Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
October 19, 2017

The U.S. Military - Pampered, Safe And Very Scared

The U.S. military is a socialist paradise:

Service members and their families live for free on base. People living off base are given a stipend to cover their housing costs. They shop in commissaries and post exchanges where prices for food and basic goods are considerably lower than at civilian stores. Troops and their families count on high-quality education and responsive universal health care. They expect to be safe at home, as bases, on average, have less violence than American cities of comparable size. And residents enjoy a wide range of amenities—not just restaurants and movie theaters but fishing ponds, camp sites, and golf courses built for their use.

Of course, some bases are better than others. But even the most austere provides a comprehensive network of social welfare provisions and a safety net that does not differentiate between a junior employee and an executive.

For those who stay on, the military provides a generous retirement pay.

"But life in the military is dangerous!"

Not so.

According to a 2012 study by the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC) the risk to ones life is lower for soldiers than for civilians:

In the past two decades (which include two periods of intense combat operations), the crude overall mortality rate among U.S. service members was 71.5 per 100,000 [person-years]. In 2005, in the general U.S. population, the crude overall mortality rate among 15-44 year olds was 127.5 per 100,000 p-yrs.

The huge difference is quite astonishing. The death rate for soldiers would still have been lower than for civilians if the U.S. had started another medium size war:

If the age-specific mortality rates that affected the U.S. general population in 2005 had affected the respective age-groups of active component military members throughout the period of interest for this report, there would have been approximately 13,198 (53%) more deaths among military members overall.

Those working in the U.S. military, even when the U.S. is at war, have a quite pampered life with lots of benefits. They have less risk to their lives than their civilian peers. But when some soldier dies by chance, the announcements speak of "sacrifice". The fishermen, transport and construction workers, who have the highest occupational death rates, don't get solemn obituaries and pompous burials.

There may be occasions where soldiers behave heroic and die for some good cause. But those are rather rare incidents. The reports thereof are at times manipulated for propaganda purposes.

The U.S. military spends more than a billion per year on advertisement.  It spends many uncounted millions on hidden information operations. These are not designed to influence an enemy but the people of the United States. In recent years the U.S. military and intelligence services have scripted or actively influenced 1,800 Hollywood and TV productions. Many of the top-rated movie scripts pass through a military censorship office which decides how much 'production assistance' the Department of Defense will provide for the flick.

A rather schizophrenic aspect of its safe life is the military's fear. Despite being cared for and secure, the soldiers seem to be a bunch of scaredy-cats. The military's  angst is very ambiguous. It meanders from issue to issue. This at least to various headlines:

Members of the U.S. military live quite well. They are safe. Their propaganda depicts them as heroes. At the same time we are told that they are a bunch of woosies who fear about anything one can think of.

I find that a strange contradiction.

/snark

Posted by b on October 19, 2017 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (62)

October 18, 2017

Saudi Money Invades Raqqa - Sowing The Seeds Of ISIS 2.0

There is dangerous news evolving from Raqqa, Syria. While ISIS is largely defeated seeds get sown for its reappearance.

The Kurdish forces under the label SDF and led by U.S. special forces have defeated ISIS in Raqqa. Cleanup operations continue. The victory came only after the the U.S. and its proxies agreed to give free passage to the last few hundreds of foreign and Syrian ISIS fighters and their families. Since these boarded buses and were moved out of Raqqa on Saturday night nothing has been heard of them.

On Monday the U.S. coordinator for the fight against ISIS, Brett McGurk, brought an unwelcome visitor to Syria.

Raqqa24 @24Raqqa - 9:49 AM - 17 Oct 2017

Brett McGurk visited Ayn Issa today with the Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan (former Ambassador to Iraq) & joined 3 different meetings. #R24

First meeting was with the local council of #Raqqa then with reconstruction committee at the least they met with elders of Raqqa

Picture of the visit of Brett McGurk and Thamer al-Sabhan. Source: Unknown


via Raqqa24 - bigger

The visit was confirmed by a (pro Kurd) journalist:

Wladimir‏ @vvanwilgenburg - 5:06 PM - 17 Oct 2017
Wladimir Retweeted Raqqa24

I was there. No pictures allowed. Meeting was indeed about reconstruction.

Thamer al-Sabhan is the Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs. He is known to be extremely sectarian and anti-Shia.

In 2015 Thamer al-Sabhan was appointed as the first Saudi ambassador to Iraq since the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait in 1990. He made no friends in Baghdad when he ranted against the Popular Mobilization Units, which had stopped and fought back ISIS. He denigrated the most revered religious scholar in Iraq:

Sabhan asserted that “whoever listens to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Friday sermons and Muqtada al-Sadr’s statements can feel the threat that Shiite religious authorities pose.

Al-Sistani is well know for caring for all Iraqis and for speaking out against any form of sectarianism. This was an insult and threat to a very high religious authority with a huge following.

Sabhan's loose talk did not go down well with the Iraqi population and its political circles. Immediately demands were made to kick him out of Iraq. Sabhan then claimed that an Iraqi official had told him that Shia groups directed by Iran were out to kill him. The Iraqi government denied that claim. But Sabhan continued to stir inner-Iraqi strife. The government finally asked Riyadh to call him back. In October 2016 Sabham was recalled from Iraq and appointed minister. He recently demanded "to eliminate the rogue Iranian regime."

