Syria can’t get worse? Check out the Turkish border

Politico reports: The border crossing where hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees entered Turkey in the first years of the war is almost deserted. It’s been closed for a year, and any Syrian hoping to be smuggled to safety in the neighboring country risks being shot.

Just across the frontier, in Syria, the situation is infinitely worse. Some 45,000 civilians were displaced by recent fighting between moderate rebels and ISIL in mid-April, and 20,000 are sleeping out in the open, aid workers say.

“People are sitting on blankets, sleeping under the trees,” Ali al-Sheikh, a Syrian humanitarian volunteer, said at the Kilis border crossing Saturday. “They are short of drinking water. There are very few tents. There is sewage all around.”

This is the scene that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk didn’t see when they visited a model refugee camp 50 kilometers from the border last weekend. The town of Kilis, whose 90,000 inhabitants have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for their warm reception of 130,000 Syrians, was deemed too dangerous to visit.

Violence is on the rise, with ISIL militants frequently firing rockets from Syria into Turkey. Since January, 17 people have been killed and 61 wounded in cross-border attacks. The latest occurred the day before Merkel and Tusk’s visit aimed at propping up the controversial EU-Turkey deal that the German chancellor regards as key to limiting the arrivals of refugees in Europe. [Continue reading…]

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Syria: Airstrikes destroy Aleppo’s Al Quds hospital, killing 14

Médecins Sans Frontières: Fourteen people, including at least two doctors, were killed Wednesday night in the bombing of a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, the medical humanitarian organization said today.

According to hospital staff on the ground, the Al Quds hospital in Aleppo was destroyed by at least one airstrike which directly hit the building, reducing it to rubble. Other airstrikes in the neighborhood also hit areas close to the hospital.

“MSF categorically condemns this outrageous targeting of yet another medical facility in Syria,” said Muskilda Zancada, MSF head of mission for Syria. “This devastating attack has destroyed a vital hospital in Aleppo, and the main referral center for pediatric care in the area. Where is the outrage among those with the power and obligation to stop this carnage?”

The situation in Aleppo city, consistently at the frontlines of the brutal conflict, was critical even before this attack. An estimated 250,000 people remain in the city, which has seen dramatic increases in levels of bombardment, fighting and fatalities in recent weeks. Only one road remains open in and out of the non-government held areas. If this road becomes blocked, the city will be besieged. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Syrian government considers any medical facilities in opposition-held territory as legitimate military targets, saying that they are de facto illegal. Hospitals in opposition-held parts of Syria are refusing to share GPS coordinates with Russian and Syrian authorities because of repeated attacks on medical facilities and workers, fearing that sharing the locations would make the hospitals targets.

As early as 2013, the UN independent commission of inquiry investigating alleged war crimes in Syria said attacks on medical facilities were being used systematically as a weapon of war by the Assad regime. Attacks by both sides on medical facilities have continued unabated in recent months. MSF said in February that a total of 94 airstrikes and shelling attacks hit facilities supported by the organisation in 2015 alone.

In February last year, the NGO Physicians for Human Rights said it had documented 224 attacks on 175 health facilities since the start of the conflict, and 599 medical personnel had been killed. The attacks continued after the Russian intervention – the organisation documented at least 10 attacks by Russian aircraft on medical facilities in October alone, the first month of Russia’s aerial campaign. [Continue reading…]

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Sense of ‘global citizenship’ rising, poll suggests

BBC News reports: People are increasingly identifying themselves as global rather than national citizens, according to a BBC World Service poll.

The trend is particularly marked in emerging economies, where people see themselves as outward looking and internationally minded.

However, in Germany fewer people say they feel like global citizens now, compared with 2001.
Pollsters GlobeScan questioned more than 20,000 people in 18 countries.

More than half of those asked (56%) in emerging economies saw themselves first and foremost as global citizens rather than national citizens.

In Nigeria (73%), China (71%), Peru (70%) and India (67%) the data is particularly marked.

By contrast, the trend in the industrialised nations seems to be heading in the opposite direction. [Continue reading…]

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A majority of millennials in U.S. now reject capitalism, poll shows

The Washington Post reports: In an apparent rejection of the basic principles of the U.S. economy, a new poll shows that most young people do not support capitalism.

The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

It isn’t clear that the young people in the poll would prefer some alternative system, though. Just 33 percent said they supported socialism. The survey had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.

