TBR News June 14, 2017

Jun 14 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., June 14, 2017:” We are out of the office until June 15. Ed”

Table of Contents

  • Gunman targets Republican lawmakers at baseball practice, several wounded
  • Shooter who targeted Republican congressmen at Alexandria baseball practice has died – Trump
  • James T Hodgkinson: What we know about Virginia suspect
  • GOP Lobby Shop Courts Black and Hispanic Democrats in Vacuum Left by Liberal Establishment
  • Jeff Sessions: a poor, misunderstood man exempt from normal rules
  • ‘Treat Donald Trump like a normal politician who is wrong about everything’
  • ‘Staggering’ loss of civilian life from US-led airstrikes in Raqqa, says UN
  • The Saudi War Against Qatar
  • Kurds Seek to Expand Reach in Northern Syria
  • Destroying a Philippine City to Save It From ISIS Allies

Gunman targets Republican lawmakers at baseball practice, several wounded

June 14, 2017

by Sarah N. Lynch and Ross Colvin


ALEXANDRIA, Va-A gunman opened fire on Republican members of the U.S. Congress during a baseball practice near Washington on Wednesday, wounding several people including senior Republican leader Steve Scalise, before he was taken into custody, police and witnesses said.

Five people were transported medically from the scene in Alexandria, city Police Chief Michael Brown told reporters. Two of the wounded were Capitol Hill police who were at the scene, witnesses said.

Scalise’s office said he was in stable condition and undergoing surgery. President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Scalise was “badly injured but will fully recover.”

Scalise, a representative from Louisiana, is the House of Representatives Majority Whip, making him the third-highest ranked member of the Republican leadership in the House.

In a dramatic account of the shooting, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama said the shooter, who appeared to be a white man, was armed with a rifle.

Brooks told CNN he saw the man only for a second, and that he was shooting from a chain link fence behind the third base position on the field.

“There must have been 50 to 100 shots fired … I hear Steve Scalise over near second base scream. He was shot,” said Brooks, adding he helped apply a tourniquet with his belt to a congressional staffer who was shot in the leg.

“One of our security detail was shooting back, but it was our pistol versus the shooter’s rifle,” Brooks said. “The only weapon I had was a baseball bat.”

Republican Senator Jeff Flake told local ABC-TV Scalise was shot in the left hip. Flake said the gunman was shot.

The Republican lawmakers were at an early morning practice ahead of an annual baseball game against Democrats that was scheduled to be played on Thursday.

“It’s pretty well known in the neighborhood who those folks are on the baseball field,” Brooks said. “It’s not a secret we are practicing … He was going after elected officials.”

Scalise’s position as whip means he has the difficult job of trying to keep order in the fractious party ranks and rounding up votes for bills.


David Miller, who saw the shooting, described a scene in which some players were far enough away from the gunman to run for shelter, while others were pinned down in the middle of the ball field.

“There was absolutely no shelter. They were in the middle of the ball park,” he said. “They can’t run. If they get up they are a target.”

Trump, a Republican, said in a statement that he and Vice President Mike Pence were monitoring developments closely.

Democrats were also practicing for this week’s game at another field at a different location, CNN reported.

Reba Winstead lives across the street from the parking lot of the park where the shooting occurred.

“I was on my front porch and that is when I heard the first round of shots. There was about a dozen shots. There was a pause. Then there was more shooting. I called 911.”

Gabby Giffords, the last member of the U.S. Congress to be shot, was seriously wounded in a January 2011 assassination attempt at a gathering of her constituents in Tucson, Arizona. She survived, but six people were killed. Giffords resigned from Congress and became an activist for gun restrictions.

“My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day,” she said in a Twitter message.

(Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Kieran Murray; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

 Shooter who targeted Republican congressmen at Alexandria baseball practice has died – Trump

June 14, 2017


Four people were injured when a gunman opened fire on US congressmen at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. House of Representatives Majority Whip Steve Scalise is among the injured. The shooter later died in the hospital.

“The assailant has now died from his injuries,” President Donald Trump said in a statement around 11:30 am local time on Wednesday. Earlier, police had said that the suspect was in custody and “not a threat.”

Trump called Scalise (R-Louisiana) a “patriot and a fighter,” and thanked the Capitol Police for their heroic actions in stopping the shooter. He also addressed the possibility that the attack may have been politically motivated.

“We may have our differences, but we’d do well in times like these to remember that everyone that serves in our nation’s capital is here because above all they love our country,” Trump said.

All votes scheduled for Wednesday in the House of Representatives have been canceled. President Trump also canceled this afternoon’s speech at the Department of Labor.

A 911 call about an active shooter came in around 7:09 am local time, Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown told reporters, adding that his units responded within three minutes.

The FBI is taking the lead on the investigation, but will work with state and local authorities, Special Agent Tim Slater said. It is “too early to say” if this was an act of  political terrorism, he added.

“It’s not an assassination attempt,” Slater said at first, but walked that comment back when asked for clarification, saying, “we are not sure at this moment.”

Injured officers were in “good condition,” said Capitol Police Chief Matthew Verderosa, adding that they “acted heroically.”

Governor Terry McAuliffe commended the heroic actions of Capitol Police and Alexandria officers, adding, “There are too many guns on the streets.”

Scalise was in stable condition and undergoing surgery, his office said in a statement earlier on Wednesday. Shortly after 11 am, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Scalise was out of surgery and “doing well.”

One congressional aide, two police officers, and the gunman are also among the injured, according to reports. Officials declined to confirm or deny that information.

While none of the officials at the press conference would give details on the injured or the shooter, the Washington Post cited law enforcement sources to identify the attacker as James T. Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Illinois.

Fox News reporter Chad Pergram says a gunman armed with a rifle attacked the group near a YMCA, firing dozens of shots. Alexandria is just south of Washington, DC.

Chief Brown said five people were taken to hospital following the incident, but declined to identify the victims or the suspect.

Scalise is currently the Majority Whip in the US House of Representatives and represents Louisiana’s 1st congressional district.

Speaking on CNN, Representative Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) said Scalise was shot with a semi-automatic weapon. Brooks said he saw a man with a gun “blasting away.” Scalise’s Capitol Police security detail returned fire.

Rep. Brooks reportedly used a belt as a tourniquet to stop Scalise’s bleeding.

This is the first time a member of Congress has been shot since 2011, when Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Arizona) survived an assassination attempt at a town hall in Tucson.

White House Press secretary Sean Spicer said on Twitter that both President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are aware of the “developing situation”.

There are also reports that two police officers who were hospitalized after the shooting are also stable.

Scalise and other members of Congress were practicing for a charity baseball game scheduled for Thursday. Reuters is reporting that 15-25 lawmakers were at the baseball field when the attack occurred, along with a dozen staff members and security personnel.

The annual congressional baseball game, which sees senators and congressmen from each party face off against one another, has been a tradition since 1909. It will not be canceled or postponed, CNN reported citing congressional sources.

Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Florida), who left the scene moments before the shooting, told Fox News that a man walked up to him as he was walking to his car and asked if it was “Republicans or Democrats out there.”

Congressman Mark Walker (R-North Carolina), told NBC News it seemed the “gunman was there to kill as many Republican members as possible.”

Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Michigan) told WWJ radio that he witnessed Scalise being shot: “He was a sitting duck.”

A witness told journalist Will Drabold that he heard a “wave of gunfire” and saw 10-15 people flee the field. He said he also saw men returning fire from behind what looked to him like a federal vehicle.

The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely,” President Trump said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) was also at the baseball field. Speaking to MSNBC, he said “it would have been a massacre” if the Capitol Police security had not been at the scene.

Scalise, 51, has been a congressman since 2008. His leadership position among congressional Republicans means that he is entitled to a security detail.

