Common Dreams – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Thu, 03 Dec 2020 06:35:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.16 A Complete Waste of Money’: Fossil Fuel Industry Takes At Least $50 Million in Covid Aid Despite Financial Struggles Long Before Outbreak https://www.juancole.com/2020/05/financial-struggles-outbreak.html Sun, 03 May 2020 04:03:16 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190663 By Julia Conley, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – “We need to be getting checks directly to workers, including in the fossil fuel industry—not hoping money ‘trickles down’ through corrupt companies that consistently prioritize their CEOs.”

“The idea that oil workers are getting a paycheck is great,” 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn said. “The worry is that the money’s going to the top and not going to filter down.”

Three coal companies with ties to President Donald Trump are among a number of fossil fuel firms which have taken millions in dollars in coronavirus relief funds, according to new reporting by The Guardian and corporate watchdog Documented.

According to a review of aid through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was meant for small businesses that are struggling as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, fossil fuel companies have taken at least $50 million in loans from the program, and may be able to forgo paying taxpayer money back.

The three coal companies with ties to the White House are Rhino Resources, a coal mining company formerly run by Trump’s Mine Safety and Health Administration head David Zatezalo; Hallador Coal, where Trump’s former EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, is now a lobbyist; and Ramaco Resources, whose CEO is on the Trump administration’s National Coal Council.

The companies are taking between $8.4 and $10 million from the program to cover payroll and other expenses.

Jamie Henn, co-founder of the environmental action group 350.org, was sympathetic to the needs of rank-and-file fossil fuel employees whose paychecks should be protected as other workers’ are, but expressed reservations about fossil fuel companies receiving aid.

“The idea that oil workers are getting a paycheck is great,” Henn said. “The worry is that the money’s going to the top and not going to filter down.”

The Guardian published its report a day after the Federal Reserve announced changes to its Main Street Lending Program, which will now allow larger oil and gas companies with significant debt to use government loans to pay off debt they had before the pandemic.

“These changes directly reflect demands from polluters and their favorite members of Congress,” Lukas Ross, senior policy analyst with environmental group Friends of the Earth, said Thursday. “Long before the coronavirus, the drillers were in deep trouble. Now frackers want to pay back their debts with our money. Trump’s big oil bailout must be stopped.”

Oil industry lobbyists wrote to the Federal Reserve earlier this month, asking for the industry to be included in the Main Street Lending Program.

A week later, Greenpeace noted, oil prices were plummeting to below $0 per barrel as demand for gasoline fell due to the pandemic and corresponding global economic shutdowns.

The drop in demand for oil, Greenpeace and other climate campaigners said, bolstered the case for a “green recovery” and a “safer economy.”

But despite warnings from critics like the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), the Trump administration is reportedly considering a larger bailout for the fossil fuel industry, including bridge loans.

“The U.S. government could make loans to oil and gas companies, essentially making taxpayers investors in the industry,” reported The Guardian.

The IEEFA said this week that loans for an industry which “had long been in financial distress” would be “a complete waste of money.”

Some fossil fuel companies have also taken advantage of tax relief provisions under the CARES Act relief bill passed in March. Missouri-based coal company Peabody Energy said it would collect an alternative minimum tax refund of $24 million in 2020 and defer payment of $18 million in owed taxes.

“The federal money Congress appropriated should be going to help small businesses and frontline workers struggling as a result of the pandemic,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce told The Guardian, “not the corporate polluters whose struggles are a result of failing business practices and existed long before Covid-19 entered the public lexicon.”

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When you Work for Corporations you Don’t Care about People: How Wisconsin GOP Forced in-person Voting in the Midst of a Pandemic to Suppress Urban Dem Vote https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/corporations-wisconsin-suppress.html Wed, 08 Apr 2020 04:04:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190182

“People are being forced to risk their lives to place their vote or fulfill their right as an American to vote.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – As footage of Wisconsin’s crowded polling stations flooded the internet Tuesday, public health officials and civil rights advocates condemned the state’s Supreme Court and Republican legislative leaders for allowing in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic and thwarting Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ last-minute efforts to address voter safety concerns.

“These are dangerous times for democracy.”
—Aquene Freechild, Public Citizen

“It’s not going to be a safe election. People are going to get sick from this,” Brook Soltvedt, a 60-year-old textbook editor who is in charge of running the polling place at Thoreau Elementary School in Madison, Wisconsin’s capital, told The Cap Times.

Soltvedt added that though she thinks “the city has done about the best that they can do,” she worries that the election will cause voter confusion and health consequences. In an effort to protect her 77-year-old husband, Soltvedt said she plans to “strip in the garage, put my clothes in the washer, and go downstairs for two weeks.”

