Monday, October 14, 2019

What's up with the Turks and the Kurds ??

Why is Turkey bombing the Kurds in Syria?

Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in northern Syria, as Turkish forces step up their cross-border offensive on Kurdish-held areas. International clamour has increased for Turkey to halt the attack.  Martin Patience explains what's behind the conflict.

Turkey-Syria offensive: Kurds reach deal with Syrian army
Mourners attend a funeral, for Kurdish political leader Hevrin Khalaf and others in the Kurdish town of Derik on 13 October 2019.
The Kurds in Syria say the Syrian government has agreed to send its army to the northern border to try to halt Turkey's offensive against them. Syrian state media earlier reported that government forces had been deployed to the north. It follows the US decision to pull all its remaining troops from the area over the "untenable" situation there.
The Turkish assault, launched last week, is aimed at forcing Kurdish forces from along the border area. Areas under control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main US ally in the area, have come under heavy bombardment over the weekend, with Turkey making gains in two key border towns.
The Turkish offensive and US withdrawal has drawn an international outcry, as the SDF were the main Western allies in the battle against IS in Syria. But Turkey views elements of the Kurdish groups within the force as terrorists and says it wants to drive them away from a "safe zone" reaching 30km into Syria.
It also plans to resettle more than three million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey within the zone. Many of them are not Kurds. Critics have warned this could lead to ethnic cleansing of the local Kurdish population.

What's the deal? 

The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria said the Syrian army would deploy along the entire length of the border as part of the agreement. This deployment would assist the SDF in countering "this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered", it said in a statement. The move also "paves the way to liberate the rest of the Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin", it added. Turkish forces and pro-Turkey Syrian rebels forced Kurdish fighters from Afrin back in 2018 after a two-month operation.
The deal represents a significant shift in alliances for the Kurds, after losing the military protection of their long-term US partners in the area. It is not yet known what the Syrian government has committed to. However SDF chief Mazloum Abdi acknowledged "there would be painful compromises" with the Assad government and its Russian allies, in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.
"We do not trust their promises. To be honest, it is hard to know whom to trust," he writes.
"But if we have to choose between compromises and the genocide of our people, we will surely choose life for our people."
The deal follows US President Donald Trump's surprise move last week to pull troops from pockets in the north-east, effectively paving the way for the Turkish operation against the Kurdish fighters. At the time, the SDF called the move "a stab in the back".

What about the latest US withdrawal?

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper earlier announced the Pentagon was moving up to 1,000 troops away from the north after learning that Turkey was pushing further into Syria than previously expected.
Describing the situation there as "untenable", he said the SDF had been "looking to cut a deal" with the Syrian government and Russia to counter the Turkish attack. This, he continued, would leave the US forces stuck between "two opposing advancing armies".
Hours after Mr Esper's comments, Syria said it was deploying its forces to the north to "confront a Turkish aggression". It is not yet clear where exactly the troops are being sent.
On Sunday, President Trump tweeted that it was "very smart" not to be involved in the fighting "for a change", saying engagement in Middle East conflict was a mistake.

What has Turkey seized so far ?

Turkey is pushing deeper into northern Syria.  On Sunday, President Erdogan said his forces had already captured 109 sq km (42 square miles) of territory, including 21 villages. He told reporters the key border town of Ras al-Ain had come under Turkish control - though the SDF said they had pushed Turkish forces back to the town's outskirts.
Mr Erdogan said Turkish forces had also besieged the town of Tal Abyad, some 120km (75 miles) away. The UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Turkey was in almost complete control there.
Both Ras al-Ain and Tal Abyad are key goals in the Turkish offensive against the SDF. Turkey also announced that its Syrian allies on the ground had seized a key motorway - called M4 - some 30-35km south of the border.

What are the casualty figures?

