Tuesday, February 7, 2017

World's Number One Sponsor of Terrorism?

Donald Trump is ready to criticize the media for false reporting.  But what about some of the stuff coming from him and his cabinet?  

"Iran is the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world" declared new Defence Secretary, James Mattis. 

His boss, President Trump says "They are the number one terrorist state.  They're sending money all over the place - and weapons.  And they can't do that."

It is true that the mainstream media are ready to parrot this claim endlessly.  But where is the evidence?  Perhaps Trump is right and the media are lying shamelessly.  

It seems to me that the claims about Iran are patently untrue.  I suspect the claims  are based on the fact that Iran supports Hezbollah.  But Hezbollah, while it may have conducted some terrorist acts in the past, is now part of the Lebanese government.  It has a sizeable army which has helped repel Israeli aggression in the south of Lebanon.  And of course, it is now fighting in support of the government of Bashar al Assad, in Syria against such recognized terrorist factions as ISIS and Nusra (al Qaeda).  

If Hezbollah is to be labelled a terrorist group, because of some -past actions, then so should the Likud government of Israel) because of the terrorism of the Haganah, and Sterne Gang out of which it grew), not to mention the ANC government in South Africa, and perhaps even the US government too (no doubt Britain saw the Boston Tea Party as a terrorist act).  

And then there is the supposed support of Houthis in Yemen.  
Saudi Arabia claims that they are backed by Iran, but as far as I can tell have offered no evidence.  The fact that they adhere to some weak form of the Shi'a belief seems to be enough for the claim that they are Iranian puppets.  Besides they are involved in a civil war in which Saudi Arabia has intervened viciously, so the Houthis hardly constitute terrorists.  

And this brings us to the real Champions in the Terrorist Sponsorship League - Saudi Arabia.  Were not 15 of the 9-11 hijackers Saudi nationals?  There have been many allegations that they were supported by members of the Saud royal family.  And of course they have been happily sponsoring jihadi groups in Syria and elsewhere.

So please, don't buy into the propaganda coming from the new US administration - it is the same as much of what was being said by the last government, but I don't think Obama really believed it.  

Of course it is what Israel would like the world to believe (and Saudi).  They failed in stopping the Obama administration reaching a deal with Iran over nuclear weapons.  Now it seems like someone is trying to revive the hostility.

Will Trump go along?  Or will he follow his campaign rhetoric about not getting involved in useless military entanglements in the Middle East.  We have to hope the latter.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Third Way by Which Trump Could be Dumped.

In this blog over the last year I have on more than one occasion mentioned how I thought Trump might be removed from office, at the instigation of what has been called the Deep State.  I first heard the term Deep State used more than a decade ago with reference to those whom wielded the real power in Turkey under the elected government (the one before Erdogan's Islamic party took office).  The Deep State in the present-day USA would be something similar to  President Eisenhower's 'military-industrial complex', but now also including many players from the whole security complex - CIA, FBI, DIA, Homeland Security etc., not to mention the various think-tanks and foundations peopled by neocons from both major parties.  Fellow travellers include some of the editors and columnists of the major media outlets, especially the Washington Post and perhaps not so obviously the New York Times. 

By and large I would say that the Deep State has a strong vested interest in keeping the US involved in conflicts worldwide.  Clearly the Pentagon and the armaments industries do very well out of military conflict, as does the CIA, which is now is almost another independent branch of the military with its own drone program, but with very little oversight and no published rules of engagement. Conflict in Islamic countries and the consequent 'blowback' of terrorism in the West means large budgets for FBI, Homeland Security etc.  

The election of Donald Trump as President seems a serious threat to the Deep State.  In his campaigning (especially in the Primaries) his stance was orthogonal to that of his rivals, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio et al. in that he spoke against  foreign wars and was in favour of a rapprochement with Russia.  Hillary Clinton was gung-ho for more American involvement in Syria and especially for confrontation with the Russia of Vladimir Putin.  Things looked good for the Deep State. They would have their gal in the White House.  And Congress, even if it were controlled by the rival party, would be safely in the hands of warmongers like John McCain, Lindsey Graham and their like.  But Trump upset all of that.  So what to do?  Somehow Trump had to be gotten rid of.

I think much of the pumped-up  hysteria, first about the supposed Russian hacks of the DNC computers, and then this week about the supposed blackmail material that Russia has abut Trump, was instigated by the Deep State.  The Democratic Party, including President Obama, were happy to endorse this view, because it somehow explained their failure in the election, and at the same time discredited the incoming president.   Many in the Republican party also were onboard - after all they viewed Trump's nomination as hostile take-over of their party.  At the same time 
many liberals who are aghast at the thought of a Trump presidency, seemed happy to echo the charges against the malign influence of Russia. 

It is impossible to know the truth behind these allegations.  But I think that the compromising material from the DNC computers came from leaks rather than hacks (see my previous blog post).  This week's revelations, to me, have too much the smell of a fabrication, but I could be wrong.   Patrick Cockburn of The Independent, who was a Moscow correspondent,  has a piece today in which he compares the document recently made public with some of those released to make the case for the Iraq War.  http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-president-russia-dossier-fake-news-sex-allegations-putin-kremlin-saddam-hussein-weapons-a7524001.html
He says on reading it his skepticism soon 'turned to complete disbelief'.   He gives reasons for this. 

