The Real News Network - Independent News, Blogs and Editorials
NO ADVERTISING, GOVERNMENT OR CORPORATE FUNDING
DONATE TODAY
 
 $124,688
 
 298

HOT TOPICS ▶ Target: Iran     The Real Baltimore     Reality Asserts Itself     United Kingdom    

The Real News Network - Independent News, Blogs and Editorials

The Dangers of the E-Commerce Agenda in Trade Negotiations: Statement by the Just Net Coalition

7 December 2017

The Just Net Coalition 1 (JNC) was formed at a civil society meeting in New Delhi in February 2014. It comprises several dozen organisations and individuals from different regions globally concerned with internet governance, human rights and social justice, and the relationship between them.

We have been among the 309 civil society organizations 2 who have called upon the member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to refrain from accepting the proposals of WTO members who are pushing a dangerous and inappropriate new agenda under the disguising rubric of “e-commerce”.

Key provisions of the proposals which are not acceptable from the point of view of important public interests include: a prohibition of requirements to hold data locally; a prohibition of otherwise regulating cross-border data transfers; a prohibition of requiring a local presence for goods/service providers in the country; and a prohibition of requiring open source software in government procurement contracts. It is also proposed that there be no border taxes on digital products.

Furthermore, it is being proposed to effectively give the WTO jurisdiction to adjudicate whether a national technology or data regulation was “reasonable,” “objective,” “transparent,” and “not more burdensome than necessary to ensure the quality of the service.” WTO’s adjudication processes have historically tended to favour commercial interests, and giving them a blanket supervision of technology/ data regulation may go against governments’ obligation to ensure that services are operated in the public interest and respect human rights and freedoms

In addition, discussions in WTO and in so-called free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations are neither transparent nor inclusive, thus resulting in decisions that do not take into account the interests of all concerned parties. The processes are overly influenced by big business interests.

We discuss below first the procedural shortcomings of discussing e-commerce matters in trade negotiations, then the substantive dangers.

Procedural issues

Many of the organizations that consider themselves to be part of a so-called “Internet Community” are great champions for the principle that all Internet governance topics should be discussed in open multi -stakeholder forums. Yet many of these organizations are not yet using their considerable influence to oppose the proposals to move the crucial discourse on the future of the Internet and the digital realm as a whole to the WTO with its trade-oriented framing of the issues. We are for this reason (again together with many others) calling on the Internet Community 3 to evaluate the WTO’s degree of lack of openness, transparency and inclusiveness, and to use their influence with the various governments accordingly.

There is no real advantage to be gained in negotiating Internet-related matters in the World Trade Organization or doing so behind the possibly even more opaque closed  doors of bilateral or plurilateral “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA) negotiations, such as those for TiSA, TTIP, TPP, etc. This is especially so at this stage when basic governance concepts and frameworks for Internet and data have not been worked out at forums more suited to do such preliminary work.

We have the impression that some of the people/organizations involved in Internet governance discussions are, at least implicitly, applying a syllogism along the following lines:

It is acceptable that trade negotiations are secretive.

Some Internet governance issues are related to trade.

Therefore it is acceptable to discuss

some Internet governance issues in trade

negotiations, even if secretively, and non-inclusively.

From our point of view, the major premise (the first one) is false: it is not acceptable that trade negotiations are not open. This is well explained in: http://www.borderlex.eu/trade-policy-ngos-wont-satisfied-eu-transparency-push/

And here is a concrete example of the possible negative effects of secret trade negotiations. One proposal that has been made would prevent governments from requiring disclosure of source code. The actual proposed text could perhaps be understood to prevent governments from procuring open source software. Maybe that is not the intent of the proposal, but, if so, the language should be changed to make it clear that there is no intent to prevent the procurement of open source software. But maybe the trade negotiators are not too well informed on technical issues such as open source  software.

So, they would benefit from public inputs. This itself is an important reason why the negotiations should not be secret

Surely, we all agree that governments benefit from input from all stakeholders. So, in our view, the syllogism that applies here is:

Secrecy in trade negotiations is not acceptable.

WTO and FTAs are at present secretive and non inclusive.

