Top 4 Worst pieces of Climate News from WMO in Age of Trump

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations issued its annual report on the climate on Tuesday, making a full and final assessment of 2016.

It was not good news.

It was big news, but it wasn’t good news. Also, surprise, it wasn’t reported on most television “news,” otherwise known as babysitting for adults.

1.

“Warming continued in 2016, setting a new temperature record of approximately 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, and 0.06 °C above the previous highest value set in 2015.

Last year was the warmest year on record in North America. What was strange about the unusual warmth of 2016 was, moreover, how widespread it was over the globe. And it hit the oceans, as well. In fact, the heat in the seas actually literally killed fish around Fiji! And it killed off a lot of coral.

The average global temperature is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was in 1750 before the industrial revolution and modern agriculture spewed so many billions of metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere! CO2 is a greenhouse gas that interferes with the earth’s ability to radiate back out to space the heat it receives from the sun, trapping it. The more heat that is trapped, the hotter the earth will get over time on average.

2 degrees F. is more than it sounds, because it is a global average, including the very cold oceans and the arctic and Antarctica. In some places, the increase has been more.

Even worse, the rate of increase is speeding up. That’s alarming, that 2016 was 0.06° C. hotter than just the year before!

Scientists are concerned that if we get much beyond a 2° C./ 3.6° F. increase, the climate could start to become dangerously unstable. It could result in much less rainfall in some places and megastorms in others. Not to mention that some gigantic glaciers will plop into the ocean that all by themselves could raise sea-levels rapidly and significantly. But at the rate we’re going, the likelihood of us halting the increase at 3.6° F. is ridiculously low. On the other hand, the lower we can keep the increase, the better off we and our descendants will be.

We’d like to avoid a 4 C. / 7 F. world at all costs. But the average increase could go on up to 12° F. if Rex Tillerson gets his way and we burn up all the fossil fuels. That would be inconvenient in the extreme for a lot of people on earth.

All this is because:

2.

“Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) reached new highs at 400.0 ± 0.1 ppm in the atmosphere at the end of 2015.”

I know most people don’t read print newspapers anymore, but in the old days we would say that this should have been a massive headline above the fold. What would you say now? It should have dominated people’s social media feeds? It is more important than Russian fake news and cute kitten videos?

We have surpassed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere! In 1750 it was like 280 ppm. That’s why the temperature has gone up 2 degrees F. since then! Lots more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is no known way to get the CO2 back out of the atmosphere artificially! A lot of it will go into the ocean, which is a carbon sink, but that will vastly increase the acidity of the ocean and kill off half of marine life. 10% of the 7.4 billion human beings mainly live on marine life. The rest will get washed out of the atmosphere by binding with igneous rock. That will take at least 100,000 years. It’s going to be hyper-tropical for a long time. Maybe we can splice into ourselves some genes from tropical fauna to make it more bearable. That won’t help with the megastorms, though. And we can’t really do that gene splicing thing anyway, at least so far.

3.

“Global sea-ice extent dropped more than 4 million square kilometers below average – an unprecedented anomaly – in November.”

Ice shelves in the ocean already don’t contribute to sea level rise when they melt, but if it is melting so is the surface ice. And you really don’t want surface ice melting if you live anywhere near a seashore.

Another site explains,

“In November 2016, Arctic sea ice extent averaged 9.08 million square kilometers (3.51 million square miles), the lowest November in the satellite record. This is 800,000 square kilometers (309,000 square miles) below November 2006, the previous lowest November…”

And just in case you’re wondering, yes, this is something we are doing with our gasoline, natural gas and coal emissions.. It may be exacerbated by weather cycles, but we’re causing the maximum weirdness of it.

4.

“Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, with the early 2016 values making new records.”

The report notes, “Globally, sea level has risen by 20 cm [about 8 inches] since the start of the twentieth century, due mostly to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice caps.”

But when we come to just last year the WMO says, “Global sea levels rose strongly during the 2015/2016 El Niño, rising about 15 mm [over half an inch] between November 2014 and February 2016, well above the post-1993 trend of 3 mm – 3.5 mm per year, with the early 2016 values reaching new record highs.”

Since 1900, the oceans have gone up about 2/3s of a foot, but in just last year they rose half an inch!

There are other things in the report, such as the natural disasters that have a component of human-caused climate change, including typhoons and hurricanes and droughts. You figure at least 20% of any of these is likely driven by the greenhouse gases we’ve all been belching into the atmosphere.

So there we have it, folks. We live in a country where the head of the EPA can lie about what is going on and why it is going on without fear of accountability.

The onus is now on us as individual Americans to do the right thing by the earth and reduce our carbon footprint. Here’s some ways we can resist Pruitt’s anti-EPA and help save the planet.

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Related video:

Antarctica’s Record-Breaking Heat Studied By WMO | Video

It is Comey who should be Investigated

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

FBI Director James Comey confirmed Monday that his agency has since last summer been investigating the circle of Donald J. Trump for their contacts with the Russian Federation during last year’s election campaign.

He also denied Trump’s allegations that former president Barack Obama ordered wiretaps on him at Trump Tower last fall before the election. Trump had called Obama “sick” in his tweet making the charge. Trump should retract and apologize to president Obama, but of course he will not, since the meaning of Trumpism is never having to say you are sorry.

For reasons that no one can fathom, none of the Democrats on the committee bothered to ask Comey about his own out-sized role in the election.

He reported to Congress that he was investigating Hillary Clinton’s private server and combing through her emails, attempting to discover whether she had been careless with classified material. He thereby cast a pall on her integrity that certainly had more public effect than anything the Russians may have done. It was an egregiously unfair announcement.

I would argue that no such investigation should have been launched publicly of a major candidate in an election year. There was not actually anything suspicious about a private server. As for the charge that her personal server was more at risk of being hacked than a government one, this is not true in any way that matters. Government servers are hacked all the time. The private information on 4 million government employees was hacked, allegedly by the People’s Republic of China. Even the CIA servers have been hacked.

