A non-profit news blog, focused on providing independent journalism.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Criminal cop beats and tasers 76-year-old, gets called 'Goddamned Nazi Stormtrooper'

police brutality

© YouTube

In Victoria, Texas a police officer was just recorded beating and tasering a 76-year-old man who called the cop a "Goddamned Nazi Stormtrooper." These sound like pretty harsh words until you find out that the officer was harassing the man for an expired inspection sticker, even though the vehicle had dealer tags which makes it completely exempt from such stickers.

The 23-year-old cop was placed on administrative leave on Friday after beating and tasering Pete Vasquez.

Vasquez was driving a work-owned dealer vehicle on Thursday when Officer Nathanial Robinson started harassing him. When Vasquez explained the exemption to the cop, Robinson became enraged.

The dashcam video shows it all. Robinson slams Vasquez onto the hood of the patrol car before forcing him to the ground, then shocking him twice while on the ground.

"He just acted like a pit bull, and that was it," Vasquez said. "For a while, I thought he was going to pull his gun and shoot me."

Chief J.J. Craig said that he took this matter very seriously and offered a personal apology to Vasquez, but he stopped short of disciplining the rogue officer.

"Public trust is extremely important to us," Craig said, hoping that his apology will keep his department from getting sued.

"Sometimes that means you have to take a real hard look at some of the actions that occur within the department," he continued.

"You want to make sure you give the right kind of person a badge and a gun," he finally added.

Larry Urich, a co-worker of Vasqueze at the car lot, told local Victoria Advocate reporters that the officer should be fired and prosecuted for assault.

"I told the officer, 'What in the hell are you doing?' This gentleman is 76 years old," Urich explained. "The cop told me to stand back, but I didn't shut up. I told him he was a goddamned Nazi Stormtrooper."

Watch the video of the incident below and help us SPREAD THE WORD!

[embedded content]

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

According to Dick Cheney, torture isn't torture when we do it

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday continued his fierce defense of harsh CIA interrogation tactics used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, saying flatly that he "would do it again in a minute."

Cheney said there is "no comparison" between the tactics and the deaths of American citizens on September 11, 2001, adding that the CIA "very carefully avoided" the practice of torture.

"Torture is what the al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11," Cheney said on NBC's . "There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation."

The former vice president added that he was not concerned about the capture or interrogation of foreign nationals who were ultimately revealed to be innocent.

"I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective and our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States," he said.

The comments come after the release of a lengthy report spearheaded by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. That document asserted that interrogation tactics used on terror suspects were more brutal than previously known.

Pressed by host Chuck Todd about whether the practice of "rectal rehydration" was acceptable, Cheney acknowledged that it was not part of the interrogation program. But, he added, "I believe it was done for medical reasons" -- a notion that has been questioned by medical experts.

The former vice president also hit back against the report's claim that President George W. Bush was misled about the extent of the practices.

"This man knew what we were doing," he said, outlining daily briefings that included the president, the CIA director and himself. "He authorized it. He approved it."

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

According to Dick Chenney, torture isn't torture when we do it

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday continued his fierce defense of harsh CIA interrogation tactics used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, saying flatly that he "would do it again in a minute."

Cheney said there is "no comparison" between the tactics and the deaths of American citizens on September 11, 2001, adding that the CIA "very carefully avoided" the practice of torture.

"Torture is what the al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11," Cheney said on NBC's . "There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation."

The former vice president added that he was not concerned about the capture or interrogation of foreign nationals who were ultimately revealed to be innocent.

"I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective and our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States," he said.

The comments come after the release of a lengthy report spearheaded by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. That document asserted that interrogation tactics used on terror suspects were more brutal than previously known.

Pressed by host Chuck Todd about whether the practice of "rectal rehydration" was acceptable, Cheney acknowledged that it was not part of the interrogation program. But, he added, "I believe it was done for medical reasons" -- a notion that has been questioned by medical experts.

The former vice president also hit back against the report's claim that President George W. Bush was misled about the extent of the practices.

"This man knew what we were doing," he said, outlining daily briefings that included the president, the CIA director and himself. "He authorized it. He approved it."

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Picture perfect proof that Mars once had wet seasons

Gale Crater's Hidden Valley


Cross-bedded sandstones imaged at the edge of Gale Crater's Hidden Valley.

It looks like a freeze dried desert now, but this image taken by the Mars Curiosity rover is proof that the red planet once had regular wet seasons, and was capable of supporting life. This layered rock photographed by the Mast Camera on NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover shows thick-laminated, evenly-stratified sandstone layers, which are commonly found on Earth where river deltas flow into lakes and seas.

The suspended material in the water then settled onto the ancient lake bed and gradually, over years, built up the many layers, which are now exposed in this rock outcrop. These multiple layers of sedimentary deposits are evidence that there were regular cycles of water carrying plumes of river sediments flowing into the lake which once filled Gale crater.

The sandstone has slowly eroded away over billions of years through the actions of sand blasting winds. These cross-bedded sandstones were imaged at the edge of a location called Hidden Valley, which is on the foot hills of the crater's five kilometre high central peak, Mount Sharp. The scene combines multiple frames taken with Curiosity's right-eye camera on August 7th, 2014, during the 712th Martian day or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars.

The colour has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

In 40 years, U.S. neighborhoods stricken by poverty almost triples

© AFP/Mark Ralston

Contrary to the perception in the media, poverty - not gentrification - is booming in US neighborhoods. When such conditions double or triple, areas quickly fall into disrepair, services are cut, and crime escalates, according to a new report.

Media attention tends to focus on poor neighborhoods that are rapidly undergoing gentrification by way of investments and an influx of wealthier new residents, but a paper by cityobservatory.org shows a troubling trend that is more prevalent. The number of poor people living in high-poverty urban neighborhoods has more than doubled, the report found, from two million to four million over the past 40 years. Additionally, the number of high-poverty neighborhoods has nearly tripled from 1,100 to 3,100.

"The direct negative economic consequences of concentrated poverty are well established...fewer local job prospects...poor physical connections to growing job centers...[worse] health...poor quality public services that worsen the experience of poverty for neighborhood residents, and make it harder to attract new residents and businesses, adding to a cycle of decline," said the report's authors Joe Cortright and Dillon Mahmoudi.

The study, titled 'Lost in Place,' looks into why the persistence and spread of concentrated poverty - not gentrification - is the biggest urban challenge in the US. It analyzed changes in high-poverty neighborhoods in 51 of the largest metropolitan areas between 1970 and 2010. In these areas, 30 percent or more of the population lives below the poverty line.

Several factors contributed to concentrated poverty. People that could leave the neighborhoods because of education and income did, leaving poorer residents behind. Because of poverty, aging buildings and infrastructure became neglected. As the buildings got older, their value went down and became more affordable for low income families.

"Because the slow decline is more common and less visible, it is seldom remarked upon, while gentrification, when it happens - which is both unusual and dramatic - is far more evident change," explains the report.

The report shows that Brooklyn, for example, went from having four poor neighborhoods to having five, while it went from having zero rich neighborhoods to having two. Despite gaining a poor neighborhood, Brooklyn was singled out as having the least amount of affordable housing in the US.

© AFP/Mark Ralston

Concentrated poverty disproportionately affects persons of color, too, the report found. About 75 percent of those living in high-poverty neighborhoods are African-American or Latino. The federal poverty threshold is currently set at approximately $23,000 per year for a family of four.

"In the USA, there are now more census tracts of concentrated poverty than have never been recorded before, resulting in more than 11 million Americans, or four percent of the population, living in severely distressed neighborhoods," said Rutgers professor Paul Jargowsky.

"The increase in concentrated poverty was highest in the Midwest, which experienced a 132 percent increase in the number of people living in high poverty neighborhoods, to 2.7 million; followed by the South, which suffered a 66 percent increase to 4.6 million."

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Terrorists holding up to 20 hostages in an armed siege in a cafe in Sydney

Terrorists were today holding up to 20 hostages in an armed siege in a cafe in Sydney where an extremist flag was being held up in a window. Witnesses reported seeing staff and customers sobbing as they were forced to stand with their hands pressed against the windows of the Lindt cafe.

At least two gunmen are involved in the siege but dozens of armed police have sealed off the streets surrounding the site. One gunman is believed to have a shotgun and possibly an explosive device. Martin Place has been shut down and scores of police are surrounding the building after the alarm was raised about 9.45am.

