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Israeli Parliament self-boycotts by seeking to Ban BDS Supporters from Israel

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 - 12:27am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A Knesset committee approved on Wednesday a first reading of a bill that would ban supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering Israel, Israeli media reported.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee of Israel’s parliament approved the first reading of the bill, which is supported by MK Bezalel Smotrich from the far-right Jewish Home party.

A bill needs to go through three readings in the Knesset before becoming a law.

“Why should I let someone who slanders the state and harms it into my home?” The Jerusalem Post quoted committee chairman David Amsalem as saying.

The Arab Joint List — the political bloc which represents parties in the Knesset led by Palestinian citizens of Israel — did not immediately respond to a request for comment, although a spokesperson told Ma’an that the coalition was “completely” opposed to the bill.

The BDS movement was founded in July 2005 by a swath of Palestinian civil society as a peaceful movement to restore Palestinian rights in accordance with international law through strategies of boycotting Israeli products and cultural institutions, divesting from companies complicit in violations against Palestinians, and implementing state sanctions against the Israeli government.

The introduction of the bill to the Knesset in November came after months of Israeli efforts to crack down on the BDS Movement.

Israeli Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri and Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan announced in August that they were forming a joint task force to “expel and ban the entry of BDS activists” into Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

“We must not allow BDS activists to enter the state of Israel. This is a necessary step, given the malicious intentions of these activists to delegitimize and spread lies and distortions about the reality in our region,” Erdan was quoted as saying in a statement released at the time, adding that the boycott movement against Israel “must have a price.”

Erdan and Deri also alleged that BDS activists traveled to the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem to “incite” Palestinians.

The planned crackdown on BDS supporters has led to outcry from groups like the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).

“Isolation of Palestinians by denying access and/or deporting human rights activists aims to make Palestinian communities already vulnerable and suffering from abuse…even more vulnerable,” ISM said in a statement in August.

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has gained momentum over past years, with activists targeting companies that act in compliance with Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Israeli government, meanwhile, has grown increasingly concerned about the growth of the BDS movement, as the movement’s support base has expanded to include companies, universities, and religious institutions around the world divesting from organizations complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.

In January 2016, the Israeli Knesset held a conference to discuss ways to combat BDS, and dedicated 100 million shekels ($26 million) of the government’s 2016 budget to the issue.

In May, Israel issued a travel ban on BDS cofounder Omar Barghouti, a permanent resident in Israel, as Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, stated at the time that the decision reflected “the lengths [Israel] will go to in order to stop the spread of the non-violent BDS movement for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality.”

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy on BDS

The US media pack needs to rediscover its teeth, for the Sake of Democracy

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 - 12:24am

By Carmel O’Toole | (The Conversation) | – –

In the style of some thuggish boxing promoter at a weigh in, the US president-elect, Donald Trump, gave us a clear and unsavoury flavour of the style of White House press conferences to come. And it’s not tasting good.

In brutal contrast to the elegant style of Obama, who recently was lauded for his compassion in the event of a collapsing member of the press corps, Trump chose to mete out preferential attacks on media he considered had taken against him. He barracked one persistent challenger with a resolute refusal to answer questions he didn’t like.

CNN’s Jake Tapper: Why Trump’s ‘fake news’ claim is wrong

In refusing to take a question from reporter Jim Acosta, Trump called CNN “fake news”. Which is ironic, given allegations about sources close to the Trump camp having been instrumental in generating fake news now widely considered to have influenced the outcome of the presidential election campaign.

Trump also turned his wrath on Buzzfeed, which had published the already infamous dossier of allegations purporting to be intelligence concerns about the president-elect’s relationship with Russia and his behaviour while on a trip there.

This “failing pile of garbage”, as Trump described Buzzfeed, would be punished for its sins by also being denied a question and response at the conference. Over and over, the legendarily rude and insulting Trump berated the Buzzfeed reporter for also being rude, which left us all a bit baffled by the moral authority claimed by this new arbiter of bad behaviour. Buzzfeed got its own back in a small way by tweeting a new, doctored tagline:

Mind you, Trump also trashed the reputation of his own intelligence services, for either leaking the allegations, or at least confirming the stories had been known for some time. He compared them to Nazi Germany.

This came prior to the censure meted out by the director of the US Office of Government Ethics about the less than robust plan for Trump to divest himself of his business interests by handing them to his sons. The arrangement still fell short of the transparency required and which other incoming presidents have had no problems complying with.

Fronting the press pack

Trump’s is a novel approach to relations with the free press. Traditionally, such gatherings are an opportunity for media rottweilers to hold the elected to account. Politician and media relationships are traditionally adversarial – so we should take comfort in the challenging nature of such exchanges. They signal a healthy scrutiny by media of what leaders like Trump are about.

While the delicate balance of scrutiny has always been a consensual affair, it has also been a sign that both sides need one another. Presidents, it is argued, need the scrutiny of a non-compliant media to keep them in tune with the needs of the public. The news media, meanwhile, need access to the stories and expect the right to question and contradict where they feel this is necessary. It is fundamental to democracy. Anything less is rather sinister.

The use of press conferences as a communications tool has always been a tricky one. Use them liberally at your peril would be the advice of any self-respecting PR adviser, because they are tantamount to unleashing a pack of wolves – and anything goes. And if you do have one, be prepared to face the music, both harmonious and discordant.

Someone forgot to tell Trump this was how it works and he kicked off his first presser in the way that we’re are all now becoming familiar with, by bullying and trying to exclude dissenting voices.

Delicate power balance

But what of the bizarre chorus of whooping and clapping in the background? While the president-elect was ranting about Nazis, and Buzzfeed and China and the benefits of being pals with Putin, you could hear applause and cheers coming from the serried ranks of the press corps. It was as if Trump’s fan club had been allowed to penetrate the ranks of the fourth estate. In fact, as has since been reported, the Trump machine had packed the room with aides who laughed at some of Trump’s arch comments and heckled the odd reporter that appeared to be going off-piste.

This is dangerous for democracy – without a robust, assertive and challenging media to put the president of the US to the question, all is lost. This depressing little event brought to mind for me a quote from the late, great journalist, James Cameron. He described his dispiriting experiences of following the media pack from arranged presser to organised event: “Thus did we trot and bark around the caravan.”

The US media pack needs to rediscover its teeth, not least to remind the next president of the balance of power and the value of third-party media advocacy – the presence of people whose job it is to argue about issues they consider important. But it’s important for all our sakes as we hurtle into this new and worrying US political era.

So stop trotting and barking around Trump, US media folks. Please remember what you’re there for – to make politicians feel uncomfortable and ask the questions they don’t want you to, time and time again.

Carmel O’Toole, Senior Lecturer in Media and Public Relations, Sheffield Hallam University

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

The Russian Honeypot: Putin has had big plans for Donald Trump

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 - 12:18am

By John Feffer | Foreign Policy in Focus | – –

[I wrote this article about Russian efforts to cultivate Donald Trump as an asset last week for a Korean newspaper where it was published on Sunday. Little did I know that news would break this week of allegations that Russia has a file of damaging information it can use to blackmail President-elect Trump. In that file is information about Trump’s dalliance with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. The allegations come from a former British intelligence officer, and the Trump camp denies them. The information was “widely known among journalists and politicians in Washington,” according to The New York Times, but aside from a piece in Mother Jones, it remained under wraps.]

In the world of espionage, the “honeypot” is trap in which someone seduces an unsuspecting diplomat or embassy employee. Then the seducer – a “swallow” (woman) or a “raven” (man) – blackmails the dupe. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed a certain expertise in using honeypots to extract information from CIA operatives, FBI agents, and ambassadors.

Russia is in the news at the moment for a more high-tech spying operation – its alleged hacking of Democratic Party e-mail accounts. The Obama administration claims that it has proof of Russian fingerprints on this operation and thus its influence on the November presidential elections. The White House has imposed a set of additional sanctions against Russia and also expelled 35 Russian diplomatic personnel.

These charges are serious and should be investigated. But they are a distraction. The real operation Russia is conducting in the United States is an old-fashioned honeypot trap. But it’s not a conventional version of the scheme in which an attractive woman makes eyes at a lonely intelligence officer.

Rather, the “raven” in this case is Vladimir Putin. And the dupe is Donald Trump. By romancing the Republican candidate, the Russian president has gotten much more than mere information. He is acquiring the most influential ally imaginable. And he doesn’t even have to wait until the inauguration. When the Obama administration announced its retaliatory moves, Putin declined to escalate. Trump, rather than standing behind his president, praised Putin and promised to “move on.”

Let me be clear. I don’t think Russia directly tampered with the vote in November. Nor do I think that the revelations connected to the alleged Russian hacking made the difference in the election. Trump won for other reasons; Clinton lost for other reasons too. I’m not even sure that Putin wanted Trump elected. The Russian president probably just wanted to sow some confusion and discord in the U.S. political system.

Nor do I want to see a new Cold War develop between the United States and Russia. I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin or current Russian policies in Ukraine or Syria. But Moscow and Washington can certainly identify common interests such as reducing nuclear weapons, preserving the landmark agreement with Iran, and negotiating some new agreement with North Korea.

But the honeypot that Russia has used to trap Trump will have much more serious ramifications than a few email accounts hacked or disinformation spread around the Internet.

First of all, Putin will get some immediate foreign policy benefits. The Trump administration is likely to lift all economic sanctions against Russia, which will provide a nice bump up for the Russian economy. The United States will accept the Kremlin’s seizure of Crimea and roll back its complaints over Russian meddling in Ukraine. Trump has already expressed reservations about NATO, so his administration will not likely welcome new members around Russia’s perimeter. And the new administration will cooperate with Russia in attacking the Islamic State and pull away from backing rebels who want to oust Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

All of that is worth a great deal more than the name of a few spies or a cache of secret Pentagon documents.

But Vladimir Putin has even grander plans, and Donald Trump could play a role in those as well.

In a 2013 speech, Vladimir Putin chastised the Euro-Atlantic countries for “rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.” He went on to excoriate “political correctness” and “unlawful migration.” He added, “One must respect every minority’s right to be different, but the rights of the majority must not be put into question.”

Here are all the themes of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign two years before Trump even launched it. More importantly, these themes can found in the campaigns of most far-right-wing political parties in Europe. It’s no surprise that Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party, and Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary are all part of Putin’s widening circle of admirers.

Putin aspires to create a new global alliance founded on conservative values, religious principles, and autocratic leanings. The Russian leader is comfortable working with outright racists, xenophobes, and Islamophobes. He aims to unravel the European Union and has provided support to European movements that share that goal. He has nothing but contempt for civil society unless it slavishly follows his political line. He no longer appears to believe that global warming is a hoax, but he still presides over an economy dependent on fossil fuels that does some of the greatest damage to the environment.

Again, Donald Trump fits right into this picture. The honeypot scheme doesn’t involve sexual propositioning but ideological seduction.

The greatest threat over the next couple years is not that the Trump administration will simply step back and allow Russia free rein in the world. Russia, after all, has rather limited global influence beyond its ties with right-wing extremists and a few morally bankrupt autocracies. Rather, the real threat is that Donald Trump will help Putin create a noxious alliance that gives an international platform for all the most deplorable actors, from white supremacists to crusading Islamophobes.

The media makes a mistake by calling the relationship between Putin and Trump a “bromance.” That somehow implies mutual fondness. Putin doesn’t care about romance any more than the “ravens” and “swallows” of the Cold War era. The Russian president has laid a trap for Donald Trump. And it looks as though Trump will drag America into the honeypot with him.

Originally published in Hankyoreh.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 English: “Trump Faces The Press: The President-Elect And Putin (part 1)”

The Iranian Connection in the Age of Trump

Fri, 13 Jan 2017 - 12:09am

By Rajan Menon | ( | – –

Stack up the op-eds and essays on the disasters that await the world once Donald Trump moves into the White House and you’ll have a long list of dismaying scenarios.

One that makes the lineups of most pundits involves a crisis with Iran.  So imagine this.  Trump struts to the podium for his first presidential press conference, the trademark jutting jaw prominent.  He’s spent the previous several days using Twitter to trash the nuclear agreement with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Unlike former President Barack Obama, Trump loves drama.  But the JCPOA runs 159 pages, so he can’t literally tear it up on live television as part of his performance. (And no, it’s not the small hands problem.)  Instead, he announces that the nuclear deal is a dead letter, effective immediately.

Could he really do that?  Pretty much — through an executive order stating that the United States will no longer abide by the accord and reinstituting the American sanctions that were lifted once the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) certified Iran’s compliance with the agreement and it survived a vote in Congress.

There’s a reason Trump might choose to quash the Iran nuclear deal in this manner.  As the State Department put it in November 2015, responding to a clarification request from Congressman Mike Pompeo, a sworn enemy of the agreement and Trump’s pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, the JCPOA “is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document… [It] reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China), and the European Union.  As you know the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems that culminate in political commitments.”  Assuming that Trump would bother providing a nuanced defense of his decision, he could simply claim that the Obama administration had cut a global political deal that lacked legal standing and that, as he’d said repeatedly during the campaign, was also a terrible deal.

There’s not much Congress would be able to do.  Indeed, Trump might not even face significant resistance from its members because the agreement never had deep support there.  In May 2015, even before the negotiators had signed the JCPOA, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), asserting its right to scrutinize the terms of the accord within 60 days of its conclusion and vote to approve or disapprove it.  That bill passed 98-1 in the Senate.  The lone dissenter was Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, who demanded that “a nuclear arms agreement with an adversary, especially the terrorist-sponsoring Islamist regime,” be submitted to the chamber as a treaty, in which case approval would have required a two-thirds majority.  The vote in the House for INARA, 400-25, showed a similar lack of enthusiasm.  

Pending Congressional review, the INARA barred the Obama administration from lifting or easing the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.  And it imposed short deadlines for submitting the agreement to Congress and for a report on verification: five days for each task.  On top of that, the Act mandated a semi-annual report on matters outside the scope of the agreement, including money laundering by Iran and its planning of, or support for, terrorism “against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world.”

The nuclear agreement was signed on July 14, 2015, and that September 11th, the House voted against it, 269 (including 25 Democrats) to 162.  Barely a week later, Senate Democrats managed to muster 58 votes to prevent a resolution of disapproval from moving forward.  So yes, the Obama administration prevailed — the vote tally in the House was insufficient to override a veto — but the results showed yet again that support for the Iran deal was barely knee deep, which means that President Trump won’t face much of a problem with legislators if he decides to scrap it.

Why the Nuclear Deal Is Worth the Bother

And that possibility can’t be ruled out.  Not only does Trump routinely act on impulse, he has attacked the JCPOA, during and after the campaign, as (among other things) “stupid,” a “lopsided disgrace,” and, in a classic Trumpism, the “worst deal ever negotiated.” 