Yet Comey was carrying on two investigations, not one. He was also investigating the Trump circle for their Russia ties.

But he did not let the public know about that investigation last summer or fall.

By revealing the one but not the other, he tipped the scales in favor of Trump.

While I appreciate the hard and dedicated work of FBI agents who actually catch criminals or break up terrorist plots, the ambiguous role of the agency in establishing the rightward political tilt of the country also has to be acknowledged. It is easy for directors to fall into believing that bolstering the current power elite is the same as supporting The American Way. This is not the first time in American history that the FBI gave covert help to the right wing. What is mystifying is that Hillary Clinton was the least leftist Democrat you could imagine, being in the back pocket of Wall Street and of billionaires like Haim Saban.

Then, when Trump plunged in the polls after his salacious interview with Billy Bush came out, Comey blunted Clinton’s momentum by announcing that he’d found more emails (on the laptop computer of Anthony Weiner, who appears to have had some Clinton emails shared with him by his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin).

It is arguable that Comey violated the Hatch Act by openly intervening in the election in its last days.

The FBI at no point found anything prosecutable in Hillary Clinton’s emails, whether on her own server or on Weiner’s laptop. But the general public was given the firm impression that she’d done something so wrong that she was under an FBI investigation.

If you were looking for reasons for the black swan event of Trump’s election, Comey’s unfair actions toward Clinton and in favor of Trump would have to be at the forefront.

I’m not alleging that Comey is or was in the tank for Trump. I’m only saying that Comey acted in such a way as to disadvantage Clinton unfairly.

Comey inflicted significant damage on Trump by his testimony on Monday. So he is not showing signs of attempting to shore Trump up.

It is possible that Comey was being procedurally correct. His intervention after the Billy Bush interview was leaked has been interpreted as a case of being careful with Congress. He had told them he’d reviewed all the Clinton emails. Then Weiner was investigated for some sort of sex charge, and new emails showed up, and Comey was afraid word would reach Congress that his investigation had not actually been complete. So he announced the further examination of the laptop and cleared the emails on it as not having been classified within a couple of days. (I’m not sure why it took so long; it is just a keyword search).

On the other hand, the Tea Party Congress was not pressuring him about Russian contacts with Trump’s people, and that investigation was not conclusive, so he may not have felt the same duty to report to Congress.

The conspiracy-minded might conclude that Comey is a Pence supporter, and has cleverly maneuvered Pence into a position where he has a shot at the presidency if Trump is forced out over the Russia scandal.

I am not among the conspiracy-minded, and would need to have proof before entertaining any allegations that Comey is deliberately interfering in domestic politics and engineering individuals into power.

In fact, I can’t make any sense of his actions at all. Why taint Clinton with nothing investigation that went nowhere? Why protect the Trump campaign by keeping knowledge of the Russia investigation from the public? Why drag the Russia investigation on from last July till now (surely the transcripts and emails either provide evidence or they do not)?

On the face of it, it seems most likely of all that the hard line Tea Party Congress managed to coerce him into this behavior.

I conclude that Comey has acted in an unwise and non-neutral way and that historians will place a good deal of the blame for the Trump disaster on him. Whether he has been driven by a narrow proceduralism, or a form of unconscious sexism, or an unspoken GOP bias is at the moment impossible to know. What is clear is that the vast majority of Americans have less reason than ever to trust the politics of the FBI. And maybe we need another investigation, with subpoenas for Comey’s emails.

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Related video:

CNN: “Comey confirms FBI investigating Russia”

Does Trump’s slashed Foreign Aid Budget give China the Advantage?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US foreign aid budget is not mainly about helping the poor. It is an instrument for buying influence in countries important to the US. The poorest countries in the world do not get much help from the US. Israel, which is a wealthy country, gets over $3 bn. a year, some of it going to Israeli civilians! Egypt is a relatively poor country, but most US aid to Cairo goes to the Egyptian military. In fact, they don’t need or know what to do with all those Apache helicopters, which are mostly just warehoused. This military aid to Egypt is a bribe for them to continue to honor the Camp David peace accord with Israel.

Taken as a whole, foreign aid makes up about 1% of the US budget (the public thinks it is 25%). It is a minor amount, but the Trump budget to be voted on later this week cuts it by about a third. These are the top recipients with total sums, below.

Afghanistan $4.7B

Israel $3.1B

Egypt $1.46B

Iraq $1.14B

Jordan $1B

Pakistan $742.2M

Kenya $626.4M

Nigeria $606.1M

Tanzania $575.3M

Ethiopia $513.7M

from Washington Post

Since Israel and Egypt are teflon, the cuts will fall on other countries, and fall heavily. Afghanistan may have to make do with more like $3 bn. a year. Iraq, still struggling against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), with some 5,000 US troops on the ground, may also see heavy cuts. And to get a savings of $8-10 billion, perhaps Trump will have to cut Pakistan, Jordan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Ethiopia entirely.

Since the aid is intended to win influence, the obvious conclusion is that cutting the aid will significantly reduce US influence.

Does it matter? Well, if Trump wants to turn Afghanistan around, he will find that he needs Pakistan (however much its general play a double game, supporting some radicals to keep influence in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan). Losing all or most influence in Islamabad would be bad for this effort.

The Afgan paper Hewad reported on 15 March according to BBC Monitoring,

“Speaking on contacts between Trump and Ghani the Afghan ambassador to Washington Hamdullah Mohib has said: Trump’s questions and long conversation were noteworthy. Trump asked: What does Afghanistan need to become economically self-reliant? How can the mines industry and trade be developed in Afghanistan? According to Muhib, Trump paid close attention to the answers given to his questions.”

The paper argued that Trump is about to drop Pakistan, and it hopes that Afghanistan would benefit.

Pakistan is a country of nearly 200 mn. people and is the sixth largest country in the world by population, and is highly strategic.

Remember that Afghanistan is landlocked and needs export routes to the Persian Gulf for shipping. Those go through Pakistan. Some could go through Iran, but Trump would like that even less.

