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Russian Pundit: Fall of East Aleppo a Geopolitical Turning Point toward Multi-polar World

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 - 1:56am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

By Friday evening outside observers like Rami Abdelrahman of the Syria Observatory in the UK were saying that even more of the East Aleppo pocket had fallen to the Syrian Arab Army, Hizbullah and Iraqi militias and that the government forces had consolidated their control over districts taken midweek. About half of the eastern city has now been lost to the rebel forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled, some to regime-held West Aleppo and others into Kurdish-held territory.

At the same time, according to the Saudi-owned, London-based pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East], secret talks between rebel leaders and Russia in Ankara collapsed on Friday over Russia’s demand that several hundred fighters belonging to the Levantine Conquest Front, formerly the Nusra Front, leave Aleppo before any cessation of hostilities could be agreed to. The US and Russia list the LCF/ Nusra as a terrorist organization; its leader is sworn to allegiance to core al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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The some 3,000? remaining rebel fighters of the East Aleppo pocket include a diverse set of groups. Some are defenders of a neighborhood and by all accounts not very ideological. Most probably believe in some form of political Islam and some are Muslim Brotherhood. Russia maintains, however, that the Salafi Jihadi LCF is the de facto leader of all the militias in East Aleppo and therefore tars them all with the brush of al-Qaeda and terrorism. For their part, the rebel leaders are unwilling to let go of al-Qaeda because its ranks contain the best fighters and they fear the Russians are attempting to divide and rule them. What guarantee, they ask, do they have that if LCF fighters exited, the Russians would keep their word and conclude a cessation of hostilities?

The Syrian rebels’ unlovely attachment to the al-Qaeda group has been one of the reasons for their downfall, since it was difficult for Western powers to back them or to fend off Russian objections that their efforts were spearheaded by Bin Laden, and later al-Zawahiri.

Russian and regime airstrikes and artillery, and return fire by the rebels, have allegedly killed about 300 civilians since the current campaign began two weeks ago. Inasmuch as some of the airstrikes appear to have been indiscriminate, those would be war crimes. The rebels are accused of having shot civilians attempting to flee their control.

In a recent panel discussion on a foreign affairs television show in Moscow, “Evening with Vladimir Solovyev,” the Russian analysts were virtually licking their lips over the prospect of a decisive win in East Aleppo. The discussion was translated by BBC Monitoring:

One guest, the president of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, Leonid Ivashov, said that the taking of East Aleppo was not purely a “tactical success”, but rather is a “matter of geopolitics” as well. He said that the The Russia-led coalition in Syria is radically altering the world, adding that: “a new multipolar, fairer and safer, world is coming into being there.”

Veniamin Popov, director of the Centre for Alliance of Civilisations, said he had hopes that East Aleppo would be taken quickly. At that point, he observed, the Middle East will be “seriously changed” and a “trend in geopolitics” would begin that recognizes that “it is necessary to reckon with Russia.”

Ivan Konovalov, head of military policy and economics at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said that a victory in Aleppo would “greatly change Russia’s influence in the region.”

That is, these Russian analysts see the imminent fall of the East Aleppo pocket as not only a significant turning point in the Syrian Civil War but as the announcement that Moscow is back. The Russian Federation is a superpower in world affairs, they are implying, just as the old Soviet Union had been.

Russia will henceforth be seen as a force that must be reckoned with, they are saying.

Ivashov argues that the emergence of Russia as a great power is good for the Middle East. Now the dynamics of the region will differ from country to country, depending on the diplomatic and other aid each receives, and from which power. But the new Middle East aborning in the ruins of East Aleppo will be multipolar. The era of the US as sole superpower is over. And on top of that, this multipolar world will be more just and more fair. (Source: Rossiya 1 TV in Russian 1410 gmt 30 Nov 16, BBC Monitoring).

Not sure if the news of the 300 civilian deaths has reached them.


Related video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Intense fighting in Aleppo as regime troops cut the rebels’ northern sector”

Israeli Occupation economically suffocates Palestinian East Jerusalem

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 - 12:24am

By: Al-Shabaka | (Ma’an News Agency) | – –

In an unusual move, and after years of neglect, American and European delegations and development agencies have recently been visiting East Jerusalem and showing an increased interest in “doing something” about its deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. Moreover, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is, after a prolonged silence, working on updating the Strategic Multi-Sector Development Plan for East Jerusalem 2011-2013.

There are fears that the election of Donald Trump might put a damper on these welcome and long overdue initiatives. It is also problematic that these delegations focus on economic development when the reality is that real economic development is not possible without progress on the political front to free the Occupied Palestinian Territory and fulfil Palestinian rights in the context of a just and comprehensive peace.

A Palestinian family is held behind an Israeli police barrier in the Old City of Jerusalem on June 5, 2016. (MaanImages/Yumna Patel)

This brief by Al-Shabaka Policy Fellow Nur Arafeh focuses on Israel’s deliberately engineered economic collapse of East Jerusalem, which renders the city essentially unlivable for Palestinians so as to ensure Jewish control over it. By so doing, the brief aims to provide those concerned with the fate of the city with the analysis necessary to understand Israel’s aims as well as some of the policy prescriptions to spur economic development. The brief zeroes in on the deterioration of two sectors that have been East Jerusalem’s prime strategic assets — tourism and the commercial markets of the Old City — which exemplify the economic collapse. It also explores initiatives undertaken in East Jerusalem to foster sumud, or steadfastness, that challenge the myriad obstacles imposed by Israeli occupation authorities and concludes with recommendations on how to enhance sumud in the city and restore its capacity for the limited economic development possible under occupation. . .

A Besieged Tourism Sector

East Jerusalem has been a major tourist destination for decades. After 1948, when the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, came under Jordanian jurisdiction, tourism was the strongest sector in East Jerusalem’s economy. By 1966, it comprised 14 percent of the West Bank’s GDP and generated many jobs, thus increasing income and improving living standards. This led to a rise in government and private investment in physical infrastructure and tourism-related facilities. Tourism-related services were well developed by 1967 in comparison to other services.

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However, following the Israeli occupation and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the tourism sector began to stagnate. For example, there was a radical change in the distribution of hotel rooms between the western and eastern parts of the city. Between 1968 and 1979, the percentage of hotel rooms located in East Jerusalem declined from 60 percent to 40 percent. While there was a 20 percent increase in income for the East Jerusalem tourism sector between 1969 and 1973, the Israeli sector witnessed an 80 percent rise over the same period. By the mid-1980s, 80 percent of tourist bookings were in the Israeli sector.

Israeli punitive measures during the first and second Intifadas [uprisings], such as curfews and tax raids, further hampered the development of East Jerusalem’s tourism sector. Moreover, Israel’s construction of the Wall in 2002 and its subsequent intensification of restrictions on East Jerusalem’s development particularly damaged the sector, because such actions isolated the city from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Obstacles have included cumbersome licensing procedures for constructing hotels or converting buildings to hotels; high municipal taxes; weak physical and economic infrastructure; and scarcity of land. Moreover, while the development of the Israeli tourism industry enjoys considerable government support, the Palestinian tourism sector is largely run by insufficient private investments and lacks meaningful support from the PA.

The number of active hotels in East Jerusalem has thus been in decline. Between 2009 and 2016, the number of hotels in the Jerusalem Governorate decreased by 41 percent, from 34 hotels in 2009 to 20 during the second quarter of 2016. Recently, some hotels have been converted into offices, such as the Mount Scopus hotel, while the Al-Makassed hospital purchased the Alcazar hotel in Wadi Joz. Further, while 34 percent of hotels in the OPT were located in East Jerusalem in 2009, less than 18 percent of OPT hotels were in East Jerusalem by June 2016. The percentage of guests visiting the OPT and staying in East Jerusalem hotels has also declined from 48 percent in 2009 to 23 percent in the first half of 2016.

The stifled development of the Palestinian tourism industry, combined with the negative perceptions of travel to Palestinian areas (mainly propagated by Israel), has led an increasing number of tourists to stay in West Jerusalem hotels. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 88 percent of tourists chose hotels in West Jerusalem in 2013, while only 12 percent stayed in hotels in East Jerusalem. West Jerusalem hotels thus accrued 90 percent of hotel revenues in the same year.

Other factors that have weakened the tourism sector in East Jerusalem include the seasonality of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages, which are the main sources of business in the city; the heightened competition between tourism businesses due to their geographic concentration; political instability; a weak competitive advantage; the lack of a unique Palestinian tourism product; and an absence of a clear Palestinian vision and promotional strategy for the Palestinian tourism industry.

The Suffocation of the Old City Economy

The Old City of Jerusalem was a strong part of East Jerusalem’s economy, attracting Arab and Palestinian customers as well as tourists. Its present recession serves as a potent example of the economic marginalization that has weakened the economy and rendered life in East Jerusalem increasingly difficult for Palestinians.

The recession of the commercial markets in the Old City has been closely linked to the deterioration of the tourism sector in East Jerusalem. In the 1970s and 1980s, business activities in the Old City became increasingly reliant on tourism with the surge in the number of visitors. With this shift also came a change in the nature of the markets: While the Old City was known for its traditional industries and markets — for instance, the Souq al-Attareen (spices), the Souq al-Lahameen (meat), and the Souq al-Qattanin (cotton) — it slowly lost these niche markets as merchants turned their businesses into souvenir shops as this was a more successful venture at the time. The ensuing economic marginalization of East Jerusalem and the decline in tourism businesses helped fuel the decline of commercial activities in the Old City.

This situation was compounded further by the heavy taxes imposed by Israeli authorities to stifle Palestinian business activity. Palestinian merchants are required to pay six taxes: arnona, or property tax, value added tax, income tax, national insurance, payroll tax, and license tax. The inability of most Palestinian merchants to pay these taxes given the decline in their businesses has put many of them in debt. Israeli authorities have been offering merchants generous incentives to sell their stores if they cannot pay taxes, thus using taxation as a tool to confiscate Palestinian property and expand Jewish control over and colonization of the Old City.

Moreover, in an effort to keep commodity prices low, Palestinian merchants have become increasingly dependent on importing foreign and Israeli goods. As a result, commercial markets in the Old City, which were known for the high quality of their goods, have become known for selling low-quality products.

The subsequent loss of competitive advantage has been accompanied by the emergence of new business centers, such as Salah al-Din, Shuafat, Beit Hanina, al-Ram, and Ramallah, which have become easier to reach and thus more attractive to Palestinians, especially after the construction of the Wall and the strict travel permit regime imposed by Israeli authorities. For instance, people living in Abu Dis either shop in Abu Dis or travel south to Bethlehem and Hebron, rather than going to East Jerusalem, because doing so would mean spending hours crossing Israeli-imposed checkpoints. According to a 2012 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “Only 4 percent of those living beyond the wall have continued to do their shopping in Jerusalem, whereas 18 percent did so before.”

The combination of the new business centers, cumbersome tax burden, decline in the tourism sector, and weak purchasing power of Palestinians in East Jerusalem has suffocated the economy of the Old City. The unemployment rate in the Old City was 12 percent in 2012, with workers in tourism, trade, and industry the most affected. Further, according to the Jerusalem Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, more than 200 shops are currently closed in the Old City. Shops that are still open cannot stay open for longer hours at night because of their inability to cover operating costs. This has led to the “Jerusalem sleeps early” phenomenon whereby Jerusalem residents spend their evenings and weekends in Ramallah or Bethlehem instead of the city itself.

The recent uprising has further exacerbated this situation, especially given Israel’s increased security measures. In early October 2015, Israel erected concrete roadblocks and checkpoints in several neighborhoods in Jerusalem as well as barriers inside and outside the Old City. According to a report by Al-Haq, Israeli authorities set up more than 30 checkpoints and observation points in the Old City that month, including four electronic detectors, severely constraining the movement of Palestinians and tourists. Palestinian merchants have also been subject to arbitrary punishments, such as arrests under the pretext that they did not assist Israelis who were attacked by Palestinians.

The ensuing environment of fear among Palestinians and tourists has caused a further decline in the consumer base of the Old City, undermining business activity and leading many shops to shutter. According to the same Al-Haq report, 54 stores closed in Souq Al-Qattanin between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23. Other shops opened for only a few hours a day due to the lack of customers, and several Palestinian merchants sought employment in the Israeli labor market.