Therefore, it is not acceptable at present to conduct negotiations in WTO or in

FTAs, especially about issues of Internet governance where a tradition of open and inclusive policy discussions has been established

We are aware of the fact that some people think that some level of secrecy is needed in trade negotiations. But recall that trade negotiations are supposed to be win-win: everybody is supposed to be better off in the end. Secrecy is not normally required in win-win negotiations. Secrecy is often required in win-lose negotiations. So, it appears to us that the insistence on secrecy in trade negotiations indicates that they are not win-win negotiations.

But if that is the case, it is all the more reason to call for openness: the public has the right to know what might be bargained away. Specifically, in our context, we have the right to know what, if any, human rights (e.g. free speech, privacy, access, parity of economic opportunities) are being bargained away.

Substantive issues

We object to critical issues related to the digital economy being decided in negotiations with a primary “trade” framing because such negotiations, whether in the WTO or in FTAs, could:

It is axiomatic that human rights -civil and political as well as social and economic – must not be bargained away for any reason

Quite on the contrary, when it turns out that current arrangements for the Internet and the digital economy do not result in these principles being implemented and upheld in practice, these current arrangements for the Internet and its governance must be changed. But the changes must be inspired by respect for human rights, and not driven primarily by the interests of big multinational corporations.

Internet and digital issues cannot be framed primarily from a “trade perspective”. Yet what we see are efforts to block discussion on these issues at globally inclusive policy making forums, and to allow, or even encourage, them to be discussed and decided at trade governance venues like the WTO which, again, are overly influenced by the interests of big companies. We need Internet and data governance venues that are open and inclusive of all, and represent public interest, covering the full spectrum of social, economic, political and cultural interests.

This insight is at the heart of the demand for a people’s Internet or citizens’ Internet.

This has been articulated well at the recent Latin American civil society meeting “Dialogues for a People’s Internet: Our America towards to the Internet Social Forum”11 (Quito, September 27-29, 2017) and its regional “internet ciudadana” process (A summary in English is also available at https://www.alainet.org/en/articulo/189104).

In particular, it is the people who bring the Internet to life and give it content to create the digital economy. Therefore, it does not make sense for us, the people, to remain simply as users of services that the big corporations of the sector offer us, under their own conditions! We should be able to take part in how the digital economy is developed, and we should have the real power of decision over how our contributions are used.

Because of various technological developments, we are currently rapidly entering a new phase: the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), of the digital economy and artificial intelligence. Mass data collection provides the main input and source of value of this economy: data are used by those handling it, made usable for others, and/or sold to advertisers without taking into consideration that personal data are (in many countries) or should be governed by personality rights, an inalienable and not a property right. Yet our personal data areprocessed through algorithms, including artificial intelligence, with the aim to influence and even control ever more areas of our lives. They are prey for surveillance programmes, spying and cyberwars. Those who gather and control data concentrate power and wealth. The big Internet corporations and security services take advantage of regulatory vacuums (both national and international) in order to impose their rules. It is these regulatory vacuums that the current WTO and other Free Trade Agreement proposals aim to lock in by making it binding international law. Under this regime, citizens are powerless to insure that their human rights and freedoms are respected, exercised and effective; and they are powerless to develop autonomous projects.

It was through awareness of this situation that the initiative behind the Internet Social Forum (ISF)12 took shape, as an autonomous world space of social and citizens’ organizations from diverse social sectors, to debate and seek answers to this situation. It was agreed to do so under the umbrella of the process of the World Social Forum, with its affirmation that “another world is possible” in the face of the neoliberal proposition that “there are no alternatives”.

The above statement was posted by the Just Net Coalition at https://justnetcoalition.org/2017/Trade_negotiations.pdf

Original URLs of referenced links

1 http://justnetcoalition.org

2 http://notforsale.mayfirst.org/en/signon/11th-wto-ministerial-letter-global-civil-society-about-agenda-wto

3 https://justnetcoalition.org/2017/to_Internet_Community_re_WTO.pdf

4 https://www.opendemocracy.net/digitaliberties/renata-avila-burcu-kilic/new-digital-trade-agenda-are-we-giving-away-internet

5 https://www.newsclick.in/e-commerce-discussions-wto-more-neo-liberal-policies-negotiated-secret

6  http://www.apig.ch/CWG-Internet%202017-2bis.pdf

7 http://www.apig.ch/CWG-Internet%202017-2bis.pdf

8   http://cepr.net/publications/op-eds-columns/twelve-reasons-to-oppose-rules-on-digital-commerce-in-the-wto

9 https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/tpp-ecommerce-chapter-analysis.pdf

10 http://www.uniglobalunion.org/news/tisa-foul-play

11 https://al.internetsocialforum.net/

12 http://internetsocialforum.net/isf/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Add a comment

Russia wants to join the ISIS battle in Iraq

By: Shawn Snow / Military Times.

