Yemen: The Houthi enigma

Robert F Worth writes: There is a scene in Safa al Ahmad’s remarkable BBC documentary, Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis [watch below], when a spokesman for the Houthi movement escorts her to a remote and unguarded section of the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is nothing more than a half-trampled barbed-wire fence, in a golden-brown landscape of dry hills and scattered acacia trees. “This means nothing, it represents nothing,” he says of the border. The Houthis, a once-obscure band of insurgents from the mountains of northern Yemen who adhere to the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, have over the past few months taken over much of the country. “We cannot be defined by sect or confined by borders,” the spokesman says. “We will help oppressed people all over the world.” Then, flourishing a confident smile, he predicts the imminent demise of the House of Saud.

That moment of hubris, filmed late last year, acquired a sinister new meaning last week when Saudi Arabia launched a campaign of airstrikes on Yemen. The Saudis said their strikes — carried out with eight allied Arab and Muslim states — were meant to push back the Houthis. But the Saudis clearly intended their blitzkrieg as a blunt message to Iran, their great nemesis and rival, which has provoked the Saudis for several years now by providing money and weaponry to the Houthis.

Yemen, in other words, has become the latest proxy battleground in the sectarian struggle now playing out across the Middle East. It did not have to be this way. The Houthis, unlike Hezbollah and other Shiite movements, do not take directions from Tehran, and have received relatively small amounts of aid. (In the film, Houthi officials flatly deny any Iranian support, claiming they were equally close to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.) Their Zaydi faith is doctrinally closer to Sunnism than to the Shiite Islam practiced in Iran. But the rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states are feeling a profound defensiveness about Iranian power, which is on display every day in the wars in Syria and Iraq. They want to lay down a marker.

This chest-beating gesture could backfire catastrophically, even if it succeeds in weakening the Houthis. The Saudi airstrikes quickly destroyed most of Yemen’s military arsenal, including hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of American equipment. It will be all the more difficult now for any one faction to control the country. Militias of all kinds are sure to proliferate, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based in Yemen and which has tried several times to detonate bombs on US-bound commercial airliners, will have more room to maneuver. All this could have terrifying consequences for ordinary people: Yemen is the Arab world’s poorest country, and is rapidly running out of water. Getting food and water to 25 million people who are surrounded by a crazy-quilt of battling militias and jihadis could be almost impossible. [Continue reading…]

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Yemen and Iran: What’s really going on?

Brian Whitaker writes: The words “Iranian-backed” and “Houthi” are now coupled together in virtually every media report about the conflict in Yemen. Nobody – least of all, the Iranians – would deny that Iran supports the Houthis. But how extensive is that support and what forms does it take?

Where some kinds of support are concerned, Iran makes no attempt at disguise, as the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted in report last week:

“Since a Houthi delegation visited Tehran in March, Iranian support has become more vocal, promising economic aid that includes expanding ports, building power plants and providing fuel.”

But while “Iranian-backed” can be a factually accurate description (at least up to a point), it is also being used emotively to muster support for the Arab military intervention in Yemen. In their scaremongering about Iran, the Saudis in particular are now singing from Netanyahu’s song sheet. Writing in the New York Times, for example, Saudi propagandist Nawaf Obeid holds Iran – rather than the Saudi government – responsible for most of the kingdom’s ills. The Saudi leadership faces a number of issues,” he writes, “but most of them stem from Iranian aggressiveness.”

Some Saudis go so far as to assert that the conflict in Yemen is not about Yemen at all. Saudi Arabia needs to have a war with Iran, one of them coldly informed me last week – so it’s better to have the war on Yemeni soil than Saudi soil. [Continue reading…]

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Whose boots on Yemen’s ground?

Abubakr al-Shamahi writes: The Saudi-led airstrikes on rebel targets in Yemen are showcasing Riyadh’s military might. The positions and bases of the Houthis, as well as army units controlled by former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, are being pummelled.

But what next? Are air strikes enough on their own? History says otherwise. Unless the push is to merely get concessions from the Houthis and Saleh in any negotiations, which now appears unlikely, the Saudi-led coalition will need forces on the ground to fight.

The obvious choice would be the Yemeni military. Yet this prospect appears to be diminishing by the day. The failure to restructure the military, the immunity given to Saleh for crimes committed during 2011, and even the Saudi decision to get Saleh back into the country, meant that come September 2014, Saleh was able to still maintain enough loyalty in the military to order them to largely step down as the Houthis took Sanaa.

Those units, which include some of the most elite in the army, now continue to advance across the country with the Houthis following closely behind. In response to this, the coalition bombing campaign has targeted the Saleh-controlled military, and military bases up and down Yemen are being destroyed. The consequence? The Yemeni military is being decimated and will not be able to secure such a highly weaponised country should these strikes not end soon. [Continue reading…]

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U.N. warns of ‘total collapse’ in Yemen as Houthis continue offensive

The New York Times reports: The United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned on Tuesday that Yemen was on the brink of collapse, as his office said that heavy fighting in the southern port city of Aden had left its streets lined with bodies and its hospitals full of corpses.

Fierce clashes erupted on Monday as Shiite Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran, pressed on with an offensive in Aden against fighters loyal to President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the exiled Yemeni leader, who is backed by Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states.

“The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” Mr. al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement. “The country seems to be on the verge of total collapse.”

“The killing of so many innocent civilians is simply unacceptable,” he added.

Houthi forces were reported to have pushed their way into Aden’s northeastern suburbs despite airstrikes by the Saudi Air Force and a naval blockade intended to sever the flow of weapons and other supplies to Houthi forces. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman inspires tributes comparing him to Saddam Hussein

Vocativ: Saudis have found their poster boy for the multinational “Decisive Storm” campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels — Mohammed bin Salman, the 35-year-old Minister of Defense. He also happens to be the son of the new Saudi King, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz.

Although Prince bin Salman lacks any military experience or education — he’s the youngest current defense minister internationally — he is quickly becoming one of the most influential figures in the kingdom and an internet celebrity in the Arabic-speaking world.

Since the beginning of the military operation in Yemen, Saudi Facebook users have created several fan pages in his honor and uploaded hundreds photos of him directing the war from his office, visiting soldiers on the battlefield and sitting in the cockpit of a fighter jet.

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U.S. supports Saudi-led assault on Yemen but won’t rescue trapped American citizens

Business Insider: The speed with which Yemen’s conflict escalated last week has taken many by surprise, with a Saudi-led Arab multinational force launching military operations after president Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi fled the country by boat on March 25th.

And it’s especially awkward for the Obama administration.

Washington has held up Yemen as a counter-terror model, most notably during President Barack Obama’s September 10, 2014 speech announcing military operations against ISIS.

The idea is that the US would provide intelligence and forms of kinetic assistance (drones, special operations raids, and so on) to partner governments without committing ground troops or asking for internally disruptive political reforms.

The Yemen blow-up puts the administration in an awkward position. Saying the increasingly violent and ungoverned country is no longer a counter-terror model is tantamount to admitting that the premises behind the US’s anti-ISIS strategy are deeply flawed. But saying it is still a model means copping to just how narrow the US’s objectives in the Middle East really are.

A remarkable moment of candor on this front came on March 26 as it became apparent that Yemen’s recognized president had fled the country. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and was asked if Yemen’s breakdown in any way diminishes its appeal as a counter-terrorism model.

Earnest conceded that Yemen’s situation is dire, and then said: “The measure of the US policy should not be graded against the success or the stability of the Yemeni government. That’s a separate enterprise.

“The goal of us policy towards Yemen has never been to try to build a Jeffersonian democracy there. The goal of US policy in Yemen is to make sure Yemen cannot be a safe haven than extremists can use to attack the West and to attack the United States, and that involves trying to build up the capacity of the government to help us in that fight.”

IBT reports: The exodus of foreign diplomats and citizens from war-torn Yemen has surged in recent days amid Saudi-led airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Houthi militias, who have taken over much of the country. China, India, Pakistan and Somalia have sent ships and planes to evacuate their citizens trapped in Yemen. The United States moved its embassy staff out of Yemen after suspending embassy operations in the capital Sanaa last month, and remaining military personnel were airlifted out last week. But the U.S. government has yet to announce any evacuation plans for Americans in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s campaign — which was coordinated with help from the United States — has Yemen landlocked, with the airports and major seaports shut down. Yemeni-Americans said they received no warning of the Saudi attack, and now they are desperate for alternate escape routes.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a San Francisco native who is currently in Sanaa, said he never received a response from the State Department. “The U.S. coordinated with Saudi on logistics, so they must have been aware of what was coming,” he told Al Jazeera. “And yet we received no warning. If India and Somalia can find a way to evacuate their nationals, why can’t the U.S.?” [Continue reading…]

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Arab nations alarmed by prospect of U.S. nuclear deal with Iran

Ian Black writes: Arab governments are watching the endgame of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme with barely-concealed alarm, fearing that the US is bent on a rapprochement with Tehran, not so much at any price, but certainly at the expense of its long-standing Gulf allies.

Saudi Arabia, Iran’s main regional rival, has made clear its unhappiness with the emerging deal. Still, unlike Israel, which flatly opposes any agreement, Saudi Arabia has adopted a more subtle approach. Adel Jubeir, its ambassador to the US, pledged to wait to see the outcome before criticising it. Jubair also conspicuously refused to rule out the kingdom seeking its own nuclear weapons — a pointed reminder to Barack Obama of the nuclear proliferation risks if his Iran strategy does not succeed.

The Saudis have hinted for years that they would turn to Pakistan if they felt threatened by a nuclear Iran. Last year they displayed their Chinese-made intermediate-range ballistic missiles — capable of reaching Tehran — at a parade attended by the general who controls Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It was, said the Brookings Institution analyst Bruce Riedel, “ a very calculated signal”. [Continue reading…]

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Iran nuke talks to continue in new phase

The Associated Press reports: Wrapping up six days of marathon nuclear talks with mixed results, Iran and six world powers prepared Tuesday to issue a general statement agreeing to continue talks in a new phase aimed at reaching a final agreement to control Iran’s nuclear ambitions by the end of June, officials told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Officials had set a deadline of March 31 for a framework agreement, and later softened that wording to a framework understanding, between Iran and the so-called P5+1 nations — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

And after intense negotiations, obstacles remained on uranium enrichment, where stockpiles of enriched uranium should be stored, limits on Iran’s nuclear research and development and the timing and scope of sanctions relief among other issues.

The joint statement is to be accompanied by additional documents that outline more detailed understandings, allowing the sides to claim enough progress has been made thus far to merit a new round, the officials said. Iran has not yet signed off on the documents, one official said, meaning any understanding remains unclear.

The talks have already been extended twice as part of more than a decade of diplomatic attempts to curb Tehran’s nuclear advance. [Continue reading…]

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Signs that ISIS may be in decline in Syria

Jalal Zein Eddine writes: For Syrians under Islamic State (ISIS) rule, the jihadist group is an incidental disease, not an authentic part of the society in which it has appeared, and the peak of its growth bears the seeds of its disintegration and demise. A number of factors are contributing to the group’s disintegration:

Firstly, the significant drop in the number of foreign fighters has been boosted by the pledges of allegiance Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi attained in the Sinai Peninsula, Libya and Nigeria. The damage these pledges have done to the group outweighs the publicity they have generated, as believers in ISIS’s extremist doctrine in the Arab Maghreb, Africa and perhaps even parts of Europe will join groups in their home countries. This will impact negatively on the group’s strength in Syria and Iraq.

“There are also signs of a big drop in the influx of people from the Arab Maghreb, mainly after the group’s battles against the rebels,” says Adnan, who is close to ISIS members in Aleppo Countryside. “It can even be said that emigration has stopped.” Perhaps this is what made Baghdadi accept pledges of allegiance from outside of the Levant; gaining such allegiances, even in faraway areas, was better than losing foreign fighters altogether.

The decrease in the number of foreign fighters, due to intensified international monitoring of their movement, has contributed to locals’ hesitation to join the group. “All the biggest assaults have been attributed to foreign fighters, who have a highly-effective combat doctrine,” says Mustafa, a lawyer from eastern Aleppo Countryside. “The drop in their numbers has not only reduced the Islamic State’s combat readiness, it has caused a recession in the number of local entrants in to the group.” Foreign fighters amazed young Syrians, their mad bravery attracting many local recruits. The drop in the number of foreign fighters has also weakened the identity ISIS is trying to force on the region. [Continue reading…]

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In Iraq, Maliki still looms large months after his ouster

The Washington Post reports: [Former Prime Minister Nouri al-]Maliki’s looming presence presents a continued challenge for [his successor, Haidar al-]Abadi as he attempts to win back ground from the extremists and repair rifts with Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds. Meanwhile, an offensive to retake Tikrit has highlighted the premier’s lack of control over the array of Shiite volunteers and militias that are leading it.

“He still has a role and he’s not finished,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a parliamentarian with Maliki’s state of law bloc. “We haven’t seen the end of Maliki.”

A Western diplomat based in the region said there are deep concerns about what Maliki may be up to, with no doubt that he is trying to undermine Abadi. “He’s irredeemable,” he said.

Maliki appears to wield influence over more members of parliament than Abadi, with more support in the security institutions, he said. However, others doubt his reach, contending he has little chance of a comeback.

On a March trip to a recently cleared town near Tikrit to meet fighters who had driven out Islamic State militants, Maliki greeted the forces as if he were still in power. He said it’s natural that some security forces would feel a sense of loyalty to him.

Since leaving power, he has become a particular champion of the legions of largely Shiite volunteers and militias known as the “popular mobilizations” – many of whom answered a call from Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric to sign up to fight.

“I established it in my time,” he says of the volunteer force that mustered in the dying days of Maliki’s leadership and has led the battle in the city of Tikrit. “And they feel very close to me, or may be loyal to me. Therefore I keep working with them and supporting them and pushing them to fight.” [Continue reading…]

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Vladimir Putin is fighting for political survival — by provoking unrest in Ukraine

John Simpson writes: Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, looks like a shrewd little man, with fuzzy hair and sharp, Putin-like eyes behind rimless glasses. And he has quite a way with words. Speaking to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 21 March, he said: “I don’t think that Danes fully understand the consequences if Denmark joins the American-led missile defence shield . . . If they do, then Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles . . .

“It is, of course, your own decision. I just want to remind you that your finances and security will suffer.” I don’t suppose that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, most of us imagined that we would hear threats of this crudity being uttered in Europe again.

It is a little over a year since the west’s relationship with Russia seemed, if inevitably spiky, at least rational and manageable. Now here is a Russian diplomat publicly warning a small member of Nato and the EU of the possibility of nuclear war. How could things have got this bad in such a short space of time? How could the post-cold war consensus have vanished so utterly?

After Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Moscow Ukrainian government collapsed following the often violent protests of February 2014, Russia started to infiltrate Crimea with its forces as part of a plan that was worked out, we are now told, by Putin himself. They cut off Crimea from mainland Ukraine, annexed it and received the post-dated agreement of a large majority of its inhabitants. After that, the same combination of nasty civilian thugs (one whom I came up against in Crimea had “Rossiya” tattooed across his forehead) and serving soldiers in unmarked uniforms headed to eastern Ukraine. They are still fighting there.

The methodology goes back to the heart of the postwar Soviet era, with a few 21st-century touches. If Moscow’s grip on a country that mattered seemed about to loosen, excuses were found and fraternal forces were assembled to make sure that it didn’t happen – the hard way. Remember Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Afghanistan in 1979 and now Ukraine in 2014. Keeping hold of what they have has always mattered to Russia’s rulers. If they let one part go, the whole structure might start to fall down. Above all, it suggests weakness and there will always be those inside or outside the system who might take advantage of it and bring the rulers down. As we shall see, some Putin-watchers think that this pattern is being repeated. [Continue reading…]

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Palestinian discontent with Abbas is growing

The New York Times reports from the al-Amari refugee camp in the West Bank: Residents of this cinder-block ghetto, a few miles from the headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, recently removed his portrait from the camp’s entrance.

Then they sought to embarrass Mr. Abbas by roundly rejecting his son’s bid to lead a local sports club. And in case the message was not clear enough, after the vote, men paraded through the streets chanting, “Tell your father that Amari camp doesn’t like you!”

Much attention has focused recently on the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent disavowal of a two-state solution and his shattered relationship with the Obama administration.

But of perhaps equal importance is a growing discontent in Palestinian ranks, much of it focused on Mr. Abbas. While the United States and Europe seem ever more ready to pressure Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, some Palestinians are questioning whether their leader, who celebrated his 80th birthday last week, will be able to seize the opportunity. [Continue reading…]

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Netanyahu’s ‘no-Palestinian-state’ vow raises questions about security coordination

McClatchy reports: Khawla Zeitawi is pregnant with twins, and her husband is not at her side.

Instead, her husband, Jasser Abu Omar, is in an Israeli prison, accused of being part of a terrorist cell that crafted explosives in a Nablus apartment. Zeitawi asserts that her husband is innocent, jailed on bad information from Palestinian law enforcement as part of ongoing security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

“Security coordination is treason,” Zeitawi said in her home in Jamain, a village near Nablus in the West Bank. “The Palestinian Authority is giving Israel a service for free.”

Since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994, its security organizations have worked closely with Israel to share intelligence, arrest suspected militants and limit demonstrations in the West Bank. That cooperation was suspended during a Palestinian uprising known as the second Intifada, but has been a robust part of life in the West Bank since 2007 – and a lightning rod for complaints among the Palestinian public for almost as long.

Earlier this month, the Palestine Liberation Organization Central Council voted to suspend security coordination. That vote was to protest Israel’s withholding of tax revenues, an action Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered earlier this year to punish the Palestinians for applying for membership in the International Criminal Court.

On Friday, Netanyahu ordered the release of the tax revenues, which Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf at a rate of $127 million a month. But that’s unlikely to silence Palestinian doubts about the security agreement, especially after Netanyahu won reelection in part by vowing never to allow a Palestinian state to rise while he’s prime minister. [Continue reading…]

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Dilip Hiro: Afghanistan’s China card

In June 2014, as he was preparing to send 300 U.S. military advisers back to Iraq, President Obama hailed the American counterterror campaign in Yemen — Special Operations advisers (and CIA operatives) on the ground, drones in the air — as a “model” for what he hoped to do against the Islamic State. In September, as Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post wrote, President Obama “cited his Yemen strategy as a template for confronting jihadist threats in other places, including Iraq and Syria.” He was still making reference to its “success” this January when discussing what had become Iraq War 3.0.

Last week, however, with al-Qaeda militants taking a nearby town, Washington withdrew its final 100 Special Operations advisers in Yemen from a southern air base where U.S. drones had been stationed and halted all military operations in the country. By then, the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, the capital, had been shuttered for a month. Meanwhile $500 million in U.S. weaponry had reportedly gone missing in that country and might be in the hands of almost anyone, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the local branch of the terror franchise. That group had only grown stronger under years of American drone strikes.

Iranian-backed Houthi rebels now control the north of the country, including Sana’a, and recently seized its third largest city and headed south toward the port of Aden. Yemen seems at the edge of civil war and backers of the Islamic State may even have a foothold there. Strikes from U.S. drones based in Saudi Arabia, among other places, will undoubtedly continue, though assumedly with even less on-the-ground intelligence from Yemeni sources. In sum, as with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the intervention in Libya, hopes in Washington that once were so high have been dashed. This is, by now, a commonplace experience:  the early moments of any U.S. military campaign seem so successful — and then, with the passage of time, the verdict comes in: another failure for the twenty-first-century American way of war.

Today, TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro considers one of those failed efforts — in Afghanistan, where the planet’s former “sole superpower” now seems to be losing out not only to local Taliban militants, whose strength has been on the upswing, but to the power it may fear most: an economically rising China. In these years, from the Middle East to Africa, that country has had an uncanny ability to sweep up the imperial spoils, especially local energy resources, without sending a soldier into battle. Now, it seems, China may be in the process of doing just that in Afghanistan.

On this subject and the associated contest between Pakistan and India for influence in Afghanistan, Hiro, whom Jeremy Scahill has called “the quintessential non-aligned journalist… the master chronicler of some of history’s most epic battles,” knows a thing or two. His monumental new book, The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry Between India and Pakistan, is the first definitive history of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. With a desperate Obama administration struggling over just how many U.S. military personnel to leave in Afghanistan for how endlessly and fruitlessly long, it makes sense to put Washington’s perspective aside for a moment and try to get a bead on what’s really happening in South Asia and Afghanistan through a different lens. Tom Engelhardt

The Great Game in Afghanistan (twenty-first-century update)
And the U.S. is losing out
By Dilip Hiro

Call it an irony, if you will, but as the Obama administration struggles to slow down or halt its scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, newly elected Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is performing a withdrawal operation of his own. He seems to be in the process of trying to sideline the country’s major patron of the last 13 years — and as happened in Iraq after the American invasion and occupation there, Chinese resource companies are again picking up the pieces.

[Read more…]

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Inside the new social science of genetics

David Dobbs writes: A few years ago, Gene Robinson, of Urbana, Illinois, asked some associates in southern Mexico to help him kidnap some 1,000 newborns. For their victims they chose bees. Half were European honeybees, Apis mellifera ligustica, the sweet-tempered kind most beekeepers raise. The other half were ligustica’s genetically close cousins, Apis mellifera scutellata, the African strain better known as killer bees. Though the two subspecies are nearly indistinguishable, the latter defend territory far more aggressively. Kick a European honeybee hive and perhaps a hundred bees will attack you. Kick a killer bee hive and you may suffer a thousand stings or more. Two thousand will kill you.

Working carefully, Robinson’s conspirators — researchers at Mexico’s National Center for Research in Animal Physiology, in the high resort town of Ixtapan de la Sal — jiggled loose the lids from two African hives and two European hives, pulled free a few honeycomb racks, plucked off about 250 of the youngest bees from each hive, and painted marks on the bees’ tiny backs. Then they switched each set of newborns into the hive of the other subspecies.

Robinson, back in his office at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Entomology, did not fret about the bees’ safety. He knew that if you move bees to a new colony in their first day, the colony accepts them as its own. Nevertheless, Robinson did expect the bees would be changed by their adoptive homes: He expected the killer bees to take on the European bees’ moderate ways and the European bees to assume the killer bees’ more violent temperament. Robinson had discovered this in prior experiments. But he hadn’t yet figured out how it happened.

He suspected the answer lay in the bees’ genes. He didn’t expect the bees’ actual DNA to change: Random mutations aside, genes generally don’t change during an organism’s lifetime. Rather, he suspected the bees’ genes would behave differently in their new homes — wildly differently.

This notion was both reasonable and radical. Scientists have known for decades that genes can vary their level of activity, as if controlled by dimmer switches. Most cells in your body contain every one of your 22,000 or so genes. But in any given cell at any given time, only a tiny percentage of those genes is active, sending out chemical messages that affect the activity of the cell. This variable gene activity, called gene expression, is how your body does most of its work. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Matching Mole — ‘O Caroline’

(From Matching Mole, 1972)

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How the Anthropocene narrative is obscuring the role of capitalism in climate change

Andreas Malm writes: Last year was the hottest year ever recorded. And yet, the latest figures show that in 2013 the source that provided the most new energy to the world economy wasn’t solar, wind power, or even natural gas or oil, but coal.

The growth in global emissions — from 1 percent a year in the 1990s to 3 percent so far this millennium — is striking. It’s an increase that’s paralleled our growing knowledge of the terrible consequences of fossil fuel usage.

Who’s driving us toward disaster? A radical answer would be the reliance of capitalists on the extraction and use of fossil energy. Some, however, would rather identify other culprits.

The earth has now, we are told, entered “the Anthropocene”: the epoch of humanity. Enormously popular — and accepted even by many Marxist scholars — the Anthropocene concept suggests that humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.

According to these scholars, such degradation is the result of humans acting out their innate predispositions, the inescapable fate for a planet subjected to humanity’s “business-as-usual.” Indeed, the proponents cannot argue otherwise, for if the dynamics were of a more contingent character, the narrative of an entire species ascending to biospheric supremacy would be difficult to defend. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led Yemen intervention threatens protracted, sectarian war

Adam Baron writes: Yemen has lately become a hot topic of rampant strategic pontification, pundits rushing to make bold sweeping statements that seek to explain the turbulence in this conflict-wracked nation as simply another front in a region-wide strategic context. But reality — as most who follow Yemen would attest — is far more complicated.

Last September, the Houthis — a Zaidi Shia rebel group — took effective control of Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, riding on a wave of popular discontent over the transitional government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. That government had been installed under a U.N.-backed deal mediated by the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to end the Arab Spring-inspired uprising against the country’s longtime leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The Houthis quickly inked a deal with Hadi and other political factions, but tensions soon emerged. By the start of March, the government had resigned, while Hadi — after escaping house arrest by the Houthis in Sanaa — fled to Aden and declared it Yemen’s temporary capital. U.N.-mediated talks continued in search of a political settlement, while the Houthis moved to consolidate power. The power vacuum resulting from the steady collapse of Yemen’s political order had already proven a boon to extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and deepened an economic and humanitarian crisis that had already left half of the country’s population food-insecure.

Any hope of an early resolution to the crisis among Yemen’s rival factions has been quashed by the Saudi-led anti-Houthi military offensive — euphemistically named “Resolute Storm.” Five nights into the air barrage, a return to calm seems as far away as ever, while the outcome of the Saudi-led intervention remains uncertain.

That’s because while the Arab League countries waging the air campaign portray the Houthi rebellion as a product of Iranian meddling, Yemen’s conflict remains in essence a local struggle for political power. It was spurred by the deterioration of central government control in the run-up to Saleh’s exit and then exacerbated by his successor’s inability to consolidate power — all of which created a perfect opening for the Houthis, whose complaints about corruption and widespread pernicious foreign influence seemed to resonate with more Yemenis than ever. The Houthi campaign, until the middle of last year, was largely a turf war against tribal opponents in the highlands of northern Yemen — a conflict in which Hadi and the central government alternately played mediator and disinterested observer. More recently, however, as the Houthis grew stronger, they began directly challenging Hadi and his backers — with the support of their ally of convenience, former President Saleh. Houthis forged the partnership with Saleh more than a year ago, fueled by their mutual distaste for the Islah party, a Yemeni faction that includes the bulk of the country’s Muslim Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]

Reuters: Iran-allied Houthi militiamen pushed into the northeastern outskirts of the Yemeni port city of Aden on Monday amid heavy clashes with loyalists of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi apparently backed by Saudi-led air strikes.

Witnesses heard loud explosions and saw a thick column of black smoke and a jet flying overhead. Hadi’s supporters earlier said artillery and rocket fire hit the approaches to the city after the Houthis made a fresh advance from the east along an Arabian Sea coast road.

As the two sides fought over Hadi’s last bastion, humanitarian workers said an air strike in the northern Yemen district of Haradh killed 21 people at a refugee camp near to a military installation.


Reuters
:
Warships shelled a column of Houthi fighters and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as they tried to advance on the southern port city of Aden on Monday, residents said, the first known report of naval forces taking part in the conflict.

They said the vessels were believed to be Egyptian warships that sailed last week through the Suez Canal toward the Gulf of Aden. Egypt is a member of the Saudi-led coalition that has been targeting Houthi positions to stem their advance on Aden, a last foothold of fighters loyal to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

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