Archive | July 12th, 2016

US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, Is Tearing Venezuela Apart

NOVANEWS
 
venezuela

Americans have been trained by decades of Cold War propaganda to look for any confirmation that ‘socialism means poverty.’ But in the case of Venezuela and other states not governed by the free market, this cliche simply doesn’t ring true.

The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market.

Images and portrayals of Venezuelans rioting in the streets over high food costs, empty grocery stores, medicine shortages, and overflowing garbage bins are the headlines, and the reporting points to socialism as the cause.

The Chicago Tribune published a Commentary piece titled: “A socialist revolution can ruin almost any country.” A headline on Reason’s Hit and Run blog proclaims: Venezuelan socialism still a complete disaster.” The Week’s U.S. edition says: Authoritarian socialism caused Venezuela’s collapse.”

Indeed, corporate-owned, mainstream media advises Americans to look at the inflation and food lines in Venezuela, and then repeat to themselves clichés they heard in elementary school about how “Communism just doesn’t work.”

In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution.

Starting in 2014, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia flooded the market with cheap oil. This is not a mere business decision, but a calculated move coordinated with U.S. and Israeli foreign policy goals. Despite not just losing money, but even falling deep into debt, the Saudi monarchy continues to expand its oil production apparatus. The result has been driving the price of oil down from $110 per barrel, to $28 in the early months of this year.The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports.

And Venezuela is one of those countries. Saudi efforts to drive down oil prices have drastically reduced Venezuela’s state budget and led to enormous consequences for the Venezuelan economy.

At the same time, private food processing and importing corporations have launched a coordinated campaign of sabotage. This, coupled with the weakening of a vitally important state sector of the economy, has resulted in inflation and food shortages. The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

Corruption is a big problem in Venezuela and many third-world countries. This was true prior to the Bolivarian process, as well as after Hugo Chavez launched his massive economic reforms. In situations of extreme poverty, people learn to take care of each other. People who work in government are almost expected to use their position to take care of their friends and family. Corruption is a big problem under any system, but it is much easier to tolerate in conditions of greater abundance. The problem has been magnified in Venezuela due to the drop in state revenue caused by the low oil prices and sabotage from food importers.

The Bolivarian experience in Venezuela

Americans have been trained by decades of Cold War propaganda to look for any confirmation that “socialism means poverty.” A quick, simplistic portrait of the problems currently facing Venezuela, coupled with the fact that President Nicolas Maduro describes himself as a Marxist, can certainly give them such a confirmation. However, the actual, undisputed history of socialist construction around the world, including recent decades in Venezuela, tells a completely different story.

Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela in 1999. His election was viewed as a referendum on the extreme free market policies enacted in Venezuela during the 1990s. In December, when I walked through the neighborhoods of central Caracas, Venezuelans spoke of these times with horror.

Demonstrators gather in Bolivar Square to show their support of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela. The demonstrators gathered as the Organization of American States is meeting to discuss a report from Secretary General Luis Almagro denouncing violations of the Venezuela’s constitution.

Venezuelans told of how the privatizations mandated by the International Monetary Fund made life in Venezuela almost unlivable during the 1990s. Garbage wouldn’t be collected. Electricity would go off for weeks. Haido Ortega, a member of a local governing body in Venezuela, said: “Under previous governments we had to burn tires and go on strike just to get electricity, have the streets fixed, or get any investment.”

Chavez took office on a platform advocating a path between capitalism and socialism. He restructured the government-owned oil company so that the profits would go into the Venezuelan state, not the pockets of Wall Street corporations. With the proceeds of Venezuela’s oil exports, Chavez funded a huge apparatus of social programs.

After defeating an attempted coup against him in 2002, Chavez announced the goal of bringing Venezuela toward “21st Century Socialism.” Chavez quoted Marx and Lenin in his many TV addresses to the country, and mobilized the country around the goal of creating a prosperous, non-capitalist society.

In 1998, Venezuela had only 12 public universities, today it has 32. Cuban doctors were brought to Venezuela to provide free health care in community clinics. The government provides cooking and heating gas to low-income neighborhoods, and it’s launched a literacy campaign for uneducated adults.

During the George W. Bush administration, oil prices were the highest they had ever been. The destruction of Iraq, sanctions on Iran and Russia, strikes and turmoil in Nigeria — these events created a shortage on the international markets, driving prices up.

Big oil revenues enabled Chavez and the United Socialist Party to bring millions of Venezuelans out of poverty. Between 1995 and 2009, poverty and unemployment in Venezuela were both cut in half.

After the death of Chavez, Nicolas Maduro has continued the Bolivarian program. “Housing Missions” have been built across the country, providing low-income families in Venezuela with places to live. The Venezuelan government reports that over 1 million modern apartment buildings had been constructed by the end of 2015.

The problems currently facing Venezuela started in 2014. The already growing abundance of oil due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was compounded by Saudi Arabia flooding the markets with cheap oil. The result: massive price drops. Despite facing a domestic fiscal crisis, Saudi Arabia continues to expand its oil production apparatus.

The price of oil remains low, as negotiations among OPEC states are taking place in the hopes that prices can be driven back up. While American media insists the low oil prices are just the natural cycle of the market at work, it’s rather convenient for U.S. foreign policy. Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and the Islamic Republic of Iran all have economies centered around state-owned oil companies and oil exports, and each of these countries has suffered the sting of low oil prices.

The leftist president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, has already been deposed due to scandal surrounding Petrobras, the state-owned oil company which is experiencing economic problems due to the falling price of oil. Although much of Brazil’s oil is for domestic consumption, it has been revealed that those who deposed her coordinated with the CIA and other forces in Washington and Wall Street, utilizing the economic fallout of low oil prices to bring down the Brazilian president.

The son of President Ronald Reagan has argued that Obama is intentionally driving down oil prices not just to weaken the Venezuelan economy, but also to tamper the influence of Russia and Iran. Writing for Townhall in 2014, Michael Reagan bragged that his father did the same thing to hurt the Soviet Union during the 1980s:

Since selling oil was the source of the Kremlin’s wealth, my father got the Saudis to flood the market with cheap oil.

Lower oil prices devalued the ruble, causing the USSR to go bankrupt, which led to perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev and the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

The history of socialist construction

Prior to the 1917 revolution, Russia was a primitive, agrarian country. By 1936, after the completion of the Five-Year Plan, it was a world industrial power, surpassing every other country on the globe in terms of steel and tractor production. The barren Soviet countryside was lit up with electricity. The children of illiterate peasants across the Soviet Union grew up to be the scientists and engineers who first conquered outer space. The planned economy of the Soviet Union drastically improved the living standards of millions of people, bringing them running water, modern housing, guaranteed employment, and free education.

There is no contradiction between central planning and economic growth. In 1949, China had no steel industry. Today, more than half of all the world’s steel is produced in China’s government-controlled steel industry.

Cuba has wiped out illiteracy, and Cubans enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in Latin America.

People hold up images showing Fidel Castro, second from right, Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, center, and Cuba’s revolutionary hero Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, bottom left and right, during a May Day march in Revolution Square in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. The image of Chavez carries the words in Spanish “Chavez : Our best friend.” (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

When the Marxist-Leninist governments of Eastern Europe collapsed in the early 1990s, economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, who can be counted among capitalism’s “true believers,” predicted rapid economic growth. Since the 1990s, conditions in what George W. Bush called the “New Europe” have become far worse than under socialism. The life expectancy has decreased and infant mortality has risen. Human and drug traffickers have set up shop. In endless polls, the people of Eastern Europe repeatedly say life was better before the defeat of Communism.

Russia’s recovery from the disaster of the 1990s has come about with the reorientation of the economy to one centered around public control of its oil and natural gas resources — much like Venezuela. The Putin government has also waged a crackdown on the small number of “oligarchs” who became wealthy after the demise of the Soviet Union. Once strong state to control the economy was re-established, Russia’s gross domestic product increased by 70 percent during the first eight years of Putin’s administration. From 2000 to 2008, poverty was cut in half, and incomes doubled.

Neoliberal capitalism has failed

It is only because these facts are simply off-limits in the American media and its discussions of socialism and capitalism that the distorted narrative about Venezuela’s current hardships are believed.

tea_party_placard_obamafascism-001

American media has perpetuated a cold-war induced false narrative on the nature of socialism.

When discussing the merits of capitalism and socialism, American media usually restricts the conversation to pointing out that socialist countries in the third world have lower living standards than the United States, a country widely identified with capitalism. Without any context or fair comparison, this alone is supposed to prove the inherent superiority of U.S.-style capitalism.

