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Wednesday, August 15

Six US senators propose legislation to sanction Russia out of existence

"Tales of the New Cold War: One Hundred Years of Sanctioning Russia and what is to be done?" August 14 discussion between Dr Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus New York University and Princeton University and John Batchelor of the John Batchelor Show. Podcast Part 1 of 2. Podcast Part 2.   

Dr Cohen starts off with an overview of the history of U.S. sanctions against Russia. But soon the conversation turns to what Russia could do to retaliate against sanctions recently proposed by six American senators. Batchelor also brings out the ramifications of the Russia sanctions for many countries.

See the articles at CNBC and Intellinews for discussion of specifically how the proposed sanctions will affect Russia. As to the ostensible rationale for the sanctions -- from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's website, August 2:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018, comprehensive legislation that will increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s continued interference in our elections, malign influence in Syria, aggression in Crimea, and other activities.
“The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” said Senator Graham.
“Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria.
The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed – and a direct result of Putin’s continued desire to undermine American democracy.
[...]
As to the actual rationale, I think it's to use legislation to formalize the claim that Russia is as much making war on the United States. In this way it would be a clear impeachable offense if President Trump went through with a state visit to Russia. I'd say the 'Get Russia' crowd on both sides of the Atlantic has strong reasons to want to prevent such a visit.   

As to sanctions, they've increasingly been used by the U.S. to force governments into accepting American parameters for negotiation. It's not brainwashing but it's close enough that people sense an attempt to force their minds into a certain way of thinking. No surprise, then, that they're uncooperative when it comes to adhering to agreements that come out such negotiations.

Working against this abuse of sanctions is simply the cumulative effect. The rest of the world is watching the American sanctions pile up, and recoiling. From an Express report yesterday:
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the White House-backed sanctions which sparked the [Turkish lira's] dramatic collapse were shattering America’s reputation around the world.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Mr Çavuşoğlu said: “The era of bullying must end. If the US wants to continue being a reputable country, it cannot do so with these impositions. We are against the US or any country imposing sanctions.”
Mr Lavrov described the US sanctions against Turkey as "unlawful and illegitimate" and said they could not last for long.
[...]
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has sided with Turkey in its dispute with the US by attacking Washington's sanctions.
A spokesman said: "Pakistan, in principle, is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions against any country.
"The solution to any and all issues should lie in dialogue, mutual understanding and goodwill."
*********

Liechtenstein's Crown Prince Alois upset U.S. doesn't consider his country important enough to sanction

'Are we not the richest country on this planet by GDP per capita?' the Crown Prince snapped at an AP reporter -- actually the only reporter -- at a hastily convened press conference. Did we not expand the powers of the monarchy in our country? Those alone are two sound reasons for the U.S. to sanction Liechtenstein and I can think of several more. But no, we are snubbed because we are a very small country. This is flagrant bias, and we plan to bring a human rights complaint before the United Nations,' the Crown Prince explained in answer to the AP reporter's question about whether Liechtenstein planned to retaliate. 'Every country deserves to be sanctioned by the United States if some countries are sanctioned.'  

********* 

Ankara announces "huge"retaliatory tariffs on US. Ankara and Moscow team to condemn Washington's Sanctions Mania. Turkish lira still in trouble. Have a nice day!

Bonus! Germany's Deutsche Welle has published Turkish Lira Crisis for Dummies. "The Turkish lira crash is threatening to turn into a debt and liquidity crisis. DW explains how the lira got to this point."

Turkey ramps up US spat with huge tariffs on cars and other goods
by Jethro Mullen
August 15, 2018: - 2:03 AM EDT

CNN

Turkey on Wednesday intensified its clash with the United States, announcing heavy new tariffs on some American products including cars, alcohol and tobacco.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that the measures were in response to "the deliberate attack of the US administration on our economy."

The Turkish government has doubled its retaliatory tariffs on American cars to 120% and on alcoholic drinks to 140%, according to a notice published Wednesday. Other affected products include fruit, coal, paper and rice.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have rapidly soured in recent weeks over Turkey's detention of an American pastor. The Trump administration announced plans on Friday to double US tariffs imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey.

