Saturday, October 31, 2015

Portuguese president refuses to allow lefitsts to form majority government

While the government of Prime Minister Pedro Coelho was re-elected after recent elections, it is only with a minority. Coelho's government was known for its cooperation in passing austerity programs in return for a bailout four years ago.
Leftist parties including the Socialists and Communists finally managed to bridge their differences and agreed to a coalition government that would have a majority in parliament. Coelho has not been able to form a coalition that would have a majority in parliament. Nevertheless president, Anibal Silva, reappointed Coelho as prime minister:
"I have designated Mr Passos Coelho as prime minister because he is the head of the coalition which won the October 4 parliamentary elections,"
Silva refused to entertain the idea that he should appoint the left-wing coalition that would have a majority. The group has a mandate to undo the austerity regime Coelho created. Silva's move will appease the authorities in the EU and financial markets but will create a political storm in Portugal. Silva railed against the idea of a possible leftist bloc ruling:“In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO. After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets,”Antonio Costa, leader of the Socialist Party, said he and his Left Bloc coalition "have clearly said that an exit from the euro and renegotiating debt are not on the negotiation table".
The core message of the Bloc is that there should be an end to wage cuts and Troika imposed austerity programs. While the Coelho coalition won 38.5 percent of the vote, they lost 28 seats. The new leftist coalition won 50.7 percent of the vote but did not exist as a coalition at the time of the election. Costa of the Socialists said the action of the president was a "grave mistake" that could engulf the country in a political firestorm. He said any new minority government would face a no confidence vote in parliament. Unlike Greece, Portugal is not now under a Troika guided regime so there will be no immediate funding crunch crisis. Nevertheless, Portugal is still in poor financial shape. Public debt is 127 percent of GDP and total debt 370 percent. Net external liabilities are 220 percent of GDP.
Rui Tavares a radical green member of parliament said: “The president has created a constitutional crisis. He is saying that he will never allow the formation of a government containing Leftists and Communists. People are amazed by what has happened.” He pointed out that as part of the coalition deal the demands for a euro exit, and a withdrawal from NATO had been dropped. Silva was attacking the Left Bloc as a "straw man," Tavares claimed.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Attacker in Israel said to be "Arab terrorist" until he was found to be Jewish

Two Israel Defence Force(IDF) soldiers shot and killed a man who they claim was acting erratically and attempted to grab one of their guns. They shot and killed the man because they believed he was an Arab terrorist.
Yehuda Zahav of the ZAKA rescue team told the Jerusalem Post:“When I arrived with the ZAKA team at the site of the supposed terrorist attack, it seemed to be a ‘standard’ current terrorist attack, a stabbing attempt, and the terrorist was apprehended..I wanted to cover the body in a black bag [reserved for terrorists]. After I was asked to take care of the body I saw that he was a Jew, and that it was mistake to speak of a terrorist. I immediately notified the police and we switched to a white ZAKA body bag.”
Remi Brulin, from the New York University, has often written on the "discourse of terrorism." He tweeted that the incident proves what he has long argued that the term "terrorism" is basically meaningless except for its propagandistic function. When the attacker was thought to be a Palestinian Arab he was a "terrorist" and was to be put in a black bag. When he turned out to be a Jew the label vanished along with the black bag. The action was exactly the same whether he was an Arab terrorist or a Jew. Brulin compared the use of "terrorism" to that of "torture" as a description of water-boarding. In 2007 the New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani when asked whether water-boarding was torture said that it depended upon who does it.
Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson for the Israeli police, claimed the victim of the killing refused to provide the soldiers with his identity card. He then started to punch them and attempted to seize one of their weapons. In response, the soldiers shot him dead.
This attack and death occurs just a week after an Eritrean refugee was mistaken for a Palestinian attacker and murdered. Not long ago as well a Jewish man was stabbed in a parking lot in a Haifa suburb by another Jewish man who took him to be an Arab. Fortunately, the stab wounds were not fatal. He wanted to revenge a series of Arab stabbings of Jews. Recent violence has resulted in at least 52 Palestinians being killed by Israeli security forces and 8 Israelis have died in Palestinian attacks.

UN's special envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon has term extended

