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Top 6 Achievements of Obamacare: (Hint, millions more insured)

Fri, 26 Jun 2015 - 2:39am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare) has beaten back all judicial challenges, it is worth revisiting its vast success. A single-payer system would have been far preferable. But the present system is substantially better than nothing. As Jay Bookman pointed out in early May in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, none of the dire predictions of its critics have come true. There has been no jump in health-care costs. In fact, medical inflation has leveled off. The number of people who lost their insurance was no higher after the advent of Obamacare than it had been in previous years. It hasn’t killed employment– rather employment is up. Let us consider the success of the ACA.

1. Rand reports that in summer of 2013, there were 42 million uninsured Americans. By February of 2015, that number had fallen to 25.8 million. That is, nearly 17 million more Americans have health care than before Obamacare.

2. With regard to percentages, the country’s uninsured rate was 17.1% in 2013, and it declined dramatically to 11.9% during the first quarter of 2015.

3. People without health care are in a very uncertain situation– they could have a medical emergency any time, and they have nothing to pay the hospital with. They also don’t get preventive care because they don’t pay to go see a doctor if they don’t have to. Obamacare will save an estimated 24,000 lives a year.

4. The International Business Times observed on the implications of the law for racial equality that:

“All racial and ethnic groups showed gains in coverage, but the biggest improvement came among minority groups. The uninsured rate for Hispanics dropped by more than 12 percent; African-American uninsured rates fell more than 9 percent and white uninsured rates fell more than 5 percent.”

5. Women have been especially helped by Obamacare. They now pay the same premiums as men, which did not used to be the case. Even by early January, there had been a 5.5% decline in the number of uninsured women since 2013:

“Up until last year, insurance companies could — and often did — charge women different premiums than men for the same coverage. As of January 1, 2014, the ACA prohibits this gender discrimination. In part because of improved options and affordability, today’s report outlines a significant 5.5 percentage point decline in the uninsured rate among women between the ages of 18 and 64 since 2013.”

6. Many more children how have health care. It had earlier been found that:

“New research documents the long-term benefits of Medicaid coverage in childhood. The National Bureau of Economic Research compared children eligible for Medicaid during childhood to their non-eligible peers and found that the Medicaid-eligible children were more likely to attend college, make greater contributions as adult taxpayers, and live longer than those without coverage.”

Obamacare, some of which is covered by medicaid expansion in sane states, should have the same effect, enriching these lives and enriching us all.

Why Boycotting Israel will Backfire, just as Netanyahu’s Blockade of Gaza Has

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 11:22pm

By Guy Laron | (Informed Comment) | – –

Many people who support a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict believe that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has a good argument. With the recent elections in Israel renewing Binyamin Netanyahu’s mandate to pursue hardline policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the lack of will by foreign governments to apply effective pressure on Israel, an activity by global civil society seems to be in order. The BDS movement seeks through grass-root activity in North-America and Europe to bring about a consumer boycott of Israeli products, sports and cultural events as well as divestment of banks, pension funds and corporations from Israeli enterprises.

All these measures, should be pursued, according to the BDS movement website, until Israel ends the “occupation and colonization” of the West Bank. Although this seems the only sensible thing to do, the BDS regime, if implemented with regard to Israel proper, would bring the very opposite of what its supporters seek to accomplish. The reason is simple: an indiscriminate boycott on Israel would destroy whatever is left of the Israeli left and would embolden the Netanyahu coalition.

Take the Israeli blockade over Gaza, for instance. The Israeli government imposes it since 2007 to undermine the Hamas government. Eight years later, not only the Hamas is well entrenched in Gaza, the Gazan business community that has traded with Israel and preached moderation has been eviscerated. Since 2007, to compensate for lack of access to Israeli goods, tunnels were built under the Gaza-Egypt border to smuggle thousands of tons of merchandise. Up to 2014 when Egypt destroyed them, tunnel owners, some of them Hamas officials, grew rich from illicit trade and had no interest in ending the conflict with Israel. On the contrary, if the blockade ended, tunnel owners would take a hit. That’s the reason that they supported lobbing missiles at Israel. In short, the indiscriminate boycott of Gaza has created a pro-conflict lobby and weakened the moderates. That is not an isolated example. In Saddam’s Iraq, indiscriminate Economic sanctions wiped out the middle class and left the ruthless dictatorship in place.

One can presume that a BDS regime would have the same effect on Israeli society. Indeed, supporters of the BDS, unknowingly, target the very groups in Israeli society which have been an important part of the Israeli left. Israeli academics, novelists and artists seek international recognition and their careers are relay on it. They have opposed the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank from an early stage and produced a continuous stream of novels, histories and plays that sharply criticize Israeli government for not doing more to solve the conflict. Likewise, Israeli exporters, especially from the Hi-Tech sector, are dependent on access to external markets and are leery of anything that can harm that. In the last elections, Tel Aviv, Israel’s unofficial capital of business and culture, voted overwhelmingly for the Left. Had it been up to Tel Aviv voters, Yitzhak Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labor party, would have won the elections with a comfortable margin.

The groups that benefit from the occupation the most – the settlers in the West Bank, ultra-orthodox Jews, real estate developers, and the Israeli military-industrial complex (Israel’s strongest interest group) would be the least harmed from a BDS regime as they are subsidized or employed by the state and produce primarily for the domestic market. Israeli arms industry has used the West Bank as a laboratory and a window-shop for its latest gadgets and since 2013 its main export markets are in China and India with brisk sales in Africa and Latin America. Moreover, the indiscriminate nature of the BDS, making no distinction between settler products and those produced in Israel itself, may allow the Netanyahu government to rally domestic support by claiming that Israel was not the victim of its own policies but of plain anti-Semitism.

In short, the BDS would hit the internationalist elements in Israeli society while strengthening the Israeli isolationists. In a world in which BDS wins, Israeli academics, artists and writers would flee abroad and Israeli manufacturers and hi-tech start-ups relocate to other venues. The result would not be a surge of support for a peace process, but a poorer, more frightened and parochial Israeli society that inflicts a harsher regime of oppression against ‘fifth column’ Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians.

All that does not mean that civil society in the West must wring its hands while the brutal reality of Israeli presence in the West Bank continues. But protesters need to channel their energies elsewhere. States and international organizations, such as the U.N. and related institutions, have much better tools to act against the Israeli pro-occupation coalition and they should be spurred by public opinion to do so.

Guy Laron is lecturer at the international relations department in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and visiting fellow (2014-2015) St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He is author of Origins of the Suez Crisis (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013),

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Boycott movement against Israel grows”

As Kobane comes under ISIL attack, Kurds Encircle, cut off “caliphate”

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 11:17pm

By Amy Austin Holmes | (Informed Comment) | – –

(Kobane, Syria) The liberation of Kobane in late January led to jubilant celebrations almost everywhere. It was both a turning point in the war against Islamic State militants and the beginning of an emancipatory grassroots democratic experiment known as the Rojava Revolution. Now, IS militants have attacked Kobane again for the first time in five months, underlining the fragility of the Kurdish enclave. Furthermore, the liberation was followed by a life-threatening stranglehold.  The Kurds of Kobane remained surrounded on all sides by adversaries:  ISIS to the east, south, and west, and Turkey to the north.  From both a humanitarian and a military perspective, the encirclement of Kobane was perilous. Supply routes into Kobane were scarce to non-existent, attacks were possible from all sides, and there were few options for retreat.


Photo credit: Amy Austin Holmes

Last week, the grip was loosened.  Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) and People’s Protection Units (YPG) liberated Tel Abyad, known in Kurdish as Gire Spi. In a double pincer movement, military units moving from Cezira in the east and Kobane in the west forced out IS fighters. In doing so they created a corridor connecting Kobane and Cezira cantons.  This means that for the first time, two of the three previously geographically isolated cantons are now united. Kobane, the symbolic heartland of the Rojava revolution in Syria, is now linked to Iraqi Kurdistan.  The eastern front is in the process of being cleared of IS militants. However, another border remains closed and cannot be opened through force of arms: the northern border to Turkey.

The four-month-long battle to liberate Kobane was a watershed event.  The local conflict was turned into an international one involving Kurdish YPJ and YPG militias, Iraqi Peshmerga, Free Syrian Army brigades, and coalition-led airstrikes. However, the current military operations may be even more decisive. This is primarily for three reasons. First, the geographical area under Kurdish control has expanded.  Second, it is now possible to transfer vital resources from Cezira to Kobane such as petrol, which has become a scarce and expensive commodity in Kobane. The corridor will also allow people to travel more easily from one canton to the next, thereby increasing the viability of the Rojava project more generally. And third, by liberating Tel Abyad, the Kurds have cut a vital supply route to Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State.  In short, the victory of Tel Abyad ended the encirclement of Kobane, drove out ISIS, and made the Rojava revolution more viable. This decisive military victory was at least in part due to the leadership of women. According to YPJ Commander Rengin, there were five female commanders in the eastern front around Tel Abyad, and only two male commanders.

I spent the last week visiting Kobane, after witnessing the battle to liberate the city from the Turkish side of the border in January.  The situation here is sobering.  Over 70% of the city was destroyed, both by the ISIS assault and US-led airstrikes.  The city is filled with crumbled buildings and craters more than five meters in diameter. The landscape is filled with mines.  The day after I arrived, I attended the funeral of Keith Broomfield, the first US citizen who was confirmed to have been killed while fighting for the YPG. A few days later, I attended another funeral for two medical workers, Zozan Mahmoud and Manal Chobagy, who were killed by a suicide attack.  While still standing in the martryrs’ graveyard, it was announced that Tel Abyad had been liberated.  The somber funeral procession morphed into a joyful canton-wide celebration.  During the celebrations I met Idleh, a 45-year-old Syrian Kurdish woman who said that she personally met Abdullah Ocalan a number of times while living in Damascus.  I asked her what this battle meant to her.  She said she felt like she had “won the whole world.” 

Clearly, the local people are ecstatic and filled with energy to rebuild their homeland.  How much political will exists within the international community remains to be seen.  A litmus test would be whether diplomatic pressure could be brought to bear on the Turkish government, which seems intent on keeping the border to Kobane closed.  At present, only Turkish or Syrian citizens are allowed to cross the border at regulated intervals. However, in a new variation on the Berlin Wall, other nationalities are prevented from leaving Turkey.  This policy of not allowing people to cross the border from Turkey into Kobane means that many aid workers, journalists, and academics like myself have to sneak across the border at night like fugitives.  Such people may report about what’s happening, conduct research, or bring in aid to the embattled Kurds, and President Erdoğan doesn’t really want that to happen.

The victory of Tel Abyad was, like the liberation of Kobane, the result of international cooperation. But that same cooperation is needed in order to rebuild Kobane.  For this to happen, the border to Turkey needs to be open.  Aid needs to be allowed to come in. Mines left behind by ISIS need to be removed. Craters caused by US-led airstrikes need to be filled.

An upcoming conference in Brussels will coordinate these efforts. On July 1, the European Parliament will host the “International Mobilization to Rebuild Kobane” conference. The recent victory of the Kurdish-based HDP party in the parliamentary elections in Turkey will also add momentum to the reconstruction efforts. But if the Rojava project is going to succeed – and it is one of the few truly democratic, gender-egalitarian, grassroots experiments in the Middle East – then more is needed than airstrikes and empty promises.  

Amy Austin Holmes is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo and the author of Social Unrest and American Military Bases in Turkey and Germany since 1945, published by Cambridge University Press in 2014. Website: amyaustinholmes.com and Twitter: @AmyAustinHolmes

Related posting:

See also Juan Cole, “Are Leftist, Feminist Kurds About to Deliver the Coup de Grâce to ISIL in Syria?” in The Nation.

