TBR News January 21, 2018

Jan 21 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. January 21, 2018:” Here is a communication from an interested reader:

’ The truth must be made known about Planet X! The reason for not announcing it is due to religious beliefs it would cause the world to go into physiological panic. It was discovered by NASA probes Pioneer 10 and 11 and was announce on the Paul Harvey news cast as a possible 10th planet but when our government realized the implications of an incoming body which has its unique elliptical orbit around two suns.

It has turned into a national security issue, our government knows and is afraid of panic.  The whole story of planet X (Nibiru) one of many names for Planet X comes from ancient clay tablets 4000 BC describing a tenth planet and its life on it. They were called The Anunnaki which means in Summerian language they who came from heaven to Earth.  They taught us math, building techniques, farming and etc.

The Summerian land is where IRAQ is now.  The word NIBIRU means planet of crossing.  It has a history or else I would take this as all BS.  These Anunnaki were giants they were 8 to 10 feet tall.  They used the inhabitants to dig for gold they needed for there atmosphere.  I believe in UFOs and the possibility that these aliens was the cause of all religions. This is what our government is afraid of us finding out the real truth.’

          Response:There is no known Planet X or 10th planet in our solar system. Scientists have been looking for about a hundred years. It was believed that such a planet was required to explain the orbital characteristics of the outer planets Uranus and Neptune.

Many searches have been performed and, to date, no evidence of such a planet has emerged. In addition, better information about the masses of outer planets has also now shown that no other planets are necessary to explain the planetary orbits.”



Table of Contents

  • The Islamic State Is the God That Failed in the Middle East
  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s risky gamble could quickly turn sour
  • Syria: Turkish ground troops enter Afrin enclave
  • Turkey: A Perennial Ememy
  • Amazon’s automated grocery store of the future opens Monday
  • ‘Don’t retweet Donald Trump and don’t use his language’
  • Contrite Facebook executives seek to ward off more European rules
  • German city bans new refugees as anti-migrant mood increases
  • Fierce battle erupts over releasing intelligence report
  • Cancer blood test ‘enormously exciting’



The Islamic State Is the God That Failed in the Middle East

January 21 2018

by Murtaza Hussain

The Intercept

“The revolutionary’s Utopia, which in appearance represents a complete break with the past, is always modeled on some image of the lost Paradise, of a legendary Golden Age,” wrote Arthur Koestler in a 1949 essay on his painful disillusionment with the Soviet Union. Koestler was a Hungarian communist intellectual who had been passionately committed to the cause, but later rebelled against the party over Joseph Stalin’s abuses. His essay was part of a collection of writings called “The God that Failed,” published by disaffected communists who had been forced to grapple with what appeared to be the failure of their revolution, as it veered into Stalinism.

“It [is] true that in the face of revolting injustice the only honorable attitude is to revolt, and to leave introspection for better times,” Koestler reflected. “But if we survey history and compare the lofty aims, in the name of which revolutions were started, and the sorry end to which they came, we see again and again how a polluted civilization pollutes its own revolutionary offspring.”

Looking back on the Arab Spring revolutions of the past decade, these sorry ends are not hard to find. These revolutions are also commonly judged to have “failed,” after briefly capturing the world’s imagination in 2011 when they first broke out. But the same set of circumstances that led to the uprisings in the first place continue to exist. And the ways in which different revolutionary movements failed are important, with relevant implications looking forward.

Among the revolutionaries there was a democratic trend that included liberal activists, nationalists, and Islamist groups willing to engage in the electoral process. Alongside the democrats was a violent, wildly utopian religious movement launched by groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda that tried to destroy Muslim societies and recreate them as a “caliphate” — an imaginary community where all the world’s Muslims would ostensibly live happily-ever-after under the rule of jihadis.

The democratic movements were largely crushed by the brutal response of local dictators. The jihadis, meanwhile, briefly managed to achieve a version of their caliphate, only to see it destroyed in a final cataclysm. But while the core idea that animated the Arab democrats continues to be attractive despite its repression, the utopian project of the jihadis has been undermined in critical ways by its failure.

Not only did the jihadis lose in their grand confrontation with local regimes and the international system — a confrontation that they repeatedly promised that God would not let them lose — their brief attempt at implementing their ideal society was stained by an unforgettable litany of crimes and disasters. Rather than inaugurating a new Golden Age of strength and security, the idea of a “caliphate” today looks like just another modern radical movement that promised a new paradise on earth, before violently destroying itself and its adherents.

The defeat of the Islamic State might ironically be a letdown for some in the West. Western politicians, military officials, and their assorted hangers-on in the media and think tank world have already begun planning for a long war against “global jihadism,” an analogue to the Cold War that would justify their inflated budgets and provide a continued sense of purpose. Unlike communism or nationalism, however, there’s little indication that apocalyptic jihadism as an ideology is attractive or sustainable enough to meaningfully compete with Western democracies in the way that those ideologies did. Diehard Islamic State sympathizers may continue committing individual acts of terrorism for the foreseeable future and mini proto-states pledging allegiance to the group will still proliferate, but the rapid rise and fall of the caliphate demonstrates an important lesson about the fundamentally self-destructive nature of millenarian movements.

In his 1962 book, “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of Germanic Ideology,” the German-American historian Fritz Stern described the ideological project that gave birth to Nazism in terms eerily portentous of the Islamic State. “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future,” Stern wrote. “They sought a breakthrough to the past, and they longed for a new community in which old ideas and institutions would once again command universal allegiance.”

