Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Feb. 3, 2016, Activist Newsletter

Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016, Issue #224
Contact us or subscribe to Newsletter at jacdon@earthlink.net
The Hudson Valley Activist Calendar (click) Feb 1. FEBRUARY CALENDAR
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1.   Photo of The Month — Refugees Freezing In Serbia

2.   Obama Expands War Spending and Wars
2A. Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again

3.   What Just Happened In Iowa?
4.   China and India Differ on Middle East, Israel
5.   Solidarity With Refugees in Greece
6.   Bernie, You Must Fight to Defend Abortion!
7.   The Smiling Blind Refugee Woman
8.   Nonviolent Resistance in the South Hebron Hills
9.   Flint Poisoning is a 'Racial Crime' (Michael Moore)
10. The Police Killing Spree in 2015
11. Turkey Fights The Kurds
12. Washington Kowtows to Meat Industry
13. N.Y. Senate, Assembly Mull Repressive Laws
14. Kids Who Die (Poem)
15. Syria: Assad's Forces Gaining Strength
16. What's Next for the Islamic State?
17. U.S. And Syria — The Astonishing Hidden Story (Seymour Hersh)
18. Anti-China Scare Talk in Washington
19. Check These Out

From the Editor: There are many articles in this month's Activist Newsletter and the one we especially recommend is "U.S. and Syria — The Astonishing Hidden Story" by the well-known journalist Seymour Hersh. To say it's an eye-opener is an understatement. It's number 17 below..

1. PHOTO OF THE MONTH — Refugees freezing in Serbia

Miratovac, Serbia: Migrants walk through a frozen field after crossing the border from Macedonia. The Reuters photographer, Marko Djurica, said this:

"Since the beginning of the migrant crisis, my colleagues and I asked ourselves the same question: what will happen when the winter comes? We were thinking of a Balkans winter: Below zero and wind so strong that you have to wa this walk backwards into it. Snow was falling and I headed to the Serbia-Macedonia border. The wind was so noisy that the migrants weren’t able to talk to each other. Many of them were crying from the cold. I was speechless.

"A migrant approached me, 'how much further do we have to walk.' About three miles, I said. He pointed to a group some 50 yards behind. 'That’s my family. The one who is walking in pain is my sister. She broke her leg in Aleppo last year, I am afraid for her.' I tried to calm him down, saying that there were people here to help. I explained that they had to catch a train to Croatia, then Slovenia and Austria before reaching Germany. 'Six of us have $65 left. Will it be enough for us to finish our journey?' I was speechless again."



 Another war?  More military spending?
 Stop the Russian Chinese menace?
 Yes sir, Commander in Chief !
And may I compliment you on your smile Sir?
By Jack A. Smith

The Obama Administration is expanding its military power and threats against Russia and China as well as increasing its war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria while preparing to restart Washington's old war in Libya.

Most of this has been revealed in the first six weeks of the 2016 election year and President Barack Obama's last full year in office without any significant new provocations against the United States. At least part of the White House motive must be to undercut right wing Republican campaign rhetoric alleging Obama and the Democrats are "soft on defense," and creating a more robust martial entry into the president's legacy.

On Feb. 9 the White House revealed that is sending up to 800 more soldiers to Afghanistan to join some 10,000 U.S. troops already in the country, according to an account in the Guardian, which reported: "In keeping with Barack Obama’s formal declaration that the U.S. is not engaged in combat — despite elite forces recently participating in an hours-long battle in Helmand province — defense officials said the additional troops would not take part in combat. But they will help the existing Helmand force defend itself against Taliban attacks, officials said."

Nearly five years after the U.S., Britain and France launched a bombing campaign against the Libyan government to bring about regime change, President Obama is now preparing a second military intervention in that country. Washington's initial intrusion resulted in the murder of the country's leader, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, and unexpectedly sparked a civil war between two factions that seek to rule the country. The chaos induced the Islamic State to enter Libya, becoming a powerful force in recent years. The use of U.S. special forces troops and airpower are soon expected.

On Feb. 2 Defense Secretary Ashton Carter addressed the Economic Club of Washington about the new military budget and its uses, noting: "We don’t have the luxury of just one opponent, or the choice between current fights and future fights. We have to do both." This evidently means fighting in the Middle East now and preparing for a much bigger war in the future against a more formidable force. Who might that be?

The Washington Post's Missy Ryan wrote the next day: "Carter previewed the Pentagon budget proposal for fiscal 2017, making a case for why China’s rapid military buildup and Russia’s intervention beyond its borders pose a bigger danger to U.S. security, and merit larger investments, than does the immediate threat from the Islamic State.... The proposal reflects Carter’s attempt to broaden the military’s focus to include not just the insurgent conflicts of the post-2001 era but also 'higher-end' threats from Russia and China, whose military innovation U.S. officials acknowledge has at times out-paced the United States.

"Almost half of the new investments... are related to what officials see as a growing threat from Moscow, where President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated his willingness to employ Russian military might from Ukraine to Syria.... A senior defense official said the advances made by Russia and China do 'force a competition that has to be confronted in the next decade.'"

The proposed Pentagon budget for 2017 is $608 billion and if passed will go into operation Oct. 1. The separate national security budget, which also includes war-related expenses, will be about the same size, bringing such expenditures to over $1 trillion annually.

Money for "securing Europe" will grow to at least $3.4 billion. There are presently about 75,000 U.S. military personnel in Europe.  On Feb. 2 The New York Times revealed that Obama "plans to substantially increase the deployment of heavy weapons, armored vehicles and other equipment to NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe, a move that administration officials said was aimed at deterring Russia from further aggression in the region." The new war budget for the fight against the Islamic State has jumped to about  $11billion.

Speaking on the John Batchelor Show Feb. 2, Nation contributing editor and long time Russian analyst Steven F. Cohen argued that the Obama Administration's actions will further militarize the "new Cold War" between the countries, making it more confrontational and likely to lead to actual war with Russia. According to the program notes paraphrasing Cohen's remarks: "The move is unprecedented in modern times.... Russia will certainly react, probably by moving more of its own heavy weapons, including new missiles, to its Western borders, possibly along with a large number of its tactical nuclear weapons."

Cohen pointed out that a new and more dangerous U.S.-Russian nuclear arms race has been under way for several years, which the Obama Administration’s decision can only intensify. The decision will also have other woeful consequences, undermining ongoing negotiations by Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for cooperation on the Ukrainian and Syrian crises and further dividing Europe itself, which is far from united on Washington’s increasingly hawkish approach to Moscow.

On Jan. 29 it was reported that President Obama is in the process of intensifying U.S. military engagement in Iraq. There are further reports Obama has revised the "terms of engagement" in Afghanistan to enable remaining U.S. forces to once again undertake combat missions. At the same time, in the name of "freedom of the seas," Washington sent a Navy destroyer to intrude on a small China Sea parcel of territory claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The United States spends far more annually on military matters than the combined war budgets of the eight other highest spenders, including China and Russia, and this doesn't include non-Pentagon war and national security spending. While there may be a need for increasing spending for the Obama Administration's several ongoing wars, where there have been setbacks and surprises, nothing remotely justifies the warlike rhetoric and war spending aimed at China and Russia. The U.S., NATO and other allies are inestimably more powerful in combination than these two countries — not that Beijing and Moscow have provided any evidence of an intention to eventually attack Washington.

This is an election year, and the Democratic Party must display martial prowess in its confrontation with the same reckless chest-beating Republican opposition that heedlessly launched the new wave of wars since 2001 that President Obama has been continuing these last seven years. It is also an escalation of the U.S. threats to China and Russia, warning of the potential military consequences of disrespecting the leadership of the global superpower.



Islamic State  militants in Libya have released photos about their burning musical instruments, due to them being "un-Islamic." The picture shows soldiers setting fire to drums and saxophones. The instruments had been seized by the religious police in territory IS occupies, and were destroyed near the port city of Derna. 
By Jack A. Smith

Nearly five years after the U.S., Britain and France launched a bombing campaign against the Libyan government to bring about regime change, these same countries are contemplating a resumption of the war they thought was won when rebel forces they supported grotesquely tortured to death the country's leader, Col. Muammar Qaddafi.

The result today in Libya is utter disarray. But at the time, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — a leading advocate of the bombing who justifies the deed to this day — was ecstatic when told the news of Qaddafi's death while she was appearing on a TV talk show. Laughingly she shouted to the cameras, "We came, we saw, he died!" Ha, ha.

No one is laughing in Washington now. President Obama came, saw and created the very opposite of what he sought, a hardly unusual outcome for the Obama and Bush Administrations. Instead of a pliable dependent government willing to do the bidding of Washington and its NATO foreign legion, there has been an explosion of civil war and Sunni jihadism.

The U.S. and UN have been striving for months to unite the two factions in Libya that claim to be the country's government. On Feb. 1 the faction that that has been recognized by the U.S. and many nations rejected unity with its opposite number. The bedlam in Libya caused by the 2011 overthrow has allowed the Islamic State (IS) to grow strong and occupy several territories.

Agence France-Presse reported Jan. 29: "Barack Obama has asked key advisors to draw up options for ratcheting up the fight against the Islamic State group, including opening a new front in Libya.... Potential options are said to range from intensified air strikes to participation in a UN-backed ground force that would help take on Libya's estimated 3,000 Islamic State fighters..... The Defense Department announced it stands ready to perform the full spectrum of military operations as required."

The U.S. and France are preparing for "decisive military action" in Libya against the IS, according, to a statement Jan. 22 by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said a final decision would be made in a matter or weeks, and that President Obama "has made clear that we have the authority to use military force."

The New York Times reported Jan. 23: "United States and British Special Operations teams have for months been conducting clandestine reconnaissance missions in Libya to identify militant leaders and map out their networks. Separate teams of American Special Operations forces have over the past year been trying to court allies from among a patchwork of Libyan militias that remain unreliable, unaccountable, poorly organized and divided by region and tribe.

"In recent weeks, military commanders have intensified their warnings about the threat from the Islamic State in Libya, where Western officials believe the group now has about 3,000 fighters. Recruits are pouring into Libya weekly, as the journey to Iraq and Syria has become more difficult with Turkey tightening its border with Syria, intelligence officials said."

On Jan. 27, the Times declared in an editorial: "This significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress about the merits and risks of a military campaign that is expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops. That is deeply troubling. A new military intervention in Libya would represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent."

There is not much this Libyan firefighter can do after the Islamic State set an oil tank on fire.

Stratfor analyst Scott Steward predicted a month before the first U.S./NATO attack in March 2011 that pandemonium would ensue. Now, on Jan. 27, he wrote:

"As the United States and its European and regional allies prepare to intervene in Libya, they should be able to reduce the jihadist's ability to openly control territory. However, they will face the same challenge they did in 2011 — building a stable political system from the shattered remains of what was once a country. Now, Libya is a patchwork of territories controlled by a variety of ethnic, tribal and regional warlords. The last five years of fighting has led to significant hatred and blood feuds between these competing factions, which will only compound the challenges ahead." 

On Jan. 28, Aljazeera reported: "Taking advantage of the chaos and large swaths of ungoverned territory caused by Libya's civil war, Islamic State has established three separate wilayat (provinces) there since late 2014 — Tarablus along the west coast, Fezzan in the southwest, and Barqah in the east, with the key coastal city of Sirte serving as its Libyan capital. Like its parent group in Syria and Iraq, IS in Libya has uploaded video proof of its atrocities to the Internet, including mass decapitations of Egyptian, Ethiopian and Eritrean Christians."

The last time President Obama ordered the bombing of Libya in
2011, protests took place across America. This shows 

demonstrators in Minneapolis opposing U.S. intervention.
Why should we not be surprised about additional U.S. military escalations in the Middle East and the probability of many more to come? The Bush Administration's 2001 war in Afghanistan is still going on and will not end with a U.S. military victory. Washington's 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq is still going on in its second excruciating incarnation. President Obama's call for regime change in Syria and support for the rebels has transformed this country into a slaughterhouse, resulting in up to 250,000 deaths and millions of refugees. Last year's U.S. backed and equipped Saudi Arabian invasion of Yemen is still going on with no end approaching. And President Obama still approves a weekly kill list of human targets for his drone wars.

Washington has been politically and militarily involved with the Middle East for over 70 years. It has overthrown governments and invaded countries to bolster its regional authority. During that time it has supported a plethora of dictators, working with them over the years to virtually destroy the entire political left throughout the region.

In the absence of a strong political left to bring about progressive political change and to protect their countries from the influence and depredations of Western imperialism, the religio-fascist IS and other Sunni fundamentalist fanatics represent a warped opposition to foreign domination. It is certainly not the answer to the grave problems afflicting the people and countries throughout the region. Indeed, it can only make their situation far worse.

The U.S. political system, like the Bourbon dynasty in France, has learned nothing and forgotten nothing after all these decades of deep penetration in the Middle East, supporting reactionary regimes, causing the deaths of well over a million people and the destruction of entire societies.

Judging by the present political situation in the U.S., Washington in the foreseeable future will continue supporting the dictatorships and fighting endless wars to secure its regional "leadership," Obama's code word for American domination. Now it looks like U.S. "leadership" is being disrespected in Libya — so off we go, again. Only a massive politically enlightened peace movement in the U.S. can stop this continual cycle of aggression and mayhem.


 The Economist
By the Activist Newsletter

Iowa came and went in a few seconds after months of endless media-spawned speculation, controversy and unnecessary fuss about an initial presidential primary decision that was rendered by somewhat over 350,000 Republican and Democratic voters combined.

