Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2017-03-27T07:31:59Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[True, Trump hasn’t Criticized Putin for Navalny Arrest; but Navalny is more like Trump]]> 2017-03-27T07:31:59Z 2017-03-27T07:31:46Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The meme du jour about the protests in Russia on Sunday is that Donald Trump did not criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin for arresting the protesters, including their leader, Alexei Navalny.

Apparently the pressure on the State Department from Russia hawks in Congress was so great that State issued a brief statement condemning the arrest of protesters.

But Trump was uncharacteristically quiet.

It is a fair point, and signals Trump’s double standards.

But the irony is that Navalny is even more like Trump than Putin is, and in fact is a little scary.

Navalny is a nationalist, who has been seen at far-right, ultra-nationalist events. His platform not only attacks corruption but also calls for deportation of undocumented workers.

Navalny accused Russian prime minister Dimitry Medvedev of embezzling so much money he has become a billionaire. He has a Non-Governmental organization intended to track corruption in Russia’s elite.

Medvedev may well be extremely corrupt. But this campaign against him looks like Trump’s demands that Hillary Clinton be locked up without trial.

Navalny was behind the demonstrations throughout Russia, in 80 cities, on Sunday, and was detained after they broke out.

BBC Monitoring translated his and his supporters’ tweets to the effect that all the employees of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation were arrested on Sunday:

“Moscow police have detained all employees present at the headquarters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), according to Navalny himself.

“All employees of the Anti-Corruption Foundation have been detained. This is the best possible appraisal of their work. The FBK will not allow thieves a quiet life,” Navalny wrote on Twitter on 26 March (

FBK staff had been broadcasting live footage of anti-corruption protests taking place in Moscow and other cities around Russia. According to Navalny ally Leonid Volkov, who had been presenting the live feed, during his detention he was asked by police whether the broadcast had been sanctioned by the authorities (

Earlier, Navalny himself was detained at the beginning of the protest on Moscow’s central Tverskaya street. He later tweeted, urging his supporters to continue marching without him.”

But Navalny’s agenda goes beyond corruption. The Atlantic writes,

“In an interview in January, Navalny laid out the main points of the so-called nationalist agenda, including combating illegal immigration and ethnically based organized-crime groups; protecting ethnic Russians abroad; and bringing order to the North Caucasus, which he has called a de facto lawless “off-shore zone.” ”

He has also demanded that all Federal funding for the Caucasus be suspended.

So the Caucasus is to Navalny as Mexico is to Trump.

In Moscow authorities appear to have asked Navalny and his protesters to move somewhere quieter, rather as George W. Bush (unconstitutionally) proposed “protest zones” for those unhappy with his Iraq War.

This is not the liberal opposition in Russia, but something dark and even to Putin’s right. While Navalny’s followers should have the right to demonstrate freely, there is no particular point in demanding that Trump swing around and blindly support Navalny just because he isn’t Putin.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Protesters clash with Russian police”

contributors <![CDATA[Mosul: ISIL Scorched Earth Tactics put Civilians in Crossfire]]> 2017-03-27T05:25:57Z 2017-03-27T05:25:21Z Special Correspondent* | | Baghdad | – –

Mosul Locals Explain Extremists’ Desperate Tactics

Mosul locals, some of whom have escaped the extremists and some who are still under their control, describe the Islamic State group’s desperate tactics. They will fight to the death, trapped locals warn.

A month has passed since Iraqi pro-government forces began to try and push the extremist group known as the Islamic State out of the western side of Mosul. And the Islamic State, or IS, group appears to be becoming increasingly desperate, fighting to the death with no regard for civilian lives or property and no apparent escape routes.

One Mosul local described what the IS fighters were doing as a “scorched earth policy”. They had not launched any successful attacks, they were shelling indiscriminately, bombing areas that were no longer under their control, and were basically trapped, he said.

In a recent press statement Lieutenant General Talib Shaghati, head of the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces who are leading the fight to retake the northern city confirmed this, saying that, we “are not fighting a regular army with clear methods and plans. We are fighting an extremist organization that changes its tactics all the time and does not follow any rules. This is an organization that has no consideration for any humanitarian issues in war.”

While he was torching the cars, he kept saying: obedience to God, obedience to God.

Fighting in western Mosul was always going to be more difficult. The population density is higher in this part of the city and there are many houses built close to one another in an old city with narrow alleyways, that won’t allow larger vehicles like tanks or armoured vehicles to pass easily.

On the eastern side of the city, the IS group used a lot of car bombs, driven by suicide bombers. The cars would be driven to obstruct Iraqi troops from getting closer to the IS fighters, or to trap them. Shaghati says an estimated over 850 exploding cars were used against them on that side of the city.

However very few car bombs are being used on the western side. For one thing the streets are too narrow for anything other than restricted movements and there has also been an increase in air cover for the pro-government forces.

On the western side of Mosul the IS group have been deploying snipers, many of them from Russia or other central Asian countries, locals caught in the fighting report. Fighters bearing light to medium weaponry and suicide bombers with explosive belts have been moving quickly through and around the crowded housing.

