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The Tokyo Olympics Are In Peril

Staging the Olympics amid a state of emergency and a coronavirus upsurge has led top officials to question whether they should happen at all.

Ten thousand people. That’s how many Olympic volunteers quit their posts in Tokyo, with the games just 50 days away. That is one of every eight volunteers needed to pull off the 2021 (still called the 2020) Olympics. This is just the latest warning sign that, despite the Panglossian protestations of the International Olympic Committee, this summer’s Games are in peril. Japan is currently wrestling with a coronavirus upsurge and less than 3 percent of the population is vaccinated. According to polls, as much as 80 percent of the country does not want to host the games, for fear of it exacerbating this omnipresent public health crisis, currently classified as a state of emergency.

The masses of Tokyo want to postpone or cancel the games, but the government says it’s the IOC’s decision, not the host country’s, sovereignty be damned. In a, pardon the expression, viral editorial, Japanese Olympic Committee member and one-time bronze medalist Kaori Yamaguchi wrote that Japan has been “cornered” into having to host the games. She wrote, “We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do, and damned if we do not…. The IOC also seems to think that public opinion in Japan is not important.” It was an extraordinary statement that broke a wall of blithe arrogance from the JOC in the face of this public opposition.

In a sane world, the Olympics would have already been postponed. But money has trumped all other concerns, and that’s what Yamaguchi is referring to when she says the country is “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t.” Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion on the games, but government audits reveal that the actual cost could be as high as $30 billion and climbing. At least a portion of that lucre needs to be recouped, and it won’t be if the gleaming new facilities are shuttered.

For the IOC, the pressure to televise something they can call the Olympics is a matter of survival. The committee receives 75 percent of its budget from Olympic television rights and is already hurting from last year’s postponement, which was instituted against its will. If these Olympics are postponed again or—heaven forfend—canceled, the IOC stands to lose, according to the Associated Press, between $3 billion and $4 billion. If the Olympics go on, it will be the ultimate negation of its alleged purpose: profit trumping the joy of sport.

Dave Zirin
June 8, 2021
The Nation

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'Keystone XL Is Dead!': After 10-Year Battle, Climate Movement Victory Is Complete

"Keystone XL is now the most famous fossil fuel project killed by the climate movement,' said one veteran campaigner, "but it won't be the last."

After more than a decade of grassroots organizing, agitation, and tireless opposition by the international climate movement, the final nail was slammed into the Keystone XL's coffin Wednesday afternoon when the company behind the transnational tar sands pipeline officially pulled the plug on its plans.

Following consultation with Canadian officials and regulators—including "its partner, the Government of Alberta"—TC Energy confirmed its "termination" of the project in a statement citing the revocation of a federal U.S. permit by President Joe Biden on his first day in office on January 20 as the leading reason.

Climate campaigners, however, were immediate in claiming a final victory after years of struggle against the company and its backers both in Washington, D.C. and Ottawa.

"After more than 10 years of organizing we have finally defeated an oil giant, Keystone XL is dead!" declared the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in reaction. "We are dancing in our hearts because of this victory! From Dene territories in Northern Alberta to Indigenous lands along the Gulf of Mexico, we stood hand-in-hand to protect the next seven generations of life, the water and our communities from this dirty tar sands pipeline. And that struggle is vindicated."

IEN said that the win over TC Energy and its supporters was "not the end—but merely the beginning of further victories," and also reminded the world that there are "still frontline Indigenous water protectors like Oscar High Elk who face charges for standing against the Keystone XL pipeline."

Jamie Henn and Bill McKibben, both co-founders of 350.org and key architects of the decision to make the Keystone XL pipeline a target and symbol of the global climate movement, also heralded the news.

"When this fight began, people thought Big Oil couldn't be beat," said McKibben, who was among those arrested outside the White House in 2011 protesting the pipeline.

"Keystone XL is now the most famous fossil fuel project killed by the climate movement, but it won't be the last," said Henn. "The same coalition that stopped this pipeline is now battling Line 3 and dozens of other fossil fuel projects across the country. Biden did the right thing on KXL, now it's time to go a step further and say no to all new fossil fuel projects everywhere."

Clayton Thomas Muller, another longtime KXL opponent and currently a senior campaigns specialist at 350.org in Canada, said: "This victory is thanks to Indigenous land defenders who fought the Keystone XL pipeline for over a decade. Indigenous-led resistance is critical in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to follow the lead of Indigenous peoples, particularly Indigenous women, who are leading this fight across the continent and around the world. With Keystone XL cancelled, it's time to turn our attention to the Indigenous-led resistance to the Line 3 and the Trans Mountain tar sands pipelines."

