Informed Comment

Syndicate content
Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 46 min 58 sec ago

Kashoggi, Yemen and the War on Journalism

1 hour 23 min ago

(MENA Tidningen) – For the past week, the news cycle on the Middle East has been focused, for obvious reasons, on the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Turkish authorities claim that they have hard evidence for the murder, which the Saudis are finding it increasingly hard to deny. The hired propaganda media of the Saudis are spinning a post-denial alibi of “rogue elements” to salvage the reputation of MBS as a great reformer. In this they are aided by President Trump, who would rather sell billions of dollars worth of weapons than reflect on the multiple human rights abuses of the kingdom. The Arab states who feast on Saudi money are, understandably in the Hobbesian sense, defending their royal oil daddies.

It is heart warming to see media coverage of such a brazen and brutal act. At the very least it draws attention to the “fake news” that Saudi Arabia is undergoing reform. The litany of abuses since the premature crowning of MBS shows how Saudi Arabia is run by a deformed, not a reformed, regime. Think about it. The much touted royal decree that now allows women, at least some women, to drive obscures the fact that the government has imprisoned the very women who protested for this right. MBS rounded up a bevy of Saudi billionaires who were not his cronies, imprisoned them in the Inter Continental and extorted them on the trumped up charge of corruption. This is from a prince who buys million-dollar yachts and French castles on a lark. President Hariri of Lebanon was summoned to the Saudi court and pressured to resign. Then there is the absurd boycott of neighboring Qatar, including the comedy of building a canal to make Qatar an island. And the list goes on.

The premeditated killing of Kashoggi deserves all the media attention it can get. But for the sake of the values that Kashoggi died defending, as a journalist critical of abuse in his own country, a similar spotlight needs to be placed on the ongoing Saudi/Emirati war in Yemen, which has created a desperate humanitarian crisis in which Yemenis are killed everyday. In an opinion piece for Haaretz, David Rosenberg reminds us of a statement attributed to the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that when one man dies it’s a tragedy, but when a million die it’s a statistic. “Khashoggi’s killing,” Rosenberg observes, “has reverberated around the world in a way that 17,000 Yemeni casualties did not.” If this war continues for three more months, warns Lise Grande of the United Nations, 12 to 13 million Yemeni civilians are in danger of starvation.

Statistics do matter and they are easily ignored. Most of the media still refer to the number of casualties in this war at 10,000, an estimate made by the UN over two years ago, but the true figure is much higher and no doubt far more than 50,000. The number of Yemenis facing starvation is almost half of the total population and the greatest burden will fall on children. This is not a new story. Reports from over two years ago pointed out how the war was harming Yemen’s children. If you can stomach the images of such suffering, just write “Yemen dead child” in Google search and look for yourself at the images too graphic for the mainstream Western news media. The majority of children have been killed by bombs dropped from Saudi coalition planes. The bomb that killed 40 school children last August was made in America.

For much of the war in Yemen the press has been silent, only occasionally mentioning it and hardly ever as a major story unless there is an obvious American connection that cannot be hidden. Western journalists have had a hard time getting access to the war zone, but that is only part of the problem. The Saudis hired PR firms that make it extremely difficult for journalists to report the atrocities in the war. It is telling that the selling of MBS as the great reformer has been pushed in American grocery stores by a glossy magazine, The New Kingdom, from the makers of the National Enquirer. This tired rag is one of the few media outlets that loves Trump. There is no mention in the MBS love fest of the suffering caused by the war against Yemen, a country that is simply branded as an Iranian terrorist threat.

The death of a journalist, especially in a war zone, is an attempt to suppress the truth about brutality. The murder of Kashoggi should warrant media attention, but what about the Yemeni journalists who have lost their lives due to all sides in the war? Since the violence started in 2014, at least 27 Yemeni journalists have been killed and many others imprisoned or forced to flee. Are the lives of Yemeni journalists less important than that of a journalist based in America? Recently ten journalists, nine of them Afghani, were killed in a bomb blast in Kabul, but where was the international outcry? Overall there are confirmed reports of 1323 journalists killed worldwide since 1992, but there are no doubt many more cases that do not make the list.

The present danger to journalism is the age-old maxim that the pen is mightier than the sword (an apt metaphor for Saudi Arabia’s capital punishment by cutting off heads). Perhaps this saying should be upgraded with the addition that tyrants still use the sword (or any other lethal weapon) to silence those who wield the pen. Rulers who are unable to literally get away with murder are keen to make the press into the enemy. No one today is more vocal about this than President Trump, who considers any negative news about him “fake news” and routinely refers to journalists as enemies. “Truth is not the only casualty in Trump’s media wars,” warns Simon Tisdall in The Guardian.Certainly Russia’s Putin and Philippines President Dutarte appreciate Trumps’ war on the media as they repress the very idea of a free press. North Korea’s Kim Jung-On is no doubt pleased to have an ally when North Korea is ranked dead last in the Reporters without Borders World Press Freedom Index. If there is any lasting lesson to be learned from the death of Koshoggi, it is the urgent need to counter the politically motivated war on journalism by unmasking all the attempts to deny oppression that suppresses the free press.

Featured Image by Samer, showing a starving Yemen pleading for the attention of the world.

Israeli Eviction Occupied Khan al-Ahmar Residents is a War Crime: Int’l Court

1 hour 28 min ago

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, warned, on Wednesday, that transfer of population in an occupied territory constitute war crime.

Bensouda said in a statement regarding the situation in Palestine “I have been following with concern the planned eviction of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank. Evacuation by force now appears imminent, and with it the prospects for further escalation and violence.”

“It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.”

Bensouda said she was also alarmed by the continued violence at the Gaza border with Israel, revealed that the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories remains under preliminary examination by her office.

She concluded “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action, within the confines of the independent and impartial exercise of my mandate under the Rome Statute, with full respect for the principle of complementarily.”

The Israeli High Court had approved the demolition of the Khan al-Ahmar village, east of Jerusalem, which would displace 181 residents, half of whom are children, as part of an Israeli settlement expansion plan.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that the approved demolition comes under “the Israeli plan of Judaization in the eastern area of occupied Jerusalem and the area of Jordan Valley, through the creation of a network of large settlement streets towards occupied Jerusalem, to eliminated the possibility of geographical communication between parts of the occupied West Bank, and ultimately alter the establishment of a Palestinian state geographically interconnected with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Text and photo via Ma’an News Service

Dear Elizabeth Warren: Run for President, Challenge the Blob and End the Wars

1 hour 28 min ago

Boston ( | –

Senator Elizabeth Warren
317 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.

Dear Senator Warren:

As a constituent, I have noted with interest your suggestion that you will “take a hard look” at running for president in 2020, even as you campaign for reelection to the Senate next month. Forgive me for saying that I interpret that comment to mean “I’m in.” Forgive me, as well, for my presumption in offering this unsolicited — and perhaps unwanted — advice on how to frame your candidacy.

You are an exceedingly smart and gifted politician, so I’m confident that you have accurately gauged the obstacles ahead. Preeminent among them is the challenge of persuading citizens beyond the confines of New England, where you are known and respected, to cast their ballot for a Massachusetts liberal who possesses neither executive nor military experience and is a woman to boot.

Voters will undoubtedly need reassurance that you have what it takes to keep the nation safe and protect its vital interests. And yes, there is a distinct double standard at work here. Without possessing the most minimal of qualifications to serve as commander-in-chief, Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. Who can doubt that gender and race played a role?

So the challenge you face is an enormous one. To meet it, in my estimation, you should begin by exposing the tangle of obsolete assumptions and hitherto unresolvablecontradictions embedded in present-day U.S. national security policy. You’ll have to demonstrate a superior understanding of how events are actually trending. And you’ll have to articulate a plausible way of coping with the problems that lie ahead. To become a viable candidate in 2020, to win the election, and then to govern effectively, you’ll need to formulate policies that not only sound better, but are better than what we’ve got today or have had in the recent past. So there’s no time to waste in beginning to formulate a Warren Doctrine.

Of course, the city in which you spend your workweek is awash with endless blather about a changing world, emerging challenges, and the need for fresh thinking. Yet, curiously enough, what passes for national security policy has remained largely immune to change, fixed in place by two specific episodes that retain a chokehold on that city’s policy elite: the Cold War and the events of 9/11.

The Cold War ended three decades ago in what was ostensibly a decisive victory for the United States. History itself had seemingly anointed us as the “indispensable nation.”

Yet here we are, all these years later, gearing up again to duel our old Cold War adversaries, the Ruskies and ChiComs. How, in the intervening decades, did the United States manage to squander the benefits of coming out on top in that “long twilight struggle”? Few members of the foreign policy establishment venture to explain how or why things so quickly went awry. Fewer still are willing to consider the possibility that our own folly offers the principal explanation.

By the time you are elected, the 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be just around the corner, and with it the 20th anniversary of the Global War on Terrorism. Who can doubt that when you are inaugurated on January 20, 2021, U.S. forces will still be engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and various other places across the Greater Middle East and Africa? Yet in present-day Washington, the purpose and prospects of those campaigns elude serious discussion. Does global leadership necessarily entail being permanently at war? In Washington, the question goes not only unanswered, but essentially unasked.

Note that President Trump has repeatedly made plain his desire to extricate the United States from our wars without end, only to be told by his subordinates that he can’t. Trump then bows to the insistence of the hawks because, for all his bluster, he’s weak and easily rolled. Yet there’s a crucial additional factor in play as well: Trump is himself bereft of strategic principles that might provide the basis for a military posture that is not some version of more of the same. When he’s told “we have to stay,” he simply can’t refute the argument. So we stay.

You, too, will meet pressure to perpetuate the status quo. You, too, will be told that no real alternatives exist. Hence, the importance of bringing into office a distinctive strategic vision that offers the possibility of real change.

You will want to tailor that vision so that it finds favor with three disparate audiences. First, to win the nomination, you’ll need to persuade members of your own party to prefer your views to those of your potential competitors, including Democrats with far more impressive national security credentials than your own. Among those already hinting at a possible run for the presidency are a well-regarded former vice president and possibly even a former secretary of state who is a decorated combat veteran and chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although long in the tooth, they are not to be dismissed.

Second, having won the nomination, you’ll have to motivate voters who are not Democrats that your vision will, in the words of the preamble to the Constitution, “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” In this context, motivation should start with education, with, that is, disabusing citizens of the conviction — now prevalent in Washington — that “global leadership” is synonymous with a willingness to use force.

Finally, once you enter the Oval Office, you’ll need to get buy-ins from Congress, the national security apparatus, and U.S. allies. That means convincing them that your approach can work, won’t entail unacceptable risks, and won’t do undue damage to their own parochial interests.

To recap, a Warren Doctrine will need to appeal to progressives likely to have an aversion to the very phrase “national security,” even as it inspires middle-of-the-roaders to give you their vote and persuades elites that you can be trusted to exercise power responsibly. All in all, that is a tall order.

Yet I think it can be done. Indeed, it needs to be done if the United States is ever to find a way out of the strategic wilderness in which it is presently wandering, with the likes of Donald Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and James Mattis taking turns holding the compass while trying to figure out which way is north.

1 + 3 = You Win

A strategic paradigm worthy of the name begins with a tough-minded appraisal of the existing situation. There is, to put it mildly, a lot going on in our world today, much of it not good: terrorism, whether Islamist or otherwise; unchecked refugee flows; cross-border trafficking in drugs, weapons, and human beings; escalating Saudi-Iranian competition to dominate the Persian Gulf; pent-up resentment among Palestinians, Kurds, and other communities denied their right to self-determination; the provocations of “rogue states” like Russia, Pakistan, and North Korea; and, not to be forgotten, the ever-present danger of unintended nuclear war. As a candidate, you will need to have informed views on each of these.

