Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Islamic State offensive creates flood of new refugees in Iraq

There have been many internally displaced Iraqis in Iraq during the Saddam Hussein era and ever since. The offensive of the Islamic State that overran most of several provinces has exacerbated the situation with many refugees now outside Iraq as well.

Ammar Younes is an example of one internally displaced Iraqi. Younes sits in a frigid refugee camp in the Kurdish region busy picking shrapnel from a wound in his legs. He was hurt when Islamic State radicals placed a bomb under his car in Mosul. He was a trainer for the Iraqi armed forces and had worked for three years with US forces in Iraq. He was still in the hospital when the Islamic State took over and had to flee still wearing his medical gown. Younes is just one of an estimated more than 2 million Iraqis who have been added to the already huge number of internally displaced and refugee Iraqis.
Estimation of earlier numbers can be found here. Almost 1.7 million Iraqis fled their homes during the period of 2006 to 2008 during the sectarian violence after the US led invasion and occupation of 2003. Most of them have still not been able to return home. Now the Islamic State offensive has created more displaced persons. Added to this, there are more than 3.2 million Syrian refugees some of whom sought refuge in Iraq as well.
The Iraqi government is facing a financial crisis with war costs and plunging oil prices. Added to all this is the upcoming winter season that in some areas sees temperatures fall below freezing adding to the misery of those in refugee camps. A map showing the relative numbers of refugees in different areas can be seen here. Almost half of this year's refugees have crowded into Iraqi Kurdistan which is already dealing with 200,000 Syrian refugees. Aid agencies claim that Kurdish authorities are now tightening entry to refugees. People trying to flee from Mosul, controlled by the Islamic State, claim that checkpoints run by the Iraqi army or Shiite militias turn them away.
CBS News puts the earlier number of Syrian refugees in Kurdistan at 250,000 but since the Islamic State began its offensive in June of this year there are now more than 1.5 million in the area. While many are in specially built camps, others are forced to live in unfinished buildings or makeshift shelters. As winter closes in, there is no hope of return to areas occupied now by the Islamic State. The UN and the Kurdistan government have issued an urgent call for a further $152.2 million to provide food, shelter, and medical assistance for displaced persons in the region.
The UN assistance program is chronically underfunded with only 31 percent of the planned spending received. The World Food Program is so short of money that it has even stopped procuring supplies for those displaced. The present distribution of food boxes for families will end by next February unless more funds are forthcoming. Barbara Manzi, the outgoing representative of the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, that runs the program said:“It’s not that we can do more with less; it’s that we don’t have anything and the needs on the ground are immense.”

Monday, December 29, 2014

More troops in Iraq means more private contractors

As more and more US troops are sent to Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve private contractors follow to provide various services for the troops and the Iraq government. At present, there are already around 1,800 private contractors in Iraq who work for the US State Department. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently ordered another 1300 but this is likely only a fraction of the ultimate total.

 During the peak of the earlier US deployment to Iraq there were more than 163,000 private contractors in the country. The use of many private contractors often masks the total US involvement. In the earlier deployment there were frequent criticisms of the costs involved and lack of proper oversight of spending. As pointed out in an earlier article, the Pentagon has already been asking for contractors to sign up for long-term deployment to Iraq. A senior US official said that the number of contractors sent will depend on the number of US troops present and their dispersion within Iraq. Sending more contractors shows that Obama is planning on an extended war and a lengthy deployment of troops to Iraq not that long after withdrawing all US troops.

 Contractors can be responsible for a large range of services from guarding facilities and diplomats, to servicing vehicles and providing food for staff. While Obama has promised that there will be no boots on the ground in Iraq, there are already 3,100 all of whom he claims are in non-combat roles.

When Hagel recently visited Iraq, he flew over Baghdad in helicopters that were operated by private contractors paid for by the State Department. Private contractor numbers have been declining in iraq ever since 2011 but lately are rising again but by less than 5 percent according to the US State Department. After the offensive of the Islamic State into Iraq, the State Department upped the number of guards protecting the US consul in Erbil from 39 to 57 as the threat of being attacked increased. The guards are provided by a company called Triple Canopy part of the Constellis Group. Constellis did not respond to inquiries.

After US troops left Iraq in 2011, many private contractors were left to provide protection for diplomats and other services to the diplomatic community. Almost all the private contractors work for the US State Department. Even in late 2013 there were still 6,000 private contractors in Iraq working for the Pentagon, most of them supporting arms sales and delivery to the the Iraqi government, according to Pentagon spokesperson Mark Wright. However, in August the Pentagon asked for contractors to help provide advice to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and Counter Terrorism. Service.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Ukraine and rebels swap prisoners on Xmas

Although talks in Minsk so far have not reached a peace deal, there has been agreement between the eastern rebels and the Ukraine to swap prisoners, a pleasant Xmas gift for many families on both sides.
The exchange took place near the rebel-held city of Donetsk. According to the BBC the Ukraine exchanged 222 prisoners held by them for 150 soldiers held by the rebels. The Russian news agency Ria-Novosti said that the exchange took place 35 km or 22 miles north of the city of Donetsk. However, there were also some photos taken of Ukrainian soldiers in Luhansk where their mothers had come to claim them. They were apparently three who were released this Friday.

In spite of the agreement on the prisoner exchange, the talks in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, broke up back on Wednesday and no date was set for their continuation. The meeting was among the Ukraine, Russia, the rebels, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe(OSCE). Ukr and lasted for five hours. Among the costs of the rebellion so far are 4,707 killed, including 36 children. Over ten thousand have been wounded. Over half a million are internally displaced and even more are refugees outside the Ukraine.

A truce was announced originally in September, but has been broken numerous times with more than 1300 killed since then. However, since prime minister Petro Poroshenko announced a Day of Silence in early December, conflict has been much reduced even though both sides claim the other has broken the truce. The Ukrainian government accuses Russia of actively supporting the rebels. While Russia denies this it does admit that some members of its regular forces are fighting in the Ukraine as volunteers. There is evidence that Russia is also providing supplies and equipment for the rebels.

Although no final peace deal has been reached, Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the rebel group, told Interfax news on December 25th there would be more talks in the coming days though he did not give a date for resumption of the talks. The parties failed to agree to meet on Friday.

New UN sponsored peace talks on Libya scheduled for January 6

Peace talks held under UN auspices in September in Ghadames made virtually no progress. There are now two rival governments supported by rival military forces. The new talks are scheduled for January 6.

