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Belmont Club

Minority Report

August 9th, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Most public facts fall into the “maybe” category. Let’s review the maybes in three categories of recent headlines.

  1. the conflict with Russia;
  2. the situation in Iraq;
  3. the transmissibility of Ebola.

The conventional wisdom is that “Putin is on the run” and “Edward Snowden was a patriotic whistleblower.”  Ed Epstein has recorded a YouTube video that might make you rethink the proposition that Snowden acted with good intentions.  Epstein argues that the vast majority of documents Snowden stole pertained to U.S. penetrations of Chinese and Russian systems. Only a very small portion of his take bore upon NSA domestic surveillance, and that has been selectively released to people like Glenn Greenwald.  Epstein makes a thoughtful case for the possibility that Snowden was — objectively at least — a Russian intelligence op.

Timothy Ash disputes the idea that Putin is on the run. In a closely reasoned article he asserts that Putin is far more likely to escalate the crisis in Ukraine, probably via some sort of invasion carried on under the cover of restoring peace to that troubled land.  Michael Weiss at Foreign Policy writes, “Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine won’t be an armored blitzkrieg. It’s a slow, seditious drip — and it’s already underway.”

For those living the reality of having a portion of their country occupied by Russian intelligence agents and insurgents — all armed with Moscow-dispatched weapons, of course — the question isn’t whether Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale assault on his neighbor, but when he’ll do it. This week, U.S., NATO, and European officials all seemed to agree that the prospect of that event occurring has risen precipitously.

Is Putin on the run before a triumphantly advancing Obama?  The situation in Iraq is rather interesting. The conventional wisdom is that the Obama has finally arrived to save the day. The best place to begin examining the alternatives is the map provided by the Institute for the Study of War Iraq Updates site.



August 8th, 2014 - 11:49 am

The man who brought the Ebola virus to Nigeria probably knew he was infected.  Surveillance video of Patrick Sawyer before boarding his flight at Liberia’s James Sprigg Payne’s Airport showed “Mr. Sawyer lying flat on his stomach on the floor in the corridor of the airport and seemed to be in ‘excruciating pain.’ The footage showed Mr. Sawyer preventing people from touching him.”

He collapsed upon arrival in Nigeria, after a layover in Togo and was rushed to a Nigerian hospital.  Upon being told he had Ebola, he acted with what the Nigerians called “indiscipline”; a burst of rage and despair against the world and everyone in it.

Upon being told he had Ebola, Mr. Sawyer went into a rage, denying and objecting to the opinion of the medical experts. “He was so adamant and difficult that he took the tubes from his body and took off his pants and urinated on the health workers, forcing them to flee.

Amazingly, he was even then in the process of being sprung by his political connections before death intervened.  Had he lived Sawyer might have gotten out and protected by the juju of expensive watches and status symbols, mingled among the muckety-mucks of ECOWAS.

“The hospital would later report that it resisted immense pressure to let out Sawyer from its hospital against the insistence from some higher-ups and conference organizers that he had a key role to play at the ECOWAS convention in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.

In fact, FrontPageAfrica has been informed that officials in Monrovia were in negotiations with ECOWAS to have Sawyer flown back to Liberia.

Eight of the Nigerian hospital workers are now infected with Ebola, including the doctor who attended Sawyer. One, a nurse, has already died. The Liberian president, Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, apologized to Nigeria for the incident. She said “Patrick Sawyer was on surveillance, but he sneaked out of Liberia”. Sneaked out, presumably, to hobnob with the big shots of the region.


The Last of the Yezhidis

August 7th, 2014 - 4:34 pm

The Obama administration has reached what one might call the ‘Pol Pot Aftermath’ of its Middle Eastern policy.  Michael Totten notes that ISIS is massacring the Yezhidis, people who practice “the original religion of the Kurds. ”  What is worse, according to the New Yorker magazine, this massacre is genocide. George Packer describes the travails of his friend Karim, who “spent years working for the U.S. Army in his area, then for an American medical charity. He’s been waiting for months to find out whether the U.S. government will grant him a Special Immigrant Visa because of his service, and because of the danger he currently faces.”

Tell him to try Mexico.

ISIS regards Yazidis as devil worshippers, and its fighters have been executing Yazidi men who won’t convert to Islam on the spot, taking away the women as jihadi brides. …

The Kurds began to run out of ammunition, and those who could retreated north toward Kurdistan. By dawn, the extremists were pouring into town. Later, ISIS posted triumphant photos on Twitter: bullet-riddled corpses of peshmerga in the streets and dirt fields; an ISIS fighter aiming his pistol at the heads of five men lying face down on the ground; Arab locals who stayed in Sinjar jubilantly greeting the new occupiers.

