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Updated: 7 hours 17 min ago

Trump’s Gift to Hizbullah weakens Saudi Hand in Beirut

Fri, 8 Dec 2017 - 3:43am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Hassan Nasrullah, the secretary general of Lebanon’s Hizbullah, called for a new Palestinian uprising or intifada in the wake of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He said Trump had thereby issued “A second Balfour Declaration.” (The first was in 1917 when the British cabinet gave away Palestine to the Zionists in a fit of imperial diktat.)

He said in a televised address that supporting the Palestinian resistance was the best way to respond to Trump’s announcement. Nasrullah warned that Trump’s decision created dangers to Palestinians and would encourage Israeli colonists on Palestinian land and create new dangers to the Muslima nd Christian holy places in Jerusalem, above all the Aqsa Mosque.

He called for protests in every possible way, including physically but also via social media on the internet.

He also urged the revival of the Arab League boycott of Israel.

He said, “We are facing an administration that does not respect international treaties.

Nasrullah is calling for large rallies in Lebanon itself early next week. For him, Trump’s announcement is a God send, since Nasrullah had been under the gun from the Saudis and they had required Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri to resign.

Hariri has reinstated himself. But the pressure on Hizbullah from the Saudis is still there. The Jerusalem issue allows Nasrullah to fight back against the Saudi attempt to rein it in in Yemen and Syria.

Since the Saudis have been relatively openly playing footsie with Israel, Nasrullah has the street cred to appeal to the Arab masses.

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Related video

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Jared Kushner: “Peace Envoy” & Funder of Illegal Israeli Squatters in Palestine

Fri, 8 Dec 2017 - 2:15am

By Justin Elliott | ( ProPublica) | – –

While Jared Kushner is working on a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation is funding a controversial West Bank settlement.

As Jared Kushner leads the U.S. government’s effort to develop an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, the Kushner Companies Charitable Foundation is funding a hardline Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The charitable fund made a donation of at least $18,000 at the “Master Builders” level to American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva Center, according to a donor book distributed at the group’s annual gala Sunday evening.

The Kushner family has given money in past years to the group, which funds construction of the Bet El settlement outside the Palestinian city Ramallah, as Haaretz first reported. But this appears to be the first time they’ve done so while Kushner, whose title is senior adviser to the president, is the lead administration official brokering a peace plan.

Advocates of a two-state solution said the donation was troubling given Kushner’s role.

“Under normal circumstances you would expect someone who has a background of activism related to Israel to be working very hard to take a step back from that to show that he can be a credible mediator. Not only is that not the case, it’s the opposite,” said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which eat away at any future Palestinian state, are one of the main obstacles to a two-state solution. Bet El, which was built onprivate Palestinian land seized by the Israeli military in the 1970s, is considered one of the most politically radical settlements. President Donald Trump has changed U.S. policy by saying he does not believe a two-state solution is a necessary part of a peace deal. In a move expected to exacerbate tensions, Trump will reportedly declare Jerusalem Israel’s capital today.

The donation to Bet El came from a charitable fund “solely controlled” by Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, according to Kushner Companies spokeswoman Chris Taylor. Kushner’s White House spokesman declined to comment.

Kushner stepped down from his job as CEO of Kushner Companies earlier this year but still has significantfinancial interests in the family empire, which mainly consists of real estate.

The mood of the 1,300 attendees at the Bet El dinner, held at a midtown Manhattan Marriott Sunday, was celebratory. “2017 is a year of construction starts for Bet El Institutions,” said a glossy book distributed at each table. “Facing a new policy of zero condemnations from the US State Department, Bet El is not wasting a minute.”

The former president of the Bet El group, David Friedman, is now the Trump administration’s ambassador to Israel.

Guests posed for pictures with a smiling John Bolton, the former Bush administration ambassador to the United Nations. A short film set to action-movie music showed high-school-age youth training in the settlement’s military academy. “Bet El is very important because it establishes our claim that God gave us this land,” said Karen Frager, an activist who spoke on a video shown on stage.

Earlier Sunday, Jared Kushner made a rare public appearance in Washington, striking a different tone.

“Our team has tried very hard to do a lot of listening — not just with Israelis, with Palestinians. [It] understands what their views and red lines are,” Kushner said at the Saban Forum.

The Kushner Companies donation to Bet El comes at a time when Jared Kushner is under scrutiny for his unsuccessful effort last December to block a United Nations resolution to condemn Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank. That effort, which was outlined in the charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn, came after the election but before Donald Trump was inaugurated as president.

The Kushner family is associated with at least two other charitable funds, including the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation. A recent report in Newsweek raised questions about whether Kushner properly disclosed his role in the nonprofits on his official ethics disclosure.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Jared Kushner Failed To Disclose Israel Conflict Of Interest

1% plans Blade Runner Walls against 250 mn Climate Refugees

Fri, 8 Dec 2017 - 1:33am

By Todd Miller | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

When I first talked to the three Honduran men in the train yard in the southern Mexican town of Tenosique, I had no idea that they were climate-change refugees. We were 20 miles from the border with Guatemala at a rail yard where Central American refugees often congregated to try to board La Bestia (“the Beast”), the nickname given to the infamous train that has proven so deadly for those traveling north toward the United States.

The men hid momentarily as a Mexican army truck with masked, heavily armed soldiers drove by. Given Washington’s pressure on Mexico to fortify its southern border, U.S. Border Patrol agents might have trained those very soldiers. As soon as they were gone, the Hondurans told me that they had been stuck here for six long days. The night before, they had tried to jump on La Bestia, but it was moving too fast.

When I asked why they were heading for the United States, one responded simply, “No hubo lluvia.” (“There was no rain.”) In their community, without rain, there had been neither crops, nor a harvest, nor food for their families, an increasingly common phenomenon in Central America. In 2015, for instance, 400,000 people living in what has become Honduras’s “dry corridor” planted their seeds and waited for rain that never came. As in a number of other places on this planet in this century, what came instead was an extreme drought that stole their livelihoods.

For Central America, this was not an anomaly. Not only had the region been experiencing increasing mid-summer droughts, but also, as the best climate forecasting models predict, a “much greater occurrence of very dry seasons” lies in its future. Central America is, in fact, “ground zero” for climate change in the Americas, as University of Arizona hydrology and atmospheric sciences professor Chris Castro told me. And on that isthmus, the scrambling of the seasons, an increasingly deadly combination of drenching hurricanes and parching droughts, will hit people already living in the most precarious economic and political situations. Across Honduras, for example, more than 76% of the population lives in conditions of acute poverty. The coming climate breakdowns will only worsen that or will, as Castro put it, be part of a global situation in which “the wet gets wetter, the dry gets drier, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Everything gets more extreme.”

Talking with those farmers in the Tenosique train yard felt, in a way, like a scene from a sequel to the movie The Road in which a father and son walk across a post-apocalyptic North America devastated by an unknown cataclysm. In reality, though, I was just in a typical border zone of the Anthropocene, the proposed new geologic era characterized by human activity as the dominant force on the climate and environment.  And these young, unarmed farmers with failing harvests are now facing the only welcome this planet presently has to offer for such victims of climate change: expanding border regimes of surveillance, razor-wire walls, guns, and incarceration centers.

As they keep heading north, they will have to be on guard against ever more army and police patrols, while enduring hunger and thirst as well as painful separations from their families. They will have to evade endless roadside checkpoints, which Fray Tomás Tómas González Castillo, director of a nearby shelter for migrants in Tenosique, told me were almost “impossible” to avoid, at a time when, he noted, “organized crime” controlled the trains.

Such a predicament is hardly unique to the Mexico-Guatemalan border region or even the U.S.-Mexican version of the same. Think of the maritime divide between North Africa and the European Union or the Jordanian border where patrols now reportedly shoot at “anything that moves” coming from Syria — or so a Jordanian official who prefers to remain anonymous told me. And Syria was just one of the places where the ever-increasing impacts of climate change, migration, and tightly enforced border zones intersected. 

Now, homeland security regimes are increasingly unleashing their wrath on the world’s growing numbers of displaced people, sharpening the divide between the secure and the dispossessed. Whether in Mexico or on the Mediterranean Sea, as ever more human beings find themselves uprooted from their homes and desperate, such dynamics will only intensify in the decades to come. In the process, the geopolitics and potentially the very geography of the globe will be reshaped.  It’s not just Donald Trump.  Everywhere on Planet Earth, we seem to be entering the era of the wall.

The Displaced

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, the “impact and threat of climate-related hazards” displaced an average of 21.5 million people annually between 2008 and 2015. The growing impact of the Anthropocene — of intensifying droughts, rising seas, and mega-storms — is already adding to a host of other factors, including poverty, war, and persecution, that in these years have unsettled record numbers of people. While many of the climate-displaced stay close to home, hoping to salvage both their lives and livelihoods, ever more are crossing international borders in what many are now calling a “refugee crisis.”

“Catastrophic convergence” is the term sociologist Christian Parenti uses to describe this twenty-first-century turmoil, since many of these factors combine to displace staggering numbers of people.  As Camila Minerva of Oxfam puts it, “The poorest and the most marginalized are five times more likely to be displaced and to remain so for a longer time than people in higher income countries and it is increasing with climate change.”

Though the numbers are often debated, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggests that climate breakdowns will displace 250 million people by 2050. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre suggests that those numbers could actually range from 150 million to a staggering 350 million by that year. In reporting on how climate change is already affecting Mexico City, Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic of the New York Times, cited a report suggesting that the number may be far higher than that, possibly reaching 700 million — and that, by 2050, 10% percent of all Mexicans between 15 and 65 might be heading north, thanks to rising temperatures, droughts, and floods.

“Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain,” wrote the authors of the report In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, “the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before.”  And here’s the sad reality of our moment: for such developments, the world is remarkably unprepared.  There isn’t even a legal framework for dealing with climate refugees, either in international law or the laws of specific countries. The only possible exception: New Zealand’s “special refugee visas” for small numbers of Pacific Islanders displaced by rising seas.  

The only real preparations for such a world are grim ones: walls and the surveillance technology that goes with them.  Most climate-displaced people travelling internationally without authorization will sooner or later run up against those walls and the armed border guards meant to turn them back. And if the United States or the European Union is their destination, any possible doors such migrants might enter will be slammed shut by countries that, historically, are the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters and so most implicated in climate change.  (Between 1850 and 2011, the United States was responsible for 27% of the world’s emissions and the countries of the European Union, 25%.)

A Booming Market in Walls

I have no idea what happened to those three farmers after our brief meeting in Tenosique. I did, however, think of them again a couple of months later when I was 1,000 miles to the north. Under a mesquite tree in northern Mexico, there was a lonely plastic bottle with a few droplets of water still in it. Somebody had left it as they crossed into the United States.

I was just east of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, a mere 25 feet from the U.S.-Mexican border. I could clearly see the barrier there and a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a green-striped truck looking back at me from the other side of the divide. Perhaps a quarter mile from where I stood, I could also spot an Integrated Fixed Tower, one of 52 new high-tech surveillance platforms built in the last two years in southern Arizona by the Israeli company Elbit Systems. Since that tower’s cameras are capable of spotting objects and people seven miles away, I had little doubt that agents in a nearby command and control center were watching me as well. There, they would also have had access to the video feeds from Predator B drones, once used on the battlefields of the Greater Middle East, but now flying surveillance missions in the skies above the border. There, too, the beeping alarms of thousands of motion sensors implanted throughout the U.S. border zone would ring if you dared cross the international divide.

Only 15 years ago, very little of this existed. Now, the whole region — and most of this preceded Donald Trump’s election victory — has become a de facto war zone. Climate refugees, having made their way through the checkpoints and perils of Mexico, will now enter a land where people without papers are tracked in complex, high-tech electronic ways, hunted, arrested, incarcerated, and expelled, sometimes with unfathomable cruelty. To a border agent, the circumstances behind the flight of those three Honduran farmers would not matter. Only one thing would — not how or why you had come, but if you were in the United States without the proper documentation.

Climate change, increased global migration, and expanding border enforcement are three linked phenomena guaranteed to come to an explosive head in this century. In the United States, the annual budgets for border and immigration policing regimes have already skyrocketed from about $1.5 billion in the early 1990s to $20 billion in 2017, a number that represents the combined budgets of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. During that period, the number of Border Patrol agents quintupled, 700 miles of walls and barriers were constructed (long before Donald Trump began talking about his “big, fat, beautiful wall”), and billions of dollars of technology were deployed in the border region.

