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Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 14 min 35 sec ago

How Arab Nationalism & Fundamentalism pushed away the Kurds

16 hours 58 min ago

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Kurdistan referendum held today is probably not as likely to produce immediate turmoil in the Middle East as some pundits would have it. The “Domino Theory” that if the Kurds secede from Iraq then they will secede from Turkey, Iran and Syria as well, may be as incorrect as the idea that a Communist victory in Vietnam would lead to Communist domination throughout Asia and the world.

Iraqi Kurds have a particular history that has led to today’s referendum that is not exactly replicated in other countries with large Kurdish minorities (Iran, Turkey and Syria). Kurds are about 22% of Iraq’s 32 million people. Although nearly 80% of Iraqis are Arabs, Kurds speak an Indo-European language close to Persian and distantly related to English. They are mostly Sunni Muslims, but favor Sufi mystical trends or secular-minded approaches to religion. They reject for the most part Arab-style fundamentalism.

The Ottoman Empire ruled what is now Iraq from the 1500s until World War I, and had all sorts of arrangements there. Sometimes it was a single province, sometimes it was 4 provinces– one of them more or less today’s Kurdistan.

The British conquered what is now Iraq during the course of WW I, invading from British India with British Indian troops. They only went up north to Kurdistan because they were trying to rendezvous with and give help to the Tsarist Russian army that was fighting the Ottomans in Kars. It was not initially clear that Mosul, a multicultural city in the north, would go to British Iraq as opposed to Turkey or French Syria.

Once it became clear that the victorious European Great Powers– Britain, France and Italy– would refuse to grant Iraq independence and would make it a British Mandate (i.e. colony), discontent immediately manifested itself in the great 1920 revolt. In the north, from 1919, Kurdish leader Mahmoud Barzinji led a series of revolts against the British, which were finally put down in 1924. Britain never really controlled Iraq in the 1920s, including Kurdistan, and only managed to stay there by intensively bombing it from the air. The British created the Hashemite monarchy for Iraq, and handed some power to it in 1932.

Unrest in Kurdistan was endemic. The Barzani clan led guerrillas seeking independence. In 1946 Mustafa Barzani, having crossed over to the Iran side, briefly led the Mahabad Republic, supported by the Soviet Union, before it was reabsorbed into Iran as the latter became an American sphere of influence.

The 1968 Baath Party coup in Iraq proved fateful. The faction of Baathists who came to power in 1968 were largely Sunni Arabs and were Arab nationalists. They ideally would have liked to create a United States of Arabia, only with a one-party state–that of the Baath Party. The Baathists were hostile to non-Arab minorities unless the latter were willing to speak Arabic and consider themselves Arab. In the early 1970s, Iran and the US encouraged Kurdish unrest in northern Iraq, in hopes of destabilizing the Baath regime, which titled toward the Soviet Union and joined the rejectionist states opposed to Israel’s existence.

In 1975 Baathist Iraq and the shah’s Iran reached a diplomatic resolution of many outstanding issues. As a result, Henry Kissinger informed the Kurds that the US was dropping them.

That agreement broke down in 1979 because of the Khomeinist revolution in Iran, which deposed Muhammad Reza Pahlevi and created an avowedly Shiite revolutioanry state that hoped Iraqi Shiites would also rise up.

The resulting Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 presented the Kurds with an opportunity to make a play for more autonomy. The Saddam Hussein Baathist regime saw these moves as a form of treason. Saddam then had “Chemical Ali” al-Tikriti, one of his generals, target the Kurdish town of Halabja with sarin poison gas. Some 5,000 died. That was the moment when Iraq lost the Kurds.

The Gulf War put another piece of the puzzle in place. In 1990, Saddam annexed Kuwait. George H. W. Bush put together a coalition to kick him back out of the small Gulf emirate. In spring of 1991, after the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, Bush Sr. encouraged uprisings against the Baath by Iraqis. The Shiites and the Kurds both mounted substantial revolts in Mar.-April 1991.

When Saddam Hussein threatened to send tanks into Iraqi Kurdistan and to take revenge, Kurds fled to the mountains, where Saddam’s tanks and artillery pieces could not reach them. The problem is that there wasn’t food up there and a million people fled, so that there could have been famine. Bush Sr. organized a relief effort and put in a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.

Under the no-fly zone, 1991-2003, Iraqi Kurdistan de facto seceded from Iraq. Arabic was no longer taught in the schools. Everything was in Kurdish. The Iraqi government could not lay a hand on them. They merged their 3 provinces into one administration and elected a parliament.

The 2003 US invasion depended heavily on Kurds and Shiites. Kurds were happy about being rescued from the Baath Party, but afraid the Americans would put them back under Baghdad. They managed to retain semi-autonomy, however. The US found the Kurdistan paramilitary, the Peshmerga, among the few efficient local fighting forces. One problem is that the young Kurdish men did not know Arabic.

Under the US occupation, Iraq began having parliamentary elections. But the parties were all ethnic and religious. The Shiite majority had Shiite fundamentalist parties. No Kurds voted for them. Kurdistan had the Kurdistan alliance. Iraq’s inability to develop a nation-wide party built on something other than ethnic or religious solidarity. From 2006, the ruling party has been the fundamentalist Shiite Da’wa Party. No Kurds vote for it or want to see Shiite law as the basis for Iraqi law.

The turn to Muslim fundamentalism among the Arab Iraqis was not paralleled among Iraqi Kurds, still deeply attached to Sufism or members of the Socialist International. Fundamentalism also pushed them away from the Arab Iraqis.

In 2014, the Iraqi army collapsed and ran away from a few thousand ISIL fighters and abandoned Mosul and northern Iraq. Kurdistan no longer even had a border with Iraq proper. In the absence of an Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga were left to fight and advancing ISIL themselves, though President Obama gave them air support.

So these events, Baath regime poison gass attack in 1988, the No-Fly zone of the 1990s, and the rise of ISIL in 2014, all contributed to the Iraqi Kurds’ decision to secede.

But these events did not occur in Turkey, a country of 75 million that is 20% Kurdish. Turkey’s Kurds have migrated for work throughout the country and opinion polling never used to, at least, show significant secessionist tendencies (current president Tayyib Erdogan seems determined to change their minds by sending in army tanks to raze their villages. Kurds are about 20% of Turkey’s population).

The romantic European conception of nationalism as based on ethnicity (they would have said “race”) and language is silly. Many countries are bilingual or multilingual, and there is no such thing as “race” in the 19th century sense.

India has 16 major languages and further smaller ones. Afghanistan is made up of Pushtuns, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras and others. Iranians speak Persian, Turkmen, Qashqa’i, Baluch, Lur and Arabic.

It isn’t ethnicity and language that creates states but history. The history of Iraqi Kurds has driven them in this separatist direction. You can’t assume that it will happen everywhere there are Kurds.


Related video:

Aljazeera English: “Final preparations for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Trump tries to Camouflage Muslim Ban with a Few Venezuelans and N. Koreans

Sun, 2017-09-24 23:47

TeleSur | – –

The addition of North Korea and Venezuela broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list.

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that Venezuela and North Korea will be added to the list of countries banned from traveling to the United States.

The order outlines different restrictions for each country on the list.

In the case of Venezuela, the new decree is aimed at “certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members,” according to the White House press office.

In the case of North Korea, all foreign nationals from the country are barred from entering the United States.

The sweeping new travel ban will also slap restrictions on ran, Chad, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia, the Trump administration said on Sunday.

The new restrictions, slated to go into effect on October 18, resulted from a review after President Donald Trump’s original travel bans were challenged in court.

Iraq was dropped from a revised list due to ongoing military collaboration with the U.S. against the Islamic State group, but the new order does recommend that Iraqis be subject to “additional scrutiny” to determine the danger they may pose to U.S. “national security.”

The addition of North Korea and Venezuela broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list.

“North Korea does not cooperate with the United States government in any respect and fails to satisfy all information-sharing requirements,” the proclamation said.

An administration official, briefing reporters on a conference call, acknowledged that the number of North Koreans traveling to the United States now was very low.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet,” Trump said in a tweet shortly after the announcement was made.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Coke Studio: “Trump Restricts Visas From Eight Countries as Travel Order Expires North Korea, Venezuela”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Trump Casino and White House, Inc.

Sun, 2017-09-24 23:19

By Nomi Prins | ( ) | – –

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.”

Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” — especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company — country.”

Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) — including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company — he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag. We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.”

To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

We, as citizens, already bear the brunt of 89% of U.S. tax revenues today. If adopted, the new tax structure would simply throw yet more of the government’s bill in our laps. Against this backdrop, the math of middle-class tax relief doesn’t work out — not unless you were to cut $4.3 trillion from the overall budget for just the kinds of items non-billionaires count on like Medicaid, education, housing assistance, and job training.

Or put another way, Trump’s West Wing is now advocating the very policy he railed against in the election campaign when he was still championing the everyday man. By promoting tax reform for mega-corporations and the moguls who run them, he’s neglecting the “forgotten” white working class that sent him to the Oval Office to “drain the swamp.”

Since entering the White House, he’s also begun to isolate our country from the global economy, essentially pushing other nations to engage in more trade with each other, not the United States. Whether physically shoving aside the leader of Montenegro, engaging in tweet-storms with the President of Mexico over his “big, fat, beautiful wall,” or hanging up on the prime minister of Australia, Trump has seemingly forgotten that diplomacy and trade matter to the actual American economy. His version of “America First” has taken aim at immigrants, multinational trade agreements, regulations, and the U.N. Calvin Coolidge acted in a somewhat similar (if far less flamboyant) manner and you remember where that led: to the devastating crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930s.

What’s In a Shell?

As a new report by Public Citizen makes clear, the glimpses we’ve gotten of inner Trumpworld from the president’s limited financial disclosures indicate that his business dealings, by design, couldn’t be more complex, shadowy, or filled with corporate subterfuge.  He excels, among other things, at using shell companies to hide the Trump Organization’s profits (and losses) in the corporate labyrinth that makes up his empire. And even though the supposedly blind trust run by his sons is designed to shield him from that imperial entity’s decision-making, it still potentially allows him maneuver room to increase his own fortune and glean profits along the way.

So, what’s in such a shell? The answer: another shell, a company that usually has no employees, no offices, and no traceable capital.  Think of such entities as financial gargoyles. They offer no real benefits to the economy, create no jobs, and do nothing to make America great again. However, they have the potential to do a great deal for the bottom lines of Donald Trump and his offspring.  

Think of the corporate shell game he’s been engaged in as his oyster.  After all, anonymous buyers now make up the majority of those gobbling up pieces of his empire. Two years prior to his presidential victory, only 4% of the companies affiliated with people buying his properties were limited-liability, or LLC corporations, which are secretive in nature. Following his victory, that number jumped to 70%.

