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Trump hands Putin gift, cancels Support for Syrian Rebels

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 - 1:46am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous at WaPo report that Trump cancelled the CIA program to support the remnants of the Free Syrian Army a month ago. The decision was made in a meeting of Trump with CIA director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser H. R. McMasters, and came just before Trump met (twice) with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Ever since Russia intervened in Syria in fall of 2015, its Aerospace forces have given support to the Syrian Arab Army in a bid to roll back and defeat the armed opposition, especially in the northwest of the country. The totalitarian regime of Bashar al-Assad, the Baath Party, has a key vulnerability. The capital is in the south of the country and is supplied by the port of Latakia in the northwest. If the rebels could cut Latakia off from Damascus or could just take Latakia, they could starve the capital of arms and staples and overthrow the regime.

The Russians forestalled any such scenario by pushing Nusra and other militants out of Latakia province, forcing them out of Hama, Homs and East Aleppo, and bottling them up in the rural backwater of Idlib province.

Still, the Syrian Arab Army is small and stretched thin. The small and not very important CIA program was enough to keep some of the rebel groups going in ways that proved an irritant to the Baath government and to Russian strategic planners. They would much prefer that the US stopped supporting the rebels in any way. For one thing, withdrawal of Washington’s backing would be a huge blow to the flagging morale of the opposition.

Trump campaigned on handing Syria over to Russia, and at least with regard to the country’s northwest and deep south, he has followed through.

The cancellation of the CIA program does not affect the Department of Defense effort in the northeast of Syria, which has formed the Syrian Democratic Forces, mainly leftist Kurds fighting ISIL.

Al-Akhbar (leftist, Beirut) wonders if this move will have an effect on the rivalry between US-backed rebels in the southeast near the Jordanian border where the US has a small base. That base is aimed at ISIL to its north but also at Iran and Iranian logistics for supplying Hizbullah. It could be that US troops will now be evacuated from this southeast pocket which would be a victory for Iran more than for Russia.

The Central Intelligence Agency was ordered to begin the program in 2013 by President Barack Obama. It involved vetting opposition guerrilla groups to make sure they did not have links to al-Qaeda or ISIL. The CIA identified some 40 such groups. It appears to have sent them money and light arms through Saudi Arabia’s ministry of intelligence. As a result, probably some groups, like the Army of Islam (Jaysh al-Islam), were included in the vetted category even though their discourse was that of Salafi holy warriors who desired to wipe out the Alawite Shiites. Saudi Arabia follows the militantly puritan Wahhabi form of Islam that hates Shiites the way the devil hates holy water. Having the Saudis be the pass-through for the CIA aid thus allowed Salafi extremists to receive some of it. Other groups appear to have been Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis could not have been eager to help. (The Saudis like fundamentalist Salafis but hate fundamentalist Muslim Brethren with a passion).

Although these groups were “vetted” for contacts with al-Qaeda, some of them occasionally formed battlefield alliances with the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Many of these remnants of the Free Syrian Army appear to have been small and to have controlled two valleys and a hill each. The most effective fighters in the opposition continued to be extremists, whether Nusra or its forrmal ally, the Freemen of the Levant.

The Free Syrian Army and the more radical groups have in any case been decisively defeated, with Russian help. The only reason given for continued US backing of a lost cause was to maintain some leverage to force Bashar al-Assad from office. But al-Assad won’t be forced out as long as he has Iranian and Russian support, so that wasn’t going to happen. The US program was just prolonging the violence in some northern provinces.

The Syrian regime appears to hope that without lukewarm US backing for some of the rebels, the civil war will died down quickly. They are misreading the situation and blaming the victim. But for the moment, they have won.

———–

Related video:

WaPo: “Trump is shutting down a secret CIA program in Syria”

What, or who, Explains Spike in Hate Crimes against US Muslims?

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 - 12:34am

By Brian Levin | (The Conversation) | – –

Hate crimes against Muslims have been on the rise. The murder of two samaritans for aiding two young women who were facing a barrage of anti-Muslim slurs on a Portland train is among the latest examples of brazen acts of anti-Islamic hatred.

Earlier in 2017, a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned to the ground by an alleged anti-Muslim bigot. And just last year, members of a small extremist group called “The Crusaders” plotted a bombing “bloodbath” at a residential housing complex for Somali-Muslim immigrants in Garden City, Kansas.

I have analyzed hate crime for two decades at California State University-San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism. And I have found that the rhetoric politicians use after terrorist attacks is correlated closely to sharp increases and decreases in hate crimes.

Hate crimes post 9/11

Since 1992 (following the promulgation of the Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990), the FBI has annually tabulated hate crime data voluntarily submitted from state and territorial reporting agencies. A “hate crime” is defined as a criminal offense motivated by either race, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.

According to the FBI’s data, hate crimes against Muslims reported to police surged immediately following the terror attacks of 9/11. There were 481 crimes reported against Muslims in 2001, up from 28 the year before. However, from 2002 until 2014, the number of anti-Muslim crimes receded to a numerical range between 105 to 160 annually. This number was still several times higher than their pre-9/11 levels.

It should be noted that other government data, such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which relies on almost 200,000 residential crime surveys, as opposed to police reports, show severe official undercounting of hate crime. These studies, based on respondents’ answers to researchers, indicate a far higher annual average of hate crime – 250,000 nationally – with over half stating that they never reported such offenses to police.

FBI data show that in 2015 there were 257 hate crimes against Muslims – the highest level since 2001 and a surge of 67 percent over the previous year.

As I noted in a prepared statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2017, this was the second-highest number of anti-Muslim hate crimes since FBI record-keeping began in 1992. Not only did anti-Muslim crime cases rise numerically in 2015, they also grew as a percentage of all hate crime. They now account for 4.4 percent of all reported hate crime even though Muslims are estimated to be only 1 percent of the population.

When do the spikes happen?

At our center, we analyzed even more recent disturbing trends related to hate crimes. Based on the latest available police data for 2016 from 25 of the nation’s largest cities and counties, we found a 6 percent increase in all hate crimes, with over half of the places at a multi-year high. In particular, hate crimes against Muslims had increased in six of the seven places that provided more detailed breakdowns.

We also observed a spike in such crime following certain events.

In 2015, for example, we found 45 incidents of anti-Muslim crime in the United States in the four weeks following the November 13 Paris terror attack.

Just under half of these occurred after December 2, when the San Bernardino terror attack took place. Of those, 15 took place in the five days following then-candidate Donald Trump’s proposal of December 7, seeking to indefinitely ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

In contrast, as I observed in my prepared statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee, after an initial sharp spike following the 9/11 attacks, sociologist James Nolan and I found that there was a drop in hate crimes after President George W. Bush delivered a speech promoting tolerance on Sept. 17, 2001.

Other groups too, have found similar spikes in anti-Muslim hatred: The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), for example, noted that from the month of the presidential election, through Dec. 12, 2016, there was a spike in hate “incidents” against many minority groups. The SPLC found that the third most frequently targeted group after immigrants and African-Americans were Muslims. And just this month the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, reported 72 instances of “harassment” and 69 hate crimes that had occurred between April and June 2017.

Fear of Muslims

Prejudicial stereotypes that broadly paint Muslims in a negative light are quite pervasive.

From 2002 to 2014, the number of respondents who stated that Islam was more likely to encourage violence doubled from 25 percent to 50 percent, according to Pew research. A June 2016 Reuters/Ipsos online poll found that 37 percent of Americans had a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Islam, topped only by antipathy for atheism at 38 percent.

The latest polls also show how Muslims are feared and distrusted as a group in America. While most Americans do not believe that Muslims living in the U.S. support extremism, these views vary widely by age, level of education and partisan affiliation: Almost half of those 65 and older believe that Muslims in America support extremism, whereas only few college-educated adults do so.

Interestingly, current polls also show that when people personally know someone who is a Muslim, the bias is much less. This confirms what psychology scholar Gordon Allport concludes in his seminal book, “The Nature of Prejudice,” that meaningful contact with those who are different is crucial for reducing hatred.

Indeed, before we can truly say “love thy neighbor(s),” we need to know and understand them.

Brian Levin, Professor, Department of Criminal Justice and Director, Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism, California State University San Bernardino

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Newsy: “Group says anti-Muslim hate crimes rising in US”

Yemen: Saudi-led Airstrikes kill 28 civilian refugees

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 - 12:22am

TeleSur | – –

Yemen has been ravaged by the ongoing war, which has claimed more than 10,000 people and caused a cholera outbreak among 300,000.

Officials from both the Yemeni Government and Houthi forces confirmed that at least 20 Yemeni civilians were killed and many more wounded in a Saudi-led coalition airstrike on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s attack, which took place in a village in the south of the country, was the latest in a series of coalition bombings that have hit schools, hospitals, markets and private homes.

The government stated that among the dead were women and children.

Yemen’s human rights minister, Mohammed Askar, called for a government investigation into what he described as an “unfortunate incident.” while Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul-Salam condemned it as a “monstrous crime.”

The United Nations said the victims were internally displaced people.

A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Yemen, Shabia Mantoo, said most of those killed are believed to be from the same family.

For several months, government troops have been fighting – with the help of coalition forces – to take control of a major military base.

The Saudi-led coalition was formed in 2015 to fight the Iran-allied Houthis after they overran the capital Sanaa.

Yemen has been ravaged by the ongoing war, which has claimed more than 10,000 people and caused a cholera outbreak among 300,000.

Thousands have been displaced and more than a million forced to flee their homes nationwide, according to the U.N.

Via TeleSur

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Yemen”

Protest: Religious leaders call on Jerusalem Palestinians to pray at Al-Aqsa on Friday

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 - 12:07am

Ma`an News Agency | – –

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Members of the Waqf, or Islamic trust, in charge with running Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, called on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem to close all mosques in the neighborhoods on Friday and for prayers to take place in front of the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in rejection of unprecedented Israeli security measures at the holy site.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, head of the Islamic Trust and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs, said that the department issued a decision to all speakers of the mosques in East Jerusalem not to hold prayers at their local sites, but to head to Al-Aqsa instead. Large solidarity actions are expected on Friday against Israel’s installation of metal detectors at the gates of Al-Aqsa on Sunday following a deadly shoot-out at the compound two days prior. Clashes have been ongoing near the holy site since, while religious leaders have encouraged Palestinians to refuse entrance into the mosque until the metal detectors are removed. Hundreds of Palestinians have instead performed prayers outside of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. On Thursday evening, hundreds of Palestinians performed Maghreb prayers on streets outside of the holy compound after Israeli forces refused to allow Palestinians into the area except through gates that have been installed with metal detectors. Al-Khatib warned Israeli authorities from following through with plans of installing the metal detectors at all of Al-Aqsa’s gates and demanded an end to such policies that “harm world peace.”

He also noted that the head and employees of the Islamic Trust were following up on incidents at Al-Aqsa, and calculating the damages done to the mosque and its facilities after Israeli forces had raided the mosque on Friday and closed it for more than two days to Muslim worshippers, a move which rights groups have deemed a violation of international law and a form of “collective punishment.” A spokesperson for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Issam Musleh, also said that “we will not give up on each other under these circumstances at Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Musleh stated that Israeli policies represented violations and “assaults” on Al-Aqsa, and added that Israel was attempting to repeat what happened at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron.

Following the Ibrahimi Massacre in 1994, Israeli authorities divided the mosque in half, splitting it into a synagogue for Israeli settlers and a mosque for Palestinians.

Palestinians have long accused the Israeli government of using Israeli-Palestinian violence and tensions as a means of furthering control over important sites in the Palestinian territory. To this day, Palestinians in Hebron must pass an Israeli-installed checkpoint in order to access the Ibrahimi Mosque. In a statement Tuesday, PLO Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said the metal detectors and new security cameras at the mosque were only the latest example of “Israel’s unbridled violations” that “constitutes a flagrant violation of the rights and freedoms of Palestinian Muslim worshipers.”

“Such intrusive and dehumanizing practices aim to provide Israel with carte blanche to exercise security control over the holy sites of Jerusalem… Undoubtedly, Israel is deliberately creating and escalating a situation of instability, insecurity and violence; with its recent escalations, the Israeli occupation is not only provoking the Palestinians, but the entire Muslim world and the international legal system,” she wrote.

She highlighted an Israeli bill that aims to amend Israeli basic law to “prohibit the division of Jerusalem city,” in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. “If passed, this law would destroy the two-state solution by creating an illegal Israeli and Jewish exclusivity over all of Jerusalem,” she said. “Such proposed legislation builds upon a long series of racist laws, proposals, and practices that reflect Israel’s intent to wipe out the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, destroy the territorial contiguity and demographic presence of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), and to impose a de facto one-state solution.”

Following Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel has maintained a compromise with the Islamic trust that controls the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to not allow non-Muslim prayers in the area. However, non-Muslims are permitted to visit the site during designated times.

Palestinians have long feared that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site, in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

Via Ma’an News Agency

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “Fatah calls for “Day of Rage” over security measures in Jerusalem”

Saudi, slamming Qatar for Extremism, arrests Model for wearing Skirt in Public

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 - 2:16am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The intrepid Yaroslav Trofimov of WSJ said it all:

Good luck to the Saudi PR campaign about how Qatar is the source of religious extremism in the Middle East. https://t.co/cgGW7ytMiu

— Yaroslav Trofimov (@yarotrof) July 18, 2017

Saudi Arabia is leading a propaganda campaign falsely accusing Qatar of supporting extremism in the Middle East, but it just arrested a young model named Khulud for taking a walk at a historic site in Najd wearing a halter and a skirt. The Saudi government insists, despite temperatures of 111 F. in the shade, that women cover themselves up in black robes.

That big black robe accompanied by a complete face veil, called a niqab, is actively forbidden in modern urban societies such as Egypt.

One of the reasons even Middle Eastern governments are afraid of the niqab is that it obscures identity. The state, as James Scott argued, wants its citizens to be transparent to it. Hence, the demand for a first and last name (that was imposed on Iran in the early 1930s by military dictator cum shah, Reza the Great). When somone is wearing a niqab you don’t know their real gender or age. Guerrillas in Algeria during its war of independence from France used to fool the police by dressing as women in niqab. You’d be surprised what you can hide in those robes.

Making women non-transparent, as Saudi Arabia routinely does, renders them second class citizens.

The extremists who kill women and children in acts of terrorism first strip them of any human identity, which is easier if they are in essence already buried under a niqab and its robes.

The extremists who traffic in and enslave women, who beat and abuse them, are in part inspired by a Saudi/Wahhabi vision of gender relations. Women are erased in public, which therefore means woman are second class citizens. They cannot move around without a male guardian.

Khulud maintains that she had a male guardian when she visited the antiquities. She also says that someone posted the video of her in a skirt (the shame!) on her snapchat account without her permission.

