong this tragic and brutal war.

Aleppines didn’t want to live under Wahhabi Islamist rule

Andalusia Swimming Pool in Aleppo, Summer 2017/via Syria Daily

 

According to multiple eyewitness reports and studies, the story of how war entered Aleppo’s environs was not primarily one of mass public protests and government crackdown, but of an aggressive jihadist insurgency that erupted suddenly and fueled from outside the city. According to then Indian ambassador to Syria, V.P. Haran (Amb. to Syria from 2009 to 2012), Aleppo on the whole was unwillingly dragged into the war after remaining silent and stable while other cities raged. In an interview which detailed his own on-the-ground experience of the opening years of war in Syria, the ambassador said:

Soon parts of Latakia, Homs and Hama were chaotic but Aleppo remained calm and this troubled the opposition greatly. The opposition couldn’t get the people in Aleppo to rise up against the regime so they sent bus loads of people to Aleppo. These people would burn something on the streets and leave. Journalists would then broadcast this saying Aleppo had risen.

Why did it take until July 2012 – well over a year since conflict in Syria began – for Aleppo to see any fighting? Why did residents not “rise up” against the government?

The answer is simple. The majority of Syrians, whether Sunni, Shia, Alawi, Christian, Kurd, or Ismaili, are sane individuals – they’ve seen what life is like under the “alternative” rebel rule marked by sharia courts, smoke and alcohol bans, public floggings, street executions, desecration of churches, and religious and ethnic cleansing of minorities. They recognize that there is a real Syrian national identity, and it goes beyond mere loyalty to the current ruling clique that happens to be in power, but in Syria as a pluralistic Levantine society that rejects Saudi style theocracy.

Rebuilding Aleppo, Summer 2017. Latin Parish of St. Francis/via Sarah Abdallah

 

The kind of religious and cultural pluralism represented in the liberal democracies of the West are present in Syria, ironically, through a kind of government-mandated “go along, get along” policy backed by an authoritarian police state. One can even find Syrian Jews living in the historic Jewish quarter of Damascus’ walled old city to this day.

Syrian urban centers have for decades been marked by a quasi-secular culture and public life of pluralist co-existence. Aleppo itself was always a thriving merchant center where a typical street scene would involve women without head-coverings walking side by side with women wearing veils (hijab), cinemas and liquor stores, late night hookah smoke filled cafés, and large churches and mosques neighbouring each other with various communities living in peaceful co-existence. By many accounts, the once vibrant secular and pluralist Aleppo is now coming back to life (and largely never left government-held West Aleppo).

“Moderates” did not “liberate” Aleppo, but gave cover to an ISIS and al-Qaeda invasion

One of the most under reported and least understood events surrounding the history of how all of Aleppo province and the Northern Syria region became a hotbed of foreign jihadists is the fall of the strategically located Menagh airbase near Aleppo. As a Reuters timeline of events indicates:

In early 2012 rebels take control of the rural areas northwest of Aleppo city, besieging the Menagh military air base and the largely Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra.

After a lengthy siege of Menagh, the base finally fell to jihadist factions under the command of the US-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) in August of 2013. This event was key to rebel fighters gaining enough territory to cut off the Aleppo-Damascus Highway, which allowed them to encircle all of Aleppo for much of that year. But a little known yet hugely important detail of the Menagh episode is that rebels only got the upper hand after being joined by ISIS suicide bombers commanded by Omar the Chechen (ISIS’ now deceased most senior military commander). The fall of this government base is what opened a permanent jihadi corridor in the North, allowing terrorists to flood the area. The commander for the operation was US Ambassador Robert Ford’s personal friend, Col. Abdel Jabbar al-Okaidi, who was head of the US and UK funded Revolutionary Military Council of Aleppo (FSA). Okaidi worked in tandem with ISIS military commander Omar the Chechen and his crew for the operation – all while being supported by the United States and Great Britain.

Concerning U.S.-backed Okaidi’s close relationship to the ISIS faction in the summer of 2013, there is actually video evidence and eyewitness testimony (U.S. Ambassador Ford himself later admitted the relationship to McClatchy News). Amazingly, the video, titled “US Key Man in Syria Worked Closely with ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra” never had very widespread public distribution, even though it has been authenticated by the top Syria expert in the U.S., Joshua Landis, of the University of Oklahoma, and author of the hugely influential Syria Comment. Using his Twitter account, Dr. Landis commented: “in 2013 WINEP advocated sending all U.S. military aid thru him [Col. Okaidi]. Underscores U.S. problem with moderates.”

