Informed Comment

Syndicate content
Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 1 day 1 hour ago

Allies Furious as Trump w/draws from G7 Climate Commitment, May leave Paris Accord

Sat, 27 May 2017 - 11:16pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump bombed at the G7 summit in Italy. Despite an “intense” discussion with Germany, France and the others, who made it clear as sunshine that they wanted the US to meet its Paris Climate obligations, Trump refused to join in the issuance of a joint statement on the issue.

The communique on climate change said,
““Understanding this process, the heads of state and of government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom and the presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement.”

The US, obviously, is missing.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is quoted as saying, “The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying.”

Worse, Axios is reporting that close associates of Trump are saying that he has decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement.

This move would open the US to punitive tariffs, and possibly lawsuits, as well as boycotts (affecting tourism and investment). Worse, it will make it impossible for the world to keep global warming to 2 degrees C./ 3.6 degrees F.

Trump managed to infuriate India by blaming it for inaction on climate. Actually India just cancelled a big batch of planned coal plants and is implementing solar and wind like crazy, with carbon emissions reductions far more ambitious than those of the US.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a citizens’ lawsuit against Exxon-Mobil for for violations at its Baytown facility just prevailed.

——-

Related video:

AP: After G7, Trump Views on Climate ‘Evolving’

Trumpism: White Terrorist Murders 2 after harassing Muslim-American

Sat, 27 May 2017 - 8:12am

TeleSur | – –

According to one witness, the suspect was heard saying “get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here.”

Amidst rising rates of violence directed toward Muslims and those percieved to be Muslim in the United States, two men on a commuter train in Portland, Oregon were fatally stabbed and a third injured on Friday after they confronted a man who was allegedly yelling racial slurs at two other passengers, one of whom was wearing a hijab, local media reported.

Ibrahim Hooper: “Video: CAIR Rep Ibrahim Hooper Interviewed on CNN About Killing of Men Who Defended Muslim Women”

According to a Portland police spokesperson, the stabbing suspect who is currently in police custody, was allegedly “yelling a gamut of anti-Muslim and anti-everything slurs” at two other passengers.

According to one witness, the suspect was heard saying “get off the bus, and get out of the country because you don’t pay taxes here.”

When three men confronted the suspect and tried to calm him down, he allegedly stabbed them in the neck, killing two and injuring the other.

“Preliminary information indicates that the suspect was on the MAX train yelling various remarks that would best be characterized as hate speech… At least two of the victims attempted to intervene with the suspect and calm him down. The suspect attacked the men, stabbing three, before leaving the train,” the Portland Police Bureau’s official statement read.

It continued to say that witnesses saw “two young women, possibly Muslim, who were on the train at the time of the disturbance and attack, but left prior to police arrival… one was described as wearing a hijab.”

The location and identity of the two women is unknown, although police are currently looking to find and speak with them.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization promoting American Muslim civil liberties based in Washington, D.C., released a statement asking U.S. President Donald Trump to “speak our personally against rising bigotry and acts of racial violence in America targeting Muslims and other minority groups.”

According to CAIR, the past three years have seen a nearly 600% rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims, and those who are perceived to be Muslim.
Tags

Iraq Parliament Mulls ending Freedom of Assembly

Sat, 27 May 2017 - 7:54am

By Afef Abrougui | ( Globalvoices.org) | – –

When armed men in civilian clothes kidnapped journalist Afrah Shawqi from her home on 26 December 2016, journalists and activists quickly took to the street to demand that the government take action to ensure her safety and her immediate release.

Iraq's parliament is currently reviewing a draft law that, if enacted, could make this kind of response impossible. Local civil society groups and activists are criticizing the parliament for attempting to pass a bill that would restrict freedom of expression and rights to protest and assembly.

The law on “freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and peaceful demonstration” aims at “guaranteeing and regulating freedom of expression and opinion through any means, freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration, and the right to knowledge, without prejudice to public order and public morals, and determining the parties responsible for regulating them,” states Article 2 of the bill.

The bill would require Iraqis to seek the prior authorization from local authorities before protesting or assembling. Requiring protesters to ask for an authorization five days before a protest is a “cause for concern, due to the nature of the Iraqi street and its ongoing crises” says Mustafa Naser, the president of the Association for Defending Press Freedom in Iraq. Iraqis “have recently realized the street's impact on parliamentary decisions and legislation,” he told Global Voices in an e-mail interview.

Iraqi protestors outside the Parliament in April 2016, where they staged a sit-in before storming the building. Photo credit: @AlFayth (Twitter)

Before assembling, Iraqis would also need to submit a request for prior authorization at least five days before a meeting takes place. The request should include the subject matter, purpose, time and place of the meeting, and names of the organizers.

In addition to restricting the right to protest and assembly, the bill also limits freedom of expression by mainly preventing criticism of religion and religious symbols. Article 13 prescribes a jail sentence of up to ten years for those convicted of “intentionally broadcasting propaganda for war, terrorist acts, and hatred based on national origin, race, religion and sect.” A second paragraph of the same article prescribes a one year prison sentence and a fine for attacks and the degradation of the beliefs of any religious sect. This includes any public insults to “a rite, symbol or a person subject of reverence, glorification or respect for a religious sect.”

On 13 May, the Iraqi parliament once again decided to postpone a vote on the controversial draft law, amid opposition from civil society groups and activists. MP Sarwa AbdelWahed told local media that the vote was delayed until a “national consensus” around the bill is reached.

The bill was first introduced in 2011. After confronting objections from civil society, its authors amended and submitted it to the parliament again in August 2015, only to encounter another wave of protests. The Iraqi parliament attempted to vote on the bill again in July 2016, without success.

Attempts by the parliament to pass the law again this month have been met with criticism by Iraqi civil society groups. Protesters gathered outside the parliament on 14 May to express their rejection of the bill.

Mustafa Saadoon, director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights tweeted on 15 May:

البرلمان العراقي يُرِيد ان يُقيد حريتنا بقانون عنوانه رائع وبنوده بائسة لا تنتجها الا الأنظمة الديكتاتورية.

— mustafa saadoon (@SaadoonMustafa) May 15, 2017

The Iraqi parliament wants to restrict our freedoms with a law that has a wonderful headline and miserable clauses produced only by dictatorial regimes

On the same day, the Observatory issued a statement accusing the different political alliances in the parliament of “restricting freedoms and paving the way for new dictatorships”:

يطالب المرصد العراقي لحقوق الإنسان البرلمان العراقي بضرورة إجراء تعديل على مسودة مشروع القانون وفق إلتزامات العراق الدولية وعدم التعامل بإنتقائة مع مبادئ حقوق الإنسان ومحاولة تقييد الحريات في قوانين عناوينها تنظيمية وبنودها تقييدية

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights calls on the Iraqi parliament to amend the bill in accordance with Iraq's international obligations and not to be selective when it comes to human rights principles, and not to attempt to restrict freedoms with laws that have regulatory titles and restrictive clauses

Freedom of expression is already under threat in Iraq, with journalists and media at risk of violations by armed militias that do not tolerate criticism, and abuses by security officers. This is in addition to the targeting of journalists by ISIS, which since taking over parts of Iraq in 2014, has been responsible for murdering several reporters. But instead of working to ensure stronger protections for these freedoms, the Iraqi parliament is seeking to pass a repressive law.

للحد من حرية التعبير في العراق، أما أن تختطفك مليشيات وعصابات السلطة أو يشرع #قانون_حرية_التعبير من قبل ممثليهم في برلمان الفساد والإرهاب.

— حكيم الشرع (@Hakeemalshara2) May 11, 2017

To restrict freedom of expression in Iraq, either you get abducted by militias and the authority's gangs, or their representatives in the parliament of corruption and terrorism enacts a freedom of expression law

“There is a political will from the big alliances in the parliament which have been dominating the Iraqi state for more that a decade, to push for the enactment of a law that withholds the right to demonstrate, and criminalizes any unlicensed protest,” Naser stated. He added:

المفارقة انهم يدعون مقارعة النظام الدكتاتوري السابق، لنيل حرياتهم وحريات الشعب العراقي، لكنهم في ذات الوقت يستخدمون قوانين صدام حسين المشرعة في ستينيات القرن الماضي ضد خصومهم…بل انهم يسعون لتمرير المزيد من القوانين المقيدة للحريات، والتي لا تنسجم مع ادعاءاتهم النضالية

The paradox is, they claim that they are fighting the former dictatorial regime to win their freedoms and those of the Iraqi people, but at the same time they use the laws of Saddam Hussein enacted in the sixties against their opponents…while also seeking to pass more laws restrictive of freedoms, which are not in harmony with their claims of struggle.

It remains unclear when the Iraqi parliament will attempt to revive this six-year old bill again. In the meantime, civil society groups and activists will continue to exercise pressure so that another repressive law does not add up to the list of restrictive laws that already exist in Iraq, including the 1968 Publications Law which bans criticism of the government and the 1969 Penal Code which criminalizes defamation and insult.

By Afef Abrougui

Globalvoices.org

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

——–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

BYU Kennedy Center: Documenting Human Rights Violations in Iraq

Who are Egypt’s Coptic Christians, ISIL’s latest Victims?

Sat, 27 May 2017 - 7:36am

By Paul Rowe | (The Conversation) | – –

Coptic Christians in Egypt have been attacked while traveling on pilgrimages and bombed while praying on Palm Sunday, amid an accelerating series of attacks over the last decade. The interrelated challenges of violence, economics and discrimination have led to the increasing departure of Christians from the Middle East. For centuries they have been part of the rich religious diversity of the region.

So who are these people that National Geographic has called “The Forgotten Faithful”?

Coptic history

Among the Christians of the Middle East, the largest number – some eight million or so – is made up of Egypt’s Copts. Since I first visited Egypt in the 1990s, I have been interested in this community and its contribution to pluralism.

Copts are the indigenous Christian population of Egypt, who date back to the first decades following the life of Jesus Christ. The biblical Book of Acts tells how Jews from Egypt came to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost, a Jewish harvest festival that marked the birth of the Christian church merely weeks after Christ’s crucifixion. Many of these Egyptians took the message of Christianity back to their own country. Christian tradition holds that St. Mark, one of the early disciples of Jesus, became the first bishop of Egypt.

By the fourth century, the majority of Egyptians had embraced the Christian faith. Even after the Muslim conquest in the seventh century, the majority of Egyptians were still Christians. It was only during the Middle Ages that greater and greater numbers embraced Islam, and the Christian population dwindled.

Today, Egyptian Christians make up approximately 5 to 10 percent of the Egyptian population. The word “Copt” is used for all Egyptian Christians. It is derived from an ancient Greek word that simply means “Egyptian.”

Copts are fiercely proud of their Egyptian heritage that dates back to the age of the pyramids as early as 3000 B.C. The vast majority of Copts are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, an independent church that arose in A.D. 451, long before the divide that created the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in 1054.

The language of the Coptic Orthodox church service (or liturgy) used in daily worship is also known as Coptic. It is the original Egyptian language written in Greek script.

Copts live throughout every corner of Egypt and at every socioeconomic level. One of Egypt’s richest men, Naguib Sawiris, is a Copt, and so are most of Cairo’s garbage collectors, the zabellin. Though Copts are largely indistinguishable from the Muslim majority, many are given tattoos of a cross on their wrists as children, signifying their permanent commitment to the community. In addition, Coptic women are unlikely to veil, making them stand out from Muslim women.

The head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, and the most significant Christian leader in Egypt, is the bishop of the See of St. Mark, known among Egyptians as the Coptic pope or patriarch. Today the Church is led by Pope Tawadros II, who studied pharmacy before deciding to pursue a religious career in the 1980s.

Religious practice

Copts practice a form of Christianity that hearkens back to the earliest traditions of the church.

