TBR News February 24, 2018

Feb 24 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 24, 2018: “The western media has been engaging in a strenuous campaign designed to elevate women of the world, most especially woman of color, to  a level above men but lower than God.

The Pink Pussy Hat brigade can be seen today in every aspect of a media larded with stories about evil men who have sinned against the Superior Sex by daring to touch them or somehow humiliate them by refusing to respect them or, worse, pay them for their services.

With a burgeoning elevation of population, men are expected to wear dresses and do housekeeping while the woman wear men’s suits and shop for strap-ons at the Amazon strap-on store.

And sad to report, this year’s annual Virgin’s Day Parade in New York had to be cancelled because one of the women was sick and the other did not want to march alone.”

Table of Contents

  • Russiagate Suddenly Becomes Bigger
  • Assange release unlikely as Ecuador says UK unwilling to mediate
  • Turkish attack on Afrin: ‘The Kurds put their trust in the US and the West’
  • Mueller Is Gaining Steam. Should Trump Worry?
  • Trump Jr. drops planned foreign policy speech in India after criticism
  • Israel threatens direct action against Iran
  • The Iranian Mystery Ship: Death from the Sea 
  • UN Security Council votes for 30-day ceasefire in Syria without delay
  • Changing colors: Roosevelt’s ancestors
  • Who are the Kurds?


Russiagate Suddenly Becomes Bigger

Will every critic of our government policies soon be indictable?

February 20, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

It’s hard to know where to begin. Last Friday’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was detailed in a 37 page document that provided a great deal of specific evidence claiming that a company based in St. Petersburg, starting in 2014, was using social media to assess American attitudes. Using that assessment, the company inter alia allegedly later ran a clandestine operation seeking to influence opinion in the United States regarding the candidates in the 2016 election in which it favored Donald Trump and denigrated Hillary Clinton. The Russians identified by name are all back in Russia and cannot be extradited to the U.S., so the indictment is, to a certain extent, political theater as the accused’s defense will never be heard.

In presenting the document, Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, stressed that there was no evidence to suggest that the alleged Russian activity actually changed the result of the 2016 presidential election or that any actual votes were altered or tampered with. Nor was there any direct link to either the Russian government or its officials or to the Donald Trump campaign developed as a result of the nine-month long investigation. There was also lacking any mention in the indictment of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and Podesta e-mails, so it is to be presumed that the activity described in the document was unrelated to the WikiLeaks disclosures.

Those of the “okay, there’s smoke but where’s the fire” school of thought immediately noted the significant elephant in the room, namely that the document did not include any suggestion that there had been collusion between Team Trump and Moscow. As that narrative has become the very raison d’etre driving the Mueller investigation, its omission is noteworthy. Meanwhile, those who see more substance in what was revealed by the evidence provided in the indictment and who, for political reasons, would like to see Trump damaged, will surely be encouraged by their belief that the noose is tightening around the president.

Assuming the indictment is accurate, I would agree that the activity of the Internet Research Agency does indeed have some of the hallmarks of a covert action intelligence operation in terms how it used some spying tradecraft to support its organization, targeting and activity. But its employees also displayed considerable amateur behavior, suggesting that they were not professional spies, supporting the argument that it was not a government intelligence operation or an initiative under Kremlin control. And beyond that, so what? Even on a worst-case basis, stirring things up is what intelligence agencies do, and no one is more active in interfering in foreign governments and elections than the United States of America, most notably in Russia for the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1996, which was arranged by Washington, and more recently in Ukraine in 2014. From my own experience I can cite Italy’s 1976 national election in which the CIA went all out to keep the communists out of government. Couriers were discreetly dispatched to the headquarters of all the Italian right wing parties dropping off bags of money for “expenses” while the Italian newspapers were full of articles written by Agency-paid hacks warning of the dangers of communism. And this all went on clandestinely even though Italy was a democracy, an ally and NATO member.Does that mean that Washington should do nothing in response? No, not at all. Russia, if the indictment is accurate, may have run an influencing operation and gotten caught with its hand in the cookie jar. Or maybe not. And Washington might also actually have information suggesting that Russia is preparing to engage in further interference in the 2018 and 2020 elections, as claimed by the heads of the intelligence agencies, though, as usual, evidence for the claim is lacking. There has to be bilateral, confidential discussion of such activity between Washington and Moscow and a warning given that such behavior will not be tolerated in the future, but only based on irrefutable, solid evidence. The leadership in both countries should be made to understand very clearly that there are more compelling reasons to maintain good bilateral working relations than not.

With that in mind, it is important not to overreact and to base any U.S. response on the actual damage that was inflicted. The indictment suggests that Russia is out to destroy American democracy by promoting “distrust” of government as well as sowing “discord” in the U.S. political system while also encouraging “divisiveness” among the American people. I would suggest in Russia’s defense that the U.S. political system is already doing a good job at self-destructing and the difficult-to-prove accusations being hurled at Moscow are the type one flings when there is not really anything important to say.

