Possible coup attempt in progress in Lesotho

Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy surrounded by South Africa, with some prior history of military involvement in its politics. The Prime Minister has fled across the border into South Africa, saying that a military coup is under way.

But it’s unclear what’s actually going on here, because the Prime Minister suspended parliament back in June to avoid a no-confidence vote against his unstable coalition government. And today the military allegedly may have just been trying to take him involuntarily to the king (I assume to insist that parliament be recalled into session and a new government be formed under a different prime minister). The military also claims they were merely acting today to disarm the country’s police force, which they accuse of providing weapons to one of the political parties’ supporters.

According to the BBC:

The army is understood to have acted after the prime minister attempted to remove its chief, Lt Gen Kennedy Tlai Kamoli.

The army said the general was still charge, saying the military “supports the democratically elected government of the day,” Reuters news agency reported.

A spokesman, Maj Ntlele Ntoi, denied staging a coup, saying: “There is nothing like that, the situation has returned to normalcy… the military has returned to their barracks.”

Earlier, troops were seen on the streets of Maseru and there were reports of gunfire.

Radio stations were taken off air and phone lines were cut, although later reports suggested they were working again.

Eyewitness account by Basildon Peta, publisher of the Lesotho Times, quoted by the BBC:

This whole thing started around 03:00. There were gunshots since early morning. The city is currently calm. People are playing it safe within their homes, but there is basically a media blackout.

To all intents and purposes it is a military coup with the aim of ousting the prime minister. There can be no other reason of soldiers behaving the way they have been behaving other than to seize power.

So far we have no reports of killings. It would be correct to call it a bloodless coup attempt. But I am not going to stick around. The chances are the situation may deteriorate. One does not know what is going to happen.

South Africa’s government, which has long had a very influential role in Lesotho’s politics, has said it is monitoring the situation closely and would oppose any unconstitutional change in power there.

The former British protectorate is very poor and still has a subsistence-oriented agricultural economy. The government is the largest employer in the country, according to the CIA World Factbook. The military has strongly resisted government plans to reduce its size to a more reasonable level for a country whose outside defenses are actually now maintained by another country (South Africa).

Map of Lesotho's location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Map of Lesotho’s location in southern Africa. (CIA World Factbook)

Confirmed: Ron Paul’s 2012 team bribed a state senator

After a guilty plea this week, we now have confirmation that Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign bribed an elected official $73,000.

A former Iowa state senator pleaded guilty Wednesday to receiving and concealing payments in exchange for switching his support from one presidential candidate to another in the 2012 election, the Justice Department said.

The former lawmaker, Kent Sorenson, resigned from the Iowa Senate last year after an investigation found that he probably violated ethics rules by taking money from presidential campaigns.

Mr. Sorenson, 42, of Milo, Iowa, had been the state chairman for the presidential campaign of Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, but then switched his support to former Representative Ron Paul of Texas just days before the state’s caucus.

In a statement filed with his plea agreement, Mr. Sorensen admitted that he agreed to switch his allegiance in exchange for $73,000 in payments.

Please tell me more about Congressman Paul’s integrity and principles and blah blah blah. Though I suppose that buying elected officials is very free-market and all that.

The fallout began Friday night, as a Paul family insider, Jesse Benton, was forced to resign as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign manager in Kentucky.

Benton has worked in high-ranking positions in Rand Paul’s first Senate bid in 2010 and Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign, and he has married into the family, as well. It’s not known whether Benton himself knew about the bribe, but there would be a lot of questions either way, and so he had to go. If he’s cleared, I’m guessing he’ll be back for Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign team, which he had already been slated to join before this scandal broke.

Unsecured guns still magically don’t count as child endangerment

There was an important post on TIME by Aaron Gouveia about the disparate handling of two cases involving 9-year-old girls who were put in potentially unsafe situations by their parents in the past few months. The more recent of the two cases was the now infamous situation where a 9-year-old girl at an Arizona gun range was handed an Uzi submachine gun — notoriously hard-to-control — and promptly lost her grip while firing and killed the instructor. The latter was a case where a working mother let her child play unattended in a nearby playground with other kids this summer after the girl’s laptop was stolen and she had nothing to do all day while mom was working.

Many other commentators have expended a lot of internet ink pointing out the absurd overreaction of law enforcement and the other parents who narc’d on the mom, particularly given that there was actually an extremely low risk of anything terrible happening and just a generation or so ago 9-year-old kids were wandering all over their communities without any adult supervision at all and no cell phones. The mother in this case has been severely and disproportionately punished, as we’ll see in a moment.

There is one angle not really covered by Gouveia which is that the mother and child in the playground case were Black (unlike the family in the other case), and there is a long history in the United States of forcing Black mothers to work extremely long hours for poor compensation while shaming and even criminalizing how they are compelled to raise their kids under those circumstances.