Yet let me suggest that these are legacy issues, most of them detritus traceable to the twentieth century. None of them are without importance. None can be ignored. If mishandled, two or three of them have the potential to produce apocalyptic catastrophes. Even so, the place to begin formulating a distinctive Warren Doctrine that will resonate with each of those three constituencies — Democrats, the general public, and the establishment — is to posit that these have become secondary concerns.

Eclipsing such legacy issues in immediate significance are three developments that Washington currently neglects or treats as afterthoughts, along with one contradiction that simultaneously permeates and warps any discussion of national security. If properly understood, the items in this quartet would rightly cause Americans to wonder if the blessings of liberty will remain available to their posterity. It’s incumbent upon you to provide that understanding. In short, a Warren Doctrine should tackle all four head-on.

Addressing that contradiction should come first. Its essence is this: we Americans believe that we are a peaceful people. Our elected and appointed leaders routinely affirm this as true. Yet our nation is permanently at war. We Americans also believe that we have a pronounced aversion to empire. Indeed, our very founding as a republic testifies to our anti-imperial credentials. Yet in Washington, D.C. — an imperial city if there ever was one — references to the United States of America as the rightful successor to Rome in the era of the Caesars and the British Empire in its heyday abound. And there is more here than mere rhetoric: The military presence of U.S. forces around the planet testifies in concrete terms to our imperial ambitions. We may be an “empire in denial,” but we are an empire.

The point of departure for the Warren Doctrine should be to subject this imperial project to an honest cost-benefit appraisal, demonstrating that it leads inexorably to bankruptcy, both fiscal and moral. Allow militarized imperialism to stand as the central theme of U.S. policy and the national security status quo will remain sacrosanct. Expose its defects and the reordering of national security and other priorities becomes eminently possible.

That reordering ought to begin with three neglected developments that should be at the forefront of a Warren Doctrine. The first is a warming planet. The second is an ongoing redistribution of global power, signified by (but not limited to) the rise of China. The third is a growing cyber-threat to our ever more network-dependent way of life. A Warren Doctrine centered on this trio of challenges will both set you apart from your competitors and enable you to take office with clearly defined priorities — at least until some unexpected event, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall or the attack on the Twin Towers, obliges you to extemporize, as will inevitably happen.

Here, then, is a CliffsNotes take on each of the Big Three. (You can hire some smart young folk to fill in the details.)

Climate change poses a looming national security threat with existential implications. With this summer’s heat waves and recent staggering storms, evidence of this threat has become incontrovertible. Its adverse consequences have already ruined thousands of American lives as evidenced by Hurricanes Katrina (2005), Irma (2017), Harvey (2017), Maria (2017), and Michael (2018), along with Superstorm Sandy (2013), not to mention pervasive drought and increasingly destructive wildfires in a fire season that seems hardly to end. It no longer suffices to categorize these as Acts of God.

The government response to such events has, to say the least, been grossly inadequate. So, too, has government action to cushion Americans from the future impact of far more of the same. A Warren administration needs to make climate change a priority, improving both warning and response to the most immediate dangers and, more importantly, implementing a coherent long-term strategy aimed at addressing (and staunching) the causes of climate change. For those keen for the United States to shoulder the responsibilities of global leadership, here’s an opportunity for us to show our stuff.

Second, say goodbye to the conceit of America as the “last” or “sole” superpower. The power shift now well underway, especially in East Asia, but also in other parts of the world, is creating a multipolar global order in which — no matter what American elites might fancy — the United States will no longer qualify as the one and only “indispensable nation.” Peace and stability will depend on incorporating into that order other nations with their own claims to indispensability, preeminently China.

And no, China is not our friend and won’t be. It’s our foremost competitor. Yet China is also an essential partner, especially when it comes to trade, investment, and climate change — that country and the U.S. being the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. So classifying China as an enemy, an idea now gaining traction in policy circles, is the height of folly. Similarly, playing games of chicken over artificial islands in the South China Sea, citing as an imperative “freedom of navigation,” exemplifies the national security establishment’s devotion to dangerously obsolete routines.

Beyond China are other powers, some of them not so new, with interests that the United States will have to take into account. Included in their ranks are India, Russia, Turkey, Japan, a potentially united Korea, Iran (not going away any time soon), and even, if only as a matter of courtesy, Europe. Recognizing the imperative of avoiding a recurrence of the great power rivalries that made the twentieth century a bath of blood, a Warren administration should initiate and sustain an intensive diplomatic dialogue directed at negotiating lasting terms of mutual coexistence — not peace perhaps but at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Then there’s that cyber-threat, which has multiple facets. First, it places at risk networks on which Americans, even tech-challenged contributors to TomDispatch like me, have become dependent. Yet deflecting these threats may invite “solutions” likely to demolish the last remnants of our personal privacy while exposing Americans to comprehensive surveillance by both domestic and foreign intelligence services. A Warren Doctrine would have to ensure that Americans enjoy full access to the “network of things,” but on their own terms, not those dictated by corporate entities or governments.

Second, the same technologies that allow the Pentagon to equip U.S. forces with an ever-expanding and ever-more expensive arsenal of “smart” weapons are also creating vulnerabilities that may well render those weapons useless. It’s a replication of the Enigma phenomenon: to assume that your secrets are yours alone is to invite disaster, as the Nazis learned in World War II when their unbreakable codes turned out to be breakable. A Warren Doctrine would challenge the assumption, omnipresent in military circles, that equates advances in technology with greater effectiveness. If technology held the key to winning wars, we’d have declared victory in Afghanistan many moons ago.

Finally, there is the dangerous new concept of offensive cyber-warfare, introduced by the United States when it unleashed the Stuxnet virus on Iran’s nuclear program back in 2011. Now, as the Trump administration prepares to make American offensive cyber-operations far more likely, it appears to be the coming thing — like strategic bombing in the run-up to World War II or nukes in its aftermath. Yet before charging further down that cyber-path, we would do well to reflect on the consequences of the twentieth century’s arms races. They invariably turned out to be far more expensive than anticipated, often with horrific results. A Warren Doctrine should seek to avert the normalization of offensive cyber-warfare.

Let me mention a potential bonus here. Even modest success in addressing the Big Three may create openings to deal with some of those nagging legacy issues as well. Cooperation among great powers on climate change, for example, could create an environment more favorable to resolving regional disputes.

Of course, none of this promises to be easy. Naysayers will describe a Warren Doctrine of this sort as excessively ambitious and insufficiently bellicose. Yet as President Kennedy declared in 1962, when announcing that the United States would go to the moon within the decade, some goals are worthy precisely “because they are hard.” Back then, Americans thrilled to Kennedy’s promises.

Here’s my bet: This may well be another moment when Americans will respond positively to goals that are hard but also daring and of pressing importance. Make yourself the champion of those goals and you just might win yourself a promotion to the White House.

The road between now and November 2020 is a long one. I wish you well as you embark upon the journey.


Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of Twilight of the American Century, which will be published this November.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Andrew Bacevich


UN elevates State of Palestine to Chair of Group of 77

2 hours 48 min ago

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Palestine’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, hailed as “a new victory” the UN General Assembly vote in favor of a resolution granting the State of Palestine additional powers to be able to assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China, on Wednesday.

The UNGA voted in favor of a resolution, which grants Palestine additional powers, in order to be able to assume the chairmanship of the Group of 77 and China, with 146 votes in favor, three opposed, Israel, the United States and Australia, and 15 abstentions.

Mansour spoke to the official Voice of Palestine radio that the “UNGA vote confirms the international community’s confidence in the State of Palestine and its ability to lead 134 countries and negotiate about 70% of the UN agenda issues that are of concern to humanity in general and to help developing countries develop their economy.”

Mansour pointed out that an open session will be held on Thursday in the UN Security Council to discuss the political situation and that the member states will express the international consensus for an end to the Israeli occupation and for support of the two-state solution and that East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine and that it is an occupied land.

The open session will also stress support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and the current refugee issue.

The Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Malki, also welcomed the UNGA vote.

Al-Malki said “Palestine would work very hard to unite world efforts as well as regional and international groups to serve humanity, thus contributing to the reduction of all negative phenomena that impede the rights of peoples and deprive them and their countries of progress and growth.”

He stressed that the Palestine, as the next Chair of the Group of 77 and China, “considers that the international consensus on granting it confidence and voting in favor of raising its status at the UN to serve the interest of the Group of 77 is a challenge that will be turned into opportunities for the benefit of the members of the Group and the world.”

Text and photo via

Why a US Divorce from Saudi Arabia would be Good for Us and Them

23 hours 5 min ago

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Voices from the Right wing, prominently featured in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, are warning that the grisly murder of Jamal Khashoggi by a hit squad made up of persons close to crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman should not mean the end of the close US relationship with Saudi Arabia.

I would concur with one part of this argument, which is that we should wish the country of Saudi Arabia well. But the current relationship of Washington and Riyadh is pathological in a lot of ways, and a policy rethink on both sides would benefit both countries.

Saudi Arabia is not the largest oil producer in the world, but it is the largest oil exporter, which is what is important. The US and the Russian Federation produce similar amounts, but they use most of it domestically. Saudi Arabia is important because it is the world’s swing exporter. It can export a lot or much less, and still get along because of its relatively small population.

The US has used the security umbrella it provides to the wealthy but weak Saudis as a leverage to have them up their production and flood the market at key points. They do this to weaken countries like Iran, which have far less flexibility and suffer when prices of petroleum are low. Or they do it to lower US gasoline prices to help the party in power.

The US also depends on the Saudis to buy US arms. Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have wound down, companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing would suffer if they did not sell weapons abroad.

But both of these bases for the Saudi relationship with the US are very bad for everyone on earth. Burning petroleum to fuel cars puts billions of tons of the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, which is threatening human welfare and civilization.

Petroleum has to be kept in the ground and the governments of the earth must marshal all their resources to make a rapid, as in 10-year, transition to public mass transportation and electric vehicles fueled by the wind and sun. The cynical US use of Saudi Arabia to flood the market must stop. Indeed, this tactic often lowers gasoline costs as an incidental side effect even where that isn’t the main goal, thus delaying the transition to electrical vehicles.

Saudi Arabia itself must get off its own dependence on oil exports, which Riyadh recognizes, and develop sustainable industries that will allow the country to develop normally after the end of oil.

Massive arms sales are also bad for both countries. The US is spreading around highly sophisticated death and destruction machines. Owning them has tempted the Saudis into the disastrous Yemen war, which threatens the civilians of the latter country with mass starvation. If the Saudis think such an event will not boomerang on them, they are sorely mistaken.

Lockheed Martin and Boeing employ phalanxes of smart engineers and scientists and they should turn their talents to fields like batteries and renewable energy, which will save humankind rather than destroying it.

So both petroleum and arms sales as the basis for the US-Saudi tie are bad for both countries and catastrophic for the globe and for human welfare.