I would suggest that Moscow might well want to destroy American democracy but there is no evidence in the indictment to support that hypothesis. I particularly note that the document makes a number of assumptions which appear to be purely speculative for which it provides no evidence. It describes the Russian company Internet Research Agency as “engaged in operations to interfere with elections and political processes.” Its employees were involved in “interference operations targeting the United States. From in or around 2014 to the present, Defendants knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other (and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury) to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

The theme of Russian subversion is repeated throughout the indictment without any compelling evidence to explain how Mueller knows what he asserts to be true, suggesting either that the document would have benefited from a good editor or that whoever drafted it was making things up. Internet Research Agency allegedly “conduct[ed] what it called ‘information warfare against the United States of America’ through fictitious U.S. personas on social media platforms and other Internet-based media.” The indictment goes on to assert that

“By in or around May 2014, the ORGANIZATION’s strategy included interfering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with the stated goal of ‘spread[ing] distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general’” with a “strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the name of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.”

Two company associates “traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence. After the trip, [they] exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip. The conspiracy had as its object the opening of accounts under false names at U.S. financial institutions and a digital payments company in order to receive and send money into and out of the United States to support the ORGANIZATION’s operations in the United States and for self-enrichment. Defendants and their co-conspirators also used the accounts to receive money from real U.S. persons in exchange for posting promotions and advertisements on the ORGANIZATION-controlled social media pages. Defendants and their co-conspirators typically charged certain U.S. merchants and U.S. social media sites between 25 and 50 U.S. dollars per post for promotional content on their popular false U.S. persona accounts, including Being Patriotic, Defend the 2nd, and Blacktivist. All in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349.”

Note particularly the money laundering and for-profit aspects of the Internet Research scheme, something that would be eschewed if it were an actual intelligence operation. There is some speculation that it all might have been what is referred to as a click-bait commercial marketing scheme set up to make money from advertising fees. Also note how small the entire operation was. It focused on limited social media activity while spending an estimated $1 million on the entire venture, with Facebook admitting to a total of $100,000 in total ad buys, only half of which were before the election. It doesn’t smell like a major foreign government intelligence/influence initiative intended to “overthrow democracy.” And who attended the phony political rallies? How many votes did the whole thing cause to change? Impossible to know, but given a campaign in which billions were spent and both fake and real news were flying in all directions, one would have to assume that the Russian effort was largely a waste of time if it indeed was even as described or serious in the first place.

And apart from the money laundering aspect of the alleged campaign was it even illegal apart from the allegations of possible visa fraud and money laundering? If the Russians involved were getting their financial support from the Moscow government then it would be necessary to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, but if not, they would be protected by the Constitution and have the same First Amendment right to express their opinions of Hillary Clinton on blogs and websites while also associating with others politically as do all other residents of the United States. Many of the commenters on this Unz site are foreign and are not required either by law or custom to state where they come from.

And, of course, there is one other thing. There always is. One major media outlet is already suggesting that there could be consequences for American citizens who wittingly or unwittingly helped the Russians, identified in the indictment as “persons known and unknown.” A former federal prosecutor put it another way, saying “While they went to great pains to say they are not indicting any Americans today, if I was an American and I did cooperate with Russians I would be extremely frightened…” Politico speculates that “Now, a legal framework exists for criminal charges against Americans…” and cites a former U.S. district attorney’s observation that “Think of a conspiracy indicting parties ‘known and unknown’ as a Matroyshka doll. There are many more layers to be successively revealed over time.”

Under normal circumstances, an American citizen colluding with a foreign country would have to be convicted of engaging in an illegal conspiracy, which would require being aware that the foreigners were involved in criminal behavior and knowingly aiding them. But today’s overheated atmosphere in Washington is anything but normal. Russia’s two major media outlets that operate in the U.S., Sputnik and RT America, have been forced to register under FARA. Does that mean that the hundreds of American citizens who appeared on their programs prior to the 2016 election to talk about national politics will be next in line for punishment? Stay tuned.


Assange release unlikely as Ecuador says UK unwilling to mediate

February 14, 2018


Ecuador said its efforts to negotiate with the UK over WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange’s exit from its embassy in London have failed. Assange has been living in the embassy since 2012.

Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa told reporters on Friday that the UK was unwilling to take part in talks. “On the issue of mediation, I have to say very honestly that it has not been successful because two parties are needed to mediate… Ecuador is willing, but not necessarily the other party,” adding that Ecuador would “continue looking for mechanisms.”

Assange sought political asylum in 2012 in a bid to escape extradition to Sweden where he was wanted for questioning regarding allegations of sexual assault. Assange feared he would be extradited from Sweden to the US, where he’s wanted for publishing hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables and war logs leaked by whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

Despite Ecuador’s efforts, which included making Assange a citizen in the hopes of granting him diplomatic immunity, the UK has proven unwilling to negotiate the Australian publisher’s exit from the country. An arrest warrant was issued for him via Interpol as part of Sweden’s investigation.

Assange challenged the warrants in court but was unsuccessful and subsequently entered the embassy, which was a breach of his bail conditions. In February, a UK court upheld the 2012 arrest warrant, despite the fact that Sweden dropped its case last May.

The Trump administration has made its stance on Assange clear, despite Trump repeatedly citing his “love” for the whistleblowing organization during the 2016 presidential election.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “Assange’s arrest is a priority,” while CIA Director Mike Pompeo has made a number of statements about Assange, including calling him a “non-state hostile intelligence service.” He also claimed “Assange has no First Amendment rights” and that “the CIA is working to take down WikiLeaks.” Reuters reports a US government official said federal prosecutors are still pursuing a criminal investigation against WikiLeaks.


Turkish attack on Afrin: ‘The Kurds put their trust in the US and the West’

The Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria is under attack by Turkey. According to a Kurdish affairs expert, because Kurds can’t rely on foreign powers, they have allied with the Assad regime purely out of self-defense.

