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Here’s how Russian athletes were unfairly banned from the Olympics

Problems with WADA’s McLaren Report are too big to be ignored whilst the whole chain of events points to a set up.

Rick Sterling

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With the Rio Summer Olympics starting on August 5, there is huge controversy about Russian participation.  On the basis of the report of the so called Independent Person (IP) headed by a Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren (further called McLaren Report), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended to impose a blanket ban on all Russian athletes, barring them from the Rio Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, did not go with this recommendation 100 percent, delegating the final decision on individual athletes to sports’ federations and to a panel of three people appointed by the IOC. Dozens of athletes out of the 387 strong Russian Olympic team, however, are already barred from the competitions. The heaviest losses were inflicted by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF), which banned all Russian track and field athletes, including those who never failed any doping tests, in Russia or outside it.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been under heavy pressure to ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics. The New York Times has carried many reports and editorials.  The Daily Mail in London went so far as to publish a front page story falsely claiming the “entire Russian team banned from Olympics” two days before the IOC’s  decision to the contrary.

Some Canadian and American athletes and sports associations launched campaigns to exclude all Russian athletes. This was condemned by the President of the European Olympic Committees. Here is what he said: “I have to question on what authority the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies prepared their letter and what mandate they have to lead an international call for a ban of another nation in the Olympic family.”

SO, HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The following time-line shows the sequence of events. 

* February 2014 – Winter Olympics was held in Sochi, a city in southern Russia.

* December 2014 – German TV network ARD showed a documentary alleging widespread Russian doping violations including during the Sochi Games.

* January 2015 – World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) established Independent Commission to look into allegations in the ARD documentary.

* November 2015 – WADA’s Independent Commission published 300+ page report asserting (but not documenting) some “widespread” use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in Russian athletics. The report recommends the prohibition of numerous athletes, coaches and trainers. It identifies the former director of Moscow-based anti-doping lab, the future defector Grigory Rodchenkov, as being “at the heart of the positive drug test cover-up.” The Commission even recommends Mr.Rodchenkov to be permanently removed as director and his laboratory be to be de-certified (several months later McLaren’s report will call Mr. Rodchenkov “a truthful, honest man”).   

* The end of 2015 – Dr. Rodchenkov without problem leaves Russia and goes to USA with support from  an American filmmaker Bryan Fogel and other supporters of the idea of pervasive nature of “Russian doping program.”

* Early May 2016 – American TV program “Sixty Minutes” broadcast Bryan Fogel’s report on Russian doping while the New York Times published articles about Russian doping, which were based on Rodchenkov’s allegations.

* 19 May 2016 – WADA appointed Richard McLaren to investigate media allegations.

* 17 June 2016 – Influenced by a confidential letter from McLaren, the IAAF decided to ban all Russian track and field athletes from the upcoming Rio Olympic Games

* 16 July 2016 – WADA published the Mclaren report.

* 24 July 2016 – International Olympic Committee decided against banning all Russian athletes. Instead, the IOC imposed unique requirements on all Russian athletes, making them fit the criteria which other athletes were not required to fit (such as NEVER failing their previous doping tests and getting an approval of their candidacies by individual sports federations and a special panel of three members).

PROBLEMS WITH THE MCLAREN REPORT

The McLaren Report, released on July 16, has strongly influenced media reports, public opinion and official decisions regarding Russian participation in the Olympics. 

The purpose of Mr. McLaren’s (named an “independent person” in the official documents) investigation was to establish whether there has been Russian manipulation of the doping control process, how it was done, which athletes might have benefited, whether it was happening in the Moscow Laboratory somewhere else.

Following are significant problems with McLaren’s report:

* The report relies primarily on the testimony of the chief culprit, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov.  While it is possible that Rodchenkov was indeed telling the truth when answering McLaren’s questions, it is also possible that he was lying or misleading to redirect responsibility away from himself.  Rodchenkov has a strong interest in portraying himself as ‘just following orders’.  The report says there is extensive documentation that corroborate Rodchenkov’s claims, but these “documents” have never been shown to the public, so believing or not believing Rodchenkov is a matter of faith. Where is the evidence?

