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Arms Industry-Funded Democrats Vote to Help Saudi Arabia Continue Slaughtering Civilians in Yemen

By Ben Norton / AlterNet

Five Democratic senators joined Republicans in narrowly voting to approve Trump’s arms deal

Displaying a Yemeni starving under Saudi siege, Sen. Rand Paul clamored for the cancellation of Trump's arms package to Saudi Arabia

Five Democratic senators joined hands with Republicans to push through the Trump administration’s sale of $510 million in precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, in a narrow 53-47 vote.

Three of these Democrats have received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the arms industry, which will be reaping an unprecedented windfall profit from Trump's record-breaking $110 billion weapons deal with the Saudi monarchy.

The Saudi regime will likely use these weapons to continue waging a brutal U.S.-backed war on Yemen, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people and created what the United Nations has repeatedly warned is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.

Senators from both sides of the aisle proposed the bill S.J.Res.42 in late May to try to block this $510 million portion of the larger arms deal. Lawmakers voted on the legislation on June 13, and it was defeated with 47 votes for and 53 against.

Voting fell largely on partisan lines, with most Republicans for it and Democrats in opposition. However, Democratic senators Mark Warner (Virginia), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Bill Nelson (Florida) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana) crossed to the other side and gave the GOP the majority it needed to shoot down the legislation.

AlterNet contacted the offices of all five Democratic lawmakers with a request for comment as to why they voted in support of arming Saudi Arabia. None replied.

The weapons and military technology industry have given three of these Democratic senators large campaign contributions.

Among Bill Nelson’s top ten donors from 2011 to 2016 was the arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin, with nearly $40,000 in contributions. Lockheed will not only reap at least $6 billion from the $110 billion deal with Saudi Arabia, selling the kingdom warships and advanced military hardware; it will also extend its contract to train the Saudi army.

Senator Mark Warner received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from defense contractors Northrop Grumman, Huntington Ingalls Industries and the Harris Corporation between 2011 and 2016, according to the transparency group OpenSecrets.

Similarly, one of the top donors to Claire McCaskill is Boeing, which gave tens of thousands of dollars between 2011 and 2016.

Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Kentucky and one of the few outspoken opponents of interventionism, delivered an indignant floor speech on the resolution he sponsored. He pointed the finger directly at his colleagues who had cynically defended the arms deal as a job creating initiative.

"I am embarrassed that people are out here talking about making some money and making a buck while seventeen million people live on a starvation diet and are threatened with famine, I am embarrassed," Paul thundered. "I am embarrassed that people would bring up trying to feather the nest of corporations in order to sell these weapons."

Four Democratic senators — Chris Murphy, Al Franken, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren — joined Paul in co-sponsoring the legislation.


Bloodshed in Yemen

A Saudi-led coalition backed by the U.S. and the U.K. launched a bombing campaign in March 2015 in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East. Since then, the U.S.-Saudi coalition has launched at least 90,000 airs raids in yemen, more than one-third of which have hit civilian areas.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have for well over a year called for an immediate halt in U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, citing its atrocities in Yemen. The United Nations has likewise accused the U.S.-Saudi coalition of committing apparent war crimes in the conflict.

Without support from the U.S. and the U.K., Saudi Arabia would have been unable to wage the war. Saudi Arabia is attacking Yemen with U.S. planes, U.S. weapons, U.S. fuel and intelligence from U.S. military officials, who have physically been in the command room with Saudi officials.

The U.S. military has also joined Saudi Arabia in imposing a crippling blockade on Yemen, which has prevented critical food aid and medicine from getting to the civilian population, fueling mass starvation in what has become the worst food insecurity emergency on Earth, and exacerbating a cholera epidemic.

As of January, at least 10,000 civilians had been violently killed in Yemen, in a conservative estimate. This figure does not take into consideration the tens of thousands of children who have died from nonviolent causes, such as malnutrition and preventable diseases, because of the war.

Dozens of hospitals and medical centers have been destroyed or damaged by U.S.-Saudi bombing. The World Health Organization warned in November that more than half of the impoverished country’s health facilities were out of operation or only partially functioning.

