19 January 2016

Plane comparison: Pakistan Thunder versus Indian Tejas

This will be the first appearance of Tejas at a foreign air show, and is bound to be compared with Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder fighter produced with Chinese help.
Written by Sushant Singh
New DelhiUpdated: Jan 18, 2016
India’s indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas reached Sakhir Air Base last week to participate in the Bahrain International Air Show 2016, which will be held from January 21. This will be the first appearance of Tejas at a foreign air show, and is bound to be compared with Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder fighter produced with Chinese help.

JF-17 Thunder is a third-generation fighter co-produced by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC), Kamra, and China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation. It has been in service since 2010, with the PAC rolling out the 16th of its 50 Block-2 aircraft to complete the PAF’s fourth JF-17 squadron last month.

LCA Tejas has not been inducted into the IAF yet. Starting in 1984, Tejas has been designed and developed by Aeronautical Development Agency with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Defence Research and Development Organisation. Test pilots have done more than 3,000 flights on the fighter, which still awaits IAF’s Final Operational Clearance. The IAF has ordered six squadrons (120 aircraft) of Tejas Mark-1A but there is no certainty over the induction schedule.

Raghuram Rajan: No one wants to go after rich and well-connected wrongdoer

Rajan also raised the issue whether the RBI is taking a lenient view against malpractices in the banking sector and said there’s “a sense that we do not enforce compliance”.
New DelhiPublished:Jan 18, 2016,
Is India a weak state which punishes only the small and weak? RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan who made some plain speaking to his colleagues in the central bank has said “the rich and well-connected wrong-doer” is virtually going scot-free.
In a stinging attack on the issue of culture of compliance, Rajan said, “it has often been said that India is a weak state. Not only are we accused of not having the administrative capacity of ferreting out wrong doing, we do not punish the wrong-doer — unless he is small and weak.”
According to the RBI Governor, this belief feeds on itself. “No one wants to go after the rich and well-connected wrong-doer, which means they get away with even more. If we are to have strong sustainable growth, this culture of impunity should stop,” he said in a recent message to the RBI employees.
Rajan’s observations assume significance as banks are yet to go after big loan defaulters while giving small borrowers a raw deal. “Importantly, this does not mean being against riches or business, as some would like to portray, but being against wrong-doing,” he said.
Rajan also raised the issue whether the RBI is taking a lenient view against malpractices in the banking sector and said there’s “a sense that we do not enforce compliance”.

“My sense is that we need a continuing conversation about tightening both detection as well as penalties for non-compliance throughout the hierarchy. We cannot be seen as a paper tiger,” Rajan said in a message to RBI employees. His comments have come at a time when the RBI and the banking sector are struggling to tackle rising non-performing assets (NPAs) and willful defaults.


Monday, 18 January 2016 | KG Suresh
Traditionally, the responses over the growing Maoist problem have swung from one extreme to another. If certain people view every Adivasi as a Maoist-sympathiser, others find the Maoists as legitimate fighters against inequality. We need to find middle ground

For a long time, India had witnessed consensus, political and otherwise, on issues of foreign policy and national security. Any threat to the country’s security, internal or external, saw the nation overcoming its narrow differences and uniting in its resolve to defeat the nefarious designs of the enemy. A similar consensus existed in matters of foreign policy as well. One vividly remembers how senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee represented India at the United Nations and backed to the hilt the then Indian Government even while being a prominent Opposition leader.

Over the years, this consensus on security and foreign affairs has gradually faded away with some Opposition leaders going to the extent of attacking the policies of the ruling party even on foreign soil. On internal security issues too, such as terrorism and Left-wing extremism, the political divergence has grown to the extent that harsh measures and legislations taken by one Government are repealed by the successor dispensation. Apart from weakening the nation’s resolve to put a united fight against such forces, the open display of differences also shows the country in poor light.

It is but natural that every political party has a right to have its own views on critical issues confronting the nation. However, while one may disagree on the modus operandi, what is disturbing is the growing differences over the problem itself. For example, it is not necessary that all political parties hold the same view about ‘Operation Greenhunt’, but the problem arises when you don’t even have consensus on the basic premises that violence has no place in a democratic country and any outfit which takes the law in its hands has to be dealt with severely, if it refuses to avail of the opportunity to shun the path. And when political parties take the help of these very anti-national forces to win elections, it crosses all limits of a democratic and civilised polity.

A conservative turn - Excluding the poor

Mukul Kesavan 
The marginalization of the poor in local politics is a cross-party endeavour 
India's Constitution isn't perfect. No document drafted by committee can be. But it is a miracle. In the middle of the 20th century, against a backdrop of genocidal violence, the Constituent Assembly wrote the rules for liberal democracy on a continental scale. In the most unequal place on earth, the founders insisted that every adult had the right to vote and stand for election regardless of sex, education, status or wealth. In a stroke they made mass democracy the political norm, not a distant goal to be reached in baby steps.

They weren't magicians. India remained an ugly, hierarchical society riven by discrimination and prejudice. But at the level of political principle those prejudices were orphaned because the Constitution did not own them. It went further: it institutionalized affirmative action by reserving political, administrative and educational opportunities for Dalits and tribals, Independent India's most exploited and marginalized citizens. The Constitution was, in effect, a charter of political correctness, a blueprint for turning an old country into a new republic.
Political correctness is the term disgruntled conservatives use to snipe at civility and consideration in public discourse. The antithesis of political correctness is a conservative common sense that services the status quo by using arguments derived from tradition, culture and authenticity.

