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October 31, 2019

Open Thread 2019-63

News & views ...

Posted by b on October 31, 2019 at 14:41 UTC | Permalink | Comments (261)

October 30, 2019

Who Is Supposed To Define U.S. Foreign Policy - Hint: It Is Not The Borg

The New York Times continues to lie about Joe Biden's involvement in the Ukraine and about Ukrainian involvement in the U.S. election. Today it also lied about a fact in relation to Lieutenant Colonel Vindman who was yesterday questioned by the Democrats 'impeachment inquiry'. The NYT reported that very fact just a day ago. During the hearing Lt.Col. Vindman expressed a rather preposterous view about who should define U.S. foreign policy. 

The NYT claims to debunk falsehoods but spreads more of them:

Debunking 4 Viral Rumors About the Bidens and Ukraine
As lawmakers examine whether President Trump pushed Ukraine to investigate the Biden family, here are some of the most prominent falsehoods that have spread online and an explanation of what really happened.

Why was Ukraine’s top prosecutor fired?
...
A year later, Viktor Shokin became Ukraine’s prosecutor general, a job similar to the attorney general in the United States. He vowed to keep investigating Burisma amid an international push to root out corruption in Ukraine.

But the investigation went dormant under Mr. Shokin. In the fall of 2015, Joe Biden joined the chorus of Western officials calling for Mr. Shokin’s ouster. The next March, Mr. Shokin was fired. A subsequent prosecutor cleared Mr. Zlochevsky.

We have shown the time lime of Biden's intervention against Shokin and provided evidence that the investigation into Burisma was very much alive:

Zlochevsky had hired Joe Biden's son Hunter for at least $50,000 per month. In 2015 Shokin started to investigate him in two cases. During the fall of 2015 Joe Biden's team begins to lobby against him. On February 2 Shokin seizes Zlochevsky's houses. Shortly afterwards the Biden camp goes berserk with Biden himself making nearly daily phonecalls. Shokin goes on vacation while Poroshenko (falsely) claims that he resigned. When Shokin comes back into office Biden again takes to the phone. A week later Shokin is out.

Biden got the new prosecutor general he wanted. The new guy made a bit of show and then closed the case against Zlochevsky.

and:

It is quite astonishing that the false claims, that Shokin did not go after Burisma owner Zlochevsky, are repeated again and again despite the fact that the public record, in form of a report by Interfax-Ukraine, contradicts it.

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Back to the NYT 'debunking'. The second part is about Trump allegations connecting the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike to the Ukraine. The NYT is correct to say that Trump's claims in that direction are mostly confused or false. But it also makes this claim:

CrowdStrike, based in California, is not Ukrainian-owned and does not appear to have any Ukrainian connections.

CrowdStrike’s co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch issued a report about a Ukrainian software for artillery targeting. The report falsely claimed that the software was hacked by Russia and that Russia used the coordinates the hacked software allegedly transmitted.

Those CrowdStrike allegations were completely false:

In December, CrowdStrike said it found evidence that Russians hacked into a Ukrainian artillery app, contributing to heavy losses of howitzers in Ukraine's war with pro-Russian separatists.

VOA reported Tuesday that the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which publishes an annual reference estimating the strength of world armed forces, disavowed the CrowdStrike report and said it had never been contacted by the company.

Ukraine's Ministry of Defense also has stated that the combat losses and hacking never happened.

CrowdStrike was first to link hacks of Democratic Party computers to Russian actors last year, but some cybersecurity experts have questioned its evidence.

The debunked CrowdStrike report about the Ukraine demonstrated that the company can not be trusted when it alleges Russian hacking - be it of an Ukrainian artillery app or of the DNC servers.

The NYT 'debunking' also claims:

Mr. Trump’s own former Homeland Security secretary, Thomas P. Bossert, called the president’s assertion that Ukraine intervened in the 2016 elections on behalf of the Democrats “not only a conspiracy theory” but “completely debunked.”

Mr. Bossert indeed has said such but he is wrong. The Ukrainian actions against the Trump campaign are well documented. The Ukrainians even admitted their intervention:

The prospect of Mr Trump, who has praised Ukraine's arch-enemy Vladimir Putin, becoming leader of the country's biggest ally has spurred not just Mr Leshchenko but Kiev's wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election.
...
Mr. Leshchenko and other political actors in Kiev say they will continue with their efforts to prevent a candidate - who recently suggested Russia might keep Crimea, which it annexed two years ago - from reaching the summit of American political power.

The third claim which the NYT tries to 'debunk' is that the CIA agent who played the 'whistleblower' against Trump is a political partisan. The debunking fails when the NYT itself notes the source of the claim:

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the American intelligence community, found unspecified indications of “an arguable political bias,” suggesting the whistle-blower favored a rival political candidate, according to a Justice Department memo.

The fourth 'debunking' is about Hunter Biden's business with China:

Critics of Hunter Biden have sought other areas ripe for sowing disinformation. One they have homed in on is his dealings in China.
...
While the amount of money Hunter Biden made from those deals remains unknown, Mr. Trump has said that China handed over $1.5 billion to Mr. Biden in a “sweetheart” business deal meant to win favor with his father.
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The $1.5 billion figure Mr. Trump has referred to appears to be the amount of money a Shanghai private-equity company raised in 2014. Hunter Biden joined the board of the company, BHR Equity Investment Fund Management, in late 2013. In 2017, he bought 10 percent of the firm, investing the equivalent of $420,000.

The NYT conveniently forgets to mention who is behind BHR and how the deal was made:

On one of the first days of December 2013, Hunter Biden was jetting across the Pacific Ocean aboard Air Force Two with his father and daughter Finnegan. ... Vice President Biden, Hunter Biden and Finnegan arrived to a red carpet and a delegation of Chinese officials.
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[Hunter Biden's company] Rosemont Seneca Partners had been negotiating an exclusive deal with Chinese officials, which they signed approximately 10 days after Hunter visited China with his father. The most powerful financial institution in China, the government’s Bank of China, was setting up a joint venture with Rosemont Seneca.
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Rosemont Seneca and the Bank of China created a $1 billion investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST (BHR), a name that reflected who was involved. Bohai (or Bo Hai), the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea, was a reference to the Chinese stake in the company. The “RS” referred to Rosemont Seneca. The “T” was Thornton.

Trump claimed that China handed over $1.5 billion to Hunter Biden. But the truth is that the state owned Bank of China handed $1.5 billion (by now $2.1 billion) to a company that was partially owned by Hunter Biden. The timing of the very unusual deal additionally suggests that it was made for political purposes.

The NYT asserts that Trump was "sowing disinformation' about Hunter Biden's China relations. Trump often lies but in this case he just simplified the facts.

The debunking piece fails in all four points it raises. It is itself sowing disinformation about Biden's intervention against Shokin and the Ukrainian meddling in the U.S. election. It fails to mention relevant facts on the two other issues.

In its zeal to propagandize against the Trump administration the NYT is playing loose with the facts and is even disregarding its own reporting. Consider this item from today about media reactions to the Lieutenant Colonel who was yesterday questioned by the Democrats 'impeachment inquiry':

Jack Posobiec, a well-known figure on the far-right internet, tweeted the falsehood that Mr. Vindman had been advising the Ukrainian government on how to counter Mr. Trump’s foreign policy goals. Mr. Posobiec cited The New York Times as his source — in fact, The Times reported no such thing.

In fact, Posobiec quoted this New York Times piece from yesterday which reported:

While Colonel Vindman’s concerns were shared by a number of other officials, some of whom have already testified, he was in a unique position. Because he emigrated from Ukraine along with his family when he was a child and is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, Ukrainian officials sought advice from him about how to deal with Mr. Giuliani, though they typically communicated in English.

When Rudi Giuliani was trying to get information about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election he was undoubtly pursuing the president's foreign policy. Posobiec was right and the NYT should correct itself.

Lt.Col. Vindman did not like those policies. He in fact believes that U.S. foreign policy should not be directed by the president.

In his written opening remarks to yesterday's confidential hearing, widely spread to the media, he asserts:

In spite of being under assault from Russia for more than five years, Ukraine has taken major steps towards integrating with the West. The U.S. government policy community's view is that the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the promise of reforms to eliminate corruption will lock in Ukraine's Western-leaning trajectory, and allow Ukraine to realize its dream of a vibrant democracy and economic prosperity.

Given this perspective and my commitment to advancing our government's strategic interests, I will now recount several events that occurred.
...
When I joined the NSC in July 2018, I began implementing the administration's policy on Ukraine. In the Spring of 2019, I became aware of outside influencers promoting a false narrative of Ukraine inconsistent with the consensus views of the interagency. This narrative was harmful to U.S. government policy. While my interagency colleagues and I were becoming increasingly optimistic on Ukraine's prospects, this alternative narrative undermined U.S. government efforts to expand cooperation with Ukraine.

Who the f**k does this NSC minion thinks he is? The President of the United States?

The U.S. constitution "empowers the President of the United States to propose and chiefly negotiate agreements between the United States and other countries."

The constitution does not empower the "U.S. government policy community", nor "the administration", nor the "consensus view of the interagency" and certainly not one Lt.Col. Vindman to define the strategic interests of the United States and its foreign policy. It is the duly elected president who does that.

President Trump and many other people believe that it would be better for the United States to ally with Russia against an ever growing China than to push Russia and China into an undefeatable alliance against the United States. Trump often alluded to this during his campaign. The voters seem to have liked that view.

The U.S. coup in the Ukraine made that policy more difficult to achieve. But within the big picture the Ukraine is just a bankrupt and corrupt state that has little strategic value and can be ignored.

One can disagree with that view and with other foreign policy priorities Trump set out and pursues. I certainly disagree with most of them. But for those who work "at the pleasure of the President" his views are the guidelines that set the direction of their duties.

The anti-Russian/pro-Ukrainian fanatics in the Borg, to which Lt.Col. Vindman belongs, are trying to prevent Trump from achieving his large picture vision of U.S. strategic interest and from defining U.S. foreign policy goals. They want to implement their own polices independent of what the president thinks or believes.

We have warned that such interference by the Borg, the 'deep state' or 'swamp', is a danger to democracy:

If the deep state is allowed to make its own policies against the will of the elected officials why should we bother with holding elections?

The Democrats are stupid to applaud this and to even further these schemes. They are likely to regain the presidency in 2024. What will they do when all the Civil Service functionaries Trump will have installed by then organize to ruin their policies?

It is unfortunate that the above points have to be repeated again and again. But when powerful media try to sell the lies about the Ukrainian interferences by repeating the same falsehoods over and over again the truth only has a chance to win when it is likewise spread repeatedly.

Posted by b on October 30, 2019 at 18:46 UTC | Permalink | Comments (138)

October 29, 2019

Why Lebanon And Iraq Are At The Brink Of Further Strife

Today the Prime Minister of Lebanon Saad Hariri resigned after -at times- violent protests. In Iraq the gadfly cleric Moqtada Sadr joined protesters after previous protests in Iraq also led to violence. In both countries at least some protesters demand the resignation of their governments. While the demonstrations in both countries are about local economic and political issues there are foreign actors involved who want to use them to achieve their own goals.

Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai - 12:37 UTC · Oct 29, 2019

#Lebanon and #Iraq protestors hitting the "Axis of the Resistance" stability in these two countries and pushing Prime Ministers in both countries to resign and lead the country towards instability.

#US and #SaudiArabia has lost #Syria but are still fighting in other theatres.

On October 6 we warned of these 'regime change' attempts : The U.S. Led Coup Attempt In Iraq May Further Weaken That Country

During the last five days there have been protest all over the south of Iraq where the majority of the people are Shia. The protest escalated within a few days into shootings with over a hundred killed. In several cities party and government offices were burned and various groups hustle to take a position in the "leaderless" movement.

There are legitimate reasons for protests. The majority of the people in Iraq are younger than 20. The people have little chance of finding a job. The state is weak and many of its actors are corrupt. Services the state is supposed to provide don't get delivered. Electricity and water supply is often sparse.

But those are not the reasons why the protests immediately escalated into violence.
...
The protests are part of the conflict between the U.S., its Saudi proxies, and Iran.

The immediate aim is to bring down the government under Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi who strove to stay neutral in the conflict between the U.S./Israel/Saudi Arabia and Iran.
...
New U.S. sanctions against Lebanese banks who allegedly support Hizbullah are likewise part of U.S./Israeli/Saudi effort to squeeze Iran and its proxies ...

An imminent breakdown of the very weak economy of Lebanon, partially caused by U.S. sanctions against Lebanese banks and the end of traditional Saudi subsidies to Lebanon, also led to protests and today to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. He will now lead a caretaker government which will have too little power to change anything.

Both, Iraq and Lebanon, have ethnic-sectarian systems that are finely balanced. The warlords or clan leaders of the various groups use the state for their own enrichment. Providing services for the whole country mean nothing to them. All they want is more money that allows them to run a system of patronage and clientilism for their immediate followers which keep them in their positions.

In Iraq and Lebanon the positions in the parliament and government are decided (more or less) by group quotas that are difficult to change. Both countries would be better off under universal constitutions that would do away with any quotas and specific positions for special groups.

But the Christian groups in Lebanon would lose out as the Christian share of the population has decreased over time. In Iraq the currently strong Kurdish and Sunni positions would lose power to the Shia majority. These groups would rather fight than give up on their privileges.

The current political systems make any change extremely difficult. The demonstrators are asking for the corrupt politicians to leave. But even if the governments resign and call for new elections an adherence to the election laws and constitutions would only recreate a similar situation.

To call for resignations is thereby not the way to achieve change.

The best strategy for the legitimate protesters is to press the current governments for reform. The governments in Iraq and in Lebanon have both already agreed to make certain changes. The protesters should accept those and pull back. If the politicians do not stick to those commitments the protesters can always go back into the streets and demand more.

Unfortunately there are external actors with lots of money who want to prevent that. They want to throw both countries into utter chaos or even civil wars because they hope that it will weaken those factions that have good relations with Iran.

In Lebanon there was some violence by followers of the Shia Amal movement against a protesters tent camp. 'Western' media falsely attributed the violence to Hizbullah. In Iraq the guards of a government building in Karbala shot at protesters who tried to breach its gate. Some 'western' media falsely alleged that those shooters were Iranians.

But external actors have made such bids before only to fail to achieve the wanted results. The outcome of any violent strife now will - in the end - likely be a different one than they dream of. In both countries it is likely that, after a bloody and chaotic period, the groups that will come out on the top will be the very once that the Saudis, the U.S., and Israel want to push down.

There would also be a lot of collateral damage and both countries would be further weakened. That is why the Iran aligned groups are currently trying to avoid to react to the obvious provocations against them. But with blood flowing in the streets it will be difficult to adhere to that position for much longer.

Posted by b on October 29, 2019 at 17:59 UTC | Permalink | Comments (58)

October 28, 2019

Endorsing The Deep State Endangers Democracy

Since Donald Trump was elected president the New York Times' understanding of the 'Deep State' evolved from a total denial of its existence towards a full endorsement of its anti-democratic operations.

February 16, 2017 - As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America

A wave of leaks from government officials has hobbled the Trump administration, leading some to draw comparisons to countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where shadowy networks within government bureaucracies, often referred to as “deep states,” undermine and coerce elected governments.

So is the United States seeing the rise of its own deep state?

Not quite, experts say, but the echoes are real — and disturbing.

March 6, 2017 - Rumblings of a ‘Deep State’ Undermining Trump? It Was Once a Foreign Concept

The concept of a “deep state” — a shadowy network of agency or military officials who secretly conspire to influence government policy — is more often used to describe countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where authoritarian elements band together to undercut democratically elected leaders. But inside the West Wing, Mr. Trump and his inner circle, particularly his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, see the influence of such forces at work within the United States, essentially arguing that their own government is being undermined from within.

It is an extraordinary contention for a sitting president to make.

March 10, 2017 - What Happens When You Fight a ‘Deep State’ That Doesn’t Exist

American institutions do not resemble the powerful deep states of countries like Egypt or Pakistan, experts say. Nor do individual leaks, a number of which have come from President Trump’s own team, amount to a conspiracy.

The diagnosis of a “deep state,” those experts say, has the problem backward.
...
Though Mr. Trump has not publicly used the phrase, allies and sympathetic news media outlets have repurposed “deep state” from its formal meaning — a network of civilian and military officials who control or undermine democratically elected governments — to a pejorative meant to accuse civil servants of illegitimacy and political animus.

September 5, 2018 - I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration

On Russia, for instance, the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior. But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.

This isn’t the work of the so-called deep state. It’s the work of the steady state.

December 18, 2018 - Blaming the Deep State: Officials Accused of Wrongdoing Adopt Trump’s Response

President Trump has long tried to explain away his legal troubles as the work of a “deep state” of Obama supporters entrenched in the law-enforcement and national-security bureaucracies who are just out to get him. Now junior officials and others accused of wrongdoing are making the case that the same purported forces are illegitimately targeting them, too.

October 6, 2019 - Italy’s Connection to the Russia Investigation, Explained

President Trump and some of his allies have asserted without evidence that a cabal of American officials — the so-called deep state — embarked on a broad operation to thwart Mr. Trump’s campaign. The conspiracy theory remains unsubstantiated, ...

October 20, 2019 - They Are Not the Resistance. They Are Not a Cabal. They Are Public Servants.

President Trump is right: The deep state is alive and well. But it is not the sinister, antidemocratic cabal of his fever dreams. It is, rather, a collection of patriotic public servants — career diplomats, scientists, intelligence officers and others — who, from within the bowels of this corrupt and corrupting administration, have somehow remembered that their duty is to protect the interests, not of a particular leader, but of the American people.

October 23, 2019 - Trump’s War on the ‘Deep State’ Turns Against Him

[O]ver the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present, who have defied a White House attempt to block cooperation with House impeachment investigators and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower.

October 26, 2019 - The ‘Deep State’ Exists to Battle People Like Trump

The president and his allies have responded with fury. Those damning testimonials are part of a political vendetta by “Never Trumper” bureaucrats, members of a “deep state” bent on undermining the will of the people, they assert.

But what is this “deep state”? Far from being a tool of political corruption, the Civil Service was created to be an antidote to the very kind of corruption and self-dealing that seems to plague this administration.

This development is disconcerting. If the deep state is allowed to make its own policies against the will of the elected officials why should we bother with holding elections?

The Democrats are stupid to applaud this and to even further these schemes. They are likely to regain the presidency in 2024. What will they do when all the Civil Service functionaries Trump will have installed by then organize to ruin their policies?

Posted by b on October 28, 2019 at 15:52 UTC | Permalink | Comments (207)

October 27, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - Open Thread 2019-62

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

Related:
Final report on the Lion Air flight JT610 (pdf) - KNKT
Boeing Shaped a Law to Its Liking. Weeks Later, a 737 Max Crashed. - NY Times

Related:
The PKK Kurds have finally agreed to adhere to the Russian/Turkish agreement.
The U.S. says it killed Kenny - again. Kenny was hiding or traveling in Idleb near the Turkish border. Iraq, the PKK Kurds and Turkey all claim to have been involved. Some say the helicopters came from Erbil, Iraq, but SOHR says they came from Turkey which is way more likely. Trump thanks Russia, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and the Syrian Kurds for their cooperation. As Kenny al-Baghdadi is now dead is there still a need to 'protect the Syrian oil-fields from ISIS'?

The Russian Defense Ministry says it knows nothing of a strike, doubts that it happened.

EHSANI2 @EHSANI22 - 5:33 UTC · Oct 27, 2019
That #Baghdadi was killed in #Idlib will come as no surprise to Damascus who were long aware of much more extensive relations between #AlQaeda #Nusra and #ISIS. The reconciliation between the two groups started after ISIS suffered significant losses in Mosul.
Thread —>

Related:
Larry Johnson says that James Clapper and John Brennan set up a CIA task force to prevent Trump from winning the 2016 election. That is quite possible or even likely. There will be bureaucratic traces of it and some people will sing. Barr and Durham will find them. Where will it end? Well ...

Matt Taibbi @mtaibbi - 23:26 UTC · Oct 25, 2019
LOL. Barack Obama is going to love this interview his former DIA James Clapper just gave to CNN about the Durham probe: “It’s frankly disconcerting to be investigated for having done... what we were told to do by the president of the United States.”
Clapper: Trump administration is sending us this message

Other issues:

Entertaining writings:
Hillary Clinton Spoils the Party - Jacob Bacharach, Truthdig
$500,000 of Russian Cheese, Wasted? - Matt Bivens
Little Russia-gate: The Tragic Comedy Of Journalism Has a Ukrainian Encore - Matt Bivens

Fake gas attacks:
Expert Panel Finds Gaping Plot Holes In OPCW Report On Alleged Syrian Chemical Attack - Caity Johnstone
Panel Criticizes ‘Unacceptable Practices’ in the OPCW’s investigation of the Alleged Chemical Attack in Douma, Syria on April 7th 2018 - Courage Found
OPCW Whistleblower Panel on the Douma attack of April 2018 - Wikileaks:

One of the Panel members was Dr José Bustani, the first Director-General of the OPCW, who concluded that: “The convincing evidence of irregular behaviour in the OPCW investigation of the alleged Douma chemical attack confirms doubts and suspicions I already had. I could make no sense of what I was reading in the international press. Even official reports of investigations seemed incoherent at best. The picture is certainly clearer now, although very disturbing”

Saving Lebanon:
US sanctions squeezing Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon AP - Oct 4
Syria is lost. Let’s save Lebanon. Ignatius, Washington Post - Oct 16
The Lebanese Fall – Hezbollah’s Latest Challenge - Ghassan Kadi, Saker blog - Oct 22
Lebanon’s shuttered banks bracing for dollar run - Asia Times - Oct 25

Chile:
The Price of Power - Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile - Seymour M. Hersh, Atlantic - Dec 1982

Assange:
Assange in Court - Craig Murray
“I Was Fired for Helping Julian Assange, and I Have No Regrets” - Jacobin Mag
Snowden reconsidered - Gilbert Doctorow

Funny end:
New Robot Makes Soldiers Obsolete (vid) - Bosstown Dynamics

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 27, 2019 at 14:16 UTC | Permalink | Comments (280)

October 26, 2019

Biden's Intervention In Ukraine And Ukraine's 2016 Election Meddling Are Matters of Fact

Several mainstream media have made claims that Joe Biden's intervention in the Ukraine and the Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election are "conspiracy theories" and "debunked". The public record proves them wrong. By ignoring or even contradicting the facts the media create an opening for Trump to rightfully accuse them of providing "fake news".

