Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 16, 2017

How The Washington Post Deceives Us About The War In Syria

by Ahab Jezebel

One of the most prestigious US medias, The Washington Post clearly has no built-in review mechanism for monitoring the quality and veracity of its source material relating to the coverage of war zone news. This is particularly apparent with regard to the reporting of the ongoing war situation in Syria. At present these professional standards have slipped and the paper has placed itself outside the ranks of real journalism and professionalism on which it built its enviable reputation - long before the war in Syria.

Spreading propaganda, and relying only on activists, is not professional. It resembles paid publicity, designed to affect public opinion, and it takes advantage of less informed readers and politicians.

We can open a small window into one of the latest articles on Syria by The Washington Post entitled:”Civilian casualties spiral in Syria as air raids target areas marked for cease-fire”. The article was not written from Syria but from Beirut (Lebanon), although it speaks authoritatively about Syria in great detail – and this from a journalist who has never been to Syria, and certainly not during the six years of the war.

In its second paragraph the newspaper talks of "groups monitoring the conflict": but every single human being on Earth interested in the Syrian war is monitoring the conflict - including my 87 year-old neighbour, Louise (her name). She is able to tell me stories about daily bombing and "Daesh" (The "Islamic State" – ISIS) attacking "every day and maybe coming to Europe," according to her conclusions drawn from monitoring mainstream media. She believes Syria is a country of ghosts and that Assad, Daesh and the US are "working together against evil Russia".

The Washington Post further undermines its own credibility by quoting the “White Helmets,” who apparently report that “80% of ... attacks targeted civilian areas”. Not everybody knows how biased the White Helmets are: in fact some of their histrionic performances have been said to rival Shakespeare. Professional journalism by a reputable newspaper should be ill at ease when quoting “a fake professional exhibitionist group.” And where, indeed, in Syria were the White Helmets based? In an al-Qaeda controlled city, working very closely with that terrorist group- the very same group responsible for 9/11!

The newspaper doesn’t stop at that: it insinuates - according to its title and introduction - that "pro-government forces launched hundreds of bombing raids across areas marked for international protection": yet the same journalist who wrote that article re-tweeted that "there were also 1,278 declared Coalition strikes in Syria last month".

Cont. reading: How The Washington Post Deceives Us About The War In Syria

Posted by b at 09:21 AM | Comments (33)

Iraq - Thus Ends The Kurdish Independence Project

Today the Iraqi government took Kirkuk back from occupying Kurdish forces. This marks the end of the Kurdish independence project in Iraq.

in 2014 the Islamic State occupied Mosul.  At the same time the regional Kurdish government under Masoud Barzani sent its Peshmerga troops to take the oil rich city of Kirkuk from the collapsing forces of the central Iraqi government. There were plausible allegations and some evidence (vid) that the Kurds had made a deal with ISIS and coordinated the move.

In 2016 and 2017 Iraqi forces defeated ISIS in Mosul. Kurdish groups took the opportunity of the ISIS defeat to occupy further land, even as that did not have a Kurdish majority population and did not belong to their autonomous region.

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The red lined area is the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq as accepted by the Iraqi constitution. The red dotted line is the additional area the Kurds intended to take and at times controlled.

The Iraqi government insisted that the situation be turned back to the pre-2014 lines. The vast majority of the people in Kirkuk are Arab and Turkmen. Kirkuk produces two-third of all oil in north-Iraq. There was not a chance that any central government of Iraq would leave the city and these riches to Kurdish occupiers. The central government move to reassert federal authority is backed by parliament decisions and was announced in a press conference on Tuesday.

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But the Kurdish leaders did neither think nor listen. The leading Barzani clan and his KDP party, long associated with Israel, tried to solidify their resource robbery. On September 25 they held an "independence referendum" in all areas under their control. All countries, except Israel, spoke out against this move.

But Barzani was urged on by the Zionists and international neo-conservatives:

Bernard-Henri Lévy meeting Masoud Barzani - September 30 2017 - bigger

As I remarked at the time of that meeting:

This is the death sentence for the Kurdish independence project. No cause [Bernard-Henri Lévy] supported has ever had a happy ending.

Egged on, Barzani continued his path. He threatened to proclaim Kurdish independence from the Iraqi state.

The Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi could not condone such an unconstitutional insurrection. He sent his troops to restore the 2014 lines of control, starting with the oil rich areas around Kirkuk. During the last three days the Iraqi army, national police and counter-terrorism units, all hardened by the fight against the Islamic State, were marched onto Kirkuk. An ultimatum was issued for the Kurdish Peshmerga to leave the area. Barzani insisted on staying. He even called in PKK fighters from Turkey to help him keep the city.

Last night the inevitable happened. The Iraqi government forces moved forward and, after a few skirmishes, the Kurdish Peshmerga ran away. It is not clear who, if anyone, ordered them to retreat. Some Peshmerga units arrested other Peshmerga units. No one seemed to be in command.

As of now the Iraqi government is back in control at the Kirkuk airport, the military garrisons and the oil fields and refinery installations. Kirkuk city itself is untouched. There are reports that everyone associated with the Kurdish regional government is moving out.

