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11,004 Gun Murders in US vs. 26 (equiv. 130) in England Annually

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 - 2:29am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Revised

A lot of smoke is being generated to cover up the fact that the horrific Florida school shooting that has left at least 17 dead results from a virtual absence of meaningful gun controls in the US, such that a few gun manufacturers are allowed to make powerful military-style weapons available to the homocidally insane and to gangbangers etc. The Las Vegas shooter, whom the US press has buried long ago, was not an immigrant. And, Britain has a lot of immigrants, too, but it has almost no gun murders.

The US policy of constantly endangering our children is enacted by a bought-and-paid-for Congress on behalf of 10 major gun manufacturers with an $8 billion industry. Most Americans don’t have or want a gun, and 50% of all guns in the US are owned by 3% of Americans, i.e. some 6 million people out of 320 million. That three percent would survive better security checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Last year, there were 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days in the United States. (This statistic covered just part of the year).

You’ll note you don’t hear about mass shootings in Australia, Japan or for the most part the United Kingdom, or other civilized countries whose politicians have not been bought by 10 major gun manufacturers.

The United States continues to be peculiar in handing out powerful magazine-fed firearms to almost anyone who wants one and not requiring background checks on private purchases even if these are made at gun shows or by persons with a history of mental illness. 80% of civilian-owned firearms world-wide are in the US, and only Yemen vaguely competes with us for rates of firearm ownership; Yemen is a violent mess with Shiite insurgencies, al-Qaeda taking over cities from time to time, tribal feuding, southern separatism and US drone strikes. And even it has fewer guns per person than the USA.

It has gotten to the point where the increasing epidemic of mass shootings now threatens law enforcement.

The US is downright weird compared to civilized Western Europe or Australia (which enacted gun control after a mass shooting in 1996 and there have been no further such incidents).

In 2015-16 (the twelve months beginning in March), there were 26 fatalities from gun-related crimes in England and Wales (equivalent to 130 because Great Britain 1/5 the size of the US).

Police in the UK fired their guns 7 times in 2015.

Number of Murders by Firearms, US, 2016: 11,004

Percentage of all Murders that were committed by firearms in 2016 in US: 73%

Suicides in US 2015: 44,193

Gun Suicides in US, 2015: ~22,000

Percentage of suicides where the method was guns in 2015: 49.8

Percentage of all murders in England and Wales that were committed by firearm: 4.5 percent.

Academic research shows that more guns equal more suicides.

Number of suicides in England and Wales, 2016: 5,668 (equivalent to about 28,330 in US or 36% lower)

Number of suicides by firearam in England and Wales, 2011: 84 (this is the most recent statistic I could find but the typical percentage is given as 1.6% of all suicides; that would be the equivalent of 707 suicides by firearm in the US instead of 22,000).

For more on murder by firearms in Britain, see the BBC.

The US has the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest murder rate in the developed world.

It seems pretty clear, as well, that many US suicides would not occur if firearms were not omnipresent.

There is some correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high rates of violent crime in general, globally (and also if you compare state by state inside the US):


h/t Christopher Majka

In the case of Britain, firearms murders are 53 times fewer than in the US per capita. [Don’t bother with flawed citations of Switzerland or Israel, where most citizens are the equivalent of military reservists.]

Every mass shooting since Sandy Hook, mapped. https://t.co/IqqLwO7LC2 pic.twitter.com/AQMoVLpWh9

— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) December 2, 2015

Do hunters really need semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapons? Is that how they roll in deer season? The US public doesn’t think so.

PS this is a revised version of an older column; if they keep refusing to legislate rationally and go on causing these massacres, I can keep writing a similar column.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS: “Sheriff: At least 17 dead in Florida school shooting”

54 Palestinians from Gaza died in 2017 awaiting Israeli travel permits

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 - 12:36am

Middle East Monitor | – –

The record low rate of permits issued by Israel for Palestinians seeking vital medical treatment to travel outside the Gaza Strip underlines the urgent need for the Zionist state to end its decade-long closure of the enclave, a group of Palestinian and international rights groups have said in a joint statement. Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI) confirmed that 54 Palestinians from Gaza died while they were waiting for Israeli travel permits. They added that a record level of delays by the Palestinian Authority in issuing required approvals last year, as well as Egypt’s continued closure of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza have further restricted movement and caused additional suffering to the Palestinian people.

According to the NGOs report, the Israeli authorities approved travel permits for medical reasons for only 54 per cent of those who applied in 2017, the lowest rate since the World Health Organisation (WHO) began collecting statistics in 2008. The WHO reported that 54 Palestinians, 46 of whom had cancer, died last year following the rejection or delays in their travel permit applications.

“We’re seeing Israel increasingly deny or delay access to potentially life-saving cancer and other treatment outside Gaza, with shockingly high numbers of Palestinian patients subsequently dying,” explained Aimee Shalan, the CEO of MAP. “Gaza’s healthcare system, meanwhile, having been subjected to half a century of occupation and a decade of blockade is increasingly unable to meet the needs of its population.”

Read:16 medical centres cease work due to lack of electricity, fuel in Gaza

The NGOs insisted that Israel should lift the unlawful sweeping restrictions on the freedom of movement of people from Gaza, most critically those with significant health problems.

For the past two decades, and especially since 2007 when Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza, Israel has kept Gaza mostly closed, unlawfully depriving its population of basic rights. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), among others, have declared this policy “collective punishment” and called for Israel to lift its closure. Israel controls all access to and from Gaza, with the exception of the Rafah Crossing via the Egyptian border, and all transport between Gaza and the occupied West Bank, as well as the border between the West Bank and Jordan. The Israeli authorities will not allow the Palestinians in Gaza to rebuild and open their airport — destroyed by Israel in 2001/2 — or build a functional seaport, leaving Palestinians dependent on foreign ports for travel abroad.

Travel through the Erez Crossing, Gaza’s pedestrian route to Israel, the West Bank and the outside world, is limited to what the Israeli military calls “exceptional humanitarian cases,” meaning mainly those with significant health issues and their companions, as well as prominent business people. The gradual decline in Israel’s issue of medical permits, from 92 per cent approval of applications in 2012 to 88.7 per cent in 2013; 82.4 per cent in 2014, 77.5 per cent in 2015, 62.07 per cent in 2016 and 54 per cent in 2017 indicates that Israel has increasingly restricted travel even for “exceptional humanitarian cases,” said WHO. In 2017, travel via Erez accounted for less than 1 per cent of the travel recorded in September 2000.

Palestinians from Gaza missed at least 11,000 scheduled medical appointments in 2017 after the Israeli authorities denied or failed to respond in time to applications for permits. Research by Al Mezan, supported by MAP, into the cases of 20 Palestinians who died after missing hospital appointments due to denied or delayed travel permits found that 14 had cancer, nine of whom were women. PHRI has highlighted how women in Gaza with cancer have faced heightened obstacles to accessing medical care and consequently expended energy fighting bureaucracy rather than their illness.
#GazaHealthCrisis

The significant decline runs counter to the ever-increasing health needs in Gaza. The besieged territory’s 2 million people endure what the UN labels “a protracted humanitarian crisis.” Amid widespread poverty and unemployment, at least 10 per cent of young children are stunted by chronic malnutrition; up to half of all medicines and medical disposables in Gaza are completely depleted or below one month’s supply; and chronic electricity shortages have caused officials to cut health and other essential services.

The three Israeli military offensives on Gaza since 2008 have also taken a heavy toll on essential infrastructure and further debilitated Gaza’s health system and economy. In light of the control Israel effectively exercises over the lives and welfare of the people of Gaza, the Zionist state continues to maintain ultimate responsibility for ensuring their well-being under the laws governing military occupation, as the ICRC and UN, among others, have recognised.

“It’s unconscionable that Israel prevented so many critically ill people from accessing care that might have saved their lives,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s continued control over movement into and out of Gaza creates obligations to facilitate – not thwart – humanitarian access.”

Palestinians in Gaza require referral permits to access the more advanced health care in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank, as well as in Israel. The health services most commonly requiring referral outside of Gaza are for oncology, paediatrics, cardiology and heart problems, and haematology. The Israeli authorities state that they can process priority permits in one day, although the typical waiting time averages two weeks, while “regular” cases require 23 days, and often fail to meet this timetable.

The WHO has deemed the ensuing process “neither transparent nor timely,” and the UN coordinator for humanitarian aid and development activities in the occupied Palestinian territory has stated that a “minefield of interviews, paperwork, opaque procedures and logistical hurdles stand between a cancer patient and his or her urgent treatment.”

The Palestinian Authority’s financial approval of referrals for those in need of essential medical treatment in Gaza also fell in 2017, with at least one subsequent death reported. While the PA approved about 2,000 applications in each of the first three months, this fell to under 500 in June, before increasing to more than 2,000 later in the year amid efforts at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, according to the WHO. Additionally, the PA’s reduction of essential services to the Gaza Strip between July and December 2017 – including electricity and medical supplies – also undermined Palestinians’ right to health.

Egypt has kept the Rafah Crossing mostly closed for the population in Gaza since 2013, which contributed to restricting access to health care. Before July 2013, more than 4,000 Palestinians travelled monthly via Rafah for health-related purposes. As a state bordering a territory with a protracted humanitarian crisis, Egypt should facilitate humanitarian access for the population. Nevertheless, ultimate responsibility remains with Israel, the occupying power.

“The Israeli government’s restrictions on movement are directly connected to patient deaths and compounded suffering as ill patients seek permits,” Issam Younis, Director of Al Mezan, pointed out. “These practices form part of the closure and permit regime that prevents patients from a life of dignity, and violates the right to life.” The closure system must be abolished so that patients have safe access to healthcare in Palestinian hospitals in the occupied Palestinian territories and elsewhere, he added. “The victims and their families must have their right to justice and redress upheld.”

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

Via Middle East Monitor

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

RT America: “Israel’s blockage of Gaza continues to have dire consequences for Palestinians”

Celebrities speak out for Jailed Teen Ahed Tamimi: Israel/Palestine

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 - 12:13am

IMEMC | – –

Celebrities and civil rights figures declared their support for imprisoned Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, 17, who was detained by Israeli forces on December 15, after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier who broke into her house in Nabi Saleh village, near Ramallah, went viral.

A number of high-profile entertainers, scholars, and civil rights icons signed on Monday a letter in support of Ahed Tamimi and other Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel.

American political activist and author Angela Davis said she doesn’t only stand with Tamimi, but with the rest of the Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons.

“I stand in loving solidarity with Ahed Tamimi and the 300 Palestinian children languishing in Israeli prisons. Over 70 years of state violence and land theft has aimed to break the Palestinian people, but, it has not worked and will not,” said Davis. “They remain steadfast in their pursuit of freedom and equality in their homeland and we must stand with them until justice is delivered. Only in the presence of justice can Palestinian and Israeli children flourish together in peace.”

American philosopher, activist, critic and author Cornel West also spoke out in support for Tamimi.

“I indeed sign on, and say we must defend our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” said West, “especially the children, living under vicious Israeli occupation.”

American academic and television personality Marc Lamont Hill thinks that Tamimi’s case reflects a crisis in the Israeli legal system.

