The road to Raqqa is now blocked by U.S. forces and their allies. The chances that Raqqa (and the surrounding region) will be returned to Syria are now slim to none. Foreign armies and their proxies are sharpening their carving knives.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Sunday that they captured the Tabqa air base, 45km west of Raqqa, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group’s de facto capital in Syria.
Earlier this week, US forces airlifted SDF fighters behind ISIL lines to allow them to launch the Tabqa assault, and on Friday the alliance reached one of the dam’s entrances.
SDF forces were within 10km of Raqqa from the north, and aimed to effectively surround the city before launching an assault.
Besides recapturing the dam, SDF said the U.S.-backed operation also aimed to block any advance by Syrian government forces from the west.
The landing forces airdropped into Syria seized four small villages in the area west of Tabqa and cut a main highway that links the provinces of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor, and Aleppo, Scrocca said.
The SDF cut the last main road out of Raqqa earlier this month, narrowing in on the city from the north, east, and west.
The only way in or out of Raqqa now is over the Euphrates River that borders the city to the south.
Incredible, isn’t it? A foreign army that is illegally operating in a sovereign nation can just march in and cut off the legitimate army of said sovereign nation from liberating its own city from terrorists.
What a world — and so much for international law.
It will be interesting to see Moscow’s reaction. Was this always part of the “deal” in Syria? Or is Washington hoping that Syria, Iran and Russia will accept Raqqa’s U.S.-ordained fate?
Yemen is Obama’s war, now Trump’s, complicit with Saudi terror-bombing, massacring civilians indiscriminately, causing vast destruction, human suffering and starvation.
A previous article explained millions of Yemenis face slow, painful deaths from lack of food needed to survive, blockaded coastal areas preventing it from entering the country.
Amounts airlifted in are woefully inadequate. The mainstream media suppress the ongoing horror, ignoring US responsibility for genocide.
On March 26, the Washington Post-owned Foreign Policy magazine headlined “Pentagon Weighs More Support for Saudi-led War in Yemen,” saying:
“Several Defense officials told Foreign Policy the prospect of more American help for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen was under discussion even as the administration examines its broader strategy in the region, including looking at ways to counter Iran and to defeat Islamic State militants.”
“The Pentagon views increased support for the Saudi-led coalition as one way of potentially pushing back against Iran’s influence in Yemen, as well as shoring up ties with an ally that felt neglected by the previous administration.”
What’s likely is escalated US-orchestrated aggression in a nation already devastated by two years of imperial war – besides years of US drone war since launched by the Bush/Cheneyadministration in January 2002, civilians overwhelmingly harmed.
Intensifying combat operations assures far more mass slaughter, destruction, chaos and human suffering, besides what’s already intolerable – achieving nothing but endless conflict, benefiting war-profiteers at the expense of countless numbers of innocent victims.
According to one unnamed Defense Department official, “(w)e’re interested in building the capability of the Saudis” to operate in Yemen and elsewhere regionally – free to commit atrocities with US help.
In a Saturday address, marking the second anniversary of imperial war on Yemen, Ansarullah movement leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi denounced Saudi terror-bombing war crimes, including use of chemical and other banned weapons – accomplishing nothing but mass slaughter and destruction.
Denouncing aggression on its second anniversary, hundreds of thousands of Yemenis demonstrated in Sana’a’s al-Sabin Square, waving national flags, chanting anti-Saudi slogans.
Supreme Political Council president Saleh al-Samad praised effective resistance against Saudi aggression, despite unlimited resources, weapons, munitions, and US-led Western aid.
Now in its third year, Washington apparently wants conflict escalated, not ended. The longer it continues, the greater the human toll.
The lives and welfare of millions of Yemeni civilians are at risk. Countless more numbers may perish before conflict ends.
This report is yet to be fully confirmed (GR Editor)
Inside Syria Media Center has obtained proofs of plans to create a state of Great Kurdistan.