This kind of action had been prepared for. The IS group had instructed local homeowners to make holes in their walls that were 100 centimetres high and wide. This meant that their fighters could move from house to house without being detected.

Saad Agha*, a resident of the New Mosul neighbourhood, which was freed of the IS group around a week ago, told NIQASH that he had refused to make a hole in his wall. Angry IS fighters then gave him an hour to make the required hole or they would blow up his house, they said.

“They scared me and they scared my family,” Agha says. “So I made the hole.”

The holes were used by the IS fighters to escape and eventually also by the counter-terrorism troops, Agha recounts. “The Iraqi soldiers also came through these holes and told us that we are free,” he says.

IS fighters had also told civilians to park their cars on the streets so that they could use them as barriers and impede the troops advancing. When pro-government forces get close to a vehicular blockade, the IS members set the cars on fire, in order to obscure the vision of aircraft that might target them. There are hundreds of burned out cars all through the areas that the IS group has been expelled from.

Ahmad Saeed*, a local of the Risalah neighbourhood which the pro-government forces reached just a few days ago, told NIQASH how his family’s vehicles were destroyed.

“This dirty person came to our house and asked us to give us some fuel. He then started to pour it on our cars and our neighbours’ cars and then set them alight,” Saeed says angrily; the corpse of the fighter in question now lies on the street. “While he was torching the cars, he kept saying: obedience to God, obedience to God.”

When the IS group realizes it is about to lose control of an area, it has started forcing locals to move into other areas with them, in order to use them as human shields.

Thousands of people have been moved into mosques, schools and health centres in the old city in western Mosul.

In a telephone conversation, Um Amar* says that the IS group forced her family to take in another family from the neighbourhood known as 17 July. “And this is just one family they have brought from the southern neighbourhoods against their will,” she says. “There are hundreds more. Each house in our area now has more than ten people living there and we do not have enough to eat or drink,” she says fearfully.

“We do not know how things are going to go from here. We live near the outskirts of the city but the war is so close to us now,” she says. “Will they try and take us with them too? And where would they take us? The Iraqi forces are gaining control of the city and there is no escape for the extremists.”

Some of the civilians have tried to escape this fate. But it is very difficult to get out of the IS-controlled area and into the pro-government-held parts of the city; there is no established or safe route.

Local man Abdul Samir* and his family of six tried to escape but were caught.

“They beat me and then they dragged me out to shoot me,” he told NIQASH in a phone call. “I begged them not to, and my children were crying. They had female police with them and they searched my wife and found her mobile phone. So they became even more angry and accused me of fighting for the Iraqi army. They wanted to kill our whole family then and there, but just one of the fighters didn’t like the idea. He managed to argue them around and they released us.”

But to what kind of fate, Samir does not know. “They brought us back to the Caliphate so I guess we must stay here, in this house, in the middle of this war. All I can do is put one hand on my head to protect myself from the bombs falling, and the other hand on my stomach, to protect me from starvation. I know that either we will die here or we will be free,” he said, shortly before starting to cry and hanging up.

*Real names have not been used for reasons of security.



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Sky TV: “Frontline: the battle for Mosul”

contributors <![CDATA[What the Civil Rights Movement can teach us about Resistance in Age of Trump]]> 2017-03-27T05:14:09Z 2017-03-27T05:13:13Z By Jon Else | ( | – –

On a glorious afternoon in August 1963, after the massive March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom wrapped up on the national mall, President John F. Kennedy, prodded by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, welcomed John Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, and other march organizers to the White House for a discussion of proposed civil rights legislation.  Fifty-four years later, on an afternoon in January 2017, when the even more massive Women’s March on Washington wrapped up, President Donald Trump responded with a sarcastic tweet.  Just the day before, Trump’s team had removed the “civil rights” page from the issues section of the website and replaced it with a new entry entitled “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community.”  The page is still missing.

Today, with the three branches of government controlled by men intolerant of dissent and hounded by their own dark vision of pluralism, few human rights advocates of any stripe can reasonably expect a hearing in Washington.  Our long-running, ongoing, unfinished American civil rights struggle that so often focused on pressing the federal government toward justice, is suddenly in uncharted territory.  The legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King has slammed up against the legacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace, whose snarling campaign for president in 1968 has come home to roost in the presidency of Donald Trump.  Where civil rights leaders, warriors, and foot soldiers found support in high places they will now find a void.

Partners With Power

Amid discussion of renewed civil rights activism, you may well ask whether we’ll need to fight those fights all over again. Will black people once more have to claim their humanity?  For perspective on this moment, let’s consider why the strategies of the southern liberation struggle worked as well as they did back in the day.

The classic civil rights movement (1954-1965) was sparked, organized, and driven by local people and leaders (maids, teachers, farmers, cooks, janitors, students, ministers) in a hundred southern towns who, with ferocious courage, stood up and said “No more!”  Their victories — some temporary, some lasting — regularly depended on their ability as citizens to reach beyond local and state segregationists to faraway presidents, congressional representatives, federal circuit court judges, and Supreme Court justices in Washington, appealing to them to respond with regulations, executive orders, laws, and even armed force.

