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Fresh from Crimea Victory, Putin Aims to Cause Trouble Elsewhere Including Iran

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

First, Bosnia. Russia was never happy with how that war ended. Now Putin is stoking separatism.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has long resisted any efforts to centralize power in Sarajevo, predicting instead the country’s eventual demise.

He met Russia’s ambassador to Bosnia, Aleksandar Bocan-Harcenko, on Tuesday and said the Serb Republic backed Sunday’s referendum in Crimea on joining Russia as “legitimate and democratic”, in accordance with international law and the U.N.-guaranteed right to self-determination, Bosnia’s Fena news agency reported.

As the Crimea crisis neared its climax last week, Dodik visited Moscow, where he was rewarded by Russian Patriarch Kirill for his efforts “to consolidate the unity of Orthodox nations”.

Ashdown noted an offer by Russia of a loan to Bosnia’s Serb Republic to compensate for a freeze in funding to both of Bosnia’s entities by the International Monetary Fund over stalled economic measures.

Russia stepped in to help Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, with billions of dollars in aid after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union in late November. Yanukovich was toppled by mass protests in February, precipitating Crimea’s secession by referendum on Sunday.

“The actions of offering an alternative loan … to one of the (Bosnian) entities, the action of withdrawing support for a project to join Europe, it cannot have any other outcome but to encourage those who wish to see secessionism,” Ashdown told reporters.

“Is this just a coincidence? Ask the Russian ambassador.”

It’s no more or less a coincidence than Ed Snowden dropping leaks on U.S. intel capabilities from wherever he now lives in Russia. And it’s no more or less a coincidence than Russia going public with this now:

Interfax: Russian diplomat says Moscow considering changing stance in Iranian nuclear talks.

What does this mean? Russia has traditionally regarded Iran as a non-threat to itself, and has traditionally played its influence with Iran against U.S. interests. Iran’s nuclear program is built on Russian technology. While Russia does not want a radical Islamic state armed with nuclear weapons, Russia here is signalling that it will fight any U.S.-led effort to slow down Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Couple that with Obama’s own Hamlet-esque dithering, and the bottom line is that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons. Iran has previously threatened to obliterate Israel. Russia and Iran have an understanding about who their real enemy is.

The American celebrity and media culture that elevated Barack Obama to the presidency is going to have a lot of reality to come to grips with. Presidents have to know more than just college basketball stats and the odd hard-left ideological trope. Their skills must go beyond those of the average insult comic. They have to be more than glib and photogenic. The Russia-China-Iran axis, with junior partners in Pyongyang and Karachi, may be about to make some very consequential moves.

Putin looks set to start too many fires for Obama and his pitiful national security team to deal with. His immediate prize remains, in my view, Ukraine and its energy production. He’ll start one fire over here, another over there, and while those conflagrations get going, he gets what he wants, consolidates, and moves on to his next real target. So far, Putin is overmatching Obama. Badly.

And that’s supposing that Obama really wants to keep Putin in check. That’s not a given.

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After Annexing Crimea, a Happy Putin Describes Ukraine as ‘Family’

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

You know what they say about friends and family. You can choose your friends. You can’t choose your family.

So…

After a long, hard and exhausting voyage, Crimea and Sevastopol are returning to their harbour, to their native shores, to their home port, to Russia!

I would like to thank the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol for their consistent and decisive stance and for their clearly expressed will to be with Russia. We all felt for them, and Russia gave them its warmth, turned towards them and opened up its heart to them.

We are gravely concerned over the developments in Ukraine. But I believe that Ukraine will overcome all the hardships. We are not just neighbours, we are family and our future success depends on both of us, Russia and Ukraine.

“Family” is also a word that the mob uses to describe itself. It’s not always meant peacefully. Sometimes it’s used to mean that once in the “family,” you can never get out alive.

The Russian side of the “family” once committed mass murder against the Ukrainian side.

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Snowden Marks Russia’s Aggression by Disclosing Another American Intel Operation

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

For the second time since Russia’s offensive against Ukraine began, NSA leaker Edward Snowden has taken aim at the United States from Russian soil. The first occurred when he addressed SXSW via web video from an undisclosed location within Russia, where he has been granted asylum. That chat signaled to the world that President Obama and the United States are impotent to stop Snowden, and strongly suggested that Putin is controlling him. The latest disclosure, reported by the Washington Post, is about to cause a massive diplomatic headache for the United States.

The National Security Agency has built a surveillance system capable of recording “100 percent” of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and review conversations as long as a month after they take place, according to people with direct knowledge of the effort and documents supplied by former contractor Edward Snowden.

A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for “retrospective retrieval,” and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording “every single” conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

The call buffer opens a door “into the past,” the summary says, enabling users to “retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.” Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or “cuts,” for processing and long-term storage.

At the request of U.S. officials, The Washington Post is withholding details that could be used to identify the country where the system is being employed or other countries where its use was envisioned.

The most likely targets are North Korea and Iran. Both are dangerous enemies bent on developing nuclear arsenals, and both are determined to cause havoc and destroy U.S. allies if not the U.S. itself. However, both North Korea and Iran are capable of surprising us with nuclear tests, missile launches and the like, so they may not be the targets, at least not yet. NSA might have developed the technology by targeting a much smaller and less governed country, say Yemen, with an eye to replicating it on a larger scale once the technology was sufficient. The U.S. does seem to find high numbers of terrorists to drone in Yemen.

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Ukraine Says Its Ousted Pro-Russian President Set them Up for Defeat

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Ukraine has been pleading in vain for the US to lend them arms and ammunition. The Obama administration’s response to this point, though, has been to utter a few statements and sanction 11 people.

Part of the case Ukraine has made to the US involves how Viktor Yanukovych — the pro-Russian president ousted during the Maidan protests — embarked on a scheme to soften up Ukraine.

Even before Viktor Yanukovych’s tenure as president, Ukraine’s military was woefully underfunded and outdated. The nation’s defense force is composed of obsolete tanks and fighter planes, and thousands of low-paid soldiers.

But the lawmaker who spoke with Fox News claimed Yanukovych had made it a point, over the course of his administration, to “hollow out” the Ukrainian military further.

The goal, the source said, was to weaken the Ukrainian national defenses in the event Russia eventually moved to reclaim the country.

Interim Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the visiting U.S. lawmakers that Yanukovych’s policy had effectively left Ukraine with about 6,000 capable soldiers.

If true, this just adds to the reasons that Putin has to act now against Ukraine, not later. The war-weary US, the divided and weak EU, Russia’s hold on Europe’s energy via Gazprom, and now a weakened Ukraine — nothing really stood in Putin’s way.

Russia currently has between 21,000 and 30,000 soldiers deployed in Crimea alone. So far, the US is considering giving Ukraine some MREs. Ukraine may we be overrun by Russian and Belurus troops before those meals even arrive.

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Putin Decrees that Crimea is ‘Sovereign’

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

It doesn’t look like Obama’s sanctions warning has had any effect on Putin at all. Following Sunday’s referendum in the Crimea — in which 93% supposedly voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia while at least 21,000 Russian troops looked on — Russia’s president has issued a decree.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Monday recognizing Ukraine’s Crimea region as a sovereign state.

The decree posted on the Kremlin’s website appeared to be a first step toward integrating Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation.

The decree, which took effect immediately, says Moscow recognition of Crimea as independent is based on “the will of the people of Crimea”.

Russia’s rubberstamp parliament is expected to vote on annexing Crimea within a few days. Basically, it will vote on that whenever Putin wants them to for his own strategic purposes.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s government plans to go ahead and sign an agreement to have closer political ties with the European Union. That’s set to happen on March 21, the day that the truce between Kiev and Moscow ends.

Ukraine also says that it will “never accept” Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which Putin’s decree today speeds along.

Both Ukraine and Russia continue to mobilize their military forces. Given the timing of the decree and Ukraine’s deal with the EU, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Russia intends to invade eastern Ukraine, in the name of “protecting” the ethnic Russians who live there (from violence instigated by Russia itself), Wednesday or Thursday at the latest. Well, unless Putin intends to wait on Ukraine to sign its agreement with the EU and then invade, to expose the EU’s weakness and irrelevance decisively.