But it isn’t just an issue that US foreign aid is intended to get specific diplomatic work done.

The US is in competition with other powers for the political support of countries such as Pakistan and Tanzania. Cutting their aid is a form of shouting at them to go away and find some other friend.

China is poised to move in to replace the US where it can. Its foreign aid budget is about 1/4 of that of the US. But even $10 bn goes a long way in many poorer countries.

Thus, China already has a China-Pakistan Economic Cooperation zone, CPEC, funded by China to the tune of $40 bn. It is extremely ambitious, involving improvements in ports, rail transportation, and energy generation. In essence, China is trying to re-do Pakistan as Hong Kong west. Pakistani development will help China’s troubled Xinjiang Province.

The Chinese have been willing to share Pakistan with the US in the past, as a friendly nation with a substantial military and a nuclear arsenal. But they will be even happier, no doubt, to have it all to themselves.

China has emerged as a top aid donor to countries like Kenya, which appear to be on Trump’s chopping block.

So at a time when Trump wants to win in Afghanistan he is giving Pakistan away to China, and giving away much of Africa to China, as well.

The danger is that the US will end up like Trump himself, living in a gilded tower, isolated and with no significant friends or allies, open to a debilitating belief in conspiracy theories.

China will know what to do.

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Related video:

CGTN: “Watch: Debut of Chinese PLA military parade in Pakistan”

Trump picks fights with US Allies: Germany, NATO, EU, Britain etc.

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

After Trump falsely accused President Obama of having him wiretapped at Trump Tower during the campaign, Sean Spicer upped the ante by charging that Obama could have used the British GCHQ electronic surveillance agency to carry out the monitoring. GCHQ does in fact outrageously invade people’s privacy online, but there is no reason to think it targeted Trump or that President Obama could have ordered them around. Although initially it was reported that Spicer apologized to an outraged British government, he denies any apology was proffered.

After an awkward meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of the Free World, Trump tweeted out an insulting message accusing Germany and other NATO countries of not paying the US enough for the “very expensive” defense umbrella Washington spreads over Europe.

But NATO countries don’t pay anything to the United States. Trump does not understand how NATO works. They just devote some proportion of GDP to their own defense. The idea that the US is owed anything by European countries for deigning to erect a North Atantic Treaty Organization over their heads is daft. It is the US that wanted NATO, for its own Cold War purposes. About 5 NATO countries devote 2% of GDP to defense spending, and the rest have (unrealistically) pledged to do so over the next 5 years or so. They’d be better off spending the money on their people. They certainly are not giving any of it to Washington, however.

Trump’s threat to slap a 35% tariff on BMW automobiles made at a new plant in Mexico and exported to the US could meet with a German lawsuit at the World Trade Organization, German experts agree.

Trump’s budget cuts roughly 38% from the $56 bn. international affairs section, including deep cuts to the State Department, to US AID, and to foreign aid. In the 1990s, the era of the ‘peace dividend’ after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US walked away from any involvement in Afghanistan after funding a major jihad there against the Soviets. (The US withdrawal was negotiated by George H. W. Bush with Soviet premier Mihail Gorbachev as a quid pro quo for the Soviet withdrawal). In the subsequent vacuum, the Taliban took over Afghanistan and hosted al-Qaeda, and 9/11 was the result.

The European Union has complained bitterly about proposed US cuts in development aid. The UN is in the midst of a major, and so far amazingly successful, bid to reduce absolute poverty in the world. Trump’s stinginess would endanger the success of this program. In Trump’s budget, only Israel’s $3 bn a year is sacrosanct. Israel is a wealthy country that doesn’t need US aid.

At this rate we won’t have any allies soon.

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Newsy: “Trump: Germany ‘owes’ US, NATO for defense”

Why the UN branded Israel an Apartheid state

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Note: Apparently the Trump administration at Israeli urging threatened to defund the UN if this report was not withdrawn. The UN Secretary-General caved, and the executive director of ESCWA (who was also an under-secretary general of the UN), Rima Khalaf, has resigned. The legal case built by the ESCWA report remains sound.

A shouting match has been provoked this week by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which issued a report this week concluding definitively that Israel is guilty of Apartheid practices toward the Palestinians. The report is careful to say that it is not using the term merely as a pejorative but is rather appealing to a body of international law with precise definitions, definitions that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians easily and transparently meet. Here’s the short blog version of the report, which runs to 76 pages.

Apartheid is a Dutch word meaning “apartness” and was used to describe the system of racial segregation deployed by the ruling Afrikaner minority in South Africa 1948-1991. In international law, however, it has been generalized to any government practicing systematic racial domination.

Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines it this way:

“The term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to… inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”

The 2002 Rome Statute, which has 150? signatories among the nations of the world, and which established the International Criminal Court, contained a definition of Apartheid.

‘The crime of apartheid’ means inhumane acts . . . committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime…

Apartheid is one of the listed “crimes against humanity” along with enslavement, torture, war rape, and forcible deportation. A crime against humanity is the systematic and continuous commission of war crimes

Because of these international law instruments (the Rome Statute is a multilateral treaty), Apartheid now refers to a generalized crime, not just the policy of the old South African government.

As a result, the Court can under some circumstances charge individual politicians with the crime of Apartheid. Those circumstances are that 1) the country has signed the Rome Statute or 2) that the UN Security Council has forwarded the case of a war criminal to the ICC. Neither of these circumstances fits Israel, since it is not a signatory and the US would veto any attempt to charge a major Israeli politician at the International Criminal Court. This inability to bring Israeli officials to the Hague, however, is merely procedural. As a matter of law, Israel can still be guilty of Apartheid practices.

The UN report is concerned with specific legal infractions as spelled out by international law, and with the intention behind those infractions. Intent to dominate another people is important to the definition of Apartheid.

The report points out that

“The Israel Lands Authority (ILA) manages State land, which accounts for 93 per cent of the land within the internationally recognized borders of Israel and is by law closed to use, development or ownership by non-Jews.”

