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Aleppo Notebook: The City’s Terrorist Besiegers Will Now Be Besieged

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I had been trying to get to Aleppo for ages, but was unable to do so because rebel activity had cut off the city from the outside world. Syrian government military successes at the start of January meant there was at last a safe road. I hired a driver, was allocated a government minder (very handy at checkpoints), and booked into a hotel. Driving north from Damascus, we picked up a 22-year-old Syrian army lieutenant called Ali, returning to his unit after eight days’ leave with his family.
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FBI vs. Apple: Is Liberty At Stake?

The FBI wants Apple to create software that will allow the Feds to break into the latest iPhones. Ironically, Apple upgraded its iPhone encryption as a result of the Snowden revelations about government spying on innocent Americans. The pretext for the government's demand is that the San Bernardino attackers used iPhones and the FBI needs to see their data. The mainstream media, as usual, takes the side of government and along with officials like Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) is demonizing Apple for resisting what amounts to forced conscription of Apple engineers for the US government. What is really at stake? Another government grab at our Constitutional liberties under the guise of "keeping us safe." How many terrorist plots has the FBI foiled through the use of surveillance on the rest of us? Zero. More today on the Liberty Report...
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Terror in Turkey: Is Erdogan Playing Washington?

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A massive apparent terror attack in Turkey’s capital comes at a crucial time just when the Erdogan government is trying to woo Washington’s support for its military intervention in Syria.

The Turkish capital Ankara on Wednesday was hit with a deadly car bomb outside its military headquarters. Reports put the dead at 28 with more than 60 injured in what appears to have been a highly sophisticated attack during evening rush hour.

The powerful blast went off just as two buses ferrying military personnel stopped at traffic lights outside the army headquarters at a busy intersection which is also near ministerial and parliament buildings. This part of the capital is normally kept under tight security.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has accused forces linked with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia of the terrorist attack.

The Turkish military have been shelling YPG units across the border in northern Syria. Erdogan and Davutoglu had issued several statements prior to the Wednesday bombing in Ankara denouncing the YPG as “terrorists” owing to their links to separatist Kurdish militants in Turkey belonging to the PKK.
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Obama’s ‘Moderate’ Syrian Deception

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Secretary of State John Kerry insisted at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that the agreement with Russia on a temporary halt in the war in Syria can only be carried out if Russia stops its airstrikes against what Kerry is now calling “legitimate opposition groups.”

But what Kerry did not say is that the ceasefire agreement would not apply to operations against Al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, the Nusra Front, which both the United States and Russia have recognized as a terrorist organization. That fact is crucial to understand why the Obama administration’s reference to “legitimate opposition groups” is a deception intended to mislead public opinion.

The Russian airstrikes in question are aimed at cutting off Aleppo city, which is now the primary center of Nusra’s power in Syria, from the Turkish border. To succeed in that aim, Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces are attacking rebel troops deployed in towns all along the routes from Aleppo to the border. Those rebels include units belonging to Nusra, their close ally Ahrar al-Sham, and other armed opposition groups – some of whom have gotten weapons from the CIA in the past.

Kerry’s language suggests that those other “legitimate opposition groups” are not part of Nusra’s military structure but are separate from it both organizationally and physically. But in fact, there is no such separation in either of the crucial provinces of Idlib and Aleppo.
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Supreme Court - The Soft Tyranny Of Judicial Review

Preservation of our civil liberties are very much tied up in the Constitutional separation of powers. We see daily in both the Legislative and Executive Branches the distortion and dysfunction of this important concept, where presidents legislate by Executive Order and Congress ignores its obligations regarding the use of military force. In the Judicial Branch this distortion of separation of powers occurs under the concept of "judicial review," which is the misguided idea that the courts somehow have veto power on actions by the other branches of government. What should the Supreme Court really look like if we are to preserve our liberties? Today's Liberty Report takes a look...
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NATO — America’s Misguided Instrument of Leadership

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On the world scene, America is a declining power. This decline is in part domestic and self-inflicted, reflecting a certain weariness and neglect of our social order. No amount of huffing and puffing from politicians will significantly change this decline. 

 But the decline is also relative, relative to the rise of new world powers. China, India, Brazil, even the return of a more active Russia; all now severely affect America’s former ability to dominate the global scene.

