Despite Coal Lobby, Australia to Double Solar Energy in 2018

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Australia’s march to solar power is a reason for climate optimism because it is happening under adverse circumstances. Australia has a big and important coal industry that spends millions on lobbying and election campaigns, and the Australian government is in its back pocket. They, too, have the fraud of “clean coal” hopes [that is not a thing]. The central government is no friend of renewables. Some state governments are deeply committed to dirty coal as well. Australia has a horrible environmental record and is among the worst carbon polluters per capita.

Australia is the biggest exporter of coal in the world, providing 33% of world exports of this commodity. Some three quarters of Australian coal mined is exported and the industry brings in on the order of US$126 bn a year.

At the same time, the Australian public desperately wants renewable energy (96%) and Australia is especially vulnerable to the worst effects of climate change. In a continent already suffering from aridity and heat waves and wildfires, all three will worsen. And, Bondi Beach in Sydney will shrink as the sea level rises.

Australia-climate-map_MJC01 h/t Wikimedia

And yet, Australia is in the midst of a solar revolution in which it could double its solar energy production in a single year. In this past January, rooftop solar installations were up 69% over January 2017. It is estimated that rooftop solar is the most dependable electricity source in Australia.

The growth of solar has mainly been driven by rooftop installations, but companies are now planning more industrial grade ones. Already, 1 in five Australian homes have solar panels on their roofs. In one Australian state, 18 new big solar farms are planned. Solar farms can be built relatively inexpensively in a few months, so unlike nuclear plants, which take five to ten years and often suffer billions in cost over-runs, solar is nimble.

In the small state of South Australia, 53% of electricity already comes from wind and solar. (Australia has 23 million people, South Australia only about 1.7 million). Tesla’s superbattery has stabilized the South Australia grid, and Tesla and the local government are now planning a virtual power plant that will coordinate the solar panels and batteries in residential buildings.


Virtual power plant: Tesla helps build world’s largest virtual power plant in Australia – TomoNews


In New South Wales, renewables are already up to 20% of electricity generation, though that includes small hydro. (New South Wales has over 7 million people.)

(Of all the fossil fuels, coal emits the most carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas and when it goes into the atmosphere some of it stays for a long time, making the world dangerously hotter; the rest goes into carbon sinks like the oceans and igneous rock; it makes the oceans acidic and will kill off half of marine life at the rate we are going.)

Australian Energy Update 2017

The above chart is already much out of date. Wind and solar are making up the bulk of new electricity production (solar is 46% of new energy in recent years) and by May of last year renewables provided 17% of Australia’s total electricity production.

Russian campaign Interference looks like ISIL in Polarizing Techniques

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Mueller inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign has now brought indictments against specific Russian individuals and organizations, including the crony of Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” because the Russian president throws his business large numbers of high level government catering jobs.

The complicated Russian plot against the 2016 elections involves several distinct questions, as John Feffer points out:

1. Was there a concerted Russian attempt to influence the election?

2. Which individuals and organizations in specific were involved, if any?

3. If there were Russians so involved, were they directed by the Russian government?

4. How exactly did they intervene? Did they change votes by hacking into voting machines? [No, they did not change votes; yes, they hacked into the Illinois machines.] Did they attempt to suppress the Democratic vote? How?

5. If there was a major cyber-campaign to influence the US election, did it have any success? How could its success be measured?

6. Was the interference welcomed by the Trump campaign and did Trump and his cronies insert themselves into the ongoing Russian operation against the Hillary Clinton campaign once Trump emerged as a front-runner for the GOP nomination?

Friday’s DOJ indictments answer some of these questions but by no means all of them.

The first takeaway of the indictments is that, yes, there was a significant Russian operation to influence the US election, funded in part by Prigozhin. While in legal matters guilt by association is not probative, in politics it cannot be dismissed. Prigozhin’s role points strongly to Putin direction of this campaign operation. Moreover, the Russian government is the primary likely beneficiary of a sidelining of Ms. Clinton. It is hard to see how Prigozhin himself could benefit. By the rule of means, motive and opportunity, we can reasonably conclude there was a Putin-directed plot.

The second takeaway we already knew–that Russian cells were formed to establish phony Facebook, Twitter and other accounts that pushed divisive politics in the United States. At one point a supposed Islamophobic group protested outside a Texas mosque, met by a pro-Muslim counter-demonstration. Both demonstrations were called for by fake Russian sites. These sites grew to have enormous popularity, with hundreds of thousands of followers. They spread around memes such as that Clinton supports sharia or Islamic law. Supposed Black Lives Matter sites argued that African-Americans should not vote, which would hurt Clinton. I’m sure we all have relatives who kept sending us those Russia disinformation links on Facebook.

A corollary of this second takeaway is that the philosophy of the Russian operation was similar to that of ISIL and other extremist terrorist organizations. ISIL briefly took over 40% of Iraq by striving for a decade to provoke hatred between Shiites and Sunnis. They concentrated on bombing Shiites and making it clear Sunnis had done it. Then the Shiites attacked the Sunnis, driving them into the hands of ISIL. ISIL and al-Qaeda have tried to play the same number on Muslims living in Europe and North America. While the Russian operation was not violent, its premises were similar (and ISIL used its techniques on the internet, too).

In turn, I have argued that Muslim extremists were influenced by the old Soviet Communist tactic of “sharpening contradictions.” That is, the similarity of approach may actually have a common genealogy back to the early 20th century.

The third takeaway is how big the operations were. There were entire troll factories that got millions of Twitter retweets and Facebook shares.

