Divide and rule

The New York Times reports: Over the course of just 17 hours this weekend, President Trump assailed John McCain, Chuck Schumer, Stephen Curry, the National Football League, Roger Goodell, Iran and Kim Jong-un — the “Little Rocket Man.” And that was on his day off.

While football players knelt, locked arms or stayed in their locker rooms during the national anthem in protest on Sunday, any notion that Mr. Trump may soften his edge, even under the discipline of a new chief of staff, seemed fanciful. While he has restrained himself for brief stretches, his penchant for punching eventually reasserts itself.

Never in modern times has an occupant of the Oval Office seemed to reject so thoroughly the nostrum that a president’s duty is to bring the country together. Relentlessly pugnacious, energized by a fight, unwilling to let any slight go unanswered, Mr. Trump has made himself America’s apostle of anger, its deacon of divisiveness. [Continue reading…]

Among journalists and elsewhere, there seems to be a pervasive naivety around the issue of Trump’s divisiveness — as though this represents the unfortunate consequence of a temperamental defect, an inability to moderate his language, or simply the nature of Trump being Trump.

Instead, Trump’s divisiveness should be named for what it is — not simply an expression of his vileness as a human being but the very core of his classical and dictatorial method of rule.

Division is the root of Trump’s power.

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Is Trump’s bluster elevating the risk of war?

The New York Times reports: When President Trump gave a fiery campaign speech in Huntsville, Ala., on Friday evening, he drew a rapturous roar by ridiculing Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, as “Little Rocket Man.”

Among diplomats and national security specialists, the reaction was decidedly different. After Mr. Trump repeated his taunt in a tweet late Saturday and threatened that Mr. Kim and his foreign minister “won’t be around much longer” if they continue their invective against the United States, reactions ranged from nervous disbelief to sheer terror.

Mr. Trump’s willingness to casually threaten to annihilate a nuclear-armed foe was yet another reminder of the steep risks inherent in his brute-force approach to diplomacy. His strengths as a politician — the ability to appeal in a visceral way to the impulses of ordinary citizens — are a difficult fit for the meticulous calculations that his own advisers concede are crucial in dealing with Pyongyang.

The disconnect has led to a deep uncertainty about whether Mr. Trump is all talk or actually intends to act. The ambiguity could be strategic, part of an effort to intimidate Mr. Kim and keep him guessing. Or it could reflect a rash impulse by a leader with little foreign policy experience to vent his anger and stoke his supporters’ enthusiasm.

His new chief of staff and his national security team have drawn a line at trying to rein in his more incendiary provocations, fearing that their efforts could backfire with a president who bridles at any effort to control him. What remains unclear — and the source of much of the anxiety in and out of the government and on both sides of the Pacific — is whether they would step in to prevent the president from taking the kind of drastic action that matches his words, if they believed it was imminent.

Veterans of diplomacy and national security and specialists on North Korea fear that, whatever their intended result, Mr. Trump’s increasingly bellicose threats and public insults of the famously thin-skinned Mr. Kim could cause the United States to careen into a nuclear confrontation driven by personal animosity and bravado.

“It does matter, because you don’t want to get to a situation where North Korea fundamentally miscalculates that an attack is coming,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former intelligence and National Security Council specialist who is now a senior adviser for Korea at Bower Group Asia. “It could lead us to stumble into a war that nobody wants.”

And while his bombast may be a thrill to Mr. Trump’s core supporters, there is evidence that the broader American public does not trust the president to deal with North Korea, and is deeply opposed to the kind of pre-emptive military strike he has seemed eager to threaten. [Continue reading…]

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Trump provokes widescale protest among players — in the NFL, and beyond

 

Megan Garber writes: Terrell Suggs took a knee.

Leonard Fournette took a knee.

At a game played in London on Sunday afternoon, many of their fellow Ravens and Jaguars took a knee.

Before the Lions met the Falcons in Detroit on Sunday, Rico LaVelle sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And then he took a knee.

They were replicating the gesture of Colin Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback who, starting in 2016, had been kneeling during the pre-game singing of the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick explained. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Kaepernick’s 49ers teammates, Eric Reid and Eli Harold, took a knee. The Beaumont Bulls, a high school team, took a knee. Their collective protests, however, had been limited—deviations from the norm.

