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CBS Taps Colbert To Replace Letterman, Limbaugh Bursts Into Flames

Fri, 11 Apr 2014 - 1:02am
SATIRE: CBS Taps Colbert To Replace Letterman, Limbaugh Bursts Into Flames (via Liberaland)

This could be the single event that our grandchildren — well, the privileged ones who know how to read and have access to e-books and such — will know as the straw that broke the left wing’s back. No less of a historian than Rush Limbaugh declared…



 

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Jazz legend John McLaughlin Plays Ramallah, Palestine to counteract Palestinian “Isolation”

Fri, 11 Apr 2014 - 12:22am
Jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin plays for Palestine (via AFP)

The Palestinian territories are rarely a destination for jazz musicians let alone stars of an art form that is more at home in big cities such as New York and Chicago. Which makes the performance of jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin before a packed…

 

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AFP: Jazz guitar legend John McLaughlin plays for Palestinians

GOP Armed Services Chair: Dropping Benghazi, Military did all it Could (Is the Witch Hunt Over?)

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 - 11:15pm

(By Juan Cole)

Republican Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, declared on Thursday that the US military did all it could during the chaotic two days of September 11-12, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya and that his own investigation of the US response to the violence of that day is over.

There are several other GOP investigations of Benghazi on-going, as the party attempts vainly to keep the issue alive so as to use it against the Democrats.

What I can’t understand is if the GOP is so concerned about Benghazi and Libya as a security threat to the US, why aren’t they voting more aid for Libya and more help to establish a new Libyan army loyal to the elected government? If they believe Benghazi is al-Qaeda territory, why aren’t they eager to cooperate with the GNC to push it back? They are only interested in 12 hours of postrevolutionary Libya, the hours where they think they can make political hay in the US.

Demonstrations in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere in the Muslim world were provoked by a fake “film” made by the Muslim-hating network in the US, with which some Egyptian Coptic Christians are allied. The Copts involved tried repeatedly to get the “film” shown on Egyptian t.v. (it was made with a different dialogue with actors who had no idea what they were in, then dubbed with shocking hate speech against Islam and its holy figures). The Muslim-haters succeeding in having clips aired by fundamentalist Muslim channels, which provoked anti-US demonstrations and attacks at US embassies, in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. In Libya, the demonstrations were used as a cover by a terrorist cell, which fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the temporary US consulate, catching it on fire and causing Ambassador Chris Stevens to die of smoke inhalation.

The Muslim-hating network in the US is heavily intertwined with the Republican Party, and that someone important in the GOP was in on the “film” scam can’t be ruled out. Why were the Copts doing this Muslim-baiting (or put up to doing this) in summer 2012 just before the presidential election? It was forseable that it might produce attacks on US embassies. Republicans in summer 2012 were already trotting out a rhetorical strategy to make Obama into Jimmy Carter, whose diplomats at the Iran embassy were captured in late 1979. Did hopes of provoking another embassy hostage-taking go wrong when US diplomats were actually killed instead? Wasn’t Mitt Romney on the evening of Sept. 11, 2012, awfully quick on the trigger, in putting forward a damning narrative of Benghazi that accused Obama of negligence?

In fact, outbreaks of Muslim-hating hysteria have become predictable as election events in the US, every two years. You had the fantastical ‘Obama is a Muslim’ campaign in 2008, the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in 2010, ‘the Innocence of Muslims’ in 2012, and we are probably only months from another such electronic pogrom, for the 2014 fall midterms.

The House Republicans have developed a conspiracy theory which I frankly have difficulty understanding, in which the Obama administration failed to recognize that Benghazi had been taken over by al-Qaeda, declined to send in the Marines to stop this attack and then lied about the character of the attack, blaming it on the film rather than on al-Qaeda.

New York Times correspondent David D. Kirkpatrick did extensive interviewing of Libyan eyewitnesses to the consulate attack and found that al-Qaeda had nothing to do with it.

As for deploying military troops in Benghazi during the attack, that could not have been done given the fog of war on the ground and the time scale. Moreover, the consulate personnel had their own protection force, some 40 CIA operatives in a nearby safehouse, most of whom were ex-military special ops.

The GOP narrative on Benghazi, which makes little sense, has been refuted many times by more knowledgeable sources than Darrell Issa. I find it very suspicious that the old “Obama (or Hillary) is Jimmy Clinton” narrative from the beginning of the crisis has never altered and think it is mainly a negative campaign platform.

McKeon, one of their own, is saying that the horse is very dead and there is no point in continuing to beat it.

But the Tea Party GOP won’t be able to help themselves.

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George W. Bush Used Top Google Results For All His Paintings; Is he in Legal Trouble?

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 - 1:35am
George W. Bush Used Top Google Results For All His Paintings; Will He Be Sued For Copyright Infringement? (via Techdirt)

You may have heard the recent stories about former President George W. Bush’s new exhibit of paintings of world leaders. There’s been plenty of chatter about the former President picking up painting as a hobby since leaving office. While many may have…



 

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The Young Turks: “Softball Interview Of Bush Exemplifies Mainstream Media”

Fox News climate change coverage is now 28% accurate, up from 7%

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 - 1:28am
Fox News climate change coverage is now 28% accurate, up from 7% (via Skeptical Science)

Posted on 8 April 2014 by dana1981 The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has just published an analysis of 2013 climate coverage by the three major American cable news networks. The report and data are available online, and the results are summarized…



 

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Military Occupation as Bullying: The Palestinian Struggle for Dignity in Hebron

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 - 1:22am

(By Johannes A. Makar)

Eyewitness Hebron: Follow young Badr in his city of bullies

This February, after crossing the Taba-Eliat border from Egypt, less than 36 hours before the deplorable bomb attack there, I arrived in Jerusalem. After spending a couple of days in the city, I hopped on the bus to Hebron from the Israeli Central Bus Station. The contrast with the Palestinian public transportation that I used on my return trip could not have been greater. Here, two to three inch thick bulletproof windows and heavily armed soldiers accompanied me, amongst pious settlers and fellow devout Jews.

Upon arrival at the bus stop in Hebron, I found myself in front of an impressive historic structure that happened to be the celebrated Cave of the Patriarchs. The latter, a sanctuary home to the tombs of Abraham, and his wife Sarah, is valued by Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to the Holy Scriptures, those lay to rest here are considered the ‘founding fathers’ of the Abrahamic monotheist tradition. Inside, the Cave of the Patriarchs is divided into a Muslim and Jewish prayer hall. Historic ornaments, opulent Arabic scriptures and a genuine tranquility contribute to a unique sense of serenity.

When exiting this sacred structure, however, I am instantly confronted with a different reality. Israeli security personnel, heavy arms and the prospect of yet another possible checkpoint make the holiness of this place vanish in no time. Minutes later, simply asking a soldier if I am allowed to take a picture ends indispensably in the question if I am a Jew. Slightly scorned by his inquiry, I present him a negative answer after which I’m nonetheless allowed to realize my Kodak moment.  

“Upon arrival at the bus stop in Hebron, I found myself in front of an impressive historic structure”             After leaving the site from its nowadays Jewish flank, I decide to take a look in the part of the Old City that falls under the control of the Israeli authority (known as “Area H2” in the James Bond-themed jargon of the politicians of our world). While searching the entrance to this part of the city, I stumble upon a security passage of the Israeli Defense Forces. On top of the gateway is a sticker that has the Arabic expression “ma sha Allah” literally meaning “what God wants”; a saying often used to express one’s thankfulness. After crossing the gateway myself, I arrive into the heart of what was once a sparkling bazaar. While wandering through the historic alleyways of this old market, a majority of the shops appears to be closed. The lack of commerce brings in a desolate and cool atmosphere.

Yet, it’s only when looking more attentively that I notice the first scars of the political squabbles in this part of the city. The iconic green doors that lock many of the little boutiques are sporadically customized with graffiti paintings, depicting either the Star of David, some obscure Hebrew writings or reactionary Arabic tags. The alleyway itself is partially roofed with wires and fences. On top of these lay – quite awkwardly – large pieces of dirt and garbage. When asking the young Badr about this, he explains that the fences are meant to protect against the settlers in the city who occasionally dump their waste on the rooftops and streets of the Palestinian inhabitants. 