A fourth takeaway (and on this I have changed my mind over time) is that the Russian campaign may well have had such success that it did actually affect the outcome.

Trump’s victory was extremely narrow. If just a few tens of thousands of Black voters in Detroit stayed home rather than coming out for Clinton, that threw Michigan to Trump. Note that Michigan had been trending Democratic in presidential elections for two decades, by a 5% margin. So Clinton’s loss is weird. It can’t be explained only by a swing of white working class voters to Trump. Only 14% of white blue collar voters who had cast their ballots for Obama defected to the GOP in 2016. Given that lots of other kinds of people live in Michigan, that wouldn’t by itself have erased the 5% tilt to the Democrats.

On the other hand, it is also true that Detroit has hemorrhaged population in recent decades, shrinking from 1.1 million in 1990 to less than a million in 2000 and now we are down to probably 670,000 and going on down from there. African-Americans have moved to Atlanta in large numbers.

Moreover, Clinton declined to campaign in Michigan, which certainly contributed to her loss of the state. A friend of mine in the DP tried to get her to come talk to the Arab Americans in Dearborn and she would not do it, possibly because she was in the back pocket of Israeli billionaire Haim Saban and did not want to risk annoying him.

Also Clinton was a horrible candidate and her shilling for Goldman Sachs in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech hurt her with those many Michiganders who had had their homes repossessed by the banks.

So whether the Russian attempts at voter suppression were the cause of Trump’s victory in Michigan is still hard to know, but it cannot be ruled out. What is clear is that Clinton can’t take any satisfaction in this possibility, since if she had been a better candidate she could have counter-acted the fairly flat-footed Russian propaganda mill.


Bonus video:

CBC: “13 Russians indicted for interfering in 2016 U.S. election”

Let’s remember the Schoolchildren US & Russian bombs are killing, too

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US-backed Saudi-led war on Yemen is keeping two million children out of school (Yemen is a country of 27 million). Worse, schools and schoolchildren have repeatedly been struck from the air by Saudi, UAE, Moroccan and Jordanian pilots using American-supplied planes and bombs, in a campaign backed by Washington and the Pentagon and the United Kingdom. The US military supplies logistics, refueling and targeting advice to the aggressors.

Just for one of many possible examples, in August of 2016, a Saudi or allied bomb hit a Yemeni school, killing 10 and wounding 28. Although these children were not Floridians, they were human beings and deserved to be mourned more widely than they were. US television news virtually ignores the US-backed war in Yemen and I’d wager most Americans have never heard of it. The dead children were between 8 and 15 years old. They were from the desperately poor Saadeh district in the north, which the Saudis have been trying to reduce to rubble in their Wahhabi war on the Shiite Zaydis.

Then last year in January the Saudi coalition pilots hit a primary school, killing 5.

This goes on all the time. The US is backing the airstrikes. It isn’t even a controversy.

One in three targets hit by the Saudi coalition has been civilian in character, according to the Yemen Data Project.

Then you have the Russians, who have been heavily and indiscriminately bombing Syria since 2015, and have been helping the Syrian air force do the same You almost never see a denunciation of the Russian carpet bombing of Syria in the West except from Turkey and the Middle Eastern religious right or from the US Neoconservatives. But folks these are children. It isn’t ideological. Like Putin, don’t like Putin. His Aerospace Forces should not be dropping bombs on civilian areas. And yes, the US did this all the time in Iraq, and intensified it during last year’s Mosul campaign. My kindergarten teacher told us that two wrongs don’t make a right. Didn’t yours?

Late last year, the Russian and/or Syrian air forces hit a “makeshift school” in Eastern Ghouta, a stronghold of the Saudi-backed Army of Islam fundamentalists who sometimes shell nearby Damascus. The previous year, Russian and Syrian air strikes hit a residential and school complex in Idlib Province, which is under the rule of the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra Front). HRW reported it as a war crime: “On a clear morning, warplanes attacked a large school compound while class was in session, and kept on bombing while children and teachers tried to flee,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. ”

In one six-month period, it was estimated that Russian airstrikes killed 2,000 civilians. That’s a lot of innocent people to die. Noncombatants. Some were schoolchildren.

After World War II the world forged the Geneva Conventions to attempt to outlaw the most horrid excesses of the Axis powers. International human rights law has proceeded with further treaties and instruments.

But the world of the early 21st century seems on a bizarre course to reenact the 1930s and 1940s, with the rise of far right mass parties and a cavalier insouciance toward brazen war crimes. Against children.

Of the six million Jews murdered by the National Socialists in the 1940s, Anne Frank is among the more famous. Surely it is in part because she was a child. A schoolgirl.

The world is back to killing schoolchildren in a paroxysm of hatred. War may sometimes be necessary and legitimate, but there is no excuse for indiscriminate bombing that puts children at undue risk. Win your war some other way. And while there are legitimate reasons for gun ownership, for congressmen and senators to run interference for 10 gun manufacturers to make sure their sales are in no way hindered is also a sort of war crime.


Bonus video:

Yemenis mark anniversary of Saudi airstrike on Sa’ada school

The Hidden Costs of America’s Perpetual Wars

By Stephanie Savell | ( | – –

I’m in my mid-thirties, which means that, after the 9/11 attacks, when this country went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq in what President George W. Bush called the “Global War on Terror,” I was still in college. I remember taking part in a couple of campus antiwar demonstrations and, while working as a waitress in 2003, being upset by customers who ordered “freedom fries,” not “French fries,” to protest France’s opposition to our war in Iraq. (As it happens, my mother is French, so it felt like a double insult.) For years, like many Americans, that was about all the thought I put into the war on terror. But one career choice led to another and today I’m co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.