What that means in plain English is that there’s simply no way of knowing who most of those investing in Trump properties actually are, what countries they come from, how they made their fortunes, or whether there might be any conflicts between their buy-ins to Trumpworld and the national interest of this country.

Trump Lawsuits Meet Pennsylvania Avenue

Secret as so many of his dealings may be, there’s a very public aspect to them that Donald Trump has brought directly into the White House: his pattern of being sued. He’s already been sued 134 times in federal court since he assumed the presidency. (Barack Obama had 26 suits against him and George W. Bush seven at the same moment in their presidencies.)

In other words, one of the nation’s most litigious billionaires is in the process of becoming its most litigious president. A pre-election analysis in USA Today found that Trump and his businesses had been “involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts” over the previous three decades. That volume of lawsuits was unprecedented for a presidential candidate, let alone a president.

It’s fair to say that the public will, in one fashion or another, bear some of the expenses from such lawsuits, as it will, of course, from a lengthening list of ongoing federal investigations, including those into Trump’s business dealings with wealthy Russian businessmen and their various affiliates. According to Public Citizen, Trump formed at least 49 new business entities since announcing his candidacy (including some that were created after he was sworn in as CEO-in-chief). Of those 49, about half were related to projects in foreign countries, including Argentina, India, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia. Since entering the Oval Office, Trump has met with leaders from each of those countries. And while it’s hardly atypical of a President to meet with foreign leaders, in this case there can be little doubt that national policy overlaps with private interests big time.

As Public Citizen concluded, “Although just prior to being inaugurated as president, Trump announced plans to ‘separate’ himself from his business empire, he still maintains ownership in his corporations and merely reshuffled his businesses into holding companies that are held by a trust that is controlled by Trump himself.” It added that he now has an ongoing stake of some sort in more than 500 businesses. Three-quarters of them are legally registered in Delaware, the largest tax-shelter state in the country.  So expect plenty more trouble and suits and investigations to come.

The Era of Golf-plomacy

Trump has always had a knack for promoting his own properties.  Now, however, he gets to do it on our dime. Indeed, we taxpayers fork over a million dollars or more every time the president simply takes a trip to visit his Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida, his National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, or any of his other properties. During his first 241 days in office, he spent 79 days visiting his properties.

Meanwhile, a near-army of his well-connected friends and wannabe friends have been sharpening their golf games at Trump locales. At least 50 executives of companies that bagged sweetheart government contracts, as well as 21 lobbyists and trade group officials, are members of Trump golf courses in Florida, New Jersey, and Virginia. As the president’s son Eric Trump told The New York Times, “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”

They’re not just paying for golf, of course; they’re paying for access. About two-thirds of them “happened” to be golfing during one of those 58 days when Trump, too, was present. It doesn’t take an investigative reporter to show that whatever happens on a Trump golf course undoubtedly does not stay there. And keep in mind that the upkeep of the Trump entourage that travels from D.C. to those clubs with him is at least partially funded by us taxpayers, too.

Trump may tilt isolationist when it comes to countries that don’t put money into his clubs and hotel suites, but the nations that do tend to be in big with him. To take one example, Saudi Arabia, the first stop on his first foreign tour, recently disclosed that it had spent $270,000 for lodgings and food at the new Trump International Hotel just down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. Trump’s lawyers have pledged to donate any money foreign governments pay that hotel to the Treasury Department. Yet, so far at least, Treasury’s website has no such line item and the money promised for 2017 has now been pushed into 2018. Keep something else in mind: the Trump family forecast that it would lose about $2 million on that hotel in 2017. So far, it has made nearly a cool $2 million profit there instead.

While gaining unprecedented international coverage for his family-owned, for-profit business locales, Trump has created an ethical boundary problem previously unknown in the history of American governments. After all, we, the people, functionally pay taxes to his business empire to host foreign dignitaries, to feed them and provide appropriate security.  In this context, the president has made a point of having official state visits at his properties, which ensures that we taxpayers get hit for expenses when, say, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stay at Mar-a-Lago. Though the president swore he would cover Abe’s stay, there’s no evidence that it was more than a “fake claim.”

Meanwhile, the Trump brand rolls on abroad.  Though his election campaign took up the banner of isolationism, the Trump Organization didn’t.  Not for a second.  On January 11th, days before placing his hand on the Bible to “defend the Constitution,” Trump proudly noted that he “was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East… And I turned it down. I didn’t have to turn it down because, as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president… But I don’t want to take advantage of something.”

He also promised that he wouldn’t compromise his office by working privately with foreign entities.  His business empire, however, made no such promises.  And despite his claims, Dubai has turned out to be ripe for a deal.  This August, the Trump Organization announced a new venture there (via Twitter of course): Trump Estates Park Residences. It is to be “a collection of luxury villas with exclusive access to” the already thriving Trump International Golf Course in Dubai, a Trump-branded (though not Trump-owned) part of an ongoing partnership with the Dubai-based real-estate firm DAMAC. Its president, Hussain Sajwani, is well known for his close relationship with the Trump family. Units in the swanky abode are expected to start at about $800,000 each.

Meanwhile, DAMAC gave a $32 million contract to the Middle Eastern subsidiary of the China State Construction Engineering Corporation to build part of Trump World Golf Club, also in Dubai. That’s the same China that Trump regularly chides for not working with us properly. The course is scheduled to open in 2018.

So buckle your seatbelts. U.S. foreign policy and the Trump Organization’s business ventures will remain in a unique and complex relationship with each other in the coming years as the president and his children take the people who elected him for a global ride.

His Real Inner Circle

President Trump has made it abundantly clear that sworn loyalty is the route to staying in his favor. Unwavering dedication to the administration, but also to the Trump Organization, and above all to him is the definition of job security in Washington in 2017. Take the latest addition to his communications team, Hope Hicks, who has rocketed into her new career by making devotion to the Trump brand, including defense of daughter Ivanka, a central facet of her professional life.  The 28-year-old Hicks has now been anointed the new White House communications director.

But she doesn’t have as much job security as one other group: The Donald’s personal legal team.  For make no mistake, Trump’s financial dealings lie at the heart of his presidency, raising conflicts of a sort not seen at least since Warren Harding was president in the 1920s, if ever. And yet, even though they should be secure through at least 2020 and possibly beyond, one little slip about Russia in the wrong D.C. restaurant could see any one of them ushered out the door.

In 2011, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision rendered corporations people. It erased crucial campaign finance and lobbying restrictions, and elevated billionaires to the top ranks of the American political game. It was a stunning moment — until now. Donald Trump’s presidency is doing something even more remarkable. The billionaire who became our president has already left Citizens United in a ditch.  He’s created not just a political campaign but a White House in which it’s no longer possible to imagine barriers between lobbying efforts, government decisions, and personal interest, or for that matter profits and policy.

In November, after the election, Trump announced that “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” Recently, however, the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to government transparency, revealed 530 active Trumpian conflicts of interest and that’s after only eight months in office.

Theoretically, we still live in a republic, but the question is: Who exactly represents whom in Washington? By now, I think we can take a reasonable guess. When the inevitable conflicts arise and Donald Trump must choose between business and country, between himself and the American people, who do you think will get the pink slip? Who will be paying for the intermeshing of the two? Who, like the investors in his bankrupt casinos, will be left holding the bag? At this point, we’re all in the Washington casino and it sure as hell isn’t going to be Donald Trump who takes the financial hit. After all, the house always wins.

Nomi Prins, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of six books. Her most recent is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.

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 Nomi Prins


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ring of Fire: “CEOs And Lobbyists Spend Millions To Get Access To Trump”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Merkel barely holds on as Neo-Fascists enter German Parliament

Sun, 2017-09-24 23:15

By Catherine Stupp | ( ) | – –

Angela Merkel’s CDU came in first place–but lost a huge amount of supporters. The far-right AfD will move into the Bundestag for the first time. [Clemens Bilan/ EPA]

Chancellor Angela Merkel secured her fourth term in office in Sunday’s (24 September) parliamentary election but her Christian Democratic Union picked up far fewer votes than expected, complicating the future coalition talks. And the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) made a historic breakthrough by winning Bundestag seats.

Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats, were also dealt shocking losses, according to exit polls released after the voting ended on Sunday evening, and said they would leave the government and lead the opposition in the Bundestag.

The AfD, which had campaigned on the anti-Islam and anti-immigration ticket, will be the first far-right party to take up seats in the Bundestag in more than 50 years.

Merkel, SPD leader Martin Schulz and other parties’ leaders were frequently criticised for leading boring election campaigns. But the losses to the CDU and the SPD are bigger than polls predicted, and the AfD’s win marks a dramatic change in the German political landscape.

The CDU suffered its biggest ever slide in support between elections, drawing 32.9% of the vote, compared to 41.5% in 2013. The SPD scored its worst ever results. The centre-left party picked up only 20.8% of the vote, down from 25.7% in 2013.

Merkel has been chancellor since 2005, and her win will be celebrated as a sign of stability by many in Brussels. But talks on a new government could take a while.

German election forecasts that are announced shortly after polling sites close are traditionally very close to final results. The final figures are expected to be announced early on Monday morning.

Exit polls were updated throughout Sunday evening. According to the latest figures, the AfD pulled in 13.1% of the vote, making it the third strongest party in the next Bundestag. It is the first time the far-right AfD will enter the parliament. In 2013, the party scored 4.7% of the vote.

German law bars parties that receive fewer than 5% of the vote from entering the Bundestag, as a way to keep out extremists. AfD’s success marks a shift that will be emotional for many Germans.

Three other, smaller parties also picked up more votes in comparison to the 2013 election: the Liberal FDP came in at 10.5%. In 2013, the Liberals were knocked out of the Bundestag when the party scored only 4.8%. Between 2009 and 2013, the FDP was the junior coalition party of Merkel’s CDU.

The Green and Left parties also gained more voters compared to 2013. The Greens received 8.9% of the total vote, up from 8.4%. And the far-left Linke party scored 8.9% compared to 8.6% at the last election.
German elections: The race for third place

Voters head to the polls on Sunday (24 September) for a race where the winner is almost pre-ordained. This may drive a protest vote that could see the far-right AfD become the official opposition.

According to the latest election projections, the AfD’s MPs will take up 93 seats out of a total of 690 in the next Bundestag. The CDU will take up 238 and the SPD 149. The Liberal FDP will take 78, the Greens 65 and the Left party 67.

AfD leader Alexander Gauland appeared in front of a cheering crowd at the party’s election party and warned that the other parties should brace themselves for a feisty AfD presence in the Bundestag.