Such massive border fortification isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. In 1988, when the Berlin Wall fell, there were 15 border walls in the world. Now, according to border scholar Elisabeth Vallet, there are 70. These walls generally have risen between the richer countries and the poorer ones, between those that have the heavier carbon footprints and those plunged into Parenti’s “catastrophic convergence” of political, economic, and ecological crises. This is true whether you’re talking about the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia.

As Paul Currion points out, even some countries that are only comparatively wealthy are building such “walls,” often under pressure and with considerable financial help. Take Turkey. Its new “smart border” with drought-stricken and conflict-embroiled Syria is one of many examples globally. It now has a new tower every 1,000 feet, a three-language alarm system, and “automated firing zones” supported by hovering zeppelin drones. “It appears that we’ve entered a new arms race,” writes Currion, “one appropriate for an age of asymmetric warfare, with border walls replacing ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles].”

India is typical in constructing a steel wall along its lengthy border with Bangladesh, a country expected to have millions of displaced people in the decades to come, thanks to sea level rise and storm surges. In these years, with so many people on the move from the embattled Greater Middle East and Africa, the countries of the European Union have also been doubling down on border protection, with enforcement budgets soaring to 50 times what they were in 2005.

The trends are already clear: the world will be increasingly carved up into highly monitored border surveillance zones. Market projections show that global border and homeland security industries are already booming across the planet. The broader global security market is poised to nearly double between 2011 and 2022 (from $305 billion to $546 billion).  And, not so surprisingly, a market geared to climate-related catastrophes is already on the verge of surpassing $150 billion.

Climate Change as a National Security Threat (and Bonanza)

Don’t just take my word for it when it comes to predictions about this planet’s increasingly bordered future. Consider the forecasts of the U.S. military and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One of the first crude assessments of such a walled-in world appeared in a 2003 Pentagon-commissioned report, An Abrupt Climate Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, and it already had a distinctly Trumpian ring to it:

“The United States and Australia are likely to build defensive fortresses around their countries because they have the resources and reserves to achieve self-sufficiency… Borders will be strengthened around [the United States] to hold back unwanted starving immigrants from the Caribbean islands (an especially severe problem), Mexico, and South America.”

That identification of the Caribbean as “an especially severe problem” almost a decade and a half ago was prescient indeed in this year of super-storms Irma and Maria that left Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in shambles and the island of Barbuda “extinguished.”

While the Trump administration is scrubbing government websites and policies clean of climate change, other parts of the government are still in the business of preparing for it, big time, rather than denying its existence. At both the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, global warming is seen as a “threat multiplier” that must be factored into any long-term planning — and that should surprise no one.  After all, the future time frame of a national security planner can be as much as 30 years. It sometimes takes that long for a major weapons system to go “from the drawing board to the battlefield,” according to former Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, editor of Climatic Cataclysm: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Climate Change, a 2008 report coordinated by the Center for a New American Security and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Unlike the president and the present heads of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, U.S. military and homeland security risk assessors aren’t likely to deny the 97% consensus of scientists on climate change. In Climatic Cataclysm, Campbell wrote that the “sheer numbers of potentially displaced people” are prospectively “staggering.” In one assessment of what a possible 2.6 degree Celsius rise in the global temperature by 2040 might mean, Leon Fuerth, a former security adviser to Al Gore, concluded that “border problems” would overwhelm U.S. capabilities “beyond the possibility of control, except by drastic methods and perhaps not even then.”

In 2009, the Obama administration declared climate change a top national security threat. This prompted both the Pentagon and the DHS to prepare climate-change adaptation “roadmaps” and action plans. In 2014, the DHS added climate change as a top threat to its Quadrennial Homeland Security Review, its main public mission document. During a 2015 congressional hearing, Thomas Smith, one of that review’s authors, testified that climate change was “a major area of homeland security risk,” and that “more frequent severe droughts and tropical storms, especially in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, could increase population movements, both legal and illegal, toward or across the U.S. border.”

In other words, you don’t have to turn to climate-change activists and experts like Bill McKibben or Naomi Klein to understand why those Central American droughts are getting worse and why those three Honduran men were in that train yard. All of this was predicted by the Department of Homeland Security.

Those in the DHS, like those in the Pentagon, grasp what’s coming and they’re going to meet it with what they know how to do best, what Donald Trump himself would approve of if he weren’t ignoring the potentially most devastating phenomenon on this planet: hardened enforced borders, big brother biometrics, and high tech surveillance systems. In other words, they will face the victims of climate change with a man-made dystopia.

The Alternative Border Wall

Now, remember that water bottle under the mesquite tree near the U.S.-Mexico border?  I came across it while being taken on a tour by Juan Manuel Pérez, the project manager of Cuenca Los Ojos, an organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of biological diversity along those same borderlands. I was there to see a water-harvesting project. But first, Pérez took me to a spot where a portion of a barrier wall the CBP had once built across this part of the border lay wrecked like some ancient archeological ruin.  It had been swept into Mexican territory in 2014 by a deluge of water, as the remnants of Hurricane Odile lashed the washes of the Chiricahua Mountains in Eastern Arizona. Now, planet Earth was devouring the carcass of that former wall, those hundreds of pounds of metal. Three years after it was deposited here, that wall fragment was already partially covered with soil. Purple flowers sprouted from its crevasses.  When I got close enough, I could see spiders hanging from their webs on it. If the rest of that $20 billion in border infrastructure were left alone, in the end this is what would happen to it. This is how the earth would welcome it back.

From there, I could see where DHS had built a new barrier to replace the destroyed one. Near it, that same border patrol vehicle was idling and that same surveillance tower stuck up in the distance, all part of a desperate attempt to keep that “catastrophic convergence” at bay, to keep the world of such hurricanes and the climate-change displaced who will go with it, from the United States.

Nearby, I also saw what Pérez told me were gabions — steel cages filled with rocks embedded in the nearby streambed on the Mexican side of the border. They were there, he explained to me, to slow down the rushing rainwaters during the summer monsoon season so the soil could drink them in and be replenished. Remarkably, they had done their job. In this parched territory, in the middle of a 15-year drought, the water table had risen 30 feet.

It was, I said, a miracle.

Native grasses were growing back, as were the desert willows. The rising water, no respecter of borders or border patrols, had similarly begun to replenish the aquifers on the Arizona side and water was appearing in places that hadn’t seen anything like this before. Mind you, national security assessments stress that in Mexico and Central America water scarcity issues will be a factor driving climate breakdowns and increased migration. That was certainly the case for those three Honduran farmers.

Here, however, those gabions, embedded in the dry river, were bringing water back to places where it had become scarce. Remarkably, from my vantage point in that border landscape, the cages of rocks began to look like parts of some intricately carved stonewall. It was a strange illusion and it made me think that in a world of the grimmest sorts of walls meant to turn back everyone and offer greetings to no one, perhaps this was the real “border wall” that people needed, that planet earth needed, something that welcomed us to a better, not a desperately worse world.

Todd Miller, a TomDispatch regular, has written on border and immigration issues for the New York Times, Al Jazeera America, and the NACLA Report on the Americas. His new book, Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (City Lights Books), has just been published. You can follow him on Twitter @memomiller and view more of his work at toddmillerwriter.com.

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

Copyright 2017 Todd Miller

Via Tomdispatch.com

Over 50 injured in Trump-caused in clashes across Palestinian territory

Fri, 8 Dec 2017 - 1:21am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The number of injured Palestinians continues to climb on Thursday as clashes with Israeli forces continue to escalate across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Palestinian and world leaders warned Trump against making the announcement, for fear of instability and violence across the region, that is now expected to continue in the days to come.

9 injured with live ammunition

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health and a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent, there are upward of 50 injuries in total, nine of which are injuries with live ammunition.

Of the live-bullet injuries, four were reported to be in the central West Bank city of Ramallah, and five from the Gaza Strip. Also in Ramallah, eight Palestinians were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets.

In Gaza, four Palestinians from the southern district of Khan Younis were injured with live ammunition, and one Palestinian from northeastern Gaza was injured. The injuries were reported as light to moderate.

Clashes erupt across West Bank

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, medics told Ma’an that at least three Palestinians were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets while two, including a young boy, were treated for severe tear-gas inhalation.

In the Kafr Qaddum town of the Qalqiliya district in the northern West Bank, five injuries were reported, four of which are tear-gas related, and one with a rubber-coated steel bullet.

In Hebron city, clashes erupted following a march in the city. Israeli forces raided the city, firing tear gas and chasing down dozens of Palestinian youths who were throwing stones.

via Ma’an News Agency

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Guardian: “Israeli troops clash with Palestinian protesters in West Bank over Jerusalem decision”

A Bitter Pill for Far Right: Europe’s Muslim Immigrants create Jobs, boost Economy

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 - 3:32am

Maha Akeel | (Euractiv.com) | – –

Immigration has been shown to boost Europe’s economies and should be encouraged as indigenous populations get older.

At a time of challenge, Europe still has what some might think is a surprising ace up its sleeve – immigration, writes Maha Akeel.

Maha Akeel is the director of the information department at the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s second largest intergovernmental body after the UN with 57 member states. She is an author and a former journalist.

Europe’s far-right are lying to their own populations: study after study across a range of countries has shown that the far-right’s claims about the impacts of immigration are false.

Studies of the effect of increased immigration in Europe in the 1990s found that it increased the efficiency and flexibility of labour markets, allowing more people to find jobs. Similarly, data from 2001-2007 for seventeen OECD countries showed no correlation between rates of immigration and unemployment.

More recent research reveals that far from crowding out native workers, immigration boosts jobs for natives. Between 1996 and 2007, immigration to Europe created more higher-skilled and better-paid jobs for native European workers, because immigrants usually gravitate to more labour-intensive jobs. It also led to higher rates of self-employment for native workers.

Across the pond, another major study found not only that each immigrant to the United States created 1.2 local jobs for native workers, but that immigration overall boosted wages in local ‘non-tradeable’ sectors like construction, transportation, hotels, and education.

The upshot is that Europe’s success in the latter half of the 20th century was made possible by immigrants, and the 21st century will be no different.

While migrants have for the most part played a critical role in creating new jobs and galvanising the European economy, migrants are also needed to provide the labour force that can sustain Europe’s ageing native population.

As the International Longevity Centre found recently, given the average rate of UK employment, EU migrants could be a key asset in supporting the UK’s ageing population. Far from being a drain on the welfare state, between 2001 and 2011 migrants from the European Economic Area paid £22.1 billion more in taxes than they took from the British government.

Similar projections apply across the EU. Right now, European societies on average have four working-age people for every person aged over 65. According to European Commission data, by 2060 this will halve to only two working-age people per one elderly person.

This could lead to a colossal drop in GDP. The only possible way this looming challenge can be solved is by ensuring a sufficiently high labour force that can sustain Europe’s growing and ageing population. And that requires immigration.

The ‘cultural anxiety’ preventing the new far-right back from embracing this truth is, ironically, thoroughly foreign to Europe.

Immigration into and within Europe is older than the name Europe itself. In Greek mythology, the woman after whom the continent was named, Europa, was originally from Phoenicia, an ancient civilization encompassing what is now modern-day Syria and Lebanon.

The continent named after a Syrian mother can rejuvenate itself by accepting her descendants (and others) who are hungry for safety, security and prosperity.

To be sure, this will not be an easy task. The influx of more than a million migrants and refugees into Europe came as a shock to a continent still struggling to recover from the 2008 financial crash.

Growing hostility toward migrants amidst tepid economic performance poses major obstacles to ensuring they can become working contributors to European economies.

The crisis can, however, be converted into an opportunity. With sufficient institutional support to assist migrants with access to education and employment, the disadvantages they often experience can be transitioned into real jobs that boost the wider economy for everyone.

In contrast, the far-right’s ambition to erect a ‘fortress Europe’ that shuts out migrants would doom continental economies to slow growth, stagnation, low productivity and low employment for decades to come.

But if European policymakers rise to the challenge, they will be able to turn rising immigration into a win-win boon that provides the key ingredient to sustain prosperity well into the 21st century.

Via Euractiv.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24 English: “Can Europe distinguish between refugees and economic migrants?”