Now, when I go to dinner parties or take my toddler to play dates and tell my peers what I do for a living, I’ve grown used to the blank stares and vaguely approving comments (“that’s cool”) as we quickly move on to other topics. People do tend to humor me if I begin to speak passionately about the startlingly global reach of this country’s military counterterrorism activities or the massive war debt we’re so thoughtlessly piling up for our children to pay off. In terms of engagement, though, my listeners tend to be far more interested and ask far more penetrating questions about my other area of research: the policing of Brazil’s vast favelas, or slums. I don’t mean to suggest that no one cares about America’s never-ending wars, just that, 17 years after the war on terror began, it’s a topic that seems to fire relatively few of us up, much less send us into the streets, Vietnam-style, to protest. The fact is that those wars are approaching the end of their second decade and yet most of us don’t even think of ourselves as “at war.”

I didn’t come to the work that’s now engulfed my life as a peace activist or a passionate antiwar dissenter. I arrived circuitously, through my interest in police militarization, during my PhD work in cultural anthropology at Brown University, where the Costs of War Project is housed. Eventually, I joined directors Catherine Lutz and Neta Crawford, who had co-founded the project in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. Their goal: to draw attention to the hidden and unacknowledged costs of our counterterror wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a number of other countries as well.

Today, I know — and care — more about the devastations of Washington’s post-9/11 wars than I ever imagined I would. And judging from public reactions to our work at the Costs of War Project, my prior detachment was anything but unique. Quite the opposite: it’s been the essence of the post-9/11 era in this country.

Numbers to Boggle the Mind

In such a climate of disengagement, I’ve learned what can get at least some media attention. Top of the list: mind-boggling numbers. In a counterpoint to the relatively limited estimates issued by the Pentagon, the Costs of War Project has, for instance, come up with a comprehensive estimate of what the war on terror has actually cost this country since 2001: $5.6 trillion. It’s an almost unfathomably large number. Imagine, though, if we had invested such funds in more cancer research or the rebuilding of America’s infrastructure (among other things, Amtrak trains might not be having such frequent deadly crashes).

That $5.6 trillion includes the costs of caring for post-9/11 veterans as well as spending to prevent terrorist attacks on U.S. soil (“homeland security”). That figure and its annual updates do make the news in places like the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic magazine and are regularly cited by reporters. Even President Trump, we suspect, has absorbed and, in his typical fashion, inflated our work in his comment at the end of last year that the U.S. has “foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East” (which just months earlier, more in line with our estimate, he had at $6 trillion).

The media also commonly draws on another set of striking figures we issue: our calculations of deaths, both American and foreign, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. As of 2016, about 14,000 American soldiers and contractors and 380,000 inhabitants of those countries had been killed. To these estimates, you have to add the deaths of at least 800,000 more Afghans, Iraqis, and Pakistanis from indirect causes related to the devastation caused by those wars, including malnutrition, disease, and environmental degradation.

Once you get past the shocking numbers, however, it becomes far harder to get media (or anyone else’s) attention for America’s wars. Certainly, the human and political costs in distant lands are of remarkably little interest here. Today, it’s difficult to imagine a devastating war photo making the front page of a mainstream newspaper, much less galvanizing protest, as several now-iconic images did during the Vietnam era.

In August, for instance, the Costs of War Project issued a report that revealed the extent to which immigrant workers in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan are exploited. From countries like Nepal, Colombia, and the Philippines, they work for the U.S. military and its private contractors doing jobs like cooking, cleaning, and acting as security guards. Our report documented the kinds of servitude and the range of human rights abuses they regularly face. Often, immigrants are stuck there, living in dangerous and squalid conditions, earning far less than they were promised when recruited, and with no recourse to or protection from the American military, civilian officials, or their home governments.

Our report’s revelations were, I thought, dramatic, largely unknown to the American public, and another reason to demand a conclusion to our never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were also a significant black mark against the private contracting companies that, for years now, have profited so greatly from those wars. Nonetheless, the report got next to no coverage, as has often been the case when it comes to human suffering in those war zones (at least when the sufferers are not U.S. soldiers).

Do Americans really not care? That, at least, seems to have been the judgment of the many journalists who received our press release about the report.

In truth, this has become something like a fact of life in America today, one that’s only been made more extreme by the media’s full-time fascination with President Donald Trump — from his tweets to his insults to his ever-wilder statements. He — or rather the media obsession with his every twitch — poses just the latest challenge to getting attention of any sort for the true costs to us (and everyone else) of our country’s wars.

One small way we’ve found of getting around this media vortex is by tapping into pre-existing communities of interest like veterans’ groups. In June 2017, for instance, we issued a report on the injustices faced by post-9/11 veterans released from the military with “bad paper” or other-than-honorable discharges, usually thanks to minor forms of misconduct, acts that often stem from trauma sustained during military service. Such bad papers leave veterans ineligible for healthcare, education, and housing assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs. While the report got little press attention, news of it traveled along the circuits of veterans-oriented blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds, generating far more interest and commentary. It was even, we later learned, used by such groups in attempts to influence veteran-related legislation.

War to the Horizon and a Demobilized Public and Congress

At heart, though, whatever our small successes, we continue to face a grim reality of this twenty-first-century moment, one that long preceded the presidency of Donald Trump: the lack of connection between the American public (myself once included) and the wars being fought in our names in distant lands. Not surprisingly, this goes hand-in-hand with another reality: you have to be a total war jockey, someone who follows what’s happening more or less full time, to have a shot at knowing what’s really going on in the conflicts that now extend from Pakistan into the heart of Africa.