* The report concludes that Rodchenkov is credible and truthful with little demonstrated proof.  In contrast, the November 2015 Independent Commission report concluded that Dr. Rodchenkov was not credible. The fact that Rodchenkov knew techniques of manipulating test results is not evidence of “state controlled doping program,” especially since he was the main culprit. The information spread in previous reports on Russian doping that Rodchenkov was involved in extorting money from athletes – this information suggests opportunism on his part rather than integrity. The former director of Moscow Laboratory has admitted his involvement in urine sample swapping, design of a steroid cocktail not easily traced, and more. He was instrumental in helping some athletes cheat the system. He is also the person with most motivation to implicate others, even if unjustly.  His testimony obviously needs careful scrutiny and cross-checking.

* The investigation did not hear the factual corrections or counter-arguments of Russian authorities.  McLaren says: “The IP did not seek to interview persons living in the Russian Federation …. I did not seek to meet with Russian government officials and did not think it necessary…”  Since the Russian Ministry of Sport and other agencies are accused of serious violations in this report, such words provide strong evidence of bias on Mr. McLaren’s part. It is a basic standard of fairness to hear from the accused.

* The investigation excluded a written rebuttal supplied by one of the accused Russian individuals.  McLaren says: “I also received, unsolicited, an extensive narrative with attachments from one important government representative described in this report. In the short span of 57 days that I was given to conduct this IP investigation it was simply not practical and I deemed such interviewing would not be helpful.” (Page 21)  Since one of the main purposes of the investigation was to determine the truthfulness of Rodchenkov’s accusations, this decision to not consider the ‘unsolicited’ information is shocking. It should have been mandatory to evaluate the arguments and information coming from al sources, including the Russian side.  

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how urine sample bottles were associated with an individual athlete. As reported by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP report appears to contain two different versions – both from Rodchenkov – about how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were made recognizable at the laboratory.”

* There are inconsistencies in the description of how ‘protected’ Russian athlete samples were identified, separated and then delayed in shipping to the laboratory.  As identified by Sports Integrity Initiative, “The IP Report and IO Report contain conflicting accounts of how samples taken at the Sochi 2014 Olympics were consolidated for shipment to the laboratory.”  One of the descriptions stretches credulity.  In a tightly monitored environment, under supervision of international authorities, would it really be possible to identify Russian test samples among the hundreds being processed, separate them out, then delay their shipment till the end of the day? All of these actions would be necessary if the plan indeed was to make a manipulation in the middle of the night.

* The western media and McLaren report put the blame on all Russian athletes instead of the guilty ones (which could be very few). For example, the “Sixty Minutes” story claims that “numerous Russian athletes were doped at Sochi, including 4 gold medalists that were using steroids.” If we accept that this accusation is true, the next question should be: Why are you not identifying who these 4 athletes are? It would make sense to reveal the culprits’ identities  for two reasons: first, to identify and punish the guilty parties, and second,  not to punish those Russian athletes who were clean. With pairs and team events, there were 25 Russian gold medal winners at Sochi. Why are all of the athletes being smeared because of the wrongdoing of a few? 

* The report claims to have evidence but does not reveal it. For example, on page 14 the report states “Dr. Rodchenkov provided credible evidence that the A and B bottles would pass through the ‘mouse hole’ … into an adjacent room, outside the security perimeter.”  We are left to wonder where is this “credible evidence.”

