Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Hypermoralized Politics

The primary reason I quote this piece is because I liked the term - hypermoralized politics. This is Bingo! it.

If you are interested in the subject, also check:
1) Ours is an age of moral imperatives
2) And the discussion here: Oberlin College Students: Cafeteria Food Is Racist

By Michael Brendan Dougherty (The Week) {

Another reason for our outrage addiction may be found in the way the norms of traditional liberalism are dissolving before a more moralized politics. In a perceptive 2001 essay for National Affairs, Thomas Powers argued that traditional liberalism sought "to lower the stakes of politics by removing contentious moral (and religious) opinion to the private sphere. Political life thereby becomes a less morally charged matter of presiding over competing 'interest groups,' whose squabbling is amenable to compromise."

Powers went on to argue that when fundamental justice and morality are reintroduced into politics, and when the beliefs and attitudes of citizens become the potential subject of state action (through amelioration, re-education, or official stigma), people are more likely to fight — and to fight with dread in their eyes.

It's notable that ongoing culture-war disputes are the particular habitué of elite media, white-collar job-havers who spend much of their day sitting in front of the outrage generator. We spend all day worrying about who are the real bad guys, and the real victims. Our ideological songs venture into ever higher falsettos, straining to sing our laments above the noise.

As a result, when a politician utters a barely outdated cliché, or the slightest impolitic word, we no longer hear it as a faux pas or mere insensitivity. Instead it becomes the latest menacing incarnation of the evil we oppose. Micro-aggression is no longer "micro" at all, but the very real appearance of Patriarchy, or Anti-clericalism, or whatever evil you most fear. If your ideological hearing aids are tuned correctly, a gaffe becomes a threat, returning you to witch-trial-era Salem or the Vendée before the massacre.

Worse, this kind of hypermoralized politics has some serious implications for how we look at governance and power. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." In other words, if we are simply doing good in the world, and our enemies evil, then there's no limit to the power we ought to acquire. What a charming fantasy that can be.

Holiday is right to be concerned that our capacity for real outrage is dulled by the sort of "outrage" that we perform, or fake, or convince ourselves to feel in our self-regard. But we should consider the possibility that fake-outrage is popular precisely because it is an indulgence that requires so little from us. Fake outrage allows us to hide within the mob, to feel righteous without doing much of anything, to suffer like martyrs from words not spoken to us. If we subtracted all the outrage porn tomorrow, most of us would continue to do what we already are doing about the Syrian refugee crisis, or faraway famine, or unjust war: nothing.

Source = Why we're addicted to online outrage }


The Caliphate can wait. But attacks against the West don't

A think tank linked to a charitable research foundation established by Tony Blair reckons that majority of Syrian rebels are Islamists with one third sharing the ideology of the ISIS. Fewer than a quarter were not ideological which is not to say that they are anti-Islamist. Putting aside the veracity of the research, the report ends with an interesting warning: the destruction of the caliphate can trigger a backlash of revenge attacks.

In this respect, I should notice a widely held consensus until very recently that the ISIS had been prioritizing its expansion in the Middle East over attacks in the West and elsewhere outside the region. This conclusion is partly born out by the ISIS propaganda which consistently aimed at luring Western jihadists along with their families to the Middle East.

With the West and Russia piling up the pressure on the caliphate and recently targeting its oil facilities, they are pushing the global jihadism towards a major strategic conclusion: The Caliphate is impossible until the West is defeated and chased away from the Muslim lands. It basically means a paradigmatic shift and a break with the ISIS original approach copied by Al Nusra and some other groups. Caliphate building or defeating the Shia and pseudo Shia regimes in Iraq/Syria should take a backseat with the primary focus of the global jihadism switching to attacks against the West and Russia.

By BBC News () {

The Centre on Religion and Geopolitics, an initiative of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, says that Syria now hosts the largest gathering of jihadi groups in modern times.

The report, due to be published on Monday, says the greatest danger to the international community are groups who share the IS ideology but are currently being ignored - they number about 100,000 fighters.

Some 60% of Syria's major rebel groups are Islamist extremists, and many of the groups share the same aims, the study finds.

Fewer than a quarter of the rebels surveyed were not ideological, and many were willing to fight alongside extremists and would probably accept an Islamist political settlement to the civil war.

And even if IS is defeated, dispersed fighters and other extremists could attack targets outside Syria under a rallying cry that "the West destroyed the Caliphate", the centre warns.

Source = Third of rebels share IS aims, report claims }


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Ours is an age of moral imperatives

This one is a very important trend to watch. We live in the age of incessant moralization which is gradually turning everything into moral imperatives. These days you can hardly take a breath, or abstain from taking one, without women being raped and infants butchered as a result of your choices.

Given that these are moral imperatives, you can neither ignore them nor compromise on them. Moreover, the bulk of global anger/rage/outrage generated by the spread of fast internet across the world is "noble rage". It's driven by moral/righteous indignation. Very important to keep in mind in order to understand the psychodynamics of rage within the modern society



TOWs flow like water in Syria.

