Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Sistani joins Hagel in calling for Arming Sunni Tribes of al-Anbar

By Juan Cole

Al-Zaman (The Times of Baghdad reports that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistan is calling, just as is US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, for the arming of Sunni tribes in al-Anbar Province to fight ISIL in Iraq. (The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad has been reluctant to move too quickly toward creating Sunni militias, lest they eventually turn on… the Shiite politicians in Baghdad).

Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani on Friday called on the Iraqi government to hurry up and help the Sunni tribes in al-Anbar Province that are fighting extremist-Sunni ISIL, which murdered 220 such tribesmen from the Al-Bu Nimr west of Baghdad this week. Sistani said in a sermon read out by his lieutenant in Karbala after Friday prayers that the Iraqi government must hasten to offer support to members of this tribe and other clans that are fighting the terrorists. He added that this action would encourage other tribes to join the fighters that are confronting ISIL.

Karbala’i praised the (Shiite) volunteers who arose to cleanse Iraq from the filth of terrorism and asked that they cooperate with the people of the provinces now dominated by ISIL so as to lift this yoke from them. He said they should cooperate with the (Sunni) inhabitants of the provinces now dominated by ISIL. He said, “You must protect the lives of innocent Iraqi citizens and safeguard their souls and their property, whatever their religious affiliation. They have been given to you for safekeeping, so make them feel secure.” He added, “Beware, beware lest any hand be raised against them or their property, or lest anyone among them come to harm; that is a mortal sin.”

Sistani’s call came a day after US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urged arming the tribes of al-Anbar Province even before the sending of American advisers to the province, which lies in the west of Iraq, and which is dominated by ISIL.

Meanwhile, sources in Samarra’ north of Baghdad said that a clash had taken place in Old Samarra’ between (Shiite) militias and the city’s (Sunni) residents over the commemoration of the Shiite holy day of Ashura, which honors the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, in 680 AD (CE). The militias changed the color of the covering of the Askari Shrine or Golden Dome (where two descendants of Imam Husayn are buried) from green to black during the mourning period.

Sistani warned the Shiite militias who fight alongside the Iraqi army not to harm innocents. This, after evidence surfaced that Shiite militiamen in Jurf al-Sakhr carried out executions based on sectarian identity.

Sheikh Abd al-Mahdi al-Karbala’i, Sistani’s deputy in Karbala, met Friday with a Shiite militia in that city dedicated to preserving the shrine of Imam Husayn. The Shiite equivalents of the Vatican, the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala, have raised militias dedicated to combatting ISIL. This is the first time the Shiite hierarchy in Iraq has used worldwide religious donations by believers to fund a paramilitary activity. People there are afraid of being targeted by ISIL.

In Iran’s capital, Tehran, Ayatollah Kazim Sadiqi said that the conquest this week of the Sunni city of Jurf al-Sakhr northwest of Karbala was a victory for the people and the Iraqi army. Iran is a largely Shiite country with close ties to Iraqi Shiites, who form 60% of the Iraqi population but mainly live in Baghdad and the south. In Qom, a center for religious study and learning in Iran, Ayatollah Husain Nuri Hamdani praised Qasim Sulaimani, the head of the Jerusalem Brigade special forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, for the operations he has undertaken against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.

—–

Related video:

PressTV: “Iraq’s top Shia cleric tells fighters to protects civilians of all confessions”

Far Right Extremist Avigdor Lieberman says Swedish Recognition of Palestine will Strengthen Extremists

By Juan Cole

There was a time when people like Avigdor Lieberman were not welcome in Israeli politics, or, indeed, in Jewish circles in the United States. Dogged by accusations of corruption (though acquitted in the Israeli courts) and widely considered a racist and flamethrower, Lieberman has emerged as Foreign Minister, a powerful cabinet post. There is no European cabinet minister who comes close to Lieberman’s far, far right positions, and if there were he or she would be boycotted by the other Europeans. Probably Hungary’s Jobbik (some 1/5 of parliament seats) comes closest to the themes of the ruling Israeli far right at the moment.