After days of Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald resisting widespread demands to delay in-person voting and expand absentee voting—like other states have done—Evers on Monday issued an executive order to postpone the election until June 9. However, the order was overturned by the state Surpreme Court Monday night.

The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court added insult to injury on Monday, overturning a lower court ruling that extended the deadline for absentee voting. Absentee ballots must be postmarked Tuesday or returned to a polling place or local clerk’s office by 8 pm. Local leaders have expressed worries that due to a backlog of requests, residents may not receive absentee ballots in time to vote.

“What that meant was that, for a substantial portion of the electorate, Election Day presented a harsh choice,” John Nichols wrote Tuesday in a column for The Cap Times. “Those who had applied for absentee ballots but not yet received them, and those who had not applied for an absentee ballot by last Friday’s deadline, were forced to decide whether to risk exposure to the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote.”

Nichols denounced the dilemma faced by voters as “unreasonable” and characterized Vos and Fitzgerald as “legislative charlatans” who “threw tantrums at a point when everyone else was working to save lives, keep people healthy, stabilize the economy, and preserve democracy.”

“Tony Evers did his part,” wrote Nichols. “Vos, Fitzgerald, and the [state] Supreme Court majority failed us.”

Other concerned individuals and advocacy organizations issued similarly scathing critiques of Wisconsin’s lawmakers and high court while circulating on social media footage of longs lines at the limited polling stations that were able to open.

“Today there are five Milwaukee polling locations open. Usually there are 180 sites,” tweeted the group March for Our Lives. “There’s no way to skirt around it; this is wrong. People are forced to gather in long lines at central locations in the midst of a pandemic. Wisconsinites deserve better.”

Aquene Freechild, co-director of Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign, said in a statement about the Wisconsin election that “these are dangerous times for democracy.”

“Vos and Fitzgerald know that, with only five polling locations open in the Democratic stronghold of Milwaukee, holding the election now will suppress the Democratic vote more than the GOP vote,” Freechild added. “That outcome will skew votes for some statewide elections, such as for the state Supreme Court, to their party.”

In a statement Tuesday, Harvard Law School professor and Equal Citizens founder Lawrence Lessig said, “That partisan politics would drive partisan leaders to force citizens to choose between accelerating a pandemic and exercising their right to vote is outrageous.”

Teasing an episode of the Intercepted podcast to be released Wednesday, journalist Jeremy Scahill—who grew up in Wisconsin—tweeted an audio clip of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Dr. Jeannette Kowalik explaining that “unfortunately it’s not” safe to tell voters to go to the polls.

“People are being forced to risk their lives to place their vote or fulfill their right as an American to vote. It’s just unbelievable that we are even having this conversation right now,” Kowalik said. She added that it has been “disheartening” to work behind-the-scenes on this issue and some people in positions of power in Wisconsin “are killing people by the decisions that they’re making.”

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) president Mary Kay Henry tweeted a video from a Milwaukee polling site and wrote that “this is a deliberate attempt by WI GOP to exclude voters, to limit participation, [and] to undermine democracy.”

In a lengthy Twitter thread, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, declared that “it’s unconscionable that Wisconsin voters are being forced to choose between their health amid a pandemic and their constitutional right to vote.”

“It’s unconscionable that Wisconsin voters are being forced to choose between their health amid a pandemic and their constitutional right to vote.”
—Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO

“Taking away the fundamental right to vote that so many have fought and died for is disgraceful. Democracy in our country is dying, and those meant to uphold our Constitution have failed miserably in their duty,” Trumka added. “Working people see what’s happening, and we’re not going to stand for it in November and beyond.”

Common Cause Wisconsin called Tuesday “a day that will live in infamy.” The group’s director, Jay Heck, said in a statement that “Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that has failed to step up and respond responsibly and safely to the current national health pandemic emergency. We have seven months until the general election and there is time to fix these issues before November to ensure we are protecting public health and the right to vote.”

Voters who participated in Wisconsin’s Tuesday election weighed in on local races as well as the Democratic presidential primary contest between Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who spoke out against the state Supreme Court decision—and former Vice President Joe Biden, who remains the frontrunner and recently claimed that in-person voting could be done safely.

Election officials across Wisconsin took various steps to protect voters. Palmyra Clerk/Treasurer Laurie Mueller told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the village’s sole polling place was moved to a bigger location.

According to the newspaper:

Mueller said a volunteer at the door is spray-sanitizing everyone’s hands as they enter, and voters are being instructed to take a pen to vote and then either throw it away or take it home with them.

Poll workers outfitted with masks and gloves are working behind sneeze guards made by the village’s public works employees. There are Xes on the floor at 6-foot intervals.

