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Climate Change: 5 Lessons the US Can Learn from Latin America

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 11:18pm

By Geovanny Vicente Romero | (TeleSur) | – –

Taking a look at Latin America can provide some low-budget guidance on making a difference with less.

During the week of March 12, 2017, the Trump administration revealed details about its national budget proposals. Among the significant changes observed in this budget proposal were reducing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spending by US$2.6 billion or one third for a 2018 budget of US$5.7 billion that would result in 3,200 fewer jobs.  

How can this budget be best spent? Let’s take a look at Latin America.

Latin America has the largest reserves of arable land on the planet, which find itself threatened by the main challenges of climate change. These effects are taking shape in different ways, from the negative impacts on agricultural lands to the reemergence of diseases that were thought to be eradicated. 

The Latin American region has an enormous potential to offer global solutions to agricultural challenges given the vast size of its land mass. In other words, Latin America can guarantee the food security of the world, since it is home to one third of the world’s freshwater resources and one quarter of the world’s farmable lands. Furthermore, Latin America exports more food products, on a net-basis, than any other region in the world.

The following countries offer examples from Latin America on how to mitigate climate change’s effects by implementing environmental policies combined with the humanitarian desire to reduce these effects.

Colombia

Committed to achieving peace, Colombia has combined the post-conflict process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to include initiatives focused on sustainable growth and rural development to generate work opportunities. The launch of this national project, called “Colombia 2030: A Sustainable and Peaceful Future,” includes a 15-year trajectory with financing of US$1.9 billion.

The Sustainable Colombia Initiative was launched at the Climate Change Summit in Paris-COP21 two years ago. The project intends to deal with elements that are accelerating climate change, development of rural lands, sustainability and social inequality that has resulted from years of conflict. The Inter-American Development Bank has been supporting the project by providing grants totaling US$1.5 million, focusing on strengthening the international climate change agenda, conservation and biodiversity as well as the formulation of a pipeline of investment projects and program coordination assistance. 

In 2013, Colombia committed to eliminating deforestation in the Amazon by 2020, representing 40 percent of its territory. As a means to achieve this goal, Colombia extended its National Park Natural Sierra de Chiribiquete by almost 3 million hectares, an area the size of Belgium.  

Costa Rica 

This small Central American country takes advantage of its rains for hydroelectric power generation and continues to work so that its energy matrix is completely derived from “clean” sources with zero carbon emissions by 2021. Thus, Costa Rica is close to becoming the first country in Latin America to be carbon neutral through use of renewable energy.  

Moreover, the country has created a national system of carbon neutrality certificates to reduce and offset its carbon emissions, in addition to a carbon-neutral certification standard that 65 companies have adopted to help achieve the country’s goals. 

Mexico 

After the Conference of Parties or COP 21 in Paris, Mexico introduced a new policy on clean energy — its Energy Transition Law, which includes a clean energy target up until 2024 to meet its ultimate goals of 35 percent clean energy. Mexico has set forth its short-term goals in the country’s Special Climate Change Program between 2014 and 2018 to reduce the vulnerability of Mexico’s population, protect fragile ecosystems, increase environmental services, and improve infrastructure to address climate change.  

Mexico already is the first developing country to pass a law on climate change with the adoption of the General Law on Climate Change in 2012. Under this law, Mexico established a Climate Change Fund and created a National Climate Change Strategy. Similarly, Mexico instituted a National Emissions Registry.

Chile

In 2014, Chile introduced a carbon tax of US$5 per metric ton. This tax came after Chile’s Office of Climate Change began developing its Low Emissions Capacity Building Program in 2012. Chile has successfully concluded the second phase of a research project MAPS-Chile that proposes analyzing emissions until the years 2020, 2030, and 2050. Chile’s greatest advancement thus far is its contribution to climate change research through its various research centers that the country has established to study the effects of climate change.

Guatemala

Guatemala has implemented an ambitious energy policy aimed at generating 80 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2030.  Guatemala has strengthened its legal framework, approving its Climate Change Law in 2013.  In the country’s Intended National Determined Contribution, Guatemala has committed to reduce emissions by 11.2 percent. Guatemala’s forestry law that was passed in 2015 is an important measure against deforestation in the country. 

The most important lesson gleaned from these five Latin American countries is not the amount of sheer investment poured into large climate change development projects, but rather the political will of these nations to confront one of today’s universal challenges. Even with the current proposed budget cuts of the EPA, the United States of America has considerable resources available to continue the progress it has made to address the effects of climate change.

Taking a look at Latin America can provide some low-budget guidance on making a difference with less.  

Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst and lecturer based in Washington, D.C. Reach him on Twitter @geovannyvicentr

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Innovating Energy”

Ghosts Of ISIL: While All Eyes are On Mosul, Extremists Return To Other Iraqi Provinces

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 11:16pm

Mustafa Habib | Baghdad | (Niqash.org) – –

While Iraq’s pro-government forces battle on in Mosul, extremists are heading back to other provinces. Locals say the number of attacks keep rising – and that something needs to be done before it is too late.

In the town of Baiji in central-northern Iraq, a senior police commander has been recording attacks by extremists – almost every day.

“Before, extremist attacks were more rare,” the police chief, Saad al-Azzawi, told NIQASH. “But over the past few weeks, the numbers have increased in a very frightening way. Our city was cleared of extremists from ISIL two years ago and they rarely came back. But things have changed recently. The extremists keep carrying out these hit-and-run attacks. Last month we recorded 40 of them.”

Al-Azzawi and his men inform the government in Baghdad of the attacks. But it seems little attention is paid to them: After all, all eyes are on the northern city of Mosul where pro-government forces are battling to clear the extremist group known as the “Islamic State” [group] out of that city.

The army has turned its back on this dangerous area. Reinforcements are needed.

Last week, over 20 locals were killed after suicide bombers attacked a wedding in Hajaj village. It was the deadliest attack in the area for months.

Al-Azzawi can only wonder at the government’s indifference. “The government is so engaged in Mosul that terrorists are infiltrating back into other cities,” he complains. “Urgent steps need to be taken to prevent them from regrouping.”

It has been about 20 months since ISIL, or the IS group was expelled from the area around here, including from the major city of Tikrit and other parts of Salahaddin province. And those displaced from Salahaddin are slowly beginning to return home to try and start normal lives again. But the area still has major security problems.

Most of these stem from the mountainous Makhoul area near Baiji – this range of hills extends from Diyala in the east, into the north of Salahaddin. It’s well known as a hiding place for ISIL fighters and despite dozens of military operations against them here, they have managed to retain control of the backwoods area.

“Hundreds of IS fighters have started arriving in this mountain area from Mosul,” says Akram al-Aboudi, a senior member of one of Iraq’s volunteer militias. “This is thanks to the siege of Mosul by pro-government forces. We are very well aware that the IS group is back in this area. We also know they are still weak. That’s why they are using these hit-and-run tactics, usually with less than ten men. Then they disappear like ghosts.”

Al-Aboudi says he has lost a number of his brothers in arms, after they were deployed to the areas next to the Makhoul mountains, in order to prevent the extremist fighters from getting closer to local towns and villages. This is why he is particularly critical of the government’s focus on Mosul only and wants reinforcements sent.

“The army has turned its back on this dangerous area,” he declares. “They should have listened to the volunteer forces who said that we needed to clear out the remnants of the IS group, before going onto Mosul.”

Another major problem for the security situation in Salahaddin has to do with the various military and non-military forces who are supposed to be keeping the province safe from the extremists. There are four groups in play: The Iraqi army, the local police, tribal groups and the Shiite Muslim volunteer militias, who recently took on a more formal role in Iraq.

One official, who commented on condition of anonymity, told NIQASH that this was causing chaos. “The local council has been trying to coordinate all the forces for months now,” the official said. “They want to unite everyone under one command. But it hasn’t happened. Instead each force acts independently of all the others and in some cases, they don’t even coordinate with the local council, whose legal right it actually is to administrate this area.”

Similar problems are being faced by locals in neighbouring Diyala province. Last week extremists managed to get into the Atheem area in Diyala for the first time in about three years, to launch a number of hit-and-run attacks on checkpoints on the provincial border with Salahaddin.

In a rugged area called Mtaibijh, between the two provinces, dozens of extremist fighters have been gathering for the past few weeks, according to a local politician, Uday al-Khadran. “The IS fighters who fled Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin during battles a few months ago all found refuge in Mtaibijh.”

The place has become a training camp and a place where car bombs are being manufactured, al-Khadran notes. “More recently the IS group has been using drones to monitor the positions of the security forces from there. The Iraqi government has got to move quickly to stop them,” he concluded.

The Iraqi government has stepped away from the political controversy around Hawija, preferring to focus instead on the operations in Mosul.

Many locals believe that when the Iraqi government moved military forces out of Diyala and further north to assist in the battle for Mosul, the extremists saw their chance. One of the first provinces to see the back of the IS group, Diyala had had good security for a long time. But this changed when the battle for Mosul began.

Last Thursday the Shiite Muslim ex-volunteer militias announced that they would be creating a new force to fill the security vacuum. At the same time though, the IS group continues to send attackers to military checkpoints and dozens of soldiers are being killed or wounded.

Much of this can be attributed back to the town of Hawija, which lies south of Kirkuk, on the Makhoul range.

The mostly Sunni-Muslim populated town has been controlled by the IS group since the middle of 2014. It was the site of ongoing Sunni Muslim anti-government protests that were halted violently by the Iraqi army in early 2013, resulting in as many as 50 deaths. The IS group found a lot of support here when they first arrived over two years ago and it remains an important base for them.

Many analysts said that it was all important to push the IS group out of Hawija before the battle to take back Mosul could start. But political problems have prevented this – the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish authorities as well as other participants couldn’t come to any kind of agreement as to how their separate forces should conduct the battle.

The Shiite Muslim groups want to be part of the fighting for the sake of Shiite Muslim-majority villages in the area. However the Iraqi Kurdish military doesn’t like that idea because they fear the militias will stay there after the fighting is over and it is a little too close to terrain they believe belongs to them. Local Sunni tribal fighters in the area are not strong enough to do the job by themselves and the Iraqi government appears to have stepped away from the political controversy, preferring to focus instead on the operations in Mosul.

“Everyone knows the risk that Hawija presents and the government needs to act on this, not just for the sake of Salahaddin and Diyala, but for the sake of the thousands of people trapped there,” Ahmad Abdullah al-Jibouri, the governor of Salahaddin, told NIQASH. “Every day our security forces meet families who have managed to escape Hawija. There is a humanitarian tragedy unfolding there.”

