Australia

Artificial Intelligence and the World Wars: breathing new life into old photos

The last few years have seen the rise of software applications that use Artificial Intelligence for image and video processing. The world has been introduced to the results of incredibly powerful machine learning tools such as deepfake videos and advanced speech synthesis.

The use of AI to increase the resolution and fidelity of digital images is known as upscaling. Simply put, Al image upscaling involves creating new pixels of image information to add detail where there wasn’t any before, filling in the gaps to recreate a higher-resolution image, all the while using machine learning to improve the result. ‘Machine learning’ refers to the process of feeding the AI software millions of images, so that it can artificially increase resolution on a wide variety of different subjects (portraits, wildlife, landscapes, architecture, etc) and image types (DSLR, web/compressed, CGI).

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At the Rant Foundry we decided that many of the photographs used in our articles would be perfect candidates for a test of some of the new AI professional upscaling applications available to designers and photographers today. Many photos taken during both of the world wars suffer from low resolutions and lack of sharpness. Having some of these successfully upscaled would offer a better view of the subjects, environments and conditions experienced during those years.

As it’s roughly the 80th anniversary, let’s begin with a photograph taken during the Siege of Tobruk: the original image downloaded from the Australian War Memorial website is 640×490 pixels at 72 dpi and an 8-bit colour depth resulting in a 237kb JPEG image. After processing with Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI, we get an output image that is now 1280×980 pixels at 96 dpi with a 24-bit depth. As you can see, it results in a dramatic improvement of the source image.

Incidentally, the photo by Frank Hurley shows soldiers of the 2/13th Battalion on patrol along the anti-tank ditch at the El Adem Road to the south of Tobruk. A close watch was kept over this ditch night and day to counter enemy attempts to pierce the town’s defences around April, 1941.

Original source image (left) and AI-upscaled result image (right)
Comparison showing overall size and resolution increase (200%) (AWM 007505)

Next, we’ll look at a photograph from the Great War, taken at Passchendaele during the Third Battle of Ypres. Notice the increased fidelity of the mud and wood textures.

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And here, another confronting image showing dead and wounded Australians and Germans in the railway cutting in the Ypres sector, in Belgium, during the battle of Passchendaele, on October 12, 1917 (photographer officially listed as unknown but is most likely Frank Hurley).

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As you can see, many fine details and textures have been added.  In addition to increasing resolution, the algorithm used for this image also automatically removes JPEG compression artifacts, applies noise reduction, and sharpens the output in a natural way. Different kinds of texture have different characteristics. In the image above, notice the added detail and resolution on the mud, grass, and clothing.

Below is a photo taken during WWII by George Silk during actions at Gona in Papua New Guinea on 8th December 1842. While Japanese snipers hide in trees in the background, an Australian mortar crew fires shells towards the enemy. AI processing has gained fine detail in the mortar muzzle, the kunai grass and in the hair and skin of the soldier at right.

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There is great potential for AI-upscaled images in historical research. Many photos pertinent to important historical events suffer from poor digitisation and manipulation and are prime candidates for careful resizing with machine learning tools, which could then be used to provide a clearer view. As these applications create print and screen ready images, they could be used everywhere from the classroom to the lecture hall, from website to museum.

At the Rant Foundry we intend to make use of these incredible tools and look forward to including hi-resolution, upscaled photos where they are useful to telling these stories.

Treaty of Versailles: Australia Counts the Cost of WW1

More than a century has now passed since the signing of the infamous Treaty of Versailles, at the former Palace of Louis XIV outside Paris, France on 28 June 1919 – formally concluding hostilities between Germany and the allied powers and marking the end of the First World War. It was here that the full cost of the war would become clear to the nations that had just fought it.

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Australia’s edition of the Treaty of Versailles 1919, including the Covenant of the League of Nations (image via Museum of Australian Democracy)

Australia had initially declared war at 12:45 p.m. on 5 August 1914, as then-Prime Minister Joseph Cook announced to a press gathering in his office that “I have received the following despatch from the Imperial government: ‘war has broken out in Germany'”. However, even before Britain had declared war the previous day, plans were already underway to send an expeditionary force of at least 20,000 men to France.

That Australia was still very much a dominion of the British Empire, coupled with the fact that she had only become a Federation in 1901 and that most Australians were of recent British heritage, created a situation in which the declaration of war was met with enthusiasm and was generally well supported.

Australians would go on to serve in the Occupation of German New Guinea, Gallipoli, Egypt and Palestine, the Western Front, Mesopotamia and the Caucasus.

From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of whom more than 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Along with New Zealand – whose soldiers joined forces with Australians as ANZACs – Australians suffered the highest per-capita rates of casualties of all the British Empire dominions.

With such a relatively small population compared to the other Allied nations, Australia was a bit-part player in the power battles at the Versailles conference. Her representatives at the Paris Peace Conference were Prime Minister Billy Hughes, the Deputy Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook, and Lieutenant Commander J.G. Latham, Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

Yet the brash determination of Prime Minister W.M. “Billy” Hughes ensured that he made a mark on some of the debates and at the Paris peace conference of 1919. This was the first diplomatic conference on this scale (there were 32 governments represented) at which Australia had independent status. Previously, the Dominions of the British Empire had been represented internationally by London or had attended diplomatic meetings as part of a delegation of the Empire.

However, the “blood sacrifice” of the war just ended had changed the balance of imperial relationships; and after some difficult negotiations with the United States and France, Australia (like Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and India) was granted the right to attend the Paris conference.

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The Australian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Hughes sits front row centre. [AWM A02615]

The question of inter-allied war debts and German reparations was a deeply divisive one, and at Paris it was finally agreed that the Germans should pay for more than actual physical damage to France and Belgium, as was originally suggested by the Americans. But Hughes’s battle to get Germany to pay the full costs of Australia’s war, and for pensions and other veterans’ benefits, was lost. The compromise that was finally hammered out was so unpalatable to Hughes that it was only in the interests of the unity of the British Empire that he finally signed the peace treaty.

