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Journal Archives

Turkey shoots down Russian plane: Nato will be worried by strike on Russia

It is damaging for Turkey to have bad relations with Russia and Iran, two powerful neighbours close to its borders

Patrick Cockburn

2 hours ago

Turkey must have been eager to shoot down a Russian aircraft. Even going by the Turkish account of what happened, as illustrated by a Turkish map of the route of the Russian plane, it would only briefly have been in Turkish airspace as it crossed a piece of Turkish territory that projects into Syria.

Why would Turkey do this? Probably because Ankara has become increasingly furious, since Russian air strikes started in Syria on 30 September, that Russian jets were routinely invading its airspace. The Turkish government also knows that its policy since 2011 of getting rid of President Bashar al-Assad has failed and that it has a diminishing influence in events in Syria as Russia, the US, France and possibly, in the near future, Britain increase their military involvement in Syria.

Specific events on the 550 mile-long Syrian-Kurdish role may also have played a role. This year Turkey has seen the Syrian Kurds, whom it denounces as terrorists as bad as Isis, take control of half of the frontier and threaten to move west of the Euphrates. More recently, Syrian army units backed by Russian air strikes have been attacking towards the other end of the border near where the Russian plane came down and the pilots were killed.

Nato countries will give some rhetorical support to Turkey as a Nato member, but many will not be dismissive in private of President Vladimir Putin’s angry accusation that Turkey is the accomplice of terrorists. Turkey’s support for the Syrian armed opposition, including extreme groups like Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, has been notorious over the last three years. Its relations with Isis are murky, but it has been credibly accused of allowing the self-declared Islamic State to sell oil through Turkey.


Backround, July 2014 Subcommittee Hearing: The Future of Turkish Democracy--Testimony. Transcript:


Americans saved my life': former refugees from Iraq perplexed by US fears

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Displaced Kurds from the Persian Gulf war in 1991 say politicians’ backlash against taking in Syrian refugees is a stark contrast to what they experienced

As US lawmakers voted this week to block the entry of Syrian refugees into the United States in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris, Abdulla Sindi struck a despondent tone.

As one of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds displaced by the Persian Gulf war, Sindi knows firsthand the plight of refugees fleeing conflict and recalls as though it were yesterday the sense of desperation looming over temporary resettlement camps.

Sindi remembers the daily uncertainty confronted by his family when placed at a refugee camp lacking the most basic of resources. The image of food and supplies airdropped by American planes under Operation Provide Comfort stays with him to this day – it was what motivated Sindi to accept two deployments training and advising US troops after the country’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Americans saved my life,” Sindi told the Guardian. “And so I worked with them and returned the favor.”


Iraq Vet: We Created ISIS—Now We Need a Plan to Defeat It

November 18, 2015

Alexander Lemons is a former Marine Scout Sniper and Staff Sergeant who deployed to Iraq three times.

Containment is our least bad option

Armchair generals, presidential candidates, military generals and our foreign policy officials are out in force in the wake of the Paris attacks offering angry responses. It’s difficult to watch the cacophony. I learned too much while fighting in Iraq over three tours not to offer a plea: Have we learned nothing in the last 14 years? Virtually all of the rhetoric from Main Street to Washington is to double down on a failed strategy.

The civilians killed in Paris seem to be pawn sacrifices in ISIS’ greater game to impact foreign policy and civil government. We have seen this strategy before in the ideas of Osama Bin Laden—conduct a devastating attack with the goal of eliciting a thoughtless military response that gets Western nations bogged down in a country where they are universally distrusted no matter how good their intentions are. Once embroiled there, the insurgency wears down the multinational force by proving that no matter how many insurgents you kill, their ideas or political objectives live on.

At the same time, the Western governments crack down on civil liberties while expanding the surveillance state and alienating sections of the population that look like potential terrorists. This harassment of our own Muslim populations only makes for radicalization.

ISIS is our monster. Our government picked the winners in Iraq, and our push for the 2005 national elections hastened the civil war from which ISIS grew.


How can Philip Morris sue Uruguay over its tobacco laws?

