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Sunday, January 14

The smart way to finance U.S. Mexico Wall

From Col. Pat Lang at Sic Semper Tyrannis (A Coupla Things, January 12):
1.  A couple of Border Patrol/ICE people tell me that the US does not effectively charge an entry fee to non-US citizen individuals seeking to enter the US legally across the southern border.  The point made by these border and immigration professionals is that the money would enable the construction and installation of more and better border barrier systems.  They make the point that where border barrier systems have been installed the flow of illegal migrants is much reduced.  Mexico evidently collects such a fee in the San Diego sector.  My question for the lawyers is whether or not such a fee would be legal if put in place under an EO or would this require legislation?
I'll be darned. There's been a smart way to finance the wall, all along.  

********

Uganda's Ministry of Health tries to put down a panic

"We are in control. We know everything. ... There is no cause for alarm."


What with the story about a wrong-button pusher in Hawaii this is a very bad week for governments to attempt to assure the public they are in control -- although I must say Dr Atwine's wonderfully emotional declamation should get a prize for Most Convincing Assurance that government is leaving no stone unturned. 

So is this is a new, highly infectious deadly disease, or an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever?  Either way, the incident underscores that officials trying to cover up or downplay an infectious disease outbreak is so last century. In this century of globalized 24/7 news and social media, governments the world over are being forced to the realization that they must somehow thread the camel through the needle: keep the public well informed about a possible infectious disease outbreak but without setting off or adding to a panic.  

The U.K. Star, which has made itself a clearing house for tales of infectious disease outbreaks, has a report on the Uganda situation. (See also their slide show report on recent globalized deadly disease outbreaks): 

Black Death TWO: Girl, 9, drops dead as strange 'eye-bleeding fever' spreads
By Anthony Blair
January 13, 2018

A NEW disease is feared to become even more deadly than the Black Death that killed thousands in 2017 after it killed a nine year-old 
child.

She had contracted the bizarre new disease with similarities to the Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.

This disease — usually spread by tick bites or contact with infected livestock — can cause muscle pains, headaches, vomiting, diarrhoea and bleeding.

And panic is spreading after the sudden death of a girl in the Nakaseke District of Uganda.

A rapid response health team was rushed from the local hospital with a body bag to collect her and prevent any possible outbreak.

Health teams disinfected the girl's home after her death on Thursday night local time, but didn't give her grieving family any details about when they could have her body back. [read on]

[...]

Local district Health Officer Dr Badru Ssesimba confirmed that blood samples from the girl's body had been handed over to the Uganda Virus Research Institute, but wouldn't give more details.

Authorities at the hospital — who didn't want to be named — said that the body would be buried by health teams due to the "sensitivity" about a further outbreak.

Four people have now died in Uganda this week from the 'eye-bleeding fever'.

But local officials in the East African country — which has been plagued by similar outbreaks recently — said this could be a completely new disease.

Last week Uganda's Ministry of Health denied claims by local officials in Nakaseke that Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic fever had broken out.

But Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Health Dr Diana Atwine confirmed that fluid and blood samples from the dead child are being tested to find out exactly what she died from.

This week MPs in Uganda's Parliament claimed there was a cover-up of a deadly plague outbreak in Uganda by the government.

Recently there were fears that a tribal 'Cleaning of Corpses' ritual in Indonesia could lead to a fresh Black Death outbreak.

And the World Health Organisation warned last week that an extra £3 million was needed by April to stop the return of Black Death.

[END REPORT]

********

Friday, January 12

U.S. remains determined to unseat Assad at any cost

"In Washington last month, I was told that a main strut of U.S. Syria policy going forward would be marshalling America’s international and regional allies to isolate the Assad regime economically. America is meant to play a key leadership role in this effort, reinforcing international consensus on an economic blockade of Assad. The idea is to use economic leverage on the regime and its ally Russia, in parallel with diplomatic pressure, to push for a transition and Assad’s removal."

The quote is from Sam Heller's What an unfolding humanitarian disaster in a U.S.-protected enclave in Syria tells us about American strategy in Syria, published November 20 at War on the Rocks. But you'd have to read to the last part of the report to find the quote. At the time the U.S. was making noises about allowing Assad to stay on as head of the Syrian government. By the end of December, however, the U.S. had again showed its true face. From Heller's latest Syria analysis (January 8) for War on the Rocks (America in search of un-Geneva for Syria):
“We are confident that the fulfillment of these [Geneva] talks will produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family,” wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in The New York Times on Dec. 27. As I argued recently for the Century Foundation, this will not work.
In short, nothing has changed about U.S. involvement since 2011 in the attempts to remove Assad from power, and it's demonstrated a willingness to see Syria reduced to ruins in order to accomplish the goal. Yet one never hears about the U.S. attempting to remove the Baathists from power. This is curious given that much of the Syrian opposition is actually against the Baathists, who were in power long before Bashar al-Assad was installed as the figurehead leader of the party. 

