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CounterVortex unveils new website

At long last, our new image-heavy mobile-friendly website has been unveiled. Without compromising our characteristic seriousness, comprehension and rigor, we have finally caught up with the smartphone zeitgeist. It was overdue and inevitable, and our developer has generously donated his services pro bono. HOWEVER: Our hosting costs are going up considerably to accommodate this change, effective immediately. Please help us close this gap. So far, six of you have responded to our year-end donation request, for a total of $413. And we salute these six loyal readers! But this is about half of our annual operating costs. And we only ask you for money once a year. So the time is NOW. Please come through for us. In the age of online media, it is critical that you put your money where your reading eyes are, to assure the survival and growth of the voices you support. We’re depending on you. Here’s all the info you need to make a donation, either via check or Paypal.

Africa
Coalition for the Sahel

France prepares more troops for Sahel

At a meeting with leaders of five West African nations, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to send 220 more troops to fight growing militancy in the Sahel. The increase is unlikely to be welcomed by aid groups, which have called for civilians to be prioritized in responses, and criticized the region’s growing militarization. Meeting in the southern French city of Pau, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed to step up military cooperation, combining their respective forces under a single command structure, to be called the Coalition for the Sahel. (Photo: Wikipedia)

North America

Trump order allowing localities to refuse refugees blocked

Maryland federal judge Peter Messitte blocked the Trump administration’s order permitting state and local governments to prevent refugees from settling in their respective jurisdictions. The order stated that refugees must apply for written consent from their local governments before settling in their areas of choice. It was challenged by three immigration advocacy groups, the Church World Service, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

North America

Trump to divert Pentagon funds for border wall —again

President Trump plans to divert $7.2 billion from the Pentagon to go toward border wall construction this year, a sum five times greater than what Congress authorized in the 2020 budget last month, the Washington Post reported. This marks the second year in a row that Trump has sought to redirect money to the planned border wall from military construction projects and counter-narcotics funding. The administration will take $3.7 billion from military construction and $3.5 billion from counter-narcotics programs, according to figures obtained by the Post, compared to $3.6 billion and $2.5 billion last year, respectively. (Photo via Jurist)

Palestine
Bensouda

ICC prosecutor rejects Bibi’s ‘anti-Semitism’ charge

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused her of “pure anti-Semitism” for seeking to investigate possible war crimes committed in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. “This is a particularly regrettable accusation that is without merit,” Fatou Bensouda told the Times of Israel in an interview. “I, along with my office, execute our mandate under the Rome Statute with utmost independence, objectivity, fairness and professional integrity. We will continue to meet our responsibilities as required by the Rome Statute without fear or favor.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons via +972)

Syria
Syria oil map

Kurds betrayed in new Russo-Turkish alignment?

Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey.  (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Syria
Idlib

Idlib demonstrators revive Syrian revolution

Reviving Friday demonstrations that were a tradition of the Syrian revolution, activists in besieged Idlib province in the north filled the Idlib city center, flying the Free Syria flag, chanting slogans against the Assad regime and Russia, and demanding international action against the ongoing bombardment of the province. The demonstrators especially expressed sympathy and support for the displaced from Maarat al-Nuaman, a town which has come under especially intense bombardment. The Assad regime and Russia launched their bombing campaign in April, violating the “de-escalation” zone deal reached between Russia and Turkey. Since then, some 700,000 people have been forced to flee. (Photo: OrientNet)

Iran
Iran protests

Podcast: solidarity with Iran —the people, not the state

In Episode 46 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg calls out the racist imperial narcissism in coverage of the assassination of Qassem Soleimani—all of which (left, right and center) is solely concerned with whether he was responsible for the deaths of “hundreds of Americans.” Safely invisible is the reality that Soleimani and his militia networks were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians. Iranian forces in Syria have been carrying out a campaign of sectarian cleansing, with Shi’ite militia leaders usurping the lands of displaced Sunnis. Soleimani’s militias in Iraq have meanwhile been serially massacring protesters. Over this same period, hundreds of protesters have been killed in state repression in Iran itself. Anti-war forces in the West must not be confused by Trump’s cynical pretense of support for the Iranian protesters. Our opposition to Trump’s war moves must be in explicit solidarity with Iran —meaning the people of Iran, not the state. And that includes solidarity with the struggle of the Iranian people against an oppressive regime. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Image: @iranprotest2019)

East Asia
Taiwan protest

Taiwan repudiates fascist world order

Following a bitter campaign dominated by “fake news” generated from China and punctuated by sexist personal attacks on President Tsai Ing-wen, the incumbent was re-elected, overwhelmingly defeating Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT). Tsai, of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), received the highest total ever recorded for any candidate in a presidential election in Taiwan. With Han and the KMT calling for closer integration with China, the repression in Hong Kong was an inevitable and pressing context in the vote. The populist Han, described as Taiwan’s Donald Trump, cultivated an “everyman” image despite his own lavish lifestyle. But his closeness to Beijing led to fears that the KMT was willing to accept a “one country, two systems” solution for Taiwan—just as this model was collapsing in Hong Kong. (Photo of Workers’ Struggle demonstration in Taipei via New Bloom)

