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May 24, 2017

Poor Poet In A Squeeze

(Pinned to top May 19 2017. Scroll down for new content.)
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Dear friends,

this Poor Poet is in a squeeze and needs your support.


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The second ever MoA donation round last October allowed me to buy a new (used) laptop and some communication gear. It also paid a few accumulated bills. Thank you again to everyone who took part!

The Moon of Alabama blog is free, offers information hard to find elsewhere, original thought and unadorned writing. The readership continues to grow.

Writing here, and your feed-back, keeps me up and going. But I also need to eat and pay rent; there are unexpected expenditures and little income.

Every donation -big or small- is welcome. An institutional sponsorship or recurring contribution would be great.

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Thank you for your generosity.

Bernhard

Posted by b on May 24, 2017 at 05:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (52)

The Manchester Attack - A Blowback From Britain's Terror Support In Libya, Syria And Beyond

When I first learned of yesterday's terror incident in Manchester, UK I snarked:

Moon of Alabama‏ @MoonofA

So another heroic "Syrian rebel" - which the British government avidly supports - blew himself up. But why in #Manchester?

6:26 AM - 23 May 2017

Several people attacked my over that tweet.

How would I know it was a "Syrian rebel" who blew himself up in the Manchester Arena?

Well, how would you know that any of the takfiri "Syrian rebels" the UK, the U.S. and their Gulf proxies support in Syria are from Syria? Many are definitely not.

Then news appeared that the attacker's name was Abedi and that he hailed from an anti-Ghaddafi tribe in eastern Libya. It was eastern Libya from where in Macrh 2011 a tribal insurrection to overthrow the Libyan government was initiated. Weapons were flown in from Qatar and handed out to Jihadists. British special forces were on the ground to help the takfiris of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) in their attacks towards the Libyan capital in western Libya. The leader of the eastern front was Abdelhakim Belhadj, a long time al-Qaeda member, After Ghaddafi was overthrown with British help al-Qaeda's flag went up over the court house of the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

The Manchester plot thickened.

And now we read this:

The suicide bomber who killed 22 people and injured 59 more at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester was a university dropout who may have made secret trips to Syria to train for the attack.
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UK police revealed, Mr Abedi was a 23-year-old British national of Libyan descent. He was born in Manchester and grew up alongside three siblings.

British intelligence agents are investigating reports the football-obsessed Abedi slipped into Syria while visiting relatives in Libya several times in recent years, The Sun reports.

more:

Abedi born in Manchester and grew up in tight-knit Libyan community that was known for its strong opposition to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

He had become radicalised recently - it is not entirely clear when - and had worshipped at a local mosque that has, in the past, been accused of fund-raising for jihadists.
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A group of Gaddafi dissidents, who were members of the outlawed Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), lived within close proximity to Abedi in Whalley Range.

The Islamic State, a former part of al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility for the attack in Manchester. The LIFG was aligned with al-Qaeda.

There is no definite proof yet but it is fairly obvious that the Manchester attack is a blowback of the British wars on the independent Libya under Ghaddafi and on the independent Syria under Bashar Assad. In both cases the British government supports radical Islamist takfiris to fight against the secular governments it wants to overthrow. But such extremists can never be controlled by the "west". They hate the "west" on ideological grounds and they hate what "we" do to their home countries. Any use of such forces abroad will blow back home.

I have seen suggestions that the attack in Manchester was initiated by "deep state" Gladio forces to help Theresa May win the British election. That is possible -British secret services knew the culprit - but it is unlikely in my view. May is predicted to win by a wide margin and there is no need to take the risk such a plan would inevitably entail. A blowback from supporting takfiri terrorists in foreign countries is the much more likely explanation.

But don't expect the government supporting main stream media to explicitly point out that obvious connection.

Posted by b on May 24, 2017 at 05:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

May 23, 2017

Libya - Massacre At Brak al-Shatti May Trigger Larger Civil War

Egypt, the UN and Arab governments try to mediated between the two governments in Libya. A massacre at an air base interrupted the process and threatens to intensify the civil war.

by Richard Galustian

(Cairo) Nobody has their eye on Libya with all "western" media preoccupied with DC machinations, Russiaphobia and the first overseas trip of President Trump.

What about the implosion we are on the brink of seeing in Libya following the murder of all LNA Air Force personnel at the Brak al-Shati AFB?

The death toll in the attack of a Libyan National Army airbase, in south Libya, rose to over 140, a spokesman for Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar said on Sunday.

Remarkably it was militia (called 'the third force') of the UN unelected Government of National Accord (GNA) under Faez Serraj that attacked and executed the unarmed men in the Brak al-Shati Air base. There were allegedly foreigners among the attackers possibly aligned with al-Qaeda.

LNA spokesman Ahmad al-Mesmari said on Friday most of the fatalities were maintenance and support Air Force personnel including some pilots. He added the victims included many civilians such as cooks and cleaners who worked at the airbase or were in the nearby area, adding that barbaric summary executions were carried out one by one, all head shots. "Many of the young airmen were returning from a military parade. They weren't armed but still were executed," the spokesman said.


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Aerial view and map of Brak al-Shati air base

The LNA Air Force has been in control of the airbase since last December.

The GNA's 'third force' militia spokesman, most of whom are from Misrata said they had "liberated the base and destroyed all the forces inside."

Prime Minister Faez Serraj the UN appointed prime minister has denied ordering the attack.

The attack broke an informal truce reached in Abu Dhabi brokered by one of the most powerful GCC personalities, HH the Crown Prince of the UAE, Sheikh Mohamad bin Zayed Al Nahayan earlier this month when the LNA's commander, Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, met the U.N.backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. Also in attendance was President Sisi of Egypt as well as a senior civil servant from the Russian Federation.

Last week Hafter and Serraj were due to meet again but in Cairo this time under the mediation of President Sisi. Both were supposed to be Cairo on May 11 but Serraj did not shown up. It was said that his own militia had threatened him and told him to stay away.

Serraj went on to Guinea to meet the head of the African Union and to Riyadh to take part in Trump's Arab Islamic American party on Sunday. He shortly met with President Trump who, it seems, had not been briefed on the atrocities committed by Serraj's militias at the time they briefly spoke with each other.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is particularly disturbed by the high number of fatalities in the Air Base attack as well as reports of their barbaric summary execution including civilians which, if confirmed, should constitute a war crime perpetrated by the UN recognised and chosen government itself. It was not elected by the Libyan people. An astonishing development.

Martin Kobler, the head of the U.N. Support Mission known as UNSMIL, strongly condemned the deadly incident as a "vicious attack undermines political efforts."

"I am outraged by reports of significant numbers of fatalities, including civilians and by reports that summary executions may have taken place. Summary executions and targeting civilians constitute a war crime, which may be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court," Kobler said.

To back track a little, the first meeting started in Rome. Italy is leading the 'fantasy' campaign to convince the outside world that somehow the two year civil war is about to end, trumpeting “breakthrough” when describing the April 21st meeting in Rome between Agelah Saleh, the president of the elected parliament in Tobruk, and Abdurrahman Swehli, head of Tripoli’s High Council of State (HCS).

The hard reality is that the Tobruk parliament, and Haftar, now command the strongest army, control two thirds of the country and hold the Oil Crescent, home to most of the oil. And their objective is to get control of the remaining third, crucially west and south of Tripoli.

Haftar needs also to stop the Italian-Libyan-EU criminal mafia network controlling human trafficking of migrants from Libya to Europe.

Trump’s declaration weeks ago that the US has “no role” in LIbya left the field clear for Russia in Libya. The Kremlin showed its hand in January, inviting Haftar aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean.

Russia is to send more diplomats to Libya next week and near the end of May a large naval exercise is expected off the coast of Libya. One might question the reasoning behind the timing of this exercise.

Moscow is well aware that Haftar is now the key player. This is now clearly a Russian led game with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov playing an important role. He recently successfully negotiated the release of kidnapped Russian sailors.

This new found relationship is in many ways extraordinary and is but one illustration of Russia’s growing clout in Libya.

As for the UK, Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson paid day visits to Libya last week. He went first to Tripoli to see poor beleaguered Serraj, with a separate meeting with Swehli as Serraj and Swelhi won't meet each other. But two days later when Boris journeyed to Tobruk for an hour's visit, he only met Saleh because Haftar could find no time to meet Johnson. Enough said.

The French will always have their own agenda in the South of Libya based on their interests in Central Africa, not only Libya.

To sum up, it’s a catch 22. Haftar will accept nothing less than to become commander of all Libyan armed forces, and that means Serraj must dissolve and disarm the militias which he has no ability or power to do.

This barbaric act at the Air Base will, I think, be the trigger for a massive escalation of the Libyan civil war.

The intensity and complexity of these issues will come to a head shortly particularly after the massacre at Brak and turn into a very dangerous violent phase due in part also to disgruntled Tripoli and Misratan militias and in my opinion culminating soon in the inevitable siege of both Misrata and Tripoli by Khalifa's LNA.

LNA Special Forces Commander, the legendary Col. Wanis Boukhamada commented " Our response to these treacherous crimes will be harsh on the battlefield"

Terrorist sleeper cells and snipers are allegedly already in place in and around Tripoli to conduct a long guerrilla war fare campaign should Tripoli be overtaken by Hafter. Its going to be something like Sarajevo.

The Libyan people have had enough and Europe will suffer considerably from these negative violent changes that are about to inevitably intensify between the warring parties within Libya after this massacre.

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(It is donation week at Moon of Alabama. If you like our content and writing please help to sustain it.)

Posted by b on May 23, 2017 at 02:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (23)

May 22, 2017

The Orb - Wahhabis And Zionists Urge Trump To Regime-Change Syria To Fight Iran

There is something deeply wrong with what you do when even Satan feels the need to distance himself from you:

The picture is cropped but the original is even worse - the Wahhabi orb rules them all:


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This swearing of an oath to the Wahhabi death star was part of the opening of the potemkinesk "Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology" in Riyadh.


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It is likely that all those flat-screens have by now been packed up again and the extras sent home.

The Saudis arranged the whole theater to flatter Trump into fighting Iran for them. The hope to have bought Washington's obedience. For Trump the whole visit to Saudi Arabia was just a show that enabled the weapon deal which allows him to keep one of his election promises. He knows such artificial backdrops from his TV experiences. He is used to superficial flattery. He uses it himself to convince others into a deal. I doubt that he will fall for it.

The Saudis and their Wahhabi brethren in Qatar are the root of extremist Takfiri terrorism all over the world. They finance the most radical and brutal groups of conservative Muslim head-choppers. This includes the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the culprits of 9/11, al-Qaeda, ISIS and whatever may be their next incarnation.

The U.S. knows this. Trump knows this. An email Hillary Clinton sent to her election campaign manager John Podesta correctly noted:

[...] the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, [..] are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.

Trump prostitutes the U.S. and himself to the Saudi Wahhabi nuts to sell them more weapons. He hopes this will help him to fulfill his "jobs, jobs, jobs" promise to his voters. But half of the announced $110 billion deal is supposed to flow into "local content" of those weapons. It will have to be produced in Saudi Arabia. It is a way for the Saudis to build their own independent weapon industry with U.S. know-how. Over a decade or two the country will have achieved some independent production capabilities and will thereby be harder to control by potential weapon embargoes. It will proliferate its products to its terrorist proxies. The weapon deal is shortsighted and bad long-term policy.

The Saudi family dictatorship fears the Iranian example of a democratic political system within a Muslim constitutional framework. Iran's example threatens the justification of al-Saud family rule. Soon after the revolution in Iran the Sauds started a war by proxies against the country. The Iraqi-Iranian war was instigated and financed by Saudi money with the help of the U.S. and British oil interests. When that war failed to defeat Iran the Saudis moved their fight into a sectarian framework. They depict the Iranians as Shia unbelievers who are not real Muslims. They claim that their own Sunni-Wahhabi sect represents a majority view in the Muslim world. This is far from the truth even though Saudi money is doing its best to convert mainstream Sufi-Muslims societies like Indonesia into Wahhabi protectorates. It is funny how "western" analysts repeat the "Sunni majority" claptrap but never point out that Shia Muslims are actually the majority in the relevant Persian Gulf region.

