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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 03:46 PM
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Journal Archives

‘They were torturing to kill’: inside Syria’s death machine.Caesar, the Syrian military photographer

who smuggled shocking evidence of torture out of Assad’s dungeons, tells his story for the first time.

For two years, between 2011 and 2013, the former Syrian military photographer known only as Caesar used a police computer in Damascus to copy thousands of photographs of detainees who were tortured to death in Bashar al-Assad’s jails. The media have run numerous stories about the man who managed to smuggle astonishing evidence of crimes against humanity out of the country – at great risk to himself and his family – but he had never been interviewed.

Month after month, for two years, this man, who has remained anonymous, took photographs of tortured, starved and burnt bodies. His orders were to photograph the bodies in order to document prisoners’ deaths. He then secretly made copies and transferred them on to USB keys so that he could smuggle them out of his office, hidden in his shoes or his belt, and pass them to a friend who could get them out of the country.

The terrorists of Islamic State proclaim their atrocities on social networks; the Syrian state hides its misdeeds in the silence of its dungeons. Before Caesar, no insider had supplied evidence of the existence of the Syrian death machine. And these photos and documents were damning.

I had never seen anything like it. Before the uprising, the regime tortured prisoners to get information; now they were torturing to kill. I saw marks left by burning candles, and once the round mark of a stove – the sort you use to heat tea – that had burned someone’s face and hair. Some people had deep cuts, some had their eyes gouged out, their teeth broken, you could see traces of lashes with those cables you use to start cars. There were wounds full of pus, as if they’d been left untreated for a long time and had got infected. Sometimes the bodies were covered with blood that looked fresh. It was clear they had died very recently.


ISIS may indeed be worse now but it is understandable why people were fed up with the Assad regime back in 2011.

Most Russians Oppose Sending Troops To Syria. Slim plurality support sending arms.

More than two-thirds of Russians oppose sending troops to Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s government, while a majority approve of Moscow’s use of diplomatic and political channels to help its embattled ally in the Middle East, according to a respected independent pollster.

At a time when the Kremlin has been ramping up its military presence in Syria, its largest deployment outside the former Soviet Union in decades, the poll by the Levada Center found that only 14 percent of Russians believe Russia should provide “direct military support” for the Syrian government by sending in troops.

The Levada poll said that 69 percent either firmly oppose or probably oppose deploying troops to help the Syrian leadership, while 67 percent back Russian “political and diplomatic support” for Assad’s government.

It said that 43 percent support providing Damascus with weapons and military consultation — as Moscow has been doing throughout a more than four-year conflict that has killed some 250,000 people — while 41 percent oppose it.


I would not have guessed that only 43% of Russians support providing weapons to Assad with 41% opposed.

Poll: Large partisan split in attitudes towards refugees

Opinion about the U.S. response to the European migrant situation is divided along partisan lines. By more than two-to-one (69%-29%), Democrats approve of the U.S. decision to increase the number of refugees it accepts. By about the same margin (67% to 30%), Republicans disapprove of this decision.

The partisan and demographic differences in views of the decision to accept more refugees mirror differences in opinions of immigrants and their impact on the United States.

Hispanics are particularly supportive of the U.S. decision to increase the cap on the number of refugees it accepts over the next few years: 66% approve of this decision while just 27% disapprove. Blacks also approve of the decision by a 58%-39% margin. Among whites, opinion is divided: 46% approve, 50% disapprove.


Seems pretty consistent between attitudes towards immigrants in general and refugees in particular. The more republican, older and whiter one is the more likely to oppose immigration and accepting refugees.

"The conspiracy fantasies ... onstitute an alternative reality that is immune from facts."

8. Conspiracy theories and the paranoid style.

Donald Trump was one of the most prominent advocates of “Birtherism”—a belief that Barack Obama, the United States’ first black president, was somehow not eligible for the office because he is not a “real” citizen.