In the end, the Nazis’ attempt to recreate an idealized past led to disaster and humiliation, and the Islamic State, too, is poised to go that way. With the immediate crisis posed by the group having mostly subsided, it’s becoming possible to look at the Islamic State in clearer context. Despite its propaganda and the sensational image portrayed in the Western press, the group was less a harbinger of the apocalypse and more like one of history’s many desperate and fanatical radical movements, burning quickly and brightly before settling into a pile of ash. Understanding the depths and reasons for the Islamic State’s failure — how it fizzled out — might be the first step to preventing another group like it from again gaining a hold on the world’s collective imagination.

Understanding the depths and reasons for the Islamic State’s failure might be the first step to preventing another group like it from again gaining a hold on the world’s collective imagination.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh has had closer experience with the brutality of the Islamic State than most. A longtime Syrian democratic activist and native of Raqqa, Saleh lived through the Syrian uprising and is the author of “The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy.” In 2013, Saleh’s brother Feras was kidnapped by Islamic State militants. The same year, his wife, Samira Khalil, was detained along with three other well-known activists by a separate group of Islamist militants near Damascus. None have been heard from since.

Saleh has a unique perspective on Salafi jihadism, the radical religious ideology that drives the Islamic State and similar groups, borne in part from his experience of the group’s rise. Rather than a traditional religious ideology or political movement capable of appealing to broad segments of society, Saleh says that the harsh, unrealistic, and self-defeating nature of jihadism alienates all but a fringe.

Instead of a return to traditional values, Saleh describes Salafi jihadism as the latest iteration of a quintessentially modern phenomenon: nihilism. A philosophy with its roots in 19th century Europe, nihilism denies that the material world and life itself hold any intrinsic value or meaning. While nihilism does not inevitably lead to violence, its world-denying tenets helped inspire numerous campaigns of terrorism by its adherents. In Europe, where atheism had already become normative, local expressions of nihilism were atheistic. But in Muslim-majority societies like Syria, nihilism “looks for its pillars of support in the religion of Islam,” Saleh says.

The nihilism analogy goes deeper into the practices of groups like the Islamic State. Suicide and murder are normally considered to be grave sins by Muslims. But during periods of widespread crisis and trauma, radical groups like the Islamic State exploit a cognitive opening to try to portray these acts as acceptable, even positive. The religious concept of an afterlife is also twisted to support a nihilistic worldview, by devaluing acts committed in the material world in favor of a promised hereafter.

Yet this radical inversion of traditional values is not one that has shown itself to be appealing to large groups of people in Muslim countries. Rather than a mass movement with deep social and cultural roots, Saleh says that jihadism relies mainly on exploiting conditions of crisis to coerce the support of people who would normally find its tenets repellent.

“Although they can succeed in exploiting the failures of other opposition movements and the hatred of local dictators, the nihilist groups do not have appeal on a popular level. They don’t think in terms of broadening their social base of support or about appealing to wider sectors of the population,” Saleh says. “These groups know very well that they don’t have popular support, which is why when they take over territories they begin killing the local people and hanging their bodies in the streets. They want people to be afraid of them.”

According to the State Department, an estimated 40,000 people are believed to have migrated to Islamic State territory as foreign fighters, from upwards of 100 countries. The number was significant to the battles in Iraq and Syria, but it represents a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, the broad target audience for jihadis’ ideological message. Despite making sophisticated use of new propaganda technologies and having its message amplified by the world’s biggest media outlets, in the end the Islamic State was only able to recruit at the margins of Muslim societies and their diaspora communities.

“The majority of those that left home to join Islamic State were people who had social problems, had been in jail, or were otherwise despised in their own societies,” Saleh says. “Jihadism may have offered a solution for people like this, but it was a solution for individuals — maybe hundreds or even thousands of individuals — but not for whole sectors or classes of people.”

This rational perspective of the threat posed by the Islamic State flew in the face of messages from both sides of the conflict over jihadism, the extremes who both sought to raise the specter of an apocalyptic clash of civilizations. For those purporting to oppose jihadism, this view was massively counterproductive: Instead of treating the Islamic State and terrorism in general as a policing and governance problem, cultural and political pathologies in the West contributed to a distortion and magnification of the jihadist threat that has proven very helpful to the jihadis in building their own mystique.

“There is a lot of attention to jihadism because it feeds into the narrative of the U.S. global war against terrorism and because Western media and politicians are generally obsessed with Islam. But I don’t think we should be deceived by this — we are not talking about a civilizational conflict here,” says Saleh. “These are armed groups that combine religion with military training and fascist educational indoctrination. But they are mainly concerned with violence. They do not have any meaningful social, political, or cultural base, nor do they offer any real emancipatory potential for Muslim societies.”

In a videotaped address given in 2014 from Baghdad’s historic Al Nuri Mosque, the Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that his group had reinstated the “caliphate,” a medieval form of Islamic governance that predominated in the region before the emergence of nation-states. It was a declaration that touched on a long history in the Muslim world. The office of the caliphate was first created during the seventh century, at the time of Islam’s founding, and continued to exist in symbolic form in Istanbul until 1924, when it was abolished by Turkish nationalists.

Despite the global attention that their inflammatory proclamation received, it was never clear what the Islamic State actually meant to convey with the announcement of a “caliphate.” The medieval caliphates were not utopian dreamlands of peace and prosperity, nor did they claim to be. The real-world caliphates were fairly standard political entities of their time; they made alliances with Christian kingdoms, had minorities living in their territories, and were sometimes led by caliphs who indulged in wine, poetry, and other worldly pursuits.