So why the ongoing American focus on removing Assad? Because Assad is completely committed to Syria's government remaining secular, as are most Syrians, and Al Saud can't tolerate a genuinely secular society in the Middle East -- one that puts Sunni Islam on par with other religions and Islamic sects. To whatever extent possible the United States serves Saudi interests.
   
Any other American reasons for wanting Assad removed are distant seconds. All things being equal, Assad would still have to go because he stands as a bulwark against sectarian rule of Syria.

********

Tuesday, January 2

Mr Trump, Iran is not Selma, Alabama circa 1960s

(For readers who don't know the significance of Selma for the American civil rights movement, here's some background.)  

Dear President Trump -- I don't like being the bearer of bad news, but just because young people in foreign countries are marching in the streets, waving signs, and shouting 'We shall overcome,' this does not not necessarily mean they are protesting for causes dear to American hearts -- liberty, justice for all, civil rights, etc.  The protests can mean quite the opposite. Take, for example, the mass street protests that began December 28 in Iran:
[...]
However, it may actually turn out that the protests are driven by Iran’s hardliners and Islamic conservatives, who are challenging the presidency of Rouhani, who is considered a “moderate”politician in the Islamic Republic.
The Iranian city of Mashhad is one of the places where the protests initially started.  [Ahmed Al-Burai, a lecturer at Aydin University in Istanbul] explained that it is actually a “stronghold of Rouhani’s major competitor” at the last presidential elections, Ebrahim Raisi. 
Raisi is the son-in-law of the Mashhad Friday prayer leader and Grand Imam of Imam Reza shrine, Ahmad Alamolhoda.
The politician also enjoys the support of the Iranian conservative circles. He advocates gender segregation and even sees sanctions imposed against Iran as a sort of opportunity. Notably, fighting corruption and creating jobs were his major election promises during the last presidential campaign.
In the meantime, the US seems to pay no attention to the real situation on the ground. On Monday, US Vice President Mike Pence promised full support to the Iranian protesters by saying, “We must not and we will not let them down.”
The quotes are from RT's Jan 1 report "Trump's support will not be welcomed by Iranian protesters", which begins by pointing out the obvious, which is that many Iranians -- including many of the protesters -- positively hate the United States. In fact, so widespread is the hatred that Rouhani was probably not talking through his turban when he claimed that "foreign provocations" are a factor in the protests -- although he admitted what is also obvious, which is that "domestic problems" are also in play in the protests.  

(Ali Shamkhani, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, went even further by fingering the Usual Suspects -- U.S., U.K, and Al Saud -- as instigators of the Iranian protests, and pointed out:
“Based on our analysis, almost 27 percent of the new [social media] hashtags directed against Iran have been generated by the Saudi government” ...
Now it would be exaggeration to say that American intelligence agencies and think tanks couldn't correctly analyze the doings in so much as a foreign chicken coop. There are some very knowledgeable American and foreigners working for the U.S. government who are skilled analysts of foreign affairs. 

The caveat is that their hard work is often ignored by factions in Congress and the American Administration, which are usually so busy squabbling about each others' agendas that finally no one can untangle what is actually happening in the situations under analysis. 

Upshot: The U.S. wades blindfolded into situations in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, making a mess that it then tries to 'fix,' which makes a bigger mess.

I emphasize that in the Middle East the U.S. generally doesn't wade in alone; it's works in tandem with NATO members, notably U.K. and/or France, and allies in the Arab oil countries, and with Israel sometimes bringing up the rear but more often complaining that nobody is listening to their advice.

The most annoying part for Americans, at least those Americans who have some idea of what is actually going on, is that despite the group effort, it's invariably the United States that is left holding the bag when the messes turn into crises.

Some will argue that U.S. defense policymakers are very clear about what is really going on in Iran but that even if the political hand behind the current protests is Iranian Islamic hardliners, the optics of the protests fit well with American propaganda against Tehran's regime.

I'd reply to such people by asking what century they believe this is.