February 24, 2018

by Kirsten Knipp


Deutsche Welle: Mr. Dilbar, what is the current situation regarding the Turkish attack on Afrin in Syria? How far has Turkey advanced?

Fawzi Dilbar: The region has now been under attack for 34 days. Until the beginning of this week, Turkey had achieved comparatively modest success. That is why the Turkish military has intensified its air raids over the last few days. That’s the only way it can make any progress on the ground. This has led to many villages being destroyed. This is an attempt to displace the local inhabitants, or force them to evacuate. By Monday of this week, 88 villages in close proximity to the Turkish border had already been cleared. Half of them have been completely destroyed. Since then, the shelling has further intensified, leading to more villages being evacuated.

For a few days now, there have been reports that jihadist militants are fighting for Turkey.

That’s true. There are videos showing how former jihadist militants and members of groups classified as terrorist organizations in Europe – such as the “Syrian Conquest Front” (Fatah al-Sham) – spearhead operations by the Turkish armed forces.

Are these groups officially fighting for Turkey?

Turkey initially said that it would only need a few days to take Afrin. But the military then came up against the very determined opposition of the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG), which are also in possession of heavy weapons. This has increased the risk factor for the Turkish military. Ankara definitely wants to avoid a large number of Turkish soldiers being killed. That is why Turkey is now relying on these groups. The Turkish planes prepare the ground by carrying out air raids, the jihadist groups then follow. The Turkish troops then follow them.

There are also reports that there are Kurdish militants fighting for Turkey. What’s going on there?

They are deployed for the same reason as the jihadists: Turkey wants to minimize the loss of its own soldiers. For this reason, Turkey has also enlisted people from the Kurdish regions of Turkey – people who were previously recruited to fight against the PKK. They have now been put under pressure and are being forced to fight. The same applies to the Syrian Kurds, who apparently are fighting on the Turkish side. They too have been put under pressure.

Similarly, the inhabitants of the attacked Syrian villages have been urged to join the Turks. This is for propaganda purposes: Turkey wants to make the world believe that the Kurdish Democratic Party (PYD) and the affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG), a mainly Kurdish militia, have suppressed their fellow countrymen to such an extent that they have now turned against them. If there are actually any voluntary fighters, then this is a miniscule group of people.

The Kurds in Afrin have now joined forces with the Assad regime. Aren’t they getting their hands dirty?

Who doesn’t have dirty hands in Syria? Since the outbreak of violence in Syria seven years ago, the Kurds have tried to stay out of this war. Until recently, this has been quite successful. They wanted to prevent their own region from being as destroyed as the rest of the country. It was clear to the Kurds that no matter how different their political views on certain issues may be, they should all stay out of the struggle in Syria. This is because they are well aware that they cannot count on having anyone to back them up.

The fact that they were correct in this assessment is now becoming apparent. A foreign aggressor is encroaching on Syrian territory and no one is rushing to help the Kurds. In fact, people who were unable to leave their villages quickly enough have been murdered. After a few days, in order to avoid further victims, the administration in Afrin was forced to cooperate with Damascus. However, in order not to strain relations with Turkey even further, the Assad regime has allowed only unofficial troops to move into the region. The decision does not necessarily reflect the Kurds’ wishes. Rather, it reflects the sheer necessity of opposing the Turkish army, for at least a while. No one knows whether this will succeed in the end, or not.

What do you think could be done to end the fighting in Afrin?

The Kurds put their trust in the US and the West. As part of this trust, they also fought together with the West against the “Islamic State” (IS). The Kurds were willing to cooperate, also to keep the region free of war and violence. Together, both the Kurds and Western forces drove out IS. Clearly, the Kurds played a decisive role in this fight.

But now the Kurds feel they have been abandoned again. They are encircled from three sides and have agreed to continue working with the West. But apparently neither the Americans, nor the other Western states are much interested in this. Turkey is NATO’s second strongest army. If the Western states do not intervene now, Afrin will be taken in a very short time. For the Kurds, the question is what will happen to the 500,000 civilians, who are facing not only Turkey, but also jihadist terrorist groups. They have been waiting for a long time to fight and destroy the Kurds.

Fawzi Dilbar is a lawyer and member of the Bonn Integration Council and the Kurdish Advisory Centre YASA.

The interview was conducted by Kersten Knipp.



Mueller Is Gaining Steam. Should Trump Worry?

February 24, 2018

by Peter Baker

New York Times

WASHINGTON — In a fiery speech to supporters on Friday, President Trump went after his vanquished opponent from 2016. “We had a crooked candidate,” he declared. The crowd responded with a signature chant from the campaign trail: “Lock her up!”

About three hours later and 10 miles to the north, Mr. Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, who helped put him in the White House, arrived at a federal courthouse in Washington to plead guilty to being crooked and face the prospect that the authorities will now lock him up.

With each passing day, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, seems to add another brick to the case he is building — one more indictment, one more interview, one more guilty plea. Mr. Trump and his advisers insist they are not worried because so far none of the charges implicate the president. Yet no one outside Mr. Mueller’s office knows for sure where he is heading and the flurry of recent action seems to be inexorably leading to a larger target.

“When you put that all together, the White House should be extremely worried,” said Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare, a blog that analyzes legal issues, and a friend of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director who was leading the Russia investigation until being fired by Mr. Trump last year. “You have to ask the question about whether there is a certain measure of self-delusion going on here.”

