Published: Tue, 21 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500
Last Build Date: Tue, 21 Feb 2017 22:11:26 -0500
Thu, 16 Feb 2017 13:15:00 -0500We've long known that President Donald Trump has no filter, yet his every utterance now carries the weight of U.S. policy behind it. That's why one of Trump's signature flippant remarks at a joint press conference yesterday alongside Israeli Prime Ministery Benjamin Netanyahu was so extraordinary. With a few sentences, Trump appeared to have changed the policy embraced by the past two American presidents from supporting the "two-state solution"—a contiguous democratic Palestinian state made up of land in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, living in peace beside the Jewish state of Israel—to a more vague policy resembling indifference. Trump said: So I'm looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like...I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I could live with either one. I thought for a while that two state looked like it may be the easier of the two, but honestly if Bibi and if the Palestinians, if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I'm happy with the one they like the best. This is either startling naivete, ignorance of the tortured 50-year history of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the many U.S.-led negotiations to bring about an end to that occupation, or simply something Trump hasn't thought through but popped off on the subject anyway. Regardless, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict knows that getting both parties to be "happy" with any final agreement has long proved fruitless. A single state made up of Israel and the occupied territories that includes full citizenship and voting rights for Palestinians would immediately end the idea of a "Jewish state." So that's a non-starter for most Israelis. Yet, a single state where the Palestinians lack self-determination is by definition an apartheid state. So if a two-state solution is the only solution, and Netanyahu demands (as he did yesterday standing beside Trump) that "in any peace agreement Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River," then Israel continues to occupy the majority of the nominal Palestinian state and we're right back where we started. For Trump to shrug off the gulf between the status quo and what it would take for the U.S. to help faciliate a lasting peace—which every president since Jimmy Carter has failed to do—by saying "I could live with either one," implies Trump won't ask much, if anything, of the Israelis and Palestinians to make what Trump once called "the ultimate deal." In the relatively early days of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign, Trump distinguished himself from both fellow Republicans and the very pro-Israel Democrat Hillary Clinton by promising to be "sort of a neutral guy" while leading Mideast negotiations. After taking heat from candidates of both parties, Trump walked his neutrality back about a month later, telling CNN, "I would love to be neutral if it's possible. It's probably not possible because there's so much hatred." But neutrality has long been the official U.S. policy toward the negotations, even if U.S. military aid to Israel dwarfs the amount given to all other countries. Trump being pressured on the campaign trail to abandon that posture demonstrates that all of America's foreign policy and political issues are not exclusively the fault of Donald Trump. Shortly before leaving office, President Barack Obama increased U.S. military aid to Israel from $3.1 billion to $3.8 annually, a deal which is locked in for 10 years. The deal removed a previous provision allowing Israel to spend about a quarter of that aid on companies within the Israeli defense industry, meaning all of those billions in U.S. government aid to Israel will now come right back to United States as a subsidy to the U.S. miliary industrial complex. While this aid to Israel didn't include the "strings attached" like the ones the U.S. applied to its aid to Egypt and Jordan—which were meant to encourage and maintain those countries' peace treaties with Israel—the U.S.-Israel relationship has[...]
Wed, 01 Feb 2017 10:32:00 -0500
(image) Mike Hager—an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen who fled his birth country during the first Gulf War, lived in a refugee camp for four years, and finally settled with his family in the U.S. in 1995—says his mother died in Iraq over the weekend after being denied entry back to the States, despite possessing a green card.
(UPDATE: Fox2 Detroit reports Hager's imam, Husham Al-Hussainy, says Hager's mother died five days before President Trump's executive order banning travel from Iraq and six other countries was implemented. Hager has not provided additional comment at this time.)
says Mike Hager's mom did not pass away this weekend after being barred from traveling to the United States. The Imam confirms that Hager's mother died before the ban was put in place.
Hager told Fox2 Detroit that he, his 75-year-old mother, Naimma, and several other green card-holding relatives had been visiting family in Iraq, but were prevented from boarding a U.S.-bound plane at the airport, as a direct result of President Trump's executive order banning all visitors from seven countries—including Iraq. Trump's ban is set to last for 90 days, ostensibly to allow the U.S. government to ferret out "individuals with terrorist ties and stopping them from entering the United States."