On October 04 a New Yorker piece, headlined The Invention of the Conspiracy Theory on Biden and Ukraine, asserted:

[In late 2018], Giuliani began speaking to current and former Ukrainian officials about the Biden conspiracy theory, and meeting with them repeatedly in New York and Europe. Among those officials was Viktor Shokin, a former top Ukrainian prosecutor who was sacked in March, 2016, after European and U.S. officials, including Joe Biden, complained that he was lax in curbing corruption. Shokin claimed that he had lost his powerful post not because of his poor performance but rather because Biden wanted to stop his investigation of Burisma, in order to protect his son. The facts didn’t back this up. The Burisma investigation had been dormant under Shokin.

Several other media outlets also made the highlighted claim to debunk the "conspiracy theory". But is it correct?

We have looked into the claim that Shorkin's investigation against Burisma owner Zlochevsky was dormant, as the New Yorker says, and found it to be false:

The above accounts are incorrect. Shokin did go after Zlochevsky. He opened two cases against him in 2015. After he did that Biden and his crew started to lobby for his firing. Shokin was aggressively pursuing the case. He did so just before Biden's campaign against him went into a frenzy.
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On February 2 Shokin confiscated four large houses Zlochevsky owned plus a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a "Knott 924-5014 trainer". (Anyone know what that is?) Ten days later Biden goes into overdrive to get him fired. Within one week he personally calls Poroshenko three times with only one major aim: to get Shokin fired.
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Zlochevsky had hired Joe Biden's son Hunter for at least $50,000 per month. In 2015 Shokin started to investigate him in two cases. During the fall of 2015 Joe Biden's team begins to lobby against him. On February 2 Shokin seizes Zlochevsky's houses. Shortly afterwards the Biden camp goes berserk with Biden himself making nearly daily phonecalls. Shokin goes on vacation while Poroshenko (falsely) claims that he resigned. When Shokin comes back into office Biden again takes to the phone. A week later Shokin is out.

Biden got the new prosecutor general he wanted. The new guy made a bit of show and then closed the case against Zlochevsky.

It is quite astonishing that the false claims, that Shokin did not go after Burisma owner Zlochevsky, is repeated again and again despite the fact that the public record, in form of a report by Interfax-Ukraine, contradicts it.


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On Thursday Buzzfeed News wrote about a different Ukrainian prosecutor who in early 2019 was approached to set up meetings with President Donald Trump's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani:

[Gyunduz] Mamedov’s role was key. He was an intermediary in Giuliani’s efforts to press Ukraine to open investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and the debunked conspiracy theory about the country’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, a collaboration between BuzzFeed News, NBC News, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) can reveal.

The OCCRP is funded by the UK Foreign Office, the US State Dept, USAID, Omidyar Network, Soros' Open Society, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and others. Most of these entities were involved in the 2014 coup against the elected government of the Ukraine.

Is the "conspiracy theory" about Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election really "debunked"?

It is, of course, not. The facts show that the interference happened. It was requested by the Democratic National Committee and was willingly provided by Ukrainian officials. 

As Politico reported shortly after Trump had won the election, it was the Democratic Party organization, the DNC, which had asked the Ukrainians for dirt that could be used against the campaign on Donald Trump:

Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found.

A Ukrainian-American operative who was consulting for the Democratic National Committee met with top officials in the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington in an effort to expose ties between Trump, top campaign aide Paul Manafort and Russia, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The Ukrainian efforts had an impact in the race, helping to force Manafort’s resignation and advancing the narrative that Trump’s campaign was deeply connected to Ukraine’s foe to the east, Russia.

The Ukrainian-American who was the go between the DNC and the government of Ukraine had earlier worked for the Clinton administration:

Manafort’s work for Yanukovych caught the attention of a veteran Democratic operative named Alexandra Chalupa, who had worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison during the Clinton administration. Chalupa went on to work as a staffer, then as a consultant, for Democratic National Committee. The DNC paid her $412,000 from 2004 to June 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records, though she also was paid by other clients during that time, including Democratic campaigns and the DNC’s arm for engaging expatriate Democrats around the world.

In March 2016 Chalupa went to the Ukrainian embassy in Washington DC and requested help from the Ukrainian ambassador to go after Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort. In August 2016 the Ukrainians delivered a secret "black ledger" that allegedly showed that Manafort had illegally received money for his previous work for the campaign of the former Ukrainian president Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.

“Paul Manafort is among those names on the list of so-called ‘black accounts of the Party of Regions,’ which the detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine are investigating,” the statement said. “We emphasize that the presence of P. Manafort’s name in the list does not mean that he actually got the money, because the signatures that appear in the column of recipients could belong to other people.”

The provenance of the ledger is highly dubious. It was allegedly found in a burned out office of Yanukovych's old party:

The papers, known in Ukraine as the “black ledger,” are a chicken-scratch of Cyrillic covering about 400 pages taken from books once kept in a third-floor room in the former Party of Regions headquarters on Lipskaya Street in Kiev.
...
The accounting records surfaced this year, when Serhiy A. Leshchenko, a member of Parliament who said he had received a partial copy from a source he did not identify, published line items covering six months of outlays in 2012 totaling $66 million. In an interview, Mr. Leshchenko said another source had provided the entire multiyear ledger to Viktor M. Trepak, a former deputy director of the domestic intelligence agency of Ukraine, the S.B.U., who passed it to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

Anti-corruption groups in Ukraine said the black ledger detailing payments was probably seized when protesters ransacked the Party of Regions headquarters in February 2014.

The pages from the ledger, which had come from anonymous sources probably supported by John Brennan's CIA, were never proven to be genuine. But the claims were strong enough to get Manafort fired as campaign manager for Donald Trump. He was later sentenced for unrelated cases of tax evasion.

Serhin A. Leshchenko, the member of the Ukrainian parliament who published the dubious ledger, was rabidly anti-Trump. Shortly after providing the "secret ledger" he talked with the Financial Times and promised to continue to meddle in the U.S. election. The FT headline emphasized the fact:

    Ukraine’s leaders campaign against ‘pro-Putin’ Trump (screenshots):

The prospect of Mr Trump, who has praised Ukraine's arch-enemy Vladimir Putin, becoming leader of the country's biggest ally has spurred not just Mr Leshchenko but Kiev's wider political leadership to do something they would never have attempted before: intervene, however indirectly, in a U.S. election.
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Mr. Leshchenko and other political actors in Kiev say they will continue with their efforts to prevent a candidate - who recently suggested Russia might keep Crimea, which it annexed two years ago - from reaching the summit of American political power.

"A Trump presidency would change the pro-Ukrainian agenda in American foreign policy," Mr Leshchenko, an investigative journalist turned MP, told the Financial Times. "For me it was important to show not only the corruption aspect, but that he is [a] pro-Russian candidate who can break the geopolitical balance in the world."
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If the Republican candidate loses in November, some observers suggest Kiev's action may have played at least a small role.

A Democratic Party operative asked the Ukrainian ambassador to find dirt on Trump's campaign manger Paul Manafort. A few month later a secret "black ledger" emerges from nowhere into the hands of dubious Ukrainian actors including a 'former' domestic intelligence director.

The ledger may or may not show that Manafort received money from Yanukovych's party. It was never verified. But it left Trump no choice but to fire Manafort. Ukrainian figures who were involved in the stunt openly admitted that they had meddled in the U.S. election, promised to do more of it and probably did.

The Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election is well documented. How the Buzzfeed News author can claim that it is a "debunked conspiracy theory" is beyond me.

In 1998 the U.S. and the Ukraine signed a Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters (pdf). It came into force in February 2001. Article I defines the wide scope of assistance:

1. The Contracting States shall provide mutual assistance, in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty, in connection with the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of offenses, and in proceedings related to criminal matters.

2. Assistance shall include: (a) taking the testimony or statements of persons; (b) providing documents, records, and other items; (c) locating or identifying persons or items; (d) serving documents; (e) transferring persons in custody for testimony or other purposes; (f) executing searches and seizures; (g) assisting in proceedings related to immobilization and forfeiture of assets, restitution, and collection of fines; and (h) any other form of assistance not prohibited by the laws of the Requested State.

3. Assistance shall be provided without regard to whether the conduct that is the subject of the investigation, prosecution, or proceeding in the Requesting State would constitute an offense under the laws of the Requested State.

When Trump asked the current Ukrainian President Zelensky to help with an investigation into the above matters he acted well within the law and within the framework of the treaty. It was certainly not illegitimate to do that.

But when mainstream media deny that Biden's interference in Ukraine's prosecutor office is suspect, or claim that the Ukraine did not interfere in the U.S. elections, they make it look as if Trump did something crazy or illegal. He does plenty of that but not in this case. To use it a basis of an 'impeachment inquiry' is political bullshit.

Making these false claims will come back to haunt those media outlets. Sooner or later the public will recognize that those claims are false. It will lessen the already low trust in the media even more.

 

Posted by b on October 26, 2019 at 17:51 UTC | Permalink | Comments (101)

October 25, 2019

Russiagate Probe Has Some Ambiguous News

Here is a news wording that I, as a non-native English speaker, can easily understand.

Justice Dept. Is Said to Open Criminal Inquiry Into Its Own Russia Investigation

Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

In contrast these formulations in Bezos' blog on the very same issue are confusing me.

Justice Dept. investigation of Russia probe is criminal in nature, person familiar with case says

The federal prosecutor tapped by Attorney General William P. Barr to examine the origins of the FBI’s probe of President Trump’s 2016 campaign is conducting an investigation officials consider criminal in nature, according to a person familiar with the matter.
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The significance of officials deeming Durham’s probe “criminal” is difficult to determine by itself.
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It was not immediately clear whether officials’ consideration of his work as criminal represented a shift in the seriousness of his investigation or whether a grand jury had been convened.

Durham's work is considered as criminal? The investigation itself has committed a crime? The attorney is a criminal?

One wonders if this choice of phrasing was intended to be ambiguous.

Anyway.

I for one will cheer when Durham puts handcuffs on John Brennan.

Posted by b on October 25, 2019 at 12:09 UTC | Permalink | Comments (115)

October 24, 2019

Syria - The Kurds Want To Play On Both Sides

When President Trump ignored bad advice he enabled progress in Syria. Unfortunately Trump is back at listening to the bad advice some State Department people are giving him:

President Donald Trump says he wants to “end endless wars.” But the counter-Iran, counter-Russia hawks on his national security team are planning to sneak in a long-term U.S. military presence in southeast Syria. And their plans may have been in the works for a while.

With U.S. forces opening the gates for Turkey to take over northeast Syria, Trump administration officials are now drawing up plans to keep several hundred U.S. troops alongside Arab rebel groups in the country’s oil-rich southeast. Trump has said, “we have secured the oil.” And Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) diplomats have said they’re willing to work with such a plan.

The National Interest has learned that the Trump administration’s anti-ISIS team, led by Ambassador James Jeffrey, has floated the idea of a counter-Iran presence in Deir ez-Zor for some time now.