This could be your aunt sagely observing that it takes three generations of literacy for the 'low-born' to become fit for responsible white collar jobs. It could be a modern young professional barring the woman who cleans his lavatory from doing kitchen duties for reasons of hygiene. It could be a politician arguing that in a predominantly Hindu country it is reasonable to defer to Hindu sensibilities. It could be a sociologist claiming tribal people were best understood as primitive Hindus. Or it could be state legislatures passing laws to disqualify the uneducated, the indebted and the ill from contesting local elections because they were unfit to be leaders. All of these positions rationalize a conservative consensus where paternalism rules and the poor and marginal know their place.

Pakistani Government Puts JeM Terror Group Leader in ‘Protective Custody’ After Latest Terror Attack on Indian Air Base

Pakistan again puts Jaish-e-Mohammed leader under ‘protective custody’
Bill Roggio, The Long War Journal, January 16, 2016

The Pakistani government has placed the leader of of the al Qaeda-linked Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist group under “protective custody” after the Indian government implicated his group in multi-day assault at an airbase in Punjab province. Masood Azhar, the Jaish-e-Mohammed emir, has been place under house arrest and in protective custody at least three other times in the past.
Azhar’s detention was confirmed on Jan. 14 by Rana Sanaullah, the Law Minister for Pakistan’s Punjab province. “When asked if his custody can be termed an ‘arrest’, the provincial law minister explained that Azhar will only face arrest and legal action if his involvement in the Pathankot attack is proved beyond doubt,” Dawn reported.
The Jan. 2 attack on the Pathankot Air Base in Indian’s Punjab province lasted several days. Seven Indian security personnel were killed in the attack, which was carried out by a small team thought to be commanded by Jaish-e-Mohammed handlers based inside Pakistan. Indian police said they intercepted communications between the handlers and members of the Jaish-e-Mohammed assault team.

Despite the mountain of evidence against Azhar and Jaish-e-Mohammed for their role in numerous terrorist attacks, Pakistan refuses to crack down on the group and its leader. Azhar is only placed under house arrest or protective custody when coming under external pressure.
Azhar is listed by the US as a specially designated global terrorist. His brother, Abdul Rauf Azhar, senior leader in Jaish-e-Mohammed, is also listed as a global terrorist. The US has also listed Jaish-e-Mohammed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for conducting terrorist attacks in South Asia.

Lessons from a would-be suicide bomber in Pakistan on how to defeat terrorism

Listening to the thinking process and justification of potential terrorists is critical to finding a path to defeat terrorism.
A picture given to me for my 40th birthday hangs in my home study. It is a lovely still-life of a fruit bowl masterfully drawn in coloured pencil. Amarah (not her real name), a 19-year-old intern, drew it for me during the time I worked for the United Nations in Islamabad.
Amarah had had a tough life until then. She was not well-off and struggled to stay at university. She was an only child brought up by a single parent. What was more difficult was that she was brought up by a single father. In her culture this made for a very bleak future for a young woman.

Amarah was volunteering with the massive two-and-a-half-year-long relief and reconstruction campaign following the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Over the time we worked together, our conversations covered many subjects, from religion (she, a devout Muslim, and I, an avowed atheist) to politics (Pakistan was still a dictatorship), to life in general.
By the time I turned 40 we had become close friends – perhaps too close for our age, religious and cultural differences – hence why the picture has such meaning. I liked her and hoped that she would have a good life.

Iran's oil tankers point towards India and Europe as clock ticks down on sanctions

The T.I. Europe Ultra Large Crude Carrier's (ULCC) movements off the shores of Malacca over the past year are seen on an Eikon ship-tracking screen in Singapore in this picture taken January 14, 2016.
With Iran ready to resume business as usual with the world under a historic nuclear deal, Tehran will target India, Asia's fastest-growing major oil market, and old partners in Europe with hundreds of thousands of barrels of its crude.
Iran expects the United Nations nuclear watchdog to confirm on Friday it has curtailed its nuclear programme, paving the way for the unfreezing of billions of dollars of assets and an end to bans that have crippled its oil exports.

Tehran plans to lift exports by 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) post-sanctions and gradually raise shipments by the same amount again, adding to a global glut and likely putting more pressure on oil prices which have already dropped 70 percent since 2014, to below $30 per barrel.
Iran has 22 Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) floating off its coast, with 13 fully or almost fully loaded, mapping data on Thomson Reuters' Eikon showed, carrying enough crude to meet India's import needs for almost a week.

A senior Iranian source close to supply negotiations said that the country - which has the world's fourth-biggest proven oil reserves - was targeting India as its main destination for crude.
"Indian crude demand is growing faster than other Asian countries. Like our competitors, we see this country as one of the main targets for Asian sales," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iran hopes to raise its exports to India by 200,000 bpd, up from the 260,000 bpd currently shipped under sanctions' restrictions, the official said.

The End Of The Made In China Era

The "Made in China" era may be coming to an end, as costs and wages there rise and manufacturing moves back to the USA.

Source: http://mbaonline.pepperdine.edu/made-in-china-infographic/

What Is The Chinese Trilemma?


Vivek Kaul is the author of the 'Easy Money' trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek
16 Jan, 2016

Why did China allow a gradual depreciation of the yuan against the dollar over the last six months?
As I discussed in an earlier column , China has been using its massive foreign exchange reserves to defend the value of the yuan against the dollar. Between December 2014 and December 2015, the People’s Bank of China, the Chinese central bank, has used $557 billion to defend the yuan against the dollar.

In the process the Chinese foreign exchange reserves fell by 14.5 percent to $3.33 trillion between December 2014 and December 2015. Interestingly, this is the first time since December 1999 that Chinese foreign exchange reserves have fallen during the course of a year.
For more than eighteen months, the total amount of dollars leaving China has been higher than the dollars coming into it. The Chinese foreign exchange market is heavily rigged by the Chinese central bank. In a freer environment, as dollars would have left China, those taking their money out of China would have sold yuan and bought dollars. This would have pushed up the demand for dollars.

