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It’s Class Warfare, Stupid. The GOP crusade against Health Care

Sat, 25 Mar 2017 - 1:57am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The struggle over health care in the United States is a form of class warfare, complicated by racism.

The Republican proposal for the “American Health Care Act,” as they called it, made this warfare clear. The bill was not so much a health care act as a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, paid for by tossing 24 million people off health care insurance.

In fact the bill failed because it made the class warfare too transparent. You can’t give CEOs $500k tax breaks and throw 24 million people off health insurance and still be maintaining that you represent “the people.” When the GOP congressmen spoke on t.v. of letting the market solve health care, what they really meant is that the poor who can’t afford health insurance would just not be able to have it. In the US, unlike India, the poor don’t vote, so Congress has no reason to fear the poor. And since the corporations managed to largely get rid of unions, they don’t fear workers, either.

The outrage is Trump’s bait and switch. He campaigned on making sure everyone has health insurance. Then his healthcare bill massively reduces the number of people who have health care plans.

The US has a two-tiered society. The higher tier has health insurance through work. The lower tier is disproportionately uninsured. Uninsured in the US means, you get your health care at the emergency room, and there is enormous expense to taxpayers, and that you have little physician access or preventative care. (studies show that health depends on preventative care and physician access.) Or if you have a little money and you need a scheduled surgery, e.g. you lose your home or bank account to pay for it, pushing you into the ranks of the poor.

The US is the only major industrial society that does not guarantee access to health care insurance to everyone.

The rich did not for the most part want the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). They instructed all the Republican representatives and senators to vote against it, and all did. (Despite the occasional populism of some of them, the Republican Party politicians mainly represent the interests of the richest people in society.)

The Democratic Party is a hybrid, representing the middle class and also some types of corporation (Hollywood, Silicon Valley, etc.) I think President Obama genuinely cares about people, but for a professional politician who is a Democrat, the ACA had many advantages– helping constituencies that vote Democratic and underlining the usefulness of government.

It seems fairly clear that the American public does not understand class conflict. They mostly were never taught sociology in school. The government turned over the limited resource of bandwidth to corporations that make money by broadcasting commercials by other corporations. Television tells generations of consumers from childhood that corporations are your friend, they are sort of like a loving big brother, they get you things that are neat, they have your best interests at heart. And this propaganda does seem to sink in.

In fact, for many in the top 0.01 percent, the ACA/ (Obamacare) involves a slight tax increase. Since they are fabulously wealthy, that tax increase did not hurt them. But they minded it because if you are fabulously wealthy you are trying to take over other millionaires and need every single bit of the resources you can muster for this game of “Masters of the Universe.”

So why isn’t the public enthusiastic about an Obamacare that insures them and their relatives?

In part it is because Republican statehouses have figured out the vulnerabilities of the program and deliberately pulled funding, making it expensive for some people in some states, or introducing other defects. Deliberately.

In part it is because of fears that the government will tax white people and give the money to brown and black people.

In fact, half of those under the poverty line are white. But the corporations and wealthy who do not want their resources being used to keep the poor alive will make sure to play on these racialized fears.

So the GOP attempt to destroy Obamacare was a raid by the filthy rich on the slim resources of the poorer neighborhoods. It was a bank robbery.

It failed, this time. But bank robbers are persistent. Willie Sutton (1901-1980), a notorious such criminal, was asked why he robbed banks, and he replied, “That’s where the money is.” The wealthy and their hired guns in Congress will be back at the earliest opportunity. And most Americans won’t even know what hit them.

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Related video:

CBS News: “Trump lashes out at Democrats after Ryan pulls health care bill”

In Erdogan’s Turkey, an Artist is Jailed for Painting Reality

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 11:19pm

TeleSur | – –

A Turkish court has handed down a two-year, nine-month and 22-day jail sentence to a Kurdish artist because of her painting of a Kurdish village being razed by Turkish security forces.


Turkish Artist Zehra Doğan Sentenced to Prison for Painting of Kurdish Town Attack

— Alexander Rubinstein (@AlexR_DC) March 24, 2017

Zehra Doğan, an ethnic Kurd from Diyarbakır in southeastern Turkey, was given the sentence by the Second High Criminal Court of the Mardin province after having been arrested last July. The painting in question shows the destroyed cityscape of Nusaybin, with Turkish flags draped across blown-out buildings.

Close to the border with Syria, Nusaybin is home to a large Kurdish population and Turkey says that the painting, along with her social media posts, are proof that Doğan has connections to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a group which has been pushing for an autonomous Kurdish region since 1984, but which the Turkish state considers a terrorist organization.

#Turkish Artist @zehradoganjinha Sentenced to Prison for Painting of #Kurdish Town Attack#Twitterkurds #ARTOfLife #painting pic.twitter.com/dR9ZSyRx0f

— Kerim meresene (@meresene) March 24, 2017

Doğan, also an award-winning journalist, argued in court that all the crimes she is accused of are journalistic activities, for which she is registered with the state and a member of the Union of Journalists of Turkey.

“I was given two years and 10 months only because I painted Turkish flags on destroyed buildings. However, (the Turkish government) caused this. I only painted it,” Doğan said in a tweet which has since been deleted, according to Turkey Purge, self-described as “a small group of young journalists who are trying to be the voice for Turkish people who suffer under an oppressive regime.”

Following the collapse of a cease-fire between Turkey and the PKK in July 2015, Turkey’s “anti-terrorist” operations against PKK militants across cities in the southeast of the country has had devastating effects, where Turkey has been continually criticized for serious human rights abuses against the Kurdish population.

Around 2,000 people – mostly Kurds – have been killed or jailed as part of Turkish security operations, with hundreds of thousands displaced, according to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Turkish forces have also prevented Kurds from accessing food, water and medical care, and imposed harsh curfews which would often last weeks and prevent the evacuation of displaced people who were trapped in the middle of fighting.

Via TeleSur

How to Impeach an American President

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 11:14pm

Dena Takruri | AJ+ | (Video Clip) | – –

“How do you impeach a president? Well, let us explain.”

AJ+ “How To Impeach An American President”

Dems Should be Careful about using Deep State to get at Trump

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 11:11pm

By Ian Berman | (Informed Comment) | – –

Ever since the November election, Democrats have been looking for a reason to take down President Trump and vindicate Clinton’s loss. Refusing to acknowledge how flawed the candidate and campaign were, the focus has been on the allegation of the “Russians Hacking the Election.” With the FBI’s announcement of investigating the President and his campaign staff’s connections to Russia, the calls have become even more bold. Many Democrats are supporting Michael Moore’s call to shut down government activity.

“The Democratic Party needs to declare a National Emergency. For the first time in our history, the President of the United States and his staff are under investigation for espionage. This announcement, by the head of the Trump-friendly FBI, is a shock to our democracy. The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate needs to bring a halt to all business being done in the name of this potential felony suspect, Donald J. Trump. No bill he supports, no Supreme Court nominee he has named, can be decided while he is under a criminal investigation. His presidency has no legitimacy until the FBI – and an independent investigative committee — discovers the truth. Fellow citizens, demand the Democrats cease all business. ‘The American people have a right to know if their President is a crook.’ – Richard Nixon”

So rather than focus on filibustering horrible bills and unqualified nominees, as the Democrats have finally announced they will do with Neil Gorsuch, they would rather set a horrible precedent. The thesis is a mere allegation of wrongdoing justifies effectively shutting down a government. Yet do Michael Moore and Democrats believe the Republicans would not make or even fabricate allegations and use the same tool going forward? This precedent is especially questionable considering how much the Democrats complained about the Republicans not working with President Obama for eight years.

Furthermore, the Democrats are not learning the lesson of setting precedents. Consider for example, that while Obama was bombing 7 Muslim countries without a single declaration of war, Trump has now turned Obama’s campaigns into overdrive.

Moving to the investigation, we still have not seen any evidence of wrongdoing. We have only seen repeated allegations on the mainstream media. So to suggest shutting down the government on allegations alone is essentially adopting the principle guilty in the media until proven innocent.

The supporters of the Trump investigation are forgetting this FBI is still essentially the same political organization that was created by J. Edgar Hoover. Have we forgotten so quickly how the FBI’s COINTELPRO worked to crush dissent? Today, the FBI spends tens of millions of dollars on identifying POTENTIAL terrorist suspects, giving them a plot to execute and the resources to do so, and then arresting them to show they are stopping terrorists.

Last, let’s not forget that while the FBI investigates Trump and his campaign’s allegedly illegal ties to Russia, for connections and business dealings in and of themselves are not by definition illegal, the FBI has done nothing to investigate the Bush Administration’s War Crime of starting a war of aggression against Iraq when all of the reasons for the invasion were fabricated.

So why are all these Democrats cheering on the deep state?

———
Ian Berman is an entrepreneur and former corporate banker at leading global banks in New York City. He now focuses on renewable energy, financial advisory services and writing about representative government, equitable public policies and ending American militarism and Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestine.

