Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Afghan presidency not likely settled before next deadline Sept. 2

Although August 25 was set as the date for inauguration of the new Afghan president the issue of who will be president is still not settled even after several months of recounts and audits of the votes subsequent to the summer vote.

Abdullah Abdullah who won the first round claims that there was fraud including ballot stuffing on behalf of his opponent Ashraf Ghani in the runoff. Preliminary results in the runoff show Ghani in the lead. The audit is still not even close to finished. Karzai says that he will relinquish the presidency by September 2, the new scheduled inauguration date. However, at the present pace it seems highly unlikely that the results will be finalized by that time.
 Teams representing the two candidates are continually fighting over which ballots should or should not be counted. The US, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, brokered a deal between the two candidates who agreed to cooperate on an audit of the entire 8 million votes that were cast in order to ensure that any fraudulent votes were rejected. The two also agreed that whoever won would form a government of national unity. Hamid Karzai the outgoing president has run the country since 2001. 
 The election, lasting 10 weeks, took place back on June 14 under UN supervision. However, as with past Afghan elections there have been accusations of fraud from many sides. The Independent Electoral Commission(IEC) is just now due to begin rejecting votes judged fraudulent. Spokesperson for the IEC,Noor Mohammad Noor, said: "The Independent Election Commission is trying very hard to finish the process as soon as possible". The new inauguration date of Sept. 2 is just two days prior to a NATO summit that will determine how much aid NATO countries will provide for Afghanistan after most NATO troops will pull out of the country at the end of this year. Having a new president and a peaceful power transition would be a sign that NATO was leaving with at least some degree of success after 13 years in Afghanistan. This in turn would perhaps lead to a generous aid package. Many doubt that the process can be completed by Sept. 2.  
Abdullah spokesperson Mujib Rahimi said: "Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It's Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable." An unidentified official from the Ghani campaign was even more pessimistic.He said that there had been little progress on deciding what the power-sharing government of national unity would be like and said:"Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn't reach an agreement in most of the areas". One unidentified Western official also expressed doubts about having finalized results before Sept. 2, saying:"I don't see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece." 
Karzai is accused by Abdullah of helping Ghani in the runoff to a fraudulent win but both Ghani and Karzai deny this. Karzai has been urging both candidates to cooperate in the auditing process. His office issued a statement: "Prolonging of the presidential process has affected people's daily life, particularly in security, economy and governance.This must end as soon as possible."  
The impasse has hurt the Afghan economy and also given encouragement to the Taliban insurgents. Western supporters fear that one or the other of the candidates might pull out of the process or reject the result of the edit. There could be protests and civil unrest as a result. The audit process seems far from complete. As of last Monday August 25, just, 3,644 of the 23,000 ballot boxes were put through the invalidation process. 74 boxes were rejected, and 697 selected for a further recount.  
UN mission chief Jan Kubis noted:"It is still premature to draw conclusions about the final audit result based on these initial findings All parties should continue to respect the process so as to not create unrealistic expectations." The Afghan government expelled a NY Times reporter for writing an article claiming that government officials were considering seizing power to end the long standoff between the two candidates. The conflict between the two candidates mirrors the latent conflicts between Pashtuns in the south and east of Afghanistan who support Ghani and Tajiks and other northern groups who support Abdullah. Abdullah is again threatening to pull out of the audit process.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NY Times reports US officials claim Egypt and UAE behind Libya bombings

Four senior U.S. officials told the New York Times that the first two attacks targeting Islamist militia in Tripoli were a joint operation of Egypt and the UAE