Journalists Pay the Price in Egypt’s Crackdown on Dissent

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 11:05pm

By Kitty Stapp | – –

NEW YORK (IPS) – The Egyptian government is holding a record number of journalists in jail, a press freedom group said Thursday, despite promises to improve media freedoms in the country.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets then Egyptian Minister of Defence General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. Credit: U.S. Department of State

A prison census conducted by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) at the start of this month found that Egyptian authorities were currently detaining at least 18 journalists in connection with their work. This is the highest number since CPJ began recording data on imprisoned journalists in 1990.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient.” — Joe Stork of HRW

The group says that the government led by President Abdelfattah el-Sisi, who won nearly uncontested elections in May 2014, has used the pretext of national security to crack down on human rights, including press freedom.

The United States remains the country’s largest benefactor. Although the Barack Obama administration sent a critical report on Egypt to Congress last month, it still recommended that Washington continue sending 1.3 billion dollars in mostly military aid.

Asked whether the U.S. should use this aid as leverage to demand reforms, Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s programme coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, told IPS, “We would like international policy makers and institutions to insist on respect for press freedom and the complete end to ongoing censorship as conditions for bilateral and multilateral support.

“They also should speak out against ongoing press violations in both public statements and private communications with the Egyptian government.”

In an ominous sign that authorities are increasingly focusing on the internet to quash dissent, more than half of the jailed journalists worked online.

Six of the journalists in CPJ’s census were sentenced to life in prison in a mass trial of 51 defendants.

Several others are being held in pretrial detention, and have not had a date set for a court hearing. One of those is Mahmoud Abou-Zeid, who was arrested in August 2013 while taking photographs of the violent dispersal of a sit-in in support of deposed president Mohamed Morsi, in which hundreds of Islamists were killed. He has been in pre-trial detention since then and has not been formally charged.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), a primary weapon in the crackdown is the “terrorist entities” decree issued on Nov. 26. It defines “terrorist” in extraordinarily broad terms: in addition to language about violence and threats of violence, the law covers any offence that in the view of authorities “harms national unity” or the environment or natural resources, or impedes work of public officials or application of the constitution or laws.

A “terrorist” is anyone who supports such an entity – support that can include “providing information.”

Foreign reporters have also been targeted. A year ago, on June 23, 2014, an Egyptian court convicted three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

While the White House complained at the time that the verdict “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt,” it did not cut off aid.

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, were Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste, and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

They were detained after a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo and charged with membership in the Muslim Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war.” The three were initially sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

Other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

Fahmy, Greste and Mohamed are finally out of prison, though Fahmy and Mohamed still face a new trial on the same charges of supporting the “terrorist” Muslim Brotherhood.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

In a scathing report issued on March 6, HRW marked al-Sisi’s first year in power by noting that arbitrary and politically motivated arrests have soared since al-Sisi, then defence minister, seized power in July 2013 from Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed al-Morsi.

“The al-Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient,” wrote Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director.

According to CPJ, the president is soon expected to sign into law a draft cybercrime bill, framed as anti-terrorism legislation, which allows law enforcement agencies to block websites and pursue heavy prison sentences against Internet users for vaguely defined crimes such as “harming social peace” and “threatening national unity.”

“The potential implications for bloggers and journalists are dire,” the group says.

The bill has been endorsed by the cabinet, and is awaiting el-Sisi’s approval to come into law.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Top Five ways for Washington to Fail in Iraq

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 11:02pm

By Peter Van Buren | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

In one form or another, the U.S. has been at war with Iraq since 1990, including a sort-of invasion in 1991 and a full-scale one in 2003. During that quarter-century, Washington imposed several changes of government, spent trillions of dollars, and was involved in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. None of those efforts were a success by any conceivable definition of the term Washington has been capable of offering.

Nonetheless, it’s the American Way to believe with all our hearts that every problem is ours to solve and every problem must have a solution, which simply must be found. As a result, the indispensable nation faces a new round of calls for ideas on what “we” should do next in Iraq.

With that in mind, here are five possible “strategies” for that country on which only one thing is guaranteed: none of them will work.

1. Send in the Trainers

In May, in the wake of the fall of the Sunni city of Ramadi to Islamic State (IS) fighters, President Obama announced a change of course in Iraq. After less than a year of not defeating, degrading, or destroying the Islamic State, the administration will now send in hundreds more military personnel to set up a new training base at Taqaddum in Anbar Province. There are already five training sites running in Iraq, staffed by most of the 3,100 military personnel the Obama administration has sent in. Yet after nine months of work, not a single trained Iraqi trooper has managed to make it into a combat situation in a country embroiled in armed chaos.

The base at Taqaddum may only represent the beginning of a new “surge.” General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has begun to talk up what he calls “lily pads,” American baselets set up close to the front lines, from which trainers would work with Iraqi security forces. Of course, such lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, waiting for a hungry Islamic State frog.

Leaving aside the all-too-obvious joke — that Dempsey is proposing the creation of a literal swamp, a desert quagmire of the lilypad sort — this idea has been tried. It failed over the eight years of the occupation of Iraq, when the U.S. maintained an archipelago of 505 bases in the country. (It also failed in Afghanistan.) At the peak of Iraq War 2.0, 166,000 troops staffed those American bases, conducting some $25 billion worth of training and arming of Iraqis, the non-results of which are on display daily. The question then is: How could more American trainers accomplish in a shorter period of time what so many failed to do over so many years?

There is also the American belief that if you offer it, they will come. The results of American training so far, as Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made clear recently, have fallen far short of expectations. By now, U.S. trainers were to have whipped 24,000 Iraqi soldiers into shape. The actual number to date is claimed to be some 9,000 and the description of a recent “graduation” ceremony for some of them couldn’t have been more dispiriting. (“The volunteers seemed to range in age from late teens to close to 60. They wore a mish-mash of uniforms and boots, while their marching during the ceremony was, shall we say, casual.”) Given how much training the U.S. has made available in Iraq since 2003, it’s hard to imagine that too many young men have not given the option some thought. Simply because Washington opens more training camps, there is no reason to assume that Iraqis will show up.

Oddly enough, just before announcing his new policy, President Obama seemed to pre-agree with critics that it wasn’t likely to work. “We’ve got more training capacity than we’ve got recruits,” he said at the close of the G7 summit in Germany. “It’s not happening as fast as it needs to.” Obama was on the mark. At the al-Asad training facility, the only one in Sunni territory, for instance, the Iraqi government has not sent a single new recruit to be trained by those American advisers for the past six weeks.

And here’s some bonus information: for each U.S. soldier in Iraq, there are already two American contractors. Currently some 6,300 of them are in the country. Any additional trainers mean yet more contractors, ensuring that the U.S. “footprint” made by this no-boots-on-the-ground strategy will only grow and General Dempsey’s lilypad quagmire will come closer to realization.

2. Boots on the Ground

Senator John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, is the most vocal proponent of America’s classic national security go-to move: send in U.S. troops. McCain, who witnessed the Vietnam War unfold, knows better than to expect Special Forces operatives, trainers, advisers, and combat air traffic controllers, along with U.S. air power, to turn the tide of any strategic situation. His response is to call for more — and he’s not alone. On the campaign trail recently, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, for instance, suggested that, were he president, he would consider a full-scale “re-invasion” of Iraq. Similarly, General Anthony Zinni, former head of U.S. Central Command, urged the sending in of many boots: “I can tell you, you could put ground forces on the ground now and we can destroy ISIS.”

Among the boots-on-the-ground crowd are also some former soldiers who fought in Iraq in the Bush years, lost friends, and suffered themselves. Blinking through the disillusion of it all, they prefer to believe that we actually won in Iraq (or should have, or would have, if only the Bush and Obama administrations hadn’t squandered the “victory”). Needed now, they claim, are more U.S. troops back on the ground to win the latest version of their war. Some are even volunteering as private citizens to continue the fight. Can there be a sadder argument than the “it can’t all have been a waste” one?

The more-troops option is so easy to dismiss it’s hardly worth another line: if over eight years of effort, 166,000 troops and the full weight of American military power couldn’t do the trick in Iraq, what could you possibly expect even fewer resources to accomplish?

3. Partnering with Iran

As hesitancy within the U.S. military to deploy ground forces in Iraq runs into chicken-hawk drum-pounding in the political arena, working ever more closely with Iran has become the default escalation move. If not American boots, that is, what about Iranian boots?

The backstory for this approach is as odd a Middle Eastern tale as you can find.

The original Obama administration plan was to use Arab, not Iranian, forces as proxy infantry. However, the much-ballyhooed 60-nation pan-Arab coalition proved little more than a short-lived photo op. Few, if any, of their planes are in the air anymore. America flies roughly 85% of all missions against Islamic State targets, with Western allies filling in a good part of the rest. No Arab ground troops ever showed up and key coalition countries are now openly snubbing Washington over its possible nuclear deal with Iran.

Washington has, of course, been in a Cold War-ish relationship with Iran since 1979 when the Shah fell and radical students took over the American Embassy in Tehran. In the 1980s, the U.S. aided Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran, while in the years after the invasion of 2003 Iran effectively supported Iraqi Shiite militias against American forces occupying the country. Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, currently directing his country’s efforts in Iraq, was once one of the most wanted men on America’s kill list.

In the wake of the 2014 Islamic State capture of Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities, Iran ramped up its role, sending in trainers, advisers, arms, and its own forces to support the Shiite militias that Baghdad saw as its only hope. The U.S. initially turned a blind eye on all this, even as Iranian-led militias, and possibly the Iranians themselves, became consumers of close American air support.

In Washington right now, there is a growing, if quiet, acknowledgment that Iranian help is one of the few things that might push IS back without the need for U.S. ground troops. Small but telling escalations are occurring regularly. In the battle to retake the northern Sunni city of Tikrit, for example, the United States flew air missions supporting Shiite militias; the fig leaf of an explanation: that they operated under Iraqi government, not Iranian, control.

“We’re going to provide air cover to all forces that are under the command and control of the government of Iraq,” a U.S. Central Command spokesperson similarly noted in reference to the coming fight to retake the city of Ramadi. That signals a significant shift, former State Department official Ramzy Mardini points out. “The U.S. has effectively changed its position, coming to the realization that Shiite militias are a necessary evil in the fight against IS.” Such thinking may extend to Iranian ground troops now evidently fighting outside the strategic Beiji oil refinery.

Things may be even cozier between the U.S. and the Iranian-backed Shiite militias than we previously thought. Bloomberg reports that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both already using the Taqaddum military base, the very place where President Obama is sending the latest 450 U.S. military personnel.

The downside? Help to Iran only sets up the next struggle the U.S. is likely to bumble into due to a growing Iranian hegemony in the region. Syria, perhaps?

4. Arm the Kurds

The Kurds represent Washington’s Great Hope for Iraq, a dream that plays perfectly into an American foreign policy trope about needing to be “liked” by someone. (Try Facebook.) These days, glance at just about any conservative website or check out right-wing pundits and enjoy the propaganda about the Kurds: they are plucky fighters, loyal to America, tough bastards who know how to stand and deliver. If only we gave them more weapons, they would kill more Islamic State bad guys just for us. To the right-wing crowd, they are the twenty-first-century equivalent of Winston Churchill in World War II, crying out, “Just give us the tools and we’ll defeat Hitler!”

There is some slight truth in all this. The Kurds have indeed done a good job of pushing IS militants out of swaths of northern Iraq and were happy for U.S. assistance in getting their Peshmerga fighters to the Turkish border when the locus of fighting was the city of Kobane. They remain thankful for the continuing air support the U.S. is providing their front-line troops and for the limited weapons Washington has already sent.

For Washington, the problem is that Kurdish interests are distinctly limited when it comes to fighting Islamic State forces. When the de facto borders of Kurdistan were directly threatened, they fought like caffeinated badgers. When the chance to seize the disputed town of Erbil came up — the government in Baghdad was eager to keep it within its sphere of control — the Kurds beat the breath out of IS.