The Islamic State also did not bother explaining how their caliphate was going to solve the problems of the people they claimed to represent. Instead, like other modern radical movements of the past century, Baghdadi simply proclaimed the revival of a past Golden Age and told his followers that supporting the group would be a panacea for their ills. In their hysterical propaganda, the Islamic State promised that it would soon “eliminate the grayzone” — a reference to the area of peace and cohabitation between peoples — triggering a clash between Muslims and non-Muslims worldwide.

Despite the provocative violence and rhetoric, the caliphate failed to achieve any of its goals. From the accounts of those now emerging from its rule, life under the Islamic State was a dystopian nightmare. And instead of fighting imperial “crusaders,” the group spent most of its time killing other Muslims and local minority communities who opposed it. Although the level of terrorist violence the group inspired was enough to disturb Western societies, it was far from what was needed to follow through on the promise of crippling or destroying the Western world.

For the people of Middle Eastern countries who rose up several years ago against local dictators in particular, exchanging the brutality and incompetence of their old leaders for the brutality and incompetence of the jihadis hardly seemed like an attractive proposition. The Islamic State’s global recruitment call succeeded in attracting many zealots and the group’s leaders were able to win the allegiance of some local tribes in Iraq and Syria. But ultimately the fantastical promise of a caliphate was not enough to make up for the complete lack of any other appealing ideological program.

“ISIS faces the same problems that the non-jihadi militant groups do, which is that they don’t actually have any proposals about how to tackle the real problems — socioeconomic, political, and generational — that Muslim communities around the world face,” says Chris Anzalone, a research fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center International Security Program and an expert on contemporary jihadi movements. “In many ways, they actually mimic the regimes that they claim to reject — they just Islamize the language around their governance. And, in general, when they take over areas from local regimes, they do a worse job than the people they are replacing.”

Even when trying to appeal to people for whom “purely” theological questions take precedence over economics or politics, the Islamic State had a serious problem: While many Western media outlets were glad to accept the group’s propaganda about its religious legitimacy, for many conservative Islamists, the caliphate appeared as an alien and unorthodox intrusion into their religion. It was a political project that, like every other attempt to create a heaven on earth, was radically modern in nature. Instead of an ideological alternative to the West, the Islamic State behaved more like a negative image of Western modernity, the object of its obsession.

“While recognizing that it draws on historical and medieval elements, the idea of a caliphate is in its entirety a modern idea,” says Anzalone. “The [jihadi’s] self-definition and structure is almost entirely predicated on a reaction to modernity; they mimic the nation-state down to their idea of what they are [and] what are they not. It’s not just Islamic State but Al Qaeda as well: Everything that they propose is simply a reaction to the West, the secular nation-state, and the international system.”

The depraved and voyeuristic nature of the Islamic State’s violence begins to make more sense in this context. The religion of Islam generally contains rules and prescriptions on violence, including, for example, the proscription on burning people with fire, as the Islamic State notoriously did to a Jordanian pilot who it captured in 2014. But, in the Islamic State’s ideology, these religious rules became secondary to what was by far its most important concern: antagonizing and horrifying Westerners. Even the group’s adapted slogan — “Die in your rage” — reflected this all-consuming preoccupation.

German cultural historian Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, whose writings later helped create the basis for the Nazi movement, counseled a similar ideology based on rejecting modernity, antagonizing “the West,” and even embracing self-destruction as a political strategy.

“Our calling is to be an irritation of the spirit to the people of comfort,” Moeller van den Bruck declared in 1924, writing about the purifying power of violence and suicide in terms that might as well have come from today’s jihadis. “Our miracle will be: when we, to whom it has been intimated that we should annihilate ourselves, will achieve out of our revolutionary suicide, our political rebirth.”

The desperate and nihilistic ideology inspired in part by Moeller van den Bruck’s thoughts briefly succeeded in creating a mass following in 20th century Germany, the place where it was first articulated. In its Islamic expression, similar ideological proclivities have gained limited traction, reaching a fever pitch in the Islamic State, which was defeated militarily with much greater ease than Nazism. Yet even if jihadi ideology falls out of fashion following its recent failures, stabilizing the Middle East and guaranteeing that such movements do not arise in the future requires addressing the root causes of why militancy — both jihadi and non-jihadi — has been endemic to the region over the past century.

Since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the end of Western colonial mandates in the Middle East, this region has seen an endless stream of militant movements arise. These movements have been variously leftist, nationalist, and Islamist in orientation. The emergence of the Salafi jihadis in recent years is only the latest in this succession of ideologies that have all attempted to do one fundamental thing: solve the problems of the underdeveloped masses of Middle Eastern countries.

“There is an interesting effect that, when the left and the nationalists are eliminated or marginalized from Muslim public discourse, it is the radical religious groups, with some exceptions, that get to claim the mantle of being anticolonial and anti-imperial,” says Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University. “A few decades ago, even passionately Muslim intellectuals were also leftists and socialists. But when these leftist movements were persecuted and destroyed, people had to turn elsewhere for help when they felt the power of muscular Western militarism encroaching on their land, culture, and values.”

Unlike the xenophobic and world-denying nihilism of Salafi jihadism, leftist politics in the past century actually offered solutions to many of the problems facing people in postcolonial countries. Despite the eventual corruption and defeat of most regional communist parties, many of these movements, in contrast to the jihadis, also succeeded in producing genuine intellectuals around the world who were capable of expressing a crisis of conscience over the crimes committed in their name.

While the movements were not morally equivalent, sometimes the intensity of the conversion experience for jihadi recruits and former communist revolutionaries were not dissimilar. Arthur Koestler described his initial belief that Soviet communism would liberate the oppressed masses of Europe as a feeling of “mental rapture,” in which “the new light seems to pour from all directions across the skull [and] the whole universe falls into pattern like the stray pieces of a jigsaw.” The euphoria of that conversion was equaled only by the pain of his eventual disillusionment.