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State TV: Russia Could Turn USA Into ‘Radioactive Ash’

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

These are the days of miracle and wonder. Ukraine is disarmed because it made the mistake of trusting us, or more accurately, a Democratic administration. Now the enemy it feared has troops on its soil, is poised for a full conventional arms invasion, and is sending a message to us, or more accurately the current Democratic administration, from the other side of the world.

Moscow (AFP) – A leading anchor on Russian state television on Sunday described Russia as the only country capable of turning the United States into “radioactive ash”, in an incendiary comment at the height of tensions over the Crimea referendum.

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on his weekly news show on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television.

Kiselyov made the comment to support his argument that the United States and President Barack Obama were living in fear of Russia led by President Vladimir Putin amid the Ukraine crisis.

His programme was broadcast as the first exit polls were being published showing an overwhelming majority of Crimeans voting to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

He stood in his studio in front of a gigantic image of a mushroom cloud produced after a nuclear attack, with the words “into radioactive ash”.

Subtle.

russiatv-radioactive-ash

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Obama Calls Florida Strip Club Owner With Medal of Honor News, and a White House Invitation

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Myra Adams
joe

Joe Rodriguez, Cheetah Club owner
Credit: Joe Rodriguez Charities

 

As reported in Sunday’s Miami Herald, President Obama made a very important phone call recently to Joe Rodriguez, a successful South Florida business owner who stimulates the economy by creating  jobs for attractive young women who then use their assets to generate income.

Rodriguez received the President’s call while working at one of his three Cheetah Gentlemen’s Clubs.  These clubs, as reported in the Miami Herald, offer “the hottest dancers, full nudity, full friction and a full liquor bar.

President Obama’s call was of historic significance as explained by the Herald’s news headline:

South Florida man to accept overdue Medal of Honor for his late uncle’s valor in Korea

Rodriguez’s uncle, U.S. Army Pvt. Miguel Vera, is among 24 men who served in conflicts spanning World War II to Vietnam. Their heroism was overlooked, and they are now being retroactively awarded America’s highest award for valor.

On Tuesday, March 18, at a White House ceremony President Obama will present the Medal of Honor to Rodriguez on behalf of his uncle, who Rodriguez says, “was my hero always.” Vera died from his wounds in 1952 during a bloody battle in Korea.  Previously, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and is now posthumously receiving an upgrade.

U.S. Army Pvt. Vera who died in Korea in 1952

U.S. Army Pvt. Vera who died in Korea in 1952

 

The reason for Pvt. Vera belatedly receiving the Medal of Honor along with 23 others is an attempt to recognize that possible prejudice occurred at the time, as the Herald reports:

Most of those two dozen recipients are Hispanic, and only three are alive. Tuesday’s ceremony is the culmination of a decade-long review of the military files of hundreds of Jewish and Hispanic veterans mandated by Congress “to ensure those deserving the Medal of Honor were not denied because of prejudice,” according to a White House statement.

Rodriguez recognized the potential public relations problem his three strip clubs might cause the White House and was honest with the Army liaison who made the initial call informing him about Tuesday’s ceremony.  “You do know what I do for a living?” he said he told her. “I have strip clubs.”

The Herald reports that the Army said “It has nothing to do with the award.”

Although not the typical CEO who usually frequents the White House, Joe Rodriguez, age 73 is himself a rags-to-riches story. As a boy he loved his uncle and from his club worked on the research that will culminate in the White House Medal of Honor ceremony.

Rodriguez is also a proud former Marine who served at Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban Missile Crisis. As a show of pride, annually on November 10, Rodriguez honors the founding of the Marines by hosting a celebration at his three Cheetah clubs and the girls stop dancing for 30 minutes.

In addition to his military service and patriotism, Rodriguez is also a philanthropist who says he has donated over $1 million to various charities such as hospitals, schools, breast cancer research and the Marines, annual Toys for Tots project. (Although a quick Google search revealed that sometimes schools are not supportive of Rodriguez’s line of business and debate whether to return his donations. Then, there is old news about the clubs that should make the White House a tad bit uncomfortable having Rodriguez as a guest.)

So watch on Tuesday, March 18 for there may be some news headlines that include the phrases “strip club owner,” White House and President Obama, but it is really about honoring the Korean War bravery of Pvt. Miguel Vera and his nephew’s determination to see that his uncle is finally given the recognition he deserved.

Hopefully, at the White House ceremony the President will not ask Mr. Rodriguez if his young, healthy, female employees are properly covered. (With Obamacare, that is.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Major Developments in Ukraine Over the Weekend, Other than the Referendum

Monday, March 17th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Military Move

1. Ukraine says Russian forces moved outside Crimea Saturday, seizing control of a small village that just happens to have a natural gas distribution center. Ukraine’s government called the move a “provocation.”

Smearing the Maidan Protesters

2. Russia and some in the West accuse the Ukraine protesters of being neo-Nazis and the like. But Ukraine’s Jews refuted that, saying that there “isn’t a hint” of anti-Semitism, Nazism or fascism among Ukraine’s Maidan protesters.

Debt

3. Ukraine owes Russia about $1.5 billion, in the form of payments to Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government. But Gazprom puts that debt at $1.8 billion. Russia has already threatened to cut nearly half of the natural gas it pipes to Ukraine, which would drive Ukraine’s government farther into debt.

Call Up the Reserves

4. Ukraine’s parliament has approved mobilizing about 40,000 reserve troops.

A Brief Truce

5. Ukraine’s and Russia’s defense ministries agreed on a truce in Crimea, up to March 21. Both sides can be expected to reinforce their positions for the next few days on the peninsula.

Will Russia invade the rest of Ukraine? That still seems likely. Having taken Crimea and sawed it off the rest of Ukraine with the referendum on Sunday, Russia is consolidating its gains, mobilizing its forces along Ukraine’s border, and through Gazprom building an economic case for invasion of eastern Ukraine, where the bulk of the country’s energy production lies. The smear of the Maidan protesters and the instigation of riots and violence in eastern Ukraine would be mere pretexts to sweep into Ukraine and either turn it into a puppet state or, with assistance from Belarus, dismember it.

 

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Air Force Brass Defends Retirement of A-10 ‘Warthog’ Plane

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Stephen Kruiser

Too soon?

The Pentagon’s decision to retire the entire U.S. fleet of popular A-10 “Warthog” aircraft is painful but necessary as the military is forced to save money now to develop tomorrow’s weapons, Air Force leaders said on Friday.

General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told a panel in the House of Representatives that eliminating the 283 tank-killer jets would save $3.7 billion over the next five years plus another $500 million in planned aircraft upgrades.

The money saved would in turn be used to bolster current Air Force readiness, which has slipped in recent years because of budget cuts, and to focus on priorities for the future, such as the radar-evading F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new aerial refueling tanker and a new long-range bomber.

The planes are a fixture at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, which is my hometown. They have been on the bureaucratic chopping block before but have always survived because they’re very popular with the people who actually fight wars.

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CIA Chief: Jihad a Product of Injustices, Economics, and Ignorance

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Raymond Ibrahim

CIA director John Brennan is at it again—equivocating over the nature of jihad by evoking paradigms familiar to the West.

Last Tuesday, “during an event at the Council of Foreign Relations, Brennan was asked about the ‘war of ideas’ surrounding Islam, which the questioner said many Americans tend to equate with violence.”

The CIA chief responded by saying that al-Qaeda’s ideology is “a perverse and very corrupt interpretation of the Qur’an”; that “al-Qaeda has hijacked” Islam; that “they have really distorted the teachings of Muhammad.”

Even so, “that ideology, that agenda of al-Qaeda,” confirmed Brennan, “has gained resonance and following in many parts of the world.”

So what is the CIA chief’s explanation as to why such a “perverse and very corrupt” understanding of Islam—one that has “distorted the teachings of Muhammad”— resonates among Muslims?

He gives none—other than to say that this ideology is “fed a lot of times by, you know, political repression, by economic, you know, disenfranchisement, by, you know, lack of education and ignorance, so there—there are a number of phenomena right now that I think are fueling the fires of, you know, this ideology.”

