Bill Weinberg

Russian Cossacks fight in Syria?

Mystery continues to surround the Feb. 8 US air-strikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a "brutal massacre" of some 200 pro-regime troops. This was the latest of just a handful of times that pro-regime forces have been targeted by the US. Initial reports said private Russian mercenaries were among those killed in the strikes, wihch were apparently in retaliation for regime attacks on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. At issue seems to have been the "Coneco" gas-field, although the typically garbled media accounts contradict each other on whether regime forces were attempting to take it from the SDF or vice versa. But another blast at an arms depot in the same area is again said to have left 15 Russian private security personnel dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Feb. 15 incident at Tabiya Jazira were Russians "protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the Syrian regime." (SBS, UNIAN, AFP, Feb. 15)

Chechen police state turns ire on druggies

You could smell this one coming. Last year, horrific reports emerged from the southern Russian republic of Chechnya that authorities were rounding up gays in detainment camps and subjecting them to torture —the first time this kind of thing has happened in Europe since Nazi Germany. Now the reign of terror is being extended to drug users and small-time dealers, who are facing grisly torture at the hands of Chechen security forces as part of the same ultra-puritanical campaign. Reports describe electric current being applied to suspects' fingertips to induce them to "confess." No one has survived such questioning without eventually admitting their crime, the victims were told.

Afrin and Idlib offensives signal Syrian endgame?

As Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies continue their advance on Kurdish-held Afrin, Russia and its Syrian regime allies continue their advance on rebel-held Iblib. Both offensives are taking a horrific toll in civilian casualties, but the parallels don't end there. Even as they ostensibly oppose each other, both Turkey and Assad are accused of conniving with ISIS forces to weaken the defenders of the respective enclaves. And  the twin aggressions in Afrin and Idlib come amid a sudden and rapid internationalization of the Syrian war.

Philippine paradox: martial law, medical marijuana

The Unites States is facing a pretty surreal contradiction, with blustering Trump and his cannabis-phobic Attorney General Jeff Sessions holding the federal reins, as legalization takes effect in California. The Philippines is looking at a similar paradox. Ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte is again sending the National Police back into drug enforcement, after he was pressured to withdraw them by a public outcry over their slaying of thousands of innocent civilians since he took office in June 2016. And on New Year's Eve, he won a grim victory as the Philippine Congress voted to extend his declaration of martial law in the conflicted southern island of Mindanao through the end of 2018.

Iran relents in draconian drug war —after protest

Some rare good news is reported from Iran, where a reform of the country's drug laws may save the lives of thousands now on death row. Some 5,000 people are currently awaiting execution for drug offenses in the Islamic Republic, and all of them could now have their sentences reviewed, according to the New York Times. The move, part of a legal reform in the works since 2016, is aimed at reducing the number of executions in the country. Iran has seen ghastly mass executions of drug convicts in recent years, driving a spike in hangings that has appalled human rights groups. Iran saw 1,000 executions last year—making it second only to China, which keeps its stats on use of the death penalty secret.

Turkey attacks Afrin, Great Powers capitulate

Turkish forces, backed by allied factions of the Free Syrian Army, are now in their third day of an offensive on the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, and have captured a number of villages—despite stiff resistance from the Kurdish YPG militia. Turkish air-strikes are making the critical difference, and are taking the predictable toll in civilian casualties. Afrin's Kurdish authorities report that a poultry farm in the village of Jalbara was hit, killing eight civilians. Turkish warplanes also struck al-Ashrafiya neighborhood in Afrin city, killing six civilians, including a child. In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would not "step back" in the assault, and claimed to have the support of the Great Powers—including both Russia, which supposedly had troops backing the YPG in Afrin, and the US, which has been backing the YPG against ISIS as part of the Pentagon-directed Syrian Democratic Forces.

Will US betray Rojava Kurds —or NATO ally Turkey?

The Kurdish question in northern Syria has really put US imperialism in a bind—its most effective anti-ISIS allies on the ground are the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), regarded as "terrorists" by longtime NATO ally Turkey. We've been wondering if the US would dump the SDF in deference to Turkey after they had succeeded in taking Raqqa from ISIS, or continue to groom them as a proxy force to carve out an influence sphere in Syria's north—thereby risking its alliance with Turkey. Washington has been tilting first one way, then the other. Just weeks ago, the White House announced it would be demanding back the weapons it has supplied to the SDF to fight ISIS. Now comes the news that the Pentagon intends to train SDF fighters as a special force to control the northern border zone.

Trump's vision for USA: shithole of racism

So by now we've all heard. President Trump, in an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of senators, apparently referred to "shithole countries" whose nationals should not be welcomed in the US. The meeting was ostensibly on possibilities for a compromise immigration deal to protect the now suspended DACA program in exchange for Democratic support for some version of Trump's border wall. But the comment evidently came up regarding Trump's decision to end Temporary Protected Status for folks from Haiti, El Salvador and several African countries. According to sources speaking to the Washington Post, Trump said: "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump suggested the US should instead bring more people from countries such as (white) Norway. "Why do we need more Haitians?" Trump is reported to have said. "Take them out."

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