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The Cost of Exposing Israel’s Illegal Squatter Settlements

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 - 11:21pm

New York (Human Rights Watch) – All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are illegal; some are more illegal than others. Take Mitzpe Yair, which violates not only international law but also Israeli law, because it was built without the government’s permission.

On August 31, I took a bus tour organized by Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group founded by Israelis who served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and now seeks to expose the reality of occupation. Their regular tour includes stopping at a vantage point near Mitzpe Yair, one of many settlements in the area, where guides point out nearby Palestinian villages whose residents are fighting eviction orders issued by the IDF.

Just a week before our tour, six members of another activist group, Ta’ayush (“living together”), had come to stand with Palestinian villagers of Qawaqis, near Mitzpe Yair, who had just had construction materials confiscated by the IDF on the grounds they had built huts without permits. The army rarely issues permits to Palestinians who apply for them.

During Ta’ayush’s visit, Amiel Vardi, a well-known activist, phoned the IDF to demand it take similar action against the nearby Mitzpe Yair settlers, who had also built new structures, presumably without permits.

But when Ta’ayush activists approached Mitzpe Yair, settlers assaulted them and grabbed their cameras, said Vardi, 63, who said he sprained his ankle when a settler pushed him down a hill. He said soldiers standing nearby did not stop the assault or arrest anyone. An IDF spokesperson later blamed the activists for “instigat[ing] a provocation.”

A week later, as our two buses neared the Mitzpe Yair lookout, an Israeli army jeep and several soldiers blocked our path. Their commander showed us a written order declaring the area “closed” and demanded we leave immediately.

When two of our group calmly questioned the order, soldiers detained them both, as well as Michael Sfard, a lawyer for Breaking the Silence (and Human Rights Watch). Police later said the three had violated a military order, and while they were released after three hours without charge, they have been summoned for questioning on October 14.

Sfard, who has never been arrested before, told me, “Five years ago, no officer would dare do this, but this one knew he wouldn’t pay any price.”

If the threat of settler violence is what prompted the army to close a public road to activists instead of ensuring their safe passage, the IDF effectively gave veto power to settlers, enforcing it with arrests. Little wonder that settlers feel emboldened by the army, as Breaking the Silence has reported, and activists feel increasingly besieged, even as they vow to continue to expose the reality of occupation.

Via Human Rights Watch

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Middle East Eye: “Palestinians Protest Illegal Israeli Settlements”

Bernie Sanders & Yanis Varoufakis call for Progressive Front against Trump’s Neo-Fascist International

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 - 11:19pm

By Luis Martín | –

Via OpenDemocracy.net Calling on progressives worldwide to form an international movement to combat the rise of authoritarianism represented by Donald Trump.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the former US presidential candidate, and Yanis Varoufakis, co-founder of DiEM25, are today calling on progressives worldwide to form an international movement to combat the rise of authoritarianism represented by Donald Trump.

In the first of a series of exchanges published in The Guardian, the pair described the urgent need for a ‘Progressive International’ that can bring together people across the globe around a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all.

“While the very rich get much richer, people all over the globe are working longer hours for stagnating wages, and fear for their children’s future,” said Sanders. “Authoritarians exploit these economic anxieties, creating scapegoats which pit one group against another.”

Varoufakis said: “Our era will be remembered for the triumphant march of a Nationalist International that sprang out of the cesspool of financialised capitalism. Whether it will also be remembered for a successful humanist challenge to this menace depends on the willingness of progressives in the US, the EU, the UK as well as countries like Mexico, India and South Africa, to forge a coherent Progressive International.”

As a first step, Varoufakis called for the creation of a common council that draws out a blueprint for an International New Deal, a “progressive New Bretton Woods”.

“Yanis Varoufakis is exactly right,” Sanders underscored in his reply. “At a time of massive global wealth and income inequality, oligarchy, rising authoritarianism and militarism, we need a progressive international movement to counter these threats.”

Sanders went on to argue that, “the solution, as Varoufakis points out, is an international progressive agenda that brings working people together around a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people. The fate of the world is at stake. Let us go forward together now!”

Read the complete exchange here (Bernie Sanders) and here (Yanis Varoufakis)

At DiEM25 we have been working hard since 2016 to make our stand as the first pan-European grassroots movement, powered and funded by people like you. We have brought together tens of thousands of people around a humanist, progressive agenda that can take the fight to the failing Establishment and repair and rebuild our common European project. Earlier this year, we began assembling European Spring, a coalition of progressive political parties from across the continent to compete in the May 2019 European elections and stage a citizen take-over of the EU.

And now, we are playing a key role in bringing together the global progressive alliance that Varoufakis and Sanders are calling for and that is so desperately needed to counter the rise of the hard right. We invite all like-minded political forces in every corner of Europe and beyond to join in!

Together we must send an unmistakable message that the way to beat the Nationalist International agenda of the likes of Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Matteo Salvini and the other xenophobes around the world is by running on progressive policies and electing candidates who will represent all of us – as Bernie Sanders says, “on every continent and in every country”.

Ours is a struggle not just about human rights, care for our global environment, social justice and progressive values, but also about survival. Our struggle is about combating the rise of the toxic ideologies and horrors we faced less than a century ago. And it is a struggle we can win — together.

Carpe DiEM!

About the author

Luis Martín is a political scientist and journalist. He writes about International Relations, Economics and the Eurozone. He is currently Communications Coordinator of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25).

Luis Martín es politólogo y periodista. Escribe sobre RR.II., Economía, y la zona euro. Es Coordinador de Comunicación del Movimiento para la Democracia en Europa 2025 (DiEM25).
Subjects

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

Via OpenDemocracy.net

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Senator Bernie Sanders: “Town Meeting with Sen. Sanders and German Ambassador Pete Wittig”

Yemen’s Descent into Hell: A Saudi-American War of Terror

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 - 11:10pm

(Tomdispatch.com) – It’s the war from hell, the savage one that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, along with seven other Middle Eastern and North African states, have been waging in Yemen since March 2015, with fulsome support from the Pentagon and American weapons galore. It’s got everything. Dead children in the dozens, a never-ending air campaign that pays scant heed to civilians, famine, cholera, you name it. No wonder it’s facing mounting criticism in Congress and from human rights groups. Still, ever since President Donald Trump (like Barack Obama before him) embraced the Saudi-led coalition as this country’s righteous knight errant in the Middle East, the fight against impoverished Yemen’s Houthi rebels — who have, in turn, been typecast as Iran’s cats-paw — has only grown fiercer. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda affiliate there continues to expand.

For years now, a relentless Saudi air campaign (quite literally fueled by the U.S. military) has hit endless civilian targets, using American smart bombs and missiles, without a peep of protest or complaint from Washington. Only a highly publicized, completely over-the-top slaughter recently forced the Pentagon to finally do a little mild finger wagging. On August 7th, an airstrike hit a school bus — with a laser-guided bomb made by Lockheed Martin — in northern Yemen, killing 51 people, 40 of them schoolchildren. Seventy-nine others were wounded, including 56 children. Soon after, a U.N. Security Council-appointed group of experts issued a report detailing numerous other egregious attacks on Yemeni civilians, including people attending weddings and funerals. Perhaps the worst among them killed 137 people and wounded 695 others at a funeral in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital, this April.

The attack on those schoolchildren and the U.N. report amplified a growing global outcry against the carnage in Yemen. In response, on August 28th, Secretary of Defense James Mattis let it be known that the Trump administration’s support for the Persian Gulf potentates’ military campaign should not be considered unreserved, that the Saudis and their allies must do “everything humanly possible to avoid any innocent loss of life.” Considering that they haven’t come close to meeting such a standard since the war started nearly five years ago and that the Trump administration clearly has no intention of reducing its support for the Saudis or their war, Mattis’s new yardstick amounted to a cruel joke — at the expense of Yemeni civilians.

The Statistics of Suffering

Some appalling numbers document the anguish Yemenis have endured. Saudi and Emirati warplanes officially have killed — and it’s considered a conservative estimate — 6,475 civilians and wounded more than 10,000 others since 2015. Targets struck have included farms, homes, marketplaces, hospitals, schools, and mosques, as well as ancient historic sites in Sana’a. And such incidents haven’t been one-off attacks. They have happened repeatedly.

By April 2018, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted 17,243 airstrikes across Yemen, hitting 386 farms, 212 schools, 183 markets, and 44 mosques. Such statistics make laughable the repeated claims of the Saudis and their allies that such “incidents” should be chalked up to understandable errors and that they take every reasonable precaution to protect innocents. Statistics compiled by the independent Yemen Data Project make it clear that the Gulf monarchs don’t lie awake at night lamenting the deaths of Yemeni civilians.

Saudi Arabia and its partners have accused the Houthis, the rebels with whom they have been in such a deadly struggle, of also attacking Yemeni civilians, a charge Human Rights Watch has validated. Yet such a they-do-it-too defense hardly excuses the relentless bombing of non-military sites by a coalition that has overwhelming superiority in firepower. Houthi crimes pale by comparison.

And when it comes to the destruction of civilian lives and livelihoods, believe it or not, that may be the least of it. Take the naval blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that cut the number of ships docking in the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida from 129 between January and August 2014 to 21 in the same months of 2017. The result: far less food and medicine entered the country, creating a disaster for Yemenis.

That country, the Arab world’s poorest, has long relied on imports for a staggering 85% of its food, fuel, and medicine, so when prices soared, famine spread, while hunger and malnutrition skyrocketed. Nearly 18 million Yemenis now rely on emergency food aid to survive: that’s an unbelievable 80% of the population. According to the World Bank, “8.4 million more are on the brink of famine.” In December 2017, following a barrage of bad publicity, the Saudi-Emirati blockade was eased marginally, but it had already set in motion a spiral of death.

The blockade also contributed to a cholera epidemic, which the shortage of medicines only exacerbated. According to a World Health Organization report, between April 2017 and July 2018, there were more than 1.1 million cholera cases there. At least 2,310 people died from the disease, most of them children. It is believed to be the worst cholera outbreak since statistics began to be compiled in 1949. At 800,000 cases between 2010 and 2017, Haiti held the previous record, one that the Yemenis surpassed within half a year of the first cases appearing. The prime contributors to the epidemic: drinking water contaminated by rotting garbage (uncollected because of the war), devastated sewage systems, and water filtration plants that stopped running due to lack of fuel — all the result of the horrendous bombing campaign.

Wartime economic blockades starve and sicken civilians and soldiers alike and so amount to a war crime. The Saudi-Emirati claim that the blockade’s sole purpose is to stanch the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthis is nonsense, nor can it be considered a legitimate act of self-defense, even though it was instituted after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at the airport in the Saudi capital and the residence of that country’s monarch. (Both were shot down by Saudi air defenses and were clear responses to coalition airstrikes on Houthi-held territory that killed 136 civilians.) By the standards of international humanitarian law or simply common sense, choking off Yemen’s imports was a disproportionate response, and clairvoyance wasn’t required to foresee the calamitous consequences to follow.

