Feb 23, 2017

Recap of Events in Syria & Iraq for February 22 2017

From Antiwar.com:

What I find most interesting is that reports are circulating (with increasing frequency) of ISIS filtering back into liberated areas. Some blame corruption, others lack of followup security.
U.S. forces were shot at and returned fire in the Albu Saif area in southern Mosul. The number of wounded, if any, was not released. Currently, the town and the nearby airport are the focus of attention for security forces.
Some residents of eastern Mosul, which has been liberated, found notes left under their doors warning them to leave immediately or face death from Islamic State militants. Some in western Mosul are being bused outof town as the fighting nears them. 
Residents of other towns that have been liberated also report ISIS/Daesh activity. Corruption appears to be the main driver allowing the return of militants in other cities.
Turkish airstrikes were reported in the Qandil Mountains.
An Iranian news channel has reported the discovery of a mass grave that may contain 2,400 bodies.
At least 130 were killed and 11 more were wounded in the latest violence: 
In Mosul, a drone killed five civilians and wounded three more. Airstrikes killed 35 militants in southern Mosul, perhaps near the airport.
Three civilians were killed and six were wounded by a blast as they tried to escape Hawija.
In Baghdad, a Sahwa member was killed and another wounded at a checkpoint in Doura
At least 47 militants were killed in clashes with militiamen near Tal Afar. The villages of Ain Tlawi and Sharia were liberated in the fighting. Airstrikes killed another 20 militants.
A missile strike on Kubeisa killed eight militants.

Feb 22, 2017

Yemeni Army & Popular Committees Recapture Mocha City

English: Mocha, Yemen, 1996
English: Mocha, Yemen, 1996 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Yemeni army, backed by fighters from the Popular Committees, more commonly known as “The Houthis/Ansarullah”, have reached the eastern outskirts of the port city of Mocha, which in February was taken control of by forces loyal to the former president Mansour Hadi, and Saudi-led coalition forces.

According to earlier PressTV, media reports, several high-ranking pro-Saudi commanders were among those killed in a medium-range ballistic missile attack carried out by Yemeni forces on an area close to the strategic Bab el-Mandeb Strait.

The control of Yemen by pro-Saudi forces has for the most part been strictly limited to southern and eastern Yemen, and some areas along the Saudi border.

Source: AMN - Al-Masdar News | المصدر نيوز

Feb 19, 2017

The Resignation of General Flynn Could Be a Dangerous Precedent

"Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do."  --Moon of Alabama

Excellent article, as usual from the "Moon of Alabama" website, written by 'B'.

