18 November 2017

Why ISIS Fighters Were Allowed to Leave Raqqa?

I have always been curious about why the ISIS story was never fully told.

My long time readers will remember me struggling with various questions about this shadowy organization.

In 2013, when ISIS showed up out of the blue with a $4 billion war chest and two professional film studios and several software development units all over the Arab world, I couldn't buy the idea that this slick entity was formed by an unknown preacher called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and staffed by semi-literate thugs from Western European suburbia and disaffected North Africa youth.

The corporate media maintained that the organization was created by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian with anger management issues who never met al-Baghdadi and who died in 2006, 7 years before ISIS showed up as an amazingly well run terror machine to replace Al Nusra Front overnight.

They were so good, we were told, that they invaded Mosul, a city of 2 million with only 1,800 fighters. Nobody seemed to be too concerned that it was an impossible feat, as that represented 51 soldiers per neighborhood (Mosul has 35 districts).  Or less than one soldier per street.

Equally dubious were the extraordinary night fighting skills of ISIS soldiers and their ability to use heavy artillery and vehicles with astonishing sophistication.

Finally, no one bothered to point out that their insistence in forming a state and therefore inviting relentless attacks by far more superior forces was simply illogical.

None of it made any sense.

So I pieced together a framework that explained most of these peculiar issues.

According to documents unearthed by Der Spiegel, ISIS was created by Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, a colonel in Saddam's Mukhabarat with the explicit aim to rally the Sunni population to rise up against the American occupation.

He found al-Baghdadi in prison and he named him the public face of ISIS. He was also the guy who set up the organizational structure of ISIS and placed Baathist officers in key positions during the expansion process.

The military power was provided by Saddam's Vice Chairman of General Chief of Staff Izzat al-Douri's Naqshbandi Army.

It was that army that invaded Mosul and chased the demoralized Iraqi units. It was also them who did the bulk of fighting while Jihadi Johns and Jihadi Jeans from Europe posed for beheading videos.

The money that paid for the army, the studios, the monthly payments for fighting idiots was provided by Qatar. They needed a pipeline for their natural gas to Europe and both Syria and Iraq had said no to the project.

Al Nusrah Front the precursor of ISIS was not up to the job so ISIS got the mission.

The need for a pipeline is also the reason behind the need for an actual territory.

In other words, ISIS was made possible by the collusion of a lot of players.

Otherwise, do you really think that it is possible to create such a huge and slick monster without anyone noticing?

Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey all stood to benefit from the creation of a Pipelineistan from the ashes of Syria. And they actively supported ISIS.

Since Qatar's natural gas comes from shared fields with Iran, it represented an additional bonus in the form of weakening the Islamic Republic.

Europe was fine with the plan as well because of their dependence on Russian gas. Putin's often hostile relations with Ukraine indicated that he would not shrink from using gas as leverage. If Qatar's gas could reach Europe, with Norway as another major supplier, Europe could call Putin's bluff when they needed to.

The US was fine with the idea as it weakened both Russia and Iran.

That is why nobody pressured Turkey to close its borders or to stop providing arms and ammunition to ISIS and nobody said a word about the billions of dollars sent to ISIS.

And nobody tried to prevent tens of thousands young people from traveling to Syria to die for the cause.

All of these points are well documented and over the years I wrote a great deal about them. Yet none of this made to mainstream news media. Even the Der Spiegel revelations were not picked up by anyone. As late as last year, Frontline was still talking about Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi as the founder of ISIS.

Why did I rehash all of this one more time?

A few days ago, BBC published a long article in which they revealed that when Raqqa, ISIS' capital fell earlier this year, coalition forces hired lorries and drivers to have ISIS fighters and their families carried out of the city in peace.

When the deal was made with local people, Kurdish-led SDF and British and American officers made extensive arrangements to keep it secret.
Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal. (...)
The Kurdish-led SDF cleared Raqqa of media. Islamic State’s escape from its base would not be televised.
According to the drivers, about 4,000 people consisting of fighters, their wives and children were transported out of Raqqa.
Another driver says the convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles.

Footage secretly filmed and passed to us shows lorries towing trailers crammed with armed men. Despite an agreement to take only personal weapons, IS fighters took everything they could carry. Ten trucks were loaded with weapons and ammunition.
 This is the footage of the exodus made by SDF soldiers.


In case you think that these were beaten down and disillusioned militants, this is what the drivers said.
“They said, 'Let us know when you rebuild Raqqa - we will come back,’” says Abu Fawzi. “They were defiant and didn’t care. They accused us of kicking them out of Raqqa.” (...)
Almost everyone we spoke to says IS threatened to return, its fighters running a finger across their throats as they passed by.
What is interesting is the fact that they allowed foreign fighters to leave as well.
But foreign fighters – those not from Syria and Iraq - were also able to join the convoy, according to the drivers. One explains:
There was a huge number of foreigners. France, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi, China, Tunisia, Egypt...”
The convoys were left alone for the most part and when they reached a predetermined destination, the fighters moved on by themselves. Some used smugglers to get into Turkey, others into Iraq.

The report maintained that senior IS figures were evacuated earlier and they had their own highly paid smugglers.

The one exception was the notorious intelligence chief of ISIS Abu Musab Huthaifa. He was double crossed by his smugglers and was arrested before he could cross the Turkish border.
He says the convoy went to the countryside of eastern Syria, not far from the border with Iraq.

Thousands escaped, he says.

Abu Musab’s own attempted escape serves as a warning to the West of the threat from those freed from Raqqa.

How could one of the most notorious of IS chiefs escape through enemy territory and almost evade capture?
Apparently, before the siege, thousands escaped to Idlib, which is to the West of Raqqa. While some chose to stay others left for their country of origin.
Foreigners, too, also make it out - including Britons, other Europeans and Central Asians. The costs range from $4,000 (£3,000) per fighter to $20,000 for a large family.
According to the spokesman of coalition forces Co. Ryan Dillon they were reluctant to let them go. But they did.
“We didn’t want anyone to leave,” says Col Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, the Western coalition against IS.