Via Niqash.org

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “Caught in the crossfire: The human cost of the battle for Mosul”

It is Comey who should be Investigated

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 11:15pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that his agency has since last summer been investigating the circle of Donald J. Trump for their contacts with the Russian Federation during last year’s election campaign.

He also denied Trump’s allegations that former president Barack Obama ordered wiretaps on him at Trump Tower last fall before the election. Trump had called Obama “sick” in his tweet making the charge. Trump should retract and apologize to president Obama, but of course he will not, since the meaning of Trumpism is never having to say you are sorry.

For reasons that no one can fathom, none of the Democrats on the committee bothered to ask Comey about his own out-sized role in the election.

He reported to Congress that he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s private server and combing through her emails, attempting to discover whether she had been careless with classified material. He thereby cast a pall on her integrity that certainly had more public effect than anything the Russians may have done. It was an egregiously unfair announcement.

I would argue that no such investigation should have been launched publicly of a major candidate in an election year. There was not actually anything suspicious about a private server. As for the charge that her personal server was more at risk of being hacked than a government one, this is not true in any way that matters. Government servers are hacked all the time. The private information on 4 million government employees was hacked, allegedly by the People’s Republic of China. Even the CIA servers have been hacked.

Yet Comey was carrying on two investigations, not one. He was also investigating the Trump circle for their Russia ties.

But he did not let the public know about that investigation last summer or fall.

By revealing the one but not the other, he tipped the scales in favor of Trump.

While I appreciate the hard and dedicated work of FBI agents who actually catch criminals or break up terrorist plots, the ambiguous role of the agency in establishing the rightward political tilt of the country also has to be acknowledged. It is easy for directors to fall into believing that bolstering the current power elite is the same as supporting The American Way. This is not the first time in American history that the FBI gave covert help to the right wing. What is mystifying is that Hillary Clinton was the least leftist Democrat you could imagine, being in the back pocket of Wall Street and of billionaires like Haim Saban.

Then, when Trump plunged in the polls after his salacious interview with Billy Bush came out, Comey blunted Clinton’s momentum by announcing that he’d found more emails (on the laptop computer of Anthony Weiner, who appears to have had some Clinton emails shared with him by his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin).

It is arguable that Comey violated the Hatch Act by openly intervening in the election in its last days.

The FBI at no point found anything prosecutable in Hillary Clinton’s emails, whether on her own server or on Weiner’s laptop. But the general public was given the firm impression that she’d done something so wrong that she was under an FBI investigation.

If you were looking for reasons for the black swan event of Trump’s election, Comey’s unfair actions toward Clinton and in favor of Trump would have to be at the forefront.

I’m not alleging that Comey is or was in the tank for Trump. I’m only saying that Comey acted in such a way as to disadvantage Clinton unfairly.

Comey inflicted significant damage on Trump by his testimony on Monday. So he is not showing signs of attempting to shore Trump up.

It is possible that Comey was being procedurally correct. His intervention after the Billy Bush interview was leaked has been interpreted as a case of being careful with Congress. He had told them he’d reviewed all the Clinton emails. Then Weiner was investigated for some sort of sex charge, and new emails showed up, and Comey was afraid word would reach Congress that his investigation had not actually been complete. So he announced the further examination of the laptop and cleared the emails on it as not having been classified within a couple of days. (I’m not sure why it took so long; it is just a keyword search).

On the other hand, the Tea Party Congress was not pressuring him about Russian contacts with Trump’s people, and that investigation was not conclusive, so he may not have felt the same duty to report to Congress.

The conspiracy-minded might conclude that Comey is a Pence supporter, and has cleverly maneuvered Pence into a position where he has a shot at the presidency if Trump is forced out over the Russia scandal.

I am not among the conspiracy-minded, and would need to have proof before entertaining any allegations that Comey is deliberately interfering in domestic politics and engineering individuals into power.

In fact, I can’t make any sense of his actions at all. Why taint Clinton with nothing investigation that went nowhere? Why protect the Trump campaign by keeping knowledge of the Russia investigation from the public? Why drag the Russia investigation on from last July till now (surely the transcripts and emails either provide evidence or they do not)?

On the face of it, it seems most likely of all that the hard line Tea Party Congress managed to coerce him into this behavior.

I conclude that Comey has acted in an unwise and non-neutral way and that historians will place a good deal of the blame for the Trump disaster on him. Whether he has been driven by a narrow proceduralism, or a form of unconscious sexism, or an unspoken GOP bias is at the moment impossible to know. What is clear is that the vast majority of Americans have less reason than ever to trust the politics of the FBI. And maybe we need another investigation, with subpoenas for Comey’s emails.

—-

Related video:

CNN: “Comey confirms FBI investigating Russia”

Does Trump’s slashed Foreign Aid Budget give China the Advantage?

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 3:17am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US foreign aid budget is not mainly about helping the poor. It is an instrument for buying influence in countries important to the US. The poorest countries in the world do not get much help from the US. Israel, which is a wealthy country, gets over $3 bn. a year, some of it going to Israeli civilians! Egypt is a relatively poor country, but most US aid to Cairo goes to the Egyptian military. In fact, they don’t need or know what to do with all those Apache helicopters, which are mostly just warehoused. This military aid to Egypt is a bribe for them to continue to honor the Camp David peace accord with Israel.

Taken as a whole, foreign aid makes up about 1% of the US budget (the public thinks it is 25%). It is a minor amount, but the Trump budget to be voted on later this week cuts it by about a third. These are the top recipients with total sums, below.

Afghanistan $4.7B

Israel $3.1B

Egypt $1.46B

Iraq $1.14B

Jordan $1B

Pakistan $742.2M

Kenya $626.4M

Nigeria $606.1M

Tanzania $575.3M

Ethiopia $513.7M

from Washington Post

Since Israel and Egypt are teflon, the cuts will fall on other countries, and fall heavily. Afghanistan may have to make do with more like $3 bn. a year. Iraq, still struggling against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), with some 5,000 US troops on the ground, may also see heavy cuts. And to get a savings of $8-10 billion, perhaps Trump will have to cut Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia entirely.

Since the aid is intended to win influence, the obvious conclusion is that cutting the aid will significantly reduce US influence.

Does it matter? Well, if Trump wants to turn Afghanistan around, he will find that he needs Pakistan (however much its general play a double game, supporting some radicals to keep influence in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan). Losing all or most influence in Islamabad would be bad for this effort.

The Afgan paper Hewad reported on 15 March according to BBC Monitoring,
“Speaking on contacts between Trump and Ghani the Afghan ambassador to Washington Hamdullah Mohib has said: Trump’s questions and long conversation were noteworthy. Trump asked: What does Afghanistan need to become economically self-reliant? How can the mines industry and trade be developed in Afghanistan? According to Muhib, Trump paid close attention to the answers given to his questions.”

The paper argued that Trump is about to drop Pakistan, and it hopes that Afghanistan would benefit.

Pakistan is a country of nearly 200 mn. people and is the sixth largest country in the world by population, and is highly strategic.

Remember that Afghanistan is landlocked and needs export routes to the Persian Gulf for shipping. Those go through Pakistan. Some could go through Iran, but Trump would like that even less.

But it isn’t just an issue that US foreign aid is intended to get specific diplomatic work done.

The US is in competition with other powers for the political support of countries such as Pakistan and Tanzania. Cutting their aid is a form of shouting at them to go away and find some other friend.

China is poised to move in to replace the US where it can. Its foreign aid budget is about 1/4 of that of the US. But even $10 bn goes a long way in many poorer countries.

Thus, China already has a China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation zone, CPEC, funded by China to the tune of $40 bn. It is extremely ambitious, involving improvements in ports, rail transportation, and energy generation. In essence, China is trying to re-do Pakistan as Hong Kong west. Pakistani development will help China’s troubled Xinjiang Province.

The Chinese have been willing to share Pakistan with the US in the past, as a friendly nation with a substantial military and a nuclear arsenal. But they will be even happier, no doubt, to have it all to themselves.

China has emerged as a top aid donor to countries like Kenya, which appear to be on Trump’s chopping block.

So at a time when Trump wants to win in Afghanistan he is giving Pakistan away to China, and giving away much of Africa to China, as well.

The danger is that the US will end up like Trump himself, living in a gilded tower, isolated and with no significant friends or allies, open to a debilitating belief in conspiracy theories.

China will know what to do.

——

Related video:

CGTN: “Watch: Debut of Chinese PLA military parade in Pakistan”

Africa Trade Summit in US Had Zero Africans After Visas Denied

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 12:48am

TeleSur | – –

“This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation,” organizer Mary Flowers told the media.

An African trade summit organized by the University of Southern California ended up with zero Africans as they were all denied visas to enter the United States just days before the summit despite applying months ahead of time, in what organizers called an act of “discrimination against African nations.”

“Usually we get 40 percent that get rejected but the others come,” Mary Flowers, chair of the African Global Economic and Development Summit, told Voice of America in an interview Friday.

“This year it was 100 percent. Every delegation. And it was sad to see, because these people were so disheartened.”

Many of those who planned to attend were government officials, artists and business people who had paid the US$500 attendance fee and were speakers at the summit. Flowers said that at least 100 people could not attend due to their visas being rejected.

“I have to say that most of us feel it’s a discrimination issue with the African nations,” said Flowers. “We experience it over and over and over, and the people being rejected are legitimate business people with ties to the continent.”

The summit is held every year in Los Angeles where delegations from several African countries have the chance to meet U.S. business people, government officials and artists. The countries affected included Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.

Prince Kojo Hilton, a Ghanaian artist whose work includes special effects and graphic art, was one of those affected by the last-minute visa rejection. “I was really disappointed when I went to the embassy,” Hilton said in an interview with VOA.

He told the outlet that he had already paid the US$500 fee to attend the event and was asked to lead a session on filmmaking. He was called in for an appointment at the embassy four days before his trip and his visa was denied shortly after. Luckily he held off on buying the plane ticket.

The surge in visa denials by the United States comes almost two months into the presidency of Donald Trump who has made cracking down on immigration one of his main priorities.

Trump has already issued two travel bans on several Muslim-majority countries and both orders have been suspended by federal judges.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CGTN: “Nigeria issues advisory against travelling to the United States”

Saudi throws Muslims under Bus, Sucks up to Islamophobe Trump

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 - 12:17am

By Daniel Martin Varisco | MENA Tidningen | – –

The old saying goes “With friends like this, who needs enemies.” This is especially apparent in the visit of Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to meet newly elected American President Donald Trump in mid-March. Coming two days before the latest Trump era anti-Muslim ban was to go into effect, Prince Bin Salman said after the meeting that he supported the ban and did not think it was against Muslims. It was obviously not against Saudi Muslims, although one wonders why given that most of the attackers in the 9/11 bombing were from Saudi Arabia. But it is abundantly clear to the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, especially in the United States, that this ban does indeed target Muslims. The U.S. federal courts agree, issuing yet another stay on this callously recrafted executive order.

