Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2024-06-13T05:35:36Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[UN Commission of Inquiry: Israel guilty of Crimes against Humanity, Hamas Guilty of War Crimes]]> 2024-06-13T05:35:36Z 2024-06-13T05:25:32Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel issued a report on Wednesday in which it charged both Hamas and Israel with war crimes.

The IICIOPTI made an extensive investigation into the October 7 massacre in Israel staged by the Hamas paramilitary and its allies. The Commission “met with more than 70 victims and witnesses, more than two thirds of them women.” It also sought out open-source reporting on the events of that horrible day. The Palestine Authority (led by the PLO, the primary rival to Hamas) provided it with further information. Israeli authorities declined to cooperate with the commission and attempted to obstruct its work by forbidding Israeli physicians to talk to it.

The authors of the report write about October 7, “According to Israeli sources, more than 1,200 persons were killed directly by members of various Palestinian armed groups and others and by rockets and mortars launched from the Gaza Strip. Of these, at least 809 were civilians, including at least 280 women , 68 foreign nationals and 314 Israeli military personnel. Among those killed were 40 children (including at least 23 boys and 15 girls) and 25 persons aged 80 and over. In addition, 14,970 people were injured and transferred to hospitals for treatment.”

The 150,000 Israelis displaced by the attack for the most part have still not be able to return to their homes.

The authors continue, zeroing in on attacks by Hamas fighters and those of other militant groups on kibbutzim:

“Hamas military wing, other Palestinian armed groups and civilians attacked distinct civilian targets in at least 24 localities, as well as public spaces and outdoor festivals. In these sites militants systematically moved from house to house setting homes on fire, shooting into private and public shelters, and removing people from hiding places, killing, injuring and abducting civilians to Gaza. The Commission investigated six distinct attacks in Be’eri and eight attacks in Nir Oz, each involving multiple victims, largely from the same families.”

“In Be’eri, 105 civilians were killed (63 men and 42 women) by members of the military wings of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) as well as by civilians from Gaza. In addition, 31 civilians (13 men and 18 women) were abducted to the Gaza Strip. Attackers entered the kibbutz and shot at residents, cars, pets and houses, killing and injuring, setting houses on fire and abducting people to Gaza.”

The authors add of the musical Rave that was assaulted, “Of 3,000 young people at the Nova music festival in Re’im, 364 attendees (including 215 men and 136 women) were killed by members of the military wing of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, while around 40 others were abducted to Gaza. Victims were killed at the site of the main festival while attempting to hide under the festival stage, in portable public toilets, inside parked cars and in garbage containers.”

Hamas and its colleagues also attacked military bases. The Commission concludes that it shot unarmed and wounded soldiers to death who were outside of combat and should not have been killed.

Although Hamas fighters humiliated women’s bodies, leaving them in a state of undress after their murder and parading them, when they were taken hostage, back in Gaza, the Commission could not independently verify charges of rape. It is important to underline that it seems to have found the charges plausible, given the position and condition of some dead bodies. But its investigation was obstructed by Israel, preventing it from coming to a firm conclusion. It does find clear evidence of sexual violence.

The Commission found Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups guilty of extensive violations of the laws of war (International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law).

Al Jazeera English Video: “UN probe accuses Israel of ‘extermination’ in war on Gaza”

As for the Israeli response, they note the over 35,000 killed and over 70,000 injured among the Palestinians of Gaza. Most of that killing and wounding was accomplished by airstrikes and artillery fire. They note that the figures are lower than the likely reality because so many bodies are buried under rubble.

The authors write, “During the first weeks of the military campaign, ISF [Israeli Security Forces] primarily used air strikes targeting high-rise buildings and other civilian objects in the al-Rimal neighbourhood, Khan Younis, in Gaza City, Jabalia and al-Shati refugee camps, and other locations, causing thousands of casualties, wreaking devastation and razing entire residential blocks and neighbourhoods to rubble in near-constant heavy bombardment.”

This time is different, they note. Although Israel has attacked the Palestinians of Gaza on several occasions, between 2005 and 2023 it had killed only about a tenth of the number of people it has dispatched in the past nine months. They add, “The Commission has also observed an increasing trend in the number of fatalities of women and children compared with previous hostilities and assesses that this is associated with ISF’s air bombardment campaign and its frequent use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area in populated districts.”

They quote Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Galant as saying, “Gaza will never return to be what it was”, and “I have released all restraints, we use everything”. They conclude that the Israeli military has been given free rein to kill civilians indiscriminately in order to get at Hamas and other militants: “the Commission considers these statements indicate that the Israeli Government has given ISF blanket authorisation to target civilian locations widely and indiscriminately in the Gaza Strip.”

In fact, the Commission concluded that many Israeli operations appeared to have no specific Hamas target in mind: “In many of these cases, the Commission could not identify military targets as the focus of the attacks. Even when military targets were allegedly present, attacks lacked distinction, proportionality and precautions, resulting in thousands killed and injured and widespread destruction of entire neighborhoods including in Jabalia, Al-Rimal, Al-Yarmouk and Al-Maghazi.” It is accusing the Israeli military of deliberately focusing on civilian targets and neighborhoods. This isn’t a war on Hamas but a total war on Palestinian noncombatants.

The Commission is also looking at the humanitarian crisis imposed quite deliberately by Israeli authorities: “Statements from Israeli officials show their intent to instrumentalize the provision of basic necessities, including food and water, to hold the population of the Gaza Strip hostage to political and military objectives. Since December 2023, more than 90 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip has faced high acute food insecurity, the most acute situation being reported in northern Gaza . . . As of March 2024, the situation is continuing to deteriorate; 1.1 million people face catastrophic levels of food insecurity.”

So here is the Commission’s conclusion about the Israeli military’s actions in Gaza. It is worth reading all the way through:

    80. In relation to the Commission’s investigation into Israel’s attacks and operations in Gaza and OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory], the Commission found that Israeli authorities and members of the ISF committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of IHL [Interntional Humanitarian Law] and IHRL [International Human Rights Law].
    81. The Commission found that the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare; murder or wilful killing; intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects; forcible transfer; sexual violence; outrages upon personal dignity; and SGBV amounting to torture or inhuman and cruel treatment were committed.
    82. The Commission found that through several actions including siege, Israel inflicted collective punishment on the Palestinian population in Gaza, in direct violation of IHL.
    83. The Commission found it foreseeable that civilians would be present in the areas targeted by the ISF; nonetheless, the ISF intentionally proceeded to direct its attacks against the civilian population and civilian objects, including places of worship, with such knowledge, in direct violation of the IHL principles of adequate precautions, distinction, proportionality, and special protections for children and women.
    84. The Commission found that the chapeau elements of crimes against humanity have been fulfilled, namely a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza. The Commission found that the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys; forcible transfer; and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment were committed.
    85. The Commission found that the siege and forcible transfer, compounded with widespread destruction caused by attacks and military operations, resulted in the IHRL violations of the rights to family life, adequate food, housing, education, health, social security, and water and sanitation, particularly impacting children and persons in vulnerable situations. The age and gender specific harms resulted in violations of the CRC and rights to non-discrimination in the CEDAW.