The rebels are plainly oversupplied with TOWs if they don't mind wasting one on a couple of enemy fighters. Over time the range of targets has been constantly expanding from tanks to BMPs to pickups and personal cars to group of soldiers recently. But I think this is the first time I see TOWs used to target individual soldiers. This makes this video quite remarkable

شام ريف حلب الجنوبي استهداف تجمع للميليشيات الطائفية بصاروخ تاو 21 12 2015

Rebel commanders: Assad using Kurds against us. America favors Kurds over us. Kurds use ISIS as excuse to expand

Interesting point in the latest article by Martin Chulov about Afghan Shias dominating the ranks of Shia militias in Aleppo. But this is not the reason I am quoting these two articles here. The point is about the deep antagonism and suspicion the Syrian rebels harbor towards the Kurds. This is directly relevant to one of the scenarios considered on this blog and associated accounts on Twitter and elsewhere. Under this scenario the Western/Russian intervention in Syria against the ISIS eventually triggers a global Sunni backlash which, among its possible consequences, would lead to more, not less, Sunni radicalism and more attacks in the West.

Critical to this scenario is a widespread perception in the Sunni world of a global anti Muslim conspiracy (The Shia, according to this conspiracy theory, are in bed with Western powers) that seeks, among others, to preserve the Syrian regime and empower Shia, Kurds and other minorities at the expense of the Sunni Arabs. I should note regarding the US official who dismissed the Arab paranoia as a "conspiracy theory" that conspiracy theorizing is the default mode of thinking and an integral part of the Arab culture and mentality. When one sees such conspiracy theories flying around in the Middle East, the fact that they may be outrageously absurd is no reason to dismiss them. To the contrary, this is a good reason to start getting worried.

By Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen (Guardian, 21 December 2015) {

Harith Abdul Baqi, 34, a military leader in Syria’s far north, said: “This is clearly aimed at destroying the revolution. They are using the Kurds [whose forces in the area are known as the PYD] as a ground force now, because the Syrian army has not been able to perform. This has surprised the Russians. They have found themselves in a swamp.

“Their goal is to allow the PYD to control the supply lines and the border. They also want to put pressure on Turkey, who do not want to lose influence so close to their frontier.

“South of Aleppo, they were making a lot of progress early in their campaign. The Shia militias were leading it with all of their force. But now they have stopped. They are going nowhere, despite far superior numbers and equipment.”

Opposition groups and regional diplomats say Shia militias near Aleppo have been dominated by Afghan Shias brought to Syria by Iran and led by Iranian officers and senior members of Hezbollah.

“The problem is that this is not their cause and they don’t have the will to fight. There have been 17 senior Iranian officers killed trying to instil order and discipline, including several generals. And only one was killed by Isis,” Baqi said.

“This isn’t going well for them. I can’t see the north settling down anytime soon.”

Source = Russia's airstrikes on Syria appear futile with little progress on ground }



BY ROY GUTMAN (McClatchy, DECEMBER 21 2015) {

When Division 30 was being set up at the end of April and early May, Col. Mohammad Daher, the new unit’s chief of staff, had several meetings with Kurdish officials in Afrin, a Kurdish area northwest of Aleppo, Syria. He noted then that the YPG seemed to be flourishing, despite the presence of government police and intelligence.

“They have an army, and an army needs a state for support,” Daher said, hinting that the backing came from the Syrian government, something Assad himself confirmed in an interview earlier this month with The Sunday Times of London, according to the official transcript of the interview.

From his contacts, Daher said, he became convinced that the Kurdish militia would prefer to let the Islamic State seize the entire northern countryside. “Then it’s our chance to attack” the religious extremists and take control of the territory, he asserted was what the Kurds had in mind. When the YPG invited Daher to merge his fighters with theirs, he was immediately suspicious that the Kurds’ real hope was “to neutralize as many people as they can” in the Arab rebel ranks.

But it was Daher’s belief that the U.S. wanted the YPG to play a leading role that doomed his support. He felt that the site the U.S. had picked for Division 30 headquarters merely confirmed American favoritism toward the Kurdish forces – Maryameen, west of the border town of Azaz, and just five miles from the Kurdish controlled Afrin area. Turkey, and Daher, had wanted it in the front-line town of Mar’e, which is threatened by the Islamic State. “But the Americans wanted it close to where the Kurds are,” he said.

The U.S. defense official dismissed Daher’s concern as a “conspiracy theory.”

Source = What really happened to the U.S. train-and-equip program in Syria? }


Monday, December 21, 2015

Comment-Driven Blogging

I tell you what about blogging. The crux of the matter is that I have long come to see the comment section as the most interesting and valuable part of the blog. It's the comment section where new ideas/concepts/theories are born.

For me commenting is the superior form of thinking. If I would arrange types of thinking by their hierarchy, it would go as monologue -> verbal debate -> writing articles -> writing books -> comment discussion.

Commenting is also the closest thing I know about to hi-tech brain storms. It's the part of the blog where people come together to stimulate each other intellectually in order to strike on something new.

If we talk about the internet as a facilitator of collective intelligence, a properly managed comment section is the place to do it. In the comment section, an honestly and intelligently asked question that can make people think and produce intelligent answers is as valuable as the answers themselves. As far as I am concerned, a person who knows to ask relevant questions or raise reasonable objections may well be the most valuable commenter a blog can have.

Of course by commenting I don't mean pointless moralizing/name calling/pseudo ironic mocking of other views/people and other types of verbal diarrhea collectively known as bleating. I mean technical commenting. Not that judgemental bleating in the style of our self-trained Martin-Luther-Kings and other moralistic narcissists. It's about thinking and predicting. You assess the situation and anticipate future scenarios. It's not about judging. It should be 100% technical analysis. But it should be creative.