Defending the Arms Deal

Republican lawmakers bent over backward to portray the arms deal as a way to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen, not cause more.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky defended the vote, paying lip service to civilians in Yemen and claiming that “blocking this arms sale will diminish Saudi capability to target with precision.” He also noted the sale could help weaken Iran.

Senator John McCain, the senate’s standard bearer of neoconservatism and the powerful chairman of the Armed Services Committee, insisted it would be “crazy” to oppose the package, The Hill reported.

Finally, Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, proclaimed, “It’s hard for me to understand why people would oppose the selling of precision-guided missiles.”

Praise for Progressive Opponents of the Sale

Human Rights Watch and the humanitarian group Oxfam praised lawmakers who tried to block the arms deal.

“The U.S. has no business providing weapons that will further fuel one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, with 7 million Yemenis on the brink of starvation and with cholera spreading rapidly,” said Scott Paul, Oxfam America senior humanitarian policy advisor, in a statement.

Paul applauded the members of Congress for “voting to block the sale of U.S. precision bombs that have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to destroy farms, factories, schools, hospitals and Yemen’s most important port.”

Largest Arms Deal in U.S. History

The $510 million precision munitions deal is just one part of the massive $110 billion package Trump signed with the Saudi regime — the largest single arms deal in U.S. history.

Trump solidified the deal during a visit to the Saudi regime in May, in which he demonized Iran — a Shia-majority country that is leading the fight against ISIS, al-Qaeda and other Salafi-jihadist groups.

Saudi Arabia, a theocratic absolute monarchy that shares the same extremist Islamist ideology of genocidal groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda, has also armed and supported violent Salafi-jihadist groups, internal U.S. government documents have acknowledged.

Extending Obama’s Arms Deals

Partisan opposition to massive U.S. arms deals with the Saudi regime is a relatively new phenomenon.

President Barack Obama sold more than $110 billion in arms to the Saudi regime during his two terms in office. Congress let these deals — including a massive $60 billion package — go through with little opposition.

A small pocket of members of Congress from both parties, led by the lawmakers who proposed the newly defeated bill, also unsuccessfully tried to block past weapons deals, raising concerns over Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen.

When Sen. Paul concluded his floor speech, he displayed harrowing photos on the senate floor showing the emaciated victims of the US-Saudi siege and bombing campaign. "Seventeen million folks in Yemen live on the brink of starvation. I think to myself, is there every anything important in Washington? Is there ever anything I can do to save some of the millions of children that are dying in Yemen? This is it. This is this debate today."

Ben Norton is a reporter for AlterNet's Grayzone Project. You can follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Labour’s Permanent Reformation

By Benjamin Selwyn. This article was first published on Socialist Project.

The 2017 British general election has generated the beginnings of a qualitative-change in the relationship between the Labour Party, much of British society, and parliament. That transformation can be understood as the emergence of a permanent reformation.

Jeremy Corbyn - No More Austerity

Labour’s much better-than expected support raises the distinct possibility of its victory in the next election. Against all the odds – the polls, the hostile right-wing press, expectations within the Labour Party itself – Jeremy Corbyn led the party through a brilliantly coordinated campaign, presided over the biggest swing to Labour since the earth-shaking 1945 general election, and placed socialist ideas firmly back on the political agenda.

The significance of the Labour surge is not, primarily, a question of a shift in the balance of political power in parliament. It is much more profound than that. Labour’s campaign let the proverbial genie of class politics out of the bottle.

The Genie of Class Politics

For decades that genie has been kept prisoner. First, under Margaret Thatcher’s momentous attack upon the trade union movement and her declaration that there was “no such thing as society.” Second, under Tony Blair’s third way progressive policies were framed as benign gifts to the poor, to be delivered in a context where Labour was, in Peter Mandelson’s infamous words, “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” Blair’s New Labour discouraged any revival of working class militancy. For example, he famously opposed and beat back the Fire-Fighter’s strike for a 30K a year wage. Thirdly, following David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition, austerity was imposed with a vengeance, with working class communities bearing the brunt.

During the election campaign Corbyn was relentless in his critique of the wealth-gap in the UK. The campaign gave confidence to the millions of people, who voted Labour, that an alternative to austerity is possible.