The political spat with Washington has added to pressure on Turkey's currency, the lira, which has plunged against the dollar.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the United States of stabbing Turkey in the back and on Tuesday called for a boycott of US electronics products.

Turkey already imposed new tariffs in June on a similar range of US goods, worth a total of $1.8 billion, in retaliation for President Donald Trump's initial tariffs on steel aluminum.

-- Isil Sariyuce contributed to this report.

[END REPORT]

The (U.K.) Express live blogged yesterday's dizzying chain of events regarding Turkey's currency and U.S. sanctions:

Erdogan and Putin join against US - Lira fails to recover fully
By Simon Osborne 
August 14, 2018

ANKARA and Moscow have joined forces to condemn Washington for imposing sanctions on their countries as the Turkish lira crisis threatens to spill over into an international financial crash.


Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the White House-backed sanctions which sparked the currency’s dramatic collapse were shattering America’s reputation around the world.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Mr Çavuşoğlu said: “The era of bullying must end.
"If the US wants to continue being a reputable country, it cannot do so with these impositions.
"We are against the US or any country imposing sanctions.”
Mr Lavrov described the US sanctions against Turkey as "unlawful and illegitimate" and said they could not last for long.
[...]
All eyes have been on Turkey ever since after the collapse in the value of the lira threatened to spark a global cash crisis.
The beleaguered currency found a moment's respite at [its] rise 2.6 percent to 6.70 against the US dollar after the Turkish central bank pledged liquidity and cut reserve requirements for banks. But the currency has lost almost 10 percent of its value since yesterday and has shed more than two-fifths of its value so far in 2018.
So far the the contagion has hit mainly emerging markets, spreading to the South African rand and the Argentine peso. [Pundita note: and the Indian rupee]
Argentina's central bank surprised by raising interest rates by 5 percentage points on yesterday, but it was still not enough to stop the peso hitting a record low.
Fears of exposure of European banks to Turkey pushed up bond yields in Spain and Italy and hobbled the euro.
The single currency was last at $1.1421, having touched its lowest since July 2017 on Monday.
But Asian share markets fought to regain their footing as tremors from the collapse of the Turkish lira ebbed.
Matt Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual, said: "The more significant emerging market concern relates to the risk that regional underperformance becomes a source of disruption through swings in capital flows and currencies.
"While the focus at present is on Turkey where currency depreciation and rising rates has translated into a marked tightening of financial conditions, it could spread to Mexico, Brazil and India."
READ BELOW FOR LIVE UPDATES
7.11pm update: German think-tank's warning to Turkey
Clemens Fuest, head of Germany's Ifo Institute think-tank, has urged Turkey's government to tackle the economic crisis.
Mr Fuest said: "We have serious cause to worry. The crisis in Turkey is a classic economic and currency crisis.
"Erdogan's policies have been putting pressure on the country's economy for several years. The conflicts with the EU and the US are unsettling investors.
"Erdogan has responded with economic policy measures, especially in the form of state loan guarantees and very expansionary monetary policy.
"He put pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates, which undermined the independence of the central bank.
"In 2017, this led to high growth, but that was just a flash in the pan. Now it has burned out.
"The inflation rate has exploded, confidence is shaken."
3.44pm update: Pakistan attacks Washington's sanctions on Turkey
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has sided with Turkey in its dispute with the US by attacking Washington's sanctions.
A spokesman said: "Pakistan, in principle, is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions against any country.
"The solution to any and all issues should lie in dialogue, mutual understanding and goodwill."
Pakistan acknowledges and greatly appreciates Turkey's invaluable role towards regional and international peace and stability.
2.40pm update: 'We have serious cause to worry'
German economist Clemens Fuest, head of Berlin’s Ifo Institute, said there seemed little chance of Mr Erdogan regaining the confidence of the foreign markets.
Mr Fuest warned political and economic destabilisation of Turkey would be the last straw for Europe after Brexit, the transatlantic crisis and a looming global trade war.
He said: "We have serious cause to worry. The crisis in Turkey is a classic economic and currency crisis.
“Mr Erdogan's policies have been putting pressure on the country's economy for several years.
“The conflicts with the EU and the US are unsettling investors.
“Mr Erdogan has responded with economic policy measures, especially in the form of state loan guarantees and very expansionary monetary policy.”
2.20pm update: Turkish lira crisis 'will get worse before it gets better'
Economic experts do not believe the brief recovery of the embattled Turkish lira will bring an end to the threat of a global financial crisis and warn of worse to come.
Nick Brooks of asset management firm Intermediate Capital Group reckons things will get worse before they get better given Turkey’s weak economic position and has called for a sharp hike in interest rates to cool the overheating economy.