Dogged organizing by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), together with the NAACP’s decades-long legal campaigns, Martin Luther King’s rhetorical genius, and the massed moral crusade of black southerners first shamed and finally forced the latent hand of federal power.  Alert to this leapfrog tactic, Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, and others went a step further and tried unsuccessfully to appeal to the United Nations, as more recently have the parents of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Jordan Davis.

With its unanimous 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, the Supreme Court signaled to African Americans in the former Confederacy that they had a friend in Washington.  In Brown, by the sheer weight of evidence, moral suasion, and reason, a handful of African American parents, children, and their lawyers had compelled nine aging white justices (including former Ku Klux Klansman Hugo Black) to agree that all citizens deserve equal education.

In a similar manner over the next decade, one powerful judicial, congressional, and presidential ally after another would step up, willfully or grudgingly, to affirm simple justice, rights long promised but also long deferred.  Their embrace of civil rights was sometimes a matter of conscience, sometimes a savvy calculation of their constituents’ electoral mood. Those actions would, in the end, help open doors and extend legal rights to ethnic minorities, women, immigrants, workers, and most recently gay, lesbian, and transgendered citizens. 

Major legislation — the Civil Rights Act of 1957 which established the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the 1964 Act which outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 — and hundreds of decisions handed down by federal district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court all slowly expanded protections to African Americans and set precedents for all Americans. Unlike blacks within white-ruled South Africa who, at the time, were not citizens of their own nation and had little hope of federal protection, blacks across the deep South could succeed because they were citizens not only of their own states, but of the United States.

Few in the 1960s believed that marching, demonstrating, sitting in, agitating, witnessing, disrupting, or singing could ever change the minds, much less the policies, of a half-dozen southern governors, a hundred county sheriffs, or millions of white segregationists.  The Montgomery bus boycott was successful in driving the bus company to the edge of bankruptcy, but legal bus segregation remained intact until the Supreme Court stepped in.

Well-schooled in the strategies of Gandhi, civil rights leaders knew of the critical value of mass meetings, collective action, and civil disobedience for building resolve, visibility, and a powerful sense of community, but they also knew its limits: solidarity was not enough.  Coming together to raise awareness would not in itself achieve concrete results.  Birmingham leader Fred Shuttlesworth put it this way: “Look, America, look at your promises; look how you’ve treated your poor Negro citizens.  But you can’t shame segregation. Rattlesnakes don’t commit suicide.”

Persuasion, appeals to reason, and simple justice certainly recruited northern liberals and some white southern moderates to the cause, but southern blacks could have preached the Sermon on the Mount or the U.S. Constitution daily to White Citizens’ Councils to no effect.  In the end, the decisive language that spoke to white oppression was power, and the power that proved decisive often lay in Washington.

While economic boycotts might sometimes force compromise on local businesses and segregationist officials, generally the trick was to vault over them to, if necessary, the president himself. In the documentary Eyes On The Prize, Burke Marshall, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Kennedy explained, that, when push came to shove, no deep southern city or state could resist escalating federal force. “I suppose,” he commented, “the president could have sent the United States Navy up the Mississippi River” — which was exactly what Abraham Lincoln had done a century earlier.

At the extreme, Republican and Democratic presidents deployed deputies, federal marshals, national guardsmen, and in the end even Army troops to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws and protect dissenters’ rights under the First Amendment when state and local officials refused to do so.  If the attack dogs, bombings, and mass arrests of children got bad enough in Birmingham, and if it all appeared on television nationwide, local black organizers came to understand that they could usually depend on predictable moral outrage in the White House, a Congress worried about reelection, or the Supreme Court for a remedy.

In 1957, faced with news bulletins of white rioters and Alabama national guardsmen blocking nine black students from entering Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower reluctantly sent in elements of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, declaring on prime-time television, “Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of the courts.” Five years later, President Kennedy, a convert to the civil rights cause, would similarly dispatch his Assistant Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and 200 federal marshals backed by the U.S. Army to ensure that James Meredith could enter the besieged campus of the University of Mississippi.

The Revolution Will Be Televised

Movement leaders patiently calculated a strategy for success that often depended on the press, in particular the new medium of television news, to haul Jim Crow’s physical, social, and civic brutality out of the backwoods and into the nation’s living rooms. They understood that news crews would flock not only to record Martin Luther King’s oratory but also the flamboyant antics of a few southern sheriffs and the grand theater of mass non-violent resistance.  Confronted with televised attacks on peaceful demonstrators, a majority of congressmen, including dozens of Republicans, might acknowledge the searing contradictions of state racism for what they were.  Whether good will, cynicism, or electoral savvy drove politicians’ actions, the strategy worked.