For the US to throw the Middle East into more tumult, impelling mass migration to Europe and pushing that continent politically toward xenophobia and ultra-nationalism, is madness. Trying to contain Iran by keeping it from selling petroleum will fail, though not completely. But petroleum will be worthless in as little as a decade to a decade and a half, and that source of Iran’s wealth will dwindle into insignificance. For the US to risk Middle East stability when Iran’s riches are so ephemeral is poor strategy. We can wait the mullahs out. Imagine if Reagan had not rushed into an Afghanistan guerrilla war to foil the Soviets, at a time when the Soviet system was on life support and would soon die of its own accord. 9/11 would never have occurred without the Reagan Jihad in Afghanistan. Trump shouldn’t make the same fatal error with regard to fighting an Iran that will sink from its own obsolescence.

Saudi Arabia has acted as a profoundly anti-democratic force in the region. It backed the 2013 military coup in Egypt. It backed the radical Army of Islam in Syria, sidelining more democratic civil organizations. It is at daggers drawn with democratic Tunisia. It is increasingly at odds with Turkey, which at least has regular elections, whereas the Saudi royal family wouldn’t recognize a free and fair election if it fell on their heads from a great height. The US should be containing this authoritarianism, not enabling it, in the region.

The US needs to go into overdrive to promote electric vehicles and end world petroleum sales. It needs to contain Saudi Arabia’s authoritarian foreign policy, which has blighted hundreds of millions of lives. It needs to stop selling the world’s most advanced weaponry to a Saudi boy-king who likes to blow up civilian bridges in Yemen.

I genuinely say this not out of any dislike of Saudi Arabia. It is a great country with an impressive civilizational contribution, and its people deserve to flourish. But it is an absolute monarchy where no hint of dissent is allowed on pain of being subjected to a bone saw, and where the heir to the throne is a monstrous serial murderer. The US needs to pressure King Salman to find a different heir, who is a normal human being, for his throne, perhaps going back to the old more oligarchic power sharing of the past.

These steps would be good for Saudi Arabia, good for America, and good for the world.


Bonus Video:

Will The Fate Of Jamal Khashoggi Damage U.S.-Saudi Relations? | Velshi & Ruhle | MSNBC

University of Michigan Professor Disciplined for Refusing to Write Student Recommendation Letter

Wed, 17 Oct 2018 - 12:49am

October 16, 2018

Committee on Academic Freedom
Middle East Studies Association of North America

­­Elizabeth R. Cole
Interim Dean
College of Literature, Science and the Arts
University of Michigan

Dear Dean Cole:

We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern about your decision to impose disciplinary sanctions against Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the Department of American Culture because he rescinded an offer he had made to write a letter of recommendation for a student that would be used to support her application for a study-abroad program in Israel.

As a result of your action, Professor Cheney-Lippold will be ineligible for a salary increase for the current academic year and his sabbatical eligibility and credits will be frozen for two years. We regard your decision to punish Professor Cheney-Lippold for acting on the basis of his convictions and exercising his discretion as a faculty member as a distressing and dangerous violation of his academic freedom.

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2500 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

On September 5, 2018, Dr. Cheney-Lippold informed a student to whom he had earlier agreed to provide a letter of recommendation that he was no longer willing to do so because he had become aware that the student would use the letter to apply to an academic program in Israel. In a letter to the student Professor Cheney-Lippold explained that his decision was informed by the “academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine.” While Professor Cheney-Lippold inaccurately stated in that letter that University of Michigan departments had endorsed such an academic boycott, he later corrected himself and referred to individual professors rather than departments. As we understand it, as a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, Dr. Cheney-Lippold saw himself as adhering to BDS guidelines which, among other things, stipulate that “international faculty should not accept to write recommendations for students hoping to pursue studies in Israel….”

MESA has taken no formal position either for or against the BDS campaign, but in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and the constitutionally protected right to free speech it is committed to vigorously defending the right of faculty and students to advocate for or against it. We regard your decision to arbitrarily impose disciplinary sanctions on Professor Cheney-Lippold, without affording him any opportunity to explain or justify his action in a fair hearing process with faculty participation, as having violated those principles and that right, as well as your university’s ostensible commitment to faculty governance.

Your justifications for taking disciplinary action against Professor Cheney-Lippold are unconvincing, if not tendentious. You assert that by declining to write a letter Professor Cheney-Lippold denied the student in question an academic opportunity, but of course providing such a letter is no guarantee of admission to any program. Nor do your claims that Professor Cheney-Lippold violated the student’s privacy and that he used class time to discuss his decision not to provide the student with a letter provide reasonable grounds for the grossly disproportionate sanctions you have imposed on him. More broadly, we believe that it should be entirely up to a faculty member to decide whether or not he or she wishes to write a letter of recommendation for a student, unless it can be clearly demonstrated that a refusal to do so was motivated by racial, ethnic, religious or gender bias.

We call your attention in this regard to “On the Relationship of Faculty Governance to Academic Freedom,” issued in 1994 by the American Association of University Professors, which states that “[p]rotecting academic freedom on campus requires ensuring that a particular instance of fac­ulty speech will be subject to discipline only where that speech violates some central principle of academic morality, as, for example, where it is found to be fraudulent (academic freedom does not protect plagiarism and deceit).” Professor Cheney-Lippold’s decision not to write a letter of recommendation was entirely his to make and certainly violated no principle of “academic morality.” We do not see it as acceptable for deans, university administrators, or members of boards of trustees or boards of regents to arrogate to themselves the right to define the boundaries of academic freedom, which is what you have done in this case.

We further note that article 601.01 of the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guide, on freedom of speech and artistic expression, states that “Expression of diverse points of view is of the highest importance, not only for those who espouse a cause or position and then defend it, but also for those who hear and pass judgment on that defense. The belief that an opinion is pernicious, false, or in any other way detestable cannot be grounds for its suppression.” Professor Cheney-Lippold clearly acted on the basis of sincerely held convictions about an issue of public concern, and your decision to sanction him constitutes a clear violation of the letter and spirit of this article. It is moreover an infringement of his academic freedom and of the right of faculty to decide for whom they wish to write letters of recommendation.

We therefore call on you to immediately rescind your decision to impose disciplinary penalties on Professor Cheney-Lippold and to publicly reaffirm the University of Michigan’s commitment to respect, and vigorously protect, the academic freedom and free speech rights of its faculty.


Judith E. Tucker
MESA President
Professor, Georgetown University

Amy W. Newhall
MESA Executive Director

Top US Senators Call for Ouster of Saudi’s Bin Salman over Murder

Wed, 17 Oct 2018 - 12:36am

Washington (AFP) – An influential US Senate ally of President Donald Trump pledged Tuesday that Congress would take decisive action against Saudi Arabia over a missing writer, calling for the ouster of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told “Fox and Friends,” one of the president’s favorite news broadcasts.

Graham, discussing the feared killing of Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the monarchy, was backed by Marco Rubio, another of the top Republicans in the upper house, who described the crown prince as “young and aggressive.”

On Monday after speaking by telephone with King Salman, Trump was far less direct, suggesting that the October 2 disappearance of Khashoggi, who had been working with The Washington Post, could have been at the hands of “rogue killers.”

The US president said Tuesday he had spoken with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and been assured that a “full” probe into the disappearance was underway.

But Graham, who has recently ingratiated himself with Trump, launched a tirade against Riyadh.

“I was on the (Senate) floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because they’re a good ally,” Graham told Fox.

“There is a difference between a country and an individual,” he added. “The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.”

Graham added that he felt “personally offended” by the kingdom’s leadership.

“They have nothing but contempt for us. Why would you put a guy like me and the president in this box after all the president has done?” Graham fumed. “This guy has got to go.”

– ‘Strong and meaningful’ –

As for the steps Trump should take, Graham said it was “up to the president” but pledged that Congress would “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

Rubio swatted away Trump’s reservations about sanctions that might freeze tens of billions of dollars worth of Saudi arms sales.

“There are other countries we could sell that to,” Rubio told CNN.

“I don’t care how much money it is, there isn’t enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights and the way nations should conduct themselves,” he added.

“This is a fear we’ve had for a long time… that the crown prince is a young and aggressive guy that would overestimate how much room he had to do things.”

Congress “will act” in a way that will likely alter the US-Saudi relationship for the foreseeable future, Rubio asserted.

“What those specific measures are obviously is going to be up for debate, but they will be strong and meaningful,” he added, saying he expected the administration would “follow suit.”

Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, meanwhile vowed to “not vote to support any arms sale to Saudi Arabia at this time, nor will I support US assistance for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”

“The United States must send a message that this killing will not go unpunished,” she said in a statement.

Any initiative taken by the US Congress would have to wait until the November 6 elections, however, as both chambers are on recess until then.

Last week, top senators including Rubio and Graham sent a letter compelling the White House to report to Congress within 120 days with a determination about whether human rights abuses had occurred, and whether sanctions should be applied.

Congress has the power to temporarily block major arms deals, and several senators signaled they would consider doing so.

Featured Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / ALEX WONG. US Senator Lindsey Graham, pictured with fellow Republican Senator Marco Rubio in Washington in 2014, described Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “wrecking ball.”

How Guantanamo Set the Stage for the Kavanaugh Hearings

Wed, 17 Oct 2018 - 12:22am

( – Amid the emotional hubbub over the predictable confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, there has been a largely overlooked casualty: the American judiciary. It’s not the end result alone — his addition to the highest bench in the land where he will sit for life — that promises to damage the country, but the unprofessional, procedurally irresponsible way his circus-like hearings were held that dealt a blow to the possibilities for justice in America, a blow from which it may prove hard to recover.

Senator Susan Collins acknowledged the damage the hearings wrought, even if she misunderstood the cause. Delivering her massively disappointing decision to vote yes on Kavanaugh, Collins reflected on what she saw as the passion that overrode the presumption of innocence and expressed “worry” that such behavior would lead to “a lack of public faith in the judiciary.” Though wrong in blaming the Democrats for those passions, her conclusion was otherwise spot on. This confirmation has underscored and enhanced the fragility of justice in America, at least as a reflection of law, decency, honesty, transparency, and fairness.

Surprising as this derailment of justice might have seemed, it echoed (and may, in fact, have reflected) another long-unspooling twenty-first-century American degradation of justice. The proceedings created to try those terrorism suspects locked away in the offshore detention center at GuantánamoBay, Cuba, pivoted away from many of the country’s legal and moral principles (a subject to which I’ll return).

But as a prelude to understanding the harm that the Kavanaugh confirmation process caused, think for a moment about the fundamental premises underlying the Supreme Court and so the American judiciary. The Founding Fathers envisioned it as a body chaired by judges whose professional responsibility was, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78, to be “faithful guardians of the Constitution.” Toward that end, the Court was to stand independent from politics and the other two branches of government. That idea of judicial independence was, in the oft-quoted words of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “one of the crown jewels of our system of government.”

It’s apparent that both Kavanaugh and the committee before which he testified betrayed the goals of justice laid out in that foundational period by violating several major elements of judicial reasoning and procedure. In the process, they helped introduce Gitmo-style justice to the American legal system. Below are four ways in which the committee compromised longstanding aspects of American jurisprudence and justice.

A Quasi-Courtroom

Through it all, both supporters and opponents of Kavanaugh claimed that his congressional hearings did not constitute the equivalent of a courthouse. Not true. Throughout those proceedings, the Senate was, in fact, turned into a quasi-courthouse in which legislators could pick and choose just which kinds of procedures they cared to use, while conveniently banishing or ignoring others.

