Saturday, April 30

"In the Name of the Profit"

Malek, a 13 year old Syrian, steals the show in RT's documentary on Islamic State's oil business with Turkey; there are a few moments when he's shown acting like a kid but this is an old hand at dealing with Islamic State and the Turks who's been working the oilfields for years around Shaddadi, now liberated by Kurds from Islamic State.

The documentary begins with an IS shooting execution of some oil truck drivers and it's done so casually that it's over before the drivers and the viewer realize an execution is to take place. This is the world Malek has survived, and he speaks about it with the knowledgeable shrewdness of someone five times his age.  
“Of course, [IS] wouldn’t get any weapons from Turkey if they didn’t ship them oil. They...go with the oil and come back with the guns. And so they go, back and forth, back and forth.”
In the Name of the Profit can be seen at the RT website; it's also been featured on RT's TV channel.

Although it isn't mentioned in the documentary the U.S. government has been trying to claim the credit for airstrikes that brought IS oil smuggling to Turkey via Syria to a virtual halt; it was actually the Russian who pounded the transport routes into oblivion. 

But the victory hurt Turkey and those Europeans profiting from the Turkey-Syria oil smuggling more than it did Islamic State, as this April 28 report from Reuters indicates: Islamic State turns to selling fish, cars to offset oil losses: report. The fish farms are big business:
Fishing in hundreds of lakes north of Baghdad generates millions of dollars a month, according to the report. Some owners fleeing the area abandoned their farms while others agreed to cooperate with Islamic State to avoid being attacked.
That's not talking about the IS illicit drug business, which I mentioned last month, and which is the really big revenue generator for the organization.

What is the way to victory over Islamic State? Putin explained it in two words:  "One fist."

But the terror-sponsoring states don't want to unite with Russia and Assad's government to fight IS, or al Qaeda, for the precise reason that the strategy is the only way to shut down the merchant terrorist armies. Ashraf Ghani has realized this; that's why he's sounding more like Hamid Karzai with every month that passes. 

If he doesn't shut up, soon we'll be hearing from the State Department that he's a crazed drug dealer who beats his wife.


Thursday, April 28

Working Dog

Thanks Sputnik for scooping this one up from YouTube.  The video is amusing but the idea behind this working dog isn't funny because dogs as with humans really need to work. Dogs tend to become neurotic and depressed when they don't have responsibilities.

Wednesday, April 27

Tuesday, April 26

Emboldened by Merkel's capitulation Erdogan sends large armed convoy to Syrian border

April 24, Euro News:

The Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu took German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council president Donald Tusk on a tour of a refugee camp on Saturday.

Nizip camp in the Turkish city of Gaziantep, close to the border with Syria, is home to some 5,000 Syrian refugees.

The visit came as both sides seek to bolster the EU-Turkey deal on migrants.

Germany is now backing Turkey’s idea of ‘safe zones’ for refugees in Syria along the Turkish border.

At a press conference, Merkel told reporters: “Such areas can easily be identified near the Turkish-Syrian border and we have advocated that a lot of effort be invested in this. The safer people feel, the less they need to leave their homeland. That’s why we believe this to be very important.”

The UN and aid agencies have previously warned against the so-called’ safe zones’ saying the safety of refugees could not be guaranteed.

Davutoglu also took the opportunity to remind the EU that visa liberalisation for Turkish citizens was a vital part of the migrant deal.


April 25, 8:40 PM -  AMN

A large convoy of Turkish Army reinforcements arrived to the border-city of Kilis on Monday morning after the recent increase in violence split over from the Syrian province of Aleppo. 

This increase in fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has prompted the Turkish Army to expand their presence along the Syrian-Turkish border to ensure the safety of civilians living in Kilis and its surrounding area. 

However, many observers in northern Aleppo believe that the Turkish Army is actually waiting for the predominately Kurdish “People’s Protection Units” (YPG) to attack the Syrian border-city of Jarabulus.

If the YPG and their allies from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) make a push to Jarabulus; this will without a doubt result in an attack by the Turkish Army, despite the fact the Kurdish forces are fighting Islamic State of terrorists.

[END REPORT; two additional  photos of convoy in the report]


Monday, April 25

The Tale of Sathya Sai Baba and the Two Rascals

The incident was recounted to me by the person who was both an eyewitness and a participant, an Indian-American I'll call Ravi.  

Ravi was born and raised in the USA of Indian 'expat' parents who were devotees of Sathya Sai Baba. I can't recall exactly how old he said he was when they took him to meet Sai Baba but he was about 6 years of age. He had no interest in meeting Sai Baba; his interests were baseball and Spiderman. But Sai Baba managed to make a favorable impression by volunteering that he was a Spiderman fan then discussing Spiderman at some length with Ravi.

So in Ravi's mind if Sai Baba was God, as his parents believed, God was pretty cool.  And so a few years later he had no objection when his parents asked if he'd like to attend Sai Baba's summer school for boys. 

When the school ended he spent a short time at Sai Baba's large ashram, Puttaparthi, before returning to the USA. One day while there, he and other schoolboys were talking with Sai Baba in the temple. Then, realizing it was time for people at the ashram to attend darshan (seeing of a deity or holy person, which is considered a blessing) they paid their respects and left -- all but Ravi because Sai Baba kept talking to him and it would have been rude to cut him off.

Finally he sensed that Baba was talking just to talk. Ravi looked at his watch pointedly and interjected that he had to leave because it was time for Sai Baba to give darshan. 

Sai Baba replied that darshan could wait and kept chattering.

That struck Ravi as wrong; hundreds of people were sitting patiently on the hot sand waiting for darshan. He told Sai Baba that it was his duty to put in an appearance to those people and that he had to do his duty.

Sai Baba took him to the window and pointed to a man seated in the middle of the front row of the men's side of the darshan line. 

He said, "You see that man? He wants Swami to kill his wife for him. The man sitting next to him wants Swami to ruin his business partner. Swami can't go outside for darshan today."