In the process, the dollar would have appreciated and the yuan depreciated. China has intervened heavily in the foreign exchange market over the years to ensure that the yuan has had a more or less fixed value against the dollar, for extended periods of time.
In an environment where more dollars are leaving China than entering it, fixing the value of the yuan against the dollar is a tricky thing to do. People taking their money out of China need to sell yuan and buy dollars. In a freer market, this would mean the yuan depreciating and the dollar appreciating. In order to maintain a fixed value, the Chinese central bank has to intervene.

A Towering Chinese Debt Mountain Looms Over Markets

January 14, 2016 — 2:30 PM ISTUpdated on January 15, 2016 
China's Debt Mountain Looms Behind Market Swings 
Xi faces a historic debt unwinding in a decelerating economy 
"The government has made a complete hash of the past 6 months" 
Lost in all the Chinese stock and currency market gyrations, policy missteps and mixed data is this economic reality: The government is constrained by a credit bubble that has ballooned to $28 trillion in an economy growing at its slowest pace in 25 years.
Policy zig-zags have left investors divided over how wedded President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are to financial sector reform and shifting their $10 trillion-plus economy from one powered by investment and exports to one more focused on consumption and services. 

China has appeared to backtrack on pledges to make its management of the yuan more market driven and there’s uncertainty over the government’s willingness to remove stock price supports imposed during a $5 trillion sell-off last summer. Amid the confusion, the benchmark CSI 300 Index, down 14 percent in 2016, has revisited the lows of last year’s rout and pressure on the currency continues.
Against that backdrop, Chinese officialdom faces the high-wire act of trying to keep theeconomy growing rapidly enough to repay past obligations, without resorting to a fresh pick-up in debt to fund more stimulus. It was China’s reliance on credit-fueled growth in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis that resulted in one of the biggest debt expansions in recent history, and today’s hangover.

"China is nowhere close to reining in its debt problems," said Charlene Chu, the former Fitch Ratings Ltd. analyst known for her warnings over China’s debt risks and now a partner of Autonomous Research Asia Ltd. "It is one of the key factors weighing on GDP growth and one of the reasons why foreign investors are so concerned about China’s trajectory."
A report Tuesday is forecast to show China’s 2015 expansion slowed to 6.9 percent -- the weakest pace since 1990. Strength in services and consumption last year cushioned a slowdown in old growth drivers like heavy industry and residential construction.

Chinese renewed share rout has roots in the debt mess: an eye-popping rally late 2014 and early 2015 was fueled in part by official media commentary that championed the surge as a new way for companies to finance growth and repay borrowing. But instead of companies deleveraging, the result was a surge in margin traders taking loans to pile in as the number of equity investors surpassed the number of communist cadres. When the inevitable bust came, policy makers responded to cushion the fall.

Obama Carries Lord Hanuman Figurine In Pocket

US President Barack Obama shows Ingrid Nilsen the Hindu Lord Hanuman figurine he carries in his pocket. Source:Screenshot White House video.
United States President Barack Obama carries around tiny Hindu Lord Hanuman statue in his pocket.
In a live post-State of the Union interview with Ingrid Nilsen, American YouTube personality, from the East Room of the White House on January 15, Obama showed things he carried around all the time and took out from his pocket which he described as: This is Hindu little statuette of monkey god Hanuman that a woman gave me. This video-interview is posted on The White House website. BBC gave this story the title: “What does Obama keep in his pocket?”
Candidate Obama also reportedly carried small Hanuman figurine as a lucky charm during electioneering.
In a statement in Nevada today, distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who is making efforts to erect a privately funded statue of Lord Hanuman in Arkansas State Capitol grounds in Little Rock, welcomed Obama’s continued interest in Lord Hanuman and added that if he wanted to explore Hinduism further, he or other Hindu scholars would be glad to assist.

According to Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, Lord Hanuman is greatly revered and his worship is very popular among Hindus and there are numerous temples dedicated to him. Son of wind-god, besides incredible strength and changing shape at will and flying, he is believed to be a perfect grammarian, great scholar and excelled in all the sciences. According to a legend, even while he was still an infant, he intimidated the sun. In Mahabharata war, flag on Arjuna’s chariot driven by Lord Krishna displayed Lord Hanuman. According to a belief, all the planets are under his control.
There are about three million Hindus in USA.

*** Europe’s New Medieval Map

As the European Union unravels, the continent is reverting to divisions that go back centuries, writes Robert D. Kaplan
ROBERT D. KAPLAN Jan. 15, 2016 
Look at any map of Europe from the Middle Ages or the early modern era, before the Industrial Revolution, and you will be overwhelmed by its dizzying incoherence—all of those empires, kingdoms, confederations, minor states, “upper” this and “lower” that. It is a picture of a radically fractured world. Today’s Europe is, in effect, returning to such a map.

The decades of peace and prosperity, from the 1950s to 2009, when the European Union’s debt crisis began, made the political and economic contours of the continent look simple. There were two coherent blocs for the duration of the Cold War, and they were succeeded by the post-Cold War dream of a united Europe with its single currency. Today, as the European Union suffers one blow after another from within and without, history is reversing course—toward a debilitating complexity, as if the past half-century were just an interregnum before a return to fear and conflict.

For the U.S., the reality of this new situation is only just now coming into view. Europe, whose economy rivals that of the U.S. as the largest in the world, remains an asset and an ally, but it is also a profound problem. The pressing question is how to manage it.
Europe’s divisions were visible for decades as the EU worked to expand its boundaries and practical reach. There were those countries inside the EU and those outside; those inside the borderless zone of free travel (the Schengen Area) and those outside; those able to manage the financial rigors of the eurozone and those unable to do so.

