Thursday, October 30, 2014

Foreign intervention in Libya now traces back to Gadaffi overthrow

The intervention in Libya politics traces back to foreign support for the rebellion against Gadaffi. The intervention not only involved western powers led by the US but also Arab countries with the UAE and Qatar supporting different rebel factions.

An article by Frederic Wehrey points out that the present Libyan strife still has aspects of being a proxy war. UAE planes in support of General Haftar were reported both by rebels and also originally by the US as being behind the night bombings of Tripoli during the period when the Libyan Dawn Islamist coalition were taking control of the international airport and the city of Tripoli. The internationally recognized Libyan government in Tobruk continues to emphatically deny that there is any foreign involvement in the Libyan conflict. The president of the House of Representatives Ageela Saleh said that allegations of foreign intervention in Libya are baseless rumors being perpetuated by forces interested in blocking recent efforts to restore stability in Libya. His remarks were reported in the Libya Herald, the same source that a while ago had reported the US surprise at the involvement of the UAE and Egypt in the air attacks on Tripoli. Even Haftar has claimed that the operation was of his own forces and the "international community".
Haftar is the CIA-linked general whose Operation Dignity begun in May launched the recent conflict between militia loyal to him and mostly Islamist militia opposed to him. The Commander of Operation Dignity's Air Force, Adam Geroushi claimed that recent operation in Benghazi had been carried out totally by Libyans. At present, the national army and Haftar's militia appear to be almost one and the same. Geroushi claims that the Benghazi operations were being carried out by the national army without any foreign support. Saleh requested the media to refrain from spreading rumours "promoted by actors and parties known for their hostility to the project to rebuild the Libyan state”. Rebuilding the Libyan State involves turning Haftar's militia into the main part of the national army and allying the government with his Operation Dignity.
Expect the Tobruk government to deny this as it denies the reality of foreign involvement in the struggle. Geroushi's remark that the operation in Benghazi was carried out totally by Libyans may be correct. One of the House of Representatives members tweeted: Member of HoR Tariq Jaroushi: Egyptian planes are used in Benghazi but pilots are Libyan. Even this claim may be designed to cover up the participation of Egyptian pilots as well. Wehrey's article points out that outside support for different rebel groups reduced their incentives to cooperate with one another.
As Wehrey put the issue: Revolutionary factions competed for arms shipments, withheld foreign intelligence and targeting data from one another, and tried to outmaneuver one another in the revolution’s endgame – the liberation of Tripoli. Wehrey notes that at least at this stage the groups were united in trying to topple Gadaffi. Today, the foreign powers are engaged in a much more divisive game of competing narratives.
 Wehrey describes the narrative of the Tobruk Libyan government as follows:A dangerous scenario looms ahead. Backed by Egypt and the UAE, the Libyan government is extending the narrative of its counter-terrorism struggle against jihadists in Benghazi to include what is effectively a multi-sided civil war in Tripoli and the western mountains – of which Islamists are only one player. It is a multifaceted struggle that is only partially understood, and for which the literature on proxy interventions does not fully account. Egypt has provided the script for the new narrative with the new president and former military strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Al-Sisi became an exemplar of what could serve as the way to create a strong state and stability in Libya and counter the power of Islamist ideological opponents:The ex-regime officials, key eastern tribes, federalists and younger liberals, who began idolizing the military uniform, the proverbial “man on horseback,” as the salvation for the country’s worsening violence and, less nobly, a way to exclude their ideological opponents from power.
 The Egyptian narrative is now being transferred to Libya and the actor to play the role al-Sisi played in Egypt is none other than General Khalifa Haftar. His Operation Dignity is intended to clear out Islamist militias. Haftar had already allied himself with al-Sisi and called on Egypt to use "all necessary military actions inside Libya" in order to secure Libya's border with Egypt. Haftar also emphasized that Operation Dignity would prevent Islamists from threatening "our neighbours in Algeria and Egypt". Egypt does have legitimate concerns about its border as gunmen apparently from Libya killed 21 Egyptian border guards back in July. However, Operation Dignity, has had the effect of uniting disparate groups mostly Islamists against his attacks resulting in umbrella groups strong enough to seize both Benghazi and Tripoli and making the situation even worse.
 Wehrey goes into considerable detail about foreign intervention in Libya. One passage indicates that there is actually an agreement by Egypt to provide support for Operation Dignity with the Libyan government: The Egyptian president’s recent offer of military assistance to Operation Dignity was explicitly framed as part of a broader anti-Islamic State fight. Leaked documents in mid-September purportedly showed that this was not merely an offer but rather a formalized agreement of military cooperation between the two states.The Egyptian media has bolstered the narrative as well. Cairo is home to several pro-Dignity media outlets, including the Libya Awalan TV station owned by Hasan Tatanaki, a Libyan business magnate with a virulently anti-Islamist outlook, and a more recent addition with the giveaway name of Karama (Dignity) TV.
 Qatar is accused of intervening on the side of the Islamists with Turkey and Sudan often acting as intermediaries. Even back in June, Haftar asked Turkish and Qatari citizens to leave eastern Libya within 48 hours since “those with Qatari and Turkish passports are intelligence agents and consultants supporting the Islamist forces.” Interestingly, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar and Turkey were among 13 countries that recently signed a statement pledging that they would not intervene in Libyan affairs. In the UAE at least 30 opponents of Operation Dignity have been arrested. Human Rights organizations have been outraged by the arrests carried out without warrants. The whereabouts of those arrested are not even known. They have disappeared.
 With the Tobruk govenment giving the green light for Haftar and the national army to liberate Benghazi and Tripoli Libya appears headed for more conflict if not outright civil war. The appended video describes the announcement of a Haftar spokesperson of the suspension of the Libyan parliament as it was attacked and burned as part of Operation Dignity. The parliament met later in another location. Al-Thinni the present prime minister of the Libyan government who was then acting prime minister of the government condemned the attack, called Haftar's actions illegal and noted that there was a warrant out for Haftar's arrest. Of course the warrant has never been executed and Al Thinni's government now supports Operation Dignity. .

Costs of US operations against Islamic State already in excess of one billion

According to the Associated Press, the Pentagon has spent up to $1.1 billion in military operations directed against the Islamic State both in Iraq and Syria since operations began back in the middle of June.