While the Tories won the election, Theresa May’s authority is shattered, and the Tories are weakened. But, whenever the next election comes, the Tories will be much better prepared. They will, in all probability, have replaced May with a leader who can communicate effectively with the press and public. They will have a fully costed Manifesto. Their attacks on Labour will be sharper and better coordinated. So what about Labour?

Labour’s result has put Corbyn firmly at the head of the party for the foreseeable future. The key dynamic is not, however, within the parliamentary Labour Party. It is among the party’s 500,000+ membership and its support base.

The hung parliament represents a breathing space for Labour, and a chance for it to consolidate, build upon, and strengthen its base. A core ingredient of Labour’s victory was the unprecedented volunteer mobilization across the country to campaign and canvass for the party. While the hugely successful Bernie Sander’s campaign was built over two years, Labour’s election campaign was put into action over less than two months.

Can Labour Continue It's Momentum?

The question is, how can Labour increase the momentum of this campaign so that it can prevail when it faces a better-organized Tory party at the next election?

There are a number of things that Labour can do. First, it must continue to increase its membership base. Given the success of the campaign it is not unrealistic to aim for a membership of 1 or even 2 million people. Members should be encouraged to contribute financially to the party. A 1 or 2 million-strong party, with each member contributing £10 a month, would generate the new-found resources with which to finance its momentum.

Secondly, membership and support for the party cannot be based, simply, on the electoral cycle. The culture-ideology of neoliberalism – self-seeking individualism – has sunk deep roots in the UK (and across much of the world). Labour needs to help generate a counter-culture of solidarity and community to combat neoliberal ideology. A mass, subs-paying membership, can contribute to financing a counter-cultural movement. Labour Party branch meetings will, quite obviously, be a place to discuss local and national politics. But they must be so much more. Tens of thousands of artists, intellectuals, and musicians support Labour. Branch meetings can be a place for a counter-cultural flowering, where members and supporters can meet. Well-financed local Labour parties can support myriad cultural events (for example, showing films such as “I Daniel Blake” with discussions).

Thirdly, Labour must engage in an ideological insurgency. The Tory mantra during the election was that Labour are fiscally irresponsible and that there is ‘no magic money tree’ to pay for Labour’s projects. Let us leave aside that, in response to the global financial crisis, the Bank of England and the UK Treasury collaborated to create £375-billion of new money through quantitative easing. There is a real need for something approaching a Labour Party membership and supporter education which explains the rationale of alternative economic and social policies.

Fourthly, there is a need for a combination of defensive and offensive campaigning, at the local and national level. Defensive campaigns will range across issues such as defending the National Health Service (NHS) and schools against cuts and privatization. Offensive campaigns will probably include those to reinstate free education, to cease arms-sales to dictatorships (such as Saudi Arabia) to protect the environment, and ensure clean air for all. Given the Tory party austerity-addiction and their desire to privatize everything in sight, these campaigns will, more likely than not, be permanent as long as the Tories are in power.

Fifthly, and crucially, struggles and strikes by workers need to be supported and stimulated. Theresa May leads the weakest Tory party government since the Edward Heath government in the early 1970s. Strikes will not only contribute to weakening it further, but can also be part of the generation of a solidarity-based counter-culture.

The Labour Party sees itself as a family. The massive surge in support for it during the election represents the political crystallization of the yearning for a different form of government, democracy and society. The five points above could represent the first steps of Labour’s permanent reformation. When it gains political office that reformation will need to be ramped up all the more. •

Benjamin Selwyn is Professor of International Relations and International Development, University of Sussex, UK. He is author of The Struggle for Development.

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Prominent Democratic Fundraisers Realign to Lobby for Trump’s Agenda

By Lee Fang. This article was first published on The Intercept.

After President Donald Trump’s upset election victory, Democratic insiders who worked on Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid weren’t necessarily relegated to the sidelines. Many, in fact, are cashing in as lobbyists — by working to advance Trump’s agenda.

Lobbying records show that some Democratic fundraisers, who raised record amounts of campaign cash for Clinton, are now retained by top telecom interests to help repeal the strong net neutrality protections established during the Obama administration.

Others are working on behalf of for-profit prisons on detention issues, while others still are paid to help corporate interests pushing alongside Trump to weaken financial regulations. At least one prominent Clinton backer is working for a health insurance company on a provision that was included in the House Republican bill to gut the Affordable Care Act.

While Republican lobbyists are more in demand, liberal lobbyists are doing brisk business that has them reaching out to fellow Democrats to endorse — or at least tamp down vocal opposition to — Trump agenda items.

“These cases are clear, disturbing examples of the gulf between the interests of many of the Democratic Party’s big-money donors and those of the party’s progressive base and America’s working families,” said Kai Newkirk, co-founder of Democracy Spring, a progressive coalition.

The net neutrality debate is a case in point. The biggest fundraisers for the Clinton campaign — Democratic lobbyists such as Ingrid Duran, Vincent Roberti, Steve Elmendorf, Al Mottur, and Arshi Siddiqui — are now lobbying on behalf of AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast on net neutrality. These companies dominate the telecom industry, which is working with the Trump administration to unwind one of President Barack Obama’s biggest accomplishments.

In 2015, the Obama administration, with great fanfare, reclassified broadband services as a utility using Title II of the Communications Act. In doing so, the reclassification avoids court challenges, paving the way for strong regulations that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic in the same way. The principle is known as net neutrality, which advocates say is crucial for the internet remain open to the free flow of information and innovative services.

Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney appointed by Trump to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Communication, is attempting to rollback the Title II reclassification and have companies simply commit to a voluntary form of net neutrality.

“The industry supports strong consumer protection rules but Title II is an over the top, archaic regulatory framework,” said Mottur, a Democratic lobbyist, in a brief interview with The Intercept explaining his work.

Mottur raised $95,606 for the Clinton campaign. Now, as a lobbyist for Comcast and the National Cable And Telecommunications Association, Mottur is supporting the Trump administration’s effort to undo net neutrality.

In April, when the FCC decision was announced, Mottur tweeted in support of the plan, claiming a roll back of Title II reclassification will “lead to more capital investment in telecom sector and boost economy.” Pai, the FCC chairman, liked the tweet.

Net neutrality advocates have expressed concern about the growing reach of the telecom lobby.

“The only way big phone and cable companies can get political support for such unpopular policies like killing net neutrality is by hiring powerful party operatives — Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Joe Torres of Free Press, a nonprofit that advocates for net neutrality. (Free Press receives financial support from the Democracy Fund, which is funded by Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar founded The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media.)

“Hopefully elected officials will reject the industry talking points being made by these hired operatives and look out for the communities they claim to represent,” Torres added. “Opposing net neutrality would harm communities of color and other marginalized groups by silencing their digital voices and their ability to speak for themselves in fighting for a more just society.”

Other Democratic lobbyists did not respond to requests for comment, but many of their lobbying disclosures demonstrate a realignment in support of Trump’s policy agenda.

A well-known lobbyist who runs in powerful Democratic circles, Heather Podesta, volunteered for Clinton during the New Hampshire primaries. She collected at least $407,000 for the campaign. In recent months, Podesta has tweeted from the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference, an event billed as a platform for the “Resist movement,” and has continued to give cash to congressional Democrats.

Podesta, however, whose New Years Resolution was to “Make Lobbying Great Again,” has adapted to Republican rule by rebranding her lobbying firm from “Heather Podesta + Partners” to “Invariant,” a name change to reflect “an expanding bipartisan team” with ties to the Trump administration.

Records show Podesta has lobbied this year on behalf of financial management and insurance giants Prudential and New York Life on the fiduciary rule, the regulation fought for by the Obama administration that was designed to require financial planning companies to act in the best interests of their clients. Early in his administration, in a decision cheered by the industry, Trump ordered a delay in the implementation of the rule.

Other Democratic lobbyists have found that their corporate clients’ interests align with the Trump administration. Some, like Podesta, are taking financial planning industry cash to work on the fiduciary rule.

Steve Elmendorf, a former senior advisor to Clinton’s 2008 run, maintained a high-profile role with Clinton’s 2016 run, raising $341,000 for the campaign. He is now one of the most prominent corporate lobbyists in Washington, D.C. Records show that Elmendorf, too, lobbied on the fiduciary rule. His client, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, a trade group for firms like Prudential, has made delaying the rule a major goal and celebrated Trump’s move to delay implementation.

UnitedHealth, the health insurance giant, is also an Elmendorf client. Filings made to ethics officials on Capitol Hill reveal that Elmendorf is helping UnitedHealth work on issues related to the Affordable Care Act, including the health insurance industry tax, a provision of the ACA that UnitedHealth has made clear it seeks to repeal or delay. Congressional Republicans have said that, if they are successful with their overhaul of the law, the tax will be gone.

A former Democratic National Committee fundraiser from Bill Clinton’s days as president, Richard Sullivan, served as a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year. He bundled at least $345,218 for the campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission records. Sullivan is also registered lobbyist for the public relations and lobby firm Capitol Counsel, where he works on behalf of private prison giant Geo Group to convince lawmakers of the “benefits of public-private partnerships in the delivery of secure residential care in correctional and detention facilities.”

The Florida-based Geo Group is particularly close to the Trump administration; it was one of the few firms to donate corporate money to a Trump SuperPAC during the election, finance the inauguration, and openly celebrate Trump’s decision to vastly expand the detention and removal of undocumented immigrants. The firm was among the first private companies to win a contract from the Trump administration for a federal immigrant detention center, a deal worth $110 million.

Lobbyists often use their ability to bundle cash for candidates and party organs as a way of win an audience with lawmakers on behalf of their clients. As The Intercept has reported, lobbyists for Goldman Sachs and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the trade group, raised big money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, using their sway to pressure the party to adopt policies favorable to their industries and to abandon economic populist messaging that targeted the financial sector.

Trump’s election has been called a “bonanza” for Washington lobbyists, as K Street seeks to enrich itself by harnessing the administration’s zeal for rewarding corporate allies. For many Democratic insiders, there is fortune to made even in electoral defeat.

The Intercept spoke to several progressive activists who expressed outrage that leading Democratic Party officials are now advancing the Trump agenda, but were reluctant to comment on the record, for fear of angering powerful Democrats. But a few activists, like Democracy Sping’s Newkirk, decided to speak on the record.

Becky Bond, an activist and former Bernie Sanders adviser who also spoke out, said, “When Democratic insiders team up with Comcast and the private prison industry, they make it pretty difficult to see how the party can rebuild relationships with the voters it needs to bring back into the fold.”

“Destroying the internet and maximizing the profitability of mass incarceration,” she added, “is not what I would call a winning strategy for Democrats who want to take back power in 2018.”

Top photo: Heather Podesta, a lawyer and lobbyist based in Washington, D.C., at an event hosted by Politico during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, on July 27, 2016.

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Why Israel and Hezbollah are heading for a new, devastating war in the Middle East

By Nicholas Noe. This article was first published on Independent.

In 13 years of watching these two bitter opponents, I have never seen such a high degree of anxiety that war is coming


Lebanon’s Hezbollah is backed by Iran and has greater support among ordinary citizens than Israel suggests AFP/Getty

This past Sunday, with great fanfare, Israeli politicians and military leaders finally announced to the Israeli public – and to the country’s enemies – that they had successfully layered the nation’s airspace with the most sophisticated anti-missile defence system ever developed.

Long-range Iranian or Syrian missiles, as it is anticipated, would mainly be handled by the US-backed Arrow system at high altitudes; smaller, but nevertheless extremely accurate, missiles from Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria would be the domain of the US-backed David’s Sling, while drones, artillery and smaller rockets will continue to be dealt with by the (also US-backed) Iron Dome.

In mid-March, the new Arrow-3 missile system had seen its first successful use, knocking out a Syrian missile fired towards Israel in response to yet another Israeli Air Force attack within Syria, allegedly targeting Hezbollah positions.

This unprecedented ratcheting up of military confrontation in the Levant is raising significant concerns that a climactic war at least involving Hezbollah and Israel is increasingly likely, just 11 years after the last inconclusive round of hostilities left both sides licking their wounds and promising a “final” engagement.