Obviously, the type of commenting I have in mind has nothing to do with emotional intelligence, ethical self improvement and other nonsense. You don't need to. These days everybody is a self-styled Mahatma-Gandhi. There is no shortage of people volunteering ethical judgements on other people and their actions. Some people readily deny expertise on economics or the Middle East, but I am yet to meet a person who wouldn't hold himself an expert on morals and ethical issues. To judge, everybody can. There is no added value you can contribute to this one.

When I decided to give blogging another try, I was thinking about a new type of comment-based collective thinking. It's a new type of thinking which takes advantage of the new mass communication/interaction technologies the internet has to offer.

The blogging, as I see it, should at the very least two types of posts. One type can be called anchor posts. It's a thought/observation that can trigger a discussion aka comments. It's not an article. You are not here to write articles. It should be one post - one thought/observation. When you write such posts, think about encouraging comments. Sometimes the best way to write such posts is actually by posting questions to prospective commenters. A good question can perfectly make for a good post.

The second type of posts are best comments escalated to posts. It doesn't have to be your comment. You can take another person's comment if you think it's good. Just explain what caught your attention in that comment and run it as a post in its own right. The momentum we should strive to create on the blog should be comment-driven.

Finally, I think it's important to understand what is the difference between such comment-driven blogging and articles. You are not writing articles here. Blogging is more like a diary of your intellectual life. It's like comparing serials to movies. Serials are much closer to real life than movies. In the same way, blogging is much closer to real thinking than articles. Articles are static dead snapshots of conclusions a given person has reached at a given moment. Blogging, on the other hand, is a living process by following which one can see how ideas/concepts are actually born/evolve. When you write posts you can perfectly allow yourselves to be wondering, feel confused/lost etc. You should just let yourselves think and keep a diary of the process.



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Western leaders are right: Putin doesn't have exit strategy in Syria

Local analysts see the Russian deployment in the region as a long term project. Western leaders are right: Putin doesn't have exit strategy in Syria. He wants them to have one.

By Slobodan Lekic (Stars and Stripes) {

Western leaders, including President Barack Obama, have warned that Russia — whose forces started bombing Syrian rebels at the end of September — were risking getting bogged down in the five-year Syrian conflict.

Local analysts see it differently.

“Of course (Russian President Vladimir) Putin doesn’t have an exit strategy,” said Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian analyst. “The Russians are in Syria to stay.

[...]

Analysts have pointed out that the array of warplanes, missiles and support aircraft deployed to the region are not the types of weapons needed for fighting the Islamic State or other rebel groups — mostly a light infantry force equipped with basic weapons. Instead, the Russians are using weapons intended for countering modern conventional powers.

These include the Sukhoi Su-30SM Flanker multirole fighters and Su-34 Fullback all-weather fighter-bombers. All are designed to operate in conditions against sophisticated air defenses — which the Islamic State doesn’t possess.


[...]

The Russians aren’t the only parties using equipment designed for opponents far better armed and sophisticated than the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other rebel groups in Syria.

Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general and military analyst, said that all parties were using Syria as a testing ground for high-tech weapons systems.

He said that Britain and France appeared to be using the bombing campaign in Syria to show off the capabilities of their warplanes to potential buyers in the lucrative Middle East arms bazaar.

[...]

said Miroslav Lazanski, defense correspondent for Serbia’s Politika daily, who visited the al-Assad airbase last month and noted the presence of the Il-18s.

“What’s immediately obvious at the airbase is that the Russians are preparing it for a very long deployment,” he said.

Previously, the only Russian presence in Syria was a small naval installation in the Mediterranean port of Tartus, established in 1971 and located about 50 miles south from the airbase. Western defense analysts have long speculated that Russia’s strategic goal in Syria was to preserve its only military bridgehead in the Middle East.

Lazanski listed base infrastructure improvements at al-Asad, such as runway and apron extensions, a refurbished control tower, new housing, canteens, parking lots and other facilities, as signs that the Russian military had long-term plans for the facility.

“In the future, the Russians won’t need aircraft carriers in the Middle East,” he said. “They’ll just have their airbase in Syria.”

Soure = Russian campaign in Syria offers country chance to test weapons, doctrine}


Islamic State routed by Peshmerga in battle near Mosul

The first major attack in months by the ISIS against peshmerga forces around Mosul ends in a fiasco. The US air strikes seem to have done a lion's share of the job

By GORDON LUBOLD (WSJ) {

“The pesh got a little bit of a black eye, but they put the other guy in the hospital,” said Col. Warren. “This is the largest punch that ISIL has thrown, and the pesh handily defeated them,” he said.

After a 17-hour battle, which included Peshmerga fighters supported by U.S., French, British and Canadian aircraft, scores of Islamic State militants were dead, including 180 fighters killed by airstrikes. More than 20 others were killed in fighting with Peshmerga forces on the ground, a U.S. military official said.

Brig. Gen. Mark Odom, the senior American officer in charge in northern Iraq, said Islamic State attacks are fewer and have become less lethal in recent months. Attacks that do occur originate from a greater distance and rely more on indirect fire, like artillery, rockets and mortar, rather than direct attacks at closer range, using small arms and other weaponry.

[...]