True to form, President Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, echoed Saudi charges that the Houthi missiles were Iranian-supplied Qiam-1s and condemned that country’s interference in Yemen. Given the scale of destruction by a foreign coalition using armaments and technical assistance provided by the United States (and Britain), her comments, in less grim circumstances, would have been laughable.

Those American-supplied weapons have included cluster munitions, which pose a particular hazard to civilians because, when dropped from a plane, their devastating bomblets often disperse over enormous areas. (Such bombs are banned under a 2008 treaty signed by 120 countries that neither Riyadh nor Washington has joined.) In May 2016, the Obama White House confirmed that it had stopped sending such weapons to Saudi Arabia, which then continued to use Brazilian-made variants. However, other American arms have continued to flow to Saudi Arabia, while its warplanes rely on U.S. Air Force tankers for mid-air refueling (88 million pounds of fuel as of this January according to a Central Command spokeswoman), while the Saudi military has received regular intelligence information and targeting advice from the Pentagon since the war began. And with the advent of Donald Trump, such military involvement has only deepened: U.S. Special Operations forces are now on the Saudi-Yemen border, helping to find and attack Houthi redoubts.

In June 2018, ignoring U.S. opposition, the Saudi coalition heightened the risk to Yemeni civilians yet more by launching an offensive (“Golden Victory”) to capture the port of Hodeida. (So much for the Pentagon’s standard claim that supporting the war gives the U.S. influence over how it is waged and so limits civilian casualties.) Saudi and Emirati airpower and warships supported Emirati and Sudanese troops on the ground joined by allied Yemeni militias. The advance, however, quickly stalled in the face of Houthi resistance, though only after at least 50,000 families had fled Hodeida and basic services for the remaining 350,000 were disrupted, creating fears of a new outbreak of cholera.

The Roots of War

Yemen’s progression to its present state of perdition began as the Arab Spring’s gales swept through the Middle East in 2011, uprooting or shaking regimes from Tunisia to Syria. Street demonstrations grew against Yemen’s strongman, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and only gathered strength as he attempted to quell them. In response, he allied ever more strongly with Saudi Arabia and the United States, alienating the Houthis, whose main bastion, the governate of Saada, abuts the Saudi border. Adherents of Zaydi Islam, the Houthis played a pivotal role in creating a political movement, Ansar Allah, in 1992 to assert the interests of their community against the country’s Sunni majority. In an effort to undercut them, the Saudis have long promoted radical Sunni religious leaders in Yemen’s north, while intermittently raiding Houthi territories.

As a Houthi rebellion began, Saleh tried to make himself an even more indispensable ally of Washington in its post-9/11 anti-terrorist campaigns, notably against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a growing local franchise of al-Qaeda. For good measure, he joined the Saudis in painting the Houthis little more than tools of an Iran that Washington and Riyadh both loathed. When those powers nonetheless came to see the Yemeni autocrat as a political liability, they helped oust him and transfer power to his deputy, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Such moves failed to calm the waters, as the country started to disintegrate and Saudi-U.S. efforts to consolidate the transition from Saleh to Hadi unraveled.

Meanwhile, regular American drone strikes against AQAP angered many Yemenis. In their eyes, not only did the attacks violate Yemen’s sovereignty, they intermittently killed civilians. Hadi’s praise for the drone campaign only discredited him further. AQAP’s power continued to grow, resentment in southern Yemen rose, and criminal gangs and warlords began to operate with impunity in its cities, highlighting the Hadi government’s ineffectuality. Neoliberal economic reforms only further enriched a clutch of families that had long controlled much of Yemen’s wealth, while the economic plight of most Yemenis worsened radically. The unemployment rate was nearly 14% in 2017 (and exceeded 25% for young people), while the poverty rate rose precipitously, as did inflation.

It was a formula for disaster and when Hadi proposed a plan to create a federal system for Yemen, the Houthis were infuriated. New boundaries would, among other things, have cut their homeland off from the Red Sea coast. So they gave up on his government and girded for battle. Soon, their forces were advancing southward. In September 2014, they captured the capital, Sana’a, and proclaimed a new national government. The following March, they occupied Aden in southern Yemen and Hadi, whose government had moved there, promptly fled across the border to Riyadh. The first Saudi airstrikes against Sana’a were launched in March 2015 and Yemen’s descent to hell began.

The American Role

The commonplace rendition of the war in Yemen pits a U.S.-backed Saudi coalition against the Houthis, cast as agents of Iran and evidence of its increasing influence in the Middle East. Combatting terrorism and countering Iran became the basis for Washington’s support of the Saudi-led war. Predictably, as this cartoonish portrayal of a complicated civil war gained ground in the mainstream American media and among Beltway pundits (as well, of course, as in the Pentagon and White House), inconvenient facts were shunted aside.

Still, all these years and all those dead later, it’s worth considering some of those facts. There are, for instance, significant differences between the Houthis’ Zaydi variant of Shia Islam and the Twelver Shiism dominant in Iran — and some similarities between Zaydis and Sunnis — which makes the ubiquitous claims about a Iran-Houthi faith-based pact shaky. Moreover, Iran did not jump into the fray during the violent 2004-2010 clashes between Saleh and the Houthis and did not have longstanding ties to them either. In addition, contrary to the prevailing view in Washington, Iran is unlikely to be their main source of weaponry and support. Sheer distance and the Saudi coalition’s naval blockade have made it next to impossible for Iran to supply arms to the Houthis in the volume alleged. Besides, having pillaged various military bases during their march toward Aden, the Houthis do not lack for weaponry. Iran’s influence in Yemen has undoubtedly increased since 2015, but reducing the intricacies of that country’s internal crisis to Iranian meddling and a Tehran-led Shiite bloc expanding from Syria to the Arabian Peninsula amounts to, at best, a massive oversimplification.

The obsession of Trump and his key advisers with Iran (a remarkable number of them are Iranophobes) and The Donald’s obsession with plugging American arms makers and hawking their wares helps explain their embrace of the House of Saud and continuing support for its never-ending assault on Yemen. (Jared Kushner’s bromance with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman undoubtedly played a part as well.) None of that, however, explains the full-scale American backing for the Saudi-led intervention there in the Obama years. Even as his administration denounced Bashar al-Assad’s slaughter of Syrian civilians, his officials seemed unmoved by the suffering war was inflicting on Yemenis. In fact, the Obama administration offered $115 billion worth of weaponry to Riyadh, including a $1.15 billion package finalized in August 2016, when the scale of Yemen’s catastrophe was already all too obvious.

In recent years, opposition to the war in Congress has been on the rise, with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna playing prominent roles in mobilizing it. But such congressional critics had no effect on Obama’s war policy and are unlikely to sway Trump’s. They face formidable barriers. The mainstream narrative on the war remains powerful, while the Gulf monarchies continue to buy vast quantities of American weaponry. And don’t forget the impressive, money-is-no-object Saudi-Emirati lobbying operation in Washington.

That, then, is the context for the Pentagon’s gentle warning about the limits of U.S. support for the bombing campaign in Yemen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s subsequent certification, as required by Congress, that the Saudis and Emiratis were taking perfectly credible action to lower civilian casualties — without which the U.S. military could not continue refueling their planes. (Mattis “endorsed and fully supported” Pompeo’s statement.) As the fifth anniversary of this appalling war approaches, American-made arms and logistical aid remain essential to it. Consider President Trump’s much-ballyhooed arms sales to the Saudis, even if they don’t total $100 billion (as he claimed): Why then would the Saudi and Emirati monarchs worry that the White House might actually do something like cutting off those lucrative sales or terminating the back-end support for their bombing campaign?

One thing is obvious: U.S. policy in Yemen won’t achieve its declared goals of defeating terrorism and rolling back Iran. After all, its drone strikes began there in 2002 under George W. Bush. Under Obama, as in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, drones became Washington’s anti-terrorist weapon of choice. There were 154 drone strikes in Yemen during the Obama years according to the most reliable high-end estimates, and civilian casualties ranged between 83 and 101. Under Trump they soared quickly, from 21 in 2016 to 131 in 2017.

The reliance on drone attacks has bolstered al-Qaeda’s narrative that the American war on terror amounts to a war on Muslims, whose lives are deemed expendable. And so many years later, in the chaos of Yemen, the group’s power and reach is only growing. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led intervention is also likely to prove not just self-defeating but self-prophetic. It seems to be cementing an alliance between Iran and the Houthis who, though they have been pushed out of Aden, still control a big chunk of Yemen. Meanwhile, in a move that could make the war even deadlier, the Emiratis appear to be striking out on their own, supporting secession in southern Yemen. There’s not much to show on the anti-terrorism front either. Indeed, the Saudi coalition’s airstrikes and U.S. drone attacks may be moving Yemenis, enraged by the destruction of their homes and livelihoods and the deaths of loved ones, toward AQAP. In short, a war on terror has turned into a war of and for terror.

In Yemen, the United States backs a grim military intervention for which — unless you are a weapons company — it is hard to find any justification, practical or moral. Unfortunately, it is even harder to imagine President Trump or the Pentagon reaching such a conclusion and changing course.

Rajan Menon, a TomDispatch regular, is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, and Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Rajan Menon

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CNN: “Shrapnel ties US-made bombs to Yemen deaths”

Puerto Ricans displaced to Mainland by Hurricane, Trump Neglect, abandoned by FEMA

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 - 11:09pm

New York (AFP) – They arrived in New York from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September 2017, leaving widespread devastation in its wake and a death toll that would spiral to almost 3,000.

A year on, Joannelly Cruz and her mother Gloria Martinez are in a homeless shelter, part of a generation of Puerto Ricans struggling to rebuild shattered lives on the US mainland.


AFP/File / Ricardo ARDUENGO. Hurricane Maria wreaked devastation on Puerto Rico, pictured two days after the storm hit in September 2017, forcing thousands to flee the island.

But they have no plans to return to their Caribbean home.

“I think coming here was the best thing to do,” says Joannelly, 16, reflecting on the catastrophe unleashed as the storm wiped out infrastructure and brought chaos rarely paralleled in US history.

But life is hardly a cake walk in New York, where mother and daughter share a bed in a small room with no access to a kitchen. Their belongings lie scattered on a table which doubles as Joannelly’s homework desk.

“It was a tough adjustment,” she said. “It is kind of difficult to sit and do my homework in such a cramped environment, but I managed.”

She and her mother hope to be considered for subsidized housing soon.