Lieberman denounced Sweden’s recognition of Palestine on Thursday, saying:

“The decision of the Swedish government to recognise a Palestinian state is a deplorable decision which only strengthens extremist elements and Palestinian rejectionism . . . It is a shame that the Swedish government chose to take this declarative step which causes a lot of harm and offers no advantage . . . The Swedish government must understand that relations in the Middle East are a lot more complex than the self-assembly furniture of IKEA and that they have to act with responsibility and sensitivity.”

So Lieberman led a charge to reject the John Kerry peace process in 2013-2014, and Lieberman’s colleagues on the Israeli cabinet called Secretary Kerry “messianic” and said they wished he would leave them alone. That is, the “rejectionists” are the Israeli government, the leaders of which refuse to recognize Palestine. Palestine recognized Israel two decades ago, giving away this key card for the sake of initiating the Oslo Peace process, which Israeli leaders such as Binyamin Netanyahu derailed, stealing ever more Palestinian territory on the Occupied West Bank and planting hundreds of thousands of Israeli squatters there, far beyond the recognized borders of Israel.

As for extremism, here are Lieberman’s positions:

“The The Electronic Intifada lists “Some of Avigdor Lieberman’s infamous statements”:

‘ # In 1998, Lieberman called for the flooding of Egypt by bombing the Aswan Dam in retaliation for Egyptian support for Yasser Arafat.

# In 2001, as Minister of National Infrastructure, Lieberman proposed that the West Bank be divided into four cantons, with no central Palestinian government and no possibility for Palestinians to travel between the cantons.

# In 2002, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Lieberman in a Cabinet meeting saying that the Palestinians should be given an ultimatum that “At 8am we’ll bomb all the commercial centers … at noon we’ll bomb their gas stations … at two we’ll bomb their banks …”

# In 2003, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Lieberman called for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel to be drowned in the Dead Sea and offered to provide the buses to take them there.

# In May 2004, Lieberman proposed a plan that called for the transfer of Israeli territory with Palestinian populations to the Palestinian Authority. Likewise, Israel would annex the major Jewish settlement blocs on the Palestinian West Bank. If applied, his plan would strip roughly one-third of Israel’s Palestinian citizens of their citizenship. A “loyalty test” would be applied to those who desired to remain in Israel. This plan to trade territory with the Palestinian Authority is a revision of Lieberman’s earlier calls for the forcible transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel from their land. Lieberman stated in April 2002 that there was “nothing undemocratic about transfer.”

# Also in May 2004, he said that 90 percent of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinian citizens would “have to find a new Arab entity” in which to live beyond Israel’s borders. “They have no place here. They can take their bundles and get lost,” he said.

# In May 2006, Lieberman called for the killing of Arab members of Knesset who meet with members of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.’ ”

Now that’s extreme. And it doesn’t even cover all Lieberman’s outrageous comments of the past 8 years.

As for Sweden, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström observed, “We are not picking sides. We’re choosing the side of the peace process… The government believes that the international law criteria for the recognition of the State of Palestine has been met. There is a territory, there is a population and there is a government”.

Responding to journalist Hala Gorani concerning Lieberman’s crack about Ikea, Wallström is said to have remarked:

—–

Related video:

RuptlyTV: “Sweden: Swedish FM comments on Palestinian recognition”

BDS Success: Israeli Firm Sodastream Leaves Palestinian West Bank after Boycott

By Juan Cole

AJ+ SodaStream Leaving West Bank After Boycotts

AJ+ :

“Facing an intensive boycott campaign, the controversial Israeli company that makes home soda machines is leaving the West Bank. Bye, Sodastream!”

Background:

Informed Comment wrote on this issue last January:

“The determination of the Likud Party to annex the Palestinian West Bank is damaging the interests of world Jewry. This harm is clearly visible in the controversy that has engulfed movie star Scarlett Johansson, who was a global ambassador for the Oxfam charity and who also agreed to become a spokesperson for the Israeli company Sodastream, which has a factory in the Occupied West Bank. She will star in a Superbowl commercial for the company.