Some Saudis on social media are making fun that a pron site is the 19th most visited in the kingdom but people are freaking out that a Saudi man might catch a glimpse of a clothed woman.

But it isn’t funny, it is tragic, and points to a deep problem at the center of Saudi society. The Saudi officials who spread around Wahhabism or Salafism, the puritan form of Islam, are in danger of thereby also spreading around extremist ideas, in Europe and the Middle East. They seem not to realize that while Wahhabis inside Saudi Arabia are quietists, when the same ideas meet a dynamic Wsestern socity, it can turn youth to some brave endeavor.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole

Saudi woman’s miniskirt sparks outrage

One Year Later: Why the Purges in Turkey Were Always in the Pipeline

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 - 12:53am

By Sarphan Uzunoglu. | ( GlobalVoices.org ) | – –

When it comes to Turkey, representatives of European Union countries—aided and abetted by Turkish liberals who got the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) wrong to begin with—are in a state of denial and shock. Their distress is rooted in the idea that prior to say, 2013, the conservative government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan was leading the country down a path of hope and democracy. Of course, that was never the case.

For the last four years, certainly, Turkey has been caught in a vicious spiral of authoritarianism. During this time, government crackdowns spurred as much by infighting within the Turkish state as broadening resistance to AKP rule, have come to define the country in the eyes of the international media.

Now, as the country marks one year since military officers launched a bloody and abortive coup attempt, a website tracking the subsequent government purge claims that well over 100,000 teachers, civil servants, military officers and judges have been dismissed from their positions, supposedly in connection with the plot.

Against this background, nostalgia for the pre-2013 era is perhaps inevitable.

At meetings I've attended, representatives of European non-state actors, in particular, are keen to mourn this period. According to their approach, the investigative journalist Ahmet Şık was never imprisoned before 2013 for writing a book about Erdogan’s erstwhile ally Fethullah Gulen; and the Kurdish political movement was never suppressed and secularists and socialists never fell victim to government conspiracies.

Their conclusion is as simple as it is unfounded: everything was great before 2013, and yet somehow something didn’t work out.

‘The strong do what they will’

Others foresaw traces of manypost-2013 trends in the post-2006 period. During this time, the institutionalization of injustice that had been visible from the very beginning of the AKP period in 2002 gathered strength, while checks on the government gradually disappeared as the AKP cemented control over more and more facets of public life.

AKP’s discourse was socially conservative, but at the same time anti-establishment and populist; they pledged to peg back the power of the army, and portrayed progressive politics as the root of most of the country's problems.

But at the same time, the party set about weakening those institutions in Turkey—chiefly media and civil society—that offered substance to the very idea of Turkish democracy.

While this was happening, the European Union that has for so long dangled the carrot of club membership in front of Turkey stood by passively. International financial institutions deeply embedded in the country applauded the government as a facilitator of robust economic growth.

An optimistic view of the country was bolstered by a group of serious intellectuals, some of whom are now imprisoned. They tragically failed to predict the imbalances caused by the so-called democratization process, which was actually never anything more than AKP majoritarianism.

The Gezi gauge

By 2013, the flaws in Turkish democracy under AKP were abundantly clear to observers inside and outside Turkey. In May of that year, frustrations surrounding alleged corruption in the AKP government, and Erdogan's increasing intolerance of opposition to his policy agenda boiled over with the youth-driven Gezi Park protests in Istanbul. At least 22 people died as police resorted to the use of force and made close to 5,000 arrests.

But even before, there were signs that AKP's growing hold over society could cause conflict. The government's seeming obsession with biopolitics suggested a desire to cast the country's families in its own traditionalist image. A 2010 referendum the party won redesigned the legislative branch in such a way so as to boost the ruling faction's powers and loosen controls over parliament.

A rapidly collapsing justice system, a weak and divided opposition and the shredding of the free press; these are all legacies of AKP rule that began 15 years ago, not in 2013.

On April 16, Erdogan and the AKP came out on top in a close referendum in which Turkish voters were asked to vote on the expansion of presidential powers. It was held in a state of emergency that has been in force ever since the abortive coup attempt—one year and counting.

A host of violations suggest that Turkish elections are yet another democratic institution in the process of being eroded. The president can now dismiss the parliament and appoint ministers and other high-ranking officials without vetting processes.

He can appoint half of all senior judges, call further referendums, declare emergency situations such as the one Turkey has been living under since the coup attempt, and issue decrees with the force of law. The amendments signalled the end of Turkey's parliamentary republic.

What has happened in Turkey is a tragedy, made all the more tragic by the fact that the loudest voices in the chorus said the wrong things at the wrong time. Partly to blame is the Turkish opposition, which could not band together at key moments when the AKP agenda had presented a clear threat to its existence. The other guilty party is the international elite that ignored the injustices taking place in Turkey for as long as they possibly could, steadily trumpeting a success story that had all the ingredients for failure.

Via GlobalVoices.org )

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 “Turkey: 6 human rights activists detained”

Unable To Kill Obamacare, Republicans Plot To Kill Medicare (TYT Video)

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 - 12:34am

Cenk Uygur | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“Republicans want to privatize, cut, and eventually kill Medicare. Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, breaks it down.

“If House Speaker Paul Ryan has his way, the 115th Congress won’t just repeal Obamacare, it will dramatically reform Medicare, turning the program into a form of private insurance.”

The Young Turks: “Unable To Kill Obamacare, Republicans Plot To Kill Medicare”

Donald Trump and the Invisible Monster of Climate Change

Wed, 19 Jul 2017 - 12:27am

John Feffer. | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I testified before the great assembly of our land.

When I describe this event to children today, it really does sound to them like a fairy tale. Once upon a time — a time before the world splintered into a million pieces and America became its current disunited states — this old woman was a young idealist who tried to persuade our mighty Congress that a monster was stalking the land.

“Did they listen to you, Auntie Rachel?” they typically ask me.

“Oh, they listened to me, but they didn’t hear me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I thought and I thought, and I wrote and I wrote, and I put together an even better presentation,” I say patiently. “I had to somehow make that monster visible so those mighty people could see it.”

“What did it look like, Auntie Rachel?”

“It was invisible, my dear children, but we could feel its hot breath. And we could see the terrible things that it did. It could make the oceans rise. It could make the crops wilt in the fields. Still, we kept feeding this terrible beast.”

“But why?”

“It’s what the monster demanded. Some monsters want to devour little children. Others insist on young maidens. But this one insisted on tankers of oil and truckloads of coal. Even as it grew, it only demanded more and more.”

At this point, the children are always wide-eyed. “What did you do then?”

“I talked to those great people again. And this time I tried even harder to describe the monster.” As I slip into the past, the faces of the children become those of long-dead politicians. “I provided more detailed graphs of rising temperatures. I cited statistics on the impact of burning coal and oil and natural gas. I displayed photos of what the melting ice and the surging waters had already done. And then I showed them pictures of what the future would look like: submerged cities, drought-stricken lands, dead seas. They looked and still they didn’t see. They listened and still they didn’t hear. Great people,” I conclude, “are not always good people.”

“What did you do then?” they always ask.

“I stopped talking, my darlings. I came here to escape the monster. I came to Arcadia.”

They look disappointed. The children know their fairy tales. They expect someone — perhaps a knight in shining armor — to appear suddenly and slay the monster.

“There was no knight,” I lament. “And the monster still lives. We can feel its hot breath even now.”

Of course, my young charges don’t really understand my story. Today, in 2050, there is no Congress. There are no committee hearings. There are no intergovernmental panels or global gatherings. I might as well be telling them about Roman banquets or medieval jousts. And yet my little students always clamor for more stories of the vanished world of Washington, D.C., 2017, just as they would beg for yet another of Aesop’s fables. But they don’t quite see how these tales of long ago connect to their lives today.

After all, they live in a post-political world.

The Death of Politics

Before the global thermometer went haywire, before the great economic panics of the early 2020s, before the battles escalated between vigilantes and jihadis, before the international community cracked like a mirror smashed by a fist, there was that initial death, which was barely noticed at the time.

As the historians — those left to tell the tale — will inform you, there were no funerals for the death of politics, nor were there obituaries. And even if there had been, few would have shed any tears. The confidence the American public had in Congress back in those days was lower than in any other institution — a mere 9% had such confidence, compared to 18% for big business and 73% for the military.

Politics in the muggy swamp of Washington, where I lived in those antediluvian years, had become a tug of war between two hated teams. Sometimes, one side won and dragged the other through the muck. Then the situation would be reversed. No matter: at the end of the day, everyone was left covered in mud.

Yes, things might have turned out differently. Radical reforms might have been enacted, a new generation of politicians cultivated. But at the moment of greatest peril — to the republic and the world at large — Americans turned their backs on politics, electing the most anti-political candidate in the history of the country. The founding fathers had done everything they could to ensure that the system would not produce such a result, but there was no way they could have anticipated Donald Trump or the circumstances that put him in power.

When the initial Europeans arrived in North America more than half a millennium ago, they brought weapons far more powerful than the stone axes and wooden clubs wielded by the First Nations. But it wasn’t just the guns that proved so devastating. The Europeans carried within them something far more lethal: invisible diseases like smallpox and the flu. Those viruses cut through the Native Americans like so many scythes, killing nine out of every ten of the original inhabitants of this continent.

Many centuries later, Donald Trump arrived in Washington armed with the explicit weapons of extremist rhetoric and sociopathic sangfroid with which he had destroyed his political opponents. But it was what he carried hidden within him that would ultimately turn out to be so catastrophic. Although he had railed against the political establishment in the election campaign that put him in the Oval Office, in his own way he had also played by the political rules to get there. Deep down, however, his greatest urge was to destroy politics altogether: tweet by tweet, outrage by outrage.

And his attack on politics would finish off the world as we knew it in Washington circa 2017. In the end, it would render congressional testimony and Congress itself irrelevant. Even today, more than 30 years later, the bodies are still piling up.

The Judgment of Paris

I teach science to the young children here in Arcadia. It’s not difficult to explain the basic scientific concepts that so changed our world, and we have a well-equipped lab for them to run experiments. So they understand the science of climate change. What bewilders them is how the crisis came about.

“Why didn’t our grandparents run the factories every other day?” a bright young girl once asked me. “Why didn’t they drive those stupid cars just on the weekend?”

Our children know little but Arcadia, and this community is fully sustainable. We produce everything we need here in this corner of what was once the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. What we don’t grow, we synthesize or create on our 3-D printers. We conduct limited trade with the few neighboring communities. If there is an unexpected death, we issue another birth permit. If our solar batteries run low during the winter, we ration energy. Everything is recycled, from our chicken bones to our night soil. The children of Arcadia don’t understand waste.

They also don’t understand the now-strange concept of an international community. They’ve never ventured beyond the walls of our little universe.  It’s only thanks to virtual tourism that they’ve seen the world outside, which just reinforces their desire to remain here. After all, the world out there is just a collection of sharp little shards, what my ex-husband used to call the “splinterlands” of this planet. My students can’t comprehend how those shards, most of them exceedingly dangerous micro-environments, once fit together to form larger nations that in turn sometimes cooperated to solve common problems. It’s like that old story of the elephant and the six blind men. The children of Arcadia can understand the parts, but unsurprising enough, given the events of the last three decades, the whole eludes them.

Think of that long-gone international community, I tell them, as a squalling infant born in 1945 to bickering parents. A troubled childhood was followed by an awkward youth. Only in middle age, with the end of the Cold War in 1989, did it finally seem to come into its own, however briefly.  Unfortunately, within a few short years, it was prematurely in its dotage. In 2017, at 72, the international community was past retirement age, in frail health, and in desperate need of assisted care.

Once upon a time, this aged collective creature, this Knight of the Sad Countenance, was supposed to be our savior, the slayer of the horrible monster. When the time came, however, it could barely lift a lance.

Without some knowledge of the life cycle of the international community, my children can’t possibly understand why global temperatures continued to rise in the first part of this century, despite the best efforts of scientists, environmentalists, and concerned citizens. Several countries, Uruguay and Bhutan among them, had gone to extraordinary lengths to reduce their carbon footprint, and more than a dozen cities eventually became carbon neutral. Individuals adopted vegetarianism, drove electric cars, turned down their thermostats in the winter — as if lifestyle changes alone could slay the monster.

Unfortunately, a global problem really did require a global response. The Paris climate accord, which 196 countries signed at the end of 2015, was just such an effort. Only two countries refused to sign, one (Syria) because it was mired in a civil war and the other (Nicaragua) due to sheer cussedness. And yet the terms of the agreement were far from adequate. The international community, which had come together in this twilight of cooperation, well understood the enormity of the challenge: to keep global temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial average. At best, however, the Paris treaty would have kept temperatures from rising three degrees.  And as everyone now knows, the best was hardly what happened.

In this way did that community abandon the very idea of sustainability and embrace its lesser cousin, resilience. I try to explain to my children that sustainability is all about harmony — maintaining balance, never taking more than what we give back. Resilience, on the other hand, is about making the adaptations required by a crisis, about simply getting by. The judgment of Paris, with its nod toward resilience, was, in fact, an acknowledgment of failure.

Although flawed, it was at least part of a process. That’s what democratic politics is all about, I tell my charges. You have to begin somewhere and hope to improve from there. After all, there’s always the possibility that one day you might even graduate from resilience to sustainability.

But, of course, there’s also the option of going backward, which is exactly what happened, big league — to use an expression of the new American president — in 2017.

The Trump Revolution

It’s an unfortunate fact of our world that destruction is so much easier than construction. Anyone can wield a sledgehammer; few can use a trowel. An inadvertent sneeze can take down the most elaborately built house of cards.

Donald Trump was more than just a sneeze. His devotion to the destruction of the “administrative state” was impressive. At the time, we were all so focused on the domestic side of that destruction — the toppling of the pillars of the welfare state, the repeal of universal health care, the rollback of legal protections and voting rights of all sorts — that we failed to pay proper attention to just how devastatingly that destruction spread internationally.

Yes, the new president cancelled pending trade deals, thumbed his nose at traditional allies, and questioned the utility of agreements like the one that mothballed Iran’s nuclear program. But those were largely bilateral attacks. Much more dangerous were his fierce sallies against the international administrative state.

The most important of these, of course, was his decision to withdraw from the Paris accord. Admittedly, it was a weak, voluntary agreement. Yet even that was too much for Donald Trump. The president declared that the agreement would disadvantage Americans and force workers and taxpayers “to absorb the cost” of reducing greenhouse gas admissions through “lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories, and vastly diminished economic production.” It didn’t matter that none of that was true.  Renewable energy programs were creating more well-paying jobs in the United States than the dirty energy industries were trying to maintain.  In his surge of destruction, however, President Trump never felt the need to justify his actions with recourse to actual facts.