The U.S., which had provided both sides with weapons and training, had no real idea what was going on and took no side. Without U.S. support the Kurdish forces had no air-support and no chance to win any fight. Kirkuk is lost for them and the other areas they occupied since 2014 will follow.

Barzani has lost his high stake gamble.

The dreams of an independent Kurdistan in Iraq have just been buried again. Masoud Barzani's position has been weakened significantly. This huge blunder might cost him his head. The Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi has gained in standing and is now in position to win next years election.

These events will also have consequences for the Kurdish position in Syria. They demonstrate that they can not hope for continued U.S. support and will have to reconcile with the Syrian government. The idea of some autonomous or even independent Kurdish entity in Syria is, as of today, also dead.

Posted by b at 04:38 AM | Comments (49)

October 15, 2017

Open Thread 2017-37

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

October 7 - Syria - Erdogan Is Afraid Of Entering Idleb

Turkish forces eventually entered Idleb (see below). But not as the Astana agreement had foreseen.

October 8 - Missing - A Motive For The Las Vegas Killing Spree

There has been no new information on the massacre in Las Vegas. No new gun laws to restrict (semi-)automatic weapons seem to be forthcoming. The whole affair has vanished from the news.

October 9 - Syria - Turkey Violates Astana Agreement - Renews Alliance With Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda could do so much damage to Turkey that Erdogan has to ally with it. Here are details of the Idleb arrangement between Turkey and al-Qaeda as narrated by an al-Qaeda member. Turkey will not touch al-Qaeda and enters Idleb only to besiege the Kurds.

October 10 - Impressive Videos Of Santa Rosa Fires

The fires are still raging - 6,000 house so far have been completely destroyed (vids). Only the chimneys are left.

October 11 - Russia Interfered!" - By Purchasing Anti-Trump Ads?

The latest Russia nonsense comes from CNN which, in the headline and lede, say that Russia used the Pokemon game to influence Americans, but down in the piece admits that it has no evidence for the claim.

October 12 - Spy Spin Fuels Anti-Kaspersky Campaign

The U.S. secret services dislike the Kaspersky anti-virus package presumably because it is difficult to hack. They use their bullhorns to practically ban it from the market. This makes the Kaspersky suite the most recommendable anti-virus snake-oil.

October 13 - 8 Out Of 10 Will Only Read This Headline

Recent examples of headlines asserting facts that the pieces below those headlines do not back up or even refute.

October 14 - Iran - Trump Has No Strategy, Only Aims And No Way To Achieve Them

Trump acts like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Fun to watch - until one is part of the china.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b at 01:33 PM | Comments (49)

October 14, 2017

Free Passage Deal For ISIS In Raqqa - U.S. Denies Involvement - Video Proves It Lies

After free passage negotiations with the U.S. and its Kurdish proxy forces, ISIS is moving its fighters out of Raqqa city. When the Syrian government reached similar agreements the U.S. childishly criticized it. The U.S. coalition claims that it was "not involved in the discussions" that led to the Raqqa free passage agreement. A BBC News report shows that the opposite is true.

Over the last two years the U.S. and its Kurdish proxy force in Syria made several deals with the Islamic State. In 2016, for example, they negotiated a deal with Islamic State fighters to move from Manbij to the Turkish border to avoid further casualties in the fight about the city.

But when in August 2017 Hizbullah and the Lebanese and Syrian government negotiated a deal with some 300 besieged ISIS fighters and their families at the Lebanese-Syria border, the U.S. loudly protested. The U.S. military blocked and threatened to bomb the evacuation convoy over several days and the U.S. envoy McGurk ranted against it:

7:20 AM - 30 Aug 2017 - Brett McGurk @brett_mcgurk

Irreconcilable #ISIS terrorists should be killed on the battlefield, not bused across #Syria to the Iraqi border without #Iraq's consent 1/2
Our @coalition will help ensure that these terrorists can never enter #Iraq or escape from what remains of their dwindling "caliphate." 2/2

Over the last months U.S. supported Kurdish proxy fighters besieged the city of Raqqa and fought to take it from ISIS. An immense amount of U.S. bombs was released to lower the casualty numbers of the U.S.proxy forces. The city was literally "destroyed to save it". Many of its civilian inhabitants were killed. During the last days rumors abounded that a deal was made between the U.S. and ISIS. It would give ISIS fighters free passage when leaving the city. Today these rumors were confirmed:

[SOHR] received information from Knowledgeable and independent sources confirming reaching a deal between the International Coalition and the Syria Democratic Forces in one hand; and the “Islamic State” organization in the other hand, and the deal stated the exit of the remaining members of the “Islamic State” organization out of Al-Raqqah city.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirms that this agreement has happened, and confirms that all the Syrian members were gotten out already, and if some members remained until now it is because they are of the non-Syrian nationalities of whom the French Intelligence objects getting them out of Al-Raqqah city, where the French Intelligence considers that some of those involved in Paris Attack are present inside the city ...

Other sources said that buses had arrived to take the leaving ISIS fighters towards the Syrian-Iraqi border area. Local officials say that foreign fighters with ISIS are also leaving. The U.S. coalition generally confirms the evacuation, but it denies any involvement:

A convoy of vehicles is staged to depart Raqqah Oct. 14 under an arrangement brokered by the Raqqah Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders Oct. 12.
...
The Coalition was not involved in the discussions that led to the arrangement, but believes it will save innocent lives and allow Syrian Democratic Forces and the Coalition to focus on defeating Daesh terrorists in Raqqah with less risk of civilian casualties.