According to the documents at our disposal, the U.S. authorities and the Syrian Kurds reached an agreement past week on the boundaries of the Kurdish autonomy in the territory of Syria, which had been guaranteed to Kurds in case of capturing Raqqa and Al-Tabqah (34 miles to the West of Raqqa). This confirms the reports about the U.S. plans to divide Syria.
In addition, Washington has already defined the boundaries of the new state of the Great Kurdistan on the territory of Syria and Iraq. It is to be created after ISIS defeat and the final collapse of Syrian Arab Republic. According to the U.S. military, Kurds remain the only force capable of defeating ISIS.
Map of Great Kurdistan
In order to strengthen its positions the new U.S. administration announced the upcoming liberation of the so-called ISIS capital, Raqqa. To grease the wheels the Americans resorted to money, their weapon of choice. They bribe ISIS field commanders and increase payments to YPG and FSA units.
The U.S. government intends to capture Raqqa by April and to eliminate ISIS in Syria and Iraq this summer. The implementation of these plans requires making concessions to Kurds. This is why the U.S. promises them an independent state in case of victory.
As the FARC continues to demobilize, authorities now look to secure the peace deal in Colombia.
The Colombia government and leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, began Saturday a two-day meeting to speed up the implementation of the peace agreementthat brings an end to the country’s long-running internal armed conflict.
“In this meeting, we will make a progress assessment with the purpose of making the necessary decisions to accelerate the implementation of the agreements,” said both parties in a joint statement.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, also known as Timoleon Jimenez or “Timochenko,” headed the meetings in the city of Cartagena, a tourist hub located on the Caribbean Sea.
“We are not going to renegotiate or open the door to renegotiate the agreements, of course if we can achieve improvements in the agreements they are welcome, but it has to be mutually agreed between the parties,” said Santos Friday.
According to the measures outlined in the agreement, 7,000 guerrilla members are now gathered in 19 transition zones across the country where they are expected to leave their weapons and begin their reintegration into Colombian society after decades in the jungle.
The disarmament process, coordinated with the United Nations, is expected to be completed by early June, and the former members of the rebel group will form a political party.
Former President Alvaro Uribe, the strongest opponent of the peace agreement, has been critical of the fact that the deal paves the way for the FARC to become a legal political force in the country’s elections.
Four months ago, Colombia reached a peace deal to end the 52 years of armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million Colombians and displaced more than 7 million more.
Organizers say it was the largest-ever protest against the private pension system in Chile.
Hundreds of thousands of people took the streets in cities across Chile Sunday to protest the private pension system known as AFP, in what the organizers have called the largest march for the cause in the history of the movement.
The march, organized by workers’ organizations and trade unions, kicked off at 11:00 a.m. local time in the capital city Santiago’s in Plaza de las Armas, as well as several other cities.
According to organizers, 800,000 took part in the marches in Santiago and a further 2 million across the country.
“We hope today we will have a lot of people and show that the social movements are saying, ‘We don’t want anymore AFP,'” a protester with the Cabreados Movement told Chile’s Bio Bio TV at the demonstration in Santiago. “(AFP) is already a failure, and our political actors need to know that the social movements won’t stop.”
Luis Messina, spokesperson for the CNT labor union, predicted that Sunday’s demonstration would be a “historic” march. “Perhaps the largest in history,” he said. The protest comes after several marches in the country demanded President Michelle Bachelet end the AFP private pension system which puts the average retirement pension below the minimum wage.
The contested system also forces workers to deposit a portion of their wages and an administrative fee into accounts managed by private hands. This system handles savings for about 10 million working Chileans.
Last year, the pension fund was modified to reflect changes in the country’s mortality rates starting mid-2016. Workers who retire will now receive close to 2.1 percent less money for their retirement.
The pension system in Chile is a remnant from the era of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which violently ruled the country from the 1973 military coup against President Salvador Allende until 1990. Much of the era’s policies, which introduced aggressive neoliberalism and sweeping privatization, are still in the Chilean Constitution.