The only sectarian forces in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other places in the Middle East are ISIS and other Saudi financed "rebels". The Saudis claim that the Iranians are "terrorists" and "sectarians" only to divert from their own misdeeds. If the Saudis would really want to "combat extremist ideology" they would have to commit suicide. That indeed would solve the problem.

The east-European colonists in Palestine do their best to promote and amplify the Saudi view of the Saudi-Iranian fight. As longs as Arabs and Persians are busy with each other they will have no time to evict the Zionist occupiers. Their mouthpieces in the U.S. are now trying to convert the U.S. fight against the terrorists of ISIS into a fight against Iran. Witness the neoconservative propagandist Josh Rogin in today's Washington Post:

[T]he United States now finds itself in the middle of an escalating battle in the [Syrian] south that last week led to a clash between the U.S. military and Iranian-backed pro-government forces. If he can seize the opportunity, Trump could deal a blow to Iranian regional influence and help save Syria in the process.
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Perhaps by accident, Trump is moving toward a Syria policy that is tougher on Iran and the Assad regime, and it’s having real effects on the ground.

“The United States has two major adversaries in Syria, that is Iran and ISIS. Both represent huge risks to U.S. national security and interests in the region,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force.

The battle for Syria’s south is on, and the Trump team must decide if the United States will play a decisive role. Trump could fulfill his promises to thwart Iran and bring greater stability to Syria — if he acts fast.

It is pure propaganda to depict the fight against ISIS Takfirs as a chance for a fight against Iran. Mouaz Moustafa is a Muslim Brotherhood stooge on the Saudi's pay-role, not a legitimate representative of Syrian opinion. Iran supports the Syrian government because Syria is an old ally. It was the only Arab country that supported Iran in the war with Iraq. There would be little if any Iranian influence in Syria if the country were not under attack by foreign supported radicals. Syria is a Sunni majority country. Most of its Sunnis support their legitimate government, not the Saudi paid radical "rebels". The Syrian government is fighting ISIS, the purported number one enemy of the U.S., with the help of Russia, Iraq and Iran. While Iran supports Iraqi and Lebanese militia fighting on the side of the Syrian government there are no Iranian soldiers there.

If the U.S., as it claims, wants to fight ISIS in Syria it can not fight "Iran in Syria". No Iranian force is there in any recognizable number. To propagandize such is merely a new push for regime change in Syria which would install Saudi proxy terrorists as the new rulers in Damascus. How that is supposed to bring "greater stability to Syria" is a Zionist mystery.

We can hope that the Trump administration will not fall for such claptrap. Trump is a salesman. He prostituted himself to the Wahhabi Orb to close a deal. I doubt that it will influence his mind with regard to any other deal he wants to make. Trump is still aiming for detente with Russia. If he launches a fight in south-east Syria against Russian supported Syrian forces under the disguise of a fight against Iran any deal with Moscow will be off. That is not in his nor in the wider "western" interest.

(It is donation week at Moon of Alabama. If you like our writing please help to sustain it.)

Posted by b on May 22, 2017 at 10:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (105)

May 21, 2017

Talking Tactics, Lacking Strategy - The Generals On Syria And Iraq

On Friday Secretary of Defense [General ret.] Mattis, General Dunford and Special Envoy McGurk on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS held a press briefing. A transcript is available.

My first thought after reading its was: "These people live in a different world. They have no idea how the real word works on the ground. What real people think, say,  and are likely to do." There was no strategic thought visible. Presented were only some misguided tactical ideas.

One purpose of the briefing was obviously to souse the Saudis in preparation of Trumps weapons sales campaign there. There was no mention at all of any (Saudi financed) Jihadis in Syria or elsewhere besides ISIS. Questions about Kurdish or Iraqi paramilitary groups were answered with trash talk about Iran.

Besides that some notable points were made.

Dunford of the Joint Chiefs of Staff remarked at one point that the Raqqa campaign was not delayed by the decision of Trump's National Security Advisor Flynn to temporarily halt the Obama order to launch that operation. He thereby rejected the accusations in a McClatchy news piece that Flynn's decision significantly delayed the campaign and that he was motivated by Turkish payments to him. A MoA piece had listed that McClatchy report as fake news. Turkish consulting payments to Flynn had ended three month earlier,  the decision was reasonable and the Raqqa campaign was not delayed by it. Dunford confirmed that.

The recent unprovoked and illegal U.S. air attack on a Syrian Army contingent moving towards the al-Tanf border station with Iraq was probably a local decision taken by an over-eager U.S. commander on the ground. Dunford said:

Our commanders on the ground felt like they were threatened at that point. And their rules of engagement allow them to do that.

We've gone back and -- and -- and had a conversation at every level now to ensure that those kinds of incidents don't take place again. Last night, I -- I made a commitment that they wouldn't happen again if our forces weren't threatened. And everybody understands what the rules are. So, that's what's going to prevent it in the future.

As I understand this Dunford means: "Our people on the ground screwed up and were emphatically told not to do such again."

There was no eagerness shown by any of the speakers to get into a fight with Russia. They emphasized coordination with Russia but their understanding of that seems very one-sided. Russia has not confirmed any coordination or de-conflicting in south Syria.  Neither Russia nor the Syrian government and its allies want the U.S. to operated in south-east Syria and they will do their best to prevent further moves. There will therefore be no "coordination" for any movement of U.S. proxies in the area.

Ehsani, a reasonably neutral Syrian observer, remarked on the press briefing of that incident:

Number of reporters naturally asked about recent coalition strikes on "Iranian assets" near al Tanaf. The responses were noteworthy
Mattis followed that up by saying strike was self-defense against what looked like offensive forces that seemed to be Iranian-directed.
Mattis further explained that he believed (could not confirm) that Russians had asked those forces to stop the advance but failed to do so
Dunford then described how US & Russian forces decided to increase level of communication even further to avoid such incidents in future
The need, desire and enthusiasm for "De-conflicting" with the #Russians was heard repeatedly during the press conference
Generals admitted that #Syrian theater is fraught with dangers and risk of accidents and increased communication with #Russia will help

As predicted in piece on the incident the Syrian Army continues to move towards al-Tanf despite the U.S. bombing attack. It is now also pushing on a second axis in Suweida along the Syrian-Jordan border. The attacked main movement from the north-west received reinforcements and continues, it is claimed, under air cover. Al-Tanf is a Syrian border station on Syrian grounds and the Syrian government has all rights to take control of it. Norwegian government media reported that Norwegian troops were now occupying al-Tanf. Who cares? Al-Tanf is not a place where a presence of Norwegian or any other U.S. proxy troops has any legitimacy. The Syrian government had stated that it will take control of that station. That's it. There is no need for "de-conflicting" in the area because the U.S. and its proxies have no legitimate reason to be there. "De-confliction" in the area is very simple. Just stay away.

Ehsani spent had some additional thoughts on the press briefing:

Reporters also asked about role of #Turkey and how unhappy Ankara is with US cooperation with #SDF . Responses were both clear & awkward
All 3 repeated how #Turkey is an important ally which they visited so many times recently BUT that on this issue our views differ
Let us not forget that #Turkey reportedly asked for firing of @brett_mcgurk and here he was explaining how they are important ally BUT...

As to what happens after #ISIS is defeated, @brett_mcgurk stressed that US will not be into "nation building" but in "stabilization" mode
@brett_mcgurk then made sure to mention that US will NOT work with #Assad regime during stabilization effort. He then said following:
@brett_mcgurk proclaimed that "people of #Raqqa are unanimous that they don't Syrian regime to come back". This was remarkable statement
@brett_mcgurk is an extremely effective, smart & able individual. His statement on #Raqqa post #ISIS has many implicit implications
@brett_mcgurk comment can easily be construed as supporting partition of #Syrian post #ISIS. This is only meaning of #Raqqa sans SY State

Interestingly, not a single reporter asked about strategy and fate of none #ISIS jihadists belonging to other groups
Press conference failed to mention the words #Nusra #Alqaeda #Turkustani #Ughurs #Muhaysni even once.

I have just received reports that Muhaysni held an important meeting in Maara't al Nuaman #idlib yesterday to help implement new strategy
#Syrian jihadists have just been advised to shave their beard & join #FSA groups if need be in order to re-organize, re-arm, re-position
New jihadist strategy is to look none-jihadist. Muhaysni & others are drawing parallels to how 09/11 perpetrators did so & succeeded
Recent report by @jenanmoussa on life in #Idlib was contrary to new momentum behind changing jihadi appearance, hence strong reaction

Given @brett_mcgurk remarks on #Raqqa & reports of de-Jihading the appearance of #Idlib, ATTEMPT TO PARTITION #SYRIA NOW IS MORE REAL

But that attempt seem to be divorced from reality.

I sincerely doubt that any operation to conquer Raqqa city will happen anytime soon. The only troops available for that are Syrian Kurds of the YPG. But the Kurds demanded public political guarantees from the U.S. for their future autonomy in exchange for efforts (and many casualties in their rows) in the city of Raqqa. The U.S. can not give such a commitment as its NATO partner Turkey is adamantly against that. In the press briefing the generals declared that isolating ISIS and blocking its fighters from moving out is now the most important issue for them. I understand that as hint that there is a plan for a siege of the city of Raqqa but no for moving into it.

There is another, (the third?), attempt to whitewash al-Qaeda in Idleb. The State Department has refrained from putting the again renamed al-Qaeda organization there onto its foreign terrorist entities list. Supporting it under the new name is thereby arguably still legal. The Arabic version of the Qatari al-Jazeera channel is now defending and promoting al-Qada in Syria leader Jolani who practically rules over Idleb

But the recent TV report by Jenan Mussa (vid) proves without doubt that Idleb is controlled by al-Qaeda in Syria and that it is pushing to implement its brutal version of Islamic law. There were some feeble attempts to debunk it and to sell al-Qaeda under its new name Hayat Tahrir al-Sham as a reasonably moderate local Syrian force. The Saudi/Qatar paid Jihadist promoter Charles Lister fronts the meager efforts.

But such efforts have failed before. Al-Qaeda can not be reformed. The Saudi financed al-Qaeda in Idleb is competing with the now Turkish controlled Ahrar al-Sham Jihadis. Today Ahrar al Sham's headquarter in Idleb was blown up by two suicide bombers. Up to 40 people were killed including some high commanders. A first Ahrar statement blamed ISIS for the attack but within the local context an al-Qaeda attack seems much more likely. It is quite doubtful that such an incident will result in further support for the attempted al-Qaeda whitewash. Especially Turkey will note that its proxy force was the one that was hit. It controls the borders of Idleb through which supplies must come in. It has no interest in pampering al-Qaeda.

The statements of the generals and diplomats in the Defense Department press briefing seemed divorced from the realities on the ground. The Russian positions on the U.S. attempts in the south-east and "de-conflicting" were misrepresented, No reality based plan or timetable for the Raqqa campaign was evident. The festering situation in Idleb was not mentioned at all.

There was no strategic plan visible behind the delusional talks about tactical items. Ehsani feels that the strategic U.S. plan is to partition Syria. But where are the real preparations for that? What does "stabilization" in Raqqa mean? Who will pay the teachers there from which source of income under who's long term control? No "nation-building" means no money for such efforts. Brett McGurk still dreams of replacing the Syrian president Assad with some pliable leader who can control the country. The "hope" for that is six years old and long gone. What is his plan to achieve that? What is he drinking?

Trump has given the generals the authority to solve the issues in Syria and Iraq. Neither the generals nor McGurk gave the impression of having the necessary  capabilities to achieve such.

Posted by b on May 21, 2017 at 01:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (61)

May 20, 2017

Weekend Leisure - Drumming (Anika Nilles)

I have been listening to some drumming lately. From Mannheim, Germany, Anika Nilles with her composition Mister.

 

 

This lesson, with also more of her pieces, gives a bit of background on her particular style.