But when it comes to the Sunni population, the Kurds don’t give a hoot, as long as they stay away from Kurdistan. Has anyone seen Kurdish fighters in Ramadi or anywhere else in heavily Sunni al-Anbar Province? Those strategic areas, now held by the Islamic State, are hundreds of actual miles and millions of political miles from Kurdistan. So, sure, arm the Kurds. But don’t expect them to play a strategic role against IS outside their own neighborhood. A winning strategy for the Kurds involving Washington doesn’t necessarily translate into a winning strategy for Washington in Iraq.

5. That Political Solution

Washington’s current man in Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Abadi, hasn’t moved his country any closer to Sunni-Shiite reconciliation than his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki, did. In fact, because Abadi has little choice but to rely on those Shiite militias, which will fight when his corrupt, inept army won’t, he has only drawn closer to Iran. This has ensured that any (American) hope of bringing Sunnis into the process in a meaningful way as part of a unified government in a unified state will prove to be a pipe dream.

A balance of forces is a prerequisite for a Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish federal Iraq. With no side strong enough to achieve victory or weak enough to lose, negotiations could follow. When then-Senator Joe Biden first proposed the idea of a three-state Iraq in 2006, it just might have been possible. However, once the Iranians had built a Shiite Iraqi client state in Baghdad and then, in 2014, unleashed the militias as an instrument of national power, that chance was lost.

Many Sunnis see no other choice but to support the Islamic State, as they did al-Qaeda in Iraq in the years after the American invasion of 2003. They fear those Shiite militias — and with good reason. Stories from the largely Sunni city of Tikrit, where militia-led forces defeated Islamic State fighters, describe “a ghost town ruled by gunmen.” In the Euphrates Valley town of Jurf al-Sakhar, there were reports of ethnic cleansing. Similarly, the mainly Sunni population of the city of Nukhayb, which sits at a strategic crossroad between Sunni and Shiite areas, has accused the militias of taking over while pretending to fight the extremists.

There remains great fear in Sunni-dominated Anbar of massacres and “cleansing” if Shiite militias enter the province in force. In such a situation, there will always be a place for an al-Qaeda, an Islamic State, or some similar movement, no matter how brutal, to defend the beleaguered Sunni population. What everyone in Iraq understands, and apparently almost everyone in America does not, is that the Islamic State is a symptom of civil war, not a standalone threat.

One lingering hope of the Obama administration has no support in Baghdad and so has remained a non-starter: defeating IS by arming Sunni tribes directly in the style of the “Anbar Awakening” movement of the occupation years. Indeed, the central government fears arming them, absent a few token units to keep the Americans quiet. The Shiites know better than most what an insurgency can do to help defeat a larger, better-armed, power.

Yet despite the risk of escalating Iraq’s shadow civil war, the U.S. now is moving to directly arm the Sunnis. Current plans are to import weapons into the newest lilypad base in Anbar and pass them on to local Sunni tribes, whether Baghdad likes that or not (and yes, the break with Baghdad is worth noting). The weapons themselves are as likely to be wielded against Shiite militias as against the Islamic State, assuming they aren’t just handed over to IS fighters.

The loss of equipment to those militants is no small thing. No one talking about sending more new weaponry to Iraq, no matter who the recipient is, should ignore the ease with which Islamic State militants have taken U.S.-supplied heavy weapons. Washington has been forced to direct air strikes against such captured equipment — even as it ships yet more in. In Mosul, some 2,300 Humvees were abandoned to IS fighters in June 2014; more were left to them when Iraqi army forces suddenly fled Ramadi in May. This pattern of supply, capture, and resupply would be comically absurd, had it not turned tragic when some of those Humvees were used by IS as rolling, armored suicide bombs and Washington had to rush AT-4 anti-tank missiles to the Iraqi army to destroy them.

The Real Reason Nothing Is Going to Work

The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims. The Sunnis need a protector as they struggle for a political place, if not basic survival, in some new type of Iraq. The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions. Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria. The Kurds want an independent homeland.

When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals. In the Washington mind-set, Iraq is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving problems that were either created by or exacerbated by the U.S. in the first place, even as America once again assumes an ever-greater role in that country’s increasingly grim fate.

For America’s “plan” to work, Sunni tribesmen would have to fight Sunnis from the Islamic State in support of a Shiite government that suppressed their peaceful Arab-Spring-style protests, and that, backed by Iran, has been ostracizing, harassing, and murdering them. The Kurds would have to fight for an Iraqi nation-state from which they wish to be independent. It can’t work.

Go back to 2011 and it’s unlikely anyone could have imagined that the same guy who defeated Hillary Clinton and gained the White House based on his opposition to the last Iraq War would send the U.S. tumbling back into that chaotic country. If ever there was an avoidable American crisis, Iraq War 3.0 is it. If ever there was a war, whatever its chosen strategies, in which the U.S. has no hopes of achieving its goals, this is it.

By now, you’re undoubtedly shaking your head and asking, “How did this happen?” Historians will do the same.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular he writes about current events at We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. His next work will be Hooper’s War, a novel.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015, Peter Van Buren

Via Tomdispatch.com

—-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “On the frontline against ISIS in Iraq”

America’s Homegrown Extremists Twice as Deadly as Muslim Radicals

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 3:02am

AJ+ | (Video report) | –

“Homegrown groups with no connection to Islam have killed almost twice as many people as Muslim groups, according to a study by New America . The study looked at “terror” attacks that took place after 9/11 – but what else does the data tell us?”

AJ+: “Non-Muslims More Deadly Than Muslims, Says Study ”

Humans Causing the Sixth Great Extinction of other Life Forms, on which we Depend

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 1:54am

By Gerardo Ceballos | (The Conversation) | – –

Vitus Bering, the famous explorer, led perhaps the most ambitious scientific expedition ever in the 1730s. Commanding 10,000 people, he was in charge of exploring the vast lands of Siberia and the unknown sea between Siberia and Alaska. In 1741, he was forced to land on what would be later known as Bering Island, where he would die. In his crew was a doctor and naturalist, Georg Steller, who discovered in the calm waters close to the island a massive three-ton marine mammal, similar to a manatee, that has the name of Steller sea cow.

The new species to science is famous because it became extinct only 27 years after it was discovered. Unfortunately, hundreds of other vertebrates have become extinct because of human activities in the last five centuries.

In our recent paper, we analyze whether the rate of modern extinctions caused by human activities is higher that the normal or natural extinction rate. This is important because it would let us understand if we are causing a mass extinction.

In the history of life on Earth, there have been five mass extinctions – episodes where large numbers of species became extinct in a short period of time. All mass extinctions have been caused by natural catastrophes, such as the impact of a meteorite.

Extinction rates

To do the study, we compared the normal – also known as background – extinction rates with the modern ones. In the normal rate, derived from a thorough analysis of thousands of mammal fossil and subfossil records from the last two million years, one would expect to lose two species for every 10,000 species present every 100 years. For example, if there are 40,000 species, we would expect to see eight extinctions in a century. A rate much higher than that would indicate a mass extinction.

The eastern puma was declared extinct this week by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to being our companions on Earth, animals provide ecosystem services, such as pollination and clean water, for humans.
Monica R./flickr, CC BY

We compiled the list of extinct and possibly extinct species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an institution that compiles these data. We found that 477 species have become extinct in the last 100 years.

Under a normal extinction rate, we would have expected to have only nine extinctions; in other words, there were 468 more extinctions than would be expected in the last century! Putting it in a different way, the species lost in the last 100 years would have become extinct in more than 10,000 years under a normal extinction rate.

Ecosystem services

Our results are dramatic and tragic. We are losing species much more rapidly now than in the last two million years! At that pace, we may lose a large proportion of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes, in the next two to three decades.

Those species are our companions in our travel across the universe. Losing them has many consequences. Those species are essential to maintain ecosystem services, which are all the benefits that we get for free from the proper function of nature. The combination of the gases of the atmosphere, the quality and quantity of water, soil fertilization, pollination and so on are ecosystem services. By losing species, we are eroding the conditions of Earth that are essential for human well-being.

Black dotted line represents anticipated extinction rate according to natural causes compared to actual extinctions.
Science Advances

There is still time to avert the most tragic consequences of a sixth mass extinction, because this one is caused by us. We need to curb the human population growth, social inequalities and more efficient of natural resources. We need to reduce habitat loss, overfishing and overhunting, pollution and other factors that are causing the current extinction episode.

We are the only species that has the capability to save all endangered animals. Paradoxically, saving them is the only way to save humanity.

Gerardo Ceballos is Researcher of Ecology and Zoology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

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

Gerardo Ceballos is a Researcher in Ecology and Zoology at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Stanford: “Stanford researcher warns sixth mass extinction is here”

If Southerners want a Symbol, Why not the Moultrie Liberty Flag?

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 1:37am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | —

There was a rash of Confederate flag removals on Wednesday. The governor of Alabama had it removed from the statehouse. The governor of Virginia recalled vanity plates with the flag on them. Some Mississippi legislators proposed removing it from the state flag. Amazon, E-Bay and other retailers announced they would not carry the flag or memorabilia with the flag on it. Dismayed supporters of the flag said it represented Southern “valor” in the Civil War.

Here’s an idea. If Southerners want a regional symbol of pride and valor, why not go back to the Moultrie or Liberty flag?

It was flown by South Carolinians in the fight against the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War and was the first American flag to fly over the South.

Best of all, the flag has the word “Liberty” written into the crescent moon, underscoring this key American value, so important for all peoples living in the South. It is better than the Gadsden flag (with the “Don’t Tread on Me” snake) because it expresses a positive value and emotion rather than a negative, reactive one.

The Revolutionary War is one that African Americans can take pride in, even if it did not free the slaves in the South. One fifth of the northern Revolutionary War army was made up of African-Americans. Even in the South, Wikipedia notes, citing historian Eric Foner:

“Because of manpower shortages at sea, both the Continental Navy and Royal Navy signed African Americans into the navy. Even southern colonies, which worried about putting guns into the hands of slaves for the army, had no qualms about using blacks to pilot vessels and to handle the ammunition on ships. In state navies, some blacks served as pilots; South Carolina had significant numbers of black pilots.”

Thus, African-Americans served in one branch of the Continental military under this flag and can take pride in it, and in their role in beginning the process of establishing liberty in the South, a role that continued in the 1860s and the 1960s, through to today.

From Wikipedia:

“The Moultrie Flag

In 1775, Colonel William Moultrie was asked by the Revolutionary Council of Safety to design a flag for the South Carolina troops to use during the American Revolutionary War. Moultrie’s design had the blue of the militia’s uniforms and the crescent. It was first flown at Fort Johnson.

This flag was flown in the defense of a new fortress on Sullivan’s Island, when Moultrie faced off against a British fleet that hadn’t lost a battle in a century.

In the 16-hour battle on June 28, 1776, the flag was shot down, but Sergeant William Jasper ran out into the open, raising it and rallying the troops until it could be mounted again. This gesture was so heroic, saving Charleston, South Carolina, from conquest for four years, that the flag came to be the symbol of the Revolution, and liberty, in the state and the new nation.

Soon popularly known as either the Liberty Flag or Moultrie Flag, it became the standard of the South Carolinian militia, and was presented in Charleston, by Major General Nathanael Greene, when that city was liberated at the end of the war. Greene described it as having been the first American flag to fly over the South.”

N.B. Branches of the author’s family have been in the Shenandoah Valley in Northern Virginia since the 18th century and both his parents were born there.

Will Iraq Be Libya? Can the Shiite Militiamen Avoid Turning on Each Other?

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 1:00am

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

Iraq’s Shiite militias have been celebrated and criticised. Now, as differences in everything from weapons to leadership to loyalties become evident, tensions between the militias are rising.

Last Saturday was the anniversary of senior Iraqi spiritual leader, Ali al-Sistani’s call to arms. The cleric, who is seen as the leader of Shiite Muslims in Iraq and further afield, called upon all Iraqis to take up arms and defend the country against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, which had just taken control of the northern city of Mosul.