They're rising, with civilians killed on both sides of the border:
More than 50 civilians and over 100 Kurdish fighters killed in north-eastern Syria, SOHR says
SDF says the Kurdish forces' death toll is 56 and Turkey gives a higher figure of 440.  Eighteen civilians killed in southern Turkey, according to Turkish reports, and four Turkish soldiers and 16 pro-Turkish Syrian fighters killed in Syria.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA says up to 160,000 civilians are now on the move and it expects the number to rise. It says it is increasingly concerned about the safety of its staff in the region.What about IS? The fighting has spilled over to areas close to IS detainee camps.  Fears that Kurdish forces will be unable to keep IS prisoners confined appeared to have been realized when officials at the Ain Issa camp said nearly 800 relatives of foreign IS members had escaped.
The SDF says it is currently holding more than 12,000 suspected IS members in seven prisons, and at least 4,000 of them are foreign nationals. IS has claimed recent car bombings and on Saturday declared a new campaign in Syria. Turkey says it will take responsibility for IS prisoners it finds during its offensive. A whole new, Middle East 'Pandora's Box' has been opened. Thank you Mr Trump.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Violence peaks in Hong Kong


The 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule in China was "one of Hong Kong's most violent and chaotic days", the city's police chief has said. An 18-year-old protester was shot in the chest with a live bullet - one of six live rounds fired by police. Protesters - armed with petrol bombs and projectiles - fought pitched battles with police in several parts of Hong Kong. In total, 104 people were taken to hospital and 180 were arrested. Police chief Stephen Lo said 25 officers were also injured.
In the days leading up the anniversary, tensions were high in Hong Kong, which always sees protests on the anniversary. This year, however, Hong Kong has seen four months of protests sparked by proposed changes to an extradition bill.  Though the changes have been abandoned, the unrest has continued, expanding into demands for greater democracy.

Students at Tsuen Wan Public Ho Chuen Yiu Memorial College show solidarity with the shot protester on Wednesday

The shooting of Tsang Chi-kin, who was attacking an officer with a pole, was captured on video and shared online.
"My chest is hurting, I need to go to hospital," the 18-year-old said. The government said he was in a stable condition.
Although people have been shot with rubber bullets in previous protests, this was the first injury from a live round. Mr Lo said firing the bullet was "lawful and reasonable" as the officer thought his and colleagues' lives were under threat. Asked why the bullet was fired at close range, Mr Lo said:
"He [the officer] did not decide the distance between him and the assailant."

What made Tuesday different?

In Beijing, the anniversary of Communist Party rule saw a parade of Chinese military might: 15,000 troops, 580 pieces of equipment, and 160 aircraft.
In Hong Kong, some 1,200 miles away, protesters marked the day somewhat differently.
Peaceful marches soon exploded into violence. BBC reporter Tessa Wong, who was on the streets, said protesters fought "pitched battles" with officers.
Shortly before Tsang Chi-kin was shot, men wearing helmets and gas masks attacked an officer on the ground with a pole.
An officer responded by firing his gun at close range.
Elsewhere, protesters threw petrol bombs, started fires, and ran at officers. Police responded with water cannon, tear gas, and - in total - six live rounds.
The day saw the highest number of arrests since this year's protests began, and the highest number of live rounds fired.

A woman at West Kowloon Law Courts on Wednesday, where 96 anti-government protesters were due to appear 

What explains the anger?

The protests were sparked earlier this year by a proposed law, which would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland. Opponents thought this would put Hong Kongers at risk of unfair trials, and, in July, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the law "was dead". But, despite the law being withdrawn, the protests continued every weekend.  Clashes between police and protesters created their own momentum, and there is wider discontent, now.

Recent years have seen growing opposition to the perceived encroachment of Beijing on Hong Kong's politics and threats to local identity.  Many young people have economic worries, and there are also demands for universal suffrage for elections to Hong Kong's parliament.  As China showed off its superpower status in Beijing, violence in Hong Kong - a special administrative region of China - was inevitable.