In the last 10 days, Mr. Mueller has indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies for secretly trying to help Mr. Trump win the election, added new charges against Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, and secured a guilty plea from a lawyer tied to Mr. Manafort’s business dealings with pro-Russian figures. The guilty plea on Friday by Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman, raised the pressure on Mr. Manafort.

Mr. Trump is correct that nothing produced publicly by Mr. Mueller to date has claimed any wrongdoing by the president nor any illegal collaboration with the Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election. The indictment of the Russians specifically noted that none of Mr. Trump’s aides wittingly cooperated with the effort to flood Facebook and other social media with disinformation and propaganda.

The charges against Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates depict an expansive money-laundering and fraud operation stemming from their work for Ukrainian leaders aligned with Moscow, not from their involvement in the campaign. Michael T. Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about their contacts with Russians or intermediaries but not to collusion.

John M. Dowd, the president’s private lawyer, pointed to Mr. Trump’s cooperation with the investigation as evidence that he had nothing to hide. He noted that the White House had voluntarily turned over more than 20,000 pages to Mr. Mueller, including documents  related to Mr. Flynn and Mr. Comey, and the campaign provided 1.4 million pages.

More than 20 White House officials, including eight members of the counsel’s office, voluntarily gave interviews to the special counsel or congressional investigators, as did 17 campaign employees and 11 others affiliated with the campaign, he added.

“I give great credit to the president for his extraordinary cooperation with the special counsel,” Mr. Dowd said.

Still, as the pileup at the courthouse indicates, allies of Mr. Trump acknowledged that the investigation had taken a toll.

“The good news for the White House is that more than 18 months since the F.B.I. probe began, there is still no evidence of Russian collusion,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax and a friend of Mr. Trump. “The bad news is that the special counsel has a scorched-earth prosecution aimed at crushing the president’s associates.”

“I don’t think the president is worried about the investigation himself,” he added, “but it clearly bothers him that people are being prosecuted simply because they worked for his campaign.”

Inside the White House, officials expressed calm resignation on Friday as Mr. Gates marched into the courthouse. But there was low-grade concern out of recognition that Mr. Gates was in a lot of meetings over a long period of time.

While Mr. Gates joined the campaign with Mr. Manafort, his longtime business partner and mentor, he stayed after Mr. Manafort was fired. He rode on Mr. Trump’s campaign plane and served as liaison to the Republican National Committee. After the election victory, he joined the transition as a right hand to Thomas J. Barrack Jr., the president’s close friend who ran the inaugural operation.

The fact that Mr. Gates was allowed to plead guilty to just two relatively lower-level charges indicated to legal experts that he must have something of value for Mr. Mueller. The presumption in Mr. Trump’s circle is that Mr. Gates may not have any incriminating information about the president but could be a dangerous witness against Mr. Manafort, who in turn could threaten Mr. Trump.

Mr. Manafort participated in a meeting in June 2016 along with Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son, and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, with a Russian lawyer on the promise of receiving incriminating information about Hillary Clinton on behalf of Russia’s government.

Mr. Manafort also reportedly offered during the campaign to give “private briefings” to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch allied with President Vladimir V. Putin who claimed Mr. Manafort owed him $19 million. Prosecutors are interested in learning how a Republican convention platform plank on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was watered down.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s defenders said Mr. Gates’s credibility as a witness may be tainted by the fact that one of the charges he pleaded guilty to was lying to the F.B.I. even as he was negotiating his plea deal. Ty Cobb, the White House special counsel, has said that Mr. Manafort has no damaging information against Mr. Trump. Mr. Manafort insisted again on Friday that he was innocent and would fight the “untrue piled up charges.”

Mr. Trump’s argument that none of this has anything to do with him resonates with many of his supporters, who have his echoed his repeated insistence that there was no collusion with Russia. But being surrounded by people who are prosecuted has damaged other presidents even when they were not directly implicated.

Jimmy Carter endured significant political damage when his confidant and budget director, Bert Lance, was accused of banking irregularities. Even putting aside the Iran-contra scandal and the Monica S. Lewinsky affair, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were besieged by investigations of their aides unrelated to them. In Mr. Reagan’s era, it became known as the “sleaze factor.” Mr. Clinton’s team drew the scrutiny of six independent counsels other than Kenneth W. Starr.

In the current case, the targets so far have included not just a “coffee boy,” as Mr. Papadopoulos was described by an adviser to Mr. Trump, but the president’s top two campaign officials and national security adviser. While Mr. Trump has dismissed the relevance of allegations against Mr. Manafort because they involved business dealings before the campaign, the latest indictment claims that he was scheming to defraud banks while serving as Mr. Trump’s chairman.

Moreover, it remains unclear why he volunteered to work for Mr. Trump’s campaign without pay at a time when he was experiencing significant financial pressure.

Mr. Trump’s defenders have focused on questioning the original basis for the investigation, accusing the F.B.I. of misconduct in relying on an unverified dossier assembled by a former British spy hired by investigators working for Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

To the extent that Mr. Mueller is exploring whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey, the president’s defenders contend that under the Constitution, he has the power to dismiss executive branch officials and dictate their work. They also point to testimony by Mr. Comey and other officials who said the investigation was not impeded.

Therefore, they argue, the original order appointing Mr. Mueller was itself invalid and should be revoked.

