Sunday, November 30, 2014

No one convicted 5 years after Philippine massacre that killed 58 people

November 23 was the fifth anniversary of a slaughter allegedly committed by members of the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao province in the large southern island of the Philippines Mindanao.

The Maguindanao massacre killed 58 people including 32 journalists and other media workers. The slaughter was allegedly the result of Andal Sr. and his sons plotting to prevent political rival Esmael Mangudadatu from running for governor of the province. A convoy led by Mangudadatu's wife, friends, and lawyers was en route to file papers for Mangudadatu's candidacy at the provincial capital along with 32 local media representatives. The patriarch's son Andal Ampatuan Jr. along with almost 200 militia and police officers stopped the convoy at gunpoint. The group then were marched to a grassy knoll where witnesses said that they were methodically gunned down. Another version of events is given in the appended video. Some of the women's bodies were mutilated. A backhoe was brought in to dig shallow graves into which they dumped the bodies and vehicles.The clan were supporters of former President Arroyo.
The new president Aquino vowed when he came to power that those responsible for the horrible massacre would be brought to justice. He has yet to deliver and his six year term ends in 2016. Only 110 of 194 people charged have been arrested, with the rest at large. At least four potential witnesses have been killed and others have been threatened. A defence attorney for the Ampatuan clan has entered not guilty pleas to all charges. Rights monitors claim that the Ampatuan clan is still quite influential in the local area. One lead prosecutor was taken off the case after being accused of taking bribes from the Ampatuan attorney. Relatives of the Ampatuans continue to be elected to local posts in Maguindinao province.
 Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: "I am not going to deny that impunity still exists now." Nevertheless de Lima insisted that Aquino will not tolerate the killings. De Lima noted how important the case was for international perception of the Philippine justice system: "It's not acceptable [to have no convictions yet because] it adds to the culture of impunity. That is why this is the ultimate test, this is the litmus test, because if we do not get the right verdict, God forbid, in this case then what kind of justice system do we have? What kind of an image would the Philippine justice system have vis-a-vis the global community?"
 Harry Roque a prosecution lawyer, seen on the appended video, thinks that the odds are stacked against the prosecutors. He nevertheless was still hopeful that a verdict might be handed down on some of the key suspects. However, just days before the fifth anniversary of the massacre a former Ampatuan employee, about to turn state witness was gunned down and another potential witness wounded.
Phelim Kine from Human Rights Watch claims that the killing shows that the Philippine government is either unable or unwilling to protect key witnesses. He claims also that the killing "is a reminder to activists, journalists, and politicians of the vicious status quo in the Philippines, in which gunmen with powerful backers routinely get away with murder". The appended video gives a detailed account of the background of the massacre and Wikipedia does so as well..

US Special Forces participated in Yemen raid that freed 8 hostages of Al Qaeda

Yemen security officials announced that eight hostages had been freed from the custody of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP). The operation was in Hadrawmut province.

The hostages had been seized just north of Aden, a port city, but moved inland into Hadrawmut province. The first reports from the Yemeni government claimed that a US military instructor was among the eight rescued. The Pentagon, while applauding the rescue, denied that any US personnel were rescued. The US embassy in Sanaa refused to even comment on the operation at all. The Yemen government report did not mention US involvement.
  Pentagon officials later privately confirmed that there were actually US ground troops involved in the rescue raid to the tune of two dozen Special Forces. The US does not admit to having "boots on the ground" in Yemen. Those freed were six Yemenis, a Saudi, and an Ethiopian. Officials say that the raid was aimed at freeing a US journalist and a UK citizen. Both are thought to have been moved prior to the raid. The Yemen supreme security committee said that 7 AQAP kidnappers were also killed during the raid with just one member of the security forces wounded.
 The Pentagon resumed military training in Yemen in 2012. Kidnapping is carried out not only by AQAP but by tribes wanting leverage to bargain with the central government and some simply by independent entrepreneurs who sell them to others. Recently a water engineer from Sierra Leone was freed after being seized and held for more than a year by unidentified armed men.
The Stars and Stripes reports a Yemeni official as saying that there were five others the raid expected to liberate and this included the US journalist and a Briton. The hostages had been chained in a cave and covered with blankets. They were being held in a vast desert area in the eastern province of Hawdramut. Tribes in the area near the Saudi border give protection to militants and there is said to be a large Al Qaeda training camp in the area. The raid will increase the tension between tribes in the area and the central government.
 A Yemen Special Forces member identified as Abu Marouf described the raid: "We found the eight hostages chained. We found al-Qaida cellphones and documents," he said, adding that the hostages said five of their companions had been moved out to an unknown location. He listed nationalities of the other hostages as an American journalist, one Briton, one South African, a Yemeni and a fifth believed to be Turkish. He did not identify them.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Prosecutor misled grand jury about the law in Michael Brown case