He said: “The fundamental problem in Turkey has been the build-up of unsustainable economic imbalances.
"Current account deficit is 6.3 percent of GDP, corporate foreign exchange debt is 35 percent of GDP and there's an inflation rate of 16 percent while the economy is now in a vicious downward spiral with the fall in the lira leading to concerns about corporate and financial sector solvency, further pushing down the currency and increasing capital outflows.
“Only a sharp hike in interest rates to halt capital outflows and incentivise inflows will halt the downward spiral.
“Capital controls, if implemented, will not be effective as Turkey needs foreign capital inflows to fund its current account deficit and to re-finance large foreign currency borrowing coming due this year.
“Investors will not bring new funds into the country if they don’t believe they will be able to get it back out.”
1.56pm update: Economist predicts possible bailout bid for struggling Turkey 
Former International Monetary Fund official Miranda Xafa said Turkey will soon be struggling to repay debts issued in foreign currencies unless it seeks a bailout.
She said: “The longer it waits, the harder it will get to overcome the crisis and the bigger the cost in terms of lost output, inflation, and financial distress.”
1.38pm update: US official visits pastor at centre of diplomatic row
Jeffrey Hovenier, the US charge d’affaires in Turkey, has visited Pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains under house arrest in the ancient Aegean coastal city of Izmir, and repeated demands for his case to be resolved.
1.10pm update: Turkish firms drop US advertising campaigns
Turkey's national airline and its main telecoms firm are pulling all advertising from US media as the rift between the two countries continues to widen.
Flag carrier Turkish Airlines and Turk Telekom made their announcements after a campaign on Twitter calling for an end to advertising in US media outlets.
The airline’s senior vice president for media relations Yahya Ustun said: "We as Turkish Airlines are taking our place alongside our state and people.”
12.20pm update: Turkey condemns US over sanctions
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have launched a withering attack on the US at a joint press conference in Ankara.
Mr Çavuşoğlu said America was damaging its own global reputation by imposing sanctions against Turkey and Russia while Mr Lavrov dismissed the Washington measures as "unlawful and illegitimate”.
11.04am update: Andrew Brunson files fresh appeal bid with Turkish court
US evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson pastor - the man at the centre of the bitter diplomatic row beweetn Ankara and Washington - has appealed again to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban.
Relations between Turkey and the US have spiralled into a full-blown crisis over Mr Brunson, who was held for 21 months in a Turkish prison until his transfer to house arrest last month - a move Washington dismissed as insufficient.
The appeal document said the court should halt any unlawful political interventions and lift judicial control provisions imposed on Andrew Brunson.
10.20am update: Erdogan hits out at Trump and calls for US goods boycott
President Erdogan has made a defiant speech to an audience in Ankara.
He said: “We will boycott US electronic products.
“If they have iPhone, the other side has Samsung. In our country there is Venus, Vestel [the Turkish smartphone brands].”
And he warned America and Donald Trump: “There is a price we’re paying for the period we’re in.
“But there will be a price [which] those who’re waging an economic warfare against Turkey will also pay.”
The Turkish president added he would take a firm stance and said switching to foreign currencies would be “giving in to the enemy”.
9.29am update: White House repeats demands for Andrew Brunson's release
Washington has told Turkey the diplomatic row between the two countries will not end until US pastor Andrew Brunson is released from house arrest.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton met Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Serdar Kilic, yesterday and insisted that Mr Brunson - who was arrested in 2016 and charged with espionage - must be immediately released.
Experts fear Turkey’s financial meltdown will not end until the stand-off between the two countries over Mr Brunson is resolved.
9.10am update: European shares bounce back
European markets have bounced back after two days of heavy selling as anxieties over contagion from the Turkish currency crisis appear to have eased slightly amid reassurances from Ankara’s central bank and government.
The Turkish lira improved after the central bank had pledged to guarantee liquidity in response to the meltdown which has unsettled global markets.
Banks were  worst hit by concerns over Turkey, taking the pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark index to a 21-month low.
But Italy's FTSE MIB jumped 0.8 percent this morning with banks gaining as bond yields fell after the government said it had agreed to preserve the stability of state finances and lower public debt.
8:51am update: Turkish stock market rallies
Turkey’s stock market rallied this morning and was up more than 2 percent in early trading.
The initials gains mean most of yesterday’s heavy losses have been clawed back.
8.41am update: Turkish lira recovers some ground
The Turkish lira has risen by around 5 percent to take it back to 6.5 against the dollar from over 6.88 last night.
Analysts said it could mean investors are recovering their nerve but warned the lira remains in a precarious place bearing in mind it was worth 3.7 to the dollar at the start of the year.
[END REPORT]
********

