Archive | March 25th, 2018

Toxic Coal Ash Is Being Dumped in Puerto Rico, Which Already Suffers Worst Drinking Water in the Nation


Image result for Puerto Rico CARTOON

Even before Hurricane Maria struck the island nearly six months ago, the majority of Puerto Rico’s residents lived with water that violated health standards set by the US law. Since the storm, residents say the situation has only gotten worse. Among the sources of potential water contamination are mountains of coal ash generated by a coal-fired power plant owned by a private company called AES. For years, residents have demanded the company stop dumping toxic coal ash into their community, saying the waste is poisonous to their health and the environment. We speak with Mekela Panditharatne, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council who just returned from the island and wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post headlined “FEMA says most of Puerto Rico has potable water. That can’t be true.”


AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in another part of the country — Puerto Rico — right now to talk about what’s happening there, where residents have been organizing against coal ash disposal. Even before Hurricane Maria struck the island six monthS ago, the majority of Puerto Rican residents were living with water that violated health standards set by US law. And since Hurricane Maria, residents say, the situation has only gotten worse. Among the sources of potential water contamination are mountains of coal ash generated by a coal-fired power plant owned by a private company called AES. For years, residents have been demanding the company stop dumping toxic coal ash into their community, saying the waste is poisonous to their health and the environment.

For more, we’re also joined in Washington, DC, by Mekela Panditharatne, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who just got back from Puerto Rico, her recent piece in The New York Times headlined “Puerto Rico Needs More Than Bandages,” also wrote The Washington Post op-ed “FEMA says most of Puerto Rico has potable water. That can’t be true.”

Mekela, welcome to Democracy Now! How does this story about coal ash, before and after the hurricane, fit into this national story?

MEKELA PANDITHARATNE: Well, for example, the southern coastal town of Guayama is home to a five-story-high pile of coal ash that was produced by this energy company AES. Now, AES has been producing coal ash, and that has been deposited in landfills scattered across Puerto Rico, including in a community called Peñuelas, which has been really a locus in these environmental justice fights.

Coal ash does pose significant human health risks, in part because it produces what’s known as fugitive dust. That’s when parts of the coal ash stack will blow away during a windy day and contaminate the surrounding environment. When coal ash gets wet, it can also seep into the soil and into the groundwater and potentially cause drinking water contamination.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did the storm affect the coal ash contamination? The plant is still running?

MEKELA PANDITHARATNE: The plant is still running. And residents of Guayama have expressed concern that after the hurricane there may be contaminants leaching into the soil and into the groundwater in that area.

AMY GOODMAN: And how is the government responding now? I mean, you have so many crises in Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico home to 23 Superfund sites, including the island of Vieques, which the US Navy bombed with — bombed and napalmed for so many years.

MEKELA PANDITHARATNE: Well, what we’re seeing in Puerto Rico at the moment is really the culmination of a long-standing drinking water crisis that has in part been contributed to by these coal ash sites and by these plentiful Superfund sites. Even before Maria, Puerto Ricans had the worst drinking water quality of any state or territory in the nation: 99.5 percent of Puerto Ricans were served by drinking water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Around 70 percent of Puerto Ricans were served by water sources that violated health base standards, so that had unlawfully high levels of contaminants or weren’t being treated in accordance with federal standards. Those contaminants included coliform bacteria and disinfection byproducts, but also the kind of volatile organic compounds that you would expect to see from leaching from these kind of Superfund sites and coal ash deposits.

AMY GOODMAN: As you mentioned, in Puerto Rico’s southern town of Peñuelas, residents have been fighting for years to stop this private company, Applied Energy Systems, or AES, from dumping the coal ash in a landfill next to their community. Last year, before the hurricane struck, Democracy Now!’s Laura Gottesdiener and Juan Carlos Dávila spoke to one of the community leaders about the organizing efforts to stop the toxic dumping.

YANINA MORENO: [translated] My name is Yanina Moreno. I am one of the spokespeople from the camp against the ashes in Peñuelas. When the trucks drive by, they are speeding from the time they leave the camp in Guayama. And the police create a line of police cars, a whole perimeter to protect the street. In order to deposit the ashes, they have to mobilize a whole operation, a whole mobilization of police, because, otherwise, they would not be able to enter. Without the police, the trucks would never be able to enter Peñuelas.

AMY GOODMAN: Mekela, what are people demanding now in Puerto Rico, as we wrap up?

MEKELA PANDITHARATNE: Well, the hurricane has really made a bad water situation and a bad contamination situation even worse. The local government has said the majority of its water infrastructure was damaged by the hurricane. And as we’ve heard, residents are concerned about coal ash contamination leaching into the groundwater. So, what we’d really want to see is significant investment into drinking water infrastructure and also into securing these coal ash contamination sites and preventing further leaching of these contaminants into people’s water sources.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Ben Eaton, in Montgomery, Alabama, what are the people of Uniontown now finally demanding?

BEN EATON: We are demanding the — we are demanding the landfill to put in more and better preventions of this coal ash being dumped on us, better protection to keep it from leaking or seeping into our waterway or into the soil to kill off all the crops in that area. We are just constantly fighting, from one thing to the next. Our last attempt was in order to have any kind of justice, just to have someone in the office to actually protect the people, and not for a personal issue. And that’s why I have decided to run for county commissioner in District 5 in Uniontown. And in this district, guess who’s in it. The landfill. So, this is one of the ways that we are planning on taking the fight in another — not another direction, but, hopefully, in a more positive way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you all for being with us, Ben Eaton of Black Belt Citizens, speaking to us from Montgomery, Alabama, about his town, Uniontown, dealing with coal ash; Mustafa Ali, former head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency; and finally, just back from Puerto Rico, Mekela Panditharatne of the Natural Resources Defense Council. We’ll link to your pieces in the Times and The Washington Post.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, who gets included in obituaries in The New York Times, and who gets left out? Stay with us.

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Christian Dominionists Meet at Trump’s Washington Hotel to Answer the “Divine Call to War”


By Bill BerkowitzTruthout 

(Photo: Ehrlif / Getty Images)

(Photo: Ehrlif / Getty Images)

Last month, while NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was regaling culture warriors at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference with tales of socialists trying to take away their guns, Christian Dominionists were holding an event called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven National Gathering,” at Washington’s Trump International Hotel. It featured some of the most prominent Christian Dominionists in the country. Although there are various iterations of Dominionism, Dominionists are united in their belief that conservative Christians should take complete control of all the political, secular and cultural institutions in the country.

Though they are not nearly as well known as Christian Right leaders, such as Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress Jr., top Dominionist leaders like Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs and Lou Engle are a force worth paying attention to.

Those leaders, according to People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, “are associated with the New Apostolic Reformation, which believes a triumphant, dominion-taking church will help bring about the return of Christ, and many are part of POTUS Shield, a network of self-described apostles and prophets who believe President Trump was anointed by God to help bring that all about.”

Dutch Sheets, the go-to guy for the event, claimed that it would “play a prophetic role in getting the church to function as Christ’s Ekklesia, the representatives of His Kingdom government on earth; as such, we will expose the enemies of God, disrupt their plans, enforce Heaven’s rule, and reform America.” In 2015, Right Wing Watch pointed out, Sheets said, “We must realize that we are God’s governing force on the earth, which have been given keys of authority from Him to legislate from the spiritual realm.”

Sheets has also maintained that both the Department of Justice and the FBI are trying to destroy Trump’s presidency, a belief also recently espoused by the Rev. Franklin Graham. “We will operate in our kingdom authority while there, breaking the back of this attempt to render President Trump ineffective,” Sheets wrote in early February on his blog at “We will decree the exposing and failure of all attempts to sabotage his presidency. We will release favor over him, enabling him to accomplish everything for which God sent him to the White House — including the turning of the Supreme Court! President Trump will fulfill all of God’s purposes for him.”

Right Wing Watch pointed out that Lou Engle, “who has called on Christians to pray that God would ‘sweep’ the Supreme Court and other federal courts of justices and judges who uphold Roe v. Wade,” operates through a group called The Call. In early February, the organization sent supporters an “email about the prophetic nature of the event and the choice of February 22 for its opening. The email asked readers to ‘take up our rod of authority’ and urged people to pray for President Trump.”

Evidently, as Right Wing Watch reported, officials at Trump International were so taken with the event’s concept that the hotel lowered its prices to accommodate the Dominionists.

I asked two long-time movement watchers — Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s Communications Director Rob Boston and Political Research Associates’ Frederick Clarkson — to help us understand why the Dominionist movement matters. Are its leaders effective politically in and of themselves? How does their connection to the Trump White House empower them? How does the New Apostolic Reformation fit within the broader Christian Right?

“Dominionists are the most extreme faction of the Religious Right — they’re people who literally embrace the concept of theocratic government,” Rob Boston told me in an email. “They’re latter-day Puritans with modern-day technology, and they would make this country an officially ‘Christian’ one by force if necessary. Of course, their definition of Christianity is so extreme that it would exclude millions of Americans who attend mainline churches.”

What unites the “religious right,” under Boston’s definition, is its theocratic mission.

“The people who belong to this movement go by different names — Reconstructionists, Theonomists, Dominionists — but they all share a common belief: Our republican form of government should be replaced with a Christian fundamentalist theocracy,” Boston explained. “They may disagree on what constitutes a proper form of Christianity, but their goal is to ‘reconstruct’ society from the ground up, along ‘biblical’ lines.”

While Christian Reconstructionism has always been a small movement, “the writings of people like Rousas John Rushdoony laid the philosophical groundwork for the rise of the religious right in [the US], by providing a biblically sound justification for intervention in politics, a position that for many years was seen as anathema to the goals of the church’s mission of personal salvation,” Boston noted.