Numerous historical examples abound of imperial exhaustion, loss of spirit and decline. Yet, with our ambitions more modestly set, there is no reason why America cannot comfortably live within the framework of the newly emerging world order. Indeed President Obama, to his credit, (partially) does grasp the already serious costs of imperial overreach—even if his key strategists do not. 

American strategy seems fundamentally stuck in defensive mode against rising powers. Such powers indeed do challenge American aspirations for continued hegemony. But a defensive posture robs us of our vision and spirit; it represents a basically negative orientation, like King Canute on the beach trying to stop the encroaching tide. Worse, American military power—and the budget keeps rising—seems to have become the default US response to most foreign challenges. The Pentagon has put the State Department out of business.
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Federal Magistrate Orders Apple To Help FBI Hack Its Own Phones . . . Apple Refuses

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Apple has decided to fight an unprecedented and highly controversial order by US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym that the company has to assist the government in breaking into one of its encrypted phones. Apple says that it does not have the technology and does not want to be part of such an effort to create a privacy stripping tool for the FBI. Pym seems to believe that she can order companies to become unwilling participants in surveillance research and development. I fail to see her legal basis for such an extraordinary order against a private company.

CEO Tim Cook said the order by US Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym “has implications far beyond the legal case at hand”. He said that the company cooperated with the FBI “But now the US government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.”

Pym has gone far beyond what I consider the scope of her authority. Indeed, her actions appear almost legislative in nature. Congress has not ordered such back door access to be supplied by companies and such a move would raise difficult privacy questions. It would also conflict with some other countries that have balked at the effort of the Obama Administration to strip phones of privacy encryption protections.
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Turkey Bombing Syria - The Start Of Something Big?

After four days of bombing US allies in Syria -- the Kurdish YPG militia -- the Turkish government is now requesting that the US begin a ground invasion of Syria. Saudi fighter jets have reportedly arrived in Turkey to take part in the invasion if the US agrees. Meanwhile, the US has asked the Turks to stop bombing Washington's Kurd allies. And Turkey is also bombing Russian-backed Syrian government forces. We try to unravel this all in today's Liberty Report...
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Cold War Redux: Dishing it to the Russkies

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One of the most astonishing news stories I have read of late appeared in Business Insider at the beginning of February entitled “‘The Russians are going to have a cow’: the US’s message to Putin ‘is a really big deal.’” The article described how the Barack Obama Administration has decided to build up “its military presence in Eastern Europe in an effort to deter Russian aggression in the region.” The “cow” and “big deal” verbal effusions were attributed to Evelyn Farkas, who, until recently was the Pentagon’s “top policy official on Russia and Ukraine.” Farkas, for what it’s worth, is of Hungarian descent and has made a career out of being suspicious of Russia. She has the usual credentials in academia so admired by the Obamaites and has served in host of government bubbles but never been in the military. As is all too often the case she and her peers will not be wearing the boots on the ground if the United States goes to war over giving Moscow a “cow.”

According to the article, the US will quadruple its military spending in Europe up to $3.4 billion for fiscal year 2017. The extra money will provide heavy weapons and armored vehicles, including tanks, to America’s Eastern European associates in NATO and also to non-allies including Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Unlike previous assistance to Ukraine, the new weapons are both lethal and capable of being used offensively. The United States has also committed itself to bolstering its own presence in former Warsaw Pact states to include Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic Republics through an increase in bi- and multi- lateral training exercises in those countries. American soldiers will be eye-to-eye with those of Russia in a confrontation not seen since the Cold War ended.

The article cites Tony Badran of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), who claims that “Russia is of course trying to leverage the entire intervention [in Syria] as a way to lap up as much real estate in the Middle East as possible.” The FDD is, of course, a neocon outfit, which is not noted in the article, and the implausible suggestion that Moscow wants to obtain “real estate” in the Middle East which would be an enormous burden and liability is given a pass without even the slightest editorial objection or contrary comment.
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Ron Paul Rewind: All US Supreme Court Justices are Good and Bad

With the death last week of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, there is much discussion of whether Scalia was good or bad on the court and whether President Barack Obama and the next president will nominate good or bad people for the court. If you value the protection of liberty, however, it is clear that none of the current or recent justices are on your side and that Obama and the next president are unlikely to appoint anyone who is either.
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