A Russian Su-25 ground attack jet is shown parked at the Hemeimeem Air Base in Syria, with Su-24 bombers seen in the background in Dec. 2015. Russia has been carrying out an air campaign in Syria since Sep. 30. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)


Russia says it is ready to start talking with the U.S. about helping to destroy the remnants of the Islamic State militants in western Iraq.

The comments from a Russian defense official come as Russia claims that ISIS has been defeated in Syria. But U.S. officials say there are still several thousand ISIS fighters remaining and still plenty of work for U.S.-backed fighters in the region to finish off and defeat ISIS.

“We are ready to hold dialogue and join American counterparts in solving this issue” said Russian First Deputy Defense Minister General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, as reported by Russian state news agency TASS.

“The attention of the international counterterrorism coalition should be focused on how to destroy militants in Iraq’s western regions in order to prevent the ISIL comeback to Syria and how to exclude the revival of Islamic Caliphate there, but not on deployment of own military bases in Syria,” Gerasimov said.

The Russian deputy minister further criticized U.S. operations in Syria and claimed it took nearly 11 months for U.S.-backed fighters to liberate Raqqa, and that 90 percent of the city had been destroyed in the effort.

“Contrary to the statements by our Western partners, the operations of the international anti-terror coalition led by the United States have not yielded any considerable successes on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic,” the general said, according to TASS.

The Raqqa campaign was announced on June 6 by the U.S. partner forces known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the city was liberated at just over four months of fighting.

Sign up for the Early Bird Brief
The defense industry's most comprehensive news

Nevertheless, Russian claims about U.S. operations in the region have been meet with much skepticism by U.S. officials.

“I would say the Russian Ministry of Defense statements are about as accurate as their air campaign,” Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, previously told reporters at a televised Pentagon briefing in November. The statements by Dillon were made after the Russian defense ministry posted screen shots of a video game as evidence of U.S. collusion with ISIS fighters.

However, the likelihood of any U.S. military cooperation with Russia in Iraq is low. “Our communication with the Russians, from a DoD standpoint, is limited to deconflicting our operations in Syria to prevent accidents,” said Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesperson.

Russian and U.S. military officials use a communications channel on a daily basis to help deconflict ground operations and air space over a tightly congested battlefield. But, there has been no direct military cooperation between Russian and American forces in the region.

But today’s statement by a Russian military official does beg the question of Russian interest in western Iraq.

While ISIS militants lost their last urban stronghold in Iraq after the liberation of al-Qaim and Rawa, the terror group is still holding onto scant territory in the expansive Jazeera desert of the Anbar province.

“The Russians may seek to expand their partnership with Iran and its proxies into Iraq in order to displace the US, further consolidate their own coalition, and dominate the region’s post-ISIS security architecture,” said Jennifer Cafarella, an expert on ISIS at the Institute for the Study of War.

Add a comment

Democrats Have Much to Learn and the Odious Have Much to Teach Them

By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass | CC BY 2.0

It was clear from the moment Donald Trump was elected president that 2017 would go down in history as one of the worst years ever in American politics.

It is now ending on an even worse note: with the president wandering off into dangerous non compos mentis territory as the consequences of his incompetence become increasingly manifest, and as the law closes in on him, his family, and the scoundrels who run the government for him.

Then there are the House and Senate Republicans outdoing even themselves in depraved indifference to the public good.

And there are their Democratic rivals, pusillanimous as ever, self-righteously rebranding themselves as defenders of sexual propriety and virtue.

Their idea, it seems, is to enhance their electoral prospects in next year’s midterm elections.  For that, they would be better off  — not morally, of course, but in the narrow, political sense that matters to them – learning a thing or two from Trump and the Republicans.

