CounterVortex

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.

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)

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
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)

Iran
soleimani

Trump and Soleimani: clash of barbarisms

Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination, Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. In fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a “dirty war” in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. This is why all the media talk (echoing Trump) about how he “killed Americans” reeks of racism and imperial narcissism. However many US troops Soleimani may have been responsible for killing, this was the least of his massive crimes. Similarly, calling him a “terrorist,” implying he was responsible for attacks on Westerners (always the connotation of that label in mainstream Western discourse), is a vast understatement. He was worse than a terrorist: he was a war criminal. And so is Trump—in his destruction of ISIS-held Raqqa and Mosul (which could only have cheered Soleimani), in his targeted-assassination drone strikes, and now in his threat to bomb Iranian cultural sites. (Photo: Iran Briefing)

Iran
Persian Gulf

Trump sends more troops to Persian Gulf

In response to the recent escalation in Iraq, President Trump has ordered thousands more US troops to neighboring Kuwait—and hudreds more Marines into Iraq itself. The US and Iran are playing a geo-strategic game for control of Iraq, and the greater region. Both sides are treating the Iraqi people as pawns. As long as ISIS and Sunni jihadists remain a threat, Washington and Tehran can only push things so far. But things could still escalate toward US war with Iran, even if neither side is seeking that outcome. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection)

Iran
Tabandeh

Iran on edge following death of Sufi leader

The death of 92-year-old Noor-Ali Tabandeh, also known as Majzoub Ali Shah, leader of Iran’s Gonabadi Sufi order, prompted the regime to take pre-emptive measures against a new outbreak of protests. Riot police took over all streets leading to the hospital where he was held. Tabandeh was a harsh critic of Velayat-e Faqih (Guardianship of Islamic Jurists), the system by which Iran’s orthodox Shi’ite establishment has final say over all laws. He had been under effective house arrest since February 2018, when a wave of protests by Gonabadi dervishes against persecution of their Order led to hundreds of arrests. Since Tabandeh’s death, his followers on social media have been speculating that he was poisoned by the authorities. His passing comes as Iranian authorities have restricted mobile internet use in response to a new call for mass demonstrations. (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

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 
The Andes
Chapare

Bolivia: regime threatens autonomous Chapare

The new Bolivian regime’s Government Minister Arturo Murillo is threatening a military invasion of the eastern lowland region of Chapare, heartland of support for ousted president Evo Morales, which has become a de facto autonmous zone outside the control of La Paz. Murillo implied to reporters that planned new elections will not proceed until control over Chapare has been re-established. In the aftermath of the November coup, the Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the cocalero alliance once led by Morales, mobilized to resist the new regime. The region was cut off by cocalero roadblocks, and several National Police statons burned. The roadblocks have since been relaxed, but large areas of the province are without any police presence and effectively independent. (Photo: Ollie Vargas via Twitter)

Syria
Idlib displaced

Syria: thousands flee intensified Idlib offensive

More than 235,000 people have fled from their homes in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province over the past days, as the Assad regime and Russia escalate their campaign of aerial bombardment. A report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs states that Ma’arrat An Nu’man and other towns in the province are now “almost empty,” while internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in the extreme northwest of the province are rapidly swelling. “Displacement during winter is further exacerbating the vulnerability of those affected,” the report states. Perversely, the renewed offensive comes days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended cross-border aid convoys into Idlib from Turkey for another year—essentially condemning many of those not directly killed by the bombs to death by starvation and exposure. (Photo: UNHCR)

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 
Planet Watch
Cumbre de los Pueblos

Madrid climate talks a total bust

Nearly half a million demonstrators gathered in Madrid as the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) opened more than two weeks ago, with young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg the star of the show at a mass rally. But despite being the longest climate summit yet, the affair ultimately amounted to little. Nearly 27,000 delegates came together with the supposed aim of finalizing the “rulebook” of the Paris Agreement, which is to officially take effect in 2020—settling mechanisms for international cooperation under Article 6 of the deal. But, unable to agree on terms, delegates finally invoked “Rule 16” of the climate process—allowing them to put off the critical decisions for another year. This means there will have been no progress when COP26 is convened in Glasgow in November 2020. UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was “disappointed” with the results of COP25, and that “the international community lost an important opportunity.” (Photo: Global Justice Ecology Project)