Journalist Chris Kenny, who was in the shop about 20 minutes before the siege began, said he understood the automatic glass sliding doors had been disabled.

'I did speak to a couple of people who saw a bit more of this unfold than I did,' he said.

'One woman said she tried to go into the shop just after I came out with my takeaway coffee but the doors wouldn't open.

'So obviously whoever is doing this has disabled the automatic glass sliding doors to stop anyone else going in and she said immediately she could see there was a weapon.

'The woman was quite frantic but very clear what she was telling (the police).

Additional images

'I know the faces of the people who are sitting there enjoying a morning coffee.'

The Seven Network newsroom, which is in a building opposite the cafe, has been evacuated.

Other buildings in Martin Place, including the nearby Westpac building, have been cleared.

'We're just recommending no one go near Martin Place at the moment,' a NSW Police spokeswoman said.

Martin Place train station has been closed, public buses are being turned away and air space over Sydney has reportedly been closed.

A staff member at the Reserve Bank told Daily Mail Australia they were unable to be evacuated because Martin Place had been closed. Staff have been told to move away from the windows.

Another woman who works in the government building opposite the cafe tried to call her her office to say she couldn't get past cordons and all the phone lines were down.

It was alleged that Omarjan Azari, the 22-year-old Sydney man arrested on terrorism charges in September, was planning a public beheading in Martin Place.

The alleged terror plot, mentioned in a conversation between Australian terrorism recruiter in Syria, Mohammad Ali Barylei and Azari, involved selecting a member of the public at random, beheading them and then covering their body in a flag.

The whole incident was going to be filmed, and then used as propaganda for the ISIS cause.

Federal prosecutors said the alleged terror plot was 'clearly designed to shock, horror and terrify the community'.

Police Prosecutor Michael Allnutt said that Azari had made a threat which involved a 'random selection of persons to execute' during a telephone conversation with Baryalei.

Azari was arrested on September 18 and charged with preparing for an act of terrorism.

He is due in court this week for a bail application.

The flag being held up in the window of the cafe is believed to be a Shahada flag, which is used by the group, Jabhat al Nusra.

Jabhat al Nusra was formed in January 2012, in the Syrian civil war to fight the Syrian government forces.

Jabhat al Nusra, or JN, aims to overthrow the Assad regime and replace it with a Sunni Islamic state.

Although the group is affiliated with al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusra does not emphasize Western targets or global jihad, focusing instead on the 'near enemy' of the Syrian state.

Martin Place is one of Sydney's busiest streets and is at the centre of the CBD. The Lindt cafe where the hostages are being held specialises in chocolate and has a number of branches across the city.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Baltimore police officer assaults, tasers woman who filmed them beating man in custody

© Screenshot from youtube.com video

Stopping to film Baltimore police officers kicking a handcuffed man, a local woman says she found herself being tasered and arrested while police hurled expletives. She is now suing the department.

Kianga Mwamba, 36, claims she was tasered and arrested by Baltimore Police Department officers in March while filming the arrest of another man on her mobile phone. After she was released, she noticed someone had tampered with her mobile phone - erasing the arrest video. Charges against her were eventually dropped in September, but Mwamba recently served the police department with a lawsuit seeking $7 million.

"I'm in shock for real, like are they really doing this to me," Mwamba, the daughter of a veteran of the Maryland Capitol Police, said as she recalled the arrest in an interview this fall with the .

The lawsuit filed with the Circuit Court for Baltimore City last Thursday said the police "attacked" her, "dragged" her from her vehicle, and "threw her onto the street, handcuffed her, tasered her, called her a 'dumb bitch,' and kept her restrained."

The suit alleges the officers arrested Mwamba to "prevent the disclosure of the video taken of them beating a handcuffed man."

Video of the March 30 melee surfaced online this week. Police erased the 135-second recording from Mwamba's phone, but it was recovered from her cloud account, according to the lawsuit.

Mwamba was driving home from a family gathering in March. Stopped in traffic, she began filming the nearby arrest of a man who she says was kicked by police. On the video we hear the following:

"You telling me I can't record," the woman says on the video as police tell her to move on.

"I'll park. I'll park. I'll park," the woman is heard saying in her own recording.

All of a sudden an officer says, "Out of the car. Out of the car."

After she is reportedly yanked out of her car, the woman is heard screaming, "He burning me. He burning me."

Mwamba was arrested on charges of assault for allegedly trying to run over two officers. Charges were dropped, and she suffered cuts and bruises.

At the end of the tape, an officer says, "You a dumb bitch, you know that?"

"What did I do?" she asks.

"You just tried to run over an officer," the officer responds.

While in custody, she gave her phone to an officer to show that in the video she didn't try to run over anyone. The video was allegedly erased from the phone in what her attorney, Joshua Insley, described in a telephone interview as a "cover-up."

The police department said in a statement that the language the officer used was "both offensive and unacceptable."

"The video does not capture enough information to draw definitive conclusions about what transpired before, during, and after the arrest," the department said. "What is clear is that the language used is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

Meanwhile, the handcuffed man was Cordell Bruce, who faces assault charges on allegations of striking an officer outside a nightclub - charges Bruce denies. The video does not capture him being beaten by police.

The lawsuit comes as the Baltimore Police Department has been undertaking broad reforms due to a pattern of forceful of arrests and complaints. This year, there have been 66 complaints over forceful arrests, compared to 122 in all of 2012. The department has also received 55 notices from lawyers planning to sue police. Those have dropped a third from the number in 2012, the Sun reported.

But the found that some Baltimore officers were involved in multiple lawsuits and there were gaps in monitoring misconduct at the department.

"The police department has asked the U.S. Justice Department to review how the city paid $5.7 million in court judgment and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police brutality since 2011," the newspaper reported.

[embedded content]

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

New Comet: P/2014 X1 (ELENIN)

CBET nr. 4034, issued on 2014, December 14, announces the discovery of a comet (magnitude ~18) by Leonid Elenin on three CCD images taken on 2014, December 12 with a 0.4-m f/3 astrograph at the ISON-NM Observatory near Mayhill, NM, USA. The new comet has been designated P/2014 X1 (ELENIN).

We performed follow-up measurements of this object, while it was still on the neocp. Stacking of 10 unfiltered exposures, 120-sec each, obtained remotely on 2014, December 12.4 from H06 (iTelescope network - Mayhill) through a 0.43-m f/6.8 astrograph + CCD + f/4.5 focal reducer, under bad seeing conditions, shows that this object is slightly diffuse with FWHM about 20% - 30% wider than that of nearby field stars of similar brightness.

Our confirmation image (click on it for a bigger version)

Comet P/2014 X1 Elenin

© Remanzacco Observatory

M.P.E.C. 2014-X66 (including pre-discovery Pan-STARRS1 and Mount Lemmon observations, found by G. V. Williams in the MPC archive from September and October) assigns the following elliptical orbital elements to comet P/2014 X1: T 2015 Jan. 7.74; e= 0.71; Peri. = 34.36; q = 1.81; Incl.= 25.97

Congrats to Leonid for the discovery of his third comet!

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Study: Over 22 different diseases linked to GMO's

Yet More Evidence GMOs Should be Banned

A new study released in September of this year gives even more evidence that GMOs should have been banned before they were ever allowed on the market. Read on to find out how " pinpoints a significant correlation between GMOs and 22 diseases.

Why does the biotech industry keep hiding the toxicity of their products? Well, there are numerous reasons - the corruption of the American and international governments, the fact that the USDA's main man appointed by Obama was a former Monsanto executive, and the tremendously deep pockets of mega-corporations to launch propaganda campaigns - are just a few.

The aforementioned title was published in The Journal of Organic Systems. It is full of very detailed evidence of the link between genetically modified ingredients and diseases such as liver failure, urinary and bladder cancers, hypertension, thyroid disease, stroke, obesity, and more. It is replete with telling charts and graphs that describe visually the mayhem that GMOs have unleashed on society.

Much of the study focuses on the introduction of glyphosate and its subsequent ramifications on human health. The herbicide was introduced in 1974, but the research conducted within this study relied on data since the 1990s, since that is all that was available. Since the early 90s, glyphosate use has grown astronomically.

