The Nine Circles! Wednesday: As The World Burns
UN Secretary General begs Syria to “stop the killing, stop the violence.”
Reuters reports, “Denouncing ‘unrelenting horrors’ in Syria’s war, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed on Wednesday for an end to the violence and more aid to address a situation he said was catastrophic and worsening by the day.”
Ban is quoted saying, “How many more people will be killed if the current situation continues?”
“I appeal to all sides and particularly the Syrian government to stop the killing … in the name of humanity, stop the killing, stop the violence.”
Reuters continues, “Syrian opposition activists said at least 65 people were found shot dead with their hands bound in the embattled northern city of Aleppo on Tuesday, the latest reported massacre over the course of 22 months of conflict.
“They blamed militiamen loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, while the government blamed the Islamist rebel Nusra Front. It was impossible to confirm who was responsible given Syria’s restrictions on access for independent media.
“More than 60,000 people have been killed in all, according to a U.N. estimate, since the conflict began as a peaceful movement for democratic reform and escalated into an armed rebellion after Assad tried to crush the unrest by force.
“An official of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a grouping of six Gulf Arab states, said a total of $1 billion had been pledged at the meeting by midday, after promises of $300 million each from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
“The United Nations warned on Monday that without more money it would not be able to help millions of Syrians and appealed for donations at the aid conference to meet its $1.5 billion target.
“Four million Syrians inside the country need food, shelter and other aid and more than 700,000 more are estimated to have fled to countries nearby.
Ban is also quoted saying, “The situation in Syria is catastrophic and getting worse every day.
“Every day Syrians face unrelenting horrors,” which Reuters notes, “including sexual violence and detentions.”
The story ends with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi saying the Assad government and the opposition should “sit and talk and form a transitional government.
“Those who are causing these calamities are mercenaries who have come to Syria from outside the country.”
In an upcoming Circle, you’ll hear similar comments about Mali from a freak name Lankester.
There are reports Israel attacked a suspicious convoy along the border with Syria.
As you’ll read in this story from Reuters, that’s about all that’s certain — and this piece offers plenty o’ qualifiers so tread carefully.
Reuters says, “Israeli forces attacked a convoy on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight, a Western diplomat and regional security sources said on Wednesday, as concern has grown in the Jewish state over the fate of Syrian chemical and advanced conventional weapons.
“The sources, four in total, all of whom declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, had no further information about what the vehicles may have been carrying, what forces were used or where precisely the attack happened.
“In the run-up to the raid, Israeli officials have been warning very publicly of a threat of high-tech anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles reaching Israel’s enemies in the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from Syria. They have also echoed U.S. concerns about Syria’s presumed chemical weapons arsenal.
“The Lebanese army reported a heavy presence of Israeli jets over its territory throughout the night.”
This story is summed up beautifully by a “security source” telling Reuters, “There was definitely a hit in the border area,” and “a Western diplomat in the region” being quoted saying, “something has happened.”
Reuters continues, “Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute in London said there are indications that Hezbollah is training near chemical weapons sites in Syria, with which the Shi’ite Lebanese militia has historically had a strong alliance.”
Then Reuters quotes Joshi saying, “We also know that (Syria’s) use of tactical ballistic missiles has been escalating – presumably as air power becomes harder to use in contested areas, and rebels seize larger targets like bases that are amenable to missile attack.”
Reuters adds, “Worries about Syria and Hezbollah have sent Israelis lining up for government-issued gas masks. According to the Israel post office, which is handling distribution of the kits, demand roughly trebled this week.”
So who the fuck knows what happened. This article has lots of useful background, important context and wild speculation.
What’s certain is Israel has stepped it up a notch when it comes to the war next door.
Syria’s opposition says it’s ready to talk with Assad.
Agence France Presse has the stunningly goods news, “Syria’s opposition chief Moaz al-Khatib said on Wednesday he is ready for dialogue with officials of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, subject to conditions including that some 160,000 detainees are released.”