Think of those hearings as a conveniently watered-down version of a trial in which court procedures were invoked if they aided Kavanaugh, even as — for anything that might have harmed him — exceptions were made and regular procedures ignored. For example, Rachel Mitchell, the Arizona prosecutor appointed to question the judge and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, by the all-male Republicans on the commission eager to duck questioning a woman, would be a prosecutor in name only. Her time was curtailed to five minutes for each senator whose place she took and when it was Kavanaugh’s turn, she was simply shoved aside by the same male senators eager to rant in his favor. Nor, of course, was there anything faintly resembling an impartial judge to oversee Mitchell’s behavior (or anyone else’s for that matter) or protect the witnesses, as there is in every courtroom in the United States. Such a mock courtroom both raised and violated not only the very idea of a fair trial but a fair process of any sort.

The Evidence, Missing in Action

One hoped-for result of a trial is the bringing of facts into the open so that justice can prevail. At no point in the Kavanaugh hearings was there even the semblance of an agreed upon set of facts, no less a coherent way to present them. Quite the opposite, they started and ended with a headlong dash away from the facts. Their undermining began in classic fashion when committee Republicans (in conjunction with the White House) agreed to withhold millions of documents relating to the judge and his work as a government lawyer in the White House during George W. Bush’s presidency. In July 2001, he had been hired as an associate by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and, in 2003, he became assistant to the president and White House staff secretary where he may, among other things, have had a hand in the development of the Bush administration’s war on terror policies.

And that was just how those hearings began. In addition, of course, when it came to Kavanaugh’s seemingly grim record with women, the accusations of Deborah Ramirez and Julie Swetnick, publicly alleging inappropriate sexual behavior on his part, were ignored by the committee. Not a witness was called on the subject. Similarly, the bevy of statements that might have corroborated his exploits as a binge drinker in high school and college (as well as whether he ever blacked out from drunkenness) were tossed into the garbage pile of unexamined information.

A long overdue FBI investigation of charges against him, finally carried out at the request of Senator Jeff Flake (but under the watchful eye of the White House), proved a distinctly truncated affair that failed to seriously address the idea of establishing facts as a basis for decision-making. The FBI took the single week allotted to it, reportedly interviewed only nine witnesses, and issued a 46-page report. Compare this to a New Yorker magazine investigation of just the claims of Deborah Ramirez for which its journalists interviewed “between 50 and 100” people. As its co-author, award-winning investigative journalist Jane Mayer, commented, “The one thing I know from investigative reporting… the one thing that makes a difference is time. It takes a while to find the right people to talk to and to talk to them enough that you feel that you’ve gotten the truth from them and to find any kind of documentary evidence that you can. It just takes time.” But time is precisely what the Judiciary and the White House did not allow.

And don’t forget the importance of a perception of thoroughness and fairness. As former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara put it, “[A]t the end of the day, if there is no further corroboration found with respect to these allegations, then Brett Kavanaugh gets confirmed to the bench. It will be better for him, it will be better for people’s respect for the court, it will be better for people’s respect of the process if they had done more rather than less…”

But a thorough investigation was obviously not what the powers-that-be wanted. As White House Counsel Don McGahn reportedly told the President, “a wide-ranging inquiry” into allegations about the judge’s sexual misconduct would be “potentially disastrous.”

Lack of Transparency

Consider the matter of transparency (or the lack of it) as a grim partner to the withholding, burying, or ignoring of evidence. Given a president who has himself dismissed transparency out of hand — whether in terms of tax returns, election interference, or other subjects — it should have been no surprise that the FBI’s thoroughly inadequate report was not even made public. It was the equivalent of secret testimony. Nor are there evidently any plans to reveal its contents. That final act of secrecy only underscored the White House’s defiance when it came to withholding the vast trove of documentation on Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House. Senator Lindsey Graham caught the mood of the moment perfectly when he stated that he had no plans to read the FBI’s report. It was obvious to him that the contents would be a foregone conclusion and that he could rely on others to tell him about it. Apparently, he already knew what he thought.

Lack of Accountability

How many times did we have to hear that the nominee should not be held accountable for what he did as a young man? But what about Kavanaugh’s endless — to put it politely — misstatements of fact? As numerous media sites and tweets pointed out, he seemed to lie repeatedly during the hearings. “Senators on the Judiciary Committee had to know they were being lied to,” wrote Eric Alterman of the Nation, “since the lies were continuously highlighted on Twitter.” New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait called the hearings a “farrago of evasions and outright lies.” And Kavanaugh refused to give his stamp of approval to the FBI investigation, even as he was reportedly pursuing classmates behind the scenes to silence them about the allegations against him.

Had the committee cared to do anything about them, examples of his dissembling were abundantly obvious. He insisted, for instance, that he had not been an excessive drinker. Who cared that the New York Times published excerpts from a 1983 letter of his suggesting that the guests at a beach house where he and his friends were planning to party should “warn the neighbors that we’re loud, obnoxious drunks with prolific pukers among us.” So, too, Kavanaugh’s college roommate, James Roche, attested to Kavanaugh’s heavy drinking in those years. Yet another report mentioned Kavanaugh’s involvement in passing around a girl for sex. He also insisted that he and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her, had not hung out in the same circles in high school, even though one of the friends he referred to on his list of “[brew]skis,” dated her. And, of course, his on-the-spot definitions of the phrases “Devil’s Triangle” and “boofed” in his high school yearbook as not relating to sex, seemingly obvious falsehoods, were never explored by the committee.

And so it went in those hearings, when it came to even a semblance of classic legal proceedings involving evidence, transparency, or accountability. Take, for instance, Kavanaugh’s answers about his time in the Bush White House. He told the Judiciary Committee that he had not been part of any discussions about the detention policies of that administration, a category that included both Guantánamo and the administration’s notorious “enhanced interrogation techniques.” It’s hard, however, to imagine him closing his eyes as memos that we know existed on detention, surveillance, and torture came across his desk on their way to his boss, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. In fact, as New Yorker correspondent Amy Davidson Sorkin has written, individuals then at the White House claim that Kavanaugh was in at least one heated debate over the way in which the Supreme Court would assess the administration’s unprecedented detention policies.

As it happened, however, whenever they could, the committee’s Republican majority chose never to hold him accountable for more or less anything and if, by chance, facts did come to light, despite multiple attempts to hide or suppress them, they were simply dismissed, often flippantly.

The Gitmo Template

For some of us, at least, this kind of denial of justice in America is nothing new. If you were following the war on terror all these years, such a wholesale willingness to compromise the very essence of justice has long seemed like a dangerous trend in clear view. Under the circumstances, it should have been no surprise that Brett Kavanaugh came out of the Bush White House and that the former president supported him vocally throughout the entire confirmation process.

In fact, Guantánamo could be said to have created the template for that quasi-courtroom in Washington and the various deviations from normal investigation, law, and procedure that it followed. For observers of that island prison, the Kavanaugh hearings ring an all-too-familiar bell. For nearly a decade and a half now, such quasi-courtrooms have been the essence of “justice” at that prison camp, as one sham hearing after another has been held. Periodic “reviews” of the very legitimacy of holding detainees in an offshore prison beyond the reach of American justice that had no analog in the American legal system — Combatant Status Review Tribunals under George Bush and Periodic Review Boards under Barack Obama — were introduced simply to justify the continued incarceration of prisoners there. The only goal of such hearings, it appeared, was to avoid the requirements of established protections on the U.S. mainland like due process.

Meanwhile, in Gitmo’s military commissions, as in the Kavanaugh hearings, a central, impartial, independent authority was missing. They are overseen by judges without the power and command of those in the federal court system. Instead, as was true with the White House during the Kavanaugh hearings, the command influence of the Pentagon — and at times the CIA — has hovered over Gitmo’s hearings from day one.

The credentials of the latest judge there, Marine Colonel Keith Parrella, named to the position in August, have only underscored aperpetual lack of regard for professional standards. Parrella, who has had no experience in capital cases, will be overseeing future hearings for the still-untried alleged co-conspirators of the September 11th attacks, who, 17 years later, face the death penalty. Nor has time been allotted, as the Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg has pointed out, for the new judge to digest six years’ worth of motions or 20,000 pages of transcripts. No matter. It’s no more of a problem than not absorbing or dealing with the Kavanaugh evidence was to the White House or the Senate Judiciary Committee. Compromised professional standards and procedures, the calling card of Guantánamo’s attempts to adjudicate justice, are now clearly making the move to the mainland.

Inside Gitmo’s quasi-courtrooms, violations of longstanding procedure occur on a regular basis. For example, attorney-client privilege has been upended on numerous occasions over many years. Hidden government surveillance devices have been used to spy on detainee lawyers and their conversations with their clients, as in the case of Abd Al-Rahim al-Nashiri. So, too, the government urge to withhold witness testimony, apparent in the Kavanaugh hearings, echoes Guantánamo where the very idea of a fair trial has long seemed inconceivable to experts. As at the Judiciary Committee in recent weeks, excluded evidence has been a commonplace feature of Gitmo’s military commissions. Lawyers for the detainees are regularly ignored in their attempts to present potentially crucial material, as in the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, especially when it relates to the torture and mistreatment of detainees while in custody.

Since President Trump took office, the military commissions system has only strengthened prohibitions that block the defendants’ lawyers from access to witnesses and documents. This year, lawyers for the five detainees accused of conspiring in the attacks of 9/11 were informed that they had been prohibited from investigating the role that CIA officials and associates played in the brutal interrogation of their clients, testimony that is, they maintain, crucial to their defense strategies, particularly for the death penalty phase of the trial. In fact, at Gitmo, burying the facts has meant, in essence, burying prisoners alive. As defense attorney Joseph Margulies recently wrote about his client, Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times, the government has continually bypassed legal process, preferring to detain Zubaydah forever in silence rather than afford him a trial and the presentation of evidence.

As with all that repressed documentation on Kavanaugh’s White House years, at Gitmo the government has regularly insisted on keeping facts secret. In this spirit, to keep the record clear of hard information about its torture practices, the CIA ordered the destruction of 92 tapes showing some of its grim interrogation sessions. (Even the 6,000-page Senate report on those interrogations has been classified and so largely kept from the public, while the Trump administration has tried to bury it further by rounding up existing copies from the agencies that had them in their possession.)

Without a proper judge, and minus valuable evidence, without any appetite for transparency or accountability, the Gitmo proceedings and the issues that haunt them have been reduced to a kind of invisibility. They are now sham events (just as the Kavanaugh hearings and investigation proved to be). Most of those paying attention have long since concluded that, as criminal defense attorney Joshua Dratel put it, “The reliability and legitimacy of verdicts is completely undermined by secret proceedings.” So, too, may history judge Brett Kavanaugh’s ascension to the bench in proceedings in which secrecy, as well as withheld or intentionally ignored evidence, prevailed.

The Constitution put a condition on the granting of lifetime positions to justices: “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” While the good behavior of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh will forever be in question, more important may be the wound that his confirmation hearings inflicted on an American belief in the possibility of justice in this country.

Guantánamo’s tainting of justice should, from early on, have served as a warning. Instead, it seems to have become a template for “justice” in the nation’s capital. The 2007 Manual for Military Commissions ominously included in its preamble the prediction that “this Manual will have an historic impact for our military and our country.”

