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.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Who ordered the bombings?

Within the space of three of four days we have seen two terrible aerial attacks in Syria. In the first, over the weekend, planes of the US and its allies attacked Syrian forces in Deir Azzor where they were under siege by ISIS fighters. In the second, yesterday, planes attacked UN aid convoys carrying relief supplies to the besieged inhabitants of Alleppo.  Over 60 Syrian soldiers were killed in the first attack and over 20 people were reported killed in the aid convoy attack.

What was the purpose of these attacks and who ordered them?

We know who carried out the Deir Azzor attack. The US, Australia, Denmark and the UK have admitted that it was planes of their countries that carried out the bombing. The US claimed it was an error made in the heat of battle and that the intended target was ISIS. There was a public apology. Nevertheless to see US Ambassador Samantha Power walking out of the UN Security Council meeting when Russia brought up the bombing, and then dismiss her Russian counterpart's action as a 'stunt' was truly sickening. She expressed no signs of remorse and no recognition that planes of foreign nations had attacked the troops of a sovereign nation on its own territory. And she is a diplomat? It is said that she is hoping for a senior position in a Hillary Clinton administration. God help us.

Does the US claim of a tragic accident hold up?

There is a tendency for armchair pundits, like myself, to see the war as a conflict between various 'players' like the Syrian Government, ISIS, the USA, Russia, Al Nusra etc. and then to ask which players were responsible and what did they stand to gain. But this is probably too simple a way of looking at things, in that each of these players comprises a number of factions many with their own agendas. With the chaos that is prevailing in Syria it is easy for any faction to act without official approval from those nominally overseeing it.

This I suspect is what happened in the US strike on the Syrian army at Deir Azzor. It seems unlikely that it was an accident - the Syrian troops were at an army base and airfield which has been in Government hands for months. Furthermore within ten minutes of the strike ISIS troops moved in to attack the base. From the outside it looks like a coordinated attack on the government troops holding the airfield. To believe the official Washington story (that it was an accident) one would have to believe that the US powers of reconnaissance and intelligence were particularly inept and they couldn't distinguish between troops holding a base (where they had been under siege for months) and their attackers.

It seems hard to believe that President Obama would have ordered such a strike, which aided ISIS, seeing how Donald Trump has accused him of being a founder of ISIS and seeing also how much time and effort Secretary of State John Kerry had put into negotiating a truce with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

So what happened? I suspect it was the US military acting without approval from the White House. Whether they would have had the approval of Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, is not clear, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that they did. After all Carter had fought Kerry tooth and nail to prevent such a deal with Russia.  Many in the military are known to have had serious reservations about cooperating with the Russian military in going after ISIS, which was supposed to happen after the cease-fire had held for a week.

Seen from this perspective, the act of bombing Syrian troops seems like a attempt to sabotage the cease-fire deal, and at the same time deal a blow to the Assad regime. It also lent support to the terror groups which have been receiving arms and assistance for some time from US agencies or its proxies. The CIA has reportedly been heavily involved in this.

It is perhaps tragically ironic that the cease-fire would probably have collapsed without this murderous attack, which has made the US look very bad in the eyes of the world. One of the conditions of the cease-fire was that the so-called "moderate opposition" fighters had to separate themselves from the Nusra brigades. That wasn't going to happen. If there were indeed any moderate opposition groups in Alleppo, there is no way that the Nusra terrorists would have allowed them to leave, or separate, even if the moderates had wanted to. If East Alleppo was seen to have been cleared of non-jihadi forces, then there would be nothing to stop their enemies from increasing their bombing until no living being remained.

I find it interesting too that Australian, British and Danish planes were involved in the attack along with US ones. By implicating these allies in the bombing, the chance of condemnation from their governments was lessened. Whether the military commanders of these forces in Syria had any idea of whom they are attacking is an interesting question. I doubt if their governments knew, especially given that White House probably didn't know. I imagine there was a lot of people being bawled out over the phones this past weekend.

French planes were not involved. Maybe they weren't invited. After the ISIS attacks in Paris it would have put the French government in a very uncomfortable position if it was seen to be aiding ISIS.