Ravi retorted, "You're God. You should be able to figure out how to deal with this problem."

Sai Baba frowned in concentration then exclaimed, "I know! Watch!" He began moving his right hand slowly in a small circle that got wider and wider. As he did this the sand in front of the two men erupted in a 'dust devil' -- a mini-cyclone -- forcing them to squeeze their eyes shut.

Then Sai Baba ran outside and while the men were choking on swirling sand he sprinted along the darshan line, blessing babies in record time and grabbing letters of request offered him. Then he ran back into the temple without the two rascals ever having darshan, whereas everyone else in the gathering did.   

*  *  *
(So I was wrong, when I assumed at the time I was bitten by a poisonous snake, which was before I met Ravi, that Sathya Sai Baba never ran.)

Now here we arrive at the part in my tales about Sai Baba where I ponder whether I should provide you with my analysis of the incident's social, religious and spiritual implications, or just tell the story. [tossing a coin] Ah. I see you were lucky this time.


Sunday, April 24

The more females in U.S. politics, the more Americans view politicians as corrupt

On April 16 John Batchelor interviewed Ellen R. Malcolm, co-author of When Women Win: EMILY's List and the Rise of Women in American Politics. EMILY is an acronym for the sentence "Early money [for political candidates] is like yeast." John's questions for Malcolm gave no hint of the downsides of the amazing success that financially well-off feminists achieved at bringing gender equality to U.S. politics. But then the downsides are evident to any American who's been paying attention.

One downside is evident even to those who pay little attention:  As the decades have rolled on Congress increasingly became America's most disliked institution, until things reached this desperate state last year:
Majority of Americans See Congress as Out of Touch, Corrupt
September 28, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- However the likely drama over how to fund the government past Sept. 30 unfolds, most Americans appear to have little faith in most lawmakers to do the right thing. 
Majorities believe that most members of Congress are "out of touch with average Americans" (79%), "focused on the needs of special interests" rather than the needs of their constituents (69%) and corrupt (52%). Americans are less critical of their own representatives, but substantial percentages say their own member of Congress is out of touch (48%), focused on special interests (47%) and corrupt (32%).
These results come from Gallup's annual Governance poll, conducted Sept. 9-13. By any measure, Congress is not a popular or trusted institution among Americans. The body's current approval rating, 14%, is typical of its ratings over the past several years. Earlier this year, Gallup found that fewer than one in 10 Americans (8%) have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress.
Traditionally, Americans have been less critical of their own members of Congress, but last year the percentage of U.S. adults saying their own representative deserved re-election dropped to a record low.

Bottom Line
Majorities of Americans view most members of Congress as corrupt, beholden to special interests and out of touch. This is not new and perhaps not even surprising, given the low esteem in which Americans hold the institution. But this cynicism is beginning to influence Americans' views of their own federal representatives, not just the national legislature. Record or near-record numbers of U.S. adults say their local representative is out of touch and focused on serving special interests rather than their constituents.
Now there are different ways female politicians can spin the Gallup findings:
  • They can say they never promised to be more capable or less corrupt than male politicians, just that there should be an equal number of corrupt and incompetent males and females holding political office.
  • Female politicians could demand that they gain the majority of political offices in the country as the only way to counter bad male politicians. They could even ratchet this demand to 100 percent, with the problem being what they'll do if corruption and incompetence stay the same or worsen when no males hold political office in the USA.
There is also the rational approach: trying to understand how a democratically-elected government in a republic got to be as corrupt and incompetent as one run by a tyranny. I don't think it takes much digging to see how this came about.  

You see these weren't only feminists who started EMILY's List; they were largely "Liberal" Democratic feminists -- many outright Socialists. So their idea of bringing gender equality to political elections included backing female politicians who'd carry forward what could be called nurturing government. Its detractors called it the Nanny State; in answer, supporters pointed to West European countries that had successfully created all-encompassing nurturing programs.

The supporters didn't mention that European governments could to some extent afford the programs because American taxpayers were shouldering the lion's share of Europe's defense-spending burden. Such discussion was verboten in public in the USA in those days because it implied criticism of NATO.

They also forgot to mention that the populations of individual West European countries were tiny next to America's. This meant the Europeans didn't have to go hundreds of billions into debt to sustain nurturing government, whereas Americans did.

It also meant that the United States began getting away with the impossible -- carrying Europe's defense burden while at the same time vastly expanding its own nurturing government programs. There was only one way to keep doing the impossible: kite checks, in effect, in larger and larger amounts at a faster and faster pace. 

In other words the American federal government began greatly abusing the U.S. dollar's reserve status and in the process becoming dependent on governments that actually aren't U.S. friendlies -- Al Saud and China's, notably.        

Something else was going on as EMILY's List got more and more Democratic women elected to seats at the state and federal levels: corruption and waste skyrocketed as nurturing government programs that female electives pushed through got unmanageably large. As consequence American government, and indeed American society itself, was taking on the behavior of a banana republic.

By the turn of this century Americans -- both men and women -- were recognizing that the U.S. Congress had turned into a juggernaut. The systems set in place to monitor the Congress were overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. The electorate's trust in elected officials plummeted. The Tea Party movement, created in a part in the backlash against government corruption, was chewed up by the system it was supposed to fight once it got to Washington.

If it had ended there, one could wring a simple moral from the story:  What EMILY's List proved beyond a shadow of doubt is that when it comes to the quest for worldly power there is absolutely no difference between the male and female psyche. Both are equally capable of treachery and betrayal of the public trust; both are equally adept at keeping silent to protect a corrupt system that keeps them in power.  

But the story didn't end there. Check kiting wasn't enough to sustain the nurturing society in America. A giant defense industry had to be created to reliably bring in large amounts of tax revenue. This wasn't terribly hard during the Cold War but once the Soviet Union dissolved a long-running conflict had to be scared up to justify the continued existence of the industry -- and from the European side, to make sure the U.S. continued to fund NATO.