US Capitol Police released a statement to congressional offices saying that they have deployed a “robust” police presence throughout the Capitol complex. However, they said that all buildings within the area are open in accordance with routine operations.

James T Hodgkinson: What we know about Virginia suspect

June 14, 2017

by Jessica Lussenhop

BBC News

James T Hodgkinson died after allegedly exchanging gunfire with police at a baseball practice for Republicans in Virginia. Who was he?

Multiple US media sources have identified Hodgkinson as the man police believe shot and wounded congressman Steve Scalise and injured three others. He was carrying an assault rifle and a pistol, according to authorities.

Five people were taken to Washington DC-area hospitals and President Donald Trump himself revealed in a national address that Hodgkinson had died.

He has been identified as a 66-year-old man from Belleville, Illinois, which is a small city just across the Mississippi River from the city of St Louis, Missouri. He was self-employed until recently and worked as a home inspector.

Michael Hodgkinson, the suspect’s brother, told the New York Times that James had become upset about the election of Mr Trump and had moved to the Washington DC area “out of the blue” to protest

Hodgkinson’s criminal record in St Clair County, Illinois, shows many traffic violations, along with more serious charges of battery and causing bodily harm in 2006, though those charges were dismissed.

According to court documents, the 2006 altercation took place after Hodgkinson tried to retrieve a 16-year-old girl believed to be his daughter from her friend’s house.

The officer who responded wrote in his report that the girl, a student who resided with Hodgkinson and his wife, said he dragged her by her hair and beat her, then sliced into her seatbelt with a pocket knife and choked her after she tried to drive away.

He also allegedly shot at one of her friends with a 12-gauge shotgun and punched another 16-year-old girl in the face.

According to local authorities, the 2006 charges against Hodgkinson were dropped after the victims failed to appear in court.

According to ABC News, Hodgkinson’s wife told the network that her husband moved to Virginia two months ago.

A Facebook account that appears to belong to Hodgkinson is filled with anti-Republican and anti-Trump posts, as well as expressions of support for former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

An acquaintance of the suspect confirmed that he had campaigned for Mr Sanders during the election.

Mr Sanders, a Vermont senator, commented that he was “sickened by this despicable act” and condemned Hodgkinson’s actions.

Local media also unearthed a 2012 photo of Hodgkinson protesting outside a downtown Belleville post office holding a sign that read, “Tax the Rich”.

The Belleville-News Democrat also compiled his letters to the editor in 2012, when he railed against conservative tax policies and praised President Barack Obama.

“God bless the 99 percent,” he concluded one letter.

 GOP Lobby Shop Courts Black and Hispanic Democrats in Vacuum Left by Liberal Establishment

June 14 2017

by Ryan Grim

The Intercept

CGCN Group, a Republican lobbying firm with ties to the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus, has formed a new strategic alliance with four Democratic firms that work closely with the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses. The odd quintuple said that despite wildly diverging politics on a slew of issues, they all have one thing in common: high levels of poverty back home.

“Despite their ideological differences, members of the CBC, CHC, and conservative Republicans represent districts that need the most help jump-starting their local economies,” according to a memo drafted to explain the budding partnership. “Most of these districts have at least 20 percent of their populations living below the federal poverty line and are in desperate need of jobs, transportation infrastructure, outside investment, energy, and economic development.”

Jennifer Stewart, of Stewart Strategies & Solutions, one of the Democratic groups involved in the partnership, cited “transportation infrastructure, nutrition programs, education, and criminal justice” as potential areas the crew could work together. “The opportunities are limitless.”

Entrenched, generational poverty has bred universal anger at Washington, Wall Street, and other elite institutions, which establishment Democrats have yet to figure out how to channel, according to the memo. That creates an opening for Republicans looking to exploit class politics, while using Democratic identity politics as leverage. The preponderance of white faces at Democratic lobby shops, meanwhile, puts such firms at a disadvantage in challenging the attack.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservative Republicans, was ready with praise for the new partnership.

“The biggest problems facing our country demand solutions that transcend partisanship,” Walker said in a statement to The Intercept. “Whether it’s inter-generational poverty, national security crises, or criminal justice reform, we must bridge traditional political and cultural divides to find lasting resolutions with buy-in from all sides.”

At the height of the Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, Clinton built her critique of Sanders on the argument that issues of class and the economy should not dominate the agenda and divert the focus from racism and sexism.

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton asked at one rally during the primary. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow — and I will, if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will — would that end racism?”

“No!” shouted the mostly union audience.

“Would that end sexism?”


“Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”


“Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”


Clinton was tilting at a straw-man. Sanders never pretended that breaking up the banks would end racism, but now that the Democrats’ class vs. race debate has moved from the hot-take corridors of the internet over to K Street, corporate America has a way to leverage the salience of liberal identity politics toward its own ends.

The new lobbying partnership takes this Clinton argument in a direction she was unlikely to have intended: Since breaking up the banks won’t end racism overnight, let’s not focus on breaking up the banks. Instead, let’s find areas where we agree.

A source at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told The Intercept the lobbying powerhouse was aware of the new effort and “supportive of anything that gets policymakers from both sides together to talk about how we can do more to grow the economy and create jobs.”

The partnership may be a new one — and, unusually, public — but the strategy is not. In recent years, bank lobbyists have sought out members of the CBC to co-sponsor deregulatory measures, hoping that the caucus’s imprimatur can mark bills as OK for progressives to support.

And corporate America has long relied partly on identity to lobby Congress. Different firms tend to specialize in their ability to lobby different factions, typically as a result of having partners who previously worked on Capitol Hill for someone in a particular orbit. A company looking to influence the CHC, for instance, might turn to Velazquez & Associates, one of the four Democratic firms in the partnership. CGCN has built much of its practice around an ability to reach the Freedom Caucus, but it also has close ties to House Republican leadership.

A partner at CGCN, Sam Geduldig, was a top aide to former House Speaker John Boehner. Geduldig has spent years blasting Democrats both publicly and privately for their lack of diversity on K Street, in leadership positions and in the Senate, going so far as to give money to then-Rep. Donna Edwards’s failed bid for the Senate in Maryland.

For Geduldig, the lack of diversity exposes Democrats and, more generally, liberals as hypocrites. As satisfying as the new partnership may be, it could also prove effective, he said.

“If you have minority Democrats and conservative Republicans in support of an issue, whether it is infrastructure, access to capital, or lowering your energy bill, you are well on your way to legislative success,” he said. “This partnership was born out of that concept.”

Jeff Sessions: a poor, misunderstood man exempt from normal rules

Pity the amnesiac attorney general. The Senate intelligence committee is not the first time his good name has been tarnished by ‘appalling lie’

June 14, 2017

by Richard Wolffe

The Guardian

Jeff Sessions is an oft-misunderstood man. Time and again, he has found himself the innocent victim of dishonorable accusations that he, a plainly honorable southern gentleman, should never have to suffer. Time and again, he has been afflicted by mysterious memory loss that renders him incapable of recollecting important facts about his own honorable conduct.

Time and again, his many critics fail to understand his selfless commitment to the law, to

Anyone watching Sessions testifying before his former Senate colleagues – as he liked to call them, before they hurled all kinds of calumnies in his direction – was surely shocked by how often the attorney general has had to endure such indignities.

Who could expect this fine man to live by the common standards of recusal? It’s quite outrageous to think that recusal from the Russia investigation means he had to recuse himself from firing someone for the Russia investigation.

The normal rules do not apply to Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

“It is absurd, frankly, to suggest that a recusal from a single specific investigation would render the attorney general unable to manage the leadership of the various Department of Justice law-enforcement components that conduct thousands of investigations,” Sessions explained to his plainly clueless former colleagues.