Khatib’s Facebook page said, “I announce I am ready for direct discussions with representatives of the Syrian regime in Cairo, Tunis or Istanbul.
“I became aware thanks to the media that the regime in Syria has called on the opposition to enter into dialogue.
“While it is not right for anyone to bargain with the freedom for which our people have paid so dearly in blood, I say there are basic conditions before I sit down with representatives of the regime.”
Khatib, head of what AFP calls “the main opposition Syrian National Coalition,” calls this “a goodwill initiative to seek a political solution to the crisis, to prepare for a transitional phase that prevents any more bloodshed.”
I know, this is heaven more than hell.
Here’s the deal: I feel guilty for accidentally skipping yesterday’s Syria massacre story.
Mali’s insurgents are fleeing to new homes throughout the region.
According to The Independent, “Efforts to push back rebels in Mali could destabilise the region as the mainly foreign jihadists retreat into neighbouring countries, experts warned today.
“Mali expert Dr Marie Rodet said although French military action was proving successful, it could just be moving the problem, rather than solving it, as rebels move out.
“Dr Rodet, lecturer in the History of Africa at the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, said with little state control, it had been easy for potential jihadists to move to Mali.”
The Independent quotes Dr. Rodet saying, “Most of these jihadists are coming from Algeria, Mauritania, western Sahara and further.
“You have different groups of fighters on the ground and for the past nine months there was no state control over the region, it was even easier for all the potential jihadist fighters to come from anywhere.
“It has been said that some have come from Pakistan to train there.”
The Independent adds, “Within nine months or so, it had been easy for people to come into an area which was inherently difficult to control because of its vast territory and difficult terrain, she said.
“But efforts to push the rebels out could cause other problems in neighbouring countries such as Mauritania, Algeria, and Niger, Dr Rodet added.”
More from Rodet: “So far they (French forces) have been quite successful because if most of these fighters are coming from outside and they realise that Mali is no longer a safe sanctuary for their terrorist action, they will find another place.
“What is worrying is they move into neighbouring countries so it doesn’t solve the problem – Mali will become safer but there’s a high risk that it will destabilise all the neighbouring countries.
“That’s why all these countries are watching very, very closely what is happening now.”
Then The Independent has this: “Guy Lankester, veteran traveller to Mali, said rebels were mainly foreign rather than homegrown and France would “easily break” them.
“Mr Lankester, who runs travel company From Here 2 Timbuktu, said any jihadist extremism that had come into Mali in the past year was ‘totally foreign,’ and as foreign to Malians ‘as it would be in Wales.’
They quote Lankester — who The Independent describes as “Zimbabwe-born Mr Lankester, who organises tailor-made tours for people to discover Africa, including Mali, as well as Cameroon, Mauritania and Morocco” — saying, “Whatever jihadist extremism has come into Mali has come in really in the last year and is totally foreign.”
Lankester says, “There is nothing in the society for it to key into – it is as foreign to them as it would be in Wales!”
The Independent explains, “Many of the ‘jihadists’ will not be able to fade into the community, Mr Lankester said, because they are foreign, with ‘foreign tongues, clothes and colours.’”
Here’s more stuff from Lankester: “This battle should be quick. France should easily break them.”
The independent adds “Lankester branded most of the rebels ‘mafia criminals,’ dealing in drugs, cigarettes and ransoms for hostages.”
They end the story with one last quote from Dr. Rodet:
“They are all intertwined processes – to be able to finance terrorist actions you need money and so if you are involved in trafficking you can get that, and so on. It’s a vicious circle.”
Now that’s a Circle of Hell!
Zimbabwe has £138 left.
The Independent tells us, “Zimbabwe’s finance minister has revealed the extent of the country’s economic plight by announcing it has just £138 remaining in its bank account.