* The investigation was neither thorough nor comprehensive.  The McLaren investigation had a mandate to carry out a “thorough and comprehensive investigation” which would corroborate or refute the public allegations of Dr. Rodchenkov.  Prof. Mclaren summarizes the situation as follows: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This report has skimmed the surface of the data… However, we are confident that what we have found meets the highest evidentiary standard and can be stated with confidence.” McLaren thus acknowledges that the investigation was hasty and he did not even review all the evidence, but at the same time he demands absolute trust in his conclusions. By relying primarily on the testimony and evidence provided by Rodchenkov, and excluding testimony and data from Russian Ministry of Sports officials, Mr. McLaren invalidates himself from providing a balanced story. So, his investigation cannot be called neither thorough nor comprehensive.

* McLaren’s description of the “disappearing positive methodology” (his own term), presumably used by the Russians, does not describe a realistic way to hide positive results of anti-doping tests. Here is how this methodology is supposed to work, in McLaren’s view. The culprits would have to:

– conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’ of the athlete;

– if it is a positive result, match the screen with the athlete;

– communicate the information to the Russian Deputy Minister of Sports;

– the Deputy Minister responds with coded message indicating either “save” or “quarantine”;

– if the response is “save”, the test result should be manipulated to become negative;

– if the response is “quarantine” the test can proceed normally.

This description raises questions. Can an officially mandated test be delayed to conduct an ‘initial analytical screen’?  Can a scientifically determined positive result be manipulated and later put on record as a negative result? The report does not explain the time limits during which the presumable illegal operations were conducted. IN this situation a very substantial doubt – could the culprits operate fast enough not to arouse suspicions? – that doubt is left unanswered. 

*The McLaren report makes strong assertions propped up by weak or incomplete evidence. For example, the report says: “It can be made to appear that the laboratory was acting alone. However, given the examination and the insights obtained from evidence available to the IP investigation, it is correct to place the Moscow Laboratory within the ambit of state control.” (P30)  This assertion goes to the core of the case. Unfortunately, McLarren seems to think it is adequate to make this assertion without providing the evidence that is the basis of his “insights”.  The primary evidence of state control of the process seems to be the alleged presence of  “save” and “quarantine” directives as described in the “disappearing positive methodology.” How do the Russian authorities explain or contradict the description of this “save-quarantine” business given in the McLaren report? This is why an objective investigation needs to hear the Russian authorities’ explanation before coming to conclusion.

* The McLaren report casts suspicion on all Russian athletes instead of identifying specific cheaters. The mandate of the investigation was to “Identify any athlete that might have benefited from those alleged manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.” (P3) Instead of doing that, the McLaren report fails to identify any specific athletes who benefited and instead casts suspicion on all Russian athletes. The report does this in many places. The McLaren report says “The IP investigative team has developed evidence identifying dozens of Russian athletes who appear to have been involved in doping. The compressed time-line of the IP investigation did not permit compilation of data to establish an anti-doping rule violation.”  By failing to identify the athletes suspected of benefiting, they cast a cloud of suspicion over all Russian athletes. If we assume that McLaren’s claim is correct, that means “dozens” of cheaters compared to hundreds of clean athletes. Not very fair or sporting. 

Questions for WADA and the IOC 

  1. For WADA: It is claimed that tamper evident urine sample bottles were opened and ‘dirty’ urine exchanged with ‘clean’ urine. Mr. McLaren says that he was witness to a demonstration of this.  Meanwhile the bottle manufacturer has effectively challenged this claim and stands by its product which has been in use for 20 years. What has been done to verify that the bottles can be opened as witnessed by Mclaren?  What has been done to improve the bottles so that this is not possible? 
  2. For WADA: It is claimed that select urine samples were matched to an individual athlete, separated from other samples, then delayed in shipment to the laboratory, then smuggled out of the holding area so that ‘dirty’ urine could be replaced with ‘clean’. Assuming that McLaren report description is true, what has been done to prevent this from happening in future?
  3. For WADA: Fundamental principle #2 of the Olympic Charter is to promote a “peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity”.  Does it not damage this important goal to single out one nation’s athletes and impose collective punishment on all?
  4. For the IOC: Fundamental principle #6 of the Olympic Charter speaks against “discrimination of any kind”.  Are you not discriminating against clean Russian athletes by imposing special conditions and requirements based on nationality?  Isn’t the IAAF violating this principle by banning all Russian track and field athletes from competing at the Olympics including a world record holder who has been tested hundreds of times internationally and never tested positive? 

