The allure of the Caliphate

Benjamin Dueholm writes: What accounts for the persistent appeal of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (or ISIS) to recruits from Chicago, Bradford or Melbourne? This year, the question became urgent to commentators and policymakers in Europe and the United States. The group’s battlefield successes, its territorial ambitions and viral spectacles of cruelty were made only more ominous by the small but steady stream of recruits it attracted from wealthy democracies.

Some of the proposed explanations have been familiar: the marginalisation and alienation of Muslim minorities in the West; a religious zeal that transcends the smallness of secular life; even the group’s thrillingly extreme apocalyptic vision. It’s not hard to see ISIS as another gruesome camp-follower to modern democratic capitalism, one in a series of terrorist movements and guerrilla insurgencies that feed upon the discontents of the age and the psychoses of their members.

But the story of the arrival and lingering global charisma of ISIS features something that sets it apart: the idea of the Caliphate. [Continue reading…]

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Europe’s attack on Greek democracy

Joseph E. Stiglitz writes: The rising crescendo of bickering and acrimony within Europe might seem to outsiders to be the inevitable result of the bitter endgame playing out between Greece and its creditors. In fact, European leaders are finally beginning to reveal the true nature of the ongoing debt dispute, and the answer is not pleasant: it is about power and democracy much more than money and economics.

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25% decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60%.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5% of GDP by 2018.

Economists around the world have condemned that target as punitive, because aiming for it will inevitably result in a deeper downturn. Indeed, even if Greece’s debt is restructured beyond anything imaginable, the country will remain in depression if voters there commit to the troika’s target in the snap referendum to be held this weekend. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough

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Five reasons why a deal with Iran would be good for the U.S.

Trita Parsi writes: The criticism of the pending nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is intensifying.

Opponents of the deal will spend millions of dollars on ads pushing the U.S. public and Congress to kill the deal in the next few days. But while a fortune already has been spent on nit-picking the ongoing talks, virtually nothing has been invested in developing an alternative, viable solution to limit Iran’s nuclear activities.

The reality is that the opponents of the deal don’t have a solution, they only have criticism. And for many, the real value of the nuclear deal has been lost amid the barrage of condemnation surrounding the talks.

It’s worthwhile to remind ourselves why this deal is so important — and why it would be a strategic mistake of Iraq War proportions to let this opportunity slip out of our hands. [Continue reading…]

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These lone wolf terrorists are not holy warriors

Nabila Ramdani writes: With a grotesque matter-of-factness, suspected “Islamic terrorist” Yassine Salhi blamed “problems at home and at work” for beheading his boss last Friday. Salhi used a knife in the attack at Saint-Quentin-Fallavier in eastern France, before driving his delivery van into chemical canisters in an unsuccessful bid to blow up a factory.

Seifeddine Rezgui, who gunned down at least 38 people on a tourist beach in Tunisia on the same day, managed to get hold of an automatic weapon, but his profile was similar to Salhi’s. Neither man had a criminal record, and each was described by friends and neighbours as “normal”. There is no evidence of either travelling abroad to train for combat, and both had provoked little interest from the security services. They were thought to be “self-radicalised”, rather than members of a wider cell.

Unlike Rezgui, Salhi survived and is said to be offering “personal reasons” as mitigation for his sadistic criminality. He has played down his links with global jihad, according to sources close to the case, instead suggesting that he simply did not like his victim. Yet, crucially, he has told interrogators that he was interested in provoking a “media coup”: making a name for himself in front of an audience of millions. [Continue reading…]

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France prepares sanctions against Israeli settlement policy

Uri Savir writes: Inside the European Union there is an ongoing debate regarding the desirability and scope of sanctions and punitive resources in relation to the Israeli government’s settlement policies. According to a senior source in the French Foreign Ministry who spoke with Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, France is considering sharp economic measures against Israeli goods and businesses east of the Green Line. Settlements, the French official argued, are illegal according to international law and the EU should not apply its agreements with Israel to them. Sharp economic measures would translate into labeling of goods exported from the settlements as such (and not as ”made in Israel”), and excluding Israeli academic, research and development and cultural institutions that are active in the West Bank from any European funds or grants. Brussels, according to this source, has toughened its stance on implementing these policies following Israel’s March 17 elections.

The French, the official added, are considering taking even more severe measures if a peace process on the two-state solution is not launched by the end of 2015. France intends to coordinate these policies with other EU countries.

In the meantime, the French themselves intend to rigidly ensure that all exported Israeli goods emanating from Israeli settlements are indeed labeled accordingly, and that any EU funding to Israeli entities will be dependent on the submission of a declaration stating that the entity in question has no direct or indirect links to the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Concretely, the first to be hurt by these measures would probably be Israeli banks with branches east of the Green Line. [Continue reading…]

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Putin allies aided Russian mafia in Spain, prosecutors say

Bloomberg reports: Some of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies, including the chairman of OAO Gazprom, a deputy premier and two former ministers, helped one of Russia’s largest criminal groups operate out of Spain for more than a decade, prosecutors in Madrid say.

Members of St. Petersburg’s Tambov crime syndicate moved into Spain in 1996, when Putin was deputy mayor of the former czarist capital, to launder proceeds from their illicit activities, Juan Carrau and Jose Grinda wrote in a petition to the Central Court on May 29, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News.

The 488-page complaint, the product of a decade of investigations into the spread of Russian organized crime during the Putin era, portrays links between the criminal enterprise and top law-enforcement officials and policy makers in Moscow. The petition, based on thousands of wiretaps, bank transfers and property transactions, is a formal request to charge 27 people with money laundering, fraud and other crimes. Approval by a judge would clear the way for a trial, but Spain doesn’t try people in absentia. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. to resume military aid to Bahrain despite human rights criticism

IB Times reports: The United States said on Monday that it would lift its ban on providing security and military aid to Bahrain, which was imposed after the Gulf state cracked down on Shia-led protests in 2011. U.S. officials said the decision was taken because Bahrain had made meaningful reforms since then.

However, Washington did not specify the weapons or military equipment that would be sent to the country.

Dozens of people died when the government clamped down on protesters in 2011, who were demanding that the ruling Sunni family end its discrimination against the country’s majority Shia population. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi officials linked to jihadist group in WikiLeaks cables

The Wall Street Journal reports: Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, had high-level contacts with America’s most deadly adversary in Afghanistan, the Haqqani network, according to purported Saudi diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

The documents, which couldn’t be independently verified, say the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan met in 2012 with Nasiruddin Haqqani, the chief fundraiser for the jihadist group who has been on a United Nations terrorism watch list since 2010.

In the meeting, Mr. Haqqani requested medical treatment in Saudi Arabia for his father, Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the terrorist organization, the diplomatic correspondence says. The documents indicate the elder Haqqani carries a Saudi passport. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS is selling looted art online for needed cash

Bloomberg reports: The Whatsapp message appeared on his iPhone: photos of an ancient Mesopotamian vase worth $250,000, part of a highly-valued set that is waiting to be extracted.

The recipient, Amr Al Azm, replied that he was interested. How to proceed? A message from a different account followed. The vase could be smuggled through Lebanon.

Al Azm, an anthropology professor in Ohio, was faking it, as he does when photos of looted antiquities are sent to him in the belief that he is a collector or dealer. He is a detective – – self-appointed — hoping to save some of mankind’s rarest and most vulnerable artifacts by tracking the burgeoning antiquities trade of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Bombino — ‘Yamidinine’

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Greek destiny, the future of the EU and of democracy is on the line

Costas Douzinas writes: A man visits the Australian consulate in Athens and asks for a work visa. ‘Why do you want to leave Greece?’ asks the official. ‘I am worried that Greece will leave the euro’ answers the man. ‘Don’t worry’ responds the consul ‘I was talking to my German colleague yesterday who assured me that Greece will stay in the euro.’ ‘This is the second reason why I want to emigrate.’

The story expresses the impossible dilemma facing the Greeks. On one side, a continuation of the catastrophic austerity that has destroyed the country. On the other Grexit, a prospect that will further hit, for an unpredictably long period, the living standards of a people who have seen their income halved. Premier Alexis Tsipras’ announcement, early on Sunday, that the people will be asked to vote on the final proposals of the Europeans and the IMF is an attempt to divert this typical aporia (lack of passage) towards a more manageable question: Do the people back the government’s rejection of the worst effects of austerity while accepting its commitment to keep the country in the Eurozone? The stakes are high: besides the Greek destiny, the future of the European Union and of democracy is on the line.

The immediate context of the referendum is the behaviour of the European partners in the last few months. The Syriza government was elected with a clear mandate to put an end to austerity policies. These policies were carried out on two fronts, fiscal austerity and internal devaluation. Fiscal austerity was pursued through the reduction of public spending, the privatisation of key state assets and the increase of tax revenues. Large numbers of civil servants were dismissed, the social services were slashed with the health service in particular unable to meet basic needs. The humanitarian crisis that followed is well documented and there is no point in detailing it again. The creditors’ logic aimed to generate primary budget surpluses, which would not be used to restart the stalled economy but to repay the escalating debt. The previous governments had accepted the obligation to create annual surpluses of up to 5% of GDP in the next seven years, something that no government since Ceaușescu’s Romania has either attempted or achieved.

The internal devaluation was carried out through the repeated reduction of private sector wages and the abolition of the bulk of labour law protections, such a collective bargaining. At the same time, the repeated increase of taxes, including the regressive tax on real estate, meant that the bleeding of the economy reached unprecedented levels. The pauperisation of the working people, the IMF argument goes, would improve competitiveness and help economic growth. But the result was abject economic failure. The economy shrank by 26%, unemployment jumped to 27%, youth unemployment went up to 60% and more than 3 million people on or below the poverty line. The IMF admitted a couple of years ago that it had under-calculated the adverse effect of austerity on the economy – the so-called fiscal multiplier – by a factor of three.

It is against this background that the Greeks elected in January 2015 the Syriza government committed to reverse these policies. A period of negotiations followed. But these were not proper negotiations. The huge gap between the two parties in power resources and ideology made the talks brutally asymmetrical. I have called these ‘negotiations’ a European coup, an attempt at ‘regime change’ using banks and not tanks. The economic stakes for the lenders are relatively small – the Greek economy is only 2% of European GDP – and does not justify the risk of a breakdown in relations. The precautionary principle of risk theory, inscribed in the European DNA, demands that the unpredictable effects of Grexit on the European and world economy should be avoided. If the collapse of Lehman Brothers created such a huge crisis, even the consideration of Grexit is more dangerous. [Continue reading…]

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The euro is an experiment in making a currency without a government. That’s why it’s in trouble

Kathleen R. McNamara writes: The European Union appears to be on the brink of an unprecedented rupture. After months of meetings between the 19 E.U. states that use the euro, Greece broke off talks ahead of a June 30 deadline for continued financing of their vast debts and is likely to default and leave the euro.

Negotiations have dragged on for months. Facing harsh demands from Greece’s E.U. and IMF creditors for deep cuts in public spending and increased taxes, Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras abruptly announced on Friday that instead of continuing the talks, he would put the “humiliating” and “unbearable” bailout terms to a nationwide referendum on July 5. Critical stopgap financing from the European Central Bank (ECB) is also in jeopardy, and even if the referendum were to pass, it would be moot given the June 30 expiration of the credit line. Greeks prepared for the banks to be closed this coming week and capital controls instituted.

After 16 years of expanding membership, the euro zone now faces the real possibility that one of its core members, Greece, may spiral out of the currency and into economic chaos. [Continue reading…]

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Bill Gates to invest $2bn in breakthrough renewable energy projects

The Guardian reports: Bill Gates has announced he will invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in renewable technologies initiatives, but rejected calls to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are burning carbon at a rate that ignores international agreements to limit global warming.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Gates said that he would double his current investments in renewables over the next five years in a bid to “bend the curve” on tackling climate change.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, lead by Gates and his wife, is the world’s largest charitable foundation. According to the charity’s most recent tax filings in 2013, it currently has $1.4bn invested in fossil fuel companies, including BP, responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In March, the Guardian launched a campaign calling on the Gates’ Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. More than 223,000 people have since signed up to the campaign.

Gates dismissed the calls of the fossil fuel divestment movement – which has already persuaded more than 220 institutions worldwide to divest – on the basis that it would have little impact.

Instead he said there was an urgent need for “high risk” investments in breakthrough technologies. He said that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe and that current renewables are not yet close to being able to meet projected energy needs by 2030.

Gates told the Financial Times that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “a beyond astronomical cost” and that innovation is the only way to reach a positive scenario. [Continue reading…]

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Supreme Court: If it’s worth it for corporations, pollution may be okay

Jay Michaelson writes: While LGBTs and healthcare reformers are still nursing their celebratory hangovers, the final Supreme Court case of the 2014-15 term just junked twenty years of environmental regulations.

The case, Michigan v. EPA, specifically dealt with the EPA’s regulation of mercury emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act—a long, twenty-year process that has been opposed by industry at every turn, even as mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants has ++irreparably poisoned the Great Lakes .

Today, the clock has been set back. In its third 5-4 decision of the day, with Justice Kennedy again providing the swing vote, industry has prevailed. Writing for the court, Justice Scalia held that the EPA had to factor in costs in deciding whether to regulate, not just how to regulate. [Continue reading…]

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Report indicates natural gas is no cleaner than coal

The Guardian reports: Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

The claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly hinges on how much methane leaks into the atmosphere during the production process. But the EDF report adds weight to those who say methane leaks at natural gas sites can make the process nearly or as carbon-intensive as coal.

The EDF found that 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the air on federal and tribal lands in 2013 – amounting to about $360m of lost gas. That, the EDF says, is not only an economic loss, but an environmental problem. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of time and 30 times more potent over the long term. [Continue reading…]

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PTSD calls for collective healing

Sebastian Junger writes: In two American studies of middle-class families during the 1980s, 85 percent of young children slept alone — a figure that rose to 95 percent among families considered “well-educated.” Northern European societies, including America, are the only ones in history to make very young children sleep alone in such numbers. The isolation is thought to trigger fears that make many children bond intensely with stuffed animals for reassurance. Only in Northern European societies do children go through the well-known developmental stage of bonding with stuffed animals; elsewhere, children get their sense of safety from the adults sleeping near them.

More broadly, in most human societies, almost nobody sleeps alone. Sleeping in family groups of one sort or another has been the norm throughout human history and is still commonplace in most of the world. Again, Northern European societies are among the few where people sleep alone or with a partner in a private room. When I was with American soldiers at a remote outpost in Afghanistan, we slept in narrow plywood huts where I could reach out and touch three other men from where I slept. They snored, they talked, they got up in the middle of the night to use the piss tubes, but we felt safe because we were in a group. The Taliban attacked the position regularly, and the most determined attacks often came at dawn. Another unit in a nearby valley was almost overrun and took 50 percent casualties in just such an attack. And yet I slept better surrounded by those noisy, snoring men than I ever did camping alone in the woods of New England.

Many soldiers will tell you that one of the hardest things about coming home is learning to sleep without the security of a group of heavily armed men around them. In that sense, being in a war zone with your platoon feels safer than being in an American suburb by yourself. I know a vet who felt so threatened at home that he would get up in the middle of the night to build fighting positions out of the living-room furniture. This is a radically different experience from what warriors in other societies go through, such as the Yanomami, of the Orinoco and Amazon Basins, who go to war with their entire age cohort and return to face, together, whatever the psychological consequences may be. As one anthropologist pointed out to me, trauma is usually a group experience, so trauma recovery should be a group experience as well. But in our society it’s not.

“Our whole approach to mental health has been hijacked by pharmaceutical logic,” I was told by Gary Barker, an anthropologist whose group, Promundo, is dedicated to understanding and preventing violence. “PTSD is a crisis of connection and disruption, not an illness that you carry within you.”

This individualizing of mental health is not just an American problem, or a veteran problem; it affects everybody. A British anthropologist named Bill West told me that the extreme poverty of the 1930s and the collective trauma of the Blitz served to unify an entire generation of English people. “I link the experience of the Blitz to voting in the Labour Party in 1945, and the establishing of the National Health Service and a strong welfare state,” he said. “Those policies were supported well into the 60s by all political parties. That kind of cultural cohesiveness, along with Christianity, was very helpful after the war. It’s an open question whether people’s problems are located in the individual. If enough people in society are sick, you have to wonder whether it isn’t actually society that’s sick.”

Ideally, we would compare hunter-gatherer society to post-industrial society to see which one copes better with PTSD. When the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho fighters returned to their camps after annihilating Custer and his regiment at Little Bighorn, for example, were they traumatized and alienated by the experience — or did they fit right back into society? There is no way to know for sure, but less direct comparisons can still illuminate how cohesiveness affects trauma. In experiments with lab rats, for example, a subject that is traumatized — but not injured — after an attack by a larger rat usually recovers within 48 hours unless it is kept in isolation, according to data published in 2005 in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. The ones that are kept apart from other rats are the only ones that develop long-term traumatic symptoms. And a study of risk factors for PTSD in humans closely mirrored those results. In a 2000 study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, “lack of social support” was found to be around two times more reliable at predicting who got PTSD and who didn’t than the severity of the trauma itself. You could be mildly traumatized, in other words—on a par with, say, an ordinary rear-base deployment to Afghanistan — and experience long-term PTSD simply because of a lack of social support back home.

Anthropologist and psychiatrist Brandon Kohrt found a similar phenomenon in the villages of southern Nepal, where a civil war has been rumbling for years. Kohrt explained to me that there are two kinds of villages there: exclusively Hindu ones, which are extremely stratified, and mixed Buddhist/Hindu ones, which are far more open and cohesive. He said that child soldiers, both male and female, who go back to Hindu villages can remain traumatized for years, while those from mixed-religion villages tended to recover very quickly. “PTSD is a disorder of recovery, and if treatment only focuses on identifying symptoms, it pathologizes and alienates vets,” according to Kohrt. “But if the focus is on family and community, it puts them in a situation of collective healing.” [Continue reading…]

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UK prepares to blacklist non-violent extremists

The Guardian reports: David Cameron is to press ahead with Theresa May’s controversial counter-extremism strategy which includes blacklisting “extremists” from appearing on the airwaves and speaking at universities.

The home secretary’s plan will form part of the “full-spectrum response” Cameron promised after the terror attacks in Tunisia on Friday. “The whole strategy is currently being finalised,” a Whitehall source told the Guardian.

The prime minister told the BBC’s Today programme on Monday it was time to recognise that non-violent extremists could provide a “gateway” to terrorism and said it was time public bodies and civil society refused to engage with “anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative”. There had to be some basic rules over who was and was not beyond the pale.

“We have to deal with this appalling radical narrative that’s taking over the minds of young people in our country,” he said, drawing comparisons to the “battle against communism during the cold war”. The prime minister hinted that the first non-violent group to be banned could be Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was first targeted by Tony Blair in 2005.

The agreed definition of extremism, which the Home Office will use to decide who to blacklist, is this:

The vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.

Fears of a Tunisia-style attack in Britain were raised after a report by the National Crime Agency last week which reported evidence of an “increased threat” of Czech-made Skorpion submachine guns being imported by street gangs in London and the south-east. But police sources said there was no evidence such weapons had reached extremist groups.

Cameron’s intervention in the wake of the Tunisia attack shows that the prime minister is now prepared to press ahead with the counter-extremism strategy despite the fact that it led to objections from no fewer than seven Conservative cabinet ministers and their departments when May first proposed it in March. [Continue reading…]

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