Going back to the colonial Jewish National Fund, there has been a practice that once land is owned by Zionist institutions, including the Israeli state, it can never be sold to a non-Jew– it is permanently taken off the market on a racial basis.

The Law of Return is another discriminatory practice. Any Jew anywhere in the world can emigrate to Israel. But no Palestinian family expelled in 1948 can return to their ancestral homeland.

Jewish councils may reject applications for residence from Palestinian-Israelis. An Israeli Jew who married an American Christian is allowed to bring the spouse to Israel; but an Israeli Jew who married a West Bank Palestinian may not.

The report argues that in the Israel-Palestinian context, Palestinians are a “race.” I would add that the exclusion of Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens underlines this definition, since one characteristic of race is endogamy or marrying within the in-group.

Other UN decisions have recognized the Palestinians as a people entitled to self-determination (and indeed such recognition goes back to the correspondence of League of Nations states overseeing the British Mandate over Palestine in the 1920s).

The document says:

“This report finds that the strategic fragmentation of the Palestinian people is the principal method by which Israel imposes an apartheid regime. It first examines Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid how the history of war, partition, de jure and de facto annexation and prolonged occupation in Palestine has led to the Palestinian people being divided into different geographic regions administered by distinct sets of law. This fragmentation operates to stabilize the Israeli regime of racial domination over the Palestinians and to weaken the will and capacity of the Palestinian people to mount a unified and effective resistance.”

As for the specifics of Apartheid in the Occupied West Bank, the UN document observes that this territory is virtually a textbook case in Apartheid governance:

“Domain 3 is the system of military law imposed on approximately 4 .6 million Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestini an territory, 2 .7 million of them in the West Bank and 1.9 million in the Gaza Strip. The territory is administered in a manner that fully meets the definition of apartheid under the Apartheid Convention: except for the provision on genocide, every illustrative “inhuman act” listed in the Convention is routinely and systematically practiced by Israel in the West Bank. Palestinians are governed by military law, while the approximately 350,000 Jewish settlers are governed by Israeli civil law. The racial char acter of this situation is further confirmed by the fact that all West Bank Jewish settlers enjoy the protections of Israeli civil law on the basis of being Jewish, whether they are Israeli citizens or not. This dual legal system, problematic in itself, is indicative of an apartheid regime when coupled with the racially discriminatory management of land and development administered by Jewish – national institutions, which are charged with administering “State land” in the interest of the Jewish population.”

The Executive Summary is here.

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Related video:

Al Jazeera English: “Is Israel imposing ‘apartheid’ on Palestinians? – Inside Story”

I Am an Enemy of the People (Feffer)

By John Feffer | ( Foreign Policy in Focus ) | – –

If Trump cracks down on journalists, there might be less uproar than you’d think.

Even before the election of Donald Trump — and his extraordinary declaration that the media are the “enemies of the people” — U.S. journalism was in trouble.

According to Gallup polling, American trust in mass media plummeted from an already low 40 percent in 2015 to a historic low of 32 percent in September 2016. The drop in the trust that Republicans have in the media was staggering: from 32 percent to a mere 14 percent. This last number applies as well to Trump supporters regardless of party affiliation.

If I were a Trump supporter, I’d probably look askance at the mainstream media as well. First of all, newspapers overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton for president: 240 editorial boards supported Clinton while only 19 favored Trump.

It wasn’t so much that editorial boards are generally liberal. In 2012, after all, Mitt Romney received 105 endorsements, while Barack Obama got only 99. Rather, regardless of political leanings, editorial boards consistently distrusted Donald Trump. Even some of those that backed the Republican nominee expressed their disdain for him but felt that they had to vote for the Republican Party platform.

It’s not just the explicit endorsements, of course. It’s also the implicit coverage. The mainstream media has been accused of possessing a liberal bias. But liberals and conservatives have castigated Donald Trump, both during the election and even now when he possesses (in theory) the presidential mantle of legitimacy.

Consider the opinion page of The Washington Post this last Tuesday. Liberal Catherine Rampell lays into the conspiratorial tendencies of Kellyanne Conway and crew. Liberal Richard Cohen criticizes the Trump administration’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. Liberal Eugene Robinson excoriates the racism of Republican Rep. Steve King in the context of Trump’s cozying up to white supremacists.

Fair enough: Liberals should be expected to sink their teeth into Trump.

But then there’s also Jennifer Rubin, a conservative, who criticizes Trump’s managerial capacities as president. Meanwhile, Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for George W. Bush, declares that “Republicans are defining lunacy down.”

Voila, a full-court press on the presidency. Trump is an affront to virtually anyone, regardless of their ideology, who plays (and profits) by the rules of the game.

If I were a Trump supporter, I’d cancel my subscription to the Post. But I’d probably have stopped reading the newspaper and watching CNN long ago because they tend to reflect elite biases (which are sometimes but not always liberal). It’s rare that the media covers labor issues or the concerns of working-class Americans these days, except to reflect on the scourge of drug addiction in the Midwest or to mourn a lost age of manufacturing. The mainstream media provides news by the bi-coastal elite and for the bi-coastal elite.

I’ve also had my own frustrations with the mainstream media in the United States. They did a lousy job exposing the lies the George W. Bush administration used to justify the invasion of Iraq. They didn’t subject Obama’s drone program to sufficient scrutiny. They betray a corporate bias. Certain parts of the world, like Africa, get precious little coverage. And so on.

The mainstream media, designed to be a watch-dog institution, certainly needs its own watch dogs, and that’s where alternative media come in. But let’s be clear: The mainstream media is indispensible. Media that maintain full-time reporters, foreign bureaus, and fact-checkers are an absolute requirement in a democracy. The New York Times and CNN can’t be replaced by Internet sites and their comments sections. That way lies madness (and Breitbart).

We don’t need to engage in thought experiments about what would happen if the mainstream media disappeared or if their independence were compromised. All we have to do is look at Turkey.