“My number-one priority,” he proclaimed in March while addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which did its best to sink the agreement, “is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”  He called it “catastrophic for America, for Israel, and for the whole of the Middle East.”  Iran, he added, got $150 billion in sanctions relief (mainly from the unfreezing of assets it held overseas) “but we received absolutely nothing in return.”  As recently as December in a “stay strong” tweet to Israel following the Security Council’s condemnation of that country’s settlements on the West Bank (which the Obama administration refused to veto), Trump referred again to the “horrible Iran deal.” 

Trump’s inner circle has also demonized the agreement.  In a July 2015 interview, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, warned that, by enabling the lifting of nuclear sanctions, the JCPOA had given Iran extra money for strengthening its military and promoting terrorism, while offering the United States “nothing but grief” in return.  The verification measures, he added, were mere “promises,” and the agreement’s text “read like a high school paper.”  Speaking to supporters in Raleigh, North Carolina, in October, Vice President-elect Mike Pence pledged that Trump would “rip up” the agreement once in office.  As for Mike Pompeo, amid reports in November that he would be the new CIA director, the congressman said, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

While Trump has yet to pick his Deputy Secretary of State, among the top contenders appears to be John Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N. beloved by his fellow neoconservatives.  Bolton, unsurprisingly, also abhors the Iran deal.  While the talks were still underway, he labeled them “an unprecedented act of surrender,” adding that he couldn’t imagine any worthwhile agreement with Iran because its leaders were hell-bent on building nuclear weapons.  The best way to deal with that country in his view was to promote regime change there.  Nor did he alter his position once the agreement took effect.  In a November op-ed, he advised Trump “to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal in his first days in office.”

Given the right wing’s barrage against that deal and the looming Trump presidency, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Iran nuclear deal is anything but the catastrophe its critics claim it to be.  It’s an achievement worth defending, but to understand just why, you have to put on your policy-wonk hat for a few moments and do exactly the sort of thing that Donald Trump seems to like least: plunge into the sometimes abstruse details of that small-print, 159-page report.  So fair warning, here goes.   

The agreement, in fact, blocks the two paths Iran could take to build nuclear weapons, one based on uranium, the other on plutonium.  Recall that Iran went from 164 centrifuges in 2003 to 19,000 by the time the negotiations on what would become the JCPOA started in 2013. (Centrifuges spin uranium hexafluoride, UF-6, at high velocity to achieve the 90% concentration of the Uranium-235 isotope needed to make nuclear weapons.)  Under the agreement, Iran can retain a maximum of 5,060 centrifuges at its Natanz and Fordow sites, and they must be the older 1R-1 models.  The surplus stock of those as well as all the more advanced IR-4, 5, 6, and 8 models must be placed in continuously monitored storage.  Together, Fordow and Natanz could house more than 50,000 centrifuges of various types; so quantitatively and qualitatively, the ceilings set by the JCPOA are very significant. 

The agreement also bars Iran from enriching uranium beyond 3.167% — nowhere near the concentration required for building a nuclear bomb. Enrichment can occur only at the Natanz plant; the two centrifuge cascades permitted at the Fordow facility can’t be used for this purpose.  Moreover, Iran can retain no more than 300 kilograms of uranium enriched even to this level for research use and medical purposes, which means that its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) will be cut by 98%.  Iran is also prohibited from building additional plants for uranium enrichment.

Nuclear weapons can be built with plutonium as well, specifically Plutonium-239 (PU-239), but the JCPOA blocks that path, too.  It requires that Iran’s (unfinished) heavy water reactor at Arak be redesigned so that it can be fueled only with LEU.  In the meantime, the reactor has been disabled and concrete poured into its core.  In the future, Iran is banned from reprocessing plutonium produced by the reactor or building reprocessing facilities and must export the reactor’s spent fuel.  Its stocks of heavy water, used as a coolant in reactors, cannot exceed 130 metric tons; any excess must be exported.

Such an agreement, of course, can be no better than the provisions that verify its implementation.  To build nuclear weapons, Iran would have to breach several of the JCPOA’s provisions and persist with various prohibited activities.  Given the multiple means of verification at hand, that’s virtually impossible.  As International Atomic Energy Agency documents detail, Iranian nuclear installations will be under constant surveillance involving electronic seals and online monitoring (which relay information on uranium enrichment), as well as on-site inspections. 

The last of these mechanisms is especially significant because the agreement also requires that Iran accept the terms of the 1997 Additional Protocol that strengthened the monitoring agreements the IAEA has reached with signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  States that implement the Protocol must permit on-site inspections by the IAEA’s technical teams, sometimes on short notice.  As it now happens, Iran is committed to implementing the Protocol not just for the 15-year lifespan of the agreement, but for as long as it remains party to the NPT.

Finally there’s the procedure for resolving disputes about verification.  I’ll skip the details on this and just cut to the chase: Iran can’t stretch out the process or sanctions will resume under a “snapback” provision, and while a Security Council resolution could theoretically lift those sanctions, the United States could veto it.

Turning Up the Heat on Iran: Trump’s Plan

In other words, the Iran deal couldn’t be more worth saving if your urge in life is not to have Iran join the “nuclear club.”  It essentially ensures that reality and, according to a December 2016 poll, more than 60% of Americans are pleased that it exists.  But don’t assume that public support, stringent verification processes, and a dispute resolution procedure stacked against Iran will necessarily immunize the agreement from Trump, who is not exactly a details guy.  Nor does he spend much time listening to experts because, well, he’s so smart that he knows all the answers.  (Besides, if he needs additional information, he can always turn to “the shows,” his apparent go-to source for crucial military information.)  As for the members of his entourage, they’ve made it plain en masse that they have no use for the agreement.

Still, don’t consider it a foregone conclusion that Donald Trump will scrap the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action peremptorily and permanently either, even though he’s repeatedly denounced the deal.  After all, he’s also said that he’d consider renegotiating its terms to ensure that it meets his (unspecified) standards. As usual, he’s been all over the map. 

Consider this: in September 2015, during an appearance on Morning Joe, he told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that the United States had signed “a disastrous deal in so many ways… We have a horrible contract.”  But then, in effect invoking the sanctity of contracts, he added, “I’d love to tell you I’m gonna rip up this contract, I’m going to be the toughest guy in the world.  But you know what? Life doesn’t work that way.”  His solution back then: make sure Iran fulfills its part of the bargain.

And among the various positions he took on the agreement over those months, he wasn’t alone in taking that one.  Once the nuclear deal became a reality, others who had doggedly opposed it began to call for monitoring Iran’s compliance rather than scrapping it.  In November, Walid Phares, one of Trump’s top advisers on the Middle East, hedged in this fashion: Trump, he insisted, would “take the agreement, send it to Congress, demand from the Iranians to restore a few issues or change a few issues, and there will be a discussion.” 

In an April speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, retired General James Mattis, Trump’s choice for secretary of defense, called Iran “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.”  That said, however, he then cautioned that the United States “would be alone” if it tore up the Iran deal and that “unilateral sanctions would not have anywhere near the impact of an allied approach to this.” Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and a fervent critic of the agreement, as well as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a one-time contender to be Trump’s secretary of state, made exactly the same point once it took effect. 

And the same can be said not just about the various Iranophobes soon to populate the Trump administration but about whole countries.  Israel and Saudi Arabia both lobbied feverishly against the agreement.  Now that it’s in effect, however, neither seems to be pushing the president-elect to abandon it. 

And even if he were to do so, Europe, China, and Russia wouldn’t follow suit, which would mean that their companies, not American ones, would reap the benefits of doing business with Iran.  Some 29 European and Asian companies have already concluded energy agreements with Iran or are on course to do so. Given its continuing economic difficulties, the European Union (EU) would have no reason to take a hit by disavowing an agreement in which it had invested so much time and that will benefit so many of its businesses like Airbus (which in December signed a contract to sell Iran 100 planes).  In November, the EU’s foreign ministers reaffirmed their support for the Iran deal, increasing the likelihood that Trump would risk a rupture with them if he withdrew from it. 

In addition, doing so unilaterally would essentially be senseless.  American companies like Boeing, which signed a deal worth nearly $17 billion with Iran in December, would forfeit such opportunities.  Would Trump, who presents himself as the ultimate dealmaker and vows to create millions of jobs in the United States, really like to take credit for that?  Again, it’s hard to tell given the consistency of his inconsistency.  After all, he initially criticized the Boeing deal, only later to complain that Iran might buy from Europe, not America.  We’ll know where he stands, should those in Congress who have tried to block the Boeing aircraft sale persist.

Even if Trump doesn’t withdraw from the nuclear deal, don’t for a second assume that he won’t turn up the heat on Iran, which remains subject to various American non-nuclear sanctions aimed at its ballistic missile program, human rights record, and support for Hezbollah and Hamas.  Bear in mind that, in December, Congress extended — with only one dissenting vote in the House and unanimity in the Senate — the Iran Sanctions Act for another decade. And Trump could, in fact, expand these penalties, as several conservatives have urged him to do.  Vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council Ilan Berman, for example, recommends extending the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to Iran on the grounds that Trump could then use “visa bans, asset freezes, and commercial blacklists” to punish any of its officials engaged in corruption or human rights violations.   

The new president could go even further by following the recommendation of Council on Foreign Relations Iran expert Ray Takeyh.  In December, Takeyh argued that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “is presiding over a state with immense vulnerabilities, and the task of U.S. policy is to exploit all of them.” Takeyh’s ultimate aim is regime change, and he believes that “the United States has a real capacity to shrink Iran’s economy and bring it to the brink of collapse.” 

So despite Donald Trump’s bluster, there’s at least a reasonable likelihood that he won’t summon the press to announce the Iran nuclear deal’s strangulation at his hands. But instead of being a rare dose of good news, that could well come as cold comfort. Under Trump, the Iranian-American relationship is essentially guaranteed to get a whole lot worse, whatever happens to the treaty itself. Even if Trump does adhere to the agreement, he could easily attempt to show both his contempt for the Iranians and his resolve by getting tough in a host of other ways. 

There are plenty of potential collision points, including in Iran’s coastal waters along that crucial oil route, the Persian Gulf, as well as in Lebanon, in Syria (where Iranian forces and advisers are fighting for autocrat Bashar al-Assad), and in Yemen (where Houthi insurgents aligned with Iran are being bombarded by Saudi warplanes, with devastating consequences for civilians).  Israel and Saudi Arabia may no longer be fixated on torpedoing the nuclear agreement itself, but once the Obama administration is history they may also feel freed of any restraints from Washington when it comes to Iran.  Certainly, key Republicans (and not a few Democrats) will back the Israelis in any kind of confrontation with that country.  Both the Israelis and the Saudis have made no secret of the fact that they considered Obama soft on Iran, and they are likely to be emboldened once Trump enters the White House. 

Should either of them clash with Iran, the stage will be set for a potentially direct military confrontation between Tehran and Washington.  In other words, there may not be a potentially more combustible spot on the planet.  So we may be missing the point by speculating on what Trump will do to the Iran deal.  The real question is what he’ll do to Iran — and just how disastrous the consequences of that may be.

Rajan Menon is the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of International Relations at the Powell School, City College of New York, and Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University’s Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. He is the author, most recently, of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention.

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 Rajan Menon 2017


Trump does Poor imitation of Tin-Pot Dictator at “Press Conference”

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 2:29am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In his first news conference in months, president-elect Donald J. Trump engaged in a series of petulant tirades. For anyone like myself, who has lived under dictators in the global South, his performance was unpleasantly reminiscent of their authoritarian publicity techniques.

Instead of letting a wide range of reporters attend, he limited their spots so that he could pack the hall with his own supporters. Those supporters were the ones applauding, and since the cameras were not turned on the audience, television viewers may have thought the cheers came from reporters. This effect was intended. There are some allegations that some of the Trump supporters in attendance were actually part of a rent-a-crowd, a common technique among Middle Eastern dictators. And then there was the typical technique of painting dissidents and critics as themselves authoritarian. Innocent Japanese were interned during WWII on unsupported charges that they were imperialists. Members and former members of the 50,000-strong Communist Party in the US were accused of trying to take over the US government. Trump on Wednesday characterized the leak of the intelligence report as “Nazism,” as though he were a victim of an authoritarian genocide being perpetrated by a web news site. The charge is ironic, as Rula Jebreal pointed out:

Sir, you were endorsed by the KKK, supported by neo-Nazi groups, you hired an anti-Semitic Chief Strategist -you revived the 1930s.

— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) January 12, 2017

1. Disagreement is treason. Trump’s spokesman slammed Buzzfeed for publishing the annex to the US intelligence report on Russian hacking of the US election, complaining that it was false and not verified by the intelligence agencies. I said yesterday that I found the dossier unconvincing. But Buzzfeed’s conviction that the document was of public interest and the at the public should be able to see and judge it for themselves can be argued about. Buzzfeed did not certify it as true. Trump essentially put them on trial for treason. As for inaccuracy, Trump and his people want a monopoly on it. Let’s remember that Trump denied for years that President Obama was born in the United States, that he keeps saying that the murder rate in the US has risen (it has fallen dramatically since the 1990s), that he denies that humans burning hydrocarbons causes climate change, that he says that unemployment is 42%, and that there are 30 million undocumented workers in the US (it is about 11 million and has fallen). His campaign allies at the Neo-Nazi Breitbart rag accused Hillary Clinton (edited by Steve Bannon) of practicing voodoo and/or of being part of a pedophilia ring run from a Washington, DC pizzeria. At least the report on Trump’s having been compromised by Russian intelligence on his escapades in Russia actually exists.

2. Divide and rule. Trump tried to single out Buzzfeed for publishing the document and CNN for reporting that it was part of the intelligence community’s report by denouncing them as “fake news” and refusing them the opportunity to question him. He instead allowed the white supremacist Breitbart (a chief producer of fake news from its inception) to toss him a softball. Creating disfavored and favored news outlets is a typical authoritarian move. Trump is punishing CNN to create an incentive for other news outlets to treat him with kid gloves, and he is hoping the other reporters will climb over the prostrate bodies of the Buzzfeed and CNN journalists on their way up to White House access. The reporters and news organizations will have to stick together to overcome this tactic. Trump is also trying to legitimize his buddy Steve Bannon’s Neofascist monstrosity, Breitbart, by favoring it over CNN in public. (The Breitbart reporter suggested that Trump crack down on all those mainstream ‘fake news’ outlets, which is sort of like a wine-seller arguing for prohibition). Incidentally, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed CNN’s story later in the day. CNN did not publish the two pages of salacious material and were treated completely unjustly by Trump.

3. The Big Lie. Trump contradicted the US intelligence community, which maintained that Russian hackers also broke into the servers of the Republican National Committee but declined to leak those documents– in contrast to the way they treated the Hillary Clinton campaign. Trump said, “had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary . . .” But they did and they didn’t. Trump continues to manufacture his own reality, in his own interests. (If the Russians treated their hacked information differently, some would argue, that his how they threw the election to Trump. He wants to deny that he had any help and so denies the facts of the case.)