Since then the locals who did as al-Sistani asked have become the last bulwark against the approach of the Islamic State, or IS, group’s fighters. The volunteer militias are now known locally as the Hashd al-Shaabi, or Popular Mobilization Units, and have become both a cause for celebration – as they achieve victories and push the IS group back – and controversy, as they are accused of illegal acts of revenge, looting and generally taking the law into their own hands. The militias are mainly made up of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims and the IS group bases its ideology on a form of Sunni Islam – so the militias’ importance in the fight against the IS group has also become a source of sectarian tension inside the country.

But the tensions do not just exist between Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni Muslims. As the Shiite militias become more powerful, tensions are also increasing within the group. They may have a common enemy and share a religious sect but these militias are far from united. Basically the Shiite militias are split along the same lines as opinions in the main Shiite Muslim political parties. And their disagreements are not just military, they are based on present and future economic and political power.

Today the Shiite Muslim militias fighting in Iraq can be split into three rough categories, all three of which are different in terms of their strengths and weaknesses, the weapons they possess, how they are funded and their potential to make military decisions, and whether those decisions are made independently of the Iraqi government or not.

“Some of the Shiite factions – especially those affiliated with Iran – refuse to cooperate with the army when it comes to preparing plans and deployment,” one senior military officer, who works in the Iraqi Ministry of Defence’s command centre in Baghdad, told NIQASH on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media; in the command centre, Iraqi army and police work together with the international coalition fighting the IS group. “They prefer to come up with their own plans and choose their own targets. For example, last week these factions decided they wanted to go into Fallujah city while the government was planning to fight for Ramadi.”

The first, and possibly best armed, category of Shiite militias includes those closer to Iran with religious links that favour Iran’s leading religious figure, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The most prominent in this category is the Badr organisation, the League of the Righteous, Hezbollah in Iraq, the Khorasani Brigades and Harakat al-Nujaba. These militias have the best weaponry and are often critical of the Iraqi government.

“Not all of the factions within the Shiite Muslim militias receive the same weapons, salaries or benefits,” says Sadiq al-Kanani, a Basra local and member of one of the militias who’s been fighting near Baiji for the past few months. “The most powerful factions – and that includes the Badr organization, the League of Righteous and the Hezbollah brigades – have heavier and more effective weapons from Iran. They have things like armoured vehicles, special artillery and Katyusha rockets, all things the other militias do not have.”

“The fighters from those militias also get special privileges,” al-Kanani continues. “They get better salaries and they get them on time, no delays. They are better organized, they work in a more professional military manner and their leaders make their own decisions.”

The second category among the Shiite Muslim militias includes those who are more loyal to al-Sistani. These include the following: the Ali al-Akbar brigades, the Abbasiyah Shrine brigades, the Alawite Shrine brigades and the Husayniyah Shrine brigades. These militias are funded by al-Sistani himself and, unlike the first category, they don’t appear to have any overt political motivation. They have been put at the disposal of the Iraqi government and tasked with fighting the IS group, defending land that has been taken back from IS fighters and protecting locals.

What is notable about these militias is their large number. However they only have light to medium weapons – things like Kalashnikov guns and other Soviet machine guns – and they use civilian 4WD vehicles to accompany the Iraqi army to battle.

Al-Sistani’s office funds these militias from donations that the office receives from Shiite Muslims around the world, anonymous sources in the cleric’s office told NIQASH. Partially, the sources also noted, the intra-militia rivalry is also about the enduring struggle between senior religious figures in Iran and Iraq, with both offices vying to be considered the eminent theological authority for the world’s Shiite Muslims. “This is a historic struggle,” the insider said.

Meanwhile the third category of Shiite militias are associated with two other major Shiite Muslim political parties with a religious bent. These are the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, which is led by a younger cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, and the Sadrist movement which is led by another cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. Both of these parties have MPs in the current Parliament and a strong focus on political, as well as military leadership. This is a major difference between, say, the ISCI-affiliated militias and the Badr organisation, which was formerly associated with the ISCI and which, under Hadi al-Ameri, seems to be operating outside the official political sphere.

Those militias associated with the ISCI include the Ashura Brigades and the Supporters of the Faith brigades. They are dependent on the Iraqi government for funding and weapons and abide by the central government’s decisions; they also often accompany official army units and have been known to use some of the Iraqi army’s equipment.

The Peace Brigades, formerly known as the Mahdi Army, are affiliated with the Sadrist movement and depend on funding from the offices of Muqtada al-Sadr, who receives donations from his many supporters. This militia doesn’t get much money from the Iraqi government itself due, apparently, to ongoing internal fighting between the Sadrists and the government’s ruling Dawa party. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is a member of Dawa but so was former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who al-Sadr challenged seriously more than once during his tenure.

“Muqtada al-Sadr was the one who challenged the former Prime Minister and prevented him from holding onto the job for a third term,” Nassir al-Saedi, a senior member of the Sadrist movement, told NIQASH. “And al-Maliki still has some control over the Dawa party and the government.”

In fact, a week ago al-Sadr called upon his supporters to send more funds for the Peace Brigades’ fighters and criticized the treatment of members of his militia, compared to treatment other militias received.

For example, all government employees who volunteered to fight the IS group in a militia were given leave, with pay. However fighters from the Peace Brigades were not given the same privilege, even though many were also government employees, al-Saedi complained.

The complaints from al-Saedi are just one small part of the increase in tension between the various factions within the Shiite militias. There’s been much more of this mudslinging, criticism and accusation seen and heard via media outlets owned by the various political and military groups. Previously the complaints were reserved for Iraq’s Sunni Muslims and Kurds, rather than for other Shiite groups.

It has also spread beyond words. Last week in Basra, some locals demonstrated against the provincial governor, Majid al-Nasrawi. The governor is associated with the ISCI and thereby, also associated with the Sadrists. Politicians from the two parties say that their rival, the Dawa party, is behind these protests.

Another recent incident involved Hezbollah in Iraq members attacking the ISCI headquarters in Basra. The ISCI has asked the head of Hezbollah in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, for an explanation.

While relatively superficial as yet, all of the above are indications of a potentially deeper and more serious rift within the Shiite Muslim bloc – and that rift could happen both in military and political terms as the various groups jockey for power. Analysts predict that this wrangling will worsen right up until the next round of provincial government elections, due to be held early 2017. At that stage, locals can only hope that the attentions – and weapons – of the Shiite militias will remain trained on the IS group, rather than those they consider rival militias.

Via Niqash.org

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Iraq:Shiite militia prepares for battle to take back Falluja

Palestinian Member of Israeli Parliament will join Gaza Aid Flotilla, Risks loss of Immunity

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 - 12:19am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Arab MK [Member of Knesset or Parliament] Basel Ghattas said this week that threats by fellow Israeli lawmakers to remove his parliamentary immunity will not affect his decision to take part in the Freedom Flotilla III.

The Israeli Knesset Committee reportedly voted in favor Tuesday of stripping Ghattas, a member of the Joint List– the Arab parliamentary bloc that won 13 Knesset seats in Israel’s last election– of his immunity from prosecution for joining the the protest flotilla.

The Flotilla is the third of it’s kind to attempt to access the Gaza Strip by sea since 2010, aiming break the Israeli blockade with a convoy of ships carrying human rights activists, European lawmakers, Ghattas, and others.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev- member of Netanyahu’s Likud party- demanded earlier this week that Ghattas’ immunity be removed if he joined the flotilla.

“We must end the use of the position of MK as a tool to undermine the government. Its time to instill order, and prevent Arab MKs from inciting against Israel,” Israeli news source Ynet reported Regev writing to an attorney general.

Ghattas told Ma’an that Miri Regev’s statement represents Israeli racist rightist parties, saying “let them remove the immunity.”

The MK argued that that taking part in the flotilla is a part of his job. As he was elected on a platform of helping and representing Palestinians, he told Ma’an that “there is no legal reason that they could charge me of anything, and nothing could affect my decision to participate.”

Ghattas added that Jewish activists from around the world, especially Spain, will be taking part in the Freedom Flotilla III in addition to the previous Tunisian President Muncef al-Marzouki, members of the Algerian and Jordanian parliaments and several political and rights figures.

In response to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow prevent the flotilla from passing, Ghattas said that the flotilla is peaceful, free of arms, and cannot pose a threat to Israel, adding that the flotilla’s goal is to draw the world’s attention to the blockade and suffering of the Gaza Strip.

Gaza has been subjected to an Israeli blockade for nine years, which includes a complete ban on ships entering or leaving the coastal enclave’s waters.

In May 2010, Israeli forces staged a raid on a six-ship flotilla which ended in bloodshed, claiming the lives of 10 Turkish nationals and sparked a crisis with Ankara.

This week’s outcry by MK Miri against Ghattas mirrored accusations she leveled against MK Hanin Zoabi, also a member of the Joint List and who took part in the 2010 flotilla. Miri argued atthe time that Zoabi was “joining terrorists.”

Ghattas’ resolution to embark on the flotilla comes as several Knesset members have joined in to denounce his decision.

“It is the gravest thing possible that an Israeli MP would join the flotilla whose aim is to help the Hamas terror organisation,” said Israeli Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin from the ruling right-wing Likud party earlier this week.

“Israeli law does not allow anyone to serve in parliament who supports a terror organization,” he railed in an interview with army radio.

Via Ma’an News Agency

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Knesset to punish Arab Knesset politician over Gaza flotilla”

As 700 Die in Pakistan from Extreme Heat, Pakistanis Deny Climate Change

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 - 2:29am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Pakistan is in the midst of an extreme heat wave with highs around 110 degrees F., which has killed 700 persons in the past 3 days. Three weeks ago it was India’s turn, when extreme heat killed 1200 in the country’s south.

Despite the severe dangers to Pakistan posed by climate change, opinion polls show that only about a quarter of Pakistanis view the issue as a powerful threat. In contrast, over 80 percent of South Koreans are afraid of climate change.

South Asia is already unbearably hot in the summer. I’ve lived there in May and June, which are the worst, before the monsoon rains come. The heat is unbearable, but many Pakistanis have no choice but to bear it. Pakistan’s electricity capacity is inadequate and there are frequent electricity outages, which they call “load shedding” (our “brownouts”). Hot weather and drought hurt electricity production, because about half the country’s electricity is generated by hydro, i.e. dams. When the water levels decline, not as much electricity is made.

Average temperatures are set to go up by at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit because of the carbon dioxide we have already spilled into the atmosphere by burning petroleum, coal and natural gas. That will put Pakistan’s temperatures up to more like 114. It will go on up from there if we don’t find ways to stop emitting so much CO2.

It gets worse. Climate change has already produced massive flooding in each of the past 5 years. It appears to be pushing the jet stream north, drawing the monsoon rains up north.

Pakistani agriculture is also at risk. It depends on the Indus Valley river for irrigation .., the head waters of which are created by melting glaciers in the Himalayas. The glaciers are now melting. Ultimately, Pakistan itself could be largely a desert, unable to support the teeming millions it now does. Well before then, the crops it traditionally depends on may cease growing because of the extreme heat.

Rising seas threaten lower Sindh with more salinization of the soil.

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Overseas development Institute: ” Ali Tauqeer Sheikh – Climate change & the post 2015 development framework”

Is the Confederate flag unconstitutional?

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 - 12:47am

By Alfred L Brophy | (The Conversation) | –

The tragedy in Charleston has revived the movement to take the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds.

On Monday June 22 – five days after the shooting in the AME Emanuel Church – South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called a press conference to announce that,

“it is time to remove the flag from our capitol grounds…This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

This is a particularly sensitive issue because the flag is on state property.

The Confederate flag on public property leads many to ask: what message is the government sending?

The case against flying the Confederate flag

For those who want the flag to come down, the message is a reminder of white supremacy and the war fought to maintain slavery.

States have been taking Confederate flags and monuments down for years now, and refusing new requests to fly them.