As the study details:

". . .glyphosate disrupts the ability of animals, including humans, to detoxify xenobiotics. This means that exposures to the numerous chemicals in food and the environment, such as endocrine disrupting chemicals and carcinogens, could be causing levels of damage that would not occur if the body were able to detoxify them."

Though the authors admit that correlation is not proof of causation, they state that:

". . .we have data for 22 diseases, all with a high degree of correlation and very high significance. It seems highly unlikely that all of these can be random coincidence."

They also bring attention to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine's position paper on genetically modified (GM) foods:

"[S]everal animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system."

So what did the authors of this study conclude?

There is an obvious and significant correlation between the increased use of glyphosate and genetically engineered crops grown specifically to withstand its use, and a growing multitude of diseases and their frequency. Many of the graphs show a marked increase right around the 1990s when the makers of glyphosate enjoyed a boost in their profits and an enormous swell of herbicide use from products like RoundUp and others containing the same chemicals.

There is no mistaking the data - the large increase in glyphosate use in the US is mostly due to the increase in glyphosate-resistant GE crops - and this has led to more disease.

The researchers state:

"The probabilities in the graphs and tables show that it is highly unlikely that the correlations are a coincidence. The strength of the correlations shows that there is a very strong probability that they are linked somehow. The number of graphs with similar data trends also indicates a strong probability that there is a link. Although correlation does not necessarily mean causation, when correlation coefficients of over 0.95 (with p-value significance levels less than 0.00001) are calculated for a list of diseases that can be directly linked to glyphosate, via its known biological effects, it would be imprudent not to consider causation as a plausible explanation."

Sure there are many reasons for chronic disease - diet, lack of exercise, exposure to other environmental toxins, and even genetic predisposition among them, but when your body can't rid itself of a known carcinogen because it is added straight to the food supply in copious amounts - of course you are going to get sick. It doesn't take 22 charts to figure that out. After all, glyphosate is appearing in people's urine, blood, and breast milk.

Since glyphosate is also an endocrine disruptor, this would imply that the current permitted residue levels in food could be causing multiple health problems that have been documented in the scientific literature.

The endocrine system is essential to human health. Since it is being attacked by biotech chemicals on a daily basis, the glands in our bodies like the pituitary, thymus, and pineal can't secrete hormones that keep us fit, healthy, and disease-free.

All of these functions are carried out by the endocrine system:

  • Growth and development

  • Homeostasis (the internal balance of body systems)

  • Metabolism (body energy levels)

  • Reproduction

  • Response to stimuli (stress and/or injury)

Of course, the body will start to respond with disease-like symptoms when the metabolism, reproductive system, and nervous system are constantly trying to right themselves due to glyphosate exposure.

We are the guinea pigs of biotech - a grand science experiment gone wrong (or depending on who you talk to and the motives suspected behind biotech technologies).

The researchers urge independent scientific research. They expound:

"The data presented in this paper highlight the need for independent scientific research to be conducted, especially in the areas of the endocrine disruption, cancer precursor, oxidative stress, gut microbiome and the Cytochrome P450 pathways. It is our hope that, in addition to more basic research in the form of toxicology and carcinogenic studies, epidemiology studies will be undertaken by experts in each of these disease categories."

In my estimation, there is already ample evidence, even with the biotech white-wash and out-right manipulation of universities, non-profits, and scientific journals, that GMOs are dangerous.

So, until we are able to ban all GMO crops completely, add these 10 GMO foods to your GMO foods list so you can more easily avoid them. You can also avoid the eight main GM crops:

  • Corn

  • Soybeans

  • Canola

  • Cottonseed

  • Sugar Beets

  • Most Hawaiian Papaya

  • Some Zucchini and Yellow Squash

  • Sugar Derived from GMO Sugar Beets

  • Dairy is additionally likely to be GMO unless it is labeled No rBGH, rBST, or artificial hormones.

Below are some of the key charts from the study. You can also read the full study on the correlation between GMO and 22 different diseases for more details.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Spy equipment found near parliament in Oslo, Norway

© Vidar Ruud/NTB scanpix

Leader of the Christian Democrats, Knut Arild Hareide, talks on his mobile on his way to Norway's parliament last month.

Spy equipment that can be used to eavesdrop on the mobile phones of politicians and ordinary Norwegians has been discovered in several places in the Oslo area, including close to the country's parliament, newspaper has revealed.

The equipment, hidden in fake mobile base stations, can be used to monitor all mobile activity in the vicinity. The paper conducted tests close important buildings in central Oslo and discovered a number of the devices, including close to the prime minister's residence on Parkveien and close to the government offices.

The purpose of the equipment appears to have been to find out who was entering and passing parliament, the government offices and other buildings in the area. It could also be used to listen to phone calls and monitor data traffic of selected people in the area, the paper says.

It is not known who placed the equipment, according to the paper, but no Norwegian agency has admitted to being responsible. Only the police, security police and the National Security Agency (NSM) are entitled to use eavesdropping equipment under Norwegian law.

The security police (PST) said that "very many" organisations could be responsible for the fake base stations:

"It could be private actors or state actors," said the PST's Arne Christian Haugstøyl.

"I can't on the basis of these discoveries say that it is a foreign intelligence agency, but I can say that we know that foreign intelligence agencies have this kind of capacity. And in our preventive work we advise those looking after Norwegian interests not to talk about sensitive issues on mobile phones," he said.

The National Security Agency was told of 's discovery on Thursday, and started its own investigation around central Oslo on Friday.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

NATO's "Fact Sheet" about NATO will make your eyes bleed

Fact: These gentlemen love NATO

Russia. It's a terrible country full of baseless "claims" about NATO: "NATO bombed this, NATO killed that" - so hurtful and malicious. Luckily for us, a public relations intern has compiled a helpful "NATO fact sheet about NATO" in order to thwart this insensitive Russian smear campaign. Or to use NATO's own words:

Since Russia began its illegal military intervention in Ukraine, Russian officials have accused NATO of a series of provocations, threats and hostile actions stretching back over 25 years. This webpage sets out the facts.

As you already guessed, NATO's webpage of facts about NATO is actually little more than a smorgasbord of twisted logic and transparent bullshit topped off with self-denial sprinkles. Your correspondent has selected his three favorite "facts" for closer examination, and will now report on his findings.

FACT: Don't listen to the haters. Afghanistan's security forces are awesome

Claim: NATO's operation in Afghanistan was a failure

Fact: NATO took over the command of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2003.

Under NATO's command, the mission progressively extended throughout Afghanistan, was joined by 22 non-NATO countries and built up from scratch an Afghan National Security Force of more than 350,000 soldiers and police.

Threats to Afghanistan's security continue. However, the Afghan forces are now ready to take full responsibility for security across the country, as agreed with the Afghan authorities.

NATO has agreed to continue providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan forces, and has planned a mission to do so, "Resolute Support", as of 1 January.

This is terrific news. Given NATO's primary objective in Afghanistan is "to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country," its circle-jerk boasting about creating a magnificent fighting force "from scratch" is more than appropriate:

But The New York Times is notoriously anti-war. We need a second opinion, preferably one from the Defense Department's own newspaper, which reported in February that

The authors of an independent, Pentagon-commissioned assessment of the Afghan National Security Forces concluded that current U.S. and NATO plans for the post-2014 ANSF are woefully inadequate to prevent a major deterioration in the Afghanistan security environment.

Pentagon pessimists! But just how "woeful" is the current "security environment" in Afghanistan? In August, an Afghan soldier trained by NATO shot and killed a US Army general. Quite on purpose. This marvel of Afghan security is called an "insider attack," and it happens all the time.

In at least one month in 2012, insider attacks were "the leading killer of American troops," according to CBS. For a more recent example of this security phenomenon: In September, "an Afghan soldier shot an International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) trainer dead, injuring another trainer and an interpreter."

If you think that the security situation is only woeful for NATO forces training their mutinous Afghan army, think again. Afghan police officers are also frequent targets of insider attacks.

Yes, this is the Afghan National Security Force, "the leading killer of American troops", which NATO is so proud of. Never forget: NATO built this remarkable NATO-killing fighting force "from scratch".

In conclusion, Reuters reported earlier this month that "Afghan forces [are] ill equipped to fight [the] Taliban without NATO."

Mission accomplished.

FACT: Under the Taliban, the Afghan drug trade basically ceased to exist. Under NATO, it has experienced a historic renaissance of poppy-fueled delight. So what?