The weaponization of street protests by foreign powers is so well known in this era -- recently one American analyst sarcastically referred to the tactic as "renta rallies" -- that the smart move for an American administration is to completely distance itself from even a hint of involvement in foreign protest rallies.  

But that would mean getting a handle on factions in Congress which are infamously known as instigators of phony democracy revolutions to install U.S. puppets in power. In the Herculean task I would wish President Trump, and any American president, the very best of luck and a tripled security detail.

********

Thursday, December 21

Merry Christmas to all

Classical WETA  90.9 FM Washington, DC live stream They go bananas at Christmastime lol.

See you next year. 

Pundita



Sunday, December 17

In China, a draconian police state emerges from hi- and low-tech strategies

From an Associated Press report, AP Exclusive: Digital police state shackles Chinese minority by Gerry Shih; December 17. As you can see from the quotes, surveillance of a minority within the country's borders can be extended to China's entire population:
[...]
The facial scanner is made by China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a state-owned defense contractor that has spearheaded China’s fast-growing field of predictive policing with Xinjiang as its test bed. The [Associated Press] AP found 27 CETC bids for Xinjiang government contracts, including one soliciting a facial recognition system for facilities and centers in Hotan Prefecture.
Hours after visiting the Hotan bazaar, AP reporters were stopped outside a hotel by a police officer who said the public security bureau had been remotely tracking the reporters’ movements.
“There are tens of thousands of cameras here,” said the officer, who gave his name as Tushan. “The moment you took your first step in this city, we knew.”
The government’s tracking efforts have extended to vehicles, genes, and even voices.
In February, authorities in Xinjiang’s Bayingol prefecture, which includes Korla, required every car to install GPS trackers for real-time monitoring. And since late last year, Xinjiang authorities have required health checks to collect the population’s DNA samples. In May, a regional police official told the AP that Xinjiang had purchased $8.7 million in DNA scanners — enough to analyze several million samples a year.
In one year, Kashgar Prefecture, which has a population of 4 million, has carried out mandatory checks for practically its entire population, said Yang Yanfeng, deputy director of Kashgar’s propaganda department. She characterized the checkups as a public health success story, not a security measure.
“We take comprehensive blood tests for the good of the people, not just record somebody’s height and weight,” Yang said. “We find out health issues in citizens even they didn’t know about.”
A biometric data collection program appears to have been formalized last year under “Document No. 44,” a regional public security directive to “comprehensively collect three-dimensional portraits, voiceprints, DNA and fingerprints.”
The document’s full text remains secret, but the AP found at least three contracts referring to the 2016 directive in recent purchase orders for equipment such as microphones and voice analyzers.
Meiya Pico, a security and surveillance company, has won 11 bids in the last six months alone from local Xinjiang jurisdictions. It won a joint bid with a DNA analysis company for 4 million yuan ($600,000) in Kargilik and has sold software that automatically scans smartphones for “terror-related pictures and videos” to Yarkent.
Meiya and CETC declined comment.

PRYING EYES
To monitor Xinjiang’s population, China has also turned to a familiar low-tech tactic: recruiting the masses.
When a Uighur businessman from Kashgar completed a six-month journey to flee China and landed in the United States with his family in January, he was initially ecstatic. He tried calling home, something he hadn’t done in months to spare his family unwanted police questioning.
His mother told him his four brothers and his father were in prison because he fled China. She was spared only because she was frail.
Since 2016, local authorities had assigned ten families including theirs to spy on one another in a new system of collective monitoring, and those families had also been punished because he escaped. Members from each were sent to re-education centers for three months, he told the AP.
[...]
Lots more of importance in the AP exclusive report, and kudos to AP for getting the story. 

One question not addressed in the report would be whether China's government is selling high-tech surveillance equipment and teaching surveillance techniques to other authoritarian governments. 

Another question is whether any supposed liberal democratic governments are also abusing technology to institute a police state that would have been the envy of the East German secret police.  

********

Wednesday, December 13

At least Trump now knows how Bashar al-Assad feels

On Friday America's CNN further cemented its reputation as a purveyor of fake news by reporting that sources revealed to them that President Donald Trump had advance knowledge of a Wikileaks leak, thereby finally proving once and for all that he was in collusion with the Russian government (on the unproven claim that Wikipedia is connected with the Russians). 

The problem for CNN is that they and/or their sources got the date wrong; by the time Trump was allegedly informed of the Wikileaks leak it had already been in the public domain for about 24 hours. 