And so for me, at least, it came down to a day in August 2008 when I typed with shaking hands, To any and all U.S. forces in Georgia: STAND DOWN before publishing the post at my blog and babbling a prayer to God to save us all.

I still remember then-SecDef Bob Gates saying to a reporter a short time later that the U.S. wasn't going to start World War Three with Russia over the issue. But you do not want to think about how close we came to a nuclear confrontation with Russia over South Ossetia -- a place most Americans had never heard of before and couldn't find on a map.

Meanwhile nurturing government in Western European nations had evolved a dependency society that couldn't even be bothered to procreate enough to sustain itself. This led to massive influxes of foreign work forces that formed an angry permanent underclass which resisted assimilation. On top of these external migrations came massive, rapid internal migrations as the European Union became borderless. All this migration was encouraged and supported by cradle-to-grave state benefits. 

By the start of this decade it was clear that despite arguments to the contrary from American Liberals and self-termed Conservatives, U.S. society was following Western Europe's trajectory. 

It's a trajectory that so greatly overwhelms resources, honest and capable government becomes impossible. So American female politicians and the EMILY's List donors can easily defend themselves against the charge that U.S. politics has become more corrupt because women joined the political ranks. But the women who propelled other women into political power in the USA should acknowledge that they got away with expanding an incredibly destructive social agenda just because they were using female politicians to do this. 


From book review at Amazon site:

When Women Win: EMILY's List and the Rise of Women in American Politics by Ellen R. Malcolm and Craig Unger

Malcolm, the founder of EMILY’s List, delivers a lively, fast-paced history of the influential political action committee that helps elect pro-choice, Democratic women. Drawing on interviews with Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, and others, she highlights the organization’s impact on elections over the past 30 years, most notably by giving selected candidates donations early in their campaigns (EMILY is an acronym for “early money is like yeast”). 

The book covers EMILY’s List’s evolution, since its 1985 founding, from a fund-raising organization to a “multi-pronged, full-service political operation” with three million members that has helped elect 110 Democratic women to the House and 19 to the Senate, including Warren. 

Malcolm also emphasizes the dramatic effect of Anita Hill’s testimony on the female electorate and the importance of women voters to the Democratic Party. The book shows that EMILY’s List’s biggest contribution may be to make women in Congress seem so familiar that voters are now far more likely to judge women on their records and character than on their gender.
—Publishers Weekly

SecState John Kerry should quit lying about Syria

Today, on Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Christian calendar, Saudi-backed "militants" shelled the predominately Christian city of As-Suqaylabiyah in Syria as large numbers of Christians gathered to celebrate. AMN's breaking news report has video of the Mass inside Peter and Paul Church while explosions occur outside, during which one person was killed and four were wounded, so far. 

AMN CEO Leith Fadel noted at his Twitter page:
On Palm Sunday, the terrorists decided to bomb churches in the Christian cities of Mhardeh and Suqaylabiyah
All this talk about "saving Christians of the Middle East" -- you arm the people killing them! They're being killed by US weapons
They're being killed not only by U.S. weapons but also with weapons made in other countries that the U.S. government arranges to ship to Syrian 'rebels' -- who then outright sell them to Islamic State, Al Qaeda groups, etc., or 'lose' them to such groups during clashes. From an April 8 IHS Jane's 360 report filed by Jeremy Binnie and Neil Gibson in London at IHS Jane's Defence Weekly; emphasis mine:
US arms shipment to Syrian rebels detailed
Documents released by the US government's Federal Business Opportunities (FBO) website have provided an indication of the types and numbers of Eastern European weapons and ammunition the United States is providing to Syrian rebel groups as part of a programme that continues despite the widely respected ceasefire in that country.
The FBO has released two solicitations in recent months looking for shipping companies to transport explosive material from Eastern Europe to the Jordanian port of Aqaba on behalf of the US Navy's Military Sealift Command.
Released on 3 November 2015, the first solicitation sought a contractor to ship 81 containers of cargo that included explosive material from Constanta in Romania to Aqaba.
The solicitation was subsequently updated with a detailed packing list that showed the cargo had a total weight of 994 tonnes, a little under half of which was to be unloaded at Agalar, a military pier near the Turkish town of Tasucu, the other half at Aqaba.
The cargo listed in the document included AK-47 rifles, PKM general-purpose machine guns, DShK heavy machine guns, RPG-7 rocket launchers, and 9K111M Faktoria anti-tank guided weapon (ATGW) systems.
The Faktoria is an improved version of the 9K111 Fagot ATGW, the primary difference being that its missile has a tandem warhead for defeating explosive reactive armour (ERA) fitted to some tanks.
The rest of the report is behind a subscription wall at Jane's but one of the authors understandably considered the information so important that he published the entire report at his Twitter page. 

Since the report the ceasefire has been badly frayed under the onslaught of well-armed 'moderate' groups, a situation that the U.S. somehow blames on the Russian and Syrian governments.  

What the United States and its allies are doing in Syria is a war crime. Arguably the crime includes ethnic cleansing and possibly also genocide against the nation's Christians. But just because such arguments can be made, the U.S. civilian government and its military engage in subterfuges that would make it hard for a tribunal modeled on the 1942 International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg to prosecute them for crimes against humanity. 

Yet one would think that after the Janes report the U.S. government would at least be more careful in its language about Syria. From Peter S. Goodman's April 22 report for The New York Times, Russian Military Buildup Near Aleppo, Syria, Threatens Truce, Kerry Warns, clearly this is not the case:
The United States has so far resisted giving increased lethal military aid to nonextremist opposition fighters, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons that would render Russian aircraft vulnerable, but could fall into the hands of terrorists.
The Times didn't pull that sentence from thin air; while it isn't a specific quote Goodman's entire report is based on Secretary of State John Kerry's meeting last week with the Times Editorial Board. The Board had surely seen the Janes report and wanted answers before they carried any more water for the Obama Administration on the matter of  Syria. The Times has mutinied before against President Obama's prosecution of the War on Terror -- notably regarding Afghanistan -- and could do it again.   