The hypocrisy stinks to high heaven. A deal made by Hizbullah with besieged ISIS fighters and their families was condemned. The evacuation convoy was blocked for days in the desert by U.S. drones and air interdiction.

Now the U.S. and its allies make a similar deal and let ISIS leave its besieged position. They bus those fighters towards the Syrian-Iraqi border where Syrian government forces are engaged in heavy battles against ISIS.

What is next? CENTCOM providing ISIS with air transport to the Israeli border? There ISIS is free to openly train new forces. The area is safe from Syrian and Russian attacks. The Israeli airforce keeps anyone away who might be hostile to ISIS.

The U.S. says: "The Coalition was not involved in the discussions". That is a lie. Only two days ago BBC News reported on the meeting where the deal was discussed and then made. Here you can see (vid) U.S. General Jim Glynn meeting on October 12 with Raqqa officials to negotiate the deal. While the General claimed at that time that no deal was made, later news and the situation today proves the opposite. ISIS convoys are moving out of Raqqa and the U.S. and its proxy forces are sitting tight and simply watch them leave. No U.S. air asset is blocking the convoy and no Brett McGurk is raving against the deal.

The criticism of the Hizbullah deal in August by the U.S. military was unprofessional. The blockade of the earlier evacuation convoy was childish behavior. McGurks rants were puerile. To lie today about involvement in the deal making after having invited the BBC to film the negotiations is just utterly stupid. No grown-ups seem to be involved on the U.S. side of the Syria conflict.

 

Posted by b at 01:51 PM | Comments (79)

October 13, 2017

Iran - Trump Has No Strategy, Only Aims And No Way To Achieve Them

Trump hates the international nuclear deal with Iran.  The agreement put temporary restriction of Iran's nuclear program and opened it up to deeper inspections. The other sides of the deal committed to lifting sanctions and to further economic cooperation. Trump wants to get rid of the deal; but he is unwilling to pay the political price.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was negotiated and signed by the five permanent UN Security Council members (U.S., Ch, Ru, UK, F), Germany, the EU and Iran. If the U.S. defaults on the deal it will be in a lone position. The diplomatic isolation would limit its abilities to use its influence on other issues.

Trump has little knowledge of Iran, the nuclear deal, the Middle East or anything else. What he knows comes from Fox News and from Netanyahoo and other Zionist whisperers who get to his ear. All he heard is that the deal with Iran is bad. Therefore, he concluded, it must end.

The White House handed a paper to the media which is supposed to describe President Donald J. Trump's New Strategy on Iran. But there is no strategy in that paper. It list a number of aims the Trump wants to achieve. But it does no explain how he plans to do that. It is a wish list, not a program to follow.

The "Core Elements of the Presidents New Iran Strategy" are:

  • The United States new Iran strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Irans destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.
  • We will revitalize our traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and restore a more stable balance of power in the region.
  • We will work to deny the Iranian regime and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.
  • We will counter threats to the United States and our allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons.
  • We will rally the international community to condemn the IRGCs gross violations of human rights and its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges.
  • Most importantly, we will deny the Iranian regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.

The list is full of factual mistakes:

  • Iran stabilized Iraq when the Islamic State was only days away from taking over Baghdad. Iran also helps to stabilize Syria and to defeat the Islamic State.
  • Ballistic missiles are not "asymmetric weapons". Iran's neighbors Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have such missiles. Iran's missiles are no threat to the United States.
  • The IRGC is the equivalent of the U.S. special forces. It is funded by the state. It does not "extort the wealth of the Iranian people". (The IRGC's pension funds (bonyads) hold significant industrial assets. But they are different entities.)
  • The IRGC does not detain American citizens.
  • Iran has repeatedly declared that it rejects all nuclear weapons out of religious reasons. It signed several international agreements which prohibit and prevent it from seeking such weapons.

The White House list of aims, "the strategy", is followed by "background" information on Iran and its alleged behavior.  Some White House intern must have copied it from a neoconservative version of Wikipedia. It is a conglomeration of general talking points which lack a factual basis.

When the JCOPA deal was closed, Congress legislated that the White House must certify every 90 days that Iran sticks to the deal. Trump will now stop to certify Iran's compliance even as everyone, including the White House, acknowledges that Iran is fulfilling all its parts. The White House claims that non-certification is not a breach of the agreement. The issue now falls back to Congress which might re-introduce the sanctions on Iran which the agreement had lifted. If it does that Trump will say that it is responsible for all consequences.

It is not clear if or what Congress will do. Senators Corker and Cotton are pushing for legislation that amounts to an unilateral change of the nuclear deal. It would introduce new sanctions if Iran does not accept their demands. Trump seems to support that.

But it is not going to work. It is an unilateral breach of the contract and no other country involved in deal will support it. Trump may introduce new economic sanctions on Iran but why would Iran care? Unless all other countries follow Trump's lead, it can simply buy and sell elsewhere. 

