Assad regime and Russian warplanes resumed their bombardment of Aleppo Nov. 15 after the "humanitarian pause" announced last month. Damascus state TV boasted of "precision weapons to target terrorist positions," of course. Activists on the ground report an assault of unprecedented intensity, with bombs falling virtually constantly. The assault had been threatened in mass text messages sent to residents of rebel-held east Aleppo by the regime, instructing them to leave within 24 hours. The campaign of targeting hospitals has resumed, and eastern Aleppo is now without a single hospital operating at full capacity, the Syrian American Medical Society reports. One of those struck this week was a children's hospital, forcing staff to evacuate babies to safety. (EA Worldview, CNN, Nov. 19; CNN, Nov. 15)
In a "worrying reversal" for global anti-drug efforts, the latest annual report from the United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) finds that opium cultivation in Afghanistan increased 43% over the past year—with a total estimated yeild of 4,800 tons compared to 3,300 tons in 2015, The area under poppy cultivation increased 10% according to the report—clocking in at 201,000 hectares (496,681 acres), up from 183,000 hectares (452,200 acres). Simultaneously, there was a 91% decrease in eradication across the country—with no eradication reported at all in the top producing provinces. "It is very disturbing to see a considerable increase in poppy cultivation in the north which may be linked with a deteriorating security situation in the region," said Andrey Avetisyan, UNODC's chief in Afghanistan, at an Oct. 23 Kabul press conference.
The appointment of Stephen Bannon, head of "alt-right" (read: white nationalist) website Breitbart News, as Trump's senior counselor removes any doubt about the new order that awaits the United States. All those who seek to reassure us that Trump will moderate once in office point to his appointment of GOP chairman Reince Priebus, longtime pillar of the party's establishment, as his chief of staff. They are reading it precisely backwards. This does not represent Trump tilting to the establishment. It represents the Republican establishment embracing open fascism. This is the same Bannon who in a 2014 e-mail to one of his editors, wrote of the Republican leadership: "Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that's the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty." Hate has now won, and the Republican leadership has utterly folded to it. Any other reading is merely an illustration of Oscar Wilde's maxim: "The basis of optimism is sheer terror."
Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners—the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline—says he is "100%" confident that Donald Trump will help the project get finished. The pipeline, connecting North Dakota's Bakken fields to a hub in Illinois, is 84% complete. But some 1,000 feet are being held up by the Obama administration in the face of unprecedented Native American protests. CBS reported the following exchange with Warren:
It's clear that President Obama had set a goal to take both Mosul and Raqqa from ISIS before leaving office, and bequeath these victories to his successor Hillary Clinton. But both of these battles hold the potential both for humanitarian disaster and a violent aftermath as Arabs, Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites contend for liberated territory. Now all this will instead be bequeathed to Donald Trump—with no savvy about the region, and a blatant appetite for destruction. This dramatically escalates the potential for disaster. It is pretty clear Trump intends to divide Syria with Putin the way Hitler divided Poland with Stalin. The US will take Raqqa and the east; Russia will establish a reduced Assad state as a protectorate around Damascus and Latakia in the west. Whether the US will be able to control its sphere amid social collapse and sectarian maelstrom is another matter.
It's a little ironic that the Electoral College—the very institution that got us into this mess—now holds the only hope of getting us out. It's admittedly a very faint glimmer of hope, but not an impossibility: Trump's electors could refuse to vote for him, and effectively nullify the election. The fact that Hillary won the popular vote gives the idea a moral and political credence. Yes, a general revolt of the Electoral College is utterly unprecedented in American history—but then, so is the election of a balls-out fascist as president. And there have been decisive outbursts before in American history of Mugwumpery—sensible Republicans so aghast at their party's own candidate that they defect to the Democrats. A New York Times primer on the Electoral College explores the question:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued an ultimatum to the defenders of Aleppo's rebel-held east that they abandon the city by Friday Oct. 4. The rebel leaders pledge defiance, saying that promised safe passages out of besieged areas are a trap. "This is completely out of the question. We will not give up the city of Aleppo to the Russians and we won't surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, of the Fastaqim rebel group, told Reuters, denying that there are safe exit corridors. "It's not true. Civilians and fighters are not leaving. Civilians are afraid of the regime, they don't trust it. And the fighters are not surrendering." (The Guardian, Al Jazeera) A Russian military fleet is meanwhile making its way to Syria, signaling an imminent escalation in the ongoing aerial assault on Aleppo. There has been some controversy about the fleet's refueling stops along the way. While NATO member Spain has allowed Russian warships en route to Syria to resupply at its port of Ceuta before, this time international pressure led Moscow to withdraw its request for a stop there. (World Post, The Local, Spain) The Royal Navy, which monitored the fleet's passage through the English Channel, says it includes the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as well as three submarines (two nuclear-powered) armed with cruise missiles. (The Independent)
The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in China Oct. 18 for a high-profile visit that western media accounts are portraying as a tilt away from the United States. Washington has historically been the Philippines' imperial patron, providing investment and military aid—but relations are now strained over Duterte's murderous anti-drug crackdown, which is believed to have claimed 3,000 lives. Arriving in Beijing, Duterte blasted Washington and the European Union for their criticisms of his lawless crackdown, and praised his hosts for giving him free rein. "China is the only country to come out freely and [make] a firm statement that they are supporting the fight against drugs in my country," Duterte told Chinese state news agency Xinhua in a comment picked up by the Philippine Star. "The other countries, United States, EU, instead of helping us, they know that we are short of money... all they had to do was to criticize. China never criticized."