The Pentagon previously said that it is spending between $7 and $10 million a day. The AP calculation is based upon this estimate. US Central Command released figures that put the cost of Navy airstrikes and Tomahawk cruise missile launches at $62 million but did not indicate the costs of Air Force strikes. As of the first week of October there had been more than 266 airstrikes in Iraq and 103 in Syria. Commander Bil Urban, a spokesperson, for the Pentagon claimed that there had been 6,600 sorties sorties by the US and allied aircraft at a cost of some $580 million since airstrikes began on August 8. Earlier, the Defense Dept. had claimed an average of around $7 million a day for the air campaign but that has now been upped to $8.1 million as the pace of airstrikes has increased with the total cost of just the air campaign at $580 million.
 Some independent analysts say the Defense Deptarment underestimates costs claiming that the costs are already beyond a billion dollars and may rise to several billion within a year. Todd Harrison from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments claims that the war costs could amount to $2.4 billion to $3.8 billion a year. If the bombing raids are expanded significantly he sees the costs climbing to $4.2 billion to $6..8 billion a year.
 A large part of the costs are the huge number of surveillance flights. The military campaign, with the euphemistic name "Operation Inherent Resolve" involves thousands of spy flights plus aerial refueling operations. Drones used in surveillance cost about $1,000 per hour of operation for ordinary Predator and Reaper drones but the high-altitude Global Hawk drones cost much more at $7,000 an hour. Aircraft such as the E-8-J-STAR cost up to $22,000 per hour to operate.
The operations are not funded through the regular budget but through what is the equivalent of a credit card with no upper spending limit the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund. The fund had about $85 billion for the year ending Sept. 30th but is scheduled to drop to $54 billion this year. However, the fund can always be replenished.
Other countries such as the UK will also contribute to the US-led operation against the Islamic State. Malcolm Chalmers, research director at the Royal United Services Institute said that past experience provides some idea of costs although total cost will depend upon the intensity and length of operation. He estimates that the UK seven month mission in Libya cost about $390 million including the missiles used and flight hours. He said that cost would be in the the "ballpark" for Iraq and Syria strikes assuming that the UK used only air power and the campaign did not last more than a couple of years. The UK has special Brimstone precision missiles at a cost of about $240,000 each. The UK may use Tornado GR4 aircraft that cost around $57,000 per hour to operate. The UK also has Storm Shadow cruise missiles costing $1.3 million each and also Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from submarines that cost around $1.5 million each. The UK has already been using Tomahawk missiles in attacks in Syria.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Aghanistan to remain dependent upon US and allies' funding for years

While the Afghan security forces may or may not be able to fend off attacks by the Taliban when the 2015 fighting begins next spring, one thing is certain, the Afghan government cannot fund those forces without aid from the US and others.

The U.S. along with other international donors provide 65 percent of the $7.6 billion Afghan yearly budget. The special inspector general for Afghan reconstruction, John Sopko, notes that Afghanistan raises only about $2 billion of the annual $5 to $6 billion required each year just to maintain its police force and armed forces. The new government of Afghanistan led by president Ashraf Ghani has been more cooperative with the US so far than former President Hamid Karzai was during the end of his term. Unlike Karzai, Ghani signed a security agreement within days of becoming president that will allow about 10,000 US troops to remain after the present agreement expires at the end of this year.
 The upkeep of the Afghan government has been a huge expense for the US taxpayer. Since 2001 when the Taliban fell and the US-led occupation began, the US government has spent $104 billion for rebuilding and support for the Afghan government. Even though most US troops will be withdrawn at the end of this year, the US is expected to keep providing from $5 to $8 billion a year for another decade.
A report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee compiled by the Democratic majority staff says that funding must be linked to progress on reform of Afghanistan's human rights record. The new unity government of president Ashraf Ghani and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah will share powers of appointment. Washington has some concern that this could result in a bloated bureaucracy of political appointees. The Senate report warns that the US Congress plans to monitor whom they appoint to government positions. No doubt this will result in the government being packed with many pro-western officials. The report warns that allocation of assistance will be tied to "specific reforms: ""A higher proportion of U.S. assistance should be conditioned based on specific reforms by the Afghan government. The U.S. should make clear to the new government that the appointment process factors into how the U.S. allocates assistance."
 The report also notes that the US should not disengage from Afghanistan as it did in the 1990's with the result that the Taliban came to power in much of the country. The US Congress is likely to approve the aid even in the light of limited reforms to the Afghan human rights record as they have done in the past.
 The security situation in Afghanistan seems to be getting worse at the end of the fighting season and as most western forces withdraw. Even in the northern province of Badakhshan a Taliban operation abducted 17 police officers. In another attack on a prosecutor's office in Kunduz province killed seven prosecutors, two police, and a civilian. Just last Sunday the last US Marines as well as combat troops from the UK ended their Afghan combat operations and responsibility for security was given to Afghan forces. Winter weather will soon create a relative lull in Taliban attacks but it remains to be seen how Afghan forces will fare next spring when a new season of battle will begin.

Secular party wins most seats in Tunisian election with Islamists coming second

Nidaa Tounes, a secular party has won the most seats in yesterday's election in Tunisia. It main rival the moderate Islamist Ennahda came in second.

