IraqWire

FCC begins restoring Corporate Privilege to the Internet

Informed Comment - 4 hours 27 min ago

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

This web site amounted to anything because of net neutrality, which I prefer to call internet liberty. That liberty is now going or gone.

The internet was originally based on the principle that everyone’s web site is as easily reached by users as everyone else’s. All nodes are equidistant from all other nodes.

So when George W. Bush and his cronies invaded and occupied Iraq, whispering a lot of sweet nothings in the ears of the US public, my daily reports of events in Iraq as conveyed in Arabic news sites were immediately accessible to anyone who cared to read me.

Public spirited people could reach my site as easily as they could reach corporate sites like that of MSNBC, then a collaboration of NBC Universal and the Microsoft corporation. MSNBC prepared for the coming Iraq war by firing liberal anchor Phil Donohue, because they knew he would be critical of the war, and the big corporations either wanted the war or were afraid of crossing Bush and his vindictive gang.

In April of 2004, when the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr staged an uprising against the US military, took over all the police stations in Baghdad and the Shiite south, and kicked the Ukrainian military off their base, I could report on all this from Iraqi (and Iranian) news sources and the speeches of their leaders and politicians, translating the Arabic and Persian into English.

I got a million page views that month, and even some pundits who did not like my views very much said things like that my coverage was better than that of the New York Times. (I don’t say that myself, but others did.)

My web site at that time was being run on blogger.com, which cost nothing. I had to pay for my internet address registration. But I really had almost no costs. I did not at that time take or want advertising. I considered the blog an extension of my teaching at a public institution, the University of Michigan, which had hired me to tell people about the Middle East. (I now do have costs, and am turning this site into a magazine, but that was a different time. If you like this site, please consider donating to it. Also given the way things are going, you probably should subscribe by email if you like getting the articles).

So in 2004 you could not get more grass roots or humble than this operation. And people could read my site as easily as they could read the news at the site of the pro-war Fox Cable News (the owner of which, Rupert Murdoch, promised everyone $14 a barrel petroleum if the US took over Iraq. The price went on up to $110 a barrel before falling to $40-50 a barrel more recently.)

But the internet service providers– corporations such as Verizon and Comcast, were deeply unhappy about the neutrality, the liberty of the internet. They would like to charge MSNBC millions of dollars a year to deliver their news site to the public. What they have in mind is to create lanes on the internet– fast lanes and slow lanes.

It has been demonstrated that if a web site takes a little longer than usual to download, readers simply close the page and go on to another site. So the sites slotted into the slow lane over time will lose all their readers.

And you get slotted in the slow lane because you cannot pay the millions for delivery of your site that MSNBC or Fox can.

In other words, fast lanes and slow lanes wipe out the diversity of the internet and deliver it into the hands of a few billionaires and of governments such as the Russian Federation, who can pay for a fast lane.

It would be as though all highways in the US cost $1,000 to get on each day, and if you couldn’t pay that, you’d have to use surface roads, service roads and dirt roads to get where you are going. Billionaires could get on the highway because for a billionaire $1000 is chump change.

So this sort of system, toward which the Federal Communications Commission under former Verizon employee Ajit Pai has just taken a big step, turns the internet into old style antenna television where you just had three or four networks and they broadcast popular shows to 60 mn people at a shot. Those networks back in the 1960s gave their writers strict instructions never to mention labor unions and in general began the process of turning the United States into a fascist plutocracy, a reality on the brink of which we are now teetering.

Back in Iraq War days, people would write me from small towns to thank me for my reporting on Iraq. Without it, they said, they would have no idea what was going on. They said that they had no NPR radio station because local officials had connived to prevent one operating in their area. Network news had only 22 minutes a day of national and international news and at least initially it was enthusiastically pro-war. Their local newspaper (that was when there were newspapers) was owned by a Republican and carried no independent news about Iraq, just whatever the White House or Pentagon briefing said that day. (They typically said that they were making enormous progress. On those days when 500 people were killed by a bomb, they scaled it back to “slow progress.” But it was always progress, in Panglossian Bushworld.)

What the big corporations who have Ajit Pai and the FCC in their back pockets want to do is close off those dissident voices and just have a handful of voices, the ones they can make money from and who say the sorts of things that millionaire CEOs and billionaire media moguls like Rupert Murdoch want to hear.

That way we can have more Iraq Wars, and this time they will be huge successes just because the 2 or 3 media outlets will report them as huge successes.

The tragedy is that the internet was working just fine before Ajit Pai got his corrupt mits on it. It didn’t have to be corporatized. Last I knew, Verizon is making a shitload of money. They don’t need more. The providers are already giving slower service and charging higher prices than in less feudal countries than the US.

Pai thinks we are so dumb that he made a propaganda video denying all these points and featuring a Pizzagate conspiracy nut who thought Hillary Clinton ran a pedophilia ring out of a Washington DC pizzeria. In the world Pai is making, we may not even have the means to challenge the Pizzagate narrative.

The first thing the providers will do is play favorite. AT&T already has a sweetheart deal with DirectTV. If you are with AT&T and don’t want DirectTV, you might face data caps.

Klint Finley at Wired writes:

“AT&T, for example, already allows its DirecTV Now video-streaming service to bypass mobile subscribers’ data limits. Verizon does much the same with its Go90 video service. Sling TV and Netflix, on the other hand, still count towards customers’ data caps. The end of the FCC’s current rules will allow companies to expand the ways they prioritize certain services over others.”

The FCC decision can be fought. Some 17 states are filing lawsuits against it.

Your congressional representative and your senators can craft legislation restoring internet liberty. They won’t bother unless they think you are so upset about this issue that you might not vote for them or give money to their campaign, though.

Some states, such as Washington, are announcing that they will penalize corporations who try to interfere with net neutrality.

My guess is that the European Union will also have things to say about all this. The internet is global and it would be easy for AT&T to run afoul of European Union antitrust laws.

But, the corporations destroyed radio as a democratic medium and made it a part of monopoly capital (and even now restrictions are being lifted that will aid further monopolization, by rightwing corporations such as Sinclair). They can do the same thing to the internet if people don’t stop them.

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Related video:

The Majority Report with Sam Seder: “FCC Chairman Stars In DISGUSTING Anti-Net Neutrality Propaganda Video”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Palestinians outraged but unsurprised by Trump on Jerusalem: ‘World already ignores our existence’

Informed Comment - Fri, 2017-12-15 00:14

By Joey Ayoub | ( GlobalVoices.org) | – –

US President Donald Trump's declaration that the country would move its embassy in Israel to the city of Jerusalem was met with shock throughout the world. Among Palestinians, however, it was outrage mixed with a distinctive lack of surprise.

Jerusalem is a controversial site of contention in the so-called Israeli-Palestinian peace process for the simple reason that both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine claim it as their capital. Under international law, East Jerusalem is considered to be occupied Palestinian territory — Israel captured the city, previously under Jordanian rule, during the 1967 Six-Day War — and all embassies to Israel, up until this recent development, were located in Tel Aviv.

Palestinians watch Trump's speech on the news on December 6, 2017. Photo taken by Mariam Barghouti on Instagram and re-used with permission. Original caption reads: Watching Trumps speech. Face explains it: a little bit of mental cursing and a little bit of this is nothing new mixed with lament and meh.

Palestinians living in the city have long experienced discrimination under Israeli control. According to the series entitled “A City for All?” produced by the collective Visualizing Palestine, as of October 2017, 10,000 Palestinians born in Jerusalem “have no legal status because their parents hold different ID cards“. Despite being 37% of the current population of Jerusalem, Palestinians have received only 10% of the city's budget for their neighborhoods.

And between 2004 and 2016, “685 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished…leaving 2,513 people homeless. Home demolitions are part of a broader Israeli policy to alter the demographic and geospatial makeup of Jerusalem, privileging Jewish settlers over the indigenous Palestinian population”:

“685 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem were demolished between 2004 and 2016, leaving 2,513 people homeless. Home demolitions are part of a broader Israeli policy to alter the demographic and geospatial makeup of Jerusalem, privileging Jewish settlers over the indigenous Palestinian population.” Caption from Visualizing Palestine. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Jerusalem is a microcosm of the treatment that Palestinians face across the territories. Throughout Israel's 50-year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, human rights groups, international organizations and governments have blasted Israel for human rights abuses, ranging from unlawful killings and forced displacement to discriminatory policies toward Palestinians.

With the US embassy decision, politicians across the world offered their rebukes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for example, declared that “Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims“. But over the years, condemnations haven't translated into any concrete change, especially when large sums of trade money with Israel have been on the line.

As for the US, Palestinians have long argued that the country's policies reflect an unmistakable pro-Israel bias. Despite the US claiming to be a neutral actor, its record at the United Nations, where it has used the veto in support of Israel several times (full list by the Jewish Virtual Library here), as well as the large amount in aid and weapons it sends to Israel every year (the most recent package in 2016 worth $38 billion over the course of a decade), speak for themselves.

In fact, so common was it to expect the US to use its veto in support of Israel that the Obama administration's 2016 decision to abstain from using it in a resolution condemning Israel's construction of settlements on Palestinian territory — declared illegal under international law — made headlines.

‘Who is America to declare the capital of Israel when it's Palestinian land?’

This perhaps explains why, while definitely outraged, Palestinians reacting on social media were not necessarily surprised by the US move.

At the time of writing, at least two Palestinians were killed and over 200 were injured during protests opposing the Jerusalem decision across East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel launched at least one airstrike on Gaza, injuring at least 25 civilians.

Linah Al Saafin, a Palestinian producer at Al Jazeera, shared this image of a 14-year-old Palestinian boy being arrested by Israeli soldiers in Hebron, West Bank:

How many Israeli soldiers does it take to arrest a 14 year old Palestinian boy?
Photo taken yesterday in Hebron h/t @shejae3a pic.twitter.com/1eNM3CmfG8

— لينة (@LinahAlsaafin) December 8, 2017

Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and commentator who was herself arrested at the age of 20 by Israeli forces, wrote in an Al Jazeera op-ed that the US administration's announcement did not happen in a vacuum:

It's a culmination of international failure to address Israeli human rights violations, perpetual US support to Israel, the incompetency of Palestinian leadership to achieve any solutions through diplomatic efforts, and more recently the new friendship the US administration is building with some Arab states.

She also denounced the focus of much of the mainstream media on “reaction from Palestinian and Arab states” rather than the very rights of Palestinians continuously violated:

Ya'll the issue to Trump declaring #Jerusalem the capital of Israel should not be the fear of reaction from Palestinians & Arab states,rather the fact that an international administration is once again ignoring Palestinian existence and right to self determination. #Palestine

— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) December 6, 2017

Barghouti finally pointed out that 2017 is the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, referring to a 1917 public statement issued by the British government during World War I announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine:

A Palestinian man tells me as I interview him: “Who is America to declare the capital of Israel when it's Palestinian land?”

We're marking 100 years of Balfour with another manifestation of it by @realDonaldTrump. #Palestine #Jerusalem

— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) December 5, 2017

Photo taken by Mariam Barghouti on December 8, 2017. “Protest silhouettes. Youth confronting Israeli forces near Beit El settlement in Ramallah against Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.” Used with permission. Source: Instagram

. . .

In a long status, Palestinian-Syrian journalist Eyad Hamid said that moving the embassy does not make much of a difference as it'd be akin to moving it from one occupied city, Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv-Yafo where the current embassy is, to another, Jerusalem. . . .