The problem with Trump is that he has a track record of Islamophobic statements, including his campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from coming into the United States. Given his chosen advisors, the fact that lawyers for hire can come up with a supposedly constitution-friendly ban on visitors and immigrants makes for great political theater but is as illegal as it is reprehensible. The increase in America of hate crimes against Muslims and Jews (anti-semitism is not just about Jews) is clearly correlated with the racist-bating rhetoric that Trump inspires. So far Trump’s ‘lie as often and as outrageous as you can’ twitterkrieg is not winning over new supporters. Even Fox News, perhaps his most loyal media outlet, rates his popularity only at 44%. Consider that the same poll found that Senator Bernie Sanders has a 61% favorable rating and Planned Parenthood (which Trump wants to end) has 57% favorable. The ‘let loose in the candy store’ Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has a 20% favorable rating and Representative Paul Ryan is only at 37%. The ‘Obamacare’ law, which the Republicans are bent on destroying, has a 50% approval.

But back to the Saudi Prince. I suppose it should come as no surprise that Prince Bin Salman, who is only 31 years old and has no military training, should be the impetus for the Saudi-led coalition campaign that has created a horrific humanitarian crisis in Yemen with no end in sight, as well as causing damage to the southern area of Najran that the Saudi regime has ignored in their quest to make Riyadh their own Oil-rich Disneyland. If he cares so little for the lives of Yemeni men, women and children, why should he not embrace the same kind of unethical concern as Trump and his political acolytes. According to Prince Bin Salman, “President Trump expressed his deep respect for the religion of Islam, considering it one of the divine religions that came with great human principles kidnapped by radical groups.” Really? That is probably news to his advisors Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, or the advice he received from Islamophobe Frank Gaffney. I suspect that Rev. Franklin Graham, a strong supporter of Trump, would not characterize Islam as a divine religion. Graham does not see the travel ban as a “biblical issue,’ although his brand of Evangelicals often consider Islam to be part of the biblical apocalyptic scenario for the prophesied Battle of Armageddon.

The history of the American friendship with Saudi Arabia, dating back to 1945 when President Roosevelt promised to defend Ibn Saud’s realm in return for a stake in the oil, is based on mutual interest that has been economic and political, but with no concern whatsoever for ethics. Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records in the world, with frequent beheadings, prejudicial treatment of their Shi’a population and major restrictions on women. The spread of their intolerant Wahhabi doctrine is part of the genealogy of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Yet, it seems as long as they are willing to spend billions of dollars buying American military hardware, they remain a friend. Even the fact that the United States no longer needs Saudi oil does not seem to be a factor in assessing the continuing value of the cozy relationship. The 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “Those people who treat politics and morality separately will never understand either of them.” The world has little changed since then. If the current regime in Saudi Arabia remains a friend of the United States, the morality of both countries is short changed.

Daniel Martin Varisco – Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Current President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Research Professor of Social Sciences at Qatar University and expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

Reprinted from MENA Tidningen with author’s permission.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Bloomberg: “Why Trump Is Getting Praise From Saudis”

Trump picks fights with US Allies: Germany, NATO, EU, Britain etc.

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 - 2:14am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

After Trump falsely accused President Obama of having him wiretapped at Trump Tower during the campaign, Sean Spicer upped the ante by charging that Obama could have used the British GCHQ electronic surveillance agency to carry out the monitoring. GCHQ does in fact outrageously invade people’s privacy online, but there is no reason to think it targeted Trump or that President Obama could have ordered them around. Although initially it was reported that Spicer apologized to an outraged British government, he denies any apology was proffered.

After an awkward meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the Free World, Trump tweeted out an insulting message accusing Germany and other NATO countries of not paying the US enough for the “very expensive” defense umbrella Washington spreads over Europe.

But NATO countries don’t pay anything to the United States. Trump does not understand how NATO works. They just devote some proportion of GDP to their own defense. The idea that the US is owed anything by European countries for deigning to erect a North Atantic Treaty Organization over their heads is daft. It is the US that wanted NATO, for its own Cold War purposes. About 5 NATO countries devote 2% of GDP to defense spending, and the rest have (unrealistically) pledged to do so over the next 5 years or so. They’d be better off spending the money on their people. They certainly are not giving any of it to Washington, however.

Trump’s threat to slap a 35% tariff on BMW automobiles made at a new plant in Mexico and exported to the US could meet with a German lawsuit at the World Trade Organization, German experts agree.

Trump’s budget cuts roughly 38% from the $56 bn. international affairs section, including deep cuts to the State Department, to US AID, and to foreign aid. In the 1990s, the era of the ‘peace dividend’ after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US walked away from any involvement in Afghanistan after funding a major jihad there against the Soviets. (The US withdrawal was negotiated by George H. W. Bush with Soviet premier Mihail Gorbachev as a quid pro quo for the Soviet withdrawal). In the subsequent vacuum, the Taliban took over Afghanistan and hosted al-Qaeda, and 9/11 was the result.

The European Union has complained bitterly about proposed US cuts in development aid. The UN is in the midst of a major, and so far amazingly successful, bid to reduce absolute poverty in the world. Trump’s stinginess would endanger the success of this program. In Trump’s budget, only Israel’s $3 bn a year is sacrosanct. Israel is a wealthy country that doesn’t need US aid.

At this rate we won’t have any allies soon.

—-

Newsy: “Trump: Germany ‘owes’ US, NATO for defense”

Is White Supremacy Making A Comeback?

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 - 1:16am

AJ+ | (Video Clip)

“Former FBI undercover agent Mike German discusses the resurgence of the white supremacist movement now under President Trump.”

AJ+: “Is White Supremacy Making A Comeback?”

Was U.S. Attorney Bharara Investigating HHS Sec. Tom Price when Trump Fired Him?

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 - 1:11am

By Robert Faturechi | (ProPublica)

Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was removed from his post by the Trump administration last week, was overseeing an investigation into stock trades made by the president’s health secretary, according to a person familiar with the office.

Tom Price, head of the Department of Health and Human Services, came under scrutiny during his confirmation hearings for investments he made while serving in Congress. The Georgia lawmaker traded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares in health-related companies, even as he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry.

h/t Wikipedia

Price testified at the time that his trades were lawful and transparent. Democrats accused him of potentially using his office to enrich himself. One lawmaker called for an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, citing concerns Price could have violated the STOCK Act, a 2012 law signed by President Obama that clarified that members of Congress cannot use nonpublic information for profit and requires them to promptly disclose their trades.

The investigation of Price’s trades by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, was underway at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, said the person.

Bharara was one of 46 U.S. attorneys asked to resign after Trump took office. It is standard for new presidents to replace those officials with their own appointees. But Bharara’s firing came as a surprise because the president had met with him at Trump Tower soon after the election. As he left that meeting, Bharara told reporters Trump asked if he would be prepared to remain in his post, and said that he had agreed to stay on.

When the Trump administration instead asked for Bharara’s resignation, the prosecutor refused, and he said he was then fired. Trump has not explained the reversal, but Bharara fanned suspicions that his dismissal was politically motivated via his personal Twitter account.

“I did not resign,” he wrote in one tweet over the weekend. “Moments ago I was fired.”

“By the way,” Bharara said in a second tweet, “now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.”

Bharara was referring to a commission that was launched by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2013 to investigate state government corruption, only to be disbanded by the governor the next year as its work grew close to his office. In that case, Bharara vowed to continue the commission’s work, and eventually charged Cuomo associates and won convictions of several prominent lawmakers.

Bharara referred questions from ProPublica to the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. A spokesperson there declined to comment. The Justice and Health and Human Services departments also didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about whether Trump or anyone in his cabinet was aware of the inquiry into Price’s trades.

In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Price traded more than $300,000 worth of shares in health companies over a recent four-year period, while taking actions that could have affected those companies. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, chaired the powerful House Budget Committee and sat on the Ways and Means Committee’s health panel.

In one case, Price was one of just a handful of American investors allowed to buy discounted stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics — a tiny Australian company working on an experimental multiple sclerosis drug. The company hoped to be granted “investigational new drug” status from the Food and Drug Administration, a designation that expedites the approval process.

Members of congress often try to apply pressure on the FDA. As ProPublica has reported, Price’s office has taken up the causes of health care companies, and in one case urged a government agency to remove a damaging drug study on behalf of a pharmaceutical company whose CEO donated to Price’s campaign.

Innate Immunotherapeutics’ CEO Simon Wilkinson told ProPublica that he and his company have not had any contact with American law enforcement agencies and have no knowledge of authorities looking at Price’s stock trades.

Another transaction that drew scrutiny was a 2016 purchase of between $1,001 and $15,000 in shares of medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet. CNN reported that days after Price bought the stock, he introduced legislation to delay a regulation that would have hurt Zimmer Biomet.

Price has said that trade was made without his knowledge by his broker.

In a third case, reported by Time magazine, Price invested thousands of dollars in six pharmaceutical companies before leading a legislative and public relations effort that eventually killed proposed regulations that would have harmed those companies.

Louise Slaughter, a Democratic Congress member from New York who sponsored the STOCK Act, wrote in January to the SEC asking that the agency investigate Price’s stock trades. “The fact that these trades were made and in many cases timed to achieve significant earnings or avoid losses would lead a reasonable person to question whether the transactions were triggered by insider knowledge,” she wrote.

What federal authorities are looking at, including whether they are examining any of those transactions, is not known.

Along with the Price matter, Bharara’s former office is investigating allegations relating to Fox News, and has been urged by watchdog groups to look into payments Trump has received from foreign governments through his Manhattan-based business. Bharara’s former deputy, Joon Kim, is now in charge of the office, but Trump is expected to nominate his replacement within weeks.

ProPublica reporters Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott and research editor Derek Kravitz contributed to this story.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


As Trump Budget Hurts Old, Meals on Wheels Sees Donations Surge

Sun, 19 Mar 2017 - 12:48am

TeleSur | – –

One in six seniors “struggles with hunger,” according to Meals on Wheels, which provides free services to those who cannot afford to pay.

Meals on Wheels America, the umbrella organization for 5,000 providers of home-delivered meals for seniors, said on Saturday that online donations have surged since the White House released a proposed budget that could lead to a big drop in its funding.

The organization, which provides advocacy services for the national network, received about US$50,000 on Thursday after the budget blueprint was announced, compared with US$1,000 on a typical day.