In the meantime, they are left to interpret the clues from Mr. Mueller’s actions just like everyone else. David B. Rivkin Jr., a former White House and Justice Department lawyer under Mr. Reagan and President George Bush, said the totality of Mr. Mueller’s actions still did not add up to a threat to Mr. Trump.

“It doesn’t make sense to unfold piecemeal an indictment of Russian entities and Russians if you have any hope of building a collusion case. It makes no logical sense,” he said. “To me, at least, what he’s done does underscore that there’s no collusion there. That leaves him with the obstruction of justice narrative which I think is constitutionally flawed and isn’t going to go anywhere.”

Mr. Wittes said Mr. Mueller’s actions could be seen as building a pyramid — establishing that there was a Russian influence campaign and assembling a group of cooperating witnesses. But the special counsel has not tipped his hand yet.

“The basic contours of the puzzle is that he’s constructed his actions in a way that we don’t know where it’s leading,” he said, “and that’s on purpose.”

Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York


Trump Jr. drops planned foreign policy speech in India after criticism

February 23, 2018

by Sanjeev Miglani and Manoj Kumar


NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s son dropped a planned speech on foreign affairs in the Indian capital on Friday after ethics experts said he should avoid wading into policy issues as a private citizen.

Donald Trump Jr. is on a tour of India to promote real estate projects in several cities but ethics watchdog groups in the United States say there is a possible conflict of interest in pushing the Trump brand name while his father is in the White House.

He was billed to make a speech on the topic “Reshaping the Indo-Pacific – The New Era of Cooperation” but hours before the conference began that was changed into a “fireside chat” where he spoke about his business and stayed clear of policy issues.

“I am here on business, I am not representing anyone,” he said at the conference organized by the Economic Times, a leading newspaper, and Yes Bank.

He spoke before Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a keynote speech on preparing India for the future to a gathering of business leaders from India and overseas.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to the U.S. ambassador to India this week to ask for guarantees that the embassy and the State Department will not offer any support to Trump Jr. beyond helping the U.S. Secret Service to provide him with security.

Trump Jr. said he had been coming to India for more than a decade to build business for The Trump Organisation and it had reached a take-off stage but there were self-imposed curbs following the election of his father as president.

“I learnt about doing business here through the school of hard knocks, we have built partnerships here,” he said.

This week he was wooing buyers to book luxury apartments in Trump Towers in Gurgaon on the outskirts of New Delhi as well as in Mumbai, attending champagne receptions.

Trump’s partners in India are playing up the Trump brand. In the days leading up to Trump Jr.’s visit, one of its development partners in Gurgaon began an advertising campaign in newspapers offering dinner and conversation with the president’s son.

But Trump said his company could not build on the gains it had made in India because of the curbs over the past year.

“Ten years of hard work to get there, this would be a time to capitalize, but its a sacrifice, its a big sacrifice,” he said. “But we will be back, once we are out of politics.”

Shortly before taking office last year, Trump Sr. said he would hand off control of his business empire, which includes luxury homes and hotels across the world, to his sons Donald and Eric, and move his assets into a trust to help ensure that he would not consciously take actions as president that would benefit him personally.

Several government and private ethics watchdogs said he should have gone further, divesting himself of assets that could cause a conflict of interest.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani and Manoj Kumar; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg



Israel threatens direct action against Iran

Benjamin Netanyahu’s heightened rhetoric comes a week after Israel and Iran clashed in Syria

February 19, 2018

The Week

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stepped up his war of words with Iran, insisting that his country will act directly against Tehran if necessary.

The threat comes after Israeli attacks on Iranian military targets in Syria last weekend.

Brandishing a charred fragment of what he claimed was a downed Iranian drone, Netanyahu told the Munich security conference: “Israel will not allow the regime to put a noose of terror around our neck.”

“We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself,” he said, describing the country as “the greatest threat to our world”.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus said the theatricall flourish was “vintage Benjamin Netanyahu, from a Prime Minister embattled at home with potential corruption charges looming over his head”.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, called the presentation “a cartoonish circus, which does not even deserve a response”.

Proxy war

Israel “has accused Tehran of seeking a permanent military foothold in Syria”, where Iranian-backed forces support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in civil war entering its eighth year, says Reuters.

There are also concerns within Israel about the situation in Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed Hezbollah is part of a coalition government.

The Guardian says that “as Iran’s military role expands in Syria and Yemen and Donald Trump pushes for a more confrontational approach toward Tehran, Israel is seeking wider support for efforts to contain its regional arch-enemy”.

Iran’s growing influence across the whole of the Middle East region has prompted Israel to align more closely with Sunni Arab states, which share worries about their Shi’ite rival


The Iranian Mystery Ship: Death from the Sea 

February 24, 2018

by Christian Jürs

On August 21st, 2008, the MV Iran Deyant, 44,458 dead weight bulk carrier was heading towards the Suez Canal. As it was passing the Horn of Africa, about 80 miles southeast of al-Makalla in Yemen, the ship was surrounded by speedboats filled with members of a gang of Somalia pirates who grab suitable commercial ships and hold them,, and their cargos and crews for ransom. The captain was defenseless against the 40 pirates armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades blocking his passage. He had little choice other than to turn his ship over to them. What the pirates were not banking on, however, was that this was no ordinary ship.