Ethnically Cleansed Burmese Rohingya reach 600,000 in Bangladesh Camps

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 - 3:17am

By Naimul Haq | (Inter Press Service) | – –

IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq interviews WILLIAM LACY SWING, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM)

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Dec 5 2017 (IPS) – In less than four months, over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled brutal persecution in Myanmar to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh. They are now crowded into camps across a stretch of 30 kms in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern coastal region of the small South Asian nation.

The UN migration agency, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), has appealed to the international community for urgent funds. Over 344 million dollars was pledged recently at an international meeting to ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. IOM stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution to the Rohingya crisis. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

IOM, at the request of the government of Bangladesh, has been leading the Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), which is coordinating the humanitarian response to the influx of Rohingya refugees.

This appeal outlines IOM’s funding requirement from September 2017 to February 2018 as a part of the wider UN Humanitarian Response Plan.

William Lacy Swing, IOM’s Director General, told IPS Correspondent Naimul Haq that any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community.

Swing said that all stakeholders need to work to create the conditions that will allow the Rohingya refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity.

He praised the Bangladesh government’s mobilization of its own resources, as well as the local community’s support to help the refugees. Swing went on a four-day visit in mid- October to several camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Following are the excerpts from the interview.

Q. During your visit to various camps, you witnessed the horror, heard the victims and saw the difficult situation prevailing in the camps. How do you compare the Rohingya exodus with the recent similar refugee crisis like in Syria?

A. The Rohingya refugee crisis, although much smaller than the exodus of five million people from Syria since 2011, is equally severe in many ways. It has unfolded at extraordinary speed with over 600,000 people arriving in a single, relatively small district – Cox’s Bazar – since August 25th. By contrast the Syrian civil war has resulted in Syria’s neighbors, notably Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq, all hosting large numbers of Syrian refugees. But the speed, scale and complexity of what is now happening in Cox’s Bazar has created a major global humanitarian emergency. The needs on the ground for shelter, food, clean water, sanitation and healthcare are enormous. When this happened, none of us – neither humanitarian agencies nor the government of Bangladesh – were fully prepared to cope with an influx of this magnitude in such a short space of time. Related IPS Articles

Q. In a joint statement about relief for the Rohingyas, you said, “Much more is urgently needed. The efforts must be scaled up and expanded to receive and protect refugees and ensure they are provided with basic shelter and acceptable living conditions. They [Rohingyas] are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance for food, water, health and other essential needs. Basic services are under severe strain. In some sites, there is no access to potable water and sanitation facilities, raising health risks for both the refugees and the communities hosting them.” How do you plan to expand the distribution and what is the estimated cost of the additional relief?

A. IOM has been providing assistance to Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, in partnership with the government, UN agencies, international and local NGOs, since September 2013. Now more international and local agencies are coming in to work with us in a well-coordinated effort to help an estimated 1.2 million people – including nearly 900,000 refugees and 300,000 people living in host communities already living since 1992.

But there are still gaps in the response and more resources are needed to ensure adequate, lifesaving assistance for everyone who needs it. Even now, three months after the start of the crisis, hundreds more people are still coming across the border from Myanmar every day. The Joint Response Plan, launched by the UN and partners in September, appealed for USD 434 million to support 1.2 million people through February 2018. Only USD 149.1 million has been received so far, of which IOM has received USD 52 million.

Q. The need [relief] assessment is taking place almost on a daily basis as the influx continues with more Rohingyas arriving in the camps for safety. It appears that the refugees would need to stay in Bangladesh for quite a while before a diplomatic solution is reached for their safe return. Having said this, a sustainable approach is needed on the ground. How do you or the international community, including the UN, plan to pursue both the governments [Bangladesh & Myanmar] to come to terms and find a peaceful return and settlement?

A. Any durable solution must be a political one agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar and supported by the international community. We all need to work to create the conditions that will allow the refugees to eventually return voluntarily to Myanmar in safety and dignity. The agreement on return signed by the two countries last week is an important first step. But this is going to take time. As the UN Secretary-General has highlighted, UN agencies need to first resume their humanitarian work in Rakhine State, to promote reconciliation between the communities, and to help the government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission – the agreed roadmap to peaceful co-existence.

Q. During your visit you met with the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who was quoted as saying, “They [Rohingya] have to go back to their homeland, create international pressure on Myanmar so that they take steps to bring their citizens back.” We just had the UN General Assembly expressing concern for the Rohingya refugees while many heads of government have already sent messages to Myanmar to take back their citizens. The Bangladesh PM and the world leaders are expressing concerns in the same tone. What could be the role of IOM in finding a lasting solution and how?

A. The Prime Minister is correct in saying that there has to be a political solution supported by the international community. Much of this solution lies with Myanmar. IOM, as the UN Migration Agency, is a humanitarian agency and as such does not have the political weight of the UN Secretary General or the UN Security Council. But we can support the Secretary-General in advocating for dialogue between the parties in the hope that it will eventually allow the Rohingya to leave the terrible conditions in which they are living in Cox’s Bazar and return home safely to resume their lives.

Q. Do you have plans to visit Myanmar and meet the leaders there? If yes, what are you hoping to discuss and also see on the ground in Rakhine state where the Rohingyas are coming from?

A. I have no plans to visit Myanmar this year, but I look forward to returning next year to reaffirm IOM’s commitment to promoting peace and stability in Rakhine State, and, of course, to review the many other excellent projects that we implement in the rest of the country.

Q. A Critical Pledging Conference was held in Geneva on October 23, 2017 organized by OCHA, IOM and UNHCR and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait. Apart from pledges for international funds, what was the main message at the conference to the Rohingya crisis?

A. The conference was organized to provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the financial burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees. Over USD 344 million was pledged to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance. But countries represented at the conference also stressed that the international community must work together to help to bring about a political resolution of the Rohingya issue.

via Inter Press Service

Climate Denier Rupert Murdoch’s Estate Burned in LA December Wildfires

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 - 2:48am

The Watchers | – –

1.

1. Rupert's network denies global warming.
2. Global warming burns down his home.
3. The end.#LAfire https://t.co/FYbm19TY9z

— jp (@jpdoctor) December 6, 2017

2. Wochit News: “Rupert Murdoch’s California Home Threatened by Wildfires”

——–
3.

The Watchers | – –

California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles and Ventura counties in response to several rapidly spreading wildfires.

More than 200 000 people in Southern California were forced to evacuate their homes as several wildfires fueled by powerful Santa Ana winds swept through the region.

The largest of several active fires, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, started on Monday, December 4, exploded in size overnight Tuesday to 31 000 acres (12 545 ha) and by Wednesday morning increased to 65 000 acres (26 304 ha). This fire forced more than 27 000 people to evacuate Tuesday and the number grew when it crossed Highway 33, the route from Ventura to Ojai, and threatened coastal areas. In some places, the fire crossed Highway 101 northwest of Ventura. Although the latest estimate stands at 150, it’s still not clear how many structures were destroyed. One person was killed and 1 firefighter injured.

The Creek Fire in Los Angeles County broke out around 04:00 PST (12:00 UTC), September 5 near Gold Creek and Little Tujunga roads in Sylmar and burned 11 000 acres (4 451 ha) by PST noon. The fire has so far burned 30 structures and prompted a mandatory evacuation of 150 000 people.

The Rye Fire broke out in Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County Tuesday morning. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for 1 300 homes in the Westridge community and lifted by 18:00 PST. This fire has so far burned 5 000 acres (2 023 ha).

The Skirball Fire was first reported around 05:00 PST Wednesday morning and estimated at about 50 acres (20 ha) by 08:00 PST. It has already managed to burn down several homes in Los Angeles’ Bel-Air neighborhood. The fire forced a full closure of 405 Highway and mandatory evacuations. “It’s been years since anything here has burned at all,” said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Cody Weireter. “You’ve got heavy, heavy brush, you’ve got the dryness — obviously, we haven’t had any rain at all. A lot of the fire is topography-driven, which already becomes dangerous. The wind is going to increase that twofold.”

Santa Ana winds and very low humidity will continue to produce critical fire weather conditions through at least Friday, NWS said. Fire weather threats will remain at least elevated through the weekend.

On several occasions this week, Santa Ana winds reached hurricane force.

Via: The Watchers

How Trump’s Jerusalem Move Just Helped Iran Win the Mideast

Thu, 7 Dec 2017 - 2:27am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Some sections of the crazy quilt that makes up the Trump administration want to push Iran back out of the Arab world and weaken it, in support of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Those actors have just been handed a big setback by Trump’s slurred and crazed announcement that he will move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognize it as the capital.

While Washington pols fondly imagine that all politics is elite politics, it isn’t actually the case. Ask Hosni Mubarak or Zine El Abidin Ben Ali. Political leaders have to get a minimum buy-in from their publics. One trial run for the 2011 Tunisian revolution was massive demonstrations in 2009 during the Israeli assault on little Gaza, where student activists, trade unionists, attorneys and others learned to network and get out enormous crowds. Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s toadying to Washington helped make them so hated that they were overthrown, in part because Washington stands for economic policies that punish workers and the middle classes, but in part because Washington stands for stealing Palestinians’ land and making them homeless and poverty-stricken.

Rulers like King Abdullah II of Jordan, who have a powerful alliance with the United States but whose people are pro-Palestinian (indeed 60% are of Palestinian heritage) are not sleeping well these days.

It isn’t that everyone doesn’t already know that Washington is on board with screwing over the Palestinians and humiliating the Arabs. But Trump just flaunted it in everyone’s face.

But let us consider the Saudi cold war with Iran. Given the open Saudi signals of cooperation with Israel against Tehran and given the Al Saud’s embrace of Trump, Riyadh is implicated in the Jerusalem decision whether they like it or not. In the propaganda wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iran just got a big boost.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called up Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan and the two agreed that Jerusalem is the permanent capital of Palestine. Turkey is majority Sunni, while Iran is a Shiite republic. Any attempt to block Iran’s influence would have to aim at instigating bad relations between these two, among the most populous and wealthy countries in the Middle East.

Trump managed to bring Turkey and Iran together by what they called his “wrong” and “illegal” action. In fact, Rouhani called for all 56 Muslim-majority countries to make a stand against the US. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that Jerusalem will always be Arab and Islamic. The country’s Leader, Ali Khamenei, also weighed in, pledging to organize the Muslim world for a response. So now the Iranians (not Arabs) are the champions of Arab nationalism, while Saudi Arabia and Egypt are supine. So Trump is helping make Iran a leader of the Muslim world. Good job.

Or take Iraq, the government of which is run by the Shiite, pro-Iran Da’wa (Islamic Call) party. The blowhard CIA director Mike Pompeo strutted around saying he’d written a letter to Qassem Solaimani, the head of the special operations “Jerusalem Brigade” force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” warning him about his operations in the Middle East. The US has some 6,000 men in Baghdad.

So after Trump’s announcement, which way do you think the Iraqi government is tilting? Toward the Iranian position on Jerusalem. The Iraqi foreign minister wrote a harsh letter to Washington denouncing Trump decision.

Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr warned Arab leaders that if they abandoned Jerusalem it would be the end of them. His followers also staged demonstrations Wednesday, including in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Former Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki called the American announcement a “declaration of war” on the Arab peoples and an attack on “the human rights of Palestinians.”

So guess who is responsible for the security of the US troops in Iraq. Yes, that is right. The Iraqi government, its army, and its Shiite militias.

In Lebanon, the Saudis had tried and failed to break up the national unity government in which Shiite, Christian and Sunni officials serve. To the extent that Riyadh openly marked Saad Hariri, the prime minister, as a creature of the Saudis, they did him some harm with the Lebanese people. He has rescinded his forced resignation and hastily issued a stinging rebuke of Washington over Jerusalem. But it rings hollow given his identification with the Saudi-Israeli-American axis.

So if the Lebanese have to take sides on this one, it won’t be the Saudi-Israeli-American side. Therefore the Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah is strengthened internally by this move, the opposite of what the Saudis were going for. Thank you Mssrs. Trump and Pence.

====

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Press TV: “Iran Leader: Palestine will at last be freed”

Another way Trump will get us Killed: to move US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

Wed, 6 Dec 2017 - 3:28am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The White House says that the US is preparing to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognize that city as Israel’s capital instead of Tel Aviv. It is calling this move a “recognition of reality.” It is not, it is the creation of a deadly and dreary reality that will get Americans blown up. Trump is doing this for his evangelical base and for billionaire campaign backers like Sheldon Adelson. The latter have tunnel blindness and can’t see the world as it is– dangerous for the rest of us because of their hobbies.