Karim had time to do just one thing: burn all the documents that connected him to America—photos of him posing with Army officers, a CD from the medical charity—in case he was stopped on the road by militants or his house was searched. He watched the record of his experience during the period of the Americans in Iraq turn to ash, and felt nothing except the urge to get to safety….

Prince Tahseen Said, “the world leader of the Yazidis,” has issued an appeal to Kurdish, Iraqi, Arab, and European leaders, as well as to Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama. It reads: “I ask for aid and to lend a hand and help the people of Sinjar areas and its affiliates and villages and complexes which are home to the people of the Yazidi religion. …

Karim couldn’t help expressing bitterness about this. “I don’t see any attention from the rest of the world,” he said. “In one day, they killed more than two thousand Yazidi in Sinjar, and the whole world says, ‘Save Gaza, save Gaza.’ ”


The First Horseman

August 6th, 2014 - 3:36 pm

News that 8 persons in Lagos, a city of 20 million people, were infected by the dying Patrick Sawyer with Ebola and one — a nurse — had died sent a shudder of fear through Nigeria. Close on its heels reports that a businessman had died with Ebola-like symptoms in Saudi Arabia following a trip from a West African trip have prompted assurances from authorities that steps have been taken to keep the Haj from becoming a distributor of the disease to Muslim world.

Ebola is proving the proposition that when dealing with nature, if you lie you die.  Nowhere is this clear than in Liberia where the poorly educated population is hiding victims, abstracting them from hospitals, attacking doctors who they believe bring the disease or dumping Ebola corpses in the street, satisfied that by casting the infectious corpses out of doors to be torn to pieces and spread abroad by dogs and carrion, have solved the problem.

And in a way it is rational a rational response to irrational Liberian governance.

With less than half of those infected surviving the disease, many Africans regard Ebola isolation wards as death traps, he said.
‘They are therefore removing the bodies from their homes and are putting them out in the street,’ Mr Brown told Reuters.

The virus has closed down Liberia’s hospitals and killed its doctors.  Liberia’s institutions, never much good in the best of times, are being collapsed by the virus.  A chart from the Wall Street Journal tells a tale of rout. While Guinea and Sierra Leone Ebola statistics show a constant rate of infection, but Liberia’s slope is increasing as the days progress.  It’s getting worse faster.



Naturally the World Health Organization is meeting to decide whether the experimental drug Zmapp should be provided to the stricken African countries. Nothing like demanding a uncertified, unneeded product created by a morally defective capitalist pharmaceutical system to save the world. The LA Times reports:

the World Health Organization said it was convening a panel of medical ethicists early next week to consider whether experimental drugs should be more widely released.

A decision to allow two American health workers infected in Liberia to have access to an experimental treatment — while dozens of African doctors and nurses have perished — has ignited a controversy over the ethics of the decision, which reportedly sidestepped Liberian health regulations.

If the serum proves their last hope they’ll first demand it as a ‘right’– then commandeer it if necessary.  Necessity knows no bounds. But that cuts both ways. There may be no serum other than a few experimental vials. Reality doesn’t give a damn about Liberian health regulations nor WHO edicts nor speeches by president Obama. It cares about facts.

About who invested in medical research, and who didn’t; about who has good epidemic controls systems and which don’t; about which country have functioning border controls and which care about ‘immigration reform’.  And there isn’t any serum in production, then there’s no serum. The problem is that since our leaders have messed up the facts, they can’t fix things with speeches.

War, Famine and Pestilence all obey the laws of physics. The media, government and the academy have heretofore cared about the laws of political correctness and the tyranny of appearances.  Now we get to see who wins. In recent years it has become fashionable to claim the Narrative trumps reality. Yet you can’t bribe viruses, can’t “hide” infectious victims, can’t appease dictators and you can’t print money. As I’ve written many times before, nobody beats arithmetic.


I Aim To Misbehave

August 5th, 2014 - 4:04 pm

The UK’s top public doctor says the failure to find a cure for Ebola represents underscores “the moral bankruptcy of capitalism”.  Does that mean we can expect an Ebola vaccine from a socialist country any day now? Or one developed by the public doctor’s public system?  That’s not what he means. What he might be referring to is the dramatic recovery of two missionary healthworkers in Liberia following the administration of the experimental Zmapp serum.

This will be cited as proof that the cure for Ebola was only “50 white people away”.  Professor John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, an independent body for specialists in public health in the United Kingdom said as much. No cures for blacks. “They’d find a cure if Ebola came to London,” he said.

But who’s ‘they’ kemo sabe?  Not his public system.  ’They’ is the morally bankrupt capitalist system that he hates so much. Now if only we could put the morally bankrupt capitalist system under the control of public doctors then all would be well.