The United States, moreover, was both the richest country in the world and historically the largest producer of carbon emissions. As we tell our students here in Arcadia, if you’re most responsible for the mess, you should be most responsible for the clean-up.  It’s a simple concept for children to absorb. Yet it was beyond the ken of most Americans.

Worse than being merely indifferent, the new president was determined to hasten global warming, single-handedly if necessary, by expanding offshore drilling; green-lighting more gas and oil pipelines; reducing restrictions of every imaginable sort on the dirty energy industry; cutting support for the development of alternative energies; encouraging the production of, and reduced emissions standards for, gas-guzzling vehicles; and slashing the budget for the enforcement of environmental standards of every imaginable sort. Trump, in other words, wasn’t just willing to let the buried treasure of fossil fuels well enough alone.  He was eager to feed the monster even more than it demanded.

If we had been living in a normal time, it might have been possible to fight back effectively in political terms against this onslaught. But just as Trump’s carbon-based vision of America and the world was exploding upon us, politics was taken into a backroom and strangled.

The Politics of Antipolitics

I remember the birth of antipolitics. I was a young woman when dissidents in the communist world began to associate official political activity with support for an immoral order. Voting, they believed, was an empty gesture if the ruling party won 99% of the ballots cast. Parliaments were empty vessels if the Party leader and the Politburo always ended up making all the decisions. When politics are compromised in this way, all but the opportunists retreat into antipolitics.

Communism died in 1989, and politics was reborn in those lands of antipolitics — but all too briefly. Within a decade, the new converts to democracy began reverting to their earlier mistrust of anything political and conventional politicians became the enemy.  Collaboration and compromise were once again anathema.

And then this very dissatisfaction with politics as we knew it began spreading beyond the post-communist world. Voters elsewhere became dazzled by the most illiberal of politicians, a crew who were naturals for one-party or one-leader states. Donald Trump was just part of this new fraternity of nationalist populists that included Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, and Viktor Orban of Hungary.  All of them quickly began concentrating power in their own hands in an attempt to rule by decree (or, in Trump’s case, by executive order). In the process, they used antipolitics strategically to defeat any potential challenges at the domestic and transnational level.

It was odd that, in so many countries, voters seemingly couldn’t wait to disenfranchise themselves through this new antipolitics. To a man, these autocrats came to power not through coups but through elections. Odder still was the fact that, in those years, it was increasingly young people who no longer considered it important to live in a democracy. When only the old believe in such a system, then it, too, is but one step from the grave.

Perhaps the culprit was economic. The major parties in these countries had almost uniformly supported policies that widened the gap between rich and poor, robbing young people of jobs and any hope for a future. No surprise, then, that they lost faith in the secular religion of democracy.

Or perhaps technology killed politics. The computer and the cell phone combined to reduce the attention span required for sustained involvement in public affairs. The micro-communities created by social media obviated the need to interact with those who didn’t share one’s own micro-concerns. And of course everyone began to insist on immediate results at a single keystroke, which, at the political level, translated into an increased preference for decrees.

For a brief moment, the Trump “shock” provoked a counter-reaction. In the United States, there were huge protest marches, while unsympathetic government bureaucrats dug in their heels — but this only strengthened the populist narrative of an irresponsible liberal elite and a hostile “deep state.” In this brief moment of seeming reversal, Trump’s allies in Europe even lost a few elections, but the victors in those contests continued policies that disadvantaged the majority economically and politically and in the next round or the one after the predictable happened.

As those of a certain age remember, Trump himself eventually fell from power, undone in the end by his own self-defeating vengefulness.  At that moment, his critics exulted in their schadenfreude, only to find that he was replaced all too soon by someone who shared his destructive anti-politics without his noxious personal traits.

Trump stunned the international community. His successors gutted it.  And as everyone in Earth’s splinterlands now knows, the monster continued to be fed, while the thermometers, floods, droughts, wild fires, sea levels, tides of refugees, and all the rest continued their inexorable rise. 

Childhood’s End

Fairy tales should have happy endings. I assure our children that they are safe inside Arcadia. They can see for themselves how successfully we raise our crops. They are far enough from the ocean’s tidal waves not to fear the waters. They participate in the democratic political life of our community. The occasional breakdown notwithstanding, Arcadia is a small island of hope in a sea of despair.

The temperatures continue their climb. Outside, the scramble for resources becomes bloodier by the year. Many of the communities that once dotted the landscape around us are nothing but a memory. The walls surrounding Arcadia may be next to impregnable and our armory remarkably well stocked, but the question remains: Can we survive without our founding members, who are just now beginning to die off?

We raise and educate our children under the threat of the same monster grown larger yet. As they get older, some of the young accuse my generation and me of failing to slay that creature and, unfortunately, they couldn’t be more right. I believe that we, at least here in Arcadia, did do our best, but sadly it wasn’t good enough.

Soon, it will be our children’s turn. They will tend the crops and maintain the armory. They will continue the search for a scientific solution to climate change in the absence of a political one and an international community to enforce it. And they will be the ones who must make sure that the monster, however much it huffs and puffs and threatens our very livelihood, does not in the end blow our house down, too.

John Feffer is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original with Haymarket Books), which Publishers Weekly hails as “a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning.” He is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and a TomDispatch regular.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 John Feffer

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Al Jazeera English: “G20: Trump left isolated on climate change”

Unpopular: Trump’s low Polls one reason for Healthcare Defeat

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 - 1:30am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

For now, the second GOP attempt to replace Obamacare with Trumpcare has failed, with two more senators defecting (one saying the bill does not go far enough in getting rid of Obamacare.) There are lots of reasons for the failure of Trumpcare 2.0.

A big one is that it is written to give hundreds of billions in tax relief to a handful of billionaires while kicking millions of women and children off health care insurance. Even the Republican Party base is bigger than that, and can tell when they’re being screwed over. That is, the class base of the bill is too narrow. The GOP is about championing the interests of wealthy white Protestants, though it has other, minor constituencies– about half of Catholics, some rural elites, etc. But when the party interprets its mandate as not from the people at all but only from the super-rich, that sets up an internal struggle between the big corporations and the small businesses.

Then there is the fractured character of the party, what with being split into libertarian, national security, and plutocratic wings. Some of the Republican Senators who refused to back Trumpcare did it because it does not screw ver the poor nearly enough.

The relative narrowness of the November, 2016, victory is another consideration. With a 2-senator advantage in the Senate, they’d have to bring everyone aboard for an important vote like this.

But a major reason for which Trump can’t get his healthcare bill passed into law is that he is the most unpopular president ever.

Trump is losing support among independents. His own base is relatively narrow. He is at 36% in the polls, lower than any modern president at this point in his tenure.

One thing about unpopular presidents: He does not inspire fear. He can’t threaten the senators effectively. They will vote as they please.

The GOP could have been a legislative steamroller. It is not.

That said, with a few tweaks the bill might be passable. It won’t be tweaked.

——

Related video

ABC News: “Trump at 36 percent approval in new poll”

The Dangerous Unreality of Trumpland rests on a Totalitarian Foundation

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 - 12:17am

By Dan Dinello | (Informed Comment) | – –

Like the Black Lodge in David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks, reality is twisted into strange, absurd forms in the world of Trump. He tirelessly assaults common sense with exaggerations, blatant lies, insulting tweets, and willful ignorance. Though his chip-off-the-old-liar son Donald Jr. got caught red-handed conspiring to break federal campaign finance laws against accepting foreign contributions, President Trump colluded in the initial attempt to cover up the collusion and then denied that collusion was wrong or unusual. He even blamed Obama for letting the visa-lapsed Russian lawyer into the U.S. to tempt his 39-year old “good boy” with enticing dirt on the Clintons.

Trump built his political career and now presidency with attacks on reality that combined lies, demagoguery, racism, xenophobia and scapegoating — the elements that “crystallized” into totalitarianism according to The Origins of Totalitarianism, a 1951 book by Hannah Arendt, one of the foremost political philosophers of the 20th century. A German-Jewish intellectual, Arendt fled Nazi Germany with the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1933, lived in Paris as a stateless refugee, and immigrated to the United States in 1941. Her book culminates with a description of the “living corpses” — those tortured victims who experienced the full force of totalitarian terror in concentration camps; but she initially focuses on the intermediate stages that crystallized into total domination. As if presciently remarking on Trumpism, she warns, “Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity.”

Neo-fascist Trump practices a tyrannical rhetorical style that attempts to assert personal control over reality itself. He repeatedly lies then smears truth-tellers to sustain his lies and distract his followers from hearing critical perspectives. Arendt argues that the normal world must never assume that the enormity or contradictory nature of totalitarian lies will be the system’s undoing and that it would be possible to force the leader into shameful humiliated retreat.“The totalitarian system, unfortunately, is foolproof against such normal consequences,” she says, “Its ingeniousness rests precisely on the elimination of that reality which either unmasks the liar or forces him to live up to his pretense.”

As the New York Times pointed out recently in its story “Trump’s Lies,” which catalogs every lie since inauguration, his non-stop falsehoods are an attempt “to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.” As Arendt notes, totalitarian propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts while the chief qualification of a totalitarian leader is “infallibility.” Self-aggrandizing, Trump never admits he’s wrong or concedes a factual error; rather, he challenges the existence of any authoritative reality whether that’s professional journalists, his own intelligence officials, or the judiciary. In this way Trump inoculates himself: his followers become inflamed by mere counter-arguments offered by reporters, pundits, and liberals.

In his Twitter feed, Trump creates no overarching story line or internal consistency other than a hatred of the media and an aggrieved paranoia. Like a dictator, he tries to weaken journalism by delegitimizing it. His gush of opinions, assertions, and insults seek to repel accountability. The chastened, tiresomely respectful media pundits uncritically read his tweets out like headlines. While giving no press conferences, Trump dominates media attention, picking fights on Twitter, doubling down on long-discredited lies and sparking weekly firestorms. A dark lord of chaos, Trump spews out a fog of obscurity creating a permanent state of turmoil.

While pundits sometimes describe him as a child in a man-suit or a thin-skinned narcissist with a martyr complex, Arendt would perceive him as simply dangerous. The anger, accusations, insults, whining, and ever-shifting contradictory explanations are all indicative of what Arendt calls the totalitarian mood, the “perpetual-motion mania of totalitarian movements which can remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion.” Just as the tweets are ephemeral so too are the opinions. Yesterday’s truth may not be today or tomorrow’s truth.Trump’s capriciousness reflects the “extraordinary adaptability and absence of continuity” that Arendt argues are the essence of the “specifically totalitarian virus.”

Just as the burnt woodsman in Twin Peaks mysteriously hypnotizes listeners when he speaks dark nonsense over the radio, Trump has infected a large segment of the public with a mass hallucination. This affective contagion is propagated by the Vichy Republicans, administration sycophants, and the Fox News/Breitbart/InfoWars echo chamber. His method of denial, deception, conspiracies, misdirection, tacit victim blaming, constant scapegoating, and outright fabrication continues to be acceptable to 35-40% of Americans. Anything that goes wrong gets blamed on Clinton, Obama, Mexicans, Muslims or the “fake news industrial complex.” His supporters don’t care that he’s lied to them about health care as long as they perceive that he shares their hatred for liberals, immigrants, and refugees. His supporters don’t believe in the reality of their own experience, but rather embrace the continuous, ever-changing reinforcement of their self-sabotaging emotions. According to Arendt, “Totalitarian propaganda thrives on an escape from reality into fiction and can only insult common sense when common sense has lost its validity.”

The mental landscape of the Trump base resembles the mob mentality that Arendt says is susceptible to totalitarian propaganda. “A mixture of gullibility and cynicism has been an outstanding characteristic of mob mentality,” says Arendt. “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world, they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true.” They cannot be reached by experience or argument because they define themselves by cultural identification with Trumpism. In Arendt’s framing, they “form a society whose members act and react according to the rules of a fictitious world.” They are anti-anything-that-is-anti-Trump.

On the edges of Trump support are those that have not been completely shut off from the real world. These sympathizers — some of whom are innocuous fellow-citizens, friends and family — can hardly be called single-minded fanatics. It is through them that Trumpism can make its fantastic lies more generally acceptable, spreading its propaganda in milder forms until the atmosphere is gradually poisoned with totalitarian elements, which appear to be normal political reactions or opinions. Therefore, resistance to normalizing Trump must be total. Trump’s lies and hypocrisies must be tirelessly called out. Political activism at any level must be supported. The time is now, not the 2018 election. As the Trump White House descends into a Mad House, he might take advantage of a traumatic event, as Hitler used the Reichstag fire, as a pretext to install martial law or even create a shock event, such as bombing North Korea, as a major distraction. Writing The Origins of Totalitarianism in the shadow of totalitarian horror, Hannah Arendt warns future societies that freedom is fragile, that danger arises as soon as demagogues speak and others start following them, and that racism, xenophobia and the lies that arise from such beliefs can destroy a free state.

A filmmaker, journalist and author, Dan Dinello recently completed a chapter about totalitarianism and mad science for the upcoming book Westworld and Philosophy. Currently, he’s writing a book, for Auteur Publishing, about the dystopian science fiction movie Children of Men. He recently published Finding Fela: My Strange Journey to Meet the AfroBeat King – a memoir of his 1983 trip to Lagos, Nigeria, to film African musical legend Fela Kuti. His first book is Technophobia! Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. Dan has also contributed chapters to books about The Who, The Rolling Stones, Ridley Scott, Star Trek, and Avatar among others and made several contributions to Informed Comment.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “Names added to Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting”

What impact will Saudi-Qatar Struggle have on Palestinians?

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 - 12:07am

By Israa Khater | ( OpenDemocracy.org ) | – –

No conflict in the Middle East spares the Palestinians, and the recent crisis in the GCC is no exception.

Following the escalation of the GCC crisis and the deteriorating relationship between Qatar and the Gulf Triad (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain), along with Egypt, rumors started spreading about a possible deal with the Hamas leadership in Gaza, being orchestrated by Egypt and the UAE. It would seem that the current crisis and its impact on Hamas has been viewed as a golden opportunity to reshape Palestinian politics and possibly curb the Hamas link to the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar.

According to Reuters, there have been talks between Hamas leaders, such as Yahya Sinwar, and Egyptian officials about the future of leadership in Gaza. Hamas has been negotiating the easing of the blockade and securing fuel supplies with Egypt on the condition that Hamas includes Mohammad Dahlan in the Gaza leadership. However, the expected scope of his potential role within the government is not clear.