Just this term the Supreme Court in Walker v Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans permitted Texas to reject a specialty license plate proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans with a Confederate battle flag on it.

Justice Breyer concluded that what appears on the license plate is a form of government speech and that Texas could decide for itself what speech to permit. When Texas decided that it did not want to include the Confederate battle flag, Breyer concluded there was no first amendment right of members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to require Texas to include the flag.

Integral to the conclusion that Texas can keep the Confederate battle flag off their license plates are the twin ideas that the government is speaking through the license plates and that Texas can control its own speech.

Such principles were used to justify the 2009 decision of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, to reject a monument from the Summum church for display on public property.

Writing for the majority in City of Pleasant Grove v Summum, Justice Alito said “the display of a permanent monument in a public park” is likely to be perceived as the government’s speech.

The city could reject a religious monument, because observers would think the government was endorsing that monument.

So far, so good: the state can (and many of us believe ought to) reject the display of the Confederate flag on government property.

Now look at the other side of this.

What is the state saying by flying the Confederate battle flag?

What happens when the state government decides to speak by putting a Confederate battle flag or a monument to the Confederacy on its property (or permitting others to do so)?

What message is the state sending?

While we’re working on that thought experiment, take, for instance, the Confederate monument in front of the Sussex County, Virginia Courthouse.

This is what is in front of the Sussex Courthouse in Virginia.
Alfred Brophy, Author provided

Note the inscription: “The principles for which they fought are eternal.”

That makes me suspicious of the quality of justice that African Americans can receive inside that courthouse.

Indeed, many people now see the rise of the use of the Confederate flag during the Civil Rights movement as a response to the increasing claims of African Americans to equality.

And as Justice Alito recognized in the Summum case, monuments on public property will lead observers to “routinely—and reasonably—interpret them as conveying some message on the property owner’s behalf.”

Violation of the 14th amendment?

That leads to the question, then, of whether government speech that tells African Americans they are inferior – and perhaps that the era of slavery was right – violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This is a stretch of current equal protection doctrine, which is concerned with tangible questions like funding rather than speech.

However, if a state legislature passed a statute proclaiming African Americans are inferior I can imagine that such a bold and vicious statement might rise to the level of a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Now take a further step: does the Confederate battle flag or a monument to the Confederacy tell African American citizens that they are inferior? And if so, does that violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

While the answer to the latter question may not be clearly yes, I don’t think it is clearly no, either.

Ultimately, this is really more a question of whether a state – and its politicians – want to continue to fly a flag that is so closely associated with a war begun to maintain slavery.

Many supporters of the flag say that the meaning for them is about southern heritage, not race hatred. And in this I an inclined to believe their statements about their motive.

But at this point in American history the flag has become closely associated in the minds of many with white supremacy, slavery, and Jim Crow segregation. Whatever its meaning once was – or still is in the minds of some – in the minds of many it is time to realize that this is a symbol that is sending the wrong message to US citizens.

Before this becomes a lawsuit, the Confederate flag should be taken down from in front of the South Carolina State House.

Alfred L Brophy is Judge John J Parker Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

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

Alfred L Brophy is Judge John J Parker Distinguished Professor of Law at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

—–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Rally Calls for Confederate Flag to Come Down”

Dear GOP: Play the Angry White Man card Enough & you might attract Racist Donors

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 - 12:36am

Cenk Uygur | (The Young Turks Video) | – –

“The leader of a rightwing group that Dylann Roof allegedly credits with helping to radicalise him against black people before the Charleston church massacre has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republicans such as presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Rick Santorum.

Earl Holt has given $65,000 to Republican campaign funds in recent years while inflammatory remarks – including that black people were “the laziest, stupidest and most criminally-inclined race in the history of the world” – were posted online in his name.

After being approached by the Guardian on Sunday, Cruz’s presidential campaign said it would be returning all money the senator had received from Holt.”

The Young Turks: “Republicans Awash In White Supremacist Money”

The Would-be Bush Trifecta, Brought to you by the Family Bankers

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 - 12:25am

By Nomi Prins | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Powerrecently out in paperback (Nation Books).] 

It’s happening. As expected, dynastic politics is prevailing in campaign 2016. After a tease about as long as Hillary’s, Jeb Bush (aka Jeb!) officially announced his presidential bid last week. Ultimately, the two of them will fight it out for the White House, while the nation’s wealthiest influencers will back their ludicrously expensive gambit.

And here’s a hint: don’t bet on Jeb not to make it through the Republican gauntlet of 12 candidates (so far). After all, the really big money’s behind him. Last December, even though out of public office since 2007, he had captured the support of 73% of the Wall Street Journal’s “richest CEOs.” Though some have as yet sidestepped declarations of fealty, count on one thing: the big guns will fall into line. They know that, given his family connections, Jeb is their best path to the White House and they’re not going to blow that by propping up some Republican lightweight whose father and brother weren’t president, not when Hillary, with all her connections and dynastic power, will be the opponent. That said, in the Bush-Clinton battle to come, no matter who wins, the bankers and billionaires will emerge victorious.

The issue of political blood and family lines in Washington is not new. There have been four instances in our history in which presidents have been bonded by blood. Our second president John Adams and eighth president John Quincy Adams were father and son. Our ninth president William Henry Harrison and our 23rd president Benjamin Harrison were grandfather and grandson. Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were cousins. And then, of course, there were our 41st and 43rd presidents, George H.W. and George W.

If Jeb becomes the 45th president, it will be the first time that three administrations share the same blood and “dynastic” will have a new meaning in America.

The Bush Legacy

The Bush political-financial legacy began when President Ronald Reagan chose Jeb’s father, George H.W., as his vice president. Reagan was also the first president to choose a Wall Street CEO, Donald Regan, as Treasury secretary. Then-CEO of Merrill Lynch, he happened to be a Bush family friend. And talk about family tradition: once upon a time (in 1900, to be exact), Jeb’s great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, founded G.W. Walker & Company. It was eventually acquired by — you guessed it! — Merrill Lynch, which was consumed by Bank of America at the height of the 2008 financial crisis.

That merger was pressed by, among others, George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary (and former Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO), Hank Paulson. It helped John Thain, Paulson’s former number two at Goldman Sachs, who was by then Merrill Lynch’s CEO, out of a tight spot. Now chairman and CEO of CIT Group, Thain is also a prominent member of the Republican Party who sponsored high-ticket fundraisers for John McCain during his 2008 campaign. Expect him to be there for Jeb. Paulson endorsed Jeb for president on April 15th. That’s how these loops go.

As vice president, George H.W. co-ran a task force with Donald Regan dedicated to breaking down the constraints of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, so that Wall Street banks could become ever bigger and more complex. Once president, Bush promoted deregulation, while reconfirming Alan Greenspan, who did the same, as the chairman of the Federal Reserve. In 1999, after President Bill Clinton (Hillary!) finished the job that Bush had started by overseeing the repeal of Glass-Steagall, banks began merging like mad and engaging in increasingly risky and opaque practices that led to the financial crisis that came to a head in George W.’s presidency.  In other words, it’s a small world at the top.

The meaning of all this: no other GOP candidate has Jeb’s kind of legacy political-financial power. Period. To grasp the interconnections between the Bush family and Wall Street that will put heft and piles of money behind his candidacy, however, it’s necessary to step back in time and see just how his family helped lead us to this moment of his.

Bush Wins

By the time George H.W. Bush became president on January 20, 1989, the economy was limping. Federal debt stood at $2.8 trillion. The savings and loan crisis had escalated. Still, his deregulatory financial policies remained in sync with those of the period’s most powerful bankers, notably Citicorp chairman John Reed, Chase (now JPMorgan Chase) Chairman Willard Butcher, JPMorgan chief Dennis Weatherstone, and Bank of America Chairman Tom Clausen.

With the economic odds stacked against him, Bush also remained surrounded by his most loyal, business-friendly companions in Washington, who either had tight relationships with Wall Street or came directly from there. In a preordained arrangement with President Reagan, Bush retained Nicholas Brady, the former chairman of the board of the blue-blood Wall Street investment bank Dillon, Read & Co., as Treasury secretary.

Their ties, first established on a tennis court, extended to Wall Street and back again. In 1977, after Bush had left the directorship of the CIA, Brady even offered him a position at Dillon, Read & Co. Though he didn’t accept, Bush later enlisted Brady to run his 1980 presidential campaign and suggested him as interim senator for New Jersey in 1982. The press dubbed Brady Bush’s “official confidant.”

The new president appointed another of his right-hand men, Richard Breeden (who had drafted a “Blueprint for Reform” of the banking industry as directed by a task force co-headed by Bush), as his assistant for issues analysis and later as head of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Then, on February 6, 1989, Bush unveiled his plan to rescue the ailing savings and loan (S&L) banks. Initial bailout estimates for 223 firms were put at $40 billion. It only took the Bush administration two weeks to raise that figure to $157 billion. On the offensive, Brady stressed that this proposal wasn’t a bailout. Instead, it represented “the fulfillment of the Federal Government’s commitment to depositors.”

A few months later, under Alan Greenspan’s Fed, JPMorgan Securities, the investment banking subsidiary of JPMorgan Chase, became the first bank subsidiary since the Great Depression to lead a corporate bond underwriting. Over the next decade, commercial banks would issue billions of dollars of corporate debt on behalf of energy and public utility companies as a result of Greenspan’s decision to open that door and Bush’s deregulatory stance in general. A chunk of it would implode in fraud and default after Bush’s son became president in 2001.

The S&L Blowout

The deregulation of the S&L industry between 1980 and 1982 had enabled those smaller banks, or thrifts — focused on taking deposits and providing mortgages — to compete with commercial banks for depositors and to invest that money (and money borrowed against it) in more speculative real estate ventures and junk bond securities. When those bets soured, the industry tanked. Between 1986 and 1989, 296 thrifts failed. An additional 747 would shut down between 1989 and 1995.

Among those, Silverado Banking went bankrupt in December 1988, costing taxpayers $1.3 billion. Neil Bush, George H.W.’s son, was on the board of directors at the time. He was accused of giving himself a loan from Silverado, but denied all wrongdoing.

George H.W.’s second son, Jeb Bush, had already been dragged through the headlines in late 1988 for his real estate relationship with Miguel Recarey Jr., a Cuban-American mogul who had been indicted on one charge of fraud and was suspected of racking up to $100 million worth of Medicare-related fraud charges.

Meanwhile, the president was crafting his bailout plan to stop the S&L bloodletting. On August 9, 1989, he signed the Financial Institution Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act, which proved a backdoor boon for the big commercial banks. Having helped stuff the S&Ls with toxic real estate products, they could now profit by selling the bonds that were constructed as part of the bailout plan, while the government subsidized the entire project. Within six years, the Resolution Trust Corporation and the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation had sold $519 billion worth of assets for 1,043 thrifts that had gone belly up. Key Wall Street banks were involved in distributing those assets and so made money on financial destruction once again. Washington left the public on the hook for $124 billion in losses.

The Bush administration and the Fed’s response to the S&L crisis (as well as to a concurrent third-world debt crisis) was to subsidize the banking system with federal and multinational money. In this way, a policy of privatizing bank profits and socializing their losses and risks became embedded in the American political system.

The New Banking Game in Town: “Modernization”

The S&L trouble sparked a broader credit crisis and recession. Congress was, by then, debating the “modernization” of the financial services industry, which in practice meant breaking down remaining barriers within institutions that had separated deposits and loans from securities creation and trading activities. This also meant allowing commercial banks to expand into nontraditional banking activities, including insurance provision and fund management.

The Bush administration aided the bankers by advocating the repeal of key elements of the Glass-Steagall Act. Related bills to dismantle that Depression-era act won the support of the House and Senate banking committees in the fall of 1991, though they were defeated in the House in a full vote.  Still, the writing was on the wall. What a Republican president had started, a Democratic one would soon complete.

