Pakistanis Baffled, Buoyant over Trump’s Fantastical Praise

By Frud Bezhan | ( RFE/RL) | – –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fantastic Diplomacy’

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

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

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

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

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

Other Pakistanis were more skeptical.

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

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

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

Others were simply baffled, suggesting the remarks were fake.

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

‘Not A Friend’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Rupert Murdoch & Fox Created the Fake News Industry

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The concern about “fake news” now sweeping the inside-the-beltway crowd is a little hilarious, since all corporate news (i.e. news for profit) has elements of fakeness.

For instance, cable television news channels almost never cover climate change, and when they do they tend to give equal time to denialists. This is like never covering lung cancer and then when you do, bringing on a tobacco company executive to deny that cigarettes cause it. The reason for the dereliction of duty, which puts the welfare of all human beings at risk, is that the same corporations purveying the news also own a lot of stock in Exxon-Mobil and other Big Carbon companies. Basically, television executives are drowning your great-grandchildren for the health of their stock portfolios. The simple truth is that Exxon-Mobil stock is worthless, since their product is poisoning the planet, and as soon as the public wakes up to this fact, a lot of wealthy people will be bankrupt. (Virtually the entire British upper crust have their retirement funds heavily invested in BP, which I wouldn’t advise.)

Industry professionals have also admitted in interviews that they have been ordered by management not to bring up labor unions. Even large and long-lasting labor strikes tend to be ignored in television “news,” which is the news the business classes permit the public to see.

But those are sins of omission, and even highly professional journalists (and there are plenty working for the corporate media giants) have to put up with that kind of thing if they want to keep their jobs.

The sins of commission are much worse. They are what is now being called fake news. Some have suggested that fake news is just a synonym for propaganda, but I’m not sure that is correct. Good propaganda would probably admit a kernel of truth and then spin it. Fake news is about making stuff up and then purveying the resulting B.S. as the report of a professional journalist.

The most mammoth creator and distributor of fake news is not a few teenagers in Montenegro or wherever. It is an ancient ruddy Australian multi-billionaire named Rupert Murdoch, who conspired with shady GOP operative and alleged serial sexual harasser Roger Ailes to create Fox Cable “News” in 1996. As I put it in December, Fox’s “blonde anchors were not so much hired as trafficked.”

Murdoch, one of the more horrible persons ever to have lived, routinely used his prominence as owner of newspapers and television news channels to bully politicians. His is almost single-handedly responsible for blunting an urgent response to climate change, so he is a mass murderer in waiting. He owns the Wall Street Journal and the Times of London and much else besides (having all these outlets in the hands of a single man should be illegal to protect democracy). People very close to him hacked into newsworthy people’s phone message systems to get dirt on them for blackmail or titillating headlines, and it seems a little unlikely that a) this was done only in the UK or b) that people so close to Murdoch could have behaved this way without his knowledge.

Much of what is wrong with Fox Cable News is bias and spin. But it does also simply make things up.

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Fox routinely declined to cover news conferences by President Obama but virtually became Trump t.v. last summer and fall.

On the making stuff up front, here are some examples:

Fox actually doctored video to make it look as though President Obama encouraged undocumented immigrants to vote (he did urge Latinos to vote). Fox has a long history of doctoring video, which is well documented and should have caused their broadcast license to be revoked.

When Terry Schiavo was lying brain dead and the Republican Party intervened to stop her husband from pulling the plug, Fox actually brought on a psychic to claim that Schiavo was clear about what was going on around her. That is just making stuff up and calling it news. I.e., fake news.

Media Matters has documented 20 years of such steaming piles of B.S. at Fox.

In a three-year study of selected issues, Politifact found that 66% of what Fox presented on these subjects was partially or wholly false, a percentage far higher than any other news network.

Here are some of Politifact’s “pants on fire” findings regarding Fox:

Sean Hannity
“The president said he’s going to bring in 250,000 (Syrian and Iraqi) refugees into this country.”
— PunditFact on Monday, October 26th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Based on a debunked claim
George Will: “Says President Ronald Reagan “had a month of job creation of 1 million.”
— PunditFact on Monday, April 6th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Dana Perino: “On climate change, “the temperature readings have been fabricated, and it’s all blowing up in their (scientists’) faces.”
— PunditFact on Friday, February 13th, 2015
Pants on Fire!

Steven Emerson: “There are actual cities” like Birmingham, England, “that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.”
— PunditFact on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
Pants on Fire!
[See also Informed Comment on this one.]

Donald Trump: “Says President Barack Obama’s recent New York fundraising trip “cost between $25 million and $50 million.”
— PunditFact on Tuesday, October 14th, 2014
Pants on Fire!

Glenn Beck: “John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “has proposed forcing abortions and putting sterilants in the drinking water to control population.”
— PolitiFact National on Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Media Matters: “Kilmeade: Americans don’t have “pure genes” like Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics.” As Gawker noted, on the July 8 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that Americans don’t have “pure genes” like Swedes because “we keep marrying other species and other ethnics.” Kilmeade apologized for his “inappropriate” remarks on July 20.”

JC: In fact, no one lived in Sweden during the last Ice Age, roughly 75,000-20,000 years ago, what with the three mile high glaciers sitting on it. When the ice finally receded, Sweden was populated in turn by diverse sets of people from elsewhere and Sweden has a high haplotype diversity. Of course, modern human beings came out of Africa around 50,000 years ago, and the people who started going into Sweden around 12,000 years ago were originally Africans. White skin was selected for in Sweden because embryos need vitamin D and in low-ultraviolet environments, darker skin interferes with sunlight getting through to the embryo. Skin color is a minor feature and says almost nothing about underlying genetic diversity).

There are hundreds of these cases, not to mention all the times that Fox has doctored footage of e.g. Obama speeches. These mistakes are not random. They all try to push the narrative in the direction of Neofascism. The entire channel is a propaganda mill, and the majority of “news” items reported there apparently can’t stand up to dispassionate inquiry.

