Spain at 70% non-Carbon Electricity: Will it be 1st Net Carbon Zero G-20 State?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

CleanTechnica reports that Spain got nearly 70% of its electricity from plants that did not generate carbon dioxide in March. The two biggest non-carbon energy sources were nuclear and wind.

In recent years, the conservative government of Mariano Rajoy cut some government subsidies and other help to the solar energy industry. But given the fall in price of wind and solar energy, the government is now rethinking this policy and has plans for a big expansion of both over the next few years.

If Spain doubles its wind generation from 22% of its energy mix to 40% in the next five years, as it plans, then that would take it to 87% of its electricity from renewables and nuclear. The other 13% may well be supplied by solar, allowing the decommissioning of the coal plants, assuming the government reverses its decision to remove solar subsidies, which has hurt investors in that sector. Note that fossil fuel industries typically get government subsidies, which the MSM doesn’t usually talk about, and that Spain is especially at risk from climate change effects such as desertification and sea level rise, so “subsidies” for clean energy would save the country trillions of dollars over time.

Spain, a country of 47 million people, has a gross domestic product of $1.4 trillion, making it the world’s 14th largest economy and ranging it with Australia and South Korea in that regard. If it can go completely to renewables and nuclear with regard to electricity generation, then it may well be the first large, economically consequential country to go entirely green.

In contrast, Australia gets 92% of its electricity from burning coal, petroleum and natural gas, even though the continent has abundant solar and wind. Its current prime minister, Tony Abbott, is closely tied to Big Oil and is a climate change denialist. Mexico, another country with a GDP similar to that of Spain, also is a major carbon polluter. Canada’s GDP is a bit larger than Spain’s but it is also a major dirty energy polluter, endangering the earth with its irresponsible dumping of C02, a dangerous and powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

This non-carbon energy is something that Spain could have within 5 years through expansion of wind and solar. Indeed, not all of the renewable energy even need come from Spain itself. Morocco is connected to the southern Spanish electricity grid, and could export its own ample wind and solar energy. Morocco is in the midst of a green energy revolution.

Other green energy experiments are being conducted, in Denmark, Portugal and Scotland, but these states have relatively small populations, ranging from 4 to 10.5 million, and they have a fraction of Spain’s gross domestic product. Germany is also adopting green energy on a very large scale, but as the world’s fourth largest economy with a population nearly twice that of Spain, it will take longer to get to net carbon zero. France actually gets more of its electricity from non-carbon sources than Spain, since it relies heavily on nuclear (70% of electricity generation). It could also theoretically get to net carbon zero soon, but questions are raised by its decision to reduce the share of nuclear to 50%. In contrast, Spain is already nearly 50% renewables in electricity generation. If Spain goes net carbon zero in electricity during the next decade, effecting that change mainly by an increase in wind and solar, that is huge.

Of course, truly to get to net carbon zero, Spain would have to redo its transportation system to run on electricity generated by renewables, as well. But once the electrical grid is non-carbon, having it power trains and subways would not be so difficult. Mass adoption of electric cars is around the corner. It would also have to move to non-cement building materials and sustainable agriculture, including moving away from cattle raising (the country has 6 mn. head of cattle, a major drain on water and agricultural resources; beef is the most carbon-intensive foodstuff).

Spain, having few hydrocarbons of its own, will save a great deal of money on imports of natural gas and petroleum by going toward free fuel, which will help its economy. It will benefit from being a renewables leader in the European Union, where Brussels will increasingly punish high carbon polluting states. And it will avoid the lawsuits that will increasingly bedevil knowing carbon polluters.

Above all, Spain demonstrates that even in a country where the conservative government has not been supportive of renewables, non-carbon energy can make substantial strides and even completely replace fossil fuels in a major industrialized economy. In short, if Spain can do it, anyone can.

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Related video:

Geobeats from last year: ” Wind Energy is Spain’s Primary Source of Power”

Iran: What did Khamenei really say about the Lausanne Agreement, and Why?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s paramount leader, spoke out on Thursday about the framework agreement for Iran’s negotiations over its nuclear enrichment program with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1).

The speech is all over the place and seems to me to involve a lot of posturing without much substance. Presumably the speech was intended to mollify the hard liners upset by the enormous concessions Iran was alleged to have offered. At the same time, Khamenei did not want to crush the spirits of his negotiators. And, I think he is still pessimistic about the very possibility of a final deal by June 30 and is preparing the public for the possibility of failure.

Khamenei pointed out that there is as yet no detailed agreement. All that was arrived at in Lausanne was a framework agreement for the final negotiations. Therefore, nothing has really been decided. Khamenei said that people asked him to take a position on the nuclear talks. He replied that there is, as yet, nothing to take a position on.

But he then came back to say that he has full confidence in the Iranian negotiating team led by foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who reports to President Hasan Rouhani. He does not, he affirmed, have the slightest hesitation in their regard. He is supportive of the negotiating process.

It is just, he said, that the Americans have proven themselves over and over again to be snakes in the grass, duplicitous, deceiving, untrustworthy. Based on their past behavior, he said, he has to be pessimistic about the possibility of doing a deal with the USA, since there is a real danger it will renege on everything that is agreed upon.

He gave as an example of this American dishonesty the issuance by the White House of several pages of talking points about the agreement, which, Khamenei said, they issued unilaterally and without consultation with the Iranian side. Khamenei didn’t seem actually to take issue with any particular in the talking points. He just felt that to issue them as though they had been agreed on by Iran was dishonest.

That said, he is willing to be open-minded. Maybe this time the US has changed its spots and will do a reasonable deal and stand behind it. If the USA behaved that way, Khamenei said, it could change everything. So he is pessimistic, but still open to the possibility that the US will not act with perfidy.

He does insist, he said, on sanctions being removed immediately and entirely as soon as an agreement is reached. Otherwise, he said, what was the point of engaging in all these negotiations?

Khamenei’s demand for full and immediate end of sanctions is not reasonable, and won’t be offered, since the P5 +1 have trust issues of their own with regard to Iran. But since Khamenei went to such lengths to reassure everyone that he still was committed to the negotiations, he probably did not intend this demand to derail them.

One possible reply to him on this matter would be that the agreement is not complete when signed but when implemented. In a sense, the mere signing of the agreement won’t take us very much further ahead than we are now, a situation about which he is so non-comittal. So the first full day of the actual implementation of the agreement’s terms will in fact be the day that sanctions are removed.

My guess is that this bluster was intended to mollify the hard liners without actually offering them anything.

I think a realignment is happening in Iranian politics. The 2000s were a period of right wing populism under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei had his hands burned by the Ahmadinejad faction of hard line populists. They provoked all that trouble in 2009, and mismanaged the economy with massive subsidies. By 2012 Khamenei was openly slapping Ahmadinejad down. Then the US kicked Iran off the bank exchanges and took Iran oil exports down from 2.5 mn b/d to 1.5 mn b/d. Since prices were high, it didn’t hurt the regime that much, but must have been concerning given what was done to Mosaddegh in 1953, when similar int’l oil sanctions prepared the way for a CIA coup.

Khamenei hates the reform camp but seems to have realized that he can’t count on simply being able to crush them. He can, in contrast, live with a centrist like Rouhani. Domestically, Rouhani is his way of deflecting what’s left of the Green Movement (which really shook Khamenei, perhaps even moreso after Mubarak et al were toppled by the Arab youth 18 months later). Internationally, Rouhani holds out the possibility of escaping the severe sanctions but keeping the nuclear energy program, which is Khamenei’s baby and which he sees as a guarantee that Iran can’t be held hostage by the international energy markets and great powers. But deploying Rouhani means slapping down Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) hard liners, which he did in February.

Hard liners are jumping up and down mad about what Rouhani & Zarif are alleged to have given away to the West, and my suspicion is that Khamenei’s demand for immediate end of sanctions is a way of tossing them a bone for the moment. If you read the whole speech he comes back and is still supportive of the process at the end, saying he is not for or against the deal since there really is no deal yet, just a framework agreement for negotiating the deal. But then that means he did not, contrary to the headlines, come out against the deal today.

Khamenei is not allying with soft liners. Rather, he is trying to put together a new coalition of centrists and pragmatic hard liners who can sideline both the reformist Greens and the populist far right, in essence transcending and leaving behind the key divisions of 2009. At the same time this new center-right coalition could just possibly do a nuclear deal with the P5 +1 that would turn around Iran’s economy. But this latter may or may not be possible.

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Related video:

PBS Newshour: “Iran leaders insist on specific timing of sanction relief for nuclear deal”

Top Ten Ways Islamic Law forbids Terrorism

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 21, has been convicted on all counts in the Boston Marathon bombings.

Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan were from a mixed Chechen and Avar family. Dzhokhar was born in Kyrgyzstan, a Central Asian republic that had been part of the Communist Soviet Union. Being from a Soviet background, the Tsarnaevs were probably originally more or less atheists, whatever they said later. Even Soviet Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia who identified as “Muslims” mostly did so before the 1990s as a matter of ethnicity, not piety. Most Soviet Muslim men drank copious amounts of vodka. Few knew how to pray in the Muslim manner with prostrations. Being deracinated appears to have left the Tsarnaev boys open to the blandishments of radical Muslim cults on the internet. But there was even so not much recognizably Muslim in their style of life.

It is worthwhile reprising on this day my 2013 posting on the ways that the Tsarnaevs broke Muslim law, which I’ve very slightly revised:

1. Terrorism is above all murder. Murder is strictly forbidden in the Qur’an. Qur’an 6:151 says, “and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.” (i.e. murder is forbidden but the death penalty imposed by the state for a crime is permitted). 5:53 says, “… whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”

2. If the motive for terrorism is religious, it is impermissible in Islamic law. It is forbidden to attempt to impose Islam on other people. The Qur’an says, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right way has become distinct from error.” (-The Cow, 2:256). Note that this verse was revealed in Medina in 622 AD or after and was never abrogated by any other verse of the Quran. Islam’s holy book forbids coercing people into adopting any religion. They have to willingly choose it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.30.51 AM

3. Islamic law forbids aggressive warfare. The Quran says, “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61) The Quran chapter “The Cow,” 2:190, says, “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

4. In the Islamic law of war, not just any civil engineer can declare or launch a war. It is the prerogative of the duly constituted leader of the Muslim community that engages in the war. Qur’an 4:59 says “Obey God and the Messenger and those in authority among you.” Nowadays that would be the president or prime minister of the state, as advised by the mufti or national jurisconsult.

5. The killing of innocent non-combatants is forbidden. According to Sunni tradition, ‘Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, gave these instructions to his armies: “I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Malik’s Muwatta’, “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

6. Terrorism or hirabah is forbidden in Islamic law, which groups it with brigandage, highway robbery and extortion rackets– any illicit use of fear and coercion in public spaces for money or power. The principle of forbidding the spreading of terror in the land is based on the Qur’an (Surah al-Ma’ida 5:33–34). Prominent [pdf] Muslim legal scholar Sherman Jackson writes, “The Spanish Maliki jurist Ibn `Abd al-Barr (d. 464/ 1070)) defines the agent of hiraba as ‘Anyone who disturbs free passage in the streets and renders them unsafe to travel, striving to spread corruption in the land by taking money, killing people or violating what God has made it unlawful to violate is guilty of hirabah . . .”

7. Sneak attacks are forbidden. Muslim commanders must give the enemy fair warning that war is imminent. The Prophet Muhammad at one point gave 4 months notice (Q. 9:5).

8. The Prophet Muhammad counseled doing good to those who harm you and is said to have commanded, “Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong to them. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong (even) if they do evil.” (Al-Tirmidhi)

9. The Qur’an demands of believers that they exercise justice toward people even where they have reason to be angry with them: “And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”[5:8]

10. The Qur’an assures Christians and Jews of paradise if they believe and do good works, and commends Christians as the best friends of Muslims. I wrote elsewhere, “Dangerous falsehoods are being promulgated to the American public. The Quran does not preach violence against Christians.

Quran 5:69 says (Arberry): “Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness–-their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow.”

In other words, the Quran promises Christians and Jews along with Muslims that if they have faith and works, they need have no fear in the afterlife. It is not saying that non-Muslims go to hell– quite the opposite.

When speaking of the 7th-century situation in the Muslim city-state of Medina, which was at war with pagan Mecca, the Quran notes that the polytheists and some Arabian Jewish tribes were opposed to Islam, but then goes on to say:

5:82. ” . . . and you will find the nearest in love to the believers [Muslims] those who say: ‘We are Christians.’ That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.”

So the Quran not only does not urge Muslims to commit violence against Christians, it calls them “nearest in love” to the Muslims! The reason given is their piety, their ability to produce holy persons dedicated to God, and their lack of overweening pride.

(For a modernist, liberal interpretation, see this pdf file, “Jihad and the Islamic Law of War.”

President Rand Paul’s Middle East Policy

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) declared his candidacy today to be the Republican standard bearer in the 2016 election.

So what would a Rand Paul presidency look like with regard to Middle East policy? Although Paul has a reputation as a Libertarian non-interventionist, he isn’t actually either one. As he has admitted, he supported the Afghanistan War in 2001.

Let’s take Syria. Sen. Paul was opposed to the planned Obama administration intervention in Syria in fall, 2013 after a unit of the Baath regime was alleged to have deployed chemical weaponry against rebels in Ghouta near Damascus, killing some 1100 people. Paul said that an American intervention would create a “jihadist wonderland.” In part, his opposition had been rooted in a demand that Obama get congressional approval before going in. But even when Obama looked as though he would ask for a congressional vote, Paul remained opposed, unsure that the rebels in Syria, many of them become extremist radicals, would be better for US interests than the government of Bashar al-Assad.

But then a year later when Obama decided to bomb Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) positions at Raqqa in Syria, Rand Paul supported the move. However, he did not approve of the second part of Obama’s strategy, of training pro-Western freedom fighters to take on both Daesh and the al-Assad regime.

At the same time, Rand Paul initially opposed an American reentry into Iraq in June of 2014 when Daesh took Mosul and Tikrit. Then he gradually came around to supporting an air campaign against them in Iraq.

Can we conclude anything from this apparent flip flop? It seems clear first of all that Rand Paul is not anti-war in principle. He supported the Afghanistan War and he supports the current allied bombing campaign against Daesh / ISIL. He appears not to see the Baath government of al-Assad in Syria as a threat to the US, and so opposes an intervention against it, which he thinks would anyway backfire in favor of Muslim extremists. On the other hand, he appears to see Daesh as a threat to the US, and so backed Obama’s bombing campaign against it in Syria. But he’s against supporting land forces there.

In some ways this set of stances resembles those of Obama himself. Rand Paul, like Obama, supports those wars he sees as key to US security, like Afghanistan, but not elective interventions not clearly defensive in character (Saddam’s Iraq). Like Obama, Paul appears to have a preference for air interventions over infantry ones. One big difference between the two men is that Rand Paul

Rand Paul also, however, has to be seen as inconsistent. He was against bombing Syria and Iraq before he was for it. His first instinct is to avoid involvement and to criticize those who want to intervene, but then over time he seems to get pulled in by the same logic that drove others to favor action.

I think that is a problem– as a senator you might have the luxury of changing your mind. But openly flip-flopping on important issues as president would confuse allies and embolden enemies.

Rand Paul wanted to cut off aid to Egypt over its 2013 military coup. This position has the advantage of being in accordance with US law and being principled. It has the disadvantage that it disregards the ways in which the US needs Egypt as an ally in the Middle East.

On Israel’s attack on Gaza, Rand Paul’s head was so far up Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ass that he knew which kind of hummus the PM had for lunch. He actually said he would support whatever the Israeli government wanted to do to the people in Gaza.

On Iran, I wrote of Paul on Monday:

[L]ast January at a Presidential forum he openly let the warmongers among his rivals have it with both barrels. Carol Giacomo wrote in the NYT that Rand asked chickenhawks Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz,

“Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? … I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions… But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.”

In other words, Paul largely agrees with Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran, though no doubt he will find minor ways of distancing himself from the president.

What, then, would the Middle East look like under a Rand Paul presidency? I can’t see that it would be much different. Paul has already announced that he wouldn’t stand up to the far right wing Likud Party over its treatment of the Palestinians. He basically has Obama’s policy in Iraq and Syria, though he wouldn’t go so far as to try to train rebels against al-Assad. He has Obama’s policy on Iran. The only departures are that he is less forgiving of Egypt’s military coup than is the Obama administration (which also cut of funding for a while) and that he has been a critic of Obama’s extensive use of drones for counter-terrorism.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Senator Rand Paul Presidential Announcement Full Speech (C-SPAN)

Netanyahu slips, Reveals reason for Opposition to Iran Deal

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

US television news isn’t very good and it has clearly gotten worse over the past 20 years. In the aftermath of the Kerry-Zarif initial framework deal on nuclear energy in Iran, it seems obvious that an interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would be newsworthy. But to my knowledge none of the networks or major cable news shows had him on.

Or you could have talked to the British, French, German, Russian or Chinese foreign ministers, all of whom were principals and all of whom would have had interesting insights.

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was given repeated access to millions of Americans to talk trash about the deal over the weekend and to make mostly false allegations about its contours. Israel is a small country of 8 million with a gross domestic product in the range of Portugal. Netanyahu isn’t a party to the deal. He doesn’t have more riding on it than Britain or France. Israel isn’t even threatened by Iran, since Israel has several hundred nuclear weapons and submarines to deliver them. Iran has only old, conventional weapons. Even if it someday had a nuclear weapon, which its leaders say would be un-Islamic and that they don’t want it, Israel has a powerful deterrent.

So what is really going on? Netanyahu let it slip in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday:

“Secondly, Iran is going to have sanctions lifted, including crippling sanctions, pretty much up front. And that’s going to have billions and billions of dollars flow into the Iranian coffers, not for schools or hospitals or roads, but to pump up Iran’s terror machine throughout the world.

And it’s a military machine that’s now engaged in conquest throughout the world in Iraq and Syria and Yemen, around the borders of Israel elsewhere.”

In other words, Netanyahu wants to keep Iran poor and undeveloped. He wants to make sure that “crippling” sanctions aren’t lifted. He wants to keep Iranians in grinding poverty.

Is it true that the Iranian state would not spend the money that it garnered through a lifting of sanctions on schools or hospitals?

Look, I am no fan of the Islamic Republic or its system of government or its censorship and authoritarianism. But let us say that Netanyahu, in standing for permanent military rule over 4 million stateless Palestinians, and in launching disproportionate military campaigns with disregard for non-combatant life, is not obviously superior.

And, as far as social spending goes, Iran is in principal as progressive as Israel, though not as rich per capita. The Iranian state has built enormous numbers of schools since 1979, especially in rural areas, and [pdf] has brought literacy among the over-15 population from 65% in 1990 to 90% today. In the 15-25 age group, literacy is fully 98% and there are nearly 4 million university students. Iran has done better in educating its women than most other Middle Eastern countries, and a majority of Iranian college students is women.

p-LiteracyRatesYoungWomen

Literacy rates were low in the 1970s and relatively few Iranians went to university then. You can’t produce an impressive change in literacy that way without investing substantially in schools.

The crippling sanctions on Iran that make Netanyahu’s mouth water so much have badly hurt the 60,000 Iranian students studying abroad, making it difficult for them to transfer money and causing the value of the riyal to plummet. Those students are not politicians and ought not to have their futures held hostage to geopolitics.

As for health care, Iran has universal health care, unlike the USA, and it is mandated in the Iranian constitution. The Islamic Republic has spent substantial sums making it more available to the population, including in previously neglected rural areas. Crippling sanctions over the long term would certainly pose severe health risks to ordinary Iranians.

So it simply is not true that the Iranian state does not spend on schools and hospitals, as Netanyahu alleged. His purpose in making this false claim is to deflect an obvious critique of “crippling” sanctions, which is that they harm ordinary people, not just the state.

His allegation that an Iranian commander pledged to destroy Israel is unlikely to be true. The Iranian leadership doesn’t like Israel, but they have a no first strike policy and don’t have the slightest intention of attacking anyone with conventional military forces. Iran is too far away to attack Israel and it would be madness to strike at a nuclear power. Typically Iranians say things like “the Occupation regime must end,” and people like Netanyahu interpret that to be a threat to roll tanks (Iran has actually made no such threats, whatever you have been told).

As for his charge that Iran is using its oil money to spread terrorism or conquer the Middle East, this claim is mostly also for the most part not true. Netanyahu counts a national liberation organization that fought Israeli occupation such as Lebanon’s Hizbullah as a “terrorist organization.” What he really means is that it interfered with Israel annexing 10% of its neighbor Lebanon’s territory (which it held 1982-2000). He counts Iran’s help to Iraq in fighting Daesh (ISIL or ISIS) as a “conquest” of Iraq! in all this verbiage, the major legitimate knock against Iran with regard to its foreign activities is that Iran has helped the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria to survive, something it has done through odious practices such as barrel-bombing its own population. But Netanyahu doesn’t even say anything about that except to complain that Iran is active near Israeli borders with Syria.

“Crippling” sanctions haven’t in any case stopped Iran from arming Hizbullah and there is no reason to think they ever will. Moreover, given the weakness of the Lebanese military, someone needs to keep the Israelis from trying to annex Lebanese territory again.

Netanyahu has showed his hand. He wants to use the USA and the Treasury Department to sanction Iran into penury, to keep its middle classes small and shrinking and to cut people’s income, education and health care. He wants a total war on Iran, including on Iranian women, children and non-combatants. It isn’t a plausible aspiration, and it isn’t a worthy one.

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Related video:

USA Today: “Netanyahu and Obama miles apart on Iran nuclear deal”

Do GOP Frontrunners have an Iran policy besides Sanctions and Bombs?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran to ensure that its nuclear enrichment program remains purely civilian, for generating electricity, ought to be bipartisan in spirit. Achieving that goal would benefit all Americans.

The GOP presidential field in particular and the Republican Party in general have decided to treat the Iran negotiations the way they did Obamacare, as the unfortunate apparent achievement of a president they had determined to emasculate, which needs to be abrogated yesterday. In short, they are making the Iran talks a partisan domestic issue, refusing to recognize it as a diplomatic victory.

Some of the Republican obstreperousness derives from a desire to please one man: Sheldon Adelson, the sleazy casino magnate who made his pile in unsavory ways in Macao, China and who threw $100 million of his own money behind Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney in 2012. As a result of recent Supreme Court rulings such as Citizens United and the striking down of campaign finance reform by that theorist of capitalist dictatorship, John Roberts, cranky individual billionaires like Sheldon Adelson have abruptly been awarded the right to buy and sell American presidents. Chris Christie traipsed off to try to please Adelson in Nevada and called the Occupied Territories of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Occupied Territories, and was taken to the wood shed by Adelson, who wouldn’t be able to see oppressed persons if they were carrying him in a palanquin.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has carefully managed to avoid saying anything about the deal outlined this week. His basic reply is, “no comment.” This position is a little surprising, since last January at a Presidential forum he openly let the warmongers among his rivals have it with both barrels. Carol Giacomo wrote in the NYT that Rand asked chickenhawks Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz,

“Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? … I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions… But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.”

So the reason Mr. Paul is hiding from the press on the Iran issue is that he agrees with President Obama’s approach but does not want to let his GOP competitors slam him as an isolationist peacenik.

Unfortunately, Paul has not been consistent. He signed the infamous letter of 47 senators to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervening in the midst of the talks in precisely the way he warned against last January. And now he is just quiet.

Scott Walker, the far right wing governor of Wisconsin, pledged to “blow up” any deal with Iran if he became president, regardless of what the Europeans thought of that, and to do it on his first day in office.

Walker doesn’t seem to understand that releasing Iran from its obligations under the Kerry-Zarif deal while undermining international sanctions against Iran would put the ayatollahs in the catbird seat! Ignoring the Europeans may play well as a sound bite to conservatives, but the Europeans would take revenge for being jerked around by refusing to revive sanctions against Iran. Iran is a country of 77 million people with a gdp of some $400 bn., and as a market has the same attractions as Poland. European firms want to invest in Iran, and have only been held back by a their governments, who want to give the USA a chance to succeed in diplomacy. If the US demonstrates that it has no interest in diplomacy, why should European companies deny themselves a primo investment opportunity? Hint: They won’t.

And if Europe bails on the sanctions, they become irrelevant. Scott Walker’s is a good path toward taking off all restraints on Iran except unilateral American sanctions, which cannot in and of themselves have much effect. Even European sanctions on Iran have largely been offset by the country’s increased trade with China.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) called the Iran deal “troubling.” Last January, he accused the Obama administration of facilitating a nuclear weapon for Iran: “In five years we’ll just build them one.” But Rubio did not seem actually to have grasped the details of this deal as explained in the White House talking points. He maintained that the Fordow facility near Qom would be allowed to continue to enrich. That isn’t what the White House said. He said that thousands of centrifuges would be allowed to spin. Yes, but there is no way short of invasion and occupation to dismantle those centrifuges. Obama is shrinking their number from 19,000 to 5,000 according to the WH talking points, which would make it impossible for Iran to go for broke and enrich enough fissile material for a quickie bomb.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), for all his bluster, did not actually threaten to vote down the Iran deal just announced. He did insist that it be cast in the form of a treaty and voted on by the senate. But 84 percent of international agreements signed by the US are simply presidential initiatives; treaties are fairly rare. Nor is there an obvious way for him to get his way on this matter, since the GOP does not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate on the Iran negotiations (even conservative Democrats are likely to side with Obama here).

So, just to recap: The usually flamboyant Ted Cruz has been more cautious and circumspect than Scott Walker in his reaction to the Iran deal. Walker used the unfortunate phrase “blow up” about a nuclear negotiation and does not seem to understand how international sanctions work, nor that unilateral US sanctions wouldn’t much hurt Iran. Marco Rubio needs new glasses, since he seems not to be able to read the fine print of the agreement.

And Rand Paul is AWOL on one of the most important issues facing the country.

The Republican presidential field is not ready for prime time regarding the Iran deal.

As for the rank and file GOP congress representatives, such as Louis Gohmert (R-TX), they just raved like lunatics, talking about bombing each and every centrifuge in Iran. But then they were going to fix Iraq by bombing it, too.

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Related video:

VOA: “‘Unprecedented’ Iran deal draws GOP critics”

Yemen: Russia, Red Cross Demand halt to Bombing to Avert Humanitarian Catastrophe

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The Red Cross and the Russian Federation are both demanding a temporary cease-fire in the aerial bombardment of Yemen by a Saudi-led coalition, to allow delivery of needed humanitarian goods.

Two weeks of bombing have left some 500 Yemenis dead and 1700 more wounded. Dozens of the killed or wounded are children.

The Red Cross wrote:

“Hospitals and clinics treating the streams of wounded from across much of Yemen are running low on life-saving medicines and equipment. In many parts of the country, the population is also suffering from fuel and water shortages, while food stocks are quickly depleting. Dozens of people are being killed and wounded every day. The streets of Aden are strewn with dead bodies, and people are afraid to leave their homes.”

Saudi airstrikes have repeatedly hit civilian neighborhoods in cities like Sanaa and have, intentionally or no, struck soft targets of no obvious military value, including a refugee camp.

At the United Nations Security Council, the Russian Federation introduced a resolution demanding an immediate temporary cease-fire in Yemen to allow the evacuation of diplomats from Sanaa, the capital, and to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to non-combatants.

At the same time, Russia denied sending arms to the Houthi rebels.

The air raids have not stopped the Houthi rebels from advancing, and they appear to have taken much of the key southern port of Aden.

Related video:

Reuters: “Russia and Red Cross appeal for ‘humanitarian pause’ in Yemen”

What if US & UN Sanctioned Israel over its Nukes as they did Iran over Enrichment?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

There is a lot of talk about nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and the ways in which an Iranian bomb would provoke Saudi Arabia and others to acquire nuclear warheads of their own.

But for decades, the primary impetus to a nuclear arms race in the region has been Israel, which probably had an atom bomb by about 1970. It was helped behind the scenes by France and Britain– which actively proliferated nuclear weapons to Israel.

It was Israel’s bomb that, in part, impelled Iraq to go for broke. Iraq’s nuclear weapons program of the 1980s in turn convinced some in Iran that Iran needed at least a nuclear break-out capacity if two of its enemies were going to have bombs. Since Israel destroyed an Iraqi light water reactor, OSIRAK, in 1981 (which had been built by the French and could not easily have been used to produce fissile material), when Iran began its experiments in uranium enrichment, it kept them secret lest Tel Aviv send out F-14s.

Ideally, the whole Middle East should be an atomic bomb- free region. The area has enough horrible problems without a weapon of mass destruction. But the UN Security Council has treated Israel very differently from the way they treated Iran. For centuries, Europeans have been held to different standards and different rules than have peoples of the Global South. Israel as a “European” country was allowed to get a nuclear bomb, indeed was helped to do so, and no sanctions were ever applied to it. Iran was targeted for economic warfare just for having an enrichment program.

Now that Iran is being constrained by a strict inspections regime and limitations on centrifuges from ever weaponizing its civilian enrichment program, what if the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to decommissioning Israel’s stock of several hundred warheads?

If Britain, France, Russia, China and the USA decided Israel would have to give up its nukes, as a means of ensuring non-proliferation in the Middle East, how would they proceed?

On analogy from the sanctions imposed on Iran, we could see the UNSC pass a resolution demanding that Israel sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (as Iran has).

Then they demand that Israel allow inspectors in to Dimona.

Then they demand that Israel destroy its stockpile of atomic bombs.

When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu loudly and cheekily defies the world body, the UNSC moves to the next stage.

The European Union, with which Israel does a third of its trade, begins boycotting Israeli-made goods and Israeli companies.

China joins suit, drastically reducing its imports from Israel and curtailing contracts to Israeli firms.

As Netanyahu’s defiance grows louder and more strident, and he begins threatening the five permanent members of the Security Council, the UNSC takes a dim view of his bluster.

Israel is kicked off the SWIFT bank exchange and excluded from the alternative Chinese one. Israeli foreign trade plummets as sellers find it impossible to receive shekels for the goods they send to Israel. It is difficult to buy Israeli products because there is no easy way to pay Israeli businesses for them. Buyers turn to other producers of similar products in other countries.

Israeli exports are cut in half. The country is forced to trade with some poor Asian and African countries that do no care about the UNSC, but must barter for their inferior made goods.

The shekel falls from roughly $.25 to only an American dime. The Israeli middle class can suddenly no longer afford to vacation in Europe or the United States. Egyptian and Turkish beaches are off limits because those countries joined the boycott, hoping for a denuclearized Middle East.

Haaretz runs an editorial pointing out that Israel has an American nuclear security umbrella and asking why the country needs its own stockpile.

Netanyahu stages a photo op standing atop stacked nuclear warheads, waving a cowboy hat above his head in imitation of Slim Pickens in the film, “Dr. Strangelove.”

The shekel falls to five cents against the dollar. Israelis find it difficult to afford some important medicines because of their high cost, and some patients die as a result. Many Israelis begin moving to France, Germany and Sweden, tired of trying to scrape a living together in an increasingly dilapidated Tel Aviv, beset with potholes and crumbling buildings.

In new elections, Isaac Herzog becomes prime minister and announces a willingness to negotiate with President Michelle Obama’s Secretary of State.

The Security Council insists that Israel sign the NPT and accept wide-ranging and surprise IAEA inspections. The destruction of its stockpile of atomic bombs begins.

Other Middle East states, having seen what happened to Iran and Israel, affirm that they have no interest in nuclear weaponry. Most now in any case get their power not from reactors but from solar farms, which generate electricity at 2 cents a kilowatt hour. Cheap power and fewer military expenses have made them prosperous. They implore Israel to join their ranks and also to accept the 2002 Arab League peace plan.

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Related video:

Zero Hour with E.J. Eskow: “Pentagon Finally Admits Israel’s Got the Bomb (w/ William Greider)”

The von Moltke Fallacy and avoiding another World War, with Iran

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Iran has just de facto announced that it does not want a nuclear weapon, at least in this generation, and probably ever. That American and Western hawks can’t see this is a measure of their own blinkered view of reality or their own corruption. Some hawkishness is a business plan; if you use up bombs in an elective war, you have to order more planes, bombs, tanks, etc. from the arms manufacturers who fund your political campaign.

Intentions are underrated. It is a truism in military strategy that you cannot afford to worry about enemy intentions. What you have to worry about is enemy capabilities. The intentions could always turn to the dark side. But if you are prepared for their capabilities, you can withstand an attack.

This way of thinking has a significant drawback, which is that it is easy to attribute to the enemy bad intentions it does not have, and to use technical superiority to launch a preemptive war. France wasn’t in fact planning to attack Germany in the first half of 1914. Some French generals were suspicious of German intentions earlier that year and even thought of shoring up defenses on the Belgian frontier, but that was defensive. In fact, the British assured Kaiser Wilhelm II of French neutrality, and the Kaiser was inclined to accept the assurance.

But Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke the Younger and the German high command had begun implementing a Schlieffen Plan for fighting France done up as a contingency in 1905, and in 1914 assumed it was only a matter of time before the budding Austrian-Russian war would draw Russia’s French ally in against Austria’s German ally. They insisted on going ahead. Von Moltke and the other officers thought they were initiating a short preemptive war, whereas they were in fact initiating an act of aggression that would end the German Empire after nearly half a decade of epochal carnage. Putting intentions aside and attending only to strategic and operational issues can be dangerous, since military men and hawkish politicians are suspicious people and see bad intentions everywhere.

The virtue of the Lausanne Plan with regard to Iran, it seems to me, is that it at least latently addresses both issues. Iran is subjecting itself to limitations on centrifuges, limitations on the Arak reactor, and limitations on enriched stockpiles that forestall the construction of a nuclear weapon in a time frame that would matter. The capacity isn’t there in the short term.

But the very willingness of the Iranian regime to put itself under this stringent regime of technical limitations and intrusive inspections can only signal that Tehran has not the slightest desire to weaponize its enrichment program.

We know this from history. When North Korea decided to get a nuclear bomb, it abandoned the 1994 Agreed Framework in 2002, withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 2003, and by 2006 had a bomb. Iran is acting in the opposite way. It is accepting more stringent inspections and massive limitations on equipment.

This agreement does not look like North Korea at all.

It looks like Brazil and Argentina, which had a budding nuclear rivalry in the 1980s under their respective military dictatorships but which, when they transitioned to civilian rule, drew back in horror at the idea of having or using a bomb. They made the Quadripartite Agreement at Guadalajara. Here’s a description of the compliance mechanisms they set up in the early 1990s to ensure that their nuclear programs were peaceful:

” Verification and Compliance: Brazil and Argentina have established the Common System of Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (SCCC) in order to verify that nuclear materials used in all nuclear activities in both countries are not diverted to purposes prohibited by the agreement. The objective of ABACC is to administer and implement the SCCC: to carry out inspections, to designate inspectors, to evaluate inspections, to engage the necessary services to ensure fulfillment of the SCCC objectives, to represent the parties before third parties in connection with the implementation of the SCCC, and to take legal action. The Quadripartite Agreement between the two Governments, the ABACC, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gives the IAEA the responsibility of applying full safeguards in both countries. If a country was found to be in non-compliance, the IAEA would refer the case to the United Nations Security Council.”

Neither country has been found to be in non-compliance.

There will be those who compare Lausanne to Chamberlain’s negotiations with Hitler. That analogy is flawed six ways from Sunday. First of all, poor Chamberlain has been unfairly maligned, since he wasn’t giving in to Germany, he was engaged in a deliberate and deceptive stalling action. Second, he wasn’t putting Germany under inspections or getting it to agree to reduce its armaments by 2/3s! Third, all peace agreements aren’t preludes to war. Most a preludes to peace. I have called the hawks’ fallacy The Crock of ‘Appeasement’.

In short, Lausanne looks more like the Brazilian-Argentinian Guadalajara Agreement or like the 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, both of which have held, than it looks like 1938.

The people who argue for 1938 are unbeknownst to themselves actually stuck in Berlin, August 1914 and are perpetually playing von Moltke. They imagine an attack from a France that has already offered to stay neutral. They imagine a short war. They are intrigued by the possibilities of new military breakthroughs if only a years-old Schlieffen Plan can be implemented. They initiate aggression and genocide in the name of a phantasmic preemption. They act on paranoid hallucinations with real tanks and bombs.

We already let the Neoconservatives play von Moltke in Iraq, arguing preemptive war, Iraqi Baathist bad intentions, secret nuclear weapons programs, etc., etc. After a century, surely von Moltke and preemptive war thinking, which polished off 16 million people and wounded 20 million, should have a worse reputation than they do.

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif have demonstrated that diplomacy can work, that war is not the only available policy tool or even a very good one, and that we don’t have to fight World War III in the Middle East.

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Related video:

CNN: “Kerry: ‘People negotiated hard’ in Iran nuclear…”

Syria: ISIL Conquest of Yarmouk Palestinian Camp refutes Israeli Propaganda

Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

On Wednesday, the extremist Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) group, known for its brutal beheadings and mass murder, took over the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp inside Damascus city limits. Palestinian women and Christians and male secularists are at special risk now. Had they been living normally in their homes in what is now Israel, with their own state, they would not have been left vulnerable to this fate. Refugees and stateless people not only have no courts or armies to defend their rights, they are not even recognized as having the right to have rights.

The Israelis ethnically cleansed three fifths of the Palestinians of British Mandate Palestine in 1947-48, creating enormous refugee crises in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon that roiled the region through the subsequent decades and continue to contribute to instability in the region. Some 70% of the Palestinians cooped up by the Israelis in the open-door concentration camp called Gaza are descendants of refugee families from what is now Israel, some living only an hour’s walk from the homes that were stolen from them. Some 40% of Palestinians in Gaza are still living in refugee camps, despite Israeli direct rule 1967-2005, which propagandists say was benevolent– but clearly it left Palestinians with blighted lives.

Propagandists who excuse the ethnic cleansing campaign and the continued explicit denial to Palestinians of the right of citizenship in a state often maintain that it should have been possible for “the Arabs” to “absorb” the Palestinians. But in international law, the state that committed the ethnic cleansing is responsible for it and for reparations, not the hapless neighbors on whom the refugees were unceremoniously dumped.

Moreover, the right wing Israeli construction of “the Arabs” is intended to deny specific Palestinian political identity and to create all the hundreds of millions of speakers of the Arabic language as an undifferentiated mass, as a way of making that mass responsible for absorbing the people on whom Israelis inflicted a tort.

As for “Arabs,” they include the Christians of Lebanon, who rejected Lebanese citizenship for Muslim Palestinians because it would change the politics of that country. It should be remembered that most Palestinians also reject ‘tawtin,’ being given citizenship that would preclude their claim on Palestinian identity or the right to return to their homeland.

The Palestinians expelled by Israelis to Syria are a case in point. They have grown through natural increase to some 400,000 (Syria’s population is 23 million). Many of these Palestinians still live in 9 large refugee camps. Among the more prominent is Yarmouk, a camp that had until recently come to have 160,000 residents and now has only about 18,000. Palestinians are not Syrians and do not have Syrian citizenship, but they were given substantial rights as residents in Syria.

None of that means anything now that the Syrian state is in collapse. Some 90 percent of the population of Yarmouk has fled, caught in the cross-fire of the civil war. The fighting presented a dilemma to Palestinians themselves with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC) siding with the regime and the Storm Brigade (Liwa’ al-`Asifa) siding with the secular rebel group of some years ago, the Free Syrian Army. Now leftists and secularists and democrats are all gone, along with tens of thousands of refugees made refugees all over again. Indeed, this is a common fate of the stateless, since their basic human rights are unstable and often denied, so that even when they build up a little island of prosperity, it is often abruptly taken back away.

Does it mean anything for the displaced Palestinian victims of the Israelis that they are “Arabs” among Daesh murderers? Where is the Palestinian army that would rescue them (the West Bank isn’t far away)?

Palestinians continue to suffer, not only under Israeli military occupation, but wherever they are stateless refugees, open to the cruel turns of fate that beset the powerless.

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Related video:

Islamic State militants ‘enter Yarmouk refugee camp’ in Damascus – BBC News