The national media provided a direct prod that regularly stiffened spines in Washington, but such public disapproval by hectoring northern journalists also brought white southerners together in solidarity against the media elites (a phenomenon that should have a certain resonance in present-day America).  White crowds knew that network television coverage spelled trouble for legal segregation and often went for the cameras.  Those mobs understood the postmodern power of images as well as any postmodernist. When the first Freedom Riders’ bus rolled into Birmingham’s bus station in 1961, dozens of Klansmen attacked the waiting newsmen first before they went after the riders.  There would be no news clips of that event on TV that evening.

On the horrific night when James Meredith tried to enter the University of Mississippi, the mob, flying Confederate battle flags, attacked the media, smashing cameras, beating cameramen, and killing a reporter from Agence France-Presse execution-style, before shooting 35 federal marshals.

Second only to the courage of African Americans was the courage of those highly visible TV crews. They would stay miraculously calm and focused, navigating the mayhem between marchers, mobs, and lawmen. Though they were constrained by journalistic standards from partisanship in reporting, many of those crews could not escape their growing sympathy for the movement, and found themselves ready to join in the reformation of America with their pictures and words. They were televising a particularly disgusting pageant: officers, under the sanction of state and local laws, bludgeoning, fire hosing, arresting, punching, cattle prodding, whipping, tear-gassing, and even shooting defenseless, unresisting black people who had declared their commitment to nonviolence.  It happened month after month throughout the 1960s.  

The Selma Show

Movement leaders chose their sheriffs carefully, judging their battlegrounds in part by the quality of available villains.  They favored bad actors like Chief Bull Connor, the proud bigot of Birmingham, who unleashed fire hoses on teenaged marchers with operatic fury, and Selma’s increasingly unhinged arch-segregationist sheriff, Jim Clark.

The 1965 battle royal in Selma, Alabama, marked a milestone in the expansion of democracy for the town’s African Americans, which had begun with the emancipation of its slaves during the Civil War. Selma first came under siege by Union regulars in April 1865.  The Confederate defenders, an ill-trained muster of white militiamen, kids, and old men, were no match for the northern troops who ran them out of their hometown, then spent the night burning and looting.  Selma’s slaves were officially freed, but after a fleeting window of hope, Reconstruction and Jim Crow would strip them and their immediate descendants of nearly all their constitutional rights.

By 1965, almost a century after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which unambiguously declares, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged… on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the percentage of registered black voters in Alabama was actually falling.  Local white voter registration clerks in Selma had allowed only 2% of the city’s 14,000 black citizens to register, compared to 90% of Selma’s whites.  A carefully targeted registration campaign by local organizers and SNCC (later joined by the SCLC) aimed to shine a national spotlight on local oppression and so spur congressional action that would open up voting for black citizens throughout Alabama and eventually across the entire deep South.

Strategically deploying Martin Luther King (just back from accepting the Nobel Prize in Sweden), the movement in Selma set out to provoke Sheriff Clark and his famously brutal posse.  As SNCC’s Jim Forman said, “We were laying a trap.” The aim was to heighten a moral battle of Shakespearian proportions that television would then beam directly to President Lyndon Johnson.

At one point, the city would have 20 times more blacks in jail than on its voting rolls. Confrontations simmered throughout the winter of 1964-1965, punctuated by sudden explosions of violence. Reason, brotherly love, massed demonstrations, and inflamed national opinion made no dent in Jim Clark’s enduring pathology.  Like a man possessed, he simply couldn’t stop himself from behaving badly in front of the cameras.  He delivered the gaudy media goods, week after week, exactly as movement strategists had hoped he would, exactly as Selma’s few moderate whites feared. The scenes of violence flashed around the country on TV every night, and appeared in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.

By 1965, President Johnson, a Texas Democrat, was ready to take risks on civil rights.  He had already directed his White House staff to secretly prepare sweeping voting rights legislation and even a constitutional amendment.  Now, the only thing needed was a trigger, and that finally came on March 7th,  “Bloody Sunday,” when John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Bob Mants, and Albert Turner, leading hundreds of locals, crested the Pettus Bridge on their way to deliver a voting rights petition to Governor George Wallace at the state capitol. 

All hell broke loose. Whites cheered from the roadside as Alabama state troopers and Clark’s mounted posse clubbed, bullwhipped, and tear-gassed their way through 600 unarmed black men, women, and children. A trooper fractured John Lewis’s skull with his billy club. Here was the massacre of the innocents for all Americans to see: southern lawmen in their pig-faced gas masks going berserk against African Americans who stood and took it. That televised attack, a crystalline icon of the era, worthy of Dante, had by evening rallied nearly all of Washington to the marchers’ cause. It would one day become a sturdy staple of history texts and documentaries. That night, local whites murdered a northern Unitarian minister. 

Selma’s young white mayor, Joe Smitherman, said, “I didn’t understand how big it was until I saw it on television… That looked like a war; that went all over the country. And then… the wrath of the nation came down on us.” Citing television coverage, 31 Republican leaders condemned the situation in Alabama, as well as the administration’s delay in proposing new federal voting legislation. Republican Senator Everett Dirksen rose to declare, “The time is now.”

President Johnson sent 2,000 federal troops to Selma as Lincoln had done 100 years before, this time to protect peaceful citizens of Alabama from Alabama state troopers.  He went on national television to proclaim, “Their cause must be our cause, and together we shall overcome!” and then dispatched a sweeping voting rights bill to a willing Congress.  After it passed the House by a vote of 328 to 74 and the Senate by 79 to 18, Johnson signed the act into law with John Lewis and Dr. King at his side.

By their determined organizing, marching, demonstrating, and most of all by their relentless courage, local black people had successfully appealed to Washington, finally brought legalized American apartheid to its knees. Black voting in Alabama jumped seven-fold in the next three years.

Without the media slamming blunt facts in the face of sympathetic (or politically savvy) power brokers in Washington, “Bloody Sunday” might have left in its wake little more than a few hundred broken and bleeding marchers and the Jim Crow voting system still intact.  Without the TV coverage and a president and Congress capable of being won over, it might have been the civil rights equivalent of a tree falling silently in the forest, not the engine of sweeping change that it was.

“Freedom Is A Constant Struggle”

But that was then.

Back in 1965, the charm of Selma was lost on most of us who ventured there. I’ve returned a few times since, first in 1985 to shoot scenes for Eyes on the Prize, including an interview with an unrepentant Jim Clark. The town was, by then, smaller, blacker, and poorer.

In 2015, I returned again with producer Orlando Bagwell to work on a film for the Southern Poverty Law Center.  From a distance, nestled on a bluff above the Alabama River, Selma looked to me like a picturesque little town in southern France.  The air below the Edmund Pettus Bridge, now a national historic landmark, was alive with swallows.  Selma’s lovely historic district seemed nicely parked somewhere between 1850 and 1950, but much of the rest of the once-prosperous town had, like so much of small town America, been hollowed out by recession and a changing economy.  We could find only one restaurant open for supper downtown. Many of its beautiful nineteenth-century buildings were boarded up. Gaping bullet holes pockmarked the granite tombstone of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose murder by a state trooper had sparked the original Bloody Sunday march. The Civil War Battle of Selma is still reenacted annually on a field outside town, with the Confederates defeated again, each year.

The Voting Rights Act forged in Selma had been a triumph of the classic civil rights movement, the hinge between everything that came before and so much that would come after. But we had little reason to suspect or notice when, shortly after the act’s passage in 1965, conservative organizers began a methodical 40-year campaign to gut it.  As black voter rolls in rural Alabama swelled, the state’s young federal prosecutor, Jeff Sessions, brought charges of voter fraud against civil rights organizer Albert Turner, a leader of the Bloody Sunday march.  His case collapsed in court, but resistance continued, culminating in a 2013 Supreme Court decision that struck down one of that act’s key provisions (federal approval of state changes in their voting laws). Ever since, a Republican campaign to put new voting restrictions in place has only gained momentum.

In 2015, however, few had noticed the most profound changes of all, even though they were stirring just below the surface of things: sweeping working class frustration; previously dormant strains of racism, misogyny, and nativism; galloping income inequality; and Democratic Party failures that went unnoticed and uncorrected.  All of these factors would help lay the groundwork for the successful candidacy of Donald J. Trump.  He was slow indeed to reject the white supremacists and nationalists who rushed to endorse his presidential bid and he was brought to office in some measure by the very forces that the civil rights movement naively thought it had largely silenced. Because the lid had been kept on overt public racism and nativism for so long, many Americans were slow to understand how deeply systemic the problem is.

The citizens of Selma voted for Hillary Clinton by a wide margin, but no matter.  Trump’s wave has driven from power the vital center with which mass movements had once been able to partner. Vestiges of the very ethos against which the civil rights movement fought have grown ever stronger and found a welcome place in his White House, their strength buoyed by a growing societal disapproval of media elites.  In the process, Trump has inoculated himself against appeals for justice as has no president in our lifetime.

When it comes to any rights appeals in the immediate future, no one with real federal power is likely to be listening. There will be no sympathy for human rights petitioners from majority Republicans in the House of Representatives untroubled by reelection fears in their ferociously gerrymandered districts, nor from the soon-to-be-devastated civil rights division of the Department of Justice. What mechanisms will remain for the activists to activate?

In a country becoming less white every day, Democrats recently stood helpless when it came to blocking the confirmation of the whitest cabinet in decades. Soon enough, the Supreme Court will have a conservative majority and then President Trump will have the run of the table, racking up a political monoculture unknown in our time.

What many Americans think of as the civil rights movement — something in our black and white past, back there, back then — is, in fact, a deep running project launched long before we were born and sure to endure long after we are gone. In one now-historic decade, civil rights organizers brilliantly identified the levers of government power they could seize, but most of those levers are today out of reach.

In response, will activism translate into concrete results the way it once did? Surely, a new generation of organizers now rising with a resolve and passion not seen in years, having broadened the civil rights project into a human rights one, will develop new strategies. Surely, they will discover or invent new means of stopping what threatens to be a contraction of democracy.  Surely, with the power of social media — a veritable television station in the hands of every citizen — they will find their own ways of ensuring that oppression can’t dodge the spotlight.  Already, the bottom-up strategy championed by SNCC has found new fluency in the ascendance of hyper-democratic Internet organizing and the raw eloquence of #BlackLivesMatter.