And so, as the Kavanaugh confirmation process suggests, it did. It’s hard to imagine a more telling event than the rise to the Supreme Court of a White House lawyer present at the creation of many of those Gitmo policies. Under the circumstances, it should hardly surprise anyone that the road to his confirmation displayed many of the legal aberrations launched during the Bush era. As the Gitmo story illustrates, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation was not the first nail in the coffin of justice in America — and sadly, it’s unlikely to be the last.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and the author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. She also wrote The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days. Fordham Law students Daniel Humphrey, Raina Duggirala, and Claudia Bennett helped with the research for this piece.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Karen J. Greenberg

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a reminder that, for $100 ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), you can still get a signed, personalized copy of Juan Cole’s important new book, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires, by visiting our donation page. Check out Cole’s recent TomDispatch piece on the Republicans and Islamophobia or the one he put up at his own invaluable website, Informed Comment, related to his book. The offer will only last three more days! Tom]



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

ABC Australia: “The beautiful, weird and frustrating world of Guantanamo Bay”

Suspects in Saudi Journalist Murder directly tied to Crown Prince

Wed, 17 Oct 2018 - 12:09am

by Ian Geoffrey TIMBERLAKE | – –

Washington (AFP) – A suspect identified by Turkey in the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a frequent companion of the kingdom’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Three other suspects are linked to Prince Mohammed’s security detail and a fifth is a high-level forensic doctor, the Times said.

The account, and a similar report in The Washington Post, could raise doubts about US President Donald Trump’s claim that “rogue killers” might have been responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Trump made the comment after he said Saudi King Salman strongly denied to him any knowledge of what happened.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national who contributed to The Post and criticized policies of Salman’s son Crown Prince Mohammed, has not been seen since October 2, when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage.

Turkish government sources have said police believe the journalist was killed by a special team of 15 Saudi officials sent to Istanbul especially for the task.

Riyadh insists that he left the consulate safely.

The Times said it confirmed that at least nine of the 15 worked for the Saudi security services, military or other government ministries.

The newspaper said it gathered more information about the suspects through facial recognition software, a database of Saudi cellphone numbers, leaked Saudi government documents, witnesses and media.

– An autopsy expert –

Sabah Newspaper/AFP / – Police CCTV video allegedly shows members of a group of Saudi citizens that Turkish police suspect of being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

One suspect, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, was a diplomat assigned to the Saudi embassy in London in 2007, it said, citing a British diplomatic roster.

Mutreb, perhaps a bodyguard, has been photographed emerging from planes with Prince Mohammed on recent trips to Madrid and Paris, the newspaper reported.

It added that Mutreb was also photographed standing guard during Prince Mohammed’s visits in the United States to Houston, Boston and the United Nations.

The Times said three other suspects are Abdulaziz Mohammed al-Hawsawi — a member of the security team that travels with Prince Mohammed — Thaar Ghaleb al-Harbi, and Muhammed Saad Alzahrani.

Al-Harbi and Alzahrani have the same names as two people who have been identified as members of the Saudi Royal Guard, the Times said.

The fifth suspect is an autopsy expert, Salah al-Tubaigy, who the Times said identified himself on his Twitter account as the head of the Saudi Scientific Council of Forensics.

He also held high positions in the Interior Ministry and the kingdom’s top medical school, the report said.

Sabah Newspaper/AFP / – Police CCTV video allegedly shows a private jet at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport said to have ferried in a group of Saudi men suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance.

In its separate report late Tuesday, the Post said 11 of the 15 people which Turkey alleged were involved in Khashoggi’s killing have ties to the Saudi security services, including some who claim to be with the Royal Guard.

The Post cited posts on social media, emails, local media and other sources.

On Monday, CNN cited two sources as saying the Saudis are preparing a report that Khashoggi’s death resulted from a botched interrogation, while The Wall Street Journal said the kingdom was weighing whether to say that rogue operatives killed Khashoggi by mistake.

Sabah Newspaper/AFP / – Police CCTV video made available through Turkish newspaper Sabah allegedly shows suspects in the case of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on October 2, 2018.

Saudi war on Yemen: World’s Worst Famine in a Century could Claim 13 Million

Tue, 16 Oct 2018 - 12:35am

Yemen is a country of some 29 million persons, but over a third of them are at risk of starvation if Saudi and UAE bombing campaigns continue. Lise Grand, the United Nations coordinator for Yemen, has warned that the world has only 3 months to halt the slide toward catastrophe.

She seems to think that an immediate armistice must be called in the war to avoid this dire outcome. The Trump administration provides logistical and other help to the Saudi and UAE belligerents, and so the United States is embroiled in any human rights disaster there.

The Zaydi Shiite Houthi militia took control of the most populous parts of Yemen in 2014. Although the Zaydis are closer to Sunnism than other Shiites (such as the Twelvers of Iraq and Iran), the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia hate them with a passion and have been trying for three decades to convert them to Wahhabism with their oil wealth. The Houthi revivalist movement arose in part as a reaction against that Wahhabi missionary drive and search for Saudi hegemony in Yemen.

The Saudis accuse the Houthis of being puppets of Iran, but that is a vast exaggeration. They are a largely indigenous movement.

By 2015 Mohammad Bin Salman, the defense minister and now crown prince, had ordered a massive air war. While Yemeni and a small number of Gulf troops were able to push the Houthis back out of the Sunni seaport of Aden, the United Arab Emirates and Saudis have had difficulty defeating them in the north where they are embedded among the some 10 million Zaydis along with more millions of Sunni allies or subjects.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the North Atlantic powers are backing Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who became president in a referendum in early 2012 after his predecessor, longtime dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, was removed by the Arab Spring youth revolt.

But Mansour Hadi’s rump legitimist government has been riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Mansour Hadi just fired the premier and turned him over for investigation, apparently on charges of corruption. That isn’t a leader who will bring those ruled by Houthis over to himself.

The war has so far taken at least 10,000 lives, and has displaced millions and left most of the country food insecure (i.e. not yet starving but one paycheck away from it).

One way for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi finally to finish off their enemy and establish Sunni dominance throughout Yemen would be to cut landlocked Sana’a, the capital, off from its access to the northwestern seaport of Hudeida.

It is the bombing campaign and movement of some infantry toward Hudeida that has the United Nations worried. Cutting off Sana’a, the country’s capital, from military resupply is one thing. But there is danger of the Zaydis of the north in general being blockaded.

Not to mention that just the campaign to take Hudeida could leave thousands dead in and of itself.


BBC: “Yemen on brink of ‘worst famine in 100 years’ The United Nations is warning that 13 million people in Yemen are facing starvation.

Saudi Arabia’s Brutal Game of Thrones signals its Lack of Democracy

Mon, 15 Oct 2018 - 11:48pm

(Informed Comment) – The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and his possible death at the hands of the Saudi state operatives in its consulate in Istanbul is a blow to responsible politics and advocates of international relations based on broad consensus over norms of behavior, the rule of law, accountability, and transparency. Mr. Khashoggi has sacrificed a great deal in his personal life and fortunes to pursue his journalistic call to speak truth to power, especially in his native country of Saudi Arabia. His disappearance and possible death is only the latest episode of Saudi political elites’ reckless silencing of political dissidents, and even treating own citizens as mere followers of the al-Saud ‘royal’ tribe.

The rise of Muhammad Bin Salman to political prominence as a declared reformer highlights the ‘rudimentary’ nature of power politics in the kingdom, where persons and personalism—the hallmarks of patrimonial power politics— can still dominate the country eighteen years into the 21st Century. Prince Salman has already pushed the Saudi-Iranian relations to the point of war, involved the country in a brutal war in Yemen, ostracized Qatar and created a crisis in the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council, and now the Jamal Khashoggi Affair. This is to say nothing of using the state power to embezzle money from power elite in the country in the name of fighting corruption. While broader social freedoms for women and men alike are tightly controlled, the ‘reformist’ prince silencing any voice of decent while ‘granting’ women the right to drive!

Little has changed since the rise of the country in the 1930s as the Saudi political system still maintains its initial tribal structure. Since its founding in 1932, the Kingdom has clinched on to its traditional tribal fundamentals dominated by the ruling family and its cohorts, while coloring itself with all the gleaming and reflective façades of modernity. The result has been, expectedly, a politically static Kingdom, where citizens are treated as mere subjects without fundamental human rights. The Saudi nationals of twenty-seven million share their misfortune with the Kingdom’s 8.5 million non-nationals who are even more deprived of basic human rights and decent economic life.

The populace has little to say about the very sociopolitical and economic policies that determine their livelihood and allows for the extent of public space in a thriving civil society. Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy is a hostage to the narrow interest of the ruling elite, limiting the legal and institutional scope and the veracity needed for a dynamic and effective approach in pursuit of national interest. Without political change through either evolution or revolution, the future of the country and its foreign policy will remain incoherent, oppressive, and conflict-prone.

Saudi Arabia’s political economy rests on the twin pillars of neopatrimonialism and Rentierism: its political economy symbolizes that ‘peculiar modality of the capitalist mode of production—a mix of Patrimonialism, nepotism, and crony capitalism, pillaging of public property, swollen bureaucracy, and generalized corruption, against a background of great sociopolitical instability and the impotence or even nonexistence of the role of law—that is dominant in the Arab region’ (Achcar, p. 74).

The Kingdom has experienced little political change since the advent of the Arab Spring in 2011, and, public opinion remains irrelevant in the determination of sociopolitical, economic, and foreign policies. The populace has for long been dependent on government subsidies and largesse, especially during crises times. To manage the expectations of citizens, the Saudi government is spending far too much money than it can afford. In response to the Arab Spring in 2011, the Saudi government increased its spending by 25% on the previous year to quell potential dissent, which included around $130 billion of social spending, higher pay, and bonuses for public sector workers. As Mark Lynch argues: in almost every Arab country, the economic and political problems that drove the region toward popular uprising in 2011 are more intense today than they were seven years ago. Instead of democracy and accountable governments, the proliferation of weakened and failed states, as in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf States, poses serious questions about the future of politics in these countries and prospects for peace and regional cooperation.

With the bulk of its wealth coming from the sale of its natural resources rather than taxation, Saudi citizens have had relatively limited involvement in the political decision-making processes. The country remains one of the world’s most oil-dependent economies, with the sector contributing 78 percent of exports. Oil accounts for 90 percent of its exports and 50 percent of its GDP and oil constitute almost 70 percent of the Saudi government’s revenues. Energy consumption in the kingdom remains very high, surpassing those in the developed countries. Oil and gas sector scores 36 of 100 points and ranks 69th among 89 assessments in the 2017 Resource Governance Index (RGI). The RGI assessment reveals governance challenges that weaken accountability to citizens and could hinder achievement of Saudi Arabia’s long-term goals. In 2012,

The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia might decide to reduce its energy subsidies, which comprise up to 20 percent of the government’s budget. Without a serious attempt at curtailing consumption and abiding by market mechanisms to manage the oil and gas sector, the increasing energy consumption, could make Saudi Arabia a net oil importer by 2030, as indicated in a report by Citigroup. The public sector remains immense: based on a poll conducted by Gallup, the government employs as many as eight out of every ten citizens.

The Vision 2030 promises privatization of the national oil company, the Aramco, to prepare investment in infrastructure projects. The success of this initiative will depend heavily on the ultimate valuation of the company, but Saudi Aramco’s governance receives a failing score in the index. As one observer summarizes, Vision 2030 “apparently seeks a rapid implementation of economic reforms that could have been instituted much more effectively over a longer timescale, but which have hitherto been deferred for years because they did not seem urgent and because they were presumed to have costs for political stability. A similar scenario could emerge with political reforms, which are endlessly deferred in times of social peace, but may well become a more urgent priority in the years to come.”