Conclusion

Following WADA’s Independent Commission report in late 2015,  Russian athletes have been tested through international certified laboratories. The frequency of testing has increased in an effort to demonstrate compliance with anti-doping rules and regulations. If there was still concern that Russian athletes were somehow cheating, the testing regime at the Rio Olympics could have been escalated even more. Instead, WADA and the Mclaren Report have recommended banning all Russian athletes from the Olympics, presumably to embarrass and punish Russian authorities. 

Instead of fighting doping in athletics, this looks like a politically motivated action. We are all the losers as it will increase international tension while decreasing the inclusiveness and quality of the Rio Olympic Games.  We all lose, except those who want to demonize Russia.

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Airline wars heat up, as industry undergoes massive disruption (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 145.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the global commercial airline industry, which is undergoing massive changes, as competition creeps in from Russia and China.

Reuters reports that Boeing Co’s legal troubles grew as a new lawsuit accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 MAX planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.

The proposed class action filed in Chicago federal court seeks damages for alleged securities fraud violations, after Boeing’s market value tumbled by $34 billion within two weeks of the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX.

*****

According to the complaint, Boeing “effectively put profitability and growth ahead of airplane safety and honesty” by rushing the 737 MAX to market to compete with Airbus SE, while leaving out “extra” or “optional” features designed to prevent the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes.

It also said Boeing’s statements about its growth prospects and the 737 MAX were undermined by its alleged conflict of interest from retaining broad authority from federal regulators to assess the plane’s safety.

*****

Boeing said on Tuesday that aircraft orders in the first quarter fell to 95 from 180 a year earlier, with no orders for the 737 MAX following the worldwide grounding.

On April 5, it said it planned to cut monthly 737 production to 42 planes from 52, and was making progress on a 737 MAX software update to prevent further accidents.

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Via Zerohedge…

Step aside (fading) trade war with China: there is a new aggressor – at least according to the US Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer – in town.

In a statement on the USTR’s website published late on Monday, the US fair trade agency announced that under Section 301 of the Trade Act, it was proposing a list of EU products to be covered by additional duties. And as justification for the incremental import taxes, the USTR said that it was in response to EU aircraft subsidies, specifically to Europea’s aerospace giant, Airbus, which “have caused adverse effects to the United States” and which the USTR estimates cause $11 billion in harm to the US each year

One can’t help but notice that the latest shot across the bow in the simmering trade war with Europe comes as i) Trump is reportedly preparing to fold in his trade war with China, punting enforcement to whoever is president in 2025, and ii) comes just as Boeing has found itself scrambling to preserve orders as the world has put its orderbook for Boeing 737 MAX airplanes on hold, which prompted Boeing to cut 737 production by 20% on Friday.

While the first may be purely a coincidence, the second – which is expected to not only slam Boeing’s financials for Q1 and Q2, but may also adversely impact US GDP – had at least some impact on the decision to proceed with these tariffs at this moment.

We now await Europe’s angry response to what is Trump’s latest salvo in what is once again a global trade war. And, paradoxically, we also expect this news to send stocks blasting higher as, taking a page from the US-China trade book, every day algos will price in imminent “US-European trade deal optimism.”

Below the full statement from the USTR (link):

USTR Proposes Products for Tariff Countermeasures in Response to Harm Caused by EU Aircraft Subsidies

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has found repeatedly that European Union (EU) subsidies to Airbus have caused adverse effects to the United States.  Today, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) begins its process under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to identify products of the EU to which additional duties may be applied until the EU removes those subsidies.

USTR is releasing for public comment a preliminary list of EU products to be covered by additional duties.  USTR estimates the harm from the EU subsidies as $11 billion in trade each year.  The amount is subject to an arbitration at the WTO, the result of which is expected to be issued this summer.