After all, in this era, secrecy is the essence of the world of Washington, invariably invoked in the name of American “security.” As a researcher on the subject, I repeatedly confront the murkiness of government information about the war on terror. Recently, for instance, we released a project I had worked on for several months: a map of all the places where, in one fashion or another, the U.S. military is now taking some sort of action against terrorism — a staggering 76 nations, or 40% of the countries on the planet.

Of course, it’s hardly surprising these days that our government is far from transparent about so many things, but doing original research on the war on terror has brought this into stark relief for me. I was stunned at how difficult it can be to find the most basic information, scattered at so many different websites, often hidden, sometimes impossible to locate. One obscure but key source for the map we did, for example, proved to be a Pentagon list labeled “Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medals Approved Areas of Eligibility.” From it, my team and I were able to learn of places like Ethiopia and Greece that the military deems part of that “War on Terrorism.” We were then able to crosscheck these with the State Department’s “Country Reports on Terrorism,” which officially document terrorist incidents, country by country, and what each country’s government is doing to counter terrorism.

This research process brought home to me that the detachment many Americans feel in relation to those post-9/11 wars is matched — even fed — by the opacity of government information about them. This no doubt stems, at least in part, from a cultural trend: the demobilization of the American people. The government demands nothing of the public, not even minimalist acts like buying war bonds (as in World War II), which would not only help offset the country’s growing debt from its war-making, but might also generate actual concern and interest in those wars. (Even if the government didn’t spend another dollar on its wars, our research shows that we will still have to pay a breathtaking $8 trillion extra in interest on past war borrowing by the 2050s.)

Our map of the war on terror did, in fact, get some media attention, but as is so often the case when we reach out to even theoretically sympathetic congressional representatives, we heard nothing back from our outreach. Not a peep. That’s hardly surprising, of course, since like the American people, Congress has largely been demobilized when it comes to America’s wars (though not when it comes to pouring ever more federal dollars into the U.S. military).

Last October, when news came out about four Green Berets killed by an Islamic State affiliate in the West African nation of Niger, congressional debates revealed that American lawmakers had little idea where in the world our troops were stationed, what they were doing there, or even the extent of counterterrorism activity among the Pentagon’s various commands. Yet the majority of those representatives remain all too quick to grant blank checks to President Trump’s requests for ever greater military spending (as was also true of requests from presidents Bush and Obama).

After visiting some congressional offices in November, my colleagues and I were struck that even the most progressive among them were talking only about allocating slightly — and I mean slightly — less money to the Pentagon budget, or supporting slightly fewer of the hundreds of military bases with which Washington garrisons the globe. The idea that it might be possible to work toward ending this country’s “forever wars” was essentially unmentionable.

Such a conversation could only come about if Americans — particularly young Americans — were to become passionate about stopping the spread of the war on terror, now considered little short of a “generational struggle” by the U.S. military. For any of this to change, President Trump’s enthusiastic support for expanding the military and its budget, and the fear-based inertia that leads lawmakers to unquestioningly support any American military campaign, would have to be met by a strong counterforce. Through the engagement of significant numbers of concerned citizens, the status quo of war making might be reversed, and the rising tide of the U.S. counterterror wars stemmed.

Toward that end, the Costs of War Project will continue to tell whoever will listen what the longest war(s) in U.S. history are costing Americans and others around the world.

Stephanie Savell is co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. An anthropologist, she has conducted research on security and civic engagement in the U.S. and in Brazil. She co-authored The Civic Imagination: Making a Difference in American Political Life.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, as well as John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2018 Stephanie Savell


Black Panther: Honoring the legacy of Black style

by Henry Navarro Delgado | (The Conversation) | – –

One knows that something is touching a nerve in North American culture when a foreign luxury car company wants a piece of the pie. The movie Black Panther is that type of archetypical popular culture milestone.

File 20180209 51719 ghlol.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

The release of Black Panther provides the opportunity to honour the many
contributions of Black style to North American fashion. -(Marvel)

The film has generated a widespread sense of optimism. No wonder Lexus invested heavily in Black Panther’s production — in hopes that the movie’s popularity may lift car sales.

The timing of Black Panther couldn’t be better either. It’s Black History Month in Canada and the United States and disappointment over the lack of African-American winners at the 2016 Oscars is still fresh

Lexus aside, what has gathered a lot of media traction about the movie relates to dress. Both the costumes of the Black Panther’s characters and the styles worn by the actors at the film’s premiere have become a popular focus.

There are several other culturally significant aspects about the movie, of course. Chief among them is the fact that Black Panther features the only Black protagonist superhero in the Marvels Comics universe.

But dress style has long been one of few accessible forms of self-expression for North America’s marginalized groups. For the African Diaspora in North America, dress has always had political connotations.

Black style politics

For social groups that can’t access institutionalized forms of creative expression, dress and personal style often become a form of political and cultural broadcasting. The immediacy of clothing and its perceived lack of pretension provides a visible and versatile canvas. For North American Black communities, style can also connect them to a cultural continuum that stretches all the way to Africa.

Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown,
Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y.,
ca. Sept. 1947. – William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)

In understanding how and why Black Panther entered our collective consciousness, it’s important to make a distinction between the film’s two strands of dress. On one hand we have dress as a fictionalized characterization; the movie costumes. On the other hand we have dress as celebrity-enabled commentary; the actor’s outfits during the film’s premiere.