In international law, Israel does not have a right to all of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was not even awarded to Israel by the UN General Assembly partition plan of 1947 (a plan that itself has little legal grounding since the UN executive is instead the Security Council).

Israel conquered most of Jerusalem and its hinterlands in 1967. It then annexed these regions in a quite illegal move. Occupying powers are not allowed to annex occupied territory, by the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions (which were enacted to discourage people from acting like Nazis). The disposition of Jerusalem in the law should depend on final status negotiations between Israel and the state of Palestine.

The reason that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank has gone on for decades and become so distorted as to be illegal is that the United States wants it this way. Washington power elites treat Israel like a big aircraft carrier in the Middle East, a way to continue to dominate the region after decolonization.

This is what I wrote the last time this issue was broached, a year ago. It is all still relevant:

Jerusalem is extremely important and holy (just after Mecca and Medina) to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

One of the three major motivations for Usama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda to attack the United States in 2001 was the Israeli occupation of the Muslim parts of Jerusalem. (The other two were the US sanctions on Iraq in the 1990s that were thought to have killed 500,000 children, and the presence of US troops at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia).

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s provocative demarche on the Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem in 2000 caused Bin Laden to try to move up the date of the planned attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., as ‘punishment’ for Sharon’s implicit threat.

Bin Laden composed a poem for his son’s wedding in Afghanistan in fall of 2001, “The wound of Jerusalem is making me boil. Its suffering is making me burn from within.” Bin Laden was a mass murderer and not a good Muslim, but his rage over Jerusalem is shared by many in the Muslim world.

Muslims ruled Jerusalem nearly 1200 years, much longer than did the monotheistic Jews of the Ezra tradition.

It is foreseeable that a unilateral US recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and moving the US embassy there (US embassies are big buildings increasingly built like fortresses, and it will be quite visible) will provoke attacks on the United States by angry Muslims. While the US should not shy away from taking risks on matters of principle, in this case Israel and the US are in the wrong, legally and morally, so that we’re doing something unethical and also risking attacks because of it.

Israelis consider an undivided Jerusalem as their capital, and Trump wants to acquiesce in that view. Unfortunately for the Israelis, their position contradicts international law, and if brought to the International Criminal Court it would certainly result in the conviction of high Israeli officials on charges of genocide.

In the Sykes Picot agreement during WW I, Jerusalem was given to Russia. The Communists under Lenin later pulled out of this deal, and the British got Jerusalem and the Mandate of Palestine. Palestine was a Class A Mandate and the British expected it to become the independent state of Palestine around 1949. When instead massive immigration took place by European Jews fleeing Fascism, civil war broke out in 1947-48. The 500,000 Jewish immigrants expelled 60% percent of the over one million Palestinians from their homes and made these families homeless, stateless refugees ever after. The newly minted Israelis just moved into the Palestinians’ homes and farms, forever confiscating them.

In fall of 1947, the UN General Assembly proposed an extremely unfair division of Palestine, giving massive amounts of territory to the Jews, who owned only 6% of the land. This UNGA plan was only proposal and was never endorsed by the UN Security Council, the only body with authority. The Palestinians and other Arabs rejected the partition as grossly unfair. Although Zionist propagandists say that the Jewish immigrants accepted it, their leadership did no such thing. David Ben Gurion clearly wanted much more land than the UNGA had suggested, and his forces went on to grab extra land. In later years the Israelis would try to annex parts of Egypt and Lebanon, and in 1967 they militarily occupied part of Syria and all of the Palestinian West Bank.

The UN General Assembly did not suggest giving Israel all of Jerusalem, including the Palestinian East of the city, and it didn’t have the authority to make such grants of territory in any case.. Nor did that part of the city become part of Israel in 1948. But the Israelis conquered it along with the rest of the West Bank in 1967. They then annexed all of Jerusalem and part of the West Bank, adding that territory to Israel. Although military occupation of territory during war time is not illegal, annexing territory by military conquest is definitely illegal. It is strictly forbidden in the UN Charter and subsequent treaties and instruments, including the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court. Moreover, military occupiers may not radically alter the lifeways of the people they occupy (1907 Hague Agreement, 1949 Geneva Accords). Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians has become illegal because of extensive Apartheid policies.

So, Palestinian East Jerusalem belongs to Israel only in the way that the French city of Nice belonged to Mussolini during WW II (he annexed French territory to Italy by military fiat).

What is curious is that most Americans do not know that Jerusalem was one of three planks in al-Qaeda’s anti-American platform. Even more curious is that the US responded to 9/11 by invading and occupying Iraq, making Muslims even more upset. (Incoming Secretary of Defense Gen. Mike Mattis invaded and destroyed Falluja in 2004; one of the insurgent groups there had modeled itself on Hamas in Palestinian Gaza, and fought US occupation as an analogy to the fight against Israeli occupation). Mattis later frankly admitted that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is a severe security problem for the United States.

Now Trump is planning to ratchet up tensions even further.

The national security elites in Washington and Tel Aviv have dealt with Muslim anger over the impoverishment of the Palestinians and the Israeli threat to the Muslim holy places of Jerusalem by covering up these actions, denying them, obfuscating them, and then crushing any Muslims who dare complain about them.

They call this counter-terrorism policy. And they’ve made it work for them in grabbing power, both in the world and at home, where they argue to us that the terrorism that they are helping provoke means we have to give up the Bill of Rights.

(Reprinted)

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Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Trump to call Jerusalem Israel’s capital, move embassy”

All Trump’s Mideast Wars: 26,000 troops overseas

Wed, 6 Dec 2017 - 3:03am

By Paul Rogers | ( OpenDemocracy.net |

From Washington to Cairo, military aggression and “keeping the lid on” are proving deadly. And they will never work.

Nov. 25, 2017: al Rawda mosque where a terrorist attack took place in Bir al-Abed of North Sinai, Egypt. The death toll in the terrorist attack here on Friday has risen to 305, including 27 children, and 128 others were wounded, state news agency MENA reported on Saturday. Ahmed Gomaa/PA Images. All rights reserved.A new era is opening almost by stealth. Its defining feature is military expansion, ordered by the United States president and conducted by the Pentagon. Underlying it is Trump’s fusion of elements from the strategy of his two predecessors, George W Bush and Barack Obama.

A recent, low-profile Pentagon document gives a hint of the US’s current projection of military power:

“The U.S. has 8,892 forces in Iraq, 15,298 troops in Afghanistan and 1,720 in Syria, for a total of 25,910 troops serving in the three war zones as of Sept. 30, according to DoD. The figures were released to the public Nov. 17 as part of DoD’s quarterly count of active duty, Reserve, Guard and civilian personnel assigned by country by the Defense Manpower Data Center” (see Tara Copp, “26,000 troops total..”, Military Times, 27 November 2017).

The total figure alone is much higher than previous numbers. But by itself it is misleading in that the United States defense department normally excludes two further categories of troops: those rotating for short periods and, of far greater significance, many of the special forces. These are waging much of the combat in all three theatres – Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. That means the true number is probably close to, or even over, 30,000. To this could be added troops involved in operations across the Sahel, Somalia or Yemen.

A new era is opening almost by stealth. Its defining feature is military expansion, ordered by the United States president and conducted by the Pentagon.

Such indicators give only part of the picture. Another is a Pentagon request for $143 million to expand its operations at the Azraq base in the Jordanian desert, the largest single overseas financial commitment now being considered. This base has been key to operations in Syria and Iraq, and been used by other states including the Netherlands and Belgium. So just as the wars in Iraq and Syria are supposed to be winding down after ISIS’s much-vaunted defeat, the Pentagon wants to go the other way and prepare for yet more conflict in the region. A growth in overseas bases, such as a huge one for surveillance drones costing $100 million in Niger, fits the trend.

All this must be seen in the perspective of the sixteen years of “war on terror”. Again, troop numbers are a signal if not the whole story. In 2007-08, at the height of George W Bush’s campaigns, close to 200,000 US troops were in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as Barack Obama started to withdraw troops from Iraq, he was “surging” them in Afghanistan: an extra 30,000 troops by 2011 took the US total in that country to around 100,000.

That short-term policy failed in its aim of forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table, and most troops had been withdrawn by the end of his second term in 2012. In parallel, Obama was moving rapidly towards “remote warfare”. This relied much more on strike-aircraft, armed-drones, and special forces – all involving far fewer “boots on the ground”.

Now, the Trump wars era brings a reconfiguration: plenty of remote warfare and far more military personnel abroad. Bush was all about crushing al-Qaida and similar groups, as well as regime termination; Obama moved more towards “shadow wars” at a much lower intensity, if still controversial. Trump, in combining these, is going back to the future. The Egyptian parallel

Destroy your opponents; forget the sixteen years of failed wars; do not try to understand where these enemies are coming from, and why they retain support. If these tenets guide Trump’s approach, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has followed them in Egypt’s arena.

The Trump wars era brings a reconfiguration: plenty of remote warfare and far more military personnel abroad.

Since al-Sisi became president after ousting Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, his forces have pursued a tough line against any kind of religious-based dissent. The Islamist-linked rebellion in northern Sinai was a prime target. The terrible attack on the Al-Rawda mosque in nothern Sinai on 24 November, which killed 305 people, is the latest incident in this escalating conflict. The immediate response to the massacre was air-raids by strike-aircraft, which the insurgents would have expected and taken precautions against.

But the problems in Sinai go much deeper than al-Sisi’s policies, damaging as these are. This part of Egypt has long been neglected and marginalised. Its younger men are particularly angry that the oil and tourism industries bring local communities little or no benefit. Thus, the now dispersed ISIS leadership see al-Sisi’s Egypt in general and Sinai in particular as fertile ground. For the movement, Cairo’s policy of hardline suppression could hardly be better. An objective view of Sinai’s recent decades suggests that the chances of Sisi’s approach working are close to zero.

So the comparison works in reverse. For al-Sisi, read Trump – on a much bigger scale. This may still be an early stage of the Trump wars era. An increase in the worst excesses of the post-9/11, such as rendition and torture, can be expected as problems multiply. Clear indications of new thinking remain scarce. “Liddism” still rules. It is better to be prepared for the long haul. About the author

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy’s international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers

Via OpenDemocracy.net ; see original for hyperlinks.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: Coalition Says Over 400 U.S. Troops Leaving Syria

Far Right’s Misuse of Knights Templar, Who were actually Sympathetic to Muslims

Wed, 6 Dec 2017 - 2:44am

Patrick Masters | (The Conversation) | – –

When market trader Tina Gayle was banned from selling mugs featuring Knights Templar logos in a Loughborough Market, Charnwood Borough Council ruled that they were offensive to Muslims. A story in the Daily Mail reported that Gayle had “been previously been warned by the council for selling Nazi memorabilia”.

A subsequent report said that the council had not been concerned about what was depicted on the mugs, only that they were new products being sold on a vintage market. But the inclusion in the coverage of this little reference to the stallholder’s Nazi products highlights the regular association of the Knights Templar with right-wing extremism.

Drinking vessel for mugs.
Amazon

Of course, the Knights Templar symbology recalls the crusades – and is associated with medieval Christian fanaticism – but other prominent crusade iconography, such as the cross of the Knights Hospitaller, used by St John’s Ambulance is overlooked. So why does Templar imagery garner a similar reaction to Nazi symbols, while another equally significant crusader image hardly registers with the wider public – except with positive connotations?

Soldiers, doctors and bankers

The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, also known as The Knights Hospitaller, was founded after the first crusade to provide hospital care for pilgrims sanctioned by Pope Paschall II in 1113. The infamous Order of The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, also known as The Templar, was founded in 1119 by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman, as a revolutionary monastic order, that would escort and protect pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land.

Escutcheon of the Knights Hospitaller of Rhodes (1305-1523) in Athens War Museum.
Dimitris Kamaras via Flickr, CC BY-SA

These two orders grew to become the premier Christian fighting forces in the Holy Land, due to the large amount of wealth gifted them by the European nobles. The Templars and the Hospitallers were major forces right up until the Christians were expelled from the Holy Land in 1291. Despite the prominence of their military roles, the Knights Hospitaller provided medical care for pilgrims, while the Knights Templar grew richer by acting as bankers for crusading nobles.

While both orders played major roles within the crusades, their respective icons evoke different sentiments – these days, the Hospitaller cross represents the charitable work of St John’s Ambulance but the Templar cross is deemed offensive and worthy of a ban.