The New York TImes has often been used as a mouthpiece for the US administration as discussed in a Guardian article back in June 2012 by Glenn Greenwald. According to the Times report: The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington or seeking its consent, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied the operation to American diplomats, the officials said. 
While it is possible that the two countries acted without US consent the only evidence for this given is from anonymous US officials who obviously leaked the information about who was responsible for the strikes to the Times. Surely, US intelligence has enough monitoring equipment to probably know where the first flight originated and certainly after the bombing would trace the flight of the aircraft back to its base. The first flight was a week ago. Why did not the US tell the Libyan government who have repeatedly claimed they do not know the identity of the aircraft? Why did they not offer to protect the government from the bombing as the government had asked for international help? Even after the second strike, there was nothing from the US. The US was cooperating in keeping things quiet about who was doing what.
 The article goes on to note quite correctly that both Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States are trying to suppress Islamists associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. On the other hand, Turkey and Qatar are friendly to them. The article claims that Qatar has already been arming Islamists in Libya. While no doubt the Times is correct about these matters, this does not mean that the US had no involvement.
 The Times story continues: Several officials said that United States diplomats were fuming about the airstrikes, believing they could further inflame the Libyan conflict at a time when the United Nations and Western powers are seeking a peaceful resolution. If the US is seeking a peaceful solution why did they not intervene after the first raid and warn Egypt and the UAE that they would not tolerate further attacks? Why not expose the culprits at least and publicly reprimand them? Even now there has been no official statement on the issue holding Egypt and the UAE to task, just this leak to the New York Times. According to the article, Egypt provided bases for launching the strikes and UAE the pilots, warplanes, and aerial refueling necessary for the flights. These are all provided thanks to US training and aid. Egypt has denied any direct role of its forces in the flights. The UAE has so far not commented directly. However, Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs said that allegations about the role of the UAE role come from a group who "wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives" when "the people discovered its lies and failures". Perhaps he is referring to Libya Dawn who earlier accused Egypt and the UAE of being behind the bombings before it was confirmed by the US. He is also referring to the alleged defeat of Islamists in recent elections.
The Times provides a misleading account of what Haftar and his commanders said about the strikes: Anti-Islamist forces based in eastern Libya under the renegade former general Khalifa Hifter sought to claim responsibility, but their statements were inconsistent and the strikes were beyond their known capabilities. However, from the beginning Haftar has claimed that the bombing was a joint effort between his own forces and the "international community". No doubt he has given valuable targeting information to the bombers. Ironically, a report given to a New York Times reporter contradicts this article:".later in the day a senior Operation Dignity source claimed his forces had been responsible for the attack, which targeted Libya Dawn fighters who have been attempting to gain control of strategic sites like Tripoli International Airport. The source told New York Times journalist Osama al-Fitory that the bombs were dropped by a Sukhoi Su-24 plane, in a “joint operation” between Haftar’s forces and the international community." Haftar also made a similar claim saying that the operation was supported by the international community. 
What the article is attempting to do is create a narrative that makes this action part of the attempts of UAE and Egypt to attack the Muslim Brotherhood. The article also notes that Egypt and the UAE had mounted other strikes inside Libya recently: In recent months, a special forces team operating out of Egypt but possibly composed primarily of Emirates personnel had also successfully destroyed an Islamist camp in eastern Libya without detection. All this comes out now. The US saw no reason to reveal this or try to stop it earlier. After two bombings and now a third of Tripoli, even the dimmest-witted US officials began to realize that they had to create a narrative about what happened. They marketed the narrative through the New York Times. 
While General Khalifa Haftar is mentioned the background of events and Operation Dignity one of the main sources for the present clashes of militias is not discussed at all. Haftar started out in February to try and dissolve the elected parliament, and when that failed he later began Operation Dignity: On 14 February 2014, General Khalifa Haftar ordered the GNC to dissolve and called for the formation of a caretaker government committee to oversee new elections. The GNC ignored his demands.The conflict began two months later, on 16 May 2014, when forces loyal to General Haftar launched a large scale air and ground offensive codenamed Operation Dignity (Arabic: عملية الكرامة‎; 'Amaliya al-Karamah) against Islamist armed groups in Benghazi. Two days later, Haftar's forces tried to dissolve the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli Actually the Zintan brigades attacked parliament ransacked it and set it on fire and kidnapped some Islamist legislators and officials.These are the same brigades that were charged with protecting the airport and later clashed with the Misrata militia who took the airport just the other day. Bombings completed the destruction of the airport hitting the main terminal. 
As I thought, this type of background essential for understanding what is going on will be almost completely omitted in mainstream press accounts of what is happening. There will also be nothing about Haftar's earlier CIA connections. Haftar is also a US citizen and lived in the US for almost two decades. An excellent and detailed account of Haftar's career can be found here and is well worth reading in its entirety. Near the end the author Barak Barfi of the New American Foundation had some suggestions as to what role Haftar could play in the future of Libya: "Washington and its partners should persuade the new Libyan government to appoint Haftar as chief of staff. Respected by his troops, he has the military skills and combat experience necessary to create a modern army. But most important, he is the sole Libyan willing to take on the Islamist militias that are preventing the establishment of a modern state" This would complete the coup that Haftar was accused of mounting when he started Operation Dignity. Perhaps, the US really does think that the Egypt and UAE acts are counter productive but it is also possible that the US supports their intervention and will use them as proxies to help push the balance of power towards Haftar's forces.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mystery planes bombard Tripoli for a third night in a week

For a third night unidentified aircraft struck targets in Tripoli. The attacks came just hours after the Misrata militia claim they have finally gained control of the Tripoli International AIrport from the rival Zintan brigades.

The Misrata militia are part of a larger umbrella group called Libya Shield and also Libya Dawn, both pro-Islamist.The Zintan brigades are allied with General Khalifa Haftar and his Operation Dignity. Although part of the Libyan Air Force has defected to ally itself with the general, Libya is not believed to have planes capable of launching the attacks. Most of Libya's air force was destroyed by western attacks during the Libyan uprising that overthrew Gadaffi. According to Reuters as reported in Al Jazeera, Tripoli residents heard the jets just at dawn followed by explosions, but there were no details of what had been hit available.
 General Haftar, who has past links to the CIA, has claimed responsibility for the earlier attacks and says they are a joint action with the international community. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement: "Egypt categorically denies press reports that Egyptian warplanes bombarded positions held by armed Islamist militias in the Libyan capital." The Misrata militia that was attacked said that Egypt and the UAE provided the jets. The group reported attacks around Tripoli airport killed 13 people. Both Egypt and the UAE oppose Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood who in turn support the Misrata militia and other Islamist groups. 
An umbrella group of Islamists took control of Haftar's main base in Benghazi and also ousted Special Forces loyal to Haftar who were providing security for the city. Haftar was left only in control of an airfield on the outskirts. The newly elected parliament was scheduled to meet in Benghazi after the outgoing government voted to move the parliament there from Tripoli. However, the parliament met instead in the far eastern city of Tobruk, for security reasons and no doubt as well to avoid areas where Islamists would have a great deal of influence rather than Haftar and his allies. 
 The UN and most foreign embassies have evacuated most or all of their staff and the embassies have closed. Most airlines have also stopped flying into Libya as the number of usable airports dwindles. The Tripoli International Airport is in ruins with many planes destroyed or damaged. It has been closed since clashes first started back on July 13th. The control tower had been previously damaged but now after the latest bombing the main terminal is reported to have been destroyed by fire. 
 The outgoing General National Congress, questioned the legitimacy of the newly elected parliament after it decided to meet in Tobruk against the decision of the GNC that is should he held in Benghazi. Now, spokesperson for the GNC Omar Ahmidan announced:"The General National Congress will hold an emergency meeting in Tripoli to save the country's sovereignty," Islamist groups claim they have no confidence in the new parliament situated far off in the eastern city of Tobruk.
 The parliament in Tobruk seems to lack any power. It has asked for international help and pleaded with the warring militia to agree to a ceasefire. The Zintan brigades at Haftar's request had occupied and burned the parliament buildings in Tripoli and kidnapped a number of legislators and officials. Now Haftar and his allies want to ensure that a parliament said to have a majority of anti-Islamist members is not subject to a similar attack by pro-Islamist groups. 
That the identity of the planes attacking Tripoli remains a mystery after three nights of raids is itself a mystery. Intelligence agencies and governments must know where these planes took off from and would be able to track their flight there and back. Why is it that no country seems to be making any sort of outcry at what is a terrorist attack on a capital city. What is much more important is to find out who was the alleged executioner of journalist James Foley. Can you imagine the press coverage and outrage if unidentified planes bombed even Ottawa let alone Washington or London? .