The UN envoy to Libya, Bernadino Leon, has reported to the UN Security Council that the two main rival groups have agreed to a road map designed to dampen the conflict that has split the country into warring factions and governments. The Tripoli government has as prime minister, Omar al-Hassi, while the internationally recognized government that was elected in June is located in the far east in the city of Tobruk with the prime minister, Abdullah al-Thinni. The militia of CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar is now merged with the Libyan armed forces and the Tobruk government has made him head of the armed forces. On November 6th the Libyan Supreme Court declared that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk government should be dissolved. The Tobruk government rejected the ruling and the international community shows no sign that it is paying any attention to it either.

However, the UN has for the first time invited representatives of the Tripoli government to the peace talks. In some recent statements the UN speaks of parties to the conflict and does not speak specifically of the Libyan government. Chadian ambassador to the UN, Mahamat Cherif, told reporters that the Council urged both parties to accept an immediate cease-fire. The Council was also concerned about the flow of arms into the country. As usual there was no mention of who was supplying arms to which parties. So far neither party has paid any attention to the UN demand for a cease fire as a condition for the success of any dialogue. The Al-Thinni government gave Haftar the green light to retake Benghazi and Tripoli. There have been several bombings of Tripoli including the one functioning airport.

Cherif said that the roadmap contained three points but did not give details. However he did say that one aspect was "a national unity government which would be composed of representatives from the two camps". A representative in the Tobruk House of Representatives, Tarek al-Garoushi said that Leon wants a coalition government to be formed and a second round of peace talks outside of Libya:"Leon arrived in Tobruk on Monday where he met with parliament speaker Aguilah Saleh and the rest of the assembly's leadership.At the meeting, Leon made several suggestions, including the formation of a coalition government that would include the country's warring factions to guarantee a resolution to the crisis. Leon also proposed holding a second round of negotiations outside Libya." The two sides could not agree on a site to meet inside of Libya.

 The UN Support MIssion (UNSMIL) reported that in the recent violence hundreds of people have been killed including 450 in Benghazi alone. There have been 120,000 displaced from the west of the country and 90,00 more from the city of Benghazi. The city had been taken over by Islamist-linked militias but Haftar has recaptured at least part of the city recently. The UN also claims that Libya is facing acute shortages of both food and medicines. A detailed UN report can be found here.Envoy Leon said: “All those suffering in this violence deserve to live in safety with their rights fully protected. I appeal to all Libyan political and military leaders to engage, as a matter of urgency, in a genuine political dialogue to take Libya out of the current crisis." By January 7th we should know whether the UN has had any success this time in promoting dialogue and peace in Libya.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Greece faces new elections unless president elected Dec. 29

Greece's parliament must elect a new president by December 29th or early elections must be called according to the constitution. The Coalition of the Radical Left or Syriza as it is commonly called may be poised to win those election.

Most Greeks are fed up after five full years of recession, continual tax hikes, and record high levels of unemployment. This has increased the popularity of parties on both ends of the political spectrum but Syriza under popular leader Alexis Tsipras is predicted to win any elections. Nikos Samanidis, a top official and founding member of Syriza said: "After decades on the defensive, the left is staging a comeback. Not just in Greece, but in Europe and Latin America as well." In Europe, there is also a surge in the popularity of more radical right parties as well. The popularity of Syriza rattles financial markets. The Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned members of parliament that they must elect a new president soon or face a government that could even force an exit from the eurozone.
 Supporters of Syriza already triumphed last May when they won in the European elections. Polls show them still leading other parties. The possibility of an election and a win by Syriza helped caused a record drop in the Athens stock market on December 9th. Borrowing costs for Greece are also moving much higher. Even senior EU officials have entered the fray. President of the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said about a general election in Greece: "I wouldn't like extreme forces to come to power. I would prefer if known faces show up," As it draws closer to power, Syriza has attempted to reassure opponents and financial officials that it wants to keep Greece within the eurozone and will not make unilateral decisions. Political economist Yanis Varoufakis claims that Syriza's position that the bailout laws with its austerity provisions should be changed is a reasonable way out of the political crisis: "The first priority is renegotiating with creditors. Syriza needs to speak the language of truth about the continuing triple bankruptcy of the country - public debt, banks, private sector - something no Greek government has done so far. Then they need to table positions that the average German will find reasonable." 
 Many in the Greek and EU establishment remain fearful of Syriza and its leader. Syriza's solution to the crisis is the exact opposite of what is going on at present. Syriza leader Tsipras wants to increase public spending, reverse privatization, boost salaries and also pensions, and have less liberal markets.
 The Greek parliament has three chances to elect a new president before it must call national elections. On Tuesday it failed in its second attempt. There is one last chance on December 29th and if they fail then it is three strikes and the parliament must declare fresh elections that Syriza may very well win.The elections would be held in January. The IMF, European Commission, and European Central Bank may not agree to renegotiate the $293 billion bailout package, that Syriza refuses to accept. 
Unlike Yaroufakis many financial experts think that the Syriza program is irresponsible and unrealistic as well. After the failed vote on Tuesday the Athens stock market main index fell two percent. Yields on Greek government bonds rose to 8.25 percent up from 7.8 percent a month ago. The Greek Prime MInister Antonis Samaras was optimistic that he would be able to garner enough votes on the third try to elect a president and avoid an election since he had a better result for his candidate than on the first vote. The candidate Stavros Dimas won 168 votes in the 300 seat parliament. He needs 180 for election. Although he won 8 more than on the last vote, he still needs 12 more to be elected. There will be a furious lobbying push to garner the twelve votes over Xmas. Polls show that a majority of Greeks do not want snap elections. While Styriza still leads in the polls its lead has narrowed to  3.4 points  recently.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leaders of several African countries are calling on the West to intervene in Libya in order to stop instability from spreading across the Sahel and threatening fragile governments in the region.

Some African leaders called on NATO to help stop the flow of weapons to armed groups in the region. The call ignores the fact that the armed groups receiving weapons include CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar's militia which are now integrated with the Libyan National Army(LNA). This is no longer a fight between two umbrella groups of militia but of the Tobruk internationally recognized government and a host of anti-government militias including some radical Islamist militia. Ibrahim Keita, president of Mali, said that unless the problem was resolved in southern Libya there would be no peace in the region.

 It is fair to say that the problem in southern Libya has never been resolved since the overthrow of Gadaffi. There is no reason to expect it will be solved soon. Establishing an anti-Islamist government with General Haftar as head of the armed forces is likely to make the situation worse, even if he is able to subdue some of the tribes in the south. As at the overthrow of Gadaffi, militants will simply migrate from Libya to surrounding countries making the situation even worse for neighbors. Mali's difficulties in the north will remain until the government provides the area with a degree of autonomy.