The story of German reparations in the 1920s is a long and complex one. Suffice to say that by 1931, when reparations payments finally ended, Australia had received only £5.571 million against a total claim of £464 million – £364 million being for actual war expenditure, and £100 million for the capitalised value of pensions, repatriation and loss to civilian property. Moreover, what Australia had received was largely made up of ships seized in Australian ports and the value of expropriated property in New Guinea.

So Hughes returned to Australia deeply disappointed with the Treaty of Versailles. As he saw it, it was “not a good peace” for Australia but it was a good one for the United States. He said bitterly, “She who did not come into the war to make anything has made thousands of millions out of it. She gets the best ships. She has a good chance of beating us for world mercantile supremacy. She prevented us getting the cost of the war.”

In some ways Hughes’ disappointment was understandable. The quantifiable “spoils of war” for Australia were few and scarcely commensurate with the scale of the losses that Australia had suffered. No one would claim that a mandate to control German New Guinea was worth more than 60,000 dead. But Hughes’s expectations of the peace settlement were unrealistic. The rise of the United States, and the relative decline of the British Empire that Hughes so lamented, could not be reversed. The growth of American industrial might, which would make it a superpower in the twentieth century, was already in train before 1914. It was simply accelerated by the war.

For all his realist attitude to world politics, Hughes struggled to understand that this was not a matter of “injustice”. Long general wars tend to exhaust those who fight them, and they often leave the international balance of power fundamentally transformed. The First World War left Britain and its empire exhausted and in debt, while also shattering three of the dynastic monarchies that had dominated Europe for centuries. The world order which the Great Powers of Europe had gone to war to preserve was over by 1919, and the Treaty of Versailles, with all its flaws, was never going to restore it.

Australian Foreign Policy failure: Venezuela

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

In February this year the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne released a statement on the attempted coup d’état in Venezuela. The statement said, in part:

“Australia recognises and supports the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, in assuming the position of interim President, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and until elections are held.” The statement went on to urge “all parties to work constructively toward a peaceful resolution of the situation, including respect for the rule of law.”

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a rally in support of the government marking the one-year anniversary of his controversial re-election. (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

This statement surely puts to rest the perception that Australia is actually a nation that respects the so-called “rule-of-law.” Whether or not Payne sought the legal advice of her department before making this extraordinarily ignorant statement is unknown. A Freedom of Information request on that point remains unanswered at the time of writing.

Unfortunately, the statement only serves to proclaim the usual Australian obeisance to the United States, responding to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s call that nations decide whose side they are on. There is of course only one acceptable answer for the Americans to such a call. It is eerily reminiscent of George Bush and Tony Blair calling for similar compliance prior to the attack on Iraq.

If Ms Payne or her advisers had actually looked at the Venezuelan constitution she purports to uphold – as does the would-be president-elect Juan Guaido – she would have seen that section 233 provides a mechanism for replacing the President. The scenarios under which a President is excluded from continuing in office are spelled out. None of them are applicable in the present circumstances. It then goes on to describe the applicable protocol should the President become unable to serve prior to his inauguration. Again this is not relevant because Mr Guaido made his bid for power 13 days after the inauguration.

Even if Mr Guaido had legitimately become acting President (and a self declaration in the middle of the street does not count) then he would have been obliged under the constitution to immediately call an election. He did not do so.

Ms Payne’s statement sought “a transition to democracy” as soon as possible although precisely what she meant by that was not specified, as Venezuela has as much right to call itself a democracy as does the United States. On May 20 of last year, Maduro received the votes of 6.2 million people, about 31 percent of the eligible voters, about the same percentage that U.S. presidents generally receive (Obama received 31 percent in 2008 and 28 percent in 2012, while Trump received 26 percent in 2016). Four different groups of international observers concluded that Maduro’s electoral victory was clean.

Payne could more validly have demanded that the United States “transition to democracy”, as it has a President elected on a minority of the popular vote by a significant margin; has the greatest degree of gerrymandering of any western political system; disenfranchises millions of citizens (especially minority groups); and has a well documented history of ballot box rigging.

There is furthermore well-documented evidence that Senator Bernie Sanders was the victim of corrupt, illegal and unethical practices to deny him the Democratic Party nomination. Ms Payne – along with the entire Australian Government – is conspicuously silent on these manifest flaws in the US electoral system.

To compound the blatant violations of not only the Venezuelan constitution, but also Article 2 of the UN Charter (non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations), President Trump has appointed Elliot Abrams as his ‘special envoy’ for Venezuela. Abrams is not only a convicted criminal for previous regime change and other operations on behalf of the United States, he was also involved in an earlier coup attempt against President Hugo Chavez.

Ms Payne could also have acknowledged (although Australian politicians never do) that at least part of Venezuela’s current problems are directly related to the imposition of illegal sanctions the US has applied, as well as waging a persistent campaign of hybrid warfare against Venezuela’s sovereign government. This did not begin with Mr Maduro.

Many other countries, including notably Russia and China, have warned the United States to leave Venezuela alone. They, like many other countries, recognise that the current US bullying and violations of international law have their roots in the Monroe Doctrine, first formulated in 1823. This doctrine has been used to justify America’s blatant interference in Latin America, their “backyard”, a concept wholly foreign to the UN Charter or international law.

The theft of one third of Mexico’s territory following the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, coups in Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and elsewhere since World War 2, and the support of brutal dictatorships throughout the continent hardly qualify one as an upholder of democracy and the rule of law. Australian elected officials like Marise Payne choose to ignore history at their own peril.

The rest of the world also recognises that Venezuela happens to have the world’s largest known reserves of oil, which would make American interference part of a long and dishonourable tradition of destroying countries (Iraq, Libya, Syria) whose oil assets they covet.