“This case has been in litigation for 14 years, and the time has come for action. The Administration is preparing to respond immediately when the WTO issues its finding on the value of U.S. countermeasures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.  “Our ultimate goal is to reach an agreement with the EU to end all WTO-inconsistent subsidies to large civil aircraft.  When the EU ends these harmful subsidies, the additional U.S. duties imposed in response can be lifted.”

In line with U.S. law, the preliminary list contains a number of products in the civil aviation sector, including Airbus aircraft.  Once the WTO arbitrator issues its report on the value of countermeasures, USTR will announce a final product list covering a level of trade commensurate with the adverse effects determined to exist.

Background

After many years of seeking unsuccessfully to convince the EU and four of its member States (France, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom) to cease their subsidization of Airbus, the United States brought a WTO challenge to EU subsidies in 2004. In 2011, the WTO found that the EU provided Airbus $18 billion in subsidized financing from 1968 to 2006.  In particular, the WTO found that European “launch aid” subsidies were instrumental in permitting Airbus to launch every model of its large civil aircraft, causing Boeing to lose sales of more than 300 aircraft and market share throughout the world.

In response, the EU removed two minor subsidies, but left most of them unchanged.  The EU also granted Airbus more than $5 billion in new subsidized “launch aid” financing for the A350 XWB.  The United States requested establishment of a compliance panel in March 2012 to address the EU’s failure to remove its old subsidies, as well as the new subsidies and their adverse effects.  That process came to a close with the issuance of an appellate report in May 2018 finding that EU subsidies to high-value, twin-aisle aircraft have caused serious prejudice to U.S. interests.  The report found that billions of dollars in launch aid to the A350 XWB and A380 cause significant lost sales to Boeing 787 and 747 aircraft, as well as lost market share for Boeing very large aircraft in the EU, Australia, China, Korea, Singapore, and UAE markets.

Based on the appellate report, the United States requested authority to impose countermeasures worth $11.2 billion per year, commensurate with the adverse effects caused by EU subsidies.  The EU challenged that estimate, and a WTO arbitrator is currently evaluating those claims

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Mueller report takes ‘Russian meddling’ for granted, offers no actual evidence

RT

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Via RT…


Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ‘Russiagate’ report has cleared Donald Trump of ‘collusion’ charges but maintains that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. Yet concrete evidence of that is nowhere to be seen.

The report by Mueller and his team, made public on Thursday by the US Department of Justice, exonerates not just Trump but all Americans of any “collusion” with Russia, “obliterating” the Russiagate conspiracy theory, as journalist Glenn Greenwald put it.

However, it asserts that Russian “interference” in the election did happen, and says it consisted of a campaign on social media as well as Russian military intelligence (repeatedly referred to by its old, Soviet-era name, GRU) “hacking” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the DNC, and the private email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta.

As evidence of this, the report basically offers nothing but Mueller’s indictment of “GRU agents,” delivered on the eve of the Helsinki Summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in what was surely a cosmic coincidence.

Indictments are not evidence, however, but allegations. Any time it looks like the report might be bringing up proof, it ends up being redacted, ostensibly to protect sources and methods, and out of concern it might cause “harm to an ongoing matter.”

‘Active measures’ on social media

Mueller’s report leads with the claim that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) ran an “active measures” campaign of social media influence. Citing Facebook and Twitter estimates, the report says this consisted of 470 Facebook accounts that made 80,000 posts that may have been seen by up to 126 million people, between January 2015 and August 2017 (almost a year after the election), and 3,814 Twitter accounts that “may have been” in contact with about 1.4 million people.

Those numbers may seem substantial but, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter pointed out in November 2018, they should be regarded against the background of 33 trillion Facebook posts made during the same period.

According to Mueller, the IRA mind-controlled the American electorate by spending “approximately $100,000” on Facebook ads, hiring someone to walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” and getting Trump campaign affiliates to promote “dozens of tweets, posts, and other political content created by the IRA.” Dozens!

