Friday, October 17, 2014

While The World Watches ISIS, Iran Quietly Advances

While the entire world follows breathlessly the battles between Kurdish forces and the Islamic State in Kobani, the Syrian city on the border between Turkey and Syria, Iran is slowly completing an impressive takeover of Yemen.

On Tuesday, Houthi separatists took control of the strategic Yemeni port city of Hodeida, west of the capital, Sana’a. They captured the airport to the south of the city on the same day. This came after the September 21 Houthi takeover of Sana’a itself.

The Houthi, Zaidi Shi’a (one of the Shi’a sects), have enjoyed the close support in recent years of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its al-Quds Brigades, responsible for foreign theaters.

This should arouse worry in Israel. Yemen, due to its strategic location, commands what for Israel is a strategic waterway — the exit from the Rea Sea to the Indian Ocean, also known as Bab al-Mandab. The presence of Revolutionary Guards forces on such a critical shipping lane for the Israeli economy, facilitating access not only to the Indian Ocean but also to targets like Iran itself, could present significant problems for Israeli ships passing through. At the beginning of the 1970s, Palestinian terror groups attacked Israeli ships that passed through Bab al-Mandab. It is possible that the Iranians will try to use the same tactics with the Houthis.

But beyond the Israeli angle, developments in Yemen in recent weeks, and indeed since the  beginning of the Arab Spring there, are a classic example of the shifting sands in the Middle East.

In November 2011, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh quit after 33 years. He was one of the longest-serving leaders in the Middle East, similar to Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. They were the same age, and the lynch that killed Qaddafi in 2011 was, it seems, one of the factors that led to Saleh stepping down on his own accord. In his place, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi was appointed president.

But for the Houthi, this personal change was not enough. They wanted a bigger slice of the government pie, and, likely with Iranian encouragement, they sought to take over the country, as they are still attempting to do now. In recent months, the Houthi have recorded significant military achievements, the most important being the capture of Sana’a.

It is uncertain where Yemen is heading. What is clear, however, is that in the shadow of attacks and massacres from the Islamic State, the Shi’ite axis headed by Iran is not resting for a moment. During the Houthi demonstrations, passwords appeared that sounded like they were taken directly from the Iranian Islamic Revolution’s phrasebook: “Death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews.”

So while the American (and Israeli) media focuses almost obsessively on the maps of IS’s takeover, “moderate” Iran is succeeding with a little less noise to gain control over even larger chunks of territory: Lebanon, parts of Syria and Iraq, and now Yemen.

Next month, six months of talks over the Iranian nuclear program will end, likely without a major breakthrough. But even without nuclear weapons, it looks like the Iranians are doing just fine.

The Palestinians will submit a draft resolution to the UN Security Council by the end of October demanding the end of Israel’s occupation, a senior official said on Thursday.

The Palestinians have been under intense pressure not to push forward with the resolution — including with alleged threats of cuts in US aid — but Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Yasser Abed Rabbo said a decision was made late Wednesday to push ahead.

“The political council of the PLO decided during its meeting last night… to go to the UN Security Council with the aim of getting a resolution passed to end the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories… by the end of this month,” he said.

Voting could take place “two weeks or more after the request is presented,” Abed Rabbo told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “There is no excuse for a delay.”

Since the collapse of US-led peace talks with Israel in April, the Palestinians have been pursuing a new diplomatic path to independence via the United Nations and by joining international organizations.

The Palestinians won the status of UN observer state in 2012.
A draft of the resolution obtained by AFP earlier this month calls for the “full withdrawal of Israel, the occupying power, from all of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, as rapidly as possible and to be fully completed within a specified time frame, not to exceed November 2016.”

Palestinian officials said Thursday that their draft resolution still doesn’t have majority backing in the UN Security Council. It would likely be vetoed by the US, but Ramallah would still consider a nine-vote majority in favor of the resolution as a diplomatic victory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Monday that a Palestinian diplomatic offensive would “undermine” peace efforts.

Sermon Fight In U.S. City

 John Hays on the website for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has taken up the pastors’ cause and is asking a court to quash the demands for the sermons.
Website Social Content Editor Emily Conley wrote about the dispute – that the city passed a law that “would allow members of the opposite sex to use each other’s restrooms, in the name of ‘prohibiting discrimination,” known as HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). Voters weren’t so thrilled, and respond[ed] by petitioning to repeal the ordinance or at least, put it up for a vote. They got over 50,000 signatures, more than three times the required number The city secretary … certified them as sufficient. But the mayor and city attorney defied the law, claimed less than the required number of signatures was valid – and threw out the petition.”

A lawsuit over that apparent defiance of the law followed, and the city responded with a legal demand to obtain copies of sermons of pastors who were not even part of the lawsuit.

It was on that blog where members of the public were encouraged to participate in social media efforts to “let the city of Houston know that this is a problem.”

City officials at first doubled down on their efforts, with lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, who has said the issue is all about her own lifestyle choice, stating, “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game.”
But the Washington Times reported city officials then issued a statement they would try to “narrow the scope” of their demands, a move that Joe La Rue, ADF legal counsel, said was “wholly inadequate.”