Hillary Clinton "won" the Democratic primary with 49.8% of the vote (23 delegates), besting Sen. Bernie Sanders with his 49.6% (21 delegates). Martin O'Malley received 0.6% (no delegates). There's probably a reason why Clinton's 0.2% advantage got her two additional delegates when O'Malley's 0.6%, was worthless, but we can't figure it out. In any event Sanders did very well with a tie, and he's expected to win in New Hampshire Feb.9. It probably will be several months before a Democratic candidate is selected.

On the Republican side, desperate Jeb Bush — the supposed guaranteed candidate up to a few months ago — was humiliated once again with 5,165 votes out of a GOP total of 180,000 cast. This means Bush in effect paid $2,884 for every vote he obtained vis-à-vis his Iowa campaign expenditures. He probably will hang on until the money runs out, hoping beyond hope.  

The media made a big deal about the insufferable Donald Trump (24.3% of the vote) coming in second to the menacing Sen. Ted Cruz (27.6%), and the fact that the unbearable Sen. Marco Rubio (23.1%) came in a close third. Holy Dr. Carson was fourth (9.3%), and inconsistent libertarian Rand Paul was fifth (4.5%), ending his campaign the next day. Other candidates — including Bush, and New Jersey's Chris Christie — were appropriately listed under "Others," in the Times' tally.

Very little has changed among the top candidates in both parties, and the remaining bottom people will begin to drop off soon, collecting IOUs by urging their supporters to back one of the leaders. Yet, there's still time for a surprise. It's illogical for the Republican bigwigs and wealthy donors to be content with the far-right-to-a-dangerous-fault Gang of Three: Trump, Cruz, Rubio. It is probable that party leaders haven't yet abandoned the quest for a more respectable/electable right wing Deus ex machina. Billionaire former  New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is probably not the man, but he is interested and has already tinkered with the idea of an independent candidacy. And there's still a dubious possibility Bush might be disentombed — but of course we jest, or perhaps not.

It's good to remember that the combined population of the first two primaries is about 4.4 million, and that Iowa is 91% white and New Hampshire is 93%. There are nine more grueling months to go in the election. Compared to the much shorter and more urbane Canadian and British election systems, among many others, America's presidential campaign resembles an unbearably long, no holds barred boxing match.

The big surprise of the election season was when it became apparent nearly a year ago that the American people were thoroughly fed up with the punishing status quo and that big sectors of the population were gravitating further left and right, often for quite different and contradictory reasons. The only establishment candidate among the leading three Republicans and two Democrats is Hillary Clinton, whom The Economist this week termed "as much part of the establishment as the Washington Monument."

Many more Republicans have gone to the far right now, embracing nativism, race hostility, misogyny, and anti-immigrant/anti-refugee views heretofore partially concealed until Trump in particular, but Cruz and Rubio to an extent, challenged them to express their hatreds at least at rallies and on Election Day. Many Democrats have gone not to the far left or even to the plain left but to the center left — which the party abandoned decades ago until it ended up on the center right.  Center-left is a good step, mostly executed by younger voters. Sanders is more to the left as a social democrat but the twain easily meet.

This is one of the reasons both Obama and Clinton appear to indulge in occasional liberal rhetoric in recent months — Obama because of his preoccupation with a more suitable legacy" than his record might suggest; Clinton because she wants democratic votes. Their "liberalism" is compromised. Their biggest shortcoming is in foreign affairs. Both are strong advocates of U.S. world domination, of solving problems with military power, overturning governments not to their liking and of having close ties with dictators who do not argue with U.S. authority.  The ruling class establishment wants it that way, so Clinton won't leave the reservation, as Sanders seems partially prepared to do (though on foreign affairs he doesn't appear too far from his adversary).

So far, after announcing he was a "socialist," with a social democratic domestic program, his candidacy not only has survived but prospered on small donations from a record breaking nearly 3 million individual donations. His support, especially from young voters, is excellent and a positive omen for the future of the American left — if it is willing to take advantage of the opportunity.

If Bernie is to win the nomination with a left liberal platform his presidential chances will depend on who is his opponent. He might conceivably win an election against the bullyboy Trump or the alarming Cruz even with a multitude of small donations as long as he receives backing from key constituencies, a large Democratic turnout plus a substantial independent and crossover vote. But a less disquieting Republican candidate than the Gang of Three who manages to conceal his more wretched views and is able to saturate the campaign with currency, false promises, and low blows about "socialism," will be very difficult for Sanders to defeat.

Clinton has moved an iota to the left because of Sanders, and is now promoting herself as a continuation of the establishmentarian Obama regime. As such, she is expected to become the Democratic candidate, given her significant support from Wall Street, the plutocracy and probably sufficient votes from rank and file Democrats — but nothing is yet certain and things can change.

Too late for this election but absolutely necessary in the next couple of years is campaign finance reform.  Our electoral democracy is now dominated by the plutocracy — a ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth and how they invest it in the political system to serve their selfish ends. Both the Democrats and Republicans are expected to spend $1 billion each electing a president this year. The great majority of this funding will derive from billionaires and multi-millionaires, most of whom expect a valuable legislative or other return on their investment.

In addition, the right wing libertarian Koch brothers have organized a group of billionaires to raise at least $900 million for Republican presidential and some state conservative candidates, and this doesn't count big money contributions from other wealthy donors who will deal directly with the recipient. Democrats also engage in exchanging favors for wads of cash, but the Koch factor is a worry for their party.

Two of the main elements of this election campaign, in our view are the ascendancy of the far right wing, and the effective control of the electoral system by the plutocracy. The best two aspects of the Sanders campaign are his solidly liberal domestic agenda, and his popularization of the term "socialism."  It has opened many doors and has made it relatively allowable to advocate socialist policies in America.

— J.A.S.

The Chinese president shakes hands with Palestinian President
 Mahmoud Abbas during ceremony May 2013 in Beijing's 
the Great Hall of the People. (Photo: Xinhua.)
By M.K. Bhadrakumar

The two most populous countries in the world, China and India, are heading in diametrically opposite directions on the core issue of the Middle East crisis — the Palestine question.... China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping has taken a position that is vehemently, unequivocally supportive of the Palestinian cause. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fanatically aligning India as Israel’s ally in the region.

Xi is yet to visit Israel. Modi is dispatching a string of Indian dignitaries to Israel and might be himself packing his bags one of these days. Xi just concluded a historic tour of the West Asia region, covering the three regional heavyweights — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran. Modi hasn’t been to any of them; his only visit to the region was to the UAE to tie up the modalities of extradition of Indian Muslims who might be getting attracted to the Islamic State.

Xi undertook his regional tour last week with a meticulously worked-out road map for Chinese diplomacy to travel through the next quarter century. Skeptics and detractors have been stunned into silence by the sheer sweep and imagination of the Chinese action plan. Modi's all-consuming passion for Israel leaves him little interest to look elsewhere. The contrast couldn’t be sharper.

Xi made a major policy speech at the Arab League Headquarters last week enunciating the Chinese policy toward West Asia and underscored that Beijing is determined to figure as a key player in the politics, economy, security and culture of the region. The range of proposals for cooperation and partnership — under the rubric of 'dialogue and development' — is simply breathtaking. In all of it, one thing that stood out was the high priority Xi accorded to the Palestine question. Xi said:

"To uphold the lawful national rights and interests of the Palestinian people is the lofty mission of the Arab League and the shared responsibility of the international community. The Palestinian issue should not be marginalized, still less should it fall into oblivion. It is an issue of fundamental importance to peace in the Middle East. To bring an end to the conflict, the international community should not only promote the resumption of talks and implementation of peace agreements, but also uphold fairness and justice. One cannot do without the other. Without fairness and justice, peace accord can only bring about a cold peace. The international community should stick to the principle of fairness and justice, and address historical injustice as soon as possible.
Xi Jinping is greeted at Saudi Arabian airport by Jan. 19 by
defence minister Mohammed bin Salman.
(Photo: Reuters.)

"In this context, I wish to call on the international community to take more effective measures; resume peace talks at the political level and advance reconstruction on the economic front so as to bring hope to the Palestinian people at an early date. China firmly supports the Middle East peace process and supports the establishment of a State of Palestine enjoying full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. We understand the legitimate aspirations of Palestine to integrate into the international community as a state. We are in favor of putting in place a new mechanism to promote peace on the Middle East question and support efforts made by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation toward this end. To improve Palestinian people’s well-being, the Chinese government will provide 50 million RMB yuan of grant to the Palestinian side and support the solar power station project in Palestine."

What prompted such forceful articulation of principles? Simply put, China identifies itself with the strong undercurrent of opinion in the region. Beijing doesn't buy into Israel’s propaganda that the Sunni Arab states are queing up to hold its hand. Beijing takes note of the "Arab Street" as an integral interlocutor in its regional engagement, if its diplomacy is to be effective and durable.

West Asia is in turmoil and Beijing understands that stability will elude the region until a resolution of the Palestine question is reached. Beijing casts its eyes ahead. China is not a member of the Middle East Quartet, which is supposed to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process but is indeed a toothless, mindless body incapable of addressing the Palestine question. Thus, Xi has proposed the creation of  "a new mechanism to promote peace on the Middle East question." He pointedly drew attention to the marginalization of the Palestine issue and flagged the centrality of "the principle of fairness and justice."

The salience of Xi’s speech lies in the Third Way that China presents to the region, a variant that is bound to attract the region and become a yardstick against which other external players will be compelled to perform....

— Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.


 Greek soccer team observes 2 minute silence for drowned refugees. 
By the Activist Newsletter

Despite their own well-known economic and political problems, many Greek people have been helping and sympathizing with the  refugees who arrive in Greece from Turkey going to northern Europe.

Many deaths of adults and children have occurred in the last two years from choppy seas and rickety, overcrowded boats. Frequent drownings en route to Greece have affected many residents of the country.

On Jan. 29, just after another mass drowning of 10 children and at least 27 adults, a Greek second-tier league soccer match was delayed when players took part in a brief sit-down protest against the death toll of migrants trying to reach the Aegean islands.

The gesture of solidarity took place before the game between AEL Larissa and Acharnaikos in the Thessalian city of Larissa. As the match kicked off all 22 players plus coaches and substitutes sat in silence for two minutes in a show of respect to the hundreds of refugees who have lost their lives in recent months trying to escape conflict or persecution in countries such as Syria and Iraq.

An announcement over the club's PA system stated: "The administration of AEL, the coaches and the players will observe two minutes of silence just after the start of the match in memory of the children who continue to lose their lives every day in the Aegean due to the brutal indifference of the EU and Turkey."

Lifeguard rescues a child as a boat with refugees and migrants sank last month 
while crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.


[Hardly a month has gone by in the last few years without appalling new information about increasing U.S. and international economic and social inequality and the mounting power of the richest 1%. The most shocking recent news is the Oxfam report Jan. 17 that took the matter to an outrageous new level. Below we publish an excerpt from the report titled An Economy for the 1% —How privilege and power in the economy drive extreme inequality and how this can be stopped." Oxfam is an international human rights confederation of 17 organizations networked together in more than 90 countries.]

Residents dig through a trash dump in Beaufort West, South Africa. The photo quietly suggests the contrast between the un-pictured people who created the waste and those who must survive by digging through it. It less quietly portrays the victims of the 1%. (Photo: by Mikhael Subotzky Ng.)
 By Oxfam

The global inequality crisis is reaching new extremes. The richest 1% now has more wealth than the rest of the world combined. Power and privilege is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest. A global network of tax havens further enables the richest individuals to hide $7.6 trillion. The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled.

The gap between rich and poor is reaching new extremes. Credit Suisse recently revealed that the richest 1% have now accumulated more wealth than the rest of the world put together. This occurred a year earlier than Oxfam’s much-publicized prediction ahead of last year’s World Economic Forum. Meanwhile, the wealth owned by the bottom half of humanity has fallen by a trillion dollars in the past five years. This is just the latest evidence that today we live in a world with levels of inequality we may not have seen for over a century.

An Economy for the 1% looks at how this has happened, and why, as well as setting out shocking new evidence of an inequality crisis that is out of control.

Oxfam has calculated that:

·       In 2015, just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people – the bottom half of humanity. This figure is down from 388 individuals as recently as 2010.
·       The wealth of the richest 62 people has risen by 44% in the five years since 2010 – that's an increase of more than half a trillion dollars ($542 billion), to $1.76 trillion.
·       Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom half fell by just over a trillion dollars in the same period – a drop of 41%.
·       Since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1%.
·       The average annual income of the poorest 10% of people in the world has risen by less than $3 each year in almost a quarter of a century. Their daily income has risen by less than a single cent every year.

Growing economic inequality is bad for us all – it undermines growth and social cohesion. Yet the consequences for the world’s poorest people are particularly severe.

Apologists for the status quo claim that concern about inequality is driven by "politics of envy." They often cite the reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty as proof that inequality is not a major problem. But this is to miss the point. As an organization that exists to tackle poverty, Oxfam is unequivocal in welcoming the fantastic progress that has helped to halve the number of people living below the extreme poverty line between 1990 and 2010. Yet had inequality within countries not grown during that period, an extra 200 million people would have escaped poverty. That could have risen to 700 million had poor people benefited more than the rich from economic growth.