Reports claim that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah was initially happy about the recent crisis in the GCC, and the consequent implications it has on Gaza; however, the leadership is now reconsidering its stance as it sees the possible return of Mohammad Dahlan to the scene as a threat to the current status quo in the West Bank. The decision of Mahmoud Abbas to pressure Hamas by cutting the salaries of public servants in Gaza as well as cutting down the electricity supply seems to have backfired with Egypt and Dahlan emerging as the unlikely saviors for Hamas.

These rumors that might have sounded far-fetched a couple of months ago, no longer seem to be unthinkable. The difficult situation Hamas currently finds itself in, makes these claims much more plausible. For one thing, it has been reported that multiple Hamas leaders have left Qatar, and the decision by Ismail Haniyeh to relocate to Qatar has been retracted. Nevertheless, it may be argued that it was in fact Qatar that sought to distance itself from Hamas due to the current GCC crisis. Whether this shift was initiated by Qatar or Hamas, or whether these changes preceded the GCC crisis, or came as a result of it, remain the subject of a larger investigation. However, the end result for Hamas remains that is has been put in a difficult position as it seems to be losing its Qatari ally, while at the same time being put under intense pressure by Israel and the Palestinian Authorities, whose actions seem to be driving Gaza towards a catastrophic reality.

More importantly, the recent meeting that took place between Egyptian Intelligence and Hamas leaders indicates a high possibility that the alleged deals are being made. What makes it even more so is the fact that Hamas has recently decided to increase security on the borders with Egypt in Sinai by putting up a buffer zone; a request that fell on deaf ears when made by Egypt in the past. Egypt, on the other hand, suddenly decided to supply the Gaza strip with much-needed fuel supplies following the decision by Israel, under the pressure of the PA, to cut the electricity supply. Could this be the Hamas leadership and Egypt’s way of showcasing their good intentions and willingness to cooperate on the new vision for the Gaza strip? In light of this, it seems more likely than ever that Hamas will take the hand that was extended to it by Al-Sisi’s government, and Dahlan, even if both parties may be highly disliked by the movement.

Seeing as this deal could be a real possibility, what are the possible implications on the future of the Palestinian State and the unity of the Palestinian leadership and people?

For one thing, it seems that the PA has been completely sidelined in these negotiations. It is no secret that Dahlan, who aspires to be the successor of Abbas, has fallen out of favor with the PA in 2011 and has been described as the archenemy of Abbas. With the PA constantly cracking down on the supporters of Dahlan, it has become increasingly clear that a return to the PA is unlikely for him. In turn, it is entirely possible that the future of Gaza is one that distances itself from the West Bank rather than seeks a form of unity. In fact, isn’t it possible that the negotiations with Egypt could lead to the complete separation of Gaza from the West bank? As Egypt starts to supply the Strip with its needs and opens the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing with Gaza, what will be the possible scope of cooperation between the West Bank and Gaza?

With a lot of speculation going around, there is not much room for certainty. It may be clear, however, that with the Dahlan-Hamas alliance in Gaza, and Abbas’ Fatah in the West Bank, it seems less likely than ever for the two parties to achieve a unified government let alone be able to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. As such, what seems to be the only move currently available for Hamas is one that further divides the Palestinians and further compromises the relationship between the two territories.

If this plan is to actualize, it is also difficult to see the relationship that might bring together Hamas and Dahlan. The latter has been viewed by many as a corrupt figure in Palestinian politics, and a strong supporter of American and Israeli interests. It is also difficult to ignore the past animosity that existed between the two sides, which intensified during the violent clashes of 2007. Is it possible for the two sides to find a middle ground or is this alliance meant to be short-lived?

At the end, the question that presents itself is whether this move will set the Palestinians and their aspirations for an independent Palestinian state on another trajectory, which will be difficult to escape. If the Palestinian front is divided and the negotiation process is further halted, how will this impact the expanding settlement building projects of Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem? If this is a foreseeable future, then will it ever be possible for the Palestinians to reverse the damage created by this rift within its ranks? Or is the future of the Palestinians one that sees Gaza returning to Egypt and the West Bank annexed by Israel? If anything, one thing is clear: Israel will continue to be the biggest beneficiary from the internal Palestinian dispute.

About the author

Israa Khater holds a dual master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of York and Erasmus University. She completed her undergraduate education at the American University of Sharjah obtaining a Bachelor’s of Arts in International Relations. She focuses her research interest on the Palestinian question and the wider MENA region. She completed her master’s thesis on the topic of Palestinian civic engagement and the boycott movement.  Currently, she works in the humanitarian sector.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Via OpenDemocracy.org )

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

TRT World: “Israel-Palestine Tensions: Palestinians reject Israel’s security measures”

Russia: Assault on Freedom of Expression

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 - 11:48pm

Human Rights Watch | – –

Repressive Laws and Policies Restrict Online Speech, Stifle Critical Voices

(Moscow) – Russia has introduced significant restrictions to online speech and invasive surveillance of online activity and prosecutes critics under the guise of fighting extremism, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 83-page report, “Online and On All Fronts: Russia’s Assault on Freedom of Expression,” documents Russian authorities’ stepped-up measures aimed at bringing the internet under greater state control. Since 2012, Russian authorities have unjustifiably prosecuted dozens of people for criminal offenses on the basis of social media posts, online videos, media articles, and interviews, and shut down or blocked access to hundreds of websites and web pages. Russian authorities have also pushed through parliament a raft of repressive laws regulating internet content and infrastructure. These laws provide the Russian government with a broad range of tools to restrict access to information, carry out unchecked surveillance, and censor information the government designates as “extremist,” out of line with “traditional values,” or otherwise harmful to the public.

Human Rights Watch: “Russia: Crackdown on Social Media Users”

“Russia’s authorities are leading an assault on free expression,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These laws aren’t just about introducing tough policies, but also about blatant violation of human rights.”

Russia should repeal the repressive legislation adopted in recent years, stop prosecuting critics under the guise of fighting extremism, and uphold its international obligations to safeguard free expression, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 50 lawyers, journalists, editors, political and human rights activists, experts, and bloggers and their family members, and analyzed laws and government regulations pertaining to internet content and freedom of expression, as well as indictments, court rulings, and other documents relevant to specific cases.

Some of the restrictive laws appear designed to shrink the space, including online, for public debate, especially on issues the authorities view as divisive or sensitive, such as the armed conflict in Ukraine, Russia’s role in the war in Syria, the rights of LGBT people, and public protests or other political and civic activism.

Curbing free speech serves to shut down public debate and denies a voice to anyone dissatisfied with the ongoing economic crisis or simply critical of Russia’s foreign policy, Human Rights Watch said.

“We have dozens of cases where people were literally sent to jail,” Andrei Soldatov, an investigative journalist and expert on internet freedom in Russia, told Human Rights Watch. “That of course has its effect on the level and freedom for political and public debate in social media.”

Other laws aim to undermine the privacy and security of internet users by regulating data storage, unjustifiably restricting users’ access to information, and ensuring that a wealth of data, including confidential user information and the content of communications, could be made available to authorities, often without any judicial oversight.

In 2016, parliament passed a set of counterterrorism amendments requiring telecommunications and internet companies to retain the contents of all communications for six months and the metadata for three years. The law makes it easier for the authorities to identify users and access personal information without judicial oversight, unjustifiably interfering with privacy and freedom of expression. A 2015 law that applies to email services, social media networks, and search engines prohibits storage of Russian citizens’ personal data on servers located outside Russia. A 2017 draft law aims to prohibit anonymity for users of online messaging applications, such as WhatsApp or Telegram.

“The Russian government effectively controls most traditional media, but independent internet users have been openly challenging the government’s actions,” said Gorbunova. “The authorities clearly view independent online users as a threat that needs to be disarmed.”

Russian authorities have increasingly used vague and overly broad anti-extremism laws against people who express critical views of the government and, in some cases, have conflated criticism of the government with extremism. Laws adopted since 2012 in the name of countering extremism have served to increase the number of prosecutions for extremist offenses, especially online.

Based on the data provided by the SOVA Center, a prominent Russian think tank, the number of social media users convicted of extremism offenses in 2015 was 216, in comparison with 30 in 2010. Between 2014 and 2016, approximately 85 percent of convictions for “extremist expression” dealt with online expression, with punishments ranging from fines or community service to prison time. In the period between September 2015 and February 2017, the number of people who went to jail for extremist speech spiked from 54 to 94.

In the three years of Russia’s occupation of Crimea, authorities have silenced dissent on the peninsula. They have aggressively targeted critics through harassment, intimidation, and, in some cases, trumped-up extremism charges, including prosecution for “separatist calls.” Human Rights Watch found that most prosecutions of Crimean Tatar activists, their lawyers, and others were for peacefully criticizing the occupation.

Freedom of expression is one of the essential foundations of a democratic society and it extends not only to information and ideas that are received favorably but also to those that offend, shock, or disturb. The Russian government should respect and uphold the right of people in Russia to freely receive and disseminate all types of information protected under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said.

Russia’s international partners should raise concerns at the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the Council of Europe about Moscow’s curbs on free expression, as well as in bilateral conversations with the Russian government.

Major internet companies operating in Russia, such as Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, and VK should carefully assess Russia’s government demands to censor content or share user data and refrain from complying where the underlying law or specific request are inconsistent with international human rights standards. They should not put people at risk, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Russian government has been casting criticism of it as extremist, instilling fear and encouraging self-censorship,” Gorbunova said. “Today people in Russia are increasingly unsure about the boundaries of acceptable speech.”

Via Human Rights Watch

Did UAE plant Fake News about Qatar to Fool Trump?

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 - 1:57am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The intrepid Karen DeYoung and Ellen Nakashima report at WaPo that anonymous US intelligence officials have decided to go public with what they know about the attempt of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to frame Qatar.

The hacking attack on May 23 that planted fake news, such as doctored video showing the emir of Qatar praising Hamas, the fundamentalist Palestinian party-militia, and praising Iran, was planned out by high officials of the UAE government. Either they had UAE hackers carry out the cyber-attack or they hired someone else. Qatar seems to have some evidence that the hack attack came from the UAE.

The cyber campaign to plant fake news was launched just after Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

WaPo doesn’t say so, but it seems there is circumstantial evidence that the UAE arranged for the fake news in part in order to fool Trump.

Unlike his secretary of state Rex Tillerson and secretary of defense Jim Mattis, Trump fell for the fake news about Qatar supporting terrorism and Iran, lock stock and barrel.

The UAE is a country of 1.4 million citizens and 7.8 million expatriates that groups seven emirates, some of which are awash with petroleum. The UAE is Japan’s major oil supplier, without which Japanese automobiles would be immobilized. The country’s citizen population is about that of the US city of San Diego. Its nominal GDP of roughly $380 billion per year makes it the 31st largest economy among 194 countries tracked by the World Bank.

Arguably, if the UAE is going to behave this way, it is more dangerous than Russia. It has a smaller and more cohesive elite, it has money to waste, it is under the Saudi thumb, and it can target manipulation of news directly through hired hackers and well as indirectly through its Alarabiya satellite news service, which has been smearing Qatar since mid-May.

A rogue state UAE is a significant danger to regional and global security.

If the UAE succeeds in getting rid of Qatar, what if it decides it likes having Trump in office and goes after the 2020 election in the US?

Again, WaPo does not hint at this possibility, but it seems to me that someone in the Washington Intel community may be afraid of precisely that kind of scenario, explaining why they decided to go public. Otherwise, the tiff of Saudi Arabia and its satellites like the UAE with Qatar wouldn’t seem to be marked by the kind of urgency that would require this sort of leaking.

Of course, the US intel community may also be worried that the division in the GCC is making Iran more powerful (Iran has come to Qatar’s defense).

And, the possibility that the whole thing was staged for the gullible Trump’s benefit is extremely disturbing.

Either way, this leak strongly suggests that Washington insiders are afraid that this story is not about the Gulf, but about dangers to the United States of America.

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Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Qatar-Gulf crisis: French foreign minister urges more dialogue”

Turkey’s Emboldened Opposition

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 - 12:49am

By Sinan Ülgen | (Project Syndicate) | – –

ISTANBUL – In Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has been working to centralize political power, opposition parties have lately had few reasons to be optimistic. This month’s massive rally in Istanbul was a rare exception.

On July 9, after walking for 25 days from the capital, Ankara, Turkey’s main opposition leader, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, urged supporters to resist the decline in democratic freedoms. “We will be breaking down the walls of fear,” Kiliçdaroğlu told a crowd of hundreds of thousands. “The last day of our justice march is a new beginning, a new step.” The question now is whether Turkey’s divided political opposition can move beyond rhetoric, and mount a meaningful, unified challenge to Erdoğan’s political hegemony.

The party that Kiliçdaroğlu leads, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), commands a high level of support from Turks frustrated by Erdoğan’s majority rule. But in Turkey’s constrained political environment, and with a popular if polarizing president still at the helm, opposition leaders will face a difficult struggle to maintain the momentum they have established.

When I spoke with Kiliçdaroğlu a few days before his arrival in Istanbul, as he approached the city limits, he sounded as surprised as anyone by the protest’s size, and was keenly aware of the difficulties that loomed. The march was an unplanned reaction to the arrest of Enis Berberoğlu, a former editor-in-chief of the mainstream Hürriyet newspaper, and a CHP member of parliament.

But the march’s more concrete objectives, like its route, became known only after the 450-kilometer (280-mile) protest got underway. By the time Kiliçdaroğlu arrived in Istanbul, marchers were calling for economic equity, educational opportunity, gender equality, and a guarantee of non-discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or cultural identity. Kiliçdaroğlu, meanwhile, said his goal was the complete remodeling of the Turkish state, with clear limits on executive authority by a re-empowered parliament, an impartial judiciary, and a free media. Forging a coherent political platform from such a diverse array of objectives will test the CHP leadership.

In recent years, spontaneous demonstrations like the one just completed have not delivered the reforms participants have sought. In May 2013, for example, huge crowds gathered to challenge the government’s plans to develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park; the demonstrations ended with no real political impact. A similar outcome is possible this time.

Nonetheless, polling numbers seem to suggest that the public is increasingly behind Kiliçdaroğlu. According to a survey published by Research Istanbul on the day of the rally, support for the march was 43%, which is about 17 percentage points higher than the CHP’s approval ratings. In other words, CHP marchers drew support from outside their base, a sign of Turkey’s deepening disillusionment with the status quo.

Supporters included members of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), 83% of whom approved of the protest. It even resonated with members of Erdoğan’s own Justice and Development Party (AKP); 10% of AKP members surveyed said they supported the march’s objectives.

With his unexpected, unplanned civil disobedience, Kiliçdaroğlu seems to have consolidated his role as the leader of a larger, somewhat fragmented, opposition. In the year since last July’s failed coup, the government’s inevitable but overly heavy-handed response has alienated many Turks. With emergency rule still in effect, a growing segment of the public, it seems, is receptive to the opposition’s calls to strengthen the rule of law.