Pope Tawadros and all of the bishops of the Coptic Orthodox Church begin their vocation as monks – celibate men living in seclusion in monasteries. The Coptic Orthodox Church is unique in its preference for placing monks in the highest positions of authority.

In fact, the world’s first Christian monks, St. Anthony and St. Paul, established their monasteries in the eastern desert of Egypt in the early fourth century. Both of these monasteries, and numerous others, continue to operate.

In his book “Desert Father,” Australian author James Cowan describes how the monastic tradition became an important support for Egyptian Christians under persecution and helped to preserve culture throughout the Christian world.

Modern-day Copts often visit the monasteries for spiritual guidance, community retreats and to rediscover their heritage.

But while Copts may go to the deserts of Egypt for their religious practice, most live in the cities among their Muslim compatriots. Their churches and community service organizations – and even Coptic news sites and media – contribute to the vibrancy of Egyptian social and intellectual life.

Peter Makari, a church leader with extensive experience working with Coptic organizations, writes about the ways in which Copts have organized community initiatives, development projects and solidarity movements with fellow Egyptians to promote national unity and peace. Copts regularly celebrate feasts with Muslim leaders and host public dialogues with Muslim intellectuals and leaders.

In particular, Copts participated alongside their Muslim compatriots in the proteststhat brought down the authoritarian rule of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

The condition of Copts today

Nonetheless, Copts have faced systemic discrimination in employment and limitations on their ability to access public services and education ever since the establishment of the modern republic of Egypt in 1952.

Governing authorities made it very difficult for them to build or refurbish their churches. After the 2011 revolution, Copts initially enjoyed newfound freedoms to organize and voice their concerns about these practices.

However, their aspirations were dashed when the Egyptian Armed Forces clashed with Coptic protesters in a deadly confrontation in October 2011. When subsequently the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in 2012, there was an attempt to push through a constitution that gave special powers to Islamic authorities. These developments seemed to undermine Copts’ ability to participate as equal citizens.

Most Copts were therefore content to see the restoration of authoritarian rule under Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who in 2014 introduced a new constitution that limits the role of Islam in Egyptian government.

Unfortunately, the Coptic community has now become an easy target in the fight between al-Sisi and his Islamist enemies. Violent attacks on Copts have led them to flee certain areas of Egypt, such as Sinai, and there is a steady stream of Coptic emigration from Egypt.

This must concern all Egyptians, since the presence of Copts is essential to the health of intellectual, cultural and political life in the Middle East.

Paul Rowe, Professor and Coordinator of Political and International Studies, Trinity Western University

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

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

PBS NewsHour: “Coptic Christians en route to monastery targeted in a deadly assault”

Top 5 Questions about Kushner’s back channel to Moscow

Fri, 26 May 2017 - 11:41pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a meeting with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, WaPo reveals that Jared Kushner asked that a private, encrypted back channel be set up to the Kremlin. The report is based on a leak to a WaPo reporter from last December, which the paper has only recently managed to verify.

The story raises large numbers of questions, and is hard to understand except as an indication of something fishy going on.

1. Who leaked the information to the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima that Kushner made this request of Kislyak, back in December of 2016? Was it someone, as alleged, at the National Security Agency or the CIA who heard the information from a tap on Kislyak?

2. Why did Kislyak reveal this request to the Kremlin on an open channel that he must have known was under US surveillance? Was he trying to sink Kushner or Trump? Is there some sort of double sting going on?

3. Why did Kushner (and Trump?) want a secret back channel to Moscow? For what purpose? What did they want to discuss with Vladimir Putin that they did not want US intelligence to know about?

4. Michael Flynn is alleged to have told Kislyak around the same time that Trump would lift sanctions on Russia that Obama had slapped on because of the annexation of the Crimea. What did Russia do for Trump as a quid pro quo? Was the back channel related to the lifting of sanctions?

5. Kushner is known to have been involved in manipulating social media into supporting Trump or dissing Clinton. Is his mastery of psy-ops related to his role with Russia? It is alleged that fake news about Hillary was fed to RT and Sputnik by an undercover pro-Trump team, and that RT etc. then broadcast it to social media, targeting states Trump needed. Was Kushner a conduit to Russia in this regard?

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Washington Post: “Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret channel with Kremlin”

Retraining Workers for Climate Action: How the Light Gets In

Fri, 26 May 2017 - 5:15am

H. Patricia Hynes | (Informed Comment) | – –

Every now and then I re-visit these lines of the Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that cannot ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

In these times of climate change denial, macho military chest-beating, stagnant wages, and soulless extremes of wealth and poverty, light-bearing cracks are all that we have. They surface in unexpected places.

Take North American Windpower magazine, a monthly shaft of light. It was first sent to me by a friend who never subscribed to it. When I told her how informative – and realistically hopeful – it was, she turned her non-subscription over to me.

The March 2017 issue carried the story of an oil sands worker in Alberta, Canada, Lliam Hildebrand, who created a national initiative, Iron and Earth, to retrain out-of-work oil sands tradespeople – among them pipefitters, electricians, boilermakers, drillers, and construction laborers – to enter the Canadian renewable technologies workforce, including solar, wind and hydro. A survey of 1,000 oil sands sector workers revealed that 63% responded that they could transition directly to the renewable energy sector with some training; and 59% reported that they were willing to take a paycut to transition into the renewable sector. The Canadian wind company, Beothuk Energy Inc., has signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Iron and Earth to retrain oil and gas workers for the company’s proposed offshore wind farm project, which has the potential to create 40,000 jobs.

Why not a similar US program for unemployed coal industry workers, given that everyone knows – except the President – that the cost of coal generated electricity cannot compete with renewables, and that solar and wind are the biggest job creators in electric power generation. A team of developers recently proposed to install a large solar farm atop two mountaintop removal sites in the heart of coal country, Pikeville, Kentucky. Further, they have pledged to hire as many unemployed coal miners as they can. What more prescient sign of the times than this: in April 2017, the Kentucky Coal Museum installed solar panels on its roof!

In nearby West Virginia, the Coal River Mountain Watch is fighting to save 6,600 acres of their mountain from being blown up for strip mining of coal with a proposal for a 440 Megawatt wind farm. The windpower would generate electricity for 150,000 homes, remove only 200 acres of hardwood forest, create 200 jobs with 40-50 being permanent and longer lasting than coal jobs, and provide sustainable income for the local economy.

Remember the March photo-op of President Trump surrounding himself with coal miners as he signed an Executive Order dismantling the Clean Power Plan with its goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030? He promised the miners that with the stroke of his pen, he would put them back to work. But the know-nothing president had not run his promise by the industry.

‘ “You can’t bring the coal industry back to where it was,” ‘ retorted Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corporation one of the largest independent operators of coal mines in the country. Moreover, Murray has ‘ “no immediate plans to reopen mines or hire miners after the order is signed,” ‘ according to the May issue of North American Windpower.

The wind blows strong and steady in Iowa, says lieutenant governor Kim Reynolds who justifiably touts her state’s goals and ambitions for renewable energy in the April issue of North American Windpower. Iowa is well on the way to meeting 40% of their electricity from wind turbines, the largest share of any state in the country and among the highest in the world. She notes that it is the convergence of many factors, among them, political, educational, business, and community, that fosters this state’s favorable renewable energy climate.

In 1983, Iowa passed the country’s first renewable electricity standard at a time when it was almost totally dependent on coal. Since then, public universities, with state support, have developed strong wind energy research programs and are educating wind energy engineers and policymakers, while community colleges are training technicians to install, service and maintain wind turbines. As for manufacturing jobs, almost all of turbine manufacture, assembly and installation is done by in-state companies some of whom have re-located there. Others, such as Facebook and Google, were attracted by the abundance of renewable energy and good infrastructure. Farmers, on whose land the wind turbines spin, gain a reliable revenue source in lease payments; and local governments, an improved tax base for local public needs. MidAmerican Energy Company, Iowa’s largest utility, envisions providing 100% renewable energy for its clients.

One final thought in light of the heroic resistance of Native Americans at Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota to a fracked oil pipeline endangering their water and sacred sites. In the northern Great Plains, likely the richest wind regime in the world, the potential of tribal wind power exceeds 300 gigawatts across six states, according to the Department of Energy. This motherlode is equivalent to about half of the current electrical generating capacity in the United States.

Pat Hynes, a retired environmental engineer and Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts .

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

An ‘Awesome’ View At America’s First Offshore Wind Farm | The Daily 360 | The New York Times

Roger Ailes: The Man Who Destroyed the News

Fri, 26 May 2017 - 5:03am

By Neal Gabler | ( Billmoyers.com) | – –

The founder of the right-wing network inflicted harm on the body politic that may be impossible to heal.

Fox News creator and former chief Roger Ailes, who died at 77 last week from complications after a fall in his Florida home, may have been the most significant political figure of the last 35 years — which isn’t necessarily a compliment to those of us who believe media mavens shouldn’t also be political operatives.

Ailes clearly thought differently. He simultaneously changed the contours both of American politics and American media by melding them, and in doing so changed the contours of fact and objectivity as they once were understood before the era of post-fact.

Roger Ailes destroyed the idea of media objectivity in the name of media objectivity, the way a phony evangelist might destroy virtue in the name of virtue.

It seems a lot to put on one man, but Roger Ailes destroyed the idea of media objectivity in the name of media objectivity, the way a phony evangelist might destroy virtue in the name of virtue. Things have never been the same since.

Ailes was a political acolyte of Richard Nixon, and Nixon was a media acolyte of Ailes. It was a perfect and powerful alliance — two outcasts seeking retribution. Nixon’s great contribution to American politics was to take his personal umbrage, a lifetime of slights, and nationalize it. Like so many among the aggrieved, he aspired to be an insider and was tormented by not being admitted to their ranks. In anger, he took them on, especially those he regarded as haughty elites — accused spy Alger Hiss, who was the personification of the Ivy-educated aristocrat and on whose takedown Nixon built his career; John Kennedy, who was everything Nixon wanted to be and wasn’t; and the entire liberal establishment, which would denigrate and denounce him as he rose through the political ranks. He became the avatar for every person who had suffered the same disdain and abuse, and he turned Republicanism into a therapeutic movement of social vengeance.

Ailes was no less an outcast. Born in small-town Ohio, a pudgy hemophiliac bedridden for months at a time, bullied and baited, he nursed grievances against the same folks as Nixon. When they met, while Nixon was making an appearance on The Mike Douglas Show, which Ailes produced, Ailes found his vehicle. Ailes converted his resentments and Nixon’s into a media message, and just as Nixon was able to nationalize it politically, Ailes would eventually nationalize it media-wise, first by becoming Nixon’s communications adviser, and then by bringing that experience to television news.

It was no accident that Nixon and Ailes not only shared grievances, but also constituencies. The base of conservatism — especially those angry old white men who had supported Nixon — would be the viewership of Fox News, too. These were people who felt the world slipping away from them in the tumult of civil rights, feminism, counter-culturalism and multiculturalism; people who abhorred change; people who felt the political system was stacked against them; and more. The vector of history was pointed in the wrong direction: forward. Politically, they blamed Democrats, who seemed sympathetic to change. Culturally, they would come to blame the media, which reported on this new narrative of a changing world without expressing disapproval of it.

Exploiting the latter was Ailes’ job. He constructed a snarling counternarrative in the media in which social change was not a sign of progress but rather a sign of decadence and decay. If you boil Fox News down to one basic idea, this is it: White people are losing the world, the world is going to hell as a result, and liberal elites, including the liberal media, ought to pay.

If you boil Fox News down to one basic idea, this is it: White people are losing the world, the world is going to hell as a result, and liberal elites, including the liberal media, ought to pay.