Saudi foreign policy framework and structure mirror-images its rudimentary domestic political structure and modus operandi. It fundamentally lacks the necessary accountable and credible foreign policy decision-making professionals and processes and is driven by special interests and corrupt politics; King Salman in 2015 dissolved 12 advisory councils and replaced them with only two: one overseeing national security, and the other tasked with guiding economic development. So, problems in foreign policy structure and function remain.

First, the Saudi foreign-policy establishment lacks any independence and its existence and operation rests primarily on the king and the ruling royals. Second, Saudi foreign policy concern is foremost over the security of the regime and not the broader national interest of the country and the populace. Third, the Saudi regime lacks the credible ‘soft power,’ except for throwing money at problems. Fourth, Saudi citizens are not equipped and are divorced from any input into decisions that are made in their names, and this makes the ruling elite a legitimate target of criticism and blame. The state sociopolitical and economic dominance means the absence of a vibrant civil society to counter the state power through organized social, political, and economic participation. Two primary agents of civil society—independent labor unions and political parties– are non-existent in the kingdom.

The creation of a regional grouping like the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council has resembled an informal gathering of some ‘heads of state’ without the necessary organizational and institutional structure in place for successful diplomatic engagement and confidence building. So, since the early 1980s, Riyadh and its GCC allies have failed to develop the grouping into a wider, more formal regional entity with institutional power and structure. The primary impediment? Lack of trust among the members, with smaller city-states fearful of Saudi rulers to hijack the Council to dominate the ruling families in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. King Abdullah warned the GCC members resisting the creation of a Saudi-led wider collective regional security in 2011.

The Kingdom has also since 2015 attempted to establish several informal multilateral coalitions and alliances in which combinations of various Arab, Muslim, and other nations participate under its leadership but within the traditional patrimonial hallmarks of informality and personalism. The Arab Coalition in Yemen, since March 2015 was followed by the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT) in December 2015. The Anti-Qatar Coalition since June 2017 is to force its longtime GCC rivals to fall in line with Saudi strategic worldview. These ‘coalitions of the willing’ can also be easily disbanded once they have achieved their objective. As Rory Miller observes, absent an alternative that offers Riyadh the same opportunities to claim leadership of the Arab and Muslim world, informal alliances will remain central, although not necessarily effective, component of Saudi security thinking.

Regional politics and the advent of the Arab Spring made the kingdom to embark on a riskier foreign policy adventurism without the necessary groundwork in place. According to Saudi officials, Abdullah’s faith in Washington completely “evaporated” once the Obama administration called for Hosni Mubarak to give up power in Egypt after only days of popular protests in early 2011. The public rebuke of Bahrain’s ruling family that followed further antagonized Saudi leaders, but the deployment of a Saudi-led military force to Bahrain in March 2011 signaled a new turn. The 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, further reaffirmed the U.S. Middle Eastern policy objectives based on pragmatism.

To avert the popular desire for political change inspired by the Arab Spring movement, the regime lashed out at a supposed ‘Shi’a threat’ to the country and has since spent tens of billions on bribing its own population through cash handout, arms purchases, and lobbying. Subsequent involvement in Syria under Abdullah and in Yemen under Salman has also underscored this new Saudi willingness to take risks and project power beyond its borders without the Saudi populace having a say in policies impacting the lives of millions of people.

The Saudi government unease about a Shi’a threat to its national interests, its onslaught on Yemen, and its bullying the tiny state of Qatar to submit its sovereignty to the Kingdom reflect the use of archaic tactics in foreign policy. Such tactics are expected in the absence of legal, institutional, and democratic venues in the determination of national interest. The conduct of foreign policy without institutional and organizational logistics and procedures intact fails to embrace efforts at negotiations and conflict resolution through diplomacy to reach for common grounds with adversaries.

The war on Yemen has already led to catastrophic consequences for the Arab world’s poorest country and the Saudi people are hopeless in raising their objections to the brutal act of the state in the suppression of Yemeni people in their name. Saudi foreign policy adventurism is more a reflection of the regime anxiety about its own survival than a manufactured ‘Shi’a threat’ to the national security of the country. The Khashoggi affair only reflects the paucity of the kingdom’s foreign policy establishment and mechanism, itself a mirror-image of the state of its political underdevelopment.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Democracy Now! “Former Saudi Political Prisoner: Khashoggi’s Disappearance is Sending a Gruesome Message to Critics”

Dozens injured as Palestinians Protest Israeli Closure of Nablus School in Palestine

Mon, 15 Oct 2018 - 11:24pm

NABLUS (Ma’an) — Dozens of Palestinians participated in a protest against an Israeli army order to close a Palestinian high school in the al-Lubban village south of the northern occupied West Bank district of Nablus, on Monday, forcing the Israeli army to back down on the decision.

Local sources told Ma’an that Palestinian families and officials participated in a protest against the closure of the al-Sawiya school, seemed to have forced the Israeli army to back down on its earlier decision.

The Israeli army was to close the al-Sawiya high school, located on the Ramallah-Nablus road, under the pretext that students threw stones at Israeli soldiers nearby.

Israeli forces sealed off roads leading to the high school, in an attempt to prevent students from reaching it.

Meanwhile, as Palestinians began to peacefully protest the closure, Israeli forces attacked protesters and students at the school, causing clashes to break out.

Israeli forces fired tear-gas bombs at students, their parents and officials protesting the closure.

Israeli forces also locked several students inside the school, preventing them from leaving the premises during clashes.

Medical sources confirmed that the head of the al-Lubban village council, Samer Owais, was injured with a rubber-coated steel bullet fired by Israeli forces during the protest, while many others suffered from tear-gas inhalation.

Among the ones suffering from tear-gas inhalation was the Palestinian Minister of Education, Sabri Saidam.

Additionally, a photojournalist, whose identity remained unknown, was injured while covering the protest after being hit by a tear-gas canister.

Those injured were later evacuated to nearby hospitals in Nablus City.

Story and Photo via Ma’an News Agency

Saudi Arabia vows Retaliation if Punished over Missing Critic

Mon, 15 Oct 2018 - 11:16pm

Dubai (AFP) – Saudi Arabia warned it would retaliate against any sanctions imposed on the oil-rich kingdom over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as more Western companies distanced themselves from the Gulf State.

US President Donald Trump has threatened the kingdom with “severe punishment” if Khashoggi, who has been critical of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed inside its Istanbul mission.

But Riyadh vowed to hit back on Sunday against any punitive measures as its stock market tumbled, with the fallout from the crisis threatening to imperil Prince Mohammed’s much-hyped economic reform drive.

“The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats or attempts to undermine it whether through threats to impose economic sanctions or the use of political pressure,” an official said, according to state news agency SPA.

The official said Riyadh would “respond to any action with a bigger one”, pointing out that the oil superpower “plays an effective and vital role in the world economy”.

According to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television, the kingdom has “over 30 measures” it could implement.

Following Riyadh’s assertion it would retaliate, Britain, France and Germany released a joint statement saying they were treating Khashoggi’s disappearance “with the utmost seriousness”.

“There needs to be a credible investigation to establish the truth about what happened, and — if relevant — to identify those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, and ensure that they are held to account.”

This message had been conveyed “directly to the Saudi authorities”, said the statement, signed by Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas.

– ‘Baseless allegations’ –

Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor, vanished after entering the consulate on October 2.

Saudi Arabia insists Khashoggi left the building safely and dismissed accusations that authorities had ordered his murder by a hit squad as “lies and baseless allegations”.

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi was killed inside the mission and claims have been leaked to media that he was tortured and even dismembered.

A Saudi dissident in Quebec said on Sunday he believes the kingdom hacked his phone and listened to calls he had with Jamal Khashoggi prior to the journalist’s disappearance.

“For sure, they listened to the conversation between me and Jamal and other activists, in Canada, in the States, in Turkey, in Saudi Arabia,” Omar Abdulaziz said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

AFP/File / OZAN KOSE. Protestors hold pictures of journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a demonstration in front of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 5, 2018.

Saudi King Salman spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone on Sunday, the Saudi foreign ministry said, telling Erdogan: “No-one will get (to) undermine the strength of this relationship.”

According to a Turkish presidential source, who asked not to be named, Erdogan and the king discussed “the issue of shedding light on the case of Jamal Khashoggi” and also emphasised the “importance of creating a joint working group within the framework of the investigation.”

In the US, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Saudi Arabia should take Trump’s warning over the journalist’s fate seriously.

“When the president warns, people should take him at his word,” he told Fox.

“If the Saudis are involved, if Khashoggi was killed or harmed or whatever, bad outcome here. He (Trump) will take action.”

– Saudi stocks tumble –

Investors have taken fright, prompting Saudi stocks to tumble by around seven percent at one point on Sunday, wiping out their gains for 2018.

The kingdom’s Tadawul All-Shares Index (TASI) lost more than 500 points, diving by seven percent in the first two hours of trading Sunday, in panic selling reminiscent of the days after the global financial crisis in 2008.

It later clawed back some losses to close the day down 3.5 percent at 7,266.59 points.

Japanese SoftBank’s shares also took a dive on Monday, falling by nearly seven percent over fears for its major financial ties with Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Zidan, market strategist at Thinkmarket in Dubai, said the drop in Saudi stocks was linked to the uncertainty surrounding the Khashoggi affair.

“The withdrawal of top participants from the Riyadh investment conference has also negatively impacted traders’ sentiment,” he told AFP.

Business barons including British billionaire Richard Branson and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, as well as media powerhouses like Bloomberg and CNN, have pulled out of next week’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh.

JP Morgan CEO James Dimon and Ford chairman Bill Ford said on Sunday they would also not attend.

The cancellations have cast a pall over the annual summit at which Prince Mohammed wowed investors last year with talking robots and blueprints for a futuristic mega city.

The withdrawal of Uber’s Khosrowshahi from the event is particularly symbolic as the kingdom’s vast Public Investment Fund (PIF) has invested $3.5 billion in the ride-hailing app.

Featured Photo: Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / BANDAR AL-JALOUD. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has garnered international attention with his reforms and rapid rise to power.

Sen. Warren Calls on Trump to Pay $1 mn. to Charity as her DNA shows Native Ancestry

Mon, 15 Oct 2018 - 11:15pm

Washington (AFP) – US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, released DNA test results Monday confirming her Native American ancestry and challenged Donald Trump to donate the $1 million he promised if the results proved her claim.

The 69-year-old Warren, a leading progressive voice, has been derisively called “Pocahontas” by the president and accused of lying about her lineage in order to gain advantages in her career including a plum teaching job at Harvard.

But an analysis of her DNA performed by Stanford University professor Carlos Bustamante concluded that while the vast majority of Warren’s ancestry is European, there is definitive evidence that she has Native American blood.

“The facts suggest that you absolutely have a Native American ancestor in your pedigree,” Bustamante said in a video released by Warren on Twitter.

The Democrat said Bustamante’s analysis concludes that her DNA “contains Native American ancestry.”

According to the Boston Globe, Bustamante calculated that Warren’s Native American ancestor appeared in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.”

The result appears to tie in with what Warren has said about her family lore of a great-great-great-grandmother who was at least partially Native American.

Warren, who was raised in Oklahoma but represents Massachusetts, made an elaborate rollout of the results Monday in order to dispel questions from Republican critics that have dogged her for years.

“I never expected my family’s story to be used as a racist political joke, but I don’t take any fight lying down,” she tweeted.

– ‘Who cares?’ –

Trump seized on Warren’s heritage claims during the 2016 presidential campaign, when he labeled her “Pocahontas,” a racial slur.

At a campaign-style rally in July Trump revived the attack in a challenge to Warren: “I will give you a million dollars to your favorite charity, paid for by Trump, if you take the test and it shows you’re an Indian.”

Warren on Monday was quick to remind the president of his provocation, pointing out that her chosen charity is the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

“Send them your $1M check, @realdonaldtrump,” she said.

Asked by reporters about Warren’s DNA test, Trump responded dismissively: “Who cares?”

But when pressed about her call for him to pay up, Trump turned defensive. “I didn’t say that. You better read it again,” he said.

Warren’s four-minute video appears aimed at settling the longstanding dispute about her blood line, as well as charges from critics that she used her heritage to advance her career.

AFP / MANDEL NGAN. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly mocked Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” for her claims of Native American heritage, but she has released DNA test results that conclude she is partly Native American.

“My background played no role in my hiring,” she says in the video, which includes clips from several bosses and co-workers saying she was hired on her merits.

Warren’s results revelation is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s decision in 2011 to release his long-form birth certificate following years of haranguing by Trump, who pushed the conspiracy theory that the nation’s first black president was born in Kenya.

Featured Photo: AFP/File / Joseph PREZIOSO. US Senator Elizabeth Warren is seen as a top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Tokyo’s Net Carbon Zero Olympics, as Japan surges toward 65 GW Solar

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 11:24pm

I love Japan, but I have to say its government has dragged its feet on renewable energy. But there are signs of a big turnaround on the issue in the world’s third largest economy, which would be huge. Despite worries about the impact of planned phasing out of solar subsidies, there are lots of good signs on the horizon. One is Tokyo’s plans to mount the very first Net Carbon Zero Olympics in 2020!

Japan will add 17 gigawatts of solar power over the next two years according to a report of Fitch Solutions, Joshua S. Hill explains.

Japan went from having 13.6 GW of installed solar capacity in late 2013 to having 48.6 GW by the end of 2017, which is one of the more impressive expansions of the industry in the world in that period. Japan lost a great deal of its nuclear electricity generation capacity with the 2011 Fukushima tsunami disaster, which knocked a complex of six major reactors out and led to the closure of many others as a precaution. Tokyo had to scramble to replace that nuclear generation capacity with natural gas imports, which was expensive, and they worry about the security of the Gulf, where Qatar is the major gas exporter. So the government put in generous subsidies for solar, which, however, proved expensive to the government. It is now scaling back those incentives, which is expected to slow the growth of solar after 2020. On the other hand, the rapid drop in the price of solar power generation and improvements in panel efficiency and better batteries could well offset the lapse in government incentives.

In the light of the recent IPCC report on fending off the worst effects of the climate emergency, Japan is estimated to need 250 gigawatts of solar by 2025, which would require it to nearly quadruple its 2020 capacity in five years. That isn’t likely to happen without a huge government push or a significant technological and price breakthrough.

Japan’s use of solar is nevertheless becoming more sophisticated. It recently proved able to transfer 1.12 gigawatts in excess solar-generated electricity from the island of Kyushu to the main island of Honshu.

Japan’s technological and infrastructural powerhouses seem to be warming to solar after decades of concentration on nuclear energy and coal. TEPCO has innovative plans to try to link home and car batteries throughout Japan via the internet of things so as to create a single Virtual Power Plant (VPP). It would allow the company to feed in electricity from the stored energy in the batteries at night or at other times when solar generation fell off (Japan is fairly cloudy).

The Japanese energy conglomerate Marubeni is dumping coal, of which it had been a major proponent, and is upping renewables to as much as 20% of its portfolio. It is putting in a 1.1 gigawatt solar installation.

Japan’s large and sophisticated network of scientists and engineers are beginning to turn their talents to creating more efficient solar panels. Researchers at Kobo University have teamed up with Imperial College London’s joint London Centre for Nanotechnology and Oxford to investigate new methods of molecular patterning to increase panel efficiency. Most panels are only 18% to 22% efficient, so that solar energy could be four times cheaper and four times more powerful with some breakthroughs. Some solar bids are now as low as 3 cents per kilowatt hour (Chile, Dubai), whereas coal costs 5 cents a kilowatt hour, if solar fell to less than a cent a kilowatt hour it would blow all other generation technologies out of the water and you’d have a revolution in only a decade. Up until recently, solar panel innovations have been the province of the US, Britain and China (indeed, solar energy has been one of the bright spots in Chinese innovation). The lack of enthusiasm for solar in the giant Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), which I experienced first hand during energy consultations in Tokyo, is now changing.

Japan puts out about 1.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, but the amount has been falling annually for the past few years. It is the world’s fifth largest CO2 emitter, and only plans to cut emissions by 25% from 2013 levels by 2030, which practically speaking is almost no cut at all. They’d still be putting out a billion metric tons a year into the 2030s, which the IPCC report just informed us is a path to climate disasters. Japan is especially vulnerable to sea level rise, increasingly powerful typhoons, and increased temperatures in its already sweltering summers, so you’d hope its elites (who are indistinguishable on this issue from American Republican Party officials) would wake up before it is too late. Japan gave us the parable of Godzilla, the monster who rises from the oceans, and the true horror film would be for Godzilla to actually be the Pacific Ocean itself.


Bonus video:

Euronews: “Making a splash: Japan’s floating solar panels”

“Untrump the World”: Hundreds of Thousands March in Berlin against Far Right

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 11:23pm

By Common Dreams staff | –

BERLIN, GERMANY: Protesters participate in the Unteilbar (‘indivisible’) march against racism, exclusion and exploitation and for an open society on October 13, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. Organizers of the march decry the growing divisions in European society that they claim are being fuelled by policies that accentuate the gap between rich and poor, that prioritize security over human rights and that promote nationalism over inclusion.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched Saturday afternoon demonstrating against racism and calling for solidarity against the rise of the far-right across Germany and Europe.

On a hot and sunny fall day a 3-mile stretch of Berlin city’s center, from Alexanderplatz through the Brandenburg Gate to the Victory Column, was closed to accommodate the huge parade, which was united under the hashtag #unteilbar (“indivisible”).

A wide range of groups backed the “Indivisible” protest in the heart of the German capital under the slogan “For an Open and Free Society: Solidarity, not Exclusion!”

Here is the “Call to Action” that organizers issued last week:

For an Open and Free Society: Solidarity, not Exclusion!

A dramatic political shift is taking place: racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable. What yesterday was considered unthinkable and unutterable, has today become a reality. Humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law are being openly attacked. This is an attack on all of us.

We will not allow the welfare state to be played off against asylum and migration. We will stand in resistance when fundamental rights and freedoms are in danger of being further restricted.

We are expected to accept the deaths of those seeking refuge in Europe as ‘normal’. Europe is in a grip of an atmosphere of nationalistic antagonism and exclusion. However, any criticism of these inhumane conditions is dismissed as unrealistic.

While the State tightens its ‘so-called’ security laws and extends surveillance in a show of strength, the social system is increasingly characterised by weakness: millions suffer the impact of an underinvestment in basic care, healthcare, childcare, and education. Since ‘Agenda 2010’, the redistribution of wealth from below to above has advanced at an alarming rate. The billions in profit generated through tax incentives stand in stark contrast to one of the biggest low-wage sectors sectors in Europe and level of impoverished, disadvantaged people.

We are against this – we will resist!

We stand for an open and caring society, in which human rights are indivisible and in which diverse and self-determined ways of life, are undeniably respected.

We stand against all forms of hatred and discrimination. Together, we decidedly confront anti-Muslim racism, antisemitism, antiziganism, antifeminism and LGBTIQ-phobia.

There are already many of us.

Whether it’s on Europe’s external borders, or here within refugee organisations and in welcome initiatives; in queer-feminist and antiracist movements, migrant organisations, trade unions, associations, NGO’s, religious communities, societies and neighbourhoods; whether it’s through the fight against homelessness, displacement, or lack of care services, against surveillance and tightened security laws, or the stripping of rights from refugees — in many places, people are actively defending themselves and others against discrimination, criminalisation and exclusion.

Together, we will make this caring society visible. On 13 October, a clear signal will be sent from Berlin.

For an Open and Free Society: Solidarity, not Exclusion!
Demonstration: 13 October 2018 – 13:00 Berlin

For a Europe of human rights and social justice!
For a solidarity-based society rather than exclusion and racism!
For the right to protection and asylum – against the isolation of Europe!
For a free and diverse society!
Solidarity knows no borders!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Via Commondreams


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Guardian News: “Anti-far right protest in Berlin attracts more than 240,000, say organisers”

Trump: SecDef Mattis, ‘Sort of a Democrat’ Could be Leaving Cabinet

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 11:18pm

By Jim MANNION | –

(AFP) – US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “could be” leaving the cabinet post, US President Donald Trump says

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “could be” leaving the cabinet post, US President Donald Trump says (AFP Photo/EMMANUEL DUNAND)

Washington (AFP) – US President Donald Trump said in an interview airing Sunday that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “could be” leaving, referring to him as “sort of a Democrat.”

Mattis, seen as one of the steadiest but also more independent members of Trump’s cabinet, has served as a low-profile counterweight to the president in his often abrasive treatment of US allies.

In an interview to be aired Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Trump was asked whether he wanted Mattis to leave.

“It could be that he is. I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said, according to an excerpt released by CBS. “But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves.”

Trump said he had lunch with Mattis two days earlier and the retired Marine four-star general had not told him that he was leaving.

Rumors that Mattis’s days as defense chief are numbered have circulated since a book by journalist Bob Woodward about Trump’s chaotic White House said the general had questioned Trump’s judgment, likening his understanding to that of a 10- or 11-year-old child.

“Of course, I don’t think about leaving,” Mattis told Pentagon reporters last month. “I love it here.”

Trump’s comments come as he eyes another cabinet shakeup.

Last week, his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced her resignation, effective at the end of the year.

She gave no reason for the surprise move, but observers have noted that the ascension of John Bolton as national security adviser and Mike Pompeo as secretary of state have shifted the power dynamics on Trump’s national security team.

– Generals on the outs –

The generals who once dominated security policy increasingly have appeared to be on the outs with Trump.

Lieutenant General HR McMaster was replaced by Bolton in April, while John Kelly, the White House chief of staff and also a retired four-star general, is reported to have lost influence with the mercurial president.

Mattis has been careful to avoid public conflict with Trump, but has nonetheless performed in ways that contrast sharply with his boss, emphatically defending the US commitment to its NATO allies and calling out Russia.

Earlier this month, as NATO announced its biggest military exercises since the Cold War, Mattis reassured allies of America’s “iron-clad” commitment to the 69-year-old alliance.

The US, he told reporters in Paris, is “keenly aware of the dangers close to your home.”

While Bolton and Pompeo also have taken a hard line on Russia, Trump has often expressed a desire for better relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. He used a NATO summit in July to berate allies as “delinquent” on defense spending.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Trump alluded to upcoming changes in his cabinet.

“I’m changing things around. And I’m entitled to. I have people now on standby that will be phenomenal. They’ll come into the administration, they’ll be phenomenal,” Trump said.

“I think we have a great cabinet. There’re some people that I’m not happy with. I have some people that I’m not thrilled with. And I have other people that I’m beyond thrilled with,” he said.

Featured Photo: “US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis “could be” leaving the cabinet post, US President Donald Trump says (AFP Photo/EMMANUEL DUNAND).”

Could Deb Haaland be the First Native American Woman in Congress?

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 11:12pm

Albuquerque (United States) (AFP) – Deb Haaland is a survivor: she is a single mother who struggled with alcoholism and once had to apply for food stamps to put meals on the table.