 $7.6 trillion of individual wealth – more than the combined GDP of the UK and Germany – is currently concealed in a global network of tax havens that further enable the richest individuals and multinational companies to hide $7.6 trillion. Developing countries lose at least $170 billion in tax revenues each year because of these tax havens. Poorer countries in particular are deprived of funds to provide services like health and education, and to tackle poverty and extreme inequality.

The fight against poverty will not be won until the inequality crisis is tackled. Oxfam calls on governments to adopt these seven points:

1.     Clamp down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals
2.     Invest in universal, free public services such as health and education
3.     Share the tax burden fairly, shifting taxation from labor and consumption towards    capital and wealth
4.     Introduce minimum wages and move towards a living wage for all workers
5.     Introduce equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal
6.     Ensure adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee
7.     Agree a global goal to tackle inequality.

[From the Activist Newsletter: Oxfam has done a magnificent job in assembling the full report, and we link to it below.  Newspapers, TV, and websites throughout world are reporting the findings. There is a problem, however. Some news accounts in quite recent years finally mention the 1%, powerful elites, corporations, billionaires, tax havens, etc. But in nearly all the corporate mass media reports the one essential word that is missing happens to be that of the very socio-economic system wherein just 62 rich individuals have the same wealth as 3.6 billion poor human beings. The word is "capitalism" of course. What else could possibly bring about so indefensible a degree of inequality? In the Oxfam report it is mentioned just once — in the title of a book in footnote 98. The only place we notice the word associated with poverty or war or recessions and the like is in the small progressive media, which we must support and expand.]



Senator Bernie Sanders with attendees during a campaign stop  Jan. 21, 2016 in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where he is in the lead to win the primaries. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)
By Jessica Valenti
When we talk about abortion, everything we say — and the way that we choose to say it — has an impact. And in a time when abortion is becoming legal in-name-only because it is largely inaccessible to much of the country thanks to anti-abortion activism and policies, the way that presidential candidates talk about abortion matters even more.

We know, for example, that if you simply ask people if they're "pro-choice” or "pro-life”, they'll answer fairly equally down the line (though for the first time in years, more Americans call themselves pro-choice). But when you talk to people about reproductive rights in a way that goes beyond binary labels, a much different picture emerges.

While 44% of Americans consider themselves pro-life, only 19% believe that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. And according to a national survey of registered voters released this week by the National Institute of Reproductive Health, a whopping 83% believe health care providers should be allowed to “care for patients based on their best medical expertise without interference from politicians” and 63% think that the swath of state-level abortion restrictions are "heading in the wrong direction."

When those surveyed were told about the kinds of hurdles women have to jump through to obtain abortions, they responded using words like "wrong," "disgusted "and unfair."

Most  Americans Believe Abortions is Legal

These crucial distinctions are in part why Bernie Sanders' campaign strategy on reproductive rights is so short sighted. Sanders, who has an excellent record on women's rights, seems to want voters to trust that his presidency will be good for reproductive rights simply because he is pro-choice.

But this issue necessitates discussion that goes beyond being "for" or "against" abortion: the intensity at which reproductive rights are being attacked requires leadership that is detailed and full-throated.

While Hillary Clinton has centered her campaign on women's rights, been vocal about overturning the Hyde Amendment and has brought up Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in nearly every debate, Sanders has been much less proactive.

His campaign manager has said that Sanders' health plan would repeal Hyde, yet the document contains no mention of the amendment, women's health or reproductive rights. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America wrote this week: "We can assume women's health services are intended to be covered, based on [Sanders'] past record..... But in a political landscape this hostile to reproductive rights, words matter – as do their absence."

Sanders has also missed opportunities to make the link between abortion and economic freedom, instead talking about the issues as if they're distinct: in a Rolling Stone interview last summer, he noted, "Once you get off the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns and into economic issues, there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand."

Then, in an interview this week with Rachel Maddow, he called Planned Parenthood — an organization under constant attack that provides healthcare to low-income women — part of the "establishment."

It's a bad look for Sanders, and one that underestimates just how important reproductive rights are to voters.

Researcher Tresa Undem, who conducted that national study, told me that abortion "is the number one engaging issue for Democrats right now." She said she's never seen anything as powerful as the results of this survey: when voters were told about the details of abortion restrictions, they were outraged. "I've never seen anything more motivating," she explained.

But when we're not explicit about women's rights and reproductive rights, they're often ignored. For example, the Obama administration had to issue new guidelines for the Affordable Care Act specifying all 18 kinds of birth control that should be covered after insurers used the omission to deny women various kinds of coverage.

And it's a common trope in the progressive movement for women to be assured that their rights are a given, even if they're not explicitly discussed.

That's why it's so important that Sanders talk about reproductive rights in earnest: being on the right side of this issue isn't enough. Not when anti-abortion advocates are making the procedure so difficult to access that tens of thousands have desperately resorted to self-abortions. Not when last year alone [state] legislators introduced over 300 anti-choice bills. And not when abortion clinics are under literal attack — the target of arsons, sustained harassment and a deadly shooting.

Sanders has the pro-choice bona fides; now is the time for him to proactively discuss his plan to protect and expand abortion access. After all, the senator has never been known for his silence; there's no need to start now.

— From the Guardian (UK), Jan. 22, 2016.
  A good new 2-minute video from NARAL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoddpXr6D6o.


Amoun, 70, a blind Palestinian refugee who lived in the town of Aleppo in Syria, rests on a beach moments after arriving by dinghy on the Greek island of Kos, crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. This means she's been twice a refugee. Reuters Greek photographer Yannis Behrakis, who took this photo, writes:

"I was on a beach in Kos waiting for rafts containing refugees and migrants to arrive. When this raft arrived I took some pictures and gave the people directions to the police station to register, reassuring them, as my colleagues and I did again and again, that nobody was going to harm them.

"Then I saw an older lady sitting on the beach looking very comfortable with the flicker of a smile on her face. She looked very calm. I stayed a few meters away and shot some frames as the morning sun gently illuminated her face. I was stunned by the tranquility of the scene and by her presence.

"I decided to approach and offer her a small sweet, a traditional gesture of Greek hospitality. I also wanted to ask her a few questions and solve the mystery that seemed to surround her. I kneeled in front of her and offered the sweet, saying good morning in Arabic. She seemed lost but her gentle face still had a beautiful smile. She reached with her hand upwards and then I realized she was blind. I was overwhelmed by strong emotions. We exchanged some pleasantries in English and Arabic and then she took the sweet, gave me a warm handshake with both her hands and thanked me with that divine smile. Her family was watching, some smiling, some with tears of joy running down their faces."

 You never know — she may throw a stone. (Photo: Operazione Colomba Photogallery)
By Cassandra Dixon, Antiwar.com, 1-30-16

The worst worries of a child’s school day should be homework. Maybe a lost book, or an argument with a friend. No child’s walk to school should routinely involve armed soldiers and fear of sometimes being chased and assaulted by angry adults. But for the Palestinian children who live with their families in the small rural villages that make up the South Hebron Hills, this is how the school day begins. Illegal settlements and outposts isolate and separate their villages and soldiers are a constant in their lives.

Once, the trip from the tiny hamlet of Tuba to the school in the village of Tuwani was a calm and beautiful walk along a quiet road connecting the two villages. During the 1980s Israeli settlers built a settlement on privately owned Palestinian land, which had been used to graze sheep and goats. Following construction of the settlement, the settlers established an illegal outpost. Now, industrial chicken barns sit astride the road that once served children walking to school, farmers taking livestock to town, and families traveling to Tuwani, or the larger town of Yatta for health care, shopping, and higher education.

Between the settlement and the outpost, what remains of the road is closed to Palestinians. With one exception, – children walk behind an Israeli military jeep to reach their school. Their parents are not allowed to walk with them.

The twenty or so children who make this trip start their school day in an unprotected field, anxiously waiting for the Israeli soldiers who will oversee their walk to school. Villagers had built shelters in which the children could await the soldiers, but Israeli authorities have dismantled every shelter. If it is raining, the children get soaked. Some days the soldiers are the same soldiers who chased or arrested shepherds the day before – shepherds who may be the brothers or fathers of these children.  Some days the soldiers are late, leaving the group of children waiting, vulnerable to attack and within easy reach of the outpost.  Some days the military escort does not arrive at all, and the children make the trip to school with international volunteers along a longer path, which also lies alongside the settlement. 

About 1,000 people live in the neighboring villages, an estimated half of whom are children. Nevertheless, because the villages lie inside of Israeli Firing Zone 918, the military uses the land for military training.

This little girl was injured by two masked settlers who attacked her with stones as she gathered herbs with a friend on the path between Tuba and Tuwani. She and her siblings make the same trip on foot each school day. She is an amazingly smart and tough young girl – insistent that the many odd volunteers that pass through her life should learn her name and visit her family’s home. She needed four stitches in a head wound. (Photo: Cassandra Dixon).
Amazingly, despite all of this, it is almost unheard of for children to miss a day of school. Parents are determined that their children will be educated. When I began volunteering in Tuwani, the school reached only to third grade. Now thanks to the community’s determination to provide their children with education, students can complete high school in the village, and although facing a continued threat of demolition by Israeli military bulldozers, villagers have built and staffed primary schools for children who live in 8 nearby villages.

This is what nonviolent resistance to military occupation looks like.  

I’m grateful that I can spend a portion of this year in Palestine. For many years children in these villages have taught me about nonviolence. Sometimes, the presence of international human rights workers holding cameras has some small positive effect on their days.

U.S. people bear some responsibility for the interruption of their childhoods. The U. S. subsidizes about 25% of Israel’s military budget, at a cost to U.S. taxpayers conservatively estimated at $3.1 billion a year.

Palestinian residents and Operation Dove volunteers.
I’m working with the Italian organization Operation Dove. They support Palestinians who resist the Israeli occupation, standing with families in their commitment to remain on their land.  This includes accompanying school children and farm families as they walk to school, graze their animals and tend their crops. Operation Dove helps document the harassment, intimidation, arrests, detentions, home demolitions, checkpoints, road closures, military training exercises, and settler attacks. Villagers also report to Operation Dove when they endure theft and when their crops and property are destroyed.

Protective presence provided by activists is not a large-scale solution to the violence that intrudes into children's’ lives in Palestine. But many years of visits with these families persuades me that it’s important and necessary to support and participate in the villagers’ nonviolent efforts. Families that confront militarism and occupation help us move beyond our addiction to militarism and violence. 

The children I met early on are grown now. Some have gone on to college, and some have families of their own. These young people have every reason to be angry. Their childhoods included fear, intimidation, demolitions, arrests and isolation. But they have also grown up witnessing their community’s steadfast commitment to nonviolently resist injustice. Their families have supported them well, including them in the community’s struggle for dignity. Against all odds they are growing up with humor and tenacity instead of anger and bitterness.  They are living proof to the rest of us that love wins.

— Cassandra Dixon lives at Mary House of Hospitality, a small Catholic Worker house which offers hospitality to families visiting the federal prison at Oxford, WI, and works as a carpenter in Madison.
— Read more about Operation Dove’s work in the South Hebron Hills: http://www.operazionecolomba.it/togetherattuwani  


If you were a Flint, Mich., parent taking this two-month-old baby for a medical 
check-up, you'd be worried, too. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
[Some 9,000 children in the city of Flint, Michigan, have contracted lead poisoning due to yhr criminal indifference of state officials who in April 2014 switched the water supply of this city of 100,000 people (57% black, 40% poor) from Lake Huron to the obviously contaminated water of the Flint River. They did it to lower costs, and seized the legal power from city officials to accomplish the state's goal. In the process they refused to pay $36,000 a year to add anti-corrosives that may have mitigated  the problem. Residents complained from the beginning that their new water looked yellowish brown but they were ignored. There is no safe level of ingested lead — even low levels of exposure are harmful. Many of these Flint children may have serious lifelong problems.]

By Michael Moore

The people of my hometown, Flint, Mich., are being poisoned. Let me not mince words: This is a racial crime. If it were happening in another country, we’d call it an ethnic cleansing. Flint is a very poor, majority African-American city, and the Republican governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, knows they have no political power, no lobbyists, no money. And they didn’t vote for him. So when the residents of Flint, many of whom work two or three jobs for minimum wage, complained about the levels of lead in their water and told the governor their children were getting sick — two years ago! — he didn’t have to listen.

Everybody knows that this would not have happened in predominantly white Michigan cities like West Bloomfield, or Grosse Pointe, or Ann Arbor. Everybody knows that if there had been two years of taxpayer complaints, and then a year of warnings from scientists and doctors, this would have been fixed in those towns.

This started when the governor turned Flint’s authority over to an "emergency manager," ostensibly to fix the city’s finances. In order to save a few million dollars, the manager and the governor’s office came up with the bright idea to unhook the city’s water supply from Lake Huron and tap into the Flint River.

  Flint resident at rally, holding polluted water.
In the 20th century, General Motors made Flint the ultimate company town, and over the next 100 years the Flint River was turned into a sewer. Environmental experts warned the political leaders of the dangers of using the Flint River as a water source. They didn’t listen.

So here we are. People need to stop saying that Flint was using Detroit’s water. It was pure water from Lake Huron, the third largest body of freshwater in the world. A toxic water crisis is the last thing that should happen here.

[A coalition of Flint citizens and national groups filed suit Jan. 27 to ask a federal court to step in and secure access to safe drinking water for the people of Flint, Michigan. Alleging violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, the complaint was filed by the ACLU of Michigan, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and Flint resident Melissa Mays.]  