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal includes a 17.9 percent cut for fiscal 2018 in funds for the Department of Health and Human Services, which provides most of the government support for Meals on Wheels, the organization said.

The budget proposal did not say how the cut would affect the Administration for Community Living, the HHS agency that funds nutrition programs for the elderly, Meals on Wheels spokeswoman Jenny Bertolette said.

But Meals on Wheels said on its website that it is difficult to imagine a scenario under which the next federal budget would not have an impact on its services.

“While Meals on Wheels America and local Meals on Wheels programs are seeing an uptick in giving, it does not replace federal funding,” Bertolette told Reuters in an email.

Trump’s budget proposal calls for a sharp increase in military spending and a like reduction in most discretionary non-defense programs.

One in six seniors “struggles with hunger,” according to Meals on Wheels, which provides its services free of charge for those who cannot afford to pay.

Seniors who have fresh meals delivered daily show greater improvement in health and well-being than those who get frozen meals delivered once a week or no meals at all, the organization said, citing research from Brown University and funded by AARP Inc.

via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

TYT Nation: “Trump budget cuts meals on wheels to fund defense contractors”

Palestinians shocked at craven UN climbdown from report on Israeli Apartheid

Sat, 18 Mar 2017 - 11:48pm

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — After the head of a United Nations agency resigned from her post, citing pressure from the UN Secretary-General to censor a new report that accused Israel of imposing an apartheid regime on Palestinians, Palestinian officials denounced the UN for removing the report.

Head of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Rima Khalaf resigned on Friday, telling reporters in Beirut that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had insisted on the withdrawal of the damning report, which was no longer visible on ESCWA’s website on Friday.

Khalaf stood by the report, calling it the “first of its kind” from a UN agency that sheds light on “the crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, which amount to war crimes against humanity.”

ESCWA, which is comprised of 18 Arab states, said in the report that Israel was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of imposing apartheid policies against Palestinians.

Israeli officials were quick to denounce it, comparing it to Nazi propaganda and calling for Guterres to publicly reject it.

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the decision by the UN to remove report in a written statement published Saturday,.

“Instead of succumbing to political blackmail or allowing itself to be censured or intimidated by external parties, the UN should condemn the acts described in the report and hold Israel responsible,” she said.

The PLO official lauded the report as “a step in the right direction” that she said “highlights the true reality on the ground which is one of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation.”

Ashrawi called on Guterres “to do what is right, reinstate the ESCWA report and undertake serious and concrete measures to hold Israel accountable for its persistent violations of international law and human rights.”

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riyad al-Maliki for his part reacted with “deep regret” that Khalaf was compelled to resign and expressed his “unequivocal objection” to the withdrawal of the report, which he described as an “objective analysis of the facts on the ground, arriving at an accurate conclusion based on the legal definition of the crime of apartheid.”

Al-Maliki also noted that UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric’s comments defending the report’s withdrawal did not take issue with the content of the report itself, but rather with the fact that it had allegedly been published without consultation with the UN secretariat.

“Despite the procedural differences and, as the content and veracity of the report’s conclusions are not being debated, Palestine considers the withdrawal to be counterproductive and ill-advised,” the ministry said.

The statement went on to argue that the report’s removal “sends a dangerous message to countries that commit crimes; that with enough pressure, their actions can be ignored and appeased and that even reporting in this regard will be censored, as opposed to triggering serious consideration of the situation and of potential remedies, including accountability as per international law.”

“This has far-reaching negative consequences for the international system as we know it,” he urged.

Both Ashrawi and al-Maliki expressed their gratitude for Khalaf. Ashrawi said that the UN Secretary-General should have never accepted Khalaf’s resignation, affirming that the PLO “will continue to remain grateful to Dr. Khalaf for assuming a principled and courageous stand on behalf of the people of Palestine.”

Al-Maliki described Khalaf as “an outstanding international civil servant, whose expertise and integrity are beyond reproach and admired by all privileged to work with her, and her leadership and contribution to the advancement of societies across the West Asia region and beyond are fully recognized and commended.”

He concluded his statement by saying: “Trying to scrap the report will not scrap the reality it describes.”

Palestinians, activists, and a number of intellectuals have increasingly compared Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory with an apartheid system over the years, and sought to use similar tactics as those that took down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement founded in 2005 as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law has been largely influenced by the Sout[h African example].

Via Ma’an News Agency

What everyone Needs to know about alt-NeoNazi President Steve Bannon

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 - 11:23pm

AJ+ | (Video Clip) | – –

“President Trump is calling for an investigation into voter fraud, and media sources have discovered that his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, was actually registered in two different states. Here are some other things you should know about Bannon.”

AJ+: “Steve Bannon: What You Need To Know”

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Related tweet:

Another day, another report about Steve Bannon's affection for Nazism: https://t.co/f4IG69Ho74 pic.twitter.com/AvA9gYb1dN

— Slate (@Slate) March 18, 2017

Wind Power Juggernaut Really doing for 100K Workers what Trump only Promised

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 - 11:18pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Big news on the wind power front. First, it has emerged in the US as the number one renewable energy source, generating more electricity than hydro-electric for the first time. This milestone came in 2016 after 8,727 megawatts (MW) of new wind installations were activated. For all of the twentieth century, hydro-electric had been the largest source of renewable electricity generation. Wind generates 5.5 percent of US electricity today, a percentage that is destined to spiral up from there.

Already, Texas gets 12 percent of its electricity from wind and there’s no end in sight. The industry has created thousands of jobs. Megan Murat writes poignantly about these upwardly mobile West Texas working families suddenly able to send their kids to college and to afford new homes.

Think about it this way: All those things Trump promised American workers during the campaign and then reneged on? Wind really is fulfilling those promises! There are already 100,000 wind energy workers (only 80,000 coal workers), and that number will triple in the next few years. By 2020, in only three years from now, Texas is slated to be the world’s fourth wind power giant after China, the US as a whole, and Germany.

So get this. The companies TenneT and Energienet.dk are planning to create two artificial islands in the North Sea and put enough wind turbines on them to generate 100,000 megawatts of power. High powered transmission lines will then take the electricity to Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Norway and Belgium. The exchange they are constructing for this purpose will allow these countries to trade electricity more easily.

Not only is wind powering homes, but there is now a move use wind turbines to propel big ships on the high seas. It is estimated that they could cut 10 to 15 percent off the fuel bill for cargo ships. Ironically, Royal Dutch Shell is one of the investors here. Shipping is responsible for as much as 4 percent of greenhouse emissions worldwide, and a single huge container ship can equal the emissions of millions of automobiles. So switching them over to solar and wind power is important to meet our goals of emissions reductions.

In February of 2017, Scottish wind turbines generated enough electricity every day to power 4 million homes. (Suck on that, Donald Trump). Here’s the kicker: Scotland only has 2.5 million homes. So the rest of the electricity went to England. And here’s an irony: The English Tory elite, who are in the back pocket of BP, are actually interfering in the greening of Scotland. Now that Scotland is seriously considering another vote on secession, both Brexit and England’s anti-renewables policies will loom large as considerations.

That’s right. The UK could break up in part because the English upper crust is stuck in the colonial 20th century and can’t let go of the glories of black gold.

Green energy is not only about how we get our electricity and is not only about forestalling climate change. It is altering our world, causing upward mobility in West Texas, causing massive infrastructure cooperation among the North Sea nations, and perhaps even reshaping entire countries.

One thing is sure. Leaders like Donald Trump who are not aboard the Renewable Energy Train are going to be left behind in the backwaters while others do the really big, earthshaking deals.

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Related video:

Amazon is building gigantic wind farm in Texas comprised of more than 100 wind turbines – TomoNews

The Rural-Urban Divide in the US in 6 Charts!

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 - 11:12pm

By Brian Thiede, Lillie Greiman, Stephan Weiler, Steven C. Beda, Tessa Conroy | (The Conversation) | – –

Editor’s note: We’ve all heard of the great divide between life in rural and urban America. But what are the factors that contribute to these differences? We asked sociologists, economists, geographers and historians to describe the divide from different angles. The data paint a richer and sometimes surprising picture of the U.S. today.

1. Poverty is higher in rural areas

Discussions of poverty in the United States often mistakenly focus on urban areas. While urban poverty is a unique challenge, rates of poverty have historically been higher in rural than urban areas. In fact, levels of rural poverty were often double those in urban areas throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

While these rural-urban gaps have diminished markedly, substantial differences persist. In 2015, 16.7 percent of the rural population was poor, compared with 13.0 percent of the urban population overall – and 10.8 percent among those living in suburban areas outside of principal cities.

Contrary to common assumptions, substantial shares of the poor are employed. Approximately 45 percent of poor, prime-age (25-54) householders worked at least part of 2015 in rural and urban areas alike.

The link between work and poverty was different in the past. In the early 1980s, the share of the rural poor that was employed exceeded that in urban areas by more than 15 percent. Since then, more and more poor people in rural areas are also unemployed – a trend consistent with other patterns documented below.

That said, rural workers continue to benefit less from work than their urban counterparts. In 2015, 9.8 percent of rural, prime-age working householders were poor, compared with 6.8 percent of their urban counterparts. Nearly a third of the rural working poor faced extreme levels of deprivation, with family incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line, or approximately US$12,000 for a family of four.

Large shares of the rural workforce also live in economically precarious circumstances just above the poverty line. Nearly one in five rural working householders lived in families with incomes less than 150 percent of the poverty line. That’s nearly five percentage points more than among urban workers (13.5 percent).

According to recent research, rural-urban gaps in working poverty cannot be explained by rural workers’ levels of education, industry of employment or other similar factors that might affect earnings. Rural poverty – at least among workers – cannot be fully explained by the characteristics of the rural population. That means reducing rural poverty will require attention to the structure of rural economies and communities.

Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University

2. Most new jobs aren’t in rural areas

It’s easy to see why many rural Americans believe the recession never ended: For them, it hasn’t.

Rural communities still haven’t recovered the jobs they lost in the recession. Census data show that the rural job market is smaller now – 4.26 percent smaller, to be exact – than it was in 2008. In these data are shuttered coal mines on the edges of rural towns and boarded-up gas stations on rural main streets. In these data are the angers, fears and frustrations of much of rural America.

This isn’t a new trend. Mechanization, environmental regulations and increased global competition have been slowly whittling away at resource extraction economies and driving jobs from rural communities for most of the 20th century. But the fact that what they’re experiencing now is simply the cold consequences of history likely brings little comfort to rural people. If anything, it only adds to their fear that what they once had is gone and it’s never coming back.