This is an absurdly racist claim; nevertheless it is one that is still believed by 66 percent of Trump supporters and 45 percent of Republicans. Birtherism was the first of many conspiracy theories that would be invented by the right-wing media in the age of Obama. Obsessions about Planned Parenthood, ACORN and Benghazi would follow. These delusions are part of a long pattern of right-wing paranoia that Richard Hofstadter detailed in his landmark 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.”

The right-wing media and the Republican Party’s embrace of conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions contribute to a broken political system because too much time is spent on the absurd
instead of doing the work of real governance. The conspiracy fantasies of Donald Trump and the American right-wing constitute an alternative reality that is immune from facts. Consequently, these beliefs function as a type of religious cult where faith—what is a belief that cannot be proven by ordinary means—is substituted for empirical reality.

Donald Trump’s “birtherism” alternate reality is compelling and exciting for those who believe in it. Such conspiranoid delusions are dangerous because they create extreme political polarization, a political system that cannot fulfill its basic functions, encourage violence, and tear at the common beliefs and values that create a sense of political legitimacy and community in the United States.


This article focuses on Trump but Carson and the others mimic what Trump is doing.

8 reasons white America falls for demagogues like Donald Trump

For progressives and those others worried about America’s deep political rot, “Trumpmania” represents a supreme and rare teachable moment, one that exposes the racism, authoritarianism, and socio-political anxieties of white movement conservatives in the post civil rights era and the age of Obama.

1. White identity politics.

The Republican base is almost entirely white, increasingly alienated and upset about the perceived decline in white people’s political and social power, and feeling under siege in a country that is becoming more racially diverse. Donald Trump has combined the old fashioned racism of overt white supremacists with the modern white racist “dog whistle” politics of the Republican Party. He is the new face of American white identity politics in the 21st century.

2. Right-wing producerism.

This is the crudest form of populist politics. Trump then aims his supporters’ anger towards an enemy: immigrants from Mexico who are coming to American to supposedly steal jobs while they rape and murder white women; or the Chinese he presents as a stereotypical devious and sneaky “yellow peril” Asian foe that only Trump can outmaneuver and conquer. In this script, Donald Trump then promises to protect benefits like Social Security and health care, while creating a more fair tax code for “hardworking” (white) Americans who are under siege by “parasites”, i.e. the poor on one extreme, and the corporate monied classes on the other. Trump’s “makers and takers” language is then mated with hostility to some type of Other in order to excite and mobilize conservatives via right-wing populist zeal.

8. Conspiracy theories and the paranoid style.

The right-wing media and the Republican Party’s embrace of conspiracy theories and paranoid delusions contribute to a broken political system because too much time is spent on the absurd instead of doing the work of real governance. The conspiracy fantasies of Donald Trump and the American right-wing constitute an alternative reality that is immune from facts. Consequently, these beliefs function as a type of religious cult where faith—what is a belief that cannot be proven by ordinary means—is substituted for empirical reality. Donald Trump’s “birtherism” alternate reality is compelling and exciting for those who believe in it.


Other reasons given are: 3. Herrenvolk politics (a system in which minorities are disenfranchised while the ethnic majority holds sway), 4. Social dominance behavior, 5. Know-Nothings, 6. The strong father and “manliness” and 7. Performance art and spectacular politics.

For the sake of the Syrian people it is time to admit that Assad has handled the opposition to his

rule more effectively than Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Mubarak did to their opposition.

By pushing his country into civil war, something the others could not or would not do, he has won. Merkel is apparently coming to this conclusion. Others should admit as much, support Assad as the best alternative to ISIS, bring the civil war to a close, allow him to remain as dictator indefinitely and hope the next generation of Syrians can do better.

It would indeed be "even nicer" if the sponsors and suppliers of all sides stopped supporting the


When Assad choose continued repression as his response to the public protests of 2011, I imagine he did not envision a civil war resulting. His father had crushed an outbreak of resistance in 1982 with the loss of a 'mere' 40,000 dead. Bashar probably thought the same would happen in 2011.

