TBR News November 4, 2014

Nov 04 2014

The Voice of the White House

        Washington, D.C. November 3, 2014: “The oil wars have taken a new turn by the voting in eastern Ukraine. All of this manufactured uproar on the part of Washington is due to their loss of the Crimea both as a naval base for the US Navy and, even more annoy8ng, the lost of the Crimean off-shore extensive oil fields. What we have in both the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine is a manifestation of American President Woodrow Wilson’s disastrous “self-determination of peoples,” that he inflicted on Europe following the First World War and which let directly to the Second. The Crimea was always a part of Russia and the vote for union with Russia following the CIA’s recent clumsy foray into Ukrainian politics was entirely genuine. Now, the major industrial eastern Ukraine, populated mostly by Russians, wants nothing to do with the thoroughly corrupt American satellite but Washington objects. Although they can never have it both ways, they do try, don’t they?”



Spying for ads: Verizon’s undeletable ‘supercookies’ track users’ web activities

November 4, 2014



            The profits made by Google and Facebook from trading users’ choices and habits to ad companies are prompting other communication giants such as Verizon, to collect data on their customers, mostly without their knowledge.

Verizon Wireless has been actively implementing its new advertising program called Precision Market Insights (reportedly started in 2012), which tracks web activities of approximately 106 million Verizon customers when they are web surfing from portable devices, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports.

The tracker registers which sites people visit and how much time they spend there, and even what apps they use on their smartphones and how exactly.

The most interesting is the way Verizon collects the valuable data – by forcibly installing “perma-cookies” that track people’s activities on the web on personal devices, reports Wired. And since the header gets injected at the network level, any device could be infected, even if it belongs to those who have never been Verizon customers.

The tracker, called X-UIDH, is injected on a device in an HTTP header, which is then being sent to every unencrypted website a Verizon customer visits from a his smartphone or media tablet. These ‘supercookies’ allow advertising companies that pay for the Verizon service to put together a comprehensive dossier on every web surfer’s browsing habits – without Verizon customers’ knowledge.

The cookie was identified the X-UIDH header. It remains invisible to the user and cannot be disabled or changed via browser settings. The X-UIDH header bypasses built-in browser privacy mechanisms, ignoring such modes as Do Not Track, Incognito, Private Browsing or Limit Ad Tracking settings in both iOS and Android.

Also, Verizon ‘supercookies’ can’t be turned off, so no web browser privacy mode or clearing cookies will help you to get rid of them. That means that even when cookies are cleared out of a device, the intact X-UIDH with the known profile of a user gives an ad company a chance to quickly restore the necessary cookies on a user’s device and continue to ‘guide’ his requests for goods and services.

Because X-UIDH is shared with all unencrypted sites visited by Verizon customers, it gives advertisers more data that only cookies get. On top of all, X-UIDH is installed into all used mobile apps that send HTTP requests, thus correlating users’ behavior on the web and in using apps.

However, according to AdAge: “Corporate and government subscribers are excluded from the new marketing solution.”

Verizon maintains that third parties that are not members of the Verizon’s Precision Market Insights advertising program cannot use the supercookie to track Verizon customers.

“The way it’s built, it wouldn’t be able to be used for that,” company spokeswoman Adria Tomaszewski said.

But web security specialists warn that “de-anonymizing” a user has become commonplace these days, so once a personal profile with a unique ID code gets to advertisers and data brokers, it is relatively straightforward to link the X-UIDH personal profile with a customer.

For intelligence agencies such as America’s NSA, reportedly using cookies to track down individuals as The Washington Post reported last year, the X-UIDH service could become an invaluable source of personal information on citizens.

There are several solutions that would prevent X-UIDH from modifying your traffic and they all imply encryption, as the “ad virus” can only operate on a plaintext traffic, an attempt to modify an encrypted data flow would simply break the whole connection.

Full protection is guaranteed by a virtual private network (VPN) technology or Tor, but you can also try to surf safely using an encrypted proxy or HTTPS.

If you want to know whether your mobile device is already infected – go to Amibeingtracked.com right from it and pass an injected header test.




Ukraine crisis deepens after rebel elections in the east

November 3, 2014

by Thomas Grove



DONETSK Ukraine  – Pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine named a leader of a breakaway republic on Monday after weekend elections which was denounced by Kiev and the West and further deepened a standoff with Russia over the future of the former Soviet state.

             Organizers of the vote said that Alexander Zakharchenko, a 38-year-old former mining electrician, had easily won election as head of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”, an entity proclaimed by armed rebels in the days after they seized key buildings in cities of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east last April.

A rebel representative said Igor Plotnisky had won a majority in a similar election in Luhansk, a smaller self-proclaimed pro-Russian entity further east.

The rogue votes, which Kiev says Russia encouraged, could create a new “frozen conflict” in post-Soviet Europe and further threaten the territorial unity of Ukraine, which lost control of its Crimean peninsula in March when it was annexed by Russia.

Kiev and the West will now be looking to see if Russian President Vladimir Putin will formally recognize the validity of the vote, despite their entreaties to him not to do so.

A Russian deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, made no mention of formal recognition but said the newly elected leadership in eastern Ukraine now had a mandate to negotiate with Kiev.

Up to now, Kiev’s leaders have refused to hold direct talks with the separatists, whom they refer to as “terrorists” and “bandits”.

If Moscow were to recognize the votes, it would narrow options too for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

He has ruled out trying to take back the region by force after big battlefield losses in August. But after a parliamentary election on Oct. 26, he is now supported by a pro-Western power structure, determined to stop the break-up of Ukraine, and he could come under pressure to take a firmer line.


             PUTIN’S FIRST WORD?


Putin’s first word on the weekend election could come on Tuesday when he is due to appear at a Red Square ceremony in Moscow marking National Unity day.

“The central election commission deems Alexander Zakharchenko to be the elected head of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” an election official, Roman Lyagin, told journalists in Donetsk, the separatists’ stronghold. Numbers of ballots cast for him appeared to show he had won 79 percent of the vote.

“Plotnitsky got the majority of the votes in the Luhansk People’s Republic elections,” a spokesman said.

The elections were the latest twist in a geopolitical crisis that began with the popular overthrow of Ukraine’s Moscow-backed leader, Viktor Yanukovich last February.

Russia denounced Yanukovich’s ousting as a coup by a “fascist junta” and the following month annexed Crimea and subsequently backed the separatist rebellions that sprang up in the east.

Kiev says that only direct intervention by Russian troops stopped Ukrainian government forces routing the separatists, though Russia, despite what the West says is incontrovertible proof, denies sending troops across the border.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has led to U.S. and European Union sanctions against Russia.

Kiev and Western governments, including the United States, say the election violated a bedrock agreement reached on Sept. 5 in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, which was also been signed by Russia.

Kiev says this provided for elections to be held under Ukrainian law which would appoint purely local officials. The rebels’ vote to elect leaders and institutions in a breakaway territory violated the agreement, it says.

Speaking on Sunday, Poroshenko reiterated Kiev’s view and denounced the ballot as a “farce (conducted) under the barrels of tanks and machine guns”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said on Monday Germany found it incomprehensible that “official Russian voices” were talking of recognizing the election in eastern Ukraine.

Current developments in east Ukraine ruled out any premature lifting of EU economic sanctions against Russia and if the situation worsened, further sanctions may be necessary, spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Italy does not recognize the voting, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said, adding: “There is no alternative to a political solution to the crisis.”

A Sept. 5 ceasefire has brought an end to full-scale clashes between government forces and the Russian-backed separatists, though sporadic shelling particularly in the airport area of Donetsk, continues to exert pressure on the truce.

Though the city was generally quiet early on Monday, artillery fire from the direction of the airport began to pick up later in the day.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said that one of its four drones which are operating on observation missions in the south-east had been fired on by separatists using an anti-aircraft gun near the port of Mariupol on Sunday. It was not hit and returned to base intact.

The OSCE also said the GPS system of a second drone was electronically jammed by separatists operating from the ground in roughly the same area near Mariupol.

Zakharchenko, the current rebel prime minister whose campaign advertisements are plastered across Donetsk, was always certain to win the vote in his region.

In electioneering, he has compared the Donbass region’s coal deposits to the oil reserves in the United Arab Emirates and has promised pensioners a stipend that will allow them to go on safari in Australia.