The American middle class was built in Flint. Our grandparents knew that if they worked hard and the company prospered, they prospered. That was the American Dream, and it spread from Flint to the rest of the nation. Then around 1980, General Motors, a company that was making billions, figured out that it could make even more money by sending jobs to the nonunion South or overseas.

This halved Flint’s population and brought along unemployment, poverty, alcoholism, broken families and other ills. The crime rate skyrocketed. Wall Street came in and cut Flint’s credit rating, making it impossible for Flint to recover, to attract jobs, to fix its infrastructure and schools. Flint went through a three-decade economic and social assault. Those who could get off the sinking ship—myself included—escaped.

And those who were abandoned and left behind? They got their water poisoned. And when the governor found out, he kept quiet and let the poor of Flint continue drinking the poison. Marie Antoinette would’ve been proud. Except this time, no one offered any cake. “Let them drink the Flint River” has such a nice ring.

[Activist Newsletter: America's foremost political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, speaks (3:34 minutes) on the poison water in Flint Michigan, headlined "Flint: Crimes of Capital."

— From Feb. 2 Time. Moore is a progressive filmmaker whose works include Sicko, Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, and Capitalism: A Love Story, among others.


Protesting police killings of African Americans in Chicago last November.
By Richard Becker

In 2015, police in the United States continued to kill at a rate far higher than every other country in the world for which statistics are currently available. That year, U.S. cops killed at least 1,200 people, more than three per day on average, according to the research of the website www.killedbypolice.net.

The exact number is not known. There is no federal agency that keeps track. The FBI compiles annual statistics for "justified homicides" by police—but participation in the program by the approximately 18,000 police agencies in the country is completely voluntary, and only about 800 actually provide reports. Most departments, including the notoriously racist and murderous New York Police Department, do not participate at all.

The FBI reported 444 killings by police in 2014, the latest report available. The FBI's amazingly broad definition of "justifiable homicide" by police is: "The killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty." The FBI classified every one of the 444 killings as "justified."

"The Counted," a project of the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper, documented the deaths of 1,136 people killed by U.S. police in 2015. Its extensively researched database confirmed the racist and class dimensions of police violence.

African Americans were killed at a rate of 7.15 per million (301 deaths); Latinos – 3.48 per million (193 deaths); Native Americans – 3.4 per million (13 deaths); whites – 2.92 per million (578 deaths); and Asian/Pacific Islanders – 1.34 per million (24 deaths). No corporate criminals are in the list.

And while the FBI makes no effort to create a comprehensive database of annual police killings, the agency has very exact numbers of police officers "killed in the line of duty." This data comes from the "Officer Down Memorial Project," which receives funding from the federal Department of Justice.

The "Officer Down" project includes in its 2015 report six Air Force Special Agents killed in Afghanistan, and even lists all police dogs that die or are killed "in the line of duty."

Contrary to the demagogic campaign rhetoric from a number of current candidates for U.S. president, there is no evidence whatsoever of a "war on police." In fact, the number of police killed in 2015 declined significantly from the previous year. Police officers who died inside the United States or its territories (colonies) dropped from 133 in 2014 to 123 in 2015, the majority in both years due to illness or accidents.

Police officers killed by hostile actions—gunfire or assault—declined from 64 to 49. Given that there are more than 1.5 million police in the country, those numbers reveal that the claim of a "war on cops" is truly bogus.

U.S. cops kill at 100 times or more the rate of other countries
U.S. political leaders frequently promote the chauvinistic idea of "American exceptionalism," the notion that the United States is the "one indispensable country," superior to all others. It is dangerous propaganda employed to justify wars and interventions around the world.

But in the area of state violence, the United States is indeed "exceptional," particularly as compared to other developed capitalist states.

In Britain, also a capitalist country with a long history of racism, police reportedly fired guns three times in all of 2013, with zero reported fatalities. Police do not generally carry guns on patrol. From 2010 through 2014, there were five fatal police shootings in Britain, which has a population of about 52 million. By contrast, Albuquerque, N.M., with a population 1 percent of Britain's, had 26 fatal police shootings in that same time period!

In 2015, German police, who do carry guns, reportedly killed two people. Germany, another racist, imperialist country with large numbers of oppressed minorities, has a population about one quarter that of the United States.

While police killings in Canada, another multi-national state, have sharply increased in the past two years, U.S. cops were five times as likely to kill as their Canadian counterparts. Japan had no reported police killings in recent years.

Contrary to the myths propagated by politicians, mass media and schoolbooks, extreme racist, anti-worker and anti-poor violence has been a central feature of U.S. history since the country's founding. U.S. capitalism was constructed on a foundation of genocidal extermination of Native people and the unpaid labor and murder of millions of enslaved Africans. The U.S. ruling class created whole agencies of armed thugs to shoot down and repress striking workers.
State violence has been an essential element of a system based on ruthless exploitation inside and outside the U.S. borders. It will only be eliminated when the system itself is.

—From Liberation News, Jan 12, 2016, https://www.liberationnews.org/.
Richard Becker is the Western Region Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition, and the author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire, and The Myth of Democracy and the Rule of the Banks.


A woman and her children stand in the ruins of a house in the Kurdish town near the border with Iraq. Turkey is waging an all-out offensive against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ party, with military operations backed by curfews aimed at flushing out rebels from several 
south-eastern towns. (Photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images)
By The Activist Newsletter

Silopi, Turkey: A woman and her children stand in the ruins of a house in the Kurdish town near the border with Iraq. Turkey is waging an all-out offensive against the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ party, with military operations backed by curfews aimed at flushing out rebels from several southeastern towns. Photo: Ilyas Akengin/AFP/Getty Images,)

Instead of aiming the main blow on the Islami State, Turkey's strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems focused on crushing the Kurds. He also supports the Sunni jihadist groups seeking to overthrow the government in Damascus. On Jan. 27, the Guardian reported: "The Turkish Human Rights Foundation says at least 198 civilians, including 39 children, have died in combat areas under curfew since August. Today, Human Rights Watch raised concerns over the civilian casualties, criticizing the government for not releasing numbers or facilitating urgent medical evacuations for trapped civilians."


Care for a bite? "Big Burger" is the title of this apparent parody on U.S. fast food in this oil on linen painting by artist Tjalf Sparnaay, 2015. (Courtesy Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, New York.)
[The Nov. 8, 2015, Activist Newsletter published an article about the World Health Organization's Oct. 26 report which placed processed meats — including bacon, frankfurters, sausages, ham, corned beef, salami, etc. — in the same cancer-causing category as smoking and asbestos. We predicted that the meat industry would "go all-out with years of pro-processed meat propaganda." The industry already has won its first victory, courtesy of the U.S. government.]

By Janna Herron

Just over two months after processed meats were deemed a possible carcinogen, the U.S. government unveiled new eating recommendations glossing over these risks.

The new dietary guidelines released Jan. 7 recommend a healthy eating pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy and a variety of proteins, while limiting saturated fats, added sugars and sodium. The recommendations also quantify what a moderate intake of alcohol is for adult men and women of drinking age.

But the guidelines only mention "processed meats" four times, and the term "red meat" doesn't appear at all. The near-omissions come after the World Health Organization in October classified processed meats as carcinogenic to people — the same grouping as tobacco and asbestos — and red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans

A study from WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer found that a person who eats 50 grams of processed meat a day — the equivalent of two slices of Oscar Mayer beef bologna — increases the risk of colon and rectal cancer by 18%. The study also suggested — though does not prove — that the risk of colorectal cancer could increase by 17% for every 3.5-ounces of red meat eaten daily. For comparison's sake, a Burger King Whopper packs a 4-ounce patty.

These hazards are absent in the U.S. guidelines. But they weren't always. When the scientific report that informs the guidelines was released in February last year, a healthy dietary pattern included the same good foods found in the new guidelines, but the report went further. It said a healthy dietary pattern is "lower in red and processed meats." The report also offered the following evidence:

·      "Diets that are higher in red/processed meats, French fries/potatoes, and sources of sugars (i.e., sodas, sweets, and dessert foods) are associated with a greater colon/rectal cancer risk."
·      "Patterns higher in red and/or processed meats were generally associated with greater age- related cognitive impairment."
·      "Patterns emphasizing red and processed meats and refined sugar were generally associated with increased risk of depression."
·      The scientific report concluded that "higher intake of red and processed meats was identified as detrimental compared to lower intake."

The guidelines released Jan. 7 only state that lower intakes of processed meat, among other foods, are "characteristics of healthy eating patterns," and went so far to assure the public that eating processed meats "can be accommodated." Again, the term "red meat" was not included.

What happened? In March, 71 members of Congress, including the chair of the agriculture committee Mike Conaway (R-TX), the No. 2 recipient of political donations from the livestock industry, sent a letter to the secretaries of agriculture and health and human services expressing their issues with the scientific report, which included its treatment of red meat.

"The DGAC's recommendation on lean red meat directly contradicts years of peer reviewed scientific research on the benefits of lean red meat as a high quality source of protein in a healthy diet," the letter stated. "It is crucial for HHS and the USDA to recognize the need for flexibility in the American diet that reflects the diverse population of this country."

During the public comment period, more than 30,000 comments were received, including those with issues on how red meat was treated in the report. At a hearing in October in front of the House agriculture committee, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack backed away from the report's harsher stance on red meat.

"In terms of the issue of red meat, it is fairly clear that there is a recognition that lean meat is, and should be, part of a healthy diet," he testified. No one mentioned processed meat.

[Democracy Now reported Jan. 14 that "Health and environmental experts are accusing the Obama administration of caving in to the meat industry. The tougher proposals came up against heavy lobbying from such groups as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, and the North American Meat Institute. They spent untold dollars to remove the committee’s call to eat less meat. The next set of dietary guidelines is not due out until 2021.]

In December, Congress mandated a peer review of the dietary guidelines by the National Academy of Medicine, a step never taken before, in the 2016 Omnibus Bill.

By mid-January, bacon, boloney and red meat were back on many kitchen tables.

— From the Fiscal Times .


One of many protests by Jews and their supporters in New York against the Israeli government's  wars in gaza,  occupation of West Bank, and the oppression of the Palestinian people.

By the Activist Newsletter

Bills are pending in both the New York State Senate and the State Assembly to protect the Israel from being criticized or boycotted. Dozens of groups from New York State, out of state and national organizations are behind the opposition to such bills. A link to a petition opposing passage of the legislation and the name of sponsoring groups is below.

Senate Bill S6086 and Assembly Bill 8220 seek to penalize and coercively discourage political action. If passed, this legislation will create a "list" — much like what happened under Sen. Joe McCarthy — of persons who act in the interest of Palestinian human rights.

According to N.Y. Senate majority leader John Flanagan: "New York taxpayers need to be protected from becoming unwitting supporters of those who are trying to undermine our greatest ally, Israel, and other critical allies. We are demonstrating that New York will continue to stand with our international partners and protect our shared interests." 

The legislation would create “A list of persons it determines boycotts Israel,” and defines boycotting Israel as "engaging in actions that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or otherwise limit commercial relations with the State  of Israel or companies based in the State of Israel or in territories controlled by the state of Israel.”

Here's who it will it affect: • Individuals or Community groups that support Palestinian human rights by supporting a boycott of Israel. • Contractors and other businesses seeking partnerships with New York State. • Nonprofit organizations that receive New York State grants.

In effect, this law would grant the state the power to coerce those who wish to support Palestinian human rights and the call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) by denying them partnerships with state agencies. Once implicated, accused persons would be required to submit a written profession that they are not in fact boycotting Israel. The law will also prohibit the investment of state pension funds in companies that boycott/divest from Israel.

— For the petition and other information:

15. KIDS WHO DIE (Poem)

By the Activist Newsletter

Tamir Rice, a black 12-year-old, was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park in November 2014 when two white cops — responding to a call that a youth might have a pistol — emerged from their patrol car and before two seconds had passed one of them shot and killed the child. On Dec. 28, 2015, a grand jury decided that officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback were justified in using lethal force. Loehmann, who did the shooting, "had reason to fear for his life." To some cops, black lives, even those of young children, will never matter.

By Langston Hughes (excerpt)

Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,

And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,

Who make surveys and write books

Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,

And the sleazy courts,

And the bribe-reaching police,

And the blood-loving generals,

And the money-loving preachers

Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,

Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets

To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people

To taste the iron of the kids who die,

Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,

To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together

Listen, kids who die—

Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you

Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,

Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht

But the day will come—

You are sure yourselves that it is coming—

When the marching feet of the masses

Will raise for you a living monument of love,

And joy, and laughter,

And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—

The song of the life triumphant

Through the kids who die.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an extremely prolific African American playwright, poet, author, journalist and left wing political activist. He became less political in later life. According to Donald Gibson in the introduction toModern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, Hughes "has perhaps the greatest reputation worldwide that any black writer has ever had. Hughes differed from most of his predecessors among black poets, and until recently from those who followed him as well, in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people. During the twenties when most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever-decreasing audience of readers, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simply to read.... Until the time of his death, he spread his message humorously — though always seriously — to audiences throughout the country, having read his poetry to more people (possibly) than any other American poet."


Syrian troops on the offensive.
By Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, Foreign Affairs blog, 1-19-16

President Bashar al-Assad is winning in Syria. Russia has shifted the balance of power there dramatically. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN might insist that Assad negotiate with his opponents and ultimately cede power to them, but the Syrian president has no intention of accepting such demands. His advisers state that he will go to talks in Geneva this month “to listen, but not to negotiate.” In other words, he is still out for victory on the battlefield. As the United States enters the now delayed UN negotiating process, it will have to stay flexible in its expectations and objectives in light of the shifting military balance on the ground.  