At the same time, hundreds of protestors gathered outside the club where the AfD held its election party on Sunday evening.

Shortly after the polls were released, Thomas Oppermann, the Social Democrats’ parliamentary leader, announced that his party could not stay in a ‘grand coalition’ with Merkel’s CDU.

Party leader and former European Parliament President Martin Schulz told supporters at the SPD headquarters in Berlin that he also wants the party to lead the Bundestag’s opposition instead of staying in a grand coalition.

“It’s a dramatic day for us. It’s a dramatic day for the German democracy,” Schulz said.

SPD politicians and supporters have suggested that the party lost support through its four-year coalition with the CDU. The Social Democrats have struggled to communicate to voters how their positions clearly differ from their coalition partner’s.

Jamaica coalition: the only option?

If another grand coalition is not on the cards, CDU leaders will look to the Liberals and Greens to form a three-way government, known as a “Jamaica” coalition because the parties represent the colours of the Jamaican flag. Neither the Greens or Liberals received enough votes to form a coalition alone with the CDU.

But a Jamaica coalition is the least popular option among voters. A survey published on Friday (22 September) showed that only 4% of people who responded want a Jamaica coalition.

It’s a relatively untested model: there has never been a Jamaica coalition on the federal level. One version on the state level collapsed in 2012, and another Jamaica coalition was agreed in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein this past summer.

Thirteen percent of people who responded to that survey would prefer a CDU-Liberal coalition, the most popular option. Just over 10% want another grand coalition of CDU and SPD.

It could take weeks or months before parties agree to govern in a new coalition. In 2013, Merkel and other CDU leaders discussed with other parties for three months before forming a coalition in December.

Less than one hour after the exit poll figures were announced, Merkel admitted she was disappointed by the results. “Of course we expected a slightly better result, that’s totally clear,” she said at the CDU party headquarters.

She called AfD’s move into the Bundestag a “big new task” for her party.

“We want to win back the voters of the AfD,” she said, standing on stage between Jens Spahn, the deputy finance minister, who comes from the CDU’s right-wing, and EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger.

The CDU lost more than 1 million of its 2013 voters to the AfD, according to an ARD analysis.

But the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the more conservative CSU, lost more votes than any other party. The party received 39.1% of the vote, a drop by more than 10% since 2013.

CSU leaders have taken a hard-line approach to immigration and publicly criticised Merkel’s decision to let in around 1 million refugees in 2015. They demanded a cap on the number of refugees that Germany accepts, but Merkel and other CDU politicians so far refused to set a strict limit. CSU chair Horst Seehofer said on Sunday evening that the party suffered because it wasn’t tough enough on immigration, indicating that he may try to steer the party even further to the right.

Leaders from the conservative CDU and CSU, the Liberal and Green parties will met for what are likely to be difficult coalition talks in the coming weeks; they are divided over a range of issues, including immigration, eurozone integration and environmental regulations of the car industry.

Christian Lindner, the 38-year-old leader of the Liberal FDP, showed during a post-election TV debate with other parties’ leaders that he could be a tough negotiator in the talks ahead.

“We’re not going to let the SPD decide who is forced into a government or not,” Lindner said, referring to the Social Democrats’ announcement that they will not join another governing coalition.

When asked by a journalist during the same TV show whether she is confident that the CDU will form a new governing coalition by the end of the year, Merkel responded that she is “generally always optimistic”. “Strength lies in peace,” she said.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Historic election for Germany’s far-right AfD

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

“Those People:” Trump plays to White nat’lism from N. Korea to NFL

Sun, 2017-09-24 02:25

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s dreary tweetstorm on Saturday was intended to gain him popularity with white supremacists and the covert racists on the right of the Republican Party, through beating up on uppity black athletes and impudent yellow peril Orientals. He ended up saying,

Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017

That is, the president of the United States casually threatened to commit genocide against an entire people, on the same medium where people celebrate the exploits of their cats.

At home, Trump told a white crowd that it hurts the game of football “when people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem.”

He actually said “those people.”

Trump figures it bolsters his popularity with white Christians, his key demographic, if he is seen to be feuding with black athletes of the NBA and NFL, and if he is seen threatening genocide against North Korea.

The natural order of things, he is saying, is a hierarchy with rich white American Christians on top, and then middle class white Christians elevated above all but their own rich. All other “races” and social classes come at the bottom. And if they themselves decline to recognize this pecking order, they must be put down with taunts.

Hence his crack at Venezuela that its problem is that socialism has been implemented there. Brown people governing themselves and declining the rule of white billionaires is unnatural and leads to chaos. That the white billionaires and their barracuda capitalism could destroy a country, like Iraq, is hushed up.

When he isn’t engaged in a taunting contest with Kim Jong Un, he goes after African-American sports figures:

Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017

Curry had said he declined to come to Trump’s white house, which after all encouraged the “very fine people” like those who beat up a young Black man in Charlottesville.

Trump cannot stand being upstaged, so after the invitee withdrew, Trump fired him.

Then LeBron James weighed in:

U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain't going! So therefore ain't no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!

— LeBron James (@KingJames) September 23, 2017

That was a great day for Trump. The politics of racial division were on full display. He even got a tweet in against Iran’s ballistic missile program, complaining that Iran can hit Israel and that the Iran deal was bad for the US. He neglected to mention that the Joint Plan of Collective Action or JCPOA, the Iran deal, did not address the issue of Iran’s missile program, only its nuclear enrichment activities. He also neglected to mention that Israel has the best military in the Mideast and has stockpiled hundreds of nuclear warheads, whereas Iran barely has an air force and no longer even has a nuclear enrichment program, much less a bomb.

The point was that Iranians are brown people acting uppity toward the white hyperpower and its Mideast client. They thus parallel the N. Koreans.

As for 3.4 million US citizens in Puerto Rico, who are without electricity and will be for months, who desperately need aid, they have not been on Trumps mind, as far as you could tell. The US is ruining Puerto Rico by keeping it as not a state but not part of the US, either. Its people can come to the mainland freely, and so it has lost hundreds of thousands of the young, the energetic, the adequately wealthy to move. The poor and the old were left behind. Now a hurricane given extra power by the carbon dioxide emissions of the mainland has devastated the island, but Trump cannot be bothered to tweet out so much as well wishes (he did give one brief speech).

Trump goes after everyone but the white supremacists and Vladimir Putin. Why?


Related video:

Steph Curry comments on LeBron James’ critical tweet about President Donald Trump | ESPN

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

New Customized Muslim Banned planned by Trump

Sun, 2017-09-24 00:39

TeleSur | – –

The original measures tried to prohibited travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban is expected to be altered to tailor it to several specific countries deemed not to comply with the Department of Homeland Security regulations.

Reports from Washington say the new restrictions would replace the ban on entry for citizens of six Muslim-majority nations.

8 or 9 countries are expected to be targeted.

The original measures, implemented in January, tried to prohibited travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S.

Demonstrations against the ban took place across the country.

On February 9 the San Francisco court of appeals overturned the order.

The administration then implemented a new travel ban on March 6 limiting the number of refugees who could enter the country from 110,000 to 50,000, and keeping nearly all of the original restrictions.

This second decree was halted by two district court judges, but in June the U.S. Supreme Court allowed it to come into effect for 90 days.

It is due to expire on Sunday.

Trump was given the new recommendations by Elaine Duke, the acting Homeland Security Secretary.

The White House has not confirmed the tailored measures, but said in a statement: “The Trump administration will ensure we only admit those who can be properly vetted and will not pose a threat to national security or public safety.”

Via TeleSur


VOA: “Trump Travel Ban Among Factors Affecting US Tourism Industry”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Rohingya crisis: this is what genocide looks like

Sat, 2017-09-23 23:42

By Alicia de la Cour Venning | (The Conversation) | – –

The world is witnessing a state-orchestrated humanitarian catastrophe on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. The latest UN figures show a staggering 370,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since August 25. An unknown number have perished. Around 26,000 non-Muslims have also been displaced.

This is just the latest crisis to confront the Rohingya in recent years. In October 2016, over 80,000 Rohingya fled violence which the UN said very likely amounted to crimes against humanity. In 2015, thousands were stranded on boats on the Andaman sea, described as “floating coffins”. Their lives inside Myanmar were so desperate that they gambled with dangerous human trafficking networks. Many drowned, died of starvation, or ended up in death camps on the Thai-Malaysian border.

The Rohingya have long endured a bare and tenuous life. The World Food Programme has documented high levels of extreme food insecurity: an estimated 80,500 Rohingya children under five require treatment for acute malnutrition. Since October 2016, critical life-saving humanitarian activities have been severely restricted.

The Myanmar state has historically adopted strategies of “othering” the Rohingya, dehumanising them as “illegal Bengalis”. The Rohingya have been isolated from society, forced into squalid open-air prisons, confined to villages, and denied livelihood opportunities. They have been harassed though disenfranchisement and violent intimidation. They suffer from destitution, malnutrition, starvation, and severe physical and mental illness as a result of restrictions on movement, education, marriage, childbirth, and the ever-present threat of violence and extortion.

This is what genocide looks like, just prior to the mass killing phase.

The dark descent

Modern genocide is a form of social engineering, and often a long-term process. It begins not with mass murder, but with the dehumanisation, isolation, and systematic weakening of a target group. Conceptualising genocide in this way enables us to identify the genocidal process while in motion, and to intervene before it’s too late.

The destruction of members of a target group depends upon either the complicity or participation of the local population. An exclusionary ideology, designed to elicit support for the systematic removal of the “other”, is therefore central to the genocidal process. Exclusionary ideologies enable perpetrators to cope with the destruction of the stigmatised community, providing a psychological justification for their removal. By creating internal enemies, the natural human aversion towards murder is eroded.

Propaganda, agitation, and incitement deeply indoctrinate future perpetrators, paving the way for mass murder. In the early stages of the Rwandan genocide, radio propaganda encouraged fear and hatred of the Tutsis, labelling them as “cockroaches”, “snakes” and “devils who ate the vital organs of Hutus”. In an eerie echo, Myanmar’s state media has insinuated Muslims are like “detestable human fleas”; prominent nationalist monk Wirathu has said: “Muslims are like the African carp … They breed quickly and they are very violent and they eat their own kind.”

As well as making it easier for neighbours, business partners and even friends to kill one another, labelling the target group an “enemy of the state” also reinforces popular support for the military and a nationalistic agenda. On September 1, Myanmar’s defence commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, declared that “entire government institutions and people must defend the country with strong patriotism”, going on to describe the “Bengali problem” as a longstanding “unfinished job, despite the efforts of the previous governments to solve it”. “We openly declare that absolutely, our country has no Rohingya race,” he said.