Tuesday, August 14

Unprecedented solar behavior and what it means for humanity

"The Sun is Blank & What is to be Done?" (John Batchelor Show podcast)

Four minute Batchelor-Zimmerman discussion about the present solar minimum and what it portends. The discussion isn't longer because there's not much to be said, at least not in general terms.

As to what can be done if a coming Grand Solar Minimum is anything like the last one, which lasted for decades and here on Earth meant cooler temperatures and widespread crop failures and famines  -- nothing can be done. Nothing at all, except study the sun with the amazing instruments science has developed since the last Grand Solar Minimum and ponder the precariousness of life on a planet that has its own cycles of existence to deal with.

For those who might need to get in the mood for such pondering, I recommend listening to John Batchelor's talk with William Rosen about Rosen's book, "Climate 1314 AD: "The Third Horseman: A Story of Weather, War, and the Famine History Forgot." (Podcast)  Which goes to show that humans have been known to do something in the face of climate events over which they have no control: go to war.

**********

"US Army Increasing Operational Bases in Northeastern Syria"

August 14, 2018
FARS

TEHRAN (FNA)- The US military has started developing and equipping its three operational bases in Hasaka and Aleppo provinces and is also building a new large base in regions that are under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Manbij, the London-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) disclosed on Tuesday.

SOHR said that the US-led coalition has started developing and equipping its military airports in Northeastern Syria after it sent a large military convoy to al-Shadadi airport in Southern Hasaka.

It went on to say that the US forces have also started developing Ein al-Arab (Kobani) base in Northeastern Aleppo and another base in Tal Tamar region in Northwestern Hasaka.

SOHR further disclosed that the US army is planning to build a large military base in Manbij region on the Western Bank of the Euphrates River in Northeastern Aleppo.

The Arabic-language Smart News website affiliated to the militants in Syria reported last week that a military convoy of the coalition crossed Iraq into Northeastern Syria via Simalka border-crossing.

It further said that the US military convoy, including 150 trucks with military vehicles on board, a number of oil tankers and other military equipment, was sent to regions that are under SDF's control in the province of Hasaka and Raqqa.

In the meantime, local sources in Hasaka city reported that an SDF commander was killed by unknown assailants in al-Nashwa neighborhood.

The sources further said that tensions between Syrian civilians and the SDF in Hasaka and Raqqa have gone high, adding that residents of the village of al-Hajiyeh Southeast of the town of Qamishli in Northeastern Hasaka engaged in heavy fighting with the SDF on Friday.
 
[END REPORT]

***********





"Kurdish political group meets with Syrian gov’t in Damascus – report"

By Leith Aboufadel
August 14, 2018
Al Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:10 A.M.) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council recently met with the Syrian government in Damascus city, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Al-Watan report, a number of Kurdish officials traveled to Damascus to meet with the Syrian government, including a number of members from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

[...]