What is the background?

Until 1997, Hong Kong was a British territory. Since then, it has been part of China but with its own system of law and government - known as One Country, Two Systems. Hong Kong has its own judiciary and a separate legal system. Rights including freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are protected. But those freedoms - the Basic Law - expire in 2047. It is not clear what Hong Kong's status will be then.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Justin, Justin ! What are we going to do with you ?


Justin Trudeau in black- and brownface make-up

First, the SNC Lavalin scandal, attempted cover-up with lies, and now this...The photos keep popping up of Trudeau in black-face. Mr. Innocent, blue-eyed, smiley, selfie-face.

It is almost too obvious now to point out the rank hypocrisy of the Trudeau brand: one that has zero tolerance for inappropriate touching, except for his own; one that preaches respect for Indigenous Canadians, but won't even give them clean water to drink. And one who has spent his entire political existence proselytizing about tolerance, inclusivity, sensitivity and acceptance, all the while knowing — and hiding — a past that includes multiple instances of dressing up in blackface.
The Liberal leader's days as a progressive icon are pretty much over Can we forgive him one more time?? I don't know.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made one good point while delivering his apology Wednesday, after Time magazine published a 2001 photo of him wearing brownface as a 29-year-old teacher at an Arabian Nights-themed school party. 
"If everyone who is going to be standing for office needs to demonstrate they've been perfect every step of their lives," Trudeau said, "there is going to be a shortage of people running for office."
Putting aside the enormous chasm between being "perfect" and wearing blackface three times, Trudeau makes a valid point about the need for a political machine that makes allowances for human flaws. If we don't allow people to grow and change, we end up with slates of sanitized candidates who planned their political careers from birth and wore suits to middle school. Bland, antiseptic, cardboard characters. How could we relate to them??

But Trudeau's argument would carry more weight had his war room not spent the week prior furiously digging up reasons why his opponents should be disqualified — reasons that include what they once said, once advocated for, or with whom they previously associated.
None of those claims were close to as bad as a grown man wearing blackface on multiple occasions. Had Trudeau been a regular, lower positioned candidate for office, of any party, including the Liberals, he'd have been closing up his campaign office by now.

Earlier this year, the United States was grappling with a political blackface scandal of its own: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was accused of wearing blackface in a 1984 yearbook photo.
That was the perfect time, if ever, for Trudeau to own up to his actions, instead of being cornered into acknowledging them, as he has been now.
Knowing what we know now, if you imagine Trudeau wearing black makeup and singing Day O while accusing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of refusing to take racism seriously, the attack loses its potency.

 Each Canadian will decide for themselves whether Trudeau's actions warrant forgiveness.

There is no question that the revelations of the last 24 hours are shocking, and that they could very well shift the direction of the federal election campaign.
But at the same time, for those familiar with the ways the karma gods of politics operate, they are not so surprising, particularly considering the cracks occurring all over the Trudeau brand.

The most sanctimonious of leaders are so often the sinners. And Justin Trudeau is a perfect example: a self-appointed moral steward in a turban and dark makeup.
When you run on sanctimony, govern on arrogance and expect perfection, you find yourself in an awful quandary when you fall short of your own standards.

Trudeau truly has done some important, progressive things for Canada: from opening the door to those fleeing violence and persecution, to putting climate at the forefront of our national agenda But from now on, Trudeau will never be able to separate his record from a few photos of him participating in a racist, ignorant, foolish act.

Maybe that's unfair but, after all, he made the rules.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Implicit Bias: Are we all racists and don't know it ?

Businesspeople in a lobby

Few people openly admit to holding racist beliefs but many psychologists claim most of us are nonetheless unintentionally racist. We hold, what are called "implicit biases". So what is implicit bias, how is it measured and what, if anything, can be done about it? .