Two questions worth asking about the report are "Who paid for it?" and "Cui Bono?", or who benefits.  According to reports former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, was first commissioned, privately,  by a PAC supporting Jeb Bush in the primaries.  When he dropped out, Steele was subsequently supported by Hillary Clinton supporters in the Democratic Party.  The obvious immediate beneficiaries are Trump's opponents, who are many, including the various intelligence agencies, who would certainly have the ability to pull off something like this.   It is an interesting question to ask, why was this report not leaked prior to the November election?  

It is my opinion that all of these revelations about Trump's supposed Russian connections, serve the purpose of softening up the public for Trump's removal, at a later date - perhaps sooner rather than later. And how would that be accomplished?  Before I have mentioned impeachment, and failing that by assassination.  But yesterday I learned of a third possibility - essentially a palace coup.  

Article 4 of the 25th Amendment to the US Constitution reads: Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

In other words if the VP and a majority of cabinet members certify that the President is unable to discharge his duties, then he can be turfed out - a palace coup.  I wonder if Trump knew of this when he was making his cabinet choices?  

Trump is entering the White House with enemies on all sides, not least from within his own party, which has many neocons and warmongers - Deep State players.  Many at the top of the Democratic Party seem to share similar views. Trump has awarded a lot of cabinet positions to members of the Republican Party, or people have strong ties with it.  A quick look through the list suggests the following have all been elected to one office or another as Republicans:  Elaine Chao, Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Dan Coates, Nikki Haley, Mike Mulvaney, Rick Perry, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke.  Can he trust them?  Can he trust Mike Pence, who would gain the biggest prize if Trump were overthrown?  And can he trust Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus?  He was Chair of the Republican National Committee and is known as a deal-maker.  He is said to be close to House Speaker, Paul Ryan, who has no love for Donald Trump.  Could Priebus be the Brutus?  "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown!"  

The notion of Trump being ousted by invocation of the 25th Amendment is explored in some detail by Eric Zeusse here.  http://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2017/01/10/likely-way-that-trump-would-be-forced-out-office.html

Zeusse focusses his arguments around the ongoing campaign to roll back Russia, which claims has been in play  since the fall of the Soviet Union.  

Seeing the precarious position in which Trump finds himself  offers an explanation for how wholeheartedly Trump went back on his primary campaign promises of a more even policy between Israel and Palestinians. With his appointment of the Ambassador to Israel, he seems to have gone all in on backing Netanyahu, the Settlers and the Israeli right wing.  Dismayed, at first I thought that it was more of the usual Trump deception.  

But his vulnerabilities could offer a better explanation. When the crunch comes Trump wants to have Israel and its strong US lobby to have his back.   They say most of the US Congress is in the pocket of Israel.   If there were an attempt by the Republican Party to oust him, would Israel want to give up the most accommodating President it has ever had?  

The whole sad story is depressing.  Trump, for all his faults, has chosen to challenge the consensus in Washington.  He seems in so many ways unsuitable to be President of the United States.  But he did win an election.  And to see him booted out in what would be essentially a constitutional coup, would be very bad for people's faith in their institutions and in democracy.   The US would descend to the level countries like Brazil, who recently ousted their sitting president.  Furthermore the prospect of Mike Pence being president, with Congress backing his Tea-Party views is truly scary. 

If Trump is ousted either though impeachment or the 25th Amendment it could lead to much civil unrest.  Trump's supporters would feel betrayed - 'bigly' as Trump might say.  There would no doubt be street demonstrations - of angry white men, legally carrying assault weapons.  Would the police act against them, seeing as so many in the police publicly supported Trump in the election?  

The future does not look bright for our neighbours to the south.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Fool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice, or Three Times or . . .

Do you remember this saying which George W. Bush once mangled? It came to my mind when hearing the CIA claim that with "high confidence" they can attribute the hacking of the Democratic National Committee's computers to the Russian government.  President Obama went even further with his claim this week that the CIA have evidence that President Putin ordered the hack, expressly with the aim of helping Donald Trump to win the election.

How could he know that?   No evidence was forthcoming.  We are expected to trust the government and the intelligence service. Perhaps no evidence was presented because the CIA had learned its lesson, from when it provided bogus evidence for Colin Powell to present at the UN Security Council meeting before the invasion of Iraq.  Do you remember the mobile chemical weapons labs (pictures presented) which Saddam was supposed to possess?  And all of the other claims made by the CIA and the Bush Administration.

Of course it could be true that Russia was behind the hacks; even that Putin personally ordered them.  But why should we take such claims seriously when the CIA presents no evidence and at the same time has such a hopeless record of lying and disinformation?  And then there is the issue of the CIA illegally hacking into the computers of the US Senate Committee on Torture.  Perhaps because the CIA illegally hacks computers, they assume that their rivals in Russia do the same thing?  There is little doubt in my mind that the Russians actually do hack computers (that's what spy agencies do), but I do wonder whether they actually hacked the DNC computers.