Shortly after starting our chat, the fourteen year-old boy offers to show his house in what seems to be a common invitation to visitors of the city. Upon climbing the outdoor staircase of his home, I am once again confronted with tinkered fences and barbed wire.

DON’T MISS We take a good look at anti-Semitism in the Arab World.

Once I arrive on the roof of Badr’s home, I end up startled by the view over Hebron. At the seemingly highest point of the city stands a massive watchtower with an equally huge menorah next to it. The upper platform of the watchtower resembles something of an all-seeing eye. In other parts of Hebron, nosy spectators are evident as well. Throughout the whole of the city Israeli forces stand guard on rooftops, and next to Badr’s place too is a small ‘security tower’.

Another visible feature seen from the rooftop is the upsurge of modern housing in the city. Rather than being part of a social housing system for many a needy Palestinian, these alluring homes are destined to accommodate some of the settlers in the city whilst, of course, providing them the necessary security services.

Before going down again, Badr shows me the bullet holes in what is now a dysfunctional water barrel, a gift his family once received from Italian donors. Inside his living room too damage is visible. Badr himself claims it to be the outcome of a raid by Jewish settlers.

ALSO READ Keep Your Eye on the Wall: Palestinian Landscapes

The story of Badr and his family seems illustrative for the situation in Hebron; a mix of far-reaching bullying practices (that undoubtedly go beyond what I witnessed shortly) and constant interference by the IDF alternate, making it impossible to live a life that resembles any real sense of normality.

Finally, as I arrive at the main square, I discover another massive control post. This one too is supplemented with a fair amount of Israeli soldiers. At least a dozen of them. Here, suddenly, a sound of gunshots is heard, persisting for almost 20 minutes. I decide to continue my walk, yet when passing one of the soldiers, the carrying message “take care for the Palestinians, they’re throwing stones” is revealed to me in a bittersweet American accent. 

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.

Johannes A. Makar is a graduate student at Leuven University (KU Leuven) in Belgium and a freelance writer, frequently focused on the Middle East.

Mirrored from Your Middle East

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Save Bangladesh & you Save the World: Give Green Energy aid to Developing Nations of Global South

Thu, 10 Apr 2014 - 12:07am

(By Paul Rogers)

Recent examples of short-term climate disruption have done much to bring the overall issue of climate change up the political agenda. In responding to what will be one of the key challenges of the next decades – well beyond the 15-year lifetime of the post-2015 global development goals currently under discussion – much of the attention has been focused on the need to adapt to those elements of climate change that are already irreversible and also to the need to decarbonise existing high carbon-emitting economies. What needs much greater attention is the fundamental need to ensure that low-carbon emitters in the Global South are enabled to combine effective human development with responding to the challenges of climate change.

Context

The scientific evidence that climate change is happening is now overwhelming and only a tiny handful of scientists question its anthropogenic causes. The most recent decadal report from the World Meteorological Office (WMO), for 2001-2010, confirms that climate change already involves disruption, with the decade seeing a clear increase in impact across the world. Events since 2010, including excessive heat waves, floods, droughts and the strongest land-fall cyclone (Typhoon Haiyan) ever recorded all point to accelerated disruption.

Asymmetric Impacts

In recent years there has been a relative pause in the rate of atmospheric warming but research points to aspects of the Southern Oscillation being responsible, temporarily slowing the overall rate of warming of the atmosphere, but not of the oceans. This is expected to change in the second half of the current decade and the effect of this will be that anthropogenic-induced warming and natural cycles will be in synchrony, leading to rapid change and greater climatic disruption.

Climate change is thus expected to accelerate but there is, in addition, abundant evidence that it is already a markedly asymmetric process. There are many indications that substantial areas of the tropics and sub-tropics will heat up and dry out faster than temperate latitudes. This is significant for four reasons:

  • These regions support the majority of the world’s people and produce the majority of the world’s food, much of it being locally produced in subsistence farming systems.
  • Most of the poorer and more marginalised people live there, with least resilience to climate disruption.
  • These regions also include most of the rapidly growing megacities where infrastructure is not keeping pace with growth, resulting in low urban resilience.
  • They include the vast “carbon sinks” of the Amazonian, African and Southeast Asian rain forests, the diminution of which will accelerate atmospheric carbonisation.

The other element of asymmetry – relatively faster warming of the near-Arctic – is directly advantageous to some countries, most notably Russia and Canada, both of whom stand to benefit in the short term in three ways:

  • Sea ice will diminish, opening up new commercial sea routes.
  • Arctic fossil and other mineral resources will be easier to exploit.
  • Agriculture will “move North”, opening up new regions for development.

These two countries are also major fossil fuel producers so they benefit through these revenues, including easier exploitation of Arctic reserves, as well as from the impact of their use since this is likely to enhance Arctic warming. It is hardly surprising that neither government has much interest in controlling carbon emissions. As a Permanent Observer at the Arctic Council, the UK could do much to work with the five Nordic countries, all Main Council Members, on this issue, also involving new observer states, such as China, India, Japan and South Korea that have an interest in new sea routes, but are increasingly aware of the potential direct negative impacts on their own economies of climate change.

The Changing Political Environment

The direct denial of climate change as a phenomenon affecting human society still persists and is most clearly seen in two powerful interest groups. One is the fossil fuel industry, especially oil companies and producer countries that have a clear interest in protecting their revenues. There are also major interest groups clustered around those who genuinely believe that the unrestricted free market form of capitalism is the only appropriate system for the global economy. As such they are deeply suspicious of governmental interference in the economy and therefore highly suspicious of a world-wide challenge that demands strong intergovernmental coordination and government action.

Both groups have been powerful and effective supporters of the denial community and though they are helped by the governmental attitudes of countries such as Russia and Canada, their greatest support came from the Bush administration in the United States in 2001-2009. Their influence is now declining for three broad reasons.

  • One is that the frequency of severe and even extreme weather events is changing public opinion in many countries. The UK is a good example where serious winter flooding was enough to ensure that the Prime Minister, David Cameron, agreed that climate change was of huge concern, even though many in his own party remain doubters. At a global level, the WMO report adds credibility to the view that extreme weather events, like the canary in the coal mine, are harbingers of what is to come.
  • A second element is that the most powerful state, under Barack Obama, acknowledges that climate change is happening, even though powerful denier elements remain resolute in their resistance.  
  • Finally, a number of major industrial groups, especially those in the engineering industry, are embracing the prospects for new market opportunities as renewable energy technologies and techniques of storage and conservation come into their own
Current Responses to Climate Change

The two main responses to climate change currently envisaged are the progressive decarbonisation of carbon-intensive societies and the adaptation of high- and low- carbon societies to the impacts of climate change that are inevitable given the existing increases in atmospheric carbon. Both of these remain likely to gain in importance given the recognition of the huge challenges ahead. While the action so far is inadequate, it at least now shows signs of some prioritising. Whether the 80% carbon emission requirements of industrial societies can be achieved within twenty years is, at most, questionable, but it is now at least recognised as a worthy aim.  

There is also recognition that adaptation is addressing symptoms rather than responding to causes – improved flood defences in a country such as Britain may well be necessary but unless climate change is halted they are just short-term responses that will progressively be overwhelmed. Similarly, there is already good work going on in aiding the adaptation of less developed economies through, for example, the breeding of robust food grain varieties more able to withstand low rainfall. Such work needs considerable expansion but this, and the progressive decarbonisation of high emitters still misses out a crucial element in responding to climate change.

The Missing Element

In relative terms, the missing element is the low level of investment in the evolution of low-carbon economies of societies that have not substantially industrialised, mainly those in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Global South. Such countries include most of the most marginalised and poorest people on Earth where there is a deep-rooted desire for far greater life chances, yet these cannot be met through the modes of economic organisation of the industrialised North. If the marginalised majority is to see its development prospects enhanced then this has to be achieved through new forms of low-carbon economic development. Countries have to succeed without following the path taken by industrialised states over the past two hundred years.

It follows that there is a very strong case for a state such as the UK prioritising any form of development assistance which aids this process. Much of this will centre on any form of low carbon energy use, including a wide range of renewable technologies, with major improvements in energy conservation and storage. Much work is already going on in this area, not least in relation to renewable energy technologies readily available to non-networked societies. It is also notable that when technologies emerge which demonstrate obvious utility, the speed of take-up can be remarkable. The cell-phone revolution in sub-Saharan Africa is just one example.