Oxfam points out that the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank is illegal, and it is opposed to trade with settler commercial enterprises based there. The Sodastream factory in set in a 40,000-strong Israeli squatter settlement designed to cut East Jerusalem off from the West Bank and make a Palestinian state impossible. Israel squatters divert most of the West Bank’s water and other resources to themselves, leaving Palestinians impoverished.

In the end, Ms. Johansson had to choose between the two, and she gave up her association with Oxfam.

The Israeli Occupation institutions in the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly being boycotted, especially in Europe (Oxfam is based in Britain). Although it is clearly illegal for an Occupying Power to move its population into occupied territory (Geneva Convention of 1949), far right wing Israeli governments have flooded this Palestinian territory with hundreds of thousands of illegal squatters, who have usurped Palestinian property, confined Palestinians to Bantustans, and imposed onerous checkpoints on them. The Jewish supremacist squatter settlements are Jewish-only and no Palestinian can live in them. The militant squatters are often heavily armed and are increasingly attacking Palestinians and their mosques and other institutions, as well as waging economic warfare on them by cutting down their olive trees.

The European Union has decided to use its economic clout to push back against the clear Israeli determination to annex the whole West Bank while keeping its indigenous Palestinian population stateless and without the rights of citizenship.

The European Union has insisted that Israeli institutions and companies based in the Palestinian West Bank be excluded from any Israeli participation in a program of the European Union. (The EU treats Israel like a member, offering it many perquisites, opportunities for technology interchange, and access to EU markets; Brussels is saying, however, that none of that largesse can go to Israelis in the Occupied Weat Bank.)

About a third of Israel’s trade is with Europe (the US and China are its biggest trading partners, and Turkey comes after the EU). The EU imports $300 million a year from the settlements, but is clearly moving toward cutting that trade off…”

Read the whole thing

Turkey allows Kurdish Peshmerga to Cross to Kobane

By Juan Cole

The Turkish press is reporting that Turkish intelligence is facilitating the crossing of a couple hundred paramilitary troops (Peshmerga) from Iraqi Kurdistan to the Turkish town of Suruç, 16 km from the Syrian border. They intend to help relieve the besieged Kurdish-Syrian town of Kobane, which is being attacked by ISIL.

The likelihood is that the real story is that Turkish intelligence is making sure that the Kurdistan fighters are Peshmerga, loyal to President Massoud Barzani of Iraqi Kurdistan, and not members of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), the leftwing separatist guerrilla movement in eastern Turkey itself. The Turkish government considers the PKK a terrorist organization and has fought it for decades, with both sides committing atrocities. Initially the PKK wanted to relieve Kobane, where the fighters are from a Syrian offshoot of the PKK. Turkey strictly forbade that, and did not seem very eager to help Kobane if the intervention would benefit the PKK and its Syrian counterparts.

Iraqi Kurdistan has cultivated fair relations with Ankara and it is no longer seen as threatening by Ankara. Some 70% of investment in Iraqi Kurdistan is from Turkey, and the Iraqi Kurds appear to have promised Turkey oil exports on favorable terms. Iraqi Kurdistan is now Establishment, seen as stable and increasingly wealthy, in contrast to the rough separatist guerrillas of the PKK, who have in recent years attacked Turkish troops and other targets.

Kobane is a small town wedged between ISIL-held al-Raqqah Province and the Turkish border and is virtually the last hold out of that Kurdish Syrian “canton.” It is a little unlikely that it can survive the ISIL onslaught for very long unless ISIL itself starts suffering setbacks in al-Raqqah, until recently its main power base. The Peshmerga relief force is an attempt to keep Kobane from falling and to establish it as a base from which attacks can be launched on ISIL-held villages in northern al-Raqqah, many of them Kurdish.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the US subjected ISIL tanks and armored vehicles to aerial bombardment outside Kobane.

Related video:

BBC News: “Video shows massive Kobane blast”

Iraq: Is the Sunni-Shiite Slaughter at Jurf al-Sakhr really a US Victory?

By Juan Cole

Apparent good news was announced on Sunday in the fight against the extremist ISIL organization: The Iraqi army, backed by fundamentalist Shiite militias, managed to take the village of Jurf al-Sakhr, southwest of Baghdad, from ISIL fighters. This town has a population of about 80,000, consisting mostly of Sunnis from the Janabi and Dulaim clans. Some 100 ISIL fighters are said to have surrendered.

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This victory was strategic because from Jurf al-Sakhr, ISIL could have hoped to launch terror attacks in Shiite south Iraq, at Hilla and the holy shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. ISIL apparently has no other major toehold so far south of the capital. Iraqi military commanders hope to be able to clear ISIL out of Babil province, which is mostly Shiite but has Sunnis in the northwest, some of them planted there by Saddam Hussein in an attempt to shore up Sunni dominance of Baghdad (an effort that was altogether thwarted by the US-Shiite victory of 2003 and after).

Moreover, the Iraqi army and the Shiite militias hope now to turn the tables and to use Jurf al-Sakhr to launch an attack on Amiriyat al-Fallujah to the northwest, beginning the process– they hope– of pushing ISIL back out of al-Anbar Province in western Iraq, a largely Sunni Arab region.

The celebration was short-lived. On Monday, an ISIL suicide bomber was able to deploy a captured US humvee packed with explosives to kill 27 Shiite militiamen and to wound 60. Another ISIL operation was to shell Jurf al-Sakhr with mortar fire from its outskirts, wounding dozens and killing some.

The Shiite militias are the Mahdi Army, now renamed the Peace Brigades; the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (which is close to Iran); and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq or Bands of the People of Truth– extremists who fought and kidnapped US troops in the previous decade. They are in force in Jurf al-Sakhr because they gave tremendous support to the regular Iraqi Army in its push on the town. Many of the militiamen now dress in Iraqi army military uniforms. To the 80,000 Sunni Muslims of Jurf al-Sakhr, this motley crew would have seemed absolutely terrifying, less liberators than occupiers. It is not impossible that they sneaked intelligence out of the town to ISIL remnants in the neighborhood that aided in the counter-strike.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that Youtube video allegedly from the Shiite militias in Jurf al-Sakhr shows them furious about the car bombing and shelling, and threatening their ISIL prisoners of war, some of them Chechens. One Shiite militiaman is quoted as saying that the terrorists had given up all the information they had of use (presumably under torture) and were now useless — implying that they should be killed.

Apparently about 50 ISIL fighters’ bodies are lying on the ground in Jurf al-Sakhr unburied, on the grounds that ISIL did not bury its own victims and deserved to be treated worst than dogs themselves.

This, folks, is what the counter-offensive in Iraq against ISIL is going to look like. The Iraqi army is largely Shiite and it isn’t very good. It needs the help of the extremist Shiite militias to make any progress, as at Jurf al-Sakhr. If the Shiites can hold the latter against the will of the local people (who admittedly likely don’t like ISIL either), and can advance into al-Anbar Province, it is going to look like a Shiite conquest of Sunnis aided by US close air support.

A big problem is that news of these American-Shiite advances against Sunnis in Iraq is going to get to Syria, which is majority Sunni Arab, and it isn’t going to incline the Sunni Arabs of Syria to ally with the US against ISIL. Every victory in Iraq will be a propaganda defeat in Syria, which is why it is crazy to try to fight a two-front air war against a guerrilla group with a strong ethnic-sectarian identity and base.

The Obama administration hopes to avoid this scenario by raising provincial national guards in the Sunni Arab provinces who will fight ISIL. On Monday, Shiite prime minister of Iraq Haydar al-Abadi warned Sunnis against joining the army or national guard in search of a career. That doesn’t sound like a promising start to me. Al-Abadi met with some Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders in Amman on the margins of his state visit to Jordan, urging them to help defeat ISIL. They demanded that he stop pursuing prominent Sunnis with criminal charges, stop exiling them, and allow them to return to Iraq and be rehabilitated. That also does not sound to me like a promising beginning.

Related video:

PressTV News Videos: “Iraqi army retakes strategic town of Jurf al-Sakhr”

The Tunisian Achievement

By Juan Cole

Fears that the historic vote on Sunday in Tunisia might be marred by violence committed by the country’s tiny lunatic fringe were not borne out. The interim government of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa deployed 80,000 police and troops to protect polling stations.

Contrary to the breathless reporting one hears in the mass media, however, Tunisia hasn’t seen very much political violence since its revolution in 2011. Of Tunisia’s 11 million people (it is a little more populous than Michigan), only about 5,000 are estimated to belong to the far right fundamentalist Salafi tendency, and those who commit political violence are vanishingly small. The tiny Ansar al-Shariah terrorist organization has mounted a handful of attacks in the rural areas of the country, in remote and rugged regions. In 2013 two horrific assassinations were committed by the same group, of far-left politicians from the small Popular Front. The political fall-out from those killings was enormous, as I detailed in my recent book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East . But as for people being killed or seriously injured in political violence in all of the past 12 months, the number would be very small.

In October 2011, the Tunisian party of the religious Right, al-Nahda or Renaissance, got 37% of the votes, which translated into 42% of the seats in parliament. It had to go into coalition with a leftist party and a secular liberal one in order to form a government, putting in Hamadi Jebali as the first freely elected leader in the country’s history. Jebali, a photovoltaic engineer and specialist in solar energy, struck many compromises with his secular colleagues, despite his own religious conservatism. When Shukri Belaid, the Popular Front leader, was assassinated in February, 2013, millions of young Tunisians came into the streets to protest, charging Renaissance with being soft on religious extremism. (The core of Renaissance is mainstream religious Muslims, but it does have a right wing that it would not have wanted to alienate by being seen as persecuting committed believers).

Jebali thought he should form a national unity government and give cabinet posts to leftists and liberals. When his Renaissance Party declined and insisted on staying completely in power, he did the honorable thing and resigned.

His successor, Ali Larayedh, began cracking down more on Ansar al-Shariah, but it wasn’t enough. In summer of 2013 the group killed again, this time Mohamed Brahmi of the Popular Front. Tunisia erupted in months of enormous demonstrations by youth organizations, women’s groups and the national workers’ union. They demanded that Renaissance/ al-Nahda step down in favor of a neutral transitional government and that new elections be held. They demanded that the constitution be finished up and voted on. They demanded that it not enshrine Islamic law and that women and men have equal rights. They demanded freedom of belief and conscience. They demanded that the government put more effort into job creation for workers. They kept coming out all summer and fall of 2013. They got virtually everything they asked for. Those who thought the Tunisian youth movements were gone as of 2012 had a big surprise.

Tunisia got a new constitution in January 2014 by a vote in the elected parliament/ constituent assembly. A technocratic, independent prime minister was sworn in. The country moved to new elections. There haven’t been more assassinations, though there have been some rural fundamentalist attacks on army checkpoints.

The early reports suggest that the secular nationalist party, Tunisia Call, may have come out ahead of the religious right party, Renaissance (al-Nahdah). That may or may not hold up as official returns come in on Monday, but it does seem likely that the secularists will at least do respectably. Tunisia Call is problematic because some of its stalwarts are from the old regime that was overthrown in 2011; but that some of them who are not accused of crimes of corruption or violence are being rehabilitated is typical of the compromises Tunisian political society is making. After all, many Afrikaners who were part of the Apartheid establishment have gone on playing important roles in South Africa, as long as they had not committed crimes; South Africa is the anti-Iraq and for the moment so is Tunisia. The small left parties may also take significant numbers of seats, and will be needed as coalition partners (a la the German left before Merkel).

Tunisia has prospered politically where other Arab revolutionary states have veered toward neo-authoritarianism (Egypt, Bahrain) or decentralization and faction-fighting (Libya, Yemen) or civil war (Syria). It was helped by its longstanding institutions, its high rates of education, its powerful workers’ unions, and the willingness of all the major parties, including the Renaissance Party, to compromise rather than risk civil war. (Contrast that with the grasping and imperious Muslim Brotherhood or the narcissistic officer corps in Egypt).

When I interviewed the spiritual leader of Renaissance/ al-Nahda, Rashed Ghanoushi, I asked him if he had accepted the principle of popular sovereignty (i.e. the people decide on the government and his party would have to accept a defeat if it came in future). He told me, “Yes. Why should we be afraid of the will of the Tunisian people– especially since the vast majority of them is Muslim?” This conviction, that even the more secular-minded Tunisians shared broad values with their more religious compatriots, is the opposite of the holier-than-thou, intolerant commitments of the fundamentalists in the Arab East. If it does happen that Renaissance has to sit in the opposition benches as a loyal opposition for a few years, they are perfectly willing to do that.

Tunisia faces many severe challenges. The economy is still anemic. Instability in Libya could spill over onto it. Although Ansar al-Shariah is tiny, it is ruthless and has proven it can roil the country with even small operations (it wasn’t hard to kill unguarded far-left politicians).

If the US and Europe were serious about wishing Tunisia well and praising it as a relative success story, they would pull out all the stops to support its democratic transition. The US is giving Egypt over $1 billion a year to be a political failure– shouldn’t it give even more to Tunisia? The US will spend billions to prop up the dysfunctional Iraqi government; doesn’t Tunisia deserve it more? The youth and the workers who played a central role in this drama deserve to be rewarded with a brighter future, materially and culturally.

——-

Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

Top 5 Things More Americans will die of than Ebola this Year, including Guns

By Juan Cole

The odd hysteria about ebola is being driven more by a media frenzy than the actual public health risks. Ebola is not the sort of disease that is likely to turn into a pandemic, becoming really wide spread. It is too hard to contract (it doesn’t spread by infected persons just breathing on others) and kills too many of its victims (diseases don’t survive well if neither do their hosts). Moreover, countries that are relatively well-governed, with good public health systems are not at high risk from this sort of disease. Even Senegal and Nigeria in West Africa have dealt with small outbreaks professionally and right now have no ebola cases, in contrast to countries ravaged by years of civil war like Sierra Leone and Liberia (wars, by the way, in which former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi played a major and cynical role).

You never know whether corporate media spread such panics to make money off the news (the definition of corporate media) or to take working peoples’ minds off more important issues, such as how American Neoliberal capitalism is increasingly screwing them over.

But here are some things that will kill more Americans this year than ebola.

1. Largely unregulated, often military-grade firearms in the hands of civilians will typically be deployed in 11,000 homicides and nearly 20,000 suicides every year in the US. Background checks at gun shows for all purchasers, including from private sellers there, would much reduce this toll, but this measure has been blocked by the gun manufacturers (a.k.a. the NRA). It would be fairly easy to address this enormous public health debacle, but bought-and-paid-for American politicians play down the issue, in contrast to the ebola hype, which they have tried to tie to immigrants and have used to promote Islamophobia.

2. Smoking will kill on the order of 430,000 Americans this year. The US government allows corporations to spray extra nicotine and other addictive substances on the tobacco leaves so as to addict youngsters who experiment with smoking and make it difficult for them to quit. Nearly half a million people killed a year should cause a panic, especially since most of us have a loved one or close friend who smokes, but there is no pressure at all on government to stop the corporate promotion of nicotine addiction for the express purpose of making money off killing working people.

3. The public seems to want government to make the investments necessary to dealing with infectious diseases such as ebola. But too many Americans mind Obamacare, which has added millions to the rolls of the insured. Back in 2009, it was estimated, some 45,000 people died every year just from not having access to health care. Now that number will decrease significantly.

4. Burning coal to produce electricity directly kills some 12,000 people a year, in addition to helping cause 200,000 heart attacks annually. Coal’s release of mercury into the atmosphere also causes fatalities and disabilities, since mercury is a nerve poison. And of course, burning coal causes rapid and disruptive climate change, which will kill far more people than ebola ever will.

5. An analysis of the food combinations available on the menus of 34 restaurant chains that offer children’s meals showed that 50 percent of the meal combos came to over 600 calories, while 430 calories is a more ideal meal for children. These restaurants are clearly contributing to the obesity crisis in children and youth. Being obese in childhood is highly correlated with being obese in adulthood. Some 300,000 Americans die every year from conditions associated with obesity. As for children, the CDC reports,

“Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.1, 2
In 2012, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

Just demanding that American restaurants offer less toxic meals to children would save many more lives than will ever be taken by ebola in the US. But it would mean standing up to the food corporations.

Whether it is the lobbyists for Big Coal who want to go on spewing poison into the atmosphere, or the NRA lobbyists for the four major corporations that manufacture hand guns or the restaurant lobbyists who want to evade regulation and want to be able to kill their customers with 4,000-calorie meals, or the cigarette manufacturers and distributors who are, like 007, licensed by the government to murder, the common denominator here is that our corporations are often much worse for our health than a mere infectious disease outbreak. But these health deficits are almost never reported on in the media owned by the corporations. Instead, we’re encouraged to think about something else while our pockets are being picked– say, an exotic disease.

——

Related video:

The Big Picture RT:The Big Threat of Coal Ash to Your Health?

Is Egypt’s Sinai going the Way of Syria? 30 Troops Killed by Militants

By Juan Cole

The Arabic newspaper Ilaf reports that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has declared a state of emergency for 3 months in parts of the province of North Sinai after two attacks by Muslim radical groups in that province left 30 Egyptian soldiers dead. Ilaf says that al-Sisi is blaming Egypt’s intelligence services for not forestalling these attacks.

sinai

Egypt’s government also closed the border checkpoint with Gaza at Rafah from Saturday on, until further notice. Egypt’s government blames Hamas in Palestinian Gaza for radicalizing the clans of the Sinai.

These steps came after a car bomb attack on an army checkpoint near El Arish in North Sinai that killed at least 30 troops, in which a large quantity of high-powered explosives completely destroyed the small garrison. The checkpoint lay between El Arish and Rafah on the border with Gaza.

A few hours later, in a separate attack, militants shot at another checkpoint south of El Arish, killing an officer and wounding a soldier.

The Egyptian military is using Apache helicopters to monitor North Sinai.

Muslim radicals in Sinai blame the military for overthrowing the Muslim fundamentalist president, Muhammad Morsi, on July 3, 2013. Though, to be fair, the militants were active against the Egyptian army during Morsi’s tenure as president, as well. The last big attack of this sort, in December 2013, left 14 police dead, in the wake of the coup against Morsi.

Why Can Europe have Climate Targets but not the US? Corruption

By Juan Cole

The European Union climate summit has agreed to cut emissions by 40% by 2030, after hard bargaining by Poland and the UK failed to derail an agreement.

The 28 nations of the EU also agreed to improve energy efficiency by 27% over the next decade and a half, and to ensure a continent-wide proportion of at least 27% renewable energy market share.

In contrast, the production of carbon dioxide in the US increased in 2013, from roughly by 2.5 percent at a time when scientists are frantically signaling the need to significantly reduce that output. The US produces about 5.5 billion metric tons of CO2 a year. In 2014, the world crossed the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, up from 270 in preindustrial times. Archeological examination of ice cores that show past atmospheric composition demonstrates that such high levels of CO2 in prehistoric times (then caused by volcanic activity rather than human) were correlated with higher sea levels and a third less land area, with megastorms, and with tropical climates throughout the planet.

US capitalism trumpets itself as efficient and agile, able better to deal with social and political crises than government policy because of the magic of the market. But the structures of markets are themselves produced by government policy, which plutocrats in the US have bought. In fact, US capitalism is acting like an ostrich, hiding from the biggest social and economic crisis — rapid human-caused global warming– that the human species has ever faced.

The Guardian notes that Tony Robson, the CEO of Knauf Insulation, complains that an increase of 27% in energy efficiency over 15 years is just about what people are doing anyway in Europe, where fuel prices are typically higher than in the US. So that isn’t exactly taking climate change as an emergency.

A goal of 27% renewables by 2030 is also not very ambitious. Renewables (including wind, solar and hydroelectric) have produced nearly 28% of Germany electricity this year, and German goals are far more ambitious than the EU overall. Renewables produced 42% of Spain’s electricity in 2013 and it reduced its carbon emissions by nearly a quarter.