I also like these as a comparison of a master player and a quite good apprentice drummer:

Posted by b on May 20, 2017 at 11:10 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

May 19, 2017

U.S. Attacks Syrian Government Forces - It Now Has To Make Its Choice

Addendum added below
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The Syrian army is on the way to liberate the ISIS besieged city of some 100,000 and garrison of Deir Ezzor in the east of the country. The U.S. has trained a few thousand "New Syrian Army" insurgents in Jordan and is reportedly prepared to march these and its own forces from Jordan through the east-Syrian desert all the way up to Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. About a year ago it occupied the al-Tanf (al-Tanaf) border station which consists of only a few buildings in the mid of the desert. The station between Syria and Iraq near the Jordan border triangle was previously held by a small ISIS group.

A U.S. move from the south up towards the Euphrates would cut off the Syrian government from the whole south-east of the country and from its people in Deir Ezzor. While that area is sparsely populated it also has medium size oil and gas fields and is the land connection to the Syrian allies in Iraq.

With the western part of the country relatively quiet, the Syrian government and its allies decided to finally retake the south-eastern provinces from ISIS. They want to lift the ISIS siege on Deir Ezzor and close the border between Syria and Iraq with its own forces. The move will also block any potential U.S. invasion from the south by retaking the road to al-Tanf and the Syrian-Iraqi border (red arrows). The sovereign Syrian state will not give up half of the country to an illegal occupation by ISIS or the U.S. At the same time as the eastern operations are running consolidation and clearing operations against ISIS in the middle and west of the countries will take place (green arrows).


Map by OZ_Analysis (modified by MoA) - bigger

Yesterday a small battalion size force (~2-300 men) of the regular Syrian army, Syrian National Defense Organization volunteers and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF/PMU of the Kata'ib al-Imam Ali) marched on the road from the west towards al-Tanf. They were about 23 kilometers away from the border station when they were attack by U.S. aircraft coming in low from Jordan. The U.S. jets directly fired at the convoy, allegedly after earlier giving some "warning shots". At least one Syrian tank and several other vehicles were destroyed. Six Syrian government forces were reported killed and more were wounded.

The U.S. command claimed that this was a "defensive" move to "protect" its soldiers at the al-Tanf station. There are U.S. and British special forces stationed near the station who lead and train the NSA contingent - all together a few 100 men.

The U.S. attack was clearly a willful, illegal attack on Syrian ground against legitimate forces of the sovereign Syrian government. (The Iraqi PMU contingent in Syria is a legitimate allied force under control of the Iraqi prime minister.) There is no clause in international law, no UNSC resolution or anything similar, that could justify such an attack. The U.S. military has no right at all to be at al-Tanf or anywhere else in Syria. There is nothing to "defend" for it. If it dislikes regular Syrian and Iraqi forces moving in their own countries  towards their own border station and retaking it from Jihadi "rebels", it can and should move out and go home. Moreover - the U.S. claims it is "fighting ISIS" in Syria. Why then is it attacking the Syrian government forces while these launch a large operation against the very same enemy?

The coalition led by the U.S. military claimed it asked Russia to intervene and that Russia tried to deter the Syrian force to move towards al-Tanf. I am told that this claim is incorrect. Russia supports the Syrian move to the east and the retaking of the border. The move will be reinforced and continue. The revamped Syrian air defense will actively protect it. Russia will support it with its own forces if needed.

The illegitimate occupation forces, the U.S. and British forces and their proxies, will have to move out of al-Tanf or they will have to directly fight the Syrian government forces and all its allies. They have no right to be there at all. The Iraqi PMU in Syria, some of which were hurt in yesterday's U.S. attack, are an active part of the coalition against ISIS in Iraq. If the U.S. fights it in Syria it will also have to fight it in Iraq (and elsewhere). Russia is able and willing to reinforce its own contingent in Syria to help the government to regain the Syrian east.

The U.S. has no legitimate aim in Syria. It is somewhat tolerated in the north-east where it helps Syrian-Kurdish forces to fight ISIS and to liberate Raqqa. That does not give it ANY right to occupy Syria's east or to attack Syrian government forces. When Raqqa is done all U.S. forces in the north-east will have to again move out.

Together with its many subordinate NATO and Gulf allies the U.S. has the military and economic power to destroy the Syrian military. It can eliminate the Syrian government under President Assad and occupy the whole country. That would be a large war which would probably escalate into a global fight against Russia, Iran and other countries. It would necessitate a several decades long follow-up occupation for "nation building" while constantly fighting against a large al-Qaeda aligned Takfiri insurgency in Syria and all its neighboring countries (especially in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey where U.S. friendly governments would fall). The war would cost several trillion U.S. dollars, a large number of casualties and cause decades long chaos in a geo-politically sensitive region.

The U.S. has a simple choice: Either go in with full force and bear the above consequences, or concede to the sovereign Syrian government and its allies and coordinate with them to retake the country from ISIS and al-Qaeda. This will have to be done as they, not the U.S., see it proper to do. To believe that the U.S. can take the east and convert into some peaceful vassal statelet is pure fantasy. Way too many regional forces and interests are strung against that. There is little grey between these black and white alternatives.

The only tactically thinking U.S. military and intelligence services will try to avoid to choose between these. They will use their Jihadist proxy forces in west-Syria to break their current ceasefire with the Syrian government side and launch a diversion for their moves into the Syrian east. The Syrian government would then probably have to delay its larger operations in the east. 

But that would not change the strategic situation. The choice the U.S. people and their government have to make will still be the same. The point in time to finally accept it may move out a few month while the fighting escalates and causes more damage on all sides. The choice would still be the same. It is all-in or out. The best time to take it is now.

Addendum (6:00am):

There are some maps flowing around which assert that Iran is seeking a military land communication route via Iraq into Syria and beyond. They show some fantasy route up north through Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish territory as the "current route" and the roads between Damascus and Baghdad as "future route". The claim is that military equipment moves along these roads.

It is nonsense. Iran did not and does not need such land routes for military exchanges with its allies in Syria and Lebanon. Where was that Iranian land route in 2006 when the U.S. occupied Iraq while Israel attacked Lebanon? Where was that land route when ISIS occupied half of Iraq and Syria? There was no such route and Iranian support still reached Hizbullah in 2006 and later Syria. It came by air, by ship and, most important, by other means.

By holding up such fantasy maps certain interests want to insinuate that the area is "strategically important" for the U.S. and that the U.S. must therefore occupy south-east Syria. It is true that the road network between Syria and Iraq has some economical importance. Like all roads these are used for local commerce. But history demonstrates that they are not militarily strategic asset in the sense of an essential, overarching need.

Posted by b on May 19, 2017 at 04:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (195)

May 18, 2017

The Special Council Inquisition - Bad For Trump - And All of Us

The Trump administration made a huge mistake by not preventing the just announced special council investigation into the alleged, but likely non-existing "Trump-Russia" connections:

The Justice Department appointed a special counsel Wednesday to investigate possible coordination between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials — a clear signal to the White House that federal investigators will aggressively pursue the matter despite the president’s insistence that there was no “collusion’’ with the Kremlin.

Robert S. Mueller III, a former prosecutor who served as the FBI director from 2001 to 2013, has agreed to take over the investigation as a special counsel, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced. The move marks a concession by the Trump administration to Democratic demands for the investigation to be run independently of the Justice Department. Calls for a special counsel intensified after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey last week.

It is weird that the WaPo report above calls this "a concession by the Trump administration to Democratic demands for the investigation". It further states that the White House was not informed about it until it had been made:

The White House did not learn of Rosenstein’s decision until just 30 minutes before the public announcement was made.

Anyway. This is bad and the Trump administration should have pulled all strings to prevent it. Such investigations NEVER stick to their original, limited tasks but extend further and further. The order the Acting Attorney General wrote includes language which allows for nearly unlimited digging in "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” It will thereby continue until -inevitably- some dirt will be found that can be blown out of all proportion and lead to prosecutions or impeachment.

Robert S. Mueller is also a bad choice as a special council as he is a former colleague and friend of former FBI director James Comey who Trump recently fired. From 2013:

Forged Under Fire—Bob Mueller and Jim Comey’s Unusual Friendship

Both men were rising stars mentored and guided by Eric Holder in the 1990s during Holder’s time in the Justice Department under the Clinton administration.
...
Mueller, now 68, and Comey, now 52, would become close partners and close allies throughout the years ahead.
...

Both, Comey and Mueller, were involved in the dramatic hospital scene at the bed of Attorney General Ashcroft to stop Bush's illegal program of spying on U.S. citizens. The program in question stopped for a moment but the spying simply continued under a different legal justification.

The attempts to smear Trump and those around him over foreign connections have entered absurd territory. The lead headline at McClatchy today is a. old news, b. confusing the timeline only to further throw dirt into the direction of Trump:

Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent

One of the Trump administration’s first decisions about the fight against the Islamic State was made by Michael Flynn weeks before he was fired – and it conformed to the wishes of Turkey, whose interests, unbeknownst to anyone in Washington, he’d been paid more than $500,000 to represent.

The incoming Trump administration temporarily stopped the Raqqa campaign which the Obama administration had decided would be done with Kurdish forces. This was on January 17, only a few days before the Trump administration took over. The Obama administration itself had deliberated about the issue for over 8 month and its choice was not its preferred option:

Most of the shortcomings outlined by the Trump team were obvious to Obama’s advisers he added. In fact, the senior Obama administration official said, arming the Kurds was Obama’s Plan B, after it became clear that Plan A — using Turkish forces to take Raqqa — would not be feasible.

It is doubtful that Flynn's communication of the decision was influenced by money. Flynn had registered his lobbying under the Lobbying Disclosure Act with the Clerk of the House of Representatives effectively September 15, 2016. According to his later filling (pdf) at the Foreign Agent Registry, his consulting contract with the Turkish owned company had ended three month later, on November 15, 2016. The owner of the company Inovo, which had hired Flynn, is Ekim Alptekin, an ally of the Turkish President Erdogan. (Alptekin's lawyer ones asserted that the company had acted on behalf of Israeli gas interests. The two Israeli gas companies possibly involved both denied any such connection.) Alptekin himself denied any connection to Trump administration decisions and correctly noted that Trump had practically no chance of winning the election at the time Alptekin had hired Flynn who was then just one of many Trump advisors.

There is no reasonable relation between Flynn's lobbying for Turkish interest and the halt of the Raqqa campaign preparations. Attempts to drawn lines between the Turkish lobbying and Russian interests end up as convoluted rumor collections. With the Raqqa halt the Trump administration simply rejected to take responsibility for a military adventure (which had not even started) based on a dubious last-minute Obama decision. It wanted to review the issue and decide after its own assessment.

One has to ask why McClatchy is reporting this now? That Flynn had was lobbying for Alptekin's company was registered in September and first reported in November 2016. The temporary halt of the Raqqa campaign planing was decided on January 17 and reported on February 2 2017. Where then is the "news" value in this May 2017  McClatchy report?

A special council investigation will, of course, jump on such not-news reports like McClatchy's. He will dramatically invite witnesses and leak further rumors to the media - even when the basic facts show that there is nothing to it. Such investigations pursue death by a thousand cuts.

The Democrats, and especially progressives, work against their voters interest when they pursue a Trump impeachment which would let Vice President Pence take the White House:

Pence is a horror—fiscal sadist, misogynist, homophobe, lover of the carceral state.

Pence is way more conservative than Trump. With Republicans in power in Congress he could easily implement all the horrific policies he ever dreamed of.

But the borg and the Democratic leadership are not concerned about that:

Democrats cheered the [special council] announcement as a step forward in resolving the unanswered questions about Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election — and whether the president or anyone at the White House has interfered with the investigation.

Trump believes that better relations with Russia are important for the well-being of the United States, Pence would likely pursue an anti-Russian policy.

That, I believe, is the real issue here. There are no unbeseeming relations between Trump and Russia. Russia had little, if any, influence on the 2016 election. There was no "Russian meddling". But Trump's somewhat more friendly behavior towards Russia, which he campaigned for, is disliked by the-powers-that-are.