While there are bold assertions about the Russian guilt, there is also some pretty good arguments against it.  There is a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, which as its name indicates comprises veteran intelligence agents and analysts from the CIA, NSA and the US intelligence services.   The Russian spying claim is examined in a recent article 


signed by six members of the steering group of this 

They state "it is child’s play to dismiss" the claims of hacking. They first distinguish between a "hack" and a "leak".  The former is when an outsider illegally gains access to a computer and either uploads or downloads data or otherwise interferes with it.  A "leak" on the other hand is  when someone physically accesses a  computer and downloads data from it - usually nowadays onto a thumb drive.  This is what Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning did when stealing NSA and Pentagon data. 

The Intelligence Veterans say that the DNC revelations almost certainly derived from a leak.  A leak leaves no trace.  A hack on the other hand will leave a trail.  The NSA has a record of all the packets of information that enter and leave the US (and no doubt pretty much everywhere in the world.)  If a hack was involved the NSA would know "both the sender and recipient".  They state with respect to the allegations of Russian involvement:
"The various ways in which usually anonymous spokespeople for U.S. intelligence agencies are equivocating – saying things like “our best guess” or “our opinion” or “our estimate” etc. – shows that the emails alleged to have been “hacked” cannot be traced across the network . . . . The evidence that should be there is absent; otherwise, it would surely be brought forward, since this could be done without any danger to sources and methods."

It is interesting that the NSA has not commented, especially since as the Veterans say "the reality is that CIA is almost totally dependent on NSA for ground truth in the communications arena."

There are other suggestions, as well,  that it was a leak and not a hack.  Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks which published the leaks, has said the leaks did not come from Russia.  But given his current problems with the US Government his testimony may not necessarily be reliable.  But also Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is a close associate of Assange  has dismissed the CIA's claims that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election as "bullshit".  

Murray was dismissed from his ambassadorial position in 2004 after he objected too strenuously about the British Government's using intelligence obtained under torture carried out by the Uzbeki authorities.  He was subsequently slimed by the Foreign Office.  Since then he has been an outspoken critic of government lying and disinformation.  He was Rector of University of Dundee (2007-2010) and in 2005 he received the Sam Adams Award which is given to  "an intelligence professional who has taken a stand for integrity and ethics".

About the DNC leaks Murray is quoted (Belfast Telegraph) as saying:
"I know who leaked them. I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things. If what the CIA are saying is true, and the CIA’s statement refers to people who are known to be linked to the Russian state, they would have arrested someone if it was someone inside the United States.  America has not been shy about arresting whistleblowers and it’s not been shy about extraditing hackers. They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever.”

So there is a pretty good case that it wasn't a Russian hack.  Unless the US Government can provide some evidence, given the known mendaciousness of the CIA (and US Government), the case that it was a hack carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin looks pretty thin. My own personal guess (nothing more) is that the e-mails were leaked by a Democratic party insider who was upset at the way the party establishment had conspired against the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and felt that the public should know.

An intersting question remains.  Why should there be such a furore about it all now?  The leaks probably didn't have that great an effect on the outcome of the election.  In my mind the improper statements by James Comey of the FBI were likely to have had a greater effect.  It is not normal for a police agency to release information on any ongoing investigation.  To do so in the case of a candidate for president, a couple of weeks before the election, seems to me a gross abuse of power.  But nobody is raising a fuss about this breach.  

I suspect there are a number of reasons behind the allegations of Russian involvement.  The Democrats, including President Obama, didn't like the fact that they were beaten, and like many Americans they are probably horrified by what may happen under a Trump presidency.  So anything to discredit Trump's victory they see as to their benefit.  There may be some who are holding out a slim hope that the Electoral College may vote against Trump, if he can be painted as a stooge of a foreign power.  But I imagine that is a very, very slim hope.  

And then there is the effect that this campaign may have on future relations with Russia.  Under the presidencies of Bush and Obama relations with Russia have steadily deteriorated.  Russia has outmanoeuvred the US in Syria.  And furthermore Donald Trump doesn't share the same view of Russia as is held by the current administration and other power brokers in Washington.  Under Trump there is every possibility of there being a comfortable modus vivendi with Russia, and no expansion of NATO, no bigger budgets for the CIA, Pentagon etc.  If this can be stopped by simultaneously blacking Russia and Donald Trump then, in the view of many, so much the better. 

But I suspect it will backfire.  It already seems that there is a serious rift between the CIA and Donald Trump.  Who knows what he might do when he takes office.  He is a man known to be keen on taking revenge on those who have gone against him.  So watch out for some fireworks to come.

I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see Trump assassinated, perhaps not right away, but after he has done a few outrageous things.  I imagine there are people now weighing up the pros and cons of impeachment vs. assassination.  In either case Mike Pence would become president - somebody no doubt far more acceptable to most of the Republican party, and to the intelligence services and other players.  But how would Trump's supporters react in each case?  After an impeachment there would no doubt be a huge uprising of anger against the Republican party, from erstwhile Trump supporters.  After an assassination?  Who knows?  It probably depends on whom the blame can be pinned.