In 13 years of watching these two bitter opponents, I have never seen such a high degree of anxiety among Lebanon’s political elite that war is coming.

Donald Trump says ‘you'll see’ when asked about Syria policy

This incredibly unstable and violent moment in geopolitics is undermining the central element that kept Israel and Hezbollah from overstepping each other’s red lines: fear, or rather a balance of fear based on the belief that the next conflict will be devastating for all sides.

When the next war hits, Israel will not only be well positioned to defend against Hezbollah’s main weapon – rockets launched against military and civilian targets – but it will also employ the unrestrained bombing of all Lebanese infrastructure and “supportive” civilian populations, ensuring that other Lebanese citizens turn on Hezbollah as a result.

Unfortunately for the balance of terror, Hezbollah and their allies seem to believe, with some cause, that the Israelis are wrong. First, a vicious bombing of all Lebanon will likely produce greater solidarity among Lebanese, rather than lead to any combination of ill-equipped communities to somehow confront Hezbollah.

Second, Hezbollah is not the same as the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was expelled from Lebanon after the devastating Israeli invasion in the summer of 1982. It is a deeply rooted Lebanese political grouping that has significant support in the country. As the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, has long reminded the Israelis, party supporters and especially his base among the Shia people of Lebanon are not going to get on a ship and move to Tunis as PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat once did. Most will stay and fight for their country.

Remembering the Israel-Gaza conflict

Third, Hezbollah and its key partner Iran seem to believe that Israel’s nuclear and chemical facilities, and even its new missile system, are vulnerable and could be easily overcome.

Finally, just as Israeli leaders seem overly confident that other Lebanese communities will quickly turn on Hezbollah if hit hard enough, Nasrallah and other key Hezbollah leaders I have met over the years seem equally entranced by the idea that the Israelis have become a soft people protected by a soft army that will not be able to collectively bear the dislocation resulting from Hezbollah’s land, sea and air strikes.

The core problem with all of these – mostly inaccurate – assumptions is that they are providing vital lubricant for the main casus belli that has now fully emerged in Southern Syria and the Occupied Golan. Indeed, both Hezbollah and Iran are very likely continuing to pursue the sort of underground military infrastructure in Southern Syria that they successfully pioneered against the Israelis in South Lebanon and more recently in other parts of Lebanon and Syria. For the Israelis, this activity is now being characterised in no uncertain terms as an existential red line.

Not surprisingly, the pace and scope of Israeli strikes has expanded in recent weeks and months. At the same time, the Syrian government, Hezbollah and Iran have now also made it clear that pushing the carte blanche that Israel claims in the skies above Lebanon and Syria will lead to greater counter-force.

As these dynamics gather pace, both Hezbollah and Israel can also claim that they were acting defensively if a major conflict starts in Syria or in Lebanon. On the one hand, Israel will argue that it was forced to pre-empt a growing terror threat on its border, while on the other Hezbollah and its allies will argue that they were illegally attacked and responded proportionately in order to maintain the balance of terror.

Perhaps even more problematic, Iran and Hezbollah have some reason to fear that the Trump administration, Russia and Syria’s al-Assad might find a suitable deal in the coming period that essentially deals out the Shia duo. Any attempt to sideline Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, however, would probably provoke a strong counter-reaction that could lead to a wider war. It would certainly leave both actors looking particularly vulnerable to an attempted knock-out blow by the Israelis.

At the very least, the new Trump administration considers Iran the main strategic enemy in the region. It has already signalled that it will pursue a more aggressive and confrontational policy, in sharp contrast to the previous Obama administration. As such, the White House and the US Congress are starting to take apart the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran while essentially assuring that there will be an unprecedented American support for Israel in the event of any conflict, no matter who is seen as “starting” it or how such a war is conducted.

On this score alone – the likely removal of American limitations on Israel – the balance of terror has been dramatically weakened.

Can anything be done to prevent the escalation of tensions? Sadly, it does not seem that any of the great powers, and especially the US, might intervene expeditiously and intelligently to address the root causes of conflict in this part of the world, much less the immediate triggers of a new Levantine war. One can only wait and hope that all sides recognise the Middle East simply cannot bear any more destruction and bloodshed.