Kicking Flynn out of his office has hurt Trump. His standing is diminished. The efforts against Flynn, mainly by the "deep state" in the intelligence agencies, were designed to change Trump's declared foreign policy aims. They worked. Yesterday the White House spokesperson said:
President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to deescalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea. 
Today Trump tweeted:
Donald J. Trump Verified account @realDonaldTrump
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
4:42 AM - 15 Feb 2017
That is a position Trump had not preciously taken. "Return Crimea" is a no-no to any current and future Russian government. If Trump insists on this the prospective détente is already dead. 
Several writers along the political spectrum point out that this show of raw power by the "intelligence community" is a great danger. 
Damon Linker in The Week:
The whole episode is evidence of the precipitous and ongoing collapse of America's democratic institutions — not a sign of their resiliency. Flynn's ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn't the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.
In a liberal democracy, how things happen is often as important as what happens. Procedures matter. So do rules and public accountability. The chaotic, dysfunctional Trump White House is placing the entire system under enormous strain. That's bad. But the answer isn't to counter it with equally irregular acts of sabotage — or with a disinformation campaign waged by nameless civil servants toiling away in the surveillance state. 
Robert Perry at Consortium News:
Flynn’s real “offense” appears to be that he favors détente with Russia rather than escalation of a new and dangerous Cold War. Trump’s idea of a rapprochement with Moscow – and a search for areas of cooperation and compromise – has been driving Official Washington’s foreign policy establishment crazy for months and the neocons, in particular, have been determined to block it.
The neocons and liberal hawks also hated Flynn because – as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency – he oversaw a prescient 2012 analysis that foresaw that their support for the Syrian insurgency would give rise to “a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria.”
Flynn’s resignation and its acceptance by Trump also prove that these tactics work and that “tough-guy” Trump is not immune to them.
The so-called permanent government of Washington and its complicit mainstream media – what some call the Deep State – have taught Trump a lesson and have learned a lesson, too. They now can be expected to redouble their march toward war and more war, ironically with progressives and leftists in tow. 
Justin Raimondo at Antiwar:
Flynn was in the crosshairs of the War Party because he’s the most prominent of those around Trump who advocated for détente with Russia. Also, his somewhat loopy belief that Islam, per se, is a pernicious political ideology rather than a religion, made him a natural enemy of the pro-Saudi faction within the intelligence community, which had long worked with Riyadh to, among other things, overthrow the government of Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
The Flynn resignation is just the beginning. As one Politico writer put it, it won’t stop there. They’ll move on to new targets, and they won’t rest until they’ve bagged their real target: the President of the United States 
Eli Lake for Bloomberg:
[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it's strange that Flynn's "lie" to Pence would get him fired. It doesn't add up.
A better explanation here is that Flynn was just thrown under the bus.
Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.
In the end, it was Trump's decision to cut Flynn loose. In doing this he caved in to his political and bureaucratic opposition. 
Nunes told me Monday night that this will not end well. "First it's Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus," he said. Put another way, Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.
Trump will now cave in on foreign policy: on Russia, on Syria and everywhere else the borg demands it. He has been put "on notice" and will either do as he is told to do or he will be the prey in an even bigger hunt. 
It is alarming that the so-called left part of the U.S. policy is lauding the "deep state" for this open attack on the elected government. They are now justifying the methods that will one day be turned against themselves. Why do they fail to see this?
Please do visit the Moon of Alabama website - The comments on this article are interesting.

Feb 15, 2017

Google Coding Champion Came From Village Without Internet!

Location map of Cameroon Equirectangular proje...
Location map of Cameroon Equirectangular projection. Geographic limits of the map: N: 13.5° N S: 1.4° N W: 8.2° E E: 16.6° E (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Such a good feel good story - Kids in the West could learn from this young man.

A true champion is one who braces through all adversities and hurdles coming in his or her way. And this 17-year-old African boy is no different!
Nji Collins Gbah, who resides in a small, rural town far outside the capital of Cameroon, is Africa’s first Google Code-in champion. Google Code-in is a contest open to students around the world, aged 13 to 17.

What makes this champion different is that Collins used the knowledge he gained from two years of learning how to code by reading books along with online resource to beat his 1,299 other young adult competitors from around the world who have regular access to wireless networks in order to win the competition.

Collins is from the city of Bamenda in Cameroon’s predominantly Anglophone North-West region that recently fell victim to alleged discriminatory practices from the national government due to political unrest. There has been mounting tension in Cameroon between the country’s Anglophone population—who make up 20 percent of the population—and its French-speaking majority, as English-speakers feel that they are being discriminated against due to partial government practices in favor of the Francophone population.
In response to the protests spearheaded by locals, the government cut off the internet in towns across the area, including Collins’s as a punishment and a blunt tool for holding back dissent. The internet was disconnected just a day after Collins sent in his final submission for the competition, which was uncomfortably close to prevent his success. His hometown has been without internet for nearly a month.
Luckily, by the time entries closed, Collins had completed 20 tasks, covering all five categories set by Google and that too without internet and with no place to study. Due to the on-going protests against English language speakers in the predominantly French speaking nation, his school had shut down. Also, there was no wireless connection at home.

