Saturday, August 27, 2016

Last Islamic State forces in Libyan stronghold of Sirte being cleared out

The media office of Al-Bunyan Al-Marsoos (Solid Structure or BAM) said that its forces are advancing into residential areas one and five, the last areas in which Islamic State(IS) forces are still hiding out in Sirte — their last stronghold in Libya.

BAM forces are mainly brigades from the city of Misrata and are loyal to the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The Libya Observer reports that BAM had occupied key positions including the Al-Ribatt Mosque, Sahara Bank and headquarters of Al-Hisbah, and the building of the former security agency used as a jail by IS. They also took over many housing units, the Sirte polyclinic and the insurance building.
A number of tweets confirm the advances. One tweet claims: "Misrata-led forces retake #Sirte Polyclinic from #ISIS". Another tweet notes that an IS leader was captured while trying to flee Sirte: ‏"@alwasatengnews #ISIS leader Mohamed Raheel Werfali captured east of #Sirte while attempting to flee. #Libya "
Media sources claim: “Many IS militants were caught including women after storming into IS field hospital and other locations.” Mistrata hospital reported that 11 dead BAM fighters had been received along with 97 wounded as the battle continues to exact a heavy toll on the fighters. A tweet reports slightly different casualties: "Casualties continue in Sirte #Libya: 11 killed and about 80 injured today in Bunyan Marsous/Misrata-led forces against #ISIS/Daesh. " Another report claims just ten were killed and 17 wounded. However, there now remain only a few IS fighters stranded in a few streets in residential areas one and five. The IS state is expected to resort to terror attacks and guerrilla-type warfare even after losing its last territory in Libya.
Air force units of the GNA have carried out operations against IS positions in Sirte and also are trying to stop any IS fighters from escaping from the city. Since August 1st the US has been carrying airstrikes to help out the advancing BAM forces. Up to August 16th the US had conducted 57 airstrikes against IS in Sirte but there have been a number more since then. Some numbers of special forces from various countries including the UK and US are also helping out BAM. As shown on the enclosed video the Misrata Hospital has been overwhelmed by the number of wounded from the campaign.

US Army makes improper accounting adjustments adding up to trillions of dollars

While one can imagine a corporation making accounting errors amounting to millions or in the case of very large corporations even a billion dollars, according to a Reuters report, the U.S. Army made improper accounting adjustments of trillions of dollars.

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The Defense Department's Inspector General, issued a report in June that claims the Army's finances are in such disarray that it made improper accounting adjustments of trillions of dollars to make it look as if the books were in balance. In a June report the Inspector General found that the Army made a whopping $2.8 trillion in incorrect adjustments in just one quarter alone in 2015. For the entire year there were $6.5 trillion in improper adjustments. The Army either lacked receipts and invoices for the adjustments or simply made them up.
The report pointed out that as a result, the financial statements for the year 2015 were "materially misstated" making the statements useless because "DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions". These severe accounting problems have been common in the Defense Department for decades. Yet, the issue does not seem to play any significant role in political campaigns and no one seems to be held responsible.
As a Reuters article notes this report confirms what Reuters wrote about in 2013 in a series that revealed who the DoD falsified its accounts on a large scale to balance its books. Neither the politicians nor the US general public are able to know how the DoD budget which is the largest piece of the annual budget is spent. The June report concentrated on the Army's General Fund, which is the larger of its two accounts at $282.6 billion in 2015. Given the accounts are in the billions one might wonder how the adjustments could be in the trillions:At first glance adjustments totaling trillions may seem impossible. The amounts dwarf the Defense Department’s entire budget. Making changes to one account also require making changes to multiple levels of sub-accounts, however. That created a domino effect where, essentially, falsifications kept falling down the line. In many instances this daisy-chain was repeated multiple times for the same accounting item.
Franklin Spinney, a retired analyst for the Pentagon said that nobody knows where the money goes. Spinney said that these errors go beyond balancing books since both main presidential candidates are in favor of increased defense spending even though this spending is not properly accounted for. In 2016 the DoD budget is $573 billion, more than half the total annual budget.
The US Congress has set Sept. 30 next year as the deadline for the Department of Defense to undergo an audit. The problems with the Army accounts may make it impossible to meet the deadline. Every other federal agency is audited annually. The issues in the Defense Department are not new. For years the inspector General who audits DoD books, has inserted a disclaimer to the annual reports pointing out that the accounting is so unreliable that "the basic financial statements may have undetected misstatements that are both material and pervasive".
A spokesperson for the Army sent an e-mail saying that it was committed to audit readiness and was taking steps to root out problems. The statement downplayed the improper adjustments claiming that the net value of improper changes was $62.4 billion and that the information was more accurate than the report asserts. According to a retired employee of the Defense Inspector General, Jack Armstrong, these improper adjustments were already being made in 2010 when he retired.
Armstrong pointed out that the Army issues two types of reports, a budget report and a financial one. The budget one is completed first. He believes that fudged numbers are inserted into the financial report to make the numbers in the two reports match. Some employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) have their own sardonic special lingo for what happens. They refer to the improper adjustments as "the grand plug." "Plug" is accounting jargon for the insertion of made-up numbers.
The Inspector General's report also put some of the blame on the DFAS for the results. This included more than 16,000 financial data files vanishing from the computer systems. There was also faulty computer programming which employees were unable to detect. The DFAS was studying the report but had no comment at present.
These problems are not new. For years federal budget watchdogs such as the Project on Government Oversight and at National Priorities have been calling for an audit of the DoD to shed some light on areas of wasteful spending. The whole system seems to be to keep the public in the dark while those who contract with the DoD continue to profit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

In contrast to most developed countries maternal mortality rates are rising in the U.S.