Iran
Syria shepherds

Syria: ‘retaliatory’ massacre after Soleimani killing

More than 20 shepherds were killed in eastern Syria, with pro-opposition activists claiming that Iran-backed militias were responsible. The shepherds were slain in the Maadan area, on the border of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor provinces, and also near the line between territory held by the Assad regime and that held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The regime is being massively backed by Iranian forces, and Iran-backed militia units had establsihed checkpoints along the border of the zones of control. The media-activist network Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently claimed that the shepherds were shot and stabbed in retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. Damascus state media blamed the massacre on ISIS. Soleimani’s elite Quds Force intervened in Syria to prop up the Assad regime along with Russia in 2015.  (Photo: EA Worldview)

Southeast Asia
Indonesia

China-Indonesia maritime stand-off

Dozens of Chinese vessels that were fishing in Indonesia’s Exclusive Economic Zone off the disputed island of Natuna began leaving the area after days of stand-off. Indonesia deployed eight warships and four fighter jets to the area, and summoned Beijing’s ambassador to complain. China reportedly sent three coast guard cutters into the area during the stand-off. The Natuna archipelago, off the northwest coast of Borneo, occupies a strategic spot in the South China Sea. Its waters contain significant oil and gas reserves, and it guards the eastern opening of the narrow Malacca Strait, a critical chokepoint for shipping lanes. The archipelago falls within China’s “nine-dash line,” covering nearly the entirety of the South China Sea. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

Iran
asad base

US-Iran brinkmanship: is it still a charade?

Missiles launched from Iran struck various targets in Iraq—primarily al-Asad air-base west of Baghdad, which hosts US forces. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps quickly took credit for the strikes, and the Pentagon said it believed Iran fired with the “intent to kill.” But the facts suggest otherwise. Media reports indicate Tehran gave Baghdad advance warning of the strikes, and the Baghdad regime in turn informed the US, which moved its forces out of harm’s way. In spite of all the predictable misinformation that quicly proliferated on the internet, there were no casualties. Anonymous US and European sources even told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranians were thought to have intentionally targeted the attacks to miss US forces. At a press conference the next day, Trump said nothing about military retaliation, but announced “additional punishing economic sanctions” that will “remain until Iran changes its behavior.” The assassination of Qassem Soleimani was a reckless and dangerous move in the US-Iran game for control of Iraq and the greater region. But a game, no matter how high-stakes and dangerous, is still in the end a game. (Map: Wikiwand)

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Featured Stories

Hotel Occupato

SQUAT CALABRIA

In the provincial city of Cosenza, in Italy’s traditionally marginalized southern region of Calabria, migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East are squatting empty buildings as they wait on their asylum claims or residency applications. They have the support of local Calabrese activist allies who are standing up to a growing xenophobic atmosphere in Italy. The country’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini was recently removed from power—but not before passing his draconian “Salvini Law,” which cracks down on squatters and migrants alike. The squatters of Cosenza recall that Salvini, who now demonizes immigrants under the slogan “Italians First,” rose to power by demonizing southern Italians in similar terms, as chief of the separatist Northern League. These activists link a regional pride to their solidarity efforts with the displaced from across the Mediterranean. Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account for the Brooklyn Rail.

Continue ReadingSQUAT CALABRIA 
gauri lankesh protest 759

2019: INDIA IMPROVES JOURNO-MURDER INDEX

As the year 2019 is approaching the finish line, India appears to have improved its journalist murder index—with authorities counting only two slain in circumstances directly related to their work this year. Reporters Without Borders counts nearly 50 journalists killed for their work worldwide to date this year (compared to 95 in 2018), and India’s share has also gone down considerably—from six last year. However, there were several other cases across India in which it is yet to be confirmed that the victims were targeted for media activities. And with multiple conflicts now escalating around the country, this promises to be a critical question in 2020. Nava Thakuria reports from Guwahati, in India’s strife-torn northeast.

Continue Reading2019: INDIA IMPROVES JOURNO-MURDER INDEX 
Idlib protest

IDLIB RESISTS

Over the past days a popular uprising has broken out across northern Syria’s Idlib against the hardline Islamist group that is militarily dominant in much of the province—Hayaat Tahrir Al-Shaam or HTS, formerly the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. The uprising began when HTS increased zakaat (taxes) on a number of goods and services including bread, electricity and olive oil. The anti-Assad regime protests which are held almost every Friday in Idlib are now also demanding the expulsion of HTS from the province. The dominant narrative promoted by the regime and supporters of Assadist fascism is that Idlib is a “terrorist enclave.” Today’s uprising should challenge this narrative. Syrian writer and activist Leila Al Shami provides an account.