The main reason for Assad's renewed confidence is a clear reversal of military fortune. Three months ago, Assad's army was beleaguered. A large confederation of jihadist and Islamist militias calling themselves the Victory Army had achieved something resembling unity. Built around Syria's two strongest militias — Al-Nusra, al Qaeda's Syria franchise; and Ahrar al-Sham, the most powerful Salafi militia in the country — the Victory Army conquered two strategic northern cities, Idlib and Jisr al-Shughour, in quick succession this spring. These victories attracted many other militias into their orbit and promised success. The expulsion of regime forces from Jisr al-Shughour not only meant the independence of Idlib more generally but put Latakia, a regime stronghold, in serious jeopardy. The new resistance army seemed to overcome the opposition's chronic fragmentation; it was also well armed and supported by the region's Sunni states.

In late December Syrian army and National Defense  Forces 
captured strategic hilltops in southwestern Syria's Daraa
 province during an advance against   Al-Nusra Front militants.
But Assad's greatest advantage — a fragmented opposition divided into more than 1,000 constantly feuding militias — seems to be back. Recently, over 20 rebel militia leaders have been assassinated, most by a breakaway faction of the Victory Army. The militias that the United States trained and armed at great expense have been crushed, not by Assad but by other rebels.

Meanwhile, Russia's advanced aircraft, helicopters, and tanks have been pounding the Victory Army for months. Russian aircrews fly close to 200 sorties a day, allowing Assad and his allies to go on the offensive in both the north and south of Syria. Ahrar al-Sham has agreed to go to talks in Geneva, an about-face, after snubbing the UN envoy Staffan de Mistura as an Assad lackey only months ago. Al Qaeda's Syria leader pronounced those who head to Geneva guilty of “high treason,” a clear death threat but also an indicator of clear anxiety. Another sign of desperation was the call put out by the Victory Army to foreign fighters to come join their ranks. Non-jihadist members of the coalition were infuriated by this tactic, which would inevitably associate them with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS), and withdrew from the coalition. Assad, in short, is dividing his enemies and counting on his ability to pick off one at a time.

[Syrian pro-government forces captured Sheikh Miskeen Jan. 26, a strategically valuable town in Daraa province near the Jordanian border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, AFP reported. The town, which was taken after weeks of fighting, lies at a strategic crossroads between Damascus to the north and the government-controlled city of Sweida to the east. It is also around seven miles from the rebel-held town of Nawa, another target for government forces. The Syrian troops reportedly had support from allied militia, fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iranian officers, as well as Russian and Syrian government airstrikes.]

  Displaced children, who fled with their families from the Violence throughout Syria.

To be sure, Assad's advances have been hard fought and slower in coming than his advisers insisted they would be. The reason is the state of the Syrian army, which is in shambles, worn down by years of fighting, poverty, and corruption. All the same, it is hard to imagine Assad losing or being thrown back to some Alawite ethnic canton.

The real question is how much of Syria Assad can retake. Assad believes that the Russians will carry him to the finish line, but that is not at all certain. The Syrian regime already rules over some 75 percent of Syria's Arab population. Assad seems convinced that he can bully the remaining 25 percent into “accepting” the bitterness of defeat in exchange for the end to deprivation and war. But that will likely take years. Much depends on Turkey and the Gulf states, the primary sponsors of the rebels.

Syria's Kurds may also accommodate themselves to Assad. They constitute 10% of the population and live in a long ribbon of territory dividing Syria from Turkey that they have named Rojava. Despite wresting the land from Assad, ISIS, and the rebel militias at great cost, the Kurds may accept autonomy within a Syrian state rather than independence as the price of protection against Turkey. Assad, too, may find a Kurdish enclave a useful buffer against Turkey.

Most important to Assad has been the attitude of the United States. U.S. President Barack Obama's first reaction to Russia's entry into the war on September 30 was to state, "We're not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia." This was consistent with the administration's long-standing reluctance to go beyond its current support for a small number of armed groups opposed to the Assad regime. Moscow has had a long and important relationship with Damascus; Washington has not.

 A Syrian man with one leg uses crutches as migrants and refugees 
walk on   a road after crossing the Macedonian border into Serbia, 
near the village of Miratovac, Jan. 8, 2016. (Photo Armend Nimani, AFP)

But Obama has not ceded Syria to Russia entirely; rather, he established a tacit division of labor, by which the United States combats ISIS in the east of the country while Russia combats Assad's foes in the west. Moreover, Obama believes Russia will fail in its endeavor to restore Assad's control over the country as surely as it failed in Afghanistan in 1979. The fight will become a “quagmire,” he predicted, which will force the Russians to come back to the United States for a negotiated solution. He might be right.

Although Moscow would doubtless favor a negotiated solution that preserved the Assad regime, Russian officials dismiss the notion that Syria can be likened to Afghanistan or even to Iraq; rather, they insist that the better analogy is Chechnya, where Russia's superior airpower devastated the rebels at Grozny. After all, they argue, no one is arming the Syrian opposition with antiaircraft weapons, as U.S. President Ronald Reagan did the Afghan mujahedeen and Arab jihadists....



Islamic State Troops on parade for the propaganda cameras.

By ScottStewart, Stratfor  1-7-16

The Islamic State is far more than just a terrorist group. It is much more accurately defined as a militant organization that does employ terrorism, but also conducts guerrilla warfare, hybrid warfare and conventional warfare. Moreover, it has established a proto-state over a wide swath of Iraq and Syria. Anyone who defines such an organization as merely a "terrorist group" is going to have a hard time accurately assessing it.

Despite the Islamic State's pointed criticism of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organization has roughly followed the plan al-Zawahiri laid out in a 2005 letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, head of al Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Zawahiri wrote: "It has always been my belief that the victory of Islam will never take place until a Muslim state is established in the manner of the Prophet in the heart of the Islamic world." He also noted that the first step in such a plan was to expel U.S. forces from Iraq. The second stage was to establish an emirate and expand it into a larger caliphate. The third stage was then to attack the countries surrounding Iraq (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Jordan) in order to bring them into the caliphate. The fourth step was to use the power of the combined caliphate to attack Israel.

Although al-Zarqawi died in a U.S. airstrike, al Qaeda in Iraq renamed itself the Islamic State in Iraq in 2006, thereby declaring the establishment of a jihadist polity in Iraq. The U.S. surge of forces into Iraq and the corresponding Anbar Awakening in the Sunni areas of the country that began in 2007 severely weakened the organization by 2010, but the Islamic State in Iraq never lost sight of its goals. It rebuilt after the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and took advantage of the civil war in Syria. Following a successful military campaign to seize large portions of the Sunni areas in Iraq on June 29, 2014, the Islamic State organization announced not just the re-establishment of its emirate in Iraq, but the launching of a caliphate.

Although the Islamic State is following the general guidelines of Ayman al-Zawahiri's plan, there are quickly proclaim a caliphate after it had captured a large portion of Iraq and Syria. The group's message to the Muslim world is that the caliphate is a historical fact, nothing will stop its expansion, and all Muslims should migrate to the Islamic State to help bolster its growth.

IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi  July 2014.
significant differences between al-Qaeda's timeline and that of Islamic State for the execution of that plan. Al Qaeda argues that the caliphate can be established only after the United States and its European allies have been defeated to the extent that they can no longer interfere in Muslim lands — either because of a lack of ability or a lack of desire. The al-Qaeda leadershipenvisions a long war approach that emphasizes the need to attack the United States, "the far enemy," before focusing on overthrowing local governments. The Islamic State, however, has adopted a more urgent approach, believing that the time for taking, holding and governing territory is now. This strategy banks on being able to use any conquered territory and resources for the purposes of continued expansion. The direct approach explains the Islamic State's decision to

This message proved quite appealing to jihadists who had become disenchanted with al Qaeda's more cautious long war approach. Excited by the prospect of the caliphate's creation and assurances that the Islamic State's interpretation of apocalyptic prophesies confirmed that the end of the world was near — and that the final battle was being brought about by the creation of the Islamic State — the Islamic State was able to energize the jihadist movement and draw thousands of foreign fighters to its ranks. However, with the organization proclaiming the caliphate and adopting the mantle of apocalypticism, both time and space are working against the Islamic State.

One of the advantages that an insurgent organization has when it is battling a stronger foe is that the insurgents are by definition mobile. They attack at a time and place of their choosing, optimally in areas where the enemy is weak and where tactical surprise and numerical superiority can work in the insurgents' favor. When a superior force confronts them, they can decline battle, flee and then regroup and wait for more favorable circumstances before staging their next attack. Mobility gives insurgents a big advantage over government forces, which must hold and secure population centers, natural resources and lines of communication from hit-and-run insurgent attacks. The government must also oversee the population and provide services. Securing such a wide array of targets from attack and providing services requires a lot of resources — and these resources are tied down to protect specific places, so that they cannot be used to conduct offensive operations against the insurgents elsewhere.

In its transition from an insurgency to a government, the Islamic State has lost many of the advantages it enjoyed as an insurgent group. The organization has had to shoulder many of the responsibilities that come with being a government, such as devoting tremendous resources to securing cities, governing and providing services. Many people have commented about the Islamic State's internal security efforts and aggressive work to track down and execute spies; every fighter devoted to internal security is one less that can be involved in military operations elsewhere.

Furthermore, by becoming bound to specific geography, the Islamic State has opened itself up to months of punishing airstrikes. The past 60 years has shown that the U.S. military struggles against an amorphous enemy but is very good at attacking fixed, quantifiable targets. Recognizing the U.S.-led coalition's aversion to civilian casualties, the Islamic State has attempted to insulate itself from airstrikes by using human shields. However, when leaders leave insulated locations, or attempt to mass forces for offensive operations, they open themselves up to being hit.

Islamic State (ISIS) beheads 7 men and 3 women in the  Kurdish 
region sometime in  October, 2014. 
The deployment of more coalition joint terminal attack controllers in the theater has made close air support far more effective in both defending against the Islamic State and launching offensive operations against the group. The recent operations in Ramadi are a very good example of this. Moreover, the Russians have entered the fray in Syria, and they have far less concern for civilian casualties than U.S. forces. This means the Islamic State can no longer count on things like schools, hospitals and mosques to provide them with safety from airstrikes.

Since the U.S.-led coalition's bombing efforts began in August 2014, they have significantly degraded the Islamic State's military capabilities by destroying large quantities of military equipment and troops. In addition, the group has found it difficult to spread beyond the Sunni Arab majority areas into Shiite and Kurdish areas. This, combined with strikes, has stymied the group's expansion. In areas of northeastern Syria, coalition air power has played a decisive role in helping local ground forces such as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces push the Islamic State back from key border crossings. Although smuggling in and out of Islamic State territory still occurs, the volume of goods and people crossing the border is undoubtedly far less than it was a year ago.

In addition to pinching the Islamic State's supply lines, by halting the group's advance and destroying its military units the coalition has also helped curtail the Islamic State's biggest supply of resources: the homes, farms, business, goods and people that do not belong to the group, and the taxes levied on conquered citizens. This type of logistical model becomes unsustainable once conquerors squeeze the population they control dry and can no longer acquire new territory to plunder and pillage.

Time is working against the Islamic State in that the longer the group remains on the defensive and are unable to continue the promised global conquest, the more the allure of its apocalyptic ideology will fade.

In 2016, the Islamic State will be challenged in several crucial battlespaces. The first of these is Mosul in Iraq, the largest city under the Islamic State's control and the place where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the caliphate. Gauging from Iraqi offensives in Ramadi, Baiji and Tikrit, the operation to cut off and then recapture Mosul is going to be slow, deliberate and greatly aided by coalition airstrikes — but it will begin this year.

Beyond Mosul, it will also be important to keep an eye on the much smaller town of Dabiq, Syria, as well as the Islamic State's capital city of Raqqa. In the Islamic State's interpretation of Islamic apocalyptic prophecy, Dabiq will be the place where the armies of the world will gather to fight the true believers in the final battle, in which the true believers will be delivered by the return of the prophet Isa (Jesus). These prophecies are why the Islamic State leaders have shown no reluctance to attack, threaten or challenge world powers. They truly believe that the armies of the world will all descend upon them and that they will emerge from the conflict victorious through divine intervention.

Christian Syrian Lucia, a member of the battalion called the "Female Protection Forces 

of the Land Between the Two Rivers" fighting the Islamic State. She plays with dogs after training session in December. (Photo  Delil Souleiman, AFP)
The Islamic State's position in northern Aleppo province, where Dabiq is located, is becoming increasingly tenuous, and the group is being pressured from three directions. First is a coalition of Syrian rebels in the northwestern part of the region — the rebel front line is now less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Dabiq. Second, Syrian government forces are pressing in from the southwest around al-Bab. Third, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are east of Dabiq, near Manbij. The Syrian Democratic Forces are also now south of Ain Issa and only about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the Islamic State's capital of Raqqa.

Unfortunately for the Islamic State, it appears that Dabiq is about to be attacked by a coalition of other Muslims and not the combined armies of the world. Still, it will be very important to watch how the Islamic State leaders respond to the threat against Dabiq. Although the small town of some 3,000 people has very little military significance, the ideological significance of the town is substantial; the Islamic State has even named its English-language magazine after the town, and a quote from al-Zarqawi regarding the Dabiq prophecies is regularly featured in a wide variety of Islamic State propaganda. Because of this, the Islamic State will likely commit a lot of forces to retaining control of the town. Such concentrations of forces will be exposed to airstrikes.