Interestingly, if you watch the video clip of Brennan talking, you will note that he only “you knows” in the above quotation (four times) and right before it, when he says that al-Qaeda has “distorted the teachings of Muhammad, you know, for violent purposes.”

The rest of his talk is relatively smooth.

Could Brennan be self-conscious of his own equivocations—hence all these stilted “you knows” in one sentence?

Could he be aware of the Rand Corporation report on counterterrorism, prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2009?   It found that “Terrorists are not particularly impoverished, uneducated, or afflicted by mental disease. Demographically, their most important characteristic is normalcy (within their environment). Terrorist leaders actually tend to come from relatively privileged backgrounds.”… Keep reading

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Russia’s Lackey, Belarus, Mobilizes Its Military

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

To understand just how ominous this is, take a look at this map:

commonwealth

 

Russia has already seized Crimea and is mobilizing its military in key spots along its border with Ukraine, calling that mobilization “exercises.” On the Ukraine side of that border is a majority ethnic Russian region. Oleg Atbashian reported earlier today that pro-Russians in Donetsk, Ukraine are stirring up violence. Russia already used the threat of violence as its pretext for seizing Crimea. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that Putin is behind the riots that Atbashian reported, to use them as a pretext to move into Ukraine and seize not only its majority Russian regions, but also its valuable energy producing region in the east. Russian forces could move in from Crimea as well as from bases inside Russia.

Now, note the position of Belarus, and then read this translated story, from Interfax:

Moscow. March 14. INTERFAX.RU – tactical exercises with units of Force and Air Defense Forces began Friday in Belarus, part of a military aircraft relocated to the preparatory airfields.

“Today started tactical exercises with units of a number of compounds of anti-aircraft missile troops Air Force and Air Defense Forces of Belarus,” – said the agency “Interfax” on Friday, the press service of the Defense Ministry.

There have been informed that “on March 14 in accordance with the plan check combat readiness of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus was done of the flight Air Force and Air Defense Forces on prepared airfields.”

Belarus is allied to Moscow. If the plan is to move in from both Russia and Belarus, Ukraine will be blitzed from the east and the north. It barely stands a chance. Russia could be expected to seize Ukraine’s east, while Belarus forces might be tasked with taking Ukraine’s energy producing region to the west. Putin might have already struck a deal with his client state to divide Ukraine between them. Such a deal would be in keeping with Russia’s longstanding strategy of building buffer states between itself and the west — Belarus control of Ukraine’s west effectively sets Belarus as a buffer state between Russia and Poland, Romania and other frontier NATO states.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Putin to reverse course in Ukraine by Monday or face US and European sanctions. Monday could be too late. By then, the Crimea referendum on joining Russia will have passed (the ballot doesn’t even provide a “no” option) and Russia and Belarus forces will either be poised to move into Ukraine, or may already have.

Update: Russia is laying out its grounds for invasion. Unsurprisingly, the Donetsk riot plays a central role.

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Obama’s View From Alaska

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

A conservative political activist who happens to be a good friend of mine from the Washington D.C. area just sent me this image.

This post is not meant to be an “official” caption contest because we have one raging at the moment.

However, I could not resist sharing it and you can comment and caption as much as you like.

Alaska 1

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Russian Nationalists Riot, Maim and Kill Pro-Ukrainian Demonstrators in Donetsk

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Oleg Atbashian

A mob of pro-Russian protesters savagely attacked a pro-Ukrainian rally with clubs, metal rods, rocks, tear gas, and smoke bombs, killing a 22-year-old local man and seriously injuring scores of others Thursday in Lenin Square in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine.

According to witnesses, the pro-Ukrainian rally consisted mostly of local men and women, some with children, who came there after work to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine against Russia’s attempts to split the country. This angered a pro-Russian rally nearby, which held Russian flags and demanded that the coal-mining region be separated from Ukraine and joined with Russia.

At some point rocks, eggs, and smoke grenades started flying from the pro-Russian side towards a line of people who chanted Ukrainian slogans while holding a long banner with the colors of the Ukrainian flag. As the rally ended, a large crowd of angry Russian nationalists surrounded their opponents, hurling ethnic insults, and preventing them from leaving. The confrontation quickly became violent.

A slide show on this Ukrainian news site has the pictures. A 25-minute YouTube video, posted the same day by a local citizen reporter, shows uninterrupted footage of the most violent stage of the riot, helping to reconstruct the events.

As the police succeeded in letting most of the pro-Ukrainian side leave the square, they themselves got surrounded by an angry mob, with about twenty bloodied people huddled together next to a police bus inside a protective circle of policemen. The law enforcement, represented by both local and military police, was outnumbered; an officer was heard calling for reinforcement.

The crowd chanted “Russia! Russia!” while also screaming threats, insults, and ethnic slurs. They also chanted “On your knees,” demanding that the Ukrainian patriots kneel before their tormentors, who waved Russian flags.

As rocks, bottles, and smoke bombs continued to fly, the police managed to get the battered men into the bus, but the attackers slashed the tires and broke the windows, throwing more rocks and smoke bombs inside the bus, spraying pepper spray and forcing the people out into the street.

As the pro-Ukrainian demonstrators climbed out of the bus windows back into the street, the crowd broke the police barrier and began to beat up the unarmed men with fists and clubs, leaving several of them lying on the pavement, covered in blood, all the while calling their victims “fascists” and “faggots.” A few who tried to escape by breaking through the crowd were surrounded and beaten.

The chant “On your knees!” continued as the surrounded and beaten people, many of them unable to stand, crouched on the ground, which the mob finally perceived as compliance with their demand to kneel. Having carried the wounded away, the police were finally able to escort the remaining few to safety.

The video ends with the camera pointing downwards, as one of the pro-Russian attackers demands that the cameraman stop shooting because the footage may wind up in the “wrong” hands. During the time of this writing this video added half a million views on YouTube, with many comments in both Russian and broken English cheering the beating of Ukrainians and blaming America for the violence.

In another video, which shows an injured man being taken to an ambulance, gloating voices refer to him as a “Bandera” (a slur against Ukrainian nationalists) and an intruder from Maidan who got what he deserved for taking American money. This and other comments in the videos, as well as multiple pro-Russian comments on various YouTube threads, reveal a paranoid, hateful mind-set, which boils down to the following presumptions:

(a) The Ukrainian revolution was the result of a vast Western-Zionist conspiracy against Russia; (b) all pro-Ukrainian demonstrators are violent Nazis, fascists, and traitors who have been paid with dollars by their American, European, and Zionist masters; and (c) the demonstrators are all intruders from Western Ukraine, the land of hateful worshipers of the “Nazi collaborator” Stepan Bandera

Such absurd beliefs are the result of a massive campaign of lies, distortions, provocations, and propaganda that the Putin government has been disseminating through all available media channels, both inside Russia and in the Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine, aiming to discredit and demonize the recent popular uprising against the corrupt pro-Russian government of Victor Yanukovich. Among the various reasons to suppress the Ukrainian revolution, probably the most important one was the Kremlin’s fear that it may soon spread from Maidan to Red Square.

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Islamic Jihad and the Doctrine of Abrogation

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Raymond Ibrahim

The Koran and Sword: Hand in Hand

While other scriptures contain contradictions, the Koran is the only holy book whose commentators have evolved a doctrine to account for the very visible shifts which occur from one injunction to another. No careful reader will remain unaware of the many contradictory verses in the Koran, most specifically the way in which peaceful and tolerant verses lie almost side by side with violent and intolerant ones. The ulema were initially baffled as to which verses to codify into the Shari’a worldview—the one that states there is no coercion in religion (2:256), or the ones that command believers to fight all non-Muslims till they either convert, or at least submit, to Islam (8:39, 9:5, 9:29). To get out of this quandary, the commentators developed the doctrine of abrogation, which essentially maintains that verses revealed later in Muhammad’s career take precedence over earlier ones whenever there is a discrepancy. In order to document which verses abrogated which, a religious science devoted to the chronology of the Koran’s verses evolved (known as an-Nasikh wa’l Mansukh, the abrogater and the abrogated).

