Bill Weinberg

Cartoon wars hit 'moderate' (sic) Malaysia

Well, the interminable cartoon wars have now hit Malaysia. On Feb. 10, the Malaysian Federal Court upheld a "sodomy" conviction and five-year prison term of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a decision clearly as politicized as it is reactionary. That same day, cartoonist Zulkiflee Awar Ulhaque, popularly known as Zunar, was arrested at his home—charged under the country's draconian "sedition" law for tweeting a cartoon critical of the ruling, and portraying the judge in the case as Prime Minister Najib Razak. (BBC News, The Malaysian Online, Jurist) Said Shawn Crispin of the Committee to Protect Journalists: "We call on authorities to release Zunar immediately, drop all charges against him, and get to work reforming the sedition law that Prime Minister Najib Razak once acknowledged has no place in Malaysian society." Not all voices have been so forthright, however...

ISIS and atrocity pornography: politics of horror

The new ISIS propaganda video showing the immolation of a captive Jordanian pilot is very professionally done, its special creepy quality coming from the mix of slick production and utterly barbaric content. Before the big climax, we are shown several images of mangled children, purported to be victims of bombardment by the US-led coalition. Each image is engulfed by photo-shopped flames, symbolizing the explosions that left them dead or maimed. Then the eerily ritualistic finale, in which the pilot stands erect in an orange jump-suit, inside a metal cage in a bombed-out site, surrounded by an impassive phalanx of masked thugs with machine-guns. One thug approaches with a torch, and it becomes clear the captive has been drenched with gasoline. His body is quickly engulfed by real flame, and the camera lovingly details his agonizing death. The implication is that this is just retribution for the lives claimed by the air-strikes. Fox News is one of the few media outlets to display the full video (with the warning: "EXTREMELY GRAPHIC VIDEO"). Fox only wants to make the point that ISIS is a barbaric enemy (as if we didn't know), but there are other points to be made here too...

Chem-armed ISIS being funded through US?

Well, probably not, but maybe we can get some hits by throwing cold water on the inflammatory claims. Russia Today of course jumps on a report in Pakistan's Express-Tribune Jan. 28 claiming that the ISIS commander for the country confessed under interrogation that he has been receiving funds through the United States. Authorities said Yousaf al Salafi was arrested in Lahore Jan. 22—although "sources" said he was actually arrested in December and it was only disclosed on Jan. 22. An anonymous "source" also said: "During the investigations, Yousaf al-Salafi revealed that he was getting funding—routed through America—to run the organization in Pakistan and recruit young people to fight in Syria." Unnamed "sources" said al-Salafi's revelations were shared with the US Secretary of State John Kerry during his recent visit to Islamabad, and with CentCom chief Gen. Lloyd Austin during his visit earlier in January. "The US has been condemning the IS activities but unfortunately has not been able to stop funding of these organizations, which is being routed through the US," the "source" taunted. OK, could be, but we are a little tired of the current craze for anonymous and therefore unverifiable sources.

Obama's new offshore plan: don't believe the hype

This week, the Obama administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling—opening up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offering many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up. The plan designates 9.8 million acres of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off-limits to oil-and-gas leasing, and asks Congress to set aside 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as "wilderness area," affording another level of protection. Daily Caller is outraged that the Alaskan waters are to be off-limits; Grist is outraged that the Southeastern waters are to be opened up; Bloomberg tries to play it objective. However, read the small print last line of the White House memo on the supposedly new polcy: "Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas."

ISIS burns cannabis, snorts coke?

We recently noted that the ultra-puritanical ISIS has been burning the cannabis fields in the territory it controls in northern Syria—and that the cannabis farmers of Lebanon are arming to resist any ISIS incursion across the border. Now comes the hilariously predictable news that ISIS fighters may be snorting cocaine to keep their spirits up! On Jan. 6, the Kurdish Daily News posted a video from the town of Kobani in northern Syria, where local Kurdish fighters have been resisting an ISIS siege since September. The footage shows Kurdish fighters holding a stash of white powder in a big plastic bag just taken from the house of an ISIS commander. Kurdish fighters interviewed on camera said the house had been seized from an ISIS "emir" (as they call their commanders) who had earlier taken it over from local residents. The"emir" was killed in house-to-house fighting, and his home searched. In addittion to lots of weapons (of course), the coke stash was found. The Kurdish fighters said they believed the emir was distributing coke to his own followers to fuel their fighting spirit.

Venezuela to nuke New York... Not!

Here we go again. The same trick over and over—and the sad part is, we fear most people are falling for it. (Or at least those who take note of such news at all.) Yesterday's AP headline read: "Tape: Scientist offers to build nuke bomb targeting New York." If you just read that and the lede, you would come away thinking Venezuela was trying to develop the capacity to nuke Gotham City. It is only if you bother to read futher that the bait-and-switch becomes clear. Venezuela was not involved at all. The dumb sucker who got busted had no actual contact with Venezuela—only an FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan official. To wit:

Mineral struggle in new Kosova violence

Police in Kosova fired tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters Jan. 24 as thousands of ethnic Albanians took to the streets of capital Pristina to demand the dismissal of Labor Minister Aleksandar Jablanovic, one of three ethnic Serbs in Prime Minister Isa Mustafa's cabinet. Jablanovic sparked outrage two weeks earlier when he called a group of ethnic Albanians "savages" for trying to prevent Serb pilgrims from visiting a monastery at Gjakova (Djakovica) on Orthodox Christmas. The group had claimed "war criminals" were among the pilgrims. There was more ugliness Jan. 14, when Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said that Albanian protesters kicked his car when he arrived at Kosova's Gracanica monastery for a ceremony. At the same event, Albanian reporters asked when Serbia would "apologize" for the ethnic cleansing in Kosova, and recognize Kosova's independence. Vucic replied that he would not answer "silly questions." There were apparently atrocities against ethnic Albanians in the vicinity of these monasteries during the Kosova war in late '90s, and we have noted the recent propensity for Orthodox holy sites to become a flashpoint for slugfests. But, as ever, there are actual issues of control of wealth and resources behind the conflict...

Greece: populist bloc with xenophobes

We were very enthused that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister from Greece's leftist Syriza party, in his first act after being sworn in today laid flowers at the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani, where the Nazis executed 200 Greek communist partisan fighters on May 1, 1944. (Sky News) An unsubtle message, both to Greece's own resurgent neo-Nazi right, and to contemporary German financial imperialism. We applaud. Especially since the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (its leadership in prison awaiting trial for running a criminal organization) came in a highly disoncerting third in the election. This is a sign of polarization, with the pro-austerity "center" collapsing, and far right and radical left in a contest to seize the populist space. What's not so good is that Tsipras and Syriza, just short of the outright majority needed to govern alone, have quickly formed a bloc with lawmakers from a right-wing anti-immigrant populist party, the Independent Greeks. (AP)