First Go After the Journalists….

The 259 journalists in jail around the world in 2016 was the highest number since 1990. Turkey, meanwhile, leads the pack in this dubious category, with at least 81 reporters in prison (and possibly as many as 191).

Most recently, the Turkish government made headlines when it arrested Deniz Yücel, a Turkish-German journalist working for the German newspaper Die Welt, accusing him of being a terrorist. Yücel was actually more dangerous than a terrorist — he was part of a team investigating corruption involving the government and the family of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The arrest of journalists is only part of the post-coup crackdown by Erdogan. The Turkish government has shut down 149 media outlets, dismissed over 4,000 judges and prosecutors, fired over 7,000 academics, and arrested over 40,000 people.

But Erdogan didn’t just start arresting journalists after the coup attempt last July. Journalists were a primary target of Erdogan’s assault on what he called the “deep state” in Turkey, which refers to at various times: the military, ultra-nationalists, pro-Gulen forces, anti-Gulen forces, and so on. (Fethullah Gulen, a one-time ally of Erdogan, is the head of an Islamic movement that maintains educational institutions all over the world, counts on many adherents within Turkey, and may or may not have been behind the July coup). The “deep state,” which actually did launch several successful coups in Turkey’s past, has now become convenient shorthand for any countervailing power that might oppose Erdogan, whose attacks on this subterranean creature have been an effective strategy for consolidating power.

Ominously, the Trump administration has also used this same phrase, the “deep state,” though it refers to a different of characters.

The “deep state” might refer to the infamous “blob” — the foreign policy network in Washington that resisted some of Obama’s more transformational efforts in international relations. It might stand in for any pro-Obama foreign policy faction that now opposes Trump. It might be another way of describing an array of government officials using bureaucratic inaction, calculated leaks, or deliberate sabotage to undermine the new administration’s policies. Or it might be a much larger target that includes think tanks, media, and NGOs that aren’t Trump-positive.

To defeat the “deep state,” Trump has brought in people untainted by policymaking experience. It is also preparing to cut non-military government activities by a paralysis-inducing $54 billion to pay for an equally jaw-dropping Pentagon boost. Trump is playing on the deep antipathy that average Americans have toward government in general — roughly half of Democrats and a three-quarters of Republicans don’t trust government — to root out any potential opposition inside the Beltway. Welcome to the deconstruction of America, Steve Bannon-style.

If Trump intends to follow Erdogan’s game plan, expect to see journalists go to jail, particularly those probing into the opaque business deals of the Trump syndicate. Already, six reporters were arrested at the Inauguration Day protests and charged with felonies for participating in “rioting” (charges have since been dropped for four of the journalists).

The jailing of journalists will be a key litmus test of whether Trump is acting on his authoritarian impulses. Given the unpopularity of the media and Trump’s demonization of it, such a move might not cause as much uproar as First Amendment advocates might think.

Breitbart Uber Alles

You know the guy. He rails against the MSM (mainstream media) on websites all day long. Then he sends out a link to a New York Times article to prove some argument or another. If you point out the contradiction to him, he says, “Well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Under normal circumstances, such curmudgeons are as much a part of a healthy democracy as celebrity hounds and Internet trolls. Vive la freedom of speech!

But these are not normal circumstances. Such curmudgeons now work in the White House. Former Breitbart News staffers who built their reputations on savaging the mainstream media and creating fake news in their place now have influential roles in the administration. Stephen Bannon is senior advisor. His protégé Julia Hahn is now a special assistant to the president. Sebastian Gorka, once the national security editor at Breitbart and an “Islamophobic huckster,” advises Trump on counter-terrorism.

Moreover, Breitbart is positioning itself as the go-to news source in the Trump era, not only reporting the news but making it, as it did recently by releasing an audio clip of House Speaker Paul Ryan dissing Trump during the campaign. It has hired new staff from The Hill, Real Clear Politics, and The Wall Street Journal to give the site a veneer of legitimacy. It’s also planning to open bureaus in Paris and Berlin — to link up, no doubt, with fake news enthusiasts over there.

The assault on the mainstream media comes not only from the right. RT, the mouthpiece of the Russian government, has been giving space to left-leaning journalists over the years — Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, even Larry King. They, too, give the channel a veneer of respectability, for they are respectable voices. Although RT does engage in some real journalism, it is also a purveyor of fake news, such as the Pizzagate scandal or the spate of articles about Clinton’s supposed health problems before the election. Given the right-wing character of Vladimir Putin’s administration, RT and Breitbart are really just two faces of the same coin.

In this new information war, I’d like to propose a truce. The MSM, for its part, must try harder to address the concerns of those struggling to make ends meet, who are hurt by globalization, who are angry at the political, economic, and cultural elite of this country. And those who oppose Trump and all he stands for — stop treating the mainstream media as though it were the devil incarnate. Mainstream journalists will be key players in investigating, patiently and by the rules, all the abuses of the Trump administration.

If Trump calls mainstream journalists the enemy of the people, it’s important for all of us to stand up and declare that we are enemies of the people, too.

I don’t watch TV. And I don’t watch CNN. But for the next four years, je suis CNN.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “The future of journalism under President Trump – The Listening Post (Full)”

Hawaii Judge: Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0 still Violates the Constitution

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Derrick Watson, US District Court judge in Honolulu, has issued a nationwide Temporary Restraining Order against Trump’s second attempt at an Executive Order excluding people from Muslim-majority countries from the United States. Watson found that the state of Hawaii, which brought the suit, was likely to prevail in its complaint that the president’s order would impose irreparable harm on the University of Hawaii and on the state’s tourism industry. He also found that it violates the constitutional rights of American Muslims. (I made the same argument soon after it was released).