We can now expect a very long drawn special council investigation with lots of media leaks and reporting. It will drown out all other important issues. It will likely end badly for Trump and badly for peaceful global power relations.

Posted by b on May 18, 2017 at 07:07 AM | Permalink | Comments (93)

May 17, 2017

Open Thread 2017-19

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 17, 2017 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (114)

James Comey Is Losing His Game With Another Non-News Leak

This is a short follow up on yesterday's false news stories topped with a Comey leak.

1. The New York Times tries to add to the story of the WannaCry ransom virus (which is based on NSA exploits),  hyping the unfounded claim that North Korea is behind it: Focus Turns to North Korea Sleeper Cells as Possible Culprits in Cyberattack. The story curiously does not even mention the nonsensical claim of a Google staffer that points to common code snippets in reused software stacks. Instead we get a long elaboration on how North Korea sends students abroad to be trained in IT and programming. In paragraph 4 the story asserts:

As evidence mounts that North Korean hackers may have links to the ransom assaults ...

But no evidence, none at all, is cited in the piece. The "mounting evidence" is a molehill without the hill. Eleven paragraphs later we learn that:

It also is possible that North Korea had no role in the attacks,

Duh. Six NYT reporters collaborated in writing that twenty paragraph story which contains no reasonable news or information. What a waste.

2. The State Department claim that Syria built a crematorium inside a prison to burn executed prisoners saw no follow up. But it had consequences. The presented "evidence" was too thin to make it believable. Even the staunchly anti-Syrian SPIEGEL doubted it: USA bleiben Beweise für Assads Leichenöfen schuldig. Translated: "U.S. fails to give evidence for Assad crematorium claims."

The State Department claim was presented in a special news conference by Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. A day later Jones announced that he would retire:

Jones, 57, told colleagues the decision was his own and that he had not been pushed out or asked to leave the department.

Ahem. Sure. Maybe. Or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson disliked the lame propaganda shows Jones presented under the official State Department seal.

3. Yesterday's "Trump revealed critical intelligence to Russia" nonsense is already dying down. Even regular NYT readers criticize their paper's reporting of it:

It’s quite strange that the media is giving such prominence to and broadcasting so much detail about supposedly highly secret information and its source in order to show how irresponsible President Trump is.
...
It seem that of the two, the media and the President, the media is by far the most at fault for leaking state secrets. Strange indeed: it seems the goal of bringing down Trump overrides all other considerations.”

To recap - in March the U.S. and the UK had issued a ban on laptops for fights from certain Middle Eastern airports:

The U.S. officials said intelligence "indicates terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation" by "smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items."

It was known from other reports that the threat was from ISIS. Trump repeated this to the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and added that the origin of the treat is the ISIS capital Raqqa. Anyone would have guessed that. It was no secret. But "current and former officials" phoned up reporter after reporter to claim that Trump revealed critical intelligence because the Russians might now guess which country the information was coming from. A few hours later the Washington Post and the New York Times, not Trump, revealed that the original information came from Israel. It will be difficult to blame Trump for "leaking to the Russians" less information than "current and a former American official" leak to mainstream paper.

But as that smear against Trump and Russia has failed a new one is needed.

A week ago Trump unceremoniously fired FBI boss James Comey:

After six months of investigation the FBI had no evidence for any of the rumors about Russian interference [in the U.S.] that were thrown around. It should have closed the case with a clear recommendation not to prosecute the issue. That Comey kept the case open was political interference from his side. Hearings and public rumors about the case blocked the political calendar. Instead of following the facts, and deciding based upon them, he was himself running a political campaign.

Comey had hoped that he would not be fired as long as the investigation was running. Since Trump kicked him out Comey tried to get a public hearing in Congress to spill the beans and get some revenge. The Republican majority leaders smelled the trap and did not invite him. Today he upped his game: Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

Comey leaked the memo to raise new allegations against Trump and to finally get his day in Congress. But Trump's “I hope you can let this go” is not a clear interference in a judicial investigation. Trump just wished that the FBI would use its resources to look into other issues, like the extensive leaking of secret intelligence that occurred during recent months. Nothing nefarious can be constructed from that reasonable explanation. The investigation into Flynn, for violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act with relation to Turkey(!), continues. Trump has had no influence on it. If this talk has been so important as to possibly constitute a breach of law why did Comey wait months, until after he was fired, to leak it?

The Comey claim is another non-issue and non-story. The Republican congress leaders will not jump on Comey's bandwagon (- or will they?) If this was the worst Comey can present he has lost the fight.

The deep-state, which opposes any collaboration with Russia and wants Trump impeached (RealNews vid), will now have to find a new angle for its attack.

Posted by b on May 17, 2017 at 05:17 AM | Permalink | Comments (46)

May 16, 2017

One Day, Three Serious News Stories That Turn Out To Be False

It is a fakenews day. Three stories are making the rounds through the media that are each based on false or widely exaggerated interpretation of claims. North Korea, Syria and the U.S. President are the targets.

1. The Wall Street Journal asserts with a #fakenews headline that bits of computer-code in the recent WannaCry ransom virus are identical with bits of computer code that was allegedly used in a 2014 hack of Sony. (The Sony attack was falsely attributed to North Korea.)

Researchers Identify Clue Connecting Ransomware Assault to Group Tied to North Korea

Neel Mehta, a security researcher at Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, on Monday pointed out similarities between that earlier WannaCry variant and code used in a series of attacks that security specialists have attributed to the Lazarus group.

The "Lazerus group" (which probably does not exist at all) was attributed to North Korean state agencies. Six paragraphs later we learn that the "similarities" were found in often reused code:

The findings don’t necessarily demonstrate that Lazarus or North Korea was involved in the WannaCry attack, researchers said. The culprits in the latest attack, who haven’t been identified, could have copied the code in question, for example.
...
The connection found in the old version lies in software that both programs use to securely connect to other systems over the internet, said Kurt Baumgartner, a Kaspersky Lab researcher.

Common code is found in nearly all software that sets up an internet connection. The reason for that is quite simple. No longer does anyone ever write such code. There are well tested examples of such program snippets widely available in open-source software on Github and elsewhere. "Copy and paste" is done faster than re-inventing the wheel. Even worse - the code snippet in question here is so trivial that any decent programmer would likely write it the very same way (a call to the Time() function to get a seed value for a following call to the Random() function). There are only X reasonable ways to add 1 to 1. Two people doing it the same way proves nothing at all. People copying publicly available code proves nothing either. It certainly does not prove that code for two different hacks was written by the same people. It does not provided that these bugs have anything at all to do with North Korea. The bits of similarities are of zero factual news value.

2. Back in February Amnesty International (which promotes NATO interventions) issued a sensational report about alleged killings in Syrian prisons. As we wrote at that time:

A new Amnesty International report claims that the Syrian government hanged between 5,000 and 13,000 prisoners in a military prison in Syria. The evidence for that claim is flimsy, based on hearsay of anonymous people outside of Syria. The numbers themselves are extrapolations that no scientist or court would ever accept. It is tabloid reporting and fiction style writing from its title "Human Slaughterhouse" down to the last paragraph.

The U.S. State Department now reused that fake report and adds wrongly interpreted satellite pics to further slander the Syrian government:

US: Syria is burning bodies to hide proof of mass killings

In its latest accusations of Syrian abuses, the State Department said it believed about 50 detainees each day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes north of Damascus. Many of the bodies are then burned in the crematorium "to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place," said Stuart Jones, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, accusing Assad's government of sinking "to a new level of depravity."

The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it described as a building in the prison complex that was modified to support the crematorium. The photographs, taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not prove the building is a crematorium, but show construction consistent with such use.

If there was a crematorium being build in the Saydnaya prison how is it that none of the Amnesty witness said so in the recent Amnesty report? These witnesses, Amnesty claims, have been in that prison and observed all kind of details. They claim that any dead were buried in mass graves.

A Dutch military expert looks at the commercial satellite pictures and the interpretation State provided and asks:

Ian Grant‏ @Gjoene - 6:02 PM - 15 May 2017

Is this a joke @StateDept? Even before 27 Aug '13 these "vents" were present. See included Terraserver footage (03 april '13) #Sednaya

Another reconnaissance specialist expands on that:

Aldin Abazović @CT_operative - 5:33 PM - 15 May 2017

Pictures that allegedly show crematorium of Saidnaya prison, #Damascus #Syria. As much as I hate to get involved into this matter, these #1
#2 images prove nothing at all. This building could be simple boiler/heating room for the prison compound. Unless you visit there is no
#3 way to prove anything. Its easy to manipulate with satellite imagery. You just put the right label on thing and there you have it
#4 I can't confirm what the particular part of prison is nor for what it's used.

The State Department has no evidence for its "crematorium claim" but the Amnesty report which says nothing about a crematorium at the prison and some satellite pictures that do not show what the State Department claims. It is throwing dirt at the Syria government in the hope that some of it will stick. This release of nothing will create some headlines in "western" outrage publications. It may be in propaganda preparation for a wider war on Syria.

3. The deep state is out to get U.S. President Trump impeached. Yesterday a new, well prepared and coordinated campaign against Trump was launched. Anonymous claims to the Washington Post were "confirmed" by similar claims from (likely) the same sources to Buzzfeed. The claims may have some grounds in reality but the actual facts, even as described in shrill words, are harmless. WaPo:

Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian foreign minister and ambassador

President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

(Hmm - how would "former U.S. officials" know what was said in the Oval Office and to what consequences?) It takes six paragraphs of such slander to learn what Trump actually disclosed:

Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.

"Terrorist threat[s] related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft" are a well known method of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. If ISIS in Syria has copied that modus operandi it is interesting, but nothing sensational. The details, where ISIS is preparing these operations, may be somewhat relevant, but over how many cites does ISIS actually rule?

National Security Advisor McMaster, who was in the room with Trump and Lavrov, is on the record (down in paragraph eight!) denying that any sources or methods were revealed.

The only real claim here is that Trump gave Lavrov a tip-off with regard to a terrorist threat.

If Putin would learn of a potential ISIS attack on a U.S. passenger jet would you want him to share that secret information with the U.S. government? Of course you would.

But Buzzfeed and other anti-Trump organs blow the claims up to high heavens, The Lawfare writers go off their meds:

If the President gave this information away through carelessness or neglect, he has arguably breached his oath of office.

Utter bullshit. Trump would have offered such intelligence out of courtesy as part of his deal-making with the Russian government. Exchange of threat intelligence is regular business even between parties who otherwise dislike each other. It is in the interests of all to do such. That such an exchange happened is not newsworthy.  even it touched some details.

Even worse - it is the publishing about the Oval office talk that can only help the terrorists. As Emptywheel says:

these very outraged sources are [..] sharing the information that it is so outrageous to share.

If Trump's information sharing is outrageous why did the sources offer that same information to the global media? Why did WaPo and others publish on it?

Trump was elected with the support of the U.S. military. Clinton was supported by the corporate and intelligence sides of the power triangle. Trump won. Now the deep-state intelligence side, together with the moneyed part of the Democratic party, is out to impeach him. The constant sensationalized dribble of false or irrelevant claims against him prepares the ground for that.

The three fake-news examples above contain no news at all. The bits exposed in them have no information value. Their only purpose is to influence the readers by exaggerating outlandish claims based on little, if any, real facts of minor importance.

This full-throated propagandizing on all channels, without any critical voices challenging the basic facts, is endangering the functioning of democracy. The fourth estate is now just a tool to influence. It can no longer claim to have any inherent value.

For the average person one way out of this onslaught is to search for, use and foster alternative and discerning sources of news. The other is to give up.

Posted by b on May 16, 2017 at 03:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (96)

May 15, 2017

State Department: Renamed Al-Qaeda Not A Terrorist Organization - Can Receive CIA Supplies

Max Abrams, a professor who works about terrorism, came up with this new definition of "terrorism":

Nonstate actors who use violence against civilians for a political goal and haven't been supported by the US.