4. Weasel words. Aware of arguments being made that he is beholden to Russian financial concerns, Trump said “As a real estate developer, I have very, very little debt. I have assets that are — and now people have found out how big the company is, I have very little debt — I have very low debt. But I have no loans with Russia at all.” This assertion is disingenuous because he might have partnerships or Russian investors without categorizing that money as “loans.” In fact, Trump owes at least $300 million to creditors, and if you total up the debts held by all the companies in which he has at least a 1/3 stake, the debts may come to $1.5 billion! One of the New York City buildings he has a part ownership of carries a $950 million debt, some of which is held by the Bank of China. Trump may presently have no Russian creditors or projects (and his finances are so Byzantine that it is impossible to know), but that does not rule out his having Russian partners or investors in US or European projects. As for investments inside Russia, he certainly has tried. Contrary to what he said, he has tried on several occasions to build Trump Towers in Russia. The deals collapsed, but not for lack of trying. in 2008 he made $54 million on a sale of a Florida mansion for $95 million to a Russian billionaire. That’s a suspiciously large profit in Florida in 2008, and there have been questions about Russian or former Soviet Union businessmen laundering money through joint ventures with Trump. Trump also had a $30 million deal to put on a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 and wanted to invited and befriend Vladimir Putin.

5. Substituting spectacle for substance. Trump had one of his attorneys put on a dog and pony show about how he will handle his finances during his presidency, implying that he thereby put to rest the worries about his business conflicts of interest. No one who knows about the pertinent laws appears in the least convinced that Trump’s proposals resolved these issues. The attempt to use smoke and mirrors to finesse this matter is typical of authoritarian regimes, who deny their own corruption via public spectacle and the strong-arming of critics. The big piles of Manila folders were apparently empty and just for show.

Empty and just for show will be some of the words inscribed on the tombstone of Trump’s presidency.


Related video:

PBS: “Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect”

US Iraq-Afghanistan ‘Burn Pits’ – Poisoning America’s Soldiers

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 12:19am

Reviewed by H. Patricia Hynes | (Truthdig) | – –

“The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers”
A book by Joseph Hickman

They are called “this generation’s Agent Orange”—the open fire pits operated on over 230 US military bases across Iraq and Afghanistan during our wars there. Every kind of waste—plastics, batteries, old ordnance, asbestos, pesticide containers, tires, biomedical, chemical, and nuclear waste, dead animals, human feces, body parts, and corpses—was incinerated in them.

“The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers”

The word “incinerate,” suggesting an enclosed burning facility with pollution controls, is misleading. These barbaric burn pits were dug on military bases in the midst of housing, work, and dining facilities, with zero pollution controls. Tons of waste—an average of 10 pounds daily per soldier—burned in them every day, all day and all night. Ash laden with hundreds of toxins and carcinogens blackened the air and coated clothing, beds, desks, and dining halls, according to a Government Accounting Office investigation. The burn pits recklessly violated the US Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense (DOD) waste disposal regulations. And predictably, base commanders temporarily shut them down when politician and high-ranking generals came to visit.

Some of the US bases were built on the remnants of Iraqi military bases that had been bombed and flattened by US air strikes. A handful of these bases—at least five—contained stockpiles of old chemical warfare weapons, among them the nerve agent sarin and the blistering agent mustard gas, used by Iraq against Iran and the Kurds in the 1980s and 1990s. The burn pits of these American military bases were placed and dug within the residue of chemical weapons, without first analyzing soil samples.

In his no-holds-barred book, The Burn Pits: the Poisoning of America’s Soldiers, former Marine and Army sergeant Joseph Hickman exposes the knowing contamination of thousands of soldiers stationed on bases with these lethal pits. After interviewing more than a thousand very sick veterans and military contractors about their exposures and investigating the non-response of the Pentagon, high-ranking military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the author concludes:

“In my experience as a noncommissioned officer, and after serving twenty years in the military, I can honestly say I would believe the words of a private over a general any day of the week.”

Soon after Hickman retired from the military in 2009, he began to hear from veterans about medical illnesses they were suffering after being in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thus began his unstinting investigation, interviewing veterans, military contractors, and numerous medical health researchers who, in the void of Pentagon neglect, conducted extensive studies on the health effects of burn pit exposure. From the ailing veterans, he learned of medical claims denied by DOD and VHA doctors, who flatly refused to consider that their health problems were service-related, and insinuated that they were looking for a free ride. He discovered that veterans had more than 20 class action lawsuits in 2008 and 2009 against the KBR Company, the DOD contractor that constructed the burn pits. And he recounts an incriminating conversation with a retired military officer turned KBR manager in charge of construction on Afghanistan and Iraq bases. The engineer characterized KBR as bragging “that they could get away with doing anything they wanted (e.g. no soil and air testing, shoddy construction, hazardous to health open fire pits, and so on.) because the Army could not function without them.”

KBR, then a subsidiary of Halliburton, (Dick Cheney’s former company), was the major Iraq war profiteer with no-bid contracts and a known master of “phantom charges” in their invoices to DOD. In self-defense KBR states matter-of-factly to Hickman, that it constructed and operated the burn pits in conformance with contract specs and Army operational guidelines. In fact, this was true. In its haste for war, DOD flaunted its own environmental regulations and approved open air burn pits—“huge poisonous bonfires”—on US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor did DOD require the testing of soil, air, or burn pit emissions to monitor the pollution their soldiers were exposed to daily.

In the course of his research, Hickman enlisted the legal assistance of Seton Hall University Law School’s Center for Policy and Research. The Center was highly regarded for its uncovering of human rights violations at Guantanamo and exhaustive probing of the 2008 financial crisis. Its work yielded a list of the most prevalent illnesses reported by 500 veterans interviewed by Hickman, namely, acute and debilitating respiratory illnesses (74 percent) and throat, lung and brain cancers and leukemia (26 percent). Over 90 percent, after long waits, were refused disability. Most significantly, the Seton Law investigation found that those veterans with the most critical health problems had served at a small number of former Iraqi military bases. These particular bases had been “major chemical weapons research, processing or storage sites” during the reign of Saddam Hussein and still had old stockpiles of chemical weapons when the US bombed them and built military bases with open fire pits.

Was it coincidence or not, Hickman queries, that Beau Biden, the son of Vice-President Joe Biden, who served as a major for twelve months in two Iraq bases, contracted fatal brain cancer, as did many with whom he served? Medical research has since pinpointed titanium dust particles, inhaled by soldiers from the burn pits, as a likely cause of their high rates of brain cancer.

The book does not shy away from US complicity during the Reagan administration in Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program. The support, all to spite Iran, included chemical weapons design and enlisting western partners and western companies in manufacture and production. This complicity now haunts the current war in Iraq: the New York Times reported in 2015 that ISIS had captured a key center of former chemical weapons production.

The tragic tale of burn pit victims replicates the bitter chronicles of the Vietnam War veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange, the ongoing “Gulf War Syndrome,” and depleted uranium exposure, from which hundreds of thousands of veterans are injured and disabled. Further, some of these exposed veterans were likely victims of the epidemic military sexual assault in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Yet those victimized by these crushing maladies have been ignored, disbelieved, blamed for their plight, and refused help by their government. They tell an inconvenient truth that yields, at best, years of often inconsequential studies by a reluctant government, a government that will spend hundreds of billions each fiscal year on defense contractors and weapons of war but penny pinches its injured veterans.

How can an institution—apparently so trusted by a majority of Americans and praised as the backbone of our country by every president, Democrat and Republican alike—consistently treat its veterans like so much scrap cast into a burn pit, and get away with it?

A final word on the ultimate war victims. The people of Iraq have been poisoned from the war in 1991 through the current war on ISIS. The arc of poisons begins with the oil fires in Kuwait set by fleeing Iraqi soldiers, which burned for 7 months, and depleted uranium weapons used by the US in the first Gulf War (1991) and in the Iraq War (2003-2011). It extends to the burn pit air toxins from US bases that wafted into nearby towns and cities and the recent oil conflagrations set by ISIS and ignited during US bombing of ISIS strongholds.

Once among the best health systems in the Middle East, Iraq’s system of care “has been decimated by war; health facilities have been destroyed and not rebuilt; and doctors have fled the continuing violence.” Massive civilian suffering is unrelieved, with severe shortages of medicines, unsafe drinking water, a broken government, millions displaced by 25 years of war, and the surge of fundamentalist subjugation of women, especially since the Iraq War. The startling rise of birth defects and cancers in Iraq and high lead levels in the baby teeth of Iraqi children are, in large part, the legacy of our war-created pollution in that country.

We, the United States, have never fixed what we have broken in war since World War II. Our imperial ambitions lie at the core of many now-ruined countries, millions of dead across the world, millions of living dead and displaced, toxic environments, and hundreds of thousands of disabled US veterans who fought for the war machine. In the words of economist Jeffrey Sachs, “It’s time to abandon the reveries, burdens, and self-deceptions of empire and invest in development at home and in partnership with the rest of the world.”

Pat Hynes, a retired environmental engineer and professor of environmental health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts.

Published with permission of Truthdig

If Trump moves US Embassy to Jerusalem, all Hell will Break Loose

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 12:18am

By Phyllis Bennis | (Institute for Policy Studies) | – –

If the U.S. goes ahead with the GOP plan, says Phyllis Bennis, “all bets are off.”

In of the very first moves as the U.S. Senate began its term in 2017, three Republican senators — including former presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio — introduced legislation designed to force the U.S. State Department to move its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

Moving US Embassy to Jerusalem a Dangerous Provocation

That would be a significant and unprecedented provocation to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, explains IPS Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis.

“There is no country in the world that has its embassy in Jerusalem,” she told the Real News Network recently. According to several UN Security Council resolutions, the city is supposed to remain “a separate body” managed by “an international agency, presumably the United Nations itself,” until final borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state are negotiated.

Yet those talks “are far from finished,” Bennis said. “They are, in fact, not even underway.”

Jerusalem, Bennis told the network, is significant not only as a global religious landmark, but as “a living city with real people whose lives are completely circumscribed by the reality of Israeli occupation.” The gradual Israeli settlement of majority-Palestinian East Jerusalem, she added, “goes to the core of what Israeli occupation looks like.”

Congress has made similar moves with respect to the U.S. embassy before, Bennis explained, but past presidents have always bypassed them. With Donald Trump coming into office, however, that could change.

Trump, Bennis said, “says not only that he supports this, but he has, in fact, appointed David Friedman as his ambassador to Israel.” Friedman — who is Trump’s “bankruptcy lawyer, not a diplomat” — is “known for being a financial supporter of the settlements” and “has gone on to say he looks forward to carrying out his work in the eternal, undivided capital of Israel in Jerusalem.”

Bennis speculated that the move could prompt the UN General Assembly to “pass an overwhelmingly popular resolution that would condemn the United States’ action,” along with protests at U.S. embassies around the world. “Hopefully, those would not become violent, but they may well,” she worried.

She allowed that the latest moves may be “nothing more” than typical “pro-Israel” posturing by right-wing members of Congress. “But with this administration in the White House,” she concluded, “we can’t assume that the usual practice will be underway this time. All bets are off now.”

Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Via The Institute for Policy Studies

Last Year the US Dropped 26,171 Bombs on 7 Muslim-Majority Countries

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 12:13am

TeleSur | – –

The countries include Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, new research by the Council on Foreign Relations, CFR, has confirmed the militaristic legacy it leaves behind: the United States dropped at least 26,171 bombs in seven Muslim-majority countries in 2016.

According to CFR researchers, who conducted the study, this estimate is even “undoubtedly low” given limitations on available government data.

The countries targeted last year were Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, an increase from the six bombed by the United states in 2015. The number of bombs dropped also rose, with at least 23,144 bombs dropped the year before.

The majority of the bombs were dropped in Iraq and Syria, followed by Afghanistan, where the so-called war on terror has ravaged the region since 2001.

Another 496 bombs were dropped by the U.S. in Libya, where the United States began an air campaign to oust the Islamic State group, who along with other extremist groups, filled the void when NATO carried out a regime change operation that toppled the country’s leader Muammar Gaddafi.

The year 2016 also saw the continuance of drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, where the United States has carried out covert drone wars for years, resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths.

via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Drops 26,171 Bombs In One Year

Climate Activists fear Tillerson, Call him Out for Lying About Warming During Hearing

Thu, 12 Jan 2017 - 12:08am

By Deirdre Fulton, staff writer | ( ) | – –

‘Listening to his hearing, it would be easier to conclude Tillerson is under criminal investigation than under consideration for secretary of state’

Joined by 15 T-Rex dinosaurs, more than 200 people demonstrated mass public opposition to the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, urging senators to #RejectRex. (Photo: Eman Mohammed/ by 15 T-Rex dinosaurs, more than 200 people demonstrated mass public opposition to the appointment of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, urging senators to #RejectRex. (Photo: Eman Mohammed/

At his senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, U.S. secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson on Wednesday dodged questions about ExxonMobil’s long history of denying climate science, lending credence to claims his tenure would be a disaster for the planet.

When pressed by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) about the major charges unearthed by the ongoing ExxonKnew investigation—namely, that the oil company hid evidence going back to the 1970s of how the burning of fossil fuels impacts the climate, and funded misinformation campaigns to spread skepticism about growing scientific consensus—former Exxon CEO Tillerson “essentially pled the fifth,” said Oil Change International executive director Stephen Kretzmann.

“Since I’m no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to speak on their behalf,” said Tillerson, who recently separated from the company after 42 years. “The question would have to be put to them.”

Kaine asked as a follow-up question: “Do you lack knowledge to answer my questions or are you refusing to answer my question?”

Tillerson responded: “A little of both.”

The coy retort left environmentalists unimpressed.

“Tillerson is still lying about what Exxon knew about climate change,” said executive director May Boeve, whose group organized a 200-strong anti-Tillerson protest outside the hearing on Wednesday. “Asked directly about the company’s climate cover-up, Tillerson demurred and denied. We need a secretary of state who acknowledges that the climate crisis requires bold action, not an oil industry CEO who is dedicated to spreading misinformation.”

Added Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law: “The universe of subjects Rex Tillerson knows, admits to knowing, or is permitted to speak to is vanishingly small for someone who would be the U.S. voice to the world. Listening to his hearing, it would be easier to conclude Tillerson is under criminal investigation than under consideration for secretary of state.”

Meanwhile, InsideClimate News reporter Neela Banerjee noted that “Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President’s team have recommended.”

And when questioned about whether human activity is contributing to climate change, Tillerson also failed to give a straight answer.

“The increase in greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere are having an effect,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

In fact, Banerjee wrote, “[t]hat’s incorrect. Climate scientists have gotten an increasingly fine-grained view of the effects climate change is having and could have, including longer and more intensive heat waves and droughts, sea level rise and its impact on coastal communities, loss of species, increase in pests, and constrained water resources.”