Please don't reply with anything coming from Juan Cole, don't care if it starts with "the sky is blue". I would disregard anything he says as complete fabrication and western propaganda.

Informed Comment blog

Since 2002, Cole has published the blog Informed Comment, covering "History, Middle East, South Asia, Religious Studies, and the War on Terror". Blog entries include comments on widely reported articles in Western media, summaries of important articles from Arabic and Israeli news sources, and letters and discussions with both critics and supporters.

The blog has won various awards; as of April 2006 the most prominent is the 2005 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism from Hunter College. It has also received two 2004 Koufax Awards: the "Best Expert Blog" and the "Best Blog Post". It has since dropped off the list, but Informed Comment has been ranked as the 99th most popular blog on the Internet by Technorati on October 21, 2006. Cole was a strong critic of the George W. Bush administration and is one of the most respected foreign policy commentators amongst left-wing bloggers.


Generally speaking, Cole approaches the Middle East and West Asia from the point of view of anti-colonialism. Viewing the USA as a colonialist power, he sees it as defending the post-World War I "Sykes-Picot/Balfour architecture" (described as "a colossal failure" against Arab nationalist or pan-Islamic challengers. These foundered for various reasons, especially "particularism". The U.S., like previous empires, seeks to take advantage of such internal rivalries in order to "divide and rule". Terrorism, he explains (after comparing several countries in the region), is the result of foreign occupation in combination with weak states.

Cole tends to value multinational (and especially UN) initiatives over unilateral military ones. He favors multi-ethnic states over separatist movements. Given his background in the 1960s and 1970s religious counter-culture, he views Islam (along with other religions) as essentially good, but distorted by certain of its political appropriators (and critics).

CIA harassment allegations

In 2011, James Risen reported in The New York Times that, "Glenn L. Carle, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was a top counterterrorism official during the administration of President George W. Bush, said the White House at least twice asked intelligence officials to gather sensitive information" on Cole "in order to discredit him". "In an interview, Mr. Carle said his supervisor at the National Intelligence Council told him in 2005 that White House officials wanted 'to get' Professor Cole, and made clear that he wanted Mr. Carle to collect information about him, an effort Mr. Carle rebuffed. Months later, Mr. Carle said, he confronted a C.I.A. official after learning of another attempt to collect information about Professor Cole. Mr. Carle said he contended at the time that such actions would have been unlawful."


You and I are entitled to disagree with "left-wing", "anti-colonialist" bloggers all we want. That does not make them "Western propagandists". And, yes, the sky is blue in Syria; just like it is here.

Newest Immigrants Assimilating as Fast as Previous Ones, Report Says

The newest generations of immigrants are assimilating into American society as fast and broadly as the previous ones, with their integration increasing over time “across all measurable outcomes,” according to a report published on Monday by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Immigrants’ education levels, the diversity of their jobs, their wages and their mastery of English improved as they lived for more time in the United States, and the gains were even greater for their American-born children, the report concluded.

“The force of integration is strong,” said Mary C. Waters, a sociologist at Harvard who led the panel of 18 immigration scholars who wrote the more than 400-page report. “However we do it, we are good at it,” she said.

Professor Waters said the report should allay fears that recent immigrants committed crimes more frequently than Americans, that they were generally in poor health and burden public health care systems, or that they were failing to learn English.


Another GOP talking point bites the dust. Not that a study will do anything to moderate their "be afraid of immigrants" scare tactic.

The right's display of Schadenfreude towards liberal Europeans in the refugee crisis.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban doesn’t give a hoot about the refugees. He’s using them for his own purposes – to stir nationalist sentiments and historic hatred of Muslims – Hungary was under the Turkish rule for some 150 years until 1699. The Hungarians respond well to Orban’s belligerent nationalist rhetoric. His government has an overwhelming majority in parliament. An even more rabid party, Jobbik – whose platform revolves around a promise to kick the country’s sizable Roma minority out – is also quite popular.

