Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative December 2015 news and views
Washington Times, Putin’s new defense strategy declares NATO a threat, L. Todd Wood, Dec. 31, 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a document this week which updates Russia’s national security posture and declares the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a threat to Russia’s national security. The document states that NATO’s expansion and the approach of Russia’s borders is justification for this new defense strategy, according the Russian state news agency, TASS. “The buildup of the military potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and vesting it with global functions implemented in violations of norms of international law, boosting military activity of the bloc’s countries, further expansion of the alliance, the approach of its military infrastructure to Russian borders create a threat to the national security,” the document says.
Washington Post, Ben Carson’s top staffers resign in a delayed campaign shake-up, Robert Costa and David Weigel, Dec. 31, 2015. Several of the GOP presidential candidate's top advisers, including campaign manager Barry Bennett, quit following an internal power struggle, a sharp decline in the polls and a week of confusion about who would remain on the former neurosurgeon's presidential campaign team.
The Hill, Clinton emails: Billionaire Soros said he regretted backing Obama, Kristina Wong, Dec. 31, 2015. George Soros, a billionaire Democratic donor, told a close Hillary Clinton ally that he regretted supporting President Obama over her in the 2008 Democratic primary, according to an email released Thursday by the State Department. Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden said in a May 2012 email to Clinton that Soros made the admission to her during a dinner.
"I told him I worked for you in the primaries and he said he's been impressed that he can always call/meet with you on an issue of policy and said he hasn't met with the President ever (though I thought he had)," Tanden wrote. "He then said he regretted his decision in the primary — he likes to admit mistakes when he makes them and that was one of them," she added.
"He then extolled his work with you from your time as First Lady on. You probably have heard this all before but on the off chance you haven't, I thought I should let you know. Thanks again for doing the video!" she wrote. An August 2012 article in The New Yorker said Soros gave $5 million to help elect Obama in 2008, and that he later felt snubbed by the president.
"Confidants say that, although he still supports Obama, Soros has been disappointed by him, both politically and personally," the article said. "When Soros wanted to meet with Obama in Washington to discuss global economic problems, Obama’s staff failed to respond."
"Eventually, they arranged not a White House interview but, rather, a low-profile, private meeting in New York, when the President was in town for other business. Soros found this back-door treatment confounding," the article said. A Soros confident told the New Yorker: "They pissed on him... He didn’t want a f-cking thing! He didn’t want a state dinner, or a White House party — he just wanted to be taken seriously.”
CBS News, Trump mocks State Department's 2015 boast of peace in Syria, Reena Flores, Dec. 31, 2015. When State Department spokesperson John Kirby listed "bringing peace, security to Syria" as one of the administration's pivotal foreign policy moments of the year, it drew widespread criticism -- from conservative commentators, mainstream media outlets, and now Donald Trump. Right-leaning website RedState deemed the post a "blatant" lie. Of the headline, Foreign Policy magazine derided it as "hard to argue that the United States brought any significant 'peace' or 'security' to the Syrian people."
The State Department later defended Kirby. "The operative word there is bringing, not brought, so we're bringing peace and security to Syria," deputy spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Monday.
But Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wasn't going to let the State Department get off easily for their characterization. At a rally in South Carolina, Trump lambasted the "mistake" in front of a large audience. He said: "Can you believe 'bringing peace to Syria?' The world is blowing up. The migration from Syria. They say one of their achievements for the year is bringing peace to Syria and the whole world is talking about it."
Washington Post, Why prosecutors are charging Cosby 12 years later, and why other cases quietly die, Danielle Paquette, Dec. 31, 2015. At least 50 other women have made similar accusations against the comedy legend, but most will never see their cases go to court, because statutes of limitations for sex crimes vary widely across the nation. As of 2014, 34 states and the District of Columbia had statutes of limitations on filing sexual assault charges, ranging from three years to three decades, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime. But since then, there has been a growing effort to end -- or at least lengthen -- the limits on prosecuting sex crimes across the country.
Washington Post, Use of psychologists at Guantanamo Bay prison reduced with general’s order, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 31, 2015. The decision was made by Gen. John F. Kelly, the outgoing commander at U.S. Southern Command.
Washington Post, The Smithsonian’s Cosby problem only gets worse, Philip Kennicott, Dec. 31, 2015. “When we accepted the gift and loan, I was unaware of the allegations about Bill Cosby,” said National Museum of African Art Director Johnnetta Cole, last August in a statement published on the website The Root. “Had I known, I would not have moved forward with this particular exhibition.” She was defending the museum’s Cosby art exhibition, “Conversations,” which paired works from the Cosby family collection with African art from the museum’s holdings. The show opened in November 2014, and is scheduled to remain open until Jan. 24.
The exhibit opened 10 years after Cosby allegedly used wine and drugs to incapacitate a young woman who believed the entertainer was a trustworthy mentor, as detailed yesterday at his arraignment in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. A month before the exhibition opened, a prominent stand-up comic reignited long-simmering rumors about Cosby’s sexual behavior in a video that went viral.
In September, after dozens of women had come forward to describe similar encounters with Cosby, Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton (shown at right) defended keeping the exhibition open on free-speech grounds: “I believe taking down an exhibition will tarnish our reputation among museum professionals and others,” he said. “Creative activity of any kind can generate controversy. We will from time to time get beat up about some of these things.”
It was a mistake to mount “Conversations” in the first place, putting the institution in the business of promoting the commercial value of Cosby’s art and tying them to a man who already had a seriously damaged reputation years ago, no matter what Cole claimed in August. As the Smithsonian contemplates the dilemma yet again, it can’t be stressed strongly enough: This was a bad show from the start. It was bad on ethical grounds (because it could potentially elevate the value of an art collection owned by a close friend of the museum’s director), and it was bad on curatorial grounds.
Washington Post, Roberts urges lawyers, judges to help improve ‘contentious’ federal system, Robert Barnes, Dec. 31, 2015. The Supreme Court faces a controversial election-year docket that features battles over abortion and the Affordable Care Act. But in Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s annual report, he focused on an entirely different matter.
Washington Post, FAA tells local drone and model aircraft clubs to cease and desist, Faiz Siddiqui, Dec. 31, 2015. Hobbyists have been told that it’s illegal to fly within 30 miles of Reagan National, but they hope to work out a deal.
AP via Daily Mail, Female WW II pilots are BARRED from Arlington National Cemetery - despite government permission for them to be buried there, Staff report, Dec. 31, 2015. Since 1977, federal law has granted women soldiers as veterans and since 2002, they have been eligible to have their ashes placed at Arlington. Earlier this year, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed course and ruled Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) ineligible. Terry Harmon, 69, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is fighting have her mother Elaine Harmon's ashed buried at Arlington.
OpEdNews, Republican and Democrat Agree on This Election Issue? And How! Joan Brunwasser (shown at left), Dec. 30, 2015. My guest today is Virginia Martin, Democratic election commissioner of Columbia County, New York.
Joan Brunwasser: Your county is unique in the state of New York in the way that its votes are counted. Can you tell us about that, please?
Virginia Martin (shown at right): Yes, in Columbia County, my Republican counterpart, Jason Nastke, and I have a standing agreement that, going into every election, and for every contested race, we will hand count 100% of the votes cast on our voting machines. New York State Election Law only requires each county to count all the votes on 3% of the voting machines that were deployed, but we don't feel that that's an adequate audit, and so we do more.
In reality, though, it's never really 100% of all the votes cast, because, after the unofficial voting-machine results are in on election night, there are some races that we agree just don't warrant more than the 3% NYS audit. The commissioner on the losing side of a race that was anticipated to be fairly lopsided will, at her or his discretion, ask the candidate and the party if they would agree to forego the 100% audit. They always have, with the result that there are quite a few races that we don't do the 100% hand-count on, because there also are generally a number of races with only one candidate. Interestingly, for this election the machine that we randomly drew for the 3% NYS audit is a single-district machine in a town where there are no contested local races.
People, Arrest Warrant Issued for Bill Cosby for Alleged January 2004 Sexual Assault of Andrea Constand, Nicole Weisensee Egan, Dec. 30, 2015. An arrest warrant has been issued for entertainer Bill Cosby for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting former Temple employee Andrea Constand at his Elkins Park, Pennsylvania mansion in January 2004, sources tell People Magazine. Constand was not available for comment but one of her attorneys expressed gratitude toward the prosecutor.
"Obviously we appreciate the expression of confidence in her," says Dolores Troiani of her client, Constand, 42, who is now a massage therapist in Ontario, Canada. "We'll have to see what happens. We hope justice will be done. We will cooperate fully." Cosby has previously said what happened between him and Constand was consensual, but in new court filings last summer Constand said she was in a relationship with a woman at the time. She also called Cosby a "narcissist" who missed cues that she's gay. The statute of limitations to charge Cosby runs out in January.
So far, more than 50 women have accused the entertainer of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them. (Cosby has vehemently denied all of the allegations). The warrant comes just two weeks after Cosby filed defamation lawsuits against several of those accusers, who have filed defamation lawsuits of their own against him.
Last summer, outgoing Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman quietly reopened Constand's case, sending detectives to Canada to interview Constand once again while Kevin Steele, her first assistant, oversaw the investigation. (Steele is now the Montgomery County District Attorney-Elect.)
Washington Post, How Rubio helped his ex-con brother-in-law acquire a real estate license, Scott Higham and Manuel Roig-Franzia, Dec. 31, 2015. While a powerful state lawmaker, Rubio urged officials to grant his brother-in-law a real estate license. When Marco Rubio was majority whip of the Florida House of Representatives, he used his official position to urge state regulators to grant a real estate license to his brother-in-law, a convicted cocaine trafficker who had been released from prison 20 months earlier, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.
OpEdNews, America Is Being Destroyed By Problems That Are Unaddressed, Paul Craig Roberts (shown at right), Dec. 30, 2015. None of these serious problems will be addressed by the presidential candidates, and no party’s platform will consist of a rescue plan for America. Unbridled greed, short-term in nature, will continue to drive America into the ground.
Truthout, How False Stories of Iran Arming the Houthis Were Used to Justify War in Yemen, Gareth Porter, Dec. 31, 2015. Peace talks between the Saudi-supported government of Yemen and the Houthi rebels ended in late December without any agreement to end the bombing campaign started by Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies with US support last March. The rationale for the Saudi-led war on Houthis in Yemen has been that the Houthis are merely proxies of Iran, and the main alleged evidence for that conclusion is that Iran has been arming the Houthis for years.
But an investigation of the two main allegations of such arms shipments made by the Yemeni government and cited by the expert panel shows that they were both crudely constructed ruses.