ExxonMobil itself has for decades been preparing for “rising sea levels, warming temperatures, and increasing storm severity” caused by climate change, as the Los Angeles Times reported in its 2015 ExxonKnew investigation.

“If after 40 years of climbing up the company ladder and 10 years at the helm, Tillerson ‘lacks knowledge’ about ExxonMobil corporate strategy on climate change—including its role in spreading climate disinformation and funding denial groups—then he should have been fired as CEO long, long ago,” declared Kathy Mulvey, climate accountability campaign manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, on Wednesday. “And as someone who continues to disparage climate models, he is unfit to lead the U.S. and world on climate action.”

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

Via )


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CSpan-3: “Senator Tim Kaine asks Rex Tillerson about Exxon, climate knowledge”

For Russian hold on Trump, follow the Money, not the Sex tapes

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 - 2:48am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Buzzfeed has published the unverified allegations by a former MI6 analyst with good Russian contacts, contained in a two-page hitherto secret annex to the US intelligence community’s report on Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election. These two pages have circulated in Washington for months. David Corn talked about them, though not with salacious detail, in October, and then Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote a sharp letter to FBI director James Comey about them.

Click graphic to donate!

The notion that Donald J. Trump might have been recorded doing kinky things on business trips to Moscow or St. Petersburg is plausible, but people should be careful here. It isn’t proven, and intelligence professionals gather a lot of raw intelligence that is nonsense. The specific allegations in the annex don’t make much sense (urolagnia is a fetish for sexual satisfaction, not an instrument of revenge on a political opponent).

Note, too, that it is just as plausible that the National Security Agency and/or the Central Intelligence Agency have data on Trump in Russia. If Trump were in contact with Russians whom the NSA was monitoring then they would have ended up monitoring him, as well.

That is,if the worry is that foreign intelligence agencies could blackmail someone like Trump, why isn’t it equally worrying that the US government could? J. Edgar Hoover used to blackmail congressional representatives all the time.

The unusual thing here is that even if Russia had such video, it is difficult to see how they could damage Trump. The people who elected him knew that he had appeared in pornographic videos, liked to tour the dressing rooms of the Miss Teen contests when the contestants were naked, and gropes random women in public places. That he paid for a golden shower or two isn’t even the most disgusting thing in his closet (at least if it was paid for it was consensual). So I think if Russia threatened him with being outed, he could just brush them off. The evangelical ministers who encourage their flocks to vote Republican have decided that they are all about forgiveness when it comes to Trump. I wouldn’t have said this last year this time, but the guy is teflon on the right.

If Trump has a vulnerability with regard to Russia, it is far more likely to be financial. He kept going bankrupt (six times!) as a strategy to avoid paying creditors, and understandably real banks stopped wanting to lend to him. The Financial Times alleges that Trump then got in bed with very wealthy figures from, e.g., Kazakhstan, who loaned him money or licensed his name for, e.g., the Trump Soho, in which he was a partner with a shadowy Kazakh figure. But FT suggests that the quid pro quo was that he got them into the New York real estate market, which they then used for money laundering. Money earned from embezzling (say, from the Kazakh ministry of petroleum) or criminal activity needs to be laundered before it can be openly invested. The criminal claims that the ill-gotten funds are profits from an investment, e.g. The FT thinks Trump may have, knowingly or naively, facilitated this kind of activity. If it was knowingly, of course, that was a heavy duty crime.

Or there is the Washington Post‘s expose of Trump’s relationship with a Russian “businessman” whom the Post characterizes as possibly having links to organized crime and whom, the Post alleges, former business partners accuse of routinely threatening to kill them.

In fact, big business people often seal deals at strip clubs, and sex parties in St. Petersburg were likely to be sweeteners for a business deal. Only puritan Americans would think it was the sex party that was the important thing.

James S. Henry in The American Interest surveyed several cases of Trump’s sketchy financial relationships with Russian or Former Soviet Union Oligarchs. Henry doesn’t allege criminality in these relationships, though the accounts he gives heavily hint at it. And if there was ever a place where Honore de Balzac’s maxim in Le pere Goriot was true, it is post-Soviet lands. Balzac said, “the secret of great fortunes with no apparent explanation is a crime forgotten because it was well executed.” Mario Puzo paraphrased it to “behind every great fortune there is a crime.”

Mark Sumner at Daily Kos also rounds up these oligarch/ organized crime links.

So if Russia has a hold on Trump, I’d look at the business angle, myself. The idea that they could shame him by attacking his reputation for sexual propriety seems a little far-fetched.


Related video:

USA Today: “Intel chiefs told Trump that Russia targeted him”

A Living Wage & a Right to Live: Resisting a government of Generals and Billionaires

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 - 12:27am

By Rebecca Gordon | ( | – –

Many of the folks I know are getting ready to play serious defense in 2017, and they’re not wrong. Before we take up our three-point stance on the national line of scrimmage, however, maybe we should ask ourselves not only what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for. What kind of United States of America do we actually want? Maybe, in fact, we could start by asking: What is a country for? What should a country do? Why do people establish countries in the first place?

Playing Defense

There is, without question, much that will need defending over the next four years, so much that people fought and died for in the twentieth century, so much that is threatened by the ascendancy of Donald Trump, the white nationalist right, and the Republican Party.

The twentieth century saw the introduction of many significant laws, regulations, and — yes — entitlements: benefits to which we have a right by virtue of living in, and in many cases being citizens of, this country.

We could start earlier, but let’s begin with the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. It established the right of workers to collectively negotiate wages and working conditions with their employers and made collective bargaining the official “policy of the United States.”

This policy faces an immediate threat. Identical Republican-sponsored bills in the House and Senate would end the right of unions to require the workers they represent to pay union dues.  These bills would, in other words, reproduce at the federal level the so-called right-to-work (more accurately, right-to-starve) laws already in place in more than half the states. If — or as seems likely, when — they pass, millions of workers will face the potential loss of the power of collective bargaining and find themselves negotiating with employers as lonely individuals.

Then there was the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay to many workers (although not, notably, those laboring in agricultural fields or inside other people’s homes — workplaces then occupied primarily by African Americans, and later by other people of color as well).

Andrew F. Puzder, Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of labor, opposes the very idea of a minimum wage. This shouldn’t be too surprising, since his current day job is as CEO of the parent company of two fast-food franchise operations, Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.

We could mention other New Deal era victories under threat: Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (now known as TANF for Temporary Aid to Needy Families, or more commonly simply as “welfare”), which was created to promote the wellbeing of children in families facing poverty. In the coming Trump years, we can expect predation on all these programs — from renewed efforts to “privatize” Social Security to further restrictions on welfare. Indeed, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, Trump’s transition team point man on Social Security, is a firm believer in “privatization,” the idea that the federal government should encourage people to gamble on the stock market rather than rely on a guaranteed government pension.

The one entitlement program that will probably survive unscathed is SNAP, because its primary beneficiaries are not the people who use it to buy groceries but the giant agricultural corporations it indirectly subsidizes. It’s no accident that, unlike other entitlement programs, SNAP is administered by the Department of Agriculture.

Then there was the 1937 Housing Act, designed to provide financial support to cities so they could improve the housing stock of poor people, which eventually led to the creation of the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In Ben Carson we are about to have a HUD secretary who, in addition to having announced that he’s not qualified to head a federal agency, doesn’t believe in the very programs HUD exists to support.

And so it goes with the victories of the second half of the twentieth century. In Jeff Sessions, for instance, we have a potential attorney general staunchly opposed to the civil and voting rights won by African Americans (and women of all races, in the case of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). In Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, we’ll have a climate-change denier and fossil-fuel advocate running the Environmental Protection Agency.

Medicare entitles — there’s that word again — older people and some with chronic illnesses to federally subsidized healthcare. Its introduction in 1965 ended the once-common newspaper and TV stories about senior citizens eating pet food because they couldn’t afford both medicine and groceries.  That program, too, will reportedly be under threat.

There’s more to defend. Take widespread access to birth control, now covered by health insurance under Obamacare. I’m old enough to remember having to pretend I was married to get a doctor to prescribe The Pill, and being grateful for the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that guaranteed me a legal abortion, when a gynecologist told me I couldn’t conceive.  (He was wrong.) Then there are the guarantees of civil rights for LGB (if not yet T) people won in the 1990s, culminating in the astonishing 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. All of this could be wiped out with a couple of Trumpian Supreme Court picks.

Nor should we forget that in addition to people’s rights, there are actual people to defend in the brave new world of Trumplandia, or at least to help defend themselves: immigrants, Muslims, African Americans — especially young black men — as well as people facing poverty and homelessness.

One potentially unexpected benefit of the coming period: so many of us are likely to be under attack in one way or another that we will recognize the need for broad-based coalitions, working at every level of society and throughout its institutions. Such groups already exist, some more developed than others. I’m thinking, for example, of United for Peace and Justice, which came together to oppose Bush-era wars and domestic policies, the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community organizations led by people of color, and National People’s Action, another effective coalition of community organizations, to name just three. On the state level, there is the powerful work of the Moral Mondays project, led by the North Carolina NAACP and its president, the Reverend William J. Barber II. In my own backyard, there are the many community groups that make up San Francisco Rising and Oakland Rising.

Such multi-issue organizations can be sources of solidarity for people and groups focused on important single issues, from the Fight for Fifteen (dollars an hour minimum wage) to opposing the bizarrely-named First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect the right of proprietors of public accommodations to refuse service to people whose presence in their establishments violates “a religious belief or moral conviction that: (1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Defense Matters, But We Need More 

As important as such defensive actions will be, we’re going to need something beyond a good defense: a coherent reason why all these disparate things are worth defending. We need to be able to say why black lives, women’s lives, workers’ lives, brown and immigrant lives matter in the first place. We need a vision of a society in which not only do all people’s lives matter, but where they all have the possibility of being good lives. We need a picture of what a country is for, so that as we fight, we understand not only the horrors we oppose, but what it is we desire.

Fortunately, we don’t have to start any description of what a good human life consists of from scratch. People have been discussing the subject for at least as long as they’ve left written records, and probably far longer. In the third century BCE, for example, Aristotle proposed that the good life — happiness — consists of developing and using both our intellectual and moral capacities to the fullest possible extent across an entire lifetime. The good life meant learning and then practicing wisdom, courage, justice, and generosity — along with some lesser virtues, like being entertaining at a dinner party.

Aristotle wasn’t an idiot, however. He also knew that people need the basics of survival — food, clothing, shelter, health, and friendship — if they are to be happy. Not surprisingly, he had a distinctly limited idea about which human beings could actually achieve such happiness.  It boiled down to men of wealth who had the leisure to develop their abilities. His understanding of the good life left a lot of people, including women, slaves, and children, out of the circle of the fully human.

Although it may sound strange to twenty-first-century American ears, Aristotle also thought that the purpose of government was to help people (at least those he thought were capable of it) to live happy lives, in part by making laws that would guide them into developing the capacities crucial to that state.

Who nowadays thinks that happiness is the government’s business? Perhaps more of us should. After all, the Founding Fathers did.

“We Hold These Truths…”

Where should we who seek to defend our country against the advance of what some are now going so far as to call “fascism” enter this conversation about the purpose of government? It might make sense to take a look at a single sentence written by a group of white men, among them slaveholders, who also thought happiness was the government’s business. I’m referring, of course, to the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Its much-quoted second sentence reads in full:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Political philosopher Danielle Allen has pointed out that modern versions of the Declaration’s text “update” the original punctuation with a period after “happiness.” But that full stop obscures the whole point of the sentence. Not only do people self-evidently possess “unalienable” rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but the very reason we form governments in the first place is to “secure” those rights. Furthermore, when a government — rather than protecting life, liberty, and happiness — “becomes destructive” of them, we have the right to abolish it and put a better one in its place, always keeping in mind that the purpose of any new government should be to “effect” the people’s safety and happiness. 

Of course, beginning any conversation with those words from the Declaration raises the obvious question: “Who’s ‘we’?” Can those of us who are women, people of color, descendants of slaves and/or slaveholders, all claim participation in that “we”? Should we want to? Allen, who describes herself as biracial and a feminist, addresses the contradictions inherent in claiming this document for our own in her valuable book Our Declaration. She concludes that we not only can, we must. There is too much at stake for us to cede equality to a white, male minority.

Life, Liberty…

What would it mean to take seriously the idea that people create governments so they can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What would the United States look like if that were its purpose?

Let’s start with life. It’s reasonable to think that the Declaration’s authors were following the ideas of another dead white man, John Locke, who believed that people create governments so that they don’t have to spend all their time and energy preventing other people from hurting them, or taking revenge when they’ve been hurt. Instead, people delegate this authority to governments.

But what has the U.S. government done with those delegated powers?

Over the last 15 years of what we still call the “war on terror,” Americans have been told repeatedly that we have to choose between life and liberty, between “security” and freedom. We can’t have both. Do we want to be safe from terrorists? Then we must allow mass collection of our telephone and Internet-use data. And we must create a registry of Muslims living in this country. Do we want to be safe on our streets? Then we must allow federal and state governments to keep 2.2 million people locked up and another 4.5 million on probation or parole. Ours is the largest prison population in the world, in raw numbers and in proportion to our population. Safety on the street, we’re told, also demands an increase in the amount of daily video surveillance Americans experience.  And that’s just to start down a long list of the ways our liberties have been curtailed in these years.

At the same time, successive Congresses and administrations have cut the programs that once helped sustain life in this country. Now, with the threatened repeal of Obamacare (and so the potential loss of medical insurance for at least 20 million Americans), the Republicans may literally cut off the lives of people who depend on that program for treatments that help them survive.

The preamble of the Constitution also establishes the importance of life, liberty, and happiness, with slightly different language. In it, “We the people” establish that Constitution for the following purposes:

“to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”

Is it possible that our common “defence” is not, in fact, aided by maintaining the world’s most powerful military, garrisoning the planet, and endlessly projecting power across the globe? After all, the United States is protected by an ocean off each coast and friendly countries on our northern and southern borders (although we may not always deal with them as friends should be treated). Certainly, I want my government to defend me from invading armies; on the other hand, I’m not convinced my safety is increased when the United States does the invading.

It’s useful, too, as we think about the purpose of government, to consider the idea of the “general Welfare.” This phrase implies something important: my welfare, my good life, is bound up with yours. The people established the Constitution to promote the welfare of all of us, and not of a tiny, mega-rich minority, which is now running our government. We could do worse than reclaim the importance of the general welfare, with its suggestion that it is the primary business of any decent government to promote our wellbeing.