The Turkish news agency Anadolu. after examining its count of 214 of the 217 seats in parliament. claimed that Nidaa Tounes had won 83 seats, with about 38 percent of the popular vote, while Ennahda won only 68 with about 31 percent. Mourakiboun, a Tunisian election observer group, claimed that Nidaa Tounes had 37 percent of the vote with Ennahda at 28 percent. Officials from both the main parties said that although the results were still somewhat premature, they matched their own information. Final results will probably be released on Tuesday.
 Nidaa Tounes is led by Beji Essebsi, who served under the deposed Ben Ali and even earlier under Bourgouiba, the founder of independent Tunisia. He is 87. The party is a coalition of former pre-revolution officials, secularists, and liberals formed back in 2012. Turnout for the elections was about 62 percent of eligible voters. There is to be a presidential election next month. This is the second election since the Arab Spring uprising that overthrew President Ben Ali in 2011. Ben Ali is in exile in Saudi Arabia. Ennahda won the most seats in the first election and formed a coalition government. However, radical Islamist groups caused security problems and the economy has not prospered. There were large protests against the government. However, Ennahda agreed to step down after mediation by the powerful Tunisian trade unions, and a transition government was agreed to that resulted in the present elections.
 An Ennahda official conceded defeat but called for a coalition unity government. Lotfi Zitoun said: "We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes. We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country." Ennahda is a moderate Islamist party. In the campaign the party claimed to have learned from its past mistakes, but Nidaa Tounes pointed out that in government the party had mismanaged the economy and failed to control hardline radical Islamists who were blamed for the murder of two liberal politicians.
 Ironically, many associated with the Nidaa Tounes party are officials and politicians from the Ben Ali era who now claim to be technocrats. Many no doubt do have the administrative skills the government will need, and are also still popular where they had been regional politicians. While there are many liberals and secularists in Tunisia, there are also a considerable number of adherents of militant Islam. As long ago as the 1980s, Tunisia sent jihadists to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and almost 3,000 are estimated to be fighting now in Syria.
  Michael Willis, a North Africa expert at Oxford University, claimed that the decline in Ennahda's decline in popularity showed public discontent with the economy: “On the doorsteps, the economy was the main issue. Nidaa Tounes is seen as having the expertise to get the economy back on track.” The Muslim scholar and leader of Ennahda, Rachid Ghannouchi, said that Tunisia needed a broadly based, multiparty government of national unity to continue to consolidate its democratic institutions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Relatively small number of European banks fail stress test

Although 25 of 130 lenders subject to the European Central Bank (ECB) stress test failed, the Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem maintained that the test shows that the banking crisis in the region is already in the past.

Dijsselboem, who is also minister of finance of the Netherlands, said: “I definitely think the banking crisis is behind us. I am never free of worry, so I do feel that banks have to keep on working managing their risks, strengthening their capital ratios where necessary also in the future.” Although there was a total shortfall of about $32 billion many banks had already taken steps to cover that amount this year. Dijsselboem said that the numbers were manageable.
A Bloomberg article gives details of the banks that failed the test. Nine of them were in Italy. The banks were concentrated in areas such as Greece and Cyprus, with the latter country the site of the worst performing bank. Italy, Greece, and Cyprus have all faced financial difficulties.
 The ECB will become the supervisor of regional banks on November 4. Dijsselbloem said that the success of banks in going to capital markets will lead investors once again to invest in European banks and that the stress results will support this trend.
Another article claims that only 13 of the big Eurozone banks were "sick". While analysts predicted that financial markets would be relieved at the results, some analysts were concerned that the stress test was not tough enough despite the claim by the ECB that the assessments were quite rigorous. The test results are not likely to force the closure of any banks. Those judged to have too little capital will have two weeks to draft plans to increase their capital and up to nine months to meet the minimum requirement.
While the tests showed that 25 banks in all failed the test, a dozen of those banks had already rectified their situation.These banks raised capital by issuing new shares, or sold risky investments or loan businesses and thus reduced the amount of capital needed. Neil Williamson of Aberdeen Asset Management said: “Generally speaking, the absolute number that needs to be raised is not large. There are still plenty of question marks about some banks.”
 Monte dei Paschi di Siena in Italy, the world's oldest bank had the largest capital deficit. The bank already received a government bailout. There is speculation that the bank would seek a purchaser. The board of the bank has hired UBS and Citigroup as advisers to define a plan to solve the bank's problems.
  Martin Baccardix, a financial analysts said: " From these tests we can hope that banks will trust one another and that there would be transparency. What is more important to see going into 2015 is whether the banks are going to be prepared to lend more money to business to create more money in an economy that has been flat for several quarters and is threatening to turn back into recession. If that can be held off, then the ECB will be able to look at this test as an incredible success to engender confidence - [which is] everything in the banking system, no less so than here in Europe."
 In 2010 and 2011 similar reviews passed some banks that later had to receive bailouts. Many analysts considered that national supervisors of regional banks were too easy on their banks and unwilling to deal with problems. With the ECB taking over supervision this problem may be solved. However, this also will involve less national control over financial institutions.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dilma Rousseff wins by slim margin in Brazilian presidential runoff

Dilma Rousseff, the leftist former guerrilla, was able to win a second term winning a run-off election over Aecio Neves but only by a narrow margin. With 98 percent of votes counted Rousseff, received 51.45 per cent of the valid votes.

Opinion polls before the results showed Roussef winning by a margin of 4 to 6 per cent. Many Brazilians are unhappy with a recent decline in the economy coupled with rising inflation. Recently inflation has been above the government's target of 6.5 per cent. Added to this is public concern over poor public services and corruption within the government. Many Brazilians were upset by the huge costs of the recent FIFA world cup. ]
The presidential campaign was quite acrimonious with many attack ads on both sides. Rousseff's party represents itself as the party of the less well off and portrays Neves as a playboy with little concern for the poor. Rousseff was far ahead of Neves after the first round winning 41.5 per cent of the vote to only 33.6 per cent for Neves. The prominent environmentalist Marina Silva was third with 21 percent of the vote. In spite of being on the left many of her voters must have voted for Neves.
 One 35-year-old told an Al-Jazeera analyst: "I am from a privilaged class but the poor people who need the government's help most have seen their lives improve a lot. Everyone else in my family voted for Aecio, though." More recent vote results with over 99 percent of votes counted show Rousseff with 51.6 percent of votes and Neves with 48.4 percent of the vote. The vote was peaceful in spite of the negative campaigning. Ideli Salvatti, a top minister in Rousseff's government said that given the closeness of the result the new government would lead a "national conciliation process".
While the economy is not in good shape at present Rousseff's Worker's Party is credited with lifting 40 million Brazilians from poverty since it first came to power in 2003. Even so, Brazil remains a very unequal country. Neves gained support by promising to provide better public services while at the same time promoting a more pro-business agenda. Rousseff managed to convince many that electing Neves would result in a less compassionate and even more unequal Brazil.
Not surprisingly Brazil's financial markets dropped when the polls showed Rousseff would probably win another term. Rousseff had overwhelming support among Brazilians who live in households earning less than $700 a month about 40 per cent of them. A number of government programs have helped this group, including a housing program, government-sponsored vocational training, and an expansion of credit. Liane Lima 62, a secretary in Sao Paulo said: “People without much money have seen their lives improve during recent years.I think we should let Dilma finish what she started.”
 The state-run oil company Petrobas faces serious corruption charges and some of the officials responsible will face prosecution. The economy slipped into recession earlier this year and this will make it difficult to finance social programs. A credit downgrade may be in the works unless Rousseff can cut spending. So far the economic decline has not resulted in high unemployment.
Neves may not survive as leader of the social democratic PSDB party. He has failed to win the last three presidential contests. However, the problem seems to be less that of Neves as a leader than the image of the party as representing Brazil's wealthy minority. Neves promised that he would not scale back the anti-poverty program of Rousseff, but to no avail.
 As often happens, some voters chose what they considered the lesser of two evils. Dingo Bernardo who installs telephone lines in Rio de Janeiro and voted for Dilma Rousseff said: “My life is stable thanks to Dilma’s government,She’s not great, but AĆ©cio would have been worse since he cares less about the rights of working people. I voted for the lesser of two evils.”