Iraqi forces have begun to push Islamic State out of Ramadi in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, according to U.S. defense officials. Once that goal is accomplished, Iraqi and coalition forces plan to set their sights on retaking Mosul, a city of about 1 million people, that Islamic State seized last summer.

The U.S. expects to deliver equipment to Peshmerga fighters who will assist in the retaking of Mosul, arranging for shipment of the equivalent of two brigades worth of arms and ammunition to be used for the “encirclement” of Mosul, Mr. Carter said.

Source = Islamic State Routed in Iraq Battle }

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Sultan's and the Emir's Gambles

As Turkey continues to make new enemies and distance itself ever further from Russia, Iraq and Iran, it seeks new alliances elsewhere. One partnership of particular interest is that with Qatar: the Turks just announced they will build a military base there, while the Qataris promised they could provide Liquefied Natural Gas after the Russians, following the shooting down of their jet in Syria, pulled the final plug on the South Stream gas pipeline project. Turkey also seems to want closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

However, this rapprochement with GCC nations has already resulted in its own backlash, as in the eyes of many Iraqis and Iranians this further confirms their accusation that the sole aim of destabilizing the Assad regime was so Turkey and the Gulf countries could bypass their natural gas pipelines. This might explain the recent conflagrations between Ankara and Baghdad; it was already known for months that Turkish troops were present in Northern Iraq, so why the sudden outrage? After burning Turkish flags and issuing death threats, Shiite militias now also seem to have started targeting Qatari interests in Iraq: today they even kidnapped members of their royal family. One might say there is a pattern unraveling here: the Sultan and the Emir increasingly risk to provoke the rage of the Shiites in the Middle East.

Qatar seeks release of citizens abducted in Iraq (Al Jazeera, 16 Dec 2015) {

Qatar has announced that it is sending high-level officials to work on the immediate release of its citizens who were abducted during a hunting trip in Iraq.

In an official statement on Wednesday, the foreign ministry said Mohammed bin Abdullah al-Rumaihi, the assistant foreign minister; and Zayed bin Saeed al-Khayareen, Qatar's ambassador to Baghdad, have been "dispatched" to "secure the safety of the Qatari citizens".

The statement said the Qatari nationals entered southern Iraq "with official permission" from the Iraqi interior ministry and the Iraqi embassy in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The statement did not say how many Qataris were abducted.

An earlier AFP news agency report quoted Faleh al-Zayadi, governor of Iraq's Muthanna province, as confirming that the Qatari hunters were abducted while they were in a camp near the Bassiyah area.

Some reports said there were 26 Qataris.

The abduction comes a little over three months after armed men seized 18 Turkish nationals in Baghdad.

The Turkish workers were later freed unharmed, two of them in the southern province of Basra and the other 16 on the road to Karbala, also south of Baghdad.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies }

Sunday, December 13, 2015

We treat the cow as our mother

By Asgari Begum (Guardian, 3 October 2015) {

Satish Singh, an activist with a Hindu spiritual foundation who had travelled from Delhi to “show solidarity”, said: “All Hindus are deploring this sad incident. Everyone agrees it should not have happened. But this is a very sensitive matter. For Hindus the murder of a man is not so sensitive as the murder of a cow. We treat the cow as our mother,” he said.

Source: Inside the Indian village where a mob killed a man for eating beef }


Saturday, December 12, 2015

"We can target Turkish soldiers and coming days will prove it."

That thing between Turkey and Iraq is heating up. From our perspective, it's important to point out that Turkish forces deployed in Kurdish controlled areas with an obvious consent of Kurdish authorities.

BY AHMED SAAD (Reuters, Dec 12 2015) {

At least 4,000 demonstrators gathered in Tahrir Square in central Baghdad on Saturday, and several thousand more in the oil city of Basra in the south, including Shi'ite militia members who held up banners reading "Death to Turkey. Death to Erdogan".

"We consider any military presence on Iraqi land as foreign aggression which we should stand against using all possible means," Hadi al-Amiri, a Shi'ite lawmaker who heads the powerful armed Badr Organisation, told protesters in Baghdad.

The rallies were organized and led by Shi'ite militia groups, which have threatened to use force against Turkey unless it withdraws.

Pointing his pistol towards an image of Erdogan, Amjad Salim, a local commander in the Badr Organisation in Basra, said: "We are on high alert now awaiting orders from our commanders to set fire to the ground beneath the feet of Turkish soldiers."

In Baghdad, Reuters reporters saw angry protesters trample on the Turkish flag and hit a caricature of Erdogan with slippers in a mark of disrespect.

"If Turkey thinks Iraq is busy with fighting Daesh and it can seize the opportunity to deploy troops then it should think twice before making such a mistake," said Abu Muntathar al-Moussawi, a local commander in Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group.

"We can target Turkish soldiers and coming days will prove it."

Source = Thousands of Iraqis protest Turkish deployment }


The conspiracy theory culture is heading for Europe

This video actually got me thinking in a different direction. Normally we associate the conspiracy theory culture with the US as its epicenter and explain it by some particularities of the US political culture. But it's actually more plausible to expect extreme events to generate extreme mindsets. The latest outbreak of conspiratorial paranoia in America has clearly began with the 9/11 and it proceeded unabated ever since. With Europe almost certainly heading for more Paris style attacks, if not worse, should we now start betting on this phenomenon to be replicated to the other side of the Atlantic?