As to where the CNN fact-checkers were -- the unanswered question has led cynics to speculate that CNN, in their zeal to nail Trump for collusion with the Kremlin, simply lied to the public or refrained from even basic checking on what the sources told them.

To cut a time-wasting story, CNN's report was just the latest in a long list of fake news promoted by American media and their buddies in Washington, who live to see Russia balkanized and Trump kicked out of the Oval Office for suggesting he wanted to cooperate with Vladimir Putin on certain national security issues.

As The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald noted on December 9: "So numerous are the false [media] stories about Russia and Trump over the last year that I literally cannot list them all." (Although Glenn does make a stab at listing some of the wilder fabrications.) 

The seemingly endless list of fake news reports about Trump colluding with Russia's government is what constitutes 'Russiagate.' Yet there's so much false and wildly misleading reportage on the issues that there's actually no Russia in Russiagate, as Russia expert Stephen F. Cohen put it last night on the John Batchelor Show. (Podcasts, part 1 and part 2; see below for my notes on the discussion.)

Yet it was left to Rush Limbaugh, of all people, to pound home the amazing fact that despite all the Russiagate news reports and published opinion, there is still not a shred of evidence linking the Russian government to hacking operations in the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2016 -- and therefore no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians about such.  (From the podcast of the December 11 Rush Limbaugh Show, posted at YouTube, starting at the 7:51 minute mark.) 

By the time Rush moved to another topic, even obtuse listeners could have surmised that Trump has been the target of a disinformation campaign so massive it's hard to comprehend how his enemies got away with telling so many whoppers -- hard, unless one has watched the machinations of the Get Russia crowd for years.

But instead of sympathizing with him I couldn't help but think, 'So how does it feel, Mr Trump?' 

At the least he should consider Russiagate before he again orders missiles lobbed at a Syrian military airbase to punish the Syrian government for a chemical attack they had nothing to do with, or while he's uncritically accepting horror stories about Syria's President Bashar al-Assad that have no basis in fact. 
___

My notes on Steve Cohen's discussion with John:

  • In December (2016) Obama put sanctions on Russia for Russiagate, not Syria or Ukraine.
  • US State Department has been the laughing stock of the world for years.
Lots more in the discussion, which John Batchelor titled  "A
s Russiagate crumbles, Russia strengthens," but which is as much about the crumbling of the American news media.

********

Saturday, December 9

More Pakistanis learning they have a history before Muslim conquests

"Progressive [Pakistani] historians — admittedly in the minority still — are trying to educate Pakistani students about their country’s ancient history and religions, after years of being told that Pakistan’s history begins only with the invasion of Sindh by the Arab conqueror Muhammed bin Qasim in A.D. 711."

The quote is from a New York Times report on the popularity of Yoga in Pakistan (see below). Some readers might wonder how any Pakistanis could believe their history only started in 711. 

Easily, if a majority of the population is illiterate/functionally illiterate; lives in isolated areas in a country where the media, including internet, is heavily censored; and is conditioned to accept the version of history impressed on them by their government-sponsored religious preceptors.

But it's getting harder in this era for governments to get the public to believe big lies -- something that's true worldwide, not only in 'developing' countries such as Pakistan.  

Does this mean Pakistan could be heading for its most dangerous era, as the 'old guard' tries to quash 'progressives?' Pakistan has already reached that point, and because of this things will get worse in the country before they get better.       

In Pakistan, Yoga Rises Above Its Indian Origins
By BINA SHAH
DEC. 8, 2017
The New York Times


Today, yoga is immensely popular in all cities of Pakistan

A yoga session in the historic Shalimar Gardens in Lahore, Pakistan

Photo: K.M. Chaudary/Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan — I first heard of yoga while I was growing up in Pakistan in the 1980s, with the arrival on the Karachi scene of a colorful personality called Professor Moiz Hussain. He had trained at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, then branched out into alternative stress-reduction and healing techniques like reiki from Japan, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) from California and qigong, with roots in China. His Institute of Mind Sciences and Classical Yoga attracted a certain type of Karachi woman — affluent and well traveled — who was interested in developing her mind and body. 

Slowly at first, one teacher after another emerged to offer classes. Still, they had to be careful: The 1980s was a time of rigorous Islamization in Pakistan and cold hostility to India, and anything remotely associated with India or Hinduism was discouraged if not outlawed.

This particularly affected the arts, namely classical Indian dance; government officials banned public performances as both “vulgar” and “Indian”; Pakistani students of the art could not obtain visas to study under gurus in India, and local teachers had to immigrate to other countries because classical dance became so unpopular they could not attract students.