The highlighted part is "new" to those who have not learned from history and the many occasions of U.S. support for (typically extremely right-wing) terrorist organizations like the "contras" in Nicaragua, OUN fascists in Ukraine or Jihadi Mujahedin in Afghanistan. It can indeed be argued that the U.S. created al-Qaeda as well as the Islamic State (ISIS).

But lets just be happy that people get again reminded of the issue.

Prof. Adams remark came after a report by the Canadian CBC which found that the U.S. has not designated al-Qaeda's recently renamed organization in Syria as a "foreign terrorist entity". HTS rules (vid) the Syrian city and governate of Idleb.

The U.S. offered a $10,000,000 reward (official pdf) for Abu Muhammad al-Joulani the founder al Al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra aka Jabhat Fatah al-Sham). But newly again renamed organization which he leads as the official military commander, the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is not on any U.S. (and Canadian) terrorist entity list:

The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, currently calling itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has succeeded in getting itself off Canada's list of designated terrorist entities following its latest identity shift.
...
[I]n January of this year, the group shifted again, nominally dissolving itself and joining with four other jihadi groups. It altered its name, changing the word "Jabhat" (Front) to "Hay'at" (Organization), and "Fateh" (Conquest) to "Tahrir" (Liberation).
...
The State Department did issue a statement in March, in Arabic only, branding HTS a terrorist group. But the State Department's Nicole Thompson told CBC that was a mistake.

"Though closely affiliated with al-Nusra, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham is not a designated terrorist organization," she said in an email. "The statement you found should have said al-Nusrah Front and has been corrected."

Al-Nusra, however, no longer exists.

The non-designation will make it more difficult to prosecute members and supporters of the organization. Donations and other support to HTS are now legal. While Nusra and HTS had claimed to no longer be part of al-Qaeda (but never retracted their oath to it), scholars within those organization frequently argue for publicly admit the connection. No professional working on the issue denies that HTS is part of al-Qaeda and a terrorist group. But, apparently, the U.S. State Department does.

The CBC speculates why HTS is not (or no longer) designated:

The reasons for the reluctance to list the new al-Qaeda formation may have to do with one of its new members, the Nour ed-Dine Zenki Brigade, a jihadi group from the Aleppo governorate.

The Zenki Brigade was an early and prominent recipient of U.S. aid, weapons and training.

Zenki was cut off by the State Department only after Amnesty International implicated them in killings of Orthodox Christian priests and members posted a video of themselves beheading a young boy.

A different reason seems more likely to me.

Providing material support or resources to designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is prohibited under 18 U.S. Code § 2339B. Non-designated groups can be supplied and otherwise supported.

As long as HTS is not designated as terrorist group the CIA, and anyone else, can supply it with weapons and money without using any "Free Syrian Army" cut-outs in-between. The cut-out scheme was used and had well worked when many groups like the Zenki Brigade, then hailed as liberating heroes, delivered the CIA supplies as tribute to Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS or fought battles on their side. But the number of FSA groups has dwindled. Many closed shop, fled to Europe, or have joined either al-Nusra (in form of HTS) or the competing Ahrar al-Sham terrorist organization. A direct supply line to al-Qaeda is more convenient and will incur less losses along the way.

As long as HTS is not officially designated it will likely continue to have access to CIA delivered TOW anti-tank missiles (vid) and other heavy supplies like artillery munition. It will continue to prepare for new attacks on Syrian government forces and Syrian civilians. The Syrian government and its allies must stay alert on the issue and work on additional ways to interrupt any deliveries.

Posted by b on May 15, 2017 at 10:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (78)

May 14, 2017

CentCom Breaks "Safe Passage" Deal - Making Its Allies Bleed For It

On Friday the U.S. "Inherent Resolve" command of its operations in Syria and Iraq released an statement that points to unnecessary intensified fighting about the city of Raqqa and elsewhere.

SAC and SDF Liberate Tabqah

The Syrian Arab Coalition and their Syrian Democratic Force partners completed the liberation of the Tabqah Dam, as well as the city of Tabqah and its nearby airfield May 10.
...
In Tabqah, the SDF's increased pressure on ISIS from each flank allowed it to accelerate the pace of the fight, clear the final neighborhoods of the city, and isolate Tabqah Dam.

Approximately 70 ISIS fighters conceded to the SDF's terms, which included the dismantling of IEDs surrounding the dam, the surrender of all ISIS heavy weapons, and the forced withdrawal of all remaining fighters from Tabqah City.

The SDF accepted ISIS's surrender of the city to protect innocent civilians and to protect the Tabqah dam infrastructure which hundreds of thousands of Syrians rely on for water, agriculture, and electricity.

(The "Syrian Arab Coalition" is U.S. propaganda parlance for its own forces in the area. That force is part of its Central Command. The "Syrian Democratic Force" are predominantly fighters of the Syrian-Kurdish YPG and a few U.S. special forces embedded with them.)

The Kurdish forces obviously made a deal with the ISIS rearguard. They offered safe passage (safe conduct) to the ISIS fighters if those would dismantled their demolition charges on the Tabqa dam and leave their heavy weapons behind. The ISIS group accepted and fulfilled its part of the deal. The dam was saved. The ISIS forces withdrew.

The Kurdish commander had made the right decision. Any fighting around, on or within the dam structure could have led to a catastrophic dam failure which would have killed ten-thousands (at least) further down the Euphrates.

The next line in the U.S. press release is therefore ominous:

The Coalition tracked fleeing fighters and targeted those that could be safely hit without harming civilians.

The U.S. military broke the "safe passage" deal the Kurds had made with the ISIS fighters.

Quoting that press release via an AFP reporter I remarked:

Moon of Alabama‏ @MoonofA -3:03 PM - 11 May 2017

Ahh - the outrage from @afp if the Syrian government would do alike - targeting rebels after they surrender their weapons and move out ..

and:

Moon of Alabama‏ @MoonofA - 7:26 PM - 11 May 2017

ISIS fighters got screwed on deal, were promised free escape then killed. That trick works only once.

To be able to make such deals in similar future situations one needs to keep them.

The Syrian government managed to reconcile with about 1,500 towns and local areas that had taken part in the insurgency against it. It promised an amnesty for the fighters and reestablishment of public services. If it would have broken this contract with some of the first areas that took part in it, others would never have agreed to such deals but would have fought down to the last man, woman and child. The Syrian government also offered safe passage to al-Qaeda held Idleb for various Jihadist groups in besieged areas. It stuck to those deals and never attacked the departing enemies. This enabled it to make more such deals. Large parts of Homs, Aleppo and Damascus thereby returned to government control without destructive fighting.

In Tabqa the U.S. military broke the deal and the word its Kurdish allies had given to ISIS when the deal was made. It tracked and killed those who were guaranteed safe passage, likely from U.S. helicopters of jets. Like me, the Wall Street Journal found this odd. It asked the Pentagon for an explanation:

“This was an agreement for them to leave the Tabqa Dam and to leave the remaining portions of the city they held, but it doesn’t change the fact that when we see ISIS fighters on the battlefield and we have a clean shot at them, we will continue to take it,” [Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis] said.

Capt. Davis declined to answer whether the U.S. is bound in any way when an ally like the Syrian Defense Forces make an agreement on the battlefield.

“I think SDF let them have safe passage out of Tabqa, but once they continued on the battlefield, I don’t know if that’s something we’re required to honor,” he said.

The U.S. military did not hit the ISIS group "on the battlefield". Its own press releases quoted above said it "tracked fleeing fighters and targeted those". Those ISIS people were not fighting. The were not on the immediate battlefield. They were not "fleeing" either. They had been guaranteed safe passage.

I have yet to see a comment from the Kurdish commanders on the ground who made the deal, or from the U.S. special forces embedded with them. If I were in their place I would be furious. The breaking of this deal guarantees that no future deals can be made. ISIS fighters would never again feel bound to them. They will now kill hostages, not negotiate about them. They will blow up infrastructure instead of accepting deals about preserving it in exchange for safe passage. The Kurdish soldiers on the ground will have to bleed for this stupidity. This was some extremely short sighted and vindictive behavior by the U.S. commanders of the overall operation.

The WSJ points out that the problem is wider. The U.S. military itself urges ISIS fighters to surrender, but has no idea what it would do should they actually do so:

Pentagon officials have said in the past that Islamic State fighters can surrender on the battlefield, but haven't provided details on how such negotiations might proceed, or who would take the lead on such matters since local forces lead the fight in Syria and Iraq.

"..those who do not surrender to the Iraqi security forces will be killed there,” Col. John Dorrian, spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria said in February.

The U.S.-led coalition didn’t respond to a request for comment or an explanation of policy.

It would be very helpful for the Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground if they would have clear public guidelines for handling surrendering enemies. But the U.S. command seems to have none of those for them. This will lead to a TINA mentality: "there is no alternative, we'll have to kill them all" on both sides of the fight.

In terms of propaganda this will work to ISIS' favor. Instead of TV pictures of demoralized, defeated and surrendering ISIS fighters the relevant public will see more ISIS "martyrs"  who "heroically" blow themselves up as the only way out. This will reinforcing ISIS' apocalyptic message.

Posted by b on May 14, 2017 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (74)

May 12, 2017

Syria - "The regime will be there" - U.S. Concedes Raqqa ... And The Syrian East?

There are strong rumors that the U.S. intends to launch an invasion of east-Syria from Jordan with the aim of occupying the whole eastern area. The Syrian army and its allies launched a move towards the east (red) to prevent such an outcome.


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A new Wall Street Journal piece, primarily about the ISIS held city of Raqqa on the Euphrates, casts doubt on long term U.S. plans for such an occupation. Its core quote:

"We won’t be in Raqqa in 2020, but the regime will be there."

There were already doubts that a big U.S. move in east-Syria was really going to happen. Jordan opposes any such move. While the U.S. and Jordan have trained, equipped and paid Syrian "rebels" to hold a zone of control in south-west Syria, little preparations have been seen for a large move in the south-east. The U.S. has so far vetted and trained at most 2,000 local Arab fighters in the area. Fewer are ready to go. Even with U.S. special forces embedded with them these forces are way too small to take an ISIS defended city or to capture or to hold a significant area. At least ten to twenty thousand troops would be needed (likely more) for such an endeavor. The current force is probably only tasked with taking a few border stations to close down the border between Syria and Iraq. (A move that Syrian and Iraqi forces will try to prevent.)

The upcoming taking of Raqqa by U.S. forces and its Kurdish proxies is now endorsed by the Syrian government and its Russian allies. It seems that an agreement has been made without any public announcement. This agreement may well extend to the other eastern areas south of Raqqa. From the WSJ:

The Kurd-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces captured Tabqa Wednesday, a day after the U.S. pledged to arm the fighters. On Monday, the Damascus government for the first time endorsed the group’s battle against Islamic State, with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem complimenting the SDF’s fight against Islamic State at a press conference in Damascus, describing the force as legitimate.

The SDF is now the only ground force with both U.S. and Syrian government approval in the fight against Islamic State as the offensive on Raqqa draws near. The group has long co-existed with the Syrian government, unlike U.S.- backed factions that Damascus deems terrorists in light of their goal to oust President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
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U.S. President Donald Trump has made clear he opposes the expensive nation-building missions that have historically accompanied U.S. counterterrorism operations to support local governments and prevent insurgents from returning.

For these reasons, Western diplomats say the post-capture plan is for the SDF to hand over the administration of Raqqa to a local civilian council friendly to the Syrian regime. That council could eventually transfer control of the city back to the regime, these diplomats said.
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On Thursday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Moscow supports the formation of local councils to administer territory taken from Islamic State but said they must not circumvent the Syrian government’s authority, in comments carried by Interfax news agency.

“The U.S. military will be going in [to Raqqa] and trying to figure out who the tribal leaders are,” said an American official involved in the anti-Islamic State campaign. “The regime knows these details. They have a natural home-field advantage and have a way of slowly getting back in. We won’t be in Raqqa in 2020, but the regime will be there.”