Hatred on the streets

The red cross upon a white background, a symbol of the Knights Templar, carries connotations of nationalism within the UK due to its resemblance to the cross of St George on the English flag. The iconic cross has been thematically appropriated by extremist right-wing group the English Defence League (EDL), and the group has been known to dress in quasi-knightly garb.

The English Defence League has appropriated the Cross of St George.
Gavin Lynn via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The most infamous and horrific association with Templars in recent times would be the claims made by the right-wing extremist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who in 2011 carried out terrorist attacks in Norway. Following his attacks, a manifesto appeared in which Breivik claimed to be a Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe.

Breivik is not alone in asserting a Templar identity within right wing views. The modern Templar community, The Knights Templar-UK, also forgets the monastic lifestyle of the order and uses it as a platform for the right-wing views outlined on its website. On a page called “Our Aims” it states:

With the advent of mass immigration, this balance can be swung in many directions, including ones where extremists of particular faiths, may wish to dominate and control other’s beliefs.

The site also offers a review of the British political parties, stating which ones the Templars would identify with most closely. According to the website, these parties are the English Democrats, Ukip and the BNP – ironic, when you think that the Templars were an international organisation that spanned Europe.

In the frame

Popular culture often paints the Knights Templar as villains within a medieval setting, most notably in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, which depicted the Templar as racist murderers who hate Muslims and openly mock religion. Scott’s film depicts a Hospitaller knight as a pious man who counsels the film’s protagonist Balian and condemns the violent acts of the Templars.

Arabic chroniclers of the crusades directly contradict Scott’s villainous Templar. Syrian writer Usama ibn Munqidh (1095-1188) explains that the Templars were more understanding and respectful of the Islamic faith than the average Christian crusader. This underlines the doubtfulness of the Templar warrior monk’s fanatical hatred of Islam and subverts the notion of the order as a symbol of right wing Christian extremism.

Ridley Scott’s fictional depiction of the villainous Templar originates with Sir Walter Scott in his 1820 novel Ivanhoe, which was, in turn, inspired by discredited 19th-century accounts of the crusades. Those themes of hatred and greed leave out the religious aspect of the crusades, which the medieval scholar Nickolas Haydock, citing historian Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, explains is “an invention of 19th-century medievalism, exemplified in the works of Sir Walter Scott”.

Scott’s fictional accounts created the notion of the evil Templar within popular culture and cast them as more like Nazis, in direct contrast to the more pacific Hospitaller order – who his film director namesake duly depicted as the opposite to the fanatical Templar.

So now the Templars have become associated with the worst excesses of an already dark period in medieval history. But to portray them as the ultimate evil of the crusades – or to praise them as champions of a narrow-minded nationalism – is a simplistic misrepresentation of the 200-year history of the crusades. There are no calls to ban the imagery of the Hospitallers, yet Templar iconography remains controversial due to its association with extremist views – unfairly connected to them through popular culture since the 19th century.

Patrick Masters, Lecturer in Film Studies, University of Portsmouth

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

How Eastern Europe failed at Democracy & Invented Trumpism Instead

Wed, 6 Dec 2017 - 2:08am

By John Feffer | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

He was a rich businessman, an outspoken outsider with a love of conspiracy theories. And he was a populist running for president.

In 1990, when Donald Trump was still beyond the furthest outskirts of American politics, Stanislaw Tyminski was trying to become the new president of post-communist Poland.  He shared something else with the future Trump: nobody in the political elite took Tyminski seriously.

That was a mistake. He was the standard-bearer for a virulent right-wing populism that would one day take power in Poland and control the politics of the region. He would be the first in a long line of underestimated buffoons of the post-Cold War era who started us on a devolutionary path leading to Donald Trump. Tyminski’s major error: his political backwardness was a little ahead of its time.

In true Trumpian fashion, Stan Tyminski couldn’t have been a more unlikely politician. As a successful businessman in Canada, he had made millions. He proved luckless, however, in Canadian politics. His Libertarian Party never got more than 1% of the vote.

In 1990, he decided to return to his native Poland, then preparing for its first free presidential election since the 1920s. A relatively open parliamentary election in 1989, as the Warsaw Pact was beginning to unravel, had produced a solid victory for candidates backed by the independent trade union, Solidarity. Those former dissidents-turned-politicians had been governing for a year, with Solidarity intellectual and pioneering newspaper editor Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister but former Communist general Wojciech Jaruzelski holding the presidency. Now, the general was finally stepping aside.

Running in addition to Mazowiecki was former trade union leader Lech Walesa, who had done more than any other Pole to take down the Communist government (and received a Nobel Prize for his efforts). Compared to such political giants, Tyminski was an unknown.

All three made promises. Walesa announced that he would provide every Pole with $10,000 to invest in new capitalist enterprises. Mazowiecki swore he’d get the Rolling Stones to perform in Poland. Tyminski had the strangest pitch of all. He carried around a black briefcase inside which, he claimed, was secret information that would blow Polish politics to smithereens.

Tyminski managed to get a toehold in national politics because, by November 1990, many Poles were already fed up with the status quo Solidarity had ushered in. They’d suffered the early consequences of the “shock therapy” economic reforms that would soon be introduced across much of Eastern Europe and, after 1991, Russia. Although the Polish economy had finally stabilized, unemployment had, by the end of 1990, shot up from next to nothing to 6.5% and the country’s national income had fallen by more than 11%. Though some were doing well in the new business-friendly environment, the general standard of living had plummeted as part of Poland’s price for entering the global economy. The burden of that had fallen disproportionately on workers in sunset industries, small farmers, and pensioners.

Mazowiecki, the face of this new political order, would, like Hillary Clinton many years later, go down to ignominious defeat, while Tyminski surprised everyone by making it into the second round of voting. Garnering support from areas hard hit by the dislocations of economic reform, he squared off against the plainspoken, splenetic Walesa.

Tyminski did everything he could to paint his opponent as the consummate insider, a collaborator with the Communist secret police in his youth.  “I have a lot of material and I have it here… and some of it is very serious and of a personal nature,” Tyminski told Walesa in a debate on national television, holding that briefcase of his close at hand. Walesa retaliated by accusing him of being a front man for the former communist secret police. Tyminski was forced to admit that his staff did include ex-secret policemen, but he never actually opened that briefcase. Walesa was resoundingly swept into the presidency by an electoral margin of three to one.

Stan Tyminski eventually took his wild conspiracy theories and populist pretensions back to Canada, a political has-been. And yet he was prescient in so many ways (including those charges against Walesa, who probably did collaborate briefly with the secret police). The liberal reforms that Eastern Europe implemented after the transformations of 1989 were supposed to be a one-way journey into a future as prosperous and boring as Scandinavia’s. Tyminski, on the other hand, had conjured up a very different, far grimmer future — unpredictable, angry, intolerant, paranoid — the very one that seems to have become our present.

Tyminski’s “children” now govern nearly every country in Eastern Europe, and the United States, too, is in the grip of a Tyminski-like leader. Perhaps these illiberal leaders have reached the peak of their influence — or have they? The opposite scenario is too dismal to contemplate: that the political climate has irreversibly changed and liberalism has irrevocably weakened in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, everywhere.

All (or at Least a Few) Aboard

Imagine the history of Eastern Europe after 1989 as a train leaving a decrepit station where tasty snacks and interesting reading material aren’t available, the public address system issues garbled announcements, the bathrooms are out of order, and the help desk unstaffed. As the final boarding chimes echo through the station, the passengers pile onto the train.  A lucky few are in a first-class car with access to a surprisingly good cafe and plush sleeping compartments, a somewhat larger group in the reserved second-class seats, and everyone else crowded into totally rundown cars with appalling seats. The ultimate destination all of them have been told is a lovely terminal with well-provisioned stores, clean public restrooms, and a responsive administrative system in a city and country equally well run.

Think of this as the train of “transition.” Everyone on it seems convinced that they’re en route to a stunning market democracy in a post-Cold War world where political differences and ideological struggles have lost their relevance, where as American political theorist Francis Fukuyama famously put it in 1989, the “end of history” is in sight. “Today,” Fukuyama wrote a couple of years later, “we have trouble imagining a world that is radically better than our own, or a future that is not essentially democratic and capitalist.”  Pragmatic decisions are all that’s left, and they’re to be chewed over by policymakers and implemented by bureaucrats.

If Eastern Europeans knew what they’d left behind and were fervent about where they were heading, they had little idea about the nature of the journey they were undertaking. German political scientist Ralf Dahrendorf tried to provide a few time stamps for such a transition: six months to create parties and political institutions, six years to establish the basis for a market economy, and 60 years to build a proper civil society. Except for some cranky members of the extreme right and a few Stalinist leftovers, everyone in the region seemed to back this liberal project, seeing it as a ticket into the larger European community.

For the first few years, the train of transition rolled along. There was grumbling in the back cars, but everyone was still on board with the overall plan to reach Western Europe or bust.

As it happened, the first-class passengers were easily transported to the heart of the sunny West. The second-class passengers barely made it across the border. And the rest didn’t get far beyond that original, disheveled station.  

Mind the Gap

When I first traveled across Eastern Europe in 1990, the very year of the Polish presidential election, many of the people I interviewed expected to be living like Viennese or Londoners within five years, a decade at the most. If this was a delusion, it was one partially fueled by the outside advisers who flooded the region in 1990. Planners from the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, put a five-year window on their assistance package.

And for some, the transition did last only a few years because cities like Warsaw in Poland quickly became high-priced locations for international corporate offices and NGOs. So the capital cities of Eastern Europe made the trip west, while smaller cities and towns and, above all, the countryside remained mired in the past.  This urban-rural gap mirrored the one that still persists between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. In 1991, according to the World Bank’s figures, Hungary’s per capita gross domestic product was $3,333, Austria’s $22,356. By 2016, Hungary’s had risen to $27,481, while Austria’s stood at $48,004. In other words, though the gap had been narrowed considerably, as with other Eastern European countries — Poland ($27,764), Romania ($22,347), Bulgaria ($20,326) — it had at best been cut in half.

“In 1965, West Germany was already the wealthiest and most productive country in Europe,” Adam Jagusiak, a former peace activist and Polish Foreign Ministry employee, told me in an interview in 2013. “It took them only 20 years. They produced more than France and Britain. They had their Wirtschaftswunder, their economic miracle. What’s most disappointing for most people, not just me, is that after 23 years we cannot close the gap…  Poland would have to grow 10 percent annually to close the gap. That’s a neck-breaking pace, like Japan in the 1950s and 1960s or like South Korea in the 1970s. We grow maybe two or three percent.”

The liberal project succeeded in ushering virtually all of Eastern Europe into the European Union. But in the end, because of the persistent gap between expectations and reality, voters began to look around for something different.

Opportunism Knocks

Stan Tyminski ran for president before unemployment in Poland soared from 6.5% in 1990 to 20% by 2002. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán had far better timing.

Orbán was a young lawyer in Budapest in 1988 when he helped found a liberal party that you had to be under 35 to join. Fidesz, the Alliance of Young Democrats, won a commendable 21 seats in the 1990 elections, good enough for a sixth-place showing. Four years later, that country’s former Communist Party (renamed the Socialists) came out on top, while Fidesz dropped a couple spots. What disappointed Orbán far more, however, was the way the Alliance of Free Democrats — the “adult” version of Fidesz — opted to form a coalition government with the Socialists.

That was the moment when, having second thoughts about liberalism as a vehicle for his own personal ambitions, he began to transform both Fidesz, which dropped its under-35 requirement, and himself. When economic “reform” shocked Hungary as it had Poland, Orbán recast himself as an increasingly illiberal Hungarian nationalist and his once-liberal party became a pillar of the new right. In 2010, he became prime minister for the second time, a position he’s held for the last seven years.

In a remarkable number of ways Orbán anticipated Donald Trump. He reversed his country’s longstanding mistrust of Russia by openly courting its president, Vladimir Putin, and pledging to transform Hungarian politics along the lines of that country’s “illiberal state.” He railed against mainstream journalism, attempted to bend the judiciary (and the constitution) to his will, and rigged the state apparatus to benefit his supporters. In perhaps his most ominous twist, Orbán courted the Hungarian version of the alt-right with relentless anti-immigrant statements and the occasional anti-Semitic gesture.

The Polish right wing was so enamored of Orbán’s success that, in 2011, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that “the day will come when we will succeed and we will have Budapest in Warsaw.” Four years later, his Law and Justice Party took power on a mixed platform of populism and conspiracy theories reminiscent of Stan Tyminski’s.