So what if one of those investigations included him, his role in the Trump campaign, and his boss, Donald Trump?

“I recuse myself from any investigation into the campaign for president, but I did not recuse myself from defending my honor against false allegations,” he declared.

This isn’t the first time our hero has suffered the slings and arrows of what he called so memorably “an appalling and detestable lie” on Tuesday.

A few decades ago he was denied his rightful appointment as a federal judge because some other former colleagues accused him of racism.

His deputy Thomas Figures testified that Sessions called him “boy” on multiple occasions and warned him to be careful about what he said to white folks. Figures, who is black, also told how Sessions joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK, until he learned that they smoked marijuana”.

Sessions insisted in his confirmation hearings earlier this year that he was plainly misunderstood as a US attorney in Alabama. “I conducted myself honorably and properly,” he declared. “I did not harbor the kind of animosity and race-based discrimination ideas that I was accused of. I did not.”

Now sometimes you just have to take a gentleman’s word for what happened. Sessions didn’t deny making any of those vile comments, but he did say he’d been quoted out of context.

Which is exactly what our fine, upstanding attorney general was forced to explain all over again on Tuesday. Senator Al Franken had asked what Sessions called “a rambling question after some six hours of testimony” about Trump campaign contacts with Russians

How could Sessions know that Franken meant “contacts with Russians” when he used those words? Once again, this was plainly a confirmation hearing taken out of context.

“I was responding to the allegation that surrogates had been meeting with Russians on a regular basis,” he said. “It simply did not occur to me to go further than the context and to list any conversations that I may have had with Russians in routine situations, as I had many routine meetings with other foreign officials.”

For normal folks, meeting with people on a regular basis is the same as meeting with people in routine situations. But not for Jeff Sessions.

This isn’t the first time Sessions has struggled to tell his side of the story. Back when people were accusing him of racism in Alabama, he admitted he may have called a white civil rights lawyer a “disgrace to his race”.

“Trying to recollect on it the best I can recall was, and I say, well, he’s not that popular around town,” Sessions told senators in 1986. “I’ve heard him referred to as a disgrace to his race.”

A month later, he insisted he had never said any such thing. “I am absolutely convinced that I did not call [him] a disgrace to his race, and I did not acknowledge it in any form.”

Why this great man finds himself so often ensnared in such confusion remains a puzzle.

Recently, he told a conservative radio host that it was incredible that some Hawaii judge could overturn his boss’s travel ban on Muslims. “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power,” Sessions said.

That island in the Pacific may be a state with the same statutory and constitutional position as Alabama. But the words of Jeff Sessions were once again being taken out of context.

“Nobody has a sense of humor any more,” he told ABC. “I wasn’t criticizing the judge or the island,” he told CNN. It’s almost like you can’t tell KKK jokes any more. What is this country coming to?

It’s true that Sessions has moments of memory failure, but the good news is that when confronted with reality, he has immense powers of recall. Even though he initially forgot about meeting the Russians a couple of times, when a reporter asked about those meetings, “we immediately recalled the conversation,” he told the senators. “I never intended not to include that.”

As for a third meeting in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Sessions cleared up the confusion in the same way his boss is draining the swamp. “I would have gladly reported the meeting and encounter that may have occurred, and some say occurred in the Mayflower, if I had remembered it, or it actually occurred, which I don’t remember that it did.”

So that’s straight, then.

Trust Kamala Harris, another Democratic senator with lots of pesky questions, to fail to recognize the deeply honorable nature of our amnesiac attorney general. As she peppered him with questions about whether he communicated with any Russian nationals, Sessions almost let it slip that he might have met a few at the Republican convention. Then he quickly tried to qualify his words to the point of meaninglessness.

“I’m not able to be rushed this fast,” he complained. “It makes me nervous.”

The truth can make you feel nervous. Especially when you’re not the man you think you are, if you actually ever were, which you don’t remember saying you were.

‘Treat Donald Trump like a normal politician who is wrong about everything’

Democrats need to win back Trump supporters by fixing their own mistakes instead of taking potshots at the president, a US studies scholar told DW. He also explains why Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were out of touch.

June 14, 2017

by Michael Knigge


DW: You argue that US President Donald Trump is less an anomaly than commonly thought. This may sound strange to many people who have observed him and his behavior not just during the campaign but also since becoming president. Why do you think that?

Christopher Newfield: A lot of his positions on policy matters are the same as the right-wing of the Republican Party. His gender attitudes, his antagonism towards abortion – he is now trying to defund Planned Parenthood, which not only provides abortions but also provides basic birth control for low-income people. His interest in privatization using public money to give to private contractors to renew our infrastructure, appointing a Wall Street banker, who profited quite a bit from the housing crisis in 2008/2009, as secretary of the treasury for example. He is very Republican mainstream in the content of the views.

I think what people are shocked by is the way that he promulgates the views, the publicity style, that is quite shocking. It is reality television, not standard politics. He personalizes and makes aggressive his form of address in a way that is really unusual in a Republican Party that sees itself more as establishmentarian. But what is really important for people to realize is that the content is not so un-Republican.

Recent voting analysis shows that not just white, working-class people supported him, but so did many white middle-class and affluent whites. What does that tell you?

It tells me that he is a mainstream Republican and that he is going to cut taxes on the rich and that he is going to take things away from middle class and lower-income people. That’s what the repeal of Obamacare is. His health care plans is called “wealth care” by some people because it pulls about $800 billion over the next 10 years out of the health care system and gives it to upper-income people in the form of tax cuts.

If Trump’s support in the election went beyond the often mentioned disadvantaged white people who were simply desperate enough to vote for someone who promised to shake up the system what does this mean for our picture of him and of his voters?

There is an inseparability in the US of racial issues and economic issues, which are class issues. There is a lot of anxiety about the changing demographics in the country. My state, California, is basically minority-majority. Whites are basically a minority and what used to be called minority groups now together are actually the majority in the state. That is happening, more slowly, everywhere in the country. There is a sort of discomfort with demographic change.

Perhaps 15 percent of whites in the country hold white supremacist views. But you don’t become president by just getting those people. There are also folks that are not necessarily racist, but what I would call racially anxious and they are uncomfortable with changing racial ratios. They see immigration from Latin American in particular and to some extent from Asia as economically threatening.

There is also an economic tie to the anti-immigration views that Trump voters had. One thing that really differentiated Trump voters from Clinton voters is how hostile they were to immigration, especially from Latin America. If you thought this was a major issue, you were much more likely to vote for Trump than for Clinton. That too has an economic dimension.

At the sort of bottom or lower-middle class, there are trade skills that you used to be able to raise a family on 30 or 40 years ago and you can’t anymore, for instance being a dry-waller or being a carpenter or working at some level in unskilled manufacturing. Those wages are no longer living family wages. A lot of white folks blame immigration for that. They blame immigrants instead of blaming business owners or the business system, capitalism, as such, which is the structure that created this race to the bottom in terms of wages.

This means if you are a contractor you basically can’t compete with other contractors unless you are paying people only $8 (7.10 euros) an hour to do drywall, which you can best do if you have a lot of undocumented folks coming in, who don’t have any choice but to take what you are paying. If you connect the economic and the racial issues together and see them as interconnected, you see that the Trump vote makes somewhat more sense.

The other big picture is that the Democrats had the White House for eight years and the economy really recovered well for banks and it really recovered well for mergers and acquisitions and lawyers and it recovered really well for doctors and engineers. But people who work in agriculture or construction, people who have small businesses outside the big metro areas – they never recovered.

A lot of those people never got their houses back. Their kids are unemployed living at home or they are working only 30 hours a week for $8-$10 an hour. They are looking at Obama up there saying we need more trade agreements and that it has been a great recovery and they are saying, “This guy is out of touch.”

