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Russia Vindicated by Terrorist Surrenders in Syria By Finian Cunningham


As Syrians gather in their capital Damascus to celebrate, there is a sense that the New Year will bring a measure of peace – the first time such hope has been felt over the past five years of war in the country. Russia’s military intervention to help its Arab ally at the end of September has been the seminal event of the year. After three months of sustained Russian aerial operations in support of the Syrian Arab Army against an array of foreign-backed mercenaries, there is an unmistakable sense that the "terrorist backbone has been broken", as Russian President Vladimir Putin recently put it.

This past week sees several local truces being implemented across Syria with evacuation of militants from towns which they have held under armed siege. The civilian populations in these locations have been effectively held hostage as human shields by the militants, thus preventing Syrian army advances up to now. The Western media, such as US government-owned Voice of America, invert reality by claiming that it is the mercenaries themselves who have been under siege from the Syrian army instead of the fact that the mercenaries have been holding civilians in their midst as hostages, as was the case earlier in the siege of Homs, which was eventually also broken. What has changed dramatically is the advent of Russian air power – over 5,000 sorties in three months – which has enabled the Syrian army to wipe out militant bases, oil smuggling and weapons supply routes in northern Syria along the Turkish border. This has left militants further inland to wither from the severance of supply lifelines. Hence the readiness now to accept truces and evacuation deals – under the auspices of the United Nations and International Committee for the Red Cross. Thousands of anti-government insurgents are being bussed out of locations around Damascus, including Zabadani, al Qadam, Hajar al Aswad and Yarmouk.


Also missing or downplayed in the Western media coverage of the truces across Syria is the question of where the surrendering mercenaries are being evacuated to. They are not being bussed to other places inside Syria. That shows that there is no popular support for these insurgents. Despite copious Western media coverage contriving that the Syrian conflict is some kind of "civil war" between a despotic regime and a popular pro-democracy uprising, the fact that surrendering militants have no where to go inside Syria patently shows that these insurgents have no popular base...In other words, this is a foreign-backed war on Syria; a covert war of aggression on a sovereign country utilizing terrorist proxy armies. So where are the terrorist remnants being shipped to? According to several reports, the extremists are being given safe passage into Turkey, where they will receive repair and sanctuary from the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – and no doubt subsidized by the European Union with its $3.5 billion in aid to Ankara to "take care of refugees".

Again, this is another indictment of the state-terrorist links of NATO-member Turkey, which the EU is recently giving special attention to for accession to the bloc...Russia is not only vindicated in Syria. The Western governments, their media and their regional client regimes are being flushed out like the bandits on the ground in Syria. If the UN-sponsored peace process due to start in the New Year succeeds to end the conflict in Syria, it will be largely down to Russia’s military campaign that has wiped out the terrorist proxies working on behalf of the Western criminal enterprise for regime change in that country.

I hate passwords, I hate the whole idea

We are supposed to make difficult, long passwords, and remember them, but don't write them down! because someone else may take it in his head to pay your phone bill...

There's security, and then, there's stupidity and futility.

I'm finding lots of the latter, and none of the former.

Democrats, Beware: Billionaires Can Still Buy Elections Very Easily By David Dayen


Does money matter in politics anymore? If you focus on just presidential elections, you might be inclined to say no. At least, that’s the opinion Gabriel Sherman amplifies in New York magazine, pointing to the two—OK, one and a half—post–Citizens United elections and finding Republican mega-donors disappointed by their efforts to use super PACs to buy a president.

The donors spend most of Sherman’s article feeling betrayed by Karl Rove and other consultants, who promised them that their massive contributions would translate into a Mitt Romney victory. But in 2012, the two candidates, their affiliated parties, and super PACs spent virtually the same amount of money; it’s not like Romney supporters overwhelmed the opposition with cash.

The 2016 Republican primary has further stirred this feeling about the utility of political spending. Charting candidate advertising dollars against poll numbers shows almost a negative correlation. Donald Trump hasn’t spent a cent on the air and leads everyone, while Jeb Bush’s $30 million has bought next to nothing in support.