Palestinian merchants have also been subject to fierce competition from Jewish Israeli merchants, especially as the latter have been receiving financial benefits from the Israeli government since the recent uprising. According to Palestinian merchants interviewed by the author, each Jewish merchant in the Old City received NIS 70,000 (more than $18,000) from the Jerusalem municipality and 50 percent breaks on the arnona tax, in addition to the financial support they already receive from Israeli organizations supporting illegal settlements in the OPT. Meanwhile, the High Committee for Jerusalem Affairs has planned to allocate $3,000 to each Palestinian merchant in the Old City — an amount the merchants consider too small to cover even part of their debts.

Israel’s orchestration of the Old City’s economic recession, alongside its other policies such as house demolitions; a discriminatory provision of services, which sees Palestinian residents receiving fewer services but paying the same taxes as their Jewish counterparts; and the revocation of residency cards, purposefully render life increasingly difficult for Palestinians. This has gone hand in hand with Israel’s continued efforts to fast-track its colonization of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, by expanding its settlements.

Settlement expansion is supported by right-wing organizations, such as Ateret Cohanim, within the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods, as they aim to create a Jewish majority in the Old City and in East Jerusalem at large. These organizations benefit from considerable assistance from the state, which provides private security services to protect settlers, especially during the expropriation of Palestinian properties. The state also funds development projects in the settlement enclaves and facilitates the transfer of Palestinian properties to right-wing organizations through bodies such as the Jewish National Fund and the Custodian of Absentee Property.

Despite intensive settlement expansion Jews represent only around 10 percent of the population of the Old City. Yet there has been an expansion in Jewish religious and educational institutions in the area. In particular, efforts have been made to encircle the Al-Aqsa compound inside and outside the Old City with Jewish sites in an attempt to Judaize the touristic landscape. Settlers’ main success has so far been the construction of the biblical theme park, “City of David,” which surrounds the Old City walls and encompasses most of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in Silwan to the south. The settler group El-Ad runs the park, which is one of the most visited tourist sites in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities and settlers use the park to project their desired image of Jerusalem as a “Jewish city” — which includes erasing the Palestinians’ physical presence and history.

The economic collapse of East Jerusalem, illustrated in this brief through a focus on tourism and the Old City’s commercial markets, has naturally led to deteriorating socioeconomic conditions for Palestinians. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 81.8 percent of East Jerusalem residents and 86.6 percent of Palestinian children were living below the poverty line in 2014, compared with 28.4 percent of residents and 41.6 percent of children within the Jewish population.

Originally published in full on Al-Shabaka’s website.

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect Ma’an News Agency’s or Informed Comment’s editorial policy.

Via Ma’an News Agency

The Election that Changed everything and Could be History’s Deal-Breaker

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 - 12:18am

By Tom Engelhardt | ( | – –

For decades, Washington had a habit of using the Central Intelligence Agency to deep-six governments of the people, by the people, and for the people that weren’t to its taste and replacing them with governments of the [take your choice: military junta, shah, autocrat, dictator] across the planet.  There was the infamous 1953 CIA- and British-organized coup that toppled the democratic Iranian government of Mohammad Mosadegh and put the Shah (and his secret police, the SAVAK) in power.  There was the 1954 CIA coup against the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala that installed the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas; there was the CIA’s move to make Ngo Dinh Diem the head of South Vietnam, also in 1954, and the CIA-Belgian plot to assassinate the Congo’s first elected prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, in 1961 that led, in the end, to the military dictatorship of Mobutu Sese Seko; there was the 1964 CIA-backed military coup in Brazil that overthrew elected president Jango Goulart and brought to power a military junta; and, of course, the first 9/11 (September 11, 1973) when the democratically elected socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and killed in a U.S.-backed military coup. Well, you get the idea.

In this way, Washington repeatedly worked its will as the leader of what was then called “the Free World.”  Although such operations were carried out on the sly, when they were revealed, Americans, proud of their own democratic traditions, generally remained unfazed by what the CIA had done to democracies (and other kinds of governments) abroad in their name.  If Washington repeatedly empowered regimes of a sort Americans would have found unacceptable for ourselves, it wasn’t something that most of us spent a whole lot of time fretting about in the context of the Cold War.

At least those acts remained largely covert, undoubtedly reflecting a sense that this wasn’t the sort of thing you should proudly broadcast in the light of day. In the early years of the twenty-first century, however, a new mindset emerged. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, “regime change” became the phrase du jour. As a course of action, there was no longer anything to be covert about. Instead, the process was debated openly and carried out in the full glare of media attention.

No longer would Washington set the CIA plotting in the shadows to rid it of detested governments and put in their place more malleable client states.  Instead, as the “sole superpower” of Planet Earth, with a military believed to be beyond compare or challenge, the Bush administration would claim the right to dislodge governments it disdained directly, bluntly, and openly with the straightforward use of military force.  Later, the Obama administration would take the same tack under the rubric of “humanitarian intervention” or R2P (“responsibility to protect”).  In this sense, regime change and R2P would become shorthand for Washington’s right to topple governments in the full light of day by cruise missile, drone, and Apache helicopter, not to mention troops, if needed. (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq would, of course, be exhibit A in this process and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, exhibit B.)

With this history in mind and in the wake of the recent election, a question came to me recently: In 2016, did the American people leave the CIA in a ditch and potentially do to themselves what the Agency (and more recently the U.S. military) had done to others? In other words, in the strangest election of our lifetimes, have we just seen something like a slow-motion democratic coup d’état or some form of domestic regime change?

Only time will tell, but one sign of that possibility: for the first time, part of the national security state directly intervened in an American election. In this case, not the CIA, but our leading domestic investigative outfit, the FBI. Inside it, as we now know, fulminating and plotting had been ongoing against one of the two candidates for president before its director, James Comey, openly, even brazenly, entered the fray with 11 days to go.  He did so on grounds that, even at the time, seemed shaky at best, if not simply bogus, and ran against firm department traditions for such election periods. In the process, his intervention may indeed have changed the trajectory of the election, a commonplace in the rest of the world, but a unique moment in this country.

Donald Trump’s administration, now filling up with racists, Islamophobes, Iranophobes, and assorted fellow billionaires, already has the feel of an increasingly militarized, autocratic government-in-the-making, favoring short-tempered, militaristic white guys who don’t take criticism lightly or react to speed bumps well.  In addition, on January 20th, they will find themselves with immense repressive powers of every sort at their fingertips, powers ranging from torture to surveillance that were institutionalized in remarkable ways in the post-9/11 years with the rise of the national security state as a fourth branch of government, powers which some of them are clearly eager to test out.

Blowback and Blowforward as the History of Our Times

It took 22 years — in the wake of Washington’s 1979 decision to use the CIA to arm, fund, and train the most extreme Afghan (and other) Muslim fundamentalists and so give the Soviet Union a Vietnam-style bloody nose — for the initial American investment in radical Islam to come home big time.  On that blowback path, there would be American military housing in Saudi Arabia blown sky high, two U.S. embassies bombed in Africa, and a U.S. destroyer ripped apart in a harbor in Aden.  But it was 9/11 that truly put blowback on the map in this country (and, appropriately enough, turned Chalmers Johnson’s book with that title, published in 2000, into a bestseller).  Those al-Qaeda attacks, estimated to cost only $400,000, were aimed at three iconic structures: the World Trade Center in Manhattan (representing American financial power), the Pentagon in Washington (military power), and assumedly either the White House or the Capitol (political power) — as United Airlines Flight 93 was undoubtedly headed there when it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.  Those strikes by 19 mainly Saudi hijackers were meant to deliver a devastating blow to American amour propre, and so they did.

In response, the Bush administration launched the Global War on Terror, or GWOT (one of the worst acronyms ever), also known to its rabid promoters as “the Long War” or “World War IV.”  Think of that “war,” including the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a kind of “blowforward,” or a second vast, long-term investment of time, money, and lives in Islamic extremism that only entrenched the phenomenon further in our world, helped recruit more supporters for it, and spread it ever more widely.

In other words, Osama bin Laden’s relatively modest $400,000 investment would lead Washington to squander literally trillions more dollars in ever-expanding wars and insurgencies, and on the targeting of growing, morphing terror outfits in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  The resulting years of military effort that spiraled out of control and into disaster in that vast region led to what I’ve called an “empire of chaos” and set a new kind of blowback on a path home, blowback that would change and distort the nature of American governance and society.

Now, 37 years after the first Afghan intervention and 15 years after the second one, in the wake of an American election, blowback from the war on terror — its generals, its mindset, its manias, its urge to militarize everything — has come home in a significant way. In fact, we just held what may someday be seen as our first 9/11-style election. And with it, with the various mad proposals to ban or register Muslims and the like, the literal war on terror is threatening to come home big time, too.  Based on the last decade and a half of “results” in distant lands, that can’t be good news. (According to the latest report, for instance, fears of persecution are growing even among Muslims in the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security, and with Islamophobic sentiments already rampant inside the newly forming Trump administration, you can conclude that this won’t end well either.)

History’s Deal-Breaker?

On September 12, 2001, you would have been hard put to guess just how the shock of the attacks of the previous day would play out in the U.S. and the world, so perhaps it’s idle to speculate on what the events of 11/8/16 will lead to in the years to come. Prediction’s a dicey business in the best of times, and the future ordinarily is a black hole.  But one thing does seem likely amid the murk: with the generals (and other officials) who ran America’s failed wars these last years potentially dominating the national security structure of a future Trump administration, our empire of chaos (including perhaps regime change) will indeed have come home.  It’s reasonable to think of the victory of Donald Trump and his brand of right-wing corporatist or billionaire “populism” and of the rising tide of white racism that has accompanied it as a 9/11-style shock to the body politic, even if it proves a slo-mo version of the original event.

As with 9/11, a long, blowback-ridden history preceded 11/8 and Donald Trump’s triumph.  That history included the institutionalization of permanent war as a way of life in Washington, the growing independent power and preeminence of the national security state, the accompanying growth and institutionalization of the most oppressive powers of that state, including intrusive surveillance of almost every imaginable sort, the return from distant battlefields of the technology and mindset of permanent war, and the ability to assassinate whomever the White House chooses to kill (even an American citizen).  In addition, in blowback terms, domestically you would need to include the results of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010, which helped release staggering amounts of corporate and 1%er funds from the engorged top of an increasingly unequal society into the political system (without which a billionaire running for president and a cabinet of billionaires and multimillionaires would have been inconceivable).

As I wrote in early October, “a significant part of the white working class… feels as if, whether economically or psychologically, its back is up against the wall and there’s nowhere left to go… many of these voters have evidently decided that they’re ready to send a literal loose cannon into the White House; they’re willing, that is, to take a chance on the roof collapsing, even if it collapses on them.”  Think of Donald Trump’s election, then, as the victory of the suicide bomber the white working class dispatched to the Oval Office to, as people now say politely, “shake things up.”

In a moment that, in so many senses, is filling with extremism and in which the jihadists of the national security state are clearly going to be riding high, it’s at least possible that election 2016 will prove the equivalent of a slow-motion coup in America.  Donald Trump, like right-wing populists before him, has a temperament that could lend itself not only to demagoguery (as in the recent election campaign), but to an American version of authoritarianism, especially since in recent years, in terms of a loss of rights and the strengthening of government powers, the country has already moved in an autocratic direction, even if that’s been a little noted reality.

Whatever Americans may have ushered in with the events of 11/8, one thing is increasingly certain about the country that Donald Trump will govern.  Forget Vladimir Putin and his rickety petro-state: the most dangerous nation on the planet will now be ours. Led by a man who knows remarkably little, other than how to manipulate the media (on which he’s a natural-born genius) and, at least in part, by the frustrated generals from America’s war on terror, the United States is likely to be more extreme, belligerent, irrational, filled with manias, and heavily armed, its military funded to even greater levels no other country could come close to, and with staggering powers to intervene, interfere, and repress.