Justice Antonin Scalia in a 1992 Supreme Court explained what the role of a grand jury had been for hundreds of years:It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented. Given this is the function of grand juries it is not surprising that in the vast majority of cases an indictment results from the process: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them:
 A common criticism of the juries is that the whole process is biased towards the prosecution. As one judge put it: And William J. Campbell, a former federal district judge in Chicago, noted: “[T]oday, the grand jury is the total captive of the prosecutor who, if he is candid, will concede that he can indict anybody, at any time, for almost anything, before any grand jury.” In the case of attempts to indict police officers however failures to indict are more common.
 The Ferguson prosecutors acted as if the process were a trial and they were defense lawyers rather than prosecutors. Prosecutor Bob McCulloch allowed the accused Darren Wilson to testify on his behalf for hours. Prosecutors also presented jurors with any evidence that might might show his innocence that they could. The aim was to ensure that McCulloch was not indicted. Even prosecutors' preliminary remarks to the jurors make this crystal clear: And you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not act in lawful self-defense and you must find probable cause to believe that Darren Wilson did not use lawful force in making an arrest. If you find those things, which is kind of like finding a negative, you cannot return an indictment on anything or true bill unless you find both of those things. Because both are complete defenses to any offense and they both have been raised in his, in the evidence.
 One common criticism of grand juries is that they are not a representative sampling of the community. The Ferguson grand jury was composed as follows: The Ferguson grand jury is composed of seven men and five women. Nine are white and three are black. They vary by age, socioeconomic status and live in various parts of St. Louis County. Ferguson is predominantly black. However, there are also other negative features of such jurors that make them a very poor vehicle for deciding whether a person should be indicted or not: ".. they do not possess a satisfactory ability to ask pertinent questions, or sufficient understanding of local government and the concept of due process. Unlike potential jurors in regular trials, grand jurors are not screened for bias or other improper factors. They are rarely read any instruction on the law, as this is not a requirement; their job is only to judge on what the prosecutor produced. The prosecutor drafts the charges and decides which witnesses to call." Usually these features of the situation are used by prosecutors to gain an indictment but in this case they are used to ensure that there is no indictment.
Marjorie Cohn, a professor of criminal law and procedure at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyer's Guild said: “The prosecutor did not want an indictment, and he passed the buck to the grand jury to make that decision. It was clear the prosecutor was partisan in this case, and not partisan in the way prosecutors usually are, which is to get people indicted.” All of this is bad enough but as the enclosed video shows prosecutor Kathi Alizadeh passed out a copy of Missouri law that was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1985. The law allows a police officer to shoot a suspect who is running away to escape arrest. The appended video discusses the issue in detail. Having given the jury this grossly misleading document the jury then heard Wilson's testimony: The grand jury then listened to Officer Wilson's testimony with the belief that anything he did to Michael Brown would be fully justified legally simply because Michael Brown at some point ran away from Officer Wilson . . . the District Attorney's office allowed the grand jurors to travel back in time to the good old days of American law enforcement when the cops could shoot people for running away . . . . Using this document the jury could hardly decide other than not to indict Wilson since the evidence is clear that at one point Brown was running away.
Weeks later Alizadeh finally discovers that the law she passed out was unconstitutional. Obviously not only are jurors not vetted to see if they are qualified in the process neither are the prosecutors. I am joking of course, Alizadeh was well qualified to do her job. if that job were not obtaining an indictment even if this meant misleading the jury. Alizadeh told the jury in part-- referring to the earlier document that said that police were justified in shooting escaping suspects: So if you all want to get those out, what we have discovered, and we have been going along with this, doing our research, is that the statute in the State of Missouri does not comply with the case law . . . and so the statute for the use of force to effect an arrest in the State of Missouri does not comply with Missouri Supreme, I'm sorry, United States Supreme Court cases. So the statute I gave you, if you want to fold that in half just so that you know don't necessarily rely on that because there is a portion of that that doesn't comply with the law. (Emphasis added). When a juror asked if the Supreme Court ruling overrides Missouri laws Alizadeh replied:"As far as you need to know, just don't worry about that."
 An article in the Examiner sums up the situation quite well referring to Alizadeh: She never specifically stated that it's unconstitutional to shoot a fleeing suspect simply for fleeing. She handed them a law, and then weeks later, with no clarification, casually mentioned that the law was wrong - but failed to say how it was wrong. And for weeks, the grand jurors had percolating in their minds, while listening to witnesses and weighing testimony, a law that easily exonerated Wilson. The grand jurors can hardly face any blame for not indicting Wilson. The system was set up so that even though the jurors acted in good faith and to the best of their abilities they could hardly decide otherwise than not to indict Wilson. However, the whole affair was a deliberately manipulated travesty of justice in my opinion. The evidence that the system should be indicted is quite strong.

Even UN expresses concern about Tripoli bombings by General Haftar

UN special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon has been trying his best to persuade the parties in conflict to stop fighting and engage in dialogue. He has stressed that there can only be a political solution to the Libyan conflict.

While the groups of militia opposed to the government still are in conflict in some areas, the capital Tripoli is free of fighting for the most part and Benghazi was also under control of anti-Tobruk government forces until recently. In spite of the UN's pleading to stop fighting CIA-linked General Haftar and his militia launched an operation that is intended to retake Benghazi. This operation was apparently aided by planes that probably came from Egypt . Some claim they were piloted by Libyans allowing Egypt to deny that they were involved.
 On November 6th the Libyan Supreme Court ruled that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk government should be dissolved. The UN said it was studying the decision. Apparently it is still studying the decision. It makes no reference to it that I have seen in recent statements including the one made about a phone call to Al Thinni who still is called the "prime minister". The UN statement reports on a phone conversation of Special Representative(SRSG) for Libya, Bernardino Leon with "PM Abdullah al-Thinni": 25 November 2014 -Against the backdrop of the dangerous escalation in military operations in Libya and on-going UN mediation efforts to contain the situation, on 25 November SRSG Leon spoke by phone to Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, Head of Libya’s interim government. The two discussed possible options for ending armed hostilities, including a cessation of aerial attacks against Mitiga Airport in Tripoli, and other areas in western Libya. Leon said that the latest military developments would complicate the overall situation in Libya and undermine efforts to resolve the conflict through peaceful means. Given the actions of General Haftar with the blessing of the Tobruk government, it is clear that the Tobruk government is simply thumbing its nose at the UN.
 The UN has no power to force Haftar to stop fighting those opposed to the government and he has no intention of doing so. Leon stressed to al-Thinni that he intended to press ahead with mediation efforts and hold a new round of talks in Ghadames. Earlier talks were only with elected members of the Tobruk House of Representatives who had boycotted the parliament. Leon stressed then that the Tobruk government was the only legitimate one. Since the Supreme Court ruling Leon has met with people associated with the competing government. The UN, even though it names some of the figures, refuses to give them any official title. Even since the Supreme Court announcement the language of the UN gives legitimacy only to the Tobruk government calling al-Thinni the prime minister of Libya.
 Leon insisted: " Building on the dialogue initiative launched in Ghadames on 29 September, the new round would bring together all the major stakeholders with the aim of forging consensus on ending the current state of polarisation and division affecting the State and its institutions." The Ghadames dialogue got nowhere and did nothing to stop the fighting. The one positive move that worked was the negotiation of a twelve hour cease fire in Benghazi. Leon briefed al-Thinni on his meeting with other parties. Al-Thinni outlined conditions for the success of any dialogue. The UN statement says nothing about what those are.
The final paragraph well expresses the complete divorce between what the UN-recognized government is doing and what it claims to be doing: SRSG Leon welcomed the Interim Government’s commitment to dialogue and to work on ensuring conducive conditions for a new round of talks to convene at the earliest opportunity. Both agreed to remain in close touch and to remain closely engaged on this issue. This is the same government that supports the Haftar campaign in Benghazi and gave him the green light to liberate Tripoli. The UN refuses to address issues such as this.
 Meanwhile, a court in Tripoli issued an arrest warrant for General Haftar as a response to his bombing attacks on the Mitiga airport. Even Ban Ki-Moon called for the air strikes to stop and as indicated in the UN statement urged all sides to talk: "The only way to resolve the current crisis is through dialogue." The Tobruk government claims it was forced to strike Mitiga airport because it is controlled by a rival administration. Imagine the response if the al-Hassi government in Tripoli bombed Tobruk giving the same reason.
 The prime minister of the Tripoli government Omar al-Hassi said: "The national salvation government has always adopted the policy of peace, acceptance and dialogue. Yet now, we are forced by what's happened in Benghazi, Kalkla and Tripoli to embrace the policy of war and armed confrontation." The Tripoli government has urged a referendum on a new constitution being drafted and then elections. Both sides accept the committee drafting the constitution. The UN has yet to suggest elections and as some have suggested an interim unity government as a solution. The reason I think is clear. This is not acceptable to the Tobruk government.
 A local resident told Al Jazeera: "We woke up to find airplanes striking three times. They hit houses where families and women were staying. They had nothing to do with the airbase." That sounds as if the government is bombing its own people. Clear evidence of the destruction of homes is given in the appended video. Since the bombing is not done by Gadaffi but by a UN and internationally recognized government don't expect the west to intervene.
Haftar is out to rid Libya of Islamists and that is a popular theme next door in Egypt, and no doubt the US and many European countries would be happy to see Haftar be successful. However, many may be starting to doubt his abilities to rout his opposition.
 Haftar is no doubt amused by the arrest warrant. An arrest warrant was issued ages ago against him after his first attempt at a coup early this year. The warrant was in effect when Al-Thinni the prime minister of the Tobruk government was also prime minister of Libya then. Now Al-Thinni is in Tobruk urging Haftar on.

