Oct 22, 2014

Cuban medics on front lines of the Ebola fight: lack of adequate public healthcare at root of crisis

Cuba sends medics to fight Ebola in West Africa
Top: Cuban medical team leaving for West Africa
Beneath: Arrival in Sierra Leone

The magnificent Cuban response to the Ebola crisis is in a class of its own. While Western nations pledge funds to fight the disease there has been a reluctance to step up and send needed medical personnel. Cuba by contrast will send some 461 doctors and nurses to West Africa - the most medical personnel sent by any nation. One hundred and sixty four Cuban medics are already in West Africa setting up operations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) published the following update on the Cuban contribution:

The Cuban team consists of 100 nurses, 50 doctors, 3 epidemiologists, 3 intensive care specialists, 3 infection control specialist nurses and 5 social mobilization officers, all overseen by epidemiologist Dr Jorge Juan Delgado Bustillo.

All of the Cuban health workers have more than 15 years’ experience and have worked in other countries facing natural disasters and disease outbreaks. Some of the workers have already been working in Sierra Leone and Guinea for some years and are willing to continue their service there.

In related news, on October 20 a special Summit dealing with the Ebola crisis convened in Havana. It included member countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP). A 23-point statement was approved that you can read here.

ALBA-TCP received a special letter of thanks from Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization - here.

This exceptional medical response by Cuba in the face of the Ebola threat is by no means unusual. Since the 1950's Cuba has dispatched medical teams to many countries around the world dealing with disease and natural disasters. Following the 2004 Asian tsunami Cuba sent medical teams to Sri Lanka and Banda Aceh. A mission was also sent to Pakistan after the earthquake in Kashmir (2005) and to Haiti in 2010 following the devastating earthquake in that country. Cuban medical teams provided a desperately needed service. Their work also extended to the training of Haitian doctors.

Raul Castro and Cuban medical team
 President Raúl Castro sees off Cuban medics headed for W. Africa

West African nations that are struggling to contain the Ebola crisis are ill-equipped to deal with current challenges. They lack medical infrastructure and personnel equal to the task. The lack of adequate public healthcare in these countries speaks to a world capitalist system that supports privatized solutions - tiered levels of care that go from top-notch care for the wealthy to disgracefully underfunded and neglected public hospitals.

In an interview with Tariq Ali that appeared in Counterpunch, Allyson Pollock - a UK professor of public health research and policy - makes a number of key points about the vital importance of public health systems when confronting a crisis of this sort.

Pollock:

NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which have no democratic base, no accountability and which in turn are doing untold harm through their vertical disease programmes because they are not rooted in public health and the public health systems.  And a good example of a vertical disease programme is when you take Ebola and then you bring in your operation to tackle Ebola and you ignore all the other causes of disease, such as TB or malaria, or poverty, malnutrition and at the same time when you focus all the efforts of the industry on vaccine development.

... Now I’m not saying we don’t need vaccines, but one of the big problems is that vaccine development itself is now in the hands of these large very powerful foundations like NGOs, like GAVI – the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative... vaccines mean mass immunisation, it means numbers and numbers mean money.  And of course it is being paid for by the West and Western governments when this money could much more easily flow into the governments themselves to re-build their health systems because we are talking about re-building public health infrastructure and that includes putting in community primary health care, community health systems, infection control units at community level, putting in hospitals and training nurses and doctors.  And the big, other big problem in all of these countries is not just a brain-drain, because a few doctors and nurses are there, they want to leave and that is happening also in Nigeria, or they want to work in the private sector or they want to work for these NGOs because the money is much better and so the whole public health system is completely hollowed out.  And this is a real problem because the Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates, do not believe in the public sector, they do not believe in a democratic, publically owned, publically accountable [system].

Read the full interview here.

The United States with its GDP of $17.3 trillion (as opposed to Cuba's GDP of $72.3 billion) has a history of exploitative for-profit medicine, not to mention the greed-driven profiteering of big pharma. By contrast much 'poorer' Cuba has steadfastly upheld the political and moral priority of healthcare as an intrinsic right for its citizens and by extension, the citizens of other countries in times of need. It speaks volumes that Cuba is the country making the largest contribution of medical personnel at this critical time for the world community.