The Gulf War was the beginning of the end for American supremacy

For one brief moment it seemed the USA could conquer anywhere in the world. 25 years on, we've learned how wrong that was
By David Blair,  17 Jan 2016
Cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs suddenly became household names exactly 25 years ago on Saturday. As night fell on Jan 16 1991, the mightiest aerial armada in history began the onslaught that would hurl Saddam Hussein’s army out of Kuwait.
A new generation of weapons instantly appeared on the world’s television screens. When millions watched the first live satellite broadcasts from a city under attack, they saw American cruise missiles tracking the street plan of Baghdad and entering buildings through carefully chosen windows.

The campaign to reverse Iraq’s occupation of its neighbour became synonymous with the most advanced military technology.
Yet, with the perspective of a quarter of a century, the Gulf War of 1991 looks very different. Far from being a cutting edge affair, it now seems like one of the most old-fashioned and traditional clashes of arms in Western military history.
Along with countless wars over the centuries beforehand – and very few in the 25 years since – this conflict was fought between states with the aim of controlling territory. The struggle consisted entirely of conventional battles between regular armed forces. Suicide bombers and “improvised explosive devices” were entirely absent.

And no-one can forget the outcome. After 40 days of bombing and a lightning ground offensive lasting only 100 hours, Saddam’s grip on Kuwait was broken.
During the four days of the land campaign, not a single American soldier was killed by enemy fire. Even the shattered French at Agincourt managed to dispatch a few score of their English tormentors; Iraqi soldiers, by contrast, proved utterly helpless in the face of America's military juggernaut.

That central fact helps to explain many recent events. Every adversary of the West – from Osama bin Laden to the Taliban and from Vladimir Putin to the leaders of China – took careful note. The lesson they learnt was abundantly clear: never, never, never take on America in conventional combat. Army against army, air force against air force, the Americans will always win.

Four Predictions on the Future of Europe

January 15, 2016
The European Union of tomorrow will be defined by more integrated foreign policy, the end of the euro, a more complete single market, and more realpolitik.
At the end of all this madness, what is the EU going to look like? This is a question heard a lot these days, in one form or another. Most observers sense that these are extraordinary times for Europe, and that political realities might look very different rather soon. And while it is impossible to predict how the greatest political project in history will transform under existential pressures from both within and outside, all of these pressures point in a certain direction when it comes to Europe's future.
Let's start by saying that there will never be an end to all this madness. Human affairs never reach an end point, some sort of magic equilibrium of all driving forces at which those affairs can be frozen and preserved. In European integration parlance, this means that there is no such thing as finalité politique, that old canard. The EU serves a purpose, and its workings and its setup will be adapted as this purpose changes. Again and again. So instead of looking at some imaginary final outcome that will be outdated the moment it is reached, let's look at the forces that shape the union.

Ultimately, it is the needs of Europeans that build the EU. Yes, political leadership and a good helping of civic boldness on behalf of the European citizenry are necessary as well, neither of which is in ample supply these days. But fundamentally, the EU either serves the needs of the day or it gets into crisis. Such a moment has been reached today. And the current crisis that Europeans are both observing and undergoing is nothing but the readjustment of a project that no longer serves the needs of the day properly, and therefore needs renovation.

Europe Looks the Other Way on Mass Sexual Assault

January 16, 2016 
The chickens are coming home to roost on Europe’s unwillingness to offend. The beginning of 2016 in Europe saw the collision of two problems that have long been left to run their course undisturbed. Making allowances for human-rights abusers in order to avoid causing offense is, after all, nothing new here in Europe. Neither is our often well-meaning refusal to question the potential impact of welcoming record levels of migrants to our societies. On New Year’s Eve, more than 500 women out celebrating in Germany felt the impact of this collision: They were raped, sexually assaulted, and robbed by gangs of largely migrant men and then blamed for it by the authorities. 

Mayor Henriette Reker, of Cologne, released a “code of conduct” for women’s behavior in public, which included keeping strangers “an arm’s length away” and staying away from groups of people. Her words could have easily been mistaken for that of the U.K.’s Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), a pressure group with a long history of campaigning on behalf of convicted terrorists that published “precautionary advice” to prevent Muslims from “becoming targets of harassment,” stating that women “have to take personal precautions when they go outside.” Mayor Reker’s comments have rightly sparked an outcry from many activists and women’s-rights groups. But her words form part of a much darker picture, one that ends with women off the streets. Now, I am sure that Mayor Reker does not actually want women banished from public places. But her “guidelines” mirrored those of Islamists and many totalitarian regimes around the world that do want women banished. From violent groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda to the ostensibly nonviolent Hizb ut-Tahrir and Muslim Brotherhood, those who want the establishment of an Islamic caliphate governed by sharia law want every woman to remain inside the house as wife and mother, unless she is accompanied by a male guardian, or mahram. Islamist ideology teaches that men should be shielded from women in public spaces in order to protect both sexes from what is seen to be inevitable: uncontrollable sexual desire and social disorder. Enforced wearing of the hijab, gender segregation, and prescribed gender roles are therefore used to help avoid chaos and vice. Those who challenge these codes are often held responsible for what ensues.

Women who take to the streets in protest among men, for example, are blamed if this should lead to sexual violence. In Egypt, victims of sexual harassment have been repeatedly denounced and blamed for the actions of their attackers. During the Muslim Brotherhood’s time in power in 2013, one of its ministers, Reda al-Hefnawy, told me that there were “so many reasons” why the victim is at fault, including her attire and the time of the attack. According to al-Hefnawy, as reported in Daily News Egypt, “women should not mingle with men during protests,” and he asked how the Ministry of the Interior could be expected to protect “a lady who stands among a group of men.” Salah Abdel Salam, a member of one of the most prominent Salafist parties, al-Nour, echoed this mindset, declaring that “the woman bears the offence when she chooses to protest in places filled with thugs.” A prominent member of another Salafist party, al-Asala, said something similar, claiming that women “sometimes cause rape upon themselves through putting themselves in a position which makes them subject to rape.” In fact, women around the world face brutal punishment — often sexualized — for having been victims of sexual violence. In Saudi Arabia, victims of gang rape face hundreds of lashes. In India, gang rape has been used to punish women for the crimes of men.