“Every day, the [U.S.-led] coalition has been very strong against [Syrian ruler] Assad,” said Omar Abu Layla, CEO of Deirezzor24, who said that he has seen U.S. helicopters and F-35 fighter jets increase their presence against Iranian-backed forces in the region.

Abu Layla told the National Interest that he spoke to Jeffrey’s team three or four months ago. “They promised, ‘we will not leave Syria before we kick Iran out of Syria,’” he claimed. “They will not leave our province easily.”

While James Jeffrey pushes the anti-Iran nonsense Trump dreams of winning a Nobel Peace Prize by facilitating a deal between Turkey and the Kurds:

In the infamous “undiplomatic” letter to Erdogan a few days ago, Trump had voiced an audacious idea that Gen. Mazloum could be a potential negotiator with Erdogan. To quote Trump, “General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you (Erdogan), and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.”

Yet, General Mazloum is Turkey’s most wanted terrorist who worked in the ranks of the separatist PKK for nearly 3 decades and it is necessary to connect some dots at this point.
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Gen. Mazloum is likely to visit Washington in a near future; so is Erdogan. Trump is promoting Kurdish reconciliation with Turkey. The last fortnight’s developments on the diplomatic front have removed the single biggest source of tension in the US-Turkey relations — US’ alliance with YPG and the presence of Kurdish fighters along Syria’s border with Turkey.

When one combines the two items one can understand the thinking behind this otherwise idiotic tweet:

Donald J. Trump - @realDonaldTrump - 17:48 UTC · Oct 24, 2019

I really enjoyed my conversation with General @MazloumAbdi. He appreciates what we have done, and I appreciate what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the Oil Region!

The Kurds live in the northern part of east Syria. The oilfields are in the eastern part of Deir Ezzor governorate, 300 kilometers south of the Kurdish areas. The oil fields lie in an area that has a 100% Arabic population and Kurds are generally not welcome there. But the U.S. does not want to send enough troops to occupy the oil fields. It needs a proxy force it can trust.


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Should the U.S. try occupy the oil fields area with the help of a Kurdish militia the local Arabs will immediately (re-)convert to ISIS and fight the occupiers of their land.

Joshua Landis @joshua_landis - 18:20 UTC · Oct 24, 2019

9. Iran and Russia are rivals of the US, but any effort by Washington to undermine their efforts to bring stability to NE Syria will only help ISIS & extremist groups. If the US keeps troops in the area, takes oil wells, or resists the transition of authority, it will serve ISIS.

I had some hope that Trump had recognized that James Jeffrey was working against his effort the pull U.S. troops out of Syria. Jeffrey should have been fired long ago. Instead it seems that Trump is still listening to him.

Meanwhile the Kurds again prove their utter lack of political sensibility. The State Department insulted them:

A State Department official broke a pencil and screamed at the Syrian Kurdish delegation during a dramatic breakdown of relations between the United States and the Syrian Kurds. The high-tension moment in September highlights the diplomatic problems plaguing the Trump administration ..

The U.S. envoys lied to them and Trump betrayed them. But they still believe that they can make deals on both sides of the Syria conflict.

Ali @CoolHuh_ - 19:39 UTC · Oct 24, 2019

SDF in last 24 hour:
Want SAA to defend border
No withdrawing of their mercenaries
Refuse Russian offer
Ask Russia to pressure Syrian gov
Want "special section" in SAA
Want US illegal presence in Syria
Want international forces

SDF, Are you high?

The Syrian government and the Russian military must tell the PKK-Kurds that they can not play on both sides of the game. No Syrian or Russian soldier shall risk their life to secure and defend the Kurdish majority areas against a Turkish invasion while the Kurds help the U.S. to occupy and steal Syrian oil fields. Either they submit to the Syrian government and end their relations with the U.S. or they shall have to confront a Turkish invasion of their northern areas.

"General" Mazloum Abdi must be told in very clear words that there is no other chance for the Kurds and for himself to survive.

Posted by b on October 24, 2019 at 18:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (274)

October 23, 2019

Open Thread 2019-61

For all the stuff your host doesn't manage to blog about ...

Posted by b on October 23, 2019 at 19:18 UTC | Permalink | Comments (137)

When Trump Ignored Bad Advice He Enabled Progress In Syria

When bureaucrats and officials, also known as the Borg, contradict the foreign policy of the president they inevitably create chaos. We yesterday explained how that happens:

Since Donald Trump became president many of his subordinates have tried to subvert his policies. Instead of implementing Trump's idea and preferences they have tried to implement their own. Some have done so because they believed that it is the "right thing to do" while others have ignored Trump's wishes to play their own game.

Trump was smart enough to circumvent the Borg with regards to northeast Syria. This led to the removal of U.S. troops and the Turkish-Russian agreement which is an excellent outcome for all sides.


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Commentator ben and others critizised yesterday's post:

b, I've been a participant at this site for 14yrs, and I don't believe I've ever seen your take on any subject more "off base", than your take on DJT.

This "man" has never been anything else but a grifter and giant con. Virtually everything he has done, he's done to enrich himself and his family. That is, besides deconstruct the U$ govt. to enrich his class of people, (the malignantly rich) by dialing back regulations that protect everyday Americans from the greed of the mega-corporations.

He's a sycophant for the corporate monsters who now own the U$A. Anything and everything he's done, isn't because he is such an egalitarian, it's for his personal enrichment, and the monsters he works for.

When they're done with him, they'll throw him under the bus, just like all the rest of us...

I agree with ben's characterization of Trump. I dislike most of his policies. But that does not change the fact that Donald Trump is the elected president of the United States and that he is thereby entitled to direct its foreign policies as he sees fit.

Ben's and my opinion about Trump do not invalidate the point I made. Trump policies, especially in international relations, are getting sabotaged or co-opted by the Borg, the unelected establishment in the various departments and think tanks. This is a dangerous phenomenon that, more or less, hinders every elected president, especially those who want to make peace. It should be resisted.

The people in leading positions of the executive work "at the pleasure of the president". Their task is to execute his policies. When they refrain from doing so or implement their own preferences they create a mess.

Consider two additional examples, both published yesterday, which describe how James Jeffrey, the Special Representative for Syria Engagement, tried to sabotage Trump's decision to leave Syria and, while doing that, misled the Kurds:

A State Department official told a senior Syrian Kurdish leader during a meeting in Washington that the United States would not fully withdraw its forces from northeast Syria and advised her administration not to engage with Bashar al-Assad’s government or with Russia.

According to two sources familiar with the Monday, October 22 meeting, a senior member of Washington’s diplomatic team is said to have become angry and told Ilham Ahmed, President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, that the U.S. will not allow the SDC to arrange a deal with the Assad regime or Russia for protection against the Turkey-led attack.
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SDC officials told The Defense Post that American officials in the past have promised they would not withdraw U.S. forces until a political settlement was in place to secure their future in the Syrian political system.

Trump had long announced that the U.S. military will leave Syria. He had made no promises to the Kurds. The State Department official did not do his job but contradicted Trump's policies.

Another report on an earlier State Department meeting with the Kurds paints a similar picture:

The National Interest has learned from multiple sources about tense meetings between SDC diplomats and State Department officials who oversee the Trump administration’s policy on Syria. The State Department repeatedly pushed for the SDC to work with Turkish-backed Islamist rebels while berating Syrian Kurdish officials and refusing to listen to their concerns, according to multiple sources.

One source with firsthand knowledge of the screaming session told the National Interest that Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Joel Rayburn, who is a special envoy for Syria, yelled at SDC officials and broke a pencil in a translator’s face. Two sources with secondhand knowledge confirmed this version of events.

“[Rayburn] loves the Syrian Islamist groups,” one of the three sources said. “He thinks they can counter Iran. He is dreaming.”

“He is pushing [the SDC] to meet with jihadists,” the source added.

To tell the anarcho-marxist YPG/PKK Kurds to unite with Erdogan's Jihadis is an absolutely crazy idea. Neither the Kurds nor Erdogan would ever agree to a partnership. These were impossible policies. They made no sense at all.

Jeffrey and his shop clearly worked against Trump's orders and against U.S. interests. Jeffrey clearly favors Turkey where he once worked as U.S. ambassador and, above all, Israel:

In addition to the uptick in tense verbal exchanges, the three different sources described to the National Interest how State Department officials attempted to condemn the brutal murder of Kurdish-Syrian politician Hevrin Khalaf only to have their efforts waylayed by Ambassador James Jeffrey, who oversees anti-ISIS efforts. Jeffrey blocked the statement, they said.
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Now, even as U.S. troops are stepping aside to allow Turkey to attack U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, Jeffrey’s team is floating plans to peel off Arab components of the Syrian Democratic Forces to build a counter-Iran force far from the Turkish border.

It is Jeffrey who is pressing for a continued U.S. occupation of Syria's oilfields. These are not Trump's policies, but contradictions to them.

Aymenn Al-Tamimi makes a similar point:

When [Trump in December 2018] told his advisers that he wanted to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, he meant it. The message should have been clear: devise an orderly withdrawal plan.

But that is not what happened. Instead, efforts and attention were geared towards U.S. forces remaining indefinitely in Syria.

One can criticize Trump for not selecting advisors and envoys who follow his directions. But Trump is a New Yorker businessman and not a politician with decades of experience in Washington. He does not know who he can trust. He has to proceed by trial and error until he finds people who are willing to go work with him against those permanent powers that usually drive U.S. foreign policy.

In a congress hearing yesterday James Jeffrey admitted (vid) that Trump did not consult him before his phone call with Erdogan.

By going off-script in that phone call and by greenlighting the Turkish invasion Trump achieved - despite the resistance within his own administration - a win-win-win-win situation in Syria:

Erdogan could show that he was fighting against the PKK terrorists and prevented their attempts to become a proto-state. Trump could hold his campaign promise of removing U.S. troops from useless foreign interventions. Syria regained its northeast and the important economic resources of that area. Russia gained global prestige and additional influence in the Middle East.

We will have to wait for Trump's (and Putin's) memoir to learn how much of this has been coordinated behind the scenes.

I for one count this as a major foreign policy achievement for Trump and I am happy with this outcome.


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Posted by b on October 23, 2019 at 15:23 UTC | Permalink | Comments (207)

October 22, 2019

When U.S. Officials Ignore The President The Outcome Is Chaos

Since Donald Trump became president many of his subordinates have tried to subvert his policies. Instead of implementing Trump's idea and preferences they have tried to implement their own. Some have done so because they believed that it is the "right thing to do" while others have ignored Trump's wishes to play their own game.

A recent example can be found in a Washington Post Ukrainegate story:

Trump’s conversations with Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and others reinforced his perception of Ukraine as a hopelessly corrupt country — one that Trump now also appears to believe sought to undermine him in the 2016 U.S. election, the officials said.
...
The efforts to poison Trump’s views toward Zelensky were anticipated by national security officials at the White House, officials said. But the voices of Putin and Orban took on added significance this year because of the departure or declining influence of those who had sought to blunt the influence of Putin and other authoritarian leaders over Trump.
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American policy has for years been “built around containing malign Russian influence” in Eastern Europe, a U.S. official said. Trump’s apparent susceptibility to the arguments he hears from Putin and Orban is “an example of the president himself under malign influence — being steered by it.”