If the kind of neoliberal “free trade” advocated by U.S. corporations was the solution to global poverty, Mexico, a country long ago penetrated with the North American Free Trade Agreement, would be a shining example of development, not a mess of drug cartels and poverty. The same can be said for oil-rich countries like Nigeria, where exports are massive but the population remains in dire conditions.

The governments of Bangladesh, Honduras, Guatemala, Indonesia, and the Philippines have done everything they can to deregulate the market and accommodate Western ”investment.” Despite the promises of neoliberal theoreticians, their populations have not seen their lives substantially improve.

If one compares the more market-oriented economy of the U.S., not to countries in the global south attempting to develop with a planned economy, but to other Western countries with more social-democratic governments, the inferiority of the “free market” can also be revealed.

The U.S. is rated 43 in the world in terms of life expectancy, according to the CIA World Factbook. People live longer in Germany, Britain, Spain, France, Sweden, Australia, Italy, Iceland — basically, almost every other Western country. Statistics on the rate of infant mortality say approximately the same thing. National health care services along with greater job security and economic protections render much healthier populations.

Even as the social-democratic welfare states of Europe drift closer to the U.S. economic model with “austerity cuts,” the U.S. still lags behind them in terms of basic societal health. Western European countries with powerful unions, strong socialist and labor parties, and less punitive criminal justice systems tend to have healthier societies.

The American perception that socialism or government intervention automatically create poverty, while alaissez faire approach unleashes limitless prosperity, is simply incorrect. Despite the current hardships, this reality is reflected in the last two decades of Venezuela’s history.

A punishment vote, not a vote for capitalism

The artificially low oil prices have left the Venezuelan state cash-starved, prompting a crisis in the funding of the social programs that were key to strengthening the United Socialist Party.

It is odd that the mainstream press blames “socialism” for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations. As Venezuelan political analyst Jesus Silva told me recently: “Most food in Venezuela is imported by private companies, they ask for dollars subsidized by the government oil sales to do that; they rarely produce anything or invest their own money.”

According to Silva, the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the U.S., in addition to the oil crisis, have made it more difficult for the Venezuelan government to pay the private food importing companies in U.S. dollars. In response, the food companies are “running general sabotage.”

“Venezuela’s economy depends on oil sales. Now that oil prices are dropping down, the challenge is to get other sources of economic income,” he explained. “Meanwhile, the opposition is garnering electoral support due to the current economic crisis.”

When the United Socialist Party and its aligned Patriotic Pole lost control of Parliament in December, many predicted the imminent collapse of the Bolivarian government. However, months have passed and this clearly has not taken place.

While a clear majority cast a voto castigo (“punishment vote”) in December, punishing the government for mismanaging the crisis, the Maduro administration has a solid core of socialist activists who remain loyal to the Bolivarian project. Across Venezuela, communes have been established. Leftist activists live together and work in cooperatives. Many of them are armed and organized in “Bolivarian Militias” to defend the revolution.

Even some of the loudest critics of the Venezuelan government admit that it has greatly improved the situation in the country, despite the current hardships.

In December, I spoke to Glen Martinez, a radio host in Caracas who voted for the opposition. He dismissed the notion that free market capitalism would ever return to Venezuela. As he explained, most of the people who voted against the United Socialist Party — himself included — are frustrated with the way the current crisis is being handled, but do not want a return to the neoliberal economic model of the 1999s.

He said the economic reforms established during the Chavez administration would never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez insisted.

The United Socialist Party is currently engaging in a massive re-orientation, hoping to sharpen its response to economic sabotage and strengthen the socialist direction of the revolution. There is also talk of massive reform in the way the government operates, in order to prevent the extreme examples of corruption and mismanagement that are causing frustration among the population.

The climate is being intensified by a number of recent political assassinationsTensions continue to exist on Venezuela’s border with the U.S.-aligned government of Colombia. The solid base of socialist activists is not going to let revolution be overturned, and tensions continue to rise. The Maduro and the United Socialist Party’s main task is to hold Venezuela together, and not let the country escalate into a state of civil war.

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The Ustasha and the Rising Tide of Neo-Nazi Politics in Croatia

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The European Union’s Balkan Double Standard

 
central balkans

Over the past several years, analysts and commentators have noticed a rising tide of domestic support for the Croatian homegrown Nazi movement of the Second World War, the Ustashe, which actively exterminated Serbs, Jews, and Roma in the territory it controlled from 1941-45. Far from condemning this alarming development, the Croatian government, the European Union, and non-state actors within it have tacitly and actively supported the rising tide of sympathy towards the Ustashe.

This disconnect between the ostensible “European values” of human rights and tolerance that the European Union claims to represent, and its tacit support of trends towards extremist politics in Croatia will have a significant impact on the increasing trend of Euroscepticism in Serbia and other Balkan states. Furthermore, the Union’s unabashed condemnation of legitimate populist movements in Europe, including but not limited to the Brexit campaign, as “racist” and “xenophobic,” while quietly supporting genuinely extremist political elements will contribute to the increasingly popular perception of the EU as a hypocritical entity.

Surge in Ustasha Sympathy

The Republic of Croatia has, since its independence, often reverted to the imagery of its Second World War predecessor; the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). The NDH was a puppet state sponsored by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and was administered by the Ustashe.

Ustasha symbol right

During its brief four-year lifespan, the NDH made use of a form of clerical fascism built on the basis of discrimination and systematized liquidation of non-Croatian elements within its boundaries. It was responsible for the deaths of anywhere between 300,000 to 600,000 Serbs and tens of thousands of Jews and Roma.

While restricted by law, Ustashe symbolism is freely exhibited at sporting events, political rallies, and all manners of public gatherings. The penalties for these displays are often restricted to a small monetary fine. By comparison, German law (Strafgesetzbuch section 86a) stipulates that a fine and/or a sentence of up to three years imprisonment will be administered.

Ustasha support among football hooligans (including a recent event during Euro 2016 where Croatian fans openly brandished swastikas) has been popular for decades; a more alarming trend is the active and tacit support of the Ustashe movement and legacy coming from the Croatian government. Earlier this year, the government of Croatia was condemned for appointing Zlatko Hasanbegovic, a prominent and open admirer of the Ustashe regime to be the country’s minister of culture. Croatia’s president, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, is an avid fan of the pro-Ustashe musician Marko Perkovic “Thompson” and, while describing the Ustashe regime as “criminal”, also stated in the past that the NDH “at least protect[ed] the interests of the Croatian people” during its short and incredibly violent reign.

Silence at Best, Encouragement at Worst

Despite ongoing reports by international NGO’s of state-sponsored discrimination against Croatian Serbs and routine desecrations of Serbian churches and cultural monuments at the hands of pro-Ustashe elements in the country, the European Union has remained almost completely silent on the issue of growing pro-Ustashe sympathies in the Croatian government and political scene.

Rather than condemn the rising tide of Ustashe sympathy in the country or denounce the appointment of Ustashe sympathizers to some of the Croatian government’s highest ministries, the European Union has chosen to tacitly support the creeping return of political extremism to Croatia. On June 15th, an exhibition dedicated to Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac was held at the European Parliament, one of the EU’s most important institutions of governance. Cardinal Stepinac, who served as the Croatian Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 to 1960, was an active supporter of the Ustashe regime and according to prominent Balkan historian Bernd Jurgen Fischer “had close association with the Ustashe leaders as the archbishop of the capital city, had issued proclamations celebrating independent Croatia, and welcomed the Ustashe leaders.”

The European Union has yet to respond to any of the criticisms lodged against it for hosting an event dedicated to a key supporter of a Nazi-backed regime that murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians during the Second World War.

A recent definition (pictured below) of the Ustashe regime in the leading German language dictionary ‘Duden’ as a “movement which fought against ‘Serbian centralism’” has also provoked a firestorm of controversy and a rapidly growing online petition sponsored by the humanitarian organization 28 Jun. (full disclosure: we are both members of this organization). The definition makes no reference to any of the Ustashe’s well-documented and numerous crimes against civilian populations, giving it the appearance of a legitimate political movement with reasonable aims. These recent events are contributing to the growing sentiment among many Serbs who feel alienated by the European Union, and as if a double standard is being applied with regards to Serbia.