The gist of Kerry's response to the Board's grilling was to double down on misrepresenting U.S. actions in Syria and the entire situation there. Yet I don't know what he thinks he's asking the Times to accomplish given that this is not 1990. Everyone who's actually following the Syrian War is using a variety of sources, including AMN, which are outside the reach of the American propaganda machine.

Short of blocking a long list of websites the U.S. government will have to keep coasting on the hope that the majority of Americans aren't paying close attention to Syria. Or Iraq. Or Turkey. Or Jordan. Or Lebanon. Or Libya, and the list goes on and on.


Oh heck, SouthFront is broke again

They have to get themselves straightened out -- and they know it -- but please send them more money to tide them over for the rest of this month.  

April 22, 2016

Dear friends!
In just 8 days, SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence will be forced to reduce broadcasting significantly.
We are searching for a solution to avoid this, but its clear that if the situation does not change, there will be no more daily video production.
For a long time, SouthFront Team has been able to produce exclusive video, design and analytical content on a daily basis only due to your constant support. Thank you for this!
As donations grew to the desired level in December through March, the SouthFront team was able to produce high quality content on a daily basis. Your invaluable support and encouragement allowed SouthFront to hold the content production and increase its quality.  During these 4 months we collected about 90% of the needed monthly budget.
However, the amount of donations received so far in April are not enough to keep the project alive with as high a number of original content that we have become accustomed to. By April 22, we’ve collected only about 45% (2466 USD) of the monthly budget (5000 USD). The SouthFront Video-Design Team isn’t able to make ends meet on such a limited budget, because producing videos for the project on a daily basis is demanding work which doesn’t allow any time to concentrate on other projects or another job successfully.
In light of current constraints, we will make all possible efforts to keep producing high quality content.
If you’re able, and if you like our content and approach, please support the project. Our work wouldn’t be possible without your help:

Sincerely yours,
SouthFront: Analysis & Intelligence Team
[There's also a "donate" button at their site]

I just love it when an Englishman loses his temper

Hat tip to Leith Fadel's dad, who's too old to be fighting so he has to content himself with cheering on the Syrian Army and hurling invectives at the bad guys from the pages of his blog, Syrian Perspective


Sunday, April 17

Stop complaining about Americans or we'll save your nation next

Aleppo, one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited cities, before Americans strove to help save Syrians from their government

Aleppo, after Americans helped

Afghan women in Kabul before Americans helped save them from Soviet Russia

Afghan women in Kabul after Americans helped

Sirte before Americans helped save Libyans from their government

Sirte, after Americans helped

Clearly Mr Abdul-Rahman doesn't understand American benevolence.
Residents of Muammar Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte are struggling to come to terms with the destruction and humiliation of their city, a former fishing village which once had aspirations to be the “capital of Africa”. During an eight-week siege, much of Sirte was reduced to rubble by NATO and US-backed rebels. ... “We never expected such destruction,” said a resident who gave his name as Abu Abdul-Rahman, pointing to his bullet-riddled television and broken furniture. “Is this what they call a revolution? We chose to flee instead of fighting and still they destroyed our homes.” He added: “They treated us like animals who didn’t deserve to be protected.” ... “We lived with Gaddafi for 42 years. He never attacked our houses with his army,” said another Sirte resident, sitting in his damaged house.
Composite photo of  historic Maidan Square before and after Americans began
to save Ukrainians from Vladimir Putin

Tender-hearted Huffpo was distraught about the photos: Incredible Before And After Pictures Of Kiev's Devastated Independence Square (February 2014):
Three months ago, Independence Square, know locally as Maidan Nezalezhnosti, was the peaceful centrepiece of the ancient capital of Kiev, with an architectural history dating back hundreds of years.
Since the revolution in 1990, the square has become a focal point for political rallies, however Maidan has seen little compared to the violence and bloodshed that has engulfed Kiev since November, with the stunning landmark turned into a charred warzone of barricades, burned tents and makeshift weapons.
These incredible pictures show the world-famous square before and after the violence, and with Wednesday’s truce proving all to brief, Maidan is likely to see more bloodshed before it once again returns to the splendour of its former self.
As to how much longer you'll have to wait before Americans finish saving Ukraine -- it's pretty much saved now. Here's the latest John Batchelor Show update from Stephen F. Cohen on what's left of the nation, most of which is now more-or-less officially an American colony.

As to Iraq, I got tired of fooling around at Google Images but after all we did to save Iraqis from their government, those ingrates are now saying Americans are their enemy: One Third of Iraqis Think US Supports Terrorism, ISIS and "more than 90 percent of young people in Iraq consider the United States to be an enemy of their country, according to a new poll."

Then there was Egypt, which we almost saved until someone in the Obama White House realized that leaving the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of the Suez Canal probably wasn't a good idea.

Here some readers might note that Americans actually did a good job of saving Kuwait in 1991 and without reducing the country to rubble. We certainly did; there are different rules for American benevolence if a nation is a rich Persian Gulf one.

To all other peoples: say your prayers daily and be nice to everyone because you just never know when Americans will decide they have a responsibility to save you.


Friday, April 15

Diversity for me but not for thee: American Atlanticism vs European Continentalism

The following conversation at RT's CrossTalk (moderated by Peter Lavelle), featuring Michael Vlahos, George Szamuley and Richard Sakwa, can be a little hard for non-European readers to follow unless they're a close student of NATO-European affairs -- or faithful listeners to John Batchelor's Tuesday night talks with Stephen F. Cohen during the past three years. But if you stick with the 24 minute discussion, you'll be able to look back a year from now and realize you were in on the ground floor of the defining geopolitical-philosophical development of the present era.