Interesting times indeed!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to make comments on blog posts.

I understand that there has been problems for some people in posting comments on my blog.  Perhaps that is why I have received so few.  I thought that perhaps I wasn't being controversial enough!  

But anyway I have fixed the problem, simply by changing a setting.

To comment just fill in your comment in box at bottom, and click on 'publish'.

Looking forward to some lively debate.

Bill Reed

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel Castro and Other Dictators

Fidel Castro is dead, and leaders around the world are making statements about his life and legacy.  Perhaps one of the most generous encomiums came from Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau.  It included the following:

Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.
While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.
I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.

For this statement he was roundly condemned, both within Canada and in the wilder world.  For example the right of centre Canadian periodical Macleans claimed:

"By the early hours of Saturday morning, Havana time, Trudeau was an international laughingstock. Canada’s “brand,” so carefully constructed in Vogue photo essays and Economist magazine cover features, seemed to suddenly implode into a bonspiel of the vanities, with humiliating headlines streaming from the Washington Post to the Guardian, and from Huffington Post to USA Today."

To Trudeau's credit he didn't try to walk back the statement after the furore, but when asked directly by CBC journalist Catherine Cullen, "Was Castro a dictator?"  he paused, pursed his lips and said "Yes".

In many ways Justin Trudeau was following in his father's footsteps. Pierre Elliot Trudeau refused fall into step behnd the US in imposing sanctions on Cuba.  He visited Cuba several times and maintained a good personal rapport with Fidel, who attended Trudeau's funeral, to which son Justin refers in his statement.  Subsequent Canadian Liberal prime minister, Jean Chretien, also had a good personal relationship with Castro, and Canada has maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with Cuba.  Canadians comprise about half of the two million or so tourists who arrive in the island every year.   I recall waiting in the departure hall of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, and seeing a plaque acknowledging Canadian assistance in building the facility and commemorating its opening jointly by Jean Chretien and Fidel Castro in 1998.

I must say I was somewhat surprised at the adverse reception Justin Trudeau's statement received in Canada.  It seemed a respectful and dignified acknowledgement of the former Cuban leader's passing.  But I suppose it illustrates how far to the right, public opinion has swung, since the 1970s when Trudeau pere first visited Cuba.  Criticism coming from the right was just as one might have expected, but I must admit that I was somewhat surprised when two of the three panelists on the Sunday Talk, on the CBC's The National strongly criticized him too. Jonathan Kay, editor of The Walrus, described Trudeau's comments as what one might expect from a campus radical, not the leader of a democratic country. When host Wendy Mesley pointed out that Canada  had publicly eulogized Saudi King Abdullah, whose country was a serious violator of human rights, Kay pointed out that, that was just diplomacy - Canada has an important economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, including selling weapons, but has no such relationship with Cuba.  It sounded a lot like hypocrisy to me.

So did the condemnations of Castro coming from the usual blowhards on the US right.  Donald Trump's condemnation of Castro was widely publicized (as was the measured response of President Obama).  But Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (both of part Cuban ancestry) also weighed in criticizing both Castro and Justin Trudeau.  Of course the criticism was about political repression in Castro's Cuba, and the detention of political opponents.  But it seems to me there is a glaring double standard which could be summarized as:

"Left Wing Dictators Bad (very very bad!); Right Wing Dictators Good (or at least good enough for us to support them)."  

How many dictators has the US supported, since 1959 when Castro seized power in the Cuban Revolution?  I went to Wikipedia to see if i could get an answer to this.  Wikipedia lists 22 "authoritarian" regimes (presumably non-democratic) currently being supported. Since 1959 the USA has supported authoritarian regimes in 42 countries. They range from Latin American dictatorships:

  1. Rafael Trujillo  - Dominican Republic (1930-1961)
  2. Ephraim Rios Montt and other juntas - Guatemala (1954-19860
  3. Oswaldo Lopez Arellano - Honduras (1963-1982)
  4. Hugo Banzer - Bolivia (1971-1978)
  5. Various Argentine military leaders (1976-1983)
  6. Various Brazilian military leaders (1964-1985)
  7. Various Uruguayan civil-military dictatorships (1973-1985)
  8. Somoza family - Nicaragua (1936-1979)
  9. Francois Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier - Haiti (1957-1986)
  10. Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega - Panama (1968-1989)
  11. Alfredo Stroessner - Paraguay (1954-1989)
  12. Augusto Pinochet - Chile (1973-1990)
  13. Alberto Fujimoro - Peru (1992-2000);
to Asian dictatorships in South Korea, Pakistan, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran (the Shah), Philippines, Iraq (the Arifs), Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Yemen;

and numerous African dictatorships.  There are also some European ones - Spain until Franco died in 1975, Portugal until the demise of Salazar in 1974, Greece under the Colonels (1980-1989) and military rule in Turkey (1980-1989).

Currently the US supports the military dictatorship in Egypt and the one-family rule in Saudi Arabia. 