Telesur, Iraq Vows Military Action Against Turkey If Troops Not Removed, Staff report, Dec. 30, 2015. Turkey says the confrontation over its troops deployment in Iraq was a "miscommunication." The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the government is exhausting all diplomatic avenues with Turkey but would use military force if needed to protect sovereignty. The standoff between the two countries started early December when the Turkish army deployed 150 troops in the Bashiqa military base in Nineveh province in north of Iraq in order to train Kurdish and Sunni anti-Islamic State group fighters.
A nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site in 1953, photo courtesy the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Washington Post, Declassified: How the Pentagon planned to nuke the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Dec. 29, 2015. In the event of a nuclear war, the Pentagon in 1956 penned a report that listed 1,200 cities and 1,100 airfields spread across eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and China that were prioritized for various levels of destruction, should the unthinkable happen.
The goals were twofold: deny the former Communist Bloc’s ability to field an effective air force and then destroy its ability to wage a protracted war. The details of the Pentagon’s plans were recently revealed in the 800-page Strategic Air Command Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959, “the most comprehensive and detailed list of nuclear targets and target systems that has ever been declassified,” according to the National Security Archive, an organization run by George Washington University that published it last week.
See also, Strategic Culture Foundation, America Was Prepared to Annihilate Prague, Warsaw, Other Capitals, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 27, 2015.
Wall Street Journal, U.S. Spy Net on Israel Snares Congress, Adam Entous and Danny Yadron, Dec. 29, 2015. NSA’s targeting of Israeli leaders swept up the content of private conversations with U.S. lawmakers. President Barack Obama announced two years ago he would curtail eavesdropping on friendly heads of state after the world learned the reach of long-secret U.S. surveillance programs. But behind the scenes, the White House decided to keep certain allies under close watch, current and former U.S. officials said. Topping the list was Irsaeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Stepped-up NSA eavesdropping revealed to the White House how Mr. Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiations—learned through Israeli spying operations—to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal; and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, according to current and former officials familiar with the intercepts.”
Zero Hedge, The Dark Side Of A Record $5 Trillion In Mergers: Hundreds Of Thousands Of Imminent Layoffs, Tyler Durden, Dec. 29, 2015. Yesterday afternoon, Dealogic announced the for the first time in history, global announced M&A volume in 2015 would surpass $5 trillion. This record eclipses by 9% the previous all time high of $4.6 trillion set during the previous market bubble year of 2007. The report adds that there were 10 $50 billion M&A transactions announced in 2015 worth a combined $798.9bn.
The not so immediate result has been a silent layoff wave (focused initially in the energy sector) as increasingly more well-paying careers are lost and replaced with minimum wage food service and retail, often times part-time, jobs.
However, none of that accounts for the layoff shock that is about to be unleashed as hundreds of billions of M&A deals go from announced to closed over the coming months, as the "pro-forma"management (and shareholders) demand to see cost-savings and bottom line results. Where are "results" going to come from? Why "synergies" of course, Wall Street's favorite word for mass layoffs.
Naji Jerf, Murdered Journalist In Turkey
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Annual round-up: 110 journalists killed in 2015, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2015. At least 67 killed while reporting or because of their work; RSF condemns failure to protect journalists, calls for “response to match the emergency.” A total of 110 journalists were killed in connection with their work or for unclear reasons in 2015, according to the round-up published today by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which is in a position to say that 67 of them were targeted because of their work or were killed while reporting.
These 67 deaths bring to 787 the total number of journalists killed in connection with their work since 2005. It has not been possible to clearly establish the circumstances or motives of this year’s 43 other deaths of journalists. Twenty-seven citizen-journalists and seven media workers were also killed in 2015.
This disturbing situation is largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists and is indicative of the failure of the initiatives so far taken to protect media personnel.
A European country, France, was one of the deadliest countries for journalists in 2015. It ranked third, after Syria and Iraq. “The creation of a specific mechanism for enforcing international law on the protection of journalists is absolutely essential,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.
“Non-state groups perpetrate targeted atrocities while too many governments do not comply with their obligations under international law. The 110 journalists killed this year need a response that matches the emergency. A special representative of the United Nations secretary-general for the safety of journalists must be appointed without delay.”
RT, Seymour Hersh on conflicting interests in Syria, Staff report, Dec. 29, 2015 (14 min. video). Journalist Seymour Hersh's new report on contradictions between President Obama and the US military regarding rebels in Syria was a bombshell. Hersh spoke with RT about the US military's view of Syria's Bashar Assad and Obama's relationship with Turkey. Writing for the London Review of Books, Hersh reported that, in a classified document from Summer 2013, the highest echelons of the US military establishment outlined their opposition to the Obama administration’s strategy of arming so-called "moderate" rebels to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. From 2013 to September 2015, in an effort to truly counter extremists in Syria, US military leaders fed US intelligence to Russia, Germany, and Israel, which then sent it to Assad, he reported.
The removal of Assad from power would be a gift to fundamentalist extremists, the military report said, as US defense officials compared a potential Assad ouster to ill-advised US eliminations of secular leaders Moammar Gaddaffi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Turkey – which the Obama administration has held close as an ally – is "a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy," Hersh wrote of the 2013 military report.
Business Insider, Turkey may finally be 'accepting the inevitable' in Syria, Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 29, 2015. A Kurdish militia with ties to an organization waging an insurgency in Turkey's southeast region violated Turkey's "red line" in Syria over the weekend by crossing the Euphrates River during an anti-ISIS operation. The operation to take back Tishrin Dam from ISIS was staged by the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG — the military arm of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).
It served as a huge blow to ISIS. But ISIS was not the only loser. The operation was also a major affront to Turkey, which declared the Euphrates a "red line" for Kurdish territorial expansion over the summer. Indeed, Turkey struck the YPG twice in October after it defied Ankara's warning not to cross the river. So far, however, the Turks' response to the weekend incident has been relatively muted.
David Swanson.org, Bern the Feel, David Swanson, Dec. 29, 2015. I remain convinced that the media is keeping Sanders and Trump around for ratings and will destroy them as soon as it chooses, and never chooses to do such a thing as early as the December of the year before the election. Sanders is doing remarkably well, but when people's televisions tell them they must vote against him, will they disobey? The U.S. public has become intensely obedient.
Washington Post, Obama’s skin looks a little different in these GOP campaign ads, Max Ehrenfreund, Dec. 29, 2015. A new study shows that negative ads targeting President Obama in 2008 depicted him with very dark skin, and that these images would have appealed to some viewers’ racial biases. The finding reinforces charges that some Republican politicians seek to win votes by implying support for racist views and ethnic hierarchies, without voicing those prejudices explicitly. The purported tactic is often called “dog-whistle politics” — just as only canines can hear a dog whistle, only prejudiced voters are aware of the racist connotations of a politician’s statement, according to the theory.
A study published online this month in Public Opinion Quarterly provides new evidence that one GOP campaign — intentionally or not — has aired advertisements that exacerbate viewers’ racial biases. Analyzing 126 advertisements from the presidential campaign in 2008, the authors first digitally measured the darkness of the two nominees’ skin in each spot, then sorted the ads into categories based on themes. President Obama and his opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), looked very different in various advertisements depending on how the footage was edited and produced. When McCain's campaign aired spots that connected Obama with alleged criminal activity by liberal groups, the producers almost always used images that made Obama's skin appear very dark.
Natural News, Former TalkNetwork.com host Rebekah Roth exposed as possible government plant sent to infiltrate 'truth movement', J.D. Heyes, Dec. 29, 2015. Regular listeners of TalkNetwork.com may remember host Rebekah Roth. She was recently dropped from the network after it became apparent that, frankly, she was not who she said she was and, in fact, may even have been an agent provocateur whose mission is to disrupt and discredit the "truth movement."
"Although we work hard to protect the identities of hosts on TalkNetwork, when we attempted to communicate with Rebekah Roth about claims that her entire back story was fraudulent and her name wasn't real, she became belligerent and attacked me for even asking for clarification," said Natural News editor Mike Adams, the Heath Ranger and co-founder of TalkNetwork.com, in a statement.
"Observing her behavior, we came to find that she's an expert in infiltration and provocateur-type operations, getting groups of people to turn on each other and causing chaos inside the truth movement," Adams continued. "She's done it with other networks before, and she'll no doubt try to repeat the same scheme somewhere else in the alternative media."
See also: Pete Santilli Show, Rebekah Roth's Methodical Deceit: A Real Investigation, Kurt Haskell, Dec. 23, 2015 (video). Pete Santilli interviews researcher Kurt Haskell, host of "Real Investigations" - In this segment Kurt Haskell methodically exposes the mystery of just who exactly Rebekah Roth is and more importantly who Rebekah Roth is not.
RT, Syrian journalist exposing ISIS Aleppo atrocities assassinated in Turkey, Daniel Hawkins and Ilya Petrenko, Dec. 28, 2015. A prominent Syrian journalist and filmmaker who produced anti-Islamic State documentaries, was gunned down by unknown assailants in broad daylight in Gaziantep, Turkey. The death of Naji Herf is the third assassination of a journalist in the country over the last three months.
Sputnik via RT, Captured ISIS fighter says 'trained in Turkey,' Staff report, Dec. 28, 2015 (with video). Turkey is training Islamic State terrorists in a camp disguised as a training ground for the Free Syrian Army, a 20-year-old jihadist captured by the Kurdish YPG told Sputnik. The prisoner said Ankara’s help to the “moderate” Syrian opposition is not as innocent as portrayed. Captured by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters in Northern Syria in November, Abdurrahman Abdulhadi, a Syrian national-turned Daesh (Islamic State) fighter, says he was trained in Turkey before receiving his first assignment with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
“In August 2014, I was training in the Turkish town of Adana with one of ISIL’s Emirs,” Abdulhadi said, adding his month-long training was completed with 60 other fighters in a camp “not far from the airport.”
The captured IS soldier said military training was conducted by two officers and one of them only “spoke Turkish, so another one had to translate for him.” “Once a week we had shooting classes where we were taught to use Kalashnikovs, machine guns and other arms,” the 20 year-old said. “We were trained in Turkey because ISIL's command thought it was safer here than in Syria because of the bombardments there.”
While the camp was officially declared to be one of the training grounds for the Free Syrian Army, the YPG prisoner says, “all sixty of those who were there were ISIL members.” Washington Post, Ben Carson on the brink: ‘A process like this is pretty brutal,’ Steven Ginsberg and Robert Costa, Dec. 28, 2-015. Two days before Christmas, with his presidential campaign fading fast, Ben Carson sought to take control at his manse in the countryside west of Baltimore. Unless something in his campaign changed fast, Carson was in danger of going the way of Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain — fad candidates who wilted before a single vote had been cast. This was the day he had marked to stop the fade.
