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What now?

What do Marxists make of current developments in and around Syria?

Since direct Russian intervention in Syria was sprung on the world in 2015, sufficient events have unfolded to permit a general stock-take. There has been 15 months of very ‘strange times’ so where do the issues currently stand?

I presume a rethink of what I called the 1/2 theory – is self evidently required because Obama is departing his leadership role without any ability to claim success for his policies (even being publicly blamed by Kerry for being the real problem for why the US finds itself where it currently does) and short of a lucky bomber Assad will still be around!

Turkey has just declared that they are about to force the Kurds out of the (‘SDF’ Manbij pocket) http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-pres-erdoan-says-al-bab-phase-about-to-be-completed

Pres. Erdoğan says Al Bab phase about to be completed in Syria, next step will be Manbij and then Raqqa. More than just send Kurds east of the Euphrates I think, because the Turks are also declaring that no new state will be permitted in northern Syria http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-erdogan-no-ways-to-establish-any-new-states-in;  and that after Manbij they are going to Raqqah.

http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-sdf-released-many-civilians-in-manbij-sdf-arrested,  is being reported.
http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2016/24-december-erdogan-i-informed-the-us-russia-and-iran-that

The coming period will however see more than just the liberation of all territories in both Iraq and Syria controlled by Daesh. Complexity is being heaped upon more complexity and a wider war is still not unthinkable.

The September 2015 intervention required urgent analysis from those of us that have developed and argued consistently for our ‘draining the swamp theory’. It was analysed – and with very different conclusions drawn.

That period of flat out disagreement can now be summed up. Barry, Dave and Arthur thought that what was unfolding would end the regime and end the war. That theory collapsed in the face of what I have called the HIRISE Coalition of the Willing – Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Iraq (shia militia), Syria (Assad +), Egypt – war making.  What next?  What do people now say is happening? Are there any sites where a serious and respectful discussion is taking place? Are there any Main Stream Media (MSM) articles that others want to draw attention to?

Just for starters; if the Turks are soon going to Raqqa how are they going to get there?  Literally what will be the route of the Turkish forces if they have come to blows with the SDF/Kurds in the Manbij pocket?  I hope the Kurds back out of this but it’s not very promising at this point.  I think the Turks are already facing a HIRISE red line west of the Euphrates. I hope the US can get a deal done at this late stage to bring them south east of the river.  But the Turks are serious about no ‘new state’ in the nth and everyone knows Assad can’t rule in peace so after Daesh territory is removed from the map over the next few months or if the fight breaks out with the Kurds after a few months more, what comes next?

A Path Out of the Middle East Collapse

We have been asked to put this up for critical discussion.  We are in no sense promoting a criminal like Kissinger.

 

With Russia in Syria, a geopolitical structure that lasted four decades is in shambles. The U.S. needs a new strategy and priorities.

By  Henry A. Kissinger  Oct. 16, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

The debate about whether the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran regarding its nuclear program stabilized the Middle East’s strategic framework had barely begun when the region’s geopolitical framework collapsed. Russia’s unilateral military action in Syria is the latest symptom of the disintegration of the American role in stabilizing the Middle East order that emerged from the Arab-Israeli war of 1973.

In the aftermath of that conflict, Egypt abandoned its military ties with the Soviet Union and joined an American-backed negotiating process that produced peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan, a United Nations-supervised disengagement agreement between Israel and Syria, which has been observed for over four decades (even by the parties of the Syrian civil war), and international support of Lebanon’s sovereign territorial integrity. Later, Saddam Hussein’s war to incorporate Kuwait into Iraq was defeated by an international coalition under U.S. leadership. American forces led the war against terror in Iraq and Afghanistan. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States were our allies in all these efforts. The Russian military presence disappeared from the region.

That geopolitical pattern is now in shambles. Four states in the region have ceased to function as sovereign. Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq have become targets for nonstate movements seeking to impose their rule. Over large swaths in Iraq and Syria, an ideologically radical religious army has declared itself the Islamic State (also called ISIS or ISIL) as an unrelenting foe of established world order. It seeks to replace the international system’s multiplicity of states with a caliphate, a single Islamic empire governed by Shariah law.

ISIS’ claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Thus the Sunni Middle East risks engulfment by four concurrent sources: Shiite-governed Iran and its legacy of Persian imperialism; ideologically and religiously radical movements striving to overthrow prevalent political structures; conflicts within each state between ethnic and religious groups arbitrarily assembled after World War I into (now collapsing) states; and domestic pressures stemming from detrimental political, social and economic domestic policies.

The fate of Syria provides a vivid illustration: What started as a Sunni revolt against the Alawite (a Shiite offshoot) autocrat Bashar Assad fractured the state into its component religious and ethnic groups, with nonstate militias supporting each warring party, and outside powers pursuing their own strategic interests. Iran supports the Assad regime as the linchpin of an Iranian historic dominance stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean. The Gulf States insist on the overthrow of Mr. Assad to thwart Shiite Iranian designs, which they fear more than Islamic State. They seek the defeat of ISIS while avoiding an Iranian victory. This ambivalence has been deepened by the nuclear deal, which in the Sunni Middle East is widely interpreted as tacit American acquiescence in Iranian hegemony.

These conflicting trends, compounded by America’s retreat from the region, have enabled Russia to engage in military operations deep in the Middle East, a deployment unprecedented in Russian history. Russia’s principal concern is that the Assad regime’s collapse could reproduce the chaos of Libya, bring ISIS into power in Damascus, and turn all of Syria into a haven for terrorist operations, reaching into Muslim regions inside Russia’s southern border in the Caucasus and elsewhere.

On the surface, Russia’s intervention serves Iran’s policy of sustaining the Shiite element in Syria. In a deeper sense, Russia’s purposes do not require the indefinite continuation of Mr. Assad’s rule. It is a classic balance-of-power maneuver to divert the Sunni Muslim terrorist threat from Russia’s southern border region. It is a geopolitical, not an ideological, challenge and should be dealt with on that level. Whatever the motivation, Russian forces in the region—and their participation in combat operations—produce a challenge that American Middle East policy has not encountered in at least four decades.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The U.S. is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: with Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different objectives. The U.S. proclaims the determination to remove Mr. Assad but has been unwilling to generate effective leverage—political or military—to achieve that aim. Nor has the U.S. put forward an alternative political structure to replace Mr. Assad should his departure somehow be realized.

Russia, Iran, ISIS and various terrorist organizations have moved into this vacuum: Russia and Iran to sustain Mr. Assad; Tehran to foster imperial and jihadist designs. The Sunni states of the Persian Gulf, Jordan and Egypt, faced with the absence of an alternative political structure, favor the American objective but fear the consequence of turning Syria into another Libya.

American policy on Iran has moved to the center of its Middle East policy. The administration has insisted that it will take a stand against jihadist and imperialist designs by Iran and that it will deal sternly with violations of the nuclear agreement. But it seems also passionately committed to the quest for bringing about a reversal of the hostile, aggressive dimension of Iranian policy through historic evolution bolstered by negotiation.

The prevailing U.S. policy toward Iran is often compared by its advocates to the Nixon administration’s opening to China, which contributed, despite some domestic opposition, to the ultimate transformation of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The comparison is not apt. The opening to China in 1971 was based on the mutual recognition by both parties that the prevention of Russian hegemony in Eurasia was in their common interest. And 42 Soviet divisions lining the Sino-Soviet border reinforced that conviction. No comparable strategic agreement exists between Washington and Tehran. On the contrary, in the immediate aftermath of the nuclear accord, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the U.S. as the “Great Satan” and rejected negotiations with America about nonnuclear matters. Completing his geopolitical diagnosis, Mr. Khamenei also predicted that Israel would no longer exist in 25 years.

Forty-five years ago, the expectations of China and the U.S. were symmetrical. The expectations underlying the nuclear agreement with Iran are not. Tehran will gain its principal objectives at the beginning of the implementation of the accord. America’s benefits reside in a promise of Iranian conduct over a period of time. The opening to China was based on an immediate and observable adjustment in Chinese policy, not on an expectation of a fundamental change in China’s domestic system. The optimistic hypothesis on Iran postulates that Tehran’s revolutionary fervor will dissipate as its economic and cultural interactions with the outside world increase.

American policy runs the risk of feeding suspicion rather than abating it. Its challenge is that two rigid and apocalyptic blocs are confronting each other: a Sunni bloc consisting of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States; and the Shiite bloc comprising Iran, the Shiite sector of Iraq with Baghdad as its capital, the Shiite south of Lebanon under Hezbollah control facing Israel, and the Houthi portion of Yemen, completing the encirclement of the Sunni world. In these circumstances, the traditional adage that the enemy of your enemy can be treated as your friend no longer applies. For in the contemporary Middle East, it is likely that the enemy of your enemy remains your enemy.