The James Foley execution video was probably staged to enhance its propaganda value

Most responses to the video posted on line that depicts an IS executioner beheading journalist James Foley are complete outrage. However, a few responses question whether a genuine execution is taking place.

Many of these responses are from conspiracy theorists who often have limited credibility. A Google search for "Foley execution video a fake" will provide plenty of links to explore the range of opinions. Some posters go to quite a bit of trouble to try to establish their point. I have appended a You Tube posting that claims that the person allegedly beheaded in the video is not James Foley. He has audio of Foley and then of the alleged victim in the video and also comparison of the facial features of each. At the end the poster suggests that if you want to know who is in the video that one should ask the CIA.
 However, this video was claimed to have been posted by the Islamic State as a warning to America. The Islamic State has not denied responsibility for the video. If the CIA made the video surely IS would deny this.
 Even well-known journalist Eric Margolis has doubts about the video and titles his article on the video "Cautious outrage". Margolis begins: The alleged beheading of freelance journalist James Foley by the shadowy ISIS (or Islamic State) has sparked outrage and horror around the globe.I say “alleged” because we are not sure if the decapitation was real or faked. Margolis also suggests that perhaps the US is mounting this deceptive horrifying video to demonize IS: Was Foley’s head really cut off? Hard to tell. We have been fed so much fake government war propaganda in recent decades – from Kuwaiti babies thrown from incubators to Saddam’s hidden nukes – that we must be very cautious. Again, I must ask if this is so, why would IS not deny it as Saddam Hussein denied the incubator and nuclear weapons stories? The Islamic State has posted many other violent videos online showing executions and also a member holding up a severed head. IS seems to deliberately post shocking videos.
 My own conclusion is that at least parts of the video are staged. Certain aspects of the video suggest this. As one article puts it: Video experts observed that the video showing the actual beheading of US journalist James Foley was so professionally produced and well-scripted, to the extent that portions of it appeared to be just being acted out. One expert who had viewed many videos of beheadings notes that in the seconds before the executioner uses the knife there is not a single sign that Foley is terrified as usually happens. Many observers note that the knife held by the executioner is quite small and is not the same knife that is on the ground next to Foley's corpse in the next scene in which his decapitated head is shown on the body. Other observers note that as the knife is drawn across Foley's neck no blood is to be seen but if the knife were really used blood should be seen gushing out.
  Prof. Peter Neumann, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at King's College in London claims that the executioner who has a British accent was specifically chosen to create the utmost impact in the west and said: "This is significant because it signifies a turn towards threatening the west. They are saying we're going to come after you if you bomb us." There are a number of interesting comments on this article that has a link to the video. One comment notes the quality of the production: I've never seen such perfect framing, flawless costumes, resolution, panning, cuts, white balance, or exposure from one of these savage videos. This was clearly shot from a tripod using a prosumer camera with some clever touch-ups in post production.  
Another comment suggests that there was no execution: No blood comes out when the beheading starts. You do not actually get to see the beheading. When the video returns, you see a headless mannequin with a tiny amount of blood. People with a badly cut finger lose more blood than that. If the video is partly staged or even a fake it is intended to portray the beheading of James Foley and as a warning to Americans. The result of course is not only to evoke horror but demands that IS be wiped off the face of the earth. Here are a couple of typical comments: Burn these ISIS scum into the ground. Send them to their virgins.These scums will die, let's make a raid every hour, don't let them sleep.  
 As Margolis points out, westerners have a particular aversion to beheadings but said virtually nothing about 19 beheadings in Saudi Arabia the same day Foley was allegedly beheaded. One beheading was for sorcery. He also notes that air warfare in the west is seen as clean. Killing people from the air using bombs, rockets, napalm, and cluster munitions is the American way of war. Slitting someone's throat, thrusting a bayonet through them, or cutting off their head is barbaric. It is not a question of being clean I should think. Air attacks particularly when there are no air defenses as in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Libya has no cost in casualties a huge political advantage in a democracy.
 In my opinion the aims of IS propaganda and US and its allies propaganda are in alignment. IS wants to be seen as the prime opposition to the US which has joined in bombing the IS in Iraq and arming Kurds and Iraqi forces.The savage killing videos are designed to provoke the west and in particular the US to further involvement in a war against them in Iraq and Syria. This can only enhance their standing among jihadists globally. The US and its allies want to demonize the IS in order to justify more extensive intervention in Iraq and Syria. This is the same result that IS wants and explains why some think that the video must somehow be a CIA-linked production even though this goes against the fact that IS claims the video.
Margolis suggest IS is carrying out a plan similar to that of Al Qaeda: Could it be part of Osama bin Laden’s clearly expressed plan to drive the US out of the Mideast by luring it into a number of small wars, slowly bleeding the American colossus? So far, by invading Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and parts of Pakistan, the US may have stumbled right into Osama’s carefully laid trap.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sectarian conflict and Kurdish demands stymie formation of new Iraqi government

After a long struggle, the Iraqi parliament was able to choose a new speaker, a Sunni, and a new president, a Kurd, and finally after much friction a new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, a Shia.