“Since we’re homeless by accident, they should put us in priority to get housing,” Martinez says, anxious about a precarious future for her daughter with no safety net, and no certainties at all.

– Indifference –

Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20, killed 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, according to a government-commissioned study, knocking out power and drinking water supplies, and causing $90 billion in damages.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the body in charge of post-disaster aid, initially covered evacuees’ hotel costs but that program ended in May, triggering court rulings that kept it in place through the summer. Knowing it would end, many moved into shelters.

AFP/File / Ricardo ARDUENGO. Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving nearly 3,000 dead and causing $90 billion in damage.

A spokeswoman for the City of New York told AFP officials expected to see some 700 Puerto Ricans in homeless shelters going into the anniversary of the disaster.

Government-sponsored, long-term shelter is not available to Puerto Ricans relocated to the mainland — an option offered to previous hurricane survivors on the continental US.

Latino Justice, an organization leading a class action suit against FEMA, said that the policy violates the evacuees’ constitutional rights.

“We argue that it is FEMA’s responsibility to provide for those individuals,” Natasha Bannan, an attorney with the lobby group, told AFP.

Many see FEMA’s response as a proof of a passive, indifferent attitude toward Puerto Rico from the administration of US President Donald Trump.

“They don’t understand the gravity of the situation we lived through,” said Sofia Miranda, a 44-year-old former insurance broker and evacuee.

– ‘Emotional crisis’ –

FEMA had offered to fly residents back to the island free-of-charge until August 30. Of the thousands displaced, just 500 or so accepted the offer, the agency said.

Miranda, who shares a room with her mother and son, is determined to stay, but says life in the shelter is taking its toll.

“As of now I’m in limbo. I haven’t been told if I’m eligible for housing, nor if I can stay in this shelter. I haven’t been able to sleep,” she told AFP.

Rafael Barreto, an evacuee in New York since last November who does community work, spoke of the lingering psychological trauma weighing on displaced Puerto Ricans dealing with fresh stresses in their new home.

“There is an emotional crisis here after leaving this disaster. When there is strong wind, a lot of us here have flashbacks,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile Leonell Torres, a clinical psychologist who has counseled displaced individuals, explained that each relocation was in itself a traumatic event that could act as a trigger.

“There is a misconception that being here is a guarantee for being healthy,” he said.

In a report released on its website this summer, FEMA admitted to not being adequately prepared to handle the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, to being understaffed and to taking longer than expected to deliver supplies.

“Everything has been very complicated, frustrating, and the majority was thinking that because we are American citizens we would not be treated differently,” said Barreto.

Featured Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / SPENCER PLATT. Many Puerto Ricans in New York City blame the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for what they see as a weak response to Hurricane Maria.

US, having created 4 mn Refugees in Iraq, Slashes Immigrant cap to 30,000

Tue, 18 Sep 2018 - 1:46am

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday that the Trump administration would slash refugee admissions to 30,000 in 2019, down from 45,000 in 2018 and from 85,000 in fiscal 2016. Refugees come in numbers to the US when there is a crisis in their own country.

At the same time, US policies toward refugees in the past have often been political and not just humanitarian, and there is a strong instrumental streak in the admissions patterns. In other words, Washington has often asked what we get out of letting refugees in, and not just what we can do for them.

Nowadays, there is a special, separate program for bringing in Iraqis who helped US troops as translators or in other capacities, and the Pentagon is worried that Trump is not letting in enough of them. If the word gets out in Iraq that the US military will use you and then leave you and your family twisting in the wind when ISIL comes after you, then no one will be willing to serve as interpreter or fixer for the some 6,000 US troops still in that country.

So you could argue that the US has a responsibility to Iraqi refugees, since Bush invaded their country on flimsy pretexts and turned the society upside down. The resultant war, occupation and guerrilla push-back were such that some 1.5 million refugees were created internally, and 2.5 million were pushed abroad.

That is 4 million Iraqis who would never have had to leave their homes if the US had not invaded and occupied them and provoked the rise of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and then the Islamic State of Iraq.

Likewise, the US bears some responsibility for all the civilians displaced in eastern Syria as a result of its war there on ISIL in alliance with Kurdish fighters of the YPG guerilla group.

How cynical the US follow-up has been is illustrated by an experience I had. In summer of 2008 I went to Jordan and did some research on the condition of Iraqi refugees there. I was told by someone who should know that the Bush administration was afraid that the Iraqi refugees there might riot, putting GOP standard-bearer McCain in jeopardy, and therefore was finally going to let Iraqi refugees come to the US in large numbers (Bush let in 13,775 in 2008, compared to less than two thousand the previous year). But this was done in large part to keep from embarrassing McCain.

The political character of US refugee admittances stretches back into the mists of time. In the 1970s, the US let in a lot of refugees from South Vietnam, in part to reward families that had supported the US war there and in part because the “boat people” crisis that developed when Vietnamese fled to southeast Asian countries that put them in camps.

In 1980 the Mariel boatlift and other routes brought 125,000 Cubans to the United States, and letting Cubans into the US was an attempt to undermine the Communist Castro government that the Kennedy administration had tried and failed to overthrow.

Through the 1980s, extra slots were awarded for Soviet refugees, as part of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.


h/t Pewresearch.org.

After President Bill Clinton intervened to save the Kosovars from ethnic cleansing or severe repression at the hands of Serb nationalists, the US let in refugees from Kosovo to show solidarity with them.

So Pompeo in adopting this curtailed immigration program is hurting the US, not just the immigrants. Not letting immmigrants from Iraq signals that we won’t reward interpreters and other helpers of the US war effort. It discourages Iraqis from proffering their help even now. The US in the old days deployed refugee policy to create allies. Trump doesn’t have that prospect, of friendship and support.

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Bonus video:

Wochit: ”
U.S. Limits Refugee Flows For 2019″

Rape: The Credibility of the Accusers

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 - 11:51pm

(Informed Comment) – When a psychology professor stepped forward to share her story of an alleged assault by the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, more than one commentator noted the academic credentials of Doctor Blasey. As a professor myself, I can appreciate the privilege of being taken more seriously than the average person.

When another woman spoke out about an alleged sexual assault by Roy Moore in 2017, though, the situation was different. Like Blasey, she had been a teenager in the 1980s when the alleged attack occurred. However, she was a “3x divorced, 3x bankrupt, Payday Loan lowlife (who was accusing) a public servant with an impeccable personal and professional record” according to one online comment of an article on a conservative website.
This contrast between these two women shows that credibility is a precious social commodity that we can take for granted if we are believed because of our race, social class, and other privileges.

During the surge of sexual misconduct allegations in 2017, the people denying the alleged victims’ credibility often stressed the motivations of money and attention. Now during the Kavanaugh controversy, critics are accusing Blasey of yet another motivation—political intrigue.

Certainly, the likelihood of determining what actually had happened to these women three decades ago is slim indeed. Even for more recent allegations, though, the prevalence of rape myth acceptance can impede an investigation and trial. Rape myths include: most rape accusations are false, the victim was partly (or entirely) to blame, and males cannot be raped. The alleged victim of Kobe Bryant, for example, lacked credibility because she was only a hotel employee and he was a celebrity. Unfortunately, one research study claims that people who were educated about rape myths still held on their beliefs.

As our society progresses with the #MeToo movement, how can we destroy the rape myth that most accusers are liars? First, we must recognize the underlying misogyny of the rape myth that undermines the credibility of the accuser. The males who are also victims of sexual assault are the collateral damage of the widespread violence against women. For decades, feminists have been claiming that sexual harassment and other misconduct were prevalent in this society—only to be dismissed as man haters or even worse, somebody without a sense of humor. A recent tweet of Donald Trump, Jr. compared Blasey’s allegation of a brutal attack to a child’s love note, which demonstrates that some people still consider sexual assault to be nothing but a joke.

The second action that we should take is to reconsider the alleged victims’ culpability. Situations do not cause rape; only rapists cause rape. I have never been raped. This is not a boast, since I am no smarter or more moral or more sensible than any rape victim. I am simply lucky that the men I have encountered were not rapists. In the Blasey allegation, the teenaged girl did nothing wrong. It is completely normal for a girl that age to go to a party. Millions of females go to parties and do not get raped because they did not encounter a rapist.

Lastly, we should recognize that most rapists are not slobbering monsters who hide behind dark bushes. Instead, they are often good-looking and personable men who get along well with most women. The letter from the 65 female supporters of Kavanaugh, then, is completely meaningless. He could have been kind to 65 million females and still be a perpetrator. The reaction of “he’s a good man—- he could not do that!” is understandable but not helpful in determining the truth about allegations.

Life would be simpler if men who mistreat women had signs on their foreheads about their true nature. Instead, we have to acknowledge that men like Senator Robert Packwood could be both a feminist advocate and a man who had harassed many women. He was no monster. His interactions with most women were probably positive and uplifting for them. However, many persons are complex creatures who can compartmentalize their behaviors and even hide a darker side.

It will be hard work, then, to strengthen the credibility of the accusers to ensure a fair hearing. We can begin by fighting misogyny, refusing to blame those who were attacked, and realizing that rapists do not appear as monsters. Any alleged victim deserves our respect instead of being called an opportunist or other calumnies. Any alleged victim deserves a decent amount of credibility.

Citation:
Klement, K. R., Sagarin, B. J., & Skowronski, J. J. (2018). Accusers lie and other myths: Rape myth acceptance predicts judgments made about accusers and accused perpetrators in a rape case. Sex Roles, , 1-18.

—–

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! As Blasey Ford Alleges Kavanaugh Assaulted Her, Will Senate Repeat Mistakes Made with Anita Hill?

Putin agrees with Erdogan to Spare Syria’s Idlib from Assault if Radical Fighters Withdraw

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 - 11:10pm

By Maria PANINA | –

Sochi (Russia) (AFP) – Moscow said Monday there would be no assault on Syria’s Idlib as the leaders of Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarised zone around the Syrian rebel-held province.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who are on opposite sides in the deadly seven-year conflict in Syria — met for over four hours in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi to decide the fate of Idlib, home to three million people.


AFP/File / Muhammad HAJ KADOUR. Fears have been raised of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.

“We will prevent a humanitarian tragedy which could happen as a result of military action,” Erdogan said after the talks.

Putin said the two leaders agreed to create a 15-20 kilometre-wide demilitarised zone along the line of contact between rebels and regime troops by October 15.

This would entail a “withdrawal of all radical fighters” from Idlib including the Al-Nusra Front, he added.

Putin and Erdogan also agreed on the withdrawal of “heavy weaponry from this zone,” including tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and rocket launchers belonging to all armed groups, the Russian leader added.

The demilitarised zone will be secured with the help of “mobile patrol groups of Turkish contingents and contingents of Russian military police,” Putin said.