It’s not a pretty picture.  And yet it’s just a lead-in to what, undoubtedly, should be considered the ultimate question in Donald Trump’s America: With both the CIA’s coup-making and the military’s regime-change traditions in mind, could the United States also overthrow a planet?  If, as the head of what’s already the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter, Trump carries out the future energy policies he promised during the election campaign — climate-science funding torn up, climate agreements denounced or ignored, alternative energy development downplayed, pipelines green-lighted, fracking and other forms of fossil-fuel extraction further encouraged, and the U.S. fully reimagined as the Saudi Arabia of North America — he will, in effect, be launching a regime-change action against Planet Earth.

All the rest of what a Trump administration might do, including ushering in a period of American autocracy, would be just part and parcel of human history. Autocracies come and go. Autocrats rise and die.  Rebellions break out and fail. Democracies work and then don’t. Life goes on. Climate change is, however, none of that. It may be part of planetary history, but not of human history. It is instead history’s potential deal-breaker.  What the Trump administration does to us in the years to come could prove a grim period to live through but a passing matter, at least when compared to the possible full-scale destabilization of life on Earth and of history as we’ve known it these last thousands of years.

This would, of course, put 9/11 in the shade. The election victory of 11/8 might ultimately prove the shock of a lifetime, of any lifetime, for eons to come. That’s the danger we’ve faced since 11/8, and make no mistake, it could be devastating.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

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

Copyright 2016 Tom Engelhardt


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Egypt’s Special Courts in time of Crisis are Nothing New

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 - 12:09am

by Yoram Meital | (Informed Comment) | – –

The toppling of a regime, whether by civil insurrection or military coup, invariably gives rise to a fierce struggle over the lineaments of the new order. This transition phase is the moment of truth in every revolution. It is informed by a collapse of the justice system, a deep sense of uncertainty, and a resort to exceptional means on the part of those steering the helm. Among the more pronounced governing measures that tend to be implemented during this juncture is the prosecution of the new regime’s opponents in special courts. In light of the above, Revolutionary Justice focuses on the unique and decisive role of two such tribunals that were set up in Egypt following the military coup on July 23, 1952.

Revolutionary Justice, by Yoram Meital

While “show trials” against political dissidents are generally considered of little historical value, Revolutionary Justice argues that the rhetoric generated by the special courts under review played a crucial role in the denouement of political struggles, the creation of new historical narratives, and the shaping of both the regime and opposition’s public image. The deliberations at these tribunals nourished the prevailing emergency atmosphere, which helped the Free Officers tighten their grip on the helm and advance their plans for a new dispensation in the face of strident resistance. On the other hand, the responses of defendants and witnesses to the questions thrust at them during the trial exposed weaknesses in the official hegemonic narrative. Paradoxical as it may seem, oppositional views that the regime tirelessly endeavored to silence and exclude from the public discourse were tolerated and recorded in the courtroom.

Although the Egyptian legal system has merited considerable scholarly attention, there is a glaring shortage of in-depth analysis on its special courts. To date, references to these sort of tribunals center around their verdicts and sentences, and most of the information is gleaned from the era’s press reports. Conversely, Revolutionary Justice focuses on the goings on within and outside the courtroom by predicating itself on the original ten volumes (in Arabic) of the courts under review. The significance of this corpus stems from the fact that the court’s transcripts not only document positions, but they afford a rare glimpse at a direct and wide-ranging dialogical “exchange” between parties that held conflicting views. Put differently, these records have preserved voices and arguments of hegemonic speakers, namely judges and prosecutors, as well as those of the opposition – defendants and witnesses. In the process, they reveal the unbridgeable gaps between the official narrative and the counter narratives put forth by the regime’s critics.

The focus of Revolutionary Justice is on a select number of trials that were held at the Revolution’s Court (Mahkamat al-Thawra) and the People’s Court (Mahkamat al-Sh‛ab). Over a thousand of the new regime’s adversaries—the majority of whom were members of the Muslim Brothers, but also senior officials in the previous government—were prosecuted within the framework of these special tribunals. By dint of the swift convictions and severe punishments handed down by these courts, the opposition was kept out of the public sphere for the better part of two decades. What is more, the People’s Court decided the outcome of the epic power struggle within the upper echelons of the military government pitting Prime Minister Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser against President Muhammad Naguib, as the judges and prosecutors left no stone unturned in their effort to demonstrate the existence of a conspiracy between Naguib and the heads of the popular Islamic movement to seize power. At the conclusion of the trials against the movement’s top brass, the president was stripped of his authority and placed under house arrest, where he would remain until his passing some thirty years later. Naguib’s powers were transferred to the Nasser camp whose members thus became the undisputed masters of the Nile Valley.

At the outset of the July Revolution, the Free Officers strove to replace the monarchy with a democratic system of government that raised the banner of equality and justice. Their social and political achievements notwithstanding, Nasser and his confederates laid the foundations for an authoritarian government that would reign well into the next century. The tribunals under review were dissolved at the end of the July Revolution’s transitional period. However, the long-standing Egyptian practice of adjudicating citizens before special courts would reach new heights in the decades to come. Although the names given to these institutions changed over the years, they were all conferred with exceptional powers. The widespread use of these tribunals, including the military variety, turned this exception into the rule.

As the more recent popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak gained momentum, a riveting public discourse took shape in Egypt that compared the revolution of July 1952 to that of January 2011. In both cases, a strongman’s ouster raised hopes among many Egyptians that a “new beginning” was just around the corner. Additionally, each of the attendant transition phases were undergirded by the following developments: a military council assumed control over the daily running of the state; the powers that be declared a national state of emergency; and a fierce political struggle erupted over the contours of the new dispensation. What is more, the acting governments took extraordinary measures, foremost among suspending the constitution, disbanding parliament, and summarily arresting thousands of people. Many of the detainees were ultimately prosecuted by military and special courts. President Mubarak, members of his family, and senior government officials were brought to justice in what Egyptians have dubbed “the trial of the century.” Perhaps the most dramatic occurrence of the Egyptian 2011 revolution was the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power. However, the movement quickly discovered that assuming the throne is far easier than calling the shots. Exactly one year after being sworn in as the sixth president of the republic, Mohamed Morsi was ousted from his post (July 2013) and is currently on trial for a long row of serious crimes. Drawing on insights gleaned from the July Revolution, the book’s concluding chapter compares the transition phase now underway to the events of 1952.

A comprehensive study on the role of special tribunals and the justice system at large in the making of republican Egypt is bound to attract researchers and students from various disciplines who are interested in why the surfeit of revolutions in the Global South has mostly spawned authoritarian regimes. Unlike the over-generalizing orientalist and essentialist theories according to which the southern hemisphere is inherently undemocratic and its religions and cultures inimical to liberal values, Revolutionary Justice point of departure is that the particular justice system in each country has loomed large in the final outcome of these successions. Given the universal engrossment with the Arab Spring and the trials against the region’s ousted strongmen, this study is also likely to merit an extensive readership beyond the halls of the academe.

Yoram Meital is Professor in the Department of Middle East Studies and Chairperson of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University.

Can Trump be checked and balanced?

Sat, 3 Dec 2016 - 12:04am

By Ulrike G. Theuerkauf | ( | – –

The US Presidential system has been much heralded as a prime example of horizontal accountability, but there is no guarantee how Donald Trump will be kept in check. 

The US presidential system has been much heralded for its system of checks and balances. But Trump’s victory has given rise to a number of questions about the future of US democracy and world politics. The most important of these questions is arguably this: what checks and balances in the US political system will Trump face during his presidency? Based purely on the institutional setup of the US presidential system, how much damage can Trump cause? The answer, unfortunately, is quite a bit.

For a long time, the US presidential system has been regarded as a textbook example of horizontal accountability (i.e. accountability between government institutions) for its famous system of checks and balances [1]. A standard question in introductory courses to Comparative Politics asks students to assess “who is more powerful: the US President or the UK Prime Minister?”. Students are expected to distinguish the international from the domestic sphere, and to discuss how the US President is seen as more powerful in the international arena, while the UK Prime Minister has greater because less constraint in domestic politics. Elements in the institutional design of the US political system that ensure more checks and balances than that of the UK include:

•      US federalism with a powerful second chamber of parliament (the Senate) in contrast to a devolved but unitary British state with a second chamber of parliament (the House of Lords) that wields more symbolic than actual political power [2];

h/t Wikipedia

•      a powerful US Supreme Court that is an important political player in its own right [3], in contrast to a still young British Supreme Court whose powers are inevitably curtailed by parliamentary sovereignty ;

•      the fact that the US President, unlike the UK Prime Minister, is not allowed to initiate legislation; and

•      the mutually independent relationship between executive and legislature in the presidential system of the USA that stands in contrast to the mutually dependent relationship between executive and legislature in the parliamentary system of the UK. This means two things: the UK government, unlike its US counterpart, can dissolve parliament before the official end of its term in office (through a vote of confidence). Conversely, the UK parliament, unlike its US counterpart, also can remove the government from power before the official end of its term in office (through a vote of no confidence) [4]. Removing the executive – or more specifically: the President as the head of the executive – from power in the US presidential system is only possible through the process of impeachment which, unlike the vote of no confidence in parliamentary systems, is a legal procedure that can only be used if the president is accused of a criminal act.

In terms of checks and balances, the argument in favour of the mutually independent relationship between executive and legislature in presidential systems like that of the USA is that, since government and parliament do not depend on each other to remain in office, they may be more willing to hold each other to account [5]. Yet there is a flipside to this argument, as well as to all the other points mentioned above.

As Linz discussed in his Perils of Presidentialism [6], the mutual independence of executive and legislature in presidential systems has the downside of rigidity: the president, once in power, will stay there for the entire term of office unless there is cause for impeachment. This process itself is very complicated and no president in US history has been removed from office through impeachment so far (Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the US House of Representatives, but acquitted by the Senate.) Thus, once Trump is sworn in, it is very unlikely that he will not complete his four-year presidency.

Also, while the US President does not have the de jure power to initiate legislation, this can also be circumvented de facto if a member of Congress proposes a bill in his stead. This is not an uncommon occurrence in the US political system [7] and, given that the President’s ability to influence the content of legislation rises under unified government [8], the current Republican majority in Senate and House of Representatives could give Trump considerable sway over influencing the legislative agenda.

Similarly, if, as is the case right now, a majority of Senators are from the same party as the President, there may be less incentives to “check and balance” the President, depending on how much loyalty they feel to Trump and the party line he embodies. This too could weaken the degree of horizontal accountability provided through federalism and the powerful second chamber of parliament.

Finally, Trump‘s nomination of the next Supreme Court Justice will almost certainly tilt the balance of power among Supreme Court judges in favour of the right, which is likely to influence its voting and vetoing behaviour in that direction.

Ultimately, and just like anywhere else in the world, the degree to which legislature, executive and judiciary hold each other to account in the US presidential system can shift depending on who occupies which political office. In this sense, checks and balances are never set in stone, as the level of horizontal accountability may differ depending on the balance of power between political parties and – especially in the current situation of a unified government – the willingness of members from the Republican Party itself to keep Trump “checked and balanced”.

Even though the focus of this article is on horizontal accountability, it’s also important to remember that vertical accountability (i.e.the manner in which citizens hold governments to account, not only through elections but also civil society action) is of equal importance for democracy to remain intact. Calls to stay mobilised against Trump illustrate this.

The US presidential system has long been hailed as an exception to the rule that presidential democracies are famously vulnerable to democratic breakdown [9]. It would, however, be foolish to ignore that a populist leader with the support of his party can cause some real damage to US democracy if he is not kept in check.

Ulrike G. Theuerkauf is Lecturer in Politics and International Development at the University of East Anglia.


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Now that SecDef thinks Israeli Occupation is Apartheid, will the Lobby Blackballing Fail?

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 2:52am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The interview of Gen. James Mattis by Wolf Blitzer at Aspen in 2013, in which the recently-retired former CENTCOM commander spoke freely on Middle East policy, has come back to haunt him now that Donald Trump has put him forward as the next Secretary of Defense. At a time when the US has ground troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, however, it is not his position on those conflicts that is controversial. It is his remarks on Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts at peace talks between Israel and Palestine . Alternet quoted him as saying:

“So we’ve got to work on [peace talks] with a sense of urgency. I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and [because of this] moderate Arabs couldn’t be with us because they couldn’t publicly support those who don’t show respect for Arab Palestinians.”