Jerusalem-born and raised Leen Barghouti, who is currently a consultant to the Palestinian mission in Berlin, and previously a researcher at Georgetown University, viewed this as yet more proof of the Israeli government under President Benjamin Netanyahu isn't interested in peace:

There are not enough words to describe what on earth happened yesterday to my hometown Jerusalem, however it is clear the Israeli government is not interested in letting go of its domination, suppression and superiority. It is not interested in peace. Netanyahu's idea of peace is Palestinian servitude and submission. The US administration is basically rewarding theft, oppression, repression, violence and humiliation.

She then called on Palestinians to unite:

It's time now to unite and fight for our equal civil, cultural, religious and political rights. It's time to break our chains and retake our heritage that was stolen from us, it's time to fight for what is right rather than what is comfortable.

All ‘anger’ that isn't accompanied by the dissolution to the Oslo regime [a reference to the Palestinian Authority established by the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation] and withdrawal from recognition of the occupation and the complete divestment from negotiations is just [an] empty act with no meaning, and the Palestinian Authority won't do any of this because its priority is to preserve its privileges

The Israeli government hasn't wasted much time since the announcement, with 14,000 new housing units planned for Jerusalem, including 4,000 across the “Green Line”, i.e. in the legal territory of the State of Palestine. . .

Joey Ayoub is the MENA Editor at Global Voices as well as a Lebanese researcher currently living in Edinburgh. He is the founder of Hummus For Thought and mostly writes on Syria, Israel-Palestine, and Lebanon. He has a BS in Environmental Health from the American University of Beirut, an MA in Cultural Studies from SOAS, University of London and is currently doing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. His MA thesis was on the politics of Hebrew and Yiddish in Zionist thinking and his PhD research is on the politics of cinema in postwar Lebanon.

For full reprinting of cited tweets, see the original article at GlobalVoices.org

Licensed as Creative Commons Attribution 3.0.

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Over 700 Rohingya Children Killed by Myanmar Military

Informed Comment - Fri, 2017-12-15 00:12

TeleSur | – –

An estimate from Doctors Without Borders shows that at least 6,700 refugees have been killed during the first month of militarized persecution.

At least 730 Rohingya children under the age of five have been mercilessly slaughtered by Myanmar police forces in an almost six-month crusade against the Muslim community, Doctors Without Borders reports.

Following a series of surveys, the humanitarian agency concluded that of this figure, 59 percent of the children were shot, while 15 percent burned to death in their homes, 7 percent succumbed to beatings and 2 percent were killed by landmines.

A conservative estimate from Doctors Without Borders shows that at least 6,700 refugees have been killed throughout the course of the first month of militarized persecution. This figure far exceeds official statistics which present a death toll of 400.

“The numbers of deaths are likely to be an underestimation, as we have not surveyed all refugee settlements in Bangladesh and because the surveys don’t account for the families who never made it out of Myanmar,” said the French Division of Doctors Without Border’s medical director, Dr Sidney Wong, describing the hundreds of families trapped by soldiers as their homes were set ablaze.

The report says that between August 25 and September 24, the average mortality rate registers 8.0 deaths per 10,000 people, approximately 2.26 percent of the over 600,000 interviewed. Based on the organization’s six surveys distributed in the Bangladeshi refugee camps scattered throughout the Cox Bazar, it would imply that somewhere between 9,425 and 13,759 Rohingya died since the beginning of what UN officials refer to as an ethnic cleansing.

“What we uncovered was staggering, both in terms of the numbers of people who reported a family member died as a result of violence, and the horrific ways in which they said they were killed or severely injured,” Wong said.

The surveys show that a total of 71.7 percent of the 9,000 Myanmar refugees dying from violent causes. Of these, 69 percent of the Muslim group were killed by gun-related injuries, 9 percent burned and five percent were beaten to death.

Despite reports from journalists, reseahers and both social and human rights groups, Myanmar officials continue to deny allegations of a genocide.

International media report two Reuters journalists are being held by Myanmar officials in connection to their coverage of the Rohingya crisis.. Burmese officials have confirmed the Tuesday arrest, adding that police officers involved in the journalists’ investigations have also been detained for questioning. Dozens of journalists continue to report on the thousands of Rohingya who continue to be tortured, killed, raped and robbed.

“Currently people are still fleeing from Myanmar to Bangladesh and those who do manage to cross the border still report being subject to violence in recent weeks,” the doctor added. “With very few independent aid groups able to access Maungdaw district in Rakhine, we fear for the fate of Rohingya people who are still there.”

Since August, more than 647,000 Rohingya refugees have fled Myanmar, Inter-Sector Coordination Group reported on December 12. Researchers say that 60 percent of the refugees are traumatized children.

Via TeleSur

——-

Related video added by Juan Cole:

EuroNews: “At least 6,700 Rohingya killed in first month of Myanmar violence: MSF”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Global Spec Ops in Trump’s Pentagon: Elite Commandos in record 149 Countries

Informed Comment - Fri, 2017-12-15 00:12

By Nick Turse | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

“We don’t know exactly where we’re at in the world, militarily, and what we’re doing,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in October. That was in the wake of the combat deaths of four members of the Special Operations forces in the West African nation of Niger. Graham and other senators expressed shock about the deployment, but the global sweep of America’s most elite forces is, at best, an open secret.

Earlier this year before that same Senate committee — though Graham was not in attendance — General Raymond Thomas, the chief of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), offered some clues about the planetwide reach of America’s most elite troops. “We operate and fight in every corner of the world,” he boasted.  “Rather than a mere ‘break-glass-in-case-of-war’ force, we are now proactively engaged across the ‘battle space’ of the Geographic Combatant Commands… providing key integrating and enabling capabilities to support their campaigns and operations.” 

In 2017, U.S. Special Operations forces, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, deployed to 149 countries around the world, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by U.S. Special Operations Command.  That’s about 75% of the nations on the planet and represents a jump from the 138 countries that saw such deployments in 2016 under the Obama administration.  It’s also a jump of nearly 150% from the last days of George W. Bush’s White House.  This record-setting number of deployments comes as American commandos are battling a plethora of terror groups in quasi-wars that stretch from Africa and the Middle East to Asia. 

“Most Americans would be amazed to learn that U.S. Special Operations Forces have been deployed to three quarters of the nations on the planet,” observes William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.  “There is little or no transparency as to what they are doing in these countries and whether their efforts are promoting security or provoking further tension and conflict.” 

Growth Opportunity


America’s elite troops were deployed to 149 nations in 2017, according to U.S. Special Operations Command.  The map above displays the locations of 132 of those countries; 129 locations (in blue) were supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command; 3 locations (in red) — Syria, Yemen and Somalia — were derived from open-source information. (Nick Turse)

“Since 9/11, we expanded the size of our force by almost 75% in order to take on mission-sets that are likely to endure,” SOCOM’s Thomas told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May.  Since 2001, from the pace of operations to their geographic sweep, the activities of U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF) have, in fact, grown in every conceivable way.  On any given day, about 8,000 special operators — from a command numbering roughly 70,000 — are deployed in approximately 80 countries.   

“The increase in the use of Special Forces since 9/11 was part of what was then referred to as the Global War on Terror as a way to keep the United States active militarily in areas beyond its two main wars, Iraq and Afghanistan,” Hartung told TomDispatch.  “The even heavier reliance on Special Forces during the Obama years was part of a strategy of what I think of as ‘politically sustainable warfare,’ in which the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to a few key theaters of war was replaced by a ‘lighter footprint’ in more places, using drones, arms sales and training, and Special Forces.”

The Trump White House has attacked Barack Obama’s legacy on nearly all fronts.  It has undercut, renounced, or reversed actions of his ranging from trade pacts to financial and environmental regulations to rules that shielded transgender employees from workplace discrimination.  When it comes to Special Operations forces, however, the Trump administration has embraced their use in the style of the former president, while upping the ante even further.  President Trump has also provided military commanders greater authority to launch attacks in quasi-war zones like Yemen and Somalia.  According to Micah Zenko, a national security expert and Whitehead Senior Fellow at the think tank Chatham House, those forces conducted five times as many lethal counterterrorism missions in such non-battlefield countries in the Trump administration’s first six months in office as they did during Obama’s final six months.

A Wide World of War

U.S. commandos specialize in 12 core skills, from “unconventional warfare” (helping to stoke insurgencies and regime change) to “foreign internal defense” (supporting allies’ efforts to guard themselves against terrorism, insurgencies, and coups). Counterterrorism — fighting what SOCOM calls violent extremist organizations or VEOs — is, however, the specialty America’s commandos have become best known for in the post-9/11 era. 

In the spring of 2002, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, SOCOM chief General Charles Holland touted efforts to “improve SOF capabilities to prosecute unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense programs to better support friends and allies. The value of these programs, demonstrated in the Afghanistan campaign,” he said, “can be particularly useful in stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.” 

Over the last decade and a half, however, there’s been little evidence America’s commandos have excelled at “stabilizing countries and regions vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.”  This was reflected in General Thomas’s May testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The threat posed by VEOs remains the highest priority for USSOCOM in both focus and effort,” he explained. 

However, unlike Holland who highlighted only one country — Afghanistan — where special operators were battling militants in 2002, Thomas listed a panoply of terrorist hot spots bedeviling America’s commandos a decade and a half later.  “Special Operations Forces,” he said, “are the main effort, or major supporting effort for U.S. VEO-focused operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, across the Sahel of Africa, the Philippines, and Central/South America — essentially, everywhere Al Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are to be found.”

Officially, there are about 5,300 U.S. troops in Iraq.  (The real figure is thought to be higher.)  Significant numbers of them are special operators training and advising Iraqi government forces and Kurdish troops.  Elite U.S. forces have also played a crucial role in Iraq’s recent offensive against the militants of the Islamic State, providing artillery and airpower, including SOCOM’s AC-130W Stinger II gunships with 105mm cannons that allow them to serve as flying howitzers.  In that campaign, Special Operations forces were “thrust into a new role of coordinating fire support,” wrote Linda Robinson, a senior international policy analyst with the RAND Corporation who spent seven weeks in Iraq, Syria, and neighboring countries earlier this year. “This fire support is even more important to the Syrian Democratic Forces, a far more lightly armed irregular force which constitutes the major ground force fighting ISIS in Syria.”

Special Operations forces have, in fact, played a key role in the war effort in Syria, too.  While American commandos have been killed in battle there, Kurdish and Arab proxies — known as the Syrian Democratic Forces — have done the lion’s share of the fighting and dying to take back much of the territory once held by the Islamic State.  SOCOM’s Thomas spoke about this in surprisingly frank terms at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, this summer.  “We’re right now inside the capital of [ISIS’s] caliphate at Raqqa [Syria].  We’ll have that back soon with our proxies, a surrogate force of 50,000 people that are working for us and doing our bidding,” he said.  “So two and a half years of fighting this fight with our surrogates, they’ve lost thousands, we’ve only lost two service members. Two is too many, but it’s, you know, a relief that we haven’t had the kind of losses that we’ve had elsewhere.”

This year, U.S. special operators were killed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the Sahelian nations of Niger and Mali (although reports indicate that a Green Beret who died in that country was likely strangled by U.S. Navy SEALs).  In Libya, SEALs recently kidnapped a suspect in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.  In the Philippines, U.S. Special Forces joined the months-long battle to recapture Marawi City after it was taken by Islamist militants earlier this year. 

