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Thursday, December 31

We made it to another year!









As long as we keep trying we'll be okay

Happy New Year everyone!  


.

Wednesday, December 30

It's Party Time at Pundita Blog

You'll need a big pot and a couple spoons. Ready? 

Only the Irish can do this 



Who says you can't do Zydeco north of Louisiana?



Jeffery Broussard says



Notice both dogs can sleep fine through that racket

  

Got those spoons ready?



Here's the place to bang the pot
   


Watch out, you'll be singing this one in your sleep




When nights were candlelit, photographs were paintings, and the music was divine

Juancitoamericano, who calls himself "A happy dreamer," has put together a gallery of paintings showing German country life in the 18th Century as his way to celebrate Johann Sebastian Bach's Double Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor. The paintings accompanying the 13 minute recital first depict outdoor scenes then give an intimate look at people living out their lives in drawing rooms, studies, and kitchens. 

There is one painting of a young woman turning to look at the painter -- I almost wrote "the camera" -- that is startling because she's so, well, alive. The young woman seems caught unawares and while polite about the interruption is clearly not happy about it. And so for a moment one is there, in her time, murmuring 'Sorry' about the intrusion to her personal life. Extraordinary painting, or maybe a great painting of an extraordinary character.    

It's at the 8:17 minute mark.  (Clicking on the title will take you to the YouTube site where you can view the paintings in the larger 'theater' mode.')

The paintings made indoors during daytime of course use only natural light from windows; I've seen other paintings of that era but this was the first time I was keenly aware of what an adjustment it was for my eyes, especially because they didn't seem to have picture windows in those days.  I thought, 'Too dark' about several of the paintings then I realized -- duh, this is the way the indoor daytime world looked for centuries. After a time of studying those paintings, it struck me the muted lighting was restful. Were people calmer in those days, I wonder.  Listening to Bach, I think so.    
           
Thank you to Juancitoamericano for the great care with which he chose and assembled the gallery and, as the concerto builds, the way he gave the presentation of the paintings a rhythm that brings the viewer even closer.  





Tuesday, December 29

CNN still trying to help Obama install Salafist regime in Syria

I said recently I'd never quote from CNN again but their latest propaganda piece is instructive. It contains a particular term: "opposition harmonization." You're probably familiar with 'lawfare,' which uses the court system in a liberal democracy to subvert the rule of law. Opposition harmonization uses a standard election campaign process in a liberal democracy to subvert democracy. 

The process in this case is getting factions in a political party that have conflicting agendas to agree on one platform, so they have a better chance against the opposition at the polls. 
   
It's as if they sit around in Riyadh and Doha, watch everything that happens in a democracy, then see how they can use its processes to install hard-core jihadist Islamist regimes in different countries and make it look like democracy in action.    

That's what they're trying to do in Syria, and the CNN piece is a textbook illustration of how it's being done. 

The author in this case, Lina Khatib, a "Senior Research Associate at the Arab Reform Initiative," fails to inform CNN readers that the opposition harmonization process Al Saud charitably organized in Riyadh -- on behalf of the Syrian electorate -- consists of groups that differ from al Qaeda in name only. 

There are other omissions in the piece and so many distortions and inaccuracies it looks as if CNN is trying to get past its critics by calling misdirection "opinion."

To give one example among several from the piece:
The regime has agreed to a deal that would allow fighters from ISIS and other rebel groups to withdraw fighters from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. This move would help the regime consolidate its control over the capital, but it would also benefit ISIS because the fighters are to be moved to the latter's stronghold Raqqa, where it is currently facing pressure from the north by U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab rebels.
From FARS, December 24:
Preparations are underway in the neighborhood of al-Hajar al-Aswad and some parts in the al-Yarmouk camp in the Southern parts of Damascus to evacuate the ISIL terrorists from the region in the next few hours as buses were brought to the region.
[...] 
Some militants intend to move to al-Raqqa Northeast of Syria, while a majority have demanded relocation to Mare' city in the Northern countryside of Aleppo.
There's more to the real story of the planned relocation, which didn't happen -- at least not on the day it was scheduled -- because by some strange coincidence the Russians bombed a top-level strategy meeting in Damascus on the very day the relocation was to happen, December 25, killing Zahran Alloush, who was supposed to coordinate the relocation. 

(We know it was Russian bombers because while the Syrian military claimed it was their strike, Alloush and his fellow commanders had no time to scatter, meaning the bombs were dropped from an altitude the Syrian bombers can't manage.)  

TRANSLATION: Sure, you can relocate anywhere you want. You just can't take your commanders with you.

As to the link that CNN provides about Yarmouk, it delivers the reader to a heart-rending CNN report about the valiant efforts of MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) to bring medical assistance to the refugees. The CNN reporter forgot to mention what the FARS report above does:
Yarmouk is a camp for Palestinian refugees in the Southern parts of Damascus. The camp has been the scene of clashes among various terrorist groups and also crossfire between the militants and government troops for the last three years.
In other words,Yarmouk became a staging ground for pitched battles between the alphabet soup of Salafist groups -- and MSF treated them, as they treated the militants battling the Syrian Army.    
                            
As to Zahran Alloush and his group, last night Long War Journal provided John Batchelor's audience with the lowdown on that bunch of fiends. By the way, LWJ also reported on what's really happening with Islamic State in Iraq, and gave a sitrep on jihadi activity in Mali. (Podcast; first 2 segments) 

As to CNN's attempt to absolve itself of responsibility by adding the standard disclaimer that opinions in Khatib's piece are the writer's own -- say, I think I'll make the same disclaimer when I republish Thierry Meyssan's hit piece on CNN and other propaganda outfits that present themselves to the public as news organizations.