Everybody involved in US foreign policy and security knows that aggressive Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank and siege of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is a major cause of terrorism against the United States, since Washington is blamed for it, and is a major security problem because it makes the US a pariah in the Muslim world. One of the reasons Usama Bin Laden gave for attacking the US was the Israeli mistreatment of stateless Palestinians:

“‘ Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula. ‘

As I’ve said before, if it were a matter of taking a hit to defend Israel on its people’s right to live in safety, then the US will always step up. But to take a hit to defend Israeli wanton war crimes and disregard of international law is unacceptable.

In his Aspen interview in 2013, Mattis went on to use the A word:

“I’ll tell you, the current situation is unsustainable … We’ve got to find a way to make work the two-state solution that both Democrat and Republican administrations have supported, and the chances are starting to ebb because of the settlements. For example, if I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers to the east and there’s ten-thousand Arabs already there, and if we draw the border to include them, either [Israel] ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

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Jimmy Carter was treated shamefully by Alan Dershowitz and Brandeis University and the entire Israel-Lobby Establishment for voicing precisely the same warning, and was excluded by their pressure from speaking at the Obama Democratic National Conventions. Watchlists have been made of academics who dare critize Israeli squatting on Palestinian-owned land.

And let us remember how poor Chuck Hagel was treated, a distinguished Vietnam War vet with two purple hearts and a senator, during the hearing to confirm him as Secretary of Defense, at the behest of Neocon chickenhawks:

“Ah, and then there is Lindsey Graham, the Red Queen of the Senate (who is the essence of the pedantic governess and asks through-the-looking-glass questions like: “Divide a loaf by a knife: what’s the answer to that?”). . .

Then the Red Queen went after Hagel for having said that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates people. He demanded, “Name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby . . . Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”

Hagel said he didn’t have anyone in mind.

The irony, of course, is that Graham is himself part of the Israel lobby, and there he was intimidating Hagel for complaining about having been intimidated!

All the congressmen and senators know that the Israel lobby intimidates them or tries to, on a daily basis. Ernst Hollings complained, “you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.” AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the de facto foreign agent of the Israeli government in the United States, which gets away with not having to register as such because it has bought off or intimidated Congress.

So let’s see if Senator Graham treats Gen. Mattis the same way (I wouldn’t advise it; he is called “Mad Dog” for a reason), or whether the Israel lobbies will just have to swallow this defeat.

So can the sensible observers of the Middle East now be invited to dinner again and the Israel-Lobby blackballing of them be lifted?

By the way, the rest of Mattis’s interview in 2013 was likewise informed and usually sensible. He was against getting involved in Syria, and warned that military action couldn’t resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

CENTCOM Review: Turmoil in the Mideast and Southwest Asia

Pakistanis Baffled, Buoyant over Trump’s Fantastical Praise

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 1:34am

By Frud Bezhan | ( RFE/RL) | – –

The office of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cited a phone conversation with Donald Trump in which it says the U.S. president-elect described nuclear-armed Pakistan as a "fantastic country" and its embattled prime minister as a "terrific guy."

The exchange, as described by Sharif’s side, was followed by a more muted description of the November 30 conversation from the Trump transition team that said the "productive conversation" centered around how the two countries "will have a strong working relationship in the future." Trump’s team added that the president-elect "is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship" with Sharif.

Trump’s transition team did not confirm the authenticity of the Pakistani transcript.

The seemingly effusive praise quoted in Sharif’s statement appeared to surprise some in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim-majority country that Trump described as "not our friend" during a campaign in which the billionaire real-estate mogul frequently employed anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In the phone conversation with Sharif, the Pakistani government quoted Trump as saying that Pakistan was a "fantastic place" with the most "intelligent" people and "your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities.”

The statement said Trump told Sharif, currently embroiled in a corruption court case, that he has a "very good reputation" and he was doing "amazing work."

Among the extensive references in the Pakistani readout, Sharif’s office said Trump told Sharif he was "ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems."

U.S. officials have grappled with Washington’s complicated relationship with Pakistan, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid but publicly questioning Islamabad’s commitment to fighting international terrorism.

Pakistan also has fought four wars with regional rival India, which also has nuclear weapons and has enhanced its ties with the United States over the past two decades, particularly in the areas of civil-nuclear cooperation, trade, and security.

It was unclear if Sharif’s office intended the passages on Trump speaking to be regarded as direct quotes. The transcript was released by the Pakistani government’s Press Information Department.

The praise attributed to Trump has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan, which saw an outpouring of bafflement, ridicule, and support in the mainstream and social media.

‘Fantastic Diplomacy’

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry welcomed Trump’s remarks on December 1, saying Islamabad "would like to strengthen…the existing relationship further and we would like to continue working with the new administration when it takes over."

Trump’s purported praise made the front pages of many Pakistani newspapers. The Jang newspaper went with the headline: "If Fulfils His Promise, Trump Would Be First U.S. President To Visit Pakistan In Democratic Rule." Trump would be the first U.S. president to visit since George W. Bush during then-military leader Pervez Musharraf’s rule in 2006.

Meanwhile, a report in the English-language daily The News said that Trump’s alleged promise to visit Pakistan has come as a "pleasant surprise" but cautioned that "only time will prove whether the U.S. president-elect fulfils his promise."

Some social media users also appeared to welcome the phone-call revelations.

"Fantastic diplomacy," Pakistani journalist Waseem Abbasi, who is based in Washington, posted on Facebook.

Other Pakistanis were more skeptical.

Pakistani journalist Ali Salman Alvi tweeted: "Donald Trump has never met PM Nawaz Sharif but Trump knows Sharif has an ‘outstanding reputation,’ and understands he is a ‘terrific man.’"

/*< ![CDATA[*/ initInfographics( { groups:[], params:[{"Name":"embed_html","Value":"\u0026lt;blockquote class=\"twitter-tweet\" data-lang=\"en\"\u0026gt;\u0026lt;p lang=\"en\" dir=\"ltr\"\u0026gt;Donald Trump has never met PM Nawaz Sharif but Trump knows Sharif has an “outstanding reputation”, and understands he is a “terrific man”

Too bad, Trump: As EVs take off, Dirty Petroleum in Death Spiral

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 1:08am

The Tree | – –

The renewable energy revolution is now well underway, but many continue to underestimate just how fast and transformative it is going to be.

Despite a conservative approach to energy markets, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has just announced that ‘we are witnessing a transformation of global power markets led by renewables’. A bold statement that comes in the wake of new data showing that more than half of new power capacity added last year came from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power – beating fossil fuels for the first time.

The expansion of renewable capacity reflects impressive cost reductions for onshore wind and solar panels that would have been ‘unthinkable just five years ago’ according to the IEA, who fully expect the trend of declining costs to continue.

If rapid improvements continue in renewable energy and innovative technologies like electric vehicles, petroleum consumption will peak in 2030 and decline thereafter, according to a report from the World Energy Council. The plunging cost of renewable energy, with solar-module costs falling 50 percent since 2009, is already upending the business model of utilities.

Disruption could swiftly spread to the oil industry as electric vehicles become more economic than gasoline or diesel cars – potentially displacing millions of barrels of daily fuel use by the late 2020s.

We are already approaching a tipping point in the electric vehicle revolution according to industry experts. Technological advances in battery storage, vehicle design and interconnectivity are increasingly standing electric vehicles up as serious competition for fossil fuel-burning vehicles – even when it comes to performance and affordability.

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Many governments can see the writing on the wall and several countries are competing to be the first to go beyond fuel-burning cars – including GermanyIndia, the Netherlands and Norway

China, the largest market in the world for electric vehicles, is aiming for a 10-fold increase in sales by 2025 and is offering up generous subsidies to support this drive.

As new and electric vehicles become the norm, the whole soundscape of our cities is going to change. Alongside dramatic improvements to air quality, this has the potential to completely revolutionise modern life, but to fully realise the major benefits of switching to a clean transportation system other key sectors – in particular shipping and aviation – need to up their game. The current deadlock that is delaying an effective global deal to cut pollution from shipping, and attempts to expand major airports in the UK, France and Turkey, put these sectors behind vehicular transport in the race for adequate 21st century systems.

As fossils fight loud and clumsy battles for social license in countries such as the US, UK, and Australia, a renewable revolution as quiet as the electric cars it powers continues at pace everywhere that people care about air and noise pollution, prosperity, and the global environment. After a decade of underestimating clean energy, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stunningly revised its renewable growth forecasts, while batteries have become a trillion dollar threat to credit markets due to their looming disruption of electricity and automotive industries. We are unstoppably accelerating towards a future where energy is more distributed and democratic, and where electric vehicles and 21st century battery storage systems clean up the mess fossils created, as they revolutionise life as we know it.

The clean energy revolution is happening faster than anyone imagined, and batteries and electric vehicles are further accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. The Paris Agreement triggered a new race, with countries such as China, the EU and the US all taking strong legislative steps to accelerate EV growth. Every new home across the EU will have to include an EV charging point from 2019, while the US alone expects more than 11 million EVs by 2025. This revolution in transportation is taking place as renewable energy reaches record-breaking levels of growth – further greening the grid to make EV’s even cleaner.

Clean energy has already beaten fossils, and the booming battery storage and electric vehicle markets are finishing the job. Battery powered homes, grids, and vehicles are a trillion dollar threat to credit markets saturated with fossil investments, with death spirals beginning to manifest for utilities and automotive businesses that fail to move with the times or, worse, get busted scandalously greenwashing.

The end of fossil fuels means a better quality of life for all. Fossil fuels do not help alleviate poverty, they worsen it. Renewable energy benefits all through massive reductions on the premature deaths attributed to air pollution each year, greater community control over power needs, and greater energy security in a world of increasingly extreme and destructive weather events. Electric vehicles further improve air quality, while simultaneously driving dramatic reductions to noise pollution that will make the cities far more liveable.

Via The Tree


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Motorweek: “First Look: 2017 Chevrolet Bolt – EV Rider”

Hateful letters to More mosques warning Trump will ‘cleanse’ US of Muslims

Fri, 2 Dec 2016 - 12:23am

TeleSur | – –

The threatening letters have been sent to mosques in at least seven states.

“To the children of Satan,” begins the letter that was first sent to sent to three California mosques but has has now been dispatched to mosques all over the country. “You Muslims are a vile and filthy people.”

“You are evil. You worship the devil. But, your day of reckoning has arrived,” the letter continues. “There is a new sheriff in town — President Donald Trump. He is going to cleanse America and make it shine again.”

While the letter had first shown up in the mailboxes of six mosques in California — including in Los Angeles, Fresno and San Jose — more mosques are reporting that they, too, have received the exact same letter. The pamphlet has turned up in locations in Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island, Indiana, Colorado and Georgia.

Los Angeles police have been investigating the letters as a hate incident, but not a hate crime, because they claim it does not contain a specific threat.

The letter has prompted police protection for mosques. | Photo: Facebook / CAIR

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has asked the FBI to investigate, but for the same reason, agents are not investigating the case at this point, though officials have said they are monitoring the situation.

Police in Providence, Rhode Island, have vowed to increase patrols in wake of the incident.

The letters are marked with an address in the cities they were sent to, but are postmarked in either Los Angeles or Santa Clarita, a suburb about 30 miles north Los Angeles. The name above the return address is Reza Khan, said Shehadeh Abdelkarim, president of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, which was one of the mosques to receive the letters. He commented that that’s a Muslim name.

“The person obviously knows a little about Muslim culture,” Abdelkarim said.

However, the name is bogus, said Sgt. Mike Abdeen of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which is assisting LAPD.

Meanwhile, last week the Southern Poverty Law Center said there had been more than 700 hate-related crimes since the victory of U.S. president-elect Donald Trump. CAIR has tallied more than 100 incidents targeting Muslims alone since he was elected.

Via TeleSur

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Video: CAIR-GA Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell on CNN to Discuss Surge in Anti-Muslim Hate Incidents

How Rupert Murdoch & Fox Created the Fake News Industry

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 3:09am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The concern about “fake news” now sweeping the inside-the-beltway crowd is a little hilarious, since all corporate news (i.e. news for profit) has elements of fakeness.