Erdoğan’s narrow victory in April’s constitutional referendum, which granted the president sweeping new powers to dissolve Parliament, issue decrees, and unilaterally appoint judges, deepened the opposition’s resolve. But it also helped push more Turks into the opposition’s embrace. According to a Research Istanbul survey, among those who voted “no” to the referendum, 85% stood with Kiliçdaroğlu marchers. Tellingly, 7% of those who voted “yes” did as well.

It is too early to speculate whether Kiliçdaroğlu’s march will have a lasting impact on Turkey’s political direction. But, at the very least, it has reframed expectations for the country’s next presidential election, now scheduled for November 2019. But even with the modest gains made earlier this month, Erdoğan remains a formidable opponent, and there is still a long road to walk if Kiliçdaroğlu’s “new beginning” for Turkey is to be realized.

Sinan Ülgen is Chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM) and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. He is the author of the recent Carnegie Europe paper “A Threat-Based Strategy for NATO’s Southern Flank”.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN Africa: “Turkey Coup One Year On: President Erdogan says state of emergency to be extended”

In Int’l Diplomacy, Does Trump know the Art of the Deal?

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 - 12:12am

By John Feffer | ( Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

From North Korea to Russia to the Middle East, there’s no shortage of deal-making needed. But beware the fine print of anything with Trump’s insignia.

American beef is now available in China — as a result of a deal that Donald Trump made with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In exchange, Chinese chicken is now available in the United States.

Seems like a fair deal — hats off to Trump.

Oh, except that there are a few important caveats to the quid pro quo. The chicken can only be cooked. It won’t be labeled as coming from China. And consumers won’t even know the name of the brand that will market the birds. So, if you’re worried about eating chicken produced in a country with notoriously lax food safety regulations and inspections, stay away from that box of drumsticks in the freezer aisle.

But here’s perhaps the most idiotic part of the deal. The chickens that China cooks have to be sourced from the United States, Canada, or Chile. Chickens can’t fly long distances. But these particular chickens are jetsetters, flying as much as 12,000 miles one way from Chile to China and then another 7,000 miles from China to the United States.

Sorry, Donald: As deals go, this one’s definitely a zonk, as Monte Hall would have put it.

Donald Trump based his campaign in part on his ability to make better deals. He lambasted trade pacts like NAFTA and promised to do better. He criticized the Iran nuclear agreement and promised to do better. He challenged the terms of alliance arrangements with Japan and South Korea and promised to do better.

So far, however, the Trump administration has either left previous deals in place (NAFTA, Iran, alliances) or simply pulled out unilaterally (Trans Pacific Partnership, Paris climate deal).

Now, nearly a half-year into his term, Trump needs to demonstrate his dealmaker cred. He’s just returned from the G20 meeting in Hamburg where he’s touted his agreement on Syria with Vladimir Putin. It’s not yet clear whether this ceasefire will stop the fighting in Syria or whether it will turn out to be another crazy chicken deal with its ridiculous stipulations.

Meanwhile, the United States desperately needs to sit down and talk with North Korea to avert war in Northeast Asia. It has to help patch up relations between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors. And it has to find some way to repair ties with Europe in the wake of Trump’s resolute efforts to alienate German and French leadership.

This is the bare minimum of negotiating that the administration needs to do. More ambitious and urgent deals, such as another climate pact or a way for America to rejoin the existing one, are obviously beyond Trump’s interest or understanding. At the same time, Trump’s ability to make any deals in the present is complicated by the deals he or his associates might have made in the past, particularly with the Russians.

But for the sake of world peace, let’s assume that Trump can do something positive. It’s been all too easy to see what Trump minus looks like. What about Trump plus?

Dealing with North Korea

On July 4, North Korea crossed a red line that Trump drew in the stratosphere. At the beginning of 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to launch a successful ICBM within the year. Trump tweeted in return, “It won’t happen.”

Now that North Korea has successfully tested something that approximates an ICBM — in reality, it would be difficult at this point to imagine the Hwasong-14 accurately reaching a target in Alaska — Trump must decide how to proceed.

The Trump administration could continue to ignore North Korea — the very strategy it has criticized the Obama administration for adopting. It could go to war, which would be a catastrophe as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Korean peninsula could tell you.

Or Trump could go with door number three.

North Korea likes to make deals, and it bargains hard. It tries to extract the most money or the most ironclad guarantees from both allies and adversaries. It also sometimes breaks agreements. That, alas, is all too common in geopolitics.

In 1994, the United States managed to retard North Korea’s nuclear program by supplying heavy fuel oil and promising to build two light-water reactors through the Agreed Framework. North Korea secretly pursued a different (uranium enrichment) path to the bomb, while the United States and its partners never built those nuclear reactors. Deal off.

Between 1992 and 1994, Israel attempted to pay North Korea about a billion dollars to stop it from exporting missiles to the Middle East. North Korea even agreed to allow Israeli inspectors on North Korean soil to verify the agreement. The United States, however, blocked the effort. Deal off.

In 2007, because of a deal reached at the Six Party Talks, North Korea began to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions and the removal of the country from the U.S. terrorism list. But a year later, disagreements sharpened over inspections, North Korea grew more recalcitrant, and the incoming Obama administration failed to engage immediately to sustain momentum. Deal off.

What kind of deal would North Korea consider at this point? Of course I’d like to see North Korea mothball its nuclear program. But because of its fear of regime-change efforts, North Korea probably won’t agree to give up its deterrent capability. The United States could still attempt to freeze North Korea’s program as is and explore a moratorium on long-range missile tests (which Pyongyang maintained from 1999 to 2006). The real question is how much sweetener Washington will have to add to its offer, and what that sweetener will look like.

Trump has proven that he gets along great with dictators. For once, he should put this talent to good use.

A Deal with Doha

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was a terrible choice for secretary of state for many reasons — his lack of diplomatic experience, his conflicts of interest in the energy sector. But if there’s one place in the world where he should be able to exploit his modest capabilities, it’s the Persian Gulf. In the wake of the falling out between the tiny sheikhdom of Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Tillerson is on his way to the region to see if he can help sort things out.

It’s not going to be easy. Not only does he have to deal with Riyadh, which has presented Doha with a long list of frankly unreasonable demands such as the closure of Al Jazeera, but he also had to do battle with his own administration. President Trump has indicated his own support for Saudi Arabia in this conflict even as his underlings in State and the Pentagon are desperately trying to patch things up. Qatar, after all, hosts Al Udeid airbase (and 11,000 U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces) and plays a key role in the fight against the Islamic State.

So, first task: Get the president to stop tweeting on the issue. It’s not that difficult. Qatar’s banishment was a full month ago, Trump is easily distracted, and he’s now busy defending his son from charges of colluding with the Russians.

Second task: lower expectations. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announced last week that “we believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify.”

Third task: connect with the most promising mediator. Kuwait is the go-to country in this regard. It has remained neutral in the Gulf showdown. It has also tried to mediate other conflicts in the region, such as the war in Yemen. It’s the first stop on Tillerson’s itinerary.

Fourth task: apply leverage. The United States can threaten to reduce Saudi arms sales — which would be an excellent idea anyway — and it can threaten to move its base away from Qatar. Indeed, Washington holds a lot of trump cards in this game.

But first, Tillerson has to maneuver Trump out of the game. To clean up the Gulf mess, I’d choose a former oil exec over a former reality TV star any day.

Reset with Europe (and Russia?)

A picture in The Washington Post shows Donald Trump sitting alone at a table during the G20 summit as other participants socialize behind him. Here is America, in the “solitude of its power,” having “ceased to draw other nations to itself,” as Jean-Marie Colombani wrote immediately after 9/11in his famous Le Monde article “We Are All Americans.”

Of course, Trump supporters will see a very different photo. Snooty Europeans! And there is our defiant president, sticking to his guns and continuing to declare at every turn that America is first.

Indeed, Jeffrey Lord in a CNN commentary, gives Trump 11 out of 10 for his performance at the G20 (because of the apparently inadvertent reference to the movie This Is Spinal Tap, I initially took Lord’s piece to be a satire). “Count on the president’s supporters seeing this as a great win — a win in which Trump stayed true to his campaign promises to put American interests above all else,” Lord writes.

Trump has made no real effort to bridge the distance between himself and European leaders. Indeed, his only other stop in Europe was Poland, where he could commune with a similarly far-right government that hates immigrants, the media, and an open society. The Polish government obliged by bussing in loyalists who could be counted on to cheer a world leader in which only 23 percent of Poles have any confidence.

From adulation, Trump then traveled to consternation. Even otherwise conservative politicians like the UK’s Teresa May have been appalled at Trump’s maladroit moves at the global level. The assembled leaders of the G20 probably would have preferred if Ivanka had substituted for her father throughout the entire proceedings instead of just that one short seat-warming occasion.

In a direct rebuke to Trump’s dangerous and delusional approach to environmental issues, the European Union and the rest of the “G19” issued a final communiqué reaffirming their commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change. It will probably be the last G20 meeting Trump has to worry about — the next summits will be in Argentina, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking when he was sitting by himself at the table. Or perhaps he was daydreaming about firing all the other G20 leaders.

The focus of media coverage, meanwhile, was the sideline meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Controversy continues to swirl over what the two might have said, or promised, concerning the charges of Russian interference in the U.S. election. But let’s take a closer look at the deal-making.

Putin and Trump capped several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations when they announced a ceasefire in Syria as the UN starts up its seventh round of indirect peace talks. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why this ceasefire is flawed. Every previous attempt at stopping the bloodshed has failed. This one covers only one part of the country. Iran did not participate in the deal. Russian police are slated to monitor the ceasefire, but Israel has already said that it doesn’t want Russians across its borders in Syria. It’s a win for Syria’s murderous leader, Bashar al-Assad.

But peace has to start somewhere. So, let’s provide some muted applause for the deal. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Syria. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Trump’s foreign policy, and Tillerson can use the political capital in both Doha and Pyongyang.

But beware of the fine print on any deal with Trump’s insignia on it. For a businessman who routinely swindled his contractors and filed bankruptcy to escape from his monumental mistakes, the “art of the deal” is all about looking out for number one.

And let’s be clear, number one is not America. It’s Trump himself.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus)

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “Tillerson to the Rescue: US Secretary of State in Qatar Crisis Mediation”

Is Trump Sign or Cause of US Imperial Meltdown?

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 - 11:55pm

By Alfred W. McCoy | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

The superhighway to disaster is already being paved.

From Donald Trump’s first days in office, news of the damage to America’s international stature has come hard and fast. As if guided by some malign design, the new president seemed to identify the key pillars that have supported U.S. global power for the past 70 years and set out to topple each of them in turn. By degrading NATO, alienating Asian allies, cancelling trade treaties, and slashing critical scientific research, the Trump White House is already in the process of demolishing the delicately balanced architecture that has sustained Washington’s world leadership since the end of World War II.  However unwittingly, Trump is ensuring the accelerated collapse of American global hegemony.

Stunned by his succession of foreign policy blunders, commentators — left and right, domestic and foreign — have raised their voices in a veritable chorus of criticism. A Los Angeles Times editorial typically called him “so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality” that he threatened to “weaken this country’s moral standing in the world” and “imperil the planet” through his “appalling” policy choices. “He’s a sucker who’s shrinking U.S. influence in [Asia] and helping make China great again,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman after surveying the damage to the country’s Asian alliances from the president’s “decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal in his first week in office.”

The international press has been no less harsh. Reeling from Trump’s denunciation of South Korea’s free-trade agreement as “horrible” and his bizarre claim that the country had once been “a part of China,” Seoul’s leading newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, expressed the “shock, betrayal, and anger many South Koreans have felt.” Assessing his first 100 days in office, Britain’s venerable Observer commented: “Trump’s crudely intimidatory, violent, know-nothing approach to sensitive international issues has encircled the globe from Moscow to the Middle East to Beijing, plunging foes and allies alike into a dark vortex of expanding strategic instability.”

For an American president to virtually walk out of his grand inaugural celebrations into such a hailstorm of criticism is beyond extraordinary. Having more or less exhausted their lexicon of condemnatory rhetoric, the usual crew of commentators is now struggling to understand how an American president could be quite so willfully self-destructive.

Britain’s Suez Crisis

Blitzed by an incessant stream of bizarre tweets and White House conspiracy theories, observers worldwide seem to have concluded that Donald Trump is a president like no other, that the situation he’s creating is without parallel, and that his foreign policy is already a disaster without precedent. After rummaging around in history’s capacious closet for some old suit that might fit him, analysts have failed to find any antecedent or analogue to adequately explain him.

Yet just 60 years ago, a crisis in the ever-volatile Middle East overseen by a bumbling, mistake-prone British leader helped create a great power debacle that offers insight into the Trumpian moment, a glimpse into possible futures, and a sense of the kind of decline that could lie in the imperial future of the United States.

In the early 1950s, Britain’s international position had many parallels with America’s today. After a difficult postwar recovery from the devastation of World War II, that country was enjoying robust employment, lucrative international investments, and the prestige of the pound sterling’s stature as the world’s reserve currency. Thanks to a careful withdrawal from its far-flung, global empire and its close alliance with Washington, London still enjoyed a sense of international influence exceptional for a small island nation of just 50 million people. On balance, Britain seemed poised for many more years of world leadership with all the accompanying economic rewards and perks.

Then came the Suez crisis. After a decade of giving up one colony after another, the accumulated stress of imperial retreat pushed British conservatives into a disastrous military intervention to reclaim Egypt’s Suez Canal.  This, in turn, caused a “deep moral crisis in London” and what one British diplomat would term the “dying convulsion of British imperialism.” In a clear instance of what historians call “micro-militarism” — that is, a bold military strike designed to recover fading imperial influence — Britain joined France and Israel in a misbegotten military invasion of Egypt that transformed slow imperial retreat into a precipitous collapse.

Just as the Panama Canal had once been a shining example for Americans of their nation’s global prowess, so British conservatives treasured the Suez Canal as a vital lifeline that tied their small island to its sprawling empire in Asia and Africa. A few years after the canal’s grand opening in 1869, London did the deal of the century, scooping up Egypt’s shares in it for a bargain basement price of £4 million.  Then, in 1882, Britain consolidated its control over the canal through a military occupation of Egypt, reducing that ancient land to little more than an informal colony.

As late as 1950, in fact, Britain still maintained 80,000 soldiers and a string of military bases astride the canal. The bulk of its oil and gasoline, produced at the enormous Abadan refinery in the Persian Gulf, transited through Suez, fueling its navy, its domestic transportation system, and much of its industry.