Author notice: © 2017. All rights reserved. Permission provided for publication with attribution.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Oops: Devin Nunes Backpedals Spying Claims”

Palestine slams Israeli Database Targeting Israelis Who Support Boycott

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 11:05pm

IMEMC | – –

On March 21st, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs, Gilad Erdan, announced that his ministry seeks to create a new database of Israeli citizens who support the grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to secure Palestinian human rights.

In response, Mahmoud Nawajaa, the General Coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), said:

“This new database is consistent with the Israeli government’s ongoing efforts to suppress the BDS movement for Palestinian rights, precisely because support for the movement is growing both inside Israel and around the world. This new database targeting Israeli citizens who support BDS is in addition to another database that the Israeli government is already preparing, which targets BDS supporters from other countries, and which a recently-passed Israeli law seeks to use to bar international supporters of Palestinian rights from entering into Israel and occupied Palestinian Territory. It’s also in addition to a law passed in 2011 that allows civil suits to be filed against Israeli citizens who call for boycotts related to Israeli human rights abuses. Now, the Israeli government seeks to further repress Israeli citizens for their political thought and human rights work.

It is not at all surprising that Mr. Erdan and his government should spy on Israeli citizens, whether Jewish or Palestinian, or set up a database of those supporting BDS in order to target anyone working for the freedom, justice and equality of Palestinians. Support for the BDS movement has been growing around the globe in recent years, as more and more people recognize the brutal reality of Israel’s apartheid regime and nearly 50-year-old military occupation of Palestinian lands. Israel’s repressive efforts to suppress the BDS movement further illustrate the justice of our cause and will thus only strengthen worldwide support for our nonviolent struggle for our freedom and rights.”

Daesh/ISIL encouraging Loner attacks to Mask its Death Spiral

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 1:55am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The terrorist organization known as Daesh in the Middle East and Europe but as ISIS or ISIL in the US is in a death spiral.

Daesh hit its peak of territory in 2015 on taking Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s al-Anbar province.

Since then, it has virtually been rolled up in Iraq, having lost all of al-Anbar except a small town on the Syrian border, having lost all of Diayala and Salahuddin provinces, and having lost most of Ninewah, including 75% of Mosul, its last remaining metropolis.

(Its capital, of Raqqa in Syria, is a town of about 100,000, the capital of Raqqa Province, which had 900,000 people before the Syrian civil war broke out but about half of those fled to Turkey, especially the Kurds in the north).

Daesh still holds Hawija, a town of 100,000 before its occupation that is likely half that now; and Tel Afar, a largely Turkmen town that was likewise smallish before the Daesh onslaught. It is likely even smaller now, since all the Shiite Turkmen will have fled. I wonder if Daesh has as many as a million people living under its rule in Iraq any more. Some 400,000 of those are in West Mosul, which will likely fall to the Iraqi central government within a few months. At that point Daesh and its phony caliphate will fairly quickly be completely rolled up as a governmental entity. They will continue to be strong in some villages and city neighborhoods and will continue to carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and elsewhere, but they won’t be a government.

Once it has lost the small amount of territory it now has in northern Iraq and a slightly larger swathe of eastern Syria that is still under its authority, what will Daesh do?

Many adherents will defect and just go home in disappointment. Many have already been disappointed by the brutality and inhumanity of Daesh rule, and have fled. Daesh tries to stop such defections at present, but its ability to do so is rapidly declining. You often meet with a meme that once a young man has served in a radical organization he is thereafter always dangerous. In fact, many former radicals have abandoned their radicalism for a perfectly normal life back home.

Some former members of the caliphal mafia state will go underground, forming cells, and attempting to continue to run extortion rackets and carry out terrorist bombings in Baghdad and Damascus.

Yet others will try to haunt the West, which they will blame for their defeat. Daesh propaganda on the internet has already worked its way into the dreams and nightmares of a handful of petty criminals and ne’er-do-wells who have pulled off terrorist attacks in Europe.

It was such a loner and minor criminal, Khalid Masood, who drove his vehicle into people on Westminster Bridge and then stabbed a policeman guarding parliament. He wounded some 40 people, some of them catastrophically, and killed 3, in addition to committing suicide by cop.

Although Daesh claimed to have been behind the plot, the diction of their message makes experts suspicious that Masood had little or nothing to do with the organization. He had been a misfit and deviant for some time.

Daesh, as it sinks into obscurity and loses the shooting war, will likely turn to terrorism and attempts to win the civilizational war (not between Christianity and Islam but between humaneness and ruthlessness). In some instances, it will plot out attacks, using its own command and control. In others, it will just try to get into the heads of rebellious adolescents or far right wing religious nuts and convince them to carry out attacks.

But the big play for Daesh is a long game in which the organization manages to herd Europe’s tens of millions of Muslims into radicalism, using the European far right such as Marine LePen. It will attack Christian Europeans and secular ones in an attempt to get them to mistreat European Muslims. Then it will offer itself to the latter as their protection, as their muscle in the face of white hostility. This strategy was the one Daesh pursued in Iraq, with a great deal of success over a decade, allowing it to grab 40% of Iraqi territory.

A lot of politicians will fall for this ploy, and give Daesh what it wants by enacting unfair and discriminatory policies toward Western Muslims. Our own Donald J. Trump is a dupe collaborating with this Daesh plot as we speak.

A lot of media fall for Daesh tricks, too. Giving them 24/7 coverage for a stupid technique like running down helpless pedestrians with a vehicle is unwise. The Masood attack in London had no military implications at all and never actually threatened British national security. Some 1700 pedestrians are run over and killed every year in the UK. The attack by a white nationalist youth on Quebec Muslims in a mosque, which killed more people though it wounded fewer, did not attract wall to wall coverage.

Daesh wants you to be afraid. Refuse fear. Daesh wants you to hate Muslims. Find a Muslim and show them some love. Keep doing this and after a while there won’t be any Daesh. Nonviolence, peace and love are the only way to defeat stochastic or random radicalism and terror, whether those diseases have taken hold in white supremacists or in stray Muslims.

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Related video:

ABC News: “London attack | 8 arrested in deadly terror attack”

Grassroots Resistance forces Republicans to Postpone Health Care Vote

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 12:56am

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer | ( Commondreams.org ) |

House vote moved to Friday, but with Republicans across the political spectrum unhappy with details of the AHCA, and mounting public opposition, the bill’s passage seems tenuous.

Republican lawmakers on Thursday were met with a deluge of outrage and calls to stand against the American Health Care Act (ACHA) while the planned House vote was thrown into disarray as defections mounted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan postponed a 3:30pm press conference shortly before it was reported that Thursday’s vote was cancelled after he and President Donald Trump held a series of meetings with GOP lawmakers to pressure the plan’s skeptics. But with Republicans across the political spectrum unhappy with details of the AHCA, and mounting public opposition, the bill’s passage seems tenuous.

hard to see how having members go home to get pounded about health bill all weekend would improve chances of passage in a few days

— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) March 23, 2017

According to CNN, the White House is “confident” the vote will take place Friday morning.

At the same time, a new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday found that only 17 percent of voters currently approve of the AHCA, while 56 disapprove and 26 percent remain undecided. The survey was taken even before it was revealed that Trump and Ryan had promised the ultraconservative Freedom Party they would consider a proposal to repeal the “essential health benefits” (EHBs), such as maternity care and wellness visits, that were central to the ACA.

Further, 46 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a lawmaker who votes to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, with the Republican plan.

“Replacing Obamacare will come with a price for elected representatives who vote to scrap it,” remarked Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll, who noted that many Americans “clearly feel their health is in peril under the Republican alternative.”

For weeks, with overflowing town halls, call-ins, office visits, and demonstrations, the resistance movement has made it clear to Republican lawmakers that there would be retribution for stripping millions of voters of their healthcare. On Thursday, that promise was strongly reiterated.

“It’s go time,” the Indivisible movement declared early Thursday, encouraging voters to contact to their Republican officials, particularly those identified as being on the fence in their support of the American Health Care Act (ACHA).

That call to arms was answered swiftly with people posting images of protests outside lawmakers’ offices, including the White House. After it was announced that the vote would no take place Thursday, organizers celebrated the news, telling the grassroots movement: “This is all you.”

Friends: you should know just how incredible this is. House leadership can usually push through anything that they want.

This is all you. https://t.co/44zsqN6sk9

— Indivisible Guide (@IndivisibleTeam) March 23, 2017

Here’s the small #AHCA protest outside of the White House right now. pic.twitter.com/9LZ3lEeYOG

— Emily Jashinsky (@emilyjashinsky) March 23, 2017

. . .

Resistance group CAP Action has put together a “TrumpCare toolkit,” which identifies potential swing vote Republicans, as well as sample scripts for phone calls and information about local protests.

“[W]e’re not done,” Indivisible cautioned. “Keep calling. Keep visiting. Bring friends with you. We can take down TrumpCare.”

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

Via Commondreams.org

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Chicago Tribune: “Hundreds rally, march downtown to decry American Health Care Act”

Given Trump’s Betrayal, Can we Crowdfund American Aid and Soft Power Abroad?

