In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On releasing its "World Report 2017," the organization stated: "Donald Trump's election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk." It added that "strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality."
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the centripetal tendency in world affairs seems to hold sway—a further Great Power convergence against ISIS. When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position off Syria's coast, it joins a Russian guided missile cruiser already there—and cooperation between the two powers appears imminent. "Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," said Col-Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of staff, according to Moscow's state news agency Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations." Citing Kartapolov, Tass also claimed, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining." While not stated, this presumably means ISIS oil. (NPR)
One day before the horrific Paris attacks, some 40 people were killed and more than 180 wounded in twin suicide attacks in a crowded suburb of Beirut. The coordinated blasts struck a Shi'ite community center and a nearby bakery in the commercial and residential district of Borj al-Barajneh. The attacks were claimed in the name of ISIS. (Al Arabiya News, Nov. 12) Less than 24 hours later, the Parisian terror began to unfold—leaving at least 120 dead as a concert hall, sports stadium and restaurants were targeted with bombs and bullets. Eight of the attackers are dead in what appear to have been France's first suicide attacks. (BBC News, France24) In Europe and America, ugly responses are already in witness...
A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.
Bibi Netanyahu's polarizing speech before Congress today was basically a repeat of his 2012 performance at the UN, but with the level of doublethink considerably jacked up. It is pretty damn terrifying that his relentless barrage of lies and distortions won virtually incessant applause throughout—although it is a glimmer of hope that some dozen Democrats declined to attend. But most of the outrage has been over Bibi's perceived meddling in the US political process (thanks for playing right into the anti-Semitic stereotype, Bibi, very helpful)—not the outrageous dishonesty of his speech. Here's a few choice chuckles from the transcript...
Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy in the Shaba'a Farms border area Jan. 28, killing four soldiers. After Israeli forces were hit by missile fire, they responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon. A Spanish UN peacekeeper was accidentally killed by the Israeli return fire. Hezbollah issued a communiqué saying the attack was retaliation for an Israeli air-strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights 10 days ago. Hezbollah said the attack had been carried out by a cell calling itself the "Heroic Martyrs of Quneitra," a reference to the area where the Israeli strike took place on Jan. 18. (BBC News, YNet, Israel, Daily Star, Lebanon, Jan. 28)
Reporting from Lebanon's hashish heartland of the Bekaa Valley on Jan. 5 Public Radio International spoke to cannabis farmers who say they are ready to resist any ISIS incursion into their fastness. Ali Nasri Shamas, who runs a mechanized hashish factory in Bouday village, took up arms in 2007 to resist Lebanese government eradication forces. This paid off; the army hasn't been back since 2012. But now the Lebanese army and hash producers are confronting the same enemy. Although officially a wanted man for 35 years now, Shamas happily talks on-camera, alongside a three-ton yield of hash, flanked by masked employees, amid the clatter of processing machines.