Venezuela has also taken recent and significant steps to detach itself from the US petrodollar. Again, together with Russia and China it is forging new relationships for its oil trade independent of the US dollar. Such a trend poses an existential threat to US geopolitical hegemony and is a major factor in the promotion of wars and regime change around the world.

The brand of sovereign independence that Venezuela is displaying is intolerable to Washington. It is however supported by the overwhelming majority of the Venezuelan people where more than 80% according to recent polls oppose foreign intervention in their affairs.

Should the Trump Administration take the military option, which according to the President is “on the table,” it will set in train a catastrophic chain of events that has the overwhelming potential to drag parts of the Latin American region into the fog of war as we have seen happen in the Middle East after two Gulf Wars.

Keeping an Eye on the Sheriff: New US Ambassador to Australia

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Back in October 2003, former US President George W Bush caused something of a stir in Australia and East Asia after he described then-Prime Minister John Howard’s government as America’s “sheriff” for the region. Bush was asked whether Washington viewed the capital, Canberra, as the region’s deputy sheriff.

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US Amassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse. Photo: AP

This was a reference to similar comments made by Mr Howard three years ago. At that time, his words generated a huge row across the region. Mr Bush, apparently unaware of the sensitivity of the subject in the region, said: “We don’t see [Australia] as a deputy sheriff; we see it as a sheriff. There is nothing ‘deputy’ about this relationship.”

A government spokesman at the time said that while Australia enjoyed a good long-term relationship with the US, it could not be described as a sheriff.

“Sometimes there are some nuances in the language that get a little bit lost,” Liberal MP Fran Bailey said in 2003. “The American concept of a sheriff is a peacekeeper. We don’t actually use the term sheriff, but we do act as a peacekeeper.”

Fast forward to 2019 and Australia’s role in the East Asian/South Pacific region is increasingly coming under the international spotlight as the Trump Admninistration shoehorns a Reagan-era Republican lawyer into the role of US Ambassador to Australia.

Arthur Culvahouse Jr. wasted no time at his new diplomatic post to begin strong-arming Canberra into adopting Washington’s confrontational policy regarding Beijing.

A Reuters article published by the South China Morning Post in March 2019 points out that:

China is using “payday loan diplomacy” to exert influence in the Pacific, the new US ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday, in comments that threaten to inflame regional tensions.

The United States and its regional allies have been battling China for greater influence in the Pacific – a region that has votes at international forums like the United Nations and controls vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean.

The geopolitical competition has seen both sides increase foreign aid to the region in recent months, which the West says is needed to prevent the Pacific falling into financial distress and becoming susceptible to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

The arrival of Culvahouse, the first US ambassador to Australia in more than two years, comes at time of bilateral tensions between Canberra and Beijing.

In 2017, then Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused China of meddling in domestic affairs. In 2018, Canberra banned companies linked to foreign governments from investing in its nascent 5G network, effectively blocking China’s Huawei.

The timing of the arrival of the new ambassador is a clear move to signal the US interests in Australia’s diplomatic postion in the region. It would appear to be a diplomatic mission with a specific geopolitical intent. The American people for whom Ambassador Culvahouse is supposed to be a representative, should be perplexed over his obsession with China rather than fulfilling his duties of representing the United States in Australia itself.

As the United States has done with many other allies, it has successfully turned Australia into a Washington proxy for its own confrontation with China. Washington risks dragging Australia down an usuccessful diplomatic path with it, when Australia could instead be bilaterally resolving issues with China and building constructive relations throughout Asia-Pacific, all while redefining for itself a more positive role in the region, breaking free from its historical role as an extension of Anglo-American hegemony.

Geography 101: China is Located in Asia, the United States is Not 

Interestingly enough, Reuters failed to notice that China is actually located in Asia-Pacific, while the United States is not.

Just as the US is expected to exert a certain amount of influence in North America where it is actually located, it is not unreasonable to expect China to do likewise in Asia. That US foreign policy seems formed around the notion that the US, not China, should hold primacy in Asia is both counterintuitive and fundamentally flawed.

Such a policy reflects a basic but intentional lapse in geographical awareness widespread across Western media and political circles representing the remnants of European-American imperialism of the 19th-20th centuries. It suggests that Asians lack agency to decide for themselves how “votes at international forums like the United Nations” and “vast swathes of a resource-rich ocean” should be used and that the United States should decide for them instead.

The US currently does this by attempting to surround China with client states and infecting nations across Asia with US government-funded nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs impose upon the region US-style institutions that reflect US interests through a process the US itself calls “soft power.”

Examples of this can be seen in Myanmar where US-funded NGOs have managed to bring existing ethnic tensions toward the brink of war, in Thailand where US-backed political forces are attempting to displace the military and constitutional monarchy and roll back recent progress made between Bangkok and Beijing and in Cambodia where the entire opposition is virtually run out of Washington D.C.

The more obvious results of this US “soft power” in action are ongoing “colour revolutions,” but a more subtle attempt to overwrite Asian culture and institutions with US ideas and institutions is also constantly attempting to take root. It is the latest evolutionary step taken by centuries of European and now American imperialism and it is the tool of choice used by the special interests of today benefiting from this imperialism.

Ambassador Culvahouse’s rhetoric and the accompanying talking points touched on by Reuters brings all of this into focus, with the US openly accusing China of usurping American primacy in Asia, and admitting it is investing across the region to regain it.

Who is Ambassador Culvahouse? 

Ambassador Culvahouse had previously served President Ronald Reagan’s administration between 1987 and 1989. He has also been involved in multiple committees within the Republican Party, Australia’s ABC would report.

Ambassador Culvahouse is also listed as a Brookings Institution trustee, which may help explain why in his capacity as US Ambassador to Australia he is openly pursuing policy that serves neither the American nor Australian people but rather the corporate sponsors who control both Brookings’ activities and those of Washington.

He is also a former chairman of O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), a massive international law firm whose clients include equally massive corporations seeking to protect their existing monopolies and to find footing in emerging markets, including in China. Former OMM chairman and now Ambassador Culvahouse stepping into the middle of Australia’s bout with China over 5G and Huawei and OMM’s own role in cases specifically involving Huawei (e.g.), in turn represents equally massive conflicts of interest.