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 - 12:22am

David Holdridge | (Informed Comment) | – –

The current debate between liberals and the Trump Administration on American soft power abroad is not being framed correctly. Liberals should be arguing for more American citizen engagement overseas rather than for maintaining and extending into the future a dependency on USAID and the State Department.

Since World War II, America’s influence overseas has become dependent on two forces, working in tandem. One was our military ability ( aka, Hard Power) to keep sea lanes open, protect treaty partners from external threats, and stall or prevent disruptions by adversaries meant to interrupt American economic eminence.

The Avant Garde of Western Civ

Without question, there have been flaws in America ‘s performance — sometimes or perhaps even often, tragic flaws. Nevertheless, Pax Americana arguably allowed post-War Western Europe to flourish and it contributed to peace and prosperity for Japan, South Korea and some ASEAN countries as well.

The second force is America’s soft power (a term coined by diplomat/scholar Joseph Nye), which has entailed the purveyance of American values overseas; to be that ‘city on the hill’ for aspiring citizens of foreign countries worldwide. This power is diffuse and includes everything from cultural exchanges to cross-border knowledge transfers to overseas relief and development programs — often financed by the State Department (USAID) and implemented by large American Charities.

And, yes, this presumption of influencing and developing the world according to the American narrative has also been shamed by our own domestic behavior on issues like race, as opposed to our ideals. But, in the main, ‘America as Beacon’ still persisted.

Few experts in International Relations question that both Soft and Hard Power are critical to American led global stability.

Now…in the most threatening ways since WW II, the purveyors of Soft Power overseas are having their legs knocked out from under them. Whatever resonance they had for teaching and encouraging ‘Right Relations’ and ‘Rights’ is fast disappearing in light of what is now emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The current messages of fear and exclusions throughout our national community not only serve to rip America apart but also destroy the possibilities of our foundational values finding roots outside our borders…a grave issue for the ultimate security of America as well as for nation states and their citizens across the globe.

In effect, those humanitarian efforts which are managed by USAID, an agency within the executive branch of government and tied to prevailing government policy, are left with no credible platform from which to preach traditional American values. Those contractors and charities which are dependent on funds from USAID are similarly compromised.

With the aforementioned in mind, I — as someone who spent 40 years overseas as that ‘purveyor’ of American values — want to laud the current effort of those private charitable agencies who have removed themselves from their dependency on the executive branch and implement their work solely on the basis of direct citizen donations.

It was always a slippery slope for overseas charities to use a US government entity like USAID for sustenance not only for reasons attached to the partisan management of such but equally for the ever growing bureaucracy and associated costs assigned to the humanitarian effort overseas.

David Holdrige is the author of the memoir, The Avant Garde of Western Civ. He spent thirty-five years working with humanitarian organizations amidst populations suffering from war, exploitation, and impoverishment, including assignments in West Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. From 2010 to 2012, he directed an advocacy effort in Washington D.C., which argued for significant transformation of the current systems and approaches of American assistance abroad. He received the Prize Americana in 2015 for his memoir. He served as Middle East regional director for Mercy Corps, as the Vietnam director for Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation in Hanoi, and as regional Director for the Balkans & Middle East of Catholic Relief Services, among other development-related positions. He was wounded in Vietnam while serving as a platoon commander.

Top 5 Lessons Saudi should learn from its Failed Yemen War

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 - 11:45pm

By Mohammed Nuruzzaman | (Informed Comment) | – –

Top 5 Lessons Saudi Arabia Learns from the Yemen War

Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war has reached a dead end. Launched in late March 2015 to restore President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to power, either by subduing or by eliminating the Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their allies, the war is entering its third year. The top political and strategic goal of reinstating President Hadi to power is still remaining a goal on paper. Contrary to expected politico-strategic gains, the Houthis are controlling most parts of north and northwestern Yemen, with a tight grip over Sana’a, the Yemeni capital.

Diplomatic maneuvers to find a way out of the war have not yielded any positive outcomes so far either. The UN-mediated peace talks, hosted by Kuwait from late April to early August 2016, ended up in failures, as gaps between the warring sides did not close enough to hammer out a lasting solution. Yemen is now run by two rival governments – the Hadi government based in the southwestern seaport of Aden, and the Sana’a-based Supreme Political Council, jointly controlled by the Houthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s General People’s Congress party. Since no side is capable of overpowering the other, a divided Yemen looks set to continue in the foreseeable future, until and unless the UN succeeds in pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

For Saudi Arabia, the war has been a bizarre experience, however. Being the largest and most powerful country in the Gulf Arab region, the kingdom is losing the Yemen war militarily, diplomatically and financially. The incapacity to strike a favorable change in the battlefield, even after being directly aided by a 9-nation Arab coalition and indirectly assisted by the U.S., or create enough diplomatic pressures to bear down on the Houthi rebels to accept a negotiated settlement of the war are no less than a telling blow to the military prowess and diplomatic feat of the Saudis, not to speak of the huge financial losses they continue to incur (an estimated $200 million costs per day). A snapshot at the war situation speaks of at least five lessons Riyadh stands to learn from its abortive war on Yemen.

To start with, German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once said: “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. But a miscalculated (or probably an unnecessary) war is bound to be counterproductive, dragging the invading and the invaded states down the road to political, economic and military ruins. Saudi Arabia has traditionally considered Yemen its underbelly, a backwater state that has heavily depended on Saudi financial aid and assistance, especially after the reunification of North Yemen and South Yemen in May 1990 (with the exception of temporary aid cuts in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War). Before the invasion was launched in March 2015, the Saudis had the perceptions that their mighty army and air force would quickly sweep away the impoverished, aid-dependent Yemen by forcing the Houthi rebels to surrender. The reality turned out different though. The war has, in fact, brought a new opportunity for the Houthis and their allies to prove their political and military resilience. The Houthis are now a formidable force to reckon with and an indispensable party to future peace settlements in Yemen.

It appears that the Saudis learned nothing from America’s military debacle in Iraq: what the neocons in the George W. Bush administration saw as a brief invasion of Iraq in March 2003 subsequently proved to be a very long and costly war in terms of unforeseen human and material losses – thousands of American lives along with nearly a million Iraqis killed and wounded, and 1.7 trillion dollars lost as direct war expenses, according to a study by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

Similarly, the poor Yemenis are paying the ultimate price of the war: more than 10,000 Yemenis are killed so far, with children being the principal victims of the war, and the destruction of schools, hospitals and power plants by Saudi airstrikes. More ominously, a humanitarian disaster of unspeakable proportions is threatening the total collapse of Yemen.

That political problems defy military solutions aptly appears as the second lesson of the war. The Houthi rebellion in Yemen was/is a political issue, with ramifications for the entire Yemeni political system. The Houthis, named after a Yemeni Shi’a legal scholar Husayn Al-Houthi, started their movement in the early 1990s to preach tolerance and peace but the movement gradually turned violent to protest the socio-economic and political marginalization of the Zaydi Shi’as by the central government of Yemen. Over time the Houthi movement created more political complexities threatening traditional Saudi interests in Yemen. Traditionally, Riyadh has sought to buy Yemeni loyalty for generous economic handouts, either to curb Yemen’s independent role in regional and international affairs or to punish Sana’a whenever it has tried to move out of the Saudi sphere of influence. The Houthis, who fought a brief war against Riyadh in 2009, decry such undue Saudi influence; they want to minimize, if not eliminate, Saudi influence over their country.

Empowered by the pro-democracy movements of the Arab Spring, they managed to overpower the Al-Islah Party and the Hashid Tribal Federation in eastern Yemen, two Saudi-supported Sunni political groups, that seriously undermined Saudi influence in Yemeni politics.

On top of that, the Houthi military push towards the south of the country in February 2015, being supported by Yemeni military units loyal to the former President Saleh, made the Saudis nervous that they were being completely shut out of Yemen. Riyadh immediately implicated Iran in the Houthi military campaign and opted for air operations to strike a massive blow to the Houthi rebels, instead of exhausting all available options for a negotiated settlement of the issue. This was a desperate attempt to put Yemen back on the Saudi orbit by any means whatsoever but it exposed the kingdom’s failure to build a strong Yemeni political coalition to challenge the Houthis from inside Yemen. The end result has been a disaster. The Houthi power is on the rise.

Military prowess is an essential tool to back up foreign policy objectives but there are limits to it. The stalemate in the Yemen war and the Iran and Russia-backed Bashar Al-Assad government’s recent military victory in Aleppo probably underscore another useful lesson (the third here) for Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see Iran as a fierce competitor for power and dominance in the Gulf neighborhood and in the wider Middle East region; they also denounce Iran’s role in the Arab world. But the use of military power presumably to beat back Iran, as in Yemen and Syria, has hardly worked. Riyadh’s dependence on its Western allies, particularly the U.S., for military operations in Yemen and Syria has pushed Iran to seek Russian intervention in support of the beleaguered Al-Assad government in Damascus, thus making the already unstable strategic landscape of the Middle East much more complex and volatile. At the same time, Iran’s deep military engagements in Iraq after the proclamation of the Islamic State in June 2014 and in Syria since 2011 largely precipitated Saudi military actions. What was missing is a process of diplomatic engagements to restrain military competitions between the two countries and to limit external involvements in regional conflicts.