Nor is it likely that the slight increase in rural jobs since 2013 brings much comfort. As the resource extraction economy continues to shrink, most of the new jobs in rural areas are being created in the service sector. So Appalachian coal miners and Northwest loggers are now stocking shelves at the local Walmart.

The identity of rural communities used to be rooted in work. The signs at the entrances of their towns welcomed visitors to coal country or timber country. Towns named their high school mascots after the work that sustained them, like the Jordan Beetpickers in Utah or the Camas Papermakers in Washington. It used to be that, when someone first arrived at these towns, they knew what people did and that they were proud to do it.

That’s not so clear anymore. How do you communicate your communal identity when the work once at the center of that identity is gone, and calling the local high school football team the “Walmart Greeters” simply doesn’t have the same ring to it?

Looking at rural jobs data, is it so hard to understand why many rural people are nostalgic for the past and fearful for the future?

Steven Beda, Instructor of History, University of Oregon

3. Disabilities are more common in rural areas

Disability matters in rural America. Data from the American Community Survey, an annual government poll, reveal that disability is more prevalent in rural counties than their urban counterparts.

The rate of disability increases from 11.8 percent in the most urban metropolitan counties to 15.6 percent in smaller micropolitan areas and 17.7 percent in the most rural, or noncore, counties.

While rural-urban differences in disability have been analyzed previously, researchers have had little opportunity to further explore this disparity, as updated data on rural disability were unavailable until recently. Fortunately, the census released updated new county-level disability estimates in 2014, ending a 14-year knowledge gap.

The release of these estimates has also allowed us to build a picture of geographic variations in disability across the nation. Disability rates vary significantly across the U.S. Although the national trend of higher disability rates in rural counties persists at the regional and even divisional level, it is clear that disability in rural America is not homogeneous. Rates of rural disability range from around 15 percent in the Great Plains to 21 percent in the central South.

Data reveal notable differences between rural and urban America.
American Community Survey (ACS) 2011-2015 5 year estimates, Table S1810, CC BY

A variety of factors may be behind these regional and rural differences, including differences in demographics, economic patterns, health and service access and state disability policies.

While this survey provides a glimpse into the national prevalence of disability and reveals a persistent rural-urban disparity, it is important to note its limitations. Disability is the result of an interaction between an individual and his or her environment. Therefore, these data do not directly measure disability, as they measure only physical function and do not consider environmental factors such as inaccessible housing.

Lillie Greiman and Andrew Myers, Project Directors at the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana; Christiane von Reichert, Professor of Geography, University of Montana

4. Rural areas are surprisingly entrepreneurial

The United States’ continuing economic dominance is perhaps most attributable to the very smallest elements of its economy: its entrepreneurial start-ups. Nearly 700,000 new job-creating businesses open each year. That’s almost 2,000 every day, each helping to create new market niches in the global economy.

Most people mistakenly believe these pioneering establishments occur in overwhelmingly in metropolitan areas, such as in the now-mythic start-up culture of Silicon Valley.

Yet, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it is in fact nonmetropolitan counties that have higher rates of self-employed business proprietors than their metropolitan counterparts.

Furthermore, the more rural the county, the higher its level of entrepreneurship. Some of these counties have a farming legacy – perhaps the most entrepreneurial of occupations – but farmers represent less than one-sixth of business owners in nonmetro areas. Even for nonfarm enterprises, rural entrepreneurship rates are higher.

The reality is that rural areas have to be entrepreneurial, as industries with concentrations of wage and salary jobs are necessarily scarce.

Start-up businesses have notoriously difficult survival prospects. So it is perhaps even more surprising that relatively isolated nonmetropolitan businesses are on average more resilient than their metro cousins, despite the considerable economic advantages of urban areas, which boast a denser networks of workers, suppliers and markets. The resilience of rural start-ups is perhaps due to more cautious business practices in areas with few alternative employment options.

This resilience is also remarkably persistent over time, consistently being at least on par with metro start-ups, and regularly having survival rates up to 10 percentage points higher than in metro areas over 1990-2007.

Stephan Weiler, Professor of Economics, Colorado State University; Tessa Conroy and Steve Deller, Professors of Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Brian Thiede, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology and Demography, Pennsylvania State University; Lillie Greiman, Research Associate, The University of Montana; Stephan Weiler, Professor of Economics, Colorado State University; Steven C. Beda, Instructor of History, University of Oregon, and Tessa Conroy, Economic Development Specialist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

41 Killed in US Attack on Syrian Mosque

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 - 11:12pm

TeleSur | – –

“It was right after prayers at a time when there are usually religious lessons for men in it,” one witness told AFP.

On Thursday the U.S. government confirmed that it carried out an airstrike in Syria which, according to AFP, struck a mosque killing 46 civilians.

A spokesperson for U.S. Central Command initially denied that the bombing had targeted the mosque, saying instead that it had attacked a meeting closeby held by al-Qaida in Syria.

However, the same spokesperson later told AFP reporters that while the precise location of the strike was “unclear”, it was the same one widely reported to have hit the village mosque late on Wednesday night in Al-Jineh, in Aleppo province.

Abu Muhammed, a village resident, told AFP that he “heard powerful explosions when the mosque was hit. It was right after prayers at a time when there are usually religious lessons for men in it.”

“I saw 15 bodies and lots of body parts in the debris when I arrived. We couldn’t even recognize some of the bodies,” he added.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 46 people were killed in the attack and over 100 wounded.

“We are going to look into any allegations of civilian casualties in relation to this strike,” said Colonel John J. Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command.

The U.S. reported this month that its attacks in Iraq and Syria had killed at least 220 civilians since 2014, though most human rights groups say the numbers are much higher.

Just last week, a Pentagon investigation into a U.S. attack on Yemeni village which killed dozens of women and children absolved military personnel of any war crimes.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Air raid hits Syria mosque, civilians killed”

How the Iraq War came Home & brought us Trump

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 - 11:18pm

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

If you want to know where President Donald Trump came from, if you want to trace the long winding road (or escalator) that brought him to the Oval Office, don’t look to reality TV or Twitter or even the rise of the alt-right. Look someplace far more improbable: Iraq.

Donald Trump may have been born in New York City.  He may have grown to manhood amid his hometown’s real estate wars.  He may have gone no further than Atlantic City, New Jersey, to casino-ize the world and create those magical golden letters that would become the essence of his brand.  He may have made an even more magical leap to television without leaving home, turning “You’re fired!” into a household phrase.  Still, his presidency is another matter entirely.  It’s an immigrant.  It arrived, fully radicalized, with its bouffant over-comb and eternal tan, from Iraq.

Despite his denials that he was ever in favor of the 2003 invasion of that country, Donald Trump is a president made by war.  His elevation to the highest office in the land is inconceivable without that invasion, which began in glory and ended (if ended it ever did) in infamy.  He’s the president of a land remade by war in ways its people have yet to absorb.  Admittedly, he avoided war in his personal life entirely.  He was, after all, a Vietnam no-show.  And yet he’s the president that war brought home.  Think of him not as President Blowhard but as President Blowback.

“Go Massive. Sweep It All Up”

To grasp this, a little escalator ride down memory lane is necessary — all the way back to 9/11; to, that is, the grimmest day in our recent history.  There’s no other way to recall just how gloriously it all began than amid the rubble.  You could, if you wanted, choose the moment three days after the World Trade Center towers collapsed when, bullhorn in hand, President George W. Bush ascended part of that rubble pile in downtown Manhattan, put his arm around a firefighter, and shouted into a bullhorn, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you!… And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” 

If I were to pick the genesis of Donald Trump’s presidency, however, I think I would choose an even earlier moment — at a Pentagon partially in ruins thanks to hijacked American Airlines flight 77.  There, only five hours after the attack, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already aware that the destruction around him was probably Osama bin Laden’s responsibility, ordered his aides (according to notes one of them took) to begin planning for a retaliatory strike against… yes, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.  His exact words: “Go massive.  Sweep it all up.  Things related and not.”  And swept almost instantly into the giant dust bin of what would become the Global War on Terror (or GWOT), as ordered, would be something completely unrelated to 9/11 (not that the Bush administration ever admitted that).  It was, however, intimately related to the deepest dreams of the men (and woman) who oversaw foreign policy in the Bush years: the elimination of Iraq’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein.

Yes, there was bin Laden to deal with and the Taliban and Afghanistan, too, but that was small change, almost instantly taken care of with some air power, CIA dollars delivered to Afghan warlords, and a modest number of American troops.  Within months, Afghanistan had been “liberated,” bin Laden had fled the country, the Taliban had laid down their arms, and that was that.  (Who in Washington then imagined that 15 years later a new administration would be dealing with a request from the 12th U.S. military commander in that country for yet more troops to shore up a failing war there?)

Within months, in other words, the decks were clear to pursue what George W. Bush, Dick Cheney & Co. saw as their destiny, as the key to America’s future imperial glory: the taking down of the Iraqi dictator.  That, as Rumsfeld indicated at the Pentagon that day, was always where they were truly focused.  It was what some of them had dreamed of since the moment, in the first Gulf War of 1990-1991, when President George H.W. Bush stopped the troops short of a march on Baghdad and left Hussein, America’s former ally and later Hitlerian nemesis, in power.

The invasion of March 2003 was, they had no doubt, to be an unforgettable moment in America’s history as a global power (as it would indeed turn out to be, even if not in the way they imagined).  The U.S. military that George W. Bush would call “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known” was slated to liberate Iraq via a miraculous, high-tech, shock-and-awe campaign that the world would never forget.  This time, unlike in 1991, its troops would enter Baghdad, Saddam would go down in flames, and it would all happen without the help of the militaries of 28 other countries.

It would instead be an act of imperial loneliness befitting the last superpower on planet Earth.  The Iraqis would, of course, greet us as liberators and we would set up a long-term garrison state in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  At the moment the invasion was launched, in fact, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing boards for the building of four permanent U.S. mega-bases (initially endearingly labeled “enduring camps”) in Iraq on which thousands of U.S. troops could hunker down for an eternity.  At the peak of the occupation, there would be more than 500 bases, ranging from tiny combat outposts to ones the size of small American towns — many transformed after 2011 into the ghost towns of a dream gone mad until a few were recently reoccupied by U.S. troops in the battle against the Islamic State.

In the wake of the friendly occupation of now-democratic (and grateful) Iraq, the hostile Syria of the al-Assad family would naturally be between a hammer and an anvil (American-garrisoned Iraq and Israel), while the fundamentalist Iranian regime, after more than two decades of implacable anti-American hostility, would be done for.  The neocon quip of that moment was: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad.  Real men want to go to Tehran.” Soon enough — it was inevitable — Washington would dominate the Greater Middle East from Pakistan to North Africa in a way no great power ever had.  It would be the beginning of a Pax Americana moment on planet Earth that would stretch on for generations to come.