“The tragic case of Ahed Tamimi reflects a broader and deeper crisis within the Israeli legal system, which consistently criminalizes Palestinian children. Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children – through arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and inhumane physical and mental abuses – reflects a complete indifference to the lives and well being of the vulnerable,” said Hill. “These actions not only contradict the most basic standards of human dignity and respect, but also violate the letter and spirit of international law. As Israel’s largest source of financial support, the United States government has a moral responsibility to immediately reject, denounce, and prevent the military detention of Palestinian children.”

Phillip Agnew, director of Dream Defenders Mission, a member group of the Movement for Black Lives that recently initiated a letter in support of Tamimi signed by a number of high-profile entertainers and activities, said the only way to protect the community is to build a loving world for everyone.

“Committing to building a more just and loving world for us all,” said Agnew. “And embracing our shared struggle for liberation is the only way we can protect our communities.”

Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, also detained on the same day as her daughter, appeared in an Israeli military court near Ramallah on Tuesday, but the hearing for Ahed was postponed until March 11 and Nariman until March 6.

According to WAFA, the Tamimis’ attorney, Gaby Lasky, said Israel fears the attention Tamimi’s case has garnered.

“This [Israeli Military] court of Occupation fears the light shined on it by this case,” said Lasky. “After it placed Ahed under open-ended detention in violation of her rights as a minor, the court now uses the false pretext of protecting these very rights as cover to shield itself from criticism this case raises.”

Via IMEMC

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Ahed Tamimi trial: The conditions of detention of under-aged Palestinians”

What Does Netanyahu Corruption Case tell us about Trump’s Fate?

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 - 1:32am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu be indicted for corruption. The recommendation now goes to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who may or may not decide to act on it. Although 60% of Israelis in polling have said they wanted Netanyahu to step down if the police made this recommendation, he is refusing to leave and will fight the cases from office.

The police instanced two cases, one in which Netanyahu allegedly accepted a couple hundred thousand dollars in bribes from an Australian businessmen in return for favorable treatment of his business and attempting to get him a US visa. (Whether Netanyahu regularly got people visas should be looked into as a form of corruption on the US side).

In the other case, Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a deal to Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu supporter and shady casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson had begun a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Yisrael Ha-Yom, and it obviously was eating into the profits of the other newspapers in the country. (How this is not illegal as “dumping” baffles me.) Netanyahu allegedly told Mozes that he could persuade Adelson to reduce the publication run of Yisrael Ha-Yom, which would help his bottom line. In return, Mozes should report more favorably on Netanyahu.

In my view it is the second case that is explosive. In the first one Netanyahu got champagne and cigars. But the second case shows how far right wing nationalist politics is intertwined with shady businesses like casino-owning and their ability, having bilked millions of poor and working people out of their money, to turn around and buy influential press organs to convince the latter to vote for the people who screwed them over. (Although Netanyahu is notorious in the West for having reneged on the Oslo Accords and having denied Palestinians their rights, within Israel he has also led an assault on the old socialist welfare state, throwing workers under the bus and diverting money to the billionaire class.) It is a perfect vicious circle.

Sheldon Adelson, who allegedly recouped his fortune at one point by bribing members of the Chinese Communist Party to let him operate in Macao, has the dubious distinction of having ruined both the United States and Israel by pushing, repectively, Netanyahu and Trump. Adelson sidelined New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the 2016 Republican primary for having referred to Gaza and the West Bank as “Occupied Territories,” which they self-evidently are. In Adelson’s warped world, there are and never have been any Palestinians and random Arabs have no business in his Israel.

Are there parallels between Netanyahu’s situation and Trump’s?

Both came to power in part through the backing of billionaires and their fake news organs such as Fox Cable News for Trump and Yisrael Ha-Yom for Netanyahu.

Both men are being investigated for corruption.

Both have responded by denigrating law enforcement. Netanyahu attacked the police, Trump the FBI.

Both have tried to normalize corruption. Netanyahu dismissed the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received as a few gifts among friends. Trump asks his audience if they don’t want him to make money for his businesses.

And in the case of both men, if they are removed from office for corruption, they will be succeeded by political figures even farther to their right and more dangerous to the world.

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Bonus video:

AFP: “srael police recommend corruption charges for Netanyahu”

Sea Level Rise Speeding up as Humans burn more Fossil Fuels

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 - 12:21am

TeleSur | – –

The rise in global sea levels has accelerated since the 1990s amid rising temperatures, with a thaw of Greenland’s ice sheet pouring ever more water into the oceans.

Sea level rise is accelerating and could reach 66 centimeters by century’s end, in line with United Nations estimates and enough to cause significant problems for coastal cities, a study found Monday.

The past annual rate of sea level rise — about three millimeters per year — may more than triple to 10 millimeters per year by 2100, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed U.S. journal.

The findings are “roughly in agreement with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (AR5) model projections,” said the report, based on 25 years of satellite data.

“This acceleration, driven mainly by accelerated melting in Greenland and Antarctica, has the potential to double the total sea level rise by 2100 as compared to projections that assume a constant rate — to more than 60 centimeters instead of about 30,” said study author Steve Nerem.

“And this is almost certainly a conservative estimate,” added Nerem, a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Co-authors on the study came from the University of South Florida, Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center, Old Dominion University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

A rise in sea levels will threaten low-lying coasts from Miami to Bangladesh, cities from Shanghai to San Francisco and small island states such as Tuvalu in the Pacific.

Climate change leads to rising seas in two ways.

For one, higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere boost the temperature of water and warm water expands.

This so-called “thermal expansion” of the oceans has already contributed about half of the seven centimeters of average global sea level rise in the past quarter century, Nerem said.

Oceans also rise with the increasing flow of water due to rapidly melting ice at the poles.

“This study highlights the important role that can be played by satellite records in validating climate model projections,” said co-author John Fasullo, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

via TeleSur

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

NASA Goddard: “Sea Level Rise Accelerates Over Time”

The U.S. Is Permanently Occupying Northern Syria, and That’s Trouble

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 - 12:18am

By Reese Erlich | (The Progressive) | – –

When President Barack Obama started bombing Syria in 2014, he enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. Americans were appalled by the atrocities of the Islamic State, which had massacred Yazidis, and seized swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq.

At the time I warned that, far from being a humanitarian intervention, this action threatened to precipitate yet another Middle East war: “Once again, the United States is waging an open-ended war with no concern for the long-term well-being of the people in the region.”


And sure enough, with the Islamic State on the ropes, the Trump Administration has announced that some 2,000 U.S. troops will stay permanently in the Kurdish region of northern Syria. Ostensibly, the troops will fight Islamic State remnants and combat Iranian influence. In reality, the United States seeks to remove President Bashar al Assad, or failing that, dismember Syria into zones controlled by outside powers.


×

Reese Erlich

In 2014 the U.S. responded to Islamic State attacks on Yazidis by bombing northern Syria, and later sending troops there. Here aid workers provide food for Yazidis after the attacks.

On February 7, U.S. jets and artillery attacked pro-Assad forces in Khusham, an oil-rich area in north eastern Syria outside of the Kurdish region. The U.S.-allied Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had captured the area from the Islamic State and Assad-allied troops were trying to take it. Needless to say, the fighting had nothing to do with Yazidis or remnants of the Islamic State.


Then on February 9, Israel claimed an Iranian drone entered its airspace, a charge denied by Iran. On the same day Assad’s artillery shot down an Israeli jet fighter, the first such loss since 1982. In retaliation Israel bombed a dozen sites in Syria. The United States is allied with Israel against Assad, Russia, and Iran.


Such clashes are just the latest indication of the expanded role played by outside powers. So the U.S. occupation won’t be easy. Turkey launched an attack on the U.S.-aligned SDF forces last month, promising to “suffocate this terror army before it is born.”


How did the United States get tangled up in another Mideast quagmire?


In September 2014, the United States had no allies on the ground when it began bombing the Islamic State in Syria. The CIA and Pentagon had spent more than a billion dollars trying to create pro-U.S. rebel groups that would fight Assad. Both agencies failed miserably as the ostensible guerrillas accepted U.S. arms and promptly handed them over to terrorist groups fighting in Syria.


But there was one insurgent group, the Kurdish-based Democratic Union Party, that effectively battled the Islamic State. The problem, from the United States’ perspective, was that the group was affiliated with a leftist Kurdish group based in Turkey. Turkish leaders denounce the group as terrorists—an accusation that conveniently covers up Turkish government repression of its Kurdish minority.


Turkey invaded northern Syria in 2016 and seized part of the Kurdish region in order to prevent the SDF from creating a contiguous territory along the Turkish border. Turkey, like every foreign power invading Syria, proclaimed their incursions as temporary. But it set up military bases and ran electricity wires from Turkey into the Syrian cities under its control.


Then, on January 20 of this year, Turkey launched an invasion of Afrin, an isolated area in the far northwest of Rojava, the Kurdish name for their region in Syria. Turkish bombing of the city has already killed 150 civilians and wounded 300, according to Sinam Mohamad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in the United States. The council is the political wing of the SDF.


Mohamad says that the ultimate goal of Turkey is to drive the Kurds out of Afrin in order to create a buffer zone under its permanent control. She accuses the Turkish Army of ethnic cleansing. “They want to kick out the Kurds,” she says.


The Turkish military created a Syrian Arab militia, appropriating the name Free Syrian Army. The group stands accused of war crimes for mutilating the body of a Kurdish female fighter, and filming it. Mohamad compares such actions to atrocities carried out by terrorist groups.


“What’s the difference between them and Islamic State?” she asks.


But the United States has no plans to prevent the Turks from taking Afrin, putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in peril.


The Pentagon seems to be drawing a line at the Rojava town of Manbij, some thirty-seven miles east of Afrin. The United States sent high ranking army officers into Manbij, riding in vehicles prominently displaying U.S. flags, accompanied by a New York Times reporter to make sure the message was received in Ankara.


For the moment, it appears the U.S. military will maintain its alliance with Kurdish forces while Turkey will continue its military opposition, but within limits.


In my opinion, the Syrian Kurds are playing a very dangerous game allying with the United States. They may think it will protect the Kurds, but nothing in history suggests it will be a reliable partner. And the people of Rojava will suffer.


There’s an old saying commonly used in the Middle East: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” We Americans have another old saying: “It ain’t necessarily so.”


Reese Erlich’s syndicated “Foreign Correspondent” column appears every two weeks. The revised and updated edition of his book The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis will be published in September. Follow him on Twitter.

Via The Progressive

Reprinted with author’s permission

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Wochit News: “Several Russian Contractors Killed In Battle Between US And Syrian Pro-Regime Forces”

The US is near to Turning a Corner in Afghanistan etc. and always Will be

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 - 12:16am

By Tom Engelhardt | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

If you’re in the mood, would you consider taking a walk with me and, while we’re at it, thinking a little about America’s wars? Nothing particularly ambitious, mind you, just — if you’re up for it — a stroll to the corner. 

Now, admittedly, there’s a small catch here. Where exactly is that corner?  I think the first time I heard about it might have been back in January 2004 and it was located somewhere in Iraq. That was, if you remember, just nine months after American troops triumphantly entered a burning Baghdad and the month after Iraq’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein, was captured near his hometown, Tikrit.  Yet despite President George W. Bush’s unforgettable May 1, 2003, “mission accomplished” moment when, from the deck of an aircraft carrier off the coast of San Diego, he declared “major combat operations in Iraq… ended,” the American war there somehow never actually stopped.  An insurgency had already flared, U.S. bases were being periodically mortared, and American officials feared that some kind of civil war was in the offing between the country’s formerly reigning Sunni minority and its rising Shiite majority.