His and Plotnitsky’s election though will mean little by way of change for the region, which is increasingly dependent on Russia for support financially and politically as it faces a humanitarian crisis which will only worsen in winter.

“He (Zakharchenko) doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep. He works only for us 150 percent of the time,” said Lyudmila Kovalenko, who works at a school and is an ardent supporter. She said the rebel leadership had fixed the windows of the school after it was hit by a mortar.

But Natasha, 28, a nurse, said: “I didn’t vote in the elections. They mean nothing to me, they only mean more people with guns and more chaos. Since they’ve taken over, our Donbass has produced only idiots.”

“I don’t want to give you my last name because this is like the 1930s, like Stalin’s purges, people are afraid to speak their mind,” she said.



(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Danilo Masoni in Rome; Editing by Giles Elgood)



Deep Threat

 China’s Submarines Add Nuclear-Strike Capability, Altering Strategic BalanceWith far-ranging new nuclear subs, China is rattling Asia’s balance of power, challenging the U.S. and risking an undersea contest with echoes of Tom Clancy and the Cold War

October 24, 2014

by Jeremy Page



 One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters.

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to join the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that can ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attachés again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—this time a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.

China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most significant military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not only bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but also enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.

China is expected to pass another milestone this year when it sets a different type of sub to sea—a “boomer,” carrying fully armed nuclear missiles for the first time—says the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.

China is hardly hiding its new boomers. Tourists could clearly see three of them at a base opposite a resort recently in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were accompanied by guides to make sure riders didn’t stray too close.

These boomers’ missiles have the range to hit Hawaii and Alaska from East Asia and the continental U.S. from the mid-Pacific, the ONI says.

“This is a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified,” China’s navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, wrote of the country’s missile-sub fleet in a Communist Party magazine in December. “It is a strategic force symbolizing great-power status and supporting national security.”

To naval commanders from other countries, the Chinese nuclear sub’s nonstop Indian Ocean voyage was especially striking, proving that it has the endurance to reach the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Hawaii.

“They were very clear with respect to messaging,” says Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, a former submariner who commands the U.S. Seventh Fleet, “to say that, ‘We’re a professional navy, we’re a professional submarine force, and we’re global. We’re no longer just a coastal-water submarine force.’ ”

In recent years, public attention has focused on China’s expanding military arsenal, including its first aircraft carrier and stealth fighter. But subs are more strategically potent weapons: A single one can project power far from China and deter other countries simply by its presence.

China’s nuclear attack subs, in particular, are integral to what Washington sees as an emerging strategy to prevent the U.S. from intervening in a conflict over Taiwan, or with Japan and the Philippines—both U.S. allies locked in territorial disputes with Beijing.

And even a few functional Chinese boomers compel the U.S. to plan for a theoretical Chinese nuclear-missile strike from the sea. China’s boomer patrols will make it one of only three countries—alongside the U.S. and Russia—that can launch atomic weapons from sea, air and land.

“I think they’ve watched the U.S. submarine force and its ability to operate globally for many, many years—and the potential influence that can have in various places around the globe,” says Adm. Thomas, “and they’ve decided to go after that model.”

China’s nuclear-sub deployments, some naval experts say, may become the opening gambits of an undersea contest in Asia that echoes the cat-and-mouse game between U.S. and Soviet subs during the Cold War—a history popularized by Tom Clancy’s 1984 novel “The Hunt for Red October.”

Back then, each side sent boomers to lurk at sea, ready to fire missiles at the other’s territory. Each dispatched nuclear hunter-killers to track the other’s boomers and be ready to destroy them.

The collapse of the Soviet Union ended that tournament. But today, as China increases its undersea firepower, the U.S. and its allies are boosting their submarine and anti-sub forces in Asia to counter it.

Neither China nor the U.S. wants a Cold War rerun. Their economies are too interdependent, and today’s market-minded China doesn’t seek global revolution or military parity with the U.S.

Chinese officials say their subs don’t threaten other countries and are part of a program to protect China’s territory and expanding global interests. Chinese defense officials told foreign attachés that the subs entering the Indian Ocean would assist antipiracy patrols off Somalia, say people briefed on the meetings.

Related ArticlesAs China Deploys Nuclear Submarines, U.S. P-8 Poseidon Jets Snoop on ThemWhen Sub Goes Silent, Who Has Control of Its Nuclear Warheads?Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Subs. Asked about those meetings, China’s defense ministry said its navy’s activities in the Indian and Pacific Oceans “comply with international law and practice, and we maintain good communication with all relevant parties.”

Submarines help Beijing fulfill international duties without changing its defense policy, says China’s navy spokesman, Sr. Capt. Liang Yang. “If a soldier originally has a handgun, and you give him an assault rifle, you’ve increased his firepower, but his responsibilities haven’t changed.” He declines to comment on boomer patrols.

Still, the U.S. has moved subs to the forefront of its so-called rebalancing, a strategy of focusing more military and diplomatic resources on Asia. Sixty percent of the U.S. undersea force is in the Pacific, U.S. naval commanders say, compared with half the U.S. surface fleet. The U.S. Navy plans to station a fourth nuclear attack sub in Guam next year, they say.

Since December, the U.S. has positioned six new P-8 anti-submarine aircraft in Okinawa, Japan. The U.S. has also revitalized an undersea microphone system designed to track Soviet subs and is testing new technologies such as underwater drones to search for Chinese subs.

Related Article: As China Deploys Nuclear Submarines, U.S. P-8 Poseidon Jets Snoop on Them

Several nearby countries, including Australia, have said they plan to expand or upgrade their submarine and anti-sub forces. Vietnam, which is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China, has since December received at least two of the six Russian-made attack subs it has ordered.

Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the 12 subs his country is buying to replace its six-strong current fleet would need to operate far afield, potentially in contested areas of the South China Sea. “There are other nations in the area that are building their submarine forces as well,” he said. “The issue for us is to be able to consider that we may need to counter those things.”

Rear Adm. Phillip Sawyer, the commander of U.S. submarine forces in the Pacific, says that many more submarines are now operating in the region than during the Cold War. “One of my biggest concerns truthfully is submarine safety,” he says on a recent dive aboard the USS Houston, a nuclear-attack sub based in Hawaii. “The more submarines you put in the same body of water, the higher the probability that they might collide.”

China now has one of the world’s biggest attack-sub fleets, with five nuclear models and at least 50 diesel models. It has four boomers, the ONI says.

Beijing’s quest for a nuclear-sub fleet dates to the 1960s, say Chinese historians. Mao Zedong once declared, “We will build a nuclear submarine even if it takes us 10,000 years!”

China has used diesel subs since the 1950s, but they have proved easy to find because they must surface every few hours. Nuclear subs are faster and can stay submerged for months. China launched its first nuclear sub on Mao’s birthday in 1970 and test-fired its first missile from underwater in 1988, although its first boomer never patrolled carrying armed nuclear missiles, U.S. naval officers say.

Adm. Liu Huaqing, the founder of China’s modern navy, outlined the role of nuclear attack subs in his overall strategy in the 1980s, Chinese historians say. He saw China as constrained by U.S. forces aligned in both a “First Island Chain” stretching from southern Japan to the Philippines and a “Second Island Chain” from northern Japan via Guam to Indonesia. He argued that China should establish naval dominance within the first chain by 2010, within the second chain by 2020 and become a global naval power by 2050.

China officially unveiled its nuclear undersea forces in October 2013 in an unprecedented open day for domestic media at a nuclear-sub base. Its capabilities aren’t close to those of the U.S., which has 14 boomers and 55 nuclear attack subs.

The U.S. concern is how to maintain that edge in Asia when the Navy projects that fiscal constraints will shrink its attack-sub fleet to 41 by 2028.

Beijing isn’t likely to try matching the U.S. sub force, having studied the way the Cold War arms race drained the Soviet Union’s finances. “We’re not that stupid,” says retired Maj. Gen. Xu Guangyu, a former vice president of the People’s Liberation Army Defense Institute.

“But we need enough nuclear submarines to be a credible force—to have some bargaining chips,” he says. “They must go out to the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the world.”

China’s hunter-killers pose the immediate challenge to the U.S. and its partners. Adm. Sawyer has tracked them for more than a decade, first as a commander of U.S. subs in Japan and Guam and now from his headquarters in Pearl Harbor.