This demonising rhetoric not only makes eliminating the Rohingya psychologically acceptable, but frames it as a matter of protecting national interests: land, race, and religion. Adopting a narrative of Rohingya “terrorism” relieves the state of responsibility for the long-running structural grievances among the Rakhine community which animate local hostility against the Rohingya, and also ensures the military retains popular support for its indiscriminate violence against the entire Rohingya population. One Rakhine politician in 2016 claimed that “all Bengali villages are like military strongholds”.

Warnings that decades of discrimination and oppression against the Rohingya could lead to armed resistance in the region have become a reality. The pervasive persecution of the Rohingya is directly linked to the origins of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army – but instead of tracking down and prosecuting those responsible for recent attacks, the military has instead launched a campaign of collective violence against the Rohingya, systematically razing entire villages to the ground and killing civilians.

Harrassed and terrorised

Genocide scholars document a range of strategies of physical and psychological destruction which take place prior to mass killings. Physical destruction involves overcrowding, malnutrition, epidemics, lack of health care, torture, and sporadic killings; psychological destruction involves humiliation, abuse, harassment or killing of family members, and attempts to undermine solidarity through collective punishment.

These forms of harassment and terror tactics are often deployed to force members of the out-group to leave, rather than killing them outright. One year before Bosnia’s Srebrenica massacre, a Republika Srpska Army report referenced a “crucial task” to be executed: “the expulsion of Muslims from the Srebrenica enclave”. “The enemy’s life has to be made unbearable and their temporary stay in the enclave impossible so that they leave en masse as soon as possible, realising that they cannot survive there,” it read.

And yet conceptual difficulties with the legal definition of genocide, together with historical precedent, apparently mean that we need to wait for mass killings and a court ruling before we can call this form of structural violence what it is: genocide. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Kofi Annan Commission act as shields for brutal “clearance operations”. Western diplomats, unwilling to take a firm stance, hide behind a broken international system, arguing that it’s the UN’s responsibility to take action – knowing full well that any such action would be vetoed by China and Russia.

The Myanmar government knows it can count on China in particular, which is keen to maintain its business interests and limit Western influence over a neighbour. On September 6, Myanmar’s national security adviser, Thaung Tun, told journalists “we are negotiating with some friendly countries not to take it to the security council. China is our friend and we have a similar friendly relationship with Russia, so it will not be possible for that issue to go forward”.

All the while, Rohingya villages continue to burn, many of their inhabitants murdered. More than half the Rohingya population of northern Rakhine has been forcibly displaced. Those who manage to escape the terror continue to stream across the border into Bangladesh – desperate, starving, injured, and traumatised.

Alicia de la Cour Venning, ‎Research Associate, International State Crime Initiative, Queen Mary University of London

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

VICE: We Spoke To Rohingya Muslims Fleeing Ethnic Cleansing In Myanmar (HBO)

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Fix Healthcare: Require Congress to have the same Plan we Do

Sat, 2017-09-23 23:19

By Jim Hightower | ( | – –

Until they deliver for the whole public, the public owes them nothing.

Want good quality, lower-cost health care for your family. And — what the heck, let’s think big here — for every man, woman, and child in our society?

Here’s how we can finally get Congress to pass such a program.

Step One: Take away every dime of the multimillion-dollar government subsidy that members of Congress get to cover their platinum-level health insurance. Let them have to live with the same exorbitantly expensive, dysfunctional, and (let’s admit it) sick system of medical profiteering they’ve thrust on us.

Eliminate all of their special treatments, including shutting down their “Office of the Attending Physician” — a little-known spot of pure, 100 percent socialized medicine conveniently located in our US Capitol to provide government-paid doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and others who give immediate, on-the-spot attention to these special ones.

Khalil Bendib /

Well, you might say, they still won’t feel the pain. They’re 1-percenters, pulling down $174,000 a year each from us taxpayers, meaning they can afford to buy decent health insurance.

Ah, but here comes Step Two: Put all of our congressional goof-offs on pay-for-performance salaries.

Why pay them a flat rate whether they produce or not?

For example, American babies are one-third more likely to die in their first year of life than babies in Poland, which provides universal health insurance for all of its people.

So, every year that the U.S. Congress fails to provide health coverage for every American family, the members should get their pay docked by a third. Pay them only when they deliver for the people.

When Congress finally assures good health care for all of us, then its members would get the same coverage. But until they deliver for the whole public, the public owes them nothing.


Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Failing dam in Puerto Rico, endangering 70,000, a reminder that Climate Denialism Kills

Sat, 2017-09-23 01:53

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

President Trump, notoriously, tweeted that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

Some 70,000 US citizens in Puerto Rico living along the Guajataca River are in danger as a dam in the vicinity is failing. Built in the 1920s, the earthen dam faces a drainage problem in the midst of the downpours visited on the island, which have abruptly filled it up and put unbearable pressure on the walls.

The failure of this dam underlines that climate change science is absolutely central to good public policy and planning.

As humans put heat trapping gases into the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide, through driving their cars, providing their homes with electricity, and heating or cooling their houses, more of the sun’s heat is trapped on earth rather than radiating off into space. That trapped heat has caused the average temperature of the earth’s surface to rise.

Trapping heat so that it causes the Caribbean to heat up is highly destructive. Warm water powers hurricanes. Hotter water makes them more violent and destructive now.

Warmer water also has more water vapor floating above it. That water turbocharges the rain storms once the hurricane makes landfall.

In Puerto Rico’s case, so much rain fell so heavily and so quickly that it overwhelmed the old earthen dam, which began to fail. It so happens that nearly 70,000 people live down river and are in danger.

People in charge of dams throughout the US need to be made aware of this situation. What is an ordinary load on a dam is about to change, and human-caused climate change will just attribute them to someone else. If you don’t believe in climate change, you cannot justify the expenditure of public funds to reinforce the dam.

If you deny climate change, you will not anticipate heavier rainfall. Your dams will then fail, creating tens of thousands of climate refugees.

Global heating doesn’t cause hurricanes. It simply amplifies them and makes them stronger and makes the rainfall associated with them much heavier.

When you vote for denialist politicians, you are selecting people who make policy. The policy they make will be clueless and will actively endanger the public. Climate change is real. We are causing it by our emissions. If you don’t believe that, you are not a responsible steward of our infrastructure and of our lives.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Puerto Rico Braces As Dam Fails”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

As Muslims rally for the Rohingya, what About the Rest of Us?

Sat, 2017-09-23 00:27

By John Feffer | ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) | – –

If only Muslims reach out to help the Rohingya, the international community will suffer another blow to its reputation.

They were Muslims, and they were leaving the country in droves.

Their homeland, a remote corner of a multiethnic country, had become a warzone. Militants had taken up arms to fight for their rights, and the central government retaliated in force.

Human rights abuses, mostly by the government, were rampant. Caught in the gunfire, hundreds of thousands of people became refugees. The central government wasn’t unhappy to see them leave, since it believed that the refugees belonged with their ethnic and confessional brethren across the border.

The story of the Rohingya of Burma/Myanmar is a familiar one. But it also sounds an awful lot like what happened to the Kosovars in the late 1990s.

At the time, the Clinton administration declared the situation a humanitarian crisis, a genocide in the making, and intervened militarily on the Kosovars’ behalf against the Yugoslav government. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic eventually agreed to a settlement — the Kumanovo agreement — that replaced Yugoslav forces with international peacekeepers. Most Kosovar refugees returned home, where they constitute more than 90 percent of the population. Kosovo subsequently declared its independence, but Serbia has yet to recognize it.

The Rohingyas face even longer odds. First of all, they’re a minority in Rakhine province. Second, their armed resistance is slight and poses little real threat to the government in Naypyidaw. Third, the conflict is taking place far from Europe, and the refugees are flooding into Bangladesh, not the wealthy countries of the West.

Finally, the Trump administration has no intention to intervene on anyone’s behalf for humanitarian reasons. Human rights figure rather low on the administration’s priorities. Without a strong push from Washington, the West will shy away from a forceful intervention on humanitarian grounds.

The UN, too, is hamstrung. Even though UN High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has declared the plight of the Rohingya “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” the UN body has not invoked the “responsibility to protect.” Yes, the body will discuss the topic, but countries like India have agreed to do so on the grounds that no resolution will be introduced.

That doesn’t mean that the Rohingya lack supporters. The Muslim world is outraged at their treatment, with countries from Turkey to Nigeria to Indonesia up in arms.

The stark contrast between the outrage of the Muslim world and the lack of action from the international community does not bode well for the responsibility-to-protect doctrine. Nor, frankly, does it bode well for the future of the international community either.

Religion Plus Nationalism

A common ploy of Islamophobes is to claim that some religions are inherently violent while others are inherently peaceful. Sometimes they put Christianity in that latter category, though it’s a rather heavy lift given the Crusades, the Inquisition, the clerical fascism of Mussolini, and so on. Desperately backpedaling, the Islamophobe will then say, “Ah, but what about Buddhism? That is indisputably a peaceful religion.”

The Rohingya would beg to differ.

Around a million Rohingya live in in Rakhine province. The Myanmar government, claiming that they’re just Bangladeshis who crossed the border after the 1972 war of independence, refuse to consider the Rohingya to be citizens. The Rohingya themselves argue that they’re descendants of Arab traders dating back to the 8th century. Historians can trace evidence that some Rohingya have lived in Rakhine since the 18th century.

What isn’t under dispute is the discrimination they’ve suffered at the hands of the Buddhist majority. Ironically, or perhaps not, that discrimination has increased during the democratization process, as nationalism and its handmaiden of Buddhist chauvinism have intensified. As Adam Taylor writes in The Washington Post:

A growing Buddhist nationalism in Burma, where 90 percent of the population identify with Buddhism, has led to a number of laws on religion, including restrictions on interfaith marriage. There has also been major ethnic violence in Rakhine; most notably in 2012, when sectarian riots after the rape of a woman in the state led to large-scale displacement of Muslims, with many moving into squalid camps for internally displaced people.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh during this period, a country ill-prepared to handle a flood of refugees. In October 2016, militants with a shadowy outfit — the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on border posts that left nine Myanmar soldiers dead. The central state proceeded to crack down against Rohingya in general, and ethnic cleansing began in earnest.

When ARSA again attacked border posts at the end of August, killing a dozen soldiers, the war intensified. The military used the attacks to go on a genocidal rampage. Writes Robert Rotberg:

Nearly 400,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar’s military attacks since July, crossing under desperate conditions into already densely populated Bangladesh. Hundreds of Rohingya settlements in Rakhine State have been torched. At least 3,000 Rohingya have been killed, thousands raped, and more than 140,000 forced into concentration camps thanks to Myanmar’s security actions.