Regrettably, UK Department for International Development (DFID) operational plans for 2013-14 indicate that low carbon development (LCD) targets from the Department’s 2011-15 strategy have been reduced or abandoned. The 2015 target for installed clean energy capacity has been reduced by almost 97%, from 3GW to 100MW. The original target to raise $610 million in private finance for LCD has disappeared, having raised $15 million by 2013.

If the UK development programme was to commit just 20% of its budget to this area of work, the results could be extremely valuable, especially if part of that was to encourage North-South research and development partnerships. Furthermore, while the British development programme has many faults, it has grown to be the world’s second largest and there is sufficient cross-party support for this to be sustained against opposition. Because of the size of this programme, the UK has a more powerful voice than most in intergovernmental fora relating to development. It can use this voice to help ensure that the commitment promoted here is shared by other national and intergovernmental development programmes.

Conclusion

Climate disruption is one of the greatest challenges facing humankind, a challenge that is at last becoming recognised as such because of the extreme nature of many recent weather events. Decarbonising major industrial economies and funding adaptation to the already inevitable impact of climate change are essential responses but they must be accompanied by major programmes to ensure that human development in the poorer economies can be fully accomplished through processes of low carbon economic development. This is a critically important task over the coming decades, is insufficiently recognised as such, and should be a priority for any serious political party committed to the world-wide development of human well-being.

 

 

About the Briefing

AuthorPaul Rogers is Global Security Consultant to Oxford Research Group (ORG) and Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. His ‘Monthly Global Security Briefings’ are available from our website, where visitors can sign-up to receive them via our newsletter each month. These briefings are circulated free of charge for non-profit use, but please consider making a donation to ORG, if you are able to do so.

Photo: Floodwaters surround houses in Dhaka, Bangladesh . Source: CAPRA Initiative (Flickr)

Mirrored from The Oxford Research Group

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Russian Sanctions-Busting?: Putin’s bruited 500k b/d oil deal with Iran draws US Threats

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 11:17pm

Russia has rejected US criticism of a plan that has been floated to import 500,000 barrels a day of petroleum from Iran on a barter basis.

The US Treasury Department has been instructed by Congress to place a financial blockade on Iran. The US has had that country kicked off major international bank exchanges, making it very difficult for Iran to pay for imports or get paid for exporting petroleum. In addition, the US has twisted the arms of many countries, not to buy Iranian petroleum or not to buy very much of it, by threatening third-party sanctions on their firms otherwise. These US tactics have reduced Iran’s exports from 2.5 mn. barrels/day to only 1 mn b/d. A handful of Asian countries has been given permission to continue to import Iranian oil as long as they don’t increase those imports, as part of the current round of negotiations between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1).

Russia says it rejects unilateral US sanctions as without basis in international law. That is, UNSC sanctions are binding on UN members. But no one elected the US to go around sanctioning other countries or insisting that everyone in the world abide by its sanctions. The salience of US boycotts derives from the country constituting 22% of the world gross domestic project, being a $16 trillion a year economy. Everyone in the world would like to invest in the US and benefit from US economic growth, or try to attract US investment. The Treasury Department threatens to place entire corporations under a ban if they defy US sanctions. Shell and Total S.A., for instance, withdrew from helping Iran with liquid natural gas (LNG) exports after Washington menaced them.

At $38 bn a year, US-Russian trade is minimal. Russian entrepreneurs and financiers nevertheless fear the third-party sanctions in a way the Russian President Vladimir Putin does not.

Russia does roughly $450 bn a year in trade with Europe, mainly via gas and oil exports, and $150 bn a year with China and the Far East. Putin wants to expand the Asian trade so as to become less dependent on Germany and other Western European Powers.

Russia can contemplate a move that would attract US sanctions precisely because Russian-Iran trade is likely the wave of the future. Moreover, the US is already talking sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea.

Some observers feel that if Russia does the deal with Iran, it will reduce pressure on Tehran to make a deal with the US and the P5+1. I don’t think this analysis is correct. President Hassan Rouhani wants better relations with Washington and wants to remove the US unilateral sanctions. So he has every reason to negotiate at Geneva rather than risk his country going back into deep isolation. The Russia deal would be welcome in Tehran, but it isn’t the big enchilada that they are going for.

A US boycott of Russian energy firms would mean very little. Europe, in contrast, gets 1/3 of its natural gas from Russia and is highly unlikely to cease doing so voluntarily. So I don’t think Europe is going to join a boycott of say, Gazprom. But if the US tries to sanction Russian energy firms, they have the means to wriggle out of it and come back in a year or two with a better physique.

The Russian rumblings raise another question: By pursuing debilitating financial sanctions on other countries, is the US risking the dollar’s centrality as the world’s reserve currency? Russia may attempt to develop its China-based finances instead.

If Russia puts the oil deal off until after August, it may be moot. That is, the P5+1 may have already have made a deal with Iran by then, allowing expansion of exports of the sort Russia is contemplating.

If Russia forges ahead now, it may take some of the pressure off Tehran, but wouldn’t remove all the incentives Tehran has to reach a deal.

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The Fall of the New Year’s Throne 12:3

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 11:04pm

(By Juan Cole)

The Fall of the New Year Throne

(To read this serialized sword and sorcery novel as it has unfolded before this installment, click here)

Chapter Twelve

3

Kaveh’s head felt like it would come off his shoulders when the other camel’s right breast struck him, then pushed his face into the stinking, raggedy hide. His chin dueled his camel’s hair for air. He worried the that heavy pack on the other beast would snap his spine if it crashed into his back.

Suddenly the pressure was gone, and he could breathe again. The other camel had changed course. He had a sore neck and his tunic had been torn, leaving his back slightly scratched. Gratefully, he took a deep breath, holding his mouth as far away from his steed’s hide as he could. Gradually the journey sank back into an insufferable tedium. He occasionally glimpsed birds, crested larks, magpies, long-tailed thrushes, and over-curious kites, and for the first time envied their mobility. Kaveh felt as though it must have been days later that the Thura Vahara sun dropped low on the lapis horizon. His back ached as though it were broken, and his hands and feet had swollen somewhat as blood collected in them. The camel’s pelt still stank in his nostrils.

The caravan bunched up as it halted, and dozens of workers scurried about pitching tents and kindling campfires with an unlikely combination of dew-dampened fagots, touchwood, manure paddies, and tamarisk brush. After setting up their own camp, his master’s guards got him down, but his dizziness forced him to sit still for a while. They jerked him back up and marched him to their tent. Workers unloaded the camels and asses, and Kaveh blanched as he saw that many of their backs were raw, with scarlet sores and occasionally the naked pebbles of vertebrae where hair should have been. Kaveh did not sleep all night, beset by swarms of sand flies and by the awful images of what had happened to his family and himself. He thought of Roxanna. Had she heard of the catastrophe? The idea that he had lost her for good had him grinding his teeth until the squeaking menaced his sanity.

The next day passed even less eventfully than the first, though in the afternoon black flies crawled all over his face and set it to itching intolerably. His neck ached from shaking them off. The third day was remarkable for the clarity of the hard blue sky-stone, unobscured by even a single wispy cloud. Kaveh caught himself wondering what sorts of work his master had waiting for him in Ecbatana, and reprimanded himself for beginning to think like a slave. That evening, the Median guards, well-built, taciturn men, prepared the bedding in the light of their campfire. Kaveh was glad to see his old friend, fire, again, especially in the gathering dusk. They gave him water and dry bread for supper, and Kaveh, ravenous, had ceased having difficulty getting it down his gullet. The three of them bedded down wordlessly in one black felt tent, with the master snoring in a larger tent facing theirs.

Kaveh awoke in the unlit wee hours to the skittish neighing of horses, the braying of asses, and the gargling of alarmed camels. Persian and Median curses echoed over the waste. He wondered for a moment where he was. Then the wretched memories of the past three days barged back into his mind. His heart dropped. Was his father really dead? His family enslaved? His gut ached with shame and melancholy, and he flexed his arms, wishing he could fight for his family’s survival. The noises outside grew inclement and tumultuous, and Kaveh sat up, his ears cocked. The Median guards were on their feet, then they rushed to the master’s tent. Kaveh, his ankles still hobbled, followed them as best he could. In the undulating light of the diminished campfire he made out a desperate battle between raiders and the caravan guards. A torch came flying out of the gloom, landing on his tent. It lay there sputtering for a moment, then succeeded in proselytizing the black felt. Kaveh swallowed as he considered that he might easily have been trussed up, still inside the gathering conflagration.