*********


"Opposition to Ankara's Policies in Syria Increasing among Turks"

[Pundita note: Still, about half those polled support their government's encroachments in Syria or have no opinion.]

August 13, 2018
FARS

TEHRAN (FNA)- Ankara's interference in Syria's affairs has been widely criticized by people in Turkey, a prominent journalist said, adding that the problems related to the Syrian refugees in Turkey will be resolved after the reopening of Ankara's embassy in Damascus.

"Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been severely criticized politically, even by the (ruling) Justice and Development Party, on Syria," Islam Ozkan told the Lebanese Arabic-language news website al-Ahd on Monday.

He added that all critics believe that such a policy on Syria will have consequences for Turkey because Ankara should have played a mediatory role between the militants and the Syrian government since the first days but instead it supported the militants by sending weapons and paved the ground for their traffic to Syria.

"According to the polls, 40% to 50% of Turkish people are opposed to Turkey's policies on Syria, among them supporters of the Justice and Development party," Ozkan said.

Turkey has supported the terrorist groups in Syria militarily and logistically.

Ankara has launched air and ground operations around the area of Afrin in Syria to oust the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).

Ankara opened a new front in Syria’s nearly seven-year-old war on January 20, launching airstrikes against Kurdish fighters in Afrin in Aleppo province.

According to reports, Turkish tanks are supporting the Free Syrian Army’s ground offensive on Kurdish positions in Syria’s Afrin region, as [since?] operation "Olive Branch" has started.

The Syrian government has condemned the “brutal Turkish aggression” against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.

[END REPORT]

********

"Unknown Assailants Intensify Attacks on US-Backed Militias in Manbij"

"In the meantime, the SDF threatened in a statement that the youth would be arrested and fined unless they joined the SDF voluntarily." 


August 13, 2018
FARS
TEHRAN (FNA)- Two more attacks on the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by unidentified raiders were reported in the town of Manbij in Northeastern Aleppo on Monday.

A number of the SDF members, including a commander, were injured after a bomb planted in their vehicle of Manbij Military Council went off near al-Jazeera square in the town of Manbij.

They further said that another bomb went off on the way of the SDF militias near the Power Company in Manbij, injuring several gunmen.

In the meantime, the SDF threatened in a statement that the youth would be arrested and fined unless they joined the SDF voluntarily. 
On Wednesday, one of the notorious commanders of a Turkey-backed militant group was found dead in Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo amid growing insecurity in occupied regions in Northern Syria, local sources reported.

The sources said that the body of Omar al-Kadro, a commander of the 51st Brigade affiliated to the Free Army, was found in the town of Jandaris in Southwestern Afrin.

The sources went on to say that militants of the Turkey-led Euphrates Shield were kept on alert five days ago after al-Kadro was kidnapped by unknown assailants from the main base of the Euphrates Shield forces in the town of al-Bab in Northeastern Aleppo.

They further said that heavy infighting erupted between the 51th Brigade and Sultan Morad Firqa in Akhtarin region after the attackers kidnapped al-Kadro.

Infighting and assassination of militant groups' commanders in Northwestern Syria has started a fresh wave panic covering the terrorist front.

[END REPORT]


See also: "Rifts Widening among Terrorists in Idlib ahead of Syrian Army Operation;" FARS, August 12

*********

Just move right in, make yourself at home

[...]
In a related move by Turkey in Northern Syria on Friday, the Afrin Local City Council affiliated to the Ankara-backed Free Army embarked on renaming streets and squares in the town. 
The sources said that some of the streets and squares were named after Turkish figures, adding that the names of streets were written in both Arabic and Turkish alphabets.