Particularly disappointing has been Aung San Suu Kyi’s response to the crisis. The Nobel Prize laureate gave her first speech on the situation in Rakhine province this week in Yangon in which she labeled ARSA a bunch of terrorists and insisted that the government needed more time to figure out what the rest of the world already knows: hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are fleeing violence and discrimination.

Essentially Suu Kyi claimed that her country needed to focus first on national cohesion before it could focus on such particularist claims. In other words, as in virtually every nation-building exercise in history, certain people(s) are sacrificed for the purported good of the whole.

Granted, Aung San Suu Kyi is in a difficult position. She’s not an elected leader — the constitution prevents her from becoming president — and the military still controls much of the country’s political life. The generals could step in at any moment and declare martial law, extinguishing the so-far-brief experiment with democracy.

The question remains: Is Aung San Suu Kyi looking for ways to reduce the military’s influence, or has she decided to strengthen her own position with the military and Burmese nationalists at the expense of the Rohingya?

International Response

Donald Trump made no mention of the Rohingya crisis in his speech at the UN. He barely mentioned human rights at all.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said, “We urge all in Burma to avoid actions that exacerbate tensions there,” and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy is heading over to Myanmar. Neither Trump nor Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has addressed the crisis directly (in marked contrast to statements by both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry). And forget about Trump easing his immigration policy to take in Rohingya refugees.

It’s hard to imagine that another wave of Muslim refugees is going to elicit any action from the Trump administration. But Muslim-majority countries are rallying behind the Rohingya.

Turkey moved quickly to supply humanitarian assistance to Rakhine province. As the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has helped to mobilize global Islamic public opinion.

Erdogan has a larger agenda. He wants to advance his conception of “civilizational politics” that emphasizes Turkey’s Ottoman legacy and the central role it can play in a volatile region. Turkey’s Islamist political tradition also offers something distinct from the United States and China, neither of which care much about human rights at the moment, particularly the rights of Muslims.

Some Muslim-majority states have gone even further than Erdogan in calling for military intervention on behalf of the Rohingya, comparable to what NATO did for the Kosovars.

“Why aren’t we Muslims thinking about forming a NATO-like joint military force that can intervene in such situations?” Ali Motahari, deputy head of the Iranian parliament, said in early September. “The crimes of the government of Myanmar will not be halted without using military force.”

That’s not likely to happen. But Muslim-majority states are concerned that, as James Dorsey argues in LobeLog, “militants will gain an upper hand in projecting themselves as the true defenders of the faith compared to Muslim governments who do little more than pay lip service and at best provide humanitarian relief.”

It’s telling that Motahari appealed to a “NATO-like” force rather than invoking the “responsibility to protect” doctrine. When it comes to international doctrines, the only thing worse than being reviled is to be ignored.

The Future of R2P

In 2011, which seems like a golden age for the international community at this point, writer David Rieff declared that Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, had reached its “high water mark.” Or, as The New York Times titled the essay, “R2P, RIP.”

Rieff was writing in the aftermath of the military intervention in Libya, which was intended to prevent the government of Muammar Qaddafi from murdering large numbers of his own citizens. That, Rieff concluded, required not a limited operation but a full effort to back regime change:

War, even when it is waged for a just cause and with scrupulous respect for international humanitarian law, always involves a descent into barbarism (think of the way Qaddafi died). This is why even when R2P is applied well, it carries moral risks. And when it is distorted, as it was by NATO in Libya, R2P is not a needed reform to the international system, but a threat to its legitimacy.

Given the even further descent into barbarism in Libya since 2011, Rieff’s words are prophetic. True, R2P could claim certain successes: Kenya in 2008-2009, Ivory Coast in 2011, and to a lesser extent in Mali in 2013. But the ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen suggest that, despite continued invocations of R2P, the international system is incapable of implementing the principle on the ground.

For critics of R2P, that’s fine. Who needs yet another set of high-minded words to disguise the reality of strong powers disregarding the sovereignty of weaker powers? Sovereignty, whether defended by Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang or Donald Trump at the UN or Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon, remains a core principle of international relations.

But sovereignty doesn’t help the stateless.

If the international community doesn’t lift a finger to help the Rohingya — by intervening diplomatically, economically, and in a humanitarian manner — then they can at best hope for assistance from Muslim states. They’re fortunate to have some advocates, regardless of the motivations of those actors.

But the test of a robust international community is its capacity to act on behalf of everyone, not simply support a segmented response whereby only Christians help Christians, only Han Chinese help Han Chinese, only women help women, and so on. If only Muslims reach out to help the Rohingya, the international community will suffer another blow to its reputation.

With R2P becoming even more moribund than before, states will continue to use the shield of sovereignty to flout international law, disregard the rights of minorities, and ultimately make Rohingyas of us all.


John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Aljazeera English: “Thousands orphaned by Myanmar violence against Rohingya”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

US will Ease Restrictions on Drones, Expand Usage

Sat, 2017-09-23 00:11

TeleSur | – –

Speaking last month of reducing restrictions on drone usage, President Trump resorted to biblical language, saying “retribution will be fast and powerful.”

The United States is preparing to eliminate several major restrictions and regulations on the use of drones, making it easier to use the controversial form of warfare more frequently, and in more situations, a New York Times report revealed Saturday citing internal officials.

Advisers within the administration of President Donald Trump are proposing to remove a rule that limits the use of drone strikes to attacks against “high-level” enemies, and would allow for their use against the vaguely defined category of “jihadist foot soldiers.”

The vetting process to approve proposed strikes would also be significantly reduced and removed in some instances.

The C.I.A. is also seeking to gain approval to carry out its own covert drone strikes in active war-zones. C.I.A. strikes, unlike their Pentagon counterparts, are completely covert and do not need to be acknowledged.

According to the New York Times report, a Cabinet-level committee has already approved the proposed rules, and they have been sent to the White House for the President’s signature.

Last month in a speech Trump praised the liberalization of the already heavy use of drones by the United States, saying that “the killers need to know they have nowhere to hide, that no place is beyond the reach of American might and American arms.”

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

New China TV from last Feb.: “Drone strike kills Taliban shadow governor in Kunduz”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Betsy DeVos and “Real” Rape

Fri, 2017-09-22 23:24

By Gail Ukockis | (Informed Comment) | – –

            When I was in college in the early eighties, the dorm staff told us females to get escorts if we had to walk outside after dark. Watch out for the dark bushes in front of the dorm building, they warned us. Each communal bathroom also had rape whistles in case an attacker was hiding in a stall.

            Those concerns were about “real” rapes committed by evil men, blitz attackers who struck at random. Nobody warned us about date/acquaintance rapes because that concept was not yet known on my campus. Once a college friend told me about her friend who had been craving a cigarette. She went over to the men’s dorm area to ask for a smoke. Some guys invited her into their room, then locked the door. They ordered her to take off her shirt.

            “What happened next?”

            My friend only shook her head sadly. I will never know what happened to that young woman. If she had been sexually assaulted, though, we would not have called it rape she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and her dorm mates were “just being jerks.” Until recently, many rape victims did not consider their experiences to be “real” rapes. Jackson Katz, an advocate against gender violence, quoted one woman as saying, “I have been raped twice and have had several other sexual assaults. I was not even fully aware that I had been raped either time until much later. It was so ingrained in my mind, personality, behavior, or whatever that this was how things are in the world. I believed that men had a right to my body and I was supposed to let them.”

            Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, has recently created a controversy by limiting Title IX protections for campus rape victims. During her September 7 speech, she stated that the school administrations were acting as “kangaroo courts” that were destroying the lives of young men through false accusations. Although I fully support the rights of any accused person to a fair hearing, I do not agree with her assertion that the schools’ attempts to enforce Title IX are fatally flawed. Instead, I think that Betsy DeVos is trying to revive the idea that the only “real” rape is one committed by a crazed stranger lurking behind a dark bush.

            All sexual assaults, whether by a stranger or acquaintance, are horrific crimes. However, some people want to return to the “good old days” of considering only stranger rapes as “legitimate” and any other type of attack as just a misunderstanding. The flippant remark by a DeVos staff member that 90 percent of campus rape accusations “fall into the category of ‘we were both drunk’” was later retracted, but the damage was done. Last week, DeVos spent equal time with men’s rights groups, and one of which claimed that 41 percent of all rape accusations were false. The government estimate is only 2 to 4 percent.

This debate over numbers is a debate on whether “nice” college boys could really be rapists. The fresh-faced Brock Turner, who was caught attacking an unconscious woman, is one symbol of this trend. The media called him the “Stanford swimmer” instead of “perpetrator,” as if his academic record or athletic accomplishments even mattered. Perhaps if he had been an African American attending a less prestigious school, the media might have stressed the crime itself. Meanwhile, Turner’s friend wrote that he had merely made a mistake by drinking too much and having “clouded judgement.” She stressed that real rapists were only those who would kidnap a woman from a parking lot.

            In other cases, the “alleged victim” morphs into an “accuser” who is out to ruin a young man’s life. The 2011 Department of Education policy uses the word “complainant” while DeVos used the word “accuser” in her speech. Rape is the only crime that evokes that word—nobody pressing charges against a burglar would be called an “accuser.”

The painful truth is that a trusted person can sometimes be a rapist. I once knew a college student coping with the aftermath of a rape by a male friend. She had trusted him enough to let him into her dorm room, which would make some people consider the attack as not a “real” rape.

            Despite what DeVos and her allies in the men’s rights movement may think, “real” rape is forced sex in any circumstance. “Real” rape is often denied by those claiming that most rape accusations are false. “Real” rape is about facing the truth that a “promising young man” can harm somebody who is not at fault. Until we accept the uncomfortable facts about “real” rape, then, we cannot fight effectively against this ongoing crisis.


Gail Ukockis, PhD, MSW, MA, is an educator and social worker with an eclectic background that includes graduate studies in history. For eleven years, Dr. Ukockis taught a women’s issues course at Ohio Dominican University, which served as the foundation for this textbook. Her research interests also include HIV/AIDS, cultural competence, and human trafficking. She is author of Women’s Issues for a New Generation: A Social Work Perspective (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS from 2 weeks ago: “Betsy DeVos to revamp Title IX policies on sexual assault”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Iranian Leader: Trump is “Disturbed,” speaks like a Cowboy or Mobster

Fri, 2017-09-22 02:37

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iranian hardliners are still responding to Trump’s speech at the UN Monday, in which he accused Iran of backing terrorism and called the nuclear deal the worst deal the US had ever made.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Thursday that Donald Trump’s address to the UN had been the performance of a “cowboy” or a “mobster.” The US president’s words, he said, were “disturbed” and “detached from reality.”

