News and analysis you may have missed: December – Jan 7

I’m planning to make this a weekly thing, there were a lot of good things published in december so I’m throwing those into the first week

US-backed Criminal Gangs Run Post-Gaddafi Libya

Dozens of armed groups have stepped into the role of overlords of cities and towns since Gadhafi was killed and his government deposed in October 2011. The transitional government that replaced the regime has done little to impose security on its own, leaving many Libyans under the threat of militias that compete for territory and terrorize those without arms to fight back.

Cradle of US-backed Counter-Revolution in Libya Becoming Ghost Town

Benghazi was singled out as the focus of efforts to restore security by Interior Minister Ashour Shuwail when he took office last month. The government has been struggling to rein in militias and armed groups that have hampered rebuilding efforts since the massive US-NATO bombings and the forced overthrow and brutal assassination of longtime leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

While overall stabilization is key to increasing output in the home of Africa’s largest proven crude reserves, Benghazi takes on special importance as the birthplace of Libya’s counter-revolution and the city where Islamists have also secured a solid foothold.

“Failure to get this right now will not allow Libya to reach its potential, and will see it as an unstable oil- producing nation, rich in cash but dominated by armed gangs,” Duncan Bullivant, chief executive officer of Henderson Risk Ltd., a U.K.-based security analyst, said in a telephone interview.

UN’s Syria dead count questioned

Pointing to the published figure of number of Syrians dead at 60,000, as released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) the day after the New Year, Innercity Press (ICP), an organization that covers United Nations, questioned the source of the figure. ICP said the figure was from an outside contractor, Benetech, allegedly paid by the OHCHR, and added that funders of Benetech included the U.S. State Department, and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Key source for Syrian death toll questions accuracy of recent UN-sponsored report

One Syrian activist who provided some of the numbers for the study says he believes the new numbers are inflated, while another says he believes they underrepresent the dead.

“They are being used as propaganda,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who believes the new numbers overstate the number of dead. “The U.N. is not a human rights organization, it is a political one.”

Activities by Free Syrian Army that are not reported in the Western press

A Turkish journalist working in the area near the border with Syria has been sending me reports about some unreported activities by the Free Syrian Army.  He writes:
“Just two days before the “food crise” in Aleppo, I hear many of my friends from Hatay that they started to see some Syrians are selling the bread in the city. Turkish breads are not same those in Syria even in Hatay.   And I have to give you a name. Abdulqader As Salah a commander of Tawheed Brigades who has very close ties with Turkish intelligence. He is now selling “wheat” in Gaziantep province of Turkey.  I am a Turkish journalist at the very beginning of this crisis I hear same thing from the Kurds in Ceylanpinar (a border town near Ras Al Ayn) The Kurds who escaped from the battle between FSA and Kurdish militias told me that they saw some FSA members looting the wheat silos. But I did not aware unless I started to see these news.  Perhaps thats why people of Aleppo are now protesting FSA as “Army of Harami (Thieves)”.  Now I am trying to understand whats going on and why people in Hatay started to see Syrian breads in Hatay. When I cover it I will send you too. In Hatay people are very much looking with Syrians, and get used to Syrian culture… I saw some photos in Reuters that shows FSA members on the wheat silos in Aleppo. But as usual their describtion “Forces loyal to Assad bombs the silos and FSA members” sth like this. I may send you the photo.  I first hear the rumors about it in Ceylanpinar/Sanliurfa. Kurds told me that… But I did not pay attention unfortunately. Then I saw this photo.Then I see the news about the famine in Syria. Now I am checking it. And one of my journalist friend informed me about the “Abdulqader As Salah” I didn’t check him completely but it is said that he is the leader of Tawheed brigade and lives in Gaziantep and now selling wheat and second hand cars. Tawheed is one of the most close group to Turkish intelligence. Everyone knows it. I am now working on it, when I finished I will send you a copy…Yes for sure… FSA militiants are stealing wheat from Syria and bringing them to Turkey to sell. They even stole oil excavators from Syria and brought them Turkey…. Yes for sure… FSA militiants are stealing wheat from Syria and bringing them to Turkey to sell. They even stole oil excavators from Syria and brought them Turkey…. I checked the resources and talked with many people both in Hatay and Sanliurfa province. They told me that the some of FSA members (who are speaking Syrian Arabic) are now selling spares for cars and in Gaziantep they have a store for grain. One of my reliable friend has told me that this begun in September… An pro-Assad journalist in Hatay told me that everything was in accordance with Turkish authorities. The rebels are bringing wheat, car and even furnitures from Syria via Bab Al Hava border-crossing which is the other side of Hatay-Cilvegozu gate… The FSA militants took control of this border crossing since June.
They also loot the Kurdish villages when they attack from Turkish side like what they did in Ras Al Ayn… That’s why Kurds never want them in their areas.”