Does reform still demand powerful allies, and if so, who might they be?  A few centrist Republicans, courageous career attorneys in the Justice Department, billionaire Silicon Valley CEOs committed to pluralism, a mass of determined young people running for office?

As organizers have discovered more than once since the early days of the republic, new levers lie waiting somewhere deep in the grand clockwork of our democracy.  The only question is: Where?

Jon Else worked on the SNCC staff in 1964 and 1965  He was series producer and cinematographer for Eyes on the Prize, has produced and directed many award-winning documentaries, including The Day After Trinity and Cadillac Desert. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, he is a professor at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. His new book is True South: Henry Hampton and “Eyes on the Prize,” the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement.

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

Copyright 2017 Jon Else


contributors <![CDATA[Progressive Young Jews Protest AIPAC, Occupation of Palestine]]> 2017-03-27T05:01:20Z 2017-03-27T05:01:20Z TeleSur | – –

Protesters gathered under the banner, “Jews won’t be free until Palestinians are, reject AIPAC, reject occupation.”

Jewish protesters marched Sunday outside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington as they slammed the lobbying firm for its support for policies of the right-wing Israeli government.

Protesters held a banner saying, “Jews won’t be free until Palestinians are, reject AIPAC, reject occupation.” IfNotNow, a group of young, left-wing U.S. Jews organized the action, which was billed as a “Reclaim, Resist, and Reimagine” rally. Almost 700 people said they would attend on the event’s Facebook page, Haaretz reported.

The outlet also said that it was the first time that a protest against the organization had drawn such big numbers and so many Jewish people.

The protesters carried signs against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as the increasing abuses against Palestinians.

“How can we have a sustained Jewish community in this country and a democratic Jewish community in Israel” as long as an occupation persists, Jeremy Zelinger, one of the protesters, told the Times of Israel. “AIPAC does not represent us.”

The Israeli lobbying arm blames Palestinians entirely for the absence of peace talks and refrains from criticizing any Israeli policies, including its illegal settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

The right-wing Israeli government, as well as AIPAC, welcomed the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president as they see him as a “true ally” to Israel who will not criticize settlement building and will not push for a two-state solution with the Palestinians allowing far-right factions to push for the annexation of the West Bank.

Trump has also said he would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem. Speaking at the AIPAC conference, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday revived talk of the possibility the U.S. may move its embassy, saying Trump was seriously considering the matter.

“After decades of simply talking about it, the president of the United States is giving serious consideration to moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole: “Hundreds march outside AIPAC in protest of Israeli settlements | Credit: Jerome Korman

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Video of Day: Kitten tempted by Iran New Year Goldfish]]> 2017-03-26T16:44:32Z 2017-03-26T16:44:31Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | (Video Clip) | – –

March 21 was the Persian New Year (Now Ruz), marking also the first day of spring (the vernal equinox). In Iran on that day it is a custom to set out a table top with 7 things on it, the names of which start with “s” in Persian. In modern Iran it has become customary also to put out a bowl with goldfish in it, as a symbol of the constellation Pisces, which the sun enters on the vernal equinox.

The problem is that people don’t really want to keep and feed goldfish all year round, so they typically flush away 5 million of them every spring when the festivities end. Last year President Hassan Rouhani declined to put out a goldfish, implicitly joining with animal rights protesters in Iran, who want to stop the annual great goldfish genocide.

Since the internet is mainly about cats, IC is illustrating this problem with a video of a cat terrorizing the New Year goldfish in an Iranian home:

Persian Kitten and Iranian New Year Goldfish

Juan Cole <![CDATA[After Trump Massacres in Mosul, Campaign against ISIL Halted]]> 2017-03-26T16:12:57Z 2017-03-26T07:17:47Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Candidate Donald Trump called last year for carpet-bombing of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. It is possible that Trump has loosened the rules of engagement for the US Air Force, which is providing air support to the Iraqi Army. Looser rules could well be producing more casualties.

This allegation is supported by an NYT piece today that quotes and Iraqi officer to this effect:

Dubai’s al-Khaleej reports that after a US airstrike on West Mosul on Thursday that is alleged to have killed over 200 innocent civilians, the Iraqi Army has paused its campaign to take the rest of the Western part of the city. That is, Trump may actually have hamstrung the anti-Daesh fight by policies that led to a civilian massacre from the air.

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights is reporting that an Iraqi civilian defense force is reporting that 500 corpses of civilians killed by air strikes have been discovered in Mosul.

Old Mosul is densely populated and it is possible that Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) still has some 300,000 people there under its sway. The Iraqi army and the US-coalition are attempting to dislodge Daesh, but never called for a civilian exodus. Hence, civilians are caught in the crossfire.