The president does not like how the 'American policy' on Russia was built. He rightly believes that he was elected to change it. He had stated his opinion on Russia during his campaign and won the election. It is not 'malign influence' that makes him try to have good relations with Russia. It is his own conviction and legitimized by the voters.

Trump's policies look chaotic. But one big reason for that is that some of his staff, like the 'U.S. official' above, are trying to subvert them. They have tried and still try to cage him in on nearly every issue. When Trump then wields his Twitter sword and cuts through the subversion by publicly restating his original policies the look from the outside is indeed chaotic. But it is the president who sets the policies. The drones around him who serve "at his pleasure" are there to implement them.

Instead they have tried (and try) to make their own ones:

White House and State Department officials had sought to block an Orban visit since the start of Trump’s presidency, concerned that it would legitimize a leader often ostracized in Europe. They also worried about Orban’s influence on the U.S. president.

“Basically, everyone agreed — no Orban meeting,” said a former White House official involved in internal discussions. “We were against it because [we] knew there was a good chance that Trump and Orban would bond and get along.”

The effort to keep distance between Trump and Orban began to fray earlier this year with the departures of senior officials and the emergence of new voices around the president. Among the most important was Mulvaney, who became acting chief of staff in January and was seen as sympathetic to Orban’s hard-right views and skepticism of European institutions.

One "senior official" who tried to sabotage the Orban visit was Fiona Hill who until recently served as the Russia analyst at the National Security Council.

One wonders if Ms. Hill ever read her job description. The people in the NSC do not get hired to implement their own policy preferences. The task of the National Security Council is to "advise and assist" the president and to "coordinate" his policies within the administration. That's it.

The same rules apply to the Pentagon and other agencies.

Aaron Stein points out that those aides who disregarding the declared policy of the president are responsible for the current chaotic retreat from Syria:

Trump has been clear about his intentions in Syria. As he told the world in April 2018, after years of fighting foreign wars, in his view it was time for the United States to withdraw from Syria, passing responsibility for the mission to hold territory taken from the Islamic State to regional states. I was listening, and wrote in War on the Rocks that the longer the president’s own staff continued to treat the world’s most powerful man like an infant, the more likely it became that he would simply order a hasty withdrawal. This chaotic U.S. exit from Syria was obviously coming, for anyone paying attention to the opinion of the man who matters most in the United States: the president.
...
For over a year, it was obvious Trump wanted to leave Syria and, as I wrote in April 2018, Trump “has made his preferences for U.S. policy in the Middle East clear” and it was time “for his national security staff to listen to him and to devise a sequential drawdown policy that fits with the spirit of the president’s demands, but takes deliberate and uncomfortable steps to protect U.S. interests.” This did not happen.

Rather than plan and begin to implement a coordinated withdrawal, the president’s appointed envoy for Syria and the Department of Defense worked to ensure Washington could stay, and ignored the reality that Trump would eventually order an American withdrawal. Such delusions have not served the United States and its friends well.

The lack of planning for the option the commander in chief had already decided on led to the current mess. The Pentagon practically sabotaged trump's announced policies by continuing to build up bases in Syria and by falsely telling the Kurds that the U.S. would stay. It should instead have planned and prepared for the announced retreat from the country.

One can clearly see that this current withdrawal was not prepared for, neither politically nor militarily, in any orderly way. Yesterday the Pentagon said it would pull the troops out of Syria but station them nearby in west Iraq. But no one had asked the Iraqi government what it though of that idea. The inevitable outcome is that Iraq now rejects it:

U.S. forces that crossed into Iraq as part of a pull-out from Syria do not have permission to stay and can only be there in transit, the Iraqi military said on Tuesday.
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The Iraqi military statement contradicted the Pentagon’s announcement that all of the nearly 1,000 troops withdrawing from northern Syria are expected to move to western Iraq to continue the campaign against Islamic State militants and “to help defend Iraq”.

“All U.S. forces that withdrew from Syria received approval to enter the Kurdistan Region so that they may be transported outside Iraq. There is no permission granted for these forces to stay inside Iraq,” the Iraqi military said.

There was also the idea that some 200 soldiers would be left behind in Syria to deny the Syrian government access to its own oil fields in east Syria. Not only would this be obviously illegal but nobody seems to have given a thought on how the logistics for such remote unit could be sustained. The oil fields are geographically large and the 200 strong unit would have to be dispersed into tiny outposts within a hostile country and resupplied over unsecured roads. To defend them from surprise attacks the U.S. would need to put combat air patrols above them for every hour of each day.

One hopes that the Pentagon and State Department recognize that the high political and financial costs of such a deployment are not justified for making a minor political point that will not change the inevitable outcome of the war.

Trump ordered that all U.S. troops leave Syria. An illegal occupation of Syria's oil fields would keep the U.S. in Syria but in an clearly indefensible position. Whoever came up with or supported that idea needs to be fired.

Here is a sign that the Pentagon has finally recognized that its utter lack of planning for the implementation of Trump's decision to leave Syria resulted in a bad outcome. It is now trying to avoid being (again) be caught with its pants down with regards to Afghanistan:

The Pentagon recently began drawing up plans for an abrupt withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in case President Donald Trump surprises military leaders by ordering an immediate drawdown as he did in Syria, three current and former defense officials said.
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Ending wars like the one in Afghanistan was one of Trump's chief campaign promises in 2016, and administration officials have privately expressed concern that as the 2020 election approaches, he'll be more likely to follow through with threats of troop withdrawal, as he did last week in Syria.

Trump has made clear to his advisers that he wants to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the 2020 election, NBC News reported in August.

Trump made his decision in August but the Pentagon is only now reacting to it. That is too slow.

Trump should have been and should be more rigorous with his staff. Those who sabotage his policies need to be fired early and often. It would make his polices look much less chaotic than they currently seem to be.

Posted by b on October 22, 2019 at 17:24 UTC | Permalink | Comments (120)

October 21, 2019

737 MAX Produces More Bad News For Boeing

The financial markets have finally woken up to Boeing's criminal behavior around the certification of the 737 MAX:

Boeing shares were falling in premarket trading Monday after analysts from at least two firms cut their ratings and price targets in light of recent revelations about the Chicago aerospace giant's grounded 737 MAX jetliner. Credit Suisse analyst Robert Spingarn cut Boeing to neutral from outperform and pared his price target to $323 from $416 after publication of instant messages by an ex-senior test pilot at the company that he "unknowingly" misled safety regulators about a 737 MAX control system.

"We can no longer defend the shares in light of the latest discoveries, [which] significantly increase the risk profile for investors," Spingarn said in a note to investors.
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Boeing was the Dow's biggest loser on Friday, closing down 6.8% to $344.

At 1:00PM EDT Boeing was down to $330. Since the second deadly MAX crash Boeing's share price has decreased by more than 18%. On Wednesday Boeing will reveal its quarterly results and may well announce billions more of losses.

The bad news for Boeing continues to come in.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader, whose grandniece died in a 737 Max crash, says that Boeing CEO Muilenburg and the entire board need to go. Nader says that the plane should never fly again.

There are signs that Boeing will reduce or even completely stop the production of new 737 MAX at least until its re-certification is assured. Currently Boeing still produces 42 MAX per month without delivering any to its customers.

The downgrading of Boeing comes after a three years old exchange between two MAX project pilots came to light:

The exchange of messages in 2016 between the two lead technical pilots on the Boeing 737 MAX program was released Friday after regulators blew up at the company for belatedly disclosing the matter. The messages reveal that the flight-control system, which two years later went haywire on the crashed flights, was behaving aggressively and strangely in the pilots’ simulator sessions.
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“It’s running rampant in the sim on me,” 737 Chief Technical Pilot Mark Forkner wrote to Patrik Gustavsson, who would succeed him as chief technical pilot. “I’m levelling off at like 4000 ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy. I’m like, WHAT?” (Spelling errors in the original.)

“Granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious,” Forkner added.

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In the Nov. 15, 2o16, message exchange, Forkner tells Gustavsson that MCAS is now active down to Mach 0.2 — meaning at low speed, not just in the high-speed maneuver for which it was originally designed. He adds that it will now be necessary to update the description of the system, presumably referring to material Boeing provides the FAA.

“So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” he texted.

Another document released by DeFazio’s committee Friday is an email Forkner sent to an FAA official just over seven months earlier, on March 30, 2016, asking that MCAS be omitted from the pilot manuals and not mentioned in pilot training.

Forkner, who is now with Southwest Airlines, is using his 5th amendment right on the issue. He does not do so because of the above exchange. Until that point he indeed lied unknowingly. But even after he had experienced the brutal power of MCAS he worked to keep it out of the pilot manuals:

In a separate email to an FAA official in mid-January 2017 — two months after the text exchange when he had noted the “egregious” behavior of MCAS — Forkner suggests two changes to the “differences training” that pilots were to undergo in order to move from flying the prior 737 model to the MAX.

The first change was to delete a reference to MCAS.

“We decided we weren’t going to cover it” in the flight manual and training course, he reminded the FAA official.

The Seattle Times reported in March that the FAA was not fully informed of a major design change to the MCAS system when Boeing expanded it to cover certain low-speed flight situations. It further reported that this change was not updated in the System Safety Assessment that Boeing submitted to the FAA during certification of the MAX.

MCAS was completely left out of the pilots flight manuals and training materials. The maintenance manual described MCAS with four short sentences but falsely says that it only acts at higher speeds.

Boeing now claims that the 'egregious' behavior was just a simulator issue and that the FAA was fully informed of all MCAS issues. But the Seattle Times finds that the claim does not hold up as the two pilots also talk about the need to change the flight manual with a description of the issue:

This interpretation that it was the simulator program that was at fault is certainly not “obvious” from the full transcript of the messages.
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Boeing’s assertion that the FAA was fully informed of this crucial design change directly contradicts the findings of an international panel of regulators — the Joint Authorities Technical Review (JATR) — released earlier this month.

That panel of experts found that as MCAS evolved starting in March 2016 “from a relatively benign system to a much more aggressive system,” it was not properly evaluated in the certification documents that Boeing submitted to the FAA.

The technical pilots Mark Forkner and Patrik Gustavsson are not test pilots. Specially trained test pilots fly the real plane beyond the limits of its flight envelope. They acquire the data used in the simulators. The technical pilots fly the plane in the e-cab engineering simulator within its flight envelope to evaluate subsystems and to collect data needed for the flight manuals and certifications.

In the case of the MAX the test pilots did not communicate well with the technical pilots:

“Why are we just now hearing about this?” Forkner asks.

Gustavsson responds: “The test pilots have kept us out of the loop.” He then adds that “It’s really only christine that is trying to work with us, but she has been too busy.” This appears to be a reference to Christine Walsh, who was engineering test pilot on the MAX program.

Forkner concurs about the test pilots: “They’re all so damn busy, and getting pressure from the program.”

More of Boeing's internal messages will certainly be revealed in the myriad of law suits the company is now facing. Boeing has so far played tough and admitted no guilt. The financial analysts finally recognized that this makes Boeing's position only more difficult.