Often as not, Saudi Arabia projects itself as an anti-Shi’a Sunni power creating a sectarian image and identity of the state. This might be a direct influence of the Wahhabi clerics and a part of the state formation process of Saudi Arabia but it sounds awkward to Muslims worldwide. Scared by the prospects of the rise of Shi’a power across the Middle East, late King Abdullah bin Abd Al-Aziz sent troops to Bahrain in March 2011 to quell the Shi’a-led pro-democracy movements, funded and equipped various Sunni rebel groups under the rubric of Islamic Army (a coalition of Islamist and Salafist armed groups) to topple the Shi’a Alawites-led Bashar Al-Assad government in Syria, and King Salman bin Abd Al-Aziz launched an air war on Yemen to force the Shi’a Houthi rebels into submission. Such sectarian roles undercut Saudi Arabia’s standing in the Muslim world. The kingdom is the birthplace of the Islamic religion, hosts and protects the two holiest sites of Mecca and Medina for all Muslim pilgrims from all over the world. In that sense, Saudi Arabia belongs to all Muslims, regardless of their sects, creeds and diverse traditions. The projection of a Sunni image of the state deprives it of a cosmopolitan Islamic/Muslim image to look after Muslim interests on a global scale – the fourth lesson derived from Riyadh’s recent regional foreign policy agenda in Yemen or Syria.

Last but not the least, false threat projections are proving dangerous to Saudi Arabia’s interests. It sees the Houthi rebels as Iranian puppets out to give Tehran a foothold in the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, the Houthis repudiate all foreign influences in their country – Saudi, Iranian or American. Iran’s involvement in the Yemeni war, if any, is very limited. Similarly, singling out Iran as a source of threat to Saudi Arabia is less than convincing. Iran is definitely a regional competitor, may not be a threat to Saudi interest outright. Separated by the Persian Gulf, there exists no serious territorial or resource sharing conflict between the two countries that would justify enemy image projections by either side. The ideological threat of export of revolution Ayatollah Khomeini made after the 1979 Islamic Revolution was effectively nullified by former President Mohammad Khatami in 1998. The use of Iran threat, apparently to conceal Riyadh’s political failures in Yemen, to declare war on the Houthis has got the Saudis bogged down in that country and there is hardly a way to get out of it quickly.

Mohammed Nuruzzaman is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Gulf University for Science and Technology, Mishref, Kuwait

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AFP: Yemen: “Yemen”

Did Trump loosen Rules? Charges that US Airstrikes Kill 230 Iraqi Civilians in Mosul

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 - 11:27pm

TeleSur | – –

“Finding survivors is very difficult because the area is completely destroyed,” an authority told reporters. “It’s a very big disaster, indeed we can describe it as a disaster.”

Dozens of residents were buried in collapsed buildings in the Iraqi city of Mosul after a U.S. airstrike Wednesday as rescuers tried to recover their bodies, civil defense agency officials and locals said Thursday.

At least 137 people, mostly civilians, were killed when a bomb hit a building in western Mosul, with another 100 innocent people thought to have died in nearby areas, according to Rudaw, a Kurdish news agency operating in northern Iraq. “Some of the dead were taking shelter inside their homes,” Hevidar Ahmed, an eyewitness told the news outlet.

Civil Defense Chief Brigadier Mohammed Al-Jawari told local reporters that rescue teams were retrieving bodies from under the debris in the Jadida district near Rahma hospital. Jawari was quoted by al-Mosuliliya channel in a statement saying teams had so far recovered 40 bodies from buildings that collapsed.

“Finding survivors is very difficult because the area is completely destroyed,” he told reporters. “It’s a very big disaster, indeed we can describe it as a disaster.”

The U.S. Central Command, which coordinates U.S. military action in Iraq said in a statement, “We are aware of reports on airstrikes in Mosul resulting in civilian casualties. The Coalition conducted several strikes near Mosul and we will provide this information to our civilian casualty team for further investigation.”

With the only force able to launch large-scale air attacks, the U.S. command also stated that there were five strikes near Mosul Thursday, claiming that they had destroyed five Islamic State group units and a sniper team, as well as 11 fighting positions, vehicles and artillery equipment.

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the mounting civilian death toll, while U.S. claims that it only targets Islamic State group wearing thin with residents that continue to suffer the casualties.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Civilians in Mosul suffer as battle against ISIL rages”

The Russian Job: The Plot Thickens

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 - 1:28am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

An avalanche of news about the connection of key Trump political operatives to Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation rolled down ominously on the West Wing on Wednesday.

The evidence for collusion between Trump figures and the Russian Federation to gain the White House for Trump is still mostly circumstantial, but some of it is beginning to cross over into being direct.

Paul Manafort was chairman of the Trump presidential campaign from March until late August of 2016, including during the Republican National Convention. He served much longer than did Steve Bannon, the Breitbart fake news purveyor, who succeeded him.

During the Republican National Convention, Manafort orchestrated the removal from the Republican Party platform of a pledge to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine with which to oppose Russian incursions into the east of that country. Obviously, removal of that plank was something Russia wanted very badly, and Manafort obliged them. Why?

Manafort is a third-generation Italian-American and an attorney and Republican Party fixture who worked on the Ford, Bush Sr., and Dole campaigns. For Reagan he had served as Associate Director of the Presidential Personnel Office at the White House.

In Washington, knowing rich and powerful people personally is worth gold and offers the hail fellow well met the opportunity for enormous riches as a lobbyist.

By 2006, the intrepid reporters Jeff Horwitz and Chad Day Associated Press reported, Manafort was hired for $10 million as a lobbyist by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to lobby for him and for Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. The arrangement would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

As the post-Soviet political system evolved in Russia a group of billionaires or oligarchs rose from the ashes of socialism. As Putin gradually established his power from 2000, he was visibly uncomfortable with the pluralism of political power that battling billionaires could wield, and with the independent media some of them were running. He gradually brought them to heel and attached them to himself. Those who refused to be so coopted were destroyed by exile, imprisonment and mulcting.

Those politically destroyed included media owner Vladimir Gusinsky, Boris Berezovsky and the fantastically wealthy Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Putin himself also arranged to join the ranks of the remaining oligarchs, amassing great wealth that however cannot be specified with certainty. He certainly has at least a few billions, and may be wealthy enough to place in the top ten of Forbes’ list of the wealthiest persons in the world.

Deripaska is therefore not just a random aluminum mogul. That he is allowed to be an oligarch bespeaks his subordination to Putin. Working for him is the same as working for Putin. And the AP report of Manafort’s deal with Deripaska makes this point quite clear.

One of Manafort’s charges, was to open a pro-Russian television station in the Ukraine, which however never materialized despite an $18 million payment. Deripaska charged Manafort with bad faith and last summer spoke of suing him, but once Trump won the election he said no more about a suit.

Manafort denies that the work he did for Deripaska had any political dimensions, and initially seemed to deny doing this kind of work for a powerful Russian concern at all.

Although his relationship with Deripaska seems to have ended in 2009, Manafort went on to do similar work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych . Yanukovych was overthrown by the Euromaidan crowds in 2014 and now lives in exile in Russia. Russia then took back Crimea from Ukraine, which had turned hostile to Moscow (Khrushchev gave Russia’s Crimea to Ukraine when all were part of the same country in the 1950). As a result of the annexation of Crimea, the United States and Western European countries placed sanctions on Russia. Russia wants those sanctions removed. One deal ruined by the sanctions was a $500 bn. arrangement with Exxon-Mobil, i.e. with current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Putin and his circle believe that Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and tilt toward the European Union was engineered by the CIA, and that it is possible that Washington may try to get up a color revolution in Moscow itself. Russia would like to break up the European Union, break up NATO, recover Ukraine as a sphere of influence, and erase US and European sanctions. These goals have been voiced by Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and others in their circle who came to power in Washington last November.

Then as the Manafort news was breaking, someone in the FBI leaked that the agency had evidence of Trump operatives being in direct contact with Russian officials and colluding to sink the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Calif) also said Wednesday that the evidence for collusion between Trump operatives and Russian ones to hand Trump the elections was not simply circumstantial. That is, he is aware of direct evidence to that effect.

In other words, Wednesday was a very bad day for the Trump team.

Then Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, went to see Trump to reassure him, and said publicly that the US intelligence community may have acquired communications of the Trump team because they had had non-US citizens under surveillance, and then the Trumpies called them up. Who ever is in contact with a person under investigation in this day and age also comes under investigation.

Trump took Nunes’s pronouncement to vindicate his allegation that President Obama ordered him wiretapped inside the Trump White House.

Nunes, however, continued to say that there was no evidence that Obama ever ordered that Trump be put under surveillance.

Nunes was criticized for visiting Trump and saying these things since it brought into question the integrity of the House investigation of Trump’s Russia ties. Nunes may also have revealed classified information.