 The Implicit Association Test (IAT), is a way to identify implicit bias. And not just race bias, but also, for example, bias against gay, disabled or obese people.
For those who've never taken an IAT, it works a bit like this - using the race IAT as an example. You're shown words and faces. The words may be positive ones ("terrific", "friendship", "joyous", "celebrate") or negative ("pain", "despise", "dirty", "disaster"). In one part of the process you have to press a key whenever you see either a black face or a bad word, and press another key when you see either a white face or a good word. Then it switches round: one key for a black face and good words. Another for white faces and bad words. That's a lot to keep in your head. And here's the rub. You've got to hit the appropriate key as fast as possible. The computer measures your speed.

The idea behind the IAT is that some categories and concepts may be more closely linked in our minds than others. We may find it easier, and therefore quicker, to link black faces with nasty words than white faces with nasty words.
List of faces and categories used in IAT
Suppose the data from your IAT test suggests a slight automatic preference for white people over black people. Are you a racist? A bigot? That would probably be at odds with your self-image.  But it is cause for re-self-examination.
Over the past few decades, measures of explicit bias have been falling rapidly. For example, in Britain in the 1980s about 50% of the population stated that they opposed interracial marriages. That figure had fallen to 15% by 2011. The US has experienced a similarly dramatic shift. Going back to 1958, 94% of Americans said they disapproved of black-white marriage. That had fallen to just 11% by 2013.

But implicit bias - bias that we harbour unintentionally - is much stickier, much more difficult to eradicate. At least that's the claim. The IAT, first introduced two decades ago as a means of measuring implicit bias, is now used in laboratories all across the world. From Harvard's Project Implicit site alone, it has been taken nearly 18 million times. And there's a pattern. On the race test, most people show some kind of pro-white, anti-black bias. They are speedier connecting black faces to bad concepts than white faces. Black people are not immune to this phenomenon themselves. They have implicit bias also. Tests show anti-white results.

Implicit bias has been used to explain, at least partially, everything from the election of President Donald Trump (implicit bias against his female opponent) and the disproportionate number of unarmed black men who are shot in the US by police. The notion that many of us suffer from various forms of implicit bias has become so commonplace that it was even mentioned by Hillary Clinton in one of her presidential debates with Trump. "I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone," she said.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton debating on 26 September 2016 - the first presidential debate of the 2016 election

Trump responded a week later. "In our debate this week she accuses the entire country - essentially suggesting that everyone - including our police - are basically racist and prejudiced. It's a bad thing she said."

Indeed, it's hard to think of an experiment in social psychology which has had such far-reaching impact. Some of the test's success is because it provides an explanation for why exclusion and discrimination persist.  It doesn't attribute ill-will or animosity to the people who have implicit bias because, for the most part, these people are not conscious they have it.

Over the past decade or so, it's become routine for major companies to use implicit association tests in their diversity training. The aim is to demonstrate to staff, particularly those with the power to recruit and promote, that unbeknown to them, and despite their best intentions, they may nonetheless be prejudiced. The diversity training sector is estimated to be worth $8bn each year in the US alone.
There's an obvious business case for eliminating bias. If you can stop your staff behaving irrationally and prejudicially, you can employ and advance the best talent. Implicit bias down = profits up.

All races, nationalities and religions have a form of implicit bias to people who are different from themselves. It seems to exist just a fraction below conscious thought and expresses itself as a slightly uncomfortable feeling you may not want to try and identify.