After the two deadly accidents Boeing behaved arrogantly towards the regulators, pilots and the public. This arrogance is just as apparent in the compensation offers to its customers:

Boeing’s opening compensation offers to airlines and lessors affected by MAX pretty much sucks.

To airlines, Boeing’s opening position is to offer credits for work by Boeing Global Services and discounts (described as steep) on 787 orders. (The 787 skyline falls off a cliff in 2022.) But no discounts on 737 or 777 orders.

Airlines are not, to put it mildly, very receptive.

Boeing’s initial offer to lessors is to reschedule MAX deliveries to 2023/24 (lessors were finding a supply-demand imbalance even before the grounding)—but pre-delivery payments and price escalations still have to be paid.

The lessors are less receptive than the airlines.

Finally, as LNA reported months ago, Boeing is also taking the position that the grounding is an “excusable delay” that protects Boeing against compensation claims. Go ahead and sue if you disagree.

Boeing also takes the position that once the FAA recertifies the MAX, this stops the clock on any claims because the FAA, not EASA, CAAC or any other agency, is the governing agency.

The airlines have real losses caused by the criminal decisions Boeing made during the development of the 737 MAX. To get offered compensation in form of rebates for a jet type one does not want to buy is cringeworthy. This will have long time consequences for Boeing. Airbus should seriously think about opening another A-320 series production line. A lot of Boeing's customers would surely like an opportunity to buy elsewhere.


In our last piece about Boeing issues we also discussed an unexpected fatigue issue found in the 737 MAX predecessor, the 737 NG:

During the conversion of a 737 NG passenger jet into a freighter plane Boeing found serious defects on a structural component that was supposed to have a longer lifetime than the plane.

The cracks in the so called 'pickle fork' occurred in some 5% of the older planes:

Each plane will take three weeks to repair. But the supply of replacement parts for the cracked component is limited and it may take longer to produce new ones.

A knowledgeable source says that the cause of the cracks has been found:

The actual cause of the pickle fork cracks is because of the the holes being over drilled by around 6 thousands. The holes are grossly oversize and the bolts that run through the part and the fail safe strap are not supporting the part. The bolts are supposed to be snug fit so when a plane lands the bolts and part share equal stress and not have a stress issue. The bolts are not touching the sides of the holes hardly at all therefore any gap between the bolt and the part contributes to all stress being put on the fork part and fail safe strap, which has holes where the bolts are.

The results (pdf) of these production mistakes are cracks in an important structural part. The affected planes have been grounded as such cracks tend to grow and a failure of the structure would likely end catastrophically.


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When airplanes are put together the parts that need to be fixed to each other get aligned in some fixture. Then holes are drilled, deburred, reamed and even coldworked to prevent any possible cracks appearing around them. After an inspection the rivets, fasteners or bolts are pressed in, tightened and again inspected. There are about 600,000 bolts and rivets that hold each 737 together. To install them can be a repetitive and boring task. But it is important that it is done correctly.

Since it started to emphasize shareholder value Boeing experienced many quality issues within its production lines. Foreign object debris was found on new tanker planes delivered to the airforce. Qatar Airlines does not accept any 787 planes produced at Boeing's non-union factory in Charleston, South Carolina because of frequent production problems in that plant. The 737 NG was already known to have misfitted parts (vid). Now we learn that other parts were installed incorrectly.

Some 7,000 737 NG have been produced and most of those are still flying. As some 5%, or 350 of them, need to be reworked for three weeks each, the bill Boeing will have to pay for this issue will also be significant.


On Wednesday Boeing will publish is quarterly results. October 29 is the first anniversary of the Lion Air 604 accident. The full accident report will be published around that time. On October 30 CEO Muilenburg will be questioned in Congress hearings.

Boeing's name and the 737 MAX issue will stay in the news for some time, and not in a positive way. While I am not a financial analyst the Credit Swiss price target to $323 seems extremely optimistic to me. Even if the MAX is allowed back into the air, maybe by next summer, it will not be easily accepted:

Nearly half of the 2,000 respondents said they would pay more to avoid the MAX.

Boeing needs to change. Unless it does its share price will continue to fall.

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Previous Moon of Alabama posts on Boeing 737 MAX issues:

Posted by b on October 21, 2019 at 17:44 UTC | Permalink | Comments (66)

October 20, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-60

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

Clinton's wacky claims came after the NYT published a smear piece about Gabbard: What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To? Both seem to be part of concerted effort.

The predicted Streisand effect:

Mike Cernovich @Cernovich - 4:12 UTC · Oct 19, 2019
Tulsi Gabbard has gained more than 40,000 Twitter followers today - more than she gains in an average month.

More nonsense from Hillary:

Hillary Clinton @HillaryClinton - 00:06 UTC · Oct 19, 2019
When I was a little girl, I wrote to NASA and told them I dreamed of being an astronaut.
They wrote back and said they weren't taking girls.
A new generation of little girls watched today's historic spacewalk. May their dreams of reaching the stars have no bounds.
Oregon Designer @Easycure - 6:40 UTC · Oct 19, 2019
You were born in 1947, NASA wasn't formed until 1958 and we didn't have an astronaut in space until until 1962 when you were 15 years old.
You didn't write a letter to NASA when you were a little girl and you should definitely stop drunk tweeting.

Moody's Analytics' Presidential election model predicts that Trump will win: 2020 Presidential Election Model (pdf)

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Other issues:

During our last requests for donations several people asked if I would take bitcoins. I said no because those crypto-currencies are in my view largely a fraud. They are also not, as claimed, anonymous: Huge Child Porn Ring Busted as Authorities Cite Ability to Crack Bitcoin Privacy

In case there was any doubt that Boeing knew it was selling a bad airplane: Stunning messages from 2016 deepen Boeing’s 737 MAX crisis

The exchange of messages in 2016 between the two lead technical pilots on the Boeing 737 MAX program was released Friday after regulators blew up at the company for belatedly disclosing the matter. The messages reveal that the flight-control system, which two years later went haywire on the crashed flights, was behaving aggressively and strangely in the pilots’ simulator sessions.

It is not only Boeing that is unable to deliver decent engineering: The Navy’s Accountability Crisis Over A Bet Ensnares Its Top Leader

At the USS Ford, the extent of America’s massive systems engineering failure is impossible to understate. The aircraft carrier does not work. As of October 9, only two of eleven advanced weapons elevators actually function, making it impossible for the carrier to safely receive and store weapons.
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Sources say that one, maybe two elevators are nearing completion. But then, even if the advanced electromagnetic elevators work, the USS Ford must go through a shock trial, where the ship is jolted by a series of explosive charges near the hull. The rickety elevators–along with several other critical subsystems that require tight tolerances to operate correctly–are unlikely to survive intact.

Electromagnetic elevators work like Maglev trains. The magnets that move the elevator must always be in a fixed distance to the rail. That requires that the rails are kept very straight. But ships are rather flexible structures that flex and twist (vid) all the time. The idea to put electromagnetic rails into them is conceptually misguided. The Ford will need new elevators before it can be put to use.

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 20, 2019 at 13:49 UTC | Permalink | Comments (236)

New York Times Fakes The Record About Arming The Syrian Rebels

History as faked by the New York Times:

Kurds’ Sense of Betrayal Compounded by Empowerment of Unsavory Rivals
Ben Hubbard, David D. Kirkpatrick, NYT 18. Oct 2019

Now, [..] the sense of betrayal among the Kurds [..] is matched only by their outrage at who will move in: Turkish soldiers supported by Syrian fighters the United States had long rejected as extremists, criminals and thugs.
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The deadly battles [..] have also given new leeway to Syrian fighters once considered too extreme or unruly to receive American military support.
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Grandly misnamed the Syrian National Army, this coalition of Turkish-backed militias is in fact largely composed of the dregs of the eight-year-old conflict’s failed rebel movement.

Early in the war [..] the military and the C.I.A. sought to train and equip moderate, trustworthy rebels to fight the government and the Islamic State.

A few of those now fighting in the northeast took part in those failed programs, but most were rejected as too extreme or too criminal. Some have expressed extremist sensibilities or allied with jihadist groups.

The reality is the opposite of what the NYT claims. The majority of the groups now fighting with the Turkish army had earlier received support from the U.S. Even their nominal leader is the same one who the U.S. earlier paid, armed and promoted.

COMPONENTS OF THE NATIONAL ARMY AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE UNIFICATION
Ömer Özkizilcik, SETA, October 2019

On August 31, the Syrian National Coalition came together and elected the president and the cabinet of the Syrian Interim Government in which Abdurrahman Mustafa was elected president and Salim Idriss was elected defense minister. With the new cabinet, the Syrian Interim Government became more active on the ground, started visiting each faction of the National Army, and accelerated the stalled negotiations to unite the National Army and the NLF under one command.
Salim Idriss with U.S. Senator John McCain

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Salim Idriss with Guy Verhofstadt, then leader of the ALDE group in the European Parliament

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Among the 41 factions that joined the merger, 15 are from the NLF and 26 from the National Army. Thirteen of these factions were formed after the United States cut its support to the armed Syrian opposition. Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA via the MOM Operations Room in Turkey, a joint intelligence operation room of the ‘Friends of Syria’ to support the armed opposition. Fourteen factions of the 28 were also recipients of the U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank guided missiles.

The SETA study provides a detailed list of the groups involved in the current Turkish invasion of Syria. Not only is their commander Salim Idriss a former U.S. stooge but the majority of these groups did receive U.S. support and weapons.


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The New York Times claim that only "a few of those" who now fight the YPG Kurds took part in the U.S. programs is a blatant lie.

The NYT piece quotes three 'experts' who testify that the 'rebels' the U.S. had armed are really, really bad:

“These are the misfits of the conflict, the worst of the worst,” said Hassan Hassan, a Syrian-born scholar tracking the fighting. “They have been notorious for extortion, theft and banditry, more like thugs than rebels — essentially mercenaries.”

It was Hassan Hassan who since the start of the conflict lobbied for arming the rebels from his perch at the UAE's media flagship The National.

Another 'expert' quoted is the Israeli propagandist Elizabeth Tsurkov:

“They are basically gangsters, but they are also racist toward Kurds and other minorities,” said Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. “No human should be subjected to their rule.”

Tsurkov earlier lauded the Israeli hiring and arming of the very same 'Syrian rebels'.

Another 'expert' quoted by the Times is a co-chair of the 'congressionally sponsored bipartisan Syrian Study Group':

“We are turning areas that had been controlled by our allies over to the control of criminals or thugs, or that in some cases groups were associated or fighting alongside Al Qaeda,” said Ms. Stroul, of the Syrian Study Group. “It is a profound and epic strategic blunder.”

The 'Syrian Study Group' wants to prolong the war on Syria. Ms. Stroul and her co-chair Michael Singh reside at the Washington Institute which is a part of the Zionist lobby and has long argued for 'arming the Syrian rebels'.

The Times report does not mention that the 'experts' it quotes all once lobbied for arming the very same groups they are now lamenting about. When these groups ran rampant in the areas they took from the Syrian government the Times and its 'experts' were lauding them all the way. No effort to support them was big enough. All crimes they committed were covered up or excused. 

Now, as the very same rebels attack the Kurds, they are suddenly called out for being what they always have been.

