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EU diplomats say they barely considered letting US residents in for Europe’s reopening: The country ‘was never going to make it’

Ashley Collman

European Union officials eliminated the US early while deciding which countries to allow in for the bloc’s initial reopening this week, NBC News reported Thursday, citing three diplomats.

The diplomats, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the decision over which countries to reopen to was strictly based on epidemiological data.

So the US, which is grappling with the most coronavirus cases in the world, was never going to make the cut, they said.

“The US was never going to make it,” one of the diplomats told NBC News. “Just look at their coronavirus situation.”

A doctor walking by a sign on a boarded-up shop in the Haight Ashbury area of San Francisco on March 17. 
Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

The diplomats said the cuts were made by eliminating countries in multiple rounds, rather than evaluating on a country-by-country basis.

To pass the first round, countries’ rates of new coronavirus cases had to be the same as or lower than the EU’s average over a two-week period.

At the time, the EU rate was 15 cases per 100,000 residents. The US rate was almost 10 times as high: 145 cases per 100,000.

For this reason, the US didn’t even make it to round two, in which countries were evaluated on whether their infection rate was increasing or decreasing and on how reliable their government was at tackling the virus.

This looked at, for example, the accuracy of a country’s coronavirus reporting and availability of testing.

President Donald Trump at Lehigh Valley International Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on May 14. 
Evan Vucci/AP

Fifteen countries made the list allowing residents to travel to the EU’s member states starting Thursday.

Among the countries that made the list are China, where the pandemic started, and the US’s northern neighbor, Canada.

The decision not to open the EU to travelers from the US will no doubt have an impact on Europe’s tourism industry, but the diplomats said they never took that into consideration.

“If we started talking about making exceptions for countries that provide a lot of tourism, even if they have a lot of coronavirus cases, that would not be the right approach,” one EU diplomat told NBC News.

A poll conducted in late April and early May found that majorities of people in numerous European countries including Germany, France, Spain, Denmark, and Portugal had lost trust in the US because of its response to the pandemic.

European health experts have also been stunned by the US’s slow response to its outbreak, as Business Insider’s Tom Porter reported.

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The US Military Is All Over Africa Despite Not Being at War in Africa

by Strategic Culture Foundation

US TROOPS

There are currently roughly 7,500 US military personnel, including 1,000 contractors, deployed in Africa. For comparison, that figure was only 6,000 just a year ago.

round 200,000 US troops are stationed in 177 countries throughout the world. Those forces utilize several hundred military installations. Africa is no exemption. On August 2, Maj. Gen. Roger L. Cloutier took command of US Army Africa, promising to “hit the ground running.”

The US is not waging any wars in Africa but it has a significant presence on the continent. Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other special ops are currently conducting nearly 100 missions across 20 African countries at any given time, waging secret, limited-scale operations. According to the magazine Vice, US troops are now conducting 3,500 exercises and military engagements throughout Africa per year, an average of 10 per day — an astounding 1,900% increase since the command rolled out 10 years ago. Many activities described as “advise and assist” are actually indistinguishable from combat by any basic definition.

There are currently roughly 7,500 US military personnel, including 1,000 contractors, deployed in Africa. For comparison, that figure was only 6,000 just a year ago. The troops are strung throughout the continent spread across 53 countries. There are 54 countries on the “Dark Continent.” More than 4,000 service members have converged on East Africa. The US troop count in Somalia doubled last year.

When AFRICOM was created there were no plans to establish bases or put boots on the ground. Today, a network of small staging bases or stations have cropped up. According to investigative journalist Nick Turse, “US military bases (including forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations) in Africa number around fifty, at least.” US troops in harm’s way in Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan Tunisia, and Uganda qualify for extra pay.

The US African Command (AFRICOM) runs drone surveillance programs, cross-border raids, and intelligence. AFRICOM has claimed responsibility for development, public health, professional and security training, and other humanitarian tasks. Officials from the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Agriculture, Energy, Commerce, and Justice, among other agencies, are involved in AFRICOM activities. Military attachés outnumber diplomats at many embassies across Africa.

Last October, four US soldiers lost their lives in Niger. The vast majority of Americans probably had no idea that the US even had troops participating in combat missions in Africa before the incident took place. One serviceman was reported dead in Somalia in June. The Defense Department is mulling plans to “right-size” special operations missions in Africa and reassign troops to other regions, aligning the efforts with the security priorities defined by the 2018 National Defense Strategy. That document prioritizes great power competition over defeating terrorist groups in remote corners of the globe. Roughly 1,200 special ops troops on missions in Africa are looking at a drawdown. But it has nothing to do with leaving or significantly cutting back. And the right to unilaterally return will be reserved. The infrastructure is being expanded enough to make it capable of accommodating substantial reinforcements. The construction work is in progress. The bases will remain operational and their numbers keep on rising.

A large drone base in Agadez, the largest city in central Niger, is reported to be under construction. The facility will host armed MQ-9 Reaper drones which will finally take flight in 2019. The MQ-9 Reaper has a range of 1,150 miles, allowing it to provide strike support and intelligence-gathering capabilities across West and North Africa from this new base outside of Agadez. It can carry GBU-12 Paveway II bombs. The aircraft features synthetic aperture radar for integrating GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions. The armament suite can include four Hellfire air-to-ground anti-armor and anti-personnel missiles. There are an estimated 800 US troops on the ground in Niger, along with one drone base and the base in Agadez that is being built. The Hill called it “the largest US Air Force-led construction project of all time.”

According to Business Insider, “The US military presence here is the second largest in Africa behind the sole permanent US base on the continent, in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti.” Four thousand American servicemen are stationed at Camp Lemonnier (the US base located near Djibouti City) — a critical strategic base for the American military because of its port and its proximity to the Middle East.

Officially, the camp is the only US base on the continent or, as AFRICOM calls it, “a forward operating site,” — the others are “cooperative security locations” or “non-enduring contingency locations.” Camp Lemonnier is the hub of a network of American drone bases in Africa that are used for aerial attacks against insurgents in Yemen, Nigeria, and Somalia, as well as for exercising control over the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. In 2014, the US signed a new 20-year lease on the base with the Djiboutian government, and committed over $1.4 billion to modernize and expand the facility in the years to come.

In March, the US and Ghana signed a military agreement outlining the conditions of the US military presence in that nation, including its construction activities. The news was met with protests inside the country.

It should be noted that the drone attacks that are regularly launched in Africa are in violation of US law. The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), adopted after Sept. 11, 2001, states that the president is authorized to use force against the planners of those attacks and those who harbor them. But that act does not apply to the rebel groups operating in Africa.

It’s hard to believe that the US presence will be really diminished, and there is no way to know, as too many aspects of it are shrouded in secrecy with nothing but “leaks” emerging from time to time. It should be noted that the documents obtained by TomDispatch under the United States Freedom of Information Act contradict AFRICOM’s official statements about the scale of US military bases around the world, including 36 AFRICOM bases in 24 African countries that have not been previously disclosed in official reports.

The US foothold in Africa is strong. It’s almost ubiquitous. Some large sites under construction will provide the US with the ability to host large aircraft and accommodate substantial forces and their hardware. This all prompts the still-unanswered question — “Where does the US have troops in Africa, and why?” One thing is certain — while waging an intensive drone war, the US is building a vast military infrastructure for a large-scale ground war on the continent.

Top Photo | U.S. Air Force, soldiers of the East Africa Response Force (EARF) depart from a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules in Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 21, 2013 (AP/U.S. Air Force, Tech. Sgt. Micah Theurich)

© Strategic Culture Foundation

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Mississippi to remove state flag, the last to display the Confederate battle emblem

BY KATE SMITH

UPDATED ON: JUNE 28, 2020 / 7:50 PM / CBS NEWS

The Mississippi state legislature voted on Sunday to replace its state flag, the last in the nation to display the Confederate battle emblem. The removal of the flag marks the latest Confederate symbol to topple in the weeks following George Floyd’s death as activists have called for a reexamination of the racism that exists in all corners of society.

The bill passed by a vote of 91-23 in the House and 37-14 in the Senate.  

The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Tate Reeves, who on Saturday morning said he would sign the legislation into law, reversing resistance to a legislature-led change to the flag. Mississippians will vote on a replacement flag in the November election. According to the legislation, the current flag design cannot be an option.

“I would guess a lot of you don’t even see that flag in the corner right there,” said Mississippi state Representative Ed Blackmon, who is black, during public comment on Saturday. “There are some of us who notice it every time we walk in here, and it’s not a good feeling.”

Mississippi Flag
The state flag of Mississippi flies at the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Mississippi, on Friday, April 26, 2019.ROGELIO V. SOLIS / AP

Up until earlier this month, the majority of Mississippians favored keeping the flag, which prominently features the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. In 2001, voters decided two to one in a ballot measure to keep the flag as is, many arguing it was a nod to their ancestors who fought for Mississippi in the Civil War. 

But a recent wave of influential business, religious and sports leaders condemning the flag — including the Southeastern Conference and the National Collegiate Athletic Association —  prompted a change of heart. By Thursday, polling showed 55% of Mississippians wanted a change, according to the state’s chamber of commerce.

Many symbols of the Confederacy have vanished in the wake of Floyd’s death. Earlier this month, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced his intention to remove a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue. Military leaders have said they were open to renaming forts named after Confederate generals, a proposal that’s been rejected by President Trump. NASCAR announced it would prohibit the display of the Confederate flag during races and other events, writing in a statement that the flag’s presence “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment.”

But nowhere is the Confederate flag more on display than in Mississippi, the last remaining state to include the design on its official state flag. As other Southern states have retired designs that included the symbol, Mississippi has been the lone holdout, even as institutions across the state have voluntarily pulled it down. 

Following the attack on black parishioners by a white supremacist in a South Carolina church, all of Mississippi’s public universities and many cities have stopped flying the ensign. But the flag still flies in front of many public buildings, including the state capitol building and the Governor’s mansion.

Mississippians had previously been resistant to changing the flag, citing the state’s history. But activists argued the flag has been co-opted, and now is used as a symbol of white supremacy, the Jim Crow South and racism and violence that black Americans still face.

“My ancestors were beaten and traumatized, and it was under that flag,” said Jarrius Adams, 22, a political activist that advocated for the change. “There are a lot of moments when I’m not proud to be from Mississippi, but this is definitely a moment that I’m extremely proud to be from Mississippi.”

First published on June 28, 2020 / 6:59 PM

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