Both teach essentially the same lesson: that only losers care about “truth, justice, and the American way”; that it’s every man for himself; that common decency is for sissies; that real men revel in ignorance; and that, unless there is some percentage in it, only a fool would give a sucker an even break.   The aggressively masculine idiom is appropriate because, while women are included in the Trump-Republican worldview, they are basically just along for the ride.

There is no doubt about it: they are an odious lot.  Nevertheless, they have won a lot of elections lately; evidently, they are on to something.

Needless to say, Democrats and Republicans are already on the same page ideologically.   But where Republicans are mean sons of bitches (with the occasional bitch thrown in), Democrats are goody-goodies.   This wouldn’t matter so much if they were on a sounder, more progressive page ideologically.  But until that day comes, they would be well advised to adopt personae more in the Trump-Republican mold.

Nearly two-thirds of the electorate loathes Trump and the Republicans and many of those who don’t realize, at some level, that they are being played.  Therefore, in a country that holds generally “free and fair” competitive elections, Trump and the party he nominally leads are playing with a weak hand.

They are also on the wrong side of demography, and their altright and pseudo-intellectual ideas men (on this too, gendered language is appropriate) are pathetic.  But with opponents determined to be prim and proper and to stay on what they consider the high road, they will remain able to do impressively well for themselves.

Republican vileness is by no means all Trump’s fault.  One would have to be middle aged or older to recall a time when there were even just a few Republicans in the House or Senate who weren’t vile.  During the Obama years, the party ratcheted up its vileness quotient by perfecting an obstructionist style so extreme as to be almost sublime.  There was little room to degenerate further, but somehow they have managed to become worse still by cozying up to Trump.  The Donald has that effect.

Following his lead, they now unabashedly appeal to all that is dark and base in human nature as they deepen their determination to serve the fraction of “the donor class” that is most in thrall to the cardinal sin of greed.

This works for them; they get their way more often than not.  We have an increasingly rightwing judiciary and an increasingly enfeebled regulatory system to prove it.

If they get their tax scam through, we may soon be able to add yet more economic inequality and its inevitable consequence, the decline or demise of some of the most cherished remnants of the New Deal – Great Society settlement to the list.

No wonder Republican donors’ hearts are a flutter.  Unless the handful of “moderate” Republican Senators who kept Trump and the others from finishing off Obamacare wise up in time, those donors will soon be even more egregiously enriched than they already are, while the rest of us will be saying adieu to the few state institutions we have that make peoples’ lives better

Republican politicians who do the donors’ bidding are Robin Hoods in reverse – stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

Because I grew up listening to Mel Brooks’ two thousand year old man, I cannot resist saying, at this point, that Robin Hood did nothing of the sort; that his story was public relations hype.  The two thousand year old man knows, he was there, and he says that Robin Hood stole from everybody and kept everything.  That would be a suitable  inscription for Donald Trump’s tombstone.

One would think that, in a duopoly party system like ours, Democrats, being ostensibly less hostile to the interests of the vast majority of voters, would be wiping the floor with Republicans.  That could happen in 2018.  If it does, though, chances are that Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors will have more to do with it than revulsion at GOP policies.

Rightwing media that misinform and dumb down are part of the reason why.  They do their foul work well.

But the best efforts of even the most despicable promoters of ignorance would amount to very little if Democrats would fight back with anything like the obduracy that has become second nature to the GOP.

The problem is not just that Democrats are fraidy cats who, as Robert Frost said of liberals generally, won’t take their own side in an argument.  An arguably greater problem is that they evince an air of fatuous goody-goodyness that serves only to distract attention away from the harms caused by the nefarious policies both parties favor.

Thus, in 2016, they presented themselves as the party of everyone not white and heterosexual, or young and feminist.

To be sure, the leaders of what remains of the labor movement were behind them, supplying Democrats with campaign foot soldiers and with all the money they could spare – in return for vague and worthless promises.  But few, if any, working class people, black, brown, or white, unionized or not, were able to work up any enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton or for most other down-ticket Democrats.

On the other hand, lots of people had no problem working up hostility to Clinton and others like her – not just in so-called “red” states, but throughout most of the country’s rural, urban and suburban areas.