Those are unexpected words under two aspects. First - a U.S. government official acknowledges, for the first time, that control of the area will go back to the Syrian government and second - Syrian and Russian officials are informed of and agree with these U.S. plans.

A member of the currently selected Raqqa civilian council denied that the Syrian government will take charge but I doubt that she would be informed of such a high level issue.

It is likely that this scheme extends to other parts of south-east-Syria and even to the north-eastern Kurdish held areas. U.S. Gulf allies and Israel would like the U.S. to occupy the east and to "block" a "Shia crescent" that reaches from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Hizbullah in Lebanon. But any U.S. position there would be a hostile occupation which would have to fight off Syrian government forces, local Arab resistance, remnants of ISIS and Shia militia from Iraq. The "Shia crescent" is anyway a chimera. Iran was well able to supply Hizbullah in Lebanon even as Iraq was occupied by U.S. forces. At that time the road from Iran to Syria was blocked, the alleged "Shia crescent" was interrupted but supplies to Hizbullah still flowed unhindered. Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally, will never agree to a Kurdish statelet in north-east Syria. Even a somewhat autonomous Kurdish area will only be tolerated if the Syrian government is in supreme control of it. A U.S. occupied zone in the landlocked Syrian east is of no strategic value to the U.S. It is surrounded by potential enemies and it would permanently require significant military resources. A return to Syrian government control is the best alternative.

But despite a likely agreement the Syrian government forces will continue their moves towards the east. The U.S. can not be trusted. In September 2016 a ceasefire and cooperation deal was agreed upon between Secretary of State Kerry and the Russian government. The fight against ISIS would be coordinate between all countries, including Syria. The U.S. military sabotaged the deal by launching air attacks on Syrian government forces in Deir Ezzor which were besieged by ISIS. This enabled ISIS to take a significant part of the government held areas there and to nearly eliminate all those forces. The U.S.-Russian agreement fell apart.

Any agreement with the U.S. that ISIS areas in Syria will fall back to government control, independent of who liberated them, should be welcome. Military hawks in the Trump administration, the sectarian Gulf countries as well as Israel will try to interrupt such a move. The Syrian government and its allies must therefore continue their own operations and liberate as many ares as possible by themselves. They must stay aware that a Trump administration might, at any time, revert to the old plan of establishing a "Salafist principality" in the area - even when such an unruly proxy would make little sense for it.

Posted by b on May 12, 2017 at 10:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (77)

May 11, 2017

Tunnel With Radioactive Waste Collapses - No Real Solution In Sight

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is said to be the most polluted site in the United States. Part of it are the ruins of PUREX, a Plutonium Uranium Extraction Facility that has been used to produce Plutonium for nuclear weapons from World War II on throughout the Cold War. Extracting Plutonium from used Uranium fuel is a chemical process hat leaves aggressive and highly radioactive waste.

On Tuesday an incident occurred at the the site. A sinkhole appeared above an old railroad tunnel which is full of radioactive equipment. Workers are now filling the hole with 50 truckloads of dirt. Officials claim that no release of chemicals or radioactivity occurred.

The old railroad tunnel at the side has been used to store radioactive machinery and fuel containers:

Railroad cars loaded with contaminated equipment were backed into the tunnel by a remotely operated engine and left there, with the door eventually sealed closed.

Radiation levels of wastes stored there would be lethal to humans within an hour, according to Heart of America Northwest, a Seattle-based Hanford watchdog group.

The tunnel was used from 1960 to 1965. In 1964 a longer and more reinforced tunnel was added at PUREX.

The original tunnel offers little protection:

The rail tunnel was built in 1956 out of timber, concrete and steel, topped by 8 feet of dirt. It was 360 feet long (110 meters).

Competent engineers built these tunnels.

(/snark)

Still, it is likely that problems with these tunnels will increase over time. Theys need immediate attention. Unfortunately not everyone is of that opinion:

[T]he Energy Department last year received permission to delay removing waste from the tunnels until 2042. The waste was supposed to be gone by 2024,

Here are lists of the various loads (1, 2, 3) the railway cars in the tunnels are carrying. Some of them are radiating with up to 500 rem per hour.

Doses greater than 100 rem received over a short time period are likely to cause acute radiation syndrome (ARS), possibly leading to death within weeks if left untreated.

Much lower doses, received over longer periods of time, will significantly increase the risk of cancer.

The tunnels and the radioactive machinery in them are not the only imminent problem at Hanford. The site also holds 200 million liters of radioactive waste stored in 177 double-walled concrete tanks, Some of these tanks, built underground 40 years ago, are leaking aggressive and radioactive chemicals.

As long as the waste stays in place at the Hanford site the immediate danger from it is only relevant to the nearby communities. But a large fire or a natural catastrophe could distribute highly radioactive particles over very large areas.

Tens of billions have been spent in research and pilot facilities to treat radioactive waste and to encapsulate it in glass. Finding final safe storage sites continues to be a problem. Real progress is still missing. Unless the societies decide to set the safe storage of radioactive waste as a priority it will take 50 or more years until the cleanups in Hanford and elsewhere are finished.

An international crash program could significantly shorten that time-span and remove the dangerous waste from various leaky storage sites all over the world. But unless there is some very large incident with significant casualties such a project is unlikely to begin.

Posted by b on May 11, 2017 at 05:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (71)

May 10, 2017

Trump Fires FBI Boss James Comey - About Time ...

President Trump dismissed the Director of the FBI James Comey on recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General, who had served under Obama, and the Attorney General. The dismissal and the recommendation memos can be read here.

Comey is accused of usurping the Attorney General's authority on several occasions. In July 2016 Comey decided and publicly announced the closing of the Clinton email-investigations without a recommendation of prosecution. He publicly announced the reopening of the investigation in October only to close it again a few days later.

At the first closing of the investigation Comey held a press conference and said:

“our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

That, by far, exceeded his competency, Since when can a police officer decide how "reasonable" a prosecutor may or may not be, and make public announcements about that? Clinton's running of a private email server broke several laws. Anyone but she would have been prosecuted at least for breaching secrecy and security regulations.

It is not the job of the police to decide about prosecutions. The police is an investigating agent of the public prosecutors office. It can make recommendations about prosecutions but not decide about them. Recommendations are to be kept confidential until they are decided upon by the relevant authority - the prosecutor. There are additional issues with Comey. His agents used sting or rather entrapment to lure many hapless idiots into committing "ISIS terror acts". A full two thirds of such acts in the U.S. would not have developed without FBI help. Comey himself had signed off on Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

The formal dismissal of Comey is, in my view, the right thing to do. It should have been done earlier.

But the political dimension of the dismissal is not about the Clinton email affair at all. It is about the "Russia interfered with the election" nonsense Clinton invented as excuse for her self-inflicted loss of the vote. The whole anti-Trump/anti-Russia campaign run by neocons and "Resistance" democrats, is designed to block the foreign policy - detente with Russia - for which Trump was elected. The anti-Russia inquisition is dangerous groupthink.

There is no evidence - none at all - that Russia "interfered" with the U.S. election. There is no evidence - none at all - that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign. The Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Judiciary Committee as well as the Select Committee on Intelligence, recently confirmed that publicly (vid) immediately after she had again been briefed by the CIA:

Blitzer mentioned that Feinstein and other colleagues from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had visited CIA headquarters on Tuesday to be briefed on the investigation. He then asked Feinstein whether she had evidence, without disclosing any classified information, that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

"Not at this time," Feinstein said.

Blitzer was stunned.


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There is no evidence. But the FBI Director kept an investigation open on the issue and talked about it. He did not make any recommendation to the prosecutors. After six months of investigation the FBI had no evidence for any of the rumors about Russian interference that were thrown around. It should have closed the case with a clear recommendation not to prosecute the issue. (That the former Trump NSA General Flynn once took money for a gig at Russia Today is a non-issue. He took ten times as much money from Turkey but no one seems to be interested in the background of that deal.)

That Comey kept the case open was political interference from his side. Hearings and public rumors about the case blocked the political calendar. Instead of following the facts, and deciding based upon them, he was himself running a political campaign. John Edgar Hoover demonstrated how much damage an unrestricted FBI director on political witch hunt can cause. No such dictatorial power should ever again be vested in that position and in a person who is prone to exceed his competencies.

The Clinton partisans and the Russia hawks will howl about Trump's decision for a day or two. They fear losing their current hobby horse. They will soon find a different one.

Posted by b on May 10, 2017 at 03:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (109)

May 09, 2017

Syria: The New Government Plans For Moving East

The de-escalation agreement for four fighting zones in Syria has come into effect. The battles between Syrian government forces (red) and the foreign supported "rebels" (yellow) has ebbed in the north, in Idleb and north Hama, in the south round Deraa, around the besieged "rebel" enclaves north of Homs and east of Damascus in east-Ghouta. That does not mean that those areas are peaceful or safe. In the north Turkey is scrimishing with U.S. supported Kurds (purple), in Deraa governate ISIS is infighting with other Jihadi "rebels" and in east-Ghouta various "rebel" groups are trying to eliminate each other.

This de-escalation has freed up Syrian government forces which are now repositioning for a large attack through south-east Syria towards Deir-Ezzor and the Iraqi border. One axis of the attack will be from the capital to the east along the Damascus-Baghdad highway towards the Iraqi border. Another one will aim from Palmyra east through Sukhnah towards Deir Ezzor. (Roughly painted as red arrows on the map).


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This terrain in-between is largely desert with only a few villages and some oil installations on the way. Large distances can be covert within a few hours. Fighting against ISIS (aka the Islamic State, grey) will be limited to the few build up areas. But the long "lines of communication", i.e. the supply roads, will be under constant danger of raids from roving ISIS militants and possibly U.S. airplanes.

In parallel to the two large attacks smaller operations (sketched as green arrows on the map) will proceed to eliminate ISIS and "rebel" forces near the government held western heartland. The current U.S.-Kurdish operation against ISIS in Raqqa is pushing ISIS elements towards those western government areas. The (green) "secure the realms" operations are designed to surround and eliminate all enemy areas to the west of the line and to prevent further infiltration into core areas.

The south-eastern desert is currently held by the Islamic State. But U.S. supported "rebel" forces and regular U.S. army troops threaten to take the area in a large attack launched from east Jordan towards the north and onto Raqqa. The build up of such a force has been reported several times and likely has some truth to it. (Though recently published photos of a Jordan armor depot some 50 kilometers from the border are probably unrelated. The depot has existed with nearly the same amount of armor since at least 2010.)

It would be quite risky for Jordan to take part or even allow such a large military operation in Syria. ISIS has infiltrated refugee camps in and near Jordan and has a substantial following within the country. But Jordan depends on U.S. and Gulf country money and can only reject their demands to a certain degree.

Should the U.S. military decide to take all of east-Syria by moving in from Jordan it will come into conflict with the Syrian (red arrow) forces pushing east. These Syrian movements will be accompanied by Russian military elements. Any collision of these maneuver groups could lead to serious escalations.

I doubt that U.S. President Trump has a personal interest in any move in Syria beyond the taking of Raqqa, He needs that success together with the taking of Mosul in Iraq from ISIS for propaganda purposes. Taking Raqqa will be difficult enough. The U.S.-Kurdish forces are still skirmishing ISIS around Taqba city and its dam, (some 30 kilometers from Raqqa) and the Kurds want further political concessions before moving on. Any additional "nation building" will hamper Trump's other political aims.

The military hawks in his government and in the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia are aiming further. It is now the National Security Advisor General McMaster who is pushing for regime change in Syria. The recent U.S. cruise missile attack on the Syrian Shayrat air base which was predominantly used to fight ISIS was McMaster's plan. But it seems that McMaster is now disliked by Trump and the inner White House circles. There is thus some hope that he will leave soon. The Syrian Foreign Minister already detects some change in the U.S. attitude towards the situation in Syria.