That’s 1) Starvation as a method of warfare; 2) murder or wilful killing; 3) intentionally attacking civilians or civilian infrastructure; 4) forcible transfer; 5) sexual violence; 6) torture or its equivalent; and 7) collective punishment.

So, that amounts to “crimes against humanity,” defined as a “widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.”

In addition, the Israeli military violated the basic human rights of the Palestinians of Gaza, depriving them of adequate food, housing, water, sanitation and education.

The Commission’s report is important. The UN Human Rights Council is a considerable body. The report will certainly be read closely by the International Court of Justice, which is considering charges of genocide against Israel, and by the International Criminal Court, the prosecutor of which has sought arrest warrants against high Israeli and Hamas officials.

The IICIOPTI was established in 2021 by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a 47-member intergovernmental body within the UN. Its mandate holders are drawn from countries in each of the world’s five major regions, and the member states are elected by the UN General Assembly. Western countries (Western Europe and others) that are currently members include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America.

The Conversation <![CDATA[Will the New, more Specific UN Ceasefire Resolution for Gaza Succeed?]]> 2024-06-13T04:05:57Z 2024-06-13T04:06:23Z By Marika Sosnowski, The University of Melbourne | –

(The Conversation) – The UN Security Council has passed yet another resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. This is the fourth such resolution adopted by the council since Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel and the launching of Israel’s war in Gaza.

Little has come from the three previous resolutions, all of which have been legally binding since they were passed by the Security Council:

  • a resolution on March 25 calling for a ceasefire that was ignored by Israel

  • a resolution on December 22 calling for a “sustainable cessation of hostitilies”, which also had no immediate practical effect

  • a resolution on November 15 calling for “humanitarian pauses”, which did nothing to alleviate Palestinian suffering or secure the release of hostages.

So, what is new about this latest resolution? And does it have any more chance of succeeding than previous attempts at a ceasefire?

What is new

First, this most recent resolution, which was drafted by the United States and supported by a vote of 14-0 (with Russia abstaining), has much more specific terms. For example, it lays out a three-stage approach to achieving a “permanent end to hostilities”.

In this first stage, all fighting will stop and some of the remaining hostages will be returned in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. And if the negotiations take longer than six weeks, the ceasefire will continue.

The document also calls for the return of Palestinians to their homes and neighbourhoods, and for housing units to be delivered by the international community.

This staged approach and inclusion of housing units is new, perhaps with the realisation that over half of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed and more than 80% of the population has been displaced, often multiple times.

The resolution is also explicitly linked to the ongoing negotiations being carried out by Qatar, with the help of Egypt and the US, to achieve a ceasefire.

This is a positive given Qatar successfully negotiated the only temporary pause in the fighting for seven days in November. This resulted in the release of around 100 hostages, in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

This current resolution also specifically rejects any territorial or demographic changes to the Gaza Strip, which is a welcome addition given that many fear the re-occupation of Gaza by Israel.

India Today Video: “What Difference Does The Latest Gaza UNSC Ceasefire Resolution Make?”

What is not new

Since the beginning of the war, the multiple resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and General Assembly have largely gone unactioned.

Hamas has previously signalled it is willing to accept the terms of a similar ceasefire negotiated by Qatar. The militant group is also now saying it will abide by the terms of the new UN resolution “that are consistent with the demands of our people and resistance”.

Despite the fact the current resolution specifically mentions Israel has “accepted” its terms, there has been no sign that Israel will, in fact, abide by its obligations under international law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly been sceptical about the plan, with his office saying any permanent ceasefire before the “destruction of Hamas military and governing capabilities” is achieved is a “non-starter”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also apparently still trying to sell the resolution to Israel on Monday. This seems to negate Israel’s presumed acceptance of the ceasefire.

A better chance of success?

Arguably, some of the more specific and detailed terms of this resolution give it a better chance of success than previous UN resolutions.

This is because if parties to a ceasefire have invested time into negotiating and have agreed to specific terms, they know what needs to happen, when and how. There is also greater likelihood the two sides will abide by the terms because this level of specificity ensures some level of accountability from outside observers and the international community.

We saw this in the November temporary truce agreement, which had very specific terms that were followed by both Hamas and Israel.

Another example from a different conflict is the 2002 ceasefire agreement between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group. This ceasefire, which lasted for several years, included references to freedom of troop and civilian movement in specific geographical locations. It also specified landmarks to be used as de-militarised zones.

Problematically, while the current Security Council resolution calls for the effective distribution of humanitarian assistance at scale, including housing units, aid access to Gaza has been stymied by Israel, which now controls all entry points.

Interestingly, the resolution also specifically rejects “any attempt at demographic or territorial change”. However, it omits wording from a previous draft that had included mention of a “buffer zone” Israel is currently building along the border inside Gaza.

And despite the welcome addition of more specific chronological phases in this resolution, the text has some of the same vagueness as previous resolutions, particularly around what exactly will happen in phases two and three.

Phase two seems to link the continuation of the ceasefire with the negotiations being led by Qatar. But, as we have already seen during the war, negotiations can easily be abandoned or dismissed by one or both sides of a conflict.

Likewise, phase three offers the chance for a “multi-year reconstruction plan for Gaza”, but offers no practical detail on how this would be accomplished.

Actions matter more than words

At this stage of this devastating conflict, any halt in fighting that alleviates the suffering of Palestinians is welcome.

However, I remain sceptical this resolution will be any more successful at halting the violence than its predecessors. Success will only come when both parties – but, in particular, Israel as the side with the greater military power – show they are willing to implement a ceasefire through their actions.The Conversation

Marika Sosnowski, Postdoctoral research fellow, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Rebecca Gordon <![CDATA[This Time, from Climate to Palestine to Trump 2.0, we must listen to our wise Cassandras]]> 2024-06-12T18:01:26Z 2024-06-13T04:02:17Z ( – A few days ago, my partner and I went in search of packing tape. Our sojourn on an idyllic (if tick-infested) Cape Cod island was ending and it was time to ship some stuff home. We stopped at a little odds-and-ends shop and found ourselves in conversation with the woman behind the counter.

She was born in Panama, where her father had served as chief engineer operating tugboats in the Panama Canal. As a child, she remembered celebrating her birthday with a trip on a tug from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, sailing under an arch of water produced by fireboats on either side.

“But that all ended,” she said, “with the invasion. It was terrifying. They were bombing Panama City. The Army sent my family back to the U.S. so we wouldn’t be killed. I’ve never been back.” She was talking, of course, about the 1989 invasion of Panama ordered by President George H.W. Bush to arrest Manuel Noriega, that country’s president. For years, Noriega had been a CIA asset, siding with Washington as the Cold War played out in Central America. He’d worked to sabotage the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the FMLN guerillas in El Salvador who opposed a U.S.-supported dictatorship there. And he’d worked with Washington’s Drug Enforcement Agency while simultaneously taking money from drug gangs.