I have one quibble with Vlahos's observations. He terms the American geopolitical view as the application of "American exceptionalism" and claims that this exceptionalism has meant America demands that other countries submit to its viewpoint.  I wouldn't call that exceptionalism; I think "totalitarianism" is a bit closer.  

But whatever one wants to term it, the defense/foreign relations of the U.S. government has been to promote a mixture of economic policy (often called neoliberalism or the Washington Consensus) and a 'freedom agenda' that while hailing 'human rights' actually steamrolls diversity. Eastern Europe, as Vlahos (and Sakwa) explains, is a case in point. The region has been reduced by the American defense policy mindset from a place of incredible geopolitical and cultural diversity to "free" or "relatively unfree" and "economically developed" or "underdeveloped."  

The big news starting to emerge in Europe, as Richard Sakwa's part of the CrossTalk discussion makes clear, is that Europeans are now looking hard at how America policymakers look at them and starting to realize that being part of NATO has meant supporting "American Atlanticism" at the increasing expense of "European Continentalism." 

It was the Ukraine crisis, NATO and specifically America's very large part in creating it, that finally prompted the rest of Europe to confront a situation they'd staved off dealing with since the end of the Soviet Union.    

That's enough introduction beyond noting that I haven't seen the specific Guardian article by Sakwa that Vlahos credits but this one, published at the Guardian in March, serves as an introduction to Sakwa's book, which seems to be getting a great deal of attention in Europe and Russia. Vlahos's interest in it suggests it's also getting attention from deep thinkers in defense circles on this side of the Atlantic. (Vlahos is American.) So you might want to read the article before watching the Crosstalk discussion.  

Finally, I think the CrossTalk discussion has disturbing implications for America's approach to Syria -- for America's approach to problem-solving, period, when it comes to other countries. Diversity is fine for Americans, but if countries don't want to do things the American way, then diversity translates for them into U.S.-instigated balkanization.         

Sunday, April 10

Can the griots lead us home? Whereupuon we take a break from modern warfare

Oumou Sangaré working the calebass musical instrument, a hollowed gourd cut into a basket shape and ringed with small seashells that click against it when the basket is tossed in the air: 

It takes a lot of mental focus to play the calebass without dropping it, which makes me wonder if that's where the saying "I nearly lost my gourd" comes from. Yes; always very important to maintain control of one's gourd. 

The body of the stringed instrument that looks like a cross between a harp and a guitar is also made from a gourd. It's so difficult to play that people once believed only those possessed by a spirit could play it well, and maybe some still believe that and maybe I do as well after seeing a chief of a hunting clan play the contraption. See Donso, below. Anyhow those two musical instruments aren't the only African ones made from gourds but moving along --        

If you watch enough videos of Oumou singing (there must be a zillion of them posted to YouTube) you'll see that in many of her performances she has a highly conversational way of singing. You feel as if she's talking directly to you. Sometimes it's as if she's talking to you in the manner of a defense attorney making an argument to a judge; others as if she's chatting about something over lunch with you.     

I think the ability to set up a very personal communication through song is the mark of a real griot, although after watching about 50 of her videos I think Oumou represents a tradition that I suspect goes back much earlier even than the griot clans -- to a time when certain people in a tribe were interlocutors between humans and natural forces and helped settle disputes between members of tribes, and did so through the power of their voices to project a wide range of emotions. 

That's not quite the same as the standard definition of griots. From Wikipedia's description:
A griot (/ˈɡri.oʊ/; French pronunciation: ​[ɡʁi.o]), jali or jeli (djeli or djéli in French spelling) is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition and is often seen as a societal leader due to his traditional position as an advisor to royal personages. As a result of the former of these two functions, he is sometimes also called a bard. According to Paul Oliver in his book Savannah Syncopators, "Though [the griot] has to know many traditional songs without error, he must also have the ability to extemporize on current events, chance incidents and the passing scene. His wit can be devastating and his knowledge of local history formidable". Although they are popularly known as "praise singers", griots may use their vocal expertise for gossip, satire, or political comment.
In any case there was a time when singing wasn't entertainment; it was a way that people settled important issues. When did people begin singing their interventions rather than speaking them? Who knows? Maybe it's the other way around. Maybe this kind of vocal communication came before language was spoken. Oumou's songs (many if not all, her own composition) suggest this could be the case.

I also think that's why so many people who follow her singing at YouTube write in the comment section that they can't understand her language but that their heart understands -- although several viewers do plead for someone out there to please translate her words into English. 

(This prompted a Malian to reply to one such request that the listener should visit Mali and learn the Bambara language, in wide use across West Africa.)  

I agree with both sentiments; I'd dearly love to know the exact meaning of the words to all her songs but generally I feel I understand what she wants me to know -- and the visuals in the videos can be a help in catching the drift of the lyrics.  

For example the video accompanying the song Donso, which means hunter in the Bambara language, is clearly about Oumou intervening (on request by the hunters) in a dispute between a clan of hunters and government troops.

The men representing the hunter's side of the argument are real hunters -- and their musicality isn't put on for the video. From Oxfam's "Raising Her Voice: Music and Rights in West Africa. A cross-circular teaching resource exploring the power of music with ages 7-11," (PDF), which discusses the musical tradition in West Africa and Oumou's singing (and includes lyrics from a few of her more well-known songs about female rights):
Hunter’s music – this included harp playing and ritual songs, used for spiritualistic and ritualistic purposes to link the hunter to nature and ensure success.

However the obligatory Dancing Ladies in so many African music videos make an appearance in Donso, which I don't think is actually a part of negotiations, although this being Africa I don't know for certain. 

I wonder how negotiations between say, American and Chinese trade officials would go if at a critical juncture Dancing Ladies burst into the conference room. I especially wonder how it would go if Oumou appeared along with the dancers and began singing to both sides at the negotiation table.