Institute for Political Economy, Why WW III Is On The Horizon, Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 28, 2015. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 gave birth to a dangerous American ideology called neoconservativism. The Washington Post neoconservative journalist Charles Krauthammer summed up the “new reality” as follows: “We have overwhelming global power. We are history’s designated custodians of the international system."
The events of September 11, 2001, are regarded by informed people as “the new Pearl Harbor” that the neoconservatives said was necessary in order to begin their wars of conquest in the Middle East. Since 9/11 Washington has destroyed in whole or part eight countries and now confronts Russia both in Syria and Ukraine. Russia cannot allow a jihadist caliphate to be established in an area comprising Syria/Iraq because it would be a base for exporting destabilization into Muslim parts of the Russian Federation.
The neoconservatives tell President Obama to keep the pressure on Russia and Russia will give in. However, Putin has made it clear that Russia will not give in. The European governments, especially Germany and the UK, are complicit in the move toward nuclear war. These two American vassal states enable Washington’s reckless aggression toward Russia by repeating Washington’s propaganda and supporting Washington’s sanctions and interventions against other countries.
AP via New York Times, Wounded Fighters, Civilians Evacuated From Syria, Albert Aji and Suzan Fraser, Dec. 28, 2015. Hundreds of people from opposite sides in Syria's civil war were evacuated from contested areas on Monday under a U.N.-backed truce, with one group headed to Turkey and another en route to areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar Assad. One group, with more than 100 rebels and family members, crossed from Syria into Lebanon in buses and ambulances, and then took off from Beirut airport for Turkey, a main ally of fighters battling to overthrow Assad. The other group, residents of two insurgent-besieged Shiite villages in northern Syria, was evacuated first to Turkey in similar vehicles before departing for Beirut from Hatay airport. The truce deal reached in September, which provides for the transfer of thousands of Shiite and Sunni civilians and fighters, is one of a number of ground-level deals to end fighting in parts of Syria. Earlier this month, scores of fighters and their families began leaving a rebel-held neighborhood in the central city of Homs after several years of combat.
Huffington Post, The Cost of Turkey's Self-Interest, Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi, Dec. 28, 2015. Khairuldeen Al Makhzoomi is a researcher at the Near Eastern Department of UC Berkeley. Turkey's assistance to the Islamic State goes beyond providing open borders for ISIS militants. By the end of 2015, Turkey is expected to host as many as nearly 2 million Syrian refugees. Recently, Turkey was accused of being one of the main sources of financial backing for the Islamic State, as well as of providing the majority of the group's training and weaponry. The Islamic State, for its part, has been making a profit smuggling oil across the border into Turkey. ISIS makes between $1-2 million a day from oil revenues, and Reyhanli, one border village, made a profit of more than $800 million in oil sales over the course of 16 months. Residents near the Syrian border reported witnessing Turkish ambulances going into combat zones during clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State. These ambulances would evacuate ISIS casualties and would treat them in Turkish hospitals.
Gallup, Clinton Most Admired Woman for Record 20th Time, Jeffrey M. Jones, Dec. 28, 2016. Americans again name Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama the woman and man living anywhere in the world they admire most. Both win by wide margins over the next-closest finishers, Malala Yousafzai for women and Pope Francis and Donald Trump for men.
Although Clinton and Obama each led this year's poll by significant margins, the percentage mentioning each as most admired is slightly lower than the percentages they have received in the past. Across the eight times Obama has been most admired man, an average 23% of Americans have named him, while in the 20 times Clinton has been most admired woman, an average 16% have named her.
New York Times, Officer Will Not Face Charges in Shooting of Cleveland Boy, Mitch Smith, Dec. 28, 2015. Tamir Rice, 12, was killed as he was playing with a replica gun in a park. Relatives and activists, who called the shooting senseless, had sought charges in the case.
Washington Post, Federal judge: Drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home, Radley Balko, Dec. 28, 2015. In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn’t find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of “personal use.” They found no evidence of any criminal activity.
Last week, U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Lungstrum found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
AFP via Yahoo News, IS leader linked to Paris attacks 'mastermind' killed in Syria: Pentagon, Staff report, Dec. 28, 2015. An Islamic State leader with "direct" ties to the alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks was among 10 senior figures in the group killed in Syria and Iraq this month, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Baghdad-based US military spokesman Colonel Steve Warren told reporters that French national Charaffe al Mouadan was killed in a US-led coalition air strike on December 24. Mouadan had been actively plotting further attacks against the West, Warren said, without giving additional details. "He was a Syrian-based ISIL member with a direct link to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Paris attacks cell leader," Warren said in a video call, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.
Former CIA Director Richard Helms Photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from CIA Library
WhoWhatWhy, Why CIA’s Richard Helms Lied About Oswald (Part 3), Peter Dale Scott, Dec. 28, 2015. Introduction by Milicent Cranor: This is an essay about lies — layer upon layer of lies — told by US intelligence agencies and other officials about what Lee Harvey Oswald, or his look-alike, was allegedly doing in Mexico just weeks before the Kennedy assassination. And it is about obstruction of justice in what is considered the crime of the century.
The original goal, it seems, was to associate Oswald, in advance of the events of Dealey Plaza, with the USSR and Cuba. The essay focuses on tales told by Richard Helms, a top official of the CIA in 1963 who later became its director — and is based on a talk given by Peter Dale Scott. Scott is the popularizer of the expression, “Deep Politics,” and a virtuoso when it comes to what sometimes seems like grabbing smoke — capturing proof, however elusive, of motives and objectives that could explain the machinations of US intelligence agencies — and then analyzing the residue. Essay based on talk given by Peter Dale Scott at Third Annual JFK Assassination Conference in Dallas, 2015.
WhoWhatWhy, Why CIA’s Richard Helms Lied About Oswald (Part 2), Peter Dale Scott, Dec. 27, 2015. CIA Director Richard Helms is shown at a White House meeting. This is an essay about lies — layer upon layer of lies — told by US intelligence agencies and other officials about what Lee Harvey Oswald, or his look-alike, was allegedly doing in Mexico just weeks before the Kennedy assassination. And it is about obstruction of justice in what is considered the crime of the century. See also Part I: The JFK Assassination: Why CIA’s Richard Helms Lied About Oswald, Not Ancient History — But Preamble to the Present.
Zero Hedge, 12,000 Oil Tanker Trucks Parked At Iraq-Turkey Border Aren't Carrying ISIS Crude, Kurds Swear, Tyler Durden, Dec. 27, 2015. Less than 48 hours ago, Russia said it spotted some 12,000 tankers and trucks on the Turkish-Iraqi border. As for the Kurds, well they swear it's [their] oil and not Islamic State's that's tied up at the border. Of course, Kurdish crude is just as "undocumented" as ISIS oil given that technically it belongs to Baghdad and not Erbil. The Kurds want you to believe is that none of the nearly 12,000 tankers parked at Zakho contain any ISIS crude. Note the timing. ISIS is losing ground and is on the verge of relinquishing Ramadi to Iraqi forces. One certainly wonders if the group's funding needs are rising just as the Russians are cutting off their revenue stream forcing Baghdadi to get as much of the oil through as possible while he still can.
Salon, Behind the Ronald Reagan myth: “No one had ever entered the White House so grossly ill informed,” Dec. 27, 2015. The material below is excerpted from The American President: From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton by William E. Leuchtenburg, a prominent professor of history, to be published by Oxford University Press.
At presidential news conferences, especially in his first year, Ronald Reagan embarrassed himself. Frequently, he knew nothing about events that had been headlined in the morning newspaper. In 1984, when asked a question he should have fielded easily, Reagan looked befuddled, and his wife had to step in to rescue him.
In all fields of public affairs — from diplomacy to the economy — the president stunned Washington policymakers by how little basic information he commanded. His mind, said the well-disposed Peggy Noonan, was “barren terrain.” Speaking of one far-ranging discussion on the MX missile, the Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, an authority on national defense, reported, “Reagan’s only contribution throughout the entire hour and a half was to interrupt somewhere at midpoint to tell us he’d watched a movie the night before, and he gave us the plot from War Games.”
Strategic Culture Foundation, America Was Prepared to Annihilate Prague, Warsaw, Other Capitals, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 27, 2015. Recently-declassified nuclear targeting documents from 1959 describe how Washington planned to obliterate the capital cities of what are now America’s NATO allies in Eastern and Central Europe. The revelation casts doubt on Washington’s Cold War commitment to the protection of what it referred to as "captive nations" in Europe. The documents are contained in a report titled, "SAC (Strategic Air Command) Atomic Weapons Requirements Study for 1959."
The US Air Force study called for the "systematic destruction" of such major population centers as Warsaw, East Berlin, Prague, Bucharest, Tallinn, and others, as well as Peiping (Beijing), Leningrad (St. Petersburg), and Moscow. Atomic bombs eight times to destructive force of that dropped by the United States on Hiroshima were trained on a number of targets in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There were 179 «designated ground zeros» for atomic bombs in Moscow and 145 in St. Petersburg.
US atomic weapons would have laid waste to Wittstock, just upwind of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hometown of Templin in Brandenburg in the former East Germany. It is most certain that had the US launched an atomic attack on Europe, Merkel, her parents Horst and Herlind Kasner, and brother Marcus would have been vaporized in the massive pre-targeted strike on East Berlin and the regions surrounding it.
USA Watchdog, US Stupid Enough to Cause Nuclear War: Paul Craig Roberts, Greg Hunter (shown at right), Dec. 27, 2015. Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Dr. Paul Craig Roberts (shown at right below) has a dim view of the so-called “economic recovery.” Dr. Roberts contends, “There has been no recovery whatsoever. . . . If you look at the economy realistically, and that means you don’t use their phony numbers, there has been no recovery whatsoever and, in fact, it continues to worsen."
On war, Dr. Roberts’ view is dire and goes on to explain, “Everything that previous presidents have done to try to defuse the kind of tensions between nuclear powers that could lead to war, all this has been thrown away by Clinton, George W. Bush and the current White House fool. It’s all due to the Neoconservatives. So, yes, we are in a more dangerous situation than in the worst part of the cold war. Thanks to the neoconservatives and thanks to the American ‘presstitute’ media with people who lie for a living, we are in more danger than we have ever been."