Degrading the mainstream media wasn’t easy, despite these willing, disgruntled viewers, readers and listeners. For one thing, before Fox News, most people actually trusted the media. (CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite was famously called the most trusted man in America.) The mainstream media weren’t perceived as politically biased, and though there was certainly partisanship in newspapers, many of which tilted left or right, broadcast TV news was anodyne. Having to appeal to large swaths of the public and terrified of alienating prospective viewers, TV journalists generally walked the line between left and right. They reported. They didn’t editorialize. Or at least they didn’t think they editorialized.

And that is where Ailes came in. In essence, he convinced his public that simple reporting was a form of editorializing. He suggested that the media’s so-called “facts” about the changing world were an endorsement of that world, and he claimed to be exposing media bias in order to correct it. In a way, he took seriously Stephen Colbert’s joke, “It is a well-known fact that reality has a liberal bias.” But it could only happen because cable television, unlike broadcast television, could survive on a relatively small demographic niche like angry old white men. In Fox News, they found an outlet for their rage.

You could say that Fox News gave voice to those who felt voiceless, though it might be more accurate to say that he gave voice to those who were so filled with enmity that they seemed on the borderline of sanity. With his hosts and guests howling at elites without surcease, he created not just an alternative media or even an alternative set of facts, but an alternative universe that has overtaken the real one — a bizarre universe bubbling with resentments and conspiracies and fabrications in which liberals aren’t a political opposition; they are the source of all evil. Basically, he poisoned America.

It was a brilliant strategy. Ailes not only turned those white men against broadcast television (and most of the other establishment media, about whom these folks weren’t too happy to begin with); he turned them against the idea of objectivity itself. Or to put it plainly: News that wasn’t biased toward the right couldn’t possibly be objective.

“Fair and balanced” was the slogan with which he branded his ultra-conservative, mainstream-media bashing network — meaning, of course, that the mainstream media weren’t fair to the right and were unbalanced to the left. What he, and even many of his critics, didn’t acknowledge is that the words “fair and balanced” don’t stand in consonance with one another but in contrast. To be balanced is not necessarily to be fair since fairness demands one go where the facts lead, whatever the direction, though neither fairness nor balance were really Ailes’ causes. His cause was unfairness and unbalance — to disrupt the normal flow of fact and reportage and replace fact with right-wing opinion in order to get his vengeance against the left. He won there too.

(One of Ailes’ cleverer tactics was a show called Fox News Watch in which he had media critics analyze news coverage. For five years I was one of them, a token liberal, and Ailes was smart enough to let me brutalize week after week the network on which I was appearing.)

Ailes turned television news into tabloid news, undoing objectivity by doing what tabloid newspapers had always done: undoing seriousness.

Ailes was subtle in another way that may actually have had more impact in undoing objectivity than his conservative bloviating bludgeons like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. He understood that undoing objectivity wasn’t just a function of skewing the news and blending it with commentary so that the two seemed inextricable; it was a function of revising the entire media environment. To that end, Ailes turned television news into tabloid news, undoing objectivity by doing what tabloid newspapers had always done: undoing seriousness.

Ailes got his start in entertainment, and he brought those talents to his network, blending news not just with noise but with showbiz. Fox News became anti-news. Most news outlets opted for a studied monochronism. Fox News was loud and colorful. Most sought to unclutter their broadcasts. Ailes sought to crowd them with the zipper across the bottom of the screen and screaming graphics. Most sought to emphasize reportorial authority. Ailes emphasized verbal muscle-flexing among the male hosts and sexiness among the women. Long before Ailes was accused of sexual harassment, the network’s attitude toward women was there for everyone to see — or ogle. The leering sexuality he brought to Fox News wasn’t incidental to its success; it was instrumental to it, both in the sexual politics it purveyed and in the smarminess it conveyed. The message was: This isn’t real news because there is no real news. Real news is just a media pretense.

Ailes’ network, then, was a wild journalistic carnival designed to turn everything upside down and hit the media where it was most vulnerable: its own sense of seriousness. Fox News was a world of anger, accusation, cynicism, excitement, sex, heat and oversold headlines. Everything but gravitas.

If this sounds more than vaguely familiar, it is because the measure of how powerfully Fox News has penetrated the American consciousness is the presidency of Donald Trump. Trump is fully the creation of Fox News, the candidate of Ailes’ dreams, the man who came to embody the two most important aspects of Fox News — its betrayal of truth and its allegiance to journalistic porn. And this is why Ailes is so important in our political and media ecologies. We think of how Republicanism in the post-Reagan era infected the media, and we see Fox News as the prime example. But we don’t think as much about how Fox News infected Republicanism. Ailes was the carrier, and Trump the result.

Without Fox News, the Republican Party might look different — and better. Without Fox News to conflate entertainment with news, to rip apart the idea of a serious media, to push a single-minded partisan agenda and to enflame embittered white men, there would have been no foundation on which Trump could build his candidacy — or for that matter, no platform from which to blast an unending stream of nonsense stories about Benghazi and emails and the Clinton Foundation that the mainstream media felt duty-bound to pick up. No political party had ever had a major national propaganda arm posing as a media outlet. Ailes gave the Republicans one, and took the soul of the party in return.

The damage that Roger Ailes did to the media, to our political discourse, and to objectivity is incalculable. The most significant man of his political generation, he may also have been the most dangerous. It is one hell of a legacy — and probably a lasting one.

Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today’s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Via Billmoyers.com

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Remembering Roger Ailes”

Comeygate: How Orwell can Explain why Trump keeps Changing his Story

Fri, 26 May 2017 - 4:48am

By Rebecca Gordon | ( Tomdispatch.com | – –

The Trump administration seems intent on tossing recent history down the memory hole. Admittedly, Americans have never been known for their strong grasp of facts about their past. Still, as we struggle to keep up with the constantly shifting explanations and pronouncements of the new administration, it becomes ever harder to remember the events of yesterday, let alone last week, or last month.

The Credibility Swamp

Trump and his spokespeople routinely substitute “alternative facts” for what a friend of mine calls consensus reality, the world that most of us recognize. Whose inaugural crowd was bigger, Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s? It doesn’t matter what you remember, or even what’s in the written accounts or photographic record. What matters is what the administration now says happened then. In other words, for Trump and his people, history in any normal sense simply doesn’t exist, and that’s a danger for the rest of us. Think of the Trumpian past as a website that can be constantly updated to fit the needs of the present. You may believe you still remember something that used to be there, but it’s not there now. As it becomes increasingly harder to find, can you really trust your own memory?

In recent months, revisions of that past have sometimes come so blindingly fast that the present has simply been overrun, as was true with the firing of FBI Director James Comey. First, the president ordered up some brand new supporting documents from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein. These were designed to underpin his line that Comey was fired on their recommendation — for being “unfair” to Hillary Clinton. Then, even as his surrogates were out peddling that very story, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt that, “regardless of [Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.” And he explained why:

“And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Which rationale for Comey’s departure is true? Both? Neither? What is “truth” after all?

When the need to ask such questions occurs once in a while, it’s anomalous enough that we notice. We have time to remark that someone or various people in this story — Sessions, Rosenstein, the surrogates, Trump himself — are mistaken or even lying. Fortunately, in the case of Comey’s firing, journalists are still reporting the lies, but what happens if the rewrites of our recent history begin to come so fast that we stop keeping up?

During the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson was famously said to have a “credibility gap.” People, including journalists, had stopped believing everything his administration said about one very important topic: the war. Trump doesn’t have a credibility gap; he’s tossed us into a credibility swamp. We’re all there together swimming in a mire of truth and lies, with the occasional firecracker thrown in just to see if we’re still paying attention.

If the age of Trump doesn’t end relatively soon, the daily effort to sort out what happened from what didn’t may eventually become too much for many of us. Memory fatigue may set in, and the whole project of keeping the past in focus shelved. In that case, we might very well start to give up the concept of citizenship altogether and decide instead to just get on with our own private uninsured, underpaid, and overworked lives.

Sometimes it’s easier to simply adjust to an ever-changing official version of reality than to keep up a constant, unrewarding struggle to remember. This was the phenomenon George Orwell described so unforgettably in his dystopian novel 1984. His hero, Winston Smith, becomes aware that the sole party that runs his country incessantly rewrites the past to its own liking and advantage. In fact, he realizes that “the past not only changed, but changed continuously.”

Like most inhabitants of the mega-state of Oceania, it wasn’t that Smith couldn’t accept such a reality.  He could. What he couldn’t shake was a nightmarish sense “that he had never clearly understood why” the Party needed to do it. “The immediate advantages of falsifying the past were obvious, but the ultimate motive was mysterious” to him. That “ultimate motive,” he eventually realizes, is to so destroy people’s hold on memory that they come to believe that truth genuinely is whatever the Party says it is.

”In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable?”

Does President Trump know what he’s doing? Does he know that, in a more chaotic fashion than Orwell’s “Big Brother,” he’s grinding away at American memories, threatening to turn them into so much rubble? It’s hard to say; he appears to be incapable of either self-reflection or planning, indeed of acting in any way except on impulse. He does, however, seem to know in an intuitive way what works for him, what gets him things he wants, as he has his whole professional life. He’s called his method “truthful hyperbole.” And regardless of what he himself understands, there are certainly people around him who do grasp all too well the usefulness of that “ultimate motive,” of convincing the public that facts are not all that stubborn after all.

The Memory Hole

Supplying alternative facts is one way of destroying memory. Erasing real facts is another.

In Orwell’s 1984, there was a slot in the wall at the Ministry of Truth where Winston Smith worked, a memory hole, into which inconvenient documents could be fed to be consumed forever by a huge basement furnace. There are, it seems, plenty of memory holes in Washington these days.

Since January, the Trump administration has been systematically removing from federal websites inconvenient information on subjects as diverse as climate change and occupational health and safety, and replacing it with anodyne messages. Take, for instance, this one, which you get when you search the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for the term “climate change” and click on links that search turns up:

“This page is being updated.

“Thank you for your interest in this topic. We are currently updating our website to reflect EPA’s priorities under the leadership of President Trump and Administrator [Scott] Pruitt. If you’re looking for an archived version of this page, you can find it on the January 19 snapshot.”

If you do click on the link for that January 19, 2017, “snapshot,” you can still (for now) see what the old climate change portal of the Obama era looked like. At the top of the “snapshot,” however, is a bright red notice announcing:

“This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to www.epa.gov. This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2017. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”

The government has now entered full-scale climate change denial mode. Information of just about any sort on global warming has been or is being memory-holed in a wholesale fashion at other agency websites as well. The Guardian, for instance, reports that, in the part of the Department of Energy’s site addressed to children, “sentences that point out the harmful health consequences of burning coal and other impacts of fossil fuels have gone.” At the State Department, references to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and a recent U.N. meeting on climate change have similarly been expunged.

However, it’s not just government pronouncements on issues like climate change that are being sanitized. Actual data is disappearing from government websites. The federal government collects vast amounts of data, much of it the results of studies it has funded. Some agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, are required by law to retain data they collect, but they are not required to post it. This means basic information and the results of scientific research, once available online, are now only available through a Freedom of Information Act request. Of course, you have to know that the information exists in the first place in order to request it.

One result of hiding such data is that scientists citing U.S. government webpages as sources in their own work are now finding that the references they’ve pointed to have disappeared. Arctic researcher Victoria Herrmann describes watching her citations dissolve into thin air:

“At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the Internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.”

Herrmann was able to find some of her missing articles using the Wayback Machine, an internet archiving project. But as Herrmann points out, “Each defunct page is an effort by the Trump administration to deliberately undermine our ability to make good policy decisions by limiting access to scientific evidence.”