Oct 19, 2014

The Oliver Stone Rossiyskaya Gazeta interview: Ukraine, US media bias, Putin, MH-17 and more

Oliver Stone Russian interview

American film director, Oliver Stone, recently gave a lengthy interview to the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta. He is in the region helping to produce a documentary with the title Ukraine on Fire.

Excerpts from the interview showed up in various online publications but I just recently came across an English version of the whole deal on the website Russian Insider. It's quite an extensive interview, so I'm posting parts of it that pick up on some of the topics I've addressed on the blog... the Ukraine crisis, American interventionism, Western imperialism, Putin, misrepresentation of Russia by Western media being a few.

Oliver Stone has consistently taken an objective and principled stand when it comes to American power and its many abuses. Of course he gets trashed in some quarters of the American media for speaking out. Stone detractor - Nat Brown - published a piece in National Review Online entitled "Putin's Useful Idiot" that includes predictable Russia bashing. Brown's barely contained bugle boy patriotism and tunnel vision demonstrates who the "useful idiot" really is... enough to make Joe McCarthy proud.

Here's the link to the original Russian version of the interview in Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Is it scary to stand alone against the powerful US propaganda machine?

I wouldn't put the question this way. I think many Americans would agree with me that the United States is on the wrong path - the path of war and aggression... world domination is the goal. Russia and China remain independent powers with nuclear capabilities, and this is very important, it's good for the world in terms of the balance of power. I think that the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would agree with me. Without this balance, the United States would become the sole superpower. In this role America misbehaved starting wars in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, militarizing Libya. The US has a goal to control the world's resources, control and police the whole world. Now America is trying to surround China and Russia. The prize in this fight is Eurasia where the biggest resources lie.

Why are the Americans pushing Russia towards China. Isn’t that insane?

You know, in my opinion, an alliance between China and Russia in Eurasia is natural, as well as their partnership with other countries, such as Kazakhstan. That is the future. If the countries in the region agree that the United States is a threat in terms of control over resources, there may be problems. But America will not give it up, because the people in Washington feel that we have a right to rule the world, and so it’s in our interest to destabilize Russia, divide Ukraine, to change the government in Moscow. It started a few years ago. Remove Putin, remove new Russia, and then go after China.

Oliver, are we correct to understand that you support Gorbachev, who is not very popular now?

Yes, I liked him, although I know that he was unpopular and removed from power in 1991. I read his recent memoir, in which he describes clearly the chain of events that destabilized the situation, tells who Boris Yeltsin was and how the USSR collapsed. I think that if Gorbachev was allowed to continue the world would be in a better position now. But the United States wanted to make Russia a capitalist country, sending its experts, so-called Harvard boys, who advised and freed up the economy. And the result was a gangster economy.

How do you see the role of Putin in this context?

I think, though many feel different, that Vladimir Putin has played a very important role to stop the slide in Russia. He said "no" to Yeltsin's policies and put the new state in order and the new authoritarianism. I think it gave Russians a sense of certainty, consistency and pride back. In the 1990s Russia's economy shrank to the size of the economy of the Netherlands, which is very small for such a big country. Taking back the state from the hands of the gangsters was a very important move for Russia. On that basis I certainly admire Putin as a strong man.

In Russia you always had to play with a very different set of rules than we do in the United States, it is much tougher and rougher. So my perception when I went back to Russia in the 1990s, was that it looked new, fresh, had a lot of night clubs, security guards. Then I went back in early 2000s. I didn’t know what was going on in the regions, but in Moscow the quality of consumer services was better. The city became very expensive, sleek, modern. People in Moscow seemed happier to me. They don’t smile a lot because you have tough weather, but they have a deep soul, and when you spend time with them you realize that they are warm and giving people. Certainly it’s not the picture painted of Russia or Putin. I like Russian people.