“But this goes to the heart of our strategy, ‘by, with and through’ local leaders on the ground. It comes down to Syrians – they are the ones fighting and dying, they get to make the decisions regarding operations,” he says.

While a Western officer was present for the negotiations, they didn’t take an “active part” in the discussions.
Does that make any sense to you?

Next time some of these future "lone wolves" kill tens of innocent civilians, remember this extraordinary decision to let these murderous thugs escape Raqqa and return to their countries.

And ask yourself this: Is there any way the people who made that decision did not know of its possible consequences?

12 November 2017

The Weinstein Effect and It's IOKIYAR Exception

I am immensely enjoying the daily parade of powerful men who are finally shamed for sexually harassing or assaulting women for decades.

And there seems to be no end in sight. The latest being the disgraced FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.

Others, as yet unnamed power players, must be shaking in their boots.

The scandal has a name: the Weinstein Effect.

It is also a very different than any previous scandals in two respects: the swift reaction of the companies and the equally swift apologies that followed their dismissal.

Everybody Knew 

In the early days of the Weinstein saga what was puzzling to me was how quickly the associated companies and institutions severed their ties with these predators.

Until now, unless these powerful men would deflect any accusations by categorically denying all allegations. Their publicists would issue carefully parsed denials and their lawyers would quash rumors by sending threatening cease-and-desist letters.

And studios or media outlets would demure and spout homilies about everyone being innocent until proven guilty.

Remember Bill O'Reilly's infamous loofah-falafel incident from 2004? He settled it for a lot of money with scarcely a blemish on his reputation.

He settled five more cases over the years and never suffered professionally.

In fact, as late as this January he had his contract with Fox News renewed (with a raise) after he settled another sexual assault allegation for $32 million.

Then came the Weinstein story and there was a paradigm shift.

Within days, the man was unceremoniously dumped by The Weinstein Company (TWC). And the guy who did so was his brother.

The Academy and BAFTA and TV Academy followed suit.

At first I couldn't figure out why such a dramatic turnaround took place. Then it occurred to me that's because everybody knew.

And they knew that too many other people knew to try to contain it.

You see, for decades, Harvey Weinstein's paid off a large number of victims gagged by ironclad NDAs. And The Weinstein Company (TWC) knew about these payoffs for years.

This is a man who loved belittling, berating and bullying people, especially women. He threw ashtray to his assistants, called them the C-word. And his exploits were the stuff of legend.

As Scott Rosenberg wrote, "everybody-fucking-knew."
You, the big producers; you, the big directors; you, the big agents; you, the big financiers. And you, the big rival studio chiefs; you, the big actors; you, the big actresses; you, the big models. You, the big journalists; you, the big screenwriters; you, the big rock stars; you, the big restaurateurs; you, the big politicians.” He writes, “You know who are. You know that you knew. And do you know how I know that you knew? Because I was there with you. And because everybody-fucking-knew.” 
That's why TWC also knew that they couldn't survive this by denying it.

That is the real Weinstein Effect.

And it is true in all cases.

It seems that every comedian knew about Louis CK and like TWC, many powerful structures protected him.

Same goes for the editors and publishers about the New Republic's Leon Wieseltier. Editor Peter Beinart and owner Marty Peretz knew about Wieseltier and they covered for him.

James Toback was exposed by Spy Magazine as early as 1989 and also by Gawker several times. His autobiography was entitled "The Pick-up Artist." Everybody knew of his habit of accosting women with the cheesy line "I am a famous director and you could be in my next movie."

Brett Ratner jerking off in front of actresses was covered by Gawker many years ago.

At Fox News, it was common knowledge that "the Chairman" was a serial harasser.

Besides Bill O'Reilly there was also Eric Bolling and I am sure there are many more in their current roster of on-air talent who acted the same way.

Google "Kevin Spacey and orgies" and you will find many stories from a few years back. I can't find the links now but I once stumbled upon many more explicit stories. He was notoriously tactile with young assistants or grips on every set.

Once again, "everybody fucking knew."

Which explains why, after Weinstein was fired, Mark Halperin was dropped by NBC, MSNBC, Showtime and his book publisher.

And Louis CK's movie company absorbed the cost of not releasing his movie and FX Network and HBO cut their lucrative relationship with him.

Because they knew that "everybody fucking knew."

With Kevin Spacey, possibly because he was gay and his first accuser was 14 years old at the time of the incident, the reaction was even more drastic. Netflix fired him from its popular and acclaimed franchise House of Cards and Ridley Scott decided to erase him from his latest movie by re-shooting all his scenes.

Then there are the unusual and swift apologies which stood in sharp contrast with previous vociferous denials.

My understanding is that, when these powerful men realized that their enablers did not hesitate to throw them under the bus to prevent people asking questions about how much they knew, they were told by their publicists and lawyers to apologize promptly and whole-heartedly.

Just think of Harvey Weinstein, who, a year earlier hired ex-Mossad agents (and a supposedly feminist lawyer) to destroy the same women. Now, his first reaction to the New York Times piece  was to apologize for all the hurt he caused.

Followed by the previously mandatory check-in to rehab for a non-existent condition.

Where is Amy Winehouse when we need her.

Halperin too apologized right away, as did Kevin Spacey, who claimed to be beyond horrified about his own actions.

Also deeply sorry were Dustin Hoffman, Ben Affleck, Louis CK, Chris Savino (the creator of Nickelodeon's Loud House), Michael Oreskes (top editor of NPR) and "David cop-a-feel" George H.W. Bush.

So far, Roy Price (the head of Amazon Studios), John Besh (celebrity chef) and Lockhart Steele (Top editor of Vox Media) are silent. I am sure their time will come.