The EU countries were again craven and offered to push against Iran's ballistic missiles if Trump does not completely break the JCPOA deal. This was utterly stupid negotiation behavior. Why offer concessions to Trump even before he makes a self defeating move? Still - they will not support breaking the deal.

Iran will not give up to its rights and it will not disarm. Obama pushed sanctions onto sanctions to make Iran scream. But the country did not fold. Each new U.S. sanction step was responded to with an expansion of Iran's nuclear program. In the end Obama had to offer talks to Iran to get out of the hole he had dug himself.

Now Trump is saying that stopping Iran from getting nukes is the priority. And that Obama was wrong to focus on it. The result is a bungled policy which will have either catastrophic, or no consequences at all.

Posted by b at 01:42 PM | Comments (87)

October 12, 2017

8 Out Of 10 Will Only Read This Headline

Headlines lie to catch attention. Only few read beyond them.

They will miss the facts, and the falsehood of the headlines. It is a dangerous development.

Here is an Australian example of current headline writing:


Top secret information about Australia’s military hacked

The lede:

TOP secret technical information about new fighter jets, navy vessels, and surveillance aircraft has been stolen from an Australian defence contractor.

The story could be relevant - if true. But it does not hold what the headline promises. The text says:

  • ".. the firm was subcontracted four levels down from defence contracts."
  •  ".. a mum and dad type business ... with about 50 employees"
  • "the admin password, to enter the company’s web portal, was ‘admin’ and the guest password was ‘guest’"
  • "the information ... included a diagram in which you could zoom in down to the captain’s chair and see that it was one metre away from the navigation chair"
  • "the information disclosed was commercially sensitive, it was unclassified"

The last snippet completely rebuts the headline. It appears in 18th of the 20 paragraph story.

A truthful (but boring) headline might have said: "Mechanics rat-shop puts marketing stuff on open website". No one would have clicked on it.

Headlines disproved by the following text have become common:

"It was not immediately clear what Trump was responding to."
"A large number of ads appeared in [other] areas of the country that were not heavily contested in the elections."
"It is too soon to map out exactly how the drug war will affect the health of Filipinos."

News content is now of lesser relevance than ever. "Clicks" are generated by headlines:

"Clicks" generate "visits" which convert into advertising revenue. Such headlines make economic sense - short-term. But the best paying advertisers seek a quality audience. In the long-term they will avoid such sites.

Once upon a time sensationalist false headlines were the loony realm of tabloid media. That is unfortunately no longer the case. Headlines of even reputable media no longer transmit facts. One has to dive deep into the stories to get to real information.

This trend will lead to a further stultification of the population. It makes it easier to manipulate the plebs.

Posted by b at 12:43 PM | Comments (42)

October 11, 2017

Spy Spin Fuels Anti-Kaspersky Campaign

Since May 2017 certain U.S. circles openly campaign against security products provided by the Russian company Kaspersky Labs. Three recent stories claim involvement of the software in rather fantastic "Russian hackers" stories. It is renewed attack after a silent spy campaign in 2015 against Kaspersky had failed. The current stories seem inconsistent, lack logic and evidence.

If one believes all the now made claims then Israel hacked Kaspersky, which was hacking an NSA employee who had stolen NSA hacks, while being hacked by Russia which was hacked by the NSA, while the NSA was warned by Israel about Russian hacks. Makes sense?

The Russian company Kaspersky Lab makes and sells the probably best anti-virus protection software available. All anti-virus software packages need full access to the system they run on. It is the only way to assure that the packages themselves are not compromised by some super-virus. Anti-virus packages upload malware they find for further analysis. They also update themselves through a secure internet connection. This enables the product to detect new viruses soon after they have been discovered in the wild. Both of the characteristics, full system access and online-update, make these tools inherently dangerous. They can be abused either by their producer or by someone who infiltrates the producers systems.

Computer geeks call such products "snake-oil" as they promise a grade of security that can not be guaranteed, even while they themselves constitute a significant security risk. One either must trust such anti-virus packages or not use them at all.

Since May 2017 Congress made noise about banning Kaspersky products from the U.S. Defense Department and other government entities. In September the Department of Homeland Security order all federal agencies to remove Kaspersky software from their system. Kaspersky Lab makes some 60% of its total revenues in the United States. The DHS order and the resulting press reports will do very serious damage to its business. It will help to sell competing U.S. products.

Eugene Kaspersky, the owner of the company, has offered to provide the source code of the products for review by U.S. government specialists. He also offered to testify before Congress. Both to no avail.

There is fear mongering, without any evidence, that Kaspersky may cooperate with the Russian government. Similar accusations could be made about any anti-virus product. U.S. and British spies systematically target all anti-virus products and companies:

The British spy agency regarded the Kaspersky software in particular as a hindrance to its hacking operations and sought a way to neutralize it.
...
An NSA slide describing "Project CAMBERDADA" lists at least 23 antivirus and security firms that were in that spy agency's sights. They include the Finnish antivirus firm F-Secure, the Slovakian firm Eset, Avast software from the Czech Republic. and Bit-Defender from Romania. Notably missing from the list are the American anti-virus firms Symantec and McAfee as well as the UK-based firm Sophos.

That the NSA and the British GCHQ did not list U.S. and British made anti-virus products on their "to do" list lets one assume that these packages can already be controlled by them.