The results of the survey are difficult to interpret, pollsters noted. Capitalism can mean different things to different people, and the newest generation of voters is frustrated with the status quo, broadly speaking.

All the same, that a majority of respondents in Harvard University’s survey of young adults said they do not support capitalism suggests that today’s youngest voters are more focused on the flaws of free markets.

“The word ‘capitalism’ doesn’t mean what it used to,” said Zach Lustbader, a senior at Harvard involved in conducting the poll, which was published Monday. For those who grew up during the Cold War, capitalism meant freedom from the Soviet Union and other totalitarian regimes. For those who grew up more recently, capitalism has meant a financial crisis from which the global economy still hasn’t completely recovered.

A subsequent survey that included people of all ages found that somewhat older Americans also are skeptical of capitalism. Only among respondents at least 50 years old was the majority in support of capitalism. [Continue reading…]

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President Trump fills world leaders with fear: ‘It’s gone from funny to really scary’

The Guardian reports: Dangerous, foolish, irrational, scary, terrifying, irresponsible, a clown, a disaster. These are just some of the words used to describe the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency by politicians, diplomats and analysts around the world.

As the businessman gave his first major policy address since becoming frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday, Guardian correspondents in Washington and around the globe asked the international community whether it was prepared for the swaggering billionaire to occupy the White House.

Many said they still cannot believe the nation that elected its first black president just eight years ago will now rush to embrace a man who has offended Mexicans, Muslims and others. The possibility that Trump might actually win fills great swaths of the planet with dread – with the apparent and notable exception of Vladimir Putin’s Russia – with concerns over everything from trade to the nuclear trigger. [Continue reading…]

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President Trump will put America first, save humanity, forever be the peacemaker, and bring home the bacon

Donald Trump says the United States needs a coherent foreign policy. Indeed. Can he offer one? Not yet.

It was only last month that Trump said on foreign policy that “my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.”

Apparently one of the results of Trump’s internal deliberations is that he now needs some input from outside.

“My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas” — experts like Walid Phares, who apparently needing to hold his practical ideas in reserve, promised in advance: “There will be no details in this speech.”

Or to put it another way: all packaging; no content.

My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people and American security above all else.

To our friends and allies, I say America is going to be strong again. America is going to be reliable again. It’s going to be a great and reliable ally again. It’s going to be a friend again. We’re going to finally have a coherent foreign policy based upon American interests and the shared interests of our allies.

We’re getting out of the nation-building business and instead focusing on creating stability in the world. Our moments of greatest strength came when politics ended at the water’s edge. We need a new rational American foreign policy, informed by the best minds and supported by both parties, and it will be by both parties — Democrats, Republicans, independents, everybody, as well as by our close allies.

… we must as a nation be more unpredictable. We are totally predictable. We tell everything. We’re sending troops. We tell them. We’re sending something else. We have a news conference. We have to be unpredictable. And we have to be unpredictable starting now.

I will seek a foreign policy that all Americans, whatever their party, can support, so important, and which our friends and allies will respect and totally welcome. The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies, that we are always happy when old enemies become friends and when old friends become allies, that’s what we want. We want them to be our allies.

We want the world to be — we want to bring peace to the world.

No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony. I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down and will never enter…

The world is most peaceful and most prosperous when America is strongest. America will continue and continue forever to play the role of peacemaker. We will always help save lives and indeed humanity itself, but to play the role, we must make America strong again.

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Trump’s ‘America First’ has ugly echoes from U.S. history

Susan Dunn writes:My foreign policy will always put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else. That will be the foundation of every decision that I will make. America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.”

It is extremely unfortunate that in his speech Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, Donald Trump chose to brand his foreign policy with the noxious slogan “America First,” the name of the isolationist, defeatist, anti-Semitic national organization that urged the United States to appease Adolf Hitler.

The America First Committee actually began at Yale University, where Douglas Stuart Jr., the son of a vice president of Quaker Oats, began organizing his fellow students in spring 1940. He and Gerald Ford, the future American president, and Potter Stewart, the future Supreme Court justice, drafted a petition stating, “We demand that Congress refrain from war, even if England is on the verge of defeat.”

Their solution to the international crisis lay in a negotiated peace with Hitler. Other Yale students — including Sargent Shriver, who served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and Kingman Brewster, the chairman of the Yale Daily News, future president of Yale and ambassador to the Court of St. James — joined their isolationist crusade. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s last chance to end the ‘forever war’

Jennifer Daskal writes: The United States is fighting an unauthorized war. Over the past 19 months, American forces have launched more than 8,800 strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and hit the group’s affiliate in Libya. The United States continues aerial assaults against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, is going after militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and killed more than 150 suspected Shabab fighters in Somalia just last month.