Among his family only Hager, a U.S. citizen, was allowed to travel.
"I was just shocked," Hager said to Fox2, "I had to put my mom back on the wheelchair and take her back and call the ambulance and she was very very upset. She knew right there if we send her back to the hospital she's going to pass away - she's not going to make it."
By all appearances, Hager is the complete opposite of the secret jihadist embedded with refugees that exists in Trump's fantasies. Hager fled a war zone, became a U.S. citizen and business owner, and volunteered to work with the U.S. military during the Iraq War as a contractor and interpreter—even surviving getting shot in the back. He and his family appear to be a model of refugees, striving for and attaining the American Dream.
Hager believes his mother would have survived had she made it back to the States and received better medical care than was available to her in Iraq. In his grief, Hager is now is left to worry about if and when his nieces and nephews—also green card holders—will be permitted back into the U.S.
"This is our home. We've been here for too long, we've been here since we were kids," Hager told Fox2.
My Reason colleague Eric Boehm profiled an Iranian-American family—specifically an Iranian-born green card holder and his 66-year-old mother—who are left wondering if they'll ever be able to visit each other again thanks to the confused language and blunt implementation of Trump's executive order. Boehm writes:
Trump's immigration policy deems a 66-year-old grandmother to be such a threat to the safety of the United States that she doesn't even have the chance to look immigration officials in the eye and assure them that she's not a terrorist. It's a policy that will keep her from being able to visit her son and daughter-in-law, and may even keep her from ever looking at her grandchild.
Tue, 31 Jan 2017 11:50:00 -0500
Today at noon ET I am once again guest-hosting The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM Insight, channel 121. As befits a Muslim-hosted show, we are going to be talking about the executive-order controversy, first with BuzzFeed Mideast correspondent Borzou Daragahi, then with political commentator Pejman Yousefzadeh. Please call the program any time at 1-877-974-7487.
Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:38:00 -0500If you consume your politics on Twitter, I am confident you have seen over the past five days such sentiments as this: The foaming attacks on Donald Trump are more ridiculous than anything he has done https://t.co/69bbXbfsVv via @telegraphnews — Nile Gardiner (@NileGardiner) January 30, 2017 Sure, sure, the most powerful politician in the world may have broken a few eggs here and there, but did you see those rude reviews on Yelp??? National Review, unsurprisingly, has sounded some similar notes since Trump's executive order on refugees last Friday: Refugee Madness: Trump Is Wrong, But His Liberal Critics Are Crazy https://t.co/HDfBKp8UwR pic.twitter.com/HYDkNV2Q8h — National Review (@NRO) January 29, 2017 Note the word "but" there instead of "and," and that the only party drawing the pejorative is the critics, not the administration choosing to gratuitously disrupt the lives of up to a half-million vetted legal permanent U.S. residents (before reversing that part of the poorly drafted order, even while insisting that "all is going well with very few problems"). The subhed of the linked NRO piece, which was written by Dan McLaughlin, is: "The anger at his new policy is seriously misplaced." The erroneous first sentence within suggests one way of arriving at such a conclusion: President Trump has ordered a temporary, 120-day halt to admitting refugees from seven countries, all of them war-torn states with majority-Muslim populations: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. No, the refugee ban is for everyone—Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, natural disaster victim, genocide target, seven-nation disfavorable, 180+-country undesirable, whatever: Shop's closed until Memorial Day. And the seven-country ban, which is for 90 days and not 120, includes everybody from those regions (except those with diplomatic passports), not just the subset of refugees. Since many people seem to be making the same mistake, here is the plain language from the order: "The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days." The program that has since 1980 admitted an average of 200+ refugees per day into the United States has been abruptly slammed shut for the next four months, and will be reopened at the discretion of a president who campaigned not only on a "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," but also the deportation of Syrian refugees already living legally in America. You can see why some people might not be inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on this. Which brings us to the National Review's David French, who, in a widely cited piece over the weekend, decided that the mock-worthy hysteria about the executive order came not from a power-wielding president with a long track record of misleading statements and alarmist hyperbole about the existing refugee-screening process, but rather among the people who are standing athwart Trump's draconian order yelling "stop." French, you may recall, had been for a few weird moments last spring Bill Kristol's great #NeverTrump hope, so he is hardly a reflexive supporter of the president. Judging by the intensity of the retweets on this piece, his views reflect a broad swath of modern conservatism. So: In a piece that advertises itself as "Separating Fact from Hysteria," French characterizes Trump's move as "an executive order dominated mainly by moderate refugee restrictions." Not only does a blanket, never-been-done-before four-month refugee-stoppage—and an equally historic three-month ban of all travel from seven other countries—constitute a "moderate" move by French's lights, so does Trump's slashing of the U.S. target for refugee admittance to 50,000 a year, which is less than half of the 110,000 target Barack Obama set for this year, and also well below the 70,000-80,000 goal set every year from 2001-2015. French has an awfully dissonant way of selling this virtuous moderation. In one breath, he says it's [...]
