Bill Weinberg

Sessions pledges crackdown on Latin gangs

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) on April 18, pledged that the Trump administration will have "zero tolerance for gang violence" from "transnational criminal organizations"—particularly singling out MS-13, the Central American narco-network that has its roots on the streets of Los Angeles. Citing a February executive order in which President Trump directed the Justice Department "to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations," Sessions promised "concrete ideas to follow through" on the directive.

Syria: a No-Fly Zone for Rojava?

Following last week's Turkish air-strikes on Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the autonomous administration in the region is said to have issued a call for a "no-fly zone." Tev-Dem, the self-governance structure for Syria's Kurdish autonomous zone, reportedly issued the call after Turkish raids killed at least 20 fighters of its militia force, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Because US-backed Kurdish forces are basically calling for international protection from US ally Turkey, this development further heightens the contradictions that Washington faces in northern Syria. It is telling that the Tev-Dem statement is aggressively touted by Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik. It has also been reported by Syria Deeply and UPI.

Iraq: Turkish air-strikes heighten contradictions

The Turkish military carried out air-strikes overnight on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) forces both in Iraq's Sinjar mountains and in northeastern Syria, ostensibly to prevent these regions from being used as a staging ground for attacks within Turkey. "To destroy these terror hubs which threaten the security, unity and integrity of our country and our nation and as part of our rights based on international law, air-strikes have been carried out….and terrorist targets have been struck with success," the Turkish army said in a statement. (Reuters) US State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded: "We are very concerned, deeply concerned that Turkey conducted air-strikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper co-ordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat IS.... We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly." The US continues to back the YPG Kurdish-led militia in Syria, which is allied with the PKK guerillas in Turkey—placing Washington in an increasingly contradictory position. (BBC News)

Anti-protest bills give motorists license to kill

A maddening account on CNN April 24 informs us of the "anti-protest" bills now pending in several states around the country, and contains this utterly harrowing line: "Under a bill in the Tennessee state legislature, drivers who injure protesters blocking traffic would be exempt from civil liability..." The escape clause is "so long as they were 'exercising due care.'" But the article describes an incident in Nashville earlier this year, in which Spencer DesAuteles, working as a volunteer to keep anti-Trump protestors safe from traffic, was thrown onto the hood of a car that drove through the intersection where he was standing. Miraculously, he was not hurt—and says he had the right of way when the motorist assualted him. DesAuteles blames the pending legislation. Perhaps too generously, he says: "The sponsor was very clear that the wording of the bill is not to say that it's OK to go and hit people with your car. But that's the way that people are reading it. The only way it's being read by the vast majority of people is: 'I can hurt protesters and get away with it.'" The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Matthew Hill, did not respond to a request for comment.

Syria: Russia and Assad dropping Rojava Kurds?

Recent comments by the Assad regime's ambassador to Russia, Riyad Haddad, appear to indicate that Damascus and Moscow are preparing to cut loose the Rojava Kurds, who they have heretofore been attempting to cultivate as proxies. At issue, predictably, is the Kurdish demand for regional autonomy and a federal solution for Syria. "The Kurds are an integral part of the Syrian people, they have the same rights and obligations as the rest of the Syrian people," Haddad said in comments before the Russian Federation Council, quoted by Kremlin state media outlet Sputnik. "I would like to stress that many Kurds are actually strongly opposing any form of division, either a federation, or cantons, or other forms. That is why we keep on saying that Syria is capable and ready to settle the crisis alone, without interference from the outside." Of course the invocation of non-interference is hilariously ironic in light of massive Russian military intervention in Syria. And the "many Kurds" who supposedly oppose autonomy are conveninently left unnamed.

Mexicans mobilize against Trump border wall

After President Donald Trump's inauguration, Mexico saw a wave of angry protests against his proposed border wall, with more than 20,000 marching in Mexico City on Feb. 12, chanting "Pay for your own wall!" But now this wave of anger is crystalizing around concrete legal initiatives that could be very problematic for the White House. First, the front-runner for next year's Mexican presidential election, the left-populist Andres Manuel López Obrador, has filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against the proposed wall.

Trump-Putin breach: real or charade?

This week's unnerving incident in which US jets intercepted two Russian bombers off the coast of Alaska leaves us wondering how to read events. Russia sent the two "nuclear-capable" bombers to within 100 miles of Kodiak Island April 17, prompting the US to scramble two F-22 stealth fighter jets from Elmendorf Air Force Base. The US and Russian craft were side-by-side for a full 12 minutes, until they crossed out of the US Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). (The Telegraph, April 18) This came as ExxonMobil was seeking a waiver from US sanctions against Russia to move ahead with its Black Sea venture with Rosneft. The decision rested with the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), while Secretary of State (and ex-Exxon CEO) Rex Tillerson is officially recusing himself from any matters involving the company for two years. Still, it is counterintuitive (at least) that OFAC turned down the waiver April 21. (NYT, April 21; Fox Business, April 19)

Hawks fear anarchist haven in Syria

We aren't sure whether to be more alarmed or amused. Kyle Orton, an analyst with the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, has a piece entitled "The West's Inconsistent Approach to Foreign Fighters in Syria," warning that the Kurdish forces the US is backing are in an alliance with anarchists and elements of the Turkish and European armed left. It is bascally regurgitating Turkey's cynical propaganda game of conflating the secular-democratic Kurdish forces and ISIS as equally "terrorist." It portrays the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) as merely an extension of the PKK guerilla movement in Turkey, and waxes paranoid about the leftist volunteers that have come to the Rojava region join them, now apparently organized in an umbrella called the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF, with its own Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube video, and manifesto on the anarchist website CrimethInc).

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