Washington Post, Officers have fatally shot nearly 1,000 civilians in 2015, Kimberly Kindy, Marc Fisher, Julie Tate and Jennifer Jenkins,A year-long Post study found that incidents that ignited race-based protests represented less than 4 percent of such deaths. The vast majority of people who died at the hands of police had weapons, were mentally troubled or ran when asked to halt.
Washington Post, Pornographic email scandal ripples through Pa. politics, Natalie Pompilio, Dec. 26, 2015. Over the past 15 months, beleaguered Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane (shown in a file photo) has released a steady stream of messages retrieved from a state email server that show state officials and employees trading pornographic, racist and misogynistic messages. There are jokes about rape and sexual assault, photos mocking African Americans and other minorities, and insults leveled at people because of their weight, their sexual orientation or their religion.
At least two state Supreme Court justices and numerous officials in the office of the attorney general have been caught in the scandal that has been dubbed “Porngate.” It’s a massive scandal, with a new twist each week, but it has produced little uproar among state residents. Still, those who do pay attention say this epic mess is a disaster for the state’s justice system.
Washington Post, Rubio’s past support for immigration reform haunts him on campaign trail, Sean Sullivan, Dec. 26, 2015. More than two years after the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” unveiled a comprehensive plan in the Senate, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio (shown in an official photo) finds himself needing to justify his membership in the group to a skeptical conservative base.
Channel 9 News (Australia), ISIL oil smugglers trapped as Russian bombs rain down, Staff report, Dec. 26, 2015. Russian bombers have conducted deadly raids on thousands of trucks believed to be smuggling illegal oil for ISIL over the Iraq-Turkey border on the same day a Syrian rebel chief was killed in similar air strikes. An estimated 12,000 heavy-duty trucks were seen backed up on both sides of the Zakho checkpoint, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq bordering Turkey, according to aerial footage released by the Russian Defense Ministry.
With the threat of an impending attack, hundreds of drivers can be seen frantically trying to flee to safety or abandon their trucks as bombs rain down. Many tankers lie destroyed, smoke and flames billowing out. The Russian Air Force is estimated to have destroyed more than 2,000 tankers used by ISIL for smuggling oil since starting a bombing campaign in late September. The crippling effect of the raids has forced ISIL to disguise their trucks, as well as transport cargo mainly at night.
New York Times, U.N. Sets Syrian Peace Talks as Fighting Complicates Task, Somini Sengupta and Anne Barnard, Dec. 26, 2015. The United Nations said Saturday that it intended to move ahead with peace talks between the Syrian government and rebel forces in late January, a signal to all parties that a tenuous political process aimed at ending the war would not be quashed by gains and losses on the battlefield.
The announcement by Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, set a “target date” to start talks on Jan. 25 in Geneva. It included a nudge not just to the Syrian rivals but to their patrons in capitals around the world, who for the first time in nearly five years have agreed on a road map to end the nearly five-year war.
ISIS truck convoy (file photo)
RT, Intel spots 12,000 oil tankers & trucks on Turkey-Iraq border: General Staff, Kevin Owen, Dec. 25, 2015. Russian intelligence has spotted up to 12,000 tankers and trucks on the Turkish-Iraqi border, the General Staff of Russia’s armed forces has reported. “The [aerial] imagery was made in the vicinity of Zakho (a city in Iraqi Kurdistan), there were 11,775 tankers and trucks on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi border,” Lieutenant-General Sergey Rudskoy told journalists on Friday. The Russian Air Force in Syria has destroyed about 2,000 tankers used by the Islamists for oil transportation. In the last week, Russian warplanes eliminated 17 convoys of oil tankers and a number of installations used by terrorists for oil extraction and processing.
Reuters, Top Syrian rebel leader killed in air strike in Damascus suburb, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 25, 2015. A top Syrian rebel leader and head of the most powerful insurgent group in the eastern suburbs of Damascus was killed in an aerial raid that targeted the group's headquarters, rebel sources and the Syrian army said on Friday. The death of Zahran Alloush, 44, head of Jaysh al Islam, is a big blow to rebel control of the rural eastern suburban area of Damascus known as al Ghouta, the rebels said. Defense experts say the disarray among the rebel forces could also consolidate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's control over the rest of the area. The rebel sources said that in the raid Russian planes fired at least 10 missiles at a secret headquarters of the group, which is the largest rebel faction in the area and has about 15,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to Western intelligence.
U.S. Department of Defense, Coalition Forces Continue Attacks on ISIL Targets in Syria, Iraq, Staff report, Dec. 25, 2015. U.S. and coalition military forces have continued to attack Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists in Syria and Iraq, Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve officials reported today. Officials reported details of the latest strikes, noting that assessments of results are based on initial reports. Attack, fighter, and remotely piloted aircraft conducted 12 strikes in Syria.
Montgomery Advertiser, Siegelman column riddled with 'inaccuracies,' Stephen Feaga, Dec. 24, 2015. As a lead prosecutor in United States v. Don Siegelman I took some interest in the recent opinion piece penned by Montgomery Advertiser columnist Josh Moon, "End the embarrassment and pardon Don Siegelman." Mr. Moon is entitled to his opinion, but almost every “fact” he cites in the Dec. 16 column as a basis for his opinion is incorrect. From past experience, I know the Advertiser values its reputation for publishing facts. Mr. Moon’s column contained so many inaccuracies that I can’t address them all in a letter to the editor. But I will point to just a few.
RT, Apocalyptic scenes of Damascus suburb obliterated by violent clashes, Murad Gazdiev, Dec. 23, 2015 (Illustrated with exclusive drone photos above). The Jobar neighborhood of Damascus is the epicenter of some of the fiercest fighting in Syria with Islamist rebels refusing to give up their only stronghold. Once densely populated, the area has now been completely obliterated. Before the conflict in Syria erupted in 2011, the neighborhood was home to some 300,000 residents, most of whom were Sunni Muslims. The suburb contained a number of ancient landmarks, most notably the Green Synagogue, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the world. It also contained the Grand Jobar Mosque in addition to the tomb of the Prophet Elijah. Jobar also housed ancient baths that were built during Ottoman times.
Reuters, Russia hosts pro-Kurdish Turkish politician who condemns Ankara, Dmitry Solovyov, Dec. 23, 2015. The leader of Turkey's pro-Kurdish opposition party met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday and criticized Ankara for shooting down a Russian warplane last month. Russia, which imposed economic sanctions on Turkey after the Nov. 24 incident, and has sharply criticized President Tayyip Erdogan and would be keenly aware of the sensitivity of Ankara to any contacts between Moscow and Kurdish politicians. The visit by Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), is likely to further damage ties between Moscow and Ankara. Erdogan has accused the HDP of connections with armed Kurdish rebels fighting in Turkey's southeast.
Washington Post, U.S. plans raids to deport families who surged across border, Jerry Markon and David Nakamura, Dec. 23, 2015. Homeland Security officials are preparing for raids that would target hundreds of families who have flocked to the U.S. since the start of 2014, according to people familiar with the operation.
WhoWhatWhy via Global Research, The JFK Assassination: Why CIA’s Richard Helms Lied About Oswald, Not Ancient History — But Preamble to the Present, Peter Dale Scott, Dec. 24, 2015. The following essay is based on a talk given by author and retired professor Peter Dale Scott (shown at left) at the Third Annual JFK Assassination Conference in Dallas, 2015. (Produced by TrineDay Books, Conscious Community Events, and the JFK Historical Group.)
I wish in this essay to show how Richard Helms [shown in right] first lied to the Warren Commission about the CIA and Lee Harvey Oswald. I argue that his performance, and that of other CIA officials up to the present, constituted significant obstruction of justice with respect to one of this country’s most important unsolved murder cases. Furthermore, we can deduce from the carefully contrived wording of Helms’s lies what the CIA most needed to hide: namely, that the CIA had recently launched a covert operation involving the name of Lee Harvey Oswald (and perhaps Oswald himself), only five weeks before President Kennedy was killed.
That operation — either in itself, or because it was somehow exploited by others — would appear to have become a supportive part of the assassination plot. It seems almost certain moreover that the “Oswald operation” became the focal point of the ensuing CIA cover-up, and of Helms’s perjury.
As I relate in my book Dallas ’63: The First Revolt of the Deep State Against the White House, there was culpable lying and cover-up from many others in high places, including individuals in the FBI, the Secret Service, ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence], and probably still more military intelligence agencies.
Daily Mail, Washington Post forced to pull cartoon depicting Ted Cruz's young daughters as trained monkeys, David Martosko, Dec. 23, 2015. The Washington Post has retracted an editorial cartoon that showed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's two daughters as trained monkeys, and Cruz as an organ grinder who controls them. Ann Telnaes, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, defended her decision to mock Cruz and his children, but her editor wrote that the only reason the cartoon was published was that he never saw it beforehand.
Hartford Courant, Mystery Surrounds Newspaper's Relationship To Las Vegas Casino Mogul Sheldon Adelson's Legal Fight, Matthew Kauffman, Dec. 23, 2015. With a reporting staff that numbers in the single digits, the New Britain Herald still fills its pages seven days a week with city politics, police news, local sports and a variety of community topics from teen pregnancy to Christmas caroling. Given its lean resources and hyperlocal focus, the Herald surprised some earlier this month by devoting an entire page to a lengthy exposition on business courts, including a 10-paragraph section criticizing the actions of a little-known judge three time zones away in Las Vegas.
That article, tucked on Page 12 of a Tuesday paper, is now shining an uncomfortable spotlight on the man who saved the Herald from extinction — publisher Michael Schroeder, who has a business relationship with Sheldon Adelson (shown in a file photo), a prominent casino operator who has clashed with the Las Vegas judge scrutinized in the Herald article. Schroeder now finds himself caught up in a complex mystery at the intersection of politics, media and business — a mystery with a litany of unanswered questions, among them: Why would a local paper in New Britain devote so much space to dissecting the rulings of a county judge 2,288 miles away? And who is the mysterious "Edward Clarkin" whose name appears as the author of the Herald story? See also, Media Nation, Las Vegas editor out as details emerge about judge story, Dan Kennedy, Dec. 22, 2015.
Washington Post, Trump played a clever trick when he called Clinton’s bathroom visit ‘disgusting,’ Zachary A. Goldfarb, Dec. 22, 2015. On Monday night, Donald Trump made his latest polarizing comment, saying it was “too disgusting” to talk about Hillary Clinton’s use of the bathroom during the last Democratic debate and that she had got “schlonged” by Barack Obama when she lost to him in the 2008 Democratic primary.
