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Monday: American Mouth

In this roundup: Volkswagen vacillations, disappointments a la Colombia, UK, Hungary (and don’t forget Poland!), anthropocene extinction, and maybe a straggling bit at the end to get this Monday on the road. Read more

Wednesday: Not the Shape

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart


— excerpt, Shape of My Heart by Sting and Dominic Miller, 1993

After reading deeply about so many people suffering, I’m falling back on the equivalent of musical comfort food. A double helping as this Sting song is one of my favorites, performed here by some of my favorite musicians.

Suffer the little children

  • U.N. Commission of Inquiry reports Yazidis erased by ISIS (OHCHR) — The UN’s independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published “They Came to Destroy: ISIS Crimes Against the Yazidis” on June 16 but media outlets are only now reporting on the inquiry’s findings. ISIS has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, by

    “ISIS has sought to erase the Yazidis through killings; sexual slavery, enslavement, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment and forcible transfer causing serious bodily and mental harm; the infliction of conditions of life that bring about a slow death; the imposition of measures to prevent Yazidi children from being born, including forced conversion of adults, the separation of Yazidi men and women, and mental trauma; and the transfer of Yazidi children from their own families and placing them with ISIS fighters, thereby cutting them off from beliefs and practices of their own religious community”

    Seven weeks later mainstream media finally gets around to covering this report. I wonder how many more Yazidis have died or been degraded and tortured in that time. And I wonder if we’ll ever do anything constructive to halt the elimination of this people by a non-state (or state) actor. Before ISIS began its assault on the Yazidi, there were an estimated 800K to 1.5 million of them.

  • Australia continues to ignore plight of refugees on Nauru (HRW) — Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International investigated the conditions of refugees held on Pacific Island of Nauru, to which Australia shunts ayslum seekers and refugees from other countries. In spite of earlier investigations over the last 15 months and subsequent demands for improvements by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a Senate Select Committee, and an independent investigator, Australia continues to do nothing about the appalling and abusive conditions on Nauru. The gross neglect is now policy by default.
  • Czech president wants to reject all refugees (Deutsche Welle) — Milos Zeman has always talked anti-Nazi, but on the matter of EU’s policy on refugees he sounds like he’s done a 180 degree turn. His spokeman claims this position is based on terrorism:

    “Our country simply cannot afford to risk terrorist attacks like what occurred in France and Germany. By accepting migrants, we would create fertile ground for barbaric attacks…”

    In opposition to Zeman, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has agreed to take 80 Syrian refugees. That’s far more than the U.S. has accepted on a proportional basis; we killed more Syrian civilians this month than that number.

Reading the Classics
From Sententiae Antiquae, Corrupt Leaders Make Corrupt Countries: An Ancient Course on Leadership. Nothing new under the sun; sure looks like we’ve debated this topic for millennia.

I like this bit by the Greek writer Onasander particularly:

…οὐδὲ χωρὶς στρατηγῶν οὐδὲ μία πόλις ἐκπέμψει στρατόπεδον, οὐδὲ δίχα τοῦ δύνασθαι λέγειν αἱρήσεται στρατηγόν.

…No land nor city will field an army without generals nor even choose a general who cannot speak effectively.

How do you say, “Wishful thinking” in ancient Greek?

Reindeer games here tomorrow, in spite of the season. See you then.

Tuesday Morning: Brittle, Two

Yesterday I talked about the shift toward mobile computing centered on smartphones, moving from PCs. Behind that transition, out of sight of the public, is the cloud which supports this shift. Content and applications are increasingly stored not on the user’s device but in a server (read: data farm) accessed over the internet.

One manifestation of the shift is the largest technology merger ever — computer manufacturer Dell‘s $70B acquisition of storage company EMC. Dell’s PC sales have been slowly falling over the last handful of years, not unexpected due to the maturity of the market and the shift to mobile devices. Servers have been a large part of Dell’s profits for years, but many opportunities often ended up with competitor EMC when Dell quoted storage. Mobile users need much more remote computing and storage — servers and storage in the cloud — which EMC’s storage area network (SAN) products provide. This made EMC an appetizing fit to augment Dell’s server offerings while offsetting the slowly fading desktop computer sales.