To invite him to Syria, as Brett McGurk (on order from the White House?) did, is a dangerous provocation.

The Trump administration is not willing to spend money on the rebuilding of Raqqa which was largely destroyed (video) by thousands of U.S. air and artillery strikes. The State Department promised to "lead" efforts to restore water and power supplies in Raqqa, but it wants to put the financial burden elsewhere:

"We will assist and take, essentially, the lead in bringing back the water, electricity and all of that," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing. "But eventually the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in."

It is a complete wrong approach. The U.S. should ask the Syrian government to immediately take responsibility of Raqqa and then leave the country.

Now Thamer al-Sabhan is asked to cough up money for "reconstruction" and "governance". But Saudi Arabia does not have humanitarian interests. Just witness the slow genocidal war it is waging on Yemen. Saudi Arabia will only support groups and populations that are willing to follow its extreme Wahhabi version of Islam.

ISIS follows largely the same creed as the Saudis do. ISIS used Saudi schoolbooks in its schools. Many of its leading members come from Saudi Arabia. It is generally assumed, with some evidence, that Saudi donors financed ISIS - at least in its early days.

The ISIS members leaving Raqqa under free passage went where? The Syrian forces fighting ISIS along the Euphrates further east report that ISIS fighters have largely vanished from the area. They either melted into the general population or moved north of the Euphrates to hand themselves over to the U.S. proxy forces. What will happen to them? Who pays to feed their families?

ISIS was born out of the Sunni resistance against the U.S, occupation of Iraq. Around 2010/11 the resistance was perceived to be a dead force. But to others it was still a valuable anti-Shia instrument and money from the Sunni gulf regimes continued to flow. The Sunni terror groups in Iraq slowly grew back. The Obama administration saw ISIS develop but intentionally let it grow for its own political purposes. The U.S. military at times supported it in its fights against the Syrian state.

ISIS is not even completely defeated, yet the seeds for its next incarnation already get sown. Thamer al-Sabhan will use the money he spends in Syria to further stir the anti-Shia pot. He will finance those who will promise him to resist the "Shia axis" of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. "Former" ISIS members will be welcome to join the "rehabilitation" work.

One hopes that the "resistance" axis in Syria will finds ways and means to kill these weeds before they grow back to size.

Posted by b on October 18, 2017 at 10:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (56)

October 17, 2017

Syria, Iraq - Why The Kurdish Independence Project Failed

The bid of the Kurdish Barzani clan for an independent Kurdistan in north Iraq and beyond has utterly failed. Masoud Barzani, the strongman of the Iraqi Kurdish  region, had called for the referendum to divert from his government's financial problems. Other Kurdish powerhouses saw it as a last attempt by Barzani to save his failing political position. The referendum asked for independence including in "Kurdistani areas outside the (Kurdistan) Region". It was an annexation bid. National Iraqi forces as well as the international powers turned against it. Masoud Barzani and his family are now likely to lose their leading position.

The various unilateral Kurdish assertions since 2003 will be driven back. The dream of Kurdish independence in Iraq and Syria is, for now, dead. This is a positive development for both countries.

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Since 2003 and especially since 2014 the Kurds had pushed far beyond their original borders. They occupied areas with diverse populations and with critical Iraqi oil reserves. With backing from the Iraqi parliament, public opinion and international support the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Abadi had for months demanded a return of the 2003 borders. It condemned the illegal independence bid.

The ruling Barzani family mafia sold the oil and pocketed the money that by law was owned to Iraq's federal government. The Barzani militia mafia occupied the federal border stations to neighboring countries and kept all custom income to themselves. Meanwhile teachers and other public workers in the Kurdish region went unpaid.

The Barzani family clan is only one of the powers in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Historically its main competitors are the Talabani clan. Both clans control their own political parties (KDP and PUK) and militia. Both had been fighting against each other during a civil war in the 1990s. Then the Barzanis called in help from Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to defeat their local enemies.

Over the last decade the Talabanis were handicapped by their ailing patriarch Jalal Talabani. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq he eschewed a major role in the Kurdish region in exchange for the ceremonial position of a president of Iraq. When Jalal Talbani died on October 2 his family immediately asserted its position. It negotiated a deal with the central Iraqi government to reign in the Barzanis' quasi dictatorial powers. The Iranian General Qassam Suleiman helped to arrange the agreement.

When the Iraqi government forces, as previously announced, moved to retake Kirkuk from the Kurds the Kurdish militia forces (peshmerga) under PUK/Talibani command retreated as planned. The militia under KDP/Barzani command were left in an indefensible position and had to flee in haste.

Yesterday and today Iraqi national forces retook control of various large oil fields the Kurds had occupied. They are also back in control of border stations with Syria and Turkey. After three years the Yazidi can finally go back to Sinjar. The Mosul Dam is again in government hands. Without oil and customs dues the Kurdish region lacks the assets and income to finance any regional independence. While his project collapsed in front of everyone's eyes, not a word was heard from Masoud Barzani.

The Iraqi government will not only retake full control of the areas the Kurds under Brazani had illegally usurped. It will also demand new regional elections. It is doubtful that Masoud Barzani, or any of his sons, can win such local elections after all the mismanagement and disasters they caused.