In the meantime, the Bush administration was covering all the bases when it came to the repeal of Glass-Steagall, which would be the nail in the coffin of decades of banking constraint. As commercial bankers pushed to enter non-banking businesses, Richard Breeden, Bush’s SEC chairman, began championing the other side of the Glass-Steagall divide — fighting, that is, for the rights of investment banks to own commercial banks. And little wonder, since such a deregulation of the financial system meant a potential expansion of Breeden’s power: the SEC would be tasked with monitoring the growing number of businesses that banks could enter.

Meanwhile, Wendy Gramm, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), promoted another goal the bankers wanted: unconstrained derivatives trading. Gramm had first been appointed chair of the CFTC in 1988 by Reagan (who called her his “favorite economist”) and was then reappointed by Bush. She was determined to push for unregulated commodity futures and swaps — in part in response to lobbying from a Texas-based energy trading company, Enron, whose name would grow far more familiar to Americans in the years to come. While awaiting legislative approval, bankers started sending their trading exemption requests to Gramm and she began granting them.

9/11 Overshadows Enron

In early 2001, in the fading light of the rosy Clinton economy and an election result validated by the Supreme Court, the second President Bush entered the White House. A combination of Glass-Steagall repeal and the deregulation of the energy and telecom sectors under Clinton catalyzed a slew of mergers that consolidated companies and power in those industries upon fabricated books. The true state of the economy, however, remained well hidden, even as it teetered on a flimsy base of fraud, inflated stocks, and bank-created debt. In those years, the corporate and banking world still appeared glorious amid so many mergers. But the bankers’ efforts to support those transactions would soon give way to a spate of corporate bankruptcies.

It was the Texas-based energy-turned-trading company Enron that would emerge as the poster child for financial fraud in the early 2000s. It had used the unregulated derivatives markets and colluded with bankers to create a slew of colorfully named offshore entities through which the company piled up debt, shirked taxes, and hid losses. The true status of Enron’s fictitious books and those of other corporate fraudsters nonetheless remained unexamined in part because another crisis garnered all the attention. The 9/11 attacks at the World Trade Center, blocks away from where many of Enron’s trading partners were headquartered (including Goldman Sachs, where I was working that day), provided the banking industry with a reprieve from probes. The president instead called on bankers to uphold national stability in the face of terrorism.

On September 16, 2001, George W. famously merged financial and foreign policy. “The markets open tomorrow,” he said. “People go back to work and we’ll show the world.” To assist the bankers in this mission, Bush-appointed SEC chairman Harvey Pitt waived certain regulations, allowing corporate executives to prop up their share prices as part of a plan to demonstrate national strength by elevating market levels.

That worked — for about a minute. On October 16, 2001, Enron posted a $681 million third-quarter loss and announced a $1.2 billion hit to shareholders’ equity. The reason: an imploding pyramid of fraudulent transactions crafted with banks like Merrill Lynch. The bankers were now potentially on the hook for billions of dollars, thanks to Enron, a client that had been bulked up through the years with bipartisan support.

Amid this financial turmoil, Bush was focused on retaliation for 9/11. On January 10, 2002, he signed a $317.2 billion defense bill. In his State of the Union address, he spoke of an “Axis of Evil,” of fighting both the terrorists and a strengthening recession, but not of Enron or the dangers of Wall Street chicanery.

In 2001 and again in 2002, however, corporate bankruptcies would hit new records, with fraud playing a central role in most of them. Telecom giant WorldCom, for instance, was found to have embellished $11 billion worth of earnings. It would soon supplant Enron as America’s biggest fraud of the moment.

Bush Takes Action

On July 9th, George W. finally unveiled a plan to “curb” corporate crime in a speech given in the heart of New York’s financial district. Taking the barest of swipes at his Wall Street friends, he urged bankers to provide honest information to investors. The signals were now clear: bankers had nothing to fear from their commander in chief. That Merrill Lynch, for example, was embroiled in the Enron scandal was something the president would ignore — hardly a surprise, since the company’s alliances with the Bush family stretched back decades.

Three weeks later, he would sign the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, purportedly ensuring that CEOs and CFOs would confirm that the information in their SEC filings had been presented truthfully. It would prove a toothless and useless deterrent to fraud.

And then the president acted: on March 19, 2003, he launched the invasion of Iraq with a shock-and-awe shower of cruise missiles into the Iraqi night sky. Two days later, by a vote of 215 to 212, the House approved his $2.2 trillion budget, including $726 billion in tax cuts. Shortly thereafter — a signal to the banking industry if there ever was one — he appointed former Goldman Sachs Chairman Stephen Friedman director of the National Economic Council, the same role another Goldman Sachs alumnus, former co-Chairman Robert Rubin, had played for Bill Clinton.

By the end of 2003, grateful bankers were already amassing funds for Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. A bevy of Wall Street Republicans, including Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Henry Paulson, Bear Stearns CEO James Cayne, and Goldman Sachs executive George Herbert Walker IV (the president’s second cousin), became Bush “Pioneers” by raising at least $100,000 each.

The top seven financial firms officially raised nearly three million dollars for George W.’s campaign. Merrill Lynch emerged as his second biggest corporate contributor (after Morgan Stanley), providing more than $586,254. The firm’s enthusiasm wasn’t surprising. Donald Regan had been its chairman and the Bush-founded investment bank G.H. Walker and Company, which employed members of the family over the decades, had been absorbed into Merrill in 1978. Merrill Lynch CEO Earnest “Stanley” O’Neal received the distinguished label of “Ranger” for raising more than $200,000 for Bush’s reelection campaign. It was a sign of the times that O’Neal and Cayne hosted Bush’s first New York City reelection fundraiser in July 2003.

Government by Goldman Sachs for Goldman Sachs

The bankers helped tip the scales in Bush’s favor. On November 3, 2004, he won his second term in a tight election. By now, bankers from Goldman Sachs had saturated Washington. New Jersey Democrat Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO, was on the Senate Banking Committee. Joshua Bolten, a former executive director at the Goldman Sachs office in London, was director of the Office of Management and Budget. Stephen Friedman, former Goldman Sachs chairman, was one of George W.’s chief economic advisers as the director of the National Economic Council. (He would later become chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Board, only to resign in May 2009 amid conflict of interest charges concerning the pile of Goldman Sachs shares he held while using his post to aid the company during the financial crisis.)

Meanwhile, from 2002 to 2007, under George W.’s watch, the biggest U.S. banks would fashion nearly 80% of the approximately $14 trillion worth of global mortgage-backed securities (MBS), asset-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and other kinds of packaged assets created in those years. And subprime loan packages would soon become the fastest-growing segment of the MBS market. In other words, the financial products exhibiting the most growth would be the ones containing the most risk.

George W. would also pick Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Bernanke made it immediately clear where his loyalties lay, stating, “My first priority will be to maintain continuity with the policies and policy strategies during the Greenspan years.”

In 2006, two years after persuading the SEC to adopt rules that enabled many of the “assets” being created to be undercapitalized and underscrutinized, the president selected former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson to be his third Treasury secretary. Joshua Bolten, who had by then had become White House Chief of Staff, arranged the pivotal White House meeting between the two men that sealed the deal. As Bush wrote in his memoir, Decision Points, “Hank was slow to warm to the idea of joining my cabinet. Josh eventually persuaded Hank to visit with me in the White House. Hank radiated energy and confidence. Hank understood the globalization of finance, and his name commanded respect at home and abroad.”

Under Bush, Paulson, and Bernanke, the banking sector would buckle and take the global economy down with it.

Goldman Trumps AIG

Insurance goliath AIG stood at the epicenter of an increasingly interconnected financial world deluged with junky subprime assets wrapped up with derivatives. When rating agencies Fitch, S&P, and Moody’s downgraded the company’s credit worthiness on September 15, 2008, they catalyzed $85 billion worth of margin calls. If AIG couldn’t find that money, Paulson warned the president, the firm would not only fail, but “bring down major financial institutions and international investors with it.” According to Bush’s memoir, Paulson convinced him. “There was only one way to keep the firm alive,” he wrote. “The federal government would have to step in.”

The main American recipients of AIG’s bailout would, in fact, be legacy Bush-allied firms: Goldman Sachs ($12.9 billion), Merrill Lynch ($6.8 billion), Bank of America ($5.2 billion), and Citigroup ($2.3 billion). Lehman crashed, but Merrill Lynch and AIG were saved. The bankers with the strongest alliances to the Bush family (and the White House in general) needed AIG to survive. And it did. But the bloodletting wasn’t over.

On September 18, 2008, George W. would tell Paulson, “Let’s figure out the right thing to do and do it.” He would later write, “I had made up my mind: the U.S. government was going all in.” And he meant it.  During his last months in office, the Big Six banks (and marginally other institutions) would thus be subsidized by an “all-in” program designed by Bernanke, Paulson, and Geithner — and later endorsed by President Barack Obama.

The bankers’ unruliness had, however, already crippled the real economy. Over the next few months, Bank of America, Citigroup, and AIG all needed more assistance. And in that year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average would lose nearly half its value. At the height of the bailout period, $19.3 trillion in subsidies were made available to keep (mostly) American bankers going, as well as government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

As George W. headed back to Texas, the economy and markets went into free fall.

The Money Behind Jeb

Jump seven years ahead and, with the next Bush on the rise and the money once again flowing in, it’s still the age of bankers. Jeb already has three mega super PACs — Millennials for Jeb, Right to Rise, and Vamos for Jeb 2016 — under his belt. His Right to Rise Policy Solutions group, which, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, is not even required to disclose the names of its donors, no less the size of their contributions, is lifting his contribution tally even higher. None of these groups have to adhere to contribution limits and the elite donors who contribute to them often prove highly influential. After all, that’s where the money really is. In the 2012 presidential election, the top 100 individual contributors to super PACs and their spouses represented just 1% of all donors, but gave a staggering 67% of the money.

Of those, Republican billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated $92.8 million to conservative groups, largely through “outside donor groups” like super PACs that have no contribution limits. Texas billionaire banker mogul Harold Simmons and his wife, Annette, gave $26.9 million, and Texas billionaire homebuilder Robert Perry coughed up $23.95 million. Nebraska billionaire (and founder of the global discount brokerage TD Ameritrade) John Joe Ricketts dished out $13.05 million. Despite some early posturing around other candidates with fewer legacy ties, these heavy hitters could all end up behind Bush 45. Dynasties, after all, establish the sort of connections that lie in wait for the next moment of opportune mobilization.

“All in for Jeb” is the mantra on Jeb’s official website and in a sense “all in,” especially when it comes to national bankers, has been something of a mantra for the Bush family for decades. With a nod to his two-term record as Florida governor, Jeb put it this way: “We will take command of our future once again in this country. I know we can fix this. Because I’ve done it.”

Based on Bush family history, by “we” he effectively meant the family’s billionaire and millionaire donors and its cavalcade of friendly bankers. Topping that list, though as yet undeclared — give him a minute — sits Adelson, who is personally and ideologically close to George W. In April, the former president was paid a Clintonian speaking fee of $250,00 for a keynote talk before the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting at Adelson’s Las Vegas resort. While Adelson has expressed concerns about Jeb’s lack of hawkishness on Israel when compared to his brother, that in the end is unlikely to prove an impediment. Jeb is making sure of that.  He recently told a gathering of wealthy New York donors that, when it came to Israel, his top adviser is his brother. (“If you want to know who I listen to for advice, it’s him.”)

Let’s be clear.  The Bush family is all in on Jeb and its traditional banking allies are not likely to be far behind.  There is tradition, there are ties, there is a dynasty to protect.  They are not planning to lose this election or leave the family with a mere two presidents to its name.

The Wall Street crowd began rallying behind Jeb well before his candidacy was official.  Private equity titan Henry Kravis hosted a 25-guest $100,000-per-head gathering at his Park Avenue abode in February, one of six events with the same entry fee. In March, Jeb had his first Goldman Sachs $5,000-per-person event at the Ritz Carlton in New York City, organized by Dina Powell, Goldman Sachs Foundation head and George W. Bush appointee for assistant secretary of state.  A more exclusive $50,000 per head event was organized by Goldman Sachs exec, Jim Donovan, a key fundraiser and adviser for Mitt Romney who is now doing the same for Jeb.