…And the Pursuit of Happiness

Surely the definition of the good life, of happiness itself, is such a personal thing that it can’t be the subject of legislation or the object of government. Perhaps that’s true, but I’d like to introduce one more thinker here, also white, and, sadly, deceased: the political philosopher Iris Marion Young. In her Justice and the Politics of Difference, she offered a definition of a good human life. We can say, she argued, that a society is more or less a just one depending on the degree to which it satisfies basic physical needs, and equally importantly (as Aristotle also believed), “supports the institutional conditions necessary” for people to participate in self-development.  To her, that means “learning and using satisfying and expansive skills,” as well as the expression of “our experience, feelings, and perspective on social life in contexts where others can listen.” But self-development and expression, she says, are not sufficient for a good life. We also need self-determination — that is, participation in the decisions that affect our lives and how we live them.

We have much to defend, but we also should have a vision to advance. As we fight against a secretary of education who abhors public schools, we should also be fighting for the right of all of us to develop and use those “expansive and satisfying skills” — from reading and writing to creating and doing — that make life worth living. In a society with less and less demand for non-robotic workers, education will be more important than ever, not just so people can earn their livings, but also so that their lives are valuable and valued.

As we fight against an administration of generals and billionaires, we should also be fighting for a country where we are free to express ourselves in language, dress, song, and ritual, without fear of finding ourselves on a registry or all our communications in the files of a spy agency. As we fight against a president elected by a minority of voters, we fight for a country in which we can take part in the decisions that affect all aspects of our lives.

For many years I’ve opposed most of what my country stands for in the world. As a result, I often tended to see its founding documents as so many beautiful but meaningless promises spoken in our time to convince us and the world that the coups, invasions, and occupations we engaged in do represent life and liberty.

But what if we were actually to take those words at face value? Not naively, but with the bitter nuance of the black poet Langston Hughes who, recognizing both the promise and the sham, wrote:

“ O, let America be America again —  
The land that never has been yet —
And yet must be — the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine — the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME —
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.”

Maybe it’s not so strange that, in these dismal times, I find my hope in a dream, now hundreds of years old, of a country dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I guess it’s time to develop those satisfying and expansive skills of thinking, organizing, and acting to bring back that mighty dream again, that dream of a land that never has been yet — but will be.

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

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John 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 Rebecca Gordon


As Trump guns for Iran Deal, can its Reformists survive death of Hashemi-Rafsanjani?

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 - 12:15am

By Farhang Jahanpour | (Informed Comment) | – –

Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s death on Sunday January 8 in Tehran at the age of 82 marks the end of an era in Iran’s post-revolutionary history. After the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, in 1989, Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s death will have the most significant impact on Iranian politics.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani, usually referred to just as Hashemi, was one of the active opponents of the monarchic regime and one of the founding fathers of the new republic. No one else in Iran had occupied so many influential revolutionary posts as Hashemi.

He was born in Bahraman, a small village near Rafsanjan in Kerman province, one of nine children of a relatively well-off pistachio farmer. He was only 14 when he left his village for Qom to study in a religious seminary, and he studied with a number of leading clerics, including a fiery cleric who later led the Islamic revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini. In his youth, Hashemi took part in anti-Shah activities and was allegedly arrested seven times by the Shah’s secret police SAVAK and altogether spent four years and 5 months in jail.

He played an active role during the revolutionary upheaval, and shortly after the victory of the revolution Khomeini appointed him a member of the Revolutionary Council. He survived an assassination attempt by the terrorist group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), in a massive blast in 1981.

After Saddam’s invasion of Iran in September 1979, Hashemi was appointed commander in chief of the military, and he was the person who was actually running the war. When Iraqi forces were kicked out of Iran in 1982, most moderate politicians were in favor of ending the war, but Khomeini insisted that the war had to continue until Saddam was removed from power. In the end, it was Rafsanjani who convinced Khomeini to stop the fighting, saying that Iranian forces were not capable of continuing the war any longer. Finally, Khomeini accepted UN Resolution 598 in August 1988 that ended the war.

Hashemi was a key Iranian interlocutor in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra scandal of the mid-1980s, with its backdoor arms-for-hostages deals with the US that were encouraged by Israel and that tarnished the Reagan White House.

Hashemi was elected to the Iranian Parliament, the Majles, in 1980 and re-elected for six terms, two of them as Majles speaker. He was also a member of the influential Assembly of Experts that was in charge of selecting the supreme leader, from 1983 till his death, serving as its chairman from 2007 to 2011 when he was forced to relinquish the chairmanship due to his support for Mir-Hoseyn Musavi and the Green Movement in the 2009 presidential election. His support for the Green Movement increased his popularity among the people, and in the last election for the Assembly last year he received the highest number of votes in the country.

In 1988, when differences between the Majles and the Guardian Council, that was in charge of ratifying Majles legislation intensified, Khomeini formed the Expediency Council to arbitrate between the two and to have the last word in the dispute. Hashemi was appointed a member at its inception and he continued to be its chairman until his death. This gave him an influential position in the Islamic Republic, although during the last few years Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appointed many of his cronies to that body, including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Sa’id Jalili, chief nuclear negotiator under Ahmadinejad and one of the country’s most high-profile hardliners.

Shortly before his death, Khomeini set up a body to revise the constitution, which abolished the post of prime minister and replaced it with an executive president. After Khomeini’s death when Khamenei was elected as Supreme Leader, Hashemi was elected president, and he started to rebuild the country after the devastation of the eight-year war with Iraq, giving him the title of “Commander of Reconstruction”.

During his two terms as president and subsequently, Hashemi was a pragmatist and was genuinely in favor of interaction with the West, believing that the Islamic Republic could only survive if it gave up some of its revolutionary fervor. Unfortunately for him, his overtures to the West did not produce a positive response.

For instance, he helped free Western hostages in Lebanon, in return for Western support. According to Professor Gary Sick who served on the US National Security Council under President Carter, “The Americans promised that if the Iranians got the hostages out, the Americans would cooperate with Rafsanjani more closely than they had in the past and that they would begin to end the hostility between the two countries.” He goes on to say: ““Rafsanjani kept his promise. He actually got the hostages out. But it came just as George H.W. Bush was engaged in another election campaign. He couldn’t keep his promise, and he was defeated in that election. And the Clinton administration wasn’t the least bit interested in pursuing it. That was probably one of the greatest disappointments of Rafsanjani’s political life.” []

Hashemi offered the US firm Conoco the first oil contract to a foreign company since 1979, a major $1 billion deal to develop offshore Iranian oil and gas fields, only to be punished with new sanctions by the Clinton administration.

After Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, Hashemi persuaded the Iranian establishment to support the West’s campaign to oust Saddam from Kuwait. Instead of being rewarded for his tilt towards the West, the Clinton Administration introduced its “dual containment policy” imposing more sanctions on Iran, and in 1995 declaring a near-total embargo on US trade with, and investment in, Iran.

In 2005 presidential election, Hashemi declared his candidacy, vowing to “play a historical role, to stop the domination of extremism.” He spoke of his destiny “to serve the revolution until the last day of my life.” However, he suffered a humiliating defeat against the populist hardliner Mahmud Ahmadinezhad who was supported by Ayatollah Khamenei.

In the 2009 election, Hashemi supported the Reformist candidate Mir-Hoseyn Musavi and the Green Movement, but in a rigged election Ahmadinezhad was declared the winner and Hashemi and his family became the targets of attacks by hardliners. He was forced to give up his chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts. He was prevented from preaching sermons at Tehran Friday prayers, a position that he had held for many years. His son Mehdi and his daughter Fa’ezeh were jailed partly due to their support for the Green Movement.

In 2013 once again he declared his candidacy for the presidential election, but the Guardian Council disqualified him from running. So he and the former Reformist President Mohammad Khatami put their support behind Hassan Ruhani who won the election in the first round.

Hashemi’s death will be a blow to moderate and reformist politicians in Iran, because he was someone on whom they could count. However, although his absence might embolden the hardliners during the lead up to the next presidential election in May 2017, ultimately it may encourage the Reformists to take the matter into their own hands and push for real reforms. His death might expedite the battle that has to come sooner or later between the Reformists backed by the vast majority of the people and the hardliners. It would be good if President Rouhani could lead that battle, although he lacks Hashemi’s charisma.

Indeed, Hashemi’s funeral has already provided an opportunity for massive demonstrations, with anti-regime and Reformist slogans being chanted by those who took part in his funeral, which some officials have estimated at over two million. []

Among the slogans that were chanted by the mourners were “Our message is clear: House arrests must end” (referring to the house arrest of Mir-Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, the two Reformist candidates in the 2009 election). When the loudspeakers were trying to drown out the slogans of the people with calls of Allah-o Akbar (God is great) the shouts of the people rose higher with the refrain “O Hossein, Mir-Hossein”, and “Loudspeakers are yours; the voice of justice is ours!” []

This shows that the desire for change and reform in Iran is as strong as ever and that people seize any opportunity that they get to express their opposition to the hardline policies of the clerical regime. Under these circumstances, the least helpful step by foreign powers, including the incoming U.S. Administration, would be to try to interfere in Iran’s domestic policies. Any sign of foreign interference will provide an excuse to the hardliners to describe the movement of the Iranian people as being inspired from outside, and would also unite Iranians behind the mullahs. The Iranian people should be trusted to take charge of their own destiny, with some moral support for outside.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Iranians rebel at former President Rafsanjani’s funeral”

Understanding Islam means understanding its and our Multiculturalism

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 - 12:12am

Kishwar Rizvi | (The Conversation) | – –

There has been much misinformation about Islam. Reports in Western media tend to perpetuate stereotypes that Islam is a violent religion and Muslim women are oppressed. Popular films like “American Sniper” reduce places like Iraq to dusty war zones, devoid of any culture or history. Fears and anxiety manifest themselves in Islamophobic actions such as burning mosques or even attacking people physically.

At the heart of such fear is ignorance. A December 2015 poll found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) do not understand Islam. In this same poll, 36 percent also said that they wanted to know more about the religion. Interestingly, those under 30 years were 46 percent more likely to have a favorable view of Islam.

These statistics highlight an opportunity for educators. As a scholar of Islamic art and architecture, I am aware that for the past 20 years, educators have been trying to improve the teaching of Islam – both in high school and college history courses.

The problem, however, is that the teaching of Islam has been limited to its religious practice. Its impact on the arts and culture, particularly in the United States, is seldom discussed.

What teaching of Islam misses

In high school history books, there is little mention of the intertwined histories of Europe, Asia and Africa in the middle ages and the Renaissance. There is even less mention of the flowering of art, literature and architecture during this time.

In a world history textbook for New York public high schools, for example, the “Muslim World,” appears in the 10th chapter. In condensing a thousand years of history – from the seventh to the 17th century – it focuses only on “Arab armies” and the rise of early modern Muslim empires.

Palatine Chapel borrowed from the art of the Fatimids.
Al-dabra, CC BY-NC-ND

Such narrow focus misses out on the cultural exchanges during this period. For example, in medieval Spain, the Troubadour poets borrowed their lyrical beauty from Arabic. Arabic was the courtly language of southern Spain until the 15th century. Similarly, the 12th-century Palatine Chapel in Sicily was painted and gilded in the imperial style of the Fatimids, the rulers of Egypt between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Such exchanges were common, thanks to the mobility of people as well as ideas.

The point is that the story of Islam cannot be told without a deeper understanding of its cultural history: Even for early Muslim rulers, it was the Byzantine empire, the Roman empire and the Sassanian empire (the pre-Islamic Persian empire) that provided models. Such overlaps continued over the centuries, resulting in heterodox and cosmopolitan societies.

The term “Middle East” – coined in the 19th century – fails to describe the complex social and cultural mosaic or religions that have existed in the region most closely associated with Islam – and continue to do so today.

How the arts can explain important connections

So, what should educators do to improve this literacy?

From my perspective, a fuller picture could be painted if identities were not to be solely defined through religion. That is, educators could focus on the cross-cultural exchanges that occurred across boundaries through poets and artists, musicians and architects. Both in high school and university, the arts – visual, musical and literary – could illustrate the important connections between Islam and other world histories.

For example, a class on the Renaissance could explain how the 15th-century Italian painter Gentile Bellini gained famed at the court of Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul. Mehmet II commissioned Bellini to design an imperial portrait that was sent to rulers throughout Europe. His art presents a wonderful example of the artistic exchanges that took place between early modern cities such as Delhi, Istanbul, Venice and Amsterdam.

It might also help students to know that the Dutch painter Rembrandt collected Mughal miniature paintings. Silks from the Safavid empire (the Iranian dynasty from the 16th to 18th century) were so popular that Polish kings had their coat of arms woven in Isfahan.

This exchange of art continued into the Age of Enlightenment, a time when ideas around politics, philosophy, science and communications were rapidly being reoriented in Europe. A class on the Enlightenment may highlight the fact that writers like Montesquieu turned to the Middle East to structure a critique of their own religious institutions.

Goethe found inspiration in Persian poetry.
kaythaney, CC BY-NC

A poetry class could similarly show connections between the German author Wolfgang von Goethe’s writings and Islam, as exemplified in his “West-Eastern Diwaan,” a collection of poems. This epitome of world literature was modeled after classical Persian poetry in its style, and inspired by Sufism, the mystical tradition in Islam.

Most students are open to seeing these connections, even if it might require overcoming their own preconceptions about Islam. For example, when I teach my class on medieval architecture, students are surprised to learn that the two oldest continuously run universities in the world are in North Africa (in Fez – a city in Morocco – and Cairo).

Indeed, it is not easy to disentangle contemporary politics from historical fact, to teach more fully the culture and diversity of a religion that is almost 2,000 years old.

Perhaps educators could learn from a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York titled “Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven.” The show illustrates how Abrahamic religions – that is, Christianity, Judaism and Islam – borrowed freely from each other in the realm of art, music and literature. Jerusalem was home to diverse populations and the arts played an important role within its religious and political life.

Muslims in America

It’s not in the past alone. We see these connections continue today – here in America, where Islam is an intrinsic part of the culture and has been for centuries.

From the Mississippi delta to the Chicago skyline, Muslims have made contributions, which might not be so obvious: West African slaves in the South were central to the development of the blues. Its complex vocalization and rhythms incorporated the rituals of Islamic devotion many of them had to leave behind.

The same is true of architecture. A quintessential example of modern American architecture is the Sears Tower in Chicago, which was designed by the Bangladeshi-American structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Muslim contributions to art and architecture don’t just reflect the diversity of America, but the diversity of Islam in this country. Muslims in America comprise a rich tapestry of ethnicities, languages and cultures. This knowledge is particularly meaningful for young Muslim Americans, who struggle to claim their place in a country in which they are sometimes made to feel like outsiders.

Educators, especially within the arts and humanities, have an important role to play in this religious literacy, that helps students understand the unity in the diversity. After all, as the most popular poet in America, the 13th-century Muslim mystic Rumi wrote:

All religions, all this singing, one song.
The differences are just illusion and vanity.

