How We Can fight back against Trump’s Anti-EPA

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump’s nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency is a slap in the face of every American who cares about the environment in this country. Pruitt has repeatedly sued the EPA for doing its job. He is a climate change denialist (which means he is either corrupt or not very bright or both). He doesn’t really think the environment needs any protection and is perfectly happy to gut it on behalf of his corporate clients.

As a species, we only have a window of 10 or 15 years to get our act together re: climate change in order to avoid catastrophe, and Pruitt will eat up at least 4 of those precious years. Pruitt is literally a dodo.

With regard to fighting global warming, the American public is at best now on its own. At worse, the federal government will change its laws so as to encourage activities that make the environment dirtier, more dangerous and hotter.

We’re on our own.

But 320 million Americans can fight back against Pruitt.

Some 25% of buildings in the US are not insulated. If you have any influence over such an un-insulated building, push to have insulation put in. The US would save enormously on carbon emissions if this were done.

If we can take public transportation to and from work and the market that is the best option. Or carpool with colleagues.

Where that is impossible, and where we can afford it, we should buy an electric car or plug-in hybrid as our next vehicle. In the first half of 2016 consumers only bought 64,000 electric vehicles. That is an average of 128,000 electric vehicles per year. It isn’t nearly enough. These are great cars. I don’t understand the resistance to them. Get one, just to protest Pruitt.

The next generation of EVs is dramatically superior to its predecessors. The Tesla 3 and the Chevy Bolt both will cost around $29,0000 after the Federal tax break (get it while you can). And they get around 200 miles on a charge. That should take care of 99% of your driving needs. (Where it doesn’t cover them, rent a car occasionally.) These cars have plenty of pick-up for merging onto highway traffic.

There are now a million EV’s on the roads throughout the world. Their technology has improved to the point where they meet the goal of keeping temperatures to a rise of no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. (Some climate scientists are afraid if temperatures go up more than that, it will disrupt the world’s weather system in dramatic ways that will interfere with the functioning of civilization). Note that there are 1.2 billion combustion engine cars on the road, so a million EVs is a drop in the bucket. But 120 million would be 10 percent. Pick up the pace, folks, if you want to combat Trumpism.

Where you own your own home (over half of Americans do), and where you can afford to do so, and where it makes sense, put solar panels on your roof. If you will be in your home for 10 years, you will make money this way. You’ll make money even faster if you combine having the solar panels with having an electric car. The US has an installed solar capacity of 31.6 gigawatts, which can power 6.2 million American households. (That is out of 124 million American households; i.e. the equivalent of 5% now have solar panels).

Lobby your electric utility to use more green energy. Where you are given the opportunity to do so, choose green energy for the energy mix at your home.

Use compact fluorescent lights. Get an energy audit of your home. Reduce consumption of red meat. Plant trees or donate to have the Nature Conservancy do it.

If we really want to fight Trump, we may have to make these changes without any tax break incentives. We might even have to pay for the privilege. But fighting Trump isn’t easy or cheap. On the other hand if we don’t fight him, our environment will suck after a while, and our grandchildren will suffer, very badly.

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Related video:

GOOD Magazine: “What Would It Take To Power The United States With Solar Energy?”

Syria unlikely to be Partitioned: The Resilience of Colonial Borders

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Whenever a country falls into civil war, there are always observers who suggest that the problem could be resolved by a partition of that country. It is as though they think the parties to the war are like squabbling children in the back seat of the car, who can be dealt with by making them sit far away from one another.

Such suggestions are being made about Syria, including by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

But it isn’t likely to happen, and it wouldn’t necessarily be good if it did.

Many modern states are multi-ethnic, and not just in the Middle East. Spain, Switzerland, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom are multi-ethnic countries. France has Bretons, Basques, Alsatians, and the people of Provencale. More monochrome countries like Poland or Greece did not get to be that way naturally. In Poland, genocide played a role, during WW II. In Greece, a massive and disruptive population transfer with Turkey was important. I don’t think we want monochrome countries at the cost of such immoral policies.

The one recent example of a partition is the separation of South Sudan from Sudan. South Sudan promptly fell into internecine warfare. In the old days the rival Dinka and Nuer tribal factions could call upon Khartoum to mediate between them. Now, that course of action is forestalled. So the partition of Sudan hasn’t worked out very well.

Moreover, countries that have been divided have seen the two new states go to war with one another. That happened many times between India and Pakistan.

A country like Syria is highly unlikely to splinter in the medium to long run.

The borders of modern Syria were drawn in the French colonial period by colonial administrators. Those borders were not exactly those delineated in the secret and duplicitous Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.

Still, however those borders came to define the country, they have taken on a life of their own.

Syria is unlikely to be partitioned because it is a small country with a limited internal market. You could not make much money manufacturing things and selling selling them inside Syria. A partition would create even smaller and less viable markets.

Syria is unlikely to be partitioned because there aren’t any clean lines to be had. Syrian Christians, some 5% of the population, live in mixed neighborhoods. Damascus and West Aleppo have mixed populations.

It is true that the northeast region is largely Kurdish and that there is a Druze enclave southeast of Damascus. But Syrian Druze are too small a group to sustain a state, and Turkey will not put up with a second Kurdish state, in addition to the one already operating in northern Iraq.

The government of Bashar al-Assad is determined to bring back every province into central government control, and it has the manpower courtesy regional allies to make that happen.

A more federal system and less direct central government control of some of these populations is desirable. Thus, the Kurdish enclave should have some rights. But it is a non-starter in the region that it should be completely independent.

Finally, Iran and Russia want Syria to stay together and they so far have been willing to lend the regime the firepower to help make that happen. Neither of them wants a partitioned Syria where some bits could go to al-Qaeda.

Hence, Syria is unlikely to be partitioned.

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Related video:

Aljazera English: “Syria’s war: Government forces push into Aleppo’s old city”

Posted in Featured,Syria | 8 Responses | Print |

More districts of East Aleppo fall to Regime & Militia Allies

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both regime sources and the Britain-based Syria Observatory said Tuesday that the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies from Lebanon and Iraq had taken the district of Shaar in the East Aleppo pocket. In the past two weeks rebel forces have lost the northeast sections of the pocket and now the regime is penetrating toward the center of the Old City. Regime sources said they not only had all of Shaar but also had advanced into Karem al-Qaterji.