They went on to say that the Ankara-backed militants changed al-Saraya Square to Recep Tayyip Erdogan Square and Kawa Square to Olive Branch Square, which was the codename of a military operation by the Turkish troops in the region.
The above is from an August 13 report from FARS headlined Civilians in Northwestern Syria Engage in Heavy Fighting with Turkish ArmyI think the Ankara-backed "Free Army" may also be called the "Syrian National Army" although it's a murky situation. From Wikipedia's article on the Free Syrian Army:
A formal organisation at its founding, its structure gradually dissipated by late 2012, and the FSA identity has since been used arbitrarily by various opposition groups.

[...]

After the Turkish military intervention in Syria in 2016, an informal group of Turkish-backed Arabs and Turkmen was established under the name "Free Syrian Army",[20] with on-ground support of an organised military backed by Turkish and British airpower.[21] The group closely cooperates with Turkish troops in Syria.[22]
Anyhow, it's unclear whether it was civilians or civilians with the help of one faction or another of the Free Syrian Army -- not to be confused with the Turkey-backed Free Army or Syrian National Army -- who reportedly fought with Turkish troops. 

What's clear is that the Turks are settling their butts into the Syrian side of the northwestern border. The report I linked to about a Syrian National Army mentions "At least five branches of the Turkish post office have opened in the area."

********

"Turkish Army clashes with FSA and/or civilians in NW Syria

Two versions of the same incident -- one, published August 12 (at 10:40 PM Syria time) by Al Masdar News, reported that allegedly the clashes were between the Turkish army and the Free Syrian Army with civilians participating on the FSA side. AMN noted that the incident would mark the first known time the two militaries had clashed.  

The second version was published by FARS on August 13; their report was headlined "Civilians in Northwestern Syria Engage in Heavy Fighting with Turkish Army."

As to what touched off the fighting --

The AMN report has it that a farmer in the town of Kafr Houm was gunned down by a Turkish army sniper: 
The residents of Kafr Houm and Free Syrian Army responded by reportedly attacking the Turkish military, resulting in casualties on both sides.
The FSA version is that a Turkish border guard shot the farmer:
Civilians in the small border town of Kafr Houm West of the town of Harem in Northern Idlib fought with Turkish army men after a Turkish border guard gunned down one of the local farmers.
The Syrian civilians, who were enraged by the Turkish army's measures, demonstrated and attacked the Turkish army's checkpoints.
The clashes inflicted several casualties on both sides.
The AMN report was based on reports from opposition activists posting at social media site(s) FARS doesn't mention their source for the report.

********  

Monday, August 13

Turkey creates Syrian National Army in Syria. Aren't we glad we don't have Turkey as a neighbor?

As to what percentage of "rebels" in this army is the Muslim Brotherhood -- it seems the reporter didn't think to ask. Excerpts below are from Reuters, August 12:

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) - A “National Army” being set up by Syrian rebels with Turkey’s help could become a long-term obstacle to President Bashar al-Assad’s recovery of the northwest -- if they can end factional rivalries that have long blighted the opposition.

The effort is at the heart of plans by the Turkish-backed opposition to secure and govern a strip of territory that forms part of the last big rebel stronghold in Syria.

The presence of Turkish forces on the ground has helped to shield it from government attack.

Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has vowed to recover “every inch” of Syria, and though he has now won back most of the country, the Turkish presence will complicate any government offensive in the northwest.

Turkey’s role has gone beyond supporting allied Syrian forces to rebuilding schools and hospitals. At least five branches of the Turkish post office have opened in the area.

Colonel Haitham Afisi, head of the National Army, says setting up the force has been no easy task over the last year.

“We are at the beginning. We face many difficulties but we are working to overcome them,” Afisi told Reuters in an interview in the town of Azaz near the Turkish border.

[...]

IDLIB EXPANSION?

The National Army compromises some 35,000 fighters from some of the biggest factions in the war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced some 11 million people from their homes over the last seven years.

Many previous efforts to unite the rebels have failed, obstructed by local rivalries and at times by the competing agendas of foreign states that once backed many of the rebels in the Syrian war.

The National Army could be different because of Turkey’s presence on the ground.

[...]

Assad says Turkey is illegally occupying Syrian land.

“All the support for the National Army is from Turkey, there are no other states partnering in this matter,” Afisi said.