Loss of Credibility

Since Serbia attained candidate status in 2011, the European Union has imposed on it a host of requirements and stipulations that ostensibly deal with human rights and unresolved issues stemming from the Yugoslav Conflicts of the 1990’s. The Serbian government has largely complied with the conditions imposed on it by the European Union and has committed itself to the EU through acts such as extraditing members of its own government and “normalizing” relations with the Republic of Kosovo (a self-declared state which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008) at the behest of the European Union. Additionally, many EU states voted in favour of a failed UN resolution that sought to classify the controversial events in Srebrenica in 1995 as “genocide”.

Given the fact that the European Union has both passively supported the rise tide of extremist political inclinations in one of its member states by refusing to condemn it and actively supported it by hosting exhibitions in its honor, Serbs’ enthusiasm for joining the EU will likely continue to wane. The European Union has demonstrated a lack of integrity and even-handedness in upholding its stated human rights values by enforcing relatively harsh standards for Serbia while imposing virtually none on Croatia, even going as far as openly supporting some of Croatia’s worst historical human rights abusers. Coupled with growing Eurosceptic sentiments in both Serbia and Europe as a whole, the European Union’s quiet support of radicalized politics in Croatia could jeopardize the EU’s strategic goals of acquiring Serbia as a member.

Furthermore, the double standard shown by the European Union in its dealings with Croatia and Serbia represent yet another example of the moral hypocrisy of the European Union. While top EU officials were quick to denounce legitimate populist movements such as the Brexit campaign as racist and xenophobic, those same officials and institutions have done nothing but tacitly support genuinely extremist politics in Croatia. Eurosceptic parties such as Front Nationale and the Austrian Freedom Party are routinely branded as “far right” and “radical” while political extremism in Croatia is allowed to flourish. If the European Union does not take steps to meaningfully combat this moral hypocrisy, then it is likely that the trend of increasing skepticism towards the Union will continue to rise unabated.

 

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Russian Strategic Bombers Strike ISIS in Syria ”Video”

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Syria-map-Thomas-van-Linge

 Six Russian strategic bombers (Tupolev Tu-22M3) have conducted air strikes against a major ISIS camp and ammunition depots in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) reported on July 12.

The strategic bombers passed through Iranian and Iraqi airspace and delivered concentrated high-explosive ammunition airstrikes on targets east of the towns of Palmyra and As Sukhnah, and the village of Arak.

The MoD said a large militant field camp, three depots of arms and munitions, three tanks, four infantry combat vehicles and eight vehicles fitted with heavy machine guns were destroyed and a large number of ISIS fighters neutralized.


Separately, on July 12, Russian warplanes conducted airstrikes in the West Ghouta region of rural Damascus, destroying militant targets near Khan Al-Sheih. A large number members of Al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham.

Up to 25 ISIS militants were killed in a fresh offensive of the Syrian army and its allies in the Deir Ezzor province where pro-government forces were advancing on the Tayyem Oil Fields and Al-Haweeqa District. Clashes are ongoing.

Tupolev Tu-22M3, image left

In Aleppo, additionally to attempts to regain the Mallah Farms, Al Nusra, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki and its allies launched fresh attacks on Al-Breij and Al-Manasher near the Handarat Camp. However, pro-government forces were able to prevent the militants from any significant gains. The Castell Road is still under the army artillery fire.

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Syrian Army Advancing in Aleppo City ”Video”

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Turkish Military Advisers in Al Qaeda Affiliated Forces?

 
al-nusra

July 11 evening, joint forces of al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham launched fresh attacks in southern Hama, attempting to cut off the government controlled Hama-Salamiyah road at Tall Adara. However, the militant forces were not be able to break the defenses of pro-government forces.

Meanwhile, the militants have made a series of attempts to cut Aleppo Citadel off from the rest of the government-controlled areas of the city.

The Syrian army repelled all of them. In the area of Castello Road, the Syrian army has been advancing in Layramoun industrial area while the Kurdish YPG has tried again to seize Youth Housing and Jandoul, without any results yet.

According to ground sources, in and around Aleppo city, tactical and strategic planning is made by al Nusra while manpower is provided by Jaish al Fateh and Fatah Halab. This corresponds with earlier reports about Turkish military advisers in the Al Nusra general staff.

Amid clashes in the Aleppo city, the Syrian Army has launched a fresh advance in the militant stronghold of Darayya, southwest of Damascus. Pro-government forces already seized all farms surrounding Darayya and at least 15 buildings on the south-west side of Daraya.

In Manbij, the Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by the US-led coalition airpower and special forces, almost cut the western part of the city from the rest of ISIS-controlled areas, surrounding Al Basel Hospital. The SDF also seized the school South of Sheik Ali district and advanced on Bakery near the city center and almost secured Hazawani Neighborhood. Clashes are ongoing.

 

 

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War and Destabilization: NATO Expansion and the European Union Crisis

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Chicago Summit: NATO To Announce Activation Of European Missile Shield

Obama attends summit in Warsaw amid a national outbreak of racial unrest in the United States

A meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member-states in Warsaw, Poland agreed to expand the presence of western-allied troops in the region further intensifying tensions with the Russian Federation. In addition to a broader presence in the European theater there was a decision to escalate the deployment of imperialist forces in Afghanistan after a nearly fifteen year occupation led by the United States.

During the course of the summit a string of police killings of African Americans in the U.S. forced President Barack Obama to address the situation in a press conference. While the administration made plans to escalate its military presence in Europe and other regions of the world, a war was escalating inside the founding country of NATO where tens of millions of African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color communities live under a virtual police-state.

These manifestations prompted by the brutal law-enforcement extrajudicial executions from Mississippi to Louisiana and Minnesota sparked protests and civil disobedience resulting in the closing down of major thoroughfares and expressways. The demonstrations were largely organized over social media where a storm of facebook postings and twitter feeds revealed that the masses of youth and workers were fed up with these unjustified acts of lethal force.

On July 7 five police officers were killed and seven wounded when they were struck by sniper fire in downtown Dallas, Texas. Subsequent reports of shootings involving civilians firing on law-enforcement agents took place in several states including Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia and Michigan. The alleged gunmen in Dallas, Micah Xavier Johnson, had expressed dismay and anger over the police killings of African Americans.

Johnson, a former U.S. army reservist, served in Afghanistan as part of the Pentagon-led NATO occupation which has continued for a decade-and-a-half. Over the period of time since the invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. and NATO troops have been killed on the battlefields of this country along with Iraq and the Horn of Africa nation of Somalia.

Pentagon and NATO forces bombed the North African state of Libya for seven months in 2011 killing an estimated 50,000-100,000 people and displacing at least two million. The infrastructure of Libya was destroyed during the 2011 war. Libya once the most prosperous state on the continent has been rendered to abject poverty becoming a principle source of instability and human trafficking throughout Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region spreading into Southern, Central and Eastern Europe itself.

Even short-term prospects for a shift in U.S. imperialist policy are not apparent. The presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders provided an alternative to voters who were alienated from both the racism of billionaire Donald Trump for the Republicans and the equally racist-militarist Wall Street legacy of former Secretary of Hillary Clinton. The previous New York Senator, and wife of the 1990s President Bill Clinton, advocated policies which escalated Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) destabilization efforts in Africa and other parts of the world. The administration of Obama enhanced and expanded the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) while the exponential growth in the prison industrial complex overseen by the Clinton administration of the 1990s, reinforced national oppression and imperialism domestically and internationally.

Nevertheless, with Sanders’ endorsing Clinton on July 12, millions of young, working class and nationally oppressed voters are left angry and disappointed that all of their efforts are being encouraged to enter a presidential campaign that will maintain the status-quo. Consequently, it is not surprising that so many people are marching through the streets and defying state law-enforcement agencies. There appears to be no alternative except taking to the streets in mass demonstrations against the racist and economically exploitative system.

NATO Plans Further War and Destabilization

In a press release issued by NATO it says: “On Friday (July 8), leaders decided to strengthen the Alliance’s military presence in the east, with four battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on a rotational basis – to be in place starting next year. They also agreed to develop a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of the Alliance. Allies also declared Initial Operational Capability of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense, pledged to strengthen their own cyber defenses, and recognized cyberspace as a new operational domain.” (July 9)

Moreover, the press release says, “on Saturday, leaders took decisions on projecting stability through support for partners – including an agreement to start training and capacity building inside Iraq. Leaders also decided that NATO AWACS surveillance planes will provide information to the Global Coalition to counter ISIL, and agreed to an expanded maritime presence in the Mediterranean Sea….. Allies and partners contributing to NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan met with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. They agreed to continue the Resolute Support Mission beyond 2016, and confirmed funding commitments for the Afghan forces until 2020. The last session of the Summit was a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, where Allied leaders reviewed the security situation with President Poroshenko, welcomed the government’s plans for reform, and endorsed a Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine.”