What some people in Aleppo are saying

When I mentioned on my Facebook about the information from the Turkish journalist (see the post below this), I have received many messages from people in Aleppo confirming stories about Free Syrian Army theft and thuggery.  Here is one (in translation from Arabic):  My name is… and my mother’s name is…and my father’s name is… and I am a son of Aleppo and worked in relief work.  I can confirm to you that that Free Syrian Army stole wheat and sold it in `Ifrin which is under the control of the Kurds and sold it to Turkey, and is distributing them in liberated areas only.  My folk and comrades are in Aleppo and there is no bread.  There should be talk also about factories that were disassembled and sold in Turkey.  Alepp is being robbed and is hungry….There are demonstrators in Aleppo where people chant (it ryhmes in Arabic, of course):  We want the regular Army, the Free Syrian Army is a thief (بدنا الجيش النظامي, الجيش الحر حرامي)
The Free Syrian Army are themselves members of the oppressive regime but they now chant for freedom instead of chanting for the leader”.Another person wrote to me (translation from Arabic):
“Some factories in Aleppo have been disassembled and sold in pieces to Turks.  Ask the merchangs and factory owners in Aleppo and they will report to you.  There is a systematic destruction of the country.  Today, they targeted the high voltage area of the electric power station in the village of Mahradah which provides Hamah with electricity.  We are deprived of power nine hours due to the sabotage of the electric power in Syria.  In areas of Aleppo, power is cut off 24 hours straight.  They only concentrate in schools and institutes not to mention hospitals and railways and they have the advantage [this was written in English in the original Arabic message) that whenever something is destroyed the media of the world and youtube come out and say: look how the regime destroyed this and that.  My respect to you but please doctor: dont mention my name because I am genuinely afraid of them they don’t fear God and whoever opposes them is a Shabbih, and thus should die….”

Archbishop Hindo’s appeals to the Iraqi Premier al-Maliki and FAO: our wheat looted and sold to the Turkish

“The grain silos – refers in particular Archbishop Hindo – were looted and wheat was sold to Turkish traders who conveyed it in Turkey, under the gaze of the Turkish customs officers. Our wheat was sold at a very low price.” The region of Jazira was renowned for the production of high quality wheat.
In addition to the grain plundered, Archbishop Hindo denounced the gradual disappearance of other vital products such as baby milk and medicines, starting from antibiotics.

Syria’s jihadists ‘feed beheaded Christian to dogs’

He had just got married and his wife was about to give birth but this did not save Andrei Arbashe, a young Christian, from a horrific fate at the hands of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime earlier this month.

“They beheaded him, cut him into pieces and fed him to the dogs,” said Agnès-Mariam de la Croix, mother superior of the Monastery of St James the Mutilated between Damascus and Homs.

[...]

“The uprising has been hijacked by Islamist mercenaries who are more interested in fighting a holy war than in changing the government,” she told The Sunday Times on a recent visit to Paris. “It’s turned into a sectarian conflict,” she added. “One in which Christians are paying a high price.”

A highly educated Carmelite nun of Palestinian and Lebanese descent, Sister Agnès-Mariam fled Syria over the summer after being warned that she was on the rebels’ “blacklist” for abduction.

Syria’s Mobile Weapons Labs: Where Have We Heard This Before?

If you were concerned that the Syria WMD stories didn’t already feel enough like the Iraq WMD reports, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius had one just for you (12/19/12). Ignatius reports that according to a Syrian defector, the Assad government’s chemical weapons are indeed on the move. Ignatius tells readers that, according to his source,

technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that appeared, from the outside, to be similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.

The defector estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed. An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs.

[...]

So we have what would appear to be a secondhand account, delivered by phone, thanks to arrangements made by a Syrian opposition group. And how do we know the weapons were headed for Hezbollah? Ignatius tells us that his source says, “The officers placed the chemicals in a civilian vehicle and were seen driving across a bridge in the direction of the highway toward Lebanon.”