By the end of the year, transportation routes between the key port of Latakia and Aleppo as well as Latakia and the major city of Hama must be restored, he added.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the agreement between Putin and Erdogan meant that no military action would be taken against Idlib, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia-backed forces of the Syrian regime have massed around Idlib province in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.

The United Nations and non-governmental organisations have repeatedly warned that such an offensive would unleash a “bloodbath” and “humanitarian catastrophe” in Idlib.

Turkey has repeatedly called for a ceasefire to avert a possible attack.

Erdogan and Putin met previously on September 7 in Tehran for a three-way summit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

At that summit the Russian and Turkish leaders openly disagreed over how to deal with the rebel stronghold, which borders Turkey.

– Mass exodus fears –

Turkey’s military has reportedly sent reinforcements to Idlib in recent weeks.

Tanks and other hardware, with a convoy of 50 military vehicles, were sent over the border Sunday, according to the Hurriyet daily.

Russia and Iran are key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Turkey however backs opposition fighters seeking the ouster of the Syrian leader. It has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.

Russian and Syrian air strikes, artillery fire and barrel bomb attacks have killed more than 30 civilians across the province in the past month, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The bombardment has slowed over the past week, however, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that the Syrian regime is not preparing a major offensive against Idlib, adding that Moscow will do everything to protect civilians.


AFP/File / OMAR HAJ KADOUR. Turkey has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.

“What is being presented at the moment as the beginning of a Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces is not a faithful representation of the facts,” Lavrov said.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the civilian population would not suffer,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Turkey was ready to cooperate with anyone in the fight against terror groups in Syria.

But he criticised the Damascus regime for using the presence of jihadists to legitimise a possible operation in Idlib.

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, when the Assad regime launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests. The crackdown evolved into a complex conflict involving jihadists and world powers.

It has killed an estimated 360,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

Featured Photo: TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/AFP/File / Handout. Putin and Erdogan met in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Men’s Bodies and the Politics of Abortion

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 - 11:01pm

(Informed Comment) – Regardless of one’s evaluation of his overall performance, Judge Brett Kavanaugh merits an A for his ability to sidestep or evade questions on any controversial issue. I get the impression that he spent hours practicing non-answer answers to a familiar battery of anticipated questions. Whether these evasions will continue to work in the face of new and pointed accusations remains to be seen. One moment, however, did break the usual pattern.

Unfortunately this question has received less attention than it merits. Here is how Julia Conley, a staff writer for CommonDreams, describes the exchange: “Kavanaugh refused to say whether he agreed with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s straightforward statement, made at her 1993 confirmation hearing, that a woman should be treated as “a fully adult human responsible for her own choices,” citing the need to observe “judicial independence” numerous times when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) attempted to extract an answer. Seeing that the line of questioning was leading nowhere, Harris moved on to a simpler inquiry.

“Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?” Harris asked.

Kavanaugh appeared stumped, eventually conceding, “I’m not thinking of any right now, Senator.” “

Viewing the video I would agree that Kavanaugh did appear stumped, but I am tempted to say his was a pregnant pause in the proceedings. Men do not become pregnant, and in our society they are not asked to sacrifice their bodies. The very possibility is so far beyond the pale as to throw off even Kavanaugh’s well scripted performance. Inserting gender equality into the debate on reproductive rights might change that debate in fundamental ways.

I don’t believe human life begins at conception, but I have no iron-clad argument to convince an opponent. Nonetheless, if protection of innocent life is our motive, responsibility must be shared equally between men and women. In this society, denying women abortion imposes all the risks of sustaining innocent life on women.

The late Village Voice columnist Ellen Willis once advocated re-centering the abortion debate on equality of sacrifice. (See her book No More Nice Girls, “From Forced Pregnancy to Forced Surgery.) As far as I know that provocative piece did not spark much debate and comment. That is a shame.

Pregnant women must sacrifice their careers, comfort, health, and sometimes even lives to have a. baby. The stresses are only increasing. If my child, or any child, becomes gravely ill and needed my body, e.g., for bone marrow, liver, or kidney I might feel a moral obligation to surrender all or part of an organ, but government can’t compel me to accept the risks these procedures entail.

If there is an absolute obligation to sustain innocent lives, men need to accept dramatically increased risks and responsibilities. A detailed portrayal of the medical demands that might reasonably be made of men, especially as the frontiers of transplant and genetic medicine expand, could shake up the abortion debate. Some citizens might demand a draft for male kidneys, livers, and bone marrow. Organ donations upon death might be made a requirement for men rather than merely an option.

Other citizens within conventionally gendered families might still maintain the “natural” role of women as primarily responsible for the health of all life. Such an argument might be hard to sustain in a world where the possibility of motherhood and the process of having a baby are now so heavily medicalized. My suspicion, however, is that even some pro-life families would entertain the notion that if men will not sacrifice their health for sons or daughters, women should not be forced to bear such sacrifices alone.

Nonetheless, children are our future. Society must move beyond expanding “choice” for women to a more complete appreciation of the sacrifice involved in parenting. Many women face unrelenting physical, emotional, and economic distress. It is hard even to acknowledge let alone address any inner doubts about a cause to which one devotes so much of one’s life. It becomes all too easy to regard those who reject such roles as selfish or even evil. The sorry treatment of women as mothers does much to fuel the bitterness of the abortion debate.

Society must do more to expand the cultural and economic space for women in all modes of life—better family planning resources and sex education, parental leave policies for mothers and fathers, more free time for families and family emergencies, more opportunities for a voice in their children’s education, jobs that pay men and women equal and sustaining incomes. There is some reason to hope such an agenda might change abortion politics. Even some Catholic organizations are coming to the belief that economic justice for women and families would do more to reduce abortions than the harsh legal barriers.

The boundaries in the culture war are not fixed and impermeable. Progressives can expand opportunities for many families to live out their own values. Such a course may not convert all cultural conservatives to progressive causes and probably won’t sway Operation Rescue. Nonetheless, the foundation and the hope of democratic politics is that over time subtle transformations in moral and political vision will allow more of us to live together even as we continue to disagree on some core principles.

—-

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS News from Sep 6: “Kavanaugh refers to birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs”

Kavanaugh: Dr. Christine Blasey seeks to Forestall a Trauma to the Nation that was Inflicted on Her

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 - 2:41am

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of Psychiatry at Palo Alto University and an affiliate at Stanford University, gave a harrowing interview in the Washington Post Sunday accusing a young, drunk Brett Kavanaugh of having attempted to rape her. He tore, she alleges, at the bathing suit she was wearing under her clothes. When she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth. She was beset with claustrophobia and could not breathe. He was drunk, out of control. Would he kill her without meaning to? You can relive her panic, her terror, her trauma in her words. And you wonder what it did to her, ever after.

Kavanaugh denies the charges. If he was blind drunk, you have to wonder whether he genuinely does not remember what he did. Although I believe Blasey, I should acknowledge that we only have an allegation against Kavanaugh, and no proof so far.

She writes under Blasey, so that is what I will call her. Blasey has a great deal of credibility. She told her therapist about the incident in 2012, as well as her husband, and named Kavanaugh to the latter. She has passed a polygraph test. She is being vilified by the right wing noise machine, of course, and says she came forward so late in the game because she just didn’t want the extreme hassle of playing this role– but was persuaded by the imminence of the Republican GOP’s anointment of him this coming Thursday (which may still happen).

I have no idea whether her accusation will derail the Kavanaugh nomination, though certainly the Republicans will put him through if they possibly can, because they know he will help destroy what is left of workers’ unions, will protect Capital from all challenges of social justice, will uphold the stupid precept that money is speech (and so only the rich really have the right to speak and shape politics), and will make the Evangelical and conservative Catholic wings of the GOP happy by finally overturning Roe v. Wade and returning us to the Coathanger Epoch, in which tens of thousands of women died annually from botched abortions.

I just wanted to share my horror at the ordeal that the teenaged Professor Blasey was put through and at the further gauntlet she must now run through the berating bully boys of the latently fascist, patriarchal Right.

And, I wanted to reveal that I looked for some of her articles on psychiatry, and found one, the abstract of which brought tears to my eyes in light of her Sunday op-ed.

The article is Bruce Arno, Christine Blasey, Enid Hunkeler, Janell Lee and Chris Hayward, “Does Gender Moderate the Relationship Between Childhood Maltreatment and Adult Depression?” Child Maltreatment (8/2011), 175-183.

The article looks at trauma in children, including “emotional, physical and sexual abuse,” and the way it leads to depression (Major Depressive Disorder or MDD). And the question here was whether boys and girls process all this differently, or there is a difference between the sexes with regard to how likely they are to fall victim to major depression as a result of being abused.

The article was published in 2011, just a year before she told her therapist about the Kavanaugh rape attempt. I don’t want to pry, but it seems to me pretty obvious that her interest in the subject of this article is autobiographical. She says she determined to brush off the attempted assault, but it clearly left a deep mark.

This is the abstract:

    “Although considerable evidence demonstrates that adults who report childhood maltreatment are at increased risk of depression in adulthood, little is known about whether gender moderates risk. In a sample of 5,673 adult Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) patients, the authors employed the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (PHQ-8) to assess major depressive disorder (MDD) and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) to assess five different types of childhood maltreatment: emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as emotional and physical neglect. Logistic regression models tested the main and interactive effects of gender and childhood maltreatment. Consistent with previous studies, men and women with histories of each type of childhood adversity were significantly more likely to meet criteria for MDD. However, the authors found no evidence that gender moderates the risk of depression. These findings suggest that men and women reporting history of childhood maltreatment are equally likely to suffer major depression in adulthood.”

As a psychiatrist, Professor Blasey has shown a special interest in ways of treating depression. And she is interested in helping veterans get over Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which she and her co-authors define as “intrusive thoughts, hyperarousal, avoidance, and negative mood and thoughts, in response to an experienced or directly or indirectly observed traumatic event.”

Her most recent co-authored piece argues that Yoga may be a superior therapy for veterans suffering from PTSD, finding in a small uncontrolled sample that it reduced PTSD symptoms but did not appear to affect perceived stress. The abstract says

    “Self-reported PTSD symptoms significantly reduced while perceived stress did not. Lower baseline set-shifting predicted greater improvements in PTSD between baseline and 4 weeks; early improvements in set-shifting predicted overall reduction in PTSD. Greater psychological flexibility was associated with lower PTSD and perceived stress; more yoga practice, before and during the study, was associated with greater psychological flexibility. Other predictors were not supported.”