In Syria the Kurdish YPG/SDF forces today took full control of Raqqa. It will take months to clear the last remands ISIS left behind. It will take years to rebuild the city as it was largely destroyed by U.S. air support during the fight against ISIS.

In Deir Ezzor the last Islamic State positions are collapsing under attacks of Syrian government forces. In a few more days and weeks the city and countryside will also be fully liberated.

The war against ISIS is coming to an end. The Kurdish independence project in Iraq has died. The Kurds in Syria will now also be cut back to size. With less than 8% of the population the YPG led Kurds had taken control of 20% of the land and some 40% of the hydrocarbon resources. They will have to give up those gains.

The Kurdish forces in Syria had material and personal support from U.S. forces. Most of the equipment and munition was transported by U.S. planes to Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in Iraq, and from there by land through Iraqi-Syrian border stations under Barzani's control. The Iraqi government in Baghdad will now be back in control of those crossings. The flow of U.S. material into the Kurdish-Syrian areas is no longer assured.

The U.S. had long supported Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. It has now taken the side of the Iraqi central government. The (Barzani) Kurds were left hanging. The Kurds in Syria surely recognized that and they will calculate appropriately.

Meanwhile Turkish forces have invaded Idelb governate in north-west Syria and nearly surrounded the Kurdish enclave of Efrin. Only Russia is holding Erdogan back from moving any further. Last weekend the military leader of the YPG/SDF in Syria, Sipan Hamo, visited Moscow. He wants Russian protection for Efrin but for that he will have to pay a price.

The Kurds in Syria will have to reconcile with the Syrian government. Political support from Washington is obviously not reliable. Without U.S. air support the Kurdish military positions are way overstretched. The flow of material support to them is now under latent control of the Baghdad which is allied with the Syrian government side. Only Damascus and its allies in Moscow can prevent the fall of Efrin.

There is no trump card left to play for the Kurds. They can hope that Russia will help them to achieve some bits of federal autonomy in areas of Syria where they are the majority. They will have to give up their other gains.

Zionist forces, which want to split up Syria, will try their best to prevent a U.S. retreat from Syria. Some in the U.S. military will want to continue their alliance with Syrian Kurds. But Turkey as well as Iraq are against further U.S. support for Kurdish forces. Without any assured air, land or sea route the U.S. military can not sustain a long term involvement in Syria. Moreover - there is nothing to gain for it.

I expect that President Trump and the U.S. media will declare a glorious U.S. victory over ISIS in its "capital" Raqqa. Trump will then order the U.S. military to leave the country. There will likely be some minor involvement for months to come but the main operation will be wrapped up. What is left of ISIS in Syria's east will be rolled up by the Syrian army and its allies.

Over the last decades, and especially since the (foreign induced) Salafi insurrection weakened the states of Syria and Iraq, the Kurds had made huge territorial and political gains. But they became overly greedy and did not see that these gains were not sustainable. Iraq and Syria reasserted themselves. The "western" allies of the Kurds rediscovered that their strategic interests are best served by intact nation states.

As I wrote elsewhere, the Kurds are an extremely diverse people:

There are four Kurdish languages which are not mutually understandable. There are a dozen religions among Kurds though a majority are (Sufi) Sunni. They have been schooled and socialized in four different states. There are tribal conglomerates or clans like the Barzani and Talibani which have their own political parties and are led by patriarchal family mafias. There are members of the anarcho-marxist cult of Özalan while neighboring Salafi Kurds have joined ISIS to then kill the neighboring Yezidi Kurds. None of these groups has any enlightened or democratic understanding of the world.

The Kurds never got a state and will never get one because they are so hugely diverse and have little national unity. They will rather fight each other than accept some common leadership.

Over centuries the Kurdish people never found the agreement among themselves that is needed to form a viable nation state. The fall of their latest independence bid only confirm this weakness.

Posted by b on October 17, 2017 at 09:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (80)

October 16, 2017

How The Washington Post Deceives Us About The War In Syria

by Ahab Jezebel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So how that is possible to sustain a title (usually not under the control of the individual journalist) and an introduction stating the opposite? Readers absorb and trust the newspaper they are faithfully attached to, trusting that the information is reliable, corroborated and trustworthy. General readers find the truth hard to come by when "professional journalists" distort it.

The article continues, quoting the "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Monitoring Group". This group is based in London with many sources on the ground, including activists. It is known to be biased and its orientation is anti-Syrian government. Any information provided by this partial source may be taken into consideration – provided there is serious corroboration and first hand trustworthy information. In fact, no such corroboration is presented: the information seems to be thrown together in an article to support the journalist’s idea or "newspaper policy," with the risk of misleading the readers.

But the problem persists: in the next paragraph, Tim al-Siyofi, defined as an activist from the besieged Damascus district of Douma, is quoted - as a way of consolidating the introduction. But why on earth would readers buy a newspaper to read what an activist is saying when the social media are full of them - and free?