 Chadian President Idriss Deby told the security forum being held in Dakar, Senegal: "The solution to the crisis that is shaking this country is not in African hands, but in the hands of the West, notably NATO.Now Libya is fertile ground for terrorism and all sorts of criminals" I expect that this fondness for NATO intervention shows that Chad's present government needs support from NATO because it is still kept in power by western interests. Deby said that the West had an obligation to finish what it started. However what it started was the overthrow of the Gadaffi regime for various reasons, including a chance to obtain better contracts for oil and install a regime even more amenable to control by western capital. It was Gadaffi who claimed that he was fighting terrorists. Now that some of those same radical Islamists threaten the western-supported Tobruk government, and its anti-Islamist leader of the armed forces Haftar, all of a sudden there is a terrorist threat to the region.

 The radical Islamists were some of the fiercest opponents and fighters against Gadaffi since he had long imprisoned, tortured, and oppressed many of them. One radical Islamist jihadist leader was Abdelhakim Belhadj: Belhadj was arrested with his pregnant wife in 2004 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia.[8] Transferred on the same plane to Bangkok, he was then placed in the custody of the CIA, where he was retained at a secret prison at the airport.[4][8] Returned to Libya on the rendition aircraft N313P,[11] he was held at the Abu Salim prison for seven years. While Libya, Syria, and Egypt were all roundly criticized by the west for their human rights records, they were at the same time chosen by the CIA as destinations for the rendition of terror suspects, as proper places for interrogation and torture. Having done their job of overthrowing Gadaffi, these Islamists were supposed to disappear back into the woodwork just as were the jihadists who drove the troops of the USSR Evil Empire out of Afghanistan.

 President Macky Sall of Senegal said that the West needed to provide more support for the armed forces in the region who were poorly equipped. The French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that problems in southern Libya depended upon a solution to Libyan's political crisis. France already has 3,200 troops in the Sahel region. Back on Sept. 9th, France had called for western intervention in Libya to counter the terrorist threat. Later on the 18th, a number of countries met and rejected foreign intervention: Libya's struggling elected government and representatives of 15 neighbouring nations have unanimously rejected the idea of military intervention as a way to restore stability in the oil-rich North African nation, which some say is on the brink of civil war. Now the pendulum is moving back towards intervention.

No doubt western countries are anxious that Libyan neighbors, or at least some of them, initiate this request as it will give any intervention a patina of legitimacy. There is already evidence of intervention by Egypt and the UAE among others on the side of General Haftar. The reaction of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to be optimistic. The UNSMIL issued a statement saying in part: “The move by the parties to identify their respective delegations to the talks is a step in the right direction. In agreeing to take part in this dialogue, all the parties have clearly signaled their determination to spare no effort towards safeguarding Libya’s political transition and forging ahead with building a modern democratic state based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.” The statement claims that this move shows that all parties are committed to finding a peaceful political solution to the present military and political crisis in Libya. The Mission will continue consulting with the parties in order to finalize details such as the place and time of the next meeting.

Earlier talks in Ghadames in September achieved nothing. There is no reason to believe that these will be any more successful. The Tripoli government insists that its legitimacy must be recognized as a condition of dialogue. Prime minister Al-Thinni of the Tobruk government goes even further and demands that it be recognized as the sole legitimate government and that the Tripoli government in effect surrender:Thinni laid down new conditions for talks with the rival government, asking the Tripoli administration to recognize the elected parliament first, the website said. Armed groups such as Dawn also had to withdraw from the capital. The statement did recognize the obvious fact that there are ongoing battles between the government forces led by Khalifa Haftar and anti-government militias including battles for oil ports in the east. The statement said that the Mission was deeply alarmed by the escalation in fighting which it claims undermines the efforts to convene the dialogue. The dialogue has already been postponed from last week. The statement said:“All parties should desist from any action that obstructs the dialogue efforts and endangers the country’s economic lifeline. Libyan oil is a strategic asset that belongs to all the Libyan people, who deserve an opportunity for stability and prosperity.”

 Of course the statement fails to mention that these facilities are now guarded by the same militia and former rebels who had seized the ports and kept them out of production earlier for almost a year. They are now allied with the Tobruk government so everything is fine. The statement also says that "those threatening Libya's peace, stability, or security, could be subject to sanctions". This does not mean that the Tobruk government or General Haftar will be subject to sanctions. If anyone is sanctioned it could be those leading some of the anti-government militia or representatives of the Tripoli government. The UNSMIL statement made no mention of the Libyan Supreme Court decision that the June elections were unconstitutional and the Tobruk government should be dissolved. No doubt they are still studying the decision since it was made on November 6. The international community and the press, for the most part, also conveniently ignore the ruling, although even Voice of America reported briefly on the event when it happened.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Clashes in Libya continue with no peace talks in sight

Abdullah al-Thinni
Libyan Dawn border guards at the Ras Jadir crossing into Tunisia are reported to have fled across the border into Tunisia after being attacked by forces of the Libyan National Army. The LNA and General Haftar's militia are now merged.
The head of the LNA air force, Sagr Geroushi, said that the LNA is in control of the crossing. The border is reported to have been closed by the Tunisians while the clashes are ongoing. However, video supposedly shot early yesterday showed that the Libyan post was deserted but people were walking by unchallenged by anyone.

Two Egyptian workers were reported killed near the border during clashes. A Tunisian official also claimed that the LNA had captured a checkpoint that was 10 kilometers east of the border on the coastal road. Several casualties were reported and some fighters were said to have surrendered to the LNA. According to the Libya Herald there were a number of air raids:Libya Dawlia TV is also reporting LNA air raids this morning between Zultan and south of Sabratha. There are reports too of air strikes near Ras Jedir and Zuwara as well as of LNA Zintani forces taking full control of Zultan and of nearby Abu Khammash.If true, it would mean that the LNA Zintani units have now achieved their strategic objective of blocking of the main coastal road between Tunisia and the capital.

 The LNA Zintani units are no doubt the Zintani brigades militia now re-branded as with the the rest of CIA-linked General Haftar's militia as part of the Libyan National Army. The LNA may be getting planes from Egypt as the Libyan air force was mostly destroyed by western bombing during the overthrow of Gadaffi so that coalition planes would have safe access to the skies over Libya. In the east of the country the large Es Sider oil port was still not operating as it and other ports in the area were under siege by anti-government militia.