And then there’s the list of moneyed financiers with fat wallets still to get behind Jeb. New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, who donated more than any other conservative in the 2014 election, has yet to swoop in.  Given the alignment of his foreign financial policy views and the Bush family’s, however, it’s just a matter of time.

With the latest total super PAC figures still to be disclosed, we do know that Jeb’s Right to Rise super PAC claims to have raised $17 million from the tri-state (New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) area alone so far. Its head, Mike Murphy, referred to its donors in a call last week as “killers” he was about to “set loose.” He intimated that the July disclosures would give opponents “heart attacks.” Those are fighting words.

Sure, all dynasties end, but don’t count on the Bush-Banker alliance going belly up any time soon. Things happen in this country when mountains of money begin to pile up. This time around, the Bush patriarchy will call in every chip. And know this: Wall Street will be going “all in” for this election, too. Jeb(!) and Hillary(!) will likely split that difference in the primaries, then duke it out in 2016. Along the way, every pretense of mixing it up with the little people will be matched by a million-dollar check to a super PAC. The cash thrown about in this election will be epic. It’s not the fate of two parties but of two dynasties that’s at stake.

Nomi Prins is the author of six books, a speaker, and a distinguished senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute Demos. Her most recent book, All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books) has just been released in paperback and this piece is adapted and updated from it. She is a former Wall Street executive.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Nomi Prins

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: “Growing Up Bush: Jeb Bush on His Decision to Run For President”

Iranians pin Hopes on success of Kerry-Zarif Nuclear Negotiations

Wed, 24 Jun 2015 - 12:03am

By William O. Beeman | (Informed Comment) | – –

I have just returned from a three-week trip in Iran in which I interviewed hundreds of Iranian citizens. I think many know that I speak fluent, unaccented Persian, so I am able to talk with Iranians of all ages, ethnicities, education and income levels quite easily.

Basically my conclusions are that most Iranians are very hopeful that the Vienna talks will be successful. They never talk about nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. They only talk about the lifting of sanctions.

Young people in particular see success in the talks as benefiting the problem of unemployment for university graduates. Four million Iranians will graduate with their “lisans” (undergraduate degree) this year. That is 5% of the entire Iranian population–a huge number. For lower-income Iranians this unemployment situation is the result of great unhappiness. Many families have sacrificed greatly to send their children to college. If they attend the Daneshgah-ye Azad, they must pay tuition. This varies by faculty, but it seems to be about 1 million tomans per semester. Middle and upper class Iranians can pay this, but for the lower income groups it is very hard. Of course attending government institutions is free, but many students still have to work to support themselves.

More realistic (one might say, cynical) people believe that the lifting of sanctions will not result in immediate benefits for the less affluent populations. The most cynical people say that if sanctions are lifted it will only really benefit the very wealthy who are going to be best prepared for foreign investment, which, based on the enormous number of foreign businessmen and women I met seems to be inevitable. Iran’s GDP growth was in excess of 3% last year by independent measures (World Bank, IMF) which exceeds that of the United States. Iran’s absolute poverty level stands at 12%, but the United States is at 15% as is Australia and Japan.

And why not extensive international investment? Iran is prepared for it already. One of the most important things I learned on this trip was that Iran has developed an extremely robust internal economy and that highly developed infrastructure has emerged since the revolution–and aided by the sanctions (which insulated Iran from the global recession, paradoxically). One can see this everywhere. There are factories, mining facilities and thriving businesses in every part of the country we visited–Tehran, Zanjan, Hamadan, Kermanshah, Khorramabad, Ahwaz, Shiraz, Yazd, Isfahan, Na’in and Kashan. Roads–four-lane divided highways between major cities–are better than any other nation in the region. Railroads are expanding and air transport covers the entire nation with frequent service. The roads are full of commercial transport vehicles loaded with agricultural and consumer goods and basic materials such as stone, wood, petroleum products and manufactured building materials. International business people come and see industrial and commercial facilities and networks that are already established and working full-steam. No primary investment will be necessary for international partners in many cases–only expansion both of the scope of manufacturing and in marketing and distribution.

Agriculture has greatly expanded (at the expense of water resources, however). The nation is groaning with high-quality food. The produce is beautiful and abundant as the amount of land under cultivation has expanded tremendously. This is an incredible difference from the period just before the revolution when Iran was importing so much food.

Again, the cynics in Iran point out that much of the import economy is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard officers and other high public officials. People on the street told me over and over that these people oppose the Lausanne/Vienna accords because their grip on imports will be broken if the markets are opened.

So we have a curious paradox. Everyone I talked to, without exception wanted the accords to succeed. Many emphasized not the economic benefits but rather the need for “friendship” between the United States and Iran. One elderly Qashqa’i woman put it succinctly: “Why can’t we just be friends. Why all this fighting? Who does it help?”

In the United States we have several factors that create opposition to the Vienna talks.

First, Americans do not have an accurate image of Iran. The idea that Iran is a backward, hostile nation with terrorists running around everywhere and women under total oppression is very widespread. I have never seen such a huge gap in perception between fact and reality. This is partly due to nearly 40 years of estrangement. Many Americans think that Iran is a dangerous place, and that if they were to travel there they would be arrested or terrorized.

This makes it very easy for pro-Israeli groups in the United States to demonize Iran in American public opinion. Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its offshoot, the Washington Isntitute for Near East Policy (WINEP) are propaganda think tanks with a huge grip on American legislators and American Public media.

The New York Times is one of the worst offenders in telling outright lies about Iran. The New York Times has an inordinate influence on public opinion in the United States. The reporters David E. Sanger, William J. Broad, Rick Gladstone and Michael Gordon have been writing inaccurate, negative articles about Iran regularly for at least 12 years. The editorial staff, who writes the headlines for their articles also makes their articles look even more negative than they are.

Because the American public has such a negative view of Iran, politicians have found out that attacking Iran is good for their political ambitions. No politician ever lost a vote by attacking Iran. Saying negative things about Iran draws applause and general public acceptance. Moreover, if a politician says something even mildly positive about Iran, like: We should talk to Iran, they are immediately attacked as anti-Isarael or even anti-Semitic.

However, the aforementioned business forces in the United States favor the accords as does the Obama administration, so there is a real difference of opinion in the American system.

Let me say that I personally believe that John Kerry and Javad Zarif are very accomplished negotiators. If it were up to them, they would have finalized these accords in a minute.

Also, I believe that the other members of the P5+1 group will ratify the accords. So even if the United States does not, trade will resume between Iran and Europe. Iran does not need the United States to benefit from success in these accords, but Iranians overwhelmingly want Iran and the U.S. to be friends again, even if conservatives in both Iran and the United States oppose this.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota. He blogs at wbeeman.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Iran FM to hold talks with senior European officials on nuclear deal”

What South Carolina needs to do for Racial equality (taking down the flag is just symbolic)

Tue, 23 Jun 2015 - 1:43am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) – –

Governor Nikki Haley announced on Monday that she would attempt to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the statehouse, recognizing the pain it causes the one-third of the state who are African-Americans (about a quarter of whites also don’t care if it is up or not.) Haley’s initiative may or may not work out; she needs a two-thirds maority.

This step is a welcome one, and IC called for it more than once. But it is only a symbolic measure and South Carolina’s 4.8 million residents can only achieve greater racial harmony and civil rights through practical steps. Among the most pressing of these steps:

Congressional districts in the state should not be drawn by the legislature, elected on a partisan basis, but by an impartial panel. Nearly a third of the population there is African-American or mixed, but it is not proportionally represented in politics because of gerrymandering. Six of the seven US representatives are white Republicans.

South Carolina should expand medicaid as part of Obamacare. 178,000 people there have gotten caught in the coverage gap, and they are likely disproportionately African-American. South Carolina health statistics are Third World, and the state needs to address this problem. Instead, the spiteful South Carolina legislature tried to nullify Obamacare.

Some 22 counties are low-education, with 25 percent or more residents having less than High School. African-Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged educationally. The state needs more funding for high schools.

The welfare of all South Carolinians would increase with these steps.

——

ABC News: Gov. Haley calls on SC Legislators to remove Confederate flag”

Selling the Gaza Assault: Israel’s Self-Inquiry is Self-Serving

Mon, 22 Jun 2015 - 11:28pm

John Hickman | (Informed Comment) | – –

The document titled “The 2014 Gaza Conflict, 7 July – 26 August 2014: Factual and Legal Aspects” released by the Israeli government on May 2015 reeks of the sort of compromises in content that unhappy committees produce. Also the blood of the innocent. Read it and you cannot help but picture sullen negotiations between soldiers, spies, lawyers and party politicians demanding the inclusion or exclusion of this or that item or the revision of language in this fragmented legal brief-esque collection of words, maps, graphs and photos. Internal conflict like that is hardly conducive to drafting a nicely integrated statement with content that convinces because it moves effortlessly from point to point. This text is broken.

Much of the problem is that some of the authors of this legal brief-like document insisted on larding it obvious propaganda devices. My guess is that it was the party politicians, but perhaps all of the authors are guilty. Here are the most common:

1) Blame the Victim: assert that Hamas is actually responsible for Palestinian civilian casualties because of ‘friendly fire’ rocket attacks and discouraging Palestinians from leaving areas the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) have announced will be targets. Efforts made by Israel to defend its citizens with air raid shelters are carefully detailed elsewhere in the document, perhaps to suggest to the unwary that the residents of densely populated Gaza have somewhere safe to find shelter during the IDF’s high tech aerial bombardments.

2) Minimization of Wrongdoing: quibble about numbers to assert that many of the Palestinian casualties were actually combatants and “we just don’t know” about the status of many others. To be sure, it must be difficult for Israeli authorities to determine the international legal status of the human beings whose bodies were torn apart and buried under the rubble of their homes, shops, schools and places of worship. Poor things.

3) Dehumanize Palestinians; Humanize Israelis: where the 2,125 Palestinian dead are treated as population to be described with percentages, the six Israeli civilian dead are individually named and the manner of their deaths described. To devote a paragraph to each of the approximately 800 Palestinians the authors are willing to describe as civilians would have doubled the length of the document. Then there is repetition of the idea that Israelis suffer psychological harm from rockets fired from Gaza without discussing the psychological harm to the residents of Gaza from perpetual confinement in the world’s largest open air prison, suffering food, water, medicine and fuel shortages, and subjected to periodic aerial bombardments that kill thousands. Now that would be psychologically stressful.

4) Focus on Palestinian Weapons; Downplay Israeli Weapons: display the number of rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza in graphs but not numbers and tonnage of bombs dropped and artillery shells fired into Gaza. To do otherwise would highlight the pathetic asymmetry of the war.

5) Ignore Crucial Context: discuss the history of this nightmare sparingly so as to avoid hinting at Israeli responsibility for having provoked some among a profoundly frustrated population to acts of impotent rage. Reading the document would make the unwary think that the causes of this ‘war’ go no farther back in time than 2001. Those who know something of the history of Palestine will be impressed that material about the period from 1917 to 2001 is too sensitive to be addressed. Imagine the authors sitting around a conference table thinking something like this: “Whatever we write we cannot mention how all those Palestinians ended up in Gaza. Also we can’t describe them as refugees.”

6) Pretend Dismay; Ignore Political Advantage: the forbidden truth is that killing large numbers of Palestinians is good for the careers of Israeli soldiers, spies, diplomats and party politicians. They can count on being rewarded with promotion, reelection and higher office so long as they also engage in the sort of hypocrisy represented by this document. Majorities of Israeli Jewish voters like a short ‘war’ with a obscenely lopsided body count. What’s more, the 2014 massacre is likely to lead to future massacres that will also be good for careers.