Then when Hillary Clinton runs, sort of under the Obama umbrella, and she says essentially the same thing and uses these vague phrases like “I am going to invest in you.” People just hear another Democrat who is going to favor well-educated people, city people, and also people of color over the heartland folks who aren’t as attractive and well-educated and in the mix as these Democratic university people.

I think a lot of this is not that Trump was so clever, but that the Democrats were so dumb. They used to say, “It’s the economy, stupid” and they forgot. Hillary Clinton did not stand up there and say, “Donald is not going give you jobs, he is going to give tax breaks to his rich friends, but I am going to give you jobs and here are the two things that I am going to do to make that happen.”

So when she said “I am going to invest in you,” it sounds like, “Oh, you are going to send my kid to a job training program for a technology that is already five years out of date.” It just doesn’t add up. The evidence for this happening is that the base for Democrats did not turn up. A lot of what happened is not that Trump did so swell, but Clinton just didn’t turn out her core people.

What would Democrats need to do differently to appeal to those people who voted for Trump now?

I think they have to do two things at once.

They have to significantly differentiate themselves from Republicans on foreign policy and interventionism. One of Trump’s popular positions was “I am not going to be out there intervening everywhere.” And, of course, one of the first things he did was shoot cruises missiles at Syria. It is not like he is actually going to do what he said. But people did like what he said, which was we are going to take care of our own, we are going to build our bridges, we are not going to build Iraqi bridges. Selfish, but it worked.

Democrats have to do a version of that – big infrastructure and jobs programs. Democrats have to go back – or forward – to a version of Roosevelt: “Here is a $100 billion and everyone in northern Wisconsin is going to have some kind of job, our commitment is full employment. And in the longer term we will figure out some kind of retraining program, but first everybody is working.”

Then on the economy they have to do what people sort of denigrated as populist. They have to drop the university-type of arguments in favor of trade, the abstract stuff about balance of payments and the skills gap and how we just naturally have a value chain where manufacturing just has to go to China because the laws of economics. They need to chuck that and say we are going to figure out how to have good jobs here and we are going to set all of our university economists on the full employment chain and not the outsource your job to another country chain, which is what the Democrats have been doing for 25 years.

Do you think Democrats are on track to do what you just outlined?


Because the Clintonist wing of the party still controls the national party. The fact that they have lost 1,000 legislative seats in the states while Obama was in office is less important for that group than that they retain control of the national party. You can tell that I am a bit more on the Bernie Sanders side of things. There needs to be some kind of discussion and reconciliation. But what they are doing instead – because it’s so fun and easy – is taking potshots at Trump.

The real disaster is if they spend the next two years leading up to congressional elections in 2018 doing what they did during the campaign, which is to say that Donald Trump is unfit for office. He has to be treated like a normal politician who is wrong about everything, but not like a pathological person that you need to call medical attendants to take away.

Christopher Newfield is a professor of American studies and literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.

‘Staggering’ loss of civilian life from US-led airstrikes in Raqqa, says UN

War crimes investigators say US-backed campaign to reclaim Syrian city from Islamic State has led to at least 300 deaths

June 14, 2017

by Kareem Shaheen

The Guardian

UN war crimes investigators have denounced a “staggering loss of civilian life” caused by the US-backed campaign to reclaim Raqqa, the de facto capital of Islamic State.

The independent commission of inquiry tasked with investigating violations of international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria said the intensification of airstrikes by the United States-led coalition had led to the deaths of at least 300 civilians in the city.

The Raqqa operation began last week with a ground assault by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an umbrella group comprised of Kurdish and Arab militiamen armed by the US, and supported by coalition airstrikes.

They have already pushed into Raqqa from the east and west, reportedly approaching the old city walls. Citizens have reported intense combat in areas of the city.

“We note in particular that the intensification of airstrikes, which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa, has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life, but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced,” Paulo Pinheiro, chairman of the UN commission of inquiry, told the human rights council in Geneva.

Karen Abuzayd, an American commissioner on the independent panel, said: “We have documented the deaths caused by the coalition airstrikes only and we have about 300 deaths – 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village.”

The civilian cost of the campaign was highlighted last week when footage emerged of coalition planes deploying white phosphorus in the city, which is home to tens of thousands of civilians, prisoners of war, enslaved Yazidi women, and a few thousand Isis militants.

“The imperative to fight terrorism must not, however, be undertaken at the expense of civilians who unwillingly find themselves living in areas where Isil is present,” Pinheiro added, using an alternative acronym for Isis.

Human Rights Watch urged the coalition separately on Wednesday to exercise great caution when using white phosphorus, saying it could cause “horrific and long-lasting harm” in crowded cities like Raqqa, and that such powerful incendiary munitions should never be used in populated areas.

The use of white phosphorus drew strong condemnation last week, and raised concerns that the coalition was not taking adequate precautions to protect civilian lives.

While the success of the campaign would free civilians in Raqqa from the yoke of Isis, many face the prospect of death by coalition airpower or because of their use as human shields by the militants, a common tactic in their defence of their stronghold in Mosul across the border. Some 18% of people in Raqqa province have been displaced in the campaign to retake the city, according to UN figures.

“As the operation is gaining pace very rapidly, civilians are caught up in the city under the oppressive rule of Isil, while facing extreme danger associated with movement due to excessive airstrikes,” Pinheiro told reporters.

People living in Isis areas are also subject to inconsistent screening procedures to determine if they are sympathisers with the militant group.

Those who do survive or flee also face uncertain prospects of survival, owing to the limited access to the area for humanitarian organisations. Turkey to the north has refused to allow much aid to flow across the border and into areas controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia, which is part of the SDF, because Ankara considers it a terrorist group affiliated with its own Kurdish insurgency.

The UN has also had limited access to the area owing to restrictions on their movement. By contrast, before the campaign to reclaim Mosul, aid organisations were able to set up camps to house tens of thousands of displaced people.

On Wednesday, aid groups described the gruelling and daunting challenge they faced to respond to the humanitarian crisis in and around the city. A key problem is getting aid supplies to the relatively remote desert region, with just a trickle of assistance currently crossing from neighbouring Turkey and Iraq.

“There is supply but it’s very, very limited and the needs of the population are very high,” said Puk Leenders, emergency coordinator for northern Syria for Médecins Sans Frontières.

The UN’s World Food Programme said it had delivered one month’s supply of food for 80,000 people in Raqqa, Deir Ezzor and Hasakeh provinces in north and northeast Syria, but said this “offered limited capacity and was insufficient to meet all needs”. .

The Saudi War Against Qatar

Who was behind the hacking of Qatar’s News Agency?

June 14, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


What in the name of Allah is going on with the spat between Qatar, on one side, and the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates, and most of the rest of the Arab states on the other? Accusations that Qatar is the fulcrum of “terrorism” in the region, emanating from Riyadh and Abu Dhabi – the twin epicenters of Islamic extremism on earth – seemed to have been broadcast from Bizarro World. And the incident that sparked the controversy — in which much of the Arab world, led by the Saudis, blockaded tiny Qatar — added the extra-hot spice of cyber-espionage to an already indigestible dish.

Shortly after President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he announced his “anti-terrorist” initiative, the web site of the Qatar News Agency, run by the Qatari government, was hacked. A “fake news” story was posted by the hackers, purporting to describe a speech given by the current Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he called for better relations with Iran, praised Hamas and Hezbollah, and predicted that Trump’s term in the White House would be short.