But why the contradiction in the first place? The standard view is that in the early years of Islam, since Muhammad and his community were far outnumbered by their infidel competitors while living next to them in Mecca, a message of peace and coexistence was in order. However, after the Muslims migrated to Medina in 622 and grew in military strength, verses inciting them to go on the offensive were slowly “revealed”—in principle, sent down from Allah—always commensurate with Islam’s growing capabilities. In juridical texts, these are categorized in stages: passivity vis-á-vis aggression; permission to fight back against aggressors; commands to fight aggressors; commands to fight all non-Muslims, whether the latter begin aggressions or not. [1] Growing Muslim might is the only variable that explains this progressive change in policy.

Other scholars put a gloss on this by arguing that over a twenty-two year period, the Koran was revealed piecemeal, from passive and spiritual verses to legal prescriptions and injunctions to spread the faith through jihad and conquest, simply to acclimate early Muslim converts to the duties of Islam, lest they be discouraged at the outset by the dramatic obligations that would appear in later verses.[2] Verses revealed towards the end of Muhammad’s career—such as, “Warfare is prescribed for you though you hate it”[3]—would have been out of place when warfare was actually out of the question.

Allah himself speaking through the Koran justifies abrogation:  “Whenever We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, we replace it by a better or similar one.  Know you not that Allah has power over all things?” (Koran 2: 106; see also 16:101, 13:39, and 17:86)… Keep reading

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What are Putin’s True Objectives in Ukraine? These Maps May Provide Answers.

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

The Washington Post produced this map back in December to explain Ukraine’s protests. The Post explained the protests as the result of ethnic divisions, diversity not being a source of strength in Ukraine. Ethnic Ukrainians in the red sections resented the pro-Russian president and his policies. They wanted to look west and join the EU and NATO. He wanted to look east and join Russia’s Eurasian Union. Moscow also wants Ukraine in that union, not the EU or NATO. The brown section at the bottom is Crimea. Russia already controls that and Sunday’s vote stands to formalize its annexation to Russia. It’s majority Russian, and also home to Sevastopol, Russia’s sole warm-water navy base.

Putin bases the logic of his Crimea invasion on a need to protect the Russian majority who live there. They were under no actual threat from the Kiev government. Putin is reportedly massing troops along the Russia-Ukraine border, in the upper right corner of this map and down to the south in the hand-shaped area near Rostov, again ostensibly to protect the Russians who live in the yellow-brown striped zone on the Ukraine side of the border.

wapo-ethnic groups

 

Ukraine Energy produced this map of the country’s energy deposits.

ukraine-oilandgasmap

 

Let’s do a quick and dirty overlay of the energy map onto the ethnic division map.

ukraine-overlay

 

The majority of Ukraine’s energy production fields just happen to lie in or near the region dominated by ethnic Russians whom Putin wants to “protect.”

Russia is one of the world’s top energy producers, and it dominates energy production in Eurasia. Ukraine is a major regional producer of coal, natural gas and oil. Most of Ukraine’s energy production zones are within easy reach of Russia. Russia’s economy depends on proceeds from its energy production. Energy production is Russia’s #1 export.

Let’s look at one more map. Chuck DeVore created it, and Josh Trevino posted it on Facebook. It’s a speculative look at paths the Russian military might be expected to take into Ukraine, based on where Putin is reportedly massing his forces and where the ethnic Russians live.

ukraine-invasion-trevino

Ukraine’s eastern energy production zones would be among the first prizes that the Russians would capture. Putin could then be expected to consolidate his positions, check international reaction, and should the Ukraine counter militarily, use that as an excuse to resume offensive operations aimed at seizing the rest of Ukraine including its western energy production fields.

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92 Year-Old Auschwitz Guard Declared Fit To Stand Trial

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Stephen Kruiser

No mercy.

German prosecutors have ruled that a 92-year-old former Auschwitz guard is fit to stand trial for being an accessory to the murder of tens of thousands of Jews sent to their deaths at the infamous Nazi extermination camp during the Second World War.

Oskar Groening, a former Nazi sergeant, admits serving at Auschwitz for two and a half years but he claims to have merely guarded doomed prisoners’ possessions at the camp and insists that he did not commit war crimes there.

However state prosecutors in Hanover announced on Thursday that they had completed an initial investigation against Groening and pronounced that he was fit to stand trial. He is likely to become the first former death camp guard to appear before a German court in decades.

Evil is still evil, even when it is presented in a doddering, grandfatherly package.

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Report: Putin Claims that the Dissolution of the USSR was Illegal

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

This might be a signal that Vladimir Putin intends to take all of Ukraine by force. Before moving on to reconstitute the Soviet empire.

In a call with Mustafa Dzhemilev, the former head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tarter people, Putin reportedly dismissed his concern that a referendum scheduled to be held this weekend in Crimea, which would decide whether the territory should be annexed to Russia, would violate the terms of a 1994 treaty with Western nations guaranteeing Ukraine’s sovereignty.

According to Dzhemilev, Putin also said that it was debatable as to whether Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union, acquired in 1991, was even legal.

The world could be moving into extremely dangerous times. Suppose that the claim above is true and Putin said what is reported. Prior to its dissolution in 1991, the USSR included a number of countries which have since become independent.

Soviet_Union_Administrative_Divisions_1989

Those include Ukraine and the Baltic States — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — among others. Ukraine suffered massively under Soviet rule; Stalin intentionally starved millions of them during the 1932-33 famine. Ethnic Ukrainians mostly want nothing to do with Russia now. After the USSR’s fall, the Baltics joined NATO to enjoy protection from post-Soviet Russia as quickly as they could, and they are NATO members now. NATO has also included several countries that were forced into the Warsaw Pact, including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. NATO’s expansion has moved the West’s borders right up through what was the old Soviet Union’s borderlands up to Russia itself, a fact that Putin openly bristles at. Russian foreign policy over the last 300-odd years, Soviet era and otherwise, can be boiled down to obtaining warm-water ports and keeping a buffer between itself and Europe’s central, more powerful states and the United Kingdom. Ukraine, the Baltics and the Warsaw Pact satellite states in eastern Europe were that buffer during the Soviet era. The Soviets effectively moved Russia’s frontier all the way to Berlin; the post-Soviet era has erased that buffer and moved the border back to Russia’s own frontier. NATO is a defensive alliance, but KGB man Putin has never seen it that way.

Putin was not in power when the Soviet Union fell apart, and is not a signatory to the documents by which it was dissolved and the Commonwealth of Independent States was formed. Mikhail Gorbachev was in power as the USSR’s general secretary, and Boris Yeltsin took power as president of Russia after the USSR’s death. Putin may therefore see that entire sequence of events as illegal, mainly because he wasn’t there, and something to be overturned.

Putin has already said that the USSR’s fall was a geopolitical catastrophe. He has already taken strides to create the Moscow-centric Eurasian Union, which comes into full in 2015. If Putin truly believes that the dissolution of the USSR itself was illegal, he is implying that all of Ukraine and the Baltics, as well as several other currently independent countries, belong to Russia and/or a reconstituted Soviet Union, and that he would be within his rights to invade and conquer them. Every independent nation that borders Russia and/or was once incorporated in the Soviet Union should greet this with great alarm.

Ukraine is not a NATO member, and the West would not be directly obligated to defend it should Russia move to seize all of it. But the West is not completely off the hook: The 1994 Budapest Memo calls for respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and Putin has already violated it by seizing Crimea. The US and UK signed that document to reassure Ukraine. What should our allies make of Obama’s ineffective response and the UK’s obvious cravenness?

