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Originally Published: 4/15/2017

Syria Staging:  Was the attack on Syrian civilians staged? Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said the story that he used chemical weapons on civilians is a fabrication. He claims the attacks were “a play” staged by Islamist rebels affiliated with both al-Qaeda and the U.S. (The Intercept) Russia said he wasn’t behind the attack. But Trump released details of a U.S. intelligence assessment that Assad was behind it. (Washington Post) And Trump accused Russia of attempting to cover up the Syrian government’s role. (NY Times) So, was it staged or wasn’t it? There is a lot of skepticism over the allegation that Assad using chemical weapons. As far as I could find, the purported attack has not been verified by anyone except news releases from the White House. We’re just getting media news based on those reports. Given that last November a report by IHS Conflict Monitor, a London-based intelligence collection and analysis service, said that ISIS has used chemical weapons, “including chlorine and sulfur mustard agents,” at least 52 times on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq (NY Times), I think questioning who actually attacked using chemical weapons may be appropriate.


Syrian History:  Questions about the 2013 chemical attack in Syria remain. While the U.S. was “certain” that Assad, or someone in his government, was behind the attack, the bulk of the evidence was coming from Israeli military intelligence, who have been trying to get us involved in Syria for years. (TWW, Syria-Chemical Weapons, 8/31/13; Syria-Chemical Weapons, 9/7/13) The point is, at that time there was evidence that the chemical weapons were used by rebels, but Assad was widely blamed. (TWW, Syria, 5/11/13; Syria-A History, 9/7/13; Syria, 12/14/13) Could the same thing be happening again?


Chemical Attack Evidence:  Evidence is beginning to come out that the rebels were behind this attack. Theodore Postol, Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and National Security Policy at MIT, writing at Unz, said that he reviewed the intelligence documents released by the White House and believes, “without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the U.S. government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017. In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, nor from an aircraft.” Scott Ritter, a former UN weapons inspector (Wikipedia), wrote: “Normally, such a major policy change could only be explained by a new reality driven by verifiable facts. The alleged chemical weapons attack against Khan Sheikhoun was not a new reality; chemical attacks had been occurring inside Syria on a regular basis, despite the international effort to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons capability undertaken in 2013 . . . International investigations of these attacks produced mixed results, with some being attributed to the Syrian government (something the Syrian government vehemently denies), and the majority being attributed to anti-regime fighters, in particular those affiliated with al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.” [Emphasis added.] (Huffington Post) And investigative journalist Robert Parry, writing at Consortium News, said: “A number of intelligence sources have made contradictory assessments [to the official White House document], saying the preponderance of evidence suggests that al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels were at fault, either by orchestrating an intentional release of a chemical agent as a provocation or by possessing containers of poison gas that ruptured during a conventional bombing raid. One intelligence source told me that the most likely scenario was a staged event by the rebels intended to force Trump to reverse a policy, announced only days earlier, that the U.S. government would no longer seek ‘regime change’ in Syria and would focus on attacking the common enemy, Islamic terror groups that represent the core of the rebel forces.” [Emphasis added.] And William Craddick, writing at Disobedient Media, claims to have evidence - and he lays it out extensively - that Assad did use weapons that were intended against the rebels’ cache, “at what observers have claimed was a storage facility for conventional and chemical munitions.” He also wrote that the footage of the scene of the chemical attack shows that people were assisting victims in a manner “not consistent with established protocol on how to handle sarin saturated bodies.” Photos show them handling the victims with their bare hands, “rather than with gloves, which is necessary to prevent the rescuer being injured by the chemical themselves. They also appear to be using simple dust masks, which are not suitable protection in the event of a sarin attack.” So, were the photos staged? I expect there may be more evidence coming out in the next few weeks and months. Or maybe not.


Trump’s War:  Whatever really happened, it’s clear that Trump has used this to get the media off his Russian connections. Maybe it’s a “Wag the Dog” scheme. But if he was attempting to demonstrate his distance from Russia, why did he notify them of our imminent attacks when he notified no one else - not even Congress? (The Intercept) And there’s the usual debate over the constitutionality of strikes such as these. (The Intercept) John Oliver lays out the stories in his usual humorous fashion. But Keith Olbermann calls Trump’s strike a “stunt.” When you look at his latest actions in Afghanistan and North Korea (see below), I would say that there is a lot to be concerned about.