 The Daily Mail reports that the two largest export terminals are now closed because of the conflict. The disruption in production was unable to halt the fall in oil prices for long. Meanwhile, the Sahel Sahara States, comprised of 28 African states, gave support for even more Egyptian intervention according to Chadian president Idriss Deby : " Deby said the Community of the Sahel-Sahara States, a grouping of 28 African states, urged the Egyptian President to take further measures to help stabilize Libya." Egypt's attempts so far have been to support General Haftar's operations against Islamists and other anti-government forces.

 While Deby talks about dialogue, the internationally recognized Tobruk government has given Haftar the green light to retake Benghazi and Tripoli. He is obviously operating on several other fronts as well. The government is busy bombing its own people who are rebelling just as Gadaffi did. However, Egypt and now many other countries are quietly changing the narrative so that the civil war becomes part of the global war on terror. Stabilizing the country is coming to mean the defeat of the anti-government militias.

 UN envoy Bernadino Leon tried to have talks between the two competing government representatives last week but these were then postponed until this week. The Tobruk government gives no sign of ceasing battle and the Tripoli government is replying in kind. However the Tripoli government has long sought dialogue and repeated its desire for talks just recently as shown on the appended video. The UN has yet to announce any talks for this week. The Tobruk government claims there can be dialogue only when the " Islamists" surrender. At this point there is no sign of that and so dialogue seems unlikely if not impossible.

Libya clashes threaten operation of eastern oil ports

One Libyan oil export port is no longer functioning because of clashes between government forces and anti-government militia who are launching attacks nearby.
An official told Reuters that Ras Lanuf a large port east of Es Sider was still exporting oil but the al-Waha Oil Company that operates Es Sider had stopped work. Armed groups from Fajr Libya a coalition of militia opposed to the government had launched attacks on al-Hilal an important oil region but Brigadier-General Saqr Jarushi said they had been repelled by the air force:"Air force jets and helicopters struck the fighters as they advanced on Al-Sidra oil terminal," he said, adding that the air raids had caused "a large number of casualties". Libyan officials said. An aide to the Omar al-Hassi, the prime minister of the Tripoli government, said that the attack on Es Sider was part of a much larger offensive called "Sunrise".

The Tripoli government appears to be reacting to the Hafter offensive with its own counter offensive. The Es Sider terminal is held by the eastern separatist Ibrahim Jedran, who is loyal to the Tobruk government. Fajr Libya had earlier announced it had started an operation to "liberate oilfields and terminals". The group reported that two of its fighters had been killed and several wounded. The Al-Hilal region contains the Ras Lanuf and Brega terminals as well as Es Sider.

 Although the UN has demanded that fighting stop and a dialogue begin, the Tobruk UN-recognized government supports the CIA-linked general Khalifa Haftar who is now head of the Libyan armed forces and has given him the green light to liberate Benghazi and Tripoli. So far he has managed only to liberate part of Benghazi at considerable cost and may now face a united front of radical militias from Derna, where some groups have pledged allegiance to IS. The new Shura Council said: "Everybody saw what happened in Benghazi: disaster; institutions destroyed; houses demolished; mosques and universities burned by the criminal hands of Haftar's supporters." Certainly not everyone in the west saw this because it is reported only as a positive development that Haftar has retaken part of Benghazi.

 Egypt has been supporting the efforts of Khalifa Haftar. Some believe that Egyptian planes have been involved in the bombing of Benghazi by Haftar's forces and that Egypt provided support for planes from the UAE that bombed Tripoli earlier. There have been recent bombings of Tripoli as well including the one airport left functioning.

 The EU has recently banned all seven Libyan airlines from flying within the airspace of the group of 28 countries We can expect western countries and their Arab allies to continue to ignore the ruling on Nov. 6 of the Libyan Supreme Court that said the June elections were unconstitutional and the Tobruk House of Representatives should be dissolved. The international community will continue to recognize the Tobruk government even though it now has as head of the military CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar who was formerly called a "renegade general".

 Egypt is now taking diplomatic action which it hopes will eventually lead to foreign intervention as part of the "war on terror". No doubt we will hear more and more about radical Islamists in Libya and the threat they pose to the west in preparation for international action. Here is what Al-Monitor reports on the Egyptian diplomatic push: On the diplomatic front, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has held several meetings since the launch of the initiative to stabilize Libya and the formation of the Libyan neighbors group. The aim is to urge international action on Libya, with Egyptian diplomacy framing Cairo's policy as part of the global war on terror.

Friday, December 19, 2014

American, billionaire and philanthropist George Soros may be head of Ukrainian National Bank.

There are several reports about billionaire American business tycoon and philanthropist, George Soros, possibly being the next head of the Ukrainian National Bank (NBU).

Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, seems to like appointing foreigners to top cabinet posts and gives them immediate Ukrainian citizenship: US-born Natalie Jaresko became finance minister, Lithuania's Aivaras Abromavicius economy minister and Aleksandre Kvitashvili - from Georgia - health minister. Hours before the vote in the parliament that installed them, all three were granted Ukrainian citizenship by President Petro Poroshenko. Jaresko was former president and CEO of Western NIS Enterprise Fund(WNISEF) a project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

 The APA reports that Ukraine’s Channel 112 reported the information about the Soros candidacy derived from sources in Verkhovna Rada and people close to Petro Poroshenko. Soros is not the only foreigner among candidates for the head of the Bank with the former head of the International Monetary Fund(IMF) Dominique Strauss-Kahn also said to be in the running. There are also representatives of the US Federal Reserve system among the five candidates.

 The Ukraine would not be unique in having a foreigner as head of their central bank. The United Kingdom has Mark Carney, a Canadian, as the governor of the Bank of England. Carney was formerly governor of the Bank of Canada and before that he worked for years for Goldman Sachs in several countries. Nationality becomes less of a factor than being able to serve North American and European global capital.

 The current head of the NBU is Valeria Gontareva who was appointed just back in June. She apparently has just recently submitted a letter of resignation after a report from the Parliamentary Committee on Finance and Banking asked for an urgent report on the status of the Ukrainian monetary system as well as asking Poroshenko to dismiss Gontareva.

 Soros has been active in financing NGO's throughout now independent countries that used to be part of the Soviet bloc and he helped promote the Rose revolution in Georgia. He has also promoted the work of anti-government NGO's in the Ukraine: Ercis Kurtulus, head of the Social Transparency Movement Association (TSHD) in Turkey, said in an interview that "Soros carried out his will in Ukraine and Georgia by using these NGOs .." Whoever heads up the NBU will have a tough job trying to stabilize the hryvnia, the Ukrainian currency. As with the Russian ruble, the hryvnia has had a huge fall in value. Back on November 11, Bloomberg reported: The currency dropped 6.2 percent to an all-time-low 15.84 per dollar by 3:30 p.m. in Kiev, down 18 percent since the central bank loosened its management of the exchange rate a week ago. The Ukrainian Equities Index slid 6.4 percent, the most among 93 global gauges tracked by Bloomberg. The yield on the sovereign’s benchmark Eurobonds approached record highs.