The US military admitted to carrying out the deadly strike, but were careful to underline that it had been called for by the Iraqi Army. Trump’s war strategy seems to be so unsuccessful that the US Air Force is trying to pass the blame for it off onto the Iraqi Army!

The Mosul judicial council has called for declaring Mosul a disaster zone. The judges added,

“The indiscriminate strikes on West Mosul by the fighter jets of the coalition must cease.”

They called for a review of military planning for Mosul. They noted that they had been calling since Thursday for civil defense units to help with saving civilians. The coalition planes had been trying to hit three houses used by Daesh.


Related video:

The National: “In Mosul, steaming ahead could imperil civilian lives”

contributors <![CDATA[Can you stop House from selling out your online Privacy, as Senate Just Did?]]> 2017-03-26T06:12:34Z 2017-03-26T06:12:34Z By Ernesto Falcon | (Electronic Frontier Foundation) | – –

Majority Leader McCarthy Confirms House to Immediately Act on Behalf of the Cable and Telephone Industry Following the Senate Vote

Last week, the U.S. Senate by a razor thin margin of 50 to 48 voted to take away the privacy rights of Internet users as a favor to the cable and telephone industry. Now the House is planning to take up the legislation immediately next week before people can discover the damage they are about to inflict to consumer privacy online.

These Are Our Legal Rights To Privacy They Are Dismantling

Americans have enjoyed a legal right to privacy from your communications provider under Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act for more than twenty years. When Congress made that law, it had a straightforward vision in how it wanted the dominate communications network (at that time the telephone company) to treat your data, recognizing that you are forced to share personal information in order to utilize the service and did not have workable alternatives.

Take Action

Now Congress has begun to reverse course by eliminating your communication privacy protections in order to open the door for the cable and telephone industry to aggressively monetize your personal information. Proponents of such a drastic course change in law would have you believe that a repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s updated privacy rules for broadband providers would still leave your privacy protections intact. This understates the gravity of what H.J. Res. 86 and S.J. Res 34 may do to consumer privacy. Make no mistake, if Congress decides to codify a repeal of consumer privacy under the Congressional Review Act (as opposed to simply amending the law or the FCC changing the privacy rules again), it can have a serious impact on your legal right to privacy in your communications over broadband.

Proponents of eliminating consumer privacy will go even further and say that it is the FCC’s fault that they must harm the legal protections you have enjoyed for more than twenty years by stating it was the agency that overreached its legal authority and acted in a manner that was unconnected with the law. But when Congress actually wrote the law, the charge it gave the FCC seemed fairly clear.

The Senate Commerce Committee, for example, expressed a clear intent of specific legal obligations for the communications provider by stating the following:

“In general, a Bell company may not share with anyone customer-specific proprietary information without the consent of the person to whom it relates. Exceptions to this general rule permit disclosure in response to a court order or to initiate, render, bill and collect for telecommunications services.”

The House Commerce Committee in their own report indicated a similar line of thinking:

“This section defines three fundamental principles to protect all consumers. These principles are: (1) the right of consumers to know the specific information that is being collected about them; (2) the right of consumers to have proper notice that such information is being used for other purposes; and (3) the right of consumers to stop the reuse or sale of that information.”

In essence, the FCC has done the job Congress told it to do many years ago. However, the cable and telephone industry have sensed an opportunity to exploit the flurry of repeals Congress has taken up and laid out a series of misleading arguments to convince Congress to proactively do harm to your privacy. They were successful at convincing 50 U.S. Senators to go along with their plan. Now the fight has moved to the House of Representatives.

There is only one way to stop them from winning.

We must speak up and call our elected officials to reject H.J. Res 86 and S.J. Res 34 and preserve our legal rights to consumer online privacy.

Take Action



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit Tech: ” Companies Can Now Buy, Sell Your Internet Browsing History–Without Your Permission”

contributors <![CDATA[A distracted Trump administration Couldn’t even focus on its own anti-ISIL summit.]]> 2017-03-26T05:57:14Z 2017-03-26T05:57:14Z By Paul Rogers | ( ) | – –

Donald Trump’s election campaign made much of his predecessor Barack Obama’s failure to control and defeat ISIL, contrasting this with his own determination to destroy the movement if and when he became the United States president.

Around the time of his inauguration in January, he ordered the Pentagon to produce a plan for immediate and radical action. Since then, not much has happened. So in this interim period, how does Washington’s outlook relate to the fluid events on the ground?

The Pentagon’s response to Trump’s request was, according to informed sources, simply to advocate more of the existing strategy. That means more air-power; a bit more arming of opposition groups, especially the Kurds; somewhat closer involvement in the fight against ISIL in Mosul; and deploying some additional American troops to the region, primarily in Syria.

The deeper reality is one of drift: a routinely distracted administration, still lacking far too many senior expert appointments.

This cluster of suggestions, far from a substantial change, makes even more interesting the administration’s stance at the summit meeting in Washington on 22-23 March of the sixty-eight countries involved in the anti-ISIL coalition. Its purpose, says the state department, is “to accelerate international efforts to defeat ISIL in the remaining areas it holds in Iraq and Syria and maximize
pressure on its branches, affiliates, and networks”.