Kishwar Rizvi, Associate Professor in the History of Art Islamic Art and Architecture, Yale University

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

Obama’s Farewell Address: Racial Discrimination a Challenge Ahead

Wed, 11 Jan 2017 - 12:11am

NBC | (Video Report) | – –

“As President Barack Obama’s time in office comes to a close, he delivers his Farewell Address from Chicago.”

President Barack Obama’s Farewell Address (Full Speech) | NBC News

Full Transcript

Everybody have a seat.

My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks.

Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people — in living rooms and in schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant military outposts — those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you. You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.

So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, and I was still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.

It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.


I can’t do that.

Now this is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.

After eight years as your president, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

What a radical idea, the great gift that our Founders gave to us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, and toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.

It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan — and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.


So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It has been contentious. Sometimes it has been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.


If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-11 — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. The answer to people’s hopes and, because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

In 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy. No, no, no, no, no. The peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected President to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.

Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face. We have what we need to do so. We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on earth.

Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

And that’s what I want to focus on tonight, the state of our democracy. Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened that solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality, demographic change, and the specter of terrorism. These forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids and create good jobs and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future. To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.


And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again.


The wealthy are paying a fair share of taxes. Even as the stock market shatters records, the unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.


Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said, and I mean it, anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.


Because that, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit. But to make people’s lives better.


But, for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class, and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.


That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic idea. While the top 1 percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families in inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind.

The laid off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills. Convinced that the game is fixed against them. That their government only serves the interest of the powerful. That’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

Now there’re no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete.

And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need.


To give workers the power…


… to unionize for better wages.


To update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now.


And make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and the individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible.



We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy. And this one is as old as our nation itself.

After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent…


… and often divisive force in our society.

Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.


You can see it not just in statistics. You see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.


If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.


If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.


And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.


That is what our Constitution and highest ideals require.

But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.

We have to pay attention and listen.


For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.


For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.


So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.



And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.


And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other.


And we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on pre-school for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?

How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, it’s selective sorting of the facts. It’s self-defeating because, as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve doubled our renewable energy, we’ve led the world to an agreement that (at) the promise to save this planet.


But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects. More environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary. Now we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.


It is that spirit — it is that spirit born of the enlightenment that made us an economic powerhouse. The spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral, the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket, it’s that spirit. A faith in reason and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies.

An order based not just on military power or national affiliations, but built on principles, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press.


That order is now being challenged. First by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam. More recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who seek free markets in open democracies and civil society itself as a threat to their power.

The peril each poses to our democracy is more far reaching than a car bomb or a missile. They represent the fear of change. The fear of people who look or speak or pray differently. A contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable. An intolerance of dissent and free thought. A belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform. Because of our intelligence officers and law enforcement and diplomats who support our troops…


… no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years.



And although…


… Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists, including Bin Laden.



The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed. And no one who threatens America will ever be safe.



And all who serve or have served — it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your commander-in-chief.


And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude.



But, protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when it gives into fear. So just as we as citizens must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.


And that’s why for the past eight years I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.


That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans…


… who are just as patriotic as we are.



That’s why…


That’s why we cannot withdraw…


That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.


No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.


Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

Which brings me to my final point — our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.


All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.


When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.


When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.


But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.

Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken… to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.”

And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.


America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service. So course with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen, not just as misguided, but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others.


When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt. And when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.


It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy, citizen.


Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when you own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.


If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.


If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.


Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir in goodness, that can be a risk. And there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this one and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed. Mine sure has been.


Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen Wounded Warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again.

I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees or work for peace and, above all, to look out for each other. So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change, that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined.

And I hope your faith has too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004 and 2008, 2012.



Maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.


Let me tell you, you’re not the only ones.





Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side…



… for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.



You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humor.



You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.


And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.



You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud.



Malia and Sasha…


… under the strangest of circumstances you have become two amazing young women.


You are smart and you are beautiful. But more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.





… you wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.


To Joe Biden…



… the scrappy kid from Scranton…


… who became Delaware’s favorite son. You were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best.



Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain I gained a brother. And we love you and Jill like family. And your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives.


To my remarkable staff, for eight years, and for some of you a whole lot more, I have drawn from your energy. And every day I try to reflect back what you displayed. Heart and character. And idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own.

Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we’ve done is the thought of all the amazing things that you are going to achieve from here.


And to all of you out there — every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change — you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because you did change the world.


You did.

And that’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.

Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.


My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can.


Yes, we did.

5-Minute Fix newsletter

Keeping up with politics is easy now.


Yes, we can.


Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.


Welcome to Psychopathocracy

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 - 2:21am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

We are now on the brink of a new form of government, undreamed of by Aristotle, who spoke of monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. We are headed to a psychopathocracy, which has something in common with the degraded form of classical regime types that Aristotle warned against (he thought monarchy can deteriorate into despotism, aristocracy into oligarchy, and democracy into demagoguery). Psychopathocracy is the rule of persons who lack a basic ability to empathize with others, to feel their pain or to feel guilty about harming them.

Psychopathocracy is different from mere bad policy. We can all disagree about the direction of government or particular initiatives. Often people backing a policy that harms others do not understand the harm, or think it is averting a greater harm. It isn’t true that all high politicians are psychopaths who don’t care about injury being done to people. And high politicians have put in programs like social security that have lifted millions of elders out of poverty over decades. They did it because they cared about people.

About 1% of the population is comprised of born psychopaths. The condition of a lack of conscience and inability to empathize with the pain of others or feel remorse may well be a condition one is born with, and in a third of cases can be tested for with an MRI scan. It is thought that another 5 percent of the population loses its ability to empathize through brain damage, trauma or other sorts of physical or psychological injuries.

It is further thought that about 12% of the population is easily manipulated by psychopaths into pyschopath-like behavior or ideas. This 18% of the population is potentially extremely dangerous. They do not have a feedback loop for emotional or physical distress. They are the sort of people who would run somebody over and flee the scene without calling for medical help for the victim.

Psychopaths in power are dangerous because of their inability to feel the pain of others. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney set of a chain of events in motion that left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead and displaced from their homes (i.e. made homeless) 4 million of Iraq’s 30 million people. This is not to mention the 4,486 Us troops killed the 500,000 wounded physically or psychologically). They set up a chain of events that led to a dangerous cult, Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) taking over 40% of Iraqi territory. But if you ask them if they regret what they did, they so ‘no.’ And I think they are being honest. They cannot empathize with the victims they helped create.

Politicians who want to deprive people of their health care so as to lower taxes on billionaires, who want to make women bear the babies of their rapists, who want to torture helpless prisoners, who want to burn fossil fuels for profit when they endanger the planet, who want to carpet bomb or nuke millions of non-combatants to get at a few guerrillas– these are psychopaths.

Psychopaths are not necessarily criminal or violent, though there are four times as many psychopaths in prison as in the general population. All serial killers are psychopaths. Fraudsters like Bernie Madoff are psychopaths.

CEOs of corporations and successful politicians are also disproportionately likely to be psychopaths. Robert Hare developed a 20-point checklist for the condition, which, however, does not exactly overlap with the definition in DSM-V, the description of mental conditions put out by the American Psychiatric Association. Hare did some of his research in prisons and so his checklist is skewed a bit for criminal activity.

You don’t need to be a psychologist to recognize that Donald J. Trump and several nominees to his incoming administration exhibit obvious signs of psychopathy. Having psychopaths in the White House is not unprecedented. It seems pretty obvious that Dick Nixon, a pathological liar who actually derailed the 1968 peace negotiations with Vietnam to keep his rival Hubert Humphrey from looking good to the voters, had this condition. Untold American soldiers and Vietnamese peasants died so Nixon could be president.

What is remarkable about Trump and his cronies is that their hatred is raw and broad-spectrum. Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Muslim-Americans, white liberals (coded by the Neo-Nazis as N-lovers) and some of them don’t like Jews very much. That is, they seem to hate an absolute majority of the American population.

Trump’s exaggerated estimation of himself, his need constantly to troll the public for stimulation, his superficial charm, his need to lie, his inability to feel remorse or guilt, his emotional shallowness, his promiscuity and lack of impulse control and serial sexual assault, his use of bankruptcy to avoid paying his creditors and his attraction to a business like casinos which preys on people (many games in casinos are skewed for the House at rates of 11% and on up even to 20%). Trump is more disciplined and single-minded about his career than most psychopaths manage, but otherwise he seems a classic case. He also suffers from a distinct but related condition, of narcissistic personality disorder.

Many of the people around Trump, who speak for him on television, who are tapped to advise him on national security, on the environment, on issues like net neutrality, also exhibit clear signs of psychopathy. Since only about 3 million Americans are born psychopaths, the idea that a whole group of them is moving into power in Washington together is pretty scary. And remember that some 38 million Americans are so ethically and emotionally fragile that they will easily fall under the spell of the psychopaths. That is, if directed to beat up members of minorities, they will gladly do so.

Since about a third of psychopaths can now be diagnosed with an MRI for brain abnormalities, maybe it is desirable that candidates for high office in business and government be scanned: Psychcentral writes, a “study found that [cold-blooded psychopathic] offenders displayed significantly reduced grey matter volumes in the anterior rostral prefrontal cortex and temporal poles compared to [impulsive psychopathic] offenders and healthy non-offenders.”

Until such scanning can be carried out, the safest thing is to assume that someone who talks and acts like a psychopath is one.

You cannot reason with a psychopath, you cannot shame such a person or appeal to their better instincts. There is no point in writing open letters to them. The usual way of dealing with politicians who develop some wild ideas in the course of their search for voters and campaign funds will not work.

The only thing you can do is recognize their damaged character and try to protect yourself and others from it. When they encourage minorities to be beaten up, we have to stop that. When they encourage universities to put professors on trial, we have to reject that. When they begin beating drums for war, we have to try to avert it. Pressuring the normal people in Congress can be done (they responded quickly to angry telephone calls about plans to weaken ethics requirements for people in congress).


Related video:

Inside Edition: “Donald Trump Faces Backlash for Calling Mexican Immigrants Rapists”

Turkish President Erdogan Sees Better Ties with US Under Trump

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 - 12:23am

TeleSur | – –

“I believe we will accelerate dialogue when Mr. Trump takes office,” Erdogan said.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he believed relations with Washington would improve under President-elect Donald Trump and that the two NATO allies would reach an easier consensus on regional issues.

Ties between the United States and Turkey — which has the second largest army in the NATO alliance and is key to the U.S.-led fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq — have deteriorated sharply since a failed military coup in July.

Erdogan and the government blame the abortive putsch on Fethullah Gulen, an Islamic cleric who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, and want him extradited. Gulen denies involvement in the coup.

Ankara has also been angered by U.S. support for a Kurdish militia group fighting the Islamic State group in Syria. Turkey sees the group as an extension of the PKK, which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey and has been behind a spate of recent bombings.

“I believe we will accelerate dialogue when Mr Trump takes office,” Erdogan told a conference of Turkish ambassadors. “I believe we will reach a consensus with Mr Trump, particularly on regional issues.”

via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole

Euronews: “Turkey: hundreds protest plans to expand President Erdogan’s powers”

Exxon’s Rex Tillerson and the rise of Big Oil in American politics

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 - 12:15am

Brian C. Black | (The Conversation) | – –

“How Big Oil Bought the White House and Tried to Steal the Country” is the subtitle of a book that tells the story of a presidential election in which a candidate allowed money from big oil companies to help him win office and then rewarded them with plum appointments in his cabinet.

With President-elect Donald Trump picking former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, one might think the book is an early exposé of the presidential election of 2016.

Instead, it’s from “The Teapot Dome Scandal,” a book that tells the story of a corruption scandal that rocked the term of President Warren G. Harding’s administration in the 1920s.

In the context of Tillerson’s controversial appointment, history is a useful guide to understand the rising political power of Big Oil over the past century, a subject I’ve studied and written about. And with Tillerson, the political influence of the energy sector has reached a high point, particularly because it strikes the president-elect and other observers as a sensible, mainstream selection.

But this is only the latest episode of a tight relationship between energy and the U.S. government that stretches over decades.

Access to energy

In 1921, when Albert Fall accepted his position as secretary of the interior, he interpreted his responsibility to accelerate energy development on federal lands, including some in an out-of-the-way place known as Teapot Dome, Wyoming. And he believed that this meant involving private entities.

He brokered a deal with Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny, major players in the booming American oil fields of the early 1900s, blazing a new trail for federal policy – a trail that laid clear the crucial relationship between energy development and political power. In Fall’s case, he personally accepted cash to allow this access to oil developers, which made him the first cabinet official to go to jail for crimes committed while serving in office.

Albert B. Fall, the former secretary of the interior, became the first cabinet official to go to jail for accepting money from oil companies to clear the way for drilling on public lands.
Library of Congress

Since its indiscreet beginning with Teapot Dome, of course, oil has only become more essential to the lives of every American. If we follow the lead of Life magazine creator Henry Luce, who referred to the 20th century as the “American Century,” we are by association also declaring it the era of fossil fuels and particularly of petroleum. Oil and other fossil fuels were the relatively inexpensive energy resources that provided the foundation for the modern consumer society and political policy often focused on ensuring that supplies be assured and kept stable.

Despite energy being central to our society, though, the policy influence of Big Oil most often functioned behind the scenes. For example, President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 struck a deal in a secret meeting with King Ibn Saud to allow the U.S. and its allies to have access to Saudi oil for decades to come. During the ensuing decades, foreign oil development was carried out by international companies but often required the support, if discreet, of the U.S. government.

Out from behind the scenes

In domestic politics after 1950, the executives of oil corporations were often involved informally in elections, particularly as donors or lobbyists to candidates more friendly to the industry than others. Most often, though, Big Oil remained in the background.

In the modern era of heightened environmental awareness, Republican administrations typically created policies that benefited the oil companies. It was, for instance, the Reagan administration that sought to undermine the new environmental regulations of the 1970s, particularly with Anne Gorsuch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency and James Watt as secretary of the interior. It was Watt who allowed extensive energy development on federal lands under his jurisdiction – however, with no payment to himself.

Through the 1980s, energy resources on federal lands were opened to development, and environmental regulations were curbed to be more “friendly” to corporate interests. Most often, Reagan was unabashedly overt in his approach in this regard; however, Big Oil and energy were not cornerstones of his administration, per se.

The tenor and role of oil in government changed more substantially when George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush – both former oil executives – were in office. They prioritized an agenda that, while not confrontational, grew from incredibly close consultation with the energy industry that they knew so well.

Dick Cheney personifies the proximity of these energy interests to power during this era. After serving under Reagan and George H. W. Bush, Cheney was the CEO of the world’s largest supplier of drilling and rigging supplies, Halliburton Inc., during the Clinton years before reemerging as George W. Bush’s vice president in 2000.

In the book “Private Empire,” journalist Steve Coll describes Cheney’s consultation with industry executives, from which the Bush energy policy took shape. These close consultations drew criticism for Cheney’s reluctance to disclose the participants and the apparent influence the industry had on policy.