Should the Syrian Democratic Forces be able to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State, the victory would be highly symbolic. The city was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate from A.D. 769 to A.D. 809, before the capital was moved to Baghdad. Taking Raqqa would also have clear strategic value for the anti-Islamic State effort. The area around the city is an important hub for transporting people and supplies: Raqqa sits on the Euphrates River and controls critical highways. For the Islamic State, rivers are essential; waterways and their flanking roads are the geographic core of the Islamic State's web of control.

Shia tribal fighters raise their weapons against the Islamic State in the
 northwest Baghdad's Shula neighborhood.
Outside of Syria and Iraq

When considering the Islamic State's presence outside of Iraq and Syria, it is important to recognize that most of the Islamic State's "provinces" (called "wilaya" in Arabic) or affiliate groups outside of Syria and Iraq are not new and are simply rebranded versions of existing jihadist groups or splinters of existing groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. For example, the Wilayat al Gharbi al Sudan — meaning West Africa province — is merely a rebranded Boko Haram. And Wilayat Sinai was previously the Sinai portion of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. By contrast, the mainland portion of Ansar Beit al-Maqdis remains in the al Qaeda orbit.

Other than perhaps the Wilayat Barqa in eastern Libya and Wilayat Khorasan in Afghanistan, Islamic State affiliate groups departed 2015 weaker than they entered it. For example, more than 100 members of the Yemen Wilayat, including the group's military commander and several other senior members, defected in December 2015. Elsewhere, the Egyptian military inflicted a serious toll on Wilayat Sinai. But that does not mean the regional groups no longer pose a threat.

[The Voice of America reported Jan. 22: "Over the waning weeks of 2015, about 500 key Islamic State (IS) officials and commanders packed up and slipped away, leaving their posts in Syria and Iraq. The move, according to a U.S. official familiar with the intelligence, was not part of any sort of retreat. Rather, it appeared to be a calculated move to bolster the self-declared caliphate’s growing provinces in Libya.... A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, put the number of IS fighters at "a few thousand," though other Western and North African officials say the actual figure could be much higher, perhaps 5,000 or more.]

Even as territory is lost, Wilayat al Sudan al Gharbi has lashed out with suicide bombings in Chad, Cameroon and Niger, countries that are supporting Nigeria's fight against the jihadist group. Despite this rapid escalation of suicide bombings (the group conducted well over 100 in 2015), and their spread to neighboring countries, there is no doubt that the group is considerably weaker now than it was in 2013. Then, it conducted no suicide bombings, and even in 2014 the group conducted only 26 such attacks. In other words, the number of terrorist attacks a militant organization launches is not necessarily an accurate gauge of its overall strength.

On Dec. 26, the Islamic State's Al Hayat Media Center released an audio message from al-Baghdadi titled, "Wait as we Indeed are Waiting." The theme of the message was that Islamic State fighters need to demonstrate patience and perseverance under severe affliction and trials, which he called inevitable. Al-Baghdadi also appealed for Muslims to rise up and do their duty to preserve the Islamic State by traveling to join it. This included liberating jihadists from prisons and conducting attacks in countries fighting the Islamic State in the region, as well as transnationally. This message presented a dramatically different message from al-Baghdadi's triumphal 2014 declaration of the caliphate. The themes of affliction, trials and suffering are certain to be repeated frequently by the Islamic State core and its affiliates throughout 2016 as they continue to be pressed hard on all sides.

— Original title - Gauging the jihadist movement in 2016: The Islamic State. https://www.stratfor.com/weekly/gauging-jihadist-movement-2016-islamic-state-camp


Islamic State suicide bombers killed 45 people Jan. 29 with three explosions near a 
Damascus shrine revered by Shiite Muslims. This photo shows Syrian pro-government 
forces and residents gathered at site of an explosion. Damascus is better secured  
than Baghdad in neighboring Iraq, which is battered almost daily  with murderous
 explosions. IS has suffered some significant  setbacks lately in e large sectors 
of Syria  that form part of its claimed state. and may have sought to divert
  attention with this spectacular attack. (Photo:Louai Beshar, AFP/Getty Images)
[Seymour Hersh is one of America's finest investigative journalists, particularly for his decades of exposing government and Pentagon cover-ups, starting with his 1968 revelations about the U.S. military massacre in the small village of My Lai in Vietnam.

This article is from the Jan. 7 London Review of Books, originally titled "Military To Military," and reveals differences between the U.S. Military Chiefs of Staff and the Obama Administration's demand for regime change intentions in Syria. The Chiefs forwarded important information to top allies military allies who relayed it to the Assad government in Syria. It's a long article, and well worth it for what it uncovers.]

By Seymour M. Hersh

Barack Obama's repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are "moderate" rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon's Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration's fixation on Assad's primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn't adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington's anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.

General Martin Dempsey. He told
Obama that a strike on Syria
wound end 

involvement with Russia and Iran.
The military's resistance dates back to the summer of 2013, when a highly classified assessment, put together by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then led by General Martin Dempsey, forecast that the fall of the Assad regime would lead to chaos and, potentially, to Syria's takeover by jihadi extremists, much as was then happening in Libya. A former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs told me that the document was an "all-source" appraisal, drawing on information from signals, satellite and human intelligence, and took a dim view of the Obama administration's insistence on continuing to finance and arm the so-called moderate rebel groups.

By then, the CIA had been conspiring for more than a year with allies in the UK, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to ship guns and goods – to be used for the overthrow of Assad – from Libya, via Turkey, into Syria. The new intelligence estimate singled out Turkey as a major impediment to Obama's Syria policy. The document showed, the adviser said, "that what was started as a covert US program to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad had been co-opted by Turkey, and had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical program for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State. The so-called moderates had evaporated and the Free Syrian Army was a rump group stationed at an airbase in Turkey." The assessment was bleak: there was no viable 'moderate' opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists.

Lt. Genl. Michael Flynn.
Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, director of the DIA between 2012 and 2014, confirmed that his
agency had sent a constant stream of classified warnings to the civilian leadership about the dire consequences of toppling Assad. The jihadists, he said, were in control of the opposition. Turkey wasn't doing enough to stop the smuggling of foreign fighters and weapons across the border. "If the American public saw the intelligence we were producing daily, at the most sensitive level, they would go ballistic," Flynn told me. "We understood Isis's long-term strategy and its campaign plans, and we also discussed the fact that Turkey was looking the other way when it came to the growth of the Islamic State inside Syria." The DIA's reporting, he said, "got enormous pushback" from the Obama administration. "I felt that they did not want to hear the truth."

"Our policy of arming the opposition to Assad was unsuccessful and actually having a negative impact," the former JCS adviser said. "The Joint Chiefs believed that Assad should not be replaced by fundamentalists. The administration's policy was contradictory. They wanted Assad to go but the opposition was dominated by extremists. So who was going to replace him? To say Assad's got to go is fine, but if you follow that through – therefore anyone is better. It's the 'anybody else is better' issue that the JCS had with Obama's policy." The Joint Chiefs felt that a direct challenge to Obama's policy would have 'had a zero chance of success." So in the autumn of 2013 they decided to take steps against the extremists without going through political channels, by providing U.S. intelligence to the militaries of other nations, on the understanding that it would be passed on to the Syrian army and used against the common enemy, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State.

Germany, Israel and Russia were in contact with the Syrian army, and able to exercise some influence over Assad's decisions – it was through them that US intelligence would be shared. Each had its reasons for co-operating with Assad: Germany feared what might happen among its own population of six million Muslims if Islamic State expanded; Israel was concerned with border security; Russia had an alliance of very long standing with Syria, and was worried by the threat to its only naval base on the Mediterranean, at Tartus. "We weren't intent on deviating from Obama's stated policies," the adviser said. "But sharing our assessments via the military-to-military relationships with other countries could prove productive. It was clear that Assad needed better tactical intelligence and operational advice. The JCS concluded that if those needs were met, the overall fight against Islamist terrorism would be enhanced. Obama didn't know, but Obama doesn't know what the JCS does in every circumstance and that's true of all presidents."

Islamic State fighters in a military parade in Syrian city last year. IS is one of several dozen 
jihjadist groups opposing the Assad regime in Damascus,  (Photo: Reuters.)

Once the flow of U.S. intelligence began, Germany, Israel and Russia started passing on information about the whereabouts and intent of radical jihadist groups to the Syrian army; in return, Syria provided information about its own capabilities and intentions. There was no direct contact between the U.S. and the Syrian military; instead, the adviser said, "we provided the information – including long-range analyses on Syria's future put together by contractors or one of our war colleges – and these countries could do with it what they chose, including sharing it with Assad. We were saying to the Germans and the others: 'Here's some information that's pretty interesting and our interest is mutual.' End of conversation. The JCS could conclude that something beneficial would arise from it – but it was a military to military thing, and not some sort of a sinister Joint Chiefs' plot to go around Obama and support Assad. It was a lot cleverer than that. If Assad remains in power, it will not be because we did it. It's because he was smart enough to use the intelligence and sound tactical advice we provided to others."

The public history of relations between the U.S. and Syria over the past few decades has been one of enmity. Assad condemned the 9/11 attacks, but opposed the Iraq War. George W. Bush repeatedly linked Syria to the three members of his "axis of evil" – Iraq, Iran and North Korea – throughout his presidency. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks show that the Bush administration tried to destabilize Syria and that these efforts continued into the Obama years. In December 2006, William Roebuck, then in charge of the U.S. embassy in Damascus, filed an analysis of the "vulnerabilities" of the Assad government and listed methods "that will improve the likelihood" of opportunities for destabilization. He recommended that Washington work with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to increase sectarian tension and focus on publicizing "Syrian efforts against extremist groups" – dissident Kurds and radical Sunni factions – "in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback"; and that the "isolation of Syria" should be encouraged through U.S. support of the National Salvation Front, led by Abdul Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president whose government-in-exile in Riyadh was sponsored by the Saudis and the Muslim Brotherhood. Another 2006 cable showed that the embassy had spent $5 million financing dissidents who ran as independent candidates for the People's Assembly; the payments were kept up even after it became clear that Syrian intelligence knew what was going on. A 2010 cable warned that funding for a London-based television network run by a Syrian opposition group would be viewed by the Syrian government "as a covert and hostile gesture toward the regime."

But there is also a parallel history of shadowy co-operation between Syria and the U.S. during the same period. The two countries collaborated against al-Qaida, their common enemy. A longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command said that, after 9/11, "Bashar was, for years, extremely helpful to us while, in my view, we were churlish in return, and clumsy in our use of the gold he gave us. That quiet co-operation continued among some elements, even after the [Bush administration's] decision to vilify him." In 2002 Assad authorized Syrian intelligence to turn over hundreds of internal files on the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Germany. Later that year, Syrian intelligence foiled an attack by al-Qaida on the headquarters of the U.S.  Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, and Assad agreed to provide the CIA with the name of a vital al-Qaida informant. In violation of this agreement, the CIA contacted the informant directly; he rejected the approach, and broke off relations with his Syrian handlers. Assad also secretly turned over to the US relatives of Saddam Hussein who had sought refuge in Syria, and – like America's allies in Jordan, Egypt, Thailand and elsewhere – tortured suspected terrorists for the CIA in a Damascus prison.

A jihadist member of the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement takes position on a hill  overlooking government forces defending portion of  Province. (Photo: Khalil Ashawi, Reuters.)
It was this history of co-operation that made it seem possible in 2013 that Damascus would agree to the new indirect intelligence-sharing arrangement with the U.S. The Joint Chiefs let it be known that in return the U.S. would require four things: Assad must restrain Hezbollah from attacking Israel; he must renew the stalled negotiations with Israel to reach a settlement on the Golan Heights; he must agree to accept Russian and other outside military advisers; and he must commit to holding open elections after the war with a wide range of factions included. "We had positive feedback from the Israelis, who were willing to entertain the idea, but they needed to know what the reaction would be from Iran and Syria," the JCS adviser told me. "The Syrians told us that Assad would not make a decision unilaterally – he needed to have support from his military and Alawite allies. Assad's worry was that Israel would say yes and then not uphold its end of the bargain." A senior adviser to the Kremlin on Middle East affairs told me that in late 2012, after suffering a series of battlefield setbacks and military defections, Assad had approached Israel via a contact in Moscow and offered to reopen the talks on the Golan Heights. The Israelis had rejected the offer. "They said, 'Assad is finished,"' the Russian official told me. "He's close to the end." He said the Turks had told Moscow the same thing. By mid-2013, however, the Syrians believed the worst was behind them, and wanted assurances that the Americans and others were serious about their offers of help.

what Assad needed as a sign of their good intentions. The answer was sent through one of Assad's friends: "Bring him the head of Prince Bandar." The Joint Chiefs did not oblige. Bandar bin Sultan had served Saudi Arabia for decades in intelligence and national security affairs, and spent more than 20 years as ambassador in Washington. In recent years, he has been known as an advocate for Assad's removal from office by any means. Reportedly in poor health, he resigned last year as director of the Saudi National Security Council, but Saudi Arabia continues to be a major provider of funds to the Syrian opposition, estimated by U.S. intelligence last year at $700 million.