Nonetheless, in order for these projects to be effective the question of EU unity and functionality is essential. The current turmoil inside EU bloc with the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom on June 23 bringing to the fore mounting tensions over a number of fundamental issues including the mass migration of Africans, Middle Easterners, Asians and even East Europeans to Britain, has brought about a political crisis of leadership within both the ruling Conservative and opposition Labor Parties. Despite widespread propaganda to the contrary leading EU member-states including Britain, France, Italy and Germany are experiencing economic problems related to the persistence of unemployment and the rise in the rates of poverty.

The Brexit vote has plunged the British and western capitalist ruling circles into fears of another major recession perhaps even of greater magnitude than the events of 2007-2009, where millions were thrown out of work. In addition to job losses, there was the crisis of home foreclosures and evictions dislocating millions more mainly within the U.S. however not limited to the world largest economy. Low-wage employment has become the norm for many youth and older workers with no program by the ruling class to raise salaries and provide security to working families and communities.

France has been the scene of weeks of labor unrest with clashes between protesters and security forces. Garbage has piled up in the streets of Paris while the European Parliament is attempting to figure a way to minimize the political and financial damage caused by the divisions in Britain along with the growth in right-wing governments and political parties from France to Hungary and Poland.

On July 11, the fractured Conservative Party of Britain announced that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will take over the leadership of the ruling group hastening the exit of David Cameron who announced that he will step down on July 13. Although May says she will hasten the exit from the EU and unify the Conservative Party, the road to her ascendancy was muddled by a five-way factional struggle for the leadership of the Tories.

The opposition Labor Party is also split with the leader Jeremy Corbyn ignoring a vote of no-confidence by an overwhelming majority of parliamentarians demanding his resignation. Corbyn, who is considered to be to the left of many Members of Parliament (MPs), labeled as Blairites, has pledged to call a membership vote in order to maintain his position.

An article published over the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on the split within the Labor Party, by political correspondent Chris Mason says: “Here is the row for Labor over the next few days: The rules for leadership elections. And here is the row for Labor after that: What does its future look like? Crucially, one could determine the other, but there are no easy answers whatever happens. If Jeremy Corbyn wins again, what do the 80% of Labor MPs who think he is a loser do? If Mr. Corbyn is beaten, or not able to stand, tens if not hundreds of thousands of Labor supporters will feel cheated, even robbed. That is why there is now open talk of Labor splitting in two: A party whose history can be traced back to the dawn of the 20th Century, ceasing to exist as we have long known it to.” (July 10)

Adding to the tensions within the Labor Party, Corbyn’s challenger Angela Eagle had her office vandalized. Corbyn in a public statement called for calm. Eagle suggested that Corbyn should restrain his supporters implying that they were involved in the breaking of her office window.

Corbyn’s statement stressed in regard to the “attack on Eagle’s office, ‘It is extremely concerning that Angela Eagle has been the victim of a threatening act and that other MPs are receiving abuse and threats. As someone who has also received death threats this week and previously, I am calling on all Labor Party members and supporters to act with calm and treat each other with respect and dignity, even where there is disagreement. I utterly condemn any violence or threats, which undermine the democracy within our party and have no place in our politics.’”

In specific reference to the role of the EU in the forward going plans of NATO this same press release notes that “In the margins of the meeting, the Secretary General signed a Joint Declaration with the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, taking partnership between NATO and the European Union to an ambitious new level. The Declaration sets out areas where NATO and the EU will step up cooperation – including maritime security and countering hybrid threats.”

The Use of “International Law” to Rationalize Imperialist Expansion in Asia-Pacific

Beyond the provocations and military encirclement of the Russian Federation, the Pentagon and State Department “pivot to Asia” is a major aspect of imperialist foreign policy. The July 11 decision by an International Tribunal in Holland at The Hague, which rejected all claims by the People’s Republic of China to sovereignty over the South Seas, provides a pseudo-legal cover for further military intervention in the Asia-Pacific region. This purported impartial court system has always been biased in favor of the United States and its imperialist and neo-colonialist allies around the world.

The Chinese leadership responded immediately to the decision saying that it was not bound by this court. Although the imperialist system claims the decision is legally binding, there is no mechanism for enforcing it, and Beijing, which declined to participate in the tribunal’s proceedings, said again on July 12 that it would refuse to abide by its arbitrary claims.

New York Times coverage of the Netherlands decision and China’s position, notes that Beijing’s leader

“Speaking at a meeting with European leaders, President Xi Jinping was defiant, reasserting China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea ‘since ancient times,’ the state-run People’s Daily reported. His remarks echoed a statement from the Foreign Ministry. The tribunal’s decision ‘is invalid and has no binding force,’ the ministry said. ‘China does not accept or recognize it.’”

Beijing also said in the full statement:

“China is always firmly opposed to the invasion and illegal occupation by certain states of some islands and reefs of China’ s Nansha Qundao, and activities infringing upon China’ s rights and interests in relevant maritime areas under China’ s jurisdiction. China stands ready to continue to resolve the relevant disputes peacefully through negotiation and consultation with the states directly concerned on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law. Pending final settlement, China is also ready to make every effort with the states directly concerned to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, including joint development in relevant maritime areas, in order to achieve win-win results and jointly maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea.

China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all states under international law in the South China Sea, and stays ready to work with other coastal states and the international community to ensure the safety of and the unimpeded access to the international shipping lanes in the South China Sea.”

(http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2016-07/12/c_135507754.htm)

Posted in USA, Europe, RussiaComments Off on War and Destabilization: NATO Expansion and the European Union Crisis

Syria Shocker: John Kerry Torpedoes US ‘Moderate Rebel’ Narrative

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“Thank you very much. It’s a great honor and pleasure for us to have a man I’ve admired – most of us have admired – for many years, a man who – U.S. Naval, served in Vietnam, won the Purple Heart – I mean, three Purple Hearts, the bronze medal, the silver medal, has been a senator, candidate for president, and now our Secretary of State.”

These accolades were the opening salvo from Walter Isaacson in a conversation with US Secretary of State, John Kerry.  A conversation held in front of an audience, June 28th 2016, at the Aspen Ideas Festival held in Colorado and recorded by the US State Department.

What John Kerry said in this conversation effectively demolishes the foundations of US “regime change” policy in Syria and its support of the so called “moderate rebels”.

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Background on Ahrar al Sham ~ The Favourite US Terrorists

Many of you may remember the 21st Century article US Smoke and Mirrors to Protect Terrorist Proxies in Syria.  In this article Yalla la Barra explained the US State Department policy of shielding their “moderate rebel” gangs under the Ahrar al Sham umbrella which served to detach them from the Al Nusra/Al Qaeda body of terrorism and to designate them a branch of US friendly “opposition” conveniently “intermingled” with Al Nusra thus prohibiting Russian targeting of Al Nusra just in case they hit one of the moderates in the process.

Throughout the two and a half months that have passed since the start of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH), the State Department has refused to acknowledge that the US backed rebel factions  are fighting in Aleppo and elsewhere alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

There has not been a single press briefing where the spokesman has not accused Russia and Syria of targeting US backed rebel factions and civilians.

Whether it’s John Kirby or Mark Toner, the spokesman keeps talking about intermingling between the “moderates” and the Al-Qaeda affiliate and that the Russians/Syrians need to be able to separate the two. At the the press briefing of April 25, 2016 Mr Kirby said:

So again, I go back to what I said before. We want to see the cessation observed by all parties. As I said in my answer to Said, we’re not blind to the fact that it’s a very dynamic situation in Aleppo and that there is intermingling. We’ve said that for a while now… ~ US Smoke and Mirrors to Protect Terrorist Proxies in Syria

As a further reminder here is the video of Mark Toner’s painful explanation of the “intermingling” of terrorist factions:

In July 2015, former US Ambassador to Syria and suspected death squad creator, Robert Fordhad this to say about Ahrar al Sham in an article penned by Ford and Ali el Yassir, entitled appropriately, Yes, Talk with Syria’s Ahrar al Sham.

Moreover, lumping Ahrar and Nusra together is intellectually sloppy, especially when they exhibit ideological and political differences…. Our refusal even to talk with groups like Ahrar further reduces the little influence Americans still have in Syria. As the Assad regime steadily weakens, the administration keeps trying to lead the opposition from behind, hoping for an opposition white knight to appear. Instead, because Islamist groups like Ahrar strongly influence decisions about the fate of Syria, Washington will be left behind.