Opposition to Canadian government's Iraq mission appears not to change support for Liberal party

Both Liberal leader Justin Trudeau who is leading in recent federal polls and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party(NDP) voted against the bombing mission of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Iraq.

Two recent polls indicate that a majority of Canadians support Canada's Iraq mission and also Stephen Harper's judgment on the matter. Yet, as an article by Eric Grenier indicates, the results do not clearly show that Trudeau's position on Iraq has had any negative effect on support for the Liberal party. An EKOS research survey shows that 58 per cent of Canadians strongly or somewhat support Canada's Iraq mission while only 39 per cent are opposed.
As usual with such results the polls actually show that most Canadians 58 per cent favor a "non-military response such as aid and assistance to refugees" a position supported by both opposition parties. 21 per cent favored limiting the response to airstrikes where another 23 per cent wanted a "fuller military response including airstrikes and ground combat". The last two positions favoring a military mission add up to only 44 per cent, less than a majority.
 Another poll by Abacus Data showed that 54 per cent thought that Prime Minister Harper showed good or at least acceptable judgment in dealing with the IS threat with only 23 per cent thinking that he had shown poor judgment. Note that a considerable number in these polls said they did not have sufficient information to make a judgment. For both Mulcair and Trudeau 39 per cent of respondents said that they had shown good or acceptable judgment. However, more thought Trudeau's judgment was poor, 28 per cent while just 19 per cent thought this for Mulcair. Opposition to the Canadian mission in Iraq was strongest among New Democrats at 60 per cent.
 Support was strongest among Conservatives at 90 per cent but Liberals showed a slight majority in favor with only 45 per cent opposed according to an Ekos poll. The EKOS poll showed that the Liberal party still had the support of nearly 39 per cent, almost the same as the last two polls. The support for the Conservatives and New Democrats remained about the same. This suggests that the issue has had little or no impact on support for any party.
As often happens with polls however, the results of the Abacus survey indicate a drop this week in Liberal support to 32 per cent, six points lower than the 38 per cent they had back in September in contrast to the EKOS poll. Yet these results when looked at in depth make the situation even less clear. The fall in Liberal support was worst in Ontario where they dropped from 41 per cent to 32 per cent just two per cent more than the Conservatives. However, the New Democrats are the party that gained nine points, and they are also the party most opposed to the Canadian Iraq mission.
Over the last five months Liberals averaged 43 per cent in Ontario polls with the NDP at only 18 per cent. Surely the conclusion one could draw from this is that opposing the Iraq mission is the way to gain support since the NDP are most opposed. Detailed descriptions of the surveys is given at the end of this article.
 The next federal election in Canada is scheduled for Oct. 19 2015 almost a year away. The three main party standings in the most recent Abacus poll on October 17 in percentage support were: Conservatives 30; NDP 25; Liberals 32. In contrast the EKOS poll just two days earlier showed: Conservatives 26.4; NDP 25; Liberals 38.5. If the present trends continue it looks as if the Conservatives will lose their majority government but not to the NDP who are at present the main opposition but to the Liberal party. The Iraq mission so far seems not to be much of an issue.

Assad forces capture key central town from Al Qaeda-linked rebels

The Syrian military is taking more territory in the central province of Hama and are reported to have retaken the town of Morek. The town is important because it is close to the crucial Damascus-Aleppo highway arguably the most important road in Syria.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that supports the rebels reports that the town is under the control of the military but surprisingly Syrian State media reported only that the military held most of the town. The town was seized by rebels with the Al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front nine months ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights statement said: "Regime troops and their militia allies took back total control of Morek in the north of Hama countryside, after fierce battles that have raged" The battles began on Wednesday night and the assault was aided by air raids.
 As the Syrian government has now secured most of metro Damascus, they are moving north towards Aleppo to regain territory on the road towards Aleppo hoping to gain control of the city. The regime lost control of much of the road to Aleppo since a rebel offensive in July of 2012. The town is also near the province of Idlib held mostly by moderate rebels who managed to drive out the IS earlier in the year. So far the Syrian conflict is estimated to have killed more than 180,000 people and forced almost half the population from their homes in an attempt to flee the battle. The war has taken a heavy toll on the Syrian army as well since the conflict began back in 2011. 
 Aram Nerguizian of the Centtre for Strategic and International Studies told AFP: "Defections, desertions and attrition after three years of civil war saw Syria's total manpower decline from a high of 325,000 in 2011 to 295,000 in 2012 to an estimated 178,000 in 2013 and 2014," This does not mean that Assad's forces are much weaker now. They are now experienced fighters adept at counter insurgency tactics. They are helped also by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and by military aid from Russia and Iran. They have gradually been regaining some ground.
The concentration upon the defeat of ISIS with US bombing has only helped. Even worse from the rebel point of view the US bombed Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front a key ally of the rebels in the fight against Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that some 40,000 soldiers along with 27,000 pro-regime forces have been killed in the conflict as well as 55,000 rebel fighters. So far the Syrian army has not had any special recruitment campaign but Syrian men between 18 and 50 are required to serve at least 18 months, a term which can be extended. Neguizian noted: "The insurgency in Syria forced Syrian ground forces, and manpower in general, to either adapt or die. Large units were divided up into smaller nimbler units, ineffective and ageing leadership was sidelined, and new or emerging junior officers began to take on greater operational responsibility." Stephen Biddle of the US Council on Foreign Relations said that Assad is unlikely to be able to defeat the rebels and take back all the territory he has lost at least not in the near future.