In a statement on Saturday, Salim al-Jabouri, speaker of the Iraqi parliament, denounced as "terrorists" the Shia armed group suspected of killing at least 73 people inside a Sunni mosque . After rejecting al-Abadi's nomination at first, the present prime minister Nouri al-Maliki finally gave in to pressure both internal and external to give up his bid for another term. He was promised a role of some sort in any new government. However, al-Abadi was left with the difficult task of forming a new government from groups that are at loggerheads with one another. 
Now a mass killing at a mosque in which at least 73 people were killed has derailed the process of forming a government entirely. In protest at the attack Sunni politicians suspended talks designed to form a new government. Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker and leading Sunni politician denounced the Shia group believed responsible for the attacks as terrorists. He said: "There are those who want to thwart the political process. They are targeting the Iraqi society and its social structures." Both Jabouri ajnd Deputy Prime MInister Saleh al-Mutlak are demanding that present prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and his Shia political allies hand over those responsible for the attack within two days and also compensate families of victims. 
The new prime minister al-Abadi who will take over from al-Maliki once he forms a government also spoke out against the attack:"I strongly condemn the killing of civilians and worshippers in Diyala province and I call on the citizens to reject these attempts by the enemies of Iraq to exploit the incident in order to stir up strife between the sons of the same homeland." Local sources say the attack by the Shia militia may have been in response to a roadside bomb attack that targeted a recruitment campaign of the same militia. 
An Al Jazeera correspondent remarked: "Everyone has been terrified that this could be the incident that could spark another civil war. What we have seen in the past here is that Shia militias and Sunni fighters come in where there is a security vacuum, and that is certainly what we are seeing in Iraq." This event is just one of a number of incidents that show the rising sectarian violence that will make formation of any new government difficult. Back in July Shia militia executed 15 Sunni Muslims and hung them on poles in a public square in the town of Baquba according to police. According to Human Rights Watch(HRW) during the month of July alone Iraqi security forces executed more that 255 prisoners during July in retaliation for atrocities committed by the Islamic State rebels. 
In many areas Sunnis cooperate with the IS. Events such as these will no doubt lead to more alliances with IS in Sunni areas. The Shia and western countries as well as Iran all see IS as simply a terrorist organization to be destroyed. However, many Sunni's will fight against IS only if the Iraq government changes its treatment of the Sunnis. Ahmed al-Dulaimi, the governor of Anbar province that is mostly controlled by IS said: “The only way to fight ISIS is to support the citizens who lost their dignity and their rights under the old government".  
 Not everyone agrees that the attack was carried out by Shia militia members. Some Shia leaders including the cleric and politician Moktad al_Sadr claimed that the attack was an attempt by IS to create an escalation in sectarian violence and said it had the "explicit touch of ISIS". If al-Sadr is correct, the attack worked as intended by IS.
 Even if the Sunni and Shia politicians are able to overcome their differences, the Kurds also may create difficulties that could block formation of a government. The Kurds have occupied new territory since the offensive by IS.They now control the city of Kirkuk and area and have no intention of giving control back to the central government. There are certain demands that the Kurds have that they demand be addressed before they even discuss what their role in a new government will be:
 The negotiators are making several demands of the new government, including implementing Article 140, sending the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) its share of Iraq’s oil revenue, arming the Peshmerga forces and settling disputes over oil in the Kurdistan Region, said Najib Balatayi, one of the Kurdish delegates in Baghdad.  
Another Kurdish negotiator, Zana Rustay said: “We showed that we aren’t in a hurry to form the new government; we are more in a hurry to have our conditions met".

Saturday, August 23, 2014

CIA-Linked General Haftar claims responsibility for second bombing on Tripoli

For the second time in a week CIA-linked General Haftar has claimed responsibility for an attack by air on targets mostly associated with Operation Dawn. The Misrata militia are one of the main groups involved with Operation Dawn.