That a CIA asset was involved in the drug trade could hardly have come as a surprise to that agency, given its own long history of cooperating with drug merchants, but when journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of Noriega’s drug connections, the U.S. decided to cut him loose and hardline neoconservatives like Elliot Abrams, one of the architects of the Contra war in Nicaragua, began pushing for an invasion. Abrams himself would resurface in the second Bush administration, where he would become a cheerleader for some of the worst crimes of the Global War on Terror. He would bob up yet again like some kind of malevolent cork in Donald Trump’s administration. And then, in July 2023, perhaps in a fit of bipartisan amnesia, President Joe Biden would nominate him to serve on his Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

My partner and I told this woman that we remembered the invasion all too well. In fact, we’d joined a group of demonstrators occupying Market Street in San Francisco to protest it. But, I added, “Lots of people in this country don’t even know that there was an invasion, or that hundreds of civilians died.”

She nodded. “Nobody here knows about that. I’ve never met anyone who does. It was just one crook fighting another and Panama got in the way.” As we prepared to leave, she asked us, “Do you mind if I give you a hug?” We didn’t mind. We were honored.

The Curses of Cassandra

Speaking with that woman reminded me that those of us paying attention had a pretty good idea what the invasion of Panama would look like. After all, we’d followed the 1983 invasion of the small Caribbean island of Grenada. We knew civilians would die. You could say that we predicted the obvious before it happened, but no one in power seemed to believe us and, after it happened, no one seemed to care.

Reflecting on those moments brought to mind the Trojan prophet Cassandra, doubly cursed by the god Apollo both in her ability to foresee the future and in the fact that no one would believe her. She predicted the bloody and ultimately pointless Trojan War, but no one listened to her. The truth is that neither Cassandra in Troy nor those of us predicting the obvious outcomes of America’s follies today really need divine gifts to see the future. All it takes is a little attention to history and the present moment.

As I started to write this piece, however, something bothered me, like a student raising an insistent hand in the back row of the classroom of my mind. Wait, I thought, haven’t I written this before? And it turns out that, in a way, I did — back in 2021 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, I focused on the rehabilitation of Senator Eugene McCarthy, who had made a lonely run for president in 1968 on a platform opposing the American war in Vietnam. In those days, opposing that war was considered naïve at best, treasonous at worst. Today, almost everyone in this country who even remembers Vietnam considers it a historic mistake, if not a moral catastrophe.

In that piece, I also pointed to editorials 20 years after 9/11 celebrating Representative Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress to vote against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, in the wake of those attacks. That AUMF authorized the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” It permitted the 2001 invasion and disastrous 20-year occupation of Afghanistan and served as legal cover for the equally disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 2021, press outlets that had once excoriated Lee for her vote were praising her for her courage and foresight. I imagine that, 20 years later, that praise was small comfort to her or any of the thousands of Cassandras who predicted that the U.S. would fail in Afghanistan — as it once had in Vietnam — or to the millions who knew (because the evidence was all around us) that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, and so filled the streets of the world to protest that illegal and ill-judged war.

I ended the piece with a meditation on three young “Cassandras” — climate activists Greta Thunberg of Sweden, Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, and Martina Comparelli of Italy, who had traveled to Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. “Your pressure, frankly, is very welcome,” Italy’s then-prime minister Mario Draghi told them. “We need to be whipped into action. Your mobilization has been powerful, and rest assured, we are listening.”

“For the sake of the world,” I wrote then, “let us hope that this time Cassandra will be believed.”

You’re probably not surprised that the world has not acted to forestall the future foreseen by those young Cassandras. Today, Italy has a far-right prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, who complains to other European right-wingers about the “ultra-ecological fanaticism” she considers a threat to her country’s economy. Meanwhile, just like the 10 months before it, April 2024 was globally the hottest on record, a trend that shows no sign of abating. In fact, as I write this, temperatures topping 127 degrees Fahrenheit (another record) present a threat to human life in India and Pakistan.

Nor have our own right-wing politicians been willing to recognize the truth of the crisis humanity faces. Consider, for example, the Republican governors of Florida and Texas — two states recently ravaged by heat and extreme weather — who not only have refused to recognize the climate reality in front of them, but have actively prevented measures that could mitigate global warming’s effects on working people in their states. Both governors have, in fact, signed laws prohibiting local governments from requiring employers to implement heat-safety measures for their workers. Not to mention the brazen “quid-pro-quo” meeting Donald Trump had with top oil executives where he demanded a billion-dollar bribe for his election campaign, in return for wiping out Biden-era climate regulations.

What Else Did We Know?

Well, there’s Palestine.

I’ll admit to having felt a surge of hope when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the 1993 Oslo Accord. That long-ago agreement between then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat began a lengthy, ultimately fruitless series of negotiations over the fate of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, areas seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

I remained hopeful, but I should have known better.

Hanan Ashrawi (long one of my personal heroes) did know better. In 1991, she’d been part of the Palestinian delegation to what came to be known as the Madrid Conference, convened by Spain at the behest of American President George H.W. Bush to try to find a way forward for the Palestinians and Israel. Other attendees represented the governments of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. What Ashrawi, a brilliant politician, scholar, and activist, didn’t know was that the process would also spawn secret talks between Israel and the PLO from which she and other Palestinian leaders would be excluded. Those talks culminated in the Oslo Accords (named for the city where they were negotiated).

Ashrawi immediately spotted a fundamental problem with those Accords, embodied in their first product, a letter of “mutual recognition” between the state of Israel and the PLO. “When I saw the letter, I was furious,” she told +972 Magazine in September 2023. Why? Because while the PLO formally recognized the state of Israel, and Israel, in turn, recognized the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people, the letter said nothing about the establishment of an actual Palestinian state. It did, however, allow the PLO’s leadership to return from exile, something they had long desired.

In that interview, Ashrawi also said:

“I told Yasser Arafat that this agreement does not give him the basis for sovereignty or genuine access to the right to self-determination, that this is a functional administrative agreement… He was furious: ‘What, do you want an alternative leadership? Do you want the PLO not to return? That’s the whole point.’ I said the goal is for you to return freely, as a sovereign leadership.”

“One hates to be a Cassandra,” she added, “but unfortunately, I was 100 percent right.”

Unlike Arafat, Ashrawi had been living under the Israeli occupation and understood how it worked. Not having experienced the occupation in person, the exiled PLO leadership, she understood, simply couldn’t imagine Israel’s true intentions.

In truth, it took no Cassandra-like clairvoyance to see what would come of the Oslo agreements. Twenty years earlier, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had made Israeli intentions perfectly clear, explaining his plans for the occupied territories this way: “We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of them. We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlement in between the Palestinians and another strip of Jewish settlement right across the West Bank so that in 25 years’ time neither the U.N. nor the U.S., nobody will be able to tear it apart.”

Another major feature of Oslo was the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the entity empowered (and funded) by Israel to administer the occupied territories alongside the Israeli Defense Forces. This, too, Ashrawi had resisted when, “way back in the 1980s,” the Israelis offered a similar arrangement “and we refused; we said we are not collaborators. I remember telling the military governor at the time that we are quite capable of running our lives, but we will not work under you.” When the PLO agreed to the formation of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, Ashrawi understood all too well that the new entity’s institutional survival, and (not incidentally) the jobs of its many employees would eventually come to depend on how well it served the occupation.

It’s not surprising then that, drawing on the insights of people like Ashrawi, some of us predicted a version of Israel’s endgame for Gaza back in 2005 when Ariel Sharon’s government announced its plan to “disengage” from that strip of land, granting to the Palestinian Authority the duty to run what has since come to be known as the world’s largest open-air prison.