The UN Special Envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, has been asked to continue his work even after the refusal of both rival governments in Libya to approve his final draft of the Libyan Political Agreement after a year of negotiations.
Leon had set a final deadline of October 20 for the approval of the agreement, one of many deadlines the two sides have ignored. The next day the mandate of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) ran out. The HoR earlier had unilaterally extended its mandate, but this is likely illegal as the mandate was supposed to be extended only by a referendum. However, under the Libyan Political Agreement, the HoR could have continued but under the terms of the LPA as approved by both sides. Leon and many in the international community have put pressure on the HoR to sign the agreement with Leon even suggesting that the HoR must sign the agreement to obtain international recognition. So far no country has come forth with an announcement that it no longer recognizes the HoR or that it has decided the General National Congress(GNC) is now the legitimate government. The GNC has long made this claim since the Libyan Supreme Constitutional Court ruled last November the elections for the HoR were unconstitutional and the HoR should be dissolved. The international community has ignored the ruling. The UN has been "studying it" for over a year now.
Leon was originally scheduled to leave his post by the end of this month and be replaced by veteran German diplomat Martin Kobler. Italian Foreign Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, announced the extension while briefing an Italian parliamentary committee on Libya. He said Leon still hoped to reach a final agreement and "get out of the ambiguities" preventing a settlement. No time was put on his extension. Leon is known to want to return to Spanish politics and become foreign minister if the Socialist Party wins elections on December 20. Diplomats claim Kobler's job was to oversee the implementation of the LPA, not to negotiate it, as Leon has been doing.
Even Fox news took time out from covering Hillary Clinton on Libya and report on the impasse developing on Libya. Leon noted while speaking in Tunis that he came there to "insist that the process goes on, that there is no chance for a small group of personalities to hijack this process...The international community, the Security Council is saying this cannot happen." Note that Leon does not make announcements from inside Libya, since he would be in danger no matter which area he was in. When he tried to visit Tobruk,where the HoR is located, his plane could not land due to protests on the ground. As shown in the appended video and image there are protests against Leon in areas controlled by each rival government.
The international community must be well aware that the commander of the HoR armed forces, Khalifa Haftar, has been carrying on a military campaign called Operation DIgnity since May of 2014 and has his own plan B rather than those of the UN. He has paid no attention to the UN. He has bombed his own people numerous times, following the Gadaffi line that he is hitting terrorists. He includes the militia forces of the GNC as terrorists. The EU threatened him with sanctions but never implemented them. Since then Haftar has gained support from Egypt, the UAE, the Arab League and signed a military agreement with Jordan. He has pledged allegiance to the HoR, but only if they reject the LPA. He has prevented his own prime minister from leaving Libya twice. He also has control of who is named to prime minister Al-Thinni's parliament.
Haftar's view is that the international community should lift the ban on sending arms to Libya and send weapons and other support to him to fight terrorism. In reaction to the UN's pressure, Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni issued his own lecture to the international community and the UN as to how both were encouraging terrorism by not supporting the Haftar campaign. He spoke of violence from terrorists in Benghazi, Sirte, and Derna. He seems not to have noticed that the Islamic State has been driven out of Derna by other Islamists and is run by a Shura Council. Sirte is in the GNC area of control and it should be them that are complaining. They would not allow Haftar forces in the area. Al-Thinni duly rants on, no doubt with material vetted by Haftar:“We hold fully responsible UNSMIL, the United Nations and the Security Council for the daily loss of innocent civilians lives, because they are not serious about taking measures that will support the legitimate institutions in Libya and most importantly the Libyan army in its war against terrorism”.It is not the HoR and Haftar who are threatening international security by refusing to agree to the LPA and Government of National Accord. It is the UN through the United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSML) and the international community who do so by refusing to support Haftar in his war against terrorism.

Welfare often helps rather than corrupts the poor

A common view of welfare is that it corrupts the poor and creates a culture of dependency that needs to broken by cutting off benefits and forcing the poor to find jobs and break their addiction to welfare.
A recent article in the New York Times, by Eduardo Porter, shows that at least some of the contentions behind this viewpoint are not consistent with some of the facts about the effects of welfare. Of course there is nothing easier than to find specific incidents in which welfare has corrupted the poor and recipients are successfully gaming the system. This tells one nothing about the overall effects of welfare payments but creates a public bias against welfare that can be used to cut benefits without much negative fallout, except from anti-poverty groups, that can be branded as "special interests."
Often anti-welfare positions are associated with the conservative politicians and Republicans in the United States. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute is a well-known critic of welfare. However Franklin Delano Roosevelt a staunch democrat who introduced the New Deal during the depression said that welfare was " a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit." It was a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who passed legislation to end "welfare as we know it." There is little doubt that Roosevelt has a point that welfare can have the effect he claims. Much preferable to welfare is enabling the poor to have jobs and in Roosevelt's case that is what the New Deal helped do, but many also criticize government "make work" projects. Roosevelt's make work projects produced significant infrastructure within the US.
The NY Times article argues that the association of welfare with dependency ignores positive benefits that welfare payments can be bring: Actual experience, from the richest country in the world to some of the poorest places on the planet, suggests that cash assistance can be of enormous help for the poor. And freeing them from what President Ronald Reagan memorably termed the “spider’s web of dependency” — also known as forcing the poor to swim or sink — is not the cure-all for social ills its supporters claim.
In spite of the increasingly common view that welfare payments are counter-productive unconditional cash assistance is used in 119 countries, and 52 other countries have minimal requirements. A recent study released by Professor Abhijit Banerjee, who directs the Poverty Action Lab at MIT that looked at seven cash-transfer programs in Mexico, Morocco, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Philippines and Indonesia found "no systematic evidence that cash transfer programs discouraged work." A common view about cash transfer payments is that they will be spent on alcohol and tobacco, making the recipients and their families worse off than before. A World Bank report looked at cash assistance programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and found that such behavior is atypical. Stereotypes trump data when it comes to issues such as this.Banerjee suggests that an anti-welfare ideology that is common in the U.S. may be spreading throughout the world: “Many governments have economic advisers with degrees from the United States who share the same ideology, Ideology is much more pervasive than the facts.”
Some of the common views in the U.S. about welfare are not born out by experience in the U.S. itself. A 1995 analysis of birth rates to unwed mothers by Hilary Hoynes of the U. of California at Berkeley found that welfare payments did not result in more births to single mothers and ending welfare payments to them did not reduce it.
Welfare payments can discourage those on welfare from getting work to some extent. Often part time jobs may be available to recipients but if they chose to work, welfare payments will be immediately reduced. It makes little sense to take a job when you will receive very little more than if you just stayed on welfare. Even here, studies show that the disincentive effects are magnified. James Ziliak haed of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky claims: “There is some disincentive effect consistent with theory, but the economic magnitude is not large. Oftentimes these disincentive effects are overstated in the policy discourse.” I expect that most people would not choose to stay on welfare if they were able to get a reasonable paying job. Research shows that children who are in families who receive welfare early in life have improved educational attainment, nutritional status, and income in adulthood.
In the first years the effects of welfare reform in the U.S. were positive. Numbers of families on welfare declined and child poverty declined as more single mothers had jobs. However, this was a period of a growing economy. Over time there was an over-supply of poorly-educated single mothers and child poverty rose again. Researchers now think that a strong economy in the late nineties helped produce the observed effects, plus a program of wage subsidies to business through a tax credit. When the Great Recession struck it was the poor and those who formerly received welfare who suffered most. Ziliak claims:“What we lost is a commitment to the poor who face significant barriers to work, whether because of child care or physical or mental disabilities. We have walked away from cash for that group and that group has suffered considerably.”
Personally, I think that welfare by itself is often not a way of getting people out of poverty. It needs to be combined with training programs, and government job programs, and other policies that provide the poor with a means to earn a living without simply receiving cash from the government. However, this does not mean that cash payments to the poor should be abandoned since they provide needed aid. The idea that welfare should be done away with, as the article notes, rests on the argument that "poor people will never act responsibly, get a job and stay in a family unless they are thrown into the swimming pool and left to struggle with little support from the rest of us."