Ford insisted on dialogue with Ahrar al Sham, he also attempted to divorce them from Al Nusra/Al Qaeda, somehow whitewashing their brutality by highlighting their nationalism, a claim that is bizarre in the extreme when one considers how few Syrians, if any, actually belong to the group which consists predominantly of foreign mercenaries as do 90% of the “armed opposition inside Syria.

UK educated leader of Ahrar al Sham, Labib Al Nahhas, has even been given a platform on the Washington Post:

The group to which I belong, Ahrar al-Sham, is one example. Our name means “Free Men of Syria.” We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians. We are fighting for justice for the Syrian people. Yet we have been falsely accused of having organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology.

The Telegraph:

By Labib Al Nahhas, Foreign Affairs Director at Ahrar Al Sham: Ahrar Al-Sham, as a mainstream Sunni Islamist group deeply rooted in the revolutionary landscape, is forging that alternative. But those expecting a “perfect” Sunni alternative according to Western liberal standard are sure to be disappointed.

As we should all know by now, political systems and models of government cannot be imported into the Middle East and expected to flourish where historical experiences, political cultures and social structures are so radically different. There needs to be a major role for religion and local custom in any political arrangement that emerges out of the debris of conflict, and it should be one that corresponds with the prevailing beliefs of the majority of Syrians.

The Guardian:

A Spanish citizen who studied in Birmingham and headed a tech company based in a London suburb is leading efforts to rebrand one of Syria’s most prominent armed Islamist opposition groups. Labib al-Nahhas is the “foreign affairs minister” for Ahrar al-Sham, agroup that has fought in alliances with al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise, and aims to establish a Sunni theocracy in Syria.

One of its original leaders also had personal connections with Osama bin Laden. After graduating he spent time in France, the Netherlands and the US, as well as the UK, where official documents list him as director of a company based in a west London suburb. But in 2010 he moved back to Syria, finding a job in the telecoms industry.

Ahrar al Sham as a group have had their virtues extolled by other prominent mainstream media outfits.

BBC:

“The Ahrar al Sham is part of a broad coalition of Syrian opposition groups, the Islamic Front. And it is among the most powerful force and better organized,” says the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, Jim Muir.

Professor Scott Lucas at EA Worldview:

Recent efforts by Ahrar al-Sham to portray itself as a moderate group may be linked to the increasing number of assassination attacks. According to Syrian journalist Akil Housain, the movement is in the process of purging its traditional leadership, which is considered more radical, and replacing it with younger leaders. This process has apparently angered Ahrar al-Sham ally and Al Qa’eda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.

Charles Lister: Supreme “Moderate” Myth Creator:

The editorial’s author was someone I have come to know very well personally amid Syria’s conflict. Labib al-Nahhas is Ahrar al-Sham’s “head of foreign political relations.” Better known as Abu Ezzeddine, Nahhas is an ordinarily clean-shaven young man from Syria’s central city of Homs. Originally a political official in the Homs-based faction Liwa al-Haq, Nahhas has risen in stature since his group merged with Ahrar al-Sham in December 2014.

A fluent English speaker and a seat-holder on the Executive Council of Syria’s Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), his ability to combine an understanding of both Western (he has spent time in both the United States and Europe) and Syrian mindsets has demonstrated a level of political capacity often lacking in Syrian armed revolutionary circles. ~ writing for the Qatarifunded Brookings Institute

Al Nahhas was even allowed to enter the US on a European passport in May 2016 even though the US State Department claimed it “didnt know”.

Labib al Nahhas, who calls himself “a chief of Foreign Political Relations at Ahrar al-Sham,” arrived in the US capital for a visit lasting a few days in December, according to McClatchy DC news. The report cites “four people with direct knowledge of the trip.

As one of them told the network’s reporter, Nahhas arrived in the US to speak with “third parties” even though he would not elaborate further. The other speakers revealed a few more details about the visit, saying that Nahhas had been in Washington to meet with lobbyists and Middle East researchers.”~ RT

Ahrar Al Sham the bloodthirsty “moderates”

Ahrar al Sham as a stand-alone “moderate” US backed group has been responsible for some of the most hideous ethnic cleansing of Syria’s minorities.  It has mercilessly and brutally terrorised the Shia villages of Kafarya and Foua, placing them under partial siege since 2011 and full siege since March 2015.

Over 1700 civilians, many women and children, have been massacred by these self-proclaimed “free men of the Levant” and Kafarya and Foua continues to suffer daily shelling and sniping.  I was told by a resident of al Foua that Ahrar al Sham do not even behave like Muslims, the bodies of their own dead are put on display to drive fear into the hearts of the villagers already starving and imprisoned.

The UN has failed to deliver humanitarian aid to Kafarya and Foua on numerous occasions deterred by the threat of the Ahrar al Sham checkpoints which are considered too serious a security risk.

Read more on Kafarya and Foua:  The 21st Century Wire Syria Files

In May 2016, Ahrar al Sham massacred scores of Alawite villagers in Al Zara and kidnapped others.  Claims that they did not harm anyone who did not resist were cited by Reuters and other western media outlets but witness and survivor statements told a different story. One photo that circulated after this horrifying mass murder showed Ahrar al Sham fighters standing over the dismembered and bloodied corpses of women.

Ahrar al Sham made no effort to deny this image, they merely stated that these women had taken up arms and as such were legitimate victims of their bloodlust, a claim seemingly endorsed by western media pundits who staunchly stood by their “moderate” killers.

“Strangers came to our village. Most of them were foreigners, we understood that they weren’t from Syria from the way they looked. They attacked our village, many were killed. My brother is among the dead, his children were wounded. They killed entire families,” said Ahmad Muhammad al Qasem.

“They perpetrated a massacre,” said another villager, Munzer Qasem. “I heard of two or three entire families killed. Abu Naval’s family was killed. He was an old man and was killed together with his daughters. They were slaughtered in their own house.” ~ Syrian Free Press

Ahrar al Sham were also implicated in the mass suicide bombing, May 2016,  that claimed the lives of over a hundred civilians and severely injured many more in the coastal towns of Jableh and Tartous that are also refuge to huge numbers of internally displaced Syrian refugees.  The western and gulf media was quick to claim ISIS responsibility for the attacks but local residents and TV Channels informed us that Ahrar al Sham had already taken responsibility.

The western protection of its assets was again demonstrated by its eagerness to distance these crimes and mass murder of civilians from its terrorist forces operating under the Ahrar al Sham umbrella.

Ahrar al Sham has been complicit in a multitude of crimes against humanity in Syria, according to many it is actually even more brutal than ISIS in its extremism and targeting and ethnic cleansing of minorities such as the Alawites and Shia muslims.  The US defense of Ahrar al Sham as a “moderate opposition” and its platforming of Ahrar al Shams desire for an Islamic state has underpinned their “regime change” policy in Syria.

The John Kerry Grenade

Lets now return to the discourse between Walter Isaacson and John Kerry.  During this conversation, Kerry makes two astounding statements that completely overturn the US dialectic regarding Ahrar al Sham.

1: “Everybody knows the threat. We’ve all awakened to the news that I just announced to you. How many times have you awakened to it? Vicious attacks perpetrated by a lone wolf or by a group, inspired on the internet or otherwise. From Orlando to San Bernardino to the Philippines and Bali, we’ve seen pictures and we’ve heard testimony of shocking crimes committed by al-Qaida, by Boko Haram, by Jaysh al-Islam, by Ahrar al-Sham, by al-Shabaab, Daesh, other groups against innocent civilians, against journalists, and against teachers particularly.”

http://21stcenturywire.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/kerry-cock-up-2.mp4?_=1

2: “But the most important thing, frankly, is seeing if we can reach an understanding with the Russians about how to, number one, deal with Daesh and al-Nusrah. Al-Nusrah is the other group there – Jabhat al-Nusrah. They are a designated terrorist group by the United Nations. And there are a couple of subgroups underneath the two designated – Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusrah – Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham particularly – who brush off and fight with that – alongside these other two sometimes to fight the Assad regime.”

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Thanks to @Walid970721 for the videos.

In one fell swoop, Kerry has demolished the US State Department argument for not targeting their pet killers in Syria. Is this a deliberate shoe in the face of the US and by default, Saudi interests and operatives in the region? Was it a genuine moment of honesty for the usually duplicitous and hypocritical Kerry?