The plans of the Syrian government and its allies make sense. But the large moves towards the east can only proceed if the de-escalation schemes in the west keep the battlefields there relative quiet. This again depends on Turkey's willingness to blockade new weapon flows towards the "rebels" and al-Qaeda especially in north Syria. The Turkish President Erdogan is known for turning on a dime. The Gulf countries will offer him huge bribes to spoil the de-escalation. Russia is offering a pipeline which promises long term profits. It is hard to know which bribe he will prefer and which side he will -in the end- decide to support.

Posted by b on May 9, 2017 at 04:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (64)

May 08, 2017

The New President Of France ...

The new President Of France ...


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... and some youngster receiving her advice.

Posted by b on May 8, 2017 at 01:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (161)

May 07, 2017

Open Thread 2017-18

News & views ...

Posted by b on May 7, 2017 at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (110)

May 06, 2017

Elections In France

Many readers here will likely be more versed in the intrigues of the elections in France than I am.

It seems clear so far the the synthetic Rothschild candidate will win this round.

But what will be the long-term outcome in the epic fight of globalists versus nationalists - in France, in Europe and elsewhere?

 

Posted by b on May 6, 2017 at 03:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (135)

May 05, 2017

Reuters Attempts "Open Source" Analysis - Perilous Fail Ensues

The news agency Reuters/Thomson snitches on North Korean ship movements to suggest how sanctions could mess up commerce between North Korea (DPRK) and China.

China’s grip on North Korea’s economy

The Trump administration has pressured China to do more to rein in North Korea, which sends most of its exports to its giant neighbour across the Yellow Sea. We take a look at the impact of China’s recent ban on North Korean coal and other ways Pyongyang relies on China. - May 4, 2017

But the data Reuters uses is unreliable and the news agency is drawing dubious conclusions from it. Such reporting by an official news agency can easily lead to wrong assumptions in the political sphere and to unhelpful if not dangerous policies.

Reuters uses public available data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) of DPRK ships to identify their destination and load conditions, But the only "automatic" data AIS is transmitting from the ship's transponder to other ships and land stations is position, direction and speed. Even these can be spoofed or be wrong for various reasons. Other AIS data is entered manually into the AIS systems and is often false. Wikipedia notes of AIS data types:

Message 5: Static and Voyage Related Data - Gives information on a ship and its trip - One of the few messages whose data is entered by hand. This information includes static data such as a ship's length, width, draught, as well as the ship's intended destination

Using open source data Reuters looks at ships involved in coal exports from the DPRK to China using AIS derived data.


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Of the North Korean vessel Hae Bang San it writes:

This vessel departed two Chinese coal handling ports in late April. Ship tracking data showed the bulk carrier was sitting almost one meter lower in the water than its maximum draft of 4.15 meters, indicating it was carrying a heavy load bound for North Korea.

The conclusion from that data is that the ship probably did not unload in China but may have loaded up. Such a conclusion is likely wrong because:

  • the draft of a ship is manually entered into AIS for each voyage and is often mistyped
  • the "maximum draft" of a ship is not registered reliable
  • a ship's draft does not say anything about its loading status.

Here for example is the AIS data of the Belgium river barge Jaguar on a German inland waterway. If you believe its AIS the barge is 76 meter wide ("Breite") and has a current draft ("Tiefgang") of 10 meter. The waterway is less than 2 meter deep.

The German shipping message board the example is taken from has 28 pages of such "Funny AIS Entries". According to AIS data sailing ships of over 500 meter length are quite common. But a U.S. Homeland Security study found (pdf) that 45% of its 17,000 observed vessels had inconsistencies in their AIS data. 211 of them had "incorrect draft where it is deeper than overall length or beam." Such AIS data is mere garbage.

The Korean vessel Hae Bang San (IMO: 8518962) is listed at fleetmon.com as container vessel with a maximum draft of 5.2 meter. The same ship/IMO is listed as general cargo vessel with a maximum 4.1 meter draft by vesselfinder.com. Marinetraffic.com gives 5 meter draft but no maximum. The sites show different deadweights for the same ship. Reuters picks some of these public data items, says the vessel is a "bulk carrier" and suggests the ship is overloaded based on data that is inevitably inconsistent. Even if the draft data in the AIS messages were correct the ship might have unloaded in China and taken on ballast water to stabilize itself for the home voyage. Draft data, even correct ones, says little about the actual loading status.

We now see more and more of such amateurish and often false "open source" analysis. The unemployed British office administrator Eliot Higgins turned into a hailed "Nonresident Senior Fellow, Digital Forensic Research Lab, Future Europe Initiative of the Atlantic Council". He did so by sitting on his coach musing and blogging about photos of conflict damages found on the Internet. He is no expert in anything. But somehow he always finds a NATO-friendly and anti-Russian interpretation of the incidents he investigates. Higgins has been proven wrong again and again. Amnesty International (which also cheerleads for NATO) uses mere hearsay of two partisan "witnesses" and misinterpreted satellite pictures to claim mass executions in Syria. During the Georgia war in 2008 Human Rights Watch was caught falsely blaming Russia for cluster bombs used by the Georgian side. The false claim was based on faulty interpretation of open source pictures. Recently Human Rights Watch alleges (pdf) that Russian KhAB-250 ammunition was used in the Khan Sheikhun "Sarin" incident in Syria. The claim is based on amateurish interpretation of public pictures. The alleged ammunition type was never exported from the USSR,  never able to contain a sarin load and dismantled in the 1960s.

Open source data is unreliable. It must always be crosschecked and crosschecked again. Pictures and videos are prone to misinterpretation. Humans often see in them what they want to see - not what the pictures really show. Expertise of the domain in question must be consulted before drawing conclusions.

The Reuters report on the North Korea-China coal shipping is likely wrong because the open source data it uses is inconsistent and in general not reliable. Additionally no conclusion at all can be drawn from even a correct AIS "draft" entry. Reuters also uses satellite pictures that show what one wants to see. Are those "coal heaps" Reuters detects and marks in satellite pictures of Chinese harbors really of coal? It is possible but how the hell would it know?

Experts of a field may be able to find truth in open source data. Amateur interpretation of such data by NGOs or none-expert journalists will often be wrong. It is dangerous to report such interpretations in absolute terms and without upfront explicit caveats. Policy decisions based on such propagandistic reports will likely be the wrong ones but are inherently dangerous.

Posted by b on May 5, 2017 at 04:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (50)

May 04, 2017

How Anand Gopal Directed People To Join ISIS And Shills For "Regime Change" In Syria

Anand Gopal built his career as a writer with on the ground reporting from Afghanistan where he embedded with the Taliban. He gave some insight into their motivations.

Anand Gopal is now a shill for the U.S. "regime change" crimes in Syria. He is also attempting to justify the existence and crimes of ISIS by attributing those to a "legit" motivation. That is a convenient excuse for those who join ISIS.

People joined ISIS because of the "sheer brutality of the Assad regime" Gopal asserts. They joined ISIS in Iraq, in Libya, in Mali and Afghanistan for the "sheer brutality of the Assad regime"? They blew themselves up in Paris, London and elsewhere for the "sheer brutality of the Assad regime"? That claim is obviously not only simplistic but utter nonsense.

There is however reason to believe that people joined ISIS in Syria is because the "western" media hyped ISIS by promulgating its propaganda, found excuses for its crimes and because Anand Gopal directed them [*see update below] to advice on how to travel to Syria to join ISIS:

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In his recent interview with Democracy Now Gopal makes several assertions that are completely contradicted by the public and historic record and are thus evidently lies:

ANAND GOPAL: Well, I think it’s important to understand that there’s no regime change policy from the United States toward Syria. And there never has been a regime change policy. The Obama administration said, innumerous times, Assad must go.

The U.S. demanding that a head of a foreign state "must go" is not "regime change"? Actively supporting a violent insurgency against the government of a state with the aim of changing that government is not "regime change" policy? Giving billions of dollars and tens of thousands tons of weapons to sectarian brutes who strive to overthrow a government is not a "regime change" policy?

In fact the U.S. conducted "regime change" operations in Syria in 1947, 1956, 1957, in the 1970s, 1986, 1991 and again since 2006. There are many verified, original sources and documents publicly available to attest to that.

Various major think tanks, U.S. policy papers and U.S. politicians have called the U.S. policy in Syria exactly that - "regime change".

Hillary Clinton's State Department emails explicitly named the aim of the policy: to "overthrow the regime", and the main purpose: to "help Israel deal with Iran":

UNCLASSIFIED U.S. Department of State Case No. F-2014-20439 Doc No. C05794498 Date: 11/30/2015 RELEASE IN FULL The best way to help Israel deal with Iran's growing nuclear capability is to help the people of Syria overthrow the regime of Bashar Assad.
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a successful intervention in Syria would require substantial diplomatic and military leadership from the United States. Washington should start by expressing its willingness to work with regional allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to organize, train and arm Syrian rebel forces. The announcement of such a decision would, by itself, likely cause substantial defections from the Syrian military. Then, using territory in Turkey and possibly Jordan, U.S. diplomats and Pentagon officials can start strengthening the opposition. It will take time. But the rebellion is going to go on for a long time, with or without U.S. involvement.

Syrian "revolutionaries" have documented how then U.S. Ambassador Ford promised them "regime change" when he instigated the insurgency.

It was the Obama administration which followed the Bush administration in pursuing regime change in Syria. Here now is the Trump administration which does not mince its words:

Gopal is daft, or a lying piece of shit, when he claims that the U.S. did not and does not pursue "regime change" in Syria. Does Anand Gopal really believe that the bombing of Syrian Army positions and infrastructure is just ‘After-Dinner Entertainment’ at Mar-a-Lago, not an active "regime change" policy?

Further into the interview Gopal openly lies about ISIS, its origin and its fighting with the Syrian government:

[ANAND GOPAL:] The regime does not fight terrorism. It’s actually the single biggest cause of terrorism in Syria. It is the cause of ISIS in Syria. And from—if you talk to Syrians, Bashar al-Assad and the regime is the biggest terrorist in the country. The force that’s actually fighting ISIS, which I assume is what he’s referring to, is the YPG, which is backed by the United States.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain what you mean by that, that the cause of ISIS or what gave birth to ISIS in Syria is in fact the Assad regime? Because that’s not what’s commonly understood.
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NERMEEN SHAIKH: And is it your sense that ISIS’s power or control over Syria is weakening?

ANAND GOPAL: It’s absolutely weakening—again, not because of the Assad regime, but in spite of the Assad regime. It’s weakening because—for the most part, because of the YPG.

ISIS in Syria was not "caused" by the Syrian government. The US fueled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq.

It is the U.S. that created ISIS with its invasion in Iraq:

The Islamic State – also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh – emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a local offshoot of al Qaeda founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2004. It faded into obscurity for several years after the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007. But it began to reemerge in 2011. Over the next few years, it took advantage of growing instability in Iraq and Syria to carry out attacks and bolster its ranks.

To create a "Salafist principality", an Islamic State, in eastern Syria was, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency:

EXACTLY WHAT THE SUPPORTING POWERS TO THE OPPOSITION WANT, IN ORDER TO ISOLATE THE SYRIAN REGIME

It is the U.S. that enabled ISIS to grow in Iraq and to then go to and grow in Syria. Obama himself explained that he let ISIS grow in Iraq to "regime change" the Maliki government in Iraq:

The reason, the president added, “that we did not just start taking a bunch of airstrikes all across Iraq as soon as ISIL came in was because that would have taken the pressure off of [Prime Minister Nuri Kamal] al-Maliki.

Secretary of State Kerry himself explained that the Obama administration let ISIS grow in Syria to "regime change" the Assad government in Syria:

“And we know that this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength, and we thought Assad was threatened. We thought, however, we could probably manage, that Assad would then negotiate.

The U.S. supported Free Syrian Army allied with ISIS (and al-Qaeda) and publicly lauded it (vid). The CIA, which finances the FSA, surely knew this.

The mass of ISIS fighters in Syria were not Syrian people who joined because of the "sheer brutality of the Assad regime" but foreigners lured to join ISIS by people like Anand Gopal:

Run by Iraqi jihadist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) has up to 6,000 fighters in Iraq and 3,000-5,000 in Syria, including some 3,000 foreigners. The Economist reported that Isis is formed by a thousand jihadist from Chechnya and "perhaps 500 or more from France, Britain and elsewhere in Europe".