Let’s look at things from Putin’s point of view. The United States currently has an inexperienced president, is war-weary and debt-ridden and often fails to see eye to eye with its allies in Europe and Asia. Its Congress is currently bitterly divided, but that may change in November — but that Congress will be unified under the Republicans, so the American government will remain divided. Its military has been slashed and faces more force reductions. Its economy is stagnant. Its heavy industry has been whittled away for decades as jobs in that sector have been shipped overseas. Europe has not taken military matters seriously for decades, preferring to live under America’s protection. The UK is far from the global power it once was, and neither is Germany. On the Asian wing, South Korea remains preoccupied by North Korea and while Japan possesses one of the best funded self-defense forces in the world, its military lacks reach. For Vladimir Putin, who has already gotten the best of Barack Obama and seen to it that Obama’s red lines fade quickly, there may be no better time than this one to undo the catastrophe of the Soviet Union’s fall, if that’s what he is inclined to do.

h/t Ace

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Edward Snowden @ SXSW: ‘The Public and Government Have Benefited’ from Disclosures

Monday, March 10th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

With little fanfare and quite a bit of applause, NSA leaker Edward Snowden virtually took the stage and addressed the attendees of SXSW and the world. Snowden appeared live via satellite from an undisclosed location in Russia, using a greenscreen background evidently to conceal his whereabouts in Russia where he has been granted asylum since August 2013. Instead of revealing his location, Snowden used a graphic of the Declaration of Independence as his backdrop. The conversation was hosted via Google Hangouts.

The event began with a question: Why did Snowden choose to address SXSW? He answered that the technological leaders and developers represented at SXSW could enforce our privacy rights via technological standards.

Snowden advocated using end to end software encryption to defeat the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance. The aim, he said, is to make mass surveillance too expensive and difficult for government agencies to engage in.

Much of the conversation with Snowden veered off into the weeds of discussing the use of personal security apps to defeat the NSA. The technical ability to find, install and use those apps is beyond probably 98% or more Internet users at this point. One of the hosts suggested that Internet service companies could offer encrypted communications for an additional charge. Snowden countered that companies like Google could also elect not to hold the data they gather on users once that data’s business purpose has been fulfilled. Disposing of that data would render mass surveillance more difficult.

Snowden accused two American officials of doing more damage to national security via surveillance than anyone else: NSA directors Michael Hayden and Keith Alexander. Snowden said that both are guilty of reorienting the NSA from cyber defense to attack, compromising America’s edge in intellectual property and cyber security. Snowden argued that his leaks have not harmed national secuity, but have improved national security. Snowden and the ACLU chief technologist on the stage, Chris Soghoian, agreed that the U.S. government has prioritized data gathering over cyber security. This weakens our cyber security against geopolitical foes with extensive hacking and cyber attack capabilities, like China.

Snowden brought up two cases in which mass surveillance ended up missing obvious, reported terror threats. While the NSA was hacking Google to get at metadata, Snowden said, U.S. intelligence missed both the Boston bombers and the underwear bomber. In both of those cases, U.S. intelligence had been warned that the specific individuals were a threat. Yet no action was taken against them  to prevent their attacks. Meanwhile, NSA was scooping up metadata from Americans’ cell phones and Internet use. Soghoian said that the NSA knows who has called an abortion clinic or gay book store, but misses terrorists plotting attacks.

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#SXSW14: Edward Snowden Becomes Putin’s Puppet. Does He Know That?

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Russia’s Vladimir Putin is on quite a run in 2014. His country just finished hosting the successful Sochi Winter Olympics. No sooner than Mischa the bear left the stadium, Putin dispatched 16,000 troops in unmarked uniforms to take the strategic Crimean peninsula, which belongs to neighboring Ukraine. Putin’s troops took their prize without firing a shot, and while the surprised U.S. and EU have scrambled for a response, Putin has consolidated his hold on Crimea in two ways. One, he has sent in more troops — as many as 30,000, along with helicopters and armored vehicles — to warn off the weak Ukrainian army against any attack. Two, Crimea’s parliament voted unanimously to break off from Ukraine and formally join Russia. Putin has a third move in the works, which is as purely a Soviet move as he as ever made during either of his reigns in the Kremlin. Crimea will have a referendum on the question of joining Russia. The ballot that will be used on March 16 for that vote offers voters two choices — yes now, or yes later. There is no “no” available, even if Crimea’s majority ethic Russians should want it. So the outcome of that vote is a done deal unless Putin is somehow forced to force a ballot change, and that doesn’t seem likely.

On Monday, Putin will strike right at the heart of American prestige and security. Exiled NSA leaker Edward Snowden will address SXSW 2014 in Austin from wherever Putin is protecting/holding him in Russia. Snowden’s address by web video link is already controversial enough that Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) wants SXSW to uninvite him. That doesn’t seem any more likely than anyone forcing a ballot change in Crimea.

While probably only Snowden knows what he will say on Monday, the content of his address may not matter a lot. The mere fact of his address is another knife twisted into President Barack Obama’s side. Snowden fled the United States after leaking a massive amount of information regarding the Obama administration’s surveillance of Americans’ online and cell phone activities in the name of stopping terrorists. The Obama administration tried in vain to catch him, and then when he arrived in Russia, petitioned Putin to hand him over to American authorities. That has not happened, obviously. Putin granted Snowden a year’s asylum in Russia. Meanwhile, the massive American surveillance effort missed signs that Putin was about to invade Crimea. That’s a pretty big miss.

Now, as Putin ignores the West over Crimea, Snowden will address SXSW and, via video streams, the rest of the world. Given Russia’s massive surveillance state, it is clear that Snowden’s address is not only known to Putin, but has been sanctioned by him. Snowden thus becomes, through Monday’s address, yet another unmistakable snub to Obama. Putin is saying to Obama, “Here’s your most wanted man. I have him. And I am letting him speak to your people in the heart of your country.” There’s no getting around the symbolism. Obama has the choice to look impotent, or try shutting Snowden’s feed down, and look tyrannical. Either way, Putin wins.

The question ahead of Monday is, does Snowden understand that he is being used against the United States by a strongman whose own surveillance state is even worse than ours? Does he understand that he is being made a puppet for Putin? If he doesn’t understand that, then his is a naif and a fool. If he does, then he has truly become an agent of our geopoligical foe and an enemy of the American people. Either way, while some of his leaks have been good for the cause of disclosure and rolling back our overpowering government, ultimately Edward Snowden is no hero at all.

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Contest Winners: Official White House Photo – Obama Rocks Jeans While Putin Moves Tanks

Saturday, March 8th, 2014 - by Myra Adams
obama

Official White House photo

Thanks to everyone who entered our “Obama Rocks Jeans While Putin Moves Tanks” caption contest.

As usual, the entries were so clever and funny that I could hear all the judges laughing out loud while trying to determine the winners.

It turned out the grand prize winner was someone very familiar to contest fans for he is our reigning Caption King, Chris Henderson.

Seriously Chris, how DO you do it?

Contest after contest (except when you were vacationing in re-education camp) you write these amazing captions that perfectly captures the essence of the photo.

Here is why Chris is King of the Caption Kings:

Ronald Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Barack Obama: “Mr. Putin, please take my call!” 

“Look here Putin, either you behave or I will unleash the West’s most destructive force ever on you…ObamaCare!”

“‘Ukraine?’ I thought you said “cocaine.” So I’m no longer interested.”

OBAMA: “Hello?”  VOICE ON OTHER END OF THE PHONE: “This is the 80s. Do you want your foreign policy back?” (Editor’s note: Click here for news background on this caption.)

And there were many more! So just go back to the contest and read them all.

Now, besides Chris we had numerous other winners. Here they are and I dare you not to LOL.

AFBlue won with: “Thank you for calling the Kremlin. Your business is important to us..”

RockThisTown had several winners:

Well, Crimea . . . . river!  You don’t have Leno laughing at you every night anymore!”

Resolute Desk by Queen Victoria, Designer jeans by Bugle Boy, President by low-info voters.

“Vlad, you better cut it out in Ukraine – these jeans are stone-washed!”

FunJohnny had me LOL with this one:

Ya better wise-up, Vlad…I’ve put my man pants on. And, in case your wonderin’ — it Depends.

CraigZ won with: Sorry, gotta go. GQ’s here for the shoot.

Cfbleachers another “King of Caption Kings” had several winners, as usual:

Obama has a pair of jeans and a way to deal with a foreign policy crises…..    Guess.

“I have a phone…I just don’t answer it”

Vlad, it’s March and you know what that means…have to fill out my bracket picks!”.

Kuce had this clever entry:

“Would you quit with the ‘protecting Russian speakers’ thing? Mexico is starting to get a few ideas.”

Allan Crowson scored with these two:

“Vladimir, they assured me you were in the tank, just like the media. What do you mean, you’re in *a* tank?”

“Yes, that’s right. I have a pen, and I uh have a phone. I’m using it right now. What’s that? You have an army, and you have a backbone, and you’re using it right now. Yes, I understand.”

Daniel in Brookline cracked up the judges with this one:

“Vlad, you’d better stop. I have the Washington Post on line 2, and they’re ready to write you up as a racist. You heard me? RACIST!”

Thanks again loyal contest fans for taking the time to enter and see you all next time a photo is worthy of a PJM Tatler photo caption contest.

 

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VIDEO — ‘Russia Today’ Anchor Protests Invasion, Quits on the Air

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Liz Wahl worked in Russia Today’s Washington, D.C., bureau, until today. She’s the grandchild of Hungarian refugees who fled the Soviet jackboot. Today she quit Russia Today on the air, because she said she could no longer work for a network that “whitewashes” Russia’s actions.

Wahl quit Russia Today one day after fellow DC anchor Abby Martin protested Russia’s Crimea invasion, and the network responded by saying it was sending Martin to Crimea.

On Twitter Tuesday night, Wahl publicly sided with Martin.

 

h/t Daily Beast

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The Past and the Future

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Raymond Ibrahim

Last November Raymond Ibrahim was interviewed by Egyptian reporter Sherif Awad.  The interview appeared in several Egyptian magazines and websites, as well as American ones, such as the Westchester Guardian.  The interview follows:

Awad: Can you tell us about your family and their profession and how and why they decided to migrate to the US? Tell us about your childhood and the intercultural elements that shaped it until you decided to select your profession.

Ibrahim: My father and mother, both Copts, one from Cairo the other Alexandria, left Egypt in the late 1960s for America, where I was born.  They left Egypt for a better life.  I grew up speaking both Arabic and English and visited Egypt with my parents often when I was young.  It was natural, then, for me formally to study the region, its languages (primarily Arabic, which I already spoke), its history and conflicts, in college.  Growing up in Egypt in the 1940s-1960s, my parents experienced little by way of direct persecution, but they did experience religious discrimination, and that was one of the reasons they came to America, for better opportunities.

Awad: In regards to your MA thesis and book about the Battle of Yarmuk, can you compare its events to the happenings that led to the ending of Islamic rule in Andalusia? Do you consider researching the Islamic empire in Andalusia? About the Crusades?

Ibrahim: Yes, I am very interested in early and medieval Islamic history, especially military history vis-à-vis Christendom.  Not only are there parallels between those various battles and encounters, but indeed, the patterns continue to this very day.  Most in the West are wholly unaware that to Islamist groups like al-Qaeda, they see the conflict as a continuum of history—as jihadis (mujahidin) fighting infidel “crusaders.”  This is precisely why I have an interest in the long history of the conflict—most of which is concealed from people in the West by the forces of “political correctness,” which predominate in the classrooms, the government, and the media.

Awad: You researched al-Qaeda’s early history but I want to ask about 9/11 and how far al-Qaeda was involved, because many conspiracy theorists claim that certain US entities have something to do with those events… KEEP READING

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US to Send Fighter Jets to Poland

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

The Pentagon says it is sending a handful of F-15s to Poland.

WASHINGTON –  The U.S. military is boosting its NATO presence in a bid to support the defenses of U.S. allies in Europe in response to Russia’s takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

After Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel first alluded to the effort during testimony on Capitol Hill earlier Wednesday morning, a Defense official confirmed that the U.S. will send six additional F-15s and one KC-135 to “augment the mission” in Baltic countries.

The U.S. currently provides four F-15s to what’s known as the Baltic Air Policing rotation. The additional aircraft will be sent from a base in Britain to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania, the official said.

Poland and Lithuania had called for a NATO Article 4 meeting over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both nations were subjected to brutal domination from Moscow during the Soviet era and are NATO and EU members now. Lithuania, like its fellow Baltic states Ukraine, has a Russian-speaking minority.

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Israelis Intercept Iranian Weapon Shipment Bound for Terrorist Groups in Gaza

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

The Israeli Defense Force reports that it has intercepted a shipment of weapons from Iran that was bound for Gaza:

Last night, following extensive preparations, and on the government’s authorization, the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benjamin (Benny) Gantz, ordered the Israel Navy to intercept the KLOS-C, upon which the illicit arms were concealed in between commercial cargo.

IDF special naval forces boarded the vessel, in accordance with international law, and carried out a preliminary inspection of the cargo.

They discovered numerous advanced weapons during the inspection, including M-302 surface-to-surface missiles, which are capable of reaching any point in Israel, including major population centers Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. If Palestinian terrorist organizations had gotten their hands on these weapons, they would have been able to use them to threaten millions of Israeli civilians.

The Navy is currently sailing together with the cargo ship back to Israeli shores.

Video and more at the link. The interception comes just a day after President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and just a few days after Obama declared that the Palestinians “want peace” but Israeli settlements are getting in the way. In that interview, Obama warned that the US would not make the case for Israel to the international community if Israel did not go along with Palestinian demands. The interception also comes as Iranian ally Russia consolidates its positions after invading Crimea in neighboring Ukraine.

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Open Season on Christians in Libya

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Raymond Ibrahim

It’s open season on Coptic Christians in Libya.

A few days after seven Copts were identified as Christians, pulled out of their homes by “unknown gunmen” and taken out and executed in Jarutha, some 20 miles west of Benghazi (see here for graphic pictures), Egyptian Copts are still being singled out and killed.

This comes after the Islamic jihadi group,Ansar al-Sharia—which appears connected to Egypt’s now ousted Muslim Brotherhood—offered a reward to any Benghazi resident who helps them round up and execute the nation’s few Christians, according to Egyptian human rights groups.

Yesterday another body was found, believed to be that of a Copt—due to the small cross tattooed on his wrist traditionally worn by Egyptian Christians, not least to identify themselves.

And the day before that, another Coptic Christian, Salama Fawzi, 24, was shot at, including in the head, while he was unloading food in front of his grocery stand in Benghazi by several “unknown gunmen”; he is currently in critical condition.

Under Col. Gaddafi, many Copts migrated to Libya looking for work opportunities.  However, since the dictator was ousted—and sodomized and murdered, to gleeful laughter by Hillary Clinton—Christians have been under attack there, from the arrest, torture, and killing of Christians accused of “proselytizing,” to the bombing and burning of churches in the north African nation, evincing the true nature of the U.S-supported “Arab Spring” takeover of Libya.

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New Caption Contest: Is the White House Advance Team Secretly Working for the Republicans?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Photo Credit: Stephen Crowley, New York Times

 

Today, this photo was brought to my attention in an email with the subject line: “Begging for a caption contest.” Do you agree?

It was New York Times photographer Stephen Crowley that took and tweeted the photo.

The caption accompanying it read: Obama, “We believe the Ukrainian people should be able to decide their own future.”

Now, at this writing, it looks as if Putin is not planning on invading Ukraine. Does that mean Putin “has blinked,” and WWIII has been delayed? Does it also mean that Putin can now return to his normal bare-chested manly activities?

Meanwhile, let’s discuss the parameters of this new caption contest.

It is my theory that the White House advance team is working for the Republican National Committee.  If not, how on earth could they let President Obama speak while standing on this rug? What is also amazing timing is that two days ago on Fox News Sunday, Mike Rogers (R-MI) Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee told Chris Wallace, “I think Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles.”

So now Obama is showing us the rug on which he actually plays marbles! Children and world leaders everywhere are delighted!

Seriously, is the White House gang responsible for this rug speech the same ones who released the photo that is the subject of our latest caption contest currently raging?

That one features an equally politically embarrassing “official White House” photo of Obama wearing tight jeans while talking on the phone with President Putin in the Oval Office.

Both photos, days apart, indicate that something has gone terribly wrong in the White House Office of Smoke and Mirrors “Optics Department.” Can anyone guess what has caused this breakdown?

While you are pondering that question, let’s have some fun with this stately new presidential rug, playing or losing one’s marbles, and the guy in the door to the left that is wondering, “Am I about to get fired?”

 

 

 

 

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Russia Test-Fires ICBM

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Putin puts down the phone with Obama as they discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia then test-fires an intercontinental ballistic missile.

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said it had successfully test-fired an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Tuesday, with tensions high over its seizure of control in the Crimea and its threat to send more forces to its neighbor Ukraine.

The Strategic Rocket Forces launched an RS-12M Topol missile from the southerly Astrakhan region and the dummy warhead hit its target at a proving ground in Kazakhstan, Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Yegorov told state-run news agency RIA.

The launch site, Kapustin Yar, is near the Volga River about 450 km (280 miles) east of the Ukrainian border. Kazakhstan, a Russian ally in a post-Soviet security grouping, is further to the east.

The missile has a range of 6,000 miles.

Update: Russia notified the US about the test as per START treaty requirements.

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With the U.S. and Europe Divided, What Can Stop Putin?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Mike McNally

There are signs tonight that divisions are emerging between the U.S. and Europe over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region. While the Obama administration has threatened a strong response, including punitive economic measures, European nations – which depend on Russia for energy supplies, trade and investment – appear to be backing away from financial sanctions.

President Obama said today the White House was “examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and status in the world”. However, European foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, resisted calls for sanctions. European leaders have also opposed U.S. calls to expel Russia from the G8 group of leading economies.

Several European countries are dependent on Russia for much of their energy, with Germany importing around 40 per cent of its oil and natural gas from Russia, and the European Union accounting for around three-quarters of Russia’s energy exports. European nations have lucrative trade deals with Russia too – France, for example, is building assault ships for its armed forces.

Britain, meanwhile, although not reliant on Russian energy, has extensive economic ties. Rising property prices are one of the cornerstones of the UK’s still tenuous economic recovery, and prices in London are rising at more than twice the rate of the national average. Russia’s oligarchs have invested heavily in property in the capital – they bought 8.5% of all London properties worth more than £2m ($3.3m) between March 2012 and March 2013, more than nationals of any other country. And each year hundred of millions of dollars of Russian money – much of it the ill-gotten gains of Vladimir Putin’s cronies – pass through the City of London’s banks and other financial institutions.

Britain’s opposition to sanctions was made embarrassingly public today when a secret government document was photographed as an official was carrying it into 10 Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron. The document said Britain should “not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.

Russia’s economy is certainly vulnerable – $55bn was wiped off the value of Russian stocks today, while the rouble fell to all-time lows against the dollar and the euro. However, the fear is that any sanctions could be as harmful to Europe as to Russia, and European resistance could make it harder for the U.S. to impose harsh penalties. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that “[Europe’s] interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us”.

Speaking to the BBC this evening, Senator John McCain said Europe’s leaders would be “ignoring the lessons of history” if they decided that the cost of imposing severe sanctions of Russia were too high. But with the West divided on how to act, and more Russian troops pouring into Crimea every hour, it’s hard to see what can stop Putin annexing the peninsula, and securing a victory that would be equally humiliating for Europe and the U.S.

 

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Putin Builds Wall of Implausible Deniability

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Having seized Crimea by force, Russian President Vladimir Putin today insisted that he has not seized Crimea by force. Those troops we’ve all seen on TV, armed with the latest Russian military hardware? Not Russian, says Putin.

Russian soldiers have not occupied government buildings and surrounded Ukrainian military bases on the Crimean Peninsula, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Tuesday during a news conference near Moscow at which he gave an account of recent events that contradicts reports from the ground.

Instead, he told reporters that the heavily armed men are “local self-defense forces.”

Right. Well, Putin has just confirmed why the troops are wearing unmarked uniforms. How long had Russia planned to deploy its forces in those thousands of unmarked uniforms? What are the international law implications of deploying masses of military forces in unmarked uniforms.

But even as he said no Russian troops have been involved in the latest events in Crimea, Putin drew comparisons that would seem to indicate they had been. “Our actions are often described by the West as not legitimate, but look at U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya,” he said, according to a BBC translation of his comments. “Our actions are legitimate from the point of view of international law, because Ukraine’s legitimate president asked us for help. … Defending these people is in our interests. … We do not want to ‘enslave’ anyone.”

But he’s happy to turn off the Gazprom every once in a while, just to get people’s attention.

Putin made the claims about a lack of involvement by Russian forces even though Russian military helicopters have been seen in the skies over Crimea, Russian trucks have been seen moving the armed men to key locations, and the soldiers in unmarked uniforms speak Russian and in some cases have told reporters and local residents that they are members of the Russian military.

Putin also denied that Russia intends to annex Crimea. But Russia was denying any intent to send forces into Crimea, right up until Russian forces in unmarked uniforms went into Crimea.

During his Kiev press conference today, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed astonishment that Putin denied having any Russian troops in Crimea.

It’s reasonable to suspect that Putin is consolidating his position in Crimea and assessing international reaction before moving on eastern Ukraine. He is also gauging market reactions. Russia lost big in the markets Monday, but Putin’s less bellicose talk today has caused the markets to regain some of what they lost. He could count the losses as the price of taking Crimea, which would be a low cost at this point. Shots have not even been fired yet.

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Flashback: Obama Oversaw the Destruction of Ukraine’s Conventional Military Weapons

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

When he was Illinois’ junior senator, Barack Obama went to Donetsk, Ukraine. There he saw something that is quite relevant today.

DONETSK, Ukraine – U.S. Senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Barack Obama (D-IL) called for the immediate destruction of 15,000 tons of ammunition, 400,000 small arms and light weapons, and 1,000 man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) or shoulder missile launchers that are often sought by terrorists.

Lugar and Obama toured the Donetsk State Chemical Production Plant, a conventional weapons destruction facility where the U.S. has taken the lead in a three-year NATO program to destroy the weapons. Another 117,000 tons of ammunition and 1.1 million small arms and light weapons are slated for destruction within 12 years.

So far, the U.S. has contributed $2.1 million to the project, and Austria, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom have contributed $1.2 million.

Ukraine has been calling for US, UK and NATO assistance since Russian troops swept into and captured Crimea over the weekend. Its small military is no match for Russia’s much larger military. Poland, whose missile defense system Obama canceled after Russian objections, called for a NATO Article 4 meeting which takes place today.

During the 2012 presidential election, Obama mocked Republican rival Mitt Romney when the latter said that Russia is America’s main geopolitical adversary. Putin’s moves have proven Romney right.

Markets around the world rose today, after plunging since the weekend invasion, on the news that Putin ended the Russian military exercise on Ukraine’s border and indicated that the Russian troops in Crimea would not open fire. But at the same time, Putin is warning the West against using economic sanctions against Russia. The question now is whether Putin is merely consolidating Russia’s gains in Crimea before moving on to “protect Russians” in eastern Ukraine.

h/t Jim Geraghty

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Why There Could Be a War Over Ukraine

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Forget the Budapest Memorandum, and definitely forget President Obama’s latest, and very forgettable, comments on Ukraine. Russia is not standing on the “wrong side of history.” That doesn’t mean anything at the moment, it’s just more fanciful thinking from our celebrity president.

Before Obama declares which side of history is “right” or “wrong,” he would be wise to make sure to be on the winning side. Thus far, he has done very little to ensure that.

The West needs to look at events from Putin’s perspective, just to understand what Putin may be thinking and determine what he may do next. What are his aims? What goal may he be pursuing by seizing Crimea?

NATO has been expanding east ever since the end of the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe’s former East Bloc and Soviet satellite states have mostly sought to distance themselves from Moscow and align with Washington and NATO. Poland and the Baltic States, Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are all nations that suffered Soviet domination and have since aligned with the West. They’re all NATO and EU members now.

The EU is primarily an economic union. NATO was formed as a defensive alliance to counter the Soviet Union’s expansionism after the end of World War II. The US and 11 European allies formed the defensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949; the USSR created the Warsaw Pact as a rival alliance in 1955. Those two alliances dominated Europe for the next 45 years until the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact.

But post-Soviet Russia, and in particular, Vladimir Putin, does not see NATO as defensive at all. He sees NATO as an expansionist alliance, dominated by Washington, built to destroy the USSR and now maintained to pin Russia back to limit its influence. Putin also sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th Century. He has sought to build the Eurasian Union as a Moscow-centered alliance to counter NATO. It is set to come into fullness in 2015. Its full purpose may be to resurrect the Warsaw Pact.

Putin’s opinion that NATO survives to pin Russia back is not entirely inaccurate. NATO’s purpose is defensive. But its main purpose continues to be to defend Europe from Russia. That’s why the freed East Bloc countries have mostly joined NATO, Belarus and Ukraine being among the exceptions. As the freed Warsaw Pact countries have joined NATO, NATO’s “borders” have moved east — toward Russia.

Ukraine’s majority has signaled its desire to join both NATO and the EU. For Putin, Ukraine and Belarus are two countries on its border that it does not want to see join what it regards as an offensive alliance aimed at Moscow. Belarus is a fairly reliable Russian ally, but Ukraine is not. Putin appears to find potential Ukraine membership in NATO and the EU totally unacceptable.

Ukraine’s history with the Soviet Union is bitter. Stalin intentionally starved millions of Ukrainians to death in the 1930s famine. The Soviets were hostile to Ukrainian language, history and culture. A Ukrainian rebellion fought against both the Nazis and the Soviets during World War II. Ethnic Ukrainians want nothing to do with Russia, but Ukraine is not a singular ethnic polity. Its ethnic Ukrainian majority dominates in the western part of the country, and it has a sizable Russian minority. In the east and Crimea, ethnic Russians make up a majority, and they still identify with Russia.

Now, in the context of Russian paranoia about NATO’s expansion, how should we expect Putin to have received news that US Ambassador Victoria Nuland turned up in Ukraine handing out treats to Ukrainian anti-Russian protesters at the beginning of the Maidan protests in December 2013?

Should we be surprised that Russia is treating the protests as if they were orchestrated by Washington to topple a Russia-aligned Ukrainian government and replace it with one that would look west again? Or at least, that Russia is pushing that storyline as part of its propaganda?

Should we be surprised that Russia bugged Nuland’s phone and released a recording that could have pushed the US and the EU apart?

Should we be surprised that Russia used the Sochi Olympics to present its softer side, but once the games were over, Putin was back to his old KGB self?

Given Russia’s history of subjugating Ukraine and using it as a buffer against Europe, and given Putin’s aim to build a Eurasian Union as another counter to NATO, and given Russia’s historic paranoia toward the West, should we be confident that Putin merely wants Crimea, and not all of Ukraine, and after that, the Baltic States north of Belarus too?

The Baltic States are NATO allies with the US. An attack on one NATO ally is an attack on all of them, according to the treaty. Knowing this, Putin is measuring Obama, NATO, the EU — all of his adversaries — via his invasion of Crimea. What is he learning?

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Poland Calls for NATO Article 4 Meeting

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Russia taking Crimea threatens to become Russia takes east Ukraine. That in turn threatens to become Russia takes all of Ukraine, landing Russian troops right on Poland’s frontier.

Poland has a terrible history of being subjected to assaults from Russia. It has asked for a major NATO meeting, which will take place Tuesday.

NATO will hold emergency discussions on Ukraine on Tuesday after Poland requested consultations under Article 4 of the alliance’s treaty, NATO said in a statement on Monday.

Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened.

More detail here, thanks to Google Translate. Poland’s military chief is describing the situation as a “security black hole.”

NATO Article 4 meetings are rare. According to the Chicago Tribune, only Turkey has called for such meetings before.

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Did Russia Deliver an Ultimatum to Ukraine’s Military?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

There are conflicting reports that Russia has issued an ultimatum to Ukrainian forces with Crimean bases: Surrender or else.

The Russian military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 5 a.m. Tuesday (10 p.m. ET Monday) to surrender or face a “storm,” Interfax news agency reported.

“If they do not surrender by 5 a.m. tomorrow, we will start a real storm in Ukrainian bases in Crimea,” according to the statement sent by the Russians to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, a ministry source told Interfax. NBC News could not immediately confirm the report.

The ultimatum was attributed to Alexandr Vitko, chief commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Kremlin-friendly Russia Today reports that no such ultimatum has been given. Then again, the Russians denied they were going to send troops into Crimea until they sent troops into Crimea. The Obama administration believed them.

Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting for later today. It probably intends to use its veto to block any UN sanctions against Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

North Korea has launched a pair of short-range missiles.

This ought to strike fear into our potential adversaries.

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Since the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, U.S. military bases have hosted a gay marriage ceremonies and a potluck gatherings. But on Saturday, servicemembers here may have been the first to take to the stage and perform as drag queens on a military installation in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender troops.

Drag queens and drag kings, to be precise.

Six servicemembers — gay, lesbian and straight — donned heavy makeup to dance and lip sync songs such as “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” for a raucous capacity crowd at the Rocker NCO Club at Kadena Air Base. The event was a fundraiser for the recently formed Okinawa chapter of OutServe-SLDN, which is the largest nonprofit advocate for the military’s LGBT community.

More: Russia is demanding Ukraine surrender a pair of its warships.

 

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Obama Finds a Country to Threaten. Too Bad It’s Israel.

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Bryan Preston

Much has already been written about Jeffrey Goldberg’s amazing interview with President Obama. The interview took place Thursday, the day before Russia captured Crimea from Ukraine.

The salient segment:

On the subject of Middle East peace, Obama told me that the U.S.’s friendship with Israel is undying, but he also issued what I took to be a veiled threat: The U.S., though willing to defend an isolated Israel at the United Nations and in other international bodies, might soon be unable to do so effectively.

“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said. “If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

It’s less a veiled threat than a plain old threat. The United States could make the case for Israel if it chose to. Obama is telling the world that he no longer intends to make that case.

The case for Israel, and against its closest enemies, is simple. The Palestinians elected Hamas to lead them (which “complicated peace efforts,” according to the Washington Post at the time); Hamas openly wants to destroy Israel. The majority of the Palestinian people openly reject any peace deal that includes Israel’s existence. Those facts haven’t changed just because Barack Obama wants them to or pretends that they are not facts. That fact that the Palestinians teach their children to hate Jews, and celebrate acts of terrorism against Israel, hasn’t changed either.

Maybe after Obama’s unfairness and weakness result in another terrible Middle East war, the Washington Post can stir itself to describe Obama’s Israel policy as “fantasy.”

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New Caption Contest: Official White House Photo – Obama Rocks Jeans While Putin Moves Tanks

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Myra Adams
obamaputinphone

Official White House photo

 

There is nothing more glorious than an official White House photo as a subject for our “world famous” caption contest.

This photo of President Obama speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin was released on Saturday, March 1 at 6 p.m. EST.

So while Putin has moved tanks into Crimea and is contemplating invading Ukraine (which might cause Obama to miss a few rounds of golf) at least we could all take comfort in knowing that our Commander-in-Chief looked AWESOME in his Saturday jeans.

Was Obama channeling Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire – tough guy” look?  Will some intern please find an axe?

Reagan wearing jeans

Did Obama think that wearing tight jeans in the Oval Office would help intimidate this guy?

Putin newslheadline

Here are more serious questions for our contest writers to address:

Whom should occupy the three empty chairs shown in the photo?  (People either dead or alive)

What was Obama REALLY saying to Putin?

Is Obama about to “blink first” in this photo?  (Google if you are confused.)

What was Putin wearing or NOT wearing when this photo was taken?

True or False: Obama asked Michelle — Does this stance make me look more like John Wayne or General Patton?

What would FDR do?

What would Jimmy Carter do?

What would Jesus do?

Is Hillary hiding in the desk  (John-John style) after measuring the drapes in the Oval Office?

John john

Can you determine if Obama is wearing boxers or briefs?

Is Obama on hold trying to order a large pepperoni with double cheese or a small gluten-free veggie?

Who the heck is in charge of official White House photos? Did they really think that this photo was going to help bolster Obama’s image as a strong leader?

Oh no, I just got a call from the security guard in the lobby of our building said he said that the IRS and the NSA are on their way upstairs.

Quick, write your entries NOW, so I can read them on the train to Camp Obama.

 

 

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