Friday, December 11, 2015

Shia militia leader threatens Turkey with attacks


Shia militia leaders talk tough on the presence of Turkish troops in Kurdish controlled areas of northern Iraq.

Now it's important notice that:

1) Militia leaders often talk tough on the issues pertaining to the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region too and the Turkish deployment follows clashes between the peshmerga and the militias in a town of Tuz Khurmatu in November.

2) There is a widespread belief among the Iran's top brass and the Shia in Iraq and elsewhere that Turkey along with Saudi Arabia is secretly supporting the ISIS

3) There is another view popular with members of Shia militias that the US is not really interested in defeating the ISIS and occasional friendly fire incidents during which coalition aircrafts strike the Iraqi army/Shia militia positions are deliberate attacks. Turkey of course is a member of the US led NATO and American and other Western politicians have a clear preference for the Kurds. The last fact is reflected in repeated calls to arm the peshmerga in defiance of the protestations of the Iraqi government.

The combined effect of these factors appears to be leading to a specific confrontation in the region pitting the Kurds supported by Turkey and the West against the Shia militias largely supported with Iran and the weak Iraqi government whose authority is often overshadowed by the power of militias.

This future of this particular DOOMMM cycle (escalation spiral) looks quite bright due the consistency of many of the antagonisms between the Shia Iran and Iraqi militias on one hand and the Sunni Turkey and Kurds on the other. In many regards, Shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga act as the US led coalition's ground forces against the ISIS. The Shia militias may be cooperating somewhat reluctantly but they still do the heavy lifting on the fighting against the ISIS on other frontlines in Iraq. If the current escalation degenerates into an active confrontation between the peshmerga and the Shia militias, the US-led anti-ISIS coalition may quite literally find itself hanging in the air.

BY SAIF HAMEED (Baghdad, Reuters, Dec 10 2015) {

In the Iraqi parliament on Wednesday, a motion condemning the Turkish intervention was approved unanimously, supporting the government in taking whatever measures it viewed as appropriate.

Several MPs suggested Iraq could wage "economic war" on Turkey, but Jafaar Hussaini, a spokesman for one of the Shi'ite armed groups, Kata'ib Hezbollah, said violence was likely.

"We say that they military option is still probable and we might reach a stage in the next few days where we start carrying out operations against the Turks, be it against their soldiers or Turkish interests in Iraq."

[...]

Badr Brigade spokesman Karim al-Nuri likened the Turkish incursion with the occupation of Iraq by Islamic State militants and said "all options" were available.

"We have the right to respond and we do not exclude any type of response until the Turks have learned their lesson," Nuri said. "Do they have a dream of restoring Ottoman greatness? This is a great delusion and they will pay dearly because of Turkish arrogance."

Source: Shi'ite militias threaten Turkey over incursion into Iraq }


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Somebody, please draw that diagram

Iraq is having it bad lately. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a unanimous bipartisan bill that would authorize the government to directly arm and train Kurdish peshmerga in Iraq bypassing Baghdad. Now Turkey ruled out pulling its troops out of northern Iraq. And what are the Turkish troops are doing in northern Iraq? They are there to... Well, to arm and train Kurdish peshmerga.

Now, Turkey and Iraq has diametrically opposed positions towards the regime of Bashar Assad and the rebels fighting him in Syria. Also, add to this the tremendous enthusiasm that sheikh Abulteen (mr. Putin) commands among the Iraqi Shia and the fact that Turkey and Russia are at loggerheads over the Russian jet downed by Turkey, and a major Kurdish-Turkish-Yankee conspiracy against the Shia dominated government in Baghdad is all too obvious (sarcasm intended).

However, you can't start drawing the next one of the infamous "Who is who in the Middle East" diagrams before you take into account that the US has just offered to provide more support for the Iraqi government offensive against the ISIS in Ramadi. The diagram also should account for a couple of more facts such as the support and air cover the US provides to the peshmerga's Syrian Kurdish cousins who are at the same time bombed by the same Turkey.

I would like to go on and on. However, for one I believe you already got enough material to start designing the diagram. Two, from our perspective the most interesting potentiality here is that the latest moves by Turkey and Kurdish supporters in America have a decent chance to push the Iraqi government over the edge as well as to freak the Shia militias out.

Western Officials: Iran Retreating From Syria Fight

Reports that Iran is pulling troops out of Syria after heavy losses in Idlib. The reporter has a good record

By Eli Lake (Bloomberg) {

U.S. officials tell me they are seeing significant numbers of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps troops retreat from the Syrian combat zone in recent weeks, following the deaths and wounding of some of top officers in a campaign to retake Idlib Province and other areas lost this year to opposition forces supported by the West and Gulf Arab States. As a result, the Russian-initiated offensive that was launched in September seems to be losing an important ally.

On Friday at the Saban Forum at the Brookings Institution, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Russia's initial plan was to take back Idlib and other cities that had fallen under rebel control within three months. "It’s not going to happen because of the military difficulties," he said, adding that the campaign to date looked to be a "failure."

One reason Iran is now withdrawing from Syria, according to U.S. officials, is that many officers have been killed or wounded in the heavy fighting this fall. The U.S. intelligence community is still trying to verify reports that Suleimani himself was injured in late November in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

Robert Ford, who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria between 2011 and 2014, told me reports from the region suggest that guard corps members are in the very thick of the warfare. "They are losing lieutenants," he said. "When you lose lieutenants it means you are losing people fighting on the front lines."