It was then that Major General Charles Swannack Jr., commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, mentioned that corner (and as you’ll gather from his comments, it wasn’t even the first time he’d brought the subject up).  Here, as New York Times correspondent John Burns reported it, was Swannack’s assessment of the situation:

“The general, a large, imposing figure renowned among his troops for his no-nonsense ways, began his remarks by reminding the reporters that he had appeared in Baghdad six weeks ago, about the time of the insurgents’ Ramadan offensive, and had said he believed [troops] in his area were ‘turning the corner.’

“Now, he said, ‘I’m here to tell you that we’ve turned that corner. I can also tell you that we are on a glide path towards success, as attacks on our forces have declined by almost 60 percent over the past month.’”

As it happened, Americans would remain on the glide path to that corner of ultimate success for some time, not just in Iraq but in Washington, too.  There, as Rowan Scarborough reported more than a year later, in March 2005, “in the privacy of their E-ring offices, senior Pentagon officials have begun to entertain thoughts that were unimaginable a year ago: Iraq is turning the corner. ‘This is still a tough fight. We don’t want anyone to think that it is not,’ said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a military analyst who strongly supports Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. ‘But the momentum is in our direction.’”

Corner-less Iraq

Here was the problem: every time American troops actually turned that corner, what they found there were insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other weaponry, sometimes even American-produced arms.  In addition, the streets around that corner turned out to be pitted with half-buried improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, those same insurgents could build from instructions on the Internet and that could destroy the most well-armored Humvee for the price of a pizza.  (Early on, in fact, some of the places down which American troops had to turn were already being given grimly sardonic names like “RPG Alley.”) There were, as it happened, so many corners to turn and yet, from 2003 on, seemingly nowhere to go. 

I don’t doubt that those of you of a certain age preparing for our little walk are already thinking about a somewhat more perilous image from another war: the infamous “light at the end of the tunnel” that will forever be connected with Vietnam.  That phrase was repeatedly used by Americans to describe the glide path to victory in that conflict and would long be associated with the commander of U.S. forces, General William Westmoreland. He used it to remarkable effect in 1967, a mere 10 weeks before the enemy launched its devastating Tet Offensive.

However, the general was anything but alone in his choice of imagery.  That “tunnel” was also occupied by a range of top U.S. officials, from President Lyndon Johnson to National Security Advisor Walt Rostow.  And it wasn’t the newest of images either.  After all, General Henri Navarre had used it a decade and a half earlier in the French version of that losing war. 

For those in the antiwar movement of the era, it was an image that always had a particularly ominous resonance, since you weren’t just heading for “the corner” but deep inside a dark tunnel where, just beyond the light glimmering at its end, it was easy enough to imagine a train bearing down on you.  By the way, lest you think there’s anything especially original about the American military in the twenty-first century, Westmoreland also spoke with hope in 1967 (but assumedly before he found himself in that tunnel) of how the U.S. “had turned the corner in the war” and how its end had begun “to come into view.”

In Iraq, the light at the end of the corner would prove no more evident than it had been in that Vietnamese tunnel and, as a result, the corner itself simply disappeared.  In fact, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2008, U.S. commander (and Iraq surge general) David Petraeus even admitted, however reluctantly, that “we haven’t turned any corners, we haven’t seen any lights at the end of the tunnel.”  And soon after that, corners of any sort were largely abandoned (at least as figures of speech).  Or perhaps, thought of another way, the problem of finding a corner, no less any good news on the other side of it, would be solved by a change in tactics in the second iteration of Washington’s Iraq War in this century: the one against the Islamic State.  From August 2014 on, the U.S. Air Force would be called in to play a major role in turning Iraq’s embattled cities, from Fallujah to Mosul, into so much rubble.  No corners, no problems, you might say.

Now, I don’t want you to be disappointed.  I was serious about that walk to the corner, just not in Iraq.  Consider corner-less Iraq no more than background information for the real walk we’re going to take. 

But before we leave Iraq, let me mention — and I hope you won’t consider me too much of an optimist for this — that I just might see a little light glimmering at the end of the rubble.  Is it possible that, some 14 years late, America’s mission-accomplished moment is finally arriving?  After all, the “caliphate” of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is history and, in December, President Donald Trump even declared victory over ISIS.  (“We’ve won in Iraq,” he said without hesitation or qualification.)  No tunnel, no corner, no glimmers of light, just the whole shebang. 

Now admittedly, while the so-called caliphate is gone and its militants driven out of the Iraqi and Syrian cities they had occupied, some of its fighters seem to be turning themselves back into guerrilla warriors and suicide bombers — the first post-caliphate bombings in Baghdad have evidently begun — and aren’t quite acting like they’re down for the count.  Not yet anyway (and let’s not forget as well that, in the years leading to Washington’s “victory,” the Islamic State did somehow manage to turn itself into a global terror brand).

Still, give me a little leeway here.  I’m just talking about glimmers, and… oh, wait, I should mention one more thing: in neighboring Syria, all a-glimmer itself these days, the U.S. is now seemingly on the brink of involvement in a whole new war between NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish forces it’s still backing against ISIS and, talking about what’s glimmering in the distance, a possible future war with Iran also seems to be lurking just around the next turn of the Trumpian corner. 

Still, let’s keep the good news in full view.  U.S. troops are actually being drawn down in Iraq and a mere 14 years after that mission-accomplished moment, some of them are evidently being sent to the place where that corner-to-be-turned still evidently stands, where for America’s war-fighting generals and other key officials, there have always been corners to turn beyond compare.

“Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan”

So how about taking that little walk of ours somewhere in Afghanistan? After all, a mere 16 years after the Bush administration invaded and liberated that land — at the end of November 2017, to be exact — U.S. commander Army General John Nicholson, who had only recently been claiming that the fight against the Taliban (and a new branch of ISIS) was “still in a stalemate,” suddenly suggested… yes, you guessed it… that the by-now famous corner, so long sought after, was once again being turned.  He managed to make the point by quoting a recent statement of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, saying, “Now, looking ahead to 2018, as President Ghani said, he believes we have turned the corner and I agree.  The momentum is now with the Afghan Security Forces and the Taliban cannot win in the face of the pressures that I outlined.  Again, their choices are to reconcile, live in irrelevance, or die.”

If, so many years later, General Nicholson were alone in such a conclusion, you might question his claim, given that the Taliban now control or contest more Afghan territory than at any time since they were driven from power in 2001; that President Ghani’s government seems shakier than any since the U.S. “liberated” the country; that the Afghan security forces have been taking a beating; and that the capital, Kabul, the heartland of government control, has been a veritable inferno of terror attacks.  Still, here’s what gives Nicholson’s statement its power: he’s not alone.  His conclusion has been backed by a remarkable array of knowledgeable officials since at least 2010. 

Here’s just a partial list:  U.S. Afghan commander General Stanley McChrystal in February 2010 (the U.S. had “turned the corner” in Helmand Province in the embattled poppy-producing southern heartland of the country); Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on June 7, 2011 (“I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner in this conflict”) and his boss President Barack Obama on the same day (“We’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, trained Afghan security forces, and are now preparing to turn a corner in our efforts”); Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey in April 2012 (“In my opening months as chairman, I worked with the secretary of defense and the president to fashion a new defense strategy, guidance that would address the security paradox. This guidance is meant to help our military… turn the corner from a decade of focus on stability operations and find a new way forward to address that wider spectrum of threats”); and Gates’s successor, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in September 2012 (“We have turned the corner”); and so it’s gone in Afghanistan.

Or put another way, never have so many prospective corners been turned over so many years to so little effect.  Nonetheless, if you’re game, let’s think about heading out in search of just such a corner one more time.  Before we go, though, let me mention one other thing.  Given the experiences of the British and the Soviets, among others, Afghanistan has long been called “the graveyard of empires.”  However, for Afghans since 1979, when the first iteration of America’s wars there began, it has simply been a graveyard. This year, things have already gotten so bad in Kabul — from attacks on a major hotel and a military academy to a devastating bomb concealed inside an ambulance — that city dwellers have reportedly taken to carrying “in case I die” notes with them, lest their bodies be shredded and left unidentifiable by the latest Taliban or ISIS terror assault. 

Across the country, in winter — usually a time of little fighting — the war(s) are simply being ratcheted up.  The Trump administration and the Pentagon are sending in more troops (“advisers”), more planes, and more drones.  The U.S. military has announced soaring numbers of air strikes, as well as more bombings (including record ones) than at any time since 2012 when 100,000, not 14,00-15,000, U.S. troops were in-country.  And the U.S. air commander there, Air Force Major General James Hecker, recently threatened more of them, claiming that “the Taliban still has not felt the full brunt of American and Afghan air power.”  And yet, according to both the Pentagon and a recent BBC study, the Taliban is now contesting more territory than at any time since 2002 and militants from the ISIS branch there have similarly been spreading to new parts of the country. 

Yes, the U.S. military (in support of Afghan security forces) and the Taliban (as well as ISIS) are fighting each other, but functionally, when it comes to ordinary Afghans, they are colluding in killing striking numbers of civilians across the country.  In other words, more than a decade and a half later, despite those corners, it all only seems to be getting worse with no end in sight. 

After all, in these years, the two groups the Bush administration went after in 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, have somehow morphed into “more than 20 terrorist and insurgent groups” on either side of the Afghani-Pakistani border.  (And in case you doubt those figures, they’re straight out of a recent ill-titled Pentagon report, “Enhancing Security and Stability in Afghanistan.”)  Beyond Afghanistan, in these years, the same process has been repeating itself, as the original al-Qaeda morphed into a whole range of groups (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and so on) and the same thing is now happening to ISIS. 

In fact, I’m starting to wonder about almost any corner in much of the Greater Middle East and Africa, which means it’s true: I’m the one who’s hesitating now.  I know what I promised you, but to be honest, I’m having my doubts about this walk of ours.  I’m worried about what exactly will happen if we ever do get to that corner.  Who, after all, wants to whistle past a graveyard?

So here’s my suggestion.  Why don’t we just postpone our walk for a while?  Bad as things are right now, experience tells us — or at least our military commanders swear to it — that they’ll get better sooner or later.  What if we check back this fall, or maybe early next year, or perhaps sometime in 2020, or even 2021?  By that time, there has to be at least one corner around which we could… well, you know what I’m about to say.  Count on one thing: I’ll be in touch.   

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower WorldHis next book, A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books), will be published in May.

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

Copyright 2018 Tom Engelhardt

Via Tomdispatch.com

Syria: War is over at the Center, but Powers nibbling at Edges

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 - 4:06am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Where people live and how many of them there are constitute basic questions for any social scientist but these basics are often ignored by the writers of headlines in the press.

There is a rash of articles about how Syria’s war is heating back up. It isn’t.