In February 2015 Kaspersky announced that it found U.S. and UK government spying and sabotage software infecting computers in some 42 countries. It released a detailed report about the "Equation group", its name for NSA and GCHQ spy tools. In June 2015 Kaspersky Lab detected a breach in its own systems by an Israeli government malware. It published an extensive autopsy of the breach and the malware programs used in it. Meanwhile the NSA attacked Kaspersky products and customers:

The NSA has also studied Kaspersky Lab’s software for weaknesses, obtaining sensitive customer information by monitoring communications between the software and Kaspersky servers, according to a draft top-secret report. The U.S. spy agency also appears to have examined emails inbound to security software companies flagging new viruses and vulnerabilities.

Later that year the CIA and FBI even tried to recruit Kaspersky employees but were warned off.

That the U.S. government now attempts to damage Kaspersky is likely a sign that Kaspersky Lab and its products continue to be a hard-target which the NSA and GCHQ find difficult to breach.

To justify the public campaign against Kaspersky, which began in May, U.S. officials recently started to provide a series of cover stories. A diligent reading of these stories reveals inconsistencies and a lack of logic.

On October 5 the Wall Street Journal reported: Russian Hackers Stole NSA Data on U.S. Cyber Defense:

Cont. reading: Spy Spin Fuels Anti-Kaspersky Campaign

Posted by b at 08:14 AM | Comments (57)

October 10, 2017

"Russia Interfered!" - By Purchasing Anti-Trump Ads?

After the ludicrous "Russian hacking" claims have died down for lack of evidence, the attention was moved to even more ludicrous claims of "Russian ads influenced the elections". Some readers are upset that continue to debunk the nonsense the media spreads around this. But lies should not stand without response. If only to blame the reporters and media who push this dreck.

As evidence is also lacking for any "Russian interference" claims the media outlets have started to push deceiving headlines. These make claims that are not covered at all by the content of the related pieces. The headlines are effective because less than 20% of the viewers ever read beyond them.

On the NYT Homepage today we find another one of these: Google Finds Russia Bought Ads to Interfere in Election.

Google has found no ads that "Russia", the state or nation, has bought. There is also no evidence that the ads in question interfered in any way with the election. There is evidence that any of the ads in questions aimed to achieve that. The opener of the piece repeats the false headline claims. But now we have "Russian agents", not "Russia", which allegedly did something.

Google has found evidence that Russian agents bought ads on its wide-ranging networks in an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign.

The term "Russian agents" is not defined at all. Where these "secret agents" or Public Relation professionals in Washington DC hired by some Russian entity?

Using accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government, the agents purchased $4,700 worth of search ads and more traditional display ads, according to a person familiar with the company’s inquiry ...

"Accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government." Believed by whom? And how is "connected" defined? Isn't any citizen "connected" to his or her government?

Those believed, connected accounts bought a whopping $4,700 of ads? Googles 2016 revenue was $89,000,000,000. The total campaign expenditures in 2016 were some $6,000,000,000. The Clinton campaign spent some $480,000 on social network ads alone. But something "Russian" spending $4,700 was "interference"?

But wait. There is more:

Google found a separate $53,000 worth of ads with political material that were purchased from Russian internet addresses, building addresses or with Russian currency. It is not clear whether any of those were connected to the Russian government, and they may have been purchased by Russian citizens, the person said.

So now we are on to something. A full $53,000 worth of ads. But ....

The messages of those ads spanned the political spectrum. One account spent $7,000 on ads to promote a documentary called “You’ve Been Trumped,” a film about Donald J. Trump’s efforts to build a golf course in Scotland along an environmentally sensitive coastline. Another spent $36,000 on ads questioning whether President Barack Obama needed to resign. Yet another bought ads to promote political merchandise for Mr. Obama.

The film is anti-Trump. Obama not resigning would have been anti-Trump. Selling Obama merchandise may have been good business, but is certainly not pro-Trump. So at least $43,000 of a total of $53,000 mentioned above was spent by believed, connected "Russians" on ads that promoted anti-Trump material. How does that fit with the claims that "Russia" wished to get Trump elected? Putin pushed the wrong button?

The allegedly "Russian" Facebook ads were just a click-bait scheme by some people trying to make money. The allegedly "Russian" Goggle ads were of a volume that is unlikely to have made any difference in anything. They were also anti-Trump.

Clinton lost because people on all sides had learned to dislike her policies throughout the years. She was unelectable. Her party was and is acting against the interest of the common people. No claim of anything "Russian" can change those facts.

Posted by b at 11:37 AM | Comments (53)

Impressive Videos Of Santa Rosa Fires

Below the fold:

An impressive video of a ten minutes bicycle ride, at night, through a burning Santa Rosa neighborhood.

The people got out. But those plywood buildings had no chance. (One wonders why such buildings are seen as investments.)

Cont. reading: Impressive Videos Of Santa Rosa Fires

Posted by b at 02:21 AM | Comments (58)

October 09, 2017

Syria - Turkey Violates Astana Agreement - Renews Alliance With Al-Qaeda

Yesterday Turkish army forces entered the Syrian Idleb governate from the west. The move is officially part of a de-escalation supervision process agreed upon between Syria, Turkey, Russia and Iran. One point of the agreement is to continue the fight against al-Qaeda in Syria, currently operating under the name Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). HTS controls large parts of Idleb governate.