For instance, cable television news channels almost never cover climate change, and when they do they tend to give equal time to denialists. This is like never covering lung cancer and then when you do, bringing on a tobacco company executive to deny that cigarettes cause it. The reason for the dereliction of duty, which puts the welfare of all human beings at risk, is that the same corporations purveying the news also own a lot of stock in Exxon-Mobil and other Big Carbon companies. Basically, television executives are drowning your great-grandchildren for the health of their stock portfolios. The simple truth is that Exxon-Mobil stock is worthless, since their product is poisoning the planet, and as soon as the public wakes up to this fact, a lot of wealthy people will be bankrupt. (Virtually the entire British upper crust have their retirement funds heavily invested in BP, which I wouldn’t advise.)

Industry professionals have also admitted in interviews that they have been ordered by management not to bring up labor unions. Even large and long-lasting labor strikes tend to be ignored in television “news,” which is the news the business classes permit the public to see.

But those are sins of omission, and even highly professional journalists (and there are plenty working for the corporate media giants) have to put up with that kind of thing if they want to keep their jobs.

The sins of commission are much worse. They are what is now being called fake news. Some have suggested that fake news is just a synonym for propaganda, but I’m not sure that is correct. Good propaganda would probably admit a kernel of truth and then spin it. Fake news is about making stuff up and then purveying the resulting B.S. as the report of a professional journalist.

The most mammoth creator and distributor of fake news is not a few teenagers in Montenegro or wherever. It is an ancient ruddy Australian multi-billionaire named Rupert Murdoch, who conspired with shady GOP operative and alleged serial sexual harasser Roger Ailes to create Fox Cable “News” in 1996. As I put it in December, Fox’s “blonde anchors were not so much hired as trafficked.”

Murdoch, one of the more horrible persons ever to have lived, routinely used his prominence as owner of newspapers and television news channels to bully politicians. His is almost single-handedly responsible for blunting an urgent response to climate change, so he is a mass murderer in waiting. He owns the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London and much else besides (having all these outlets in the hands of a single man should be illegal to protect democracy). People very close to him hacked into newsworthy people’s phone message systems to get dirt on them for blackmail or titillating headlines, and it seems a little unlikely that a) this was done only in the UK or b) that people so close to Murdoch could have behaved this way without his knowledge.

Much of what is wrong with Fox Cable News is bias and spin. But it does also simply make things up.

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Fox routinely declined to cover news conferences by President Obama but virtually became Trump t.v. last summer and fall.

On the making stuff up front, here are some examples:

Fox actually doctored video to make it look as though President Obama encouraged undocumented immigrants to vote (he did urge Latinos to vote). Fox has a long history of doctoring video, which is well documented and should have caused their broadcast license to be revoked.

False: Obama Encouraged 'Illegal Aliens' to Vote

— Juan Cole (@jricole) December 1, 2016

When Terry Schiavo was lying brain dead and the Republican Party intervened to stop her husband from pulling the plug, Fox actually brought on a psychic to claim that Schiavo was clear about what was going on around her. That is just making stuff up and calling it news. I.e., fake news.

Media Matters has documented 20 years of such steaming piles of B.S. at Fox.

In a three-year study of selected issues, Politifact found that 66% of what Fox presented on these subjects was partially or wholly false, a percentage far higher than any other news network.

Here are some of Politifact’s “pants on fire” findings regarding Fox:

Sean Hannity
“The president said he’s going to bring in 250,000 (Syrian and Iraqi) refugees into this country.”
— PunditFact on Monday, October 26th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Based on a debunked claim
George Will: “Says President Ronald Reagan “had a month of job creation of 1 million.”
— PunditFact on Monday, April 6th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Dana Perino: “On climate change, “the temperature readings have been fabricated, and it’s all blowing up in their (scientists’) faces.”
— PunditFact on Friday, February 13th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Steven Emerson: “There are actual cities” like Birmingham, England, “that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”
— PunditFact on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
Pants on Fire!
[See also Informed Comment on this one.]

Donald Trump: “Says President Barack Obama’s recent New York fundraising trip “cost between $25 million and $50 million.”
— PunditFact on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
Pants on Fire!

Glenn Beck: “John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population.”
— PolitiFact National on Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Media Matters: “Kilmeade: Americans don’t have “pure genes” like Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics.” As Gawker noted, on the July 8 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that Americans don’t have “pure genes” like Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics.” Kilmeade apologized for his “inappropriate” remarks on July 20.”

JC: In fact, no one lived in Sweden during the last Ice Age, roughly 75,000-20,000 years ago, what with the three mile high glaciers sitting on it. When the ice finally receded, Sweden was populated in turn by diverse sets of people from elsewhere and Sweden has a high haplotype diversity. Of course, modern human beings came out of Africa around 50,000 years ago, and the people who started going into Sweden around 12,000 years ago were originally Africans. White skin was selected for in Sweden because embryos need vitamin D and in low-ultraviolet environments, darker skin interferes with sunlight getting through to the embryo. Skin color is a minor feature and says almost nothing about underlying genetic diversity).

There are hundreds of these cases, not to mention all the times that Fox has doctored footage of e.g. Obama speeches. These mistakes are not random. They all try to push the narrative in the direction of Neofascism. The entire channel is a propaganda mill, and the majority of “news” items reported there apparently can’t stand up to dispassionate inquiry.

So as pundits go off looking for culprits in the rise of fake news, they should look elsewhere than the former East Bloc. They should look at the Goebbels of Melbourne, the prophet of the new white supremacy and Neofascism, the propagandist for the Iraq War, one Rupert Murdoch– and his henchman, Roger Ailes– and their successors.

And, it is no accident that the incoming Trump administration is largely made up of staples over at Fox, a place where their sugar daddy Murdoch could nurture them like maggot larvae. Not only did they invent mass fake news, they’ve taken over our country with it.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

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Urgent: Soil carbon release under global warming to equal U.S. emissions

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 1:03am

By Kevin Dennehy | ( YaleNews | – –

For decades scientists have speculated that rising global temperatures might alter the ability of soils to store carbon, potentially releasing huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and triggering runaway climate change. Yet thousands of studies worldwide have produced mixed signals on whether this storage capacity will actually decrease — or even increase — as the planet warms.

It turns out scientists might have been looking in the wrong places.

A new Yale-led study in the journal Nature finds that warming will drive the loss of at least 55 trillion kilograms of carbon from the soil by mid-century, or about 17% more than the projected emissions due to human-related activities during that period. That would be roughly the equivalent of adding to the planet another industrialized country the size of the United States.

Critically, the researchers found that carbon losses will be greatest in the world’s colder places, at high latitudes, locations that had largely been missing from previous research. In those regions, massive stocks of carbon have built up over thousands of years and slow microbial activity has kept them relatively secure.

Most of the previous research had been conducted in the world’s temperate regions, where there were smaller carbon stocks. Studies that focused only on these regions would have missed the vast proportion of potential carbon losses, said lead author Thomas Crowther, who conducted his research while a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology.

“Carbon stores are greatest in places like the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, where the soil is cold and often frozen,” Crowther said. “In those conditions microbes are less active and so carbon has been allowed to build up over many centuries.

“But as you start to warm, the activities of those microbes increase, and that’s when the losses start to happen,” Crowther said. “The scary thing is, these cold regions are the places that are expected to warm the most under climate change.”

The results are based on an analysis of raw data on stored soil carbon from dozens of studies conducted over the past 20 years in different regions of the world.

The study predicts that for one degree of warming, about 30 petagrams of soil carbon will be released into the atmosphere, or about twice as much as is emitted annually due to human-related activities (A petagram is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 kilograms). This is particularly concerning, Crowther said, because previous climate studies predicted that the planet is likely to warm by 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century.

Other scientists on the team include Mark Bradford, professor of terrestrial ecosystem ecology at Yale; Clara Rowe, who earned a Master of Environmental Management degree at Yale in 2015; and Yale doctoral candidate Noah Sokol, as well as collaborating researchers from more than 30 other institutions.

For Bradford, the analysis provides important clarity on the question of why soil-warming studies appear to provide contradictory evidence, with some showing losses of soil carbon and some showing no change.

“The effects are strongly dependent on where you look,” Bradford said. “Now that we know this, we can begin to develop more confidence in the idea that this biological feedback is real, and hence likely to accelerate human-induced climate change.”

The study considered only soil carbon losses in response to warming. There are several other biological processes — such as accelerated plant growth as a result of carbon dioxide increases — that could dampen or enhance the effect of this soil carbon feedback. Understanding these interacting processes at a global scale is critical to understanding climate change, the researchers said.

“Getting a handle on these kinds of feedbacks is essential if we’re going to make meaningful projections about future climate conditions,” said Crowther, who is now completing a Marie Curie Fellowship at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology. “Only then can we generate realistic greenhouse gas emission targets that are effective at limiting climate change.”

Contact: Kevin Dennehy, 203-436-4842


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Israel Plots Largest Settlement Expansion in Occupied Syrian Golan since 1980

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 12:29am

IMEMC | – –

Arab human rights organization resists Israeli plans to construct 1,600 settlement units, and expropriate 25,000 acres of Syrian land in the occupied Golan.

Al-Marsad: Arab Human Rights Center in the Golan announced, in a press release, that it has written to the European Union, European governments and the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council regarding Israel’s plans to expand Katrzin settlement and establish ‘Hermon National Park’ in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

The Israeli Finance Ministry approved plans to build 1,600 additional settlement units in Katzrin in October. About 8,000 settlers live in Katzrin atop the destroyed Syrian villages of Qasrin, Shqef and Sanawber. It is the largest settlement in the occupied Syrian Golan.

“This will be the largest expansion of an illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Syrian Golan since the 1980s,” a letter from Al-Marsad to the Delegation of the European Union to Israel reads.

Illegal settlements and demolished villages in the occupied Syrian Golan.

See: settlements and demolished villages in the occupied Syrian Golan.

Al-Marsad also calls attention to a second Israeli plan for the occupied Syrian Golan, called ‘Hermon National Park.’ The park depends on appropriating 25,000 acres (more than 82,000 dunams) of agricultural land used by residents of Majd al-Shams and Ein Qynia.

Majd al-Shams stands to be particularly devastated by the plan: the park would surround the village from the north and west, thus prohibiting any future expansion of it and essentially besieging it. According to Al-Marsad, about 800 families living in Majd al-Shams are in urgent need of housing, but cannot secure an Israeli construction permit to build.

In hopes of disrupting the plans, Al-Marsad calls on:

The international community to strongly condemn plans for the construction of 1,600 settlement units in the illegal settlement of Katzrin and the planned expropriation of Syrian land under the guise of the ‘Hermon National Park’ plan; and obtain binding commitments from Israel that it will stop these activities.

The organization also “invites foreign governments and international organizations to send fact-finding missions to the Occupied Syrian Golan to witness, firsthand, the deteriorating human rights situation.”

Israel forcibly transferred 130,000 Syrians from the Golan and destroyed 300 of its towns and villages in 1967 to clear the way for its ongoing illegal occupation.

11/29/16 Alternative Information Center (AIC)

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Trump Effect: 867 Hate Incidents in Just 10 Days After Election

Thu, 1 Dec 2016 - 12:03am

TeleSur | – –

Educators have reported an increase in students using racial slurs, verbally harassing their classmates and writing white nationalist graffiti.

The “Trump effect” is already taking a heavy toll across the United States just weeks after the presidential election with a disturbing spike in racist incidents, including in the nation’s schools, according to a pair of new reported from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In just ten days after president-elect Donald Trump locked in a win in the Nov. 8 election after a campaign rife with bigotry, misogyny and racism seen as emboldening far-right extremists and white supremacist groups, the SPLC documented a staggering 867 “bias-related incidents,” including racial harassment invoking Jim Crow-era segregation.

The report titled “Ten Days After,” released Tuesday, details the slew of hate-inspired incidents reported from almost every state across the country and spread across different spaces including in schools, workplaces, and other public and private places. A minority of incidents, 16, took place at places of worship.

The majority of cases were racially motivated, with 280 expressing anti-immigrant sentiments and 187 targeting Black people. Another 100 were anti-Jewish and 49 were anti-Muslim, while dozens more were white nationalist in nature and generally supportive of Trump rhetoric. Forty anti-women and 95 anti-LGBTQ incidents were also reported. One hate crime perpetrator pulled a 75-year-old gay man out of his vehicle in Florida and beat him, saying, “You know my new president says we can kill all you faggots now.”