It’s not just environmental information that’s been tossed down the memory hole.  Concerned about the health and safety of workers or animals? The Washington Post reports some things you won’t find anymore on federal sites:

“The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for instance, has dramatically scaled back on publicizing its fines against firms. And the Agriculture Department has taken offline animal-welfare enforcement records, including abuses in dog breeding operations and horse farms that alter the gait of horses through the controversial practice of ‘soring’ the animals’ legs.”

Sometimes information only hangs around for a brief moment, before sliding down the memory hole. That’s what happened to an advertisement for Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, which was masquerading as an entry on Share America, which the State Department calls its “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.” The page appeared on the website of the U.S. embassy in London.

Someone must have realized that using the State Department to advertise the President’s private club was not a great idea. Conflict of interest? No problem. It’s down the memory hole.

Nor is it just government websites that are being reworked in a distinctly Orwellian fashion. Recently, the Trump 2020 reelection campaign (yes, it already exists) quietly removed many 2016 campaign documents from its website. The Washington Post’s Avi Selk describes some of the missing press releases, among them the one that reproduced Trump’s full interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in which he so infamously insulted Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke out against him at the Democratic Party convention, and his wife, Ghazala.

Similarly, links to Trump’s “New Deal for Black America,” released a week before the 2016 election, now bring up a dreaded “404 – Page not found” message on the Trump-Pence website. Whatever that “deal” was, it’s evidently no longer on offer, nor is it even to remain in the historical record.

The same memory hole has also evidently devoured a December 2015 press release announcing that “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Fortunately, versions of that particular statement were repeated often enough in enough places that lawyers have been able to continue to use it to argue against the president’s executive orders banning the entry of people from seven (now six) majority-Muslim countries.

The Trump administration’s memory holes have swallowed up more than documents and data. People have also disappeared — if not from the world, at least from their government positions. We still remember former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey, but who remembers Ponisseril Somasundaran or Courtney Flint? They are among the scientists recently dismissed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Board of Scientific Counselors. Among their duties was to give advice on environmental regulation. They are to be replaced, according to agency spokesperson J.P. Freire, by people “who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community” — that is, representatives of polluting industries.

The United States of Amnesia

Gore Vidal coined the expression “the United States of Amnesia” in a 2004 book about George W. Bush’s America. The particular instance of amnesia Vidal highlighted with that phrase was the failure of those then waging the “war on drugs” to remember the disasters of the prohibition of alcohol sales in the 1930s, and the ensuing corruption, gangsters, and smuggling rings that came with it. 

His larger point, however, was that, in general, American historical memory is short. Thirteen years after Vidal’s book appeared, and with a new Republican administration ascendant, it seems that this country is in danger of sinking ever deeper into a state of amnesia. And can there be any question that, in a distinctly Orwellian fashion, the new administration is doing everything in its power to hasten that process? As the Trump administration prepares for a new “surge” on the perpetual battlefield that is Afghanistan, we’ve conveniently forgotten how little the last one achieved. We’ve forgotten how deregulation led to the Great Recession, as the federal Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded in 2011. “The greatest tragedy,” that panel wrote, “would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion, it will happen again.” Yet the Republicans in Congress can’t wait to repeal Dodd-Frank, the law that restored a semblance of regulation to the world of commercial banking.

The fifth-century African bishop St. Augustine was probably the first western thinker to pay attention to human memory. In his Confessions, Augustine observes that it is memory — the ability to bring into present awareness past experiences and the ability to recognize the difference between past, present, and future — that makes us self-aware beings. He described the “vast hall of my memory,” where “I meet myself and recall what I am, what I have done, and when and where and how I was affected when I did it.” It is on the basis of memory, he added, that “I reason about future actions and events and hopes, and again think of all these things in the present. ‘I shall do this and that,’ I say to myself within that vast recess of my mind which is full of many rich images, and this act or that follows.”

If Augustine was right and memory gives us our selves, allowing us to “reason about future actions and events and hopes,” then a political regime that seeks to destroy its people’s memory is an existential threat.

In that case, the first act of resistance is to remember who we are.

Rebecca Gordon, a TomDispatch regular, teaches in the philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes. Her previous books include Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States and Letters from Nicaragua.

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

Copyright 2017 Rebecca Gordon

Via Tomdispatch.com

Only Putin is happy with Trump’s NATO Bull-in-China-Shop Catastrophe

Fri, 26 May 2017 - 4:26am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

Back in 2016 the talking heads on tv kept expecting candidate Trump, who made headlines almost daily saying racist and offensive things, to “transition.” Their theory was that he was acting out for his base in the GOP primaries but then would dial it back in the general election.

Months into his presidency, and he’s the same Donald Trump, a bull in the china shop of global diplomacy.

The disaster for US relations (which is already hurting the US economy through a fall in tourism and investment from abroad) went from the personal to the substantive.

Then there was that awkward moment when he refused to affirm the US commitment under article 5 of NATO to come to the defense of members of the alliance. NATO invoked article 5 and sent tens of thousands of troops to Afghanistan for a decade after 9/11, but Trump isn’t about gratitude or appreciation of others.

The omission was significant because after Vladimir Putin’s unilateral annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and then interference in East Ukraine, European countries are depending on the US to see that the Russian Federation does not go any further.

I know that Crimea belonged to Russia until Khrushchev lightly transferred it inside the Soviet Union to Ukraine in the early 50s, and that there were legitimate Russian concerns about where Ukrainian politics were going and how they would have an impact on the 2 million Russian-heritage Ukrainians in the east. And I know that NATO made a huge error in being aggressive toward the supine Russian Federation and seeking to expand right up to its doorstep, contrary to what the US promised Premier Mikhael Gorbachev. But also in today’s world you can’t do things like annex and intervene unilaterally and by fiat, with no semblance of the rule of law. Crimea should have a referendum under UN auspices and the Minsk process should end in normalization and restoration of rule of law. And if you know the history of Poland, which Russia at some points arranged not to exist at all, you understand the fears, and the significance of Trump’s refusal to allay them.

Or the further awkward moment (does he have any other kind?) when lectured other NATO members about putting more money into the organization and complained about how much their HQ in Brussels must have cost. I think Europe can afford a building in Brussels.

There was that shove he gave the prime minister of Montenegro in his rush to get in front of the cameras, for all the world like a five year old in the kindergarten lunch line.

Minority Report with Same Seder: “Trump ACTUALLY SHOVES Montenegro Prime Minister At NATO”

Or there was the interview he gave in the German press where he displayed that he wasn’t paying attention at the Wharton School when he took macro-economics 101.

The Germans are very, very bad,” he was reported to have said by Der Spiegel. “Look at the millions of cars they sell in the US. Terrible. We will stop this.”

Uh, it isn’t actually bad for the world economy for Germany to sell cars to Americans. Americans got to be the world’s biggest economy by selling cars to other people. More trade is good. American consumers get German engineering.

Consider this little item from WaPo, which says that GM now sells more cars in China than in the US: “The company sold a record 3.9 million cars in China last year, with its Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac brands proving especially popular.” Protectionism of Trump’s sort could potentially cause the countries of the world to slap punitive tariffs on US goods, driving the world, and the US, into a Great Depression that would make 2008 look like a spring picnic.

GM had been on the verge of breaking even in its European operations last year, WaPo says, when Brexit happened and introduced such uncertainties into the market that the GM executives just decided to sell Opel etc. and turn to Asia.

Trump very publicly supported Brexit, which means he encouraged developments that harmed US manufacturing.

That is, insular white nationalism of the sort that drove the British exit from the European Union has already hurt the bottom line of American manufacturers.

As for the US auto market, it is saturated and GM can’t hope for growth there.

You know what is going to be a growth sector for the automobile industry? Electric cars, to which the Paris Accords are going to give a huuje boost.

Trump is encouraging through deregulation dirty petroleum cars that put out toxic carbon dioxide, which endangers people’s lives. In the meantime, Asian powers like China and India rush to dominate the auto market of the future, electric. It is the Chevy Bolt that gives hope for GM’s future, not protectionist tariffs.

Who has oil to sell, to fuel the dirty cars? Russia and Saudi Arabia, Trump’s (and Rex Tillerson’s) authoritarian buddies.

If a Kremlin covert ops team had actually found a way to program a US president’s visit to NATO and the G7, they couldn’t have done a better job of disruption than Trump did just by being Trump.

Thousands protest against Trump in ‘hellhole’ Brussels

Thu, 25 May 2017 - 6:27am

EurActiv.com | – –

Thousands of protesters carrying effigies of Donald Trump marched through Brussels on Wednesday (24 May) after the US president arrived for talks with the EU and NATO.

“Trump not welcome,” said banners waved by the crowd, which police said numbered around 9,000. Organisers put the size of the demonstration at 12,000. “He called Brussels a hellhole and yet he comes here like a conqueror,” left-wing protester Yannick Blaise told AFP.

Trump sparked fury by deriding the Belgian capital as a “hellhole” ruined by Muslim immigration in January 2016 — two months before suicide bombers killed 32 people in the city.

Huge turnout at #TrumpNotWelcome, and it's only just beginning. Welcome to the "hellhole"… pic.twitter.com/RHamiXS3sz

— Friends of the Earth (@foeeurope) May 24, 2017

The rally filled the central Bourse square of the city just hours after Trump touched down in Air Force One for high-stakes talks with allies.

Trump met Belgium’s King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, then held talks with Prime Minister Charles Michel, telling him that fighting terrorism was a priority.

Security was tight throughout the city but the protest passed off peacefully. Some wore t-shirts saying “Make Humanity Great Again” and “Donald Back to USSR” — referring to a probe into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Many carried blond-haired effigies of the US president, and there were also some of Michel.

Trump once called Brussels a "hellhole". Now Trump is coming to Brussels. We're ready.#TrumpNotWelcome #TrumpBXL pic.twitter.com/r5MpaNPlo2

— Moana Genevey (@moanagenevey) May 24, 2017

Via EurActiv.com with AFP

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: “Thousands protest against Trump in Brussels ahead of talks”

Iran: Does the Rouhani Win Matter for Human Rights?

Thu, 25 May 2017 - 6:11am

By Tara Sepehri Far. | ( Human Rights Watch ) | – –

In Second Term, Should Move on Rights Reforms

When the 2017 election season kicked off April 21, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani did not go into the race possessing an enviable track record of defending human rights. While he achieved his 2013 election campaign promise of easing international sanctions after securing a nuclear agreement with China, the European Union, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, progress delivering on Iranians’ aspirations for greater rights has been few and far between.

During his first term, security forces continued to harass, interrogate, and detain hundreds of activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and members of ethnic and religious minorities. The 2009 presidential candidates Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, and the academic and artist Zahra Rahnavard, Mousavi’s wife, remain under house arrest. The judiciary repeatedly handed down long prison sentences and issued execution orders at an alarming rate, often as Rouhani’s administration stood silently by.

Perhaps sensing he would be held accountable for these failures, Rouhani ramped up campaign promises on rights reforms as well as harsh criticisms of human rights abuses linked to his main rival in the election, Ebrahim Raeesi. Raeesi, a former judge, served on a four-person panel widely believed to have ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners during the summer of 1988. Rouhani described Raeesi’s political vision as one “which had known only executions and imprisonment for the past 38 years.”

Rouhani also spoke boldly on the campaign trail in defense of gender equality, minority rights, and citizens’ rights to unfiltered access to information. He even criticized the conduct of the powerful judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s interference in the political process. By the end of the campaign Rouhani said in voting for him, Iranians would be choosing “a lawyer [who] defends people’s rights.”

Whether for tactical political purposes or genuine belief, Rouhani has rhetorically transformed himself. Now that he has won reelection largely on these campaign promises, his credibility as president is indelibly tied to his ability to deliver real rights reforms. And while he will confront the strength of unaccountable, rights-abusing institutions like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the judiciary, Rouhani is far from powerless. He enters his second term with a popular mandate, a moderate-reformist majority parliament, and a nuclear deal that has survived US and Iranian presidential elections (so far). In summary, Rouhani has constraints but also agency – he should act like it to promote what the Iranian people want most: a genuine commitment to protecting their rights.