Despite the Qataris’ claim – since verified by the FBI, according to Qatar’s foreign minister – that the Qatar News Agency site had been hacked, and that the Emir had given no such speech, both the Saudis and the UAE, through their official media outlets, launched a campaign targeting Qatar. Overflight rights were revoked: diplomatic contacts ended: Qatar citizens were forbidden to enter Saudi/UAE territory even to change planes. And in a public statement delivered in the rose garden of the White House President Trump clearly sided with the Saudi/UAE consortium, complementing a series of remarkably stupid tweets that basically said the same thing.

The US news media managed to get a Russian angle on all this, claiming that “Russian hackers” were behind the targeting of the Qatar News Agency: as usual they offered no evidence for this assertion. Yet just who was behind this hacking incident seems crucial to understanding the real genesis of – and motive behind – the Qatar controversy, which could augur a new regional crisis possibly dragging in Iran.

So let’s look at the timeline in the context of yet another hacking incident, this one involving the hotmail account of Yousef Al-Otaiba, the UAE’s well-connected ambassador to the US. The hackers, who call themselves “GlobalLeaks,” released a tranche of emails between Al-Taiba and individuals connected to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD). The Foundation is a pro-Israel thinktank originally called “Emet: An Educational Initiative, Inc.,” founded in 2001 by a group of pro-Israel billionaires and designed to blunt growing American sympathy for the Palestinians. FDD has since expanded its mission, under chief honcho Clifford May, to encompass a full-scale projection of Israeli propaganda in the US. The Otaiba-FDD emails reveal extensive cooperation between the ostensibly ultra-Islamic UAE – which, like its Saudi allies and much of the Arab world, has never recognized the state of Israel — and the staunchly Zionist FDD. (See some of the emails here, here, here, and here.) A great deal of the back and forth is between FDD general counsel and former Bush era National Security Advisor John Hannah and Mr. Al-Otaiba.

The emails detail FDD’s efforts to show Al-Otaiba that UAE companies doing business with Iran need to be sanctioned: a “target list” is included. The correspondence also details plans for a June 11-14 meeting with FDD personnel and UAE political and military officials, including the ambassador, FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz, and former US defense secretary Robert Gates. And most significantly, on the agenda was “discussion of possible U.S./UAE policies to positively impact Iranian internal situation” including “political, economic, military, intelligence, and cyber tools” designed to “contain and defeat Iranian aggression.”

Hmmmm… “cyber tools,” eh?

Now add to the timeline this reporting by the New York Times:

“[T]hree days after the Trump meeting in Riyadh, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies held a conference in Washington dedicated to criticism of Qatar, titled ‘Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Global Affiliates.’

“Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary and a friend of Mr. Otaiba, gave the keynote. Attendees included many of the authors of the critical op-ed articles and senior Obama administration officials. Organizers encouraged Mr. Otaiba to attend, and his staff sent Abu Dhabi, the Emirati capital, a detailed report.

“No representative of Qatar was invited. The hack of the Qatari news agency took place after midnight that night.”

What a coincidence!

As this piece in the Washington Post puts it, the speculation that “Russian hackers” under Russian state control are behind the Qatar hack is “unlikely.” Emails from the hackers bearing Russian “(.ru) addresses seem designed to put detectives off the trail. The Post piece avers that hackers-for-hire were the responsible parties, but the ques

Which leads us to a larger question: who benefits? Clearly both the Saudis and the Israelis – whose semi-clandestine alliance has been documented in this space – had everything to gain from this intra-Arab spat. United by fear and hatred of Iran, Riyadh and Tel Aviv have been quietly cooperating to unite the Sunni Arabs against Iran – and draw the United States into open conflict with Tehran. Both abhorred and denounced the Iran deal, and are seeking to actively undermine it: that’s another item at the top of the FDD/UAE meet up.

Another factor is the relationship between Mr. Al-Taiba and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a powerful figure in the administration: the ambassador has been described as Kushner’s “mentor” when it comes to schooling him on all matters Middle Eastern. Kushner, for his part, is a strong advocate for Israel.

There are no innocents, no “good guys” in this part of the world: the reality is that all of these Middle Eastern actors have been subsidizing terrorist outfits, in Syria and elsewhere. The Saudis are perhaps the worst offenders: their worldwide network of radical Wahabist mosques and “educational” outfits has been pushing a terrorist agenda for decades. The UAE has also been a lucrative source of funding for radical Islamic terrorism, notably in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while Qatar has not been stingy in this regard, its stance has been notably non-sectarian: while they’ve given support to the Muslim Brotherhood – perhaps the least radical Sunni organization – they are also capable of sending official congratulations to recently re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This is their great “sin” in the eyes of the Saudi-led Sunni Axis: they have tried to mediate the Sunni-Shi’ite religious war, which threatens the entire region with the kind of bloody turmoil that occasioned Europe’s Thirty Years’ War between Catholics and Protestants.

The idea that Qatar is solely responsible for the growth and development of Middle Eastern terrorism is laughable on its face: that narrative simply won’t stand even the most careless scrutiny. And the proposition that Saudi Arabia is any kind of anti-terrorist bulwark is a cruel joke. That the Trump administration is taking this line is absolutely criminal: it amounts to appeasing and succoring the epicenter of radical Islamic terrorism.

The crazy notion that Iran is the world’s leading exporter of terrorism is a page right out of the Israeli-Saudi playbook: for the Trump administration to echo this nonsense contradicts the facts and contravenes American interests in the region. For it is the Saudis who have been funding and arming ISIS, and al-Qaeda, in Syria. And the Israelis have openly proclaimed their preference for ISIS over Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. It is radical Sunni fundamentalists, not pro-Iranian Shi’ites, who have been conducting a global jihad against American and European targets. Iran is fighting ISIS in Syria – while the US in bombing Syrian government troops, the main obstacle to the ISIS/al-Qaeda forces.

The Saudi-Qatari conflict has all the hallmarks of a joint Saudi-Israeli operation, complete with cyber-hacking, a full-scale propaganda war, and a clueless Uncle Sam stupidly falling for a brazen deception. What’s amazing is that, despite the plethora of evidence that the whole thing is a pretty transparent put up job, the usual suspects continue to get away with it.

Kurds Seek to Expand Reach in Northern Syria

The offensive to take Raqqa back from Islamic State has begun. Kurdish fighters are leading the charge in the hopes of eliminating the Islamist scourge — but they are also hoping to expand their power in northern Syria.

June 14, 2017

by Christoph Reuter


The chirping of a few birds can be heard, but they are instantly drowned out by the squawking of the radio. “Clara to Guevara, come in please! Guevara! Here, Clara base. Please come in!” If you keep listening, Rosa Luxemburg also reports — as Clara Zetkin continues waiting for Che Guevara.

It sounds as though the revolutionary idols of a bygone era have arranged for a reunion in the ether — in the middle of the steppes of northern Syria not even 10 kilometers from Raqqa, which in January 2014 became the first large city conquered by Islamic State (IS). It is also the only city the radical Islamist group still controls — in contrast to Mosul, Iraq, where IS is now holed up in one last neighborhood of the city center.

It is the end of May and Kurdish fighters are preparing for the assault on Raqqa. It still doesn’t sound much like war here, but jihadist radio traffic — in which they used to regularly announce their intention to slaughter all infidels — has become more sporadic, says a Kurdish radio operator. “They’re too concerned about being geo-located and by the airstrikes by the Americans,” he says. He then tries once more to reach Che Guevara. “We love revolutionaries,” he says before listing a number of them. He pauses and, without being asked, says: “Stalin isn’t among them!”

Men and women in camouflage walk through the courtyard of the farmstead they have seized while pickups disguised with mud take munitions and meals to the front lines and bring exhausted fighters back to camp. Men and women sit smoking in the shade of the terrace, most of them armed with Kalashnikovs.