[–“Psychological Flexibility and Set-Shifting Among Veterans Participating in a Yoga Program: A Pilot Study” by
Timothy Avery, PsyD Christine Blasey, PhD Craig Rosen, PhD Peter Bayley, PhD, Military Medicine (26 March 2018) ]

So this great and selfless woman has dedicated her life to helping people (including veterans) who have been abused and traumatized to deal with the resulting symptoms. She took her own horrible experience with spoiled DC elite males and turned it into lemonade for others. And now, at immense personal cost, she has stepped forward to attempt to save us all from a severe trauma.

If the GOP shoehorns Kavanaugh in (even though we are on the cusp of an election and they sidelined Merrick Garland on exactly these grounds) then all Americans will be raped by the elitist political philosophy of Kavanaugh, and half of Americans will lose autonomy over their own bodies to a Federal government in thrall to a religious minority (Evangelicals are now only about 17% of Americans, and anti-abortion Catholics are maybe 12%). Workers will lose the few rights they have left. The US will revert completely to the Robber Baron age of the late nineteenth century, and America will be about as favorable to women’s rights as Mauritania, the Philippines and Honduras.

So apparently we all need to take up yoga.

—–

Bonus video:

PBS NewsHour: “Professor comes forward with Kavanaugh assault allegation”

The Logos of Abraham in the Qur’an and Universal Salvation for all True Religions

Mon, 17 Sep 2018 - 1:07am

The Qur’an castigates the Jews and Christians of the early 600s AD for their exclusivist theories of salvation. Alan Race and John Hick have identified three possible stances by one religion toward the prospects of going to heaven for members of other religions.

Exclusivism is the position that only members of your own religion are saved, and people who follow other spiritual paths are damned to hell. This notion is common among Evangelicals today, and used to be the position of the Catholic Church (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus— outside the church there is no salvation). Fundamentalist Muslims hold this view.

Inclusivism is the position that your religion has the whole truth but other religions have part of the truth. This was the stance adopted by the Vatican II Council toward other religions such as Islam and Buddhism.

Pluralism is the notion that there are many true religions that lead to salvation. This position is common among some Hindus, the Quakers, and many Sufis such as Jalaluddin Rumi.

I discuss this issue with regard to the Qur’an in my new book:

The Qur’an in the chapter of The Cow (2:111–112) complains about the exclusivism of the Jews and Christians of its era, saying, “They maintain that no one will enter heaven but Jews or Christians. Such are their vain notions. Say: produce your proof, if you speak truly. Rather, all those who submit to God and do good works will receive their recompense with their Lord, and no fear will be upon them, nor will they sorrow.” Later in The Cow (2:135), the Qur’an complains, “They say: ‘Become Jews and Christians and be guided.’ No, the Word of Abraham, the pious gentile. He was no polytheist.”

The Qur’an proclaims that all righteous monotheists are going to heaven– Jews, Christians and believers in Muhammad’s mission. I think there are signs that the Qur’an also accepted as among the saved the Zoroastrians and what have been called “pagan monotheists” or Godfearers (those pagans who came to see Zeus or one of his local manifestations as the sole, supreme deity and reduced other members of the pantheon to mere angels).

That is because all monotheists follow the Word of Abraham.

The word for “Word” in this passage is usually transliterated as millah, but it is not an Arabic word. It is an Aramaic loan, melta. Melta is the Aramaic/Syriac term for “word.”

Melta in turn is underlain by the Greek Logos, which means way more than just “word.” It can mean the mind of God, or the reason immanent in the universe. It is used in New Testament in John 1:1, which says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people.” The Greek here is “Logos,” and in the Peshitta or Aramaic New Testament, “melta” is used.

But Logos was also used in Late Antiquity (200-700 AD) to mean “religion” or “spiritual path.” Celsus, an anti-Christian pagan, called his polemic “The True Word,” by which he meant traditional Greek religion.

The Word of Abraham could thus be glossed as “the philosophy of Abraham” or “the religion of Abraham,” or “the Cosmic Principle of Abraham.” Whatever it is, it is a much bigger concept than most commenters or translators recognized. In later centuries, “millah” in Arabic took on the connotation of “community,” but that isn’t what it means in the chapter of The Cow. It means Logos.

I did lots of keyword searches in Greek and other languages in hopes of discovering whether the Qur’an was the first to use this term, the Logos of Abraham, with the sense of monotheistic thinking. I finally came across Philo’s essay “De Migratione Abrahami,” 70–73, in Philo in Ten Volumes, edited and translated by F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker, 10 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1932 [1985]) 4:170/171–172/173.

The Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (d. 50 CE) is one of the few authors who used this conception of the Word of Abraham, in his essay on “The Migration of Abraham.” There he referred the blessing that God bestowed on the patriarch in Genesis 12:2, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Philo identified the blessing that God will bestow on Abraham as both reason and speech, the two meanings for him of the Greek Logos or Word, which “in the understanding resembles a spring, and is called ‘reason,’ while utterance by mouth and tongue is like its outflow, and is called ‘speech.'” Philo believed that God’s blessing on Abraham was the bestowal of “right reason” and “excellent speech,” both of them avenues to cosmic understanding and godliness.

In the current state of research, it isn’t possible to connect the Qur’an passage about the Word of Abraham being a universal path of salvation to Philo’s more narrow, Hellenistic Jewish conception of the Word of Abraham as God’s bestowal on him and the Jews of the Logos (=both “Reason” and “reasoned discourse”). But I couldn’t find evidence of any other use of this phrase by any other authors.

So imagine my chagrin when I discovered the other day that I’d been scooped about by about 130 years. Some time ago I had asked some undergraduates working with me to scan the 1885 ‘Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam’ as a wiki. As with most Victorian scholarship on Islam, it is a mixed bag, sometimes offensive and Orientalist, but occasionally containing useful information. And the entry on “Millah,” which I either never read myself or glanced over and promptly forgot, makes all the points above about melta and Logos and Philo!

Well, if I weren’t as original as I hoped, I also wasn’t in danger of being idiosyncratic. And, it is really interesting that the Hughes entry seems entirely to have dropped out of Western scholarship, since it wasn’t in the footnotes of any of the several recent academic articles and chapters on Abraham in the Qur’an that I read in connection with my book.

One thing is clear, the Qur’an is a deeper text than many observers have thought. Its use of the idea of Logos as a universal path to salvation for monotheists is clearly Neoplatonic. It is a text of Late Antiquity, speaking to the people not only of the Hejaz in Arabia but to the Roman Near East, in the latter’s own conceptual language (I and some others think people in Damascus, Bostra and Antioch used Greek as their formal language in the time of Muhammad, and the Petra papyri prove this is true for Petra).

`Abd al-Rahman Al-Suyuti (d. 1505) and other great Muslim scholars of the Qur’an freely admitted that there were Aramaic loan wards in the scripture. But that the word “millah” in Arabic took on the sense of “community” rather than “Word” or “religion” or “Logos” caused many later exegetes to misunderstand what was being said. It is that all the monotheistic religions partake in the Logos of the patriarch, and all their adherents can be saved by it.

Appendix:

Hughes’ Dictionary of Islam

Wikis > Dictionary of Islam > Millah

MILLAH ملة

A word which occurs in the Qur’an fifteen times. Eight times for the religion of Abraham (Surahs ii. 124, 129; iii. 89; iv. 124; vi. 102; iii. 38: xvi. 124; xxii. 77); twice for the religion of former prophets (Surahs xiv. 16; xxxviii. 6); once for the religion of the seven children of the cave (Surah xviii. 19); three times for idolatrous religions (Surah xii. 37, vii 86, 87); and once for the religion of Jews and Christians (Surah ii. 114). The word is used in the Traditions for the religion of Abraham (Mishkat, book x. ch. v.).

According to the Kitabu‘t-Ta’rifat, it is expressive of religion an it stands in relation to the prophets, as distinguished from Din دين, which signifies religion as it stands in relation to God, or from Mazhal مذال, which signifies religion wills reference to the learned doctors [RELIGION.] Sprenger and Deutsch have invested the origin and meaning of this word with a certain amount of mystery, which is interesting.

Dr Sprenger says (Das Leben und die Lehre des Mohammad, vol. ii. p 276 n) —.’ When Mohammad speaks of the religion of Abraham, he generally uses the word Milla (Millah) and not Din. Arabian philologists have tried to trace the meaning of the word from their mother tongue, thus, Malla (Mallah) signifies fire or hot ashes in Arabic and Zaggag says (Thalaby, vol. ii. p. 114), that religion is called Milla because of the impression which it makes, and which may be compared to that which fire makes upon the bread baked in ashes.

Since the Arabs are unable to give a better explanation, we must presume that milla is a foreign word, imported by the teachers of the ‘Milla of Abraham” in the Hijaz. Philo considered Abraham the chief promoter of the doctrine of the Unity of God, and doubtless, oven before Philo, Jewish thought, in tracing the doctrine of the true religion, not only as far back as Moses, but even to the father of their nation, emancipated the indispensability of the Coran the law, and so prepared the road to Essaism and Christianity.”

Mr Emanuel Deutsch, in his article on Islam (Literary Remains, p 130), says: “The word used in the Quran for the religion of Abraham is generally Milla. Sprenger after ridiculing the indeed absurd attempts made to derive it from an Arabic root, concludes that it must be a foreign word introduced by the teachers of the ‘Milla of Abraham’ into the Hijaz. He is perfectly right. Milla=Memra=Logos, are identical; being the Hebrew, Chaldee (Targum, Peshito in slightly varied spelling), and Greek terms respectively for the ‘Word,’ that surrogate for the Divine name used by the Targum,by Philo, by St. John. This Milla or ‘Word, which Abraham proclaimed, he, ‘who was not an astrologer but a prophet,’ teaches according to the Haggada, first of all, the existence of one God, the Creator of the Universe, who rules this universe with mercy and lovingkindness.”

Where is our Ariadne for unraveling Trump’s Labyrinth of Corruption?

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 11:41pm

New York (Tomdispatch.com ) – Once upon a time, there was a little-known energy company called Enron. In its 16-year life, it went from being dubbed America’s most innovative company by Fortune Magazine to being the poster child of American corporate deceit. Using a classic recipe for book-cooking, Enron ended up in bankruptcy with jail time for those involved. Its shareholders lost $74 billion in the four years leading up to its bankruptcy in 2001.

A decade ago, the flameout of my former employer, Lehman Brothers, the global financial firm, proved far more devastating, contributing as it did to a series of events that ignited a global financial meltdown. Americans lost an estimated $12.8 trillion in the havoc.

Despite the differing scales of those disasters, there was a common thread: both companies used financial tricks to make themselves appear so much healthier than they actually were. They both faked the numbers, thanks to off-the-books or offshore mechanisms and eluded investigations… until they collapsed.

Now, here’s a question for you as we head for the November midterm elections, sure to be seen as a referendum on the president: Could Donald Trump be a one-man version of either Enron or Lehman Brothers, someone who cooked “the books” until, well, he imploded?