According to Boston, the religious right has tried to distance itself from Reconstructionists, labeling them “as a fringe,” but “that’s only because the former finds the latter’s overt enthusiasm for mixing fundamentalism with fascism embarrassing.”

Nevertheless, “these two factions share much in common,” said Boston. “They are at war with much of modern life. They refuse to accept things like women’s liberation, LGBTQ rights, secular public schools, religious pluralism, democracy, modern science, higher education, biblical criticism, liberal Christianity, non-theistic belief systems, and so on. To Reconstuctionists, the 6th century Byzantine Empire is a model society — except, of course, that they would install a fundamentalist Christian emperor and not an Orthodox Catholic one. They’re not likely to get us back that far, but if current trends continue and Trump keeps placating them, especially by putting far-right jurists on the courts, they could move the country a lot closer to 1950 than many of us would like.”

Frederick Clarkson, senior political analyst at Political Research Associates, has witnessed Sheets and others in action. In an email, Clarkson told me that his understanding, after reading the promotional material for the event, was “that they intend to fill the atmosphere in Washington with ‘biblical decrees’ and that this is part of what organizer Sheets calls his answer to the ‘divine call to war.'”

“And when Sheets and other apostles leading this event say a divine call, they mean it,” Clarkson added. “I have seen Chuck Pierce stop the proceedings at an event to say he was receiving a word from God, and people gasp and hang on his every nuance. This may seem strange to those outside of these networks, but for many of their followers, this is their experience of the living God. Thus, it is no small thing when the living God, speaking through his apostles and prophets is calling for ‘enforcing kingdom rule’ and raising up an ‘Army of Special Forces.'”

According to Clarkson, “Pentecostalism is the only growth sector in Christianity in the US and the New Apostolic Reformation is the most politically dynamic element of the Christian Right.” However, the movement has not received much media attention. “They adhere to an urgent and animating vision of dominion, such that they are able to believe that God has chosen an ungodly man to accomplish his purposes,” Clarkson added.

So why are dominionists so taken with Trump? “The great irony of this movement,” Boston explained, “is that, like other Religious Right groups, it has hitched itself to Donald Trump, perhaps the most amoral, un-Christlike man ever to occupy the White House. Dominionists tend to interpret the most mundane events through the lens of what they consider to be biblical prophecy, and in a desperate ploy to cover their actions, some of them argue that God is using Trump as his instrument.”

“Many believers would be offended by that notion, and others recognize it for what it is: a convenient excuse. The fact is, Trump is giving this crowd what it wants, so they are willing to overlook his many moral flaws and reckless behavior. It’s a typical political bargain, and whether this crowd cares to acknowledge it or not, it definitely involved the selling of many souls and the shredding of mounds of moral credibility.”

“One does not have to take their hyperbolic utterances seriously, but no one should have any doubt that their followers do,” Clarkson pointed out. “Holding the event in the five-star Trump hotel a few blocks from the White House is plenty of proof of the truth that they are carrying out the will of God and must stand up to Trump’s opponents, who must also be seen as the opponents of God.”

While the media focused its attention on CPAC, The Turnaround, went relatively unreported. “For decades, the broad theocratic movement we call Dominionism has been rising in plain sight, and now is a close ally of the president of the United States, enjoying access to power that ostensibly more moderate evangelicals can only dream of,” Clarkson declared.

In a recent speech at a luncheon in Nashville, hosted by the Susan B. Anthony List and Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion organization, Vice President Mike Pence told the enthralled audience that abortion will be outlawed “in our time.”

“I just know in my heart of hearts this will be the generation that restores life in America,” Pence said. “I truly do believe [i]f all of us do all that we can, then we will once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”

Whether Pence is right about that is yet to be determined. However, there is no question that the broader Christian Right, which includes the New Apostolic Reformation, is serious about pushing conservative judicial appointments, which could lead to making abortion illegal again, and not just the halting of the expansion of LGBTQ rights, but even the reversal of marriage equality.

“Many of these rights are hanging by one vote on the Supreme Court, Americans United’s Boston pointed out. “If Trump gets another appointment, it could tip the balance and empower Religious Right legal groups to reopen issues we thought were long-settled. Even under its current makeup, there’s no guarantee that the court [will not] adopt a theory of ‘religious freedom’ that allows entire classes of people to be discriminated against, denied medical treatment or treated like second-class citizens because of someone else’s religion.”

“The danger,” said Boston, is not that we will wake up tomorrow living in The Handmaid’s Tale, but rather that we will see a gradual erosion of our rights as the wall of separation between church and state is lowered by the courts. Whether a theocratically-tinged government comes due to baby steps or a giant leap is irrelevant at the end of the day to those forced to live under it.

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The Truth About Cambridge Analytica-SCL: Psy-ops by UK-US Deep State Actors

The scandal surrounding Facebook’s relationship with Cambridge Analytica, the election data company previously associated with former Trump campaign Chairman Steve Bannon, dominates the media in the US and Britain.

The serious privacy concerns involved in the harvesting of the personal information of some 50 million Facebook users was underscored by Britain’s Channel 4 News. An undercover investigation filmed Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix boasting of dirty tricks operations to ensnare politicians and subvert elections.

But while the disclosures are being used to bolster hysterical claims of “Russian meddling,” a closer examination reveals that the real and far more fundamental threat to democratic rights involves psy-ops programmes run by elements of the British and US deep state.

Cambridge Analytica’s parent company is British-based SCL. Formerly Strategic Communication Laboratories, it is a private behavioural research and strategic communication company, founded in 1993 by Nigel Oakes. The son of Major John Waddington Oakes and a former boyfriend of Lady Helen Windsor, Oakes was formerly employed by Margaret Thatcher’s favourite advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, before establishing SCL.

As with Oakes, SCL’s board members include scions of the British ruling class, from former military officers and defence contractors to major Conservative Party donors.

Lord Ivar Mountbatten, third cousin to Queen Elizabeth, is on the board, while CEO Roger Gabb is a millionaire wine merchant, a former British special forces officer and major contributor to the Tory Party. SCL President Sir Geoffrey Pattie was a defence minister under Thatcher. SCL chairman is the venture capitalist Julian Wheatland, also chairman of Oxfordshire Conservatives Association. Former Conservative Party Treasurer Jonathan Marland, trade envoy under Prime Minister David Cameron, is a shareholder.

Others associated, past or present, with SCL include property billionaire and Tory Party donor Vincent Tchenguiz; Sir James Allen Mitchell, privy counsellor since 1985; Rear Admiral John Tolhurst, a former assistant director of naval warfare in the Ministry of Defence and aide de camp to the Queen; and Gavin McNicoll, creator of the Eden Intelligence firm, which has run projects for the British government.

SCL boasts of providing “data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organizations worldwide,” notably the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO. It states that it has carried out “behavioural change programs” in more than 60 countries. One of its first contracts in 1999 was promoting Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid. It has worked to influence elections in Afghanistan, Latvia, Ukraine, Nigeria and Kenya among others.

Cambridge Analytica was launched in 2012 by SCL to extend its operations to the US. In partnership with hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, this included the Republican primaries for the 2016 election, where it worked to support Ted Cruz and then Donald Trump.

There is nothing new in this. Similar activities were known of, facilitated and endorsed by the political and military establishment in Britain and the US for years.

According to Liam O’Hare at Bella Caladonia, SCL went public in 2005 at the DSEI conference, a global arms fair in London, promoting itself as the first private company to provide psychological warfare services to the British military:

“Its ‘hard sell’ was a demonstration of how the UK government could use a sophisticated media campaign of mass deception to fool the British people into the thinking an accident at a chemical plant had occurred and threatened central London.”

Such a sales pitch is even more chilling given the recent events in Salisbury, where the alleged attempted assassination of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia—victims of a still unidentified nerve agent—is being used by the government to stage provocations against Russia.

A Freedom of Information request from August 2016 showed the MoD took out a £40,000 contract with SCL for the “provision of external training” in 2010/11 and £150,000 for the “procurement of target audience analysis” in 2014/15.

“In addition, SCL also carries a secret clearance as a ‘list X’ contractor for the MOD. A List X site is a commercial site on British soil that is approved to hold UK government information marked as ‘confidential’ and above. Essentially, SCL got the green light to hold British government secrets on its premises.”

Revelations of the British military’s connections with SCL forced Prime Minister Theresa May to declare in Parliament Wednesday,

“As far as I’m aware the government has no current contracts with Cambridge Analytica or with the SCL Group.”

A spokesperson admitted that the government had held three previous contracts with SCL Group, but said these had now ended.

According to the Guardian, in 2014 “MoD officials worked with SCL Group on ‘Project Duco’ to analyse how people would interact with certain government messaging.”

The project was carried out by the MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which is focused on maximising “the impact of science and technology for the defence and security of the UK.”

Project Duco was part of the government’s “human and social influence” work, and SCL was paid £150,000. It assessed how Target Audience Analysis (TAA) could “contribute to the government’s strategic communications.”

The Guardian has been in the forefront of the campaign over Russian fake news in the UK. But it was forced to acknowledge that SCL’s work on Project Duco and its “list X” ranking “is likely to raise concerns that government officials were aware of Cambridge Analytica and SCL’s operations, and intended to use them to promote government messages.”

In other words, Cambridge Analytica and SCL were not acting as proxies for the Russian state but rather for significant sections of the US/UK military and intelligence apparatus. A link to the heavily redacted report on Project Duco is here. Note that intellectual copyright is held by the government’s science and technology laboratory at Porton Down, just eight miles from Salisbury.

Nafeez Ahmed at INSURGE intelligence elaborated on the connections between SCL, the British foreign office and “other elements of the UK political and financial establishment.” These are so close that “last year the Foreign Office executive agency, Wilton Park, invited SCL Group subsidiary, SCL Elections, to speak about how the use of data in the 2016 Presidential election could be applied in the British government’s diplomatic and foreign policy agenda.”

The SCL Group executives were Mark Turnbull, managing director of SCL Elections, and David Wilkinson, then lead data scientist, who addressed the FCO in February 2017 on the subject of “examining the application of data in the recent US Presidential election.”

“The meeting was attended and opened by Jonathan Allen — then the FCO’s Acting Director General for Defence and Intelligence. Allen is now Theresa May’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations.”

O’Hare explains that the TAA “evolved during the battle for hearts and minds in Afghanistan.”

A SCL whistle-blower has charged that techniques used by the SCL Group has traced TAA back to the methods used by the US and UK militaries in Iraq. reports the whistle-blower stating that

“some of this technology was actually owned by the UK Ministry of Defence and/or the US Military, and now they don’t want people to know that it was their weapon that’s currently in the wild, being used privately to manipulate elections worldwide.”

SCL received £548,000 for delivering training to NATO that included providing an eight-week course for its staff. This was “subsequently passed on to Georgian, Ukrainian and Moldovan government officials.”

Turnbull is also head of Cambridge Analytica Political Global. He was previously employed for 18 years at Bell Pottinger where, O’Hare reports, he headed up “the Pentagon funded PR drive in occupied Iraq which included the production of fake al-Qaeda videos.”

The US State Department has a contract for $500,000 with SLC to provide “research and analytical support in connection with our mission to counter terrorist propaganda and disinformation overseas.”

An offshoot, SCL Defense, received $775,000 “to support NATO operations in Eastern Europe targeting Russia.”

O’Hare reports,

“The company delivered a three-month course in Riga which taught ‘advanced counter-propaganda techniques designed to help member states assess and counter Russia’s propaganda in Eastern Europe.’

“The NATO website said the ‘revolutionary’ training would ‘help Ukrainians better defend themselves against the Russian threat’.”

SCL has also had contracts with the Pentagon for psy-ops in Iran and Yemen.

Whatever the exact beginnings of the TAA programme, the real news story being buried by the official media is that the covert operations and subversion techniques deployed in US and British imperialism’s neo-colonial adventures are now being used on their domestic populations.

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Whither Palestine? Non-violent resistance!


Palestinian non-violent resistance

By Uri Avnery

The closer Mahmoud Abbas gets to the end of his reign, the more extreme his language becomes.

Recently he spoke about Donald Trump and uttered the words “May your house be destroyed”. In Arabic this is a common curse, and sounds less extreme than in English. But even in Arabic this is not a usual phrase when speaking about a head of state.

This week Abbas spoke about the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and called him a “Son of a dog”. This, too, sounds in Arabic slightly less offensive than in English, but is hardly diplomatic.

It is hard to say that Friedman does not deserve it, though I would have wished, as a dog-lover, that Abbas had chosen another animal.

America’s “Jewish fascist ambassador to Israel”

Friedman is a kippah-wearing Jew, who identifies completely with the most extreme settlers in the occupied territories. He certainly would be more fitting as Israeli ambassador to the US than as US ambassador to Israel.

That would be problematic, too, because he has called liberal American Jews “worse than Capos” – “Capos” (short for “camp police”) were the prisoners who assisted the Nazis in the concentration camps.

To appoint such a Jewish fascist ambassador to Israel is – well – chutzpah. This could not happen in a normal country, which does not send an ambassador to a country in which he or she has a personal involvement. But Trump does not care. Not for Israel and not for Palestine.

So, what does Trump really care about? He cares about votes in US elections.

Sending a religious Jew to serve as his ambassador in Jerusalem may gain him some votes in the US Jewish community. American Jews generally vote for the Democrats. Why? Out of habit. Generations of new immigrants to the US have voted for the Democratic Party – the Irish before the Jews, the Asians after the Jews.

But most American Jews will continue to vote for the Democrats, in spite of the kippah on the head of Friedman. There are voices in the Jewish community which accuse their leaders of neglecting their own concerns, such as rising anti-Semitism, and spending all their energies supporting Israel’s extreme right-wing government.

Slave to evangelists and far-right Jews

But Trump has far more important supporters: the millions of evangelists. These peculiar Christian fanatics have a special vision: they believe that Jesus Christ will return once all the Jews congregate in the Holy Land. They do not like to mention what they expect to happen next: the Jews will convert to Christianity, and those who do not will perish.

Sounds strange? It sure is strange. But Trump needs these millions of votes, without which he would not have been elected in the first place. He acts according to the beliefs of this sect.

As a result, the president of the US totally ignores the rights of the Palestinian people and their aspirations. According to him, the Palestinians must accept what is offered to them, as a dog must accept what his master throws to him and wag his tail. What exactly? Trump’s masterful “peace plan” is still wrapped in secrecy. But it is enough to know who is in charge of it: his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

So, it is natural for Abbas to despair. He knows that during his remaining days in office nothing good will happen to the Palestinians.

Never since the emergence of the modern Palestinian nation has its situation been as dire as it is now.

The inhabitants of Palestine began to feel like a nation at the end of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire broke up. Photos of demonstrations held at the time in Jerusalem show the new Palestinian flag – black, white, green and red. Until then, the Palestinians were generally considered “South Syrians”. But when Syria was turned over to the French and Palestine to the British, this tie was broken.

A desperate situation for Palestinians

Since then, the Palestinians have experienced many events: the Zionist influx, the Great Arab Rebellion of 1936, the United Nations partition resolution of 1947, the end of British rule, the war of 1948, the Naqbah (catastrophe), several wars, the rise and murder of Yasser Arafat, and more. But never was their situation as desperate as now.

True, the heart of all the Arab peoples, and indeed all the Muslim peoples, has remained true to the Palestinians. But there is no Arab – or Muslim – government which is not ready to sell the Palestinian cause for its own interests.

Throughout the world there is a lot of sympathy for the Palestinians, but no government would lift a finger for them. And the most powerful country in the world is now their open enemy.

As if all this was not enough, the Palestinians themselves are deeply divided between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This is so much in the interest of the Israeli government that it is difficult not to suspect that it is involved.

Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River there live now about 13 million people, about half of them Jews and the other half Arabs. The Arabs may have a slight majority, which will grow continuously because of their higher birth rate. That does frighten the Zionist demographers. But they “cut off” the Gaza Strip from the rest of the country, pretending that its 2 million inhabitants do not belong to Palestine. That makes the problem seem a little less frightening.

This is the situation now. There is a tacit agreement in Israel not to “count” the inhabitants of the Strip. They are not there. There is only the West Bank, which must be Judaised.

A deeperate situation has one advantage: it encourages the search for new solutions.

That is happening now on the Palestinian side. Without waiting for the stepping down of Abbas and the appointment of a new leader, new ideas are popping up.

Yasser Arafat once explained to me why he entered the path to Oslo. We tried everything, he said. We tried the armed struggle. We tried diplomacy. We tried full-scale wars. Everything failed. So, we entered a new road: peace with Israel. (The first sign was Arafat’s inviting me to a meeting in Beirut.)

It is clear now that Oslo has failed. Yitzhak Rabin was murdered. In Israel the extreme right is in power. It steals the land and puts settlers on it. Israel has a leader who hates the Palestinians, an annexationist from birth.

The path to peace is blocked. The generation of Mahmoud Abbas, the generation of Yasser Arafat, has reached the end of its road.

And here comes a new generation. In a few weeks, a new chapter in the Palestinian story may start.

Non-violent struggle

There have always been voices in the Palestinian community who advocated non-violent struggle. They found no listeners, because in Arab tradition, struggles are generally violent. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela were not Muslims.

Now the idea of the non-violent struggle is raising its head. Not because of its moral aspect, but because it promises results.

In a few weeks, the Palestinians will start a non-violent campaign. Its declared aim is the return of the refugees. Thousands of Palestinians are about to march to the borders with Israel, first in the Gaza Strip and then in other places. They will not confront the Israeli army, and not break through the fences. Instead, they will put up tent camps on the Palestinian side of the fences and stay there for a long time.

This is a well-tried method. The sleepy Palestinian cause will suddenly return to life. From all over the world, journalists will come and see. The camps will become centres of world attention. Throughout Europe and the world, solidarity camps will spring up. In the Arab countries, the princes and emirs will find it hard to suppress demonstrations of sympathy.

And what then? Allah is great.

In my eyes, this plan has one great defect: the official aim.

If the protest movement concentrated on the aim of Palestinian independence, the world would give its blessing. There is now a world-wide consensus in favour of Palestinian statehood and the end of the Israeli occupation. In Israel, too, this aim has a lot of supporters. “two states” or one colonial state, independence or occupation – the choice is clear.

The refugee problem is quite different. During the war of 1948, some 650 thousand Palestinians were displaced, either in the turmoil of the fighting or as a deliberate Israeli policy. By now, their families have grown to 6 million.

Some live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, some in the countries around Israel and throughout the world. Some have taken root and started a new life, some are still refugees, supported by the international community. All are longing for their ancestral homes.

Bringing them back would mean the end of Israel, the displacement of millions of Israelis. This would be possible only through war. The very idea frightens every Israeli.

Is there no solution? I believe there is. Once, after a very emotional meeting with Palestinian refugees in America, I told my wife: “You know what my impression is? That these people are less interested in an actual return than in moral compensation. They want Israel to confess and apologise.”

When drawing up plans for peace, I proposed (a) to apologise officially, (b) to allow the return of a symbolic number of refugees, (c) to pay compensation to all others.

How many would be allowed to return? A number of 100,000 has been mentioned. I believe that we can do much better. In a situation of peace and reconciliation, even the addition of half a million to Israel’s present 1.5 million Palestinian citizens would be acceptable.

I discussed this solution with Yasser Arafat. My impression was that he agreed more or less, though he kept the refugee issue as a bargaining chip. Anyhow, this is no longer the main problem on the way of peace.

So, why go back 70 years? In a major Palestinian campaign, as planned now, why not concentrate on the main point: an end to the occupation, a State of Palestine next to the State of Israel?

The non-violent struggle is an excellent idea.

It reminds me of a saying of the late Abba Even: “People and states always do the right thing – after all other possibilities have been exhausted.”

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on Whither Palestine? Non-violent resistance!

As US Military Flies Overhead, Okinawa Residents Live Under a Cloud of Fear


By Jon LetmanTruthout 

A spate of US military aircraft accidents, incidents and emergency landings have many in Okinawa fearing for their safety. The Japanese southern islands comprise less than one percent of Japan's territory by host roughly 70 percent of US military bases. (Photo: John Letman)

A spate of US military aircraft accidents, incidents and emergency landings have many in Okinawa fearing for their safety. The Japanese southern islands comprise less than 1 percent of Japan’s territory but host roughly 70 percent of US military bases. (Photo: Jon Letman).

Last December 7, Eriko Miyagi was at the Midorigaoka nursery school in Ginowan, Okinawa where she’s a teacher’s assistant. Just after 10 a.m., as the children were preparing to go outside to play, they were startled by a loud bang on the roof. The sound came right after a US military helicopter flew overhead.

Like many Okinawans, Miyagi knows military aircraft well. “It was a CH-53E,” Miyagi says, recalling the morning.

Midorigaoka nursery school is just 300 yards from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma, a major US military installation that is often described as “the world’s most dangerous base” because it sits in the middle of a densely populated city.

When the principal of Midorigaoka climbed up on the roof he found a plastic canister with the words “Remove before flight” and “US” clearly visible. However, a military spokesman says a Marine inventory accounted for all such canisters and has not accepted responsibility for the object.

A 17-pound window fell from a CH-53 helicopter onto an elementary school playground near playing children.

Ryoko Chinen, the mother of two young children enrolled at the school, says that growing up beside Futenma, she always associated it with noise and bright lights at night, but was never afraid until the canister incident. With her own daughters (two and four years old) enrolled at Midorigaoka, she feels a sense of danger. Now, when helicopters fly overhead, Chinen’s youngest daughter has started saying “doan dayo!” (it’s a bang!).

Six days after the nursery school incident, scarcely two miles away, a 17-pound window fell from a CH-53 helicopter onto an elementary school playground near playing children. The impact sent debris flying, slightly injuring a nearby child, but a tragedy was averted — by less than 10 feet.

A third parent, Erina Kisei, has three children (five, nine and eleven years old) attending both schools. She tells Truthout the children have returned to playing outdoors but says that US military aircraft continue to fly over the schools.

All three women want the flights to stop and the bases to close and leave Japan.

Chinen asks Americans, “Would you accept objects falling from the sky over your small children’s school? Aren’t our lives as valuable as yours?”

Concerns about safety and noise are among the top reasons many Okinawans are opposed to the construction of a new U.S. Marine Air Base at Henoko in northern Okinawa. The new base is supposed to remove the threat of crashes in crowded southern Okinawa but opponents point to recent crashes near the new base as a reason to cancel the project. (Photo: Jon Letman)

Concerns about safety and noise are among the top reasons many Okinawans are opposed to the construction of a new US Marine Air Base at Henoko in northern Okinawa. The new base is supposed to remove the threat of crashes in crowded southern Okinawa, but opponents point to recent crashes near the new base as a reason to cancel the project. (Photo: Jon Letman)

A Long List of “Incidents”

Aircraft losing objects in midflight is common enough that they have their own military acronym: TFOA (Things Falling Off Aircraft). The TFOA problem has been around for decades. In 1986 the Los Angeles Times reported “hundreds” of aircraft parts fall off Navy aircraft each year. Even when TFOA incidents occur, in certain instances they are not considered “reportable events.”

But it isn’t just TFOA that have Okinawans riled. The 2017 list of accidents, incidents, emergency landings and hard landings is long. According to the Okinawa prefectural government, there were 29 US military aircraft incidents including at least six incidents outside US bases, leaving many wondering when the next one will occur.

By its own count, the US military says aircraft incidents have decreased by one-third compared to 2016. According to Maj. John Severns, deputy director for public affairs for US Forces Japan (USFJ), the number of “reportable incidents” involving US military aircraft in Okinawa in 2017 was 22, compared with 33 the year before.

Severns stresses that safety is a top priority for the military in Japan. “Our commanders will not put aircrews or our local communities at risk by flying aircraft that we are not 100 percent confident in,” he wrote in an email.

US military maintenance crews work diligently to keep aircraft in “good working order” and aircrews focus on “conducting safe flight operation,” Severns says, adding that in recent years “there have been no near misses involving US military aircraft in Japan.”

Discrepancies in how Okinawa’s government and the US military track accidents aside, the Marine’s own air safety record prompted Marine General Robert Neller to describe 2017 as a “horrible” year of “horrific” accidents for the Marine Corps, claiming the lives of 20 Marines. The remedy, the general suggested, was an increased budget, as well as more training and flying time.

Undersized, Overburdened

US military aircraft incidents are nothing new to Okinawa. In the 46 years since political control of Japan’s southernmost prefecture was returned to Tokyo from the US, there have been more than 45 military aircraft crashes in Okinawa.

The Okinawa Times newspaper published a timeline of US military aviation incidents and accidents between December 2016 and February 2018 which documented 18 incidents in Okinawa, other Japanese prefectures, and overseas. The 14-month period includes the fatal crashes of a Navy C2-A Greyhound cargo plane east of Okinawa (three sailors died) in November 2017 and an Osprey crash off the coast of Australia in August 2017. Neither of these were included in the Okinawa government’s figures because they occurred outside the prefecture.

Despite the high-visibility incidents and accidents in 2017, there were no deaths and only one minor injury among Okinawa’s civilian population. However, in an email to Truthout, former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says the fact that no Japanese citizen has died in the recent spate of incidents was sheer luck. Hatoyama notes that with aging US helicopters and what he described as the “flawed” MV-22 Osprey aircraft, it is only a matter of time before more accidents will occur. For those who live in constant fear of the next potential crash, Hatoyama says, a sense of safety does not exist.

Hatoyama calls it “strange” that while Okinawa makes up just 0.6 percent of Japanese territory, it houses 70 percent of US bases in Japan. He believes a reduction of US troops is necessary, adding that even in the US he has heard people argue that an overall reduction of Marines in modern warfare could be a good thing.

Okinawans who oppose the more than 30 US military installations that it hosts cite not only air crashes, but decades of automobile accidents, pollution, noise, crime, sexual violence and environmental degradation, as well as being forced to play a role in a US-Japan permanent war footing. They see the concentration of bases and associated hazards as an undue burden.

However, others see the US military presence as vital and preferable to being vulnerable to a foreign attack.

“It’s less [of] a burden than being invaded by hostile forces,” Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asia Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, tells Truthout. “If you look at election results in Okinawa, it’s clear that there’s no mass movement to kick [out] the US and Japanese bases. It’s up to the Japanese government (elected by the people) to decide where foreign bases should be.”

The fact that these aircraft continue to fly without the consent of the people and at risk of these accidents … convey the message that the Americans are basically treating the Okinawans as second-class citizens or even worse.

Anti-US base protesters in Okinawa, Dujarric adds, “get too agitated. [The] fact is, the US presence is not a danger.”

Many Okinawans would beg to differ. Hideki Yoshikawa, director of the Okinawa Environmental Justice Project, tells Truthout there is an “urgent need to reduce the US military presence in Okinawa.”

One detrimental impact that is not so obvious, Yoshikawa says, is “the amount of time our prefectural and municipal governments and assemblies have to spend discussing US military based-related issues and drawing [up] protest resolutions.” Instead, he says time would be better spent coming up with and implementing policies related to local development and welfare.

Protection From What?

The high concentration of US military in Okinawa is also detrimental to military personnel who, Yoshikawa says, are forced to violate or ignore their own safety regulations.

C. Douglas Lummis, a former US Marine who has lived in Okinawa since 2000, tells Truthout, “I suspect that the terrific pressure being put on flight and maintenance crews may be having the opposite effect — stress leading to nervousness and hampering concentration. As a vet I feel sorry for the guys.”

He questions the notion that US bases offer protection.

“Protection from what?” Lummis asks. “Occupation by a foreign power? Yes, it would be terrible to be occupied by a foreign power. They might even confiscate your lands and build bases on them!”

Lummis suggests that what the US frames as protection is, in fact, only another form of occupation by a foreign military (the United States) that invaded Okinawa over seven decades ago.

“Please remember that the Okinawans have never given their permission to have bases here, nor have they been asked,” he says. More than 72 years after World War II ended, Okinawa remains a “dual colony of the US and Japan,” says Lummis.

Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo points out that US bases operate on land seized at the end of World War II, as well as land confiscated from the Japanese imperial army.

Nakano tells Truthout, “given the complex history of Okinawa, which was under American military occupation for much longer than the rest of Japan, the resentment of the locals in Okinawa has really passed a certain threshold.”

The current situation is, in Nakano’s words “unreasonable and unsustainable.” He calls the current path unwise even for those who do not contest the importance of the US-Japan security alliance. “I think there is a great deal of hypocrisy and lack of empathy, of course.”

He argues that the excessive concentration of US bases in Okinawa doesn’t really make sense anymore either.

“I think it’s really a fixation to the status quo, particularly among the Japanese elites and Japan hands in Washington — what are sometimes referred to as the ‘US-Japan security village.'” Nakano says.

According to Nakano, “the uneven nature” of the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, combined with a history of military impunity, crimes, accidents, pollution and danger from aircraft give Okinawans a feeling of being discriminated against.

“The fact that these aircraft continue to fly without the consent of the people and at risk of these accidents … convey the message that the Americans are basically treating the Okinawans as second-class citizens or even worse,” Nakano says.

Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, recognizes that Okinawa bears a larger burden than any other Japanese prefecture and says Tokyo needs to constantly compensate for the burden with financial support. However, he adds, “that does not mean there is a practical alternative from the perspective of Japanese security.”

Green says that Okinawa’s geography “at the crossroads of the maritime tensions with China” and threats posed by enemy missiles mean that the US military needs more runways even if US forces are spread out. “Moving the [US] aircraft off [Okinawa] would be a bad idea,” Green says.

The plan to build a new Marine Air Base in the Henoko district of northern Okinawa is, in Green’s words, “the least bad solution — by far,” adding, “I do not see a credible option operationally that removes the airfield at Futenma without a clear replacement on Okinawa.”

New Year, Old Problems

However, even as the bases’ presence is debated, the incidents continue. The first month of 2018 started with three emergency landings in Okinawa: a UH-1 emergency landing and two incidents involving AH-1 attack helicopters.

Local concern over “precautionary landings” is understandable, USFJ Maj. Severns notes, but, he says, “they reflected a culture of safety and an emphasis on minimizing risk to aircrews and to the public.”

In a criticism as rare as it was mild, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said he hopes the US military will come to better understand the Japanese perspective, and last October, made critical remarks about the speed with which flights resumed after a helicopter crashed in northern Okinawa.

Finally, in January, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis apologized for the repeated incidents. Yet many in Okinawa, including the governor, are looking for more than an apology: They have had enough and want to see more troops and aircraft (especially Osprey) moved out of Okinawa entirely.

A plan to introduce Osprey for use by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to Saga Prefecture near Nagasaki was in the works, but following a February 5 JSDF attack helicopter deadly crash into a homequestions are being raised about introducing the aircraft to a civilian airport.

Also in February, the US commander of an MV-22 Osprey squadron was fired due to a “loss of trust and confidence in his ability to lead his command.” The Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Unwelcome headlines continued in February after a 29-pound piece of an Osprey air intake from a Futenma-based aircraft was found floating in waters off Okinawa. Then, on February 20, in northern Japan’s Aomori Prefecture, an American F-16 experienced an engine fire and dropped two fuel tanks into a lake about 100 yards from small fishing boats. Now the lake is contaminated and fishermen are prohibited from fishing.

As incidents occur one after another, they underscore the risk of military aircraft conducting flight operations continuously, day and night, year after year.

Shifting the Problem

The risk of operating aircraft out of MCAS Futenma over densely populated southern Okinawa is hardly disputed. Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly insisted that “the only solution” is to move Futenma operations to the less populous Henoko district. But protests have been ongoing for years and many want Futenma shut down (and cleaned up). Public opinion polls show fierce opposition to hosting the controversial Osprey, a tilt-rotor hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can fly at the speeds and distances of an airplane.

Fears about the Osprey’s safety were realized in December 2016 when an Osprey crashed just a few miles north of Henoko where protests rage against construction of the new base. (That base is ostensibly being built on the grounds that it removes the hazards from flying over the more heavily populated south.)

Ten months later, in October 2017, roughly 15 miles north of the Osprey crash, a CH-53E helicopter crashed in farmer Akira Nishime’s pasture just 100 yards from two of his employees and a thousand pigs and just beyond his home. A mile further was a school, a road and local community center.

Nishime, who has farmed that land since 1983, told a Japanese newspaper that he was meant to be in the crash zone when the chopper came down but just happened to be running late. After the burnt fuselage was removed from the land, a stain of burnt grass and tire treads was left covered by a blue plastic tarp. Nishime explains how his land was polluted with benzene and dioxin but was thankful separate tests found no evidence of radioactive contamination.

Nishime was forced to stop his farm operations for 10 days after the accident but says there has been no talk of compensation. Under the US-Japan Status of Armed Forces Agreement (Article XVIII 5.e.) it is the Japanese government that is obliged to offer compensation depending on the degree to which the US is responsible for the accident.

Nishime tells Truthout that he first wants an explanation for the accident. When Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson of the III Marine Expeditionary Force presented Nishime with a “Certificate of Appreciation” for his patience and anxiety, Nishime sent it back, saying the gesture was premature as no explanation for the crash had been provided.

Meanwhile, military training continues overhead, most menacingly between 8 and 11 p.m., leaving Nishime and his community living under a cloud of uncertainty and fear.

Nishime points out, “In this village we have many households with 80- and 90-year-olds. If a fire breaks out, they can’t escape. So, does that mean they just have to be cremated right there in their homes?”

Frustrated by circumstances beyond his control, waiting for answers that don’t come and fearful of the very sky over his head, Nishime says, “Here we are living with the possibility of an American military aircraft coming down on our heads at any time for no reason. Tell me, what are we supposed to do? What would you do if this was your country?”

Posted in USA, JapanComments Off on As US Military Flies Overhead, Okinawa Residents Live Under a Cloud of Fear

Countering extremism: Jihadist ideology reigns supreme

Islamic terrorism

By James M. Dorsey

Edited remarks at India Foundation conference, Changing Contours of Global Terror, Gurugram, Haryana, 14-16 March 2018

The sad truth is that governments, law-enforcement agencies, security forces, intellectuals and journalists do not have an ideological response to political violence’s latest reiteration, jihadism. Moreover, the struggle against political violence is not one that is predominantly ideological.

To add to this, mistakes are being repeated. Al-Qaeda produced the counterterrorism industry in the context of a response that was focussed on law enforcement, security and military engagement. To be sure, that has produced significant results. It has enhanced security across the globe, stopped plots before they could be executed, driven Al-Qaeda into caves, and deprived the Islamic State group of its territorial base.

All of that, however, has not solved the problem, nor has it fundamentally reduced the attraction of religiously-cloaked extremism. No doubt, social media have provided militants with a megaphone. But let’s be clear: social media are vehicles, media channels, they are not drivers. Yet, much like the terrorism industry, the call for a counter-narrative has produced an industry of its own. As with the terrorism industry, it has vested interests of its own: its sustainability is dependent on the continued existence of perceived real threats.

Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns.

Further troubling the waters is the fact that the public and private anti-terrorism and counternarrative industries see human rights as second to ensuring security and safety; have little interest in addressing the problem through notions of alienation, marginalisation, socio-economic disenfranchisement, youth aspirations and basic rights in which counterterrorism and counter-narratives would be embedded. Aiding and abetting the problem are the ever more evident campaigns by non-egalitarian and non-inclusive democratic societies as well as autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes that either have reduced interest in independent analysis and reporting, seek to restrict freedoms of expression and the press, or define any form of dissent as terrorism.

The notion that one can eradicate political violence is illusionary. Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns. In other words, counterterrorism and counternarratives will only be effective if they are embedded in far broader policies that tackle root causes.

And that is where the shoe pinches. To develop policies that tackle root causes, that are inclusive and aim to ensure that at least the vast majority, if not everyone, has a stake in society, the economy and the political system involves painful decisions, revising often long-standing policies and tackling vested interests. Few politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do so.

Starting with Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, militants have benefited from the fact that the world was entering a cyclical period in which populations lose confidence in political systems and leaderships. The single largest success of Osama bin Laden and subsequent militants is the fact that they were able to disrupt efforts to forge inclusive, multicultural societies, nowhere more so than first in Europe, then the United States with the rise of Donald Trump, and exploit ripple effects in Asia.

The result is the rise of secular and religious nationalism, populism, greater acceptance of autocratic or illiberal rule, and the erosion of democratic values and institutions. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic and religious prejudice that no doubt existed but lived under a cloud of primarily social taboos have become socially acceptable and often politically convenient. Of course, the refugee crisis put oil on the fire.

With democracy on the defence, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly-found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results.

Nonetheless, what makes this cycle of lack of confidence more worrisome and goes directly to the question of the ideological challenge is how it differs from the late 1960s, the last time that we witnessed a breakdown in confidence and leadership on a global scale.

The difference between then and now is that then there were all kinds of worldviews on offer: anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, socialism, communism, concepts of extra-parliamentary opposition, and in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Today, the only thing on offer are militant interpretations of Islam and jihadism.

Human rights activist and former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki was asked in a Wall Street Journal interview why it was not only those who lacked opportunity and felt that they had no prospects and no hopes but also educated Tunisians with jobs who were joining the Islamic State group. His answer was:

It’s not simply a matter of tackling socioeconomic roots. You have to go deeper and understand that these guys have a dream – and we don’t. We had a dream – our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them now is the caliphate.

It’s hard to build an ideological challenge or develop counternarratives without a dream. With democracy on the defence, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly-found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results.

Autocrats are in a no better situation. The mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa is not exclusively but is in many ways due to their inability and failure to deliver public goods and services. Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered both in Yemen and at home. Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernising their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change. Elsewhere, populists and nationalists advocating racial, ethnic and religious purity and protectionist economic policies are unlikely to fare any better.

What this means is that identifying the root causes of political violence demands self-inspection on the part of governments and societies across the globe. It is those governments and societies that are both part of the problem and part of the solution. It is those governments and elites that are at the root of loss of confidence.

Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment… that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism… involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian, as well as in Western countries.

Translating the need to tackle root causes into policy is proving difficult, primarily because it is based on a truth that has far-reaching consequences for every member of the international community. It involves governments putting their money where their mouths are and changing long-standing, ingrained policies at home that marginalise, exclude, stereotype and stigmatise significant segments of society; emphasise security at the expense of freedoms that encourage healthy debate; and in more autocratic states that are abetted by the West, seek to reduce citizens to obedient subjects through harsh repression and adaptations of religious and political beliefs to suit the interests of rulers.

The result is a vicious circle: government policies often clash with the state or regime’s professed values. As a result, dividing lines sharpen as already marginalised, disenfranchised or discriminated segments of society see the contradiction between policies and values as hypocritical and reconfirmation of the basis of their discontent.

Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism is not simply a question of encouraging and supporting voices in the region, first and foremost those of youth, or of revisiting assumptions of Western foreign policies and definitions of national security. It involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, as well as in Western countries. It involves changing domestic policies towards minorities, refugees and migrants.

Inclusiveness means that victory has to be secured as much in militant strongholds in a swath of land that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean as in the dismal banlieues, run-down, primarily minority-populated suburbs of French cities that furnished the Islamic State group with its largest contingent of European foreign fighters; in the popular neighbourhoods in Tunisia that accounted for the single largest group of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq; in Riyadh, seat of a government whose citizens accounted for the second largest number of foreign fighters and whose well-funded, decades-long effort to propagate a puritan, intolerant, interpretation of Islam has been a far more important feeding ground for jihadist thinking than the writings of militant Islamist thinkers like Sayyid Qutb; and in Western capitals with Washington in the lead who view retrograde, repressive regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.

In territorial terms, the Islamic States group has been defeated but the problem remains unresolved. Al-Qaeda was degraded, to use the language of the Obama administration. In the process, it weakened a jihadist force that increasingly had advocated a gradual approach to the establishment of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in a bid to ensure public support. Instead of reducing the threat of political violence, the largely military effort to defeat Al-Qaeda produced ever more virulent forms of jihadism as embodied by the Islamic State group. It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.

Defining repressive, autocratic rule and the Islamic State group as the greatest threat to stability and security and the furthering of more liberal notions is problematic. In the case of the Islamic State group, that definition elevates jihadism – the violent establishment of pan-Islamic rule based on narrow interpretations of Islamic law and scripture – to the status of a root cause rather than a symptom and expression of a greater and more complex problem. It is an approach that focuses on the immediate nature of the threat and ways to neutralise it rather than on what sparked it. It also neglects the fact that the ideological debate in the Muslim world is to a large extent dominated by schools of thought that do not advocate more open, liberal and pluralistic interpretations of Islam.

That is where one real challenge lies. It is a challenge first and foremost to Muslims, but also to an international community that would give more liberal Muslim voices significant credibility if it put its money where its mouth is. Support for self-serving regimes and their religious supporters, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reduces the international community’s choices to one between bad and worse, rather than to a palate of policy options that take a stab at rooting out the problem and its underlying causes.

There are no quick solutions or short cuts and the value of partial solutions is questionable. The key is the articulation of policies that over the medium term can help generate an environment more conducive to change rather than the continuous opting for knee-jerk reactions to events and facts on the ground.

One place to look for alternative approaches is Norway. In contrast to most reactions to political violence and expression of pro-jihadist sentiment, Norway’s response to right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s traumatic attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people stands as a model for how societies can and should uphold concepts of pluralism and human rights. Norway refrained from declaring war on terror, treated Breivik as a common criminal, and refused to compromise on its democratic values. In doing so, Norway offered a successful example of refusing to stigmatise any one group in society by adopting inclusiveness rather than profiling and upholding the very values that autocrats and jihadists challenge.

The result of exclusively security-focused approaches, coupled with the exploitation of economic opportunity by autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes and Western governments, is an increasingly insecure region in which the creation of pluralistic societies that honour human rights seems ever more distant…

Posted in Middle EastComments Off on Countering extremism: Jihadist ideology reigns supreme

Poor People’s Campaign Launches Nationwide Organizing Effort to Fight Poverty


By Eleanor J. BaderAlterNet 

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. (Photo: NESRI)

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. (Photo: NESRI)

The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the recently launched Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one of three kids in a family she describes as deeply committed to improving life for the excluded and marginalized.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other peace and anti-apartheid activists were frequent guests in her home, and even as a child, Theoharis understood that religious faith — in her case, Presbyterian — had to be linked to social justice.

This coupling — faith and justice — led Theoharis to work with the National Union of the Homeless as a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate. “Their organizing was inspired by the Poor People’s Campaign led by Dr. King in 1967 and ’68, and I quickly learned the extent of the unfinished business that still needed to be done,” she begins.

By 2001, Theoharis was in New York City, attending Union Theological Seminary and studying “moments in history where poor people crossed racial and geographic lines” to foment change. Her work brought her into contact with scores of activists including the Rev. Dr. William Barber II, whose Moral Mondays protests in North Carolina helped lay the groundwork for the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign.

That campaign kicked off on December 4, 2017, with Theoharis and Barber at the helm. The challenge is enormous. Census figures from 2016 put 12.7 percent of US residents (43.1 million people) in poverty and want — living on an annual income of less than $15,060 for a single person, $30,750 for a household of four.

Theoharis recently spoke to AlterNet reporter Eleanor J. Bader about the campaign and the upcoming 40 Days of Action that will begin on Mother’s Day.

Eleanor J. Bader: What are the specific issues that the Poor People’s Campaign is focusing on?

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis: We’re addressing five broad issue areas. The first is systemic racism, which we see as including voter suppression, racist gerrymandering, immigration, and mass incarceration.

The second is poverty and includes fair wage campaigns, the need for affordable housing, and access to education and health care.

Third is the war economy, the declared and undeclared wars that the US is waging, and the way economic priorities tilt toward militarism and basically line the pockets of military contractors.

These were the three issues that Dr. King spoke of in the first Poor People’s Campaign, issues that he believed were inextricably connected. But now we’re facing additional concerns. During the 50 years between the first campaign and today, we’ve experienced enormous environmental destruction and climate change, shifts that disproportionately affect the poor. We have to talk about this and look at how fracking, mountaintop coal removal, and the construction of oil and gas pipelines are devastating communities.

Lastly, we’re putting a spotlight on the distorted moral narrative that blames the poor for their problems and presents abortion, gun rights, and gay and trans issues as the main moral issues facing the country.

Right-wing Christians ignore between 2,000 and 2,500 Bible passages that talk about treating the poor with respect and compassion. When Dr. Barber and I speak, people are aware that we’re living in a time of deep moral crisis. They understand that when we challenge the theology of Christian nationalists and other conservatives of faith, we’re on the side of equality for all. It’s our contention that even though people have many viewpoints on abortion and same-gender marriage, if people can just get to know each other and work together, they can learn to fight for justice despite these disagreements.

Is the campaign working in all 50 states?

No, not yet. Right now, we have 32 state coordinating committees that are up and running, the result of years and years of groundwork. When we first began, we mapped out the poorest communities in the US Our research revealed that the states with the highest overall poverty rates also had the worst voter suppression and the highest number of women and children in need. In addition, states with the lowest number of people with access to health care had the lowest wages, the fewest protections for LGBTQ people, the least environmental protections, and the largest number of military bases.

It became obvious that the powers that be in these states are suppressing the vote, polluting the environment, discriminating against LGBTQ folks, and holding wages down. We believe these facts have the potential of uniting people once they see that their issues are linked.

The 32 committees that are now in place are located throughout the South, and in the Midwest, California, Oregon, Washington, and New England. These states have built fusion coalitions between people of different faiths and races. They’ve been created by local people, are chaired by poor men and women, and include youth, faith leaders, and representatives of the diversity that exists in that particular locale.

Some of the committees also include people from the National Welfare Rights Organization, which is active in California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Texas; and activists from Fight for 15; farmworker groups; and organizations of the homeless. I want to point out something else: No matter how supportive or friendly they seem, there are no elected officials or candidates for public office on the coordinating committees. We want to avoid this being about Republicans or Democrats. This is a movement led by moral leaders and people impacted by poverty. It is a ground-up effort about right and wrong.

Can you tell me how you and Rev. Dr. Barber became co-chairs of the Campaign?

Dr. Barber and I have been working together for about five years. We did a Moral Revival Tour a while ago and both of us came to the conclusion that we need a new Poor People’s Campaign. That said, the pairing was very intentional: A man and a woman, a northerner and a southerner, one African American, one white.

Much of my experience comes from lessons learned from doing work to end homelessness. Rev. Dr. Barber’s work comes out of the profound experience of leading the Moral Mondays movement. In addition to weekly gatherings, for 13 years Moral Mondays brought people from all over North Carolina and other parts of the South together for a March that was held on the second Saturday of February. In 2014 and 2017, more than 100,000 people gathered; these were the largest southern Marches in US history. People talked about voting rights, women’s rights, homelessness, LGBTQ issues, militarism, and hospital closures. It was proof that people understood that an injustice to one is an injustice to all.

As a result of our work, both Rev. Dr. Barber and I recognized that when it comes to poverty, systemic racism, and other related issues, it is possible to organize. Furthermore, we saw that poor people are rarely asked to help formulate solutions to the problems they face, and we knew we wanted the campaign to be different. We have a saying that guides us: We need the plight, fight, and insight of poor people, not just to tell their sad stories, but to show the nation that impacted people have the wherewithal to win social justice. We draw on models like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, the Homeless Union, and the Vermont Workers’ Center — organizations that show that real change, real transformation, is possible.

Tell me about the 40 Days of Action that will begin on Mother’s Day, May 13.

We’re planning six weeks of organizing and direct action that will conclude with a big mobilization in Washington, D.C., in late June. Most of the action will take place in the states, however, and we expect to have 25-30 coordinated statehouse actions across the country. People will do what it takes to be heard, including risking arrest. The 40 Days is about launching something. It is not meant as a short-lived, one-time action but is instead intended to start a deep-rooted movement that takes hold in many places at once.

A huge part of the Poor People’s Campaign will involve direct moral action to shift the narrative and get people talking about poverty and the issues that impact poor people’s lives.

Has the organized religious community been supportive of this?

Yes. In 1968, when Dr. King started the Poor People’s Campaign, not a single religious denomination endorsed it. They feared that the Campaign was too radical, that it would not serve the cause of civil rights to talk about poverty. There was also pushback about uniting low-income people across racial lines. Then, when Dr. King preached against the Vietnam War, he went from being a Nobel Peace Prize winner to being someone unpopular. Nonetheless, he believed that the relationship between racism, militarism, and poverty had to be articulated.

It’s different today. Already, many national denominations have agreed to engage in the Days of Action. This is not just a statement on a piece of paper, but religious leaders from throughout the country have agreed to pray with their feet. We not only have people from Christian and Jewish groups, but Sikhs, Muslims, and indigenous tribes are coming together to participate.

What do you want the 40 Days of Action to achieve?

We aim to make some legislative breakthroughs, but, more importantly, what we want to do at this stage, the launching stage, is to get people to identify the issues facing poor people and make it impossible for people running for office — or who are in office already — to ignore poverty and the issues that impact poor people. We want to shift the narrative to challenge the theology of Christian nationalists to address the moral crisis of millions of people who are living without homes or clean water, or the millions who are discriminated against. The fact that seven million Americans are right now threatened by cuts to the Home Energy Assistance Program, HEAP, is a moral crisis. There are countless other examples.

Rev. Dr. Barber and I were somewhat surprised by the support we’ve received. We expected to have to convince people about the urgency of these concerns, but people get it. They’re ready to participate in a movement that pulls diverse communities together across race, gender, religion, and geography. The enthusiasm and support for the Campaign has been incredible, especially among people who are not making ends meet and the clergy who see them struggling.

Are you optimistic that the movement will succeed despite the fact that Donald Trump is in the White House?

I’m feeling really energized! Poor People’s Campaign leaders across the US are heroes and heroines. They’re doing amazing work against all odds. This is a grassroots, from the ground up, movement. Most of the work of the Campaign is being done at the state level, and right now we’re working to build up the power of people to do more than win concessions. We want to ensure that whatever is won is both maintained and expanded. The fact that a massive, moral, direct action movement, led by impacted people and faith leaders, is being created is tremendously exciting.

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Gun Profiteers: Who’s Getting Rich Off the US Gun Crisis?

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on September 20, 2017 in New York City. Blankfein is a large investor in gun retailer Bass Pro. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images)

Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein speaks at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on September 20, 2017, in New York City. Blankfein is a large investor in gun retailer Bass Pro. (Photo: John Moore / Getty Images).

The recent shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School put renewed focus on the firearms manufacturing industry — which, along with ammunitions production, accounts for an estimated $17 billion in revenue.

Thousands of students — with those from Parkland, Florida leading the way — have staged walk-outs across the nation to protest the firearms industry, the NRA, and industry’s bought-off politicians. It’s starting to feel like it could be some sort of turning point.

Even corporations are feeling the heat over their ties to the firearms industry. A slew of corporate have already ended partnerships with the NRA due to public pressure — United Airlines, Delta Airlines, MetLife, and First National Bank of Omaha among them. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a major firearms retailer, has just announced that it is halting all sales of automatic weapons, and both Dick’s and Walmart are raising their minimum age to 21 for all gun buyers.

BlackStone, the powerful private equity firm headed by billionaire Trump ally Stephen Schwarzman, even put out an urgent request to the funds it invests with to “detail their ownership in companies that make or sell guns,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

As the Parkland students and others think through questions of strategy, tactics,and targets, it’s worth reflecting on who holds power in — and who profits from — the firearms industry. Who are the billionaires and multi-millionaires that are profiting most off of gun sales in the US? Who are the executives and investors? Who holds power over the decisions that are made within the industry?

Some of these individuals come from the firearms manufacturing and retail industry itself — for example, top executives in the companies that produce and sell the guns. Others come from Wall Street — the hedge fund billionaires and big money managers that invest in the gun companies. Still others come from the big banks that finance the gun companies.

While a lot of focus has been on the NRA, these other corporations and individuals hold a lot of power over the firearms industry. If banks, investors, and retailers felt strongly that the decisions of gun companies were hurting their owns brands, they could exert a lot of leverage — the threat of pulling their credit arrangements and investment stakes, or limiting or ending gun sales — to force change.

Understanding the powerful figures behind the gun industry helps provide a potential path for challenging it. We put together a list to help readers make sense of the different players who are profiting from firearms sales in the US.

1. The Gun Manufacturer CEOs

The top executives of the major companies that make guns are the most obvious profiteers. Here are the CEOs of the top US gun manufacturers:

 P. James Debney, CEO of Smith & Wesson. Debney raked in $5.3 million in total compensation in 2017, and $12.5 million from 2015 to 2017. Debney is a big NRA supporter and a member of its “Ring of Freedom,” an elite club for its biggest (read: seven-digit) donors. Debney told the NRA that “it’s more important than ever that we come together in support of the NRA” and that the organization’s efforts “are critical to the future of the country.”

 Anthony Acitelli, CEO of Remington Outdoor. Since Remington is a private company, we don’t know how much Acitelli is compensated — but, given that it’s the second biggest arms manufacturer in the US, with $603 million in sales in 2017, we can be sure it’s a lot. Acitelli is a gun industry lifer — prior to becoming CEO of Remington, he was CEO of Taurus Holdings, the ninth biggest US gun manufacturer. At Taurus, he settled a class-action lawsuit due to the poor quality of its pistols — including that they could discharge when dropped.

 Chris Killoy, CEO of Sturm Ruger. Chris Killoy took over in May 2017 as CEO of Sturm Ruger. Before that he was its Chief Operating officer. As COO, Killoy took in $2.54 million in total compensation in 2016, and close to $5 million from 2014 to 2016. While it’s unknown how much he’s earning as CEO, his predecessor earned $4.27 million in 2016 and around $8.7 million between 2014 and 2016. Killoy is a huge supporter of the NRA and, like Debney, a member of its Ring of Freedom.

 Christopher T. Metz, CEO of Vista Outdoor. Metz became Vista Outdoor’s CEO in October 2017, so there’s no data yet on his compensation. But according to the company’s proxy filing, his predecessor took over $25 million from 2015 to 2017. Vista Outdoor owns Savage Arms, a major gun manufacturer, and also makes ammunition and gun accessories.

2. The Gun Retailer CEOs

A wide range of retailers sell firearms, including assault-style weapons. One major player in the gun retail industry is Johnny Morris, CEO of Bass Pro. Morris, who founded and oversees the Bass Pro retail empire, is worth an estimated $4.3 billion.

Bass Pro doesn’t just sell firearms (including semi-automatic rifles) — it’s expanding its gun retail business. Last year, it acquired Cabela — another major firearms retailer — for around $4 billion. Bass Pro has also received hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidies, as we detailed in 2010.

Other major gun retailers include Dick’s Sporting Goods and WalMart — whose CEO, Doug McMillon, took in$22.3 million in 2017 and a total of about $61.5 million from 2015 to 2017.

But unlike Bass Pro, WalMart and Dick’s have both stopped selling assault rifles (WalMart did so in 2015), and both are now raising the age to 21 for its gun buyers. It will be interesting to see if Bass Pro responds to the pressure to do the same.

3. The Banks

Gun manufacturers and retailers couldn’t exist on the scale that they do without the backing of major banks. Wall Street CEOs like Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and others are tied to — and profiting from — the firearms industry.

Banks that offer lines of credit to major firearms companies include:

 Goldman Sachs has been a big backer of Bass Pro. In 2016 it bought $1.8 billion of Bass Pro stock to help finance the acquisition of Cabela.

 Bank of America has a $40 million line of credit with Sturm Ruger. Interestingly, the credit agreement expires on June 15, 2018 — a few months from now. Given that Bank of America is feeling the heat over its financing of the gun industry, this could be an opportunity for people to pressure it to not renew the credit agreement.

 TD Bank, Branch Bank & Trust, Regions Bank, and Wells Fargo have a $350 million line of credit with the Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation.

And there are more — last week, ThinkProgress published a list of 16 banks financing firearms manufacturers: Bank of Montreal, Berkshire Bank, Branch Bank & Trust (BB&T), Capital One, Citizens Financial Group, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley Bank, MUFG Bank, Northern Trust Company, People’s United Bank, Regions Bank, Stifel Bank & Trust, TD Bank, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo.

4. The Hedge Fund CEOs

Another group of firearms profiteers are billionaire hedge fund managers. One example is Stephen Feinberg, the CEO of Cerberus Capital, a hedge fund that manages around $30 billion in assets.

Cerberus owns Remington Outdoors, the second biggest US gun manufacturer. Remington recently filed for bankruptcy and is being restructured, but Cerberus still controls it. In the process of the company’s restructuring, its creditors will become owners — these include Franklin Templeton Investments and JPMorgan Chase Asset Management. As the restructuring moves forward, it will be interesting to see who ends up buying stakes in Cerberus and what direction they take the company related to its production of assault rifles.

Feinberg is worth around $1.6 billion. He’s been a big donor to the NRA, and, as a long profile of him in New York Magazine shows, he has long been enamoured with firearms. Feinberg is also close to Donald Trump. He was a member of Trump’s Economic Advisory Council (which disbanded amidst the controversy surrounding Trump’s sympathetic remarks for white supremacists after Charlottesville). Feinberg also gave $678,800 to Trump at a fundraiser.

Cerberus owns DynCorp, a major defense contractor. Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly was a paid $166,000 a year to serve as an “advisor” to the company before he entered in the administration. Major pension funds also invest through with Cerberus — for example, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the Florida State Board of Administration  — and college endowments.

Feinberg and Cerberus also own chunks of major companies that millions of people shop from —  including Avon, Staples, and Albertsons.

Another hedge fund manager who has profited off the firearms industry is Paul Singer, the head of Elliott Management, which manages $33 billion in assets. Singer himself is worth around $2.8 billion. Singer and Elliott Management at one point owned 6 million shares of gun retailer Cabela — they held over 11% of the company in late 2015. After Singer pressured Cabela to sell itself to rival gun retailer Bass Pro, Singer sold a chunk of its shares, profiting to to the tune of $90 million.

Other hedge funds remain invested in the gun industry. For example, Renaissance Technologies — which until recently was headed up by Trump and Breitbart benefactor Robert Mercer — owns about 1.19% (around $11.5 million) of Sturm Ruger. Point72 Asset Management — run by Steven Cohen, who until this month had been banned for two years from running hedge funds due to insider trading that went on in SAC Capital, his old firm — owns about 1.8% (around $12.4 million) of American Outdoor Brands and about 0.54% (around $5.2 million) of Sturm Ruger.

5. The Money Managers

Another group that profits from the gun industry are the high-powered asset managers that invest trillions of dollars into hundreds of companies through a range of funds. Hundreds of thousands of people and institutions do business with these firms, and they are often some of the largest beneficial owners of publicly-traded companies — indeed, they own a stake in almost everything. They have a lot of leverage if they choose to use it.

Some CEOs of huge money managers invested in gun manufacturers and retailers include:

 Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock. BlackRock is a giant asset manager that manages $6 trillion in assets. CEO Larry Fink earned over $25 million in total compensation in 2016 and pulled in a total $75 million between 2014 and 2016. All told, BlackRock owns a total of almost $350 million of three major publicly traded gun corporations: 16.9% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $165 million; 11.1% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $77 million; and 12.7% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $106 million. BlackRock reportedly “has questions” for the gun industry now, and as we’ve noted before, Fink has called upon fellow CEOs to be more socially responsible. But Fink and BlackRock — who are currently big investors in private prisons, fossil fuels, vulture banks, and arms manufacturers — have a long way to go on this.

 Tim Buckley, CEO of Vanguard Group. Vanguard Group manages $5 trillion in assets. Tim Buckley recently became Vanguard’s CEO at the end of 2017. Vanguard has tried to keep its management compensation a secret, but one report said that its CEO earned $10 to $15 million in 2015. Vanguard has owns over $225 million of three big publicly traded gun companies: 9.5% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $93 million; 8.3% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $58 million; and 9.1% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $76 million. In November 2017, Buckley was explicit about playing down the importance of “morals” when investing. If you “create the sin factor,” he said, you increase the likelihood that “you will underperform in the long run” (he used Philip Morris — who “has done pretty well, above the market” — as an example). With close to a quarter-billion invested in gun companies, he is living up to his investment philosophy.

 Abigail Johnson, CEO of Fidelity Investments. Fidelity oversees around $2.3 trillion in assets. As Fidelity CEO, Abigail Johnson is inheriting the family business. Her grandfather founded the firm in 1946, and her father had a long run as CEO too. Abigail Johnson owns around a quarter of the firm and is reportedly worth a whopping $16.8 billion. Fidelity owns 8,570,173 shares of Vista Outdoor — about 15% of the company — worth around $125 million. This makes Fidelity the largest beneficial owner of Vista Outdoor.

 Martin Flanagan, CEO of Invesco. Invesco manages nearly $1 trillion in assets. CEO Martin Flanagan Flanagan took in $14.6 million in total compensation in 2016 and about $46 million between 2014 and 2016. Invesco has major holdings in three big publicly traded gun companies worth about $104 million in total: 9% of American Outdoor Brands stock, worth about $62 million; 3.3% of Sturm Ruger stock, worth about $32 million; and 1.2% of Vista Outdoor stock, worth about $10 million. All told, Invesco owns around 6.13 million shares of the three companies for a total of In 2016, Flanagan was the highest paid CEO in the state of Georgia — which includes the corporate headquarters of several major corporations. He lives in a lavish mansion in one of Atlanta’s wealthiest districts.

While some billionaire investors like Warren Buffet think it would be “ridiculous” to not do business with gun manufacturers, others — like those on this list, especially those from the Wall Street and the big retailers — may be more open to popular pressure to follow the example of the corporations that have begun to loosen their ties with the gun industry.

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John Bolton is Back! Be Alarmed.


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John Bolton speaks at the Feb. 22 Conservative Political Action Conference gathering at the National Harbor, MD. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump named John R. Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration, as his third national security adviser, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster and constructing a hawkish, confrontational national security team just as this country faces tough decisions on North Korea and Iran. (Last week the president replaced Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a former Army officer and Tea Party congressman who has favored regime change in Pyongyang and talked about ripping up the Iran nuclear deal.)

We recommend reading two Washington Report articles from our archives for a closer look at John Bolton:

You Don’t Have to be Jewish to Be a Neo-con: John Bolton
October 2003, pp. 18-20
By Richard H. Curtiss

Here are some excerpts:

Bolton has maintained friendly relations with “the Armageddonists” and other extreme right-wing Republicans. Although personally a Lutheran, Bolton seems to fit right in with hard-line Bible Belt Christians, setting him light years apart from Secretary of State [Colin] Powell in his convictions.

In a January 2001 speech at the American Enterprise Institute, Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina called Bolton “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world.” It’s not clear where Bolton stands on Armageddon, but it is clear he has the greatest sympathy with the Christian Right’s worldview. If, however, he shares their eagerness for the end of the world and has no compunction about what will happen to the rest of the world’s population after the “Rapture,” his foreign policy decisions should be of considerable concern. As the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs’ U.N. correspondent Ian Williams wrote, “…it would be very dangerous to ignore Bolton’s statements. These are harbingers of endless wars.”….

Bolton seems very dogmatic in his prejudices. He has campaigned tirelessly, for example, against the International Criminal Court and all other causes having to do with the United Nations and multilateralism. Four years ago, Bolton called it “a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so.” Joseph Cirincione of the mainstream Carnegie Foundation describes Bolton as “an ideologue’s ideologue.”…

According to Salon Online’s Nicholas Thompson, “His competence has ultimately allowed Bolton to do much harm, scuttling the international agreements and treaties that make up much of the legal basis for international order and security…Bolton and his administration allies have burned most of the international goodwill that the United States built up before and after Sept. 11.”…

Bolton is one of the signers of the Jan. 26, 1998 “Project for the New American Century” letter sent to President Bill Clinton advocating the removal of Saddam Hussain. According to John Isaacs of the Council for a Livable World, “There is an axis of undersecretaries like Bolton who out of office were doing bad things, and now they’re in office and are doing even worse things.”

(L-r) Former U.S. Ambassador to U.N. John Bolton, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Dore Gold, policy director at the Israel Policy Forum Michael Koplow and Dr. Eugene Kontorovich, professor of law at Northwestern University attend the National Oversight and Government Reform Committee on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Capitol Hill on November 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Vote Postponed After Acrimonious Bolton Confirmation Hearing
May/June 2005, pp. 16-17
By Richard H. Curtiss

Here are some excerpts:

Bolton “has ruffled feathers around the world. Visiting South Korea in September 2003 as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Bolton gave an inflammatory speech about North Korea in Seoul. In his vitriolic attack, the U.S. diplomat called North Korean leader Kim Jon Il “a tyrannical dictator,” and described life in Pyongyang as “a hellish nightmare.” Kim responded by describing Bolton as “human scum” and “a bloodsucker,” and vowed never to allow Bolton to enter his country. Bolton’s tirade dealt a serious blow to any attempt at reason….

… keeping Bolton under control in the U.N. may be a problem, because insults and invective come quite naturally to him. It’s difficult to imagine Bolton comfortable playing the role of a traditional diplomat.

In an article posted March 7, 2005, on the Web site of the Center for American Progress Brooke Lierman wrote of Bolton: “he is a walking history book of the right-wing movement.” She continued: “Bolton has been effective. In his first one and a half years in office the U.S. pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, scuttled a protocol to the biological-weapons ban, ousted the head of the organization that oversees the chemical-weapons treaty, watered down an accord on small-arms trafficking and refused to submit the nuclear test-ban treaty for Senate ratification.”

In 1993, Jim Lobe reminded readers, Bolton joined the right-wing Manhattan Institute, and subsequently the neoconservative-dominated American Enterprise Institute (AEI)—home to such hawks as former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and Vice President Cheney’s spouse, Lynne.

Perle was the lead author of the 1996 position paper “A Clean Break” for then-incoming Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which proposed getting the U.S. to clean up the region—first Iraq, then Syria, then Iran—on behalf of Israel. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz of Feb. 18, 2003—a month before the U.S. launched its bombing of Iraq—Bolton said in meetings with Israeli officials “he has no doubt America will attack Iraq, and that it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran and North Korea afterwards.”

As Lobe wrote on Aug. 4, 2003, “Bolton is seen as the reliable fifth columnist within the State Department for the right-wing and neoconservative hawks who led the drive to war in Iraq from their perches at the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.”….

Now that he has been nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Bolton’s disdain for the world body is yet another embarrassment. “If the U.N. building in New York lost its top 10 stories [where all high-ranking officials have their offices] it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,” he has famously remarked. Bolton has argued that the United States has no legal obligation to pay its U.N. dues, and that it would be a good thing if they weren’t paid.

Other memorable Bolton quotes include: “There is no such thing as the United Nations”; “If I were redoing the Security Council, I’d have one permanent member: the United States”; and “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law.” According to the would-be ambassador, the United Nations is “a great, rusting hulk of a bureaucratic superstructure…dealing with issues from the ridiculous to the sublime.”

Gabriel Espinosa Gonzales, a research associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, summed up some of the reasons Congress should think twice before approving John Bolton’s nomination as Washington’s U.N. ambassador: “John Bolton has demonstrated a disturbingly constant tendency to disregard facts, as well as a self-righteous attitude toward achieving selfish and even dangerous foreign policy goals.”

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