Nevertheless, Gouveia summarizes the two cases well in his article and raises the other crucial contrast in how the cases were handled with regard to a kid on a playground surrounded by other kids and parents versus a child executing a man by accident. And that’s the gun angle:

Instead of a loaded weapon, Harrell armed her daughter with a phone, and sent her to a playground with lots of other kids and adults. The only shooting that took place was the cool water from a splash pad and some hoops on the basketball courts. There were even volunteers who came by the playground with free snacks. While perhaps not ideal since Harrell was at work, she sent her daughter to a family-friendly place with an environment geared toward fun and summertime frivolity. The same kind of place I routinely rode my bike to at the age of nine.

Yet Harrell is the one arrested. Who lost her job. Who spent 17 days in jail, temporarily lost custody of her daughter, and faces 10 years in prison.

Harrell’s detractors claim someone could’ve kidnapped her daughter at the playground, which is true. But while there is a low risk of child abduction at a public playground in broad daylight, it pales in comparison to the risks involved with letting a 9-year-old fire a machine gun. So please stop referencing the 2nd amendment, because I’m certain our Founding Fathers weren’t contemplating the benefits of letting children fire hundreds of rounds per minute when they drafted the right to bear arms.

As usual, guns in the United States get special treatment*, especially when “accidents” happen in public or in the home, again and again and again.

So, in addition to the important context of criminalization of Black Motherhood, these contrasting situations (and their handling) speak to the wider problem of how local law enforcement and prosecutors handle gun-related accidents involving children (most of which involve a child’s death or serious injury, rather than that of the adult instructor).

7,500 children a year are admitted to U.S. hospitals with gunshot wounds, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Of those, 500 die each year. Many others are pronounced dead on scene. Yet, authorities routinely refuse to file child endangerment charges against parents when children accidentally shoot each other or themselves with unsecured firearms. Take a look at this set of clippings by David Waldman of the dozens and dozens of children under 14 who died through accidental shootings in 2013, and note how the cases were resolved. It’s most often deemed an “accident” and the case is closed without charges against anyone, including the adults. Which is insane.
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Russian TV: Thousands of Russians have fought in E. Ukraine this year

After months of increasingly absurd denials that there were Russian Federation citizens fighting in eastern Ukraine, we appear to have confirmation that several thousand have been rotating in and out over the past several months. The admission, however, continued to insist that these Russian fighters were actually retired military veterans and “vacationing” active duty troops:

“There are active soldiers fighting among us who preferred to spend their vacation not on the beach, but with us, among their brothers, who are fighting for their freedom,” Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a rebel commander and the prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said in an interview on Russian state-run television.

Mr. Zakharchenko said that between 3,000 and 4,000 Russians had fought in the separatist ranks since the conflict erupted in the spring.

That assertion evaded the issue of direct Russian involvement by painting the soldiers as volunteers. It suggests, however, that Moscow still seeks to organize and to some extent control a force that could be operated at arm’s length with a backbone of local participation.

Mr. Zakharchenko, who says he has Ukrainian citizenship, took over as prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic this month, replacing Alexandr Borodai, a Russian. Several other Russians who had figured prominently in the rebel ranks, including the military commander Igor Strelkov, have also dropped from sight in recent weeks.

In the interview with the official satellite channel Rossiya 24, Mr. Zakharchenko said that many former professional Russian soldiers had come to Ukraine as volunteers, out of a sense of duty.

“There were about 3,000 or 4,000 of them in our ranks,” Mr. Zakharchenko said. “Many of them have gone home, but the majority have remained here. Unfortunately, some have been killed.”

This explanation probably became necessary given the recent capture of uniformed Russian Federation soldiers in Ukraine, plus the mounting number of combat deaths of Russians in Ukraine and the repeated social media slip-up revealing Russian soldiers to be working in Ukraine. The prior explanation has been that any such Russian Federation troops had accidentally crossed the border after becoming lost, which was becoming a pretty hard line to swallow, even for the most credulous observers.

This new admission also may be an effort to deflect some attention from other reports of incursions or invasions. In addition to these so-called volunteers, photos released by NATO today showed what they said were mobile Russian Federation artillery batteries arrayed in “firing position” inside Ukraine. This is an escalation from a month ago when such artillery units were allegedly firing upon Ukrainian military targets from across the Russian border.

Ukraine’s government, NATO, and journalists on the ground also reported seeing heavily armored columns of an estimated 1,000 troops crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border into Novoazovsk on the Sea of Azov coast (see below), as the Ukrainian Army fell back to — and dug in around — Mariupol and Kiev announced the emergency resumption of mandatory conscription.

Donetsk Oblast: Novoazovsk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border.

Donetsk Oblast: Novoazovsk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border. Click link to navigate.

See also our freshly updated Ukraine Crisis Map for wider area context.

August 27, 2014 – Arsenal For Democracy 97


Topics: Big Idea – How to regulate the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world; US, ISIS, and Syria; Interview with freelance writer and Ferguson protest eyewitness Jamie Nesbitt Golden. People: Bill, Persephone. Produced: August 24, 2014.

Discussion Points:

- Big Idea: Are “sharing economy” services like Uber and Airbnb helping people avoid important safety regulations and local taxes?
- What would be the consequences if the U.S. intervenes militarily against ISIS inside Syria?
- How much focus should be on Ferguson versus the wider problem nationwide?