Many analysts predicted a surge in hate crimes would follow the U.S. election. Whether Trump was ultimately elected or not, his campaign alone pushed the ideas of white nationalists and other right-wing hate groups into the mainstream with more visibility than such groups have seen in years, empowering them with a high-profile voice.

“Mr. Trump claims he’s surprised his election has unleashed a barrage of hate across the country,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen in a statement Tuesday. “But he shouldn’t be. It’s the predictable result of the campaign he waged.”

The SPLC released a report back in March, early on in the campaign, warning that Trump’s incendiary rhetoric could be fueling a rise in violent extremism. The election and its aftermath proved those predictions right.

Alongside “Ten Days After,” the organization also released a second report specifically detailing the impact the so-called “Trump effect” has had in schools across the United States, and the findings are chilling. A survey of 10,000 teachers, school counselors, administrators and other education workers revealed that the election results “are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students,” the report explains.

A whopping 90 percent of educators reported that the environment in schools has been negatively affected and expect that outcome to be long lasting. Meanwhile, 80 percent reported “heightened anxiety and concern” among students who are fearful about the fate of their families under a Trump presidency.

“White males have been overheard saying, ‘screw women’s rights, fag lover liberal, build the wall, lock her up,’” one high school teacher from Michigan told the SPLC as part of the survey. “The rebel flag is draped on the truck of a popular student, and the p-word has been used very casually, citing Trump as the excuse.”

Teachers reported a notable uptick in cases of verbal harassment in schools, the use of slurs, and “disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags,” according to the SPLC. Some teachers reported seeing graffiti of swastikas for the first time after years-long teaching careers. Over 2,500 educators who responded to the survey described “specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric.”

Trump won a surprise victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election. Cornerstone promises of his campaign included plans to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, create a registry of Muslim people, and erect a massive border wall with Mexico. He was also embroiled in a scandal after tapes surfaced featuring him bragging about sexually assaulting women.

Via TeleSur

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Why Russia and Regime want all of Aleppo before Trump is sworn in

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 - 1:10am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In the past two days, the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies (Hizbullah from Lebanon and others from Iraq) has taken a third to forty percent of the Eastern Aleppo pocket. The northeast zone of the pocket has collapsed, with rebel fights apparently declining any longer to stand and fight. They are taking massive fire from Russian and regime aircraft.

The Russian source Interfax alleges, “”Full control has been established over 12 neighbourhoods” of eastern Aleppo . . . “as Baeidin, Sheikh Fares, Qadisiya, Haidaria, Al-Ghani, Sheikh Hasser , Sheikh Khudr, Jabal Badro, Tareeq Sheikh Najjar, Turab al-Hollok, Bustan al-Basha and Sakhour.”

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On the order of 80,000 out of the 250,000 who lived in the pocket have fled. The press now has to say there are about 170,000 civilians trapped there, since so many appear to have departed– for regime-held West Aleppo and for the Kurdish-held region.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump has made it clear that he favors a victory of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and is willing to let Russia do the heavily lifting to finish off Muslim radicals such as Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and the Levantine Conquest Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Support (Nusra) Front.

Al-Assad did not disguise his glee when Trump was elected.

But Russia and al-Assad are not willing to risk Trump changing his mind, what with all the hawks milling around him and on his new cabinet. For many hard line Republicans like Michael Pompeo (CIA) and Michael Flynn (NSA), Iran is the next war over the horizon, and al-Assad is seen as a strategic asset to Iran.

Maxim Yusin and Georgy Stepanov quote Vladimir Sotnikov, director of the Russia-East-West Strategic Research Center in, (trans by BBC Monitoring) that Bashar “Al-Assad, as well as Russia and Iran who are backing him, aim to take the maximum advantage of the two months of ‘doldrums’ in the USA after the presidential election was over, but a new administration has not started its work yet. . .”

Sotnikov says that taking all of Aleppo before Trump’s inauguration makes it less likely that any demand will be made that he step down. Since there at some point will likely be negotiations over Syria, al-Assad will be able to deal from strength.

Another point, which the Russian press doesn’t seem to make, is that the Aleppo pocket was the last big concentration of relatively moderate fundamentalist militias. If the rest of it falls, the fighters will have to try to escape to Idlib, a rural northern province still in the hands of the opposition. Unfortunately for them, the leading group in Idlib is the Levantine Conquest Front, which has al-Qaeda links. So reducing the rebellion to Idlib and al-Qaeda will be a huge propaganda coup for al-Assad.

In other news, the Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi supports the al-Assad regime because of its enmity with the Muslim Brotherhood (most of the rebels that aren’t Salafi Jihadis are MB). Former Mubarak-era cabinet member Ahmad Abou ‘l-Gheit, now Secretary-General of the Arab League, launched an attack on the government of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, saying that it was the one who let all those European and other Western radical youth transit to Syria and Iraq.


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Right-wing Israeli master plan injures rights in Palestinian E Jerusalem

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 - 12:22am

Ma’an News Agnecy |

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — A recent master plan presented by right-wing Jewish activists envisions a “greater Jerusalem” extending far beyond the current municipal boundaries, and a future for the city which sees Palestinians as virtually nonexistent, according to a Monday report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The plan, dubbed “Jerusalem 5800,” was privately contracted by right-wing Jewish-Australian businessman Kevin Bermeister, who last year supported an effort to prevent Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem from purchasing a building from Jewish homeowners.

Along with other planners, Bermeister emphasized that the plan was, in their opinion, apolitical, and instead only aimed to turn Jerusalem into a bustling city of the world that would boast five million residents, 12 million annual tourists, and borders extending all the way to Jericho in the occupied West Bank.

Haaretz highlighted, however, that the plan — which is destined for the year 2040 and encompasses the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jericho — makes no mention of the needs of Palestinian residents, or the development of Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.

The plan does not entertain the possibility that Jerusalem would include any form of Palestinian government institutions, that Palestinians would be partners in the city’s planning, and does not even mention the word “Palestinians” in the brochure at all.

The word “Muslim” appears 11 times in the brochure, but only in the chapter entitled “The demographic problem.”

The chapter on the ‘demographic threat’ calls on the Israeli government to adopt a policy “to ensure the ratio of Arab residents does not exceed 40 percent,” Haaretz said.

Otherwise, the brochure says, “the increase in the Muslims’ rate compared to the Jews is likely to continue in the future as well.”

The theme of demography is pervasive and pronounced throughout the plan, which emphasizes the necessity of maintaining a Jewish majority in the holy city, which “will not be based merely on natural growth but on increased migration to the city.”

“Israel is the Jewish nation’s core and Jerusalem is Israel and the Jewish nation’s core,” according to the first of the six principles stated in the plan. Another principle says the plan’s goal was to “create a process to increase the chance of Israel and the Jewish nation to prosper.”

According to Haaretz, critics of the plan have slammed the “future vision of the city” as a right-wing plan to draft an alternative to dividing Jerusalem into two separate capitals in the event of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The brochure itself says “the Jerusalem metropolis will not be divisible, so we see it as a territorial continuity enabling free traffic of people and merchandise,” boasting plans for an airport near Jericho that would have one entrance for Israelis and another for Palestinian citizens of the West Bank, and a railway connecting Jerusalem to Ramallah in the north and Hebron in the south.

The proposal — which was initially launched five years ago — also presented plans to build huge hotels, owned by Bermeister, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir of East Jerusalem.

One of the critics of the plan was architect Yehuda Greenfield, who drafted the highly detailed partition plan of Jerusalem for the Geneva Accord.

Haaretz quoted Greenfield as saying the plan completely ignored reality.

“It’s completely cut off from the urban Jerusalem reality. It creates a totally fictitious situation that there’s one Jewish narrative here … but there are other narratives that must be addressed,” he said.

Earlier this year, Al-Shabaka, an NGO whose mission is “to educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law,” spoke of the dangerous connection between tourism and demography specifically in the Jerusalem 5800 plan.

Al-Shabaka highlighted that $120 billion of total added value from the implementation of the plan, together with the 75,000 to 85,000 additional full-time jobs in hotels and 300,000 additional jobs in related industries would attract more Jews to Jerusalem, increasing the number of Jews living in Jerusalem and further tilting the Jewish-Palestinian demographic balance in their favor.

Palestinian communities in occupied East Jerusalem — within the municipal boundaries and also beyond the wall in the occupied West Bank — have long been targeted by Israeli authorities in what has been denounced as a policy of “Judaization” of the holy city at the expense of other religious communities.

This “Judaization” has been characterized by the continuous expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements and a large-scale policy of demolition of Palestinian homes.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound has also been the stage of numerous tensions over the years, with Israeli forces imposing tight restrictions on Palestinian worshipers at the site.

Many Palestinians fear that right-wing Israelis are attempting to reclaim the holy site, as it sits where Jews believe the First and Second Temples once stood.

Despite the 5800 plan being presented by a private institution and not by the Israeli government itself, it was received with congratulations by Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin.

Additionally, Haaretz noted that Bermeister was personally close to right-wing Israeli officials in Jerusalem, specifically right-wing activist and Jerusalem city council member Aryeh King, who was one of the project’s initiators, making the plan’s execution not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Via Ma’an News Agency

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Will Trump Bring in a New Era of Surveillance and Torture?

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 - 12:18am

TeleSur | – –

Trump’s picks for important security positions look intent on rolling back civil liberties.

While there are many questions about what U.S. President-elect Donald Trump will change once he officially takes office on Jan. 20, one of the biggest questions, and indeed concerns, is what a Trump administration will bring in terms of surveillance, privacy and interrogation.

Trump’s appointments for key security positions may very well push for increased government powers that could override citizen privacy and civil liberties.

Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo is set to become the head of the CIA and is known for defending harsh interrogation methods such as waterboarding. Pompeo has also been a vocal supporter of keeping the Guantanamo Bay open, arguing the U.S. prison in Cuba is “critical to national security.”

Pompeo said that inmates in the prison are treated well by staff and said that the prison has “been a goldmine of intelligence about radical Islamic terrorism.” Trump’s national security advisor, Mike Flynn, has said that the “fear of Muslims is rational,” and is believed to have used so-called “enhanced interrogation” practices to squeeze information out of prisoners.

Pompeo has continually pushed for more intelligence surveillance under the justification that the U.S. currently is under a high risk of a terrorist attack. “We ought not to take that tool away from our intelligence community while the threats are as great as they are today,” Pompeo told McClatchy in January. He also told the Washington Post that same month that “legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed.”

After leaked information by former NSA employee Edward Snowden in 2013, contradicted claims by authorities that the data of U.S. citizens was not being collected by intelligence agencies, Pompeo labeled Snowden a “traitor,” arguing that he should be extradited from Russia to the U.S. and following due process, “I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence,” he told C-Span.

Trump in 2013 also hinted at execution for Snowden, calling him a “terrible guy who has really set our country back.”

Ultra-conservative attorney general pick, Jeff Sessions, as well as being criticized for past racist incidents, seems to share Pompeo’s sentiments and has opposed banning the cruel treatment of prisoners. Both Session and Pompeo want to repeal laws that prevent the FBI and the NSA from collecting “metadata” of citizens, such as collecting phone numbers and financial information of citizens not under investigation.

Sessions also supported increasing the amount of data the FBI can obtain without the need for a search warrant. Additionally, sessions pushed for laws that require organizations such as Google and Facebook, to give government investigators information such as IP addresses and browsing histories in their investigations.

Even before Trump takes office, “Rule 41” has been touted as a major change that will give the FBI increasing powers to carry out surveillance an even hacking across computer networks.

The law allows the FBI to spy on an unlimited amount of computers suspected to be involved in criminal activities, through the use of only one search warrant from a federal. It is set to be enacted on December 1, unless Congress decides to stop it.

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Trump’s Pentagon Hunger Games: The Generals “haven’t done the job.”

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 - 12:10am

By Andrew J. Bacevich | ( | – –

President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election.

Trump: “We have some great generals. We have great generals.”

Lesley Stahl: “You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS.”

Trump: “Well, I’ll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they’ve done. OK, look at the job they’ve done. They haven’t done the job.”