One irony about all this is the fact that Weinstein has been telling his friends that his past behavior was designed to bring about these changes.
Disgraced Harvey Weinstein’s been telling what friends he has left that there’s a bigger reason he’s embroiled in his ever-widening sexual harassment scandal: to “change the world,” sources tell Page Six. 
“Harvey believes he is a savior,” a Hollywood insider says.
The source adds that the pervy former Weinstein Co. and Miramax macher has been telling confidantes “that he was born to take the fall for his behavior in order to ‘change the world.’ He is resigned to his punishment — as a martyr for social change.”
That's men for you.

Not A Few Bad Apples

I am glad that these people are exposed and women are having a moment of empowerment. But I wonder how effective this will be since, thanks to the clever maneuvering of the enablers we are focusing on the individual.

This is not a case of a few rotten apples. It is about power structures that foster this behavior.

This is about organizational culture and patriarchal permissiveness. Look at any institutions with men in power and women in subordinate positions, this is the natural outcome.

Universities were horrible in that respect and they still are. And they are also in denial:
A man called Brett Sokolow, who has made a name (and a lot of money) for himself by offering US universities advice on sexual misconduct, picked up on this a while ago. In a 2014 interview with al-Jazeera America, Sokolow explained how, while touring universities over a decade ago, he noticed campuses were very “squeamish” about the word rape and sexual misconduct hearing boards were unwilling to label offenders as rapists. So he tested the phrase “nonconsensual sex” with focus groups and found that it made people a lot more comfortable than a nasty word like rape. Now it has become standard terminology – Sokolow estimates that between 700 and 800 campuses have adopted the language in their sexual misconduct policies. And thank God for that. What a disaster it would be if we used language that made rapists, sorry I mean nonconsensual sexual penetrationists, uncomfortable!
Read the whole piece as it shows how the enablers distorted language at every turn.

The same goes for media outlets.

Remember the Good Girls Revolt? A series inspired by true events at Newsweek around 1970 where women could only do research and all writing was given to men.

Ironically, it was cancelled after one season by Roy Price, the Amazon studio chief who just resigned for sexual harassment. And there are talks to bring it back thanks to Weinstein Effect.

Companies?
Overall, 45% of women polled said they have been sexually harassed at work. This translates to about 33.6 million women in the US. 
The group that experienced the most harassment were women between the ages 30 and 44 — almost half (49%) said they had been sexually harassed at work. Not far behind, 47% of women ages 45 to 64 said they were sexually harassed at work, followed by 41% of women ages 18 to 20, and finally 40% of women 65 or older.
You already know the so-called "Bro culture" in the largest tech companies. Susan Fowler anyone?

How about the culinary world and its sexist macho kitchens.
In March of that year, Ivy Knight, a Toronto writer and former cook, published a piece on Vice’s Munchies site called “What It’s Like to Be Attacked by Your Sous Chef,” in which she recounted a long list of horrifying stories from her time working in kitchens, including being slammed against a counter and choked after a bad service. A few months later, a cook named Kate Burnham came forward with hideous allegations about her experience as an employee at the Toronto restaurant Weslodge. In her complaint, she alleged, among other things, that three male colleagues at the restaurant had grabbed her breasts, slapped her ass with a spatula hard enough to leave bruises, and that a popular brunch activity for some of the cooks was to spray her face and hair with aerated hollandaise, an act whose inspiration is self-evident.
Read Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" it is worth it.

What is positive about the Weinstein effect is that it forces people to review the systemic nature and the power component of sexual misconduct.

But there is one group that is immune to the Weinstein Effect. The Republicans and of course the truly pious evangelicals. The original flip floppers, the group who were fine with abortion until they couldn't stand it.

IOKIYAR

Last September, as you no doubt remember, a tape was leaked to the media.

It had Donald Trump boasting that he routinely grabbed women by the pussy and forced them to do vile things against their will.

Right after that, former underage beauty pageant contestants revealed that he would barge in on them while they were naked and leer.

24 women came forward alleging various acts of sexual misconduct like forcible kisses, touching genitalia and in one case (Ivana) brutal rape.

When the stories came out the picture on the right was the reaction of Trumpkins.

A few days ago, the colorful racist Alabama judge turned GOP politician Roy Moore was accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old girl when he was a prosecutor.

Three more women came forward to claim that he prayed on them while they were 14-18 years old.
One of the accusers said she was a 14-year-old working as Santa's helper at a shopping centre when Mr Moore first targeted her.
We are talking pedophilia and just days earlier Kevin Spacey was completely destroyed for hitting on a 14 year old.

Do you know what the reaction was to these serious and extremely disturbing accusations?
Alabama's state auditor Jim Zeigler came under fire on Thursday for his remarks defending Mr Moore. 
He was quoted as saying that even if the Washington Post report were true, "it's much ado about very little".
Mr Zeigler told the Washington Times newspaper: "Also take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus."
And many Republicans rushed to his defense.

Unsurprisingly, the evangelicals, Roy Moore's core base were fine with his pedophilia.
As Thomas Edsall recently noted, from 2011 to 2016, the percentage of white evangelical Protestants who believe that “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life” shot up, from thirty to seventy-two per cent. Evangelicals went from being the least forgiving religious group to being the most forgiving religious group.
That's IOKIYAR for you.

06 November 2017

Texas Church Shooting

Why do Americans call for stricter Muslim immigration vetting after every murderous act committed by a Muslim but offer only thoughts and prayers after a white male mass shooting.

Shouldn't they ask for stricter vetting of gun buyers and gun owners?

You would think so but no one does.

And no one wonders about it.

04 November 2017

Catalonia: Massive Miscalculation On Both Sides

As you might have noticed, things are rapidly getting out of hand in Catalonia.

And instead of telling us why this is happening the corporate media has so far given us just the sound and fury.

From what I can see, it looks like this whole crisis was triggered by a massive miscalculation by Carles Puigdemont, Catalonia's President.

And now Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister, is doing the same.

Here is my take on the crisis.

Puigdemont's Big Bet

Until this confrontation with Catalonia, Mariano Rajoy was a very unpopular Prime Minister in every region of Spain. His austerity measures destroyed the country's economy and made millions of people unnecessarily miserable.