Via Human Rights Watch

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS Evening News: “Iran reacts to Trump’s rhetoric on Middle East trip”

What Iranian women want: rights, jobs and a seat at the table

Thu, 25 May 2017 - 5:55am

By Azadeh Davachi | (The Conversation) | – –

Issues affecting women were conspicuously absent from Iran’s 2017 presidential election. That’s unless one finds useful the leading conservative candidate Hojjat al-Islam Ebrahim Raisi’s comment that his government would enhance women’s dignity within the family, because women should be “good mothers and wives”.

The absence was a departure from the June 2009 presidential campaign, when two reformist candidates backed women’s rights.

Now that President Hassan Rouhani has been reelected by a wide margin for another four-year term, it is crucial to ponder what his victory means for Iranian women. Rouhani has widespread support among Iran’s urban population, the middle class, young people and women.

Iranian activists did try to raise the issue during the electoral season. On May 6, several weeks before the election, some 180 women, including journalists, intellectuals and veteran activists, such as Noushin Ahmadi Khorasani, Minoo Mortazi, Fatemeh Sadeghi, Fatemeh Govarayee, issued a statement outlining their demands for the next president of Iran.

Among them were greater inclusion of women in the country’s economic activity, repeal of discriminatory laws, increased female sports and a quota reserving at least 30% of ministerial positions for women.

The statement was hardly noticed, in part because the months prior to the election saw a crackdown on activism, with increasing detentions, arrests, trials and long prison terms.

No space for women

All six candidates made promises about creating jobs and reducing poverty during their campaigns, but the social, economic and political status of women was barely discussed.

According to a May 11 analysis by the International Civil Society Action Network of the first televised electoral debate, there was just one question about women, with a two-minute response time allotted. And that question centred on the role of women in the family.

In another debate, Sardar Ghalibaf, Tehran’s mayor and former candidate, who is Raisi’s ally, discussed single mothers and the challenges of raising children with disabilities. But he focused on supporting the children without highlighting that their mothers require financial help to do so.

Reacting in an interview with the daily newspaper Shahrvand, Parvaneh Salahshouri, a female parliamentarian from Tehran, asked, “How is it that social issues are addressed but the demands of half of society are not taken into consideration?”

Salahshouri criticised the state broadcasting agency, but her remarks also pointed at the candidates, suggesting that by limiting their discussion of gender issues to the family, the men displayed a contempt for the real problems faced by women.

Discrimination against women

Discrimination against women remains prevalent in Iran. Iranian women do not have custody of their children, compulsory veiling is still enforced and domestic violence is insufficiently condemned by law. With inheritances, a man is entitled to twice as much a woman.

Iranian women are highly educated. In 2013, they represented over 60% of the country’s university applicants. But they lack access to jobs.

Though official unemployment figures hover around 12% , the number could as high as 20% for women.

Female workers are also paid less than male peers, especially in factories, and many women must work two jobs to make ends meet.

A rising number of women from fragile socioeconomic backgrounds have turned to sex work to earn higher wages, both online and on the streets.

Activities that seem mundane in many other parts of the world, such as partaking in sports, are still a challenge in Iran. Women are not allowed into stadiums with men, even though Iranian female athletes have achieved significant success in international sports competitions.

Small, steady successes

There are some bright spots. Iranian businesswomen have thrived in recent years, excelling in diverse sectors, from knowledge-based corporate services and recycling to animal husbandry.

On the political front, too, women are emerging victorious. In the May 2016 parliamentary election, 17 women were elected to join the 290-member body), an historic record for the Islamic Republic.

This year’s city council elections, which took place on the same day as the presidential election, saw heavy participation by women as voters and on the ballot, with an increase in female candidates of nearly 6% over the previous year.

Women competed even in small cities, and images of female candidates circulated widely on Iranian social media. City councils are important in Iran’s city planning and urban life, and many activists encouraged women to participate.

The high female turnout, and the volume of qualified women in city councils, could give women more latitude to actually change their everyday lives. But they will need support from higher authorities to do so.

Rouhani’s failed efforts

Is Rouhani their guy? The president is considered a religious moderate, and in 2013 he claimed that he would open up social and political spheres to women. In 2014, he went so far as to criticise gender discrimination and encourage equality.

Such statements clash with those of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who believes that women should be primarily dedicated to household activities and that Iran must not adopt Western views on gender.

In his first term, Rouhani appointed women to ministerial and cabinet positions. The vice president for women and family affairs, Shahindokht Molaverdi, has used this space to contribute to the national gender debate by condemning hardliners who threatened female spectators at a men’s volleyball match.

Speaking at a national conference and women and development on February 7, President Rouhani said, “We should believe in women’s presence and capabilities and know that our country’s women can have roles in science, knowledge, economy, politics, and arts just like men.”

But many Iranian women feel Rouhani has failed them. Segregation in public spaces, gender discrimination, and morality police all persist, and the president remained silent when female activists were arrested during the election campaign.

Admittedly, Rouhani has limited room to manoeuvre. Powerful hardliners control key Iranian political structures, among them the Guardian Council, which has the final say on interpretation of Islamic values and laws, including veto power. A conservative majority in the parliament also prevents strong reforms from passing.

The question now is whether Rouhani will use his second term to find new opportunities and live up to Iranian women’s hopes.

Azadeh Davachi, Researcher, Deakin University

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

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Human Rights Watch: “Iran: Women Face Bias in the Workplace”

US Reputation under Trump Tanking, Costing Economy Billions

Thu, 25 May 2017 - 5:48am

By Daniel Korschun, Boryana V Dimitrova, and Yoto V. Yotov | (The Conversation) | – –

U.S. News and World Report recently published its annual “Best Countries” ranking, based on how thousands of people around the world perceive other nations. Switzerland topped the 80-country ranking, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom.

One big surprise was that the United States fell three spots, from fourth to seventh. The U.S. received poor marks for business friendliness, respect for human rights and democracy, and educational quality. These results align with another ranking from Forbes showing the U.S. in decline.

Reputational rankings and similar “best of” lists surely make for interesting dinner conversation, but they do beg an important question: Does a country’s reputation really matter?

The three of us, an economist and two marketers, decided to examine how a change in a country’s reputation might affect its trade relationships. The results were astounding.

How a country earns its rep

A country’s reputation is, in essence, the perceptions that people elsewhere hold about its standing in the world.

There is no uniformly correct way to measure reputation. The U.S. News survey asks respondents to rate countries on categories from “adventure” and “power” to “quality of life” and “citizenship,” while Forbes focuses on business. And a country’s reputation can vary in different parts of the world.

People form those opinions based on the totality of their experiences involving the country, from the products they’ve bought to the people they’ve met while traveling to the images they’ve seen in movies.

Another major factor in a country’s reputation is politics and diplomacy. And in that department, the election of Donald Trump may be contributing to the problem.

Pew surveyed citizens of 10 European Union countries last year and found that 85 percent of respondents had no confidence that Trump would do the “right thing” in world affairs. And since the election, 75 percent of those surveyed around the world for the Best Countries ranking – which came out in April – said they had lost some degree of respect for the U.S.

As a result, experts predict the U.S. will receive 4.3 million fewer visitors in this year than in 2016, in part because changes to immigration policy are making tourists feel unwelcome.

Of additional concern is that relations between the U.S. and some key trading partners have taken a turn for the worse. For example, the U.S. exports more to Mexico than any other country but Canada. Yet the president’s insistence on a proposed border wall has probably harmed the United States’ reputation among Mexican citizens and businesspeople.

Opening a window

Our recently published research (sponsored in part by the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation) provides a window into how intangible perceptions such as reputation can produce very tangible consequences.

Our measure of country reputation was the Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index, which is based on a global survey of more than 20,000 respondents across 20 countries. We used the results from 2008, the last year for which data are publicly available. Respondents in those countries rated the country reputation of the other 19 countries as well as 30 additional countries around the globe, creating a matrix of country-pairs (Canada’s reputation among Germans, Germany’s reputation among Brazilians, etc.).

To measure various dimensions of country reputation, the surveys included ratings both for the quality of a country’s products and the trustworthiness of its people.

To capture export volume, we pulled data from the United Nations Statistical Division Commodity Trade Statistics Database for each country-pair. We wanted to make sure we were seeing only the potential impact of country reputation on exports (and not the other way around) so we downloaded trade data for 2010, two years after the reputation data were collected.

Combining the export figures with the reputation data resulted in a unique dataset of 861 country-pairs (e.g., Italy’s reputation among the French and Italian exports to France two years later).

We then applied what has been described as “one of the most successful empirical models in economics” (economists call it the structural gravity model of international trade) to test whether this relationship panned out on a global scale. Essentially, the model enables us to test the effect of reputation on exports for each specific trade relationship.

To exclude alternative explanations, we also accounted for a host of other factors that are known to influence trade between countries, such as the size of each market, geographic distance and having a common official language.

How reputation affects trade

We were amazed at what we found.

Each ranking drop in a country’s reputation is associated with a decrease in export volume of 2 percent. As an illustrative example, if the U.S. were to drop one reputational rung among Canadians, we would expect – all other things equal – a corresponding 2 percent decrease in exports to Canada. If we apply the results to 2016 exports, that would mean a potential loss of more than US$5 billion.

From another perspective, the effect is roughly equivalent to an importing country raising tariffs by 3 percent. For a large exporter like the United States (about $1.5 trillion in exported goods per year), a uniform drop in reputation could put tens of billions in manufacturing exports in jeopardy.

Of course, the relationship works both ways. If reputation improves, our model predicts the same corresponding increase in export volume.

Ignore at your peril

The Trump administration has made stimulating exports a priority and argues that “international trade can be used to grow our economy, return millions of jobs to America’s shores and revitalize our nation’s suffering communities.”

Yet, in his efforts to do this, he appears to be ignoring a meaningful ingredient: reputation.

Our research makes one thing clear: Countries ignore their international reputations at their peril. If Trump is serious about increasing exports, a good place to start would be improving America’s – and his – standing in the world.

Daniel Korschun, Associate Professor of Marketing, Drexel University; Boryana V Dimitrova, Clinical Professor of Marketing, Drexel University, and Yoto V. Yotov, Associate Professor of Economics, Drexel University

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

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Ring of Fire: “Tourists Avoiding USA Because Of Donald Trump, Costing Us Billions
The Ring of Fire”

Pope to Trump: Climate Change is Real and we have to act in Solidarity

Wed, 24 May 2017 - 11:24pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Pope Francis gave Donald J. Trump a going away present after their meeting on Wednesday. It was a copy of his Encyclical on the challenge of climate change, Laudato Si’, mi Signor,”Praised may you be, my Lord.”

This document begins with a paean to Saint Francis, which celebrates the natural world as a revelation of God rather than as a set of resources to loot and exploit and deplete.

Pope Francis wrote,

“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”

The key words here are ‘family,’ ‘sustainable’ and ‘development.” Francis is making it clear that humanity is all one family and that he is not advocating any sort of Luddism or ecological escapism. He wants development– scientific advance and economic improvement. But he wants it to be accomplished in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability means that resources aren’t permanently depleted– resources like water and fuel.

“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.”

Francis considers the challenge of acting to prevent debilitating climate change. He warns that we cannot sit back and just hope for a technological fix. New technologies are key, of course. But he points to powerful opposition and also to public apathy. The opposition can interfere with technology, as with those states, like Florida, that levy punitive taxes or fees on solar panels in an attempt to keep people hooked on fossil fuels.

The answer to both obstructionism (stemming from greed) and apathy is solidarity, is standing together across the social categories.