After British troops completed a negotiated withdrawal from Suez in 1955, the charismatic nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser asserted Egypt’s neutrality in the Cold War by purchasing Soviet bloc arms, raising eyebrows in Washington. In July 1956, after the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower had in response reneged on its promise to finance construction of the Aswan High Dam on the Upper Nile, Nasser sought alternative financing for this critical infrastructure by nationalizing the Suez Canal.  In doing so, he electrified the Arab world and elevated himself to the top rank of world leaders.

Although British ships still passed freely through the canal and Washington insisted on a diplomatic resolution of the conflict, Britain’s conservative leadership reacted with irrational outrage. Behind a smokescreen of sham diplomacy designed to deceive Washington, their closest ally, the British foreign secretary met secretly with the prime ministers of France and Israel near Paris to work out an elaborately deceptive two-stage invasion of Egypt by 250,000 allied troops, backed by 500 aircraft and 130 warships.  Its aim, of course, was to secure the canal.

On October 29, 1956, the Israeli army led by the dashing General Moshe Dayan swept across the Sinai Peninsula, destroying Egyptian tanks and bringing his troops to within 10 miles of the canal. Using this fighting as a pretext for an intervention to restore peace, Anglo-French amphibious and airborne forces quickly joined the attack, backed by a devastating bombardment from six aircraft carriers that destroyed the Egyptian air force, including over a hundred of its new MiG jet fighters. As Egypt’s military collapsed with some 3,000 of its troops killed and 30,000 captured, Nasser deployed a defense brilliant in its simplicity by scuttling dozens of rusting cargo ships filled with rocks and concrete at the entrance to the Suez Canal.  In this way, he closed Europe’s oil lifeline to the Persian Gulf.

Simultaneously, U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, backed by Washington, imposed a cease-fire after just nine days of war, stopping the Anglo-French attack far short of capturing the entire canal. President Eisenhower’s blunt refusal to back his allies with either oil or money and the threat of condemnation before the U.N. soon forced Britain into a humiliating withdrawal. With its finances collapsing from the invasion’s soaring costs, the British government could not maintain the pound’s official exchange rate, degrading its stature as a global reserve currency.

The author of this extraordinary debacle was Sir Anthony Eden, a problematic prime minister whose career offers some striking parallels with Donald Trump’s. Born into privilege as the son of a landholder, Eden enjoyed a good education at a private school and an elite university. After inheriting a substantial fortune from his father, he entered politics as a conservative, using his political connections to dabble in finance. Chafing under Winston Churchill’s postwar leadership of the Conservative Party, Eden, who styled himself a rebel against hidebound institutions, used incessant infighting and his handsome head of hair to push the great man aside and become prime minister in 1955.

When Nasser nationalized the canal, Eden erupted with egotism, bluster, and outrage. “What’s all this nonsense about isolating Nasser,” Eden berated his foreign affairs minister. “I want him destroyed, can’t you understand? I want him murdered, and if you and the Foreign Office don’t agree, then you’d better come to the cabinet and explain why.” Convinced that Britain was still the globe’s great power, Eden rejected sound advice that he consult fully with Washington, the country’s closest ally. As his bold intervention plunged toward diplomatic disaster, the prime minister became focused on manipulating the British media, in the process confusing favorable domestic coverage with international support.

When Washington demanded a ceasefire as the price of a billion-dollar bailout for a British economy unable to sustain such a costly war, Eden’s bluster quickly crumbled and he denied his troops a certain victory, arousing a storm of protest in Parliament. Humiliated by the forced withdrawal, Eden compensated psychologically by ordering MI-6, Britain’s equivalent of the CIA, to launch its second ill-fated assassination attempt on Nasser. Since its chief local agent was actually a double-agent loyal to Nasser, Egyptian security had, however, already rounded up the British operatives and the weapons delivered for the contract killers proved duds.

Confronted with a barrage of angry questions in Parliament about his collusion with the Israelis, Eden lied repeatedly, swearing that there was no “foreknowledge that Israel would attack Egypt.” Protesters denounced him as “too stupid to be a prime minister,” opposition members of parliament laughed openly when he appeared before Parliament, and his own foreign affairs minister damned him as “an enraged elephant charging senselessly at… imaginary enemies.”

Just weeks after the last British soldier left Egypt, Eden, discredited and disgraced, was forced to resign after only 21 months in office. Led into this unimaginably misbegotten operation by his delusions of omnipotence, he left the once-mighty British lion a toothless circus animal that would henceforth roll over whenever Washington cracked the whip.

Trump’s Demolition Job

Despite the obvious differences in their economic circumstances, there remain some telling resonances between Britain’s postwar politics and America’s troubles today. Both of these fading global hegemons suffered a slow erosion of economic power in a fast-changing world, producing severe social tensions and stunted political leaders. Britain’s Conservative Party leadership had declined from the skilled diplomacy of Disraeli, Salisbury, and Churchill to Eden’s bluster and blunder.  Similarly, the Republican Party has descended from the likes of Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and George H.W. Bush to a field of 17 primary candidates in 2016 who promised to resolve an infinitely complex crisis in the Middle East through a set of incendiary policies that included making desert sands glow from carpet-bombing and forcing terrorists to capitulate through torture. Confronted with daunting international challenges, the voters of both countries supported appealing but unstable leaders whose delusions of omnipotence inclined them to military misadventures.

Like British citizens of the 1950s, most Americans today do not fully grasp the fragility of their status as “the leader of the free world.” Indeed, Washington has been standing astride the globe as a superpower for so long that most of its leaders have almost no understanding of the delicate design of their country’s global power built so carefully by two post-World War II presidents.

Under Democratic President Harry Truman, Congress created the key instruments for Washington’s emerging national security state and its future global dominion by passing the National Security Act of 1947 that established the Air Force, the CIA, and two new executive agencies, the Defense Department and the National Security Council. To rebuild a devastated, war-torn Europe, Washington launched the Marshall Plan and then turned such thinking into a worldwide aid program through the U.S. Agency for International Development meant to embed American power globally and support pro-American elites across the planet. Under Truman as well, U.S. diplomats forged the NATO alliance (which Washington would dominate until the Trump moment), advanced European unity, and signed a parallel string of mutual-defense treaties with key Asian allies along the Pacific littoral, making Washington the first power in two millennia to control both “axial ends” of the strategic Eurasian continent.

During the 1950s, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower deployed this national security apparatus to secure Washington’s global dominion with a nuclear triad (bombers, ballistic missiles, and submarines), a chain of military bases that ringed Eurasia, and a staggering number of highly militarized covert operations to assure the ascent of loyal allies worldwide. Above all, he oversaw the integration of the latest in scientific and technological research into the Pentagon’s weapons procurement system through the forging of the famed “military-industrial complex” (against which he would end up warning Americans as he left office in 1961).   All this, in turn, fostered an aura of American power so formidable that Washington could re-order significant parts of the world almost at will, enforcing peace, setting the international agenda, and toppling governments on four continents.

While it’s reasonable to argue that Washington had by then become history’s greatest global power, its hegemony, like that of all the world empires that preceded it, remained surprisingly fragile. Skilled leadership was required to maintain the system’s balance of diplomacy, military power, economic strength, and technological innovation.

By the time President Trump took his oath of office, negative, long-term trends had already started to limit the influence of any American leader on the world stage.  These included a declining share of the global economy, an erosion of U.S. technological primacy, an inability to apply its overwhelming military power in a way that achieved expected policy goals on an ever more recalcitrant planet, and a generation of increasingly independent national leaders, whether in Europe, Asia, or Latin America.

Apart from such adverse trends, Washington’s global power rested on such strategic fundamentals that its leaders might still have managed carefully enough to maintain a reasonable semblance of American hegemony: notably, the NATO alliance and Asian mutual-security treaties at the strategic antipodes of Eurasia, trade treaties that reinforced such alliances, scientific research to sustain its military’s technological edge, and leadership on international issues like climate change.

In just five short months, however, the Trump White House has done a remarkable job of demolishing these very pillars of U.S. global power. During his first overseas trip in May 2017, President Trump chastised stone-faced NATO leaders for failure to pay their “fair share” into the military part of the alliance and refused to affirm its core principle of collective defense. Ignoring the pleas of these close allies, he then forfeited America’s historic diplomatic leadership by announcing Washington’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord with all the drama of a reality television show. After watching his striking repudiation of Washington’s role as world leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told voters in her country that “we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.”

Along the strategic Pacific littoral, Trump cancelled the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact on taking office and gratuitously alienated allies by cutting short a courtesy phone call to Australia’s prime minister and insulting South Korea to the point where its new president won office, in part, on a platform of “say no” to America. When President Moon Jae-in visited Washington in June, determined to heal the breach between the two countries, he was, as the New York Times reported, blindsided by “the harshness of Mr. Trump’s critique of South Korea on trade.”

Just days after Trump dismissed Moon’s suggestion that the two countries engage in actual diplomatic negotiations with Pyongyang, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching Alaska or possibly Hawaii with a nuclear warhead (though experts believe Pyongyang may still be years away from effectively fitting such a warhead to the missile).  It was an act that made those same negotiations Washington’s only viable option — apart from a second Korean War, which would potentially devastate both the region and the U.S. position as the preeminent international leader.

In other words, after 70 years of global dominion, America’s geopolitical command of the axial ends of Eurasia — the central pillars of its world power seems to be crumbling in a matter of months.

Instead of the diplomacy of presidents past, Trump and his advisers, especially his military men, have reacted to his first modest foreign crises as well as the everyday power questions of empire with outbursts akin to Anthony Eden’s.  Since January, the White House has erupted in sudden displays of raw military power that included a drone blitz of unprecedented intensity in Yemen to destroy what the president called a “network of lawless savages,” the bombardment of a Syrian air base with 59 Tomahawk missiles, and the detonation of the world’s largest non-nuclear bomb on a terrorist refuge in eastern Afghanistan.

While reveling in the use of such weaponry, Trump, by slashing federal funding for critical scientific research, is already demolishing the foundations for the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower’s successors, Republican and Democratic alike, so sedulously maintained for the last half-century. While China is ramping up its scientific research across the board, Trump has proposed what the American Association for Advancement of Science called “deep cuts to numerous research agencies” that will mean the eventual loss of the country’s technological edge. In the emerging field of artificial intelligence that will soon drive space warfare and cyber-warfare, the White House wants to reduce the 2018 budget for this critical research at the National Science Foundation to a paltry $175 million, even as Beijing is launching “a new multi-billion-dollar initiative” linked to building “military robots.”

A Future Debacle in the Greater Middle East

With a president who shares Sir Anthony Eden’s penchant for bravura, self-delusion, and impulsiveness, the U.S. seems primed for a twenty-first-century Suez of its own, a debacle in the Greater Middle East (or possibly elsewhere). From the disastrous expedition that ancient Athens sent to Sicily in 413 BCE to Britain’s invasion of Suez in 1956, embattled empires throughout the ages have often suffered an arrogance that drives them to plunge ever deeper into military misadventures until defeat becomes debacle, a misuse of armed force known technically among historians as micro-militarism. With the hubris that has marked empires over the millennia, the Trump administration is, for instance, now committed to extending indefinitely Washington’s failing war of pacification in Afghanistan with a new mini-surge of U.S. troops (and air power) in that classic “graveyard of empires.

So irrational, so unpredictable is such micro-militarism that even the most fanciful of scenarios can be outpaced by actual events, as was true at Suez. With the U.S. military stretched thin from North Africa to South Korea, with no lasting successes in its post-9/11 wars, and with tensions rising from the Persian Gulf and Syria to the South China Sea and the Koreas, the possibilities for a disastrous military crisis abroad seem almost unending. So let me pick just one possible scenario for a future Trumpian military misadventure in the Greater Middle East.  (I’m sure you’ll think of other candidates immediately.)

It’s the late spring of 2020, the start of the traditional Afghan fighting season, and a U.S. garrison in the city of Kandahar in southern Afghanistan is unexpectedly overrun by an ad hoc alliance of Taliban and Islamic State guerrillas. While U.S. aircraft are grounded in a blinding sand storm, the militants summarily execute their American captives, filming the gruesome event for immediate upload on the Internet. Speaking to an international television audience, President Trump thunders against “disgusting Muslim murderers” and swears he will “make the desert sands run red with their blood.” In fulfillment of that promise, an angry American theater commander sends B-1 bombers and F-35 fighters to demolish whole neighborhoods of Kandahar believed to be under Taliban control. In an aerial coup de grâce, AC-130-U “Spooky” gunships then rake the rubble with devastating cannon fire. The civilian casualties are beyond counting.

Soon, mullahs are preaching jihad from mosques across Afghanistan and far beyond. Afghan Army units, long trained by American forces to turn the tide of the war, begin to desert en masse. In isolated posts across the country, clusters of Afghan soldiers open fire on their American advisers in what are termed “insider” or “green-on-blue” attacks. Meanwhile, Taliban fighters launch a series of assaults on scattered U.S. garrisons elsewhere in the country, suddenly sending American casualties soaring. In scenes reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, U.S. helicopters rescue American soldiers and civilians from rooftops not just in Kandahar, but in several other provincial capitals and even Kabul.

Meanwhile, angry over the massive civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the anti-Muslim diatribes tweeted almost daily from the Oval Office, and years of depressed energy prices, OPEC’s leaders impose a harsh new oil embargo aimed at the United States and its allies. With refineries running dry in Europe and Asia, the world economy trembling at the brink of recession, and gas prices soaring, Washington flails about for a solution. The first call is to NATO, but the alliance is near collapse after four years of President Trump’s erratic behavior. Even the British, alienated by his inattention to their concerns, rebuff his appeals for support.

Facing an uncertain reelection in November 2020, the Trump White House makes its move, sending Marines and Special Operations forces to seize oil ports in the Persian Gulf. Flying from the Fifth Fleet’s base in Bahrain, Navy Seals and Army Rangers occupy the Ras Tanura refinery in Saudi Arabia, the ninth largest in the world; Kuwait’s main oil port at Shuaiba; and Iraq’s at Um Qasr.

Simultaneously, the light carrier USS Iwo Jima steams south at the head of a task force that launches helicopters carrying 6,000 Special Operations forces tasked with seizing the al-Ruwais refinery in Abu Dhabi, the world’s fourth largest, and the megaport at Jebel Ali in Dubai, a 20-square-mile complex so massive that the Americans can only occupy its oil facilities. When Teheran vehemently protests the U.S. escalation in the Persian Gulf and hints at retaliation, Defense Secretary James Mattis, reviving a plan from his days as CENTCOM commander, orders preemptive Tomahawk missile strikes on Iran’s flagship oil refinery at Abadan.