Sen. John McCain immediately called for a joint select committee on intelligence to be shared by the House and the Senate.

So the evidence trail leading to Russia is getting deeper and the Trump administration has no idea what to do about it.

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Related video:

CBS News: “New details on Paul Manafort’s alleged ties to Russia”

Corporatocracy: Al Franken shows Gorsuch Cold-Hearted toward Freezing Trucker

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 11:23pm

Amy Goodman | Democracy Now! | (Video News Clip) | – –

Transcript via Democracy Now!

ALPHONSE MADDIN: In January of 2009, I was working as a commercial truck driver for TransAm Trucking Incorporated of Olathe, Kansas. I was hauling a load of meat through the state of Illinois. After stopping to resolve a discrepancy in the location to refuel, the brakes on the trailer froze. I contacted my employer, and they arranged for a repair unit to come to my location. I expected that help would arrive within an hour.

I awoke three hours later to discover that I could not feel my feet, my skin was burning and cracking, my speech was slurred, and I was having trouble breathing. The temperature that night was roughly 27 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. The heater in the cabin was not producing heat, and the temperature gauge in the truck was reading minus-7 degrees below zero. After informing my employer of my physical condition, they responded by telling me to simply hang in there.

As I sat there physically suffering in the cold, I started having thoughts that I was going to die. My physical condition was fading rapidly. I decided to try to detach the trailer from the truck and drive to safety. When I stepped out of the truck, I was concerned that I may fall, because I was on the verge of passing out. I feared that if I fell, I would not have the strength to stand up, and would die. I walked to the back of the trailer to place a lock on the cargo doors. The distance that I walked to the back of the trailer seemed like an eternity, as my feet absolutely had no feeling at all.

I eventually was able to detach the tractor from the trailer. Before I left, I called my employer to notify them that I had decided to head for shelter. And they ordered me to either drag the trailer or stay put. In my opinion, clearly, their cargo was more important than my life. My employer fired me for disobeying their orders. And I’d like to make it clear that although I detached the tractor from the trailer, I returned, and I completed my job. And I was still fired.

OK, I disputed my termination from TransAm Trucking and ultimately won. This was a seven-year battle. Seven different judges heard my case. One of those judges found against me. That judge was Neil Gorsuch.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alphonse Maddin, the trucker, the driver, in the case involving Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. At Tuesday’s hearing, Senator Al Franken questioned Gorsuch about his dissent in the case.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: There were two safety issues here: one, the possibility of freezing to death, or driving with that rig in a very, very—a very dangerous way. Which would you have chosen? Which would you have done, Judge?

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Oh, Senator, I don’t know what I would have done if I were in his shoes, and I don’t blame him at all, for a moment, for doing what he did do.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: But—but—but—

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I empathize with him entirely.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: OK, just you’ve—we’ve been talking about this case. Don’t—you don’t—you haven’t decided what you would have done? You haven’t thought about, for a second, what you would have done in his case?

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Oh, Senator, I thought a lot about this case, because I—

SEN. AL FRANKEN: And what would you have done?

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I totally empathize and understand—

SEN. AL FRANKEN: I’m asking you a question. Please answer questions.

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Senator, I don’t know. I wasn’t in the man’s shoes. But I understand why he did—

SEN. AL FRANKEN: You don’t know what you would have done.

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: I understand—

SEN. AL FRANKEN: OK, I’ll tell you what I would have done. I would have done exactly what he did.

JUDGE NEIL GORSUCH: Yeah, I understand that.

SEN. AL FRANKEN: I think everybody here would have done exactly what he did. … It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it. And it makes me—you know, it makes me question your judgment.”

The Video:

Democracy Now! “A Driver Fled His Truck to Avoid Freezing to Death. One Judge Ruled Against Him: Neil Gorsuch”

Ex-Mossad Chief: Occupation of Palestinians Is Israel’s Only Existential Threat

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 11:18pm

IMEMC | – –

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo asserted, on Tuesday, that the Israeli occupation and the conflict with the Palestinians are the only existential threat facing Israel.

Pardo stated, according to Haaretz: “Israel has one existential threat. It is a ticking time bomb. We chose to stick our head in the sand, creating a variety of external threats. An almost identical number of Jews and Muslims reside between the sea and the Jordan. The non-Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria live under occupation. This is Israel’s definition, not mine. The law in this territory is as we have made it, a military justice system that is subject to the authority of the Israel Defense Forces.”

He said that, despite the full withdrawal from Gaza, responsibility for the territory remains in Israel’s hands. “Israel is responsible for the humanitarian situation, and this is the place with the biggest problem in the world today,” he said.

Via IMEMC

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Jouneyman Pictures: ” High Hopes: Israeli Occupation in the West Bank”

Failed Plan to Reconstruct Gaza Fuels Water, Sanitation Crisis

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 11:14pm

TeleSur | – –

Under the plan, Israel continues to tightly control the materials that are being used to build vital infrastructure in Gaza.

The United Nations-backed strategy for the reconstruction of Gaza following the 2014 offensive by Israel has been dubbed a failure by the international charity Oxfam. An investigation released Wednesday revealed that the strategy “is failing to meet the needs of 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza” and instead is worsening Gaza’s already dire water and sanitation crisis.

The Oxfam report, titled “Treading Water” and released on World Water Day, analyzed the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism or GRM, which was designed to help with urgent reconstruction of areas devastated by the 2014 war by allowing the entry of building materials into the strip.

Under the GRM, almost 3,000 items needed to build infrastructure for water and sanitation in Gaza are still awaiting approval. Only 16 percent of items that have been submitted for GRM approval for water and sanitation projects have made it past the Israeli-imposed blockade.

As part of the GRM, Israeli authorities can reject or delay projects and specific items entering Gaza based on their claimed security concerns. Around 70 percent of materials needed to build water and sanitation infrastructure are estimated to be classed as “dual-use” items. Most of these essential “dual-use” items wait between 61 to 100 days before their approval is decided.

Oxfam Country Director Chris Eijkemans said that for Palestinians living in the territory under tight Israeli control, just 4 percent of freshwater is safe to drink amid a “staggering escalation of the water crisis.”

“The UN-brokered system is unaccountable, fundamentally flawed and gives the appearance of legitimizing Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza,” Oxfam wrote in a press release. “The system is ultimately failing to meet immense needs, address Gaza’s de-development and enable construction of vital water infrastructure.”

The Oxfam report said that while Gaza has a system of piped domestic water, it is subject to breakage and leakage and is not fit for drinking. Instead, many rely on water for drinking and cooking that that is bought from water trucks. Some 40,000 people were estimated to lack access to municipal water networks and 95 percent of Palestinians in Gaza rely on desalinated sea water.

Overall, the GRM has failed to overcome the harsh restrictions of Israel’s blockade on the occupied Palestinian territories, undermining Palestinians’ human rights to water.

“What was an imperfect, supposedly temporary measure has become entrenched within the bureaucracy of the 10-year blockade, funded and backed by the international community and providing an appearance of legitimacy to Israel’s ongoing control over the Gaza Stip,” said Oxfam’s Eijkemans.

The investigation on the water crisis comes after the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released a damning report on Israel’s “apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” The U.N. pulled the report amid Israeli outrage, while the Jordanian chief of the body, Rima Khalef, resigned in protest.

In 2012, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency warned that Gaza could become unliveable by 2020 if urgent action was not taken to keep pace with local needs and prevent “irreversible” damage to aquifers.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Gaza marks World Water Day in polluted waters”

Gorsuch Refuses Chance to Condemn ‘Dark Money’ Lobbying on His Behalf

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 2:01am

By Lauren McCauley, staff writer | (Commondreams.org) | – –

Judge Neil Gorsuch claims he ‘speaks for’ himself, but secretive sources have spent millions to get him confirmed for a reason

During Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) questioned Judge Neil Gorsuch on the conservative “front groups” supporting his nomination. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Putting a rare spotlight on the shadowy conservatives pushing for confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Tuesday directly questioned the nominee on the dark money groups supporting his bid.

During the second day of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Whitehouse called on Gorsuch to urge his undisclosed donors to reveal themselves “as a matter of respect for the process…so we can evaluate who is behind this effort.”

The Hill reported that, while “he did not name Judicial Crisis Network by name, Whitehouse asked why the group spent at least $7 million to keep President [Barack] Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, from getting a confirmation hearing and is now spending $10 million to get Gorsuch confirmed.”

“You’d have to ask them,” was Gorsuch’s retort, to which Whitehouse replied: “I can’t because I don’t know who they are. It is just a front group.”

According to the Los Angeles Times:

The exchange seemed to annoy the otherwise unflappable nominee.

When Republicans on the panel came to his defense and gave Gorsuch another opportunity to address the issue of what Whitehouse called “dark money” supporting his nomination, Gorsuch was resolute.

“Nobody speaks for me,” he said of the suggestion the group represented him. “Nobody. I speak for me. I am a judge. I don’t have spokesmen. I speak for myself.”

Watch the exchange below.