And When Did We Know It?

This capacity to predict the future is beginning to feel a bit déjà-vu-ish. Right now, it’s not too hard to foresee the approaching catastrophe in Gaza. Indeed, at my own university and across the country and the world, even in Israel, students are desperately trying to prevent a genocide already in progress. While the “grownups” debate the legal definition of genocide, those young people continue to point to the murderous reality still unfolding in Gaza and demand that it be stopped before it’s too late.

There are enough dangers looming right in front of us that you don’t need second sight to realize how bad it is. In addition to the clear and present dangers of climate change, not to mention the potential for a new global pandemic, there’s another foreseeable horror looming over this country, which, despite blaring sirens and flashing lights, the mainstream media seems unable to quite believe is real. Ignoring the clanging alarms, many media outlets continue to treat the 2024 election season as just another contest between two equally legitimate political parties.

The reality is entirely different. In this year’s presidential election, we are facing the potential elevation of a genuine instrument of fascism. I think it’s appropriate to characterize Donald Trump as an “instrument” of other people’s ideology, because I suspect that he personally has neither the knowledge nor the attention span to elaborate any political theory or coherent plan for the future. His previous presidency was, in fact, marked by chaotic, instinctive stabs in the direction of whatever target presented itself – or was presented to him by those seeking to influence his decisions. The world is probably lucky that the people surrounding Trump then were a greedy, self-serving lot.

We wouldn’t be that lucky in a second Trump presidency. It doesn’t take a prophet to imagine what such a regime might look like. All you have to do is dip into the 887-page Mandate for Leadership the Heritage Foundation has prepared for his future presidency. It lays out an explicit vision of an authoritarian government serving the interests of the wealthy, one likely to unfold under the auspices of Project 2025, a step-by-step plan to replace our democratic government apparatus with Heritage-vetted-and-trained political functionaries.

We don’t need Cassandra to predict that future. All we need to do is pay attention to what’s right in front of us right now.

Juan Cole <![CDATA[As Israel Rejects UN Ceasefire, 3,000 Palestinian Children in S. Gaza in Danger of Starving before their Parents’ Eyes]]> 2024-06-12T17:15:24Z 2024-06-12T05:23:03Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The children of Gaza do not care. They do not care about US Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s posturing on the UN Security Council demand for an immediate ceasefire. They do not care that Hamas says it accepts the resolution. They do not care that Israel’s far right extremist government rejects it.

Their severe lack of interest in geopolitics is only matched by their hunger for actual concrete food aid. And if they do not get it, they will take revenge on the adults by dying. Some 3,000 likely candidates for starvation have been identified by UNESCO.

The only thing that can stop them from dropping dead, their little bodies emaciated, is a ceasefire. The leader of Israel’s fascist government, the war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu, rejects such a ceasefire.

Listen to Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management on the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations:

    The vast majority of the population of the Gaza strip is fully dependent on humanitarian aid. Despite all the efforts of humanitarian actors over the past eight months, often at great risk to themselves, the amount of aid allowed into Gaza has fallen to unacceptably low levels. A ceasefire is desperately needed to deliver life-saving aid to those in need and to secure the release of the hostages. The vital work of the United Nations agency staff, which has been under attack in this crisis as rarely before in history, needs to be protected and facilitated.

UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Adele Khodr concurs: “Horrific images continue to emerge from Gaza of children dying before their families’ eyes due to the continued lack of food, nutrition supplies, and the destruction of healthcare services.”

Malnourished children are at special risk of sickening from disease or polluted water, and the Strip is only getting 25% the amount of potable water it received before Oct. 7.

The World Food Program, headed by Cindy McCain, said that her organization’s warehouses had been hit by the Israeli military despite the WFP providing the Israelis with their coordinates.

She implied that the use of the American military’s pier in the botched Israeli hostage rescue that left 274 Palestinians dead and may have killed 3 other Israeli hostages has caused the WFP to cease trying to distribute aid from the pier because her organization is afraid it will come under attack. She reiterated that her organization’s field workers had seen clear signs of famine in North Gaza, rejecting Israeli government attacks on her and refuting Tel Aviv’s propaganda that there is plenty of food.

Face the Nation Video: “”Famine could happen” in south of Gaza amid Israel-Hamas war, Cindy McCain says”

The Israeli assault in mid-May on Rafah, to which it had expelled over a million Palestinians, cut off crucial food supplies to some 3,800 children in southern Gaza, about 75% of whom are now in danger of starving to death. Severe malnutrition among minors has sky-rocketed in southern Gaza, according to aid NGOs on the ground, who are forwarding their concerns urgently to UNESCO.

Emergency aid stations have been set up to stabilize the health of these malnourished children, but only two are still able to carry out their mission.

Khodr warned, “Unless treatment can be quickly resumed for these 3,000 children, they are at immediate and serious risk of becoming critically ill, acquiring life-threatening complications, and joining the growing list of boys and girls who have been killed by this senseless, man-made deprivation.”

UNICEF explains, “Treating a child for acute malnutrition typically takes six to eight weeks of uninterrupted care and requires special therapeutic food, safe water, and other medical support.”

At a joint Egyptian-Jordanian conference on the Dead Sea, Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs & Emergency Relief Coordinator, underlined the pressing need for an immediate ceasefire: “There was a unanimous horror at the vast toll of death, injury[,] destruction, displacement, serial displacement, trauma and deprivation suffered by the people of Gaza in just nine months, as well as the horrendous toll on humanitarian, and including United Nations, workers, of course, from UNRWA in particular, which exceeded the death toll across the whole world in the past 12 years combined.”

How to avert further catastrophes? He said that the working group in which he participated “stressed the need for these immediate measures to facilitate the delivery of aid: number one, a functioning mechanism for operational coordination and notification; number two, full access for basic equipment for safety and security of humanitarian staff; number three, passable roads and clearance of explosive ordnance; number four, unimpeded passage to distribute aid and access communities across Gaza; and finally, sufficient and predictable flows of fuel and prioritized aid, if you wouldn’t mind.”

If you want to know what the humanitarian situation inside Gaza is, just reverse engineer all his demands.

The Conversation <![CDATA[As Oceans Heat up, American Coastal Economies find themselves in Hot Water]]> 2024-06-12T04:18:43Z 2024-06-12T04:06:24Z By Charles Colgan, Middlebury Institute of International Studies | –

Ocean-related tourism and recreation supports more than 320,000 jobs and US$13.5 billion in goods and services in Florida. But a swim in the ocean became much less attractive in the summer of 2023, when the water temperatures off Miami reached as high as 101 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius).

The future of some jobs and businesses across the ocean economy have also become less secure as the ocean warms and damage from storms, sea-level rise and marine heat waves increases.

Ocean temperatures have been heating up over the past century, and hitting record highs for much of the past year, driven primarily by the rise in greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Scientists estimate that more than 90% of the excess heat produced by human activities has been taken up by the ocean.

That warming, hidden for years in data of interest only to oceanographers, is now having profound consequences for coastal economies around the world.

Understanding the role of the ocean in the economy is something I have been working on for more than 40 years, currently at the Center for the Blue Economy of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Mostly, I study the positive contributions of the ocean, but this has begun to change, sometimes dramatically. Climate change has made the ocean a threat to the economy in multiple ways.