Monday, November 16, 2015

When the architects of the international order that took shape after the second world war created the United Nations, they gave the organization a lofty goal: “Save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” Through the UN charter – akin to a world constitution – solemnly adopted in 1945 in San Francisco, they also said they were “determined to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

Since then and in line with that vow, the UN has put on the world stage not only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also legally binding instruments, including 10 core human rights conventions and countless declarations and resolutions.

But now more than ever, one single mechanism – the little-known investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) – threatens the existing system of justice, the concept of checks and balances, the very core of the rule of law. Its implications for the respect of human rights around the world are devastating. If it is allowed to continue to exist, it will hijack the dreams of a just international order born out of the second world war. It must be abolished because it undermines fundamental principles of the UN, state sovereignty, democracy and the rule of law. Far from contributing to human rights and development, the international investment regime and ISDS have resulted in growing inequality among states and within them. Article 103 of the UN charter is clear: in case of conflict between the charter and any other agreements, including ISDS, it is the UN charter that prevails.

The ISDS mechanism is a unique privatised system of arbitration, often buried in bilateral investment treaties and multilateral trade agreements (such as Nafta and TTIP). It grants an investor the right to use private dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government, yet governments cannot sue the investors. The system is neither transparent nor accountable and often results in aberrant judgments without the possibility of appeal. Over the years, it has led to inconsistent, unpredictable and arbitrary awards contrary to national and international public order.


Refugee crisis: EU report on Turkey's membership contains muted criticism as it seeks nation’s co-op

Publication was delayed so as not to influence the country's recent election, but it is hard to see why since its language was so restrained as to suggest that the main intent of its authors was not to give offence to the Turkish government

Patrick Cockburn

Tuesday 10 November 2015

The European Union has published its delayed annual report on Turkish membership of the bloc, urging Turkey to resume talks with the Kurds, limit restrictions on the media and respect human rights.

Its publication was delayed by the EU so as not to influence the Turkish elections, but it is hard to see why, since its language was so restrained as to suggest that the main intent of its authors was not to give offence to the Turkish government.

While negotiations for Turkey to enter the EU have been dead in the water for years, ensuring that the EU has little influence over its behaviour, the need for Turkish co-operation has grown this year because there are some 2.2 million Syrian refugees in the country, many of whom are now making their way to the EU via Greece and the Balkan states.

The EU wants Turkey to absorb more refugees itself, in return for making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, along with financial aid and speeded up talks on EU membership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel attracted criticism from the Turkish opposition just before election when she visited Istanbul and held talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which she said there could be no solution to the migration crisis without Turkey.


Full text of email from UN Libya envoy Bernardino Leon to UAE foreign minister

Middle East Eye publishes the full text of an email sent by Bernardino Leon to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed

MEE staff
Thursday 5 November 2015
Last update:
Friday 6 November 2015

This is the full email sent by UN Special Representative in Libya Bernardino Leon to UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan on 31 December 2014.

Middle East Eye has seen the email and reproduced it in full here, with email addresses removed.

From: Dr. Sultan Ahmed Aljaber

Sent: 12/31/2014 12:47PM

Subject: FW: The note (using a more secure address)

To: Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan

CC: Mohamed Mahmoud Al Khaja

From: Bernardino Leon Gross

Sent: 31 December 2014 02:50

To: Sultan Al Jaber (Mubadala)

Subject: The note (using a more secure address)

Your Highness, dear Abdala,

Libya is in my opinion entering in a new stage of the civil war, more generalised and aggressive. As I told you in Amman, Tripoli-Misrata attack against Ras Lanuf is the starting point of this escalation, and, unfortunately, Haftar response bombing Misrata is the other side of the coin. All combined may have the following effects:

- Going beyond the West-East line may provoke a tribal reaction all over Libya, although this probably will be a more qualitative than quantitative phenomenon, since will force the Misratans and their allies to fight all over Libya, although it is not clear to most analysts how alliances will unfold in the future. Haftar is probably relying on this tribal alliance against Misrata. This makes sense in a traditional Libyan perspective, but some analysts think that Misratans have also made strong alliances with some tribes, especially in the south, and that very probably these alliances will help them to have more military power on the ground. Their land forces are likely to be bigger than Zintan or Haftar’s land forces, at least in the short term.

- Haftar’s attack might be intended to deter Misratans, but I have the impression it will produce the opposite result, reinforcing the radicals who wish an all-out civil war under a radicalised leadership close to the most extreme elements of MB and other organisations.

- I have asked the parties to declare a unilateral ceasefire to allow international support to extinguish the fire and send experts to inspect the tanks and assess the danger of environmental damage. Tobruk has declared a kind of ceasefire giving three days to the other side to leave. Tripoli has asked me today that the request about Ras Lanuf ceasefire comes from the National Oil Company. Since it can very well be a way to procrastinate, I have sent an official letter asking them to do so, but I am not very optimistic.

in full: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/full-text-email-un-libya-envoy-bernardino-leon-uae-foreign-minister-1313023554

Like it or not, Turkey is now President Erdogan’s state

*Positive change once again elusive for the people of Turkey..sigh.

The resounding victory of the President’s party reflects the way he has shaped opinion

Patrick Cockburn

Monday 2 November 2015

Cars filled with militant supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) celebrated its unexpectedly decisive victory in the Turkish parliamentary election by driving through the streets of Istanbul cheering and waving their party’s yellow and blue flags. They even penetrated the middle-class Bohemian district of Cihangir, where they beat drums and defiantly chanted the name of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan himself was jubilant. “The national will manifested itself on 1 November in favour of stability,” he said after emerging from a mosque in Istanbul. “Let’s be as one, be brothers and all be Turkey together.”

Secular Turks opposed to the Islamic populist AKP were depressed in equal measure. Some were distributing by Facebook the names of countries like Uruguay and Antigua where Turks, appalled by the AKP’s success, could easily take refuge. In most cases, the thought of flight was not entirely serious, but the fact that some people are thinking about it is a measure of the degree to which Turkish society is divided between secular and Islamic, Kurd and Turk, Sunni and Alevi.

Watching voters enter a polling station at the Firuzaga Elementary School in Istanbul, it was easy to identify their political allegiance by their dress alone, the most obvious indication being whether not women were wearing headscarves.

remainder: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/like-it-or-not-turkey-is-now-president-erdogan-s-state-a6718651.html

Looking Back at the Repeal of Glass-Steagall, or, How the Banks Caught Casino Fever

** Taking a look back, here are links to how the votes went down

Senate Vote: http://www.govtrack.us/...
House Vote: http://www.govtrack.us/...

If you’ve been reading ND20, you know that the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act has been a key issue in both understanding the causes of the financial crisis and thinking about how to move forward. Glass-Steagall Act was introduced during the Great Depression, and was repealed in 1999, paving the way for banks to invest in nasty things like mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations.

As part of our ‘New Agenda for America’ series on the 80th anniversary of the Great Crash, TARP watchdog Elizabeth Warren weighed in on how President Roosevelt and the New Dealers brought innovative ideas to prevent another economic disaster, including Glass-Steagall, which separated banking from high-risk financial speculation (see “The Great Lesson”). Way back in the spring, Rob Johnson, Director of Financial Reform at the Roosevelt Institute, appeared on Al Jazeera to talk about the disastrous impact of doing away with the Glass-Steagall Act (Braintruster Rob Johnson Talks Bailouts to Fault Lines). More recently, Roosevelt Institute Braintruster Bruce Judson argued on this blog that we need an updated “Glass-Steagall 2.0″ that categorizes financial institutions and restricts their activities according (see Glass-Steagall 2.0: The American People Deserve An Explanation).

As our colleagues at Common Dreams point out, today is the 10-year anniversary of Glass-Steagall’s repeal. Robert Weissman writes: “It is an anniversary worth noting for what it teaches us about forestalling financial crises, the consequences of maniacal deregulation, and the out-of-control political power of the megafinancial institutions.”