Major-General Hassan Firouzabadi, a major military adviser to Iran’s Leader, lambasted Trump, saying, “That was the emptiest, most shameful speech delivered at the UN” according to Mehr news. He said he was praying for the liberation from the world of Trump-brand ‘world arrogance’ and said that Trump was “disregarding UN norms and talking against peace.” He added, “My condolences to the United States for their president…” [h/t BBC Monitoring for trans.]

Major-General Rahim Safavi, the chief military adviser to Khamenei, said that Trump’s UN address to the UN had been “stupid.” He said that the American public realizes that Trump is unqualified, and that they widely despise him. “I don’t expect him . . . to serve out his full term.” [h/t BBC Monitoring for trans.]

Safavi said “Trump showed he does not abide by any international agreement including the nuclear deal, which is a multilateral accord signed among big powers.”

Safavi objected to Trump’s characterization of Iran as a supporter of terrorism, saying that the US supported the extremist state of Saudi Arabia, supported Israeli terrorism against the Palestinians, supported the Nusra Front (an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria), and he (incorrectly) accused the US of being behind the rise of ISIL.

Centrist president Hassan Rouhani, who had hoped for better relations with the US, opined that:

Hassan Rouhani: ‘No One Will Trust America’ If Donald Trump Leaves Iran Deal | NBC Nightly News


Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

How Colonialism, Inequality turbocharge Caribbean Hurricanes

Fri, 2017-09-22 00:35

By Levi Gahman and Gabrielle Thongs | (The Conversation) | – –

Hurricane Maria, the 15th tropical depression this season, is now battering the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in the region.

The devastation in Dominica is “mind-boggling,” wrote the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, on Facebook just after midnight on September 19. The next day, in Puerto Rico, NPR reported via member station WRTU in San Juan that “Most of the island is without power…or water.”

Among the Caribbean islands impacted by both deadly storms are Puerto Rico, St Kitts, Tortola and Barbuda.

In this region, disaster damages are frequently amplified by needlessly protracted and incomplete recoveries. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan rolled roughshod through the Caribbean with wind speeds of 160 mph. The region’s economy took more than three years to recover. Grenada’s surplus of US$17 million became a deficit of $54 million, thanks to decreased revenue and the outlays for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Nor were the effects of a 7 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 limited to killing some 150,000 people. United Nations peacekeepers sent in to help left the country grappling, to this day, with a fatal cholera outbreak.

A tent city in post-earthquake Haiti.
Fred W. Baker III/Wikimedia Commons

These are not isolated instances of random bad luck. As University of the West Indies geographers who study risk perception and political ecology, we recognize the deep, human-induced roots of climate change, inequality and the underdevelopment of former colonies – all of which increase the Caribbean’s vulnerability to disaster.

Risk, vulnerability and poverty

Disaster risk is a function of both a place’s physical hazard exposure – that is, how directly it is threatened by disaster – and its social vulnerability, specifically, how resilient it is.

Across most Caribbean islands, hazard exposure is about the same, but research shows that poverty and social inequality drastically magnify the severity of disasters.

The Haitian Revolution’s Battle for Palm Tree Hill.
January Suchodolski/Wikimedia Commons

Haiti, where eight out of every 10 people live on less than $4 a day, offers an example of how capitalism, gender and history converge to compound storm damage.

The country is among the Western Hemisphere’s poorest in large part because of imperialism. After Haitians successfully overthrew their European enslavers in 1804, global powers economically stifled the island. From 1915 to 1934, the U.S. first militarily occupied Haiti, and then followed a policy of intervention that continues to have lasting effects on its governance.

International interference and the resulting weak institutions, in turn, impeded development, poverty reduction and empowerment efforts.

In such a context, disasters aggravate a country’s numerous existing social vulnerabilities. Take gender, for example. Mental health professionals offering support to victims after Haiti’s 2010 earthquake found that an extraordinarily high number of displaced women – up to 75 percent – had experienced sexual violence. This prior trauma exacerbated the women’s post-disaster stress responses.

Geography and gender

Inequality and underdevelopment are perhaps less marked in the rest of the Caribbean, but from Antigua and Barbuda to St. Kitts and Nevis, socioeconomic problems are now complicating both disaster preparedness and response.

Across the region, people spend most of their income on daily essentials like food, clean water, shelter and medicine, with little left over for greeting Irma and Maria with lifesaving hurricane-resilient roofs, storm shutters, solar generators and first aid kits.

For the poor, emergency radios and satellite telephones that could warn of impending disasters are largely unaffordable, as is homeowners’ insurance to hasten recovery.

Poorer Caribbean residents also tend to live in the most disaster-prone areas because housing is cheaper on unstable deforested hillsides and eroding riverbanks. This exponentially increases the danger they face. The low construction quality of these dwellings offers less protection during storms while, post-disaster, emergency vehicles may not be able to access these areas.

Caribbean women will also continue to be at particular risk well after Maria passes. In a region where gender roles remain quite rigid, women are typically tasked with childcare, harvesting, cooking, cleaning, washing and the like.

Even in post-disaster settings, women are expected to perform household labor. So when water supplies are contaminated (with sewage, E. coli, salmonella, cholera, yellow fever, and hepatitis A, among others), women are disproportionately exposed to illness.

The work of nourishing the spirits and bodies of others when food and water shortages occur is also thrust onto women, even though they generally have less access to income and credit than men.

No place for politics

Politics, too, play a role in how the Caribbean is faring during this tumultuous hurricane season. Longtime colonial rule isn’t the only reason Caribbean societies and ecosystems are now so vulnerable.

Many contemporary governments in the region are, arguably, also doing their part to make life generally worse for marginalized communities. In Trinidad and Tobago, divestment in public education has hurt working-class university students, youth from low-income communities and older adults who were previously eligible for financial aid.

In oil-rich Guyana, dependency upon fossil fuels has invited an eager ExxonMobil in for a round of drilling, despite its track record for extracting, polluting and taking profits largely elsewhere. And, from Jamaica to Belize, widespread corruption and land rights violations have severed relationships of trust between people and the states that are, in theory, supposed to protect them.

When storms threaten, such policies and practices intensify the Caribbean’s societal and ecological risks.

Irma and Maria are surely not the last extreme disasters that will strike the region. To survive and flourish in this dangerous new normal, Caribbean countries would do well to look to the heart of these issues, rethinking the concept of risk and mindfully engaging with factors like poverty, gender and climate change.

In practice, this means identifying their most vulnerable communities and working to improve their day-to-day well-being – not just their survival in a storm.

The Caribbean’s own Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), from the island of Martinique, recognized these complexities in his book, “The Wretched of the Earth.”

Fanon asserted that democracy and the political education of the masses, across all post-colonial geographies, is a “historical necessity.” Presciently, he also noted that “the soil needs researching, as well as the subsoil, the rivers, and why not the sun.”

As the Caribbean looks for solutions to the damage and suffering brought on by both nature’s revolt and social inequality, Fanon’s words seem like a good place to start.

Levi Gahman, Lecturer: Radical Geography and Critical Development Studies, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus and Gabrielle Thongs, Assistant Lecturer, Geography Department, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

NBC News: “Maria: Authorities Say Much Of Puerto Rico Remains Unreachable | NBC Nightly News”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Tweeting while the Planet Burns: Dystopia 2025

Fri, 2017-09-22 00:19

By Tom Engelhardt | ( ) | – –

It’s January 2025, and within days of entering the Oval Office, a new president already faces his first full-scale crisis abroad. Twenty-four years after it began, the war on terror, from the Philippines to Nigeria, rages on. In 2024 alone, the U.S. launched repeated air strikes on 15 nations (or, in a number of cases, former nations), including the Philippines, Burma, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the former Iraq, the former Syria, Kurdistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, and Nigeria.

In the weeks before his inauguration, a series of events roiled the Greater Middle East and Africa. Drone strikes and raids by U.S. Special Operations forces in Saudi Arabia against both Shiite rebels and militants from the Global Islamic State killed scores of civilians, including children. They left that increasingly destabilized kingdom in an uproar, intensified the unpopularity of its young king, and led to the withdrawal of the Saudi ambassador from Washington.  In Mali, dressed in police uniforms and riding on motorcycles, three Islamic militants from the Front Azawad, which now controls the upper third of the country, gained entry to a recently established joint U.S.-French military base and blew themselves up, killing two American Green Berets, three American contractors, and two French soldiers, while wounding several members of Mali’s presidential guard.  In Iraq, as 2024 ended, the city of Tal Afar — already “liberated” twice since the 2003 invasion of that country, first by American troops in 2005 and then by American-backed Iraqi troops in 2017 — fell to the Sunni militants of the Global Islamic State. Though now besieged by the forces of the Republic of Southern Iraq backed by the U.S. Air Force, it remains in their hands.

The crisis of the moment, however, is in Afghanistan where the war on terror first began. There, the Taliban, the Global Islamic State (or GIS, which emerged from the Islamic State, or ISIS, in 2019), and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (or AQIA, which split from the original al-Qaeda in 2021) now control an increasing number of provincial capitals.  These range from Lashgar Gah in Helmand Province in the southern poppy-growing heartlands of the country to Kunduz in the north, which first briefly fell to the Taliban in 2015 and now is in the hands of GIS militants.  In the meantime, the American-backed government in the Afghan capital, Kabul, is — as in 2022 when a “surge” of almost 25,000 American troops and private contractors saved it from falling to the Taliban — again besieged and again in danger.  The conflict that Lieutenant General Harold S. Forrester, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, had only recently termed a “stalemate” seems to be devolving.  What’s left of the Afghan military with its ghost soldiers, soaring desertion rates, and stunning casualty figures is reportedly at the edge of dissolution. Forrester is returning to the United States this week to testify before Congress and urge the new president to surge into the country up to 15,000 more American troops, including Special Operations forces, and another 15,000 private contractors, as well as significantly more air power before the situation goes from worse to truly catastrophic.

Like many in the Pentagon, Forrester now regularly speaks of the Afghan War as an “eonic struggle,” that is, one not expected to end for generations

You think not?  When it comes to America’s endless wars and conflicts across the Greater Middle East and Africa, you can’t imagine a more-of-the-same scenario eight years into the future?  If, in 2009, eight years after the war on terror was launched, as President Obama was preparing to send a “surge” of more than 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan (while swearing to end the war in Iraq), I had written such a futuristic account of America’s wars in 2017, you might have been no less unconvinced.