Just a few days ago, they were still slowly approaching Raqqa, but on Tuesday of last week, the long-planned, large-scale attack on the most important Islamic State bastion in Syria began. Several units conquered areas in the city’s eastern outskirts last week, including most recently the al-Mashlab district. It is a motley group that has assembled to drive out IS. Officially, they all belong to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a military alliance that was founded in October 2015 with the aim of bringing together Arabs and Kurds.

In addition to SDF insignia, though, one can also see the shoulder patches of other Kurdish militias and, on occasion, the Syrian flag with three stars, the symbol of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), some units of which joined the SDF. Around a tenth of the fighters are Arabs, with the rest comprised of Syrian Kurds. Several of the officers and specialists don’t even understand Arabic and, aside from Kurdish, speak only Turkish.

Omnipresent Öcalan

There is only one logo that is missing completely: that of the tightly organized fighting force that looms over everything here in northern Syria, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Founded in 1978 as a Marxist-tinged separatist group in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, it has managed over the decades to create an effective power apparatus that exerts it’s influence far beyond Turkey’s own borders.

All groups are under the control of the same Kurdish leadership that has holed up in the expansive Qandil Mountains since the 1990s, from where they provide military and, of particular importance, ideological training to volunteers from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. All of them revere PKK founder Abdullah “Apo” Öcalan, who has been locked away on the Turkish prison island of Imrali since 1999 and whose portrait is omnipresent.

Gigantic images of Öcalan hang behind officers’ desks at headquarters while many fighters wear tiny portraits as an amulet around their necks. A silhouette of the PKK founder is stuck to the windshield of the military pickup as we bounce along hardly recognizable roads on the way to the front. “We have stay on track no matter what,” says our female driver. “There are mines.”

IS lays them everywhere: in the sand, hidden in artificial rocks, in wells, door thresholds, generators, toilet doors and even corpses. Sometimes the detonations are triggered by almost invisible filaments, others are set off by pressure or movement sensors. A mine somewhere is almost sure to go off after every heavy shower. “It always happens after rain when mud is splashed onto their sensors,” the driver says. “You can’t make any false step!”

For Kurds on the Syrian side of the border, the brother of the imprisoned PKK leader founded a Kurdish party and military arm in 2004, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG. Since 2011, the party and its militia have demonstrated significant flexibility as they seek to negotiate the convoluted Syrian civil war. First, the YPG entered into a tacit agreement with the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad according to which the Kurdish force would refrain from participating in the rebellion. In return, they were allowed to take control of all Kurdish regions of Syria in 2012 without a fight. Then, when IS besieged the Kurdish enclave of Kobani in 2014 — only failing to conquer the city due to help from the U.S. Air Force — YPG became a perfect partner for U.S. President Barack Obama’s Syrian strategy. Obama wanted to fight IS, but not Assad, something that Syrian rebels refused to agree to. YPG, though, proved a willing partner.

Tenacious Ignorance of Reality

Since then, the Kurds have joined forces with both the U.S. and Russia. Among those forces assembled under the SDF umbrella, they are the only American ally worth mentioning. They receive air support, weapons and ammunition deliveries and battlefield assistance from U.S. Special Forces, which have several bases in Kurdish-controlled areas. In tenacious ignorance of reality, U.S. generals praise the Syrian YPG as their most reliable ally — while in the same breath pledging Turkey their support in the fight against the terrorists of the Turkish PKK.

Turkey, meanwhile, has sidelined itself since 2012 with its focus on fighting the Kurds. For years, Ankara allowed IS supporters to cross the Turkish border to Syria unhindered because Islamic State targeted the Kurds. But IS ultimately became the world’s Enemy No. 1 and the U.S. lost trust in its NATO ally.

Öcalan’s pliable military, meanwhile, soon had the strongest military in the world on its side — a ludicrous ascendency, and one which, if the party leadership has anything to say about it, isn’t over yet. The Raqqa offensive, though, is an advance into foreign territory for the Kurds. That’s why their use of revolutionary names from the past to refer to battlefield positions also has a practical reason: “We aren’t familiar with the villages here at all,” says the officer next to the radio operator prior to the launch of the offensive. “Few of us have ever been in this area.”

The SDF front line to the west, north and east of Raqqa stretches kilometer-for-kilometer through the gently undulating steppe-land in an endless chain of modestly sized outposts. Hardly any of them are larger than a dozen fighters, sometimes nestled in an apricot orchard, other times on the roof of a farm building, protected by a sniper surveying the surrounding area while lying on a foam mattress — armed with a self-made, 1.5-meter-long weapon called a Zagros, which can fire large-caliber, 12.7 mm ammunition at a distance of up to 2 kilometers.

Every outpost commander has a tablet with a constantly updated map of skirmishes. Mines are cleared from every new position. Reconnaissance teams or those who recently fled provide a rough description of the situation at each site: How many IS troops are there and where can they be found? Which paths are mined? Are there tunnels?

One Step in a Larger Conflict

U.S. Special Forces, which operate just behind the front, occasionally fly camera drones to keep an eye on the IS side of the front. Several units then advance in a pincer movement and, once they have conquered an IS position, they set up camp, defuse mines and blow up tunnel entrances. It has been the same procedure for almost an entire year.

The conquest of Raqqa is just one step in the larger conflict, says a commander who has named herself after Clara Zetkin, the German women’s rights activist and communist who died in Moscow in 1933. “We aren’t just seeking to liberate the country, we also want to change the mentality of the men here. We don’t just want to be a Kurdish women’s organization, but a power for all women in the world! There have been so many revolutions, but nothing has changed.” The diminutive woman in her late 30s speaks of the difficulties of growing up as a woman in an arch-conservative society under Arab and Kurdish influence and says that she is also fighting for their freedom.

The Kurdish project of expansion, though, is not without its shortcomings. It does, in fact, aim to liberate women from the brutal patriarchy of IS. But those liberated go from an oppressive system to an air-tight and cleverly disguised regime of party dominance. And the more powerful the Kurdish fighters become, the more rigorously they pursue this goal. Even as Washington, in early May, officially announced its intention to provide significant military support to democratic forces in Syria, YPG secret service units stormed the last remaining offices belonging to Kurdish opposition parties in Qamishli, the largest city in northeastern Syria, and arrested 11 people.

Even before that, opposition activists in their own ranks were arrested, beaten and deported to Iraq. Their offices were closed or burned down. Demonstrators who protested the arrests were shot. Freedom, it seems, ends where the party’s absolute hold on power is questioned.

The same is true when it comes to the liberation of Raqqa: Only those who display obedience are allowed to take part. The result is that one rebel group — which has fought against IS longer than any other, doesn’t belong to the Islamist camp and took part in extended negotiations for American support — is being kept away from the fighting by force of arms.

“Things actually began quite cooperatively,” says Abu Isa, a leader of Raqqa Revolutionaries’ Brigade who is basically under village arrest in the Kurdish region of Syria. He can receive visitors, but he isn’t allowed to leave. “We set up a joint operations headquarters together with the Kurds, just as we had done with the Free Syrian Army. But following the victory in Kobani, everything changed. The YPG officer with whom we had negotiated our cooperation was transferred and his successor said he knew nothing about it and was just following Öcalan’s orders. The Americans wanted to support us, but they then changed their minds. Sorry, they told us, but our only allies now are the Kurds.”

The final break came when Abu Isa and others demanded that Raqqa be liberated by rebels from the city and that residents be allowed to choose their own city council. “That’s why we took to the streets in 2011, for freedom and rights,” Abu Isa says. Everybody in Raqqa knows, he adds, that the Arabic-Kurdish military alliance, the SDF, is just a guise for the PKK-allied Syrian Kurdish party and its militia, the YPG. “How do the Kurds hope to control Raqqa? It’s an Arab city. It won’t go well.”