Since we’ve never seen his tax returns, right now we really don’t know. What we do know is that he’s been dodging bullets ever since the Justice Department accused him of violating the Fair Housing Act in his operation of 39 buildings in New York City in 1973. Unlike famed 1920s mob boss Al Capone, he may never get done in by something as simple as tax evasion, but time will tell.

Rest assured of one thing though: he won’t go down easily, even if he is already the subject of multiple investigations and a plethora of legal slings and arrows. Of course, his methods should be familiar. As President Calvin Coolidge so famously put it, “the business of America is business.” And the business of business is to circumvent or avoid the heat… until, of course, it can’t.

The Safe

So far, Treasury Secretary and former Trump national campaign finance chairman Steven Mnuchin has remained out of the legal fray that’s sweeping away some of his fellow campaign associates. Certainly, he and his wife have grandiose tastes. And, yes, his claim that his hedge fund, Dune Capital Management, used offshore tax havens only for his clients, not to help him evade taxes himself, represents a stretch of the imagination. Other than that, however, there seems little else to investigate — for now. Still, as Treasury secretary he does oversee a federal agency that means the world to Donald Trump, the Internal Revenue Service, which just happens to be located across a courtyard from the Trump International Hotel on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue.

As it happens, the IRS in the Trump era still doesn’t have a commissioner, only an acting head. What it may have, National Enquirer-style, is genuine presidential secrets in the form of Donald Trump’s elusive tax returns. Last fall, outgoing IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that there were plans to relocate them to a shiny new safe where they would evidently remain.

In 2016, Trump became the first candidate since President Richard Nixon not to disclose his tax returns. During the campaign, he insisted that those returns were undergoing an IRS audit and that he would not release them until it was completed. (No one at the IRS has ever confirmed that being audited in any way prohibits the release of tax information.) The president’s pledge to do so remains unfulfilled and last year counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway noted that the White House was “not going to release his tax returns,” adding — undoubtedly thinking about his base — “people didn’t care.”

On April 17, 2018, the White House announced that the president would defer even filing his 2017 tax returns until this October. As every president since Nixon has undergone a mandatory audit while in office, count on American taxpayers hearing the same excuse for the rest of his term, even if Congress were to decide to invoke a 1924 IRS provision to view them.

Still, Conway may have a point when it comes to the public. After all, tax dodging is as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. According to one study, every year the U.S. loses $400 billion in unpaid taxes, much of it hidden in offshore tax havens.

Yet the financial disclosures that The Donald did make during election campaign 2016 indicate that there are more than 500 companies in over two dozen countries, mostly with few to no employees or real offices, that feature him as their “president.” Let’s face it, someone like Trump would only create a business universe of such Wall Street-esque complexity if he wanted to hide something. He was likely trying to evade taxes, shield himself and his family from financial accountability, or hide the dubious health of parts of his business empire. As a colleague of mine at Bear Stearns once put it, when tax-haven companies pile up like dirty laundry, there’s a high likelihood that their uses aren’t completely clean.

Now, let’s consider what we know of Donald Trump’s financial adventures, taxes and all. It’s quite a story and, even though it already feels like forever, it’s only beginning to be told.

The Trump Organization

Atop the non-White House branch of the Trump dynasty is the Trump Organization. To comply with federal conflict-of-interest requirements, The Donald officially turned over that company’s reins to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. For all the obvious reasons, he was supposed to distance himself from his global business while running the country.

Only that didn’t happen and not just because every diplomat and lobbyist in town started to frequent his money-making new hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. Now, according to the New York Times, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is considering pressing criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its senior officials because the president’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid off an adult film actress and a former Playboy model to keep their carnal knowledge to themselves before the election.

Though Cohen effectively gave Stormy Daniels $130,000 and Karen McDougal $150,000 to keep them quiet, the Trump Organization then paid Cohen even more, $420,000, funds it didn’t categorize as a reimbursement for expenses, but as a “retainer.” In its internal paperwork, it then termed that sum as “legal expenses.”

The D.A.’s office is evidently focusing its investigation on how the Trump Organization classified that payment of $420,000, in part for the funds Cohen raised from the equity in his home to calm the Stormy (so to speak). Most people take out home equity loans to build a garage or pay down some debt. Not Cohen. It’s a situation that could become far thornier for Trump. As Cohen already knew, Trump couldn’t possibly wield his pardon power to absolve his former lawyer, since it only applies to those convicted of federal charges, not state ones.

And that’s bad news for the president. As Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, put it, “If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn’t they be a crime for Donald Trump?”

The bigger question is: What else is there? Those two payoffs may, after all, just represent the beginning of the woes facing both the Trump Organization and the Trump Foundation, which has been the umbrella outfit for businesses that have incurred charges of lobbying violations (not disclosing payment to a local newspaper to promote favorable casino legislation) and gaming law violations. His organization has also been accused of misleading investors, engaging in currency-transaction-reporting crimes, and improperly accounting for money used to buy betting chips, among a myriad of other transgressions. To speculate on overarching corporate fraud would not exactly be a stretch.

Unlike his casinos, the Trump Organization has not (yet) gone bankrupt, nor — were it to do so — is it in a class with Enron or Lehman Brothers. Yet it does have something in common with both of them: piles of money secreted in places designed to hide its origins, uses, and possibly end-users. The question some authority may pursue someday is: If Donald Trump was willing to be a part of a scheme to hide money paid to former lovers, wouldn’t he do the same for his businesses?

The Trump Foundation

Questions about Trump’s charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, have abounded since campaign 2016. They prompted New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to file a lawsuit on June 14th against the foundation, also naming its board of directors, including his sons and his daughter Ivanka. It cites “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct… occurring over more than a decade, that includes extensive unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions to benefit Mr. Trump’s personal and business interests, and violations of basic legal obligations for non-profit foundations.”

As the New York Times reported, “The lawsuit accused the charity and members of Mr. Trump’s family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing, and illegal coordination with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.” It also alleged that for four years — 2007, 2012, 2013, and 2014 — Trump himself placed his John Hancock below incorrect statements on the foundation’s tax returns.

The main issue in question: Did the Trump Foundation use any of its funds to benefit The Donald or any of his businesses directly? Underwood thinks so. Asshe pointed out, it “was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.” Otherwise it seems to have employed no one and, according to the lawsuit, its board of directors has not met since 1999.

Because Trump ran all of his enterprises, he was also personally responsible for signing their tax returns. His charitable foundation was no exception. Were he found to have knowingly provided false information on its tax returns, he could someday face perjury charges.

On August 31st, the foundation’s lawyers fought back, filing papers of their own, calling the lawsuit, as the New York Times put it, “a political attack motivated by the former attorney general’s ‘record of antipathy’ against Mr. Trump.” They were referring to Eric Schneiderman, who had actually resigned the previous May — consider this an irony under the circumstances — after being accused of sexual assault by former girlfriends.

The New York state court system has, in fact, emerged as a vital force in the pushback against the president and his financial shenanigans. As Zephyr Teachout, recent Democratic candidate for New York attorney general, pointed out, it is “one of the most important legal offices in the entire country to both resist and present an alternative to what is happening at the federal level.” And indeed it had begun fulfilling that responsibility with The Donald long before the Mueller investigation was even launched.

In 2013, Schneiderman filed a civil suit against Trump University, calling it a sham institution that engaged in repeated fraudulent behavior. In 2016, Trump finally settled that case in court, agreeing to a $25 million payment to its former students — something that (though we don’t, of course, have the tax returns to confirm this) probably also proved to be a tax write-off for him.

These days, the New York attorney general’s office could essentially create a branch only for matters Trumpian. So far, it has brought more than 100 legal or administrative actions against the president and congressional Republicans since he took office.

Still, don’t sell the foundation short. It did, in the end, find a way to work for the greater good — of Donald Trump. He and his wife, Melania, for instance, used the “charity” to purchase a now infamous six-foot portrait of himself for $20,000 — and true to form, according to the Washington Post, even that purchase could turn out to be a tax violation. Such “self-dealing” is considered illegal. Of course, we’re talking about someone who “used $258,000 from the foundation to pay off legal settlements that involved his for-profit businesses.” That seems like the definition of self-dealing.

The Trump Team

The president swears that he has an uncanny ability to size someone up in a few seconds, based on attitude, confidence, and a handshake — that, in other words, just as there’s the art of the deal, so, too, there’s the art of choosing those who will represent him, stand by him, and take bullets for him, his White House, and his business enterprises. And for a while, he did indeed seem to be a champion when it came to surrounding himself with people who had a special knack for hiding money, tax documents, and secret payoffs from public view.

These days — think of them as the era of attrition for Donald Trump — that landscape looks a lot emptier and less inviting.

On August 21st, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted in Virginia of “five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud, and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account.” (On September 14th, he would make a deal with Robert Mueller and plead guilty to two counts of conspiracy.) On that same August day, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, also pled guilty to eight different federal crimes in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, including — yep — tax evasion.

Three days later, prosecutors in the Cohen investigation granted immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. A loyal employee of the Trump family for more than four decades, he had also served as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation. If anyone other than the president and his children knows the financial and tax secrets of the Trump empire, it’s him. And now, he may be ready to talk. Lurking in his future testimony could be yet another catalyst in a coming Trump tax debacle.

And don’t forget David Pecker, CEO of American Media, the company that publishes the National Enquirer. Pecker bought and buried stories for The Donald for what seems like forever. He, too, now has an immunity deal in the federal investigation of Cohen (and so Trump), evidently in return for providing information on the president’s hush-money deals to bury various exploits that he came to find unpalatable.

The question is this: Did Trump know of Cohen’s hush-money payments? Cohen has certainly indicated that he did and Pecker seems to have told federal prosecutors a similar story. As Cohen said in court of Pecker, “I and the CEO of a media company, at the request of the candidate, worked together” to keep the public in the dark about such payments and Trump’s involvement in them.

The president’s former lawyer faces up to 65 years in prison. That’s enough time to make him consider what other tales he might be able to tell in return for a lighter sentence, including possibly exposing various tax avoidance techniques he and his former client cooked up.

And don’t think that Cohen, Pecker, and Weisselberg are going to be the last figures to come forward with such stories as the Trump team begins to come unglued.

In the cases of Enron and Lehman Brothers, both companies unraveled after multiple shell games imploded. Enron’s losses were being hidden in multiple offshore entities. In the case of Lehman Brothers, staggeringly over-valued assets were being pledged to borrow yet more money to buy similar assets. In both cases, rigged games were being played in the shadows, while vital information went undisclosed to the public — until it was way too late.