There are other obvious propaganda devices in the document, including euphemism, vilification, and a favorite of all national security apparatuses, claiming that evidence cannot be provided without endangering intelligence sources. There are surely more to be found if this is used as a ‘find the cheap rhetoric’ assignment in a college English or Communication course. (Reading aloud it with the same goal would turn it into a college drinking game.) So outside of academia, what should we make of The 2014 Gaza Conflict, 7 July – 26 August 2014: Factual and Legal Aspects? Perhaps it is best understood as what University of California anthropologist Michael Taussig called a “public secret,” the performance of something known that cannot be articulated and as it is being performed, displays power. Here the power being displayed is mass murder committed with impunity.

John Hickman is Professor in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College and author most recently of Selling Guantanamo: Exploding the Propaganda surrounding America’s most notorious military Prison (University Press of Florida, 2013)


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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Gaza/Israel: both guilty of serious violations last summer says UN”

Wife of Israeli Cabinet member tweets Racist Obama Joke, had called for Innocent Palestinians to be Punished

Mon, 22 Jun 2015 - 11:23pm

Nik Zecevic and Margaret Howell | (TheLipTV News Video) |- –

“A racist joke about President Obama posted on Twitter by Judy Shalom Nir-Mozes, the wife of Israeli interior minister Silvan Shalom, sparked international outrage on social media on Sunday. The joke, which read, “Do you know what Obama coffee is? Black and weak,” was quickly deleted after it was posted and was followed by an apology from Mozes. We discuss the offensive message on the Lip News with Nik Zecevic and Margaret Howell.”

TheLipTV: “Racist Obama Joke Tweeted by Israeli Politician’s Wife”

Ms. Shalom Nir-Mozes has a history of racist remarks on social media. In 2012 during an Israeli attack on Gaza, she said, “It’s time even for the passive residents of Gaza to suffer the way the residents of the south are suffering.”

That is, she advocated a war crime, making non-combatants “suffer.”

She was uninvited from UNICEF for these posts at Facebook:

“How is it possible to make peace with people whose children are fed hatred towards Israel from the moment they are born? How is it possible to make peace with people who have it as part of their DNA to hate us? I am willing to make real peace at any price. The problem is that there is no partner. I wish I was wrong.”

“Bibi [Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister], is right, I liked when he said ‘They shoot at our children and hide behind their children,’ the miserable losers. Bad enough they ruin our kids’ childhoods, I don’t understand how parents of children in Gaza allow those murderers to destroy their children.”

She additionally spoke out against a ceasefire saying “I really hope Bibi will not surrender to the pressures of our enemies and their lobby and will continue the operation until the murder of the last terrorist in Gaza. It is time that life in the [Israeli] south will start to be normal.”

Democracy in retreat in Half the 193 UN Member States

Mon, 22 Jun 2015 - 11:21pm

By Thalif Deen | – –

UNITED NATIONS (IPS) – Democracy is on the retreat and authoritarianism is on the rise in more than 96 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, according to a new report released here.

The two regions of “highest concern” for defenders of civic space are Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, which between them account for over half of the countries counted.

“Legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents.” — Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah

These violations are increasing not only in countries perceived to be democratic but also in countries with blatantly repressive regimes.

“The widespread systematic attack on these core civil society liberties has taken many forms, including assault, torture, kidnapping and assassination,” says the CIVICUS Civil Society Watch Report.

“We have known for some time that encroachments on civic space and persecution of peaceful activists were on the rise but it’s more pervasive than many may think,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, a South Africa-based international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society worldwide.

“Our monitoring in 2014 shows that legitimate civil society activities are worryingly under threat in a huge number of countries in the global North and South, democratic and authoritarian, on all continents,” he added.

The report says while activists engaged in political reform, uncovering corruption and human rights violations continue to be targeted, those defending local communities from land grabs and environmental degradation, as well as those promoting minority group rights, have been subjected to various forms of persecution.

“The link between unethical business practices and closing civic space is becoming clearer as global inequality and capture of power and resources by a handful of political and economic elite rises. “

Advocacy for equitable sharing of natural resources and workers’ rights is becoming increasingly fraught with danger, says the report.

The examples cited range from the killings of environmental activists in Brazil to the intimidation of organisations challenging the economic discourse in India, to arbitrary detention of activists opposing oil exploration in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Jenni Williams (in white cap) addresses Women of Zimbabwe Arise members at Zimbabwe’s parliament building in Harare with the police looking on. Zimbabwe is one of the African countries where repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified. Credit: Misheck Rusere/IPS

Asked to identify some of the worst offenders, Matthew Reading of CIVICUS told IPS: “We don’t provide a ranking of the countries’ violations, but we are able to categorise limitations on civil society activities into completely closed countries and active violators of civic freedoms.”

He said “closed countries” are where virtually no civic activity can take place due to an extremely repressive environment. These include Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

There is a second list of countries that are active violators of civil society rights – meaning they imprison, intimidate and attack civil society members and put in place all kinds of regulations to limit the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), particularly those working to uncover corruption and human rights violations, Reading said.

These include Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam.

The report also points out some of the tactics deployed to close civic space include passing restrictive laws and targeting individual civil society organisations (CSOs) by raiding their offices, freezing their bank accounts or deregistering them.

A number of democracies are also engaging in illicit surveillance of civil society activists, further weakening respect for human rights.

Stigmatisation and demonisation of civil society activists by powerful political figures and right-wing elements remains an area of concern.

“When citizens’ most basic democratic rights are being violated in more than half the world’s countries, alarm bells must start ringing for the international community and leaders everywhere,” said Sriskandarajah.

Reading told IPS governments in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have stepped up their efforts to prevent public demonstrations and the activities of human rights groups.

“There appears to be no let-up in official censorship and repression of active citizens in authoritarian states like China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Vietnam.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, he said, the repression of civic freedoms appears to have intensified in countries such as Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Gambia, Rwanda, Sudan, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

And activists and civil society groups in many countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe — where democracy remains fragile or non-existent such as Azerbaijan, Belarus, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan — are also feeling the heat following governments’ reactions to scuttle demands for political reform.

In South-East Asia, Reading pointed out, countries such as Cambodia and Malaysia have a history of repressive governance and in Thailand, where the military seized power through a recent coup, new ‘security’ measures continue to be implemented to restrict civic freedoms.

Asked what role the United Nations can play in naming and shaming these countries, Reading said the U.N. Human Rights Council has emerged as a key international forum for the protection of civic freedoms particularly through the Universal Periodic Review process where each country gets its human rights record reviewed every four years.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is currently collating best practices to create a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein has been an active supporter of civil society’s ability to operate freely, as was his predecessor, Navi Pillay, who was ardent advocate of civic freedoms, Reading said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen a t aol d o t com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN from last month: “Thai PM: I have never been against democracy”

Wikileaks Docs Reveal Saudi intrigues against Bahrain’s Arab Spring

Mon, 22 Jun 2015 - 11:15pm

By Faten Bushehri | (Global Voices) | – –

The Saudi Cables, released by WikiLeaks, includes a treasure trove of information in secret exchanges between Saudi diplomats on restive Bahrain

Saudi Arabia's meddling in Bahrain's internal affairs has been revealed in top secret documents released by whistle blowing site WikiLeaks from June 20.

WikiLeaks published the Saudi Cables, which contain about half a million confidential documents and correspondence between the Saudi government and its embassies worldwide.

It is no secret that the Saudi government has always shown full support for the Bahraini regime and sent the Peninsula Shield forces to crush the popular uprising in 2011.

Anti-government protests swept Bahrain's streets on February 14, 2011, with protesters calling for democratic reforms and more freedoms. This movement irked the Bahraini government and its neighbor Saudi Arabia, who acted quickly and forcefully having learnt Arab Spring lessons from elsewhere in the region.

Some of the cables reveal how the Saudi government kept close tabs on international media coverage on Bahrain, monitoring media outlets which covered the protests and documenting all that was reported.

From the many tweets circulating on social media with photographs of different documents, this user tweeted a document that shows the Saudi government's report on an article written by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times on Shorouk News in 2012, in which he states the Bahraini government did not allow journalists and witnesses to observe the crackdown in Bahrain:

من وثائق #ويكليكس_السعودية عن ثورة #البحرين تقارير سعودية ورصد للثورة في البحرين pic.twitter.com/0ybb6ksI3e

— ضياع البوصلة (@qa313) June 19, 2015

Some of the leaked documents from the Saudi Cables on WikiLeaks are the embassy's and Saudi intelligence's analysis of the revolution in Bahrain.

Another cable portrays the Shia community in Bahrain united against fragmented Sunni groups.

وثيقة: الاستخبارات السعودية ترصد ضعف وتشرذم القوى السنية بمواجهة القوى الشيعية في أحداث البحرين. #ويكليكس_السعودية pic.twitter.com/bMiOWtzRTl

— Jerez de la Frontera (@bWU8onma2) June 20, 2015

Saudi intelligence monitors the weakness and fragmentation of the Sunni forces versus Shiite forces in the events of Bahrain

The above document also states that officers and top officials not related to the Bahraini ruling family are complaining about having debts, not being appreciated and feeling that the government is willing to cut them loose in return for political gain.

It also mentions the Bahraini government's attempt to slow down the internet was not successful because Shiite activists have other ways of communicating, while those that work with international organizations have phones provided for them.

The Saudi government document described visa procedures as very lenient, making it easy for Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese nationals with foreign citizenships to obtain entry visas and offer help and guidance to the Shiite opposition. It called on the Bahraini government to tighten its grip on these procedures and close that loop hole.

Another document that also shows Saudi Arabia's role in fueling the sectarian divide focuses on Bahrain's leading Shia cleric Isa Qassim, also the spiritual leader of the Alwefaq National Islamic Society, the largest political bloc in Bahrain.

تقرير المخابرات #السعودية عن ثورة شعب #البحرين والتحريض على #الشيخ_عيسى_قاسم . pic.twitter.com/Vp49Z0KPCq #ويكليكس_السعودية

— iProtestor | Bahrain (@iProtestor) June 20, 2015

Saudi intelligence reports on the revolution of the Bahraini people and incites against Shaikh Isa Qassim.

The following telegram named “Assessing the situation in the host country” was issued by the Saudi Embassy in Manama. The analysis states there was a split within the Bahraini ruling family over how to deal with the escalation of Shiite-led protests on the first anniversary of the February 14 revolution.

The telegram described the security and political environment in the country as still very dangerous a year on from the outbreak of the February 14 events. The report says the Shiite opposition is dragging the situation out and buying time while dealing with government security measures.


The assessment also mentioned that there was pressure from Sunni government loyalists who complained about the soft approach taken in dealing with the Shiite street protests and not punishing those suspected of taking part in the “coup attempt”.

The Saudi government also sent a letter to the British Foreign Minister William Hague, and a duplicate letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking them to intervene in lifting the arms embargo on Bahrain, claiming the country is facing serious security challenges and violent acts supported by other regional forces.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called the recent release of the leaked documents on WikiLeaks an “electronic attack“.

The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned Saudis on Twitter not to consider accessing the WikiLeaks site:

عزيزي #المواطن_الواعي : تجنب الدخول إلى أي موقع بغرض الحصول على وثائق أو معلومات مسربة قد تكون غير صحيحة، بقصد الإضرار بأمن الوطن.

— وزارة الخارجية (@KSAMOFA) June 19, 2015

Dear informed citizen: Avoid access to any site in order to obtain documents or leaked information that may be incorrect for the purpose of harming homeland security.

Stay tuned as our Global Voices Online team digs up more documents from the leaked cache.

Also check out our coverage on Checkdesk Global Voices, where we are tracking citizen media reactions to the Saudi Cables.

Faten Bushehri is on Twitter @fatenhbu

Via Global Voices Online

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The New York Times: “Bahrain: Our Oath | The Trials of Spring | The New York Times”