Critical comments removed from report on USAID in Egypt

After Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011, the US Agency for International Development(USAID) paid several nongovernmental organizations(NGOs) to begin pro-democracy programs even though they were not registered to work in Egypt.

In less than a year, Egypt charged 43 workers with operating in the country illegally. Sixteen of those charged were Americans. The son of then-U.S. transportation secretary Ray Lahood was one of those arrested. In March 2012 the US workers were freed but only after USAID secretly paid $4.6 million for "bail." As the Washington Post reports, just two months afterward the Office of the Inspector General(OIG) of AID did a confidential draft audit that brought into question the legality of the program and of the "bail" payment. However, when the IOG office issued its final audit five months afterwards, what had been originally a 21-page report was now just nine. The earlier questioning and criticism of the "bail" payment were gone along with other critical remarks. In recent interviews, a number of current auditors and other employees anonymously complained about the censoring of audits between 2011 and 2013. While these negative comments were sent via "management letters" to senior USAID officials, the letters are confidential and not usually made available to the public.
 Some employees complained that the OIG whose function was to be an internal watchdog of the agency, had instead become a defender of it against any internal criticism. More than 400 negative references had been taken out of the draft audits before the final versions were released. Under the acting inspector general Michael Carroll, some auditors complained that he did not want to create controversy during the period he was awaiting his confirmation as the permanent inspector general. His actions seem to have had the opposite effect. Carroll withdrew his nomination just last Wednesday after it had been pending for a year and four months. He declined to discuss why he made the decision.
 State Department spokesperson Jen Psakii said on Thursday that the OIG's draft report on programs in Egypt contained "inaccuracies" that were cleared up during a meeting with OIG staff and Anne Patterson who was then US ambassador to Egypt. Psaki said that the bail money was paid by non-governmental organizations with money they received for the Egyptian programs. Psaki claims the role of the US government in the payment was revealed publicly in 2012. This hardly explains why criticism of the payment should have been removed from the report nor does it explain why the "bail" was a proper use of the NGO's funds.
 Darren Roman an audit supervisor at the OIG who retired back in 2012 said: “The office is a watchdog not doing its job. It’s just easier for upper management to go along to get along. The message is: ‘Don’t make waves, don’t report any problems.’” A number of auditors and other employers felt that their authority had been undermined by the changes made in drafts that were critical of the organization. According to Jen Psaki it is standard practice for government officials to meet with OIG officials prior to a report being issued. Perhaps it is government pressure that also intervenes to remove negative comments. As shown by the appended video USAID programs often are intended to promote US government agendas while appearing to be independent NGO's. As in Egypt,  this can sometimes land NGO employees in hot water in host countries.

Friday, October 24, 2014

US marine accused of murder in Philippines moved to Manila base

In a move meant to ease tensions over who should have custody of Pfc. Joseph Pemberton accused of murdering a transgender filipino, the US transferred him to the main Philippine military camp in Manila.

The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines allows for the prosecution of US service personnel in Philippine courts unlike some countries such as Afghanistan where the agreement grants immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts. However, the agreement also allows for US custody of the accused "from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings". In 2009 the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that any sentence must be served in Philippine detention. Although many Filipinos are grateful for the US role in liberating the Philippines from Japanese occupation, they also want to protect their sovereignty after a long history of colonial rule by Spain, Japan, and the United States.
There have been protests at the US embassy in Manila, and at the wharf in Subic Bay where Pemberton had been kept in custody aboard the USS Peleliu. The protesters demanded that Pemberton be handed over to Philippine authorities. The Philippine president Benigno Aquino III defended the agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US sought no special privileges for Pemberton only the protection of his rights.
 The US and the Philippines agreed to the transfer of Pemberton to an air-conditioned van where he will be guarded directly by US marines. Philippine guards will be stationed outside the compound according to Philippine military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang. Voltaire Gazmin Philippine Secretary of Defense told AP: "They agreed to put him in a facility which will pass U.S. custodial standards. We're happy with this because he's a suspect in a crime that was committed in our country."
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario described what seems clearly a murder as tragic, and noted that there was strong cooperation between the two allies. In an earlier case, another US marine, Daniel Smith, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for raping a filipina in 2005. Although a Philippine court ordered him to be turned over to Philippine custody, he was kept in US custody. Eventually on appeal and a change in the testimony of the alleged victim, his conviction was overturned in 2009.
 Laude was a transgender woman who met Pemberton at a bar in Olongapo City near Subic Bay where his ship was anchored. Pemberton went with Laude and another transgender friend to a motel room. Laude urged the friend to leave before Pemberton found out that they were transgenders. The police claim Laude was apparently drowned in the toilet bowl.
 The Philippines closed down US bases some time ago including the base in Subic Bay but US troops regularly come to the Philippines on a rotating basis. Recently the two countries agreed to increase the number of troops involved. The Philippines is anxious to have US support for its claims to some islands in the South China Sea that are claimed also by China and other countries. That new agreement is being challenged in the Philippine Supreme Court and may not be signed for years yet.
  President Aquino said of the transfer of Pemberton to Camp Aquinaldo in Manila: “I think that’s a very healthy development. Previously, in the Daniel Smith case, he was in the U.S. Embassy not in our facility....Now, he [Mr. Pemberton] is in our camp. I think they are responding to our needs and our sensitivities.” Aquino said that there was no need to cancel the 1999 VFA agreement as some activists and politicians have been urging. Ramon Casiple, a political analyst said the "key question" was the Philippines exercising jurisdiction over the case which was obtianed by having Pemberton in the Philippine military camp. No doubt many activists will reply that the key question is jurisdiction. Not only did the Philippines allow the US to force them to find accomodation that was according to US standards but they also insist that it is US marines that directly guard Pemberton. In effect he remains in US custody: The U.S. Marine Corps issued a statement saying that Mr. Pemberton remains in U.S. custody and will stay “in the Philippines during the investigation and any potential judicial proceedings’’ under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
 This is mostly political games. The USS Peleliu where Pemberton was being held is not based in the Philippines and was there only for military exercises early this month. The ship can now leave the Philippines since Pemberton is being held elsewhere. Several witnesses gave written testimony and also have left the Philippines.The transfer off the ship is much more convenient for the US than keeping the ship docked in the Philippines. Moving Pemberton to a Philippine military base while retaining custody is designed to dampen down protests at the US military presence in the Philippines. However, Pemberton cannot expect to be spirited out of the Philippines out of reach of the courts as was a CIA operative Raymond Davis in Pakistan who shot two Pakistanis.

CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar completes coup in Libya

General Khalifa Haftar, often called a "renegade," now has the support of the internationally-recognized Libyan government in Tobruk. His coup has been successful.

Haftar's coup began earlier this year. Hafter was supposed to have taken over control of Libya's main institutions on the 14th of February. He managed to appear on TV announcing that the parliament, the General National Congress(GNC) and the government had been suspended. He claimed that he was not attempting a coup but "a correction to the path of the revolution." He claimed also that there were troops loyal to him in Tripoli. 
Then-Defence Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni claimed that Haftar had no legitimacy and that there were no forces loyal to him in Tripoli. He also noted that there was a warrant out for Haftar's arrest for plotting a coup. While Haftar forces did not attack the GNC at this time, neither was the warrant for his arrest ever carried out. Abdullah Al-Thinni is prime minister of the new government in Tobruk. Al-Thinni now supports General Haftar and his second round of attacks on Islamist militias who have controlled Benghazi for several months. 
The first round in the present clash of what until now had been described as conflicts between militias loyal to Haftar and Islamist-dominated militias, began on May 16 when Haftar's forces began what he called Operation Dignity, as he attacked two Islamist bases in Benghazi. Later on May 18 the Zintan brigades, his allies, attacked the parliament and ransacked the legislature and declared the body suspended again. While Haftar has denied seeking power, he has indicated that he would be interested in running for president. 
A few — but very few — commentators have bothered to piece together what was transpiring with the actions of Haftar. An excellent summary of the career of Haftar is given in a long article in theWashington Institute issued in August. The author, Barak Barfi, has advice for the US near the end:"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"Another instructive commentary in early June this year is by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Guly Military Analysis(INEGMA) in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Karasik has a PH.D in history from the U. of California in Los Angeles. Karasik speaks of Hafter making small but important gains in his Operation Dignity. He notes that his forces have struck the Libyan parliament as well as Islamist groups. Attacking and burning the elected parliament does not elicit any disapproval from Karasik but is part of the small but important gains that Haftar was making. Karasik also makes the interesting observation that among Haftars' loyal followers are a group of 500-1000 special forces troops who received training somewhere in Eastern Europe according to an Arab official.
Karasik suggests that Haftar's actions will curry favor with those who want a future state like that in Egypt and that Egypt could very well help Haftar by sending in Egyptian special forces to help out against Islamist militias. Mysterious air night bombings during the Islamist takeover of Tripoli were attributed to the UAE and Egypt by the rebels and at first also by the US. Recent air attacks in Benghazi against Islamist militias are also attributed to Egypt. Karasik was prophetic. Near the end of the article Karasik writes: Will General Haftar be the next charismatic, nationalist leader of Libya? General Haftar’s vision for Libya seems to be already in place and his appeal to a good number of Libyans is evident. With additional victories and the wiping out of the opposition, General Haftar’s portrait will soon be posted not only on buildings and streets but across cyberspace. General Haftar has already congratulated President Sisi for his victory. Will President Sisi congratulate a President Haftar in the near future? Only time will tell, especially with a pending legislative election on June 25, 2014.This would all be to the good according to Karasik since Egypt along with Haftar he claims are reversing Libya's decline with back-up support from the US. Haftar's militia have suddenly dissolved and in effect he is now the recognized Libyan army. He even has a green light to "liberate" Benghazi and Tripoli:Libya’s internationally recognized government ordered on Tuesday its military, led by renegade General Khalifa Haftar, to advance on the capital Tripoli and called for a civil disobedience there against armed Islamist groups. Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani’s cabinet said in statement posted on Facebook that the armed forces have the green light to “liberate” Tripoli “and state institutions from the grip of armed groups.”Apparently, the arrest warrant issued against Haftar for his attempted coup is now void.The European Council recently set out its position on the current conflict.The EU urges all parties to urgently observe an unconditional ceasefire. The EU is convinced that there is no military solution to this conflict. Only a political solution can provide a sustainable way forward and contribute to peace and stability in Libya.Don't expect the Council to now condemn the attacks ordered by the Tobruk government on Benghazi and Tripoli. Most of the document is meant to provide legitimacy to that government. The peace process is all a sham and most of the Council document is rhetorical garbage. There is a civil war which will be turned into a war against terrorism by the media and by western officials and their allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Russia and Ukraine still need to finalize natural gas deal

After meetings on Friday between Putin and Poroshenko and then between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators and the EU Commission over the weekend, it appeared that an agreement would be finalized today but no accord was reached.