The war is over for all intents and purposes, since there is no path to victory for the rebels who wanted to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Al-Assad controls all the country’s major cities: Damascus, Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo. He always had Damascus, Latakia and the majority of Aleppo. On the back of a napkin, I’d figure 65% of Syrians live under regime control in and around these cities (i.e. around 12 million of the 18 mn. Syrians still inside the country). Another ten percent are Kurds, who inhabit three cantons in Afrin, Kobane and Jazira in the north of the country. They are not under regime control but they aren’t fighting it for the most part, either, and could be reintegrated into Syria if the central government agrees to move to a loose federalism. The 2.2 million Kurds also now effectively rule something like 2 million Arabs in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor in the east, another 11% of the population.

#Syria MAP UPDATE: the situation in Syria as of 06/02/2018 with fighting ongoing in #Idlib, #Efrin, #DeirEzzor and #Ghouta. bigger file: https://t.co/StII3T4c9N #FSA #SAA #SDF #IS #HTS #YPG #Daesh pic.twitter.com/A1RvFfAokZ

— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) February 6, 2018

[A warning about maps of Syria: That dark red stretch, above is where almost everybody lives, under al-Assad control. Idlib is probably 1.5 million people but looks enormous.]

So that leaves 14 percent (roughly 2.5 million) outside both central government and Kurdish control in a few pockets– Deraa and Quneitra in the south, East Ghouta outside Damascus, and Idlib in the north. Most of the rest of Syria is either under the government or under the Kurds and their US and Arab allies.*

What’s left is the determination of the fate of the 35% (Kurdish-ruled regions plus Arab rebels). Al-Assad is determined to reconquer them all. The Russians are hoping for a less bloody path to a negotiated surrender for the mainstream of the rebels, though they agree that the extremists with links to the extremist international that also includes Chechens have to be destroyed.

The 35% who remain outside Syrian government control are mostly on the rural peripheries of the country, and their undetermined fate has invited the intervention of other powers.

The one exception here is East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus with some 300,000 people, who are under siege and appear to have little outside support save possibly from Saudi Arabia. That they are thus exposed explains why the regime is hitting them so hard, and, indeed, committing crimes against humanity against their civilians.

The US is hoping somehow to use the Kurds to weaken al-Assad over time and also to block Iran (how this could work in practice is mysterious). The Kurds do have half of Syria’s good farmland and so are key to the country’s food security going forward.

The US strategy of using the Kurds against ISIL but also as a wedge against the Damascus government enrages Turkey.

Turkey has lost, in the sense that a) it failed to overthrow al-Assad by backing fundamentalist rebels and b) the US strategy has strengthened the Kurdish hand in the region, something of which Ankara is terrified.

In an effort to soften the blow of this double defeat, Turkey has invaded the one Kurdish canton not in the US sphere of power, intending to ensconce fundamentalist Arab Syrian fighters in a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. In essence, this strategy looks like Israeli policy in southern Lebanon 1982-2000, when the Israelis backed a right wing Christian militia on their borders while occupying the Shiites of south Lebanon. This frankly stupid strategy created Hizbullah and gave Iran an opening, developments that Israel has never ceased regretting. I suspect the same regrets will haunt Turkey for decades.

Israel is supporting the southern fundamentalist rebels in a bid to keep the Syrian government from reasserting control of its portion of the Golan Heights, half of which Israel is occupying. Israel is particularly nervous about Hizbullah establishing bases in the Golan, which overlooks Israel and so is a military danger point.

The exchanges of fire this weekend were over the future of that small but highly important southwest Front.

Russia appears to have stepped in to restrain Israel from launching all-out war after the shoot-down of its fighter jet. Russia is acting both as a regime support for Damascus and as a referee in the remaining three major rebel enclaves, with their foreign supporters. Russia appears to be in no hurry. It seems determined to build back up the capacities of the Syrian state and military, cooperating with Iran and its Shiite militias to do so. Moscow wants the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra) defeated, but is perfectly happy to talk to and try to negotiate with the other rebels.

That Russia is a referee on the peripheries of Syria rather than a hegemon allows low-intensity guerrilla conflicts to simmer along.

They should not be confused with a bigger phenomenon, of major war.

——

Bonus video:

AP Archive: “US commander backs Kurdish fighters at Syria outpost”

*An earlier version of this article misstated the percentage of the country now controlled neither by the regime nor the US-backed Kurds.

Joining BDS, Israeli Gov’t to Boycott Israeli Film in Paris

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 - 12:58am

Middle East Monitor | – –

The Israeli government is to boycott the Paris Film Festival over the organiser’s decision to air a movie that is said to “hurt the reputation of Israel’s military”.

Culture Minister, Miri Regev, is said to be on a mission to stop the film “Foxtrot” gaining wide recognition. The Israeli movie has a controversial scene in which the Israeli military covers up the deaths of a carload of Palestinian teenagers.

The movie focuses on the life of a family: two parents and their daughter who all reside in Tel Aviv, while their son – who is a soldier – serves far away from them. The movie won the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival and was shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.

Regev has not only denounced the movie for “defaming the IDF and its values” she is also putting pressure on the foreign ministry to withdraw its support from the Israeli Film Festival in Paris later in the year.

It seems Regev was unaware that “Foxtrot” was going to open the festival until she visited Paris recently met with Israeli Ambassador to France Aliza Ben-Nun and her team to discuss a project promoting cultural connections between Israel and France. During the conversation, Haaretz reported that Regev became aware that “Foxtrot” was going to be shown, which according to Regev “contradicts earlier agreements”.

Regev told Haaretz that Israel should not “support a festival that showcases films that slander us throughout the world and contains false content about IDF soldiers and its citizens.” According to Regev, she instructed her ministry’s director general to “make clear to the Foreign Ministry, which is allocating money to the festival, that it is inconceivable for the Foreign Ministry to conduct a policy independent from the government’s policy.”

Regev also complained that the movie was used by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) to highlight the Israeli military in a poor light.

The Israeli Film Festival in Paris is run by the French film association Kolnoah (the Hebrew word for “cinema”). In addition to a stipend from the Israeli foreign ministry, it receives backing from the Israeli Film Fund, the Israeli Film Council and a handful of French-Jewish organisations.

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

Via Middle East Monitor

————

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Controversial Israeli film Foxtrot wins at Ophir awards”

Robots, kittens and Netflix: Turkish curbs on the media reach ludicrous levels

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 - 12:48am

By Ozge Ozduzen | (The Conversation) | – –

Regulation and censorship mechanisms have recently reached absurd levels in Turkey. Two stark recent examples illustrate the banality of the recent creeping controls.

On February 6, a robot was reformatted in Ankara because it warned the Turkish Transport, Maritime and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan to speak more slowly during his speech. Upon interruption, Arslan, jokingly, said: “Dear friends, it is clear someone should get the robot under control, do what is necessary.”

Ironically, the well-functioning robot was instantly controlled at an event that aimed to celebrate the internet and technology; it was muted for the rest of the day.

And on January 31, Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) slammed the controversial TV celebrity and creationist Adnan Oktar. Oktar’s TV shows, which are broadcast on his own A9 TV channel, as well as Daily Motion and YouTube, feature controversial religious references. He famously calls his female devotees on the shows his “kittens”. Erbaş denigrated the “perversity” of Oktar’s TV shows and recommended that “the authorised institution should do something about it”.

‘Just for monitoring’

Against this backdrop, perhaps it is no surprise that new laws concerning internet and television regulation are now being issued. The aim is to grant extensive powers to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

According to the draft decree, no internet platforms, including global streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, as well as the national internet TV stations such as BluTV or Puhu will be able to broadcast without relevant licenses from the RTÜK. These global and local platforms have bestowed great amounts of freedom for media consumers in Turkey so they can get round the TV shows on mainstream media. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented: “The upcoming decree is not for limiting the freedom of expression, it is just for monitoring.”

In fact, television has been “monitored” in Turkey since the establishment of the RTÜK by the Radio and Television Law in April 1994, initially designed to regulate private broadcasting and to enable the compliance of broadcasts with the “legal” framework. The RTÜK has since issued penalties to broadcasters and has even suspended TV and radio channels.

But all of the RTÜK’s previous activities concentrated on the circulation of offline content. The new decree, however, aims to give sweeping powers to the RTÜK over the online domain. This signals a new beginning for digital surveillance in Turkey. And according to the 2017 world press freedom index, Turkey is already doing pretty badly, ranking 155th out of the 180 countries listed.

Internet menaces

In the aftermath of the failed coup of July 2016, AKP, the current government of Turkey, has consolidated its efforts in collecting personal data and regulating digital platforms. The government declared a State of Emergency for three months immediately following the attempted coup and has renewed it since. This enables the AKP to legislate using decree laws, that don’t require parliament to grant approval.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has constantly warned society of the menace of social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. And mainstream newspapers and television channels (which mainly consist of the allies and family members of the AKP in power positions) act as a propaganda device for the government, portraying internet regulation as a way of coping with “external” threats to “Turkishness”, family values, national security and political stability.

In 2017, the government blocked all access to Wikipedia, banned dating shows, and shut down over 20 television and radio shows. Meanwhile, in just the last couple of weeks, 449 people were taken into custody for writing social media posts that criticised the government’s recent military operations in Afrin Canton in the north of Syria, a region that Kurdish forces captured from Islamic State.

This current witch hunt, combined with the influence of the new decrees, could potentially lead to unprecedented amounts of self-censorship, reducing people’s freedom or willingness to express their political views on social media.

Absurdity breeds creativity

But we should not despair. I hope that these new infringements on freedom of speech will lead to new waves of cultural and digital activism by tech-savvy generations. Continuous censorship and regulation is a potential catalyst for creative dissidence. Filmmakers in Turkey have already found creative ways to cope with censorship in recent years, for instance by using black screens stating “these parts cannot be shown because of the censorship by the Culture and Tourism Ministry”.

In a recent interview, for example, Kurdish director Kazım Öz told me how he has coped with censorship by not stepping back and explicitly exposing it in his last film Zer (2017). Öz used a dark screen in place of the censored images. Showing the name of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on all these dark scenes, Öz explicitly displayed the absurdity of these regulations.

Citizens of Turkey have long bypassed existing internet regulations by using VPN (Virtual Private Network) and other methods to get round the blockage of certain websites. The latest draft decree certainly points to a further step towards a dystopian future for Turkish freedom of expression and human rights, but it could also instigate new imaginings for the future of social and digital change.

Ozge Ozduzen, Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

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

——-

Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

European Parliament: “EU-Turkey: Getting out of the deadlock”

‘Fake News!’: the view from Israel’s Occupation

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 - 12:11am

By Rebecca L. Stein | (OpenDemocracy.net | – –

Over the course of the last two decades, amidst the ascendance of nationalist extremism in Israel, the fraudulence charge has grown ever stronger among the Jewish right-wing public.

Screenshot Facebook post by Prime Minister of Israel, May 7, 2017.

Among the numerous ideological affinities and governing styles shared by Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a commitment to the rhetoric of ‘fake news.’ In the last year, Netanyahu has increasingly borrowed this Trumpian formulation in an attempt to quell dissent and undercut critical Israeli and international media scrutiny.

Of course, Netanyahu is not unique in this regard. Over the course of the last year, authoritarian regimes across the globe – including Syria, Russia and Malaysia – have adopted the fake news script to silence detractors and critics, frequently in response to the charge of human rights violations.