Claim: The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan failed to stop the Afghan drugs trade

Fact: As with any sovereign country, the primary responsibility for upholding law and order in Afghanistan, including as regards the trade in narcotics, rests with the Afghan government.

The international community is supporting the Afghan government to live up to this responsibility in many ways, including both through the United Nations and through the European Union.

NATO is not a main actor in this area. This role has been agreed with the international community.

Do you know why the Afghan government can't stop the drug trade in its own country? Because the United States considers Afghan's endless fields of poppies a "potential good thing for Afghanistan and the Army." We can't make this shit up. US Army policy dictates that American forces are

not allowed to actually step foot in poppy fields or damage the fields in any way. They can't even threaten to destroy the fields or send in Afghan troops to burn, plow under or poison the delicate, pastel-colored flowers.

It's even more incredible that NATO claims Afghanistan is a "sovereign nation," and yet the United States forbids Afghan troops from burning poppy fields in their own country. How can NATO chastise the Afghan government about its country's drug trade when it won't allow Afghan troops to combat its country's drug trade?

Meanwhile, the US Army's poppy policy has produced the desired results:

The total area under cultivation was about 224,000 hectares (553,500 acres) in 2014, a seven percent increase on last year, according to the Afghanistan Opium Survey released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The survey said that potential opium production was estimated at 6,400 tonnes in 2014, a rapid increase of 17 percent from 2013, but not as high as the record 7,400 tonnes produced in 2007

And what becomes of the hundreds of thousands of US-approved hectares of Afghan poppies? Many are transformed into delicious heroin, and then the heroin is sent to Russia.

You're welcome, Russia.

FACT: NATO's 26,500 humanitarian bombing sorties protected Libyans from violence

Claim: NATO's operation over Libya was illegitimate

The NATO-led operation was launched under the authority of two UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR), 1970 and 1973, both quoting Chapter VII of the UN Charter, and neither of which was opposed by Russia.

UNSCR 1973 authorized the international community "to take all necessary measures" to "protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack". This is what NATO did, with the political and military support of regional states and members of the Arab League.

After the conflict, NATO cooperated with the UN International Commission of Inquiry on Libya, which found no breach of UNSCR 1973 or international law, concluding instead that "NATO conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties."

It's difficult to know where to begin, but this Reuters report does a fairly good job of clarifying what NATO describes as "protecting civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack":

NATO said on Saturday it had bombed three satellite dishes in Tripoli to stop "terror broadcasts" by Muammar Gaddafi, but Libyan state TV remained on air and condemned what it said was the targeting of journalists.

Yes, NATO bombed a television station and killed three journalists in order to "protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack." That seems reasonable.

Right up until the very end of its glorious humanitarian bombing of Libya, NATO vehemently denied that it had killed a single civilian. This was because

only a death that NATO itself investigated and corroborated could be called confirmed. But because the alliance declined to investigate allegations, its casualty tally by definition could not budge - from zero.

NATO was eventually forced to admit that its magical humanitarian bombs had killed one or maybe two civilians after a New York Times investigation revealed that "NATO warplanes had bombed ambulance crews and civilians who were attempting to aid the wounded injured in earlier strikes." Classy.

It's worth going back and looking at exactly how NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen described his organization's "mandate" in Libya:

What we have decided tonight is to take the responsibility for enforcing the No-Fly Zone with the aim to protect the civilian population, and the mandate doesn't go beyond that, of course we can act in self-defence, but what we will do is to enforce the No-Fly Zone and ensure that we protect the civilian population.

Really? So how does Rasmussen explain this:

Special forces troops from Britain, France, Jordan and Qatar on the ground in Libya have stepped up operations in Tripoli and other cities in recent days to help rebel forces as they conducted their final advance on the Gadhafi regime, a NATO official confirmed to CNN Wednesday.

NATO's war against Libya was a clusterfuck of lies and deceit, so much so that

Human rights organisations have cast doubt on claims of mass rape and other abuses perpetrated by forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, which have been widely used to justify Nato's war in Libya.

White lies. Like telling your pregnant wife that she doesn't look fat. We must never forget that NATO's valiant effort has led to "a self-declared government set up by an armed group that seized the Libyan capital in August."

Libya's "official" government and parliament now operate from towns hundreds of miles east of Tripoli.

The End.

Epilogue: How can anyone trust anything these assholes say, anyway?

How can we put this delicately? NATO doesn't exactly have the best track record when it comes to "not being entirely full of shit." Strong words, and we intend to defend them.

Exhibit A: If we killed them, they're bad

In September 2012, NATO proudly announced that it had attacked a group of 45 "hostiles" with "precision munitions and direct fire," resulting in the deaths of "a large number of insurgents". This is fancy NATO talk for "dropping a bomb on women collecting wood at night."

Or as CNN explains: "NATO admitted that it had killed Afghan civilians in an airstrike early Sunday morning, hours after saying there was no evidence of civilian deaths."

Exhibit B: Kill pregnant women, dig the bullets out of their dead bodies, and deny everything

In 2010, NATO forces conducted one of its signature "night raids," resulting in the deaths of five civilians, including three women, two of whom were pregnant. And how did NATO handle this sticky situation? You know already:

NATO military officials had suggested that the women were actually stabbed to death - or had died by some other means - hours before the raid, an explanation that implied that family members or others at the home might have killed them.

Survivors of the raid called that explanation a cover-up and insisted that American forces killed the women. Relatives and family friends said the bloody raid followed a party in honor of the birth of a grandson of the owner of the house.

On Sunday night the American-led military command in Kabul issued a statement admitting that "international forces" were responsible for the deaths of the women.

If that's not disgusting enough for you, here's an extra bonus:

"There was evidence of tampering at the scene, walls being washed, bullets dug out of holes in the wall," the NATO official said, adding that investigators "couldn't find bullets from the wounds in the body."

Dig the bullets out of their pregnant corpses, and then blame family members for their deaths. Charming.

By the way, what is the current freedom-status of NATO's blossoming bastions of democracy? Let's consult Transparency International's Corruption Index:

Yes, Libya and Afghanistan are basically tied with North Korea for Most Corrupt Nation on Earth. It's fun to compare the 2014 index with results from 2010 (pre-NATO liberation of Libya). As you will observe, Gaddafi's Evil Arab Jamahiriya was outrageously less corrupt than the NATO-sponsored regime currently clinging to power. As for Afghanistan in 2010: It was the same corrupt, NATO-occupied hellhole that we know and love today.

Enough already.

This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service - if this is your content and you're reading it on someone else's site, please read the FAQ at http://ift.tt/jcXqJW.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

The West's malicious misrepresentation of terrorism in the Caucasus

© Sputnik/ Igor Mikhalev

The latest jihadi attack on the Chechen capital Grozny once again illustrates a dark truth. Namely that in the midst of the United States' seemingly endless "War on Terror" one jihadi terrorist movement is spared all criticism. This is the one which for more than a decade has been waging war on Russia in the Caucasus.

This is clearly shown by the way the Western media reported the attack. Though it received scant attention, the reports of the incident that were provided studiously avoided referring to the perpetrators as either "jihadis" or "terrorists". Instead they were called such things as "militants", "separatists" or even just "Chechens" - the last especially outrageous given that their intended targets were Chechens.

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it is because this particular jihadi movement, unlike all the rest, targets Russia. That this is the only thing that differentiates this jihadi movement from the others is unimportant. The mere fact it opposes Russia is apparently enough.

That this is indeed a terrorist jihadi movement no different from the others requires some explanation and a brief discussion of the recent history of the Caucasus.

Firstly, it should be said clearly that the jihadi movement in the Caucasus is a product of the political crisis that arose in Russia at the fall of the USSR in 1991. It is fashionable in the west to claim that it is something else and dates back to earlier times. Recently a number of books and articles have appeared that purport to trace its origins all the way back to the wars the Russian Empire fought in the 19th century in the Caucasus. According to this view, the jihadi movement is merely the latest manifestation of the struggle of the Muslim people of the Caucasus against Russia that began in the early 19th century. The Chechens in particular are supposed to be engaged in a centuries old struggle for liberation against Russia and their recent history is in inevitably described in these terms.

A brief survey of the actual history of the Caucasus, and of Chechnya in particular, shows that this view of Caucasian history is quite simply wrong.