Ambassador Culvahouse is another stark example of “revolving door” politics in which representatives of special interests move in and out of government positions appointed to regulate and hold accountable these very interests.

The entire process that Ambassador Culvahouse represents is the modern manifestation of European-American imperialism, representing the modern equivalence of an elite minority, their greed and the mechanisms instituted to satisfy it, merely dressed up as representative governance serving the majority.

But just like every other empire in history, American hegemony rose on a global scale before beginning to fade. The vector sum of Chinese-Australian economic ties, despite recent setbacks (some might call sabotage), is positive, as noted by the Parliament of Australia itself. As China continues to grow economically, politically and even militarily within the region and upon the global stage, the US will have no choice but to concede its longstanding primacy in Asia-Pacific, a process already well underway.

Without an entirely new, innovative and constructive American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Ambassador Culvahouse and his rhetoric serve only to delay the continued, inevitable decline of American power and in the process, increase resentment not only from Beijing, but resentment from all the partner-proxies including Australia the US is using in the process.

The Australian government: United States neocon echo chamber

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

Predictably, Australia’s self-styled iron lady Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has shown her neo-conservative colours by not only siding with the warmongering Washington establishment, but has gone so far as to suggest the US has gone soft on Russia. Just as predictably, the leading Australian media outlets have supported this ‘nuanced’ line. This embarrassingly supine position is taken in front of an international community increasingly fed up with the US belligerence in relations with its ideological enemies. Every time elected officials and establishment commentators refer to issues involving these states we move past any investigation or critical analysis to assume that the prevailing group-think has actually been right.

Australia Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, left, talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after posing for photos for the 2018 Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) Consultations in Stanford, Calif., Monday, July 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

For example, Bishop has referred to the alleged involvement of Russian military forces in the shootdown of MH17, an event that, given the US intelligence community’s inability to provide concrete evidence that the aircraft was shot down by Russian forces and not by Ukrainian rebels as the evidence would actually suggest. Bishop uses the MH17 tragedy to bolster her anti-Russian position and suggest that the US “not reward Russia for their bad behaviour.”

The Canberra Times, in an uncredited opinion piece, sides with the Canberra-Washington group-think and says that Bishop is right to remind US of Russia’s misdeeds, apparently ignoring the US’ chronic impulse to intervene in just about everything. It’s difficult not to read the article that applauds Bishop putting the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, “on notice” as “this country will not accept any signs of appeasement towards Russia by the Trump Administration ahead of the historic first meeting between the two.” Aren’t we tough, the antipodean bulldog with plenty of bark but no bite.

Her nuanced position is that Trump is placing too much emphasis on developing some form of rapport with the Russian leader … Bishop cited the downing of MH17, the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s action in the eastern Ukraine, its indifference to Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, the likely Russian involvement in the nerve toxin attacks in England and the growing evidence of state sponsored cyber attacks as key issues.

All of these points are not only questioned but actively challenged by some of the world’s leading and most respected researchers and journalists. Among them are the likes of John Pilger, the late Robert Parry, Tony Cartalucci, F William Engdahl, Gordon Duff, Ray McGovern, Joe Lauria, Jonathan Marshall, Gareth Porter and Michel Chossudovsky to name a few.

In Clinging to Collusion: Why Evidence Will Probably Never Be Produced in the Indictments of ‘Russian Agents’, Lauria reports that the indictment of 12 Russian ‘agents,’ which included no collusion with Trump’s team, is essentially a political and not legal document because it is almost certain the U.S. government will never have to present any evidence in court. Gordon Duff, Marine combat veteran of the Vietnam War and senior editor and chairman of the board of Veterans Today writes in Russiagate, the Comedy of Errors that “America has hurt Russia, over and over, though few Americans realize it. Peace could and should have broken out decades ago except America has been ruled by Russia haters for a hundred years, Russia haters that are alive and well and in control in Washington, even now.” Professor James Petras of Global Research says that, “for the greater part of a decade the US, the UK and the EU have been carrying out a campaign to undermine and overthrow the Russian government and in particular to oust President Putin. Fundamental issues are at stake including the real possibility of a nuclear war.”

We see refutation of Russian support of alleged Syrian government chemical weapons attacks in research by Chossudovsky in The Syria Chemical Weapons Saga: The Staging of a US-NATO Sponsored Humanitarian Disaster. He writes that

In the light of recent developments and accusations directed against the Syrian government, it is important once more to set the record straight: the US supported rebels possess chemical weapons. The Pentagon not only provided chemical weapons to Al Nusra, an affiliated Al Qaeda terrorist organization, but also provided training to the rebels in the use of these weapons.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey writes in Crimea: Time for the US Administration to Read the Truth:

The approach towards the Crimea by the United States of America is as unfounded, unjust and illegal as the transfer of the Crimea by  Khrushchev from the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic to the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954, meaning that calls for the return of this part of Russian territory are based on ignorance. Isn’t it about time the United States of America ceased sticking its nose into everyone’s business? There are better claims for Lakota and Aztlan to change their status than the Crimea. Suppose someone decided to start stirring up trouble over there and see how Washington likes it?

This brings us back to The Canberra Times piece. Almost unknowingly, it hints at the true nature of what we’re observing here. It compares Trump’s Helsinki comments to former Australian Labor leader Doc Evatt’s rejections of claims the Russians were spying in Australia in the wake of the Petrov affair in the 1950s. It admits that this “gaffe” went on to destroy Evatt’s career, and played a significant role in keeping Labor out of office until the 1970s.

Keeping socialist governments out of office is exactly what this is all about.

We’re Back

After a 12-month hiatus from publishing, we are excited to announce the return of The Rant Foundry to our readers and the world at large.