Come to think of it, that'll be the next Pundita post about Syria.      

Syria: A top rebel's death casts doubt over Bashar al-Assad's intentions

(CNN) The killing of Zahran Alloush and his deputy, the leaders of Jaysh al-Islam, raises serious concerns about the future of planned negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition, casting doubt over the regime's intentions.

Alloush had initially wanted to use Jaysh al-Islam as an alternative to the Syrian National Coalition, ultimately paving the way for claiming a leading political role for himself in Syria, post-Bashar al-Assad.

During the time when Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan was in charge of the Syria file in Riyadh, Alloush had utilized Turkish and Saudi support to attract different rebel groups to merge with his own, making Jaysh al-Islam one of the biggest armed groups in Syria. But his ambitions caused an antagonistic relationship between Jaysh al-Islam and both the Free Syrian Army in southern Syria and unarmed opposition figures in the area.

Following the takeover of the Syria file from Bandar by Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia cut Jaysh al-Islam's funding in an attempt at putting pressure on Alloush to agree to cooperating with the Free Syrian Army. The pressure seemed to be working. Jaysh al-Islam was one of the participants in the meeting held in Riyadh on December 10 that brought together the main factions of the Syrian opposition for the first time to agree on a uniform position regarding political transition in Syria.

The Syrian regime and its main ally, Russia, had hitherto been benefiting from divisions among the Syrian opposition. When the different opposition factions began to show serious signs of coordination, Assad and Moscow began to actively obstruct this process of opposition harmonization.

As Saudi efforts to bring the opposition together, first announced in spring 2015, appeared to be gaining momentum, Moscow took the decision to escalate its intervention in Syria through starting an airstrikes campaign that was marketed as targeting ISIS but that in reality mostly hit the Syrian opposition.

Alloush's death, the result of either a Syrian or a Russian air raid, comes just two weeks after an important milestone in the process of opposition harmonization, the Riyadh meeting. It also comes a month before negotiations between the regime and the opposition were meant to commence. Only a few days before Alloush's killing, the Syrian regime had announced that it would accept negotiations with the opposition -- once an opposition negotiating committee was formed that the regime considers credible.

The timing of Alloush's death therefore casts doubt over the sincerity of the regime's announced stance towards negotiations, especially as Russian air raids continue to primarily target Syrian rebel groups. Removing Alloush and other opposition leaders from the picture is an effort by the regime and its allies to split the groups, which would potentially make the Riyadh agreement obsolete. The regime could also then argue that there is no one credible among the opposition to negotiate with in the first place.

Assad has also been benefiting from the growth of ISIS. ISIS has been targeting the Free Syrian Army and other anti-regime groups. ISIS's growth at the expense of moderate rebels also serves to confirm the Syrian President's narrative that his regime is the only alternative to extremist groups.

The regime has agreed to a deal that would allow fighters from ISIS and other rebel groups to withdraw fighters from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. This move would help the regime consolidate its control over the capital, but it would also benefit ISIS because the fighters are to be moved to the latter's stronghold Raqqa, where it is currently facing pressure from the north by U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab rebels. As Jaysh al-Islam is currently in control of the suburb of Ghouta, east of Damascus, eliminating its leaders is also an attempt to weaken it there, further increasing the regime's hold on the capital.

What this regime strategy aims to achieve is a scenario in which the two remaining actors in Syria would be the regime and ISIS. This would eliminate the negotiations scenario altogether, because Assad could then argue that the choices that Syria had were either his regime or ISIS.


[END]






Monday, December 28

Victory or progress in Ramadi? And were Islamic State fighters evacuated from the city?


Sunday, Dec. 27:  Photo Caption: Iraqi security forces enter heavy damaged downtown Ramadi. Islamic State fighters are putting up a tough fight in the militant-held city of Ramadi, slowing down the advance of Iraqi forces, Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of the Anbar military operations, said Sunday.
(AP Photo/Rwa Faisal)

Monday, Dec. 28 - RT:  The government complex in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi has been "fully liberated & the Iraqi flag hoisted over the government complex," military officials declared on local TV. The area was Islamic State's last stronghold in the city.

"By controlling the complex this means that they [Islamic State, IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL] have been defeated in Ramadi," Sabah al-Numani, a spokesman for the Iraqi counter-terrorism units leading the fight, told the news agency. ...

Monday, Dec. 28 - AP:  Military Making Progress in Fight for Ramadi
Iraqi military forces on Monday retook a strategic government complex in the city of Ramadi from Islamic State militants who have occupied the city since May.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool initially announced that Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, had been "fully liberated."

But Gen. Ismail al-Mahlawi, head of military operations in Anbar, quickly clarified that government forces had only retaken a strategic government complex and that parts of the city remained under IS control. IS fighters have retreated from about 70 percent of city, but still control the rest and government forces still don't fully control many of the districts from which the IS fighters have retreated. ...


***

I had to correct an earlier post in which I mentioned there was an unverified report that a number of IS fighters were being evacuated from Raqqa, or had been.  It turned out the report pertained to Ramadi, not Raqqa. 

When Syria's Army struck a deal with certain fighters to leave Homs, the army knew where those people were going, and the evacuees weren't allowed to take any more than light weapons with them -- handguns, I think.  And the evacuation was above-board; it was well publicized as were the terms of the government's agreement with the fighters. But these fighters weren't Islamic State.  If there is indeed an evacuation of IS fighters from Ramadi, this is a completely different story. 

