Juan Cole – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Tue, 24 Nov 2020 06:01:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.16 Did Israeli PM Netanyahu Meet Saudi Bin Salman in Bid to Thwart Biden Plan to restore Iran Deal? https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/israeli-netanyahu-restore.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/israeli-netanyahu-restore.html#respond Tue, 24 Nov 2020 05:50:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194603 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Israeli news site i24 Arabic reports from the Hebrew press that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the head of the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, Yosef “Yossi” Meir Cohen, flew to Saudi Arabia’s new planned model city, Neom, and met with crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

They are said to have had the use of a private plane owned by Israeli businessman Ehud “Udi” Angel, CEO of the Ofer Brothers Group, a close friend of Netanyahu’s. i24 says that a Saudi source confirmed the story. It says that the Hebrew news site Walla! reported that it was a five hour trip, and that Netanyahu met with Bin Salman.

Al Jazeera reports that Israeli education minister Yoav Galant confirmed that the meeting occurred.

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An Israeli cabinet meeting on the government coronavirus response was postponed so that the meeting could take place.

Still, the report was denied by Saudi foreign minister Faisal Bin Farhan, though he only said that Netanyahu did not meet the crown prince.

Paul Goldman and Rachel Elbaum at NBC point out that the tracking site FlightRadar24.com showed a flight from Tel Aviv to Neom on Sunday.

The Israeli site i24 points out that the Wall Street Journal is reporting that two Saudi cabinet officials confirmed the meeting, which dealt with normalization and Iran, but said that no essential understandings were reached.

Netanyahu and Bin Salman have a lot to talk about. Both are frightened that president-elect Joe Biden will restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which normalized Iran’s place in the world economy and lifted the sanctions that keep the country weak. Iran has 81 million people, while the Saudi citizens population is probably on the order of 21 million, and Israel is about 8.8 million. They are thus militarily at a disadvantage with regard to demography, but have been able to count on the US financial and trade blockade to keep Iran from having a robust economy and from being able to buy the latest generation of weapons. It is actually not clear that Iran has aggressive intentions. Its small presence in Iraq and Syria came at government invitation, and its military budget is tiny, somewhere around that of Norway or Singapore. Perhaps as part of the reflection fallacy, however, Tel Aviv and Riyadh see Iran as seeking regional hegemony.

As for Neom, Bin Salman envisages it as a high tech corridor, and he may be attempting to attract Israel companies to do business there. Saudi Arabia’s primary source of income, petroleum, is a stranded asset and the electrification of global transportation will rob it of most of its value. Bin Salman, for all his faults, knows that Saudi Arabia must transform itself into a manufacturing and services economy if it is to survive. A high tech sector could be a cash cow, and a fruitful avenue of cooperation with Israel.

King Salman, 84, opposes throwing the Palestinians under the bus, as his son is inclined to, and it may be that the relationship of Saudi Arabia and Israel will have to remain clandestine until Salman passes from the scene.

Palestinian sources told Al Jazeera that if the meeting took place, it was “heart-breaking.”

Al Jazeera reports that Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UN, Abdallah Y. al-Mouallimi, said Tuesday that normalization with Israel was possible, but only if it ended the Occupation of the Palestinian territories. The United States has for decades justified its close relationship to Israel despite the latter’s Apartheid policies on the ground that it was working toward a two-state solution (which certainly has not been true for the past two decades). Saudi Arabia may be poised to take up this American piece of misdirection.


Bonus video:

Al Jazeera English: “Netanyahu met MBS, Pompeo in Saudi Arabia: Israeli media”

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One last Time, Trump lies to the International Community about the Climate Emergency and Green Energy https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/international-community-emergency.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/international-community-emergency.html#respond Mon, 23 Nov 2020 06:23:44 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194576 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – DW gives a clip of Trump’s unhinged video rant to the G20 summit against the Paris Climate Accord on Sunday, which is being held virtually this year.

Trump said, according to Kevin Liptak at CNN,

    “The Paris accord was not designed to save the environment, it was designed to kill the American economy. I refuse to surrender millions of American jobs and send trillions of American dollars to the world’s worst polluters and environmental offenders, and that’s what would have happened.”

The Paris Accord allowed countries to set their own goals for reduction of carbon dioxide and methane emissions, so it could hardly have been weaponized against the US economy.

Coal, gas and petroleum produce heat-trapping and very dangerous carbon dioxide when they are burned, which is wrecking the planet with global heating, sea level rise, extreme weather, more intensive hurricanes, drought, and wildfires, among other undesirable and even apocalyptic threats.