Some of these dictatorships were very, very nasty.  Chile and Argentina under military rule imprisoned and murdered on an almost industrial scale.  The current regime in Eygpt is estimated to be holding 60,000 political prisoners - it was even trying its opponents in batches of hundreds and sentencing them to death or long terms in prison in trials that lasted just a few hours.  

And then of course there is the Saudi regime, which executes people for blasphemy; or for posting things critical of the regime on the internet; or simply for being a leader of the country's Shia minority - the mullah, Nimr al Nimra, was beheaded on New Year's Day along with 46 others either shot or beheaded.  

But all of these dictators are OK.  They may be sonofabitches but they're our sonaofabitches!  

Either the likes of Trump, Rubio, Cruz and even Rona Ambrose, who have ben braying about Castro's tyranny, have no knowledge of history and little sense of irony, or they have been brainwashed by their own rhetoric. I have no respect for any of them 

Fidel Castro was a dictator, no doubt about it.  He did not allow free speech and he imprisoned many political opponents.  But, as Justin Trudeau mentioned he did bring about some positive changes for his country.  The achievements in health and education are especially noteworthy.  Cuba has an excellent, free health system, and now boasts a considerably lower infant mortality rate than the USA - marginally lower than Canada's.  It has free public education, and now over 99% of the population are literate.  The crime rate in Cuba is very low - something one cannot say about almost every other country in Latin America.  

I visited Cuba in 2012.  Of course it is always difficult for outsiders to judge a country on just a short visit. But having some command of Spanish helps, and we were able to speak with a number of people - and not just taxi drivers.  

There were those who chafed against the restrictions they faced, and others who were extremely grateful for what the regime had done. 

By and large, the former were educated people (beneficiaries of the impressive education system), while the latter were poorer people. I remember one old lady telling my wife that her mother had born a dozen children, of whom only three or four survived, while she herself had six healthy grandchildren. She was very happy with what the Revolution had brought. But then there was a museum docent, who had a law degree, but could not find a job practicing law. And another, who was a very well informed about maritime history who, after looking around to see who might be listening, railed about the way information was controlled - the internet and most foreign publications are not available to most Cubans.  And then there was a young doctor with whom we started chatting, when our bus was delayed for some mechanical problem.  He told us how little he was paid (much less than what a taxi driver earned in a tourist area), and how he could not leave the country, unless it was on a government sponsored mission - for example to Venezuela.  But he was not complaining.  He seemed to appreciate the fact that he had benefitted in getting medical training.  

I think the biggest problem for Cuba is that its economy is so poor and basic. It is only a small country, which relies on tourism and agriculture - exporting sugar and tobacco etc. The US embargo hasn't helped. Apparently Cuba has a nascent bio-pharmaceutical industry, but it can't export any product because of the embargo.  Because of the lack of an industrial base, there are just not enough jobs for people who have benefitted from the education system. 

Judging Cuba really boils down to a question of Social Justice vs. Democratic Freedom. I doubt if the Cuban Revolution would have survived if it had been fully democratic from the start.  There were just too many powerful interests, both within and outside the country, who wanted to strangle it at birth. 

But the choice of social justice or democratic freedom is a difficult one. In judging the success of Cuba's revolution I think it is best to compare Cuba with other Latin American countries.  

I have seen something of other countries in the hemisphere - I lived  a year in each of Jamaica and Colombia, spent 3 months in Guatemala learning Spanish and have visited Mexico, Peru and Ecuador.

All of these, for poorer people, score much worse than Cuba on quality of life. And all have a perennial problem with crime and violence. But on the other hand they have (especially Mexico and Colombia) a well-developed middle class, and freedom of information and movement.

Where would I prefer to live? If I were poor probably in Cuba (although life is hard there). But if I were a bit better off, probably not in Cuba.

I think that now is the time for Cuba to open up, to allow more freedom of information and freedom of expression.  There is now a fully literate population, and basic needs in terms of food and medical care are met.  Its economy will not improve or develop unless it is more open to the outside world.  Some of the achievements of the Revolution have been formidable and the Cuban people have a lot to lose.  

A transition to allow freedom of movement will not be easy - the temptations, for example, for trained medical personnel to make the short journey to the American mainland would be enormous.   And letting back in the Cuban diaspora en masse could be disastrous - their loathing of the Revolution is absolute.   So any transition, will, I think, have to be carefully managed.

Fidel Castro's legacy is a controversial one.  He was a dictator and freedom was and still is limited in Cuba.   But Castro was hardly a tyrant.  Compared with some of the US-backed dictators listed above, he doesn't seem so very bad.  And to offset this the Cuba he leaves is, for multitudes, a much better place than it was under the former (US-backed!) dictator Fulgencio Batista.  As Justin Trudeau pointed out, the Cuban people have achieved a lot under Fidel's leadership.   Whither they go now is an open question.  

Will people be saying that the Revolution is over, when a new Trump hotel appears on the Malecon? Or will a new generation manage to lead Cuba forward to a better future?  Whatever transpires I hope that at least some of the achievements of the Revolution survive.  


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Sudden Imperative to Kill Al Nusra Affiliated Leaders in Syria.