The Kurds should not be denied our support

The Kurds should not be denied our support
Nick Cohen, Saturday 16 January 2016 
Online, you can watch a jihadi driving one of the thousands of armoured vehicles Islamic State plundered from the Iraqi army toward Kurdish troops.
They are frightened of a suicidally ferocious fanatic, so determined to kill he has packed the vehicle with explosives, which will kill him when he kills them. But they are not as frightened as the Iraqi army, which just ran from Isis and didn’t stop running for months. They pour fire into the Humvee and set it ablaze. They hold the line, as they have held 1,000kms of front, ever since Islamic State burst out of western Iraq in the summer of 2014, massacred the Yazidis of Sinjar and threatened to roll on to Baghdad.

The romance of modern Kurdish history can be as striking as its unspeakable horrors. The largest nationality on Earth without a state of their own; a despised and massacred people, spread across Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, has become our bravest and best ally.
Isis’s nemesis in Iraq were the Peshmerga (“those who confront death”) of Iraqi Kurdistan. It is the one part of Kurdish territory with real autonomy.
For all its many faults, it recovered from the chemical weapons Saddam Hussein dumped on his captive ethnic minority and a civil war between rival clans. The regional government has broken as free of Baghdad as it can and built a pluralist and secular society, whose democratic record is not bad by the standards of a wicked world, and frankly miraculous by the standards of the Middle East.

To the delight of true feminists everywhere, Kurdish women fight in the Peshmerga. In Iraq, an Isis misogynist will not find 72 virgins but armed and exceptionally dangerous women. “Men say women can only look after children and the house,” explained one. “This makes me angry.” Western governments support them. But the support is tentative and has the habit of vanishing when it is most needed. In his great anti-fascist speech, Hilary Benn said how proud he was that the RAF had helped the Kurds end Isis murders of Yazidi women too old to be raped and sold into sex slavery.

Why the United States can't make a magazine like ISIS

January 13, 2016 
Editors' Note: How can the U.S. government better counter ISIS propaganda? As the State Department overhauls its counter messaging program, Will McCants and Clint Watts examine what makes ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, so successful, and the obstacles to the U.S. government producing a publication that effective. This piece originally appeared on The Daily Beast.
The Obama administration attributes much of ISIS’s success at communicating to its technological savvy, which has elevated the group to a global media and terrorist phenomenon. The president has gone so far as to say that the Paris attackers were a “bunch of killers with good social media.”
Despite the praise heaped on the so-called Islamic State for its cutting-edge propaganda online, one of its most effective products is decidedly low tech. Dabiq, ISIS’s online news magazine, has a small but devoted readership that spans the globe. News of advances on the battlefield excite them—more evidence that God’s kingdom on earth has returned and grows. Stories of fighters inspire them—more models to emulate as they contemplate what role they can play in the divine drama unfolding.

Journalists and analysts read it with almost the same intensity as ISIS fans; the contents of each volume fill newspapers and think-tank reports soon after it’s released. And no wonder: the magazine clearly states the organization’s goals; provides news of its activities that advance those goals; showcases personal stories of the people engaged in the activities; and announces major developments in the organization’s fight against its enemies. It’s a wealth of information presented between two covers every few months.

Striking the Heart of Europe Turkey's Failed Anti-Extremism Strategy

This week's terrorist strike on a group of German travelers in Istanbul was an attack on Turkish stability and the West's confidence. Is President Erdogan capable of stopping the Islamic State -- and does he even want to? By SPIEGEL Staff

Minutes after the explosion, when Robert H. came to, he only had one thought: Get out of here! His ears were ringing and his head was throbbing. But he briefly stopped to think. Where was his wife? He looked around and saw body parts lying around: disembodied legs, a head. People were screaming for help. Anke H. was lying on the ground, bleeding. She stammered: I can't breathe. Robert H. bound up the wound on her leg with a piece of cloth.

On Wednesday morning, the day after the bombing in a district of Istanbul frequented by tourists, the two were lying in their hospital room in the Capa Clinic. Robert H., an early retiree from Bavaria, is 61 years old and his wife Anke is 53. He has abrasions on his face, a bandage on his leg and a head full of images that he can't get rid of. "The place was a battlefield," he says.

Ten Germans died in the attack in Istanbul and eight others were injured, some of them seriously. Among the dead are a 75-year-old from Dresden and his son, a 73-year-old real-estate consultant from Bad Kreuznach and an entrepreneur, 67, from the state of Hesse. Also among the dead is a married couple, 71 and 73, from Falkensee in the state of Brandenburg. "Traveling was their passion," says their daughter-in-law, adding that they enjoyed visiting Muslim countries, even after the attacks in Tunisia and Egypt. A 70-year-old elementary school teacher from Leipzig also lost her life. After the Paris attacks, she posted a picture of herself on Facebook in the colors of the French flag. She also loved to travel and posted images of her trip to America. In most of the pictures, she could be seen smiling into the camera.

A Triple Blow to Turkey

Almost all the people who lost their lives were retirees who came from all corners of Germany: 33 people traveling with the tour operator Lebenslust. They were people who wanted to experience the Orient on a 10-day trip including stops in Istanbul, Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And then came the bomb, which exploded at 10:20 a.m. between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, in the heart of the old-city quarter of Sultanahmet. It is where Europe and Asia meet, where Christianity butts up against Islam, where Turkey's past meets tourist modernity. It is where millions of visitors to the city go to take selfies in front of Istanbul's most famous sites. It is hard to find a more symbolic place.