A Trump-style anything-goes inaction on the climate emergency could cost the US $5.2 trillion by 2050, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. Trump either is too stupid to understand the dangers here or is just greedy and holds a lot of stock in fossil fuel corporations. I suspect it is a combination of the two. That he says brain dead things like that wind turbines cause cancer or that the climate crisis is a Chinese hoax suggests that he isn’t very bright, or that he think the public isn’t and he is trying to make money off dirty energy.

The industries Trump wants to save, like coal and petroleum, are doomed by market forces and anyway don’t employ all that many people. Solar and wind now employ many times more people than coal.

Despite all Trump’s efforts to prop up the coal industry, it lost 24% of its jobs under this president.

Making electricity from coal is typically estimated to cost 5 cents a kilowatt hour. New wind installations in the US are averaging 2 cents a kilowatt hour. So let’s say your monthly electricity bill is $200 a month in the summer on coal. If your local utility put in a wind farm instead, in much of the country, it would be $80. Are you really going to spend an extra $120 a month for the next decade just because you like Donald Trump? If so, you are alone.

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As Business Insider points out, Moody’s ranked Trump’s economic plans against those of Joe Biden and concluded that Biden will create 7 million more jobs than Trump would have, and Biden would give a $4,800 raise to the average American household.

Biden plans to create ten million green energy jobs.

Trump, addressing an audience of smart, powerful people, added:

“The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world. Every day we are proving we can protect our workers, create new jobs and safeguard the environment without imposing crippling mandates and one-sided international agreements on our citizens.”

You cannot safeguard the environment if you are putting over 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually. Trump boasts that the amount of carbon the US emits has declined slightly. That is mainly because we are now getting 20% of our electricity from renewables and because natural gas plants have replaced a lot of coal plants, with gas being cheaper and about half as carbon intensive. In other words, the slight decline in CO2 emissions has occurred despite Trump’s policies. But the larger issue is that the CO2 stays up there once it is put into the atmosphere. It is cumulative. After the oceans exhaust their ability to absorb it, which will happen soon, some of the CO2 could stay up there for 100,000 years. So think of it like this. You weigh 240 pounds and you want to lose weight. You were putting on 10 pounds a year lately. So this year you only put on 9 pounds, and went to 249. You wanted to lose weight. Reducing the amount of extra weight you put on isn’t reducing weight. You’re getting fatter, just at a slower rate. So the US put out 5.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 and 5.1 in 2019. That’s what trump is boasting about? That in two years we put out over 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide? It is a very powerful heat trapping gas, which acts as though you were setting off atom bombs in the atmosphere.

Trump tried to appeal to the “old environmentalism,” claiming to have devoted efforts for clean water, and to have championed national parks (which he actually leased to polluters and oil drillers).

The US does not, as Trump keeps lying, have the cleanest air in the world. US air is quite dirty, and Trump made it substantially dirtier, as Hilary Brueck pointed out at Business Insider. The air pollution is mainly caused by precisely those fossil fuels that Trump has championed, especially coal, but also gasoline and diesel. For Trump to push coal and then tout clean air is like a toddler pooping his pants and then boasting of how good he smells.

The US ranks 7 to 10th on important indices of air quality, and we finish off 80,000 to 150,000 people a year with our bad air. 111 million Americans live in locales with more air pollution that our 2017 standards allow. Air quality can be measured in several ways, by how much PM 2.5 particulate matter is in the air, but also by the ozone levels. The US fares all right (but below 6-9 other countries) on PM 2.5, but it is very bad on ozone. The EPA explains, “Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function and harm lung tissue. Ozone can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, leading to increased medical care.”

Everything Trump says about the environment and about fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and the climate threat is not just false but absurd. Why exactly he spouts this world-destroying nonsense will be up to future psychiatrists to tell us. Maybe they can pickle his brain and study its abnormalities once he shuffles off this mortal coil.

The good news is that I won’t have to write this column refuting his enormities for much longer. Adults are about to take over climate policy, and while they won’t be in as much of a hurry or stricken by as much alarm as I am, there is a prospect of substantial change. Just a modicum of government help for renewables could well create a technological disruption and suddenly we’d have electric cars and solar farms on the scale we have smartphones.

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As Daily Cases climb toward 200K, “Trump is Playing Golf” (to the same accompaniment as “Whitey on the Moon”) https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/toward-playing-accompaniment.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/toward-playing-accompaniment.html#respond Sun, 22 Nov 2020 05:53:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194558 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The G-20 summit, attended virtually by the leaders of the 20 countries with the largest gross domestic products, was orchestrated this year from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. That is a scandal in itself, since the Saudi regime is responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and an ongoing set of atrocities in Yemen that are near to causing mass starvation in that country. Kevin Liptak at CNN reports that Trump dropped in on the conference virtually from the White House from 8 am to 10 am on Saturday, but that his attention quickly wandered, since he started again posting his unhinged Twitter rants about how the election was stolen from him.

Then at 10 am Trump jumped in his limousine and headed for his golf course in Sterling, Va., skipping an important side conference on “Pandemic Preparedness” in which French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke. Germany has had 13,884 Covid-19 deaths and South Korea has had 503 deaths. The US has had 255,823 deaths. It is a bigger country, but even proportionally the German and South Korean totals are a fraction of those Trump has let die. Some 1,400 Americans are dying of covid-19 daily, which is, as Dr. Seema Yasmin at CNN points out, like three airliners crashing every single day.

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In the US, where Trump has done almost nothing to stop the pandemic, and in some instances has actively made it worse, there were nearly 200,000 new cases on Friday. South Korea is freaking out about 350 new daily cases. Trump could certainly have learned something from an actually competent leader like Moon Jae-in or Angela Merkel.

The following commentary is inspired by (or, rather, stolen from) Gil Scott-Heron, author of the 1970 Whitey on the Moon, about which Genius.com writes, “In this Gil Scott-Heron piece about the first moon landing, the poet expresses his unhappiness at having his taxes dedicated to bringing ‘whitey’ to the moon while he, and all Black Americans, are held captive in poverty due to racist government policies. He uses his sister Nell’s condition to emphasize the neglect that black people are suffering while white society uses the nation’s wealth to make expensive journeys into space.”

Trump is Playing Golf

A virus killed my grandma Belle.
(and Trump is playing golf)
Her bronchia began to swell
(and Trump is playing golf)
We cannot pay her doctor’s bill.
(and Trump is playing golf)
Since Covid it’s been all downhill.
(while Trump is playing golf.)
The Man’s evicting us tonight.
(’cause Trump is playing golf.)
No heat, no water and no light.
(but Trump is playing golf.)
Why is he gettin’ rid of me?
(’cause Trump is playing golf.)
He’s lookin’ for a rich lessee.
(with Trump playing golf.)
The lockdown cancelled my paycheck,
Virus makin’ me a nervous wreck,
Instacart price is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wasn’t enough
The virus killed my grandma Belle.
(with Trump playing golf)
Her bronchia began to swell
and Trump is playing golf
Was all that money I made last year
for Trump to play his golf?
How come I got no health care here?
Hmm! Trump is playing golf
Y’know I just ’bout had my fill
of Trump playing golf.
I think I’ll send these funeral bills
Express mail
to Trump playing golf.

(I declare the satirical lyrics above, “Trump is Playing Golf,” to be Creative Commons, so if anyone has a set of bongos and a good voice, feel free to record them).


Ace Records: “Gil Scott-Heron – Whitey On the Moon (Official Audio)”

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In G-20, Only India is on track to meet goals for keeping Global Heating to 3.6° F. https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/keeping-global-heating.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/keeping-global-heating.html#respond Sat, 21 Nov 2020 06:34:34 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194543 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The 2020 Climate Transparency report finds that India is on track to meeting the carbon dioxide emissions levels that, if all countries on earth did the same, would keep global heating to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees centigrade).

The bad news? Of all the top 20 economies in the world (i.e. the G20), India is the only one, says The Weather Channel, that is on track to meet that 3.6° F. goal.

Although 3.6° F./ 2° C. does not sound like much, it would be a very challenging situation. This is the amount that the average surface temperature of the whole earth would go up. It includes the cold seas and Antarctica. So in any one place (say, Phoenix, AZ), the actual increase in average temperatures will be more.

India is above average on the contribution of renewables to power generation, with 27% coming from renewables. The G-20 average is only 21%.

Although most of India’s electricity and heating now comes from carbon-intensive coal, the country has big plans to transition to renewables. Despite the coronavirus downturn, India has made strides on renewables in 2020, adding 833 megawatts of rooftop solar in the first nine months of 2020. Some of this installation was supported by significant government subsidies for the sector, especially in Gujarat state. Gujarat has the largest solar farm in all of Asia.

Solar energy has many uses in India beyond just electricity generation. Solar panels are being provided to rural families to run water pumps for drinking water.

In the third quarter, the country put in 438 megawatts worth of solar farms.

These numbers are lower than last year, given the sour economy and pandemic, but 2021 is expected to see a big rebound. All in all, 3.3 gigawatts of new solar is expected to be brought on line in 2020.

By 2022, India is expected to have a 100 gigawatt solar capacity. Its current solar capacity is 37 gigawatts, so the next two years will see nearly a tripling of solar in India.


Bonus Video:

SCMP Archive: “India shows commitment to clean energy with ‘Asia’s largest’ solar power station”

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Pompeo’s attempt to Penalize Boycotters of Israel aims to Strengthen White Nationalism and Roll back Civil Rights https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/boycotters-strengthen-nationalism.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/boycotters-strengthen-nationalism.html#respond Fri, 20 Nov 2020 05:46:59 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194519 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Carol Morello and
Steve Hendrix at the Washington Post
report that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank on Thursday (well, that is my characterization, they didn’t put it that way).

In a bid to please his evangelical constituency and potential Jewish big money backers like Sheldon Adelson, Pompeo made two announcements. He declared that goods produced by the Israeli squatter settlers on Palestinian property (which they have stolen from living Palestinian families), and which are imported into the US, will be labeled “Made in Israel.” In contrast, the European Union’s highest court has ruled that goods produced by Israeli squatters on the West Bank must be labeled as such when imported into Europe.

Pompeo also pledged to deny Federal funds to any group that advocates the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for its Apartheid policies and war crimes against the Palestinian people.

The far right wing Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has been attempting to destroy the US First Amendment for years, so as to push through laws in the US that would forbid criticism of Israel. In Trump and Pompeo he has found willing accomplices.

State legislatures have also attempted to deny funding to individuals and organizations that practice BDS toward Israel, and the courts have consistently struck down these unconstitutional laws. Likewise, the European Court of Human Rights has struck down French government attempts to penalize BDS advocates, in a landmark decision this past summer that affects all 27 EU member states. (See below for more on this).

The WaPo reporters note that neither policy will likely survive more than than the two months the Trump administration has left in office.

What they don’t say is that the denial of funds to BDS advocates is unconstitutional, and would be struck down even by the present the Supreme Court if it remained in place.

A further important point: White supremacists have been trying to ban boycotts since the Civil Rights Movement, and Pompeo’s measures on Thursday were intended to weaken that key First Amendment right.

I have explained before:

Boycotts aren’t illegal, and we have Supreme Court cases to prove it . . .
The key case is NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware.

Wikipedia explains,

    [I]n 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and a young black man, Roosevelt Jackson was shot and killed by two Port Gibson police officers. On April 19, 1968, the field secretary of the NAACP for Mississippi, Charles Evers, led a march to the Claiborne County courthouse and demanded that the entire Port Jefferson police force be discharged When the demand was not met, the boycott on the merchants was [imposed]. On April 21, Evers made a speech in which he said, “If we catch any of you going into these racist stores, we’re going to break your damn neck . . .
    “In a decision by Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Mississippi’s decision, holding that the nonviolent elements of the petitioners’ activities were protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and holding that the petitioners were not liable in damages for the consequences of their nonviolent, protected activity. This decision means that “boycotts and related activities to bring about political, social and economic change are political speech, occupying “the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values.”

The Supreme Court found for the NAACP and against Claiborne Hardware in 1982: “While States have broad power to regulate economic activities, there is no comparable right to prohibit peaceful political activity such as that found in the boycott in this case.”

It is important to explain that Israel militarily occupied the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza in 1967, even though the civilian populations there were not active in the Six Day War, which was fought among states. International law, as with the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, envisages relatively short military occupations. It forbids the occupying power to alter the life ways of the occupied population, and strictly prohibits the settling of the Occupier’s population in the occupied territory.

h/t Wikimedia..

The Geneva Convention’s outlawing of settling the occupied territory was intended to prevent schemes like the one Nazi Germany attempted to implement in Poland once it invaded and occupied it, whereby Berlin sought to expel the Poles and replace them with ethnic Germans, creating a greater Germany that stretched east, and erasing the Polish nationality.

Netanyahu wants to prevent criticism of his government for its monstrous plan forever to keep Palestinians stateless and without rights, and to gradually displace them by Israeli squatters. The Founding Fathers’ First Amendment is extremely inconvenient for him, and thus he wants to chip away at it, deploying sleazy politicians like Pompeo.

I wrote earlier,

    Economic boycotts have been part and parcel of American political striving for liberty from the beginning. I have three words for you: Boston Tea Party. What do you think the American colonists were doing when they tossed 342 chests of British tea into the harbor? They were boycotting, divesting and sanctioning the injustice of King George III.

    Two Federal judges have already found state laws that attempt to punish companies or individuals for boycotting Israel unconstitutional, one in Kansas and one in Arizona.

    When Kansas fired Mennonite school teacher Esther Koontz from a program to train other teachers over her refusal to certify that she doesn’t boycott Israel (she does), the ACLU took the case to court and a Federal judge struck down the Kansas statute. The state legislature then reformulated so that it only affected big businesses under certain circumstances, which is also unconstitutional, but made it a little unlikely that the law would affect anyone.

    The same tactic is being pursued in the Arizona legislature, after a broad anti-boycott law was struck down by the courts. The GOP is now redoing the law in such a way that it is unlikely to affect anyone in the real world and so unlikely to be further challenged.

    Of course they are unconstitutional. They are also racist, aimed at keeping brown Palestinians down.

    It should be noted that the laws do not only punish companies. Most states treat individuals providing them services as companies categorized as “sole proprietors.” University professors invited to speak on campus in the states with these horrid laws have been asked to sign statements they don’t boycott Israel before being allowed to speak. These procedures are the most dangerous assault on free speech in the United States since the McCarthy era.

As for the European Court of Human Rights, here is that story:

    The French government actually arrested some members of the Left Front (Front de Gauche) political coalition, which has seats in the French National Assembly and in the European Union, for boycotting Israel, charging them with engaging in discriminatory practices. The Israeli far right, which is about as racist as the come, cynically manipulates public opinion in Europe and the US by claiming that criticizing its war crimes against Palestinians is a form of racial bigotry directed at Jews. This ridiculous charge is often actually taken seriously by people who should know better, including, apparently a French magistrate.

    The defendants in the French case took it to the European Court of Human Rights, which on Thursday struck down the French court decision with prejudice, saying it had “no relevant and sufficient grounds,” and ordered the French government to pay over $100,000 in damages to the defendants. Since the decision affects all 27 EU member states, it is a huge defeat for the Israeli far right, and a big victory in Europe for freedom of speech.


Bonus Video:

TRT World: “American journalist banned for rejecting pledge to not boycott Israel”

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Is it the Trump-Monster or capitalist Plutocracy? With 250,000 Dead, why is the US Virus Response so Particularly Bad? https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/capitalist-plutocracy-particularly.html https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/capitalist-plutocracy-particularly.html#respond Thu, 19 Nov 2020 06:41:56 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194504 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Holly Yan, Christina Maxouris and Theresa Waldrop at CNN report that the United States has passed the grim milestone of 250,000 deaths. Trump had predicted a worst case of 50,000 deaths last spring, but then Donald Trump could not find his ass with both hands.

Nor is the worrisome death rate in the rear-view mirror. Johns Hopkins reports that 1,707 Americans died of COVID-19 on Tuesday, more than on any other day ever. There were 161,000 new cases on Tuesday, more new cases than on any day ever before. It is estimated that 3 million Americans are walking around infected right now and spreading the disease. You guessed it. That’s more infected people than at any time since the infection broke out in February.

Cases are on the rise in all fifty states. Some states, however, are particular basket cases. Newsweek reports that North Dakota has the world’s worst death rate for COVID-19, what with 1 in every 1,000 residents having died of it. Republican governor of N. Dakota, Douglas Burgum, resisted a statewide mask mandate until last week. He is, by the way, the worst leader in the entire world on the coronavirus crisis, what with having policies that killed off one in a thousand of his people. He is a dotcom entrepreneur with no experience of governing, and his health department is also run by a businessman rather than medical personnel. Burgum resisted implementing social distancing measures on the grounds that that would represent the heavy hand of the government. When you have people in charge of the government who do not believe in it, they are unable to wield the government during a crisis that demands good governance.

A leaked internal White House task force memo admitted, “Current mitigation efforts are inadequate and must be increased.” The Guardian also quotes Dr. Anthony Fauci as saying, ““Community spread doesn’t stop spontaneously unless you do something about it.”

We have national community spread, folks.

I have been thinking about why Trump’s America is one of the worst countries in the world for dealing with the pandemic.

Obviously, there are many intervening variables. Age is the most important. Italy’s high death rate certainly has something to do with the high median age of its population. Old countries are more vulnerable than young countries, which may explain why the expected COVID apocalypse did not strike Africa.

Still, it is clear that some governments do a better job with it than others.

Our mass media tend to make everything into a matter of personalities, so it is easy to blame Trump. And, the Lord knows, Trump bears special responsibility. People often do not understand that he had tools with the Centers for Disease Control that could have tamped the virus down last spring, and that he for the most part refused to wield them.

But as the case of Burgum the Burier shows, it isn’t just Trump. Ron DeSantis in Florida is another huge failure in this regard.

The problem isn’t merely capitalism, though capitalism may be a big part of the problem. Still, Germany, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong are all capitalist countries, yet they have very low death rates.

The worst countries in the world for mortality per hundred thousand population, according to Johns Hopkins, are below, with their gini coefficient (a measure of economic inequality):

Belgium 27.4
Spain 34.7
Argentina 41.4
Brazil 53.9
United Kingdom 34.8
Mexico 45.4
Italy 35.9
United States 39.7

It is suspicious that, with the exception of Belgium, the worst-hit societies are all capitalist and all have high degrees of inequality.

Obviously, we have to toss out countries with high gini coefficients and also very young populations, as not comparable.

So how might levels of economic inequality be related to high COVID-19 death rates? Well, I’m figuring on the back of a napkin here, but I think in unequal societies the wealthy are unusually powerful. Mitigation efforts are bad for consumer capitalism, and the conservative ideology of the business classes value property over the lives of individuals (especially poor or marginal individuals).

So I think this list of high death-rate/ high inequality societies may in part be a list of capitalist oligarchies, where the government has been told by the plutocrats not to interfere in business. In places like North Dakota, there isn’t even a difference between the libertarian-leaning business classes and the government.

In contrast, countries with managed capitalism and strong workers unions and a significant public sector are less unequal but also thus less under the thumb of the plutes. They can maintain the taxes that support strong local public health institutions, stockpiling of PPE (neoliberalism led California to sell its stock off), and can mandate shutdowns and other mitigation measures without being countermanded by big corporations.

If I am right about the correlation, our covid apocalypse may just be another signal that oligarchic capitalism is bad for people. And in that case we could conclude that Trump is a symptom of the disease.


Bonus Video:

U.S. Surpasses 250,000 Covid Deaths With Record Hospitalizations | NBC Nightly News

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Is Trump leaving 2500 Troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan as a Poison Pill for Biden? https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/leaving-troops-afghanistan.html Wed, 18 Nov 2020 06:31:49 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194490 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Dustin Jones at NPR reports that Trump has instructed the Pentagon to bring most US troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan by January 15, 2021. Some 2,500 would remain in each country. The announcement was made, WaPo reports, by acting secretary of defense Christopher C. Miller. Miller was apparently brought in to replace Mark Esper because Esper opposed this move.

There is, however, something passing strange about this announcement. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien is quoted as saying that the plan is for all of them to be out by May. Miller also referred to this prospect in his remarks.

Trump, however, won’t be in office after January 20, whatever he may think, and so that decision will be Biden’s. Why leave 2,500 in each country. Why not withdraw them all if that is the goal?

There are only 3,000 US troops left in Iraq, after Trump initiated a feud with the country’s Shiite national guard in January by killing the leader of the Party of God Brigades, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, with a strike on Baghdad International Airport that also killed Gen. Qasem Soleimani of Iran. Thereafter the Shiite militias in Iraq and the US military conducted a series of tit for tat attacks on one another. The Iraqi Parliament demanded that the prime minister initiate measures to expel US troops from the country. Prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has slow-rolled this demand but is said to stand by the parliament’s decree in private.

This summer, Iraq and the US military reached an agreement to reduce US troop strength from 5,000 to 3,000 by September. So Trump is in fact only bringing 500 US troops out of Iraq.

The powerful Shiite militias, who were recognized by Iraq’s parliament as a sort of national guard in 2018, want them all gone, and fired rockets at the US embassy in the Green Zone on Tuesday.

MP Karim Alaiwi, who serves on the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi Parliament, denied that the US withdrawal would harm Iraqi security. A member of the Fatah Bloc, comprised of hardline Shiite party-militias of the sort Trump bombed last spring, Alaiwi said that the US covertly supports terrorism in Iraq. His views are not widely shared in Iraq, but are held by a minority of Shiites.

As for Afghanistan, President Obama had attempted to get out entirely in 2013 and 2014, and then in 2016 announced he would keep 8,400 troops there through the end of his term, saying that a final withdrawal would be up to his successor. The problem of Afghanistan for presidents is that if you bring all the troops out and then the Taliban take the capital of Kabul the next month, you have egg on your face. This would be bad for your party’s reelection chances.

Trump raised the number to 14,000. In 2020 he gradually reduced the number to 5,000 as part of his negotiations with the Taliban.

So now the 5,000 are being cut in half, to 2,500.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but we know that Trump and his aides are doing whatever they can to sabotage the incoming Biden administration and to prepare for a 2024 Trump run for the presidency.

Maybe Trump wants to be able to tell his 70 million acolytes in 2024 that he got the US out of Afghanistan and Iraq almost entirely, but then Biden came in and screwed things up.

If Biden is the one who withdraws completely from Afghanistan and then Kabul falls, it will be the Democrats who have egg on their faces. If Biden puts the number of troops back up to 5,000, then Trump can say that Biden dragged us back in to fruitless Middle East wars. He is convinced that those wars have become unpopular with the white working class. Some 43% of households with a union member voted for Trump in November, according to exit polls. Only about ten percent of the US work force is unionized, however. Most workers vote Democratic, and most of Trump’s support was from the better-off segments of the population. Still, he did win in 2016 by getting about 14 percent of the white working class that had voted Obama to shift to himself.

When Biden was vice president, he opposed Gen. David Petraeus’s big think plan for a huge “counter-insurgency” effort in Afghanistan, preferring a small special operations force that would concentrate on counter-terrorism. That is, when you had a small attack or bombing somewhere by 16 people, you’d go in after them. Biden lost that one, and in 2010 we had the Marja Farms and Qandahar campaigns, which had no long term impact and which no one now even remembers. My guess is that Biden will revive his small-scale counter-terrorism plan, with the Afghan National Army in the lead, and that 2,500 US troops would be enough back-up.

As with all things Trump, finding a firm policy rationale in his erratic pronouncements is almost impossible. But that he is trying somehow to shore up his own reputation and at the same time to sandbag Biden is always plausible.


Bonus Video:

CNBC Television: “Trump orders troop withdrawals in Iraq & Afghanistan”

Trump Bruited Strike on Iran Civilian Nuclear Facilities, which may kill as many as did Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/civilian-facilities-hiroshima.html Tue, 17 Nov 2020 06:11:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194472 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Eric Schmitt, Maggie Haberman, David E. Sanger, Helene Cooper and Lara Jakes at the New York Times get the scoop. Their sources in the White House tell them that last Thursday, in a meeting with his senior advisers, Trump abruptly asked them if there were options for a US strike on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment facilities.

They say that vice president Mike Pence, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Gen. Mark Milley all sought to dissuade Trump from this course of action, on the grounds it could kick off a major war in the last weeks of his presidency. They are alleged to have come away from the meeting convinced that they had succeeded.

Some commentary on this story:

First, it should be noted that Iran is not engaged in illegal activity. Its right to enrich uranium for civilian electricity production was acknowledged by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or nuclear deal signed with all the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Iran has only departed from that agreement in very minor ways, and mainly as a way of putting pressure on Europe to defy the US severe economic sanctions, which contravene the treaty. It is Trump’s Washington that has behaved illegally, not Iran.

So there is no casus belli and any US military action against Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities would be a massive war crime.

Further, the authors do not say anything about the likely consequences for Iranian civilians of such a strike.

It is possible that such a US strike on active nuclear enrichment facilities could kill as many Iranians as did the use of an atom bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, which killed between 90,000 and 145,000 people over four months. Further effects lingered for years. There was a big spike in leukemia in children from 1947-1951. A similar elevated rate of leukemia in Iranian children would almost certainly follow on a US airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Although the US would not be using a nuclear bomb, it would subject the nuclear material to massive conventional firepower, which would throw up similar radioactive fallout.

A 2012 study found that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would directly and immediately kill between 5,000 and 70,000 people from the release of up to 20% of the uranium hexafluoride gas at the Isfahan facility.

Elsewhere they comment,

    “In our report, we have stated that casualties can range from 5,000 to 70,000 should only 1%-20% percent of 371 tons of uranium hexafluoride gas at Isfahan’s Uranium Conversion Facility be released into the atmosphere (P. 28). These casualties are direct results of exposure to chemically toxic hydrogen fluoride and other fluorine containing compounds, not due to radioactive fallout…”

What if 50% of the gas were released?

The authors went on to write about much higher casualties from broader consequences of the strike. They note the

    “indisputable fact that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of civilians currently working as engineers, technicians and support staff would be killed or suffer numerous injuries, both short and long term as a result of a military strike. Based on reliable international sources, we have estimated the number at the four facilities at 5,000-10,000.”

These deaths appear to be on top of as many as 70,000 from the gas release.

Then there is the fallout produced by the US bombing, which would throw up toxic radioactive particles into the atmosphere that would then fall on people, would produce further casualties, over decades.

In addition, a strike on Isfahan in particular could pollute one of Iran’s major underground sources of water:

    “The Markazi Aquifer, which supplies 29% of all irrigation and culinary water in Iran lies directly beneath the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility. Any kind of disturbance and propagation of uranium- containing compounds could expose this large and important body of fresh water to dangerous levels of uranium, shackling millions of Iranians with an increased rate of bone cancer as well as a significant rise in birth defects for decades, if not centuries to come.”

Bone cancer and birth defects. A third of Iran’s water undrinkable. Iran is mostly desert and does not receive much rainfall except in the northeast. This would be a humanitarian consequences of enormous proportions for the country of 81 million people.

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Finally, I have a critique of one passage in the article. At one point they say this:

    “The report from the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran now had a stockpile of more than 2,442 kilograms, or over 5,385 pounds, of low-enriched uranium. That is enough to produce about two nuclear weapons, according to an analysis of the report by the Institute for Science and International Security. But it would require several months of additional processing to enrich the uranium to bomb-grade material, meaning that Iran would not be close to a bomb until late spring at the earliest — well after Mr. Trump would have left office.”

I have enormous respect for these reporters, and for Mr. Sanger in particular. But I cannot avoid pointing out that this passage is full of assumptions that are unsupported by any facts. And in fact, the possibility they raise of Iran having a nuclear weapon in 2021 is as near to being impossible as any statement about the future can be, as I have explained elsewhere.

1. Iran was constrained to enrich to no more than 3.67%. To protest the way the US and Europe reneged on the 2015 Iran deal by refusing in fact to proffer Iran substantial sanctions relief, they have started enriching to 4.5%. You can’t do anything with uranium enriched to 4.5%. It is just suitable for fuel for the nuclear reactors at Bushehr, which boil water with it to make electricity. It doesn’t really matter how much of it they produce.

2. Iran has never produced high enriched uranium and there is no reason to believe that they have the capacity to enrich to the over 90% necessary to produce fissionable material.

3. Iran certainly cannot achieve that capacity by next spring!

4. Iran is being regularly inspected by the UN, which certifies that there is no evidence of an Iranian bomb-making program. Unless they cease the inspections, we would know if Iran went for broke and tried to militarize its civilian enrichment program.

The implication of this paragraph, that there is any realistic prospect that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by next March, is absolutely ludicrous. I doubt it is a possibility even in the next decade, and then only if Iran kicked out the UN inspectors and breached the nuclear deal with allies China and Russia, on which it is deeply dependent, and which strongly object to Tehran doing any such thing. It is this sort of alarmist and inaccurate reporting on things nuclear that dragged the US into the Iraq War, and the New York Times played a sinister role in it that the paper has never properly acknowledged.

Featured image: Screenshot from Indusdotnews at YouTube.

In Slight to Biden, Israel sends Squatters to cut Palestinian East Jerusalem off from Palestinian Bethelehem, West Bank https://www.juancole.com/2020/11/squatters-palestinian-bethelehem.html Mon, 16 Nov 2020 06:41:46 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=194455 Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Alarabiya reports that the government of Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has let bids for 1257 new segregated Israeli-only housing units on stolen West Bank Palestinian land, with the bidding to end on January 18, two days before Joe Biden is sworn in. Netanyahu is clearly milking the last two months of Trump’s presidency for everything it is worth, aware that Biden would pressure him not to take this step, which is the nail in the coffin of any two state solution.

You won’t, by the way, see anything about all this on cable tv news, in accordance with a general blackout of Palestine news in the US, and it isn’t on the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post, though they will report on it somewhere.

The new squatter settlements in Giv’at Hamatos will completely cut Palestinian East Jerusalem off from the little Arab town of Bethlehem and from the rest of the Palestinian West Bank. It is one more step taken deliberately by Mr. Netanyahu to ensure that there never can be a Palestinian state, and that 5 million occupied Palestinians will forever be kept stateless and without basic human rights.

h/t Wikiwand.

It is illegal according to the anti-Nazi Fourth Geneva Convention for an occupying power to settle its own citizens on land occupied from a rival during warfare.

The Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of occupied populations was crafted to prevent any future repetition of the steps taken by Nazi Germany in Poland after the 1939 invasion. Nazi officials resettled in occupied Poland some one million ethnic Germans, expelling for each of them a native Pole, with the hopes of eventually completely displacing the Poles and replacing them with ethnic Germans all over the territory to the east of Germany.

The Israeli occupation authorities likewise have already settled some 450,000 Jewish Israelis on usurped Palestinian property from the families that own it in the West Bank, in units where no Palestinian is allowed. Israel also outright annexed part of the West Bank to its province of Jerusalem and has settled some 250,000 Israelis on that land. It is all illegal.

While there can be no analogy between the occupied West Bank and occupied Poland in general (6 million Poles were killed during WW II), the specific policy of reshaping the human geography is similar, and similarly unlawful in international law as of 1949. The Israeli government does make life difficult for the Occupied Palestinians, apparently in hopes that they will move to Jordan and disappear as a people.

President-elect Joe Biden is of an older generation that uses the fig leaf of a hoped-for “two-state solution” to kick the can down the road while Israel establishes its ‘facts on the ground.’ It is already too late for a two state solution. The only alternatives now are for Israel to accept the Palestinians it militarily occupies as citizens, or for it to pursue a formal policy of decades-long Apartheid. The latter is a war crime.