Part 1 – Sharing Economy:
Part 1 – Sharing Economy – AFD 97
Part 2 – US, ISIS, Syria:
Part 2 – US, ISIS, Syria – AFD 97
Part 3 – Jamie Nesbitt Golden:
Part 3 – Jamie Nesbitt Golden on Ferguson – AFD 97

To get one file for the whole episode, we recommend using one of the subscribe links at the bottom of the post.

Related links

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Suspected Russian forces invade Novoazovsk, Ukraine

Russian troops under separatist flags have reportedly crossed the border into southern Donetsk oblast, in a surprise assault, and forced back Ukrainian troops that had been stationed there. The Russian units, which include tanks and artillery, are believed to be making an offensive against nearby Mariupol (about twenty miles away), the second largest city in the Donetsk Oblast, in an effort to relieve pressure on the besieged rebels in the city of Donetsk, to the north (see second map).

Donetsk Oblast: Novoazovsk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border. Click to navigate.

Donetsk Oblast: Novoazovsk and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov near the Russian border. Click to navigate.

One wonders whom the Russians believe they are fooling with the false flags. Tons of heavily equipped separatists don’t just spawn in the middle of a town next to the border like some sort of video game trigger at the edge of a map. It looks like there’s about 5 miles of highway from the Russian border to Novoazovsk. It’s not like a vast insurgency has been lying in wait there this whole time.

Update: Aug 28, 2014: Latest reports indicate at least 1,000 Russian Federation troops — still marked as rebels — have entered Ukraine in the Novoazovsk area. No matter who they are, they cannot have arrived there except via Russia, based on the local geography and positions of Ukrainian forces. It is being suggested that Russia may be attempting to seize a “land bridge” to Crimea, to reduce its relative isolation from the Russian mainland. That, however, would require a far more extensive incursion, well outside the Donets Basin area that is in rebellion already.

Mariupol falling to Russian / “separatist” forces now could potentially change the balance of the war, which has slowly been tipping toward the Ukrainian nationalist side. Previously, back in May, Ukrainian ultra-billionaire Rinat Akhmetov ejected (probably actual, local) separatists from the government buildings they were “occupying” in the oblast’s second-largest city, Mariupol, and sent his own private workers to start cleaning up so local public functions could resume. He took a firm, public stance against independence or annexation to Russia. As a result, that port city on the Sea of Azov coast (see map below), has thus far been relatively removed from the center of the clashes between separatists and Ukrainian troops sent by Kiev.

Eastern Ukraine highlighting Donetsk Oblast. Adapted from Arsenal For Democracy's complete 2014 Ukraine crisis map.

Eastern Ukraine highlighting Donetsk Oblast. Adapted from Arsenal For Democracy’s complete 2014 Ukraine crisis map.

Yazidis tell of betrayal (and rescue) by Arab friends

The New York Time has a story on some accounts by Iraqi Yazidi Kurds of being betrayed to ISIS — and its fanatical agenda of killing all non-Sunnis — by close friends.

But his friend’s assurances did not sit right with Mr. Habash. That night, he gathered his family and fled. Soon afterward, he said, he found out that Mr. Mare had joined the militants and was helping them hunt down Yazidi families.

Your friends say “everything will be ok” and next thing you know they’re trying to kill you. It reads quite a bit like a small-scale Iraqi version of the Rwandan Interahamwe, the semi-impromptu and mass-hysteria-driven Hutu militia in 1994 that hacked Tutsi friends and family to death by the hundreds of thousands during the genocide.

The Times’ anecdotes are consistent with reporting by AFP a couple weeks ago:

“The Metwet, Khawata and Kejala tribes — they were all our neighbours. But they joined the IS, took heavy weapons from them, and informed on who was Yazidi and who was not. Our neighbours made the IS takeover possible,” the distraught white-bearded Hassan said.

Speaking to AFP in a transit camp run by the local Kurdish authorities for the displaced, Haidar said his childhood friend was among those who joined the IS. “I was shocked. The IS brainwashed him, and he started informing on who was Yazidi,” he said. “I would have been executed immediately had they found me.”

I guess this kind of happens everywhere when things go sideways into an ethnic slaughter.

Fortunately, as the Times also reported, there were also some bright spots in the crisis, as there also are in most such situations:

Though Mohsin Habash’s family suffered because of one Arab neighbor, he pointed out that they were saved with the help of another: a longtime friend who led a convoy of Yazidi refugees to safety at great risk.

The convoy drove through the night, passing ISIS-controlled territories undetected. Mohsin Habash believes it was because his friend knew the Arab areas better than any of the Yazidis.

Hours later, they reached Syria. From there, Mohsin Habash’s friend introduced them to another Arab man who took the group the rest of the way to the border with Kurdistan. “He saved us,” Mr. Habash said.

Even in the darkest moments, like when massive ethnic or sectarian cleansing is being attempted, some people still give us hope for humanity. (You can read some more examples from other cases here.)

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