On his desk is a glass-encased naval chart with white labels marking China’s submarine bases. Drawn on the map are two lines marking “First Island Chain” and “Second Island Chain.”

Over the past few years, Chinese attack subs have broken beyond the first chain to operate regularly in the Philippine Sea and have started patrolling year-round, Adm. Sawyer says. Penetrating the second chain is the next logical step, he adds: “They are not just building more units and more assets, but they’re actually working to get proficient with them and understand how they’d operate in a far-away-from-home environment.” Related article: When Sub Goes Silent, Who Has Control of Its Nuclear Warheads?

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether China has sent a sub as far as Hawaii but says the December Indian Ocean expedition shows that it has “the capability and the endurance” to do so.

That was a Shang-class sub, a type naval experts say China first launched in 2002 that can carry torpedoes and cruise missiles. In peacetime, China would probably use these hunter-killers to protect sea lanes, track foreign vessels and gather intelligence, naval experts say. But in a conflict, they would likely try to break through the First Island Chain to threaten approaching vessels and disrupt supply lines.

Still, the two recent sub voyages highlighted a weak point for China. Its subs must use narrow straits to reach the Pacific or Indian Oceans. Those chokepoints—among them, the Malacca, Sunda, Lombok, Luzon and Miyako Straits—can be relatively easily monitored or blockaded.

Moreover, China’s anti-sub capabilities remain relatively weak. U.S. subs can track their Chinese counterparts even near China’s shores, where U.S. ships and planes are vulnerable to Chinese aircraft and missiles, American naval officers say.

Adm. Sawyer declines to say whether the U.S. tracked the Shang or how close U.S. subs get to China, saying only: “I’m comfortable with the U.S. submarine force’s capability to execute whatever tasking we’re given.”

The USS Houston returned recently from a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific. Its commanding officer, Cmdr. Dearcy P. Davis, declines to say exactly where the sub went but adds, “I can say that we went untracked by anyone. We have the ability to break down the door if someone [else] can’t. That’s not trivial.”

China’s missile-carrying boomers present a longer-term challenge.

From the Lan Sanya beach resort in Hainan, guests can easily make out the matte-black hulls of what naval experts say are three of China’s new boomers, known as the Jin-class, and one Shang-class attack sub. As he threw open a hotel room’s curtains, a bellboy beamed with pride and pointed out the vessels across the bay. “Better not go that way,” joked a Jet Ski guide on a recent ride. “They might shoot at us.”

China hasn’t said when it might launch boomer patrols. But Western naval officers saw the October nuclear-sub event as a signal that the Jin subs and their JL-2 missiles were ready to start.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, a former submariner who is now the U.S. chief of naval operations, says that the U.S. is waiting to see how China will use its new boomers. “Is it an occasional patrol they’re going to choose to do? Is it going to be a continuous patrol? Are they going to try to be sure that this patrol is totally undetected?” he says. “I think that’s all going to be in the equation as to our response.”

Soviet boomers ventured far into the Pacific and Atlantic into the 1970s because their missiles couldn’t reach the U.S. from Soviet waters. As missile ranges increased, Soviet subs retreated to so-called bastions, such as the Sea of Okhotsk. The U.S. deployed hunter-killers around those bastions.

Similar dynamics are at play as China decides whether to send its own boomers into the Pacific. Their JL-2 missiles can travel about 4,600 miles—possibly enough to strike the U.S. West Coast from East Asia, the ONI says. To strike more U.S. targets, they would need to lurk throughout the Pacific.

But China’s boomers probably couldn’t pass undetected through many straits, say U.S. officers and Chinese experts. “The Jin class is too noisy: It’s probably at the level of the Soviets between 1970 and 1980,” says Wu Riqiang, a former missile specialist who studies nuclear strategy at Beijing’s Renmin University. “As long as you are noisy, you won’t even go through the chokepoints.”

Early in the Cold War, the U.S. built a network of seabed microphones to listen at chokepoints leading to the Pacific and Atlantic. In recent years, the U.S. has revitalized parts of that network, called the Sound Surveillance System, or Sosus. The U.S. is also now adding mobile networks of sensors—some on underwater drones—and seeking surveillance data from Asian countries. Related Article: Underwater Drones Join Microphones to Listen for Chinese Subs

Meanwhile, China is trying to replicate Sosus, say several naval experts. A government-backed scientific journal reported last year that China had built a fiber-optic acoustic network in the South China Sea.

Over the short term, Prof. Wu says, China will probably keep its boomers near its coast, possibly in the South China Sea, which is deepest and furthest from U.S. bases. That, say some naval officers, may explain why China keeps its Jin-class subs in Hainan and why it is pressing territorial claims and hindering U.S. surveillance there.

Last November, China declared an “air-defense identification zone” over the East China Sea and warned of measures against aircraft that entered without identifying themselves in advance. Many U.S. officials expect China to do the same over the South China Sea, although Chinese officials say they have no immediate plans for that.

In August, the Pentagon said a Chinese fighter had flown dangerously close to a U.S. P-8 near Hainan. China’s defense ministry publicly said that its pilot flew safely and asked the U.S. to cease such operations.

The problem with confining boomers to the South China Sea is that Beijing fears that missiles fired from there could be neutralized by the next stages of a U.S. regional missile-defense system, Chinese nuclear experts say.

Prof. Wu, who has taken part in nuclear-strategy negotiations with the U.S., predicts that over the next two decades, China will make quieter boomers that can patrol the open sea even as the U.S. pursues a global missile-defense system.

“I hope the U.S. and China can break this cycle,” he says, “but I’m not optimistic.”

—Rob Taylor in Canberra contributed to this article.


Ebola crisis – the Guardian briefing The Ebola outbreak has killed about 5,000 people in west Africa, and affected the US and Spain, where people returning from the region have died and transmitted the infection to several nurses. We examine the background to the disease, its spread and its impact


How to avoid being infected with Ebola

October 31, 2014

The Guardian 


            West Africa is experiencing the biggest outbreak of the Ebola virus ever known, causing thousands of deaths, devastating fragile healthcare systems and damaging the economies of countries, some of which are still recovering from civil war. Infections are thought to be doubling every few weeks. The WHO says there were 13,700 officially registered cases by the end of October, almost all in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with about 5,000 deaths, but many go unrecorded and the true figure is thought to be two to three times higher. The US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) says that if nothing changes there could be 1.4 million cases by late January. Liberia has shown a slight drop in the numbers, but the WHO has warned this could be temporary. Concerns for countries bordering the epidemic region intensified when a child died of Ebola in Mali, having travelled while sick for hundreds of miles by bus. Outside Africa, two nurses were infected while caring for a patient in Texas who flew from Liberia before exhibiting symptoms, as was a nurse who treated a missionary repatriated to Madrid . The patients died but the nurses recovered. A doctor returning to New York from Liberia also fell sick and triggered new 21-day quarantine restrictions in some states.

How this happened

Since its beginnings in southern Guinea in December 2013, Ebola has spread with lethal effect across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There have also been cases in Nigeria and Senegal. As of 29 October, the WHO put the number of cases as 13,703 and deaths at 4,920 but the figures are uncertain and the true fatality rate is 70%.

Ebola outbreaks in the past have generally been in remote rural areas with swift action to isolate the victims able to contain them. The WHO has been criticised for not reacting fast enough to the outbreak: it took three months to diagnose the first cases, and five months more before a public health emergency was declared.

An editorial for the New England Journal of Medicine by Jeremy Farrar, the director of the Wellcome Trust, and Peter Piot, the head of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the exceptional spread of the disease was probably down to a number of factors including dysfunctional health systems, high population mobility across state borders, densely populated capitals and lack of trust in authorities after years of armed conflict meaning health advice is not heeded. Fear is also a factor. People are afraid to go to hospital because they think it may be the source of infection.



The issues

How the disease spreads

Ebola is not an air-borne disease and can only be spread from human to human through close contact with the bodily fluids of someone who has the disease – in blood, vomit, semen, urine, tears or saliva. The incubation period – the gap between an individual being infected and showing symptoms – is up to 21 days, meaning it is possible for an infected person to travel widely before they know they have the disease. Humans are not infectious until they develop symptoms, which at first are fever, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. These are followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, symptoms of impaired kidney and liver function and in some cases internal and external bleeding.