With the acquisition, Dell Technology (the new name for the merged companies) now competes more squarely against Hewlett-Packard, which also sells both desktop computers and enterprise storage.

HP, however, split into two companies late last year. One manufactures desktop and other smaller computing devices (HP), the other sells servers and storage products (HP Enterprise Business). One might wonder if HP was preparing to spin off the portion of the business that makes PCs just as its competitor IBM did in 2005 when it spun off its PC division to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo.

Media will say with the EMC acquisition that Dell is positioned for better end-to-end service — but with so much computing now done on smartphones, this is not true. Dell and its competitor HP are only offering up to the smartphone.

Speaking of smartphones…

Suspect ordered to open Apple iPhone with Touch ID
29-year-old Paystar Bkhchadzhyan, a small-time crook charged with identity theft, was ordered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg to swipe an iPhone seized from her boyfriend’s apartment in order to unlock it.

It’s not clear whether the iPhone has been identified as belonging to Bkhchadzhyan based on multiple reports, only that she may have “control over” the device. Nor is it clear — since she has already pleaded no contest to the charge against her — if the iPhone’s contents will be used against her, or against her boyfriend.

It’s also not clear why law enforcement hasn’t used the “gummy bear technique” to open the phone, which would not force Bkhchadzhyan to lift a finger but instead use fingerprints already provided as evidence, bypassing any question of Fifth Amendment violations. Is this simple technique too much effort or too complicated for today’s police force?

DISH TV techs to offer Apple iPhone repair service
Not authorized by Apple, mind you, but DISH TV will offer new service to their customers who use iPhones, including battery and screen replacements. The company anticipates offering the same limited repair services to Android users in the near future. This says something about the transition of content consumption from TV to mobile devices, and the use of mobile devices as TV and content controllers.

LuxLeakers in court this week – Luxembourg’s version of Panama Papers
Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet, former PricewaterhouseCoopers’ employees, appear in court this week on charges they stole and leaked documents on many of PwC’s corporate clients — Accenture, Burberry, Icap, Ikea, Walt Disney Co., Heinz, JP Morgan, FedEx, Microsoft Corp.’s Skype, PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble, Shire Pharmaceuticals to name a few. The documents outline the tax avoidance/evasion strategies employed by these firms with PwC’s assistance and Luxembourg’s implicit or tacit approval. This case should have as much impact as the Panama Papers as the corporations involved are quite large and the Luxembourg government is implicated.

Australia: Your human rights abuses suck, but we Americans have no room to talk
If you don’t watch Australian politics, you should. Aussies have forced approximate 900 refugees to remain indefinitely on Manus Island of Papua New Guinea and the island country of Nauru, which are little more than rocks in the middle of the ocean with penal colonies masquerading as a refugee ‘welcome centers.’ The conditions have been wretched — and they must be if an outlet like Foreign Policy calls Australia’s practice ‘intolerable cruelty.’ Their captivity is now illegal according to PNG’s court, but the refugees are left without recourse. Two refugees have immolated themselves within the last week out of desperation. But Americans have not demanded Australia take the refugees because it would mean having to take some refugees here, too. Oh, and Gitmo — can’t point to island-based human holding pens without allowing other countries to point to Gitmo. Or our immigration detention and deportation processes.

That last bit — both of the immolated refugees were not offered immediate health care — is so disgusting and disheartening I can’t come up with anything more to write. Hope for a better day tomorrow, see you in the morning.

Shell Announces $11 Billion Petrochemical Plant for Iraq: What Could Go Wrong?

Today’s entry in the “What Could Go Wrong?” sweepstakes is quite a beauty, courtesy of Reuters:

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has signed a deal with Iraq worth $11 billion (7 billion pounds) to build a petrochemicals plant in the southern oil hub of Basra, Industry Minister Nasser al-Esawi said on Wednesday.

Esawi told a press conference in Baghdad the Nibras complex, which is expected to come on line within five to six years, would make Iraq the largest petrochemical producer in the Middle East.