Reuters reports: The air force of Libya's renegade general Khalifa Haftar on Saturday attacked positions of Islamist-leaning militia in Tripoli for the second time in less than a week, one of his commanders said. The group attacked, Operation Dawn, said the attacks killed ten people and wounded dozens more. A local television station spoke of not one plane but of planes hitting four positions held by Operation Dawn. A spokesperson for Operation Dawn said that buildings of the state oil firm al-Waha near the airport were also hit, as well as the headquarters of the chief of staff that was under Operation Dawn control. Haftar is not believed to be in control of any aircraft that had the ability to carry out these night raids. Local Libyan TV stations speculated that the plane may have come from neighboring countries such as Egypt or western countries concerned about Libya becoming a failed state and a haven for Islamic militants. It is hard to see how an isolated bombing of a few positions held by pro-Islamist militias would do anything other than make the situation worse.
 Even though this is the second set of bombings within a week, mainstream press interest seems minimal and so far there are almost no analytical articles trying to piece together what is happening. Most reports do not mention Haftar's links to the CIA nor do the most recent reports I have read mention Haftar's own remarks to the effect that these bombings are a joint effort with the international community. 
An earlier article notes about the first strikes on Monday this week: The source told New York Times journalist Osama al-Fitory that the bombs were dropped by a Sukhoi Su-24 plane, in a “joint operation” between Haftar’s forces and the international community." The Libyan air force is not believed to have such a plane which is a Soviet era aircraft. Authorities in Egypt have refused to comment as to whether an Egyptian aircraft was involved according to one source. The same source notes that some in Libya are suggesting the plane was obtained from Russia. However, there does not even seem to be any confirmation that the plane was the Sukhoi Su-24 let alone where it came from. Haftar's own remarks suggest that the plane could be part of the foreign or international community support for his operation.
 The second strike may represent some desperation on the part of the Haftar-allied militias. Fighters of the pro-Islamist Libyan Central Shield umbrella group claim to have now captured the airport. This was reported on a TV station that allegedly has links to the fighters. This would be a major defeat for the Zintan brigades who previously provided security for the airport even though they are the same group that earlier, on Haftar's behalf, attacked parliament and burned it as well as kidnapping a number of legislators. None of this seems to be important news in the west. The only important event since the downfall of Gadaffi for many in the western media has been an attack on the consulate in Benghazi that killed the American ambassador and several other Americans.
 The Libyan Central Shield also took control of an army base south of Tripoli which was one of the targets in the latest air strike as well as a nearby warehouse. General Haftar was accused by the former government of mounting a coup. However, the new parliament is said to have a majority of anti-Islamists who may be more favorable to Haftar, although since all candidates ran as independents it may be too soon to assess their leanings. A long, detailed, excellent account of the career of General Haftar by Barak Barfi who is a research fellow at the New American Foundation can be found here . One of his recommendations as to what the US should do in Libya is particularly interesting:
 Washington and its partners should persuade the new Libyan government to appoint Haftar as chief of staff. Respected by his troops, he has the military skills and combat experience necessary to create a modern army. But most important, he is the sole Libyan willing to take on the Islamist militias that are preventing the establishment of a modern state 
 In May of this year, Haftar began his Operation Dignity with unauthorized attacks on two Islamist militia bases in Benghazi. As of now his own base has been captured by an umbrella group of Islamic militias. The group also is said to control Benghazi and Haftar is apparently confined to an airport on the outskirts. The new Libyan parliament was to meet in Benghazi where Haftar is based rather than Tripoli the capital and former site of parliament. The new parliament had to meet in the far eastern city of Tobruk. An Al Jazeera documentary from June of this year is appended and has some discussion of Operation Dignity as well as reporting on the varying attitudes toward Haftar and his anti-Islamist program.

Egypt, Turkey, and other countries increase food exports to Russia

As Russia bans many food imports from the west in response to sanctions by the EU, the US, Australia and Canada, other countries are coming forward to take advantage of the situation for their own producers.

Turkish Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said: “Turkey is a major supplier of food and agricultural produce to Russia. It is ready to increase its food exports to Russia if necessary,” Russia and Turkey have agreed to increase the number of Turkish food suppliers to Russia. The new food ban is quite extensive:".. on August 6 Russia introduced a full ban for imports of beef and pork (fresh, chilled, refrigerated, pickled, dried or smoked meat), poultry and any poultry edible products, fish, cheese, milk, dairy products, vegetables, including root vegetables and tuber crops, and fruit from Australia, Canada, the EU, the US and Norway. " Apparently wine and baby foods are to be excluded. The full list can be found here.
  China is also expected to increase its exports to Russia as a result of the ban. Egypt is another country that will profit from Russia's ban as it will also import more wheat from Russia while exporting more food products. After meeting with Egyptian president Abdel al-Sisi, President Putin said: "Egypt has already increased (agricultural) supplies to our market by 30 percent (and) is ready to increase (supplies) by yet another 30 percent in the near future," Russian Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov claimed that increased shipment of potatoes, onions, garlic, and oranges would compensate for almost half the shortfall resulting from the ban. Western countries impacted by the ban are also seeking new markets.
 Poland expects to ship more food and produce to Belarus. Belarus is the third most significant economic trading partner for Poland after Russia and the Ukraine: Belarus imported Polish products worth $1.581 billion in 2013, which accounts for 8.9% of the total Belarusian import. In 2013, Poland accounted for 5.5%, or $781.8 million of Belarusian export. At the same time Belarus expects to provide more food and produce to Russia after the ban. 
 Russia is also boosting trade with Latin American countries. The EU is attempting to put pressure on countries not to increase trade with Russia a move that is likely to simply cause tension with the EU: The European Union plans to lobby countries that could benefit from Russia's bans on Western food imports, such as Brazil and Chile, to refrain from bumping up their exports and stick to the international party line on Russia's conduct in Ukraine, the Financial Times reported. 
There is even division within Europe on the wisdom of bans against Russia. The Hungarian Prime Minister Orban said that the EU had "shot itself in the foot" with the sanctions and that the sanctions hurt the EU more than the Russians. He also said that the EU should compensate producers who are losing from the Russian ban and that the EU should rethink their entire policy.

Four brothers beheaded in Saudi Arabia for smuggling marijuana

Two sets of brothers were beheaded using swords in the city of Jajran in southwestern Saudi Arabia on Monday August 18th after being convicted of smuggling marijuana into the country according to the Saudi Interior Ministry.

The government news agency SPA identified the two sets of brothers as Hadi and Awad al-Motleg and Mufarraj and Ali al-Yami. The four were found guilty of having smuggled "a large quantity of hashish" into Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International claimed that there had been a "disturbing surge" in executions in Saudi Arabia of late with a total of 32 already this year and said:"The Saudi Arabian authorities must halt all executions". Amnesty also claimed that the conviction of the four was "reportedly on the basis of forced confessions extracted through torture".
 During the last two weeks there have been 17 beheadings a rate of more than one a day.The families of the executed men had been asking for help from Amnesty as the executions became imminent but were told by the Interior Ministry to stop trying to contact Amnesty. Amnesty representative Said Bouhmedouha called the recent increase in beheadings a deeply disturbing deterioration and said: "The authorities must act immediately to halt this cruel practice". Four days previous to this execution a Pakastani was beheaded also for drug trafficking.
 In Saudi Arabia a number of different crimes can be punished by death including rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery, and drug trafficking. There were 78 executions in the country last year. In August alone this year 19 people have been beheaded. Among those beheaded, Mohammed Al-Alawi was convicted for practicing sorcery.