In the 19th century the Russian Empire did fight a long war in the Caucasus against some, though not all, the Muslim people there. This war is the subject of Russian literary works by Tolstoy and Lermontov amongst others. Russia was eventually victorious in this war, fully pacifying the Caucasus by the 1860s. In the process the Russians and the Caucasians who fought each other acquired considerable knowledge and respect for each other. The Caucasian leader Shamil was, for example, treated with great respect by the Russians following his capture and was even allowed by them to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca - honorable treatment of a brave enemy unknown and probably incomprehensible to the West today.

Following the 1860s, the Caucasus basically became a peaceful and stable region of the Russian Empire. During the period of the Revolution, the region witnessed considerable instability, but then this was true of the Russian Empire as a whole. Once the USSR became consolidated the history of the peoples of the Caucasus became part of the general history of the USSR. Thus whilst there was considerable opposition in the Caucasus to collectivization this was true of the USSR as a whole.

Claims made of a continuous history of Chechen hostility to Russia and Russians tend to center on events during the Second World War. Stalin's government accused the Chechens of collaborating with the Germans and as a form of collective punishment deported the entire Chechen nation from their homes.

This episode has been seized on by certain Western scholars and journalists looking for proof of the supposed age-old enmity that supposedly exists between the Chechen people and Russia. Recently a number of books have appeared in the west which purport to describe the conflict between the Chechens and the Russians during the Second World War and the rebellion the Soviet authorities are supposed to have faced in the Caucasus.

There is no doubt that some people in the Caucasus did try to take advantage of the exceptionally difficult situation in which the USSR found itself to try to achieve their own goals though what these were precisely it is not always easy to say. The same however was true in other parts of the USSR as well. The Caucasus was not the only region of the USSR were the Germans found collaborators. As the story of the Vlasov army shows, there were collaborators even among Russians. That some people tried to take advantage of a difficult situation does not mean that the majority did or even wanted to.

Those best qualified to know the true situation, the Soviet government, exonerated the Chechens in the 1950s and allowed them to return to their homes. In view of this it seems perverse for Western writers to say today that Stalin's allegations against the Chechens were true after all. It is a bizarre, and to my knowledge unique, case of westerners endorsing allegations Stalin made which subsequent Soviet and Russian governments have rejected.

The deportation for the Chechen people was for them a traumatic experience. This should not obscure the fact that the subsequent period following their return from the 1950s to the final end of the USSR was in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Caucasus a period of peace and prosperity. In view of this, it is unsurprising that in the referendum held in March 1991 the Muslim people of the northern Caucasus voted overwhelmingly to support the continuation of the USSR. Chechens throughout this period were full Soviet citizens and many made the most of the opportunities this offered them. Two well-known examples are Dzhokar Dudayev, who became a Major General in the Soviet Air Force, and Ruslan Khasbulatov, who eventually rose to become chairman of the Congress of People's Deputies of the Russian Federation in the early Yeltsin era.

The crisis that convulsed the Caucasus and Chechnya in particular in 1991 cannot therefore be explained as part of some great historic conflict between Chechens and Russians. Rather it is better understood as part of the general crisis that affected the whole of the USSR at that time.

In Chechnya, the weakening of state authority opened the way for a violent armed coup by the followers of Dzokhar Dudayev. Significantly Dudayev's movement had not previously sought secession from the USSR. Rather its demands were for Chechnya to be accepted as a sovereign Republic of the USSR alongside the three other Caucasian republics, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In the aftermath of the failed August coup attempt in Moscow in 1991, Dudayev and his followers seized the opportunity to launch a coup of their own in Grozny. The coup was carried out with considerable violence and resulted in the murder of several of Dudayev's opponents.

Whilst it is clear that Dudayev enjoyed some support in Chechnya, its extent is difficult to judge since he never submitted himself to any form of election process whilst he was in power. That most people in Chechnya did not support him appears to be confirmed by a referendum which he did hold shortly after he seized power. Turnout in that referendum was very low, perhaps as low as 20%. The region of Ingushetia, which had been united with Chechnya, refused to accept Dudayev's authority and seceded, accepting the authority of the central government in Moscow. Today it is a separate republic within the Russian Federation.

As time passed, Dudayev ran into increasing opposition in Chechnya itself and by 1994 he faced rebellion. The conflict became violent and the central government in Moscow became involved, leading to the First Chechen War over the course of which Dudayev himself was killed. Federal troops were withdrawn following a peace agreement in 1996 which however enabled some of Dudayev's former associates to seize power.

Thereafter, between 1996 and 1999 Chechnya was basically left to itself. A presidential election took place during this period, whose fairness and legitimacy, predictably enough, was recognized by western governments and NGOs. However, in the conditions that existed in Chechnya at this time, it would have been impossible for a pro-Russian candidate to stand in such an election so it is wrong to accept it as offering a true picture of opinion there. All one can say about this election is that it was conducted in conditions of great instability and that it resulted in the election of Mashkhadov, the more moderate figure of the two put forward, the other being the violent jihadi extremist, Shamil Basayev.

What is indisputable is that over the period of its self-declared independence, first under Dudayev from 1992 to 1994, and then from 1996 to 1999, Chechnya became heavily infiltrated by Islamic militants some of them with links to what became Al Qaeda. As time passed these groups became increasingly dominant and by 1999 were effectively in control. Following several years of growing gangsterism, frequently punctuated with mass kidnappings and ransom demands of people from southern Russia, in 1999 these militant jihadis launched an invasion of the neighboring republic of Dagestan and a series of bomb attacks on apartment buildings in Moscow. By this point their agenda was no longer independence for Chechnya but an Islamist war against Russia.

This war has been fought with relentless ferocity ever since. Using the same methods as other Al Qaeda affiliated jihadi groups, indiscriminate attacks have been launched against the Russian civilian population, including horrifying terrorist outrages such as the Nord-Ost Theatre siege and the massacre of schoolchildren at Beslan.

These actions have in turn provoked the central government in Moscow to reassert control, which by and large it has successfully done. In doing so there is little doubt that the central government has had the support of the great majority of the local people. The fact that the jihadi movement in the Caucasus has been first contained and then largely defeated is proof of this. Without such support this would not have been possible.

As of today, the jihadi insurgency in the Caucasus is the only jihadi insurgency that has been successfully contained and largely defeated. This is an important fact about it that neither the western media nor western governments have ever acknowledged.

Indeed the account of the conflict given here, though it is the correct one, is not the one the western media and western governments have given. In particular the insurgency Russia has been fighting in the Caucasus since the 1990s, and in particular since 1999, is an Islamic jihadi insurgency is a fact which in the West has never acknowledged. The independent US scholar Gordon Hahn (whose views about the conflict are by no means identical to the ones given here) has complained prolifically about this. His complaints on this point have however gone largely unnoticed.

This in itself is bad enough. However what is much worse is the way the western media and to some extent western governments have sought to turn the facts of the conflict on their head by blaming the worst atrocities of the conflict not on the perpetrators but on their victims.

This has been true throughout the conflict. It was already true for example during the period of Chechnya's self-declared independence from 1996 to 1999. The terrorist outrages involving kidnappings and ransom demands that took place during this period were reported with indifference in the west provided they were directed at the Russian civilian population. Only when westerners were kidnapped did interest briefly flicker. The Russian film Voyna (2002) - a film in part about the kidnapping by Chechens of two Britons - captures this attitude perfectly.

The situation however becomes even more grotesque when jihadi terrorism against Russians becomes so extreme that they simply cannot be ignored.

If one takes what were possibly the four most egregious acts of terrorism committed against Russian targets by Caucasian jihadi terrorists - the mass kidnapping at Budennyovsk, the Moscow apartment bombings, the Nord-Ost Theatre siege and the Beslan massacre - what one notices from western media coverage in each case is (1) a reluctance to condemn the action and to call it by the simple and accurate word "terrorism" (2) reporting that always seeks to "explain" the action in terms of the demonstrably false historical narrative of Russian-Caucasian interaction discussed here and (3) an attempt to blame the Russian authorities for what happened.