The MV Iran Deyanat is owned and operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) – a state-owned company run by the Iranian military that was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury on September 10, shortly after the ship’s hijacking. According to the U.S. Government, the company regularly falsifies shipping documents in order to hide the identity of end users, uses generic terms to describe shipments to avoid the attention of shipping authorities, and employs the use of cover entities to circumvent United Nations sanctions to facilitate weapons proliferation for the Iranian Ministry of Defense.

The MV Iran Deyanat departed  Nanjing, China, July 28,  and, according to its manifest, planned to sail to Rotterdam, where it would offload 42,500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by an unidentified “ German client”. The ship has a crew of 29 men, including a Pakistani captain, an Iranian engineer, 13 other Iranians, 3 Indians, 2 Filipinos, and 10 Eastern Europeans, stated to be Albanians

The MV Iran Deyanat was brought to Eyl, a sleepy fishing village in northeastern Somalia, and was secured by a larger gang of pirates – 50 onboard and 50 onshore. The Somali pirates attempted to inspect the ship’s seven cargo containers but the containers were locked. The crew claimed that they did not have the “access codes” and could not open them. Pirates have stated they were unable to open the hold without causing extensive damage to the ship, and threatened to blow it up The Iranian ship’s captain   and the engineer were contactd by cell phone and demanded to disclose the actual nature of the mysterious “powdered cargo” but the captain and his officers were very evasive. Initially they said that the cargo contained “crude oil” but then claimed it contained “minerals.” Following this initial rebuff, the pirates broke open one of the containers and discovered it to be filled with packets of  what they said was “a powdery fine sandy soil”

Within a period of three days, those pirates who had boarded the ship and opened the cargo container with its gritty sand-like contents, all developed strange health complications, to include serious skin burns and loss of hair. And within two weeks, sixteen of the pirates subsequently died, either on the ship or on shore

.News about the illness and the toxic cargo quickly reached Garowe, seat of the government for the autonomous region of Puntland. Angered over the wave of piracy and suspicious about the Iranian ship, authorities dispatched a delegation led by Minister of Minerals and Oil Hassan Allore Osman to investigate the situation on September 4. and they witnessed some of the deaths due to exposure to ‘something on that ship.’

The Somali pirates initially set the ship’s ransom at $2 million and the Iranian government provided $200,000 to a local broker “to facilitate the exchange.” The $2 million dollar ransom agreement, which was supposedly secured on September 6th, never took place for reasons unknown. After September 10th, sanctions on IRISL were applied specifically because the company was said to engaged in illicit operations on behalf of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Serious  negotiations were broken off completely. Iranian authorities subsequently denied that it agreed to the price nor had paid any money to the pirates. Nevertheless, after sanctions were applied to IRISL on September 10, Osman says, the Iranians told the pirates that the deal was off. “They told the pirates that they could not come because of the presence of the U.S. Navy.” The region is patrolled by the multinational Combined Taskforce 150, which includes ships from the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Subsequently, it was disclosed that the U.S. government had offered to pay  $7 million to the pirates to “receive entry permission and search the vessel.” Officials in the Pentagon and the Department of State have consistently refused to comment on the situation.

The exact nature of the cargo remains officially a mystery but officials in Puntland and Baidoa are convinced the ship was carrying weapons to Eritrea for Islamist insurgents. “We cannot inspect the cargo yet,” Osman said, “but we are sure that it is weapons.”

The US Navy (and the French and the Russians) have been hove to off the coast of Eyl, going anywhere once released, it will be seized once it gets to sea. The specific clauses that have been approved in both the UN and in Congress would allow the US Navy to seize the ship under the suspicion clause. The claims that there are weapons onboard, and the possibility there might be chemical weapons, has insured there is at the very minimum, an inspection of the ship by outside authority will be mandated. At this writing, the  MV Iran Deyanat is at anchor, watched closely by American, French and Russian naval units.

Although American intelligence and government sources are maintaining a strictly observed silence, the same does not apply to the Russians and so it is that we learn the real story of the MV Iran Deyanat. She was an enormous floating dirty bomb, intended to detonate after exiting the Suez Canal at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and in proximity to the coastal cities of Israel. The entire cargo of radioactive sand, obtained by Iran from China (the latter buys desperately needed oil from the former) and sealed in containers which, when the charges on the ship are set off after the crew took to the boats, will be blasted high into the air where prevailing winds will push the highly dangerous and radioactive cloud ashore.

Given the large number of deaths from the questing Somali pirates, it should be obvious that when the contents of the ship’s locked cargo containers finally descended onto the land, the death toll would be enormous. This ship was nothing more nor less than the long-anticipated Iranian attack on Israel. Not the expected rocket attacks (which could be interdicted by the Israelis) but even more deadly and unexpected attack by sea.. It is very interesting to note that the Israeli government has in the past few weeks, been loudly demanding that the United States establish a naval blockade of Iran. The reason for this blockade would be to prevent any more Iranian ships with deadly cargos from attacking either Israel or other targets from the sea.


UN Security Council votes for 30-day ceasefire in Syria without delay

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to approve a revised text for a 30-day humanitarian ceasefire in Syria. There were prolonged discussions to deal with Russian concerns over the text.

February 24, 2018


The ceasefire was due to come into effect immediately, according to the resolution passed on Saturday at the United Nations Security Council.

The vote had been delayed as negotiations over the text drafted by Kuwait and Sweden continued with the Russian delegation.