Chilean students protest at slow pace of education reform

Students in Chile are out in force again protesting the slow pace of education reform as thousands of peaceful protesters marched through the capital Santiago yesterday, August 21.

Many student leaders helped elect president Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party. Dozens of unidentified people who wore masks turned the protest violent by interrupting the march. They damaged traffic lights, started fires in trash cans and threw sticks and stones at police. The organizers of the protest claimed there were about 80,000 in total at the protest whereas the Chilean Interior Ministry estimated the number only at 25,000. Some enthusiasts on Twitter put the turnout at 300,000. The demonstration created some major traffic jams near the city center. This is the third major protest by students this year. An article on a protest early in June can be found here, with many photos. 
There have been protests in Chile by students since 2011 designed to force reforms and end the system introduced by General Pinochet which included vouchers. Goals include: The end of the Chilean school voucher system, its replacement by a public education system managed by the state. The end of for-profit education. Changes to tax code to better finance education. In Chile at present only 45 per cent of high school student are in traditional public schools and most universities are also private. Even though university enrollments have increased considerably since the transition to democracy in 1990 no new public universities have been built.
 Yesterday's march was billed as the "National March for Education" and organized by numerous student and teacher's group. President Michelle Bachelet was elected in December 2013 with over 62 per cent of the vote partly on a promise of reforming the privatized education system which has been criticized not only for its poor quality but as benefiting the rich. A proposed reform bill would stop subsidies to for-profit school and do away with some selective entrance guidelines. A second round of reforms scheduled for later this year would also include free university education. Other countries such as Finland also have free post-secondary education. 
Lorenza Soto, president of the Cooradinating Assembly of Secondary Students(ACES) said: “The government is dealing with this in a highly disorganized way by avoiding citizen participation and believing that [reform] can move forward with [ entrepreneurs of Chile’s Industrial Promotion Society], and the congressional constitutional committee alone”.  
Max Ferrer , president of the University of Chile's Center for Engineering Students, also complained that students themselves were being left out of the reform process: “We do not understand why President [Michelle Bachelet] cannot prioritize a substantive dialogue with the student movement, which represents society’s interests and not the pockets of few".

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Friday, August 22, 2014

Auctioning off eyeballs through Real Time Bidding

Many sites on the internet including citizen journalist sites such as Digital Journal are partially if not wholly funded by advertising. Advertising on the internet has become a very complicated business and includes many complex operations.

RTB or Real Time Bidding is one such operation. The video here should be viewed in order to get a clear idea of what all the operation involves. I personally found the video to be an excellent introduction to the subject from someone who had not the slightest idea of what it was A partial description is given by Wikipedia: Real-time bidding (RTB) refers to the means by which ad inventory is bought and sold on a per-impression basis, via programmatic instantaneous auction, similar to financial markets.[1] With real-time bidding, advertising buyers bid on an impression and, if the bid is won, the buyer’s ad is instantly displayed on the publisher’s site.[2]  
My simplistic view of this is that it involves auctioning off one instance of a viewer's eyeballs looking at a web page with the ad bought by RTB appearing on the page. The hope is that the ad will not only be viewed but that the viewer may actually purchase something as a result. In former times ads were often simply static images promoting some product or service. Of course those types of ads still exist all over the place even on web pages but in digital advertising there are many newer devices for advertising that involve quite different techniques.
 For example sponsored content:Sponsored content is paid text, video, or images created to promote a brand or product that is presented alongside similar media that isn't promotional. For example, a blog entry that discusses the benefits of a specific product that was paid for by product advertiser is sponsored content. For example at the bottom of this Digital Journal article you find a number of squares that contain links to sponsored content. Each item resembles the contributor report above that is a news report. The sponsored content also looks like a news report and even has a posting date and is posted by admin. One posting reports how to pay just pennies for brand new products. It is in effect an ad for bidding site Quibids. Another report is about a diet pill that is just too effective and is storming Canada. The ad is a promo for a diet pill. Such ads have links to the site that is selling what is being "reported" on.
 Sponsored content is a type of native advertising:
Native advertising is an online advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user's experience. Native ad formats match both the form and function of the user experience in which they are placed. The advertiser's intent is to make the paid advertising feel less intrusive and thus increase the likelihood users will click on it. The word "native" is used to refer to the formatting of the advertising materials to make them appear more consistent with other media in the recipient's universe.  
 As the appended video notes when a potential ad placer bids on an ad he or she may have different targets in mind such as viewers in a certain locality or viewers searching for certain items such as a car. Websites keep information about viewers often collected by cookies.. This information will be available to potential advertisers and may influence whether they will or not bid in RTB. The result is that you will find ads that reflect your interests at least according to the data collected. I perused sites selling used cars including eBay. Now eBay and some other sites always show me ads for cars even though I am no longer looking for a car. Next time you open a web page remember you are auctioning off the glimpse of the webpage by your eyeballs. Don't blink or go to sleep that would be cheating the advertiser.

Yemen government pays more than $1 million U.S. as compensation to relatives of victims of US drone strike.

The Yemeni government has paid out more than $1 million U.S. to relatives of victims of a U.S. drone strike. Documents verifying the payments show that there was evidence that many casualties were civilians with no Al Qaeda connections.