Death of health workers

The spread of Ebola through bodily fluids puts health workers dealing with such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding at a high risk. By 27 October, 521 health workers had developed the disease across Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with 272 dead. While pictures of doctors in full body suits and visors treating Ebola patients have been published all over the world, there is in reality not enough protective clothing. The suits are also uncomfortable to wear in hot climates and risk contamination when they are taken off. Most health workers are infected in clinics treating patients they do not know or suspect have Ebola. The first symptoms can resemble malaria, which is common. Some healthcare workers have been staying away from work for fear of the disease, and in Liberia there have been strikes over pay and conditions.

No drugs or vaccine

Until now, pharmaceutical firms have given Ebola very low priority. Potential drugs and vaccines under development are now being sped into trials. Healthy volunteers in Europe, the US and unaffected African countries have been injected with candidate vaccines to test safety. Three vaccines are expected to be tested in health workers and burial teams at high risk in west Africa in December. Drug trials will soon also be set up there, although there is no certainty that they will work. Stocks of ZMapp, the experimental drug used to treat several international aid workers and medical staff, have run out. That and other drugs are now bring rushed into production, ahead of efficacy data.

Healthcare system collapse

Healthcare in the region was fragile at best before Ebola. Now there is disintegration as staff become ill or stay away for fear of the disease. Infection control and hygiene are major issues. Soap and water are unavailable in some areas. Alcohol hand rubs are needed on a large scale. Isolation facilities are vital to contain Ebola, as are labs for testing because rapid diagnosis is very important. Both are in very short supply. In some places, isolation is nothing more than an area behind a curtain. People with other diseases and women in childbirth are at risk because hospitals are no longer functioning properly.

Cultural issues

Levels of virus in infected people are highest in the late stage of disease and in dead bodies. The disease has often spread during traditional funeral practices that involve close contact with the corpse. Burial teams in protective clothing are being dispatched to homes to collect and safely dispose of bodies. Another route of transmission has been traditional healing practices, which involve touching. Families are at high risk when they nurse their sick at home, as is traditionally the norm.

Persuading people to change their cultural practices has been hard. There is little respect for government authority in a region still emerging from civil war and where corruption is rife. Advice that runs counter to cultural practices is resented and in the absence of authority, myth and superstition take over.

How can I find out more?

The New England Journal of Medicine published a detailed report written by the WHO’s Ebola team to mark nine months since the start of the outbreak. The WHO itself also produced a compilation of articles in August to mark six months since the first case was formally identified. They examine Ebola’s impact on west Africa and warn that without measures to control it, the number of cases will rise fast. Médecins sans Frontières provides information on its treatment centres and regular reports from the frontline. The US Centres for Disease Control has information on diagnosis and treatment, and the World Bank has put together a report on Ebola’s potential economic impact.



Israel reopens Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

October 31, 2014



Facing Arab outrage, Israel has reopened the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to the public. Israeli authorities closed it to worshipers on Thursday for the first time since 1967, prompting Muslims to plan ‘marches of anger’ for Friday.

Jerusalem Police commander Moshe (Chico) Edri made a decision on Thursday evening to reopen the holy site, which had been closed in response to the shooting of a prominent right-wing activist, Yehuda Glick, a day earlier, reports the Haaretz newspaper.

Some restrictions remain in place, and men under 50 will not be able to visit Temple Mount for Friday’s Muslim prayers.

The police said the partial ban is designed to prevent Palestinian youths from staring disturbances in the area.

Security remains tight in Jerusalem, especially its eastern parts and around Al-Aqsa, as Israel deployed additional forces on Thursday. Israeli media said the police presence had tripled in the heart of the Old City.

Meanwhile the funeral of Mutaz Hijazi, a Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli police, who said he was responsible for the deadly attack on right-wing activist Glick, passed without incident.

Hijazi’s killing on Thursday sparked violent clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police in Jerusalem.

The city has been in turmoil since July, when Israel launched a military campaign against Gaza in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers.

The incident also triggered retaliation by a group of right-wing Jewish radicals, who kidnapped and killed a Palestinian teenager.

Al-Aqsa is Islam’s third-holiest site and is located at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which is also a Jewish holy site.

Israel controls access and this is one of many grievances the Arab residents of Jerusalem have been complaining about for decades.


The Islamic State and Sunni autonomy
October 27, 2014

by Brian M Downing

Asia Times

            The Islamic State offensive in Iraq has been blunted, but forming an effective counteroffensive has proved elusive. That will first require a political agreement among the antagonistic Shia, Kurdish, and Sunni peoples. The Sunnis are only about 15% of Iraq’s population, they are despised by the others, yet they are the only ones capable of defeating IS inside the country.
            The Shia government has given two key portfolios to Sunni politicians. This belated effort at inclusiveness is unlikely to ease sectarian tensions or encourage the Sunnis to fight IS. The enmity is too strong, and it is worsening. The optimal way to fight IS entails granting autonomy to the Sunnis of central and western Iraq.

Sectarian enmity

            Many Sunnis support IS attacks on the Shia, some even fight alongside it. Blame for this is laid at the feet of former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki who pursued exclusionary efforts, despite US warnings. Historians will describe Maliki as one of the country’s more artless politicians, but the enmity is deeply embedded in the country. It will not be eased by a few seats in government and hearty handshakes at a photo op. Nor are differences being put aside to face a common danger.
            It’s well known that the Sunnis dominated Iraq since the British installed them in power after World War I. But it isn’t all distant history. Saddam fought the Kurds, who acted in concert with Iran during the long war in the 1980s. He even used chemical weapons on them. His fist also came down hard on the Shias, many of whom served in Iran-backed militias. After the First Gulf War (1991), Saddam massacred over a hundred thousand Shias.
            The Shias and Kurds do not see these as distant events or as the actions of a deranged tyrant; they were the acts of Sunni oppression. In the eyes of the Kurds and Shias, that minority is now collaborating with IS to regain mastery of Iraq.
            The Sunnis view Saddam’s 2003 ouster as leading to an inversion of a natural social order and to murderous sectarian fighting aimed at intimidating them, if not driving them into exile. Furthermore, it has delivered Iraq into the hands of the age-old “Persian” enemy and threatens to expand Shia rule throughout the Middle East, from Lebanon to Yemen and Iran. Significantly, this view is shared by the Sunni powers in the region, including Saudi Arabia.

The Sunnis and IS

Sunnis, especially former members of Saddam’s army and state, have aided IS in the last few years, from the bombing campaign against Shia targets to the bold offensive of last June. Sunnis serve along side IS fighters, convinced Sunni troops top desert around Mosul, and were rewarded with administrative posts in towns that Baghdad lost control of.
            Sheikh Ali Hatem al Solemn, leader of the largest Sunni tribal confederation, has announced his willingness to fight IS: “Tribal forces are capable of eliminating terrorists. … We’ve done it before, we can do it again.” Little more than a few skirmishes have come – and for reasons not long to seek.
            Rather than bringing unity, the IS offensive is worsening hostility toward the Sunnis. Kurdish troops have used the IS offensive as an excuse to seize Sunni oil fields and drive out Sunni residents. Shia troops have done the same in the few towns they’ve been able to retake. Shia militias have massacred hundreds of Sunnis, though the full-scale sectarian fighting of a few years ago has not yet returned. Nonetheless, Sunni fears of being driven out of their country persist.
             Recognizing that Shia and Kurdish troops are neither willing nor able to drive IS from central Iraq, the Sunni tribes know well that they will bear the brunt of the fighting. Their casualties will be high, many cities will be leveled, and IS reprisals will be horrific. A victory will leave Sunni Iraq gravely weakened and vulnerable to more inroads by Kurds and Shias. Casualties and emigration will reduce their voting weight in national affairs.