It is delicious that Hawaii stepped up here, as the most ethnically diverse state in the nation, where the quarter of the population that is Japanese-Americans well remembers the internment camps to which their families were consigned during WW II. Hawaii has a lot of immigrants, and those immigrants found companies and act as entrepreneurs, adding enormous value to the Hawaii economy. 1 in 6 residents of Hawaii is foreign-born, and 20% of business revenue is generated by 16,000 new immigrant businesses. Trump’s white nationalism is completely out of place in Hawaii. And by the way, Hawaii and California, the diverse states, are the future of America. Trumpism can only slow that down, not stop it.

Judge Watson had two plaintiffs in the case. One is the state of Hawaii. The other is Ismail Al-Shikh, the head of the Hawaii Muslim Association. Al-Shikh alleged not only various sorts of harm to himself from the EO (his mother-in-law is Syrian and might to be able to visit him) but also harm from a violation of the Establishment Cause of the first amendment.

Judge Watson notes, “The clearest command of the Establishment Clause is that one religious denomination cannot be officially preferred over another.” Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982). To determine whether the Executive Order runs afoul of that command, the Court is guided by the three-part test for Establishment Clause claims set forth in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971). According to Lemon, government action (1) must have a primary secular purpose, (2) may not have the principal effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and (3) may not foster excessive entanglement with religion. Id. “Failure to satisfy any one of the three prongs of the Lemon test is sufficient to invalidate the challenged law or practice.” Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007, 1076–77 (9th Cir. 2010).

The Lemon test was used to strike down blue laws that forbade businesses to operate on Sunday. The Supreme Court found that there was no secular purpose to a law that stopped everyone from working on a day of religious observance.

The Establishment Clause says that Congress shall make no law affecting the establishment of religion, which is 18th century English for “Congress shall make no law designating a particular religion as the state religion of the Federal Government.” The Clause mandates that the Government be neutral as between religions. Obviously, a Muslim ban is not religiously neutral.

Watson finds that the EO targets six countries with a Muslim population of between 90% and 97% and so obviously primarily targets Muslims.

The Sessions Department of Justice argued that the language of the law is religiously neutral and so there is no violation of the Establishment Clause “facially” (i.e. if you just look at the language of the Order).

Judge Watson shows that it is permitted to take into account the intent of a law when there is a question of it violating the Establishment Clause:

“It is well established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.” Washington, 847 F.3d at 1167–68 (citing Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 534 (1993) (“Official action that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the requirement of facial neutrality.”)

Those legal scholars who argue that it is not permitted to take into account the legislative history of a law or regulation, but that the ‘facial’ language of the law should be determinative don’t seem to know as much case law as Judge Watson.

The judge then goes on to cite the many statements by Trump showing that he has an animus against Muslims and that animus underlies his Executive Order banning everyone from 6 Muslim-majority countries. There are many such statements, e.g.

Mr. Trump was asked: “The Muslim ban. I think you’ve pulled back from it, but you tell me.” Mr. Trump responded: “I don’t think it’s a rollback. In fact, you could say it’s an expansion. I’m looking now at territories. People were so upset when I used the word Muslim. Oh, you can’t use the word Muslim. Remember this. And I’m okay with that, because I’m talking territory instead of Muslim.”

If you want to use “territory” as a smokescreen to allow you to discriminate against Muslims, you probably shouldn’t say that publicly.

Judge Watson argues that the violation of the Establishment Clause is so egregious here, and the interference with people’s rights to travel and associate freely is so serious, that these factors outweigh the terrorism and security considerations instanced by the trump administration.

The judge didn’t say this, but I’d like to point out that the government gave as a reason for its travel ban the involvement of two Iraqi-Americans in an overseas plot, but then took Iraq off the list!

On to the other set of issues:

Judge Watson notes that the State of Hawaii alleged two major harms of the EO. The first is the University of Hawaii system, which is an “arm of the state.” The University, which has 55,756 students, pointed out that it “recruits students, permanent faculty, and visiting faculty from the targeted countries.” The EO harms the whole state of Hawaii “by debasing its culture and tradition of ethnic diversity and inclusion.”

The Iranian, Syrian, Libyan, Somali, Yemeni and Sudanese students who are excluded from the country “are deterred from studying or teaching at the University, now and in the future, irrevocably damaging their personal and professional lives and harming the educational institutions themselves.”

The University of Hawaii has 23 graduate students, several permanent faculty members, and 29 visiting faculty members from the six excluded countries. Excluding those without visas would impose a loss of tuition, and those with family members abroad would be prevented from receiving them as visitors.

Not only would some of these persons, and others, be dissuaded from continuing their search for knowledge in the US, “The State argues that the University will also suffer non-monetary losses, including damage to the collaborative exchange of ideas among people of different religions and national backgrounds on which the State’s educational institutions depend.” The EO is interfering not just in finances but in the very purpose of the University, which is the free exchange of ideas.

The EO also interferes with the University’s ability freely to recruit the most qualified faculty and students and with its commitment to being “one of the most diverse institutions of higher education” in the world. Moreover, the university envisages it as difficult to run its Persian Language and culture program without the ability to have visitors from Iran.

The State’s summary of the harm to the University of Hawaii includes educational and intellectual harms (and ethnic diversity is itself an intellectual advantage) as well as financial and monetary ones. In the Lockean tradition, property harms are typically the ones taken most seriously.

Hawaii’s second argument is that the EO will harm its tourism industry, a central component of its economy. The chaotic and arbitrary way the first EO was rolled out, and the uncertainties attending the second one will “depress tourism, business travel, and financial investments in Hawaii.”). Middle East visitors in the month after the first EO fell by 1/5. Tourism brings in $15 billion a year to the Hawaii economy (it is a small state of 1.5 million people).

Hawaii has a point, and Judge Watson recognized it.

International organizations are beginning to boycott the US as a conference site. A 3000- person European conference pulled out of Philadelphia last week out of disgust at the EO, and went to Mexico City. You figure 4 nights at $250 a night, plus meals at $75 a day, plus taxi and entertainment at $50 a day (and I have kept the numbers low so as to avoid charges of exaggerating). That’s a loss to Philadelphia of at least $4.5 million, from just one conference. Hawaii faces the same problem.