‘It Is As If Liberal Brains Cannot Hold Two Thoughts At The Same Time’

17 Jan, 2016
In Islam and the Future of Tolerance, American philosopher-neuroscientist Sam Harris debates Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist who now runs Quilliam, a London-based counter-extremism think tank. They discuss Islamism, the possibility of reform within Islam and how political correctness only ends up strengthening extremism.

The following excerpts capture the crux of the debate:
Harris: I would generally agree—although there certainly seem to be many cases in which people have no intelligible grievance apart from a theological one and become “radicalized” by the idea of sacrificing everything for their faith. I’m thinking of the Westerners who have joined groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, for instance. Sometimes, religious ideology appears to be not merely necessary but sufficient to motivate a person to do this. You might say that an identity crisis was also involved—but everyone has an identity crisis at some point. In fact, one could say that the whole of life is one long identity crisis. The truth is that some people appear to be almost entirely motivated by their religious beliefs. Absent those beliefs, their behaviour would make absolutely no sense; with them, it becomes perfectly understandable, even rational.

As you know, the public conversation about the connection between Islamic ideology and Muslim intolerance and violence has been stifled by political correctness. In the West, there is now a large industry of apology and obfuscation designed, it would seem, to protect Muslims from having to grapple with the kinds of facts we’ve been talking about. The humanities and social science departments of every university are filled with scholars and pseudo-scholars – deemed to be experts in terrorism, religion, Islamic jurisprudence, anthropology, political science, and other fields — who claim that Muslim extremism is never what it seems. These experts insist that we can never take Islamists and jihadists at their word and that none of their declarations about God, paradise, martyrdom, and the evils of apostasy have anything to do with their real motivations.

George Friedman: The EU is increasingly unreliable and unpredictable

15 Jan 2016 
George Friedman [Georgi Gotev]
The United States has a partnership with Europe, but it can no longer think of NATO as the mechanism by which it is related to Europe, George Friedman told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
George Friedman is an American political scientist and author. A former chief intelligence officer, he is the founder of Stratfor and was its financial overseer and CEO. He recently sold his shares in Stratfor and started Geopolitical Futures, a new global analysis company.
Friedman spoke to EurActiv’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.

How does Europe look from across the Atlantic?

Firstly, the US looks at Europe in the much broader context of Eurasia. So now we have a crisis that stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic. The Chinese are in crisis, Russia is in crisis, the Middle East is in terrific crisis, and now Europe is in crisis as well. So we are looking at a situation where an area with a population of 5 billion is transforming in ways we cannot anticipate.
An American looks at this not just as Europe, but as a range of problems in general. There are many American views of Europe, but my view is that the EU has failed, but there is no clear alternative. And we see the failure in the immigration issue, which we do not regard as a major issue because it is less than 0.5% of population shift, but Europe cannot make a decision on how to handle it.
This is not an unmanageable problem. You can decide not to let anyone in, and then you take measures to prevent that, or you decide to integrate them and you do certain things to make that happen. It is Europe’s inability to make a decision that is, from the American point of view, the most problematic.
It is problematic because the United States has a partnership with Europe. As important as the EU, and very much missing from this conversation, is NATO: the stresses that exist between the countries in the European Union also become present in NATO. So for example, we have one relationship with the French, one relationship with the British, a very different relationship with the Germans and a completely different relationship with the Poles. We can no longer think of NATO as the mechanism by which we are related to Europe.
This is not a catastrophic situation for the United States, but it poses challenges to us in the Middle East, and it poses challenges with Russia, and we are looking at the Europeans as increasingly unreliable and increasingly unpredictable.
American political scientist and author and former chief intelligence officer George Friedman told EurActiv that “the EU has failed, but there is no clear alternative”. “We are looking at the Europeans as increasingly unreliable and increasingly unpredictable,” he added.

Europe on the brink of financial MELTDOWN as Germany faces economic ruin


THE European financial powerhouse could be facing a huge financial crisis which would have devastating implications for Britain as a lethal storm of economic problems brews in Germany.
PUBLISHED: Jan 15, 2016 | 
Germany could be facing a financial crisis, according to experts
Germany’s industrial production has slipped to ZERO per cent and customer confidence has plummeted in just part of a catalogue of disasters for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A fall in Germany's prosperity could drag the eurozone down with it - a scenario becoming more likely amid growing signs of the country's slowdown.
The country has the biggest economy in Europe and is where a large portion of the bloc's wealth is created. 
Germany's money has helped the eurozone struggle ahead, despite the ailing finances of Italy, Spain and Greece.

If the German economy crumbles it could start a domino effect that would pull down other countries' economies with it.
That would also be a huge hit to Britain as Europe is one of the UK's biggest trading partners.
The biggest shock facing Germany is the slowing global economy, which spells disaster for its export-driven growth. 
China is one of Germany's biggest markets, and its falling demand is expected to hit home hard. 
France is one of Germany's closest trading partners and its economy is struggling, further dampening demand for German exports. 

Expert Peter Lundgreen, head of investment firm Lundgreen's capital said: "German exporters are feeling the pain from the slowdown in business investments in many emerging market countries, as commodity prices have tumbled."
Germany's industrial output has helped underpin the country's economic growth - but these numbers have been undershooting expert expectations for months.
Domestic consumption has also powered the country's growth over the past year but consumer confidence has been falling since June last year, which indicates that consumption is set to fall too, Mr Lundgreen added.