The Bank co-ordinates its activity with the government through a council of 15 members. The president Petroshenko is a member of the council. The Ukraine will be a government by the billionaires for the billionaires, should Soros head the NBU. Poroshenko, the chocolate king, is also a billionaire along with Soros and is one of the Ukrainian oligarchs.

Cat at Vladivostok airport deli runs up one thousand dollar bill

In the deli at Vladivostok airport a stray cat managed to sneak under a gourmet fish counter and begin nibbling on the delicacies.

After being pawed over by the cat, the scallops, squid, dried octopus and tuna are no longer delicacies and must go in the trash can or perhaps to the local animal rescue facility. The total bill facing the feline would be about $1,000 dollars according to the BBC or 660 UK pounds, or 60,000 Russian roubles. Another UK source Metro upped the value to one thousand UK pounds in its headline.

 The appended video shows the fish-filching feline happily stuffing its face. The cat apparently is a stray that frequently wanders into the airport to search for edibles. The video of the cat has gone viral with the cat now having its own fan-base. The owner of the shop, Irina Kuzmina, told PrimaMedia news(Russian):‘Our staff practically can’t work because of the flow of fans. From the arrival hall, people come directly to us with questions about the cat. But they don’t buy anything, they only ask questions.’ The cat has not been seen since the incident. Some fans are worried about the fate of the feline.

There is no mention of whether insurance covered the loss. I expect that there will be an exclusion clause in any contract for damage considered by the company to be related to feline terrorism.

 Many of the comments on Reddit about the incident were concerned less about the actual event than the description of it by the BBC and other issues. The BBC headline was: "Russia: Stray cat enjoys $1,000 fish feast." Readers objected strenuously, pointing out that the cat could hardly eat that much. In response, another reader noted that if the critic had read the whole article it was clear the one thousand was the total damage caused, not the amount eaten. Others still found the title misleading. Some took umbrage at the cat being described as gorging on the delicacies. One reader claimed cats don't gorge on food. This brought a deluge of replies from cat owners who begged to disagree. Finally some readers were skeptical that a fish deli would be in an airport. In response a reader pointed out that Vladivostok was a seaport and fish were a staple of the local diet.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bomb kills two US soldiers in Afghanistan

Kabul - According to Interior Ministry spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi the vehicle being driven by the two soldiers was hit by the bomb. The international military coalition (ISAF) provided less detail saying only that two of its members had been killed.
Seddiqi said: "It was a magnetic bomb. It was either attached to the vehicle belonging to the foreigners or it was planted and detonated remotely." Another source said at least three civilians had also been killed in the attack Fox News reported a spate of attacks in which at least 19 Afghans were killed along with the two American soldiers. The Washington Post says that the attack that killed the two Americans was on an ISAF convoy north of Kabul, near the Bagram military base. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahi claimed that they were responsible for the attack.

 Another attack on Saturday morning killed 12 Afghan civilians while they were clearing mines in Helmand province, according to Omar Zwak, a spokesperson for the provincial governor. The Taliban said they were responsible for that attack but claim that the targets were not civilians but were actually soldiers. Three militants were killed as well and four arrested according to authorities. The attack was near the former UK base Camp Bastion.

  Another attack Saturday morning by unknown gunmen killed Atiquallah Raufi, head of the Afghan Supreme Court secretariat, according to a spokesperson for the Kabul chief of police. In the afternoon a suicide bomber in Kabul targeted an army bus killing six members of the army and wounding 18 other people. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack as well.

 At the end of this year the US combat role in Afghanistan is set to end and most troops withdrawn. However, nearly 11,000 troops are to remain to train, advise, and assist in Afghan missions. They will also have a limited combat role in counter terrorist missions. In 2016 the number of US forces is scheduled to drop to 5,500. However, there is a partnership agreement that lasts until at least 2024 in which the US makes pledges to support Afghanistan in a number of ways. Recently Afghanistan and the US also signed a bilateral security agreement that former president Karzai refused to sign.

Pirate Bay torrent site raided by police and taken off line

Pirate Bay was allegedly the most popular place to download copyrighted material but it was taken off line last week after a police raid.

Hollywood has long been attempting to crack down on Pirate Bay and similar sites. The industry claims that in 2006 alone, piracy cost it $6.1 billion US. Hollywood decided to go after the biggest site Pirate Bay. However, shutting the site down required pressure from the US government: Given Sweden's lax laws regarding copyrighted materials, Hollywood had to enlist the United States government for help cracking down on the site. The US threatened that unless something was done to take the site offline, it'd impose trade sanctions against Sweden by way of The World Trade Organization. That led to Swedish police raiding the outfit in 2006, confiscating enough servers and computer equipment to fill three trucks and making two arrests. Three days later, the site was back up and running and more popular than ever thanks to a swell of mainstream media coverage.

 Eventually in a 2009 trial the co-founders, Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde and Gottfrid Svartholm, were fined $3.6 million and jail time for infringing copyright. At the time of the trial Pirate Bay had about 22 million users. Pirate Bay has changed its domain name since that time and it is not clear how many users it had when it was closed down. The site was sold in 2006. Fredrik Neij was recently arrested in Thailand. He had fled Sweden while out on bail. The new owners took many precautions should a raid occur, making it uncertain how long the site will be off line. A Pirate Bay representative said: "If the police decide to raid us again there are no servers to take, just a transit router. If they follow the trail to the next country and find the load balancer, there is just a disk-less server there. In case they find out where the cloud provider is, all they can get are encrypted disk-images. They have to be quick about it too, if the servers have been out of communication with the load balancer for 8 hours they automatically shut down. When the servers are booted up, access is only granted to those who have the encryption password," . Mirror sites have already sprung up.

 The police raid that closed down Pirate Bay was on December 9th. The number of torrent downloads of movies, TV shows, music, video games and software dropped from 101.5 million internet addresses on Monday 8 to 99.0 million and then 95 and 95.6 million the next two days. A list of the top pirated movies and TV shows can be found here.