A Syrian Army women's detachment is assigned to
 defend part of the outer perimeter of Damascus.
This soldier 

prepares her weapon for potential action.
n July 2013, the Joint Chiefs found a more direct way of demonstrating to Assad how serious they were about helping him. By then the CIA-sponsored secret flow of arms from Libya to the Syrian opposition, via Turkey, had been underway for more than a year (it started sometime after Gaddafi's death on 20 October 2011). The operation was largely run out of a covert CIA annex in Benghazi, with State Department acquiescence. On 11 September 2012 the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed during an anti-American demonstration that led to the burning down of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi; reporters for the Washington Post found copies of the ambassador's schedule in the building's ruins. It showed that on 10 September Stevens had met with the chief of the CIA's annex operation. The next day, shortly before he died, he met a representative from Al-Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services, a Tripoli-based company that, the JCS adviser said was known by the Joint Staff to be handling the weapons shipments.

By the late summer of 2013, the DIA's assessment had been circulated widely, but although many in the American intelligence community were aware that the Syrian opposition was dominated by extremists the CIA-sponsored weapons kept coming, presenting a continuing problem for Assad's army. Gaddafi's stockpile had created an international arms bazaar, though prices were high. "There was no way to stop the arms shipments that had been authorized by the president," the JCS adviser said. "The solution involved an appeal to the pocketbook. The CIA was approached by a representative from the Joint Chiefs with a suggestion: there were far less costly weapons available in Turkish arsenals that could reach the Syrian rebels within days, and without a boat ride." But it wasn't only the CIA that benefited. "We worked with Turks we trusted who were not loyal to Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan," the adviser said, "and got them to ship the jihadists in Syria all the obsolete weapons in the arsenal, including M1 carbines that hadn't been seen since the Korean War and lots of Soviet arms. It was a message Assad could understand: "We have the power to diminish a presidential policy in its tracks."'

The flow of U.S... intelligence to the Syrian army, and the downgrading of the quality of the arms being supplied to the rebels, came at a critical juncture. The Syrian army had suffered heavy losses in the spring of 2013 in fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra and other extremist groups as it failed to hold the provincial capital of Raqqa. Sporadic Syrian army and air-force raids continued in the area for months, with little success, until it was decided to withdraw from Raqqa and other hard to defend, lightly populated areas in the north and west and focus instead on consolidating the government's hold on Damascus and the heavily populated areas linking the capital to Latakia in the north-east. But as the army gained in strength with the Joint Chiefs' support, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey escalated their financing and arming of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State, which by the end of 2013 had made enormous gains on both sides of the Syria/Iraq border. The remaining non-fundamentalist rebels found themselves fighting – and losing – pitched battles against the extremists. In January 2014, IS took complete control of Raqqa and the tribal areas around it from al-Nusra and established the city as its base. Assad still controlled 80% of the Syrian population, but he had lost a vast amount of territory.

Syrian Army soldiers in pro-government rally. holding pictures of tAssad.
CIA efforts to train the moderate rebel forces were also failing badly. "The CIA's training camp was in Jordan and was controlled by a Syrian tribal group," the JCS adviser said. There was a suspicion that some of those who signed up for training were actually Syrian army regulars minus their uniforms. This had happened before, at the height of the Iraqi war, when hundreds of Shia militia members showed up at American training camps for new uniforms, weapons and a few days of training, and then disappeared into the desert. A separate training program, set up by the Pentagon in Turkey, fared no better. The Pentagon acknowledged in September that only "four or five" of its recruits were still battling Islamic State; a few days later 70 of them defected to Jabhat al-Nusra immediately after crossing the border into Syria.

In January 2014, despairing at the lack of progress, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, summoned American and Sunni Arab intelligence chiefs from throughout the Middle East to a secret meeting in Washington, with the aim of persuading Saudi Arabia to stop supporting extremist fighters in Syria. "The Saudis told us they were happy to listen," the JCS adviser said, "so everyone sat around in Washington to hear Brennan tell them that they had to get on board with the so-called moderates. His message was that if everyone in the region stopped supporting al-Nusra and Isis their ammunition and weapons would dry up, and the moderates would win out. "Brennan's message was ignored by the Saudis, the adviser said, who "went back home and increased their efforts with the extremists and asked us for more technical support. And we say OK, and so it turns out that we end up reinforcing the extremists."

But the Saudis were far from the only problem: American intelligence had accumulated intercept and human intelligence demonstrating that the Erdoğan government had been supporting Jabhat al-Nusra for years, and was now doing the same for Islamic State. "We can handle the Saudis," the adviser said. "We can handle the Muslim Brotherhood. You can argue that the whole balance in the Middle East is based on a form of mutually assured destruction between Israel and the rest of the Middle East, and Turkey can disrupt the balance – which is Erdoğan's dream. We told him we wanted him to shut down the pipeline of foreign jihadists flowing into Turkey. But he is dreaming big – of restoring the Ottoman Empire – and he did not realize the extent to which he could be successful in this."

One of the constants in U.S. affairs since the fall of the Soviet Union has been a military-to-military relationship with Russia. After 1991 the U.S. spent billions of dollars to help Russia secure its nuclear weapons complex, including a highly secret joint operation to remove weapons-grade uranium from unsecured storage depots in Kazakhstan. Joint programs to monitor the security of weapons-grade materials continued for the next two decades. During the American war on Afghanistan, Russia provided overflight rights for U.S. cargo carriers and tankers, as well as access for the flow of weapons, ammunition, food and water the U.S. war machine needed daily. Russia's military provided intelligence on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts and helped the U.S. negotiate rights to use an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The Joint Chiefs have been in communication with their Russian counterparts throughout the Syrian war, and the ties between the two militaries start at the top. In August, a few weeks before his retirement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dempsey made a farewell visit to the headquarters of the Irish Defense Forces in Dublin and told his audience there that he had made a point while in office to keep in touch with the chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov. "I've actually suggested to him that we not end our careers as we began them," Dempsey said – one a tank commander in West Germany, the other in the east.
When it comes to tackling Islamic State, Russia and the U.S. have much to offer each other. Many in the IS leadership and rank and file fought for more than a decade against Russia in the two Chechen wars that began in 1994, and the Putin government is heavily invested in combating Islamist terrorism. "Russia knows the Isis leadership," the JCS adviser said, "and has insights into its operational techniques, and has much intelligence to share." In return, he said, "we've got excellent trainers with years of experience in training foreign fighters – experience that Russia does not have." The adviser would not discuss what American intelligence is also believed to have: an ability to obtain targeting data, often by paying huge sums of cash, from sources within rebel militias.

A former White House adviser on Russian affairs told me that before 9/11 Putin "used to say to us: 'We have the same nightmares about different places.' He was referring to his problems with the caliphate in Chechnya and our early issues with al-Qaida. These days, after the Metrojet bombing over Sinai and the massacres in Paris and elsewhere, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we actually have the same nightmares about the same places."

Russian President Putin's decision to intervene militarily in
Syria to prevent the overthrow of Assad by IS, al-Quaeda
and other jihadist 
forces was a brilliant move on the
 geopolitical chessboard, and Obama resents it.
Yet the Obama administration continues to condemn Russia for its support of Assad. A retired senior diplomat who served at the U.S. embassy in Moscow expressed sympathy for Obama's dilemma as the leader of the Western coalition opposed to Russia's aggression against Ukraine: "Ukraine is a serious issue and Obama has been handling it firmly with sanctions. But our policy vis-à-vis Russia is too often unfocused. But it's not about us in Syria. It's about making sure Bashar does not lose. The reality is that Putin does not want to see the chaos in Syria spread to Jordan or Lebanon, as it has to Iraq, and he does not want to see Syria end up in the hands of Isis. The most counterproductive thing Obama has done, and it has hurt our efforts to end the fighting a lot, was to say: 'Assad must go as a premise for negotiation.'" He also echoed a view held by some in the Pentagon when he alluded to a collateral factor behind Russia's decision to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian army on 30 September: Putin's desire to prevent Assad from suffering the same fate as Gaddafi. He had been told that Putin had watched a video of Gaddafi's savage death three times, a video that shows him being sodomized with a bayonet. The JCS adviser also told me of a U.S. intelligence assessment which concluded that Putin had been appalled by Gaddafi's fate: "Putin blamed himself for letting Gaddafi go, for not playing a strong role behind the scenes" at the UN when the Western coalition was lobbying to be allowed to undertake the airstrikes that destroyed the regime. "Putin believed that unless he got engaged Bashar would suffer the same fate – mutilated – and he'd see the destruction of his allies in Syria."

In a speech on 22 November, Obama declared that the '"principal targets" of the Russian airstrikes "have been the moderate opposition." It's a line that the administration – along with most of the mainstream American media – has rarely strayed from. The Russians insist that they are targeting all rebel groups that threaten Syria's stability – including Islamic State. The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East explained in an interview that the first round of Russian airstrikes was aimed at bolstering security around a Russian airbase in Latakia, an Alawite stronghold. The strategic goal, he said, has been to establish a jihadist-free corridor from Damascus to Latakia and the Russian naval base at Tartus and then to shift the focus of bombing gradually to the south and east, with a greater concentration of bombing missions over IS-held territory. Russian strikes on IS targets in and near Raqqa were reported as early as the beginning of October; in November there were further strikes on IS positions near the historic city of Palmyra and in Idlib province, a bitterly contested stronghold on the Turkish border.

Russian incursions into Turkish airspace began soon after Putin authorized the bombings, and the Russian air force deployed electronic jamming systems that interfered with Turkish radar. The message being sent to the Turkish air force, the JCS adviser said, was: "We're going to fly our fighter planes where we want and when we want and jam your radar. Do not fuck with us. Putin was letting the Turks know what they were up against." Russia's aggression led to Turkish complaints and Russian denials, along with more aggressive border patrolling by the Turkish air force. There were no significant incidents until 24 November, when two Turkish F-16 fighters, apparently acting under more aggressive rules of engagement, shot down a Russian Su-24M jet that had crossed into Turkish airspace for no more than 17 seconds. In the days after the fighter was shot down, Obama expressed support for Erdoğan, and after they met in private on 1 December he told a press conference that his administration remained "very much committed to Turkey's security and its sovereignty." He said that as long as Russia remained allied with Assad, "a lot of Russian resources are still going to be targeted at opposition groups... that we support.... So I don't think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only IS targets. That's not happening now. It was never happening. It's not going to be happening in the next several weeks."

The Kremlin adviser on the Middle East, like the Joint Chiefs and the DIA, dismisses the "moderates' who have Obama's support, seeing them as extremist Islamist groups that fight alongside Jabhat al-Nusra and IS ("There's no need to play with words and split terrorists into moderate and not moderate," Putin said in a speech on 22 October). The American generals see them as exhausted militias that have been forced to make an accommodation with Jabhat al-Nusra or IS in order to survive. At the end of 2014, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who was allowed to spend ten days touring IS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, told CNN that the IS leadership "are all laughing about the Free Syrian Army. They don't take them for serious. They say: 'The best arms sellers we have are the FSA. If they get a good weapon, they sell it to us.' They didn't take them for serious. They take for serious Assad. They take for serious, of course, the bombs. But they fear nothing, and FSA doesn't play a role."

Putin's bombing campaign provoked a series of anti-Russia articles in the American press. On 25 October, the New York Times reported, citing Obama administration officials, that Russian submarines and spy ships were 'aggressively' operating near the undersea cables that carry much of the world's internet traffic – although, as the article went on to acknowledge, there was 'no evidence yet' of any Russian attempt actually to interfere with that traffic. Ten days earlier the Times published a summary of Russian intrusions into its former Soviet satellite republics, and described the Russian bombing in Syria as being 'in some respects a return to the ambitious military moves of the Soviet past'. The report did not note that the Assad administration had invited Russia to intervene, nor did it mention the US bombing raids inside Syria that had been underway since the previous September, without Syria's approval. An October op-ed in the same paper by Michael McFaul, Obama's ambassador to Russia between 2012 and 2014, declared that the Russian air campaign was attacking 'everyone except the Islamic State'. The anti-Russia stories did not abate after the Metrojet disaster, for which Islamic State claimed credit. Few in the US government and media questioned why IS would target a Russian airliner, along with its 224 passengers and crew, if Moscow's air force was attacking only the Syrian "moderates."

Economic sanctions, meanwhile, are still in effect against Russia for what a large number of Americans consider Putin's war crimes in Ukraine, as are U.S. Treasury Department sanctions against Syria and against those Americans who do business there. The New York Times, in a report on sanctions in late November, revived an old and groundless assertion, saying that the Treasury's actions "emphasize an argument that the administration has increasingly been making about Mr. Assad as it seeks to press Russia to abandon its backing for him: that although he professes to be at war with Islamist terrorists, he has a symbiotic relationship with the Islamic State that has allowed it to thrive while he has clung to power."