Military Strategy of Ukraine

SWJ Blog Post | January 17, 2016 
Military Strategy of Ukraine by Yurii Butusov in his article for Dzerkalo Tyzhnia. Translation source is Censor.net.
The Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces have grown and changed significantly in 2015, so in order to evaluate the vectors of their development we should look at priorities and major achievements year-end. So, what has changed to better and to worse, where does it stagnate; where do words and actions differ? This is especially important after the state budget for 2016 was approved, with its record 5 percent of the GDP allocated for the defense sector. The society needs to see and understand how the budget funds are spent. We will try to analyze what has been done at the major directions of the Defense Ministry’s development.

On Oct. 15, 2015 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, while presenting newly-appointed Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, entrusted the military with clear tasks:
"Given the military and political situation I set the task for the Minister of Defense - to provide for preparation of major documents on defense planning. They include development of the National defense strategy; the Defense Ministry and the General Staff should start doing that right now. The military doctrine needs to be amended immediately (current situation provides many reasons for that), and the new version of the development program of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, as well as that of the State development program for weapons and military equipment, should be prepared."

On May 26, 2015 the president's decree finalized Ukraine's National Security Strategy.
It defines the major goals:

1. Fight for restoration of territorial integrity within acting borders of Ukraine;
2. Independence from the Russian Federation in the weapons sector;
3. Reforms of all security and defense bodies;
4. Integration with the EU and NATO.

The new Military doctrine of Ukraine has been developed based on the Strategy; it was finalized by the president's decree of Sept. 2, 2015…

Britain Is Europe's Future

By Judy Dempsey, January 15, 2016
A British "no" to remaining in the EU would spell ruin for a bloc so adrift and divided that its influence is rapidly diminishing.
Of all EU leaders, it is David Cameron, the British prime minister, not Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who holds the key to Europe's future.
Merkel has been adept at keeping the eurozone intact and the EU united over the sanctions imposed on Russia for its meddling in eastern Ukraine. But she is now under immense pressure from her own conservative bloc over her open-door policy toward the refugees fleeing the war-torn Middle East.
This pressure has been fueled by the sexual assaults on over 100 women during the New Year's Eve celebrations in Cologne, allegedly by migrants from North Africa and some Arab countries. Sensing the growing public concern about how to integrate the more than 1 million refugees who have arrived in Germany over the past twelve months, Merkel canceled her trip to the January 20-23 World Economic Forum in Davos.

Several EU leaders, especially in Central Europe, are more than pleased about Merkel's domestic problems. Their schadenfreude may come back to haunt them. Berlin has traditionally supported EU enlargement. And ever since she became chancellor in 2005, Merkel has gone out of her way to improve relations with all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Biting the hand that feeds them is politically shortsighted.
However much Merkel has led Europe through the euro crisis and the Ukraine crisis - both far from over - there is one area in which she has not led: the debate about Europe's future. For the leader of Europe's biggest economy, with record low levels of unemployment, this may seem surprising. Given Germany's unpopularity among, for example, the Greeks because of Berlin's insistence that Athens implement very harsh austerity measures in return for financial support, maybe it was wise that Merkel never did explain how she saw Europe's future direction.

Hundreds of Britons Caught Trying to Join ISIS, But Are Any of Them Being Prosecuted???

Hundreds of Britons caught trying to join jihadis, says foreign secretary
Patrick Wintour and Shiv Malik, The Guardian, January 15, 2016
Philip Hammond praises Turkish help but hits out at Russia over airstrikes in Syria
Iraqi security forces in Ramadi after it was liberated from Islamic State. At least one British militant died during the battle. Photograph: Khalid Mohammed/AP 

A total of 600 UK citizens have been caught trying to enter Syria to join the Islamic State and other Islamist groups since 2012, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, has said.
Speaking on a visit to southern Turkey on Friday, Hammond said a further 800 UK citizens – believed to be made up of mainly fighters and their family members – had managed to enter Syria in the past four years, with half of those believed to still be inside the country.
Hammond said British and Turkish intelligence services had worked together to apprehend hundreds of Britons on their way to join the civil war, stopping some at the UK border and seizing others on planes or trains arriving in Istanbul.

Some had been returned to the UK, while others remained in Turkey for breaching laws on attempting or intending to cross the border into Syria without permission, he added.
Turkey is the main route into Syria for UK jihadis. Out of the at least 50 UK jihadis known to have died fighting either for Islamic State or al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra, almost all travelled into Syria through Turkey. 
One of those fighters, Fatlum Shakalu, 20, from west London, was killed in fighting in May 2015 after blowing himself up for Isis in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. Shakalu was understood to have smuggled himself into Syria via Turkey in the spring of 2013 with his brother Flamur, who also died on the frontline in Iraq last year.

Could 2016 see Ukraine crisis resolved? Russian moves hint yes.

The halting Minsk process, meant to peaceably reunite Ukraine with its restive eastern regions, got a big boost in recent weeks with the assignment of two top Putin officials to key positions in the Russian team.
By Fred Weir, Correspondent JANUARY 15, 2016
MOSCOW — It looks like the Kremlin is getting serious about resolving the ongoing Ukraine crisis.
President Vladimir Putin appears to have put his best advisers on the case, bolstering hopes that 2016 will be the year the stalled Minsk II agreements, negotiated by France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine to bring peace to war-ravaged eastern Ukraine, gain real traction.
Late last month, Mr. Putin replaced a relative nonentity who was leading the Russian negotiating team with Boris Gryzlov, a leading Kremlin security official. And he sent his top troubleshooter, Dmitry Kozak, to manage relations with the rebel Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Experts say that suggests the Kremlin is tiring of the long stalemate over the war-torn Donbass region, and is readying for a concerted push to solve remaining issues and prompt an end to the Western sanctions that even Mr. Putin admits are "severely harming" Russia's economy.
On Wednesday, Mr. Gryzlov met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, and on the same day a fresh truce was declared in eastern Ukraine to replace the badly frayed cease-fire set in place last September. In his annual press conference Thursday, Mr. Poroshenko pledged to restore Ukrainian sovereignty over Donetsk and Luhansk this year.