  One of the co-founders of the site Peter Sunde actually applauded the closing of the site claiming that Pirate Bay had lost its soul and was polluted with ads for pornography and viagra: “It feels good that it might have closed down forever, just a real shame the way it did that." Sunde was also outraged at the 10th anniversary celebration which charged admission. The new operators were money-grubbers as far as Sunde is concerned. He said of the celebration: "The party had a set lineup with artists, scenes and so on, instead of just asking the people coming to bring the content. Everything went against the ideals that I worked for during my time as part of TPB".

 Bit torrent traffic declined 20 per cent over six months last year. From 2012 to 2013 unique visitors to Pirate Bay had dropped from 5 million to 900,000 at the end of the year.This may be partly the result of much material being made available more quickly on a legal basis. However, there are still numerous torrent sites one of the larger being Kickass Torrents which is still up and running. As with Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents has changed it domain name to avoid authorities. It is now kickass.so. The ".so" domain is in Somalia.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fragile economies in Russia and Ukraine may help ceasefire in east to hold

On Friday the fragile ceasefire extended after the recent "Day of Silence" called for by the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, appeared to be holding for the most part.

Petro Poroshenko in 2010 (Kathrin Mobius)

Poroshenko had called for the "Day of Silence" back on Tuesday December 9. Poroshenko hoped that the move would lead to a more durable ceasefire and eventually peace talks. Although eastern separatists agreed to the truce, the Ukrainian military accused them of violating the agreement. A ceasefire agreed to back on Sept. 5 has been continually violated by both sides. UN estimates are that there were more than 10 casualties a day on average after the agreement up to the Day of Silence. Ukraine, and NATO as well, claim that Russia has thousands of its own troops in rebel-held areas. Russia vehemently denies this.  
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military, said Thursday that three soldiers had been killed in the last 24 hours and that there had been 22 violations of the ceasefire since the Day of Silence began. Talks scheduled for this week had been called off due to the level of continuing violence. 
However, on Friday Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko sounded a much more positive note. While speaking in Sydney, Australia, he said that Friday was the "first 24 hours in the last seven months when we have had a 'real' halt to clashes." Although a spokesperson for the Ukrainian military said that one soldier was wounded by gunfire the truce was holding generally on both sides. The eastern separatists said they remained interested in discussions. 
The Russians are facing a deepening economic crisis. The economy is being hurt by western sanctions but even more by falling oil prices. The ruble has dropped over 40 percent in value against the dollar since June. The Ukrainian economy is even worse shape. The value of Ukrainian currency has also fallen drastically and foreign reserves are falling so quickly that some analysts think that there may be a default within weeks.
 Ukraine will also face stringent conditions attached to loans from the IMF. The loan is denominated in dollars and euros. To make payments Ukraine will no doubt sell off its assets at fire sale prices to western buyers. The loan is discussed in detail here. Late in November, Ukraine cut off financial ties with areas held by the rebels. While this will save sending pension money and other payments to the areas, it will make the rebels more dependent on Russia and in effect confirms that they do not have the rights of other Ukrainians. Citizens in the area will no longer be able to use international credit card and banking transactions. Loans made to those in rebel held territories are unlikely to be repaid after this move I should think. Both Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs have little to gain by moves such as this. 
While Ukrainian oligarchs are anxious to develop greater ties with the west, it makes little business sense to completely cut off profitable ties to Russia. Even the chocolate king Poroshenko has, or had, profitable investments in Russia. So far Russia has apparently held back from explicit monetary support for the rebels but it may now be under pressure from the rebels to do so. 
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also expressed optimism: “A real chance has emerged to restore peace in Ukraine. It was difficult, but there is still a truce and a cease-fire.” Lavrov also said that Russia viewed rebel-held areas as part of Ukraine's future. He called for "political dialogue, which should ultimately lead to constitutional reform in Ukraine with the participation of all regions and political forces in the country". Nevertheless Russia appears to be supplying more military equipment and personnel to rebels according to Lysenko, the Ukrainian military spokesperson. 
Meanwhile the US has increased sanctions on Russia while sending arms and other aid to the Ukraine: Significantly, the bill authorizes the president to make available defensive weapons, services and training to Ukraine, including anti-tank weapons, crew weapons and ammunition, counter-artillery radar, tactical troop-operated surveillance drones, and command and communications equipment. It also includes additional aid for Ukraine, earmarked to help Ukraine loosen its reliance on Russian energy, and strengthen civil society. This will add even more tension to already tense US-Russia relations. In spite of huge debts, Ukraine will double its defense budget next year, as noted on the appended video. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Six released Guantanamo inmates arrive in Uruguay but facility far from closed.

On December 7, six Guantanamo prisoners flew to Uruguay. There were four Syrians, a Palestinian, and a Tunisian. The six had never been charged and had been cleared for release five years ago in 2009. Ali al-Shaaban, a 32-year-old Syrian, had been held in Guantanamo for the last 12 years as a suspected member of Al-Qaeda. He was moved by the kindness shown him in Uruguay and said: “We are so happy to be here...We are very grateful to President Mujica for everything he’s done. I don’t want to let Mujica down.”

 Jose Mujica said that his move to receive the prisoners was meant as a humanitarian gesture. Mujica knows what it is like to be incarcerated in harsh conditions as the 79-year-old was a Tupamaros guerrilla who spent 13 years in prison, two in solitary confinement, during the time of a military dictatorship in Uruguay. Mujica said: “It’s a very traumatic situation, I can’t transmit how they must feel, some of us have lived through similar things.”

One of those released, Syrian Abu Dhiab, is still under medical supervision as he is extremely frail as the result of a hunger strike to protest his continued detention. His lawyer, Cori Crider, said that Dhiab did not believe he was being released until he was on the plane. Crider said: “You inhale the air for the first time as a free man and only then it’s real. It’s going to take some time for him to come down from his hunger strike, he’s six foot five and only weighs about 148 pounds, he’s extremely thin, in pain, emaciated and still confined to a wheelchair.”

 The six being released spent the nine-hour flight to Montevideo in handcuffs, shackles, and blindfolds, according to their lawyers. The Uruguayans who met the six insisted that they not walk off the plane in shackles and demanded they should step onto Uruguayan soil as free men. Crider has been congratulated in the street and received clapping and congratulations from people who recognize her from appearances on local media. She said: “It’s amazing, The good will from the government and even from people on the street is unlike anything I have encountered in my 10 years of doing this.”