Thus, a review of presidential administrations shows the growing clout of leaders from the energy industry. What’s perhaps more revealing, however, is the increasing willingness to allow this connection to be seen by the public – to view it as business as usual – as evidenced by Tillerson’s appointment.

Direction on foreign policy?

These political changes have come at a time of growing national awareness of the importance of energy, both as a source of wealth from the expansion of domestic drilling in the U.S. and as a contributor to climate change from burning fuels.

While the George W. Bush administration internally pressured government agencies to subdue scientific findings that supported climate change, the Obama administration used regulations and government science to pursue an agenda of mitigating climate change and adaptively planning for a different future. In this approach, climate change was included within the Department of State as a matter of national security.

Tillerson’s appointment, along with other cabinet appointees, suggests a major reversal on the nation’s serious treatment of the issue of climate change.

While Obama worked with over 100 nations to craft the 2015 Paris climate accord, ExxonMobil under Tillerson faced criticism and lawsuits accusing it of concealing the science that substantiated climate change.

Tillerson and the company, which traces its origins back to John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and has operated in about 200 countries and territories, is of course no stranger to foreign affairs and politics. Coll quotes Lee Raymond, Tillerson’s predecessor at the energy giant, as saying: “Presidents come and go; Exxon doesn’t come and go.”

As the 20th century closed, Coll described Exxon’s approach to policy in this fashion:

“The corporation’s lobbyists bent and shaped American foreign policy, as well as economic, climate, chemical and environmental regulation. Exxon maintained all-weather alliances with sympathetic American politicians while calling as little attention to its influence as possible.”

With Tillerson as the country’s top diplomat, the opportunity to redefine the rationale and methods for the entirety of our interactions with other nations is unparalleled. While this has been true to some extent since World War II, this appointment institutionalizes the view that our national diplomacy – much like a business – will be guided by resource acquisition, particularly energy.

Brian C. Black, Distinguished Professor of History and Environmental Studies, Pennsylvania State University

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Majority Report with Sam Seder, “Rex Tillerson Will Shed $180 Million In Exxon Stock to be Secretary of State”

‘Onward Christian Zionists’: Trump, Israel and the Inauguration

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 - 12:13am

Shalom Goldman | (Informed Comment) | – –

While US support for Israel has never been stronger (witness the 38 billion dollar aid package signed by the president in December) the perception among many in the US and Israel is that the Obama administration has been inimical to Israel’s best interests, and that the Trump team will be more ‘pro-Israel’ than any preceding administration. If the inauguration plans are any indication, ‘Israel advocates’ will be front and center at the inauguration and throughout Trump’s presidency

To some extent the differences between Obama and Trump on Israel are matters of rhetoric and style. While Democrats, having recognized and solidly backed Israel since the days of Harry Truman –and having developed the ‘special relationship’ (his words) under Jack Kennedy–speak of Israel in terms diplomatic and contractual, recent Republican administrations, influenced by the Christian Right, speak of Israel in terms tinged with religiosity.

Thus David M. Friedman, Trump’s choice for the next ambassador to Israel, referred recently to Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal capital “–a phrase popularized by Netanyahu and his government officials. Hearing this from a man soon to be an American diplomat, I wondered whether the Trump appointee to the Quai D’orsay will refer to Paris as ” France’s eternal capital.”

In Washington a ‘biblical ‘ view of Israel has been developing for decades and I expect that pronouncements issuing from the new team at the White House will reflect this rhetorical trend. In the early 1980s, with the rise of the so-called “Moral Majority” and the election of Ronald Reagan, political rhetoric about Israel and the Middle East became tinged with scriptural references. Reagan spoke of ‘ Armageddon’ in more that one address, and according to historian Michael Oren (later Israeli ambassador to Washington) “Reagan in fact revered Israel…Raised in the restorationist-minded Disciples of Christ church and closely associated with pro-Zionist American evangelicals, he was religiously attached to Israel.”

And in case Reagan and his Republican successors slipped in their commitment to “biblical” Israel , and to the Israeli Right’s vision of a “Greater Israel “that included the disputed Palestinian territories, Falwell and his Religious Right colleagues were sure to remind them–and in tones that were themselves quite biblical. In 1982 Jerry Falwell told Ronald Reagan that the president had to be supportive of Israel and its policies. Why? “Because God’s attitude toward the nations is dictated by the nations attitude toward Israel.” Jerry Falwell died in 2007, but his son Jerry Falwell Jr, can be counted on to remind Trump of his responsibilities.

And while Trump actual opinions on any issue remain a mystery (an ‘eternal mystery ‘ perhaps) the political and social opinions of the Vice President-elect , Mike Pence, are well known. Especially when it comes to the US relationship to Israel. He has dubbed Israel “our most cherished ally.”

As I noted in a July , 20016 Informed Comment article:

In December 2014, Pence spent nine days in Israel on a Christmas pilgrimage sponsored by John Hagee’s Christians United For Israel. Katie Glueck, Politico’s astute correspondent, noted at the time that “Israel has become a routine stop for politicians with national ambitions,” and that the Indiana governor’s long sojourn in Israel was “a move sure to stoke speculation about his presidential ambitions.” While in Israel, Pence was invited to address a meeting of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. And here too he invoked the heartland image. “As governor from the heart of the heartland I say with conviction: Israel is not merely our strongest ally in the Middle East. Israel is our most cherished ally and a beacon of hope in a troubled region of the world.”

A few weeks ago the Israeli press leaked the news that the Trump team wanted Netanyahu to attend the inauguration. As of now this request is still under consideration by the Israeli government. And the Times of Israel noted that Trump is “aggresively pursuing Netanyahu ” to comply.

While Bibl may not be at the Washington extravaganza, he would no doubt approve of two Christian Zionist-identified ‘acts’ who will be there:

Two announcements this week by the Trump transition team are squarely on the side of “team Israel ” as understood by Netanyahu, Trump, Pence , David Friedman and others. Paula White, the prosperity gospel preacher chosen by Trump to lead a prayer at the inauguration, is an ardent Christian Zionist. She has spoken of her many visits to Israel over the past thirty years and last year invited members of her megachurch to join her on a tour of Israel that would enable them to “spiritually connect with your roots.” While inviting them to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, she did not display the humility one would think appropriate to the reference. She concluded the video ad for her tour inviting her followers to “journey with me and God.”

Joining Paula White and other Christian conservatives at the festivities is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Though over 35,000 people have signed a petition asking the choir to withdraw from the inauguration, the LDS Church has no plan to cancel the choir’s appearance.

The LDS Church is the original American Christian Zionist group. Its commitment to ” the return of the Jews to Zion” dates from the founding of the church by Joseph Smith in the 1830s.

Among the choir’s most popular albums is “Live In Jerusalem” which opens with a rousing rendition of Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem (Now there’s an idea for the Washington extravaganza….). The albums’ cover photo is of the choir members assembled in front of the Dome of the Rock on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount/ Haram. One hopes that Trump’s choices for ambassadors to Arab and Muslim states know better that to give the album photo as gift to their diplomatic counterparts in their host countries.

Shalom Goldman is professor of religion at Middlebury College. He has authored numerous books, including Zeal for Zion: Christians, Jews, and the Promised Land and God’s Sacred Tongue: Hebrew and the American Imagination. His most recent book is Jewish-Christian Difference and Modern Jewish Identity.

Note: A coding error prevented the last few paragraphs of this article from being visible in the initial posting. IC apologizes and has ensured that the whole piece is now visible.

Meryl Streep calls out Trump: Having Bully-in-Chief Coarsens whole Culture

Mon, 9 Jan 2017 - 3:00am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Occasionally entertainment and politics intersect, often hitting a false note. You never want your screenplay to be, as they say in Hollywood, “on the nose.” You have to step sideways away from ordinary news and address some dimension of the human condition to make art.

But in moments of national crisis, stars feel a need to speak out. Nick Gass has reviewed some of the major such incidents at the Academy Awards. Jane Fonda used ther moment on the stage at the Academy Awards in the 1970s to denounce the Vietnam War. Marlon Brando declined to appear and had a Native American activist accept for him, making a statement about Indian rights.

Robin Corey tells the story of how in 1978 Vanessa Redgrave was picketed by the Jewish Defense League because of her support for Palestinian rights, and when she won her category anyway, she said, “I think you should be very proud that in the last few weeks you’ve stood firm and you have refused to be intimidated by the threats of a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums whose behavior is an insult to the stature of Jews all over the world and to their great and heroic record of struggle against fascism and oppression.”

Michael Moore denounced the Iraq War.

So we now have another such moment, as Meryl Streep tearfully addressed the stars assembled at the Golden Globes about her anxieties and distress at the advent of the Trump era in the United States.

“Meryl Streep Speech The Golden Globes 2017”

She pointed out, as Hugh Laurie already had, that those assembled at the Golden Globes award ceremony (put on by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association) were Hollywood, foreigners, and the press, the very sort of people who have been vilified for the past 18 months by Donald J. Trump. (Laurie had wondered if last night’s ceremony would be the last, as all the foreigners were kicked out of the country).

She pointed out the diversity of the origins of the actors in the room, saying that Amy McAdams, Natalie Portman, Ruth Negga, Ryan Gosling and Dev Patel were born abroad: “Where are their birth certificates?” she asked. The essence of the acting art, she affirmed, is to get inside a character who is foreign to us and make us feel what they feel. “And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.” She was making two points against the xenophobia, the irrational hatred of foreigners, at the center of the Trump campaign and at the center of his Neonazi fringe, such as the Breitbart thugs. One is that key American industries, including the entertainment industry, often attain their excellence through openness to talent from abroad. The second is a far more subtle and powerful point, which is that no human experience is really foreign to us as human beings if only we can find the tools to understand it, emotionally and intellectually. She was standing up for her craft, acting, as xenophilic, as involving a love of the foreign, insofar as the falling away of strangeness is the goal of great acting.

Her most powerful intervention, however, referred to Donald J. Trump’s mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who is challenged by a congenital joint condition.

h/t KTLA & thx to LunaPic

By the way, the mocking was provoked by Kovaleski’s having stood up to Trump over his false and monstrous claim that large crowds of Muslim-Americans celebrated the September 11 attacks in New Jersey. She called Trump’s antics a “performance” but lamented that it was in “real life.” She thus drew attention to the similarity of the political speech, which spins a narrative and often involves some mugging for the camera or even doing impressions of people, to the actor’s performance. Her complaint is that when Trump bully Kovaleski in public, he gave permission to all Americans to be mean to the weak, to become a nation of goons.

CNN: “Trump mocks reporter with disability”

Streep is in tears because a Fascist is about to take the helm of our country. And her apprehension over how the tone set by the White House could coarsen the fabric of everyday life is well-placed. Her call on the press to confront these tendencies may be a bit forlorn. The television media, at least, appear to view Trump as a cash cow because he attracts eyeballs, which allows them to earn more from advertising.

But I think the situation is even more dire than just a president who encourages bullying by example. I think there is a danger that Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and other such gangs may start beating up Jews, and Muslims and Latinos and African-Americans. I think there is a danger that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will encourage this racialized violence, and that local police will be encouraged to wink at it. I fear a tear in the fabric of the rule of law. Fascism doesn’t begin with a big military machine, it begins with gangs of brutes.

Ms. Streep left us with the most wonderful advice, relayed from the late Carrie Fisher: “the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Art yes. But also resistance.

Transcript of Ms. Streep’s remarks:

“Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.

I was born and raised and created in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central Falls, Long Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Italy. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe. And she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.

Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.

There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.

And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor. Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you.”

How the Arrogance of Cold War Triumph brought us this Low

Mon, 9 Jan 2017 - 12:25am

By Andrew J. Bacevich | ( ) | – –

The fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989 abruptly ended one historical era and inaugurated another. So, too, did the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. What are we to make of the interval between those two watershed moments? Answering that question is essential to understanding how Donald Trump became president and where his ascendency leaves us.

Hardly had this period commenced before observers fell into the habit of referring to it as the “post-Cold War” era. Now that it’s over, a more descriptive name might be in order.  My suggestion: America’s Age of Great Expectations. 

Forgive and Forget

The end of the Cold War caught the United States completely by surprise.  During the 1980s, even with Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin, few in Washington questioned the prevailing conviction that the Soviet-American rivalry was and would remain a defining feature of international politics more or less in perpetuity. Indeed, endorsing such an assumption was among the prerequisites for gaining entrée to official circles. Virtually no one in the American establishment gave serious thought to the here-today, gone-tomorrow possibility that the Soviet threat, the Soviet empire, and the Soviet Union itself might someday vanish. Washington had plans aplenty for what to do should a Third World War erupt, but none for what to do if the prospect of such a climactic conflict simply disappeared.

Still, without missing a beat, when the Berlin Wall fell and two years later the Soviet Union imploded, leading members of that establishment wasted no time in explaining the implications of developments they had totally failed to anticipate.  With something close to unanimity, politicians and policy-oriented intellectuals interpreted the unification of Berlin and the ensuing collapse of communism as an all-American victory of cosmic proportions.  “We” had won, “they” had lost — with that outcome vindicating everything the United States represented as the archetype of freedom.

From within the confines of that establishment, one rising young intellectual audaciously suggested that the “end of history” itself might be at hand, with the “sole superpower” left standing now perfectly positioned to determine the future of all humankind.  In Washington, various powers-that-be considered this hypothesis and concluded that it sounded just about right.  The future took on the appearance of a blank slate upon which Destiny itself was inviting Americans to inscribe their intentions.

American elites might, of course, have assigned a far different, less celebratory meaning to the passing of the Cold War. They might have seen the outcome as a moment that called for regret, repentance, and making amends.

After all, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, or more broadly between what was then called the Free World and the Communist bloc, had yielded a host of baleful effects.  An arms race between two superpowers had created monstrous nuclear arsenals and, on multiple occasions, brought the planet precariously close to Armageddon.  Two singularly inglorious wars had claimed the lives of many tens of thousands of American soldiers and literally millions of Asians.  One, on the Korean peninsula, had ended in an unsatisfactory draw; the other, in Southeast Asia, in catastrophic defeat.  Proxy fights in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East killed so many more and laid waste to whole countries.  Cold War obsessions led Washington to overthrow democratic governments, connive in assassination, make common cause with corrupt dictators, and turn a blind eye to genocidal violence.  On the home front, hysteria compromised civil liberties and fostered a sprawling, intrusive, and unaccountable national security apparatus.  Meanwhile, the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries conspired to spend vast sums on weapons purchases that somehow never seemed adequate to the putative dangers at hand.  

Rather than reflecting on such somber and sordid matters, however, the American political establishment together with ambitious members of the country’s intelligentsia found it so much more expedient simply to move on. As they saw it, the annus mirabilis of 1989 wiped away the sins of former years. Eager to make a fresh start, Washington granted itself a plenary indulgence. After all, why contemplate past unpleasantness when a future so stunningly rich in promise now beckoned?