But that is not the end of the article (only the beginning!): "Analysts took the violence as a sign that the piecemeal ceasefires struck in the Kazakh capital of Astana have done little to change the core objectives of the Syrian government" - whatever these are, or were (unstated). The "Analysts" are dead wrong, misleading and probably expressing wishful thinking. Astana stopped the war in three huge parts of Syria and allowed the Syrian Army to liberate tens of thousands of kilometers in al-Badiya (semi-desert) and to lift the siege of Deir-Ezzour by concentrating the majority of forces against the "Islamic State" (ISIS) group. The Syrian Army, supported by Russian Air Force, bombed for more than a week and killed dozens of al-Qaeda militants for violating the Astana de-escalation agreement related to the city of Idlib, when the group carried out several attacks on three different fronts. Simply, al-Qaeda wanted the war to carry on: an important detail the journalist perhaps ignored for being far from Syria.

In fact, the same article contradicts itself further down when quoting a former Syrian General based in Istanbul who says: "These de-escalations freeze the problem". So the question is: how it can be - according to the analyst quoted in the article - that Astana has done little, yet the Syrian anti-regime General believes it has frozen the problem? Is The Washington Post asking too much from the reader’s brain, or not enough! Is it relying on a lack of critical mind on the part of its readers? Difficult to know with such contradictions.

The article is using once more the same old rhetoric used in the last six years of the war, accusing the Syrian government (and now Russia) of "targeting hospitals" without quoting a source, any source, and omitting the U.S.’s own revelations that Jihadists in Syria and Iraq keep their headquarters in hospitals, if such information is correct.

But worse is to come: "Interviews with civilians in the area". Is it the journalist who is in Beirut who is running these interviews in the northern Al-Qaeda controlled city of Idlib? Of course, of course: it is "Abdulhamid"…. It sounds quite exotic.

Further down, the article goes on to deal with the human side of the war: "We just want to eat, to let up the siege, and to live in peace and not get bombed." The atrocities of the war in Syria are not up for discussion. In point of fact the city of Idlib is wide open to Turkey and fully supplied on a daily basis: the transit of goods is/was one of al-Qaeda’s main incomes. No one is actually starving these days in Syria: the besieged cities have shown themselves, after liberation, to be packed with food supplies and ammunition.

Generally speaking, the war in Syria has mushroomed all kinds of fake analysts and "journalists", who put bits and pieces together according to their (wishful) thinking, and call it an article. The problem would stop there, except that a very respectful newspaper, careless about the quality of its material and professional standards, allows this "cut and paste" journalism to happen, and endorses it.

But the world is not completely stupid. Dan, the pizza delivery driver, seems much more critical, and aware of the complexity of the war in Syria than The Washington Post with its misleading articles (not the first time neither surprising when ISIS is not indicated as a terrorist group but “local militia”).

Maybe readers are not as naïve as the newspaper apparently believes them to be.

Posted by b on October 16, 2017 at 09:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (56)

Iraq - Thus Ends The Kurdish Independence Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I remarked at the time of that meeting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barzani has lost his high stake gamble.

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

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

Posted by b on October 16, 2017 at 04:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (58)

October 15, 2017

Open Thread 2017-37

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

October 7 - Syria - Erdogan Is Afraid Of Entering Idleb

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

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

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

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

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

October 10 - Impressive Videos Of Santa Rosa Fires

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

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

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

October 12 - Spy Spin Fuels Anti-Kaspersky Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 15, 2017 at 01:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (91)

October 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted by b on October 14, 2017 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (80)

October 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list is full of factual mistakes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 13, 2017 at 01:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (87)

October 12, 2017

8 Out Of 10 Will Only Read This Headline

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

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

Here is an Australian example of current headline writing:


Top secret information about Australia’s military hacked

The lede:

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

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

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

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

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

Headlines disproved by the following text have become common:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 12, 2017 at 12:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (42)

October 11, 2017

Spy Spin Fuels Anti-Kaspersky Campaign

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer, according to multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab, these people said.

A NSA employee copied code of top-secret NSA spy tools and put it on his private computer. (“It’s just that he was trying to complete the mission, and he needed the tools to do it.” said 'one person familiar with the case' to WaPo.)

The Kaspersky anti-virus software, which the NSA employee had installed, identified parts of these tools as malware and uploaded them for analysis to the Kapersky's central detection database. The Kaspersky software behaved exactly as it should. Any other anti-virus software behaves similar if it detects a possibly new virus.

The "multiple people with knowledge of the matter" talking to the WSJ seem to allege that this was a "Russian hacker" breach of NSA code. But nothing was hacked. If the story is correct, the Kaspersky tool was legally installed and worked as it should. The only person in the tale who did something illegal was the NSA employee. His case demonstrates that the NSA continues to have a massive insider security problem. There is no hint in the story to any evidence for its core claim of "Russian hackers".

Eugene Kaspersky himself strongly denies any cooperation with Russian government entities as well as any involvement with any NSA employee leak. The German government found no evidence that Kaspersky is spying for Russia. Its federal data security office (BSI) trashes the U.S. reports:

“The BSI has no indications at this time that the process occurred as described in the media.”

Further down the WSJ story says:

The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter."

The stolen material included details about how the NSA penetrates foreign computer networks, the computer code it uses for such spying and how it defends networks inside the U.S., these people said.

If the last sentence is true the employee must have had top access to multiple NSA programs.

A new story in the New York Times today builds on the WSJ tale above. It makes the claims therein even more suspicious. The headline - How Israel Caught Russian Hackers Scouring the World for U.S. Secrets:

It was a case of spies watching spies watching spies: Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.

What gave the Russian hacking, detected more than two years ago, such global reach was its improvised search tool — antivirus software made by a Russian company, Kaspersky Lab, ...

The Israeli officials who had hacked into Kaspersky’s own network alerted the United States to the broad Russian intrusion, which has not been previously reported, leading to a decision just last month to order Kaspersky software removed from government computers.

The Russian operation, described by multiple people who have been briefed on the matter, is known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer.

The Washington Post version of the story is remarkable different. Unlike the NYT it does not claim any Russian government involvement in Kaspersky systems:

In 2015, Israeli government hackers saw something suspicious in the computers of a Moscow-based cybersecurity firm: hacking tools that could only have come from the National Security Agency.

Israel notified the NSA, where alarmed officials immediately began a hunt for the breach, according to people familiar with the matter, who said an investigation by the agency revealed that the tools were in the possession of the Russian government.

Israeli spies had found the hacking material on the network of Kaspersky Lab ...

While the NYT asserts that the Russian government had access to the Kaspersky systems, the Washington Post does not assert that at all.

The NYT claims that the Israelis alerted the NSA of Russian government knowledge of its tools while WaPo says that it was the NSA itself that found this out. That Israel alerts the NSA when it has its hands on a valuable source that reveals NSA tools is not believable. There is no love lost between Israeli and U.S. spy agencies. They spy on each other whenever they can with even deadly consequences.

The NYT story is based on "current and former government officials", not on the usual "U.S. officials". It might well be that Israeli spies are spinning the NYT tale.

We already knew that the Israeli government had in 2015 breached some Kaspersky systems. Kaspersky Lab itself alarmed the public about it and provided an extensive forensic report.

There are several important questions that the above quote stories do not ask:

If the Israelis detected NSA malware in the hand of the Russian government "more than two years ago" (NYT) how come that the NSA hole was only found in 2016  (WSJ)? Did the Israelis use their claimed knowledge for a year without alarming their "allies" at the NSA? Why?

And why would the detection of alleged Russian government intrusion into Kaspersky products lead to a ban of these products only in fall 2017?

If the story were true the NSA should have reacted immediately. All Kaspersky products should have been banned from U.S. government systems as soon as the problem was known. The NSA allowed the Russian government, for more than a year, to sniff through all systems of the more than two dozen American government agencies (including the military) which use the Kaspersky products? That does not make sense.

These recently provided stories stink. There is no evidence provided for the assertions therein. They make the false claim that the NSA employees computer was "hacked". Their timelines make no sense. If not complete fantasies they are likely to be heavily spun to achieve a specific goal: to justify the banning of Kaspersky products from U.S. markets.

I regard these stories as part of "blame Russia" campaign which is used by the military-industrial complex to justify new defense spending. They may also be useful in removing a good security product, which the NSA failed to breach, from the "western" markets.

Posted by b on October 11, 2017 at 08:14 AM | Permalink | Comments (58)

October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait. There is more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 10, 2017 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (55)

Impressive Videos Of Santa Rosa Fires

Below the fold:

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

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

This from a local journalist is also impressive.

Here is a short ride with a devastated victim.

There are several more impressive "Santa Rosa" videos under the journalist's account. The first, longer ones are the best.

Posted by b on October 10, 2017 at 02:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (59)

October 09, 2017

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

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

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

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


bigger

An (anti-Syrian government) journalist reports:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 9, 2017 at 05:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (88)

October 08, 2017

Missing - A Motive For The Las Vegas Killing Spree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 8, 2017 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (251)

October 07, 2017

Syria - Erdogan Is Afraid Of Entering Idleb

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

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

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

Erdogan's announcement needs some parsing:

"There's a serious operation in Syria's Idlib today and it will continue," Erdogan said in a speech to his AK Party, adding that Turkey would not allow a "terror corridor" on its border with Syria.

"For now Free Syria Army is carrying out the operation there," Erdogan said. "Russia will be protecting outside the borders (of the Idlib region) and we will handle inside," he said.

"Russia is supporting the operation from the air, and our armed forces from inside Turkey's borders," he added.

"[F]rom inside Turkey's borders" means of course that the Turkish army will not (again) enter Syria. At least not now.

Turkey has transferred some 800 of its "Turkmen" mercenaries from the "Euphrates Shield" area north-east of Aleppo [green] to the western border next to Idleb. "Euphrates Shield" was a fight against the Islamic State with the aim of interrupting a potential Kurdish "terrorist" corridor from north-east Syria to the north-western Kurdish enclave Afrin [beige]. Turkey lost a bunch of heavy battle tanks and some 70 soldiers in that fight. Erdogan was criticized in Turkey for the somewhat botched operation.

The Turkish proxy fighters now sent into Idleb belong to the Hamza Brigade, Liwa al-Mutasem and other Turkish "Free Syrian Army" outfits. They will have to go in without tanks and heavy weapons. Some Turkish special forces with them might be able to call up artillery support from within Turkey. But no Turkish air support will be available as Syria and Russia insist of staying in control of the airspace.

A recent video shows a group of HTS maniacs attacking an outpost like professional soldiers. They are equipped with AT-4 anti-tank missiles, 60mmm mortars, light machine guns and Milkor grenade launcher. They have good uniforms, fairly new boots and ammo carrier belts. This is not equipment captured from the Syrian army or second hand stuff from some former eastern-block country. It is modern "western" stuff. These folks still have some rich sponsor and excellent equipment sources.