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The Washington Post reaction certainly seems to point to the latter as they swung into damage limitation mode:

But then Kerry, perhaps accidentally, threw two other Syrian rebel groups under the bus by calling them “subgroups” of the terrorists.

“There are a couple of subgroups underneath the two designated — Daesh and Jabhat al-Nusra — Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham particularly — who brush off and fight with that — alongside these other two sometimes to fight the Assad regime,” he said, referring to two rebel groups that the United States has not named as terrorist groups until now…..

Two administration officials who work on Syria told me that Kerry’s naming of the Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as “subgroups” of the terrorist organizations was not only inaccurate but potentially harmful to U.S. government efforts to convince the Russians and the Syrian government not to attack them.

“For months, we’ve been arguing to make sure the Russians and the Syrian regime don’t equate these groups with the terrorists,” one senior administration official told me. “Kerry’s line yields that point.

Another U.S. official simply emailed, “Baffled. SMH[Shaking my head]. ~ Washington Post

Probably unwittingly the author Josh Rogin ends the article on a comedic note:

“Kerry muddied the waters. That’s typically Moscow’s job.”

Perhaps we are seeing a genuine face saving exercise on behalf of the Americans under Russia’s tutelage and the Washington Post has not been informed?

Undeniably, among those responsible for muddying the water on the Syrian narrative and advocating the murder of its people are the western media who have formed a battalion of war harpies and sectarian propagandists intent upon facilitating the mass slaughter of the Syrian people in service of NATO’s oil and geo-political interests in Syria and the region.

Certainly Kerry’s “slip of the tongue” should not go unnoticed and should be used to remind the media of their accessory to murder when they are finally brought to justice for their role in the “dirty war on Syria”.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on Syria Shocker: John Kerry Torpedoes US ‘Moderate Rebel’ Narrative

U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Committing War Crimes

NOVANEWS

U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Committing War Crimes, Torture, Abductions; Imposing Harsh Sharia Law

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Syrian rebel groups backed by the U.S. and its allies “have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including abductions, torture and summary killings,” according to Amnesty International.

A report by the leading human rights organization details how extremist rebel groups have taken over large parts of major Syrian cities, in which they have created repressive theocratic regimes where critics are violently silenced and where religious and ethnic minority groups fear for their lives.

‘Torture Was My Punishment’: Abductions, Torture and Summary Killings Under Armed Group Rule in Aleppo and Idleb, Syria” shows how the Syrian people have been caught between a rock and a hard place — with extremist rebels on one side and a brutal regime on the other.

The report focuses primarily on the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib, in the north of the country. Aleppo is Syria’s largest city, and the Aleppo governorate is the most populous.

Amnesty documented abuses committed by five armed groups that have controlled parts of Aleppo and Idlib since 2012. These rebels have been supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the U.S.

In Aleppo, Amnesty investigated the actions of the Levant Front, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and Division 16, factions in the Aleppo Conquest rebel coalition.

In Idlib, it looked at the crimes of the rebel groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, both of which are extremist Islamist militias that are party of the Army of Conquest coalition.

Jabhat al-Nusra is Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate. The U.S. officially considers it a terrorist group, although Western allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have supported it.

Amnesty noted that al-Nusra “has a significant presence” throughout the Idlib governorate. Ahrar al-Sham is present in the major cities Idlib, Aleppo, Damascus and Hama.

Executions and strict Shari’a

Armed groups have repressed many Syrians who were themselves once supportive of the rebels.

“I was happy to be free from the Syrian government’s unjust rule but now the situation is worse,” a Syrian lawyer told Amnesty.

Rebel groups have established “courts” (the report uses the term in scare quotes) in Aleppo and Idlib based on strict interpretations of Shari’a (Islamic law).

Extremist Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham have harshly punished Syrians who disobey their theocratic laws, the report notes.

It cites numerous cases of summary killings carried out by Jabhat al-Nusra, the Levant Front and rebel “courts.” Some have been “execution-style killings in front of crowds.”

Jabhat al-Nusra has publicly executed civilian men it accused of homosexuality and civilian women it accused of adultery.

In Aleppo, the “Supreme Judicial Council” run by the Levant Front told Amnesty that the punishment for apostasy is execution. “Death sentences are carried out in the detention center according to Shari’a principles,” the deputy director said.

According to the Carnegie Endowment, most of the rebel groups in the Levant Front coalition likely receive support from the Military Operations Center, a Turkey-based rebel facility that the U.S. helps operate with its allies.

Most of the “courts” run by these rebel groups, Amnesty says, are based on the Unified Arab Code, a set of Shari’a-based legal codes that were endorsed by the Arab League between 1988 and 1996 but were never implemented anywhere.

This legal code demands harsh corporal punishments for hudud crimes (violations of Islamic law), including stoning, amputations and flogging.

“I publicly criticized Jabhat al-Nusra on Facebook accusing them of committing worse human rights abuses than those perpetrated by the government. The next morning, Jabhat al-Nusra forces took me from my home,” a Syrian lawyer told Amnesty.

An interrogator told him he was not a real lawyer because he did not know Islamic law. The Syrian rebel threatened him, telling him he had to give up his profession or his family wold never see me again. After 10 days of abduction, hearing men screaming from torture, the lawyer agreed.

“I left Syria as soon as I was released,” he added.

A female activist who had just been released from detention by the Syrian government told Amnesty she was subsequently arrested and interrogated by Ahrar al-Sham rebels for not wearing a veil.

“They forced me to wear a veil and cover my face. They brought a religious man who made me kneel to confess my wrongdoings. The interrogator repeatedly threatened to conduct a virginity test,” she recalled.

Torture

Amnesty documented cases of armed factions torturing journalists, activists and other civilians who do not share their ideologies.

“I heard and read about the government security forces’ torture techniques. I thought I would be safe from that now that I am living in an opposition-held area. I was wrong. I was subjected to the same torture techniques but at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra,” explained a Syrian man who was abducted by the extremist rebel group.

Syrian lawyers who have spoken out against rebel groups’ use of torture have themselves been abducted and threatened.

In several of the cases of abduction, journalists, political activists and a humanitarian worker told Amnesty that they were tortured by either Jabhat al-Nusra or the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement. Some were violently forced to sign a statement of confession.

“The methods of torture described are disturbingly similar to some of the ones used by the Syrian government,” Amnesty wrote.

Numerous journalists and activists were kidnapped and tortured by al-Nusra for “promoting secular beliefs,” the rights group reported.

One journalist who works for an international media outlet was tortured by al-Nusra rebels for “offending the jihad and mujahidin [rebel fighters] and for working with a media channel that opposes al-Qa’ida.”

The release form given to the tortured journalist by his interrogator said that he had been “acquitted of the charges after pledging that he would only report on issues that support the Islamic faith.”

Another activist was told he was being tortured for being secular.

Even groups Syrian activists described as “moderate” have abducted and tortured Syrians. Activists told Amnesty the Levant Front, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement and the 16th Division also tortured and mistreated detainees.

A humanitarian worker was abducted and tortured by the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement for complaining about the misuse of funds in a hospital in Aleppo.

The Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement is a CIA-approved rebel group that has received TOW anti-tank missiles.

Amnesty said Syrian lawyers and activists told it of cases of abduction and torture carried out by other rebel groups in Aleppo and Idlib, but it was unable to independently verify these claims.

Targeting of minority groups

The Amnesty report also shows how rebel groups have targeted ethnic and religious minorities.

Posted in USA, SyriaComments Off on U.S.-Backed Syrian Rebels Committing War Crimes

Political Dirty Tricks for the Digital Age. “Taking Gerrymandering to a New Level”

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Like prestidigitation, while we’re all watching the media circus that is our presidential election, the House of Representatives is being usurped using the most sophisticated mapping and digital software.

It’s a process the Republicans started back in 2010 with only 30 million dollars. The net result has been to lock up congressional control for at least a decade. The Democrats are now trying, perhaps too little too late, to compete. If they can’t, control may be locked up until at least 2031.  The goal set by the GOP was a landside-proof House and we may soon see if they succeeded.

In this week’s WhoWhatWhy Podcast, David Daley, the digital media fellow for the Wilson Center for the Humanities and the Arts at the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia, and the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, talks to Jeff Schectman about this powerful new tool that has dramatically undercut the electoral process — the very foundation of democracy itself.

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Click HERE to Download Mp3

Full Text Transcript:

Jeff Schechtman: Welcome to Radio Whowhatwhy. I’m Jeff Schechtman.