The rate of women dying from complications resulting from pregnancy or childbirth rose by 27 percent from 2000 to 2014. This increase is in contrast to other developed countries.

A study to be published this September in Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that 157 other countries reported a decrease in their maternal mortality rates. Maternal mortality is defined as a death while pregnant or within 42 days afterward due to causes related to the pregnancy.
The study covered 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The study encountered difficulties gathering data as the United States stopped publishing official data on maternal mortality rates in 2007. The researchers described the lack of comprehensive data on maternal mortality as an "international embarrassment". The lead researcher, pointed to a lack of funding as a reason for delays in compiling the data but the report was clear: "There is a need to redouble efforts to prevent maternal deaths and improve maternity care for the 4 million U.S. women giving birth each year."
Texas showed the most surprising increases. From 2006 to 2010 the rate was about 18 deaths per 100,000 births but in 2011 the rate increased to 33 and then to 35.8 in 2014. While the reasons for the sudden increase are not known they may be due in part to changes in women's health care within the system such as the closing of several women's health clinics.
In September of 2011 the state family planning budget was cut by fully two-thirds. Clinics providing abortion services were not funded. In 2013 an anti-abortion bill also restricted funding that caused many clinics to close.
One of the UN Millennium Development Goals was to cut the maternal mortality rate by three quarters between 1990 and 2015. The rate has been cut by about half, with 157 of 183 nations reporting decreases. From 2000 to 2014 in the United States the rate rose from 18.8 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 25.8 in 2014. The only state without an increase was California. Of 31 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development the U.S. ranked 30th in maternal mortality rates, beating out only Mexico.
California has made strenuous efforts to reduce it maternal mortality rates. In 2006 it carried out a statewide review of pregnancy-associated mortality. It also contracted with the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative to investigate the causes of maternal death. The result was to develop tool kits to prevent two of the most causes of maternal death and also measures to improve care quality throughout the state.

Philippine president releases communist rebels prior to Norway peace talks

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte came to power not only on a promise to wage a war against drug trafficking but also to negotiate an end to five decades of conflict with the Maoist New Peoples Army (NPA) that has killed more than 40,000.

The NPA has been operating in the Philippines since 1969, as described by Wikipedia: "The New People's Army (NPA) (Filipino: " Bagong Hukbong Bayan) is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). It was formed and founded by Bernabe Buscayno A.K.A. "Commander Dante" on March 29, 1969. " The Philippine Army estimates that at the end of 2015 it had about 60,000 fighters. They are spread throughout rural areas of the Philippines. The U.S. State Department designates the NPA as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and it is also branded as a terrorist organization by EU Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, the Philippine government delisted the NPA as a terrorist group in 2011 making negotiations somewhat easier.
The Philippines has let 12 NPA leaders out of jail on bail just a few days before new talks are to start in Norway. National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said the temporary release of the leaders was the result of president Duterte's peace offer. The talks with the government had been stalled in 2012 over the refusal of the government to free the leaders who have been in jail for decades. The chief said the peace offer was one of the most positive developments in years.
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of the leftist Bayan or Nation group that is allied with the communists said that the releases were a good sign and had raised hopes that the talks, set to begin in Norway on August 22, would begin on a positive note. Among those released on bail were Tirso Alcantara one of the highest ranking guerrilla leaders who was wounded in a firefight with Philippine soldiers five years ago. However, top leaders Benito Tiamzon and his wife Wilma remain in prison. Activists have been demonstrating outside the national police office demanding the release of them as other senior guerrilla leaders. Human rights advocates claim that the government is holding more than 500 rebels in detention, including Muslim rebel leaders.
Another report claims that 17 guerrilla leaders were released on bail to attend the peace talks. They all vowed to return home to the Philippines rather than flee after the talks. Apparently, Benito Tamzon and his wife have also been released and he said: "We will return home after the peace talks in Oslo. We were released from jail to take part in the peace talks and we are serious about it. The negotiations in Oslo are only one part of the process and there are other talks happening in other venues."
Security forces worry that rebel leaders would stay overseas or see them as a pretext to rebuild their army and consolidate their ranks. In 1987, the leader and founder of the Philippine Communist Party, Jose Sison, after nine years of detention went to the Netherlands. He sought asylum and has lived in Utrecht for the last 30 years.
Tamzon praised Duterte saying: "This is the first and only time we have a president determined to push genuine reforms." He said that he had better prospects to end the long conflict than earlier attempts. He said that the two sides hope to negotiate a ceasefire when the talks begin on August 22. The two will also discuss political, economic, and constitutional reforms as well. Another five leaders that are still in detention hope to join the other 17 traveling to Oslo for the talks.