The feeling was mutual.  And so the election came down to a contest between goody-goodies and “deplorables.”  Look where that got us!

With the 2018 midterm election season now gearing up, the words of the villainous Ronald Reagan again ring true: “here we go again.”

There may still be a chance that Democrats will wise up in time.  The way their leaders dumped Al Franken without even a semblance of due process for – allegedly – acting like a jerk with several women not in his employ could be the final straw.  If  Democrats weren’t jerks themselves, it surely would be.

It might even dawn on them that being a jerk was part of Franken’s shtick in his comedian days; that it may also be part of his personality; and that even in this “me too” moment, it would not be unreasonable to view these factors as mitigating circumstances. Even those who deem his misbehavior inexcusable ought at least to demand due process for him and for everyone else.  Don’t count on it, though.  It is more likely that the way leading Democrats turned on him is a harbinger of where “the Chuck (Schumer) and Nancy (Pelosi) show” would like to take us from here.

If it is, even without Hillary leading the charge, and with Trump and the vilest of the vile in the House and Senate for opponents, the Democratic Party might just somehow manage to defeat itself again.

***

In short, Schumer and Pelosi and the rest could learn a lot from Trump and the Republicans — about how to stick up for themselves and how, by doing so, to get their way.  They could learn that it can be wise sometimes to take to heart the old adage: that nice guys finish last.

They could also benefit from following another odious example — the one set by the government of Israel and the larger Zionist movement.  Israel really does meddle in our elections; and Congress and the mainstream media are, for all practical purposes, in its thrall.  Moreover, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is easily as apt a target for demonization as Vladimir Putin.

But there is something to be learned from them even so: that, if you want to get your way – the jury is out on whether Democrats actually do – you can’t be too picky about the people you work with.  By enlisting Christian Zionists to their cause, Jewish Zionists have been demonstrating the efficacy of this teaching for four decades or more.

Were it not for Christian Zionists in the British government, the rulers of Mandate Palestine would not have been nearly as friendly to the idea of Jewish settlement in Palestine as they were throughout most of the inter-war period.

But it was not until some three decades after the founding of the state of Israel that the Israeli Right, during the premiership of Menachem Begin, fully embraced Christian Zionism, bringing the rest of the Zionist movement, more or less reluctantly, on board.

For the most part, Zionism used to be a secular cultural and political movement.  Many of the founders of the state of Israel were not even privately religious.

But to forge the national identity they aimed to establish, they could not dispense with Judaism altogether.  Inasmuch as the world’s Jews were joined together by their religion and little else, there was no other remotely suitable basis for forging a Jewish national community.

This was a problem at first because the Jewish religion, in both its orthodox and Reform versions, opposed political Zionism.  Most orthodox Jews accepted the Talmudic injunction, that there should be no mass “return” to the Promised Land until the Messiah comes to deliver on that promise.  Reform Jews, being proponents of liberal religion, regarded matters of faith and practice, for themselves and others, as matters of private conscience only.

These convictions were never universally accepted – in the United States, for example, Conservative Judaism has always had a Zionist inflection — and even in orthodox and Reform circles, doctrinal commitments of a non- or anti-Zionist nature were wearing thin long before the establishment of the Jewish state.

This was happening, moreover, at a time when God seemed to be in His (again, the pronoun is apt) death throes.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, outside hopelessly benighted circles, Jewish identity came to have more to do with nationalism than with Judaism itself.  Zionism hijacked Judaism.

But even in well-educated and comparatively enlightened circles, you can’t keep an old time religion down.  Thus, in the aftermath of the 1967 War, when the entirety of Mandate Palestine and then some fell into Israeli hands, the modus vivendi that had existed between Jewish nationalism and the Jewish religion began to turn into a more open embrace.

Reform Jews effectively dropped their principled objections to the Zionist project, and many orthodox Jews threw in the towel as well.  Some of them did more than that.  Before the seventies, only marginal orthodox communities endorsed secular Zionist goals; nowadays, among the settlers and in large swathes of Jewish Israeli society, a multi-faceted “national religious” movement has become a major political force.

The American equivalent is the “modern orthodoxy” of Jared Kushner and the observant Trump cronies currently charged by the Donald with getting Israelis and Palestinians to make an “artful” deal.  The likelihood that those ignoramuses can do anything like that is is about the same as the likelihood that the Trump-Republican tax cut will “make America great again.”

What is likely is that Israel will accelerate the ethnic cleansing of Palestine – completing the transformation of a Herrenvolk democracy into a full-fledged Apartheid state.  To do that, they will need the unbridled support of the United States.  Therefore, as Begin realized decades ago, they need to humor Christian Zionists; to make nice with them.

No matter that those godly folk believe that the Zionist project is part of an End Times scenario in which Christians like them are raptured away, while Jews (and Muslims and everybody else) are cast into Hell for all eternity.  Christian Zionists are an important part of the Trump base.  In the view of most Jewish Zionists, this makes them more important than ever for advancing the Zionist cause.

That cause remains as nationalistic, and therefore as secular, as ever.  The goal is to rule over as much of Mandate Palestine as they can get away with, ideally all of it, and to populate it as much as possible with Jews.

Religious Jews don’t much like it, but, insofar as they accept Zionist goals, even they don’t insist that religious convictions are necessary for membership in the Jewish nation.  For all Zionists, Jews don’t have to hold any particular beliefs, even atheists are OK, and they don’t have to observe Jewish law.  For anti-Semites and Zionists alike, “Jew” is an ethnic designation first and foremost, not a religious one.

Thus theological affinities have almost nothing to do with the fondness Jewish Zionists evince towards their Christian counterparts.  What explains that is sheer, unadulterated opportunism.

Even so, Zionists of all stripes – before, during and after the Begin era – have always thought, just as everyone with even a smidgen of common sense cannot help but think, that Christian Zionists give hokum a bad name.

However, if some good can come to Israel from it, they are fine with it.  Amen.

From where they stand, some good does come from it – now more than ever — because in Trump’s America, on matters pertaining to Israel and Palestine, Christian Zionists call the shots.

Thus Christian Zionists seemingly had more to do with the timing of Trump’s untimely, and recklessly dangerous, “proclamation” about moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, than Jewish Zionists did.

It is not that American Jews don’t care; many, though probably not most, do.  And among those who do care, there are alarmingly many plutocrats who are not shy about pouring serious money into the cause – people like the Kushners and, of course, Sheldon Adelson.  But, on this one, Christian Zionists were the driving force.

Netanyahu doesn’t mind.  To a degree that Begin would never have countenanced, the man has no shame.  Neither do most Israeli politicians these days.

Christian Zionists want to bring on Armageddon; Netanyahu’s goals are nominally less insane.  But if to achieve them, he has to make common cause with people who long for the day when Jews – along with Muslims and everyone else who does not accept Jesus — are cast forever into Hell, it hardly matters whose thinking is more unsound.

Even so, it would not be an entirely bad thing, in this case too, were the vile to lead the less vile; in other words, for Democrats, like contemporary Zionists, to be less persnickety about whom they welcome on board.

***

In a better possible world, the Democratic Party would long ago have been given the boot with the full support not just of left-leaning Democratic voters, but of everyone less retrograde than Marco Rubio or Lindsey Graham and less loathsome than Ted Cruz.

In the actual world, however, it may be that the only alternative to hopelessness is to struggle within the carapace of that wretched party – trying, perhaps in vain, to make it a less hopeless case.

To that end, it can’t hurt to learn from the odious – not by showing sympathy for the devil, but by sometimes following the lead of those that do.

Ralph Waldo Emerson called “a foolish consistency…the hobgoblin of little minds.”  A foolish moral fastidiousness is the hobgoblin of the little minds of feckless Democrats.

For all their moral and intellectual failings, even Trump and his Republican minions, and Netanyahu and his co-thinkers, are better opportunists than that.

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Add a comment

Trading Jerusalem for Iran

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

US president Donald J. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem potentially sets the stage for a controversial American effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The United States and the two Gulf states see a US peace plan-in-the-making as a way of paving the way for more overt cooperation with Israel in confronting Iran, whom they accuse of destabilizing the Middle East.