Russia has in recent weeks extensively bombed al-Qaeda positions in Idleb. Turkish intelligence may have helped with that. But AQ still has a very decent fighting force. The Turkish supported forces are likely no match for well equipped and battle hardened al-Qaeda fighters.

Turkey had for nearly six years supplied and pampered al-Qaeda in Syria. The group has many relations and personal within Turkey. The Astana agreement now obligates Turkey to fight HTS. Erdogan sits in a trap he set up himself. Should it come to a conflict between HTS and Turkish forces in Syria, the fight would soon cause casualties in Ankara and Istanbul.

Erdogan might still believe that he can somehow domesticate HTS. The government controlled Anadolu agency does not even mention the al-Qaeda origin of the group nor its long control of the area. It is trying to paint a somewhat rosy picture of HTS as an anti-American outfit:

Tahrir al-Sham, an anti-regime group, has come to the forefront with increasing activity in Idlib recently. Tahrir al-Sham has not made a direct statement against the deployment of Turkish troops to the region.

On the other hand, the group and some opponents oppose the entry of various Free Syrian Army groups to Idlib, which are prepared to come from the Euphrates Shield Operation Area.

The group justifies the opposition, saying that other groups expected to arrive in the region get support from the United States.

The Turkish paper Hurriyet is less sensible with Erdogan's needs:

Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), spearheaded by a former al-Qaeda affiliate that changed its name last year from the Nusra Front.

HTS is not party to a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran for the safe zone in the province, one of four such "de-escalation" zones nationwide.

Ousting HTS forces from the area will be needed to allow the arrival of Iranian, Russian and Turkish forces to implement a de-escalation zone.

In Astana Erdogan was given the task to clean up the mess he earlier created in Idleb by supporting the Jihadis. Erdogan does not like the job but has no choice.

If the de-escalation fails because HTS stays in control, Syria and its allies will move into Idleb. Turkey will then have to cope with thousands of battle seasoned Jihdis and a million of their kinfolk as refugees. If Erdogan moves Turkish forces into the Idleb area it will become a very costly fight and he will soon be in trouble in his own realm. Making peace with HTS is not an option. HTS rejected all offers to "change its skin" and to melt away. Iran, the Astana agreement and a number of UN Security Council Resolutions also stand against that.

It will be difficult for Turkey to untangle that knot.

Posted by b on October 7, 2017 at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (59)

October 06, 2017

Open Thread 2017-36

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 6, 2017 at 01:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (78)

October 05, 2017

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

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


Map by Weekend Warrior - bigger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"The US-led forces' activities in Syria cause many questions. In some cases these forces mount allegedly accidental strikes against the Syrian Armed Forces, after which the Islamic State counterattacks, in other cases they inspire other terrorists to attack strategic locations over which official Damascus has restored its legitimate authority, or stage fatal provocations against our military personnel. I would also mention numerous "accidental" strikes against civilian infrastructure that have taken hundreds of civilian lives," Lavrov said in an interview with the Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab newspaper ahead of the Russian visit of Saudi King Salman al-Saud.

These accusations, from a very high level of the Russian Federation hierarchy, should not be ignored. But the "western" media were silent over Lavrov's accusations. Only AFP picked up some bits but missed the central point.

The Russian Defense Ministry was even more direct:

A spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a series of attacks launched by Islamic State in Syria on government forces had come from an area near the border with Jordan where a US military mission was located.

The spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement the attackers had the precise coordinates of the Syrian government forces, which could only have been obtained through aerial reconnaissance.

Konashenkov accused the U.S. of "flirtation" with the terrorists and warned that, should similar happen again, Russia will take severe countermeasures.

While these accusations fly, and the relation between U.S and Russian contingents in Syria further deteriorate, Russian diplomacy is winning the day.

Last week the Russian President Putin visited Turkey. (At about the same time the Egyptian chief of intelligence was also in Ankara. He allegedly met his Turkish colleague. A few days later he visited Damascus.) Yesterday the Saudi King arrived in Moscow for an unprecedented visit. Meanwhile the Turkish president Erdogan touched down in Tehran in an unusual amikal atmosphere.

Instead of reporting on diplomacy and the increasing chances of a military conflict between super powers in Syria, U.S. media asks if Secretary of State Tillerson called President Trump a "moron" or a "fucking moron". (For the record - the NBC journalist who overheard Tillerson's outburst says it was "fucking moron".)

There have now been three significant incidents against the Russian-Syrian alliance in which, according to Russia, U.S. malignancy played a role. Each time Russian officials warned of consequences. To some extend the U.S. hostility is incited by Israeli nagging. But the record shows that CentCom, the U.S. military command in the Middle East, is overtly aggressive and not always following Washington's line. It is high time for the White House to get the situation under control.

The bear is a docile animal. But it should not be provoked. There is reason to believe that the Russian forces and their allies in the Middle East have the ability to surprise the U.S. military with unforeseen and deadly moves.

Should these U.S. provocations continue Moscow will have no choice but to order harsh retaliations.