Sunni autonomy
            This isn’t an environment conducive to sectarian reconciliation. Portfolios and handshakes in Baghdad mean little. Sunnis judge that continuing as part of Iraq means further marginalization and that autonomy along the lines enjoyed by Kurdistan is more desirable – and within reach for their effort against IS. However, Baghdad sees an armed and autonomous region as a large step toward independence followed by alignment with Saudi Arabia in the latter’s anti-Shia strategy. In that Riyadh has been encouraging Sunni resistance against the Shias, these concerns are well-founded. An autonomous west would become a buffer between the Shia of Iraq and Iran to the east and the Shia of Lebanon and Syria to the west.
             Washington also prefers to see Iraq remain unified; a fragmented country portends more instability in the region. Many will see paradox here as Washington brought so much instability with the 2003 invasion, including the virtual independence of Kurdistan.
            The Sunnis are the only group that can defeat IS in Iraq. Their fighters are capable of engaging jihadi fighters in every city and along every road. Further, in that the principal tribal confederation extends into eastern Syria, they are capable of fighting IS there too. Their tribal networks are gathering intelligence now.
            The boundaries of the region are breaking apart, from Libya to Syria to Yemen. An orderly devolution of power to a Sunni Iraq will present less instability than a likely protracted war with IS followed by a war of Sunni independence. And it will bring a critical defeat for IS before it can gain thousands of fresh recruits, win the allegiance of kindred militant groups in and out of the region, and convince the Sunnis of Anbar that they will fare better as a part of its empire than as a part of Shia Iraq.

Brian M Downing is a military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of The Samson Heuristic.


Sub-Cults of Islam



            Sunni Muslims are the largest group in Islam, comprising the vast bulk of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, The Qur’an and the Sunnah (the example of Muhammad’s life) as recorded in hadith are the primary foundations of Sunni doctrine. Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad; since God did not specify any particular leaders to succeed him, those leaders had to be elected. Sunnis believe that a caliph should be chosen by the whole community.


            The Shi’a constitute 10–13% of Islam and are its second-largest branch. They believe in the political and religious leadership of Imams from the progeny of Ali ibn Abi Talib, who according to most Shi’a are in a state of ismah, meaning infallibility. They believe that Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor, and they call him the first Imam (leader), rejecting the legitimacy of the previous Muslim caliphs. To most Shi’a, an Imam rules by right of divine appointment and holds “absolute spiritual authority” among Muslims, having final say in matters of doctrine and revelation. Shias regard Ali as the prophet’s true successor and believe that a caliph is appointed by divine will. Shi’a Islam has several branches, the largest of which is the Twelvers which the label Shi’a generally refers to.


 Sufism is a mystical-ascetic approach to Islam that seeks to find divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. By focusing on the more spiritual aspects of religion, Sufis strive to obtain direct experience of God by making use of “intuitive and emotional faculties” that one must be trained to use. Sufism and Islamic law are usually considered to be complementary, although Sufism has been criticized by salafi for what they see as an unjustified religious innovation. Many Sufi orders, or tariqas, can be classified as either Sunni or Shi’a, but others classify themselves simply as ‘Sufi’. Some Sufi groups can be described as non-Islamic when their teachings are very distinct from Islam

With FBI biometric database, ‘what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas’

Agency officials defend police militarization and urge cops to adopt sophisticated technology to help identify suspects

October 30, 2014 

by Chris Francescani



ORLANDO, Florida — The FBI has invested considerable energy in recent months in marketing a massive new biometric database to local cops, whom the agency will rely on to help feed it billions of fingerprints, palm prints, mug shots, iris scans and images of scars, tattoos and other identifiers.

But it took senior FBI consultant Peter Fagan just nine words this week to capture the ambitious scope of the agency’s aims with the new system, which is gradually replacing traditional fingerprint identification with facial recognition and other biometric identifier technology.

“What happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore,” Fagan told a roomful of police executives at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference in Orlando on Tuesday.

He said that reaching the FBI’s goal of better tracking criminal suspects from town to town depends on local cops’ ability to adopt increasingly sophisticated new technologies and to share their data with federal law enforcement. He urged police to begin to “pack the record[s]” by collecting as many high-quality biometric identifiers from arrested criminal suspects as possible.

“We’re not only talking mug shots,” he said. “We’re talking scars, marks, tattoos and other descriptors. You can take up to 25 images [per arrest]. It used to be 10, but now you can take up to 25,” he said. “The upside is that every mug shot you collect is going to be searched against an unsolved crime.”

Oftentimes, Fagan told police, crime victims “remember tattoos but don’t remember anything else” about their assailants. Ultimately, “we should be working towards taking every biometric at every event,” he said, using an industry term for criminal processing.

The FBI’s database, known as Next Generation Identification (NGI), is just one of a dizzying array of investigative innovations being hawked to U.S. law enforcement agencies large and small, nationwide. While technology has transformed nearly every industry, few have changed as rapidly — or with as much federal and corporate encouragement — as local law enforcement.

That fact was evident last weekend in the main exhibit hall of the cavernous Orlando County Convention Center, where hundreds of vendors sold everything from ballistic underwear and high-powered weaponry to an 18-wheel mobile command center and analytic software that tracks gang members’ communications on social media.


‘Monsters are real’


Hundreds of vendors at the convention hawked everything from ballistic underwear and high-powered weaponry to an 18-wheel mobile command center and analytic software that tracks gang members’ communications on social media. Chris Francescani Even as outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced a broad new Department of Justice review of policing tactics, training and techniques at the conference on Monday and urged cops not to let racial tensions be “swept under the rug” in places like Ferguson, Missouri — where the fatal August shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer sparked weeks of protests — FBI Director James Comey vividly defended law enforcement on another hot-button policing issue that re-emerged from the long Missouri summer: the militarization of local police.

“I know that this debate and some of the bumper-stickering of it has discouraged many of you, because you know in your gut the dangers that your folks face when they put on the uniform and the badge to go out and do their job each day,” he said.

“We tell a lie to our children … that monsters aren’t real,” Comey said. “Monsters are real. Monsters are barricaded inside apartments waiting for law enforcement to respond so they can fire rounds that will pierce ballistic vests. Monsters are real, and they are equipped with equipment designed to harm innocent people.”

“We need a range of weapons and equipment to respond and protect our fellow citizens and protect ourselves,” he said. “That equipment is never meant for offense. It is meant to help us bring bad people to justice.”

Throughout the four-day convention, federal law enforcement agencies seemed at times to be jockeying with private industry defense contractors and smaller vendors to see who could better dazzle visiting police chiefs.

The NGI system has been in development since 2010 and currently holds about 68 million fingerprints, 19 million mug shots of about 8 million criminal suspects, 9.5 million palm prints, a million tattoo photos and 100,000 iris scans, Fagan told police executives.

The system has come under fire from privacy rights advocates who decry the growing store of federal databases and fear that the FBI’s new system will eventually be cross-referenced against other data already being aggregated by private industry data brokers — including medical, financial, legal and driver’s license records, as well as license plate reader location data and national security digital surveillance streams.


Technology in the wrong hands


Some worry that sophisticated technology sold to police forces could fall into the wrong hands. Chris Francescani Near one corner of the convention center hall, Gregory Giuntini was marketing TacticID, a hand-held device that he said can read through translucent drug bags like a check-out scanner to determine the chemical makeup of evidence seized in illegal-drug busts. Lying on the display table was a plastic bag full of white powder meant to resemble cocaine. “For a department like the Philadelphia Police Department,” which makes about 21,000 arrests involving drug seizures annually, “it takes just a couple seconds to say, ‘OK, this is cocaine. This is heroin.’ It’s a screening tool,” Giuntini said. There’s a dark side to the law enforcement technology boom, though, that few vendors or the police who use their technology were willing to discuss: The equipment can fall into the wrong hands.

Giuntini said that about three years ago, when the technology behind TacticID was new to police use, a colleague at a rival firm took four of the drug and explosives detecting devices to Mexico City to demonstrate it for cops there. Drug cartel members tracked the man’s flight and robbed him of the devices as soon as he got off the plane.

Across the exhibit hall, Miguel Caballero, a Colombian designer who makes discreet bulletproof clothing for mostly Latin American politicians and heads of state, said he checks prospective clients against a U.S. Treasury Department list of narco-traffickers and terrorists, as well as Interpol and other international criminal databases, before agreeing to design a bulletproof garment.

Still, he acknowledges that once he has sewn the owner’s name into the seam of a product, he has no control over what the client does with his work.




A majority of Scots would vote for independence now: poll

November 1, 2014



             LONDON  – A majority of Scots would back independence if another referendum were held today, according to a poll published on Saturday, just six weeks after Scotland voted against leaving the United Kingdom.