From its first hours, the operation goes badly wrong. The troops seem lost inside the unmapped mazes of pipes that honeycomb the oil ports.  Meanwhile, refinery staff prove stubbornly uncooperative, sensing that the occupation will be short-lived and disastrous. On day three, Iranian Revolutionary Guard commandos, who have been training for this moment since the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S., storm ashore at the Kuwaiti and Emirate refineries with remote-controlled charges. Unable to use their superior firepower in such a volatile environment, American troops are reduced to firing futile bursts at the departing speed boats as oil storage tanks and gas pipes explode spectacularly.

Three days later, as the USS Gerald Ford approaches an Iranian island, more than 100 speedboats suddenly appear, swarming the carrier in a practiced pattern of high-speed crisscrosses. Every time lethal bursts from the carrier’s MK-38 chain guns rip through the lead boats, others emerge from the flames coming closer and closer. Concealed by clouds of smoke, one finally reaches an undefended spot beneath the conning tower near enough for a Revolutionary guardsman to attach a magnetic charge to the hull with a fateful click. There is a deafening roar and a gaping hole erupts at the waterline of the first aircraft carrier to be crippled in battle since World War II.  As things go from bad to worse, the Pentagon is finally forced to accept that a debacle is underway and withdraws its capital ships from the Persian Gulf.

As black clouds billow skyward from the Gulf’s oil ports and diplomats rise at the U.N. to bitterly denounce American actions, commentators worldwide reach back to the 1956 debacle that marked the end of imperial Britain to brand this “America’s Suez.” The empire has been trumped.

Alfred W. McCoy, a TomDispatch regular, is the Harrington professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of the now-classic book The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, which probed the conjuncture of illicit narcotics and covert operations over 50 years, and the forthcoming In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, out in September from Dispatch Books.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, as well as John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Alfred W. McCoy

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: In September, Dispatch Books will publish the next in our line-up of explorations of imperial America: Alfred McCoy’s remarkable In the Shadows of the American CenturyKirkus Reviews has praised it as “sobering reading for geopolitics mavens and Risk aficionados alike, offering no likely path beyond decline and fall.” Among the impressive range of comments we’ve gotten on it come two from Pulitzer Prize winners. Novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer, writes that McCoy “persuasively argues for the inevitable decline of the American empire and the rise of China… Let’s hope that Americans will listen to his powerful arguments.” And historian John Dower states that the book “joins the essential short list of scrupulous historical and comparative studies of the United States as an awesome, conflicted, technologically innovative, routinely atrocious, and ultimately hubristic imperial power.” As with all his work since the CIA tried to stifle his classic first book, The Politics of Heroin, back in the early 1970s, McCoy’s is leading-edge stuff and a must-read, so reserve your copy early by clicking here. Tom]

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS NewsHour: “News Wrap: U.S. forces kill Abu Sayed, ISIS leader in Afghanistan”

Turkey: Erdogan Marks Coup anniversary with more Crackdowns

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 - 1:23am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey commemorated on Saturday the anniversary of the failed coup in that country.

The coup attempt was genuinely unpopular. Erdogan blames it on the Gulen movement, a shadowy cult-like organization that for years was allied with Erdogan.

But in the aftermath, Erdogan took the failed coup as the pretext under which to strengthen the central state. He had had some 150,000 persons fired from government jobs, and arrested 100,000. Obviously, 250,000 people did not conspire to overthrow Erdogan on July 15. Moreover, many of those targeted had nothing to do with the Gulen movement, but had simply criticized Erdogan from a secular or leftist point of view.

Supporters of the center left Republican People’s Party (CHP), which now holds about 25% of the seats in parliament but had ruled Turkey for most of the 20th century, had rallied last Sunday in the thousands to protest Erdogan’s assault on the rule of law and civil liberties.

In his Istanbul speech on Saturday, Erdogan pledged to sign any law sent him by parliament reinstating the death penalty, which Turkey had abolished in 2004 as part of its attempt to join the European Union. He said of the coup plotters, “We will chop off their heads.” He also urged that they be made to appear in court in orange jumpsuits like those the US makes prisoners in Guantanamo wear. Obviously, such a procedure would prejudice the judge against the defendants even though they might not have been proved guilty by other means. Turkey would certainly be removed from any queue for EU membership if it resumes executing people.

Erdogan fired another 7,000 government workers on Saturday on political grounds.

Meanwhile, the The Republican People’s Party (CHP) announced that it would boycott the special night meeting on the coup, complaining that the talks by by its leaders had been cancelled. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu did address parliament. In Erdogan’s own speech the president branded the opposition leader a coward for not coming into the streets a year ago in the face of the coup.

In essence, the coup failed. But Erdogan’s countercoup has succeeded gloriously, and has functioned as a sort of a coup in its own right, turning Turkey definitively into a banana republic for the foreseeable future. It is a sad end to the brief turn 2002-2012 of Turkish politics toward greater pluralism and openness.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS NewsHour: “Turkey continues crackdown one year after failed coup”

Brain Fitness: Why you’re losing out if you’re not Learning another Language

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 - 12:22am

By Gaia Vince | ( Mosaic: The Science of Life) | – –

Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit

Most people in the world speak more than one language, suggesting the human brain evolved to work in multiple tongues. If so, asks Gaia Vince, are those who speak only one language missing out?

Listen to or download an audiobook of this story on SoundCloud and iTunes.

 

In a café in south London, two construction workers are engaged in cheerful banter, tossing words back and forth. Their cutlery dances during more emphatic gesticulations and they occasionally break off into loud guffaws. They are discussing a woman, that much is clear, but the details are lost on me. It’s a shame, because their conversation looks fun and interesting, especially to a nosy person like me. But I don’t speak their language.

Out of curiosity, I interrupt them to ask what they are speaking. With friendly smiles, they both switch easily to English, explaining that they are South Africans and had been speaking Xhosa. In Johannesburg, where they are from, most people speak at least five languages, says one of them, Theo Morris. For example, Theo’s mother’s language is Sotho, his father’s is Zulu, he learned Xhosa and Ndebele from his friends and neighbours, and English and Afrikaans at school. “I went to Germany before I came here, so I also speak German,” he adds.

Was it easy to learn so many languages?

“Yes, it’s normal,” he laughs.

He’s right. Around the world, more than half of people – estimates vary from 60 to 75 per cent – speak at least two languages. Many countries have more than one official national language – South Africa has 11. People are increasingly expected to speak, read and write at least one of a handful of “super” languages, such as English, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish or Arabic, as well. So to be monolingual, as many native English speakers are, is to be in the minority, and perhaps to be missing out.

Multilingualism has been shown to have many social, psychological and lifestyle advantages. Moreover, researchers are finding a swathe of health benefits from speaking more than one language, including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia.

Could it be that the human brain evolved to be multilingual – that those who speak only one language are not exploiting their full potential? And in a world that is losing languages faster than ever – at the current rate of one a fortnight, half our languages will be extinct by the end of the century – what will happen if the current rich diversity of languages disappears and most of us end up speaking only one?

 

 

Bilinguals perform these tasks much better than monolinguals – they are faster and more accurate.

 

I am sitting in a laboratory, headphones on, looking at pictures of snowflakes on a computer. As each pair of snowflakes appears, I hear a description of one of them through the headphones. All I have to do is decide which snowflake is being described. The only catch is that the descriptions are in a completely invented language called Syntaflake.

It’s part of an experiment by Panos Athanasopoulos, an ebullient Greek with a passion for languages. Professor of psycholinguistics and bilingual cognition at Lancaster University, he’s at the forefront of a new wave of research into the bilingual mind. As you might expect, his lab is a Babel of different nationalities and languages – but no one here grew up speaking Syntaflake.

The task is profoundly strange and incredibly difficult. Usually, when interacting in a foreign language, there are clues to help you decipher the meaning. The speaker might point to the snowflake as they speak, use their hands to demonstrate shapes or their fingers to count out numbers, for example. Here I have no such clues and, it being a made-up language, I can’t even rely on picking up similarities to languages I already know.

After a time, though, I begin to feel a pattern might be emerging with the syntax and sounds. I decide to be mathematical about it and get out pen and paper to plot any rules that emerge, determined not to “fail” the test.

© Nadine Redlich

The experience reminds me of a time I arrived in a rural town a few hours outside Beijing and was forced to make myself understood in a language I could neither speak nor read, among people for whom English was similarly alien. But even then, there had been clues… Now, without any accompanying human interaction, the rules governing the sounds I’m hearing remain elusive, and at the end of the session I have to admit defeat.

I join Athanasopoulos for a chat while my performance is being analysed by his team.

Glumly, I recount my difficulties at learning the language, despite my best efforts. But it appears that was where I went wrong: “The people who perform best on this task are the ones who don’t care at all about the task and just want to get it over as soon as possible. Students and teaching staff who try to work it out and find a pattern always do worst,” he says.

“It’s impossible in the time given to decipher the rules of the language and make sense of what’s being said to you. But your brain is primed to work it out subconsciously. That’s why, if you don’t think about it, you’ll do okay in the test – children do the best.”

 

 

Being so bound up with identity, language is also deeply political.

 

The first words ever uttered may have been as far back as 250,000 years ago, once our ancestors stood up on two legs and freed the ribcage from weight-bearing tasks, allowing fine nerve control of breathing and pitch to develop. And when humans had got one language, it wouldn’t have been long before we had many.

Language evolution can be compared to biological evolution, but whereas genetic change is driven by environmental pressures, languages change and develop through social pressures. Over time, different groups of early humans would have found themselves speaking different languages. Then, in order to communicate with other groups – for trade, travel and so on – it would have been necessary for some members of a family or band to speak other tongues.

We can get some sense of how prevalent multilingualism may have been from the few hunter-gatherer peoples who survive today. “If you look at modern hunter-gatherers, they are almost all multilingual,” says Thomas Bak, a cognitive neurologist who studies the science of languages at the University of Edinburgh. “The rule is that one mustn’t marry anyone in the same tribe or clan to have a child – it’s taboo. So every single child’s mum and dad speak a different language.”

In Aboriginal Australia, where more than 130 indigenous languages are still spoken, multilingualism is part of the landscape. “You will be walking and talking with someone, and then you might cross a small river and suddenly your companion will switch to another language,” says Bak. “People speak the language of the earth.” This is true elsewhere, too. “Consider in Belgium: you take a train in Liège, the announcements are in French first. Then, pass through Loewen, where the announcements will be in Dutch first, and then in Brussels it reverts back to French first.”

Extra

Coining new languages

Gaia Vince celebrates the newcomers in our evolving linguistic landscape.

Being so bound up with identity, language is also deeply political. The emergence of European nation states and the growth of imperialism during the 19th century meant it was regarded as disloyal to speak anything other than the one national language. This perhaps contributed to the widely held opinion – particularly in Britain and the US – that bringing up children to be bilingual was harmful to their health and to society more generally.

There were warnings that bilingual children would be confused by two languages, have lower intelligence, low self-esteem, behave in deviant ways, develop a split personality and even become schizophrenic. It is a view that persisted until very recently, discouraging many immigrant parents from using their own mother tongue to speak to their children, for instance. This is in spite of a a 1962 experiment, ignored for decades, which showed that bilingual children did better than monolinguals in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence tests.

However, research in the last decade by neurologists, psychologists and linguists, using the latest brain-imaging tools, is revealing a swathe of cognitive benefits for bilinguals. It’s all to do with how our ever-flexible minds learn to multitask.

 

 

Many bilinguals say they feel like a different person when they speak their other language.

 

Ask me in English what my favourite food is, and I will picture myself in London choosing from the options I enjoy there. But ask me in French, and I transport myself to Paris, where the options I’ll choose from are different. So the same deeply personal question gets a different answer depending on the language in which you’re asking me. This idea that you gain a new personality with every language you speak, that you act differently when speaking different languages, is a profound one.

Athanasopoulos and his colleagues have been studying the capacity for language to change people’s perspectives. In one experiment, English and German speakers were shown videos of people moving, such as a woman walking towards her car or a man cycling to the supermarket. English speakers focus on the action and typically describe the scene as “a woman is walking” or “a man is cycling”. German speakers, on the other hand, have a more holistic worldview and will include the goal of the action: they might say (in German) “a woman walks towards her car” or “a man cycles towards the supermarket”.

Part of this is due to the grammatical toolkit available, Athanasopoulos explains. Unlike German, English has the -ing ending to describe actions that are ongoing. This makes English speakers much less likely than German speakers to assign a goal to an action when describing an ambiguous scene. When he tested English–German bilinguals, however, whether they were action- or goal-focused depended on which country they were tested in. If the bilinguals were tested in Germany, they were goal-focused; in England, they were action-focused, no matter which language was used, showing how intertwined culture and language can be in determining a person’s worldview.

In the 1960s, one of the pioneers of psycholinguistics, Susan Ervin-Tripp, tested Japanese–English bilingual women, asking them to finish sentences in each language. She found that the women ended the sentences very differently depending on which language was used. For example, “When my wishes conflict with my family…” was completed in Japanese as “it is a time of great unhappiness”; in English, as “I do what I want”. Another example was “Real friends should…”, which was completed as “help each other” in Japanese and “be frank” in English.

From this, Ervin-Tripp concluded that human thought takes place within language mindsets, and that bilinguals have different mindsets for each language – an extraordinary idea but one that has been borne out in subsequent studies, and many bilinguals say they feel like a different person when they speak their other language.

These different mindsets are continually in conflict, however, as bilingual brains sort out which language to use.

In a revealing experiment with his English–German bilingual group, Athanasopoulos got them to recite strings of numbers out loud in either German or English. This effectively “blocked” the other language altogether, and when they were shown the videos of movement, the bilinguals’ descriptions were more action- or goal-focused depending on which language had been blocked. So, if they recited numbers in German, their responses to the videos were more typically German and goal-focused. When the number recitation was switched to the other language midway, their video responses also switched.

© Nadine Redlich

So what’s going on? Are there really two separate minds in a bilingual brain? That’s what the snowflake experiment was designed to find out. I’m a little nervous of what my fumbling performance will reveal about me, but Athanasopoulos assures me I’m similar to others who have been tested – and so far, we seem to be validating his theory.

In order to assess the effect that trying to understand the Syntaflake language had on my brain, I took another test before and after the snowflake task. In these so-called flanker tasks, patterns of arrows appeared on the screen and I had to press the left or right button according to the direction of the arrow in the centre. Sometimes the surrounding pattern of arrows was confusing, so by the end of the first session my shoulders had been hunched somewhere near my ears and I was exhausted from concentrating. It’s not a task in which practice improves performance (most people actually do worse second time round), but when I did the same test again after completing the snowflake task, I was significantly better at it, just as Athanasopoulos has predicted.

“Learning the new language improved your performance second time around,” he explains. Relieved as I am to fit into the normal range, it’s a curious result. How can that be?