On top of that, his People's Party (PP) has been embroiled in a huge corruption scandal.

You see, a couple of decades ago, a man by the name of Francisco Correa set up a network for the purpose of bribing PP officials in exchange for government contracts. He called his network Gürtel, which means belt in German as Correa means belt in Spanish.

An unbreakable code.

The case was picked up in 2009 by Baltasar Garzón, the magistrate known for his grandstanding and high visibility cases.

Gürtel folks managed to get him suspended as a judge using an unrelated matter and the case languished for a while. It moved from judge to judge and finally, the trial began in 2016.

Correa was quickly found guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in prison.

The former treasurer of PP, Luis Barcenas admitted in court that with the commissions paid by the Gürtel network a party slush fund was created. He had a parallel bookkeeping system.

To give you an idea how much money was involved, Barcenas is accused of having €48 million in Swiss banks in his own name.

During his 2013 deposition, Barcenas confessed that he gave Rajoy envelops full of cash, though in open court he retracted that allegation.

In July 2017, Mariano Rajoy became the first Prime Minister in Spanish history to testify in a trial. The court refused his offer to testify through video link and made him sit in court.

Unsurprisingly, Rajoy denied any knowledge of a slush fund or the Gürtel network.

Now, add to Rajoy's woes the fact that in the December 2015 elections, his party lost 64 seats and 16 percent of the votes, their worst showing since 1989. Currently, he has no parliamentary majority and he has to get everyone's approval to pass any legislation.

I believe that this rather bleak picture was at the heart of Carles Puigdemont's strategy. He assumed that Rajoy was so unpopular and weak that he could actually get huge concessions from him.

He figured that like Scotland, an independent Catalonia would be able to get EU membership and things would continue as before. And he would be the president of an actual country.

While it is true that Spain would hold a veto for any new EU member, I suspect Puigdemont must have thought he could successfully negotiate a deal with Rajoy given the latter's corruption predicament.

The problem for Puigdemont is that he had an equally weak political position.

Catalan politics has a dizzying array of parties and ever changing alliances.

In the last elections in 2015, the two pro-independence umbrella groups, Junt pel Si (Together for Yes) (JxSi) and Catalunya Si que es Pot (CatSíqueesPot) (Catalonia Yes We Can) fell short of a majority in Parliament.

JxSi needed the support of Candidature d'Unitat Popular (CUP) (Popular Unity Candidacy) but they didn't like JxSi leader and former president Artur Mas. He had his own serious corruption history.[link in French]

After almost four months of squabbling, in January 2016, moments before the deadline for fresh elections, Carles Puigdemont emerged as the compromise candidate for President.

The referendum and independence declaration stunts were designed to strengthen his position as the clean pro-independence politician.

As we know his bluff backfired spectacularly.

Besides violence and turmoil, "since October 1st, more than 1,500 companies, including almost all the big ones, have moved their domicile outside the region, and tourist bookings have dipped."

In other words, his gamble destroyed the region's economy and standing.

Now he is a fugitive in Brussels and his former cabinet members are languishing in Spanish jails.

Rajoy's Heavy-Handed Response

Mariano Rajoy used the artificial crisis created by Puigdemont very adroitly.

He baited him at every turn, threatening him with a series of escalating measures. Initially, I did not get his over-the-top reaction and often violent moves.

After all, a clear majority of Catalans were not in favor of independence. And if he let things run their course the independence movement would have fizzled out.

But it subsequently became clear that they were designed to leave Puigdemont with two equally bad choices: back down and lose face or declare independence and lose power.

At the same time, Rajoy went around to denounce Catalonia as the spoiled kid of Spain. It wasn't difficult: the region's economy was doing better than the rest of the country and they enjoyed a privileged position attracting the ire and jealousy of other regions.

In that sense, thanks to Puigdemont, Rajoy made Spaniards forget about his corruption and his austerity policies. The more intransigent he appeared with Catalonia the more popular he became elsewhere in the country.

Hence the electoral violence, the removal of Catalan autonomy and lately, the jailing of pro-independence politicians.

As a final touch, he got France and Germany declare that they would not recognize an independent Catalonia. And the EU Commission remained silent dashing an independent Catalonia's hopes of ever joining the Union.

It worked nicely. Puigdemont went all in and lost.

What's Next?

It looks to me that Rajoy overplayed his hand with issuing arrest warrants for sedition and treason for Puigdemont and jailing prominent Catalan politicians. These are the people in custody:

Oriol Junqueras, former deputy vice-president
Joaquim Forn, former interior minister
Raül Romeva, former external relations secretary
Carles Mundó, former justice minister
Dolors Bassa, former labour minister
Jordi Turull, former government presidency councillor
Josep Rull, former sustainable development minister
Meritxell Borras, former culture minister

And Puigdemont is in Belgium facing extradition.

Since he also called fresh elections on 21 December, Rajoy exposed himself to a very tangible possibility of Catalan people voting with their emotions.

Like most linguistic minorities (Bengalis in Pakistan or Quebecois in Canada) Catalans are fiercely protective of their heritage and cultural identity. And they might react unexpectedly, not to say irrationally, if Rajoy continues to humiliate their politicians, threaten them with long jail sentences and take over Mossos d'Esquadra.

The issue for Rajoy is what options he had if Catalans convincingly voted for pro-independence parties in these elections? Abolish autonomy and run the region from Madrid?

I seriously doubt that this is feasible at this point.

And even if Catalan voters chose pro-union parties in December, the aftertaste of Madrid's violent tactics, reminiscent of Franco era, will linger on for a long time and will likely poison the region's relations with the central government.

So, it seems to me that Rajoy's strategy of painting Puigdemont into a corner might have yielded the same result for him.

27 October 2017

Hillary Clinton and The Crime of Opposition Research

I don't get worked up easily.

I can read Trump tweets all day long and stay zen.

But the other day, I blew my top off when I read the latest hatchet job on Hillary Clinton.