“We call on all the working families of Chile to go massively this Sunday, to make it clear that we don’t want more AFP, private or state-run, and we will not tolerate cosmetic reforms that don’t give a real solution to the low pensions or to the permanent scam that has targeted us Chilean workers due to AFP for more than 36 years,” said the organizers ahead of the march.
Mauricio Mattus, the spokesman of the Movement of Independent Citizens No+AFP, which translates to “No More AFP,” called on all Chileans to participate.
“This is a citizen movement and not a political one, he said. “For that reason, we also make a call not to attend with political allusions, this is a transversal movement in which everyone can join but is far from having a political tendency,” he said.
In August 2016, 350,000 people protested in Santiago against the pension system that President Michelle Bachelet promised to reform. The government is expected to present such a plan in about a month.
“Angela Davis: An Autobiography” will focus on the militant activist’s work and the trajectory of her life. Forest Whitaker will serve as executive producer, and Sidra Smith, the person behind the 2012 documentary “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” will be co-producer.
Davis herself will also serve as an executive producer along with her niece, playwright Eisa Davis. One of Whitaker’s upcoming films also includes Ryan Coogler’s Marvel flick Black Panther.
Davis was a leader of the U.S. Communist Party in the 1960s. After her allegiances were discovered in 1969, she was dismissed from her role as acting assistant professor in the philosophy department at the University of California, Los Angeles.
In 1970, she was charged with murder, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy for suspected involvement in a courtroom shootout but was later acquitted of all charges. She returned to academia soon after, publishing a number of books about civil and women’s rights, racism, healthcare and prison reform as well as poverty and grassroots resistance.
Now a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Davis’ most iconic books include the 1981 classic, “Women, Race and Class” and the 2003 book, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”
The group is now reorganizing, decades later, in the face of the Trump administration.
“The elephant in the room is the new president of the United States of America,” said Panther education minister Trunnell Price, as reported by KPBS.
“They’re scared to death. They’re literally scared to death. They have no power, that the constitution doesn’t pertain to them, that their liberties can be taken away from them, that they have no voice,” he added.
Price is one of the original founding members of the local party launched by the Black Student Union back in 1967 at San Diego State University and active until it was broken up in the early 1970s due to raids by the FBI’s Cointelpro covert surveillance program, which sought to do exactly that, break up the group.
San Diego Black Panther party chairman Henry Wallace, at the meeting, led the group through the Panthers’ hallmark 10-point platform.
“We want land,” Wallace said. “We want bread. We want housing, education and justice and peace.”
Price recounted how the group’s reorganization to reflect today’s issues is of utmost importance.
“We have to organize everywhere,” he said. “On the playground. The boys club. The girls club. The YMCA. The school. Friend’s house. Twitter. Snapshot. Facebook. Your book. My book. That’s what life is all about — moving forward in a positive way.”
The group’s focus will also be on its strained relationship with the San Diego Police Department. Just last year,a report by San Diego State University found that officers are more likely to search Black and Latinx drivers. The Panthers are also worried about Trump’s travel ban, his denial of climate change, the potential scrapping of Obamacare and deportations of undocumented immigrants.
“The history of San Diego is greatly related and intertwined with the brown community in San Diego,” Price told KPBS. “We went to school together. We played together. We fought together. So we are affected by what’s happening to our brothers across the border and what’s happening to their families here in the United States without a doubt.”
The Black Panther Party’s agenda also includes a revival of their breakfast program for children and checks for diabetes and sickle cell anemia.
A senior Iranian lawmaker said Iran would consider a bill branding the U.S. military and the CIA as terrorist groups.
As provocative aggression against Iran amps up under U.S. President Donald Trump, Iran has responded by announcing sanctions against 15 U.S. firms, citing ties to apartheid Israel and other rampant human rights abuses in the region.
According to the state-run news agency IRNA, Iran’s foreign ministry said the companies had “flagrantly violated human rights” and cooperated with Israel in its “terrorism” against Palestinians.
The sanctions bar the companies from making any agreements with Iranian firms, a seizure of their assets, as well as banning visas for its former and current directors.