FYI - You're going to the toilet wrong

Just when you thought you were doing everything right

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A little satire borrowed from Andy Borowitz

Americans Envious That Tiffany Trump Never Hears from Dad

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Millions of Americans envy Tiffany Trump for never hearing from her father, a new poll reveals.
According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, Tiffany Trump’s unique placement beyond the reach of her father’s voice has made her the most envied woman in America.
Although Donald Trump took the extraordinary step of emitting the word “Tiffany” in remarks to reporters last week, the rarity of that utterance only served to remind Americans of just how fortunate Tiffany was to be off her father’s radar.
“In all our years of polling, it’s highly unusual to find one person so universally envied,” Davis Logsdon, who supervised the poll, said. “People in virtually every demographic group ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement, ‘God, I wish I were Tiffany Trump.’ ”
The poll finds Tiffany Trump sitting atop a list of the most envied women in America, well ahead of Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and MacKenzie Bezos, who has a net worth of thirty-five billion dollars.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Pentagon grants $3.6 billion funding to Mexico border wall.

construction along the border
US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper has granted $3.6bn  in Pentagon funding to be redirected to help build a US-Mexico border wall.
The money will fund 175 miles (280km) of construction and will force 127 military projects to be put on hold, he told lawmakers in a letter on Tuesday. Building a border wall was a major campaign pledge of President Trump but it has faced significant opposition. Tough action on immigration also forms a central part of his re-election bid.  Mr Esper's letter did not use the term "wall" but the border barriers described are likely to be cited by Mr Trump as evidence of progress as he gears up for the vote in 2020.
Last July, the Supreme Court handed Mr Trump a victory in a related case, saying that the national emergency he issued in February allowed him the power to use $2.5bn in defence funds for wall construction while the matter proceeds in courts.
In a letter sent to several congressional committees, the Department of Defense identified the 127 military construction projects worldwide that stand to lose funding on behalf of the border wall.

Democrats argue that by diverting funds to the wall, the Trump administration is attempting to circumvent Congress' role in making budgets for government agencies. Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it showed Mr Trump "is willing to cannibalize already allocated military funding to boost his own ego and for a wall he promised Mexico would pay to build".
The American Civil Liberties Union promised to seek a court order to block "the president's abuse of emergency powers to secure funds for a wall Congress denied".

Donald Trump promised to use military construction money to fund his long-promised Mexican border wall. Now that order is being recorded on paper and put into action. That may cause some political difficulties for the president, but it's clear he believes the potential damage from not following through on his 2016 border-wall campaign pledge - even if the funds are coming from US taxpayers, not Mexico - is greater than the risk of disgruntled constituents and interested parties.

It wasn't too long ago that he border wall was a non-controversial proposition, tucked into larger spending legislation. That was before Donald Trump made it the most visible embodiment of his immigration policies, however.
Mr Trump has already tweeted aerial video of new border wall construction (technically, just replacement barriers). His goal is to have even more footage to point to - and, perhaps, stand smiling alongside - as his 2020 presidential re-election campaign picks up steam.

Trump's wall: How much has been built so far?

Trump's Claim: "Much of the wall has already been fully renovated or built. Mexico is paying for the wall through the new US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. We have done a lot of work."

Verdict: The border authorities say work has begun on building improved border security infrastructure. The money made available so far is largely tied to barrier designs that already exist. The trade agreement with Mexico and Canada is not yet in place and it's not clear how this would directly lead to revenue from Mexico to pay for the wall.

What is being defunded?

In a letter released on Wednesday evening, first reported by The Daily Beast, Mr Esper identifies 127 projects that stand to lose funding at the expense of the border wall.  This list includes projects across 23 US states, three US territories and 20 countries. More than $1bn in mainland projects - with a wide array of purposes -will likely be shelved, including $40m to update hazardous waste storage in Virginia and $95m for an engineering centre in New York.

Nearly $700m will be diverted from projects in US territories Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Guam. Of these Puerto Rico will be hit hardest: the island stands to lose $400m worth of planned projects.
Approximately $770m will be taken from projects across Europe, directed at helping allied countries deter a possible attack from Russia.
Nine projects overall affect the renovation and replacement of schools for children on US military bases across the world... Defunded. 
According to the Pentagon, the affected projects have not been cancelled outright but have been "deferred".
For the projects to be resumed, however, Congress must agree to do so in its annual defence policy bill. If Congress fails to do so, they will be stuck in legislative limbo and effectively defunded.