And even this growing list of counterterror hotspots is only a fraction of the story.  In Africa, the countries singled out by Thomas — Somalia, Libya, and those in the Sahel — are just a handful of the nations to which American commandos were deployed in 2017. As recently reported at Vice News, U.S. Special Operations forces were active in at least 33 nations across the continent, with troops heavily concentrated in and around countries now home to a growing number of what the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies calls “active militant Islamist groups.”  While Defense Department spokeswoman Major Audricia Harris would not provide details on the range of operations being carried out by the elite forces, it’s known that they run the gamut from conducting security assessments at U.S. embassies to combat operations.  

Data provided by SOCOM also reveals a special ops presence in 33 European countries this year.  “Outside of Russia and Belarus we train with virtually every country in Europe either bilaterally or through various multinational events,” Major Michael Weisman, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, told TomDispatch.

For the past two years, in fact, the U.S. has maintained a Special Operations contingent in almost every nation on Russia’s western border.  “[W]e’ve had persistent presence in every country — every NATO country and others on the border with Russia doing phenomenal things with our allies, helping them prepare for their threats,” said SOCOM’s Thomas, mentioning the Baltic states as well as Romania, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia by name.  These activities represent, in the words of General Charles Cleveland, chief of U.S. Army Special Operations Command from 2012 to 2015 and now the senior mentor to the Army War College, “undeclared campaigns” by commandos. Weisman, however, balked at that particular language.  “U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed persistently and at the invitation of our allies in the Baltic States and Poland since 2014 as part of the broader U.S. European Command and Department of Defense European Deterrence Initiative,” he told TomDispatch.  “The persistent presence of U.S. SOF alongside our Allies sends a clear message of U.S. commitment to our allies and the defense of our NATO Alliance.”

Asia is also a crucial region for America’s elite forces.  In addition to Iran and Russia, SOCOM’s Thomas singled out China and North Korea as nations that are “becoming more aggressive in challenging U.S. interests and partners through the use of asymmetric means that often fall below the threshold of conventional conflict.”  He went on to say that the “ability of our special operators to conduct low-visibility special warfare operations in politically sensitive environments make them uniquely suited to counter the malign activities of our adversaries in this domain.”

U.S.-North Korean saber rattling has brought increased attention to Special Forces Detachment Korea (SFDK), the longest serving U.S. Special Forces unit in the world.  It would, of course, be called into action should a war ever break out on the peninsula.  In such a conflict, U.S. and South Korean elite forces would unite under the umbrella of the Combined Unconventional Warfare Task Force.  In March, commandos — including, according to some reports, members of the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 — took part in Foal Eagle, a training exercise, alongside conventional U.S. forces and their South Korean counterparts. 

U.S. special operators also were involved in training exercises and operations elsewhere across Asia and the Pacific.  In June, in Okinawa, Japan, for example, airmen from the 17th Special Operations Squadron (17th SOS) carried out their annual (and oddly spelled) “Day of the Jakal,” the launch of five Air Force Special Operations MC-130J Commando II aircraft to practice, according to a military news release, “airdrops, aircraft landings, and rapid infiltration and exfiltration of equipment.”  According to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Dube of the 17th SOS, “It shows how we can meet the emerging mission sets for both SOCKOR [Special Operations Command Korea] and SOCPAC [Special Operations Command Pacific] out here in the Pacific theater.” 

At about the same time, members of the Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group carried out Teak Jet, a joint combined exchange training, or JCET, mission meant to improve military coordination between U.S. and Japanese forces.  In June and July, intelligence analysts from the Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group took part in Talisman Saber, a biennial military training exercise conducted in various locations across Australia.

More for War

The steady rise in the number of elite operators, missions, and foreign deployments since 9/11 appears in no danger of ending, despite years of worries by think-tank experts and special ops supporters about the effects of such a high operations tempo on these troops.  “Most SOF units are employed to their sustainable limit,” General Thomas said earlier this year. “Despite growing demand for SOF, we must prioritize the sourcing of these demands as we face a rapidly changing security environment.”  Yet the number of deployments still grew to a record 149 nations in 2017.  (During the Obama years, deployments reached 147 in 2015.)

At a recent conference on special operations held in Washington, D.C., influential members of the Senate and House armed services committees acknowledged that there were growing strains on the force. “I do worry about overuse of SOF,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, a Republican.  One solution offered by both Jack Reed, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Republican Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, was to bulk up Special Operations Command yet more.  “We have to increase numbers and resources,” Reed insisted

This desire to expand Special Operations further comes at a moment when senators like Lindsey Graham continue to acknowledge how remarkably clueless they are about where those elite forces are deployed and what exactly they are doing in far-flung corners of the globe.  Experts point out just how dangerous further expansion could be, given the proliferation of terror groups and battle zones since 9/11 and the dangers of unforeseen blowback as a result of low-profile special ops missions.

“Almost by definition, the dizzying number of deployments undertaken by U.S. Special Operations forces in recent years would be hard to track.  But few in Congress seem to be even making the effort,” said William Hartung. “This is a colossal mistake if one is concerned about reining in the globe-spanning U.S. military strategy of the post-9/11 era, which has caused more harm than good and done little to curb terrorism.” 

However, with special ops deployments rising above Bush and Obama administration levels to record-setting heights and the Trump administration embracing the use of commandos in quasi-wars in places like Somalia and Yemen, there appears to be little interest in the White House or on Capitol Hill in reining in the geographic scope and sweep of America’s most secretive troops.  And the results, say experts, may be dire.  “While the retreat from large ‘boots on the ground’ wars like the Bush administration’s intervention in Iraq is welcome,” said Hartung, “the proliferation of Special Operations forces is a dangerous alternative, given the prospects of getting the United States further embroiled in complex overseas conflicts.”

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. He is the author of the bestselling Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.

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

Copyright Nick Turse 2017

Via Tomdispatch.com

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

What Trump Has Done: The Entire US-Middle East Political Framework Just Collapsed

Antiwar.com blog - Thu, 2017-12-14 17:06

Now that US President Donald Trump has fully adopted the Israeli rightwing political discourse on Palestine, the Palestinian Authority is in a very tough spot.

“I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Trump said in Washington on Wednesday. The embattled president has done what many had asked him not to do. But the truth is, US foreign policy has been bankrupt for years. It was never fair, nor did it ever intend to be so.

Trump merely pulled the plug, not only on the so-called peace process, two-state solution, "land-for-peace formula" but also all the other tired clichés that have been long dead and decomposing.

But Trump’s announcement has also laid to rest the illusion that the US was ever keen on achieving a just and lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors.

What is left to be said by those who have placed the Palestinian national project of liberation on hold for nearly three decades, waiting for the US to fulfill its self-designated role of an "honest peace broker"?

The Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas declared a "day of rage" in response to Trump’s announcement. Way to deflect attention from the real crisis at hand: the fact that the PA has miserably failed by leasing the fate of Palestine to Washington, and, by extension to Israel as well.

Some are arguing that the two-state solution is not a US property to keep or give away, and that Palestinians can continue to advocate what seems to them to be the sane and possible solution.

However, the unpleasant truth is that the "two-state solution" in its current form was itself an American formulation, part of a larger framework that was championed mostly by the US as it pushed Israelis and Palestinians to the "negotiation table" since the Madrid Talks in 1991.

Surely, there will be others who will attempt to continue playing that role, but what difference can Paris and London, for example, make if Tel Aviv and its powerful Washington benefactors have no interest in the subject whatsoever?

Trump’s announcement should not come as a complete surprise, though.

Between the hasty American withdrawal from Iraq, "pivot to Asia", "leading from behind" doctrine throughout the so-called "Arab Spring", and failure to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on freezing the illegal settlements in Occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, US policies were growing bankrupt and futile.

This paved the road for a new type of thinking, one that moves away from pandering to Israel, while paying lip service to peace, to wholly embracing the Israeli political discourse and future outlook.

In fact, Trump’s recent announcement from Washington was a tamed version of his statement before the Israel lobby last year.

In March 2016, Republican presidential candidate Trump delivered his famous speech before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Of the many false claims and dangerous promises Trump made, a particular passage stood unique, for it offered early clues to what the future administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine would look like.

“When the United States stands with Israel, the chances of peace really rise and rises exponentially. That’s what will happen when Donald Trump is president of the United States,” he declared.

“We will move the American embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem,” he announced. The mixed cheers and applause were deafening.

Now that Trump is president, he inherited a failed Middle East policy from his predecessor, a policy that Trump finds of no benefit to his administration. What truly matters to the new president is the support of the very constituency that brought him to the White House in the first place. The rightwing, conservative, Christian-evangelical constituency remains the foundation of his troubled presidency.

So, on December 4, Trump picked up the phone and began calling Arab leaders, informing them of his decision to announce a move that has been delayed for many years: relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Arabs fumed, for such a move would surely create further destabilization in a region that has been taken on a destructive course for years. Much of that instability is the outcome of misguided US policies, predicated on unwarranted wars and blind support for Israel.

Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the last straw in an ailing discourse. The US Middle East political framework of the past is collapsing to the confusion of US allies in the region, and, of course, the pleasure of Israel.

In fact, Trump’s decision constitutes a total US reversal in its approach towards the entire Middle East, considering that Palestine and Israel have been at the center of most of the region’s conflicts.

There are factors that made this embassy move an attractive option for the Trump administration:

The US is currently experiencing unprecedented political instability. Talks of impeaching the president are gaining momentum, while his officials are being paraded before Department of Justice investigators for various accusations, including collusion with foreign powers.

Under these circumstances, there is no decision or issue that Trump can approach without finding himself in a political storm, except one issue, that being Israel.

Being pro-Israel has historically united the US’s two main parties, the Congress, mainstream media and many Americans, lead among them Trump’s political base.

Indeed, when the Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, Trump’s interest in politics was quite haphazard and entirely personal.

The Congress has gone even further. Attempting to twist the arm of the White House, it added a clause, giving the administration till May 1999, to carry out the Congress’s diktats or face a 50 percent cut in the State Departments’ budget allocated to “Acquisition and Maintenance of Buildings Abroad.”

To avoid violating the Congress’ public law, and to maintain a thread, however thin, of credibility, every US president has signed a six-month waiver; a loophole in the law that allowed the White House to postpone the relocation of the embassy.

Fast forward to Trump’s AIPAC speech. His pledge to move the embassy then seemed merely frivolous and opportunistic.

That was the wrong assessment, however. Collusion between the Trump’s team and Israel began even before he walked into the Oval House. They worked together to undermine UN efforts in December 2016 to pass a resolution condemning Israel’s continued illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories, including Jerusalem.

Chosen to lead the "peace" efforts was Trump’s son-in-law and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s good friend, Jared Kushner. Trump’s dedication to Israel was clearly not fleeting.

Trump has finally decided to shed a mask that every US president has worn for decades. And by doing so, the US will, oddly enough, negate the paradoxical role it carved for itself in the last 50 years – that of "peacemaker".

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Trump To Release New US Strategy: Will Neocons Cheer?

Antiwar.com blog - Thu, 2017-12-14 14:54

On Monday, President Trump is expected to release the new National Security Strategy for the United States. Will it rein in some of the global adventurism of the Bush and Obama presidencies? Will it correct the gaping disconnect between what the White House says about places like North Korea and what the Secretary of State says? Will the neocons successfully parlay the document into a road-map for more wars? Today’s Ron Paul Liberty Report is joined by veteran foreign affairs analyst and former US diplomat Jim Jatras to discuss our hopes and fears for this important document:

Reprinted from The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity.