Donald Trump’s equivalent shell games still largely remain to be revealed. They may simply involve hiding money trails to evade taxes or to secretly buy political power and business influence. There is, as yet, no way of knowing. One thing is clear, however: the only way to begin to get answers is to see the president’s tax returns, audited or not. Isn’t it time to open that safe?

Nomi Prins is a TomDispatch regular. Her latest book is Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World (Nation Books). Of her six other books, the most recent is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Nomi Prins

Via Tomdispatch.com .

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Craig Unger: Donald Trump Is A Russian Asset In The White House | The Beat With Ari Melber | MSNBC

Trump Closes Palestinian Mission in Revenge for Abbas taking Israel to Int’l Criminal Court

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 11:17pm

Washington (AFP) – The Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington ceased operations on Thursday following a demand by the United States to shut down but expressed hope the closure would be short-lived.

State Department officials on Monday ordered the office shuttered, in a bid to pressure the Palestinians to enter peace talks with Israel.

It was the latest point of tension between the administration of President Donald Trump and the Palestinians, who cut off contact with Washington after Trump recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

“Today is the deadline” for closure, Husam Zomlot, who headed the Palestine Liberation Organization mission, said in a Facebook video addressed to “the great people of America.”

The closure came on the 25th anniversary of the Oslo accords, the first agreements between the rival Israelis and Palestinians which promised to end decades of deadly conflict, but which are now deadlocked and tarnished by soured relations.

Zomlot on Thursday denounced the “unfortunate and vindictive” US move to close the Palestinian mission.

“It was unsurprising to us the Trump administration gave us only two choices: either we lose our relationship with the administration or we lose our rights as a nation,” he said.

“Our president, leadership and the people of Palestine opted for our rights.”

Zomlot said the Palestinians were “extremely saddened by the current state of affairs.”

Addressing the “millions upon millions” of Americans who remain friends of Palestine, he hoped that “may we soon return to continue to be a symbol and a reflection of the historic relationship between the Palestinian and the American people.”

Prior to ordering the mission’s closure, the United States cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians and canceled its support for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The move to not grant the mission its normal six-month renewal came after Palestinian leaders allegedly breached the arrangement by calling for Israeli officials to be prosecuted at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Palestinian leaders say Trump’s White House is blatantly biased in favor of Israel and is seeking to blackmail them into accepting its terms.

Under Trump, the United States is further away than ever from playing its traditional role as mediator in the long-simmering Middle East peace process.

But Trump, a foreign policy novice, promised upon taking office to help broker the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.

“Wait until the peace plan is released, and when it’s released, please read it cover to cover and judge the plan on its merits — not on rumors, not on speculation, not on news reports, but on what’s in it,” one of the US negotiators, Jason Greenblatt, said Thursday on Twitter.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, however, that the administration is “not ready to unveil” the plan but remains optimistic.

“There needs to be a different kind of approach. Nothing has worked so we’re trying a different approach,” she said.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / SAUL LOEB. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington has now ceased operations, under an order from the US State Department.

Trump Hired Mattis After General Proposed ‘War of Annihilation’ in Syria, New Book Reveals

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 11:02pm

(TeleSur) – Investigative journalist Bob Woodward’s new book claims that Trump hired Mattis as Defense Secretary for proposing a “war of annihilation” against the Islamic Group in Syria.

Journalist Bob Woodward’s new White House tell-all book “Fear: Trump in the White House” revealed that the current U.S. Secretary of Defense Norman James Mattis was offered his position because of his stance on Islamic State Groups in Syria. Mattis, in a meeting with the president, said to him that there should be no hold-back on the Syrian war as the Islamic State Group has to be annihilated.

“Later in November, Trump invited Mattis, 66, to Bedminster. Mattis’s quiet presence was imposing. We have to take care of ISIS, Trump emphasized. The Islamic State had grown out of the remains of al Qaeda in Iraq and expanded brutally into Syria with the ambition of establishing and ruling as a caliphate. Trump had promised to defeat ISIS in the campaign, and the threat was growing,” Woodward says in the book.

“Mattis looked directly at Trump. ‘We need to change what we are doing,” he said. ‘It can’t be a war of attrition, It must be a war of annihilation.’ Trump loved the concept. Perfect. He offered Mattis the job, though they agreed not to announce it right away,” says the current best-selling book.

After excerpts of the book were published before its release, the Pentagon released a statement on Mattis’ behalf saying that this book is a work of “uniquely Washington brand” of fiction.

But if one has to look into his history of commenting on issues, one wouldn’t disregard the claims of the book as a work of pure imagination.

The president’s “mad dog Mattis” reportedly said that it is “fun” to kill Afghanis. In fact, as the Secretary of Defense, he pushed Trump to continue the U.S. war on Afghanistan. As per the book, on one occasion he even threatened the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer with sending him to Afghanistan if he does not stop calling him regarding an appearance on TV.

One of his more controversial and disturbing quotes were “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

Mattis’ controversial stand on defense and policy issues made him a favorite of President Trump and both shared a good bond over the past two years. However, since the release of the book and controversy surrounding it, things have soured between the two, as reported by Business Insider. Trump might even try to replace him post-midterm elections.

In fact, for Trump, the “mad dog” metamorphosed into “moderate dog” as Mattis has used checks and balances on the president. The book has thrown a light on possible reasons for the souring relation between the two. Apparently, Mattis has not given into the president’s every whim. As per the book, he also said that Trump has an understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.”

Even though both the White House and Pentagon vehemently opposed all the revelations made in the book, the damage has been done. Once hired for being “mad dog” with bloodlust, Mattis proved to be “moderate” for the U.S. President and his policies.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CBS News from Sep 8: “U.S. to keep military presence in Syria”

Top 7 Signs Willie Nelson Might not be a Republican (That’s ‘TeaPot Party,’ not Tea Party)

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 1:08am

Music legend Willie Nelson is doing a benefit concert for Democratic senator hopeful in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, provoking the anger of some Republicans who had been his fans (but apparently were not very observant people).

Here are some signs that might have signaled to those fans that Willie Nelson is not a Republican and does not share many ideals with that party, having been a progressive activist for decades.

1. Nelson promotes the legalization of marijuana and serves as a co-chair for the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). You might have noticed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a lifelong Republican has been waging a campaign against pot.

2. Perhaps Nelson’s GOP fans just misheard. Nelson in 2010 created an alternative to the Tea Party called the “TeaPot Party” with the slogan “Tax it, regulate it and legalize it!”

3. Nelson is worried about the climate crisis and believes in green energy. He actually founded his own biodiesel company, which made fuel from vegetable oil instead of fossil fuels.

4. Nelson opposed the Bush administration’s war on Iraq and composed an anti-war protest song, “Whatever Happened to Peace on Earth?”:

The song objected that God would not approve of the sentiment, “Let’s kill them all and let God sort them out.”

5. Nelson supports LGBTQ rights and covered Ned Sublette’s song Cowboys are Frequently Secretly Fond of One Another:

6. Nelson supports refugee and immigrant rights. His song Living in the Promised Land begins by reminding viewers that Jewish would-be immigrants during the Holocaust were turned away by the United States.

7. Nelson spoke out against the Trump immigrant family separation policy. “Christians everywhere should be up in arms,” he said.

Defying Trump, Iraq Parliament Elects pro-Iran Candidates on Advice of Tehran Super-Spy

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 12:23am

Baghdad (AFP) – The Iraqi parliament elected pro-Iran candidates as speaker and first deputy speaker on Saturday, boosting the country’s chances of forming a new administration more than four months after national elections.

National politics has been in paralysis since the May 12 ballot, but Saturday’s selections are expected to solidify new parliamentary alliances.

The pro-Iran bloc led by Hadi al-Ameri’s Conquest Alliance — a coalition of anti-jihadist veterans close to Tehran — consolidated its position as its candidate, Mohammed al-Halbusi, was elected speaker.

And Hassan Karim, put forward by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, took the post of first deputy speaker.

Sadr’s list won the largest share of seats in the election, and is also part of the pro-Iran parliamentary alliance.

Iranian envoy “Qassem Soleimani has successfully re-unified Shiite forces and secured posts for Sunnis that have followed them”, said Iraqi political commentator Hisham al-Hashemi.

– ‘2-0 to Iran’ –

For the first time since the fall of dictator Saddam Hussein, the Shiites appeared divided in the May polls.

Iraq has a proportional system designed to prevent a slide back into dictatorship following the 2003 ouster of Saddam.

The bloc with the most members appoints the prime minister and presides over the formation of the next government.

US envoy Brett McGurk has “failed to divide the Shiites, failed to keep promises of posts for Sunnis who rallied to the US and was unable to scare Sunnis who chose the Iranian camp”, Hashemi said.

“Iran has (therefore) already won two points, while the US has lost three”.

The new speaker was governor of Sunni-majority Anbar province, a key battleground in the war against the Islamic State jihadist group, before his election to parliament on a local list in May.

Born in 1981, he will be the youngest speaker in Iraq’s history.

During the vote, Halbusi pleaded for “real reforms”, after demonstrations last week in the southern oil-rich city of Basra turned deadly as protesters demanded improved public services and a crackdown against corruption.

In Iraq, the speaker of parliament is always Sunni Arab while the prime minister is picked from the country’s Shiite majority and the president is a Kurd.

Parliamentary coalitions — which bring together lists of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to form the largest group — must agree on the selection of the three positions.

Halbusi ran against three other candidates, including Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi and former Defence Minister Khaled al-Obeidi.

Obeidi was backed by the list of outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Halbusi won 169 out of 298 votes, while Obeidi took 89, in Saturday’s vote.

– Abadi throws in the towel –

Abadi said Thursday he would not seek a second term as his political support crumbled over the violence in Basra.

In a crucial setback, Sadr dropped his support for the prime minister last Saturday, as anger over the sitation in the southern city grew.

Basra has been at the epicentre of protests that broke out in in July, before spreading to other parts of the country.

The protests in Basra intensified over a growing health crisis, after more than 30,000 people were hospitalised by a polluted water supply.

Protesters hit the streets for five days, clashing with security forces and torching the provincial headquarters, the Iranian consulate and the offices of armed groups.

Twelve demonstrators were killed in the clashes, with rights groups accusing security forces of using excessive force.

Featured Photo: IRAQI PARLIAMENT/AFP / – A handout video grab taken from live footage released by the Iraqi Parliament on September 15, 2018 of newly-elected parliamentary speaker Mohammed Al-Halbusi.

Israelis on Cusp of Demolishing Palestinian Village of Khan al-Ahmar

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 12:15am

By Anan AbuShanab, Research Assistant, Middle East and North Africa Division

New York (Human Rights Watch) – Residents of Khan al-Ahmar thought they had found a way around Israel’s discriminatory building permit regime in Area C of the West Bank. Since a building permit is required only for concrete structures, they built their school, which serves 160 children from five villages, using clay and 2,200 old tires.