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We return armed with new skills – lead journalist Brendan Hay has both completed Diplomas in Journalism, Data Journalism & Media Standards, and editor JF Dowsett has recently completed a course in Digital Network Security.

We didn’t, however, take a break from writing and research. Many events of a geopolitical nature have taken place in the last year, and reporting on these events and the impact they have on the lives of ordinary people around the world remains as imperative as ever.

As more important political and social events take place in and arond the world of cyberspace, we believe it is critical to cut through corporate, technical, and political spin to examine as best we can the reality.

As Russia, Iran, China and other rising threats to the Western global hegemon come under further political, economic and even digital sanctions and attacks, we find ourselves in a new Cold War, with the spectre of nuclear war and global internet hacking that could both spell disaster for much of the world’s population, it is clear we in the West have a responsibility to stand for the truth, and place ourselves on the right side of history.

HMAS Perth and the Battle of Crete

For the HMAS Perth and other Allied naval vessels serving in the Mediterranean in the Second World War, 1941 was a rough year. The ships that sailed under the azure skies of Crete and the surrounding Mediterranean Sea – referred to as Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea” by Benito Mussolini – were still menaced by Axis air power.

HMAS Perth brings her guns to bear during a battle in the Mediterranean, 1941

The Perth, at this time, despite only five months in the region, was already a veteran of Mediterranean Sea warfare. She had accompanied HMAS Orion and Ajax during the battle of Matapan; stood by the Illustrious during her dash to Malta; and withstood the German first fierce attack on that island. Other brushes with the seemingly indomitable Luftwaffe had followed over most of the eastern Mediterranean, with some of the heaviest fighting in the Aegean Sea occurring during the Allied evacuation from Greece in April 1941, in which Perth took part.

She had been patrolling the waters of the Aegean Sea and supporting Allied convoys to Malta since January of 1941 and was stationed at Crete when Germany launched its invasion of the Greek island on the morning of the 20th May.

No better example of the struggle the Allied fleets faced in the Mediterranean during the Battle of Crete could be taken than that of HMAS Perth. So much had air control passed to the hands of the enemy that some aerial bombing was expected. Yet no ship could ever have expected to find such a concentrated attack as Perth and her companion ships experienced north of Crete during the time of Hitler’s attack in the latter days of May.

In company with the Dido Class cruiser HMAS Naiad, and the converted six-inch cruisers Calcutta and Carlisle, Perth found herself at 8am on the 21st May standing off Candia. The entire night before had been spent sweeping through the Aegean islands with the hope of meeting the expected German sea-borne convoy. With the clear light of a Mediterranean morning came the first German warplanes.

It has been said that while the greater size of a ship helps in rough seas, the opposite is true when a ship is the biggest in a squadron under attack, and Perth’s few extra tons – judging by the number of bombs rained at her – must have made her appear far bigger than the others.

German paratroopers looking from a hill to the coastal plain during the invasion of Crete, May 1941 (Getty Images)

In this first attack, one of the first bombs fell so close that the complement of crew on the bridge were thoroughly soaked. One of the most popular men aboard was the master-at-arms Chief Petty Officer Jan Creber, and when recalling the bomb a young sailor said, “It was as big as the jaunty (Chief Creber) – and he is eighteen stone. Why, it took ten minutes for the hole in the sea to fill up!”

Being very close to their bases on Scarpanto and Rhodes, the Germans were able to keep machines constantly overhead, with devastating effect. The first raid lasted half an hour, followed by a five-minute respite, and then back came even more Axis planes – endless squadrons of Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Stuka dive-bombers – and the anxious cat-and-mouse game of weaving and turning began again.

The chase wore on throughout the day, through the Kaso Strait, known as Bomb Alley, and at 3pm yet another attack on the Allied naval squadron was launched, and the HMS Juno was hit. It is estimated that 116 crew lost their lives after 3 high-powered explosions split Juno in two, sinking her in around 97 seconds. After survivors had been rescued, the ships moved once more towards Alexandria until dusk, when the squadron turned towards Crete and again found itself north of Candia as the sun rose next day. With the sun came Goering’s envoys. Many planes that day bore the yellow noses of the “Goering’s Boys” elite Focke-Wulf Fw190 squadrons, the fabled Jagdgeschwader 26 Schlageter or JG 26.

 

HMAS Perth in her distinctive dazzle livery

Unlike the previous day, however, the course this time was northward to meet the convoy which had been-reported by air as moving amongst the Greek islands. Every turn of the screws taking Perth northwards seemed to bring more planes, and when an Italian destroyer was engaged at 1030 enemy bombers seemed to reach plague proportions, and the destroyer got away.

The constancy of the attack on top of the previous day’s ordeal took heavy toll of the ship’s store of four-inch projectiles, and by noon the situation had become desperate. As a consequence,
Perth’s station at the rear of the squadron had to be surrendered to the HMS Naiad, and the course was set for Kythera Channel. So close had the near-misses been that no instrument, such as gyroscopic compasses and the like, still worked; and to add to the difficulties, the Naiad had been damaged so that the speed of advance was only fourteen knots. When their anti-aircraft shells were finally expended, fifty men a side were served with rifles to try to drive off the persistent aerial enemy.

HMS Warspite

The most welcome sight, at 1300, was the Battle Fleet led by HMS Warspite and Valiant, with cruisers Gloucester and Fiji. By this time the German invasion of Crete was well under way, and countless huge transport planes with gliders in tow could be plainly seen making for the island. The arrival of the Battle Fleet ships made the conditions much more favorable for Perth, as the bigger ships now drew the majority of the fire. Indeed, in the very first few moments Valiant and Warspite were both hit, fortunately without being seriously damaged. HMS Carlisle also survived a bomb on her boat deck, and staggered astern for some time before continuing on in her position.