An interim deal was reached over the weekend. Progress was made in September and the interim deal would have provided Ukraine with sufficient natural gas to carry it through the winter unless the weather was quite cold. The meeting today was unable to work out problems having to do with Ukraine's ability to pay for the gas. The European Energy Commission, Ukraine, and Russia did agree on the price that Ukraine would pay for the gas $385 per thousand cubic meters providing the money was paid in advance. While Alexander Novak claimed that Russia needed further assurances that Ukraine could pay for the gas, there was also agreement that the group would meet again in Brussels in a week to try to resolve the issue.
 Ukraine is in desperate need of funds. It had requested another $2.55 billion in credit from the EU earlier in the day before the meeting. Ukraine had already agreed to pay off $3.1 billion it owes Russia for gas in order to ensure that Russia will supply gas this winter, even though Ukraine took the issue to an international court. Many EU countries are anxious to resolve the issue between Ukraine and Russia to ensure that their own supplies of natural gas from Russia are not disrupted. The EU receives about a third of its natural gas from Russia and about half of that comes through Ukraine. Russia too wants a deal since Gazprom which is state-controlled earns about $6 billion every month through its sales of natural gas to the EU.
The EU has brokered talks since last May when Russian president Vladimir Putin asked the EU to intervene. European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said: "We made another step towards a possible solution and are close to an agreement on important elements. Others still need to be addressed, such as the financial gap. At the next meeting, which we hope will be the final trilateral meeting, next Wednesday here in Brussels, we will be able to reach a decision and we'll have the signature of all the partners." In another move that might help solve the problem President Putin announced that Ukraine's debt for gas supplies was $4.5 billion, whereas Gazprom had previously said it was $5.3 billion.
Before Friday earlier talks were described as not very productive. However, after the meeting with Putin, Poroshenko announced in a TV interview the price agreement of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas that would apply until the end of March next year. Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine but not the EU in June of this year, demanding that Ukraine pay off its existing debt. Ukraine and its European allies are anxious to forge an agreement before the cold weather sets in. Poroshenko wants the International Monetary Fund to help Ukraine pay off its debt to Gazprom. IMF officials will visit Ukraine after a new cabinet is formed following elections in mid-November. Ukrainian officials claim that the IMF will need to adjust the existing $17 billion bailout program as economic conditions in Ukraine have deteriorated significantly since April when the agreement was signed.

Long-surviving Opera browser deserves a better market share

From time to time I look at statistics related to my blogs. Today I looked at browser percentage of page views on one of my blogs. Opera was over 40 percent. Over a longer period it runs at about one or two percent.

The statistic does not mean much. Maybe one person using Opera simply read a number of pages, but it piqued my curiosity about the Opera browser and led to my decision to write a short article on it. As compared to other browsers Opera is at present in fifth place on desktops with Chrome being the most popular according to most surveys, with venerable Internet Explorer in second, closely followed by Firefox, the Apple operating system in fourth and then Opera.
 As this article points out calculating the share of the market for each browser is difficult to estimate. Methods used give different results. However, the four different estimates shown here are not that different, except for one company that has Internet Explorer much more popular than any of the other three companies that made estimates. Three out of four estimates have Chrome as the top browser with the highest measurement being almost half 48.7 percent market share earlier in June this year. Opera's share estimate ranges from 1 to 3.2 percent. Opera itself claims to have more than 350 million users globally. However, many of these users are on mobile, 276 million of them as of August this year. Opera not only will operate on many mobile devices but will operate on Apple and Linux operating systems.
 The popularity of browsers varies from one country to the next. In Belarus, Opera is actually the most popular browser. Opera is the second oldest web browser and was launched in 1996 by Norwegian techies in competition with the big guns then — Internet Explorer by Microsoft and Netscape. Explorer later became dominant as it was bundled with computers that run Windows. Safari was bundled with Apple computers. The Chrome browser has the advantage of being integrated with Google. Finally Firefox was popular because it is open source and has a huge array of community-made add-ons. Opera could offer only special features and speed.
 The attraction of Opera in Belarus is that it has special features that allowed users to strip out images and other items that used up a lot of bandwidth. The state monopoly service provider charged hefty fees for use of the Internet. Opera allowed users to save money. Opera was also a leader in encryption another feature attractive to users in Belarus. The situation in Belarus has vastly improved in terms of cost. In 2009 a 1 Mbps connection cost about $45 dollars a month and the average salary was about $342 a month. This year the cost for the same plan is about $7 and the monthly salary average is $470, but Opera continues to be the most popular browser even though there is less concern about cost. Probably this shows that people use web browsers they are used to.
 In my own experience, I used Internet Explorer for years simply because it was the browser that came with computers I purchased. From time to time I would hear of people who used Firefox claiming it was much better. However, why bother changing when what you are using and comfortable with is working. I finally did try Firefox and then Chrome. I now use Firefox and its totally open source clone Ice Weasel on all my computers. I just found it easier to use the same browser no matter what computer I am on. Years ago I did try Opera but did not adopt it because it had compatibility issues with a few websites. However, perhaps I will try out Opera again.
 The review of Opera here is quite positive. Another article claims that Opera should have a larger market share and explains why it does not:
 On paper, Opera should have a massive market share – It’s updated regularly, fast, secure, customizable, introduces lots of new features first, and looks great. It’s also an absolute pleasure to use. So why does it only have a market share of 2.4%? To me, it looks like a matter of branding. Internet Explorer, Safari and Chrome are products from Microsoft, Apple and Google respectively, and Firefox has built up a great reputation over a long time. Opera, however, does not have a massive corporation behind it, nor does it have Firefox’s levels of marketing. No matter what the reason really is, you shouldn’t let Opera’s low market share discourage you from giving it a shot.

Gunman wounds guard in attack on Canadian parliament

Although details are still sketchy an armed man emerged near the National War Memorial on Parliament Hill. He then shot four times wounding a guard. He then apparently was able to enter the parliament buildings.
The shooter is still said to be on the loose although one MP Bernard Trottier had tweeted that the gunman was shot and killed inside the Centre Block. The area has been sealed off by police and the guard who was shot has been taken to hospital. Police locked down parliament. Tactical Ottawa police arrived pointed guns at journalists and ordered them to the ground. Reporters were in lockdown in the foyer at the front of the House of Commons.
Stephen Harper, the prime minister, is reported safe and has left the parliament buildings. One Calgary MP Michelle Rempel tweeted to her mother that she was safe but that there were shots outside the caucus room. One body was reported visible from the Library of Parliament that is about in the middle of the Centre Block. It was not clear if the body was of the suspect or a law enforcement officer.
 This attack occurs after another incident Monday in Quebec in a hit and run event that ended up killing one soldier and injuring another. Martin Couture-Rouleah was being tracked by police as a person with potential terrorist links.The suspect was later shot and killed after a chase in which his vehicle overturned. He had deliberately run over the two soldiers and then sped away. Police had arrested Rouleau-Couture last July and confiscated his passport as he was about to leave for Turkey. He had converted to Islam about a year ago. The police did not have evidence sufficient to lay any charges at the time but he was under surveillance.
 Another report claims that two MP's said that the gunman had been killed but that this had not been confirmed. The attack came just hours after the government had raised its terror threat level from low to medium. Ottawa police tweeted: "Shots fired at War Memorial at 9:52 AM today; one person injured." However, it is clear that several shots were also fired within the parliament buildings themselves. Earlier this month Canada decided to take part in the coalition fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq.

Obama administration considering adopting Bush-era view of UN convention against torture

In 2005 the Bush administration revealed that it interpreted the UN Convention Against Torture banning "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as not applicable to the CIA or military prisons overseas.

Barack Obama was at that time just a newly-elected senator but he supported legislation that would make it clear that US officials were barred from using such treatment anywhere. However, the Obama administration has so far not stated its official position on how the treaty is to be interpreted.
  The New York Times reports that Obama's legal group is considering whether the administration should retreat from his earlier view and adopt a position very much like that of former president George W. Bush — that the treaty does not impose legal obligations to bar torture outside the borders of the U.S. The U.S. will send a delegation to Geneva next month to appear before a UN panel that monitors compliance with the UN treaty.
The Times claims that State Department lawyers are in favor of jettisoning the Bush interpretation. Obama had already issued an executive order in 2009 that forbade torture anywhere in the world and so this position would not involve any change in policy. Military and intelligence lawyers, however, oppose accepting the implication that the treaty creates any legal obligations on any U.S. actions outside the U.S. These lawyers worry that detainees abroad could sue the US for being subject to torture. Courts have repeatedly thrown out such lawsuits.
Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokesperson, claims that Obama's views on the issue were quite clear and distinct from how the UN treaty was to be interpreted: “We are considering that question, and other questions posed by the committee, carefully as we prepare for the presentation in November. But there is no question that torture and cruel treatment in armed conflict are clearly and categorically prohibited in all places.” If the Bush-era narrow interpretation of US obligations is again adopted, this would clear the way again for torture to be adopted by the U.S. abroad.
 The US Senate Intelligence Committee recently completed a classified 6,000-page report into the CIA's detention and interrogation from September 2001 to 2006. However, the report did not consider the role of George W. Bush or his top officials in approving abuses, including torture. The public will only be able to see a partly-redacted, 500-page summary of the report once the classification process is completed. The Committee allowed the Obama administration to withhold about 9,000 documents based upon executive privilege.
A number of foreign leaders and NGOs have pressed for charges to be made against Bush and former members of his administration for approving abuse of detainees during the period studied by the Senate Committee. The only official to go to jail over the torture issue was John Kiriakou, a whistleblower who was one of the first to confirm the existence of the US waterboarding program. He was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail for revealing the name of an uncercover agent.
 The present director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan was also an important CIA official during the period when it was carrying out its policies of abuse, and he defended policies like waterboarding. Obama has held up release of the redacted summary report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Brennan and his cleanup crew are no doubt busy redacting any mud in the report that might soil the pristine reputation of the CIA. Obama refused to lay charges against any Bush era officials involved in torture. Indeed, after two tries he was able to have one appointed as head of the CIA.
As the president so eloquently put the issue: "This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past." Of course exceptions can be made for whistleblowers.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

US marine charged with murder in the Philippines

Jeffrey Laude, aka Jenny, a transgender woman, was murdered in Olongapo City in the Philippines on October 11th. Olongapo City is near Subic Bay where US forces are stationed.

An initial report in the Marine Corps Times from an internal Naval memo gave few details: “Philippine police report a homicide occurred in a hotel room in Olongapo City on the night of 11 October.The victim was reported as a male Philippine national ... preliminary witness statements indicate U.S. military personnel may have been involved.” However, on October 15, local officials charged Private first Class Joseph Pemberton with the murder of Laude. The Philippine government later served five subpoenas on the US embassy in Manila. One was for Pemberton and the other four for witnesses.
The murder happens more than two decades after US forces were expelled from the Subic Bay base. However, US forces continue to visit on a rotating basis and the Philippine government is now considering a new agreement that would allow more US troops to rotate through the country. Retired US Air Force Colonel Carl Baker who is director of programs at the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies said: "The Philippines is really driven by public opinion. These type of incidents really have a big impact on how they view their relationship with the United States.”
 The night of her death Laude was said to be at the hotel or motel with a friend and a "foreigner". She was reported to be uneasy that the foreigner would find out that they were transgenders and asked the friend to leave before "the foreigner could discover they were transgenders". The autopsy showed that she died due to asphyxia by drowning. After her death photos surfaced showing her body leaning against a toilet, protests erupted among Filipino transgender rights activists. Some signs read "US troops out now". A police report called the murder a "hate crime".
 Some authorities claimed the incident is unlikely to have any significant longer term effect on Philippine US relations. The Philippines is anxious to have US support for claims to islands in the South China Sea that are also claimed by China and several other countries.
 Unlike in some countries such as Afghanistan, US troops in the Philippines do not have immunity from prosecution in Philippine courts. However, there are aspects of the agreement that are already a sore point with many in the Philippines. The agreement allows the US to retain custody of its own military members when they are charged with crimes rather than turning them over to Philippine authorities. They can remain in US custody until found guilty. After Laude's murder, there were demands that Pemberton be surrendered to Philippine authorities.
 The issue surfaced in a 2006 case when four marines were charged with raping a Filipina. Not only were all four held in custody by the US but when a judge found one marine guilty and ordered him turned over to local authorities, the order was never executed. Eventually when the woman on appeal changed her testimony the Marine was acquitted of the charge.
 A new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was signed in April, that would see even more US military personnel rotate through the Philippines for the next decade but the agreement is being challenged before the Philippine Supreme Court. Philippine defense officials admit it may be several years yet before the agreement is enacted.
 Four witnesses who were summoned to appear at the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office in connection with the murder already have left the Philippines according to the Philippine Dept. of Foreign Affairs. Charles Jose noted: “DFA was not informed by the US side that four witnesses were leaving the country. They are not required to do so” The US did give assurances that the witnesses will appear at the trial. In spite of the demands from protesters that Pemberton be kept in custody by Philippine authorities, the US Embassy in Manila said that it would keep Pemberton under US custody as was its right under the existing VFA. However, the Embassy also said that it would cooperate fully with Philippine authorities.
 There have been moves in the Philippine Congress to scrap the VFA. Miriam Santiago a prominent senator called for the VFA to be scrapped while others such as Herminio Coloma Jr., head of the presidential communications office said the government supported calls for the VFA to be reviewed.

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...