The fact that Trump recently promised a $100 million ad blitz suggests that even he doesn’t think this dynamic will hold. And candidate quality—or lack thereof—matters, as the presumed front-runners six months ago, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, surely indicate. But it’s a big mistake to equate the presidential election with the whole of politics. Doing so misses the extreme importance of money in the political system...

...The narrative that money can’t buy anything in Washington anymore is appealing, but it doesn’t match with the facts. It’s fun to gloat about rich people “wasting” their money on a presidential also-ran, but when they can buy the whole system on the cheap and rig it to reap most of the benefits of economic growth, they can afford to burn a buck or two. Until we stop viewing everything in politics through the lens of the presidential race, a different type of campaign with different rules, we will never truly understand the distorting power of money or come up with a plan to limit it.

"The Bern Identity" by Will Bunch, reviewed by David Swanson


... the most substantive, best researched and most coherent book of the bunch so far. Bunch admires Bernie for learning the lessons of the 1960s, and for the most part, never selling out. Bunch finds this remarkable, almost unique. And, of course, it is that among U.S. senators, and among the gang of misfits occupying the two stages at the freak shows we call presidential primary debates. But there are many thousands of people who woke up during the 1960s and never went to sleep. Many of them have worked for peace and justice ever since with hardly a burnout. One could pick any number of them and stack their accomplishments up quite impressively against those of Bernie Sanders. I agree that Bernie's injecting of a little bit of sense into corporate television is important and very hard to measure. I have no doubt that there's a bit more integrity and relevance in Bernie's background than there was in the legend of the African-American community-organizing author come to save us while shrewdly pretending not to. But Bernie holding the biggest political rallies in some big cities since Eugene McCarthy may not be an unmixed blessing.

I've written before about Bernie volunteers professing to be motivated by policies that their candidate explicitly opposes. Yet I cannot stay untouched by the excitement Bunch depicts at massive Bernie rallies. It's wonderful for people to suddenly discover that something might be possible, to suddenly give a damn, to suddenly do a tiny something about it. But it's also miserable to consider that they have been so well trained to do this only as cheerleaders for a candidate. Surely that's not the lesson of the 1960s in which the civil rights and antiwar and other movements organized around issues and imposed change on the entire bipartisan political structure -- just as major change has usually been brought about. Yes, elections were hugely important in the '60s, but they were secondary. Now they are Everything. The peace movement shut down in 2007 because there was to be an election in 2008, and it won't start up again until a Republican moves into the White House. Elections are terrific -- I'd love to see a fair and open one in the United States some day -- but there is a danger in the new myth that they are all that there is.

Bunch's book celebrates Bernie Sanders as having stayed true to his '60s politics all these years, while the public moved away and has finally returned to him. I think there's something to that, but would offer a few caveats. First, there have always been millions of people wanting progressive policies, and they have been effectively shut out by the media, by the Democratic Party, and by an increasingly corrupted political system. Second, the other candidates have moved so far right that Bernie is closer to where a middle of the roader sits. Third, Bernie is fundamentally rightwing on militarism, and nobody wants to analyze that problem in any depth...


The Obama Report Card: The Good, the Bad and the Incomplete


Forget hope and change. Let’s look at the record. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008 and 2012, he didn’t just run on hope and change. He made hundreds of promises, everything from changing the way CEOs are taxed to allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs abroad. Those and scores more didn’t happen. And he hasn’t really addressed some of the key issues that will mark his his legacy, such as his overseas assassination policies involving drones and special forces.

As Obama approaches his final year, it’s become trendy among supporters to say he has done the best he can given Republican obstructionists in Congress and red states. There is some truth to this notion. Obviously, he’s been better on most issues than a Republican would have been, and certainly far better than their new flock of candidates. But as the GOP has become radicalized and pulled the political center to the right, some of Obama’s moderate stances have been wrongly labeled as liberal, which demonstrates how far right the public debate has become. We at AlterNet have prepared a report card looking at successes, failures and a number of incompletes as Obama enters the last of his eight years in the White House. While there are dozens of issues and policies we could have included, we have chosen five in each of these categories that are especially important, compelling or decisive...