 Even the US State Department envoy, Clifford Sloan, had praise for Uruguay's actions: “We are very grateful to Uruguay for this important humanitarian action, and to President Mujica for his strong leadership in providing a home for individuals who cannot return to their own countries." The six are the first Guantanamo prisoners to be transferred to South America. Mujica agreed to receive the six back in January. Outgoing Defense Minister Chuck Hagel is blamed by the Obama administration for letting the deal sit on his desk for months until finally sending the notification to Congress in July. The total number of prisoners at Guantanamo is now 136. The US has released 19 prisoners so far this year. Officials say that several more will be transferred out by the end of this year. Even so, it appears quite unlikely that Guantanamo will be closed soon.

The recently passed defense bill had several passages that may block Obama's attempts to close Guantanamo: The bill rejected President Obama's request to approve the closure of the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay. It also extended a ban on transferring inmates from the prison to the US. Even if all those recommended for release were transferred out, there would still be 69 prisoners left at Guantanamo. Alka Pradhanm, counterterrorism counsel for Reprive US, a human rights organization, does not think that Obama will focus on closing Guantanamo in spite of his continuing promises: "So we're stuck with Guantanamo. Now, we're in a hole. I tend to be a pessimist about it. No matter what the President continues to say, I don't think this is his priority anymore."

 There is opposition in Washington to releasing more prisoners, stoked by the fact that almost 17 percent of the 620 detainees released so far returned to terrorist activities, according to a report in September 2014 by the director of national intelligence. The rise of the Islamic State helps to fan fears in Congress and the general public. The head of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was captured and held by the US in a US-run prison in Iraq in 2004 but released later in the year. While continuing indefinite detention often with harsh treatment may actually fuel international terrorism many Americans and their representatives will see the practice as justified as part of the war on terrorism and to protect American lives

Press provides selective coverage of Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai has recently received her Nobel Peace prize, an award she deserves much more than people such as Barack Obama or Henry Kissinger who have at times promoted war but who were also awarded the prize.

Malala has spent her life promoting education for children, certainly a noble cause and worth supporting. The western media applauds and publicizes statements such as the one she made to the UN: "..let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen, can change the world. Education is the only solution.” Emphasis upon education alone however, as Ben Norton points out, fails to call attention to the fact that most citizens in underdeveloped countries suffer also from grinding poverty. Malala herself in her statements has not ignored this factor. In the same speech in which she emphasized the role of education, she also emphasized what she called " a glorious struggle against illiteracy poverty, and terrorism." The western media can well applaud her fight for education and against terrorism but there has been little emphasis on her fight against a poverty which helps produce some of the reactionary ideologies against which she is struggling.
  One quarter of the global population live on less than $1.25 per day. UNICEF estimates that 24,000 children under the age of five die every day due to poverty. There are other aspects of Malala's message which are little emphasized in most press accounts among them being her opposition to Obama's drone program. While praising Malala's non-violent approach to change, at the same time many of her supporters may also defend strongly the use of violence in the war on terror including Obama's extensive drone program.

 When Malala met with Obama and his family on October 11 2013 the White House statement stressed Malala's work to promote education of girls: "The United States joins with the Pakistani people and so many around the world to celebrate Malala's courage and her determination to promote the right of all girls to attend school and realize their dreams." In a statement published by the Associated Press on the meeting, Malala said: "I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees, I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact." There was silence from the White House on the drone remarks.

Not long afterwards, Nabila Rehman, an eight-year-old Pakistani girl was out picking okra in a field when her grandmother was "eviscerated right before her eyes by a US drone strike." She testified before Congress as did her 13-year-old brother who was injured in the blast. While there was some limited coverage in the press of the testimony, there was no praise of that testimony coming from the White House. Only five out of 430 Congressional members bothered to turn up for the hearing. While the Rehmans were testifying, Obama could not attend because he was busy meeting with the CEO of Lockheed Martin that among other activities manufactures weapons for the US military.

An aspect of Malala's views that is even less covered is her opposition to capitalism. In July of 2012 she had taken part in the national Marxist Summer School in Swat. In March of 2013 she sent a message to the congress of the International Marxist Tendency(IMT) indicating her support for socialism: “First of all I’d like to thank The Struggle and the IMT for giving me a chance to speak last year at their Summer Marxist School in Swat and also for introducing me to Marxism and Socialism. I just want to say that in terms of education, as well as other problems in Pakistan, it is high time that we did something to tackle them ourselves. It’s important to take the initiative. We cannot wait around for any one else to come and do it. Why are we waiting for someone else to come and fix things? Why aren’t we doing it ourselves? I would like to send my heartfelt greetings to the congress. I am convinced Socialism is the only answer and I urge all comrades to take this struggle to a victorious conclusion. Only this will free us from the chains of bigotry and exploitation.” Only selected aspects of Malala's world view our allowed to filter through to be emphasized by the media.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

UN-sponsored Libya dialogue postponed

UN Special Envoy Bernadino Leon announced that talks aimed at resolving Libya's political crisis scheduled to begin today have been postponed until the beginning of next week.

An earlier set of talks in Ghadames in September had produced no progress. The talks were only with representatives of the internationally recognized government in Tobruk led by prime minister Al-Thinni, along with some representatives who had been elected but had boycotted the meetings of the House of Representatives in Tobruk. No militia leaders nor representatives of the rival government in Tripoli were included in the talks.

 Since that meeting, the Libyan Supreme Court ruled on November 6 that the June elections were unconstitutional and that the Tobruk government should be dissolved. This ruling was immediately rejected by the Tobruk government. The most recent statement from the UN does not refer to any government but just to "parties" and "stakeholders." The international community has simply ignored the ruling and carried on relations with the Tobruk government although a Turkish envoy has met with Omar al-Hasi prime minister of the Tripoli government. The UN is extending the range of participants in the talks this time around to include representatives of the Tripoli General National Congress government. Leon said the postponement would give more time to work out details. US officials are reported to believe that the talks will fail because of international meddling. The talks may have been postponed in order to negotiate terms of the dialogue.

Al Thinni and the Tobruk government have placed conditions on participating in the dialogue insisting that the Tripoli government recognize the legitimacy of the Tobruk parliament and armed groups such as Libya Dawn withdraw from Tripoli. These are truly ludicrous conditions. The Tripoli government holds that after the Supreme Court ruling it is clearly the legitimate government. Libyan Dawn is the force that allows the Tripoli government to continue to function and not be burned to the ground as Haftar arranged for an earlier parliament. Leon said of the planned dialogue: "So this dialogue should be based on respect. And we have agreed tonight that this respect will mean that the representatives from this house will be attending the dialogue considering themselves representatives of the GNC. But they will accept that these talks will have different views. Leon simply dodged a question as to whether the UN has changed its earlier position that the Tobruk House of Representatives was the sole legitimate government in Libya. He did say however that the Supreme Court ruling invalidating the House of Representatives had changed the situation: "We all agreed that the ruling of the court implied changes in the country. What is important is to have a dialogue where each one has its view and they accept the views of the others." The present talks appear to be only with political stakeholders, not the heads of militia for either side.