Freedom Frauds Chronicles U.S. Atrocities At Home and Abroad: James Bovard’s latest book is free on Amazon on December 14 and 15

Antiwar.com blog - Thu, 2017-12-14 14:51

Freedom Frauds: Hard Lessons in American Liberty https://www.amazon.com/Freedom-Frauds-Lessons-American-Liberty-ebook/dp/B0765D3GJR

James Bovard’s latest book is free on Amazon on December 14 and 15.

Freedom Frauds is the only political book on Amazon that combines hitchhiking, torture, Syria, Afghanistan, police shootings, & Civil War atrocities. It begins with the story of my antiwar awakening from a long bus ride with a down-and-out veteran who never recovered from killing an innocent south Vietnamese girl. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats have embraced foreign wars on the flimsiest pretexts, usually championed by media coverage that ignores the carnage inflicted on foreign civilians. But the US government remains far more adept at killing foreigners than protecting Americans.

Freedom Frauds also vivifies how the war on terror degenerated into a war on freedom, such as the perversion of drug-war profiles (which allow police to pretend that almost anyone is a suspect who can justifiably be forcibly searched) into catch-all terrorist profiles. Five chapters in the book detail how police forces have been militarized and unleashed across the land by both Republicans and Democrats, and it is only recently that accurate body counts of police victims have been even been tabulated.

The book exposes how politicians and the media have hollowed out our freedom over the past century. The Founding Fathers created a Bill of Rights to restrain government coercion of the American people. But succeeding generations of presidents and congressmen scorned the Constitution and sanctified one precedent after another to subjugate citizens to Washington. After 9/11, President George W. Bush accelerated the hollowing out of freedom, epitomized by his embrace of torture methods pioneered by the Soviet Union. President Barack Obama, despite his pious rhetoric, piled on new pretexts to unleash bureaucrats and penalize anyone who failed to kowtow to the latest health care and other decrees.

Many of the worst federal abuses have long since become hallowed. The names and parties of the predators change, but many of the anti-freedom scams are the same. Attorney Generals Jeff Session, Eric Holder, and John Ashcroft have far more in common with each other than any resemblance to James Madison. Presidents Trump, Obama, and Bush are peas in a pod compared to Thomas Jefferson.

Freedom Frauds contains ample comic relief, including the story of how Bovard learned how to shovel while working for the Virginia Highway Department, the true facts behind his expulsion from the Supreme Court for laughing at the drug war, and his run-in with police while searching for a donut store.

Despite the anti-Washington backlash in the 2016 election, it remains "business as usual" for the vast majority of federal agencies and policies. And, as comedian Lily Tomlin declared, "No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.” But as long as there is a cadre of Americans who continue to supremely value their own freedom and independence, there is hope for reversing the onslaught of Leviathan.

Www.jimbovard.com
On Twitter @jimbovard

The USA Is Number One – In Weapons Sales

Antiwar.com blog - Thu, 2017-12-14 12:50

Once again, the USA leads the world in weapons sales, notes SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The 100 biggest arms producers accounted for $375 billion in weapons sales in 2016, with US firms having by far the largest share at $217 billion. That’s right: the US accounts for roughly 58% of the global arms trade. We’re #1! We’re #1!

Not only do we arm our friends but our foes as well, notes FP: Foreign Policy, which has the following SitRep (situation report) for today:

U.S. weapons used by ISIS. A new report from Conflict Armament Research, a U.K.-based weapons tracking group, outlines in fascinating detail the industrial-scale weapons manufacturing capabilities the Islamic State boasted of in its prime… But what might be most notable are the American-supplied weapons found amid the ruins – the aftermath of secretive American efforts to provide small rebel groups with anti-tank rockets and other guided munitions. The transfer of the rockets, purchased from European countries, violated end-user agreements signed by the United States pledging not to transfer the weapons to third parties. In some cases, it took only a few weeks for the weapons to end up in the hands of Islamic State fighters after being delivered to allegedly friendly forces.

Let’s face it: $217 billion is an enormous amount of money, and the weapons trade is enormously profitable to the US. America’s wars are not coming to an end anytime soon: there’s simply too much money being made on manufacturing and selling war.

This puts me to mind of observations made by Father Daniel Berrigan, who served prison time for protesting the Vietnam War. Berrigan wrote with eloquence against war, and his words from a half-century ago are as timely today as they were during the Vietnam protests:

“we are powerless to inquire why it is easier to continue to slaughter than to stop it, why the historical cult of violence has become the mainstay of policy–both foreign and domestic, or why our economy so requires warmaking that perpetual war has united with expanding profits as the chief national purpose.”

And that was when the US still had a manufacturing base for consumer goods that hadn’t withered from “free” trade deals like NAFTA and other globalization efforts. The global market the US dominates today is not for consumer goods but for wares of destruction.

When you sow the winds of weaponry and war, and profit mightily from it, do you not eventually have to reap the whirlwind of destruction?

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

Muslim Countries call for E. Jerusalem as Palestine Capital, reject US as Honest Broker

Informed Comment - Thu, 2017-12-14 02:19

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a regular meeting of the foreign ministers of 57 Muslim-majority countries, held an extraordinary session in Istanbul on Wednesday, in which they rejected US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In a communique they called Trump’s decision “unilateral,” “illegal,” and “irresponsible” and said it was “null and void.”

The Muslim powers said that they now officially recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state, and they urged other countries to so recognize it.

They said that Trump had deliberately sabotaged all the efforts expended over the years to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace and that he had benefited extremism and terrorism, and had threatened international peace and security. They observed that Trump’s decision had the practical effect of withdrawing the US from any role as a mediator in achieving peace.

The Muslim leaders condemned Trump for encouraging the Netanyahu government in Israel to continue its policies of colonial settlement and of Apartheid, as well as of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

The communique said that if the Security Council does not mobilize to intervene on Jerusalem, that they would take the issue to the UN General Assembly.

For his part, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas opined that there will be neither peace nor stability until East Jerusalem is definitively recognized as the capital of a Palestinian state.

Abbas also said that from now on he and his organization can never again consider the United States as honest broker in the peace process.

Dude, the US was never an honest broker. The US government has from the time of Harry Truman been dedicated to screwing over the Palestinians.

The Trump administration line on Mahmoud Abbas is now that he “walked away from the peace process.” This is like saying that Salma Hayek walked away from reconciliation with Harvey Weinstein.

———–

Related video:

CGTN: “OIC hold emergency meeting in wake of Trump’s Jerusalem decision”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Now Diptheria besets Yemen, along with Saudi Bombs and Blockade

Informed Comment - Thu, 2017-12-14 01:13

Middle East Monitor | – –

Yemen, ravaged by war, hunger and disease, is seeing a spike in diphtheria cases that will inevitably erupt into a larger, deadly outbreak because so few people have been immunized, aid officials said on Wednesday.

At highest risk are children, who account for many of the more than 280 suspected diphtheria cases and 33 associated deaths reported as of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Most of the cases and deaths involved children who had not been immunized against the disease, a contagious and potentially fatal bacterial infection that spreads easily, WHO said.

“Left unchecked, diphtheria can cause devastating epidemics, mainly affecting children,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by email.

The diphtheria spread is inevitable in Yemen due to low vaccination rates, lack of access to medical care and so many people moving around and coming in contact with those infected, said WHO and officials with Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

Civil war in the Middle Eastern country, which lies at the tip of the Arabian peninsula south of Saudi Arabia, has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than two million others.

Diphtheria spreads as easily as the common cold through sneezing, coughing or even talking, according to health officials.

Yemen also is battling a cholera epidemic that has infected about one million people. The epidemic, which worsened this past April, has caused more than 2,000 deaths, WHO said in October.

Read More: Yemen: Saudi-led coalition kills 39 in Sana’a strike

Diphtheria could be more fatal than cholera, especially among unvaccinated children under 5 years old, according to MSF.

As many as two in five diphtheria cases end in death, MSF said.

“There is the potential for a larger-scale outbreak of diphtheria, given that not everyone has been vaccinated,” said Marc Poncin, emergency coordinator in Yemen for the medical charity, also by email.

Calling it “very worrisome,” Caroline Boustany, an aid worker with the International Rescue Committee, told the Foundation: “We have a spike in cases of a very easily preventable disease.”

Yemen also faces soaring food prices and fuel shortages, and some 8.4 million Yemenis are considered to be a step away from famine, the United Nations said on Monday.

A Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen’s civil war blockaded ports last month.

The blockade has eased, but its impact limited supplies of desperately needed fuel, food and medicine, aid officials say.

“Even for patients who want to seek treatment, the blockade on fuel and consequent surge in prices means that they cannot afford to travel to the very few health centers still operational,” said Poncin of MSF.

License This work by Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

———

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Diphtheria in Yemen: More than 100 infected, 14 deaths”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Saudi Arabia: The Coming Crisis in the Kingdom

Informed Comment - Thu, 2017-12-14 00:58

By Pierce Gootee | (TeleSur) | – –

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has, in recent months, tightened their blockade on the war-ravaged country of Yemen. The justification for this tightening was the launch of a long-range ballistic missile by Houthi rebels towards the capital city of Riyadh in November. Despite these heavy-handed tactics in Yemen which have been criticized by the UN, EU, and multiple humanitarian organizations, the Kingdom has made a desperate attempt to improve their international image in the past year. US President Donald Trump, although supportive of the intervention, recently made a statement urging Saudi Arabia to end their blockade and allow humanitarian aid into Yemen. As the power within the monarchy shifts, international conflict escalates, internal tensions rise, and the desperate need for economic diversification looms overhead, how will the House of Saud handle the inevitable rough waters ahead?

The Missile

The Houthi missile travelled almost 1000 km and nearly struck the heart of the Kingdom in the capital city of Riyadh before it was intercepted over the international airport, according to Saudi officials. However, a recent New York Times analysis suggests that the Patriot Missile Defense System failed five times to intercept the missile, which may have merely broke apart due to sheer speed and force. According to the analysis, the warhead of the missile did indeed strike and detonated about 19 km from the rest of the debris as the deadly warhead flew right over the missile defence system. The explosion was about 2 km away from a domestic terminal crowded with civilians.

If this analysis is true, the failure of the Patriot Defense System will surely cast doubt upon the defence capabilities of other countries that rely on it, such as Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Germany. At the same time, this will embolden their enemies, such as North Korea and the Houthis, to further develop their own missile program in order to exploit this weakness. So far, the conflict has mostly impacted the Saudi border regions, in particular, the areas around Najran. However, as the Houthis continue to demonstrate the long-range capabilities of their missiles, nobody in the country will feel safe and the situation will likely continue to escalate.

The Public Relations Push

The House of Saud and their rising star Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are not oblivious to global opinions. An extremely strict Wahabbi Sharia Law system, a bloody military intervention in Yemen, and the Machiavellian rise of the Crown Prince to power are only a few things souring the Saudi standing in the eyes of the world. The ongoing crisis in Yemen makes the future look quite bleak, however, the ambitious Crown Prince is attempting to shift focus toward grand visions he wants to accomplish by the year 2030.

One of the most controversial ideas envisioned by the Crown Prince is a shift towards moderate Islam. Saudi Arabia has already taken a step in that direction by recently allowing women the right to drive and gradually stripping most power from the infamous Mutaween religious police force. He also plans to build a futuristic transnational mega-city near the Gulf of Aqaba called NEOM, begin issuing tourist visas to foreigners, and even construct a string of beach resorts where women are allowed to wear bikinis. To help fund this, the Crown Prince plans to sell 5% of the state-owned trillion dollar Aramco oil company to international investors.

All of these ideas seem as if they are a step in the right direction. However, the Kingdom could be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. These plans alienate the hard-line Wahabbi clerics who wield significant power and influence in the country. On top of this, Saudi Arabia has already been alienating their oppressed Shiite minority. The sectarian tensions have escalated with the recent siege of the predominantly Shiite city of Awamiyah, where 20,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes. While external missiles and border clashes near Yemen are proving to be a massive headache for the monarchy, the potential internal conflicts may pose the greatest threat to the House of Saud.

The Humanitarian Crisis

As with Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the Yemen conflict has devolved into a prolonged bloody conflict. The Saudi-led intervention has created a humanitarian crisis on an unprecedented scale. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) in their October update, there have been a total of 922,704 cases of cholera including 2317 related deaths in the period of only a year. Famine also looms on the horizon for the war-torn country. Yemen relies on imports for 90% of their food, meaning that a continued blockade would result in mass starvation.

This humanitarian crisis is due to Saudi Arabia destroying Yemeni infrastructure with the constant bombing and is exacerbated by the aforementioned blockade. Aid organizations are in desperate need not only food but also fuel to distribute their aid. Last week, eight UN leaders called on Saudi Arabia to fully lift the blockade as the only way to avoid a total collapse and a massive humanitarian tragedy that will potentially cost millions of lives.

The situation has become so dire that President Trump has recently called on his Saudi allies to end the blockade. However, if the Saudis do not react swiftly and effectively enough to these pleadings, a mass famine is inevitable. Even if such a crisis is prevented, the mass cholera epidemic and botched intervention have already left an inevitable black spot upon the reputation of the House of Saud, regardless of how successful their plans for 2030 are.

Royalty at Risk

The House of Saud finds itself in a difficult position at the moment. Inaction and maintaining their comfortable status quo will lead to economic collapse in the event of an oil crash, as well as being overshadowed by rival powers such as Iran. Taking action, on the other hand, may diversify their economy and thrust them into a position of global leadership, but will also strain social tensions within the country and lead to devastating military conflicts abroad. Although the royal family has ambitious dreams for the year 2030, their kingdom may wind up facing a nightmare instead.

Via TeleSur

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Saudi Arabia’s House of Cards – BBC News

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

“Solar+Batteries” = the Cheapest Energy, as S. Korea powers past Coal

Informed Comment - Thu, 2017-12-14 00:32

By Frank Rijsberman | (Inter Press Service) | – –

SEOUL, Dec 13 2017 (IPS) – Renewable energy became the cheapest form of electricity in 58 emerging economies last year. This year, the 11th Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis (LCOE 11.0) showed that solar and wind energy generation costs (at $46 to $53 per megawatt-hour of generation) easily beat coal and gas (at $60-68).

Solar power was the fastest-growing source of new energy worldwide in 2016, outpacing the growth in all other forms of power generation for the first time. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), on the back of a strong solar PV market, renewable energy accounted for two-thirds of new power added to the world’s grid last year. In addition to this, solar energy is set to surpass nuclear power by the end of 2017.

In November this year, the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) organized its first energy forum in Seoul at which GGGI Member countries shared their energy transformation experience.

In Germany, on one sunny breezy Sunday last summer, solar and wind broke a record 85% of all energy used in the country.

The rapidly growing renewable energy sector is quickly replacing nuclear energy in Germany – while coal is still playing a key role in the energy mix. In the UK, on the other hand, the use of coal in the energy mix has rapidly fallen from 50 to 9% in just ten years, replaced by cheap solar and offshore wind energy – while nuclear energy is maintaining a key role.

The Australian capital city, Canberra, has rapidly achieved the solar and wind investments to shift to 100% renewable energy by 2020, and is now moving to zero emissions by 2030, while the national targets are much more modest.

In the Republic of Korea, renewable energy currently accounts for just 2% of the country’s electricity production, with coal-fired and nuclear plants generating 40% and 30%, respectively. However, Korea’s new Moon Jae-in government has recently increased the target for the share of renewables in power generation to 20% by 2030.

Frank Rijsberman.

The Korean government plans to set up a renewable energy coordination center in every region; secure a solar system in each village; adopt projects led by local authorities, including offshore wind turbines; and secure economic feasibility of renewable energy through utility-scale renewable energy projects. Is the 20% target too ambitious to achieve in Korea – or is it too modest to deal with the environmental and climate challenges?

The new government’s twin objectives for Korea to become a nuclear free society while also solving the “fine dust” air pollution problems is now actively debated in Korea. Doing both requires reducing nuclear energy, as well as the use of coal and diesel fuel for electricity and transportation. Truly an ambitious, even daunting, set of challenges – but not impossible during a time when both the energy and transportation sectors are experiencing very, very rapid transition.

The speed and depth of the ongoing energy transformation, to renewable energy and to electric mobility, is certainly surprising many around the world. It is a top priority for many governments – making and breaking coalitions – and it is causing disruption in traditional sectors of the economy and employment.

As one country after the next sees record breaking low prices for solar and wind in auctions for utility scale renewable energy, the conventional fossil-fuel powered energy companies pay the price.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?

E.ON, Germany’s largest utility, for example, had to write off $9Bn in losses last month, half of its remaining market capitalization. No wonder the renewable energy transformation scares the conventional power players and has governments consider whether to protect them.

Countries with large investments in conventional power plants – particularly coal and nuclear – do indeed have a big bill to pay for their stranded assets. Coal-fired power plants that were the cheapest form of energy when constructed only a few years ago risk become albatrosses around energy companies’ necks.

In Bonn, at COP23, a new Power-Past-Coal Alliance of twenty countries announced that they will completely phase out coal from their energy mix before 2030. The Alliance hopes to have fifty members before the 2018 UN COP24 climate change conference. That requires a real change in mindset. Is it imaginable that Korea Powers Past Coal by 2030?

It may seem unrealistic today, but remember that a similar change in the UK just happened, over a shorter period, during a time when renewables were more expensive than today. So why not in Korea?

There are some challenges of course. For example, will this energy transition lead to job losses? Jobs are indeed being lost rapidly in the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal. In Germany, for example, most coal related jobs have already been lost – but at the same time, many more jobs were created in the renewable energy industry.

According to Hans-Josef Fell, a former German parliamentarian for the Green party and current President of Energy Watch Group, the global energy transition to a 100% renewable electricity system can create 37 million jobs by 2050, up by more than 90% from 2015.

As in any rapid technology transition, jobs will indeed be lost, but more new, green jobs are being created, requiring education and re-training of the workforce, but ultimately leading to many new opportunities for businesses and individuals.

 

 

Another question is whether renewable energy is too expensive and whether citizens will support a rapid transition to renewables. In Australia, Canberra has powered forward to 100% renewable energy by 2020, leading national action on climate change while creating new jobs in sunrise industries.

The ACT government is leading this green technology revolution in Australia with the full support of its citizens. When the ACT government first announced its plans to legislate a target of sourcing 100 percent renewable energy by the end of this decade, it was careful to engage the community.

The first programs focused on subsidies for rooftop solar for schools, churches, community centers and residences. As a result, all schools and one home in 10 are now equipped with solar on the roof.

Subsequently, and with full community awareness created, ACT government turned to utility scale wind and solar investments, and batteries to stabilize the grid. The costs of large scale solar in Australia has halved in just a few years. While the introduction of renewables did indeed initially raise energy prices for Canberra, surveys of residents show that as awareness increased, so did the willingness of the citizens to pay more for sustainable energy.

Going forward, the price of energy in Canberra will be among the lowest in the nation. Following the success of the 100% renewables strategy, in 2016 Canberra went a step further and committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

For countries that could not provide electricity to all their citizens with fossil fuel and a centralized power grid – such as most African countries and most small island states in the Pacific with coverage rates as low as 10-20% – the renewable energy transition is a wonderful opportunity.

When the alternative is expensive diesel-generated electricity, either powering the grid or as back-ups during power outages, solar energy combined with battery storage is already the cheapest form of energy, as documented in Lazard’s 11th levelized cost of energy report that came out last month.

That means that for countries in Africa and the Pacific, off-grid, or mini-grid electricity based on “solar+batteries” is a revolution that can bring affordable energy to all citizens, just like the mobile phone revolution did less than ten years ago.

The energy transition is undoubtedly challenging for countries like the Republic of Korea that have fully developed conventional energy sectors – particularly for the owners and operators of the nuclear and fossil fuel power plants, equipment and machinery.

At the same time, Korea has some very significant advantages, such as an excellent national power grid, advanced smart grid technology, and some of the world’s most advanced producers of solar cells and batteries.

During times of disruption our perspectives change very rapidly. Targets such as the Korean 20% renewables by 2030, that appear so challenging today, will probably be seen as only a first step in the right direction in just five years from now.

Licensed from Inter Press Service

Frank Rijsberman is Director-General, Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI)

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Momentum for Talks With North Korea?

Antiwar.com blog - Wed, 2017-12-13 16:41

Possibly, just possibly, a new momentum for direct US-North Korea discussions is developing.  Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided some of it when, in a talk at the Atlantic Council December 12, he for the first time proposed talks without preconditions – a significant departure from previous remarks, echoed by other senior US officials, in which he insisted on North Korea’s cessation of weapons tests and lowering of tensions before any kind of talks might begin.

Tillerson’s proposal was almost a plea to Pyongyang to respond to an opening, perhaps in recognition that other US officials have lately suggested that time is running out before the US makes a military response to North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile tests.  Here’s what Tillerson said:

We’ve said from the diplomatic side, we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition. Let’s just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want. Talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards.

The other push for talks came from Jeffrey Feltman, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  Returning from a visit to the DPRK, where he talked with North Korean foreign affairs officials, Feltman pointed to the urgency of conflict prevention in view of the "most tense and dangerous" situation on the Korean peninsula (UN Web TV).  Specifically, he "emphasized the importance of opening or reopening technical channels of communications, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, signal intentions to prevent misunderstandings, and manage any crisis. I also urged the DPRK to signal that it was prepared to consider ‘talks about talks.’ The UN or others can facilitate both of those processes, if desired.  My interlocutors and I agreed that my visit was only a beginning and that we should continue our dialogue."

In short, both Tillerson and the UN leadership are on the same page in being prepared to start talks with the DPRK without insisting on any party’s agenda.

But will President Trump agree to reaching out to the North Koreans?  Or will "fire and fury" and the belief Tillerson is "wasting his time" on peacemaking remain his positions?  The North Koreans, having by their own account reached the end of the first stage of their long-range missile program, might be motivated by talks without preconditions – a longstanding demand – as well as by the UN proposal for conflict prevention measures.  It may require a concrete incentive, however, to move Kim Jong-un, such as suspension of military deployments and exercises that the North Koreans consider threatening and a shutdown of Trump’s hostile tweets.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is professor emeritus of political science at Portland State University, and editor-in-chief of Asian Perspective. His most recent book isWill This Be China’s Century? A Skeptic’s View(Lynne Rienner, 2013).

Soldiers of Peace: How To Wield the Weapon of Nonviolence With Maximum Force

Antiwar.com blog - Wed, 2017-12-13 15:44

Soldiers of Peace: How To Wield the Weapon of Nonviolence With Maximum Force
A book by Paul K. Chappell

Author and prominent peace educator Paul Chappell observed that he had 12 years of math through calculus II, and yet uses only a fraction of his math skills in daily life. He graduated from high school, however, illiterate in peace, literacy he desperately needed and has dedicated his life to cultivating, disseminating and incorporating into educational curricula.

The author’s childhood was filled with trauma. As a mixed race, Korean/African-American/white child growing up in Alabama, he felt himself a racial outcast. By high school, as he readily admits, he was full of rage. But in an act of survival at the age of 19, he made a solemn commitment to transform himself. He reflects with irony and regret that "the education system had not given me a single hour of training to help me understand the nature of rage. … In fact, much of what I learned in school taught me to suppress my empathy and conscience and to view purpose in the narrow context of accumulating material wealth."

What we are offered in Chappell’s most recent book, "Soldiers of Peace," is a strategic and skillful path to radical empathy with fellow humans, within community and in society. It is the sixth in his seven-book series, "The Road to Peace," a trove of insight and strategy for peace activism burnished by wisdom and compassion.

Chappell writes with a singular style shaped by the directness of his engineering and military training at West Point, fused with imaginative metaphor and lessons drawn from Greek mythology and early classics. "Soldiers of Peace" is organized around a guiding constellation of stars: struggle, training, truth and strategy.

Waging peace is never passive, he writes – it is an unremitting quest in which we humans struggle against "violence, trauma and injustice in our personal lives, communities and throughout the world." Otherwise, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil triumphs when good people do nothing. Peace is achieved only when strategic struggle for social, economic and political justice is fueled by "purpose, meaning, understanding, justice and gentleness."

Training in peace literacy is as crucial as learning reading, writing and mathematics, and it cannot be left only to parents, Chappell cautions. Schools must teach the history of strategic campaigns that won civil rights and women’s rights; the arts of listening, asking questions to achieve clarity and understanding, cultivating empathy and mutual communication; the skills of disciplined resolution of conflict, and recognizing verbal and advertising manipulation. As Gandhi avowed, "If peace schooling were taken as seriously as military schooling, our world would be a much different place." Therein lies the core message of this book.

The chapter on the star of strategy is the most complex and crowns the book. "Waging peace," Chappell writes, "gave me a strategy for living that rage could not give me … to channel the motion of time … to achieve maximum intended impact." His mentors are eminent revolutionary strategists, such as Martin Luther King, Gandhi and the feminists who won suffrage and human rights for women, and they live in these pages. All were convinced that nonviolence was the most effective way in principle and in strategy to gain freedoms and rights. Gandhi realistically admitted the exception of self-defense as a last resort against a much stronger opponent, with the author giving the example of a woman using self-defense against a rapist. In reflecting on the wave of violence between Hindus and Muslims after winning independence from Great Britain through nonviolent methods (which continues today in tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan), Gandhi acknowledged, "We were simply obliged to be nonviolent while we had violence in our hearts." Be the change that we seek – another variation on the core message of this book.

Chappell lays out five questions to ask when people might want to consider using violence to overthrow an oppressive regime or system, using examples from history. Ultimately, though, he returns to the wisdom of Gandhi and King that nonviolence is a more powerful tool than violence. "Violence can kill the liar, the racist, the terrorist"; but it does not kill the "lies that sustain an unjust system, racism, or terrorism. …" He underscores his advocacy for nonviolence with recent landmark research by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan that concludes, "Nonviolence is more likely than violence to defeat a militarily superior adversary." Their study of movements from 1900-2006 to overthrow dictatorships, expel foreign occupations or achieve self-determination found that nonviolent resistance campaigns were more than twice as successful as violent insurrections with the same goals. And the trend is increasing even in extremely brutal authoritarian conditions.

The strength of Paul Chappell’s work is its realism, bolstered by his personal experience; its unlikelihood coming from someone trained at West Point; and, above all, its grounding in moral development and its appeal to our best selves. What is confounding, though, is his valorizing of the military education and philosophy of West Point, which he credits with teaching him the principles of respect, integrity and honor, without an accompanying critique of military practice, the creep of militarism emanating from those trained like him, and the vast U.S. military empire that cadets are trained to lead. Nor does he acknowledge the sexual exploitation throughout all elite military academies, including West Point, basic training, and in the ranks. The war within is real for women in the military – as dangerous and devastating for many as the wars they are sent to fight.

That said, I place Paul Chappell, who is the peace leadership director at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, in the tradition of eminent national and international peace educators and advocates. His book is a unique and challenging contribution to peace literacy.

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of environmental health from Boston University, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts. She writes and speaks on issues of feminism, climate justice, U.S. militarism and peace. Originally appeared at TruthDig.

Tillerson Ready for North Korea Talks… But Is Trump?

Antiwar.com blog - Wed, 2017-12-13 13:42

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told an audience at the Atlantic Council this week that the US is ready for direct talks with North Korea without preconditions. This seems to be a major shift for the Trump Administration, however the US president’s spokesperson insisted US policy has not changed. What’s going on here? We have a few theories. On today’s Ron Paul Liberty Report:

Reprinted from The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity.

What’s the Difference between Roy Moore and a Muslim extreme Fundamentalist? A Cowboy Hat

Informed Comment - Wed, 2017-12-13 03:05

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both Christianity and Islam as religions comprise large numbers of people and contain a spectrum of believers from the secular to the moderate to the extreme. At the far right fringes of the Muslim extremists you get al-Qaeda. At the far right fringes of Christian extremists you get the Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa.

Just short of the violent extremists however, you have the inflexible far right fundamentalists. Judge Roy Moore of Alabama, who lost Tuesday’s senate contest, has a great deal in common with the extreme Muslim fundamentalists.

Since Trump and his evil puppeteer and white supremacist Steve “Breitbart” Bannon both backed Moore to the hilt, this means that the Trump wing of the Republican Party is now committed to a form of politics indistinguishable from Muslim fundamentalism.

For instance, Moore thought it is all right to date 14 year old girls as a 32 year old man. He even said he got their mothers’ permission.

The minimum legal marriage age for girls in fundamentalist Iran is 13, and with the permission of the court and their fathers they can marry at even a younger age.

So what is the difference between Moore and Iran’s ayatollahs?

Moore was removed twice from the bench at Alabama’s supreme court for insisting that biblical law trumps the laws of the United States and of the state of Alabama.

Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran (d. 1989) said that if the Iranian electorate voted one way, and the 12 vicars (Imams) of the prophet Muhammad voted the opposite way, the Imams would be right and the Iranian people would be wrong. In other words, Khomeini denied the Enlightenment principle of popular sovereignty, that the people’s will as indicated at the ballot box is the law of the land.

Roy Moore denies popular sovereignty, saying that his interpretation of the Bible is more important.

So what is the difference between Moore and Ayatollah Khomeini?

Moore holds that Muslims may not serve in the US Congress (that will come as a surprise to Keith Ellison [D-MN]) because they cannot take an oath on the Bible. But the constitution does not require an oath on the Bible, and Ellison swore on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an. Jake Tapper had to point this out to Moore’s spokesman:

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CNN: “Jake Tapper fact checks Roy Moore spokesman”


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Muslim fundamentalists in Indonesia objected to a Christian being governor of Jakarta, and managed to get him removed on trumped up charges of blasphemy.

Roy Moore “probably” still thinks homosexuality should be illegal, in contrast to the US Supreme Court.

Although a majority of American Muslims believe that homosexuality should be accepted, fundamentalist preachers elsewhere want to see it banned.

Moore believes that 9/11 struck the US because its public fell away from God.

Saudi cleric Bin Baz also held that calamities are punishment for not obeying God’s laws.

So Trump and Bannon are not trying to install ordinary conservative Christians in power. They are backing the Christian Taliban.

Luckily for the nation, sane Alabamans defeated Moore on Tuesday.

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Related video:

Doug Jones Triumphs Over Roy Moore In Alabama Senate Election | The Last Word | MSNBC

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Unlikely Industry Empowering Women in Afghanistan

Informed Comment - Wed, 2017-12-13 02:14

By Ruchi Kumar | (Yes! Magazine) | = =

In this deeply conservative society, these women are busting stereotypes every day.

The typical depiction of an Afghan woman looks like this: Timid and fearful, she is a victim of her extremely conservative and regressive society, unable to move around or do much without a man. But some Afghan women are busting these stereotypes, creating a niche for women to empower themselves and change the status quo.

A 36-year-old restaurant owner named Laila Haidary walks around the cafe gardens, carefully tending to the colorful foliage that grows generously around Kabul. She narrates her story of building a business in Afghanistan, a country governed by the rules of men. Overlooking the gardens is a midsize structure: a traditional Afghan house, with thick walls, large windows, and ample courtyard space, converted to a cozy restaurant with old tables and chairs and plenty of handmade rugs. The vibe is welcoming.

Haidary explains she wanted to provide a social space for artists and other young Afghans who want to interact with their culture and rich heritage. “This idea in itself had its own challenges because our extremely conservative society does not always approve of artistic expressions. Added to that, the fact it is run by a businesswoman makes many people uncomfortable,” she says.

Haidary’s cafe is among the many newer restaurants in Kabul, and around Afghanistan, that are either owned or managed by women in an otherwise male-dominated industry. Although data measuring this trend wasn’t available at the time of publishing, anecdotally, more women are entering the service industry: Within a two-block radius of my home in Kabul, I can count seven restaurants that have come up in the past year; that wasn’t the case in 2014, when I first came here.

Of course, not every woman in the industry is a business owner. A small but significant number of Afghan women are working jobs in the service sector—a profile that was unimaginable for Afghan women a decade ago and is still considered inappropriate.

“I feel like I’m breaking stereotypes every day by just being here.”

“I feel like I’m breaking stereotypes every day by just being here. That makes me feel very proud of myself,” says 20-year-old Mujda Nasiri, who started working at 50/50, a local fast-food restaurant in Kabul, about a year ago. “Initially, my parents were reluctant, but now that they see how independent I have become, financially and personally, they’re happy for me,” she says, adding that she had always been fascinated by the restaurant industry.

In a deeply conservative society such as Afghanistan, women have few avenues to pursue careers. Many of the jobs available—such as manual labor, technical positions, and banking and finance—are not considered suitable for women because traditionally a woman’s priority has been with her family and, especially, their honor. Added to that are the decades of war that have left the Afghan economy enormously dependent on foreign aid, thereby increasing unemployment and competition in the markets. As the rate of unemployment peaked at 40 percent in 2015, it has been even more challenging for women to be considered for jobs in a market that tends to favor men.

Laila Haidary sits at one of the tables in her restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan 2017.

Laila Haidary sits at one of the tables in her restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2017. Photos by Ivan Flores

However, restaurants such as 50/50, which strives to be an equal opportunity employer, hires several women in various positions. “We are trying to create an all-inclusive space for our customers, especially for women and families, who can come here without any fear of harassment. Such a place is also good for women to work at,” explains Zahir, 37, the restaurant manager at 50/50 (most Afghans traditionally go by just one name). “We also find that women employees are more professional, timely, and able to work with grace despite pressures—a right fit for this industry.”

Nasiri is one of three waitresses the restaurant hired last year, and the move was welcomed by many of their customers. “I’ve had a very good experience working here; my colleagues are like my family and are very protective of my safety,” she says, recalling an incident where a displeased customer lectured her about how inappropriate such a job was for a woman.

Women had few places to engage socially in the extremely conservative and patriarchal society under the Taliban regime.