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Commander of LIbya Army, Haftar pledges allegiance to government only if they reject peace agreement

CIA-Linked General Khalifa Haftar pledged his loyalty to the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government but only if they reject the Libya Political Agreement(LPA) brokered by UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon.
Haftar claims the LPA favours those who back terrorism in Libya. Haftar said his hands would not be tied "if the HoR goes too far, under Western dictation and foreign pressure on its president and other members and yields to form a government which calls itself the Accord, but in fact is biased toward the supporters of terrorism in Libya.” The unity government to be formed under the LPA is called the Government of National Accord(GNA).
Haftar said of the Libyan army: “We will not rest until the security of our injured country is restored.” His Operation Dignity, which he started a year ago in May, is intended not just to defeat radical Islamists such as the Islamic State, but the militia of the rival General National Congress government as well, whom he calls Islamist terrorists. Haftar boasted that Russia and "other friendly states" have promised him "colloboration against terrorism" and help in forming a national army capable of dealing with challenges and threats faced by Libya. The UN envoy, Leon, keeps emphasizing that there is only a political solution to the conflict, not a military one. Haftar not only thinks otherwise but has acted otherwise as well. The UN has stood by for over a year while he has constantly ignored UN warnings and laughed off EU threats to sanction him. The UN, meanwhile, is carrying on in some parallel universe that somehow manages to ignore the reality that there is no way that the HoR can pass the LPA as it is.There would need to be an understanding that Haftar will remain as the commander of the Libyan Army. This is incompatible with the LPA as it is written and interpreted by Leon and the GNC. The other day, the pro-HoR Libya Herald reported:
Following a meeting this evening with delegates from eastern tribes, notably the Obeida tribe, HoR members said that they were prepared to endorse the proposed UN-brokered agreement. However any attempt to remove Hafter was a red line for them
The LPA gives the function of commander-in-chief of the armed forces to senior members of the GNA. This is one of the reasons that Haftar rejects it. There is no report yet as to what happened at today's meeting when the HoR was supposed to approve Leon's draft. The rival GNC has not yet approved or rejected the draft.either.
The Political Committee of the GNC has criticized the draft as well as Leon's conduct and accused Leon of double-dealing during the development of the draft. They also noted that Leon claimed he could not further amend the draft to consider more of GNC concerns, while amending it on his own. The group also claimed Leon had favoured the HoR over them. In the end they said they were committed to the dialogue but claimed Leon's actions could lead to rejection of the draft. Neither side wants to be first to reject the draft, but neither side appears willing to accept it without certain guarantees that some of their demands will be met.
The international community and the UN appears to believe that the way to deal with this reality is to threaten any Libyans who object to the LPA with sanctions and hold international meetings to plan ways to help out the new Libyan Government of National Accord:Representatives of 40 countries, UN Agencies, and international bodies, as well as a number of independent Libyan experts, met in London on 19 October at a meeting co-hosted by the UK and UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to agree the most effective way to support a new Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA).
Neither of the two rival governments in Libya have yet agreed to the GNA. Neither of the two rival armed forces have agreed to the GNA. Perhaps, it might be a good idea to concentrate on creating the conditions necessary for there to be a GNA, before elaborating plans as to how to help a government that does not exist. While the UN has a news report on this meeting, there is no reporting on the progress of the dialogue itself.
The two parliaments have ignored the UN deadline. The HoR has unilaterally extended its mandate. Just how is the GNA supposed to be created and how can it take over from the existing rival governments in these conditions? The appended video shows Leon on September 22 announcing everything is now finished and the two rival governments only need to approve or reject the draft. This all had to be done and the GNA up and running by October 20. Instead, there is a huge meeting with representatives from over 40 countries discussing how best to help a non-existent government.