The Iranian move came two days after the United States imposed sanctions on 11 companies or individuals from China, North Korea or the United Arab Emirates for technology transfers that could boost Tehran’s ballistic missile program.
The companies on Iran’s sanctions list include Bent Tal, United Technologies Products, ITT Corporation, Raytheon, Re/Max Real Estate, Magnum Research Inc., Oshkosh Corporation, Kahr Arms and Elbit Systems.
A senior Iranian lawmaker also said Iran would consider a bill branding the U.S. military and the CIA as terrorist groups if the U.S. Congress designates Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization.
“While respecting the American people and distinguishing between them and the hostile policies of the U.S. government, Iran will implement the principle of reciprocity until the offensive U.S. limitations against Iranian nationals are lifted,” a Foreign Ministry statement said at the time.
Playwright Guillermo Calderon told EFE in an interview in Sao Paulo that he wrote this play “to review the case and try to find justice for Jorge.”
Jorge Mateluna, a former guerrilla of the Marxist-Leninist Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front that fought against the 1973-1990 Pinochet regime, helped document Calderon’s 2013 play “Escuela” with his own true story.
Six months after its premiere, with the play still on the marquee, Mateluna was arrested for taking part in a bank robbery, a crime that had nothing to do with the sentence of over 10 years he had previously served for belonging to the guerrilla front.
“It’s an investigation through documentary theater. We find in the investigation a pair of clues and that’s what we use onstage, but there are really 100 different items of proof that Jorge had nothing to do with it,” said Calderon.
Shown onstage are shots of the trial and videos that show the corruption of the Chilean police and justice system in a case that remains closed.
“The idea is that there should be a political movement to reopen the case,” the director said.
“Mateluna” was presented at Berlin’s HAU Hebbel an Ufer theater complex last October, and this week formed part of the program at the Sao Paulo International Theater Festival, from where it traveled to other Brazilian cities before leaving for Mexico.
The work continues Calderon’s brand of “political” theater seen in other works like “Neva,” “Diciembre,” “Clase,” “Villa” and “Discurso,” which have been staged in more than 30 countries.
Calderon grew up during the Pinochet dictatorship and told EFE that he feels part of the social and political movements of the time, which, from his point of view, ended “when Chile began its transition to democracy.”
Nonetheless, “the dictatorship is a ghost that continues to haunt Chile,” he said.
To make his point, the playwright said that “in Chile. the constitution imposed by Pinochet is still in force” and “the neoliberal values” that regulate the economy to this day were introduced by the authoritarian regime.
“Despite decades of democracy, the country has been unable to unshackle itself from those impositions,” he said.
Years ago, Calderon moved to the United States as a refuge to “relax and write” stage plays, but since Donald Trump became president he has noted a difference.
“There is indignation, anger, pain, and a deep sadness I never felt in the US before…it reminds me of Chile during the dictatorship. The conditions are different, but the emotions are similar,” he said.
Calderon has dedicated his life to political reflection on stage and screen, because, he said, “when all institutions fail, the last thing that’s left is art.”
A sweeping Supreme Court victoryfor pro-choice advocates last summer was quickly overrun by worries brought on by the election of Donald Trump and the announcement of his proposed Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Those concerned about women’s reproductive rights might wonder whether an overruling of Roe v. Wade is on the horizon, now that President Trump’s nominee looks to be all but unstoppable.
But the real danger may be not so much that things will radically change – it’s that they’ll remain the same. From my vantage point as a constitutional law professor who also litigates reproductive rights cases, the landscape looks about as treacherous as it ever has.
A short-lived victory?
In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court decided last summer that if a state law is so difficult to comply with that it has the effect of shutting down abortion clinics without really helping women or making abortions safer, then that law violates the constitutional right to abortion.