Posted by b on October 20, 2019 at 11:19 UTC | Permalink | Comments (39)

October 19, 2019

The Democratic Party Should Suspend Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has gone mad:

Hillary Clinton appeared to suggest that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) is the “favorite of the Russians” to win the 2020 presidential election and is being groomed by Moscow to run as a third-party candidate against the eventual Democratic nominee.
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The Russians already have their “eye on somebody who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate,” she said, in an apparent reference to Gabbard.

“She’s the favorite of the Russians. They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her, so far,” Clinton told David Plouffe, the podcast’s host and the campaign manager for former President Obama’s 2008 campaign.

“And that’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset,” Clinton added, referring to the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate.

The responses were appropriate:

Tulsi Gabbard @TulsiGabbard - 22:20 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
Great! Thank you @HillaryClinton. You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain. From the day I announced my candidacy, there has been a ...
... concerted campaign to destroy my reputation. We wondered who was behind it and why. Now we know — it was always you, through your proxies and ...
... powerful allies in the corporate media and war machine, afraid of the threat I pose.

It’s now clear that this primary is between you and me. Don’t cowardly hide behind your proxies. Join the race directly.

and

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 20:30 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
In light of the latest slanderous allegations from @HillaryClinton, I challenge her to a debate. It's past time to give the American people the real debate they deserved in 2016, but were denied by the phony DNC/RNC-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates.

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 20:51 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
It's a shame HRC is peddling conspiracy theories to justify her failure instead of reflecting on real reasons Dems lost in 2016. You can slander progressives as “Russian assets”, but you can't hide the fact that the DNC sabotaged Sanders & elevated Trump to set the stage for HRC.

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 21:12 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
HRC's rant is exhibit A for how the establishment is using the new Cold War to crack down on dissent & feed the war machine. Instead of addressing the crises working people face, they're painting progressives as the enemy. It's as if they're trying to lose to Trump again.

Dr. Jill Stein @DrJillStein - 21:43 UTC · Oct 18, 2019
If HRC really believes all independent campaigns are Russian plots, why isn't she calling for #RankedChoiceVoting to make it impossible for evil foreigners to "split the vote"? Until she does, all this Russia hysteria just looks like cynical McCarthyist left-punching.

The Streisand effect of Clinton's shoddy remark will help Tulsi Gabbard with regards to name recognition. It will increase her poll results. With Joe Biden faltering and Elizabeth Warren increasingly exposed as a phony Clinton copy, Bernie Sanders could become the Democrats leading candidate. Then the “favorite of the Russians” smear will be applied to him.

Clinton should be suspended from the Democratic Party for damaging its chances to regain the White House. But the Democratic establishment would rather sabotage the election than let one of the more progressive candidates take the lead.

Voters do not like such internal squabble and shenanigans. The phony Ukrainegate 'impeachment inquiry' is already a gift for Trump. Messing with the candidate field on top of that will inevitably end with another Trump presidency.

Posted by b on October 19, 2019 at 13:44 UTC | Permalink | Comments (160)

October 18, 2019

Media And Pundits Misread The 'Everyone Wins' Plan For Syria

The U.S. media get yesterday's talks between U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan all wrong. Those talks were just a show to soothe the criticism against President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeast Syria.

The fake negotiations did not change the larger win-win-win-win plan or the facts on the ground. The Syrian Arab Army is replacing the Kurdish PKK/YPG troops at the border with Turkey. The armed PKK/YPG forces, which had deceivingly renamed themselves (vid) "Syrian Democratic Forces" to win U.S. support, will be disbanded and integrated into the Syrian army. Those moves are sufficient to give Turkey the security guarantees it needs. They will prevent any further Turkish invasion.


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The Washington Post reports:

Turkey agreed Thursday to a cease-fire that would suspend its march into Syria and temporarily halt a week of vicious fighting with Kurdish forces, while allowing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to carve out a long-coveted buffer zone far beyond its borders.

The agreement, announced by Vice President Pence after hours of negotiations, appeared to hand Turkey’s leader most of what he sought when his military launched an assault on northeastern Syria just over a week ago: the expulsion of Syrian Kurdish militias from the border and the removal of a U.S. threat to impose sanctions on Turkey’s vulnerable economy.

Pence said Turkey had agreed to pause its offensive for five days while the United States helped facilitate the withdrawal of ­Kurdish-led forces, called the ­Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), from a large swath of territory stretching from Turkey’s border nearly 20 miles south into Syria. After the completion of the Kurdish withdrawal, Turkey’s military operation, which began Oct. 9, would be “halted entirely,” Pence said.

The New York Times falsely headlines: In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria

The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.
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Military officials said they were stunned that the agreement essentially allowed Turkey to annex a portion of Syria, displace tens of thousands of Kurdish residents and wipe away years of counterterrorism gains against the Islamic State.

The U.S. can not "allow Turkey to annex a portion of Syria". The U.S. does not own Syria. It is completely bollocks to think that it has the power to allow Turkey to annex parts of it.

Turkey will not "gain territory". There will be no Turkish "security corridor". The Kurdish civilians in Kobani, Ras al Ain and Qamishli areas will not go anywhere. The Turks will not touch those Kurdish majority areas because they are, or soon will be, under control of the Syrian government and its army.


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The picture, taken yesterday, shows the Syrian-Turkish border crossing north of Kobani. The Syrian army took control of it and raised the Syrian flag. There are no longer any Kurdish forces there that could threaten Turkey.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu confirmed that Turkey agrees with the Syrian government moves:

Russia "promised that the PKK or YPG will not be on the other side of the border," Cavusoglu said in an interview with the BBC. "If Russia, accompanied by the Syrian army, removes YPG elements from the region, we will not oppose this."

Even partisan Syrians opposed to its government recognize the ploy:

Rami Jarrah @RamiJarrah - 12:53 UTC · Oct 17, 2019
Turkey’s foreign minister once again reiterates that if Russia and the Syrian regime take over border areas they will not object, as long as the PYD are expelled.
This has to be the easiest land grab opportunity Assad has had since the war started.

These moves have been planned all along. The Turkish invasion in northeast Syria was designed to give Trump a reason to withdraw U.S. troops. It was designed to push the Kurdish forces to finally submit to the Syrian government. Behind the scene Russia had already organized the replacement of the Kurdish forces with Syrian government troops. It has coordinated the Syrian army moves with the U.S. military. Turkey had agreed that Syrian government control would be sufficient to alleviate its concern about a Kurdish guerilla and a Kurdish proto-state at its border. Any further Turkish invasion of Syria is thereby unnecessary.

The plan has everyone winning. Turkey will be free of a Kurdish threat. Syria regains its territory. The U.S. can leave without further trouble. Russia and Iran gain standing. The Kurds get taken care of.

The 'ceasefire' and the retreat of the armed Kurdish groups from the border, which is claimed to have been negotiated yesterday between Pence and Erdogan, had already been decided on before the U.S. announced its withdrawal from Syria.

As veteran reporter Elijah Magnier wrote yesterday, before the Turkish-U.S. negotiations happened:

Assad trusts that Russia will succeed in halting the Turkish advance and reduce its consequences, perhaps by asking the Kurds to pull back to a 30 km distance from the Turkish borders to satisfy President Erdogan’s anxiety. That could also fit the Turkish-Syrian 1998 Adana agreement (5 km buffer zone rather than 30 km) and offer tranquillity to all parties involved. Turkey wants to make sure the Kurdish YPG, the PKK Syrian branch, is disarmed and contained. Nothing seems difficult for Russia to manage, particularly when the most difficult objective has already been graciously offered: the US forces’ withdrawal.

What Magnier describes is exactly what Pence and Erdogan agreed upon after he wrote it because it was - all along - part of the larger common plan.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump - 20:13 UTC · Oct 17, 2019
This is a great day for civilization. I am proud of the United States for sticking by me in following a necessary, but somewhat unconventional, path. People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years. Millions of lives will be saved. Congratulations to ALL!

The question is now if the U.S. will stick to the deal or if the pressure on President Trump will get so heavy that he needs to retreat from the common deal. The U.S. must move ALL its troops out of northeast Syria for the plot to succeed. Any residual U.S. force, even an unsustainable small one, will make the situation much more complicate.

That the U.S. media and pundits completely misread the situation is a symptom of a wider failure. As Anatol Lieven describes the mess of U.S. Middle Eastern strategy:

This pattern has its roots in the decay of the US political system and political establishment at home, including the power of lobbies and their money over US policy in key areas; the retreat of area studies in academia and think tanks, leading to sheer ignorance of some of the key countries with which the USA has to deal; the self-obsession, self-satisfaction and ideological megalomania that in every dispute leads so much of the US establishment and media to cast the USA as a force of absolute good, and its opponents as absolutely evil; and the failure – linked to these three syndromes – to identify vital and secondary interests and choose between them ..

Only a few pundits in the U.S. recognize reality. Stephen Walt:

The bottom line: The solution to the situation in Syria is to acknowledge Assad’s victory and work with the other interested parties to stabilize the situation there. Unfortunately, that sensible if unsavory approach is anathema to the foreign-policy “Blob”—Democrats and Republicans alike—and its members are marshaling the usual tired arguments to explain why it’s all Trump’s fault and the United States should never have withdrawn a single soldier.

I am confident for now that the blob will be held off by Trump and that the Win4 plan will succeed. Erdogan will soon travel to Russia to discuss the next steps towards peace in Syria. The talks will be about a common plan to liberate the Jihadi controlled governorate of Idleb. That step may require a summit between the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan which Russia and Iran will help to facilitate.

With the U.S. removed from the Syria scenario such steps towards peace will now be much easier.

Posted by b on October 18, 2019 at 6:43 UTC | Permalink | Comments (395)

October 17, 2019

North Korea Announces Something Important But Does Not Say What It Is

The Korean Central News Agency reports: Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Ascends Mt Paektu on Horseback


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He, atop Mt Paektu on the horseback, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt Paektu and days of fast-paced changes and took a bird's-eye view of mountains that looked like the high steep mountains of the revolution he has to pass in high spirits.

Reflected in the dignified mien of Kim Jong Un atop majestic Mt Paektu was the majesty of the illustrious commander looking far into the road of advance of a powerful socialist country that will achieve prosperity with its own efforts, meeting all headwinds with the storm of Mt Paektu.

The venerable announcer Ri Chun-hee, now 76 years old, was recalled from retirement to read the statement (vid) on North Korea's state TV.

The horseback visit of the mystical mount Paektu is a sign that North Korea will soon "strike the world with wonder again" - i.e. reveal something important and new.

It is not likely that this will be a new nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile launch. The ride on the mountain is too early to be a sign for that. After the last negotiations with the U.S. failed, North Korea announced that it had given the U.S. time until the end of the year to come up with a new offer. North Korea usually stands by its words. Anything nuclear has therefore to wait until next year.

A civil space launch of some satellite within the next few weeks would fit to this propaganda event.

But may be I am wrong and Kim Jong Un will do something special to shake up Trump a bit, and to receive at least some relief from sanctions.

What else but nuke tests and ICBM launches could achieve that?

Posted by b on October 17, 2019 at 18:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (60)

October 16, 2019

How The Win-Win-Win-Win Plan For Syria's Northeast Succeeds

The Syrian and Russian operations in the northeast of Syria are going well.