“The Nibras complex will be one of the largest (foreign) investments (in Iraq) and the most important in the petrochemical sector in the Middle East,” Esawi said.

Proponents of the deal undoubtedly will point to the fact that Basra is in the far southeastern part of Iraq, far from the swathe of territory controlled by ISIS. Others will even point to the apparent defeat of ISIS in Kobane and how that might signal a turning of the tide in the battle against them. And yes, oil output in Iraq has been steadily rising since that little blip in 2003. As of the time of that linked report from the US Energy Information Administration from 2013, there were other plans for another $24 billion or so in new refineries in Iraq’s oil-producing regions, so why not jump on this Shell plan?

It turns out that there is plenty of fodder for fans of Lee Corso to shout “Not so fast, my friend!” when it comes to this deal. Back in June, there were already rumblings that the big uptick in Iraq violence could threaten expansion of Iraq’s oil sector. Even that article, though, attempted to support the notion that the Basra area remained relatively safe:

As grim as the worst-case situations may be, most analysts still say there is no immediate threat to Iraq’s southern oil fields, which account for approximately 90 percent of the country’s production and oil export. Basra, the heart of Iraq’s oil economy, is situated in an area strongly dominated by Shiites who generally support the central government and are implacable enemies of the Sunni forces on the march in the north.

Badr H. Jafar, chairman of Pearl Petroleum, a consortium that operates in Iraqi Kurdistan, said it was “highly unlikely” that terrorists could disrupt production and operations in southern Iraq.

The New York Times article containing the quote above is dated June 13, 2014. Just a couple of days later, though, we have this:

Turkey’s consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra has been evacuated due to security concerns, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced June 17. The 18 staff members at the consulate, including the consul general, were were taken to Kuwait, Davutoğlu wrote via his Twitter account.

And that wasn’t just a one-off thing. Consider this tweet from October:

A number of airlines discontinued flights to Baghdad because a civilian airplane was hit by bullets there yesterday while landing, but coverage of that halt notes that flights continue in and out of Basra. There was a report January 12 of a plot to attack the port just 20 miles or so from Basra.

There is one more situation that suggests future problems around Basra:

Thousands of Iraqis are living in penury and running out of money after fleeing fighting and settling in the south of the country, the UN’s food agency said on Tuesday, warning that the situation was becoming critical for families in Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

Jane Pearce, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) country director for Iraq, said structures had not yet been put in place to cater for the people fleeing into the three southern provinces.

WFP is distributing food to 50,000 displaced families in Basra, Dhi Qar, Qadisiya, Missan, Wasit, Muthanna, Najaf, Kerbala and Babil.

/snip/

WFP needs $292m for its operations in Iraq this year, and has a shortfall of $200m.

Imagine that. Yet another region where the US has no trouble finding funds for bombs, weapons and “training” and yet the WFP is facing a shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. But never fear, I’m sure my adorable little troll will be around shortly to stamp his foot and inform us how disaster responders in all their glory have the situation safely in hand and the US can continue its work to create even more refugees because sufficient scraps will be found just in time to avert the worst.

And of course, folks living on the edge of starvation and death from exposure will never, ever be radicalized by such an experience. Sure, go ahead and build that $11 billion petrochemical plant. The US war-industrial complex will be happy to spend hundreds of times more than that amount defending the facility.

Per Capita US Support for Pakistan’s Displaced Dwarfs Support for Syrian Refugees

John Kerry in a photo op with Pakistan's Army Chief Raheel Sharif. (ISPR photo)

John Kerry in a photo op with Pakistan’s Army Chief Raheel Sharif. (ISPR photo)


John Kerry visited Pakistan yesterday to provide the delayed announcement of $250 million from the US to aid displaced Pakistanis and rebuild infrastructure in the wake of the Zarb-e-Azb offensive against terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas. We get some detail from the New York Times for how the aid is to be used:

The $250 million in American assistance is to be used to provide food, shelter, medical support, and to restore basic services in Waziristan and the other Federally Administered Tribal Areas, so that the more than 700,000 people who have fled the fighting can return, American officials said. The aid would be redirected from assistance that had already been appropriated for Pakistan.