Libyan militia group demands new intelligence head before giving up seized buildings

Even though the Libyan Government of National Accord's(GNA) intelligence headquarters was seized back on August 14th, the GNA and the UN are silent on the issue.

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The raids by the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades (TRB) headed by Haitham Tajouri were reported by several sources including Digital Journal. A recent tweet indicates that the TRB are still in control of their headquarters: "‏@SamiBerriwen #Libya | Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade says won't hand over Intelligence agency HQs unless new chief appointed." The GNA intelligence headquarters has been occupied for four days but the government seems not to have noticed. The UN's Special Representative of the Secretary General, Martin Kobler, has said nothing about the issue though he had time to tweet condolences to the families of those killed in an Islamic State suicide attack today.
Mohammed Nuh was thought to be visiting Turkey when the attack happened. A member of the State Council of the GNA, Belgasim Igzit, demanded that the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA clarify its position "regarding the bad-reputation militia that are messing around the capital, Tripoli." He said that the GNA needs to inspect its security preparations that are very fragile. He said political parties could not work in the capital without the threat of extortion or even abduction. Apparently some intelligence personnel were kidnapped in the recent raids. Igzit said: "Libyans refuse the fact that the UN-proposed government is at the mercy of the militias no matter to which party they belong, so the Presidential Council must come to grips with this fact.”
The Libya Observer even remarks that it is not clear whether the act was coordinated with the PC or whether it was an individual act. It seems bizarre that the PC should approve the seizing of its own intelligence headquarters.
The Libya Herald reports that over last weekend, Tajouri, head of the TRB was targeted for assassination. Apparently an attack was made on a TRB post at the Mitiga airport. The attack was said to have been made by the Al Buni brigade whose leader is an ally of intelligence chief Nuh. It is not clear whether the attack was before or after Tajouri seized Nuh's intelligence headquarters. The Libya Herald understands that the attack was the day before Tajouri's raids. The report also said that Tajouri accused Nuh of bribery to advance his personal ambitions that was disrupting normal operation of the intelligence organization. A TRB statement also claimed that intelligence officer Joudet Al-Khadar also had been using bribes to induce colleagues to spy for "foreign countries". The statementconcluded: “We are ready to hand over all the administration buildings once the Presidency Council has assigned a new intelligence head in accordance with the Libyan Political Agreement”. These events show how completely out of control militia groups are in Tripoli. The GNA appears to be ignoring what is happening and doing nothing to rectify the situation.

Friday, August 19, 2016

US contractors in Afghanistan outnumber troops by more than three to one

Data compiled by the Congressional Research Service shows that private contractors outnumber U.S. troops in Afghanistan by more than a three to one margin.

A detailed 12-page report called "Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2007-2016" can be found at the Congressional Research Service website.
During the 2007-2016 period, the U.S. Defense Department spent more than $220 billion on contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan for a large variety of services and support.
Even as early as the middle of 2011, when there were still many U.S. troops in Afghanistan, they were outnumbered by private contractors. The number of private contractors peaked in 2012 at more than 117,000 while there were around 88,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Almost 23 percent of contractors worked as supplementary security personnel. A whopping 70 percent were actually foreign nationals that received money from U.S. companies and agencies.
The latest numbers covering just the first few months of this year show that there are still around 29,000 contractors in Afghanistan — well over three times the 9.000 troops. A smaller percentage, just about 10 percent, provide supplementary security. More than 12,000 provide logistics and maintenance services not just for U.S. but also Afghan troops. Another 1,.800 work as translators. 1,700 work on construction and another 2,200 as base support professionals. Some legislators have voiced concerns about the degree of oversight these private contracts receive as there have been reports of waste and fraud connected with some contracts. Early this summer about 2,500 contractors were hired solely for the purpose of fighting Islamic State militants in Afghanistan along with 4,000 U.S. troops.
The Obama Administration has long claimed to have "ended' the war in Afghanistan and promised to reduce troops, but the drawdown has been less than planned. While there is much less of a combat role for the remaining 9,000 troops, the additional 29,000 contractors are rarely discussed even though they are paid for ultimately by the U.S. tax-payer. The extensive use of contractors is a way of being able to have more boots on the ground than suggested by troop figures. The drawdown in Afghanistan, even when reduced, appears much greater than it is and there is little press coverage of the role or number of private contractors remaining.
In July, Obama announced that he would leave 8,400 troops in Afghanistan until the end of his term. Obama had pledged to end the 14-year war while he was president but it is still ongoing although with a lesser combat role for the U.S.. Obama had originally planned to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 5,500 by early 2017.

Unlilely any third-party candidate will make it into US presidential debates

The threshold of support for being included in national presidential debates has been set by the Commission on Presidential Debates at 15 percent.