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Related video:

CBS News: “Hawaii judge blocks Trump’s new travel ban”

Trump & Saudi Arabia: Oil Boycott or Bromance?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Trump is meeting this week with Muhammad bin Salman, the deputy heir apparent of the Saudi Arabian throne and the minister of defense. He had lunch with him at the White House on Tuesday, and will have more extended talks on Thursday, according to white House spokesman Sean Spicer.

Here are some of the main disputes between Trump and Saudi Arabia.

1. Syria.

Syria is the most important dispute, and the one Trump is least likely to give way on. Trump has repeatedly expressed support for strongman Bashar al-Assad and for the Russian intervention in Syria, at one point suggesting that if Russian president Vladimir Putin wishes to deal with radicalism in Syria, we should let him.

Trump’s positions on Syria are diametrically opposite from what the Saudi elite want. They have a proxy group among the rebels, the Army of Islam, made up of Salafis or fundamentalists with an extreme anti-Shiite ideology. This group is now leading the rebel side in Russian-sponsored negotiations with the regime. It is militarily mainly important near Damascus, in Douma and Ghouta and is now under siege by the resurgent regime.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that the US views the Army of Islam as a terrorist group only one step removed from al-Qaeda.

So Muhammad b. Salman is likely to press Trump to back off his strong support for Bashar al-Assad and for Putin’s Syria policy and to give the green light for an attempt at Saudi reassertion via heavier arms and more money to stop Army of Islam positions from crumbling around Damascus.

Trump is erratic, but his one piece of consistency has been a stress on good relations with Russia, so my guess is that Prince Muhammad will come away empty-handed on Syria.

2. Yemen.

Muhammad b. Salman is credited with pushing for the Saudi-led coalition’s air war on Yemen in an attempt to unseat the Helpers of God party-militia, popularly known as the Houthis.

Yemen was ruled by a Zaydi Shiite theocratic leader, or Imam, in the mid-twentieth century, but he was unseated by a revolution led by Arab nationalist officers in the 1960s. During the civil war, the Saudi royal family supported the Imam (even though he was a Shiite) and the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser supported the young Arab nationalists. In 1978 one of the nationalist officers, Ali Abdullah Saleh, came to power, and ruled as a president for life until early 2012.

Although Saleh began as an Arab nationalist revolutionary, Saleh became conservative over time and attracted Saudi support. He was overthrown by the 2011-2012 youth revolution, but remained powerful in the ruling party and among factions in the military. He was succeeded via national referendum by his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Yemen in 2012-14 was pursuing national reconciliation, multi-party talks, and a new constitution and new elections.

Then in September of 2014 the rural Zaydi revolutionaries, the Houthis, marched into the capital of Sanaa and took over, in stealth cooperation with Saleh and his loyalists. By early 2015 they had forced out President Mansour Hadi and then rampaged down to Sunni areas in the south, taking the port of Aden. The Houthis resent hard line Saudi Wahhabi dominance in the Gulf and challenged Riyad’s hegemony. They accepted some minor support from Iran, which was mostly symbolic, but that made the Saudis very threatened. The Houthi/ Saleh coalition and its recklessness and naked ambition derailed all the gains of the 2011-2012 revolution and opened the country to foreign intervention and war. Zaydis are only 1/3 of the Yemeni population and could not hope to rule the whole country.

By spring 2015 Muhammad B. Salman had decided to intervene to put Mansour Hadi back in power and to push the Houthis back to their rural northern homeland. His coalition did manage to kick the Houthis out of the port of Aden, but you could not say the war has gone well. Guerrilla groups seldom fall to air assaults.

The US is supporting the Saudi war effort, having swallowed the sketchy line that Houthis are sort of like Yemeni Hizbullah and are Iran’s cat’s paws. Trump’s friend Mike Flynn even painted a Houthi engagement with a Saudi ship offshore as an Iranian attack on the US Navy. The US military is helping refuel the Saudi fighter jets and even helping choose targets for bombing. The Saudis have sometimes disregarded US advice to avoid, e.g., bridges that serve civilian populations, and this recklessness has frustrated the State Department and the Pentagon. The Saudi bombings have hit hospitals, schools, weddings and created a huge refugee crisis, and have caused millions to go to bed hungry.

My guess is that Prince Muhammad will be given a blank check by Trump to do whatever he likes to Yemen.

3. ISIL

Trump complained during the presidential campaign that Saudi Arabia was not doing anything special to combat Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). Although Saudi fighter jets have flown a few missions against Daesh positions, Trump is correct that defeating Daesh has been a very, very low priority for Riyadh. In part, the Saudi royal family may hope that Daesh keeps Iran busy in Iraq, acting as a barrier to Iran’s establishment of a secure sphere of influence in the Arab world stretching from Iraq through Syria to Lebanon.

Arguably, they’d have done the world a favor if they had bombed Daesh intensively and left Yemen alone.

Trump suggested that he would boycott Saudi petroleum if Riyadh did not step up and provide more military resources to fight Daesh.

As it happens, Daesh is on its last legs as a territorial state, now holding only a bit of West Mosul and some towns of about 100,000 in northern Iraq like Hawija and Tel Afar. By the end of 2017, it could have lost its state-like character entirely, though it will still be powerful in some villages and neighborhoods, and able to blow stuff up from time to time.

It is not clear if Trump will want now to strong arm Saudi Arabia into joining the last part of the anti-Daesh campaign. There is no reason to think that the Saudis have much interest in doing so.

4. Jeusalem

The Saudis don’t want Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, since East Jerusalem is occupied territory and the Saudis support the PLO, which wants it for Palestine’s capital. The Dome of the Rock is also the third holiest shrine in the Muslim world.

5. Iran

It is not clear whether Saudi Arabia has made its peace with the Iran nuclear deal negotiated with the UN Security Council plus Germany. Certainly, Riyadh is distressed that international economic pressure on Iran has been dramatically lessened and that Iran is free to continue to seek spheres of influence in the neighborhood. Iran has beaten Saudi Arabia in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and in Western Afghanistan. That has to smart. Prince Muhammad will impress upon Trump the desirability of continuing the US unilateral sanctions against Iran, and the need to contain it.