The guards emerged from their master’s tent with the corpulent merchant in tow, looking in his night clothes like nothing so much as a fat pigeon, with his white, flabby breasts and belly, and his thin naked legs. He cast a calculating glance at the burning tent, and Kaveh thought he must be toting up his potential losses. Then he turned to Kaveh and looked him in the eyes.

Kaveh decided to take a chance. “Master, please have my manacles removed. If, the gods forbid, anything should happen to our party, it would be cruel to have me unable to flee or defend myself.”

“What will prevent you from running away from me? I paid a hefty sum for you this morning.” The language was Median, but it was close enough to Persian that Kaveh could easily make out what was being said.

“I give you my solemn word, sworn by the mallet of Thworeshtar, that as long as you are alive I will not try to escape from this camp. I fear Mithra and am not a dregvand.”

The obstreperous clamor of battle crept closer, and Kaveh felt himself sweating profusely. The pudgy dealer looked his slave in the eyes, sorting out his decision. “Very well. Perhaps I am crazy, but I believe you.”

He gestured to the guards to remove his anklets and chains.

“But Master Bagavir, he’ll run for it.” The elder of the two guards hesitated, a small key in his hand.

“I’ve had a lifetime of experience in sizing up a man’s honesty at first glance. I’d wager a good deal that the boy is scrupulously honest. In fact, the rumor I heard was that a kind of witless probity had something to do with his being enslaved in the first place. I’ll take this chance on him, since I certainly don’t want his death on my head if anything goes wrong.”

Kaveh wanted to jump like a child when the manacles came off, then his spirits fell as he thought of his little brother Utana, who loved to jump. He had not been old enough to enslave. Was Nefayan looking after him? Where was he, now that the smithy had been confiscated? The guards stood on either side of the merchant, their swords at the ready, trying to espy any approaching enemy in the night, now lit up by the thirsty flames imbibing one of their tents. They carefully scrutinized the region from which the torch had come, but obviously could see nothing. Kaveh heard a strange bird-call, which sent shivers up his spine. Suddenly they were confronted by five bronze-armored Elamites, who had snuck up on them from behind Bagavir’s tent. Their ebony faces had been almost invisible before the tent fire highlighted them. One guard crossed swords with the Elamite warrior nearest him thrusting and parrying bravely, but the powerful Susan gladiator beat him back with a few blows and then skewered him. The other guard stepped recklessly in front of his employer, his short sword at the ready.

Without warning, a reed arrow merged with the dealer’s shoulder. He grabbed at the shaft and broke it off, but fell backwards against his tent, then onto the ground. Kaveh watched with mixed feelings as he hit the ground and the shaft of the arrow came back up somewhat through his flab. He writhed, then fainted. Kaveh, mindful of the wording of his oath, scrutinized Bagavir carefully for signs of breathing, and felt somewhat ashamed of himself when he was disappointed to see his plump breast slowly heaving. The remaining guard could only spare a bird-like glance behind him. Enraged, he let out a scream and advanced nimbly toward the Elamites, holding his akinakes sword before him menacingly. Kaveh witnessed in horror the arrival of five more Elamites, so that they surrounded the Median. The look of fear and frustration on his hard face betrayed his realization that he had been outflanked and out-numbered. Disgusted, he threw down his sword. Kaveh stood planted in the spot, wishing he could tell Daena to jump in a river, and could summon the courage to make a run for it. He knew deep inside, however, that the moment had passed, and his oath, which he had originally thought cleverly worded, had not allowed him to seize it.

The Elamites took Kaveh, Bagavir the merchant, and the vanquished guard prisoner, then marched them back to their lines. A shaten cursorily treated the still-unconscious Bagavir, pulling the reed shaft through and bandaging the shoulder. Their captors then trussed the three of them up and tossed them over the backs of asses. Under the radiant gaze of Mah, the moon-god, the war party withdrew with its booty to a safe position and pitched camp. The short journey was teeth-rattling for Kaveh, since his ass had a short, bumpy gait. By the time his captors let him stretch out next to the campfire, his wrists and ankles tied up again, he was exhausted. Yet sleep came only grudgingly, as he kept playing over and over in his mind his father’s riven doom.

The next morning he awoke to the sound of chicken fat sizzling, and saw that the Elamites were roasting their ill-gotten fowl on spits. Two or three of the warriors came over to him and his Median companions, examining their bodies and their teeth. Kaveh guessed they were estimating their value in the slave market, and inwardly groaned. He did not relish being sold again.

Suddenly one of the Elamites began jabbering, and he reached his long hand into Kaveh’s tunic. Kaveh began to protest, but the man had a dagger at his throat. He saw the stranger bring out the kidenn stone. He thought he heard him say the word shaten under his breath. Kaveh squirmed as his captor lifted the chain from around his neck and admired the carnelian gem. An idea popped into his mind.

He looked into the man’s inky pupils. “Kidenn!” He shouted, and made a fearful face.

The warrior started and dropped the stone. Then he raised his dagger, a look of savage loathing in his tenebrous eyes. Kaveh’s heart pounded against his sternum. He had guessed wrong, they were going to kill him as an enemy warlock!

———–

Comments and suggestions on the installments are welcome, but they should please be constructive. Commenters relinquish the rights to any ideas they express in the comments section, which become the property of Juan Cole. Presumably they want them incorporated into the final work, and they might be. The novel is copyright by Juan Cole, 2014, and may not be mirrored or reproduced without express permission from the author.

Colbert’s Send-up of O’Reilly on “Inequality” makes Bill Squawk

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 1:08am

Colbert Report: Bill O’Reilly’s Defense of Inequality

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,Video Archive

Raw Story reports on O’Reilly’s hysterical response:

Bill O’Reilly lashes out at ‘ideological fanatic’ Stephen Colbert and his fellow ‘believers’ (via Raw Story )

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly fired back at Comedy Central counterpart Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, accusing him of doing damage to the country after Colbert mocked O’Reilly for calling the concept of equality “an opium-laced dream.” “Like many…



 

#Notabugsplat: Artists erect a giant portrait of drone victim for pilots (+ Vice Video)

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 12:54am

(By Eric Stoner)

A portrait of a drone victim in Pakistan as seen from a drone. (notabugsplat.com)

In a brilliant creative action, an art collective with the help of enthusiastic locals unfurled an enormous poster in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of a young girl who lost her parents and two younger siblings to a drone strike in August 2009.

The portrait is entitled #NotABugSplat, which is a reference to the term “bugsplat,” used by drone operators to dehumanize victims of their missile strikes. Rather than seeing small, grainy figures comparable to insects on their computer screens, drone operators who happen to fly over this heavily-bombed, rural area near the border of Afghanistan, will now be confronted with the image of this innocent girl looking back at them.

(notabugsplat.com/)

Launched by a collective that includes Pakistanis, Americans and others involved with French artist JR’s Inside Out Project — in collaboration with Reprieve UK and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights — the artists involved hope to create a dozen more of these installations around Pakistan.

This art project, which has garnered significant media attention around the world, is just the latest development in the burgeoning anti-drone movement. As Code Pink’s Medea Benjamin and Kate Chandley conclude in an article that reviews some of the recent highlights, “efforts to curb the use of killer drones have made remarkable headway this year.”

While there is still much to be done, there is evidence that the mounting pressure against drones both at home and abroad is having an impact on policy. Although President Obama dramatically escalated the drone war in Pakistan over his first two years in office, the number of drone strikes and casualties peaked in 2010 and have dramatically fallen ever since.

This graph shows the total number of people reportedly killed in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan from 2004 through 2013. (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism)

According the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, there were no confirmed civilian casualties in Pakistan in 2013 and more than 100 days have passed since the last drone strike in the country — the longest recorded pause in attacks since they began 10 years ago. And as Spencer Ackerman reported last year for Danger Room, the long boom in military spending on drones is over.

To continue to build awareness around drone strikes — and the movement to end their use — a broad coalition of organizations and individuals have organized Spring Days of Action. Their website lists dozens of creative actions planned around the country as part of this coordinated campaign over April and May.