There have been announcements in both the American press and the British press that leaders of al Nusra (now called  Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) and other al Qaeda affiliated rebel groups in Syria are to be targeted by "intelligence assets" and drone strikes.  A Washington Post report is here; and an Independent report is here.

The Washington Post reports the reason for these targeted attacks is the fear that al Qaeda affiliated groups are preparing to mount terror attacks against Western targets from strongholds in Syria. The Independent report does not mention al Nusra or al Qaeda specifically but says that SAS has been given a list of 200 British jihadis to be captured or killed, based on the fear that they will attempt to return to Britain and perform acts of terrorism there.  A British defence official was quoted as saying that the mission could be the most important ever undertaken by the SAS in its entire 75-year history. "The hunt is on", an official is reported as saying, "to take out some very bad people".  

This is very interesting because both countries have supposedly been fighting these terrorist groups for several years - in fact since before 9-11.  But wasn't the Western intervention in Syria supposedly to fight terrorist groups - especially ISIS?  As far as I know no official cessation of hostilities against al Qaeda was ever declared. So if the intelligence services of the USA and UK have known the whereabouts of these bad people, why have they delayed acting for so long, and only now declared it a matter of urgency? 

It should be noted that part of the "cease-fire" agreement in September between the US and Russia, was that the US would pass on to their Russian counterparts, intelligence on extremist positions.  According to the Russian Ministry of Defence the US had passed on no information at all on the location of terrorist groups in Syria.   If they have information on the whereabouts of these "bad people" (which the current reports suggest is the case) then it seems that the cease-fire agreement with Russia was undertaken in bad faith, or perhaps to put a better spin on it, that there were players on the US side who had no intention of cooperating with Russia, and who wanted to sabotage the cease-fire.  

So why are these NATO allies acting now to take action against the terrorist extremists?  One thing that has always looked suspicious in this whole Syria debacle is that the US and its allies have had so little success in combatting ISIS and al Nusra.  ISIS has, on more than one occasion, been allowed to drive in convoy across the desert to capture towns, such as Raqqa and Palmyra.  In spite of the US having complete control of the air (before the Russians entered the fray) and having superb satellite and other reconnaissance capabilities, the US was unable to detect and stop this convoy of Land Cruisers and trucks from covering hundreds of miles of open desert. It beggars belief.  

Of course a much more plausible explanation is that the Western powers and their allies had no intention of destroying ISIS and al Nusra.   As I have been saying for some time now, the main purpose of US-NATO intervention was regime change.  They wanted the terrorist groups to fight and destroy the Syrian army and to see Bashar al Assad removed from power.  They cared not at all for the fact that the Assad regime would be replaced by a very murderous collection of jihadi groups.   But now they are very concerned.

The reason?  Well I think they see that the cause is lost.  Russia and Assad will prevail.  The ascension of Donald Trump to the Presidency has probably speeded this outcome, but I suspect it would have happened, in the long run anyway - although Hillary Clinton might have been prepared to risk war with Russia to try to prevent this outcome.  Maybe seeing the war is lost they do, as they claim, want to prevent jihadis moving to Western countries. But again I think there is a much more plausible explanation.  

When East Aleppo falls, there could very well be a lot of  documents, weapons and people which would prove very incriminating to the US and its allies - evidence which would show how the US has been supporting al Nusra (al Qaeda) for quite a long time now.  This would corroborate reports such as this one
in the Daily Express of an interview with Nusra commander Abul al Ezz with a German reporter.  He claims that militants have been receiving “sophisticated weapons” from their backers to help them succeed against the Syrian government. He also claimed that when al Nusra  was “besieged, we had officers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America here… Experts in the use of satellites, rockets, reconnaissance and thermal security cameras.”  He added al Nusra “won battles thanks to TOW rockets. Due to these rockets, we reached a balance with the regime. Our tanks came from Libya via Turkey, joined by the [BM-21] multiple rocket launchers.”

So when East Aleppo falls, things could be very embarrassing for the US and its partners.  If captives are taken, no doubt there would be many who would be prepared to testify as to how western countries (and Israel) supported al Qaeda (= al Nusra = Jabhat Fatah al-Sham).  And there will be documents and materiel to back them up.   

Just think of it - incontrovertible evidence that the US  has been arming, assisting and supporting Al Qaeda- our enemy in the disastrous War on Terror which has turned the world upside down for the past fifteen years. Whatever credibility the governments of the United States, Britain and other NATO allies have left, would be damaged beyond repair.  And too, perhaps some of the leaders would be liable to war crimes charges - illegally trying to overthrow the government of a sovereign country, as well as providing material supported to proscribed terrorist groups.  No wonder these leaders are now scrambling to destroy the evidence.  

It will not be easy though, short of killing tens of thousands of jihadis and burning what remains of E. Aleppo - and then blaming it all on the Russians, presumably!  

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The really scary things this Fall.

Halloween is over and Bonfire Night just a day or two away.  But even after all of the ghosts and guys are gone and the  phantoms and the fireworks spent, there is a spectre hanging over us that is much more scary than any of these fanciful things which we use to titillate our sense of fear.  I refer of course to the US election, now under a week away. It scares me, whoever may win.  Here is why.