United Nations threatens sanctions against those blocking peace progress

For a long time now the international community and the UN have been cheerleaders for the Libya Political Agreement(LPA) brokered by the UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon.
The LPA will set up a unity government, the Government of National Accord(GNA), that will do away with the system of rival conflicting governments that exists at present. The eastern part of the country is mostly under control of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) based in Tobruk. Much of the west is controlled by the General National Congress(GNC) government based in Tripoli. The two parliaments were supposed to vote on the agreement several weeks ago. The HoR met to vote a week ago and the next day but put off any vote until today. This is the day before the HoR mandate runs out. Leon had insisted the agreement should be ratified by then so that the new GNA could take power. This obviously will not happen. The HoR has unilaterally extended its mandate in any event.
The UN has stressed that it is authorized to sanction parties that interfere with the dialogue and peace process. Yet, the commander of the HoR armed forces, CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar, has continually blocked any peace process. Back in May of 2014 he started a military campaign, Operation Dignity, to rid Libya of Islamists — according to his version of events. In the process of Operation Dignity, the parliament in Tripoli was burned down. Abdullah al-Thinni, now prime minister of the HoR, was then interim prime minister of the GNC. He called Haftar's actions illegal and noted there was a warrant out for his arrest. Instead of ever arresting Haftar, when he became prime minister of the HoR al-Thinni appointed him commander of the Libyan Army.
Together with international help in some instances, Haftar has bombed his own people several times including Tripoli in August of last year. Of course, Haftar would claim he was attacking terrorist rebels. This is the same claim that Gadaffi made. Haftar also bombed a Tripoli airport before peace talks and on one occasion representatives from the GNC were a day late for the talks as a result. He also bombed Benghazi, probably with the help of Egyptian planes. Haftar has often said he rejects the LPA., will not negotiate with the armed forces of the GNC since they are Islamist terrorists, and he will not agree to a ceasefire with them. Yet the UN has never sanctioned him.
The EU finally decided they had enough of Haftar and did name Haftar and his air force chief as individuals to be sanctioned. This was announced but the media did not follow up on the issue and it seems almost certain that he was not sanctioned. His punishment was to be offered support by Egypt, the UAE, and the Arab League. He also signed a military agreement with Jordan. Haftar called the threat of sanctions meaningless. If the UN were serious about sanctions they would have recommended sanctions not only against Haftar but against al-Thinni and even Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, since she and al-Thinni both took actions that the UN specifically warned would interfere with the peace process.
Leon constantly set deadlines that have been passed and the dialogue process went on. He gave orders that the LPA should be voted on some time ago. Neither parliament complied. We will see what happens today in the HoR.
There is no report on when or if the GNC will vote on the draft. There is division among supporters of the GNC with many opposed to the LPA but others including the municipality of Misrata in favor. However, the important militia group from Misrata, Libya Shield, has rejected the LPA along with Haftar. Given that neither armed forces of the GNC or the HoR have accepted the deal it is not clear how it could ever be enforced unless the UN thinks it can sanction Haftar and his GNC opponents. The pro-HoR Libya Herald says of the situation as of Sunday:
The House of Representatives is due to reconvene tomorrow in Tobruk to continue its debate on the Accord, with strong indications that it is likely to once again delay a decision.The remnant GNC has also refused to back the deal even though, unlike the HoR, its assent is not essential.
Leon has said several times that both parliaments need to approve the deal. This is what the GNC understands as well. If the deal goes ahead with only one parliament approving, this would ensure a continuation of civil war. The HoR may believe it would have the complete support of the international community against the GNC and its militia if this should happen. While a number of HoR members say they support the LPA, they also refuse to have Haftar removed from his position. But the draft LPA assigns the function of commander-in-chief of the Libyan Army to senior members of the GNA not Haftar. The HoR may insist all appointments made by the HoR are to be recognized as valid in the LPA but there is a proviso that they not conflict with the terms of the agreement. The GNC and many others will not agree to any government in which Haftar is head of the armed forces yet this is what even those who supposedly support the LPA demand: A number of members of the House of Representatives, including Essa Al-Araibi and HoR spokesman Faraj Buhashim, have said that they will agree to the government leadership proposals from UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon. However, they will not accept the removal of General Khalifa Hafter under any conditions.There seems almost no hope of a successful solution to conflict between the two rival governments at this point. As long as Haftar is not sidelined the GNC will not sign on to the LPA. The HoR probably does not have the power to sideline him. Haftar has recently stopped his own prime minister from leaving Libya twice. It should be evident that Haftar controls the HoR and not vice versa.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