But while the global scale of this accusation may be unprecedented, charges of fake news have a long history, considerably preceding the Trump era. In Israel, the accusation of fraudulence, employed against political critics and foes, can be traced to the onset of the Zionist settler-national project. As postcolonial studies show, the repudiation of indigenous claims (to history, land, humanity and so on) was a foundational logic of colonial projects, enabling the violence of colonialism in its various forms. 

This formulation was also at work in the history of Zionism and has had a lasting hold on dominant Israeli ideology.  Over the course of the last two decades, amidst the ascendance of nationalist extremism in Israel, the fraudulence charge has grown ever stronger among the Jewish right-wing public as a popular means of indicting critics and undercutting Palestinian claims, particularly where Israel’s military occupation is concerned.

Mohammed al-Dura

Video footage of Israeli state violence against Palestinians has been a favorite target of this accusation – footage shot by international journalists and human rights workers and increasingly, as cameras have proliferated in the West Bank, by the cameras of Palestinians living under occupation.

It was in the language of fake news that Israelis famously responded to the killing of twelve-year-old Mohammad al-Dura by the Israeli security services in 2000, in the early days of the second Intifada.[1] His killing was filmed by French television and was replayed around the world in the aftermath of the event, becoming no less than a viral global icon of the Israeli military. What ensued was an organized campaign by the Israeli right wing, and their international supporters, to debunk the images as fake.

Netanyahu convened an Israeli government committee of inquiry in 2012 to investigate the incident, and the committee eventually endorsed the popular discourse of fakery, blaming manipulative editing for falsely producing the damning images. The state committee did more than exonerate the Israeli security services in al-Dura’s death; indeed, they argued that he was not actually dead. Right-wing Israeli newspapers put it succinctly in their headlines: “Mohammed al-Dura: The Boy Who Wasn’t Really Killed.” Pleas by the al-Dura family to exhume the boy’s body were declined. The state committee did more than exonerate the Israeli security services in al-Dura’s death; indeed, they argued that he was not actually dead.

Despite the Israeli response to the al-Dura affair in 2000, it would take nearly two decades for this argument about Palestinian fakery to become commonplace where video evidence of Israeli state violence is concerned. By 2014, amidst the ascendance of far-right politics in Israel, and the threatening spread of cameras among Palestinians living under occupation, the argument finally gained a mainstream foothold.  

Footage from Bitunya

For example, the charge of fake news would predominate in Israel following the killing of two Palestinian youths in the West Bank town of Bitunya in 2014, fatally shot by the Israeli security services during an annual demonstration commemorating the Nakba.  The military denied responsibility, claiming that their forces had only used non-lethal rubber bullets that day, in compliance with regulations governing engagement in protest contexts.[2] But the scene had been filmed by numerous on-site cameras, including four security cameras, and those of CNN and a Palestinian photojournalist. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem took on the case, believing that the unusually high volume of associated footage conclusively established military responsibility for the deaths.

But mainstream Israelis felt differently, and the volume of footage from Bitunya did little to persuade them of the military’s responsibility. To the contrary, the videographic evidence fueled a widespread repudiation campaign. State actors and institutions were among the first to join the fake news chorus, including the defense minister, the foreign minister and official military spokesmen. But mainstream Israelis felt differently.

All argued that “the film was edited and d[id] not reflect the reality of the day in question.” Their assertions were parroted by the national media, who insisted that the shootings were “staged and faked.” That accusation was then picked up by right-wing Israelis and supporters internationally. Some focused on the image of the falling body, arguing for its self-evident theatricality (yet another case of what some called “Pallywood” – the purported Palestinian Hollywood-like industry in manufactured images of Palestinian victims). Others claimed there was a lack of adequate blood in the footage, proof that the victim had not been killed. Most proponents of the fraudulence charge did not dispute the deaths themselves, as they had in the al-Dura case, but focused on exonerating the IDF through a re-reading of the footage, arguing that the bullets had come from other sources.

The charge of fraudulence haunted the case as it wound its way through the Israeli legal system. The Bitunya case established the fake news charge as a default Israeli script for responding to videographic evidence of state violence against Palestinians.  A few months hence, during another violent Israeli military incursion into the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Netanyahu would famously rehearse a variant of this discourse when he accused Gazans of performing their deaths for the media: “They want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can. They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”  The language of “fake news” had moved from the margins of the conspiratorial blogosphere to become the language of state – presaging a dynamic that we would watch unfold in the US in the Trump era, a few years hence. State actors and institutions were among the first to join the fake news chorus, including the defense minister, the foreign minister and official military spokesmen.

High stakes

For Israelis who support the fake news accusation, the stakes are considerable – just as they are in Trump’s America for those who parrot this rhetoric. In the Israeli context, these accusations aim to protect the image of Israel by stripping Palestinian victims and Israeli perpetrators from the videographic scene of the alleged crime – and to do so in a way that removes all traces of repressive Israeli military rule and its histories. The charges of fraudulence, forgery or Palestinian theatrics are an attempt to correct the record, to right the wrongs done by a libelous Palestinian public that is intent on Israel’s defamation by means of fictive image-making – or so many believe. In this way, the discourse of fake news is just another tool in the Israeli struggle against the so-called existential threat.

Rebecca L. Stein is Nicholas J. & Theresa M. Leonardy Associate Professor in the Department of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University

This article was originally published in Middle East Report, Issue 283.

Via OpenDemocracy.net

—-

Russia warns Israel on Syria strikes, danger to Russian Troops

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 - 1:51am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

BBC Monitoring reports on a statement in Russian at the site of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reacting to the Israeli air attacks on Syria and the shoot-down by the Syrians of one Israeli fighter-jet.

The Foreign ministry expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes, and called for restraint. The statement inserts Russia into the issue by asserting that the Israeli air strikes could cause violence to rise in and around the “de-escalation zones,” areas where rebels and the Syrian government have an uneasy temporary truce. (While many of these zones have become a joke because of Syrian government incursions, some, like the one around Deraa, have held, and have reduced violence).

Russia asked Israel to “respect Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and pointed out that Tel Aviv has put Russian servicemen in danger.

As diplomatic notes go, this one is brutally frank. The demand that Israel respect Syrian sovereignty is perhaps a way of teasing the Israelis, who maintained that the Syrian shoot-down of their jet, which was striking targets inside Syria, was an “attack on Israel’s sovereignty.” Apparently Israeli sovereignty in the minds of the ruling Likud Party and cabinet allies (a Star Wars bar scene full of far-right weirdo little parties) extends beyond the still undefined Israeli borders to wherever they want it to.

Likewise, the warning that Israel should not put Russian servicemen in danger is blunt. Presumably the issue arises because Israel will attempt to destroy Syrian air defense batteries, many of them trained and advised by Russian military personnel.

BBC Monitoring also reports that according to Ynet in Hebrew, Israel called on Russia to intervene to stop Iran from flying drones in the Golan Heights area of Syria, part of which Israel militarily occupies, and on part of which it gives aid to fundamentalist Syrian rebels, one of them with al-Qaeda ties.

Israel hit 3 Syrian anti-aircraft batteries on Saturday, along with 4 targets it says are Iranian military facilities in that country, but says it has no intention to go further at this time. (I.e. Tel Aviv realizes that hitting a lot of Syrian anti-aircraft stations would in fact risk killing Russians).

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked by phone on Saturday, according to Russia’s Interfax. Putin discouraged Israel from actions that would further destabilize Syria. Netanyahu declared israel’s right to protect itself, by which he seems to mean its right to protect its Golan occupation and sphere of interest in Syrian Quneitra.

It seems to me that Russia increasingly has to make some decisions about the Israeli front in the southwest of Syria. Either it has to restrain Iran and Hizbullah, effectively ceding control over that part of Syria to the fundamentalist rebels and the Israeli army, or it has to take over Syrian air defense and prevent Israeli air strikes in Syria. Otherwise, as the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed out, Russian personnel are increasingly in danger.

On the Israeli side, Netanyahu, who is in danger of indictment on corruption charges, has been accused of ‘wagging the dog’ or trying to escalate tensions with Syria and Iran for political gain inside Israel.

————-

Bonus video:

Iranian Gov’t Press TV: “Russia urges Israel to avoid any escalation”

Trump’s Plan to use Fossil Fuels to dominate the Globe

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 - 12:53am

By Michael T. Klare | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

The new U.S. energy policy of the Trump era is, in some ways, the oldest energy policy on Earth. Every great power has sought to mobilize the energy resources at its command, whether those be slaves, wind-power, coal, or oil, to further its hegemonic ambitions. What makes the Trumpian variant — the unfettered exploitation of America’s fossil-fuel reserves — unique lies only in the moment it’s being applied and the likely devastation that will result, thanks not only to the 1950s-style polluting of America’s air, waters, and urban environment, but to the devastating hand it will lend to a globally warming world.

Last month, if you listened to the chatter among elite power brokers at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, you would have heard a lot of bragging about the immense progress being made in renewable energy.  “My government has planned a major campaign,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the group.  “By 2022, we want to generate 175 gigawatts of renewable energy; in the last three years, we have already achieved 60 gigawatts, or around one-third of this target.”  Other world leaders also boasted of their achievements in speeding the installation of wind and solar energy.  Even the energy minister of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Khalid Al-Falih, announced plans for a $30 billion to $50 billion investment in solar power.  Only one major figure defied this trend: U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.  The United States, he insisted, is “blessed” with “a substantial ability to deliver the people of the globe a better quality of life through fossil fuels.”

A better quality of life through fossil fuels? On this, he and his Trump administration colleagues now stand essentially alone on planet Earth.  Virtually every other country has by now chosen — via the Paris climate accord and efforts like those under way in India — to speed the transition from a carbon-based energy economy to a renewable one.

A possible explanation for this: Donald Trump’s indebtedness to the very fossil fuel interests that helped propel him into office.  Think, for example, of his interior secretary’s recent decision to open much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to offshore drilling (long sought by the oil and gas industry) or his administration’s moves to lift restrictions on coal mining on federal lands (long favored by the coal industry).  Both were clearly acts of payback.  Still, far more than subservience to oil and coal barons lurks in Trump’s energy policy (and Perry’s words).  From the White House perspective, the U.S. is engaged in a momentous struggle for global power with rival nations and, it is claimed, the country’s abundance of fossil fuels affords it a vital edge.  The more of those fuels America produces and exports, the greater its stature in a competitive world system, which is precisely why maximizing such output has already become a major pillar of President Trump’s national security policy.

He laid out his dystopian world vision (and that of the generals he’s put in charge of what was once known as American “foreign policy”) in a December 18th address announcing the release of the administration’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) document.  “Whether we like it or not,” he asserted, “we are engaged in a new era of competition.” The U.S. faces “rogue regimes” like Iran and North Korea and “rival powers, Russia and China, that seek to challenge American influence, values, and wealth.”  In such an intensely competitive world, he added, “we will stand up for ourselves, and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before… Our rivals are tough.  They’re tenacious and committed to the long term. But so are we.”

To Trump and his generals, we’ve been plunged into a world that bears little relation to the one faced by the last two administrations, when great-power conflict was rarely the focus of attention and civilian society remained largely insulated from the pressures of the country’s never-ending wars.  Today, they believe, the U.S. can no longer afford to distinguish between “the homeland” and foreign battle zones when girding for years of struggle to come. “To succeed,” the president concluded, “we must integrate every dimension of our national strength, and we must compete with every instrument of our national power.”