The destroyer Greyhound went to try to shoot down some of the low flying transport planes, but was pounced on and mortally hit. To protect the destroyers Kandahar and Kimberley whilst picking up survivors, Fiji and Gloucester stood by while the remainder of the force plodded slowly out of the Kythera Channel. HMAS Perth’s last sight of these two ships was belching guns; eventually both disappeared behind a wall of bomb splashes. After two hours a message from the Fiji said that Gloucester had been badly hit, and that she herself was out of shells. HMS Fiji herself made it roughly 65 kilometres (40 miles) from that spot before being sunk.

When the final attack came that day the Perth had been bombed almost incessantly for thirteen hours, and, by a miracle, survived. She would fight valiantly for another year before being sunk in action, during the Battle of Sunda Strait (between the islands of Java and Sumatra in current-day Indonesia), on the 1st March, 1942.

Memory

In Sunda Straits she fought her fight.

‘Gainst hopeless odds that fatal night.

Brave men gave all, so great their worth

and glorified the “Fighting Perth

– Bandsman G.D Vanselow, RAN

The Golden Eagles – RAAF Pathfinders

On May 30, 1942, the people of the German city of Cologne heard the wail of the air-raid sirens.  Cologne had been raided before, many times, and its people were as accustomed as anyone to the terrors of air raids – but this night was different. Above the din of the flak batteries came an awe-inspiring, terrifying engine roar. For the first time in history a thousand bombers were airborne with a single purpose: the obliteration of Cologne.

Handley Page Halifax, a Pathfinder Force B.II Srs IA from No 35 Sqn at RAF Graveley in 1943

RAF Handley Page Halifax, a Pathfinder Force aircraft of No. 35 Sqn at RAF Graveley in 1943 [image via aviation-news.co.uk]

An extraordinary, unprecedented fireworks display was the first introduction the people of Cologne had to a new era in a form of war the Luftwaffe itself had developed – saturation or ‘blitz’ bombing. Brilliant white flares cascaded down, red floating in the clouds above, yellow penetrating glares from where they settled on the ground. RAF and RAAF Pathfinders were at work in strength for the first time, marking the target for the stream of heavy bombers which followed close behind.

The Pathfinding technique was one of the great Allied triumphs of the war, and many Australians took an important part in its development. During the war the Pathfinder squadrons were designated No. 8 Group RAF and their work was so secret that no member of a Pathfinder crew could be named as such. Below their aircrew badges the men wore the covetedf Golden Eagle, the sign of the Pathfinder, however it was never worn on operations. The intrepid pilot chosen to command the first Pathfinders was an Australian, Air Vice Marshal Donald Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO.

This pre-war airliner pilot, who hailed from Toowoomba, Queensland, was also famous Australian aviation pioneer. In July 1938 he piloted the Mercury part of the Short Mayo Composite flying-boat across the Atlantic and was later co-founder of the Atlantic Ferry Organization, an important wartime delivery service.

In December 1941 Bennett was made wing commander of No. 77 Squadron based at Leeming in the United Kingdom, flying Armstrong Whitleys (the first allied military aircraft to fly over Berlin) as part of the No. 4 Group RAF Bomber Command, in December 1941. Then in April 1942, No. 77 Squadron was transferred to Coastal Command where Bennett was given command of No. 10 Squadron (Handley Page Halifax) and shortly afterwards led a raid on the German battleship Tirpitz. Shot down during that raid, he evaded capture and escaped to Sweden, from where he was able to return to Britain. Bennett and his copilot were awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 16 June 1942.

Air Vice Marshal Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO

Air Vice Marshal Donald Clifford Tyndall Bennett, CB, CBE, DSO [© IWM CH13645]

Regarded as a superb navigator  – he authored two books on air navigation – it was Bennett who first suggested that a team of expert navigators should be formed into a force that could go to Germany in any weather, pinpoint a particular target, even through unbroken cloud or fog, and mark it for the bombers with special coloured flares and markers.

A top-secret report issued by German Air Force Intelligence Operations (Luftwaffenführungsstab Ic.) in March 1944 refers to the Cologne raid and the importance of the Pathfinders. “The success of a large-scale night raid by the RAF is in increasing measure dependent on the conscientious flying of the Pathfinder crews,” the report states. It also goes on to mention Bennett by name. “This 35 year old Australian – known as one of the most resourceful officers of the RAF – had distinguished himself as long ago as 1938 by a record long-range flight to South Africa in a four-engined seaplane launched in the air from a Sunderland flying boat.”

The Pathfinder Force (PFF) used fast-flying Mosquitoes and specially equipped Lancasters and Halifaxes; Australians flew in all types. As Commander Bennett never suggested more than he would do himself, he was, therefore, the first Pathfinder to fly. The Pathfinder technique enabled the greatest possible tonnage of bombs to be dropped in the shortest possible time. With the target clearly and exactly marked in advance the swarm of heavy bombers could now fly directly to the aiming point and cascade their loads.

Pathfinders were specially chosen from the most experienced bomber crews. They were chosen chiefly for their skill in navigation, the most important requirement in successful Pathfinding, and for tenacity and determination. They would be first at the target and at exactly the time decided before takeoff. Saturation raids, in which  hundreds of heavy bombers dropped their loads in a few minutes, hinged on accurate timing and no timing must be more accurate than that of Pathfinders.

The nature of night bombing raid would be changed, as well. The Pathfinders would find a target and mark it in conditions which helped the bombers evade not only night fighters but also searchlights and anti-aircraft guns by using cloud cover. On normal nights the markers were dropped on the ground with a few flares in the sky, but when cloud obscured the target entirely the markers were hung in the cloud blanket and the target area marked just as accurately as ground flares. In this way the Pathfinders made possible the first successful attack on the vital Krupp steel works in Essen. Before this it had been impossible to make an accurate and concentrated attack on the Ruhr because of the industrial haze in the valley, but when the Pathfinders went to work no smoke could hide the targets.

Group portrait of the Blind Marker crew of 35 Squadron, RAF, No 8 Pathfinder Group, based near Graveley, England.