The Council spent two weeks negotiating a draft resolution that would demand a ceasefire “without delay” to allow immediate deliveries of humanitarian aid and medical evacuations.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley scolded Russia in the Security Council for stalling.

“Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” she said.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia rejected the accusations, saying that a demand for a ceasefire that was “feasible” was the reason for the extended negotiations.

Warplanes pounded eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, for a seventh day on Saturday. More than 500 civilians were reported killed, a number of them children, after seven days of relentless bombardment.

Aerial bombardment

A total of 127 children were among the 513 dead in the bombing campaign that the regime launched last Sunday on the enclave just outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday, claiming the air strikes were being carried out by Syrian and Russian forces.

Control of eastern Ghouta is shared between two main Islamist factions, while Syria’s former al-Qaida affiliate is also present.

Russia has been pressing for a negotiated withdrawal of rebel fighters and their families like the one that saw the government retake full control of Aleppo in December 2016. However, the rebel groups have so far refused.

The enclave is completely surrounded by government-controlled territory and its 400,000 residents are unwilling or unable to flee the siege.


Changing colors: Roosevelt’s ancestors

February 24, 2018

by Benjamin Dova


Although his apologists speak of Franklin Roosevelt’s Dutch origins, careful and through research has shown that the Roosevelt family were originally Spanish, Campo de rosas (“field of roses”) and when the Jewish community in Spain was ordered to convert to Catholcism in 1492 or leave the country, the family fled from Spain, settling in the Rhineland of Germany where they became known as the Rosenfelds.

Seeking safety in Germany, Holland and other countries, members of the family changed their name to Rosenberg, Rosenbaum, Rosenblum, Rosenvelt and Rosenthal. The Roosenvelts in North Holland finally became Roosevelt, not a Dutch family name, and abandoned their faith, adopting Protestantism.

Claes Martenzsen van Rosenvelt (“of the rose field”), ancestor of Franklin, came to New Amsterdam from Holland in 1649 and died in 1658. Amsterdam was a Jewish center, and many Jews emigrated from there to New Amsterdamm which later became New York.

Claes Rosenvelt entered the cloth business in New York, and was married a Jannetje Samuels in 1682. He accumulated a fortune. He then changed his name to Nicholas Rosenvelt. Of his four sons, Isaac died young, Nicholas married Sarah Solomons. Jacobus married Catherina Hardenburg.

Franklin’s father married one Sarah Delano.

The Delanos are descendants of an Italian Jewish family; Dilano.

The New York Times of March 14, 1935, quotes the President as saying: “In the distant past my ancestors may have been Jews. All I know about the origin of the Roosevelt family is that they are apparently descended from Claes Martenszen van Roosevelt, who came from Holland.”

FDR received kosher calendars, bogus checks guaranteeing him “365 days of happiness”, trees planted in his name in Eretz (now Israel) from children of the Jewish Sanatarium for Chronic Diseases in Brooklyn, blessings from Rabbi Stephen Wise (one of the most active Zionists in America), and even flattering poetry by none other than Albert Einstein.

These facts clearly explain why Franklin Roosevelt hated all Germans in general and Adolf Hitler in specific.

In 1938, Hitler made a sarcastic response in the German Reichstag to a vague plea by Roosevelt for German tolerance and understanding. Roosevelt flew into a rage when he heard of this and redoubled his anti-German activities.

But when the Germans shipped 900 German Jews to Cuba on May 13,1939, Roosevelt ordered the Cubans to deny them entry on the grounds that they would want to imigrate to the United States!


Who are the Kurds?

BBC News

Between 25 and 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They make up the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never obtained a permanent nation state.

Where do they come from?

The Kurds are one of the indigenous peoples of the Mesopotamian plains and the highlands in what are now south-eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, north-western Iran and south-western Armenia.

Today, they form a distinctive community, united through race, culture and language, even though they have no standard dialect. They also adhere to a number of different religions and creeds, although the majority are Sunni Muslims.

Kurdistan: A State of Uncertainty: Why don’t they have a state?

In the early 20th Century, many Kurds began to consider the creation of a homeland – generally referred to as “Kurdistan”. After World War One and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the victorious Western allies made provision for a Kurdish state in the 1920 Treaty of Sevres.

Such hopes were dashed three years later, however, when the Treaty of Lausanne, which set the boundaries of modern Turkey, made no provision for a Kurdish state and left Kurds with minority status in their respective countries. Over the next 80 years, any move by Kurds to set up an independent state was brutally quashed.

In mid-2013, the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) turned its sights on three Kurdish enclaves that bordered territory under its control in northern Syria. It launched repeated attacks that until mid-2014 were repelled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – the armed wing of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).

An IS advance in northern Iraq in June 2014 also drew that country’s Kurds into the conflict. The government of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region sent its Peshmerga forces to areas abandoned by the Iraqi army.

In August 2014, the jihadists launched a surprise offensive and the Peshmerga withdrew from several areas. A number of towns inhabited by religious minorities fell, notably Sinjar, where IS militants killed or captured thousands of Yazidis.

In response, a US-led multinational coalition launched air strikes in northern Iraq and sent military advisers to help the Peshmerga. The YPG and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey for three decades and has bases in Iraq, also came to their aid.

In September 2014, IS launched an assault on the enclave around the northern Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee across the nearby Turkish border. Despite the proximity of the fighting, Turkey refused to attack IS positions or allow Turkish Kurds to cross to defend it.