When he gave Trump this work, Pope Francis was aware that Trump is a major climate obstructionist. He is nevertheless appealing for human solidarity in the face of a dire threat. Believers don’t give up on people.

“Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

Millions of people, the Pope says, are killed every year by air pollution. The seas are in danger of a mass die-off of marine life because of acidification. An ecology is a dense network of inter-relationships, he underlines. Trying to address one problem (e.g. transportation emissions) may only create others if a broad, holistic approach is not taken. Electric cars, e.g., are only able substantially to reduce emissions if the power plants that provide their electricity are not run on coal.

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

Pope Francis notes the near unanimity of scientists on the danger of human-made climate change. Extreme weather and sea level rise are among the dangers. We have to stop emitting so much carbon dioxide, and that will require changes in our styles of life.

But above all it will require a conscience and dedication and solidarity.

Trump is a little unlikely to get it. But the point of publicly bestowing on him this gift is that the Pope hopes the rest of us will.

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

ROME REPORTS in English: “President Donald Trump begins crucial meeting with Pope Francis,”

Boycott Trump! Hit him where it Hurts

Wed, 24 May 2017 - 5:15am

By Mattea Kramer | ( Tomdispatch.com ) | – –

In normal times, Dee from New York would have ordered her copy of The Handmaid’s Tale from Amazon, but these are not normal times. Amazon is on the Grab Your Wallet list, a campaign to boycott retailers that sell Trump family products, which began as a response to the video revealing our now-president’s penchant for grabbing women “by the pussy.” Dee bought her book from a smaller retailer instead.

Since Donald Trump’s election in November, and especially since his January inauguration, hundreds of small and not-so-small organizations have sprung up to oppose the president.  They joined the ranks of established left-leaning and liberal groups already revving up their engines to fight the administration. Among all the ways you can now voice your dissent, though, there’s one tactic that this president will surely understand: economic resistance aimed at his own businesses and those of his children. He may not be swayed by protesters filling the streets, but he does speak the language of money. Through a host of tactics — including boycotting stores that carry Trump products, punishing corporations and advertisers that underwrite the administration’s agenda, and disrupting business-as-usual at Trump companies — protesters are using the power of the purse to demonstrate their opposition and have planned a day of resistance against his brand on June 14th.

Such economic dissent may prove to be an especially apt path of resistance, especially for the millions of Americans who reside in blue states and have struggled with a sense of powerlessness following the election. After all, it’s not immediately obvious how to take effective political action in the usual American way when your legislators already agree with you. But what blue-state dwellers lack in political sway they make up for in economic clout, since blue states have, on average, greater household incomes and more purchasing power than their red-state compatriots. The impact of coordinated blue-state boycotts could be enormous. That’s why Grab Your Wallet, along with Color of Change, a racial-justice group, and numerous other organizations are encouraging individuals to see their purchasing power as political muscle.

“It was close at the polls, but it’s not close at the cash register,” Shannon Coulter, a founder of Grab Your Wallet, told me recently.

And yet, even as throngs of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals throw their energy into economic tactics intended to weaken the president, it’s still an open question whether this type of resistance — or, more specifically, its current implementation — can precipitate anything in the way of meaningful change.

“A Sprawling Landscape of Resistance”

At first glance, Grab Your Wallet is a modest website: a Google spreadsheet that lists about 50 companies to boycott.  Included are the department stores Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Lord & Taylor, as well as online retailers like Overstock.com, Zappos, and Amazon, all of which sell some type of Trump swag. (The precise number of companies listed continues to decline, as retailers dump the Trump brand.) The site gets an impressive two million unique visitors every month, and when I spoke with Coulter, she told me that 22 retailers had dropped Trump products since the start of the boycott. She believes that this is just the beginning.

“I don’t think we’ll see the full impact of the boycott until summer, because of how the retail cycle works,” she explained. The department store Nordstrom, for instance, the biggest company to date to drop the Ivanka Trump brand, sold through its existing inventory before indicating that it would not reorder. That announcement even attracted attention from the president, who tweeted: “My daughter Ivanka has been treated so unfairly by @Nordstrom. She is a great person — always pushing me to do the right thing! Terrible!”

Color of Change has long deployed strategies of economic resistance, specifically by going after advertisers who underwrite hate. Now that Trump is in the White House, Rashad Robinson, the group’s executive director, told me that they’re focusing on the role of corporate enablers “who’ve made this administration possible.” He described a strategy in which his organization carefully selects a corporate target and then rallies its million-plus members to participate in a campaign designed to tarnish the company’s brand — unless its executives make more ethical advertising choices. Color of Change played a role in the recent ouster of Bill O’Reilly from Fox News by helping to influence some of the more than 50 major advertisers who pulled their financial support from his top-rated program. After advertisers fled, Fox gave O’Reilly the boot.

Progressive groups are proving increasingly savvy when it comes to designing such consumer-driven tactics. The Center for Popular Democracy and the immigrant-rights group Make the Road New York recently co-launched a campaign called Corporate Backers of Hate, which targets Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, The Walt Disney Company, and a handful of other corporations that have provided various forms of support for Trump and his agenda. Wells Fargo, for instance, has lent millions of dollars to the president’s companies, is an investor in immigrant detention centers run by private, for-profit contractors, and has loaned money to developers for the Dakota Access Pipeline, the 1,172-mile oil pipe that would cross Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lands in North Dakota. (Trump signed a memo authorizing that pipeline within days of taking office.) The Corporate Backers of Hate website allows protesters to bypass customer service staff at these corporations and send messages directly to top executives and board members to express their disapproval.

This strategy of going after the funding underlying Trump’s network has won some early victories. Several groups have been trying to cut off the flow of advertising dollars to Breitbart, the xenophobic pseudo-news site formerly run by White House strategist Steve Bannon. Leading the charge in this work is a Twitter-based group, Sleeping Giants, with a relatively simple proposition: it asks followers to take screenshots of ads on Breitbart — preferably next to an offensive headline — and then tweet that screenshot to the company in the ad along with a polite message asking it to stop underwriting hate. This approach has been wildly successful; according to Sleeping Giants, thousands of advertisers have pulled out of Breitbart.

Nicholas Reville is a seasoned online organizer who has become a leading figure in the campaign to, as he says, make “hate unprofitable.” He believes that the Sleeping Giants model of digital resistance represents a new and important type of political action. “It’s very, very rare that you have an activism campaign where people are doing something other than signing a petition, showing up to a rally, [or] donating money,” he told me. Instead, he pointed out, an individual can now take a discrete action on his or her personal device and actually help win a victory when an advertiser pulls out of Breitbart.

Some activists are going beyond screenshots and tweets. Journalist Naomi Klein recently released a video highlighting the fact that Trump’s brand is one of his most important sources of revenue and suggesting that “jamming” the brand — by turning it from a money-maker into a money-loser — would be a powerful form of resistance. She mentions tactics like clogging phone lines at Trump companies or making, and then canceling, reservations at his hotels.

One activist who has been working on jamming those Trump phone lines, and who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said that resisters like her had discovered that it was surprisingly easy to disrupt the president’s businesses. “The phone lines do not have the capacity to handle even medium-volume call traffic,” she said, and assured me that there was more phone jamming planned for the future. When I asked what she hoped to achieve through this tactic, she responded that the goal was to weaken President Trump financially, politically, and in every way imaginable.

“These strategies are complements to other kinds of organizing,” she went on. “None of these tactics alone are going to bring down the Trump administration… that’s not how it works. This is part of a sprawling landscape of resistance.”

Easy to Resist, Hard to Win

The multitude of groups, campaigns, and individuals going after Donald Trump, Trump businesses, and companies supporting him or his political agenda do indeed form a sprawling, often chaotic landscape of resistance. I receive a dozen different, mostly uncoordinated action-alert messages in my inbox daily. In the weeks immediately following the inauguration, I found all that frenetic energy strangely appealing. After a couple of months of diffuse efforts, however, I began to wonder whether such efforts would be better spent on fewer, more coordinated campaigns. While Trump oppositionists undoubtedly feel a thrill of satisfaction when Nordstrom drops Ivanka’s product line and legions of advertisers pull out of Breitbart, it’s unclear whether these are steps on the path to a revised political landscape, or whether they are just feel-good wins leading nowhere in particular.

This dilemma is perhaps best exemplified by the Boycott Trump app, which has been downloaded 350,000 times. The concept behind it is similar to the one that animates Grab Your Wallet. The app is essentially a list of companies to boycott, though it includes more than 250 of them, rather than the dozens on Grab Your Wallet, many because they sponsored Trump’s NBC show The Apprentice back in 2011. I asked Nathan Lerner, who heads an organization called the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, which is responsible for the app, what qualifies a company to be listed, and he said that any company connected to the president was worth listing. I then asked if his group was collaborating with other boycott efforts.

“We’ve been a little frustrated with partnering,” Lerner told me. “Right now we’re seeing a ton of enthusiasm around boycotting Trump, but it’s fragmented. Folks are popping up doing great work, but they’re doing it on their own.” That seemed like a remarkably on-target summary of the situation, and Lerner’s group seemed to be an example of those working “on their own.”

In search of answers, I called up Marshall Ganz, who would surely be in the hall of fame of community organizing if there were one. He worked with Cesar Chavez in the 1960s to organize California farmworkers and was an architect of Barack Obama’s organizing strategy for his presidential run in 2007. A professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School (and, full disclosure, once my professor), Ganz defines “strategy” as “how we turn what we have into what we need to get what we want.” That applies nicely to the Trump boycott concept, in which activists are trying to turn their discrete consumer power into collective influence great enough to change where our country is headed.

When I mentioned to Ganz that so many different boycotts and related campaigns are happening without much coordination, he described the problem this way: “The mechanisms for starting my thing, my thing, my thing, they’re so easy in virtual space.” Bringing those initiatives together is the problem. As he pointed out, back in 2007 the San Francisco Bay Area alone had about 54 different pro-Obama groups registered online; the hard part was getting them to work together in a way that channeled their energy toward a shared goal. When it comes to fighting Donald Trump, Ganz suggested that it would be far more strategic for the many different boycott and pressure groups to pool their efforts. Were this to happen, he suggested, the anti-Trump movement could become more proactive, rather than reactive.

Not all experts agree with his assessment. L.A. Kaufman is the author of the recent book, Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. “I think that the decentralized character of the resistance gives it resilience,” she told me in a phone interview. In her view, the fact that all this activity is totally grassroots and happening outside the Democratic Party is a sign of political renewal in this country. She has a point. Yet it’s hard to see how economic resistance, surely a suitable weapon against a businessman-in-chief, can be effective without a critical mass coalescing around an agreed-upon set of actions and goals.

I asked Shannon Coulter whether she’s coordinating with other campaigns, and she pointed out that Grab Your Wallet is now aligned with the organizers of the Women’s March, the vast post-inauguration protest that swept the country. Those same organizers were also the driving force behind the formation of roughly 5,500 groups of local activists who convened after the march to consider the next steps for the emerging anti-Trump movement. This alliance seemed like a promising sign.

Recalling what Ganz had said about uniting groups that supported Obama in 2007, I asked Coulter whether she would ever consider merging Grab Your Wallet into a larger organization. To this, she responded in the negative. “I say that,” she explained, “because Grab Your Wallet is one of the only women-led ones in the movement.”

Coulter isn’t the only one to offer such reasoning. Since the anti-Trump movement is a heterogeneous collection of groups representing women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, and lots of straight white people, there’s concern that combining efforts could result in a resistance dominated by white men who might compromise the priorities of specific groups and their constituents. In order to be effective, says Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, campaigns must carry the “moral authority of an impacted constituency.” He described situations in which white-led groups had tried to mimic campaigns led by Color of Change — without realizing that they lacked the moral authority to do so effectively.