A great deal depends on how the parties interpret recent events. Can the disillusionment of some of our Sunni allies be mitigated? How will Iran’s leaders interpret the nuclear accord once implemented—as a near-escape from potential disaster counseling a more moderate course, returning Iran to an international order? Or as a victory in which they have achieved their essential aims against the opposition of the U.N. Security Council, having ignored American threats and, hence, as an incentive to continue Tehran’s dual approach as both a legitimate state and a nonstate movement challenging the international order?

Two-power systems are prone to confrontation, as was demonstrated in Europe in the run-up to World War I. Even with traditional weapons technology, to sustain a balance of power between two rigid blocs requires an extraordinary ability to assess the real and potential balance of forces, to understand the accumulation of nuances that might affect this balance, and to act decisively to restore it whenever it deviates from equilibrium—qualities not heretofore demanded of an America sheltered behind two great oceans.

But the current crisis is taking place in a world of nontraditional nuclear and cyber technology. As competing regional powers strive for comparable threshold capacity, the nonproliferation regime in the Middle East may crumble. If nuclear weapons become established, a catastrophic outcome is nearly inevitable. A strategy of pre-emption is inherent in the nuclear technology. The U.S. must be determined to prevent such an outcome and apply the principle of nonproliferation to all nuclear aspirants in the region.

Too much of our public debate deals with tactical expedients. What we need is a strategic concept and to establish priorities on the following principles:

  • So long as ISIS survives and remains in control of a geographically defined territory, it will compound all Middle East tensions. Threatening all sides and projecting its goals beyond the region, it freezes existing positions or tempts outside efforts to achieve imperial jihadist designs. The destruction of ISIS is more urgent than the overthrow of Bashar Assad, who has already lost over half of the area he once controlled. Making sure that this territory does not become a permanent terrorist haven must have precedence. The current inconclusive U.S. military effort risks serving as a recruitment vehicle for ISIS as having stood up to American might.
  • The U.S. has already acquiesced in a Russian military role. Painful as this is to the architects of the 1973 system, attention in the Middle East must remain focused on essentials. And there exist compatible objectives. In a choice among strategies, it is preferable for ISIS-held territory to be reconquered either by moderate Sunni forces or outside powers than by Iranian jihadist or imperial forces. For Russia, limiting its military role to the anti-ISIS campaign may avoid a return to Cold War conditions with the U.S.
  • The reconquered territories should be restored to the local Sunni rule that existed there before the disintegration of both Iraqi and Syrian sovereignty. The sovereign states of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as Egypt and Jordan, should play a principal role in that evolution. After the resolution of its constitutional crisis, Turkey could contribute creatively to such a process.
  • As the terrorist region is being dismantled and brought under nonradical political control, the future of the Syrian state should be dealt with concurrently. A federal structure could then be built between the Alawite and Sunni portions. If the Alawite regions become part of a Syrian federal system, a context will exist for the role of Mr. Assad, which reduces the risks of genocide or chaos leading to terrorist triumph.
  • The U.S. role in such a Middle East would be to implement the military assurances in the traditional Sunni states that the administration promised during the debate on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and which its critics have demanded.
  • In this context, Iran’s role can be critical. The U.S. should be prepared for a dialogue with an Iran returning to its role as a Westphalian state within its established borders.

The U.S. must decide for itself the role it will play in the 21st century; the Middle East will be our most immediate—and perhaps most severe—test. At question is not the strength of American arms but rather American resolve in understanding and mastering a new world.

Mr. Kissinger served as national-security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford.

http://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-path-out-of-the-middle-east-collapse-1445037513-lMyQjAxMTI1MjE2NzIxMDcwWj

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/wall-street-journal/us-needs-new-plan-for-middle-east/story-fnay3ubk-1227573426194

The general commander of People’s Defense Units (YPG) in an interview with SOHR, “We view al- Hasakah as a nucleus of the new democratic Syria

From the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR)
October 1 2015
For those on Face Book the SOHR has a regular update on clashes and casualties etc..

“Daesh is a force of darkness, it bears no relation to Islam and the humanity, and we appeal to our Arab brothers, who left their villages and towns, to go back home”.

“The war may continue for ten years; it is the nations’ game on my the land of my country, where the victim in this war is my people”.

In these words, Siban Hammo the general commander of People’s Defense Units (YPG) concluded his interview with SOHR.

People’s Defense Units, known by YPG too, established a military force in the last four years, where the number of its fighters reached to 50000. The nucleus formation began in the Syrian Jaziar with the end of 2011, where it was able to achieve victories against “Islamic State” as well as its clashes with the regime forces, Jabhat al- Nusra (al- Qaeda in Levant) and Islamist factions in successive periods. It military formations have distributed in three main region where the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is combined with People’s Defense Units (YPG) within the Democratic Society System, declared the establishment of 3 districts of al- Jazira, Efrin and Kobani in the late January 2014.

YPG has gained world-wide fame during IS attack on Ayn al- Arab (Kobani) and seizing more than 356 towns, villages and farms that guided to the military alliance between YPG and US-led coalition. SOHR could interview the general commander of YPG Siban Hammo, where the main points on the Kurdish and Syrian arena in general.

First of all, how do identify YPG?

“best definition of it is its name People’s Defense Units, its fundamental pillar is the young Syrian Kurdish men who are militarily disciplined, while its mission is to protect the people in Rojava in all its constituents under these deadly mess in the cantons of Rojava”. Rojava is an expression for the regions inhabited mostly by Kurdish people in Syria.

Is it faction from the Krilla forces – the military wing of PKK? And does it fight on Turkish territories with PKK?

“YPG is a military force belongs to the Democratic Self- Management in Rojava, and it is fighting in fierce battles to protect its regions, so YPG has no interest to open a front with Turkey expanding to hundreds of kilo meters, this is a military suicide, and what is said on the contrary of this is meaningless and does not merit a response.

What is your response to the accusations of recruiting children?

“We have issued a lot of statement in response to these allegations but it seems that some people insist on repeating this just to defame the good reputation gained by YPG, we all know who recruit children as fighters and suicide bombers by the name of Jihad.”

What is the relationship between the Self- Defense Forces, which was announced some time ago, and YPG? Is it an attempt to increase YPG personnel obligatorily? And is it a permanent or temporary step?

“The Self- Defense is a step to organize a permanent protection, where the society in all its constituents protects its self, and to that time YPG stays the most experienced in defending our areas. For this reason, the Self- Defense is a goal we seek to reach to, and its first step was YPG.”

Now, let talk about the hottest event, what is the story behind the last clashes in al- Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo?

“To answer this question, we have to see the whole picture, provocations have started by attacking our areas in the villages of Deir Ballout and Diwan as well as kidnapping civilians and banditry; the last one was the attempt of arm-twisting by their attack on the neighborhood of al- Sheikh Maqsoud believing that it is the weakest link because it is far from the center of gravity Efrin and due to the difficulties of ensuring logistic support, as the neighborhood besieged for more than a week and the humanitarian situation there is so bad specially because the neighborhood is inhabited by more than 250000 civilians from all society constituents.

We also draw attention to the point that the national members in the opposition were disturbed about this attack on the neighborhood of al- Sheikh Maqsoud, I, in turn, wondered and would you like you to wonder like me, who benefit from this attack? And who benefit from opening a front against the kurds? What is the advantages?

“Simply, Jabhat al- Nusra, al- Soltan Morad Brigade and Ahrar al- Sham Movement are agents for another force in fighting Kurds, and this force or the third-party gave them the orders to open this front.”

What is the prospect of the battle in Aleppo, is it a defensive or offensive measure?

“From our side, the battle is defensive, we respond to the sources of fire and protect the outskirt of the neighborhood. But if the same situation continue surely we are going take more stringent measures, and we are going to change the battle into the offensive position, I do not say that we are going to control more areas but I assure that we are going to hurt them and targeting their held areas.”

Do you think that Ahrar al- Sham, Jabhat al- Nusra, al- Zinki and other factions may alley themselves to attack Efrin?

“Jabhat al- Nusra believe in Bay’ah (in Islamic terminology, is an oath of allegiance to a leader) and does not believe in alliances simply because it does not believe in partnership, it endeavors to control all the factions exist in its-held areas whether by force or enticement by lining the pockets.

In addition, it is practically controls Nour al- Din Zinki Movement, part of al- Shamiyyah Front like al- Sham Legion and even with Soqor al- Jabal battalions supported by US. However, anyone refuses to join Jabhat al- Nusra is going to be assassinated as what happened to Hazem Movement, the Syrian revolutionaries Front and the Division Jabhat al- Nusra is unveiling the reality of its method that is assassination or control, and after that it will mobilize against Efrin. Here, I want to add something, it saddened us that there are some people in the Free Syrian Army who do not differ from Jabhat al- Nusra in their actions.”

Is the truce in Kefrayya and al- Fu’ah in the countryside of Idlib will have negative effect on Efrin particularly on Atmah and Jandirs front?

“We do not count very much on this agreement as it is a periodical and tactical one, we hope to be a success to alleviate the humanitarian suffering of civilians, women and children on both sides. However, as realistic reading, we do not expect it to be a success especially after a lot of breaches occurred in the past 2 days. Concerning Jabhat al- Nusra, we are enemies and what made the situation getting worse is the declarations issued by it several times that when they finish fighting in al- Fu’ah they are going to attack Efrin. Regardless al- Zabadani – al- Fu’ah agreement, the war between us has been declared for a time sometimes directly and sometime indirectly.”

How do you evaluate the current the situation in al- Hasakah, and what is your goal in the area?

“From the military aspect, the situation from al- Hasakah to Kobani is a defensive one. So, after expelling Daesh from al- Hasakah, Kobani and Tal Abyad our units are deployed defensively to repel any possible attack carried by IS militants.

“We view al- Hasakah as a nucleus of the new democratic Syria. For this reason, we are working on establishing joint councils includes Kurds, Arabs and Syriacs, and on increasing the communication among all constituents. So, the success of our project in al- Hasakah is the motivation to fine similar solution that could be applied on the whole Syria where Syria will be free and democratic for all people.

What about the ongoing military actions in the countryside of Ayn al- Arab (Kobani)?

“The military operation in the countryside of Kobani is under the military operation room of Burkan al- Forat that includes YPG and some factions of the Free Army, so this operation is going to continue until we reach al- Raqqa and expel Daesh from it. YPG is committed to providing all kinds of support to the factions of the Free Army affiliated to the military operation room of Burkan al- Forat in order to defeat Daesh and retake al- Raqqa.”

Were you going to achieve these glory victories in Ayna al- Arab (Kobani) without US-led coalition support?

“To be realistic, we cannot deny the role offered by US-led coalition in Koabani battle but frankly speaking, I confirm that the legendary resistance and courage of our fighters as well as their ability to scarify their blood were behind these victories. So, US-led coalition had an important role but it is not the basic one.

Under these victories, there are some parties accuse you of seeking to secede from Syria in order to establish a Kurdish entity.

“These are false accusations, the Turkish government underlies them where it tries to portray any Kurdish strife as if it is a secessionist movement. Rather, those who repeat these accusations should communicate with us and see our project, then they will discover that our main project for Syria is establishing a pluralist parliamentary democratic system, and that it is Syrian project par excellence for all the constituents of Syrian people. It is the real guarantee for the unity of Syria, so stop repeating Erdogan speech like parrots. I would like also to ask them, is the stay of Daesh in Jarablos and the countryside of Aleppo is a guarantee for the unity of Syria?!”

What is your response about that YPG displaces the Arabs from their regions?

Frankly speaking, we got bored of these blatant lies and falsehoods, we issued a formal statement about that, as well as many human rights organizations have refuted these allegations. In war, it is very normal that the civilians will leave the clashing areas towards safer places, and that what happened in all the clashing areas in Syria from Horan to Qameshlo, but those who have been disturbed by our victories and tolerance and humanity turned to confuse what we have achieved. In addition, we have repeatedly launched appeals for the citizens to return to their homes, and allow me to reiterate the call from your rostrum to all citizens on order to come back to their homes.”

Too much talk about your relation with the regime especially after al- Hasakah clashes, how do you explain this relation if any?

“These accusations are the same of accusations of seeking to secede, so those who repeat such accusations have closed their minds on two ways, whether to be with me or with the regime. I said to them we the are the third line. Our revolution against injustice and tyranny has its own special way that is nor similar to anything. We are convinced of the impossibility of the military solution for the Syria crisis but it should be a cultural, intellectual and political one. Therefore, we depend on ensuring protection to the citizen who will build new democratic Syria; the peaceful Syria. We are friends of people and friends of all those who want democracy and equality.

Earlier, you held a truce with Jabhat al- Nusra and other Islamist factions, if there is any mediation are you going to hold a truce with “Islamic State”?

“Our conviction is that Daesh is a force of darkness, it bears no relation to Islam and the humanity, even it is criminal force established to destroy all what is human. In my opinion, there is no big difference between Jabhat al- Nusra and Daesh but the war with al- Nusra is a little bit complicated because there are a lot of Syrians in its ranks and because there are some parties attempting to burnish its image on media. As for the truce, there was no truce between only Jabhat al- Nusra and us but it always was with several factions and Jabhat al- Nusra was signing with them on the truce.”

Lastly, what is your vision for the realistic solution of Syria crisis?

Unfortunately, what is happening in Syria, we can call it clashes of titans; it is more like a third world war, where the major powers are fighting to divide the zones of influence in the world.”

“The solution is not in the hand of Syrian now, it is related with the contesting powers, we see it a war of change of maps, divisions, agreements and mentalities that are hundreds years old. Syria is also a conflict center and the solution of disputes will be on its land. Unfortunately, our point of view is that the war may take dozens of years, and all what the Syrian people can do is having the will and the attempt to achieve a joint project that protects them, reduce the losses and help them to promote strongly at the end of war.”

“The war will not stop in Syria but it will extend to all the Middle East and my extend more than that, and then will see a reverse migration from all countries towards Syria which will be the safest country.”

Russia back on the frontline

I have been asked to publish this for discussion.

by TOM SWITZER

The Australian

September 30, 2015 12:00AM

Since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine 18 months ago, the West has indulged in the rhetoric of moral indignation, punished Moscow with economic sanctions and treated Vladimir Putin as a pariah in world affairs. “Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters,” President Barack Obama declared in January. “That’s how America leads — not with bluster but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Somebody forgot to tell the Russian President. Putin’s address to the UN General Assembly this week, following his lightning military deployment to Syria, marks Russia’s resurgence on the global stage. The Russians, far from being marginalised in international relations, are playing a weak hand rather skilfully and are being allowed to do so because of considerable ineptitude and vacillation on the part of the Obama administration.

The upshot is that Washington will have to take the Kremlin far more seriously in the future. This is not just because Putin’s support for the embattled Assad regime will help degrade and destroy Islamic State jihadists in a four ­year civil war that has claimed nearly 250,000 lives and displaced more than nine million people. Rather, Russia’s intervention in Syria shows how rational Moscow’s concerns over Western policy in the Middle East are, and that the Obama administration had better start treating it like the great power it still is.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moscow voluntarily jettisoned the Warsaw Pact and acquiesced in the expansion of NATO and the EU on to the frontiers of the former Soviet Union. But the limits of Russia’s post ­Cold War retreat have been evident since the Western ­backed coup against a pro-Russian ally in Kiev in February last year. Putin has played hardball to protect what Russia has deemed as its sphere of influence in the Baltics long before Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin appeared on the scene. And in the Middle East it is determined to protect what it perceives as its vital interests.

Putin fears that if Bashar al­Assad’s regime falls, Russia’s presence in western Syria and its strategic military bases on the Mediterranean will be gone. That is why he has sent tanks, warships, fighter jets and troops to bolster the regime, which has faced a troop shortage and loss of towns as it seeks to maintain Alawite rule over an overwhelming Sunni majority.

And by reaching an understanding with Syria as well as Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about Islamic State, Putin is positioning Russia again as a key player in the Middle East, and one that is more willing than the West to defeat Sunni jihadists. In the process, he has exposed the shortcomings of the White House’s policy towards Syria.

Until recently, the prevailing wisdom held that the Assad regime — the nemesis of Sunni militants was on the verge of collapse, an outcome that Washington, London and Canberra had enthusiastically encouraged for much of the past four years. And although Malcolm Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop now recognise that Assad must be part of any negotiated political solution, the Obama administration continues to insist that any resolution of the conflict must lead to the exit of the dictator.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warns Russia’s continued support for Assad “risks exacerbating and extending the conflict” and will undermine “our shared goal of fighting extremism”. British Chancellor George Osborne goes so far as to say the West’s aim should to be to defeat both Assad and Islamic State. But given Washington’s futile attempts to destroy the Sunni jihadist network during the past year, most seasoned observers of the Syrian crisis are entitled to think that such strategies are manifest madness.

The consequences of removing Assad would be dire. The regime would collapse and its Alawite army would crumble. Sunni jihadists such as Islamic State and al­Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al­Nusra, also known as al­Nusra Front, would exploit the security vacuum and dominate all of Syria. The ethnic minorities — the Alawites, Shi’ites and Syrian Christians — would be massacred. And there would be the flight of millions more refugees into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

If we are to avoid these horrific outcomes, Russia will have to play a central and positive role. It has had significant influence in Damascus during the past half century; indeed, many Syrian military officers have received training in Moscow. Russia’s navy and advanced anti­aircraft missile systems are based along the Mediterranean. It’s likely to deploy ground troops to the eastern coast. And Moscow has recognised that notwithstanding Assad’s brutal conduct, his regime is fighting the jihadists that Western leaders repeatedly say pose a grave and present danger to the world.

Obama says the US would work with any nation to end the fighting in Syria. But to engage Russia, the West needs to change its policy approach substantially. Alas, the prevailing Russophobia in Washington and Brussels remains a serious obstacle in the path of reaching accommodation with Moscow.

The problem in Ukraine is not related to a revival of the Soviet empire, as some hyperventilating politicians and pundits argue. The problem is the widespread Western failure to recognise an old truth of geopolitics: that a great power fights tooth and nail to protect vital security interests in its near abroad. Take Ukraine: it is a conduit for Russian exports to Europe and covers a huge terrain that the French and Germans crossed to attack Russia in the 19th and 20th centuries. Most Crimeans are glad to be part of the country they called home from Catherine’s rule to that of Nikita Khrushchev.

From Moscow’s standpoint, the expansion of NATO and the EU into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, taken together with efforts to promote democracy, is akin to Moscow expanding military alliances into Central America. Some may respond by saying that Ukraine, however ethnically and politically divided it remains, has every right to join the West. But did communist Cuba have a right to seek political and military ties with the Soviet Union in 1962? Not from Washington’s perspective. Does Taiwan have a right to seek nationhood? Not from Beijing’s perspective.

This is a shame, but it is the way the world works, and always has. Not only does Putin know it, he calculates that a weak, inept and cautious Obama administration won’t push the issue despite the dire threats and warnings from congress and the Pentagon.

And so it was inevitable that the Russians would push back in the Baltics, first to secure the Crimean peninsula, the traditional home of the Russian Black Sea fleet (which Russian intelligence feared would become a NATO base), then to destabilise Ukraine with the aim of persuading Kiev’s anti ­Russian regime to protect the minority rights of ethnic Russians and maintain its status as a buffer state.

As for Syria, the problem here is not the Russians — or even Iran’s Shia crescent of Damascus, Baghdad, Hezbollah and the Yemeni rebels. After all, they’re committed to fighting Sunni jihadists. The problem is that US ­British aligned Sunni states — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs — have aided and abetted the Sunni rebellion that has morphed into Sunni jihadism.

Yet these reactionary regimes still have the temerity to call for Assad’s ouster. Following regime change, we’re told, a US­ led coalition of Arabs and Turks can create a peaceful and prosperous Syria.

Leave aside the fact Assad’s support stems not just from Moscow and Tehran but also from Syria’s military, political and business elites, including many urban Sunnis. Assad is a brutal tyrant. He has used chemical weapons against his own people. And he has launched relentless barrel bombs in rebel areas. But he is more popular than ever in the one ­third of Syria his regime still controls (which happens to be the major cities and the coastland). That is largely because many know his demise would lead to widespread ethnic cleansing.

The idea that Assad’s fall would lead to something approaching a peaceful transition of power is as delusional as the neo­conservative views about Iraq and Libya in 2003 and 2011 respectively. The downfall of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, it was onfidently asserted, would lead to viable democratic states. If anything, both post­Saddam Iraq and post­Gaddafi Libya are failed states that have attracted terrorists like flies to a dying animal.

As in the case of Iraq, Syria is an artificial state and an ethnically divided society created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. In both nations the invasion and civil war, respectively, have unleashed centrifugal forces that are eroding political structures and borders that have prevailed since the end of World War I.

In Iraq, the 2003 invasion ended the nation’s sectarian imbalance between the minority Sunni and majority Shia communities. Ever since, the Shia have been more interested in seeking revenge against their former Sunni tormentors than in building a nation. The result: a Sunni insurgency that has morphed into a plethora of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

In Syria, the Arab Spring in 2011 encouraged the Sunni majority to challenge and destroy the minority Alawite regime. The result: centrifugal forces that threaten the viability of Syria as we have known it for nearly a century.

As unfashionable as it is to acknowledge, partition is the likely outcome of the civil war. According to Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria observer and director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, many Syrians, and Alawites in particular, privately acknowledge that the prospect of outright military victory against the Sunni militants is highly unlikely and that it would be impossible to coexist with Sunni fanatics.

For Syria, partition would most likely mean an Alawite Shia state in the regime’s western heartland and a Sunni state to the southeast. Notwithstanding statements to the contrary, this is the emerging reality on the ground.

As long as the regime endures, it at least prevents Sunni jihadists from consolidating their hold over the whole nation and creating a strategic sanctuary along Syria’s coasts.

The moral and political problems posed by Syria’s civil war during the past four years have been real and extremely difficult ones. Assad heads a brutal regime that, according to The Washington Post, has killed about seven times as many people as Islamic State in the first six months of this year.

But the cold, hard reality is that if the US and its allies are serious about defeating the Sunni jihadists, and not merely determined to feel virtuous and moralistic, we will need to tone down our anti­Russian bombast, restore a dialogue with Putin and recognise the madness of regime change in Damascus.  And if that means accommodating Putin’s power play in the Middle East, so be it.

Tom Switzer is a research associate with the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. His interview with Joshua Landis airs on Between the Lines on the ABC’s Radio National on Thursday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 10am.

 

The following pic is from Radio Free Syria and is an image of Russian bombs near Roman ruins and Kafranbel Oct. 1st. 2015

Russiabombs2

Syrian Links

Drop any links that you think may be useful for getting to grips with ‘Syrian issues’ in this thread.

Here is a sample .

 

 

 

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki embraces Tunisia’s outgoing Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh,

Tunis, Jan. 9, 2014. Laarayedh resigned on Thursday to make way for a caretaker administration as part of a deal with his opponents to finish a transition to democracy. (photo by REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolutionary model

For Tunisia, its political transition is like its revolution: full of surprises. Less than a month ago, most local and international media asserted that the transition was stuck in place and facing an unsolvable problem. But today, most are praising the “Tunisian model.”

The biggest accomplishment of the new Tunisian constitution is not its content, but the fact that Tunisians have abided by the democratic process by which it was made.

Author Chukri Hamad Posted January 23, 2014
Translator(s)Rani Geha

Original Article اقرا المقال الأصلي باللغة العربية

Compared with Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Bahrain, Tunisia seems to be on the right track. The “national dialogue,” the concessions by the ruling coalition (the “troika”), international pressure, and civil society’s vigilance and actions regarding the splits and unrest that disappeared as fast as they appeared led to the Constituent Assembly going back to its proper work.

It looks like the constitution will be adopted before the end of this week. Moreover, the Islamist government formally resigned and a new government of “independent technocrats” run by former Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa has been named.

An independent supreme body was formed to supervise the upcoming elections. In such circumstances, we should not spoil the party or put pressure on painful points. But we should examine what looks like a miracle. What model are we talking about regarding the “Tunisian example”? Aside from the democratic transition rhetoric, which ranged from slander to praise, analyzing the revolutionary process that started in December 2010, it appears that political progress in recent months cannot hide the doubts about the dynamic that was started by people calling to bring down the regime. This progress represents a solid foundation for a new social contract whose basic pillars are the state and representative institutions.

Toward a democratic Tunisia

Adopting a new constitution was a central demand for the Tunisian revolution, as expressed during the second Kasba events (February-March 2011), during which the movement was joined by the General Union of Tunisian Workers and some political parties, including Ennahda, demanding the departure of the interim government, dissolving the Democratic Constitutional Rally (President Ben Ali’s party) and the formation of a constituent assembly.

The new constitution is supposed to organize power distribution, the relations between the public authorities, and to identify the basic rights and freedoms in accordance with the revolutionary spirit that produced the Constituent Assembly.

It’s good that the new constitution provided for the freedom of opinion and expression, the freedom of conscience, the freedom to publish, academic freedom, judicial independence, equality between male and female citizens (which is not quite the same as equality between men and women), the right to work and the separation of powers.

All these provisions are effective guarantees for a democratic Tunisia where Tunisians have equal rights and duties, and where abuse of power and the law of the strong are prevented.

A modern and secular constitution?

But the Tunisian model did not adopt a modern and secular constitution. Despite the joy of secularist and progressive Tunisians and foreigners, who share a deep hatred of political Islam, it doesn’t matter whether the constitution proves its “modernity” or “traditionalism” (noting that both are fake concepts), or whether it ensures the neutrality of the state in religious affairs. The media’s focus on referring to a religious text or Sharia in the constitution, or its equivalent, i.e., the debate about women’s rights, ignores the social reality of Tunisia and the Arab world. It is also an artificial palliative for the fears and imaginations about the “Islamist devil” and its allies.

Focusing attention on individual freedoms, especially for women, restores, whether consciously or unconsciously, former leader Habib Bourguiba’s simplistic ideas about Tunisia. (Bourguiba was supposedly “the builder of the new Tunisia and the emancipator of women,” according to the official slogan, while in fact he was the founder of the authoritarian regime.) This is a way to hide the abuses practiced by the Ben Ali regime and women in the name of secularism and universal values​.

That regime is the one that created inequality between men and women in inheritance, in the Personal Status Law of 1956. In fact, that “Green Tunisia,” which the “modern” ​​Bourguiba built, is discriminatory and unfair toward women and toward the weak and disadvantaged classes.

The frustrated hopes for a social democracy

A child joins demonstrators protesting against Libya's Muammar Gaddafi outside the Libyan Embassy in London

The constitution by itself is but one of many revolutionary demands. Economic and social rights and protecting vulnerable groups are still the least important part of the ongoing process of making a new constitution, despite the fact that those were basic demands in the first days of the revolution.

Perhaps this explains why many Tunisians from the lower classes are uninterested in the work of the Constituent Assembly, just as they are uninterested in the negotiations that preceded the national dialogue. For them, the text produced by the political elite did not achieve the social democracy they aspired to and whose importance and meaning they very know very well.

They also know that without the political will of the establishment for fair and democratic institutions, the constitution will remain just ink on paper. They know that adopting such a constitution will by itself not change Tunisian society, which has multiple splits and is founded on an exclusivist economy.

Thus, finding jobs for unemployed university graduates, comprehensive social security and providing protection for social risks — in short, a state that protects the people — is still a fantasy as long as there is no serious public debate about them. In the same token, transitional justice and holding former torturers accountable have so far been done with a lack of professionalism and with political calculations, despite recently adopting a special law for that matter.

The Constituent Assembly is at the heart of the revolutionary process

In the face of all these objectives, the work of the Constituent Assembly was an occasion for the middle and upper classes to reflect their concerns, both real and fake. So it was not easy adopting a constitution that satisfies most political forces, both those represented in the Council and those outside it such as labor unions, employers or the Tunisian League for Human Rights.

Since Jan. 3, 2014, there have been debates about the constitution’s articles as they were being voted on one by one. These debates have been very enthusiastic, even violent at times. But they did reach some kind of agreement. This includes an agreement on the powers of the prime minister (Article 90) and the independence of the judiciary (Article 103 ), on which much was written.

The debates have shown that despite the lack of a sense of responsibility on the part of the political elite, both Islamist and opposition, which is ready to mobilize on minor issues and exacerbate tensions to the point of threatening the political transition itself, the Constituent Assembly was consecrated as the only legal framework for debate and for building the next social contract.

Publicizing the work of the Constituent Assembly in the media (the sessions were broadcast live) has fueled aggressive behavior and speeches by MPs. Despite that, the Council’s work was steadily gaining effectiveness. Its critics have long demanded its dissolution since October 2012. But the distribution of the specialized committees, namely the consensus committee, and the prior preparation for the different versions of the constitution, have shown that the Council’s work was monumental and that success was possible. This success, though not yet complete, enhances the confidence of Tunisians in their institutions and ultimately in the state, which for the people still represents both their main fears and hopes.

In conclusion, two lessons can be drawn from the Tunisian revolutionary experience.

The first is that this experience shatters the myth that Islamic and Arab countries are averse to democracy.

That myth, which is pervasive in the West and among the Arab authoritarian elites, has been revived by the frustrations experienced by the revolutionary movements, especially in Egypt and Syria. On the contrary, the peaceful transfer of power, ensuring freedom of expression, even if violent at times, respecting legal institutions, although their legitimacy is incomplete, and adopting rules of the game that are fair and respected by all, are entrenching a culture of democracy in Tunisia.

The second lesson is that we should not forget that political progress in recent months has been limited to the political field. Much work remains in order to translate the words “jobs, freedom, and national dignity” into something concrete that would form a coherent political program that the people would support.

Pending that, we must rejoice in the “democratic celebration,” with the hope that the road map set by the “national dialogue” will be respected by all the revolution’s components.

The above article was translated from As-Safir Al-Arabi, a special supplement of As-Safir newspaper whose content is provided through a joint venture of As-Safir and Al-Monitor.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2014/01/tunisia-revolutionary-model-constitution.html?utm_source=Al-Monitor+Newsletter+%5BEnglish%5D&utm_campaign=7640220ef5-January_9_20141_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_28264b27a0-7640220ef5-93145129##ixzz2rMRcMwZ6

A “hooglie” Summer Solstice to all.

Armenian woman 106 with machinegun

Please note that the Ed. is laid up with a broken foot, and with only intermittent internet/computer connection.

The good news for the end of 2013, is that jailed Pussy Riot activists were released from Russian prisons, and 28 Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons.

I noted that the ABC reporter of this news was standing in front of a portrait of Marwan Barghouti with the message FREE MARWAN BARGHOUTI as street wall art – I’m hoping that’s more than serendipity.

Also wishing that Strange Times readers, one and all, have a safe and productive 2014, and that the hearts and brains of “Israeli settlers’ ” grow a few sizes in the coming year.

Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks

Omidyar Ebay founder privatises secrets

http://bit.ly/17WKj1v

By Mark Ames
On November 27, 2013

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers. Instead, he leaked them to well over a dozen different newspapers and media outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post, and to a handful of sitting senators — one of whom, Mike Gravel, read over 4,000 of the 7,000 pages into the Congressional record before collapsing from exhaustion. The Papers were published in book form by a small nonprofit run by the Unitarian Church, Beacon House Press.

Chelsea Manning, responsible for the largest mass leaks of government secrets ever, leaked everything to WikiLeaks, a nonprofit venture that has largely struggled to make ends meet in its seven years of existence. Julian Assange, for all of his flaws, cannot be accused of crudely enriching himself from his privileged access to Manning’s leaks; instead, he shared his entire trove with a number of established media outlets including the Guardian, New York Times, Le Monde and El Pais. Today, Chelsea Manning is serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison, while the Private Manning Support Network constantly struggles to raise funds from donations; Assange has spent the last year and a half inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, also struggling to raise funds to run the WikiLeaks operation.

A similar story emerges in the biggest private sector analogy — the tobacco industry leaks by whistleblowers Merrell Williams and Jeffrey Wigand. After suffering lawsuits, harassment and attempts to destroy their livelihoods, both eventually won awards as part of the massive multibillion dollar settlements — but the millions of confidential tobacco documents now belong to the public, maintained by a nonprofit, the American Legacy Project, whose purpose is to help scholars and reporters and scientists fight tobacco propaganda and power. Every year, over 400,000 Americans die from tobacco-related illnesses.

The point is this: In the most successful whistleblower cases, the public has sided with the selfless whistleblower against the power- or profit-driven entity whose secrets were leaked. The Snowden case represents a new twist to the heroic whistleblower story arc: After successfully convincing a large part of the public and the American Establishment that Snowden’s leaks serve a higher public interest, Greenwald promptly sold those secrets to a billionaire.

He justified this purely on grounds of self-interest, calling Omidyar’s offer “a once-in-a-career dream journalistic opportunity.” Speaking to the Washington Post, Greenwald used crude careerist terminology to justify his decision to privatize the Snowden secrets:

“It would be impossible for any journalist, let alone me, to decline this opportunity.”

News about Greenwald-Poitras’ decision to privatize the NSA cache came just days after the New York Times reported on Greenwald’s negotiations with major movie studios to sell a Snowden film. This past summer, Greenwald sold a book to Metropolitan Books for a reportedly hefty sum, promising that some of the most sensational revelations from Snowden’s leaks would be saved for the book.

Indeed what makes the NSA secrets so valuable to Greenwald and Poitras is that the two of them have exclusive access to the entire cache. Essentially they have a monopoly over secrets that belong to the public. For a time, it was assumed that Snowden had kept copies of the leaked documents, possibly on a number of laptops he was carting around the world. Greenwald and Poitras were simply conduits between Snowden’s cache and the public. In late August, Greenwald disclosed for the first time in a statement to BuzzFeed:

“Only Laura and I have access to the full set of documents which Snowden provided to journalists.”

Later, from his hideout in Russia, Snowden released a statement claiming he had left all the NSA files behind in Hong Kong for Greenwald and Poitras to take. A third Guardian journalist in Hong Kong at the time, Ewen MacAskill, confirmed to me on Twitter that only Greenwald and Poitras took with them the full cache. Even the Guardian was not allowed access to the motherlode.

Clearly, in a story as sensational and global and alluring as Snowden’s Secrets™, exclusive access equals value. And for the first time in whistleblower history, that value has been extracted in full through privatization.

It is one thing for Greenwald to maintain that exclusivity — or monopoly — while working with the Guardian, a nonprofit with institutional experience in investigative journalism. It is quite another for him to sell them to a guy with a history of putting profits before public interest. As Yasha Levine and I wrote at NSFWCORP, Omidyar invested in a third-world micro-loans company whose savage bullying of debtors resulted in mass suicides. Rather than acknowledge this tragedy, Omidyar Network simply deleted reference to the company from his website when the shit hit the fan.

This — this? — is the guy we’re supposed to trust with the as-yet unpublished NSA files? He’s the one we’re relying on to reveal any dark secrets about the tech industry’s collusion with the NSA? Let’s hope there’s nothing in there about eBay. Whoops! Deleted!

Since we first raised our concerns, Yasha and I have been swamped with responses from Greenwald’s followers. The weird thing is, not all of those responses have been negative: even Wikileaks — Wikileaks! — responded that, “We have not [fallen out with Greenwald] but @Pierre is seriously compromised by Paypal’s attacks on our organisation and supporters.”

Greenwald’s leftist and anarchist fans have always had an almost cult-like faith in his judgment, seeing him as little less than a digital-age Noam Chomsky. But now they’re reeling from cognitive dissonance, trying to understand why their hero would privatize the most important secrets of our generation to a billionaire free-marketeer like Omidyar, whose millions have, in some cases, brought market-based misery into some of the poorest and most desperate corners of the planet.

A Greenwald-Omidyar partnership is as hard to swallow as if Chomsky proudly announced a new major venture with Sheldon Adelson, on grounds that it’s a “once-in-a-career dream academic opportunity.”

WikiLeaks’ concern about Omidyar can be traced back to PayPal’s decision in December 2010 to blockade users from sending money to WikiLeaks. PayPal (founded by Pando investor, Peter Thiel — more on that below) is owned by eBay, where Omidyar has served as the chairman of the board since 2002. Before the blockade, PayPal was the principal medium for WikiLeaks donations, according to the Washington Post.

As the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture.

More troubling for fans is that Greenwald has repeatedly provided cover for Omidyar, claiming that he “had nothing to do with [the blockade]” despite his board status. Whether or not eBay’s chairman really was ignorant of his company’s most controversial decision in years, there’s no denying that Omidyar is also eBay’s largest shareholder. At nearly 10%, his stake is worth billions and is more than twice as large as that of the next largest shareholder.

By Greenwald’s reasoning, even though Omidyar is the founder, largest shareholder, and chairman of the body responsible for eBay/PayPal management oversight, he had “nothing to do with” its policy towards Wikileaks. Zero. None. He was as helpless as you, me, Batkid, or Grumpy Cat.

Fortunately, as the single investor, founder and CEO of “NewCo”, Omidyar’s self-professed helplessness at eBay doesn’t extend to his new journalistic venture. With that level of autonomy, no one — not even Glenn Greenwald, who has admitted that Omidyar’s money is irresistibly persuasive — can tell him which secrets to publish on his new site, and which should remain hidden forever.

We can all rest easy in our beds, then, knowing that Omidyar is in charge of our secrets. Information of national importance, such as which major tech companies colluded with the US government to spy on private citizens, will be published at the discretion of the founder and largest shareholder of one of those companies.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul (and Mark). An important footnote about Peter Thiel and Pando, by Paul Carr

When NSFWCORP’s acquisition by Pando was announced, Greenwald raced to Twitter to accuse us of hypocrisy because Peter Thiel (another billionaire whose previous business dealings could fill a book, and who sold PayPal to eBay in the first place) once invested $200,000 in PandoDaily, through his Founders Fund.

That’s absolutely true. Founders Fund’s investment is disclosed here on Pando’s main about page, along with the names of the other investors who collectively invested the remaining $2.8m raised by Pando.

The difference between us selling our company to a media outlet that once received a minority investment from Founders Fund and Greenwald being personally hired by Omidyar should be obvious to anyone with a brain. But at the risk that category excludes Glenn’s most ardent supporters, we’re happy to spell out the difference (apart from the monetary difference of $249,800,000 between Thiel’s $200k and Omidyar’s $250 million, of course):

Peter Thiel has no involvement with the running of Pando. Zero. He doesn’t make hiring or firing or any other kind of decisions (nor do any other investors), Founders Fund isn’t Pando’s only (or even closest largest) investor and no one from Founders Fund has a board seat, voting rights or any other input in business or editorial policy. In other words, Thiel has less ability to dictate editorial policy here, in fact, than the guy who cleans the coffee cups (at least that guy has a key to the office).

Pierre Omidyar is personally hiring the journalists for his new project, starting with Greenwald himself. He is the venture’s sole backer. But, you know what? All of that would still be OK if Greenwald would make a simple, unequivocal, public pledge: to cover any bad behavior by Pierre Omidyar in the same way that he would cover someone who wasn’t backing him with millions of dollars.

Should be a simple thing to promise, right?

Here’s our absolute, unequivocal pledge: we will cover Peter Thiel and Pando’s other investors just as fiercely as we cover Pierre Omidyar or anyone else. In fact, it’s likely due to proximity that we will cover Pando’s investors even more fiercely. That’s how we always worked at NSFWCORP — and it’s how we’ll work here. Our past coverage of Thiel can be found all over the web, including here, here and even right here on Pando. Or see how we’ve covered NSFWCORP/Pando investors CrunchFund and Vegas Tech Fund.

When we asked Glenn to make that same pledge about his single investor, in light of our coverage of Omidyar, he responded simply: “I can’t speak for Omidyar Network,” adding he had “no idea” about Omidyar’s involvement in micro loans.

We contacted Omidyar Network for comment on this story but neither had responded at press time. We’ll update here if they do.

Illustration by Brad Jonas.

Free Pussy Riot protesters

Imprisoned Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova has reportedly disappeared following a transfer to a new prison facility 10 days ago. Tolokonnikova was moved from a Mordovia prison camp and since then, her family says, they have been unaware of her whereabouts.

“No one knows anything,” Tolokonnikova’s father Andrei told BuzzFeed. “There’s no proof she’s alive, we don’t know the state of her health. Is she sick? Has she been beaten?” On Friday, her father and husband said they last knew her precise whereabouts on 21st October.

The 23-year-old Tolokonnikova was then transferred out of her Mordovia prison colony without explanation from Russian officials. The Pussy Riot member had launched a hunger strike to protest horrific prison conditions and had written an open letter condemning the “slave-like” labor camp.

Tolokonnikova’s husband, Petya Verzilov, had been regularly protesting outside of the prison camp and prison hospital with a band of supporters, angering local officials. “We think they moved her to a big city to hide her,” Tolokonnikova’s father said. “It seems they got sick of these protests.”

“They want to cut her off from the outside world,” Verzilov told BuzzFeed, indicating that the transfer decision came from Moscow officials. “This is basically the only way they have to punish Nadya — ‘let’s cut her off from the outside world,’” he said.

Tolokonnikova was transferred by train from the Mordovia camp and spotted by a fellow passenger as the train pulled into Chelyabisnk, in the Ural mountains, on 24th October, said Verzilov. According to his sources, Tolokonnikova was kept there overnight, with nothing heard of her since.

Verzilov and Tolokonnikova’s father said prison authorities had promised to inform them of Tolokonnikova’s whereabouts 10 days after she was moved. Verzilov indicated that his wife could be anywhere, saying:

“When they moved [political prisoner Mikhail] Khodorkovsky, he was also kind of absent for two weeks. Nobody knew where he was, then he suddenly appeared in Chita,” 1,000 miles east of Moscow.”

Tolokonnikova and her Pussy Riot bandmate Maria Alyokhina are slated for release in March next year. The two were sentenced to a two-year prison term on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” following an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow church.

(Via BuzzFeed)

 

 

 

High turnout as Nepal voters defy bombing, threats

Prachanda

Prachanda

By Ammu Kannampilly (AFP) – 9 hours ago

Kathmandu — Millions of Nepalis defied low expectations and threats of violence to vote Tuesday in elections seen as crucial in stabilising the country and breaking its political deadlock seven years after a civil war ended.

A bombing in the capital Kathmandu early Tuesday injured three children, but the explosion and a campaign of intimidation by a hardline Maoist splinter group did not prevent a high turnout, according to election officials.

Chief Election Commissioner Neel Kantha Uprety told a press conference late Tuesday that preliminary figures showed a 70 percent turnout.

At this level it would be higher than the 63.29 percent turnout recorded during the country’s first post-war elections in 2008, when it voted for a constituent assembly tasked with writing a new constitution.

“Voters have given their decision and it clearly points towards a constitution. I hope this is the last election for a constituent assembly in Nepal,” Uprety said.

Since 2008, five prime ministers have served brief terms, the country had no leader for long periods, and the 601-member assembly collapsed in May 2012 after failing to complete the peace process.

“My vote is for the future of youngsters and the new generations,” 101-year-old voter Lal Bahadur Rai told AFP in a phone interview from a polling station in northeastern Sankhuwasabha district.

Many analysts had judged the national mood to be downbeat as threats of violence and intimidation added to years of political infighting and drift.

Hopes of political unity to complete the peace process were dashed when a 33-party alliance, led by the splinter Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M), announced it would boycott polls and intimidate voters.

In recent days, protestors have torched vehicles and hurled explosives at traffic, leading to more than 360 arrests and one death.

In Kathmandu, a crude bomb explosion in a middle-class residential neighbourhood was the only major violent incident amid a security crackdown which saw 50,000 soldiers and 140,000 police deployed.

“I was passing by when I saw three children lying on the ground, crying for help,” 28-year-old eyewitness Saroj Maharjan told AFP at the scene.

“One of the children, whose face was covered in blood, fainted in my arms as I carried him to a nearby hospital,” he added.

Home ministry spokesman Shankar Koirala told reporters late Tuesday: “25 people were injured in election-related clashes across the country”.

The Maoist party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known better by the nom-de-guerre Prachanda, swept the first constituent assembly polls in 2008, two years after signing a peace deal.

Prachanda, the former rebel leader whose lavish lifestyle has alienated many core supporters, voted in the southern district of Chitwan in the morning wearing a shirt and Western-style black suit.

Logistical headache

Organising the election has been a logistical headache in a country home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, requiring helicopters, horses and porters to deliver ballot boxes to remote areas.

“Some of the voters have trekked for five hours to reach here. They include elderly as well as young first-time voters,” Gitachari Acharya, an official at the nearest polling station to Mount Everest, told AFP.

Nepal’s political deadlock in the last five years has had a severe impact on the economy, with annual GDP growth tumbling from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 4.6 percent last year, World Bank figures show.

With 39 percent of the country aged between 16 and 40, according to government data, jobs are a major issue for young first-time voters like Urmila Maharjan.

The 22-year-old Kathmandu-based student told AFP she hoped “the new assembly will address issues like unemployment”.

Voters at one central Kathmandu polling station applauded and chanted “victory to Nepal” as election officials packed up ballot boxes.

More than 100 parties, including three major ones — the Unified Marxist-Leninist, the Nepali Congress and the Maoists — are fielding candidates for the constituent assembly, which will also serve as a parliament.

The anti-poll alliance had said the vote could not be held under the interim administration headed by the Supreme Court chief justice and wanted elections to be postponed until a cross-party government was put in place.

“Had the anti-poll groups organised peaceful protests, they could have questioned the legitimacy of the elections,” Akhilesh Upadhyay, editor in chief of The Kathmandu Post, told AFP.

“How can they gain political traction while even children have been brutally attacked?”

Election officials said the counting of votes would begin at midnight and preliminary results would emerge within three days.

Full results will be announced in about ten days, the chief election commissioner said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gmK-hIOX7WM_cUZP_GQqpOIz6mvw?docId=b8f04837-7dbc-459a-a611-9bd0634d28cd

Why we should definitely Occupy Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and more – response to “Don’t Occupy Sydney”

I’ve been involved with the online organising for Occupy Brisbane. Yesterday I noticed a post on Tumblr getting some attention from people I knew, people who are definitely not rich.

This is my response:

The original post is in bold, my response is in plain text.

At the moment in the US there is a collection of affiliated protests, centred on New York city. As with all “grass roots” protest movements, some of the protesters are unemployed or students who enjoy shows of unity and demands for change as a recreational sport.

Really? How do you know this?

Some of them are people who have found themselves with a low quality of life for no other reason than they have declined to work to improve it. They see that other people have a high quality of life and are demanding the same.

Really? How do you know this?

These groups of people are the minority. The majority of protesters, and the theme of the protest, is the idea of a (figurative) 99% of America who may or may not be well educated, but work hard, and still have a quality of life that compares better to developing countries than the United States. Some are drowning in student debts that are all but impossible to service. Some have been through processes of being laid off or having pay reductions in corporate cost cutting exercises and earn only as much or in many cases significantly less than they did several years ago – while costs continue to inflate. Many or most have no access to healthcare were they to require it – not being able to afford access to the user-pays American system.

The 99% are real, and it’s frightening. Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy, professionals with undergraduate degrees in corporate roles who are choosing between making student loan payments and eating dinner. One to two generations of Americans who are fed up to hell with an economy that came about largely because of a finance industry which managed to somehow overthrow the rules of capitalism; an industry that instead of winning or losing based on market supply and demand, took home its profits, and managed to get its debts paid by taxpayers. The entirety of Wall St is like Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who worked for Barings making a tonne of highly profitable transactional trades, all the while putting the debts from the disastrous failed trades into an “error account” (numbered 88888) until they totalled $1.4 billion and were discovered. Barings was sold to ING for £1.00

Australia is different. Australia is a country with universal subsidised healthcare, subsidised tertiary education with an efficient and fair loans scheme which is paid at an acceptable rate only out of the money you earn, near universal employment and an expansive welfare system that can sustain the unemployed for years if that’s what the situation requires (unlike the US’ time-limited unemployment benefits scheme).

This is true, in itself. But what about those “Young families with $10 left after essentials who are an illness away from bankruptcy”? You don’t think we have those in Australia? I’ve lived most of my life an illness away from homelessness. I’ve waited for over four hours to get treated in a hospital emergency room because local doctors don’t take on any more patients because that healthcare system isn’t subsidised enough. As for “near-universal employment”, there’s a trick the government do, which is to regard anyone working for even one hour a week as employed. The underemployment rate (measuring the number of people who want more hours but aren’t getting them) was around 7% last year in Australia. And what if the money you are earning is at a job that eats away at your self-respect and dignity every day you do it?

Those are just the sorts of things that have affected me personally, that I can talk about with experience. I wonder how many other people, even in a fairly well-off country like Australia, are feeling ground down by these sorts of problems – or other problems that I’m lucky enough to miss out on.

Our banks are strong and to a large extent highly ethical. The lack of speculative, nonsensical finance products bought and sold in Australia by our highly liquid and well regulated financial institutions, means our economy didn’t only not plunge into recession in the GFC, we largely didn’t even feel its effects beyond those from exposure to overseas markets. Our average wage is about 150% of the US’, our minimum wage is $15.51 to the $8.00 in Los Angeles. It’s not perfect but when an Australian retires, they will absolutely have some retirement benefits due to a pension system and the superannuation guarantee.

Australians NOW struggle if they have to rely on just the pension. I don’t see that situation easing up much in the next twenty years. And what happens to people who are due to retire on their superannuation just after a stock market crash? Their plans might have to be put on the shelf, and they might have to work a lot longer than they hoped. Those people are feeling the results of the recent financial crisis now. I wonder how they feel about the fairness of the retirement system.

We have our problems. We have people who are mentally ill who aren’t getting help.

I’ve been one of those people. Have you? If you have, then I say I have too and my opinion on the Occupy protests is just as valid as yours. And if you have not, it’s not your place to use an illness I’ve had to tell people they shouldn’t get involved with something I agree with.

We have indigenous communities that just aren’t thriving.We have a nation gripped with an absurd fascination with people who crawl onto our beaches having escaped whatever hasn’t been bombed into a vapour in their home country. We have a polarised national debate about the global environment and how to minimise our effect on it, and that debate is birthing a sociological crisis in the way groups of Australians interact with each other, their government, and the media.

A group of people coming together because they are angry with the way things is one of the best chances we’ve had in years to start talking about these problems, and many others. Telling people not to get involved in Occupy protests because of these problems is ridiculous. We need to work out how to unite many different areas where people are fighting for their rights – and if people at the Occupy protests are politically mature enough to, for instance, deal respectfully with Aboriginal people, we have the chances to form some new alliances.

I also think that most of the big problems of the world today are closely linked to the way our economy is set up. If we start digging closely into any issue, we come up against one similar problem each time – a government not prepared to raise the taxes needed. And that’s because governments have been answering to the 1% – and not even pretending to work for ordinary people – for the last three decades and more. The 1% don’t want more of “their” money going on taxes, so it doesn’t.

These problems don’t get fixed with the solutions the Americans are demanding. “Occupying” Sydney or Melbourne and demanding the “end of corporate greed” is putting a bandaid on your forehead to deal with a headache. With the lack of relevancy the “occupy” movement has in Australia, the only people left are the unhygienic, mouth breathing Socialist Alliance, Citizen’s Electoral Council and other limpet organisations that try to inseminate their agenda into any group of people larger than about twelve individuals. You want to occupy something in Australia?

Firstly, using the “those people I disagree with are dirty” argument is childish and hateful. Wrong ideas need to be defeated in debate, not called “dirty”.

Secondly – is this actual analysis? Or just name-calling using the names of two groups you vaguely know you dislike? Do you know for a fact that the Socialist Alliance and Citizens Electoral Council are the main groups dominating the Occupy Sydney protest? I saw that a Socialist Alternative (not Alliance) rep was scheduled to speak on Channel 7’s Sunrise on Monday morning. Do you know the difference between the two groups? If not, I won’t rely on your assessment of who is dominating Sydney’s protest.

Occupy your local member’s office and discuss how the mentally ill can get the help they need.

Occupy a soup kitchen and use your labour to give the homeless that we do have, a hot nutritious meal.

Occupy a dinner party and explain the scope and substance of our “refugee crisis” to your friends in clear, respectful language.

Occupy a talkback radio station for 5 minutes on the phone, and ask the shock jock why it’s a bad thing for the government to make polluting more expensive for companies.

The Occupations can and should discuss all these questions:

Why won’t the government spend enough money on mental health services? I know of one person at Occupy Sydney who is losing out big-time because of cuts to mental health services, and it’s a big motivation for him to get involved.

Why is housing so expensive that more and more people are homeless or very close to it? Why are meal centres mostly very horrible places to eat at? (I’ve had my share of meals in them)

Why is our society so inward-looking and fearful that a few thousand “illegal” boat-arrivals are seen as a major existential threat?

Will the carbon price/tax/whatever help to create a massive renewable energy industry in Australia? Or are there other ways to do it?

And one final question that’s worth thinking about:

We’ve suffered so many defeats at the hands of the 1% in the last few decades. When people start to come together because they want to see change, they are scoffed at by people who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from successful Occupations. How on earth do we change that?

MORE FREE SPEECH, NOT LESS – THE RIGHT TO OFFEND OTHERS

Conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has been found guilty of causing offence to a ‘racial group’ under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. His crime was to question the basis on which some individuals claim to be Aboriginal.

His columns caused offence to nine plaintiffs and therefore he was found guilty of this crime. What is interesting to me is the reaction to the verdict.

Defence of freedom of speech is a traditional position of the left, internationally. Speech reflects thought and restrictions on speech are invariably restrictions on thought, an attempt to stop thoughts deemed bad from being expressed. On this occasion it was a judge’s ruling that the words caused offence that led to the guilty finding.

Those who argue that people should be free to offend others are accused of ‘free speech fundamentalism’. How strange to hear people who claim to be on the left more or less justifying the state’s intimidation of Bolt because they share the state’s displeasure with what he wrote. To avoid the question of free speech, they merely assert that that is not the issue. Everything from Bolt being a “dolt” through to ‘bad journalism’ are seen as the real issue.

The beauty of free speech is that it encourages debate and conflict of ideas. In other words, it is necessary to the goal of greater understanding. Along the way, it offends some. The best response to bad speech is more free speech.

Many argue that free speech is not absolute, yet when it comes to expression of opinions I think it must be absolute lest it be lost. I’m told that defamation laws are a legitimate limitation on free speech but, to me, these laws seem to exist to protect the rich and powerful from criticism. I’m also told that you can’t have a freedom to yell out “fire!” in a crowded theatre. It’s strange that this example is used, given that there is no law against it. Yes, free speech – and freedom in general – comes with risks and costs. But the alternatives come with greater risks and costs.

Those currently gloating about Bolt’s conviction may one day find themselves in front of a judge for expressing views that are offensive to others.

Where people stand on an issue as basic as this serves to further separate left-wing democrats from the pseudo-left. The latter sympathise with, if not support, all manner of social-fascist regimes, so it shouldn’t surprise that they only support free speech for ideas that are acceptable to them.

I think back to the great spirit of 1968 when slogans like “It is forbidden to forbid” inspired many young folk around the world to rebel. And now I look at all the people, including some who embraced such spirit back then, insisting that the only proper freedom is freedom based on responsibility, that it’s okay to deny freedom when it is being used irresponsibly. This begs the obvious question: who decides what is responsible? How bizzare to find people claiming to be left-wing and yet being perfectly happy with the state making the decision.

More free speech means more debate and greater capacity to expose bad ideas for what they are. Bourgeois judges are best kept out of this process.

It is right to rebel! Not: It is right to rebel (but only if not done in an offensive manner).

I’m sorry I have not linked to examples of the points of view I’ve paraphrased. I don’t have time, but I have fairly paraphrased them after following the comments sent in to various blogs, including ‘The Drum’ and ‘Eureka Street’. I don’t think I can be challenged on my portrayal of those positions.

On Line Opinion under attack

Graham Young the editor of On Line Opinion has just put up this piece: Wanted – new financial backers

Some people have organized a very effective advertising boycott because OLO published an article by religious conservative Bill Muellenberg  against gay marriage.  OLO is an important institution on the political landscape which publishes anyone regardless of where they are on the political spectrum

Read the article and do whatever you can to support them.

What can we do about Xmas?

Xmas reminds us of what life used to be like prior to the modern era. In the old days it was “Xmas” everyday in one way or another, when people’s lives were ruled by rituals and festivals, and our relatives had to be endured on a constant basis not just once a year. Social pressure was even greater then than now. There was no space for the individual. What you did and how you thought was totally prescribed.

By Xmas I mean the in-your-face stuff that fills the public space, physical and electronic. What Christians (or quasi Christians) do in the privacy of their own dining room or in church of course is their business. We will call that Christmas.

Oliver Cromwell and the Pilgrim Fathers banned Xmas. We can’t do that, but it would be helpful if some Christians were to denounce the whole thing as a pagan travesty, which it is, of course. George Washington had the right spirit when he crossed the Delaware River and launched a surprise attack on Hessian mercenaries while they were singing Stille Nacht (or doing something equally Xmasy) on December 25 1776.

An interesting way to spend Xmas. Washington crossing the Delaware

Continue reading ‘What can we do about Xmas?’

“Leave those kids alone” (or they’ll overthrow you sooner rather than later)

Ideas become a material force when taken up by masses of people. So, too, can music play a part in inspiring large numbers in the fight for democracy against tyranny. This is true everywhere, no exceptions. Including Iran.

The Pink Floyd classic, “Another brick in the wall” was first released in the UK in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution. It became an anthem for those of us who don’t like constantly being told what to do by our supposed betters, be they teachers, politicians, priests, the ‘Moral Majority’, food fascists or Nature Worshippers.

Befitting a rebellious song, a version released in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle was quickly banned there. In 1990, the song was the leitmotif for the bringing down of the Berlin Wall.

And now, thanks to Roger Waters, of Pink Floyd, a band called ‘Blurred Vision’, fronted by two Iranian brothers living in exile in Canada, have released a version of the song as part of Iran’s struggle for freedom. Waters gave them the rights to cover the song.

The title is the same except for the bit in parenthesis, which now says “Hey Ayatollah, leave those kids alone”! It’s on youtube and has proven very popular.

No doubt there will be those who see the song as a pernicious device in the Great Satan’s ‘plan to conquer Iran’. To those Iranians on the ground fighting repression, it will be encouraging and very uplifting, a source of hope. As it is for me, in solidarity with them.

Rock on!