This is confirmed in the official Turkish Idleb Operation Explanation. "To purge terrorist organisations, especially DAESH, PKK/PYD-YPG and HTS from the region," is  describes as one aim of its de-escalaton force.

But the Turkish forces have made a deal with HTS. When their reconnaissance teams entered Idleb yesterday they were escorted by heavily armed HTS forces (video). According to their agreement with the terrorists the Turkish forces will only take up three positions. All of these will be bordering the Kurdish enclave Efrin (Afrin).


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An (anti-Syrian government) journalist reports:

Hassan Hassan‏ - Verified account @hxhassan - 5:22 PM - 8 Oct 2017

1. Turkey established three checkpoints in Darat Izzat, west of Aleppo, in coordination with HTS.
A senior HTS official tells @MousaAlomar Turkish forces won't be present anywhere other than those checkpoints "for now."
2. Mousa asks a series of questions to the HTS official:
 Q. Will the Turkish army enter [rebel-held] areas?
 A. Yes (but not beyond the three areas agreed with HTS)
 Q. Any imminent battle in Idlib?
 A. No. So far things are good, unless Turkey changes its position
My own sources confirm that an effort to keep things peaceful between Turkey and HTS is so far successful.

The purpose of this Turkish incursion is obviously not to counter al-Qaeda/HTS but only to surround the Kurdish held enclave around Efrin.

An aggressive Turkish move could now  try to cut of the Kurdish Efrin area (yellow) from the Syrian government held areas (red) by connecting the Turkish controlled rebel area in the north (blue) with the al-Qaeda controlled Idleb governate (green). Such a move would encounter fierce resistance not only from Kurdish elements and the Syrian government but also from Iran. Auxiliary Iranian troops hold the government corridor between Aleppo and Efrin to protect some important Shia villages in the area.

On one side one can understand the Turkish abrogation of its duties under the Astana agreement. Erdogan is afraid of the domestic backlash a real fight against  HTS would likely cause. But it was Turkey that created the mess by supplying al-Qaeda in Syria with men and goods for nearly six years. It is its duty to kill the monster it created. It also has to uphold its diplomatic agreements.

Turkey has proven again that it is not trustworthy. Erdogan may hope to get NATO cover should he incur new Russian wrath about his breach of trust and his abrogation of the de-escalation agreement. But the expanding spat between the State Department and the Turkish government, as well as low Turkish standing within NATO populations, do not bode well for any bet on that alliance.

Posted by b at 05:35 AM | Comments (88)

October 08, 2017

Missing - A Motive For The Las Vegas Killing Spree

The currently known tale of the Las Vegas mass murder feels astonishingly incomplete. Several rumors and reports appeared about a potential second shooter. But there is no hard evidence. The police keeps saying there was only one person involved. It claims to have copious video evidence of that. None has yet been released.

It seems possible that one person alone did this. A large, densely packed crowd, a position high up, automatic weapons - it was a "shooting fish in a barrel" situation - not a chance to miss.

The shooter was white. He was therefore mentally disturbed. Would he have been black, he would have been an evil terrorist. But being mentally disturbed or under pharmaceutical influence doe not fit with the long planning and the diligence of preparation.

Stephen Paddock, the allegedly lone shooter, is a curious personality. Only bits of his life seem to be known. An accountant who, on the side, made millions in real estates? He must have been a thrifty person do achieve that, with a good sense for numbers. Why would such a person go to casinos and put money into video poker machines? It is a sure way to lose and any sane persons knows this.

The above gives rise to dozens of crazy theories. The man must have been CIA. ISIS ordered him to do it. Putin must have done it to somehow sow discord in America.

All these theories miss the same decisive detail that is lacking in the prevalent tale. A rational motive.

Posted by b at 01:51 PM | Comments (242)

October 07, 2017

Syria - Erdogan Is Afraid Of Entering Idleb

The Turkish President Erdogan announced the start of a Turkish operation in Idleb province of Syria. Idelb has been for years under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, currently under the label Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.

In the talks in Astana, Turkey, Russia and Iran agreed on a deescalation zone in Idelb to be supervised by all three of them. But the fight against al-Qaeda, aka HTS, would continue. Turkey is supposed to control the western part of the province including the city of Idleb. But the Turkish government is afraid to go there.

During the last days there have been many reports and lots of pictures of Turkish force movements along the north-western Syrian border. But Turkey made no attempt to enter the country and it is doubtful that it will.

Erdogan's announcement needs some parsing:

Cont. reading: Syria - Erdogan Is Afraid Of Entering Idleb

Posted by b at 12:04 PM | Comments (59)

October 06, 2017

Open Thread 2017-36

News & views ...

Posted by b at 01:46 PM | Comments (78)

October 05, 2017

Syria - Russia Issues Third Warning Against U.S. Cooperation With Terrorists

The Syrian Army was on its way across the Euphrates river to liberate the oil- and gas-fields east of Deir Ezzor city. The U.S. countered the move. It sent a small forces of Arab tribal mercenaries who were earlier allied with the Islamic State (ISIS). These proxy forces came from a northern direction and moved through Islamic State held areas without fighting and casualties up to the walls of Deir Ezzor city.


