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Showing posts from April, 2017

US turns down Russian invitation to meet on Afghanistan

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(April 16)Even though the U.S. was invited to a meeting on Afghanistan on Friday, it did not attend. The meeting in Moscow was aimed at facilitating peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.
The decision is just one more sign of the deteriorating relationship between the US and Russia. The meeting came just after the U.S. had dropped theMother of All Bombs(MOAB) on a cave complex occupied by Islamic State fighters in a mountainous area near the border with Pakistan.The caveswere apparently built with the help of the CIA during the battle against a Soviet-backed Afghan regime. The former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was highly critical of the bombing in a tweet: "This is not the war on terror, but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as testing ground for new and dangerous weapons." However, the present president, Ashraf Ghani said that the bombing was part of a joint operation between Afghan and international troops and were extra cau…

Fast food to be delivered by robots in San Francisco

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Yelp's Eat24 has teamed up with Marble, a robot delivery startup, and will start delivering food in the evening in the relatively flat Mission and Potrero Hill districts in San Francisco California.
At present,the robotswill have a person accompanying them in case something goes wrong, although the robots will be running autonomously. The Marble robots are larger than those of some competitors and take up about as much space as a mobility scooter and are about waist high. The much smaller robots ofStarship Technologymade in Estonia have also begun testing in Washington D.C. for Postmates and DoorDash in Redwood City California: The six-wheeled robots are a little under two feet tall, weigh about 40 pounds empty and travel four miles per hour — walking speed. The idea is that one day soon these autonomous rovers will share sidewalk space with pedestrians on their own, but for now they’ll be accompanied by handlers — people walking alongside each robot as it makes its deliveries.The …

Eastern commander Haftar finally meets with UN envoy Kobler

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For almost a year, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) associated with the eastern-based government of the House of Representatives (HoR) has refused to meet with Martin Kobler UN envoy to Libya.
However, there was asurprise meetingbetween the two at Haftar's Rajma Headquarter just outside of Benghazi. Kobler sent a message that it had been a good meeting that had focused on the obstacles facing implementation of the Libyan Political Agreement and what would happen afterwards. The two men are said to have had a cordial meeting. It was in December of 2015 that the two last met. Haftar has been increasingly critical of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya that Kobler heads. He turned down several earlier requests for meetings as described here as a waster of time and here. Last September, Kobler told the UN Security Council that Kobler had to have a role in the new Libya. It is not clear whether the present Presidential Council(PC) of the …

Giant Chinese online retailer to build 150 drone delivery launch centers

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The giant Chinese online retailer JD.com, one of the country's largest internet shopping sites second only to Alibaba is to build 150 drone launch centers in Sichuan to deliver to rural areas CEO Richard Liu announced.
It is easy to buy goods online and have them delivered in cities but in rural areas choices are much more limited and local stores usually have higher prices. Liu said the new drone sites could reduce shipping costs as much as 70 percent. The firm has been holding talks with the government for a more extensive logistics agreement in the province. JD.com has been developing it drone capacities since October of 2015 through its JDX innovation lab. A Wall Street Journal article at the end of January last year reported tests were already underway: "The Beijing-based company said Thursday it has started an experiment with bright red drones emblazoned with its logo to carry small packages to far-flung areas that are difficult to reach with regular truck routes."…

Why Russia used veto on UN motion regarding Syria chemical attack

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On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a resolution condemning the chemical attack in northern Syria that killed over 80 people. The resolution was sponsored by France, the UK and the US all of whom have claimed that Bashar Assad is responsible for the attack.
Earlier versions of the resolution had explicitly blamed Assad for the attack. This one does not explicitly do so but by its terms suggests that he was. The UN account of the Security Council meeting noted that the Russian representative Vladimir Safronkov said that the Russian delegation voted against the draft because of its "erroneous" contents, noting that his countries concerns and priorities were set aside. Safronkov said that the troika of the UK, France, and the US had already named a perpetrator before a proper investigation had been conducted. He said that by presenting a doomed resolution that they had undermined the unity of the Council. Council members agree that there should be an investigation and also agree to con…

Many contradictory accounts given by different parties of Syrian alleged sarin attack

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(April 13) A US government report in a declassified intelligence assessment that it is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack using the nerve agent sarin.
TheUS report claimsthat the chemical agent was delivered by a Syrian Su-22 fixed wing aircraft that flew over the village of Khan Sheikhun at the time of the attack. The attack killed at least 87 civilians on the fourth of April including 31 children. The entire report can befound here. The report presents evidence for Assad's responsibility that reads in part: "Additionally, our information indicates personnel historically associated with Syria's chemical weapons programme were at Shayrat airfield in late March making preparations for an upcoming attack in northern Syria, and they were present at the airfield on the day of the attack." The report says its conclusions relay on satellite imagery, laboratory analysis of physiological samples from victims and a "significant body of op…