Now, Donald Trump is constructing Budapest in Washington D.C., as he unwittingly follows Tyminski’s and Orbán’s trajectory. The reality TV star cultivated his status as an extreme outsider. During the Obama era, he identified a political opportunity on the right and, in September 2009, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Seven years later, having combined outlandish conspiracy theories (think: birtherism) with an astute critique of liberal elites, he squeaked into power. He surely owes something to native (and nativist) traditions from Huey Long to Ross Perot, but he shares so much more with his compatriots across the Atlantic.

That transatlantic commonality begins with his canny exploitation of the gap between expectation and reality. The United States, like Eastern Europe, was going through its own “economic transition” in the 1990s. Millions of Americans expected the new economy — the global economy, the digital economy, the service economy, the sharing economy — to produce new jobs, better jobs.  And it did generate enormous wealth, but mostly, as in Eastern Europe, for a narrow, highly urbanized slice of the population. Income inequality has increased so dramatically that the American world now resembles the nineteenth-century Gilded Age.

In the eras of Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, the liberal project meant government intervention in the economy on behalf of working Americans and the disadvantaged. By the time Bill Clinton took the White House in 1993, the focus of the “new” Democrats was already shifting to global free-trade deals that would only accelerate the country’s loss of manufacturing jobs and a harsh vision of social spending represented most starkly by Clinton’s grim version of welfare reform. Meanwhile, the increasing coziness of the “new” Democratic Party and Wall Street would lead to significant financial deregulation that, in turn, would produce an economic meltdown in 2007-2008.

Although Barack Obama would prove progressive on some issues, he would also embrace Clintonesque positions on trade, social welfare, and Wall Street. As in Eastern Europe, such a liberal project would leave many people behind. So no one should have been surprised that these disappointed voters would eventually seek their revenge at the polls, as traditional Democrats in working-class neighborhoods began to vote Republican.

Aided by “dark money” and his dark mutterings about migrants, Mexicans, and Muslims, Trump rode a wave of Eastern European-style disenchantment to the Oval Office. Now, he’s taking his revenge not just against the neoliberalism of the Clinton and Obama years, but the entire twentieth-century liberal understanding of the state.

Conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist once remarked that his dream was not “to abolish government” but “to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The question today in both Eastern Europe and the U.S. is: Have Trump, Orbán, and others shrunk liberalism to such a degree that they can now drown it in that bathtub? 

The Future of Liberalism

Those wielding political metaphors love the idea of oscillation. You know, the pendulum swinging back and forth, the tide ebbing and flowing, voters opting for one political flavor and then, surfeited, returning to what they once rejected.

So far, voters in Eastern Europe haven’t shown any signs of wanting to return to the liberal politics that had delivered their countries to the promised land of European Union (EU) membership. In Hungary, Fidesz continues to lead the polls as the 2018 elections approach. The right-wing Law and Justice Party in Poland has only increased its popularity since it captured the state in elections two years ago.

Indeed, the rest of the region is following their lead. In October, the party of billionaire right-wing businessman Andrej Babiš captured the most votes in the Czech elections. Boyko Borisov, a populist with an authoritarian bent, has returned to power in Bulgaria, while nationalists are back in charge in Croatia. The anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim leader of Slovakia, Robert Fico, has been prime minister for nine of the last 11 years. (Though governing from the social-democratic left, Fico has exhibited distinctly authoritarian tendencies.) These leaders have different political philosophies and operate in different cultural contexts, but they all share one thing: an aversion to the liberal project.

Further out on the fringes, the Eastern European alt-right flourishes. This year, neo-Nazis flew the American flag in a February march in Croatia’s capital Zagreb to celebrate Donald Trump; 60,000 far-right nationalists gathered for Poland’s annual independence day in November; and Hungary has become a virtual mecca for extremists. As right-wing authoritarians gain mainstream appeal, those further to the right are courting greater visibility.

In Europe, there is still a counterweight to this rejection of the liberal project: the European Union.  It has, for instance, strongly censured the Polish and Hungarian governments for their illiberal policies, and it still carries real weight. Unless the EU manages to transform its economic policies in a way that stops favoring rich countries and wealthy individuals, however, it’s likely to prove incapable of stemming the tide of reaction. New French President Emmanuel Macron has offered some interesting proposals — from an EU-wide financial transactions tax to the taxation of digital companies — that might temper some of the galloping greed.  But such EU reforms won’t boost the fortunes of liberalism in Eastern Europe unless that organization begins to address the persistent divide between the two parts of the continent and (as in the United States) between thriving metropolitan centers and those left behind in more rural areas.

In America, Donald Trump remains a deeply unpopular president.  Widespread political resistance to his administration and the Republican Congress has already claimed some early victories. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, rich, right-wing, anti-liberal individuals and foundations have had an outsized impact on politics. Buoyed by the support of the Koch brothers and others, the Trump administration will do everything possible over the next three years to bankrupt the economy through tax “reform,” pack the courts with anti-liberal judges, shed federal personnel, gut federal regulations, and otherwise ensure that the government it hands to its successor will be as close to drowned as possible.

When it comes to this version of “populism,” Eastern Europe led the way.  The question now is: Will it again?  If anti-Trump forces here don’t address persistent voter disgust with the status quo, the Eastern European example offers a grim glimpse of a possible American future as right-wing libertarians, intolerant nationalists, and alt-right extremists secure their lock on the policy apparatus.

Waiting for the “inevitable” pendulum swing of politics is like waiting for Godot. The political scene will not regain equilibrium by itself. In Eastern Europe, as in the United States, the opposition has to jettison those elements of the liberal project that have proven self-defeating — the economics of inequality and the politics of collusion with the powerful — and offer a genuine antidote to right-wing populists. If not, you might as well slap a do-not-resuscitate order on liberalism, kiss social welfare goodbye, and brace yourself for a very mean season ahead.

John Feffer, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original) and the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book, Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams (Zed Books), has just been published. 

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

Copyright 2017 John Feffer

Via Tomdispatch.com)

German Poll: Trump a bigger Challenge than N. Korea, Russia or Syria

Tue, 5 Dec 2017 - 3:20am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A public opinion poll on German foreign policy carried out by the Koerber Foundation for its annual Berlin Forum has a bombshell finding:

Germans are more disturbed about Trump and see relations with him as a bigger challenge than relations with North Korea, Russia, or than the Syrian Civil War. Only immigration is seen as a slightly more difficult challenge by Germans than dealing with The Orange One. Coming just after Trump in the degree of challenge he represents to Germany is Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan.

When asked which country was most or second most important to Germany, nearly two thirds or 63% said France.

The US came trailing after with only a plurality at 43%.

Emmanuel Macron is more important to Germans than Trump, and seen in a positive light while Trump is seen as an obstacle at an obstacle course.

But even more striking, the Germans are so over the British, who are pulling out of the European Union. Germans think Russia (11%) and China (7%) are both more important to their nation than Britain (6%).

Not only is France more important than the US in the eyes of these German respondents, but 90% want *more* cooperation with France. 78% want more cooperation with *Russia*. (So the Germans are just like Trump himself?) And 69% want more cooperation with China.

Only 61% want more cooperation with the United States under Trump, and fully 34% actively want *less* cooperation with Washington.

It’s official. Trump is the skunk at the party.

52% of Germans think the relationship between the US and Germany is “somewhat bad.”

Remember I said that Erdogan comes second after Trump as a challenge for Germany? Well, some 74% want to end accession talks about Turkey joining the European Union. They want to end any special relationship with Ankara over the way Erdogan has been behaving. And remember, they find Trump more of a challenge than they do Erdogan.

Germans overwhelmingly see their security future as entangled with a joint European Union security force; only 9% see it as connected to the United States. If Trump was trying to make NATO hated in Europe, he appears to have succeeded.

Germans don’t want a big foreign policy role. But they do think they have a role to play in the Middle East.

The most important conflict where people think Germany should be actively promoting a resolution is ISIL (46%). But 21% want to help resolve the outstanding issues in the Syrian civil war, and 15% want to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Via

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

German police use water cannons on political protesters

Yemen: Ali Abdullah Saleh Leaves Behind Grim Legacy

Tue, 5 Dec 2017 - 1:34am

Human Rights Watch | – –

Ex-President’s Death Underscores Need for Impartial Investigations

(Beirut) – The killing of former longtime Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on December 4, 2017, underlines the need for governments to support the new United Nations expert panel to investigate abuses by all sides to Yemen’s war, Human Rights Watch said today. Saleh, implicated in numerous abuses during his 33-year-long rule of Yemen and during the current conflict, was reportedly killed by Houthi forces while trying to leave the capital, Sanaa.

The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen was created by the UN Human Rights Council in September to investigate and identify those responsible for abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict. The United States, United Kingdom, and other UN member countries should press the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi armed group to cooperate with the UN inquiry.

“Saleh’s death is a grim reminder of the consequences of granting immunity to those linked to grave abuses since countless Yemeni victims and their families should have been able to confront him in court for his alleged crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The US, UK, and others should fully support the UN expert panel and pursue the justice Yemenis deserve.”

Tensions between forces loyal to Saleh and the Houthis had been increasing over the past few months, with armed clashes breaking out on December 1 in Sanaa. On December 4, Houthi-affiliated media reported that Houthi forces had killed Saleh. Videos purportedly showing Houthi forces putting Saleh’s body, with a head wound, into a truck circulated on social media. Close associates of Saleh later confirmed he had been killed that day. The circumstances of his death remain unclear.

During the recent fighting in Sanaa, dozens of people, including civilians, were killed, and hundreds wounded. Ambulances and medical teams were not able to reach the wounded and medical teams were reportedly attacked, according to the UN. An International Committee of the Red Cross medical warehouse was struck during fighting, the organization’s regional director said on Twitter. Humanitarian agencies repeatedly called on all sides – including the coalition, which had reportedly carried out airstrikes against Houthi forces during the fighting – to allow civilians safe passage.

Civilians in Sanaa had already been suffering from a lack of essential supplies, like food, fuel, and medicine, following the coalition’s decision to block the entry of goods through ports under Houthi control on November 6.

Saleh leaves a deeply troubling legacy. Although officially deposed from power during the Arab Uprisings in 2012, Saleh stayed in Yemen and acted as a political spoiler throughout the country’s aborted transitional process. In September 2014, the Houthi armed group took over Sanaa. Despite having waged a six-year, intermittent civil war against the Houthis in the north, Saleh aligned himself with the rebel group in the fight against President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition.

The allied Houthi-Saleh forces committed numerous violations of the laws of war, some most likely war crimes. Human Rights Watch documented that Houthi-Saleh forces laid antipersonnel landmines throughout the country and killed and wounded civilians and prevented their return home. The Houthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled densely populated areas like the cities of Taizz and Aden, forcibly disappeared and abused scores of individuals in areas under their control and blocked and impeded the distribution of aid.

Saleh left office in February 2012 under a flawed transfer pact brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council and backed in most aspects by the UN Security Council, the US, and European Union member countries. The accord promised Saleh immunity in exchange for leaving office. Yemen’s parliament fulfilled the promise, passing a law granting blanket immunity from prosecution to Saleh and his aides for any action during his 33-year rule.

Shortly before Saleh left office, Human Rights Watch confirmed the deaths of 270 protesters and bystanders during attacks by government security forces and gangs on largely peaceful demonstrations against his rule, most in Sanaa. Dozens more civilians were killed in 2011 in apparently indiscriminate attacks by government security forces on densely populated areas in Taizz during clashes with armed opposition fighters. Human Rights Watch also documented a broad pattern of international human rights and laws-of-war violations by government security forces while Saleh was in power, including apparent indiscriminate shelling in the 2004-2010 civil wars against the Houthis and the use of unnecessary and lethal force since 2007 to quash a separatist movement in the south.

On December 4, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights named Kamel Jendoubi, Charles Garraway, and Melissa Parke to the UN expert panel. In announcing the appointments, the high commissioner said: “For three years, the people of Yemen have been subjected to death, destruction and despair. It is essential that those who have inflicted such violations and abuses are held to account.”

“It’s critical for the panel to be able to do its job so that the thousands of Yemenis who have suffered can find a measure of redress,” Whitson said. “Saleh’s death adds one more incident to the UN expert panel’s very long caseload.”