If Hillary Clinton wins there is the much talked about possibility of open rebellion on the part of unhappy Trump supporters, many of whom own and carry formidable arsenals of weapons.  There could be some very unpleasant and violent incidents, but I don't think that they would persist for very long and beyond being a major nuisance, I don't see that they would present an existential threat to the Republic or to the world.  But there is another way in which a Clinton victory could be a threat - perhaps not immediately but certainly within the lifetime of her presidency.  

I refer to her hawkish stand on foreign affairs and in particular her hostility to Russia and its elected and popular (in Russia) president Vladimir Putin.  She has publicly compared President Putin to Adolf Hitler, and has publicly called for a US imposed no-fly zone over Syria. If such were attempted it would bring the US into direct and open conflict with Russia, which of course has a formidable nuclear arsenal. High-ranking US military personnel have pointed out the difficulty of imposing a no-fly zone, and the impossibility of doing so without coming into direct conflict with Russia.  But I have serious doubts as to whether Ms. Clinton would have the nerve and restraint to resist going head-to-head with Russia, especially if she is egged on by some of the more bellicose individuals from whom she might solicit advice.   I refer to people like prominent neocon and promoter of the 2001 Iraq invasion, Robert Kagan.  He is a former stalwart of the Republican Party's foreign policy group.  Yet he quit the Republicans this year and has come out in favour of Hillary Clinton, saying

I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy.  If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.

Kagan even held a fundraiser for Clinton, this last summer.  It sounds an awful lot like he is angling for a position in her administration.  Other bellicose neocons and Iraq invasion backers who have publicly come out in favour of la Clinton include Max Boot and Elliot Cohen.   

And then there are the Democrat players who have been her supporters for a long time and are almost sure to be part of a Clinton administration.  Perhaps first among these (at least in terms of scariness) is Hillary's protege at the State Department, Victoria Nuland.  Ms. Nuland led the US support for the toppling of Ukranian president Victor Yanukovych - it was she who was overheard in a phone tap, discussing who should replace Yanukovych - even while he was still president.  

She has been tipped by many as Hillary Clinton's Secretary of State.   This is really a cause for concern, especially when one takes into account that she is married to arch-neocon, discussed above, Robert Kagan!  

And then there are the "liberal interventionists" Samantha Power and Susan Rice.  After US warplanes had bombed Syrian troops during the last ceasefire (arranged between the US and Russia) killing over sixty Syrian soldiers on Syrian soil, these two ladies went on the attack against Russia at the UN Security Council emergency meeting called by Russia to discuss the attack.  Ms. Power called the meeting a "stunt" and accused Russia of a "cynical and hypocritical' attempt at "cheap point scoring" and "grandstanding" by calling for the emergency session.

So the prospect of a measured and sensible policy with respect to Syria and Russia, seems extremely unlikely if Hillary Clinton is the next president.  Besides she has form in foreign affairs.  She voted for the illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq; she has been bellicose in calls for Assad's overthrow and she was a leading backer of armed intervention to topple Moammar Qadaffi's government in Libya.  After learning of Qadaffi's death (in the most brutal of circumstances) she crowed "We came, we saw, he died.  

On top of all this she has bent at the knee to Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu, expressing her perpetual support for Israel, no matter what.  And seeing that Netanyahu and likeminded Likudniks regard chaos and unending civil strife among Arab and Muslim countries which could potentially stand up to Israel, as being in Israel's best interest, it is very likely that a Clinton administration would continue with the same failed policies in the Middle East that have prevailed since George W. Bush was put into the White House by the Supreme Court. 

To me it is very understandable that Americans who are sick of foreign wars, and the apparently never-ending entanglement in the Middle East would want to choose anyone but Hillary.  She has nothing to offer but four more years of the same disastrous policies (or worse), draining the treasury and generating more hatred of Americans and consequent terrorism - and possibly even war with nuclear-armed Russia!

Donald Trump has offered much more sensible policies on these issues.  So a vote for Trump?  

The prospect of a Trump presidency is scary in many other ways. Perhaps not nuclear annihilation, but disaster in other forms for the US and the world at large.  

Perhaps the thing that scares me most about a Trump victory is that it would likely be accompanied by Republican success in holding on to the Senate.  Given the fact that, no matter what, the Republicans will hold on to the House, this would mean a trifecta for the GOP.  Think about it.  A party of anti-science, anti-intellectual, unscrupulous right-wing ideologues holding the presidency and both houses of Congress!  

This party, which has been taken over by extremists of all sorts - bible thumpers, gun nuts, racists, creationists, you name it - and backed by unscrupulous big money interests from Wall St. to the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson, would be given unlimited power.  They would get to nominate and ratify, probably several, appointments to the Supreme Court, which would extend a rightwing lurch forward for decades to come.  The Republican Party in this century has revealed itself as a party without scruple, with no respect for truth, for democracy or even the law.  Under George W. Bush it violated the law many times, authorizing torture and mass surveillance - often with just a signing statement from the President, appended to legislation. Under Obama it has automatically blocked any legislation, coming from the White House.  Most recently it has blocked Obama's nomination to fill a vacancy he Supreme Court.  