Eric Stoner is an editor at Waging Nonviolence and an adjunct professor at St. Peter’s University. His articles have appeared in The Guardian, Mother Jones, The Nation, Sojourners and In These Times.

Mirrored from Waging Nonviolence

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

VICE on HBO Debrief: Children of the Drones

Made Homeless by Israel, defiant Bedouin vow to stay in Jordan Valley

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 12:43am
Homeless but defiant, Bedouin to stay in Jordan Valley (via AFP)

Two weeks after their fragile tin shacks were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, Atiya Bani Minna and his family are still sleeping under the stars, struggling to resume some semblance of normal life. For this 50-year-old Bedouin shepherd, it is the third…

 

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Related video:

Made Homeless by Israel home demolitions, defiant Bedouin vow to stay in Jordan Valley

The Supreme Court’s Animal Farm (Editorial Cartoon)

Wed, 9 Apr 2014 - 12:31am

(By Paul Jamiol)

via Jamiol’s World

Poof! John Kerry Blames Israeli Squatting in E. Jerusalem for breakdown in Peace Talks; Bennett: It’s Just Zionism

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 11:15pm

(By Juan Cole)

You heard it first here. I had argued on Sunday that that the actions and statements of the far rightwing Israeli Likud government had sunk the peace negotiations with Palestine.

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a similar narrative [my points 9 & 10] on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for how the peace negotiations he had initiated between Palestine and Israel appear to have faltered, and it caused a stir. He said,

“In my judgment both leaders have made courageous and important decisions up until now. For Prime Minister Netanyahu to release prisoners is a painful, difficult political step to take, enormously hard, and the people of Israel have been incredibly supportive and patient in giving him the space in order to do that. In exchange for the deal being kept of the release of prisoners and not going to the U.N. Unfortunately, the prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released. And so day went by, day two went by day three went by and then in the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem. And poof! That was sort of the moment.”

Mondoweiss called it a possibly ‘historic’ admission.

Note that actually Kerry attributed the breakdown to two separate Israeli moves. One was to decline to release the remaining 25 or so Palestinian prisoners jailed before 1993, whose release had been agreed to in the Oslo Peace Accords (a pledge on which Israel reneged, as it did on the whole Oslo process), and which Israel had undertaken to free last August. The second was the announcement of 700 new squatter homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem by fanatical Israeli expansionist, Housing Minister Uri Ariel.

The State Department rushed to affirm that Kerry blamed both sides for the collapse of his talks, but he was pretty plain about what he thought actually happened.

The Palestinians had pledged to delay going to the UN and the International Criminal Court over illegal Israeli squatting on their land, in return for a firm pledge by Israel to release the 100 or Palestinians.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett slammed Kerry for the admission, saying that Palestinians in the past had attempted to use violence to stop Israelis from putting their homes in East Jerusalem and surroundings, but had failed. Now, he said, such settlements are not ‘poof,’ they are identical to Zionism.

So Naftali Bennett thinks “Zionism” is identical to a set of war crimes in international law and requires disregarding the Geneva Convention of 1949 on Occupied Territories as well as disregarding a raft of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

It is difficult to see how any fair-minded person could avoid being “anti-Zionist” if this lawlessness, coercion and usurpation is what, as Bennett maintains, Zionism entails. (In fact, there are saner versions of Zionism, which is a form of nationalism like other nationalisms).


related video:

John Kerry: “I may Fail”

The Fall of the New Year Throne 12:2

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 11:04pm

(By Juan Cole)

The Fall of the New Year Throne

(To read this serialized sword and sorcery novel as it has unfolded before this installment, click here)

Chapter Twelve

2.
Roxanna, the campfire playing across her nude musculature, was actually running toward the queen’s immortals, a pot in her arms. She neared the lead swordsman, risking his blade, and abruptly pulled the lid off the pot.

It was as though a brilliant bolt of lightning had struck the clearing, casting it in luminous eggshell white. A wraith issued from the vessel with a shriek, and found before her only the advancing warriors.

The man in the lead, visibly shaken, nevertheless advanced on her, attempting to sever her in two with his akinakes. He may as well have tried to slice water.

She dove into him. He froze, emitting a deep, unnatural bellow, and then withered like grapes too long on the vine. She took his fellow, who was immobilized with astonishment and who straightened, muscles bulging and eyes round, shivering uncontrollably, before dropping into the duff like a piece of sugar cane sucked dry of its juice. The others began fleeing, but were as newborn gazelles to a wizened leopard. When the last was emaciated upon the ground, the pari turned. Matroyao, still in her tree, almost fell in surprise and consternation. Would the creature attack the Hyrbans?

It approached Roxanna, who was glowing yellow, more brightly than could be accounted for by either the campfire or the incandescence of the creature. The ethereal woman appeared to bow before the naked potter girl.

“You have freed me by giving me a noble task, of saving the innocent from the cruel. I need wander lost in this dark forest no more.”

Roxanna reached out, her hand shimmering. But the creature was abruptly a whirlwind, stripping leaves and buds from the trees and making them bow. The villagers could barely stand, and Matroyao hugged her bough with all her strength as her own tree bent.
And then there was stillness.

Matroyao clambered down and approached Roxanna, who was throwing on her robes, as were the other women. The younger men groaned and said they preferred the new custom of going about unclothed. Faranak silenced them with a sharp glance.

“I’ve never seen such bravery and resourcefulness.”
“I wouldn’t have had time to act if you, Faranak and the other archers had not taken so many down.”

“Don’t be too humble. Others will be happy to serve as detractors. I had heard rumors that you melted the black demon but had dismissed them as fantastic, thinking no producer could be so intrepid.”

“Danger is no respecter of social status, my lady.” She insisted on keeping her eyes on the ground despite Matroyao’s friendliness.

“You may as well look me in the eye, you know. I’m more fugitive than noblewoman as things stand.”

Nothing she said could convince Roxanna to stop standing on ceremony.

Faranak and Athwya approached her. He whistled. “That was some fine archery, your majesty.”

“I fear my majesty is rather dimmed, Athwya. What are your plans now?”

“I think we need no longer fear to return to Hyrba. These were probably the only men Yimak left behind—we’re not that important.”

At the sound of Yimak’s name, Matroyao spit. “The vicious harridan! How many good people will she destroy in her overweening ambition?”

Faranak nodded in assent. “What about you, majesty? Would you like to stay with us awhile?”

“Nothing would please me more. But no, I must continue my own journey. I have . . . plans to fulfill.”

They bedded down for the rest of the night, though most of the villagers could not sleep after what they had witnessed.

The chariot of the sun chased the demons of darkness from the heavens all too soon. Athwya detailed some men to carry the corpses of the increasingly inaccurately named immortals into the trees, where they would not pollute earth or water, and where insects, long-legged buzzards and golden eagles would swiftly ensure that the air, as well, was protected from their putrescence.

The villagers assembled and began walking back to Hyrba, to begin rebuilding. Athwya and some of the men were able to round up some of the warriors’ horses, both stallions and mares, as the core of a new herd.

The village was still smoldering with the fires set at Yimak’s orders. The fields were stripped as though by a locus horde, and the sheep and goats had been herded away. Matroyao wondered how the people of Hyrba would survive.

Faranak intuited her question. “The women of this village know where tubers, berries, buds and nuts can be found, and how to make edible foodstuff that less thorough gleaners might leave on the bush or in the ground. The men are the best hunters among the Persians, and now that we have some horses, can run down goitered gazelle and wild sheep. We know this parched land, and how to thrive on it, when royals do not steal from us.”

Matroyao was taken aback by her vehemence.

Faranak’s hand went to her mouth. “Your majesty, I did not mean . . .”

The deposed queen interrupted her. “No, you spoke well. Rodents are less ravenous than kings. I, too, have been despoiled of everything by this palace.”

The Hyrbans begged Matroyao to stay for a few days and enjoy what threadbare hospitality they could offer. She thanked them for their help, more especially for the men’s clothes and the horse with which they provided her. They had so little, and yet were willing to share.

She leaned over the young man, left with only a loin cloth, who had volunteered his vestments, and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you.”

“Your majesty, for such a sign of your favor, I’d take an oath of nudity the rest of my days.” He was cherry red and his loin cloth did a poor job of hiding his excitement. The other boys giggled.