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Beyond the two major U.S. parties, the contenders for president are Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Stein is far below the threshold level and appears to have almost no chance of joining the debates. The highest Stein has polled so far is seven percent in a June 2016 poll. A CNN poll on August 1st showed that 13 percent of Bernie Sanders' supporters would vote for Stein, but 10 percent would vote for Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate. Bernie Sanders has thrown his support behind Hillary Clinton the Democratic candidate for president. Between the periods of June and August of 2016, in a four way race between Trump, Clinton, Johnson and Stein, Stein's support has ranged from just 2.5 percent to 4.8 percent. As an election draws closer support for third party candidates tends to decline.
Gary Johnson is better known than Stein in that he served as Governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 as a Republican. After withdrawing as candidate for the Republican Party nomination for president in 2012, he ran for the Libertarian party. Johnson concedes that extraordinary things need to happen for him to win a debate slot but his strategists also point out that a large number of Americans are unhappy with both Clinton and Trump as candidates. To win a slot would be a historic event as no third party candidate has managed to reach the 15 percent threshold since the Commission set the bar in the 2000 campaign. The Commission is a private group not accountable to the public in any way. While third parties oppose the bar as being much too high, supporters argue that a candidate should be able to prove that he or she represents a significant percentage of voters in order to qualify for such advantageous free air time that may be crucial in the race for the presidency. However, the high bar is just one more hurdle in a political system that is designed to work against third parties. Not only is campaigning very expensive, third parties only rarely receive coverage and discussion of issues is framed as if it is only the Republicans and Democrats count.
In the past, third parties often complained that many polls only cover the two main parties. However this time a number of significant polls include both Stein and Johnson. It is difficult to get 15 percent support unless there are polls measuring your support. Three pollsters including CNN are doing trial polls with the four main contenders. CBS/ New York Times and Fox News are doing three-way polls leaving out Stein. However, Fox News has announced it will include Stein in future polls. This will mean that four pollsters will be covering support for both Stein and Johnson as well as Trump and Clinton.
The presence of Stein in the polls may hurt Johnson's chances of reaching 15 percent support. When Stein is left out of the polls Johnson hit 12 percent in the latest Fox News and CBS/New York Times polls. However in the three recent polls in which Stein is included, Johnson comes in at just eight, nine and 10 while Stein averages five. Stein receives enough support to spoil any chance that Johnson has of joining the debates. While both Stein and Johnson rail against Trump and Clinton in the search for support, it would seem that Johnson also is being hurt by Stein.
Both Johnson and Stein are after the anti-establishment vote. Both draw from independents with a recent CNN poll showing Johnson winning 16 percent of their vote and Stein 8 percent. Johnson receives seven percent of the vote of disaffected Republicans while Stein gets three percent. Even with disaffected Democrats Johnson gets 3 percent with only two percent going to Stein. Johnson has only about a month to reach the threshold.
Politico article points out that Johnson faces a dilemma as he needs to gain more of the left-wing anti-Hillary vote and those who want libertarian, free-market, anti-Trump policies. At present his message seems to be not at all ideological but just to "throw the bums out". In a recent statement he says: “We may never agree on all the small things, but let’s agree on the big thing: both parties have blown it … Working together we’ll find fair sensible and honest solutions….” The article suggests he could aim directly at Stein's support by pointing out that Stein will not get into the debates whereas he could with help. However, it is unlikely that there will be much support for helping Johnson get in the debates from the Greens even though he can make reference to common ground such as opposition to drone strikes and the drug war. Johnson could use a similar tactic to appeal to the right saying:“The truth is Trump is not a conservative, and he’s not going to win. He opposes free trade, rejects entitlement reform and supports budget-busting stimulus. Give me a shot to beat her. If you stand with me, I will be the only one on the main stage defending the Trans-Pacific Partnership, making the case for raising the retirement age and pledging to balance the budget, without tax increases.”While these appear sensible strategies, they will probably not be enough to swing significant support to Johnson so that he will be able to enter the debates. Johnson has campaigned as if he were the only third party candidate. With Stein now appearing in the polls, and a factor in keeping him from the 15 percent bar, he may be forced to deal with her as an opponent at least tactically.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Islamic State controls just one main remaining area in Sirte Libya

Of the two remaining residential districts still occupied by the Islamic State in Libya, one has been taken today (Aug. 16) by the forces of the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous (Solid Structure or BAM) loyal to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The BAM forces are now three months into a campaign to drive the Islamic State (IS) out of their last stronghold in Libya. Earlier this year they were driven out of the city of Derna by rival jihadists. The Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar also claims it was involved. The LNA is now engaged in Operation Volcano to drive the jihadists of the Shura Council of Derna from the city. Haftar announced ages ago that he was going to free Sirte but has not been involved in the offensive at all. A recent tweet says : "Joke of #ALbunyan Last house in sirt will be left to Gn hafter to liberate it him self..^"
Since August 1st, the BAM forces have been helped by US air strikes. There are also special forces from several countries including the US and UK helping out on the ground. A recent tweet reports: "The #USA carried out 48 air strikes against #ISIS in #Sirte since August 1 in support of operation Odyssey Lighting."
A few days ago, the BAM forces managed to take the headquarters of the IS at the main hall of the Ouagadougou Center as well as guest house buildings earlier. They have also captured a hospital at the center. Recently they captured a radio station, and just today they captured Residential area number two. Spokesperson for the BAM forces, Rida Issa, said:"The forces have made more progress in neighborhood Number Two, with help from artillery and from naval forces. On Tuesday morning clashes erupted... that led successfully to the recapture of neighborhood Number 2 with the cooperation of a tank unit to confront ISIS snipers. The neighborhood is now completely under control of our forces,.”Issa also said the forces had advanced into residential area number one in the heart of Sirte and the last area held by the IS. A recent tweet claims: "#BAM forces are said to be fighting #ISIS elements in D1 #Sirte #Libya after taking over D2 y'day.Map by @MENASTREAM "
As the forces advanced the IS tried to halt them using vehicles with bombs but two of them were destroyed on the ground before they could reach BAM forces. However, one exploded near the forces. A tweet describes the casualties today: "James Wheeler ‏@wheelertweets #ISIS/Daesh Sirte #Libya: Bunyan Marsous/Misrata report 4 dead and over 50 injured on their side today as they finish residential district 2 "
The GNA will not have much time to celebrate the defeat of the IS in Sirte, as it is facing new problems. The Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades have attacked the intelligence headquarters of the GNA in Tripoli. Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) is threatening to take over oil ports in the east from the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) threatening the re-opening of the ports to export under an agreement between the GNA and the PFG. Should clashes occur with Haftar, some of the BAM forces could move east to help the PFG forces against Haftar.

Libyan National Army and Petroleum Facitilies Guard may clash at oil port

There are conflicting reports about the intentions of the Libyan National Army forces which the other day entered the town of Zuetina just 10 kilometers or six miles from the oil port.

A headline in the Libya Herald claims that Major General Abdul Al-Nazhuri of the Libyan National Army (LNA) predicts that the LNA will take over terminals at Zuetina, El Sidra, and Ras Lanuf. A battalion of the LNA entered the town of Zuetina yesterday. General Khalifa Haftar is commander in chief of the LNA, the armed forces of the House of Representatives (HoR)) government.
The three ports are under the control of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) headed by Ibrahim Jadhran a foe of Haftar. Jadhran supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and recently signed a deal with them to reopen the ports for export. However, Haftar does not recognize the GNA. He will no doubt not allow the export of oil until there is an agreement satisfactory to him. There is supposed to be an agreement between the rival eastern-based and Tripoli National Oil Companies (NOCs) creating one merged oil company but the HoR government will not accept the deal until changes are made. That does not seem to have happened yet. The HoR is demanding that any tankers exporting oil should have permits from the eastern NOC.
In a recent article, Jason Pack, points out that Martin Kobler, UN envoy to Libya, fails to note that part of the reason that the GNA is losing support is that he has failed to implement the flawed plan of former UN envoy Bernardino Leon, the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA). He accuses Kobler of sticking to the letter of the LPA rather than realizing that it was meant to bring the two key power blocs together but had failed to do so. Kobler has not stuck to the letter of the LPA but has violated it in a number of different ways first and foremost by activating the GNA before a formal vote from the HoR. But Pack is correct that following the LPA has so far not resulted in bringing the two power blocs together. It is difficult to see how it can. The LPA demands that the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA be commander in chief of the new GNA armed forces, while Haftar wants to remain as commander in chief. He will not accept a government with Islamist opponents in it and will not accept being under the command of the PC.
The division between the LNA and GNA is exemplified in the threat of clashes between the PFG and Haftar forces over the oil ports in the oil crescent. Haftar is trying to take support from Jadhran and by doing so weaken the power of the GNA in the east. He already has control of feeder oil fields giving him considerable leverage over any attempt of the GNA to export oil without his and HoR approval.
Final victory for the GNA over the Islamic State in Sirte is likely to result in conflict between militia that are for and those against the GNA. He points out that there is already conflict between militias in Tripoli as reported recently in the Digital Journal.
The Tripoli Revolutionary Brigades have attacked intelligence headquarters of the GNA and apparently seized personnel. There has not been a word from the GNA or the UN about what has happened even though the same militia took over other ministry buildings earlier. It is possible IMHO that some militia now fighting the Islamic State in Sirte will move to help defend the PFG against Haftar if there are clashes over the ports. Pack suggests that the victorious militia in Sirte could "defy GNA rulings and expose the fact that the GNA is not actually a unity of anything."
Reuters reports that Abdulrazak al-Nazhuri the chief of staff of Haftar's LNA said:"We have said that in the event that permission is not sought from the National (Oil) Corporation that answers to the (eastern) parliament, we will target the ships with our air force as we deem them militias or smugglers. The goal is not to threaten any nation but to protect the Libyan people's assets."This is a clear threat to the GNA and its agreement with the PFG to begin exports. Nazhuri said that the LNA would enter the ports of Zuetina, Es Sidra, and Ras Lanuf. All three are occupied by the rival LFG under Jadhran. Nazhuri said: "Our entry into the ports is to protect them, not to occupy them or to be substitutes for the mercenaries or thieves who preceded us." Instead of marching on Sirte as he originally promised, Haftar seems to have decided that instead he would secure oil fields and now ports controlled by the PFG. So far outright clashes between the PFG and Haftar forces have been avoided but it is not clear that this situation can last very long.