Let me explain.

The day after the gold star family saga, where Trump insulted the widow of a black soldier and John Kelly lied for him, Washington Post ran a piece accusing Clinton campaign of funding the Christopher Steele opposition research dossier.

The ominous title was "Clinton campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier."

This is the dossier that alleged among other verifiable claims that Russian sex workers allegedly urinated on the Orange Man in a bed where Obama once slept (I am not sure if it was just the bed or him in it, my inclination is to point at the bed).

Now, as I wrote here several times, the people who financed the oppo were Republican rivals of Donald Trump.

Interestingly, no media outlet bothered to find out who they were. In fact if you read the Post piece they say so themselves.
Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.
Whoever they were, they used Fusion GPS, a political research company, to hire the former British spy Christopher Steele to collect dirt on Trump.

He came through and gave them his conclusions. Piss and all.

When it became clear that Trump would be the presumptive nominee, Republicans stopped financing the oppo.

Naturally, Fusion GPS took it to DNC and asked them if they would be interested and they said yes.

As anyone else in any political campaign would. Oppo is a universal practice. Just ask Donnie Jr who took a meeting with a Russian lawyer to get some dirt on Clinton.

As you saw in the Post quote, DNC used Marc Elias' law firm Perkins Coie to fund the Fusion GPS investigation until October. This is their scoop.

But there is more.

Around October, with no one else to give money to this project, Christopher Steele, who was said to be sufficiently alarmed by his own findings, contacted his sources at FBI to let them see the dossier.

Or was it John McCain?

In any case, the FBI were so intrigued that they agreed to pay him to complete his research. But they never did or could when his name was revealed after the election.

Much of this is common knowledge among news junkies.

The only two pieces missing were the original contract holder and the Democratic intermediary for the subsequent funding since neither the DNC nor the Clinton campaign  fessed up to partially funding the Steele dossier.

And we now know that the answer to the second question was Marc Elias.

Though we still have no clue who the original Republican instigator was. And the liberal media have no desire to look into it.

So now that we are all up to speed, let's turn to the piece that affected my blood pressure.

A couple of days ago, I looked at the BBC News site, as I do every morning and I saw this.


Seriously?

First, look at her picture. Look at her eyes, her expression, her hands.

What does the picture say to you? Scary bitch? Grabby, corrupt politician? Shifty, untrustworthy woman?

All of the above?

I can tell you that for every decent picture of Clinton there are probably 500 like this one and it is not a coincidence.

As John LeCarré said in his latest book (The Pigeon Tunnel)
I opened my Times newspaper to be greeted by my own face glowering at me. From my sour expression I could tell et once that the text around it wasn't going to be friendly. Photographic editors know their stuff.
Second, read the text.

It claims that her team bankrolled a sleazy dossier and goes on stating that "Mrs Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) reportedly helped fund the research."

If you read the whole article, curiously, at the end there is a chart that you will see below.

You will notice that the timeline is the same one I provided in my introduction. DNC was not the funding group. They got involved briefly only to see the FBI taking over.

Yet they didn't use this information in their piece.

The trick is that no one would take a look at this chart. They already know from the outset that the scary looking bitch bankrolled a sleazy dossier.

Besides, the chart is meaningful only if you know the progression already.

My question is this: If you know the entries in this chart, which are in the same piece, how do you write a title like "Clinton Team and Democrats "Bankrolled" Trump Dirty Dossier" in good conscience.

And this is a British publication.

Imagine the fun they had in the US.

Next time you hear a male journalist ask the question, why people hate Clinton, slap them silly if you are a woman.

And he is within your reach.

It will be cathartic.

People hate her because the corporate media have been protecting scums like Weinstein, Halperin, O'Reilly or Wieseltier while attacking uppity women like Hillary Clinton.



22 October 2017

John Kelly Lied for Trump and No One Dared To Call It A Lie

You already know about Trump's racist remarks while calling the wife of a slain soldier.

He couldn't remember his name. He told her, well, he knew what he signed up for, and the following day she became the wife and the woman, still no names.

Moreover, he categorically denied the entire conversation and claimed that John Kelly was in the room and he could corroborate his account.

Enter John Kelly, a four star Marine Corps general and Trump's chief of staff.

He never denied what the conversation entailed, instead he attacked viciously the South Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who went public with the content of the call.

He first savaged her for eavesdropping on a private conversation. He said that she violated the sanctity of a private phone call. The problem is that, she was in the car and the call was on speakerphone.

And Kelly was also doing the same violating himself at the other end.

He then maintained that she was a self-aggrandizing empty barrel who took credit for the funding of an FBI building while she was in Congress. Here is what he actually said:
A congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money—the twenty million dollars— to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned. But, you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, “O.K., fine.”
It turns out she never said any of these things and she praised John Boehner and other colleagues for shepherding the legislation in record time. And she spend the bulk of her speech praising FBI agents.

You can see it for yourself.


This is a shorter version, here is a link to the full 9 minutes.

Not only did she not claim credit for the funding, the authorization took place in 2009 when she was not even in Congress.

Kelly also added that he was so shaken by Representative Wilson's remarks he had to stroll through Arlington Cemetery for an hour to get over his anger.

In other words, as one journalist put it "he metaphorically dug up every body in Arlington National Cemetery to use them as human shields for Trump."

In short, the four-star Marine Corps general lied through his teeth. Nothing he claimed in his brief address was true.

And you know the funny thing, nobody dared to call him a liar. The Intercept is the only media outlet that I could find to use the L word.

Rachel Maddow at MSNBC did use the word as well.

In the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza presented it as one of the moral dangers of working for Trump.

NBC stated that Wilson said Kelly lied. It was a case of she said, he said.

Sun Sentinel that uploaded the video used "Kelly got it wrong" as its headline.

CNN reported that "Kelly erroneously claimed congresswoman took credit for building funding, video shows."

New York Times: After Video Refutes Kelly’s Charges, Congresswoman Raises Issue of Race.