Gopal claims that the YPG/SDF, not the Syrian government, is the main group fighting ISIS in Syria. "Bullshit" says IHS Markit (formerly Janes), one of the premiere private military news services of this planet. ISIS in Syria mostly fought with, and was defeated by, the Syrian government. The YPG/SDF played a minor role:

Between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017, 43 percent of all Islamic State fighting in Syria was directed against President Assad’s forces, 17 against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the remaining 40 percent involved fighting rival Sunni opposition groups -- in particular, those who formed part of the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield coalition.
...
“We have seen Islamic State territorial losses accelerate significantly in 2017,” Strack said. “Their losses were largely driven by a greater commitment from the US to back the Syrian Democratic Forces, but also by major Syrian government advances east of Aleppo and around Palmyra.”

Not one of Anad Gopal's main claims in the Democracy Now interview is supported by the historic record. All are contradicted by original sources and serious analysis.

"Regime change" in Syria has been and is the declared policy of the U.S. government since 2006 and it continues to be the aim, even when it is, at times, not always openly promoted as such.

Gopal claims it was the Syrian government that caused people to join the Islamic State. Gopal's own (criminal) promotion of how to join ISIS contradicts his assertion.

h/t Syricide

Update [10:20am]: Anand Gopal has now deleted his March 21 2015 tweet. I made the screenshots above early this morning but the link to the tweet in question is now dead and a search no longer finds it.

Posted by b on May 4, 2017 at 02:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (118)

May 03, 2017

Syria Summary - A New Russian Proposal And A Battle For The South

Russia is extremely active in search of a diplomatic way forward in the Syria conflict. Last month talks were held in Russia with the Syrian foreign minister and the Iranian foreign minister. New plans were discussed and agreed upon.

A few days ago Russia's foreign minister had talks with the U.S. Secretary of State. This week a visit of Merkel to Putin followed. On the same day Putin had a phone-call with Trump. A new round of the Astana piece talks under Russian sponsorship with the Syrian opposition and a Syrian government delegation is ongoing. (Unlike before the U.S. dispatched a high State Department official to this round.) Today Putin met with the Turkish president Erdogan.

Russia is offering a proposal for "de-escalation zones":

According to the documents obtained by Sputnik, Russia proposed to set up four security zones — in the Idlib province, to the north of the city of Homs, in Eastern Ghouta and in the south of the country.

The rough draft offers:

  • - de-escalation zones aimed to "put an immediate end to the violence" and "to provide conditions for safe, voluntary return of refugees"
  • - security zones or buffers created around the de-escalation zones with checkpoints and monitoring centers manned by Syrian government troops and "rebels"
  • - military units from unspecified "observer countries" could be deployed to these security zones
  • - Turkey, Iran and Russia are named as as guarantors and will create a joint working group immediately after the de-escalation is agreed upon between the Syrian parties.

The crux with the proposal is of course al-Qaeda which rules in Idleb and is also an important power in the other areas. Russia offers the de-escalation zones as a way to further negotiations and settlement only under the condition that al-Qaeda is eliminated from the zones. In the press conference with Erdogan Putin emphasized this position:

"About terrorists, in spite of creation of these zones the war on terror will be ongoing - against such organizations as so-called Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and those ones that are put on the list of terrorist organizations approved by the United Nations," Putin said.

But by now the "rebels" are to a large part associated with Jabhat al-Nusra aka al-Qaeda. The al-Qaeda terrorist hardcore is the backbone of their army. The U.S. sees al-Qaeda, at least temporarily, as a valuable proxy. They will surely not agree to give up on that.

The draft proposal is another attempt to get Turkey and the U.S. to finally admit that there is an al-Qaeda problem, that a UN designated terrorist organization is at the core of these areas, and that no peace can be achieved unless al-Qaeda and the associated elements are eliminated. I doubt very much that Turkey and the various sponsors of al-Qaeda in Syria will agree to that plan. The Russian government surely knows this but it sees an advantage in dragging the problem into the open whenever possible.


Map via ISW - bigger

Meanwhile military operations continues throughout Syria. Turkey shelled Syrian-Kurdish areas in the north-east and in the north-west. It is pressing the U.S. to shun the Kurds as partner in the fight with ISIS and offers Turkish troops as replacement. But the U.S. does not agree with that plan. It sent a platoon of Ranger Regiment 75 up to the Kurdish held Syrian-Turkish border in the east to stop the Turkish shelling. Likewise Russia sent a platoon to the border in the western area around Afrin. That was a clear (coordinated?) message to Erdogan from the two big powers involved in the conflict.

Russia deployed airborne warning and control aircraft to Syria. These can detect enemy fighter approaches over 600 kilometer range and direct friendly aircraft against such targets.

In the east the Kurdish troops under the control of U.S. "advisors" have retrieved the city of Tabqa from the Islamic State. The Tabqa Euphrates dam right north of to city is still held by ISIS but will be the next target on the way to Raqqa. So far no further U.S. troops have arrived. There are rumors of a U.S. group concentrating in east Jordan ready to move up through the Syrian desert towards Raqqa. This would split Syria in half and establish an embattled eastern U.S. proxy enclave. I assume that this move has been held back for political reason but could proceed in any moment.

ISIS is also under pressure in the area around Palmyra where the Syrian army is recovering oil-fields and pushing ISIS further east.

ISIS responded to its defeat near Raqqa by dispatching five suicide bombers to Rajm al-Salibi, near Shaddadi, in Hassakeh province next to the Syrian-Iraqi border. This is deep in the Kurdish held areas. The bombers exploded next to Kurdish security forces barracks at a displaced persons camp. Some 30 people were killed. Another suicide bomb went off in "rebel" held areas near the western border with Turkey. The local "rebel" office for civilian services in Azaz was blown up and at least five people were killed.

Near Damascus renewed infighting is ongoing within the "rebel"-held east-Ghouta enclave (map). The "Islamic Army" under Mohammad Alloush is trying to create a monopoly of force in the area presumably to then negotiate some agreement with the Syrian government. Jaish al-Islam attacked the significant al-Qaeda contingent in the area. Over 120 fighters on the various "rebel" sides have been killed so far. The area is surrounded by the Syrian army which enjoys watching the fight.

The U.S., Jordan and Israel have a plan to install a southern "no fly zone" which means to occupy the south-western part of Syria. To achieve that they need to capture the city of Daraa which is the main administrative center for the area.


bigger

Daraa city is at the southern point of the government held area. It is under attack from US. controlled "rebel" forces but the Syrian army has held its area. The situation is dangerous for Damascus city. Israel could now march from the west through "rebel" held areas right to the doors of Damascus without any problem. To eliminate that danger Hizbullah has launched a large operation from the north along the Syrian-Israeli border towards the Quneitra area. At the same time forces move from around Damascus to evict "rebels" from the area. This could easily become a major battle involving "rebels", Israeli and Jordanian forces on one side against Hizbullah and the Syrian army on the other.

Russia would clearly prefer to find a political solution instead of continuing or escalating the war. This even if it means to give up control over some parts of Syria. For the moment the U.S. seems ready to listen and may even agree to some deal. But there are still way to many spoilers on the ground (and their sponsors) who will do their best to disrupt any ceasefire or de-escalation attempts.

Pat Lang has long been urging for a big Syrian army attack on Idleb governate and city to eliminate al-Qaeda from the area. But the Syrian and Russian governments know that such a fight, with the too small forces they have, would bog down as long as the "rebels" and al-Qaeda get resupplied through the Turkish border. Their aim in the ongoing negotiations is to move the U.S. and Turkey into some agreement that would stop such supplies to those terrorists. Only when that happens can Idleb and all of Syria be freed.

Posted by b on May 3, 2017 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (78)

May 02, 2017

Enemies Are Always Dictators - Talking With Them Is Unpresidential

Welcoming and supporting dictators who act in U.S. interests is the usual behavior of any U.S. president. U.S. media support such.


Obama greeting the hereditary dictator of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev

But when Trump talks and meets some head of state who works for the interests of his own country, he is breaking some iron rule of established U.S. foreign policy. In FP-circles  "talking with the enemy" is seen as sincere crime. Trump invited the duly elected president of Philippine Rodrigo Duerte and mused casually about meeting the DPRK head of state Kim Jong-il. Both are seen as insufficiently deferring to U.S. diktats.

Thus someone in Washington DC ordered up a media campaign depicting Donald Trump as coddling dictators.

The Washington Post responded with an op-ed and an "analysis". Both border on satire:

Trump keeps praising international strongmen, alarming human rights advocates

As he settles into office, President Trump’s affection for totalitarian leaders has grown beyond Russia’s president to include strongmen around the globe.
...
In an undeniable shift in American foreign policy, Trump is cultivating authoritarian leaders, one after another, in an effort to reset relations following an era of ostracism and public shaming by Obama and his predecessors.
...
Every American president since at least the 1970s has used his office [at least occasionally*] to champion human rights and democratic values around the world.
...
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “This is a man who has boasted publicly about killing his own citizens,” Cardin said of Duterte in a statement. “The United States is unique in the world because our values — respect for human rights, respect for the rule of law — are our interests. Ignoring human rights will not advance U.S. interests in the Philippines or any place else. Just the opposite.”
[* the words "at least occasionally" were added only after the original piece was mocked on Twitter and elsewhere.]

Yes, the U.S. of course never ignored human rights in the Philippines... (/snark)

There surely is a certain "uniqueness" in U.S. global political behavior. But its is certainly not engagement for "human rights". It is exactly the opposite. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt remarked about a blood dictator: "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

The NYT joins today's anti-Trump/anti-Duerte campaign with an editorial and a racist cartoon:

The United States has long seen itself as a beacon of democracy and a global advocate of human rights and the rule of law. It has faltered, sometimes badly, undermining leaders whose views did not fit its strategic objectives and replacing them with pliant despots. Yet for the most part American presidents, Republican and democratic, have believed that the United States should provide a moral compass to the world, encouraging people to pursue their right to self-government and human dignity and rebuking foreign leaders who fall short.

Who believes such marketing bullshit? Fact is that the U.S. has always coddled dictators as long as they did what it asked them to do. Clinton, Bush, Obama all welcomed various theocratic sheiks and murderous dictators at the White House. Since World War II the U.S. has attempted or succeeded in "regime change" over 50 times. It did not care if those countries were dictatorships or staunch democracies like France or Australia. In fact none of these illegal interference was motivated by "human rights". Many succeeded in eliminating progressive democracies by installing murderous right-wing regimes.

Bush invaded Iraq based of lies willingly peddled by the New York Time and the Washington Post. Obama directly ordered American citizens killed by drones and without any legal procedure. U.S. police shoot dozens of innocent each year, but when drug dealers get killed in a Philippine police raid its elected president is called a "strongman". Meanwhile U.S. they U.S. directed war on drugs in Mexico has killed thousands.

It is obviously helpful for U.S. interest when its president meets and proselytizes those who are not fully on the U.S. side. One makes peace with one's enemies, not with friends. But such logic does work in the establishment's deluded minds.

Any head of state disliked by the establishment is called a strongman, totalitarian, autocrat or dictator. The real reason for such characterization has nothing to do with democracy, elections or "human rights". It is rather the "thuggish anti-American behavior" of some leader as one U.S. imperialist calls it. "Thuggish anti-American behavior" is automatically attributed to any head of state who works foremost in the interests of his own country.

What do writers and editors like the above think when they peddle such mythology? They know that it is evidently contradicted by facts their own papers report on other occasions.

George Orwell called this "doublethink", the ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs in one's mind and to accept both of them. Is that not just another form of insanity?

Posted by b on May 2, 2017 at 10:33 AM | Permalink | Comments (61)

May 01, 2017

May 1st - International Labor Day

Posted by b on May 1, 2017 at 02:18 PM | Permalink | Comments (39)

 
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