Bill Weinberg

Philippines: Duterte blinks in deadly drug war?

The Philippines' ultra-hardline President Rodrigo Duterte may have finally gone too far. It is all too telling that after his anti-drug crackdown has claimed perhaps 7,000 lives since he took power last June, it is the death of a prominent foreign businessman that has finally prompted him to—perhaps—rein in his murderous police. All those suspected low-level drug users and dealers who were killed? Their lives don't matter, apparently. But after rogue National Police officers abducted and put to death a South Korean shipping company executive, Duterte has finally pledged to disband the controversial anti-drug units.

Fall of Flynn: hope or peril?

There are still questions about the resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn following revelations in the Washington Post that he had mislead other members of the administration (and, by extension, the public) about the content of his phone conversations with the Russian ambassador back in December. It is still unclear whether Flynn stepped down of his own volition or was basically fired. (The latter version now seems to be favored by the administration.) But, predictably, Trump is expressing greater outrage over the leaks that resulted in Flynn's fall than the misbehavior they revealed, tweeting: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?” Flynn himself echoed that point. Asked by Fox News whether the leaks were "targeted, coordinated and possibly a violation of the law," Flynn responded: "Yes, yes and yes.”

Syria: Idlib between jihadis and imperial air-raids

Late last year, when the evacuation of Aleppo began as the city fell to Assad regime forces backed by Russian air-strikes, we noted that residents were being sent to Idlib governorate, which is both under control of jihadist factions and also targeted for air-strikes and eventual conquest by the regime and its Russian patrons. So secularists fleeing Aleppo were likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. Now comes the news that Radio Fresh, voice of the embattled secularist civil resistance in ‪‎the Idlib town of Kafranbel‬, is being censored by the jihadists—and finding a creative way to resist. The FM station's manager Raed Fares told BBC News that they've been broadcasting hours of barnyard sounds each day to protest and mock censorious orders from local militants of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former Nusra Front). "They tried to force us to stop playing music on air," said Fares. "So we started to play animals in the background as a kind of sarcastic gesture against them."

Bashar Assad: Trump's Syria policy is 'promising'

Syria's embattled dictator Bashar Assad was quoted by his own official news agency SANA Feb. 7 saying he found President Trump's stance on the war in his country to be "promising." This word was headlined by Reuters, but it is worth noting the full quote. Assad told a group of Belgian reporters: "What we heard as statements by Trump during the campaign and after the campaign is promising regarding the priority of fighting terrorists, and mainly ISIS, that’s what we’ve been asking for during the last six years. So, I think this is promising, we have to wait, it's still early to expect anything practical. It could be about the cooperation between the US and Russia, that we think is going to be positive for the rest of the world, including Syria. So, as I said, it's still early to judge it."

Trump risking war with Mexico for useless wall?

The planned meeting in Washington between President Trump and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, was called off after Trump signed his Jan. 25 executive order decreeing construction of a wall on the border—accompanied with more bluster about how Mexico will pay for it. Since the cancelation, Trump and Peña Nieto have engaged in an unseemly Twitter war, each taking responsibility for calling off the meeting. Things got worse when the White House raised the option of making Mexico pay for the wall with a 20% tariff on all goods coming in from our southern neighbor. The threat portends a trade war with the United States' third biggest trading partner.

Trump's Red-Brown alliance: don't take the bait!

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was in the news last week, as she traveled to Syria to meet with genocidal dictator Bashar Assad, part of an entourage that included unsavory figures from the fascistic Syrian Social Nationalist Party. The right-wing Liberty Conservative defends the trip, writing: "Why Tulsi Gabbard’s Visit To Syria Was The Right Thing To Do." The Observer, owned by Trump's top advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, also cheers on the Gabbard-Assad meet, under a headline that could be lifted from just about any lefty anti-war website: "War Hawks Jump on Progressives to Push for Intervention in Syria." Likewise providing gushy coverage of Tulsi's lovefest with the accused war criminal are Russian state propaganda organ RT, which hails her for sparking "outrage" in the DC "establishment," and the borderline fake news sites popular on the "left," MintPress and Global Research

Romania's victory: can it happen in US?

Romania's government on Feb. 4 capitulated in the face of a sustained protest campaign and repealed a decree that had decriminalized corruption offenses. Tens of thousands of flag-waving protesters in central Bucharest cheered the announcement. The decree, removing criminal penalties for official misconduct in which the damages are less than €44,000, was enacted Jan. 31—sparking the largest demonstrations in Romania since the fall of communism in 1989. After three days of mounting protests, an estimated 600,000 Romanians marched in Bucharest and other cities the day before the government blinked. Protests have continued since then, demanding the resignation of the government.

Can Assad (and Putin) reconquer all Syria?

This week's recapture of the Wadi Barada enclave outside Damascus by the Bashar Assad regime's forces points to a deft strategy by the regime and its Russian backers. The valley had been excluded from the supposed "ceasefire" because of the presence there of a small number of fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham—the former Nusra Front, which was officially excluded from the ceasefire. This means, effectively, the ceasefire not only doesn't apply to ex-Nusra, but also does not apply to any forces that have (often of necessity) allied with ex-Nusra—or even that just happen to be near ex-Nusra and not actively fighting them. This strategy seems to have had the desired effect. Nusra's former ally, Ahrar al-Sham, is now reported to have turned on Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, sparking an internal civil war within rebel-held areas of Idlib governorate. (Al Jazeera, Feb. 2; Al Jazeera, Jan. 29)

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