You know, it's just a bunch of people. There isn't much that can't be worked out through dialogue. In fact in the really old days in Africa, the battles were very kinetic but there was no physical conflict. The battles were waged according to which party in the conflict wore the most creative war paint to the battleground, had the most impressive war dance, shouted the scariest war yells, and shook their spears in the most authoritative fashion. No kidding.  

Who was the judge of the battle's winner? I guess old people. So. Do not ask why so many Africans are great dancers. 

As to why they didn't try to kill or wound each other in these battles -- stop and think it through Pundita don't start. When you live in very hot and humid conditions, economy of motion becomes paramount. It expends a lot of calories to kill people in close combat, then you're too tired to hunt, then your tribe will starve. Remember there weren't refrigerators in those days for preserving meat say I have an idea let's get back to the theme of this post. Anyhow if you have a brain you should also be able to figure out why it made sense to settle conflicts without having to live near people whose relatives you'd killed Pundita one more and we're cutting this post short.               

Where was I? Dialogue, public discourse, should be with as much heart as one can muster.  And it happens that speaking in a way that reveals our true feelings is the heart given voice. It's written nowhere that the speaking can't be in a rhythm that emphasizes the speaker's points. 

This kind of singing is not about carrying a tune. It's about revealing to others the best of who we really are.             

The theme of Oumou's Senkele is harder to understand without help because it's more abstract in its meaning than say, a dispute involving hunters and soldiers. Senkele is about the importance of creating good relationships. 

But my favorite Oumou video for last week, which helped me put a trying time in perspective, is Ah Ndiyah (Boddhi Satva Ancestral Soul Mix). It's just a lot of fun.  

Wait! Boddhi Satva? Mali? 

A Japanese viewer of one of Oumou's videos at YouTube exclaimed that this was Japanese folk music he was hearing. An Indian viewer for another of her videos noted that one of the drums played was very much like a certain traditional Indian drum. 

Human civilization is far older than modern historians date it. And we've been sailing and trekking to and fro ever since --  


Saturday, April 9

Russian intel report on Turkey’s current assistance to Islamic State (Daesh)

See also “Russian intelligence report on Turkey’s current assistance to Daesh”, Voltaire Network, 18 February 2016.

Second Russian intelligence report on Turkey’s current assistance to Daesh
9 APRIL 2016

Illegal trafficking in weapons and ammunition to Syrian territory under ISIL control

(Moscow) The main supplier of weapons and military equipment to ISIL fighters is Turkey, which is doing so through non-governmental organizations. Work in this area is overseen by the National Intelligence Organization of Turkey. Transportation mainly involves vehicles, including as part of humanitarian aid convoys.

The Beşar foundation (President — D. Şanlı) is most actively engaged in pursuing these objectives and, in 2015, formed around 50 conveys to the Turkmen areas of Bayırbucak and Kızıltepe (260 km north of Damascus). Donations from individuals and entities are “officially” its main source of funding. In point of fact, the organization’s account receives such funds from a specific budget allocation of the National Intelligence Organization [MIT]. The Beşar foundation has opened current accounts in Turkish and foreign banks with the support of the Government.

The İyilikder foundation (President — Mr. I. Bahar) is also a major supplier of weapons and military equipment to Syrian territory under ISIL control, having dispatched around 25 different supply convoys in 2015. The leadership of this non governmental organization is funded by sources from European and Middle Eastern countries. Funds in hard currency are transferred to Kuveyt Türk and Vakıf bank accounts.

The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms [IHH] (President — Mr. B. Yıldırım) is actively engaged in delivering munitions to terrorists in Syria. It is officially supported by the Government of Turkey and acts under the direction of the Turkish intelligence services. Since 2011, the foundation has sent 7,500 vehicles with various supplies to territory under ISIL control. This organization is funded from Turkish sources and by other States. The Turkish banks Ziraat and Vakıf are used for fundraising.

Furthermore, to address the challenge of delivering weapons and military equipment to ISIL-controlled territory, officials from the National Intelligence Organization have arranged for control over the weapons and ammunitions stores located in the border towns of Bükülmez and Sansarin (530 km south-east of Ankara, Hatay province). The weapons are delivered to fighters through the Cilvegözü checkpoint (530 km south-east of Ankara), with the support of Turkey’s intelligence officers and gendarmerie forces.

For example, between 2 and 8 November 2015, a batch of weapons was transferred from the Cilvegözü checkpoint to the town of Atma (310 km north of Damascus). Fighters in the area were supplied with rounds for TOW anti-tank missile systems and for RPG-7 grenade launchers, as well as ammunition for small arms.

In November 2015, the movement of military equipment was organized for illegal armed groups located in the province of Latakia. Islamists received M-60 recoilless rifles and ammunition, 82mm mortar shells, 23mm and 12.7mm ammunition, hand grenades, communications tools and equipment from the Turkish intelligence services.

Between 11 and 21 January 2016, Turkish intelligence officers supplied Jabhat al-Sham terrorists with 7.62mm and 12.7mm ammunition and with rounds for RPG-7 grenade launchers. The cargo was transferred across the Turkish-Syrian border, in the area of Kizilcat (540 km south-east of Ankara), to a fighters’ camp in the province of Latakia. Some of the weapons and ammunition received were subsequently sold by field commanders to ISIL representatives (in exchange for petroleum products, food and tangible assets).

On 25 January 2016, the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms financed a shipment of equipment and food (approximately 55 tons) to ISIL terrorists. The union of fraternal societies and foundations of Turkey was responsible was forming the convoy. The “humanitarian cargo” travelled through the Yayladağı border crossing (530 km south-east of Ankara, Hatay province) to the Bayırbucak district. Earlier, in July 2015, the Foundation assisted The Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed in transferring over 177 tons of military cargo to the north of Syria.

Smuggling explosives and industrial chemicals to terrorist groups operating in Syria is also usually organized from Turkish territory, through border crossings in the vicinity of Reyhanlı (Turkey), Azaz (Syria), Al-Qamishli (Syria) and Jarablus (Syria). Waterways, particularly the Euphrates River, are often used to transport large consignments of explosive components: nitroglycerine, ammonium nitrate, gunpowder and trinitrotoluene (TNT).