“But I see that there has been a change in attitudes,” Nasiri says. “I find that a lot of our customers are not only happy to see me serve them, but [are] also very encouraging of my work. This one elderly gentleman was so happy to meet a working woman, that he left me a Afs1000 [$15] tip to keep me motivated,” she says, adding that the joy of meeting new people every day is a bigger motivation than money to stay with this job.

Twenty-five-year-old Nikbhakt, a barista at a local coffee shop frequented by the many foreigners and expats in Kabul, would agree with Nasiri. “I’ve been making and serving coffee for the last four years, and the best part of my job is interacting with people from around the world,” she says. There was a time when an Afghan woman couldn’t leave the house without a mahram—a male escort who is a blood relative—let alone talk to other people. Women had few places to engage socially in the extremely conservative and patriarchal society under the Taliban regime in the late 1990s.

Parents have reason to be concerned about their working daughters. Harassment at work and in public is a common sight in Kabul and other Afghan cities. Afghan women have to fight many gender stereotypes and inequalities along with abuse if they choose to pursue a career, any career. As a result, many women prefer jobs that require less mobility because even the act of traveling to work daily can often subject women to street harassment. Added to this the rising insecurity further discourages families from allowing their daughters to go to work.

Last year, the cafe where Nikbhakt works was attacked, and she barely missed the explosion that claimed the lives of two people, including the cafe’s guard. “I was extremely depressed for a long time after that attack. My family didn’t want me to work anymore, and I didn’t want to step out of home, either,” she says. “But now I know that cutting myself from the world isn’t a solution, and decided to come back to work two months ago.”

Since no institutes offer training to work in the service sector, Afghans have to learn on the job, which can be tedious for the employers. “We’ve had to let two of our female staff go because they were unable to cope with the pressure of working in a restaurant, but that isn’t to say that women can’t work in this industry,” Zahir says. “The environment, of course, matters, and it is perhaps up to us as employers to help create working environments that allow women to work comfortably and to their full potential.”

Women customers are drawn to restaurants where women work. “Having women around the restaurant creates a comforting and calm environment that eventually attracts a wide diversity of customers,” says Haidary, who also employs several women as servers, managers, and cooks.

They know they’re more than just victims—they’re survivors.

She started her cafe as a way to fund her other initiative: the Mother Camp, a nonprofit drug rehabilitation shelter she opened seven years ago for homeless addicts in Kabul. When the funding to the shelter started to dry up (few in Afghanistan consider donating to rehabilitating drug addicts), Haidary and her volunteers came up with the idea of establishing this cafe. Even today, most of her employees are former or recovering addicts from the Camp, which also continues to help hundreds of Afghans recover every year.

Haidary has been successful as a restaurateur, but the ride hasn’t been smooth. On the contrary, she faced several threats and intimidations, sometimes even from her own customers who would show up drunk or high on hashish to her cafe, breaking her one cardinal rule—no drugs, no alcohol.

Terrorized but not afraid, Haidary would often take these men head-on. “There was a time when she literally pounced on a large Afghan man who was a guard to a local parliamentarian,” recalls a regular customer at Taj Begum who witnessed the attack. “He had come drunk to the cafe, gotten into a brawl, and threatened to have [Haidary] shut down. When [she] protested, and had him kicked out of the cafe, he smashed her car windows.”

Despite that chaos, Haidary persisted because she wanted to be an inspiration to other women in Afghanistan. “Even when the going got tough, I didn’t quit. Not only did I need this to support Mother Camp, but I also wanted to show to our society that a woman can run a successful business,” she says.

The social change, however, will have to be gradual, and Afghan society will need more time to accept working women, especially in the service sector, as a norm. That said, women have come by leaps and bounds, having survived many wars and the brutal and patriarchal Taliban regime, during which they couldn’t even step out of their homes without male escorts. They know they’re more than just victims—they’re survivors who are overcoming odds, every day.

Ruchi Kumar wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Ruchi is an Indian journalist based in Afghanistan covering developmental, cultural, and political stories from the region.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

World Bank: “Empowering Women for Afghanistan’s Growth”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Saudi Prince who Bought da Vinci Painting could have given Sight to 9 Million Instead

Informed Comment - Wed, 2017-12-13 01:07

By Peter Singer | (Project Syndicate) | – –

A Saudi prince has been revealed to be the buyer of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi,” for which he spent $450.3 million. Had he given the money to the poor, as the subject of the painting instructed another rich man, he could have restored eyesight to nine million people, or enabled 13 million families to grow 50% more food.

PRINCETON – Last month, “Salvator Mundi,” Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of Jesus as Savior of the World, sold at auction for $400 million, more than twice the previous record for a work of art sold at auction. The buyer also had to pay an additional $50.3 million in commissions and fees.

The painting has been heavily retouched, and some experts have even questioned whether it really is by Leonardo. Jason Farago, a New York Times art critic, described it as “a proficient but not especially distinguished religious picture from turn-of-the-16th-century Lombardy, put through a wringer of restorations.”

The buyer – who many believe to be the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, acting through a distant cousin – has paid a very high price for a painting of a man who is said to have told another rich person: “Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” That makes it relevant to ask: what could someone with a spare $450 million do for the poor?

The Life You Can Save, a nonprofit organization that I founded a few years ago, has a Charity Impact Calculator that enables you to see what can be achieved by donations to charities with a proven record of effective aid for the world’s poorest people. It shows that, for $450 million, you could restore sight to nine million people with curable blindness, or provide 13 million families with the tools and techniques to grow 50% more food.

If you want to follow Jesus’s command in a more literal manner, you could simply give the money to the world’s poorest families to use as they wish. A nonprofit called Give Directly will locate the neediest families and transfer your money to them, deducting only 10% for its administrative costs.

In case you think that people receiving such a windfall will spend it on alcohol, gambling, or prostitution, an independent evaluation has shown that they don’t. Give Directly’s cash transfers increase recipients’ food security, mental health, and assets. For $450 million, you could also buy 180 million bed nets, enough to protect 271 million people from malaria. (For all these interventions, the numbers are likely to be somewhat smaller, because the Charity Impact Calculator is not designed for such large sums, and so does not take into account that costs will rise once the needs of those who are easiest to reach have been met.)

When a person chooses to buy “Salvator Mundi”rather than restore sight to nine million people, what does that say about their values? One thing is clear: they cannot care very much about other people. Whatever pleasure they, their family, and friends will get from viewing the painting, it can hardly compare with the benefit that restoring sight provides to one person, let alone many millions.

Rightly or wrongly, most of us do give much more weight to our own interests, and those of our children and other close relatives and friends, than we do to the interests of others. The more distant, and the more different from us, those others are, the higher the rate of discount that we apply in practice.

Yet there is a line at which the discount rate becomes so great, and the interests of others are treated with such indifference, that we must say no, that is going too far. We could argue that most affluent people are on the wrong side of that line. What seems to me unarguable is that to care more about owning a painting than about whether several million people can see is a long way beyond it.

In 2006, the legendary investor Warren Buffett pledged to give most of his wealth – around $30 billion – to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help people in extreme poverty. That gift – the single biggest gift anyone has ever given to anyone for anything – doubled the resources of the foundation. To mark the tenth anniversary of Buffett’s pledge, Bill and Melinda Gates recently reported to him on what the foundation, together with other organizations, achieved to improve global health over that decade.

The figure that Bill and Melinda Gates highlight is 122 million. That’s the number of children’s lives saved since 1990 by progressive reductions in the rate of child mortality. In other words, if the rate of child mortality had remained constant between 1990 and today, 122 million more children would have died than did in fact die over that period.

Perhaps the biggest contribution that the Gates Foundation made to that decline was pledging $750 million to establish the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (now known as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance), a public-private initiative that works with governments and United Nations agencies to improve the rate of vaccination in poor countries and foster the development of new vaccines. Now 86% of the world’s children receive basic vaccines – the highest rate ever.

The Gateses claim that every dollar spent on childhood immunization yields $44 in economic benefits, including the money that families otherwise lose when a child gets sick and a parent cannot work. Warren Buffett’s contribution to immunizations may be the best investment he has ever made.

What do you think would make a person happier? Owning a painting – even if it were the most marvelous painting in the world – or knowing that you had kept millions of children healthy, saving lives and benefiting families economically at the same time? Both common sense and psychological research suggest that it isn’t owning the painting.

Peter Singer is Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include Animal Liberation, Practical Ethics, The Ethics of What We Eat (with Jim Mason), Rethinking Life and Death, The Point of View of the Universe, co-authored with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek, The Most Good You Can Do, Famine, Affluence, and Morality, One World Now, Ethics in the Real World, and, most recently, Utilitarianism: A Very Short Introduction, also with Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek. In 2013, he was named the world’s third “most influential contemporary thinker” by the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute.

Licensed from Project Syndicate

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Secret Buyer Of $450M Painting Revealed As Saudi Prince”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Fempire Strikes Back: #MeToo and the Man-Monsters

Informed Comment - Wed, 2017-12-13 00:19

By Ann Jones. | ( Tomdispatch.com

First, for the record, let me tell you my story about another of those perversely creepy Hollywood predators, a sort of cut-rate Harvey Weinstein: the screenwriter and film director James Toback. As I read now of women he preyed upon year after year, I feel the rage that’s bubbled in the back of my brain for decades reaching the boiling point. I should be elated that Toback has been exposed again as the loathsome predator he’s been for half a century. But I’m stuck on the fact of elapsed time, all these decades that male predators roamed at large, efficiently sidelining and silencing women.

Toback could have been picked up by New York’s Finest when he hit on me in or around 1972.  But I didn’t call the cops, knowing it would come to nothing.  Nor did I tell our mutual employer, the City College of the City University of New York. I had no doubt about which one of us our male bosses would believe. I had already been labeled an agitator for campaigning to add a program in women’s studies to the curriculum. Besides, to any normal person, the story of what happened would sound too inconsequential to seem anything but ridiculous: not a crime but a farce.

I didn’t know Toback. I must have seen him at infrequent faculty meetings, but we taught in different writing programs. There was no reason for our paths to cross. Ever. So I have no memory of him until the day I flung open the door of my Chinatown loft in response to a knock, expecting to greet my downstairs neighbor, and in walked Toback. My antennae went up.  How had he managed to get past the locked street door? I remember talking fast, trying to get him out of my place without provoking a confrontation. He agreed to leave with me — to go out for tea or lunch or some little excursion I proposed — but first he insisted on using my bathroom, from which he soon emerged naked. I remember the way he listed the many things he had in mind for me to do for him. Among them, one demand persists in memory, perhaps because it was at once so specific and so bizarre: that I suck and pinch his nipples.

I beat him to the door, furious at being driven from my own loft. I think I threatened to come back with the cops. Something scared him anyway.  From a shop on the street, I watched as he left my building on the run, waddling away at top speed.

Reader, if you think that nothing really happened, then you are mistaken. This incident took place almost 50 years ago and though I hadn’t thought of it in ages — not until his name popped up in the media — the memory remains remarkably raw. I still want to see him marched naked through the streets of Manhattan and Los Angeles to the jeers and uproarious laughter of women. 

At the time, Toback was no more than 25 years old, while I was nearly 10 years older, a thoroughgoing feminist, and luckily faster on my feet than him. But recent reports say that, in the 1980s and later, Toback routinely focused his attacks on very young women, some of them teenagers, using promises of film stardom (sound familiar?) to lure them into encounters that left them sodden with shame. He is now in his seventies and, although women have reported his predation several times in major magazines, he was still on the prowl last month and had never before been called to account for his actions.