The YouGov poll for the Times newspaper put support for independence at 52 percent against 48 percent who wanted to stay in the union. By including those who would not vote or do not know, the split was 49 percent in favor of a split and 45 percent against.

In September’s referendum, 55 percent of Scots voted against independence.

The opinion poll also brought more bad news for the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour party, Ed Miliband, who hopes to oust Conservative leader David Cameron as prime minister in next May’s national election.

Among Scots overall, only 22 percent surveyed by YouGov thought Labour represented Scotland’s views and interests well while 65 percent thought it represented them badly.

In the past week, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has resigned and another survey has suggested Labour faces virtual annihilation in Scotland at the hands of the pro-independence Scottish National Party – which controls the devolved parliament in Edinburgh – if an election were held now.

Lamont quit after accusing the Labour party of treating Scotland as a “branch office”, a charge Miliband denied.

Labour has traditionally dominated Scottish politics and won 41 of 59 Scottish seats in the British parliament in the last national election in 2010.

In the run-up to the independence referendum, politicians from all Britain’s major parties promised Scots a much greater say in their own affairs if they rejected secession, but have since squabbled over how to follow through on their promises.

The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England is home to about 85 percent of the total UK population.



(Reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Gareth Jones)


A real counterweight to US power is a global necessity

Conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine will spread without effective restraint on western unilateralism

October 29, 2014

by Seumas Milne

The Guardian


           ‘Vladimir Putin said the unipolar world had been a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries – but the emerging multipolar world was likely to be still more unstable.’ Photograph: Mikhail Klimentyev/AP

Where is the end of history now? Across three continents, conflicts are multiplying. An arc of war, foreign intervention and state breakdown stretches from Afghanistan to north Africa.

In Iraq and Syria, the so-called Islamic State – mutant offspring of the war on terror – is now the target of renewed US-led intervention. In Ukraine, thousands have died in the proxy fighting between Russian-backed rebels and the western-sponsored Kiev government. And in the far east, tensions between China, Japan and other US allies are growing.

British troops finally finally ended combat operations in Afghanistan on Sunday after 13 years of disastrous occupation. The bizarre claim, despite al-Qaida’s global spread, is that the mission was “pretty successful” — in a country where tens of thousands have been killed, the Taliban control vast areas, violence against women has escalated and elections are a fig leaf of fraud and intimidation.

The Afghan invasion launched what would become the west’s war without end, encompassing the catastrophe of Iraq, drone wars from Pakistan to Somalia, covert support for jihadi rebels in Syria and “humanitarian” intervention in Libya that has left behind a failed state in the grip of civil war.

The Middle East is now in an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis. More than any other single factor, that is the product of continual US and western intervention and support for dictatorships, both before and after the “Arab spring”, unconstrained by any system of international power or law.

But if the Middle Eastern maelstrom is the fruit of a US-dominated new world order, Ukraine is a result of the challenge to the unipolar world that grew out of the failure of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It was the attempt to draw divided Ukraine into the western camp by EU and US hawks after years of eastward Nato expansion that triggered the crisis, Russia’s absorption of Crimea and the uprising in the Russian-speaking Donbass region of the east.

Eight months on, elections on both sides look likely to deepen the division of the country. Routinely dismissed as Kremlin propaganda, the reality is the US and EU backed the violent overthrow of an elected if corrupt government and are now supporting a military campaign that includes far-right militias accused of war crimes — while Russia is subject to sweeping US and EU sanctions.

Last week at the Valdai discussion club near Sochi, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, launched his fiercest denunciation yet of this US role in the world – perhaps not surprisingly after Barack Obama had bracketed Russia with Ebola and Isis as America’s top three global threats. After the cold war, Putin declared, the US had tried to dominate the world through “unilateral diktat” and “illegal intervention”, disregarding international law and institutions if they got in the way. The result had been conflict, insecurity and the rise of groups such as Isis, as the US and its allies were “constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies”.

None of which is very controversial across most of the world. During a Valdai club session I chaired, Putin told foreign journalists and academics that the unipolar world had been a “means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries” – but the emerging multipolar world was likely to be still more unstable. The only answer – and this was clearly intended as an opening to the west – was to rebuild international institutions, based on mutual respect and co-operation. The choice was new rules – or no rules, which would lead to “global anarchy”.

When I asked Putin whether Russia’s actions in Ukraine had been a response to, and an example of, a “no-rules order”, Putin denied it, insisting that the Kosovo precedent meant Crimea had every right to self-determination. But by conceding that Russian troops had intervened in Crimea “to block Ukrainian units”, he effectively admitted crossing the line of legality – even if not remotely on the scale of the illegal invasions, bombing campaigns and covert interventions by the US and its allies over the past decade and a half.

But there is little chance of the western camp responding to Putin’s call for a new system of global rules. In fact, the US showed little respect for rules during the cold war either, intervening relentlessly wherever it could. But it did have respect for power. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that restraint disappeared. It was only the failure of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – and Russia’s subsequent challenge to western expansion and intervention in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine – that provided some check to unbridled US power.

Along with the rise of China, it has also created some space for other parts of the world to carve out their political independence, notably in Latin America. Putin’s oligarchic nationalism may not have much global appeal, but Russia’s role as a counterweight to western supremacism certainly does. Which is why much of the world has a different view of events in Ukraine from the western orthodoxy – and why China, India, Brazil and South Africa all abstained from the condemnation of Russia over Crimea at the UN earlier this year.

But Moscow’s check on US military might is limited. Its economy is over-dependent on oil and gas, under-invested and now subject to disabling sanctions. Only China offers the eventual prospect of a global restraint on western unilateral power and that is still some way off. As Putin is said to have told the US vice-president, Joe Biden, Russia may not be strong enough to compete for global leadership, but could yet decide who that leader might be.

Even Obama still regularly insists that the US is the “indispensable nation”. And it seems almost certain that whoever takes over from Obama will be significantly more hawkish and interventionist. The US elite remains committed to global domination and whatever can be preserved of the post-1991 new world order.

Despite the benefits of the emerging multipolar world, the danger of conflict, including large-scale wars, looks likely to grow. The public pressure that brought western troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan is going to have to get far stronger in the years to come – if that threat is not to engulf us all.







Bodies of 286 Women Discovered, 400 Listed Missing in East Ukraine: Donetsk Official

October 31,2014

RIA Novosti


             DONETSK, October 31 (RIA Novosti) – The bodies of 286 women have recently been discovered in the eastern Ukrainian city of Krasnoarmeisk while almost 400 women between the ages of 18 and 25 are still listed as missing, Alexander Zakharchenko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said Friday.

“Around 400 women between the ages of 18 and 25 have gone missing in Krasnoarmeisk where [Ukrainian forces] Dnepr-1 was based. The bodies of 286 women around Krasnoarmeisk who had been raped have been discovered,” Zakharchenko said at a meeting with students from Donetsk National Technical University.

The city of Krasnoarmeisk is located some 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Donetsk, the capital of the self-proclaimed republic.

An armed conflict broke out in the southeastern regions of Ukraine in April, when Ukrainian forces launched a military operation against Donbas independence supporters who opposed the February coup in Kiev.

The two conflicting sides agreed to a ceasefire on September 5 during a meeting of the trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine in Minsk. A memorandum specifying the implementation of the ceasefire was adopted at another Contact Group meeting on September 19.

Both sides have subsequently accused each other of violating the truce. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) special monitoring mission in the conflict-torn regions continues to report instances of shelling.


Washington tries to check Hungary’s drift into Kremlin orbit


November 1, 2014

by Zoran Radosavljevic and Krizstina Than



ZAGREB/BUDAPEST – The United States is mounting a diplomatic offensive to stop Hungary selling a stake in a Croatian energy firm to Russia, part of what Western powers see as Budapest’s dangerous drift into Moscow’s orbit.

The U.S. government has already taken the highly unusual step of blacklisting six people with ties to the government in Hungary, a NATO ally and European Union member, from entering the United States, accusing them of involvement in corruption.

U.S. officials say that demarche was the result of growing exasperation with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has pushed judges into retirement, imposed heavy levies on foreign banks, and this week sparked huge protests with a proposal to tax Internet use.

But Washington is particularly preoccupied about a growing closeness between Hungary and the Kremlin over energy that could undermine Western attempts to isolate Russian leader Vladimir Putin over his intervention in Ukraine.