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Yemen’s Saleh leaves legacy of war and corruption”

Navajo Nation to Sue Trump over Shrinking Bears Ears Monument

Tue, 5 Dec 2017 - 1:23am

TeleSur | – –

The Navajo Nation has vowed to sue U.S. President Donald Trump over his decision to shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent.

Hundreds of people – including native tribe, the Navajo, and others – along with environmentalists gathered in Washington to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s damning decision to shrink two national monuments in Southern Utah, Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante, significantly.

The Navajo Nation vow to sue the U.S. president over his decision to significantly shrink Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, a sprawling region of red rock canyons, by 85 percent.

“The Navajo Nation has made repeated requests to meet with President Trump on this issue. The Bears Ears Monument is of critical importance, not only to the Navajo Nation but to many tribes in the region,” Navajo President Russell Begaye said in a statement on Monday.

“We will stand and fight all the way,” Begaye, said, adding that the United States government had already taken “millions of acres of my people’s land.”

The Indigenous Navajos, who were pushing for protecting the land for several years now, consider the nearly 1.4 million acre region designated as a national monument by Obama in 2016, as sacred.

” I mean, one of the things that I want to say is, today marks one week after President Trump mentioned the Pocahontas deal, and now we’re looking at another troubling action by the White House, and it just – it’s a sad day,” Jonathan Nez, vice president of the Navajo Nation, told, Media Matters.

“It’s a sad day in Indian country. It’s a sad day for Americans to where the president says that the law of the land and Antiquities Act is the law of the land, but he is overstepping his own authority by doing this type of action.”

Along with Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante, also saw its federal protection slashed by half.

The decision has been hailed as a victory by the fossil fuel industry, but the environmentalists and the native inhabitants have expressed concern saying Trump’s decision could usher nearly 100,000 sites of archaeological importance in the monuments’ desert landscapes to their ruin.

“What’s next, President Trump, the Grand Canyon?” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked.

Wilderness Society, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and eight other groups have already filed a lawsuit defending the Grand Staircase.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Trump Monument Rollback In Utah Sparks Protests”

Bethlehem Olive Tree decorated to Reflect City’s Suffering under Israeli Occupation

Tue, 5 Dec 2017 - 12:12am

IMEMC News | – –

In a ceremony attended by a group of Palestinians and Internationals, under the initiative of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF), as part of Bethlehem Heart of Christmas, Bethlehem Museum celebrated the lighting of its Christmas tree which was decorated with gas bombs and live bullets fired by the Israeli occupation army on Palestinian citizens.

The tree was decorated with dozens of teargas canisters and stun grenades which were painted with Christmas decorations, while the child of the cave was placed in a suitcase surrounded by barbed wire and walls to express the suffering of the city and its people under Israeli military occupation.

Palestinians seek to confirm, by this tree, that they are turning Israeli tools of killing into tools of life, to assure that they want peace, justice and freedom.

Khader Handal, ICT Officer at HCEF, said that the idea originated with Bethlehem Museum, and that they began working on it together, to send a message to all peoples, all over the world, that the olive tree is still a symbol of peace.

The symbolic tree, which is regularly uprooted by Israeli settlers and soldiers, is therefore decorated to hold many meanings for the Palestinian people.

PNN English: “Bethlehem Museum celebrates Christmas tree lighting 2017

The citizens of Bethlehem and other communities who attended the lighting of the museum tree expressed their happiness with the idea, as it delivers the Palestinian reality in synchronicity with the glorious Christmas holidays which carry on the human message that Jesus Christ symbolizes.

At the end of every year, when the world celebrates Christmas, Palestinians wish to remind the world that they have been under occupation for 70 years, with the hope that someone will help them to end it, and live in dignity and freedom.

(Edited for the IMEMC by c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.)

Via IMEMC

If you’re not Driving an Electric Car you’re Losing Money

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 - 3:35am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Guardian reports on a new study showing that right now, in 2017, owning and operating a purely electric car such as the Chevy Bolt or a Tesla 3 or a Nissan Leaf is cheaper than operating a gasoline/ petrol automobile. For the moment, the researchers said, government subsidies play a role in this outcome. But they expect EVs to outperform internal combustion engines in the very near future even without subsidies.

This is a wonderful study and I don’t mean to cavil, but the framing of these matters in the press annoys me a little. Such studies seldom take into account that the consumers may have solar panels on their roofs or may be in Iowa or Texas in a high-wind town. ( Texas now gets more of its electricity from wind than coal, and Iowa gets fully a third of its electricity from wind.) Likewise new infrastructure like high capacity transmission lines are coming on line.

They say that generic electricity is roughly 10% cheaper than gasoline. But my electricity bill for the past few months has been $14 a month because of my solar panels and so the cost of fuel for an electric car in my house in recent months is near zero. So that makes the electric car *way* cheaper than a gasoline-fueled one. Like $2.40 and gallon versus 2 cents a gallon or something.

You still see these journalistic pieces, whether done from ignorance or collusion, saying that whether electric cars are green depends on the energy mix in the consumer’s state. That is not true. All electric cars emit less CO2 than all gasoline cars, regardless of state. But it is also important to know whether that individual consumer has solar panels, since ipso facto their EV is green.

The other thing that has to be mentioned is that US energy economics as typically done is a fraud. The economists do not take into account what they call externalities. Gasoline automobiles put out pollution that causes global warming and also causes health problems– lung cancer, heart attacks, etc. So if you live in Miami and drive a gasoline car, you are destroying the value of your property because you’re making the sea level rise, and you are also killing your uncle with your fumes. those things are every bit as much a cost of operating the vehicle as the cost of gasoline when you fill up.

If you put in the value of Florida real estate we’ll lose to climate change, electric cars are a fraction of the cost of internal combustion ones. Same goes for taking into account asthma, hear attacks, cancer etc. Every time you fill your gasoline car up you are exposed to carcinogenic fumes. I used to go stand a little distance from the pump. EVs don’t have that problem.

Incidentally, if you own your home and don’t have solar panels on your roof, and you plan to be there 10 years or more, you are also losing money on that.

The study also did not seem to take account of the financial liabilities attached to the oil industry. Moody’s is preparing to downgrade the credit score of cities that aren’t putting in wind and solar energy.

Opponents of green energy (do they hate their grandchildren?) sometimes still trot out the argument that solar and wind are intermittent resources– that is, the sun does not shine at night and the wind does not blow all the time. But first of all there is often more wind at night, so you can feed in the one source as the other declines through the day. Second of all, batteries are making enormous strides. Elon Musk just put one in for Australia in 100 days that will take care of 30,000 homes.

Likewise Samsung just came up with a way to use graphene in batteries to speed up recharging time from 75 minutes to only 15 minutes.

Related video:

CGTN: “Connected electric cars highlight this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show”

How Hezbollah deals with Hariri Crisis will affect Mideast Stability

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 - 2:09am

By Elias Ghazal | (The Conversation) | – –

When the prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, suddenly resigned from office while visiting Saudi Arabia on November 4, the Lebanese people and their leaders struggled to make sense of it. First they were shocked when they watched Hariri’s deeply unsettling eight-minute resignation video, which was broadcast on Saudi satellite network al-Arabia instead of being submitted to the Lebanese president. Hariri then went silent for a week before returning to Lebanon on the eve of Independence day. He has now announced that he may withdraw his resignation after all.

So far, no detailed explanation for this bizarre sequence of events has emerged. But many in Lebanon and beyond agree on the reason behind Hariri’s resignation: Saudi alarm at Iran’s increasingly confident meddling in wider Middle Eastern affairs. Above all, Lebanon is under Saudi pressure because it remains home to one of Iran’s strongest allies, a powerful force that engages in conflicts beyond the Lebanese border: the militant shia and Iranian-allied group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah began life in the 1980s as a resistance movement formed to defy the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. After Israel withdrew in 2000, Hezbollah, unlike other armed groups fighting in the Lebanese civil war, retained its arsenal of weapons as a deterrent. Since then, the group has formed an official political party and has joined successive Lebanese governments and filled several cabinet posts.

Hezbollah contended for years that its growing arsenal was solely for defence in case of an Israeli attack. But in July 2006, after 34 days of battle between Hezbollah and Israel, a ceasefire was accepted by both warring parties. That Hezbollah was not defeated militarily by Israel was considered a victory for the former and became a cause for celebration across the Arab world. But at the same time, it marked Hezbollah out as a potential threat to regional stability, a status the group retains to this day.

Muscling in

Hezbollah’s political and military power grew throughout the ensuing years, but it was soon put to the test. As reverberations of the Arab Spring hit the streets in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s government worked with Hezbollah to fend off militant groups trying to topple the regime. Fighting alongside the regime’s forces, Hezbollah came to play a critical role, helping win the strategic battle of al-Qusayr in 2013.

In the years since the Syrian conflict began, Hezbollah’s military power has grown disproportionately to its size; it secured unhindered access to arms supplies and valuable field experience. Politically, however, the group has been under constant pressure from within the Lebanese government to withdraw from Syria, because of concerns it might entangle the country in a war it wants to avoid at all costs.

Lebanon’s official position towards the complex conflict across its border is to stay out of it. The country is too weak, both politically and militarily, to engage in a conflict that was quickly becoming a Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Nonetheless, Hezbollah was not going to sit idle and watch Iran – its closest ally and regional sponsor – fight alone to save the Assad regime, whose assistance guarantees Hezbollah’s own survival.

With boots on the ground in Syria, Hezbollah became something much more than a mere resistance movement against Israel or a political party with a military wing. It possesses power that is typically reserved for states rather than political parties or resistance movements: the power to help regimes rise or fall.

Thin ice

If Hezbollah wants to stay in Lebanon and maintain its power base there, it needs the Lebanese government’s political cover. That means it cannot afford to push its boundaries. Hariri has failed to curb the group’s words and actions against Saudi and its interests, and that would explain why Riyadah invited itself to interfere so boldly and directly in Lebanon. By detaining Hariri and orchestrating his resignation, the Saudis sought to pull the political rug from underneath Hezbollah’s feet.

At minimum, they must have hoped to see an outraged Lebanese public – particularly sunnis – take to the streets and pressure Hezbollah to rein in its transnational activities for fear of reprisal. The intended message is that the Saudis can restrain Hezbollah, even at the expense of destabilising Lebanon.

Hariri insists that his resignation was self-motivated, meant as an alarm bell to call his government back to the principle of disassociation. But the president, Michel Aoun, is not convinced – and he refused to accept the prime minister’s resignation before speaking to Hariri. Aoun, who is a political ally of Hezbollah, considered Saudi detention of Hariri an act of aggression against his country. For his part, Hezbollah’s general secretary, Hasan Nasrallah, called for patience and for measures to deescalate the situation.

Hezbollah is now in a critical position. If the group ignores Hariri’s entreaties, it risks giving up its popular support. But should it heed the prime minister’s advice it will jeopardise its relationship with its allies. Whatever it does, with Saudi Arabia and Iran both watching closely, Hezbollah’s next move puts hundreds of thousands of Lebanese in Lebanon and the Gulf at risk.

Elias Ghazal, PhD Candidate in Middle Eastern Studies, Lancaster University

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

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Hariri, Hezbollah dominate talks on Lebanon’s regional role”

Jared Kushner didn’t report Funding Illegal Israeli Squatter Settlements

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 - 1:49am

TeleSur | – –

The news organization, Haaretz, printed a report in 2016 stating Kushner’s parents invested thousand dollars in organizations nestled in the West Bank region.

Researchers from American Bridge and Newsweek have revealed Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House senior advisor failed to mention to the Office of Government Ethics, during his March filings, that he was the co-director of the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation from 2006 and 2015, which was responsible for funding settlements that were deemed as illegal according to the international law.

“The first son-in-law has repeatedly amended his financial records since his initial filing in March, along with three separate revisions to his security clearance application. Despite correcting his financial history on multiple occasions, he has yet to include his role as co-director to the family foundation,” Newsweek reported.

“Every successive failure to disclose his financial holdings makes it harder and harder to believe Jared Kushner isn’t trying to intentionally deceive the American people. … At the very least, his security clearance needs to be revoked immediately. He has no business accessing sensitive national security information,” American Bridge’s research director, Pat Dennis, told the Newsweek.

The revelation also sheds light on special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, in which the former national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

The court documents revealed that in December 2016, Kushner asked Flynn to negotiate with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to vote against a U.N. Security Council resolution against Israel and West Bank settlements, according to LA Times.

“Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,” a Trump transition team member said, BuzzFeed reported.