“That won’t be necessary. But if my plan succeeds, I may someday need a squire, and promise to call for you.”

His blush went from cherry to beet.

“What is your name, son?”

“Ara, your highness.”

“Until then, young Ara.”

She had decided that she would try to pass as a man so as to travel faster, by horseback, than was possible on her donkey, which she left with the villagers. Openly wearing a quiver and bow, moreover, would signal to rogues like the ones she had run into before that she was no easy mark.

She kept the morning sun to her right and the afternoon and evening sun to her left, attempting to skirt the main highway to Ecbatana in favor of forest or village paths. She regretted the time, lost, but feared the shah’s eyes. Her hair was chopped off by a villager for a copper coin, so she could pass for a beardless youth in her shapeless peasant clothes. Even so, a palace immortal who knew her on sight might not be fooled.

Days passed. At length the seven-walled city of Ecbatana loomed before her. She road boldly up to the main gate and addressed the palace guards.

“I seek an audience with Dioke Shah.” She tried to deepen her voice

They laughed. “Want to sell him some sheep, do you?”

She pulled away her hood and used her normal voice. “I am Matroyao, Queen of Aratta, and seek an alliance.”

They had their swords out in an instant. The head guard strode over to her. “The king has warned us that Jamshid might try some trick. Dismount!”

“She wants to get close to our sovereign and poison him!”

“Jamshid is the very devil and she’s been in his bed every day.”

The ugliest and most hirsute of them, a big wart on his nose, growled. “I say we make sure she doesn’t seduce our blessed shah. He’d reward us handsomely if we brought him just this lying head.”

———–

Comments and suggestions on the installments are welcome, but they should please be constructive. Commenters relinquish the rights to any ideas they express in the comments section, which become the property of Juan Cole. Presumably they want them incorporated into the final work, and they might be. The novel is copyright by Juan Cole, 2014, and may not be mirrored or reproduced without express permission from the author.

Tunisia has made strides in Democratic Transition: Can it get the Economy Right?

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 2:05am

(By Francis Ghilès)

Tunisians have reasons for optimism. For any regular visitor to Tunis, the change of atmosphere in the capital in the first months of 2014 – compared even to autumn 2013, and certainly to 2012 – is striking. The underlying reason for the change is the adoption of a new constitution in January 2014, which enshrines the equal rights of men and women and the rule of law. Tunisia thus represents a rare example in the Arab world: a revolt against a dictator which, a turbulent three years on, has ushered in a period of progress and, since the appointment of Mehdi Jomâa as prime minister, of good government.

There are continuing, grave problems: the country’s economic situation has hardly improved, and the fight against terrorism claims regular victims. Many of these, say the prime minister, are the legacy of the previous two years of Islamist government. Mehdi Jomâa is an impressive figure: for the first time since independence in 1956, a Tunisian prime minister speaks frank language of economic truth to those he serves, in vernacular Arabic rather than the pompous classical version usually preferred by leaders of Ennahda party that dominated the previous government. His tone is quiet and businesslike, characteristic of the people of his hometown, Mahdia, down the coast from Tunis.

Jomâa’s message is as brutal as are the bare statistics. Tunisia’s GDP growth has averaged 2.3% annually since the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011; but this falls to 0.8% if government wages are subtracted (100,000 new recruits, often lacking in qualifications, have joined the civil service and state companies – and many of the latter post huge deficits). That is the price paid for the political-economic expediency of the “Troika” (the three leading parties: Ennahda, the CPR and Ettakatol). Wages overall have grown by 40%, productivity by 0.2%. The cost of state subsidies to oil-and-gas products and foodstuffs has rocketed by 270% over three years. The budget deficit was 7% in 2013 and is expected to rise to 9% in 2014. Foreign debt has risen by 38% over three years to over 50% of GDP. Such figures are unsustainable.

Strikes, many of them illegal, are increasing exponentially. The UGTT trade-union federation, emboldened by its success in convincing the Islamist government to leave office, now seems to be acting as a government-in-waiting. Its national leaders are happy to denounce inflation, but recoil at the idea of any austerity measures. Some UGTT members, notably regional leaders, seem to think that nationalising or renationalising loss-making industries will save them. The Groupe Chimique-Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa symbolises the economic position: its staff has trebled in three years, its production has collapsed by more than 75%, many of its export markets have gone, and its workers seem to work one day every ten. The UGTT section in Gafsa, the main town in south-west Tunisia, appears to have become a state within a state. If Tunisia does not get back to work, the economy could well derail the political process.

The explosion of the informal sector, caused by the failure of the formal economy to provide jobs, is now fuelling inflation. It also has the perverse result of lowering the tax take. The state is probably receiving half the tax it is owed by its citizens. Urgent measures are needed to put state finances back on a sounder footing and mop up the huge amount of informal money washing around Tunisia.

The UGTT – and leftwing parties supporting the current caretaker government – is now playing the populist card. The UGTT’s role in relation to the shortfall in tax revenues (estimated at 50%) invites comment. It decided that all tax offices should go on strike for a week, but the strikers continued after that period (without the authority of the UGTT, whose leaders however refused to condemn the stoppage). The authority of the government is in question. The UGTT leader Houcine Abassi is one of the most courted men in Tunisia today, but if he chooses to dictate economic policy to the prime minister then Tunisia is in for a bumpy ride.

William Lawrence – a professor at George Washington University – says: “In a country whose revolution was launched by a desperate and demoralised informal fruit-seller subject to government harassment, further cracking down on the informal sector is unwise, if not foolish. Accordingly, the UGTT, whose rank and file were instrumental in publicising [Mohamed] Bouazizi’s fate and turning it into a revolution, will likely oppose the necessary measures”.

The worsening financial disorder could prevent Tunisia from turning the next, economic, corner. Social and political disorder will feed on each another and, when set against existing security concerns, will exacerbate the overall sense of drift.

The Bourguiba revival

In July 2013, when a second leftwing deputy, Mohammed Brahmi, was assassinated, north Africa’s smallest country seemed to be on the brink. In the immediate aftermath of the murder, tens of thousands of Tunisians demonstrated against the government, insisting it should respect equal rights, fight terrorism wholeheartedly, and reduce corruption. The Islamist-led government led by Ali Larayedh and the opposition Nidaa Tunes coalition traded accusations over responsibility for Tunisia’s dangerous economic and security condition.

But several organisations – the UGTT trade union, the employers’ federation Utica (whose members were alarmed at the explosion of the informal economy and growing insecurity), the League of Human Rights, and the bar association – did everything in their power to broker an agreement between government and opposition. The UGTT was in the lead; the other three played minor legitimising roles. Together, though, they acted as midwives to the agreement which finally delivered a government of technocrats to lead the country in the run-up to general elections, which are expected within a year.

The growing polarisation of Tunisia was marked by the reappearance of portraits of the founder of modern Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, in shops and cafes. The man ousted by a “medical coup” in 1987 and kept under house-arrest for a decade until his death in 2000 is now the subject of many television and radio debates. Tunisia’s post-independence history is being discussed more critically than was possible when Bourguiba ruled. He may well have been a dictator, but his record was in many respects progressive. In 1956 he gave Tunisian women rights they enjoyed nowhere else in the Arab (and indeed much of the European) world, along with advancements in education and health. He helped build a middle class and institutions which, despite the attempts of Ben Ali to dismantle them, survived to help steer the 2011 revolution towards calmer waters. It is the sons and grandsons, the daughters and granddaughters of Bourguiba who refused to countenance attempts to impose sharia law. He must be smiling in his grave at the posthumous effects of his conviction that Tunisia could become a modern state.

The Tunisian exception

Ennahda’s leaders, throughout their two years in power, complained that the “deep state” entrenched under Ben Ali was plotting to overthrow them. Events in Egypt and Turkey in mid-2013 fuelled such fears. The military coup which ousted Mohammed Morsi from the Egyptian presidency offered a sharp reminder that counter-revolution can easily follow revolution; while the riots in Istanbul and their brutal repression was equally disturbing for Tunisian Islamists.