SCOTUS Nominee Neil Gorsuch Confronted About ‘Dark Money’ Spent To Deny Obama Pick | NBC News

The Judicial Crisis Network is among a tight-knit network of conservative organizations and activists that have been actively trying to reshape the American judiciary system, according to New York Times journalist Eric Lipton.

In a recent exposé, Lipton revealed the effort currently being led by conservative activist Leonard Leo, former executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society, who was tapped by the White House to “shepherd the Gorsuch nomination.”

Lipton wrote:

This judicial reformation is being coordinated from Washington by a relatively small team closely aligned around Mr. Leo, who is on leave from the Federalist Society while he helps the White House shepherd the Gorsuch nomination. The network includes John G. Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation and Ann Corkery, a Washington lawyer who along with her husband, Neil, oversees the Judicial Crisis Network and related dark-money groups that also support the cause.

While a free-market agenda and the desire to place judges who will be more skeptical of federal and state regulations is a driving force, several central players in the group are also motivated by intense religious beliefs.

Appearing on Democracy Now! on Tuesday, Lipton further revealed that the Judicial Crisis Network—a so-called grassroots organization that has spent millions of dollars on pro-Gorsuch television and radio ads—only has two unknown donors listed on their tax records, which he tied back to Ann and Neil Corkery and their organization the Wellspring Committee.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Corkery’s have either been board members or officers with “the Catholic League, an aggressive defender of the church against what it sees as ‘slanderous assaults,'” and “the National Organization for Marriage, which has fiercely fought official recognition of gay marriage,” in addition to the Judicial Crisis Network.

Another shadowy group, the Koch Brothers’-backed Concerned Veterans for America, has also been a leading proponent of Gorsuch, flooding conservative districts where a Democrat faces re-election with calls, urging voters to contact their Senators and demand confirmation, according to the right-wing National Review.

Going a step further and connecting the conservative donors with Gorsuch’s controversial view in regards to the “Chevron deference,” Lipton explained how his confirmation could pave the way for massive deregulation.

In a 2016 court opinion, Gorsuch wrote that the idea that courts should defer to experts at agencies has “permit[ted] executive bureaucracies to swallow huge amounts of core judicial and legislative power and concentrate federal power in a way that seems more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design. Maybe the time has come to face the behemoth.”

As Lipton told Democracy Now!:

[Y]ou look at Judicial Crisis Network. Who—in addition to spending millions of dollars on ads to get Gorsuch confirmed, what else is Judicial Crisis Network spending a lot of money on? It’s spending millions of dollars to get Republicans elected as state attorneys general. And the reason that is, is they want Republican attorneys general to bring cases in state and federal court that challenge federal regulations, which they think are overreaching, and then to get those cases into the court, in which they then help pick the judges and have more conservative judges, and then will have decisions which limit the federal powers.

And I think that, you know, that Gorsuch is—if you look at his record, it’s reasonable to expect that he will—he will believe in a more—a narrow interpretation of the law and that any time that a federal agency goes too far, that it’s appropriate for the courts to review it and decide if it has stepped beyond its bounds.

Watch the segment below:

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

Via Commondreams.org

Iraq: ISIS Dumped Hundreds in Mass Grave

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 1:51am

Via Human Rights Watch | – –

Security Forces, Prisoners, Women, Among Those Executed

(Erbil) – The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) executed and dumped the bodies of possibly hundreds of detainees at a site near Mosul, Human Rights Watch said today.

Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the bodies of those killed, including bodies of members of Iraqi security forces, were thrown into a naturally occurring sinkhole at a site known as Khafsa, about eight kilometers south of western Mosul. Local residents said that before pulling out of the area in mid-February, ISIS laid improvised landmines at the site, which are sometimes referred to as improvised explosive devices or booby traps.

Iraq: ISIS Dumped Hundreds in Mass Grave

“This mass grave is a grotesque symbol of ISIS’s cruel and depraved conduct – a crime of a monumental scale,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Laying landmines in the mass grave is clearly an attempt by ISIS to maximize harm to Iraqis.”

Iraqi authorities should make it a priority to mark and fence the site for the protection of the mass grave and those in the area, until deminers can clear the site, Human Rights Watch said. Residents said that water runs through the bottom of the sinkhole, which may make it difficult to exhume the human remains there. If exhumation is possible, the process should be carried out under international standards. Authorities should turn the site into a memorial and support families of victims seeking justice for the executions.

The site is one of dozens of ISIS mass graves found between Iraq and Syria, but could be the largest discovered thus far, Human Rights Watch said. While it is not possible to determine the number of people executed at the site, the estimates of residents, based on executions they witnessed and what ISIS fighters in the area had told them, reaches into the thousands.

Iraqi forces seized control of the site in mid-February 2017. Human Rights Watch visited the site on March 7, but did not inspect the sinkhole closely due to the landmines. An improvised explosive device left at the sinkhole killed a journalist and at least three Iraqi security forces on February 25.

Residents said they had seen multiple mass executions at the 35-meter-wide sinkhole, sometimes on a weekly basis starting in June 2014 until May or June 2015. They said they heard ISIS fighters talking about other executions, including of former police, former Iraqi Security Force members, and members of the Awakening Force (Sahwa), the Sunni force that fought extremist fighters from 2007 to 2008.

Some of the victims may also have been detainees at Badoush Prison, 10 kilometers west of Mosul, which ISIS captured on June 10, 2014. On that day, ISIS fighters executed about 600 prisoners at a ravine in the nearby desert, nine survivors told Human Rights Watch.

On March 11, 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces announced that they had found another mass grave, about two kilometers from Badoush prison, that held between 500 and 600 men – though it is unclear how they determined these numbers. On March 13, Human Rights Watch spoke to an Iraqi military commander who had visited the site four days earlier and had witnessed Iraqi forces exhuming bodies there. On March 15, a general in the Iraqi military’s 9th division told Human Rights Watch that under the division’s supervision, medical experts from Baghdad had exhumed about 400 bodies from the site.


Expand

‘Hammam al-Alil mass grave marked and fenced’ Caption: A marked and fenced ISIS mass grave in Hammam al-Alil, 30 kilometers south of Mosul, discovered in November 2016.


© 2017 Belkis Wille/Human Rights Watch


Fawaz Abdulameer of the International Committee for Missing Persons, an international organization working to establish effective procedures for protecting mass graves and conducting exhumations, told Human Rights Watch: “These excavations are unacceptable. They must be carried out by trained teams with sufficient experience, because they are dealing with human remains at a crime scene.”

This is the second report of ad hoc and unprofessional exhumations taking place without authorization.

Widespread or systematic murder carried out by a state or organized group as part of an attack against a civilian population – as part of a policy to commit murder – constitutes a crime against humanity. The deliberate killing of civilians and civilian or military prisoners during an armed conflict constitutes a war crime.

To facilitate accountability for these crimes, Iraq should ratify the Rome Statute, giving the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity there, and should incorporate the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide into its domestic law.

All parties to the conflict in Iraq should respect the 1997 Ottawa (Mine Ban) Treaty, which Iraq has ratified.

“The strong desire to exhume the remains of loved ones from ISIS mass graves is perfectly understandable, but hastily conducted exhumations seriously harm the chances of identifying the victims and preserving evidence,” Fakih said. “While exhuming the remains of those killed at Khafsa may be difficult, authorities should do what they can to make sure that those who lost their loved ones there have access to justice.”

The Killings at Khafsa

Five residents from villages near Khafsa told Human Rights Watch that on June 10, 2014, they saw ISIS fighters bring four large trucks filled with blindfolded men, with their hands bound, to the sinkhole. Two residents of al-Athba, a village three kilometers from Khafsa, two residents of Swada, a neighboring village, and a resident of Irbid, three kilometers away, who were able to see the site, described what they saw.

The witnesses said the fighters unloaded the men, lined most of them up on the edge of the sinkhole, and opened fire so that the bodies fell in. Fighters shot a smaller number of people a short distance away and threw their bodies into the hole, the witnesses said. One of the men from al-Athba and the man from Irbid said ISIS fighters later told them that the men they had executed were prisoners from Badoush.

The killings at the Khafsa sinkhole apparently continued regularly from late 2014 to mid-2015. One of the residents from Swada, a shepherd, said that in September 2014, he was near Khafsa and saw male ISIS fighters arrive in a pickup truck with at least 13 women, all with full face coverings and cloaks and blindfolds, with their hands bound. He said the ISIS fighters shot the women on the precipice of the pit. He said he witnessed three more group executions subsequently, including the execution of three of his relatives.

One of al-Athba residents, also a shepherd, said he witnessed one execution at the end of 2014, after ISIS fighters called on the residents of al-Athba to come to the sinkhole over the mosque loudspeaker. Fighters brought three of his friends and his cousin to the site because they were accused of having shared GPS coordinates of ISIS positions with the Iraqi forces, he said. The fighters beheaded the men on a wooden block in front of the town residents, and then threw the bodies into the pit. He said fighters told him they had killed another of his cousins, an army officer, and dumped him in the pit.