Mon, 30 Jan 2017 18:35:00 -0500When it comes to Donald Trump's immigration- and refugee-related executive orders (EOs), some of his harshest critics are fellow Republicans. That's a good sign, as it suggests that the Grand Old Party, which in the not-so-distant past was the pro-immigration party (even illegal immigration!), isn't simply rolling over for the new president. Consider, for instance, Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, who represents the area around Allentown and a large Syrian ex-pat community. The Trump EO banning all visitors, including those holding green cards, from Syria and six other majority-Muslim countries, was put into effect at midnight on Saturday without any warning. "This is ridiculous," Dent told The Washington Post, "the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world." Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) released a statement that read in part: We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security. Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) has a long history of being pro-immigration in general and has always shown a principled commitment to aiding those displaced by war, especially wars waged by the United States. At Medium, he wrote: It's unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry. Enhancing long term national security requires that we have a clear-eyed view of radical Islamic terrorism without ascribing radical Islamic terrorist views to all Muslims. And then there's Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a lawyer by training and the son of Syrian and Palestinian parents. Amash explains all of his votes and many of his positions on his Facebook page. Here are some snippets from his reaction to recent actions by the Republican president: Like President Obama's executive actions on immigration, President Trump's executive order overreaches and undermines our constitutional system. It's not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality. If the president wants to change immigration law, he must work with Congress. The president's denial of entry to lawful permanent residents of the United States (green card holders) is particularly troubling. Green card holders live in the United States as our neighbors and serve in our Armed Forces. They deserve better.... He also points his readers to lengthy responses to "unhinged" supporters of Trump's actions, explains in detail how the Constitution lays out differences between immigrants and non-immigrants and more. Amash's Facebook is a miniature master class in how legislators should explain themselves and their stances. No wonder, then, that he opposes Trump in this instance and many others. Criticism is almost always more important when it comes from within a person's political party or ideology. It's a sharp sign that the person being criticized has wandered into some deep and dangerous territory. That's certainly the case with Trump and his orders on sanctuary cities (read Damon Root's withering critique here) and on immigration and refugee policy. The laws were not just poorly phrased and timed, they clearly will not work to address the basic issues they ostensibly are meant to ameliorate. As Anthony Fisher noted here earlier today, the U.S.[...]
Mon, 30 Jan 2017 15:45:00 -0500A U.S. commando died yesterday during the first counter-terrorism operation authorized by President Trump, The New York Times is reporting. The death marks the first combat death under the new administration. Three other Americans were wounded during the early morning raid against Al-Qaeda in the Bayda Province of Yemen. More than a dozen Al-Qaeda fighters are believed to be dead, including the brother-in-law of Anwar al-Awlaki, the late leader of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, and Abdulrauf al Dhahab, a top Al-Qaeda leader. "In a successful raid against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) headquarters, brave U.S. forces were instrumental in killing an estimated 14 AQAP members and capturing important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world," Trump said in a statement. "Americans are saddened this morning with news that a life of a heroic service member has been taken in our fight against the evil of radical Islamic terrorism. My deepest thoughts and humblest prayers are with the family of this fallen service member. I also pray for a quick and complete recovery for the brave service members who sustained injuries." The military's Joint Special Operations Command had been planning a counter-terrorism operation for months under the Obama administration, but the decision to execute the mission was passed on to the presidential successor, according to the Times. Computer materials that might contain information about future terrorist plots were the main targets of the mission. Per The Washington Post, reports of civilian casualties are being investigated. U.S. officials initially indicated that no civilian deaths could be confirmed, but a Yenemi official claims that at least eight women and seven children were killed during the raid, including the 8-year-old daughter of the late Anwar al-Awlaki. Yemen has been embroiled in a civil war since 2015 between the Houthi rebels, a minority Shia group from the Northern region of Yemen, and President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia has been leading a military coalition in support of President Hadi, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France. The U.S. has conducted several drone strikes on AQAP targets in the past. According to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 7,469 casualties and 40,483 injuries have occurred because of the conflict, though the number is likely higher due to underreporting caused by a lack of functioning health facilities. Saudi Arabia has been accused of violations by Human Rights Watch, which also condemned the United States in a recent report. Meanwhile, Fox News reports that Trump has signed a directive ordering the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, to devise a plan within 30 days to defeat ISIS.[...]
Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:47:00 -0500President Trump's executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions worldwide and indefinitely suspending refugees from Syria also imposed a temporary ban on any immigrant or nonimmigrant entry from seven "countries of concern," all of which are predominantly Muslim. Combined with a directive to give preference to refugees who are religious minorities, many took to calling the order a Muslim ban. Some news outlets noted the fact that the seven countries primarily affected by the order—Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen—did not have business ties with the Trump Organization, with the New York Daily News calling it conspicuous and pointing out no Americans were killed by nationals of those countries while thousands were killed by nationals of Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the countries of concern but where the Trump Organization does do business. The Daily News said it raised "alarming questions" about how the decision was made. The list, however, is not of Trump's making. The dissonance between the countries of concerns and the countries from where major terrorists and terrorism ideologies originate is embedded in US foreign policy. The list comes from a 2015 immigration law that designated those countries as "countries of concern" which required additional visa scrutiny, and exempted from visa waivers dual nationals from those countries who also held passports from countries the U.S. did not require a visa. Of those seven countries, all but Iran have been the target of some kind of military action in the last twenty years. The Obama administration committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya's civil war in 2011, helping to depose Col. Moammar Qaddafi and plunging the country into chaos. Today, a number of terrorist groups, including ISIS, operate in Libya when they did not exist in the country before 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the U.S. accepted just seven refugees from Libya. There's no indication that changed in 2016. U.S. troops returned to Libya last year to join the campaign against ISIS. Trump becomes the fifth consecutive U.S. president to preside over military operations in Iraq. While Ronald Reagan helped arm Iraq during its decade-long war with Iran, his successor George H.W. Bush led an international coalition against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Bill Clinton spent his administration bombing Iraq on-and-off, as well as maintaining sanctions estimated to have killed more than half a million children by 1995. In 1998, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made it official U.S. policy to support regime change in Iraq. After 9/11, George W. Bush set his administration's sights on Iraq, eventually invading the country in 2003 over weapons of mass destruction that were not found. Weak connections to 9/11 promoted in the run up to the war totally fell apart after. In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a status of forces agreement to end the Iraq war. After trying and failing to renegotiate that agreement, Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. He took credit for the move during his 2012 re-election campaign, but when ISIS emerged as a major force in Iraq, he backtracked, insisting it was not his decision. Eventually, U.S. troops returned to Iraq under Obama, in a campaign against ISIS that never received specific congressional authorization. They remain there today, although U.S. operations in Iraq will be complicated by a travel ban the Iraqi government imposed on U.S. citizens in retaliation for Trump's order. Both exempt diplomatic and government travel. Trump himself pointed to a 2011 review of refugee admissions from Iraq as precedent for his actions, although the 2011 move did not keep legal permanent residents from entering or leaving the United States. Nevertheless, critics in Congress challenged the Obama administration, expressing [...]
