Nasrullah: Saudi has declared war on Lebanon

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Al Jazeera Arabic reports that Hassan Nasrullah, the secretary-general of Hizbullah accused Saudi Arabia of declaring war on Lebanon and on his party. He repeated his charge that Riyadh has abducted Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri and has forced him to announce his resignation in a bid to destabilize his country. He said that Saudi Arabia is instigating the world community against Lebanon, adding that he has evidence that the Saudi government requested Israel to strike Lebanon militarily.

For its part, Saudi Arabia called on all its citizens to leave Lebanon. Shortly thereafter a Saudi national was kidnapped for ransom in Beirut.

In a speech broadcast on television Friday evening, after he accused Saudi Arabia and its officials of declaring war on Lebanon and Hizbullah, he spoke of a Saudi attempt to impose a new president on Lebanon, replacing Hizbullah’s political ally, Michel Aoun. He said that Riyadh is also attempting to take away from Hariri his position of leadership of the Sunni “Future Party” so as to impose a new leader on it.

Nasrullah condemned what he described as an unprecedented naked Saudi intervention in Lebanese internal affairs and said that Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Hariri from the time he arrived at the airport in Riyadh is demeaning to every Lebanese citizen.

He said that Hariri is being held against his will and that he has been prohibited from returning to Lebanon. Nasrullah demanded that he be allowed to come back, and said that his resignation is unconstitutional and without legal force.

The Hizbullah leader said that Saudi Arabia is ready to pay Israel tens of billions of dollars if only Tel Aviv will launch a military strike on Lebanon. He said that in his view, however, a new Israeli war on Lebanon is unlikely. Whatever Saudi Arabia might do, he added, it won’t be able to finish off Hizbullah. He predicted Riyadh will fail in Lebanon, just as it has failed in Yemen. He said defiantly that Saudi pressure would never make Hizbullah change its stance that the Saudis are wrong to intervene against the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Nasrullah charged that at the end of the Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006, Saudi Arabia pleaded with Tel Aviv not to halt the war until Hizbullah was wiped out.

He denied taking sides in the Gulf crisis, but did say that the Saudi failure to cow Qatar was of a piece with a string of Saudi foreign policy SNAFUs.

President Michel Aoun, in the meantime, has declined to accept Hariri’s resignation, saying he will wait for the prime minister to return to Beirut and then have him explain his reasons in person. Aoun met Friday with the charge d’affaires of the Saudi embassy in Beirut and informed him that the way Hariri resigned, by telephone from Saudi Arabia, is “unacceptabl.”

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Related video:

TRT News: “Lebanon Crisis: Hezbollah leader refuses Hariri’s resignation”

Brazil: Huge Solar Plant to help get to 45% Renewables by 2030

AFP News Agency | (Video News Clip) | – –

“Brazil has lagged far behind in the shift to solar power, but the biggest facility on the continent now being built in the south-east aims to give the country its place in the sun.”

AFP: “Huge solar plant aims for brighter Brazil energy production”

Top 5 reasons Roy Moore could still Win, despite Sex Scandals

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for senate in Alabama, was rocked by scandal this week, as a woman accused him of initiating sexual contact with her when she was only 14.

Moore was twice removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow the constitution, and he has pulled stunts such as showing a six-shooter at one of his rallies.

The new charges will unseat him, right?

Well, maybe and maybe not. There are some things that come into play beyond the candidate’s record of shenanigans. So far this past year, evangelical voters have shown that they will vote for a candidate known not to have a biblical lifestyle (Trump) as long as he stands for white supremacy. This outcome makes you a little worried that some large proportion of American white evangelicalism may be latently a form of white supremacy. In other words, values voters may not turn on the judge.

Here are some other reasons why:

1. Alabama’s voter ID law acts to suppress the votes of youth, elders and minorities. African-Americans in Alabama form 25% of the population, and they could ally with the white Democrats to forestall a Moore victory. But they are disproportionately disadvantaged by the ID laws.

2. Alabama is The least democratic state in the nation. It is 48th in accessibility of ballots.

3. Only 35% percent of Alabama voters see themselves as Democrats. If Republicans come out to vote, Judge Moore will prevail.

4. 86 percent of Alabama residents identify as Christian, and 49 percent are evangelical

5. 40% of white evangelical Christians supporting Moore say they do so out of party loyalty. While that is bad for Moore, that the party loyalty is holding is bad for his opponent.