“Though we wore blinkers, we were not blind,” Koestler reflected. “Even the most fanatical among us could not help noticing that all was not well in our movement.”

Surveying the destruction of ancient cities like Raqqa and Mosul, and the millions of shattered lives left in the wake of the Islamic State’s failed revolution, it’s hard not see the group, now stripped of its power, as anything other than the latest, most fanatic attempt to remedy the ills of long-tyrannized societies. Although jihadis may be killed and their ideology may even fall out of favor, until the people of the region experience genuine emancipation, there is unlikely to be an end to terrorist violence, nor to radical armed groups promising to bring heaven down to earth by any means necessary.ashington, D.C. January 21, 2018:”


Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s risky gamble could quickly turn sour

Turkish president defies Russia, the US and Bashar al-Assad with assault on Kurds in Syria

January 21, 2018

by Simon Tisdall

The Guardian

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Kurdish vendetta has taken a dramatic new twist with the cross-border ground assault on the Afrin enclave in north-west Syria.

Defying Russia, the US, and Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Turkey’s headstrong president is betting on a decisive victory over Syrian Kurd forces. But his risky gamble could quickly turn sour.

The initial incursion by Turkish troops and their Free Syrian Army (FSA) allies on Sunday, preceded by days of airstrikes and artillery shelling, appeared tentative and limited in scope. The Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, said to number 10,000 fighters in Afrin, is not giving an inch. They are dug in and they are defending the Rojava – the fabled Kurdish homeland.

In 2011, after the Syrian war erupted, Erdoğan adopted the west’s aim of ousting Assad. When Islamic State emerged in Syria and Iraq, Nato member Turkey ostensibly prioritised its defeat. But since 2015, when a ceasefire with Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK) militants broke down, the Kurdish “terrorist threat” emanating from Syria and Iraq has become Erdoğan’s big obsession.

Erdoğan used a failed army coup attempt in 2016 to justify a crackdown on pro-Kurdish political parties, whose elected leaders remain in jail. He also cut a de facto deal with Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, accepting their Syria agenda. In return, they acquiesced in Erdoğan’s first big Syria incursion in 2016.

For Erdoğan and likeminded nationalists, the idea of an autonomous or independent Kurdish entity stretching from northern Iraq to Turkey’s Hatay province in the west, and potentially embracing parts of south-east Turkey, is an existential nightmare. Preventing it has eclipsed other considerations. Now the president is chancing his arm again.

Erdoğan’s big problem, Kurdish resistance aside, is that none of the big players support him. He was obliged to send officials to Moscow last week to obtain Russia’s agreement. Even so, the Russian foreign ministry expressed serious concern on Sunday.

Russia has pulled back its ground forces to prevent accidental clashes. But it still controls the airspace over Afrin and could step in at any time. Assad is furious with Erdoğan, and so too, presumably, are his puppet-masters in Iran. Damascus has threatened to hit back militarily – especially if Erdoğan pursues his threat to advance east towards Manbij, another Kurdish stronghold.

All three – Iran, Assad and Russia – would rather have the Kurds controlling swaths of northern Syria than Isis, similar Salafist groups or US-backed, anti-regime rebels such as the FSA. They are meanwhile promoting their own self-serving plans for a post-war settlement. Erdoğan’s maverick behaviour could jeopardise that.

Erdoğan is also at odds with the Trump administration, and not for the first time. There are longstanding tensions over perceived past Turkish ambivalence towards Isis, Nato use of Turkish air bases, visas for Turkish citizens and Erdoğan’s claims that the 2016 coup was masterminded from the US by an exiled cleric.

The US refusal to end its backing for the YPG, which it regards as an effective ally against Isis and against the next big threat, a resurgent al-Qaida, has driven relations to breaking point. Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, made matters worse last week with an open-ended commitment to maintain or increase the US military presence in Kurdish-held areas of Syria.

A US plan to train a 30,000-strong border force comprising the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, an FSA rival, seems to have sent an already livid Erdoğan over the edge. Tillerson later claimed Washington’s intentions had been misunderstood, and the Pentagon and the State Department made conciliatory noises on Sunday.

But Erdoğan is unbending. Rightly or wrongly, he sees northern Syria as Turkey’s number one security challenge. He also appears, yet again, to be dealing the “Kurdish terror” card to a domestic audience. Turkey’s leader is now almost totally isolated internationally – but appears not to care.


Syria: Turkish ground troops enter Afrin enclave

January 21, 2018

BBC News

Turkish ground troops have crossed into northern Syria, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowing to crush Kurdish fighters “very quickly”.

The Kurdish YPG militia says it has repelled Turkish troops in Afrin, and is shelling Turkish border areas.

Turkey considers the YPG a terrorist group, but it forms a crucial part of a US-backed alliance battling Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria.

The US has urged Turkish “restraint” in order to avoid civilian casualties.

Turkish troops, accompanied by pro-Turkey rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have already advanced some 5km (3 miles) into Syrian territory, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the aim was to establish a 30km (19-mile) “safe zone” deep inside Syria.

But a spokesperson for the YPG, Nouri Mahmoudi, said the group had managed to repel Turkish troops and they were “forced to retreat”.

Some 25,000 FSA fighters have joined the offensive on the Turkish side, rebel commander Maj Yasser Abdul Rahim told Reuters. It is not clear how many Turkish soldiers are on the ground.

Turkey’s military said it had hit 45 targets on Sunday, as part of its air and ground campaign.

It earlier said dozens of air strikes had taken out 153 targets belonging to Kurdish militants.

President Erdogan vowed on Sunday to crush the Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – which is outlawed in Turkey.

“Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is under way. Now we see how the YPG… are fleeing in Afrin,” he said. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly.”

He also warned that anyone joining pro-Kurdish protests in Turkey over the operation would pay a “heavy price”. Police later dispersed demonstrators in a number of Turkish cities, including Istanbul, and made several arrests.

Have there been any casualties?

There are reports of fatalities on both sides.

The YPG said at least four Turkish soldiers and 10 Syrian rebel fighters supporting them were killed in clashes on Sunday morning, but there has been no confirmation from Turkey.

The Kurdish group also said eight civilians had been killed in an air strike on a chicken farm in the village of Jalbara on Sunday. This follows at least nine deaths in strikes on Saturday – six civilians and three fighters – though Ankara said they were all Kurdish militants.

President Erdogan vowed on Sunday to crush the Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – which is outlawed in Turkey.

“Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is under way. Now we see how the YPG… are fleeing in Afrin,” he said. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly.”

He also warned that anyone joining pro-Kurdish protests in Turkey over the operation would pay a “heavy price”. Police later dispersed demonstrators in a number of Turkish cities, including Istanbul, and made several arrests.

With America’s backing of the YPG, Turkey’s risky offensive puts Ankara in direct confrontation with its Nato ally, the BBC’s Mark Lowen on the Turkish-Syrian border warns.

There is also a danger that the number of those killed in the Syrian war – estimated to be half a million – will rise again with the opening of this new front, he adds.

The YPG (Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units) joined forces with ethnic Arab militias to form an anti-IS alliance called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been given support by the US.

Turkey, however, believes the group has links to the banned PKK, and has for several months been threatening to clear Kurdish fighters from Afrin and another city, Manbij, which lies 100km away.

Turkey was angered when the US announced it would help the SDF alliance build a new “border security force” to prevent the return of IS. President Erdogan called the border force a “terror army”.

The YPG and SDF deny any terrorist links – a claim backed by the US government.

How have key players reacted?

Western powers, including the US and France, are urging restraint, and the UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency debate on Monday.

“They warned us before they launched the aircraft they were going to do it, in consultation with us. And we are working now on the way ahead,” US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on Sunday.

“We’ll work this out,” he added.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad condemned the incursion on Sunday, saying “the brutal Turkish aggression” on Afrin was part of Ankara’s policy of “support for terrorism” in Syria.

Russia – a key ally of President Assad – also said it was concerned by the news, and withdrew some of its troops based in the area.

Moscow will demand Turkey halt its military operations at the UN meeting, according to Russian senator Frants Klintsevich, who is the deputy chairman of the defence and security committee.

Iran, another Syria ally, called for a quick end to the operation “to prevent a deepening of the crisis” in the border region between the two countries.


Turkey: A Perennial Ememy

January 21, 2018

by Christian Jürs

The killing of large numbers of Armenians who lived within the Ottoman Empire and its successor Turkish state in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From 1915 to 1920, more than a million Armenians died as the result of executions, massacres, starvation, and other repressive measures, and many fled to the United States and other countries.

The most recent move by the Turkish government in this regard was for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of the main opposition party Deniz Baykal to hold a press conference in March 2005 inviting Armenian historians to meet with historians from Turkey to find out what happened, and called on Armenia to open its archives. This was met with a response from the Armenian Foreign minister that the world already knew what happened, and that Armenia’s archives were always open.

Turkey has never established diplomatic relations with Armenia and has closed its land borders with Armenia. Armenia has declared repeatedly it is ready for relations and an open border without preconditions but denied to withdraw its own troops from occupied Azerbeidzan. Turkey claims that it would support the occupation of Nagorno-Karabagh by opening his borders.


Amazon’s automated grocery store of the future opens Monday

January 21, 2018

by Jeffrey Dastin


The Seattle store, known as Amazon Go, relies on cameras and sensors to track what shoppers remove from the shelves, and what they put back. Cash registers and checkout lines become superfluous – customers are billed after leaving the store using credit cards on file.

For grocers, the store’s opening heralds another potential disruption at the hands of the world’s largest online retailer, which bought high-end supermarket chain Whole Foods Market last year for $13.7 billion. Long lines can deter shoppers, so a company that figures out how to eradicate wait times will have an advantage.

Amazon did not discuss if or when it will add more Go locations, and reiterated it has no plans to add the technology to the larger and more complex Whole Foods stores.

The convenience-style store opened to Amazon employees on Dec. 5, 2016 in a test phase. At the time, Amazon said it expected members of the public could begin using the store in early 2017.

But there have been challenges, according to a person familiar with the matter. These included correctly identifying shoppers with similar body types, the person said. When children were brought into the store during the trial, they caused havoc by moving items to incorrect places, the person added.

Gianna Puerini, vice president of Amazon Go, said in an interview that the store worked very well throughout the test phase, thanks to four years of prior legwork.

“This technology didn’t exist,” Puerini said, walking through the Seattle store. “It was really advancing the state of the art of computer vision and machine learning.”

“If you look at these products, you can see they’re super similar,” she said of two near-identical Starbucks drinks next to each other on a shelf. One had light cream and the other had regular, and Amazon’s technology learned to tell them apart.


The 1800-square-foot (167-square-meter) store is located in an Amazon office building. To start shopping, customers must scan an Amazon Go smartphone app and pass through a gated turnstile.

Ready-to-eat lunch items greet shoppers when they enter. Deeper into the store, shoppers can find a small selection of grocery items, including meats and meal kits. An Amazon employee checks IDs in the store’s wine and beer section.

Sleek black cameras monitoring from above and weight sensors in the shelves help Amazon determine exactly what people take.

If someone passes back through the gates with an item, his or her associated account is charged. If a shopper puts an item back on the shelf, Amazon removes it from his or her virtual cart.

Much of the store will feel familiar to shoppers, aside from the check-out process. Amazon, famous for dynamic pricing online, has printed price tags just as traditional brick-and-mortar stores do.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in Seattle; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Rosalba O’Brien


‘Don’t retweet Donald Trump and don’t use his language’

While Donald Trump’s tweets are routinely attacked as false, this often only helps to spread his message, says cognitive linguist George Lakoff. So DW asked him how to best respond to the US president’s fiery language?

January 21, 2018

by Michael Knigge


DW: You argue that many well-meaning people including journalists completely ignore the latest findings in the field of cognitive and brain science when they try to refute the falsehoods routinely tweeted or uttered by President Donald Trump. Can you explain what you mean?

George Lakoff: Language activates an idea and a circuitry in your brain. And the result of that is every time a circuit is activated, its synapses get stronger. So the more you hear certain things, even if you just hear and understand them, the circuitry gets stronger.

I wrote a book called “Don’t think of an elephant” — which makes you think of an elephant. Or when Nixon said “I am not a crook” everybody thought of him as a crook. Why? Because in order to negate something you have to activate it in your brain first which makes it stronger. So every time you deny something overtly using the language of the person you are trying to contradict, you are actually helping that person.

This was shown on research about the way Russia and “Islamic State” (IS) do their communications. Their basic principles are: Repetition. And the reason that works is you are activating your brain circuits more and strengthening them. Secondly, frame the idea. Russia and IS know that if they say this is how the world is and it goes into your brain then it has to be overturned before you tell another version. Thirdly, induce attacks, which means get other people to attack you which of course strengthens you because you again have to activate what they said first in your brain before you can negate it. This is a general idea and Trump uses this all the time.

Are you suggesting we should then not try and refute Trump’s falsehoods if that only helps him?

No, I am not saying don’t refute them. I am saying you don’t refute them by repeating his language and repeating his claims. You refute them by undermining them, you refute them by understanding what you are doing and saying the opposite in positive terms not in negative terms.

Each of Trump’s tweets is a strategy. He has four strategies. One, frame first, meaning get your understanding of the situation out there. Two, divert attention from things you don’t want people to pay attention to, for example by attacking somebody else. Three, attack the messenger or assign blame to someone else and deflect it away from you, for example the press. Four, launch a trial balloon and say something outrageous, an extreme version of what you believe to see what the reaction is and if it isn’t too bad you are in the clear.

Those are the four strategies that he uses and he uses one or more of them every time he tweets. All tweets fall under those categories.

So how should we react when Trump sends out one of his many agenda-setting tweets?

What you do first is understand what the tweet is doing and what he does not want you to hear. Often there is some actual real news, real truths that he doesn’t want you to hear. He wants to control the media. The media should not let him control them. You are not puppets — cut the strings.

So you are saying people should not retweet Trump’s tweets and use his language?

Yes, don’t retweet him and don’t use the language he uses. Use the language that conveys the truth. Truths are complicated. And seasoned reporters in every news outlet know that truths have the following structure: They have a history, a certain structure and if it is an important truth, there is a moral reason why it is important. And you need to tell what that moral reason, with all its moral consequences. That is what a truth is. Reporters have to say those truths. And then if he says something that is false or is trying to deflect from it you report it in a sentence or two and then you go back to the truth.

You might report the tweet, or not, in a very short sentence and then you go back to the real news and state that what he wanted to do was not get you to think about the real news and here it is. Speak the real truth that he doesn’t want people to hear before you report any tweet.


Contrite Facebook executives seek to ward off more European rules

January 21, 2018

by Eric Auchard and Douglas Busvine


MUNICH (Reuters) – Facebook executives are fanning out across Europe this week to address the social media giant’s slow response to abuses on its platform, seeking to avoid further legislation along the lines of a new hate speech law in Germany it says goes too far.

Facebook’s communications and public policy chief used an annual meeting in Munich of some of Europe and Silicon Valley’s tech elite to apologize for failing to do more, earlier, to fight hate speech and foreign influence campaigns on Facebook.

“We have to demonstrate we can bring people together and build stronger communities,” the executive, Elliot Schrage, said of the world’s biggest information-sharing platform, which has more than 2 billion monthly users.

“We have over-invested in building new experiences and under-invested in preventing abuses,” he said in a keynote speech at the DLD Munich conference on Sunday.

In the United States, lawmakers have criticized Facebook for failing to stop Russian operatives using its platform to meddle in the 2016 presidential elections, while Britain’s parliament is looking again at the role such manipulation may have played in Britain’s Brexit vote to leave the European Union.


German city bans new refugees as anti-migrant mood increases

January 20, 2018

by Barbara Woolsey, Berlin

The Telegraph/UK

An eastern German city has imposed a temporary ban on new refugees in an effort to stem a number of recent violent incidents.

Cottbus, about 120 kilometres southeast of Berlin, has been rocked by violence from refugees and right-wing extremists since the start of this year.

Earlier this week, Brandenburg state police reported that two male Syrian teenagers were arrested under the suspicion of injuring a German teenager in the face with a knife.

The 16-year-old sustained non life-threatening injuries in what started as an altercation between Syrian and German school acquaintances near a tram station.

The incident happened just days after a group of three Syrian asylum seekers, aged 14, 15 and 17 years old, attacked a man and his wife outside a shopping centre, according to a police statement. The 15-year-old was handed a “negative residency permit” by authorities, effectively ordering him and his father to leave the city.

Cottbus, a small university centre with a population of just over 100,000, has taken in around 3,000 asylum seekers since German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders in 2015 at the height of the refugee crisis.

Coupled with a sluggish economy, the considerable influx has fuelled anti-immigrant sentiment among locals, and the city is home to one of Germany’s largest right-wing extremist scenes. Authorities counted 145 right-wing radicals living in Cottbus last year.

A community group told local media that a group of neo-Nazis had assaulted refugees on the morning of New Year’s Day, while last weekend a group of around 100 masked neo-Nazis marched in an illegal demonstration through the city centre.

Brandenburg’s state interior minister Karl-Heinz Schroeter told German broadcaster RBB on Friday that the ban on new refugees would be in effect “for the next few months”.

The city will also take further safety measures including increased video surveillance of a central downtown square, a larger presence of both uniformed and plainclothes police officers, as well as adding 10 new social worker positions throughout local schools.

A Cottbus police spokesperson told The Telegraph that officers were being deployed on daily foot patrols of the city from late afternoon to evening “for as long as it serves its purpose… at least over the next two weeks”.

Cottbus is not the first German city to impose a refugee ban.

Last year the towns of Salzgitter, Delmenhorst and Wilhelmshaven in the northern state of Lower Saxony implemented a prohibition.

Local governments said at the time they lacked the capacity and resources to properly integrate more new arrivals.



Fierce battle erupts over releasing intelligence report

January 19, 2018

by Katie Bo Williams and Jonathan Easley

The Hill

A battle erupted Friday over a push by Republican lawmakers to release a report they say will reveal high-level government abuse around the federal investigation into possible ties between Trump campaign officials and Russia.

Even as Congress hurtled toward a shutdown, Republicans in the House were buzzing over the contents of a classified memo on alleged surveillance abuses that was produced by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Scores of Republicans viewed the controversial memo in secure settings at the Capitol and concluded it contains hard evidence that the special counsel investigation into whether Trump’s campaign officials had improper contacts with Russia were sparked by the politically motivated actions of senior FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials.

GOP lawmakers described the document as the catalyst that would unravel what they view as a vast conspiracy to undermine President Trump.

“It’s alarming. … You all need to see it,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “More importantly, the American public needs to see it. What the FBI did is just as wrong as it can be.”

Some Republicans speculated that the memo could provoke criminal prosecutions, or at the very least, that it would lead to the firings of those involved.

“They need to be held accountable,” said Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.).

Democrats dismissed the findings as a desperate partisan attempt to smear the FBI and muddy the waters around what they view as a legitimate investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to the Kremlin. Lawmakers described them as “talking points,” “misleading” and in some cases, “lies.”

For now, it remains a mystery what allegations — or proof — the highly sought memo contains. Members of both parties were tight-lipped about the details of the four-page document, which they signed a waiver to view that barred them from discussing the contents.

Members of both parties described the memo as a top-line summary they say is backed up by classified documents and interviews they were not allowed to see.

“There’s no one that can talk about this with any degree of knowledge if you weren’t in the Gang of 8, because we haven’t seen the documents,” said committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), referring to a core group of congressional leaders with higher-level security clearances. “Nobody has.”

Because the underlying material supporting the memo’s conclusions is highly classified, Democrats noted, the document cannot be taken as proof of the allegations it contains.

“I think the whole political purpose of this is to make a misleading case to the public, perpetuate the president’s political narrative, but not let the public see the underlying materials that would show just how distorted it is — I think that’s by design,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

“The problem is, we can’t point out the inaccuracies without relying on the underlying material,” he said.

And even as GOP lawmakers declared the Russia investigation would be exposed as a ruse, some Republicans on the Intelligence Committee sought to temper expectations.

“I don’t think that there’s anything you’re going to see in that memo that’s going to be a surprise,” said Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.). “It’s what we believe based on what we’ve researched.”

“It is what you think it is,” Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) said.

Several GOP members hinted heavily that the document confirms long-held Republican suspicions that FBI officials inappropriately obtained a surveillance warrant to spy on the Trump transition team.

There is rampant speculation on the right that law enforcement officials used an opposition research memo — paid for in part by Democrats and once described by former FBI Director James Comey as “salacious and unverified” — to obtain the warrant to spy on Trump officials during the campaign and transition.

“It’s not what the FISA warrant said that’s at issue, it’s what it didn’t say, what the FISA court didn’t hear that is the disturbing part of why the memo was made available to the rest of members of Congress,” Rooney told The Hill.

“What our members needed to see was the truth of how that warrant came about. I don’t think that we’ve seen anything that the court was aware of what kind of document the dossier was,” he continued, referring to the clandestine court that reviews and approves surveillance warrants.

“But we certainly feel like the people that requested the warrant did, and that’s a problem,” he said.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee who is running the panel’s investigation into Russian interference, suggested that the committee of jurisdiction over FISA would need to weigh in “with legislation related to this if that’s necessary for the fix.”

“This is a serious deal and it needs to be dealt with,” Conaway said. “The Judiciary Committee has to take a good look at what’s going on because they have responsibility for the broader FISA piece.

“Our committee doesn’t have the jurisdiction for the fix. We just found the problem.”

He noted that the document did not raise concerns related to Section 702 of FISA, which Congress recently extended for a further six years. President Trump signed the bill on Friday.

Former bureau officials say fears that the dossier was used as the basis for a FISA warrant reflect a misunderstanding of the law.