The plan didn’t work. The Israeli army has exclusive control over planning in Area C. It has allocated just one percent of that land for Palestinian buildings, and refuses the vast majority of Palestinian permit applications.

Khan al-Ahmar was no exception. Over the years, Israeli authorities issued demolition orders against the school and every other structure in this small village of 180 residents, just east of Jerusalem, on the grounds that they lacked permits. On September 5, Israel’s High Court rejected several appeals, and green-lighted demolition.

Israeli military planning documents do not recognize the community’s presence, and Israeli authorities have repeatedly confiscated its land, demolished its buildings, and expelled its Palestinian residents for building without permits.

This isn’t the community’s first displacement. In the early 1950s, Israeli forces evicted residents from the Tel Arad district of the Negev desert. The community fled to the West Bank and built a village in the current location. They registered as Palestine refugees with the United Nations.

In 1977, Israel established the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, allocating it the land on which Khan al-Ahmar sits.

International law prohibits an occupying power from destroying property, including schools, unless “absolutely necessary” for “military operations.” Transferring civilians within an occupied territory, either by direct force or indirect coercion into a place not of their choosing, is a war crime under the International Criminal Court’s statute.

Israeli officials should know that the demolition and any resulting displacement of the population may subject them to criminal investigation.

Other states also have a duty to ensure that the Geneva Conventions are respected, and should make clear to Israeli officials that, if the demolition goes ahead, people implicated in any criminal acts could be investigated and prosecuted by domestic authorities outside of Israel where they have jurisdiction.

Global condemnation alone has not stopped serious war crimes during Israel’s 50-year occupation. Action and justice is long overdue.

Via Human Rights Watch

Featured Photo via Maan News Agency.

Qatar to Sue Saudi Arabia and UAE for Hacking its News Agency, Spoofing Emir

Sun, 16 Sep 2018 - 12:07am

London (Middle East Monitor) – Qatar’s Attorney General has confirmed that independent investigations have proven that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were involved in hacking into the official Qatar News Agency last year. Ali bin Fetais Al-Marri pledged to sue the two countries for “piracy” before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Al-Marri made the announcement at a press conference held in New York City on Friday, in the presence of a group of American jurists, Al Jazeera reported. He explained that international law officers have collected evidence which proves the Saudi and Emirati involvement. This view was backed up by former US Attorney General Michael Mukasey, a member of the US legal team present, who confirmed that there was evidence that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were involved in the “piracy” at the QNA in May last year. The team, he added, will discuss later how this is going to be dealt with.

Over the course of a year, the Qatari authorities have cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in America and Britain’s National Crime Agency on investigations into the piracy allegations.

The Gulf crisis has entered its second year. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, accusing Doha of “supporting terrorism” and aligning with Iran in defiance of the Gulf consensus. Qatar continues to deny the charges and insists that the boycott is an attempt to undermine its sovereignty and control its national decisions.

The countries behind the blockade apparently used fabricated statements attributed to the Emir of Qatar and broadcast through the QNA, after hacking into the agency, as one of the justifications for cutting ties with the government in Doha.

This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Via Middle East Monitor

Featured Photo: Public Domain via Mexican Presidency/ WikiMedia

US ends Final Sources of Aid to Palestinian civilians

Sat, 15 Sep 2018 - 11:58pm

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The United States decided to block millions of dollars to programs that build relations between Palestinians and Israelis as part of its policy to end all aid for Palestinian civilians.

The New York Times reported that “the move to prevent Palestinians — including, in many cases, children — from benefiting from the funds squeezes shut the last remaining channel of American aid to Palestinian civilians.”

Palestinians consider such programs to be “normalizing” relations between the two sides at the time that Israel refuses to recognize the rights of the Palestinian people.

NY Times said that the US Congress had already budgeted the money for allocation in fiscal year 2017, ending this month.

Previously, the designated funds went mostly to programs that organized people-to-people exchanges between Palestinians and Israelis, often for youth; some also went to programs for Israeli Jews and Arabs.

As the US President Donald Trump cut all other aid Palestinians, according to the new site advocates had hoped this last fund of $10 million would remain available to projects with Palestinians.

Tim Rieser, US foreign policy aide to Senator Patrick Leahy, said that officials from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had told congressional aides, last week, that programs benefiting Palestinians alongside Israelis would not be receiving any new money.

Leahy established the broader program managed by USAID.

Rieser said that the agency’s officials did not want to cut programs with Palestinians, but had to accommodate a White House that does not want to send American funds to Palestinians.

“As a result, only programs with Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs will get funding, contrary to the tradition of the funds and intent of Congress.”

Rieser added that USAID was essentially faced with either shutting down the program and losing the funds, “or keeping something going.”

“They decided to support programs that involve Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs.”

Rieser said that “programs currently on multiyear grants will still get all their funds.”

USAID said, in a statement on Friday, that it is “currently unable to engage Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the administration’s recent decision on Palestinian assistance.”

The agency said it was “continuing its support for civil society working on these issues within Israel.”

Last week, the US had cancelled $20 million in aid to Palestinian hospitals of occupied East Jerusalem, weeks after its decision to cut all funding to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNWRA).

Text and photo via Maan News Agency

Manafort’s Plea Deal is a Constitutional Crisis, we Just don’t Know it Yet

Sat, 15 Sep 2018 - 2:08am

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Trump’s campaign manager April-August of 2016, Paul Manafort has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring against the United States. In return for a reduction of his sentence he must answer fully and candidly all the questions asked him by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team about criminal wrongdoing. Since Manafort is alleged to have had close relations with Russian oligarchs, money-launderers and even organized crime, he almost certainly knows about a fair number of crimes.

Mueller is not interested in random crimes, however, but in any that may have been commmited by Trump or his close associates, especially crimes involving contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign, of which Manafort was the chairman. In that period, Trump would call him 20 times a day. The two men were very close.

A Washington, D. C., court was about to begin a trial against Manafort. Mueller’s side had easily won their first case against Manafort, in Virginia, and the likelihood is that they would have won the Washington one, as well. Manafort was looking at going bankrupt defending himself, and at being sentenced to life in prison (he is 69 so any long sentence amounts to a life sentence).

As it is, Manafort has to give to the Federal government over $40 million in ill-gotten gains. Manafort has been convicted of lobbying for pro-Russian politicians and interests in Ukraine, of not registering as a foreign agent, and of keeping tens of millions of dollars in payments from Russian oligarchs and their Ukrainian counter-parts in banks in Cyprus while never paying any taxes on them. He got paid for doing things like circulating a false charge that Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko (anti-Russian) was guilty of ordering people killed (Manafort said he wanted to “put some stink” on her).

Manafort colluded with an unnamed Israeli official to weaponize “anti-Semitism” for Russian aims in Ukraine, painting Tymoshenko as an anti-Semite. He then put pressure on the Jewish figures in the Obama administration to pressure Obama to oppose Tymoshenko, in favor of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych.

The casual way in which the Likud government of Binyamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, throws around charges of anti-Semitism for narrow, everyday political gain has almost entirely undermined the force of the charge. When I see a campaign against Jeremy Corbyn waged by the British Israel lobbies, attempting to smear him as bigotted against Jews because he disagrees with Israeli colonization of the Palestinians, I am inclined to discount it. It is just more Manafortism, in which there is an attempt to have Corbyn Manafortized.

All that speaks to Manafort’s character but it is ancient history. The big story is that he attended the July, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian agent Natalia Veselnitskaya, in which the Trump campaign expected to receive damaging information on Hilary Clinton from Russian hacking of her accounts. The Russians wanted Magnitsky Act sanctions lifted on President Vladimir Putin’s cronies in return.

Trump himself dictated a description of that meeting which is nothing but a lie. Don Trump, Jr., had called the meeting after receiving an invitation to meet by a high Russian source.

That is, Manafort is potentially in a position to begin putting Trump family members in jail, and to provide the smoking gun to Mueller against Trump himself.

Moreover, since Manafort knows the Russian oligarchs and criminal elements, it is not impossible that he has incidental information about Trump moneylaundering via Moscow.

If Mueller indicts Trump, that is a constitutional crisis. If Mueller hands over irrefutable evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the Department of Justice, that is a constitutional crisis. If he hands the dossier over to Congress, that is a constitutional crisis. This plane does not have a soft landing, folks. Fasten your seatbelts.

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Bonus video:

PBS NewsHour: “What will Paul Manafort’s cooperation mean for the Russia probe?”

Accusation of 1980s Sexual Assault Dogs Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee

Sat, 15 Sep 2018 - 12:52am

Washington (AFP) – President Donald Trump’s conservative pick for the Supreme Court Brett Kavanaugh denied Friday involvement in an alleged sexual assault on a woman while they were in high school in the 1980s.

In a statement released to US media, Kavanaugh rejected the woman’s claim, made in a letter to the Democrats vetting his nomination, that he tried to force himself on her during a party.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time,” Kavanaugh said in the statement.

The allegation came just one week before the Senate Judiciary Committee is to vote on his nomination. If approved by the committee and the whole Senate, as expected, Kavanaugh is likely to decidedly tilt the court to the conservatives for years to come.

Democrats fighting the nomination say that could turn the court away from guaranteed abortion rights, against programs that benefit disadvantaged minorities, and for greater presidential immunity from the law.

On Thursday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, announced cryptically that she had forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation “information from an individual concerning the nomination.”

The information came from an individual who wanted to remain anonymous and had declined to press the issue themselves, Feinstein said.

According to an account in The New Yorker, the incident happened while Kavanaugh, now 53, attended the elite Georgetown Preparatory Catholic all-boys high school in suburban Washington.

The woman, from a nearby high school, was allegedly at a party where the youths were drinking alcohol.

In a room with the woman, Kavanaugh and another male teen turned up the music and placed their hands over her mouth so that no one could hear, and Kavanaugh “attempted to force himself on her,” The New Yorker reported, citing the woman’s account.

She struggled with them and escaped, the account said.

The woman “said that the memory had been a source of ongoing distress for her, and that she had sought psychological treatment as a result,” The New Yorker added.

Kavanaugh was quickly defended by friends and acquaintances from the time who cast doubts on the alleged incident.

A group of 65 women signed a letter attesting to his character.

“Through the more than 35 years we have known him, Brett has stood out for his friendship, character, and integrity. In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect. That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day,” they said.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he did not “intend to allow Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be stalled because of an 11th hour accusation that Democrats did not see fit to raise for over a month.”

Ronan Farrow, who co-authored The New Yorker article, told CNN that some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee “feel that there was a missed opportunity to fully interrogate this allegation.”

Featured Photo: AFP/File / SAUL LOEB. Trump Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has denied sexually assaulting a women while they were in high school in the 1980s.