Here are links to two reports related to the issue -- if an issue actually exists. Again, nothing is confirmed. 

Love Thy Enemy? US Plot to Evacuate Top Jihadis From Ramadi Uncovered;  December 27, Sputnik quoting FARS.

Ramadi's Dirty Little Secret in the War Against ISIS; December 19, Newsweek.

*******

Sunday, December 27

Muslim netizens have fun with Islamic State's urgent whine to Muslims to join their fight

RT scooped up some of the ripostes posted to Twitter, including these:

"This Muslim is just waking up. Needs coffee. Also, it's Christmas weekend family time. Run along now."

"Damn dude -- I was on my way but then I saw the fuel prices. Send me money for fuel and I'm on my way."

"Sorry dudes. Christmas week. Flights all booked."

"Sorry bruv. Not until Liverpool wins the league. Then after that we have the Champions League. Raincheck?"

"My dad said I have to be home by 8pm. Will we be done by then?"


********

Pundita reporting from a trench 10 clicks north Mountains of Shadow S.W., Mordor

Pundita's first report from Mordor, 12/23/15


[shouting into her helmet comm at the reporter for Vogue magazine dug in 2 clicks east]  Incoming! 

[Vogue team scrambles for cover        

[BOOM!]

PUNDITA: Are you okay?

VOGUE: Those sons of bitches mussed up my hairdo! Man the TOW! [Vogue camera person fires a TOW missile at tank in the distance]

PUNDITA:  Um, I'm told the idea about reporting from a war zone is to keep a low profile and I think it's time to retrench.

VOGUE:  Balls! I'm calling for close air support!

PUNDITA: Good luck getting through to CENTCOM's air support hotline. 

VOGUE:  To hell with CENTCOM! I'm calling Anna Wintour!

[Four minutes later two British Tornado bombers obliterate tanks nearest the Vogue position]

VOGUE: [barking into her satphone]  And tell her I need a hair stylist! I can't go on camera looking like this!

PUNDITA:  [muttering to herself] Maybe I should try reporting for Vogue. 

Now let's see what sources have dug up about Mordor's regime [taptaptaptap]. 

Bah. One those tiresome articles that attempt to interest the American reader in NATO machinations against Russia (NATO: Seeking Russia’s Destruction Since 1949; Counterpunch, Gary Leupp, December 25, 2015). But wait; there's something about Queen Vicki:
... Yanukovich did not want Ukraine to join NATO: he wanted a neutral Ukraine maintaining the traditional close relationship between the Ukraine and Russia. This infuriated Victoria Nuland, the head of the Eurasia desk at the State Department, who has made it her life’s project to pull Ukraine into NATO.
This would be NATO’s ultimate prize in eastern Europe: a country of 44 million well-educated people, the size of France, strategically located on the Black Sea historically dominated by the Russian Black Sea Fleet. An ethnically divided country, with a generally pro-Russian and Russian-speaking east, and a more western-oriented Ukrainian-speaking west with an unusually vigorous and fiercely anti-Russian neofascist movement -- just there waiting to be used.
Nuland, a former Cheney aide whose neocon worldview drew Hillary Clinton’s favorable attention, resulting in her promotion, is the wife of neocon pundit and Iraq War cheerleader Robert Kagan. (Kagan was a founding member of the notorious Project for a New American Century “think tank”.) The couple represents two wings of incessant neocon plotting: those who work to destroy Russia, and those who work to destroy the Middle East, consciously using lies to confuse the masses about their real goals. ...
This is making no sense. Mrs. Clinton hates Dick Cheney. She hates the neocons. Why should she promote Nuland at State? And not just promote her; she put Nuland in charge of Ukraine's government. No joke. Nuland was calling the shots there. She even went over Kerry's head about Ukraine when he took over at State. Why didn't he demote her? He might have pushed her back in her cage by now. But why would Clinton, a Democratic liberal, have given a neocon so much power at State in the first place? 

This calls for research. [taptaptaptaptap] Oh that's right; I'd forgotten:     

 

Arab nations’ donations to Clinton Foundation: Curing world’s ills or currying favor?
by Greg Gordon
April 6, 2015
McClatchy Washington Bureau
Four oil-rich Arab nations, all with histories of philanthropy to United Nations and Middle Eastern causes, have donated vastly more money to the Clinton Foundation than they have to most other large private charities involved in the kinds of global work championed by the Clinton family.
Since 2001, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates gave as much as $40 million to the Clinton Foundation. In contrast, six similar non-governmental global charities collected no money from those same four Middle Eastern countries [...]
Mystery solved, "neocons" being shorthand for 'We support American weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and anything Al Saud can do to stick it to the Russians including making a mess in Ukraine.' 

[squinting through field glasses] But I must say this is a mysterious place. Let's see what other Mordor news I can scare up. Here's something from Sputnik datelined 12/26:
Social media accounts linked to Daesh released photos of the group's fighters using US-made TOW anti-tank missiles in Syria's Aleppo province.
According to the release, the missiles being used are located north of Kweires Airbase, which was recently liberated from Daesh by the Syrian Army. The Daesh-held area in that part of Syria is adjacent to the Turkish border.
But al-towi in the hands of Islamic State in Syria is old news; in fact, on 12/24 Sputnik published a report, US Reportedly Continues to Supply Weapons to al-Qaeda Through Syria's FSA. It features an AP photo from an Islamic State website showing an IS fighter firing a TOW "in Hassakeh, northeast Syria." The caption also notes that IS released the photo on June 26, 2015.   