Both wardrobes represent related but distinct aspects of Black style’s linkage to identity, race and culture in North America. Within this context, both the political and social significance of Black style are important. But most important is the long overdue need to honour the many contributions of Black style to North American fashion.

Black Panther’s dress codes

Similar to other Marvel superheroes, Black Panther has a double life and matching outfits for each one of those lives. His supernatural persona is outfitted in a skintight, high-tech suit complete with a feline mask. When not on superhero duty, he wears dapper suits or African warrior regalia. Each of those outfits represents different strands of Black style.

Like Black Panther himself, supporting characters exist in three overlapping spaces; the U.S., the fictional African country of Wakanda and the legendary kingdom of Wakanda.

Like most superheroes, Black Panther leads a double life. – (Marvel)

Costumes worn by characters in each of these spaces capture complementary facets of pan-African dress style across geographical, temporal and cosmological boundaries. We see the expected Westernized dress of Wakanda — a front for the hidden Wakanda Kingdom. But when the action takes place in the kingdom of Wakanda, the overall aesthetic is Afrofuturistic.

However disparate those realms, the overall visual ambience of the movie, including costumes, just flows. How is this even possible? Maybe visual culture from Africa defies stylistic, spatial and temporal demarcation. No wonder modernists used traditional African artifacts as a springboard to reinvigorate European art styles.

Distinctions such as traditional and contemporary don’t apply to African cultural products, including dress. Instead there is a continuous process of concurrent celebration and improvement of ancestral themes and motives. The end result is a sort of permanent impermanence of artifacts and practices.

A celebration of ancestral themes.

This sensibility underpins the design of the costumes and the overall art direction of Black Panther. The result is a coherent depiction of several visions of African-ness taking place simultaneously. Slick and fluid as these filmic visions are, there is still a political undertone to it; it challenges our uncomplicated ‘National Geographic’ understandings of Africa.

Take for example the hairstyles featured in the movie. Black characters sport endless variations of natural hair; from bald to intricate braiding to dreadlocks and everything in between. And this is no small thing.

In Black style, especially Black style in North America, hair is a contentious topic. In this context, natural Black hair has connotations that range from racist implications of backwardness to empowerment to militant attitudes.

Black Panther live

Connected to the time-bending quality of the film was the decision by the cast to appear wearing Afrocentric outfits during Black Panther’s world premiere. It was a display of homage to the celebration of African style and beauty manifest in the movie. It also demonstrated the diversity and timeless quality of African style.

For example, there was a nod to ancient Egyptian dress in the pleated and bejeweled outfit worn by Lupita Nyong’o. While Danai Gurira’s ensemble pays tribute to jazz age Black divas, Angela Bassett’s look evokes Afrofuturistic styles. Clearly this was all mindfully orchestrated.

Because of these dress codes, the premiere worked to as a real-life prolongation of the premises of the film. Simultaneously, it visualized how the influence of Black style pervades every corner of North American dress culture. From costumes for show business performers to colourful sportswear and streetwear, Black style is discernible everywhere.

Perhaps Black style is one of the key ingredients of that distinctive flavour of fashion that is North American style. Take for example that uniquely North American export called cool. It originated in predominantly Black urban communities before it became a mainstream staple of style.

Furthermore, the evolution of Black style in North America and its influences to mainstream fashion can be readily traced. It starts with 19th century Black dandies that crystallized into the ‘New Negro’ style of the early 20th century. From there it forks into several streams that includes conformity,rebellion, tradition and innovation.

Portrait of Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept.
1947. – William P. Gottlieb Collection (Library of Congress)

Black Panther conveys all the complexities of Black style. It is a vehicle for asserting cultural significance and enabling identity in a culturally hostile environment. Symbolically the movie also transmits the struggle inherent to this process.

The ConversationBlack Panther’s popularity then begs the question: Is our society finally ready to fully recognise the contributions of Black style to North American fashion?

Henry Navarro Delgado, Assistant Professor of Fashion, Ryerson University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

11,004 Gun Murders in US vs. 26 (equiv. 130) in England Annually

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –


A lot of smoke is being generated to cover up the fact that the horrific Florida school shooting that has left at least 17 dead results from a virtual absence of meaningful gun controls in the US, such that a few gun manufacturers are allowed to make powerful military-style weapons available to the homocidally insane and to gangbangers etc. The Las Vegas shooter, whom the US press has buried long ago, was not an immigrant. And, Britain has a lot of immigrants, too, but it has almost no gun murders.

The US policy of constantly endangering our children is enacted by a bought-and-paid-for Congress on behalf of 10 major gun manufacturers with an $8 billion industry. Most Americans don’t have or want a gun, and 50% of all guns in the US are owned by 3% of Americans, i.e. some 6 million people out of 320 million. That three percent would survive better security checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Last year, there were 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days in the United States. (This statistic covered just part of the year).

You’ll note you don’t hear about mass shootings in Australia, Japan or for the most part the United Kingdom, or other civilized countries whose politicians have not been bought by 10 major gun manufacturers.

The United States continues to be peculiar in handing out powerful magazine-fed firearms to almost anyone who wants one and not requiring background checks on private purchases even if these are made at gun shows or by persons with a history of mental illness. 80% of civilian-owned firearms world-wide are in the US, and only Yemen vaguely competes with us for rates of firearm ownership; Yemen is a violent mess with Shiite insurgencies, al-Qaeda taking over cities from time to time, tribal feuding, southern separatism and US drone strikes. And even it has fewer guns per person than the USA.

It has gotten to the point where the increasing epidemic of mass shootings now threatens law enforcement.