The flanker tasks were exercises in cognitive conflict resolution – if most of the arrows were pointing to the left, my immediate impulse was to push the left button, but this wasn’t the correct response if the central arrow was pointing right. I had to block out my impulse and heed the rule instead. Another example of cognitive conflict is a test in which the names of colours are written in different colours (“blue” written in red, for example). The aim is to say which colour each word is written in, but this is tricky, because we read the word much quicker than we process the colour of the letters. It requires considerable mental effort to ignore the impulse just to say the word we can’t help but read.

Extra

Where is language in the brain?

Language is all around us but where does it sit inside us?

The snowflake test prepared my ACC for the second flanker task, just as speaking more than one language seems to train the executive system more generally. A steady stream of studies over the past decade has shown that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in a range of cognitive and social tasks from verbal and nonverbal tests to how well they can read other people. Greater empathy is thought to be because bilinguals are better at blocking out their own feelings and beliefs in order to concentrate on the other person’s.

“Bilinguals perform these tasks much better than monolinguals – they are faster and more accurate,” says Athanasopoulos. And that suggests their executive systems are different from monolinguals’.

© Nadine Redlich

In fact, says cognitive neuropsychologist Jubin Abutalebi, at the University of San Raffaele in Milan, it is possible to distinguish bilingual people from monolinguals simply by looking at scans of their brains. “Bilingual people have significantly more grey matter than monolinguals in their anterior cingulate cortex, and that is because they are using it so much more often,” he says. The ACC is like a cognitive muscle, he adds: the more you use it, the stronger, bigger and more flexible it gets.

Bilinguals, it turns out, exercise their executive control all the time because their two languages are constantly competing for attention. Brain-imaging studies show that when a bilingual person is speaking in one language, their ACC is continually suppressing the urge to use words and grammar from their other language. Not only that, but their mind is always making a judgement about when and how to use the target language. For example, bilinguals rarely get confused between languages, but they may introduce the odd word or sentence of the other language if the person they are talking to also knows it.

“My mother tongue is Polish but my wife is Spanish so I also speak Spanish, and we live in Edinburgh so we also speak English,” says Thomas Bak. “When I am talking to my wife in English, I will sometimes use Spanish words, but I never accidentally use Polish. And when I am speaking to my wife’s mother in Spanish, I never accidentally introduce English words because she doesn’t understand them. It’s not something I have to think about, it’s automatic, but my executive system is working very hard to inhibit the other languages.”

For bilinguals, with their exceptionally buff executive control, the flanker test is just a conscious version of what their brains do subconsciously all day long – it’s no wonder they are good at it. 

 

 

Perhaps we ought to start doing more cognitive exercises to maintain our mental health, especially if we only speak one language.

 

A superior ability to concentrate, solve problems and focus, better mental flexibility and multitasking skills are, of course, valuable in everyday life. But perhaps the most exciting benefit of bilingualism occurs in ageing, when executive function typically declines: bilingualism seems to protect against dementia.

Psycholinguist Ellen Bialystok made the surprising discovery at York University in Toronto while she was comparing an ageing population of monolinguals and bilinguals.

“The bilinguals showed symptoms of Alzheimer’s some four to five years after monolinguals with the same disease pathology,” she says.

Being bilingual didn’t prevent people from getting dementia, but it delayed its effects, so in two people whose brains showed similar amounts of disease progression, the bilingual would show symptoms an average of five years after the monolingual. Bialystok thinks this is because bilingualism rewires the brain and improves the executive system, boosting people’s “cognitive reserve”. It means that as parts of the brain succumb to damage, bilinguals can compensate more because they have extra grey matter and alternative neural pathways.

Extra

The woman who lost two languages and only got one back

A burst aneurysm caused bilingual Basia Grzybowska to lose both her English and her Polish. Now she has recovered – partly.

Bilingualism can also offer protection after brain injury. In a recent study of 600 stroke survivors in India, Bak discovered that cognitive recovery was twice as likely for bilinguals as for monolinguals.

Such results suggest bilingualism helps keep us mentally fit. It may even be an advantage that evolution has positively selected for in our brains – an idea supported by the ease with which we learn new languages and flip between them, and by the pervasiveness of bilingualism throughout world history. Just as we need to do physical exercise to maintain the health of bodies that evolved for a physically active hunter-gatherer lifestyle, perhaps we ought to start doing more cognitive exercises to maintain our mental health, especially if we only speak one language.

In recent years, there has been a backlash against the studies showing benefits from bilingualism. Some researchers tried and failed to replicate some of the results; others questioned the benefits of improved executive function in everyday life. Bak wrote a rejoinder to the published criticisms, and says there is now overwhelming evidence from psychological experiments backed by imaging studies that bilingual and monolingual brains function differently. He says the detractors have made errors in their experimental methods.

Bialystok agrees, adding that it is impossible to examine whether bilingualism improves a child’s school exam results because there are so many confounding factors. But, she says, “given that at the very least it makes no difference – and no study has ever shown it harms performance – considering the very many social and cultural benefits to knowing another language, bilingualism should be encouraged”. As for the financial benefits, one estimate puts the value of knowing a second language at up to $128,000 over 40 years.

 

 

It takes three years for a baby to learn a language, but just months for an adult.

 

The result of my test in Athanasopoulos’s lab suggests that just 45 minutes of trying to understand another language can improve cognitive function. His study is not yet complete, but other research has shown that these benefits of learning a language can be achieved quickly. The problem is, they disappear again unless they are used – and I am unlikely to use the made-up snowflake language ever again! Learning a new language is not the only way to improve executive function – playing video games, learning a musical instrument, even certain card games can help – but because we use language all the time, it’s probably the best executive-function exerciser there is. So how can this knowledge be applied in practice?

One option is to teach children in different languages. In many parts of the world, this is already being done: many Indian children, for example, will use a different language in school from their mother or village tongue. But in English-speaking nations, it is rare. Nevertheless, there is a growing movement towards so-called immersion schooling, in which children are taught in another language half the time. The state of Utah has been pioneering the idea, with many of its schools now offering immersion in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.

“We use a half-day model, so the target language is used to teach in the morning, and then English is used in the afternoon – then this is swapped on other days as some learn better in the morning and some in the afternoon,” explains Gregg Roberts, who works with the Utah Office of State Education and has championed immersion language teaching in the state. “We have found that the kids do as well and generally better than monolingual counterparts in all subjects. They are better at concentrating, focusing and have a lot more self-esteem. Anytime you understand another language, you understand your language and culture better. It is economically and socially beneficial. We need to get over our affliction with monolingualism.”

The immersion approach is being trialled in the UK now, too. At Bohunt secondary school in Liphook, Hampshire, head teacher Neil Strowger has introduced Chinese-language immersion for a few lessons.

I sit in on an art class with 12-year-olds being taught by two teachers: one speaking English, the other Chinese. The children are engaged but quiet, concentrating on the task of learning multiple ideas. When they speak it is often in Chinese – and there is something rather surreal about watching young people in the UK discussing British graffiti artist Banksy in Mandarin. The children say they chose to learn in Chinese because they thought it would be “fun” and “interesting” and “useful” – a far cry from the dreary French lessons I endured at school.

© Nadine Redlich

The majority of the art class will take their Chinese GCSE exams several years early but Strowger tells me the programme has had many benefits in addition to their grades, including improving students’ engagement and enjoyment, increasing their awareness of other cultures so that they are equipped as global citizens, widening their horizons, and improving their job prospects.

What about those of us who have left school? In order to maintain the benefits of bilingualism, you need to use your languages and that can be tricky, especially for older people who may not have many opportunities to practise. Perhaps we need language clubs, where people can meet to speak other languages. Bak has done a small pilot study with elderly people learning Gaelic in Scotland and seen significant benefits after just one week. Now he aims to carry out a much larger trial.

It is never too late to learn another tongue, and it can be very rewarding. Alex Rawlings is a British professional polyglot who speaks 15 languages: “Each language gives you a whole new lifestyle, a whole new shade of meaning,” he says. “It’s addictive!”

“People say it’s too hard as an adult. But I would say it’s much easier after the age of eight. It takes three years for a baby to learn a language, but just months for an adult.”

As the recent research shows, that’s a worthwhile investment of time. Being bilingual could keep our minds working longer and better into old age, which could have a massive impact on how we school our children and treat older people. In the meantime, it makes sense to talk, hablar, parler, sprechen, beszél, berbicara in as many languages as you can.

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

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Related videos added by Juan Cole:

1.

TED: “4 reasons to learn a new language | John McWhorter”

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Federal Judge strikes down Granny Exclusion in Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

Sun, 16 Jul 2017 - 12:07am

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer | ( Commondreams.org)) | – –

Judge writes that “the Government’s definition [of ‘close familial relationship’] represents the antithesis of common sense.”

A federal judge said Thursday that the Trump administration’s interpretation of what qualifies as “bona fide relationship” defies common sense. (Photo: allison_dc/flickr/cc)

A federal judge in Hawaii late Thursday dealt a blow to the Trump administration, weakening the so-called Muslim Ban 2.0.

That travel ban, aimed at people from six Muslim-majority countries, cannot be used to bar entry from grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins, said U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson. His ruling was in response to Hawaii’s renewed attempt to challenge the ban’s scope.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as Reuters explains,

last month said the ban could take effect, but that anyone from the six countries with a “bona fide relationship” to a U.S. person or entity could not be barred.

The Trump administration then interpreted that opinion to allow spouses, parents, children, fiancés and siblings into the country, but barred grandparents and other family members, in a measure Trump called necessary to prevent attacks.

But Watson shot back against that interpretation. He wrote: “[T]he Government’s definition represents the antithesis of common sense. Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents. Indeed, grandparents are the epitome of close family members. The Government’s definition excludes them. That simply cannot be.”

Politico notes that Watson’s order “also prohibited the administration from blocking refugees with a commitment from a resettlement agency in the U.S., a move that could revive the flow of refugee admissions this year.”

According to Naureen Shah, Amnesty International USA senior director of campaigns, “This decision is another rejection of the Trump administration’s cruel and discriminatory policy.”

“It is welcome but temporary relief for the thousands of refugees and family members who remain uncertain of their future. They cannot wait for another drawn-out legal battle; Congress must step in now and end this cruel and discriminatory ban once and for all,” Shah continued.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) also welcomed the ruling.

“We are pleased that the U.S. District Court in Hawaii has further clarified the ‘bona fide relationship’ interpretation, recognizing how important grandparents or remaining extended families may be for refugees—as well as the resettlement agencies who prepare extensively for their smooth arrival,” said Jennifer Sime, senior vice president of U.S. programs at the humanitarian organization.

“The IRC is heartened, and continues to believe that this gold-standard resettlement program can and should continue to save lives while the administration conducts its review,” she said.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Via Commondreams.org

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Hawaii Judge Further Weakens Trump’s Travel Ban”

For Clean, Cheap Energy, Cities & Counties should Take Over

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 - 11:45pm

By Sarah van Gelder | ( Yes! Magazine ) | – –

A new report finds public ownership is the best way for cities and towns to meet renewable energy and efficiency targets.

Mayors across the country have vowed to deliver on the goals of the Paris climate accord in defiance of President Trump’s decision to back out. But how can they, realistically, when the national government is questioning climate science and promoting coal, fracking, and pipelines?

Simply put: Make energy public. Instead of privatizing city services, as some policymakers have long advocated, a new report shows that public ownership gives cities and towns the best shot at meeting renewable energy and efficiency targets.

Reclaiming Public Services: How Cities and Citizens are Turning Back Privatization,” a study by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute, challenges the ideas that governments are ineffective service providers, that private companies are more efficient, and that austerity budgeting and reductions in public service are inevitable.

Cities and towns that want well-run water and sanitation services, low-cost access to the internet, and affordable housing should keep those operations public or run by local nonprofits, the report found. If these services are now private, the institute recommends “re-municipalization.”

The report is based on research involving 1,600 cities in 45 countries that have chosen public ownership over corporate ownership, especially of their energy and water systems. “These (re)municipalisations generally succeeded in bringing down costs and tariffs, improving conditions for workers and boosting service quality, while ensuring greater transparency and accountability,” the report concludes.

Both Hamburg, Germany, and Boulder, Colorado, for example, are making their electric power enterprises public in order to shift to green and renewable energy sources.

In France, 106 cities and towns have taken over their local water systems in the past 15 years, in spite of the fact that France is home to some of the world’s largest private water companies. During that time, the report found that no French cities went the other direction and privatized their water system.

Privatization is tempting; it can provide local governments with short-term cash infusions.

The report focuses on water and energy services, but there are many other services that benefit from local public ownership—some unexpected. The French towns of Mouans-Sartoux and Ungersheim bought farmland and hired local farmers to supply organic produce for school lunches. In India, the Tamil Nadu government opened dozens of public low-cost restaurants run by impoverished women to feed the poor. Argentina privatized postal services in 1997, but just six years later, renationalized the service in response to the private company’s poor service and high prices.

Privatization is tempting; it can provide local governments with short-term cash infusions. What politician doesn’t like to fill a budget hole without raising taxes? But the infusions don’t last. The private companies must pay large sums to their shareholders and executives, which they often do by cutting corners on upkeep, wages, and services, or jacking up customers’ rates. Instead of circulating locally, that money leaves a city’s economy.

According to the report, once a service is turned over to a private company, many cities found it was difficult to maintain accountability. They faced cost overruns, poor service, and violations of contracts. Many found they saved money and improved services when services went back into public hands.

Family-owned or worker-owned businesses and consumer cooperatives are essential to local economies.

Although family-owned or worker-owned businesses and consumer cooperatives are essential to local economies, some services—like water and sanitation—are best operated at a municipal or regional scale, and multiple providers may not make sense. In cases of these natural monopolies, local public ownership especially makes sense.

Like an ecosystem, a functioning local economy requires diversity. It needs many forms of ownership and types of entities. To thrive over years, each entity must both give and take; they must be in relationship with the people, institutions, and ecosystems that make up each community. When a local economy is dominated by enterprises that work to extract value for Wall Street banks or corporations controlled by absentee owners, communities are drained of their common wealth. It is that concern that drives much of the opposition to big international trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which critics say favor corporate rights over those of local government.

On the other hand, local entities, whether operated by worker-owners, families, nonprofit enterprises, or local governments, seek out multiple bottom lines—multiple benefits for employees, young people, vulnerable residents, and other local enterprises. They also take responsibility for their own human and natural communities. That is how We the People and the natural world can thrive for the long term.

Sarah is a co-founder and columnist at YES! Her new book, “The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America,” is available now from YES! Read more about her road trip and book here and follow her on Twitter @sarahvangelder.

This article originally appeared in Yes! Magazine and is reprinted by permission.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Colorado Renewable Energy Society (CRES): “The Utility of the Future is Local: Boulder’s Municipalization effort”