Some positive spin and even a few tweets are the guaranteed outcome. But the deeper reality is one of drift: a routinely distracted administration, still lacking far too many senior expert appointments and facing swingeing budget cuts, not least in the pivotal state department itself. 

Jon Alterman, senior vice-president at the prestigious, and very much establishment, Center for Strategic and International Studies, says:

“What I find puzzling is going ahead with something which would normally require a huge amount of staff work at a time when the staff really isn’t in place. Normally this sort of thing would involve armies of aides drawing up planning documents, agenda, talking points, conclusion briefs on all kinds of things. The Trump administration doesn’t have armies of aides working on these issues.”

Alterman concludes with a particularly acid comment:

“Nobody can imagine a world without the U.S. in a leading role, but governments are starting to think that they need to imagine and hedge against it.”

This alone is a serious matter that deserves close attention. But the context of the anti-ISIL summit is a phase of rapid change in several theatres of conflict: Syria and Iraq, but also increasingly problematic Afghanistan, while Israel is getting more directly involved in the Syrian imbroglio.

A surprise assault

Mosul is a good place to start. There, a coalition of ground troops supported by copious airstrikes is trying to wrest control of the western half of the Iraqi city in face of very strong resistance. ISIL will lose control of Mosul . . . The longer it takes the greater will be the cost. This is because the elite Iraqi special forces spearheading the attack are experiencing such heavy casualties that the ability of Haider al-Abadi’s government in Baghdad to hold the country together in the face of a post-Mosul civil war will inevitably be severely compromised.

Across the border in Syria, a coalition of extreme Islamist militias succeeding this week in conducting a sophisticated ambush on the forces of the Bashir al-Assad regime in eastern Damascus. Both the suddenness of the attack, and the extent to which disparate opposition groups united for the offensive, are ominous for the regime.

In the event, pro-regime forces initially regained much of the territory quite quickly –  but, in a development that was as surprising as the original rebel advance, lost it to a renewed thrust. Moreover, the coalescing of some opposition groups evident here is happening elsewhere in Syria, most notably near Hama where nominal regime control is threatened by another rebel coalition.

These twists in Syria’s multi-pronged war are causing concern in Washington but also in Moscow, where Vladimir Putin’s forces are eager to minimise the considerable economic costs of continuing to support the regime but cannot afford to let it fail.

An absent leadership

Three further strands should focus minds at the summit, though it is far from clear that Trump’s team are following them or to what extent.

The strong suspicion, to put it no higher, that the White House has not thought things through, lacks expert advice, and is dominated by ideologues makes it hard to believe in a positive outcome.

First, the Israelis have recently stepped up their rate of airstrikes in Syria, primarily against Hizbollah but also against Syrian army units. This follows a report that the Syrians fired on an Israeli aircraft, drawing a sharp response from the Russians  This, in turn, led to an Israeli demand that the Russians work to limit Iranian intelligence activities in Syria. That factor is probably at the root of Israeli concerns over Hizbollah, whose power-base in southern Lebanon is so close to Israel’s north-east border

More generally, Israel is getting steadily more involved in Syria while strengthening its ties with a wider range of overseas militaries. The annual Blue Flag air-warfare exercise this autumn will be the largest ever, involving Israel’s airforce and those of seven other states: the United States, Greece, Poland, France, Germany, India and Italy

Second, of much more immediate concern to the Trump team should be the status of ISIL in Raqqa, its powerbase. Trump is determined to oust ISIL from here, especially after the movement loses Mosul, but to do so he needs the support of the Syrian Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey is adamantly opposed to the Syrian Kurds’ growing influence, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan intent on countering this trend as he campaigns for more presidential power at home.

Trump’s only other viable option is to inject US ground-forces directly into the fight for Raqqa. This might work, but more American “boots on the ground” will supply Islamist propagandists with welcome evidence for their claim that what is happening is a “crusader” assault on Islam.

Third, Afghanistan’s government has just renewed its plea for more military support from Washington in response to the growing reach of the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, including those linked to ISIL. The plea came too late to prevent the capture by the Taliban of the important town of Sangin, in Helmand province, on 23 March.

If all these trends are put together, it becomes clearer that the Trump administration confronts multiple problems in handling the complex conflicts across the Middle East and south-west Asia. The strong suspicion, to put it no higher, that the White House has not thought things through, lacks expert advice, and is dominated by ideologues makes it hard to believe in a positive outcome.   

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy’s international security adviser, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His latest book is Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins (IB Tauris, 2016), which follows Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on Twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A lecture by Paul Rogers, delivered to the Food Systems Academy in late 2014, provides an overview of the analysis that underpins his openDemocracy column. The lecture – “The crucial century, 1945-2045: transforming food systems in a global context” – focuses on the central place of food systems in human security worldwide. Paul argues that food is the pivot of humanity’s next great transition. It can be accessed here



Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Allies Want Time With the White House In ISIS Fight”