Archive | December 20th, 2017

Hernandez Declared Honduran President-Elect in Scandal-Plagued Election


Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez gives a nationally broadcast speech from the presidential residence in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Dec. 4, 2017. (AP/Fernando Antonio)

Opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla has accused the government of committing a major fraud and “whitewashing” of a corrupt electoral process.

Posted in South AmericaComments Off on Hernandez Declared Honduran President-Elect in Scandal-Plagued Election

Turkey Snubs Trump, Announces Opening of Embassy in East Jerusalem


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes an opening speech of the extraordinary summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the Lutfi Kirdar International Convention and Exhibition Center in Istanbul, Turkey on December 13, 2017 (Kayhan Özer/Anadolu Agency)

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory, and say the status of the city should be left to be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Posted in USA, ZIO-NAZI, TurkeyComments Off on Turkey Snubs Trump, Announces Opening of Embassy in East Jerusalem

Will Saudi Arabia Impose Ahmed Ali Saleh, son of a Dictator, as Ruler of Yemen?


The ex-president is dead. Will the son rise over Yemen?

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Tusk vs Juncker on Migration

Adelina Marini

The closer the European elections are coming the intenser the inter-institutional conflict becomes, skillfully mitigated by genuine laughter and acid jokes. The winter EU summit in Brussels, on 14-15 December, was the first vivid clash between the leaders of two European institutions – the European Commission and the European Council. The tension between the veteran of European politics Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP) and the rebel Donald Tusk (Poland, EP) has been smoldering ever since the election of the two in 2014 but with their mandates drawing to an end the situation is getting tenser but in the same time quite funny from a media point of view.

Institution wars – Tusk strikes back

The conflict between the two broke precisely on the issue that has divided the EU since 2015 – migration. This coincided in time with this year’s premier of the latest episode of the eternal saga Star Wars. Disagreement between Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker on the way a solution should be sought on this contentious issue is old, but a week before the European Council it turned into a real institution war. The beginning of the conflict was in October when the leaders of the member states adopted Donald Tusk’s Leaders’ Agenda. The former Polish prime minister wanted with this document to take the bull by the horns by putting on the table the most controversial issues which the leaders have been avoiding so far in order to keep the fragile unity that appeared in the Union after the Brexit referendum.

It is hard to see any other reason bringing up issues that cause significant splits right when the Brexit negotiations are entering a decisive phase other than a desire to report a successful mandate. The mandates of both leaders end in 2019. Jean-Claude Juncker has already announced officially that he would not stand for a second term as head of the Commission but Donald Tusk is right at the heyday of his political career, and given his isolation in his homeland Poland, he probably relies on continuing his path at European, or other level.

There were two sensitive issues on his calendar for the December summit. The first was migration, and the second was the future of the euro area. After the leaders adopted Tusk’s agenda, the European Commission published on 7 December its own position on the external and internal dimension of the migration problem, thus firing the first shot at the European Council reminding the leaders in two quotes of the commitments they made. The first one is from the Rome declaration and goes: “We will make the European Union stronger and more resilient, through even greater unity and solidarity amongst us and the respect of common rules (…) We pledge to work towards a safe and secure Europe: a Union where all citizens feel safe and can move freely, where our external borders are secured, with an efficient, responsible and sustainable migration policy, respecting international norms“.

The second quote is from a speech by President Donald Tusk of 21 September, in which he says that the external aspect of migration policy needs to be consolidated, to improve the capacity for returns of illegal migrants, and to reach durable solutions in reforming the asylum policy. The clash between the two leaders is on assessing the efficiency of the measures implemented so far. According to the Commission’s analysis, the lessons from the past few years are that unilateral actions do not deliver significant results, they are more expensive, and undermine the benefits of Schengen. The time is ripe to move forward from ad hoc decisions toward a stable asylum framework, which will be integrated in a European migration policy.

The Commission insists that the relocation scheme is successful. So far, more than 32 000 people have been relocated from Greece and Italy in other EU countries. The Commission believes that with its resettlement programme the pressure of illegal migration has been significantly reduced, and a legal path has been created for international protection. Under this scheme, and under the deal with Turkey, 26 000 people have been resettled. In September, the Commission set a new target of 50 000 and believes that it is within reach. Since the beginning of the migration crisis, the Commission proposed several legislative initiatives but progress varies and it is entirely dependent on ideological rifts going along the axis east-west, as Donald Tusk put it. A comprehensive reform of the Dublin regulation has been proposed, together with amendments to the regulations on asylum, and to the reception conditions directive.

The Commission also proposed the European asylum assistance office to be transformed into a full-fledged European Asylum Agency. Some of these proposals are close to adoption, such as the European Asylum Agency, and the reform of the European database Eurodac. There is progress also on the resettlement framework and the reception conditions directive. The reform of the Dublin regulation is stuck. The Commission believes that all these legislative initiatives must be viewed as a package because they are interlinked. In addition, it wants the balance between responsibility and solidarity to be maintained as the latter is the most controversial part of this reform.

The Commission proposed a calendar of its own, according to which it is possible by March 2018 the proposals on establishment of an asylum agency and on Eurodac to be adopted. Also by March, it is possible to reach a political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the qualifications regulation. And by May, it is possible to reach a political agreement between the EP and the Council on the reception conditions directive, and on the resettlement framework. By then, a mandate could be agreed for negotiations on the asylum procedures regulation. The Commission says it is realistic by April to agree on the broad outlines of an agreement on the balance between responsibility and solidarity, and during the EU summit in Sofia in May it is possible to agree on a negotiating mandate on the Dublin regulation. Reaching an agreement on the overall reform of the common European Asylum Policy is also possible by June, according to the Commission.

A week after the Commission, Donald Tusk published, again quite late, his traditional invitation letter to the leaders for the summit, which was accompanied by his vision of the migration crisis, which angered the Commission. Tusk’s analysis is that the EU is capable of handling illegal migration only through full participation of all member states. The issue of mandatory quotas proved highly divisive, and received disproportionate attention, which is why Tusk considers the scheme completely inefficient. He posed several questions to the leaders to discuss at the summit, among which whether they agree with his diagnosis, or with the need of a special financing mechanism in the next multiannual budget.

Europe is a Christian continent

This approach enraged Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece, EPP) so much that he called it anti-European. The debate in the European Parliament on the preparation of the EU summit was a vivid illustration of the division among the member states, and it even evolved as a cultural-religious spat. Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands, S&D) underscored that an overall European approach is needed which includes not only border management and support for Africa, but also solidarity within the EU itself. “I firmly disagree with the statement that relocation, as an emergency response, has been ineffective. Over 30 000 people have been relocated. That is over 90% of all those eligible“, said Mr Timmermans. He also appealed the Treaties to be a starting point.

The statement of the leader of the biggest parliamentary group, Manfred Weber (EPP, Germany), was surprising because it was entirely dedicated on the Christian roots of the European continent. “Our continent has Christian roots. Seventy-five percent of European citizens are Christians. My group is proud of this Christian legacy that we see in our churches but also in our traditions, and in our daily lives“, said the German MEP. “If we look at the fundamental structures of our continent today – the idea of solidarity, the idea of subsidiarity, tolerance in dealing with one another, many of these fundamental values would be unthinkable without the Christian-Judeo history of our Continent“, he continued winning applause from his colleagues. His statement could have also been made by a Visegrad country or one of the nationalist groups in the EP.

Manfred Weber was opposed by the leader of the third largest political group in EP, of the European Conservatives and Reformists. Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) addressed Mr Weber with the words: “Manfred, as a Muslim, I fully understand the Christian roots of Europe but you must not confuse that with Europe as synonymous to Christian. And when I see the lack of diversity in European institutions you have a long way to go to make those who are not standard, white Christian, European feel comfortable to live in Europe. You need to do more work and do not allow Brexit to blind you to that“, he said and also received a round of applause.

Syed Kamall was talking about the article of Politico Europe which reveals that in the European institutions the famous diversity in Europe is just a myth. Around 1% of the staff in the European institutions are with a different religious or racial background. Diversity is the greatest in NATO, mainly because of Turkey and the US. According to a report by the European Fundamental Rights Agency, nearly 40% of respondents say they were victims of discrimination in the past years, and mainly when seeking a job. After Brexit, it is quite possible this one percent to evaporate completely.

Regretfully, during the three-hour long debate, no one spoke in defence of Mr Kamall’s position. Most reactions were of indignation with Donald Tusk. Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, Belgium) said he was completely shocked by his note. Gabriele Zimmer (far left, Germany) called the European Council’s president’s letter “dreadful“. “The letter of Tusk I did find extremely irritating because, basically, at the same time as the Commission stands up for solidarity, goes to the ECJ, and makes infringement procedures, basically the Council, and Tusk comes and shoots the Commission in the back“, said Ska Keller (Germany), leader of the group of Greens and the European Free Alliance.

Marcel de Graaf (The Netherlands) of the nationalistic and eurosceptic group Europe of Nations and Freedom said that mass migration was a threat to the survival of “our civilisation, of our security, of our culture. And these illiterate illegal fortune-seekers believe in a barbarism of Sharia and Koran. They come to the EU to benefit from our prosperity, and they do not contribute to our societies. They take without giving. This has to stop“, he said and praised the Visegrad countries for defending their own traditions and culture, and for leading the resistance against Juncker and Timmermans. “They are the ones guiding Europe“, added the Dutch nationalist, who entered the EP through the Dutch Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders.

Before the beginning of the European Council on Thursday, there was a meeting of the Visegrad group with Italy Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The four Visegrad leaders, for two of whom this summit was a debut – Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki and Czech PM Andrej Babis – committed to provide 35 million euros to the Italian authorities to help them handle the inflows of illegal migrants from North Africa. Hungarian PM Viktor Orban said that this was to keep the EU’s unity, but Dutch PM Mark Rutte interpreted it as an attempt of the Visegrad group to bail itself out of the mandatory quotas.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s reaction was similar. She said that she did not accept selective solidarity. The leaders’ debate lasted until 1 o’clock in the night, and according to most participants there was no rapprochement of positions on the so called internal dimension of the problem. “We cannot accept that in most, if not all, areas we show solidarity with our partners in the EU, but there are areas where there is no solidarity. This is something we find unacceptable“, Mrs Merkel said. Irish PM Leo Varadkar admitted that the exchange was quite frank, and that the leaders spoke openly with one another. He, as well as President Emmanuel Macron, approved Donald Tusk’s approach the most contentious issues to be discussed informally.

I think in politics sometimes, particularly in European politics we can be almost too polite sometimes, and too convivial, and accept too much of ambiguity. […] I think it was a sign of maturity that we were able to be robust in our exchanges“, Mr Varadkar added. Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni also disagreed with the possibility some countries to choose which policies they will join and which not. Croatian Premier Andrej Plenkovic took a cautious position between the two poles in the debate. According to him, the European principle of solidarity is especially important to Croatia. “This is the foundation of the European project, and has to spill over to the important issue of migration“, he said pointing out in the same time that to Croatia it is very important all measures to be directed to the external dimension of migration policy.

The Bulgarian prime minister, whose country will on 1 January take over the rotating presidency of the Council, was in his usual geopolitical mood repeating his thesis that the EU is not sufficiently involved in geopolitics. “You see President Trump, President Putin, President Erdogan, the Arab League. Decisions are being taken which have some consequences afterwards. Where are we? What is today’s dispute? Between Juncker and Tusk, and therefore between all of us. They are leading our wars, they are using our oil reparations, and we will kill each other over how much money to give and how many migrants to take, whereas it is evident that the peoples, especially in the frontline countries, do not like this“, he said. It was not clear whether he is familiar with the work of EU’s high representative for the foreign and security policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, S&D), or he disapproves her achievements on international scene.

The solution, he said, is the EU to have “very strong and fast foreign policy“, and its borders to be protected “the way they used to be long ago“. By “long ago” he means the times when there were still national borders, and especially the border between the east and the west. The big intrigue, however, was between Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker at the end of the two-day summit. The president of the European Council believes that the migration debate was successful because it confirmed “the hierarchy of our aims“, which is that external border protection and stopping illegal migration come first. Mandatory quotas continued to be a contentious issue but, according to Mr Tusk, the temperature has dropped significantly. “If only for this reason, it was worth raising this topic“, he said.

European unity for the sake of inter-institutional balance

Donald Tusk admitted, though, that compromise will be difficult. Jean-Claude Juncker patiently awaited his turn to say that whether migration policy was successful or not depended on the point of view, and again bombarded with facts. Out of 35 245 eligible people 32 683 individuals were relocated, which is more than 80%. “I don’t know why we think that relocation could be a threat to civilisation in Europe. But talking about 32 000 people, I think Europe and its member states are certainly capable of absorbing 32 000 individuals. So, I think we need to calm things down a bit on this point and get less excited“, Mr Juncker urged. Donald Tusk’s vexation was visible. Asked by a German journalist whether after Germany’s harsh reaction and other states’ he changed his position, Tusk unusually sharply and almost aggressively asked for clarification as he did not understand the question.

Then he said he had not at all changed his mind. On the contrary. The harsh reaction was an illustration that the issue of mandatory quotas is very important but is not a solution to the problem. Besides, he added, it is extremely time-consuming. Regarding accusations that he took the side of the Visegrad countries, Tusk said he took no one’s side. Then he shot two rabbits with a single bullet. First, he attacked those who believe that the problem can be resolved through the qualified majority voting (QMV) method, which the mandatory quotas were adopted with. “I am absolutely sure that QMV is an effective method to take decisions but, for sure, QMV is not a synonym of solidarity in politics“, he said and then attacked the government in his own Poland.

This is something especially important for me personally because solidarity was a kind of a brand of Poland, and I will be really disappointed if my country becomes example of something completely different“, he said. Donald Tusk is founder of the Independent Student Association, which was part of the Solidarity movement for social rights. He was also a journalist in the newspaper published by Solidarity. The movement turned into a symbol of Poland’s fight against the communist regime in the country supported by the Soviet Union. At the moment, Poland is under the Commission’s legal strikes for undermining the rule of law. The Commission is expected this week to view the possibility of triggering Article 7 of the Treaty which can deprive a country of its voting rights in the Council. Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said they would support such a measure.

Jean-Claude Juncker did not seem touched by that and again asked for the floor on the same question, although it was not addressed to him, but “this gives me, as a free man coming from a free country on a free continent, the possibility to add some considerations“. Juncker underscored that the problem is not in mandatory quotas but quotas generally, and recalled that the first Commission proposal was for voluntary relocation. Besides, he said, there is a Council decision. “I’m sticking to the Council decisions unless they are changed, and I don’t have the impression that they will be changed from today to tomorrow morning 11 o’clock“, added the Commission head. He attacked Tusk’s thesis of trying to keep unity saying that there was never unity on this issue in the first plae.

Especially funny was the exchange between the two on the issue of qualified majority when precisely the conflict between the two was the most evident. “I’m not the fan and not the best expert when it comes to QMV, I think it’s Jean-Claude“, said Tusk. Juncker answered that he, too, was not a fan of this method but it was in the Treaties and therefore can be used. He recalled that some leaders openly stated during the debate on Thursday evening that if there were no progress they would propose to move on to that procedure.

In the end, Jean-Claude Juncker extended a friendly hand to Donald Tusk saying he knew him “for centuries” and that he is in no way anti-European. “He is pro-European, very dedicated on European integration“, said Juncker and added that Commissioner Avramopoulos’s words were a misunderstanding, they were uttered in time of affection. Here, Donald Tusk insinuated that it is not very easy to be a commissioner in the Commission. Everything ended with Jean-Claude Juncker’s sincere laughter but just a slight smile on Donald Tusk’s face. The conflict will hardly end here. Under Tusk’s agenda, the leaders will again discuss the toxic issue in February as the emphasis then will be how migration can be included as a priority in the next multiannual financial network, and in March there will be another attempt to find a compromise on the quotas issue. The goal is by June a final compromise to be reached.

A success or a failure for Tusk?

With his initiative, in the past days, Donald Tusk has definitely punched above his weight but, nevertheless, some positive outcomes can be outlined. The first is that the leaders definitely liked the format and the open discussion. Although it seemed the issue was forced on the table without any need (currently, it is quiet on the migration issue), in fact the debate was quite timely, and no matter how it will end it will be remembered as Tusk’s attempt to keep Europe’s unity at a crucial time in several aspects. First of all, in terms of the use of qualified majority voting which could cause significant split within the Union. Another problem is that next year the talks will begin on the next multiannual budget of the EU and, certainly, the issue of solidarity will emerge as a major one.

If consensus on migration is not found, this will have a significant impact on the financial redistribution and participation, and could affect directly the cohesion countries. Finding a solution on the most serious domestic EU problem before the European elections in 2019 could prove shrewd given the possibility more eurosceptics and nationalists to enter the EP, which is not at all improbable. In such a scenario, a compromise on this issue will be practically impossible. The conflict between Juncker and Tusk has another positive effect. It returned the Commission to a guardian-of-the-Treaties mode which, thanks to its politicisation by Juncker himself, remained in the background in the past years when, very often, compromises were made with rules for the sake of political unity.

This has now backfired with a potentially healing effect. Last but not least, no matter how irrelevant it seemed to put out of the closet the skeleton of migration right at the peak of the Brexit negotiations, in fact there was no better timing. After UK leaves, the EU wants to continue cleanly – without any opt-outs, opt-ins, exceptions, a la carte, and compromises with common policies. This cannot happen unless a solution is found to the most divisive issue, and to solidarity in a broader sense. The balance is that Tusk’s idea generally was successful. What failed was the search for a compromise but hardly anyone expected a different outcome.

Posted in EuropeComments Off on Tusk vs Juncker on Migration





“The most destructive and bizarre act of a state.”

F. William Engdahl talks about the war on cash starting with the strange goings on in India where all cash notes over the equivalent of $15 were banned.

The original claim: It was an action against the illegal economy.

Then they changed their story: It’s a move to “modernize” the country.

Here’s the truth: The idea came for AID, a front group for the CIA.

Tens of thousands of shop owners were bankrupted overnight,

Whose next?

Posted in USAComments Off on The war on cash THE SIGNS ARE EVERYWHERE ‘VIDEO’

Team Trump add insult to injury for the Palestinians

Trump at home with Jewish rabbis

By Jonathan Cook in Nazareth

It is tempting to interpret the announcement this week of a delay until the new year in US Vice-President Mike Pence’s visit to the Middle East as the ultimate travel warning. It follows an eruption of regional unrest over Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

During protests on Friday 15 December, Israeli occupation forces killed four Palestinians and injured more than 250.

US officials, however, are not worried about Pence’s safety. In fact, predictions of a third Palestinian uprising in response to Trump’s Jerusalem declaration may be premature.

After decades of flagrant US bias towards Israel, Trump has confirmed to Palestinians only what they already knew. Some even grudgingly welcomed his candour. They hope he has finally silenced US claims to being an “honest broker” in an interminable “peace process” that has simply bought time for Israel to entrench the occupation.

Instead of cancelling [US Vice-President] Pence’s visit or exploiting the extra breathing space to try to reverse the damage, the bull-headed Trump administration has indicated it is eager to break more of the china.

The Palestinians’ anger towards Israel and the US is a slow-burning fuse. It will detonate at a moment of their choosing, not of Trump’s.

Rather, the hesitation in Washington over the vice-president’s visit reflects the messy new diplomatic reality that the White House has unleashed.

Pence was due here to smooth the path to Trump’s long-promised peace plan and to highlight the plight of Christians in the Middle East. The door has now been firmly shut in his face on both counts. Palestinian officials have declared a boycott of him, as have Christian leaders in Palestine and Egypt.

Instead of cancelling Pence’s visit or exploiting the extra breathing space to try to reverse the damage, the bull-headed Trump administration has indicated it is eager to break more of the china.

Denied access to Palestinian officials, his schedule will focus on Israel. Following a diplomatic precedent set by his boss in May, Pence is due to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s occupied Old City and immediately below the Al Aqsa mosque plaza.

… an unnamed senior US official gave Pence’s visit an even more troubling context. He noted that there was no scenario in which the US did not see the Western Wall ending up in Israel’s hands.

His visit, however, has been billed as “official”, not private. And it will be invested with far graver symbolism, given Trump’s designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

To add insult to injury, and in contravention of claims that Washington will not pre-determine the borders of a divided Jerusalem before peace talks, an unnamed senior US official gave Pence’s visit an even more troubling context. He noted that there was no scenario in which the US did not see the Western Wall ending up in Israel’s hands.

The US policy change on Jerusalem has been a hammer blow to the three main pillars supporting the cause of Palestinian statehood: the Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the Arab states.

The biggest loser is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Washington stripped him of his emperor’s clothes: he now heads a Palestinian government-in-waiting that is unlikely ever to be attached to a state, viable or otherwise.

The Arab states, which assumed they were the key to a much-touted “outside-in” strategy, creating a regional framework for peace, have been deprived of the single issue – Jerusalem – that matters most to them.

Egypt scrambled to help Abbas at the weekend by drafting a UN Security Council resolution to rescind any change of status for Jerusalem. But an inevitable US veto [which has now been used] made the move moot.

And Europe, which has played “good cop” to the bullying US one, has been exposed as complicit in its partner’s rogue behaviour.

… Europe, which has played “good cop” to the bullying US one, has been exposed as complicit in its [US] partner’s rogue behaviour.

Europe’s predicament is underscored by its peace-making rhetoric. It has long cried wolf, warning that a moment would soon arrive when a two-state solution was no longer feasible, when a temporary occupation morphed into permanent apartheid.

Now that the heart of a Palestinian state has been publicly devoured by the wolf, what will Europe and Abbas do?

The signs are that they will pretend nothing has changed – if only out of fear of what might fill the void if peace-making were exposed as a hollow charade.

But it is precisely the pretence of a peace process that has kept Palestinians chained to an illusion. The perpetuation of false hope about statehood does not benefit Palestinians; it preserves a calm that aids Israel.

That was why the White House accused Abbas of walking away from dialogue last week. But only a fool keeps on appealing to the better nature of a deaf thug.

The burden now falls on the PA, the Arab states and Europe to accept the new reality, and assert a policy independent of the US.

Some Palestinian leaders, like Hanan Ashrawi, already understand this. “Trump’s move is a new era,” she said last week. “There’s no going back.”

Palestinians will have to shame Israel, the US and the watching world by adopting the tools of an anti-apartheid struggle – of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience – to gain equal rights in a single state.

Palestinian goals and strategies must be reassessed. Nonetheless, the pressures for a return to the “peace” business as usual will be intense.

Ordinary Palestinians in Jerusalem may be the first to signal the new direction of struggle – one that recognises that a Palestinian state is dead and buried.

In recent years, growing numbers have started applying, as Israeli law entitles them to, for Israeli citizenship. Israel has twisted and turned to delay honouring its commitment, even as it calls Jerusalem its “united capital”.

Palestinians will have to shame Israel, the US and the watching world by adopting the tools of an anti-apartheid struggle – of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience – to gain equal rights in a single state.

At the moment, the undercurrents of Palestinian rage chiefly swirl below the surface. But they will rise in time, and the consequences of Trump’s deed will become all too apparent.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USA, ZIO-NAZIComments Off on Team Trump add insult to injury for the Palestinians

Trading Jerusalem for war on Iran

Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad and President Trump

By James M. Dorsey

US President Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem potentially sets the stage for a controversial American effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States and the two Gulf states see a US peace plan-in-the-making as a way of paving the way for more overt cooperation with Israel in confronting Iran, whom they accuse of destabilising the Middle East.

At the core of the US draft plan is reportedly the controversial suggestion that Abu Dis, a Palestinian village bordering on Jerusalem, rather than East Jerusalem, would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In doing so, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are navigating a minefield. Protests against Mr Trump’s move have so far underplayed the link between the fight against Iran and apparent Saudi and UAE willingness to compromise on minimal Palestinian demands for peace that include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

That could change as US plans for an Israeli-Palestinian peace crystalise and the link to the Saudi-Iranian rivalry manifests itself. At the core of the US draft plan is reportedly the controversial suggestion that Abu Dis, a Palestinian village bordering on Jerusalem, rather than East Jerusalem, would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Perceived Saudi and UAE backing for the proposal that is reportedly being drafted by Mr Trump’s aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would bring anger at alleged Arab complicity to the forefront, fuel the persistent anti-US and anti-Israel protests, and complicate the campaign by the US and the two Gulf states against Iran.

The notion that Abu Dis could replace East Jerusalem has been around for almost two decades. It failed to garner support during the 2000 Camp David Israeli-Palestinian peace talks because Arab and Palestinian leaders rejected it. Saudi and UAE eagerness to work with Israel coupled with Mr Trump’s seemingly unqualified support for the Jewish state has given the proposal a new lease on life.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite their official condemnation of Mr Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, have signalled a willingness to be more flexible by continuing to support Mr Kushner’s effort and playing a low-key, if not dampening, role in Arab and Muslim rejection of the president’s move.

Ironically, differences among Arab leaders about how to respond to Mr Trump’s Jerusalem decision may have temporarily prevented Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman from adding Palestine to a string of failed foreign policy moves aimed at escalating the kingdom’s proxy war with Iran. Prince Muhammad’s devastating military intervention in Yemen, botched effort to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign, and hamstrung boycott of Qatar have backfired and only strengthened Iran’s regional influence.

Inadvertently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah did Prince Muhammad a favour when they reportedly rejected pressure by Prince Muhammad not to participate in this week’s summit of Islamic countries in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia was represented by a lower level Cabinet official. Mr Abbas may have further shielded the Saudi leader when his refusal to further accept the United States as a mediator was adopted by the summit.

The two leaders’ stand coupled with the Islamic summit’s rejection of Mr Trump’s move make it more difficult for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to endorse any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The problem is that Prince Muhammad and his UAE counterpart, Prince Muhammad bin Zayed, run the risk of misreading or underestimating public anger and frustration in significant parts of the Arab and Muslim world.

The link between Israeli-Palestinian peace making and Iran is likely to become undeniable when Mr Trump next month must decide whether to uphold the 2015 international agreement with Iran that put severe restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Under US law, Mr Trump has to certify Iranian compliance every three months. In October, Mr Trump refused to do so. He threatened to pull out of the agreement if Congress failed to address the agreement’s perceived shortcomings within 60 days. Congress has so far refrained from acting on Mr Trump’s demand. Mr Trump wants Congress to ensure that Iranian compliance involves accepting restrictions on its ballistic missile programme and support of regional proxies.

Mr Trump and his Gulf allies are walking a tightrope by fuelling suspicion that they are willing to compromise on minimal Palestinian demands for peace in a bid to cater to Israel, a natural ally in the fight against Iran.

It is anybody’s guess what Mr Trump will do. At first glance, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s presentation of Iranian missile parts as evidence of Tehran’s support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iranian destabilisation of the Middle East would suggest that Mr Trump is preparing to decertify Iran and possibly withdraw from the agreement.

It could, however, also be an effort to project a tougher US stance towards Iran while cooler heads in the administration prevail on Mr Trump to keep the agreement in place.

In either case, Mr Trump and his Gulf allies are walking a tightrope by fuelling suspicion that they are willing to compromise on minimal Palestinian demands for peace in a bid to cater to Israel, a natural ally in the fight against Iran.

In doing so, Mr Trump and the Saudi and UAE crown princes risk misreading not only the public mood but also Iranian influence and intentions, particularly regarding the Islamic republic’s ability to control the Houthi rebels. Ms Haley’s evidence that was supplied by Saudi Arabia and the UAE failed to convince many in the international community.

Ms Haley’s missile parts display was prompted by the Iranian-backed Houthis’s firing of a ballistic missile at Riyadh on 4 November. It remains unclear whether that missile was supplied by Iran, or possibly North Korea, and when it was given to the Houthis – key questions that need to be answered to determine possible Iranian culpability.

The Houthis, a fiercely independent actor who have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not take orders from Tehran and at times ignore its advice, could throw a monkey wrench into the fragile Middle East mix if they make good on a threat to target not only Saudi,  but also Emirati cities. A missile strike would no doubt provoke a harsh response, possibly involving a joint US-Saudi-UAE strike against Iran rather than against the Houthis in Yemen.

Anger already aroused by Mr Trump’s decision on Jerusalem potentially could then turn against Arab leaders who would be seen to be cooperating with the United States and willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights to work with Israel.

In short, it could open a can of worms in which public anger is directed against multiple parties ranging from the United States to Israel to Arab leaders to Iran and the Houthis and/or prove to be a perfect storm.

Posted in Palestine Affairs, USA, Iran, Saudi ArabiaComments Off on Trading Jerusalem for war on Iran

More Legal Warfare: How Critics of ‘Israel’ Are Being Subjected to Aggressive Lawsuits

Over a thousand people march to protest President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Washington, DC, on December 16, 2017. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

Over 1,000 people march to protest President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in Washington, DC, on December 16, 2017. (Photo: Samuel Corum / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

As the Trump administration announced its intent to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (in blatant disregard of UN Resolution 181 and UNGA Resolution 303), and the Netanyahu government moves ever rightward, continuing its demolition of Palestinian homes for the building of illegal settlements, the US government’s support for Israel only increases. Kenneth Marcus, Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, is well-known for advancing pro-Israel agendas and clamping down on Palestine solidarity activism on campus. All of these actions have generated a groundswell of protest, especially in the academy.

Universities have now become a key battlefield for public opinion and education on Palestine, so it is no wonder that pro-Israel forces are targeting them. One of the most momentous academic actions with regard to Israel-Palestine was the endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013. Members voted by a decisive 2-1 margin to boycott Israeli universities. Key arguments in favor of the boycott included the ASA’s own long tradition of mounting critiques of settler colonialism, racism and US imperialism. Supporters of the boycott also argued that Israeli universities develop weaponry and research for Israel’s illegal occupation, and that rather than being bastions of free speech, Israeli universities predominantly follow the government line and dissidents are persecuted. Ever since that moment, the ASA has been attacked and harassed continually.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial by attorneys who served as advisers to a lawsuit against the ASA for its membership vote — Anti-Israel Activists Subvert a Scholarly Group.” The attorneys allege that the boycott vote was the result of a “small cadre of academics” who “infiltrated” the organization. They attempted to portray the clearly free and democratic voting process of 800 members as the result of a hostile takeover. In fact, the lawsuit against the ASA is nothing more than political sour grapes. It was brought in April 2016 by the Brandeis Center, a long-time advocate for Israel. Its motivation is purely political, and its connections to the Trump administration and its allies clear: Kenneth Marcus, mentioned above, is a founder and president of the Center.

Indeed, in April of this year, a Washington, DC, district court dismissed major claims of the lawsuit, including a claim that the vote to boycott Israeli universities went beyond the Association’s operating charter.

Undeterred, Brandeis Center attorneys have attempted to smear and discredit members and leaders of the Association who supported the boycott resolution. Using McCarthyite tactics and language, they have accused ASA leaders of using “unsavory” methods and duping the membership. An attorney for the plaintiffs said:

“This case is about the illegal, hostile takeover of a non-profit, academic association by leaders of an anti-Israel group…. Through a series of misrepresentations and breaches of duty, [US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel] activists obtained positions of trust in the ASA, and then abused those positions in order to capture and exploit the assets of the ASA to advance the agenda of the BDS movement.”

Their harassing lawsuit, a prime example of “lawfare,” is a political response to the growing trend in universities worldwide to criticize Israel’s illegal occupation by boycotting Israeli universities, thereby signaling that business cannot go on as usual, so long as Israeli universities continue to support the occupation in intellectual and material ways. In the wake of the ASA vote, for example, the National Women’s Studies Association, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association and the National Association of Chicano and Chicana Studies also voted to boycott Israeli universities. Prior to the ASA vote, the Association for Asian American Studies was the first academic organization to endorse the boycott — and it, too, became the object of attack. The Brandeis lawsuit is the last legal gasp to stop an emerging consensus in the academy that Israeli apartheid is wrong.

The legal smear campaign also seeks to intimidate scholars everywhere who support boycott of Israeli universities. But its claims are patently false.

The ASA vote was not taken precipitously, in darkness and intrigue, smuggled through improperly. It was the culmination of years of public discussion and patient scholarly deliberation within the Association about whether or not to boycott. From 2009 to 2013, the Association’s annual meeting featured public speakers, including Palestinians, discussing reasons why US universities should boycott Israeli universities. In 2012, American Quarterly, the flagship journal of the Association, dedicated an entire issue to discussion of walls and borders, including the Israeli apartheid wall.

From December 2012, when a resolution to boycott was introduced, to December 2013, the Association provided space within pages of its newsletter — and its website — for debate and discussion about boycott. Leadership of the Association also held an open “town hall” about boycott at its annual national conference in November 2013, where nearly 100 Association members spoke. Overwhelmingly, those who did speak spoke in favor of boycott. That fewer speakers came out against the boycott should not be blamed on the ASA — it should be blamed on the weakness of the argument against the boycott, and the failure of anti-boycotters to present an organized, coherent and convincing counterargument.

What these well-funded pro-Israel lobbyists and lawyers now suing the ASA fail to understand is that more and more people across the United States, in the academy and beyond, recognize Israel for what it is: an apartheid state engaged in an illegal and deadly occupation. They have been moved to do something about that recognition, and thus they engage in nonviolent civil disobedience — or boycott. Boycotting is a time-honored tactic of social justice movements. From the Montgomery bus boycotts, to farmworkers’ strikes, to supporters of transgender people’s right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, boycotts are tried-and-true methods for achieving justice.

Finally, the Brandeis Center lawsuit not only silences social justice movements, but it does so by targeting women, people of color and Palestinians. Although dozens of people were involved in the organizing for the boycott resolution within the ASA and more than 800 voted in favor of it, the lawsuit names as defendants primarily scholars of color — and women — some of them queer.

The campaign to boycott Israeli universities will continue — and continue to grow — undeterred by such ridiculous and shabby legal challenges that evince only the desperation and intellectual and moral poverty of the claimants. That is the surest outcome of the ASA’s courageous and wholly democratic vote.

Note: The authors are members of the Organizing Collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

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Police Shoot More People Than Previously Known


By Kali HollowayAlterNet 

An activist displays a sign during a protest in New York City on July 7, 2016. (Photo: Mathias Wasik)

An activist displays a sign during a protest in New York City on July 7, 2016. (Photo: Mathias Wasik)

In major metropolitan areas around the country over the last half-decade, police have shot — and shot at — people in numbers dramatically higher than previous tallies suggest. A new Vice News investigation finds that between 2010-2016, cops in the 50 largest police departments in the country shot more than 3,630 people, nearly double some previous estimates. Of the 4,381 people cops fired upon in that period — including the 700 people they shot at and missed — two-thirds survived those shootings.

Absent a comprehensive federal database of police shootings, the Vice report offers the most complete picture of fatal and nonfatal police shootings available.

The data analysis also found that police shot black people “more often and at higher rates than any other race,” and “two and a half times more often than white people.” Vice found that cops shot no fewer than 1,664 black people in the period studied, comprising “55 percent of the total and more than double the share of the black population in these communities.” Twenty percent of the African Americans tallied were shot following “relatively innocuous pedestrian or traffic stops,” which was true for just 16 percent of whites shot by police. Those figures are of particular importance considering that studies find black drivers are more likely to be stopped by cops based on less evidence, less likely than their white peers to be spoken to respectfully during those stops, and more likely to be ticketed and arrested than white drivers.

While police narratives of shootings studied by Vice suggest the majority of blacks shot by cops were themselves involved in shootings or robberies, the proliferation of cell phone and body camera footage that contradicts police versions of events brings the trustworthiness of those numbers into question. Many videos made public after the fact have illustrated that shootings initially described by police as being self-defensive were in fact extrajudicial executions of African Americans. Unquestionably, some shootings of black citizens result from actual crimes being committed. But the demonstrated fallibility of police accounts shows that in a disturbing number of cases, police officers “shoot first and come up with reasons later.” The Vice News investigation finds that a significant number of people (20 percent) shot by police were unarmed. Among those, 44 percent were African American.

“It is a complex picture, but what’s clear is that black people are more likely to be unarmed, and that more of these sort of low-level incidents escalate to shootings,” Samuel Sinyangwe, data analyst and co-founder of police reform organization Campaign Zero, told Vice.

America’s problems with gun violence across the board are reflected in its police shooting figures. A 2015 assessment found that 1 out of every 13 people killed by guns every year is killed by police. As the Washington Post notes, that’s roughly one killing “every 9 hours, or 2.5 shootings per day.” Undoubtedly, based on the number of unarmed victims, not every shooting is the result of justifiable safety fears by officers. But few cops are held accountable even for the most extreme mistakes in the field. An investigation by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last year found that between 1995 and 2015, “[f]ederal prosecutors declined to pursue civil rights allegations against law enforcement officers 96 percent of the time.” It’s notoriously difficult to secure a conviction against cops even in unequivocal cases of police abuse.

“There doesn’t have to be a gun involved. We see these cases where somebody has a cell phone or somebody makes the wrong move,” Bruce Franks Jr., a Missouri activist who went from Ferguson protester to state senator, told Vice. “There’s a million reasons they give so it ends up being justified.”

One of the few positive trends in the numbers Vice examined is a 20 percent downturn in police shootings since 2014, the result of Obama-era reforms in response to Department of Justice recommendations. Of the 10 cities that saw the largest drops in police shootings, seven complied with changes proposed by the federal government.

Cities that voluntarily adopted DOJ-recommended reforms saw a 32 percent decline in officer-involved shootings in the first year. The police departments that were forced to take on reforms through binding agreements with the DOJ saw a 25 percent decline that year, including Baltimore, whose agreement began this year. In Chicago, shootings by cops dropped by more than 50 percent after McDonald’s death, an incident that prompted a DOJ investigation and a package of recommended reforms.

That downturn is likely to end. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has characterized the DOJ’s work with local police departments as “federal intrusion,” and ordered a review of all reform agreements aimed at curbing civil rights violations and police abuses. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” Sessions stated in a two-page memo issued earlier this year.

The Vice investigation of the country’s 50 largest police departments was met with some resistance by the forces being scrutinized. Just 47 departments ultimately responded to Vice’s stats request with numbers that offered enough data for proper examination. “Many [law enforcement departments] fought hard to keep the information secret,” Vice claims, “and some responded to our requests only under threat of legal action.”

Despite dozens of high-profile police killings in recent years, the FBI still doesn’t mandate that local police departments around the country report to a centralized data-keeping mechanism. Just 35 of the 18,000 local police departments in the US participate in the Police Data Initiative, an Obama administration program to increase transparency around policing that will likely also be diminished under the Trump administration and the Sessions DOJ. Yet, this is critical information about the state of justice and civil rights in this country.

“We should know about how often it happens, if for no other reason than to simply understand the phenomenon,” David Klinger, an ex-LAPD officer and professor of criminal justice, told Vice. “How often is it that police are putting bullets in people’s bodies or trying to put bullets in people’s bodies?”

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The President Plays With Matches and the Whole World Burns


Monday, December 18, 2017By Rebecca GordonTomDispatch 

Donald Trump arrives back at the White House on December 17, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool / Getty Images)
Donald Trump arrives back at the White House on December 17, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chris Kleponis-Pool / Getty Images)

“I’ve just heard that my family home near Carpenteria is literally in flames at this moment,” a friend told me recently. She was particularly worried, she said, because “my mom has MS. She and my dad got the call to evacuate after midnight last night. They were able to grab a few photos, my sister’s childhood teddy bear, and the dog. That’s it. That’s all that’s left.”

My friend’s parents are among the thousands of victims of the 240,000-acre Thomas fire, one of California’s spate of late-season wildfires. Stoked by 80-mile-an-hour Santa Ana winds, plenty of dry fuel, and 8% humidity, such fires are devouring huge swaths of southern California from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. Months of dry weather and unseasonably warm temperatures have turned the southern part of the state into a tinderbox.

Once again the country watches in horror as firefighters struggle to contain blazes of historic voracity — as we watched only a couple of months ago when at least 250 wildfires spread across the counties north of San Francisco. Even after long-awaited rains brought by an El Niño winter earlier in 2017, years of drought have left my state ready to explode in flames on an increasingly warming planet. All it takes is a spark.

Sort of like the whole world in the age of Donald Trump.

Torching Jerusalem

It’s easy to forget some of the smaller brushfires — like the one President Trump lit at the end of November when he retweeted three false and “inflammatory” videos about Muslims that he found on the Twitter feed of the leader of a British ultra-nationalist group.

The president’s next move in the international arena — his “recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel — hasn’t yet slipped from memory, in part because of the outrage it evoked around the world. As Moustafa Bayoumi, acclaimed author of How Does It Feel to be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, wrote in the Guardian, “The entire Middle East, from Palestine to Yemen, appears set to burst into flames after this week.” Not surprisingly, his prediction has already begun to come true with demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon, where US flags and posters of President Trump were set alight. We’ve also seen the first rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and the predictable reprisal Israeli air attacks.

Trump’s Jerusalem announcement comes as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, pursues his so-called Middle East peace initiative. Kushner’s new BFF is Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne. We don’t know just what the two of them talked about during a late night tête-à-tête as October ended, but it probably involved Salman’s plans to jail hundreds of prominent Saudis, including 11 fellow princes. They undoubtedly also discussed a new, incendiary Israeli-Palestinian “peace plan” that the US and Saudi Arabia are reportedly quietly circulating.

Under this proposal, according to the New York Times,

“The Palestinians would get a state of their own but only noncontiguous parts of the West Bank and only limited sovereignty over their own territory. The vast majority of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which most of the world considers illegal, would remain. The Palestinians would not be given East Jerusalem as their capital and there would be no right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.”

If this is the “deal of the century” that President Trump plans to roll out, then it’s no surprise that he’d prepare the way by announcing his plans to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.

That move reveals a lot about Trump’s much vaunted deal-making skills when it comes to the international arena.  Here he has made a major concession to Israel without receiving a thing in return, except words of praise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and from evangelicals in this country). Given that Israel came into possession of the eastern half of Jerusalem through military conquest in 1967, a method of acquiring territory that international law views as illegal, it was quite a concession. The ultimate status of Jersalem is supposed to be a subject for the final stage of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, not a gift to one side before the talks even begin.

Behind this concession, as far as can be seen, lies no strategic intent of any sort, not in the Middle East at least. In fact, President Trump was perfectly clear about just why he was making the announcement: to distinguish himself from his predecessors. (That is, to make himself feel good.) “While previous presidents have made [moving the US embassy to Jerusalem] a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering.”

“Some say,” he added, that his predecessors failed because “they lacked courage.” In point of fact, Trump did not exactly “deliver” either. Just like his predecessors, he promptly signed a semi-annual waiver that once again delayed the actual embassy move for six months.


Rather than serving a larger Middle East strategy, Trump’s Jerusalem announcement served mainly his own ego. It gave him the usual warm bath of adulation from his base and another burst of the pleasure he derives from seeing his name in the headlines.

In his daily behavior, in fact, Trump acts less like a shrewd dealmaker than a child with pyromania, one who relieves anxiety and draws attention by starting fires. How else to explain his tendency every time there’s a lull in the coverage of him, to post something incendiary on Twitter? Each time, just imagine him striking another match, lighting another fuse, and then sitting back to watch the pyrotechnics.

Here is the grim reality of this American moment: whoever has access to the president also has a good shot at pointing this human flamethrower wherever he or she chooses, whether at “Little Rocket Man” in North Korea or Doug Jones in Alabama (although that flame turned out to be, as they British say, a damp squib).

The Middle East has hardly been the only part of the world our president has taken visible pleasure in threatening to send up in flames. Consider the situation on the Korean peninsula, which remains the greatest danger the world faces today. Who could forget the way he stoked the already glowing embers of the Korean crisis in August by threatening to rain “fire and fury like the world has never seen” — an obvious nuclear reference — on North Korea? And ever since it’s only gotten worse.  In recent weeks, for instance, not only Trump but his coterie have continued to ramp up the rhetoric against that country. Earlier this month, for instance, National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster renewed the threat of military action, saying ominously, “There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un]’s getting closer and closer [to having a nuclear capacity to hit the United States], and there’s not much time left.”

In September, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, reinforced this message in an interview with CNN. “If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed.”

Indeed, Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, thinks the Trump administration may already have accepted the inevitability of such a war and the near-guarantee that South Korea and Japan will be devastated as well — as long as it comes before North Korea can effectively launch a nuclear strike on the US mainland. “There are a lot of people who argue that there’s still a window to stop North Korea from getting an ICBM with a nuclear warhead to use against the United States,” he commented to the Washington Post. “They’re telling themselves that if they strike now, worst-case scenario: only Japan and South Korea will eat a nuclear weapon.”

You don’t exactly have to be an admirer of Kim Jong-un and his sad outcast regime to imagine why he might be reluctant to relinquish his nuclear arsenal. North Korea remains the designated US enemy in a war that, almost seven decades later, has never officially ended. It’s situated on a peninsula where the most powerful nation in the world holds military exercises twice a year. And Kim has had ample opportunity to observe how Washington has treated other leaders (Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi) who gave up their nuclear programs. Certainly, threats of fire and fury are not going to make him surrender his arsenal, but they may still make Donald Trump feel like a real commander-in-chief.

Home Fires Burning

It’s not only in the international arena that Trump’s been burning things up. He’s failed — for now — to destroy the Affordable Care Act (though not for lack of striking matches), but the GOP has successfully aimed the Trump flamethrower at any vestiges of progressive taxation at the federal level. And now that the House and Senate are close to reconciling their versions of tax legislation, the Republicans have made it clear just why they’re so delighted to pass a bill that will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion dollars. It gives them a “reason” to put to flames what still remains of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s.

House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a vivid sense of where that presidential flamethrower could be aimed soon when he told radio host Ross Kaminsky, “We’re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit.” The goal? Cutting appropriations for Medicare and Medicaid, programs shepherded through Congress in the mid-1960s by Lyndon Johnson. These achievements helped realize his vision of the United States as a Great Society, one that provides for the basic needs of all its citizens.

Meanwhile, when it comes to setting the American social environment on fire, President Trump has already announced his post-tax-bill target du jour: welfare “reform.”

Welfare reform? Not a subject he even mentioned on the campaign trail in 2016, but different people are aiming that flamethrower now. The Hill reports the scene as Trump talked to a group of lawmakers in the Capitol basement:

“Ticking through a number of upcoming legislative priorities, Trump briefly mentioned welfare reform, sources in the room said.

“‘We need to do that. I want to do that,’ Trump told rank-and-file lawmakers in a conference room in the basement of the Capitol. The welfare line got a big applause, with one lawmaker describing it as an ‘off-the-charts’ reception.”

We know that getting “big applause” guarantees that a Trump line will also get repeated.

At a time when “entitlement” has become a dirty word, we’d do well to remember that not so long ago it wasn’t absurd to think that the government existed to help people do collectively what they couldn’t do as individuals. As a friend said to me recently, taxes are a more organized way of crowd-funding human needs.

Who even remembers that ancient time when candidate Trump, not yet an arsonist on the home front, promised to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security? President Trump is a different matter.

It seems likely, however, that at least for now the Republicans won’t push him on Social Security because, as Paul Ryan told the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog,” the Republicans don’t have enough votes to overcome a Senate filibuster and the program is too popular back home for a super-majority of Republicans to go after it.

Why can they pass a tax “reform” bill with only a simple majority, but not Social Security cuts? The tax bill is being rushed through Congress using the “reconciliation” process by which differences in the Senate and House versions are smoothed over to produce a single bill.  This only requires a simple majority to pass in each house. The Senate’s “Byrd Rule,” adopted in 1974, prohibits the use of the reconciliation process to make changes to Social Security. Thank you, former West Virginia senator Robert Byrd!

In addition to the programs that made up Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” he also signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is already hard at work setting fire to the latter, as the president continues to demand evidence for his absurd claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election. He must be having an effect. At least half of all Republicans now seem to believe that he indeed did win that vote.

And before we leave the subject, just a couple of final notes on literal fires in the Trump era. His Department of Transportation has been quietly at work making those more likely, too. In a move supported by fans of train fires everywhere, that department has quietly reversed an Obama-era rule requiring that trains carrying crude oil deploy, as Reuters reports, “an advanced braking system designed to prevent fiery derailments… The requirement to install so-called electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes was included in a package of safety reforms unveiled by the Obama administration in 2015 in response to a series of deadly derailments that grew out of the US shale boom.”

Government data shows there have been 17 such derailments of trains carrying crude oil or ethanol in the US since 2006.

Then there’s the fire that has probably destroyed my friend’s house in southern California even as I wrote this. Donald Trump can hardly be blamed for that one. The climate in this part of the world has already grown hotter and drier.  We can certainly blame him, however, for turning up the heat on planet Earth by announcing plans to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change, overseeing the slashing of tax incentives for alternative energy (amid a bonanza of favors for the fossil fuel industry), and working to assert an oil, gas, and coal version of American “energy dominance” globally.  From the world’s leading economic power, there may be no larger “match” on the planet.

A Flame of Hope

What hope is there of quenching the Trumpian fires?

There is the fact that much of the world is standing up to him. At this month’s climate accord follow-up meeting in Paris, billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson announced “a dozen international projects emerging from the summit that will inject money into efforts to curb climate change.” The head of the World Bank insisted that the institution would stop funding fossil fuel programs within the next two years. Former American officials spoke up, too, as US News & World Report observed:

“One by one, officials including former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, billionaire [and former New York City mayor] Michael Bloomberg, and former US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted the world will shift to cleaner fuels and reduce emissions regardless of whether the Trump administration pitches in.”

I take comfort, too, in the extraordinary achievements of international civil society. Consider, for example, the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), this year’s recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This summer, as a result of a campaign it led, two-thirds of the world’s nations — 122 of them — signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which outlaws the use, production, and possession of nuclear arms. That treaty — and the Nobel that rewarded its organizers — didn’t get a lot of coverage in the United States, perhaps because, predictably, we didn’t sign it.

In fact, none of the existing nuclear powers signed it, but the treaty remains significant nonetheless. We should not underestimate the moral power of international agreements like this one. Few of us remember the 1928 Kellogg-Briand pact, which outlawed recourse to war for the resolution of international disputes. Nevertheless, that treaty formed the basis for the conviction of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg for their crimes against peace. By implication, the Kellogg-Briand treaty also legalized a whole set of non-military actions nations can now take, including the use of economic sanctions against countries that violate international norms or laws.

ICAN leaders Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow (herself a Hiroshima survivor) believe that, over time, the treaty will change how the world thinks about nuclear weapons, transforming them from a necessary evil to an unthinkable one, and so will ultimately lead to their elimination. As Fihn told the BBC’s Stephen Sackur, “If you’re uncomfortable with nuclear weapons under Donald Trump, you’re probably uncomfortable with nuclear weapons” in general. In other words, the idea of Trump’s tiny fingers on the nuclear trigger is enough to start a person wondering whether anybody’s fingers should be on that trigger.

The world’s reaction in Paris and ICAN’s passionate, rational belief in the moral power of international law are like a cool drink of water on a very hot day.

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