Source = Iran Retreating From Syria Fight }


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

There is something special about trees

When one of my friends heard about the trees planted by Chavez and Maduro, he shared with me a rather remarkable story. He and his brothers had four apple trees planted by their parents when they were born in the garden.

When my friend grew up he degenerated into heroin addiction and criminal lifestyle. Surpriisngly, his tree started to wane intil it looked as if about to die. My friend later fled to a remote village and isolated himself from the society and the object of his addiction for an entire year.

At some point later in his life when he successfully abandoned both his addiction and the country of his birth, his parents told him that his tree grew up to be the biggest and the most robust of all four.

"There is something special about trees," he concluded.

The DOOMMM Club doesn't normally doom in South America. But Venezuela is fast becoming a temptation impossible to resist


BY ALEXANDRA ULMER (Reuters, SABANETA VENEZUELA, Nov 27, 2015) {

In 2010, late socialist leader Hugo Chavez knelt down in the backyard of his childhood home in Venezuela's lush plains to plant an orange tree named 'revolution' as red-shirted supporters cheered and cameras flashed.

During a song-and-dance commemoration of Chavez's birthday last year, his successor Nicolas Maduro sowed another orange tree in the same garden.

The trees, though, have fallen ill, their leaves shriveled.

"They have some sort of infestation," tour guide Ana Hidalgo said in the sun-doused yard behind Chavez's former house, whose walls are now laden with photos, quotes, and even his old hammock.

Source = Even in Chavez's hometown, Venezuela 'revolution' ails before election }


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Things Fall Apart

The center can not hold; things fall apart. As disillusionment with Western ideals such as democracy, pluralism, human rights and inclusivity grows stronger by the day, we can witness a concomitant strong resurgence in nationalism, authoritarianism and general mistrust among the population. This is not just the case in Europe and America; it's happening worldwide. The initial hopeful promises of the Arab Spring have given way to religious extremism, misery, war and an unprecedented refugee crisis, all with no end in sight. Borders in the Middle East are dissolving at an alarming pace in some places as warlords rapaciously carve out new territory, while in the nation states that have still remained somewhat intact its long serving leaders consolidate their power with an iron fist. Similarly, at the start of this decade many had invested new optimism in Sub-Saharan Africa, as the continent was showing strong economic growth and an emerging middle class that would purportedly be inspired by the revolutions in the Middle East, only to be thrown back to reality five years later when it turned out most decades-long ruling autocrats have remained firmly seated on their thrones, unmoved by elections and even coups, while new conflicts and chaos have erupted all over different countries that had earlier enjoyed long periods of peaceful stability. In Asia things are not looking bright either: China might soon face its first major economic crisis in more than a decade, while Japan is sitting on a demographic time bomb. Finally, the self-proclaimed Bolivarianism of Chavez that inspired and democratically brought to power many like-minded politicians in South America has hit a brick wall in his home country. Consequently, Venezuelans voted Chavez' party out of power and it's not very suprising that Maduro, in line with Che Guevara's principle that the use of armed force is permitted in case every form of peaceful struggle -including the ballot box- has been exhausted, is now probably preparing a coup.

It seems as if the whole planet is currently submerged in a crisis at manifold levels: political, economical, climatological and especially cultural. This is most evident in Western society, until recently the leading example of the world. Presently it's struggling to redefine its own identity in a globalized world where cultural barriers are rendered increasingly diffuse, largely due to the innovations in transportation and digital technology. As a result of such despair some people are driven to reactionary behaviour, either in the form of self-righteous narcissism, public shaming and witch-hunts in the name of political correctness, or by supporting a new type of political leader, one that is not very concerned with democracy, humanist ideals and transnational solidarity. So is all of this simply a temporary quirk that will blow over once the West adjusts to the new vertiginous global reality? Or are we all doomed? According to the ramblings of a controversial early 20th century German philosopher, the West has been in decline for a long time already and there is no turning back. This man, Oswald Spengler, claimed that right before the ultimate civilizational fall, all Western democraties will revert back to authoritarian systems. Furthermore, he concluded that the ideologies of marxism and liberalism will become eclipsed by nationalism and religious conservatism, a process he described as 'ceasarism'. With leaders such as Le Pen, Trump and Putin gaining more popularity, this prediction seems closer to the truth than ever.


November 30, 2015 5:34 pm

We deride chances of Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump at our peril