The shepherd from al-Athba said that at another time, at the end of 2014, he was with his sheep in the area and saw ISIS fighters arrive in two cars and drag out a very large, strong man. They walked him up onto the precipice of the sinkhole, and as they were about to shoot him, he grabbed one of the fighters and jumped into the hole, holding him. Two witnesses of multiple executions said that fighters started carrying out executions further from the precipice after that because of the fighter they had lost.

Another shepherd from al-Athba said that in February 2015 he was about 30 meters from Khafsa with his sheep when he saw six ISIS fighters arrive in a large bus and march at least 20 men to flat ground near the sinkhole. They lined the men up and shot them, then threw their bodies in, he said. In March 2015, the man said, he was again in the area with his sheep and saw two fighters pull up in a car, take four prisoners out, and shoot them near the pit, then throw their bodies into the sinkhole.

Human Rights Watch interviewed a family from Kudila, 60 kilometers southeast of Khafsa, who had fled their home in March 2016. The husband, a former Iraqi soldier, said that ISIS had imprisoned him for 18 days in Qayyarah in March 2015 for selling cigarettes. He said that fighters took several prisoners from the facility while he was there, and he overheard guards saying they were taking them to Khafsa for execution. The prisoners did not return.

Another man from Sawda said that in early 2015, he saw fighters driving 11 freezer trucks toward the sinkhole, and heard from local ISIS fighters that as many as 1,000 people transported to the site in those trucks had been executed that day.

The five people living near Khafsa said they had heard estimates of between 3,000 and 25,000 people executed at the site. They said they often heard screams and gunfire. By early 2015, the stench from the bodies had become unbearable and families were telling ISIS fighters that they would need to move to Mosul if it persisted. One of al-Athba residents said: “It was summer so we had to sleep on the roof, but we were not able to sleep because the stench of the dead was so strong. The smell was overwhelming.” Another said, “The smell was disgusting, we were inside our houses but the smell still reached us.”

In response to the complaints, fighters brought several cranes and dumped the contents of several large trailers into the hole then filled the rest of the pit with earth using several excavators, according to two of the residents Human Rights Watch interviewed. One said, “They [ISIS] told us the trailers were also full of bodies.” ISIS did not carry out any more executions at the site after it was filled in, all the locals said. They said the smell of decomposing bodies diminished after that.

Satellite imagery analyzed by Human Rights Watch shows that the sinkhole was filled in sometime between March and June 2015.

By the time Iraqi government forces retook the area around the sinkhole in February 2017, the filled-in earth had started to subside. Images taken then by international journalists show the remains of what look like two cars in the middle of the filled-in pit.

The location was already labeled on the open-source online map, Wikimapia, as an ISIS mass grave in April 2014 by an unnamed user, before the area had fallen to ISIS-control, but when there was already a strong ISIS presence in the area. The two shepherds from al-Athba and a federal police officer said that as early as 2004, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the precursor group to ISIS, had used the sinkhole to dump bodies of people they executed for allegedly collaborating with the Americans or the Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Governments.

Via Human Rights Watch

Isolated Saudi Arabia pivots to Asia; but will it spread Extremism There?

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 1:43am

By Babak Mohammadzadeh | (Informed Comment) | – –

Capital cities across Asia spent the last month rolling out the red carpet for a rarely seen visitor: Saudi Arabia’s ageing King Salman, accompanied by a hundreds-strong diplomatic entourage including senior princes, businessmen and ministers. Taking in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Japan, China and the Maldives, the king spent March leading a concerted effort to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s commercial links with Asia’s fast-growing economies.

The House of Saud doesn’t usually go in for long state visits, and no Saudi king has visited Indonesia for half a century. So the fact that the Saudi king committed to a full month away in this part of the world speaks volumes about his government’s mood after a series of strategic miscalculations.

Saudi rulers have always worried about the prospect of diplomatic isolation, and stronger relations with Asia are in some ways part of the usual agenda. But they’ve now become a lifeline with which to save the kingdom from its bad bets in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s recent efforts to settle its incessant rivalry with Iran have not paid off, and after flooding the market with cheap oil and engineering a fall in the oil price to Iran’s detriment, the Saudis are now themselves faced with a festering budget deficit, forcing them to slash spending on infrastructure and reduce civil servant perks to get finances under control.

Elsewhere, the devastating war in Yemen is exposing Saudi Arabia to both military pressure and severe international condemnation for the humanitarian catastrophe the campaign has caused. Recent decisions taken in Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), meanwhile, forced Saudi Arabia to swallow a big hit on its oil production, suggesting that it can no longer afford an aggressive anti-Iran policy in Yemen without new allies and partners to shore it up.

In these squeezed times, South-East Asia’s growing economies have much to offer to the Saudis.

Finance diplomacy

Historically, the pilgrimage from Asia to Islam’s holy cities of Mecca and Medina has been an important revenue source for the kingdom’s volatile budget, but King Salman’s failing regional fortunes and financial problems have placed renewed impetus on moving the kingdom away from its traditional dependence on oil.

King Salman has found a receptive audience in the Asian capitals. Malaysia is already making a strong turn to the Saudi fold; in early 2016, it joined military exercises in northern Saudi territory involving around 150,000 soldiers, 2,540 warplanes, 20,000 tanks, and 460 helicopters. The exercise has been fuelling rumours that Malaysia might be swayed to join Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen, which already benefits from the support of several other Muslim-majority states.

This is not a strange expectation. Personal relations between Prime Minister Najib Razak and the Saudi royal family are reported to be strong, and the Saudis played a key role in helping to save Razak’s political career from a major scandal. By publicly confirming Razak’s claim that an unaccounted US$681m in his bank accounts was a donation from the Saudi royal family, the Saudis helped to counter accusations that he had in fact siphoned the money from heavily indebted state investment fund 1MDB.

Economic opportunities abound. Upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur in late February, national oil and gas company Saudi Aramco signed a US$7 billion agreement with Malaysian oil company Petronas. The deal will pump Saudi investment into a Malaysian petrochemical project valued at US$27 billion, making Aramco the single largest investor in Malaysia. The deal is also expected to improve Malaysia’s chances to compete in oil refining and energy storage, an industry currently monopolised by Singapore in South-East Asia.

Indonesia, too, hopes to attract billions of dollars in Saudi investment. The two countries have signed more than ten memorandums of understanding, building on cultural and religious projects, promoting educational exchange and intensifying trade. Together with Indonesia’s Pertamina, Saudi Aramco has committed to expand Indonesia’s biggest refinery in Java. The total value of the agreements stretches into the billions.

The Saudis are highly skilled in this sort of fast-paced “finance diplomacy”. Like estranged family members coming home with presents, they bring in their wake large sums of money for development finance and the promise of several billions of dollars of investment opportunities for the relations they hope to cultivate.

And beyond pure financial interests, it’s worth remembering that these joint investment ventures create the sort of long-term partnerships that give external partners a stake in Saudi Arabia’s own security and development. These sorts of financial patronage projects extend far beyond trade and commerce – since the 1970s, Saudi oil money has persistently found its way to foreign schools, charities, mosques and nonprofits to promote a religious ideology which is at odds with the traditional brand of moderate Islam practised in South-East Asia. Donations by dozens of Saudi waqfs (Islamic charitable endowments) all fuel the elite’s drive to project itself as the leader of Sunni Muslims the world over.

Investment with the heft the Saudis offer is too tempting to pass up, but King Salman’s visit will only help export his country’s hardline doctrine to places where that could do without it. Both Malaysia and Indonesia urgently need to ease tensions between restive religious communities, but Saudi Arabia aims to open more Islamic schools across South-East Asia, increasing not only literacy in the Arabic language but also Saudi religious teaching and influence. That could be a heavy price tag indeed.

Babak Mohammadzadeh, PhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge

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

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Saudi King Salman Arrived in Indonesia (US$25 billion worth of investment)

Top 4 Worst pieces of Climate News from WMO in Age of Trump

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 - 1:30am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations issued its annual report on the climate on Tuesday, making a full and final assessment of 2016.

It was not good news.

It was big news, but it wasn’t good news. Also, surprise, it wasn’t reported on most television “news,” otherwise known as babysitting for adults.

1.
“Warming continued in 2016, setting a new temperature record of approximately 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, and 0.06 °C above the previous highest value set in 2015.

Last year was the warmest year on record in North America. What was strange about the unusual warmth of 2016 was, moreover, how widespread it was over the globe. And it hit the oceans, as well. In fact, the heat in the seas actually literally killed fish around Fiji! And it killed off a lot of coral.

The average global temperature is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1750 before the industrial revolution and modern agriculture spewed so many billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere! CO2 is a greenhouse gas that interferes with the earth’s ability to radiate back out to space the heat it receives from the sun, trapping it. The more heat that is trapped, the hotter the earth will get over time on average.

2 degrees F. is more than it sounds, because it is a global average, including the very cold oceans and the arctic and Antarctica. In some places, the increase has been more.

Even worse, the rate of increase is speeding up. That’s alarming, that 2016 was 0.06° C. hotter than just the year before!