One former senior official who worked on national security issues noted that, in general, the application for a surveillance warrant involves several layers of authentication of information, suggesting that if any of the information from the dossier were used in an application, it would have been corroborated. Justice Department lawyers often modify orders based on feedback from the court — and they must show probable cause that the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.

CNN and The Washington Post reported in the spring that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant in the summer of 2016 to monitor campaign adviser Carter Page.

Republicans have also sought to draw attention to text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which privately disparaged Trump. Strzok had a lead role in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified material while she was secretary of State, and both were on Mueller’s Russia investigation team before being reassigned.

And there are questions about Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official, and whether he and his wife had close ties to Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that compiled the Trump dossier.

“That’s why the document needs to be made public, so everyone can see and make these determinations,” said Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio).

Nunes has dealt with questions about his credibility, and his legacy as Intelligence Committee chairman could hang on the impact the memo has if it is released.

“My prediction is that after causing completely unnecessary chaos today, this memo will be released in some redacted [form] in a few weeks and prove to be an utter embarrassment to Nunes personally, the [Intelligence Committee] majority, and frankly to US House of Representatives,” Susan Hennessey, a former attorney in the Office of General Counsel of the National Security Agency and current managing editor at the commentary website Lawfare, said over Twitter.

But Republicans rallied behind Nunes, who has recovered some of his credibility on the right since stepping away from the investigation to deal with an ethics inquiry.

“Everyone I’ve talked to in leadership and the GOP conference thinks he’s done outstanding,” said Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas).

Questions remain over the next steps in releasing the document.

A majority of members on the Intelligence Committee would first have to vote to approve making the document public. The president then has five days to issue an objection. If there is no objection, the committee could refer the matter to a vote before the GOP-controlled House.

The committee would be overriding the classification system, not declassifying the document — a power that rests with the executive branch, not Congress.

“This provision of the rules has to be dusted off. It hasn’t been used since the committee was formed,” Conaway said.

Nunes declined to tip his hand Friday, telling reporters only that he would not discuss committee business. Sources close to Nunes said he had not decided on a course of action.


Cancer blood test ‘enormously exciting’

January 19, 2018

by James Gallagher

Health and science correspondent

BBC News

Scientists have taken a step towards one of the biggest goals in medicine – a universal blood test for cancer.

A team at Johns Hopkins University has trialled a method that detects eight common forms of the disease.

Their vision is an annual test designed to catch cancer early and save lives. UK experts said it was “enormously exciting”.

However, one said more work was needed to assess the test’s effectiveness at detecting early-stage cancers.

Tumours release tiny traces of their mutated DNA and proteins they make into the bloodstream.

The CancerSEEK test looks for mutations in 16 genes that regularly arise in cancer and eight proteins that are often released.

It was trialled on 1,005 patients with cancers in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, colon, lung or breast that had not yet spread to other tissues.

Overall, the test found 70% of the cancers.

Dr Cristian Tomasetti, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the BBC: “This field of early detection is critical.

“I think this can have an enormous impact on cancer mortality.”

The earlier a cancer is found, the greater the chance of being able to treat it.

Five of the eight cancers investigated have no screening programmes for early detection.

In some cases, the test also provided information about the tissue-of-origin of the cancer – but not all.

Pancreatic cancer has so few symptoms and is detected so late that four in five patients die in the year they are diagnosed.

Finding tumours when they could still be surgically removed would be “a night and day difference” for survival, said Dr Tomasetti.

CancerSEEK is now being trialled in people who have not been diagnosed with cancer, which will be the real test of its usefulness.

The hope is it can complement other screening tools such as mammograms for breast cancer and colonoscopies for colorectal cancer.

Dr Tomasetti said: “We envision a blood test we could use once a year.”

Universal test?

The CancerSEEK test, reported in the journal Science, is novel because it hunts for both the mutated DNA and the proteins.

Increasing the number of mutations and proteins being analysed would allow it to test for a wider range of cancers.

Dr Gert Attard, team leader in the Centre for Evolution and Cancer at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, and consultant medical oncologist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, told the BBC: “This is of massive potential.

“I’m enormously excited. This is the Holy Grail – a blood test to diagnose cancer without all the other procedures like scans or colonoscopy.”He said “we’re very close” to using blood tests to screen for cancer as “we have the technology”.

But he cautioned there was still uncertainty about what to do when a cancer was diagnosed.

In some cases, the treatment may be worse than living with a cancer that is not immediately life-threatening.

Men can already have slow growing prostate cancers closely monitored rather than treated.

“When we detect cancer in a different way, we can’t take for granted that everyone will need treatment,” Dr Attard said.

Early stage cancers

Prof Richard Marais, from Cancer Research UK, said it would take time to prove that it worked as an early diagnosis for cancer – at least five to six years.

“Detecting cancer early, before the disease has spread is one of the most powerful ways to improve cancer survival and this interesting research is a step towards being able to do this earlier than is currently possible.”

Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said more work was needed to assess how the test performs when cancers are less advanced.

He said: “Demonstrating that a test can detect advanced cancers does not mean that the test will be useful in detecting early stage symptomatic cancer, much less pre-symptomatic cancer. The sensitivity for the stage 1 cancers in the study was only 40%.”

And Dr Mangesh Thorat from the Centre for Cancer Prevention, Queen Mary University of London, said it looked promising “but with several caveats”

“A significant amount of further research is needed before we can even contemplate how this might play out in screening settings,” he said.

“This is only a case-control study, and therefore needs further evaluation in large cohorts more representative of general population where such screening might be introduced.”

The cost of CancerSEEK is less than $500 (£360) per patient, which is around the same price as a colonoscopy.


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