The rise of political extremists says something disturbing about liberal democracy in the west
I
have a nightmare vision for the year 2017: President Trump, President Le Pen, President Putin.
Like most nightmares, this one probably won’t come true. But the very fact that Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen are running strongly for the American and French presidencies says something disturbing about the health of liberal democracy in the west. In confusing and scary times, voters seem tempted to turn to “strong” nationalistic leaders — western versions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
    In Washington recently, I found most mainstream political analysts dismissing the idea that Mr Trump could win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. This struck me as complacent. If Mr Trump were a normal candidate he would be regarded as favourite for the nomination. He is ahead in the crucial early states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
    Outrageous remarks about Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled and women have not dented his popularity.
    Many Democrats chortle that if the Republicans are mad enough to nominate Mr Trump, he would certainly be trounced by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. But even that cannot be assumed. The most recent national poll on a Trump v Clinton contest had Mr Trump winning by five points.
    Some of Mr Trump’s statements are so openly racist that they make Ms Le Pen look like a moderate. The leader of the French far right has been carefully softening her image in preparation for a run at the presidency in 2017. Even before the terrorist attacks in Paris, almost all surveys showed her reaching the final round of the election. This month her National Front may make a significant breakthrough by winning regional elections, making it look more like a potential party of government.
    The rise of the political extremes is not confined to the US and France. Ultra-nationalist parties are in power in Hungary and Poland, both members of the EU. Nationalist parties are on the rise in Scotland and Catalonia, threatening the survival of the UK and Spain as nation states.
    A sense of crisis is growing in Germany with the expected arrival of more than 1m refugees this year, leading to a backlash against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. With recessions and debt crises in southern Europe, “fringe” parties have moved into government in Greece and Portugal.
    So what is going on in western politics? The overarching development is a loss of faith in traditional political elites and a search for radical alternatives. Behind that, it seems to me, there are four broad trends: an increase in economic insecurity, a backlash against immigration, a fear of terrorism and the decline of traditional media.
    The overarching development in western politics is a loss of faith in traditional elites
    The US has now experienced several decades of declining or stagnant real wages for the majority of Americans. In many European countries, including France, double-digit rates of unemployment have become the norm. The financial crisis of 2008 has resulted in an enduring loss of trust in the competence of elites and the fairness and stability of western economic systems.
    Economic insecurity has been supplemented by a sense of social instability, linked to rising immigration. The influx of Hispanics into the US and of Muslims into western Europe has allowed the Trumps and Le Pens to argue that feckless elites have allowed fundamental social changes to take place without consulting ordinary people. Mr Trump has called for the deportation of 11m illegal immigrants from the US and Ms Le Pen once compared Muslims praying in the streets of France to the Nazi occupation.
    Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French president, who is likely to run against Ms Le Pen in 2017, has joined in the assault on “multiculturalism”. This kind of rhetoric about Muslim immigration and elite betrayal is also now commonplace in Germany.
    In the wake of the Paris attacks, fear of terrorism is merging with hostility to immigration. The shockwave from the French capital was felt across the Atlantic — where Mr Trump, along with most of the Republican field, has been quick to claim that admitting refugees would increase the risk of a terrorist attack.
    For populists, nationalists and extremists across the western world, a common theme is that the mainstream media are suppressing debate and are controlled by an untrustworthy elite. Republican candidates have learnt that chastising reporters is an easy way to win applause. In France and Germany the argument that the politically correct “lying media” have suppressed debate about immigration is increasingly popular. Meanwhile, the rise of social media has allowed alternative narratives to flourish. Those Americans who want to believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim find like-minded souls online or in the echo chamber of talk radio. Conspiratorial talk is flourishing on social media in Europe.
    The late senator Daniel Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” In the age of social media, that is no longer true. For the likes of Mr Trump, Ms Le Pen and Mr Putin, anything can be labelled “true”. In this climate, against a backdrop of economic, social and physical insecurity, extremism flourishes.

    Saturday, December 5, 2015

    A Conservative Literally Shot Down The New York Times’ Editorial On Gun Control

    A patriot responds to the NYT editorial calling for gun control


    They seriously couldn't find a worse opportunity to use for making their case. A Muslim couple who pledged allegiance to the ISIS. As far as the threepers/patriots are concerned, this is the reason they have armed themselves in the second, if not the first, place.

    A closet Muslim president using an attack by Muslim terrorists as a pretext to disarm American citizens who arm themselves against exactly this kind of attacks. This attack may yet become a watershed moment in the history of the current escalation.

    America is undergoing a religious polarization

    Add this to the long list of America's growing polarizations. Now it's the religious divide.

    By Ed Stetzer (Washington Post) {

    November 4, 2015

    In many ways, nominal believers who identified as Christians but were generally unengaged in church provided a “cultural cushion” for Christians. Nominals worked as a restraint on the advance of secularism. Even though they did not order their lives around Christian beliefs, nominals saw themselves on the same “team” as convictional Christians, who did order their lives around their religious faith, so nominal Christians tended to join with the more religious Christians in broader cultural decisions.

    As many nominals have become the religiously unaffiliated, they identify less with convictional believers.

    However, the religious, in some ways, are becoming more religious. While fewer people said religion was somewhat important to their lives, there was a jump in those who said religion was very important. Of those who identify with a religion, Pew found an increase in reading Scripture at least weekly, participating in a small group and sharing their faith at least weekly. Church attendance numbers were relatively steady.

    As the religiously unaffiliated grow and their influence widens, a secular worldview has become the dominant influence in academia, the arts and popular media. Some Christians feel marginalized and mocked when they turn on their televisions and send their children to school.

    For years, Christians could assume a person with whom they struck up a conversation was probably a fellow believer. If not, the other person would at least share their cultural values. But that is no longer the case.

    Increasingly, Americans are just as likely to have no faith background, be of another religion or even hold a hostile view of faith. That’s new territory for most Christians, not the home-field advantage of the past century.