Policy Reversals:  Trump reversed himself this week on 6 major policy issues. 4 of these reversals alone came in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. He reversed himself on China’s currency manipulation; he wants the Federal Reserve to continue keeping interest rates low; he won’t replace Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve; and he supports the Export-Import Bank. He also reversed himself on NATO (NBC) and, of course, on Syria.


Carter Page:  I told you about this guy last week. (TWW, Russian Connection, 4/8/17) This week it came to light that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant to monitor his communications last summer saying that “there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.” The Washington Post wrote: “This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents.”


Trump Transition:  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D, MD) formally requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate the Trump transition “for possible conflicts of interest and unusual foreign contacts.” The GAO has agreed to the request. “The GAO’s fact-finding mission will focus on how public funds were managed during the period before the President took office, if the proper financial disclosures of transition officials were made, and whether national security protocols were followed with overseas communications.” (District Sentinel)


Jared Kushner:  He did not disclose meetings with Russian officials when he applied for an FBI security clearance. He was required to fill out a list of meetings with foreign officials from the past 7 years. He didn’t mention dozens of encounters, including 2 confirmed meetings with Russian officials currently under scrutiny as part of the investigation. (NY Times)


White House Visitors:  Trump announced he won’t follow Obama’s policy of voluntarily disclosing the names of most visitors to the White House, citing “grave national security risks and privacy concerns.” (Washington Post) He didn’t care about our privacy when he signed that bill giving away control of the Internet to big corporations. (TWW, Internet Privacy, 4/1/17)


Trump Family Travel:  Eric Trump’s trip to the UK and Ireland this week cost us taxpayers $190,000. This was his 5th trip since the start of 2017. He also went to Uruguay and the Dominican Republic and his brother Donald accompanied him on trips to Dubai and Vancouver. “The trips by the Trump sons are to promote Trump-branded properties in those countries. According to an analysis by the Economist magazine, the Trump Organization’s international deals account for less than 10% of the company’s value.” (CBS) So, are they using taxpayer money to expand the business or just for having a good time?


Mar-a-Lago:  Florida restaurant inspectors found more than a dozen violations in the kitchen at Trump’s private club. Several were categorized as high priority, “which could contribute directly to a foodborne illness or injury.” (Washington Post) And this is where our president and numerous presidents from other countries are eating?


Afghanistan:  U.S. forces dropped a 22,000 pound bomb on an ISIS cave complex in eastern Afghanistan. It is called a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) or the “Mother of All Bombs” and it obliterates everything within a 1,000-mile radius. It is so massive it has to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane. It is the first time it has been used in combat. (NY Times) If you are curious about how big a 22,000 pound bomb is, think about this. U.S. aircraft commonly drop bombs “that weigh between 250 and 2,000 pounds.” (Washington Post) The military said it killed 36 “militants.” (Guardian) I’ll never believe that it was necessary to use a bomb this big. It must be Trump overcompensating again.


Canada:  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. (NY Times)


Chechnya:  More than 100 gay men have been rounded up and sent to prison where, according to human rights campaigners, “they are subjected to torture and beatings.” It has been reported that 3 have been murdered. (Independent)


North Korea:  Trump ordered U.S. warships to the Korean peninsula. “The Carl Vinson Strike Group comprises an aircraft carrier and other warships.” (BBC)


Syria:  The U.S. coalition “accidentally” bombed Syrian allies, killing 18. (Washington Post)


Alabama:  Governor Robert Bentley (R) resigned after fighting allegations for more than a year that he used public resources to carry out and conceal an affair with his former top aide. The resignation was part of a plea agreement on 2 misdemeanor charges related to covering up the affair. (NY Times)


Alaska:  For years the state has been “killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf packs from helicopters, and adopting liberal hunting regulations that allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.” All in the name of increasing moose and caribou numbers. Every year they attempt to extend these “predator controls” to federal wildlife refuges, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has denied that request. Finally last year FWS adopted that rule as permanent. But the Trump administration is really into killing so he signed a House and Senate Resolution to revoke the Wildlife Service rule. (Moultrie Observer)


Arizona:  Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed a bill that will “reshape how citizen initiative campaigns are conducted. The bill was promoted “as a way to fight fraud in petition-signature gathering by banning the paying of circulators for each signature they collect. Instead, they would most likely earn an hourly wage.” (AZ Central) And Senator Jeff Flake (R) held a town hall this week. Salon has some clips but it also has the entire evening.