The most extreme example of (3) is the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings. Though jihadi leaders admitted their responsibility for the bombings at the time when they happened, and though every one of those responsible for the bombings has been identified, with several captured, put on trial and convicted of the crime, the western media and even some western governments continue to indulge in the theory that the Russian authorities were in some way responsible. Though nothing that could remotely be called evidence has ever been produced to support this fantastic - indeed outrageous - theory, it continues to be endlessly repeated, with a seemingly unending series of books and articles published that purport to "prove" it true. This at the same time as western authorities and media show no such tolerance for the claims of the US's government's involvement in the terrorist attacks on the United States that took place on September 9th 2001.

However, if claims of Russian involvement in the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings are the most extreme example of this practice, it is also present in all the other cases cited. Thus the anti-terrorist action that saved most of the hostages in the Nord-Ost theatre siege (and which would certainly have been praised if it had taken place in similar circumstances in the West) is routinely condemned for its alleged "ruthlessness", whilst the Russian authorities were alternatively criticized for failing to prevent the mass kidnapping at Budennyovsk and for failing to surrender to the terrorists' demands at Beslan. In all cases the conduct of the Russian security forces comes in for particular criticism and even mockery, with no attempt ever made to relate their actual conduct to the extremely difficult conditions they have had to face on each occasion.

If the activities of the jihadis in the Caucasus have stirred little outrage in the West, the same emphatically has not been true of the steps taken by the Russian authorities to combat them. Always and invariably, these have been the subject of ferocious condemnation.

This tends to reach fever pitch whenever it appears that the Russian security forces look like they might win. This was particularly so over the course of 1999. Western media coverage of the conflict that year went from confident though as it turned out groundless predictions that the Russian security forces would lose to a furious campaign of denunciation of the Russian security forces and of the Russian political leadership when it became increasingly obvious that on the contrary they were going to win. I can still remember watching a Channel 4 Despatches program on British television in the winter of that year in which the reporter seemed unable to control his anger as he reeled off a seemingly unending list of war crimes he alleged with no evidence the Russian military had committed. The actual context of the conflict that year, the bombings in the Moscow apartments and the jihadi attack on Dagestan, were not mentioned.

The same biased reporting has continued ever since. The western media still refuses to call the Caucasian jihadis terrorists - something it unhesitatingly calls all Muslim jihadi movements everywhere else. Even more absurdly, it still refuses even to admit that they are jihadis even though they themselves make no secret of the fact. Whilst Western governments act purposefully to close down all other jihadi terrorist websites operating from their territories, the Caucasian jihadi website the Kavkaz Centre continues in Finland unimpeded.

Such as is the tolerance extended to Caucasian terrorists in the West that when the Russian authorities attempted to alert the US authorities to the dangers posed by the Tsarnaev brothers their warnings were ignored. Subsequently, their attacks in the US were rightly condemned as terrorism. By contrast the latest jihadi attack on Grozny is not.

Meanwhile, whilst the West continues to indulge the Caucasian jihadi movement so long as it confines its attacks on Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of the present government of Chechnya, who has sided with Russia, comes in for relentless criticism for opposing them.

Wild allegations of Kadyrov's involvement in various murders and human rights abuses are thrown around with abandon without so much as a scintilla of proof. He continues to be routinely accused in the West of responsibility for the murders of the two journalists Politkovskaya and Estemirova though the investigations into both murders have for any reasonable person conclusively established his complete innocence in both cases. The fact that his father was the victim of jihadi violence and that Chechnya's economic and security situation has been transformed during the period when he has headed its government is hardly ever mentioned.

The size of the gap between western stories about Kadyrov and the actual reality was for me exposed perfectly by a US embassy cable leaked by the alternative media organisation Wikileaks. It contained a report of a party that Kadyrov and a US diplomat both attended. The diplomat's report dripped with contempt for Kadyrov and was filled with innuendo both about the nature of the party and about Kadyrov's behaviour during it. One had to read the report carefully to realize that in fact nothing that could be remotely called unseemly had actually happened or been done by anyone at the party, which seems in fact to have been a rather staid affair.

The last few years have shown a steady, though gradual, stabilisation of the security situation in the Caucasus. This last year was the most peaceful the region has known since the crisis year of 1991. As discussed, given the region's complex history and geography, this would not have been possible without the support of its people.

The situation in the region however remains complex. Economic conditions are still difficult and unemployment is high. Though their activities are much diminished and most of their leaders have been killed, violent jihadis are still active there. The region needs a long period of peace and of sustained investment to overcome its problems. After all they have suffered its people deserve no less. Playing political games with their history and supporting, however indirectly, the terrorists who remain amongst them is not the way to help them achieve it.

This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service - if this is your content and you're reading it on someone else's site, please read the FAQ at http://ift.tt/jcXqJW.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

How Russia is fixing America's Syrian mess

The US and its allies aren't the only ones fighting terrorism in Syria. Russia has supported the government there in its anti-terrorist struggle for over the past three and a half years, but it receives barely any Western media acknowledgement for its efforts.

This week's meeting that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had with Putin and Lavrov in Sochi was scarcely reported on in the West, but this doesn't mean that it was insignificant. In fact, it was neglected precisely because of its significance, since it shows that Russia is the main international actor helping to bring peace to the country and victory to the anti-terrorist forces. All of this jars with the mainstream narrative that the US is the solution to the Mideast's woes, instead showing that it's actually the problem in the first place.

Call 'Em How You See 'Em

Russia is certain that the US is the Mideast's main headache and has lately come out with some hard-swinging statements against it. Lavrov previously decried the use of the false "good terrorist, bad terrorist" myth, which first came about over 30 years ago when the US created the Mujahedeen, saying that political interests shouldn't supercede anti-terrorist considerations. Seeing that the US obviously wasn't listening after it started bombing Syria, he raised his tone this week to saying that Russia is against "attempts to use extremist and even openly terrorist groups for the purposes of a regime change in Syria", in clear reference to the US' policy of arming supposedly 'moderate' Islamic militant groups. Putin said afterwards in an interview that "the main risk...stems from the activities of the so-called Islamic State and other radical groups that were once actively employed by some Western countries, which flirted with them and encouraged them", so it's no perhaps wonder that he earlier voiced the impression that "whatever Americans touch they always end up with Libya or Iraq."

The Sochi Solutions

The US' destructive policy in Syria starkly contrasts with the constructive one that Russia is pursuing, showing how the Sochi talks were a promising step towards halting Syria's bloodshed and further defeating the terrorists.

Local Ceasefires:

The first notable result was that Russia and Syria came out in official support for the local ceasefire initiative earlier proposed by UN special envoy Staffan D. Mistura. Aleppo is anticipated to be the first testing ground of this policy, and if the US and its regional allies can convince their Syrian proxies to abide by it, then it could potentially be rolled out in other battleground cities. This would free up both forces to more freely fight against ISIL and begin the ground offensive that some in the West have been calling for, but instead composed of actual Syrians and not foreign militaries with ulterior and meddling motives.

Cutting the Purse Strings:

ISIL receives millions of dollars a day in critical financing by selling oil on the black market, so Russia has once more repeated its proposal for the international community to ban the purchase of terrorist-controlled natural resources. The idea was first suggested by Russia in July, but Lavrov commented this week that the "UN Secretariat is not too active in establishing facts" on the matter and urged them to pick up the pace. This importantly shows that unlike the US' bombing of Syria's terrorist-occupied oil infrastructure, Russia's plan is to go after the buyers of those products instead, which would leave the valuable structures intact to assist with necessary post-war reconstruction.

Restarting the Reconciliation Process:

Perhaps the most impactful proposal, but also the least likely to succeed in the short term, was the speculative idea to restart talks between Damascus and the non-terrorist anti-government opposition. No solid details were given, but there has been talk that any future reconciliation discussions could possibly occur in Moscow. One of the former Syrian opposition leaders, Moaz Al-Khatib, visited the Russian capital earlier this month to supposedly discuss such a proposal, but it is unsure how much support this has among the anti-government movement's current leaders.

Although Lavrov said that "If you think that a conference will be announced similar to the one that was held in...January this year with the participation of 50-odd states, thousands of journalists, bright lights, there won't be such a conference", he did underline that a political solution was the only possible way out of the crisis. Thus, Russia doesn't discount the idea of a new type of conference being held in a different, more subdued format and being presided over in Moscow sometime in the future, although nothing tangible was publicly confirmed.

Complete Opposites

What Russia's basically doing is the polar opposite of the US, and unsurprisingly, it's been far more successful in accomplishing its anti-terror goals. Let's look at their differences back-to-back for maximum effect:


  • Russia: Recognizes the democratically elected government and is against its violent overthrow.