On Facebook you questioned US government accusations that Moscow was responsible for shooting down the Malaysian Boeing. Now, two months later, the Dutch report has been published, but it didn’t clarify the situation. What do you think about that? Who shot down the plane?

This is another example of inefficient coverage of events in the West. The Secretary of State John Kerry made hysterical accusations against Russia. And he did that before against Syria, accusing the government of using sarin gas, although there was a lot of contrary evidence that the gas was released by the Syrian opposition. I read reports in the Russian media that there was a Ukrainian army jet flying next to the Boeing. We should check the fuselage and see if there was a possibility that the plane was shot down by the fighter. That possibility exists. Moreover, immediately after the catastrophe there was a leaked report from United States intelligence agencies that it was a Ukrainian government crew that launched a missile because they were drunk. And then they said that these were pro-Russian separatists wearing the uniform of the Ukrainian military. What am I supposed to conclude from that information?

There’s another missed part of this story. The United States has, as we know thanks to Mr. Snowden, comprehensive intelligence capabilities all around the globe, and especially in Ukraine in such an important moment. So why didn't the US publish any photos of this. That tells you a lot. It seems like they don’t want people to know about the Ukrainian fighter jet in the air. And how can you miss quite a large “Buk” complex that includes some large rockets? The United States didn’t present any evidence that these missiles came to Ukraine from Russia. I also read that Russia had given such complexes to the Ukrainian army before the crisis. So evidences are far from conclusive. In the UK experts are working on "black boxes", but the results of the investigation will be revealed in 2015, it’s too late. My hunch is that "bad guys" in the Ukrainian government shot down the plane. I'm not sure, but that’s my hunch.

In one interview, you described modern media by saying that they are making a fire to lynch the truth. What’s your view on the importance of media in the coverage of events in the world and in Ukraine?

It’s awful. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War, and during that war the same stories went around. When, for example, an American destroyer allegedly came under fire from the North Vietnamese,  the United States Congress passed the Tonkin resolution  which started the war in Vietnam. Many years later we learned that it wasn't fire from the North Vietnamese, but was all American provoked. Always false provocations. We’ve seen a lot of that. For example, when George W. Bush at the UN reported about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We've seen it in Kuwait under his father George Bush, with false reports about the barbarity of the Iraqi troops, who supposedly were killing babies. The United States is very good at making this kind of covert operations for public opinion. For many years we have practiced regime change in many countries. Now it’s going on in Venezuela... using tools ranging from economic pressure to provocative publications in the media. These techniques were developed and used in Ukraine, where National Endowment for Democracy works. They had a goal to overthrow the government and replace it with a pro-Western government.

I never read such bullshit about the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Everybody was pointing to Russian problems and flaws, there were negative stories about Putin. And now with the crisis in Ukraine stories continue to be false. I get news from other sources, not only from American newspapers. But the American people are being fed by television and other media with stories about Russian aggression. This is very dangerous.

Link to the full interview on Russian Insider - here.

Oct 15, 2014

Frans Timmermans oxygen mask revelation raises questions about MH-17 missile strike scenario

Australian passenger of MH17 found wearing oxygen mask

Earlier posts on this blog followed the story of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 - the passenger plane brought down over Eastern Ukraine. Accusations that pro-Russian self-defence forces targeted the plane with a BUK type ground-to-air missile have been  made repeatedly by Western media and government officials. However to date while there is lots of theory and speculation, there is an absence of credible evidence that definitively demonstrates this to be the case.

There is much about the fall-out from the MH-17 disaster that has the look of a cover-up... an impression added to by critical gaps in the preliminary Dutch crash report. A more recent revelation involving an oxygen mask adds to the impression of a lack of transparency. There was zero mention in the Dutch report of any finding relating to oxygen masks. 

The news leaked out when Dutch Foreign Affairs minister Frans Timmermans dropped a few telling comments on the Dutch late-night show 'Pauw.' Host Jeroen Pauw accused Timmermans of overly dramatizing the last moments aboard MH-17. This was most likely a reference to an emotional speech made by Timmermans in the UN Security Council in the course of which he alluded to last glances between the passengers... as he put it... "one final time, in an unarticulated goodbye."