    Source = America is undergoing a religious polarization }

    Friday, December 4, 2015

    Stating the obvious? FBI awkwardly acknowledges San Bernardino massacre likely terrorism

    It's important to notice that while the Obama administration has been just sued by the first state over the Syrian refugee policies, it appears as almost deliberately downplaying the radical Islam terror to the other side. Never mind the "Obama is a closet Muslim/Islamist" style conspiracies.

    The most important aspect of the impact Syria/ISIS are having on the West lies not so much in security risks, but in the domestic polarization they cause. In Europe in particular, the thing to watch is the rise of far right anti-EU movements fueled by a combination of refugee influx and terror attacks. Europe is more vulnerable than the US on both counts because of its proximity to the Middle East. So the effect should be expected to be more powerful.

    FoxNews.com (December 04, 2015) {

    In an unusual and brief address to reporters at which Attorney General Loretta Lynch appeared and questions were not taken, FBI Director James Comey affirmed the bureau's LA office's characterization earlier in the day.

    "This is now a federal terrorism investigation," Comey said, alluding to evidence collected from electronic devices and reports that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik may have been sympathetic to radical terrorist groups prior to the attack. After his comments, Comey asked pool reporters if they had any questions, but the pre-taped event, which was later distributed to media outlets, was cut off abruptly and no questions were permitted.

    [...]

    On Thursday, in the face of mounting evidence of a terror motive, President Obama refused to rule out an office dispute as the possible motive for the attack. The equivocation stoked outrage among many of Obama's critics, who noted his insistence on labelling as "workplace violence" the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, in which a Muslim Army major killed 13 people and injured another 30 while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and his ongoing refusal to characterize acts of terror as driven by radical interpretations of Islam.

    "If you can't come to a conclusion at this point that this was an act of terror, you should find something else to do for a living than being in law enforcement. I mean, you're a moron," former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who led the city during the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath, thundered hours later on Fox News. }


    Technical tips for co-authors of this blog


    This blog is configured to link on Facebook/Twitter with previews and preambulas. But you need to follow a few guidelines

    1) The title of your post will become a title of your link
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    Wednesday, December 2, 2015

    Fitna TV: The Shi'ite-Bashing Campaign On Salafi TV Channels And Social Media

    It's a phenomenon often witnessed during civil wars/ethic conflicts when one side deliberately plays into the accusations of the other side to provoke it. This trend has been exploding in recent years thanks to the spread of social/alternative media. In the case of the old standing Sunni belief that the Shia practice includes cursing Aisha and the three caliphs revered by Sunnis, the allegation serves an invitation. Regardless of the validity of the original claim, as the sectarian polarization grows in the Middle East and beyond, one would expect more entrepreneurial among the Shia to take to social media and alternative TV and do exactly this: Curse the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

    /* December 1, 2015
    By: Y. Feldner

    At the core of the Sunni outrage lies the allegation that Shi'ites curse 'Aisha and the caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar, and Othman, who are revered by Sunnis, but rejected by Shi'ites. This allegation has been repeatedly denied by some Shi'ite scholars...

    These denials notwithstanding, some Shi'ite scholars have been making outlandish remarks about the Prophet's companions, especially on networks operated by clerics who had fled their countries to the West. The Iranian-born Hassan Allah Yare, for example, runs a channel called Ahlulbayt TV from California. Ahlulbayt TV is a one-man show, dedicated to the disparagement of Prophet Muhammad's companions.

    "My shoe and the shoe of my little son are better than thousands like Abu Bakr, Omar, and 'Aisha,"[51] Sheikh Yare once declared on his show. He adroitly dismisses all the Sunni activists who call his show and try to embarrass him by asking whether he approves of "pleasure marriage" – a temporary union for the purpose of sex. One Sunni activist even promised to convert to Shia Islam if Sheikh Yare would give him his daughter for pleasure marriage. Sheikh Yare has a ready-made sarcastic answer for all these Sunni callers: "Shi'ite men are allowed to have sex with Wahhabi women, especially the Saudi ones... There are many sisters of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi all over the world. This is the way to reach unity in the Muslim world."

    Even more outrageous is the London-based Sheikh Yasser Al-Habib, who fled Kuwait in 2004 after having been arrested for anti-Sunni incitement. Sheikh Al-Habib received political asylum in Britain, from where he happily infuriates Sunnis with diatribes about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Every year, he organizes an "'Aisha in Hell" celebration on the date of the death of the Prophet Muhammad's wife. In one show on his London-based Fadak TV, Sheikh Al-Habib proclaimed that Omar Ibn Al-Khattab had an "anal disease." According to this "well-known medical condition," he added, "someone who has been penetrated in the anus – a worm grows within him, due to the semen discharged in him... It becomes like an addiction, and he cannot calm down unless he is penetrated again and again." Sheikh Habib then added that when a baby who is not a Shi'ite is born "the devil inserts his index finger into this anus, and when he grows up, he becomes a passive homosexual." */

    LGBT activists self-harm, create ‘rivers of blood’ to protest Immigration Bill

    When people start playing with blood, even if they only paint it, it's a sign things are getting psychotic

    /* Lesbian and gay rights campaigners have cut their arms in a graphic protest outside the Home Office in opposition to the government’s controversial Immigration Bill, which they say will increase discrimination and target vulnerable people on the brink of poverty.

    The symbolic act was designed to create a “river of blood,” in reference to the famous anti-immigration speech by Enoch Powell in 1968.*/