In 2014, Zeynep Tufekci, a professor at the University of North Carolina who studies social movements, gave a TED talk titled “Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win,” in which she described the March on Washington in 1963. That historic event, where Martin Luther King delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech, drew 250,000 people. Tufekci underscored the significance of attracting such a crowd in 1963, when organizers used landline phones, flyers, and word of mouth, in a landscape lacking today’s easy digital tools. Fifty years ago it was nothing short of awe-inspiring to draw a quarter million people to the National Mall. “If you’re in power,” said Tufekci, “you realize that you have to take the capacity signaled by that march, not just the march, but the capacity signaled by that march, seriously.”

The anti-Trump movement has yet to accomplish anything so awe-inspiring. Nearly half a million people gathered in Washington for the Women’s March — a number that climbed to more than a million when all the protests around the country were added in — but it’s not at all clear that such numbers carry the same weight today as smaller crowds did in previous eras. Though protesters filled the streets in Washington one day after the inauguration, anti-Trump activity remains fragmented several months into his term.

And when it comes to waging economic resistance against this billionaire president, the pressing question is whether innumerable people across the country, like Dee from New York, who are changing their spending habits, tweeting at advertisers, contacting chief executives, and jamming phones at Trump businesses, will do so in a way that converts their discrete actions into real influence and power.

It’s still too early to tell.

Mattea Kramer, a TomDispatch regular, writes cultural commentary. Follow her on Twitter.

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

Copyright 2017 Mattea Kramer

Via Tomdispatch.com

What is the Sunni-Shiite Divide into Which Trump just Stepped?

Wed, 24 May 2017 - 5:05am

Ken Chitwood | (The Conversation) | – –

In his address in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, May 21, while calling on Muslim leaders to lead the fight against terrorism, President Donald Trump identified Iran as a despotic state giving safe harbor and financing terror in the Middle East. As Iran is a Shia state and Saudi Arabia a Sunni-led country, some media outlets criticized Trump for taking sides in the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide.


The Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, when both Shia and Sunni Muslims come together to pray.
Al Jazeera English, CC BY-SA

As a scholar of Islam and a public educator, I often field questions about Sunnis, Shias and the sects of Islam. What exactly is the Shia-Sunni divide? And what is its history?

History of divide

Both Sunnis and Shias – drawing their faith and practice from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad – agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam. The differences are related more to historical events, ideological heritage and issues of leadership.

The first and central difference emerged after the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. The issue was who would be the caliph – the “deputy of God” – in the absence of the prophet. While the majority sided with Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s closest companions, a minority opted for his son-in-law and cousin – Ali. This group held that Ali was appointed by the prophet to be the political and spiritual leader of the fledgling Muslim community.

Subsequently, those Muslims who put their faith in Abu Bakr came to be called Sunni (“those who follow the Sunna,” the sayings, deeds and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) and those who trusted in Ali came to be known as Shia (a contraction of “Shiat Ali,” meaning “partisans of Ali”).

Abu Bakr became the first caliph and Ali became the fourth caliph. However, Ali’s leadership was challenged by Aisha, the prophet’s wife and daughter of Abu Bakr. Aisha and Ali went to battle against each other near Basra, Iraq in the Battle of the Camel in A.D. 656. Aisha was defeated, but the roots of division were deepened. Subsequently, Mu’awiya, the Muslim governor of Damascus, also went to battle against Ali, further exacerbating the divisions in the community.

In the years that followed, Mu’awiya assumed the caliphate and founded the Ummayad Dynasty (A.D 670-750). Ali’s youngest son, Hussein – born of Fatima, the prophet’s daughter – led a group of partisans in Kufa, Iraq against Mu’awiya’s son Yazid. For the Shias, this battle, known as the Battle of Karbala, holds enormous historical and religious significance.

Hussein was killed and his forces defeated. For the Shia community, Hussein became a martyr. The day of the battle is commemorated every year on the Day of Ashura. Held on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar, scores of pilgrims visit Hussein’s shrine in Karbala and many Shia communities participate in symbolic acts of flagellation and suffering.

Leadership disagreements

Over time, Islam continued to expand and develop into evermore complex and overlapping societies that spanned from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa to Asia. This development demanded more codified forms of religious and political leadership.

Sunnis and Shias adopted different approaches to these issues.

Sunni Muslims trusted the secular leadership of the caliphs during the Ummayad (based in Damascus from A.D. 660-750) and Abbasid (based in Iraq from 750-1258 and in Cairo from 1261-1517) periods. Their theological foundations came from the four religious schools of Islamic jurisprudence that emerged over the seventh and eighth centuries.

To this day, these schools help Sunni Muslims decide on issues such as worship, criminal law, gender and family, banking and finance, and even bioethical and environmental concerns. Today, Sunnis comprise about 80-90 percent of the global Muslim population.

On the other hand, Shias relied on Imams as their spiritual leaders, whom they believed to be divinely appointed leaders from among the prophet’s family. Shia Muslims continue to maintain that the prophet’s family are the sole genuine leaders. In the absence of the leadership of direct descendants, Shias appoint representatives to rule in their place (often called ayatollahs). Shias are a minority of the global Muslim population, although they have strong communities in Iraq, Pakistan, Albania, Yemen, Lebanon and Iran. There are also different sects within Shia Islam.

Other differences

Other disputes that continue to exacerbate the divide include issues of theology, practice and geopolitics.

For example, when it comes to theology Sunnis and Shias draw from different “Hadith” traditions. Hadith are the reports of the words and deeds of the prophet and considered an authoritative source of revelation, second only to the Quran. They provide a biographical sketch of the prophet, context to Quranic verses, and are used by Muslims in the application of Islamic law to daily life. Shias favor those that come from the prophet’s family and closest associates, while Sunnis cast a broader net for Hadith that includes a wide array of the prophet’s companions.

Shias and Sunnis differ over prayer as well. All Sunni Muslims believe they are required to pray five times a day, but Shias can condense those into three.

During the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca, held annually and obligatory for all Muslims once in a lifetime – it may seem that these differences are masked, as both Sunnis and Shias gather in the holy city for rituals that reenact the holiest narratives of their faith. And yet, with Saudi authorities overseeing the Hajj, there have been tensions with Shia governments such as Iran over claims of discrimination.

And when it comes to leadership, the Shia have a more hierarchical structure of political and religious authority invested in formally trained clergy whose religious authority is transnational. There is no such structure in Sunni Islam.

The greatest splits today, however, come down to politics. Although the majority of Sunni and Shia are able to live peacefully together, the current global political landscape has brought polarization and sectarianism to new levels. Shia-Sunni conflicts are raging in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan and the divide is growing deeper across the Muslim world.

This historical schism continues to permeate the daily lives of Muslims around the world.

Ken Chitwood, Ph.D. Student, Religion in the Americas, Global Islam, University of Florida

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

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS Evening News: “Iran reacts to Trump’s rhetoric on Middle East trip”

Fascist, Go Home! After Bombing, Manchester Residents Shut Down Anti-Muslim Demo

Wed, 24 May 2017 - 4:46am

TeleSur | – –

“The people of Manchester don’t stand with your xenophobia and racism,” one man shouted at the English Defence League racists.

In the aftermath of Monday’s tragic bombing, the people of Manchester showed little patience with the racist opportunists of the extreme right English Defence League, quickly confronting EDL attempts at provoking a xenophobic and anti-Muslim backlash.

The immigrant-scapegoating EDL picketed outside of the Arndale Mall Tuesday, spewing Islamophobic slurs and hoisting the Union Jack. The demonstration followed shortly after the panicked evacuation of the shopping center.

However, the far-right horde was quickly outnumbered by counter-protesters. One man, filmed by Reuters, strongly denounced the EDL fascists while onlookers clapped and nodded.

“The people of Manchester don’t stand with your xenophobia and racism,” he said, adding, “The people of Manchester are going to stick together, no matter what religion you follow, no matter what the color of your skin is.

“We’re not going to stand with people like you,” he shouted at the right-wingers.

“We’re going to stick together because together we are stronger and the people of Manchester are not going to be afraid of who is responsible for this violence,” he continued.

The explosion at the Ariana Grande concert claimed 22 lives and led to over 59 injuries and is being treated as a terrorist attack by the Greater Manchester Police. Responsibility for the suicide bombing has been blamed on Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian whose parents are Libyan immigrants with longtime ties to the opposition against the late Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

The United Kingdom under Prime Minister David Cameron took the lead — along with the United States — in the overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011, which also included France and some Gulf State monarchies. An alleged “humanitarian intervention” of limited scope, the campaign rapidly became a “regime change” effort that led to the dramatic downfall of Gaddafi and Libya’s plunge into all-out civil war, anti-Black African ethnic cleansing, and the transformation of the North African country into a base for various transnational extremist factions such as al-Qaida, the Islamic State group and the Libyan Islamic Fighting group.

The attack was met by denunciations from a vast cross-section of people in the U.K., including Muslim leaders from the Ramadhan Foundation and Muslim Council of Britain. Muslim taxi drivers immediately offered victims and concert-goers free rides home following the explosion, providing them with water and letting them charge their phones to contact family and friends.
Hopkins, a leading columnist for the Mail Online, was reported to police following her genocidal tweet. She soon deleted the tweet.

Right-wing extremists were quick to voice their own hatred toward Muslims, with one leading columnist for the Mail Online saying “we need a final solution,” referring to the Nazi plan for the ethnic cleansing of Europe, also known as the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” Likewise, the EDL used the attacks as a rallying-cry to join their racist organization and “stand up to Islamism.”

Likewise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to cynically ride the coattails of Monday’s tragedy, scurrilously tweeting that attackers like Abedi would “receive a stipend” from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in a hypothetical scenario where the attacker was Palestinian and the targeted civilians were Israelis. Netizens were quick to denounce the Zionist leader’s shameless attempt to exploit the grief of Britons, pointing to the Israeli government’s tacit alliance with extremist Wahhabi Gulf kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia and its support for extremist anti-government forces in Syria.

Via TeleSur

—–

Related tweet added by Juan Cole:

Amazing young man in #Manchester – fighting hate by kindness pic.twitter.com/9M3bO1bGA3

— Thinker (@SmellTheTea) May 23, 2017

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Manchester Attack: What we know so far about Salman Abedi – BBC News

The Other Terrorism: Toxic CO2 Gas Promoted by Trump Budget, Shell

Wed, 24 May 2017 - 4:28am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Terrorism is properly defined as non-state actors using violence against civilians to achieve a political purpose. Some argue that this definition lets states off the hook to easily, and that there is state terrorism as well. International law, however, puts those actions under the rubric of “war crimes” or crimes against humanity. Me, I think state terrorism is a useful conception, though legally speaking it probably is synonymous with the latter two terms.

The war being waged against our climate by Big Oil and by its cronies in government such as Donald Trump is the most massive, horrific and heinous form of terrorism in the world today. Worse than ISIL and al-Qaeda? Far worse. Worse than the Syrian War? As bad as it is, Climate Terror is worse yet. (in fact, climate terror may even be one of the causes of the Syrian War).

Carbon dioxide is the deadly gas that is the instrument of this terrorism. CO2 traps the sun’s heat on earth and does not let it radiate back out to space. It is an excess of CO2 that turned the planet Venus into a torrid inferno.

Trump’s proposed budget and other announced policies will not only massively increase our production of this poison gas, but seeks actually to blind us by cutting funds to monitor CO2. It is now regularly 410 parts per million in our atmosphere. If it goes on up from there, it will melt all the surface ice on the planet and submerge one third of the earth’s land mass.

The rest of the world will likely levy a carbon tax on US goods if Trump reneges on the Paris Climate Accord. The US produces 22% of world GDP, but that proportion is declining and the rest of the world will know how to deal with a climate rogue. Massive tort lawsuits are coming, as well.