In the course of addressing the charge of over-dramatization, Timmermans made the remark he has now come to regret. He told Pauw - "They did not see the rocket coming, but do you know someone was found with an oxygen mask on his mouth? He thus had the time to do that."

Timmermans remarks raise questions about the validity of the BUK missile strike hypothesis. As a number of experts have stated, the passengers would not have been aware of the approach of a ground-to-air BUK missile. Such a strike out-of-the-blue would not have left time to exchange lingering glances... let alone soulful ones signaling final adieus. It is also debatable whether the Australian passenger would have had time to don an oxygen mask, a procedure that can be more tricky than it seems under pressure of a panicky emergency situation.

Timmermans' revelation raises questions about the version of events in the Dutch report which suggests the plane disintegrated after being impacted by "high energy objects." In this scenario the passengers would have been either dead or unconscious pretty much immediately following the impact. This would have made the deployment of an oxygen mask extremely improbable.

Here is what experts had to say about the impact of a missile strike of this sort on passengers.

Justin Bronk, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said: "Almost nobody on board would have known what was happening. If not instantly, they will have been unconscious within split seconds."

James Vosswinkel, chief of trauma and surgical critical care at the State University of New York at Stony Brook is cited in media reports saying that: "You have such horrific forces that it's essentially unsurvivable... No one was conscious or experienced that fall."

Bill Waldock, a professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told Bloomberg: "The warhead is like a giant shotgun shell sending multiple shards of metal through the plane... It's literally an explosive decompression and would have caused a lot of g-force pushing people back in their seats."

Waldock said that  'hypoxia would have knocked anyone who survived the explosion unconscious.'

So what really happened? Given the variables involved its impossible to rule out a missile of some sort, but there is another possible scenario. One or more Ukrainian jet fighters may have played a role in the downing of the plane. This was indicated by eye witnesses on the ground who claimed in a BBC video report that they saw a military plane in the proximity of MH-17 and heard explosions in the sky overhead. The claim of two explosions made by one of the eye witnesses fits in with a scenario that would have allowed a short interval for the passengers to react - including the possibility of donning an oxygen mask before the second fatal strike.

Given questionable transparency on the part of Dutch authorities investigating the crash, the chances of getting the whole truth about what really happened that fateful day seems increasingly remote.

Check out an excerpt from the BBC video in which female eye witnesses on-the-scene claim to have seen a Ukrainian military jet in the proximity of MH-17 before the "explosions."

To view the video click "read more" beneath.

Oct 6, 2014

Reasons why "The Khorasan Group" was fabricated by the US government

Khorasan Group was invented

When the US-led bombing campaign in Syria got underway media outlets announced the emergence of a new jihadist threat that posed an even greater threat to the US than ISIL. It wasn't just a threat to the region, but a direct and imminent threat to the United States. "The Khorasan Group" we were informed was plotting attacks against US aviation and was looking to recruit foreigners to facilitate attacks on the American homeland.

Prior to the revelations of the new "imminent threat" the alleged Khorasan Group was all but unknown to reporters and analysts - unknown even to rebel groups within Syria itself. Al-Jazeera's Imran Khan contacted people to see if he could come up with anyone who had heard of such a group. This is some of what he had to say:

I began to make some calls to contacts across the Middle East and South Asia. To say I drew a blank would be an understatement. Reactions ranged from a hearty laugh to confusion. The name was new.

In Pakistan I spoke to Ahmed, not his real name, and asked him who the group was. Ahmed is an occasional blogger and activist who openly supports ISIL. He is a veteran of Jihad in Afghanistan and resides in Rawalpindi, surrounded by pamphlets urging Muslims to rise up against the West. "Khorasan? I don't know that name. I don't know who they are."

This isn't as unusual as it may seem. It wouldn't be the first time an American administration has come up with a bit of strategic propaganda to validate its war making --- you might say it's true to form as the US embarks on yet another long war in the Middle East.