Whole Woman’s Health provides an example of how this legal test works. The Supreme Court considered a Texas law that imposed two kinds of regulations on abortion clinics. First, the law mandated that abortion clinics meet the same building and staffing standards as mini-hospitals, a very expensive proposition. Second, the law required clinic doctors to be able to admit patients to a local hospital – a medically unnecessary qualification that can be hard to get in a state where there is widespread opposition to abortion. The state claimed it was imposing all of these regulations to protect patients’ health and safety. The Supreme Court concluded that the law actually did very little to protect women but a whole lot to shut down clinics. In a 5-3 decision, it found the Texas law to be unconstitutional.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes reproductive rights, 338 laws imposing new abortion restrictions have been adopted by states just since 2010. This number equals about 30 percent of the total number of abortion restrictions currently on the books in this country.
You might think that the Whole Woman’s Health case would have slowed down the pace of anti-abortion laws.
Indeed, 18 states passed 50 new pieces of anti-abortion legislation in 2016. For example, three states passed laws requiring fetuses and embryos to be buried or cremated after an abortion. Four states passed measures banning the most common abortion procedure after 13 weeks. These laws have the effect of forcing women seeking second-trimester abortions to have a riskier procedure than the one that was banned.
The restrictions don’t target abortion alone. Since July 2015, 15 states have acted to defund Planned Parenthood, a major provider of preventive health care services.
And these statistics do not include the many states bill that are still only proposed or pending.
The future of the court
Although the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health provides reproductive rights advocates with a powerful tool to challenge the new onslaught of legislative measures, it’s hardly a perfect solution. A legal test that requires balancing benefits and burdens leaves a lot of room for a judge to place a thumb on the scale.
It doesn’t help matters that the Supreme Court left a number of questions unanswered in Whole Woman’s Health. There is still no consensus, for example, on whether state laws requiring burial and cremation for fetuses are constitutional.
This is where the Supreme Court comes into play, since at least some of these new laws will likely end up in front of it. So how can we expect Gorsuch to rule? In a speechat my law school last year, Gorsuch praised his predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia, who was a fierce opponent of abortion rights. Gorsuch also argued, following in Scalia’s footsteps, that “judges should be in the business of declaring what the law is using the traditional tools of interpretation, rather than pronouncing the law as they might wish it to be in light of their own political views.” This judicial philosophy, called textualism, holds that judges should focus only on the words of the Constitution, and what they meant at the time they were adopted – largely ignoring the ways in which society has changed and leaving both their own politics and popular opinion and beliefs out of the equation.
Yet, the current test for the constitutionality of abortion regulations gives broad discretion to individual judges to decide how to weigh a state’s claimed interest against the woman’s right to access abortion. And, as I have shown in a recent law review article, a judge’s underlying views about abortion are often evident in their decisions when abortion is involved – even in cases that are primarily about something else, like free speech rights or religious freedom. The impact of an individual’s political views is likely to be particularly strong at the Supreme Court level, where justices are not strictly bound to follow prior decisions and where the disputes are, almost by definition, difficult, uncharted legal territory.
It’s hard to discern much from Gorsuch’s history, which exemplifies narrow, doctrinal decision-making. In two cases, he voted against abortionrights groups but on highly technical grounds.
Perhaps more to the point, Gorsuch has been quite welcoming to religious employers’ claims to be exempt from providing their employees with contraception, recently joining an opinion in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell that argued it was too great a burden on a religious employer to even have to file paperwork opting out of the legal mandate. One can probably infer from these cases, and Gorsuch’s admiration for Scalia’s judicial philosophy, that the right to an abortion does not have a prominent place within his understanding of the Constitution.
Still, Roe v. Wade itself is probably safe for now.
Overruling is unlikely, given that Justice Anthony Kennedy will remain the swing vote even after the current vacancy on the Supreme Court is filled. Kennedy has supported the core of the right to choose. The real turning point will likely come if and when Trump gets to make a second nomination to the Supreme Court. That day may not be so far off, since three of the current justices – all moderates or liberals – are over 75 years old.
What is more immediately at risk is the long-term fate of abortion clinics, women’s access to safe abortion and even the availability of other forms of reproductive health care. In other words, what is at risk is everything other than Roe v. Wade.