Later, Collins received some unexpected news of him being chosen as one of Google’s 34 grand prize winners.
“I was really, really amazed,” he told the BBC. “It meant my hard work writing a lot of code had really paid off.”
In order to stay on top of the game to win the big prize, Collins chose to travel almost eight hours to the capital, Yaounde.
“I wanted to get a connection so I could continue studying and keep in touch with Google,” he says.
As part of his prize from Google, the young winner received a four day trip to Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, where he will be meeting its top engineers and gaining insight into one of the world’s most successful enterprises.
“Hopefully I would like to work there one day, if that is possible,” he says.
In the future, Collins hopes to finish school back in Bamenda, and then study computer science in college.

Currently, Collins says he is working hard to develop his knowledge of artificial intelligence, neural networks and deep learning.
“I’m trying to develop my own model for data compression, using deep learning and machine learning,” he says.
His ultimate goal is a “huge step” forward in capabilities for data transfer and storage.
Source: TechdirtBBC

Feb 13, 2017

Facebook, Politics and Losing Friends In Real Life

Just read an excellent article over on Medium's BackChannel by Jessi Hempel. Can't recommend it highly enough, as pretty much anyone that has been on Facebook for any length of time surely has had a similar experience(s). I know I have, not with close friends, but relatives. There is much truth in that old saying 'Never discuss Politics, Religion or Sex' in polite company. So true!

"Help,” my mother began our weekly phone conversation. “Marge and I aren’t speaking.” Marge is one of my mom’s best friends. When she moved houses, Marge showed up with curtains and a lamp and had her grown son heave boxes in from the car. When my mom found herself alone on Christmas one year, Marge set an extra spot at her table.
But here’s the thing: Marge is a Republican. My mom, a Democrat.
This hasn’t mattered for the better part of the last decade. Their friendship is built on warm conversations over lunches, shared confidences, and favors exchanged. But then, several weeks ago, Mom became so outraged by current events that she began posting a series of anti-Trump memes and quotes.
Read More 

Feb 11, 2017

Great Series on Fake News

This looks like it'll be an excellent series on Fake News, written by Shawn Helton on February 11/17.

Shawn Helton of 21st Century Wire
 When analyzing the fear-based odyssey of today’s War On Terror era in America and in Europe, we see that the public has been subjected to highly sensationalized tragedy, false and misleading wartime agitprop and a ‘Wag the Dog’ reality that has deflected the true nature of organized criminality the world over.
The purpose of this article is to illustrate how three rather large mainstream media lies were used as a pretext for war in the Middle East, three aspects that have separately, albeit symbiotically, altered the course of Western foreign policy by way of deception, and dramatically paved the way to destabilization in Iraq, and later to Libya, and finally to Syria.
Government entities, along with mainstream TV news, print media and PR firms – have all worked hand in hand to heavily influence the public’s political perspective concerning the reality of modern warfare. Let’s take a look a three fabricated stories used to accelerate Western interests in the Middle East…
Read More 

Feb 10, 2017

Is Amnesty International Report on Assad Government Hangings, Propaganda?

There has been lots of suspicion lately about FakeNews, with much of the commentary from establishment types, saying it's from the Alternate News Media.
I'm not so sure that's right, as lately, well, as of the 2nd Iraq War, it has been increasingly the western Main Street Media, our Corporate Media titans that have been leading that charge. In my opinion of course - and that of many others.
In terms of this post, I'm posting a rebuttal to the report from two individuals, both Syrians. The translated, formated document is linked to my Google Drive. All I have done is format it in a way that's easier to read, rather than one sold block of single spaced text. Since this is a translation from Arabic to English and not done by a professional translation service, there are some mistakes in language. Not enough to obscure any meaning, in my opinion. I didn't want to correct those, as I wanted to keep it as close to virgin as possible.

It's a worthwhile read (below)!