US and Russia agree to measures to avoid accidents over Syrian skies

While the US and Russia agree on little with respect to Syria they have agreed to measures that will help ensure flight safety for the two countries during bombing sorties over Syria.
Russian Colonel-General Andrei Kartapolov said: "All technical matters have already been agreed upon, with Russian and U.S. lawyers now cross checking the text of the document. We hope this document will be signed in the very near future." He said he wanted broader cooperation on Syria with the U.S. and other countries. Russia had asked to share intelligence with the US and for the US to suggest targets to strike. So far the U.S. has refused such cooperation. However, the U.S. realizes the necessity of avoiding unfortunate accidents over Syrian skies. A U.S. official , speaking anonymously, confirmed to Reuters that a memorandum of understanding between the two countries setting out basic safety procedures over Syria was being finalized.
Kartapolov also said Russia had established direct contact with the Turkish military in order to avoid any incidents near the Turkish border. He reported as well that he had established a hotline between a Russian base in Syria and the Israel air force command to coordinate on Syria flights.
At a recent news conference in South Korea, U.S. President Barack Obama said the only agreement with Russia on Syria was on how to avoid accidents in the air:“There’s no meeting of the minds in terms of strategy,” he said, which reflected a fundamental difference with President Vladimir Putin over the continuing rule of President Bashar Assad. President Putin believes if he continues to do what he has been doing over the last five years, and that is to prop up the Assad regime, that the problem will be solved.”Obama also said that all the parties had to sit down together to plan a political transition and stop the civil war. It is not clear though that the rebels or Assad are ready for such a move.
The U.S. and others have complained that the Russian bombing attacks have been aimed at many areas where the Islamic State is not operating but only rebels opposed to Assad. This is true, but as a recent article points out, many of those being attacked are radical jihadists who belong to the al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra who seized anti-tank(TOW) missiles that had been provided to the hapless US-trained troops who twice ended up having US weapons seized by the Front. The missiles have also been provided to the Saudi and Qatar funded radical Islamist Army of Conquest that has been successful against Assad in Idlib province, capturing large areas. The Russian bombing is now primarily designed to degrade these forces so that Assad and allies can regain this territory. There are few "moderate" rebels left in Syria for the Russians to attack and certainly they are not the forces most feared by Assad.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Governor of Okinawa withdraws permission for construction at US base

The governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga, has revoked permission for construction work on a new U.S. base at Henoko Bay on the Japanese island.
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For two decades, the U.S. and Japanese military planners have been attempting to relocate the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — now located in the middle of a crowded city — on the island to a less populated area. The plan for the relocation has faced growing opposition and many protests since Onaga an opponent of the base won over the incumbent governor last November.
The conflict has grown since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to complete the base. The deal for relocation was agreed to back in the 1990s. Abe is promoting increased military spending and military ties with the U.S. in a bid to counter China's growing military power. He has reinterpreted the pacifist Japanese constitution so as to allow Japanese forces to engage in combat missions outside of Japan.
Abe reversed a decades-old policy that allowed Japanese forces only to be use in self-defence. There was a great deal of opposition and many demonstrations against this move. Many in the Japanese public oppose Abe's hawkish vision of Japan's future. In Okinawa this opposition is even stronger. They feel that neither the needs nor wishes of Okinawans are considered in Abe's plans. As the New York Times reports: Daily demonstrations against the base by protesters encamped at its main gate, and the shouts of “Warmonger!” that greeted Mr. Abe on a visit to Okinawa last month, highlight what he is up against: a public that for decades has recoiled from anything resembling the militarism that led Japan into World War II.
Onaga, at a news conference in Naha the capital of Okinawa, claimed that there were "legal flaws" in the permit that had been issued by his predecessor, who supported the relocation, and announced that he was revoking permission. Onaga wants the Futema base moved off the island completely. Okinawa is host to about 25,000 U.S. military personnel, more than half the number throughout the whole of Japan. Polls show that a majority of residents support the position of their governor. Demonstrators outside Camp Schwab, the U.S. base at Henoko Bay, cheered Onaga's announcement. Under the relocation plan the base would be much enlarged with runways extending into the bay. Very little work has been done but even surveys have brought protests.
The Japanese government will seek to have Onaga's decision overruled. The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has ultimate jurisdiction over the construction permit revoked by the governor. Government spokesperson, Yoshihide Suga, said:“There is no change to our plan to continue with construction in order to prepare for relocation." Experts claimed that the issue could end up in Japanese courts. It remains to be seen if construction will continue or be frozen until the courts decide on the issue. Masakazu Aharen, of Shizuoka University said that trying to overrule Onaga's decision could be politically damaging for Abe who is already facing declining ratings over security bills he pushed through parliament. Ignoring widespread opposition in Okinawa could further damage his reputation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Both Libyan rival governments critical of new UN-brokered agreement