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Dubai-based Alarabiya reported that some of the remaining rebel fighters, estimated at just two or three thousand, are now proposing an immediate 5-day humanitarian cessation of hostilities. In part, this step is aimed at allowing the some 500 wounded in the southeast Aleppo pocket to be evacuated (little medical care is available in East Aleppo). They also propose that trapped civilians who want to leave be allowed to transit to the area northeast of Aleppo, which is relatively safe. Probably on the order of 150,000 noncombatants are besieged along with the fighters. And, they urge that negotiations over the future of the city be opened.

A big problem is that Russia and Damascus are in control of the military situation and do not need to negotiate, since they are winning. They also appear to feel no compunctions about their ongoing endangerment of noncombatant lives in the pocket.

Russia is also intensively bombing positions of the Levantine Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front), Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, in the northern rural, largely Sunni Arab province of Idlib. These sorts of aerial bombardment are relatively useless except when done in conjunction with an advancing land force. Such air-infantry coordination is taking place in southeastern Aleppo. But in Idlib the bombing is mostly for psychological effect, and also to keep the Levantine Conquest Front off balance. The remaining rebels in southeast Aleppo have made a united front with al-Qaeda to keep Russia from singling it out and dividing rebel ranks. Unfortunately that means they are formally allied with al-Qaeda, making it difficult for them to pick up outside support.

Since 2013, the Syrian rebels have turned increasingly fundamentalist and they have had one major goal– to cut Damascus off from resupply and so to take the capital, forcing the regime out of power. Their initial attempt to cut Damascus off focused on Homs and Qusayr, which the Nusra Front and other hard line militias took, and then used them to cut supplies to Damascus coming down by truck from the Mediterranean port of Latakia. But the spring 2013 intervention by Lebanon’s Hizbullah allowed the regime to recover Homs and Qusayr, and so to forestall a siege of Damascus.

Then in spring 2015, the Nusra Front and its allies took all of Idlib, and tried to use it as a springboard to take the port of Latakia to the east. This thrust would, again, have potentially cut off Damascus from resupply. If you take the capital of a country, usually you win the civil war.

But then Russia intervened by air to push Nusra/ al-Qaeda and its allies back from Latakia. That was the real reason the Turks were so angry that they shot down a Russian jet in November of 2015. The Russian intervention has allowed the regime to strengthen its defenses in Homs and in Latakia, and so to protect supply lines to Damascus. With Russian air cover, the regime was able to kill the leader of the Saudi-backed Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) and to drive it back from the north of Damascus. The regime was able to extend control south and so frustrate the Jordan and US-backed guerrillas moving up from the south toward Damascus.

When East Aleppo falls, likely sometime in December, the regime will have control of all of the major urban areas of the country, some 80% of the population.

I keep seeing well informed Syria analysts allege that the rebels have 40 or 50% of Syria. This is not true. They have a lot of eastern desert sand. But I figure the rebels now control only 20% or so of the population, and that is about to go down to more like 15%.

Some analysts correctly say that the war will likely continue even after East Aleppo falls. But this point is only partly correct. Some groups will hold out in Idlib and in the Golan and on the Jordan border. But unlike with Homs 2013 or Idlib 2015, they no longer have a strategic path forward to strangling the regime. It is they who are being strangled.

So in that sense the war is over save for some shooting. The rebels don’t appear to have any prospect of actually winning. And that situation is hardly a platform for attracting new fighters. The rebellion is in the throes of a reverse snowball effect. Eventually it will peter out, though that day may not be near.

The crushing of the rebellion is a tragedy, since Syria has a seedy one-party state that tortures people to death and brooks no criticism. But the rebellion also did lose its soul on the whole, moving toward hard line fundamentalism and pledging to ethnically cleanse 2 million Alawite Shiites. It will take decades for Syria to recover from this moment of horrible choices on all sides.

Posted in Featured,Syria | 14 Responses | Print |

After Nov. 8: Countdown to Doomsday

By John Feffer | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

I didn’t vote in the pivotal American election of 2016. Thirty-five years ago, in that unseasonably warm month of November, I was in Antarctica’s Allan Hills taking ice core samples with a hand augur. The pictures I have from that time show my team drilling deep into the blue ice, but what we were actually doing was digging a million years into the planetary past to gaze upon the panorama of climate change. The election was a bad soap opera playing out far beyond my field of vision.

At the time, I lived in Washington, D.C. So my vote, I told myself for years afterward, wouldn’t have made any difference in that overwhelmingly Democratic city. And of course, I never had a doubt about the result, nor did my family and friends, nor did the pollsters, the media, and the entertainment industry, nor the members of the political and economic elite of both major parties. Ours was a confidence composed in equal parts of ignorance and arrogance. We underestimated the legitimate anger and despair of large sections of the country — as well as the other darker motivations much discussed in the years since.

“Remember, Rachel,” my ex-husband used to say, “Homo homini lupus: man is wolf to man.” I criticized him for slandering the poor wolf, but he was right. Beastliness has always lain just beneath the surface of our world.

My ex-husband, the author Julian West, is a man who cared little about ice or nature. We couldn’t have been more ill-suited in that regard. He was always focused on politics. At that moment, he was less worried about Donald Trump winning the presidency than a far slicker populist coming along to galvanize the same anti-establishment constituency four years after a Trump defeat. In 2016, Julian was still a relatively conventional political scientist. The election would change all that, setting in motion the events that ultimately inspired his seminal bestseller, Splinterlands, which, as you no doubt remember, was published in 2020 and predicted — with considerable accuracy — the broke-down, shattered world all of us now live in.

I used to think geologically, which transformed the grand sweep of human history into a mere sliver in the planet’s 4.6-billion-year timeline. The Earth had repeatedly warmed and cooled in a set of protracted mood swings that encompassed the epochs. Don’t imagine, though, that just because I thought in million-year intervals I was entirely above the fray. By examining those columns of ice we were extracting from Antarctica, I hoped to understand far more about our own era of global warming.

What I’d learned by 2016 was not encouraging.

In every previous cycle, the Earth had regulated itself. Then we humans came along and started fiddling with the global thermostat. The era of climate change that began in the nineteenth century with our concerted use of fossil fuels would prove unprecedented. Scientists began to speak of our 11,700-year epoch, the Holocene, as the Anthropocene, the first period in which the actions of a particular species, our very own anthropos, changed the planet. (I used to half-jokingly call our era the Anthro-obscene.)

Already by 2016, we were experiencing “the hottest summer on record” year after dismal year. By then, we’d raised the global temperature by one degree, and that fall the Arctic was an astonishing 36 degrees warmer than normal. In Antarctica, where our 12-person team was using a Badger-Eclipse drill and hand augurs to collect samples, the ground seemed to be turning liquid beneath us as we worked.

At that point, of course, the looming reality of global warming should have been obvious to everyone, not just scientists. But in that era of fake news and rampant conspiracy theories, climate change proved to be just one more “debatable” topic. In the past, at comparable moments, wisdom had eventually won out over wrongheadedness, whether the shape of the world or the position of Earth in the universe was in question. Alas, in the most important debate of them all, the one on which the very existence of human life on this planet depended, calmer heads did not prevail — not in time anyway.

As time itself began to telescope, many of us, in the United States in particular, simply closed our eyes and pretended that species death was not staring humanity (and many other species) in the face. Geologic time would, of course, go marching on, just not for us.

The four-year term of Donald Trump proved such a disaster that a chastened nation, instead of christening public buildings after the disgraced president, bestowed his name on the devastating, climate-change-energized hurricane that struck the country’s East Coast in 2022. Like its namesake, Hurricane Donald began as a squall, only later to develop into the destructive force that ruined the national capital and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Julian and I lost our home in Hurricane Donald. Having never liked Washington, I was, in the end, happy enough to leave the city to the floodwaters. I divorced my husband (no need to go into that story here), reverted to Rachel Leopold, the name I’d previously used only for my scientific publications, and retreated to Vermont.  There, in our community of Arcadia, I’ve cultivated my garden and watched the inexorable rise of the global thermometer ever since.

The good news: our citrus crop was excellent this year. The bad news: a significant coastal chunk of what was once the habitable world is now underwater.

How much of that is the responsibility of President Trump, how much his shortsighted predecessors’ and his blinkered successors’, I leave to scholars like my ex-husband to mull over. I can tell you only what I saw with my own eyes. I was pretty good with an augur back in the day, so let me drill down one last time through the crust of history.

The Trump Years

Since I take the long view, I know that time can march backward. Just ask the graptolites. Oh, sorry, actually you can’t.

Graptolites were tiny sea creatures that once lived in colonies huddled at the bottom of oceans or floating like ribbons of seaweed on the water’s surface. For nearly 200 million years, they prospered in their aquatic world. They probably thought — if they thought at all — that such longevity guaranteed them eternal life on this planet. Then came the Carboniferous Period and a brief but severe ice age. Poof, the graptolites were gone, along with 86% of all other species.

Before evolution culminated in its most glorious and destructive creation — and you know just who I mean — the planet experienced five mass extinctions. The most devastating came at the end of the Permian era, around 250 million years ago, when 96% of all species died out because a huge volcano exploding in present-day Siberia set off a chain reaction that raised the temperature of the seas radically. All of those long-gone creatures left behind no more than a few marks on stone or some petro-carbon pools beneath the Earth’s surface.

The essential law of evolution is the survival of the fittest. Many species die out thanks to some spectacular event or other: an asteroid crashing into the Earth, say, or a massive volcanic eruption. But no wrathful god or malevolent alien force proved necessary for human beings: we were quite capable of being our own worst cataclysm. In an instant of geologic time, we heedlessly burned through our natural resources, while creating weapons of mass destruction that could do in the world hundreds of times over. And then, in 2016, roughly half the voting population of the United States walked into the polls and pulled the lever for doomsday.

My ex-husband loved to regale me with comparable stories from history — of empires that rose and fell, great civilizations that left behind not much more than the poor graptolites had. He believed, however, that the Enlightenment had fundamentally changed human consciousness, that history thereafter was slated to move forward, with only a few stutter steps, into a radiant future. The election of 2016 changed him and his thinking on such subjects irrevocably.  

Definition of a pessimist: an optimist mugged by current events.

I, too, didn’t quite realize how quickly a country could move backward, dragging the world with it. I watched helplessly as the Trump administration toppled one scientific enterprise after another, like a sullen child kicking over the sand castles of other kids. As soon as he took office, the new president green-lighted every dirty energy project within reach. Over the objections of environmentalists, scientists, and anyone with a modicum of common sense, his administration boosted a dying coal industry, lifted regulations on carbon emissions, opened up federal land to drilling and fracking, and okayed pipelines that pumped out yet more oil and gas to turn into carbon emissions and further heat the planet. It was the equivalent of a second Industrial Revolution in Saudi America, at the very moment when the planet could ill afford another fossil fuel spree.

Worse yet was the new administration’s decidedly lukewarm attitude toward the Paris Accord on climate change. Even as the president revised his earlier contention that global warming was a Chinese hoax, the United States turned its back on its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in concert with the other industrialized powers. It also stopped all payments to other countries to help them reduce such emissions. In the space of months, years of patient negotiations unraveled.

The Trump energy stimulus — along with tax cuts for the wealthy, military budget increases, and a major, privatizing infrastructure program — provided a short-term boost to the American economy. It was like giving an exhausted worker a hit of meth. Even then, it hardly took an Einstein to know that what goes up must inevitably come down. The new president’s “plan” threw the American economy into even more serious debt, and the initial spike in employment it caused — the new jobs in mining, pumping, fracking, and building — proved unsustainable, even as an already yawning gap between rich and poor continued to widen. The global economy responded by sliding into stagnation (and then worse), while the positive effects of the short-term stimulus in the United States soon evaporated.

Perhaps if there had been more resistance to the Trump juggernaut, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the present situation. Most critics saw the new president as only a variation, however strange, on all-American themes. They acted as if the normal melody of politics was continuing to play. They ignored the growing cacophony in the country and the world.  They simply didn’t see the true nature of the threat.

They didn’t understand how fracked we all were.

Of course, we did finally stop fracking — the pumping of high-pressure liquid under the ground to extract otherwise hard-to-get hydrocarbons — once we fully understood more than two decades ago the devastating consequences it had for the environment and for us. But by then it was too late. Donald Trump had already fulfilled his promise to get at those hidden reserves of oil and gas. In doing so, he ensured that yet more rounds of carbon emissions would head into the atmosphere, unleashing a wave of destructive force that widened the existing cracks in American society.

It’s no surprise that the world began to splinter. But I don’t want to cover the ground my ex-husband has already explored. I have my own story to tell.

From Reconstruction to Deconstruction

Here in this Vermont community where I’ve lived for the past quarter century, I’ve had a lot of time to read. I no longer take ice core samples. There isn’t much point (or much ice left either). Instead, we survive as best we can, while bracing for yet another tempo shift that will force us to measure our lives not in decades but in years, or even days.

We have a good library here in Arcadia, assembled from the basements and attics of farmhouses in the area. No one reads books anymore, so we had our pick. In addition to taking charge of the greenhouses in our community, I teach science in our school. In the evenings, when I have the time, I also read history. For all those years we were together, I listened to my husband’s take on the world of the past. Now I’ve developed my own interpretation.

From my reading, I think I understand what happened to the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Donald. I think I know now why the country cracked into so many pieces. At the time, I believed it was because of the political divisions of the day, the disagreements over immigration and guns and trade. I didn’t realize that all of these disputes stemmed from a much older conflict built into the very foundations of this country.

Like most Americans, I assumed that our forefathers beat the British in the Revolutionary War and, in short order, created a new experiment in democracy. I’d forgotten — or never even knew — that a decentralized group of not-so-united states existed for six years between the end of that war and the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In those years, the 13 states that had agreed to the Articles of Confederation were quite interested in forming a more perfect union. They evidently liked their status and felt resistant to replacing an imperial overlord with a federal one. Only through a sleight of hand did the founding fathers conjure up an American federation. It was a brilliant piece of politics, but Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and the others never fully convinced those skeptical of federation.

Indeed, the Constitution papered over the problem by forging compromises between the one government and the many states that would prove increasingly vexing over the ensuing decades. Ultimately, it was brought to a head by the Civil War, thanks to the perennial disagreement about whether new states admitted to the Union would be “slave” or “free.” It wasn’t so much the North as the federal government that emerged victorious from that war and then tried to impose a solution on the rebellious states, which balked at constitutional amendments enfranchising freed slaves as equal citizens and — for the men at least — members of the political community. The post-war Reconstruction project remained unfinished until, a century later, the civil rights movement successfully challenged the refusal of the southern states to abide fully by those amendments.

Still, even that movement could not resolve the fundamental divide. In the 1990s and the first years of the new century, economic globalization took the top spot as the issue that split America into two parts — an A team of the economically successful and a B team of the left behind. At first blush, the election of Donald Trump seemed to represent a victory, at long last, for Team B. Certainly, economics did drive enough voters in the Rust Belt to abandon their traditional allegiance to the Democratic Party to lift him to victory in the electoral college.

As his administration got down to work, it became clear that economics only went so far in explaining his victory. Rather, it was again the old issue of whether the federal government had the mandate to implement policies for the entire nation. Those who supported Trump thought not. They didn’t want comprehensive national health care. They were not happy with the way the federal government permitted abortion and same-sex marriage and yet outlawed prayer in school and kept creationism out of the textbooks. They didn’t like the way the government taxed them, regulated them, and kept their cattle off public lands. They didn’t want the government resettling immigrants in their communities. They cared little for affirmative action, feminism, or transgender activism. And they were leery of any restrictions on their access to guns.

Trump supporters were not against elites, at least not all elites. After all, they’d just elected a celebrity billionaire who promptly filled his administration with his equally wealthy friends and colleagues. No, they were against the elites they associated with the imposition of federal authority.

America B didn’t want to secede territorially from the United States. Rather, it wanted to deconstruct federal power. As a result, the United States pushed the rewind button and, in some sense, went all the way back to 1781. The Trump administration began to undo the ties that bound the country together, and we very quickly became less than the sum of our parts. The so-called red states, unshackled from federal requirements, went their own way. Liberal East Coast and West Coast states, appalled by the hijacking of federal authority for the ultimate purpose of undermining federal authority, tried to hold onto constitutional values as they understood them. It didn’t take long — in fact, the pundits regularly commented on the blinding speed of the process — for the failure of the larger project of integration to become self-evident.  By 2022, the United States existed in name only (and an increasingly ironic one at that).

The Age of Diminished Expectations

Imagine that you are a 16-year-old girl, healthy and happy and looking forward to many decades of love and life. And then, one terrible day, you’re blindsided by a Stage Four cancer diagnosis. You had been measuring the future in decades. Suddenly, those decades disappear, leaving you with possibly only a few years to go. Your parents, once skeptical about vaccinating you as a child, now reject conventional cancer treatments. First they deny the diagnosis outright. Then they urge you to eat ground-up apricot pits, drink special teas, and go on a high-fat diet. Nothing works, and the years turn into months, and those months into days, as the world closes in.

Yes, it’s a real tearjerker, but substitute “human race” for “16-year-old girl” and “climate change” for “cancer” and you’ll see how accurate it is.  At the time, though, many people just looked away and shrugged. By that pivotal year of 2016, the world had already received a poor diagnosis. The election of Donald Trump was our way, as a country, of first denying that there was even a problem, then refusing medical treatment, and finally embracing one quack remedy after another.

In the aftermath of that election, I struggled with the contraction of time and space, as geologic time shifted into human time, as we all came to terms (or not) with the obvious planetary diagnosis. So, too, did the map of my world shrink. During the first part of my adult life, I imagined myself as part of an international community of scientists. Then I worked at a national level to save my country.

Here in Vermont, I’ve ended up confined to quite a small plot of land: our intentional community of Arcadia, which we’ve walled off from an increasingly dangerous and hostile world. Soon enough, I’ll find myself in an even smaller space: an urn in the community’s mausoleum.

We’re doing fine here in Arcadia. Climate change has turned northern Vermont into a farming paradise. No federal government interferes with our liberal community guidelines. We have enough guns to defend ourselves against outside aggressors. Everything that has killed the larger community beyond our walls has only made us stronger.

Perhaps, like the monasteries of the Middle Ages, communities like ours will preserve knowledge until the distant day when we exit this era of ignorance and pain. Or perhaps, like the graptolites, we’ll fade away and evolution will produce another species without the flawed operating system that doomed us.

The graptolites were mute. We humans can speak and write and film ourselves in glorious 3-D. These skills haven’t saved us, but our ability to document our times will perhaps save someone someday somewhere.  Everyone prefers a happy ending to a tearjerker. With these documents, these core samples of our era, perhaps we can still, somehow, save the future.

John Feffer is the author of the new dystopian novel, Splinterlands (a Dispatch Books original with Haymarket Books), which Publishers Weekly hails as “a chilling, thoughtful, and intuitive warning.” He is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and a TomDispatch regular.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 John Feffer

Via Tomdispatch.com

Via Tomdispatch.com

White Terrorism in the White House? Did Trump’s Bannon, Breitbart inspire Pizzeria Shooter?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Imagine if they had been Muslims. What if a Muslim publication pushed a false conspiracy theory accusing high American officials and an ordinary American restaurant of being involved in child abuse? and then an unbalanced Muslim went into it and shot off a firearm on the premises? They’d all be in Gitmo before sundown the same day.

On Sunday, a Trump supporter walked into a pizzeria in DC Northwest and allegedly fired a gun inside. Patrons in the restaurant ran for their lives, little children bawling in terror. The alleged perpetrator said he was investigating a child trafficking ring run out of the restaurant, connected to John Podesta and Hillary Clinton (there is no such ring).

Breitbart.com, the American white nationalist version of Der Völkischer Beobachter, is run by its CEO, Steve Bannon. His predecessor, Andrew Breitbart, had started the meme that John Podesta and therefore Hillary Clinton were somehow linked to a pedophilia ring. Bannon had his magazine continue that line.

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This year, under Bannon’s editorship, the Breitbart.com twitter account tweeted out a bizarre and patently false conspiracy theory that a neighborhood pizzeria in Washington, D.C., was the site of a child trafficking ring to which Hilary Clinton was connected.

The national news networks are letting Bannon skate on this.

Although it was rumored that incoming National Security Advisor Mike Flynn tweeted out the great Pizzeria Conspiracy, that allegation is apparently incorrect. But the truth is worse.

Flynn tweeted under the hashtag #spiritcooking, which refers to the elaborate conspiracy theory that falsely attempted to tie John Podesta and Hillary Clinton to a satanic ritual.

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Here is an informed comment about this tweet:

In early November before election day, Breitbart did articles on people alleging spiritcooking as a satanic ritual in which Hillary Clinton was involved.

Let me repeat. Steve Bannon is the editor of Breitbart. He is responsible for this bilge.

Flynn frequently depends on Breitbart.com, Bannon’s witches brew of fake news and Neonazism, for his information.

Flynn’s son took the position that the pizzeria dark fantasy is true until proven false.

Uh, I don’t think that’s how it works, that people say batshit crazy things and they’re true until conspiracy theorists admit they have been refuted.

Flynn Jr., by the way, is formally on the White House transition team. Yes. (Pence is denying this but Mr. Flynn has a transition email and has been seen at Trump tower per @blakehounshell of Politico.)

I would just like to remind everyone that Bannon and Flynn Sr. will be in the executive branch. Both will have de facto ability to call on the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency (both of which will likely also be headed by the Tinfoil Hat Brigade) to perform tasks they believe relate to national security. In COINTELPRO and more recent incidents, the White House used those agencies against domestic dissidents. There are going to be a hell of a lot of domestic dissidents, folks.

Ed Snowden warned us that the NSA can watch you typing your email messages in real time if it just knows your email address.

The idea that Bannon and Flynn will have that kind of power to spy on ordinary Americans is terrifying. I suggest the owner of that pizzeria get off line and throw away his smart phone. He should also sue the originators of the crazy conspiracy theory, and maybe anyone who defended it, for libel.

This crew of stark raving paranoids is bad enough when they just open their mouths. Worse is the implicit promotion of armed violence against the innocent victims of their conspiracy theories. This tactic is an old National Socialist one. After all, alleging that children are being trafficked by your political enemies is a way of making them appear to be monsters who must be stopped By Any Means Necessary. The firing of an assault rifle on those premises was foreseeable by a prudent person. I’d like to suggest that it is also foreseeable that the lives of Hillary Clinton and John Podesta are in similar peril.

So if Bannon had a decent bone in his body, he’d come out right now and apologize for pushing this kind of rank bullshit into the political cybersphere, and would resign beforehand from the White House on the grounds that no one with his wretched values should be allowed to darken the doorstep of so august an edifice.

—–

Related video:

ABC News: “Fake News Prompts Shooting Inside DC Pizzeria”

In the shadow of Trump, a DAPL Victory and Global Protests against Fossil Fuels

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The surprise announcement Sunday by the Army Corps of Engineers that they will not permit the Dakota Access Pipeline to go under the Missouri River, thus ending the threat to Standing Rock Sioux land and lives, marked a signal success for the environmental protest movement and for the tribe. The protests began last April and have largely gone uncovered by corporate television. Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! was the major provider of journalism and images from the rallies, which were dealt with brutally by local police (who used tear gas, tear gas canisters, and water cannon in the midst of the frigid winter).

In the age of Trump, such peaceful protests will likely increasingly be branded a form of terrorism. (The British viewed Gandhi’s nonviolent noncooperation in the same light, and Southern white police saw Martin Luther King as a terrorist, too). Such desperate branding will not stop the activists. People care about the air they breathe and the water they and their children drink. Oil pipelines are notorious for dangerous leaks that destroy water quality.

Most analysts of coal, oil and natural gas believe that these fuels will still be being used for decades to come, though the likelihood of the phase-out of coal on a short timescale is beginning to be admitted even by energy companies. This end of coal is coming because it is extremely dirty and obviously damaging to health (causing lung disease, heart attacks and nerve poisoning via mercury). It is also owing to wind and solar now being competitive with it, as well as natural gas. (Natural gas is a less desirable substitute because it is also a toxic gas that causes climate change, and drilling for it releases large amounts of methane.)

But these energy analysts who only look at cost and public health are leaving out an extremely important element, which is protest. The reputational and security costs of continuing to burn fossil fuels are going to rise faster than anyone in government or industry imagines.

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There are some Antarctic glaciers so massive that if one of them plops into the ocean, it alone could raise sea levels several feet. If such a catastrophic event happens any time soon, before the transition to renewables is largely complete, it will almost certainly produce massive rioting against Big Carbon corporations and their planet-wrecking ways. The public is already very worried about this issue, and an incident that was conclusive would drive them over the edge.

There are already major protests going on against fossil fuels, about which you will not see reports on CNN or Fox or even NBC or ABC.

Thousands of people marched last week in Bangladesh to protest an idiotic plan to site a coal plant near the Sundarbans mangrove forest. They shouldn’t be building coal plants in Bangladesh! They even have to import the coal, increasing shipping in the delicate marshes. Why not get away from the Sundarbans and build a solar facility instead? Since the fuel is free, it would be cheaper over time.

Rampal protest rally in Dhaka

Then there are the Navajo protests against the Navajo Generating Station in Page, Arizona, which courts say they will allow to go on polluting for decades. (I’d bet against that one).

And there are the German villagers forming a human chain in an effort to protect Hambach Forest from being cut down so coal diggers can get at the coal deposits under it.

These sorts of protests against Big Carbon might not be effectual in themselves, and especially in the absence of an alternative. But what I am arguing is that renewable energy is now so inexpensive that it is actually crazy to burn coal. Where a plant already exists, there might be a temptation to keep running it. But on the whole, considerations other than the purely economic are now driving the coal industry. And if you combine the extra cost with the public anger, then utilities and governments are increasingly going to back down.

Given that President Obama’s plan to use the EPA to close down the remaining coal plants will now be ditched by Trump, environmentalists will have to pick up the mantle. Do you have a coal plant anywhere near you? Pressure the utility to close it. Pressure your congressperson to close it.
After we get rid of coal, it will be time to start in on gas plants, and on the petroleum industry. Otherwise your grandchildren will live in a very hot and very dangerous world.

Why Trump & his Cabinet’s Jihad against “Political Islam” will Fail

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Several members of Donald Trump’s new team, including National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and proposed Secretary of Defense Mike Mattis have expressed themselves troubled about “political Islam” (or in Flynn’s case, just “Islam”). Mattis seems to have confused Daesh’s (ISIS, ISIL) idea of a neo-Caliphate (bringing back a medieval papacy-like institution to Islam) with “political Islam” in general. He wants Americans to ask the question of whether political Islam is good for the US…

Gen. Mattis should grapple a little with whether his 2004 Fallujah campaign did not alienate the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, turn them off to the 2005 elections, and pave the way for them to ally with Daesh/ ISIL in 2014. That is, Mattis may have created the political Islam he now wants to name and ideologically combat.

The American right wing has substituted hysteria about socialism with hysteria about Islam and especially political Islam, equating both with terrorism. And its members appear to imagine that Islam is an ideology like Communism, and can be defeated by the United States just as Communism was (well, except in China, which, let’s face it, is a hell of an exception).

There is hopeless confusion on the American right wing about Islam in general and political Islam in particular. Let me suggest some distinctions:

Muslims are adherents of the religion of Islam. Some 85% of them in opinion polling are not fundamentalists.

Fundamentalist Muslims are those who take a literalist approach to Muslim law, ritual and doctrine and disallow any ambiguity. Fundamentalists can be quietist (uninterested in politics) or political.

Political Islam is the attempt to make Islam the basis for a political ideology that would dictate government policy. It is analogous to Zionism, which makes Jews the basis for a political ideology. It is also analogous to the Christian Right in the US, which makes Christianity a political ideology and pursues the Christianization of American law (e.g. striving to ban abortion, to outlaw sex outside Christian marriage, etc.)

Not all Muslims are fundamentalists. Many in e.g. West Africa or South Asia are Sufi mystics who have an allegorical interpretation of the religion. Others are secular-minded. Of the fundamentalists, not all are devotees of political Islam.

Terrorism is the tactic of a non-state actor harming non-combatants to achieve a political goal. Very, very few Muslims engage in terrorism, and very few fundamentalists do so, and very few devotees of political Islam do so. (People of Christian heritage also routinely deploy terrorism).

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Arguably, Daesh runs a terrorist state, not a political-Islamic one. The people fighting against Daesh at Mosul include a large contingent of Shiites who believe in political Islam and belong to the major parties in the Iraqi parliament that advocate this ideology, including the Da’wa Party of Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi and the Islamic Supreme Council of Ammar al-Hakim. If you denounce political Islam across the board, you’d have to denounce the Iraqi government, but Gen. Mattis construes it as a friend.

Regular readers will know that I don’t like the word “Islamism,” which was coined by French academics in reaction against the English-speaking world’s tendency to speak of Muslim fundamentalism. In English, fundamentalism is a perfectly good description of the phenomenon, and it has the advantage that we all recognize that fundamentalism exists in all religions.

Martin Marty’s “Fundamentalistm Project” at the University of Chicago resulted in several volumes that underline this point. Here are some common elements in fundamentalisms across the board as Marty’s project discovered them:

1. Patriarchy: women are to be subservient to their fathers and husbands and if possible to remain at home.
2. The rules of religion are self-evident and must be literally obeyed.
3. Children of believers should be segregated from non-believers (as incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos holds).
4. Fundamentalists hold that their religious laws are binding on all, believer and unbeliever alike (thus, incoming Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to keep an LGBT meeting from happening on a state college campus; fundamentalism construes public space as belonging to fundamentalist believers).
5. Fundamentalist believers are the in-group. The out-group is rejected.
6. They are nostalgic for an imagined religious golden age of the past that they would like to reinstate.

So here is a question for Gen. Mattis and Gen. Flynn: If political Islam is so bad, why is political Christianity better?

And, then we have to ask, are governments ruled by believers in political Islam really inimical to the US?

The ideology of the ruling government of Morocco, a non-NATO ally of the United States, is political Islam.

The major opposition party in Tunisia, the only successful case of democratization coming out of the Arab Spring, is a party of political Islam.

Adherents of political Islam just won a majority in the Kuwaiti parliament. Kuwait is a key ally of the US which provides basing to the US military.

The major Shiite parties forming the government in Baghdad, Iraq, are all devotees of political Islam. The Baghdad government is a key ally of the US in taking down Daesh/ ISIL.

While the Muslim League, the ruling party in that fantastic Pakistan over which Trump gushed in his phone call to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is not a fundamentalist party despite its name, many of its backbenchers do believe in aspects of political Islam. I.e., they believe in using the state to assert what they consider to be Islamic law. Pakistan is waging a long-term and important campaign against the Pakistani Taliban, from which the 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan benefit.

The US has been actively backing 30 Syrian rebel groups for years. Almost all of them have as their ideology political Islam. It is the regime of Bashar al-Assad, backed by the Baath Party, that is secular.

So Gen. Mattis apparently does not mean by “political Islam” what social scientists or people in the Middle East mean by it. Governments of political Islam, aside from Iran and a few others, appear to have perfectly good relations with the US.

On the other hand, secular governments like that of Syria, Algeria, and Uzbekistan have often had frosty relationships with the US.

In any case, neither Islam nor political Islam in any way resembles Communism. Islam is the religion of 1.6 billion people, over a fifth of humankind. Because of high birthrates in Muslim countries, moreover, the proportion of the world that is Muslim will probably go to 1/3.

If the United States, which is 5% of the world by population, tries to go against a third of humankind, it will lose. But the fact is that the US has no beef with most forms of Islam or even political Islam. And aggressive attempts to dictate to Muslims what they may believe will backfire, just as the whole Iraq War backfired.

The US can defeat individual terrorist organizations that appeal to Muslim themes. Counter-terrorism tactics can work. But it will need Muslim help, including the help of devotees of political Islam. If Daesh goes down in Iraq, it will have been defeated in large part by an alternative form of political Islam, to which the US gave air support. If what the Trump cabinet wants to say is only that the US plans to promote kinds of Islam that support the US and to fight those that stand in the way of the interests of the American Empire, well, the French and British empires used to plot out those schemes, too. Those empires aren’t around any more, but there are plenty of governments rooted in political Islam.

Russian Pundit: Fall of East Aleppo a Geopolitical Turning Point toward Multi-polar World

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

By Friday evening outside observers like Rami Abdelrahman of the Syria Observatory in the UK were saying that even more of the East Aleppo pocket had fallen to the Syrian Arab Army, Hizbullah and Iraqi militias and that the government forces had consolidated their control over districts taken midweek. About half of the eastern city has now been lost to the rebel forces. Tens of thousands of civilians have fled, some to regime-held West Aleppo and others into Kurdish-held territory.

At the same time, according to the Saudi-owned, London-based pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat [The Middle East], secret talks between rebel leaders and Russia in Ankara collapsed on Friday over Russia’s demand that several hundred fighters belonging to the Levantine Conquest Front, formerly the Nusra Front, leave Aleppo before any cessation of hostilities could be agreed to. The US and Russia list the LCF/ Nusra as a terrorist organization; its leader is sworn to allegiance to core al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

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The some 3,000? remaining rebel fighters of the East Aleppo pocket include a diverse set of groups. Some are defenders of a neighborhood and by all accounts not very ideological. Most probably believe in some form of political Islam and some are Muslim Brotherhood. Russia maintains, however, that the Salafi Jihadi LCF is the de facto leader of all the militias in East Aleppo and therefore tars them all with the brush of al-Qaeda and terrorism. For their part, the rebel leaders are unwilling to let go of al-Qaeda because its ranks contain the best fighters and they fear the Russians are attempting to divide and rule them. What guarantee, they ask, do they have that if LCF fighters exited, the Russians would keep their word and conclude a cessation of hostilities?

The Syrian rebels’ unlovely attachment to the al-Qaeda group has been one of the reasons for their downfall, since it was difficult for Western powers to back them or to fend off Russian objections that their efforts were spearheaded by Bin Laden, and later al-Zawahiri.

Russian and regime airstrikes and artillery, and return fire by the rebels, have allegedly killed about 300 civilians since the current campaign began two weeks ago. Inasmuch as some of the airstrikes appear to have been indiscriminate, those would be war crimes. The rebels are accused of having shot civilians attempting to flee their control.

In a recent panel discussion on a foreign affairs television show in Moscow, “Evening with Vladimir Solovyev,” the Russian analysts were virtually licking their lips over the prospect of a decisive win in East Aleppo. The discussion was translated by BBC Monitoring:

One guest, the president of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, Leonid Ivashov, said that the taking of East Aleppo was not purely a “tactical success”, but rather is a “matter of geopolitics” as well. He said that the The Russia-led coalition in Syria is radically altering the world, adding that: “a new multipolar, fairer and safer, world is coming into being there.”

Veniamin Popov, director of the Centre for Alliance of Civilisations, said he had hopes that East Aleppo would be taken quickly. At that point, he observed, the Middle East will be “seriously changed” and a “trend in geopolitics” would begin that recognizes that “it is necessary to reckon with Russia.”

Ivan Konovalov, head of military policy and economics at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said that a victory in Aleppo would “greatly change Russia’s influence in the region.”

That is, these Russian analysts see the imminent fall of the East Aleppo pocket as not only a significant turning point in the Syrian Civil War but as the announcement that Moscow is back. The Russian Federation is a superpower in world affairs, they are implying, just as the old Soviet Union had been.

Russia will henceforth be seen as a force that must be reckoned with, they are saying.

Ivashov argues that the emergence of Russia as a great power is good for the Middle East. Now the dynamics of the region will differ from country to country, depending on the diplomatic and other aid each receives, and from which power. But the new Middle East aborning in the ruins of East Aleppo will be multipolar. The era of the US as sole superpower is over. And on top of that, this multipolar world will be more just and more fair. (Source: Rossiya 1 TV in Russian 1410 gmt 30 Nov 16, BBC Monitoring).

Not sure if the news of the 300 civilian deaths has reached them.

——

Related video:

France 24 English: “Syria: Intense fighting in Aleppo as regime troops cut the rebels’ northern sector”

Now that SecDef thinks Israeli Occupation is Apartheid, will the Lobby Blackballing Fail?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The interview of Gen. James Mattis by Wolf Blitzer at Aspen in 2013, in which the recently-retired former CENTCOM commander spoke freely on Middle East policy, has come back to haunt him now that Donald Trump has put him forward as the next Secretary of Defense. At a time when the US has ground troops in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, however, it is not his position on those conflicts that is controversial. It is his remarks on Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts at peace talks between Israel and Palestine . Alternet quoted him as saying:

“So we’ve got to work on [peace talks] with a sense of urgency. I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and [because of this] moderate Arabs couldn’t be with us because they couldn’t publicly support those who don’t show respect for Arab Palestinians.”

Everybody involved in US foreign policy and security knows that aggressive Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank and siege of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip is a major cause of terrorism against the United States, since Washington is blamed for it, and is a major security problem because it makes the US a pariah in the Muslim world. One of the reasons Usama Bin Laden gave for attacking the US was the Israeli mistreatment of stateless Palestinians:

“‘ Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula. ‘

As I’ve said before, if it were a matter of taking a hit to defend Israel on its people’s right to live in safety, then the US will always step up. But to take a hit to defend Israeli wanton war crimes and disregard of international law is unacceptable.

In his Aspen interview in 2013, Mattis went on to use the A word:

“I’ll tell you, the current situation is unsustainable … We’ve got to find a way to make work the two-state solution that both Democrat and Republican administrations have supported, and the chances are starting to ebb because of the settlements. For example, if I’m Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers to the east and there’s ten-thousand Arabs already there, and if we draw the border to include them, either [Israel] ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote — apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country.”

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Jimmy Carter was treated shamefully by Alan Dershowitz and Brandeis University and the entire Israel-Lobby Establishment for voicing precisely the same warning, and was excluded by their pressure from speaking at the Obama Democratic National Conventions. Watchlists have been made of academics who dare critize Israeli squatting on Palestinian-owned land.

And let us remember how poor Chuck Hagel was treated, a distinguished Vietnam War vet with two purple hearts and a senator, during the hearing to confirm him as Secretary of Defense, at the behest of Neocon chickenhawks:

“Ah, and then there is Lindsey Graham, the Red Queen of the Senate (who is the essence of the pedantic governess and asks through-the-looking-glass questions like: “Divide a loaf by a knife: what’s the answer to that?”). . .

Then the Red Queen went after Hagel for having said that the “Jewish lobby” intimidates people. He demanded, “Name one person here who’s been intimidated by the Jewish lobby . . . Name one dumb thing we’ve been goaded into doing due to pressure by the Israeli or Jewish lobby.”

Hagel said he didn’t have anyone in mind.

The irony, of course, is that Graham is himself part of the Israel lobby, and there he was intimidating Hagel for complaining about having been intimidated!

All the congressmen and senators know that the Israel lobby intimidates them or tries to, on a daily basis. Ernst Hollings complained, “you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.” AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the de facto foreign agent of the Israeli government in the United States, which gets away with not having to register as such because it has bought off or intimidated Congress.

So let’s see if Senator Graham treats Gen. Mattis the same way (I wouldn’t advise it; he is called “Mad Dog” for a reason), or whether the Israel lobbies will just have to swallow this defeat.

So can the sensible observers of the Middle East now be invited to dinner again and the Israel-Lobby blackballing of them be lifted?

By the way, the rest of Mattis’s interview in 2013 was likewise informed and usually sensible. He was against getting involved in Syria, and warned that military action couldn’t resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

CENTCOM Review: Turmoil in the Mideast and Southwest Asia

Pakistanis Baffled, Buoyant over Trump’s Fantastical Praise

By Frud Bezhan | ( RFE/RL) | – –

The office of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has cited a phone conversation with Donald Trump in which it says the U.S. president-elect described nuclear-armed Pakistan as a "fantastic country" and its embattled prime minister as a "terrific guy."

The exchange, as described by Sharif’s side, was followed by a more muted description of the November 30 conversation from the Trump transition team that said the "productive conversation" centered around how the two countries "will have a strong working relationship in the future." Trump’s team added that the president-elect "is looking forward to a lasting and strong personal relationship" with Sharif.

Trump’s transition team did not confirm the authenticity of the Pakistani transcript.

The seemingly effusive praise quoted in Sharif’s statement appeared to surprise some in Pakistan, a conservative Muslim-majority country that Trump described as "not our friend" during a campaign in which the billionaire real-estate mogul frequently employed anti-Muslim rhetoric.

In the phone conversation with Sharif, the Pakistani government quoted Trump as saying that Pakistan was a "fantastic place" with the most "intelligent" people and "your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities.”

The statement said Trump told Sharif, currently embroiled in a corruption court case, that he has a "very good reputation" and he was doing "amazing work."

Among the extensive references in the Pakistani readout, Sharif’s office said Trump told Sharif he was "ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems."

U.S. officials have grappled with Washington’s complicated relationship with Pakistan, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid but publicly questioning Islamabad’s commitment to fighting international terrorism.

Pakistan also has fought four wars with regional rival India, which also has nuclear weapons and has enhanced its ties with the United States over the past two decades, particularly in the areas of civil-nuclear cooperation, trade, and security.

It was unclear if Sharif’s office intended the passages on Trump speaking to be regarded as direct quotes. The transcript was released by the Pakistani government’s Press Information Department.

The praise attributed to Trump has not gone unnoticed in Pakistan, which saw an outpouring of bafflement, ridicule, and support in the mainstream and social media.

‘Fantastic Diplomacy’

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry welcomed Trump’s remarks on December 1, saying Islamabad "would like to strengthen…the existing relationship further and we would like to continue working with the new administration when it takes over."

Trump’s purported praise made the front pages of many Pakistani newspapers. The Jang newspaper went with the headline: "If Fulfils His Promise, Trump Would Be First U.S. President To Visit Pakistan In Democratic Rule." Trump would be the first U.S. president to visit since George W. Bush during then-military leader Pervez Musharraf’s rule in 2006.

Meanwhile, a report in the English-language daily The News said that Trump’s alleged promise to visit Pakistan has come as a "pleasant surprise" but cautioned that "only time will prove whether the U.S. president-elect fulfils his promise."

Some social media users also appeared to welcome the phone-call revelations.

"Fantastic diplomacy," Pakistani journalist Waseem Abbasi, who is based in Washington, posted on Facebook.

Other Pakistanis were more skeptical.

Pakistani journalist Ali Salman Alvi tweeted: "Donald Trump has never met PM Nawaz Sharif but Trump knows Sharif has an ‘outstanding reputation,’ and understands he is a ‘terrific man.’"

Journalist Omar Quraishi tweeted: "But Mr Trump do you know most Pakistanis are Muslim – how can they be ‘brilliant and exceptional’ as well? Won’t you stop them entering?"

Another Twitter user, Baba Sattar, posted: "We’re all trumped by Trump & Sharif. Yes, hilarious in a sad way. Bigly!"

Others were simply baffled, suggesting the remarks were fake.

CNN journalist Muhammad Lila tweeted that Trump’s remarks were real and "not a spoof."

‘Not A Friend’

Trump’s remarks could come as a relief to many Pakistanis wary of his sharp criticisms of the country in the past.

In January 2012, Trump tweeted: "Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect – and much worse. #TimeToGetTough"

Months later, he asked when Pakistan will "apologize to us for providing safe sanctuary to Osama Bin Laden for 6 years?! Some ‘ally.’"

Pakistanis have also been suspicious of Trump’s relationship with India. Trump courted Indian-American voters during the campaign and he met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month.

Islamabad relies heavily on U.S. aid and security assistance. U.S. officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to crack down on militants group like the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network that use the country as a springboard for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

Since 2002, Washington has sent around $20 billion in aid to Islamabad for its help combating international terrorism.

There are fears that with Trump at the helm, he might scale back on such aid.