Trump was surely talking off-the-cuff in his usual style — and the comments were criticized as offensive and sexist — but it was another example of his mastery in exploiting the psychological biases of conservatives who see much to dislike in today’s society and express support for Trump in the polls. In fact, a growing mass of academic research has shown that conservatives have a particular revulsion to “disgusting” images. In this line of thinking, Trump’s decision to describe Clinton, one of the most disliked people by conservatives, as a “disgusting” figure would have been an especially powerful way to rile up his supporters.
NBC News, Hillary Clinton: Don't let someone 'bully his way' into the presidency, Dec. 23, 2015. At an event on Tuesday, Clinton did not make direct mention of Trump's crude remark — but did single him out for his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. and double down on her claim that ISIS is using Trump to recruit. A question at the end of the Keota, Iowa, event appeared to offer Clinton a chance to hit back. When a young girl with asthma told Clinton she had been bullied in school and wanted some advice, the candidate responded by saying she had become quite familiar with bullying in her life. "You're looking at somebody who's had a lot of terrible things said about me," she said. "I'm old enough that it doesn't particularly bother me but I can't imagine what it's like to be, you know, a young person in today's world where that's coming at you all the time."
PaulCraigRoberts.org, Presstitute Ranks Expand, Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 23, 2015. Now the ranks of Washington’s presstitute propagandists include Sybil Edmonds, whom I supported to the hilt during her persecution by Washington, and Cobett, whose Corbett report I gave many hours on interviews. Now the two are carrying on Washington’s propaganda against RT and Putin, and are accusing me of “Putin worship” because I report the facts. We are witnessing even the victims of the American Police State collapsing and becoming presstitutes.
Corbett Report, West Prepares to Replace Their Puppet in Turkey, James Corbett interviews former FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, Dec. 22, 2015 (video 31:01 min.). Sibel Edmonds of BoilingFrogsPost.com joins us once again to discuss the ongoing "reverse engineering" of Erdogan by the NATO/CIA/Kurdish/Israeli/Russian forces that oppose him. We talk about the hypocritical and nearly-unanimous coverage of Erdogan's abuses -- and how and why this narrative is converging now to finish the US/NATO task of removing him from office to usher in a more pliable puppet.
Democratic Presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at CNN-sponsored debate in October
OpEdNews, Bernie Sanders Should Stand Up To The DNC and Debate Republicans NOW, Rob Kall, Dec. 22, 2015. Just as Donald Trump has the GOP leadership shaking in their boots, Bernie Sanders has the DNC nervous. He should go further. Time for Bernie to psych them so they need to change their pants. People are sick and tired of party politics. This election season has shown that people want a candidate who shows he doesn't bow down to hack party leaders.
The DNC has seriously hurt Sanders by restricting the number of debates, and scheduling the authorized ones for low viewership time slots-- Saturday nights, and competing with multiple NFL football games. Bernie should snub the DNC's edict that primary candidates who debate Republicans will not be allowed to participate in debates. This is not a legitimate rule anyway. Bernie should get into it with Trump, Cruz, Rubio, any candidate who will engage. When the DNC tries to tell him to stop, he should tell them to pound sand -- that they don't have the right to keep him silent, which is what they've been doing.
Really, what are they going to say, "You've been naughty so we won't let Democratic voters see you debate the candidate we want?"
There are no second chances here. Iowa is just a few weeks away. Bernie should exercise the independence he's demonstrated all his life. Go for it Bernie break the DNC rule. Show your stuff to the people you will be running against.
Washington Post, Virginia to stop recognizing concealed carry gun permits from 25 states, Jenna Portnoy, Dec. 22, 2015. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) announced Tuesday that Virginia will no longer recognize concealed carry handgun permits from 25 states that have reciprocity agreements with the commonwealth. Under the policy, Virginians with a history of stalking, drug dealing or inpatient mental-health treatment cannot obtain a permit in a state with comparatively lax laws and carry a handgun legally at home. Virginia Republicans reacted angrily to Herring’s action, accusing him of politicizing his office to erode Second Amendment gun rights. The State Police superintendent accepted Herring’s recommendation to sever agreements with those states, effective Feb. 1.
The New Yorker, It’s Time for Obama to Go Big on Pardons, Jeffrey Toobin, Dec. 22, 2015. President Obama, pictured here during the investiture ceremony of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, has made modest actions to reform mass incarceration, but he could be using his Presidential pardon power more aggressively. The orderly mind of Barack Obama appears to recoil at the vulgar world of pardons. The President is a consummate rationalist, a believer in systems and order. Pardons, in contrast, rely exclusively on the whim of the grantor. This Presidential power is descended from the concept known in Great Britain as the royal prerogative of mercy—three words that seem almost guaranteed to offend this President, singularly or especially aligned together.
Greene County Democrat (Alabama), Obama vows to defeat ISIS, grants 95 pardons and 2 commutations; Don Siegelman not on the list, Wire and staff reports, Dec. 22, 2015. At what is likely to be President Obama's last news conference of the year before leaving for a family Christmas vacation, he announced plans to grant Christmastime clemency to 95 federal prisoners Friday, trimming their sentences under what USA Today reported as “an initiative to free prisoners sentenced under mandatory minimum prison terms. He also issued pardons to two others.”
Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, who is serving a seven-year sentence in an Oakdale, Louisiana Federal prison for questionable charges of corruption brought by Republican prosecutors, was not on the list of those pardoned. Hundreds of Alabama citizens have written and petitioned President Obama for Siegelman’s early release, but so far to no avail.
It was the largest single-day grant of clemency of Obama’s presidency. He has now commuted the prison sentences of 184 people, more than any president since Lyndon Johnson (226) and surpassing the combined number granted by presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush (117). Most of the commutations to shorter sentences dealt with drug offenses, but also included 15 gun crimes — usually while committing a drug offense — and one armed bank robbery. The two pardons involved counterfeiting and bank fraud. Friday’s list included 40 people serving life sentences. Most will be released in April.
Al.com, Alabama auditor slams Gov. Robert Bentley for $1.5 million renovation of gulf mansion, Adam Ganucheau, Dec. 22, 2015. Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler slammed Gov. Robert Bentley in a written statement regarding the $1.5 million renovation of the long-dilapidated Gulf Coast governor's mansion. Zeigler, who has publicly criticized the governor on numerous policy issues this year, claims the governor is taking advantage of state money to build a personal home after he lost ownership of his personal beach homes in his September divorce. The two-story, 7,500-square-foot gubernatorial mansion in Baldwin County is receiving a facelift – estimated at $1.5 million to $1.8 million – after sitting boarded up since Hurricane Danny in 1997. The state will use grant money provided by BP and left over from the 2010 oil spill to cover the cost.
Huffington Post, How Our Corrupt Campaign Finance System Enabled Trump -- And Kneecapped His Rivals, Jason Linkins, Dec. 22, 2015. While the rest of the field hopelessly chases megadonors and their unlimited dark money, Trump is having the last laugh.
Washington Post, Justice Department shuts down federal asset forfeiture program, Christopher Ingraham, Dec. 22, 2015. Officials announced the suspension of a controversial program that allows local police departments to keep a large portion of cash and property seized from citizens, even if they are never charged.
Shadowproof, Report: 60 Percent Of Syrian Rebels Are Sympathetic To ISIS, Dan Wright, Dec. 22, 2015. So much for the “moderate rebels.” A report from the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, a think tank run by the Tony Blair Foundation, finds that ISIS represents the mainstream of the Syrian rebels groups trying to overthrow the Assad government. According to the think tank linked to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, roughly 60% of the rebel fighters in Syria are sympathetic to ISIS’ political and religious beliefs and practices. While there may be personal disputes between ISIS and the other rebels, most find little problem with ISIS’ ideology and governing style.
These findings stand in considerable contrast to earlier claims made by the Obama Administration, about which groups constituted the Syrian rebels. President Obama had, at one point, pushed to train a so-called moderate rebel force in Syria and spent $500 million to do so. After the failures of the program became evident, Obama switched his position and labeled the belief in the moderate rebels as a viable force to take on ISIS and Assad as a “fantasy.”
Democracy Now! Seymour Hersh's Latest Bombshell: U.S. Military Undermined Obama on Syria with Tacit Help to Assad, Amy Goodman, Dec. 22, 2015. A new report by the Pulitzer-winning veteran journalist Seymour Hersh says the Joint Chiefs of Staff has [sic] indirectly supported Bashar al-Assad in an effort to help him defeat jihadist groups. Hersh reports the Joint Chiefs sent intelligence via Russia, Germany and Israel on the understanding it would be transmitted to help Assad push back Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State.
Hersh: Well, it began, actually, as I wrote, with a very serious, extensive assessment of our policy, that was completed by June — let’s say by middle of 2013, two-and-a-half years ago. It was a study done by the Joint Chiefs and the Defense Intelligence Agency that came to three sort of conclusions, that may seem obvious now but were pretty interesting then.
One is that they said Assad must stay, at least through — through the resolution of the war, because, as we saw in Libya, once you get rid of a leader, like Gaddafi — same, you can argue, in Iraq with the demise of Saddam Hussein — chaos ensues.
Consortium News, Sarin Attack at Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), Dec. 22, 2015. One reason why Official Washington continues to insist that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “must go” is that he supposedly “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013, but the truth of that allegation has never been established and is in growing doubt, U.S. intelligence veterans point out. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Aug. 30, 2013, claims to have proof that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, but that evidence failed to materialize or was later discredited.
Information Clearinghouse, On the 19th Day of Christmas, Dmitry Orlov, Dec. 22, 2015. The Ukraine is in full-blown collapse — all five glorious stages of it — setting the stage for a Ukrainian Nightmare.
Phase 1. Financially, the Ukrainian government is in sovereign default as of a couple of days ago. The IMF was forced to break its own rules in order to keep it on life support even though it is clearly a deadbeat. In the process, the IMF stiffed Russia, which happens to be one of its major shareholders; what gives?
Phase 2. Industry and commerce are approaching a standstill and the country is rapidly deindustrializing.
Phase 3. Politically, the Ukrainian government is a total farce. Much of it has been turned over to fly-by-night foreigners, such as the former Georgian president Saakashvili, who is a wanted criminal in his own country, which has recently stripped him of his citizenship.Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was recently hauled off the podium by his crotch; how dignified is that? He seemed unfazed. This sort of action may be fun to watch on Youtube, but the reality is quite sad....
Mirror (London), Legendary Paris 'Madame' who supplied prostitutes to JFK, Gaddafi and Brando dies at 92, Peter Allen, Dec. 22, 2015. Fernande Grudet was known as Madame Claude and is credited with coining the term 'call girl' thanks to her telephone booking system for VIP clients.