Posted by b on October 5, 2017 at 03:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (129)

October 04, 2017

Intercept Augments Its Anti-Syrian Stable

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

On September 21 The Intercept hired Maryam Saleh:

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


Pic via The Intercept.

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

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

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

On September 30 Maryam Saleh tweeted:

Verified account @MaryamSaleh_

Here’s your periodic reminder that only two parties in Syria’s war operate aircraft: the Assad regime and Russia.
4:53 PM - 30 Sep 2017

Several replies to her tweet immediately pointed out that the statement was ridiculously false. Israel, Turkey, Jordan, the U.S. and other members of the coalition against ISIS have all bombed Syria and continue to do so daily. They are causing huge damage and many civilian casualties. Even older tweets by Saleh herself had conceded that. But there was no correction or follow up to the tweet above.

Four days later I became aware of her claim, quoted it and replied:

@MoonofA
Moon of Alabama Retweeted مريم

Here’s your periodic reminder that @theintercept is a anti-Syrian propaganda rag ...
9:24 AM - 4 Oct 2017

Note the above UTC timestamp - 9:24am.

An immediate reaction followed with which Saleh replied to her own September 30 tweet:

Verified account @MaryamSaleh_

Correction: As I’ve pointed out in other contexts, US-led coalition & Israel also aerially bomb Syria. No shortage of parties wreaking havoc
9:27 AM - 4 Oct 2017

Again, note the timestamp - 9:27am.

Just three minutes after I blamed The Intercept and Saleh for their obvious anti-Syrian propaganda, she "corrected" her four days old tweet. In fairness - it may not have been my tweet that caused this "correction".  I have no way to discern that. But I like to think that I caused this.

The Intercept hired a writer with an obviously partisan position in the U.S. war on Syria. Her statements are not truthful. She is supposed to report on U.S. "national security". As the conflict in Syria escalates into a great power competition, the new hire will likely result in more propagandistic bias for even deeper U.S. involvement in Syria.

Still, this little episode shows the importance of pointing out such propaganda. Publicly naming and shaming the media and their authors can indeed have some effect.

Posted by b on October 4, 2017 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (36)

October 03, 2017

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

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

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

On September 6 the NYT asserted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More details via the Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

No.

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

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

Puppy pictures for "future use"?

Nonsense.

Lunacy!

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

The for-profit scheme runs as follows:

One builds pages with "hot" stuff that hopefully attracts lots of viewers. One creates ad-space on these pages and fills it with Google ads. One attracts viewers and promotes the spiked pages by buying $3 Facebook mini-ads for them. The mini-ads are targeted at the most susceptible groups.

A few thousand users will come and look at such pages. Some will 'like' the puppy pictures or the rant for or against LGBT and further spread them. Some will click the Google ads. Money then flows into the pockets of the page creator. One can rinse and repeat this scheme forever. Each such page is a small effort for a small revenue. But the scheme is highly scaleable and parts of it can be automatized.

This is, in essence, the same business model traditional media publishers use. They create "news" and controversies to attract readers. The attention of the readers is then sold to advertisers. The business is no longer limited to a few rich oligarchs. One no longer needs reporters or a printing press to join it. Anyone can now run a similar business.

We learned after the election that some youths in Macedonia created whole "news"-websites filled with highly attractive but fake partisan stories. They were not interested in the veracity or political direction of their content. Their only interest was to attract viewers. They made thousands of dollars by selling advertisements on their sites:

The teen said his monthly revenue was in the four figures, a considerable sum in a country where the average monthly pay is 360 euros ($383). As he navigated his site’s statistics, he dropped nuggets of journalism advice.

“You have to write what people want to see, not what you want to show,” he said, scrolling through The Political Insider’s stories as a large banner read “ARREST HILLARY NOW.”

The 3,000 Facebook ads Congress is investigating are part of a similar scheme. The mini-ads promoted pages with hot button issues and click-bait puppy pictures. These pages were themselves created to generate ad-clicks and revenue. Facebook claims that "Russia" is behind them. We will likely find some Russian teens who simply repeated the scheme their Macedonian friends were running on.

With its "Russian influence" scare the NYT follows the same business model. It produces fake news which attracts viewers and readers who's attention is then sold to advertisers. Facebook is also profiting from this. Its current piecemeal release of vague information keeps its name in the news.

The mystery of "Russian" $3 ads for "adorable puppies" pages on Facebook has been solved, Congress and the New York Times will have to move on. There next subject is probably the "Russian influence campaign" on Youtube.

Russian Car Crash Compilations have for years attracted millions of viewers. The "Russians" want to increase road rage on U.S. highways. This again help - according to expert Clinton Watts - "amplify divisive political issues across the political spectrum".

The car crash compilations, like the puppy pages, are another sign that Russia is waging war against the United States!

You don't believe that? You should. Trust your experienced politician!

Samantha Power @SamanthaJPower - 3:45 PM - 3 Oct 2017

This gets more chilling daily: now we learn Russia targeted Americans on Facebook by “demographics, geography, gender & interests,” across websites & devices, reached millions, kept going after Nov. An attack on all Americans, not just HRC campaign washingtonpost.com/business/econo…

This nonsense indeed gets more chilling. It's fall after all. But it also generates ad revenue.