Since September, Hungary has stopped pumping natural gas to Ukraine, effectively pulling out of an EU-backed effort to support Kiev in the face of a Russian energy blockade, and it has renewed a commitment to build a Kremlin-backed pipeline for Russian gas, South Stream, that Washington and Brussels oppose.

U.S. officials are now worried that Hungarian energy firm MOL will sell its 49 percent stake in INA, Croatia’s biggest energy company, to a Russian firm, possibly state-owned Gazprom. The Hungarian state has a 24.7 percent stake in MOL.

A State Department official responsible for energy security asked a U.S. senator who was visiting Europe to make a detour to Croatia last weekend to lobby the government there on the issue.

The State Department official, Amos J. Hochstein, also met Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Washington earlier this month. A State Department official told Reuters they had a “productive meeting” talking about MOL’s stake, South Stream, and Hungarian gas deliveries to Ukraine, among other issues.

Western diplomats in the region have confirmed the United States is worried about a possible sale to Gazprom, a firm they describe as a tool of Kremlin policy.

A Gazprom takeover would give the Russian company a strategic foothold inside the European Union, which is already its biggest customer for natural gas.

Chris Murphy, the U.S. Senator who lobbied Croatia’s government at Washington’s request, said Gazprom has made no secret it would like to buy control of INA.

“We thought it would be a good idea for me to stop by and see the prime minister and president to reiterate the importance of this issue,” Murphy said of his trip to Zagreb.

A buyer of MOL’s 49 percent stake could also acquire some of the roughly 5 percent of INA shares traded on the Zagreb bourse to gain a full majority in the Croatian company.

A Gazprom source said there had been a discussion in March involving Croatia, Gazprom oil unit Gazprom Neft, and Russian state-owned oil firm Rosneft, but that since then there had been no developments.

Hungary’s MOL, which is in a dispute with Croatia over its stake in INA, said in a statement that “selling the stake in INA is a valid option.” It said that it would not disclose details about potential buyers, as a matter of principle.




Hungary’s drift into the pro-Kremlin camp has accelerated in the past few months, according to Western diplomats.

Orban has clashed repeatedly with Brussels over his policies and has for several years been pursuing what he calls an “eastern opening”: a drive to build closer ties with Russia and countries in Asia.

In a speech earlier this year, Orban said he wanted to build an “illiberal state” that would still have freedoms but would put national values above Western-style liberal ideology.

Hungary, along with Poland and Slovakia, was one of three EU countries that had been pumping natural gas to Ukraine to partly replace shipments from Russia that were cut off in June.

But Hungary shut its supplies to Ukraine down in September, just three days after a visit to Budapest by Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller, who was received by Orban.

            At the time, Hungary was looking to increase gas imports so it could fill up its storage reservoirs before winter. Two days after it cut off shipments to Ukraine, the volume of Russian gas reaching Hungary shot up to 24.44 million cubic meters per day, according to data from Hungarian pipeline operator FGSZ, a 56 percent increase over the day Miller and Orban met.

In Kiev, the switch-off of Hungarian gas for Ukraine was interpreted as evidence that Russia had successfully exerted pressure on Hungary. Ukrainian gas firm Naftogaz, in a statement, complained about Russian “energy blackmail.”

Hungary’s actions differed from those of its neighbor Slovakia, which kept up deliveries to Ukraine despite having its own supplies reduced.

The Gazprom source denied the company had applied pressure on Hungary to stop pumping gas to Ukraine. But the source said: “When Miller visited Hungary, it became more cautious, unlike Slovakia.”

Russia itself agreed on Thursday to re-start gas deliveries to Ukraine after resolving a pricing dispute.


(Additional reporting by Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs in Budapest, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Writing by Christian Lowe; Ediring by Peter Graff)



Thank You for Your Valor, Thank You for Your Service, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…

Still on the Thank-You Tour-of-Duty Circuit, 13 Years Later

by Rory Fanning

Tom Dispatch


Last week, in a quiet indie bookstore on the north side of Chicago, I saw the latest issue of Rolling Stone resting on a chrome-colored plastic table a few feet from a barista brewing a vanilla latte.  A cold October rain fell outside. A friend of mine grabbed the issue and began flipping through it. Knowing that I was a veteran, he said, “Hey, did you see this?” pointing to a news story that seemed more like an ad.  It read in part:

“This Veterans Day, Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Rihanna, Dave Grohl, and Metallica will be among numerous artists who will head to the National Mall in Washington D.C. on November 11th for ‘The Concert For Valor,’ an all-star event that will pay tribute to armed services.”

“Concert For Valor? That sounds like something the North Korean government would organize,” I said as I typed Concertforvalor.com into my MacBook Pro looking for more information.

The sucking sound from the espresso maker was drowning out a 10-year-old Shins song. As I read, my heart sank, my shoulders slumped.

Special guests at the Concert for Valor were to include: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg.  The mission of the concert, according to a press release, was to “raise awareness” of veterans issues and “provide a national stage for ensuring that veterans and their families know that their fellow Americans’ gratitude is genuine.”

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen were to serve in an advisory capacity, and Starbucks, HBO, and JPMorgan Chase were to pay for it all. “We are honored to play a small role to help raise awareness and support for our service men and women,” said HBO chairman Richard Plepler.

Though I couldn’t quite say why, that Concert for Valor ad felt tired and sad, despite the images of Rihanna singing full-throated into a gold microphone and James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica wailing away on their guitars. I had gotten my own share of “thanks” from civilians when I was still a U.S. Army Ranger.  Who hadn’t?  It had been the endless theme of the post-9/11 era, how thankful other Americans were that we would do… well, what exactly, for them?  And here it was again.  I couldn’t help wondering: Would veterans somewhere actually feel the gratitude that Starbucks and HBO hoped to convey?

I went home and cooked dinner for my wife and little girl in a semi-depressed state, thinking about that word “valor” which was to be at the heart of the event and wondering about the Hall of Fame line-up of twenty-first century liberalism that was promoting it or planning to turn out to hail it: Rolling Stone, the magazine of Hunter S. Thompson and all things rock and roll; Bruce Springsteen, the billion-dollar working-class hero; Eminem, the white rapper who has sold more records than Elvis; Metallica, the crew who sued Napster and the metal band of choice for so many longhaired, disenfranchised youth of the 1980s and 1990s.  They were all going to say “thank you” — again.

Raising (Whose?) Awareness

Later that night, I sat down and Googled “vets honored.” Dozens and dozens of stories promptly queued up on my screen.  (Try it yourself.)  One of the first items I clicked on was the 50th anniversary celebration in Bangor, Maine, of the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the alleged Pearl Harbor of the Vietnam War.  Governor Paul LePage had spoken ringingly of the veterans of that war: “These men were just asked to go to a foreign land and protect our freedoms. And they weren’t treated with respect when they returned home. Now it’s time to acknowledge it.”

Vietnam, he insisted, was all about protecting freedom — such a simple and innocent explanation for such a long and horrific war. Lest you forget, the governor and those gathered in Bangor that day were celebrating a still-murky “incident” that touched off a massive American escalation of the war.  It was claimed that North Vietnamese patrol boats had twice attacked an American destroyer, though President Lyndon Johnson later suggested that the incident might even have involved shooting at “flying fish” or “whales.” As for protecting freedom in Vietnam, tell the dead Vietnamese in America’s “free fire zones” about that.

No one, however, cared about such details.  The point was that eternal “thank you.”  If only, I thought, some inquisitive and valorous local reporter had asked the governor, “Treated with disrespect by whom?” And pointed out the mythology behind the idea that American civilians had mistreated GIs returning from Vietnam.  (Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the Veterans Administration, which denied returning soldiers proper healthcare, or the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, organizations that weren’t eager to claim the country’s defeated veterans of a disastrous war as their own.)

When it came to thanks and “awareness raising,” no American war with a still living veteran seemed too distant to be ignored. Google told me, for example, that Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania, had recently celebrated its 12th annual “Multi-Cultural Day” by thanking its “forgotten Korean War Veterans.” According to a local newspaper report, included in the festivities were martial arts demonstrations and traditional Korean folk dancing.