Arkansas:  The state had scheduled up to 7 executions this month, following a long tradition of “assembly-line killing.” (The Intercept) But Judge Wendell Griffen of the Pulaski County Circuit Court issued a restraining order “that forbids the Arkansas authorities from using their supply of vecuronium bromide, one of 3 execution drugs the state planned to use.” McKesson, the nation’s largest pharmaceutical company that makes the drug, went to court to argue “that the state had purchased the drug using a false pretense.” The state supreme court has already issued a stay of execution for 1 of the prisoners, “and a federal judge is also weighing a request to block the executions.” (NY Times)


Iowa:  State lawmakers have passed “the state’s most expansive gun rights bill ever.” It sets out the “stand your rights” policy, allowing citizens to use deadly force if they believe they are threatened and to sue local government officials if they think gun-free zones violate their Second Amendment rights. Governor Terry Branstad (R) said he’s inclined to sign it. Of course he will. (Washington Post)


Kansas:  Republican Ron Estes won the election for the House seat vacated by Mike Pompeo when he became CIA director. However, he defeated Democrat James Thompson 53% to 46%. Sound like a sound win? Not Hardly. This was a district that Trump won by 27 points. (NY Times)


New Mexico:  Governor Susana Martinez (R) signed legislation that bans “lunch shaming.” (NY Times)


Texas:  U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi ruled that the voter ID law is like a poll tax “meant to suppress minority voters.” (Washington Post)


Tomahawk Missiles:  After the attack on Syria with Tomahawk missiles, stock in Raytheon, the company that makes them, went up with investors betting that Trump is going to need more. “The Department of Defense asked for $2 billion over 5 years to buy 4,000 Tomahawks for the U.S. Navy in its fiscal 2017 budget.” But Raytheon wasn’t the only company to reap rewards from our bombing. Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman also gained. (CNN) War is the only major industry we have in the U.S.


Civics Lesson:  The Democratic Underground published a page from a basic high school civics textbook on American Government from 1948. Better show this to your children and grandchildren because they sure don’t get this in high school today. It has 2 columns: “Without Government” and “With Government” and sets out the difference. It has things like: “Without Government: Polluted water; Filth and waste everywhere; tubercular milk; Disease unchecked; Home treatment for diseases; Impure foods; Dangerous drugs. With Government: Pure water systems; Sewer systems; Inspected milk; Health services and regulation; Public hospitals; Pure food and Drug laws.”


Student Loans:  Education Secretary Betsy DeVos withdrew “a series of policy memos” issued by Obama’s administration that strengthened consumer protections for student loan borrowers. (Chicago Tribune)


Drug Czar:  Rep. Tom Marino (R, PA) is going to be Trump’s new Drug Czar. Marino was among Trump’s earliest backers, but, as a former federal prosecutor, he is known for his work on drug-control matters. (CBS) He’ll fit right in with AG Jeff Sessions pushing another war on drugs.


Immigration:  Attorney General Jeff Sessions is requiring federal prosecutors to prioritize cases involving immigration-related offenses “in an effort to reduce the clout of criminal organizations along the Southwest border and deter illegal entry into the United States. (Roll Call) And the Department of Homeland Security is preparing for more detentions. It has already found 33,000 more detention beds, “opened discussions with dozens of local police forces that could be empowered with enforcement authority,” and identified where construction of the border wall could begin. (Washington Post)


Private Prisons:  The U.S. Bureau of Prisons paid more than $2 million in bonuses to top administrators and wardens during the past 3 years “while the agency was confronting persistent overcrowding, sub-par inmate medical care, chronic staffing shortages, and a lurid sexual harassment lawsuit that engulfed its largest institution. . . The bulk of the payments, nearly $1 million, were approved last year and amounted to almost double the combined amounts in the previous 2 years.” (USA Today)


