Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 06:08:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Obama’s Journey: Top 10 signs of Extreme Climate Change in Alaska and why it Should Scare Us Thu, 03 Sep 2015 06:07:28 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

American corporate news has not devoted the hours to President Obama’s trip to Alaska that it deserves, focusing on the GOP clown car back in the lower 48 instead. I did a Lexis Nexis search under Arctic Summit (yes, there was one, which Obama attended) in “Broadcast News Transcripts” and I got, I swear eleven hits beginning last Sunday.

I visited Alaska for a conference a few years ago, and drove down with a friend to see the Portage Glacier. It had begun moving in 1850 and had left behind a lake as it headed toward a nearby mountain range. For a historian of modern climate change, the 1850 date is significant. That is when we typically mark the end of the “Little Ice Age” of the late medieval and early modern period, roughly 1350-1850. We came out of this period of slightly increased glaciation in Europe because early forms of industrialization involved the burning of a great deal of wood and then coal in the 18th century, so that by 1850 we had put a bit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And at that point, the Portage Glacier began melting, leaving a lake behind it over time. The lake’s birth date was 1850, the year many consider the beginning of a new geological era, the Anthropocene that succeeded the Holocene. The Anthropocene is the era in which the earth’s climate is dictated for the first time by human beings, not by volcanoes, sunspots, shape of the earth’s orbit and other astronomical phenomena, and bacteria.

The Portage Glacier is only one of many natural features now changing in Alaska. The reason Obama went to the state is that it is at the forefront of the climate change crisis. Here are the climate problems it is facing according to the Environmental Protection Agency:

1. The rate of warming in Alaska during the past 50 years has been twice as much as in the lower 48! Winters are 6.3°F warmer now than in 1965 when the Beatles’ “Yesterday” spent 4 weeks at the top of the charts. Summers are also warmer but less dramatically so, with a 3.4°F increase.

2. The future is even more striking. Average annual temperatures could increase again by as much as 4°F – 7°F by 2050!

3. Alaska’s forests are at risk from drought, wildfire and insect attacks. Already, Alaska’s spruce forest has been extensively reduced because of fire and insects. The EPA warns, “By mid-century, the average area burned by wildfire each year is likely to double.” Also, many evergreen trees are leaning over because the soil is warming and loosening, producing “drunken forests.”

4. The permafrost is melting. The EPA explains, “Permafrost is the frozen ground located one to two feet below the surface in cold regions.” When the permafrost melts, your house sinks. About 100,000 of the 736,000 Alaskans live in areas where their dwellings will be harmed by permafrost degradation.

5. When permafrost thaws and then freezes again (as opposed to staying frozen) it damages the landing strips, roads and rail lines built atop it. Many roads won’t take vehicle traffic except when the permafrost is frozen solid, since otherwise they buckle. The EPA says, “In the past 30 years, the number of days when travel is allowed on the tundra has decreased from 200 days to 100 days per year.” What? You can only travel on those roads a third of the year now? And this change since 1965?

6. Building infrastructure on melting permafrost will increase costs by 10% or more.

7. Coastal erosion is a big problem, what with rising seas and declining (and poorly named) perennial sea ice. On the state’s northwestern coast, some shorelines are receding at rates “averaging tens of feet per year.” In many native Alaskan villages up there, houses have collapsed into the sea and some villages have already had to relocate.

8. Native Alaskans are facing something like the official definition of genocide, only at the hands of oil, gas and coal instead of at the hands of an invading army. Climate change is reducing habitats for fish and for caribou, seals, walruses and polar bears, which are declining in population. Native Alaskans hunt this game and engage in fishing, but their livelihood is at extreme risk going forward.

9. As an example of threats to game, Alaskan caribou like to eat lichen, which grows on permafrost. As the permafrost melts, the lichen is being replaced by shrubs, which the caribou can’t eat. Wolves, bears and native Alaskans in turn depend on hunting caribou.

10. Alaska’s lakes are shrinking because the permafrost is thawing and more water is evaporating at the higher temperatures, reducing breeding grounds for birds that summer at them. Again, those birds and the declining fish stocks in the lakes are food for native Alaskans, food that is becoming scarcer.


Related video:

White House: “President Obama at the Signpost of Climate Change”

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Why I Shared a Horrific Photo of a Drowned Syrian Child Thu, 03 Sep 2015 04:26:39 +0000 By Peter Bouckaert | Director, Emergencies | (Human Right Watch) | – –

I thought long and hard before I retweeted the photo. It shows a lifeless toddler, lying face down on a popular Turkish beach, one of eleven Syrians who have almost certainly died as they tried to reach safety in Europe by boarding a smuggler’s boat. Instead they ended up as the latest victims of Europe’s paltry response in the face of a growing crisis.
A man carries the body of a dead Syrian boy who died at sea.

What struck me the most were his little sneakers, certainly lovingly put on by his parents that morning as they dressed him for their dangerous journey. One of my favorite moments of the morning is dressing my kids and helping them put on their shoes. They always seem to manage to put something on backwards, to our mutual amusement. Staring at the image, I couldn’t help imagine that it was one of my own sons lying there drowned on the beach.

I am currently in Hungary, documenting the journeys of Syrian refugees, the very journey that today took another young life. It’s easy to blame the parents for exposing their son to such deadly danger, but only if you forget the barrel bombs and Islamic State (also known as ISIS) beheadings that they are fleeing. All morning yesterday at the Serbian-Hungarian border, I saw Syrian parents determinedly walking with their children – trying to remove them from the horrors of the slaughter in Syria, which have been allowed to continue for four years, and to the promise of security in Europe. Those parents are heroes; I admire their sheer determination to bring their children to a better life.

Sadly, all along the journey, they are faced with hurdles and hostility. Some smugglers are so organized they even give receipts for their criminal business, but they care little for the lives of those they transport and make fortunes from. Their brutality may be expected, but what is inexcusable is the indifference and obstacles placed in their path by Europe’s leaders.

Almost every Syrian I have interviewed has had a close brush with death on their journey, often involving sinking boats. Now, in Hungary, they find their path blocked again, with thousands made to sleep in the streets without any help from the Hungarian authorities.

My notebooks are full of tragedy. Ali Pintar, a Syrian Kurd, fled with his three children after ISIS tried to take control of his hometown of Qamishli by sending suicide car bombs into the town. He has his train tickets to Munich, but police are preventing him from even entering the train station, so he has been sleeping rough for the last three nights with his children. He is utterly dejected, telling me of the humiliation he has faced: “It would have been better to stay in Syria. There, you only die once when there is an explosion or something. Here, I feel like I die a thousand deaths each day.”

Some say the picture is too offensive to share online or print in our newspapers. But what I find offensive is that drowned children are washing up on our shorelines, when more could have been done to prevent their deaths.

It was not an easy decision to share a brutal image of a drowned child. But I care about these children as much as my own. Maybe if Europe’s leaders did too, they would try to stem this ghastly spectacle.

Via Human Rights Watch


Related video added by Juan Cole:

New York Daily News: “Body of Syrian toddler washes up on Turkish beach

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GOP jumps Shark *again*: Call For Canadian Border Wall Thu, 03 Sep 2015 04:15:45 +0000 Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola, and Jimmy Dore | (The Young Turks Video report) | – –

“Scott Walker is attempting to out-Trump Donald Trump by discussing the idea of a building a wall along our Canadian border. Ana Kasparian (The Point), John Iadarola (Think Tank), and Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show Podcast), hosts of the The Young Turks, break it down. . .

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a staunch advocate of beefing up security on the southern border, said Sunday he is open to building a wall on the U.S. border with Canada as well.

The Republican presidential candidate said the idea of building a northern wall was brought up to him during a recent town hall in New Hampshire.

“That is a legitimate issue for us to look at,” Walker said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Republicans typically take a tough approach on securing the southern border, but few have said a wall should also be built along the U.S.-Canada border.”

The Young Turks: “Republicans Call For Canadian Border Wall”

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Martyr to Science in Palmyra: Archeologist Khaled al-Asaad Thu, 03 Sep 2015 04:01:29 +0000 By Pierre Leriche | (The Conversation) | – –

A second ancient temple at Palmyra has been razed, with a satellite image appearing to confirm the destruction of the Temple of Bel, previously one of the best-preserved parts of the ancient city.

The revelation follows the release of images by Islamic State last week showing the Baalshamin temple had been blown up.

IS militants seized control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the 2,000-year-old World Heritage site. Ancient ruins are not all that has been lost.

Khaled al-Asaad, the 81-year old former director of the world-renowned archaeological site at Palmyra in Syria, was beheaded in August. His body was hung on a street corner by Islamic State for everyone to see.

Prior to his death, al-Asaad and his son Walid, the current director of antiquities, had been detained for a month. They had been tortured as their captors tried to extract information about where treasures were to be found.

Walid’s fate remains unknown.

Early career

Al-Asaad had worked at the archaeological site for more than 50 years, spending most of that time as its director. He never really retired and was always very active, sensing that he had a kind of mission in Palmyra, the ancient city to which he had devoted his life.

He was interested in archaeology from a very young age, even though it was a relatively new field in Syria at the time. When France took on its post-World War I mandate as administrator of Syria, Palmyra was a road junction between Homs and Deir ez Zor – a well-known stop where the Zenobia Hotel, run by a French intelligence officer, welcomed travellers who were in transit between the Euphrates, Homs and Damascus.

There was French airfield in the region and a squadron of French troops was stationed there. The garrison chaplain, Jean Starcky, was so interested in the monuments of the site and in the Palmyran inscriptions that he became a world expert on them. It was he who published the first archaeological guide of Palmyra.

In 1930, Henri Seyrig, a young scholar who had been appointed director of antiquities in Syria the year before, had organised for the people who lived in the ruins of Palmyra [E. Will, Comptes rendus des séances de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (CRAI) 1993 N° 2 pp. 384-394, cf p. 387] to relocate to a new city to the north of the site – the current Palmyra.

Seyrig then organised the archaeological dig of the Temple of Bel with fellow archeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson, who worked on the site and then led the dig at the Temple of Baalchamin.

But when France’s mandate ended on April 17 1946, the French soldiers departed. The scientists went with them.

The new Palmyra museum

At that time, Khaled al-Asaad was studying in Homs. In 1960, he enrolled to study history at the University of Damascus. With his degree in his pocket, he became a civil servant at the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus. Then, in 1963, the young al-Asaad was named as chief curator of the new museum in Palmyra and director of the site.

His numerous excavations in Palmyra included temples and religious monuments, but also living quarters and tombs. He cleared some parts of the stone and marble fortifications that had been constructed at the time of the Roman emperor Diocletian around the monumental centre of the city.

More recently, he excavated and restored the main street after evidencing the ancient paving buried under soil and a tangled network of pipes.

Khaled al-Asaad had an archeologist’s sense of responsibility and his excavations have always been followed by effective, discreet and smart restorations. He also wanted to bring Palmyran civilisation to the general public and sought to make the site welcoming for visitors.

But he was, above all, a scientist. Since the first year of his appointment to the Department of Antiquities, he began publishing a number of books on the history of Palmyra and its surrounding region. He wrote a guide to ancient Palmyra and a book about the famous queen Zenobia. He helped organise exhibitions on palmyran antiques, the first of which took place at the Petit Palais in Paris in 1974.

A hero and martyr

Khaled al-Asaad had an open mind and always actively supported French missions in Palmyra, as well as those lead from Germany, Poland, Japan and Switzerland.

He recently collaborated with a mission of the German Institute of Damascus in a geomagnetic exploration south of the torrent valley of Palmyra. This led to the discovery of a major residential area that nobody knew existed.

Until the end, he remained approachable to everyone. This is especially true of the workers in Palmyra, who appreciated and respected him deeply because they recognised in him a generosity above and beyond what was required by his job.

Even after his notional retirement, Khaled al-Asaad remained a valuable expert. He remarkably read the Palmyran language and knew a remarkable amount about Palmyran civilisation. The directorate always consulted him when police discovered stolen statues to appraise.

Upon hearing of his death, Maamoun Abdel-Karim, director general of antiquities and Museums of Syria, said IS had “executed one of the foremost experts of the ancient world”.

Among the five reasons given to justify his execution, Khaled al-Asaad was also accused of being a supporter of the Syrian regime. Like nearly all the leaders and employees of the Syrian archaeology sector, Khaled al-Asaad was keen to remain at his post. In doing so, he did not see himself as being at the service of the Syrian regime, but at the service of his country. And in Syria, where patriotism is perennial, being at the service of the state is not an empty sentiment.

Abdel-Karim said after Khaled al-Asaad’s death: “We begged Khaled to leave the city, but he always refused, saying, ‘I’m from Palmyra and I will stay even if they have to kill me’.”

His courage was fatal to him. He died a hero and a martyr.

The Conversation

Pierre Leriche is Directeur de Recherche émérite au CNRS-ENS Paris at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris

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

Pierre Leriche is Directeur de Recherche émérite au CNRS-ENS Paris at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Satellite images show ISIL destruction in Palmyra”

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Obama 1, Netanyahu 0, as Dems & Public rally to Iran Deal Wed, 02 Sep 2015 06:30:45 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Israel lobbies don’t win every fight on Capitol Hill, but over time they have tended to win the big ones in recent decades. This time, they are going down. Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a notorious narcissist, appears to have completely over-estimated his ability to deploy those lobbies to overrule President Obama on the United Nations Security Council’s deal with Iran to monitor its civilian nuclear energy program so as to forestall any break-out toward an atomic bomb.

On Tuesday, two Democrats known as Iran hawks came out for the agreement, Senator Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. That made 31 Democrats and 2 independents in the Senate for Obama, and he only needed 34 to block an override of his veto if a resolution is passed in Congress and sent to his desk.

Update Then Wednesday morning Sen Barbara Mikulski of Maryland declared for the agreement, giving Obama his 34.

In fact, the Democrats and independents have 46 seats, and Obama has so far only lost two senators, Schumer and Menendez. If he can keep at least 39 Democrats and the two independents with him, he could even avoid the embarrassment of a resolution against the deal passing at all. Given that Casey and Coons are hard line Iran hawks, if Obama can get them, there are others in the undecided column that will be even easier to convince.

It is highly likely that most Democrats in the House will stand with the president, as well.

Casey’s office put out a 17-page statement on the deal. He said, “This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and, compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time . . . ” Casey called it “one of the most difficult decisions of my public career.”

Chris Coons said at a talk at the University of Delaware:

“I will support this agreement and vote against any measures to disapprove it in Congress . . . I will support this agreement because it puts us on a known path of limiting Iran’s nuclear program for the next 15 years with the full support of the international community. The alternative, to me, is a scenario of uncertainty and likely isolation. . . Finally, I will support this agreement despite its flaws because it is the better strategy for the United States to lead a coalesced global community in containing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

Coons does not like some aspects of the agreement very much, but he is convinced that to withdraw from it would isolate the US from the other Security Council members rather than isolating Iran. He also doesn’t think getting a better deal or reimposing severe sanctions is plausible.

Representatives and senators generally try to represent their constituents, and a recent poll [pdf] found that three-fourths of Democrats would find it acceptable or tolerable if Congress approved of the Vienna agreement with Iran. Moreover, 63% of the general public feels that way! Democrats and independents, who together make up at least two-thirds of the electorate, agree on this matter. Among Republicans, even 44% of them would find approval tolerable or acceptable.

The US has many ethnic lobbies, and the Israel lobby is not different from the Cuban or Armenian. The Israel lobbies have lost battles that were important to them (they initially opposed the massive arming of Saudi Arabia, but Saudi Arabia is nevertheless massively armed). Moreover, ethnic lobbies are often not completely united on certain issues, and that is what happened here.

Netanyahu faced the problem that the US Jewish community strongly favors the Iran deal. In polling, Jewish Americans are much more enthusiastic about it than the general American public, which also largely supports it. The left-leaning lobby for Israel, J-Street, has even spent millions on television advertising in support of the agreement. There is a sense in which the Iran deal is a project of the American Jewish community as well as of other Democrats, and is their reaction against the excesses of Bush’s Iraq War. A majority of the Jewish senators have come out for it. They believe that diplomacy can make Israel more secure, whereas flailing about fighting wars and undermining stability in the region has made it an even more dangerous neighborhood for Israel. The much more hawkish American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Zionist Organization of America and other constituents of the Israel lobbies have all along represented a small proportion of the American Jewish community. It is admittedly an extremely wealthy sliver of the community, but votes and enthusiasm matter more than money, or Mitt Romney would be president.

The only suspense now is whether Obama can get 41 in the Senate and so forestall a negative resolution entirely. That would be best of all.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Sen. Chris Coons to Vote ‘Yes’ on Iran Deal”

Note: This prescient post originally went up before Sen. mikulski’s announcement & it has been slightly revised to reflect this development.

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Kentucky Christian mini-caliphate still denying Gay Marriage Licenses in Name of God Wed, 02 Sep 2015 05:13:22 +0000 AJ+ | (Video News Report) | – –

“Kim Davis, a clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples one day after the Supreme Court told her she had no legal ground to stand on.”

AJ+: “Same-Sex Marriage Licenses STILL Denied By Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis”

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Martin Kramer’s “Modest Proposal” for starving Gazans into having fewer Children, 5 Yrs Later Wed, 02 Sep 2015 04:50:00 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In view of the dire UN report warning that in 5 years Gaza may well be uninhabitable for its 2 million Palestinian residents, it is worth considering again that this outcome is being connived at by the Israeli far right wing, one mouthpiece for which is academic gadfly Martin Kramer. 5 years ago, this was his proposal:

Martin Kramer revealed his true colors at the Herzliya Conference [2010] , wherein he blamed political violence in the Muslim world on population growth, called for that growth to be restrained, and praised the illegal and unconscionable Israeli blockade of civilian Gazans for its effect on reducing the number of Gazans.

M. J. Rosenberg argued that Kramer’s speech is equivalent to a call for genocide. It certainly is a call for eugenics.

It is shocking that Kramer, who has made a decade-long career of attacking social science understanding of the Middle East and demonizing anyone who departs even slightly from his rightwing Israeli-nationalist political line, should be given a cushy office at Harvard as a ‘fellow’ while spewing the most vile justifications for war crimes like the collective punishment of Gazan children.

Kramer is after all not nobody. He was an adviser to the Giuliani presidential campaign. He is listed as an associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the influential think tank in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is associated with Daniel Pipe’s ‘Middle East Forum,’ a neo-McCarthyite organization dedicated to harassing American academics who do not toe the political line of Israel’s ruling Likud Party.

Kramer’s remarks are wrong, offensive and racist by implication. He is driven to them by his nationalist ideology, which cannot recognize the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Israelis in 1948, cannot see that most Palestinians have been deprived by Israeli policies of citizenship rights (what Warren Burger called ‘the right to have rights’, as Margaret Somers pointed out), and that Palestinians are even at this moment being deprived of basic property and other rights by Israeli occupation. To admit that any of these actions produces a backlash is to acknowledge the Palestinian movements as forms of national liberation activism, and to legitimize Palestinian aspirations. Rightwing Zionism is all about erasing the Palestinians from history. And now Kramer wants to make it about erasing future Palestinian children!

Where have we seen the picture Kramer draws before? It is just a recycled form of Malthusianism, where the population growth rates of “some people” is seen as dangerous to society. Barbara Brown wrote of Apartheid South Africa:

‘ [White] South Africans who express a [concern with Black population growth] perceive a close relationship between population growth rates and political instability. There are two variants of this approach. The first holds that a growing black and unemployed population will mean increased poverty which will in turn lead to a black revolt. . .

In an opening address to a major private sector conference on ‘population dynamics’ in South Africa, the president of the 1820 Foundation argued that ‘Rapid population growth translates into a steadily worsening employment future, massive city growth . . . and an increase in the number of poor and disadvantaged. All are rightly viewed as threats to social stability and orderly change.’

A second, but smaller, group believes the black threat arises simply out of the changing ratio of white to black. This group sees that ‘THE WHITES ARE A DWINDLING MINORITY IN THE COUNTRY’ and argues that this situation will lead to a ‘similar reduction of white political authority’.

Some argue for birth control on even more overtly racist grounds, but few people in leadership positions do so, at least publicly. Debates in the House of Assembly have included remarks to the effect that blacks are unable to make a contribution to South African society and so should be encouraged to limit their numbers. The organiser of a ‘Population Explosion’ conference, a medical doctor who is deputy director of the Verwoerd Hospital, argued that whites must organise a family planning programme for blacks because the latter group is biologically incapable of exercising foresight.’

– Barbara B. Brown, “Facing the ‘Black Peril’: The Politics of Population Control in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2(Jan., 1987), pp. 256-273, this quote pp. 263-64.

There are other notorious examples of this sort of argument, including eugenics theorist Madison Grant, who warned in the early 20th century that white Americans were being swamped by inferior eastern and southern Europeans such as Poles, Italians, and Jews.

How ironic, that Kramer should now resort to the very kind of arguments Grant used to condemn Martin Kramer’s ancestors being allowed to come to the United States.

As usual, Kramer, a notorious anti-intellectual opposed to the mainstream academic study of the Middle East, is wrong as a matter of social science.

Population growth in and of itself explains nothing, and certainly not terrorism. Between 1800 and 1900, Great Britain’s population tripled, whereas France underwent a demographic transition and grew very slowly. Yet Britain experienced no revolution, no great social upheavals in that period. France, in contrast, lurched from war to war, from empire to monarchy to empire to Republic, and saw the rise of a plethora of radical social movements, including the Paris Commune.

High population growth can be a problem for development, and can contribute to internal conflict over resources, but it is only one factor. If economic growth outstrips population growth (say the economy grows 7 percent and population grows 3 per year), then on a per capita basis that is the same as 4 percent economic growth per capita per annum, which would be good for most countries. Or if a place is thinly populated and rich in resources, population growth may not be socially disruptive. Most countries in the world have grown enormously in population during the past century, yet they display vastly different rates of social violence.

Although under some circumstances, rapid population growth can contribute to internal social instability, it is irrelevant to international terrorism as a political tactic. The deployment of terror, which the US Federal Code defines as the use of violence against civilians for political purposes by a non-state actor, is always a form of politics. The Zionist terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, which killed 91 persons and wounded 46, did not act because Jewish Irgun members had too many brothers and sisters. (And if you think about who exactly might have made an argument of that form in the 1940s, it becomes clear how smelly Kramer’s is.) Irgun blew the hotel up because British Mandate intelligence had offices there, and because these Zionist activists did not care if they killed dozens of civilians.

Studies of groups that deploy violence against civilians for political purposes show that [pdf link] they are characterized by higher than average education and income, which correlate with smaller family size.

Political violence is about grievances, land, resources and politics. Palestinians were no more violent than any other group in the Middle East until they were ethnically cleansed and their property was stolen by Jewish colonists in their homeland, for which they never received compensation. As Robert Pape has shown, suicide bombings cluster in the area in and around Israel, in Iraq and Afghanistan/ Northern Pakistan, places where people feel militarily occupied. But there are none in Mali or Benin, countries with among the highest population growth rates in the world.

Kramer’s argument is implicitly racist because he applies the population-growth calculus mainly to Arabs, whose family size he minds in ways that he does not others. Belize and the Cameroons have higher population growth rates than Libya. Is Kramer afraid of those two countries? Why is it only Arab children he marks as a danger?

If population growth rates were the independent variable in predicting a turn to terrorism, moreover, the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jewish population of Israel would be a concern. But in fact they refuse to serve in the Israeli army and so are the least violent part of the population (though there have been occasional Haredi attacks on Palestinians.)

Kramer will find, in his new role as the Madison Grant of the twenty-first century, that his arguments are a double-edged sword that even more unsavory persons than he will gleefully wield against groups other than Arabs.

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Obama, 19 World Leaders tout Climate Danger at Alaska Summit, Ignore Fuel Extraction Wed, 02 Sep 2015 04:21:24 +0000 By Leehi Yona | (Inter Press Service) | – –

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (IPS) – After a one-day summit in the U.S. Arctic’s biggest city, leaders from the world’s northern countries acknowledged that climate change is seriously disrupting the Arctic ecosystem, yet left without committing themselves to serious action to fight the negative impacts of global warming.

The Aug. 31 summit on ‘Global Leadership in the Arctic – Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement, and Resilience (GLACIER)’, was organised by the U.S. State Department and attended by dignitaries from 20 countries, including the eight Arctic nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and United States.

Political leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama, who urged Arctic nations to take bolder action as the summit ended, came out with strong words, but stakeholders from civil society and scientific groups said the outcome came short of the tangible action needed.

“This statement (from the one-day GLACIER Arctic summit] unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels” – Ellie Johnston, World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive

The summit attracted the attention of environmental and indigenous groups, which criticised Obama’s reputation as a climate leader in the face of allowing offshore oil drilling in the Arctic.

Numerous protests and acts of non-violent civil disobedience in recent months have attempted to block oil company Shell from drilling; the company is currently active off the Alaskan coast.

“The recent approval of Shell’s Arctic oil drilling plans is a prime example of the disparity between President Obama’s strong rhetoric and increasing action on climate change and his administration’s fossil fuel extraction policies,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International.

All participating countries signed a joint statement on climate change and its impact on the Arctic, after the initial reluctance of Canada and Russia, which eventually added their names.

“We take seriously warnings by scientists: temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at more than twice the average global rate,” the statement read, before going on to describe the wide range of impacts felt by Arctic communities’ landscapes, culture and well-being.

“As change continues at an unprecedented rate in the Arctic – increasing the stresses on communities and ecosystems in already harsh environments – we are committed more than ever to protecting both terrestrial and marine areas in this unique region, and our shared planet, for generations to come.”

However, the statement lacked concrete commitments, even on crucial topics like fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, leaving climate experts with the feeling that it could have been more ambitious or have offered more specific, tangible commitments on the part of countries.

“I appreciate the rhetoric and depth of acknowledgement of the climate crisis,” the World Climate Project Manager at Climate Interactive, Ellie Johnston, told IPS. “Yet this statement unfortunately fails to fully acknowledge one of the grave threats to the Arctic and to the planet – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels.”

“This is particularly relevant as nations and companies jockey for access to drilling in our historically icy Arctic seas which have now become more accessible because of warming,” she said. “Drilling for fossil fuels leads to more warming, which leads to more drilling. This is one feedback loop we can stop.”

Oil and gas companies were encouraged – but not required –to voluntarily take on more stringent policies and join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Oil and Gas Methane Partnership, an initiative to help companies reduce their emissions of methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry addressed participants – members from indigenous communities, government representatives, scientists, and non-governmental organizations – at the opening of the summit. “The Arctic is in many ways a thermostat,” he said. “We already see [it] having a profound impact on the rest of the planet.”

Kerry also attempted to drum up action ahead of the COP21 United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris this December, urging governments to “try to come up with a truly ambitious and truly global climate agreement.”

He added that the Paris conference “is not the end of the road […] Our hope is that everyone can leave this conference today with a heightened sense of urgency and a better understanding of our collective responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the harmful impacts of climate change.”

In a closing address to summit participants, President Obama repeatedly said “we are not doing enough.” He outlined the stark impacts of a future with business-as-usual climate change: thawing permafrost, forest fires and dangerous feedback loops. “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair … any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that is not fit to lead,” he stated.

However, neither Kerry nor Obama acknowledged, as many environmental groups have pointed out, that the United States’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction commitment falls nearly halfway short of what the country must do in order to stay within the Paris conference goal of a 2oC warming limit.

While participants emphasised engagement from affected communities, the summit itself did not manifest engagement with those communities: less than one-third of the panellists and presenters were either indigenous or female, and only one woman of colour was present.

“It would have been nice to hear more from indigenous women or women of colour,” Princess Daazrhaii, member of the Gwich’in Nation and strong advocate for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told IPS. “The Arctic is more diverse than what I felt like was represented at the conference.”

“As life-givers and as mothers, many of us nurse our children. We know for a fact that women in the Arctic are more susceptible to the persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are bound to the air we breathe. Violence against women is another issue that I feel gets exacerbated when there are threats to our ecosystem.”

All individuals talked to appreciated the conference’s emphasis on climate change as a significant problem, yet all of them also expressed a desire for the United States – and governments around the world – to do more.

“[Climate change] is what brings human beings together,” Daazrhaii said. “We’re all in this together. And we have to work on this together.”

Edited by Phil Harris

Leehi Yona is a Senior Fellow studying Arctic climate science and policy at Dartmouth College.

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Obama Stares Down Melting Alaska Glacier”

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