Turning now to the bombing of the aid convoys. Both the Syrian Air Force and the Russian Air Force have been accused. Both have denied it. The US has claimed that the raid was a sophisticated 'double strike' in which the planes returned for a second time to attack the rescuers who had come to the aid of the injured after the first attack. This, it was claimed, pointed to a Russian action, with the implied suggestion that poor dumb Arabs couldn't coordinate anything so sophisticated.   

On this one there are accusations but apparently very little evidence one way or another.  Again it could be a rogue element or a faction in the Syrian or Russian militaries.  But I somehow doubt that would happen in the Russian military.  Anyone who undertook such an action without President Putin's approval would find themselves in a very sticky position.  I imagine senior officers in the Syrian Air Force would have more leeway.  After all Assad's continuation in power depends upon the support of his military.  Terrible hatreds must have built up over the past five years of fighting and I find it quite plausible that some air force officers, perhaps believing that weapons were coming in along with humanitarian aid, might decide that such a convoy was fair game. It is despicable and no doubt a war crime.  

The morass seems to be deepening.  Turkey has increased its incursion and now plans to hold a strip of land 30 kms. wide from its border, which will take its forces close to Aleppo.   This is nothing short of an invasion of another sovereign country.  Meanwhile US, NATO and Gulf State countries violate sovereignty by bombing at will.  It is true that Russia is bombing and that Iran has forces on the ground in Syria, but these were invited in by the internationally recognized government of Syria.  Not so the other parties.  

It seems likely that the two recent aerial bombings were not authorized from the top. So in trying to make sense of this cruel and senseless war it seems we have not only to consider the numerous main players - the Syrian Government, ISIS, Nusra, US, NATO, Russia, Hezbollah, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, the Kurds etc.but also factions within the players - Pentagon, CIA, State Dept. for US and no doubt similar factions within the Russian and Turkish militaries and who knows what within the various irregular groups.
But I imagine there is a one big difference between, on the one hand, the US and on the other Russia and Turkey. In the latter two cases any faction violating the overall strategy of the Czar or Sultan would be quickly removed. Not so in the US it seems. Unless of course we find that Ash Carter is replaced as Secretary of Defence the near future.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Conspiracies and False Flags.

I have been accused of being a "conspiracy theorist" on many occasions.  Such an accusation is an easy way of shutting down an argument.  And indeed shutting down or deflecting investigation was the intention of those who coined the term "conspiracy theory".  And who might benefit from shutting down discussion of the "official" narrative of a military, criminal or terrorist incident?  Well it was the CIA who coined the term "conspiracy theory" as the following report and facsimile of a 1967 dispatch reveals:


So I am off and running with a conspiracy about using the term "conspiracy theory"!

But really if one looks at the historical record of "momentous" incidents that have led to war or to a government grabbing extraordinary powers, it appears that in many incidents they have been "false flag" operations created for the purpose of justifying a war of aggression or the seizure of extraordinary powers.  The following website gives a list of 53 such false flag operations, for which it claims "officials in the government which carried out the attack (or seriously proposed an attack) admits to it, either orally or in writing."  It provides links (most of which I haven't checked out) for the sources.


It seems most major powers have used this technique, often with immediate success, although the truth eventually seems to leak out, although of course there may be false flag incidents for which the official narrative has gone unrefuted.   Some example given include: 

  • the Soviet Union shelling one of its own villages, Mainila, and blaming it on Finland, thereby justifying the Soviet invasion of Finland in what became the "Winter War" of 1939 (Item 4);                                                   
  • the "Mukden Incident"  in which the Japanese military set off an explosion on a railway track in Manchuria in 1931 and blamed it on the Chinese.  Japan used the incident as a justification for the occupation of Manchuria (Item 1);                                                                                                                                
  • the "Gulf of Tonkin Incident".  It was claimed that on two occasions, two days apart, in 1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on an American destroyer the USS Maddox.  It transpires that the second attack was completely fabricated, and that in the first attack, according to the Pentagon Papers,  it was the Maddox which fired first on the N. Vietnamese ships.  This incident led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, in Congress, which President Lyndon Johnson used as a legal justification for sending troops to fight a war against N. Vietnam (Item 27)

  • In 1957 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan and US President Dwight Eisenhower approved a CIA-MI6 plan to stage fake border incidents as an excuse for an invasion of Syria by its two pro-western neighbours, and then to topple the regime in Damascus (Regime change in Syria - we have form!) (Item 10).  