“Boiling Shore,” Digital, Dream/ Dreamworld v3, 2024

The dangers of sea-level rise

One of the big threats to economies from ocean warming is sea-level rise. As water warms, it expands. Along with meltwater from glaciers and ice sheets, thermal expansion of the water has increased flooding in low-lying coastal areas and put the future of island nations at risk.

In the U.S., rising sea levels will soon overwhelm Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana and Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay.

Flooding at high tide, even on sunny days, is becoming increasingly common in places such as Miami Beach; Annapolis, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; and San Francisco. High-tide flooding has more than doubled since 2000 and is on track to triple by 2050 along the country’s coasts.

Maps show temperatures and sea level rise, with the fastest ris along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and lower rates on the Pacific.
Satellite and tide gauge data show sea-level change from 1993 to 2020.
National Climate Assessment 2023

Rising sea levels also push salt water into freshwater aquifers, from which water is drawn to support agriculture. The strawberry crop in coastal California is already being affected.

These effects are still small and highly localized. Much larger effects come with storms enhanced by sea level.

Higher sea level can worsen storm damage

Warmer ocean water fuels tropical storms. It’s one reason forecasters are warning of a busy 2024 hurricane season.

Tropical storms pick up moisture over warm water and transfer it to cooler areas. The warmer the water, the faster the storm can form, the quicker it can intensify and the longer it can last, resulting in destructive storms and heavy downpours that can flood cities even far from the coasts.

When these storms now come in on top of already higher sea levels, the waves and storm surge can dramatically increase coastal flooding.

What Hurricane Hugo’s flooding would look like in Charleston, S.C., with today’s higher sea levels.

Tropical cyclones caused more than $1.3 trillion in damage in the U.S. from 1980 to 2023, with an average cost of $22.8 billion per storm. Much of that cost has been absorbed by federal taxpayers.

It is not just tropical storms. Maine saw what can happen when a winter storm in January 2024 generated tides 5 feet above normal that filled coastal streets with seawater.

What does that mean for the economy?

The possible future economic damages from sea-level rise are not known because the pace and extent of rising sea levels are unknown.

One estimate puts the costs from sea-level rise and storm surge alone at over $990 billion this century, with adaptation measures able to reduce this by only $100 billion. These estimates include direct property damage and damage to infrastructure such as transportation, water systems and ports. Not included are impacts on agriculture from saltwater intrusion into aquifers that support agriculture.

Marine heat waves leave fisheries in trouble

Rising ocean temperatures are also affecting marine life through extreme events, known as marine heat waves, and more gradual long-term shifts in temperature.

In spring 2024, one third of the global ocean was experiencing heat waves. Corals are struggling through their fourth global bleaching event on record as warm ocean temperatures cause them to expel the algae that live in their shells and give the corals color and provide food. While corals sometimes recover from bleaching, about half of the world’s coral reefs have died since 1950, and their future beyond the middle of this century is bleak.

A school of fish with yellow tails swim over a reef in July 2023.
Healthy coral reefs serve as fish nurseries and habitat. These schoolmaster snappers were spotted on Davey Crocker Reef near Islamorada in the Florida Keys.
Jstuby/wikimedia, CC BY

Losing coral reefs is about more than their beauty. Coral reefs serve as nurseries and feeding grounds for thousands of species of fish. By NOAA’s estimate, about half of all federally managed fisheries, including snapper and grouper, rely on reefs at some point in their life cycle.

Warmer waters cause fish to migrate to cooler areas. This is particularly notable with species that like cold water, such as lobsters, which have been steadily migrating north to flee warming seas. Once-robust lobstering in southern New England has declined significantly.

Map shows how the average locations of lobster, red hake and black sea bass changed over 45 year, 1974-2019. Smaller charts show each moving
How three fish and shellfish species migrated between 1974 and 2019 off the U.S. Atlantic Coast. Dots shows the annual average location.

In the Gulf of Alaska, rising temperatures almost wiped out the snow crabs, and a $270 million fishery had to be completely closed for two years. A major heat wave off the Pacific coast extended over several years in the 2010s and disrupted fishing from Alaska to Oregon.

This won’t turn around soon

The accumulated ocean heat and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will continue to affect ocean temperatures for centuries, even if countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 as hoped. So, while ocean temperatures fluctuate year to year, the overall trend is likely to continue upward for at least a century.

There is no cold-water tap that we can simply turn on to quickly return ocean temperatures to “normal,” so communities will have to adapt while the entire planet works to slow greenhouse gas emissions to protect ocean economies for the future.The Conversation

Charles Colgan, Director of Research for the Center for the Blue Economy, Middlebury Institute of International Studies

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tomdispatch <![CDATA[The Lasting Legacy of Truth-Teller Daniel Ellsberg]]> 2024-06-12T03:25:06Z 2024-06-12T04:02:52Z By

( ) – On a warm evening almost a decade ago, I sat under the stars with Daniel Ellsberg while he talked about nuclear war with alarming intensity. He was most of the way through writing his last and most important book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Somehow, he had set aside the denial so many people rely on to cope with a world that could suddenly end in unimaginable horror. Listening, I felt more and more frightened. Dan knew what he was talking about.

After working inside this country’s doomsday machinery, even drafting nuclear war plans for the Pentagon during President John F. Kennedy’s administration, Dan Ellsberg had gained intricate perspectives on what greased the bureaucratic wheels, personal ambitions, and political messaging of the warfare state. Deceptions about arranging for the ultimate violence of thermonuclear omnicide were of a piece with routine falsehoods about American war-making. It was easy enough to get away with lying, he told me: “How difficult is it to deceive the public? I would say, as a former insider, one becomes aware: it’s not difficult to deceive them. First of all, you’re often telling them what they would like to believe — that we’re better than other people, we’re superior in our morality and our perceptions of the world.”

Dan had made history in 1971 by revealing the top-secret Pentagon Papers, exposing the constant litany of official lies that accompanied the U.S. escalation of the Vietnam War. In response, the government used the blunderbuss of the World War I-era Espionage Act to prosecute him. At age 41, he faced a possible prison sentence of more than 100 years. But his trial ended abruptly with all charges dismissed when the Nixon administration’s illegal interference in the case came to light in mid-1972. Five decades later, he reflected: “Looking back, the chance that I would get out of 12 felony counts from Richard Nixon was close to zero. It was a miracle.”

That miracle enabled Dan to keep on speaking, writing, researching, and protesting for the rest of his life. (In those five decades, he averaged nearly two arrests per year for civil disobedience.) He worked tirelessly to prevent and oppose a succession of new American wars. And he consistently gave eloquent public support as well as warm personal solidarity to heroic whistleblowers — Thomas Drake, Katharine Gun, Daniel Hale, Matthew Hoh, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Jeffrey Sterling, Mordechai Vanunu, Ann Wright, and others — who sacrificed much to challenge deadly patterns of official deceit.

Unauthorized Freedom of Speech

Dan often spoke out for freeing WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, whose work had revealed devastating secret U.S. documents on America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the end of a visit in June 2015, when they said goodbye inside Ecuador’s embassy in London, I saw that both men were on the verge of tears. At that point, Assange was three years into his asylum at that embassy, with no end in sight.

Secretly indicted in the United States, Assange remained in the Ecuadorian embassy for nearly four more years until London police dragged him off to prison. Hours later, in a radio interview, Dan said: “Julian Assange is the first journalist to be indicted. If he is extradited to the U.S. and convicted, he will not be the last. The First Amendment is a pillar of our democracy and this is an assault on it. If freedom of speech is violated to this extent, our republic is in danger. Unauthorized disclosures are the lifeblood of the republic.”

Unauthorized disclosures were the essence of what WikiLeaks had published and what Dan had provided with the Pentagon Papers. Similarly, countless exposés about U.S. government war crimes became possible due to the courage of Chelsea Manning, and profuse front-page news about the government’s systematic violations of the Fourth Amendment resulted from Edward Snowden’s bravery. While gladly publishing some of their revelations, major American newspapers largely refused to defend their rights.

Such dynamics were all too familiar to Dan. He told me that the attitude toward him of the New York Times, which won a Pulitzer Prize with its huge Pentagon Papers scoop, was akin to a district attorney’s view of a “snitch” — useful but distasteful.

In recent times, Dan detested the smug media paradigm of “Ellsberg good, Snowden bad.” So, he pushed back against the theme as rendered by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote a lengthy piece along those lines in late 2016. Dan quickly responded with a letter to the editor, which never appeared.

The New Yorker certainly could have found room to print Dan’s letter, which said: “I couldn’t disagree more with Gladwell’s overall account.” The letter was just under 300 words; the Gladwell piece had run more than 5,000. While promoting the “Ellsberg good, Snowden bad” trope, the New Yorker did not let readers know that Ellsberg himself completely rejected it:

“Each of us, having earned privileged access to secret information, saw unconstitutional, dangerously wrong policies ongoing by our government. (In Snowden’s case, he discovered blatantly criminal violations of our Fourth Amendment right to privacy, on a scale that threatens our democracy.) We found our superiors, up to the presidents, were deeply complicit and clearly unwilling either to expose, reform, or end the wrongdoing.

“Each of us chose to sacrifice careers, and possibly a lifetime’s freedom, to reveal to the public, Congress, and the courts what had long been going on in secret from them. We hoped, each with some success, to allow our democratic system to bring about desperately needed change.

“The truth is there are no whistleblowers, in fact no one on earth, with whom I identify more closely than with Edward Snowden.

“Here is one difference between us that is deeply real to me: Edward Snowden, when he was 30 years old, did what I could and should have done — what I profoundly wish I had done — when I was his age, instead of 10 years later.”

As he encouraged whistleblowing, Dan often expressed regret that he hadn’t engaged in it sooner. During the summer of 2014, a billboard was on display at bus stops in Washington, D.C., featuring a quote from Dan — with big letters at the top saying “DON’T DO WHAT I DID. DON’T WAIT,” followed by “until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.” Two whistleblowers who had been U.S. diplomats, Matthew Hoh and Ann Wright, unveiled the billboard at a bus stop near the State Department.

A Grotesque Situation of Existential Danger

Above all, Daniel Ellsberg was preoccupied with opposing policies that could lead to nuclear war. “No policies in human history have more deserved to be recognized as immoral. Or insane,” he wrote in The Doomsday Machine. “The story of how this calamitous predicament came about and how and why it has persisted for over half a century is a chronicle of human madness.”

It’s fitting that the events set for Daniel Ellsberg Week (ending on June 16th, the first anniversary of when Dan passed away) will include at least one protest at a Northrop Grumman facility. That company has a $13.3 billion contract to develop a new version of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which — as Dan frequently emphasized — is the most dangerous of all nuclear weapons. He was eager to awaken Congress to scientific data about “nuclear winter” and the imperative of shutting down ICBMs to reduce the risks of nuclear war.

Five years ago, several of us from the Institute for Public Accuracy hand-delivered paperbacks of The Doomsday Machine — with a personalized letter from Dan to each member of the House and Senate — to all 535 congressional offices on Capitol Hill. “I am concerned that the public, most members of Congress, and possibly even high members of the Executive branch have remained in the dark, or in a state of denial, about the implications of rigorous studies by environmental scientists over the last dozen years,” Dan wrote near the top of his two-page letter. Those studies “confirm that using even a large fraction of the existing U.S. or Russian nuclear weapons that are on high alert would bring about nuclear winter, leading to global famine and near extinction of humanity.”

Dan’s letter singled out the urgency of one “immediate step” in particular: “to eliminate entirely our redundant, vulnerable, and destabilizing land-based ICBM force.” Unlike air-launched and sea-based nuclear weapons, which are not vulnerable to attack, the ICBMs are vulnerable to a preemptive strike and so are “poised to launch” on the basis of “ten-minute warning signals that may be — and have been, on both sides — false alarms, which press leadership to ‘use them or lose them.’”

As Dan pointed out, “It is in the power of Congress to decouple the hair-trigger on our system by defunding and dismantling the current land-based Minuteman missiles and rejecting funding for their proposed replacements. The same holds for lower-yield weapons for first use against Russia, on submarines or in Europe, which are detonators for escalation to nuclear winter.”

In essence, Dan was telling members of Congress to do their job, with the fate of the earth and its inhabitants hanging in the balance:

“This grotesque situation of existential danger has evolved in secret in the almost total absence of congressional oversight, investigations, or hearings. It is time for Congress to remedy this by preparing for first-ever hearings on current nuclear doctrine and ‘options,’ and by demanding objective, authoritative scientific studies of their full consequences including fire, smoke, nuclear winter, and famine. Classified studies of nuclear winter using actual details of existing attack plans, never yet done by the Pentagon but necessarily involving its directed cooperation, could be done by the National Academy of Sciences, requested and funded by Congress.”

But Dan’s letter was distinctly out of sync with Congress. Few in office then — or now — have publicly acknowledged that such a “grotesque situation of existential danger” really exists. And even fewer have been willing to break from the current Cold War mindset that continues to fuel the rush to global annihilation. On matters of foreign policy and nuclear weapons, the Congressional Record is mainly a compendium of arrogance and delusion, in sharp contrast to the treasure trove of Dan’s profound insights preserved at

Humanism and Realism to Remember

Clear as he was about the overarching scourge of militarism embraced by the leaders of both major parties, Dan was emphatic about not equating the two parties at election time. He understood that efforts like Green Party presidential campaigns are misguided at best. But, as he said dryly, he did favor third parties — on the right (“the more the better”). He knew what some self-described progressives have failed to recognize as the usual reality of the U.S. electoral system: right-wing third parties help the left, and left-wing third parties help the right.

Several weeks before the 2020 election, Dan addressed voters in the swing state of Michigan via an article he wrote for the Detroit Metro Times. Appearing under a headline no less relevant today — “Trump Is an Enemy of the Constitution and Must Be Defeated” — the piece said that “it’s now of transcendent importance to prevent him from gaining a second term.” Dan warned that “we’re facing an authoritarian threat to our democratic system of a kind we’ve never seen before,” making votes for Joe Biden in swing states crucial.

Dan’s mix of deep humanism and realism was in harmony with his aversion to contorting logic to suit rigid ideology. Bad as current realities were, he said, it was manifestly untrue that things couldn’t get worse. He had no intention of ignoring the very real dangers of nuclear war or fascism.

During the last few months of his life, after disclosing a diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer, Dan reached many millions of people with an intensive schedule of interviews. Journalists were mostly eager to ask him about events related to the Pentagon Papers. While he said many important things in response to such questions, Dan most wanted to talk about the unhinged momentum of the nuclear arms race and the ominous U.S. frenzy of antagonism toward Russia and China lacking any sense of genuine diplomacy.

While he can no longer speak to the world about the latest developments, Dan Ellsberg will continue to speak directly to hearts and minds about the extreme evils of our time — and the potential for overcoming them with love in action.

A free documentary film premiering now, “A Common Insanity: A Conversation with Daniel Ellsberg About Nuclear Weapons,” concludes with these words from Dan as he looks straight at us: “Can humanity survive the nuclear era? We don’t know. I choose to act as if we have a chance.”


Juan Cole <![CDATA[How a Faster Move to Clean Energy will Save everyone Money on Power Bills]]> 2024-06-12T17:39:47Z 2024-06-11T04:15:58Z Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Last week, the International Energy Agency put out a new report that turns conventional wisdom regarding the clean energy transition on its head.

It is cheaper for everyone to adopt solar, wind, batteries and other renewables as soon as possible than to go on depending on coal, fossil gas and petroleum. And we’re just talking about energy costs in a vacuum here, not factoring in the climate change damage that fossil fuels do to the planet, which costs billions of dollars a year and will cost ever more as time goes on.

The report’s authors write, that in China in 2023, “more than 95% of new utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) installations and new onshore wind capacity had lower generation costs than new coal and natural gas plants. Where electric cars and two- and three-wheelers have higher upfront costs, which is not always the case, they typically result in substantial savings because of lower operating expenses.”

I repeat, solar and wind had lower generation costs. And no wonder, since the cost of solar panels plummeted an astonishing 30% in 2023. And we’re only at the beginning of the transition. Between 2009 and 2019, the price of solar electricity dropped 89%. Think about the last ten years of gasoline prices in the US. The average price of gasoline in 2014 was about $3 per gallon. In 2023 it was $3.52. In real terms, accounting for inflation, the price was probably about flat or down just a wee bit. Fossil fuels are remaining just as expensive as they always were, but renewables are rapidly declining in price. These declines will continue as new technologies are invented and implemented.

Although there are up front costs of building solar and wind farms, these new energy plants will pay for themselves over time, and by the 2040s energy will be much cheaper. The IEA says, “Today, around 50% of total consumer energy expenditure is on oil products, and another 35% is on electricity. In rapid energy transitions these swap places, making the price of electricity the key measure of affordability for most consumers.”

Since the cost of producing electricity by solar is falling so fast, whereas petroleum prices are either stable or slated to rise, if we shift from oil to electricity we obviously are saving a lot of money.

But, we’re going to need some major investments up front to unlock these lower prices. The report says, “As things stand, around USD 3 trillion is invested each year into the energy sector, of which USD 1.9 trillion is in a range of clean energy technologies and infrastructure. By 2035, total investments need to rise to USD 5.3 trillion in the NZE Scenario, with USD 5 trillion going to clean energy.”

The bottom line is the bill you get from your energy utility every month, and your monthly cost for transpiration fuel.The IEA observes, “Our projections highlight that rapid clean energy transitions result in lower consumer bills compared with a trajectory based on today’s policy settings.”

If we stop subsidizing fossil fuels and put the money instead into a Manhattan Project-style full court press for renewables, in 11 years consumers could be paying 20% less for their energy, especially in the developing world.

H/t IEA, Creative Commons license

Moving to clean energy won’t be cost free. But the sooner we take giant strides in that direction, the faster energy costs will fall.

The Conversation <![CDATA[Trump Rhetoric after his Felony Conviction: Distract, Stoke Fear, Pave way for Strongman]]> 2024-06-11T10:50:59Z 2024-06-11T04:06:51Z By Karrin Vasby Anderson, Colorado State University | –

(The Conversation) – After a jury convicted Donald Trump of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up a politically damaging relationship, he responded by warning viewers of his post-verdict news conference: “If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone.”

That statement simultaneously invokes the ideal of an independent judiciary and attempts to delegitimize it.

As a scholar of political communication, I study how rhetoric strengthens or erodes democratic institutions and can prime an audience to expect or accept violence. Regardless of how someone feels about the legal arguments made during Trump’s trial, Trump’s attempts to prevail in the court of public opinion continue his campaign to discredit democratic institutions and threaten anyone who gets in his way.

Demagoguery is weaponized political communication that, as communication scholar Jennifer Mercieca explains, “undermines both democratic decision-making and democracy itself.” Demagogues use rhetoric to dominate an electorate rather than to persuade voters. Key characteristics include evading responsibility for claims and scapegoating anyone disloyal to the demagogue.

Demagogic communication includes one or more of what scholars Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt identify as “key indicators of authoritarian behavior.” Those include rejection of, or weak commitment to, democratic rules and norms; denial of the legitimacy of political opponents; tolerance or encouragement of violence; and readiness to curtail civil liberties and media freedom.

In the aftermath of Trump’s felony conviction, the demagogic rhetoric of Trump and allied Republicans delegitimizeed democratic institutions and fostered threats of violence.

‘Designed to distract’

When Trump declared that “if they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone,” he was, of course, correct. Ideally, that’s how laws work. They should apply equally to a regular citizen and a former president.

Trump’s case is extraordinary given his status as a former president, and the legal theory used by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been dubbed “novel.” Nonetheless, in the legal and national security publication Just Security, Siven Watt and Norman L. Eisen document a long history of state prosecutors going after politicians who flout laws to benefit political campaigns in similar ways.

Trump’s posts on social media were designed to distract from those facts by undermining the independence and trustworthiness of the judiciary and scapegoating anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter. That included President Joe Biden, officers of the court, immigrants and even a Fox News anchor deemed insufficiently supportive.

While the jury was deliberating, Trump set the stage, described the proceedings as a “Biden witch hunt,” the “WEAPONIZATION OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM!” and “ELECTION INTERFERENCE.” Later he asserted that the gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan was “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” and described members of the “DOJ and White House” as “Thugs and Monsters who are destroying our Country.”

Immediately after the jury returned its verdict, Trump intensified his delegitimization of the American legal system, asserting that “the real verdict is going to be November 5 by the people” and adding, “our whole country is being rigged right now.”

Stoking fear

A particularly important dimension of Trump’s reaction to the verdict is that his comments combine the delegitimization of democratic institutions with ad hominem attacks – name-calling – and scapegoating. This strategy is textbook demagoguery.

The day after the judgment, Trump began his 33 minutes of public remarks with what seemed like a non sequitur, shifting from the case, to ad hominem attacks, to immigration, and back to ad hominem attacks:

“This is a case where if they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone. These are bad people. These are in many cases, I believe, sick people. When you look at our country what is happening, where millions of people are flowing in from all parts of the world – not just South America, from Africa, from Asia, from the Middle East – and they’re coming in from jails and prisons and they’re coming in from mental institutions and insane asylums. They are coming in from all over the world into our country. And we have a president and a group of fascists that don’t want to do anything about it. Because they could, right now, today. They could stop it, but he’s not. They’re destroying our country.”