Tunisia differs from Egypt, though, in that one of the vital components of the latter’s deep state – a strong army with considerable economic interests – is absent. And Turkey too no longer offers a political example to Tunisia. The stability and prosperity that Turkey had enjoyed for a decade created political confidence in the so-called “Turkish model”. Now, as that model comes unstuck, the idea that Islam and democracy can share the public sphere is under pressure, and a transition to Islamic authoritarianism no longer looks implausible. Turkish politics are being poisoned by bitter infighting between leaders who view compromise as cowardice, and further complicated by the fallout between two erstwhile Islamist allies, the movement of Fethullah Gülen and the AKP government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Both Turkey’s prime minister and his friends in Ennahda in Tunis often resort to conspiracy theories in an attempt to delegitimise their opponents. The veteran leader of the Nidaa Tunes coalition, the 87-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, never did. This explains why Turkey has been unable to agree on a new constitution, and is still governed by the 1982 (military) one. Erdogan’s attempt to push through a new constitution in December 2013 failed because the AKP wanted the new text to maximise presidential power at the expense of the judiciary and legislature.

When Rachid Ghannouchi retreated from his earlier insistence on establishing Tunisia as an Islamic state, the opposition saw this concession as a token of goodwill. After its difficult birth-pangs, the adoption of a new constitution helped rekindle a sense of national unity. When deputies of all parties hugged one another and chanted Mabrouk alina (“congratulations to us all”) they were also celebrating Ennahda leaders’ recognition that tolerance towards hardline Salafi groups was destroying the party’s credibility.

Rachid Ghannouchi used to boast of his close ties with the Turkish prime minister – but no longer. Erdogan cultivates a very confrontational form of politics and uses his speeches as a bully-pulpit. Ghannouchi spent two years giving provocative speeches, but since autumn 2013 has behaved as if he were being coached by an American political consultant to sound like a European Christian Democrat. Now that the party he leads is out of government and spared the consequences of its disastrous economic management, he is focusing on the forthcoming elections.

Ennahda proved to be a poor steward of the country’s economy, and in this respect AKP has done better. But Erdogan’s insistence that a global network of financiers (by which he means Jews) is trying to weaken Turkey rather contradicts the economic policy he has conducted, which has exposed Turkish consumers to what he calls the “interest-rate lobby”. The country’s foreign debt has nearly tripled since the AKP came to power.

The Ennahda leader has been blessed with an opponent who maintains a statesmanlike demeanour. Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the interim government, made way for the Islamist administration in December 2011, but thereafter refused to respond in kind to the insults some Islamist leaders threw at him. He also refused to accept the Islamist attempts to disqualify him and thousands of other Tunisians who had belonged to the former ruling RCD party (which was dissolved in the wake of the fall of Ben Ali). If Tunisia reaches the next elections without a major upset, both leaders will have secured their place in history.

Tunisia’s new constitution is the most democratic and liberal charter in the Muslim world. It protects civil liberties; separates legislative, executive and judicial powers; guarantees women parity in political bodies; and declares that Islam is the country’s official religion while protecting religious freedom for all. This achievement is maybe less surprising in light of the fact that the first ever written constitution in the Muslim world – which set up a constitutional monarchy – was promulgated in 1861, by Bey Muhammad as-Sadik III, the then ruler of Tunisia.

Qatar remains a strong supporter of Tunisia’s Islamists, but the emirate’s fallout with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states suggests it will henceforth act more prudently abroad in general, and in Tunis in particular. Ennahda, during its first eighteen months in power, was welcomed in London and Washington, but once Salafi Islamists in Tunisia began murdering politicians and members of the security forces this attitude changed. Ennahda, after all, turned a blind eye as thousands of young Tunisians were recruited for the jihad in Syria and travelled there via Libya and Turkey. No wonder American (and German) warmth towards Tunisian Islamists cooled, as their diplomats began to wonder whether moderate political Islam might not be a contradiction in terms.

Tunisia’s army is not powerful but it might have been tempted – when faced with mounting disorder and an explosion of illegal trade in weapons and drugs – to put an end to an ineffective government. It could well have received the discreet backing of its Algerian counterparts in doing so; senior Algerian military leaders made quite clear to Ghannouchi during his visit to Algiers in September 2013 that if Tunisia descended into chaos they would not stand by.

The United States too played its cards well, by refusing to explicitly endorse more international aid for Tunisia until the country had delivered a modicum of economic reform. Its attitude also effectively meant a freezing of loans from the World Bank and the IMF, which were predicated on Tunisia enacting economic reforms. By relinquishing the government, the Ennahda leaders showed they were prepared to act more in the interests of the Tunisian people than of the Islamic international. Some members of Ennahda would have preferred to turn Tunisia into a more Islamic state, but Ghannouchi and other Ennahda leaders realised pursuing that aim could tip the country into civil war.

The economic danger

Since he was appointed prime minister in February 2014, Mehdi Jomâa’s priority has been to contain smuggling and the informal sector. He has visited the customs at the port of Tunis, and various places on Tunisia’s frontiers with Algeria and Libya (crossing-points for a growing flood of diverse goods that is causing enormous damage to domestic production). The streets of Tunis and major cities are full of informal vendors selling anything from pharmaceuticals to cigarettes, petrol from Algeria, foodstuffs and alcohol. The informal sector, enormous before the revolution, has grown even further: the government’s estimate is that it represents 30% of the economy, though the employer’s federation Utica makes the figure 50%.

Every major international financial institution has sent representatives to talk to the new government. The latter has four members – Mehdi Jomâa, Kamel Bennaceur, Hakim Ben Hammouda and Lassâad Lachâal – who have worked in international companies or financial institutions. They speak the same “language” and understand each other well. At the same time, the respected Tunisian economist Mohamed Chawki Abid warns against an IMF-imposed recipe in Tunisia, that follows its time-honoured formula (such as a sharp cut in subsidies across the board, a restructuring of the banking system, the privatisation of leading state companies in sectors such as electricity [STEG] and the post office. The IMF – which negotiated reforms with the two previous Ennahda-led governments – seems to want to impose the prescriptions of the now discredited Washington consensus on Tunisia, despite these having failed in many countries. Abid, writing on the news website Kapitalis, believes a bold economic austerity plan is essential in order to stop the “financial haemorrhage”, which he compares to a “fire which is devouring us”.

How these measures are selected and sequenced will determine their success or failure. The devil here is in the details. The price of tins of tomato sauce, a vital commodity for poorer Tunisians, has increased (in two stages) by 29% since autumn 2013. Whatever the merits of the first rise, says Abid, the second one is unwarranted. Subsidies on petroleum products are to be cut, but would it not be wise to cut them on petrol used by tourism vehicles (which are used by the middle classes( but avoid it on fuel oil and diesel (used by tractors and collective taxis)? A huge increase in subsidies is a problem; but indiscriminate cutting of those subsidies, which affect staples and other goods used by poorer Tunisians, could provoke a social explosion.

Chawki Abid also proposes suspending imports of luxury goods such as perfumes, cosmetics, alcohols and luxury cars, while increasing added-value taxes to 25% on such items. That would require suspending some clauses of the free-trade agreement signed with the European Union and the “open method coordination” states (OMC) Such a policy would rein in consumption, conserve precious foreign currency, and reduce the balance-of-payments deficit.

Three other measures seem equally sensible: a 1% tax on financial transactions between banks, insurance companies, mobile-telephone operators and car-dealers; launching a large domestic bond without inquiring where their funds originated (in order to absorb the large sums of “black” money circulating in Tunisia), and reducing the size of the informal sector. Abid notes the absurdity of recapitalising Tunisian banks – a pet IMF idea – at this stage. That would cost €500m over two years, equivalent to 3% of the budget. Surely that can wait until after the elections, which are due within a year. A final proposal is to facilitate the sale of luxury houses and flats – often located in tourist areas – to nationals of other Maghreb states; there would certainly be no shortage of Algerians and Libyans willing to buy.

There has been no debate in Tunisia on how an austerity package might be designed. Instead, the prime minister travelled to the Gulf in the hope of raising up to €5bn, most of which was earmarked to fund the budget deficit (which amounts to 9% of GDP). He was rebuffed, however, as Gulf governments are interested in investing in projects. Mehdi Jomâa knows that foreign oil-and-gas companies working in Tunisia are believed to evade tax to the tune of €2bn annually and that the informal sector does so to the tune of €1.5bn at the very least. He should put Tunisia’s house in order before travelling abroad with a begging-bowl – and he should also be mindful that, were he to swallow a Washington-consensus-inspired reform-plan, he could well forfeit the trust of the Tunisian people.