Who would have believed then that political Washington and the U.S. military’s high command could possibly continue on the same brainless path (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say superhighway) for another eight years?  Who would have believed then that, in the fall of 2017, they would be intensifying their air campaigns across the Greater Middle East, still fighting in Iraq (and Syria), supporting a disastrous Saudi war in Yemen, launching the first of yet another set of mini-surges in Afghanistan, and so on?  And who would have believed then that, in return for prosecuting unsuccessful wars for 16 years while aiding and abetting in the spread of terror movements across a vast region, three of America’s generals would be the most powerful figures in Washington aside from our bizarre president (whose election no one could have predicted eight years ago)?  Or here’s another mind-bender: Would you really have predicted that, in return for 16 years of unsuccessful war-making, the U.S. military (and the rest of the national security state) would be getting yet more money from the political elite in our nation’s capital or would be thought better of than any other American institution by the public?

Now, I’m the first to admit that we humans are pathetic seers. Peering into the future with any kind of accuracy has never been part of our skill set.  And so my version of 2025 could be way off base.  Given our present world, it might prove to be far too optimistic about our wars. 

After all — just to mention one grim possibility of our moment — for the first time since 1945, we’re on a planet where nuclear weapons might be used by either side in the course of a local war, potentially leaving Asia aflame and possibly the world economy in ruins.  And don’t even bring up Iran, which I carefully and perhaps too cautiously didn’t include in my list of the 15 countries the U.S. was bombing in 2025 (as opposed to the seven at present).  And yet, in the same world where they are decrying North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the Trump administration and its U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, seem to be hard at work creating a situation in which the Iranians could once again be developing ones of their own.  The president has reportedly been desperate to ditch the nuclear agreement Barack Obama and the leaders of five other major powers signed with Iran in 2015 (though he has yet to actually do so) and he’s stocked his administration with a remarkable crew of Iranophobes, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, all of whom have been itching over the years for some kind of confrontation with Iran. (And given the last decade and a half of American war fighting in the region, how do you think that conflict would be likely to turn out?)

Donald Trump’s Washington, as John Feffer has recently pointed out, is now embarked on a Pyongyang-style “military-first” policy in which resources, money, and power are heading for the Pentagon and the U.S. nuclear arsenal, while much of the rest of the government is downsized.  Obviously, if that’s where your resources are going, then that’s where your efforts and energies will go, too.  So don’t expect less war in the years to come, no matter how inept Washington has proven when it comes to making war work.

Now, let’s leave those wars aside for a moment and return to the future:

It’s mid-September 2025.  Hurricane Wally has just deluged Houston with another thousand-year rainfall, the fourth since Hurricane Harvey hit the region in 2017.  It’s the third Category 6 hurricane — winds of 190 or more miles an hour — to hit the U.S. so far this year, the previous two being Tallulah and Valerie, tying a record first set in 2023.  (Category 6 was only added to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in 2022 after Hurricane Donald devastated Washington D.C.)  The new president did not visit Houston.  His press secretary simply said, “If the president visited every area hit by extreme weather, he would be incapable of spending enough time in Washington to oversee the rebuilding of the city and govern the country.”  She refused to take further questions and Congress has no plans to pass emergency legislation for a relief package for the Houston region.

Much of what’s left of that city’s population is either fled ahead of the storm or is packed into relief shelters.  And as with Miami Beach, it is now believed that some of the more flood-prone parts of the Houston area will never be rebuilt.  (Certain ocean-front areas of Miami were largely abandoned after Donald hit in 2022 on its way to Washington, thanks in part to a new reality: sea levels were rising faster than expected because of the stunning pace of the Greenland ice shield’s meltdown.)   

Meanwhile, the temperature just hit 112 degrees, a new September record, in San Francisco.  That came after a summer in which a record 115 was experienced, making Mark Twain’s apocryphal line, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” an artifact of the past. In another year without an El Niño phenomenon, the West Coast has again been ablaze and the wheat-growing regions of the Midwest have been further devastated by a tenacious drought, now four years old.

Around the planet, heat events are on the rise, as are storms and floods, while the wildfire season continues to expand globally.  To mention just two events elsewhere on Earth: in 2024, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), thanks to both spreading conflicts and an increase in extreme weather events, more people were displaced — 127.2 million — than at any time on record, almost doubling the 2016 count. UNHCR director Angelica Harbani expects that figure to be surpassed yet again when this year’s numbers are tallied.  In addition, a speedier than expected meltdown of the Himalayan glaciers has created a permanent water crisis in parts of South Asia also struck by repeated disastrous monsoons and floods.

In the United States, the week after Hurricane Wally destroyed Houston, the president flew to North Dakota to proudly mark the beginning of the construction of the Transcontinental Pipeline slated to bring Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the East Coast.  “It will help ensure,” he said, “that the United States remains the oil capital of the planet.”

Think of it this way: a new weather paradigm is visibly on the rise.  It just walloped the United States from the burning West Coast to the battered Florida Keys.  And another crucial phenomenon has accompanied it: the rise to power in Washington — and not just there — of Republican climate-change denialism. Think of the two phenomena together as the alliance from hell.  So far there’s no evidence that a Washington whose key agencies are well stocked with climate-change deniers is likely to be transformed any time soon.

Now, meld those two future scenarios of mine: the fruitless pursuit of never-ending wars and the increasing extremity of the weather on a planet seemingly growing hotter by the year.  (Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record occurred in the twenty-first century and the 17th was 1998.)  Try to conjure up such a world for a moment and you’ll realize that the potential damage could be enormous, even if the planet’s “lone superpower” continues to encourage the greatest threat facing us for only a brief period, even if Donald Trump doesn’t win reelection in 2020 or worse than him isn’t heading down the pike.

The Frying of Our World

There have been many imperial powers on Planet Earth.  Any number of them committed massive acts of horror — from the Mongol empire (whose warriors typically sacked Baghdad in 1258, putting its public libraries to the torch, reputedly turning the Tigris River black with ink and that city’s streets red with blood) to the Spanish empire (known for its grim treatment of the inhabitants of its “new world” possessions, not to speak of the Muslims, Jews, and other heretics in Spain itself) to the Nazis (no elaboration needed). In other words, there’s already competition enough for the imperial worst of the worst.  And yet don’t imagine that the United States doesn’t have a shot at taking the number one spot for all eternity. (USA! USA!)

Depending on how the politics of this country and this century play out, the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns” might have to be seriously readjusted.  In the American version, you would substitute “fighting never-ending wars across the Greater Middle East, Africa, and possibly Asia” for “fiddling” and for “Rome,” you would insert “the planet.” Only “burns” would remain the same.  For now, at least, you would also have to replace the Roman emperor Nero (who was probably playing a lyre, since no fiddles existed in his world) with Donald Trump, the Tweeter-in-Chief, as well as “his” generals and the whole crew of climate deniers now swarming Washington, one more eager than the next to release the full power of fossil fuels into an overburdened atmosphere.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that my own country, so eternally overpraised by its leaders in these years as the planet’s “indispensable” and “exceptional” nation with “the finest fighting force the world has ever known” might usher in the collapse of the very environment that nurtured humanity all these millennia.  As the “lone superpower,” the last in a line-up of rival great powers extending back to the fifteenth century, what a mockery it threatens to make of the long-gone vision of history as a march of progress through time.  What a mockery it threatens to make of the America of my own childhood, the one that so proudly put a man on the moon and imagined that there was no problem on Earth it couldn’t solve.

Imagine the government of that same country, distracted by its hopeless wars and the terrorist groups they continue to generate, facing the possible frying of our world — and not lifting a finger to deal with the situation.  In a Washington where less is more for everything except the U.S. military (for which more is invariably less), the world has been turned upside down.  It’s the definition of an empire of madness.

Hold on a second!  Somewhere, faintly, I think I hear a fiddle playing and maybe it’s my imagination, but do I smell smoke?

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

[Note: Credit must be given for the citation in this piece of “Hurricane Donald,” the storm that devastated Washington in 2022. I stole it from John Feffer’s superb dystopian novel Splinterlands. Tom]

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 Tom Engelhardt



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Nova PBS: “Why Did Houston Flood?”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Yemen’s Children Are Being Shelled While the World Sits Back

Fri, 2017-09-22 00:02

By Kristine Beckerle | ( Human Rights Watch) | – –

Deadly Attack in Taizz Shows Need for International Inquiry

Yemenis were again mourning their children this weekend – this time in Taizz, Yemen’s third largest city. Houthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled a residential neighborhood killing three children – two of whom were playing football – and gravely wounding nine more, activists said. The same day, a world away, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was debating whether to create an international inquiry into all side’s abuses in Yemen’s armed conflict.

The war has taken a particularly heavy toll on Taizz. For over two years, Houthi-Saleh forces have fired artillery indiscriminately into the city. Human Rights Watch has documented repeated attacks that have struck the city’s populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians, including children. The attacks we’ve documented are a tiny fraction of the deadly bombardment Taizz’s residents have endured. We’ve seen list after list, photo after photo, video after video of lethal attacks documented by local activists. The shelling of Taizz, the UN human rights office reports, has been “unrelenting.”

In the face of these laws-of-war violations, many likely war crimes, the world remains largely silent.

Governments in Geneva should not need Friday’s attack for the plight of Yemeni civilians to get their attention, or to act to hold perpetrators on both sides to account.

But so far the Human Rights Council has failed to agree on setting up an independent, international inquiry into wartime abuses, despite plentiful evidence that Houthi-Saleh forces and the Saudi-led coalition – which killed at least 33 children in six airstrikes over the past three months – have been repeatedly violating the laws of war.

Delegates in Geneva: The next time you walk by the Broken Chair, a memorial to victims of landmines and cluster munitions outside the UN – think of Yemen, think of Taizz. Taizz, where landmines remain littered after Houthi-Saleh forces laid them, where a 12-year-old boy grazing sheep, a mother of six, and many more have lost their limbs and their loved ones. Where coalition airstrikes have wiped out entire families. Where unrelenting, indiscriminate shelling continues.

Yemeni children need so much more. The Human Rights Council cannot afford to fail them again.

Kristine Beckerle Yemen and UAE Researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

Via Human Rights Watch


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aljazeera English: “Yemen: Houthi rebels marks third anniversary of Sanaa takeover”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

The Anti-Bouazizi: Did Russia try to ‘flash mob’ a Trump Victory?

Thu, 2017-09-21 03:04

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Russian internet trolls linked to an oligarch close to Vladimir Putin went beyond just posting meme-making posters exalting Donald Trump and demeaning Hillary Clinton. They actually promoted “flash mob” spontaneous protests in the real world in 17 cities, according to the scoop of Ben Collins, Gideon Resnick, Kevin Poulsen and Spencer Ackerman at the Daily Beast.

A flash mob is a crowd that gathers at a particular time and place in response to a call on the internet. Many are frivolous. Some turn dangerous. Others can set off revolutions.

In December of 2010, a flash mob was called by a California choral society to sing Handel’s messiah at a mall in California. Some 5,000 people showed up, and police had to evacuate them because it was felt that they might turn dangerous.