What does all of this mean? That’s impossible to say–though the idea that mobile chemical weapons labs were put together last year, after the revolt started, in order to coordinate transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah is, on its face, a little far-fetched.

Was there a massacre in the Syrian town of Aqrab?

All three agree – as do the rebels – that rebels attacked Aqrab on Sunday 2 December. Madlyan says: “They had long beards. It was hard to understand what they said. They weren’t dressed like normal Syrians.”

I press her and she is adamant that their Arabic was not from Syria.

The youth Ali told us: “They all had big beards and came in four or five cars, from the direction of al-Houla.”

They all insist, as did everybody else we met, that the rebels from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) corralled around 500 Alawite civilians in a large red-coloured two-storey house belonging to a prominent businessman called Abu Ismail.

They then say they were held – around 500 men, women and children – in this building until the early hours of Tuesday 11 December. Nine days.

In that time they say almost no food was delivered, and women were hitting their own children to try and stop them crying. When it rained, they were holding rags out of the window to soak up and drink the moisture.

They say the rebels wanted to take the women and children to al-Houla to use them as human shields against bombardment from government forces, and they believed they would kill the remaining men.

History, imperialism and endangered Africans

Whilst the international community celebrates the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2012, Sankara Kamara reflects on the dehumanization and outright denial of human rights for Africans through the experiences of enslavement and colonisation

Good-enough racial equality at World Bank

The effort to abolish racial discrimination within the World Bank largely depends on the whims of its president and his perception of what is good enough for blacks. Adrienne Smith argues that after more than three decades of pledges and reaffirmed promises to end discrimination the Bank’s reforms have failed

Do Publicly Owned, Planned Economies Work?

The Soviet Union was a concrete example of what a publicly owned, planned economy could produce: full employment, guaranteed pensions, paid maternity leave, limits on working hours, free healthcare and education (including higher education), subsidized vacations, inexpensive housing, low-cost childcare, subsidized public transportation, and rough income equality. Most of us want these benefits. However, are they achievable permanently? It is widely believed that while the Soviet Union may have produced these benefits, in the end, Soviet public ownership and planning proved to be unworkable. Otherwise, how to account for the country’s demise? Yet, when the Soviet economy was publicly owned and planned, from 1928 to 1989, it reliably expanded from year to year, except during the war years. To be clear, while capitalist economies plunged into a major depression and reliably lapsed into recessions every few years, the Soviet economy just as unfailingly did not, expanding unremittingly and always providing jobs for all. Far from being unworkable, the Soviet Union’s publicly owned and planned economy succeeded remarkably well.

Peoples War in India Clippings 21/12/2012

NEW DELHI: A new book offers fresh insights into the way the Maoists built their military prowess, starting with special training by the LTTE. Their first-ever professional military camp was held in the forests of Bastar in 1987, where they were trained by an LTTE leader named Suresh. Among those trained was Ganapathy, currently the man at the helm of CPI Maoist.

“The Indian army had trained Suresh at the Indian military academy in Dehradun while he was in the LTTE. Now, it was his turn to teach the Maoists to fight the Indian security forces. What goes around comes around,” writes Shubhranshu Choudhary, a former BBC journalist, in his book ‘Let’s Call Him Vasu’. The book is based on Choudhary’s forays in the jungles of Dandakaranya, the region at the tri-junction of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, where he met and interviewed dozens of Maoists including some of the senior-most figures in the rebel movement.

A Maoist leader told Choudhary that they bought their first AK-47 assault rifle in 1987. But as prices rose in the international arms market from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh per gun, they found they could no longer afford to buy weapons and they switched to manufacturing their own arms. “Now, we purchase only 5 per cent of our arms; around 15 per cent is looted from the police, and we make 80 per cent ourselves,” says Rajanna, identified as the man in-charge of the arms division of the CPI Maoist. But the Maoists do not manufacture automatic weapons. They were in the process of making and testing .303 rifles, sten guns and rocket launchers when their factories in Bhopal and Rourkela were busted.