The four core elements of Obama's Syria policy remain intact today: an insistence that Assad must go; that no anti-IS coalition with Russia is possible; that Turkey is a steadfast ally in the war against terrorism; and that there really are significant moderate opposition forces for the U.S. to support. The Paris attacks on 13 November that killed 130 people did not change the White House's public stance, although many European leaders, including François Hollande, advocated greater co-operation with Russia and agreed to co-ordinate more closely with its air force; there was also talk of the need to be more flexible about the timing of Assad's exit from power. On 24 November, Hollande flew to Washington to discuss how France and the US could collaborate more closely in the fight against Islamic State. At a joint press conference at the White House, Obama said he and Hollande had agreed that "Russia's strikes against the moderate opposition only bolster the Assad regime, whose brutality has helped to fuel the rise" of IS. Hollande didn't go that far but he said that the diplomatic process in Vienna would "lead to Bashar al-Assad's departure.... A government of unity is required." The press conference failed to deal with the far more urgent impasse between the two men on the matter of Erdoğan. Obama defended Turkey's right to defend its borders; Hollande said it was "a matter of urgency" for Turkey to take action against terrorists. The JCS adviser told me that one of Hollande's main goals in flying to Washington had been to try to persuade Obama to join the EU in a mutual declaration of war against Islamic State. Obama said no. The Europeans had pointedly not gone to NATO, to which Turkey belongs, for such a declaration. "Turkey is the problem," the JCS adviser said.
Assad, naturally, doesn't accept that a group of foreign leaders should be deciding on his future. Imad Moustapha, now Syria's ambassador to China, was dean of the Information Technology  faculty at the University of Damascus, and a close aide of Assad's, when he was appointed in 2004 as the Syrian ambassador to the U.S., a post he held for seven years. Moustapha is known still to be close to Assad, and can be trusted to reflect what he thinks. He told me that for Assad to surrender power would mean capitulating to "armed terrorist groups" and that ministers in a national unity government – such as was being proposed by the Europeans – would be seen to be beholden to the foreign powers that appointed them. These powers could remind the new president "that they could easily replace him as they did before to the predecessor … Assad owes it to his people: he could not leave because the historic enemies of Syria are demanding his departure."

Moustapha also brought up China, an ally of Assad that has allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria. China, too, is worried about Islamic State. "China regards the Syrian crisis from three perspectives," he said: international law and legitimacy; global strategic positioning; and the activities of jihadist Uighurs, from Xinjiang province in China's far west. Xinjiang borders eight nations – Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – and, in China's view, serves as a funnel for terrorism around the world and within China. Many Uighur fighters now in Syria are known to be members of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement – an often violent separatist organization that seeks to establish an Islamist Uighur state in Xinjiang. "The fact that they have been aided by Turkish intelligence to move from China into Syria through Turkey has caused a tremendous amount of tension between the Chinese and Turkish intelligence," Moustapha said. "China is concerned that the Turkish role of supporting the Uighur fighters in Syria may be extended in the future to support Turkey's agenda in Xinjiang. We are already providing the Chinese intelligence service with information regarding these terrorists and the routes they crossed from on travelling into Syria."

Syria has several internal refugee camps safe from the fighting. These children live in one of them.
Moustapha's concerns were echoed by a Washington foreign affairs analyst who has closely followed the passage of jihadists through Turkey and into Syria. The analyst, whose views are routinely sought by senior government officials, told me "Erdoğan has been bringing Uighurs into Syria by special transport while his government has been agitating in favor of their struggle in China. Uighur and Burmese Muslim terrorists who escape into Thailand somehow get Turkish passports and are then flown to Turkey for transit into Syria." He added that there was also what amounted to another "rat line" that was funneling Uighurs – estimates range from a few hundred to many thousands over the years – from China into Kazakhstan for eventual relay to Turkey, and then to IS territory in Syria. "US intelligence," he said, "is not getting good information about these activities because those insiders who are unhappy with the policy are not talking to them." He also said it was "not clear' that the officials responsible for Syrian policy in the State Department and White House "get it." Anthony Davis of IHS-Jane's Defense Weekly estimated in October that as many as 5,000 Uighur would-be fighters have arrived in Turkey since 2013, with perhaps 2,000 moving on to Syria. Moustapha said he has information that "up to 860 Uighur fighters are currently in Syria."

China's growing concern about the Uighur problem and its link to Syria and Islamic State have preoccupied Christina Lin, a scholar who dealt with Chinese issues a decade ago while serving in the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. "I grew up in Taiwan and came to the Pentagon as a critic of China," Lin told me. "I used to demonize the Chinese as ideologues, and they are not perfect. But over the years as I see them opening up and evolving, I have begun to change my perspective. I see China as a potential partner for various global challenges especially in the Middle East. There are many places – Syria for one – where the United States and China must co-operate in regional security and counterterrorism." A few weeks earlier, she said, China and India, Cold War enemies that "hated each other more than China and the United States hated each other, conducted a series of joint counterterrorism exercises. And today China and Russia both want to co-operate on terrorism issues with the United States." As China sees it, Lin suggests, Uighur militants who have made their way to Syria are being trained by Islamic State in survival techniques intended to aid them on covert return trips to the Chinese mainland, for future terrorist attacks there. "If Assad fails, "Lin wrote in a paper published in September, "jihadi fighters from Russia's Chechnya, China's Xinjiang and India's Kashmir will then turn their eyes towards the home front to continue jihad, supported by a new and well-sourced Syrian operating base in the heart of the Middle East."

General Dempsey and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs of Staff kept their dissent out of bureaucratic channels, and survived in office. General Michael Flynn did not. "Flynn incurred the wrath of the White House by insisting on telling the truth about Syria," said Patrick Lang, a retired army colonel who served for nearly a decade as the chief Middle East civilian intelligence officer for the DIA. "He thought truth was the best thing and they shoved him out. He wouldn't shut up." Flynn told me his problems went beyond Syria. "I was shaking things up at the DIA – and not just moving deckchairs on the Titanic. It was radical reform. I felt that the civilian leadership did not want to hear the truth. I suffered for it, but I'm OK with that." In a recent interview in Der Spiegel, Flynn was blunt about Russia's entry into the Syrian war: "We have to work constructively with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia made a decision to be there and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic. So you can't say Russia is bad; they have to go home. It's not going to happen. Get real."

Few in the U.S. Congress share this view. One exception is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii and member of the House Armed Services Committee who, as a major in the Army National Guard, served two tours in the Middle East. In an interview on CNN in October she said: "The US and the CIA should stop this illegal and counterproductive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad and should stay focused on fighting against … the Islamic extremist groups.

"Does it not concern you," the interviewer asked, "that Assad's regime has been brutal, killing at least 200,000 and maybe 300,000 of his own people?"

"The things that are being said about Assad right now," Gabbard responded, "are the same that were said about Gaddafi, they are the same things that were said about Saddam Hussein by those who were advocating for the U.S. to... overthrow those regimes.… If it happens here in Syria… we will end up in a situation with far greater suffering, with far greater persecution of religious minorities and Christians in Syria, and our enemy will be far stronger."

"So what you are saying," the interviewer asked, "is that the Russian military involvement in the air and on-the-ground Iranian involvement – they are actually doing the U.S. a favor?"

"They are working toward defeating our common enemy," Gabbard replied.

Gabbard later told me that many of her colleagues in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, have thanked her privately for speaking out. "There are a lot of people in the general public, and even in the Congress, who need to have things clearly explained to them," Gabbard said. "But it's hard when there's so much deception about what is going on. The truth is not out." It's unusual for a politician to challenge her party's foreign policy directly and on the record. For someone on the inside, with access to the most secret intelligence, speaking openly and critically can be a career-ender. Informed dissent can be transmitted by means of a trust relationship between a reporter and those on the inside, but it almost invariably includes no signature. The dissent exists, however. The longtime consultant to the Joint Special Operations Command could not hide his contempt when I asked him for his view of the U.S.'s Syria policy. "The solution in Syria is right before our nose," he said. "Our primary threat is Isis and all of us – the United States, Russia and China – need to work together. Bashar will remain in office and, after the country is stabilized there will be an election. There is no other option."

Gen. Joseph Dunford.
The military's indirect pathway to Assad disappeared with Dempsey's retirement in September. His
replacement as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, two months before assuming office. "If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I'd have to point to Russia," Dunford said. "If you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming." In October, as chairman, Dunford dismissed the Russian bombing efforts in Syria, telling the same committee that Russia "is not fighting" IS. He added that America must "work with Turkish partners to secure the northern border of Syria" and "do all we can to enable vetted Syrian opposition forces" – i.e. the moderates – "to fight the extremists."

Obama now has a more compliant Pentagon. There will be no more indirect challenges from the military leadership to his policy of disdain for Assad and support for Erdoğan. Dempsey and his associates remain mystified by Obama's continued public defense of Erdoğan, given the American intelligence community's strong case against him – and the evidence that Obama, in private, accepts that case. "We know what you're doing with the radicals in Syria," the president told Erdoğan's intelligence chief at a tense meeting at the White House. The Joint Chiefs and the DIA were constantly telling Washington's leadership of the jihadist threat in Syria, and of Turkey's support for it. The message was never listened to. Why not?



Soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) take part in training in temperatures 
below minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit at China's border with Russia in Heilongjiang 
Province, January 14, 2016. (Photo by Reuters/China Daily)

By the Activist Newsletter

The U.S. ruling establishment's war drums against China continue to reverberate in Washington, this time in a Pentagon-commissioned Jan. 20 report from the influential think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

The study, reports the Guardian, "calls for America to flex its military muscle in the region by... increasing surface fleet presence, increasing the number of nuclear attack submarines in Guam from four to six, continuing to diversify air operating locations, bolstering regional missile defenses, stockpiling critical precision munitions and enhancing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance cooperation with allies within the region."

Washington actually has never stopped flexing its muscles against China — not only since President Obama's "pivot" to Asia in 2011 but for decades before. On Feb. 1 AFP reported: "China accused the United States today of seeking maritime hegemony in the name of freedom of navigation after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of a disputed island in the South China Sea." Beijing considers this a military provocation, not that it will take action beyond criticism.

Said the report: "Chinese and North Korean actions are routinely challenging the credibility of U.S. security commitments, and at the current rate of U.S. capability development, the balance of military power in the region is shifting against the United States.... Robust funding is needed to implement the rebalance.

"The Chinese People's Liberation Army's anti-access/area denial capabilities that many once viewed as Taiwan-specific are rapidly expanding to the Second Island Chain and beyond, affecting not only an increasing number of US allies and partners, but also US territories such as Guam....

"If China's economic, military, and geopolitical influence continues to rise at even a modest pace during this period, the world will witness the largest shift in the global distribution of power since the rise of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries....  Moreover, if China surpasses the United States as the world's largest economy in the next 10 to 15 years, it will mark the first time in centuries that the world's economic leader will be non-English speaking, non-Western, and non-democratic."

The Diplomat reported Feb. 2: "China inaugurated five new theater commands of the People’s Liberation Army on Feb. 1a, with Chinese President Xi Jinping presenting flags to the new commanders during a ceremony in Beijing. The new theater commands – which replace the seven previously existing military regions – bring another piece of Xi’s ambitious plan for PLA reform into reality."

At issue is the retention of Washington's unilateral global hegemony, even though the U.S. superpower is far ahead of China in military power. Following is an appraisal of this matter we wrote in the May 31, 2015, Activist Newsletter in the article The Hegemony Games — U.S. v. PRC :

"Washington is determined to constrain China by depriving it of exercising even the East Asian regional power to which it is entitled on the basis of its huge economy, a population of 1.4 billion people, and its peaceful rise and intentions. President Obama is quite visibly seeking to confront China, politically, militarily, and economically in the Asia/Pacific region. This is what the 'pivot' to Asia is about, containing and reducing Chinese influence within its own geographical environment.

"The U.S. is at least two decades ahead of China in war technology, equipment, nuclear weapons, various missiles, planes, ships — everything.... People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaders certainly want to catch up and are making progress, but they can only approach near proximity if Pentagon scientists decide to sleep for the next two decades. Instead, Washington's immense military, several times that of China, is increasing the gap in real time.... China's extremely important cyber warfare advances may or may not be equal to those of the U.S., but it is the only area of relative equivalence, and it's causing headaches in the Pentagon.  

"The U.S. is frantically surrounding China with military weapons, advanced aircraft, naval fleets and a multitude of military bases from Japan, South Korea and the Philippines through several nearby smaller Pacific islands to its new and enlarged base in Australia and, of course, intercontinental ballistic missiles from the United States. The U.S. naval fleet, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines patrol China's nearby waters. Warplanes, surveillance planes, drones and spying satellites cover the skies, creating a symbolic darkness at noon. By 2017, the Pentagon plans to encircle China with 'the most advanced stealth warplanes in the world,' according to RT. 'The Air Force's F-22s and B-2s, as well as a fleet of the Marine Corps' F-35, will all be deployed.  This buildup has been going on for three years and it is hardly ever mentioned in the U.S."


By the Activist Newsletter

1. Have you seen the great performance by three teenage girls reciting their powerful poem "Somewhere in America" that is making the rounds on the Internet? The girls — Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen — are part of the nonprofit organization Get Lit, a Los Angeles program that aims to increase teen literacy through poetry. Their poem speaks of school education, freedom of speech, rape, consumerism, slavery, poverty, self-confidence, fat-shaming, sexual assault, homophobia, and objectification. Watch this almost 4-minute video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YshUDa10JYY

2. For readers who love classical music, enjoy the outdoors and are thrilled by the views from mountaintops, this 8-minute video is for you.  Cellist Ruth Boden, carrying her cumbersome musical instrument on her back, climbs 10,000 feet to a peak in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains to offer a solo performance of the andante movement from a Bach cello suite. Here it is: https://aeon.co/videos/a-bach-cello-piece-played-atop-a-mountain-is-as-exhilarating-as-you-d-expect?utm_source=Aeon+Newsletter&utm_campaign=06021264bf-Weekly_Friday_January_22_20161_22_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_411a82e59d-06021264bf-68883557