Would the public doctors really decide to develop a cure for Ebola? The sad fact is that  if they tested Zmapp on black Africans during this Ebola outbreak the media would claim they were being used as lab rats. The only acceptable way to test the new uncertified medication in Liberia was on two white Americans. That way if the serum failed the UN wouldn’t sue. As it is the Kentucky Bioprocessing, a subsidiary of Reynolds American, is not out of the woods yet. If it failed critics would note that the drug supplied was made from tobacco plants.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration must grant permission to use experimental treatments in the United States, but the FDA does not have authority over the use of such a drug in other countries, and the aid workers were first treated in Liberia. An FDA spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny FDA granting access to any experimental therapy for the aid workers while in the U.S.


Terror And The Sword of Justice

August 4th, 2014 - 5:04 pm

The after dinner entertainment at one Shi’ite leader’s home, according to Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast, consisted a torture video taken by one of the new members of his militia, the so-called “Peace Brigades”.  Sheikh Raad al-Khafaji had invited Siegel to break the holy fast of the Ramadan and then showed the video around to let people know that Shi’ites mean business.  Brutality is apparently the coin of the realm in some parts of the world.

Western culture now regards torture as something underhand and shameful but apparently shiekh saw advantages in making it known he was one mean hombre.

Given ISIS’ emphasis on publicizing its own acts of torture, it wasn’t shocking to see young fighters from the other side doing the same. … The sheik seemed to keep his young fighter on hand for meetings with journalists. …

The video itself was clear enough but the message it was intended to convey never came entirely into focus. If the record of torture was being deliberately leaked it may have been to threaten ISIS supporters that the militia forces, even those working with the military, were capable of their own brutality.

Was ISIS into beheading? Greasy kid stuff. We slice you up with razor blades and put it on video. Anything ISIS can do I can do meaner. I can do anything meaner than ISIS.

This should be no surprise. During Operation Iraqi Freedom the coalition forces would routinely come across “slaughterhouses” and torture chambers.  Terrorism doesn’t win by defeating armies. It triumphs primarily by controlling populations through fear and coercion.  It’s a cheap method of control.  The Chinese have a saying: “strike the mountain to shock the tiger” and “kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Both sayings can be summarized as follows:  fear works.


Proxy War

August 3rd, 2014 - 2:01 pm

News that ISIS has seized Iraq’s biggest water impoundment facility, the Mosul dam, and taken 3 towns despite nominal Kurdish opposition will come as no surprise to readers of the Belmont Club. DW reports:

“Islamic State” fighters have seized Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns. ISIS also scored its first major defeat of Kurdish forces since sweeping through northern Iraq in June.

The capture of the Mosul Dam could give the group a base from which to attack major cities and aid its bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. ISIS’s capture of the northern town of Sinjar has already forced up to 200,000 people to flee, the United Nations announced on Sunday.

“A humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov said Sunday after ISIS, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, captured the town near the Syrian border, which had served as a refuge for thousands of families displaced from elsewhere in previous fighting. …

In July, the Kurdish political bloc ended participation in Iraq’s national government in protest over Prime Minister’s Maliki’s accusation that the ethnic group had allowed “terrorists” to stay in Arbil, the capital of the minority’s semiautonomous region.

ISIS also raided Lebanon, with the NYT reporting the group kidnapping 17 cops in the town of Arsal, perhaps to trade as hostages for some of their own men held in jails.  It’s almost like they are creating access along various neighboring border points, like a doctor preparing to insert a drug, through which they can inject their militants into other countries. It’s an epidemic vector, with ISIS playing the role of Ebola.


The Return of the Natives

August 1st, 2014 - 3:13 pm

With  Gaza now looking more and more like a fight to the finish and president Obama vowing to ‘act alone’ to solve the ‘historic influx of migrants’ it may be time to examine some of the finer points of the ongoing world crisis.  First Syria. Let’s not forget Syria, which by the numbers is the highest intensity conflict in the region.

Nate Petrocine of the Institute for the Study of War (Syria Updates) notes how the Syrian rebels are using the same anaconda techniques the Belmont Club described in the Siege of Baghdad.  They are systematically attacking M4 and M5 in Syria to isolate Assad’s forces both from each other and the Latakian coastal region. “Rebel operations have continued to target the vital highways segmenting Idlib province, namely the M5 and the M4. The M5, which spans the western length of Syria from Damascus to Aleppo, is an essential supply route for both regime and opposition forces. Likewise the M4, which connects Aleppo and Idlib to the coast of Latakia, is indispensable for regime forces currently fighting in Aleppo City.”

