Thursday ReadsPosted: October 1, 2015
It sure looks like Vladimir Putin is trying to embarrass President Obama with the Russian air strikes in Syria. The Russians have bombed U.S.-supported rebels rather than ISIS. From The Guardian:
Russia has bombed targets in north-west Syria for a second day, as the Kremlin said it was going after a list of well known militant organisations and not just Islamic State.
The Russian defence ministry said planes hit 12 Isis targets, including a command centre and two arms depots, though the areas where it said the strikes took place are not held by Isis.
Activists reported a number of strikes in the country’s north and centre, including strikes in the province of Hama, which they said hit locations controlled by the US-backed rebel group, Tajamu Alezzah.
A spokesman for the Syrian civil defence said a strike also hit Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province.
“They targeted the northern neighbourhood of the town, which only houses civilians, but there are very few people there because of repeated airstrikes,” the spokesman said.
Al Mayadeen, a Lebanese pro-Assad TV channel, separately reported that Russian aircraft had launched 30 fresh airstrikes against Jaysh al-Fateh, a powerful rebel coalition that includes Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida affiliated al-Nusra Front.
The Daily Beast: Putin Hits West’s Rebels Instead of ISIS.
A Russian general asked the U.S. to remove its planes from Syrian airspace Wednesday, just hours before Russian airstrikes began there.
The Russian three-star general, who was part of the newly formed intelligence cell with Iraq, Iran, and the Syrian government, arrived in Baghdad at 9 a.m. local time and informed U.S. officials that Russian strikes would be starting imminently—and that the U.S. should refrain from conducting strikes and move any personnel out. The only notice the U.S. received about his visit was a phone call one hour earlier.
The Russian strikes were centered about the city of Homs, according to initial accounts in the local press and in social media. That’s significant, because Homs is not known to be an ISIS stronghold.
This can’t be good.
“The northern countryside of Hama has no presence of ISIS at all and is under the control of the Free Syrian Army,” Major Jamil al-Saleh of the Free Syrian Army told Reuters. U.S. officials corroborated this account to The Daily Beast.
The FSA has receieved U.S.-made anti-tank missiles; the CIA and Pentagon have been recruiting FSA soldiers as proxies against ISIS.
“There is no Islamic State in this area,” another FSA commandertold Reuters. “The Russians are applying great pressure on the revolution. This will strengthen terrorism, everyone will head toward extremism. Any support for Assad in this way is strengthening terrorism.”
The Washington Post: Obama administration scrambles as Russia attempts to seize initiative in Syria.
UNITED NATIONS — Blindsided by the unexpected swiftness of Russia’s air attacks in Syria, the Obama administration scrambled Wednesday to retake the diplomatic and military initiatives, saying that it would not be bullied into supporting President Bashar al-Assad and that it was about to significantly expand its own Syrian air operations.
After spending much of the day together here behind closed doors, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said in terse evening statements that U.S. and Russian military officials would meet, perhaps as soon as Thursday, to “deconflict” their operations in Syria.
Standing side by side outside the U.N. Security Council chamber, they said they had reached some preliminary agreements on a way forward toward a negotiated political solution to Syria’s civil war but indicated they were far from agreed on its outcome. They took no questions.
“We have a lot of work to do, understanding fully how urgent this is,” Kerry said.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed off Western concerns, suggesting that other countries “get involved” in Syria under Russia’s leadership. Senior foreign policy spokesmen in Moscow said the action proved Russia was a force to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Administration officials countered that the airstrikes showed only Russian weakness and what White House press secretary Josh Earnest said was growing concern “about losing influence in the one client state they have in the Middle East.”
This is really making me nervous–probably even more so because I’m not sure how to interpret this news.
Back in the USA, Republicans in Congress are still focused on such non-issues as Benghazi, Hillary Clinton’s emails, and trying to cripple Planned Parenthood–although I’m sure they’ll find a little time to criticize Obama’s foreign policy as well.
The media is filled with descriptions of the contents of meaningless Clinton emails and suggestions that her server may have been hacked. Of course the State Department server actually has been hacked several times and so have a number of other government servers. So perhaps Clinton’s private server was actually safer.
Associated Press reports: Russia-linked hackers tried to access Clinton server.
Russia-linked hackers tried at least five times to pry into Hillary Rodham Clinton’s private email account while she was secretary of state, emails released Wednesday show. It is unclear if she clicked on any attachments and exposed her account.
Clinton received the infected emails, disguised as speeding tickets from New York, over four hours early the morning of Aug. 3, 2011. The emails instructed recipients to print the attached tickets. Opening an attachment would have allowed hackers to take over control of a victim’s computer.
Security researchers who analyzed the malicious software in September 2011 said that infected computers would transmit information from victims to at least three server computers overseas, including one in Russia. That doesn’t necessarily mean Russian intelligence or citizens were responsible.
Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Clinton’s Democratic presidential campaign, said: “We have no evidence to suggest she replied to this email or that she opened the attachment. As we have said before, there is no evidence that the system was ever breached. All these emails show is that, like millions of other Americans, she received spam.”
Practically every Internet user is inundated with spam or virus-riddled messages daily. But these messages show hackers had Clinton’s email address, which was not public, and sent her a fake traffic ticket from New York state, where she lives. Most commercial antivirus software at the time would have detected the software and blocked it.
The phishing attempts highlight the risk of Clinton’s unsecure email being pried open by foreign intelligence agencies, even if others also received the virus concealed as a speeding ticket from Chatham, New York. The email misspelled the name of the city, came from a supposed New York City government account and contained a “Ticket.zip” file that would have been a red flag.
Sigh . . .
On the Benghazi front, erstwhile Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy opened his big mouth yesterday and gave Democrats an amazing gift. Bloomberg:
…the Republican leading the race to replace John Boehner as House speaker said it for them, boasting Tuesday that his party has spent nearly three years dragging her through investigations of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi in hopes of doing serious damage to her presidential campaign.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy boasted on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.” “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would’ve known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.”
Wow. The longest investigation in House history–longer than the Watergate hearings!–was totally trumped up, and the next House Speaker admits it publicly. Democrats quickly responded.
“It’s just jaw-dropping,” said former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has endorsed Clinton. “The Republicans lied through their teeth when they said this wasn’t about politics.”
Clinton herself said on Wednesday that McCarthy’s comments were “deeply distressing.”
“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost but of everybody who has served our country,” she said in an interview with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton.
Earlier, Clinton campaign press secretary Brian Fallon called McCarthy’s words “a damning display of honesty by the possible next speaker of the House,” who has “just confessed that the committee set up to look into the deaths of four brave Americans at Benghazi is a taxpayer-funded sham. This confirms Americans’ worst suspicions about what goes on in Washington.”
The Benghazi committee’s top Democrat, Maryland Representative Elijah Cummings, said in a Wednesday statement that McCarthy had simply acknowledged what “Republicans never dared admit in public.” He added that Republicans “have blatantly abused their authority in Congress” by spending more than $4.5 million in taxpayer funds on the Benghazi committee “to pay for a political campaign against Hillary Clinton.”
New York Representative Louise Slaughter, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, added: “That’s not what we’re here for and, in fact, I think that might be impeachable for crying out loud.”
Someone in the government also chose the day after Republican members attacked Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards for nearly five hours, someone in the government to leak some embarrassing information about the committee’s chair Jason Chaffetz. From the Washington Post:
An assistant director of the Secret Service urged that unflattering information the agency had in its files about a congressman critical of the service should be made public, according to a government watchdog report released Wednesday.
“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out,” Assistant Director Edward Lowery wrote in an e-mail to a fellow director on March 31, commenting on an internal file that was being widely circulated inside the service. “Just to be fair.”
Two days later, a news Web site reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, had applied to be a Secret Service agent in 2003 and been rejected.
That information was part of a Chaffetz personnel file stored in a restricted Secret Service database and required by law to be kept private….
The Chaffetz file, contained in the restricted database, had been peeked at by about 45 Secret Service agents, some of whom shared it with their colleagues in March and April, the report found. This prying began after a contentious March 24 House hearing at which Chaffetz scolded the director and the agency for its series of security gaffes and misconduct. The hearing sparked anger inside the agency.
In another slap in Chaffetz’s face the organization that has been running the right wing campaign against Planned Parenthood admitted that the video that Carly Fiorina described in the last Republican debate had nothing to do with Planned Parenthood and the baby Fiorina saw had not survived an abortion. Raw Story: ‘This wasn’t an abortion’: CNN forces anti-Planned Parenthood group to admit Fiorina was wrong.
David Daleiden, the project lead Center for Medical Progress’ anti-Planned Parenthood campaign, admitted on Wednesday that an alleged fetus on a table that GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina described during a graphic anti-abortion rant was actually from a miscarriage.
Read the rest at the Raw Story link.
Finally, some reactions to Kim Davis’ meeting with Pope Francis for you to explore:
Vanity Fair: Kim Davis and Pope Francis’s Curious Meeting.
Tuesday night, lawyers for Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after she was jailed, announced that she had been invited to a secret meeting with Pope Franciswhile they were both in Washington, D.C.
The Vatican initially refused to confirm or deny those reports, which suddenly made things far more confusing. On Wednesday morning, however, the Vatican changed its tune, and confirmed the meeting to The New York Times.
“I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” said Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi.
Robert Moynihan at Inside the Vatican, a magazine covering Catholic news, broke the story on Tuesday night, citing “Vatican sources” as confirmation. The New York Timesfollowed up with an interview with Davis’s lawyer, Mathew Staver, who said that yes, totally, the meeting definitely took place.
During the visit, Staver said the Pontiff gave Davis two rosaries and told her to “stay strong.”
According to Staver, the invitation was extended through the Vatican itself, and seeing as Davis and her husband, Joe, were in town to receive an award from a conservative advocacy group, they decided to briefly visit the Pope at the Apostolic Nunciature right before he left for New York City.
Staver added that he expected the Vatican would soon send them photos of the visit.
As far as I’m concerned this is so disgusting that I think it might overshadow anything good that came from the Pope’s visit to the U.S. The fact that the meeting was kept secret until Francis was back in the Vatican makes it even more awful and shameful. The Pope probably doesn’t understand the damage he did, but along with the canonization of Junipero Sera this will leave a very bad taste in the mouths of many Americans.
More links to peruse:
Vanessa Urquhart at Slate: Why Pope Francis’ Meeting With Kim Davis Is Such a Disaster.
Trevor Martin at The Guardian: Pope Francis’s meeting with Kim Davis should come as no surprise.
So . . . what else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread and have a terrific Thursday!