In doing so, the United States, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are navigating a minefield. Protests against Mr. Trump’s move have so far underplayed the link between the fight against Iran and apparent Saudi and UAE willingness to compromise on minimal Palestinian demands for peace that include East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

That could change as US plans for an Israeli-Palestinian peace crystalize and the link to the Saudi-Iranian rivalry manifests itself. At the core of the US draft plan is reportedly the controversial suggestion that Abu Dis, a Palestinian village bordering on Jerusalem, rather than East Jerusalem, would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Perceived Saudi and UAE backing for the proposal that is reportedly being drafted by Mr. Trump’s aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, would bring anger at alleged Arab complicity to the forefront, fuel the persistent anti-US and anti-Israel protests, and complicate the campaign by the US and the two Gulf states against Iran.

The notion that Abu Dis could replace East Jerusalem has been around for almost two decades. It failed to garner support during the 2000 Camp David Israeli-Palestinian peace talks because Arab and Palestinian leaders rejected it. Saudi and UAE eagerness to work with Israel coupled with Mr. Trump’s seemingly unqualified support for the Jewish state has given the proposal a new lease on life.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, despite their official condemnation of Mr. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, have signalled a willingness to be more flexible by continuing to support Mr. Kushner’s effort and playing a low-key, if not dampening, role in Arab and Muslim rejection of the president’s move.

Ironically, differences among Arab leaders about how to respond to Mr. Trump’s Jerusalem decision may have temporarily prevented Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from adding Palestine to a string of failed foreign policy moves aimed at escalating the kingdom’s proxy war with Iran. Prince Mohammed’s devastating military intervention in Yemen, botched effort to force Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign, and hamstrung boycott of Qatar have backfired and only strengthened the Islamic republic’s regional influence.

Inadvertently, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah did Prince Mohammed a favour when they reportedly rejected pressure by Prince Mohammed not to participate in this week’s summit of Islamic countries in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia was represented by a lower level Cabinet official. Mr. Abbas may have further shielded the Saudi leader when his refusal to further accept the United States as a mediator was adopted by the summit.

The two leaders’ stand coupled with the Islamic summit’s rejection of Mr. Trump’s move make it more difficult for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to endorse any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The problem is that Prince Mohammed and his UAE counterpart, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, run the risk of misreading or underestimating public anger and frustration in significant parts of the Arab and Muslim world.

The link between Israeli-Palestinian peace making and Iran is likely to become undeniable when Mr. Trump next month must decide whether to uphold the 2015 international agreement with Iran that put severe restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Under US law, Mr. Trump has to certify Iranian compliance every three months. In October, Mr. Trump refused to do so. He threatened to pull out of the agreement if Congress failed to address the agreement’s perceived shortcomings within 60 days. Congress has so far refrained from acting on Mr. Trump’s demand. Mr. Trump wants Congress to ensure that Iranian compliance involves accepting restrictions on its ballistic missile program and support of regional proxies.

It is anybody’s guess what Mr. Trump will do. At first glance, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley’s presentation of Iranian missile parts as evidence of Tehran’s support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iranian destabilization of the Middle East would suggest that Mr. Trump is preparing to decertify Iran and possibly withdraw from the agreement.

It could however also be an effort to project a tougher US stance towards Iran while cooler heads in the administration prevail on Mr. Trump to keep the agreement in place.

In either case, Mr. Trump and his Gulf allies are walking a tightrope by fuelling suspicion that they are willing to compromise on minimal Palestinian demands for peace in a bid to cater to Israel, a natural ally in the fight against Iran.

In doing so, Mr. Trump and the Saudi and UAE crown princes risk misreading not only the public mood but also Iranian influence and intentions, particularly regarding the Islamic republic’s ability to control the Houthi rebels. Ms. Haley’s evidence that was supplied by Saudi Arabia and the UAE failed to convince many in the international community.

Ms. Haley’s missile parts display was prompted by the Iranian-backed Houthis firing of a ballistic missile at Riyadh on November 4. It remains unclear whether that missile was supplied by Iran, or possibly North Korea, and when it was given to the Houthis – key questions that need to be answered to determine possible Iranian culpability.

The Houthis, a fiercely independent actor who have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not take orders from Tehran and at times ignore its advice, could throw a monkey wrench into the fragile Middle East mix if they make good on a threat to target not only Saudi but also Emirati cities. A missile strike would no doubt provoke a harsh response, possibly involving a joint US-Saudi-UAE strike against Iran rather than against the Houthis in Yemen.

Anger already aroused by Mr. Trump’s decision on Jerusalem potentially could then turn against Arab leaders who would be seen to be cooperating with the United States and willing to sacrifice Palestinian rights to work with Israel.

In short, it could open a can of worms in which public anger is directed against multiple parties ranging from the United States to Israel to Arab leaders to Iran and the Houthis and/or prove to be a perfect storm.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa.

Add a comment

Arctic Report Card: Lowest Sea Ice on Record, 2nd Warmest Year

By Sabrina Shankman / Inside Climate News.

Climate scientists say the magnitude and rate of sea ice loss this century is unprecedented in 1,500 years and issue a warning on the impacts of a changing climate.

Arctic ice in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. Credit: Thomas Newman/CICS-MD/NOAA

Older Arctic sea ice is being replaced by thinner, younger ice. NOAA reports that multiyear ice accounts for just 21 percent of the ice cover in 2017. Credit: Thomas Newman/CICS-MD/NOAA

The Arctic experienced its second-warmest year on record in 2017, behind only 2016, and not even a cooler summer and fall could help the sea ice rebound, according to the latest Arctic Report Card.

"This year's observations confirm that the Arctic shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen state that it was in just a decade ago," said Jeremy Mathis, director of the Arctic program at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which publishes the annual scientific assessment.

Arctic Sea Ice Has Been Shrinking

"These changes will impact all of our lives," Mathis said. "They will mean living with more extreme weather events, paying higher food prices and dealing with the impacts of climate refugees."

The sea ice in the Arctic has been declining this century at rates not seen in at least 1,500 years, and the region continued to warm this year at about twice the global average, according to the report. Temperatures were 1.6° Celsius above the historical average from 1981-2010 despite a lack of an El Nino, which brings warmer air to the Arctic, and despite summer and fall temperatures more in line with historical averages.

Among the report's other findings:

  • When the sea ice hit its maximum extent on March 7, it was the lowest in the satellite record, which goes back to 1979. When sea ice hit its minimum extent in September, it was the eighth lowest on record, thanks in part to the cooler summer temperatures.
  • Thick, older sea ice continues to be replaced by thin, young ice. NOAA reported that multiyear ice accounts for just 21 percent of the ice cover, compared with 45 percent in 1985.
  • Sea surface temperatures in the Barents and Chukchi seas in August were up to 4°C warmer than the 1982-2010 average.
  • Permafrost temperatures in 2016 (the most recent set of complete observations) were among the highest on record.

The report card's findings were announced at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union, an organization of more than 60,000 Earth and space scientists. The report card is peer reviewed, and was contributed to by 85 scientists from 12 countries.

When the Arctic sea ice hit its maximum extent for the winter on March 7, 2017, it was the lowest in the satellite record. Credit: Arctic Report Card

When the Arctic sea ice hit its maximum extent on March 7, 2017, it was the lowest in the satellite record. Credit: Arctic Report Card

Timothy Gallaudet, a retired Navy admiral who is the acting NOAA administrator, told the audience of scientists that the findings were important for three main reasons. The first reason, he said, was that "unlike Las Vegas, what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic."

The next two reasons, he said, "directly relate to the priorities of this administration": national security and economic security.

"From a national security standpoint, this information is absolutely critical to allow our forces to maintain their advantage," Gallaudet said.

From an economic one, the changes in the Arctic bring challenges—like those faced by Alaskan communities threatened by coastal erosion—but also opportunity. "Our information will help inform both of those as we approach the changing Arctic," he said.

Sabrina Shankman is a producer and reporter for InsideClimate News. She joined ICN in the fall of 2013, after helping produce documentaries and interactives for the PBS show "Frontline" since 2010 with 2over10 Media. She is the author of the ICN book "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," and was named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists for that work. Shankman has a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

Add a comment
TheRealNewsNetwork.com, RealNewsNetwork.com, The Real News Network, Real News Network, The Real News, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of Independent World Television inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and The Real News Network.

All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network. Click here for more

Problems with this site? Please let us know

Web Design, Web Development and Managed Hosting