Meanwhile, the key evidence against IRA’s alleged boss Evgeny Prigozhin is that he “appeared together in public photographs” with Putin.

Alleged hacking & release

The report claims that the GRU hacked their way into 29 DCCC computers and another 30 DNC computers, and downloaded data using software called “X-Tunnel.” It is unclear how Mueller’s investigators claim to know this, as the report makes no mention of them or FBI actually examining DNC or DCCC computers. Presumably they took the word of CrowdStrike, the Democrats’ private contractor, for it.

However obtained, the documents were published first through DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 – which the report claims are “fictitious online personas” created by the GRU – and later through WikiLeaks. What is Mueller’s proof that these two entities were “GRU” cutouts? In a word, this:

That the Guccifer 2.0 persona provided reporters access to a restricted portion of the DCLeaks website tends to indicate that both personas were operated by the same or a closely-related group of people.(p. 43)

However, the report acknowledges that the “first known contact” between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks was on September 15, 2016 – months after the DNC and DCCC documents were published! Here we do get actual evidence: direct messages on Twitter obtained by investigators. Behold, these “spies” are so good, they don’t even talk – and when they do, they use unsecured channels.

Mueller notably claims “it is clear that the stolen DNC and Podesta documents were transferred from the GRU to WikiLeaks” (the rest of that sentence is redacted), but the report clearly implies the investigators do not actually know how. On page 47, the report says Mueller “cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016.”

Strangely, the report accuses WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange of making “public statements apparently designed to obscure the source” of the materials (p.48), notably the offer of a reward for finding the murderer of DNC staffer Seth Rich – even though this can be read as corroborating the intermediaries theory, and Assange never actually said Rich was his source.

The rest of Mueller’s report goes on to discuss the Trump campaign’s contacts with anyone even remotely Russian and to create torturous constructions that the president had “obstructed” justice by basically defending himself from charges of being a Russian agent – neither of which resulted in any indictments, however. But the central premise that the 22-month investigation, breathless media coverage, and the 448-page report are based on – that Russia somehow meddled in the 2016 election – remains unproven.

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Rumors of War: Washington Is Looking for a Fight

The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote.

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


It is depressing to observe how the United States of America has become the evil empire. Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War and in the Central Intelligence Agency for the second half of the Cold War, I had an insider’s viewpoint of how an essentially pragmatic national security policy was being transformed bit by bit into a bipartisan doctrine that featured as a sine qua non global dominance for Washington. Unfortunately, when the Soviet Union collapsed the opportunity to end once and for all the bipolar nuclear confrontation that threatened global annihilation was squandered as President Bill Clinton chose instead to humiliate and use NATO to contain an already demoralized and effectively leaderless Russia.

American Exceptionalism became the battle cry for an increasingly clueless federal government as well as for a media-deluded public. When 9/11 arrived, the country was ready to lash out at the rest of the world. President George W. Bush growled that “There’s a new sheriff in town and you are either with us or against us.” Afghanistan followed, then Iraq, and, in a spirit of bipartisanship, the Democrats came up with Libya and the first serious engagement in Syria. In its current manifestation, one finds a United States that threatens Iran on a nearly weekly basis and tears up arms control agreements with Russia while also maintaining deployments of US forces in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and places like Mali. Scattered across the globe are 800 American military bases while Washington’s principal enemies du jour Russia and China have, respectively, only one and none.

Never before in my lifetime has the United States been so belligerent, and that in spite of the fact that there is no single enemy or combination of enemies that actually threaten either the geographical United States or a vital interest. Venezuela is being threatened with invasion primarily because it is in the western hemisphere and therefore subject to Washington’s claimed proconsular authority. Last Wednesday Vice President Mike Pence told the United Nations Security Council that the White House will remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from power, preferably using diplomacy and sanctions, but “all options are on the table.” Pence warned that Russia and other friends of Maduro need to leave now or face the consequences.