Weissman notes that Glass-Steagall remained law until 1998, when Citicorp and Travelers Group announced they were merging:

Such a combination of banking and insurance companies was illegal under the Bank Holding Company Act, but was excused due to a loophole that provided a two-year review period of proposed mergers. The merger was premised on the expectation that Glass-Steagall would be repealed. Citigroup’s co-chairs Sandy Weill and John Reed led a swarm of industry executives and lobbyists who trammeled the halls of Congress to make sure a deal was cut. But as the deal-making on the bill moved into its final phase in Fall 1999, fears ran high that the entire exercise would collapse. (Reed now says repeal of Glass-Steagall was a mistake.)

Robert Rubin stepped into the breach. Having recently stepped aside as Treasury Secretary, Rubin was at the time negotiating the terms of his next job as an executive without portfolio at Citigroup. But this was not public knowledge at the time. Deploying the credibility built up as part of what the media had labeled “The Committee to Save the World” (Rubin, Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and then-Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, so named for their interventions in addressing the Asian financial crisis in 1997), Rubin helped broker the final deal.

The Financial Services Modernization Act, also known as the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, formally repealed Glass-Steagall. Among a long list of deregulatory moves large and small over the last two decades, Gramm-Leach-Bliley was the signal piece of financial deregulation.

The result? Casino fever took over commercial banking industry. Weissman quotes Roosevelt Institute Braintruster and Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz:

in full: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/new-roosevelt/looking-back-repeal-glass-steagall-or-how-banks-caught-casino-fever

Dispatches: Restoring Justice to the US Justice System ( Human Rights Watch )

July 15, 2015

Yesterday, two days before his visit to the El Reno federal prison in Oklahoma – the first visit to a prison by a sitting United States president – President Barack Obama made a long-overdue and compelling call for the reform of the US criminal justice system.

In a speech before the civil rights organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People(NAACP) in Philadelphia, Obama referred to the US criminal justice system as “one aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation.”

It was a strong assertion. Obama’s speech encapsulated many of the concerns Human Rights Watch has raised in more than 20 years of research into the US criminal justice system: from the scourge of prison rape to the harms of solitary confinement; from racial disparities in drug enforcement to unfair sentences.

Obama specifically pointed to the damage caused by excessively long, disproportionate sentences, particularly for drug offenders: “In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime. If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society. You have to be held accountable and make amends. But you don’t owe 20 years. You don’t owe a life sentence. That's disproportionate to the price that should be paid.” To that end, Obama called for mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes to be reduced, and in some cases eliminated.

in full: https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/15/dispatches-restoring-justice-us-justice-system

Israel's fall from grace

*In other words, Bibi's meme has been shot to hell

Meron Rapoport
Tuesday 14 July 2015 21:04 UTC

The deal with Iran takes the steam out of Netanyahu's political and military strategy. But that may prove to be Israel's lesser problem

Just four months ago, in March 2015, one month before election day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Washington to deliver what was described as the "speech of his life". The goal was to convince the American Congress not to allow a nuclear deal with Iran, which poses "a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world", as did the Nazi regime at its time.

The news coming Tuesday morning from Vienna, announcing a deal between Iran and the P 5 + 1 group (United States, Russia, Britian, France, China and Germany), may therefore mean that Netanyahu failed in what he himself portrayed as his historic mission: to prevent this deal with Islamic regime in Teheran which, according to him, will pave the way for a nuclear Iran in the very near future.

If Netanyahu believes in what he said in Congress earlier this year, he may feel that Israel now is dangerously closer to its doomsday end, that nuclear Iran will be able to fulfill its dream of wiping Israel off the map. It must be a very chilling feeling. If, on the other hand, he used – or abused – the Iranian threat as a pretext to garner votes among the already frightened Israeli electorate, the Iran deal may mark one of his most bitter political defeats.

True or false, the Iranian threat was one of the main flags, at times it has been the only one, which Netanyahu carried since he was reelected in 2009. He did not invest in this issue only his political and oratorical (some would add demagogical) skills. According to ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu's governments spent 11bn NIS ($2.9bn) on military preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

- See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/israels-fall-grace-2034426860#sthash.lwZ4OSZM.dpuf
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