Japan's economy stalls in 2nd quarter in spite of stimulus

In the second April-June quarter, Japan's economic growth ground to a halt. There were weak exports and shaky demand domestically.

Japan's economy failed to grow on a quarterly basis during the April-June period, with gross domestic product (GDP) growth coming in at zero and missing already subdued forecasts.There will be even greater pressure for Premier Shinzo Abe to come up with policies that produce more sustainable growth. The economic stimulus is provided based on the premier's Abenomics:
 Abenomics is based upon "three arrows" of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms. The Economist characterized the program as a "mix of reflation, government spending and a growth strategy designed to jolt the economy out of suspended animation that has gripped it for more than two decades."
While the program produced an initial boost its effects appear to be fading rapidly. In January-March the economy had expanded by two percent. Senior Economist at Mizuho Securities, Norio Miyagawa said:"Overall it looks like the economy is stagnating. Consumer spending is weak, and the reason is low wage gains. There is a lot of uncertainty about overseas economies, and this is holding back capital expenditure. The government has already announced a big stimulus package, so the next question is how the Bank of Japan will respond after its comprehensive policy review, which is sure to lead to a delay in its price target."
Capital expenditure declined by 0.4 percent indicating that uncertainty over the global economy and weak domestic demand combined to discourage firms from new investments. Finance Minister, Taro Aso, said: "The breakdown of the data shows that gains in consumer spending lacked strength and exports fell a lot." The slowdown is happening just after an announcement by the government of a $133 billion new fiscal measures designed to boost the economy. The Bank of Japan (BOJ) also modestly increased its stimulus measures by increasing its purchase of risky assets. It is now under pressure to do more. The BOJ has been buying assets for 3 years now. The bank has already bought a third of the countries bonds.
Japanese Economy Minister, Nobuteru Ishihara, said: "Japan's economy is likely to achieve a recovery driven by private demand though the government must be mindful of risks such as slowing emerging market growth and uncertainty over the fate of Britain's exit from the European Union." Ishihara blamed earthquakes in April for a fall in tourism that weakened domestic demand. Some economists were not surprised at the result. Mark Jolley, of CCB International Securities said: "There's been quite a lot of strength in the yen, economic uncertainty and a bounce in oil prices, so it's not surprising that [Japan] is barely growing. That's been the average growth rate for the past five years. As long as Japan is growing between zero and one percent, that's a fabulous result. From the equity market's point of view, as long as you have broad stability in the economy, that will keep people reasonably comfortable with Japanese equities, so this [Monday's GDP data] is as good as you can expect."
The inflation target is 2 percent. Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said:"Inflation expectations remain poorly anchored, and the prospect of a prolonged period of below-target price gains raises the risk that expectations will move further away from the 2 percent inflation target. As such, we still expect the BOJ to announce additional stimulus measures at next month's meeting, though the scale of any further easing may turn out to be disappointing."
The Nikkei stock index was down slightly 0.2 percent after the data was released. The yen has risen 16 percent in relation to the US dollar this year making exports more expensive The value of the exports are also less when converted back to yen. Global demand is also weakening causing further declines in demands for export products.

Militia group takes over Libyan unity government's intelligence headquarters

Two different sources report that Haitham Tajouri's militia, the Tripoli Revolutionaries' Brigade(TRB) attacked predominantly Misratan intelligence personnel associated with the UN-backed Government of National Accord.

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The Libya Herald reports that in early morning raids armoured cars and members of the TRB took over the intelligence headquarters in Fornaj, a building in Salahedding, a site in Ain Zara and intelligence offices at Mitiga Airport as well. It is thought the group want to arrest Sheikh Sadek Ghariani, Grand Mufti. Mohamed Nuh, the head of intelligence, from Mistrata is thought to be visiting Turkey.
There are unconfirmed reports that one person was killed in the attack on Fornaj. In Ain Zara three portable cabins used by intelligence officers came under heavy fire and all three were burned down. The militia also stormed apartments nearby seeking certain individuals. Although there are no precise figures, many intelligence personnel are said to have been seized. Apparently, the TRB had the support of some intelligence officers who see the intelligence system as being too much dominated by Misratans and Islamists.
Nuh is said to be close to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group(LIFG) and his appointment of Misratans to key positions has caused resentment among some of the intelligence establishment. The LIFG no longer exists as such but members are associated with Libya Shield apparently. Ghariani is the Grand Mufti and supports the Defend Benghazi Brigades. Posters had been appearing in Tripoli with a photo of Ghariani reading "No to the Muslim Brotherhood" and "Stop the bloodshed"".
For some reason, the Presidency Council of the Government of National Accord (GNA) has been silent about what is happening although it is an obviously serious attack on key elements within the GNA. Last week the same militia took over the health ministry building and there was no public reaction. It is not clear why Tajouri is acting in this way at this time. Last November, Tajouri briefly seized prime minister of the Salvation Government Khalifa Ghwell. At one time Tajouri said he favored the monarchy. He has been accused of murdering Gadaffi regime personnel in an illegal prison at his camp in Tajoura.
The Libya Observer report on the attack says that the TRB attacked the headquarters of General Intelligence Department (GID) in the Al-Firnaj area: “The armed brigade sent all the employees and workers in the headquarters out and then it attacked the Study Scholarships HQS, which is located next to the GID.” The report also noted that the same group had seized the Health Ministry headquarters in the same area the week before. Two weeks ago the same brigade took over the Ministry of Telecommunications. The Observer claims it unclear whether the PC knows about the incident. How could the GNA not know when one of their own ministries is occupied? It now has happened at least three times! The TRG is one of the largest armed groups in Tripoli. Obviously, the GNA lacks the most rudimentary control over security and almost no control of the actions of competing militia groups.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tension grows in Libya over control of oil crescent oil export ports