The Turkish foreign ministry did not respond to questions from Reuters.

Turkish support includes fighters’ wages, logistical support “and weapons if necessary”. He listed three enemies: Assad, the PKK and Islamic State.

Turkey has also set up 12 military posts in Idlib province and adjoining areas which are located southwest of Afrin, under an agreement with Russia and Iran. The stated aim is to observe a “de-escalation” agreement in the Idlib area.

Assad has indicated Idlib could be his next target.

Afisi said the National Army could be quickly merged with Turkish-backed rebels in Idlib if necessary.

The situation in Idlib is complicated by the presence of well-armed jihadists that have fought with the other groups.

“We are ready and extend our hand to all groups that represent the goals of the revolution,” Afisi said.

[END REPORT]

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“You all made me out to be a liar.” America's tap water toxicity crisis is a window on the politicization of news

From Ellen Knickmeyer's report today for The Associated Press headlined (sarcastically, I assume) White House called toxins contamination ‘PR nightmare:
Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.
“You all made me out to be a liar,” Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminster, told Environmental Protection Agency officials at a hearing last month. 
The meeting drew residents and officials from Horsham and other affected towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and officials from some of the other dozens of states dealing with the same contaminants.
At “community engagement sessions” around the country this summer like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly and decisively to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority. So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.
[...]
From the above and the rest of the AP report, obviously PFAS wasn't moved up enough as a national priority. So to look at the tap water crisis as a public relations nightmare is a measure of how far gone American politics is today. This is not about public relations; it's an immediate, life-or-death matter for millions of Americans.  

The fundamental problem is that U.S. society has become so politicized that political considerations overwhelm public discussion of everything else. In our national news media this translates to 15 minutes of political discussion about an issue to 2 minutes of reporting on the actual issue. 

The Associated Press could go a long way to rectifying the situation if they'd establish their own national cable news station beep this is a recording. Only such a news outlet would have the power to withstand becoming a propaganda outlet for a political party beep this is a recording.

Why The Associated Press? I've explained before but in brief it's because AP has a revenue stream that the three national cable new stations -- CNN, FOX, MSNBC -- don't have. AP did at some point set up their own news website but the company makes it money from selling its reporting to press and TV media outlets; it's what used to be called a wire service. 

However, the media outlets cherry-pick; they buy AP reports that they can, in whole or part, work into their political agendas. The upshot is that much important AP reporting ends up on the cutting-room floor. Ergo, AP should set up their own national TV news station. 

Why haven't they done this? Maybe it has something to do with antitrust or federal communications laws but I really have no idea. All I know is that Americans must get better informed about their country's problems. We can't do this if every major press and televised news report is run through the meat grinder of the political industry before the public has an understanding of the issue at hand.

The bottom line is that today's USA gives proof to the observation, made years ago on an Indian economic blog, that in the present era many nations are a mixture of first, second, and third-world economies. The tap water crisis is just one more indication that it's a joke to call the USA an exclusively first-world nation.
   
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Whereupon we learn Obama tried to use Islamic State as a pawn against Assad

From the second installment of independent journalist Rania Khalek's stunning two part series on the reconciliation process in Syria, published today at Grayzone. (Part 1 is here):
[...]
This engagement between Americans, Kurds and Khaled al Ahmad [Assad's 'secret' emissary] goes as far back as the Obama administration, when Syrian government forces and Kurdish forces were battling ISIS in the northeast. It was when al Ahmad met Obama’s head of Middle East Policy, Robert Malley, according to an American official briefed on the meetings, that the issue of cooperation against ISIS arose.

Known to be skeptical of US regime change efforts, Malley frequently turned to al Ahmad for ammunition against the anti-Assad hawks in the White House.
While al Ahmad was able to shape Malley’s arguments, the two did not see entirely eye to eye. Al Ahmad bristled at Malley’s offer of US support for the Syrian army in the war against ISIS in exchange for Assad committing to relinquishing power. The Syrian negotiator dismissed it as a recipe for state collapse and a violation of Syrian sovereignty.
[...]
The report is so vast in scope and implications it has to be read in its entirety; here I will content myself with quoting just a few more passages:

[...]