Washington Post, What’s freedom worth? Less than 3 billion euros, apparently, Can Dündar, Dec. 21, 2015. The writer is the imprisoned editor in chief of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet. With its high-dollar refugee deal with Turkey, the European Union abets Turkey’s abuse of its own citizens. Last month, while accommodating world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Antalya, the Turkish government observed this tradition, taking a break from exerting certain “domestic pressures.” But as soon as the guests left, it added Erdem Gül, Ankara bureau chief at the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and me to the more than 20 journalists it has already put in jail.
In today’s world, which long ago became a global village, one would think that such despotic acts would attract notice and invite repercussions. On Nov. 26, I was imprisoned for publishing a news article on trucks being used by the Turkish intelligence service to illegally transport arms into Syria. Then, just days later, the European Union and Turkey came together for a summit on the migration crisis. In a letter written on behalf of all imprisoned journalists, Gül and I reminded European leaders of the core values of Western civilization, such as freedom of the press, thought and expression. As these leaders walked into the summit in Brussels, they had our letter in one pocket and the 3 billion euros they would give to Turkey in the other. The money in the right pocket was deemed more important than the letter in the left.
McClatchy, What really happened to the U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria? Roy Gutman, Dec. 21, 2015. Participants’ descriptions suggest trainees and trainers never agreed on mission. There were arguments and walkouts over goals, escorts, food supplies, expenses. Fifty-four U.S.-trained Syrian fighters arrived at the Bab al Salama crossing in Syria in mid-July 2015 in a convoy of pickup trucks after completing a two-month training course in Turkey. But after they reached their base, the men decided to take a home leave. On returning to base two weeks later, calamity struck when many walked into a trap set by the Nusra Front, the Al Qaida affiliate in Syria.
Ten weeks later, the Pentagon announced that it had halted the program, which until that moment had been the keystone of the Obama administration’s policy to combat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, in Syria. The program’s demise has been ascribed to a number of factors, including the participants, the Turkish intelligence agency MIT and a Syrian militia, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, better known as the YPG. But a McClatchy investigation shows that the primary factor may well have been the United States itself, which conceived of a program that didn’t have the support of the people it was intended to train and was viewed with deep skepticism by its key training partner, Turkey.
Shadowproof, London Review of Books (LRB), Military to Military, Seymour M. Hersh on US intelligence sharing in the Syrian war, Seymour Hersh (shown in file photo) Dec. 21, 2015 (print publication dated Jan. 7, 2016) (6,831 words). Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped.
Shadowproof, Vox’s Max Fisher is Wrong About Seymour Hersh, Explained, Kevin Gosztola, Dec. 21, 2015. Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh published a report on how the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff deviated from President Barack Obama’s policy on Syria by sharing military intelligence indirectly with Bashar al-Assad’s government. It also indicated the Joint Chiefs dissented against Obama’s “insistence that ‘moderate’ rebel groups” could defeat Assad because they were all primarily extremists.
Well over twenty-four hours later, there are zero establishment media outlets that have run follow-ups or coverage of Hersh’s reporting. Only “Democracy Now!” had Hersh on their December 22 show and asked him about what he uncovered. Instead, a critique produced by Max Fisher and published at Vox has given U.S. journalists the justification to dismiss all of the major claims and issues raised in Hersh’s report. Fisher, who is Vox’s resident Seymour Hersh critic, outlines in an op-ed or “explainer” why he believes Hersh’s report is nothing but a “bizarre conspiracy theory.” His representation of the claims in the report is entirely overwrought.
Author Jon Meacham
StoneZone, Destiny and Power: The American Whitewash of George Herbert Walker Bush, Roger Stone, Dec. 21, 2015. John Meacham's "biography" of our 41st President George H.W. Bush, Destiny and Power, comes in at a whopping 864 pages and a wrist snapping 3.4 pounds and it's pure whitewash. It ignores inconvenient historical facts because it is an authorized biography. Meacham seems oblivious that the goofy, patrician manner and weird syntaxes that makes him look like a bumbler hide a man of steely ambition, ruthlessness, entitlement and duplicity. Fortunately, my own book Jeb and the Bush Crime Family will be released Jan 26th and will expose what a tool of the power elite "Historian" Meachem is.
- Meacham ignores declassified Federal Documents showing Bush was in Dallas on November 22, 1963 staying steps from Dealey Plaza and lied to the FBI to create an alibi when he said for 30 years he "couldn't remember where he was." Not in Meacham's book.
- Meacham omits stonewalling of the Iran-Contra investigators on the trail of cocaine and arms smuggling he oversaw a vice president and chair of a secret task force to illegally raise money for Nicguaran rebels. Bush, on advice of presidential legal counsel Boydon Gray, creepy son of Eugenics Guru and funder Gordon Gray, refused to be questioned or turn over documents. Not in Meacham's book.
- CIA Drug Smuggler and Pilot Barry Seal was murdered 3 days after threatening to expose Bush Sons Jeb and W. involvement with drug smuggling. Seal is gunned down with Bush 41 private phone number in his wallet. Not in Meacham's book.
Reuters via Huffington Post, Obama Chides Republicans For Lack Of Alternatives On ISIS, Julia Edwards, Dec. 21, 2015. "When you ask them, 'well, what would you do instead?' they don't have an answer." President Obama said his administration is open to some "legitimate criticism" for failing to adequately explain its strategy to counter Islamic State, though he chided Republican presidential candidates for criticizing his policy without offering an alternative. In a Dec. 17 interview aired on NPR public radio at 5 a.m. ET Monday, Obama attributed his low approval ratings for how he has handled terrorism to the saturation of Islamic State attacks in the media after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.
OpEdNews, Donald Trump: An Evaluation, Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 21, 2015. Trump cannot be a dissident politician without a dissident staff. He doesn't know the people who would comprise a dissident staff. Trump knows how to make deals, and the Establishment will staff up a Trump presidency with deals. The minute Trump takes office, he would be already captured.
Washington Post, Tex. grand jury issues no indictments in jailhouse death of Sandra Bland, Sarah Kaplan, Dec. 21, 2015. Bland’s arrest during a July traffic stop in Texas turned confrontational, and she was found dead in police custody three days later. Protesters alleged that she should not have been arrested. The grand jury will reconvene in January to take up unidentified "remaining issues" in the case.
Off Guardian (United Kingdom), New East Network: Who is the Guardian speaking for? Kit, Dec. 20, 2015. Part one of our series investigating the Guardian’s “New East Network.” A network of “media partners” aiming to “expand coverage” of ex-Soviet states, we take a look inside and ask: Just with whom is the Guardian in partnership?
First appearing in the Guardian on the 9th of June 2014, at the height of Ukraine crisis – when a new “invasion” was being reported every twenty minutes or so, the New East Network (NEN) has brought us such groundbreaking journalism as “Putin walks funny.”
So far we have eight “partners”: 3 with direct ties to the American government and/or intelligence agencies, 2 of which are personal projects of billionaires with well-known anti-Russia agendas, 2 of which are both, and 1 which was set up by the European Union. It seems that when the Guardian talks about “expanding coverage,” what they mean is broadcasting the views of billionaire oligarchs, ex-CIA analysts, the European Union or some delightful mix of all three.
One wonders if the NEN being set up so soon after the Guardian came under such pressure from GCHQ [Government Communications Headquarters] that they voluntarily destroyed their own computers could really be a coincidence. In the space of two years the Guardian has gone from broadcasting the illegal actions of the US/UK governments, to re-printing CIA and State Department press releases. There’s a name for that, and it’s not “expanding coverage.”
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Christine LaGarde at National Press Club (Photo courtesy Noel St. John)
OpEdNews, The One Percent Rallies Behind IMF Director Christine Lagarde, Paul Craig Roberts, Dec. 20, 2015. Washington removed Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the leading contender for the French presidency and as director of the IMF by framing him on phony charges of raping a New York hotel maid. The obviously false charge was proven to be totally fabricated and had to be dropped. In the meantime, Strass-Kahn had been forced to resign from the IMF and to drop out of the French election. Washington regarded Strauss-Kahn as insufficiently compliant with Washington’s agendas and moved him aside.
Washington got its vassal, Francois Hollande, elected President of France, and replaced Strauss-Kahn at the IMF with the “rhymes-with-witch” Christine LaGarde. LaGarde serves only the One Percent. She overturned the decision by the IMF’s professional staff that the Greek debt had to be written down to a sum that the country could afford to service. Instead, LaGarde enabled the One Percent to loot the Greek nation and the Greek people, forcing many young Greek women into prostitution in order to have money for food.
LaGarde’s crimes have caught up with her. A French judicial commission has ordered her to stand trial for alleged negligence over a decision she made as finance minister of France. Despite the judicial order that she stand trial, she has not had to resign as IMF director. The One Percent protects its own. The IMF’s executive board “continues to express its confidence in the Managing Director’s ability to effectively carry out her duties.” [See also Wall Street Journal: IMF Chief Lagarde Ordered to Stand Trial in France.]
No such expression of confidence was given to Strauss-Kahn when he was arrested on obviously false charges.
StephenLendmanBlog, IMF Chief Lagarde to Stand Trial, Stephen Lendman, Dec. 20, 2015. Charges are unrelated to her greatest crimes – representing the US-controlled IMF and Western monied interests at the expense of beneficial social change. The agency is a bandit operation, the loan shark lender of last resort, force-feeding economic and financial harshness on nations in return for loans – followed by new ones needed to pay debt service, an endless cycle of debt peonage, monied interests profiting hugely. Ordinary people suffer greatly as expected. So do debt-entrapped countries, forced to obey harsh IMF diktats – incompatible with social democracy, civil and human rights.
Reuters via Huffington Post, Russian Warplanes Allegedly Kill Scores In Syrian City, Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Dec. 20, 2015. Rescue workers said they had confirmed 43 dead but that at least 30 more bodies had been retrieved that had still to be identified. Over 150 people were wounded with some of the serious cases sent to hospitals in Turkey. Separately, the Syrian army with the backing of Russian air power said on Sunday it had seized the rebel held town of Khan Touman in southern Aleppo, a major gain that opened the way for advances further to the west in Idlib province. The advances brought the army only a few kilometers from the major rebel-controlled Aleppo-Damascus highway, whose capture would be a big boost to the Syrian army.
Breitbart, Karl Rove, Mike Murphy Under Fire for Epic Super PAC Failures, C. Edmund Wright, Dec. 20, 2015. If repeat business is the top sign of a success, then Karl Rove is now the poster boy for campaign strategy failure. According to a report by Gabriel Sherman in New York Magazine, Rove’s fund raising for the 2016 campaign is currently at less than 1 per cent of what he ended up with in 2012, and indications are it’s not going to get much better. Do the math: he’s down more than 99 percent. Even if he eventually raises ten fold what he’s pulled in so far, he’s still likely to be down 90 percent plus.