One of the primary reasons for mounting the fake terror threat was to create fear and apprehension in the American public. What better way to justify a bombing campaign than to magic up a jihadist entity with frightening threat capability. Such propagandistic tactics not only lend justification to the bombing but scare up support for the war... provided of course it doesn't backfire.

The Obama administration has been known to put a spin on familiar terms and even invent a few new ones in order to reenforce administration positions. "Khorasan" is al-Qaeda. But after Obama traveled the length and breadth of the United States boasting about the all-but-certain defeat of al-Qaeda, a new terror threat posed by the hitherto unheard of but infinitely scary  "Khorasan Group" sure helps to save face.

Following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the Obama administration began promoting a misleading narrative about al-Qaeda and global jihad in general. In speech after speech, Obama assured listeners that al-Qaeda was facing defeat. According to some US media outlets, statements about al-Qaeda's demise were made over thirty times by Obama. He told audiences in Las Vegas and elsewhere that "... al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat." During a speech at NYC's Waldorf Astoria he even used the term "decimated" which is about as definitive as you can get... "We have gone after the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11 and decimated al-Qaeda."

CNS report:

... He returned to the dominant “path to defeat” theme, before going back to “decimated” the next day in Cleveland, where the president said, “I said we’d refocus on the terrorists who actually carried out the 9/11 attacks – and al Qaeda is decimated and Osama bin Laden is dead.”

After all the bloviating about AQ's fading fortunes it must have been tricky to meld the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Syria with an AQ-on-the-path-to-defeat narrative. The emergence of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as one of the most effective rebel fighting forces in Syria  - not to mention other AQ-connected groups in the region and elsewhere on the globe - attests to a resurgent al-Qaeda rather than an organization on the edge of defeat. Between 2010 and 2013 the number of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda related groups increased by an estimated 58%. In the light of these developments Obama's predictions about AQ's defeat seem somewhat specious, not to say overblown.

Tellingly al-Qaeda related terms in the mouths of the administration became more specialized, with references to "core" and "parent" al-Qaeda in an effort to lend focus to Obama's assertions about damage done. However assassinating key figures in an organization and disrupting aspects of its operations doesn't necessarily add up to its defeat. Increasingly Obama's claims look like a bad case of miscalculation.

In effect "Khorasan" is most likely a reference to a cell within the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria. There's no persuasive evidence that the threat from this faction is more real or imminent than that posed by other jihadi groups with the potential means to pose a threat to Western targets. When it comes to Khorasan, Americans were just supposed to take the administration's word for it.

An article by Glen Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain carefully charts the use of the "Khorasan" term in US media along with the imminent threat hype that accompanied it. The authors reach this conclusion:

What happened here is all-too-familiar. The Obama administration needed propagandistic and legal rationale for bombing yet another predominantly Muslim country. While emotions over the ISIS beheading videos were high, they were not enough to sustain a lengthy new war.

So after spending weeks promoting ISIS as Worse Than Al Qaeda, they unveiled a new, never-before-heard-of group that was Worse Than ISIS. Overnight, as the first bombs on Syria fell, the endlessly helpful U.S. media mindlessly circulated the script they were given: this new group was composed of “hardened terrorists,” posed an “imminent” threat to the U.S. homeland, was in the “final stages” of plots to take down U.S. civilian aircraft, and could “launch more-coordinated and larger attacks on the West in the style of the 9/11 attacks from 2001.”"

As usual, anonymity was granted to U.S. officials to make these claims. As usual, there was almost no evidence for any of this. Nonetheless, American media outlets — eager, as always, to justify American wars — spewed all of this with very little skepticism. Worse, they did it by pretending that the U.S. government was trying not to talk about all of this — too secret! — but they, as intrepid, digging journalists, managed to unearth it from their courageous “sources.” Once the damage was done, the evidence quickly emerged about what a sham this all was. But, as always with these government/media propaganda campaigns, the truth emerges only when it’s impotent.

Making things up

US government invented Khorasan Group