15 topics listed and discussed

Grading the President

There are dozens of issues upon which Obama’s presidency can be judged and evaluated. At his best, he has shown that government can act in powerful ways to reorient its safety nets and the economy and be more responsive to public needs, without the sky falling as his critics have blared. Nowhere is that more evident than with Obamacare, which despite its flaws, has scores of provisions that expand access to health care and is pushing medicine toward a more prevention-oriented and cost-conscious focus. His trust in diplomacy and focus on beginning to address climate change is also laudable.

But Obama’s greatest early attraction, his aversion to the arrogant leadership of George W. Bush, is now being seen by many as wanting. Following the ISIS-inspired attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, national polls say he’s not seen by Americans as a reassuring counterweight to public fears over foreign threats. As David Axelrod, his 2008 political guru, told CNN, his response to Paris was “tone deaf.” His Oval Office speech after San Bernardino emphasized the need for gun controls, which is factually correct, as most of the country’s 33,000 annual gun deaths are from suicides or domestic disputes. But the public often seeks more visceral reassurance and its absence creates openings for loud opportunists, exemplified by Donald Trump.

While polls say most Democrats approve of Obama, the enthusiasm is gone.

What Money Can Buy: Darren Walker and the Ford Foundation set out to conquer inequality.


The urge to change the world is normally thwarted by a near-insurmountable barricade of obstacles: failure of imagination, failure of courage, bad governments, bad planning, incompetence, corruption, fecklessness, the laws of nations, the laws of physics, the weight of history, inertia of all sorts, psychological unsuitability on the part of the would-be changer, the resistance of people who would lose from the change, the resistance of people who would benefit from it, the seduction of activities other than world-changing, lack of practical knowledge, lack of political skill, and lack of money. Lack of money is a stubborn obstacle, but not as hopelessly unyielding as some of the others, and so would-be world-changers often set out to overcome it. Some try to raise money, but that can be depressing and futile. Others try to make money, but it’s hard to make enough. There is a third, more reliable way to overcome this obstacle, however, and that is to give away money that has already been made by somebody else, and has already been allocated to world-changing purposes. This is the way of the grant-makers of the Ford Foundation.

Ford’s grant-makers are employed “for the general purpose of advancing human welfare,” so their work requires determining what human welfare consists of and how best to advance it. This being no simple matter, they spend a great deal of time on it and frequently revise their conclusions. Of course, even with money, changing the world is difficult. The grant-makers know that many of their ideas will not work, and that even those which do will only go so far, because of all the other obstacles. Still, compared to others with similar ambitions, they possess a rare and heady blend of power and freedom: they are beholden to no one, neither consumers nor shareholders nor clients nor donors nor voters, and they have half a billion dollars each year to spend on whatever they like.

“Good morning, Ford Foundation, and Happy New Year!” Darren Walker cried, to loud applause. “How great it is to be at the Ford Foundation on January 6th and doing the work we do!”

Walker, the foundation’s tenth president, who took over in 2013, stood on a stage in the Ford Foundation building, on East Forty-third Street, in New York City, but his beaming face also appeared on screens thousands of miles away, in Ford offices throughout the world: in Mexico City and Rio and Santiago; in Cairo and Lagos, Nairobi and Johannesburg; in Delhi, Beijing, and Jakarta. The auditorium in which he stood was a relic of Ford’s past, still furnished with chocolate tufted-leather seats from 1967, with sliding brass ashtrays under the armrests. To the right of the stage was written a series of words that described Ford’s hoped-for future: Justice, Opportunity, Voice, Dignity, Creativity, Change, Visionaries. Walker himself was beloved for his democratic exuberance, manifested both in his vivacious clothing (his jaunty ties, his pocket squares, his pig cufflinks) and in his untiring enthusiasm.