This weekend, however, the kneeling became a movement: Kaepernick, after President Trump mocked the notion of athletes talking politics during a rally on Friday, was joined in his quiet protest by an unprecedented number of his fellow football players. And also, in spirit, by many of his fellow athletes. And by several NFL franchise owners. And by the NFL itself. On Sunday evening, during its primetime games, CNN reported, the league will re-air a one-minute ad, produced for the Super Bowl earlier this year, created to “demonstrate the power of football to bring people together.”

It all happened slowly, until it all happened quickly. “Last week across the entire NFL,” the Associated Press reported, “only four players knelt or sat, and two stood with their fists raised. In the nine early games Sunday, AP reporters counted 102 players kneeling or sitting, and at least three raising their fists.” (Later in the day, the AP modified its estimate to “more than 130.”) [Continue reading…]

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What the stunning success of AfD means for Germany and Europe

Cas Mudde writes: In 1991 Belgium had its (first) black Sunday, when the populist radical right Flemish Block gained 6.8% of the national vote. Since then many other western European countries have gone through a similar experience, from Denmark to Switzerland. And now, even the ever stable Germany has its own schwarzer Sonntag, and it’s blacker than most people had expected.

The populist radical-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party not only enters the Bundestag, the German parliament, but does so almost certainly as the third biggest party, with a stunning 13.3%, an increase of 8.8 percentage points according to the exit poll. Moreover, both the centre-right CDU/CSU and the centre-left SPD scored their worst electoral results in the postwar era, with 32.5% and 20% respectively. This means that AfD got two-thirds of the SPD vote, and 40% of the CDU/CSU vote.

Polls from German state TV, showed that AfD has its Hochburgen (strongholds) in the former communist east of the country. While it scored on average 11% in west Germany, it got 21.5% in east Germany, more than twice as much. This is in line with its results in the regional state elections, in which AfD also gained its largest support in the east.

AfD got more votes from past non-voters (1.2 million) than from the CDU/CSU (1 million) or SPD (500,000). In many ways this is an anti-Merkel vote, reflecting opposition to her controversial Willkommenspolitik towards refugees, which not only pushed some voters of mainstream parties to switch but also mobilised previous non-voters. The same poll also shows, for example, that 89% of AfD voters thought that Merkel’s immigration policies ignored the “concerns of the people” (ie German citizens); 85% want stronger national borders; and 82% think that 12 years of Merkel is enough. In other words, AfD has clearly profited from the fact that immigration was the number one issue in these elections. [Continue reading…]

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A physicist who models ISIS and the alt-right

Natalie Wolchover writes: Neil Johnson used to study electrons as a buttoned-up professor of physics at the University of Oxford. Then, a decade ago, he decamped to the University of Miami — a young institution that he sees as unconstrained by rigid traditions or barriers between disciplines — and branched out. In recent years, the 55-year-old physicist has published research on financial markets, crowds, superconductivity, earthquake forecasting, light-matter interactions, bacterial photosynthesis, quantum information and computation, neuron firing patterns, heart attacks, tumor growth, contagion and urban disasters, not to mention his extensive body of work on terrorism and other forms of insurgent conflict.

Johnson models the extreme events and behaviors that can arise in complex systems. The author of two books on complexity, he has found that the same principles often apply, regardless of whether a system consists of interacting electrons, humans or anything else. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he began modeling extremism in human society. He had also spent time in Colombia during the war against the FARC guerrilla army, and grew up near London during the era of IRA bombings. “I started wondering what the patterns of attacks in the respective places might be telling us about how humans do terrorism,” he said. “Terrorism suddenly became, for me, an urgent problem that I might be able to help society understand, and perhaps even one day predict.”

The rise of ISIS has served as both an impetus and test case for Johnson’s models. Even more recently, he has begun using his models to study the growth of white nationalist groups in the United States.