Such was the dream. You, of course, remember the reality, the one that led to a looted capital; Saddam’s army tossed out on the streets jobless to join the uprisings to come; a bitter set of insurgencies (Sunni and Shia); civil war (and local ethnic cleansing); a society-wide reconstruction program overseen by American warrior corporations linked to the Pentagon that resulted in vast boondoggle projects that achieved little and reconstructed nothing; prisons from hell (including Abu Ghraib) that bred yet more insurgents; and finally, years down the line, the Islamic State and the present version of American war, now taking place in Syria as well as Iraq and slated to ramp up further in the early days of the Trump era. 

Meanwhile, as our new president reminded us recently in a speech to Congress, literally trillions of dollars that might have been spent on actual American security (broadly understood) were squandered on a failed military project that left this country’s infrastructure in disarray. All in all, it was quite a record. Thought of a certain way, in return for the destruction of part of the Pentagon and a section of downtown Manhattan that was turned to rubble, the U.S. would set off a series of wars, conflicts, insurgencies, and burgeoning terror movements that would transform significant parts of the Greater Middle East into failed or failing states, and their cities and towns, startling numbers of them, into so much rubble.

Once upon a time, all of this seemed so distant to Americans in a Global War on Terror in which President Bush quickly urged citizens to show their patriotism not by sacrificing or mobilizing or even joining the military, but by visiting Disney World and reestablishing patterns of pre-9/11 consumption as if nothing had happened. (“Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”)  And indeed, personal consumption would rise significantly that October 2001.  The other side of the glory-to-come in those years of remarkable peace in the United States was to be the passivity of a demobilized populace that (except for periodic thank-yous to its military) would have next to nothing to do with distant wars, which were to be left to the pros, even if fought to victory in their name.

That, of course, was the dream.  Reality proved to be another matter entirely.

Invading America

In the end, a victory-less permanent war across the Greater Middle East did indeed come home.  There was all the new hardware of war — the stingrays, the MRAPs, the drones, and so on — that began migrating homewards, and that was the least of it.  There was the militarization of America’s police forces, not to speak of the rise of the national security state to the status of an unofficial fourth branch of government.  Home, too, came the post-9/11 fears, the vague but unnerving sense that somewhere in the world strange and incomprehensible aliens practicing an eerie religion were out to get us, that some of them had near-super powers that even the world’s greatest military couldn’t crush, and that their potential acts of terror were Topeka’s greatest danger. (It mattered little that actual Islamic terror was perhaps the least of the dangers Americans faced in their daily lives.)

All of this reached its crescendo (at least thus far) in Donald Trump. Think of the Trump phenomenon, in its own strange way, as the culmination of the invasion of 2003 brought home bigly.  His would be a shock-and-awe election campaign in which he would “decapitate” his rivals one by one.  The New York real estate, hotel, and casino magnate who had long swum comfortably in the waters of the liberal elite when he needed to and had next to nothing to do with America’s heartland would be as alien to its inhabitants as the U.S. military was to Iraqis when it invaded.  And yet he would indeed launch his own invasion of that heartland on his private jet with its gold-plated bathroom fixtures, sweeping up all the fears that had been gathering in this country since 9/11 (nurtured by both politicians and national security state officials for their own benefit).  And those fears would ring a bell so loud in that heartland that it would sweep him into the White House.  In November 2016, he took Baghdad, USA, in high style.

In this context, let’s think for a moment about how strangely the invasion of Iraq, in some pretzeled form, blew back on America.

Like the neocons of the Bush administration, Donald Trump had long dreamed of his moment of imperial glory, and as in Afghanistan and again in Iraq in 2001 and 2003, when it arrived on November 8, 2016, it couldn’t have seemed more glorious. We know of those dreams of his because, for one thing, only six days after Mitt Romney lost to Barack Obama in the 2012 election campaign, The Donald first tried to trademark the old Reagan-inspired slogan, “Make America great again.”

Like George W. and Dick Cheney, he was intent on invading and occupying the oil heartlands of the planet which, in 2003, had indeed been Iraq.  By 2015-2016, however, the U.S. had entered the energy heartlands sweepstakes, thanks to fracking and other advanced methods of extracting fossil fuels that seemed to be turning the country into “Saudi America.”  Add to this Trump’s plans to further fossil-fuelize the continent and you certainly have a competitor to the Middle East.  In a sense, you might say, adapting his description of what he would have preferred to do in Iraq, that Donald Trump wants to “keep” our oil.

Like the U.S. military in 2003, he, too, arrived on the scene with plans to turn his country of choice into a garrison state.  Almost the first words out of his mouth on riding that escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 involved a promise to protect Americans from Mexican “rapists” by building an unforgettably impregnable “great wall” on the country’s southern border.  From this he never varied even when, in funding terms, it became apparent that, from the Coast Guard to airport security to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as president he would be cutting into genuine security measures to build his “big, fat, beautiful wall.”

It’s clear, however, that his urge to create a garrison state went far beyond a literal wall. It included the build-up of the U.S. military to unprecedented heights, as well as the bolstering of the regular police, and above all of the border police. Beyond that lay the urge to wall Americans off in every way possible. His fervently publicized immigration policies (less new, in reality, than they seemed) should be thought of as part of a project to construct another kind of “great wall,” a conceptual one whose message to the rest of the world was striking: You are not welcome or wanted here. Don’t come. Don’t visit.

All this was, in turn, fused at the hip to the many irrational fears that had been gathering like storm clouds for so many years, and that Trump (and his alt-right companions) swept into the already looted heartland of the country.  In the process, he loosed a brand of hate (including shootings, mosque burnings, a raft of bomb threats, and a rise in hate groups, especially anti-Muslim ones) that, historically speaking, was all-American, but was nonetheless striking in its intensity in our present moment.

Combined with his highly publicized “Muslim bans” and prominently publicized acts of hate, the Trump walling-in of America quickly hit home.  A drop in foreigners who wanted to visit this country was almost instantly apparent as the warning signs of a tourism “Trump slump” registered, business travel bookings took an instant $185 million hit, and the travel industry predicted worse to come.

This is evidently what “America First” actually means: a country walled off and walled in.  Think of the road traveled from 2003 to 2017 as being from sole global superpower to potential super-pariah. Thought of another way, Donald Trump is giving the hubristic imperial isolation of the invasion of Iraq a new meaning here in the homeland.

And don’t forget “reconstruction,” as it was called after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  In relation to the United States, the bedraggled land now in question whose infrastructure recently was given a D+ grade on a “report card” issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers, Donald Trump promises a trillion-dollar infrastructure program to rebuild America’s highways, tunnels, bridges, airports, and the like. If it actually comes about, count on one thing: it will be handed over to some of the same warrior corporations that reconstructed Iraq (and other corporate entities like them), functionally guaranteeing an American version of the budget-draining boondoggle that was Iraq.

As with that invasion in the spring of 2003, in 2017 we are still in the (relative) sunshine days of the Trump era.  But as in Iraq, so here 14 years later, the first cracks are already appearing, as this country grows increasingly riven. (Think Sunni vs. Shia.)

And one more thing as you consider the future: the blowback wars out of which Donald Trump and the present fear-gripped garrison state of America arose have never ended. In fact, just as under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, so under Donald Trump, it seems they never will. Already the Trump administration is revving up American military power in Yemen, Syria, and potentially Afghanistan. So whatever the blowback may have been, you’ve only seen its beginning. It’s bound to last for years to come.

There’s just one phrase that could adequately sum all this up: Mission accomplished!

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 World.

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

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

Why the UN branded Israel an Apartheid state

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 - 11:04pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Note: Apparently the Trump administration at Israeli urging threatened to defund the UN if this report was not withdrawn. The UN Secretary-General caved, and the executive director of ESCWA (who was also an under-secretary general of the UN), Rima Khalaf, has resigned. The legal case built by the ESCWA report remains sound.

A shouting match has been provoked this week by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which issued a report this week concluding definitively that Israel is guilty of Apartheid practices toward the Palestinians. The report is careful to say that it is not using the term merely as a pejorative but is rather appealing to a body of international law with precise definitions, definitions that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians easily and transparently meet. Here’s the short blog version of the report, which runs to 76 pages.

Apartheid is a Dutch word meaning “apartness” and was used to describe the system of racial segregation deployed by the ruling Afrikaner minority in South Africa 1948-1991. In international law, however, it has been generalized to any government practicing systematic racial domination.

Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines it this way:

“The term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

The 2002 Rome Statute, which has 150? signatories among the nations of the world, and which established the International Criminal Court, contained a definition of Apartheid.

‘The crime of apartheid’ means inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime…

Apartheid is one of the listed “crimes against humanity” along with enslavement, torture, war rape, and forcible deportation. A crime against humanity is the systematic and continuous commission of war crimes

Because of these international law instruments (the Rome Statute is a multilateral treaty), Apartheid now refers to a generalized crime, not just the policy of the old South African government.

As a result, the Court can under some circumstances charge individual politicians with the crime of Apartheid. Those circumstances are that 1) the country has signed the Rome Statute or 2) that the UN Security Council has forwarded the case of a war criminal to the ICC. Neither of these circumstances fits Israel, since it is not a signatory and the US would veto any attempt to charge a major Israeli politician at the International Criminal Court. This inability to bring Israeli officials to the Hague, however, is merely procedural. As a matter of law, Israel can still be guilty of Apartheid practices.

The UN report is concerned with specific legal infractions as spelled out by international law, and with the intention behind those infractions. Intent to dominate another people is important to the definition of Apartheid.

The report points out that
“The Israel Lands Authority (ILA) manages State land, which accounts for 93 per cent of the land within the internationally recognized borders of Israel and is by law closed to use, development or ownership by non-Jews.”

Going back to the colonial Jewish National Fund, there has been a practice that once land is owned by Zionist institutions, including the Israeli state, it can never be sold to a non-Jew– it is permanently taken off the market on a racial basis.

The Law of Return is another discriminatory practice. Any Jew anywhere in the world can emigrate to Israel. But no Palestinian family expelled in 1948 can return to their ancestral homeland.

Jewish councils may reject applications for residence from Palestinian-Israelis. An Israeli Jew who married an American Christian is allowed to bring the spouse to Israel; but an Israeli Jew who married a West Bank Palestinian may not.

The report argues that in the Israel-Palestinian context, Palestinians are a “race.” I would add that the exclusion of Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens underlines this definition, since one characteristic of race is endogamy or marrying within the in-group.