  • US: Does not recognize the democratic will of the people, supports violent regime change.

Accusations versus Support:

  • Russia: Provides diplomatic support to the government in its almost four-year war against terrorism.

  • US: Falsely accuses the government of having been complicit in the rise of terrorism there.

Anti-Terror Coalition:

  • Russia: Says that all countries should be invited to tackle terrorism without political discrimination.

  • US: Excluded Syria from the Paris ISIL meeting and subsequent coalition.

Arms Shipments:

  • Russia: Only sells arms to the legitimate authorities, which in turn use them to kill terrorists.

  • US: Supplies the 'moderate' Islamic opposition, is 'shocked' when weapons end up in ISIL's hands.


  • Russia: Emphasizes international law and says that Damascus' permission and coordination are a must.

  • US: Unilaterally bombs Syrian territory without cooperating with its legitimate authorities.

Thus, Russia is undoubtedly serious about fighting terrorism in Syria, but the US doesn't seem to have its priorities straight, being more focused on regime change at all costs than on fighting terror with the same insistency. American policy created ISIL, while Russian policy has consistently been against it and similar groups for almost four years already. When the diplomats of the future look back at the Syrian War, it's not hard to see which country they'll view as being on the right side of history.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

Maker Movement: Inspiring curiosity and teaching children creative skills

Hacker Scouts

© Dan Evans / San Francisco Chronicle

Chris Cook, right, a founding of Curiosity Hacked, helps children design a logo.

With her right hand, my 8-year-old daughter, Kalian, presses the red-hot soldering iron against the circuit board. With her left hand, she guides a thin, tin wire until it's pressing against both the circuit board and the tip of the iron.

The tin begins to melt. There is a wisp of smoke, and a metallic smell drifts back to where I am standing behind her, a bit nervously, sweat running down my forehead onto my safety goggles (which I have always detested). I am ready to pounce if that soldering iron slips and touches her skin.

Instead, she pulls the iron and wire away. The solder cools, holding in place a metal pin from a computer chip. It's one of 20 solders she must make to attach the chip to the circuit board, and the moment seems to last forever.

Attaching the chip is just one of the tiny steps she and her brother, Liam, 10, will take over the next 10 months to create their own miniature computer, called a Hackerling Circuit.

We were building these computers as part of a program called Curiosity Hacked, started by some friends here. The goal is to teach kids a wide range of digital and analog skills: computer programming, 3-D printing, and sewing and drawing.

The program is part of much larger phenomenon known as the Maker Movement. Having emerged in Silicon Valley almost a decade ago, the Maker Movement has grown into a global community of tinkerers, programmers and designers united by the simple satisfaction they get from making stuff.

In recent years, this movement has turned its attention to children through programs like Curiosity Hacked.

Beyond the skills they learn, the kids come away with a more fundamental lesson: that the act of creating something can be incredibly educational and deeply gratifying in a way that buying something off the shelf never will be.

We live in a world in which the objects around us are increasingly complex and intimidating. We are taught not to make, but to buy.

That creates a growing distance between us and the world. We don't know how our food is grown or our energy is produced. We can't sew a button on a shirt or take apart our computer.

That was the case for me growing up. I was a klutz who was laughed out of woodshop by a middle school teacher. In college, I was going to be an engineer, but hated chemistry lab and those awful safety goggles.

Even now, I can't change the oil in my car. I am a member of the Jiffy Lube generation.

The Maker Movement caught the attention of Richard Sennett, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics. Sennett studies the nature of work and our relationship to the objects in our lives.

In his 2008 book, "The Craftsman," Sennett explored the idea that "making is thinking." That there is spiritual and intellectual value in creating things with one's hands. The problem is that such acts take time, and curiosity, and patience. As the pace of the world accelerates, people choose convenience over crafting.

"There is something very profound about the connection between the hand and the mind," Sennett said. "Physical craftsmanship can make you slow down and lead to a very different way of thinking about the world. Doing things faster and faster is not necessarily good for critical thinking."

Just as Sennett was researching his book, someone in Silicon Valley was starting a movement to push those same ideas.

In 2005, Dale Dougherty, an editor at O'Reilly Media, which publishes tech-focused books and magazines, launched a magazine called Make. It covered a range of crafts, such as geeky electronics and more traditional arts.

A year later, Dougherty staged the first Maker Faire in San Mateo County to bring together the loose network of makers he had stumbled across. That Maker Faire drew 20,000 people. Last May, 130,000 attended over two days. The event has spawned 140 other annual Maker Faires around the world.

hacker scout

© Dan Evans / San Francisco Chronicle

Adesina Tyler, 8, solders a circuit board during a Curiosity Hacked meeting.

I attended my first Maker Faire with my family in 2009. It felt like being plopped down into a carnival of creation.

The wonders we saw included a life-size version of the game Mouse Trap. Steam-driven motorcycles made of wood. The stable of R2-D2s built by roboticists.

There was a fabric tent where children spent hours cutting up old clothes to sew new garments.

Dougherty realized that after the weekend ended, most kids had nowhere to learn these skills. In 2012, he launched the nonprofit Maker Education Initiative so children could get hands-on education in science, technology, engineering, art and math.

"This is how we learn, by manipulating and changing the physical world around us," Dougherty said. "Kids want more of that."

Back in my North Oakland neighborhood, Samantha Matalone Cook and her husband, Chris, were active members in a hacker space called Ace Monster Toys. Samantha is an educator; Chris is a computer systems administrator.

AMT had equipment such as laser cutters, 3-D printers, computers and sewing machines for adults to build anything they could imagine. In the fall of 2012, the Cooks, along with a friend, Garratt Gallagher, began making plans to start a program they initially called Hacker Scouts, to let kids have access to those same tools.

"When kids come to us, we want to give them the skills and the tools they need to achieve these big ideas they have," Samantha said.

The Oakland chapter of Hacker Scouts was called a guild. By the following summer, there were 25 Hacker Scout guilds in 12 states.

Within a year, they had outgrown AMT. To fund their own location, they launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised $37,000 from 557 donors.

The only sour note was when the Boy Scouts of America threatened to sue them unless they changed the name, which they did, to Curiosity Hacked.

In late 2013, Curiosity Hacked debuted its space in North Oakland, filled with laser cutters, 3-D printers and a wide array of tools.

hacker scout

© Dan Evans, San Francisco Chronicle

Amelia Costello, left, and Natalie Lim, both 11, play with LED lights, making them light up by attaching them to a small battery.

When the Cooks first told our family about Hacker Scouts, we immediately wanted to join.

The coming months were filled with great moments of wonder and discovery. And yes, at times it was excruciating, testing not just my knowledge but my patience with things moving slowly.

We would arrive at the weekly meetings and talk about the various components that needed to be attached to the Hackerling Circuit.

In addition to soldering 28 components to it, the children had to create a case that would cover the finished circuit board using design software. They had to feed that design into a laser cutter that would cut the wood into pieces they would then assemble. They also had to sew a leather pouch to hold it.

Working a couple of hours each week, the kids took months to build the Hackerling Circuit.

Some weeks, my kids soldered a single pin because the tin spread too far, and touched other pieces. They then had to use a little tool called a "solder sucker" to remove the faulty solder, a chore that took 20 or 30 minutes. There were meetings where all we did was remove a few poor solders.

Gradually, my children saw progress. A switch finally in place. A tiny speaker added. An LED screen that displayed just a few characters. Some buttons and lights. No one would mistake this for a Mac. But it was a computer. Made with their own hands.

After months of work, though, there was still one vital question: Would it work?

To test hers, Kalian plugged it into a laptop and tapped a few buttons to download a program. We waited a few seconds. And then ... nothing. She let out a groan. I felt the weight of 10 months of wasted work.

After re-inspecting all the solders, Kalian switched the circuit on and off. She unplugged the cable running to the laptop and re-attached it. She downloaded the software again.

This time, the circuit sprang to life. Lights blinked. Digital sounds crackled out of the speaker. Then, we experienced an almost indescribable satisfaction when the LED screen flashed on and five letters scrolled across its display:


Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog

India and Russia affirm their ties: Productive visit by Putin

Putin Modi

© REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual summit visit to India this year was a brief affair. Putin came looking for assurances that an India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have no truck with Western attempts to isolate Russia and will continue to be a "time tested and reliable" partner, especially at a time of economic difficulties for Russia.