Don’t feel helpless. You can stop the worst effects. First, don’t listen to the climate denialists. They will pretend to be reasonable and say things like the science is unsettled (it is not) or that we can’t afford to spend all this money to switch off fossil fuels when we aren’t sure we need to. Actually we are sure we need to. There isn’t any scintilla of doubt here. They will pick out one minor error in a 1500 page report and use it to question all of climate science. Don’t let them get away with this gotcha dishonest way of speaking. And, moreover, it actually is already cheaper to get our energy from green sources. The fossil fuels depend on massive tax breaks and subsidies that we can’t even afford financially, much less ecologically. The Koch brothers actually had the Florida Republicans put a tax on solar panels because they fear the competition. The climate denialists (i.e. terrorism apologists) are profiting behind the scenes from sowing doubt so that fat cat billionaires can wring the last bit of profits from their worthless, poisonous fossil fuels (I’m looking at you Bret Stephens). Don’t fall for greenwashing. Exxon-Mobil is polluting our planet and doing almost nothing to research green energy, but they flood the airwaves with fake news commercials trying to give the opposite impression. If wind and solar weren’t the smart bet, Warren Buffet wouldn’t be making it.

Second, go green. If you own a home and will be in it 10 years or more, put solar panels on. If you rent, lobby your landlord to do the same. All landlords will make money from having solar panels on top of apartment buildings, since all of them are in it for the long run. Vote for candidates with green positions on the climate. Lobby your energy utility to let you buy green electricity. Bike more. Use public transportation. If you have to drive and can afford it, get a Chevy Bolt or a plug-in hybrid. If you have to have a car and have limited resources, pay attention to gas mileage when you purchase even a used vehicle. Here are some suggestions. In the US, avoid eating beef, since it is produced in a far more carbon intensive than any other food. If everybody in the industrialized world took these steps, we could hold the line at a 3.6 degrees F. increase in average surface temperatures.

And, don’t be like Shell shareholders. 94% of wealthy Shell shareholders just rejected any attempt to reduce emissions in accordance with the Paris Accord, that is terrorism. Every ton of carbon dioxide Shell puts into the atmosphere brings humanity one step closer to the brink. Shell argues that althought it is a big company, it accounts for a small part of the world’s emissions. This way of thinking is Newtonian, but we live in a world governed by the theory of Complexity. In Newton world, a physical event is proportional. A small billiard ball can’t bring down a skyscraper. But in the real world as scientists now understand it, dynamic systems are characterized by the “Butterfly effect.” Weather is so complex, this conception argues, that even the beating of a butterfly’s wings can set off big changes.

If the earth warms more than roughly 3.6 degrees F. (2 degrees C.), the atmosphere could reach a tipping point and go chaotic. Think about it like a heart attack. Someone has been eating poorly for years, and maybe smoking. The arteries harden. And then one day just a little more bad behavior pushes the heart over the edge and it starts beating erratically. How do you quantify that little bit of cholesterol or that last cigarette? The old folk proverb about the “straw that broke the camel’s back” sums up this effect.

Shell is providing the straw that could break the atmosphere’s back.

Shell is based in the Netherlands, which is ironic because very likely its carbon emissions are going to help put the country under water. The Dutch are very good at water works, but if the sea rises 140 meters/ yards, my guess is that it is an engineering problem beyond solution at a price that is affordable. Of course that rise will happen over hundreds of years. But even in this century the seas will rise at least 4 feet (maybe more, given than sea level rise is accelerating faster than scientists had expected). Some 20 percent of humankind living along coasts will be kicked out of their homes if Shell and others go on like this. At the moment, that would be a billion and a half people. The population of North America is about 580 million. So that’s almost three North Americas worth of people made homeless.

That is terrorism on a scale never before seen in human history.

Shell shareholders should think of their company as an energy provider, not as an oil provider. There are other ways to get energy and since their petroleum is not only worthless but actually toxic, the quicker the company shifts to wind, solar, geothermal and etc., the less the shareholders will lose their shirts, not to mention watch their grandchildren drown.

People are always upset about children being killed in terrorist incidents, for understandable reasons. But carbon dioxide and methane polluters are going to kill millions of children.

Climate terrorism.

——-

Related video:

Wochit Politics: “Trump Administration Wants To Curb Carbon Emission Laws”

Supreme Court Strikes down N. Carolina’s Racial Gerrymander

Tue, 23 May 2017 - 7:15am

TeleSur | – –

Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices in the 5-3 majority decision.

Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina’s congressional map.

The court found the that the Republican legislature was unconstitutional when it used race to draw the district lines, which reduced the voting power of minorities in the state.

Ultra-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas sided with four liberal justices in the 5-3 majority decision. The court ruled that legislators packed African American voters into two districts in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who joined the court in April, did not participate in the ruling.

Election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his blog: "This decision by Justice [Elena] Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in southern states. That Justice Kagan got Justice Thomas not only to vote this way but to sign onto the opinion (giving it precedential value) is a really big deal."

The Republican majority in North Carolina’s legislature drew the congressional district map in 2011. It added more African Americans to two districts that had significant black populations and had consistently elected the Democratic representatives since the 1990s.

Voters in those districts sued, claiming that the lawmakers had intentionally reduced African American voter turnout in other parts of North Carolina. States are generally not allowed to use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines.

To justify their changes to one of those districts, the 1st Congressional District (CD1), Republican lawmakers claimed they were complying with the mandate of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which states that minority voters must be able to elect representatives of their choosing. In a brief to the Supreme Court, the legal team defending the Republican map argued that past voting behavior in CD1 could not predict future voting, particularly since the 2011 map added nearly 100,000 people to the district. In February of last year, a federal district court disagreed and ruled that the use of race in drawing the CD1 was unconstitutional.

"Although States enjoy leeway to take race-based actions reasonably judged necessary under a proper interpretation of the VRA, that latitude cannot rescue District 1," Kagan wrote. "Neither will we approve a racial gerrymander whose necessity is supported by no evidence and whose raison d’être is a legal mistake."

Specifically, the Supreme Court found that the state’s argument that the VRA could be used to pack black voters into a district was not supported by the law.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the 2011 map has served Republicans well over the years in North Carolina, even as it has made its way through state and federal court.

In 2012 and 2014, when the statewide vote was closely divided, Republicans won 10 of the 13 House seats. And, last year, Republicans managed to retain that 10-3 advantage, even though U.S. President Donald Trump won the state by the slimmest of margins, with Democrat Rory Cooper winning the governorship.

Via TeleSur
——-

Related tweet added by Juan Cole:

Jesus, look at that map. They literally drew lines around every black person in the state even if the district looks like a squiggle. https://t.co/89zmE6ZINO

— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) May 22, 2017

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit Politics: “Supreme Court Rejects North Carolina Racially Gerrymandered Congressional District Maps”

Trump, Saudi Arabia and yet another arms deal

Tue, 23 May 2017 - 7:01am

Russell E. Lucas, Michigan State University

The first stop on Donald Trump’s first trip as U.S. president was to Saudi Arabia.

That was no accident.

His decision was surely based on the fact that the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States is one of the foundations of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

While Trump was there, Saudi King Salman awarded him the kingdom’s highest civilian honor. Trump came bearing gifts of his own in the form of US$110 billion worth of military equipment, some of which had been approved by Barack Obama.

The Saudi’s extravagant welcome of Trump indicates a significant warming of relations that had cooled under Obama and indicates a return to the two countries searching for linkage rather than leverage. Yet, this is far from the first time that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have shifted their perceptions of each other.

Old friends

The partnership between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. emerged in 1930 with the formation of what would become the Arabian American Oil Company. Shared economic and security interests have kept the two partners close over the decades. This in spite of the dramatic differences in the way the two countries are governed.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia became vital for American defense during World War II when Saudi Arabia joined the Allies. During the Cold War, Saudi Arabia acted as a key support for preserving for the free flow of oil and keeping Soviet influence out of the region. Along with support for Israel, these concerns constituted the three pillars of American Middle East policy.

But contradictions between these objectives has insured that the Saudi-American relationship has never been trouble-free.

From boycotts to Iran

One troubled period was the Saudi leadership of the 1973 oil boycott against the U.S. in retaliation for American support for Israel in the October War.

Yet, as soon as that crisis was resolved, cooperation between the two countries returned. Then as now, Saudi Arabia spent a great deal of its oil wealth on U.S.-made weapons. Over the years the Saudis have bristled at American support for Israel, but not enough to undermine the relationship.

In 1979, an Islamic revolution overthrew the pro-American shah of Iran. This transformed Iran from an ally into America and Saudi Arabia’s biggest regional adversary. While most analysis points toward the inherent conflict between Saudi’s hard-line interpretations of Sunni Islam with Iran’s post-1979 revolutionary Shi’ite activism, it is as easy to see the two states jockeying for geopolitical power.

Saudi has pressured the United States to weaken Iran – especially its nascent nuclear program. This was famously captured when Wikileaks released a 2008 correspondence from then-King Abdullah, pressing the U.S. to “chop the head off the snake” and attack Iran.

The other source of tension between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia stems from the blow-back from their Cold War cooperation. Joint American and Saudi support for Sunni Islamist militants to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan resulted in the birth of al-Qaida when warriors returned home after the Cold War. These militants attacked both the Saudi and other Middle Eastern regimes despite being an outgrowth of official Saudi Islamic ideas. The militants turned to attack the U.S. and the West. The alliance between the U.S. and the Saudis continued after the fall of the Soviet Union around a new pillar of U.S. policy, counterterrorism.

Obama’s legacy

Under the Obama administration, Saudi–American relations weakened because of the administration’s disengagement from the Middle East. Relations particularly deteriorated in the wake of the Arab Spring protests in 2011. My research has shown that the Saudis, and other monarchs, rode out the wave of protests better than republics in the region.
Repression at home has also led to a more adventurous foreign policy abroad by supporting proxies in Syria and Yemen without coordination with the United States.

With the ascension of King Salman in 2015 and the rise of his son, Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman, this accelerated.

Previously, the Saudis supported groups in the Syrian civil war that evolved into the Islamic State terrorist group. Since 2013, however, the Saudis have turned toward supporting other, more “moderate” groups who will cooperate with the U.S. At the same time, their demand for the fall of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has not wavered. This has led the Syrian civil war to become a new venue for Saudi-Iranian rivalry, as Iran is one of the Syrian president’s biggest supporters.

The Saudis also have directly intervened militarily in next-door Yemen to prevent the Houthi movement, a Shi’ite group from northern Yemen, from emerging victorious in that country’s civil war. The Saudis accuse Iran of supporting the Houthis. The Saudi-led campaign, however, has not resulted in a quick victory. Instead it is contributing to another stalemated humanitarian emergency in the region. The Trump administration may find congressional opposition to the arms deal because of the Saudi’s possibly using these arms in Yemen.

The nuclear deal

But what truly annoyed Saudi leaders about Obama was his forging the agreement between Iran, the U.S. and other partners to limit Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. The Saudis felt that the agreement was made over their objections.

Candidate Trump promised to rip up the Iran agreement, but as president he has not done so yet. If he still intends to do so, that promise may have become harder to keep after Iranian voters voiced their support for the agreement by reelecting President Hassan Rouhani.
The Saudis are hoping that President Trump continues to walk back his campaign trail “Islam hates us” talk to focus instead on shared cooperation against Iran and “Islamic extremism.”

However, it still remains to be seen if it is Trump’s new claim that “we are not here to tell other people how to live” or if it is the old-fashioned art of the (arms) deal that has warmed up the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Russell E. Lucas, Director of Global Studies in the Arts and Humanities; Associate Professor of Arab Studies, Michigan State University

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

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 English: “Middle-East: Trump, Saudi Arabia sign $110 billion arms deal ‘to counter Iran'”