“There is a lot going on at the Ford Foundation,” he declared. “So fasten your seat belts!”


Governor Rick Snyder 'very sorry' about Flint water lead levels debacle

Well, that's all right, then...


Michigan governor Rick Snyder apologized on Tuesday for the debacle that caused the city of Flint’s water supply to be poisoned by lead, while the top state environment official resigned in light of a report that chiefly placed the blame for the crisis on his department.

The resignation was the latest in the crisis that has consumed the city of 100,000, as local doctors have warned in recent weeks that contaminated drinking water flowing from household taps may have affected more residents than originally thought.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Snyder said the resignation of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality director (MDEQ) Dan Wyant was “appropriate to accept”, but he added that changes in leadership won’t be enough.

“I understand there can be disagreements within the scientific community,” Snyder said. “That is why I have directed both the departments of environmental quality and health and human services to invite every external scientist who has worked on this issue to be our partners in helping us to improve Flint water.”

The governor also apologized for the pollution problems, in what appears to be the first instance he has directly offered an expression of regret since the crisis arose several months ago.

“I want the Flint community to know how very sorry I am that this has happened,” he said. “And I want all Michigan citizens to know that we will learn from this experience, because Flint is not the only city that has an aging infrastructure.”

Flint has been embroiled in a never-ending stream of water quality issues that began in April 2014, when the city started pulling water from a local river as a cost-saving measure. The switch took place while Flint was operated by a state-appointed emergency manager, who held vast powers to oversee day-to-day operations, as the Rust Belt city was buckling under financial straits. Residents immediately raised concerns about water that was suddenly cloudy, odorus and tasted rancid. Within months, General Motors had stopped using Flint water at a local engine plant because it was rusting machine parts. Initial tests also revealed elevated levels of chemical compounds in the water supply that can lead to liver or kidney issues. Nonetheless, state environmental officials downplayed residents’ complaints and vehemently disputed local studies that found a link between elevated blood-lead levels among children and the water source switch, until, in October, Snyder conceded the situation had become a “public safety issue” and announced a $12m plan to transfer Flint back to its previous supply with the city of Detroit.

It was the lackadaisical approach by the MDEQ in addressing the crisis – from failing to properly treat the Flint river to officials belittling responses to public outcry – that bears the “primary responsibility for what happened in Flint” and must be held accountable, a Snyder-appointed task force said on Tuesday in a three-page report of interim findings...

yeah, sure

Brazilian women urged to avoid pregnancy due to virus Katherine Martinko


... An outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus has been linked to a surge in newborn “microcephaly,” particularly in the tropical northeast region. More than 2,400 cases have been reported throughout the country, with the vast majority in the northeast.

Microcephaly results in babies being born with unusually small heads, measuring less than 32 centimetres (12.6 inches) around. The brain develops abnormally during pregnancy and also fails to grow properly after birth. Microcephaly can result in serious developmental delays and, sometimes, early death.

The Zika virus originated in Africa; it was first found in Uganda in the 1940s. Its recent arrival in South America has alarmed many people, and is suspected to have been brought to Brazil by South Pacific or Asian tourists during the World Cup games in 2014. The virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which thrives in tropical climates and even lives in certain pockets of the United States...It’s difficult for doctors to detect if pregnant women are infected, since the symptoms are very subtle – skin rash, headache, achy joints – and are often misdiagnosed as other things, such as food allergies. There is no vaccine to prevent microcephaly, nor is there a treatment for it, although early intervention with supportive therapies can improve a child’s development and quality of life (Mayo clinic).

Brazilian health officials are urging all citizens to combat the root cause of the epidemic by eliminating any standing water that could breed mosquitoes. Pregnant women are urged to slather on insect repellent and stay indoors as much as possible; and any women who are considering pregnancy are urged to hold off until the epidemic is better understood and controlled.