Map by Weekend Warrior - bigger

The Syrian army was about to win the race when it started to cross the Euphrates. But it suddenly was surprised by a large al-Qaeda attack in southern Idleb province. That area had been quiet for months. 29 Russian troops who were supervising a deescalation zone there were nearly encircled by al-Qaeda forces. They only escape after an emergency relief operation had cut through al-Qaeda lines. The Russian Ministry of Defense accused the U.S. of having communicated the position of the Russian platoon to al-Qaeda.

Shortly thereafter a Russian general, visiting Deir Ezzor city to supervise the Euphrates bridge crossing, came under extremely well aimed mortar fire by the Islamic State. The general and two other high ranking officers were killed. During years of fighting around Deir Ezzor ISIS had never shown the capability for such a precise strike. Someone must have communicated with the terrorists and transferred the exact position of the local headquarter, as well as the time of the Russian general's visit.

A week later a concentrated ISIS attack on the main supply road between Palmyra and Deir Ezzor was attacked by a large number of ISIS forces. It is trying to retake al-Suknah in the middle between the two cities. The Russian Defense Ministry claims that the attacking ISIS forces came from southern areas of al-Tanf near the Jordan border which are under control of U.S. forces. Should ISIS take al-Suknah the Syrian-Russian contingent in Deir Ezzor would gain be cutoff.

Due to those three attacks the Syrian-Russian move towards the eastern oil-fields came to a near standstill. U.S. proxy forces are now slowly taking the area.

It seems obvious that the U.S. military is again cooperating with terrorist groups in Syria. There must be at least some information flow between U.S. intelligence and al-Qaeda and ISIS. It seems that deconflicition data the Syrian-Russian alliance is sharing with U.S. forces in Syria is ending up in the hands of the extremists. This explains how al-Qaeda and ISIS can suddenly and very precisely attack critical Syrian and Russian positions which are known to only very few people.

The Russian have protested several times and had warned the U.S. not to continue with their nefarious scheming. The third severe warning came yesterday with statements by the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and direct accusation against the U.S. military by the spokesman of the Russian Defense Ministry.

In an interview with the semi-official Saudi paper Asharq al-Awsat Foreign Minister Lavrov was extraordinary frank (the full interview was covered only in the Arabic edition). Interfax recapitulates:

Cont. reading: Syria - Russia Issues Third Warning Against U.S. Cooperation With Terrorists

Posted by b at 03:00 AM | Comments (129)

October 04, 2017

Intercept Augments Its Anti-Syrian Stable

We wrote on the dubious outlet that The Intercept has become. It has long taken anti-Syrian positions. The new hire of a prejudiced author will reinforce its hostile stand against the Syrian government and its people.

On September 21 The Intercept hired Maryam Saleh:

Maryam Saleh is our new Washington-based associate editor. Saleh worked as an immigration attorney before switching tracks and attending Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her writing has appeared in U.S. News & World Report, Public Radio International, Syria Deeply, the Tampa Bay Times — and The Intercept, where she has been an editorial fellow since July.


Pic via The Intercept.

Saleh's staff page at The Intercept identifies her as:

an editor and reporter based in Washington, D.C., whose work focuses on immigration and national security.

Saleh tweets under the verified account مريم @MaryamSaleh_. Her Twitter page is crowned by a picture of the U.S. financed propaganda group Kafranbel Media Center. The KMC and its founder have close relations with the Salafist terrorists of Ahrar al-Sham. Maryam Saleh's twitter profile starts with "Syria, always; ...".

On September 30 Maryam Saleh tweeted:

Cont. reading: Intercept Augments Its Anti-Syrian Stable

Posted by b at 12:59 PM | Comments (36)

October 03, 2017

The "Russian Ads" On Facebook Are Just Another Click-Bait Scheme

Congress is investigating 3,000 "suspicious" ads which were run on Facebook. They were claimed to have been bought by "Russia" to influence the U.S.presidential election in favor of Trump.

With more details now known we can conclude that these Facebook ads had nothing to do with the election. The mini-ads were bought to promote click-bait pages and sites. These pages and sites were created and promoted to sell further advertisement. The media though, has still not understood the issue.

On September 6 the NYT asserted:

Providing new evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook disclosed on Wednesday that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.
...
The disclosure adds to the evidence of the broad scope of the Russian influence campaign, which American intelligence agencies concluded was designed to damage Hillary Clinton and boost Donald J. Trump during the election.

Like any Congress investigation the current one concerned with Facebook ads is leaking like a sieve. What oozes out makes little sense. If "Russia" aimed to make Congress and U.S. media a laughing stock it has  surely achieved that.

Today the NYT says that the ads were bought by "the Russians" "in disguise" to promote variously themed Facebook pages:

There was “Defend the 2nd,” a Facebook page for gun-rights supporters, festooned with firearms and tough rhetoric. There was a rainbow-hued page for gay rights activists, “LGBT United.” There was even a Facebook group for animal lovers with memes of adorable puppies that spread across the site with the help of paid ads.

No one has explained how these pages are connected to a Russian "influence" campaign. It is unexplained how these are connected to the 2016 election. Both is simply asserted because Facebook said, for unknown reasons, that these ads may have come from some Russian agency. How Facebook has determined that is not known.