This last one was a failure it seems, as was the following fiasco in Basra, Iraq, in 2005, when British soldiers dressed as Arabs were arrested by Iraqi police and found to be carrying explosives. While the soldiers never explained what they were up to, the fact that the British Army send tanks to release them by breaking down a wall of the prison in which they were being held, seems to suggests that they were doing something nefarious and that the British authorities didn't want them admitting to anything.

In one event listed (Item 3), the Reichstag fire, the identity of the perpetrators is still being debated.  At the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi general Franz Halder testified that Herman Goering admitted that the Nazis were behind setting the fire, which destroyed the German parliament buildings.  Conveniently a young Dutch communist was found at the scene with firelighters and other suspicious material.  He was put on trial, found guilty and executed.  The morning after the fire the cabinet, which still had a non-Nazi majority, met to draw up an emergency decree that abrogated civil liberties across Germany. It abolished freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, and freedom of the press.  Communists and other opponents of the Nazis were quickly rounded up.  Clearly lists had been prepared in advance, just as in the recent arrests and purges which took place in Turkey following the failed coup in July.   

It was widely believed that the Reichstag fire was a false flag operation carried out by the Nazis, but in the post-war period there has been claims that the fire really was set by the Dutchman acting alone.  This has led to a lively debate among historians.  The issue is discussed in this well-written review of the book, Burning the Reichstag: An Investigation into the Third Reich’s Enduring Mystery, by the Cambridge historian Richard Evans.  


The  Mainila, Mukden and Gulf of Tonkin incidents led to serious wars. Also Mussolini justified his 1940 invasion of Greece on violence carried out on the  Greek-Albanian (Italian occupied) border - a false flag operation carried out by Italians.  And we all know of the allegations made by Dick Cheney and others, that Iraq was sponsor of 9-11.  So these false-flag conspiracies have had major detrimental consequences.  

And then there was Suez Crisis of 1956, when following Israeli incursions into Egypt, the governments of Britain and France called for both Israel and Egypt to cease fighting and withdraw ten miles from the Suez Canal.   When they did not do this the two European powers sent in their own armed forces to "protect the canal".  But in fact it had all been planned in advance.  The Protocol of Sevres was a secret agreement between the governments of Britain, France and Israel, to invade Egypt, in exactly the way that it happened, with (from the British and French side) the aim of toppling the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and seizing control of the canal which Nasser had nationalized.

So, looking at the historical record, considering a conspiracy, especially a false flag one, as being behind some world-changing events, seems to me a very rational approach.  Of course not everything is a conspiracy - never discount the power of cock-ups!  And some conspiracy hypotheses are clearly nonsense. (Elvis was not abducted by aliens and Neil Armstrong probably did walk on the moon!) But with 9-11 for example there are so many unanswered questions and evidence inconsistent with the official narrative, that the hypothesis of a conspiracy being behind it deserves serious scrutiny.  This comment from a former Washington insider (Paul Craig Roberts) struck me as telling:

From my quarter century in Washington, it is clear to me that if such an event as 9/11 had actually happened for the reason given, the White House, Congress, and media would have been screaming for explanation of how a few Arabs outwitted the entire US National Security State—all 16 US intelligence agencies, the security agencies of Washington’s NATO allies and Israel, the National Security Council, Air Traffic Control, and airport security four times in one hour on the same day.  Instead the government refused any inquiry for one year until most of the evidence was destroyed.

Conspiracies do happen - more often than we would like to believe.  So the next time anybody accuses me of being a conspiracy theorist, I am going to point them to the historical record of conspiracies and call them a "conspiracy denier" or maybe just a patsy!