The Korean War was the precursor to Vietnam, with similar results. As with the Gulf of Tonkin incident, the precipitating event of the war that North Korea ignited on June 25, 1950, remains open to question. Evidence suggests that, with U.S. approval, South Korea initiated a bombardment of North Korean villages in the days leading up to the invasion. As in Vietnam, there, too, the U.S. supported a corrupt autocrat and used napalm on a mass scale. Millions died, including staggering numbers of civilians, and North Korea was left in rubble by war’s end.  Folk dancing was surely in short supply. As for protecting our freedoms in Korea, enough said.

These two ceremonies seemed to catch a particular mood (reflected in so many similar, if more up-to-date versions of the same). They might have benefited from a little “awareness raising” when it came to what the American military has actually been doing these last years, not to say decades, beyond our borders. They certainly summed up much of the frustration I was feeling with the Concert for Valor. Plenty of thank yous, for sure, but no history when it came to what the thanks were being offered for in, say, Iraq or Afghanistan, no statistics on taxpayer dollars spent or where they went, or on innocent lives lost and why.

Will the “Concert for Valor” mention the trillions of dollars rung up terrorizing Muslim countries for oil, the ratcheting up of the police and surveillance state in this country since 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost thanks to the wars of George W. Bush and Barack Obama? Is anyone going to dedicate a song to Chelsea Manning, or John Kiriakou, or Edward Snowden — two of them languishing in prison and one in exile — for their service to the American people? Will the Concert for Valor raise anyone’s awareness when it comes to the fact that, to this day, veterans lack proper medical attention, particularly for mental health issues, or that there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country? Let’s hope they find time in between drum solos, but myself, I’m not counting on it.

Thank Yous

While Googling around, I noticed an allied story about President Obama christening a poetic sounding “American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial” on October 5th.  There, he wisely noted that “the U.S. should never rush into war.” As he spoke, however, the Air Force, the Navy, and Special Forces personnel (who wear boots that do touch the ground, even in Iraq), as well as the headquarters of “the Big Red One,” the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, were already involved in the latest war he had personally ordered in Iraq and Syria, while, of course, bypassing Congress.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! Damn, I voted for Obama because he said he’d end our overseas wars. At least it’s not Bush sending the planes, drones, missiles, and troops back there, because if it were, I’d be mad.

Then there were the numerous stories about “Honor Flights” sponsored by Southwest Airlines that offered all World War II veterans and the terminally ill veterans of more recent wars a free trip to Washington to “reflect at their memorials” before they died. Honor flights turn out to be a particularly popular way to honor veterans. Local papers in Richfield, Utah, Des Moines, Iowa, Elgin, Illinois, Austin, Texas, Miami, Florida, and so on place by place across significant swaths of the country have run stories about dying hometown “heroes” who have participated in these flights, a kind of nothing-but-the-best-in-corporate-sponsorship for the last of the “Greatest Generation.”

“Welcome home” ceremonies, with flags, marching bands, heartfelt embraces, much weeping, and the usual babies and small children missed during tours of duty in our war zones are also easy to find. In the first couple of screens Google offered in response to the phrase “welcome home ceremony,” I found the usual thank-you celebrations for veterans returning from Afghanistan in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, and Saint Albans, Vermont, among other places. “We don’t do enough for our veterans, for what they do for us, we hear the news, but to be up there in a field, and be shot at, and sometimes coming home disabled, we don’t realize how lucky we are sometimes to have the people who have served their country,” one of the Saint Albans attendees was typically quoted as saying.

“Do enough…?” In America, isn’t thank you plenty?

Oddly, it’s harder to find thank-you ceremonies for living vets involved in America’s numerous smaller interventions in places like the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Kosovo, Somalia, Libya, and various CIA-organized coups and proxy wars around the world, but I won’t be surprised if they, too, exist.  I was wondering, though: What about all those foreign soldiers we’ve trained to fight our wars for us in places like South Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? Shouldn’t they be thanked as well? And how about members of the Afghan Mujahedeen that we armed and funded in the 1980s while they gave the Soviet Union its own “Vietnam” (and who are now fighting for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or other extreme Islamist outfits)? Or what about the Indonesian troops we armed under the presidency of Gerald Ford, who committed possibly genocidal acts in East Timor in 1975?  Or has our capacity for thanks been used up in the service of American vets?

Since 9/11, those thank yous have been aimed at veterans with the regularity of the machine gun fire that may still haunt their dreams. Veterans have also been offered special consideration when it comes to applications for mostly menial jobs so that they can “utilize the skills” they learned in the military. While they continue to march in those welcome home parades and have concerts organized in their honor, the thank yous are in no short supply. The only question that never seems to come up is: What exactly are they being thanked for?

Heroes Who Afford Us Freedom

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz has said of the upcoming Concert for Valor:

“The post-9/11 years have brought us the longest period of sustained warfare in our nation’s history. The less than one percent of Americans who volunteered to serve during this time have afforded the rest of us remarkable freedoms — but that freedom comes with a responsibility to understand their sacrifice, to honor them, and to appreciate the skills and experience they offer when they return home.”

It was crafty of Schultz to redirect that famed 1% label from the ultra rich, represented by CEOs like him, onto our “heroes.” At the concert, I hope Schultz has a chance to get more specific about those “remarkable freedoms.” Will he mention that the U.S. has the highest per capita prison population on the planet?  Does he include among those remarkable freedoms the guarantee that dogs, Tasers, tear gas, and riot police will be sent after you if you stay out past dark protesting the killing of an unarmed Black teenager by a representative of this country’s increasingly militarized police? Will the freedom to be too big to fail and so to have the right to melt down the economy and walk away without going to prison — as Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase, did — be mentioned? Do these remarkable freedoms include having every American phone call and email recorded and stored away by the NSA?

And what about that term “hero”? Many veterans reject it, and not just out of Gary Cooperesque modesty either. Most veterans who have seen combat, watched babies get torn apart, or their comrades die in their arms, or the most powerful army on Earth spend trillions of dollars fighting some of the poorest people in the world for 13 years feel anything but heroic.  But that certainly doesn’t stop the use of the term.  So why do we use it?  As journalist Cara Hoffman points out at Salon:

“‘[H]ero’ refers to a character, a protagonist, something in fiction, not to a person, and using this word can hurt the very people it’s meant to laud. While meant to create a sense of honor, it can also buy silence, prevent discourse, and benefit those in power more than those navigating the new terrain of home after combat. If you are a hero, part of your character is stoic sacrifice, silence. This makes it difficult for others to see you as flawed, human, vulnerable, or exploited.”

We use the term hero in part because it makes us feel good and in part because it shuts soldiers up (which, believe me, makes the rest of us feel better). Labeled as a hero, it’s also hard to think twice about putting your weapons down. Thank yous to heroes discourage dissent, which is one reason military bureaucrats feed off the term.

There are American soldiers stationed around the globe who think about filing conscientious objector status (as I once did), and I sometimes hear from some of them.  They often grasp the way in which the militarized acts of imperial America are helping to create the very enemies they are then being told to kill. They understand that the trillions of dollars being wasted on war will never be spent on education, health care, or the development of clean energy here at home.  They know that they are fighting for American control over the flow of fossil fuels on this planet, the burning of which is warming our world and threatening human existence.

Then you have Bruce Springsteen and Metallica telling them “thank you” for wearing that uniform, that they are heroes, that whatever it is they’re doing in distant lands while we go about our lives here isn’t an issue.  There is even the possibility that, one day, you, the veteran, might be ushered onto that stage during a concert or onto the field during a ballgame for a very public thank you. The conflicted soldier thinks twice.


I’m back at that indie bookstore sitting at the same chrome-colored table trying to hash all this out, including my own experiences in the Army Rangers, and end on a positive note. The latest issue of Rolling Stone appears to have sold out. Out the window, the sun is peeking through a thick web of clouds.  They sell wine here, too. The sooner I finish this, the sooner I can start drinking.

There is no question that we should honor people who fight for justice and liberty. Many veterans enlisted in the military thinking that they were indeed serving a noble cause, and it’s no lie to say that they fought with valor for their brothers and sisters to their left and right. Unfortunately, good intentions at this stage are no substitute for good politics. The war on terror is going into its 14th year.  If you really want to talk about “awareness raising,” it’s years past the time when anyone here should be able to pretend that our 18-year-olds are going off to kill and die for good reason. How about a couple of concerts to make that point?

Until then, I’m going to drink wine and try to enjoy the music over the sound of the espresso machine.


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