The video, documenting (now former) U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford’s visit to FSA Col. Okaidi in Northern Syria, also shows the same Col. Okaidi celebrating with and praising a well-known ISIS commander, Emir Abu Jandal, after conducting the joint Menagh operation. In an interview, this U.S. “key man” at that time, through which U.S. assistance flowed, also praised ISIS and al-Qaeda as the FSA’s “brothers.” Abu Jandal was part of Omar the Chechen’s ISIS crew assisting the FSA. Further video evidence also confirms Omar the Chechen’s role at Menagh. The videos also show Okaidi proudly declaring that al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda in Syria) makes up ten percent of the FSA. The FSA was always more of a branding campaign to sell the rebels as “moderates” to a gullible Western media than a reality on the ground; it was a loose coalition of various groups espousing militant jihad with the end goal of establishing an Islamist polity in Syria.

Foreign fighters flooded Aleppo Province. The U.S. State Department’s own numbers: read the full report at STATE.GOV

In the end, terror groups like ISIS enjoyed a meteoric rise in Syria due to U.S. government and media support for these so-called “moderate rebels” – all entities which collectively sought regime change at all costs – even the high cost of mass civilian death and suffering that inevitably results from unleashing an insurgency in urban areas.

The Syrian Army and government were never “Shia” or sectarian-based

The Arab Spring narrative was the ideological lens through which experts initially pit the oppressive supposedly “Alawite/Shia regime” against a popular uprising of Syria’s majority Sunnis. As Sunnis make up about 70% of Syria’s population, it was simply a matter of numbers, and of time. But this view proved overly simplistic, and according to one little known West Point study, utterly false. It was commonly assumed that the Syrian Army was a hollowed out Alawite institution with its Sunni conscripts apprehensively waiting for the right moment to defect to the rebel side. This was the fundamental supposition behind years of repetitious predictions of the Assad regime’s impending collapse, and predicated upon a view of the Syrian military as a fundamentally weak and sectarian institution. But West Point’s 2015 study entitled Syria’s Sunnis and the Regime’s Resilience concluded the following:

Sunnis and, more specifically, Sunni Arabs, continue to make up the majority of the regular army’s rank-and- file membership.

The study’s unpopular findings confirmed that the Syrian Army, which has been the glue holding the state together throughout this war, remains primarily a Sunni enterprise while its guiding ideology is firmly nationalistic and not sectarian.

The highest ranking Syrian officer to fall victim to rebel attack was General Dawoud Rajiha, Defense Minister and former chief of staff of the army, in a major 2012 bombing of a Damascus national security office. General Rajiha was an Orthodox Christian. Numerous Christians and officers of other religious backgrounds have served top positions in the Syrian Army going back decades – a reflection of Syria’s generally nationalist and religiously tolerant atmosphere.

Mainstream press did not report from Aleppo, but was hundreds of miles away.

Outside the Citadel of Aleppo: life returning to normal, Summer 2017/via Syria Daily

 

The heavily populated urban areas of Syria continue to be held by the government. But most reporting has tended to dehumanize any voice coming out of government held areas, which includes the majority of Syrians. The war has resulted in over 6.5 million internally displaced people – the vast majority of which have sought refuge in government territory.

The fact remains that there are some popular figures in the establishment media and analyst community who speak and write frequently about Syria, and yet have never spent a significant amount of time in the country. Throughout much of the war they’ve primarily reported from Western capitals – thousands of miles away – or, if they are in a Middle East bureau, without ever leaving the safety of places like Beirut or Istanbul. Fewer still have the necessary Arabic language skills to keep pace with local and regional events. Some have never been to Syria at all. They become willing conduits of rebel propaganda beamed through WhatsApp messages and Skype interviews, which was especially the case when it came to the battle for Aleppo. That much of the world actually considers these people as authorities on what’s happening in Syria is a joke – it’s beyond absurd.

Outdoor concert venue and Aleppo springs back to life, Summer 2017/via Maram Kasem

 

We are hopeful that the jihadist menace will be fully expelled and that the international proxy war which has taken so many lives and reduced much of a beautiful nation to rubble will finally come to an end. Aleppines and other Syrians are rebuilding – they are optimistically preparing for the future. Welcome to the real Aleppo.

Final national exams just before summer 2017/via Syria Daily

 

Source*

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