Meeting between top US and Russian diplomats tense

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(April 12) The meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was far from friendly. Later, Tillerson also met with Russian president Putin.
Lavrov warned Tillerson publicly against any further U.S. military strikes on the Syrian regime. No meeting with Russian president Putin was scheduled although after being kept waiting for two hours he finally did have a long meeting with Putin that lasted about two hours. Tillerson had a friendly relationship with Putin and Russia while he headed the oil giant Exxon but there was no friendliness on exhibit publicly at this meeting.Tillersontold reporters: “There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” Although Putin had a somewhat frosty relationship with Obama and Trump promised during his campaign that he would promote better relationships with Russia, Putinsaid: "One could say that the level of trust on …

Tension increases between US and North Korea as egos clash

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North Korea and the U.S. trade threats and provocations as tension between the leaders of the two countries increases creating the danger of disastrous clashes.
In the west, the press emphasis is on North Korean actions such as nuclear and missile tests. The North Koreans take these actions as defensive responses to U.S. and South Korean actions. The U.S. and others consider them as provocations. Such actions as a U.S. aircraft carrier steaming toward North Korea and joint war games with the South Koreans that involve a simulated attack on North Korea, nor the installation of the THAAD anit-missile system are not regarded as provocations but legitimate responses to the threat of North Korea in the western press. North Korean rhetoric does not help the situation, as Kim Jong-un threatens nuclear attacks in response to any military action against it. However, many people are concerned that after the US strike in Syria, the U.S. may take unilateral military action against North Korea. Ru…

Islamic State fighters launch attack on Syrian UK special forces camp

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(April 11) Islamic State(IS) fighters have launched a wave of suicide attacks on a U.K. special forces training base in Syria, the al-Tanf garrison near the Syrian-Iraq-Jordan border.
The IS first used a vehicle bomb to get in to the al-Tanf base used by U.S. special forces to train Syrian rebels. The vehicle attack was followed by a ground attack that involved at least thirty IS fighters. The attackers were driven back by coalition air strikes and help from Western troops. The IS fighters were also able to ambush a rebel group convoy that was trying to relieve the base. Eight IS fighters and four rebels were said to have died in the battle.The raid is one of the fiercest counter-attacks waged against coalition forces in the area. The IS jihadists apparently avoided aerial detection as they were using vehicles they had captured from rebels in a previous battle. Al-Tanf has been a heavily-fortified training hub used by both U.S. and U.K. special forces to help train Syrian rebel groups…

Amnesty International finds global capital punishment dropped in 2016

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The 2016 review of capital punishment globally by Amnesty International found that worldwide executions had dropped by 37 percent compared to 2015.
China executes the most people by far far over a thousand and perhaps thousands. Amnesty believes that China executes more people than the entire rest of the world. Much of the information regarding the application of the death penalty is regarded as "state secrets". Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International said: "China wants to be a leader on the world stage, but when it comes to the death penalty it is leading in the worst possible way - executing more people annually than any other country in the world. The Chinese government has recognized it is a laggard in terms of openness and judicial transparency, but it persists in actively concealing the true scale of executions. It is high time for China to lift the veil on this deadly secret and finally come clean about its death penalty system." As a nominal…

US allies quickly fall in line echoing US line blaming Assad for alleged Syrian chemical attack

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U.S. allies fall in line giving support for Trump's missile attack on a Syrian air base to punish Assad even though there was no independent investigation as to who was to blame, nor any UN motion of support, nor U.S. Congress approval either.
Trump acted solely on his own. He did not bother with the UN. He did not try to involve NATO, as often happens when the UN does not do what the U.S. wants. He did not create a coalition of allies to spread the responsibility. He did not consult his own Congress even though he claimed that president Obama had to do so when he was contemplating a strike. He also advised Obama not to bomb Syria. However, Trump now agrees with Hillary Clinton that bombing a Syrian air base is a good idea. All those supporting the U.S. simply assume Assad is guilty even though this has not been concluded through any objective investigation. I have argued in a recentDigital Journalarticle that Trump's action was against international law. There is evidence tha…

Trump attack on Syrian airbase violated international law

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(April 9) Very few commentators seem concerned about whether the actions of Trump in attacking an Assad regime air base in Syria were against international law. Most consideration of the legality of the action has to do with its constitutionality under U.S. law.
 1 of 2 The main debate in the U.S. appears to be about whether Trump needed authorization from the Congress for his actions. Almost all discussions simply assume that there is no question of Assad being guilty asin this article. The whole framing of discourse has been altered. The question of Assad's guilt has long been settled. The question now is how to punish him and what would be justified. I discussed this issue in a recent article. Of course the bad guys such as the Assad regime, Russia and Iran deny that Assad is guilty and they see the missile attacks as obviously against international law:A Kremlin spokesperson said Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the missile strikes as an act of "aggression against a …