“These sermons, emails and texts have nothing to do with whether the coalition gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot,” he told the newspaper.

“The shame that the city of Houston has brought upon itself is real, but the claim that it has changed course is not. The city has so far taken no concrete action to withdraw the subpoenas. Furthermore, the subpoenas themselves are the problem – not just their request for pastors’ sermons,” she said.
“The city is not off the hook from its illegitimate request for emails, text messages, and other communications in which these pastors, who are not even party to this lawsuit, may have disagreed with the mayor. The way to fix this is to withdraw the subpoenas entirely. Otherwise, the city’s and the mayor’s overtures are simply more window-dressing intended to shield them from public scrutiny.”

“Religious liberty is the very first protection in the Bill of Rights, the foundation of all our liberties,” said Sen. Ted Cruz said. “The city of Houston’s subpoenas demanding that pastors provide the government with copies of their sermons is both shocking and shameful.”

Christian-Right Lumped With ISIS, Boko Haram

A human rights foundation that lists “homophobia and transphobia” as its first concern has released a “Manifesto for Secularism” that labels the “Christian-Right” as an example of a community based on “ethnicity, religion and culture” – alongside the violent Islamic jihadist groups ISIS and Boko Haram.

The Christians have been advocating for their right to exercise their faith, including opposition to homosexual behavior and abortion, while ISIS has been slaughtering Christians and others in Iraq and Boko Haram has been slaughtering mostly Christians in North Africa.

The online posting from the U.K.’s Peter Tatchell Foundation says secularism is “vital for the defense of democracy, equality and human rights.”

“We call on people everywhere to stand with us to establish an international front against the religious-Right and for secularism.”
It explains the movements that it opposes as: “The Islamic State (formerly ISIS), the Saudi regime, Hindutva (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in India, the Christian-Right in the U.S. and Europe, Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka, Haredim in Israel, AQMI and MUJAO in Mali, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria.”
The statement drew a terse response from Simon Calvert, spokesman for the Christian Institute.

Tatchell, the foundation director, specifically targeted Christians in his statement that accompanied the manifesto.
“The launch of the Manifesto for Secularism is a challenge to the global rise of the Religious Right and its menacing values, which threaten women, LGBTs, atheists, minority faiths, apostates and many others,” he said.

The Height Of Idiocy: U.S. Gov't Hijacks The Whole Swiss Banking System

True story.
One of our SMC members just received a package from HSBC giving him and his wife a deadline to comply with FATCA—US’ global tax law.
As Canadians they’d long felt bad for Americans having to deal with the overbearing burden of FATCA. Never did they think it would affect them.
But suddenly they had just four weeks to prove that they were not US taxpayers,all because at one point they had purchased a service that gave them a US phone number.
And now they, as Canadian citizens and residents, have to submit a fully completed W8BEN IRS form, along with a government issued photo ID and a detailed letter of explanation to make it very clear that they were not in fact Americans.
It used to be that foreigners were vying to become US citizens, but today they’re begging not to be confused as one.

In aiming to make itself the warden of the world, the US government has become very comfortable with reaching beyond its borders.
Historically, the pursuit of global dominance involved taking over others’ territories with guns blazing. Today, there’s more finesse, but the intentions are the same.

FATCA, the new Manifest Destiny, is probably the most arrogant piece of legislation ever enacted, at least in modern times.
Assuming that the entire world should be subject to its own arcane and excessive tax legislation, FATCA requires foreign banks to sabotage their relationships with their clients and breach their own privacy standards to comply with the US government’s will.
This overreaching piece of legislation demands that they reveal the information of US citizens with accounts over $50,000.
Otherwise the banks will be frozen out of the US banking system and slapped with a 30% withholding tax—effectively killing their business.
Those that resist can even face criminal charges.

With the Swiss banking system in particular in the crosshairs of US authorities, the Department of Justice “offered” a deal to Swiss banks to avoid prosecution before the end of last year, and over 100 Swiss banks rushed to take it before the December 31st deadline.
However, the actual terms of this deal didn’t come out until now. It turns out that, from its position of dominance, the US government is demanding “total cooperation” from Swiss banks.

This means an open, one-way flow of information of American account numbers, balances, names, addresses and identification numbers. In addition, they must reveal all cross-border activities and close the accounts of any Americans said to be evading taxes.
Doing otherwise, the banks are breaching the deal and thus immediately face prosecution.

Between compliance documentation, and facing massive fines and potential criminal charges, it’s no mystery as to why foreign financial institutions are going out of their way to avoid US customers.
And increasingly they’re looking for alternatives to the whole system as well. If you’re a foreign bank that gets reminded constantly of the potential penalties, breaches and charges that you could face simply for doing business, it’s only prudent that you hedge your bets and look to minimize your exposure to the US dollar and the US banking system.
It really just isn’t worth it anymore.
The US thus just continues to shoot itself in the foot.

Also see:

Dallas Nurse Showing Ebola Symptoms Stuck On Ships Tender In Belize

CDC: Vinson May Have Had Symptoms During Flight To Cleveland

Four New Suspected Cases Of Ebola In Spain

U.S> Works On Military 'Scenarios' Near Russian Borders

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