Bah, computers.

Jul. 22nd, 2017 12:14 am
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
[personal profile] davidgillon

So at the start of the month my laptop's power-supply and keyboard both turned dodgy within a week of each other. I sourced a replacement power supply off eBay, and I know I can get the keyboard, I just haven't ordered it yet.

But that reminded me that my desktop has been out of action for most of a year. It's on-switch had been getting gradually worse and it gave up entirely while I was away from home last summer. Making matters worse, the case design is dire and a metal clip  to hold the motherboard in place also pins the on-switch connector onto the motherboard (which is definitely powered, an LED lights when you plug it in). I finally found a way to get it out without trashing anything this spring, but the connector isn't wired in a straightforward manner, six wires feed seven pins of a nine-pin block, so you can't replace it with a standard two pin switch.

Ordering laptop bits made me realise I might be able to source a replacement switch, given I had the part number, and indeed I could. A fiver got me a brand new OEM switch, which arrived this morning. Plug it in, power on, and nada.... Looks like it's a dead motherboard, not a dead switch. Which means completely rebuilding the desktop. I have a much better case I can frankenstein components into, but at a minimum it means sourcing a new motherboard* and I'm not certain I'll be able to transfer the processor, which is potentially worth doing as, while it's 8 years old, it's also an early i7, so potentially still more powerful than the i3s and i5s most new PCs use. I'll have to do some digging to judge.

Of course, whichever route I take, I'll still need to reseat the processor in the new motherboard, and my coordination isn't exactly great. In fact I think it's measurably worse than the last time I did this, tw computers ago, and I got help then. I may need to lure my neighbour into offering to help.

Bah, computers.


* Plus a Win 10 license and a new primary drive - it was running Vista, which I'm not prepared to connect to the net anymore, plus I don't want to overwrite the existing drive, so I'll swap that to being a slave

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Posted by J. Weston Phippen

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended all official contact with Israel on Friday until it removes new security enforcement at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Abbas announced the decision after a week of sometimes violent demonstrations that have imperiled relations between Israel and the Palestinians. More than 450 people have been injured, mostly by police, and several demonstrators have died.

The two sides are fighting over a series of security escalation as the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s most sacred sites; the same compound is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Israel recently installed metal detectors at the site after three Palestinian militants attacked police officers guarding the mosque, killing two of them. Israel has said the detectors are a necessary security measure, but Palestinians see it as a violation of a pact according to which Muslim leaders control the compound and Jews are allowed to visit, but not pray inside.

“I declare the suspension of all contacts with the Israeli side on all levels until it cancels its measures at Al-Aqsa mosque and preserves the status quo,” Abbas said on television late Friday evening.

The Waqf, the Muslim organization that controls the site, had called on Palestinians to boycott the mosque, and also directed them to hold mass prayers on the streets in Jerusalem’s Old City. They were intended to be peaceful, but have turned violent in many cases. The clashes between Israeli police and protesters are most focused in the West Bank. There, some 2,000 protesters, some of them throwing rocks, battled with officers. Earlier Friday, police fired live rounds, tear gas, and rubber bullets into a crowd. Three people were killed, and hundreds were injured. Later in the evening, the Israeli government said a Palestinian man snuck into a home in the West Bank and killed three Israelis—two men and a woman eating dinner.

All of this has occurred in a context of growing tensions. Last month Israel cut power to Gaza in order to put pressure on Hamas. But in doing so it also disrupted vital services like hospitals. The United Nations has urged compromise on both sides. United Nations deputy spokesman Farhan Haq urged an end to the violence, saying: “Ultimately, what is important is for all of the people at the holy sites, including all the worshippers at the holy sites, to feel that their religious liberties are being respected.”

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JERUSALEM (AP) -- Escalating Israeli-Palestinian tensions over the Holy Land's most contested shrine boiled over into violence on Friday that killed six people - three Palestinians in street clashes in Jerusalem and three Israelis in a stabbing attack at a West Bank settlement....
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Posted by Julia Ioffe

One day, we may find the smoking gun, or the one thing that unlocks what really happened in that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. But Friday morning’s Reuters story about Veselnitskaya’s legal work for the FSB isn’t quite it.