And here's a Sputnik reader showing off her knowledge of technical matters:
Steph Iam ·
It must be embarrassing for the US with all the reports of the TOW missiles ineffectiveness against the Russian T-90 armour. So many TOW crews blown to smithereens by the Shtora system returning a round within 2 seconds of sensing their weapon's laser targetting. Plenty of TOW operators don't even get the chance to fire before they get blown to pieces, much less have time to guide the missile to its target. High tech weapons in the hands of experts, up against dated, hand-me-downs from the US (in the hands of drug-addicted terrorists).
Hand-me-downs? The Saudis paid good money for those TOWs. Maybe they get a discount on volume but still. And "dated?" That's an insult to Raytheon, which makes TOWs and also happens to be our sponsor. [muttering to herself]  $22.8 billion in sales last year but they can't afford a camera person for me. Or a hair stylist. And they're not on first-name basis with the RAF commander.

Gary Leupp, a professor of history at Tufts University, is pretty knowledgeable about the Cold War, at least the European-American aspect of it under discussion in his article. But he doesn't mention to Counterpunch readers that after Stalin's death the American-led NATO cold war against the Soviet Union was actually the Saudi war against Russian oil. And I suppose some would say the war was going on even during Stalin's time.

Anyhow, maybe Leupp simply doesn't know. That wouldn't be surprising. The war has continued to this day; it's just that it isn't talked about openly. I've seen the same reticence or ignorance about the U.S.-led Afghan War, and the current Syrian War. It might have been the same with Gaddafi's overthrow.

It's as if entire chapters have been ripped out of modern history to protect Al Saud.

Only very recently, since the Russian air campaign, has it become widely known that the Saudis and their Gulf allies have been fielding mercenary armies to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, but there are still gaps in knowledge about the situation and how early it began. Same with the Saudi involvement in Afghanistan and their influence with Pakistan.

At least the doughty Catherine Shakdam isn't keeping quiet. She reported on 12/24:
Prince Ali Seraj, a member of Afghanistan’s royal family and grandson of His Majesty Amir Habibullah (1901-1919), is adamant Afghanistan was set up for failure, sold to chaos by powers whose interests are vested in war instead of peace. 
“Looking at Afghanistan today and how Western powers have handled the whole terror dossier and it is quite clear that chaos was always the name of the game. Why else have Western powers systematically refused to assist the Afghan tribes, while covering for Pakistan’s aiding and abetting of radicals?” Prince Ali told me on Wednesday.
“It is Pakistan you see behind the Taliban … and Pakistan is no more than another agent of Saudi Arabia, the world’s greatest exporter of Wahhabism. Do you seriously believe the Taliban and al-Qaeda just manifested into existence? They were imported from Tajikistan, Chechnya, Pakistan and those regions which are under the control of Riyadh,” he emphasized.
Prove it, Prince Ali. Until you produce hard evidence you can join a lengthening list of people crying in the wilderness.

********     

Fish on the menu for U.S.-backed Syrian militia thrashing Islamic State UPDATED 12/28

UPDATE - 12:50 AM EST 11/128
The unverified report I mention in this post pertains to Ramadi, not Raqqa. My error. See Sputnik's 11/27 report, Love Thy Enemy? US Plot to Evacuate Top Jihadis From Ramadi Uncovered, which quotes a report at FARS, still unconfirmed. 

********

Fish lunch for SDF, some guy named Idriss Nassan gleefully tweeted yesterday afternoon, "That's because they're [at] Tishrin dam," and posted this pix of the militia's makeshift kitchen. 


Sputnik, which passed along the tweet, reports today: Daesh Loses Major Supply Route Amid Strategic Defeat on Euphrates

The Tishrin dam on the Euphrates was taken from Daesh militants after heavy ground fighting and with the help of US-led coalition airstrikes, the online statement by Col. Sharvan Darwish reads.

As a consequence, a strategic supply route connecting Daesh-held Jarabulus, which sits on the Turkish border, and the de-facto capital Raqqa has been cut and anti-terrorist forces have gained a foothold on the right bank of the Euphrates.

“A massive operation by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) started officially on December 23,” Col. Darwish explained. “It has since enabled joint Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian Christian units to free more than 50 villages, canals and river crossings.”
The current campaign is the second phase of the military operation by the SDF against Daesh mujahedeen, which began in the northwestern province of Hasakah on the Iraqi border in late October.

Sputnik also posted a cool 2 minute video with some English subtitles, replete with jazzy music score, which was obviously U.S.-produced, of the militia's onslaught against Islamic State. For the sensitive souls, there's no gore. And actually you don't see any IS fighters. They might not have fought long before scooting.   

But now young hotheads will be seeing that the hip place to be isn't with IS -- which, by the way, is whining again. Please please help us please we need everybody to help us fight to the death. 

Yeah, right. They want chumps to man the machine gun nests while they sneak out of Raqqa through the tunnels. Or according to one unverified report, get transported out by unknown people who may or may not be associated with the U.S. command. 

If the report is true, the Americans could be responding to a Saudi request. Please please don't let all those IS fighters get killed, please we need cannon fodder in Yemen. That would be Airlift of Evil redux. But I don't think the Syrian command would care; they just want them out of Syria.  

Oh well, here's the video.                  
     


  

Friday, December 25

Convergence of extraordinary natural and human events

Debate accompanied news that there was to be a full eclipse of a special full moon in September; some said the extraordinary celestial event would be an auspicious sign, others thought it would be a portent of doom for the human race. The debate overlooked that another extraordinary event linked to the lunar cycle would occur three months after the first one: the Full Cold Moon reaching perigee on the morning of Christmas Day...       