Russia and Abkhazia sign extensive agreement on military and defense policies

Russia and Abkhazia have signed an extensive agreement on military issues and Abkhazia agreed to harmonize its foreign and defence policies with those of Russia. A Russian commander will lead a new joint force of Russian and Abkhazian troops.

The leaders of both countries, Vladimir Putin and Raul Khadzhimba, lauded the agreement: “I’m sure cooperation, unity and strategic partnerships between Russia and Abkhazia will continue to strengthen. Ties with Russia offer us full security guarantees.” Abkhazia regards itself as an independent state, The Republic of Abkhazia, but aside from Russia, only Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Nauru recognize the state. Abkhazia is also recognized by the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations: South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Abkhazia are post-Soviet "frozen conflict" zones...These four unrecognized states maintain friendly relations with each other and form the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations. Georgia itself regards Abkhazia as an autonomous republic within Georgia with the government in exile in Tbilsi the capital. 
Russian troops have been Abkhazia for more than 20 years, ever since Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in a bloody war for separation in 1992-93. The Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili tried to retake South Ossetia in 2008 causing Russian intervention. While most of the fighting was in South Ossetia the Russians occupied other parts of Georgia briefly and after the conflict recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. Georgia last summer signed a cooperation deal with the EU. Putin's recent move may be a response to this move. 
The new agreement with Abkhazia will give Abkhazian residents pensions and social benefits equal to those of Russian citizens. Many Abkhazians have Russian passports. Georgia also issues what is called a neutral passport :In the summer of 2011 the Parliament of Georgia adopted a package of legislative amendments providing for the issuance of neutral identification and travel documents to residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The document allows travelling abroad as well as enjoying social benefits existing in Georgia. The new neutral identification and travel documents were called "neutral passports". Russia condemned the passports because they contained Georgian codes and they were issued by the Georgian Interior Ministry. A number of states recognize the passports including Japan, Czech Republic, US, Bulgaria, Poland, Israel,and Romania among others.
 The present Georgian government that won over Saakashvili's party in 2012 is regarded as friendly toward Russia and has been attempting to repair ties. However, there were large demonstrations in the capital Tbilsi against the present treaty. Saakashvili has criticized the present Georgian government for doing whatever Russia wants. His party leader David Bakradze said: “The Georgian government has done practically nothing.” Bakradze urged Georgia to join western sanctions against Russia and walk out of political talks with Russia.
 The Russian agreement with Abkhazia may be designed to ensure that if Georgia takes a pro-western turn, Abkhazia will be defended against any renewed attempt to re-incorporate it into Georgia. The agreement specifically guarantees “protection of the state border of the Republic of Abkhazia with Georgia.”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Unidentified jets attack Tripoli airport in Libya twice in two days

If an unidentified jet bombed an international airport in Jerusalem or even Kiev it would be headline news. In Tripoli, the capital of Libya, however unidentified bombings have happened several times. No one even expresses surprise let alone outrage.

Back in August there were a series of bombings by unidentified planes on Islamist positions in Tripoli. The planes were of a type that were not among the few planes that remain in Libya's air force after the west bombed Gadaffi's air force. Destruction of Gadaffi's air force was designed to avoid having any interference with the extensive bombing, that was supposed to protect the people from Gadaffi's forces. The recent Tripoli bombings were claimed to be a joint venture of CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar and the international community according to the general himself. The rebels blamed Egypt and the UAE with the latter providing the planes and Egypt the air bases for the attacks. The silence of the international community was deafening until finally on August 25 2014 a New York Times article made a sort of unofficial statement: Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts. The UAE and Egypt denied the charges. The US officials also claimed that they were not informed about the raids and that they regarded them as unproductive. The Islamist militias were not deterred from driving the Zintan brigades, allies of Haftar, out of Tripoli. Now it seems that someone is attempting the same game.
No doubt it is Haftar who was given the "green light" by the Libyan government to liberate both Benghazi in the east and the capital Tripoli from the control of rival groups, who have also set up their own rival government in Tripoli with their own prime minister Omar al-Hassi. The internationally recognized government is meeting in the far eastern city of Tobruk. It was supposed to move to Benghazi the beginning of August but met in Tobruk since Benghazi by that time was in control of an umbrella group of Islamists. The government now supports Haftar's Operation Dignity, directed against Islamists even though as part of that operation an earlier parliament was burned and ransacked. Hafter was then described as leading a coup and a warrant was out for his arrest. The present prime minister Al Thinni was prime minister then but listen to his change of tune: 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.” The cabinet also urged Tripoli residents to launch “a civil disobedience campaign until the arrival of the army.”
 Egyptian planes were also reported to have been involved in attacks by Haftar on Benghazi beginning in October. The government at the time also reported that it supported Operation Dignity. Again Eygpt denies any involvement. However Egyptian president al-Sisi who led a coup that ousted former Muslim Brotherhood-supported President Morsi and declared the Islamists group terrorists has asked for foreign intervention: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged the United States and Europe on Thursday to help the Libyan army in its fight against Islamist militants now to save the country from requiring intervention on the scale of Iraq and Syria.
 The Libyan army is now hardly to be distinguished from Haftar's militia which he always called the new Libyan army. There are so far two separate attacks that targeted the Mitiga International airport, the only functioning airport in the capital. The airport is under control of the alternative government and protected by the Libya Dawn militia. The Libyan National Army declared airports at Tripoli and Misrata as "military zones". The first strike is reported by Al Jazeera. The second report of an attack today comes from Reuters: An armed group loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized government, which has transferred to the east of the country, claimed responsibility for the air strikes."We bombed the airport a second time," said Saqer al-Joroushi, head of the air force for the group, which is controlled by former general Khalifa Haftar.
The main international airport in Tripoli has been closed since July after battles between Haftar-allied Zintan brigades and Libya Dawn with the latter winning the battle. Somehow in recent reports on these conflicts there is no mention of the Libyan Suprerme Court ruling November 6, that declared the June elections unconstitutional and ordered the Tobruk government dissolved.
 The UN has been studying the decision and has asked that the parties not do anything to exacerbate the situation. The UN envoy is also meeting with parties on both sides to reach a political solution. The alternative government has suggested elections after a referendum on a new constitution. Western powers have been silent on the legitimacy issue since they are acting as if the Court had never made a ruling at all. Most international media narratives are following suit for some reason. The UN has asked that both sides refrain from any violence that would exacerbate the situation and make a political solution more difficult. The Tobruk government and Haftar have paid no attention to this demand in its attacks in Benghazi and now Tripoli.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Obama seeks to expand US role in Afghanistan in 2015 to include combat

While US combat troops are scheduled to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of this year, under an agreement signed by the new Afghan president Ashraf Ghani almost 10,000 troops will remain through 2015 at least.

Back in May of this year, Obama claimed that US troops remaining in Afghanistan after the end of this year would not play any combat role. The troops would train Afghan forces, and hunt down any remnants of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Now Obama plans to extend the role of the remaining troops to include combat actions against the Taliban and any other militant group that threatens either the US troops or the Afghan government, according to "several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision" who spoke to the New York Times. President Ghani not only supported but apparently even requested the expanded US role even though such a role was not set out in the original bilateral agreement on security he recently signed. Again the New York Times quotes anonymous officials: According to a senior Afghan official and a former Afghan official who maintains close ties to his former colleagues, in recent weeks both Mr. Ghani and his new national security adviser, Hanif Atmar, have requested that the United States continue to fight Taliban forces in 2015 — as opposed to being strictly limited to operations against Al Qaeda. Mr. Ghani also recently lifted the limits on American airstrikes and joint raids that Mr. Karzai had put in place, the Afghan officials said. The new authorization by Obama will also allow US jets, bombers, and drones to assist Afghan forces in their own combat missions.
 US bombings in Afghanstan have killed many civilians and provoked strong public reaction. President Ghani could face a serious backlash on this matter. He shares power with the runner-up in the contested presidential campaign Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah could use such reactions for his own political purposes. The Pentagon apparently pressed Obama to make the changes so as to ensure that the Taliban would not be able to return to power. The Pentagon apparently is worried that the Taliban could rapidly advance against Afghan forces just as the Islamic State did against Iraqi troops in Iraq.
 Some of Obamas civilian aides spoke against the change in policy arguing that American lives should be not put at stake through combat operations against the Taliban. Just recently two US soldiers were killed in Kabul, the capital, as their vehicle suffered from a bomb blast. The new policy is made much easier by the relationship that is developing between the US military and President Ghani. General John Campbell the allied commander in Afghanistan claimed that President Ghani was very easy to work with compared to former president Karzai: “The difference is night and day. President Ghani has reached out and embraced the international community. We have a strategic opportunity we haven’t had previously with President Karzai.” If there is strong public reaction to the US role Ghani could change his tune.
A senior US military officer said that the Air Force would likely use F-16 fighters, B-1B bombers, and both Reaper and Predator drones in operations against the Taliban in 2015. The Afghans expected that foreign combat operations would be ending in 2015. This is what Obama promised too, but as with other promises he made, this one will not be kept. Should there be many US casualties there could be a negative political reaction in the US matched by a similar reaction to Afghan civilians killed as collateral damage in the air attacks.
 The Afghan parliament recently passed the new bilateral security agreement which could keep some US troops in Afghanistan for another decade or even beyond, although present plans call for most to be about by the end of 2016. The vote was overwhelming 152 in favor and 5 against. There was no discussion of the changes that Obama plans, namely that the troops would play a combat rather than just an advisory role and also that there would be allied air attacks including, as support for Afghan operations. President Ghani, however, is said to approve these extensions.
 Meanwhile, Obama's Defense Minister Chuck Hagel has resigned. There will be much speculation as to the reasons for the resignation. Some already claim he was in effect fired, others that Hagel was dissatisfied with Obama's policy. Whatever the causes, Obama is clearly switching to a more aggressive military policy and will probably look for a defense minister who will fit into the new model in which, rather than military operations being cut back in some areas, they will be vastly expanded as in Iraq, Syria, and now it seems Afghanistan,.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Elizabeth Warren helps convince liberals to stay in Democratic Party

The United States is a two-party system consisting of Republicans and Democrats. While other parties exist, and independents as well, they do not have sufficient funds or support to challenge the two main parties.

The Democrats are supported by most in the US who consider themselves liberal or leftist. Most of these supporters are well aware of the fact that Wall Street has a huge influence on policy through donations and lobbying even when the Democrats are in power. Many liberal policies were not implemented even when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, for example the long-promised closure of Guantanamo Bay. In order to prevent liberals and leftists from leaving the Democrat fold, shepherds or shepherdesses are needed to herd them back into the fold rather than leaving and perhaps even forming another party. Elizabeth Warren can be seen as playing this role and doing an excellent job.
 In a recent article in the Huffington Post, "Enough is Enough, The President's Latest Wall Street Nominee", Warren lambastes Obama's choice of Antonio Weiss as his nominee to serve as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance within the Treasury Department. He would be responsible for overseeing Dodd-Frank implementation, and also a wide range of banking and economic policy-making, including protection of consumers. Warren points out that Weiss is head of global investment banking at the large financial institution Lazard. Weiss has worked most of his two decades with Lazard on international mergers and acquisitions. Indeed he spent 8 years living in Paris. Warren claims his experience is in no way related to domestic finance, regulatory issues, or consumer protection.
 Warren points out also the Weiss has been involved through Lazard in corporate inversions whereby foreign companies. As Warren puts it: Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren't enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more. No one is fooled by the bland words "corporate inversion." These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits. Warren claims that Lazard has been involved in three of the four last major corporate inversions. Weiss worked on the deal which saw Burger King purchase Tim Horton's and then moving the headquarters to Canada to claim Canadian ownership and cut its tax bill. Lazard even moved its own headquarters to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a tax loophole. The loophole was closed shortly afterwards. Even officials at the Treasury Dept. during the Bush administration found what Lazard was doing objectionable.
The White House has said that Mr. Weiss was not involved in the tax side of the Burger King deal. Warren rightly replies surely when she claims that the entire deal was designed to improve Burger King's tax situation. The White House also claims that Weiss is personally opposed to inversions. This has never caused him to criticize Lazard for what they have done or to refuse to help them with inversions.
While Wall Street frets about Obama's policies Warren points out that the Obama administration has been filled with many representatives of large financial institutions, including Citigroup. Three of the last four Treasury secretaries serving under Democratic presidents held high-paying jobs at Citigroup before joining the government including former CEO Robert Rubin. As Warren points out, the influence of Goldman Sachs in Washington is well documented: It seems that every few weeks, another Goldman Sachs executive goes to work for a government agency, with bankers landing in positions of power at the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve, and pulling the levers of the massive trillion-dollar federal bailout. At the same time, the bank, which announced on Tuesday that it was hiring former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt, has received $10 billion in TARP funds.
 Warren also notes the huge number of lobbyists working for just the six largest US banks: According to a report by the Institute for America's Future, by the following year, the six biggest banks employed 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 33 who had worked as chiefs of staff for members of Congress and 54 who had worked as staffers for the banking oversight committees in the Senate or the House. Warren's criticisms are quite apt. However, so far, she has refused to run herself to be the Democrat nominee for president. Instead she has long favored Hillary Clinton who arguably has a lot cosier relationship with Wall Street than Obama has at present.
 In an interview Warren said: "All all of the women — Democratic women I should say — of the Senate urged Hillary Clinton to run, and I hope she does. Hillary is terrific." Warren also one among several senators who signed a letter urging Clinton to run in 2016. Warren has the right rhetoric but makes the wrong move by supporting Hillary unless the aim is simply to act as a shepherdess to steer liberal and left support behind Hillary.
 Hillary herself has praised and at times even adopted Warren populist rhetoric: “I love watching Elizabeth give it to those who deserve it,” Clinton said to cheers. But then, awkwardly, she appeared to try to out-Warren Warren—and perhaps build a bridge too far to the left—by uttering words she clearly did not believe: “Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said, erroneously echoing a meme Warren made famous during an August 2011 speech at a home in Andover, Massachusetts. “You know that old theory, trickle-down economics? That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.” She later noted that she had gone a bit overboard in claiming that corporations and businesses do not create jobs. Of course they not only create jobs if they think they will create more profit, they get rid of them for the same reason.
 Speaking to plutocrats for some reason Hillary changes her tune and tone:"But Clinton offered a message that the collected plutocrats found reassuring, according to accounts offered by several attendees, declaring that the banker-bashing so popular within both political parties was unproductive and indeed foolish. Striking a soothing note on the global financial crisis, she told the audience, in effect: We all got into this mess together, and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it."

Saturday, November 22, 2014

US launches 500th drone attack

As Micah Zenko noted in an article in 2012, November 3 that year marked the tenth anniversary of the first drone attack by the US. No one took notice. The same will apply to the 500th confirmed US drone attack today outside of combat zones.

In his 2012 article Zenko called the drone strikes America's Third War. Micah Zenko is the Douglas Dillon fellow in the Center for Preventive Action (CPA) at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He has worked previously at Harvard and the Brookings Institution. Targeted killings were originally directed supposedly at a small number of key terrorist leaders thought to be an imminent threat to the US. Now the attacks barely merit a mention in the press. As Zenko puts it in his 2012 article: What was once considered an immediate response to an exceptional threat to the United States is now a permanent and institutionalized feature of U.S. foreign policy. Perhaps by November 3, 2022, policymakers and the American people will have noticed.
 Certainly in November 2014 Zenko is one of the few who have noted that a recent drone strike in Pakistan was the 500th such attack. The attack destroyed a house in Mada Khei a village in North Waziristan. The attack reportedly killed six people and wounded three others. All six who were killed were said to be suspects but none were identified. The reports were from a security official in the area.
 The Pakistan military has been carrying out an offensive in the area and claims to have killed about 1,200 militants. Before the offensive the population of the area about a million people were told to leave their homes, creating a huge flood of displaced people.
In the final years of the Bush administration there were just a few attacks each year. However, since Obama came to power attacks have increased in number and been extended to both Yemen and Somalia. In all, the 500 attacks are estimated to have killed 3,674 people but only 473 are listed as confirmed civilian casualties with the rest usually never identified but classified as "suspects". The 500th strike was reportedly also the 21st strike of this year in Pakistan. The Pakistan government constantly complains about the strikes but does nothing to stop them. Of the 500 drone strikes 50 were authorized by president George W. Bush and the other 450 by the Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama.

More problems in Yemen with Special Forces mutiny

As if Yemen did not have enough problems dealing with rebel Houthis and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) there has now been a mutiny within the elite Special Forces.

Gunfire was reported within the headquarters' building. The Yemen presidential guard has cordoned off the entire area. The mutineers are demanding their new commander Mohammed Mansour al-Ghadraa be removed from his post. Rumors abound that former president Ali Saleh is behind the mutiny. His relatives had led the forces until being ousted when the present president, Mansour Hadi, had purged many of them. However, Saleh still has considerable support in parts of the armed forces.
A later report claims that the mutiny has ended with the appointment of a new commander: Yemen's official SABA news agency reported on Friday that Interior Minister Galal al-Rowaishan has appointed Abdel-Razak al-Marouni as a new commander of the Special Forces. The SABA report made no mention of Mohammed Mansour al-Ghadraa, the commander who led the unit until Thursday's apparent rebellion against his authority. Al-Gadraa had been appointed just in September.
The mutineers shouted "leave, leave" and tried to storm al-Ghadraa's office. Saleh is alleged to be helping Houthis who have occupied considerable areas of Yemen including occupying the capital in September. Hadi agreed to a new government of technocrats but the Houthis objected to some of those appointed. The Houthis are also angry because the UN has sanctioned two of their commanders as well as Saleh. Ironically, during the presidency of Saleh the Houthi's often fought the Saleh government until a truce in 2010 after six years of battle.
  In the deal that convinced Saleh to transfer power to his then vice-president Mansour Hadi, Saleh, and his relatives were granted immunity from any trial for crimes they might have committed when in power. His government killed many protesters. His party also kept a share of power. The ruling party, the General People's Congress, is split between Hadi and Saleh supporters. The Congress moved to dump Hadi as party leader and replaced him with a senior aide. This action was in direct response to the UN action. Some party leaders in the south of Yemen have claimed that the party's dismissal of Hadi was "void." The government however has problems ruling in the south where separatists have used the Houthi advances as an opportunity to advance their own agenda of creating a separate state in the south such as had existed previously.
The Houthis and the Hadi government are also fighting against Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula(AQAP) fighters in central areas of Yemen. Local tribes in some areas are allied with the group in fighting off the Houthi advance. The US has continued bombing raids against the group which launches constant terror attacks against the Hadi government.
AQAP itself is facing internal divisions as some of its units have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State a group that was ejected from Al Qaeda. A group in Egypt the Ansar Beit al-Magdis has also pledged allegiance and there is local support for IS in Libya as well. A video released by AQAP pledged continued allegiance to bin Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahri rather than al-Baghdadi who is leader of the Islamic State and demands that all Muslims pledge allegiance to his new caliphate.
  Meanwhile in light of the deteriorating security conditions in Yemen, the Philippine government is asking all Filipinos to leave the country as soon as they are able. The Philippine Embassy said: “A total ban has been imposed on all travels to Yemen,” The embassy has set up a Crisis Management Team in Sanaa to assist Filipinos in leaving the country.

Very rare cat received at Lothian Cat Rescue in Scotland

The Lothian Cat Rescue in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian Scotland received a rare male tortoiseshell cat. Only .04 percent of tortoiseshell cats are male.

Harry, as the kitten is called, came to the shelter after his owners suffered an extreme allergic reaction to the kitten's fur. Nicola Zelent who works at the rescue site said: “It’s very rare to get a male. He’s the first tortie boy we’ve had at LCR in our 35 year history, and he is the first of his kind which our vets have seen too!” A photo of Harry can be found here. Harry is 12 weeks old already. At first, the vet who identified the gender of Harry was convinced that he should be a Harriet. He said: “When I heard the cat called Harry, I said to the owners, ‘I think that might have to be a Harriet'. I had to change my words when I discovered it was male. I’ve never seen one before and I’ve been a vet for more than 30 years.”
 Zelent said that males are usually hermaphrodite, that is have the sex organs not just of the male but of the female as well, although they usually are not fertile. It will be 12 weeks before they can be sure. When old enough Harry will be neutered in any event and then will seek a new home. He probably will not have difficulty being adopted given his rarity. Tortoiseshell cats are usually distinguished from calico or tri-color cats. Tortoiseshell refers to a type of coloring that involves two colors other than white.
 As Wikipedia describes them: Tortoiseshell describes a coat coloring found almost exclusively in female cats... Also called Torties for short, they combine two colors other than white, either closely mixed or in large patches... The colors are often described as red and black, but "red" can instead be orange, yellow, or cream..and "black" can instead be chocolate, grey, tabby, or blue... A tortoiseshell cat with the tabby pattern as one of its colors is a Torbie. If there are white markings of any size the cats are called calico in the US and Canada, but the term tricolor is often used in the UK. The patterns are not specific to a particular breed. Some people also call the calicoes tortoiseshells as seen in this video of a calico with another cat. Both tortoiseshell and calico cats are almost always female because of the particular features of cat genetics. A cat's colouring is inherited through the X chromosome. The female has two X chromosomes but the male only one. Through a genetic mutation however a cat can be born with two X chromosomes and a Y chromosome. This cat can have the tortoiseshell or calico coat. This explanation is perhaps simplified and the genetics more complicated as described here.

Not just in Ferguson, Missouri, in total there are presently 30 different states of emergency in US

A proclamation by governor Jay Nixon authorizes the Missouri National Guard to support police if there is violence when a grand jury decision is announced on whether a white policeman who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager will be charged.

The exact proclamation can be found here. Governor Nixon said: "As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury’s decision." The order also designates the St. Louis Police Department rather than the Ferguson police to be in charge of policing any protests that might arise as a result of the decision. There have already been protests in Clayton, Missouri, where the grand jury is meeting. The decision is expected some time in November. The state of emergency was for thirty days but can always be extended.
Many states of emergency are extended for years. In 1979 on the 10th day of the Iranian hostage crisis, then president Jimmy Carter declared a state of emergency. It is still in effect about 35 years later. The post 9/11 state of national emergency issued by president George W. Bush has been renewed six times by Obama. He uses the state of emergency for many of his actions in the war on terror. States of emergency are very convenient for giving officials extra-ordinary power. In the US at present there are a total of thirty distinct states of emergency in effect.
 Some states of emergency seem only marginally related to any significant immediate threat to the United States. For example, recently Obama informed the US Congress that he was extending a state of emergency with respect to the Democratic Republic of the Congo that had been passed in the Bush era because the "widespread violence and atrocities" in that country "pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States".
 Emergency declarations allow the president extraordinary powers to seize property, call up the National Guard, and also hire and fire military officers as he wishes. Kim Scheppel of Princeton University said:"What the National Emergencies Act does is like a toggle switch, and when the president flips it, he gets new powers. It's like a magic wand. and there are very few constraints about how he turns it on," Since the National Emergencies Act was passed in 1976 presidents have declared 53 states of emergency but this does not count declarations during natural disasters such as hurricanes or floods. Since Obama has been in office he has declared nine emergencies but also extended 22 others that were already in effect. Only one declaration has been allowed to expire.The 1976 law requires both houses of Congress to meet within six months of a declaration to vote it up or down. Apparently this has never happened.
Attorney Patrick Thronson in a University of Michingan law journal identified 160 different laws giving presidents broad unchecked powers. These include the power to: • Suspend environmental laws, including a law forbidding the dumping of toxic and infectious medical waste at sea.• Bypass federal contracting laws, allowing the government to buy and sell property without competitive bidding.
  Harold Relyea of the Congressional Research Service said: "The history here is so clear. The Congress hasn't done much of anything. Congress has not been the watchdog. It's very toothless, and the partisanship hasn't particularly helped." Scheppele claims that declarations of emergencies have now become so routine they often do not even generate a single headline:"If we had to break the glass and flip the switch in order to do it ... it would be helpful for the alarm to go off at least. It's a sign that normal law isn't set up right. States of emergency always bypass something else. So what we need to look at is what's being bypassed, and should that be fixed."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Turkish envoy to Libya urges elections as a way out of Libyan crisis

Emrullah Isler, the Turkish Special Envoy for Libya claims the political crisis in Libya can be overcome by holding general elections.

At present there are two rival governments, one in Tobruk, that is internationally recognized, the House of Representatives, consisting of representatives elected in elections last June. Some of those elected have not attended and do not recognize the legitimacy of the Tobruk government. The UN through its envoy Bernardino Leon held talks with those elected but boycotting the parliament in order to reach some type of political settlement. However, the alternative government formed in Tripoli by a bloc of Islamist and other militias who control Tripoli and part of Benghazi were not involved in the dialogue nor were the rival Islamist-led militias and those led by CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar. The General National Congress was recalled by the Islamist bloc and appointed a rival prime minister Omar al-Hassi, who then formed an alternative government. The situation was complicated when the Libyan Supreme Court ruled on November 6 , that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk parliament should be dissolved. The Tobruk government rejected the ruling immediately. The UN claims to be studying the decision. The decision has led the UN to begin a dialogue with figures associated with the Tripoli government, although the language used by the UN still refers to Abdullah Al-Thinni of the Tobruk government as the Libyan "prime minister," even more than a week after the Supreme Court decision. The recommendation by the Turkish envoy had already been suggested by prime minister Omar al-Hassi of the Tripoli government and a spokesperson for that government suggested that there should be a referendum on a new constitution that is being drafted and then general elections. Both sides appear to accept the committee drafting the constitution, so this could be a basis for a partial solution. However, there also needs to be a transitional government of some sort up until the referendum and elections. Jason Pack, suggests that there should be a Unity Government composed of representatives from the competing groups.So far the Tobruk government has not shown any interest in the suggestion that there should be elections. They claim they are the legitimate government, internationally recognized and want it to stay that way even though they hold sway in only a few areas of Libya. The UN has achieved a break-through of sorts as the UN's envoy Leon was able to get the Islamist militias and General Haftar's forces to agree to a 12 hour humanitarian truce. The truce will allow the Red Crescent to evacuate citizens from the battle areas and also retrieve bodies of those killed. Haftar launched an offensive with the blessing and support of the Tobruk government to try to retake Benghazi. He has retaken some areas but not others, with many casualties. The truce is significant in that the UN was able to convince the Tobruk government, Haftar and the Islamist militias to cease fighting. As spokesperson for the UN mission Samir Gattas said that "this and other confidence-building measures would certainly help in creating an atmosphere conducive for dialogue." Perhaps the UN should be pushing the Tobruk government and Haftar towards accepting elections after a referendum on the new constitution. The UN should make it clear that they will not simply accept the legitimacy of the Tobruk government but demand a political settlement that avoids the issue of which government is legitimate entirely. In spite of the conflicts between different militias in different parts of the country most of the country manages to function. Even if the warring factions are unable to agree on a unity government as recommended by Pack, they may be able to work out some practical sharing of powers that will allow a period of relative peace until a referendum on a new constitution and then elections, or alternatively there could be elections agreed upon even before a referendum on a new constitution. The truce in Benghazi provides at least a flicker of hope since the legitimate government sanctioned Haftar's offensive. By agreeing to a truce, the Tobruk government is recognizing the Islamist Shura Council militia as at least a force that can be part of negotiations and also it for once has paid heed to the UN demand that fighting must stop as a condition for dialogue to work. Don't expect the mainstream media to say much about all this. What is important for them is that jihadists in the city of Derna have pledged loyalty to the Islamic State. This is true enough but of little significance. Radical jihadists typically ally themselves with the most prominent radical jihadist group, which is no longer Al Qaeda but the Islamic State. Derna has been under control of radical jihadists for ages. Yet CNN makes a big deal of the situation which really has not changed at all. See the appended video. There are articles on the issue in Time, , Washington Times, and UPI, just for starters. What is important is the radical Islamist threat narrative. This will hardly be conducive to working out any political settlement between the Islamist bloc and Haftar's militias. If what counts is the war on terror, this emphasis could result in a bigger mess in Libya through foreign intervention directed first at the Islamic State but no doubt would soon be widened to attack any Islamists who do not recognize the Tobruk government

Egyptian government continues repression and suppression of dissent.

Egypt under President Abdul al-Sisi is repressing dissent of all kinds. In the latest move Egyptian State Radio banned a popular singer Hamza Namira from broadcasting since some of his songs criticize authorities.

Namira gained fame during the uprising in Tahrir square with songs of hope and freedom three years ago. Protesters managed to oust the regime of Hosni Mubarak with the help of the army. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was eventually elected president but after large demonstrations against his government was overthrown in a move led by Al-Sisi who was then army chief. Almost a year later Al-Sisi was elected president with strong support even from many who had been part of the original revolution. Al-Sisi rode a wave of anti-Islamist feeling and was able to successfully and brutally repress protesters supporting Morsi, killing hundreds or more in a bloody crackdown. Now even protest songs are not allowed.
 Human rights activists claim that the move to ban Namira is part of a campaign by the government to stop any dissent. Everyone is to sing the praises of President Al-Sisi according to human rights activists. State radio's chairman, Abdel Rahman Rashad, told the BBC that a review had found the performer was not approved for broadcast. .Rashad said that any performer who criticizes authorities should not be allowed to broadcast. All performers require approval before being allowed to broadcast.
 Another performer, actor Khaled Naga has been accused of treason for criticising Al-Sisi. He is being prosecuted by a lawyer for "disturbing national security". In another move, the police briefly detained human rights activist Mahienour el-Masry in Alexandria along with 4 other people including her lawyer. They were picked up long after a protest had ended. El-Masry had just recently been released from prison. After questioning about the protest, they were released.
In Cairo, police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting in memory of a clash in November 2011 the Mohammed Mahmoud Battle that resulted in the death of almost 50 demonstrators. In this demonstration mostly by non-Islamists there were no deaths but at least 43 protesters were arrested. All protests are banned without prior police approval and El-Masry was convicted under the ban and sentenced to six months in prison but was released this September pending appeal of her conviction. El-Masry and dozens of other prisoners mounted a hunger strike to protest their poor treatment and the lack of due process.
 The Egyptian state news agency reports that prosecutors are asking for the death sentence for former president Mohammed Morsi. He along with Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie and 34 others are being tried on espionage charges. Morsi has not recognized the jurisdiction of the court but has asked to defend himself. The case resumes on November 26.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Japan's economy moves back into recession in spite of Abeonomics

Japan's economic performance was hurt by a recent sales tax hike and investment by business declined. The economy shrank by 1.6 percent even though predictions were that there would be growth following a large decline in the previous quarter.

The decline may increase uncertainty about global economic growth as China's growth is slowing and the Eurozone grew only by 0.2 percent last quarter. Japan is the world's third largest economy. Effects on stock markets were mixed: U.S. stocks ended mixed Monday -- with the S&P 500 managing to set another closing high -- after Japanese markets tumbled on news that the world's second-largest economy unexpectedly slipped back into recession.
The hike in the sales tax appears to have created less demand from consumers, builders and manufacturers. In April the sales tax was hiked from 5 to 8 percent. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is using the revenue to try to reduce debt which is the worst among advanced industrialized countries. A plan to further increase the tax to ten per cent has been shelved for now. After the recent sales tax hike, investment in housing shrank by 24 percent in the recent quarter while corporate capital investment was down by 0.9 percent. Consumer spending rose by merely 0.4 percent.
As many expected, on Tuesday, Abe called for an election in December: Shinzo Abe told a televised news conference on Tuesday that he would dissolve the lower house of parliament on Friday to pave the way for an election on 14 December. He added that he would delay a rise in the consumption [sales] tax, from 8% to 10%, until April 2017, 18 months later than planned.
Abe has claimed that passage of his three arrow "Abenomics" program is vital to improving the Japanese economy and pursuing necessary reforms. He hopes the elections will give him a mandate to continue with the program which involves monetary easing on steroids, government spending, and deregulation of business. He speaks of the policy as a "three arrow" strategy based upon a Japanese folk tale whose moral is that three sticks together are much harder to break than just one. Wikipedia describe Abenomics as follows: Abenomics refers to the economic policies advocated by Shinz┼Ź Abe since the December 2012 general election, which elected Abe to his second term as Prime Minister of Japan. Abenomics is based upon "three arrows" of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. When introduced in 2013 the policy sent Japanese stock markets to their biggest gain in 40 years but now the policy when combined with the increased sales tax appears not to be working as planned.
Abe has been so far unwilling to pursue some promised deregulation of business and corporate tax cuts as well as labor regulations that in larger companies guaranteed Japanese workers lifetime employment. Japan's population is aging and also declining. Household incomes have not kept pace with inflation. Japanese corporations have outsourced some production outside of Japan to countries with cheaper labor and laxer regulations. Abe has already reacted to the depressing news by adding even further stimulus to the tune of $26 billion to $35 billion. The measures may include some subsidies to low-income families which would stimulate demand. While the lower yen should help exports, many producers depend upon imported components which become more costly as the yen falls in value. Critics blame Abe for not moving faster on changing labor regulations but corporations have also contributed to the situation by not passing on to workers the gains they have had from growing profits and increased stock prices.

Libyan Supreme Court decision could facilitate UN political dialogue

The Libyan Supreme Court well over a week ago ruled that the June elections in Libya were unconstitutional and that the House of Representatives now meeting in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk should be dissolved.

The Supreme Court ruling complicates the situation in Libya. Up to now the UN and the international community has regarded the House of Representatives(HoR) meeting in Tobruk as the sole legitimate government of Libya, and its prime minister Abdullah Al-Thinni as the sole legitimate prime minister. The UN has been attempting to strengthen the role of the Tobruk government. The UN dialogue to reach a political deal involved elected members of the HoR, who had boycotted the meetings. The UN did not include the alternative government of Omar al-Hassi, which controls the capital Tripoli, nor any of its allies in the east such as the Shura Council in Benghazi. Nor did it apparently include talks with militia leaders on either side of the conflict.
 Jason Pack, Researcher of Middle Eastern History at Cambridge University has a long and very informative analysis of event in Libya. The article is worth reading in its entirety and can be found here. Pack believes that Libya should form a unity government composed of important figures from both sides of the conflict and he considers that the Supreme Court decision makes conditions for formation of such a government better than they were before the decision. The main reason for this is that the decision now makes consultation with political figures opposed to the Tobruk government necessary, since the claim that the Al-Thinni government is the sole legitimate government is now in question. Conditions on the ground should have made it clear that such negotiations were necessary all along and without it the previous negotiations were arguably an utter failure. After all, leaving out of negotiations a party that controls the two main cities and much of the territory of Libya while strengthening what is virtually a government in exile in the far eastern city of Tobruk does not make much sense in any practical terms.
Mohamed Eljahr of the Atlantic Council Rafik Hariri Center said: "The international community's next step is key. Despite the UNSMIL [United Nations Support Mission in Libya] statement that it is studying the Supreme Court's ruling with its international partners,.. the EU ambassadors to Libya met with the Minister of Health in al-Thinni's government in Tunis shortly after the ruling, suggesting it is business as usual with the Tobruk government".
 As far as I can determine the EU has not made any statement on the Supreme Court decision and I can find nothing from the U.S. either. The EU, as the quote indicates, appears to simply be ignoring the decision and continues to act as if nothing has happened. The UN response has been a bit more complex as discussed in my earlier article. The UN envoy Leon did meet with Nouri Abu Sahmein who is head of the GNC which appointed Omar Al-Hassi prime minister and who then formed the rival Libyan government. As the article points out, the UN does not even say who Sahmein is let alone saying what his position was. However, the same statement talks about Leon meeting prime minister Al-Thinni. While unwilling to even mention the General National Congress (GNC) at least the UN envoy did talk to an official of that body. Perhaps he will next meet with Omar al Hassi but not tell us who he is.
The UN and the international community show little sign of changing their relationships with the Tobruk government due to the Supreme Court decision. While the Supreme Court ruling was immediately rejected by the Tobruk government, it was welcomed by the Tripoli-based parliament and Omar Homaidan a spokesperson for the government suggested a positive solution to the political impasse." He said a possible way out of the crisis was to wait for a 60-member panel to finish writing Libya’s new constitution, then call a referendum on it and hold elections after that." This solution does not settle the question of who should rule up until that happens.
 Pack has a solution to that problem although he admits that the Supreme Court decision has the potential to produce even more divisions within Libya: Despite this new potential for division, all domestic and international actors should agree on the form of a 'National Unity' government incorporating all the major political factions (MLA, Muslim Brotherhood, HoR members, Liberal-leaning technocrats, Berbers/Amazigh, Federalists, key tribal leaders, Tebu, and Toureg). Such an agreement would bypass the need for each actor to definitively 'take sides' by choosing to recognise one governing body as opposed to the other. In the western media the narrative about the Libyan conflict is that it is between an Islamist bloc and their militia, and a secular bloc or at least those opposed to the Islamist role in politics lead by CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar and his allies whose Operation Dignity was directed against Islamists. His rhetoric and actions seem to be directed not only at violent jihadists but also the moderate Islamists who were a majority in the parliament his allies the Zintan brigades burned down. As Pack describes it: Haftar's binary approach was due partially to a misreading of the international scene and partially to international actors like the UAE, Qatar and the US wishing to see a binary narrative of events in Libya where they could 'easily understand' whose side to be on. Haftar concluded that the key to Western support was to claim to be fighting Islamists – of all stripes and of all backgrounds. In the first weeks of 'Operation Dignity', American Ambassador Deborah Jones stated "Haftar's enemies are our enemies." [45] This gaffe – which did not reflect any official US support of Haftar – dramatically encouraged his polarising tendencies as he concluded they would lead to greater Western and regional support. Pack, rightly in my opinion, rejects this binary narrative. He thinks that the situation is much more complex and less related to religion than other factors.
Religion is used by the parties involved for their own political purposes. Pack describes the so-called Islamist bloc as follows: The term 'Islamist bloc' is a misnomer. In reality, the so-called Islamist bloc incorporates the Misratan-led alliance (MLA), which dominates the West of the country, as well as Jihadist and Islamist fighters throughout the country's East and South. This bloc's only shared ideological ground does not pertain to a specific view of the role of Islam in governance, but rather to their opposition to former Gaddafi functionaries serving in positions of power. [8] This bloc is led by the umbrella group of militias termed Libya Dawn – a loose coalition of Misratan, Islamist, and Berber militias based in Libya's Northwest. Libya Dawn [9] was assembled in July 2014 to evict the anti-Islamist Zintani militias from Tripoli. As such, the so-called Islamist bloc can be said to exert a hegemony over most of Western Libya via Libya Dawn, as well as control Derna and parts of Benghazi via the more ideological Islamist militias in Libya's East. While Pack's suggestion that there should be a unity government until the constitution is written and voted on in a referendum followed by elections is certainly a good idea, the chances of such a government actually coming into being seems to be slim.
Pack himself describes the situation which might make this difficult: Starting in October 2014, Haftar and the Zintanis began referring to themselves as components of Libya's official army and claiming to follow orders from a unified central command. By the start of November, Haftar's counteroffensive in Benghazi had achieved significant (although not necessarily decisive or permanent) gains, retaking many neighbourhoods from his Jihadi opponents. These successes are likely due to increased Egyptian backing and Western passivity. The perception of outside intervention elicited a backlash from the Islamists who used their military control of Tripoli to pressure the Supreme Court to issue its controversial ruling. These developments have welded together the fortunes of Haftar and the Thinni government. Lacking the capacity to administer territory outside of Tobruk and Bayda, the Thinni government no longer derives its internal legitimacy from the June elections (it was elected by less than 20% of eligible voters but rather from the extent of external backing and recognition it receives and the fortunes of Haftar's military moves on the ground. [7] Hence, the future of the Thinni government depends largely upon whether international actors continue to treat it as legitimate – in spite of the Supreme Court's ruling and its poor administrative performance.
The evidence seems clear that the international community with few exceptions such as Turkey and Qatar continue to act as if the Tobruk government is the legitimate government. The Tobruk government rejects completely the Supreme Court ruling and no doubt Haftar too will consider the decision simply forced on the court to grant an Islamist uprising legitimacy. He is continuing his offensive to retake Benghazi with the blessing of the Tobruk government even though the UN envoy pleaded with the parties to quit fighting and not do anything to further polarize the situation. Egypt has clearly come out in support of the Tobruk government even since the Supreme Court ruling: The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it also “fully supports the Libyan government in its efforts to carry out its responsibility of preserving the unity of Libyan lands and its territorial integrity”. There is no question about the legitimacy of the Libyan government.
 Pack claims that for the international community to play a positive role in the dialogue necessary to form a unity government that it must show a greater inclination to deal with the Tripoli government. The community must also stress that all sides should respect the constitutional drafting process. It does appear as if both sides at least at the political level do respect this process and that is one positive to the situation. However, the Tobruk government appears to be completely unwilling to give up its claim of legitimacy and have given Haftar and the Libyan armed forces a green light to retake not only Benghazi but Tripoli. This allows absolutely no room for dialogue and the Tobruk government and Haftar clearly pay no attention to the UN demand that the parties stop fighting and not do anything the exacerbates the situation.

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...