Washington Post: What John Kelly got wrong about Rep. Frederica Wilson and the Johnson family.

And the White House stood by his account, video clips be damned.

Moreover, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary made a veiled threat about the advisability of questioning a general.

When asked about Kelly's inaccurate claims she said:
“If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that that—if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”
That's the kind of threat one used to hear in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq or South America.

Add this to the media's reluctance to call a lying general a liar and you see the level of militarization of civilian discourse in America.

19 October 2017

Has Trump's Insensitive Condolence Call Harmed His Popularity?

If you read mainstream media and leading blogs on the Internet you might get the impression that Trump is finally losing the support of Trumpistas.

The idea is that his base might not care about his legislative agenda but they wouldn't stand for him insulting a grieving widow.

I am referring, of course, to the infamous "he knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway" call to Myeshia Jackson, the widow of the slain Sargeant La David Jackson.

Trump also referred to Jackson as "your guy" throughout the conversation.

And the following day, when he denied this conversation, Myeshia became "the wife" and "the woman."
“I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who was — sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”
In other words, he did not acknowledge either the soldier or his wife by name.

That got the corporate media in a tizzy. There were speculations how this would be seen by Trump supporters. After all, he insulted a fallen soldier and they are a conservative bunch etc. They rehashed his pre-election insults to a Gold Star family and to John McCain.

All of this is utter rubbish.

Trump's base would not disapprove his insulting demeanor towards Sgt. Jackson's widow. On the contrary, they would appreciate it very much.

Are you a mind reader, you say.

Well, yes I am.

Trump waited 12 days before making any calls, which is very unusual. In fact, the whole thing happened because a journalist asked why he never called the families.

As you know, he first claimed that his predecessors never bothered calling anyone. Which was a boldface lie.

Then he proceeded to call them. His call to David Johnson's family you already heard about.

This is the reaction of the brother of one of the soldiers who died in Niger.
[T]he brother of one of the fallen soldiers, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, said he and his family have not been bothered by Trump’s comments. 
William Wright said Tuesday afternoon in an interview that his parents were expecting a phone call from the president soon and that his family would consider it a “great honor” to speak with him. If Trump had called earlier, Wright said, the family would not have been ready for it.
This is Dustin Wright.

Trump earlier called Eddie Lee, the father of First Lt. Weston C. Lee who was killed in Iraq in the Spring.
“The president was just so nice and caring, you could hear it in his voice, you could tell what a caring family man he is,” said Mr. Lee, who volunteered, “I voted for Trump and I’d vote for him again.”
This is Weston Lee.

Did you notice the similarity between the two men?


Can you guess what Sgt La David Johnson might look like?

Yes, "that woman's" "guy" is black.

For Trump's base, his family didn't even deserve a call because they are African American.

And Trump's derisive and demeaning tone in dealing with them was exactly how "them people" should be treated.

As you saw, one of the families defended Trump's decision to call them almost two weeks after their brother died, claiming that an earlier call would not have been timely.

Next time you need to offer your condolences to a white American person remember to wait at least twelve days, as is the custom. And see how they will react to your thoughtful timing.

Incidentally, this is Trump's approval rating for this period. And it looks exactly like before. His rock solid 42 percent is with him.


Until the Democrats start to understand that Trump's racism is a feature not a bug they will not win any elections.

The man and his base are white supremacists and Democrats should stop trying to please them.

They will never get their votes.

14 October 2017

The Ironies Surrounding UNESCO's DG Election

Unless you are a news junkie like me, you are probably not aware that UNESCO, the Paris-based UN agency dealing with education and culture, elected its new Director General (DG) yesterday.

Normally, this is a humdrum affair to which no one really pays any attention, save perhaps the personnel of the organization. But this time it was interesting enough to lure journalist from all around the world.

I will not bore you with the details. But I thought that there were a couple of ironic twists that you might find interesting.

First funny bit was the French candidacy.

"She is a good girl" Criterion

There is an unwritten rule that stipulates that UN agency host countries do not field candidates.

UNCTAD, based in Geneva, never had a Swiss Secretary General or Officer in Charge. Or no Austrian ever helmed UNIDO, which is headquartered in Vienna.

True, a Frenchman named René Maheu had a stint as Director General of UNESCO in the early 60s but he more or less fell into the job after becoming Acting Director General in 1961.

Now, if brushing aside this unwritten rule was done on the basis of some outstanding merit I would be in favor of it. In fact, I believe no such tacit understandings should block deserving candidates.

But in this instance, it was just a whim of the departing President Francois Hollande. And the candidate had no discernable qualities other than being well connected.

You see, Arab states had claimed that it was their turn at the head of UNESCO as no one from the Arab Group had ever served as DG. And for the most part, Quai d'Orsay lent its support to that claim.

But things changed when Francois Hollande's then mistress (and current girlfriend), actress Julie Gayet told him about her good friend Audrey Azoulay who badly needed a job.

(You will remember Gayet from Hollande's picture on his bodyguard's scooter on his way to her appartment for an illicit rendezvous)

Accordingly,
In 2014, Azoulay met François Hollande when he was on a presidential trip to Mexico. The then president was impressed by what he saw as Azoulay’s competence and energy. “She's a good girl – we’ve got to find a job for her,” Hollande said after meeting her, according to the French weekly L’Express.
I will leave it to you to discuss how demeaning this moniker is and how he managed to determine her "competence and energy" in one meeting.

Hollande first gave her a job at Elysees, then promoted her as his Minister of Culture. At that point, Azoulay had never been elected to any office and she had had a checkered career.

Before the presidential election last May, he tried to make her a candidate for Assemblée Nationale from the Paris region but apparently, Annie Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris said "non."

Possibly with more prodding pillow talk, the upcoming vacancy at the top of UNESCO looked like the perfect solution to Azoulay's unemployment problem.

He announced her candidacy three days before the deadline to the dismay of Quai d'Orsay diplomats and howling protests from the Arab world who accused France of last minute betrayal.

In short, Francois Hollande, unburdened by re-election worries, scrapped an unwritten rule of international diplomacy, just to please his mistress.

When you remember the depth and frequency of Western derision for nepotistic appointments in the developing world, the irony quotient here is quite extraordinary.

Initially, people assumed that French Foreign Ministry was not going to push her too hard and for a long time, she was not seen as a front runner. But in recent weeks, Jean-Yves Le Drian lobbied vigorously on her behalf.

But the bulk of the credit goes to the world's Wahhabi countries. And there are just two of them.

Wahhabis for Jews

(That subtitle is for Mel Brooks fans)

Of the seven initial candidates, the remaining three were Qatar's former Minister of Culture Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, Egypt's former Minister of Population and Family Moushira Khattab and France's former Minister of Culture and all around "good girl" Audrey Azoulay.

Calling them lackluster is being charitable.

Al-Kawari's only credential to lead UNESCO was embedded in his campaign slogan: "I am not coming empty handed." I took it as a reminder of how Qatar bribed FIFA folks to get the 2022 World Cup to be played in 45 degree heat.

"Elect me and I'll get you more money that you need" was his promise to a badly cash-strapped organization.

Moushira Khattab, a respected human rights activist, was hampered by her association to former President Hosni Mubarak, under whom she served as a State Minister.

Moreover, her candidacy was bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and UAE, raising questions about her independence as UNESCO's future DG.

As for Azoulay, well, we already know she was a good friend of Julie Gayet. And as far as I am concerned, that's good enough for the job.

UNESCO's DG elections are fairly simple.

There is a body called Executive Board composed of 58 member states (out of a total of 195). They start voting on a Monday and continue to do so every day until Friday. Any time a candidate gets 30 votes s/he is elected. Otherwise, come Friday, the highest two vote-getters face off and whoever gets more than the other is elected.

On Thursday, al-Kawari received 22 votes and the next two candidates, Moushira Khattab and Audrey Azoulay both got 18 votes each.

That necessitated an extra round of voting on Friday morning to eliminate one of the two women candidates. Khattab lost that round.

Apparently, the rest of the day, the Egyptian, Saudi and UAE delegations went on an intensive campaign to get Azoulay elected.

There were reports of protesters marching outside UNESCO building with banners denouncing Qatar's support for terrorism.

I have seen similar protests in New York during the General Assembly in September and they are typically people who are paid by Saudi Arabia to make some noise for media outlets.

After Khattab was eliminated, the Saudi Ambassador to UNESCO told delegates that, if al-Kawari was elected, his country would withdraw from UNESCO adding to its financial woes.

In the end, the winner was Audrey Azoulay.

This all well and good you may say, but where is the irony?

Well, Audrey Azoulay is hailing from a Sephardic Jewish family.

In other words, Qatar and Saudi Arabia worked hard to get a Jewish woman elected. Knowing the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism in these countries and the Arab world in general, I relished the irony.

Indeed, while other media outlets avoided the Jewish qualifier, Israeli media highlighted it to emphasize that irony.

Times of Israel's headline was "French Jewish Candidate Defeats Qatari to Win UNESCO Leadership."

Ha'aretz intoned: "Jewish-French Candidate Defeats Qatari Runner-up in UNESCO Director-general Election."

We live in interesting times.

08 October 2017

How the Media Handled Clinton and Javanka Email Servers

My piece about why people hate Hillary Clinton was one of the most popular posts in this humble blog's history.

(The popular posts in the right margin is compiled by Blogger according to the number of hits)

I maintained that Hillary was vilified so often, so relentlessly and for so long that it was a miracle that she won the popular vote. The one story that cost her the election was the so-called emailgate.
As studies of the coverage of the campaign confirmed, the Clinton email story got more coverage than any issue — more than the economy, or health care, or immigration, or climate change or anything else. Throughout the general election, as Gallup found, the word Americans were most likely to mention when they were asked what they had heard about Clinton was “email.”
It was a no story but the media covered it like it was the crime of the century: 560,397 news items in a period of 18 months.

Compare that, as I did, with an actual email crime committed by Bush fils: During his presidency, White House officials purged millions of emails to cover up their search for a pretext for the Iraq War and the mass firing of Attorney Generals to replace them with wingnuts.

Moreover, 95 percent of senior Bush advisers' emails were stored on RNC mail servers in direct contravention of 1978 Presidential Record Act.

They were huge scandals involving real criminal behavior but the corporate media could not be bothered.

The pattern continues.

When it was revealed that Mike Pence had used a private email account, the same people who attacked Clinton viciously claimed that it wasn't the same thing since she had a server and he did not.

So no hypocrisy there, they said. If there was a server, yeah, maybe we might have looked into it.

The same thing happened when Politico reported that Boy Blunder had a private mail account and he had been conducting some White House business on that. The media that excoriated Clinton was fine with that. It was just an account, they said. Nothing more.

His lawyer, happy for the assist, concurred. There were less than 100 emails about the White House he said and Jared forwarded them all to his White House address to make sure he complied with the law.

So, no hypocrisy there either.

Then came the news that, most White House staffers, including Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn, Reince Priebus, Stephen Miller and Ivanka and Jared Kushner conducted official White House business using private email accounts. As I noted, in the case of White House (unlike the State Department) doing so and not preserving those emails is a crime.

Reaction: Nothing outside the narrow circle of news junkies.


Finally, it has just been disclosed that Ivana and Jared had an email server set up under the domain name ijkfamily.com.

And both Ivanka and Jared conducted official White House business on that server involving thousands of email messages.

Corporate media reaction?

Nary a peep.

The same setup that warranted hundreds of thousands of front page stories for Clinton, was mentioned by a few media outlets once or twice. And that was it.