We all know that magic is about misdirection. Look here while I do something else over there that you’re not looking at. In some ways, politics is the same way. While we’re all busy watching the media circus that is our presidential elections, political operatives, particularly Republicans have been working hard for many years to gain control of statehouses, and in turn have the legislature draw the Congressional District boundaries, enhancing and securing their control of the House. The way they’ve done this, the money they’ve spent doing it, and the insidious way they’ve taken the practice of gerrymandering to new levels has resulted in both a secure Republican Congress, but also in many ways lies at the heart of the polarization that has paralyzed our politics. My guest today on Radio Whowhatwhy David Daley gives us an overview on what’s going on.

David Daley is the digital media fellow for the Wilson Center for Humanities and the Arts. He’s also the author of the new book Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. David Daley, thanks so much for joining us here on Radio Whowhatwhy.

David Daley: A real pleasure, Jeff. Thanks for having me.

Jeff Schechtman: It’s great to have you here. First of all, explain what it is that Republicans set out to do, when they decided to do it, and what they were trying to accomplish.

David Daley: Absolutely. I think Democrats celebrated in 2008, after Barack Obama wins the presidency and it takes a super majority in the Senate. Republican operatives however realized that the more important election was coming up the following year in 2010. And they set their sights on a really aggressive and audacious plan centered around the next census and redistricting. We redraw every district in the country every ten years after the census, so elections in years that end in zero have a little more power and can reverberate throughout the next decade. Republicans raised 30 million bucks, which is all it took, and they spent that money targeting control of state legislative chambers across the country, and very carefully strategized to be sure that they would control every seat at the table when it came to redistricting the following year. So in blue states and purple states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, they take control of the entire state legislative process. They draw in amazingly tilted maps favoring their side, and in 2012, when the first elections are held on these maps, it’s another Democratic year, but the Republicans have built themselves a firewall in the House so stout that 1.4 million more voters go for Democratic House candidates than Republicans, and yet the House stays under Republican control. It’s the first time in 40 years, only the second time in about 100 that the party with the most votes does not win the most number of seats; it’s a real crisis of democracy.

Jeff Schechtman: In doing that though, weren’t they doing something that harkens back even to the founders, even to Hamilton and Madison and to Patrick Henry in terms of drawing congressional districts to serve the purposes of one particular party or another?

David Daley: You’re absolutely right. I mean gerrymandering in some ways is the oldest political trick in the book. It goes back to Patrick Henry in 1788, to Elbridge Gerry who takes the historical shame of having a name for him in 1790. But from 1788 through save in 2000, that is the horse and buggy era of gerrymandering. That is the pen and parchment paper and maybe primitive computers, but in 2010, the technology has changed to such an extent that you can draw lines that you know exactly how they will respond. They use a program called Maptitude, which comes preloaded with all the census information, so it’s amazing demographic detail on ethnicity and economics and religion, everything you might imagine. And then you can add all the public record datasets into this; so voter registration numbers, voter turnout numbers, election results, precinct by precinct, census block by census block, when you see these maps and they look really strange and they turn in odd ways, all of those lines have a reason because they know who lives there, they know who these people are and they know how to draw maps now that can remain in a district and keep a party in control for the entire decade.

Jeff Schechtman: Of course one of the things you point out is to a certain extent, this has backfired even on some Republicans because the districts have become too pure and in many cases, too extreme as Eric Cantor might attest to.

David Daley: Well, John Boehner would probably tell you the same thing, even someone as conservative as Renee Ellmers lost her seat in North Carolina. She was a real Tea Party favorite not that long ago, now she’s not even pure enough. But I think what has happened is we’ve created so many uncompetitive seats; about 400 or 435 seats are non-competitive, and when that happens, the only election that matters is the party primary, and that is a race for purity between “I’m crazy” and “Oh no, no, no, no. Let me tell you how much crazier I am than you!” And the Republicans as a result, have pushed out any of the moderate voices, there aren’t many of them left, and it makes our politics extreme. It sends a different kind of legislator to Washington. One who’s not interested in compromise. One who in fact knows that compromise is the one thing that might actually earn a primary challenge, and it empowers the angriest piece of the base, and it creates the conditions, not only under which we don’t have to actually talk and persuade each other about the correctness of our cause anymore because you don’t need the other side to win in these districts, but it creates the conditions under which a strongman type like Donald Trump can step in and take control of the party.

Jeff Schechtman: What do we learn from looking at the antithesis of this? When we look at California today which, one: has open primaries, two: is looking at ways to draw district lines outside of the party structure, really is rebelling in many ways to these ideas that we’re talking about, what do we learn in your view from that experience?

David Daley: Well, I think that the California experience has made elections here more competitive. You have certainly seen more turnover in your congressional delegation as a result of this. I mean I believe the numbers are between 2002 and 2010. There was exactly one incumbent who lost, something like 500 House races over that time. When you draw new lines, you immediately see 14, 15 incumbents departing or losing. So it matters. Commissions have mixed results across the country, in part because it’s hard to take all of the politics out of something that’s inherently political as drawing lines. I mean even in California, you see how there’s secret efforts behind the scenes by party leaders, here on the Democratic side too; trying to influence the members of the commission. If you look at Arizona, it’s the same thing. In Florida, where voters insist on a constitutional amendment in 2010 on nonpartisan redistricting. Republicans actually go to the effort of setting up a shadow sham redistricting process and have some of their smartest consultants designing maps any way and feeding them into the system under phony email addresses set up under the names of former interns. It goes to show how important these lines are and all of us think of gerrymandering as politics as usual, or we think of it as something that made our eyes glaze over in eighth grade civics class, but the politicians spend this much time on it because they know it is the essence of control and if we as citizens don’t step back in and take back the basic building blocks of our democracy here, it’s going to be a dangerous problem for a long time.

Jeff Schechtman: And finally, talk about what Democrats are doing about this with an eye towards the next census in 2020.

David Daley: Sure. The Democrats really got their clocks cleaned in 2010. They were not ready for this play. It was different than any one that had been run before, they didn’t have the vision to come up with it themselves. It was really a catastrophic strategic failure and it’s locked in the public control of the House for the rest of the decade and also state legislatures around the country, which in some ways is just as important. The Democrats are trying to run a play called Advantage 2020, and they’re trying to get ready to do the same thing that the Republicans did with the red map plan in 2010 as far as trying to win in state legislative races. The problem is they’re already underfunded compared to what the Republicans are doing. They’re not going to have the same element of surprise, and they still have to win on these tilted maps. Until the Democrats can figure out how to win on these maps that have been designed to withstand a landslide, they’re going to lose and if they can’t figure this out before 2020, you’ll have another redistricting in 2021. The technology has only gotten better, and the Republicans could lock in control of the House for another decade then, and then you’re talking about the 2030 one.

Jeff Schechtman: Has there been a lesson though in something that we were talking about before in terms of the purity that is required; what’s happened to Cantor and Boehner, what’s happened with Trump and the impact that it’s had on the traditional Republican establishment?

David Daley: It certainly hasn’t changed the fact that Republicans are putting 125 million into a new red map 2020 program, and they’re going after the states they didn’t pick up last time. They’re going after Colorado and New Mexico, and they’re going after Kentucky and they’re trying to tip the districts in these states. I think that they have probably not quite learned their lesson. They still believe that they’re a different party, but when you empower the extreme base, that’s who you are.

Jeff Schechtman: David Daley, the book is Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Planto Steal America’s Democracy. David, I thank you so much for spending time with us here on Radio Whowhatwhy.

David Daley: I really appreciate it, thanks again.

Posted in USAComments Off on Political Dirty Tricks for the Digital Age. “Taking Gerrymandering to a New Level”

Angela Eagle Chosen to Front Anti-Corbyn Coup in UK Labour Party

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There can be few examples of political cynicism as naked as yesterday’s launch of Angela Eagle’s challenge for leadership of the Labour Party.

Eagle is the candidate chosen by Labour’s right wing to front its efforts to depose Jeremy Corbyn, who was elected by 60 percent of the party’s membership and supporters last September.

The campaign to remove him by 172 MPs pits the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), unelected grandees such as former leader Neil Kinnock, and above all former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his inner coterie of war criminals, against the vast majority of the party and those who vote for it.

Supposedly acting in order to make the party electable, they are intent on either a putsch to insulate it from any popular pressure and a takeover of its assets, or its destruction in order to give birth to a new right-wing formation. Even as Eagle was declaring her candidacy, the media was filled with reports of high-level discussions with senior Tories on a potential new party of the “centre” and a yet more likely possibility of a merger with the Liberal Democrats to provide Labour’s 170 plus anti-Corbyn MPs with a party machine to share with the eight Lib Dems.