And that’s where, in the Trumpian worldview, energy enters the picture.

Energy Dominance

From the onset of his presidency, Donald Trump has made it clear that cheap and abundant domestic energy derived from fossil fuels was going to be the crucial factor in his total-mobilization approach to global engagement. In his view and that of his advisers, it’s the essential element in ensuring national economic vitality, military strength, and geopolitical clout, whatever damage it might cause to American life, the global environment, or even the future of human life on this planet.  The exploitation and wielding of fossil fuels now sits at the very heart of the Trumpian definition of national security, as the recently released NSS makes all too clear.

“Access to domestic sources of clean, affordable, and reliable energy underpins a prosperous, secure, and powerful America for decades to come,” it states.  “Unleashing these abundant energy resources — coal, natural gas, petroleum, renewables, and nuclear — stimulates the economy and builds a foundation for future growth.”

So, yes, the document does pay lip service to the role of renewables, though no one should take that seriously given, for instance, the president’s recent decision to place high tariffs on imported solar panels, an act likely to cripple the domestic solar-installation industry.  What really matters to Trump are those domestic reserves of fossil fuels.  Only by using them to gain energy self-sufficiency, or what he trumpets not just as “energy independence” but total “energy dominance,” can the U.S. avoid becoming beholden to foreign powers and so protect its sovereignty.  That’s why he regularly hails the successes of the “shale revolution,” the use of fracking technology to extract oil and gas from deeply buried shale formations.  As he sees it, fracking to the max makes America that much less dependent on foreign imports.

It follows then that the ability to supply fossil fuels to other countries will be a source of geopolitical advantage, a reality made painfully clear early in this century when Russia exploited its status as a major supplier of natural gas to Ukraine, Belarus, and other former Soviet republics to try to extract political concessions from them.  Donald Trump absorbed that lesson and incorporated it into his strategic playbook.

“Our country is blessed with extraordinary energy abundance,” he declared at an “Unleashing American Energy Event” last June. “We are a top producer of petroleum and the number-one producer of natural gas… With these incredible resources, my administration will seek not only American energy independence that we’ve been looking for so long, but American energy dominance. And we’re going to be an exporter… We will be dominant. We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.”

Attaining Energy Dominance

In energy terms, what does dominant mean in practice?  For President Trump and his cohorts, it means above all the “unleashing” of the country’s energy abundance by eliminating every imaginable regulatory impediment to the exploitation of domestic reserves of fossil fuels.  After all, America possesses some of the largest reservoirs of oil, coal, and natural gas on the planet and, by applying every technological marvel at its disposal, can maximally extract those reserves to enhance national power.

“The truth is that we have near-limitless supplies of energy in our country,” he declared last June.  All that stood in the way of exploiting them when he entered the Oval Office, he insisted, were environmental regulations imposed by the Obama administration.  “We cannot have obstruction. Since my very first day in office, I have been moving at record pace to cancel these regulations and to eliminate the barriers to domestic energy production.”  He then cited his approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the cancellation of a moratorium on the leasing of federal lands for coal mining, the reversal of an Obama administration rule aimed at preventing methane leakage from natural gas production on federal lands, and the rollback of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which (if implemented) would require sharp cuts in coal usage.  And from the recent opening of the pristine Alaskan Arctic Refuge to that of those coastal waters to every kind of drilling, it’s never ended.

Closely related to such actions has been his repudiation of the Paris Agreement, because — as he saw it — that pact, too, stood in the way of his plan to “unleash” domestic energy in the pursuit of international power. By withdrawing from the agreement, he claimed to be preserving American “sovereignty,” while opening the path to a new kind of global energy dominance. “We have so much more [energy] than we ever thought possible,” he asserted.  “We are really in the driving seat.  And you know what? We don’t want to let other countries take away our sovereignty and tell us what to do and how to do it.  That’s not going to happen.”

Never mind that the Paris agreement in no way intruded on American sovereignty. It only obligated its partners — at this point, every country on Earth except the United States — to enact its own greenhouse gas emissions reduction measures aimed at preventing global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above their pre-industrial levels. (That is the biggest increase scientists believe the planet can absorb without experiencing truly catastrophic impacts like a 10-foot rise in global sea levels).  In the Obama years, in its own self-designed blueprint for achieving this goal, the United States promised, among other things, to implement the Clean Power Plan to minimize the consumption of coal, itself already a dying industry. This, of course, represented an unacceptable impediment to Trump’s extract-everything policy.

The final step in the president’s strategy to become a major exporter involves facilitating the transport of fossil fuels to the country’s coastal areas for shipment abroad.  In this way, he would also turn the government into a major global salesman of fossil fuels (as it already is, for instance, of American weaponry).  To do so, he would expedite the approval of permits for the export of LNG, or liquefied natural gas, and even for some new types of “lower emissions” coal plants. The Department of the Treasury, he revealed in that June talk of his, “will address barriers to the financing of highly efficient, overseas coal energy plants.” In addition, he claimed that the Ukrainians tell us “they need millions and millions of metric tons [of coal] right now.  There are many other places that need it, too.  And we want to sell it to them, and to everyone else all over the globe who need[s] it.”  He also announced the approval of expanded LNG exports from a new facility at Lake Charles, Louisiana, and of a new oil pipeline to Mexico, meant to “further boost American energy exports, and that will go right under the [as yet unbuilt] wall.”

Such energy moves have generally been viewed as part of a pro-industry, anti-environmentalist agenda, which they certainly are, but each is also a component in an increasingly militarized strategy to enlist domestic energy in an epic struggle — at least in the minds of the president and his advisers — to ensure America’s global dominance.

Where All This Is Headed

Trump achieved many of these maximal-extraction objectives during his first year in office.  Now, with fossil fuels uniquely imbedded in the country’s National Security Strategy, we have a clearer sense of what’s happening.  First of all, along with the further funding of the U.S. military (and of the “modernization” of the country’s nuclear arsenal), Donald Trump and his generals are making fossil fuels a crucial ingredient for bulking up our national security.  In that way, they will turn anything (or any group) standing in the way of the extraction and exploitation of oil, coal, and natural gas into obstructers of the national interest and, quite literally, of American national security. 

In other words, the expansion of the fossil fuel industry and its exports has been transformed into a major component of American foreign and security policy.  Of course, such developments and the exports that go with them do generate income and sustain some jobs, but in the Trumpian view they also boost the country’s geopolitical profile by encouraging foreign friends and partners to rely ever more heavily on us for their energy needs, rather than adversaries like Russia or Iran.  “As a growing supplier of energy resources, technologies, and services around the world,” the NSS declares without a hint of irony, “the United States will help our allies and partners become more resilient against those that use energy to coerce.”

As the Trump administration moves forward on all this, the key battlefield will undoubtedly be the building and maintaining of energy infrastructure — the pipelines and railroads carrying oil, gas, and coal from the American interior to processing and export facilities on the coasts.  Because so many of the country’s large cities and population centers are on the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or the Gulf of Mexico, and because the country has long depended on imports for much of its petroleum supply, a surprising share of existing energy infrastructure — refineries, LNG facilities, pumping stations, and the like — is already located along those same coasts.  Yet much of the energy supply Trump seeks to exploit — the shale fields of Texas and North Dakota, the coal fields of Nebraska — is located in the interior of the country.  For his strategy to succeed, such resource zones must be connected far more effectively to coastal facilities via a mammoth web of new pipelines and other transport infrastructure.  All of this will cost vast sums of money and lead to intense clashes with environmentalists, Native peoples, farmers, ranchers, and others whose lands and way of life will be severely degraded when that kind of construction takes place, and who can be expected to resist.

For Trump, the road ahead is clear: do whatever it takes to install the infrastructure needed to deliver those fossil fuels abroad.  Not surprisingly then, the National Security Strategy asserts that “we will streamline the Federal regulatory approval processes for energy infrastructure, from pipeline and export terminals to container shipments and gathering lines.”  This is bound to provoke numerous conflicts with environmental groups and other inhabitants of what Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything, calls “Blockadia” — places like the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota, where thousands of Native people and their supporters camped out last year in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline.  Given the administration’s insistence on linking energy extraction to U.S. security, don’t for a moment imagine that attempts to protest such moves won’t be met with harsh treatment from federal law enforcement agencies.

Building all of that infrastructure will also prove expensive, so expect President Trump to make pipeline construction integral to any infrastructure modernization bill he sends to Congress, thereby securing taxpayer dollars for the effort.  Indeed, the inclusion of pipeline construction and other kinds of energy build-out in any future infrastructure initiative is already a major objective of influential business groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rebuilding roads and bridges is fine, commented Thomas Donohue, the Chamber’s influential president, but “we’re also living in the midst of an energy renaissance, yet we don’t have the infrastructure to support it.” As a result, he added, we must “build the pipelines necessary to transport our abundant resources to market.”  Given the influence such corporate interests have over this White House and congressional Republicans, it’s reasonable to assume that any bill on infrastructure revitalization will be, at least in part, energy focused.

And keep in mind that for President Trump, with his thoroughly fossil-fuelized view of the world, this is just the beginning. Issues that may be viewed by others as environmental or even land-conservation matters will be seen by him and his associates as so many obstacles to national security and greatness.  Facing what will almost certainly be a series of unparalleled potential environmental disasters, those who oppose him will also have to contest his view of the world and the role fossil fuels should play in it.

Selling more of them to foreign buyers, while attempting to stifle the development of renewals (and thereby ceding those true job-creating sectors of the economy to other countries) may be good for giant oil and coal corporations, but it won’t win America any friends abroad at a moment when climate change is becoming a growing concern for ever more people on this planet. With prolonged droughts, increasingly severe storms and hurricanes, and killer heat waves affecting ever-larger swaths of the planet, with sea levels rising and extreme weather becoming the norm, the urge for progress on climate change is only growing stronger, as is the demand for climate-friendly renewables.

Donald Trump and his administration of climate-change deniers are quite literally living in the wrong century.  The militarization of energy policy at this late date and the lodging of fossil fuels at the heart of national security policy may seem appealing to them, but it’s an approach that’s obviously doomed.  On arrival, it is, in fact, already the definition of obsolescence.

Unfortunately, given the circumstances of this planet at the moment, it also threatens to doom the rest of us.  The further we look into the future, the more likely international leadership will fall on the shoulders of those who can effectively and efficiently deliver renewables, not those who can provide climate-poisoning fossil fuels.  That being so, no one seeking global prestige would say at Davos or anywhere else that we are blessed with “a substantial ability to deliver the people of the globe a better quality of life through fossil fuels.”

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his book Blood and Oil is available from the Media Education Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @mklare1.

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

Copyright 2018 Michael T. Klare

Via Tomdispatch.com)

Bahrain is even Deporting its own Citizens (Shh, don’t Tell Trump)

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 - 12:20am

Human Rights Watch | – –

(Beirut) – Bahraini authorities have deported eight stateless Bahrainis, whom they had previously stripped of their citizenship, since January 29, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today. The deportations followed an appeals court decision to uphold a 2012 ruling that ordered the deportation and stripping of citizenship of nine Bahraini nationals for “damaging state security.”

Since 2012, Bahraini authorities have stripped 578 nationals of their citizenship, leaving many stateless. In the most recent cases, on January 31, the Fourth High Criminal Court stripped 47 people of their citizenship on terrorism related charges, and on February 1 the same court stripped another 25 people of their citizenship. Bahrain should immediately put an end to these arbitrary deportations and restore citizenship to those who have been left stateless or whose citizenship was revoked unfairly or arbitrarily, Human Rights Watch said.

“Bahraini authorities have dropped all pretense of pluralism and tolerance for dissent and are clearly stripping away the citizenships of people whom they find undesirable,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Right Watch.

On January 24, the First High Court of Appeal upheld a November 7, 2012 ruling to strip citizenship from the nine people and to deport them, according to a news report citing their lawyer.

Authorities deported four of them to Najaf, Iraq – two brothers, Ibrahim and Ismail Darwish, on January 29, and Adnan Kamal and Habib Darwish on January 30, a human rights activist in Bahrain told Human Rights Watch. Due to concerns for their safety, the human rights activist requested to remain anonymous. Bahrain deported another four to Najaf on February 1: Abdulnabi al-Mosawi; his wife, Maryam Ibrahim; and his two brothers, Mohamed al-Mosawi and Abdulamir al-Mosawi. The ninth person, Adnan Ahmed Ali, was not in Bahrain when the judgment was delivered. The human rights activist said that Ali had agreed to voluntarily leave Bahrain for Iran some years ago.

These nine people were part of a larger group of 31 people, including opposition political activists, lawyers, and rights activists, whose citizenship an Interior Ministry decree revoked on November 7, 2012. The ministry based its decision on Article 10 (3) of the Bahraini Citizenship Act of 1963, claiming the 31 were “damaging the security of the state.” Only 18 of the 31 were in Bahrain at the time. Only an estimated five had dual citizenship, leaving the majority affected by the 2012 decision stateless.

The activist also told Human Rights Watch that the High Appeal Civil Court had moved up a session to consider the group’s appeals from December 31, 2017, to October 26 without informing the legal teams. Though the lawyers were not at the hearing and had no opportunity to present their cases, the court refused to rescind the order. The court action deprived the 31 people of their chance to exhaust all legal means to challenge the charges against them, the activist said. The Appeals Court used this decision in its ruling to uphold the deportation orders for the nine members of the group.

Since 2012, Bahrain’s courts have on several occasions issued mass sentences that included stripping of citizenship and prison terms. The 47 people stripped of citizenship on January 31 were among 60 the Fourth High Criminal Court sentenced that day on charges of forming a terrorist group.

Bahrain’s Supreme Court on January 29 also upheld a one-year prison sentence for Sheikh Isa Qassim, a Shiite spiritual leader of the now dissolved main opposition group al-Wefaq, and confirmed the revocation of his citizenship.

On July 24, 2014, Bahrain’s Official Gazette published amendments to the Citizenship Law of 1963. Article 10 permits the Interior Ministry, with cabinet approval, to strip the citizenship of a person who “aids or is involved in the service of a hostile state” or who “causes harm to the interests of the Kingdom or acts in a way that contravenes his duty of loyalty to it.” The July 2014 amendments to Bahrain’s citizenship laws grant the Interior Ministry additional authority to revoke the citizenship of people who fail in their “duty of loyalty” to the state.

Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to a nationality and that no-one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality. Article 12 of the declaration states that, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” In 1999, the Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bahrain has signed, stated that “The scope of ‘his own country’ is broader than the concept ‘country of his nationality,’” and that it would apply to people who have been stripped of their nationality in violation of international law.

Article 29 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Bahrain has ratified, states that “Every person has the right to a nationality, and no citizen shall be deprived of his nationality without a legally valid reason.”

“By slapping human rights defenders, political activists, journalists, and religious scholars with arbitrary citizenship revocations and deportations, Bahraini authorities are reducing courts to rubber-stamps on their quest to stifle dissent completely,” Whitson said.

Via Human Rights Watch

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP Archive: “Human rights group says activist imprisoned in Bahrain at risk”

Pence at Olympics: “America First” is making the US the Skunk at the Party

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 - 12:16am

By Gail Ukockis | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Seoul Olympics should be a joyous event, a celebration of athletic skills and international cooperation. At least during this brief time, sports should overshadow the dark realities of tribalism and hostilities. The opening ceremonies offered us glimpses of hope: a unified team for North and South Koreans and a handshake between the South Korean leader and the North Korean’s leader’s sister.

Vice President Mike Pence, the official representative of the U.S., sat stone-faced during most of the march of nations. He stood up and applauded only when the U.S. team came onstage. America First!

Besides boorishness, Pence’s action symbolizes the attempt to demolish America’s leadership in the world. No leader can maintain leadership if they imply that “I’m the only one who counts and the hell with the rest of you.” Yet Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the Paris Accord, Iran nuclear pact, and other hallmarks of diplomatic progress are decisions that ignore the rest of the globe.

International summits, then, have resulted in disasters for Trump during his first year of presidency. At the G-7 of the world’s most powerful nations, he scoffed at both NATO and trade deals. After Trump’s participation in the G-20 summit, an Australian journalist called him “the biggest threat to the values of the west.” The headline from the L.A. Times’ article on the Davos Summit says it all: “Trump’s ‘America first’ approach receives a cold reception at global summit.”

Indeed, the international reactions to Trump’s “America First” mentality indicate a shift that should concern us all. Russian oligarchs have toasted his inaugural speech with champagne and Chinese investors are filling in the economic void left by the U.S. government’s repudiation of global trade. Most nations, though, will not benefit from this shift. Once-faithful allies such as Germany and India must decide whether to step in as leaders themselves or rely on new leaders such as China.

What is also troubling is that the U.S. is not some minor country who has had minimal impact on global issues. Consider the following:

Ø The U.S. comprises only five percent of the world’s population but produces half of the world’s solid waste;

Ø The U.S. has double the fossil fuel consumption of industrial nations such as Great Britain and Japan—-a key factor for the environment;

Ø The average American uses 53 more times resources than a Chinese person, and 35 times than an Indian person;

Ø The U.S. maintains 800 bases in 70 countries, thus exerting a multi-billion influence on several regions; and

Ø U.S. troops are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots.

Based on these facts, it is impossible to conceive of the U.S. retreating from the global stage as if its presence would not be missed. It would be like pretending that an elephant is not stomping in a neighborhood, crushing everything that is underfoot. The U.S. is simply too large of a presence in the world for it to retreat quietly. It is also unalterably entrenched in international affairs on so many levels: economic, military, etc. During the 1930s when homegrown fascists used the term “America first,” isolationism had a slim chance of actually working. In this twenty-first century, though, the “America First” policy could only result in American self-destructiveness and the destruction of others.

Once the Trump debacle of a presidency is over and we elect a more sensible leader, this new president will have the tough job of earning the forgiveness of nations affected by the “America First” foreign policy. This reminds me of the class title that a sociology professor had taught after the 9/11 tragedy: “Why they hate us.” Unfortunately, the administration’s current actions are engendering hostility instead of acceptance. After Trump (and maybe Pence) leave office, we will have to look at ourselves unflinchingly. Our experiment with illiberalism should remove any vestige of smugness that “it could never happen here.” Humility, not arrogance, should guide our future diplomatic efforts.

The U.S. is still a great nation. Globally, we could still provide leadership if we change course because most nations want to work with us on reducing climate change and other challenges. Hopefully, our allies will forgive us for the flawed institutions that are not providing enough checks and balances to limit the president’s power. Despite a possible constitutional crisis in American politics, we must not forget the obligations of the U.S. to the rest of the world. Fighting the “America First” policy means demanding a return to the traditional values of diplomacy and goodwill. As long we keep on resisting America’s descent into a proto-dictatorship, we may earn the forgiveness of other nations one day.

Gail Ukockis, PhD, MSW, MA, is an educator and social worker with an eclectic background that includes graduate studies in history. For eleven years, Dr. Ukockis taught a women’s issues course at Ohio Dominican University, which served as the foundation for this textbook. Her research interests also include HIV/AIDS, cultural competence, and human trafficking. She is author of Women’s Issues for a New Generation: A Social Work Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Washington Post: “Pence sits near Kim Jong Un’s sister, doesn’t applaud unified Korean Olympians”

A Crisis of Democracy: Trump’s block of Dem Response to Nunes

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 - 2:50am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s refusal to release the response of the Democratic minority on the House Intelligence Committee to the declassified Nunes memo cherry-picking intelligence reports has been decried as a politicization of intelligence. It has been pointed out by legal scholar Laurence Tribe that Congress could in any case override Trump and declassify the Democratic response itself, if the GOP representatives wanted to. So this controversy isn’t about Trump or Nunes. It is about a Republican Party determined not to play fair.

While these analyses is certainly correct, they miss a crucial problem with our declining democracy in the United States: classified documents are inherently undemocratic and should be rare.

Some 2,000 unelected bureaucrats in the Federal government decide on which documents are classified. They have been ratcheting up the number into the millions during the past three decades. In 2014, the 2,000 bureaucrats classified 77 million government pieces of paper. Impartial outside studies conclude that 50-80% of classified documents could safely be released to the public.

Government officials have many advantages over the public they govern. They have inside knowledge and they often have longevity. Some percentage of them are corrupt. The Federal government routinely is captured by narrow corporate interests and used to advance private profit-making. The Bush Iraq War was certainly wrought up with the interests of US Big Oil. The conflicts of interest in Trump’s cabinet of billionaires would make a person’s head spin. Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency (RIP) is single-handedly poisoning America’s children on behalf of his corporate cronies and will certainly be hugely rewarded.

Democracy in the face of this iron law of bureaucracy is very difficult. One of the few offsets that keeps it viable is constant demand for transparency from the other two branches of government. But most congressmen don’t have a security clearance and neither do most judges, and almost no social activists do.

Government officials often pull the wool over the public’s eyes by appeal to special sources of information. When Dick Cheney went around saying that Iraq was 2 years from having a nuclear weapon (it did not even have an enrichment program at that time), and he was asked if he knew something the rest of us did not, he said “probably so.” But he had pressured the intelligence community to give him the intelligence he wanted and then he used the whole secret process to bamboozle the rest of us.

The block on the Democratic memo by the Republican Congress and by the GOP president manipulates this fetish of classification to deny essential knowledge to the voting public. False news (which ironically is mainly spread around by Trumpies) is only half the problem. Lack of key pieces of information is just as big a distortion of reality. Trump is the ultimate purveyor of fake news, both because he thinks up 25 falsehoods each day before breakfast and because he is gaming the bloated classification system for partisan advantage.

The exponential growth in such hidden pieces of knowledge, generated by the government we elect and we pay for, is unacceptable. That the system should be used to shape the 2018 midterm elections is the most striking evidence that it needs a massive overhaul.

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Bonus video:

CBS This Morning: “White House blocks release of Democratic memo”

Turkish Helicopter Downed by Syrian People’s Protection Units

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 - 2:12am

TeleSur | – –

The Turkish military launched an offensive against Kurdish-held Afrin region over three weeks ago.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has reported the downing of a Turkish military helicopter in Syria. Speaking to members of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Saturday Erdogan said “these things will happen, we are in a war… We might lose a helicopter, but they’ll pay.”

The Turkish military has confirmed the deaths of the two soldiers since the announcement was made.

The People’s Protection Units (YPG), who effectively fought the Islamic State in Syria’s northern region and are now under attack by the Turkish armed forces, also confirmed the helicopter was downed.

A little over three weeks ago the Turkish government launched “Operation Olive Branch,” a military offensive against the mostly Kurdish militia YPG in the Afrin region.

The United States had until now backed the Kurdish militias with military intelligence, air-strike assistance, weapons, and training in their fight against the jihadist group. That support proved to be useful as the YPG played a pivotal role in dismantling I.S, even taking the groups self-declared capital Raqqa. However, the U.S. decided to step back, saying that they no longer held an interest in Afrin.

The Turkish Army is currently working alongside the Free Syrian Army and its offspring the Syrian National Army, both backed by Turkey against the Syrian official government.

The U.S., France, the United Kingdom and Russia have urged the Turkish government to show restraint in its military incursion. However, neither Turkey’s NATO allies nor the Syrian government’s main ally, Russia, has taken direct action against Turkey for the attacks on Syrian soil.

According to Hevi Mustafa, a Kurdish official and top member of Afrin’s local government, the Turkish incursion has killed 160 people, including 26 children and 17 women, and displaced 60,000 people. These numbers have not been independently confirmed, and Ankara denies the claim.

British-based monitor group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reports the Turkish raids on Friday killed seven YPG fighters and two civilians.

According to Turkish officials, the operations aim to establish a 30-km-deep “safe zone” across the border Syria-Turkey border. There are, however, fears that a Turk-led occupation of Afrin could bring about the ethnic cleansing of Kurds living there. None of the YPG´s former allies have provided military support to counter Turkish air and ground attacks.

Since 2011, Syrians Kurds have formed three autonomous cantons in the north. Neither the U.S. nor the Syrian government supports the Kurds’ autonomy plans.

Turkey has justified its military operation calling the YPG a terrorist organization. The Turkish government considers the YPG as an extension of the insurgent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at war with the Turkish state since 1984.

The PKK was formed in the late 1970s at a time when the Turkish government banned Kurdish language and culture. Currently, the PKK advocates for democratic confederalism within Turkey.

Via TeleSur

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Euronews: “Turkish helicopter downed in northern Syria”

Cheap German Green Energy, Decarbonization Laws, Pressuring Dirty Polish Coal

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 - 2:05am

By Bartłomiej Derski | Euractiv.com / WysokieNapiecie.pl | translated by Alexandra Brzozowski | – –

Since 1990, the production of “green” electricity in Germany has increased by 1,000% and export rates, according to preliminary data for 2017, just smashed another record. EURACTIV Poland’s partner WysokieNapiecie.pl reports.

When Germany was reunified, three electricity sources reigned supreme: brown coal held 31% of the energy mix, hard coal 26% and nuclear energy 28%. Renewable energy, mostly hydroelectric, only supplied Germany with 20 TWh, less than 4% of all electricity production.

Green vs coal and nuclear energy

After 27 years the situation looks completely different, especially after the last decade of rapid transformation.

Germany’s production of “green” electricity in 2017 amounted to almost 217 TWh, of which almost half (105 TWh) was supplied by wind farms, 46 TWh by biomass combustion, 40 TWh by solar panels and 7 TWh by biogas combustion.

Hydropower production remained unchanged, according to results from German organisation AGEB, which brings together German research institutes and industrial organisations.

The results mean that every third kilowatt-hour produced in Germany last year came from renewable energy sources.

By comparison, Poland’s electricity production last year was less than 166 TWh, of which nearly 80% came from hard and brown coal, about 6% from gas, and a dozen or so percent from renewable energy sources.

The figures were provided by PSE, Poland’s state-owned transmission system operator.

The graph shows the production of electricity in Germany from 1990 to 2017. [OZE, Germany 2017]

Between 1990 and 2017, the production of electricity in German nuclear power plants dropped by half (to 76 TWh); for hard coal it decreased by one third (to 94 TWh), and for brown coal by 13% (to 148 TWh).

On the other hand, electricity production in natural gas-fired power plants increased by 140% (up to 86 TWh), with the plants being able to react quickly to fluctuations in wind and solar energy generation.

Germany produces so much green energy that for most hours of the year the Bundesrepublik has the lowest wholesale price for electricity in Europe and is therefore a huge exporter of it.

According to preliminary data, AGEB sold 54 TWh of electricity abroad in 2017 – the biggest amount in history. Almost half of it was to Austria (including transmitting electricity through the Polish and Czech transit networks).

Some days, electricity prices actually go into the negative and nuclear power plants must reduce their energy generation by as much as half to prevent significant costs mounting up, this was the case on 28 January.

Merkel admits defeat

Although the production of green electricity displaces kilowatt-hours from coal and nuclear energy faster than the German government’s strategy assumed – and in 2017 more than one fifth of the “green” electricity produced in the whole EU came from Germany – Angela Merkel’s government had to admit a significant defeat.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives agreed on climate targets for 2030 with their would-be Social Democrat (SPD) partners, who also announced steady progress on European policy in coalition talks which they aim to conclude within a week.

In the draft coalition agreement, a rigid 40% definition of carbon dioxide emissions reduction by 2020 was abandoned. And this is not the result of coalition bargains, but simply the admission of the government that this goal is no longer realistic, so it does not make sense to enshrine it in the document.

According to last year’s government report (also unofficially disclosed), Germany will just about break through the 30% mark, compared with 1990 levels.

Determination of the German grand coalition will increase

This is by no means a cause for satisfaction for the Polish government, which for years has been torpedoing EU climate policy.

First of all, higher CO2 emissions by German industry, especially when it comes to energy, will mean higher demand and, consequently, the prices of greenhouse gas emission allowances in the EU ETS system will go up, which will result in higher electricity prices from Polish coal-fired power plants.

Secondly, the German coalition agreement sets out other goals: a 55% reduction of emissions by 2030 and as much as 80% by 2050, foreseeing a number of actions to make this happen. It will probably also mean even more determination of the new Merkel government to implement the decarbonisation policy at EU level.

A European Commission decision on Wednesday (7 February) to approve state aid for emergency power plants – often gas or coal-fired – has been accused of complicating ongoing negotiations in the European Parliament.

What Germany cares about in the coming years are primarily two sectors in which the share of renewable energy sources was stagnating for years: heating and transport.

The latter will be of particular importance. Although Germany uses 50% less energy for the transport of people and goods than for heating, the country is bound by its EU target of a 10% share of green energy in this sector by 2020. But for a decade the figure has stayed around the 6-7% mark.

After the Dieselgate scandal, the issue of old diesel cars, electro-mobility and an end date for the production of electricity from coal could take on even greater importance.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Germany breaks green energy records. EXPO 2017

Severe Humanitarian Crisis in Occupied Palestine looms with Trump Cuts

Sun, 11 Feb 2018 - 1:46am

IMEMC | – –

AIDA, an International non-governmental organization (INGO) coordination body consisting of more than 70 of such organizations working in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), expressed alarm at the United States government’s recent decision to politicize its assistance to millions of Palestinian refugees. Reducing funding to UNRWA, the UN agency whose primary mandate is to serve Palestinian refugees, will have a highly adverse humanitarian impact.

AIDA said the impact is likely to be particularly grave in the Gaza Strip, where more than 70% of a total population of nearly 2 million are refugees, out of whom 80% depend on foreign aid to meet their daily living requirements. US funding cuts, on top of the last 10 years of Israeli blockade, will lead to increased food insecurity, aid dependency, poverty, isolation, unemployment and hopelessness, and will be a further blow to Gaza’s already crippled economy.

International Humanitarian Law stipulates that, where humanitarian and developmental needs of protected persons living under military occupation are identified, the occupying power bears ultimate responsibility to provide for those needs. Where an occupying power is unable or otherwise fails to provide for their well being, third states and parties may step in to support the unmet needs of the occupied population.

“For the last 50 years, as Israel continues its military occupation of the Palestinian people in the oPt, third states have relieved Israel of its obligations under International Humanitarian Law, by covering the costs of humanitarian and development support for the Palestinian people,” AIDA said in a press release.

“Humanitarian assistance should be provided based on identified needs, and must not under any circumstances be used as a tool to impose political demands,” it added, according to the PNN.

AIDA, therefore, called on Israel, the United States, and other third states to ensure the continued orderly provision of humanitarian and development assistance to vulnerable Palestinians living under military occupation to avert humanitarian crisis.

At the same time, AIDA urged the United States and other third states to apply pressure on Israel to end its 50 year-long occupation of the oPt, including to lift its illegal blockade on Gaza, and to work towards a just and lasting resolution to the conflict, which will restore dignity, guarantee human rights and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Via IMEMC

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

AP: “UN launches emergency appeal for Palestinians; Ramallah protest”

Russia-aided Syria shoots down Israeli F-16 after downing of Iranian Drone

Sat, 10 Feb 2018 - 3:40am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Syrian anti-aircraft batteries scored a rare shoot-down of an Israeli F-16 late Saturday morning local time. It is being alleged by a whole range of analysts that this shoot-down could not have happened without Russian help. It required that the anti-aircraft personnel break Israeli radar jamming. Since Russia supplies Syrian anti-aircraft weaponry, and Russian technicians maintain it and train their Syrian colleagues, a Russian hand here is highly likely.

Israel has been attempting to inflict attrition on Iranian activities in southwestern Syria, as Maysam Behravesh reported for the Cairo Review of Global Affairs. These include transferring weaponry to Lebanon’s Hizbullah and the establishment of small facilities for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps in the Damascus region (the IRGC is said to have 2,500 personnel in Syria, mainly in an advisory capacity). The Iraqi Nujaba Party of God, a Shiite militia, is also active in Syria and is dedicated to the liberation of the Occupied Golan Heights.

At the same time, the Israelis took advantage of the Syrian revolution and the establishment of rebel positions in Quneitra Province (the Golan Heights and points east) to give support to the rebels, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front (Syrian Conquest Front). Gradually this Israeli-rebel nexus has produced what the Israelis call a “safe zone” abutting their occupied territory on the Golan, as Nour Samaha reported for the Intercept last month. Its purpose is to keep Hizbullah and Iran out of Quneitra and away from the Israeli border.

The current hostilities began when Iran is alleged to have launched a drone from Syrian Quneitra to track or target fundamentalist rebels in the Golan region backed by Israel. The Israelis shot down the drone and then launched an air raid. That was when Syria-Russia stepped in to shoot down the plane.

Israel dispatched an army helicopter to rescue its two pilots, who had ejected safely.

The Israelis claim to have launched several follow-up strikes against Iranian positions in Syria, and the Israeli cabinet met Saturday morning to consider further action.

If Russia was involved in the shoot-down, it may be a sign of Vladimir Putin’s growing determination to assert the prerogatives of the Russian sphere of influence in Syria. That sphere is being challenged by Israel in the southwest, Turkey in the north, and by the United States in the east. The targeting of the Israeli F-16 may in part have been intended to signal to Turkey and the US that intervening in Syria is going to be associated with heightened costs.

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Bonus video:

International Crisis Group: “Israel, Hizbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria”