Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 30 Nov 2015 09:14:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Turkey’s Coup against Press, own Generals over Arms Supplies to Syrian Militants Mon, 30 Nov 2015 09:05:50 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Turkey has jailed two very prominent journalists for publishing video last May of a January, 2014, Turkish intelligence convoy of weapons to Syrian militants. When I say prominent, I mean prominent. They are Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul. Cumhuriyet (“Republic”) was founded in 1924 and is center-left in its orientation. So this would be like the FBI carting off Dean Baquet of the New York Times for reporting on CIA shipments of T.O.W. missiles to Salafi rebels in Syria. The journalists are charged with espionage and belonging (!) to a terrorist organization– charges fantastic on the face of it.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army is charging that Turkey has vastly increased arms shipments to rebels in Syria since last week’s shootdown of a Russian fighter jet, and is receiving smuggled gasoline and antiquities in payment.

The Turkish government has now also arrested several senior generals who, acting on a tip, were the ones who in January 2014 ordered the search of trucks allegedly carrying arms to rebels in Syria– on which Cumhuriyet reported. Huriryet writes: “Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor İrfan Fidan interrogated Ankara Gendarmerie Regional Commander Maj. Gen. İbrahim Aydın, Brig. Gen. Hamza Celepoğlu and Ret. Col. Burhanettin Cihangiroğlu on Nov. 28 and sent them to court appealing for their arrest on Nov. 29.”

Hurriyet explains:

“On Jan. 19, 2014, a convoy of trucks on their way to cross into Syira was stopped by gendarmerie forces upon suspicion that they were carrying military material to rebel groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime. The incident turned into a big news story when the gendarmerie forces detained the intelligence officers and confiscated the trucks.

President Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, reacted harshly over the case, accusing sympathizers of US-based Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen in the judiciary and the security forces of undermining the government. He said the Gulen movement was responsible for the halting of the trucks, as well as the Dec. 17-25, 2013 corruption cases that he claimed had tried to bring down the government . . .

The government says the case of the halted trucks is evidence of the Gulenists’ “anti-national” behaviour, as it claims that the trucks were carrying assistance to Turkmens fighting in Syria against both al-Assad and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). When Dundar and Erdem published their story as fresh evidence in the case, despite courts ruling to restrict media coverage of the incident upon the government’s request, they made President Erdogan furious. Prosecutors soon opened cases against them.”

So this case has to do with the 2013-2014 campaign of the secretive religious-Right Gulen faction within the Turkish government to bring then-PM Tayyip Erdogan (now president) into disrepute. Gulenists had made damning recordings and collected documents when they were still partners with Erdogan and a constituent group inside the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan weathered the charges against him in the eyes of the public, and his party just won enough seats to rule without seeking a coalition with any other party.

That Turkey and the Gulf oil states have been supporting hard line fundamentalist Salafi groups in Syria such as the Army of Conquest (an al-Qaeda-led coalition) is an open secret. That Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) has been smuggling gasoline and kerosene from the refineries it captured, in part to Turkey, is another open secret.

So why is the AKP government waging a war on the press and its own generals to cover up this activity?

My guess is that Erdogan is having prosecutors send a signal to journalists and military men that acting on or revealing further Gulenist leaks will not be permitted. Perhaps he fears that the Gulen movement has more dirt on him than it has already brought out and just wants to forestall its becoming public. He may also be attempting to put all activities of the MiT (the Turkish CIA) out of bounds for the press and the Turkish military.

But the focus on that January, 2014, military shipment is also suspicious. Erdogan claimed that it was humanitarian aid going to the Syrian Turkmen in the north of Syria. But the inspection of the gendarmerie and the video released by Cumhuriyet demonstrate that the trucks were carrying weaponry. Cumhuriyet reported that the cargo comprised a thousand mortar shells, 50,000 bullets for machine guns and 30,000 heavy artillery shells. — Is the problem that it wasn’t going to Turkmen at all but to some group so radical that Erdogan would be embarrassed if it were known he was supplying it?

While Turkey is roiled by a war on journalists (the editor-in-chief of the conservative Muslim newspaper Zaman, which allegedly has ties to the Gulen movement, has just also been arrested, for insulting Erdogan), the arms flowing through the country are allowing the Salafi fighters to withstand the Russia air campaign south and east of Aleppo.

In a headache for President Obama, his Syrian Democratic Forces (a coalition of Kurdish, Sunni Arab and Christian militias) have been kicked out of some villages south of Aleppo by another set of American clients, the Falcons of the Mountain (Suqur al-Jabal), who are hard line religionists and hate the Kurds as secular leftists allied with christians. Al-Qaeda in Syria is also taking territory in the Aleppo area, opportunistically benefiting from Russian and regime attacks on Daesh there.

Turkey supports the Turkmen and the Army of Conquest despite the membership of al-Qaeda in the latter, against the Kurdish YPG. Russia is said to be helping the Kurds.


Related video:

Euronews: “Turkey: two journalists jailed over Syria smuggling reports”

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What does ISIL/ Daesh actually want? Mon, 30 Nov 2015 05:47:24 +0000 By Amalendu Misra | (the Conversation) | – –

Every religious community, at some point in its history, has harboured a vision of the apocalypse. It reminds us that the world periodically goes through tumultuous socio-religious strife, agonising chaos and unbearable anarchy. Hence Christians refer to an Antichrist in the context of an irredeemable age. Hindus, for their part, regularly invoke the metaphor of Kaliyug to describe man-made anarchy.

For fundamentalists in various religious traditions, this anarchy is brought to an end by an act of the divine. Consequently, those who believe in such apocalypse mostly leave the fate of their community and that of the larger world in the hands of their specific gods and messiahs.

Put simply, these are people who are content that “the divine will take its course, unaided by human intervention”.

Some other fundamentalists, however, find themselves in a bit more of a hurry. Instead of sticking to the old-fashioned waiting game for the messiah to arrive, they appoint themselves as agents of the imaginary transformation. The [so-called] Islamic State [group, IS] falls into this category.

A violent geography

In the biblical Book of Revelation we are introduced to the idea of an end of the world theory or Armageddon. We find references to this prophecy in various Islamic scriptures too. Since IS believes in an antiquated version of Islam, its subscription to this theory is perhaps not surprising.

What is less expected though, is that IS not only believes in the literal meaning of the coming Armageddon – it sees itself as its chief protagonist.

Outwardly it gives the impression of existing as a conglomeration of cruel, bloodthirsty lunatics but the core ideology of IS is firmly rooted in a carefully considered belief system that is predicated upon a millenarian worldview. Guided by this specific understanding of the future, it follows skillfully designed strategies likely to usher in a desired outcome.

In view of critics who have pored over its deeds in recent years, one could draw parallels between various Islamic “end-of-days” prophecies and the course of action that IS seems to follow.

There is the order it has imposed on a specific people, the geography it controls and the battles it has raised against the outside world. In IS geopolitics, the physical space of occupied Syria and Iraq is the heartland of the end of world times. This, it believes, is the terrain on which the war between Muslims and infidels will be fought.

Armageddon requires a clearly defined foe. IS, not surprisingly, has a roll call of enemies. It is incensed by the existence of the Jewish state of Israel; it is disturbed by the intervention in the Islamic world (read Iraq) by non-Muslims, it is frustrated by the external economic exploitation of Islamic wealth.

To rid the Islamic world of these adversaries necessitates an epic military engagement. But to engage its foes in this grand war, IS needs to take the combat to them. It knows that attacking its foes on their own turf will force them to come marching into that specific prophetic terrain where they will meet their end. Having carefully prepared its battle plan IS has also pinpointed the location of these future battlefields.

A pre-modern dystopia

The coming Armageddon, according to the IS worldview, is a necessary condition. So it rejects peace as a matter of principle. If it is to establish an uncontested Islamic empire in the form of a caliphate, it has to actively pursue an all-out war with rest of the world.

To win this war requires a mammoth effort. It must stand prepared. It must have a strict social order. There must be death-defiant pride among its soldiers. Above all there should be an organisational structure that will make its god proud. The pre-modern tribal laws being practised in IS-controlled territory is but small testament to this millenarian zeal.

More important though is the flood of foot soldiers coming from beyond the traditional heartland of Islam to join the fight. Bored, disillusioned, alienated, constantly monitored and having grown up in heavy doses of violent video games and incendiary sermons in the local mosque, many Muslim youths in the West find the IS discourse irresistible.

By combining myth and modernity, IS conjures up an ideal post-apocalyptic world where it alone reigns supreme. The vision becomes all the more attractive to its followers when it gives them an actual foretaste of that future world – enacting video-game fantasies of mowing down your enemies in a real life crowded street to freely plucking enemy women as your sexual slaves. Breaking this temptation is the key to stopping more young people from joining the death march of IS.

The Conversation

Amalendu Misra, Senior Lecturer, Department: Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University

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


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Frontline: “Children of ISIS (full film) | FRONTLINE”

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The GOP Race as America’s Hunger Games Mon, 30 Nov 2015 05:22:35 +0000 Nomi Prins | ( | – –

Fact: too many Republican candidates are clogging the political scene. Perhaps what’s needed is an American Hunger Games to cut the field to size. Each candidate could enter the wilderness with one weapon and one undocumented worker and see who wins. Unlike in the fictional Hunger Games for which contestants were plucked from 13 struggling, drab districts in the dystopian country of Panem, in the GOP version, everyone already lives in the Capitol. (Okay, Marco Rubio lives just outside it but is about to enter, and Donald Trump like some gilded President Snow inhabits a universe all his own with accommodations and ego to match.)

The six candidates chosen here (based on composite polling) have remarkably similar, unoriginal, inequality-inducing, trickle-down economic recommendations for the country: reduce taxes (mostly on those who don’t need it), “grow” the economy like a sprouting weed, balance the budget by cutting as yet not-delineated social programs, overthrow Obama’s health-care legacy without breaking up the insurance companies, and (yawn)… well, you get the idea. If these six contenders were indeed Hunger Games tributes, their skills in the American political wilderness would run this way: Ben Carson inspires confusion; Marco Rubio conveys exaggerated humility; Ted Cruz exudes scorn; Jeb Bush can obliterate his personality at a whim; and Carly Fiorina’s sternness could slice granite. This leaves Donald Trump, endowed with the ultimate skill: self-promotion. As a tribute, he claims to believe that all our problems stem from China and Mexico, as well as Muslim terrorists and refugees (more or less the same thing, of course), and at present he’s leading the Games.

When it comes to economic policy, it seems as if none of them will ever make it out of the Capitol and into the actual world of American reality.  Like Hillary Clinton, blessed by Wall Street’s apparently undying gratitude for her 9/11 heroism, none of the Republican contestants have outlined a plan of any sort to deal with, no less break the financial stronghold of the big banks on our world or reduce disproportionate corporate power over the economy, though in a crisis Cruz would “absolutely not” bail them out again.   Stumbling around in the wilderness, Carson at least offered a series of disjointed, semi-incomprehensible financial suggestions during the last Republican “debate,” when asked why he wouldn’t break banks up. “I don’t want to go in and tear anybody down,” he said. “I mean that doesn’t help us, but what does help us is to stop tinkering around the edges and fix the problem.”

Rubio, already in top Hunger Games form, swears that it’s recent regulations (not legacy elite decisions) that did the dirty deed. “The government made [the banks] big by adding thousands and thousands of pages of regulations,” he said of Dodd-Frank legislation (which doesn’t actually alter Wall Street structurally in any way). In fact, in recent decades every major power grab or consolidation in American business, from banks to energy companies, resulted from bipartisan deregulation.

None of these big-money-backed candidates seem particularly concerned that another economic crisis could ever cripple the country, or have evidently even noticed that most Americans have yet to experience the present “recovery.”  None seem to realize that when the Federal Reserve winds down its cheap money policy and banks and companies are left to fend for themselves, more economic hell could break loose in the style of the 2007-2008 meltdown. Jeb Bush recently summed up the general 2016 Republican position on the economy in a single what-me-worry-style sentence: “We shouldn’t have another financial crisis.” ‘Nuff said.

In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney’s chances dwindled after he disparaged 47% of the country as so many leeches. Today’s Hunger Gamers have learned from his experience. Optics spell opportunity, so as a group they’re shuffling the usual Republican-brand tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy in with selective recognition of the broader population and promises to kill all loopholes in some future utopian tax bill. None of them, of course, would consider raising the minimum wage to put more money in the pockets of workers before tax-time hits. Even old Henry Ford knew the power of wages when, early in the last century, he strengthened his car empire by doubling the then-prevailing minimum wage for his workers to $5 a day — enough for them not only to save up and buy his Model-Ts, but also boost productivity.

The present set of Hunger Gamers could invoke Republican President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting ire, or President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s willingness to fund vast national construction projects, or even (to reach into the distant past) President Herbert Hoover’s initial attempts to pass what became, under Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that separated deposit-taking from speculation at banks. But to be realistic, none of them belong to the Republican Party as it once existed.  They all live in an American Panem and so feel no compunctions about promoting the idea that corporations contributing ever less to the federal till would Make America Great Again.

Now, let’s send those six candidates into that wilderness, weapons in hand, one at a time, and while we’re at it, examine their minor differences by checking out their campaign websites to see what kind of games we can expect in a coming Republican era of “good times.”

Ben Carson

If you look through the index of Ben Carson’s latest bestseller, A More Perfect Union, you won’t even find the words “economy,” “banks,” or “Wall Street.”  Instead, his campaign slogan, “Heal, Inspire, Revive,” could headline a yoga retreat. His position as the Republican co-frontrunner or runner-up (depending on which polls you look at) relies on his soft-spoken, non-politician persona, not his vague economic ideas that flash by in a chameleon-like fashion.

Yes, he was a brilliant neurosurgeon, but the tenacity and skills required to become a gifted medical practitioner have not translated well into presidential-style economic policies.  To the extent that he has a policy at all, it’s a shopworn version of the twenty-first-century Republican usuals: ratifying a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution “to restore fiscal responsibility,” introducing a flat tax, not raising the minimum wage, yada, yada, yada.  In a Washington Post op-ed last year, he recounted his mother’s days as a “domestic in the homes of wealthy people who were generous to her” and would slip young Carson and his brother “significant monetary incentives” in return for good grades. One even loaned him a luxury convertible. With such employers — and the incredibly rich are a well-known generous bunch, at least when it comes to supporting Republican presidential candidates (just 158 families have contributed more than half the money to this election so far, mostly to Republicans) — who needs a government-declared minimum wage?

Regarding taxes, Carson considers the 74,000-page tax code “an abomination.” And who would argue otherwise? But like his various opponents, he’s not about to point out that it was largely crafted by the representatives of mega-corporations, not Wal-Mart workers at meet-ups with senators. He’s for a flat tax of 10% with no exemptions for the poor, based on biblical economics 101. Maybe people who don’t produce bumper crops should just pray for a better lot.

He would conveniently cut the official corporate tax rate from 35% (the average effective tax rate is 27.9% but the biggest, brightest companies don’t even approach that amount) to between 15% and 20%, the definition of corporate manna from heaven.  He would also allow companies to bring their foreign profits back to the U.S. completely tax-free if they would even… pretty, pretty please… consider allocating 10% of them to “finance enterprise zones” in major cities. And so it goes in Carsonland.

Best bet on his campaign website: A $25 bumper sticker that says #IAMACHRISTIAN, proof that he’s eager to channel his inner evangelical Katniss.

Donald Trump

Trump actually brought up President Dwight Eisenhower recently, but only for Operation Wetback, his grim Mexican immigrant deportation program. No I-like-Ike mention was made of his funding of the interstate highway system or the way he strengthened banking regulations.

The Donald lists five core positions on his site, including the two economic pillars of his campaign: “U.S.-China trade reform” and “tax reform,” both of which would, of course, “make America great again.” This may already sound a bit repetitively familiar to you, but he wants to reduce the corporate tax rate to 15% because it “would be 10 percentage points below China’s and 20 points below our current burdensome rate that pushes companies and jobs offshore.”  Given that our biggest companies already pay far less than that “burdensome” rate, can there be any question that lowering it further would produce more generous CEOs and slay dreaded China at the same time?

Like President Snow, Trump would start aggressively and only get more so, economically speaking. He would “attack” the national debt and deficit by eliminating government waste, fraud, and abuse, and “grow” the economy xenophobically by doing in local Mexicans and distant Chinese, and all of this cutting and slashing would, like a Chia Pet, make the economy sprout even as tax revenues were savaged.  Or, even if it isn’t one of his five core positions, he could pull a genuine Snow and get rid of old-fashioned-style government, leaving Americans officially beholden to an oligarch.

In another piece of (black) magic, his campaign website assures readers that cutting the deficit and reducing our debt would also stop China from “blackmail[ing] us with our own Treasury bonds.” No matter that China actually lent us money to run our government and bolster our financial system, and that a thank-you note might be in order (on paper made in China, of course).

When it comes to tax reform, Trump’s “populist” program would remove 75 million households from the income tax rolls and provide them, so he claims, with a simple one-page form to send the IRS, saying “I win.”  Though he would cut the current seven tax brackets to four — 0%, 10%, 20%, and 25% — it’s his 15% corporate tax rate that trumps the field. Rubio would only chop it to 25%, Bush to 20%, Cruz to 16%, and Carson… who knows? Various estimates suggest that Trump’s plan would lead to a staggering federal revenue loss (so lucky for us that, in a Trump presidency, the rich would undoubtedly be so grateful that their generosity would soar beyond imagining). The nonpartisan Citizens for Tax Justice computed the cost of his plan at $12 trillion over 10 years.  So don’t expect any Eisenhower-esque national building campaigns (other than that “beautiful” wall on the Mexican border).

Best gimmick on his campaign website: A $15 Trump dog sweater modeled by the saddest damn wiener dog ever. Perhaps its mother was a deported Chihuahua.

Marco Rubio

Rubio’s slogan “a new American century” couldn’t be grander, perhaps to compensate for the lackluster version of economic policy at his campaign website.  It’s certainly not the sort of thing you’d expect from someone aspiring to be president of the world’s largest economy. Despite that, rest assured that he’s had economics and success on his mind 24/7.  After all, Goldman Sachs is now his top contributor and his super PACs are on a run, too, including the rap-inspired “Baby Got Pac” just launched by multimillionaire John Jordan.

And in true Hunger Games fashion — when the “odds” head in a tribute’s favor, the patrons and gifts begin rolling in — Rubio just bagged Republican mega-donor billionaire Frank VanderSloot. Mitt Romney’s former national finance co-chairman, VanderSloot joins a growing roster of Rubio billionaires, including hedge-fund moguls Paul Singer and Cliff Asness.

“Marco Rubio is the brightest and most capable candidate,” wrote VanderSloot of his new political buddy. Of the others he and his brain trust considered, he added, “Jeb simply does not have the leadership skills necessary to unite the people behind him”; Carson lacks “the international knowledge or skill set”; Cruz and Trump are “simply not electable in a general election” (no billionaire-envy there); and Fiorina, his second choice, “simply isn’t resonating with the voters.”

Rubio’s tax plan, the “cornerstone” of his economic policy, would — you won’t be surprised to learn — reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three and eliminate taxes in ways particularly beneficial to the billionaire (especially hedge-fund billionaire) class, including the estate tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends. For the broad population, Rubio includes family tax cuts. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, his plan would be a bargain compared to Trump’s, costing federal government coffers a mere $2.4 trillion or more in receipts over the next decade. As a byproduct, his program is essentially guaranteed to spark a new round of financial speculation, but don’t for a second let the 2007-2008 meltdown cross your mind since, as every Republican knows, with a Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, or Ben Carson in the Oval Office that can’t happen.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: You can “fall into campaign season” by ordering a “Marco Polo” made-in-the-USA shirt for $48 in patriotic red, white, or blue naturally! For a mere $500 extra, you can personally have the honor of buying Rubio a “plane ticket” (perhaps to meet and greet his next billionaire).

Ted Cruz

The Cruz campaign website offers a hodge-podge of semi-incoherent economic salesmanship. His tax plan, or what he likes to call (without the slightest justification) the “next American revolution,” promises to “reignite growth in our economy.” His “simple flat tax” (yep, another of those!) would abolish the Internal Revenue Service as well.  Personal income tax brackets would go from seven to… count ‘em!… one at a 10% rate across the board and the corporate income tax would be replaced by a flat tax of 16%. And it should be taken for granted that the American economy would soar into the stratosphere!

Cruz’s tax code would be so “simple with a capital-S” that it would make Donald Trump’s look complicated. A postcard or phone app would suffice for individual and family filings. There would be no tax on profits earned abroad and it almost goes without saying that Obamacare taxes would die a strangulated death. Loopholes for businesses would apparently go, too.

Cruz claims his simple flat tax will elevate the gross domestic product, increase wages by 12.2%, create nearly five million new jobs, and undoubtedly fill the world with unicorns.  It would also wipe out between $768 billion and $3.6 trillion in federal tax receipts over 10 years.

Best gimmick on his campaign website: For $55 you can get a bad-boy poster of Cruz sporting a Sons of Anarchy look (tattoos, cigarette in mouth, etc.) captioned “Blacklisted and Loving It.”

Jeb Bush

Jeb! has by far the sleekest web page. He and his donor entourage took the “presidential concept” seriously with a look that seems to have been stolen directly from “the Capitol” in the Hunger Games.

Its economic section excoriates the tax code for being “rigged with multiple carve-outs for favored industries.” He blasts Obama’s economic policies for leading to “low growth, crony capitalism, and easy debt.” Yet, under Jeb’s governorship, Florida’s debt escalated from $15 billion to more than $23 billion. After his term, the housing-bubble that had inflated the state’s coffers burst big time, and Florida’s economy under-performed much of the country during the financial crisis. While homeowners statewide went underwater, he landed a multi-million dollar consultancy gig with… gulp!… Lehman Brothers.

By now, you won’t be shocked to learn that Bush’s plan would cut tax brackets from seven to three: 28%, 25% and 10%, and that he would cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%, five points below China’s. (These days, if you’re a Republican, you’ve got to stick it to China.)

While Jeb would not rein in Wall Street (for all the obvious and already well-documented reasons), right now it looks as if he’s not going to have a chance to not rein in anything.  While his PR team maintains “Jeb can fix it,” invigorating his wilting campaign will require more than a bow and arrow and a mockingbird.

Best gimmick on his campaign web page: “The Guaca Bowle” for $75 because who doesn’t need one? (Bush family guac recipe not included.)

Carly Fiorina

Fiorina’s web page doesn’t offer a lot of economic anything. It’s more like a personality infomercial. For her official positions, you need to watch video clips of her TV appearances from CBS This Morning to late night talk shows and — if you’re starting to get bored — just imagine Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host of festivities Caesar Flickerman narrating.

Fiorina calls for “zero-based budgeting” because “zero” sounds so much cleverer than “balanced” and touts ad nauseam a three-page tax plan (perhaps the current one in a microscopic font, since we don’t actually know the details). The repetition of simple concepts to the masses seems to be her modus operandi.

Best gimmick on the Carly for America Super PAC website: For only $26 you can get a “Hillary Who?” infant one-piece, the perfect gift for any Republican baby.

How Corporations Really Pay Taxes

Despite the prominence of tax cuts in the policies of the top six Republican candidates, even the venerable Brookings Institution found that they have a minimal effect on economic growth.  In addition, when you consider all the promised corporate cuts, you should know that corporations already don’t contribute much.

According to Citizens for Tax Justice, between 2008 and 2012, 26 of the 288 Fortune 500 firms (consistently profitable in those years) managed to pay nothing, nada, zero in federal income tax.  The 288 firms collectively paid an effective federal income tax rate of 19.4%, and a third of them paid an effective rate of less than 10%. Five companies — Wells Fargo, AT&T, IBM, General Electric, and Verizon — also bagged over $77 billion of the $364 billion in tax breaks doled out in those years. Extra jobs didn’t follow. Think of this crew as the real winners of the American Hunger Games in this period.

For 2014, for instance, Goldman Sachs avoided forking over federal income taxes on almost half of its $6.8 billion in U.S. profits, paying an effective tax rate of 18.6%. Between 2010 and 2012, due to tax breaks associated with executive pay, Fortune 500 companies saved an extra $27 billion in federal and state taxes. That’s a lot of dosh to use for Super PAC support.

In 2012, the Democrats blasted candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan as a giveaway to the rich. This time around, our six tributes-cum-candidates are taking no such chances.  They’re making sure to throw crumbs to the middle and working classes, even as they offer more caviar to the wealthy and corporations. Depending on the candidate and plan, the overall loss of national revenue will range from an estimated $1.6 trillion (even factoring in growth that may never happen) to $12 trillion, but will be a stunning amount.

Perhaps with such a field of candidates, the classic Hunger Games line will need to be adapted: “Let the games begin and may the oddity of it all be ever in your favor.” Certainly, there has never been a stranger or more unsettling Republican campaign for the presidential nomination or one more filled with economic balderdash and showmanship.  Of course, at some point in 2016, we’ll be at that moment when President Snow says to Katniss Everdeen, “Make no mistake, the game is coming to its end.” One of these candidates or a rival Democrat will actually enter the Oval Office and when that happens, both parties will be left with guilt on their hands and all the promises that will have to be fulfilled to repay their super-rich supporters (Bernie aside). And that, of course, is when the real Hunger Games are likely to begin for most Americans.  Those of us in the outer districts can but hope for revolution.

Nomi Prins, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of six books, a speaker, and a distinguished senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute Demos. Her most recent book is All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power (Nation Books). She is a former Wall Street executive. Special thanks go to researcher Craig Wilson for his superb work on this piece.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Nomi Prins



Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Late Show w/ Stephen Colbert fm Sept.: “The Hungry For Power Games: Walkingjay”

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Muslims are our Scientists, Physicians, Philanthropists & are critical to American progress Mon, 30 Nov 2015 05:21:57 +0000 By Dalia Mogahed and John L. Esposito | (Progressive Media Project) | – –

While the world mourned the savage and senseless loss of innocent life, some capitalized on the attacks in Paris to score political points.

Within hours, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., tweeted: “How’s that Syrian refugee resettlement look now? How about that mass migration into Europe? Terrorism is alive & well in the world. #No”

Such refrains are more than emotional eruptions. They are manifestations of a deeply rooted narrative that casts Muslims as a foreign “growth” in the body of the West. The resulting debate is then framed something like this: Is this tumor benign or is it carcinogenic?
When Donald Trump says he’ll consider closing mosques, he is operating from this framework. When Ben Carson declares a Muslim can’t be president, he is thinking in these terms. When Jeb Bush suggests a religious test for accepting refugees, and a growing number of governors refuse to accept Syrians fleeing war in the wake of the Paris attacks, it is this blueprint they are projecting.

But Muslims are not a malignant or benign tumor in the body of America. They are a vital organ. America is a safer place, a richer place, a kinder place because Muslims call it home.

When white supremacists burned down black churches in the South, Muslims raised nearly $100,000 online, five to $100 dollars at a time, to rebuild them. When misguided policies shut down running water for thousands of Detroit residents who couldn’t pay their water bill, the Muslim community and Islamic Relief stepped in with enough money to turn the water back on. Muslims offer health care to the uninsured in free clinics across the country. And as the faith group most likely to start businesses, Muslims create thousands of American jobs.

Muslims have disproportionately contributed to American innovation, filing hundreds of patents every year. The two largest mosques in the country are in Dearborn, Mich., and in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Muslims have helped propel the automotive and the tech industry, respectively.

While the vast majority of domestic terrorists are members of right-wing militias or white supremacist groups, of course Muslim terrorists do exist. However, what many who believe in a Muslim threat don’t realize is that many foiled terrorist acts initiated by a Muslim are stopped by other Muslims. Last weekend, for instance, the security guard who stopped the bomber from detonating inside the Paris stadium, an act that could have killed the French president and hundreds, if not thousands, more civilians, was a Muslim named Zouheir.
What threatens America today is not Islam or Syrians fleeing the very terrorism Paris and Beirut recently experienced. The illness that plagues America is fear, and Americans are force-fed this toxin 24 hours a day.

Islamophobia is a threat to every American because bigotry is fueled by fear, and fear destroys freedom. We defend America, not only by challenging expressions of hate, but by demolishing the framework that underpins them.

Dalia Mogahed is director of research at The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding and former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. John L. Esposito is professor of Islamic studies and international affairs at Georgetown University and the founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. They are co-authors of “Who Speaks for Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think” and can be reached at

Copyright Dalia Mogahed and John L. Esposito

Progressive Media Project

Reprinted by authors’ permission.


Think Tank: “10 Famous Muslim-Americans You Didn’t Know Were Muslim”

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Angered that EU labels Squatter W. Bank Products, Israel suspends EU from “Peace Process” Mon, 30 Nov 2015 05:07:11 +0000 Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Israel said Sunday that it would suspend diplomatic contacts with European Union bodies involved in the Palestinian peace process, following an EU decision earlier this month to label goods produced in Israel’s illegal settlements.

The Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the suspension of contacts while the ministry “reassesses” the involvement of EU bodies in the peace process.

“Until completion of the reassessment, the prime minister has ordered a suspension of diplomatic contacts with EU bodies and their representatives in this matter,” the statement said.

It noted that diplomatic relations with individual countries in the European Union — specifically naming Germany, Britain and France — would be unaffected by the decision.

It was not initially clear which EU bodies the decision would affect, although a ministry official told Reuters that Israel would cease assisting EU sponsored projects intended for the Palestinians.

The statement specified that the decision was due to the EU adopting measures to label goods produced in Israel’s settlements.

The EU announced the measures on Nov. 11, saying that they accorded with pre-existing EU legislation. The measures ensured that settlement goods could no longer be labeled: “Made in Israel.”

“Since the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are not part of the Israeli territory according to international law, the indication ‘product from Israel’ is considered to be incorrect and misleading in the sense of the referenced legislation,” the EU said at the time.

The EU added that “the indication of origin will give consumers the possibility to make an informed choice,” although it stressed that the regulations were not aimed at a boycott of Israeli exports from the settlements.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry immediately summoned the EU Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, to be reprimanded following the move, calling it a “exceptional and discriminatory step inspired by the boycott movement.”

Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land — which house nearly 600,000 Israelis — have long been considered one of the major obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and Palestine.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV English: “Israel suspends EU role in peace process with Palestine ”

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Turkey reels as Putin imposes Stiff Economic Sanctions Sun, 29 Nov 2015 09:39:02 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Russian sanctions announced by President Vladimir Putin on Saturday could have a severe impact on the Turkish economy. It is not clear whether President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu did not expect this severe a reaction to the shoot-down of a Russian fighter jet, or whether they believe that Turks will rally around the flag and gladly suffer the economic consequences.

In retrospect is seems clear that Erdogan was extremely vulnerable to a Russian economic boycott, which has now begun. Turkish growth in gross domestic product was expected to accelerate from 3% per year now to 4% per year in 2017, an expectation that may now have been foiled.

Putin had some 90,000 Turkish workers in Russia fired, and more or less forbade Russian tourism in Turkey beginning Jan. 1.

Here are some significant economic facts:

* Russian – Turkish trade is worth over $30 bn a year

*Turkey got 54.76 % of its natural gas from Russia in 2014

*Turkey is the fourth-largest importer of Russian oil and oil products

* 3.3 million Russian tourists visited Turkey last year, dropping about $3 bn. on the country; they were 10% of all tourists. That money just evaporated.

* Turkey needed the tourism income to offset its poor balance of trade. That is, the disappearance of the Russian tourists will put powerful downward pressure on the Turkish lira, hurting Turkish consumers and businesses that import goods from abroad.

* Another million Russians came to Turkey last year for other reasons, including business, and likely they won’t be coming back.

* These Russian visits to Turkey were facilitated by visa-free travel, which Russia just abrogated (likely Turkey will reciprocate).

* Russia was set to build Turkey’s first nuclear reactor, a project that has probably just been mothballed.

* Turkey had sent 5% of all its exports to Russia in 2013, valued at $7 bn., and Turkey imported over $26 bn. worth of goods from Russia last year.

Turkey has lots of trade and investment partners and won’t collapse under the weight of Putin’s sanctions or anything. But that they could shave a point or two off growth in coming years is plausible, and that will mean a lower standard of living for many Turks. Will they blame Erdogan? Stay tuned.


Related video:

New China TV: ”
Putin approves sanctions against Turkey”

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Poll: Muslims actually HATE ISIL/ Daesh Sun, 29 Nov 2015 07:23:15 +0000 Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola, Jimmy Dore & Francesca Fiorentini | (The Young Turks) | – –

N. B. Charts courtesy Pew Research Center



[N.B. 6% of Buddhists in Malaysia think well of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), which either means they see it as anti-imperial or they just don’t know what it is. This statistic should provide context for the small numbers of Muslims who express the same view. – JC ]

The Young Turks: “Poll: Muslims Actually HATE ISIS”:

“A new poll reveals that the vast majority of muslims throughout the world have an unfavorable opinion of ISIS. Ana Kasparian (The Point), John Iadarola (Think Tank), Jimmy Dore (The Jimmy Dore Show), Francesca Fiorentini (AJ+) hosts of The Young Turks discuss.

If so many Muslims hate the Islamic State, why do so many people hate all Muslims? . . .

“This chart below is from a Pew survey of global attitudes conducted earlier this year. It shows that vast majorities of people polled in 11 majority-Muslim countries oppose the Islamic State, the militant group also known as ISIS and ISIL.

Vast majorities said they had an overwhelmingly “unfavorable” view of the group, which is responsible for myriad atrocities within the lands it controls in Iraq and Syria, as well as attacks overseas. The countries where there were conspicuous numbers in favor were mostly places far removed from the Islamic State’s ravages and embroiled in their own polarizing struggles over extremism and militancy.

The negative sentiment was shared by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with Lebanon’s various sectarian camps, for example, strongly united in their opposition to the Islamic State.” “

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Are Putin’s Economic Sanctions on Turkey the end of a Golden Age in Moscow-Ankara Relations? Sun, 29 Nov 2015 07:01:00 +0000 By Alexander Titov | (The Conversation) | – –

In locking horns over Syria, Russia and Turkey are playing out the latest chapter in a rivalry that has spanned centuries.

Since the 1600s the two have lurched between conflict and uneasy friendship. But the war of words that has erupted since Turkey shot down a Russian jet it claims entered its airspace this month has notched tensions up to levels not seen for some time.

Russia and Turkey emerged as independent powers almost simultaneously – in 1380 and 1389. There followed a spectacular rise for the Ottoman empire, which expanded rapidly and had become a superpower by the 16th century.

Russia was relatively under resourced and surrounded by more powerful neighbours. Only in the late 16th century did it emerge as a major European power.

A direct rivalry with the Ottoman empire began in the 17th century when Russia joined the Holy League alliance with Poland and the Habsburg Empire, taking significant territory from the Ottomans – although importantly not Crimea.

Changing roles

The 18th century marked a turning point in the Russo-Ottoman relationship. Peter the Great’s westernisation reforms strengthened Russia. And under Catherine the Great, it scored a series of strategic victories over the Ottoman empire, taking control of the northern part of the Black Sea after the Russo-Turkish war in 1768-74. Crimea was made independent from the Ottomans as a prelude to its eventual incorporation into the Russian empire in 1783.

Allegory of Catherine’s Victory over the Turks, by Stefano Torelli.

The war was the first time the Ottoman empire lost Muslim subjects to a Christian state. Turkey has been sensitive about the loss ever since – which helps explain the tension that arose after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Another important episode was the Russian conquest of the Caucasus in the first half of the 19th century. After their defeat, about one million Caucasus Muslims migrated to Turkey. These communities still live in Turkey, which influenced Turkish attitudes to the Chechen wars in the 1990s.

Both nations emerged in a radically different form after World War I. Russia had become a socialist state and Turkey was on the path to secularist modernisation. Both losers in the global conflict, the two maintained good relations in the 1920s, settling their territorial disputes.

But Russia began to apply pressure to Turkey after World War II. It wanted control over the Turkish straits (the Bosphorous and Dardanelles) and territory in eastern Turkey. This was a key factor in the development of the Truman doctrine (1947), when the US assumed global responsibility for containing communism, thus formally launching the Cold War. Turkey received substantial US military support, abandoned its neutrality and joined NATO in 1952.

Immediately after Stalin’s death in 1953, the USSR apologised to Turkey and renounced all territorial claims. Relations between the two rapidly improved, in no small part because of Turkey’s increasing disillusionment with its Western allies. When Turkey faced sanctions after invading Cyprus in 1974, the USSR capitalised by offering economic assistance.

Contemporary relations

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the already significant economic links continued to strengthen, particularly in the new fields of tourism and consumer goods exports from Turkey.

Their relations were, however, complicated by the changing geopolitical landscape. Turkey was open to exploiting pan-Turkic ideas and challenging Russian influence in the newly independent Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia and Azerbaijan.

The North Caucasus.
Kbh3rd, CC BY-SA

Relations with Armenia also remained a highly sensitive point. Turkey has a history of tense relations with the Armenians going back to the 1915 genocide. It also supports Azerbaijan over its frozen conflict with Armenia in the Nagorno-Karabakh. Meanwhile, Armenia has remained Russia’s most staunch ally in the Caucasus.

However, the Chechen wars posed the greatest challenge to Russo-Turkish relations in recent times. Chechen separatists enjoyed wide support from Turkish sources, and Moscow showed its discontent by extending a hand of friendship to the Kurdish Labour Party – the separatist movement that has railed against the Turkish government. Eventually both countries agreed to sever ties with respective insurgents and normalised their relations.

A golden age followed. Economic ties were solidified by personal relations between Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin. An undersea gas pipeline was built in 2003 and by 2014 Russia had become the top importer to Turkey. Tourism also emerged as a major link between the two countries, with Russia sending the largest number of tourists to Turkey in the years 2013-14.

There are ambitious plans for a construction by the Russian Rosatom of the first nuclear plant in Turkey at Akkuyu, worth $20bn, as well as negotiation for a new gas pipeline, designed to bypass Ukraine for Russian gas exports to Europe.

Now, however, all these are likely to be put on indefinite hold due to the fall out over Syria.

Breakdown over Syria

The conflict in Syria has led to Turkey hosting more than 1.7 million refugees. The role of the Kurds in the conflict is also antagonising Ankara and puts Turkey at odds with its Western allies.

Putin and Erdogan shortly before the jet incident.

Ankara’s objective is to protect the rebel groups it is supporting in Syria – particularly the Turkmen but also Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups fighting Assad. Shooting down the Russian warplane can be interpreted as a way to impose a no-fly zone along the Turkish-Syrian border. That protects Turkey’s protegés and forces other powers to recognise Turkey’s special status in the region.

Russia’s approach to the Syrian civil war is in no small part based on Moscow’s belief that secular authoritarian rulers are the only effective bulwark against radical Islam in the Middle East. The Kremlin sees radical Islam as a threat to its domestic security and the international order. It supports Assad to stress the illegitimacy of regime change through popular revolt or external pressure. In Moscow’s view, such movements potentially endanger its own legitimacy and create chaos in international relations as witnessed in Iraq, Libya and, from its point of view, Ukraine.

Russia is also, of course, keen to play a leading role in the Middle East to assert its status as world power.

And now Turkey and Russia have openly clashed for the first time in more than a century. It remains a highly-charged situation – yet one that is simply another twist in a long and complex relationship.

The Conversation

Alexander Titov, Lecturer in Modern European History, Queen’s University Belfast

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

Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “Putin approves economic sanctions on Turkey”

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