ISIS (ISIL) is now able to conduct large scale operational warfare competently both in Iraq and Syria. Maliki and Assad are no longer fighting the Viet Cong. They are fighting the NVA. As Petrocine put it:

The late spring and early summer rebel advances in Idlib province indicate that opposition forces have the ability to coordinate large scale offenses over relatively large swaths of territory. The initial Idlib offensive on the M5 around Khan Sheikhoun began with a combined assault over a distance of 45km on a single day. Such an operational range demonstrates that opposition forces are able to coordinate effectively at above a tactical level.

The same adaptive mutation can be observed in Hamas. Israel has waked to the sudden realization that as its drones patrolled the skies over Gaza, its foes, like mole-men, had honeycombed the border with tunnels. The underground equivalent of Iron Dome won’t be ready for a year.

“The high-tech system, which uses special sensors and transmitters, is still in its R&D phase, and if all goes well, should be operational within a year”, notes a report on Israel’s I-24 news.


The Dambusters

July 31st, 2014 - 7:56 pm

The siege of Baghdad continues as ISIS gnaws at Baghdad’s links to its field armies. “Sunni radicals with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant destroyed a bridge north of Baghdad that Iraqi forces used as a key supply line.” A suicide truck bomb took out the bridge over the Tharthar canal.

The destruction of the bridge, just south of the city of Samarra, cuts a vital supply line for the Iraqi army and will further dampen its hopes of retaking the city of Tikrit, further north. …

The attack leaves the army and allied Shiite militias with only a secondary road that passes over Samarra dam bridge and is not suitable for the heaviest military vehicles.

Kurdish sources paint an unflattering picture of Maliki’s defenses. “Shafin Dizayee, a spokesman for autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Irbil, told McClatchy news service that ‘the picture is no longer scary. It has become close to a nightmare scenario, where we see [ISIL] expanding and taking control of its borders.’”

Another Kurdish official, Jabbar Yawar of the Peshmerga militia, told the news service that the towns of Iskandariya and Mahmoudiyah, just 6 miles south of Baghdad, had fallen.

The city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, also not is faring well. An official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, told McClatchy that Iraqi security forces were having a difficult time defending the city.

But the Kurds have a reason to be down on Maliki. They want to deal with Washington directly, claiming that without Obama’s help ISIS will overrun them too.  Maybe they will, unless they find a patron. But the most immediate threat is the struggle over the Iraq’s dams. “Islamist insurgents in the Islamic State … renewed their offensive … toward the key hydroelectric dam of Haditha. The … country’s second-biggest dam was a priority objective during the 2003 invasion.

Iraq’s biggest dam, the Mosul dam, is right next to a hotbed of Islamic State activity and poses catastrophic risk even if the terrorists don’t open the floodgates or blow it up. If the dam fails, scientists say Mosul could be completely flooded within hours and a 15-foot wall of water could crash into Baghdad.”


Lost in Translation

July 30th, 2014 - 3:59 pm

It may come as a shock to well-educated Westerners that Communists can be corrupt. Yet in 2013, “China was ranked 80th out of 178 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, on par with Serbia and Trinidad and Tobago, ranking less corrupted with tied countries Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, and Peru” — and worse than Sri Lanka.  Most corruption is concentrated in the Communist Party of China because the party hands out all the goodies.

It’s so bad that scholars think corruption is China’s major national security problem. “China specialist Minxin Pei argues that failure to contain widespread corruption is among the most serious threats to China’s future economic and political stability.” Despite the recent boom which produced goodies to go around, the competition between factions is so great that last week China was openly wracked by the biggest purge since the bad old days of Mao and the Gang of Four.

To appreciate the scale of the purge, imagine a man with the police power of Eric Holder, the wealth of Bill Gates and the prominence of Al Gore arrested — together with US senators, former cabinet secretaries and hundreds of merely famous people and herded into a kangaroo court  – prosecuted by the equivalent of president Obama, in consultation with presidents Clinton and Jimmy Carter. The Sydney Morning Herald says:

On Tuesday evening, China announced an investigation into the 72-year-old former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, one of the nation’s most feared political identities, and a man who once controlled the country’s police force, state security and lucrative state oil monopoly.

Mr Zhou, as a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, is the most senior official ever to be investigated for corruption since the founding of the Communist Party – breaking an unwritten rule that standing committee members, past or present, should effectively be immune from investigation in the interests of party stability.

Purges are the elections of the left, but there’s nothing high minded about them. Although president Xi Jinping is portraying himself as Eliot Ness to Zhou Yongkang’s Al Capone, a long article by Reuters believes it’s just another power struggle. The fallen Zhou Yongkang used his position and the oil billions he controlled to create a network of patronage whose power became so vast it threatened to rival Xi and the CPC leadership itself.  Now president Xi Jinping is burning out the nest — and perhaps — redistributing the zillions to himself and his followers.