In January 2015, after a battle that left at least 1,600 people dead and more than 3,200 buildings destroyed or damaged, Kurdish forces regained control of Kobane.

Since then, the Kurds – fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alongside several local Arab militias, and helped by US-led coalition airpower – have driven IS out thousands of square kilometres of territory in Syria and established control over hundreds of kilometres along the border with Turkey.

In October 2017, SDF fighters captured the de facto IS capital of Raqqa and were advancing south-eastwards into the neighbouring province of Deir al-Zour – the jihadists’ last major foothold in Syria.

The gains have, however, brought the Kurds and their allies into direct contact with Russian-supported Syrian government forces and Turkish-backed rebels, triggering clashes that have raised tensions between competing world powers.

There is deep-seated hostility between the Turkish state and the country’s Kurds, who constitute 15% to 20% of the population.

Kurds received harsh treatment at the hands of the Turkish authorities for generations. In response to uprisings in the 1920s and 1930s, many Kurds were resettled, Kurdish names and costumes were banned, the use of the Kurdish language was restricted, and even the existence of a Kurdish ethnic identity was denied, with people designated “Mountain Turks”.

In 1978, Abdullah Ocalan established the PKK, which called for an independent state within Turkey. Six years later, the group began an armed struggle. Since then, more than 40,000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

In the 1990s the PKK rolled back on its demand for independence, calling instead for greater cultural and political autonomy, but continued to fight. In 2013, a ceasefire was agreed after secret talks were held.

The ceasefire collapsed in July 2015, after a suicide bombing blamed on IS killed 33 young activists in the mainly Kurdish town of Suruc, near the Syrian border. The PKK accused the authorities of complicity and attacked Turkish soldiers and police. The Turkish government subsequently launched what it called a “synchronised war on terror” against the PKK and IS.

Since then, several thousand people – including hundreds of civilians – have been killed in clashes in south-eastern Turkey.

In August 2016, Turkey sent troops and tanks into northern Syria to support a Syrian rebel offensive against IS. Those forces captured the key border town of Jarablus and the IS stronghold of al-Bab, preventing the YPG-led SDF from seizing the territory itself and linking up with the Kurdish enclave of Afrin to the west.

Turkey’s government says the YPG and the PYD are extensions of the PKK, share its goal of secession through armed struggle, and are all terrorist organisations.

Turkey’s fear of a reignited Kurdish flame

Kurds make up between 7% and 10% of Syria’s population. Before the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011 most lived in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, and in three, non-contiguous areas around Kobane, Afrin, and the north-eastern city of Qamishli.

Syria’s Kurds have long been suppressed and denied basic rights. Some 300,000 have been denied citizenship since the 1960s, and Kurdish land has been confiscated and redistributed to Arabs in an attempt to “Arabize” Kurdish regions.

When the uprising evolved into a civil war, the main Kurdish parties publicly avoided taking sides. In mid-2012, government forces withdrew to concentrate on fighting the rebels elsewhere, and Kurdish groups took control in their wake.

In January 2014, Kurdish parties – including the dominant Democratic Union Party (PYD) – declared the creation of “autonomous administrations” in the three “cantons” of Afrin, Kobane and Jazira.

In March 2016, they announced the establishment of a “federal system” that included mainly Arab and Turkmen areas captured from IS.

The declaration was rejected by the Syrian government, the Syrian opposition, Turkey and the US.

The PYD says it is not seeking independence, but insists that any political settlement to end the conflict in Syria must include legal guarantees for Kurdish rights and recognition of Kurdish autonomy.

President Assad has vowed to take back control of all of Syria, but his foreign minister said in September 2017 that he was open to negotiations with Kurds over their demand for autonomy.

Kurds make up an estimated 15% to 20% of Iraq’s population. They have historically enjoyed more national rights than Kurds living in neighbouring states, but also faced brutal repression.

In 1946, Mustafa Barzani formed the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to fight for autonomy in Iraq. But it was not until 1961 that he launched a full armed struggle.

In the late 1970s, the government began settling Arabs in areas with Kurdish majorities, particularly around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, and forcibly relocating Kurds.

The policy was accelerated in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, in which the Kurds backed the Islamic republic. In 1988, Saddam Hussein unleashed a campaign of vengeance on the Kurds that included the chemical attack on Halabja.

When Iraq was defeated in the 1991 Gulf War, Barzani’s son Massoud and Jalal Talabani of the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led a Kurdish rebellion. Its violent suppression prompted the US and its allies to impose a no-fly zone in the north that allowed Kurds to enjoy self-rule. The KDP and PUK agreed to share power, but tensions rose and a four-year war erupted between them in 1994.

The parties co-operated with the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam and governed in coalition in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), created two years later to administer Dohuk, Irbil and Sulaimaniya provinces.

Massoud Barzani was appointed the region’s president, while Jalal Talabani became Iraq’s first non-Arab head of state.

In September 2017, a referendum on independence was held in both the Kurdistan Region and the disputed areas seized by the Peshmerga in 2014, including Kirkuk. The vote was opposed by the Iraqi central government, which insisted it was illegal.

More than 90% of the 3.3 million people who voted supported secession. KRG officials said the result gave them a mandate to start negotiations with Baghdad, but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi demanded that it be annulled.

The following month Iraqi pro-government forces retook the disputed territory held by the Kurds. The loss of Kirkuk and its oil revenue was a major blow to Kurdish aspirations for their own state.




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