Why are even center-right governments in Europe so much better at this than is the United States?

Europe is less politically corrupt. Although corporations play a big role in politics in Europe, private money is much less influential. In the US, we are to the point where it is all right for our politicians to be bought and sold sort of like slaves, and where 400 or so billionaires are the ones doing the buying and selling. If you are an American taxpayer and you think John Boehner represents you, you have another think coming. Big oil and big coal can just purchase speeches on the floor of the House that would be laughed off the stage in Europe, and European journalists are far more ready to ridicule flat-earth claims like climate change denialism.

Europe isn’t perfect. Poland’s coal addiction watered down the summit’s achievement (Poland would actually make money going into wind and solar instead of coal over the next 15 years, but coal mining owners and workers are vetoing economic common sense). And small businesses are afraid of higher energy costs (in fact, renewables are at grid parity in most of Europe). Also, Europe is afraid that China, India and other nations with already-lower labor costs will drag their feet on moving to renewables, leaving Europe less competitive in industrial production and exports.

And some of the impetus to reform comes from geopolitical considerations. Europe is not happy at being so beholden to Russia for natural gas, especially given Vladimir Putin’s thuggish behavior over it and the Ukraine/ Crimea crises. Russia supplies about 1/3 of European natural gas. Qatar is also a big player in that market and some European states are viewing it with increased unease because of its alleged backing for Muslim radicals in Syria and Libya.

But for all these powerful considerations, the EU was able to set significant carbon reduction goals, and many European countries have demonstrable avoided the production of billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide over the past decade– CO2 that would have warmed the earth even faster and produced even more climate disruption– disruption that will cost far more than the $100 bn the German consumers have paid since 2000 for the push for renewables. (At 82 million Germans over 14 years, it isn’t really even that much money– $82 a year per capita or so, less than most Americans spend on lattes).

In the meantime, US emissions are the biggest per capita of any major industrialized country and after a fall because of increased wind energy and a turn to natural gas, went back up last year.

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Related video:

Euronews: “EU leaders mull climate targets for 2030″

The end of National Sovereignty in the Middle East? Iraqi Kurdistan sends troops into Syria

By Juan Cole:

Al-Manar reports that the legislature of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (a super-province of Iraq) has voted to send Kurdistan forces to the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane to help it fight off a concerted attack by ISIL. The vote opens the way for Iraqi Kurdistan to intervene in the Syrian civil war. Turkey is alleged to have agreed to let the Peshmerga cross Turkish territory which is quite remarkable.

I am linking to the al-Manar article on all this because it is the organ in Lebanon of Hizbullah, the Shiite party-militia that has also intervened in the Syrian civil war, on the side of the government of Bashar al-Assad.

One of the peculiarities of Syria is that it is seeing paramilitaries of sub-state governments getting involved in its war.

Does this development tell us something about the contemporary Middle East? In global law since the Peace of Westphalia, states are supposed to rule specific territories and to be inviolable in those territories. Max Weber, writing in the early 20th century, saw the state as having a monopoly on the use of force.

But in Lebanon the government and its military are dominant only at the national level, whereas Hizbullah is recognized as the national guard of the south of the country (to forestall further Israeli occupations.) Hizbullah intervened in Syria at Qusayr, without any consent from the Lebanese government.

Likewise, the Iraqi constitution recognizes Kurdistan as nearly autonomous (but not quite). It has its own armed forces, the Peshmerga, and it forbids central Iraqi government troops from setting foot on the soil of Kurdistan. Now the Kurdistan paramilitary plans to fight in a hot war in a neighboring country, with no authorization from the Iraqi government.

Moreover, there are multiple layers of governance in Syria itself, such that these sub-state interventions are even possible.

So the states of the Middle East have substates, and these substates are semi-autonomous in their international decision-making, and are virtually autonomous in their military interventions.

It would be like Montana sending National Guard units over into Canada to stop a feud there.

National sovereignty is severely challenged in the region today, with semi-autonomous regions and even political entities fighting in other countries’ civil conflicts.

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Reuters: “Homesick and horrified – Syrian Kurds watch Kobani burn”