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Related video:

Washington Post: Woman Alleges Sexual Encounter As A Minor With Roy Moore | MSNBC

Syria: If ISIL is dire threat, why isn’t its Defeat bigger News?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Syrian regime announced Wednesday that its army, supported by the Lebanese Shiite militia, Hizbullah and Iraqi Shiite militia, took control of the city of Al-Bu Kamal, the last base for ISIL on the Syrian-Iraqi border, after battles with the terrorist organization.

At the same time, an Iranian official affirmed that these forces, having proven victorious in the far east of the country, will now be redeployed to the northwest, to Idlib province, the last bastion of the armed resistance (which is dominated in Idlib by the al-Qaeda-linked Syrian Conquest Front or Nusra Front.

The Syrian spokesman said that the Syrian sources had met up with their Iraqi counterparts on the border in the environs of Al-Bu Kamal, and that the Iraqi military had simultaneously taken on ISIL remnants on their side of the border opposite Al-Bu Kamal.

The Syrian and pro-Syrian fighters received air support, which must have been Russian or Syrian Arab Air Force. Some civilian deaths were reported.

Last week, the Iraqi army expelled ISIL remnants from the district of al-Qa’im, which neighbors Syria.

Some 120,000 persons have been displaced from this this district by the fighting.

As ISIL declines into insignificance as a military force even as it remains a significant terrorist threat, I expect the hype around it to survive, like a ghost haunting us.

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related video:

Wochit News: “Syrian Army, Allies, Take Last IS Stronghold In Syria”

Le Pen Stripped of Immunity for Tweeting Gruesome IS Images

TeleSur | – –

Circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” is a crime punishable in France by up to three years’ imprisonment.

France’s National Assembly has lifted far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s immunity from prosecution after she posted pictures on Twitter of Islamic State (IS) atrocities.

The decision was taken by a cross-party committee in charge of the internal functioning of the assembly, after French authorities lodged a request to lift Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity over a crime that carries up to three years in prison and a fine of US$87,000.

The leader of the National Front (FN), who ran a failed bid for president this year, tweeted three pictures of IS violence in 2015.

One image showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by the Sunni extremists. Others showed a man wearing an orange jumpsuit being run over by a tank, and another man being burned alive in a cage.

“Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in a caption, using an Arabic acronym for IS. The tweets followed an interview earlier that day with political analyst and IS expert Gilles Kepel on BFM TV, who argued that the rise of the IS group and the FN among French voters were directly linked.

Following a request from Foley’s family, Le Pen eventually deleted the image of the U.S. citizen, saying she had been unaware of his identity.

In September, parliament also lifted the immunity of another FN MP, Gilbert Collard, over similar tweets containing IS images.

Le Pen, a trained lawyer, decried the move as a “lowly, purely political decision” which violated her freedom of expression. “It’s better to be a jihadist returning from Syria than an MP condemning the ignominies of IS,” she told AFP, suggesting that France was softer on IS members than its own domestic opponents.

The authorities began investigating the tweets in December 2015, but could not press charges while Le Pen was protected from prosecution. At the time, she was a member of the European Parliament.

The EU Assembly voted in March to lift Le Pen’s immunity, but three months later it was reinstated when she was elected to the French parliament for the first time.

The decision of the 22-member Assembly committee made on Wednesday is the latest blow to the 49-year-old politician, who has appeared adrift since her defeat at the hands of Emmanuel Macron in May’s presidential run-off.

Le Pen lost to Macron with a lower-than-expected 33.9 percent to his 66.1 percent of the vote after floundering badly in a final TV debate. The FN also fared poorly in June’s parliamentary elections, taking just eight seats out of 577.

Tensions between rival party factions — one led by anti-immigration hardliners, the other by anti-EU nationalists — erupted in September with the resignation of Le Pen’s right-hand man, Florian Philippot. Philippot was the architect of Le Pen’s strategy to rebrand the FN as less racist and more politically correct than in the past.

This is not the first time Le Pen’s immunity has been lifted: in 2013 she compared Muslims praying in Paris streets over a lack of mosques in the capital with the German military occupation during the Second World War. In June of this year, she was accused of slandering conservative lawmaker Christian Estrosi.

TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “French far-right MEP Le Pen has immunity lifted”

Trump only president not invited to Paris Climate Summit

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Europe1 is reporting that French President Emmanuel Macron has announced that “for the moment” US head of state Donald J. Trump is not invited to the international conference on the climate to be held in Paris in the wake of COP23 in Berlin on 17 November.