“Tendai Biti made the extraordinary revelation at a press conference yesterday, admitting ‘the government finances are in paralysis state at the present moment.’
“Mr Biti went on to tell shocked news reporters that they were likely to have healthier personal bank balances than the state had after it paid civil servant wages last week.
“He confessed that the country’s finances had been driven into the ground by 32 years of ruinous economic policy by despotic president Robert Mugabe, adding that Zimbabwe’s finances are so poor that it no longer has enough money to organise a constitutional referendum and election planned for later this year.
“A decade ago Mr Mugabe began a policy of expropriating white-owned farmland and handing it over to black farmers.
“4,000 white farmers were forcibly removed from their land in a move that destroyed investor confidence in the country.
“This in turn left Zimbabwe as one of Africa’s poorest countries, despite previously being known as the continent’s fertile ‘bread basket.’
“Three out of four people in Zimbabwe live on less than £1 a day and over half of the work force is unemployed.
“In the late 2000s, Zimbabwe began printing additional money in a desperate move to improve its finances, but this led to hyperinflation of 230 million per cent, rendering its currency worthless. Zimbabwe now uses US dollars.”
This story seems somehow misleading.
I cannot believe I have more money than Zimbabwe.
If that’s true, something is very very very very very wrong.
Mexico’s trying to figure out what happened in the case of the 17 musicians’ corpses found in a well.
Agence France Presse reveals, “Mexican authorities are investigating why a band that performed love songs was kidnapped and killed by gunmen, who dumped their bodies in a well in the drug cartel-infested north.
“The killings underscored yet again the pervasiveness of Mexico’s grisly drug violence, which has claimed more than 70,000 lives since the launch of a military crackdown on the powerful, feuding cartels in 2006.
“Authorities said late Tuesday they had pulled 17 corpses from a desert well in the northern state of Nuevo Leon since Sunday, with 14 confirmed so far as members of Kombo Kolombia.
“The band’s 14 musicians and four roadies were snatched in the middle of a party early Friday in the town of Hidalgo. One member managed to escape his captors and led police to the gruesome site in the nearby town of Mina.
“Musicians have fallen victim to Mexico’s relentless drug war before, but those killed in the past usually performed songs that glorify the exploits of drug lords, a popular style known as ‘narcocorridos.’
“This latest slaying is unusual because Kombo Kolombia specialized in vallenato, fast-paced folk music from Colombia, and performed romantic songs with lyrics unrelated to the drug trade.
“Jorge Domene, the spokesman for Nuevo Leon state security, said Tuesday that investigators were ‘still gathering information that can guide us to the real cause’ of the murders.
“A source close to the investigation said the prosecutor’s office was looking into any links the musicians may have had with the Zetas, an ultra-violent drug cartel founded by former special forces soldiers.
“The Zetas control some of the sites where Kombo Kolombia played, according to the source, who said the killers might have been members of the rival Sinaloa cartel.”
AFP continues, “Some 50 ‘narcocorrido’ performers have been killed in the past six years, said Edmundo Perez, author of the book ‘Let Me Be Buried With Narcocorridos.’”
AFP adds, “One of the most famous victims was Valentin Elizalde, a popular singer who counted drug traffickers among his fans and was shot dead in November 2006 in the northeastern city of Reynosa, the turf of the Gulf cartel.
“Drug lords can pay a singer $5,000 to $10,000 to write a song in their honor, Perez said, but then he can become a target for rivals.”
Perez is quoted saying, “When they become famous, they start inviting them to parties, and the artist knows that he can’t say no.”
This won’t be on the US national nightly network news, but it will be on Univison, Telemundo, etc.
Makes me wish I had done better in my college Spanish language classes so I could get news about what’s happening on the other side of the border.
Russia is “saying farewell to our dependence on ‘Power No. 1.’”
Reuters informs us, “Russia scrapped a law enforcement agreement with the United States on Wednesday, further turning back the clock on a ‘reset’ in relations since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin last year.