Other UN decisions have recognized the Palestinians as a people entitled to self-determination (and indeed such recognition goes back to the correspondence of League of Nations states overseeing the British Mandate over Palestine in the 1920s).

The document says:

“This report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of law. This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance.”

As for the specifics of Apartheid in the Occupied West Bank, the UN document observes that this territory is virtually a textbook case in Apartheid governance:

“Domain 3 is the system of military law imposed on approximately 4 .6 million Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestini an territory, 2 .7 million of them in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip. The territory is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act” listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank. Palestinians are governed by military law, while the approximately 350,000 Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. The racial char acter of this situation is further confirmed by the fact that all West Bank Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law on the basis of being Jewish, whether they are Israeli citizens or not. This dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of an apartheid regime when coupled with the racially discriminatory management of land and development administered by Jewish – national institutions, which are charged with administering “State land” in the interest of the Jewish population.”

The Executive Summary is here.

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Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Is Israel imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians? – Inside Story”

Populist Wilders may have come up short, but Dutch intolerance is still real

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 - 11:04pm

By Annemarie Toebosch | (The Conversation) | – –

The Dutch elections on March 15 have received a lot of attention in the international media.

The reason for the attention is clear: A Trump lookalike populist, Geert Wilders, was rumored to win big as part of a Western populist movement that some call the “Patriotic Spring.”

His rise has the liberal West confused and concerned, because if the land of gay marriage and coffee shops falls, then where is their hope for Western liberalism?

But, as results are coming in, two things are becoming clear: Election turnout was high and Wilders’ support relatively low. Projections show Wilders’ party winning 19 seats compared to 31 seats for the Dutch-right liberal conservatives of Prime Minister Mark Rutte. What does all this tell us about the populist movement? Is our bedrock of tolerance safe again?

To understand what happened in these Dutch elections, we need to look beyond Wilders and his place in Western populism to the myth of Dutch tolerance.

Students in my race and ethnicity courses at the University of Michigan have been engaged in this very task as they examine current and historic diversity in the Netherlands. When they read University of Amsterdam sociologist Jan Willem Duyvendak or Free University of Amsterdam Holocaust historian Dienke Hondius, a more complicated picture of Dutch tolerance emerges.

Wilders doesn’t represent a sudden movement of the Netherlands away from tolerance. Dutch tolerance does not really exist in the way the stereotype dictates. Seventy years ago, the country saw a larger percentage of its Jewish population deported and killed than any other Western European nation. This fact does not lend itself to simple explanations but has at least in part been attributed to the lack of protection of Jews by non-Jews and to Dutch collaboration with the Nazi occupation.

Looking at modern times, CUNY political scientist John Mollenkopf reports poorer immigrant integration outcomes, such as employment rates and job retention, in Amsterdam than in New York City, and Duyvendak finds explanations for these outcomes in white majority-culture dominance.

A pretty story

A few weeks after the 2016 U.S. elections, elderly Dutch statesman Jan Terlouw made a plea to the Dutch nation. Speaking as the Jimmy Carter-like voice of reason of the political establishment, he asked the nation to go back to a time where Dutch people trusted each other, a time where people could enter the homes of other Dutchmen freely and without suspicion. It was a “Make the Netherlands Great Again” message of sorts, but coming from the Dutch center-left.

I grew up in the Netherlands of Jan Terlouw. The country gave me an idyllic childhood, with soccer and hopscotch in the streets, but I never stepped freely into the homes of Indonesians who lived, grouped together, on the next street. My white Dutch friends still know little to nothing about the relationship between race and our colonial history, or about the people of color who came to live in the Netherlands through that history. Some Americans may be surprised to learn that the Netherlands has a more than 20 percent nonmajority ethnic Dutch population, 10 percent of which are Indonesians, Surinamese and Dutch Caribbeans from former or current colonies, as well as Turks and Moroccans who (or whose family) originally came as part of guest worker programs.

Terlouw’s story is a beautiful story, then, but it isn’t true, and neither is the story that the Dutch have suddenly become intolerant as part of global Western populism. In reality, the Dutch good old days were good old days because racial minorities were sidelined and did not complain, for example, about the slaves depicted on the golden coach that carries the Dutch king to the annual “Throne Address,” or the state of union.

Wilders isn’t unique

Now Dutch intolerance in the person of Wilders is on display around the world, and it is not limited to his party.

Of the 28 parties on the Dutch ballot this year, five have anti-Islam or anti-immigrant platforms, some more openly so than others. The Party for Entrepreneurs, for example, calls for a “mosque watch.” Another one of these five parties – the Forum for Democracy party, which has a restrictive immigration and EU-cautious platform – appears to have won two seats.

Dutch nationalism does not just live on the right. All the big parties that are contenders to enter a coalition government after this election – from all the way left to all the way right – reference “Dutchness” in one way or another in their party platforms, as a presumed understanding of what it means to be Dutch, or in the form of shared national values and a “be like us” message to immigrants. Dutch nationalism is ubiquitous.

But one important aspect of today’s elections is overshadowed by the Wilders discussion. The Dutch citizens who voted Wednesday had the choice of voting for a party called “DENK,” with mixed Dutch-Turkish, or Dutch-minority, values that some critics call the Dutch Erdogan satellite party.

Voters could also support “Artikel 1,” a party founded by minority rights activist Sylvana Simons nine weeks ago – and just four months after the country saw its racist holiday character of Zwarte Piet (the blackfaced helper of Saint Nicholas) phased out on national television amid white nationalist screams and quieter criticisms about the end of Dutch culture and tradition.

Artikel 1, named for the equality clause in the Dutch constitution, has the slogan “All Different But Yet The Same” and calls for equal rights for all Dutch people, men, women, gay, straight and, importantly, black, white, native and immigrant. This election was the first time we saw minority parties such as DENK and Artikel 1 with programs advocating for education about Dutch migration history, the teaching of languages beyond the traditional European ones, a registry for racist hate crimes and a national holiday to celebrate the emancipation of Dutch slaves. Remember: The kingdom of the Netherlands is still a colonial power over the nation states of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten, and the country of the Netherlands over the three Caribbean islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba.

As a new Dutch government is formed in the weeks to come, we could brush the minority parties off as a reaction to Wilders’ populism and see his defeat as a return of Dutch tolerance, but we would be wiser to see these elections as the beginning of a sea change in a country that is slowly changing to meet its tolerant mythology.

Annemarie Toebosch, Director of Dutch and Flemish Studies, University of Michigan

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

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Related video:

Euronews: “Wilders loses Dutch election but his influence lives on”

I Am an Enemy of the People (Feffer)

Thu, 16 Mar 2017 - 11:04pm

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

If Trump cracks down on journalists, there might be less uproar than you’d think.

Even before the election of Donald Trump — and his extraordinary declaration that the media are the “enemies of the people” — U.S. journalism was in trouble.

According to Gallup polling, American trust in mass media plummeted from an already low 40 percent in 2015 to a historic low of 32 percent in September 2016. The drop in the trust that Republicans have in the media was staggering: from 32 percent to a mere 14 percent. This last number applies as well to Trump supporters regardless of party affiliation.

If I were a Trump supporter, I’d probably look askance at the mainstream media as well. First of all, newspapers overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton for president: 240 editorial boards supported Clinton while only 19 favored Trump.

It wasn’t so much that editorial boards are generally liberal. In 2012, after all, Mitt Romney received 105 endorsements, while Barack Obama got only 99. Rather, regardless of political leanings, editorial boards consistently distrusted Donald Trump. Even some of those that backed the Republican nominee expressed their disdain for him but felt that they had to vote for the Republican Party platform.

It’s not just the explicit endorsements, of course. It’s also the implicit coverage. The mainstream media has been accused of possessing a liberal bias. But liberals and conservatives have castigated Donald Trump, both during the election and even now when he possesses (in theory) the presidential mantle of legitimacy.

Consider the opinion page of The Washington Post this last Tuesday. Liberal Catherine Rampell lays into the conspiratorial tendencies of Kellyanne Conway and crew. Liberal Richard Cohen criticizes the Trump administration’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Liberal Eugene Robinson excoriates the racism of Republican Rep. Steve King in the context of Trump’s cozying up to white supremacists.

Fair enough: Liberals should be expected to sink their teeth into Trump.

But then there’s also Jennifer Rubin, a conservative, who criticizes Trump’s managerial capacities as president. Meanwhile, Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, declares that “Republicans are defining lunacy down.”

Voila, a full-court press on the presidency. Trump is an affront to virtually anyone, regardless of their ideology, who plays (and profits) by the rules of the game.

If I were a Trump supporter, I’d cancel my subscription to the Post. But I’d probably have stopped reading the newspaper and watching CNN long ago because they tend to reflect elite biases (which are sometimes but not always liberal). It’s rare that the media covers labor issues or the concerns of working-class Americans these days, except to reflect on the scourge of drug addiction in the Midwest or to mourn a lost age of manufacturing. The mainstream media provides news by the bi-coastal elite and for the bi-coastal elite.

I’ve also had my own frustrations with the mainstream media in the United States. They did a lousy job exposing the lies the George W. Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq. They didn’t subject Obama’s drone program to sufficient scrutiny. They betray a corporate bias. Certain parts of the world, like Africa, get precious little coverage. And so on.

The mainstream media, designed to be a watch-dog institution, certainly needs its own watch dogs, and that’s where alternative media come in. But let’s be clear: The mainstream media is indispensible. Media that maintain full-time reporters, foreign bureaus, and fact-checkers are an absolute requirement in a democracy. The New York Times and CNN can’t be replaced by Internet sites and their comments sections. That way lies madness (and Breitbart).

We don’t need to engage in thought experiments about what would happen if the mainstream media disappeared or if their independence were compromised. All we have to do is look at Turkey.

First Go After the Journalists….

The 259 journalists in jail around the world in 2016 was the highest number since 1990. Turkey, meanwhile, leads the pack in this dubious category, with at least 81 reporters in prison (and possibly as many as 191).

Most recently, the Turkish government made headlines when it arrested Deniz Yücel, a Turkish-German journalist working for the German newspaper Die Welt, accusing him of being a terrorist. Yücel was actually more dangerous than a terrorist — he was part of a team investigating corruption involving the government and the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The arrest of journalists is only part of the post-coup crackdown by Erdogan. The Turkish government has shut down 149 media outlets, dismissed over 4,000 judges and prosecutors, fired over 7,000 academics, and arrested over 40,000 people.