Of course, even with this repurposing of funds, the US is using it as enticement for what it really wants from Pakistan:

A senior State Department official said before the meetings here that Mr. Kerry would emphasize that Pakistan’s crackdown against militants should be extended to the Haqqani network, which has organized attacks in Afghanistan against American and local forces; to Afghan Taliban fighters who have sought refuge in Pakistan; and to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistani group that is widely believed to be responsible for the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, India.

“Part of the secretary’s core message will be to ensure that actions are met with a real and sustained effort to constrain the ability of the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Afghan Taliban, and other militants who pose a threat to regional stability and to direct U.S. interests,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in accordance with the agency’s procedure for briefing reporters.

To show its gratitude to the US, Pakistan celebrated by hanging seven prisoners during Kerry’s visit.

This level of support from the US for Pakistan’s displaced population puts US support for refugees from Syria’s civil war to shame. While the US pats itself loudly on the back by combining refugee support figures for 2012-2015 to claim a $3 billion commitment, when we look at what has been announced for 2015 (pdf, scroll to page 6), I see only $277 million. Although that is more money for Syrian refugees, there are almost ten times more refugees in the Syrian conflict than in Pakistan. The story above cites 700,000 displaced by current offensive and the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre puts the overall figure for Pakistan at around 1.15 million. By comparison, the same group notes 7.6 million internally displaced Syrians and 2.8 million refugees from Syria in surrounding nations. The total is very nearly half of Syria’s 21.9 million total population.

If the US provided the same per capita support to Syrian refugees in 2015 as it has pledged for Pakistan, the $250 million for 1.1 million Pakistani refugees would become approximately $2.4 billion. Given the dire conditions in Syrian refugee camps this winter, such a commitment would be vital, but don’t look for it anytime soon.

Emergency Fundraising Succeeds: World Food Programme Restarts Suspended Aid for Syrian Refugees

A week ago today, I pointed out the moral depravity of a situation in which the US never hesitates to find funding to increase air strikes and the flow of weapons into Syria and other fronts in the battle against ISIS while the UN World Food Programme was forced to suspend emergency food aid to 1.7 million Syrian refugees due to a funding shortfall. There is a rare bit of good news on that front, as the WFP announced today that the emergency appeal for funds has made up for the shortfall and food aid is restarting. In fact, more than $80 million has been raised, so some funding will carry over into January.

It appears that private donations made up only a small part of this influx of funds:

Among individuals contributing online through wfp.org, the third largest number by nationality were Syrians, after Americans (first) and Canadians (second). The online campaign featured Aloe Blacc’s song “I Need A Dollar” as the soundtrack for the #ADollarALifeline video which launched on social media channels. Almost 14,000 individuals and private sector donors in 158 countries contributed US$1.8 million dollars.

It is indeed heartwarming to see so many individuals step up to do what they can. However, considering how many US amoral contractors are making outrageous amounts of money shipping weapons into the region, I find it repulsive they didn’t make up the funding shortfall entirely on their own. Just their lobbying funds alone could have taken that hit without affecting their other funds. We have not yet gotten the list of countries that stepped up for the bulk of the emergency funds nor how much each gave, but we can only hope that the countries doing the most meddling in the region are also providing the most funding for the residents they have displaced.

Sadly, this stopgap funding is merely the beginning. The New York Times reports this morning that the UN’s budget request for 2015 for all humanitarian assistance will go up 27% over the amount needed in 2014:

The appeal, a barometer of the global impact of wars and disasters, calls for 27 percent more funding in 2015 than the amount requested a year ago for 2014 and is intended to aid more than 57 million people in 22 countries.

The number of people affected by conflict “has reached record levels” for the post-World War II era, Valerie Amos, the United Nations emergency aid chief, told a news conference in Geneva. She said that aid agencies had assessed that 78 million people were in need of assistance, but the appeal targeted only the most vulnerable.

Nearly three-quarters of the funds were designated for just four crises: in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and the protracted but little-reported conflict in Sudan. Other priorities included the Central African Republic, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Yemen.

The number of people displaced by conflict reached the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013 but is still rising “exponentially,” António Guterres, the United Nations refugee chief, told the news conference, climbing to 32,000 a day last year from 14,000 a day in 2011. In 2014, he said, the figure would certainly have increased further.

Given the US role in those countries leading the way in terms of number of refugees, it is fitting that a large portion of the costs of caring for the refugees should fall to us as well. And of course, those first two are problem areas very much because of our meddling. We broke Iraq and have continued to feed its dysfunction ever since. We helped start the unrest in Syria, too. In fact, as the torture report drops today, don’t forget that we relied on Bashar al-Assad as an “ally” for outsourcing of torture early in that program, so getting rid of him is needed to help hide what we did.

However, I still long for the day when the US response to a crisis gets out of the “which group do we fund” approach and instead looks to “how can we help the people” as the approach that will work. As we see from the record numbers of displaced people, our approach now spreads hunger and death. What would happen if instead of sending in weapons, we sent in food, housing construction materials and medical assistance? What if we even actively excluded weapons from these areas?

Of course, that has little chance of happening in our lifetimes. In the meantime, your donations for assistance to Syrian refugees can be made here and the WFP provides updates here.

US Air Strikes in Syria Proceeding as Expected: Civilian Deaths Documented, ISIS Recruitment Up

Last week, besides pointing out the obscene fact that the US Senate approved $500 million for the US to get more involved in the Syrian civil war on the same day the UN announced a $352 million funding shortfall for feeding civilian refugees of the war, I predicted that the “training” of Syrian rebels would fail just like training in Iraq and Afghanistan but civilian deaths from the US air strikes and at the hands of the rebels would greatly aid recruiting in extremist groups like ISIS.

It turns out that ISIS recruiting shot up even on Obama’s announcement of the US effort:

At least 162 people joined the radical al Qaeda offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week after Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information on the conflict.

Islamic State has put particular pressure on rival insurgent groups in this part of Aleppo.

An additional 73 men had joined the group on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the start of the strikes, the Observatory said, bringing the total number since Sept. 10 to at least 235.

“This means these people are not scared. Even if there are air strikes, they still join,” said Rami Abdelrahman, who runs the Observatory.

And, just as could be expected from the “pinpoint” US air strikes, for which we have virtually no on-site intelligence to guide the strikes (other than reconnaissance flights by drones), we are now getting reports of civilian casualties. From Reuters yesterday:

U.S.-led air strikes hit grain silos and other targets in Islamic State-controlled territory in northern and eastern Syria overnight, killing civilians and militants, a group monitoring the war said on Monday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Isn’t that nice? Our intelligence-gathering for the air strikes can’t distinguish ISIS bases from silos used to distribute grain to starving civilians. How many new recruits will ISIS get from families whose only food supply was bombed in that strike or whose family members were killed by it?

Of course, the US military refuses to believe any evidence that it could possibly make a mistake. From the same Reuters story:

The U.S. military said on Monday an American air strike overnight targeted Islamic State vehicles in a staging area adjacent to a grain storage facility near Manbij, and added it had no evidence so far of civilian casualties.

“We are aware of media reports alleging civilian casualties, but have no evidence to corroborate these claims,” said Colonel Patrick Ryder, a spokesman at the U.S. military’s Central Command. He promised that the military would look into the report further, saying it took such matters seriously.

You betcha. I’m sure Central Command will get right on that investigation of how it killed silo workers (and see below for the military admitting that it can’t properly evaluate the effects of strikes). Just as soon as they get the next fifty or so new targets for air strikes put on their targeting lists.

Sadly, this strike on the silos is not the only instance of civilian deaths from the US strikes. The Daily Mail has more information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about yesterday’s strike and the overall civilian death toll from all strikes:

Mr Abdulrahman, said today: ‘These were the workers at the silos. They provide food for the people.’ The airstrikes ‘destroyed the food that was stored there’.

The group says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition airstrikes.

And, of course, the US has not acknowledged any of the previous civilian casualties, either. All they will say is that the evidence is “inconclusive”:

Earlier Monday, the Pentagon admitted that some assessments of civilian casualties were “inconclusive” since the U.S. was only using drones to assess the results of strikes from the air.

“The evidence is going to be inconclusive often. Remember we’re using [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] to determine the battle damage assessment,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said Monday.

A defense official told The Hill earlier this month that accurate assessments of damage from strikes are impossible without U.S. forces on the ground to exploit the attack sites, since Iraqi and Syrian partners did not have the capability.

Gosh, I don’t understand how we can have sufficient analytical ability to select targets but insufficient ability to assess the results of strikes on those targets. Sounds to me like the military is just bombing Syria for shits and giggles.

And to help contractors sell more bombs.

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.'”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300” Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

Starving, Displaced Civilians: Ongoing Tragedy of War in Syria

image_gallery_4065_11646_1393414133

The iconic photo above, provided by the UN and showing hungry refugees in Yarmouk Camp lining up to receive food, has helped to raise awareness of the plight of millions of displaced civilians from Syria who are now facing a fourth year of war. Despite the spate of publicity over the photo (and plans for even more exposure, see below), the UN is now warning that with the world’s focus possibly shifting to the Crimean situation, these starving refugees are at risk of being forgotten again:

The head of the United Nation’s refugee agency said on Tuesday it must be ready in case Ukraine’s crisis causes refugees to flee Crimea, but his biggest worry is that “a total disaster” could occur if the international community diverts its attention away from Syria’s conflict.

Antonio Guterres, the head of the U.N.’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said in an interview that little progress was being made in efforts by the United States and Russia, now at loggerheads over Ukraine, to bring Syria’s warring sides together after the collapse of talks in Geneva last month.

/snip/

With the Syrian conflict now heading toward a fourth year this week and more people fleeing the war, the UN has warned that Syrians are about to replace Afghans as the world’s largest refugee population.

There are currently more than 2.5 million Syrian registered by the U.N. in neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq, but Guterres said it is believed more than 3 million have fled the conflict.

“It is absolutely essential that the international community mobilizes massively to support Lebanon, to support Jordan, to support all the other neighboring countries to make sure that they are able to cope with the challenge and to preserve the stability of the region,” he said.

The photo was taken in the Yarmouk refugee camp. From the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA):

Our spokesperson Chris Gunness has the following to say on the situation in Yarmouk Camp

“UNRWA has received credible reports that clashes and shelling intensified in Yarmouk during the night of 9 March and continued throughout the day of 11 March. Ongoing hostilities have now prevented UNRWA from distributing humanitarian assistance in Yarmouk for eleven consecutive days.

UNRWA remains deeply concerned about the desperate humanitarian situation in Yarmouk and the fact that repeated resort to armed force has, over the previous eleven days, disrupted its efforts to alleviate the desperate plight of civilians. UNRWA reiterates its strong demands that all parties cease hostilities and seek to resolve their differences exclusively by peaceful means. UNRWA also urges all concerned parties to immediately allow and facilitate the resumption of food distribution to civilians inside Yarmouk.”

Think about that. The very site where this photo was taken has been shelled as recently as yesterday and no food supplies have reached the camp in eleven days. Sadly, even the photo itself has been subject to attack, with the New York Times today providing information from photography experts confirming its authenticity:

Digital photography experts said they believed that the image was real.

Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth College who specializes in image forensics, said a relatively simple “clone test” — an examination to reveal whether individuals in the crowd looked alike and would thus be evidence of alteration — showed no such duplications.

He also said the consistency of light and shadow in the photograph would have been enormously difficult to fabricate. More persuasive, he said, was a video of the Yarmouk camp shot at the same time that corroborated the scene.

“There is no evidence that photo is fake,” Mr. Farid said in a telephone interview. “So now everybody should shut up about it.”

Here is the video Farid mentions, and the opening scenes do indeed match the photo in location and crowd size. Further, we get multiple vantage points in the video, making it quite clear the crowd was real: Read more