“An order to end the deal, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, was posted on the government’s website. It said the agreement, under which Washington provides financial assistance for law enforcement and drugs control programs, ‘does not address current realities and has exhausted its potential.’
“Lawmaker Alexei Pushkov, a Putin ally who heads the parliamentary committee on international affairs, welcomed the move.”
Pushkov tweeted, “Russia is reformatting its relationship with the USA: this is already the third agreement cancelled in the last half-year. We are saying farewell to our dependence on ‘Power No. 1′.” he said on Twitter.
Reuters continues, “Since Putin’s return to the Kremlin in May, his foreign policy rhetoric has become increasingly focused on external threats, including from the United States which Russia has accused of trying to meddle in Russian politics.
“Moscow was infuriated by a U.S. human rights bill that barred Russians accused of human rights abuses from entering the United States and freezed any assets they have there.
“It responded with a bill in December imposing similar measures and banned the adoption of Russian children by American families, clouding what was left of the ‘reset’ in ties hailed by U.S. President Barack Obama at the start of his first term.
“Moscow also outlawed U.S.-funded ‘non-profit organizations that engage in political activity’ and last October ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development to cease operations in Russia, saying Washington was using the mission to interfere in politics.
“The government statement on Wednesday said Russia’s Foreign Ministry had been told to inform U.S. authorities about the withdrawal from the 11-year-old law enforcement agreement.”
Reuters quotes Dmitry Trenin, director at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, saying, “Mr. Putin’s goal is to reduce as much as he can U.S. influence on Russia internally.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of damage but they believe the pay-off will be bigger: whoever opposes the leadership here will be seen as a fifth column who is doing the bidding of the United States, unpatriotic at minimum and very likely a traitor.”
It’s better than these new conflagrations.
I call it ‘Conflict Classic!’
Home purchases up, defense spending down so US economy ‘unexpectedly shrank.’
Bloomberg finds, “The economy in the U.S. unexpectedly shrank in the fourth quarter, restrained by the biggest plunge in defense spending in four decades and dwindling inventory growth as household purchases picked up.
“Gross domestic product, the volume of all goods and services produced, dropped at a 0.1 percent annual rate, weaker than any economist forecast in a Bloomberg survey and the worst performance since the second quarter of 2009, when the world’s largest economy was still in the recession, Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. A decline in government outlays and smaller gain in stockpiles subtracted a combined 2.6 percentage points from growth.
“Bolstered by a drop in fuel prices and the biggest gain in incomes in four years, consumer spending accelerated as the biggest part of the economy overcame superstorm Sandy, a bitter presidential contest and Washington budget battles. The gain in spending may be difficult to sustain this quarter as a tax increase takes a bigger chunk from pay, one reason why Federal Reserve policy makers, meeting today, are projected to press on with plans to pump money into the world’s largest economy.”
Bloomberg quotes Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, whose team projected a 0.3 percent gain, the lowest in the Bloomberg survey, saying, “The number isn’t as bad as it looks. This really was a story about a payback in national defense spending. Consumer spending growth picked up, fixed investment was fairly strong.”
If we were only spending more on defense we could really turn this economy around …
47% of coal consumed each year is burned in China.
The Guardian finds, “China now burns nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.
“The country’s appetite for the carbon-intensive fuel rose by 9% in 2011, to 3.8bn tonnes, meaning it now accounts for 47% of worldwide coal consumption.
“The growth, revealed by US government figures on Tuesday, was driven by China’s booming economy, which has grown at an average rate of around 10% over the past decade. China overtook the US as the world’s biggest carbon emitter in 2007, and became the world’s biggest consumer of energy in 2010.
“Research out last November suggested that 1,000 new coal-fired power plants are planned worldwide, with 363 in China and 455 in India. If all the plants were built, it would put the world on ‘a really dangerous trajectory’ for climate change, experts at the World Resources Institute said.”
Congratulations, China … I guess.