The story, reported out of Moscow, provides evidence that Veselnitskaya “counted Russia’s FSB security service among her clients for years,” and has been taken by some American observers to emphasize Veselnitskaya’s ties to the world of Russian intelligence. And they could be forgiven for thinking that, given the article’s splashy headline: “Exclusive: Moscow lawyer who met Trump Jr. had Russian spy agency as client.”

But the actual story says something very different about Veselnitskaya and the work she did for the FSB from 2005 to 2013. “The documents show that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, successfully represented the FSB's interests in a legal wrangle over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow between 2005 and 2013,” it says. The work, according to the story, concerned a real-estate dispute in which Veselnitskaya helped the FSB wrest ownership of a valuable building from a private company by alleging that the original sale was based on fraudulent documents.

This is a classic technique used in Russia to raid businesses and extort property owners, and it is a tactic at which both Veselnitskaya and the FSB excel. Veselnitskaya is currently going after IKEA in Russia, on behalf of a private client, using the same legal tactic—the land it sits on is extremely valuable—and the FSB has built an empire in the same way, making minigarchs out of rank-and-file FSB officers whose salaries don’t square with the posh lifestyles they lead.

Under Putin’s leadership, first as FSB head in the 1990s, and then as president of Russia, the FSB has become not just a seat of political and geopolitical power, but also a powerful economic empire. With the specter of state violence and the courts at their backs, officers of the FSB, as well as other security services agencies, have expropriated thousands of small and medium businesses, seized land, run protection rackets, embezzled state funds, and employed every trick under the sun to enrich themselves. Of course, the FSB has denied everything, but extensive reporting in countless independent outlets has borne all this out. And if Americans see the FSB, accurately, as a den of spies, Russians have come to see the FSB, also accurately, as a den of thieves. When I speak to young Russians today, many say they want to work for the FSB precisely because of the economic opportunities it offers, rather that because they are ardent patriots who want to spy on the West.

In other words, the Reuters story is not about espionage but about corruption. It fills in a portrait of Veselnitskaya as well as her connections to the organs of the Russian state, and the methods by which she operated. But it is yet another example of how American readers, frenzied by the drip-drip of Trump-Russia revelations, can take a bit of information, tear it out of its context, strip it of its real meaning, and run with it toward all kinds of political conclusions about the administration’s dealings with Russia. There is plenty of damning information out there, but this particular story isn’t damning quite in the way some people want it to be.

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Posted by Faysal Itani

This week, the Trump administration reportedly cancelled a long-running covert program to support vetted Syrian rebels in the war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. While this move has provoked a small outcry among Assad’s opponents, the development itself is far from surprising. Furthermore, it is incorrect, as some have insisted, to view the cancellation as a gratuitous concession to Russia—a decision like this, which aligns with years of deliberate U.S. strategy and Trump’s own stated goals, cannot be considered a concession. It is almost certainly true that Trump hopes this decision will make Russia more cooperative on ceasefires between the regime and the insurgency. But if that does not happen or if it fails to pacify Syria—a likely outcome—this would not alter an already-dismal strategic situation for the Syrian opposition, one that may well be acceptable to the United States.

The Trump administration’s decision to end this program represents the logical endpoint of years of evolution in U.S. policy. While the effort was conceived under Barack Obama, it was always at odds with America’s broader goalsa tension that Trump has long recognized and is now acting upon.

Obama first authorized the CIA-run covert program, known as Timber Sycamore,” in early-2013. Since then, it has trained and armed thousands of insurgents who have fought regime forces and extremist groups alike. This support entailed ammunition and small arms, including rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and valuable anti-tank guided missiles. Critically, it also entailed money for salaries, without which commanders could not recruit or retain fighters who would desert or defect to better-resourced extremist groups. Recipients of U.S. aid had already struggled against the Assad regime and jihadist groups. Ending the program, then, means choking off mainstream, non-extremist opposition to Assad in northern Syria where he is already very weak, and potentially in its stronger form in the south.