Western leaders are the main cheerleaders for the proposed Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) and Government of National Accord(GNA) as well as the members of the government named by Bernardino Leon, the UN special envoy for Libya.
The cheerleading of the international community is deafening and no doubt irritating to both the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) in Tobruk in the east, and the General National Congress(GNC) based in Tripoli. Neither of the two parliaments have ratified the draft. The HoR is to discuss the draft and the nominees today. The HoR earlier rejected the amended draft but Leon was able to persuade them to go to a dialogue meeting in New York and another in Skhirat, where Leon suggested names for senior officials of the government.
GNC member Mahmoud al-Gharyani said: "I think what Leon did was a complete farce. We were surprised by the proposal. There must be a compromise because what has happened is not right and will never be acceptable." Leon has managed to sow divisions where there are not divisions already. He has split the Misrata council away from the Tripoli-based GNC. The council has come out in favour of the GNA and Leon's named officials. The GNC has roundly criticized the decision. Earlier, Leon met with commanders in Misrata without the permission of or even notifying the GNC general staff trying to take advantage of a developing split in GNC forces. The western city of Zintan's military council rejected the agreement because it objects to two GNC members named to the government.
The negotiators for the two sides are constantly pressured into accepting what is proposed by Leon even though they must know that what they are agreeing to is unlikely to be accepted by their own government. As well as being cheerleaders for the LPA the international community is also a source of threats to sanction any group that disagrees or tries to thwart the LPA:The EU is considering sanctions against those opposing the formation of a national unity government in Libya. ''Those that hinder the agreement will be considered guilty,'' according to a statement released after an EU Foreign Ministers Council meeting, which gave its full support to the political agreement presented by UN envoy Bernardino Leon.
The commander of the HoR armed forces, CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar, was threatened with EU sanctions earlier. He laughed them off. His punishment has been to gain support from Egypt, the UAE, and the Arab League. These three were also at the recent UN meeting in New York where they were also cheer leaders for the LPA. Haftar has since brokered a military agreement with Jordan. At present, he is meeting with the president of Chad, probably to round up mercenaries to help him gain control in south Libya.
The HoR government under Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni is virtually controlled by Haftar. Haftar has prevented al-Thinni from leaving the country twice recently. It is unlikely that Haftar would tolerate the HoR agreeing to a GNA that would see senior GNA officials take over his job as indicated in the latest draft. However, Haftar has lost some support. Ibrahim al-Jathran, whose militia guard two major oil ports, is now feuding with him and even accuses Haftar of trying to assassinate him. The appended video seems to say al-Jathran is close to Haftar. Maybe at one time but not now. The report does not note that as part of his colorful past, al-Jathran and his militia blockaded eastern oil terminals for months. He even tried to load and sell oil without going through the government. The oil tanker Morning Glory was intercepted by the U.S. and the oil returned to the Libya government of the time. Jordan eventually signed a deal with the government. His move to support the GNA is no doubt designed to oust Haftar since Haftar would not be commander of the Libyan National Army under the GNA.
The acting mayor of the eastern city of Al-Bayda, Ali Al-Trieki, said all municipalities in eastern Libya reject the GNA announced by Leon. He called all mayors to gather in the Martyr Square in his city to denounce the GNA. Al-Trieki is a strong supporter of Haftar. He said if the demands of the municipalities were not met, a military council would be announced. He gave Leon until Friday, October 16 to change the names completely or a military council would be announced to rule instead of the HoR. This is what Haftar has long advocated. Al-Trieki said: "The military council would save Libya from division." Quite the opposite a military council would ensure that the division remained and that civil war intensified. This is also what Haftar wants since he believes that the international community will help him since he describes his mission against the GNC government and its militia as part of a fight against Islamic terrorists. He has been carrying his military program since May of 2014 when he first launched Operation Dignity to clear Libya of Islamists. He continues to this day and has done so over the entire year of the peace dialogue.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Communist Party head elected prime minister of Nepal

The parliament speaker announced that K.P Sharma  Oli had received 338 votes from the 597 members in the Nepal parliament. Oli is chair of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) since 2014 when he won over Jhala Khanai by a 98 to 75 vote.
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Oli's candidacy had the support of at least a dozen parties including the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal. For years Nepal was subject to a Maoist insurgency in the countryside.The new government faces many problems including protests by Madhesi and Tharu communities over the new constitution. Over 40 people died within a month during clashes. The minorities live in the south on the border with India. Nepal is facing a diplomatic row with India over the treatment of the Madhesis, who are of Indian origin, resulting in reported blocking of trade along border points.
The new Nepal constitution is secular. In a first in Asia, the constitution recognizes the rights of the LGBT community. In 2007 the Nepal Supreme Court granted equal status to the LGBT community. Sunil Pant founder of the Blue Diamond Society and an openly gay federal MP said: "This victory is just the beginning of our long road towards full equality. We are ready to move beyond the discrimination, violence and exclusion of the past, and continue with even greater integrity, responsibility and dedication to contribute to the nation-building process."
In neighbouring India and Pakistan homosexuality is still punishable as a crime. While recognizing LGBT rights the constitution makes no mention of same sex marriage although a panel recommended this as well.
The new constitution is clearly secular and democratic. President Ram Yadav said: "I announce the presented constitution of Nepal, passed by the Constituent Assembly and authenticated by the chairman of the constituent assembly, effective from today, 20 September 2015, before the people of Nepal." A peace deal ended a Maoist insurgency in 2006 and the monarchy was ended by parliamentary vote in 2008. The Maoists became part of a constitutional assembly who helped draw up the present constitution. Several minorities complain that their rights are not sufficiently recognized by the constitution.