Voters are encouraged to believe that the government — comprised of “sick people” and “fascists” — is after them, as are immigrants.

Although Trump’s jumbled approach makes his rhetoric sound disjointed — even chaotic — it’s carefully designed to stoke fear and create an atmosphere more amenable to an anti-democratic strongman. Trump’s jaunty 2016 campaign promise, “I alone can fix it,” and his more recent, ostensible “joke” about being “dictator for one day,” have given way to dire pronouncements from Trump about his fellow citizens, such as this late-2023 statement: “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

The strategy would be less effective if Trump was the only one deploying it. But, following a familiar pattern, prominent Republicans reliably echoed his framing.

Juan Cole, “State of Exception,” Digital, Dream / Dreamland v 3, PS Express, 2024

The Associated Press reported that the “ferocity of the outcry was remarkable, tossing aside usual restraints that lawmakers and political figures have observed in the past when refraining from criticism of judges and juries.”

The Guardian summarized Republicans’ responses: “A shameful day in American History. A sham show trial. A kangaroo court. A total witch-hunt. Worthy of a banana republic. These were the reactions from senior elected Republicans, who once claimed the mantle of the party of law and order, to the news that Donald Trump had become the first former US president convicted of a crime.”

Republican senator and vice-presidential hopeful Tim Scott’s impassioned attack on the judiciary was emblematic of the response. He called the verdict a “hoax,” a “sham” and an “absolute injustice justice system.” He then addressed Bragg, the Manhatten district attorney, directly, saying, “DA Bragg, hear me clearly: You cannot silence the American people. You cannot stop us from voting for change.”

GOP Sen. Tim Scott on the Trump conviction.

‘Hang everyone’

Stoking fear through ad hominem attacks and scapegoating is often a precursor to violence. The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol followed Trump’s complaints about a “rigged” election.

NBC News reported that in the aftermath of Trump complaining about a “rigged” jury trial, posts are circulating on social media that target trial Judge Merchan, Bragg and the jurors with doxxing, intimidation and even death threats.

NBC quoted one poster who said, “We need to identify each juror. Then make them miserable. Maybe even suicidal.” Reuters quoted users who said, “1,000,000 men (armed) need to go to Washington and hang everyone. That’s the only solution” and “Trump should already know he has an army willing to fight and die for him if he says the words. … I’ll take up arms if he asks.”

Not everyone who supports Trump politically is poised to “take up arms,” but video posted on X by Donald Trump Jr. with the tagline “F— JOE BIDEN” shows an arena full of fans awaiting the UFC lightweight championship chanting “F— Joe Biden” and cheering Trump as he smiles and raises his fist.

Video of the event was posted on YouTube and circulated by right-wing websites like the Daily Caller and Breitbart.

In her book “Demagoguery and Democracy,” communication scholar Patricia Roberts-Miller explains that “We don’t have demagoguery in our culture because a demagogue came to power; when demagoguery becomes the normal way of participating in public discourse, then it’s just a question of time until a demagogue arises.”

A demagogue has arisen.The Conversation

Karrin Vasby Anderson, Professor of Communication Studies, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sam Pizzigati <![CDATA[Can Democracy and Billionaires Coexist? Not on this planet]]> 2024-06-11T10:51:26Z 2024-06-11T04:02:05Z ( – One person, one vote. The classic essence of democracy. But what if that one person happens to be a fabulously rich? Does that one person actually have just “one” vote? Can we have anything approaching democracy when some among us are sitting on fortunes grander than the rest of us can even imagine?

Americans have been actively debating questions like these for almost a century and a half, ever since we entered the era that Mark Twain quite artfully tagged the “Gilded Age.” We never totally ended that gilded epoch. But we came close. By the 1950s, Americans of massive means faced tax rates as high as 91 percent on their income over $200,000, the equivalent of about $2.4 million today.

In those same years, the wealth America’s wealthiest left behind when they entered the great beyond faced an estate tax top rate that could go as high as 77 percent. Wealthy married couples here in 2024, by contrast, can totally exempt as much as $27.22 million from any federal estate tax.

Our wealthiest today have good reason to be high-fiving these wealth-enhancing new tax realities. Top 1 percenters are now grabbing 21 percent of our nation’s income, over double the top 1 percent income share in 1976.

Back in that same 1976, the always helpful World Inequality Database reminds us, the 40 percent of Americans in the nation’s statistical middle held just over a third of America’s wealth, 33.7 percent. The top 1 percent’s considerably smaller share that year: 22.6 percent. Today’s story? Our richest 1 percent hold just about 35 percent of our nation’s wealth, our middle 40 percent less than 28 percent.

The wealthiest of our wealthy, a just-released report from Americans for Tax Fairness points out, are doing their best to keep these good times — for America’s rich — rolling.

“Just 50 billionaire families,” the new ATF report details, “have already injected more than $600 million collectively into the crucial 2024 elections, with that number sure to show accelerating growth in the final six months of the campaign.”

“Plutocrat,” Digital, Dream / Dreamland v 3, 2024

Stats like these, adds the report, offer “further proof that the nation’s richest families consider democracy just another commodity they can buy.”

Any transaction requires, of course, both buyers and sellers. In the buying and selling of our democracy, the sellers sit in Congress, and some have even called the White House home. This spring, one particular former president has been doing “selling” aplenty to get back to his former 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address.

In one recent private event, the Washington Post reports, Donald Trump “asked oil industry executives to raise $1 billion for his campaign and said raising such a sum would be a ‘deal’ given how much money they would save if he were reelected as president.”

At another event with deep-pocket donors, held at New York’s luxurious Pierre Hotel, Trump reminded all present that a re-elected Joe Biden would let Trump’s 2017 tax cuts for the rich expire at the end of 2025. Warned Trump: “You’re going to have the biggest tax increase in history.”

What can we do to significantly limit how deeply political candidates can feed at the billionaire trough? The Billionaire Family Business — the new Americans for Tax Fairness report — advances two core recommendations.

The first: We need to reform our current campaign finance landscape. A good place to start would be ending our burgeoning “dark money” political contribution charade.

To end run our already feeble federal limits on political giving — and, at the same time, keep their donations secret — our contemporary billionaires have over recent years been advancing frightfully huge sums to non-profits that don’t have politics as their “primary” purpose. These non-profits have then been moving those dollars to billionaire-friendly candidates without having to publicly reveal the identity of the billionaires behind the contributions.

But closing gaping loopholes like this “dark money” two-step, the new Americans for Tax Fairness study recognizes, would only get us so far. The wealth of our richest, just like water, seeks its own level. Cut off one channel and that wealth will find another. To limit the impact of our wealthiest on our politics, in other words, we simply must limit the wealth of our wealthiest.

“We need,” as the new Americans for Tax Fairness paper puts it, “more effective taxation of billionaires.” And that more effective taxation must include moves to seriously tax the billionaire inheritances that “leave economic dynasties with plenty of spare cash to try to influence elections.”

Without those sorts of moves, the ATF concludes, we’ll continue to have “no practical limit to how much billionaire families can spend” on getting their “allies into office.”

Plutocracy can flourish in that environment. Democracy most definitely cannot.


Published under a Creative Commons 3.0 License