But one of the rebels’ weaknesses is now becoming a significant problem. Like Abu Isa, they also took to the streets in 2011, but they had no plan. They were unified by the idea that Assad had to go, but even today, they still don’t have a well-practiced apparatus, an administrative team or resources to replace the state whose dictator they wish to topple. The PKK, on the other hand, has all that in the form of decades of experience as a united, disciplined group that can both conquer and administer. And they have a strategy — for Raqqa as well. And there are several reasons to believe it might work.

‘We Began Hating Islam’

One of those is the fact that the war has displaced fully 100,000 people in Raqqa and its immediate surroundings. There are refugees everywhere and often there isn’t enough room for them in the camps, leaving them to sleep in the steppe with their overloaded pickups and tractors. Tired and afraid, many of them are from Raqqa, while others have been on the run for years — having fled from Assad’s bombs in 2012, been overrun by Islamic State, been taken into custody or been used as human shields. “Our children have had to drink cow urine. We don’t have anything left,” says one father.

“We are from Salamiyah in western Syria,” says another, “and have been on the run for four years, from place to place. When we wanted to flee from Raqqa, IS shot out our front tires. We bought a new tire with the last of our money. Now we are here and the Kurds have been friendly to us.” A third man says that it’s only here that he started praying again. IS “pushed us so far that we began hating Islam, hating prayer. Anything, anything at all, is better than Daesh,” he says, using the local acronym for Islamic State.

Most only managed to escape just a few days ago, with the men often still working on helping each other shave off the scraggly beards that IS forced them to grow. Until recently, the only women they saw were completely veiled in black, from head to toe. Now, they are suddenly encountering female Kurdish fighters in fitted uniforms, Kalashnikovs slung around their shoulders and cigarettes dangling out of the corner of their mouths. It is surprising, they say, “but totally okay, really completely okay.”

No matter what comes after IS, it can only be better. The inordinate violence meted out by the jihadists makes the Kurdish party look almost saintly by comparison. As such, the sense of relief people now feel at being liberated from Islamic State is currently smoothing the Kurds’ path to power.

Manbij, which in summer 2016 became the first large Arab city to be taken by the Syrian Democratic Forces, is governed by a military council installed by the Kurds. When asked who used to administer the city, council co-chairwoman Zainab Qantar answers, “Daesh, of course!” And before that? “Oh, there was a revolutionary council of some sort. But they are all dead, or have disappeared.”

Filling a Political Vacuum

She doesn’t mention that Manbij had a democratically elected city council as early as 2012, made up of lawyers, business leaders and teachers, all of whom fled the advancing Islamic State in 2014. Now, they are being prevented from returning and their homes have been seized.

The economy in Manbij is flourishing. You can find grain, potatoes, fruit and olives along with consumer goods from regime-controlled areas in Syria and from Iraq. Goods are even smuggled in from Turkey. There is bread and electricity and people are even allowed to smoke again. In the self-proclaimed IS “caliphate,” smoking was punished either with lashes or with the breaking of fingers.

Öcalan’s party, with its numerous acronyms, has effectively filled a political vacuum: After over six years of war, perpetual bombing and over three years of IS dictatorship, many people are simply exhausted and prepared to accept any political power as long as it leaves them alone.

The battle for Raqqa has almost nothing to do with the beginning of the conflict, which saw Assad’s troops up against the Syrian rebels. Today, the fragmented groups that grew out of that original conflict are fighting against each other. Islamic State had hoped that it could, with a disciplined and brutal intelligence service and military apparatus, defeat the rest of the world. That plan is failing right now.

The Kurdish party is similarly obsessed with control, but it has taken the opposite approach: It is seeking out cooperation with the West and has exhibited as little brutality as possible. That strategy could result in the control of large swaths of northeastern Syria. “Manbij is our model for Raqqa,” Commander Clara and other officials say openly. Some are even willing to go further: “First Raqqa and then Deir al-Zor,” says one official while attending the funeral of eight fallen fighters.

The town, further to the south, isn’t home to any Kurds at all anymore. But as PKK, with new groups and new acronyms, has established itself in the background as the central power of the Kurdish ethnicity, it has also lost its Kurdish core. The goal is no longer merely the long-propagated establishment of Rojava, a Kurdish state covering western Kurdistan and carved out of what’s left of Syria. Now, the new name for the Kurds’ growing sphere of influence is the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. And a city council is already standing by for Raqqa to take over the administration of the city once it is conquered.

As the party has become more successful, its ultimate goal has become less clear. And perhaps, given the uncertainties of the entire region, it is smarter to avoid having an overly predetermined plan. Or, at least, to avoid communicating that plan.

Still, one young fighter voiced his own enthusiastic version of the future prior to the storming of Raqqa. “We will liberate everyone, first from Daesh and the former Nusra Front, from the FSA and the from the regime, from Hezbollah, from the Iranians. Everybody, out!”

Destroying a Philippine City to Save It From ISIS Allies

June 13, 2017

by Richard C. Paddock and Felipe Villamor

The New York Times

MANILA — Black smoke billows behind lush palm groves. Tanks rumble past graceful minarets. Bullets rain on empty streets.

As the siege of the southern Philippine city of Marawi enters its fourth week, more than 200 people have been killed and much of the city lies in ruins. The strongest attempt yet by supporters of the Islamic State to seize and hold territory in Southeast Asia has turned into an urban street fight in what is now largely a ghost town.

Hastily closed businesses bear signs reading “looters will be shot.” Stray dogs scavenge for food on deserted streets. A light rain on Tuesday added to the feeling of despair.

The Philippine military appears to have adopted a strategy of destroying the city to save it, conducting bombing runs at least twice a day.

The rebels are holding a piece of the city center, controlling checkpoints on several bridges and planting well-armed snipers in some of the city’s mosques. Hundreds of civilians are believed to be in their midst, making the government assault more difficult. Each side claims to have the other boxed in; both seem to be digging in for a protracted battle.

A battle fought house by house

Marawi, a city of 200,000, sits on the shore of Lake Lanao on the island of Mindanao. The Agus River, which flows from the lake, divides the city.

The militants still hold the part of the city southeast of the river that was once the economic and business center. The heaviest fighting is concentrated there in an area of about 500 square meters, one military commander said.

Rebel snipers are positioned in the taller buildings, forcing Philippine troops to maintain their distance. The military says the rebels control a fifth of the city.

“It’s urban warfare, face-to-face combat,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus, an infantry battalion commander at the front line. “They are still holding out. The fighting is house to house, building by building.”

The Philippine military controls the skies and has been using helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to bombard the city, inflicting heavy damage but so far failing to drive out the militants.

Officially known as the Islamic City of Marawi, Marawi is the largest predominantly Muslim city in a country that is more than 90 percent Roman Catholic. Some of the city’s most notable buildings are mosques. Some remain standing.

The Philippine military says that the militants are using mosques and madrasas as bases for fighting, including for the placement of sniper nests. It has complained that it can’t attack these buildings because they are protected as cultural monuments.

Who are the rebels?

The militants are a combined force of two Islamist insurgencies.

Their leader is Isnilon Hapilon, designated by the Islamic State as its emir in Southeast Asia. He leads a faction of Abu Sayyaf, a decades-old militant group best known for taking foreign hostages. He is on the F.B.I.’s list of most-wanted terrorists, and the United States has offered a $5 million bounty for his capture.

Mr. Hapilon has banded with the Maute group, led by the brothers Abdullah and Omarkhayam Maute. Educated in the Middle East, they are said to have sworn allegiance to Mr. Hapilon.