A bold government policy is therefore essential. This means that foreign donors – whether they are international organisations, or European or Arab aid providers – are justified in waiting for Tunisia to take the initiative. Tunisia is the leading and possibly single democratic success story in the Arab world today, and there is no shortage of good Tunisian economists. A public debate on these issues would be in keeping with the new mood of pluralism which has engulfed the country.

Many of the hopes raised by the Arab uprisings of 2011 have given way to bloody internal turmoil (Libya), brutal military counter-revolution (Egypt), if not outright savagery (Syria). Tunisia alone offers an elusive prize: the promise of reconciling people whose creed is Islam with state institutions that show respect for the rule of law, freedom of expression, and the separation of religion and state.
About the author

Francis Ghilès is senior research fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (Cidob). He was the Financial Times’s north Africa Correspondent from 1981-95, and now contributes to newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, El Pais and La Vanguardia. He is a specialist in emerging energy markets and their relationship to political trends, and has advised western governments and corporations working in north Africa

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution

Mirrored from Open Democracy

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U.S. Loans 500 Million Dollars to Tunisia, Silicon Valley links Explored

Torture is from Mars? CIA’s Hayden Says Sen. Feinstein Too “Emotional” To Judge CIA Torture

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 1:48am
Former CIA, NSA Boss Says Senator Feinstein Is Too Emotional To Judge CIA Torture Fairly (via Techdirt)

We’ve written about former NSA and CIA boss Michael Hayden plenty of times around here, and the guy is practically a caricature of what you’d expect him to be. He defends the intelligence community at all costs, and is quick with baseless insults to…

 

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Related video:

Sam Seder’s ‘Majority Report’: Former NSA Head: Senator Feinstein Way Too Emotional Over Torture”

2 GOP Latino Strategies Clash: Sen. Ted Cruz disses Jeb Bush’s ‘Immigration for Love’ Meme

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 1:31am

(By Juan Cole)

Sen. Ted Cruz criticized Jeb Bush for appearing to downplay the rule of law in arguing that undocumented immigration to the US is a crime of passion, resorted to out of an abundance of love for families in straitened circumstances. Cruz said that such an argument injures the sovereignty of the US and ignores the exploitation that undocumented workers are subjected to by coyotes or unscrupulous people-smugglers. Cruz implied that “Washington elites” feel Bush and some other candidates “won’t rock the boat.”

CNN: Sen. Cruz responds to Jeb Bush immigration comments

What is really going on here? The fact is that Latinos are now such a big part of the American electorate (10%) that no one can be president who does not get at least 44% of their votes. Remember that the two parties are typically relatively close in the popular vote, so it is 51% to 49% to win. A majority of Latinos can put the candidate over the top. Likewise, Latinos swung Nevada, Colorado and Florida to Barack Obama in 2012.

But the Republican Party has become the party of angry white men and white evangelicals, who do not want immigration reform and fear their jobs will be taken by immigrants or that the latter will menace their neighborhoods with crime, or that their “values” are threatened by alien immigrants (i.e. in the latter case, they are racists). Only 42% of conservatives support a path to citizenship for undocumented workers in the US, and only 51% of whites support that idea. The Republican Party is largely “white” in its base of support.

In short, a candidate who can win the GOP presidential primaries will find it very difficult to win the general election. Jeb Bush and his advisers are counting on his dynastic appeal to get him through the primaries if he runs, and he is hoping he can attract the kind of Latino vote his brother George W. did (44%, the magic number) in the general election. Jeb Bush’s wife is of Mexican heritage.

Cruz may hope that his Cuban heritage will give him appeal to Latinos even if he opposes immigration reform, so he is free to try to appeal to the angry white men inside the party. I doubt, however, that most Mexican-Americans or other Latino groups will vote for a Cuban-American who has a hard line against immigration reform. That is, class may well trump simple ethnicity within the Latino bloc.

Is Rand Paul right that Cheney invaded Iraq for Halliburton Profits?

Tue, 8 Apr 2014 - 12:34am

(By Juan Cole)

David Corn at Mother Jones got the scoop: In 2009, Rand Paul gave a talk at Western Kentucky University in which he accused former vice president Dick Cheney of having gotten up the Iraq War to rescue his troubled oil services company, Halliburton, which– along with its subsidiaries– was awarded enormous no-bid contracts for work in post-invasion Iraq. Corn published the video at Mother Jones.

In it, Rand warned of the Military-Industrial Complex: “”We need to be fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy… When the Iraq War started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution. I mean, it shouldn’t be sloppy work; it shouldn’t be bad procurement process. But it really shouldn’t be that these people are so powerful that they direct even policy.”

He continued:

There’s a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He’s being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it’d be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that’s why the first Bush didn’t go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq.”

[The interview was actually on C-Span and was 1994.]

Paul continued:

The day after 9/11, [CIA chief] George Tenet is going in the [White] House and [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle is coming out of the White House. And George Tenet should know more about intelligence than anybody in the world, and the first thing Richard Perle says to him on the way out is, “We’ve got it, now we can go into Iraq.” And George Tenet, who supposedly knows as much intelligence as anybody in the White House says, “Well, don’t we need to know that they have some connection to 9/11?” And, he [Perle] says, “It doesn’t matter.” It became an excuse. 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Many commentators have argued that Rand sounds like a leftist, and they have a point. I’m in fact confused by Paul’s argument here, which begins with an argument against companies getting too big.

Libertarians like Rand often hold that corporations are inherently good and efficient, but are corrupted by the state, which plays favorites and disrupts the market’s magic hand for the purposes of private power. In this philosophy, a corporation would never go to war, but governments routinely do so, and drag corporations into these conflicts with distorting effects. (This premise is patently false– look at the East India Company’s freebooting conquest of India in the late 18th and early 19th century, with which the British state took decades to catch up). Paul’s family has an unusual take on libertarianism, emphasizing states’ rights and limited but still fairly extensive Federal government, though with a relatively isolationist approach to foreign policy. (Rand Paul the father argues against the US defending Taiwan from Communist China, e.g.)

But Paul seemed to make the Marxist argument in this quote, saying that the problem was that Halliburton got too big. (It actually was a relatively small corporation and wouldn’t have been important if Cheney hadn’t become its CEO). He seems to say that Halliburton misused the government for its purposes rather than arguing that the government corrupted Halliburton.

The question is whether Paul having taken this stand puts him out of the running for the Republican presidential nomination. Can the party faithful really swallow his attribution of an entire GOP war to the naked greed of the former GOP vice president? 66% of Republicans still say that the Iraq War was not a mistake. As for Cheney, only 36 percent of Americans think favorably of him, but surely they are all Republicans and constitute the bulk of the GOP. The polls would suggest that Paul’s position, and certainly the clarity of his position, might be a drawback.

As for the issue at hand, my own argument, in Engaging the Muslim World, is that Cheney did want to open Iraq and Iran to petroleum development by firms like Halliburton. This is because in the late 1990s it was foreseeable that major new petroleum fields would be harder to find and competition for them from Asian firms would dramatically increase. Cheney initially tried to get Congress to lift AIPAC sanctions on the two countries, intended to protect Israel from strong governments in Baghdad and Tehran. At that time he spoke of diplomatically opening Iran, even if it took 10 years. When that effort to remove sanctions failed, I argue, Cheney decided that only regime change would satisfy Congress and also allow sanctions to be lifted, and he allied with the Neoconservatives in that cause.

Related videos:

The Young Turks: “Rand Paul Says Cheney Pushed Iraq War For Halliburton Profit”

The C-Span video referred to by Rand is here

Pelosi: “Cheney Proud of ordering CIA Torture”; Sen A. King: ‘Waterboard Cheney!’

Mon, 7 Apr 2014 - 1:22am
Watch: U.S. senator gets so angry at Cheney’s torture defense that he offers to waterboard him (via Raw Story )

Dick Cheney has defended torture techniques so many times that a frustrated U.S. senator has finally offered to waterboard the former vice president. “The accusations are not true,” Cheney told college television station ATV last week. “Some people…



 

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Related video:

Pelosi: “Cheney ordered CIA torture and ‘I think he is proud of it’”