Weekend Economists Wring Out the Old December 31, 2015-January 3, 2016

Umm, I stayed in tonight...it's too cold and I'm too tired from too much work and stress...although the car is fixed (under warranty), I am not. So for those homebodies and the physical [strike]cowards[/strike] conservatives, NOT to be confused with the fiscal conservatives...

We've got a lot riding on this new year of 2016.

There's the Quadrennial Caucus Races, to borrow a term from "Alice in Wonderland"

in which everyone runs in a circle until dry and warm...or elected President.

There's the Return to Normalcy (2016 version) in which the Federal Reserve, struck on the head by the Confidence Fairy, attempts to sink the economy once again by peremptorily raising interest rates for no good reason at all. The previous occurrence of this folly has gone down in history as The Mistake of 1937:

The Recession of 1937–1938 was an economic downturn that occurred during the Great Depression in the United States.

By the spring of 1937, production, profits, and wages had regained their 1929 levels. Unemployment remained high, but it was slightly lower than the 25% rate seen in 1933. The American economy took a sharp downturn in mid-1937, lasting for 13 months through most of 1938. Industrial production declined almost 30 percent and production of durable goods fell even faster.

Unemployment jumped from 14.3% in 1937 to 19.0% in 1938. Manufacturing output fell by 37% from the 1937 peak and was back to 1934 levels. Producers reduced their expenditures on durable goods, and inventories declined, but personal income was only 15% lower than it had been at the peak in 1937. In most sectors, hourly earnings continued to rise throughout the recession, which partly compensated for the reduction in the number of hours worked. As unemployment rose, consumers expenditures declined, thereby leading to further cutbacks in production.

Economists disagree about the causes of this downturn.

  • Keynesian economists assign blame to cuts in federal spending and increases in taxes at the insistence of the US Treasury. Historian Robert C. Goldston also noted that two vital New Deal job programs, the Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration, experienced drastic cuts in the budget which Roosevelt signed into law for the 1937-1938 fiscal year.

  • Monetarists, such as Milton Friedman, assign blame to the Federal Reserve's tightening of the money supply in 1936 and 1937.

  • Contrary to the monetarist assumption, Austrian School economist Johnathan Catalan assigns blame to the relatively large expansion of the money supply from 1933 to 1937. He also notes that the money supply did not tighten until after the recession began.

  • Some argue that the Undistributed profits tax enacted in 1936 caused a panic in Corporate America. Faced with the specter of taxation on retained earnings the business world immediately ceased most planned expansion and capital equipment purchases...


  • And then, there is the Eternal War, in which the US keeps trying to destroy the USSR, not having noticed that it is no more, while President Vladimir Putin of Russia keeps pulling American bacon off the proverbial fire.

    So, let's drink a toast to wash away the bad taste of old follies, and welcome in the new ones!

    A Successful Revolution Changes MINDS

    Having certain minimum standards for success, I was "radicalized" by the revisions to the Bill Clinton story that came out AFTER his term in office ended, especially the big FU in his last-minute Presidential Pardon of Marc Rich. The Obama mis-administration just continued to grow my dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party as is: the inordinate praise piled upon someone who never delivered anything worth signing up for grated upon my soul as well as my mind.

    So, it didn't take much for me to see that Bernie offered a major improvement to life in general, and the Democratic Party in particular. I was shopping for an alternative before Bernie even came around.

    But some people are too complacent. They think that we had the best of all possible Presidents, no improvement necessary. they were into "tokenism", too, which is no substitute for ethics and competence in my book. I've been the token, and it sucks. It's a position of weakness. Being the first anything is meaningless as a tool for change.

    If Bernie is anything, he is not weak. He doesn't need to pull dirty tricks, because he knows all the clean ones. I'm sold on his political finesse and acumen and staying power.

    But how to sell the those who have not been similarly turned off to the possibility of change?

    I thought some progress had been made on this website last weekend. I now think it was just the relief from some troll-like behavior, due to the holidays, not real change. I retract my belief in the "sea change". Minds remain closed and hearts inflamed by hatred. Too bad.

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