In reality, Trump, the former reality show host, knows next to nothing about ISIS, one of many gaps in his education that his impending encounter with actual reality is likely to fill.  Yet when it comes to America’s generals, our president-to-be is onto something.  No doubt our three- and four-star officers qualify as “great” in the sense that they mean well, work hard, and are altogether fine men and women. That they have not “done the job,” however, is indisputable — at least if their job is to bring America’s wars to a timely and successful conclusion.

Trump’s unhappy verdict — that the senior U.S. military leadership doesn’t know how to win — applies in spades to the two principal conflicts of the post-9/11 era: the Afghanistan War, now in its 16th year, and the Iraq War, launched in 2003 and (after a brief hiatus) once more grinding on.  Yet the verdict applies equally to lesser theaters of conflict, largely overlooked by the American public, that in recent years have engaged the attention of U.S. forces, a list that would include conflicts in Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

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Granted, our generals have demonstrated an impressive aptitude for moving pieces around on a dauntingly complex military chessboard.  Brigades, battle groups, and squadrons shuttle in and out of various war zones, responding to the needs of the moment.  The sheer immensity of the enterprise across the Greater Middle East and northern Africa — the sorties flown, munitions expended, the seamless deployment and redeployment of thousands of troops over thousands of miles, the vast stockpiles of material positioned, expended, and continuously resupplied — represents a staggering achievement. Measured by these or similar quantifiable outputs, America’s military has excelled.  No other military establishment in history could have come close to duplicating the logistical feats being performed year in, year out by the armed forces of the United States.

Nor should we overlook the resulting body count.  Since the autumn of 2001, something like 370,000 combatants and noncombatants have been killed in the various theaters of operations where U.S. forces have been active. Although modest by twentieth century standards, this post-9/11 harvest of death is hardly trivial.

Yet in evaluating military operations, it’s a mistake to confuse how much with how well.  Only rarely do the outcomes of armed conflicts turn on comparative statistics.  Ultimately, the one measure of success that really matters involves achieving war’s political purposes.  By that standard, victory requires not simply the defeat of the enemy, but accomplishing the nation’s stated war aims, and not just in part or temporarily but definitively. Anything less constitutes failure, not to mention utter waste for taxpayers, and for those called upon to fight, it constitutes cause for mourning.

By that standard, having been “at war” for virtually the entire twenty-first century, the United States military is still looking for its first win.  And however strong the disinclination to concede that Donald Trump could be right about anything, his verdict on American generalship qualifies as apt.

A Never-Ending Parade of Commanders for Wars That Never End

That verdict brings to mind three questions. First, with Trump a rare exception, why have the recurring shortcomings of America’s military leadership largely escaped notice?  Second, to what degree does faulty generalship suffice to explain why actual victory has proven so elusive? Third, to the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy bear directly on the outcome of our wars, how might the generals improve their game?

As to the first question, the explanation is quite simple:  During protracted wars, traditional standards for measuring generalship lose their salience.  Without pertinent standards, there can be no accountability.  Absent accountability, failings and weaknesses escape notice.  Eventually, what you’ve become accustomed to seems tolerable. Twenty-first century Americans inured to wars that never end have long since forgotten that bringing such conflicts to a prompt and successful conclusion once defined the very essence of what generals were expected to do.

Senior military officers were presumed to possess unique expertise in designing campaigns and directing engagements.  Not found among mere civilians or even among soldiers of lesser rank, this expertise provided the rationale for conferring status and authority on generals.

In earlier eras, the very structure of wars provided a relatively straightforward mechanism for testing such claims to expertise.  Events on the battlefield rendered harsh judgments, creating or destroying reputations with brutal efficiency.

Back then, standards employed in evaluating generalship were clear-cut and uncompromising.  Those who won battles earned fame, glory, and the gratitude of their countrymen.  Those who lost battles got fired or were put out to pasture.

During the Civil War, for example, Abraham Lincoln did not need an advanced degree in strategic studies to conclude that Union generals like John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, and Joseph Hooker didn’t have what it took to defeat the Army of Northern Virginia.  Humiliating defeats sustained by the Army of the Potomac at the Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville made that obvious enough.  Similarly, the victories Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman gained at Shiloh, at Vicksburg, and in the Chattanooga campaign strongly suggested that here was the team to which the president could entrust the task of bringing the Confederacy to its knees.

Today, public drunkenness, petty corruption, or sexual shenanigans with a subordinate might land generals in hot water.  But as long as they avoid egregious misbehavior, senior officers charged with prosecuting America’s wars are largely spared judgments of any sort.  Trying hard is enough to get a passing grade.

With the country’s political leaders and public conditioned to conflicts seemingly destined to drag on for years, if not decades, no one expects the current general-in-chief in Iraq or Afghanistan to bring things to a successful conclusion.  His job is merely to manage the situation until he passes it along to a successor, while duly adding to his collection of personal decorations and perhaps advancing his career.

Today, for example, Army General John Nicholson commands U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.  He’s only the latest in a long line of senior officers to preside over that war, beginning with General Tommy Franks in 2001 and continuing with Generals Mikolashek, Barno, Eikenberry, McNeill, McKiernan, McChrystal, Petraeus, Allen, Dunford, and Campbell.  The title carried by these officers changed over time.  So, too, did the specifics of their “mission” as Operation Enduring Freedom evolved into Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.  Yet even as expectations slipped lower and lower, none of the commanders rotating through Kabul delivered.  Not a single one has, in our president-elect’s concise formulation, “done the job.”  Indeed, it’s increasingly difficult to know what that job is, apart from preventing the Taliban from quite literally toppling the government.

In Iraq, meanwhile, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend currently serves as the — count ‘em — ninth American to command U.S. and coalition forces in that country since the George W. Bush administration ordered the invasion of 2003.  The first in that line, (once again) General Tommy Franks, overthrew the Saddam Hussein regime and thereby broke Iraq.  The next five, Generals Sanchez, Casey, Petraeus, Odierno, and Austin, labored for eight years to put it back together again.

At the end of 2011, President Obama declared that they had done just that and terminated the U.S. military occupation.  The Islamic State soon exposed Obama’s claim as specious when its militants put a U.S.-trained Iraqi army to flight and annexed large swathes of that country’s territory.  Following in the footsteps of his immediate predecessors Generals James Terry and Sean MacFarland, General Townsend now shoulders the task of trying to restore Iraq’s status as a more or less genuinely sovereign state.  He directs what the Pentagon calls Operation Inherent Resolve, dating from June 2014, the follow-on to Operation New Dawn (September 2010-December 2011), which was itself the successor to Operation Iraqi Freedom (March 2003-August 2010).

When and how Inherent Resolve will conclude is difficult to forecast.  This much we can, however, say with some confidence: with the end nowhere in sight, General Townsend won’t be its last commander.  Other generals are waiting in the wings with their own careers to polish.  As in Kabul, the parade of U.S. military commanders through Baghdad will continue.

For some readers, this listing of mostly forgotten names and dates may have a soporific effect.  Yet it should also drive home Trump’s point.  The United States may today have the world’s most powerful and capable military — so at least we are constantly told.  Yet the record shows that it does not have a corps of senior officers who know how to translate capability into successful outcomes.

Draining Which Swamp?

That brings us to the second question:  Even if commander-in-chief Trump were somehow able to identify modern day equivalents of Grant and Sherman to implement his war plans, secret or otherwise, would they deliver victory?

On that score, we would do well to entertain doubts.  Although senior officers charged with running recent American wars have not exactly covered themselves in glory, it doesn’t follow that their shortcomings offer the sole or even a principal explanation for why those wars have yielded such disappointing results.  The truth is that some wars aren’t winnable and shouldn’t be fought.

So, yes, Trump’s critique of American generalship possesses merit, but whether he knows it or not, the question truly demanding his attention as the incoming commander-in-chief isn’t: Who should I hire (or fire) to fight my wars?  Instead, far more urgent is: Does further war promise to solve any of my problems?

One mark of a successful business executive is knowing when to cut your losses. It’s also the mark of a successful statesman.  Trump claims to be the former.  Whether his putative business savvy will translate into the world of statecraft remains to be seen. Early signs are not promising.

As a candidate, Trump vowed to “defeat radical Islamic terrorism,” destroy ISIS, “decimate al-Qaeda,” and “starve funding for Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah.” Those promises imply a significant escalation of what Americans used to call the Global War on Terrorism.

Toward that end, the incoming administration may well revive some aspects of the George W. Bush playbook, including repopulating the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and “if it’s so important to the American people,” reinstituting torture.  The Trump administration will at least consider re-imposing sanctions on countries like Iran.  It may aggressively exploit the offensive potential of cyber-weapons, betting that America’s cyber-defenses will hold.

Yet President Trump is also likely to double down on the use of conventional military force.  In that regard, his promise to “quickly and decisively bomb the hell out of ISIS” offers a hint of what is to come. His appointment of the uber-hawkish Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his national security adviser and his rumored selection of retired Marine Corps General James (“Mad Dog”) Mattis as defense secretary suggest that he means what he says.   In sum, a Trump administration seems unlikely to reexamine the conviction that the problems roiling the Greater Middle East will someday, somehow yield to a U.S.-imposed military solution.  Indeed, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that conviction will deepen, with genuinely ironic implications for the Trump presidency.

In the immediate wake of 9/11, George W. Bush concocted a fantasy of American soldiers liberating oppressed Afghans and Iraqis and thereby “draining the swamp” that served to incubate anti-Western terrorism.  The results achieved proved beyond disappointing, while the costs exacted in terms of lives and dollars squandered were painful indeed.  Incrementally, with the passage of time, many Americans concluded that perhaps the swamp most in need of attention was not on the far side of the planet but much closer at hand — right in the imperial city nestled alongside the Potomac River.

To a very considerable extent, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, preferred candidate of the establishment, because he advertised himself as just the guy disgruntled Americans could count on to drain that swamp.

Yet here’s what too few of those Americans appreciate, even today: war created that swamp in the first place.  War empowers Washington.  It centralizes.  It provides a rationale for federal authorities to accumulate and exercise new powers.  It makes government bigger and more intrusive.  It lubricates the machinery of waste, fraud, and abuse that causes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to vanish every year.  When it comes to sustaining the swamp, nothing works better than war.

Were Trump really intent on draining that swamp — if he genuinely seeks to “Make America Great Again” — then he would extricate the United States from war.  His liquidation of Trump University, which was to higher education what Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve are to modern warfare, provides a potentially instructive precedent for how to proceed.

But don’t hold your breath on that one.  All signs indicate that, in one fashion or another, our combative next president will perpetuate the wars he’s inheriting.  Trump may fancy that, as a veteran of Celebrity Apprentice (but not of military service), he possesses a special knack for spotting the next Grant or Sherman.  But acting on that impulse will merely replenish the swamp in the Greater Middle East along with the one in Washington.  And soon enough, those who elected him with expectations of seeing the much-despised establishment dismantled will realize that they’ve been had.

Which brings us, finally, to that third question: To the extent that deficiencies at the top of the military hierarchy do affect the outcome of wars, what can be done to fix the problem?

The most expeditious approach: purge all currently serving three- and four-star officers; then, make a precondition for promotion to those ranks confinement in a reeducation camp run by Iraq and Afghanistan war amputees, with a curriculum designed by Veterans for Peace.  Graduation should require each student to submit an essay reflecting on these words of wisdom from U.S. Grant himself:  “There never was a time when, in my opinion, some way could not be found to prevent the drawing of the sword.”

True, such an approach may seem a bit draconian. But this is no time for half-measures — as even Donald Trump may eventually recognize.

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

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

Copyright 2016 Andrew J. Bacevich


Is Jimmy Carter right that Obama should Recognize Palestine?

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 - 1:05am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Jimmy Carter wrote and NYT op-ed yesterday in which he called on Barack Obama to arrange for the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine and pass resolutions reaffirming the illegality of Israeli squatting on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Carter points out that there are 600,000 such Israeli squatters on stolen Palestinian land. He knows that likely Trump’s election marks the end of the US cover story that it is working toward a two-state solution.

With all due respect to Carter, who deserves a lot of respect, there is no evidence whatsoever that the US has done anything at all to implement a two-state solution. Washington has occasionally hosted Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but when the Israeli side insulted the US Secretary of State and the president and refused to cease aggressively colonizing Palestine even while they supposedly were parlaying over it, the US just acquiesced in Israeli intransigence. The Wikileaks cables from 2006 and 2007 show US embassy officials slavishly following Israeli policy initiatives like the boycott on Gaza.