McKibben also made the direct connection to KXL and the decision now looming before Biden when it comes to Line 3 in northern Minnesota. "When enough people rise up we're stronger even than the richest fossil fuel companies," he said. "And by the way, the same climate test that ruled out Keystone should do the same for Line 3."

Jon Queally
June 9, 2021
Common Dreams

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Mixing vaccines may boost immune responses

Faced with short supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and unforeseen side effects, some countries have adopted an unproven strategy: switching shots midstream. Most authorized vaccines require two doses administered weeks or months apart, but Canada and several European countries are now recommending a different vaccine for the second dose in some patients. Early data suggest the approach, born of necessity, may actually be beneficial.

In three recent studies, researchers have found that following one dose of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine produces strong immune responses, as measured by blood tests. Two of the studies even suggest the mixed vaccine response will be at least as protective as two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech product, one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines.

Only a few of the potential vaccine combinations have been tested. But if mixing vaccines proves safe and effective, it could speed the effort to protect billions of people. “This possibility opens new perspectives for many countries,” says Cristóbal Belda-Iniesta, a clinical research specialist at the Carlos III Health Institute. Governments, for example, could immediately distribute new doses without worrying about setting aside second shots of specific vaccines to give people weeks or months later.

Mixing the two types of vaccine may give the immune system multiple ways to recognize a pathogen. “The mRNA vaccines are really, really good at inducing antibody responses, and the vector-based vaccines are better at triggering T cell responses,” Sander says. Matthew Snape, a vaccine expert at the University of Oxford, agrees the combination vaccine results so far are promising but cautions they don't resolve whether any improvement in T cell response results from longer dose intervals rather than the mixing.

The recent studies are imperfect because they are not designed to assess actual protection against COVID-19. That would require following large groups receiving different vaccine combinations to see who gets infected and sick over many months. The antibody and T cell measurements the studies rely on are thought to correspond to real-life protection, but studies are ongoing to determine exactly how reliable these correlates are.

Still, the findings support recent policy changes. Spain has authorized the mixing of the two vaccines for people under age 60. Other countries that have put age limits on the AstraZeneca vaccine, including Canada, Germany, France, Norway, and Denmark, have made similar recommendations.

Gretchen Vogel
June 11, 2021
Science

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White House admits CIA involvement in “War on Corruption” which jailed Lula and elected Bolsonaro

In a White House ‘Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on the Fight Against Corruption’, a Biden administration official admitted that the CIA and other parts of the U.S. intelligence apparatus were involved in assisting the “War on Corruption” which jailed former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and elected Jair Bolsonaro.

In July 2017, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco gave a speech at NATO think tank the Atlantic Council in which he bragged of the Justice Department’s informal involvement in Brazilian anti-corruption operation Lava Jato and its prosecution of former president Lula. FBI personnel involved later boasted that it had “toppled presidents“. Lava Jato prosecutor Deltan Dellagnol described Lula’s 2018 arrest which kept him out of the election he was on course to win, as “a gift from the CIA“. The judge who prosecuted Lula, Sergio Moro, became Bolsonaro’s Justice Minister, and both made an unprecedented visit to CIA headquarters in Langley within months of taking office, whilst the DOJ rewarded the Lava Jato task-force with a $682 million dollar kickback. Lava Jato’s origins can be traced back to 2008/09, where Moro and a blueprint for an operation of its type appear in State Department cables.

Moro is now under investigation for 7 counts of judicial bias, in working to help oust president Dilma Rousseff, jail candidate Lula da Silva, and elect his opponent Bolsonaro, with the assistance of the U.S. government.

The role of anti-corruption as U.S. foreign policy tool in Latin America has expanded gradually since the 1990s, and has continued through successive Democrat and Republican administrations. Lava Jato was central to the ouster of president Dilma Rousseff, and pivotal to the election of Jair Bolsonaro, which were both undeniably advantageous to the United States government and business/banking sector, which is represented in Latin America by lobby and think tank Council of the Americas.

The June 3 press call was to mark a new national security study memorandum or NSSM on “Establishing the fight against corruption as a core U.S. national security interest“, which is being renewed under the Biden administration, and held by unnamed “senior administration officials”.