The 153 Infantry brigade of General Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) entered into the town of Zuetina on August 14th but stopped short of entering the oil terminal controlled by the rival militia of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG)

The PFG is headed by Ibrahim Jadhran an opponent of Haftar. Jadhran supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and has reached a deal with the government to open several oil ports including Zuetina. Haftar does not recognize the GNA nor its armed forces. According to a Libya Herald report there was a long four-lane-wide convoy with associated military and civilian vehicles that moved slowly into town. Photos are shown with the report. There were no reported clashes with the PFG. Recently, the French, Italian, Spanish, UK, German and U.S. governments all issued a statement warning that they were worried about increasing tensions at Zuetina.
The NOC in Tripoli told Reuters that the GNA will need to allocate funds to repair damage to infrastructure at some of the ports before plans to increase production by five-fold by the end of this year can be realized. Chairman, Mustafa Sanalla said: "If we receive around $1 billion, we can do a lot." However, without agreement with stakeholders such as Haftar and tribes loyal to him who control oil fields adjacent to the oil crescent ports such Es Sidre, Ras Lanuf, and Zuetina, there will be no oil exported. Now it seems that Haftar may be moving to take control of the ports themselves from his PFG opponents. This would give Haftar and the House of Representatives (HoR) government even more leverage in negotiating with the GNA.
recent tweet suggests that conflict could arrive soon: Unconfirmed #Reports Hafter gangs intend to attack #zwitina oil port next few hours @UNSMILibya @KoblerSRSG" As of the morning of August 14th there are no reports of clashes between the two groups as yet. The entry of the battalion into Zuetina was also announced by another tweet: " #Libya : 153th battalion of #LNA entering today in #Zueitina, 155km south of #Benghazi."
An earlier report claims that a member of the PFG was killed while driving a car with another fighter on an official mission. The PFG said that the shots came from Dignity Operation gangs. Dignity Operation was begun by Haftar in May of 2014 to clear Libya of any Islamists Haftar considers his opponents. Another fighter was injured in the confrontation and a third kidnapped.
The incident was apparently in the city of Ajdabia. The statement of the PFG read: “Dignity Operation is trying to repeat Benghazi’s atrocious scenario in Ajdabia and this incident could be the prompter of a never-ending conflict in Ajdabia. PFG is at the top level of self-constraint so that it does not get drifted into any conflict or division.” The conflict between the PFG and Haftar forces has grown since Haftar's militias now control the region's oil fields. They appear to intend on controlling not just the oil fields but now the ports.
According to the Libya Herald there has long been tension between locals and the PFG and the locals have been incensed that outsiders have shut down the port from time to time. However, Haftar may not be welcome either as he will insist on not exporting oil until he and the HoR government have an agreement satisfactory to them. The export terminal is a key employer in the town. Three years ago the locals became so upset with disruption by outsiders that they actually stormed the port and forced it to resume operations.

Russian President Putin replaces long-time chief of staff

Anton Vaino, a former diplomat, has replaced long time member of Putin's inner circle Sergei Ivanov, as chief of staff. A statement from the Kremlin said that Putin had "decreed to relieve Ivanov of his duties" but gave no reason.