Amnesty International report on Syria: a response from a Syrian dissident (former political prisoner living in Europe)

Of course, the Syrian regime committed and is committing and will continue to commit human rights violations but this is about the Amnesty International report on Syria.
Western human rights organizations--specifically Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch--don't have any credibility among most Arabs about human rights. Their reputation has sunk far lower ever since the Arab uprisings in 2011, where they have been rightly perceived as propaganda arms of Western governments.  So, I saw the report yesterday and read the Methodology section and immediately felt that it is not credible: given the mention of unnamed sources (not one of them willing to be identified and the reference to countries which host Syrian opposition groups).  But I am not an expert on those details and specifics.  I don't trust the Syrian regime, (and its sponsors) and I don't trust the Syrian rebels and their sponsors in the West and East.  
How to judge the report? I asked a well-known Syrian dissident who, due to his leftist underground activities, served years in Syrian jails and was subjected to torture by the regime.  His name is Nizar Nayouf.  He wrote me those responses, and I can't judge the validity of the specific answers, but given that there is no scrutiny by Western media to anything coming out, which is in sync with Western government propaganda on Syria, I thought it would be useful.  These are my (rush) translations (edited) of his answers:

" The white prison is the one in the shape of Mercedes.  It is the main building (the old and big).  As for the red prison, it is the new and small [structure], and contrary to what is contained in the report--which it seems does not distinguish between the two.  

The first was inaugurated in 1988 while the second was not inaugurated until 2001.  As for the main White building, it is quite impossible for it to accommodate 10,000 prisoners.  We know it inch by inch, and know how much it can accommodate, at maximum, and assuming you put 30 prisoners in a cell like pickles (or Syrian style pickles, makdus), it can't accommodate more than 4500 prisoners (in fact it was designed for 3000 prisoners).
The red building is much smaller and is exclusive to public defendants among the military members (traffic, desertion, various criminal offenses, etc), and can't accommodate more than 1800 prisoners, even if you put 3 on top of one another.  
Yes, paying money to achieve release is true.  I personally documented tens of cases, in which `Ali Haydar (minister of national reconciliation) was the mediator.  The talk of rape is lie on top of lie.  It has no basis in truth.  I challenge them...to show one case, not only now but also from the beginning of the era of Hafidh Al-Asad, whether with women or with men.
Yes, there were rape cases with tools (like raping around ten young women from Communist Action Party, and others, with soft drink bottles.  
There is nothing in official papers which prisoners sign something called Sidnaya prison. This is the popular name and not the official name*.   And this reveals the lies about them signing papers indicating that they were "from Sidnaya prison".  
Prisoners are not moved from prisons to On-site Courts in Al-Qabun.  The on-site courts move to prisons and hold its trials there, especially now as the Al-Qabun area is targeted by the fire of the rebels and is not safe at all.  
As for the length of the trials, it is one minute or two, and that is true since the 1980s till now.  They admit that on-site trials' rulings require the signature of the president or the Minister of Defense and yet they say in another section that execution is approved only by the members of the court and officers with it.  They claim that the second on-site court was formed to accommodate after the crisis, and this is a lie and show ignorance or fabrication.

The on-site court (first and second) have been in existence since 1968, and the Palestinian colonel, Salah ad-Din Al-Ma`ani, was chief of the second on-site courts since the 1980s.  He was the one who was in charge of trial of Muslim Brotherhood, along with Sulayman Al-Khatib.  
As for the requirement of confessions by prisoners while they are blindfolded, this was ended by an order from Hafidh Al-Asad in 1998 or 1999, as far as I can remember, but I don't know if this practice was resumed.  
There is no representative of the mukhabarat in the Hay'at Al--Mahkamah Al-Maydaniyyah, and thus he does not sign on any ruling, contrary to what is claimed by the report.  There is a mess in what they say that the head of the on-site court is the military prosecutor, (p. 20) and this is real rubbish.  
The military prosecutor’s job is quite different from the chief of the on-site court, and is the chief military prosecutor in the military district administration.  They say that those who are on death row are gathered in the red building (section B).  
But they said that the red boiling (p. 12) which is on the shame pf Mercedes, which is in fact the old building, and is thus baseless as I indicated above.  And in the old building there are no cells except solitary confinement cells (one meter by two meters) under ground.  And they are for punishment and is limited in numbers.