So as pundits go off looking for culprits in the rise of fake news, they should look elsewhere than the former East Bloc. They should look at the Goebbels of Melbourne, the prophet of the new white supremacy and Neofascism, the propagandist for the Iraq War, one Rupert Murdoch– and his henchman, Roger Ailes– and their successors.

And, it is no accident that the incoming Trump administration is largely made up of staples over at Fox, a place where their sugar daddy Murdoch could nurture them like maggot larvae. Not only did they invent mass fake news, they’ve taken over our country with it.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Salon: Comedy Central: “The Daily Show – The Special Network”

Why Russia and Regime want all of Aleppo before Trump is sworn in

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In the past two days, the Syrian Arab Army and its Shiite militia allies (Hizbullah from Lebanon and others from Iraq) has taken a third to forty percent of the Eastern Aleppo pocket. The northeast zone of the pocket has collapsed, with rebel fights apparently declining any longer to stand and fight. They are taking massive fire from Russian and regime aircraft.

The Russian source Interfax alleges, “”Full control has been established over 12 neighbourhoods” of eastern Aleppo . . . “as Baeidin, Sheikh Fares, Qadisiya, Haidaria, Al-Ghani, Sheikh Hasser , Sheikh Khudr, Jabal Badro, Tareeq Sheikh Najjar, Turab al-Hollok, Bustan al-Basha and Sakhour.”

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On the order of 80,000 out of the 250,000 who lived in the pocket have fled. The press now has to say there are about 170,000 civilians trapped there, since so many appear to have departed– for regime-held West Aleppo and for the Kurdish-held region.

President-Elect Donald J. Trump has made it clear that he favors a victory of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and is willing to let Russia do the heavily lifting to finish off Muslim radicals such as Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) and the Levantine Conquest Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), the al-Qaeda affiliate formerly known as the Support (Nusra) Front.

Al-Assad did not disguise his glee when Trump was elected.

But Russia and al-Assad are not willing to risk Trump changing his mind, what with all the hawks milling around him and on his new cabinet. For many hard line Republicans like Michael Pompeo (CIA) and Michael Flynn (NSA), Iran is the next war over the horizon, and al-Assad is seen as a strategic asset to Iran.

Maxim Yusin and Georgy Stepanov quote Vladimir Sotnikov, director of the Russia-East-West Strategic Research Center in Kommersant.ru, (trans by BBC Monitoring) that Bashar “Al-Assad, as well as Russia and Iran who are backing him, aim to take the maximum advantage of the two months of ‘doldrums’ in the USA after the presidential election was over, but a new administration has not started its work yet. . .”

Sotnikov says that taking all of Aleppo before Trump’s inauguration makes it less likely that any demand will be made that he step down. Since there at some point will likely be negotiations over Syria, al-Assad will be able to deal from strength.

Another point, which the Russian press doesn’t seem to make, is that the Aleppo pocket was the last big concentration of relatively moderate fundamentalist militias. If the rest of it falls, the fighters will have to try to escape to Idlib, a rural northern province still in the hands of the opposition. Unfortunately for them, the leading group in Idlib is the Levantine Conquest Front, which has al-Qaeda links. So reducing the rebellion to Idlib and al-Qaeda will be a huge propaganda coup for al-Assad.

In other news, the Egyptian government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi supports the al-Assad regime because of its enmity with the Muslim Brotherhood (most of the rebels that aren’t Salafi Jihadis are MB). Former Mubarak-era cabinet member Ahmad Abou ‘l-Gheit, now Secretary-General of the Arab League, launched an attack on the government of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, saying that it was the one who let all those European and other Western radical youth transit to Syria and Iraq.

—–

Related video:

AFP: “At least 1,200 rebels, civilians flee bastion of Aleppo”

Is Jimmy Carter right that Obama should Recognize Palestine?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Jimmy Carter wrote and NYT op-ed yesterday in which he called on Barack Obama to arrange for the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine and pass resolutions reaffirming the illegality of Israeli squatting on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Carter points out that there are 600,000 such Israeli squatters on stolen Palestinian land. He knows that likely Trump’s election marks the end of the US cover story that it is working toward a two-state solution.

With all due respect to Carter, who deserves a lot of respect, there is no evidence whatsoever that the US has done anything at all to implement a two-state solution. Washington has occasionally hosted Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but when the Israeli side insulted the US Secretary of State and the president and refused to cease aggressively colonizing Palestine even while they supposedly were parlaying over it, the US just acquiesced in Israeli intransigence. The Wikileaks cables from 2006 and 2007 show US embassy officials slavishly following Israeli policy initiatives like the boycott on Gaza.

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Carter is speaking out because a Trump policy on Israel-Palestine puts in doubt the legacy of his Camp David accords of 1978-79. Indeed, if the occupied Palestinians end up living in the hell of a decades-long Apartheid under the Israeli jackboot, then Camp David looks more and more like just a separate peace in which Egypt extricated itself from further confrontations with expansionist Israel, receiving back the Sinai, and leaving the poor weak Palestinians and Lebanese to their oppressive fate.

Not only is it right to rescue millions of Palestinians from statelessness, but resolving this issue would resolve 70% of America’s terrorism problem in the region.

So how plausible is Carter’s proposal to Obama? Oh, it could easily be done. The other members besides the US of the UN Security Council (Britain, France, Russia, and China) would be perfectly happy to pass a resolution condemning the Israeli squatting on Palestinian territory, if they were sure the US would not simply veto it, as it almost always does. The US itself could present a resolution, and I’ve heard that Obama’s team have crafted one as a contingency.

The trick is political will. The US would have to avoid exercising its veto. It always vetoes resolutions sanctioning or criticizing Israeli aggression and colonization.

Each president behaves in this way because the Israel lobbies have traditionaly helped fund political campaigns (John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt estimated that these lobbies provide as much as a third of the campaign funding for the Democratic Party.) You wonder if all this will change with the new Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump models– crowdfunding a campaign on the one hand and just having a billionaire buy the presidency with his own money. Sanders could take a more even-handed stance on the occupation of the stateless Palestinians precisely because he did not owe any big donors anything. In contrast, Hillary Clinton was deeply indebted to fanatical Israel-firsters like Haim Saban, and her speeches on the Mideast might as well have just been written by the Netanyahu government of Israel. Trump took a little money from Sheldon Adelson toward the end but not much, I think it was like $3 mn., which presumably did not buy much.

So the danger is that if Obama lifts his standing veto on UNSC resolutions on the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Israeli colonization policy, single-issue pro-Israel lobbies will decline to support the Democratic Party in 2020. Obama, as the leader of the Democratic Party, can’t very well chase away a third of the party’s funding for the next presidential race. (Even though, as I said, Sanders and Trump have introduced new models that could allow the sidestepping of single-issue lobbies like AIPAC).

But this juncture is special, and Carter is right that Obama could take the lead here. First of all, where are the pro-Israel donors going to go? To Trump? Can they really trust someone who is openly appointing known Neofascists and white supremacists?

So this is the one time where Obama could probably cross the Likud Party without harming Democratic Party fundraising down the line. Of course there is also the issue of the pro-Israel vote in Florida and elsewhere, but they couldn’t stop Trump in Florida or Pennsylvania so they are not as crucial as AIPAC keeps proclaiming.

So it seems to me that Obama can indeed act, and what I hear is that he is actively contemplating this step. Trump would not easily be able to reverse a UN Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on Israel for breaking international law by its galactic theft of Palestinian territory and its demotion of the Palestinian people to stateless objects of foreign military rule. He could go back to vetoing new resolutions, but was done would be done.

In fact, if Obama does not do what Carter is calling for, he could end up having no legacy at all. The Iran deal is fragile, as is Obamacare, and those were his only real achievements aside from a slew of executive orders that can be reversed by the incoming administration.

But of course the fate of 12 million Palestinians is rather more important than whether one politician is remembered for anything in the history books.

——

Related video:

AJ+: “The Struggle Of Palestinian Farmers Under Occupation”

Conspiracy Theorist in Chief: Trump’s falsehood about 2 mn. illegal votes only tip of Melting Iceberg

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Americans have given the nuclear codes to that crazy uncle you have to sit through Thanksgiving with who watches nut cases like Alex Jones and red-facedly proclaims that FEMA is keeping Americans in concentration camps.

Donald Trump still has his Twitter account and obsessed over the weekend about Jill Stein’s request for a recount in Minnesota and some other states. Then the last of the series came, saying that he would have won the popular vote if several million undocumented aliens had not voted.

tintrump

As Politifact points out, though way too cautiously and politely, this meme comes from conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. It is based on discredited studies, whether academic or the Florida GOP attempt at a purge of voter rolls (which ended up affecting like 80 people and one of those was a WW II vet).

No one can understand why exactly Trump says these things. Some think he is trying to divert attention from his scandals and legal problems. Some think he is preparing the way for further voter suppression laws.

This issue was raised when he told people in Pennsylvania that wind turbines were killing “all the birds.” Was he playing to the coal lobby? Was he trying to confuse Bernie voters? (The assertion about birds was of course phony.)

But all this theorizing is too clever by half. I think he’s just like that. He’s a conspiracy nut. (For more on this see Tim Murphy at Mother Jones). Maybe the reason liberals keep trying to discover the real strategy behind these unbalanced rants is that they don’t want to face the explosive truth in the first paragraph of this piece. The most powerful man in the world is the sort who cuts out articles from the newspaper on obscure subjects and papers the walls with them, trying to track down the FBI cover-up of Area 51.

Of course, it may well be that he favors conspiracy theories which also, if they were widely believed, would give him the power to do things he wants to do. Goethe and Weber had a theory of “elective affinity,” that sometimes differing ideas just go together.

Social psychiatrists have investigated conspiracy theorists, so we do know something about them. There are, for instance lots of conspiracy theories about the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the pilot who disappeared in 1932 in the Pacific.

The Scientific American notes,

In a study of 914 adults in London, University of Westminster’s Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham of University College London found that 4.5 percent of respondents espoused an alien abduction theory, 5.5 percent believed the two were spies taken down by the Japanese, and only 32 percent endorsed a relatively undramatic account that the plane crashed into the Pacific after running out of gas. Further, researchers found that respondents who believed in Earhart conspiracy theories had lower self-esteem, were more likely to be cynical toward politics, were less agreeable and gave themselves lower ratings of intelligence.”

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The correlation of belief in conspiracy theories with maladaptive personality traits is supported by a number of studies. That is, proneness to belief in conspiracy theories goes along with having some psychiatric problems of the sort detailed in DSM-4. Although on the surface no one would think that Trump’s problem is low self-esteem, in fact Adlerian theory would suggest that he is a bully precisely for this reason. The big hulking guy at the beach who kicks sand in the face of the 98-pound weakling does so because he is insecure inside. You could imagine that Der Donald was never good enough for old man Trump and is still working out daddy issues.

Having a conspiracy theorist in the White House is extremely problematic for a number of reasons.

People who have this tendency don’t look at assertions as falsifiable. They don’t have the sort of mindset that allows them to look at a fact-checking piece that disputes a deeply held belief and decide that they’ll have to give it up because the evidence tells against.

You wouldn’t want a president who, for instance, was convinced that another country was a threat to the US, and who could not be convinced by any evidence that the other country was not plotting to nuke Washington, DC.

Conspiracy theorists also have a tendency to what the Scientific American calls “a ‘monological belief system,’ in which any and all events can be explained by a web of interconnected conspiracies.”

Trump, for instance blames immigrants for a whole host of problems. He sees them as the explanation for rising crime (crime is not rising and immigrants are unusually law-abiding). For unemployment (they don’t generally compete for jobs with the native-born– they’re in a different labor niche). Now he sees them as the reason for which Hillary Clinton beat him in the popular vote. He just needs one scapegoat and can apply it to all his problems. The immigrants are in his web of interconnected conspiracies, at the center of his monology.

Conspiracy theorists are contrarians and capable of holding two diametrically opposed beliefs at the same time. Princess Diana is still alive. Princess Diana was deliberately murdered. They so distrust the government and authority that they prefer to hold more than one contradictory belief than to accept the mainstream view.

These ways of thinking may explain why Trump is uninterested in US intelligence briefings. His beliefs about the world are not falsifiable, so he finds the presentation of alternative evidence unbearably tedious. And since good intelligence reports are atomistic, disparate, and ambiguous, they would offend his quest for a monological set of beliefs. Moreover, the intelligence briefing will inevitably give him the mainstream view, whereas he prefers to go off chasing thought-butterflies.

The last time we had a president this paranoid, Richard Nixon, he got himself impeached because he thought the Democratic Party was planning dirty tricks against him of the sort he planned against them. Hence he had to have the party offices at the Watergate broken into. Twice. (Yes.) Nixon, like Trump, claimed executive privilege to cover his legal irregularities. The courts didn’t accept it.

But we can’t be sure Trump will go too far. And his conspiracy theories were so attractive that they won him the election. They could even win him a second. Assuming the level of radioactivity isn’t too high to prevent any more elections.

Frackopoly

by H. Patricia Hynes | ( Truthdig.com) | – –

Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment
A book by Wenonah Hauter (The New Press, 2016)

Branding fracked natural gas as a bridge fuel to renewable energy is one of the great fossil fuel ruses of our times. Two other scams include the trope that “natural gas is safe and green,” and the merchandising of doubt about climate change since the 1970s. Together they are driving us down the path of destruction by fire and water (or lack thereof), with implacable wildfires, drought, deluges, warming seas and sea level rise. 

frackopoly Click to buy

In her latest book, “Frackopoly: The Battle for the Future of Energy and the Environment,” Wenonah Hauter gives readers a bracing critique of the practice, finance schemes and politics of fracking, as well as a thorough, up-to-the minute account of grass-roots mobilizing to oppose fracking, new oil and gas pipelines, and liquid natural gas export terminals. The energy coursing through “Frackopoly” stems from Hauter’s unblinking floodlight on the coddled, corrupt and risk-driven fracking corporations, many of which are the financial progeny of robber barons. It is a fitting companion to Naomi Oreskes’ and Erik Conway’s acclaimed “Merchants of Doubt.” In their exposé, Oreskes and Conway excavated the cover-up of climate change since the 1970s by Exxon and other fossil fuel companies, as well as the perverse Republican campaign to discredit climate change scientists and science, abetted by mainstream media.

In Hauter’s book, the corporate frackers’ exploits are counterpoised with histories of unflinching grass-roots campaigns to leave fossil fuels in the ground, with some remarkable victories. Among these are a detailed case study of the uphill victory to ban fracking in New York state, and an overview from coast to coast of the ban movement, grounded in the environmental and health harms of fracking for oil and gas. As Hauter documents, these harms include immense potable water use even in regions of water scarcity; contaminated aquifers and wells; earthquakes induced by deep injection wastewater disposal; methane leaks at all points of production, transportation, storage and use; and respiratory, neurological and reproductive health impacts on nearby residents. She contrasts the tenacious fracking ban movement in rural communities, on Native American lands and in urban communities of color with the well-heeled mainstream environmental organizations’ concession of “regulating” fracking to lessen spills, methane leaks and drinking water contamination. These blinkered groups — among them the Environmental Defense Fund — play into our government’s national policy of an energy buffet, with renewables providing no more than 20 to 25 percent. The natural gas “bridge” they champion has been tagged a “bridge to nowhere,” a “bridge over a crumbling highway” and “a bridge to climate disaster,” given that new natural gas plants and infrastructure being built for fracked gas have a guaranteed 40-year life span — hardly an interim measure for a renewable future. The world, with an annual average of 22.5 million African, Asian, Pacific Island, and indigenous Alaskan climate refugees, does not have 40 years to spare.

Another rich seam lies in the book’s documentation of the leniency of federal and state regulation on behalf of the oil and gas industry conjoined with the largesse doled out in tax breaks, loopholes and shelters; federal research and development funds; land grants; and investments in ports and inland waterways. Since the 1970s, more than 10 trillion gallons of wastewater from oil and gas drilling have been categorized as non-hazardous and discharged into “class 2” injection wells. According to industry promoters and regulators interviewed by ProPublica, these wells are loosely regulated and receive less scrutiny, so as to protect the oil and gas industry from costly regulation and, thus, help sustain oil and gas production.

Tax policy and subsidies made all early fossil fuel and nuclear energy transitions possible, whereas government support for emerging renewables, including R&D, pale in comparison. Further, the costs from fossil fuel pollution, so-called externalities, which include groundwater pollution from wastewater injection wells, $7.3 trillion spent on patrolling the Persian Gulf oil shipments since the late 1970s, climate change and 7,500 premature deaths each year in the United States, are not borne by the industry. We citizens foot the bill.

What’s especially significant in “Frackopoly” — and rare in much fracking literature — is that the author foregrounds the plague of social harms emanating from “man camps,” code for oil and gas worker settlements. In the small town of Williston, North Dakota, for example, traffic accidents, crime, social disturbances from drunkenness and drug use, and rape have all increased significantly. Since 2000, when the town doubled in size with oil and gas fracking workers, a woman in Williston is more than twice as likely to be raped as in the rest of North Dakota.

With 2.5 million miles of oil and gas pipelines currently crisscrossing the country, east to west, north to south, and 19 pending pipeline projects planned for the whole Appalachian Basin on the East Coast, how can Hauter envisage the hundreds of steadfast actions nationwide to stop new pipelines as a titanic challenge to both the industry and government policy? The answer is perhaps best parsed by Mark Trahant of the Standing Rock Sioux, fighting the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, 1,172 miles stretching from Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to oil refineries in Illinois.

Trahant points to the power of social media to mobilize thousands of Native and grass-roots protesters, which by September 2016 included the historic support of 189 Protectors (as those gathered at Standing Rock reservation prefer to be known). They have the moral high ground, he says, in their campaigns to protect their water, ancestral territories and sacred sites. And, further, this is “The Moment” to stop pipelines and keep fossil fuels in the ground. Why now? A rising chorus of investment companies, among them the prominent global stock market index company MSCI, are warning investors to get out of fossil fuels before they become “stranded assets,” due to price volatility and competition from renewables. Portfolios that have divested from fossil fuels over the past five years are outperforming those that haven’t.

Sobering analysis from the Post Carbon Institute, though, counterbalances the “moment is now” surety. For example, “oil is essential to the modern world” because local, national and global transport of goods by heavy trucks, airplanes and container ships (carrying food, raw materials, and manufactured goods, including solar panels and wind turbine parts) rely on oil. These industrial cargo transports have no current energy substitute, unlike cars and trains that can be solar-powered. The revolution in solar and wind energy has focused largely on renewably generated electricity for domestic and commercial light, heat and appliances, while transportation consumes an estimated 30 percent of fossil fuels used in the United States. Transitioning to renewable, non-oil fuels will take two or more decades and has been “woefully insufficient.” We are rapidly running out of time to keep rising temperatures below the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees centigrade. The institute urges that while building a renewable future, we must rapidly transition to local economies, creating resilience and the capacity to produce and transport goods locally and regionally. But the transition to local, renewably powered towns and cities must be a just transition for all if the moral high ground is to be kept. “We have to be mindful that even if we transition to 100 percent renewables,” says Dallas Goldtooth, organizer of the Indigenous Environmental Network, “it doesn’t necessarily mean that society is just, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that poor communities will have access to basic needs. When we talk about this transition, we have to make sure it’s in line with the principles of social justice and environmental justice.”

As founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch, a watchdog group with offices throughout the United States and the first national organization to support a ban on fracking, Wenonah Hauter writes from a position of expertise on government and corporate accountability as well as on-the-ground activism and advocacy. Reading “Frackopoly” is something of a roller coaster ride — generating visceral disgust with reckless corporate maneuvers and weak, enabling state and federal regulators in tandem with exultation over the grass-roots victories, numbering more than 500, in communities that have passed measures to stop fracking. There is not one expendable sentence in this book. “Frackopoly” should be read side by side with the ominous analysis of the Post Carbon Institute and also Gretchen Bakke’s new book, “The Grid,” in which she contends that the national electrical grid is the “weakest link” in reaching our goal of 100 percent renewable power.

Pat Hynes, a retired professor of Environmental Health from Boston University School of Public Health, directs the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice in western Massachusetts (http://traprock.org). She has opposed nuclear weapons since she visited the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Museum and Memorial Park in the early 1980s.

Reprinted from Truthdig.com “> Truthdig.com with the author’s permission.


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The Manhattan White House, the Secret Service, and the Painted Bikini Lady

By Nick Turse | ( Tomdispatch.com) | – –

High above, somewhere behind the black glass façade, President-elect Donald J. Trump was huddled with his inner circle, plotting just how they would “drain the swamp” and remake Washington, perhaps the world. On the street far below, inside a warren of metal fencing surrounded by hefty concrete barriers with “NYPD” emblazoned on them, two middle-aged women were engaged in a signage skirmish.  One held aloft a battered poster that read “Love Trumps Hate”; just a few feet away, the other brandished a smaller slice of cardboard that said “Get Over It.” 

I was somewhere in between… and the Secret Service seemed a little unnerved.

Trump Tower is many things — the crown jewel skyscraper in Donald Trump’s real-estate empire, the site of the Trump Organization’s corporate offices, a long-time setting for his reality television show, The Apprentice, and now, as the New York Times describes it, “a 58-story White House in Midtown Manhattan.”  It is also, as noted above its front entrance: “OPEN TO THE PUBLIC 8 AM to 10 PM.”

When planning for the tower began in the late 1970s, Trump — like other developers of the era — struck a deal with the city of New York.  In order to add extra floors to the building, he agreed to provide amenities for the public, including access to restrooms, an atrium, and two upper-level gardens.    

When I arrived at Trump Tower, less than a week after Election Day, the fourth floor garden was roped off, so I proceeded up the glass escalator, made a right, and headed through a door into an outdoor pocket park on the fifth floor terrace.  Just as I entered, a group of Japanese tourists was leaving and, suddenly, I was alone, a solitary figure in a secluded urban oasis.

But not for long. 

Taking a seat on a silver aluminum chair at a matching table, I listened closely.  It had been a zoo down on Fifth Avenue just minutes before: demonstrators chanting “love trumps hate,” Trump supporters shouting back, traffic noise echoing in the urban canyon, the “whooooop” of police sirens, and a bikini-clad woman in body paint singing in front of the main entrance.  And yet in this rectangular roof garden, so near to America’s new White House-in-waiting, all was placid and peaceful.  There was no hint of the tourist-powered tumult below or of the potentially world-altering political machinations above, just the unrelenting white noise-hum of the HVAC system.     

On His Majesty’s Secret Service

The Stars and Stripes flies above the actual White House in Washington, D.C.  Inside the Oval Office, it’s joined by another flag — the seal of the president of the United States emblazoned on a dark blue field.  Here, however, Old Glory flies side by side with slightly tattered black-and-silver Nike swoosh flags waving lazily above the tony storefronts — Louis Vuitton and Saint Laurent, Burberry and Chanel — of Manhattan’s 57th Street, and, of course, Trump Tower-tenant Niketown. 

That I was standing beneath those flags gazing down at luxe retailers evidently proved too much to bear for those who had been not-so-subtly surveilling me.  Soon a fit, heavily armed man clad in black tactical gear — what looked to my eye like a Kevlar assault suit and ballistic vest — joined me in the garden.  “How’s it going?” I asked, but he only nodded, muttered something incomprehensible, and proceeded to eyeball me hard for several minutes as I sat down at a table and scrawled away in my black Moleskine notepad.

My new paramilitary pal fit in perfectly with the armed-camp aesthetic that’s blossomed around Trump Tower.  The addition of fences and concrete barriers to already clogged holiday season sidewalks has brought all the joys of the airport security line to Fifth Avenue.  The scores of police officers now stationed around the skyscraper give it the air of a military outpost in a hostile land.  (All at a bargain basement price of $1 million-plus per day for the city of New York.)  Police Commissioner James O’Neill recently reeled off the forces which — in addition to traffic cops, beat cops, and bomb-sniffing dogs — now occupy this posh portion of the city: “specialized units, the critical response command, and the strategic response group, as well as plainclothes officers and counter-surveillance teams working hand-in-hand with our intelligence bureau and our partners in the federal government, specifically the Secret Service.”  The armed man in tactical gear who had joined me belonged to the latter agency. 

“You one of the reporters from downstairs?” he finally asked. 

“Yeah, I’m a reporter,” I replied and then filled the silence that followed by saying, “This has got to be a new one, huh, having a second White House to contend with?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he answered, and then assured me that most visitors seemed disappointed by this park.  “I think everyone comes up thinking there’ll be a little more, but it’s like ‘yeah, okay.’” 

Small talk, however, wasn’t the agent’s forte, nor did he seem particularly skilled at intimidation, though it was clear enough that he wasn’t thrilled to have this member of the public in this public space.  Luckily for me (and the lost art of conversation), we were soon joined by “Joe.”  An aging bald man of not insignificant girth, Joe appeared to have made it onto the Secret Service’s managerial track.  He didn’t do commando-chic.  He wasn’t decked out in ridiculous SWAT-style regalia, nor did he have myriad accessories affixed to his clothing or a submachine gun strapped to his body.  He wore a nondescript blue suit with a silver and blue pin on his left lapel. 

I introduced myself as he took a seat across from me and, in response, though working for a federal agency, he promptly began a very NYPD-style interrogation with a very NYPD-style accent. 

“What’s going on, Nick?” he inquired.

“Not too much.”

“What are you doing? You’re all by yourself here…”

“Yeah, I’m all by my lonesome.”

“Kinda strange,” he replied in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Robert De Niro eating a salami sandwich.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. What are you doing? Taking notes?” he asked. 

I had reflexively flipped my notepad to a fresh page as I laid it between us on the table and Joe was doing his best to get a glimpse of what I’d written.      

I explained that I was a reporter. Joe wanted to know for whom I worked, so I reeled off a list of outlets where I’d been published. He followed up by asking where I was from. I told him and asked him the same. Joe said he was from Queens.

“What do you do for a living?” I asked. 

“Secret Service.”

“I was just saying to your friend here that it must be a real experience having a second White House to contend with.”

“Yeah, you could call it that,” he replied, sounding vaguely annoyed. Joe brushed aside my further attempts at small talk in favor of his own ideas about where our conversation should go. 

“You got some ID on you?” he asked. 

“I do,” I replied, offering nothing more than a long silence.

“Can I see it?”

“Do you need to?”

“If you don’t mind,” he said politely. Since I didn’t, I handed him my driver’s license and a business card. Looking at the former, with a photo of a younger man with a much thicker head of hair, Joe asked his most important question yet: “What did you do to your hair?”

“Ah yes,” I replied with a sigh, rubbing my hand over my thinned-out locks. “It’s actually what my hair did to me.” 

He gestured to his own follically challenged head and said, “I remember those days.”

Trump Tower’s Public Private Parts

Joe asked if there was anything he could do for me, so I wasn’t bashful. I told him that I wanted to know what his job was like — what it takes to protect President-elect Donald Trump and his soon-to-be second White House. “You do different things. Long hours.  Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably the same as you,” he said. I told him I really doubted that and kept up my reverse interrogation. “Other than talking to me, what did you do today?” I asked. 

“I dunno,” he responded. “Look around. Security. We’re Secret Service.” It was, he assured me, a boring job. 

“Come on,” I said. “There’s got to be a lot of challenges to securing a place like this. You’ve got open public spaces just like this one.”

There are, in fact, more than 500 privately owned public spaces, or POPS, similar to this landscaped terrace, all over the city.  By adding the gardens, atrium, and other amenities way back when, Trump was able to add about 20 extra floors to this building, a deal worth at least $500 million today, according to the New York Times.  And in the post-election era, Trump Tower now boasts a new, one-of-a-kind amenity.  The skies above it have been declared “national defense airspace” by the Federal Aviation Administration.  “The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft, if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” the agency warned in a recent notice to pilots. 

Back on the fifth floor, a metal plaque mounted on an exterior wall lays out the stipulations of the POPs agreement, namely that this “public garden” is to have nine large trees, four small trees, 148 seats, including 84 moveable chairs, and 21 tables.  None of the trees looked particularly large.  By my count the terrace was also missing three tables — a type available online starting at $42.99 — and about 20 chairs, though some were stacked out of view and, of course, just two were needed at the moment since Mr. Tactical Gear remained standing, a short distance away, the whole time.

This tiny secluded park seemed a world away from the circus below, the snarl of barricades outside the building, the tourists taking selfies with the big brassy “Trump Tower” sign in the background, and the heavily armed counterterror cops standing guard near the revolving door entrance.

I remarked on this massive NYPD presence on the streets. “It’s their city,” Joe replied and quickly changed topics, asking, “So business is good?”

“No, business is not too good. I should have picked a different profession,” I responded and asked if the Secret Service was hiring. Joe told me they were and explained what they looked for in an agent: a clean record, college degree, “law experience.” It made me reflect upon the not-so-clean record of that agency in the Obama years, a period during which its agents were repeatedly cited for gaffes, as when a fence-jumper made it all the way to the East Room of the White House, and outrageous behavior, including a prostitution scandal involving agents preparing the way for a presidential visit to Colombia. 

“What did you do before the Secret Service?” I inquired. Joe told me that he’d been a cop. At that point, he gave his black-clad compatriot the high sign and the younger man left the garden. 

“See, I’m no threat,” I assured him. Joe nodded and said he now understood the allure of the tiny park. Sensing that he was eager to end the interrogation I had turned on its head, I began peppering him with another round of questions. 

Instead of answering, he said, “Yeah, so anyway, Nick, I’ll leave you here,” and then offered me a piece of parting advice — perhaps one that no Secret Service agent protecting a past president-elect has ever had occasion to utter, perhaps one that suggests he’s on the same wavelength as the incoming commander-in-chief, a man with a penchant for ogling women (to say nothing of bragging about sexually assaulting them). “You should come downstairs,” Joe advised, his eyes widening, a large grin spreading across his face as his voice grew animated for the first time. “There was a lady in a bikini with a painted body!”

Joe walked off and, just like that, I was alone again, listening to the dull hum of the HVAC, seated in the dying light of the late afternoon.  A short time later, on my way out of the park, I passed the Secret Service agent in tactical gear. “I think you’re the one that found the most entertainment out here all day,” he said, clearly trying to make sense of why anyone would spend his time sitting in an empty park, scribbling in a notebook. I mentioned something about sketching out the scene, but more than that, I was attempting to soak in the atmosphere, capture a feeling, grapple with the uncertain future taking shape on the chaotic avenue below and high above our heads in Manhattan’s very own gilt White House.  I was seeking a preview, you might say, of Donald Trump’s America.    

Descending the switchback escalators, I found myself gazing at the lobby where a scrum of reporters stood waiting for golden elevator doors to open, potentially disgorging a Trump family member or some other person hoping to serve at the pleasure of the next president. Behind me water cascaded several stories down a pink marble wall, an overblown monument to a bygone age of excess.  Ahead of me, glass cases filled with Trump/Pence 2016 T-shirts, colognes with the monikers “Empire” and “Success,” the iconic red “Make America Great Again” one-size-fits-all baseball cap, stuffed animals, and other tchotchkes stood next to an overflowing gilded garbage can.  Heading for the door, I thought about all of this and Joe and his commando-chic colleague and Trump’s deserted private-public park, and the army of cops, the metal barricades, and the circus that awaited me on the street.  I felt I’d truly been given some hint of the future, a whisper of what awaits. I also felt certain I’d be returning to Trump Tower — and soon.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com.

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

Copyright 2016 Nick Turse

In Trump’s Shadow, is East Aleppo on Verge of falling to Regime, Russia?

By Juan Cole | – –

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, the regime of Bashar al-Assad and its Russian backer have thrown caution to the wind. No less than the Republican Congress, Damascus and Moscow know that Barack Obama is a lame duck. Understanding that Trump campaigned on giving Syria to Russia and preferring the continuation of the al-Assad regime to the possibility of a radical fundamentalist government, Putin and al-Assad have decided to simply finish off the rebels in the East Aleppo pocket.

Two Wednesdays ago the Syrian and Russian air forces broke a weeks-long aerial ceasefire negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. Since then, they’ve been hitting East Aleppo civilian neighborhoods, and the front lines of the rebel guerrillas, with intensive bombardment reminiscent of World War II tactics, or of the tactics used by Vladimir Putin against Chechnya in 2002. At least two hundred innocent civilians have been killed in the week and a half of bombing.

In the East Aleppo pocket, some 250,000 civilians are trapped by about 4,000 rebel fighters, about a quarter of them members of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate and the others a mixture of remnants of the Free Syrian Army and Muslim Brotherhood militias, such as the CIA-vetted Levant Front. West Aleppo, the traditionally nicer part of the city, has a population of closer to a million, and has all along been under regime control.

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Middle East Online reports that the Syrian army has announced that on Saturday it established control over an important district of East Aleppo, Hanano, after fierce battles. The rebel forces admitted that intensive bombardment from the air, fierce land battles and high rebel casualties, along with the lack of hospitals had together caused their front to collapse. Hanano has been largely empty of people for months, but some 150 were allowed to leave Saturday by government forces.

The Syrian Arab Army launched both land and air campaigns on the eastern stretches of the city, in an attempt to cut East Aleppo in two.

If the al-Assad regime proves able to establish control over all of Aleppo, it would be an enormous victory for al-Assad after 6 and a half years of war.

The Syrian army communique said that on taking Hanano, units immediately began sweeping for mines and booby traps set up by the rebel fighters. Hanano had been the first part of Aleppo to fall to the rebels in 2012.

A year ago, the situation was reversed, and the rebels managed for several weeks to cut off West Aleppo from resupply, creating a looming humanitarian disaster. West Aleppo has all along been targeted by the rebels with indiscriminate mortar fire. At that time there were no anguished headlines in the West. As it happened, the Russian intervention broke the siege, which was barely reported in the US news media.

Now it is East Aleppo that is surrounded and being starved out.

Moreover, it is being intensively bombarded by regime and Russian aircraft, with an attempt to break the pocket psychologically by targeting civilians and civilian institutions such as hospitals. It is a charnel house. When you string together war crimes one after another, eventually you fall to a whole new level of demonic, that of crimes against humanity. That is surely what the assault on the East Aleppo pocket is. Nor are the rebel guerillas innocent in all this. They appear to be attempting to prevent civilians from leaving, and shooting some of those who try.

The East Aleppo rebels have made several attempts to break the siege on them without success, one of them recent. Rumors are flying that if East Aleppo falls, the al-Assad regime may announce that it has won the war. Certainly, it would then have all the major urban areas.

The Al-Assad regime has revealed itself to be capable of extreme brutaility in order toe stay in power. It now knows that it has a friend in the next White House, and that knowledge appears to have impelled it to go all out to make substantial gains even before the election.


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Wochit News: “Rebel-Held East Aleppo Infiltrated By Syrian Government”

Fidel Castro’s Top Moments in the Middle East

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Fidel Castro is dead at 90. He presided over the only pro-USSR Communist state in the Western Hemisphere, and was therefore a thorn in the side of Washington, which insists on hegemony and capitalism in the New World.

Castro was the last of the Communist guerrillas turned national leader. He outlived Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Abd al-Fattah Ismail Ali Al-Jawfi of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. At home, he presided over an authoritarian one-party state. On the other hand, despite its poverty, in health statistics like deaths per 100,000 of mothers in childbirth, Cuban health care produced statistics not so far from those of the rich USA (as low as 40 compared to 28 in the US). Cuba’s per capita GDP, at near $7,000, is higher than Thailand, South Africa, Iran or Jordan.

The US state department complained that Cuba critiqued the US role in the Middle East:

“a) Portraying U.S. actions and diplomacy in the region as those of an aggressor, seeking to impose hegemony by force such as the recurrent attacks on Iraq, violation of sovereign rights (no-fly zones), the perpetuation of unjustified economic sanctions to countries in the region (Iraq, Iran, Syria), open political intervention and the use of brutal force as acts of retaliation (the Bin Laden case/Yugoslavia); b) portraying the U.S. as the main obstacle to a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine and the Gulf conflicts, and c) discrediting U.S. policies, especially by gaining support for Cuba’s agenda at the U.N.”

Not sure in what respect any of this was incorrect.

On the other hand, Cuba had an interventionist phase in the 1960s and 1970s. Castro inserted himself into numerous conflicts in the Middle East, in part of fight what he saw as imperialism. The adventures were gradually for the most part abandoned in the past two decades.

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Cuba was a player, with Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, in the Non-Aligned Movement, though critics pointed out that Havana’s closeness to Moscow precluded genuine non-alignment.

Cuba helped train the Algerian army in the 1960s after Algeria achieved independence from France. Both countries were proponents of Third Worldism.

Cuba gave serious help to the Palestine Liberation Organization, including training of guerrillas and offering scholarship to Palestinian students to study in Havana.

Cuba joined Libya and Algeria in supporting the Polisario Liberation Front in the Western Sahara against Morocco, which annexed that territory in the 1970s when it was relinquished by the Spanish colonial authorities. When, in later decades, Moroccan relations with Algeria improved, Castro dropped the Sahara intervention.

To its credit, Cuba broke off relations with Iraq in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran.

Likewise, Cuba denounced the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1978, despite its dependence on the Soviet Union for a lifeline, given the US boycott of Cuba.

Castro opposed the Arab Spring youth revolts; it is hard to see, though, the difference between a Mubarak or the newly capitalist al-Assad gang and Fulgencio Batista, against whom Castro himself revolted. Cuba had had a longterm relationship with Arab authoritarian governments. In the past couple of years, Cuba has provided military trainers and advisers to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In general, you have a sense that Cuban foreign policy became confused about the Middle East after the initial heyday of the 1960s and 1970s. When postcolonialism, Third Worldism and anti-imperialism were keynotes, Cuba had foreign policy successes. But the rise of Muslim fundamentalism as a revolutionary force was unwelcome in Havana. Castro even took refuge in conspiracy theories, such as that al-Qaeda and Usama Bin Laden were covert US operations. It sided with its old friends from the socialist one-party states, such as Syria, that survived into the twenty-first century.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

PressTV: “Syria, Cuba celebrate 50 years of establishing diplomatic ties”

Is Trump “Pro-Russian?” How will Russia Fare? Russians want to Know

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Russian op-ed writers are intrigued with Donald Trump, who has spoken of improving relations between the US and the Russian Federation. But they want to know what the bottom line will be, given his equally strong tough guy bluster.

An editorial in the Russian Gazeta.ru from Nov. 15 pointed out that what Moscow hopes for from a pro-Russian US president is the recognition that Crimea is Russian, and an end to the sanctions placed on Russia after its unilateral annexation of that territory from the Ukraine.

The editorial, according to BBC monitoring, warns,

“But it is hardly likely that Trump, who criticised Obama as a “weakling” compared with Putin, will himself want to be known as a “weakling,” having made unilateral concessions to Russia.”

That is, the Russian observer is as confused by Trump’s unpredictability as everyone else. Does Trump want to play hard ball with Putin? Or does he want to work together with Moscow?

The editorialist also claims that Russian elites pushed for Brexit, for the exit of Britain from the European Union, and also have funded the campaign of far right French nationalist Marine Le Pen. These tactics, the writer said, aim at weakening the European Union. But the writer wonders aloud why anyone would think that a weaker, divided EU would be better for Russia. The EU is Russia’s largest trading parter

He adds, “If in France Marine Le Pen . . . [becomes] president, attempts at the further division of Europe and the chances of a lifting of the European sanctions may be expected.” But he clearly does not approve.

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Leonid Radzikhovsky writes in an editorial for Rossiyskaya Gazeta on 15 November, according to BBC Monitoring, that a “Washington is ours” euphoria has washed over Moscow. He is skeptical of that idea but admits that the election results were “a definite psychological victory for the Kremlin.”

He denies that Russia hacked the US elections.

Radzikhovsky argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin has become a classic conservative, in favor of “Euro-scepticism” and “traditional values.” But in any case, he concludes that the purpose of a good foreign policy is for a government to achieve is domestic policy goals, and he is hopeful that a US-Russia thaw will help Putin in that regard.

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