Group portrait of the Blind Marker crew of 35 Squadron, RAF, No 8 Pathfinder Group, based near Graveley, England. [AWM P08504.001]

The use of flares as markers was by no means new, but the way the Pathfinders used them was unique. Pyrotechnic experts provided a remarkable variety of markers and, by continually changing the colours and the patterns of the flares which mark the targets, they were able to confuse enemy defences. British scientists also provided markers which could be dropped accurately, had exceptional ballistic qualities and exact fusings.

Soon after D-day, June 6th, 1944, when night bombers were turned into day bombers, Pathfinders were ready with a method for marking targets by day just as successfully as by night. Weather made no difference to the accuracy of the technique and when targets began to burn, obscuring the aiming points with heavy smoke, the Pathfinders sent down more indicators and kept the target accurately marked throughout the attack.

Strong criticism from British Air Force heirarchy and from amongst their own units was at first levelled against the Pathfinder Force operations, but they were able to prevail because of the successes achieved during the years 1943 and 1944. The efforts of the PFF crews increasingly helped to sharpen the edge of Allied air supremacy in the skies above Europe as the tide of the war turned.

Dancing With The Devil: Australian Uranium in Ukraine

Filed in: Geopolitics Author: Brendan R Hay

In November 2016, a group of Australian federal politicians gathered quietly to take a very quick look at an issue with very long consequences. The outcome was an agreement that has now seen Australia sign a deal to sell uranium to a nation at war with Russia.

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

Zaporizhia, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, is in southeast Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper River. © Wikicommons

There has been a lack of detailed information to support the safety and safeguards assumptions underpinning the proposed treaty action, and according to some sources the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) National Interest Analysis of the plan is deeply deficient, especially in relation to key safeguards and security concerns and the implications of the Russian conflict. The NIA’s under-stated noting that ‘political tensions currently exist between Ukraine and Russia‘ completely fails to recognise or reflect the gravity of the situation.

Any plan to supply Australian uranium to such a fraught region deserves the highest level of scrutiny.
Instead, we have tick-a-box paperwork and cut-and-paste assurances.

Just over thirty years ago, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster spread fallout over vast areas of eastern and western Europe and five million people still live in contaminated areas in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Serious containment and waste management issues remain at Chernobyl with a massive concrete shield now under construction in an attempt to enclose the stricken reactor complex and reduce the chances of further radioactive releases.

Against this ominous backdrop there are deep concerns over those parts of the Ukrainian nuclear sector that are not yet infamous names, including very real security concerns about nuclear facilities being targeted in the current conflict with Russia.

The Zaporizhia nuclear facility is Europe’s largest and is only 200 kilometres from the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine. Some commentators have described the nuclear plants in the region as pre-deployed nuclear weapons, and there have already been armed incursions during the recent conflict period. Acts of apparent sabotage have already seen the dangerous practise of emergency power unloading at nuclear power plants in Ukraine– including the Zaporozhskaya and South Ukrainian reactors.

Australia has already suspended uranium sales to Russia and it makes an interesting political point to start selling uranium to the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine now. Along with security concerns there are serious and unresolved safety and governance issues with the proposed sales plan. President Petro Poroshenko still refuses to combat the endemic corruption that infuriates Ukrainians and strangles their economy.

Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors, four of which are currently running beyond their design lifetime while a further six will reach this state by 2020.  That means two thirds of Ukraine’s nuclear reactors will be past their use-by date within five years. The currently contested series of license renewals and the related European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) financing of a program to upgrade safety features at Ukrainian nuclear facilities has highlighted serious deficiencies in governance, operations and compliance with contemporary international standards.

On top of that, there is growing regional concern over the risks associated with the Poroshenko administration focus on keeping the reactors running. In rushing to extend operating licences Ukraine is cutting process and safety corners and not complying with its obligations under the Espoo Convention – an international framework agreement around transboundary environmental impact assessment. In April 2013 the UN Espoo monitoring group found that license renewals at the Rivne nuclear facility were not compliant with Espoo procedures.

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

New life for Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants?

In 2013 the Eastern Partnership, a leading East European civil society forum, declared that the absence of environmental impact assessment for nuclear projects posed ‘a severe threat to people both in Ukraine and in neighbouring states, including EU member states’. Nearby nations including the governments or Slovakia, Romania and Hungary have formally and unsuccessfully called for Ukraine to provide further detail on its nuclear projects and to facilitate increased regional dialogue on this unresolved issue of concern.

The Ukrainian government’s response to continuing domestic and international disquiet over the operations of its nuclear sector was a 2015 government decree preventing the national nuclear energy regulator from carrying out facility inspections on its own initiative. This coupled with increased pressure on industry whistle-blowers and critics has done nothing to address the real risks facing the nations aging nuclear fleet.

Apart from any other reason, the Ukraine sales deal should not be advanced in the continued absence of any meaningful Australian government, agency and uranium company response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which was directly fueled by Australian uranium.

None of these issues have been meaningfully identified, let alone addressed, in Australian treaty action or analysis to date. The Australian government and the rest of the West must recognize this danger, drop its charade of portraying Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as a paladin of democracy, and start forcing him to enact visible, tangible reforms. Anemic recommendations, such as the  US State Department’s vague wish for ‘a new cabinet that is committed to implementing needed reforms,’ aren’t going to cut it. The overturned states of Syria and Libya are straining Europe to the breaking point – consider what a failed state of 45 million people in the middle of Central Europe could do.

Stones From the Glasshouse: The West and the Syrian War

Filed in: Geopolitics  Author: Brendan R Hay

The West is suffering a crisis of credibility over the Syrian War.

While the governments of the Coalition of the Willing – now invested in the latest Middle Eastern crusade nobly called Operation Inherent Resolve – conduct a behind-the-lines media war on Moscow, the Russian military continues the only real war against terror in Syria in partnership with the Syrian Government, as ironic as history would have it.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [Reuters]

Our claims to the lofty notions of a free mainstream press have now become a hollow fraud, thanks largely in part to conflicts of corporate and political interests. It seems that Putin and Lavrov’s tactic of letting the West and its media bash away at Russia endlessly seems to have worked, because the West is losing the credibility war.