As for the section B, it is like other sections (10 beds on the right and 10 on the left, three stories over ground).  
The thing that most got my attention was "the transfer of the prisoners from the red building and white building in trucks and cars".  When one hears this, one thinks that the distance between the two buildings is in kilometers when they are less than 120 meters apart.  
The report says (p. 2) that the "commander of the southern front group (firqah) attends the executions.  There is nothing in the Syrian Army which is called "commander of the Southern Group 13 or northern or Western or any other direction.
On page 32, it says that the picture is of the cemetery of  martyrs south of Damascus.  The report says that it was expanded substantially between 2014 and 2016 and that long tunnels were dug in them, implying that they were used to bury those who were executed.  
This is silly beyond silly.  In the martyrs cemetery no one can be buried there except the martyrs of the army, even if there is an intercession by Muhammad or Jesus or Hafidh Al-Asad himself.  And contrary to what they say, and the picture damns them, because it shows the increase in the number of victims of the army.
On p. 35, and elsewhere, they talk about forcing "prisoners to rape one another".  This is despicable fabrication which is baseless, and is psychologically impossible under those conditions.  (Is it possible for any person in the world to get an erection to rape another person who is tied and is under torture?)  
If the lying witness were to say that he was raped with sticks, i would have believed it because this happened sometimes with public defense prisoners as I indicated above.  

On page 43, there is a copy of certificate of death which reveals that it belongs to the Minister of Interior, but the certificate says that death was in "Military Tirshrin Hospital", which belongs to the Ministry of Defense.  
This didn't happen, and can't happen.  In cases of death in a military hospital or in detention centers belonging to Military Intelligence, the certificates show "Army or Armed Forces, Directorate of Military Medical Services", or hospital x.  

One of the most amusing--if there is amusement in tragedies--contents of the report is what appears on page 44, where it talks about "tens of thousands" (i.e. over 30,000 or at least 18,000) who died under torture or for other reasons in Sidnaya prison in five years but it says: "but we only were able to obtain the names of 375 people only".  

What the report says about the kinds of mistreatment and torture and criminality is generally true.  The world has not seen more savage prisons than the 18 prisons of the Iraqi (Saddamist) and Syrian prisons since the times of Nazism and Fascism in WWII.  And anything which is reported in this context can be simply believed.  We have seen it with our own eyes and lived it personally, although there were orders too--to be fair--that the torture of leftists and nationalists be less severe than the savage torture of Islamists."

* I pointed to Nizar this morning that the official Syrian regime statement issued today used the name of Sidnaya prison, and he said that it was the first time as they did not want to use the official name of First Military Prison.  

Feb 1, 2017

Latest News on the Julian Assange Front

The reader may remember that in mid January, Mr. Assange told the world that if Ms. Chelsey Manning was given a commuted sentence, he would give himself up to the US authorities. Well, now it seems that perhaps Mr. Assange, is backtracking somewhat. Or, maybe he never expected Obama to do what he did, and his plan backfired. You be the judge.
So, regarding the backtracking - Mother Jones has done a story and has quoted one of Mr. Assange's lawyers, a Barry Pollack saying:
"I have, for quite some period of time, been trying to get the Department of Justice to engage in some sort of a dialogue about what it is they are looking for," Pollack tells Mother Jones. "Where does Julian fit into whatever investigation they're doing? Have they charged him? Will they charge him? Are they seeking to extradite him? And the Department of Justice has just repeatedly refused to engage or provide any information whatsoever."
Furthermore, Mother Jones quotes Assange:
"We look forward to having a conversation with the DOJ about what the correct way forward is," Assange said during a January 19 press conference. "We say, of course, that they should immediately drop their case, or they should unseal their extradition request if they have one, unseal their charges…But what is occurring in the United States is an attempt to prevent us and our lawyers getting our teeth stuck in to this case and getting standing by keeping it secret."
Read entire article (MotherJones website)