The Minsk accord calls for constitutional changes in Ukraine to grant autonomy to the rebel regions, hold elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk republics to establish legitimate leadership that could negotiate with Kiev, and to return rebel-held sections of the border to Ukrainian sovereignty. All of that was supposed to have happened by the end of 2015, but efforts fell apart amid intense controversy in Kiev, rebel refusal to hold their elections under Ukrainian law, and disagreement over when the border handover should occur.

The invention of farming 

The invention of farming  JAN 15 2016

A wonderful map by National Geographic of the Fertile Crescent highlighting where the domestication of grains and livestock first took hold.
I'm currently reading an interesting and provocative book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. He calls the Agricultural Revolution "history's biggest fraud".

Rather than heralding a new era of easy living, the Agricultural Revolution left farmers with lives generally more difficult and less satisfying than those of foragers. Hunter-gatherers spent their time in more stimulating and varied ways, and were less in danger of starvation and disease. The Agricultural Revolution certainly enlarged the sum total of food at the disposal of humankind, but the extra food did not translate into a better diet or more leisure. Rather, it translated into population explosions and pampered elites. The average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and got a worse diet in return. The Agricultural Revolution was history's biggest fraud.
Harari also argues that wheat domesticated humans, not the other way around:

How to Shut Down the U.S. Military


Migrant CrisisIran Nuke Deal2016 RaceThe Islamic State

By Michael Chandler
Best Defense guest columnist
Remember how last august, an Army staff sergeant sent an email to a list of over 10,000 e-mail addresses over the Army’s Enterprise e-mail system? And did you know it happened gain in December, when someone in Defense Information Systems Agency sent a message to 85,000 addresses?
Army social media exploded with derision, frustration, and a bunch of eye-rolling at the sheer number of people who clicked “reply all” to ask to be taken off the distribution list or, in the case of the second e-mail, to wish 85,000 soldiers and DA civilians a Merry Christmas.

Mostly, though, hilarity ensued. In the hours and days to follow both messages, computer-bound soldiers found themselves deleting hundreds of new “reply-all” messages upon arriving on Monday morning. They noticed as each time zone came online, more and more reply-alls came in—some asked to be taken off the distro, some replied-all to say “STOP REPLYING-ALL,” and some just rambled unintelligibly; a choice quote is “Someone need to fix this ASAP! I am tired of getting 30 emails at time! Your my EMAIL!”
I stopped chuckling to myself when I thought, What if they’re just testing us?

What a great way to shut down the U.S. military. Send out a high priority e-mail to thousands of people, with a 75 megabit Powerpoint presentation. Fast forward two hours, with the “reply-alls” piling in, many forwarding the attachment. Two or three reply-all messages also contain a large-sized file of data — nothing classified or consequential, just a slideshow with a bunch of large pictures. The messages begin to pile up. The reply-alls continue.
On Sunday night, long after the Old Man has turned the notifications off on his Blackberry because of the 200-plus times he’s had to listen to the tone, there’s an attack on a military installation. CQ and Staff Duty NCOs call higher, wake the Commander. News media begin reports on a national level. Everyone is woken up at the same time, and everyone goes to their phone to send their orders down and to await instruction from higher.

The Israeli Air Force’s Secret Fire Tower visual intelligence system

Yaakov Lappin, Jerusalem Post, January 16, 2016
Each time a plane, drone or helicopter takes off from an IAF air base to carry out reconnaissance or surveillance, it carries on board a secretive, advanced visual-intelligence- gathering system called Fire Tower.
The system, made by Elbit, is known internationally as the Advanced Multi-Sensor Payload System (AMPS). It plays a critical role in the Israel Air Force’s core ability to monitor Hezbollah activities in Lebanon and Syria, Hamas’s movements in Gaza, and any other enemy, near or far, that needs continuous monitoring from above.
“This is a long-range system that flies with every air force platform,” a senior air force source, who agreed to provide some details about the system, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “It sends live video feed and operates in all weather conditions, day or night,” he added.

In the past, the air force integrated Fire Tower into its Israel Aerospace Industries-made Heron TP and Beechcraft King Air surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, but now it has expanded the system into every intelligence-gathering aircraft.
First introduced in 2000, the version of Fire Tower that flies today has undergone several upgrades, the most recent of which enables it to gather intelligence on more distant targets than ever and broadcast HD video back to air force operators, who then can share it with Military Intelligence.
“The system developed over the years,” the source said. “It provides a solution to long-range intelligence gathering,” he said.

Twitter, terror and liability: who gets to pay?

A lawsuit against Twitter in the US will test whether social networks and business can be held responsible for facilitating terrorism.
If ISIS and its supporters use Twitter to facilitate terrorist action or merely spread propaganda, is the social network liable?
A lawsuit against Twitter in the United States in which a family is seeking compensation for the death of family member in an ISIS terrorist attack, may test this. The results will have implications for social networks and other businesses such as BT, Telstra, Facebook, Verizon and Google.
We do not expect postal services, the phone company, the Internet Service Provider or other network operators to check, and endorse, every message or parcel. In the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and most other countries, electronic network businesses are broadly immunised from liability regarding activity of which they are unaware.

However, this immunity is conditional. It diminishes or disappears if the business becomes aware that a use of the network is illegal but does nothing and thereby endorses it.
More broadly, network operators and users have considerable leeway regarding political speech(especially in the US), including expressions that are abhorrent or provocative but do not involve violence. That leeway is the sometimes uncomfortable price we pay for a flourishing liberal democratic society.
Deciding accountability

The lawsuit in the US District Court in Northern California (home of Twitter and other social networks) centres on the claim that: