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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

On Malaysian Crash, Obama’s Case Against Russia Disintegrates

Tuesday the US government admitted it had been bluffing about its certainty that Russia was behind the downing of Malaysian Air Flight MH-17 over Ukraine.

This dramatic turn of events started with State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf claiming Monday that the State Department’s certainty of Russian involvement in the apparent downing of the plane was primarily based on “social media” evidence.

That means with a likely budget of more than $100 billion, the US Intelligence Community is making decisions that may involve global nuclear war based on people’s Tweets and YouTubes!

Asked in Monday’s State Department briefing about US government evidence for its claims of Russian government involvement and separatist direct blame for the shooting down of the plane, Harf said:

You saw the Secretary yesterday speak very clearly about our assessment that this was an SA-11 fired from Russian-backed, separatist-controlled territory; that we know – we saw in social media afterwards, we saw videos, we saw photos of the pro-Russian separatists bragging about shooting down an aircraft.

She added:

Based on open information which is basically common sense, right – we know where it was fired from, we know who has this weapon

Who needs evidence — it’s “common sense”! Right?

But then the Russian military command did an interesting thing. They held a press conference laying out the evidence they had, including information from air traffic controllers and satellites, and simply asked the US to do the same to prove its assertions of Russian complicity. They did not claim that the US-backed government in Kiev shot down the plane, they asked that government to explain why a jet fighter showed up on radar ascending rapidly toward the Malaysian plane shortly before it disappeared.

The Russians asked the US to share the intelligence upon which it based its claim that the Russians were directly or indirectly behind the attack on the passenger plane.

The State Department responded with its spokeswoman citing social media and secret information that could not be shared.

It was a near exact replay of similar US government claims about Syria’s Assad using chemical weapons last year. That time, Secretary of State Kerry claimed dozens of times on television that “we know” Assad fired the chemicals into the village. Yet the US Intelligence Community refused to sign off on his claims and the Obama Administration was forced to release what it called a “Government Assessment” rather than the standard Intelligence Community consensus assessment.

And now once again — for the time being — the US was forced to back down. In an off-the-record briefing with “senior intelligence officials” Tuesday, this was what was left of Kerry’s assuredness just days ago of Russia’s blame in the matter:

[W]e don’t know a name, we don’t know a rank and we’re not even 100 percent sure of a nationality. …There is not going to be a Perry Mason moment here.

Was this another US Intelligence Community revolt against the warmongers and ideologues in the State Department?

From certainty that Russia and the “pro-Russian” rebels in east Ukraine were deliberately behind the attack, which as Obama stated Monday internationalized the conflict (hinting at a more aggressive response, perhaps NATO?), Tuesday’s press briefing by senior intelligence officials sang a different tune:

“Five days into it (following the crash) it does appear to be a mistake.”

After four days of threats from Obama and Kerry (and their Twittering minions) that Russia would be punished for its role in downing the plane, it is now the US Intelligence Community’s assessment that the shoot-down was a “mistake” and they are “not even 100 percent sure” who shot it down.

About the claim that Russia was providing the rebels in eastern Ukraine with weapons, the US intelligence officials said, “[w]e think they’re continuing to do it.”

From Kerry’s certainty to US Intelligence Community’s “we think” is an enormous chasm, and as the excellent Robert Parry points out, it represents a certain amount of courage among US government intelligence analysts who come to conclusions very different from the pre-determined conclusions of their superiors.

Writes Parry:

If you were, say, a U.S. intelligence analyst sifting through the evidence and finding that some leads went off in a different direction, toward the Ukrainian army, for instance, you might hold back on your conclusions knowing that crossing senior officials who had already pronounced the verdict could be devastating to your career. It would make a lot more sense to just deep-six any contrary evidence.

So here we are, with no US smoking gun (thus far). Only social media and highly suspect voice intercepts and satellite photos of BUK launchers.

Russia “shares responsibility” for the shoot-down because, according to the US, it provided training and weapons to the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Only according to a CNN reportbased on a classified intelligence assessment, “there is no intelligence suggesting Russia ever transferred [a BUK missile system] across the border.”

Of course all of this might change. But in the meantime, despite the arrogance of the mainstreamers, those of us skeptical of another US cry for war appear to be justified.

Credit to Lewrockwell.com

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Bubonic plague death in Yumen, China sparks quarantine

Beijing: China has sealed off parts of its northwestern city of Yumen after a resident died of bubonic plague last week, state media reported on Tuesday.

A 38-year-old victim was infected by a marmot, a wild rodent, and died on July 16. Several districts of the city of about 100,000 people in Gansu province were subsequently turned into special quarantine zones, Xinhua said.

It said 151 people who came into direct contact with the victim were also placed in quarantine. None have so far shown any signs of infection, the news agency said.

A medical worker, wearing full protective suit, examines a man in an earlier outbreak scare in China in 2003. Photo: Reuters

The city had set aside 1 million yuan ($171,000) for emergency vaccinations, the Jiuquan Daily, a local newspaper, said on Tuesday.

The plague is a bacterial disease spread by the fleas of wild rodents such as marmots. While the disease can be effectively treated, patients can die 24 hours after the initial infection, the World Health Organisation says.

Outbreaks in China have been rare in recent years, and most have happened in remote rural areas of the west. China's state broadcaster said there were 12 diagnosed cases and three deaths in the province of Qinghai in 2009, and one in Sichuan in 2012.

Beijing's disease control centre sought to dispel worries about a wider outbreak of the disease in China, saying on its website (www.bjcdc.org) that the risk of the disease spreading to the capital was minimal.

Gansu is one of China's poorest and most remote provinces. According to World Health Organization statistics, about 1000 to 3000 people get the plague every year, including in the United States. The worst-affected regions these days are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the 14th century, the disease spread from China along Silk Road trade routes and entered Europe, wiping out roughly half the continent's population (and exacting a similar toll in China, according to some accounts).

This dark chapter in human history is remembered as the Black Death.

In the late 19th century, a newer pandemic, dubbed the Modern Plague, spread from China to the British colonial entrepot of Hong Kong and then to port cities elsewhere.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 million people died as a result.

Credit to SMH.co.au

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/bubonic-plague-death-in-yumen-china-sparks-quarantine-xinhua-20140723-zvx4w.html#ixzz38Ilip9Js

Rebels Shoot Down Two Ukraine Fighter Jets

At this point it is beyond any one (or countless number of) human beings to distinguish truth from lies from epic propaganda, so we won't even try. Here is the latest relevant news that just crossed the stream from Ukraine's defense ministry. From Bloomberg:

More from Reuters: Pro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, a spokesman for Ukraine's military operations said on Wednesday. The spokesman said the two were downed near Savur Mogila in eastern Ukraine. No details were known about the pilots.

And from the WSJ:

Pro-Russian separatists shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets Wednesday over a town close to where Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -2.17% Flight 17 crashed last week, a Ukrainian defense ministry spokesman said.

Two SU-25 planes were brought down near the town of Saur-Mogila, which sits close to the Russian border and is 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Torez, where the civilian jet was brought down last Thursday, the spokesman said.

The alleged shoot-down of the jets would mark the first time a plane has been brought down over Ukraine since the crash.

The spokesman said the army dispatched a team to the scene to establish the exact circumstances of the downing of the jets. Rebels didn't immediately comment

As a reminder, it was the same Ukraine which hours before the MH17 crash insisted that a Russian fighter jet had downed a Ukraine warplane, a story which promptly disappeared once Russia rejected it as idiotic and once the much more severe fallout from the MH17 disaster hit.

Somehow we have a feeling this is merely yet another attempt by Ukraine to keep the pressure on the rebels now that the international response to MH17 has been muted by nearly 100% following Europe's complete inability to agree on what if any sanctions should be imposed on Putin, and the US state department presenting evidence of Russian involvement that can best be described as laughable.

An alleged clip of the Su-25 downing:

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Iraq's Waterless Christians

A checkpoint in Qaraqosh, Iraq

Qaraqosh is one of the last refuges in northern Iraq for Christians fleeing persecution by the militants of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, who swept into the region in June. A historic Christian city of 50,000 about 19 miles southeast of Mosul, Qaraqosh is under the formidable protection of the well-armed Peshmerga—the Kurdish fighters whose autonomous region disputes the area with both ISIL and the Iraqi central government based in Baghdad. Now, in a further effort to oust Christians from land they have inhabited for two millennia, the Islamic militants have begun turning off a precious utility: water.

Since taking Mosul on June 10, ISIL militants have squeezed Qaraqosh and nearby Christian villages by blocking the pipes that connect the communities with the Tigris river. Without a sufficient number of deep wells to fill the gap, the city must have water trucked in, at huge cost, from Kurdish-controlled areas just 15 miles away. Since ISIL took over key refineries in northern Iraq, the price of fuel has spiked across the region. The parched residents of Qaraqosh must pay about $10 every other day to fill up emergency water tanks, no small sum in this economically depressed part of Iraq.

Outside one of the town’s 12 churches, people queue from 6 a.m. until midnight to get their daily rations from a well. Flatbed trucks are joined by children with pushcarts and riders on bicycles bearing empty jugs. “Our lives revolve around water,” says Laith, 28, a school teacher who returned with his family a day earlier from a suburb of Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital, 45 miles away, to which thousands of threatened Christians have migrated. Though aid agencies have erected several water depots around town, supplies are limited, barely enough to sustain large families in the 100-degree-plus heat. Plans to dig new wells will take at least several months to fulfill.

Christians have been fleeing ISIL-controlled territory since the militants and their allies overwhelmed the garrisons of the Baghdad government in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and its most Christian. The Islamic State, which sees itself as the restoration of the caliphate to rule all Muslims, immediately imposed anti-Christian rules, ordering Muslim employers to fire Christian workers. The homes of Christian religious leaders were ransacked and occupied by militants. A Christian population as old as the faith shrank from 3,000 families to several hundred in weeks.

On July 18, ISIL ordered non-Muslims to convert or pay a tax last imposed during the Ottoman empire. If not, they would face “death by the sword,” according to a decree that was read out in city mosques and broadcast from loudspeakers around town. Many families then fled to Qaraqosh. Keen to absorb the disputed territory, the Kurds dug in around Qaraqosh and three smaller Christian villages, to the relief of refugees and locals who have faced the mortar attacks accompanying ISIL’s offensive.

“The [militants] want to erase our history and break our faith,” says Father Amanoel Adel Kalloo, a Syrian Catholic priest from Mosul who has taken shelter in Qaraqosh with more than 470 families. “We must struggle to preserve this, but so much has already been lost.” Father Yosef, a second displaced clergyman, said that the hard deadline set by the militants to depart or convert has forced people to abandon homes and businesses, often with little more than a car and some clothing.

Apart from the enforced drought conditions, electrical blackouts last most of the day. Merchants say business has been hamstrung further by a trade “embargo” that ISIL has placed on surrounding Muslim towns that used to trade with Qaraqosh. Shops are mostly shuttered, and work is scare. Firaz Petros, 27, says the situation has compelled him to car-pool an hour each way to Erbil, where he works in waste disposal. “We’re barely earning enough to live,” he says, adding that he and fellow local commuters share the cost of a $45 daily gas bill.

Credit to Businessweek