With each new detail from the "Russian ads" investigation the framework of "election manipulation" falls further apart:

Late Monday, Facebook said in a post that about 10 million people had seen the ads in question. About 44 percent of the ads were seen before the 2016 election and the rest after, the company said.

The original claim was that "Russia" intended to influence the election in favor of Trump. But why then was the majority of the ads in questions run after November 9? And how would an animal-lovers page with adorable puppies help to achieve Trump's election victory?

More details via the Wall Street Journal:

Roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. That’s because advertising auctions are designed so that ads reach people based on relevance, and certain ads may not reach anyone as a result.
...
For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

Of the 3,000 ads Facebook originally claimed were "Russian" only 2,200 were ever viewed. Most of the advertisements were mini-ads which, for the price of a coffee, promoted private pages related to hobbies and a wide spectrum of controversial issues. The majority of the ads ran after the election.

All that "adds to the evidence of the broad scope of the Russian influence campaign"? "...designed to damage Hillary Clinton and boost Donald J. Trump during the election"?

No.

But the NYT still finds "experts" who believe in the "Russian influence" nonsense and find the most stupid explanations for their claims:

Clinton Watts, a former F.B.I. agent now at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, said Russia had been entrepreneurial in trying to develop diverse channels of influence. Some, like the dogs page, may have been created without a specific goal and held in reserve for future use.

Puppy pictures for "future use"?

Nonsense.

Lunacy!

The pages described and the ads leading to them are typical click-bait, not part of a political influence op.

The for-profit scheme runs as follows:

Cont. reading: The "Russian Ads" On Facebook Are Just Another Click-Bait Scheme

Posted by b at 02:09 PM | Comments (60)

October 02, 2017

Another Day, Another U.S. Mass Shooting

"Turn down the music. You know uncle Stephen goes berserk when one disturbs his sleep." /snark

One Stephen Paddock rented a room on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel. Over three days, he brought some ten guns into it. The room was chosen to overlook the space of on upcoming open air concert. 

Last night Paddock waited for the concert to start and then fired his automatic weapons into the crowd. At least fifty-eight people died and some 400 were wounded. The murderer later killed himself.

Paddock is portrait as a reclusive, well-off retiree and is thought to be a professional gambler. There is no hint yet of the mans motive. He is white and has a Christian name. Thus, according to U.S. standards, his killing spree was not terrorism.

The state of Nevada allows about anyone to buy and own automatic rifles. With one pull of the trigger one can fire off a full 30 round magazine within a few seconds.  The use of such machine guns leave the victims in an attack like this no time to escape. With a bit of training, a change of magazines takes less than five seconds. The man must have had more than a thousand rounds to cause such a number of casualties.

The statistics paint a horrible picture of gun violence in the U.S. There is now one mass shooting, with more than four victims, per day:

First 9 months of 2017:
-11,572 gun deaths
-23,365 gun injuries
-271 mass shootings
-1,508 unintentional shootings
-2,971 kids/teens shot

The Onion headlined: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens . It was the fifths time in the last three years that the Onion used the same headline and story. They only switched the photo, the name of the city and the body count.

The gun lobby will again say, "Let's not politicize this tragedy by talking gun control."

Sure, let's wait a few months, at which time there will be another mass shooting.

Every gun massacre is an advertisement for guns. The stocks of gun manufacturers soared today, casino stocks fell.

Posted by b at 01:20 PM | Comments (279)

October 01, 2017

On Catalonia's Referendum

Some people in Catalonia, a rich and culturally distinct area in north-east of Spain, want to secede from the larger country. According to polls (pdf) less than half of the people in the area support the move. The local government prepared for a referendum and called for a local vote.

Polling stations were set up for today. But Spanish laws do not allow for such polls or a separation. Catalonia, like other Spanish regions, already has a good degree of autonomy. If Catalonia were to secede the Basque areas in the north would likely follow. Spain would fall apart. Under Spanish law the referendum is illegal. The central government sent police to prevent the procedure. Street melees ensued.

A lot of mistakes have been made by the central government. It was stubborn in negotiations. It reacted too late to - at least partially - reasonable demands. Its insensitivity only incited resistance to it. But it is also responsible for the country as a whole. The behavior of local government is not much better. It is just as conservative, in its own way, as the government in Madrid.

Catalonia has a GDP per capita of some $33,580/year. For Spain as a whole the GDP per capita is $26,643/year. Many factors account for the difference. Catalonia has an advantages in climate, in the vicinity of the French border, the high attractiveness for tourists with its capital Barcelona and its beaches. It has a well developed industry. But the "rest of Spain" is also, by far, its biggest market.

A richer part of the country does not want to subsidize the poorer ones. But it still wants to profit from them.

In general the splitting off of sub-states from the bigger, established nations weakens both. It is easier for outside forces to manipulated smaller states than larger ones. While the motives in this or that case are understandable, they are also, in my view, shortsighted.

During the Spanish civil war in the 1930s Catalonia and Basque areas were the last Republican strongholds against the winning right-wing Nationalists. That history lives on in today's conflict. No one should wish to repeat it.

Posted by b at 06:16 AM | Comments (129)

 
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