This war isn’t limited to drone strikes or aerial bombings. It includes Special Operations forces in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan — and possibly elsewhere. This past weekend, President Obama announced that he would send an additional 250 such troops to Syria.

The primary legal authority for these strikes and deployments comes from the 60-word Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed almost a decade and a half ago. In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush asked for an open-ended authorization to fight all future acts of terrorism. Wisely, Congress rejected that request, though it did give the president authority to use force against those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, Al Qaeda, and those that harbored them, the Taliban.

Today, the Taliban no longer rules Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden has been killed and the other key participants in the Sept. 11 attacks are either locked up or dead. But the old authorization lives on. [Continue reading…]

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House advances Email Privacy Act, setting the stage for vital privacy reform

Electronic Frontier Foundation: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Email Privacy Act (H.R. 699) yesterday, which would require the government to get a probable cause warrant from a judge before obtaining private communications and documents stored online with companies such as Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

The bill provides a long-overdue update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), first passed in 1986. The bill also codifies the Sixth Circuit’s ruling in U.S. v. Warshak, which held that the Fourth Amendment demands that the government first obtain a warrant before accessing emails stored with cloud service providers.

The House vote is historic, given that H.R. 699 has an amazing 315 cosponsors, almost three quarters of the entire House. The House voted unanimously, following a unanimous vote by the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Klare: The coming world of ‘peak oil demand,’ not ‘peak oil’

In a Greater Middle East in which one country after another has been plunged into chaos and possible failed statehood, two rival nations, Iran and Saudi Arabia, have been bedrock exceptions to the rule.  Iran, at the moment, remains so, but the Saudi royals, increasingly unnerved, have been steering their country erratically into the region’s chaos. The kingdom is now led by a decrepit 80-year-old monarch who, in commonplace meetings, has to be fed his lines by teleprompter.  Meanwhile, his 30-year-old son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has gained significant control over both the kingdom’s economic and military decision-making, launched a rash anti-Iranian war in Yemen, heavily dependent on air power.  It is not only Washington-backed but distinctly in the American mode of these last years: brutal yet ineffective, never-ending, a boon to the spread of terror groups, and seeded with potential blowback.

Meanwhile, in a cheap-oil, belt-tightening moment, in an increasingly edgy country, the royals are reining in budgets and undermining the good life they were previously financing for many of their citizens.  The one thing they continue to do is pump oil — their only form of wealth — as if there were no tomorrow, while threatening further price-depressing rises in oil production in the near future.  And that’s hardly been the end of their threats.  While taking on the Iranians (and the Russians), they have also been lashing out at the local opposition, executing a prominent dissident Shiite cleric among others and even baring their teeth at Washington.  They have reportedly threatened the Obama administration with the sell-off of hundreds of billions of dollars in American assets if a bill, now in Congress and aimed at opening the Saudis to American lawsuits over their supposed culpability for the 9/11 attacks, were to pass. (It would, however, be a sell-off that could hurt the Saudis more than anyone.)  Even at the pettiest of levels, on Barack Obama’s recent arrival in Saudi Arabia for a visit with King Salman, they essentially snubbed him, a first for a White House occupant. All in all, a previously sure-footed (if extreme) Sunni regime seems increasingly unsettled; in fact, it has something of the look these days of a person holding a gun to his own head and threatening to pull the trigger. In other words, in a region already aflame, the Saudis seem to be tossing… well, oil onto any fire in sight.

And in a way, it’s little wonder.  The very basis for the existence of the Saudi royals, their staggering oil reserves, is under attack — and not by the Iranians, the Russians, or the Americans, but as TomDispatch energy specialist Michael Klare explains, by something so much larger: the potential ending of the petroleum way of life.  Tom Engelhardt

Debacle at Doha
The collapse of the old oil order
By Michael T. Klare

Sunday, April 17th was the designated moment.  The world’s leading oil producers were expected to bring fresh discipline to the chaotic petroleum market and spark a return to high prices. Meeting in Doha, the glittering capital of petroleum-rich Qatar, the oil ministers of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), along with such key non-OPEC producers as Russia and Mexico, were scheduled to ratify a draft agreement obliging them to freeze their oil output at current levels. In anticipation of such a deal, oil prices had begun to creep inexorably upward, from $30 per barrel in mid-January to $43 on the eve of the gathering. But far from restoring the old oil order, the meeting ended in discord, driving prices down again and revealing deep cracks in the ranks of global energy producers.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Doha debacle. At the very least, it will perpetuate the low oil prices that have plagued the industry for the past two years, forcing smaller firms into bankruptcy and erasing hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in new production capacity. It may also have obliterated any future prospects for cooperation between OPEC and non-OPEC producers in regulating the market. Most of all, however, it demonstrated that the petroleum-fueled world we’ve known these last decades — with oil demand always thrusting ahead of supply, ensuring steady profits for all major producers — is no more.  Replacing it is an anemic, possibly even declining, demand for oil that is likely to force suppliers to fight one another for ever-diminishing market shares.

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Europe’s failure on refugees echoes the moral collapse of the 1930s

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Patrick Kingsley writes: In 1938, representatives from 32 western states gathered in the pretty resort town of Evian, southern France. Evian is now famous for its water, but back then, the delegates had something else on their minds. They were there to discuss whether to admit a growing number of Jewish refugees, fleeing persecution in Germany and Austria. After several days of negotiations, most countries, including Britain, decided to do nothing.

On Monday, I was reminded of the Evian conference when British MPs voted against welcoming just 600 child refugees a year over the next half-decade. The two moments are not exactly comparable. History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. But it does echo, and it does remind us of the consequences of ethical failure. Looking back at their inaction at Evian, delegates could claim they were unaware of what was to come. In 2016, we no longer have that excuse.

Nevertheless, both in Britain and across Europe and America, we currently seem keen to forget the lessons of the past. In Britain, many of those MPs who voted against admitting a few thousand refugees are also campaigning to unravel a mechanism – the European Union – that was created, at least in part, to heal the divisions that tore apart the continent during the first and second world wars.

Across Europe, leaders recently ripped up the 1951 refugee convention – a landmark document partly inspired by the failures of people such as the Evian delegates – in order to justify deporting Syrians back to Turkey, a country where most can’t work legally, despite recent legislative changes; where some have allegedly been deported back to Syria; and still more have been shot at the border.

Emboldened by this, the Italian and German governments have since joined David Cameron in calling for refugees to be sent back to Libya, a war zone where – in a startling display of cognitive dissonance – some of the same governments are also mulling a military intervention. Where many migrants work in conditions tantamount to slavery. Where three separate governments are vying for control. And where Isis runs part of the coastline.

In Greece, Europe’s leaders have forced the bankrupt government to lock up all arriving asylum seekers – and then reneged on a promise to help care for them, or move them to better-resourced countries elsewhere on the continent. The result is a dire situation on the Greek islands, where the world’s richest continent has contrived to jail babies, and then deny them access to adequate amounts of milk formula.

In Denmark, asylum seekers are forced to hand over valuables to pay for their stay, and volunteers have been prosecuted as smugglers for giving them lifts. In America, where boatloads of refugees were turned away from US ports in the 30s, more than 30 governors have refused to accept Muslim refugees. Some called for an outright ban on anyone fleeing a war that is ironically the partial result of catastrophic mistakes in American foreign policy over the past two decades. [Continue reading…]

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Hillsborough: Anatomy of a disaster brought on by a failure in public service

The 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died while attending a football match in the North of England might to some distant observers sound like a local story of concern primarily to the bereaved and their fellow citizens, but what happened in Sheffield that day speaks to the wider issue of state powers and responsibilities as they are exercised in every democracy.

During an era in which politicians never tire of speaking solemnly about their duty for protecting national security against the threat of terrorism, the task of providing public safety now (as in the past) has much less to do with thwarting foreign and domestic threats, than it does with an ongoing commitment to public service. In turn, serving ordinary people hinges on viewing and treating them with respect.

The victims at Hillsborough were betrayed by authorities (and the media) which placed the protection of their own interests above those they were meant to serve.

The events leading up to the disaster are described in this video:

The Guardian reports: It was a year into these inquests, and 26 years since David Duckenfield, as a South Yorkshire police chief superintendent, took command of the FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, that he finally, devastatingly, admitted his serious failures directly caused the deaths of 96 people there.

Duckenfield had arrived at the converted courtroom in Warrington with traces of his former authority, but over seven airless, agonisingly tense days in the witness box last March, he was steadily worn down, surrendering slowly into a crumpled heap. From his concession that he had inadequate experience to oversee the safety of 54,000 people, to finally accepting responsibility for the deaths, Duckenfield’s admissions were shockingly complete.

He also admitted at the inquests that even as the event was descending into horror and death, he had infamously lied, telling Graham Kelly, then secretary of the Football Association, that Liverpool fans were to blame, for gaining unauthorised entry through a large exit gate. Duckenfield had in fact himself ordered the gate to be opened, to relieve a crush in the bottleneck approach to the Leppings Lane turnstiles.

The chief constable, Peter Wright, had to state that evening that police had authorised the opening of the gate, but as these inquests, at two years the longest jury case in British history, heard in voluminous detail, Duckenfield’s lie endured. It set the template for the South Yorkshire police stance: to deny any mistakes, and instead to virulently project blame on to the people who had paid to attend a football match and been plunged into hell. [Continue reading…]

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Hillsborough: At last, the shameful truth is out

By Jared Ficklin, University of Liverpool

Following two years of harrowing evidence, the verdicts in the inquest into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989 are a complete vindication of the 27-year campaign for justice for the 96 victims and their families. It is difficult to imagine the fortitude required to continue their fight for justice against the arrayed institutional might of the police, government and even sections of the media for so long.

But this fight for the truth did not take almost three decades, millions of pounds, and the longest court hearing in UK history because of its complexity. It was because within hours, the South Yorkshire police organised a conspiracy to protect themselves by defaming the dead and injured.

It is now clear that the police did not take blood from children to run alcohol tests or send a photographer to find empty beer cans because they wanted to understand what had really happened. It was simply to find any prop that could support the false narrative that the fans were drunk and abusive and were somehow responsible for their own deaths, and that the police had done their best under the circumstances.

We now know, from evidence heard at the inquest and admissions of senior police officers themselves, that this was so far from reality that the police had to collude to invent evidence. But even that wasn’t enough to hide the truth. There were thousands of fans there that day who knew what really happened – even in an age before everyone carried a phone with a camera, images existed that didn’t tally with the police’s claims.

But at the time the police had the most powerful allies there were: South Yorkshire police had been instrumental in breaking the miners’ strikes in 1984-1985, during which then prime minister Margaret Thatcher deployed them like her army in the north of England. The force also had form for blaming victims: we now know that South Yorkshire police had committed perjury during failed prosecutions of miners following the battle between police and strikers at Orgreave in 1984, and that senior officers were well aware of it and said nothing.

In 1989, the police needed support for their cover-up, and the Conservative government was happy to help. Thatcher herself toured the ground the morning after the disaster, and was aware that privately there were serious questions about the police propaganda, but it didn’t stop her government from backing the police. Her press secretary, Bernard Ingham, relied upon what he was told about the disaster by the police and blamed “tanked-up yobs” for the deaths. “Liverpool,” he later said, “should shut up about Hillsborough.”

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Hillsborough disaster: Those responsible could face criminal charges

The Guardian reports: Officials implicated in the unlawful killing of 96 Liverpool fans in the Hillsborough disaster could face prosecution for criminal negligence and perjury, Theresa May has said.

The home secretary warned of potential criminal proceedings against police officers and other responsible groups over the 1989 tragedy while speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Reporting to MPs on the damning findings of the Hillsborough inquests, which gave their verdicts on Tuesday, May said the Crown Prosecution Service would decide later this year whether charges should be brought when two criminal investigations into the disaster were complete.

“It was this country’s worst disaster at a sporting event. For the families and survivors, the search to get to the truth of what happened on that day has been long and arduous,” May said. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan president puts aside peace bids and vows harsher fight against Taliban

The Washington Post reports: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stepped back Monday from attempts to engage Taliban insurgents in peace talks, vowing that Afghanistan will instead “execute” enemies of the state and undertake preparations for an extended war.

In a speech that signaled a significant shift in policies, Ghani left open the prospect of dialogue with Taliban fighters who put down their weapons. But he labeled the broader Taliban organization and its Pakistan-based offshoot, the Haqqani network, as “terrorists” and promised expanded attacks by the Afghan military.

Ghani’s remarks are a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes that the 14-year Taliban insurgency could be ended through a negotiated settlement. Back-channel discussions have been held for the past three years to try to establish a framework for such talks. [Continue reading…]

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