“We have a person wiping down the poll booths after everyone votes,” Mueller said, “and then randomly wiping down other areas in the voting location.”

Via Commondreams.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The Young Turks: “Wisconsin Election PROVES Government Doesn’t Work For You”

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Jared Kushner, With No Government Background, Scolds States for Requesting Supplies From National Equipment Stockpile https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/government-background-requesting.html Sat, 04 Apr 2020 04:02:35 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190093

“Dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – Progressives expressed shock at the Trump administration’s latest indication that it intends to provide little assistance to states where thousands of people have contracted the coronavirus, after Jared Kushner, senior advisor and son-in-law to President Donald Trump, made his first appearance as a key member of the White House coronavirus task force Thursday evening—and revealed he had little knowledge of how the federal government works.

Kushner’s perceived disdain during his remarks for state governments which have spent weeks pleading for sufficient ventilators, N95 respirators, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers was denounced by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg as “dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.”

When asked about the federal government’s response to states that have requested shipments from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), Kushner—a former real estate developer with no medical background—suggested states and the residents and healthcare professionals fighting the coronavirus pandemic are not entitled to the use of the government-funded stockpile of medical equipment.

“The notion of the federal stockpile was it’s supposed to be our stockpile,” Kushner told the press. “It’s not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.”

Kushner did not elaborate on what the federal government might use the stockpile for if not to supply the public with the equipment in the event of a national health crisis. According to the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the SNS is “designed to supplement and resupply state and local inventories of medicines and supplies during emergencies severe enough to exhaust local supplies.”

Hospitals across the country have warned for weeks that the rapidly-spreading pandemic has depleted their reserves of ventilators and PPE, putting patients and healthcare providers at risk. “His use of the word ‘our’ is so wrong,” tweeted political scientist Michael McFaul. “These masks in the stockpile are OUR masks, paid for by OUR money.”

Kushner’s press conference came days after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) denounced the Trump administration for reportedly seizing at least two shipments of supplies headed to Massachusetts from the stockpile in March, leaving her state with a fraction of what it ordered.

Hospitals in the commonwealth have warned for weeks that they were experiencing a PPE shortage that would prove critical if there was a surge of cases. Kushner on Thursday chided states for requesting equipment in anticipation of needing it in the near future.

“What you have all over the country is a lot of people are asking for things that they don’t necessarily need at the moment,” Kushner said.

He also accused state and city officials of being “poor managers” and said they were requesting supplies without knowing they already had them in state stockpiles.

Late last month, according to a Vanity Fair report, Kushner encouraged Trump to push back publicly against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s demand for 30,000 ventilators, warning of a dangerous shortage.

“I have all this data about I.C.U. capacity,” Kushner reportedly said at a White House meeting. “I’m doing my own projections, and I’ve gotten a lot smarter about this. New York doesn’t need all the ventilators.”

Times columnist Jamelle Bouie slammed Kushner’s qualifications to make such claims. New York is reportedly now six days away from running out of ventilators, with nearly 100,000 people in the state sickened with the disease.

Atlantic writer Adam Serwer wrote that Kushner’s ascension to one of the top positions in the White House’s coronavirus effort, with his family connection to the president but no qualifications, is a “hallmark of authoritarian governments.”

Such regimes “prize loyalty to the Leader over people who can do the job right, because protecting the Leader takes priority over whatever public interest the task involves,” Serwer wrote.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Kushner ‘Doesn’t Know What The Hell He’s Talking About’ Com. Of Katrina Task Force | All In | MSNBC

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Accusing US of “Medical Terrorism,” Iran Demands Trump Lift Economic Blockade amid Coronavirus https://www.juancole.com/2020/03/accusing-terrorism-coronavirus.html Thu, 12 Mar 2020 04:01:06 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189599 By Jake Johnson, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – Facing a humanitarian crisis with at least 9,000 coronavirus cases nationwide and a death toll of more than 350 people, Iranian officials on Wednesday demanded that the U.S. lift crippling … sanctions that Tehran says have hindered the government’s ability to respond effectively to the outbreak.

“The oppressive and illegal American sanctions have affected public welfare and health in Iran.”

“It’s fighting the disease at a time when a huge part of its national budget has been eliminated by U.S. sanctions. The sanctions continue to be a crime against humanity.”
—Sina Toossi, National Iranian American Council

“The oppressive and illegal American sanctions, which [have been imposed on Iran] within the framework of the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, have affected public welfare and health in Iran,” Abbas Mousavi, spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, told reporters Wednesday.

Mousavi said the U.S. sanctions have restricted Iran’s access to crucial medicines and supplies [because of Iran’s inability to transfer funds to pay for them] as the novel coronavirus—formally known as COVID-19—continues to spread across the country, killing more than 350 people.

In a tweet last Saturday, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif called the U.S. sanctions a form of “medical terrorism.”

Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker of Parliament, urged the international community on Wednesday to pressure the U.S. to lift the sanctions, which President Donald Trump reimposed in 2018 after ditching the Iran nuclear agreement.

The U.S. sanctions regime “clearly violates the U.N. Charter and that of the World Health Organization (WHO) and has not only seriously hampered Iran’s intensive efforts to help affected people and contain the spread of the coronavirus, but also left negative and undeniable impacts on all national, regional, and international efforts to contain the virus,” Larijani wrote in letters addressed to several international organizations, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Calls for the Trump administration to end its economic warfare against Iran come amid reports that Iranian hospitals are struggling to handle the influx of patients due to the coronavirus, which has hit Iran far harder than any other country in the Middle East.

“Iran is one of the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus,” tweeted Sina Toossi, senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council. “It’s fighting the disease at a time when a huge part of its national budget has been eliminated by U.S. sanctions… The sanctions continue to be a crime against humanity.”

Desperate to treat or prevent coronavirus, some ordinary Iranians have resorted to consuming bootleg alcohol after the circulation of a false rumor that drinking alcohol can stop the infection. According to Iranian media, 44 people have died of alcohol poisoning after attempting to treat the coronavirus with bootleg liquor that contained methanol.

“The coronavirus outbreak in Iran is serious,” tweeted Iranian-American journalist and BBC commentator Negar Mortazavi. “The government hasn’t been transparent about data, mismanagement and incompetence has led to more chaos, there is a shortage of medical resources made worse by sanctions, and tons of misinformation made inside and outside the country.”

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

NIAC’s Ryan Costello Joins BBC to Discuss the Coronavirus Crisis in Iran

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UN Condemns ‘Shocking’ and ‘Terrible’ US-Backed Saudi Coalition Bombing That Killed 31 Yemeni Civilians https://www.juancole.com/2020/02/condemns-coalition-civilians.html Tue, 18 Feb 2020 05:02:03 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=189184 By Jake Johnson, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – “Those who continue to sell arms to the warring parties must realize that by supplying weapons for this war, they contribute to making atrocities like today’s all too common.”

The United Nations and humanitarian aid groups condemned the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition for carrying out airstrikes Saturday that killed 31 civilians and wounded dozens more, including women and children, in Yemen’s Al-Jawf province.

“We share our deep condolences with the families of those killed and we pray for the speedy recovery of everyone who has been injured in these terrible strikes,” Lise Grande, U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said in a statement. “So many people are being killed in Yemen—it’s a tragedy and it’s unjustified. Under international humanitarian law parties which resort to force are obligated to protect civilians.”

“Yemen is a hellish place for children. This latest attack must be urgently and independently investigated, and perpetrators held to account.”
—Xavier Joubert, Save the Children Yemen

“Five years into this conflict and belligerents are still failing to uphold this responsibility,” added Grande. “It’s shocking.”

Xavier Joubert, director of aid group Save the Children Yemen, demanded an investigation into the airstrikes and said nations providing the weaponry for such attacks must share the blame. The United States is the largest supplier of weapons to the Saudi regime, whose years-long assault on Yemen has helped create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

“The war shows no signs of slowing down. Yemen is a hellish place for children,” said Joubert. “The reports of today indicate that once more explosive weapons make no distinction between fighters and civilians. This latest attack must be urgently and independently investigated, and perpetrators held to account.”

“We call on all parties to the conflict to adhere to international laws and standards, and to protect children on the ground,” Joubert continued. “Those who continue to sell arms to the warring parties must realize that by supplying weapons for this war, they contribute to making atrocities like today’s all too common.”

The Saudi airstrikes came after Houthi rebels claimed to have shot down a Saudi Tornado jet Friday in Al-Jawf province.

Following its bombing campaign Saturday, the Saudi-led coalition issued a statement acknowledging the “possibility of collateral damage”—a common euphemism for civilian deaths.

Eighty percent of Yemen’s population—over 24 million people—are in dire need of humanitarian aid and 14 million are on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

In a 2018 report, Save the Children estimated that 85,000 Yemeni children under the age of five have died from malnutrition since 2015 as the Saudi-led coalition has bombed the country—often hitting schools and hospitals—and restricted the flow of food and medicine.

Last April, as Common Dreams reported, U.S. President Donald Trump vetoed a measure that would have ended American military support for the Saudi-led assault on Yemen.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who helped lead the push for the Yemen War Powers Resolution in the House of Representatives last year, warned at the time that Trump’s veto would risk “the lives of millions of Yemeni civilians to famine, deadly airstrikes, and the war crimes of the Saudi regime.”

Via Commondreams.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Dozens of civilians killed in Saudi-UAE-led air raids in Yemen”

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Buried in Trump-Netanyahu Deal Is Effort to Torpedo Int’l Criminal Court War Crimes Probe of Israel https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/netanyahu-torpedo-criminal.html Thu, 30 Jan 2020 05:02:45 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=188832 By Andrea Germanos, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – The plan announced Tuesday by the White House demands Palestinians “dismiss all pending actions” before the International Criminal Court.

As the International Criminal Court moved forward this week with its investigation into alleged war crimes committed against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the White House’s new so-called “peace” plan includes a largely unreported provision that would end such efforts to hold the Israeli government to account.

The document, released Tuesday, was widely criticized as a “screw the Palestinians over harder non-peace plan” that lets Israel continue its illegal occupation and a “ludicrous” proposal that offers no path towards Palestinian statehood.

The plan’s architect, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner, suggested Palestinians “take a cold shower” and accept it lest they “screw up,” he said, like with “every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

A portion of the document states that “the parties should conduct themselves in a manner that comports with this vision, and in a way that prepares their respective peoples for peace.” For the Palestinians, that means victims of war crimes should keep quiet.

The plan states, in part, that Palestinians must take “no action, and shall dismiss all pending actions, against the State of Israel, the United States, and any of their citizens before the International Criminal Court” and other tribunals.

The provision drew criticism from Amnesty International.

“A just and sustainable peace requires a plan that prioritizes the human rights of Palestinians and Israelis, and must include justice and reparation for victims of war crimes and other grave violations. This plan not only fails this fundamental test; it seeks to torpedo efforts towards justice for both Palestinians and Israelis that are currently under way,” said Philip Luther, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director.

Netanyahu, who was indicted Tuesday on corruption charges and stood alongside Trump as he released the plan, reiterated his condemnation of the ICC this week.

In an interview set to air Thursday with Christian network TBN, he called on global powers to sanction the court over the probe.

“The U.S. government, under President Trump, has spoken forcefully against the ICC for this travesty, and I urge all your viewers to do the same. To ask for concrete actions, sanction against the international court, its officials, prosecutors, everyone,” he said, according to an excerpt of the interview released by the Israeli government.

The international court, he continued, is “basically in a full-frontal attack on the democracies, both on the democracies’ right to defend themselves, and on Israel’s right, the Jewish people’s right, to live in their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel.”

Michael Lynk, the U.N. special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, has a different perspective. In December, Lynk praised the possibility of justice the investigation could bring.

“Over the years, the international community has adopted hundreds of resolutions through the United Nations condemning various features of Israel’s entrenched occupation of the Palestinian territory. Yet rarely has it ever combined criticism with consequences for Israel,” he said. “Now, the possibility of accountability is finally on the horizon.”

Trump has bristled at the possibility of the probe into alleged Israeli wrongdoing as well.

In a statement last April celebrating his administration’s successful intimidation campaign to stop an ICC investigation into alleged war crimes the U.S. committed in Afghanistan, Trump said, “Any attempt to target American, Israeli, or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

Despite U.S. and Israeli objections to the ICC probe into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza, the effort—at least at this point—continues to advance.

The ICC announced Tuesday that it set a March 16 deadline for Israel, Palestine, and alleged victims to submit documents to the court.

ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in December that “there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Palestine” as she was “satisfied that war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” and “there are no substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.”

Via Commondreams.org

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

TRT World: “Trump’s Middle East Plan explained”

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Top 10 Ways Trump’s Actions against Iran Hurt the US, the Mideast, and the World https://www.juancole.com/2020/01/actions-against-mideast.html Sun, 12 Jan 2020 05:01:57 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=188490 By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J S Davies | –

Revised.

(Commondreams.org) –

The U.S. assassination of General Qassem Soleimani has not yet plunged us into a full-scale war with Iran thanks to the Iranian government’s measured response, which demonstrated its capabilities without actually harming U.S. troops or escalating the conflict. But the danger of a full-blown war still exists, and Donald Trump’s actions are already wreaking havoc.

The tragic attack on the Ukrainian passenger jet, which left 176 innocent people dead, is the first example of this. Iranian anti-aircraft defenses, on high alert and jittery after Trump’s irresponsible threats of devastating retaliation against 52 sites in Iran, mistook the civilian airliner for an attacking U.S. cruise missile and shot it out of the sky.

As we wait for the next unintended consequences of Trump’s reckless actions in Iraq, here are ten important ways they have left the American people, the region and the world in greater danger.

1. The first result of Trump’s blunders may be an increase in U.S. war deaths across the greater Middle East. While this was avoided in Iran’s initial retaliation, Iraqi militias and Hezbollah in Lebanon have already vowed to seek revenge for the deaths of Soleimani and the Iraqi militia. US military bases, warships and nearly 80,000 U.S. troops in the region are sitting ducks for retaliation by Iran, its allies and any other group that is angered by U.S. actions or simply decides to exploit this U.S.-manufactured crisis.

The first U.S. war deaths after the U.S. airstrikes and assassinations in Iraq were three Americans killed by Al-Shabab in Kenya on January 5th.

Further escalation by the U.S. in response to Iranian and other attacks on Americans will only exacerbate this cycle of violence.

2. U.S. acts of war in Iraq have injected even more volatility and instability into an already war-torn and explosive region. The U.S. close ally, Saudi Arabia, is seeing its efforts to solve its conflicts with Qatar and Kuwait thrown into jeopardy, and it will now be harder to find a diplomatic solution to the catastrophic war in Yemen–where the Saudis and Iranians are on different sides of the conflict.

Soleimani’s murder is also likely to sabotage the peace process with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Shiite Iran has historically opposed the Sunni Taliban, and Soleimani even worked with the United States in the aftermath of the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Now the terrain has shifted. Just as the United States has been engaging in peace talks with the Taliban, so has Iran. The Iranians are now more apt to ally with the Taliban against the United States. The complicated situation in Afghanistan is likely to draw in Pakistan, another important player in the region with a large Shiite population. Both the Afghan and Pakistani governments have already expressed their fears that the US-Iran conflict could unleash uncontrollable violence on their soil.

Like other short-sighted and destructive U.S. interventions in the Middle East, Trump’s blunders may have explosive unintended consequences in places most Americans have not yet even heard of, spawning a new string of U.S. foreign policy crises.

3. Trump’s attacks on Iran may actually embolden a common enemy, the Islamic State, which can take advantage of the chaos created in Iraq. Thanks to the leadership of Iran’s General Soleimani, Iran played a significant role in the fight against ISIS, which was almost entirely crushed in 2018 after a four-year war.

Soleimani’s murder may be a boon to the ISIS remnants by stoking anger among Iraqis against the group’s nemesis, the Americans, and creating new divisions among the forces–including Iran and the United States–that have been fighting ISIS. In addition, the U.S.-led coalition that has been pursuing ISIS has “paused” its campaign against the Islamic State in order to get prepared for potential Iranian attacks on the Iraqi bases that host coalition troops, giving another strategic opening to the Islamic State.

4. Iran has announced it is withdrawing from all the restrictions on enriching uranium that were part of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear agreement. Iran has not formally withdrawn from the JCPOA, nor rejected international supervision of its nuclear program, but this is one more step in the unraveling of the nuclear agreement that the world community supported. Trump was determined to undermine the JCPOA by pulling the U.S. out in 2018, and each U.S. escalation of sanctions, threats and uses of force against Iran further weakens the JCPOA and makes its complete collapse more likely.

5. Trump’s blunders have destroyed what little influence the U.S. had with the Iraqi government. This is clear from the recent Parliamentary vote to expel the U.S. military. While the U.S. military is unlikely to leave without long, drawn-out negotiations, the 170-0 votes (the Sunnis and Kurds didn’t show up), along with the huge crowds that came out for Soleimani’s funeral procession, show how the general’s assassination has rekindled enormous anti-American sentiment in Iraq.

The assassination has also eclipsed Iraq’s burgeoning democracy movement. Despite savage repression that killed more than 400 protesters, young Iraqis mobilized in 2019 to demand a new government free of corruption and of manipulation by foreign powers. They succeeded in forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, but they want to fully reclaim Iraqi sovereignty from the corrupt U.S. and Iranian puppets who have ruled Iraq since 2003. Now their task is complicated by U.S. actions that have only strengthened pro-Iranian politicians and parties.

6. Another inevitable consequence of Trump’s failed Iran policy is that it strengthens conservative, hard-line factions in Iran. Like the U.S. and other countries, Iran has its own internal politics, with distinct points of view. President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, who negotiated the JCPOA, are from the reform wing of Iranian politics that believes Iran can and should reach out diplomatically to the rest of the world and try to resolve its long-standing differences with the U.S. But there is also a powerful conservative wing that believes the U.S. is committed to destroying Iran and will therefore never fulfill any commitments it makes. Guess which side Trump is validating and strengthening by his brutal policy of assassinations, sanctions and threats?

Even if the next U.S. president is genuinely committed to peace with Iran, he or she may end up sitting across the table from conservative Iranian leaders who, with good reason, will not trust anything U.S. leaders commit to.

The killing of Soleimani has also stopped the popular mass demonstrations against the Iranian government that began in November 2019 and were brutally repressed. Instead, people now express their opposition toward the U.S.

7. Trump’s blunders may be the last straw for U.S. friends and allies who have stuck with the U.S. through 20 years of inflammatory and destructive U.S. foreign policy. European allies have disagreed with Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal and have tried, albeit weakly, to save it. When Trump tried to assemble an international naval task force to protect shipping in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019, only the U.K., Australia and some Persian Gulf states wanted any part of it, and now 10 European and other countries are joining an alternative operation led by France.

At a January 8 press conference, Trump called on NATO to play a greater role in the Middle East, but Trump has been blowing hot and cold on NATO–at times calling it obsolete and threatening to withdraw. After Trump’s assassination of Iran’s top general, NATO allies began withdrawing forces from Iraq, signaling that they do not want to be caught in the crossfire of Trump’s war on Iran.

With the economic rise of China, and Russia’s renewed international diplomacy, the tides of history are shifting and a multipolar world is emerging. More and more of the world, especially in the global south, sees U.S. militarism as the gambit of a fading great power to try to preserve its dominant position in the world. How many chances does the U.S. have to finally get this right and find a legitimate place for itself in a new world that it has tried and failed to smother at birth?

8. U.S. actions in Iraq violate international, domestic and Iraqi law, setting the stage for a world of ever greater lawlessness. The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) has drafted a statement explaining why the U.S. attacks and assassinations in Iraq do not qualify as acts of self-defense and are in fact crimes of aggression that violate the UN Charter. Trump also tweeted that the U.S. was ready to hit 52 sites in Iran, including cultural targets, which would also violate international law.

Members of Congress are incensed that Trump’s military attacks violated the U.S. Constitution, since Article I requires congressional approval for such military actions. Congressional leaders were not even made aware of the strike on Soleimani before it occurred, let alone asked to authorize it. Members of Congress are now trying to restrain Trump from going to war with Iran.

Trump’s actions in Iraq also violated the Iraqi constitution, which the U.S. helped to write and which forbids using the country’s territory to harm its neighbors.

9. Trump’s aggressive moves strengthen the weapons makers. One U.S. interest group has a bipartisan blank check to raid the U.S. Treasuryat will and profits from every U.S. war and military expansion: the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned Americans against in 1960. Far from heeding his warning, we have allowed this behemoth to steadily increase its power and control over U.S. policy.

The stock prices of U.S. weapons companies have already risen since the U.S. assassinations and airstrikes in Iraq and the CEOs of the weapons companies have already become significantly richer. U.S. corporate media have been trotting out the usual line-up of weapons company lobbyists and board members to beat the war drums and praise Trump’s warmongering – while keeping quiet about how they are personally profiting from it.

If we let the military-industrial complex get its war on Iran, it will drain billions, maybe trillions, more from the resources we so desperately need for healthcare, education and public services, and only to make the world an even more dangerous place.

10. Any further escalation between the U.S. and Iran could be catastrophic for the world economy, which is already riding a roller-coaster due to Trump’s trade wars. Asia is especially vulnerable to any disruption in Iraqi oil exports, which it has come to depend on as Iraq’s production has risen. The larger Persian Gulf region is home to the greatest concentration of oil and gas wells, refineries and tankers in the world. One attack already shut down half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production in September, and that was only a small taste of what we should expect if the U.S. keeps escalating its war on Iran.

Conclusion

Trump’s blunders have placed us back on the path to a truly catastrophic war, with barricades of lies blocking every off-ramp. The Korean, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have cost millions of lives, left the U.S.’s international moral authority in the gutter and exposed it as a warlike and dangerous imperial power in the eyes of much of the world. If we fail to haul our deluded leaders back from the brink, an American war on Iran may mark the ignominious end of our country’s imperial moment and seal our country’s place among the ranks of failed aggressors whom the world remembers primarily as the villains of human history.

Alternatively, we, the American people, can rise up to overcome the power of the military-industrial complex and take charge of our country’s destiny. The anti-war demonstrations that are taking place around the country are a positive manifestation of public sentiment. This is a critical moment for the people of this nation to rise up in a very visible, bold and determined groundswell to stop the madman in the White House and demand, in one loud voice: NO. MORE. WAR.

Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace, is the author of the new book, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her previous books include: Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection; Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control; Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart, and (with Jodie Evans) Stop the Next War Now (Inner Ocean Action Guide). Follow her on Twitter: @medeabenjamin

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq and of the chapter on “Obama At War” in Grading the 44th President: A Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.

Via Commondreams.org

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

The Sun: “Anti-war protesters rally in several US states after Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, killed”

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World’s 500 Richest People Gained $1.2 Trillion in Wealth in 2019: Analysis https://www.juancole.com/2019/12/richest-trillion-analysis.html Mon, 30 Dec 2019 05:01:45 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=188194 By Jake Johnson, staff writer | –

( Commondreams.org) – “In the U.S., the richest 0.1% control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929.”

The 500 richest people in the world, all of whom are billionaires, gained a combined $1.2 trillion in wealth in 2019, further exacerbating inequities that have not been seen since the late 1920s.

Embed from Getty Images
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES: Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos (L) tells a joke with Microsoft CEO Bill Gates AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images).

That’s according to a new Bloomberg analysis published Friday, which found that the planet’s 500 richest people saw their collective net worth soar by 25 percent to $5.9 trillion over the last year.

“In the U.S., the richest 0.1 percent control a bigger share of the pie than at any time since 1929,” Bloomberg noted. “The 172 American billionaires on the Bloomberg ranking added $500 billion, with Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg up $27.3 billion and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates [rising] $22.7 billion.”

According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, eight of the 10 richest people in the world are from the U.S.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos lost nearly $9 billion in wealth in 2019, according to Bloomberg, but he will still likely end the year as the richest man in the world with a total net worth of $116 billion.

The analysis comes as 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, particularly Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have made tackling inequality a key component of their policy platforms.

Warren has proposed an annual two percent tax on assets over $50 million and a three percent tax on assets above $1 billion.

Sanders, who has said he does not believe billionaires should exist, is calling for a wealth tax that would slash the fortunes of U.S. billionaires in half over 15 years, according to his campaign.

“A small handful of billionaires should not be able to accumulate more money than they could spend in 10 lifetimes,” Sanders said in September, “while millions of Americans are living in poverty and dying because they can’t afford healthcare.”

Via Commondreams.org

Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Vox: “How American CEOs got so rich”

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Israel-Based Group is Behind Bigoted Facebook Smear Campaign Aimed at Rep. Ilhan Omar https://www.juancole.com/2019/12/bigoted-facebook-campaign.html Fri, 06 Dec 2019 05:02:48 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=187733 By Eoin Higgins, staff writer | –

(Commondreams.org) – “The goal of these anti-Muslim hate campaigns is clear—they put Muslim lives here and around the world at risk and undermine our country’s commitment to religious pluralism.”

Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress, have been the target of a sustained campaign of far right hate and lies originating from a shadowy Israeli group, according to an investigation published Thursday by The Guardian.

“The goal of these anti-Muslim hate campaigns is clear,” Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, told The Guardian, “they put Muslim lives here and around the world at risk and undermine our country’s commitment to religious pluralism.”

The report details how a jewelry salesman and “online operator” from the Tel Aviv area named Ariel Elkaras and others were part of a vast coordinated effort that utilized “21 far-right Facebook pages across the U.S., Australia, the U.K., Canada, Austria, Israel, and Nigeria” to spread malicious lies about the two congresswomen.

According to the Guardian:

Somali-born Omar is the most frequent target. She has been mentioned in more than 1,400 posts since the network began two years ago. Tlaib has been mentioned nearly 1,200 times. Both totals are far higher than any other member of Congress.

Informed of the investigation’s findings, Facebook took down many of the identified posts and accounts—but the tech giant told The Guardian that it did so not due to the hateful and false nature of the content but because the company believes the Israeli-based group was using the misinformation and bigoted posts to generate advertising revenue.

Both Omar and Tlaib have been the target of hateful rhetoric from President Donald Trump and have received death threats. Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit, Michigan, read one of those messages directed at her aloud at a June hearing on white supremacist violence.

Last week, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida, George Buck, suggested in a fundraising letter to supporters that Omar should be hanged.

“The fact that those who make these violent threats very publicly without hesitation reaffirms just how much white supremacy has spread within the @NRCC,” Tlaib tweeted of Buck’s threats Wednesday.

In her comments to The Guardian, Omar pointed the finger at Facebook for the company’s inaction.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Facebook’s complacency is a threat to our democracy,” said Omar. “It has become clear that they do not take seriously the degree to which they provide a platform for white nationalist hate and dangerous misinformation in this country and around the world.”

“And there is a clear reason for this,” Omar added, “they profit off it.”

Via Commondreams.org

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.

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Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

TYT Rebel HQ: “MAGA Candidates THREATEN Ilhan Omar For Cash”

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