The US is downright weird compared to civilized Western Europe or Australia (which enacted gun control after a mass shooting in 1996 and there have been no further such incidents).

In 2015-16 (the twelve months beginning in March), there were 26 fatalities from gun-related crimes in England and Wales (equivalent to 130 because Great Britain 1/5 the size of the US).

Police in the UK fired their guns 7 times in 2015.

Number of Murders by Firearms, US, 2016: 11,004

Percentage of all Murders that were committed by firearms in 2016 in US: 73%

Suicides in US 2015: 44,193

Gun Suicides in US, 2015: ~22,000

Percentage of suicides where the method was guns in 2015: 49.8

Percentage of all murders in England and Wales that were committed by firearm: 4.5 percent.

Academic research shows that more guns equal more suicides.

Number of suicides in England and Wales, 2016: 5,668 (equivalent to about 28,330 in US or 36% lower)

Number of suicides by firearam in England and Wales, 2011: 84 (this is the most recent statistic I could find but the typical percentage is given as 1.6% of all suicides; that would be the equivalent of 707 suicides by firearm in the US instead of 22,000).

For more on murder by firearms in Britain, see the BBC.

The US has the highest gun ownership in the world and the highest murder rate in the developed world.

It seems pretty clear, as well, that many US suicides would not occur if firearms were not omnipresent.

There is some correlation between high rates of gun ownership and high rates of violent crime in general, globally (and also if you compare state by state inside the US):

h/t Christopher Majka

In the case of Britain, firearms murders are 53 times fewer than in the US per capita. [Don’t bother with flawed citations of Switzerland or Israel, where most citizens are the equivalent of military reservists.]

Do hunters really need semi-automatic AR-15 assault weapons? Is that how they roll in deer season? The US public doesn’t think so.

PS this is a revised version of an older column; if they keep refusing to legislate rationally and go on causing these massacres, I can keep writing a similar column.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS: “Sheriff: At least 17 dead in Florida school shooting”

Posted in Featured,Guns,Guns | No Responses | Print |

Celebrities speak out for Jailed Teen Ahed Tamimi: Israel/Palestine

IMEMC | – –

Celebrities and civil rights figures declared their support for imprisoned Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi, 17, who was detained by Israeli forces on December 15, after a video of her slapping an Israeli soldier who broke into her house in Nabi Saleh village, near Ramallah, went viral.

A number of high-profile entertainers, scholars, and civil rights icons signed on Monday a letter in support of Ahed Tamimi and other Palestinian children imprisoned by Israel.

American political activist and author Angela Davis said she doesn’t only stand with Tamimi, but with the rest of the Palestinian children held in Israeli prisons.

“I stand in loving solidarity with Ahed Tamimi and the 300 Palestinian children languishing in Israeli prisons. Over 70 years of state violence and land theft has aimed to break the Palestinian people, but, it has not worked and will not,” said Davis. “They remain steadfast in their pursuit of freedom and equality in their homeland and we must stand with them until justice is delivered. Only in the presence of justice can Palestinian and Israeli children flourish together in peace.”

American philosopher, activist, critic and author Cornel West also spoke out in support for Tamimi.

“I indeed sign on, and say we must defend our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” said West, “especially the children, living under vicious Israeli occupation.”

American academic and television personality Marc Lamont Hill thinks that Tamimi’s case reflects a crisis in the Israeli legal system.

“The tragic case of Ahed Tamimi reflects a broader and deeper crisis within the Israeli legal system, which consistently criminalizes Palestinian children. Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children – through arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, and inhumane physical and mental abuses – reflects a complete indifference to the lives and well being of the vulnerable,” said Hill. “These actions not only contradict the most basic standards of human dignity and respect, but also violate the letter and spirit of international law. As Israel’s largest source of financial support, the United States government has a moral responsibility to immediately reject, denounce, and prevent the military detention of Palestinian children.”

Phillip Agnew, director of Dream Defenders Mission, a member group of the Movement for Black Lives that recently initiated a letter in support of Tamimi signed by a number of high-profile entertainers and activities, said the only way to protect the community is to build a loving world for everyone.

“Committing to building a more just and loving world for us all,” said Agnew. “And embracing our shared struggle for liberation is the only way we can protect our communities.”

Tamimi and her mother, Nariman, also detained on the same day as her daughter, appeared in an Israeli military court near Ramallah on Tuesday, but the hearing for Ahed was postponed until March 11 and Nariman until March 6.

According to WAFA, the Tamimis’ attorney, Gaby Lasky, said Israel fears the attention Tamimi’s case has garnered.

“This [Israeli Military] court of Occupation fears the light shined on it by this case,” said Lasky. “After it placed Ahed under open-ended detention in violation of her rights as a minor, the court now uses the false pretext of protecting these very rights as cover to shield itself from criticism this case raises.”



Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

France 24 English: “Ahed Tamimi trial: The conditions of detention of under-aged Palestinians”

What Does Netanyahu Corruption Case tell us about Trump’s Fate?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Israeli police have recommended that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu be indicted for corruption. The recommendation now goes to attorney general Avichai Mandelblit, who may or may not decide to act on it. Although 60% of Israelis in polling have said they wanted Netanyahu to step down if the police made this recommendation, he is refusing to leave and will fight the cases from office.

The police instanced two cases, one in which Netanyahu allegedly accepted a couple hundred thousand dollars in bribes from an Australian businessmen in return for favorable treatment of his business and attempting to get him a US visa. (Whether Netanyahu regularly got people visas should be looked into as a form of corruption on the US side).

In the other case, Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a deal to Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Israel’s biggest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu supporter and shady casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson had begun a free pro-Netanyahu newspaper, Yisrael Ha-Yom, and it obviously was eating into the profits of the other newspapers in the country. (How this is not illegal as “dumping” baffles me.) Netanyahu allegedly told Mozes that he could persuade Adelson to reduce the publication run of Yisrael Ha-Yom, which would help his bottom line. In return, Mozes should report more favorably on Netanyahu.

In my view it is the second case that is explosive. In the first one Netanyahu got champagne and cigars. But the second case shows how far right wing nationalist politics is intertwined with shady businesses like casino-owning and their ability, having bilked millions of poor and working people out of their money, to turn around and buy influential press organs to convince the latter to vote for the people who screwed them over. (Although Netanyahu is notorious in the West for having reneged on the Oslo Accords and having denied Palestinians their rights, within Israel he has also led an assault on the old socialist welfare state, throwing workers under the bus and diverting money to the billionaire class.) It is a perfect vicious circle.

Sheldon Adelson, who allegedly recouped his fortune at one point by bribing members of the Chinese Communist Party to let him operate in Macao, has the dubious distinction of having ruined both the United States and Israel by pushing, repectively, Netanyahu and Trump. Adelson sidelined New Jersey governor Chris Christie in the 2016 Republican primary for having referred to Gaza and the West Bank as “Occupied Territories,” which they self-evidently are. In Adelson’s warped world, there are and never have been any Palestinians and random Arabs have no business in his Israel.

Are there parallels between Netanyahu’s situation and Trump’s?

Both came to power in part through the backing of billionaires and their fake news organs such as Fox Cable News for Trump and Yisrael Ha-Yom for Netanyahu.

Both men are being investigated for corruption.

Both have responded by denigrating law enforcement. Netanyahu attacked the police, Trump the FBI.

Both have tried to normalize corruption. Netanyahu dismissed the hundreds of thousands of dollars he received as a few gifts among friends. Trump asks his audience if they don’t want him to make money for his businesses.

And in the case of both men, if they are removed from office for corruption, they will be succeeded by political figures even farther to their right and more dangerous to the world.


Bonus video:

AFP: “srael police recommend corruption charges for Netanyahu”

Syria: War is over at the Center, but Powers nibbling at Edges

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Where people live and how many of them there are constitute basic questions for any social scientist but these basics are often ignored by the writers of headlines in the press.

There is a rash of articles about how Syria’s war is heating back up. It isn’t.

The war is over for all intents and purposes, since there is no path to victory for the rebels who wanted to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Al-Assad controls all the country’s major cities: Damascus, Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Aleppo. He always had Damascus, Latakia and the majority of Aleppo. On the back of a napkin, I’d figure 65% of Syrians live under regime control in and around these cities (i.e. around 12 million of the 18 mn. Syrians still inside the country). Another ten percent are Kurds, who inhabit three cantons in Afrin, Kobane and Jazira in the north of the country. They are not under regime control but they aren’t fighting it for the most part, either, and could be reintegrated into Syria if the central government agrees to move to a loose federalism. The 2.2 million Kurds also now effectively rule something like 2 million Arabs in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor in the east, another 11% of the population.

[A warning about maps of Syria: That dark red stretch, above is where almost everybody lives, under al-Assad control. Idlib is probably 1.5 million people but looks enormous.]

So that leaves 14 percent (roughly 2.5 million) outside both central government and Kurdish control in a few pockets– Deraa and Quneitra in the south, East Ghouta outside Damascus, and Idlib in the north. Most of the rest of Syria is either under the government or under the Kurds and their US and Arab allies.*

What’s left is the determination of the fate of the 35% (Kurdish-ruled regions plus Arab rebels). Al-Assad is determined to reconquer them all. The Russians are hoping for a less bloody path to a negotiated surrender for the mainstream of the rebels, though they agree that the extremists with links to the extremist international that also includes Chechens have to be destroyed.

The 35% who remain outside Syrian government control are mostly on the rural peripheries of the country, and their undetermined fate has invited the intervention of other powers.

The one exception here is East Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus with some 300,000 people, who are under siege and appear to have little outside support save possibly from Saudi Arabia. That they are thus exposed explains why the regime is hitting them so hard, and, indeed, committing crimes against humanity against their civilians.

The US is hoping somehow to use the Kurds to weaken al-Assad over time and also to block Iran (how this could work in practice is mysterious). The Kurds do have half of Syria’s good farmland and so are key to the country’s food security going forward.

The US strategy of using the Kurds against ISIL but also as a wedge against the Damascus government enrages Turkey.

Turkey has lost, in the sense that a) it failed to overthrow al-Assad by backing fundamentalist rebels and b) the US strategy has strengthened the Kurdish hand in the region, something of which Ankara is terrified.

In an effort to soften the blow of this double defeat, Turkey has invaded the one Kurdish canton not in the US sphere of power, intending to ensconce fundamentalist Arab Syrian fighters in a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border. In essence, this strategy looks like Israeli policy in southern Lebanon 1982-2000, when the Israelis backed a right wing Christian militia on their borders while occupying the Shiites of south Lebanon. This frankly stupid strategy created Hizbullah and gave Iran an opening, developments that Israel has never ceased regretting. I suspect the same regrets will haunt Turkey for decades.

Israel is supporting the southern fundamentalist rebels in a bid to keep the Syrian government from reasserting control of its portion of the Golan Heights, half of which Israel is occupying. Israel is particularly nervous about Hizbullah establishing bases in the Golan, which overlooks Israel and so is a military danger point.