But Erdogan didn’t just start arresting journalists after the coup attempt last July. Journalists were a primary target of Erdogan’s assault on what he called the “deep state” in Turkey, which refers to at various times: the military, ultra-nationalists, pro-Gulen forces, anti-Gulen forces, and so on. (Fethullah Gulen, a one-time ally of Erdogan, is the head of an Islamic movement that maintains educational institutions all over the world, counts on many adherents within Turkey, and may or may not have been behind the July coup). The “deep state,” which actually did launch several successful coups in Turkey’s past, has now become convenient shorthand for any countervailing power that might oppose Erdogan, whose attacks on this subterranean creature have been an effective strategy for consolidating power.

Ominously, the Trump administration has also used this same phrase, the “deep state,” though it refers to a different of characters.

The “deep state” might refer to the infamous “blob” — the foreign policy network in Washington that resisted some of Obama’s more transformational efforts in international relations. It might stand in for any pro-Obama foreign policy faction that now opposes Trump. It might be another way of describing an array of government officials using bureaucratic inaction, calculated leaks, or deliberate sabotage to undermine the new administration’s policies. Or it might be a much larger target that includes think tanks, media, and NGOs that aren’t Trump-positive.

To defeat the “deep state,” Trump has brought in people untainted by policymaking experience. It is also preparing to cut non-military government activities by a paralysis-inducing $54 billion to pay for an equally jaw-dropping Pentagon boost. Trump is playing on the deep antipathy that average Americans have toward government in general — roughly half of Democrats and a three-quarters of Republicans don’t trust government — to root out any potential opposition inside the Beltway. Welcome to the deconstruction of America, Steve Bannon-style.

If Trump intends to follow Erdogan’s game plan, expect to see journalists go to jail, particularly those probing into the opaque business deals of the Trump syndicate. Already, six reporters were arrested at the Inauguration Day protests and charged with felonies for participating in “rioting” (charges have since been dropped for four of the journalists).

The jailing of journalists will be a key litmus test of whether Trump is acting on his authoritarian impulses. Given the unpopularity of the media and Trump’s demonization of it, such a move might not cause as much uproar as First Amendment advocates might think.

Breitbart Uber Alles

You know the guy. He rails against the MSM (mainstream media) on websites all day long. Then he sends out a link to a New York Times article to prove some argument or another. If you point out the contradiction to him, he says, “Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Under normal circumstances, such curmudgeons are as much a part of a healthy democracy as celebrity hounds and Internet trolls. Vive la freedom of speech!

But these are not normal circumstances. Such curmudgeons now work in the White House. Former Breitbart News staffers who built their reputations on savaging the mainstream media and creating fake news in their place now have influential roles in the administration. Stephen Bannon is senior advisor. His protégé Julia Hahn is now a special assistant to the president. Sebastian Gorka, once the national security editor at Breitbart and an “Islamophobic huckster,” advises Trump on counter-terrorism.

Moreover, Breitbart is positioning itself as the go-to news source in the Trump era, not only reporting the news but making it, as it did recently by releasing an audio clip of House Speaker Paul Ryan dissing Trump during the campaign. It has hired new staff from The Hill, Real Clear Politics, and The Wall Street Journal to give the site a veneer of legitimacy. It’s also planning to open bureaus in Paris and Berlin — to link up, no doubt, with fake news enthusiasts over there.

The assault on the mainstream media comes not only from the right. RT, the mouthpiece of the Russian government, has been giving space to left-leaning journalists over the years — Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, even Larry King. They, too, give the channel a veneer of respectability, for they are respectable voices. Although RT does engage in some real journalism, it is also a purveyor of fake news, such as the Pizzagate scandal or the spate of articles about Clinton’s supposed health problems before the election. Given the right-wing character of Vladimir Putin’s administration, RT and Breitbart are really just two faces of the same coin.

In this new information war, I’d like to propose a truce. The MSM, for its part, must try harder to address the concerns of those struggling to make ends meet, who are hurt by globalization, who are angry at the political, economic, and cultural elite of this country. And those who oppose Trump and all he stands for — stop treating the mainstream media as though it were the devil incarnate. Mainstream journalists will be key players in investigating, patiently and by the rules, all the abuses of the Trump administration.

If Trump calls mainstream journalists the enemy of the people, it’s important for all of us to stand up and declare that we are enemies of the people, too.

I don’t watch TV. And I don’t watch CNN. But for the next four years, je suis CNN.

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

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “The future of journalism under President Trump – The Listening Post (Full)”

Hawaii Judge: Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0 still Violates the Constitution

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 - 11:25pm

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Derrick Watson, US District Court judge in Honolulu, has issued a nationwide Temporary Restraining Order against Trump’s second attempt at an Executive Order excluding people from Muslim-majority countries from the United States. Watson found that the state of Hawaii, which brought the suit, was likely to prevail in its complaint that the president’s order would impose irreparable harm on the University of Hawaii and on the state’s tourism industry. He also found that it violates the constitutional rights of American Muslims. (I made the same argument soon after it was released).

It is delicious that Hawaii stepped up here, as the most ethnically diverse state in the nation, where the quarter of the population that is Japanese-Americans well remembers the internment camps to which their families were consigned during WW II. Hawaii has a lot of immigrants, and those immigrants found companies and act as entrepreneurs, adding enormous value to the Hawaii economy. 1 in 6 residents of Hawaii is foreign-born, and 20% of business revenue is generated by 16,000 new immigrant businesses. Trump’s white nationalism is completely out of place in Hawaii. And by the way, Hawaii and California, the diverse states, are the future of America. Trumpism can only slow that down, not stop it.

Judge Watson had two plaintiffs in the case. One is the state of Hawaii. The other is Ismail Al-Shikh, the head of the Hawaii Muslim Association. Al-Shikh alleged not only various sorts of harm to himself from the EO (his mother-in-law is Syrian and might to be able to visit him) but also harm from a violation of the Establishment Cause of the first amendment.

Judge Watson notes, “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982). To determine whether the Executive Order runs afoul of that command, the Court is guided by the three-part test for Establishment Clause claims set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971). According to Lemon, government action (1) must have a primary secular purpose, (2) may not have the principal effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) may not foster excessive entanglement with religion. Id. “Failure to satisfy any one of the three prongs of the Lemon test is sufficient to invalidate the challenged law or practice.” Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007, 1076–77 (9th Cir. 2010).

The Lemon test was used to strike down blue laws that forbade businesses to operate on Sunday. The Supreme Court found that there was no secular purpose to a law that stopped everyone from working on a day of religious observance.

The Establishment Clause says that Congress shall make no law affecting the establishment of religion, which is 18th century English for “Congress shall make no law designating a particular religion as the state religion of the Federal Government.” The Clause mandates that the Government be neutral as between religions. Obviously, a Muslim ban is not religiously neutral.

Watson finds that the EO targets six countries with a Muslim population of between 90% and 97% and so obviously primarily targets Muslims.

The Sessions Department of Justice argued that the language of the law is religiously neutral and so there is no violation of the Establishment Clause “facially” (i.e. if you just look at the language of the Order).

Judge Watson shows that it is permitted to take into account the intent of a law when there is a question of it violating the Establishment Clause:

“It is well established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.” Washington, 847 F.3d at 1167–68 (citing Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 534 (1993) (“Official action that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the requirement of facial neutrality.”)

Those legal scholars who argue that it is not permitted to take into account the legislative history of a law or regulation, but that the ‘facial’ language of the law should be determinative don’t seem to know as much case law as Judge Watson.

The judge then goes on to cite the many statements by Trump showing that he has an animus against Muslims and that animus underlies his Executive Order banning everyone from 6 Muslim-majority countries. There are many such statements, e.g.

Mr. Trump was asked: “The Muslim ban. I think you’ve pulled back from it, but you tell me.” Mr. Trump responded: “I don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”

If you want to use “territory” as a smokescreen to allow you to discriminate against Muslims, you probably shouldn’t say that publicly.

Judge Watson argues that the violation of the Establishment Clause is so egregious here, and the interference with people’s rights to travel and associate freely is so serious, that these factors outweigh the terrorism and security considerations instanced by the trump administration.

The judge didn’t say this, but I’d like to point out that the government gave as a reason for its travel ban the involvement of two Iraqi-Americans in an overseas plot, but then took Iraq off the list!

On to the other set of issues:

Judge Watson notes that the State of Hawaii alleged two major harms of the EO. The first is the University of Hawaii system, which is an “arm of the state.” The University, which has 55,756 students, pointed out that it “recruits students, permanent faculty, and visiting faculty from the targeted countries.” The EO harms the whole state of Hawaii “by debasing its culture and tradition of ethnic diversity and inclusion.”

The Iranian, Syrian, Libyan, Somali, Yemeni and Sudanese students who are excluded from the country “are deterred from studying or teaching at the University, now and in the future, irrevocably damaging their personal and professional lives and harming the educational institutions themselves.”

The University of Hawaii has 23 graduate students, several permanent faculty members, and 29 visiting faculty members from the six excluded countries. Excluding those without visas would impose a loss of tuition, and those with family members abroad would be prevented from receiving them as visitors.

Not only would some of these persons, and others, be dissuaded from continuing their search for knowledge in the US, “The State argues that the University will also suffer non-monetary losses, including damage to the collaborative exchange of ideas among people of different religions and national backgrounds on which the State’s educational institutions depend.” The EO is interfering not just in finances but in the very purpose of the University, which is the free exchange of ideas.

The EO also interferes with the University’s ability freely to recruit the most qualified faculty and students and with its commitment to being “one of the most diverse institutions of higher education” in the world. Moreover, the university envisages it as difficult to run its Persian Language and culture program without the ability to have visitors from Iran.

The State’s summary of the harm to the University of Hawaii includes educational and intellectual harms (and ethnic diversity is itself an intellectual advantage) as well as financial and monetary ones. In the Lockean tradition, property harms are typically the ones taken most seriously.

Hawaii’s second argument is that the EO will harm its tourism industry, a central component of its economy. The chaotic and arbitrary way the first EO was rolled out, and the uncertainties attending the second one will “depress tourism, business travel, and financial investments in Hawaii.”). Middle East visitors in the month after the first EO fell by 1/5. Tourism brings in $15 billion a year to the Hawaii economy (it is a small state of 1.5 million people).

Hawaii has a point, and Judge Watson recognized it.

International organizations are beginning to boycott the US as a conference site. A 3000- person European conference pulled out of Philadelphia last week out of disgust at the EO, and went to Mexico City. You figure 4 nights at $250 a night, plus meals at $75 a day, plus taxi and entertainment at $50 a day (and I have kept the numbers low so as to avoid charges of exaggerating). That’s a loss to Philadelphia of at least $4.5 million, from just one conference. Hawaii faces the same problem.

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Related video:

CBS News: “Hawaii judge blocks Trump’s new travel ban”