Blood Supermoon Total Eclipse Occurs Just As Yellowstone Geyser Erupts
September 27, 2015
Supermoon - September 27-28
September 30 - Russian military launches Syrian air campaign
In response American military coalition steps up bombing in Syria


December 24 - 25, 2015
Full Moon With Halo Christmas Eve
Total Full Moon in North Hemisphere Christmas Morning 
Observations of Hanukkah, Mohammad's Birthday, Advent
Converge During December 2015


December 18, 2015
Asma and Bashar al-Assad make surprise visit to a Christmas music recital rehearsal
at an ancient cathedral, Lady of Damascus, four days after it was shelled



2015 Christmas celebrations in Syria attended by Muslim religious leaders
and delegation led by Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Simonos Petras, Mt Athos-Greece
.



December 24, 2015Militants Preparing to Evacuate Southern Damascus
TEHRAN (FNA)- Preparations are underway in neighborhoods South of the Syrian capital, Damascus to expel the ISIL terrorists from the region in the next few hours.
Preparations are underway in the neighborhood of al-Hajar al-Aswad and some parts in the al-Yarmouk camp in the Southern parts of Damascus to evacuate the ISIL terrorists from the region in the next few hours as buses were brought to the region.

The militants began to remove the road barricades and berms and open the roads between the al-Hajar al-Aswad and al-Qadam and Sabinah regions two days ago.

Some militants intend to move to al-Raqqa Northeast of Syria, while a majority have demanded relocation to Mare' city in the Northern countryside of Aleppo.

Yarmouk is a camp for Palestinian refugees in the Southern parts of Damascus. The camp has been the scene of clashes among various terrorist groups and also crossfire between the militants and government troops for the last three years.

Ceasefire treaties to launch evacuation and relocation plans have started across Syria during the last month.

In early December, militants began evacuating Homs city in Central Syria under a deal signed with the government in late November, known as the Al-Wa'ar Agreement.

Large convoys of retreating rebels left Homs City for Idlib in Northwestern Syria.

Al-Wa'ar was the only remaining base of the militants in the city of Homs.

December 25 - Russian air force sorties in Syria number 5,240

Christmas Eve 2015 -- Haloed Full Moon Rises Over Christmas tree in Florida city



...So if one looks to the heavens for signs and portents to guide human matters, how to interpret the full eclipse of the Blood Supermoon in 2015?  Looking back over the three months since, I'd venture that complicated heavenly events portend the ball is in humanity's court for a time. And given the auspicious sign of a special full moon appearing on Christmas, I'd also venture that the heavenly hosts had a little more faith in human efforts than we ourselves.

The bad news: It was so foggy in Washington, D.C. on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning, the special full moon couldn't be seen here. The portent to wring from this? I'd say without extraordinary efforts, some of the darker implications of the full eclipse of the September Blood Supermoon could apply to America's capital. 

On second thought, I seem to recall the skies in Washington were overcast for the Blood Moon and eclipse; I remember going outside at the appointed time and seeing a clouded sky. And I am positive it was too overcast to see at least the height of the extraordinarily beautiful Geminid meteor showers that appeared this Christmas season.  

So what is the meta-message for political Washington, D.C. if recent heavenly events are a guide? Clouded. I don't think one needs to read tea leaves to agree. 

Then again, we get to do the heaven-gazing all over again with Christmas according to the Julian calendar. From Newsweek's helpful December 25 report, RUSSIA’S CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS ARE YET TO COME:
Like a few Christian Orthodox countries, Russians celebrate Christmas on the first week of January with celebrations taking on a slightly different look and feel to those of Western Europe.
Used by the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Gregorian calendar loses out to the Julian one, which the Russian Orthodox Church favors and which other Orthodox churches, such as the Greek one, use. And according to the Julian calendar Christmas usually falls on January 7th. 
Back to the Gregorian calendar -- don't forget about Epiphany, celebrating the manifestation of the Magi to the gentiles, observed this year on January 6 by the Gregorian calendar.  

As a matter of fact, by the time all the Christmas celebrations are wrapped up, then it's time to think about getting ready for Lent. Then there's Easter (March 27 this year by the Gregorian calendar) then Passover (April 22 this year by the Gregorian calendar). 

And just when everyone's done digesting all the signs and portents from the Spring Equinox religious holidays, right around the bend is the Buddha's birthday -- another one of those religious holidays that has to be calculated according lunar cycles. How, in this case?
That's simple. Just calculate the first full moon day of the sixth month of the Buddhist lunar calendar, which would be the fourth month of the Chinese calendar, except in years in which there's an extra full moon, and then Buddha's birthday falls in the seventh month. Well, except where it starts a week earlier. And in Tibet it's usually a month later. Oh, and in Japan, Buddha's Birthday is always April 8.
This isn't talking about the Hindu religious calendar and the Jewish and Muslim ones. Of course all these are only the major religions. Which is to say if you are very energetic you can find a heavenly portent to match your opinion of earthly matters at any time of the year.


Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square, center of the city's Christmas celebrations

        
******** 

Forces of Light Get Their Act Together in Syria

Hundreds of Volunteer Forces Join Syrian Army in Fight against Takfiri Terrorists



Army Cuts Off Militants' Supply Route in Damascus
Militants Preparing to Evacuate Southern Damascus (Update 12/27: Whoops! I guess they won't be evacuating just yet.  See AP report, Top Syrian Rebel Killed in Airstrike Near Damascus)  



Syria in Last 24 Hours: Army Continues Mop-Up Operations Countrywide



Syrian Forces Advance Toward Palmyra's Gates 




Capacity for gratitude

No sir, no complaints, we're fine here


Practice. Like everything else it comes down to practice. One can't expect to spend 364 days a year whining then be jumping for joy on Christmas. To develop the capacity for gratitude, practice gratitude.

********










Wednesday, December 23

Pundita reporting from a bunker 20 clicks inside Mordor S.W. border


Now what did Eason Jordan tell journalists about the right way to wear a helmet? This is the neck piece, right? [screeeeeeeeee] Oh that's the comm thingy. No I don't have the flak jacket on backward. Oh I see, it's counterintuitive. Where's my camera person? Not on the management's budget, eh? [the earpiece crackles again. Pundita shouts through her comm mic at a Buzzfeed reporter 2 clicks away] Incoming!  [earpiece crackles] Well how should I know? [BOOM] Hello? Hello? I wonder if the camera person survived. But what a dumb question. If it's incoming it doesn't matter where it's coming from.

All right. There's much war news on all fronts. We'll start with the war dogs at The Wall Street Journal. 
     
Intelligence Gap Fuels Extremist Rise in AfghanistanExtensive spy network was anchored by bases and outposts operated by the U.S. and its NATO allies
KABUL—Fourteen years after the U.S. and its allies routed most al Qaeda militants from Afghanistan, the country is again becoming a haven for extremist groups, the result, in part, of inadequate surveillance of its far-flung territory, Afghan and Western officials say. [...]
How much intel do you need when an Afghan commander is calling you by satphone and yelling, 'We're surrounded! Here's our coordinates!  We've been surrounded for two weeks during which we've called you every five minutes to plead for air support. We're out of food, we're almost out of water and now we're out ammo! And don't tell us this is a training problem.'

Inadequate surveillance, my foot. 
At the height of their presence five years ago, the U.S. military and its allies operated 852 bases and outposts across Afghanistan, many with their own informants, drones and surveillance balloons to monitor even remote areas of the vast and rugged country.
Today, these spy assets are largely gone. 
As of September, all but about 20 of the installations that anchored the extensive intelligence-gathering network have been closed, bulldozed or handed off to the Afghan government. With large stretches of Afghanistan now regularly unmonitored, Afghan and Western officials fear that more extremists from Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups could find sanctuary inside the country’s borders.

“We lost a lot of eyes and ears,” said an official with U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. “Reporting from the provinces dried up.” [...]
What use are eyes and ears without a brain?

Let's see what's going on at FARS [taptaptaptap] Yikes! It's the Attack of the War News Reports! All right, just pick one.

Syrian Army Finds Saudi Aid Supplies in Positions Seized from Terrorists in Southwest Aleppo

The Iranians are always complaining about the Saudis -- wait, the Beeb got into the act and there's our friend CIA:
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian army and the popular forces have found Saudi-supplied aid packages in the positions taken from the terrorist groups Southwest of Aleppo province, sources said.
Sources said that a large volume of aid parcels supplied by Saudi Arabia were founded in the positions of the militant groups after the Syrian army pushed them back from their strongholds in Khan Touman town in Aleppo province.
In October a Saudi official announced that his country supplied the militants in Syria with a new batch of TOW antitank missiles as the Syrian army forces backed by Russian warplanes continued to gain ground in the country.
BBC correspondent Frank Gardner tweeted that a Saudi official confirmed the delivery of 500 TOW antitank missiles to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The delivery of the TOW missiles — which was provided by the CIA — would allegedly increase the capabilities of the militants.
TOW missiles, as Popular Mechanics notes, are guided missiles that could thoroughly damage tanks, armored carriers, and other vehicles. And, unlike other projectiles used against armored targets, such as RPGs, TOW missiles can be used from a considerable distance.
On Sunday, the Syrian army alongside the National Defense Forces and Hezbollah fighters pushed the militant groups back from more territories in the Southwestern part of Aleppo province and regained full control over the town of Khan Touman.
The Syrian Army is learning how to fox the TOW, or al-towi as Islamic State calls them. The idea is to wait until the guided missile is practically on top of you then back up a little. Here's now it's done. Keep your eyes on the white pick-up truck in the distance. Wait for it....wait for it....


It looks like the guys who filmed the video were the ones who fired the TOW but they're yelling "Allahu Akbar!" at the end. I guess they'd never seen anyone that calm before. I don't think anyone else has, either.

I wonder how much a TOW costs. [taptaptaptaptap]  Nothing about the price in the Wikipedia article about the TOW but there's a section on TOW use in the Syrian war, and a list of the uh moderate rebel groups the CIA supplied with the weapons. Wait a minute; what's this?    
The Hazzm Movement had a northern division ... The group was supplied BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles[13] in a covert CIA program launched in 2014. Scores of the groups fighters also received U.S. military training in Qatar under the same program.[15]
In October 2014, Al-Nusra Front began attacking positions of Hazzm in Idlib Province, overrunning bases and seizing weapon stores, due to its perceived closeness to the United States.
Yes. That's how it was done so quickly with relatively small fighting forces. Islamic State and Nusra would let other groups do all the hard work of taking territory, then when the fighters had pacified the population, IS would bump them off, scoop up all their weapons and vehicles, and plant their flag. You'd think the other groups would've wised up after a time but they didn't -- not until large numbers of them were slaughtered by IS and Nusra. Imbeciles.

But then there's nothing like easy money to make people take leave of what few senses they have. These groups were being paid and armed; all they had to do was show up among an unarmed population and fire off their weapons. When they came under attack by better armed and trained groups, it was curtains for them.  