It does not now appear that Trump will in fact tear up the nuclear deal. He can be depended to take a hard line with Iran, and to continue the Treasury Department sanctions on Tehran. But he is with Russia in Syria, which means he is willy nilly with Iran in Syria.

So it is hard to see what the prince can get from Trump with regard to Iran except some tough talk.

6. Petroleum

Trump is dedicated to keeping petroleum profitable as long as possible. This stance pleases Saudi Arabia. But Prince Muhammad is likely more clear-eyed about the future than is Trump. The age of the electric car is bearing down on us. Oil is probably doomed within 15-20 years. Prince Muhammad knows this, and is trying to begin the process of diversifying the Saudi economy and transitioning to the post-fossil fuel age. But the slower the world goes, the better for the Saudi royal family (and the worse for the earth). The prince may push for more climate denialism and for anti-solar and anti-wind legislation, i.e. all the things Trump, Scott Pruitt, Rex Tillerson and the whole rogue’s gallery already support. For now, they can have their love fest with the Saudi royal family.

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Related video:

AP: “Trump Meets With Saudi Deputy Crown Prince”

Is Russia trying to take back over Libya from NATO, Radicals?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters is reporting that some 22 Russian special operations forces have set up a base in Western Egypt near the Libyan border in preparation for an intervention in Libya.

Other recent reports have suggested that Russian mercenaries have been active in eastern Libya. The Russian government denied the Reuters report and denied any knowledge of a Russian unit operating in Libya. Likewise the Egyptian government denied that any foreign forces were based on its soil.

The warlord of eastern Libya is Khalifa Hifter, whose military forces serve one of Libya’s two parliaments, the House of Representatives in Tobruk. Hifter’s forces expelled fundamentalist religious militias from Benghazi, which his forces now control. His men had asserted control of the “oil triangle,” including Ras Lanuf. Obviously, whoever controls Libya’s oil would reap a massive windfall, making them even more powerful over time.

But Hifter’s forces in the oil triangle have recently been expelled by the very same radical fundamentalist militias, prominently al-Qaeda and the Benghazi Defense Brigades, that he had kicked out of Benghazi. And after they build up their coffers by smuggling some petroleum out, they talk about marching on Benghazi and taking it from Hifter, making it a base for Muslim radicalism.

It is these reverses in the oil triangle for Hifter’s forces and the threat that radicals could attack Benghazi that likely alarmed the Russian military enough to cause them to intervene. Obviously, 22 commandos are not very many, but maybe they will be spotters for the air force.

Washington is worried that Russia plans to repeat its Syrian tactics in Libya and that it wants to recover Libya as a Russian sphere of influence, as it had been under deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Despite Russian denials, it is plausible that Russian forces are trying to intervene covertly in Libya. Any such intervention appears for the moment to be targeted and small, unlike the situation in Syria.

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Related video:

VOA from last month: “Italy Seeks Russia’s Help in Stabilizing Libya”

Dear Rep. King: Our Civilization isn’t White and American Babies aren’t Other

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Rep Steve King of Iowa (whose constituents should be ashamed to show their faces in public went full-on racist again, supporting hate-speech master Geert Wilders in his quixotic quest to reverse globalization and ban Muslims from Europe.

King lauded Wilders’ supposed wisdom and added “we can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies.”

steveking

I’d just like to point out that in 1900 the Netherlands was a tiny European country but a very large empire, and that it mainly amounted to something in world affairs at that time because it ruled a very large number of Muslims in its East Indies (today’s Indonesia). Some 15% of Dutch GDP was from stealing Indonesian petroleum in that era, and it was the cream that, as it accumulated and was invested, allowed nobodies like Geert Wilders to live an opulent lifestyle. That is, Dutch civilization is inextricably interwoven with Muslim civilization, and rather owes a debt to Muslims.

Likewise, in 1900 the US had taken the Philippines, a pillar of its emergence as a Pacific Power, which has a significant Muslim population of 5-8%. Yes, folks. The US went out and gathered up millions of Muslims to rule, and Filipino Americans have shaped our country. Even today, Filipino-Americans are about 23% of the state of Hawaii. (Hi, Bruno Mars!)

King has displayed his ignorance of history many times before. When he was challenged on the all-white Republican Party leadership, he alleged that only white people had contributed to civilization and actually alleged that Africa had not.

Uh, Pharaonic Egypt, which self-described white people like King have expropriated for Europe? Actually, like, in Africa . Not only was the cradle of civilization in Africa, but genetic testing on the Pharaohs appears to show Y chromosome haplotypes typical of today’s Uganda. That is, the Egyptian ruling class appears to have come up the Nile from sub-Saharan Africa. They invented elements of geometry, paper, cursive writing, and other key components of civilization.

A similar argument could be made about the contributions of ancient Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq, under the Sumerians, Akkadians and Babylonians. King’s party doesn’t seem to think Iraqis are white– it almost banned their entry into the US.

At the time that Pharaonic and Mesopotamian civilization was flourishing, Europeans were half-naked savages.

But the bigger point is that American civilization is civic and does not depend on race. There are no “other people’s babies” here. All American babies are our babies. People of all races have contributed to American civilization.

It was Senegalese Muslims, kidnapped and brought for slave labor to the Carolinas, who taught white people how to grow rice.

Michael E. DeBakey, contributor to the development of the artificial heart? Lebanese-American.

You can look up minority engineers and scientists.

Arab-American inventors and scientists are here

The US Patent and Trade Office under the impression that a lot of significant inventions have been the work of Latino Americans.

King’s self-conception as part of a northern European white Christian hegemonic class that deserves its high status because of its achievements is just wrong.

In the United States, under our Constitution, we are all equal under the law, regardless of race or religion. That is our civilization.