The documents are signed both by Yemeni court officials as well as relatives of the victims. The payouts all deal with one particular drone strike that hit vehicles in a convoy of vehicles that was part of a wedding party. Fifteen people were killed in the attack with five more reported injured. The attack had been carried out under the auspices of the Joint Special Operations Command(JSOC). The New York Times reported:" ... the Yemen government banned military drone operations after a series of botched drone strikes by JSOC, the last of which was a December 2013 drone strike that killed numerous civilians at a wedding ceremony. Despite a ban on military drone operations the Yemen government allowed CIA drone operations to continue.[3]"  
The documents include many details including the identities of those killed. Among the victims were a father and son who belonged to a Yemeni organization devoted to curbing Islamist militants. While the father survived, the son was killed in the attack. The amounts paid out are many times larger than Yemeni officials earlier reported. The total is more than the US military paid out over an entire year in Afghanistan. US officials have declined to comment either on the strike or any possible role the US might have in the payments. 
Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council at the White House, said: “Although we will not comment on specific cases, were non-combatants killed or injured in a U.S. strike, condolence or other ex gratia payments, such as solatia, may be available,” A Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen claimed that it was unlikely that the Yemen government, which is quite short of cash, would make the payments to the families on its own. The payments in this case are far greater than is usual: The U.S. military has in recent years made hundreds of “solatia” payments to compensate victims for errant strikes in war zones, but the payments rarely exceed $5,000 per recipient. 
A 2013 report by ProPublica cited information from the Pentagon indicating that U.S. forces made 219 payments totaling $891,000 in 2012 in Afghanistan. In a speech in May 2013 Obama set out strict guidelines for drone strikes that required that no strikes should be made unless there was “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Russia to vastly increase use of Chinese credit cards

Russia is planning to vastly increase the use of China UnionPay credit cards to compete with Visa and Master Card which provide almost all credit card services in Russia at present.

Visa and MasterCard froze accounts associated with several Russian banks last March without any notice. In response to these actions Russian President Putin signed a law that would create a national payment system and also allow a security fee of up to 10 percent of a foreign companies' daily turnover.This would be to compensate banks for any service disruption. The law takes effect on January 1 next year. The percentage is much lower than the original 25 percent contemplated at first. The concession was made at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Even so Visa said it did not rule out leaving the Russian market as it found the security deposit demand unacceptable. 
  China's UnionPay could easily replace Visa if it departs. The company hopes to have 2 million cards in Russia within three years. Although UnionPay emerged in China only in 2002 as a domestic alternative to Visa and MasterCard it is now number one in terms of the number of cards issued in the world. Since then UnionPay has had a huge international expansion: Now UnionPay cards can be used in 141 countries and regions around the world (second-largest payment network by value of transactions processed, behind Visa.). Some UnionPay Credit Cards are also affiliated with either American Express, MasterCard or Visa, and they can be used abroad as an American Express, MasterCard or Visa. UnionPay Debit Cards, however, can only be used in the UnionPay network and other networks that have signed contracts with UnionPay. Since 2006, China UnionPay cards can be used in over 100 countries outside China.[5]  
Russia's biggest banks are already making technical preparations for use of the UnionPay cards and running tests on them. Denis Fonov, Deputy Chairman at LightBank(LaitBank) a small bank based in Moscow said; “Visa and MasterCard have 100 percent trust, but right now, there is no trust in the system, and many, even our clients, have shifted their transactions from American dollar and Euro to Yuan. They are eager to receive this card- we already have a big list of people waiting to get this card instead of MasterCard and Visa,” LightBank has been working with UnionPay for some time and had ordered 10,000 cards for its clients already. There are already 20,000 cards in Russia and another 100,000 are planned for September. LightBank reportedly is to issue 10,000 cards next week. 
UnionPay claims to have about 30 partner banks in Russia. While many large Russia banks are planning to begin issuing the UnionPay cards the huge Sberbank is planning to concentrate on developing the Russian "Pro 100" payment system. UnionPay will be required to pay a security deposit at the same rate as Mastercard and Visa.
 Russia is also seeking to become less dependent on dollars and Euros by increasing its gold stock. At the end of July it held gold stocks worth $45 billion. Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist at the Deutsche Bank in Moscow said: "The fact that Russia has intensified its diversification process reflects the fact that a fairly high proportion of reserves were held in dollars and euros, while the share of gold was low,” In the first half of this year Russia has reduced its foreign currency reserves by 2.5 per cent. It is also buying Chinese yuan, and the Japanese yen rather than US dollars and Euros. I wonder if a US PR firm produced the enclosed promotional video for UnionPay.

CIA-Linked General Khalifa Haftar claims his bombing attacks in Tripoli a joint effort with international communtiy

Even though CIA-linked General Haftar claims his bombing of Misrata militia in Tripoli was a joint effort with the international community there seems little attention let alone analysis in the media of what is happening in Libya

On Monday, Libyan air force units loyal to General Kahlifa Haftar struck positions of the Misrata militia in Tripoli. The militia has been in a prolonged battle at and near the Tripoli international airport with allies of Haftar, the Zintan brigades. The battle has moved closer to the center of Tripoli now as unidentified militia have fired Grad rockets into two upscale districts killing three people according to local residents. The area is home to many foreign brand outlets including Marks and Spencer, and Nike and fancy cafes. There were reports that six people had also been injured in the attacks but none of the casualties had been confirmed as yet by the Health Ministry. On its Facebook page a group of rebels from Misrata called Libya Dawn claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks.
 The government ordered a satellite provider to shut down two of its own television stations as they are said to be controlled by pro-Misrata groups. No doubt this is to prevent pro-Islamist opinions being voiced. The Egyptian government did the same thing in Egypt. Sky News reported that the two stations had stopped broadcasting on Tuesday. The Egyptian company NileSat runs the communications satellites providing the services to the station. Many in the government have fled to the safety of the eastern city of Tobruk where the parliament has been meeting.
 Haftar's forces have been trying to wrest back control of Benghazi and his own bases from an umbrella group of Islamist militia who control the city. At least three people are reported killed and eight wounded in recent Benghazi clashes according to a local hospital representative. Western powers including officials from France, the US, EU, and Egypt have all denied any involvement in the Tripoli bombing attack.
Haftar claims that he launched the strikes as part of a joint international operation. The unidentified planes launched strikes on four targets associated with the Misrata rebel group Libya Dawn. A senior representative of Haftar's Operation Dignity also claimed responsibility for the attack. That source also told a New York Times journalist that the bombs were dropped by a Sukhoi Su-24 plane and was a joint operation of Haftar's forces and the "international community". There are no listings of the Sukhoi S--24 as part of Libya's little remaining air force. However, some of the planes were sold to Libya during the Gadaffi era. The plane is from the Soviet era. Egyptian security sources said that air traffic between Libya and Egypt had been suspended for six hours overnight for "security reasons".
 This all sounds very suspicious given Haftar's past links with the CIA but the linkage in this case could be with Egypt and al-Sisi. Haftar has even suggested that he would like to be the el-Sisi of Libya. His Operation Dignity mimics el-Sisi's attack on the Muslim Brotherhood. As well as attacking Islamist bases in Benghazi, Haftar's allies in the Zintan Brigades attacked and burned parliament and kidnapped Islamist lawmakers and officials back in May as shown on the appended video. In spite of this the group remained in charge of security at the Tripoli international airport until recent clashes with Misrata militia.

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif faces murder charges

Protesters in Pakistan are trying to force the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. A Lahore court ordered murder charges be brought against both Sharif and his brother after a crackdown on a protest by preacher Muhammad Qadri last June.
Muhammad Qadri is a popular anti-Taliban anti-terror preacher. However, he has also made speeches critical of the Sharifs and their associates for corruption. He is a dual Canadian, Pakistani citizen who lived in Toronto for a number of years before returning to Pakistan. The Lahore Sessions Court gave the order: A Pakistani court on Saturday ordered framing of murder charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz and 19 others over the June violence near Canada-based cleric Tahirul Qadri's headquarters that killed 14 of his supporters.
The Punjab government will challenge the court's decision according to an official of the ruling party. Protesters arrived in Islamabad after a Long March in which there were clashes with government supporters along the way. Along with Qadri, leader of an opposition party PTI, Imran Khan, led the protests in Islamabad. Even before the murder charges were laid the protesters were calling for the resignation of Sharif and fresh elections accusing him of corruption and the last elections as rigged. Together Khan and Qadri issued an ultimatum for Sharif to resign or face growing disobedience including not paying taxes. Later Khan announced that his entire PTI party the third largest in parliament would quit the parliament. The party holds about 10 per cent of the seats but also have significant positions in three provincial parliaments as well. The ruling PML-N party insists they are not about to resign in face of the protests. Should the situation further destabilize their is always a chance that the armed forces will take over power.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

CIA-linked General Haftar launches airstrikes in Tripoli Libya

Many reports speak of airstrikes in the Libyan capital Tripoli as being launched by an unknown party against Islamist militia from Mistrata on Monday August 18.
Actually there should be no mystery about who launched them, especially since the target was a militia group linked to Islamists. CiA-linked General Khalifa Haftar some time ago launched Operation Dignity by attacking from the air two Islamist bases in the eastern city of Benghazi. Khalifa is a US citizen having lived in the US almost two decades. Since the Haftar attack the Islamists have fought back and driven Libyan Special Forces allied with Haftar out of Benghazi and have seized several bases. Haftar's forces appear to be hemmed in at an airport on the outskirts of Benghazi. However, elements of the Libyan Air Force have allied with Haftar allowing him to make attacks from the air.

Soviet era monuments vandalized in Bulgaria

- A monument to Soviet troops located in Sofia the capital city of Bulgaria was spray- painted recently in one of several cases where Soviet era monuments have been vandalized.
The Russian Embassy in Bulgaria sent a note to the Bulgarian government demanding that the former ally during the Soviet era clean up the monument as well as identifying, and punishing those responsible. The note also asked Bulgaria to take measures to ensure that such vandalism does not happen in future. The day before the Bulgarian Socialst Party's 123rd anniversary the monument was sprayed with red paint according to the Novinite news agency in Sofia. Last year, on the night of August 21, 2013 the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Czechslovakia to crush an uprising in 1968 a monument to the unknown Soviet army liberator was painted pink and "Bulgaria apologizes" was written on it in Bulgarian and Czech, as Bulgaria had participated with Russia in the invasion. The pink colour was in homage to Czech artist David Cerny. In 1991 he had painted a Monument of Soviet Tank Crews, a Second World War monument, pink. He was arrested and the tank repainted, but it was later painted pink again by the government and placed in a military museum. The monument to the Unknown Soviet Liberator has been subject to other acts of vandalism as well including once being painted the blue and yellow of the Ukraine with the inscription "Glory to the Ukraine". One of the more imaginative and creative acts of vandalism recast the unknown liberator as Superman. It can be seen here.. In many areas Soviet era monuments especially those depicting Stalin have been demolished. Particularly countries that are now aligning with the west and resented periods of being Soviet satellites monuments are removed. Ukraine recently saw many Lenin statues demolished. Even in Moscow monuments that were placed in many different areas of Moscow were all brought together and are now in one place as shown in the appended video. An exception to the rule is the breakaway Republic of Transnistria which proudly displays many Soviet era monuments.

Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...