Haftar has made it clear that he will only participate in dialogue on certain conditions: He went on to demand that all parties present for the talks recognise the legitimacy of the HoR as the legally elected body of representatives for the Libyan people.The retired general also insisted that those invited agree to the national army’s initiatives for disarmament, the dissolution of militias, the turning over of all ports, airports and detention centres to the government and the cleansing of all areas of Libya of terrorists. Haftar is making it a condition of dialogue that the other side surrender. He also uses the Gadaffi, Al-Assad and al-Sisi trick of calling his opponents terrorists. Meanwhile he can also bomb his own people claiming they are terrorists while sabotaging Leon's efforts to create a dialogue. The postponement may be in part due to the fact that Leon knows at present he has no chance of any real dialogue.

 Meanwhile key players internationally have already decided the issue of who is the legitimate government:At an specially convened meeting in Abu Dhabi today, ambassadors and Special Envoys from the United States, the UK, France and Italy told Libya’s Prime Minister, Abdullah Al-Thinni, that they continued to “recognise and support” the Libyan House of Representatives and his government. According to a statement from Thinni’s press office, they also said that they do not recognise any other entity as the legitimate government in the country.The four countries represent key international stakeholders in the UN-sponsored peace process. So no matter what the dialogue might decide the Tobruk govenrment will be recognized by these key players as the legitimate Libyan government. What message can this send to the Tripoli government? What could they achieve by dialogue? What is in it for them?

 As I wrote in another article, I think that many countries including the US actually hope that the talks will fail. If the key players do not attend the talks, an important group of countries including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, the US, the EU, and the UN have said that if key players fail to participate in the UN-led process that they will "consider additional measures....to counter expanding terrorist threats to Libya and the region". Haftar and the Tobruk government are home free. What may very well happen is intervention to help Haftar route the Islamist terrorist hordes.

 A report published in the Australian a few days ago as quoted by Global Research claims: “The U.S. is plotting to expand its military campaign to Libya after fighters loyal to Islamic State were seen training in the east of the country. A U.S. commander has acknowledged that discussions are under way in Washington about broadening the anti-Islamic State campaign to Libya.” (Australian.com) Leon from the UN may be genuinely trying to create a political solution but key western powers and the Tobruk government along with Haftar appear determined to turn the internal conflict into a war against terrorism. The result could be a disastrous and long civil war.

Psychologist who helped plan CIA "torture" program sleeps soundly

Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell were pyschologists who were hired as private contractors by the CIA to plan and develop methods to get terror suspects to talk.

Among the techniques were interrogation tools such as waterboarding, slapping, and sleep deprivation. A CIA medical professional warned in an email back on June 16, 2003: “Although these guys believe that their way is the only way, there should be an effort to define roles and responsibilities before their arrogance and narcissism evolve into unproductive conflict in the field,” These two psychologists are among very few major participants in the torture program who are actually identified. There are many who are calling for legal prosecutions as a result of the report and the two psychologists could be among those against whom charges could be filed.

 However, given the attitude of the Obama administration it is highly unlikely that any legal action will ever be taken against anyone in the US. The only person charged in the entire torture affair is CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou who is still in jail. Attorney General Eric Holder decided some time ago to cease all attempts to prosecute anyone at the end of August 2012: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced Thursday that no one would be prosecuted for the deaths of a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002 and another in Iraq in 2003, eliminating the last possibility that any criminal charges will be brought as a result of the brutal interrogations carried out by the C.I.A. Obama's own famous announcement about looking forwards not backwards--except for whistleblowers, makes it clear there will be no prosecutions: Asked about investigating CIA torture in 2009, Obama replied that "it’s important to look forward and not backwards." Obama admitted that "we tortured some folks" earlier this year, but he didn't call for those responsible to be punished.

Obama appointed John Brennan head of the CIA in spite of the fact that he had to withdraw his name when Obama first tried to appoint him: In late 2008 Brennan was the reported choice for Director of the CIA in the incoming Obama administration. Brennan withdrew his name from consideration because of opposition to his CIA service under President George W. Bush and past public statements he had made in support of enhanced interrogation and the transfer of terrorism suspects to countries where they might be tortured (extraordinary rendition).[3][6][22] President Obama then appointed him to be his chief counterterrorism advisor, a position that did not require Senate confirmation.[3 In 2013 Obama tried again this time with success and Brennan became CIA chief on March 5. There were frantic attempts to delay release of the Senate summary report on torture but they failed. A statement by the White House press secretary makes it clear that he has confidence both in his CIA appointment Brennan and those who work for the CIA:"The president wakes up every morning pleased to know that John Brennan and the men and women of the CIA are hard at work using their skills and expertise to protect the American people," press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday, calling Brennan a "dedicated professional" and a "patriot." In other words although Obama disapproves of torture and the Bush CIA operations, he fully supports those that carried it out.

 It should not be surprising that one of the two psychologists who contracted with the CIA, James Mitchell, can say: "I always sleep soundly at night". He need not worry about charges being laid against him as he lives a retired life of leisure in Florida. There is an appended video interview with him. Another reason why Mitchell can sleep well at night is that he is well off as a result of his work planning harsh interrogation methods for the CIA. The two psychologists' firm was paid a total of $81 million between 2005 and 2008 before the $181 million contract was terminated in 2009. Senator Dianne Feinstein who released the report said: “The CIA relied on these two contractors to evaluate the interrogation program they had devised and in which they had obvious financial interests.” Mitchell said that he could not comment on whether he personally participated in water-boarding alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He said due to a nondislocure agreement he could not respond. He said of waterboarding: “I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, I don’t think it’s the wrong thing to do."

He did implicitly defend techniques such as slapping noting with some irony: “To me it seems completely insensible that slapping KSM is bad but sending a Hellfire missile in to a family picnic and killing all the children, killing Granny, is OK,” Of course, both could be bad. That someone should think one action cannot be bad because another is much worse shows rather weak powers of elementary reasoning.

 Even the spokesperson for the American Psychological Association, Rhea Farberman, said in an interview: “If the allegations are true, their behavior was a clear violation of the profession’s ethical standards, clear violations of human rights, and probably violations of U.S. and international laws They should be held accountable.” With the Obama administration clearly opposed to any prosecution any prosecutions must await the Republican take-over of both houses. They will order prosecutions just after they help Obama finally close Guantanamo.

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...