Scientists are concerned that if we get much beyond a 2° C./ 3.6° F. increase, the climate could start to become dangerously unstable. It could result in much less rainfall in some places and megastorms in others. Not to mention that some gigantic glaciers will plop into the ocean that all by themselves could raise sea-levels rapidly and significantly. But at the rate we’re going, the likelihood of us halting the increase at 3.6° F. is ridiculously low. On the other hand, the lower we can keep the increase, the better off we and our descendants will be.

We’d like to avoid a 4 C. / 7 F. world at all costs. But the average increase could go on up to 12° F. if Rex Tillerson gets his way and we burn up all the fossil fuels. That would be inconvenient in the extreme for a lot of people on earth.

All this is because:

2.
“Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) reached new highs at 400.0 ± 0.1 ppm in the atmosphere at the end of 2015.”

I know most people don’t read print newspapers anymore, but in the old days we would say that this should have been a massive headline above the fold. What would you say now? It should have dominated people’s social media feeds? It is more important than Russian fake news and cute kitten videos?

We have surpassed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere! In 1750 it was like 280 ppm. That’s why the temperature has gone up 2 degrees F. since then! Lots more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is no known way to get the CO2 back out of the atmosphere artificially! A lot of it will go into the ocean, which is a carbon sink, but that will vastly increase the acidity of the ocean and kill off half of marine life. 10% of the 7.4 billion human beings mainly live on marine life. The rest will get washed out of the atmosphere by binding with igneous rock. That will take at least 100,000 years. It’s going to be hyper-tropical for a long time. Maybe we can splice into ourselves some genes from tropical fauna to make it more bearable. That won’t help with the megastorms, though. And we can’t really do that gene splicing thing anyway, at least so far.

3.
“Global sea-ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometers below average – an unprecedented anomaly – in November.”

Ice shelves in the ocean already don’t contribute to sea level rise when they melt, but if it is melting so is the surface ice. And you really don’t want surface ice melting if you live anywhere near a seashore.

Another site explains,

“In November 2016, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.51 million square miles), the lowest November in the satellite record. This is 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) below November 2006, the previous lowest November…”

And just in case you’re wondering, yes, this is something we are doing with our gasoline, natural gas and coal emissions.. It may be exacerbated by weather cycles, but we’re causing the maximum weirdness of it.

4.
“Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, with the early 2016 values making new records.”

The report notes, “Globally, sea level has risen by 20 cm [about 8 inches] since the start of the twentieth century, due mostly to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice caps.”

But when we come to just last year the WMO says, “Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, rising about 15 mm [over half an inch] between November 2014 and February 2016, well above the post-1993 trend of 3 mm – 3.5 mm per year, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs.”

Since 1900, the oceans have gone up about 2/3s of a foot, but in just last year they rose half an inch!

There are other things in the report, such as the natural disasters that have a component of human-caused climate change, including typhoons and hurricanes and droughts. You figure at least 20% of any of these is likely driven by the greenhouse gases we’ve all been belching into the atmosphere.

So there we have it, folks. We live in a country where the head of the EPA can lie about what is going on and why it is going on without fear of accountability.

The onus is now on us as individual Americans to do the right thing by the earth and reduce our carbon footprint. Here’s some ways we can resist Pruitt’s anti-EPA and help save the planet.

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Related video:

Antarctica’s Record-Breaking Heat Studied By WMO | Video

What’s Cuba *Really* Like?

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 11:24pm

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

What is Cuba like? Since visiting there recently, I have been asked this question hundreds of times and learned that every third person harbors a desire to visit there.

Yes, there are iconic ‘57 Chevrolets, some in mint condition for taking tourists around Havana. But most 1950s Russian and American cars there would not pass emissions and safety inspections here (although this may change as the Trump administration takes a wrecking ball to the US EPA). There are no traffic jams in this city of 2.2 million people because most Cubans take buses, ride bikes, use pedicabs and walk. Music – especially Afro Cuban and salsa – is everywhere: in hotels, small clubs, plazas, flowing from opened windows. So no need to go in search of it; it finds you.

Cubans love books, we were told. Sure enough, there were many bookstores in Havana. Could their love of books stem from a public education system that is free through university and medical school, the most democratic educational system in the Americas? Within two years after the 1959 revolution, Cuba’s aggressive literacy program, which placed special focus on women, Afro-Cubans and rural people, raised the literacy rate from 60 percent to 96 percent. It now stands at 100 percent. (By contrast, 32 million adults in the U.S. are considered illiterate, reflecting the fact that our country invests much less of our GDP in education than does Cuba). Every morning, just after 7:00 the streets are filled with children in school uniforms walking, being biked and, in the case of the small rural towns like Boca de Camarioca where we stayed, being brought in horse-drawn carriages to their schools.

In Havana we met with two key women’s organizations, the Federation of Cuban Women and the National Union of Cuban Women Lawyers. They described their programs on violence against women in the primary and secondary schools and have a profound understanding of prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women. Their feminist magazines – one for girls and one for women – reach hundreds of thousands of readers.

Cuba is a poor country, with the average monthly salary of teachers being $40, and no evident signs of consumerism – no shopping malls, luxury goods, cheap fast food places or billboard advertising. Despite its poverty, it has the lowest malnutrition rate in the Americas. Nowhere did I see homeless people sleeping in parks, doorways or under bridges nor people begging as I saw daily during the years that I worked in Boston. Boston, with a quarter of Havana’s population, had nearly 8,000 homeless men, women and children in 2016, with a 25 percent increase in homeless families since 2015.

The U.S. embargo of Cuba, more accurately called a bloqueo or blockade by Cubans, began in 1960 with the intent to deny money and supplies to the country; to decrease wages; and “to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the [Castro] government,” according to a State Department memo. And, yes, there is a sense of the country locked in the 1950s, with housing and colonial buildings desperately in need of repair, extremely crowded buses, shortages of consumer goods, and poor air quality in Havana. Years of material deprivation, amazingly, have not dampened the warmth, affection and welcome that everyone who visits Cuba speaks of, a richness in the Cuban spirit sustained, possibly, by their more equal society.

In the past few years, the Cuban government under Raul Castro has allowed small private enterprises to open. Families are renting rooms and offering meals to tourists, in what are called casas particulares. These and other small microenterprises are flourishing and raising incomes and standards of living across the island.

One hallmark of Cuba’s achievements is its free health care system, recognized as one of the best in the world, as well as the primary care it provides in poor communities throughout the world. In meeting with health care providers, we learned of their emphasis on disease prevention and the country’s policy that every community, no matter how remote, has a primary care facility. With its commitment to health care as a human right, Cuba has achieved higher life expectancy and a lower infant mortality rate than the United States, these being key indicators of the overall health of the country’s people.

Like many colonial-era countries, Cuba’s wealth was built on the African slave trade and slave labor. One factor that may contribute to their overall health achievements is that the social and economic integration of black and white Cubans – an intentional goal since their revolution – is more advanced than that of many countries, including (and especially) our own. In 2015 black and Hispanic households in the United States had on average one-tenth the money and property of white households.

Last year President Obama made a trip to Cuba, after much closed door negotiation facilitated at times by the Vatican and consultation with wealthy Miami Cuban-American businessmen. Some of them joined him in Havana, being flown there on the private jet of a Cuban American healthcare billionaire.

Obama’s intentions appear honorable – opening up Cuba’s economy with private enterprise to raise the standard of living, release of political prisoners and free elections. Yet there is a fatal irony in these objectives for Cuba. Our “free” national elections are determined by money – the biggest spenders win; and our Executive Branch is now littered with people in the top 1 percent of income. We have the largest prison system in the world, with a disproportionate number of African Americans unjustly incarcerated, and have never yet, as a society, come to terms with structural racism, our segregated cities and segregated urban schools. Even with the Affordable Care Act, medical expenses are the biggest cause of bankruptcies while executives in the health care industry become multi-millionaires.

Realistically, most U.S. people would not choose to live in Cuba: we have more individual freedoms and no shortages of consumer items, if you can afford them. I do remember, however, a sign scrawled on a wall in the city of Matanzas (the former center of the African slave trade) that speaks to the island country’s social aspirations: la dignidad no se vende, dignity is not for sale.

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health from Boston University School of Public Health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

BBC News: “What is life like in Cuba after Fidel Castro? BBC News”

How Foreign Powers Could Try to Buy Trump

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 11:19pm

The Atlantic | (Video Report) | – –

“Donald Trump is an unprecedentedly wealthy president, who owns or licenses his name to buildings, casinos, and luxury hotels around the world. An ethics watchdog group has already brought a lawsuit against him for violating the Constitution’s “Emoluments Clause,” which prohibits government officials from receiving gifts from foreign states. Trump has taken few steps to distance himself from his organization, and foreign governments could use the President’s business interests as bargaining chips to influence his policymaking. Atlantic writer Jeremy Venook has been monitoring the President’s growing list of conflicts of interests since November 2016, and breaks down some of the most alarming ones in this video. ”

The Atlantic: “How Foreign Powers Could Try to Buy Trump”