Total supplies to terrorists through Turkey were as follows in 2015: 2,500 tons of ammonium nitrate (worth approximately US$ 788,700); 456 tons of potassium nitrate ($468,700); 75 tons of aluminium powder ($496,500); sodium nitrate ($19,400); glycerine ($102,500); and nitric acid ($34,000).

The bulk of the chemical components are purchased in the south-eastern provinces of Turkey (Mersin, Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa) with the assistance of local companies. In particular, one company acting as an intermediary is Tevhid Bilişim Merkezi (city of Şanlıurfa, Alcak district, Bağdat trading centre, office 1). The owners of the company, Ismail and Ahmet Bayaltun, acquire products manufactured in enterprises from the “Mersin free economic zone” (city of Mersin) and ensure that the cargo is then dispatched to the fighters. In addition, the company Tsitrkimya (Istanbul, owner Zaur Guliyev) supplies aluminium powder directly to ISIL.

The companies Trend Limited Şirketi (city of Şanlıurfa) and Maxam Anadolu (city of Malatya) specialize in transferring safety and detonating fuses to terrorists (main active ingredient — pentaerythritol tetranitrate), as well as caps, primers and electric denotators.

In order to pass through the border controls unimpeded, effectively with the complicity of the Turkish authorities, products are processed for companies that are purportedly registered in Jordan and Iraq. “Transit through the Syrian Arab Republic” is indicated in the supporting documents, under the section on method of delivering the cargo to the recipient. Registration and processing of the cargo are organized at customs posts in the cities of Antalya, Gaziantep and Mersin (Turkey). Once the necessary procedures have been carried out, the goods pass unhindered through the border crossings at Cilvegözü and Öncüpınar (520 km south-east of Ankara, Kilis province).

This report is dated March 18, 2016. 


What is the definition of a Putin-phobe?

Elmer Fudd with nukes

Friday, April 8

Don't ask why because I don't know

Unless maybe I got the idea that to celebrate Ravi Shankar's 96th birthday, which Google alerted readers to yesterday, I'd listen to Irish music. I'll assume that at least some of the footage accompanying the music follows the route that O'Sullivan's marchers took. What a ghastly, futile march that was but these are the Irish under discussion. They'll probably end up being the last ones standing.  

Wednesday, April 6

"Al Qaeda has led the charge throughout most of the offensives in recent years in Syria"

The title of this post is a quote from Long War Journal's Tom Joscelyn during his talk with John Batchelor Monday night about the offensive that Nusra Front (al Qaeda in Syria) opened in Aleppo on April 1.  

That part of the discussion is from the 11:10 to 16:48 mark on the podcast, and it's damning. The government of the United States of America has been supporting al Qaeda in Syria through the back door, under the pretense it hasn't been able to prevent the 'moderate opposition' it arms and trains from hooking up with Qaeda. What Tom and John have to say during those few moments indicates the truth.


Further to Al Saud and Turkey in Lebanon, and a few words about nutty Israelis

I've updated the April 4 post Are Turkey and Al Saud trying to further destabilize Lebanon? as follows:
According to this March 3 report from Sputnik, Greece's Coast Guard intercepted the ship that Col. Neriah is referring to (see below) and that it had six containers, two of which were loaded "with weapons and ammunition." Two, not six as Neriah claimed.

In addition, while he termed the intercept a coincidence, he also spoke of 'intelligence' bringing the ship to the attention of Greek naval authorities. So it's not clear to me whether this was a complete accident, as I wrote originally, or "coincidence" as Neriah termed it -- in particular because the Sputnik report specifically named the Coast Guard intercepting the ship.

He also mentioned the weapons shipment is "one of the things that Turkey has been doing over the past four years." So within the grand scheme of Turkey's weapons shipments -- at least to Syria -- two versus six containers isn't a big mistake. And it's possible that Sputnik got the number of weapons/ammo containers wrong.

I don't think any of this overturns Neriah's reasonable concern that Turkey is now trying to destabilize Lebanon. But I did want to mention the discrepancy about the containers.
I'm annoyed with myself because I had the Sputnik article in a pile of reports I hadn't yet read but I didn't bother to double-check Neriah's statement; I figured surely he had the number of containers right. [sighing]

No break for those who've gone cross-eyed reading war reports because the toast always falls buttered-side down for the weary. 

All right; here's a report from Reuters, datelined yesterday:

Saudi Arabia's bitter Lebanese divorce

The waspish cartoon in a Saudi-owned newspaper summed up the anger behind Riyadh's decision to cancel billions of dollars in military aid and suspend decades of engagement in Lebanon's fraught politics. "The State of Lebanon: April Fool", it read.
Published on the same day that a Saudi-owned television news channel shut down its Lebanese operations, Friday's cartoon was the latest sign of a falling out which began in January and has become increasingly embittered.
The cartoon's stinging message, that the Lebanese government is a fictitious joke, reflects Saudi Arabia's conviction that the Shi'ite group Hezbollah, backed by Riyadh's regional rival Iran, now pulls the strings in Beirut.

But the Saudi response, cutting $3 billion in military aid and another $1 billion to the security services, appeared self-defeating to many Lebanese - by weakening the army, a counter-balance to Hezbollah, it leaves the Shi'ite group even stronger.
"By default we're abandoning Lebanon to Iran," said a senior European diplomat. "It's a big blow to Lebanon".
It would leave Hezbollah, and by extension the group's backers in Tehran, more dominant than they have ever been in volatile Lebanon, a Middle East banking and trade center that is also home to more than a million Syrian refugees.
The abrupt Saudi action in February was triggered by Lebanon's failure to join other Arab governments in condemning attacks three months ago on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
That's just the start of the report.  [sighing]  Pundita stop sighing; it's also annoying me. Is there a point -- I mean to the report? The point, which the reporters don't mention, is that the Lebanese are well-rid of the Saudis. whose lavish gifts of money call up the warning about Greeks bearing gifts.  It's been one Trojan Horse after another with the Saudis, and not only with Lebanon. It's everywhere they go; trouble soon follows.