In other countries with right-wing governments, the sentiment is depressingly similar. For instance in Russia, where President Vladimir Putin is enjoying an 86% support rating and seems set to rule for life. Or, more surprisingly, in Israel, where the Likud’s own Benjamin Netanyahu also looks like a lifelong leader.

In both countries, there has been undisguised display of Schadenfreude. Now those liberal Europeans, who have always counseled us so generously to behave better, will be hoisted on their own petards.

In this view, the Europeans will be overwhelmed by the ignorant and vicious Muslim hordes, they’ll suffer from terrorist attacks by jihadists, they’ll knock on Russia’s door begging it to let them move to Siberia, they’ll study Israel’s experience on how to keep those Muslims "in their place", etc.


Europe's right does seem to be benefitting from the refugee crisis and undoubtedly does enjoy watching liberal Europe try to deal with the largest flow of refugees since WWII.

Of course the right seems to benefit anytime there any problems in Europe or here. They thrive on, play up and hope for more economic and social difficulties for their societies so that people will look to them as a viable alternative. And it often works. Economic catastrophe in Greece has increased the popularity of Golden Dawn. The Charlie Hebdo attack plays into the hands of the French National Front.

As with domestic American politics, the question arises as to what liberals should do. Do we work to improve the planning and implementation of liberal policies in a complicated world? Or do we adopt the policies that the right promotes (often easy to express and understand - build a wall or kick/keep them all out) in order to keep the right from winning elections? I know which I prefer.

Juan Cole: Obama as Grandmaster of Grand Strategy: Containing China

Since he took office in 2009, Obama has faced an unremitting chorus of criticism, left and right, domestic and foreign, dismissing him as hapless, even hopeless. “He’s a poor ignoramus; he should read and study a little to understand reality,” said Venezuela’s leftist president Hugo Chavez, just months after Obama’s inauguration. “I think he has projected a position of weakness and… a lack of leadership,” claimed Republican Senator John McCain in 2012. “After six years,” opined a commentator from the conservative Heritage Foundation last April, “he still displays a troubling misunderstanding of power and the leadership role the United States plays in the international system.”

Viewed historically, Obama has set out to correct past foreign policy excesses and disasters, largely the product of imperial overreach, that can be traced to several generations of American leaders bent on the exercise of unilateral power. Within the spectrum of American state power, he has slowly shifted from the coercion of war, occupation, torture, and other forms of unilateral military action toward the more cooperative realm of trade, diplomacy, and mutual security — all in search of a new version of American supremacy.

Moving from repair to revival, from past to future, President Obama has been using America’s status as the planet’s number one consumer nation to create a new version of dollar diplomacy. His strategy is aimed at drawing China’s Eurasian trading partners back into Washington’s orbit. While Beijing has been moving to bring parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe into a unified “world island” with China at its epicenter, Obama has countered with a bold geopolitics that would trisect that vast land mass by redirecting its trade towards the United States.

Once we subject other American leaders to a similar calculus of costs and benefits, we are, surprisingly enough, left with just three grandmasters of geopolitics: Elihu Root, the original architect of America’s rise to global power; Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Carter, who shattered the Soviet Empire, making the U.S. the world’s sole superpower; and Barack Obama, who is defending that status and offering a striking imperial blueprint for how to check China’s rise. In each case, their maneuvers have been supple and subtle enough that they have eluded both contemporary observers and later historians.


Obama's shift "from the coercion of war, occupation, torture, and other forms of unilateral military action toward the more cooperative realm of trade, diplomacy, and mutual security" has been too slow for many and not flashy enough capture the attention of 'contemporary observers'.

I hope the shift to "trade, diplomacy, and mutual security" which Obama has embodied survives the transition to the next president. If the next one is a republican much of that will undoubtedly be reversed. Another Democrat, OTOH, might well continue the trend and improve on it.
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