Three Big Ideas and a Dubious Corollary

Soon enough, that promise found concrete expression. In remarkably short order, three themes emerged to define the new American age.  Informing each of them was a sense of exuberant anticipation toward an era of almost unimaginable expectations. The twentieth century was ending on a high note.  For the planet as a whole but especially for the United States, great things lay ahead.

Focused on the world economy, the first of those themes emphasized the transformative potential of turbocharged globalization led by U.S.-based financial institutions and transnational corporations.  An “open world” would facilitate the movement of goods, capital, ideas, and people and thereby create wealth on an unprecedented scale.  In the process, the rules governing American-style corporate capitalism would come to prevail everywhere on the planet.  Everyone would benefit, but especially Americans who would continue to enjoy more than their fair share of material abundance.

Focused on statecraft, the second theme spelled out the implications of an international order dominated as never before — not even in the heydays of the Roman and British Empires — by a single nation. With the passing of the Cold War, the United States now stood apart as both supreme power and irreplaceable global leader, its status guaranteed by its unstoppable military might.

In the editorial offices of the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Weekly Standard, such “truths” achieved a self-evident status.  Although more muted in their public pronouncements than Washington’s reigning pundits, officials enjoying access to the Oval Office, the State Department’s 7th floor, and the E-ring of the Pentagon generally agreed.  The assertive exercise of (benign!) global hegemony seemingly held the key to ensuring that Americans would enjoy safety and security, both at home and abroad, now and in perpetuity.

The third theme was all about rethinking the concept of personal freedom as commonly understood and pursued by most Americans.  During the protracted emergency of the Cold War, reaching an accommodation between freedom and the putative imperatives of national security had not come easily.  Cold War-style patriotism seemingly prioritized the interests of the state at the expense of the individual.  Yet even as thrillingly expressed by John F. Kennedy — “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” — this was never an easy sell, especially if it meant wading through rice paddies and getting shot at.

Once the Cold War ended, however, the tension between individual freedom and national security momentarily dissipated.  Reigning conceptions of what freedom could or should entail underwent a radical transformation.  Emphasizing the removal of restraints and inhibitions, the shift made itself felt everywhere, from patterns of consumption and modes of cultural expression to sexuality and the definition of the family.  Norms that had prevailed for decades if not generations — marriage as a union between a man and a woman, gender identity as fixed at birth — became passé. The concept of a transcendent common good, which during the Cold War had taken a backseat to national security, now took a backseat to maximizing individual choice and autonomy.

Finally, as a complement to these themes, in the realm of governance, the end of the Cold War cemented the status of the president as quasi-deity.  In the Age of Great Expectations, the myth of the president as a deliverer from (or, in the eyes of critics, the ultimate perpetrator of) evil flourished.  In the solar system of American politics, the man in the White House increasingly became the sun around which everything seemed to orbit.  By comparison, nothing else much mattered.

From one administration to the next, of course, presidential efforts to deliver Americans to the Promised Land regularly came up short.  Even so, the political establishment and the establishment media collaborated in sustaining the pretense that out of the next endlessly hyped “race for the White House,” another Roosevelt or Kennedy or Reagan would magically emerge to save the nation.  From one election cycle to the next, these campaigns became longer and more expensive, drearier and yet ever more circus-like.  No matter.  During the Age of Great Expectations, the reflexive tendency to see the president as the ultimate guarantor of American abundance, security, and freedom remained sacrosanct.


Meanwhile, between promise and reality, a yawning gap began to appear. During the concluding decade of the twentieth century and the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first, Americans endured a seemingly endless series of crises.  Individually, none of these merit comparison with, say, the Civil War or World War II.  Yet never in U.S. history has a sequence of events occurring in such close proximity subjected American institutions and the American people to greater stress.

During the decade between 1998 and 2008, they came on with startling regularity: one president impeached and his successor chosen by the direct intervention of the Supreme Court; a massive terrorist attack on American soil that killed thousands, traumatized the nation, and left senior officials bereft of their senses; a mindless, needless, and unsuccessful war of choice launched on the basis of false claims and outright lies; a natural disaster (exacerbated by engineering folly) that all but destroyed a major American city, after which government agencies mounted a belated and half-hearted response; and finally, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, bringing ruin to millions of families.

For the sake of completeness, we should append to this roster of seismic occurrences one additional event: Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president.  He arrived at the zenith of American political life as a seemingly messianic figure called upon not only to undo the damage wrought by his predecessor, George W. Bush, but somehow to absolve the nation of its original sins of slavery and racism.

Yet during the Obama presidency race relations, in fact, deteriorated.  Whether prompted by cynical political calculations or a crass desire to boost ratings, race baiters came out of the woodwork — one of them, of course, infamously birthered in Trump Tower in mid-Manhattan — and poured their poisons into the body politic.  Even so, as the end of Obama’s term approached, the cult of the presidency itself remained remarkably intact.

Individually, the impact of these various crises ranged from disconcerting to debilitating to horrifying.  Yet to treat them separately is to overlook their collective implications, which the election of Donald Trump only now enables us to appreciate.  It was not one president’s dalliance with an intern orhanging chadsor 9/11 orMission Accomplishedor the inundation of the Lower Ninth Ward or the collapse of Lehman Brothers or the absurd birther movement that undermined the Age of Great Expectations.  It was the way all these events together exposed those expectations as radically suspect.

In effect, the various crises that punctuated the post-Cold War era called into question key themes to which a fevered American triumphalism had given rise.  Globalization, militarized hegemony, and a more expansive definition of freedom, guided by enlightened presidents in tune with the times, should have provided Americans with all the blessings that were rightly theirs as a consequence of having prevailed in the Cold War.  Instead, between 1989 and 2016, things kept happening that weren’t supposed to happen. A future marketed as all but foreordained proved elusive, if not illusory.  As actually experienced, the Age of Great Expectations became an Age of Unwelcome Surprises.

A Candidate for Decline

True, globalization created wealth on a vast scale, just not for ordinary Americans.  The already well-to-do did splendidly, in some cases unbelievably so.  But middle-class incomes stagnated and good jobs became increasingly hard to find or keep.  By the election of 2016, the United States looked increasingly like a society divided between haves and have-nots, the affluent and the left-behind, the 1% and everyone else. Prospective voters were noticing.

Meanwhile, policies inspired by Washington’s soaring hegemonic ambitions produced remarkably few happy outcomes.  With U.S. forces continuously engaged in combat operations, peace all but vanished as a policy objective (or even a word in Washington’s political lexicon). The acknowledged standing of the country’s military as the world’s best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led force coexisted uneasily with the fact that it proved unable to win. Instead, the national security establishment became conditioned to the idea of permanent war, high-ranking officials taking it for granted that ordinary citizens would simply accommodate themselves to this new reality. Yet it soon became apparent that, instead of giving ordinary Americans a sense of security, this new paradigm induced an acute sense of vulnerability, which left many susceptible to demagogic fear mongering.

As for the revised definition of freedom, with autonomy emerging as the national summum bonum, it left some satisfied but others adrift.  During the Age of Great Expectations, distinctions between citizen and consumer blurred.  Shopping became tantamount to a civic obligation, essential to keeping the economy afloat.  Yet if all the hoopla surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday represented a celebration of American freedom, its satisfactions were transitory at best, rarely extending beyond the due date printed on a credit card statement.  Meanwhile, as digital connections displaced personal ones, relationships, like jobs, became more contingent and temporary.  Loneliness emerged as an abiding affliction.  Meanwhile, for all the talk of empowering the marginalized — people of color, women, gays — elites reaped the lion’s share of the benefits while ordinary people were left to make do.  The atmosphere was rife with hypocrisy and even a whiff of nihilism.

To these various contradictions, the establishment itself remained stubbornly oblivious, with the 2016 presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton offering a case in point.  As her long record in public life made abundantly clear, Clinton embodied the establishment in the Age of Great Expectations.  She believed in globalization, in the indispensability of American leadership backed by military power, and in the post-Cold War cultural project.  And she certainly believed in the presidency as the mechanism to translate aspirations into outcomes.

Such commonplace convictions of the era, along with her vanguard role in pressing for the empowerment of women, imparted to her run an air of inevitability.  That she deserved to win appeared self-evident. It was, after all, her turn.  Largely overlooked were signs that the abiding themes of the Age of Great Expectations no longer commanded automatic allegiance.

Gasping for Air

Senator Bernie Sanders offered one of those signs.  That a past-his-prime, self-professed socialist from Vermont with a negligible record of legislative achievement and tenuous links to the Democratic Party might mount a serious challenge to Clinton seemed, on the face of it, absurd.  Yet by zeroing in on unfairness and inequality as inevitable byproducts of globalization, Sanders struck a chord.

Knocked briefly off balance, Clinton responded by modifying certain of her longstanding positions. By backing away from free trade, the ne plus ultra of globalization, she managed, though not without difficulty, to defeat the Sanders insurgency.  Even so, he, in effect, served as the canary in the establishment coal mine, signaling that the Age of Great Expectations might be running out of oxygen.

A parallel and far stranger insurgency was simultaneously wreaking havoc in the Republican Party.  That a narcissistic political neophyte stood the slightest chance of capturing the GOP seemed even more improbable than Sanders taking a nomination that appeared Clinton’s by right.

Coarse, vulgar, unprincipled, uninformed, erratic, and with little regard for truth, Trump was sui generis among presidential candidates.  Yet he possessed a singular gift: a knack for riling up those who nurse gripes and are keen to pin the blame on someone or something.  In post-Cold War America, among the millions that Hillary Clinton was famously dismissing as “deplorables,” gripes had been ripening like cheese in a hothouse.

Through whatever combination of intuition and malice aforethought, Trump demonstrated a genius for motivating those deplorables.  He pushed their buttons.  They responded by turning out in droves to attend his rallies. There they listened to a message that they found compelling.

In Trump’s pledge to “make America great again” his followers heard a promise to restore everything they believed had been taken from them in the Age of Great Expectations.  Globalization was neither beneficial nor inevitable, the candidate insisted, and vowed, once elected, to curb its effects along with the excesses of corporate capitalism, thereby bringing back millions of lost jobs from overseas.  He would, he swore, fund a massive infrastructure program, cut taxes, keep a lid on the national debt, and generally champion the cause of working stiffs.  The many complications and contradictions inherent in these various prescriptions would, he assured his fans, give way to his business savvy. 

In considering America’s role in the post-Cold War world, Trump exhibited a similar impatience with the status quo.  Rather than allowing armed conflicts to drag on forever, he promised to win them (putting to work his mastery of military affairs) or, if not, to quit and get out, pausing just long enough to claim as a sort of consolation prize whatever spoils might be lying loose on the battlefield.  At the very least, he would prevent so-called allies from treating the United States like some patsy. Henceforth, nations benefitting from American protection were going to foot their share of the bill.  What all of this added up to may not have been clear, but it did suggest a sharp departure from the usual post-1989 formula for exercising global leadership.

No less important than Trump’s semi-coherent critique of globalization and American globalism, however, was his success in channeling the discontent of all those who nursed an inchoate sense that post-Cold War freedoms might be working for some, but not for them.

Not that Trump had anything to say about whether freedom confers obligations, or whether conspicuous consumption might not actually hold the key to human happiness, or any of the various controversies related to gender, sexuality, and family.  He was indifferent to all such matters.  He was, however, distinctly able to offer his followers a grimly persuasive explanation for how America had gone off course and how the blessings of liberties to which they were entitled had been stolen.  He did that by fingering as scapegoats Muslims, Mexicans, and others “not-like-me.”

Trump’s political strategy reduced to this: as president, he would overturn the conventions that had governed right thinking since the end of the Cold War.  To the amazement of an establishment grown smug and lazy, his approach worked.  Even while disregarding all received wisdom when it came to organizing and conducting a presidential campaign in the Age of Great Expectations, Trump won.  He did so by enchanting the disenchanted, all those who had lost faith in the promises that had sprung from the bosom of the elites that the end of the Cold War had taken by surprise.

Adrift Without a Compass

Within hours of Trump’s election, among progressives, expressing fear and trepidation at the prospect of what he might actually do on assuming office became de rigueur.  Yet those who had actually voted for Trump were also left wondering what to expect.  Both camps assign him the status of a transformative historical figure.  However, premonitions of incipient fascism and hopes that he will engineer a new American Golden Age are likely to prove similarly misplaced.  To focus on the man himself rather than on the circumstances that produced him is to miss the significance of what has occurred.

Note, for example, that his mandate is almost entirely negative.  It centers on rejection: of globalization, of counterproductive military meddling, and of the post-Cold War cultural project.  Yet neither Trump nor any of his surrogates has offered a coherent alternative to the triad of themes providing the through line for the last quarter-century of American history.  Apart a lingering conviction that forceful — in The Donald’s case, blustering — presidential leadership can somehow turn things around, “Trumpism” is a dog’s breakfast.

In all likelihood, his presidency will prove less transformative than transitional. As a result, concerns about what he may do, however worrisome, matter less than the larger question of where we go from here.  The principles that enjoyed favor following the Cold War have been found wanting. What should replace them?

Efforts to identify those principles should begin with an honest accounting of the age we are now leaving behind, the history that happened after “the end of history.”  That accounting should, in turn, allow room for regret, repentance, and making amends — the very critical appraisal that ought to have occurred at the end of the Cold War but was preempted when American elites succumbed to their bout of victory disease.

Don’t expect Donald Trump to undertake any such appraisal.  Nor will the establishment that candidate Trump so roundly denounced, but which President-elect Trump, at least in his senior national security appointments, now shows sign of accommodating.  Those expecting Trump’s election to inject courage into members of the political class or imagination into inside-the-Beltway “thought leaders” are in for a disappointment. So the principles we need — an approach to political economy providing sustainable and equitable prosperity; a foreign policy that discards militarism in favor of prudence and pragmatism; and an enriched, inclusive concept of freedom — will have to come from somewhere else.

“Where there is no vision,” the Book of Proverbs tells us, “the people perish.”  In the present day, there is no vision to which Americans collectively adhere.  For proof, we need look no further than the election of Donald Trump.

The Age of Great Expectations has ended, leaving behind an ominous void.  Yet Trump’s own inability to explain what should fill that great void provides neither excuse for inaction nor cause for despair.  Instead, Trump himself makes manifest the need to reflect on the nation’s recent past and to think deeply about its future.

A decade before the Cold War ended, writing in democracy, a short-lived journal devoted to “political renewal and radical change,” the historian and social critic Christopher Lasch sketched out a set of principles that might lead us out of our current crisis. Lasch called for a politics based on “the nurture of the soil against the exploitation of resources, the family against the factory, the romantic vision of the individual against the technological vision, [and] localism over democratic centralism.” Nearly a half-century later, as a place to begin, his prescription remains apt.

 Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book is America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.

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Copyright 2017 Andrew J. Bacevich