Who makes al-towi?  Ah, that great American company Raytheon.
The Raytheon Company is a major American defense contractor and industrial corporation with core manufacturing concentrations in weapons and military and commercial electronics. It was previously involved in corporate and special-mission aircraft until early 2007. Raytheon is the world's largest producer of guided missiles.[5]
[,,,]
More than 90% of Raytheon's revenues were obtained from military contracts and, as of 2012, it was the fifth-largest military contractor in the world,[7] and is the fourth largest defense contractor in the United States by revenue.
 61,000 employees worldwide; $22.8 billion in 2014 sales.

And all that comes down to a couple clowns shooting a guided missile at a pick-up parked in the middle of a pile of sand.

Signing off with a word from our sponsor, Raytheon.




Tuesday, December 22

Military's robotic pack mule. Doesn't require carrots or sticks.

But can it handle mountain paths?



Courtesy Military.com Video Center

********

U.S. not mentioning Iran and Russia playing large role in Iraqi push to retake Ramadi

US-Iranian-Russian-Iraqi offensive launched to recover Ramadi from ISIS
DEBKAfile Special Report
December 22, 2015, 9:05 PM (IDT)

Ramadi, the capital of the vast Anbar Province, was the second major Iraqi city to fall to the Islamic State after the devastating loss of Mosul. The importance of the offensive launched Tuesday, Dec. 22 for its recapture from ISIS lies chiefly in the makeup of the assault force, which is unique in contemporary Syrian and Iraqi conflicts.

DEBKAfile’s military sources name its partners as US and Russian army and air force elements, two varieties of Iraqi militia – Shiites under Iranian command and Sunnis, as well as the regular Iraqi army.
The Iraqi army is depicted as leading the assault. But this is only a sop to its lost honor for letting this Sunni city fall in the first place. The real command is in the hands of US Special Operations officers alongside Iraqi troops, and the Russian officers posted at the operational command center they established last month in Baghdad.
This Russian war room is in communication with US military headquarters in the Iraqi capital. It is from the Russian war room that the top commanders of the pro-Iranian militias send their orders. The most prominent is Abu Mahadi al-Muhandis, who heads the largest Iraqi Shiite militia known as the Popular Mobilization Committee.

Noting another first, our military sources disclose that Iranian officers liaise between the Americans and Russians on the front against ISIS. If this combination works for Ramadi, it will not doubt be transposed to the Syrian front and eventually, perhaps next summer, serve as the format for the general offensive the Americans are planning for wresting Mosul from the Islamic State.
When US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was in Baghdad last week to review the final preparations for the Ramadi operation, US officials were still insisting that the Iraqi army was fit for the heavy lifting after being trained by American instructors.
By Tuesday, US sources were admitting that pro-Iranian militias were also part of the operation.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report on the division of tasks as follows:

Iraqi army forces are attacking the Ramadi city center from the north; Shiite militias from the south. The US air force is pounding ISIS targets inside the town in order to cripple its ability to fight off the oncoming forces. The Russian air force is standing by, ready to destroy any ISIS reinforcements attempting to cross in from Syria to aid their comrades in beleaguered Ramadi.
Experts keeping track of the offensive have no doubt that it will end in success. The jihadists holding Ramadi are few in number – 400-500 fighters at most. However, cleansing the town after victory will presents a daunting difficulty. In Tikrit and the refinery town of Baiji, ISIS split its defense structure into two levels - one on the surface and the second hidden underground.

The top level was thinly manned by fighting strength, but crawling with mines, booby-trapped trucks and IEDs detonated by remote control.
The lower level, consisting of deeply-dug interconnected tunnel systems, was where ISIS fighters hid out and jump out at night for attacks. According to the experience gained in other Iraqi battle arenas against ISIS, neither the Iraqi army nor local Shiite militias have been able to plumb and destroy these tunnel systems. And so they could never really purge the Islamic State from “liberated” towns.

Ramadi will face the same quandary.

Battle for Ramadi: "We should thank the Russians because they encouraged America to increase their bombing."

Video report from VICE News reporter embedded with the Golden Division, "the only non-sectarian milita left in Iraq, with Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and Christian commanders amongst their ranks."

"Simple stuff but smart guys to make all this" (Islamic State IEDs and other homemade weapons)

"We should thank the Russians because they encouraged America to increase their bombing. Any place they [U.S.-led coalition] find a threat to us, they hit.  We've started giving them coordinates  Whatever coordinates we give them to hit, they blow up. It's not like before, so now work has become easier." 


Retaking Ramadi From the Islamic State: The Battle for Iraq (Dispatch 11) - VICE News - published at YouTube Dec 21, 2015




Press dispatches from the Ramadi front

Mustafa Salim and Loveday Morris December 22 at 12:32pm EST filing for the Washington Post

BBC - 2 hours ago.  





Deserters dish the dirt on Daesh

The deserters say IS preachers, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are highly effective in indoctrinating recruits.

IS recruiters and trainers also appear to use techniques employed by other violent cults and street gangs.

Islamic State Deserters Flee Terror Group's Hypocrisy, Cruelty
December 21, 2015 12:07 PM
Jamie Dettmer
Voice of America

Recent deserters have told researchers they fled the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) group because of a mismatch between the words and deeds of the extremist group.

They expressed anger at the IS militants' practice of marrying widows to other fighters without allowing them to observe the traditional Islamic waiting period following a bereavement. Deserters also say they grew disgusted by the endless stream of gory executions and what they called psychopathic pleasure some fighters took in the killings.