That’s because many of his previous benefactors are seething with anger over the 2012 failure. This has to do not only with the electoral disaster – which was obvious – but also with the arrogance with which Rove and the other sorcerers of Crossroads raised and spent money, how they insisted on controlling the messaging, and all but guaranteed a win as a result. According to a conversation I had with someone close to Sheldon Adelson, Rove even let it be known that there was no room for other Super PACs to join the Romney effort – after Romney had dispatched Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
USA Today, Obama grants 95 Christmastime pardons and commutations, Gregory Korte, Dec. 19, 2015. President Obama's decision to shorten the sentences of 95 federal prisoners Friday continued a continuing trend toward Christmastime clemency that's being criticized as part of "a broken process." Obama said the clemency grants — the largest single-day use of his pardon power in his presidency to date — "another step forward in upholding our fundamental ideals of justice and fairness." He also gave complete pardons to two people involved in counterfeiting and bank fraud, the White House announced.
Most of the commutations to shorter sentences dealt with drug offenders given long mandatory minimum sentences, but also included 15 gun crimes — usually while committing a drug offense — and one armed bank robbery.
Obama has now commuted the prison sentences of 184 people, more than any president since Lyndon Johnson (226) and surpassing the combined number granted by presidents Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush (117).
Legal scholars who study clemency say the regular use of the pardon power is a healthy check and balance to long and expensive prison sentences. But they question why so many of Obama's grants have come in the weeks before Christmas.
Washington Post, Democrats draw contrast from GOP on handling terror threats, Karen Tumulty, Dec. 19, 2015.
Zero Hedge, Turkey Blasts "Breakthrough" UN Resolution On Syria: "It Lacks Perspective. Assad Must Go!" Tyler Durden, Dec. 19, 2015. Well, for anyone who thought Turkey might be set to bow to international pressure by moving its troops north and thus back towards the Turkey-Iraq border, think again. Because on Saturday, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu was out with a series of declarations that seem to suggest Turkey is going full-belligerent-retard as Erdogan scrambles to preserve the “Assad must go” narrative on the way to securing whatever Ankara’s interests are in both Iraq and Syria.
First, Davutoglu said that the provision of training to the Peshmerga and Mosul militiamen is “in line with a request from Iraq authorities and as such, the mission in Iraq will continue “until Mosul is freed” from ISIS. Next, Davutoglu claims that the Islamic State attacks on Turkish positions in Bashiqa prove Turkey “is right.” Davutoglu then slammed a UN Security Council resolution agreed in New York on Friday. Diplomats adopted a resolution which purports to draw a road map for ending the war in Syria. For Turkey, the absence of a decision on Assad's future is maddening. The Security Council resolution "lacks realistic perspective," Davutoglu said on Saturday, before adding that the "Syria crisis can only be solved if Bashar al-Assad leaves power."
Consider that, and consider the fact that, as we reported yesterday, Ankara is now establishing a military base in Qatar in order that the two countries might work more closely on tackling "common enemies."
What we're beginning to see here is the formation of three alliances in the Mid-East: 1) Russia, Iran, Syria, and Iraq; 2) Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar; 3) Britain, France, and Germany. The first alliance is pro-Assad, anti-terror. The second is anti-Assad, pro-Sunni extremist. The third is anti-Assad (although less vehemently so). Note that we've left the US out. Why? Because Washington is now stuck. The US wants desperately to maintain coordination with Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha, but between stepped-up media coverage of Saudi Arabia's role in underwriting extremism (via the promotion of Wahhabism) and heightened scrutiny on Erdogan's role in financing terrorists, the position is becoming increasingly untenable. But aligning solely with the UK, France, and Germany entails adopting a more conciliatory approach to Assad. The US is now thoroughly confused as to what to do next.
Washington Post, U.S.: Airstrike that killed 10 Iraqi soldiers was ‘a mistake that involved both sides,’ Mustafa Salim and Missy Ryan, Dec. 19, 2015. An airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition this week killed 10 Iraqi soldiers, the Iraqi government said Saturday, in an apparent friendly fire incident in which the U.S. defense secretary says both sides shared responsibility. Iraqi Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi, at a news conference in Baghdad, said one Iraqi officer and nine soldiers were killed in the strike Friday, which took place south of the city of Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Guardian, Turkish troops move out of northern Iraq after Obama appeal for calm, Staff report, Dec. 19, 2015. Recep Tayyip Erdogan (shown in file photo) agrees to pull troops out of Iraq to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad, which had accused Turkey of an ‘illegal incursion.’ Turkey has said said it would “continue” to pull its troops out of northern Iraq after US president Barack Obama urged president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to do so in order to de-escalate tensions with Baghdad over the deployment.
Washington Post, Deal reached between Sanders and DNC doesn’t do away with the disdain, John Wagner, Dec. 19, 2015. The accord announced after midnight between Bernie Sanders’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee did little to paper over their discord. In early Saturday morning statements, both parties relayed that the DNC — facing a federal lawsuit from the Sanders camp — had agreed to end its suspension of the campaign’s access to key voter information contained in a DNC-controlled database, including data the Sanders campaign had gathered about its own supporters.
Salon, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz must go, and the case Bernie Sanders must make tonight, Bill Curry, Dec. 19, 2015. Former Connecticut State Treasurer is a two-time Democratic nominee for the state's governorsip. The chairwoman is the Democrats' version of Katherine Harris -- inept, in the tank, and no longer to be trusted.
Reuters, Assad makes rare visit to church in Damascus, Kinda Makieh, Dec. 19, 2015. Syrian President Bashar al Assad attended Christmas choir preparations in an ancient church close to a frontline area in the capital Damascus where his army is engaged in heavy fighting with rebels, state media said on Saturday. State television showed footage of Assad and his wife Asma (shown together in a file photo) making the visit overnight to the Notre Dame de Damas Church, where he was shown chatting to the choir. He took a seat near the altar and listened to a recital of Christmas poems in the main cathedral hall. The surroundings of the church in the old part of the ancient capital were hit by mortar fire on Friday, officials said.
The church is only 2 km away from Jobar, a neighborhood of the rebel-held eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus that has been the focus for months of heavy aerial bombardments and more recently Russian bombing that have left dozens of mostly civilian casualties. Assad has portrayed himself in recent interviews with the Western media as a protector of Syria's minorities, saying his rule was an example of religious tolerance in a country threatened by Islamist insurgents who have taken swathes of territory and seek to impose their version of strict Islam.
White House, President Obama's Weekly Address: Top 10 Things that Happened in 2015, Tanya Somanader, Dec. 19, 2015. President Obama's top 10 things that happened in 2015 that should make every American optimistic about 2016.
Cannon Fire, Hillary, Nixon, JFK: The problem of false history, Joseph Cannon, Dec. 19, 2015. Earlier today, I read this piece. It's a review of an anti-Hillary book written by left-wing critic Diana Johnstone; the reviewer is a libertarian named John V. Walsh. This passage by Walsh made my eyes go wide: "Johnstone sees Clinton as both a product of her times – privileged child of the U.S. Empire, white, Wellesley, Yale, a dishonest and ultimately fired operative on the Watergate committee right out of law school...."
What a specious argument! Basically, it comes down to "Good school = bad person." Hillary's family was thoroughly middle class (her dad helped to manage a textile mill), so pretending that she grew up hobnobbing with the Rockefellers and the Astors is disingenuous.
But that Watergate remark seemed oddly familiar. The reference goes to the allegations of one Jerry Zeifman, who supervised a young Hillary Clinton when she went to work for the House Judiciary Committee. At first, Zeifman said that he had fired Hillary. Then he changed his story, claiming that he wished he had fired her. The fact that he could not maintain a consistent narrative on so basic a matter tells us much about Zeifman. (And the fact that she definitely was not fired tells us much about John V. Walsh.)
Consortium news, Saudis’ Anti-Terror Window-dressing, Paul R. Pillar, Dec. 18, 2015. Faced with greater public awareness of its role promoting Sunni jihadist terror, Saudi Arabia has announced a 34-nation “anti-terrorism coalition,” but it may be just window-dressing for Riyadh’s anti-Shiite agenda, not a serious move against extremism, an issue addressed by ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
Intercept, Clinton, Rubio, Cruz Receive Foreign Policy Advice From Same Consulting Firm, Lee Fang, Dec. 18, 2015. Consultants affiliated with a small Washington, D.C., firm called Beacon Global Strategies hold the unique privilege of providing high-profile foreign policy guidance to Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz, among others. The bipartisan firm was founded in 2013 by former senior officials from the State Department, Department of Defense, and Central Intelligence Agency, and quickly had more than a dozen clients, primarily defense contractors, according to Defense News.
Philippe Reines and Andrew Shapiro, both considered part of Clinton’s inner circle of foreign policy advisers, are founders of the firm. Eric Edelman, a former Bush administration Defense Department official, is an advisory board member to Beacon Global Strategies and a leading foreign policy adviser to Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign. Brian Hooks, another veteran Bush administration official and advisory board member to Beacon Global Strategies, teamed up with Edelman to form a foreign policy prep effort for Republican candidates, called the John Hay Initiative. Hooks and Edelman have reportedly provided private briefings to help shape foreign policy ideas to candidates including Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham, encouraging them to take on hawkish positions.
Huffington Post, Chief Justice Roberts Made 'Human Error' In Overlooking Conflict Of Interest, Cristian Farias, Dec. 18, 2015. The head of the Supreme Court inadvertently participated in a case involving a company where he had a significant financial stake. Earlier this year, a Supreme Court justice took action in a case where he had an unintended conflict of interest. Actually, that happened twice this year. One of the incidents involved Justice Stephen Breyer, and you might have heard about that, because it led the court to make public a letter explaining the ordeal. The other incident involved Chief Justice John Roberts, and it just came to light this week.
Back in October, Roberts participated in the consideration of an appeal involving Texas Instruments -- a company in which Roberts or one of his family members holds stock worth up to $250,000, according to his latest financial disclosure form. Fix the Court, a nonprofit that lobbies for more transparency and accountability at the high court, first discovered Roberts' oversight and published the findings on its website Friday. Kathleen Arberg, the court's public information officer, told Bloomberg that Roberts' mistake was no more than "human error."
Washington Post, U.N. Security Council approves plan for Syrian peace process, Karen DeYoung, Dec. 19, 2015. But the resolution avoids details and papers over key differences among nations backing various combatants. The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously approved a resolution endorsing a peace process that is designed to end Syria’s civil war and to allow the international community to focus its attention more fully on defeating the Islamic State. The resolution gave Security Council backing to a process that begins with negotiations between the Syrian government and its opponents to establish a transitional government that will write a new constitution and hold elections, all within 18 months.