June 3, 2021
Brasil Wire

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Bolivian Ex-Minister of Defense Plotted a Second Coup Using U.S. Mercenaries

Leaked phone recordings and emails reveal a top official was prepared to use foreign troops to block Bolivia’s left-wing MAS party from returning to power.

The aim of the mercenary recruitment was to forcibly block Luis Arce from taking up the presidency for Movimiento al Socialismo, or MAS, the party of former Bolivian President Evo Morales. The plot continued even though Arce, a protégé of Morales, trounced a crowded field, winning 55 percent of first-round votes and eliminating the need for a runoff election.

In one of the leaked recordings, a person identified as the Bolivian minister of defense said he was “working to avoid the annihilation of my country.” The armed forces and the people needed to “rise up,” he added, “and block an Arce administration. … The next 72 hours are crucial.”

Disagreements between ministers and divisions within the armed forces, strained under the weight of Arce’s convincing victory on October 18, 2020, appear to have undermined the plan. It was never executed, and several top officials of the outgoing government have either fled Bolivia or been arrested on separate charges linked to corruption and their alleged role in the 2019 coup.

Several of the plotters discussed flying hundreds of foreign mercenaries into Bolivia from a U.S. military base outside Miami. These would join forces with elite Bolivian military units, renegade police squadrons, and vigilante mobs in a desperate bid to keep the country’s largest political movement from returning to power.

The phone calls, along with leaked emails discussing a mass deployment of hired guns to coincide with the elections, reveal how Bolivia could have seen fresh bloodshed late last year.

Two U.S. military sources confirmed that the Special Operations commands that they work for had gotten wind of the Bolivia coup plot. But nothing ever came of it, they told The Intercept. One special ops source added, “No one really took them seriously as far as I know.”

Abortive coups often appear slapdash in hindsight, but such plots don’t need to be perfectly executed to be successful. The U.S. government notoriously overthrew democratically elected leaders in Iran and Guatemala in the 1950s, both times in shoestring operations that ended up victorious amid the resulting chaos. The 1954 Guatemala coup succeeded because the local military correctly perceived the U.S. was behind it.

But the plot Pereira was selling does not appear to have had the backing of the U.S. government. It more closely resembles the May 2020 efforts of Silvercorp USA, a Florida-based private military company that launched a botched coup attempt against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Eight participants were killed, and 17 were captured. Among those now in jail in Venezuela is the former Green Beret leading the operation, who later claimed that it was authorized by Donald Trump’s White House. The Trump administration denied involvement.

“The last thing this region needs right now is bands of mercenaries paid by who knows whom trying to install their preferred leaders by force,” agreed Eric Farnsworth, a former U.S. diplomat and vice president of the Council of the Americas, who also reviewed the emails and agreed that the plot seemed well advanced. “It’s not democratic and it can’t be condoned.”

A grim example of what might have occurred unfolded in November 2019, when at least 19 demonstrators, mainly poor and Indigenous MAS supporters, were shot dead by Bolivian security forces under the oversight of Áñez, Murillo, López, and Orellana. Among those killed was Omar Calle Siles, 28, a keen soccer player who left behind a 5-year-old son.

Laurence Blair, Ryan Grim
June 17 2021
The Intercept

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Tools for Repression in Myanmar Expose Gap Between EU Tech Investment and Regulation

According to leaked budget documents from Myanmar’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Transport and Communications, which were provided by the activist group Justice for Myanmar, the military and police sought to buy a collection of forensic and surveillance technology from American, Chinese, Russian, and European companies between 2018 and 2021 that could extract data from smartphones, access phone conversations, and monitor people’s movements. While it’s unclear which of these products are currently being used, people who’ve been detained in Myanmar over the last two months report having had to unlock and hand over their smartphones, sometimes under duress.

One of the products currently in the possession of Myanmar’s security forces is a digital forensic tool from the Swedish company MSAB. It’s the European equivalent of Cellebrite, the Israeli company known for its phone-hacking devices, which also appears in the leaked documents; MSAB’s technology is able to break mobile phone encryption and extract call, contact, GPS, and other records, as well as messages sent and received via SMS, WhatsApp, Signal, and other apps. MSAB’s products can also extract passwords and login tokens from mobile devices, allowing authorities to remotely enter someone’s online services, including Google, Facebook, cloud storage, and others.