A dozen deserters in hiding in Turkey were interviewed by Anne Speckhard and Ahmet Yayla of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism.

“Defections were the result of exposure to extreme brutality, disgust over the slave trade, observations of deep hypocrisy, a total mismatch between the words and deeds of IS,” the academics wrote in Perspectives on Terrorism, a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies.

“Charges of corruption and complaints about battlefield decisions that produced unnecessary deaths in their own ranks were also causes of disillusionment,” they said.

Three of the deserters had been commanders; one was chief of security at a base in Raqqa. Another was the emir of an IS-controlled town. One was a 14-year-old who was being groomed for a suicide-bombing mission.

One deserter from Raqqa said: “There is a well by the name of Hute. There they cover the eyes of the prisoners and tell them, ‘You are free now, just walk now, but don’t open your eyes.’ They walk and fall into the well. It smells horrible because of all the corpses inside the well. I know that over 300 people were thrown into that well.”

Another deserter called Abu Shujaa said, “What I don’t like, if someone did something wrong they tried to waterboard him — that I didn’t like. What I don’t like is that if they don’t like someone, they just behead him. Or if a woman is not wearing hijab, they bring someone to flog her, or if someone doesn’t believe, they cut his ear.”

“In 2014, I realized that Daesh were liars,” said a deserter called Abu Walid, using an alternative name for the IS group. “For instance, there was an IS guy who raped a woman but got away with it.”

Foreign fighters more committed

Ahmad Abdulkader, who runs a network of anti-IS activists called Eye-On-The-Homeland, says most IS deserters are local Syrians. He told VOA in an interview in May that out of more than 100 deserters his network had helped flee, only a dozen were foreign recruits.

“The foreigners include a Frenchman, a French woman, and a Moroccan,” he said.

The deserters Speckhard and Yayla interviewed say most locals do not join IS for ideological reasons. At first, locals joined IS partly out of hope and out of respect for IS fighting power. But as time wore on, most join IS out of desperation and hunger.

The foreign fighters are more ideologically committed.

“Many of our informants stated that Westerners who joined were already heavily indoctrinated in Salafi doctrine before arriving to IS,” write Speckhard and Yayla. “Unlike the Syrians, the Western cadres were, and generally remained throughout their time with IS, ‘true believers.’”

The deserters say IS preachers, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, are highly effective in indoctrinating recruits.

"ISIS preachers are well educated and impressive,” a deserter called Abu Jamal said. “They persuaded me to be a martyr in just three gatherings, which lasted two hours each ... I was really affected by the preaching of the teacher, so that you can understand how well they choose their teachers.”

Many deserters expressed joy in embracing a strict sharia Islamic course under IS.

Disillusioned by corruption, hypocrisy

IS recruiters and trainers also appear to use techniques employed by other violent cults and street gangs. As part of initiations, for example, recruits are ordered to carry out a barbaric act.

“As one informant told us, ‘Graduation only happens when they feel a student is ready,'" the study’s authors report. " 'At that point they demand that the student that is going to become a fighter [must] cut off the head of a prisoner, to demonstrate that he is ready.’”

According to anti-IS activists in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor, internal dissension has been on the rise since the extremist group failed to seize the mainly Kurdish border town of Kobani. Arguments between foreign fighters and local ones, who resent the higher pay and privileges given the foreigners, especially Europeans, have at times gotten out of hand, prompting clashes, they say.

Abu Mohammed of the anti-IS group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently told VOA earlier this year, “The loss of the city of Tel Abyad has fueled this trend and strengthened the rift that exists between the elements of the organization."

Anti-IS activists with a group called Lift Siege also say there has been a steady stream deserters, including four commanders from the town of Al-Mayadeen. They say Ammar Haddawi, Aamer Al-Naklawi, Mahmoud Al-Khalaf Al-Rasheideh and Abu Obaidah Al-Masri oversaw tax collection in the town, and that they fled with large amounts of cash.


[END REPORT]

Ah but note "Many deserters expressed joy in embracing a strict sharia Islamic course under IS."  These young men need a lot of structure.

********     

BREAKING NEWS: Iraqi Army troops storm center of Ramadi

Iraqi troops storm into center of Islamic State-held Ramadi
Tue Dec 22, 2015 - 4:31am EST
Reuters

Iraq's armed forces stormed the center of Ramadi on Tuesday to try to dislodge Islamic State militants who have held the western city since May, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism units, Sabah al-Numani, said.

The operation to recapture Ramadi, 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, began early last month after a months-long effort to cut off supply lines to the city, whose fall to Islamic State was a major defeat for Iraq's weak central government.

"Our forces are advancing toward the government complex in the center of Ramadi," Numani said. "The fighting is in the neighborhoods around the complex, with support from the air force."Iraqi intelligence estimates the number of Islamic State fighters entrenched in the center of Ramadi, capital of Western Anbar province, at between 250 and 300.

Retaking the city would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and U.S ally, last year.

(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Saif Hameed; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Louise Ireland)


[END REPORT]

See also Reuters report from Baghdad Dec 20 - 10:37 am EST Iraq military asks residents of ISIS-controlled Ramadi to leave city. The army dropped leaflets telling residents to evacuate and giving the best routes out of the city. RT reported today (9:33 GMT) that IS had been preventing people from leaving the center or trying to; the fear was that IS was planning on using them as human shields when the army attacked. From this Reuters photo on Dec. 20, it seems several residents were able to flee. As to how many IS fighters were among them -- [shrugging].  But I think the army is fine if IS wants to sneak out; this way civilian and troop casualties can be as small as possible during the fighting.  





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