A similar incident had occurred earlier that fall in Philadelphia.

If flash mobs have been kind of large pranks in the US, in the Middle East they have shaken governments. The crowds that gathered in Tunisia after the police harassed Mohamed Bouazizi, who was selling vegetables in the street, and drove him to suicide, swelled to 200,000 strong in the capital of Tunis. They drove the president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, from power in mid-January, 2011.

The difference here is that Bouazizi’s cause was genuinely taken up by Tunisian youth, as I explain in my book The New Arabs. The Russia effort was a piece of internet fraud, a cyber Potemkin Village.

The Tahrir Square revolution against Hosni Mubarak in Jan-Feb 2011 was only partially a flash mob. Most people came to the square because activists walked neighborhoods or sent text messages. Only a fourth came because they heard about it at social media sites.

The Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 were to some extent flash mobs. Youth were protesting the plan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to put a mall into a public park. Privatizing public spaces is a way for authoritarian governments to exert control over crowds. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan succeeded in crushing these protests.

The Russian pro-Trump hackers were attempting to replicate the Middle East success of the flash mob without knowing how it had been sited within civil society.

The question is still out as to whether Moscow managed actually to affect the outcome of the election. But it now seems pretty clear they they were trying to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton with danse club.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Aljazeera English: “Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort investigated in Russia probe”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

How did the Persecution of Burma’s Rohingya Arise?

Thu, 2017-09-21 01:46

By Engy Abdelkader, JD, LL.M. | (The Conversation) | – –

Some 420,000 Rohingya Muslims, a religious and ethnic minority community in Myanmar, have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since August this year.

The United Nations has called the Rohingya the world’s most persecuted minority group and described the atrocities by Myanmar’s authorities as “ethnic cleansing,” whereby one group removes another ethnic or religious community through violence.

But the persecution of the Rohingya is not new. My research on the Rohingya Muslim experience in Myanmar shows that this pattern of persecution goes back to 1948 – the year when the country achieved independence from their British colonizers.

Here is their brief history.

The legacy of colonialism

The British ruled Myanmar (then Burma) for over a century, beginning with a series of wars in 1824.

Colonial policies encouraged migrant labor in order to increase rice cultivation and profits. Many Rohingya entered Myanmar as part of these policies in the 17th century. According to census records, between 1871 to 1911, the Muslim population tripled.

The British also promised the Rohingya separate land – a “Muslim National Area” – in exchange for support. During the Second World War, for example, the Rohingya sided with the British while Myanmar’s nationalists supported the Japanese. Following the war, the British rewarded the Rohingya with prestigious government posts. However, they were not given an autonomous state.

In 1948, when Myanmar achieved independence from the British, violent conflicts broke out among various segments of its more than one hundred ethnic and racial groups.

Decades-long persecution

After independence, the Rohingya asked for the promised autonomous state, but officials rejected their request. Calling them foreigners, they also denied them citizenship.

These animosities continued to grow. Many in Myanmar saw the Rohingya as having benefited from colonial rule. A nationalist movement and Buddhist religious revival further contributed to the growing hatred.

In 1950, some Rohingya staged a rebellion against the policies of the Myanmar government. They demanded citizenship; they also asked for the state that had been promised them. Ultimately the army crushed the resistance movement.

Much like today’s terrorists, the rebels at the time were called “Mujahid” or engaged in “struggle” or “jihad.” It is important to point out that the international community has never agreed on how to define “terrorism.” The legal definition could vary by country as politics dictates its contours. As scholar Ben Saul says, officials can use its meaning as a weapon against even valid political rivals. The lack of consensus, as Saul argues, reflects disagreement about what violence is legitimate, when and by whom.

In 1962, just over a decade later, a military coup culminated in a one-party military state where democratic governance was woefully lacking. During the next 60 years of military rule, things worsened for the Rohingya. The authorities saw the minority group as a threat to nationalist identity.

Calling them foreigners, the army killed, tortured and raped. They closed Rohingya social and political organizations. They also transfered private Rohingya businesses to the government, debilitating the group financially. Further, the Rohingya suffered forced labor, arbitrary detention and physical assaults. In 1991 and 1992, more than 250,000 attempted to escape to Bangladesh.

Rohingya ‘statelessness’

In 1977, when the army launched a national drive to register citizens, the Rohingya were considered illegal. More than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh at the time because of further atrocities. Authorities pointed to their flight as purported evidence of their illegal status.

The Citizenship Act of Myanmar, enacted in 1982, formally denied the group citizenship rights. This law required that a person’s ancestors belong to a national race or group present in Myanmar prior to British rule in 1823, to become a citizen. The Rohingya were still classified as illegal immigrants allowed in by British colonizers. As Human Rights Watch has noted, however, their presence actually dates back to the 12th century.

Today, the Rohingya are the single largest “stateless” community in the world. Their “statelessness” or lack of citizenship increases their vulnerability because they are not entitled to any legal protection from the government.

Without citizenship, they are deprived of basic rights such as access to health services, education and employment. The illiteracy rate among the Rohingya, for example, is a staggering 80 percent.

Additionally, they have been denied the right to worship freely. They also face restrictions on the right to marry, move freely and own property because of their religious and ethnic identity.

Even though Rohingya population growth has slowed down, anxieties not only persist but are codified in law: Rohingya couples are allowed no more than two children.

Those who break the law risk imprisonment, and the government blacklists their children. Without legal status, they cannot go to school, travel or buy property. The police can also arrest and imprison them.

The current crisis

Despite Myanmar’s recent democratic transition, the persecution persists.

The current humanitarian catastrophe ostensibly began with an assault on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a new insurgency group.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh told Human Rights Watch that Myanmar government forces had carried out armed attacks, and burned down their homes. In addition, they beheaded men, raped women and murdered children. Tens of thousands of Rohingya have become internally displaced. Even prior to this crisis, 120,000 displaced Rohingya had been living in internment camps.

Amnesty International said there were indications that authorities in Myanmar have also placed illegal landmines at locations commonly used by refugees Among those killed were two children. What is more, international humanitarian aid has been blocked, preventing necessities like food, water and medicine from reaching a quarter of a million people.

Aung San Suu Kyi and human rights

The Myanmar Army, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing. Despite the global outcry, they claim to be conducting “counterterrorism” operations. Due to the severity of the human rights crisis, however, the British government decided to stop its defense engagement and training of the military in Myanmar.

None of this criticism, however, has made Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel laureate, acknowledge the plight of the Rohingya. Amid international criticism, she recently canceled her visit to this week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York. In her speech to Myanmar’s parliament, she denied that there had been any “armed clashes or clearance operations” since September 5, this year.

Tragically, her actions signal there will be no end to the persecution of Rohingya anytime soon.

Engy Abdelkader, JD, LL.M., , Rutgers University

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “5 Things You Need To Know About The Rohingya Genocide”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs

Much of U.S.’s Puerto Rico “Destroyed” by 138 mi/hr Storm, Pleads with Trump for Aid

Thu, 2017-09-21 01:29

By TeleSUR | – –

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare the island a “disaster” area.

Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost 90 years, leaving at least nine people dead and causing widespread flooding.

The Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello asked U.S. President Donald Trump to declare the island a “disaster” area, making it eligible for increased recovery funding.

After devastating Dominica and Guadeloupe and battering St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm.

The island’s capital, San Juan, was battered with sustained winds of [138 miles per hour /] 220 kilometers per hour beginning at 6 a.m. local time, according to the U.S. based National Hurricane Center, NHC.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN that the energy grid took such a severe blow that restoring power to everyone may take months.

Rossello also said the system was “a little bit old, mishandled and weak.”

The extent of the damage is still being assessed. Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Rossello said it was “total devastation.”

A Category 4 hurricane hasn’t hit Puerto Rico since 1932.

Nine people are known to have been killed in Dominica, where Hurricane Maria first made landfall.

Two people died in the French territory of Guadeloupe.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

ABC News: “Island of Puerto Rico ‘destroyed’ by Hurricane Maria”

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Israel threatens Bedouin communities with Forced Relocation

Thu, 2017-09-21 01:16

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israeli forces have notified residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar that they are at risk of imminent forcible transfer from their lands, weeks after Israeli Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reportedly announced that plans were underway to expel Khan al-Ahmar’s residents within a few months.

Lieberman also said that plans for the full expulsion of the community of Susiya, located in the South Hebron Hills, were also underway.

Following the remarks, Israeli rights group B’Tselem slammed the Israeli government and sent an urgent letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that said the evacuation of the Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar, located east of Jerusalem, would “constitute a war crime carried out at your instruction and under your personal responsibility.”

B’Tselem then reported that officials from the Israeli army and Civil Administration told locals in Khan al-Ahmar on Wednesday that their only option is to move to a so-called relocation site that was allocated by Israel to the Bedouin community without consulting them.

According to the group, the proposed site known as al-Jabal West is located next to a garbage dump in Adu Dis.

The Khan al-Ahmar community’s lawyer Shlomo Lecker had informed the Civil Administration officer in charge that he was not permitted to meet with his clients without his consent and presence, “yet the CA went ahead regardless,” B’Tselem said.

A hearing at the Israeli Supreme Court has meanwhile been scheduled for Sep. 25, regarding petitions submitted against the Israeli state’s plans to demolish all Khan al-Ahmar’s structures, as well as a petitions submitted by illegal Israeli settlements in the area that want Khan al-Ahmar’s school to be demolished.

“The Civil Administration’s actions appear to be paving the way for the state to claim that it is acting in good will and has consulted the community,” B’Tselem said.

Earlier this year, Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to every single home in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, including the village’s elementary school.

The village is located on the site of planned Israeli settlement development and on the Israeli side of the planned route of Israel’s separation barrier.

According to B’Tselem, on Aug. 27, hundreds of Israeli settlers, joined by Israeli parliamentarians, demonstrated near Khan al-Ahmar, pressuring the government to move forward with its demolition plan.

The demolition notices were issued on the basis of the community lacking almost impossible to obtain Israeli building permits, which the United Nations has said results from the discriminatory zoning and planning regimes implemented in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control.

Khan al-Ahmar is one of 46 Palestinian Bedouin villages comprising of a population of 7,000 — 70 percent of whom are Palestinian refugees — in the central West Bank that are considered by the UN as being at risk of forcible transfer by Israeli authorities to alternative sites.

“The Demolition of an entire community in the Occupied Territories is virtually unprecedented since 1967. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel is obliged to respect in all its actions in the West Bank, this amounts to forcible transfer of protected persons, which constitutes a war crime,” B’Tselem emphasized.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Real News: “Israel Demolishes Bedouin Village to Build Jewish-Only Town”

Categories: IraqWire, Leftward Blogs