MSAB confirmed that it sold its forensic tools to Myanmar police in 2019, two years after security forces targeted the Rohingya in what the U.N. said could amount to crimes against humanity. According to the leaked budget documents, as well as tender documents found on government websites, MSAB also intended to sell a number of phone extraction products to Myanmar’s Bureau of Special Investigations in 2021 via a third-party distributor called MySpace International. The BSI is the intelligence arm of the Ministry of Home Affairs, which oversees domestic security and has long been controlled by the military. Following the February coup, MSAB called off the deal. Yet the company’s earlier products remain in the hands of Myanmar’s security forces.

MSAB states publicly that its vision is to make the world a safer place. At the same time, the company sold phone extraction hardware to a government still partially run by the military, widely condemned for an ongoing genocide, and known for its suppression of activists and journalists. And the European Union is investing in MSAB’s growth. Indeed, EU research money has developed technology that feeds into the same products that MSAB sold to Myanmar in 2019.

Funding for MSAB and others comes from the EU’s flagship technological research program Horizon Europe, previously known as Horizon 2020. MSAB is the lead technology company on the “Formobile” project, a consortium of 19 companies, research institutions, and police departments set up in 2019 to develop technology to unlock mobile devices without user consent and extract and analyze data as evidence in criminal investigations.

In particular, the project members hope to develop technology to run these processes on counterfeit phones that are not typically available in Europe, Christian Hummert, a forensic researcher in Germany and coordinator of the Formobile project, told The Intercept. These types of devices, which present a challenge for European police accustomed to working with standard iOS and Android phones, are especially important because, as Hummert put it, they are often used by “foreign criminal groups with or by people coming to Europe from Africa or from Asia.”

This technology is not just being used by European police, but also by asylum officials. One of MSAB’s flagship products quickly scans and analyzes the data on a person’s smartphone; along with other software, it is used in Germany by asylum officials to “verify” the identity of asylum-seekers by assessing outgoing and incoming messages and calls, country domain data from internet browsers, language used in texts, and geolocation data.

In early June, the use of smartphone data to influence asylum requests was declared illegal by Berlin’s regional court, showing that the technology’s deployment inside the bloc may be outpacing European legal systems. Meanwhile, the sale of digital forensic products to countries outside the bloc such as Myanmar poses a new challenge for those who have been working to regulate technology exports that could be used to violate human rights.

Hoping to limit the sale of surveillance, hacking, and exfiltration technologies, Schaake and several other parliament members turned to an EU regulation based on the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international export control agreement that governs dual-use items as well as conventional arms. Dual-use products are those that have legitimate civilian applications but can also be used for military purposes. When Wassenaar was created in 1996, smartphones didn’t exist; its dual-use technology list was limited to computers, telecoms, and IT security. Over the next 10 years, Schaake pushed to change EU regulations to tackle emerging technology and try to prevent sales that could bolster the power of authoritarian-leaning regimes.

Schaake left the parliament in 2019 and is now the international policy director at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center. Later this year, the changes she fought for will finally come into effect: The EU’s new dual-use regulation will regulate “cyber-surveillance technology,” and the potential for human rights violations will become a key criterion for limiting exports. Whether or not MSAB’s 2019 sales to Myanmar would be prohibited under the new regulation will depend on Sweden’s interpretation and updates to its exports policy.

Cindy Cohn, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that export regulations might not be the best tool for keeping surveillance tools out of the hands of authoritarian regimes. Cohn argues that means for legal redress are needed when European or American surveillance technology is used to spy on citizens. “I think people who get spied on by this stuff should be able to sue the company and the government and get remedies. We’ve got all these tools out there in the world that are basically letting foreign governments wiretap citizens anywhere in the world without any legal process whatsoever.”

But beyond that, Cohn said, is a larger conversation about what kinds of surveillance and forensic technology should be developed and used, regardless of their potential exports. “I think that the problems with these spy tools are not just the problems of them being used by ‘bad foreign governments,’” said Cohn. “I think we need to talk about the use of these spy tools by the ‘good governments’ that we like, and how uncontrolled and unregulated it is.” In the U.S., Cohn added, “The big question for a lot of companies now is, should they sell to ICE?”

In the EU’s race to develop cutting-edge security technology, some of the biggest funding recipients have been arms companies and those building surveillance and forensic tools for law enforcement and border security. Critics say the bloc should be doing more to regulate what new technology is created and where it can be exported, and to make those transactions transparent. “A lot of these companies are not keen to say, ‘We’re selling to military intelligence in this or that country,’” said Schaake, the former Dutch MEP. “It’s an opaque system that we want to open up.”

Zach Campbell, Caitlin L. Chandler
June 14 2021
The Intercept

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