Posted by b on October 3, 2017 at 02:09 PM | Permalink | Comments (60)

October 02, 2017

Another Day, Another U.S. Mass Shooting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 2, 2017 at 01:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (279)

October 01, 2017

On Catalonia's Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by b on October 1, 2017 at 06:16 AM | Permalink | Comments (129)

The "Russian Influence" Stories Promote Russia's Might - Is Putin Paying For Them?

It was probably premature to write The "Russian Influence" Story Falls Apart:

The story about "Russian influence" was made up by the Democrats to explain Clinton's loss of the election and to avoid looking at her personal responsibility for it. It also helps to push the new cold war narrative and to sell weapons. As no evidence was ever found to support the "Russian influence" campaign, Facebook and others come under pressure to deliver the "evidence" the U.S. intelligence services could not produce. The now resulting story of [Russia is] "sowing chaos" is out of la-la-land.

The last nonsense of the "Russia hacked the election" campaign was a recent letter from the Department of Homeland Security which warned 21 states, a year too late, that their election systems were attacked by something "Russia". So far three of the 21 states have debunked the DHS claim. Wisconsin, California and Texas all say that their election systems were not attacked at all and DHS had to concede as much.

These states also pointed out that the only "attacks" DHS found were port-scans of some non-election systems. Port scans are requests from one server to another to check for the availability of certain services - some computer asking another computer if a web-service or mail-service is available on it. Such requests are not attacks but regular behavior of internet systems. Sometimes email-spammers use port scans to find unsecured email-servers they could potentially abuse. These are like small time thieves checking a parking lot for the one unlocked car with the expensive camera on the front seat.

But the need to build Russia up as the new enemy is still there. How else can Europe be kept down? How else can more money be spend for useless weapon systems?

Thus the campaign has changed from "Russia installed Trump" or "Russia influenced the election" to "Russian influence wants to destroy America". The campaign has also grow more lunatic.

Consider the Republican senator James Lankford who's claims of "Russian influence" have been picked up by the Washington Post, Reuters, NPR and others. They want you to believe that Russia is involved in the NFL protests:

"We watched, even this weekend, the Russians and their troll farms, their Internet folks, start hashtagging out 'take a knee' and also hashtagging out 'boycott the NFL,' " Lankford said at a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday.

"They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend ..."

Surely, taking both sides on an issue which is heavily debated is a trademark of Russian spies. That is at least what the NPR author implies:

That's the very same modus operandi that Senate Intelligence Committee investigators and others have detected in Russian influence-mongers' use of Facebook last year.

No one of course has detected anything like that. Partisans and warmongers simply assert that people discussing a widely discussed issue are part of a "Russian operation". They have not provided one bit of evidence to support their claims.

The Senator's claims about the NFL discussion are obviously nonsense. But dozens of media repeated them with no questions asked. Only Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone took a deeper look:

The Post reported that Lankford's office had cited one of "Boston Antifa's" tweets. But the example offered read suspiciously like a young net-savvy American goofing on antifa stereotypes:...

Matt digs into the "Boston Antifa" twitter account and finds the two funny nerds in Oregon who are behind it. They are known for pranks and had earlier been interviewed about such stunts:

They also did things like make claims that fidget spinners caused PTSD in hurricane victims. In short, two young people goofing on the Internet.

During the 60s and 70s the assertion of then "Communist influence" over one opinion was widely used to disparage and delegitimize it. Right wing groups like the John Birch Society claimed that that whole Civil Rights movement was a Kremlin plot. FBI investigation and suppression followed such assertions. History is now repeating itself.

Everyone should be concerned when the Washington Post, Reuters and CNN all try to tie Black Lives Matters to "Russian influence". "The Russians", you know, bought ads promoting and disparaging that group:

The ads reportedly centered around racial, political, and economic rifts in the U.S., with some promoting groups like Black Lives Matter and others describing the groups as a threat.

Again - "the Russians" are taking both sides. What a wicked concept.

CNN exclusively finds an anonymous facebook and twitter account named Blacktivists that amplifies reports of crimes against black people. CNN tells us that the account looked suspiciously "Russian" because?

The Twitter account, @Blacktivists, provided several clues that in hindsight indicate it was not what it purported to be. In several tweets, it employed awkward phrasing that a native English speaker would be unlikely to use. It also consistently posted using an apostrophe facing the wrong way, i.e. "it`s" instead of "it's."

Using the wrong apostrophe must, of course, mean that Putin personally paid whoever hides behind that account.

"Russian influence" is also responsible for activism against fracking. It pushed for voting for Jill Stein, Bernie Sanders and Trump. It even bought Facebook ads promoting Hillary Clinton.

Dozens if not hundreds of stories about "Russian hacking" and "Russian influence" have been published. Not one provided proof of any nefarious Russian involvement. All hacking claims have been debunked. The "influence" issues are fantasies. But that does not make them less influential. They are part of an orchestrated campaign to construct a new Cold War and to build up a caricature of Russia as the a villain.

Looking from the outside the U.S. media have simply gone nuts. There seems to be no other way to explain the silliness of their "reporting".

Then again: Could they all be under Russian influence? Are Russian secret services paying for such stories?

Consider that all the "Russian hacking" and "Russian influence" stories are amplifying (the illusion of) Russian might.

Isn't that exactly what Putin wants?

Posted by b on October 1, 2017 at 02:52 AM | Permalink | Comments (75)

 
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