The resolution instructs U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura to guide the government and opposition groups toward talks to begin as early as next month. Among the pitfalls he will have to navigate are the opposition’s insistence that no talks can be held with [Syrian President Barshar al-Assad’s] participation and Russia’s demand that Assad be included. The two sides and their international supporters also disagree about which opposition groups can take part in the negotiations, with Russia seeking to ban as “terrorists” Islamist forces who are among the strongest and most numerous opposition fighters.
Atlantic, Obama's Final Press Conference of 2015, Marina Koren, Dec. 18, 2015 (Transcript). President Obama spoke to reporters in the briefing room for just over an hour, starting with a list of his administration’s wins from this year: a national unemployment rate below 6 percent, the Supreme Court’s decisions on gay marriage and Obamacare, the climate-change deal, and no end-of-year government shutdown. But the specter of foreign terrorist organizations and their growing reach looms large over the nation as it inches toward the new year, and the president has spent the last several weeks attempting to assuage a public whose fears of an attack have reached post-9/11 levels.
"You told the nation there’s no specific or credible threat of a similar attack, but how is it really possible to know?” one reporter asked Obama. “Aren’t similar plots going to be just as hard to detect beforehand?”
“You’re absolutely right,” replied Obama, who travels later Friday to California, where he’ll meet privately Friday with the families of the San Bernardino shooting, whose perpetrators were allegedly inspired by the Islamic State. He noted the difficulty of screening for self-radicalized individuals in the U.S.
“This is a different kind of challenge than the sort that we had with an organization like al-Qaeda that involved highly trained operatives who are working as cells or as a network,” Obama said.
The president reiterated his belief the United States will defeat the Islamic State, which it has been bombing for more than 18 months in Iraq and Syria. Obama dodged a question about whether he believes the presidency of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad will outlast his own, saying, “I think that Assad is going to have to leave the country to stop the bloodletting or for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way.”
Washington Post, Sanders aide accuses DNC of trying to ‘undermine’ campaign, John Wagner,, Abby Phillip and Rosalind S. Helderman, Dec. 18, 2015. A messy public brawl erupted after the Democratic National Committee suspended the campaign’s access to key voter data for breaching records belonging to the Clinton campaign. Sanders responded by suing the DNC. The presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders filed a lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee Friday, arguing that the party had unfairly suspended the campaign’s access to key voter information.
The suit came hours after campaign manager Jeff Weaver acknowledged at a Washington news conference that Sanders staffers had improperly reviewed information gathered by rival Hillary Clinton earlier in the week. But he accused the DNC of overreacting to the breach by suspending the Sanders campaign’s ability to access the computer system containing information about Democratic-leaning voters, including data the campaign has gathered about its own supporters.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz rejected that allegation late Friday, alleging that Sanders staffers had exploited a software error to essentially “steal” data from Clinton’s campaign. Wasserman-Schultz said the party would not allow Sanders access to the critical database again until his campaign agreed to an independent audit of what happened.
OpEdNews, DNC Goes Full Attack on Sanders -- Further Rigging Primary, Cutting Access to Voter Database, Rob Kall, Dec. 18, 2015. They're saying it's because someone in the Sanders campaign accessed some Clinton campaign information. But what they're not saying is the reason this happened is the company the DNC hired to maintain and manage the database has repeatedly allowed lapses in the security"wall" between campaigns using the database. When it it happened, the data manager for the Sanders campaign peeked. When the Sanders team management found out, they fired him. This is an outrageous additional abuse of power by Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (shown in a photo by Medill DC via Flickr).
Guardian, Sanders: Clinton's pursuit of 'regime change' in Libya helped rise of ISIS, Dan Roberts, Dec. 17, 2015. Vermont senator challenges Clinton’s foreign policy record and says her ties to Wall Street mean she would not take on ‘billionaire class’ (5:45 min). Bernie Sanders has accused Hillary Clinton of encouraging Islamic extremism in Libya, in a prelude to a Democratic debate on Saturday during which he is expected to go on the attack for the first time over the unintended consequences of the former secretary of state’s more interventionist foreign policy. Speaking to the Guardian in an extensive pre-debate interview, the senator from Vermont criticized Clinton for carelessly fomenting regime change in Libya “without worrying” about the ensuing instability that has helped Islamic State forces take hold in the country.
“Regime change without worrying about what happens the day after you get rid of the dictator does not make a lot of sense,” Sanders said. “I voted against the war in Iraq ... Secretary Clinton voted for that war. She was proud to have been involved in regime change in Libya, with [Muammar] Gaddafi, without worrying, I think, about what happened the day after and the kind of instability and the rise of Isis that we have seen in Libya.”
Middle East Eye, Why the US pushes the illusory Syrian peace process, Gareth Porter, Dec. 18, 2015. The anti-Assad coalition led by the United States continues to stagger toward the supposed objective of beginning peace negotiations between the Syrian government and what has now been blessed as the politically acceptable “opposition.” The first such meeting was scheduled for 1 January, but no one on either side believes for a moment that any such negotiations are going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.
If it is so obvious that the Riyadh conference and the larger scheme for peace negotiations is not going to come to fruition, why has the Obama administration been pushing it? The explanation for what appears to be a lost cause can be inferred from the basic facts surrounding the administration’s Syria policy.
First, the administration adopted the objective of regime change in Syria in late 2011, at a time when it was convinced that the regime was on the ropes. And although it has partially backtracked from that aim by distinguishing between Assad and the institutional structure of the regime, it cannot back off the demand for Assad to step down without a humiliating admission of failure and major domestic political damage....
The obvious implication of these facts is that the ostensible push for a ceasefire and peace negotiations is a useful device for managing the political optics associated with Syria during the administration’s final year. If it is not questioned by media and political elites, the administration will be able to claim both that it is insisting on getting rid of Assad and at the same time moving toward a ceasefire and political settlement.
Huffington Post, Donald Trump Doesn't Seem To Be Concerned That Vladimir Putin Kills Journalists, Sam Levine, Dec. 18, 2015. "I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe." Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Friday seemed unconcerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin kills journalists who disagree with him. Trump was pressed on his support for Putin by MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on "Morning Joe" Friday. The comments came a day after the Republican presidential hopeful and the Russian president publicly praised each other. Editor's note: The blog contains no sourcing for its commentary, only attack language.
BBC, Syria war: UN Security Council unanimously backs peace plan, staff report, Dec. 18, 2015. The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution outlining a peace process in Syria. The 15-member council reached rare agreement on the issue in a session in New York on Friday. The resolution endorses talks between the Syrian government and opposition in early January, as well as a ceasefire. The Syrian war, which is heading towards its fifth year, has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions more, the UN says. However, disagreements remain over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
OpEdNews, Syria Shatters Pentagon Dream, Pepe Escobar, Dec. 18, 2015. They look at the Syrian chessboard and as power projection goes, they see Russia comfortably settling down, with a serious land and air base, to conduct all sorts of operations across MENA (Middle East-Northern Africa) in the near future. The Pentagon obviously never saw it coming. And that's just the beginning. Further on down the road there's bound to be increased military interaction between Russia, China and Iran across Southwest Asia. The Pentagon qualifies Russia, China and Iran -- the key nodes of Eurasia integration -- as threats. Amidst all the ambiguities, partners could not be a more delightfully diplomatic way to mask what is a stunning fact in the skies: with its current mix of sophisticated surface-to-air, sea-to-air and air-to-air defenses, from cruise missiles launched out of submarines to the S-400s, the de facto no-fly zone over Syria is now decided by Moscow -- not Washington and much less Ankara.
Those S-400s, by the way, will soon move up north around the vastly complex Aleppo theatre, as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) progressively gains ground. In the first half of 2016 we should be contemplating a situation where the S-400s will be targeting and covering the whole Turkish-Syrian border. This will be the moment when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will completely lose his marbles. Russia's air cover for the SAA advances -- and soon Syrian Kurd YPG advances -- is methodically preparing the terrain for the end of all Ankara's elaborate plans for a no-fly zone disguised as a safe zone, fully paid by the 3 billion euros disbursed by the EU to Turkey to settle Syrian refugees.
Zero Hedge, Treason! Lawmaker Discovers It's Bad Idea To Accuse Erdogan Of Supplying Sarin Gas To ISIS. Tyler Durden, Dec. 17, 2015. Two weeks ago, CHP lawmaker Eren Erdem said he, like Moscow, will soon provide proof of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s role in the smuggling of Islamic State oil. "I have been able to establish that there is a very high probability that Berat Albayrak is linked to the supply of oil by the Daesh terrorists,” Erdem said, referencing Erdogan’s son-in-law who just happens to be the country’s energy minister. That wasn’t the first time Erdem has accused the Erdogan government of engaging in nefarious activities. Recall that back in October, Erdem and fellow CHP deputy Ali Seker claimed an investigation into Turkey's role in a 2013 sarin gas attack that killed more than a thousand civilians in Syria was being obstructed.
"The MKE [Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation] is also an actor that is mentioned in the investigation file. Here is the indictment. All the details about how sarin was procured in Turkey and delivered to the terrorists, along with audio recordings, are inside the file," Erdem said, at a press conference held on October 21.
"Wiretapped phone conversations reveal the process of procuring the gas at specific addresses as well as the process of procuring the rockets that would fire the capsules containing the toxic gas. However, despite such solid evidence there has been no arrest in the case. Thirteen individuals were arrested during the first stage of the investigation but were later released, refuting government claims that it is fighting terrorism," he continued.
As Today’s Zaman reported at the time, “...over 1,300 people were killed in the sarin gas attack in Ghouta and several other neighborhoods near the Syrian capital of Damascus, with the West quickly blaming the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Russia claiming it was a ‘false flag’ operation aimed at making US military intervention in Syria possible.”
On the heels of Erdem’s allegations surrounding Erdogan’s role in Islamic State’s illicit oil smuggling business, the lawmaker said he intends “to carry this investigation through to the end,” to which we replied: “..we can only hope that, for the sake of exposing the truth, ‘the end’ doesn’t end up being a Turkish jail cell, or worse.”
Well sure enough, Erdem now faces “treason” charges. Here’s Today’s Zaman again: "The Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation into Republican People's Party (CHP) Istanbul deputy Eren Erdem for 'treason,' following his claims on the Russia Today (RT) TV station [excerpted below] that radical groups used Turkey as a transit route for the shipment of sarin gas.