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Tapachula protest

LEFT WAITING

For months, hundreds of African migrants and asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries like Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have been camped out in tents in front of the main immigration detention facility in the town of Tapachula, in southern Mexico. Most flew halfway around the world to Brazil, then made the dangerous journey north through the Darien Gap— a remote, roadless swath of jungle—before traversing Central America into Mexico in the hope of finally reaching the United States to claim asylum. Instead, they were detained upon arrival in Mexico, under terms of the new migration agreement between the US and Mexican governments. Melisa Valenzuela reports from Tapachula for The New Humanitarian.

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Rome protest

ROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN

Italy’s far-right interior minister (and de facto ruler) Matteo Salvini was just removed from power in a government shake-up—but not before passing his draconian “Salvini Law.” In addition to restricting the rights of migrants and refugees to asylum and government aid, the Salvini Law imposes a five-year prison term for squatting. Italy’s thousands of squatters—many of them displaced from their homelands in the Middle East, Africa and South America—are now in a precarious position. Bill Weinberg offers a first-hand account from the squats and migrant enclaves of the Eternal City.

Continue ReadingROME SQUATTERS FACE CLAMPDOWN 
Kashmir

HOW INDIA COMPLICATED KASHMIR DISPUTE

By revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, India has seemingly abandoned the notion of Jammu & Kashmir state as a special territory deserving autonomy. However, the revocation is being challenged as itself unconstitutional, and in violation of both international agreements and the Instrument of Accession by which  J&K joined the Indian union in 1947. The revocation may yet be overturned by India’s Supreme Court. Meanwhile, unrest and repression mount in J&K, and tensions are escalating with Pakistan—raising the possibly an armed conflict between the Subcontinent’s nuclear rivals. L. Ali Khan, writing for Jurist, offers a legal and historical perspective on the crisis.

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SYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE

If 2011 looked like the moment when people could unite, both within and across borders, to topple decades-old dictatorships with the demand for freedom and social justice, today looks like the moment of counter-revolutionary success. After eight years of increasingly brutal conflict in Syria, Bashar al-Assad still presides as president over a now destroyed, fragmented and traumatized country. The dominant narrative is that the war is nearing its end. States once vocally opposed to Assad now have other strategic concerns which take precedence over the victims of his savage efforts to hold onto power. Yet, on the ground, conditions are far from stable; civilians remain trapped and are paying the price for ongoing struggles for power and territory between the regime, foreign states and ideological warlords. Syrian writer and activist Leila Al Shami writes for the North American anarchist journal Fifth Estate.

Continue ReadingSYRIA: FROM REVOLUTION TO QUAGMIRE 

‘RUSSIAGATE,’ SYRIA AND THE LEFT

Why have there been so few large protests against the daily abuses from the Trump administration?  Where is the opposition?  Syria solidarity activists have watched disinformation contribute to uncertainty and division on the left.  Trusted “left” writers have created confusion by supporting the Assad regime and dismissing the extensive evidence of Russian interference in the US elections. Scholars of authoritarianism are warning us of the dangers of the Trump/Putin collusion—while the so-called “alternative” media increasingly functions as an “echo-system” of Russian propaganda. Terry Burke deconstructs this reality in a special for CounterVortex.

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CRITIQUE OF GEOPOLITICS AND THE LEFT

Jae Carico of The Fifth Column Network interviews CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg on Eurasianism, Red-Brown politics, and how the consensus position of the contemporary American “left” is now pro-fascist. They also discuss the prospects for reviving the traditional anti-fascist stance of the left, through a ruthless critique of its existing leadership and active solidarity with the civil opposition in Syria.

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U.S. LEFT MUST NOT FORGET AFGHAN WOMEN

The US government’s announcement that it has opened negotiations with the Taliban to help bring the war in Afghanistan to an end should be a source of concern for women’s rights advocates everywhere. While it’s still not easy to be a woman in Afghanistan, women have made progress in the areas of education, employment and representation in government since the Talban were overthrown by the US-led invasion of 2003. Pro-war and anti-war voices in the US alike have instrumentalized the suffering of Afghan women to advance their political aims. In a special for CounterVortex, journalist Andy Heintz provides an overview of Afghanistan’s courageous women’s rights advocates, and calls for heeding their voices—which hold a spectrum of opinion on the US military presence in the country.

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ANTI-TERROR LAW COULD TARGET AID GROUPS

A new US anti-terror law that has forced the majority of American-funded aid operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to grind to a halt may have even wider humanitarian consequences, leaving nonprofits around the world more vulnerable to litigation. While the 700-word bill appears to have been targeted at the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, experts say the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, or ATCA, is poorly crafted and could result in some non-governmental organisations and businesses being reluctant to take US funding or be associated with US-financed programs. Samuel Oakford explores for IRIN.

Continue ReadingANTI-TERROR LAW COULD TARGET AID GROUPS