(Only Kathak, with its Mughal origins in northwestern India before partition, was looked upon with a less jaundiced eye than the unabashedly Hindu-flavored Odissi or Bharatanatyam schools of dance.)

The way around this was to introduce yoga as a practice less spiritual than physical, but yoga classes in Karachi remained small, private and for a select few. Then, in the 1990s, when state-run television gave way to a profusion of private television channels, yoga found another outlet: breakfast and morning shows in which a physical activity segment aimed at housewives often included a 20-minute or half-hour yoga session. 

Sandwiched in between advice on the best foods for a baby and how to cook enticing meals for the household, a nonthreatening form of yoga — no extreme physical poses, just one that could be performed in modest clothing — was available to women in Pakistan with access to cable channels.

Viewers were encouraged to stretch and breathe to cultivate healthy bodies and minds, a goal not incompatible with the moderately conservative form of Islam practiced by 90 percent of Pakistanis. 

Yoga even began to come out into the open, with sessions held in public parks, where some teachers made mild comparisons between yogic meditation and Islamic reflection, or the poses in the simple sun salutation and the positions taken in salat, a ritual Islamic prayer. This opened up yoga to middle-class, conservative Pakistanis who might have remained hostile to the practice had it been presented as a purely Hindu or Indian ascetic discipline.

Today, yoga is immensely popular in all cities of Pakistan; a yoga teacher named Shamshad Haider claims to run 50 yoga clubs in Punjab, and International Yoga Day has been celebrated in Pakistan for three years in a row. Yoga is practiced all the way from Chitral in the north to Karachi in the south. 

There’s a whole crop of younger teachers now equipped with training from India, Thailand and Bali, as well as from yoga schools in North America and Britain. Teachers at swank studios in Karachi attract students through Facebook pages and affiliations with the International Yoga Alliance.

Their classes incorporate styles from hatha, vinyasa flow, ashtanga, even power yoga and Bikram yoga. They use the Sanskrit names for the poses interchangeably with the English ones, and both women-only and mixed classes are popular. 

Meanwhile, yoga still appears on television, in schools and in park sessions, with women meditating while wearing shalwar kameezes, or full abayas and hijabs, and men with long beards and shalwar kameezes performing sun salutations next to men in track pants and T-shirts.

Yoga purists would probably bristle at the attempt to dissociate yoga from Hinduism or India, but it’s not that different from what’s happening to yoga in the West, with its hot yoga studios and aerial yoga and Yoga Asana championships. It also reminds me of what has been happening to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. In the West, Sufism has been disconnected from its Muslim roots and presented as a universal movement of peace and tolerance, the 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi portrayed as a lovelorn poet singing of love rather than a conservative Islamic cleric bent on forging a fierce connection with his creator. A necessary sacrifice, perhaps, to spread the universal message of peace, tolerance and love.

Pakistan, which was amputated from India in 1947, then lured by the promise of power and richness coming from the Middle East, has never been able to decide whether its identity is Arab or South Asian. 

After decades of trying to identify with a purely Islamic heritage and history, some Pakistanis are finally recognizing that their heritage is unique, informed by strains of tradition and heritage from many geographical areas: Central Asia and Persia, as well as India and the Middle East.

Our current challenge is to reconnect with the many sources of our roots and heritage, while forging a new identity that will serve us well into the future. Pakistan recently unveiled a 1,700-year-old sleeping Buddha statue from an ancient Buddhist site in Bhamala, one of many that dot Pakistan’s north and northwest — a strong testament to its pre-Islamic heritage. Progressive historians — admittedly in the minority still — are trying to educate Pakistani students about their country’s ancient history and religions, after years of being told that Pakistan’s history begins only with the invasion of Sindh by the Arab conqueror Muhammed bin Qasim in A.D. 711.

As I practice yoga in the crisp air of a mild Karachi winter, gazing out to the Arabian Sea, I can’t help wondering whether some of this reconnection might come from yoga. We move in unison as our teacher calls out the Sanskrit names of the poses called asanas. Then the call to prayer begins to ring out from a nearby mosque and we fall silent, listening to the sound of our own breaths and the time-old Arabic words of the azaan. As soon as the practice is over, I’ll roll up my yoga mat and go find my prayer mat. I’ve never felt so integrated, so connected to my Islamic heritage and my South Asian roots.
____
Bina Shah is the author of several books of fiction, including, most recently, “A Season for Martyrs.”


[END REPORT]

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