She says she is ready for the rough-and-tumble atmosphere of the US House of Representatives, where she hopes to be working come January.

Haaland, 57, is one of three native American women hoping to be the first to serve in Congress. But the New Mexico Democrat has perhaps the best shot at victory.

So far, she is polling ahead of a Republican woman opponent in a traditionally blue district that includes the state’s biggest city, Albuquerque.

“We need real people who are talking about our issues and know what it feels like,” Haaland told AFP in an interview at her campaign headquarters.

“We have people in Congress right now who… don’t know what it’s like” to be without food or proper health care, she says.

Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, knows what it’s like.

“I’m 30 years sober,” she tells a picnic for supporters in a city park. “I felt that that’s something that is big in my life the public needs to know.”

– Military family –

AFP / Mark RALSTON. Deb Haaland is running for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st congressional district against a Republican woman, Janice Arnold-Jones.

Haaland was born in Winslow, Arizona, where her grandfather worked on the railroad — as part of a federal government policy of “cultural assimilation” for native Americans.

She comes from a military family: father JD “Dutch” Haaland was a decorated Marine and her mother Mary served in the Navy.

The family moved a lot, as many American military families do. Haaland says she attended 13 different schools.

But the customs and traditions of the Laguna Pueblo provided stability in her youth.

Haaland recalls how she spent summers with her grandparents, first in Winslow and later in New Mexico, where she helped them water the fields and bake bread.

She remained active in her tribe, which is supporting her in her run for Congress.

At one time, she served as the chairwoman of the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, responsible for its three casinos on the reservation, which AFP was not authorized to visit.

She also worked as a cake decorator and started a salsa company so she could spend more time with her daughter while in law school. She made ends meet with the help of student loans and food stamps.

After failing the bar exam by a hair, Haaland decided to launch herself into politics, working her way up in the local Democratic Party.

– Progressive –

AFP / Mark RALSTON. Haaland’s campaign baseball caps are a play on words from President Donald Trump’s signature “Make America Great Again” hats.

She started in the trenches as a volunteer for John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004 — making endless cold calls to rally native Americans to vote.

Since then, she has not stopped campaigning: she worked full-time for Barack Obama, and on dozens of local and state campaigns. She ran for lieutenant governor and served one term as the state party chair.

Her daughter Somah, now 24, was often at her side.

That indefatigable spirit remains intact.

“Deb never takes a break,” says one member of her campaign team.

On the day of the picnic event in Albuquerque, Haaland was in a rush — she was three hours late because she was making calls to potential donors.

“I’m sorry!” she said on arriving.

But she quickly shifted gears to the issues, as supporters enjoyed the tacos and desserts set up on a table adorned with some patriotic decor.

She detailed her progressive agenda for about 30 attendees, including the use of clean energy, health care for all and immigration reform.

– ‘Perspective’ –

AFP / Mark RALSTON. Deb Haaland (R) — seen at her campaign office in Albuquerque — says she can still be a “strong voice” for native Americans, minorities and the poor.

In her interview with AFP, Haaland says while her disdain for Trump was a motivating factor, it was not the only reason she decided to run.

The district she hopes to represent is mainly white and Latino, and does not include any indigenous territories. But Haaland says she can still be a “strong voice” for native Americans, minorities and the poor.

“My ancestors have sacrificed a tremendous amount to keep my customs and traditions for me,” she said.

“So I want to make sure that I am bringing that perspective to the table in anything I do.”

Featured Photo: Mark Ralston, AFP: Deb Haaland — shown surrounded by campaign staff at her office in Albuqurque, New Mexico — is vying to be the first native American woman elected to Congress.

Iran: Khashoggi was Murdered because West Shielded Saudis from Criticism

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 4:10am

Ann Arbor (Informed Comment): According to the invaluable BBC Monitoring press surveys of Middle Eastern newspapers, the coverage of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has differed enormously from country to country.

In Lebanon, which has a diverse and somewhat free press, former journalist and current cabinet member Paula Yaqoubian told al-Jadid TV, “I hope that Khashoggi is being detained and hasn’t been killed; but things are pointing towards murder. If this is confirmed, thank God for Hariri coming out [of Saudi Arabia] safe.”

She was referring to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was kidnapped last year by crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman on a visit to Saudi Arabia. The prince took his whole family hostage, implicitly threatening his wife and children, and forced Hariri to read a resignation letter on television. The Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, however, refused to accept the resignation, saying it had to be tendered on Lebanese soil to be valid. Eventually the intervention of French president Emmanuel Macron succeeded in freeing the Hariris. Yaqoubian is saying that MBS might well have murdered and chopped up Hariri the way he did Khashoggi. She is an independent MP.

Although Hariri serves as prime minister in a sort of national unity government with the pro-Iran Hizbullah party-militia, he is not pro-Iran, and that a bruited cabinet member has spoken so openly against Saudi Arabia, a long-time patron of the Hariri family, Lebanese Sunnis, signals how seriously people in Beirut are taking the Saudi action.

Tunisia has the freest press in the world, and its media have reported on Khashoggi’s murder, taking an at least slightly negative tone toward Saudi Arabia.

Most media in Egypt, ruled by a military junta and allied closely with Saudi Arabia, has attempted to defect blame from crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman onto Turkey itself, onto Iran or even onto Qatar, the object of a Saudi blockade. Much of the Egyptian press is a fact-free zone when it comes to anything touching on the Egyptian dictatorship or its allies, and there isn’t the slightest reason to doubt that the Saudis were behind the murder.

Mohammed Bin Salman has targeted Iran for boycott, Iran. It in turn has been scathing on the Saudi murder.

Hamid Baeidinejad, the ambassador to Britain of Iran, complained that Saudi Arabia has been shielded from criticism (he was implicitly blaming the UK and the US), allowing Riyadh to “stoke terrorism” and commit “human rights violations.”

Baeidinejad said in a Tweet of 12 October, “For far too long, Saudi Arabia has been shielded from criticism of its breeding of terrorism and grotesque human rights violations . . . Now, it appears that even Saudi critics are murdered – in broad daylight, and abroad.”

The domestic Iranian press reported widely that, according to the Turkish daily Yeni Safak, the crown prince’s personal bodyguards themselves carried out the alleged murder of Khashoggi.

Further, newspaper Jomhuri-e Eslami (centrist) quoted Hakan Cakil, the Turkish Ambassador to Lebanon, as asserting that bin Salman “has offered to pay $5b in bribes to President Erdogan to drop the investigation into Khashoggi’s fate.”

BBC Monitoring also reported, “Iran’s representative in the UN General Assembly First Committee, said that Saudi Arabia is a “Kingdom of Terror”, with even journalists not being safe from its terror activities.”


Bonus video:

TRT World: “Jamal Khashoggi Missing: Interview Mohammed Marandi”

With Rich pro-Carbon, only empowered Workers can Stop Climate Armageddon

Sun, 14 Oct 2018 - 3:03am

( – Two meticulously sourced — and deeply disturbing — warnings about our shared global future have appeared over the past week. One has terrified much of the world. The other hasn’t, not yet at least, but most certainly should.

You’ve most likely already encountered the first of these warnings, a grim report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a broad and distinguished panel of the world’s top climate scientists. They’re advising us that the level of global warming that governments once saw as “safe” would, if ever reached, trigger catastrophic dangers.

Humanity has, the scientists tell us, about a dozen years to get our environmental act together. Or else . . .

The second warning came from researchers at Oxfam, the global anti-poverty charity that has emerged as a top critic of our world’s increasingly concentrated income and wealth. Oxfam and the nonprofit Development Finance International have been working over recent years to develop an index that tracks how well the world’s nations are moving “to tackle the gap between rich and poor.”

Oxfam released what amounted to a “beta” version of this index last year. The just-released second version, entitled The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index 2018, offers us a considerably clearer picture of what nations are and aren’t doing to make our world more equal.

The bottom line of the new Oxfam analysis: Nations aren’t doing nearly enough. Oxfam’s researchers examined the records of 157 nations. Of these 157, 112 “are doing less than half of what the best performers are managing to do.”

And even those “top performers,” Oxfam emphasizes, aren’t doing “particularly well.” In Oxfam’s top-ranked Denmark, for instance, inequality has increased by 20 percent since 2005.

Luxury Real Estate

The link to climate disruption

Oxfam’s findings haven’t made much of a worldwide ripple. The shocking warnings implicit in the UN group’s update on our impending climate catastrophe have garnered far more of the world’s attention, and we probably could have predicted that outcome. We’re living, after all, in a burning house. Who has time to argue about who gets the biggest rooms?

But — in this case — we have to find that time. We’ll never put out the fire, we’ll never forge a sustainable future, until we confront the concentration of our world’s wealth and power.

To be a bit more blunt: Either we become a far more equal world or we have no future.

And just why does inequality pose such a threat to the more sustainable future we so need to fashion?

Let’s start with all those fossil fuels still underground. Scientists look at those those fossil fuels and see a stark environmental imperative. If those fuels stay in the ground, we have a shot at curbing global warming. If we burn up those fuels, we have no shot at all.

But many of our world’s wealthiest look at those fossil fuels and see no danger. They see the present and future source of their personal wealth. A significant chunk of the world’s billionaires owe their billions, directly or indirectly, to extractive industries. Keeping fossil fuels buried would jeopardize those billions, and our super rich have the political power, thanks to their wealth, to insist that we keep extracting.

If we let that wealth and power continue to concentrate, fossil fuels will continue to burn.

In a deeply unequal world, in societies where the rich have far too much and the poor far too little, we face still another difficult environmental danger — from the other end of the economic spectrum. Grand private concentrations of wealth pressure the poor to engage in behaviors that despoil our natural world.

In some developing nations, as analyst Tom Athanasiou has noted, the wealthiest 2 percent of the population owns over 60 percent of available arable land. Should we be surprised when the dispossessed in outrageously unequal nations like these migrate into fragile environments, slashing and burning their way through rain forests and turning marginal range lands into deserts?

Climate and Inequality

An inextricable connection

But rising inequality has an environmental impact that goes far beyond the political power of the rich and the desperation of the poor. Rising inequality conditions those of us between rich and poor into consumption patterns that strain our earth’s capacity to absorb our wastes. Our normal daily lives, explains environmental analyst and activist Bill McKibben, are overwhelming our planet.

Our planet, as environmental economist Herman Daly stresses, cannot sustain these insults forever. We can only shove so much economic activity through our Earth’s ecosystems before they break down. If we keep increasing our “throughput” — the sum total of energy and materials we drive through the human economy, everything we make and throw away, and all the energy we expend doing the making and tossing — we make that breakdown, at some point, inevitable.

What drives this ever-increasing “throughput,” this hunger for more and more “things”? Not some innate human quality. Growing inequality drives this waste.

How so? In more equal societies, societies where most everyone can afford the same sorts of things, things tend not to matter particularly much. In societies growing more unequal, by contrast, things quickly become markers of social status. Only the “winners” can afford the best things, the most things.

Few of us feel comfortable having others see ourselves as “losers.” So we feel under constant pressure to get more things, better things. We keep stomping ever larger environmental footprints.

And the super rich with their yachts and private jets and multiple mansions stomp the biggest footprints of them all. Our world will never become sustainable, we need to better understand, as long as they keep stomping.


Content licensed under a Creative Commons 3.0 License


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Thirteen: “One of the Poorest Neighborhoods in Brooklyn Is Retrofitted With Green Energy Solutions”