The exchanges of fire this weekend were over the future of that small but highly important southwest Front.

Russia appears to have stepped in to restrain Israel from launching all-out war after the shoot-down of its fighter jet. Russia is acting both as a regime support for Damascus and as a referee in the remaining three major rebel enclaves, with their foreign supporters. Russia appears to be in no hurry. It seems determined to build back up the capacities of the Syrian state and military, cooperating with Iran and its Shiite militias to do so. Moscow wants the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front (formerly Nusra) defeated, but is perfectly happy to talk to and try to negotiate with the other rebels.

That Russia is a referee on the peripheries of Syria rather than a hegemon allows low-intensity guerrilla conflicts to simmer along.

They should not be confused with a bigger phenomenon, of major war.


Bonus video:

AP Archive: “US commander backs Kurdish fighters at Syria outpost”

*An earlier version of this article misstated the percentage of the country now controlled neither by the regime nor the US-backed Kurds.

Posted in Featured,Syria | 12 Responses | Print |

Robots, kittens and Netflix: Turkish curbs on the media reach ludicrous levels

By Ozge Ozduzen | (The Conversation) | – –

Regulation and censorship mechanisms have recently reached absurd levels in Turkey. Two stark recent examples illustrate the banality of the recent creeping controls.

On February 6, a robot was reformatted in Ankara because it warned the Turkish Transport, Maritime and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan to speak more slowly during his speech. Upon interruption, Arslan, jokingly, said: “Dear friends, it is clear someone should get the robot under control, do what is necessary.”

Ironically, the well-functioning robot was instantly controlled at an event that aimed to celebrate the internet and technology; it was muted for the rest of the day.

And on January 31, Ali Erbaş, the head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) slammed the controversial TV celebrity and creationist Adnan Oktar. Oktar’s TV shows, which are broadcast on his own A9 TV channel, as well as Daily Motion and YouTube, feature controversial religious references. He famously calls his female devotees on the shows his “kittens”. Erbaş denigrated the “perversity” of Oktar’s TV shows and recommended that “the authorised institution should do something about it”.

‘Just for monitoring’

Against this backdrop, perhaps it is no surprise that new laws concerning internet and television regulation are now being issued. The aim is to grant extensive powers to the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK).

According to the draft decree, no internet platforms, including global streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify and YouTube, as well as the national internet TV stations such as BluTV or Puhu will be able to broadcast without relevant licenses from the RTÜK. These global and local platforms have bestowed great amounts of freedom for media consumers in Turkey so they can get round the TV shows on mainstream media. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ commented: “The upcoming decree is not for limiting the freedom of expression, it is just for monitoring.”

In fact, television has been “monitored” in Turkey since the establishment of the RTÜK by the Radio and Television Law in April 1994, initially designed to regulate private broadcasting and to enable the compliance of broadcasts with the “legal” framework. The RTÜK has since issued penalties to broadcasters and has even suspended TV and radio channels.

But all of the RTÜK’s previous activities concentrated on the circulation of offline content. The new decree, however, aims to give sweeping powers to the RTÜK over the online domain. This signals a new beginning for digital surveillance in Turkey. And according to the 2017 world press freedom index, Turkey is already doing pretty badly, ranking 155th out of the 180 countries listed.

Internet menaces

In the aftermath of the failed coup of July 2016, AKP, the current government of Turkey, has consolidated its efforts in collecting personal data and regulating digital platforms. The government declared a State of Emergency for three months immediately following the attempted coup and has renewed it since. This enables the AKP to legislate using decree laws, that don’t require parliament to grant approval.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has constantly warned society of the menace of social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook. And mainstream newspapers and television channels (which mainly consist of the allies and family members of the AKP in power positions) act as a propaganda device for the government, portraying internet regulation as a way of coping with “external” threats to “Turkishness”, family values, national security and political stability.

In 2017, the government blocked all access to Wikipedia, banned dating shows, and shut down over 20 television and radio shows. Meanwhile, in just the last couple of weeks, 449 people were taken into custody for writing social media posts that criticised the government’s recent military operations in Afrin Canton in the north of Syria, a region that Kurdish forces captured from Islamic State.

This current witch hunt, combined with the influence of the new decrees, could potentially lead to unprecedented amounts of self-censorship, reducing people’s freedom or willingness to express their political views on social media.

Absurdity breeds creativity

But we should not despair. I hope that these new infringements on freedom of speech will lead to new waves of cultural and digital activism by tech-savvy generations. Continuous censorship and regulation is a potential catalyst for creative dissidence. Filmmakers in Turkey have already found creative ways to cope with censorship in recent years, for instance by using black screens stating “these parts cannot be shown because of the censorship by the Culture and Tourism Ministry”.

In a recent interview, for example, Kurdish director Kazım Öz told me how he has coped with censorship by not stepping back and explicitly exposing it in his last film Zer (2017). Öz used a dark screen in place of the censored images. Showing the name of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on all these dark scenes, Öz explicitly displayed the absurdity of these regulations.

The ConversationCitizens of Turkey have long bypassed existing internet regulations by using VPN (Virtual Private Network) and other methods to get round the blockage of certain websites. The latest draft decree certainly points to a further step towards a dystopian future for Turkish freedom of expression and human rights, but it could also instigate new imaginings for the future of social and digital change.

Ozge Ozduzen, Visiting Research Fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

European Parliament: “EU-Turkey: Getting out of the deadlock”

Posted in censorship,Turkey | 1 Response | Print |