Quanta Magazine caught up with Johnson to discuss his findings by phone in June, before he left to spend the summer working with collaborators in Bogota, Colombia. A condensed and edited version of that conversation, and a subsequent email exchange after the events in Charlottesville, follows. [Continue reading…]

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The racial demagoguery of Trump’s assaults on Colin Kaepernick and Steph Curry

David Remnick writes: Every day, and in countless and unexpected ways, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, finds new ways to divide and demoralize his country and undermine the national interest. On Tuesday, he ranted from the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly about “Rocket Man” and the possibility of levelling North Korea. Now he has followed with an equally unhinged domestic performance at a rally, on Friday evening, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he set out to make African-American athletes the focus of national contempt.

In the midst of an eighty-minute speech intended to heighten the reëlection prospects of Senator Luther Johnson Strange III, Trump turned his attention to N.F.L. players, including the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and asked a mainly white crowd if “people like yourselves” agreed with his anger at “those people,” players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Trump continued. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

“People like yourselves.” “Those people.” “Son of a bitch.” This was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of “dog whistling.” This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon’s behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.

In these performances, Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself. [Continue reading…]

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Facebook’s ad scandal isn’t a ‘fail,’ it’s a feature

Zeynep Tufekci writes: What does it take to advertise on Facebook to people who openly call themselves “Jew haters” and want to know “how to burn Jews”? About $10 and 15 minutes, according to what the investigative nonprofit ProPublica recently uncovered.

After much outcry over this revelation, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, called the anti-Semitic ad targeting “a fail on our part,” promised to put more human reviewers in place, and said the company “never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us.”

Some of Facebook’s users may find it even harder to accept what happened. How could the site that we use to keep in touch with friends and family, share baby pictures, and keep up with politics and volunteer work be made so easily to cater to the interests of Nazis?

But anyone who understands how Facebook works shouldn’t have been surprised. That’s because the same digital platform that offers us social interaction, news, entertainment and shopping all in one place makes its money by making it cheap and easy to send us commercial or political messages, often guided by algorithms. The recent scandal is just a reminder. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump kills the Iran deal, he may give the world another Rocket Man

Jeffrey Lewis writes: President Trump made quite the scene at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. He didn’t bang his shoe, as Nikita Khrushchev did in 1960, or wear a pistol like Yasser Arafat in 1974. But in his own way, Trump unsettled the audience in the room and those watching on television with an extraordinary, bellicose speech.

The early headlines focused on his mocking of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” and his warning that the United States would “totally destroy North Korea” if provoked. But perhaps more worrisome was Trump’s veiled threat to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which he referred to as “an embarrassment” and “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded with a threat of his own: “If, under any conditions, the United States chooses to break this agreement . . . it means that our hand is completely open to take any action that we see as beneficial to our country.”

It’s all very reminiscent of when the United States sought to walk away from a nuclear agreement with North Korea in 2002, squandering the best opportunity to forestall North Korea’s nuclear program. And if Trump refuses to certify Iran as being in compliance with the deal by the next deadline, Oct. 15, the result may be the same: Another country with long-range nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States.

The deal made with Iran in 2015 is remarkably similar to the agreement negotiated with North Korea in 1994 — in its gen­esis, its concept and the political resistance it has met.

The stories begin with nuclear ambitions. In both cases, those ambitions were revealed through strong U.S. intelligence capabilities in tandem with International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. In both cases, the sensitivity of IAEA techniques, such as environmental sampling, caught the governments by surprise, revealing far more about their nuclear programs than Pyongyang and Tehran ever anticipated. [Continue reading…]

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The nuclear weapons available for Donald Trump’s use

The Union of Concerned Scientists breaks down the numbers in the US nuclear arsenal which currently includes over 4,600 weapons.

A single nuclear-armed submarine carries the TNT equivalent of roughly seven World War II’s. About 10 such subs are at sea at any given time.

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Facebook’s Frankenstein moment

Kevin Roose writes: On Wednesday, in response to a ProPublica report that Facebook enabled advertisers to target users with offensive terms like “Jew hater,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, apologized and vowed that the company would adjust its ad-buying tools to prevent similar problems in the future.

As I read her statement, my eyes lingered over one line in particular:

“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us,” Ms. Sandberg wrote.

It was a candid admission that reminded me of a moment in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” after the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue.

“I had been the author of unalterable evils,” he says, “and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control.

Facebook is fighting through a tangled morass of privacy, free-speech and moderation issues with governments all over the world. Congress is investigating reports that Russian operatives used targeted Facebook ads to influence the 2016 presidential election. In Myanmar, activists are accusing Facebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos. [Continue reading…]

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What does it mean that Mueller got a warrant to obtain Facebook data?

Ali Cooper-Ponte writes: The Wall Street Journal and CNN recently reported that Facebook provided data about Russian advertising purchases made in the run-up to the 2016 election to Special Counsel Robert Mueller pursuant to a search warrant. According to the WSJ and CNN reports, Facebook produced copies of the ads, detailed information about the accounts that purchased the ads, and information about how the ads were targeted at Facebook users in the United States. Mueller’s choice to send Facebook a warrant and not a subpoena or a (d) order under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) (though he certainly may have sent Facebook and other providers additional legal process, including subpoenas and (d) orders) provides insight into the kind of information he may have been seeking and the kind of information he may have obtained.

Under its policies, Facebook requires a probable cause warrant to “compel the disclosure of the stored contents of any account, which may include messages, photos, videos, timeline posts, and location information” to the government. This is because Facebook, like other large tech companies, has adopted the Sixth Circuit’s interpretation (in United States v. Warshak) of ECPA and the Fourth Amendment as requiring a warrant to obtain emails. This matters because Congress enacted ECPA in 1986, when Mark Zuckerberg was just two-years old, roughly 15 years before Facebook would be conceived in a Harvard University dorm. ECPA has not been updated since, and, as a result, technology companies and courts are tasked with applying its antiquated language to govern the compelled disclosure of data held by modern tech companies like Facebook. [Continue reading…]

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A short history of ‘dotard,’ the arcane insult Kim Jong Un used in his threat against Trump

Rachel Chason and J. Freedom du Lac report: In the latest war of words between the United States and North Korea, Kim Jong Un did not pull any punches.

But he may have pulled out an old dictionary.

“I will surely and definitely tame the deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” Kim declared in an unusually direct and angry statement published Thursday by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The North Korean leader’s warning about “fire,” which echoed President Trump’s August statement threatening “fire and fury,” was par for the course in the increasingly tense relationship. On Thursday, Trump announced new financial sanctions to further isolate the country as its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities rapidly escalate.

But Kim’s use of “dotard” was what raised eyebrows, prompting people around the world to Google the old-time insult.

Merriam-Webster defines the noun as “a person in his or her dotage,” which is “a state or period of senile decay marked by decline of mental poise and alertness.”

Urban dictionary, meanwhile, defines dotage as “a female’s adams apple.”

The word trended on Twitter, and searches for the term were “high as a kite” following the release of Kim’s statement, Merriam-Webster noted. [Continue reading…]

Journalists might react to Kim’s use of dotard by thinking, how quaint, but given the infrequent usage of the term, this may well be an indication that North Korea’s social media strategists are quite sophisticated. What better way of amplifying social media activity than by using a rarely used phrase that through searches, tweets, and posts has thereby now become firmly anchored to Trump.

Trump, on the other hand, has had the dubious success of loosely creating a link between Kim Jong Un and Elton John which will probably have no adverse consequences for either of them.

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There is no Trump doctrine, only contradictions and bluster

John Cassidy writes: The things our President says. At a lunch with African leaders on Wednesday, Donald Trump praised the continent’s business potential by noting that many of his friends were “going to your countries to get rich.” A bit later in his remarks, he spoke about how effectively African countries had responded to some recent health-care crises, such as the Ebola outbreak, and added that “Nambia’s health system is increasingly sufficient.” (There is no country named Nambia.)

Anybody can mispronounce the name of an unfamiliar place, and it’s long been clear that geography isn’t one of Trump’s strengths. But he seems to view many foreign countries almost exclusively on the basis of how eager they are to play host to Trump-branded hotels and golf courses. (Ireland, Scotland, and Dubai are good, while continental European countries are bad.) Namibia, an arid, sparsely populated nation that gained independence from South Africa in 1990, clearly hasn’t made it onto the Trump Organization’s target list.

On Tuesday, addressing the United Nations General Assembly for the first time, Trump displayed a similar attitude toward the U.N. itself, noting how the organization’s presence on the East Side of Manhattan had boosted the fortunes of the nearby Trump World Tower condominium building, which was completed in 2001. “I actually saw great potential across the street, to be honest with you,” Trump said at the beginning of his speech. “And it’s only for the reason that the United Nations was here that that turned out to be such a successful project.” [Continue reading…]

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‘How do we use [this] to get whole?’: The most intriguing new Paul Manafort-Russia email

Aaron Blake writes: The trouble Paul Manafort is in is still coming into focus. The latest development: emails he sent to a Ukraine-based employee of his consulting business talking about setting up a briefing with a Russian oligarch close to Vladimir Putin.

The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman, Carol D. Leonnig and Adam Entous just broke that big story, and it comes on the heels of a New York Times report this week that investigators have told Manafort they plan to indict him — apparently in hopes of getting him to flip on President Trump.

For me, though, the most intriguing email in The Post’s report is this one:

In one April exchange days after Trump named Manafort as a campaign strategist, Manafort referred to his positive press and growing reputation and asked, “How do we use to get whole?”

Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said Wednesday that the email exchanges reflected an “innocuous” effort to collect past debts.

“It’s no secret Mr. Manafort was owed money by past clients,” Maloni said.

We can argue over what’s innocuous and what’s not, but that seems to be an acknowledgment from his own spokesman that Manafort was discussing how he could leverage his status as a leading strategist on an American presidential campaign to chase down debts he was owed — i.e. to enrich himself financially. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller wants lots of White House documents. Trump may be forced to comply

Cristian Farias writes: Just days before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, a federal court in Washington quietly expanded the powers of Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating the long-running Whitewater controversy. Thanks to that court order, the prosecutor could now look into whether Lewinsky and others “violated federal law” in connection with an unrelated civil lawsuit by Paula Jones against President Bill Clinton. And that meant Starr even had the authority to subpoena White House lawyers who may know about potential crimes implicating the president and his office.

That bit of ancient ’90s history is suddenly relevant. Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating potential criminal activity arising from Russia’s interference in the presidential election, may rely on legal precedent from that era and beyond to get the White House to cooperate with the probe. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mueller has requested a detailed list of documents related to 13 areas of interest to his inquiry. They include some of Trump’s more troubling moments while in office, such as the firing of James Comey in May. Or the time Trump told Russian officials visiting the Oval Office that getting rid of the FBI director, whom he had relieved a day earlier, took “great pressure” off the administration. Or the circumstances surrounding the firing of Michael Flynn, who remained in his post as Trump’s first national security adviser, despite warnings from Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, that he may be compromised by the Russians.

Ty Cobb, the attorney leading the White House response to Mueller, has already indicated that he wants to play nice with the special counsel and turn over as many documents as possible. But of all places, he seems to be facing resistance from within: Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, was described by Cobb — within earshot of a reporter — as someone who is “very conservative” with the production of documents, some of which he appears to keep “locked in a safe,” according to a Times report earlier this week. [Continue reading…]

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Who’s the world’s leading eco-vandal? It’s Angela Merkel

George Monbiot writes: Which living person has done most to destroy the natural world and the future wellbeing of humanity? Donald Trump will soon be the correct answer, when the full force of his havoc has been felt. But for now I would place another name in the frame: Angela Merkel.

What? Have I lost my mind? Angela Merkel, the “climate chancellor”? The person who, as German environment minister, brokered the first UN climate agreement, through sheer force of will? The chancellor who persuaded the G7 leaders to promise to phase out fossil fuels by the end of this century? The architect of Germany’s Energiewende – its famous energy transition? Yes, the very same.

Unlike Trump, she has no malicious intent. She did not set out to destroy the agreements she helped to create. But the Earth’s systems do not respond to mission statements or speeches or targets. They respond to hard fact. What counts, and should be judged, as she seeks a fourth term as German chancellor in the elections on Sunday, is what is done, not what is said. On this metric, her performance has been a planetary disaster.

Merkel has a fatal weakness: a weakness for the lobbying power of German industry. Whenever a crucial issue needs to be resolved, she weighs her ethics against political advantage, and chooses the advantage. This, in large part, is why Europe now chokes in a fug of diesel fumes.

The EU decision to replace petrol engines with diesel, though driven by German car manufacturers, predates her premiership. It was a classic European fudge, a means of averting systemic change while creating an impression of action, based on the claim (which now turns out to be false) that diesel engines produce less carbon dioxide than petrol. But once she became chancellor, Merkel used every conceivable tactic, fair and foul, to preserve this deadly cop-out. [Continue reading…]

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Twin earthquakes expose Mexico’s deep inequality

By Luis Gómez Romero, University of Wollongong

Early in the morning on Sept. 16, 1810, priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the bell of his church in the small town of Dolores, near Guanajuato, Mexico. His parishioners gathered round, and he urged them to revolt against Spain’s two-year-old Napoleonic government.

Hidalgo’s call to arms, which later became known later as the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores), triggered the Mexican War of Independence. Every September 15, the president of Mexico takes to the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City to reenact it.

This year, just a week before Independence Day, a historic earthquake struck Mexico’s southern coast, killing nearly 100 people. So President Enrique Peña Nieto added a poignant element to his Grito by including in the incantation a reference to the impoverished states that were most devastated by the quake, crying “Long live the solidarity of Mexicans with Chiapas and Oaxaca!”

This year, the president’s ‘Cry of Pain’ included Oaxaca and Chiapas.

It was a nice twist on tradition, but these two states will need more than expressions of solidarity to recover. The 8.2 magnitude quake is the strongest Mexico has experienced in 100 years, surpassing even the Sept. 19, 1985 earthquake that killed up to 40,000 people in and around Mexico City, according to the highest estimates.

It was also significantly more powerful than the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed upwards of 200 people in and around Mexico’s capital on September 19.

[Read more…]

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5 things to know about the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan

Morgan L. Kaplan and Ramzy Mardini write: On Sept. 25, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) is expected to hold its long-awaited referendum on independence. While it has generated much nationalist excitement among Kurds in the KRI capital of Irbil and abroad, the central government in Baghdad and the international community have objected to the vote. The United States has mobilized diplomatic capital to persuade Irbil to postpone the vote. Last week, Western diplomats offered an alternative proposal: Postpone the vote and enter into new mediated negotiations with Baghdad. But without ironclad guarantees or a specified timetable, Irbil has rejected those initiatives, continuing to prepare for the referendum.

The referendum was never meant to be a silver bullet, ending negotiations on Kurds’ path to statehood. But recent escalations by all sides have produced a self-fulfilling crisis with the prospect of military conflict, fueled by both Arab and Kurdish nationalism.

Here are five things you need to know: [Continue reading…]

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In the Caribbean, colonialism and inequality mean hurricanes hit harder

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A satellite image of Hurricane Irma spiraling through the Caribbean.
NOAA/AP

By Levi Gahman, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus and Gabrielle Thongs, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

Hurricane Maria, the 15th tropical depression this season, is now battering the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in the region.

The devastation in Dominica is “mind-boggling,” wrote the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, on Facebook just after midnight on September 19. The next day, in Puerto Rico, NPR reported via member station WRTU in San Juan that “Most of the island is without power…or water.”

Among the Caribbean islands impacted by both deadly storms are Puerto Rico, St Kitts, Tortola and Barbuda.

In this region, disaster damages are frequently amplified by needlessly protracted and incomplete recoveries. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan rolled roughshod through the Caribbean with wind speeds of 160 mph. The region’s economy took more than three years to recover. Grenada’s surplus of US$17 million became a deficit of $54 million, thanks to decreased revenue and the outlays for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Nor were the effects of a 7 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 limited to killing some 150,000 people. United Nations peacekeepers sent in to help left the country grappling, to this day, with a fatal cholera outbreak.

A tent city in post-earthquake Haiti.
Fred W. Baker III/Wikimedia Commons

These are not isolated instances of random bad luck. As University of the West Indies geographers who study risk perception and political ecology, we recognize the deep, human-induced roots of climate change, inequality and the underdevelopment of former colonies – all of which increase the Caribbean’s vulnerability to disaster.

[Read more…]

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