US bombing of Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan may have been a war crime

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) sent letters to 76 countries that have signed Article 90 of an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions.
The Conventions set out rules for conducting armed conflict including rules meant to protect non-combatants. MSF believes the attack on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan may have been a war crime. The attack killed at least 22 people. Among those killed were 12 MSF staff and 10 patients. Thirty-three people are still unaccounted for.
The U.S. military, the Afghans, and NATO are already planning investigations into the incident that the US now calls a mistake. Obama called MSF president Joanne Liu and apologized for the attack. Liu however sees an independent investigation as necessary especially since there have been inconsistencies between US and Afghan accounts in recent days. Liu said: ”We cannot rely on only internal military investigations by the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces." The MSF sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon about their demand. Stephane Dujarric a spokesperson for the UN said that ban is "always in favor of accountability, and he looks forward to a transparent and impartial investigation of what happened in the hospital in Kunduz". Note that the reply says nothing about who should be investigating.
The MSF demanded that the 15 member International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission based in Bern Switzerland carry out the investigation. The Commission is made up of diplomats, legal experts, doctors, and some former military officers from nine EU countries. It was created after the Gulf War in 1991 but has never been deployed on a fact-finding mission. Liu complained that the attack in Kunduz was not just an attack on their hospital and a possible war crime but an attack on the Geneva Conventions that cannot be tolerated. The attack has completely shattered the humanitarian aid response team in Kunduz, with MSF and other aid groups suspending operations in the area. The hospital was the primary medical facility in the entire region.
Only a single country need call for the Commission to be mobilized. However, both the U.S. and Afghanistan would need to agree to the investigation. Neither Afghanistan nor the U.S. have signed on to this article of the Conventions. MSF has not yet heard from any country.
The MSF demand did receive support from the top commander of NATO:Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Commander and four-star US Air Force General, told Deutsche Welle that he supports the investigation called for by Doctors Without Borders, through the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC).
The directory of international law and policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross also supported the MSF, claiming that the IHFFC investigation would complement those of the Afghans, NATO and the US. No doubt some military authorities are probably as astonished at what happened as others and would like to know how it could happen. So far US authorities have said they do not believe an international investigation is needed. But even one of their top generals thinks otherwise.
The circumstances of the attack make the official US view that it was a mistake difficult to believe. The location of the hospital had been made clear to both Afghans and Americans. Hospital officials also noted:
The U.S. military aircraft that attacked an Afghan hospital over the weekend made at least five passes over it dropping explosives, even though two flags draped across the roof of the building marked it as a medical facility, hospital officials said on Thursday.The staff noted the hospital was the only structure hit in the attack. They denied that the Taliban were using the hospital as a base at the time or that there were any armed Taliban fighters in the hospital. The building that was attacked contained emergency rooms, an intensive-care unit, blood lab, and X-ray room plus an outpatient waiting room. No other buildings on the hospital grounds were attacked. The attack began just after 2:00 in the morning and lasted almost an hour even though MSF frantically contacted authorities to inform them the hospital was under attack.
It seems clear that the intention was to attack the building that was hit, even though it was known that it was a hospital. Perhaps, the attack was based upon some intelligence about hi-value targets being in the hospital, or that it was being used as a base by the Taliban. Even if this had been true it would not justify the attack. The U.S. story changed. At first those killed were collateral damage in an attack called in to protect troops being fired upon from the hospital or nearby as discussed on the appended video. As often happens, the story had to be altered as new evidence of what happened emerged.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Pentagon finally scraps failing expensive training program for moderate rebels in Syria

After considerable criticism, the Pentagon has announced it is ending its $500 million program to train and equip vetted moderate Syrian rebels to form a New Syrian Force to fight the Islamic State.
The U.S. is now planning to provide arms and equipment to select vetted groups and leaders in Syria already fighting the Islamic State. Secretary of State Ash Carter said:"I remain convinced that a lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria will depend in part on the success of local, motivated, and capable ground forces.I believe the changes we are instituting today will, over time, increase the combat power of counter-ISIL forces in Syria and ultimately help our campaign achieve a lasting defeat of ISIL."
There were just two groups of trained rebels sent to Syria. The first group of 54 was quickly routed by the Al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. In recent testimony to the U.S. Congress CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin III testified that less than half a dozen U.S.-trained rebels were left in Syria. The fate of the second group of about 70 fighters was no better. As soon as the group entered Syria they handed their weapons over to the Nusra Front. Originally the plan was to have thousands of the U.S.-trained New Syrian Forces in Syria fighting the Islamic State. The U.S. policy failed to take into account the obvious fact that rebels of whatever stripe have as their first priority defeat of Assad rather than fighting the Islamic State. The only reason rebels fight the Islamic State is that IS attacks them. The U.S. bombing attacks also target Al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front that most rebels consider a key ally in the fight against Assad.
Al Jazeera reporter Rosalind Jordan said reporters were told that the U.S. believes the fight against the Islamic State will last for years: "What is notable is instead of training the moderate Syrian rebels who had wanted to take arms up against President Bashar al-Assad, the US is going to be providing basic military equipment and support to exisitng groups who have been fighting against ISIL for the better part of the year now. Obama administraion officials told reporters on Friday that this change will work but they also did caution that the fight against ISIL is going to take years and it will not be resolved in a matter of weeks or months."The extent of the program will apparently be scaled back with a new focus on providing weaponry to Kurdish and other rebel groups. Now with the Russians providing more equipment and air support for Assad, he may be able to improve his situation. The U.S. arming of the Kurds will not hurt Assad since long ago Assad decided to leave the Kurds alone, provided they did not attack his forces. Recently the Kurds applauded the Russian air strikes in Syria even though rebel groups attacking Assad other than the Islamic State were targets of the raids. The Kurds also asked the Russians to provide them with weapons.

CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar's alternative plan for Libya

A recent article in the Middle East Eye describes what the author, Mattio Toaldo, calls Khalifa Haftar's Plan B. The plan would replace that of the UN to create a unity Government of National Accord(GNA) supported by the existing two rival governments.
The author is a policy fellow in the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London. The plan for the GNA is still ongoing. The UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon, who is organizing the dialogue between the rival governments, hoped to announce the names of the main officials of the GNA last night. However, that did not happen as the General National Congress(GNC) government requested more amendments to the final draft of the Libyan Political Agreement(LPA). Leon says there can be no amendments. Neither parliament, including the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) has agreed yet to the final draft even though both sides sent negotiators to the recent meetings in Skhirat Morocco. The HoR earlier rejected the draft since it already contained some amendments to address concerns on the GNC. Leon managed to convince the HoR to send representatives to recent meetings at the UN in New York and now at Skhirat.
The alternative plan by Khalifa Haftar, the CIA-linked commander of the HoR armed forces, would wreck or stall the UN talks while continuing the already existing division of the country but giving him greater control of the HoR. Taldo notes Haftar started the whole conflict back in 2014. Haftar first launched a failed coup in February and then his Operation Dignity, designed to rid Libya of Islamists in May of the same year. Ironically as part of Operation Dignity, the Libyan parliament buildings were burned down while at the time Abdullah al-Thinni was prime minister. He denounced Haftar's action. Now as prime minister of the HoR he appointed Haftar commander of the HoR armed forces, the Libyan National Army.
Recently the HoR unilaterally extended its mandate beyond October 20. This was Leon's deadline for the new Government of National Accord(GNA) to take over as the HoR mandate expires. The UN plan was also to extend the HoR mandate but with the agreement of the GNC and under the terms of the GNA. The HoR claims that their move was necessary to avoid a "power vacuum" should the UN plan fail. According to Toaldo the HoR discussed several options. One would just see the HoR continue to govern without agreeing with the rival GNC or accepting the UN plan. Other options included conferring all powers to a temporary president or declaring a state of emergency with a military council governing the country. This last option is part of Haftar's Plan B with himself as head of the council. Haftar has from the first rejected the UN LPA since under it, the function of commander in chief of the GNA armed forces would be carried out by senior officials of that government. He would be sidelined temporarily and likely permanently as the military leadership would be "reset." The GNC and other opposition groups will never accept Haftar as commander of the national armed forces voluntarily.
Toaldo notes Haftar has all along been attempting to scuttle any deal. The possibility of a power void after October 20 gives him an opportunity to consolidate his power over the HoR government. Haftar had to make it clear to prime minister Al-Thinni who was in charge. Haftar has twice stopped Al Thinni, supposedly his boss, from flying out of Libya, once to a meeting, and the other time for a holiday at Eid. Toaldo claims: Last weekend, the two met at Haftar’s headquarters in the eastern city of al-Marj. The agreement they reached establishes Haftar’s “oversight” over Thinni’s cabinet. From now on, the names of the minister of defence and of the minister of the interior will have to be “agreed” by the two. A peculiar agreement if one thinks that theoretically Libya is due to have a national unity government in less than two weeks.
Even under the continuation of the "fiction" of a civilian government, Haftar would have the advantage of continued recognition. In spite of being threatened with sanctions, Haftar has the support of Egypt, the UAE and the Arab League. He recently signed a military deal with Jordan. Toaldo says Haftar would be disappointed by a joint statement in which the U.S. and many other countries said the UN agreement “will also grant legitimacy to the institutions of the future state of Libya. Any step which jeopardises this agreement is unhelpful.” No doubt Haftar will take such a statement as meaningless rhetoric, just as was the EU naming him as a person to be sanctioned for trying to scuttle the peace process. Haftar no doubt looks at what the international community does, not the rhetoric meant to show how committed to a peaceful political settlement it is.
Toaldo says western reaction to Haftar's plan will be important in determining the future of Libya. He believes the U.S. and EU have little to gain by supporting or not opposing Haftar's plan. He claims it would be a green light for de facto partition of the country. Of course Haftar believes that with support from Arab States and no doubt Russia, he can gain enough military might to defeat the GNC and retake the rest of the country. He is not in favour of division of the country. An Operation Dignity spokesperson has even announced a planned military operationalong the lines of that in Yemen. Toaldo points out that without the GNA the EU would be without a partner for negotiations on EU operations in Libya and its coastal waters to deal with the immigrant issue. However neither of the two rival governments would agree to EU plans since both regard them as a violation of their sovereignty. There is no guarantee that the GNA would agree either. The international community no doubt hopes that in return for a great deal of aid they will be allowed by the GNA to carry out their planned military intervention in Libya to fight the Islamic State and "ensure security".
Toaldo suggests that if there is no agreement by October 20, the U.S. and EU could suspend any recognition for any Libyan government until there is a deal. This would just help out Russia, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states who would continue to recognize the HoR. The EU and US would lose influence in the HoR. Even if there were agreement on a unity government, there would be no parallel military agreement. This is essential, as Leon admits, for the LPA to be implemented. Haftar vows never to agree to a ceasefire with the GNC forces, considers them terrorists and continues Operation Dignity against them as well as the Islamic State.

Ireland's Data Protection Commissioner investigating Twitter over data privacy concern.

Irish privacy regulators are launching an investigation into precisely how much data Twitter collects from, its URL-shortening system....