Forensic Science:  Attorney General Jeff Session announced that the Justice Department will no longer partner with the National Commission on Forensic Science, a group of scientists, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and other experts. The group is an independent group of experts that has been working to improve the accuracy of forensic science. The Commission was put together in 2013 with the goal of raising standards for the use of forensic evidence in criminal proceedings. Last September a White House panel recommended that courts question the admissibility of 4 different techniques that are often used to secure convictions. (Washington Post) This is clearly a move to get more criminal convictions, but the National Registry of Exonerations reported that there have been at least 2,000 exonerations since 1989, with many of the convictions secured through the use of faulty forensics. Innocent? Who cares? Some prosecutor needs to promote his/her career.


Family Planning:  Trump signed legislation allowing states to withhold federal funds from family planning providers who also provide abortions. (CBS)


Big Pharma:  Seemingly independent advocacy groups “are swamping Beltway newspapers with dire warning that recent proposals to lower drug prices will lead to dangerous consequences.” Ads have appeared in the Washington Post, Washington Times, Roll Call, The Hill, and Politico. The groups “have no obvious connection” to pharmaceutical companies but, according to The Intercept, “the organizations have undisclosed financial ties to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the umbrella lobbying group that represents the biggest names in the drug industry.” Don’t be fooled, folks.


Keystone Leak: A couple weeks ago a key section of the Keystone pipeline was shut down due to an oil spill in South Dakota. TransCanada reported a spill of about 187 gallons of crude oil. (CNN) But a week later TransCanada estimated the spill at about 16,800 gallons (about 400 barrels) that leaked into a field. (CNS) Remember the Keystone pipeline, just like the Keystone XL pipeline which has yet to be completed, carries Canadian tar sands oil, which is much more difficult to clean up than conventional oil.


Dakota Access:  Senators Tom Carper (D, DE) and Maria Cantwell (D, WA) wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers demanding answers to how they handled the approval of construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. They wrote: “We write to share our concern that the Corps has provided virtually no information to Congress regarding its oversight of the project.” They ask lots of good questions. (ColorLines)


Salt Pollution:  A group of environmental scientists published a study in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of the Sciences showing that, during the past 50 years, annual U.S. sales of road salt grew from 160,000 tons to about 20 million tons. It keeps the roads free from slippery ice, but it also changes the nature of North America’s freshwater lakes. Of 371 lakes the scientists reviewed, 44% showed significant signs of long-term salinization. 


United Airlines:  I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the man thrown off the United Airlines plane at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. I just thought maybe you’d like to hear what’s being said. First, here’s one of the videos taken by a passenger, but you can find all of them at BuzzFeed. Why was he dragged off? Apparently the flight was “overbooked” but it wasn’t overbooked with paying customers. “An airline supervisor walked onto the plane and brusquely announced: ‘We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight. . . This flight’s not leaving until 4 people get off.’” They were offered vouchers to rebook but no one volunteered. “So the airline chose for them.” 3 people were removed from the plane, but one man refused, saying he was selected because he was Chinese. 3 police officers boarded the plane and dragged him off. (Washington Post) In an expected CYA, United CEO Oscar Munoz called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent.” (Guardian) Then he tweeted saying he apologized for having to “re-accommodate” these customers? (AlterNet) Re-accommodate? By dragging him off the plane? The incident caused outrage in China (CNN) so Munoz offered a second apology after “nearly $1 billion of the company’s value was erased in trading.” (Guardian) According to The Atlantic, United employees were following company policy. It’s their business plan. Rule 25 of the contract you sign when buying a United ticket says that if the flight is oversold, “no one may be denied boarding against his/her will until UA or other carrier personnel first ask for volunteers. . . If there are not enough volunteers, other Passengers may be denied boarding involuntarily in accordance with UA’s boarding policy.” You’ll note, however, this doesn’t say that can be forcibly removed after they have boarded. And just 3 weeks ago, United “assured federal regulators that all ticketed passengers are guaranteed seats on flights.” (International Business Times) I think we’ve just seen the confluence of de-regulation, monopolization, and the love of money over morality.


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