What could be more despicable than this: that for more than four decades, while he and his kind were allowed to practice undeterred, he only got better at his game of assaulting women.

A Catalogue of Violations

Not long after my run-in with Toback, a university professor from whom I was taking a writing course came calling to discuss my “extraordinary work” and emerged from that same Chinatown bathroom in a similar state of nakedness. (Do they follow some instruction manual I’ve never seen?) By then I was writing and photographing as a freelancer for the travel section of the New York Times, an unpaid task that entitled me to receive midnight phone calls from the drunken travel editor detailing the things I might do for him to insure a “real job” with the Times.  That’s when I became a freelancer elsewhere, always ready to cut and run. I’ve been a loner ever since. 

I could tell you stories of other professors, editors, journalists, and TV hosts. But they would be much the same as those we read almost every day now as women go public with their own stories of sexual harassment and worse at the hands of powerful men in the film industry, major media outlets, Silicon Valley, and Congress, among other places. In response, almost every day come new denials, excuses, or half-baked apologies. 

Some commentators are now reconsidering Bill Clinton’s record in the sharper light of the present moment.  Others ask if the current “witch hunt” for sexual predators has gone too far.  Expecting inevitable backlash, some recommend that women exercise restraint — as all of us have been taught to do for so many eons — lest some unsubstantiated accusation discredit the stories of thousands of women reporting #MeToo.  I don’t share such tender concern for the reputations of men, especially not that of the president, the self-congratulatory pussy-grabber-in-chief whose followers seem to mistake his behavior for the norm, if not an aspirational ideal.

Discussion of these matters quickly becomes political, eliciting erratic, gender-bending partisan judgments.  Some prominent Republican men called for former judge Roy Moore of Alabama, accused of harassing and assaulting teenaged girls when he was a 30-something assistant district attorney, to end his campaign for the Senate, while many Republican women in that state, including many who are presumably the mothers of daughters, continue to stand behind him.

At the same time, Democrats parse which of Bill Clinton’s accusers to believe and which not. And who hasn’t thought again about Clarence Thomas?  He was elevated to the Supreme Court by an all-white male Congressional committee despite the thoroughly credible testimony of harassed law professor Anita Hill and the accounts of many other women, similarly violated and ready to testify against Thomas, but never called. Given his long misogynistic history on the court, isn’t it time to look at his testimony again? Did he commit perjury to gain his seat? And if so, what’s to be done about his consistent judicial record inimical to the common interests of women?

It’s Not Just Sex 

Little or none of male harassment and predation is truly about sex, except insofar as men weaponize their sad libidos to pin women to the floor. Monstrous men commit what’s called sexual harassment and sexual assault not because women are irresistible but because they can’t resist the rush of power that rises from using, dominating, degrading, humiliating, shaming, and in some cases even murdering another (lesser) human being. (Sexist, not sexual, may be a more accurate adjective.)

Often — especially when the woman is better looking and more talented or qualified than her assailant — he gets an additional powerful kick from having “taught the bitch a lesson.”  A smug sense of power (“When you’re a star… you can do anything”) colors the phony apologies of accused predators. (“It was never my intention to leave the impression I was making an inappropriate advance on anyone.”)  Though a man may be truly sorry to be found out, it’s next to impossible for him, after that blast of solid-gold supremacy, to pretend to even a particle of remorse.

The times call for accusations to be scrupulously accurate. Yet it’s misleading to think of sexual harassment and sexual assault as separate and isolated indignities when in real life one so often segues into the other. Such terms arose in the course of intensive work by feminists of the so-called second wave, which is to say feminists like me who began work in the 1960s and 1970s.  One of our tasks was to expose and document the extent of violence against women in the United States. At that time, misogyny emanated from the pores of patriarchal men, poisoning the very air we breathed. We found overwhelming the violence such men committed against women and girls of all colors who did not conform to their notions of decorative and deferential “femininity.”   

The fact that male violence methodically constricts female lives is so appalling that most women simply couldn’t acknowledge it. Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman, in her landmark study Trauma and Recovery (1992), described things as they were at the time: “Most women do not… recognize the degree of male hostility toward them, preferring to view the relations of the sexes as more benign than they are in fact. Similarly, women like to believe that they have greater freedom and higher status than they do in reality.”  Beneath the revelations of sexual harassment and assault today lie the same hard-rock foundations of male hostility that Herman described a quarter century ago.

To document male violence and depict how it works in daily life, second-wave feminists tried to break it down into its component parts: discrimination and domination — psychological, sexual, and physical — in the home, the schools, the workplace, the church, the courts, the prisons, and public life. We wrote the history of male violence against women, while exploring its effects at that time and its future prospects.  Our generation produced groundbreaking books on patriarchy (Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, 1970), rape (Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will, 1975), sexual harassment (Catherine McKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women, 1979), pornography (Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women, 1981), the battered women’s movement (Susan Schechter, Women and Male Violence, 1982), men murdering women (Diana Russell, Femicide, 1992), and feminist consciousness (Gloria Steinem, Revolution from Within, 1993).  I wrote a history of American women who did not conform: Women Who Kill (1980). For countless women of my generation, this documentation and the movement for change became our life’s work. 

The next generation of women thought differently. Many younger women, even some who call themselves feminists today, were persuaded by the hostile counterattack against the women’s movement (meticulously deconstructed by Susan Faludi in Backlash, 1991) that we uptight “man-haters” had wildly exaggerated the violence women face.  They, on the other hand, proudly proclaimed their youth, intelligence, ambition, and control of their own lives. They would not be victims or feminists either. We knew how they felt, for we had felt that way, too, when we were young. Then they went out to work and met the monsters.

To understand what actually happens to women, you only have to listen to or read any of the accounts pouring forth right now to denounce “sexual harassment.”  The stories are laced with fear about immediate physical threats and, more pointedly, with anger and despair about the potential demolition of their jobs, future careers, and life as they had envisioned it for themselves.

From the stories of individual women, it’s clear that predators violate the neat categories of feminist scholarship, shifting seamlessly from harassment to coercion to physical assault, rape, and worse. The “sexual” strategies exposed by these repetitive accounts are similar to those described in police reports on battered women, seasoned prostitutes, and women subjected to incest, trafficking, rape, and femicide. These are stories of the lives and deaths of millions of women and girls in America.

Behind all of them is the deafening sound of a silence that has persisted throughout my long life. But these past weeks have been startlingly different. By now, we — both women and men — should have heard enough to never again ask: “Why didn’t she come forward?” Let this be our own “open secret.” We all know now that a man who assaults a woman does so because he can, while a woman who comes forward, even with our support, is likely to be violated and shamed again — as were the women who came forward to accuse presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

Now What?

None of this is new, though we tend to act as if it were.  Just last week, for instance, I heard three young women radio reporters explain that women back in the 1970s or 1980s accepted “unwanted male attention” in the office and in life “because that’s just the way things were.” (Harvey Weinstein offered the same excuse: “All the rules about workplaces and behavior were different. That was the culture then.”)

Please, can we get this straight?  Back in those ancient times — the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s — we did not accept violence against women in the workplace or any place else.  It’s true we hesitated to report it to employers or the police, because when we did, we had to watch them laugh it off or send us packing. But we did call it out. We named it. We described it. We wrote books about all forms of violence against women — all those “man-hating” books that these days, if anyone cares to look, may not seem quite so obsolete.

We worked for change. And now only 40 or so years later, here it seems to be. Los Angeles Times reporter Glenn Whipp broke the story of James Toback’s predation based on the complaints of 38 women. Within days that number had grown to 200. By the time I emailed him my story, the number reporting Toback assaults had hit 310.  In a follow-up article, Whipp mentioned that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit wanted to hear from women Toback had attacked in their jurisdiction. I called and left a message, making good my threat to bring in the law after only about 45 years.

For the first time, someone other than my best friends might listen. Somebody might even call me back. But today, as I write, New York Times reporters Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor, Susan Dominus and their colleagues describe in hair-raising detail “Harvey Weinstein’s Complicity Machine,” a catalogue of “enablers, silencers, and spies, warning others who discovered [Weinstein’s] secret to say nothing.”  With their collaboration, Weinstein, like Toback, has preyed upon women since the 1970s. 

The Times reports that among Weinstein’s closest media pals is David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The National Enquirer, a gossip rag whose reporters Weinstein could use to dig up dirt on his accusers. Reportedly, Weinstein was “known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable ‘F.O.P.,’ or ‘friend of Pecker.’”  It’s no surprise to learn that another predator who shares that untouchable F.O.P. status in the tabloids is Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump.

The question is unavoidable: If serial sexual predation disqualifies a man from being a film producer, screen writer, movie star, network newsman, talk show host, journalist, venture capitalist, comedian, actor, network news director, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, CEO, congressman, or senator, why shouldn’t it disqualify a man from being president of the United States? Shouldn’t sexist serial sexual assault constitute an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor? 

We may find out. Time magazine passed over the president as its “person of the year” to name instead the “Silence Breakers” — the brave, outspoken women who inspired the #MeToo campaign. Pictured on the cover along with actress Ashley Judd and pop star Taylor Swift is a Mexican strawberry picker, using a pseudonym for her safety. Her presence and the arm of an unidentified hospital worker seated just out of the frame signal that we might yet learn how this cultural awakening is playing out in ordinary America for women working in the far less glamorous worlds of fast-food chains, nursing homes, hospitals, factories, restaurants, bars, hotels, truck stops, and yes, strawberry fields.

So where do we go from here?  This train has left the station and rolls on. In some photos of those smart young relentless women journalists at the Times, I’ve noticed that their footwear tends not to stilettos, but to boots, which as every woman knows, are good for marching and for kicking ass. That’s promising.

But since I’ve traveled this route before, you’ll have to excuse me for thinking that when this big train passes, it could leave behind a system — predators, enablers, silencers, spies, and thoroughly entrenched sex discrimination — not so very different from that of the 1970s. And if that happens, no doubt those lying dead on the tracks will prove, upon official examination, to be female.

Ann Jones, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of several pioneering feminist books, including the classic Women Who Kill, Everyday Death, Next Time She’ll Be Dead, and with Susan Schechter a handbook for women who made the mistake of marrying predatory and violent men: When Love Goes Wrong. She is also the author of the Dispatch Book They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars — the Untold Story.

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

Copyright 2017 Ann Jones

Via Tomdispatch.com

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Leaving US in Dust, China starts $150 Million Floating Solar Plant Project

Informed Comment - Wed, 2017-12-13 00:14

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Three Gorges Group project commenced in July of this year and is expected to be completed and fully streamlined by May 2018.

On Sunday, Xinhua reported that state-run China’s Three Gorges Group is building the world’s largest floating solar power plant.

The renewable energy project, according to the news agency, will cost about US$150 million and will be constructed in the eastern region of the Asian nation.

The 150-megawatt floating plant consists of panels affixed to flotation mechanism positioned on a lake which was formed from a collapsed coal mine.

The project commenced in July of this year and is expected to be completed and fully streamlined by May 2018.

Currently, the grid is partially connected to the plant.

National Energy Administration data suggests that approximately 5.6 percent of solar power generation was idle in the first three-quarters of the year.

China’s previous ‘biggest floating solar project’ farm generated a modest 40-megawatt output and was located in the same province, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Chinese floating solar farms have grown exponentially in popularity as they are viewed as a sufficient solution to grid congestion.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

IndiaTimes” “World’s largest floating solar power plant”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs
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