But try to telling this to Israel's government. Jews got the warning in Germany, as Uri Avnery pointed out April 4 in Too Embarrassing: Arab Countries Are Having an Affair with Israel, But Don't Want to Be Seen Together in Public.

As to the excuse from Muslim Arab governments that they have to hide their relationship with Jerusalem because of the unsettled 'Palestinian' question: there can be no two-state solution when the majority of Palestinians want a one-state solution, with Israel wiped off the map. Same as Al Saud wants, only right now the Saudis and other Gulfies need Israel to help them stand up to Iran. What should a sane person say in answer to this?

Actually the 'natural' alliance should be Israel and Iran and I think the road map to peace between the two countries runs through Syria. But then I also think Al Saud has long known this.    


There is a problem with this AP report. There's no such thing as a Syrian "Islam Army."

Philip Issa wrote for the Associated Press that the Syrian "ceasefire" is unraveling. Well here's the way to unravel the AP report (emphasis mine), starting with this paragraph:
The Islam Army, whose political coordinator heads the opposition delegation during fitful peace talks in Geneva, announced that it had killed 20 government soldiers in fighting outside Damascus on Friday.
There is no Islam Army in Syria. There is the Army of Conquest (Jaish al-Fatah or spelled Jayesh), which is what Philip Issa, the AP reporter who filed the story, is actually referring to. From Wikipedia's description of the organization:
Jaish al-Fatah, abbreviated JaF, is a joint operations room of Islamist Syrian rebel factions participating in the Syrian Civil War. The alliance was formed in March 2015 by Islamist rebel factions mainly active in the Idlib Governorate, with some factions active in the Hama and Latakia Governorates.[2] In the course of the following months, it seized most of Idlib province.[6]  It is actively supported by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.[7]
From the Long War Journal November 24, 2015 report, Jihadist-led coalition launches counteroffensive in Syria’s Aleppo province
The Jaysh al Fateh coalition, which is led by jihadist groups, claims to have overrun several towns and villages in the southern part of Syria’s Aleppo province in the past 24 hours. Leading factions in Jaysh al Fateh, including Al Nusrah Front and Ahrar al Sham, have posted a series of videos and images on social media from the areas they say have fallen.

The alliance launched the counteroffensive in the past few days in an attempt to thwart the advances of Bashar al Assad’s regime and its allies, including Russia, which has been bombing targets in Aleppo as part of its air campaign.
The Sunni jihadists from Al Nusrah and Ahrar al Sham have been battling their Shiite counterparts from various militias, which are backed by Iran and Assad. As part of Jaysh al Fateh’s propaganda campaign surrounding the ongoing battles, its constituent groups have published pictures of identification cards, money and other spoils purportedly captured from the Shiite militias, Iranian forces, and members of Assad’s regime.
In a series of tweets from its so-called correspondents’ network, Al Nusrah Front, which is an official branch of al Qaeda, says that its fighters have advanced on Al Aziziyah, Tall Mamu, and several other villages. One video published by Al Nusrah shows “mujahideen” tanks approaching the villages. Two other videos show Al Nusrah’s jihadists shelling Tall Mamu, attacking it with armored vehicles and then the village after its “liberation.”
Separately, Ahrar al Sham has published its own propaganda from the fighting. A map, seen above, illustrates the areas Jaysh al Fateh’s forces are storming in the southern part of the Aleppo province.
All of the photos and videos are watermarked with both the logos of the individual group and Jaysh al Fateh.
In short Issa (and/or his sources) would have the reader believe that the rebels they refer to are "embedded" with Al Qaeda fighters. That's like saying a particular battalion or division in an army is "embedded" with the army.  The two fight as one.  

Syria cease-fire unravelling as fighting erupts near Aleppo
By Philip Issa
April 2 at 4:35 PM EDT
Associated Press via The Washington Post

 Syria’s partial cease-fire is unraveling, as fierce clashes between government forces and opposition fighters, including members of al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front, erupted Saturday outside the city of Aleppo.
At least 25 pro-government and 16 opposition fighters died in clashes south of Aleppo, where the Nusra Front and rebel militias captured a hill overlooking a major highway, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The fighting continued throughout the day Saturday close to the village of Tel al-Ais, which overlooks the main road connecting Aleppo with the capital, Damascus.
The coordinated offensive by rebels and the Nusra Front follows weeks of air raids on opposition-held areas despite a “cessation of hostilities” that came into effect in late February.
The truce agreement of the Free Syrian Army accused the government of scrapping the cease-fire and undermining the talks in Geneva. The group said one of its fighters was killed in the offensive against government forces in the south Aleppo countryside.

But the Nusra Front is embedded with other groups throughout the country. The government has taken advantage of this ambiguity to strike and besiege opposition-held areas across Syria.
Bombs fell near a school and a hospital in the eastern suburbs of Damascus on Thursday, killing a reported 33 civilians. Opposition officials, accusing the government, said the “massacre” threatened to derail the peace talks that are scheduled to resume in Geneva in two weeks.
Government airstrikes also targeted the public square in the opposition-held city of Maarat Nouman in northern Idlib province Friday, where residents had protested against the Nusra Front’s presence in the town.
These latest strikes appear to have caused some rebel factions to reassess their positions.
The Islam Army, whose political coordinator heads the opposition delegation during fitful peace talks in Geneva, announced that it had killed 20 government soldiers in fighting outside Damascus on Friday.
A spokesman for a U.S.-backed division of the Free Syrian Army accused the government of scrapping the cease-fire and undermining the talks in Geneva. The group said one of its fighters was killed in the offensive against government forces in the south Aleppo countryside.