In February 2014 [almost two years before Russia entered the war] Assad gave a speech in front of all his governors instructing them that reconciliations were their new strategy. At the time it would have proved difficult to implement such a strategy given the rigid and uncompromising mentality of Syria’s system and because rebels and their backers wanted to escalate the conflict to achieve “regime change.”

In the end when Assad needed somebody to implement his ideas on reconciliation, he chose al Ahmad. While many enemies of the government condemn it for refusing to compromise in Geneva and essentially surrender, they fail to recognize that like it or not, the government was engaging in diplomacy to end the war. With al Ahmad as Assad’s representative internationally and sometimes locally they were pursuing options besides war. And when many other officers and commanders began holding meetings with rebel leaders throughout the country there was a real diplomatic process of people sitting and negotiating. But it never received international support.
[...]
Of course the 'international community' didn't support Assad's reconciliation approach; doing so would have undermined their portrayal of him as a monster who didn't have the interests of all the Syrian people at heart. But this portrayal was so false that it backfired when Assad unexpectedly survived; today it is the 'international community,' not Assad, which the vast majority of Syrians see as a monster. 

To return to Khalek's report:
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While Western pundits often framed the war in Syria as a sectarian conflict pitting Alawite against Sunni, the reality for Syrians was far more complex. Syria is a majority Sunni country and most Sunnis remained supportive of the Syrian state during the conflict. Because the mostly Sunni areas bore the brunt of the rebel takeover, many of their residents became repulsed by the presence of extremist Sunni rebels, demonstrating more resentment for them than minorities aligned with the government..
This helps explain why the Syrian colonel who controlled the checkpoint in Waer had harsh words for the insurgents.
“The Syrian army is from all sects,” he told me. “The terrorists are not.”
The colonel is Sunni and like the Sunnis who make up some 75 percent of Syria’s population, he was outraged that the insurgency sought to impose a Sunni supremacist state run along jihadist ideological lines on the rest of the country.
“I’m a Sunni security guy with the mukhabarat. I’m from Idlib,” the colonel continued. “These sons of bitches took over my town. Even if I disagree with all the governors and officials in Syria, I’m not going to destroy my country. Is there any ‘revolution’ in the world that destroys hospitals and prevents children from going to school? They want only to destroy Syria. We are not going to allow them. When the U.S. and the khaleejis [Gulf states] and that son of a bitch Erdogan stop arming the rebels, Syria will be at peace.”
[...]
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uh oh. "Turkey Hits Final Stage of Preparations for New Operations in Syria" says Erdogan

So the Turks are planning on grabbing more Syrian territory while the Syrian military is occupied with Idlib, are they?  

August 13, 2018 - 05:21 updated 07:12
Sputnik

ANKARA (Sputnik) - Turkey has reached the final stage of preparations for its new military operations in the neighboring Syria, the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
“We are at the last stage of preparations for increasing the number of regions in Syria, where we have provided stability through ‘the Euphrates Shield’ and ‘the Olive Branch’ operations. With God's help, we will liberate new territories in the near future and bring security there,” Erdogan said, as quoted by the Anadolu news agency.
The president noted that 250,000 people have returned to the places where Turkey had held its military operations. [Pundita comment: How many people were displaced by these operations and how long were they displaced?] 
Turkish troops, in cooperation with Syrian opposition groups loyal to Ankara, have participated in a number of military operations in Syria, mostly against Kurdish militants.
In January 2018 Ankara launched on operation in Afrin called Operation Olive Branch aimed to "clear" Turkey's Syrian border from the terrorist threat. Another operation dubbed Euphrates Shield was a 2016-2017 cross-border campaign which was, according to Ankara, aimed against terrorists allegedly threatening Turkish security. Damascus has condemned Turkey's military operations, saying they violate the Syrian sovereignty.
READ MORE: US-Turkey to Conduct Joint Patrols in Syria, Pentagon Head Mattis Says  [Pundita comment: eyeroll]
[END REPORT]
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