The summit in Paris to be held on December 12 is being organized by France for the two years of the Paris Accord on the Climate. It will bring together 2,000 participants, with 100 countries being invited and 800 organizations. It will be held on the isle of Seguin in the outskirts of Paris, as Macron had announced during the G20 this summer, in order to redouble efforts on this commitment after the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Paris Accord. In the wake of that decision, Trump was not invited. A low-level US delegation, however, will represent the US, just not the president.

Macron’s office said on Tuesday, “For the moment, president Donald Trump is not invited,” since the invited heads of state are those engaged in implementing the accord. Questioned on the practical use of such a supplementary climate summit, given the unlikelihood that anything will be accomplished in a single day, Macron’s office said that holding it “is necessary and important” in order to shore up international mobilization. The statement said, “This will not, however, be a ‘pledging conference’ (a conference where official goals would be committed to, with numbers).

The aim is to put together coalitions at the summit that will yield concrete results, notably creating dynamics among cities, investment funds and development banks. “The idea is to demonstrate that there is action, that it is necessary to accelerate it and to find new sources for financing very concrete projects. Paris sees it as complementary to last years’ summit and an opportunity to take stock of the trajectory so far.

Macron underlined that “if we do not speed up our efforts, we will not be able to attain the objective of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees centigrade (2 degrees F.)

Trump had announced on June 1 that the US will exit the climate agreement, signed in Paris in 2015. Since the terms of the original agreement state that a country must wait three years after signing to withdraw, the US can’t actually get out of it until 2020.

After Syria signed on Monday, the 197th country to join the treaty, the US was left the sole country in the world outside the accord. The other holdout, Nicaragua, had kept aloof because it said that the accord isn’t actually aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions. That is, Nicaragua wasn’t signing because the treaty did not go far enough. In October, however, Nicaragua ceased its object and signed.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: France Claims Trump Not Invited To Climate Change Meeting In Paris

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Saudi Official views Lebanon as “at war with us”

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Christian-owned Beirut daily al-Nahar reports that the Saudi minister for Gulf Affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, said Monday that Saudi Arabia would not accept that Lebanon should join in the war on his country.

He added, “We will treat the government of Lebanon like a state that has declared war on us, because of the Hizbullah militias.” He pointed out that Hizbullah influences all the decisions made by the Lebanese government.

Al-Sabhan’s take on Lebanon is frankly bizarre. He doesn’t seem to realize that over a third of Lebanese are Christians and nearly a third are Shiites. Sunnis are reckoned at 28%. Sunnis are the ones most likely to tilt toward Saudi Arabia, but even many of them do not like Saudi hard line Wahhabism or its backing for extremist groups such as the Army of Islam in Syria or the Lebanese Salafi cult in Sidon. So Saudi Arabia simply does not have a majority constituency in that country and it is hard to see how threatening Beirut in this way will increase Saudi influence there.

Al-Sabhan is right that the Shiite Hizbullah, which is a legal political party in Lebanon with seats in parliament and cabinet ministers, is very influential. But it is influential because it has gained the support of a majority of Shiites (even secular ones) and substantial numbers of Christians have decided to put up with it or actively ally with it (as with president Michel Aoun). Hizbullah is given money by Iran, but Iranians can’t vote in Lebanese elections, and Lebanese Shiites have other choices if they don’t like Hizbullah and its Iran connections. Unsurprisingly, most Lebanese Shiites are not afraid of Iranian Shiites.

Christians and Shiites in Lebanon on the whole supported or were neutral toward the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, which the Saudis tried to overthrow by backing hard line Salafi/ Sunni militiamen. The Saudis actually directed shelling and bombing of Syrian government buildings. Both in Syria and in Lebanon, the idea of Salafis taking Damascus sent a chill down the spines of Christians, given that the hard liners reject secular government, democracy, and basic human rights, and would reduce Christians to second class citizens or even non-citizens.

Al-Sabhan appeared to accuse Lebanon’s Hizbullah of training Saudi Shiites to be guerrillas. Something like 12% of the Saudi population is Shiite, and it predominates in the oil-rich Eastern Province. The current king has repressed the Saudi Shiites, whose position has worsened palpably after having improved a bit in the last decade after the government permitted municipal elections (largely Shiite cities such as Qatif then allowed Shiite rituals inside city limits). But Saudi Shiites have protested peacefully against Wahhabi repression. The major terrorism committed in Saudi Arabia in recent years has come from Salafi jihadi outfits such as al-Qaeda and ISIL. Some Saudi Wahhabis have at least been favorable toward al-Qaeda.

Al-Sabhan added, in an interview on the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based mouthpiece for Riyadh, Alarabiya, that “Saudi Arabia’s King Salman informed Saad Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon who just resigned, of the details of Hizbullah’s acts of enmity toward Saudi Arabia, indicating that it is the responsibility of the Lebanese government to be aware of the danger these militias pose to Saudi Arabia.”

He alleged that Hizbullah fighters participate in every act of terrorism threatening Saudi Arabia, underlining that the kingdom will deploy every political and extra-political means to confront what he called “Hizb Shaytan.” (Hizbullah in Arabic means ‘party of God;’ Hizb Shaytan means ‘party of Satan).

He said that the Lebanese have a choice between Islam and joining in with Hizbullah.

[Yes, he said this to a country that is, like, 36% Christian!]

He added that Riyadh had expected the Lebanese to work to repress Hizbullah and that they had it in their power to define what will happen to their relationship with Saudi Arabia.

He accused Hizbullah of smuggling drugs into the kingdom and of training young Saudi [Shiite] men in terrorist techniques.

He denied that Riyadh had forced Hariri to resign as prime minister.

He concluded, “Lebanon has been taken hostage by Hizbullah militias, with Iran standing behind them– and the Lebanese are capable of making a stand against the transgressions of these Hizbullah militias.”

The likelihood of the Lebanese people or government bowing to these threats is slim to none.

I don’t think the Saudi military, bogged down in Yemen, is likely to try anything in Lebanon. If war comes out of all this, it would be from the Israeli Air Force.

But now that Russia has put a security umbrella over Syria, it is not at all clear that Moscow would be happy with or allow an attempt to quash Hizbullah, which has been Putin’s key ally in propping up Bashar al-Assad.

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Related video:

Wochit News: “Saudi Arabia says Lebanon has declared war on it”

Trump: Why didn’t ‘Samurai Japan’ shoot down N. Korea Missiles?

TeleSur | – –

The revelation comes after Trump warned that Asia should fear a robust military stance by Japan, “a warrior nation.”

A perplexed President Donald Trump once noted that he couldn’t understand why Japan, a country of “samurai warriors” did not shoot down North Korean missiles, according to reports.

The U.S. leader’s opinion has been lambasted as ignoring the technical difficulties and potential ramifications of shooting the missiles down, or of making such an attempt.

The former reality television host pontificated about Japan’s decision not to down the missiles, which were test-launched on Aug. 29 and Sept. 15, during meetings and phone calls with leaders from Southeast Asia over recent months, according to unnamed sources cited by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency.

Japan’s military didn’t try to intercept the missiles due to their judgment – based on a monitoring of the missiles’ trajectory – that the projectiles wouldn’t land on Japanese territory, as well as an observation that the speed and altitude of the missiles would make such an interception extremely difficult.

The revelation came ahead of Trump’s arrival in Japan on Sunday at the start of his five-nation trip to Asia. Threats from North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile development programs were set to be high on the agenda in his talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday.

The U.S. leader has rattled some allies with his vow to “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatens the United States and with his dismissal of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” on a suicide mission. Kim has refused to back down, calling Trump “the mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

In a speech before U.S. troops based in Japan, Trump struck a menacing tone, noting that “no dictator, no regime, and no nation, should underestimate, ever, American resolve.”

“Every once in a while, in the past, they underestimated us. It was not pleasant for them, was it? It was not pleasant. We will never yield, never waver, and never falter in defense of our people, our freedom, and our great American flag,” Trump said.

“We dominate the sky, we dominate the sea, we dominate the land and space,” he added.

Abe has staunchly backed Trump’s stance that “all options are on the table” including military action, and repeatedly said that now was the time for added pressure, not dialogue “for the sake of dialogue.”

Abe, along with a large portion of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition, adheres to the ideology of Nippon Kaigi, a group that openly extols the bloody policies of World War II-era Imperial Japan. The group counts in its ranks prominent businessmen, bureaucrats, academics and politicians.

In an interview broadcast Thursday on Fox News, Trump declared that “Japan is a warrior nation, and I tell China and I tell everyone else that listens, I mean, you’re gonna have yourself a big problem with Japan pretty soon if you allow this to continue with North Korea.”

Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy waged aggressive wars across Asia that claimed tens of millions of civilian lives in pursuit of expansionist attempts to conquer the region.

The U.S. has supported successive Japanese governments with arms sales and political support, a policy reaffirmed by a hawkish Trump administration intent on enhancing the U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region alongside a strong ally such as Japan.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera English: “Trump kicks off Asia tour in Japan”

Congress’ Tax Plan is a give-way to the Rich, not a Reform

By Olivia Alperstein | ( Otherwords.org) | – –

No matter our politics, most Americans have a beef with taxes. And it’s no wonder.

Working class Americans pay a much greater share of their income than the wealthiest Americans, who get away with exploiting tax loopholes and paying less than their fair share to support public projects and government programs.

Our system is rigged to favor the richest, so tax reform is key to un-rigging the economy. But the latest GOP tax plan is a slimy wet kiss for the wealthiest Americans.

It doesn’t even try to propose reforms — it’s literally just a giant giveaway to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations. The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that 80 percent of the benefits in the new plan will go to the richest 1 percent, while nearly one in three working families would end up paying more.

In order to bankroll this “get-even-richer-even-quicker” scheme, Republicans in Congress are proposing cuts to vital services and programs like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare — while still driving up the deficit by $1.5 trillion or more.

This isn’t tax reform — it’s a rip-off scheme.

But what if Congress actually prioritized helping working families get a better deal on taxes?

Ask the Columnist: A Primer on Wealth and Taxes

(bright strangely / Flickr)

On October 25,2017, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest ideological caucus in Congress, released their new Progressive Principles for Tax Reform, a bold set of priorities that would put power back into the hands of ordinary taxpayers and working families, and put a stop to endless giveaways to the richest Americans and corporations.

It calls for badly needed fixes to the tax code, including: eliminating tax loopholes and tax shelters for corporations, enacting a tax on Wall Street speculation, abolishing tax incentives and rewards for businesses that offshore jobs, and removing $95 billion in special tax breaks for the top 1 percent.

The document demands that Congress instead prioritize spending that fuels economic opportunity, rewards hard work, and protects low-income families.

For example, it prioritizes the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax credit for low-income and working class individuals and couples, particularly those with children.

It also advocates expanding other tax credits that benefit working families, such as the Making Work Pay Tax Credit, the Child and Dependent Care Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Each of these uplifts working families, removes barriers to success, and reduces income inequality.

“We cannot afford to extend tax breaks for corporations or the wealthy that cripple our ability to invest in areas that expand economic growth, like infrastructure and education,” the document says. “Tax reform must be done in a way that raises significant revenue, protects working families and the vulnerable, and requires corporations and the wealthy to pay a fair share.”

Americans across the political spectrum are worried about jobs, wages, and our economy. These progressive tax priorities invest in growing the economy and reducing the deficit. They focus on supporting working families through measures like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

It’s past time for our country to provide opportunities for working families to build a better future for themselves. It’s time for the people who can actually afford to pay taxes to pay their fair share. It’s time for us to un-rig the tax system so working families don’t continue to pay the price for not being wealthy.

The Progressive Caucus’s tax priorities are part of a bigger vision to uplift working families and create tools for prosperity.

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Olivia Alperstein is the Deputy Director of Communications and Policy at Progressive Congress. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords.org

Saudi Saturday Night Massacre: Billionaire Bin Talal, dozens of others Arrested

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

King Salman of Saudi Arabia created a high-powered “anti-corruption” commission on Saturday, appointing his son, the crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, to head it. The committee is a sort of star chamber, with wide powers to freeze bank accounts, ground private jets, and order suspects jailed.

Almost immediately after the announcement, ten princes, four sitting cabinet members, and several former cabinet secretaries were abruptly charged with corruption and taken into custody. The princes are being held at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, since ‘there is no jail for princes.’

One of those arrested is al-Waleed Bin Talal, the billionaire owner of Kingdom Holdings, who is a major shareholder in Twitter, CitiBank, Four Seasons, and Lyft, among other things (and until recently a shareholder in Rupert Murdoch’s Newscorp.)

While no doubt there is corruption in Saudi Arabia, this move is more likely a power grab by the crown prince.

Indeed, it looks very much like Vladimir Putin’s destruction of those Russian oligarchs who got in his way. In essence, the crown prince is cutting the Saudi oligarchs down to size.

Mohammad Bin Salman has many advantages over Putin. The crown prince already controls media inside the kingdom, as well as the appointment of governorships (though some of those arrested had media outlets, such as al-Waleed’s Rotana). Putin had to strive hard to obtain leverage over those institutions.

When the smoke clears, look for Mohammad Bin Salman and his circle to have consolidated power dramatically.

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Related video:

Aljazeera English: “Cabinet reshuffle, crackdown on corruption in latest Saudi purge”