This is no more obvious than the reporting of the direct bombing of Syrian soldiers at Door Ez Zair, by US and Australian air strike elements that was portrayed as “mistaken.”

That the bombing was not a mistake but rather, as several commentators have pointed out (although never in the Australian media), was much more likely to have been a deliberate sabotaging by US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s Pentagon element of the American war machine of the Kerry-Lavrov negotiated partial ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry opined (in an October 7 appearance with French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault) that Russian military actions in Syria “beg for an appropriate investigation of war crimes.” French President Francois Hollande echoed the sentiment.

Secretary Kerry’s conscience apparently went untroubled by possible war crimes repercussions when US forces killed at least 42 civilians in an AC-130U gunship attack on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan a year ago this month.

 The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. Najim Rahim/AP

The charred remains of the Doctors Without Borders hospital hit by a U.S. airstrike in Kunduz, Afghanistan, is pictured on October 16. [Najim Rahim/AP]

Coverage on the Aleppo battle, especially in Australia and the US, can only be called hysterical. To sample across the mainstream, one would think that East Aleppo is the only part of the city being attacked, despite the city now having been a battleground for several years due to the ISIS/ISIL and non-ISIS jihadis, who have even mined the escape corridors the Syrian army set up for civilians to get out. These jihadis are forcibly using the local population as human shields now, with not a word of this in the Western press who falls prey to the psy-ops used by both sides in Syria.

The New York Times routinely portrays the battle for East Aleppo as simply a case of barbaric Russian and Syrian leaders bombing innocent neighborhoods with no regard for the human cost, operating out of an apparent lust to kill children.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo.

Aftermath of air strike on Qaterji in rebel-held east Aleppo. [Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters]

Going along with Al Qaeda’s propaganda strategy, the Times and other mainstream U.S. news outlets have kept the focus on the children. A Times dispatch on Sept. 27 begins: “They cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters — which offer no protection from the powerful bombs that have turned east Aleppo into a kill zone…”

The reality is that US-led coalition Islamists of Al Qaeda/Al Nusra fire mortar shells into the government-held part of Aleppo every day, mutilating Syrian children as young as six, while doctors lack the medicine to relieve their pain. “What concerns us is that all parties to the conflict are committing violations against children,” UNICEF spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa Juliette Touma told RT the previous week. “Violations against children in Syria should come to an end.”

And yet, the violence continues, despite the best efforts of those who consider it their “Right To Protect”:

  • Two children were killed and 5 others were injured as the terrorist organizations fired a rocket shell on al-Sulaimaniyeh area in Aleppo city.
  • Several children dead in Aleppo bus station shelling by rebels. A mortar shell landed right next to a bus station in the government-controlled al-Hamadaneyah neighborhood of Aleppo.
  • Terrorists of “Jaish al-Islam” and “Al-Rahman Legion” targeted on Wednesday Damascus city with mortars, injuring a child and causing material damage in the areas where the shells hit.
  • Five killed, 13 others were injured due to terrorist attacks with shells on the residential neighborhoods of Aleppo city.

In the meantime, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced a 48-hour ceasefire in the embattled city starting on Thursday to allow civilians to leave Aleppo and pave the way for aid deliveries. “The goal of this work is to separate the terrorist from the ‘moderate opposition’ and get them out of Eastern Aleppo,” the minister said.

Aside from using the humanity as more pretense, another ceasefire will mean nothing to the West. The US ended all pretense of seeking a Syrian war resolution by announcing it would discontinue joint efforts with Russia in Geneva. To embarrass the country even more, US officials once again attempted to blame the failure on Russia by claiming it was violating the ceasefire with its bombing missions to support ending the terror siege in East Aleppo.

This determined demonizing of the Syrian coalition campaign to free Aleppo has been spun as a campaign to kill the civilians when they are no threat because they are unarmed. The Russians are cast as the aggressors from the East, despite Moscow being the only nation legally operating inside Syria under international law, while the Syrian Army is portrayed as the hired goons of Assad. Left out of all those reports is any mention of the East Aleppo civilians being used as human shields, or of their corpses being used as anti-Assad propaganda. And never a word is mention that mercenaries from over sixty countries have fighters in Syria.

Blurred lines: members of Free Syrian Army or ISIS?

Blurred lines: “moderate rebels” or ISIS/ISIL? [syrianfreepress.wordpress.com]

These “rebels” are portrayed as local heroes, rather than the collection of jihadists from both inside and outside Syria fighting under the operational command of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, which recently underwent a name change to the Syria Conquest Front. The name change and the pretense about anyone being “moderate” rebels are just more deceptions in the fog of war. The spectrum of opposition groups ranges from “moderate” brigades, backed by the US, to an alliance called Jaish al-Fatah – Army of Conquest – made up of hardline groups.

The Jaish al-Fatah group includes Jabhat al-Nusra, aligned with al-Qaeda, so they are formally designated by the United Nations as terrorists.

As journalist/historian Gareth Porter has written: “Information from a wide range of sources, including some of those the United States has been explicitly supporting, makes it clear that every armed anti-Assad organization unit in those provinces (of Idlib and Aleppo) is engaged in a military structure controlled by Nusra militants. All of these rebel groups fight alongside the Nusra Front and coordinate their military activities with it.” This reality – the fact that the US government and its allies are indirectly supplying sophisticated weaponry to Al Qaeda – is rarely mentioned in the mainstream U.S. news media, though one might think it would make for a newsworthy story. But it would undercut the desired propaganda narrative of “good guy” rebels fighting “bad guy” government backed by the “ultra-bad guy” Russians.

The War on Terror has become a War of Terror being waged in Syria where the Western media has crossed over the line into aiding and abetting that effort, with the respective governments leading the way as flag bearers of regime change by any and all means necessary.

 

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