These, he received. India has given the Russians both official as well symbolic reassurance that it does not support Western sanctions. In return, India has got its own set of guarantees at the highest level from the Russians for spares for existing Russian-origin military hardware, with Moscow agreeing to move more quickly on transferring technology for the equipment to Indian firms. Keen to retain its position in the Indian defense sector, Russia has also become the first major arms exporter to come on board with India's military-aerospace industrial goals under the "Make in India" program, with an initiative to produce and even export Russian origin helicopters from Indian soil being announced during the visit itself. At a time when Russia needs India's high-end human resources and its market size and India requires more high-value manufacturing elements, the long-standing trust between the two sides seems to be helpful.

While the joint vision document released during the visit explicitly notes that India and Russia oppose economic sanctions that do not have the approval of the United Nations Security Council, it was perhaps the fact that a business delegation led by the Crimean prime minister accompanied Putin on his visit that was more revealing of India's stance on Ukraine. The Indian government is apparently encouraging Indian businesses to engage more deeply in Crimea, in a clear signal that it stands with Russia irrespective of American positions. In fact India is going even further than China is in making its support for Russia clear.

And that of course is by design, since India does not want Russia to step back from its traditional role of maintaining a power balance in Eurasia. Of course, India will need to offer more than just support on Crimea if it is to prevent Russia from becoming overly dependent on China at a time when Moscow needs to re-orient itself away from Western markets. It is here that Modi's statement on Russia remaining India's primary defense partner despite other options for his country becomes important. The Russian embassy in India has been rather voluble of late in denouncing India's turn towards the United States and France as defense partners, while Russian spares support for existing programs had become rather uneven - leading to calls in India to scale back its military partnership with Russia. That moment has now passed.

Already a private company in India has snagged a contract for maintaining Mig-29s, and more such arrangements are being pushed forward. During talks, Modi is known to have conveyed to Putin the very crucial need to locate spares manufacturing facilities for Russian origin weapons in India. For its part, Russia seems at ease with the overall "Make in India" policy that Modi's government is emphasizing. In light of India's liberalized regime for "FDI in Defense," Russia will tie up with an Indian partner to produce as well export up to 400 Mi-17 medium lift and Ka-226 light utility helicopters (LUH) in India each year. The Ka-226 incidentally was the Russian entry for the Indian military's global LUH tenders, before that process was cancelled by the Modi government in favor of a home-made initiative where foreign majors could tie-up with Indian partners to build the helicopters in India.

Recognizing that India has adopted an automotive sector-type strategy to boost its aerospace industry at a time when China is spending heavily in this arena, Russia is also looking to locate MS-21 and Sukhoi Superjet 100 production facilities in India, taking advantage of the availability of cheaper but trained manpower locally. Russia has known for a while that it needs greenfield locations for its high-end industries outside its own territory, and India with its immense market size seems the best prospect. Going forward, the output from Russian industrial arrangements in India should also service the domestic market back in Russia, given the need to hold down costs at a time of tighter state budgets. Moreover, with the prospect of Western sanctions lingering for the foreseeable future, Russia may require export partners such as India to circumvent the sanctions. However, as with every such initiative in India, any Russian investment in the aerospace industry will be tied to localization clauses as well as support for India's own civil airliner development program.

Although the visit did not bring any announcement on ambitious co-development programs, such as the fifth generation fighter aircraft project or the medium transport aircraft initiative, Modi's statement on Russia's status as the most important defense partner for India means that there will be new impetus in sorting out the workshare issues holding back a final agreement on these two initiatives. Of course, Russia will have to be far more amenable to Indian demands on technology development if these projects are to proceed, given the spends involved.

Continuing negotiations also meant that hydrocarbons did not become a centerpiece of the visit, in contrast to initial expectations. The visit did see an agreement signed between India's Essar and Rosneft on the long-term supply of some 10 million tons of crude annually at a discount that will see the former drawing down imports from Iran. However, no agreement was reached on Indian state-owned ONGC purchasing a stake in Rosneft's East Siberian oil and gas fields, including the prized Vankor estate, which will feed assured markets in China via the ESPO pipeline, since the Indians want a 25 percent stake while Rosneft is offering only 10 percent. The haggling may reflect the fact that Indian hydrocarbon majors want equity stakes in lucrative fields and tax breaks for existing assets in Russia where production has tapered off, while the Russians want India to make up-front off-take commitments for risky offshore fields in the Arctic as well as for LNG export projects. Putin even commented just prior to the visit that LNG is likely to prove cheaper than a gas pipeline from Russia to India, and this too is going to be explored. Given India and Russia's needs in the current oil-to-gas transition, much bigger deals can be expected in the future, current negotiations notwithstanding.

In any case, delays on the hydrocarbon front are not getting in the way of building more Russian-origin nuclear reactors in India. Neither is India's nuclear liability law, with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) agreeing with Rosatom to build a further 12 reactors of Russian design in India by 2035 in addition to the two existing facilities at Kudankulam. To accommodate more Russian design reactors, another reactor site will be identified soon along India's eastern coast. The first of this new wave of reactors will be Kudankulam units 3 & 4, with construction commencing in 2016. Again, the Russians will have to localize most of the components for the VVER-1200 reactors that will be built under these arrangements. The visit has also seen forward movement on settling a dispute between Indian Rare Earth's Limited, a DAE undertaking, and Russia for recoveries from a titanium plant in India.

The minerals outlook does seem to be brightening, with Indian investment in Russian potash mines set to grow and Indian companies inking a 2.1 billion dollar pact to source diamonds directly from Russia's world-leading diamond consortium Alrosa. The diamond industry in India is a significant employer and the world's largest manufacturing center for cut and polished diamonds. It can now reduce its dependence on diamond trading centers in the West and Dubai. Interestingly, this move is similar to the Chinese decision to locate production facilities in Modi's home state of Gujarat, the center for India's diamond industry, since it directly increases the power of a business constituency entrenched in Modi's region of origin. Clearly, Modi looms large as a personality to be courted now in the Indian political spectrum by major foreign countries.

With both sides looking to grow trade in strategic sectors and minerals, the working group on India's participation in the Eurasian customs union now looks more significant. More so because Russia's food security in the future will also depend on cheap Indian exports of processed dairy and meat products as well as commodities such as rice, given that Moscow has embargoed Western suppliers. At the same time, Russia is instituting "import substitution" policies at home and free trade arrangements with India will allow two-way trade to grow regardless. In fact, it would also be a source of encouragement for Indian industries to use Russia's own water resources to produce certain categories of goods.

To do that, Indian and Russian business will have to talk more efficiently and directly with each other. There is solid ground for that now, with Russia rather keen to enter the Indian market with a view to finding innovative partners that can overcome traditional weaknesses in bringing inventions to market. The vision document calls for the creation of a "direct investment fund of $2 billion between Rosnano and suitable Indian investment partners for implementation of high-tech projects." Besides this, the Skolkovo foundation is now scouring India for startups in the high-tech spectrum to fund as an angel investor. Russia and India will also ease visa rules for businesses and students to facilitate the movement of financial and human capital. Overall, given the urgent need to boost trade (which languishes at a mere $10 billion) and private investment, both sides are moving forward on rupee-ruble trade with their central banks working out the modalities and export-import banks discussing new credit guarantees that would facilitate loans in local currencies for Indian and Russian companies seeking to participate in each other's economies. This is of course in sync with BRICS efforts to trade in bilateral currencies in a bid to reduce the influence of the dollar. Of course, it will ultimately also depend on how quickly bilateral economic activity grows between the two sides.

In the multilateral sphere, India wants the 2015 Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Ufa to be the moment it finally becomes a member of that organization. With China having supported India's membership and Russia presiding over SCO at the moment, this will be a key test of India-Russia ties. No wonder Putin's special representative remarked recently that Moscow will do whatever it can to secure India's membership.

Just as India does not want to push Russia into China's grip, Russia doesn't want to see China become too dominant. With this in mind, Russia's partnership with India in strategic deterrence programs will grow in strength, already evident in their nuclear agreement and the fact that Russia has made available military GLONASS signals to India for ballistic missile targeting.

Want something else to read? How about 'Grievous Censorship' By The Guardian: Israel, Gaza And The Termination Of Nafeez Ahmed's Blog