When Obama began this program, he conceived of it in narrow terms; he never sought to overthrow or even seriously weaken the Assad regime. Rather, he aimed to apply just enough pressure to convince him to accept a political solution, but not enough to risk the regime’s stability (which would presumably leave the United States to fix post-war Syria). It is noteworthy that this reflected U.S. policy at its peak levels of confidence and belligerence against Assad. When Iran and especially Russia entered the war, the Obama administration understood that pressuring Assad would require escalating the covert rebel program. Obama had no appetite for such an escalation: He knew the risks it entailed, including possible conflict with Russia.

Indeed, the opposite occurred. Russia’s intervention led to an agreement with Jordan, which, with its knowledge of rebel groups across its border, played a central role in supporting the insurgents. Russia agreed to curb fighting in southern Syria, where the U.S.-backed rebels have been most successful. Rebels were instead pressured to fight extremist groups only. Meanwhile, U.S.-backed rebels in northern Syria were overwhelmed by Islamist groups that either destroyed or coopted them, rendering the U.S. role there meaningless. In 2017, U.S.-backed groups have sporadically fought the regime, albeit from a weaker position and with far less support from Washington.

Thus, by the time of Trump’s inauguration, the U.S. covert program, which was never particularly bold to start with, was already a shadow of its former self. For his part, Trump had already made clear he was unenthusiastic about it. In November 2016, he told the Wall Street Journal he was likely to end support for the Syrian rebels, claiming, “We have no idea who these people are,” and suggesting that the United States should focus instead on the Islamic State. Although Trump insisted this vision was the opposite of Obama’s, the latter always shared and expressed these views, even as the intelligence community was conducting its proxy war against Assad.

There is a subtle difference between the two presidents’ views, but they concern Russia rather than the covert program itself or America’s goals in Syria. Trump seems to believe that Russia can end the violence in Syria; by contrast, the Obama administration approached the Russia option with mild and jaded desperation, having eliminated other policy alternatives for ending the war. Trump’s confidence is likely what pushed him to end support for the rebels who could, after all, have been left on life support or held in reserve.

Without U.S. support, the rebels cannot survive continued war against the Assad regime and its allies. This places the fate of opposition-held southern Syriaone of the last areas controlled by nationalist, mainstream groups close to the United Statesat the mercy of Russia, which has committed to enforcing a ceasefire there. Even if Russia wanted to force the regime and Iran to respect a ceasefire, Syria belongs to factions who control the ground, which means the Assad regime and Iran-controlled fighters. They will eventually move on southern Syria when the United States grows bored with the problem, post-ISIS, and Russia capitalizes on its display of parity with the United States. A paranoid police state will not tolerate a rebel cancer so close to Damascus that might later metastasize into a serious security threat. As for the north, already-outmatched, U.S.-backed insurgents have effectively lost already.

Of course, Timber Sycamore could be replaced with something new. Groups may be reorganized to act as a buffer force for Jordan or even Israel, in addition to a standing anti-jihadist force (provided the regime and its allies are incapable or unwilling to challenge them). Fighters on the U.S. payroll could be folded into the Pentagon’s official counter-ISIS campaign. Unlike the covert proxy war, these actions would at least align with the policies of the Trump administrationand, it must be said, the Obama administrationwith their focus on protecting allies, limiting spillover, and fighting extremists. Whether that is a wise approach for the United States is a different matter, but it does offer some coherence, at the cost of those rendered defenseless in opposition areas.

Trump has been criticized for offering Russia, and by extension Iran and Assad, a one-sided concession by ending support for the insurgency. If one accepts his publicly expressed premises, however—that the program has always been a waste of time, that Assad is acceptable because he is fighting ISIS, and that Russia is the key to ending the warand recognizes that Russia knows neither Trump nor Obama before him cared for the rebel program, then ending it is less conceding than shedding a burden. For Trump, in the best-case scenario Russia will enforce ceasefires in some parts of the country (which still leaves Assad in control of most of useful Syria). In the worst-case scenario, Assad and his allies will exploit the rebels’ new weakness to destroy vulnerable groups and take more territoryan outcome both Trump and Obama before him could live with.


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