The Philippine military says the militants have put up a much fiercer fight than expected.

The fight for Marawi represents the first time the Maute and Hapilon groups have joined for such a major operation. The authorities say they have also been joined by fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Chechnya.

The militants’ propaganda machine

As the battle has raged, the Islamic State has posted videos, said to be from Marawi, promoting the rebels’ narrative that they are winning and that the Philippine Army had “completely failed” to retake the city.

The most recent footage, released Monday, shows men firing weapons from buildings interspersed with scenes of Marawi. It ends with a graphic execution in which six men in orange shirts and handcuffs are made to kneel and are then machine-gunned from the back.

Zia Alonto Adiong, a military spokesman in Marawi, said the scenes of militants firing weapons “appears to be Marawi” but that the executions do not. He said he could not confirm the location and that the victims’ orange shirts were not typical attire. “Nobody wears that here as a regular outfit,” he said.

The video also claims that more than 200 Philippine soldiers have been killed, and that the militants have seized weapons left behind by retreating government forces

“Twenty-one days since Islamic State fighters breached the city of Marawi in the Philippines, intense battles are still raging in its center, and Islamic State fighters are spread out over more than two-thirds of the area, tightening the noose on the Philippine Army, which is unable to take back the initiative,” the narrator says.

The Philippine military says that the government has lost 58 soldiers and police officers, and that it is boxing in the rebels.

The role of the United States

Americans are providing surveillance and intelligence assistance to the Philippine military under a longstanding agreement. Since the early 2000s, the United States has stationed a rotating force of 50 to 100 Special Forces troops in the southern Philippines to provide training and technical assistance to the Philippine military in its fight against terrorists

Now, U.S. intelligence is probably helping the Philippine military select bombing targets, like those targeted by OV-10 Broncos.

But foreign troops are barred from combat by the Philippine Constitution, and United States and Philippine officials say there are no American troops in Marawi.

A government crackdown

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law for 60 days on the island of Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island, where various rebel Islamic groups have operated for decades. Mr. Duterte, facing his biggest crisis since taking office nearly a year ago, had talked of declaring martial law nationwide in his antidrug campaign, which has resulted in thousands of deaths at the hands of police officers and vigilantes.

Checkpoints set up around Mindanao may aid in the apprehension of militants who slip away from Marawi in the coming weeks. The Maute brothers’ father, Cayamora Maute, and other relatives were arrested at a checkpoint in Davao City. A combined military and police unit arrested their mother, Ominta Romato Maute, in the town of Masiu, an hour’s drive from Marawi.

Philippine security forces searched houses for guns and ammunition last week.

For the Philippine military, which is more experienced at fighting the Islamists in the jungle, the Marawi siege has meant urban street fighting. Government tanks rolled through the streets as the military went door to door, seen in this clip from June 7.

The trapped civilians

The militants seized an unknown number of civilians on the first day of the siege. It is unclear how many have survived. The military believes the rebels are using some of them as human shields.

Those who escape from the city are closely vetted by the police.

Tens of thousands of refugees fled the city when the fighting began. But as many as 2,000 civilians remain, according to rescuers and the local Red Cross.

Many are trapped in their homes or in other buildings — those that still stand — waiting for the siege to end. In the last few days, some have been able to flee.

Thousands of the displaced have been housed in temporary evacuation centers on the outskirts of the city.

Richard C. Paddock reported from Manila, and Felipe Villamor from Marawi.



From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 44

June 13, 2017


For the third time, the Department of Defense is asking Congress to enact a new exemption from the Freedom of Information Act for certain military tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP), as well as rules of engagement, that are sensitive but unclassified.

“The effectiveness of United States military operations is dependent upon adversaries, or potential adversaries, not having advance knowledge of TTPs or rules of engagement that will be employed in such operations,” DoD said in its legislative proposals for the FY2018 defense authorization act. “If an adversary or potential adversary has knowledge of this information, the adversary will gain invaluable knowledge on how our forces operate in given situations.”

“Military TTPs and rules of engagement are analogous to law enforcement techniques and procedures, which Congress has afforded protection,” DoD said. See section 1003 of DoD’s proposed defense authorization act for FY2018.

DoD is not seeking to exempt all TTP records as a class. Rather, the proposal is that specified TTP information could be withheld under FOIA if the Secretary of Defense determined in writing that its disclosure would be likely to provide “an operational military advantage to an adversary” and that the public interest in the information does not outweigh the potential risk. This determination would have to be made personally by the Secretary of Defense, and could not be delegated. It would require a written justification that would have to be available to the public on request.

Similar legislative proposals were introduced by the Department of Defense in the past two years.

Wary of any move to expand DoD’s authority to withhold information, however, many advocates of open government opposed the measure. Truly sensitive military information could be classified, they argued, and an existing FOIA exemption “more than adequately protects such information.” In any event, despite repeated requests, the DoD proposal was not approved by Congress.

The Department of Defense and the military services (especially the Army) generate dozens if not hundreds of doctrinal publications every day. Many of them are closely held, but many others are freely published. The latter, at least, would seem to be outside the scope of the proposed new exemption for TTPs and rules of engagement, if it were ever enacted.

A new document on DoD interactions with foreign security forces, of interest to some, was posted online by DoD this week. See Security Cooperation, Joint Publication 3-20, May 23, 2017.


Unmanned aerial systems (UAS, or drones) could be used by malicious actors to conduct unauthorized surveillance or to deliver hazardous payloads within the United States. But defending against such threats may violate the law as currently written.

“Some of the most promising technical countermeasures for detecting and mitigating UAS may be construed to be illegal under certain laws that were passed when UAS were unforeseen,” the Department of Defense said in its legislative proposals for the FY 2018 defense authorization act. “These laws include statutes governing electronic communications, access to protected computers, and interference with civil aircraft.”

DoD therefore asked Congress to enact legislation that would authorize development of drone countermeasures for domestic use without violating “many provisions” of existing law. See section 1602 of the DoD draft defense authorization act for FY 2018, submitted to Congress on May 25.

“Certain statutes are especially problematic” for defending against UAS threats, DoD said. Several sections of Title 18 of the US Code “might be construed to prohibit access to or interception of the telemetry, signaling information, or other communications of UAS.”

“Furthermore, any attempt to interfere with the flight of UAS that pose a threat” could violate the Aircraft Sabotage Act, which prohibits damage to or destruction of aircraft.

“The proposed legislation would generally allow research, testing, training on, and evaluating technical means for countering UAS,” including monitoring, tracking, re-directing, disabling or destroying such aircraft.

A broader look at Countering Air and Missile Threats was recently published by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Joint Publication 3-01, April 21, 2017).


President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change raises a series of legal, procedural and policy questions that have yet to be decisively answered, said the Congressional Research Service last week.

Among those questions: Will the US follow the prescribed multi-year procedure for withdrawal? Or can the US withdraw immediately? What role if any will the US play in future climate change deliberations under the Paris Agreement? What are the prospects for a legal challenge to the US withdrawal?

See President Trump’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement Raises Legal Questions, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 9, 2017.

Other new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

FY2018 Defense Budget Request: The Basics, June 9, 2017

Qatar: Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated June 9, 2017

Israel and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, updated June 9, 2017

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Middle East and North Africa: The President’s FY2018 Request, CRS Insight, June 8, 2017

Malawi: Key Developments and U.S. Relations, June 2, 2017

U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America: Policy Issues for Congress, June 8, 2017

European Security and Islamist Terrorism, CRS Insight, updated June 8, 2017

Juneteenth: Fact Sheet, June 9, 2017

Air Force B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, updated June 7, 2017

Special Counsels, Independent Counsels, and Special Prosecutors: Options for Independent Executive Investigations, June 1, 2017


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