Mon, 30 Jan 2017 10:15:00 -0500
(image) President Trump's sweeping ban on travelers from seven majority Muslim countries (including Iraq) from entering the United States was intended to protect the homeland from a vanishingly small threat of terrorism. But U.S. diplomats stationed on the front lines in the battle against arguably the world's most notoriously violent and sadistic group of Islamist extremists—ISIS—say the president's plan is both morally and strategically misguided.
According to a memo sent by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to the State Department, the travel ban risks the U.S. losing critical support from the Iraqi government, military, and the militias which the U.S. continues to support as they collectively try to retake territory occupied by ISIS for the past three years. The Wall Street Journal reports the memo reveals the diplomats in Baghdad were "blindsided" by Trump's executive order and are worried that the fallout could irreparably damage relations between the two countries, which are nominally "close allies."
The memo cited examples of unforeseen consequences of Trump's order, including an Iraqi army general who has worked closely with U.S. forces now being unable to visit his family in the U.S., a scheduled meeting in the U.S. between Iraqi officials and General Electric over a multi-billion-dollar energy investment now may not take place, and perhaps most crucially, the fate of approximately 60,000 Iraqis who risked their lives to aid the U.S. in Iraq now hangs in the balance. These Iraqis had applied for Special Immigrant Visas and if they were to be abandoned by the U.S., securing the cooperation of the locals in any U.S. military theater could be imperiled, but especially in Iraq, which has been war-torn since the U.S.-led war to depose Saddam Hussein began in 2003.
Iraqi officials have already called for reciprocity in the form of banning U.S. citizens from entering Iraq, and a spokesman for The Popular Mobilization Forces, a coalition of Iranian-backed Shiite militias fighting the Sunni extremists of ISIS said Trump's action insulted "the dignity of Iraqis who have suffered thousands of martyrs fighting terrorism on the behalf of the world," according to the Journal.
President Trump campaigned on being "the toughest guy" when it came to projecting U.S. military strength around the world, but his clumsy and cruel edict is a threat to U.S. military interests at a crucial time in Iraq, where ISIS loses more territory by the day, but where "winning the peace" has always been the unattainable victory for almost a decade-and-a-half.
Fri, 27 Jan 2017 06:30:00 -0500Yestersday Israel's public security minister, Gilad Erdan, announced a plan to decriminalize possession of marijuana, making public use a civil offense punishable by fines and eliminating penalties for private use. "We want to educate our youth that using drugs is damaging," Erdan said. "On the other hand, the police do not have the right tools to deal with the damage caused by using drugs. For example, police do not know how to deal with people who drive under the influence of drugs. This is why we must have a broad and conclusive policy change." Under the plan, which needs cabinet approval, adults caught smoking pot in public would be subject to a fine of 1,000 shekels ($263), which would be doubled for a second offense. A third offense would result in sanctions such as drug treatment and suspension of driving privileges, while a fourth offense would bring criminal charges. For cannabis users younger than 18, a first offense would result in a referral to treatment, a second in admission to a rehabilitation center, and a third in prosecution. But for adults, "home use and possession of marijuana would carry no punishment," The Times of Israel reports. Possession of up to 15 grams (half an ounce) is currently punishable by up to three years in prison, although the consequences are usually much less severe. Under attorney general's directives issued in 1985 and 2003, people caught with small amounts of marijuana are not supposed to be arrested for a first offense. Police have discretion as to whether charges should be brought for subsequent offenses. Police data released this week show that arrests for marijuana possession fell 30 percent between 2010 and 2015, from 4,967 to 3,425. Erdan's plan, which is based on recommendations from an advisory panel he appointed to study the issue, moves in the direction that Yohanan Danino, then Israel's police chief, suggested in 2015. "More and more citizens are demanding marijuana use be permitted," Danino said. "I think the time has come for the Israel police, together with the state, to re-examine their stance on cannabis. I think we must sit and study what's happening around the world." Last year Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said her ministry was studying decriminalization of drug possession. A bill that would have decriminalized possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana failed last summer, largely because of opposition from Erdan and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. At the time Erdan warned that punishing second offenses with fines was "a form of legalization" that would lead to more stoned driving. But it sounds like his proposal actually goes further than the bill he opposed. According to The Times of Israel, that bill applied only to cannabis consumers 21 or older (as opposed to 18 or older under Erdan's plan) and prescribed fines for private possession (which would be subject to no penalty under Erdan's plan) as well as a higher fine for public possession (1,500 shekels vs. 1,000 under Erdan's plan). While recreational marijuana use remains illegal in Israel, medical use is allowed for patients with prescriptions. The government recently announced $2.1 million in funding for a medical marijuana research program overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health.[...]
Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:55:00 -0500Fordham University—a private Jesuit institution in New York City—has denied Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) the ability to form a chapter on the school's campus, citing the group's politics as the primary reason for the refusal. In a letter to the group's applicants, the dean of students of the school's Manhattan campus Keith Eldredge wrote, "I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country." Eldredge is referring to SJP's support of the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, which Eldredge wrote is "barrier to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding." The Center for Constitutional Rights and the legal advocacy group Palestine Legal responded with a letter of their own, where they argued "The denial violates free speech and association principles, the University's commitment to protect free inquiry, and could give rise to a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act." Like many political student groups SJP engages in deliberately provocative speech, such as setting up "Apartheid walks" and mock Israeli checkpoints on campus. But the singling out of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli viewpoints as beyond the pale of acceptable speech is a growing phenomenon, with even the U.S. Senate passing the "Anti-Semitism Awareness Act" that essentially criminalizes harsh criticism of Israel on college campuses. While Fordham is a private school and thus not required to abide by the First Amendment, Ari Cohn of The Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) tells Inside Higher Ed, "the justification for denying SJP recognition is completely without merit and cannot stand at any university that proclaims that it values freedom of expression, which Fordham's written policies do." Also from Inside Higher Ed: Cohn noted that Fordham has chapters of the College Democrats and College Republicans, both of which advocate for specific political goals. "The fact that the group [SJP] is oriented toward advocating a specific political viewpoint is not out of the ordinary, and student organizations at every campus across the country do just that," Cohn said. "It's a little bit baffling to see that justification used to deny a student organization recognition." As I've noted here at Reason, it's not just the left seeking to legislate acceptable discourse on campus, and as a cause generally associated with the left, pro-Palestinian activism's increasing marginalization on campus is a healthy reminder that free speech is meant to protect unpopular viewpoints, not ones that enjoy universal acceptance.[...]
Tue, 03 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500
(image) Police in the United Arab Emirates have arrested a maid from Somalia for giving birth out of wedlock. The baby is being held in the prison nursery where the mother is allowed to visit only to feed him.
Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:05:00 -0500For the American press and many partisans, one of Donald Trump's very gravest sins is his "bromance" with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It's a sure sign of The Donald's stupidness, ignorance, naiveity, or flat-out lack of any moral seriousness that he seems to be OK with the Russians grabbing Crimea, edging its way into Ukraine, helping an even-bigger POS, Bashar al Assad, in Syria, and even "hacking" an election (or maybe not). These are all serious actions and worthy of argument, analysis, and sharp disagreement. But the presumption of most of Trump's critics (they exist on the right, too) when it comes to his Putinphilia is the unexamined equation of today's Russia and the Soviet Union. Just like the Soviets, this unspoken argument goes, Russia is bent on world domination or, at the very least, regaining the contours of its former empire of Soviet republics and effective control of countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Against such a dire and unexamined starting point, Washington Post Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov has written an important article worth reading. After recounting the very good year that Putin had in 2016 (brokering a cease-fire in Syria, winning praise from President-elect Trump, getting his "man" elected in the U.S., high-though-not-stellar approval ratings at home), he reminds us: Russia is not the Soviet Union, this is not the Cold War, and Moscow is not looking for world domination. Putin's goal is limited to reducing U.S. influence while ensuring Russia's vital interests, and the power he can project is still limited by a weak economy and a global reach that pales in comparison to that of the United States. He can't act anywhere he wants, he can't do it alone, and a lot still depends on whether and how far President-elect Donald Trump decides to go along with him. Filipov notes that Russia's economy is still in the shitter and highly dependent upon energy exports. Even though Putin has a personal rating in the 80s, only around half of the country thinks it is heading in the right direction and all sorts of structural reforms of the public sector and the economy have stalled or failed miserably. The typical Russian household is spending more than half its money on food and groceries for the first time in seven years and Russian GDP has declined from a peak of $2.2 trillion in 2013 to just $1.3 trillion, which works out to a second-world per-capita figure of $9,000. Putin recently refused a plan from his military to re-establish naval bases in Cuba and Vietnam, at least in part because of the cost. Filipov concludes: Putin has succeeded because he only picks fights with the United States when Russian vital interests are at stake and Russia has a reasonable chance of prevailing, said Simon Saradzhyan, founding director of the Russia Matters Project at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Saradzhyan argues that the primary consideration here is whether the United States is willing to commit its full might: In Ukraine, U.S. vital interests were not at stake, and ultimately, he said, the Obama administration decided they were not in Syria, either. "Soviet leaders sought to counter the United States everywhere and anywhere," Saradzhyan said. "Putin has a much more limited outlook shaped by capacities of his country's economy, demographics and other components of national might."... Even as Putin steams into 2017 at the height of his power, the question is what happens to Russia's standing the moment Trump takes control of the world's most powerful nation. While Moscow is likely to continue to push to expand its influence where it can at the expense of the United States, co-opting the new administration — for example, in the fight against terrorism — wherever it is f[...]
Fri, 30 Dec 2016 21:00:00 -0500
(image) The U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees last year. But according to the United Nations, 4.8 million people are currently registered for refugee status from Syria alone. In 2016, President Obama increased the U.S. intake of Syrians by 10,000—less than one-eighth the population being housed in three square miles of desert at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (pictured here).
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -05002016 is mercifully coming to an end this weekend, and the Obama presidency will end less than three weeks later. Despite Donald Trump's insistence that he'll do things differently, January 20, 2017 will be no more a clean break from the past than January 20, 2009, was, especially when it comes to the exercise of U.S. foreign policy abroad. Both Barack Obama and Trump made a change in foreign policy part of their successful first presidential campaigns—for both, that promise of change was nebulous and uncertain. It allowed people with all different kinds of ideas about U.S. foreign policy to believe his vision would comport with their own. President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, just 10 months into office. He leaves office with a war in Afghanistan that's gone on longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined, a war in Iraq (and Syria) that's not quite the same as the one he inherited (the names and places have changed), and intervention-induced chaos in places like Libya and Yemen. Trump, meanwhile, sent all sorts of mixed signals about how his administration might conduct, or frame, its foreign policy during the campaign—he was no non-interventionist but also challenged the Republican foreign policy establishment during the primaries. His freewheeling style so far has earned some dividends, while his cabinet picks, like Rex Tillerson at secretary of state and Gen. James Mattis at defense, will at their confirmations have to frame whatever the Trump administration's actual foreign policy, or foreign policy narrative, might be. Even a foreign policy left adrift is destructive, and like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration, too, will inherit a number of conflict zones and hot spots in which the United States is engaged. Afghanistan In 2009, President Obama ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, a war that at that point had entered its ninth year. "When the history of the Obama presidency is written," The New York Times reported on December 5, 2009, about Obama's decision to accelerate the troop surge and subsequent withdrawal as visualized in a bell curve chart, "that day with the chart may prove to be a turning point, the moment a young commander in chief set in motion a high-stakes gamble to turn around a losing war." Seven years later, the Afghanistan war continues. Most recently, the putative withdrawal was pushed into 2017, with at least 6,000 U.S. troops staying through next year. In 2009, the point of the surge was to create the space for Afghan security forces to operate on their own. A concomitant "civilian surge" from the State Department was supposed to strengthen Afghan national institutions. Bureaucratic infighting and incompetence instead wasted any opportunity that the surge might have created for a withdrawal. Last year, President Obama became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Nobel Peace Prize winner when an American gunship launched a strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Today, U.S. forces are fighting not just the Taliban but ISIS fighters as well. Obama has slowed down the pull out in large part because Afghan forces are unprepared to fight alone. Trump, meanwhile, has argued against both nation-building in Afghanistan and setting withdrawal dates (that insurgents would know) yet in favor of a long-term military presence in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a failed states. Iraq By the time President Obama took office, a status of forces agreement had been negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq that would see all U.S. troops withdrawn by 2011. While Obama tried to keep a residual U.S. force of 10,000 in Iraq past that date, the Iraqi government was [...]
Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500Frontline: Exodus. PBS. Tuesday, December 27, 9 p.m. Meet Isra'a, whose young life as a connoisseur of fine toys was rudely interrupted by a missile that obliterated the fine Syrian home of her merchant father. Now she's a canny street kid in the Turkish harbor town of Izmir, where her expertise includes one of the world's oddest niche markets—an open-air plaza where refugee families like hers can purchase all the appurtenances of illicit sea travel. Over there, she gestures, are the dealers in "rubber rings"—inner tubes, which are used as life preservers by upscale refugees and as vehicles by those whose hopes are bigger than their wallets. The rubber-ring trade is only for the hardiest of entrepreneurs, Isra'a observes, since cops periodically sweep through and confiscate their stocks in hopes of discouraging refugee traffic. (Isra'a, though only 10 or 12, knows a good bit about the police; she laughs as other kids admiringly describe how she shouted at them to run when cops recently grabbed her and slapped her around.) Less noticeable and therefore less risky, she advises, is the trade in small plastic bags that close with drawstrings: a waterproof carrying case for the cell phones that even the poorest emigres carry to map their trips and call for help in case of sinking, abduction or the other routine imperilments of refugee life. "If, God forbid, the dinghy sinks," Isra'a explains, "the phone will be safe." About the fate of the people carrying the phone, she is silent. Isra'a one of a dozen or so refugees whose journeys are chronicled in Exodus, a sweeping yet intimate episode of the PBS documentary series Frontline. From passengers frantically bailing water out of a floundering boat in the Mediterranean to a riot inside the notorious Calais camp known as "The Jungle," footage shot by the refugees themselves with smartphone cameras turns Exodus into something more like a diary than a documentary. Their message is that they are not so different than the rest of us would be if confronted with their dire circumstances. "Anyone can be a refugee," muses Ahmad, a young Syrian man who spent months slipping across borders in the Middle East and Europe in order to reach England after ISIS took over his village. "It's not something you choose. It's something that happens to you." The refugees are among more than a million who smuggled themselves into Europe from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East during 2015. The flow is even heavier this year as Syria disintegrates into total chaos, from which most of the refugees in Exodus are bolting. ("A country that's thousands of years old was destroyed in a minute," mourns one.) But as a young man named Sadiq, fleeing a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, reminds us, the ceaseless wars of the 21st century have left behind many burned-out hellholes in which the only reasonable alternative is escape. "I'm sure if they had the money, nobody would remain in Afghanistan," says Sadiq as he makes his way toward his personal vision of Utopia, Finland. "Afghanistan would be empty." How unlivable these ruined countries are is underlined again and again by the fact that not a single of the refugees profiled in Exodus ever turned back, despite enduring kidnappings, beatings, thefts, hunger, and extortions. When their fellow man wasn't using them as a punching bag, the Earth itself took over: treacherous seas, scorching deserts, sucking mud flats. But don't be misled; this is no tale of indefatigable pluckiness. Even the success stories among the refugees are half-mad before their travel ends. "I survived ISIS, I survived beheadings, I survived Assad," declares one Syrian refugee, nearing hysteria after yet another of h[...]