On top of this, at the state level, it has gerrymandered constituency boundaries, to give itself a permanent lock on the House, and it has done everything it can to prevent groups, hostile to it, from voting.  It has challenged the legitimacy of Obama's presidency, by perpetuating gross lies about his place of birth and about him being a Muslim.  

To see what a dismal and dangerous party it has become, one only needs to look at the lineup of candidates who contested the party's nomination with Donald Trump. 

And then there is Donald Trump himself.  If ever there was a person who has revealed by his statements and actions, that he is completely unsuitable to hold the presidency, it is this man.  He has incited racial hatred, has made insulting and demeaning comments about women, has even boasted about sexual assault.  His speeches are inflammatory, inviting violence from his supporters and he has shown no decent respect for the process of democracy, saying he would recognize the results of the election - if he won!   

He uses schoolyard level name-calling - "Crooked Hillary",  "Lying Ted" (Cruz),  "Little Marco" (Rubio) - in place of argument.  He has appealed to many of the worst instincts of his followers, and has debased the whole election process  in doing so.  But in many ways this is just a continuation of what has been happening with the Republican Party for the last decade or so.

To decry the methods used by Trump, and to criticize some of the attitudes of his followers doesn't necessarily mean, though, that they don't have some legitimate points.  For example much of the base of US industry has been gutted, with manufacturing being outsourced overseas.  Well paying, secure working-class jobs have all but disappeared in many regions.  The victims need a voice, and Trump has spoken for them.  Likewise Americans' anger at the crimes of its bankers and their apparent immunity from prosecution, needs a voice - and again Trump has become a champion, unlike Hillary who seems to be on the very best of terms with the money men of Goldman-Sachs and their ilk.  Trump, too, has questioned American involvement in wars which he sees as not being in America's interest.  At the beginning of his nomination campaign, he even spoke in favour of a more even-handed approach on the Israel-Palestine file.  But lately he seems to have to recognized the power of the Israeli lobby, and backtracked on that quite a bit.  

What would a Trump presidency look like?  Some things seem fairly certain. He would block any action on climate change - in this he would probably have the backing of a Republican congress.  He would try to cancel or re-negotiate NAFTA and other trade deals.  On this he would probably run into congressional opposition, and find it not so easy to accomplish.  He would try to impose stiff tariffs on manufactured goods from China, Mexico and elsewhere.  I don't know if he would need congressional approval for this, but even if he were not successful it would likely lead to a severe drop in the volume of trade, and with that a recession, and perhaps worse.  On top of this he would cut taxes, especially on businesses and high-income individuals.  This would be greeted enthusiastically by a Republican Congress, even though it has railed against the Federal deficit for many years.  Unless he were prepared to do something radical, like slashing the Pentagon's budget - stiff congressional opposition here - the deficit could grow to a level where it really would be a problem.

So a Trump presidency seems like it would be a disaster - especially with respect to domestic affairs.   But it is hard to guess what Trump would actually do.  He appears to be an opportunist, who has a well-tuned ear for people's grievances.  Like many populists he has adapted his stance on number of issues to be more in tune with his supporters.  Gun control is a good example.  Before becoming a serious candidate he seemed to be in favour of some restrictions on firearms.  But this wouldn't sell with the disaffected rightwing base, so he threw them great gobs of red meat, by coming out strongly in favour of Second Amendment rights and scaring them by saying Hillary would restrict their firearms rights.  Likewise people say that at the personal level, he is not a racist, and has had friendships with people of colour. But again, like most rightwing populists he saw opportunities in playing to whites' fears of being overwhelmed by blacks, Hispanics and other immigrants, not to mention the fear of Muslims and terrorism.  

Knowledge of the depths into which the world sank, when it embraced rightwing ideologues in the 1930s, should give  pause to those who think Donald Trump could be their saviour.  He speaks for the rural constituency, for poor whites and even for middle class whites who fear for their way of life.  But he is not one of these.  He is a multi-millionaire New Yorker, a self-proclaimed "winner" who pays no taxes, but claims to be a champion of the "losers" - even if they would prefer to identify as "victims" rather than "losers".   He is a salesman, a con man and not to be trusted.  

It is hard to see how Trump could win this election, given that his constituency - older white Americans - appears to declining numerically.  But there is deep loathing of Hillary Clinton, perhaps in part because she is a woman, but I suspect more because of the way she has enriched herself and her family as she has climbed her way up the greasy pole.  She has been revealed as being seriously challenged, when it comes to truthfulness.  She too is easily portrayed a fully paid-up card carrying member of the self-serving governing elite.  

What a choice!  I don't get to vote but I sympathize with Americans who have to choose between these two.  It is a true horror show! Historians in decades to come may well ask how it got to this state.  

And it could get even worse.  Imagine a situation like 2000, with a race so close that it requires recounts and legal challenges in one or more states.  And with public demonstrations of well-armed supporters challenging and threatening their opponents.  It sounds too much like an election in Kenya, Cameroon or Thailand.  Let's hope it doesn't descend to that level.  But this election campaign has already had so many surprises that I wouldn't rule it out.