Eagle is a typical representative of the forces involved in this attempt at political engineering. Her launch meeting made great play of her being a woman and a lesbian, with a gaudy pink backdrop consisting of the word’s “Angela” super-imposed on a union flag that was also cast in pink hues in an appeal to identity politics and patriotism at the same time.

She said of herself, “I’m not a Blairite. I’m not a [former labour leader Gordon] Brownite. I’m not a Corbynista. I am my own woman. A strong Labour woman.”

“I can bring our Party together again,” she concluded.

Eagle has voted in favour of the party’s right-wing, pro-business and militarist agenda on every central issue. She famously voted in favour of the Iraq war in 2003. But in addition, according to the They Work For You website, she has “consistently voted against an investigation into the Iraq war,” in September 2014 voted in favour of air strikes in Iraq, in December 2015 voted in favour of air strikes in Syria, supports the retention of the Trident nuclear weapons programme, has “generally voted for a stricter asylum system,” voted in favour of increased university tuition fees, supported the Blair government’s 2006 plan to detain terrorism suspects for up to 90 days without charge, and abstained on the vote on the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s 2013 workfare programme and on the vote for the 2015 Welfare Bill.

Her candidacy was planned in secret by the Blairites and Brownites weeks before it was announced. She had even commissioned a website, “Angela for leader”, days before she announced her resignation from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet with tears in her eyes for the cameras.

She spoke of uniting the party just one day before Labour’s National Executive Committee rules on whether Corbyn will even be allowed on the ballot. Corbyn insists that he should automatically appear on the ballot, but his opponents are marshalling a legal case that he needs the support of 20 percent of the PLP, 51 MPs—knowing that he only has the support of 40.

Eagle’s claim is that ditching Corbyn and electing her will enable Labour to win a general election. However, just six minutes before she was accepted as a leadership challenger, Jon Trickett, Labour’s election coordinator and a member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, greeted news that pro-Brexit Tory Andrea Leadsom had abandoned her own leadership challenge to Theresa May by stating, “It now looks likely that we are about to have the coronation of a new Conservative prime minister. It is crucial, given the instability caused by the Brexit vote, that the country has a democratically elected prime minister. I am now putting the whole of the party on a general election footing.”

The Blairites have no intention of challenging the Tories at such a time of national emergency. In the Daily Telegraph, one Labour MP described Corbyn’s demanding a snap election as equivalent to “running full pelt off the edge of a cliff.” Once again they hid their collusion with the Tories behind claims that Corbyn had made Labour unelectable, even portraying calls for an election as an attempt to “exploit the instability in Westminster to cling to power” by sacrificing up to 100 Labour MPs who would lose their seats!

Corbyn is still determinedly opposing any struggle to drive these forces out of the party, which he would have to do if he were to honour a single one of his pledges to oppose austerity and militarism. Speaking on his behalf, Diane Abbott MP told the BBC’s “Today” programme that the “best hope” of getting a good result at the general election was for people to unite and “get on with taking the fight to the Tories.”

She reassured Labour MPs that, “There will be no split.”

Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union, again urged Labour to step back from what he described as a “squalid coup” that has “snowballed into a wrecking operation against the Labour Party itself, destroying it at least temporarily as a parliamentary force.” After which he urged, “There needs to be reconciliation with the Parliamentary Labour Party. We must re-establish mutual respect and unity and address real concerns over campaigning, policy, image and the rest. That is what I was working for over the last week—to try and hold our party together, as the trade unions have done so many times in the past when politicians have let us down.”

Some fear that the best efforts of Corbyn’s supporters and the trade unions will not be enough to save Labour as a vital instrument for policing the working class and defending the interests of British imperialism—under conditions in which Eagle herself faces a vote of no confidence in her local Wallasey Constituency Labour Party, which has swelled from 900 members before June 24 to 1,200 today.

The Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire warned that his experience at last week’s Durham Miners Gala convinced him that “The masses of decent Labour voters I met in Durham, enthused by Jezza’s [Corbyn’s] anti-austerity alternative platform, would feel cheated by a procedural fix. And that would strengthen, rather than weaken, the Cult of Corbyn. It would also leave the party ungovernable and a split certain.”

Writing in the Independent in support of Corbyn’s removal, Louis Staples wrote that it was “unfortunate that Eagle isn’t up to the job… In the aftermath of Chilcot, rallying around Eagle as a potential leader shows how deeply out of touch Labour MPs are with their membership and the public mood.”

Staples suggest that someone who is not widely seen as “Blairite scum” should stand.

Also in the Telegraph, Tony Blair’s former director of political operations, John McTernan, indicated that Eagle is viewed by at least some Blairites as little more than a stalking horse. “We should expect the NEC to confirm that Corbyn needs nominations,” he said. “Angela Eagle’s challenge will force the clarification of the rules—for which she should be praised—but if Corbyn is off the ballot she will not be standing alone for long… Expect Owen Smith to mount a serious challenge.”

Last night, Politics Home announced that Smith, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, would stand, and announce his candidacy as early as today.

Posted in UKComments Off on Angela Eagle Chosen to Front Anti-Corbyn Coup in UK Labour Party

After the Court Decision: A New Era in China ASEAN Cooperation?

NOVANEWS
 
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The decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague on the China- Philippines territorial dispute announced on the 12th of July 2016 may well emerge as a turning-point in the long-standing wrangles over islands in the South China Sea.

China expectedly has rejected the decision. It has reaffirmed its claim of territorial sovereignty and maritime rights over almost all of the South China Sea (SCS) particularly the contested Spratly Islands. It argues that its claim is rooted in history. Nonetheless, China has once again reiterated that it is committed to a peaceful resolution of all territorial squabbles pertaining to the SCS that involve, apart from the Philippines, three other ASEAN states, namely, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, and Taiwan.

The new Philippines government has lauded the Arbitration Court’s decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the SCS. Foreign Secretary, Perfecto Yasay, has expressed his government’s determination to “pursue the peaceful resolution and management of disputes with a view to promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region.” He asserted that the decision upheld international law, particularly the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.(UNCLOS)

This is what is commendable about the Court’s decision. By spelling out clearly that China has violated the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by interfering with its petroleum exploration in the zone, by constructing artificial islands and by allowing its fishermen to fish in the zone, the Court has emphasized the significance of upholding the UNCLOS. In an increasingly globalised world where trade among nations, the quest for natural resources and the pursuit of economic activities that transcend boundaries will lead inevitably to inter-state disputes and tensions, a law such as the UNCLOS is indispensable. This is why all governments especially in ASEAN should express publicly their support for a decision that has underlined the significance of international law.

The Court’s decision also repudiates China’s 1947 “nine-dash line” argument that since China has historical records to show that its navigators had explored the islands in the SCS for centuries it could exercise proprietary rights over them. As I had pointed out in an article on the 29th May 2012, “for hundreds of years before the 13th century the ancestors of present-day Filipinos, Indonesians and Malaysians, known for their superb maritime skills were in fact the masters of the seas in the entire region, including what is now known as the South China Sea.”  The Court rightly reminds the Chinese that “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources.”

In light of the Court’s decision it would be in China’s own interest to put aside the “nine-dash line “argument and begin negotiations with all the other claimants to the SCS. The new Philippines government under President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed its willingness to talk to the Chinese authorities. The governments of Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are also positively inclined towards negotiations. Negotiations could be bilateral or multilateral. There is perhaps a basis for multilateral discussions since some of the territorial claims are overlapping. Whatever it is, China’s sweeping claim to the whole of the SCS enshrined in its “nine-dash line” theory was a huge barrier to any quest for a just and equitable solution. Now that it has been unambiguously rejected in international law, the Chinese should move ahead and try to re-energise relations with its neighbours on a stronger foundation.

What that stronger foundation could be has already been hinted by China itself and some of its neighbours in recent remarks. China and ASEAN as a whole could collectively explore the purportedly huge wealth that the South China Sea offers. It is established that the SCS has abundant fisheries and could be one of the major sources of protein for the world in the decades to come. It is believed that it also contains vast quantities of oil, gas and other minerals. Agreements could be forged among ASEAN states and China that would enable them to work together on harnessing this wealth for the good of the millions of people who live in this region.

At the same time, if China and ASEAN are prepared to work together they could also protect the freedom of navigation in one of the most important shipping lanes in the world. The South China Sea is vital to world trade and will become even more important in the future as global economic power shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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