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Russian troops prevented attempts by Turkish supported Jihadis to attack Manbij. Russian and Syrian units have now also entered Ayn al-Arab/Kobani. Syrian government troops took control of the electricity producing dam in Tabqah and some units set up posts in Raqqa. Other units entered the Conoco and Al-Umar oil fields north of Abu Kahmal and east of Deir Ezzor. Some local tribe which profited from the oil explorations there held a small protest against the return of government control.


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The Turkish controlled Jihadis made little progress. Mostly Kurdish fighters are preventing them from expanding from the area they are informally allowed to hold. The Turkish command has called up more irregular 'rebel' troops including Jihadis from Jaish al-Islam who had once controlled Ghouta in the east of Damascus. They had been transported to Idleb after their defeat. A video shows them on a bus traveling through Turkey to reinforce the Turkish attack.

The Russian air force in Syria is preventing the use of the Turkish air-force in support of the Turkish attacks. Yesterday a Turkish F-16 entered Syrian air space but retreated when some Russian fighters appeared to hunt for it.

The U.S. is continuing its retreat from northeast Syria. Yesterday a video by a Russian journalist showed the inside of one of a camps that U.S. troops had hastily left. There was still food on the table and the Cokes in the fridge were still cold. The view was a bit embarrassing. Today the U.S. bombed a U.S./French military base in Kharab' Ashaq near the Lafarge cement factory shortly after its troops had left it. The likely intent was to prevent more embarrassing pictures.

Turkey still insists on a corridor of some 20 kilometers depth to prevent a PKK build up in the area near its border. At that depth Turkey would occupy the M4 highway which is a main economic corridor in the northern area. Under the Adana agreement from 1998 Turkey is allowed to make temporary incursions at the border up to a depth of 5 kilometer to fight any PKK concentration. Anything beyond that infringes on Syria's sovereignty and can not be tolerated.

Under the same treaty Syria is obligated to prevent any PKK camps or training areas in Syria. The U.S built 'Syrian Democratic Forces' are nothing but the PKK with a few drafted Arabs mixed in. The SNC will soon be dissolved into the Syrian Arab Army and the autonomous Kurdish administration will be removed. All that will alleviate the Turkish concerns and remove its justification for any occupation of Syrian land.

The mainstream borg is up in arms that Turkey uses Jihadis to attack their beloved anarcho-marxist PKK terrorists group. They have conveniently forgotten the history of the U.S. war on Syria, its arming of those Jihadis and its pampering of al-Qaeda.

The U.S. did not betray the Kurds any more than it betrayed Turkey and the Jihadis which the Obama administration armed throughout the war. Those were also U.S. 'allies' that were left hanging. Raina Khalek made a good video narrative that debunks much of the false Syria narrative the main stream media is now using.

To prevent Congress from putting harsh sanctions on Turkey, President Trump issued his own milder ones that will not do any harm to Turkey's economy. He has also sent Vice President Pence to talk with President Erdogan. It is just a bit of show to limit the fall out from the Turkish operation.

Everyone involved recognizes that this is a win-win-win-win situation. Erdogan could show that he was fighting against the PKK terrorists and prevented their attempts to become a proto-state. Trump could hold his campaign promise of removing U.S. troops from useless foreign interventions. Syria regained its northeast and the important economic resources of that area. Russia gained global prestige and additional influence in the Middle East.

Everyone is happy but the PKK Kurds. They are the biggest losers of this game but only in the sense that they are back to where they started. They had entered into a cooperation with the U.S. to eliminate ISIS. When that was done they got greedy and tried to rule over Arab land. It was always an unsustainable situation. After the defeat of ISIS the U.S. had no strategic reason to further pamper them. Only some wannabe imperialists in Washington DC and in Israel were urging to continue the relation.

There are signs that the series of events was preplanned and somewhat coordinated. There were intensive talks between Russia and Turkey and many phone calls between Trump and Erdogan. There were also talks we do not know about. Syrian and Russian troops were ready to enter the northeast.

It is likely that the plans of these actors extend beyond the northeast and include a solution for the Jihadi controlled Idleb governorate. It will be the next area where some surprising co-operations are likely to happen.

Added: This Trump answer to a question about Syria makes much sense.

Posted by b on October 16, 2019 at 17:47 UTC | Permalink | Comments (310)

October 14, 2019

Syrian Government Regains Control Over Country's Northeastern Parts

Eight days ago U.S. President Donald Trump gave a green light for another Turkish invasion of Syria. We explained why that move made it inevitable for the Kurds to submit to Damascus and to let the Syrian Arab Army back into northeast Syria:

While the YPG might want to fight off a Turkish invasion they have little chance to succeed. The land is flat and the YPG forces only have light arms.

There is only one solution for them. They will have to call up the Syrian government and ask it to come back into the north east. That would remove the Turkish concerns and would likely prevent further Turkish moves.

After Trump had spoken with the Turkish president Erdogan, the U.S. military removed a few of its forces from some areas near the Turkish border. The Pentagon was still under the false impression that Turkey would limit its invasion to some 5 kilometer in depth. It was obvious, as we wrote, that Turkey wanted far more:

A major goal is to interrupt the M4 highway that runs parallel to the border and allows for troop movements between the east and the west of the Kurdish majority areas. The highway is about 20-30 kilometers from the border.

The M4 road is also one of the major logistical routes for the U.S. troops stationed in the western part.

The Kurds could do little to resist the Turkish onslaught. On Saturday Turkish supported "Syrian rebels" reached the M4 highway and captured and killed several Kurdish troops and civilians who were passing by. The Pentagon finally took notice of the imminent danger:

“This is total chaos,” a senior administration official said at midday, speaking on the condition of anonymity about the confusing situation in Syria.

Although “the Turks gave guarantees to us” that U.S. forces would not be harmed, the official said, Syrian militias allied with them “are running up and down roads, ambushing and attacking vehicles,” putting American ­forces — as well as civilians — in danger even as they withdraw. The militias, known as the Free Syrian Army, “are crazy and not reliable.”

Ahhhh. The "Free Syrian Army", which the U.S. built and supplied with an immense amount of weapons to fight the Syrian government, is "crazy and not reliable". How come that all the think tankers and 'journalists' who for years lauded that 'army' never noticed that?

The Pentagon finally recognized that it was not possible to hold onto the area without starting a war with its NATO partner Turkey. On Saturday evening Trump gave the order that all U.S. troops shall leave northeast Syria within 30 days. The Secretary of Defense did not resign as his predecessor did over a similar decision but defended the move.

The decision was the kick in the ass the Kurds needed to agree to the return of Syrian government troops to the area they had held on to while under U.S. command. Currently Syrian troops and their heavy weapons are streaming in. Their primary task is to prevent any further encroachment by Turkish forces. They will also move to retake the oil fields east of Deir Ezzor and they will take control of the prison camps where ISIS fighters are held.


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As of this writing Syrian troops (red) have entered Manbij, Ain al Issa, Tabqa airbase near Raqqa and Tel Tamr. Turkish supported groups (green) hold Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn and the villages between those two cities. That area has an Arab majority population.

The Kurds wish to keep their 'autonomous administration' of northeast Syria. While talks are still ongoing I do not expect that the mostly Arab inhabitants of the whole area, nor the Syrian government will agree to that. There can not be a special status for any of Syria's many ethnic or religious groups.

The Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces will be disbanded. Its soldiers will be integrated into the Syrian army. The Syrian government will also disband the 'autonomous' Kurdish administration. It will confiscate the weapons the U.S. has given to the Kurds. All this will take some time but it will, in the end, remove the Turkish concerns that the organized Syrian Kurdish groups could enter Turkey to fight on the side of  their PKK separatist brethren.

The U.S. had more than 1,000 troops in northeast Syria. There were also several hundred French and British special forces and some 2,000 U.S. contractors. They, and a huge amount of equipment, are now moving out. They have nothing to fear from the Syrian forces. Syria is happy to see them leave. (Reports that the U.S.yesterday bombed Syrian troops are false.)

The strategic plan behind last week's development must have come from Moscow. Russia has tried for some time to get Turkey into its camp. Russia, Iran and Syria allowed Turkey a limited invasion of Syria to scare the U.S. out. Russia largely supported the Turkish move but it will also set its limits.

Trump has been looking for a chance to move the U.S. troops out of Syria since December 2018. The borg made that politically unfeasible. The Turkish (Russian) move gave him the excuse he needed.

It is possible that the whole arrangement was made for exactly that purpose.

Posted by b on October 14, 2019 at 12:28 UTC | Permalink | Comments (319)

October 13, 2019

The MoA Week In Review - OT 2019-59

Last week's posts at Moon of Alabama:

Related:
U.S. troops are withdrawing from north Syria. Turkish sponsored "rebel" units now encircle Ain Issa and Kobane. Turkey uses "former" ISIS fighters as auxiliaries. These promptly commit war crimes by killing prisoners and civilians.

Betraying the Kurds - Yasha Levine
The way the Kurds are treated by America is a perfect example of the weaponization of nationalist and sectarian movements: use them when it fits your goals, abandon them when it doesn’t.

Related:
12 Hours. 4 Syrian Hospitals Bombed. One Culprit: Russia. - NYT

An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane spotter logs and witness accounts allowed The Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one.
...
The staff of Nabad al Hayat had evacuated three days earlier after receiving warnings and anticipating a bombing, ..

Related:
The Boeing media folks give a new meaning to the word "hypothetical".
FAA order warns of 787 slat issues during winter- FlightGlobal

The US Federal Aviation Administration is requiring airlines take steps to a prevent a potentially dangerous slat issue that could affect Boeing 787s operating in winter weather.

"Boeing discovered that 787 slat operation could potentially be affected by ice during winter operation," Boeing says in a statement. "The issue is a hypothetical event that has never occurred in service. The probability of this issue occurring is very remote."
...
The agency issued the order in response to reports that five 787 slat actuators failed when aircraft were taxiing, causing the slats to be in a position different from that commanded by the pilots.

"This condition, if not addressed, could result in insufficient lift, resulting in inability to maintain continued safe flight and landing," the FAA's AD says.

Other issues:

Paramilitary Panda: WWF Land Grabs Rooted in Covert Apartheid History - Michael Molitch-Hou, Reality Institute
The Global Climate Strikes: No, this was not co-optation. This was and is PR. A brief timeline - Cory Morningstar, Wrong Kind of Green

Whitney Webb
Glenn smears me (again) as a liar for suggesting that his boss-- CIA-linked billionaire Pierre Omidyar--influences the Intercept's reporting and influenced the closure of the Snowden archive. Greenwald's OWN words contradict this claim completely, see below ...

Russian and US visitors, targets for the Spanish firm that spied on Julian Assange - El Pais
The CIA had access to the server where the company stored the profiles of hundreds of people who visited the WikiLeaks founder during his stay in the Ecuadorian embassy in London

We're in a permanent coup - Matt Taibbi
Adam Schiff has 2 aides who worked with whistleblower at White House - Washington Examiner

Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans collapse: What we know, don't know day after tragedy - Times Picayune
Drone video of the crushed building
The columns of the building look extremely flimsy to me. But the two German built cranes are still standing :-).

Use as open thread ...

Posted by b on October 13, 2019 at 14:15 UTC | Permalink | Comments (191)