However, they still have the ability to put together a formidable arsenal: single-shot rifles, improvised cannons, bombs and army-range grenades. As for the source of ammunition supply, Rajanna tells Choudhary it is none other than the police. “The police are very greedy, and such deals take place in every police station in India. Policemen at all levels, from the lowest ranks through the top, are involved,” he says. Rajanna also ruled out the possibility of peace talks with the government since the last Maoist Congress in 2007 had rejected it and only a fresh Congress can approve it. Unlike Nepal, where every guerilla fighter earns 100 rupees a month, in India, Maoists cadres do not earn salaries. But CPI Maoist takes care of their basic needs by supplying clothes, soap, oil, by spending an average of 450 rupees a month per fighter. While adivasis have risen to lead military companies in Dandakaranya – eleven of the twelve company commanders in the zone are adivasis – the political decision-making remains in the hands of the leaders from Andhra Pradesh.

The Religious and Social Crises and Political Consequences

The religious crises, the decline in belief and institutional affiliation, is intimately related to the moral decay in US public institutions and the precipitous decline of living standards. Among Christians the decline is incremental but steady;among Jews it is deeper and more rapid. No ‘alternative religious’ revival is in the horizon. The more fundamentalist Christian groups have responded by becoming more politically involved in extremist movements like the Tea Party demonizing public spending to ameliorate social inequities or have joined Islamophobic pro Israeli movements – precisely as increasing number of ex-Jews depart!

The secular or non-religious adult population has yet to organize and articulate a program in contrast to the fundamentalists, perhaps because they are too disparate a social category – in terms of socio-economic and class interests. ‘Not religious’ tells us little about what is the alternative. The shrinking percentage of religious believers can have several outcomes: in some cases it can lead to a hardening of doctrine and organizational structures ‘to keep the faithful in line’. In others it has led to increasing politicization, mostly on the extreme right. Among Christians it means insisting on literal readings of the Bible and anti- evolutionism; among Jews, the shrinking numbers are intensifying tribal loyalties and more aggressive fundraising, lobbying, and unconditional support for a “Jewish State”, purged of Palestinians, and more punitive witch-hunts against critics of Israel and Zionism.

On the Current State of the Russian Communist Party

On 27 October, 2012, Gennady Zyuganov gave a rather important speech.  Presented at the 14th plenum of the central committee, it sought to provide the framework for renewing and improving the theoretical work of the party.  But this is not any party and Zyuganov is not any leader, for the party is the Russian Communist Party and Zyuganov is its first secretary.  The date too was auspicious, for the speech was presented on the day of the Russian Revolution, 95 years on.  The press was out in force and the speech was watched by millions, both live and later on the internet (kprf.ru/party_live/111556.html).  Why?  Contrary to representations outside Russia, the Communist Party is the main opposition to Putin’s various transformations.  Despite many restrictions placed on the party, it regularly polls, along with the other main socialist party, almost 40% in the polls, with some observers pointing out that it would actually be over 50% if the elections were, shall we say, a little more transparent.

‘Learning to Govern Ourselves’: Venezuela’s National Network of Commoners

The model the commoners strive for is, to the extent possible, horizontal and collectivist, breaking the division between those who plan and those who execute the community work. “The network is very important,” said one of the facilitators, “there are no leaders, and it’s important that everyone shares the information.”

Document Friday: CENTCOM’s Powerpoint about “Green on Blue” Attacks 

According to the Pentagon’s December 2012 Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, “green on blue” attacks — incidents in which members of the Afghan security forces attack NATO coalition soldiers — “increased sharply” last year. At least 52 coalition soldiers died as a result of at least 37 green-on-blue attacks in 2012. A recently declassified set of slides produced by U.S. Central Command, published below and made public here for the first time, illustrates some of the steps that the U.S. military has taken to defeat “insider threats” — and why “green on blues” are so difficult to prevent.

Israeli guards seize trophy of little girl

As she travelled home from her triumph, Israeli border guards have seized the trophy of a Palestinian school girl who won an international competition in Malaysia. Eleven years old Dania Husni Al Ja’abari was stopped by the Israeli intelligence on the Allenby Bridge (which separates the West Bank from Jordan) and questioned for more than five hours. As a result, Dania, her accompanying family members and her trainer missed the central celebration organized in Ramallah to mark the girl’s prestigious victory in an international competition.

Why a Theory of Value?

The gentleman from Unlearning Economics asked me recently in response to my rebuttal of Steve Keen’s critique of Marx’s theory of value why indeed there is any need for a value theory at all. It seemed to him labor as the measure of value was simply assumed by Marxists, and even if their explanations of the economy were clearly better than others and they can rebut the critiques of Keen, Bose and others, it is still not clear why there should be such a thing as a ‘labor theory of value’ at all.

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