Bill Weinberg

Afghanistan opium production hits new record

The latest stats from the UN's annual Afghanistan Opium Survey are in, and the news is grim. Opium production in the war-torn country jumped nearly 87% in 2017, to record levels—an estimated 9,000 metric tons (9,921 US tons). Areas under poppy cultivation rose by 63%, reaching a record 328,000 hectares (810,488 acres), according to the joint survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Afghan Counter-Narcotics Ministry. The survey also found that the number of poppy-free provinces in the country decreased from 13 to 10, with Ghazni, Samangan and Nuristan provinces joining the list of poppy-growing regions. This boosts the number of Afghanistan's 34 provinces now cultivating opium from 21 to 24.

Assad bashes Rojava Kurds as 'traitors'

Well, this is a telling irony. The Rojava Kurds, who have been repeatedly accused of collaborating with Bashar Assad, have now just been dissed by the dictator as "traitors." Assad told his official news agency SANA Dec. 18: "All those who work under the command of any foreign country in their own country and against their army and people are traitors, quite simply, regardless of their names, and that is our evaluation of the groups that work for the Americans in Syria." This is clearly a reference to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have been received aid from the United States—although to fight ISIS, and definitely not the Assad regime. The core group in the SDF, the Kurdish YPG militia, has intermittently clashed with the regime.

Beijing squatter protest —and human rights dilemma

A rare protest is reported from Beijing Dec. 10, following the mass eviction of a squatter camp for migrant workers in the city's northeastern fringe. The incident, in Feijia village of Chaoyang district, near Beijing's airport, saw protesters hanging a hand-painted banner reading "Violation of Human Rights" across the front gate of the village committee office, while hundreds chanted "Forced eviction violates human rights." Clearing of the makeshift camp was seemingly part of a crackdown on informal dwellings following a fire in a tenement in nearby Daxing district last month in which 19 were killed. Tens of thousands have been left homeless in the clearances. Footage of the protest was captured on smart phones, resulting in coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Oil prices surge: vindication is tedious

Well, we hate to say "We told you so," but... We told you so. We've been told for the past several years now that the depressed oil prices were permanent, that thanks to fracking and the surge in US domestic production, the price was now immune to Middle East instability, dramatic spikes and "oil shocks" forever banished. Well, futures for Brent crude just hit $63.37 per barrel, with the spot price for West Texas Intermediate at $57.34. (Panorama.am, Investing.com) Creeping toward the $100 per barrel we were so recently assured was a thing of the past. OilPrice.com blames Trump's announcement that the US will move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which has of course unleashed unrest in the Palestinian territories and instability fears across the Middle East. But the jump really began almost exactly a month ago, seemingly prompted by the leadership purge in Saudi Arabia. That brought the Brent crude price up to $62, its highest level since July 2015. (The Guardian, Nov. 6)

Libya slave trade becomes political football

We've already noted the unseemly gloating over the chaos in Libya from many who opposed the NATO intervention of 2011. For them, the factional warfare and endemic lawlessness is only an opportunity for schadenfreudetaking glee in the misfortune of others. They were uninterested in loaning support to (or even recognizing the existence of) progressive elements during the Libyan revolution, and they continue to be thusly uninterested today. The Libyan human rights groups that are documenting war crimes by the profusion of militias and foreign powers, the women and ethnic minorities fighting for their rights—all safely invisible to stateside commentators of the left, right and center. For the schadenfreude crew, the Libyans are not actors in their own drama, but pawns to be exploited for propaganda against Obama and Hillary Clinton (tellingly hated by left and right alike). That many of these commentators consider themselves anti-imperialist is high irony, as they have completely internalized the imperial narcissism that makes the Libyans and their struggles and aspirations completely invisible, and turns them into objects for use in political contests within the imperial metropole. Perversely, this attitude even extends to the chilling emergence of a slave trade in abducted Black African migrants in Libya's remote desert south...

Duterte backtracks on drug war de-escalation —surprise!

Just a few weeks after the Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte won rare favorable headlines by pledging to pull the National Police out of his ultra-deadly "war on drugs," he is already backpeddaling and threatening to send them back in—as cynics had predicted. Duterte made his threat Nov. 18 in a speech at a business event in his hometown Davao City (where he first honed his death-squad tactics when he served there as mayor). "The drug problem, if it becomes worse again, the police has to enter the picture," he said in his typically crude syntax. "I want it eradicated if possible."

Perverse ironies of Honduran political crisis

Talk about bad timing. The US State Department has just certified that the Honduran government has been fighting corruption and supporting human rights, clearing the way for the Central American country to receive millions of dollars in US aid—just as President Juan Orlando Hernández has suspended constitutional rights, unleashed the army on protesters, and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to suppress unrest sparked by his contested re-election. The document, dated Nov. 28 and reported today by Reuters, indicates that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson certified Honduras for the assistance, just two days after the apparently fraudulent election of Washington favorite Hernández.

US to demand arms back from Rojava Kurds

The Donald Trump administration plans to ask Kurdish fighters in Syria to return weapons "loaned" for the fight against ISIS, an unnamed official told Al-Monitor. This was revealed the same day the White House made its first official comment on claims by the Turkish foreign minister that US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be coming to an end. "Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups," White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Dec. 1. "Now that we're continuing to crush the physical caliphate...we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual groups."

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