Before this, between 2011 and 2013, the foundation donated nearly US$38,000 to “a group building a Jewish seminary in a West Bank settlement known as Beit El” according to Newsweek. During the same time, Kushner’s foundation also donated another US$20,000 to Jewish and educational institutions located in the settlements, AP reported.

If disclosed, the Office of Government Ethics might have considered his association with the foundation and its role in funding programs in these settlements.

“The role in his financial records, his involvement in such donations—and the following conflicts of interest that could possibly arise in his government position—may have been considered by the Office of Government Ethics,” Newsweek noted.

Israeli News outlet, Haaretz, also ran a news report in 2016 stating Kushner’s parents invested several thousand dollars in organizations nestled in the West Bank region.

“On average, the family donates a few million dollars a year to charitable causes through the Charles and Seryl Kushner Foundation, tax forms for the years 2010 through 2014 show,” the report stated.

“The average donation is typically in the range of $5,000 to $10,000. Jared Kushner – as well as his brother and two sisters – sits on the board of his parents’ family foundation, which was created in 1997.”

Via TeleSur

The Art of Keeping Guantanamo Open: The Uncharged, Untried and their Paintings

Mon, 4 Dec 2017 - 1:34am

By Erin L. Thompson | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

We spent the day at a beach in Brooklyn. Skyscrapers floated in the distance and my toddler kept handing me cigarette filters she had dug out of the sand. When we got home, I checked my email. I had been sent a picture of a very different beach: deserted, framed by distant headlands with unsullied sands and clear waters. As it happened, I was looking not at a photograph, but at a painting by a man imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp.

Of the roughly 780 people once imprisoned there, he is one of 41 prisoners who remain, living yards away from the Caribbean Sea. Captives from the Bush administration’s Global War on Terror began to arrive at that offshore prison in January 2002. Since Guantánamo is located on a military base in Cuba and the detainees were labeled “alien enemy combatants,” they were conveniently to be without rights under either United States or international law and so open to years of whatever their jailers wanted to do to them (including torture). President Barack Obama released 197 of them in his years in office, but was unable to fulfill the promise he made on his first day: to close Guantánamo.

The man whose painting I saw has been held for nearly 15 years without trial, without even having charges filed against him. The email came from his lawyer who had volunteered to defend a number of Guantánamo detainees. Some had been released after she helped them convince a military tribunal that they were no longer “threats” to the United States. The others remain in indefinite detention. Many of her clients pass their time by making art and, of all the unexpected things to come into my life, she was now looking for a curator who wanted to exhibit some of their paintings.

Collecting the Art of Guantánamo

I’m a professor at John Jay College in New York City. It has a small art gallery and so one day in August 2016 I found myself in that lawyer’s midtown Manhattan office preparing, however dubiously, to view the art of her clients. She was pushing aside speakerphones and notepads and laying out the artwork on a long table in a conference room whose windows overlooked the picturesque East River. As I waited, I watched from high up as the water cut a swath of silence through the city. When I finally turned my attention to the art, I was startled to see some eerily similar views. Painting after painting of water. Water trickling through the reeds at the edge of a pond. Water churning into foam as it ran over rocks in rivers. Calmly flowing water that reflected the buildings along a canal.

But above all, there was the sea. Everywhere, the sea.  In those paintings in that conference room and in other work sent to me as word spread among detainees and their lawyers that I was willing to plan an exhibit, I found hundreds of depictions of the sea in all its moods. In some paintings, storms thrashed apart the last planks of sinking ships. In others, boats were moored safely at docks or scudded across vast expanses of water without a hint of shore in sight. Clouds bunched in blue midday skies or burned orange in mid-ocean sunsets. One detainee had even made elaborate models of sailing ships out of cardboard, old T-shirts, bottle caps, and other scraps of trash.

Puzzled, I asked the lawyer, “Why all the water?” She shrugged. Maybe the art instructor at the prison, she suggested, was giving the detainees lots of pictures of the sea. The detainees, it turned out, could actually take art classes as long as they remained “compliant.” But when there was a crackdown, as there had, for instance, been during a mass hunger strike in 2013, the guards promptly confiscated their art — and that was the reason the lawyer’s clients had asked her to take it.  They wanted to keep their work (and whatever it meant to them) safe from the guards.


Muhammad Ansi, Untitled (Pier), 2016.

As it turned out, the art doesn’t leave Guantánamo that much more easily than the prisoners themselves. Military authorities scrutinized every piece for hidden messages and then stamped the back of each work, “Approved by US Forces.” Those stamps generally bled through, floating up into the surface of the image on the other side. The lawyer had even nicknamed one of the model ships the U.S.S. Approved because the censors had stamped those words across its sails.

So I found myself beginning to plan an exhibition of a sort I had never in my wildest dreams imagined I would curate. And I began to worry. A curator makes so many choices, judgments, interpretations of art. But how could I make them with any kind of accuracy when I was a woman, a non-Muslim, and a citizen of the very nation that had detained these men for so many years without charges or trial?  Wasn’t I, in other words, the ultimate Other?

Greek to Me

By training, I’m a classical art historian. I expand fragments. If I show my students a broken ancient Greek vase, I use my words to mend it. I pour in more words to fill it with the memory of the wine it once carried, yet more to conjure up the men who once drank from it, and still more to offer my students our best guesses at what they might have been talking about as they drank.

This mode of dealing with art was known to the ancient Greeks.  They called it ekphrasis: the rhetorical exercise of describing a work of art in great detail. For them, ekphrasis was a creative act. The speaker often explained things not shown by the artist, such as what happened just before or just after the illustrated moment. The maiden in this painting is smiling because she has just received a declaration of love, they would say.

But faced with this art from Guantánamo, ekphrasis seemed somehow inappropriate. These artists are still alive, even if entombed. Their artworks are as they intended them, not the fragmentary remains of some past world that needs a framework of interpretation. And whatever interpretation these might need, how in the world was I to provide it?  Who was I to pour my words over them?

And yet I knew that they needed help or why would that lawyer have come to me? The detainees certainly couldn’t curate their own exhibit in New York because they would be barred from entering the United States even after being released from Guantánamo. So I told myself that I would have to help them realize their desire for an exhibit without inserting my own judgments. I told myself that I would instead be their amanuensis.

From the Latin: a manu, servant of the hand, the term once referring to someone who aided in an artistic project by taking dictation. Consider, for instance, John Milton’s daughters, Mary and Deborah, who took down his seventeenth century epic poem Paradise Lost after he had gone blind. They were his amanuenses.  He composed the verses in his head at night.  Then, in the morning, as a contemporary of his wrote, he “sat leaning backward obliquely in an easy chair, with his leg flung over the elbow of it” while they wrote down what he recited. If they dawdled coming to him, he would complain that he needed to be milked.


Ghaleb Al-Bihani, Untitled (Red and Purple Boats), 2015.

I would similarly let the artists speak for themselves through me, or so I thought. I wrote out a list of questions for their lawyers to ask them, including “What do you like about making art?” and “What would you like people to think about when they are looking at your art?” Then I waited for those lawyers to pose them during their Guantánamo visits in the midst of conferences about legal matters.  

The answers were strikingly uniform and seemingly unrevealing.  They wanted people to see their art, they said, and through it know that they are actual human beings. Really?  I didn’t get it. Of course, they’re human beings. What else could they be?

At first, I wasn’t too concerned that their answers didn’t really make much sense to me. That’s part of the role of an amanuensis.  Milton’s daughters were ten and six when he began Paradise Lost. It would take them all nearly a decade to finish it. In those years, their father also taught them to read books aloud to him in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, of which they couldn’t understand a word.

I was used to being an amanuensis myself. When I was a year and a half old and my mother was still pregnant with my sister, my father had an accident and broke his neck. The fractured edge of a vertebra sliced into his spinal cord, leaving his arms and legs paralyzed. As soon as we were old enough — and I can’t remember a time when we weren’t considered old enough — my sister and I would spend hours a day being his “hands.” We opened mail, paid bills, slid computer disks in and out of the desktop that he operated by stabbing at the keys with a long pointer held in his mouth. Through us, two daydreamy little girls, he did all the work of a stereotypical man of the house — fixing broken appliances, hanging Christmas lights, grilling steak.

To be an amanuensis is, by the way, anything but a passive act. After all, there wouldn’t be enough time in the world if you had to tell your own hands what to do in every situation: reach for the coffee cup, close that finger around its handle, bring it to your mouth. In the same way, an amanuensis must anticipate needs, prepare tools, and know when something’s missing.

And this sense that something was missing — honed from my years with my father — was growing in me as I looked at the artwork and thought about those responses. It was the midsummer of 2017 and the exhibit was set to open in the fall.  The file cabinets in my office were filled with paintings, overflowing into piles on the floor that came up to my shins. After the struggle to pry those artworks out of Guantánamo, I didn’t know how to say that one piece should be seen by the world and another should stay a prisoner in some dark drawer.

Freedom of the Seas

So I asked again — this time by emailing Mansoor Adayfi, a former detainee working on a memoir about his time at Guantánamo. He explained that the cells of detainees were right by the sea.  They could smell and hear the surf, but because tarps blocked their view, they could never see it. Only once, when a hurricane was coming, had the guards removed those tarps from the fences that separated them from the water. A few days later, when they went back up, the artist-inmates began to draw pictures of the sea as a substitute for what they had glimpsed during that brief moment of visual freedom.

Suddenly, those endless visions of water — that is, of freedom — made sense to me.  And I understood something else as well.  Guantánamo is a system designed to paint the men it holds as monsters, animals, sub-humans who don’t deserve basic rights like fair trials.  That was the reason those prisoners were speaking, but not speaking, in their art. Why would they say anything that risked a further fall from whatever precarious hold on humanity they still had?

They hoped someday to be released, which was unlikely to happen if the authorities became convinced that they bore any anger towards the United States. And even release would not mean freedom of speech, since they would be sent to countries that had agreed to host them. Dependent on the good graces of these governments, they would continue to live constrained lives in constrained circumstances, needing never to offend these new sets of authorities either.


Khalid Qasim, Untitled (Fins in the Ocean), 2016.

I was indeed the Other. I might misinterpret and misrepresent, but so undoubtedly would anyone else in our world speaking for those artists. And they were incapable of speaking for themselves.

So I added an essay of my own to the catalog, becoming ekphrastic. I pointed out what was movingly missing in their artwork. It wasn’t that there weren’t people in their paintings.  It was that those works had invisible holes where the people should have been. All those unmanned boats, sailing across those open waters, were carrying invisible self-portraits of the artists as they hardly dared to imagine themselves: free. Even when there were no boats, the famously mutable sea served as the perfect disguise. Its winds and waves and rocks represented the all-too-human emotions of the artists without ever making them visible to the censors.

It was, of course, so much less dangerous for me to interpret what they were saying than for them to say it directly. I had held many doors open for my father when I was his amanuensis, running ahead to make sure the path was clear and that there were no surprising flights of stairs. If there were, it was up to me to find a new way.

This is what I wanted to do for the artists. Open doors, scout out paths — but their choice of doors, their choice of paths, not mine. They had told me they wanted people to see them as human beings and that was the case I tried to make for them.

As it turned out, I evidently succeeded a little too well. After the exhibit opened and received a surprising amount of media attention, the artists’ lawyers noticed that the authorities were taking longer and longer to clear artworks to leave Guantánamo. Then, three weeks ago, the Department of Defense declared that all art made at Guantánamo is government property. Detainees reported that their guards then told them any art left behind if they were ever released would be burned and works in their cells deemed “excess” would simply be discarded.

As with so many policy decisions about Guantánamo, the true rationale for this one remains hidden. My guess: the U.S. authorities there were surprised that the artwork they had been scrutinizing so carefully for hidden messages had a unifying one they had missed: that its makers were human beings. Which is precisely the realization the authorities need to stop the rest of us from having if Guantánamo is to remain open.

Erin L. Thompson, co-curator of “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo” with Charlie Shields and Paige Laino, is an assistant professor of art crime at John Jay College. Her book, Possession: The Curious History of Private Collectors from Antiquity to the Present, was an NPR Best Book of 2016. Follow her on Twitter at @artcrimeprof.

[Note: The exhibit “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo” is on display in New York City at the President’s Gallery of John Jay College, 899 10th Avenue (6th Floor) until January 28, 2018.]

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Copyright 2017 Erin L. Thompson

Via Tomdispatch.com