The development of the United States as a hostile and somewhat unpredictable force has not gone unnoticed. Russia has accepted that war is coming no matter what it does in dealing with Trump and is upgrading its forces. By some estimates, its army is better equipped and more combat ready than is that of the United States, which spends nearly ten times as much on “defense.”

Iran is also upgrading its defensive capabilities, which are formidable. Now that Washington has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement with Iran, has placed a series of increasingly punitive sanctions on the country, and, most recently, has declared a part of the Iranian military to be a “foreign terrorist organization” and therefore subject to attack by US forces at any time, it is clear that war will be the next step. In three weeks, the United States will seek to enforce a global ban on any purchases of Iranian oil. A number of countries, including US nominal ally Turkey, have said they will ignore the ban and it will be interesting to see what the US Navy intends to do to enforce it. Or what Iran will do to break the blockade.

But even given all of the horrific decisions being made in the White House, there is one organization that is far crazier and possibly even more dangerous. That is the United States Congress, which is, not surprisingly, a legislative body that is viewed positively by only 18 per cent of the American people.

A current bill originally entitled the “Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act (DASKA) of 2019,” is numbered S-1189. It has been introduced in the Senate which will “…require the Secretary of State to determine whether the Russian Federation should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and whether Russian-sponsored armed entities in Ukraine should be designated as foreign terrorist organizations.” The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and is co-sponsored by Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

The current version of the bill was introduced on April 11th and it is by no means clear what kind of support it might actually have, but the fact that it actually has surfaced at all should be disturbing to anyone who believes it is in the world’s best interest to avoid direct military confrontation between the United States and Russia.

In a a press release by Gardner, who has long been pushing to have Russia listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, a February version of the bill is described as “…comprehensive legislation [that] seeks to increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s interference in democratic processes abroad, malign influence in Syria, and aggression against Ukraine, including in the Kerch Strait. The legislation establishes a comprehensive policy response to better position the US government to address Kremlin aggression by creating new policy offices on cyber defenses and sanctions coordination. The bill stands up for NATO and prevents the President from pulling the US out of the Alliance without a Senate vote. It also increases sanctions pressure on Moscow for its interference in democratic processes abroad and continued aggression against Ukraine.”

The February version of the bill included Menendez, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina as co-sponsors, suggesting that provoking war is truly bipartisan in today’s Washington.

Each Senator co-sponsor contributed a personal comment to the press release. Gardner observed that “Putin’s Russia is an outlaw regime that is hell-bent on undermining international law and destroying the US-led liberal global order.” Menendez noted that “President Trump’s willful paralysis in the face of Kremlin aggression has reached a boiling point in Congress” while Graham added that “Our goal is to change the status quo and impose meaningful sanctions and measures against Putin’s Russia. He should cease and desist meddling in the US electoral process, halt cyberattacks on American infrastructure, remove Russia from Ukraine, and stop efforts to create chaos in Syria.” Cardin contributed “Congress continues to take the lead in defending US national security against continuing Russian aggression against democratic institutions at home and abroad” and Shaheen observed that “This legislation builds on previous efforts in Congress to hold Russia accountable for its bellicose behavior against the United States and its determination to destabilize our global world order.”

The Senatorial commentary is, of course, greatly exaggerated and sometimes completely false regarding what is going on in the world, but it is revealing of how ignorant American legislators can be and often are. The Senators also ignore the fact that the designation of presumed Kremlin surrogate forces as “foreign terrorist organizations” is equivalent to a declaration of war against them by the US military, while hypocritically calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism is bad enough, as it is demonstrably untrue. But the real damage comes from the existence of the bill itself. It will solidify support for hardliners on both sides, guaranteeing that there will be no rapprochement between Washington and Moscow for the foreseeable future, a development that is bad for everyone involved. Whether it can be characterized as an unintended consequence of unwise decision making or perhaps something more sinister involving a deeply corrupted congress and administration remains to be determined.

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