However, at a meeting both Putin and Ivanov claim that he was stepping down at his own request. This does not prevent headlines appearing such as the BBC that says " Russia's Putin sacks chief of staff Sergei Ivanov". Ivanov was appointed Putin's special representative for the environment and transportation. He will also retain his seat on the Security Council a consultative group of military and intelligence chiefs that provides advice to president Putin.
A meeting between Putin and Ivanov showed no disagreements between the two. Putin said: “We have worked for many years together with great success. I understand your wish to take on work in other areas. I very much hope that you use your knowledge and experience for effective work in your new role." Ivanov thanked Putin for the high assessment of his work of 17 years. Ivanov is said to have recommended his deputy since 2012, Anton Vaino as his successor.
Vaino was born in Estonia in 1972. On being appointed Vaino said to Putin: "Thank you for your trust. I think the administration's most important task is to support your activity as head of state in terms of drafting laws and control over how your instructions are implemented." The BBC speculates on the move that it claims mystifies Moscow:But despite the smiles for the cameras, few here are convinced - especially now, just before parliamentary elections. So is this the fall-out from some kind of power struggle? No-one knows yet. But the official claim - that a man once touted as a potential president, suddenly wanted to run Russia's environmental policy - has been met with great scepticism.Notice that no specific or identifiable figures are cited as skeptics. While the official explanation could indeed be a cover up for some disagreement obviously there is not much in the way even of rumors suggesting what might be the real reason behind the action. What could be mystifying is that an official explanation may be basically correct.
A Bloomberg article also suggests that Ivanov was dismissed giving as a reason that Putin is replacing long time allies with younger blood with Vaino just 44 while Ivanov was 63. However, 63 is hardly that old for a politician. Igor Bunin, director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies said by phone: “Putin is czar so he needs a team of younger people that are 100 percent his, that haven’t had any authority in their lives other than him. Ivanov knows not only Putin but knew Leonid Brezhnev as well and is a broad-minded person. And this created some discomfort for Putin.” Nevertheless, Vaino has had authority and as a deputy of Ivanov.
Putin has dismissed several long-time allies lately including Vladimir Yakunin 68 who headed Russian Railways for a decade, and Vladimir Dmitriev 62, who oversaw the indebted state development bank, Vnesheconobank. In both cases he installed younger managers who are technocrats, but loyal to him, in order to help improve the performance of the companies during a long recession.

Iceland's radical Pirate Party top polls as election approaches

The radical Pirate Party which favors legalizing drugs and offering asylum to Edward Snowden looks set to win the most seats in the national election to be held in October.

In April this year, the prime minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson stepped down after demonstrations against him. The Panama Papers revealed that his family had millions in offshore tax havens. He and his family were accused of hiding millions in the offshore accounts. Iceland's ruling coalition and the opposition agreed to hold early elections probably on October 29. Although Gunnlaugsson no longer owned any offshore investments his wife still did.
The Pirate Party's platform also includes direct democracy, greater government transparency, and a new national constitution. The Party has been at or near the top of the polls for over a year now. The party also want to persuade the company developing Pokemon Go in Iceland to turn polling stations into Pokestops!
Birgitta Jonsdottir, who leads the Pirate parliamentary group said to the Guardian:“It’s gradually dawning on us, what’s happening. It’s strange and very exciting. But we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist.”The prime minister was replaced by the agriculture and fisheries minister Sigur Johanson and elections were promised before the end of the year.
The Pirate Party was found in 2012 by a group of hackers and activists who were part of an an international anti-copyright movement. In the 2013 elections, the party captured five percent of the vote and won three seats in the 63 member parliament.
Evan Onnudottir, a political scientist at the University of Iceland said:“Then, they were clearly a protest vote against the establishment. Three years later, they’ve distinguished themselves more clearly; it’s not just about protest. Even if they don’t have clear policies in many areas, people are genuinely drawn to their principles of transforming democracy and improving transparency.”
The Icelandic public has been outraged by the cronyism in Icelandic politics and the ability of the wealthy few to avoid responsibility for their actions. A poll in June by the Social Science Research Institute at the University of Iceland showed that the Pirate Party had the support of 29.9 percent of voters a gain of 1.6% since the last poll. The next largest party the Independence Party had just 22.7 percent a drop of 5.5 percent since May. The Independence Party is that of the former prime minister. While the lead appears to have narrowed recently, most analysts sill think the Pirate Party will take the most seats, between 18 and 20 in the parliament. The party says it will be willing to form a coalition with any party which subscribes to an agenda of "fundamental system change". Jonsdottir said: “I look at us and I think, we are equipped to do this. Actually, the fact we haven’t done it before and that we won’t have any old-school people telling us how, means we’ll do it more carefully. We will be doing things very differently.”
The party believes that new technologies can help promote political engagement, and make government more transparent and accountable to the people. The party also believes citizens should be able to propose legislation and have it decided by a national referendum. It also proposes increased taxes on the wealthy, Internet freedoms and reform of copyright laws. Onnudottir said that the success of the party depended on their performance but with their strong voter support they risked becoming part of the establishment.
Iceland is known for its social-democratic type government with an extensive social welfare system even though taxes are relatively low. It is famous also for its reaction to a financial crisis, which ended up with many prominent bankers being sent to jail and the country defaulting on some debts. Wikipedia sums up:Iceland has a market economy with relatively low taxes compared to other OECD countries.[9] It maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens.[10] Iceland ranks high in economic, political and social stability and equality. In 2013, it was ranked as the 13th most-developed country in the world by the United Nations' Human Development Index.[6] Iceland runs almost completely on renewable energy. Affected by the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the nation's entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008, leading to a severe depression, substantial political unrest, the Icesave dispute, and the institution of capital controls. Many bankers were jailed,[11] and the economy has made a significant recovery, in large part due to a surge in tourism.[12][13][14]

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