Recently, Paul Waldman made a very astute observation. He argued that the whole Hillary emailgate was the product of a deliberate set of decisions by editors, reporters and producers to cover it obsessively.
Why did they make those decisions? I’d argue that they had long operated on the assumption that Bill and Hillary Clinton were deeply corrupt, and it was their responsibility to find evidence for that assumption and then disseminate it. If a particular allegation turned out to be baseless and didn’t actually support the assumption of corruption, they would say that it was still worth extended discussion, because it “raised questions.” In the end, the public is essentially unable to distinguish between a thousand stories about something that shows Hillary Clinton being corrupt and a thousand stories about something that “raises questions” about Clinton being corrupt but doesn’t actually demonstrate any corruption.
The amazing part is that they were doing this while she was running against the most corrupt politician in modern American history.
In hindsight, those editorial decisions look positively deranged. On one side, you had a candidate who had a long history as a con artist — just before assuming the presidency, he was forced to pay $25 million to the victims of one of his schemes — and a career full of shady deals, broken promises and associations with grifters, swindlers and mobsters. On the other side, you had a candidate who used the wrong email.
The contrast between how a different media narrative was created for each candidate was the key to Trump's success.
The problem wasn’t so much that the copious examples of Trump’s personal corruption weren’t covered individually. It was that most of the time, each scam, fleeced vendor or questionable real estate deal was covered briefly and then seldom revisited. It didn’t add up to a coherent, sustained media narrative about Trump in the same way that the press created a narrative about Clinton’s supposed corruption.
After the November elections, I blamed the corporate media for her defeat.

Not Russian hackers, not Facebook but the New York Times, the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the rest of them.

Sure, Facebook is as guilty as any one of them but at least they can blame their algorithms or point the finger to clickbait trols in Eastern Europe.

But the hypocritical and biased reporting of mainstream media was what made President Donald J Trump possible.

And their lenient approach to Trump Administration's email setups proves this one more time.

IOKIYAR exists because of the corporate media.

01 October 2017

Spain Violently Suppressing Catalonia Referendum

When I ended my previous post with a prediction for momentous consequences for Spain (and the EU), some readers might have thought I was exaggerating.

After all, this is Spain, part of the civilized West, what could happen? Right?

It is indeed Spain. What we easily forget that Spain is a traumatized country by its recent history. The transition from the Franco regime and its decades long brutality was done quickly with no accountability for the perpetrators or closure for the victims.

Such elements in a society's history do not disappear that easily. Look at the rise of German nationalism. And that, despite utmost sensitivity shown to the issue and many decades of active intervention.

Today, it is being reported that the Guardia Civil injured hundreds of protesters in Barcelona. According to the BBC, thus far 337 people were injured.

Here is a clip of what they did in and around one polling station.


This is a link to BBC showing large crowds being attacked by baton wielding officers.

There are some graphic scenes of violence being broadcast to the world. Officers firing rubber bullets.


People bleeding from open head wounds.




People thrown to the ground forcibly pulled by their legs.


And people being beaten mercilessly.


Here is a longer clip, if you want to see the Guardia Civil in action.


I have no idea how this will end but I am sure it is not going to end well.

I am also curious how the EU's Commission will handle this show of illiberal democracy in the West.

In any event, mark 1 October in your calendars. You will hear about it in the coming months and years.

This is the beginning of tribal politics in Spain.

Trump's Tax Plan and How Corporate Media Reported It

If you wonder why the "basket of deplorables" will not abandon Donald Trump, one of the answers is lack of correct information.

Take the proposed tax reform.

It is a massive giveaway to the One Percenters.

According to Tax Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank these are the effects of the proposed reforms:
We find they would reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over ten years and $3.2 trillion over the second decade (not including any dynamic feedback). In 2018, all income groups would see their average taxes fall, but some taxpayers in each group would face tax increases. Those with the very highest incomes would receive the biggest tax cuts.
In fact, 
Taxpayers in the top 1 percent, with incomes above $730,000 a year, would gain half of the overall benefits in 2018, with their average post-tax incomes jumping almost 9 percent. More than 97 percent of filers in the top 0.1 percent would see a tax cut due to the Trump plan—and a very large one, worth an average of $747,580—compared with about 70 percent of the poorest households.
All of this is to be expected. Reagan did it, Bush II did it. It is a classic Republican tactic. Make the deficit huge again by giving freebies to the richest and become a deficit-scold when there is a Democrat in the White House.

What irks me is the fact that the corporate media goes along with the Republican narrative every single time.

For this cycle, the GOP talking points focused on how their reform would benefit the middle classes. They claimed that the standard tax deductions would nearly double under their new plan and it was breathlessly repeated by the corporate media.

CNBCBBC , CNN, New York Times, Washington PostWall Street Journal, Forbes, Axios and many more reported that the standard deduction would double under Trump's plan, as it would go to $12,000 up from the current $6,350 (and 24,000 for married couple).

The problem is that this is not true at all. 
Here's how that math works. Let's say you are single with no dependents, and you have a moderate income. Currently, you get to take the standard deduction ($6,350) and one personal exemption ($4,050). If you are 65 or older, you also get to take an additional standard deduction ($1,250). That adds up to $10,400, or $11,650 if you're over 65.

The Republican plan would replace all these provisions with a single deduction of $12,000 ($24,000 for married couples.) That's a 15% increase — except for seniors, who get a 3% increase.
But that modest break will be swallowed almost entirely because the GOP plan calls for the lowest income bracket to be taxed at 12 percent instead of the current 10 percent.

What that means that everyone will pay 12 percent tax on the $9,325 part of their income, which works out to be $1,119.

At the other end, the top tax bracket (which currently stands at 39.6 percent) will be brought down to 35 percent.

In other words, Trump's plan is increasing taxes for the lower income folks and massively reducing taxes for the richest households in the US.

And this is sold as "doubling the standard deduction" to the basket of deplorables.

Sure some media outlets questioned the math behind it. But, for the most part, in the mainstream media, the language was so timid that you couldn't be sure whether it was a good thing or a boldface lie.

Instead of pushing Russia meddling in election stories, corporate media should look into how they report the news.