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Carter is speaking out because a Trump policy on Israel-Palestine puts in doubt the legacy of his Camp David accords of 1978-79. Indeed, if the occupied Palestinians end up living in the hell of a decades-long Apartheid under the Israeli jackboot, then Camp David looks more and more like just a separate peace in which Egypt extricated itself from further confrontations with expansionist Israel, receiving back the Sinai, and leaving the poor weak Palestinians and Lebanese to their oppressive fate.

Not only is it right to rescue millions of Palestinians from statelessness, but resolving this issue would resolve 70% of America’s terrorism problem in the region.

So how plausible is Carter’s proposal to Obama? Oh, it could easily be done. The other members besides the US of the UN Security Council (Britain, France, Russia, and China) would be perfectly happy to pass a resolution condemning the Israeli squatting on Palestinian territory, if they were sure the US would not simply veto it, as it almost always does. The US itself could present a resolution, and I’ve heard that Obama’s team have crafted one as a contingency.

The trick is political will. The US would have to avoid exercising its veto. It always vetoes resolutions sanctioning or criticizing Israeli aggression and colonization.

Each president behaves in this way because the Israel lobbies have traditionaly helped fund political campaigns (John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt estimated that these lobbies provide as much as a third of the campaign funding for the Democratic Party.) You wonder if all this will change with the new Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump models– crowdfunding a campaign on the one hand and just having a billionaire buy the presidency with his own money. Sanders could take a more even-handed stance on the occupation of the stateless Palestinians precisely because he did not owe any big donors anything. In contrast, Hillary Clinton was deeply indebted to fanatical Israel-firsters like Haim Saban, and her speeches on the Mideast might as well have just been written by the Netanyahu government of Israel. Trump took a little money from Sheldon Adelson toward the end but not much, I think it was like $3 mn., which presumably did not buy much.

So the danger is that if Obama lifts his standing veto on UNSC resolutions on the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Israeli colonization policy, single-issue pro-Israel lobbies will decline to support the Democratic Party in 2020. Obama, as the leader of the Democratic Party, can’t very well chase away a third of the party’s funding for the next presidential race. (Even though, as I said, Sanders and Trump have introduced new models that could allow the sidestepping of single-issue lobbies like AIPAC).

But this juncture is special, and Carter is right that Obama could take the lead here. First of all, where are the pro-Israel donors going to go? To Trump? Can they really trust someone who is openly appointing known Neofascists and white supremacists?

So this is the one time where Obama could probably cross the Likud Party without harming Democratic Party fundraising down the line. Of course there is also the issue of the pro-Israel vote in Florida and elsewhere, but they couldn’t stop Trump in Florida or Pennsylvania so they are not as crucial as AIPAC keeps proclaiming.

So it seems to me that Obama can indeed act, and what I hear is that he is actively contemplating this step. Trump would not easily be able to reverse a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Israel for breaking international law by its galactic theft of Palestinian territory and its demotion of the Palestinian people to stateless objects of foreign military rule. He could go back to vetoing new resolutions, but was done would be done.

In fact, if Obama does not do what Carter is calling for, he could end up having no legacy at all. The Iran deal is fragile, as is Obamacare, and those were his only real achievements aside from a slew of executive orders that can be reversed by the incoming administration.

But of course the fate of 12 million Palestinians is rather more important than whether one politician is remembered for anything in the history books.


Related video:

AJ+: “The Struggle Of Palestinian Farmers Under Occupation”

Will Trump cancel Iran deal or practice the Art of the Deal?

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 - 12:30am

by Mohammed Nuruzzaman | (Informed Comment) | – –

US President-elect Donald Trump’s bluster about the Iran nuclear deal has created a lot of confusions and uncertainties about the fate of the deal. The anti-deal statements he made during and after the race to the White House election campaign ranged from direct threats to “tear up” the deal to renegotiate it, making it clear that he would not accept the nuclear deal with Iran, officially dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is. In reactions, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said that the deal was not a bilateral agreement with one side being able to ditch it. He averred that Iran had options “if the USA unwisely decides to move away from its obligations under the agreement”.

Euronews: ”
What will Trump’s presidency mean for the Iran nuclear deal?”

Iran–US tensions over the JCPOA, not to speak of their brewing hostilities after the 1979 Islamic revolution, have remained high, since the deal was concluded in mid-July 2015. As I have argued elsewhere, the deal was more a marriage of convenience between Iran and the US, less a political and diplomatic accord to address the long standing strategic divergences between the two countries. Iranian leaders agreed to scale back their nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, while the thorny issues of Iran’s claimed pre-eminence in the Persian Gulf neighborhood, America’s unqualified support to Iran’s Gulf adversaries or recognition of Tehran’s strategic interests in Iraq, Syria and ties to Hezbollah remained unaddressed. Symptoms of adversarial relations, despite hope for “a reset the button”, soon resurfaced. The imposition of new sanctions by the US in October last year over Iran’s testing of suspected nuclear capable ballistic missiles, the US Supreme Court’s order to seize Iranian assets in US banks, Iran’s detention of ten American sailors who strayed into Iranian territorial waters last January etc., largely derailed the expected bonhomie in post-deal Iran–US relations.

President Trump’s threats to sabotage the deal may not be that hollow, in view of America’s past record of violations of international agreements and treaties. In the last one and-a-half decades, the US has walked away or partially pulled out of nearly a dozen bilateral or multilateral agreements or pacts, including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) being some notable examples. President George W. Bush’s administration withdrew from the 1972 ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union, citing national security reasons; the NPT mandates the nuclear-weapon-states not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states but the Bush administration insisted it retained the option to nuke non-nuclear states; the US and four other signatories (Britain, France, Germany, and Japan) have breached certain provisions of the CTBT by building or supplying materials to build laser fusion facilities to conduct lab-based thermonuclear explosions, which are not sanctioned by the CTBT. A 2003 report entitled “Rule of Power or Rule of Law”, sponsored by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy, charged the U.S. with drifting away from rule of law to rule of power, as Washington abides by or violates global security-related treaties and agreements based on its perceptions of self-interests. Prior to launching the invasion of Iraq, President Bush was on record as ditching on international law: “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass”. He was responding touchily to the legal obstacles to his plan to invade Iraq and topple the Saddam Hussein regime.

The nuclear deal with Iran appears more vulnerable to unilateral US actions as it is neither a lawful treaty nor a major agreement ratified by the US Senate; the deal is simply a US (and also Iranian) political commitment to honor the JCPOA as long as both parties maintain their trust in it. The deal has, however, an international dimension – it was enshrined in a UN Security Council Resolution and its major signatories (China, France, Russia, UK plus Germany) so far remain committed to defend it, either because of their growing business interests in Iran or because of too high risks to bury it altogether.

There is a series of US domestic and international factors that militate against the deal. That President Trump is an Islamophobe and, by implications, an Iranophobe is an open secret. In a bit of ominous signal, he is selecting like-minded people to fill his foreign and security policy cabinet. On top of that, a host of lobbies and institutes, including the Israel lobbies and the so-called Foundation for the Defense of Democracies have renewed their efforts to kill the deal finally, after failing to scuttle nuclear negotiations between the Obama administration and Iran. The House Republican Israel Caucus has recently introduced and authorized a new bill to extend the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act, due to expire by the end of the year, for another ten years. The House has also passed a resolution to block the sale of Boeing and Air Bus civilian aircrafts to Iran. Added to this anti-deal domestic frenzy is the issue of America’s perceived and real decline in the Middle East, which the Trump administration hopes to reverse, at least psychologically, by dealing harshly with Iran. There hardly exist any viable options for Washington to force Russia to reduce its role in Syria while Iran remains a relatively soft target to turn the heat on.

Whatever the reasons are, the Iran deal melodrama looks set to unfold in the coming weeks and months. House and Senate Republicans, if not the Democrats, are expected to line up behind President Trump to put the deal in the line of fire. Similarly, the Iranian hard-liners who opposed the deal with the “Great Satan” but nonetheless accepted it due to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s blessings for it are happy to see Trump’s anti-deal tirade. Their mouthpiece Kayhan International, a newspaper close to the Supreme Leader, called Trump “a shredder of the JCPOA, an agreement which had zero benefit for Iran”. This much echoed the Supreme Leader’s statement made last July concerning a possible breach of the deal by the US: “We will not violate the JCPOA, but if the opposite side violates it…if they tear up the JCPOA, we will burn it”. The Revolutionary Guards sees Trump’s electoral victory as a welcome step to corner the Iranian moderate political forces united under President Hassan Rouhani and former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who swept to power in the June 2013 presidential election and further consolidated their hold onto power through the February 2016 parliamentary elections.

The unfolding American threats to the deal under the Trump administration, and Iranian hard-liners’ reactions to that, present three possible scenarios. Given President Trump’s highly negative views on the deal and domestic pressures created by the pro-Israel lobbies, the first scenario may be a total rejection of the deal by the US, whatever may be the costs incurred in the process. That means a return to the old-style hostility and confrontation with Iran par excellence. This option is replete with high risks and uncertainties since the Trump administration is highly unlikely to draw the support of even its close European allies, let alone that of China and Russia – America’s contemporary peer-competitors. But a ‘go alone’ policy by the new freaky president cannot be totally ruled out.

The second scenario may hinge on seeking some changes to the deal, what Walid Phares, Trump’s electoral campaign advisor on the Middle East, told the BBC radio on November 11. This would involve some changes the US would seek to make to the agreement – the restoration of some issues or the change of some issues (most probably a demand to ban Iran’s ballistic missile program) to exclusively favor America’s and Israeli security interests. Iran’s stand on such a possibility is revulsive, however. Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, has recently said, apparently to oppose Walid Phares’ disclosure, that “They (US leaders) cannot sit in glass palaces saying they would [either] tear up the JCPOA or renegotiate it.” This is a totally no-option for the Revolutionary Guards who defines and views ballistic missiles as effective deterrents against American or Israeli aggressions. At the same time, a complete refusal by Iran to renegotiate the deal, which sounds rational from Iranian viewpoint, may push the US down the road to adopt the first scenario as a possible option.

The third scenario – sticking to the post-deal status quo is more favorable to Iran. The Rouhani administration negotiated the deal by defying powerful conservative opponents and remains committed to observing the terms and conditions of the deal. If President Trump opts to walk away from the deal, he can do so at the risk of getting global flak but Iran stands to reap benefits from such actions: Iran will continue to hold the global moral ground, and would be free to do business with European and Asian partners, despite continued unilateral US sanctions which the nuclear deal was not meant to dismantle. Whether the Trump administration ditches the deal or not, Washington can no longer force Iran to return to a pre-deal situation of international economic isolation. Still, some reckless or even accidental military actions by either the US or Iran may seriously destabilize the whole Middle East region.

Mohammed Nuruzzaman is Associate Professor of International Relations, Gulf University for science and Technology, West Mishref, Kuwait; E-mail: ; Research Webpage

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: ”
What will Trump’s presidency mean for the Iran nuclear deal?”

Neofascist Roof will conduct own defense in Murder Trial

Tue, 29 Nov 2016 - 12:16am

TeleSur | – –

Roof allegedly shot and massacred nine African-American churchgoers.

Dylann Roof, the white supremacist charged with shooting up a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine parishioners, was granted Monday the ability to represent himself in his upcoming trial.

Facing 33 charges of hate crime murder, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel reviewed the order that declared him competent to stand trial. He stated that he felt the decision was “strategically unwise,” but he ultimately granted Roof the permission to represent himself at trial.

The judge had delayed the process when Roof’s lawyers suggested pressed that their client either didn’t understand the charges against him or were not able to properly help them with his defense.

The question remains whether Roof will be granted the death penalty for his June 17 shoot up last year at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

According to police, Roof sat through an hour-long sermon at the church with other congregants before pulling a gun from his fanny pack and firing dozens of shots.

Hurling racist insults at the six women and three men he is charged with killing, he said he left three unharmed so that they could tell the world the shootings occurred because he hated Black people.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

USA Today: “Dylann Roof: What we know about accused church shooter”