Nicholas Noe is co-founder of the Beirut-based and editor of 'Voice of Hezbollah: The Statements of Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah'

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Watch this ruling: It could affect coal and climate reviews across the West

A shovel prepares to dump a load of coal into a 320-ton truck at the Black Thunder mine in Wright, Wyo. on April 30, 2007. The Arch Coal mine is one of the two largest U.S. coal mines, in terms of production, and is the focus of a pending federal court ruling. The ruling could force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to more extensively analyze how expansion of coal mining on public lands affects carbon emissions and climate change.

By Stuart Leavenworth. This article was first published on McClatcy DC.


Any day now, a federal appeals court in Denver is expected to rule on a case with major repercussions for coal mining on western public lands, one that could potentially affect other energy projects.

Depending on its decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals could force the U.S. Interior Department to more extensively analyze how expansion of coal mining on federal land affects carbon emissions.

Or it could keep in place the Interior Department’s current method of reviewing new coal leases, which is supported by the mining industry but opposed by many environmental groups.

The court battle involves possible expansion of the nation’s two most productive coal mines, the North Antelope Rochelle mine and the Black Thunder mine, both of which sit on federal land in the Powder River Basin of northeast Wyoming. Together, these two mines account for nearly a quarter of all coal mined in the United States -- 208 million tons in 2015, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“If we prevail, this is going to have a big impact in the way agencies look at climate change impacts,” said Nathaniel Shoaff, a staff attorney at the Sierra Club, one of two environmental groups that have challenged the mine expansions. Based on the court’s past handling of cases, he said he expects a ruling within the next two weeks.

Across the West, a range of environmental groups have filed lawsuits against mine expansions and new oil-and-gas leases sought by private industry and granted by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and other agencies. The goal is to slow down these fossil fuel projects and also force federal agencies to more extensively evaluate the direct and indirect impact of their decisions on carbon emissions.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal agencies are required to analyze the direct, indirect and cumulative impact of projects they are reviewing. In the current case, environmental groups -- the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians, an organization that originated in New Mexico -- argue that BLM erred in its analysis in approving expansions of the Wyoming mines.

BLM concluded that, even if it didn’t approve the mine expansions, the decision would have no impact on cumulative carbon emissions, because coal-fired power plants would simply secure coal from other sources.

Environmentalists disagree, arguing that a reduction in Powder River coal would boost prices of coal and coal-fired electricity, and prompt utilities to consider alternate sources of power, such as wind, solar or natural gas.

“As BLM explained throughout the record, Powder River Basin coal enjoys significant price advantages over coal from other regions, which is more expensive to mine,” said the environmental groups in a brief to the Tenth Circuit. “A massive reduction in Powder River Basin supply here would increase coal prices.”

BLM officials are declining to comment on the case, pending the conclusion of the litigation. But in their own brief to the appeals court, agency lawyers argue that the environmental groups misstate how BLM came to its conclusions.

“The plaintiffs oversimplify the administrative record in an effort to make it seem that the BLM is either unaware of or willing to ignore basic principles of supply and demand,” the federal agency stated. “But this attempt at over-simplification does not withstand scrutiny.”

The Powder River Basin stretches about 120 miles from southeast Montana into Wyoming, and altogether accounts for 40 percent of U.S. coal production. Unlike coal mines in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, it produces a type of low-sulfur coal, attractive to utilities trying to reduce sulfur emissions. It is also extracted through mechanized surface mining on a vast scale, making it less expensive to produce than coal from underground mines in the Appalachians.

Yet sagging demand and unwise investments have hammered the industry. Arch Coal and Peabody Energy, owners of the Black Thunder and North Antelope-Rochelle mines, both filed for bankruptcy in last two years. Arch has undergone a restructuring and Peabody is preparing for one.

For a while, it appeared that demand for coal from China and Asia might help these companies find new markets for Powder River Basin coal. But China is reducing its dependence on coal, and is also limiting imports to protect its domestic industry.

Opposition has also mounted to coal export terminals on the West Coast. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a coal terminal near Bellingham, Wash., ruling that it would abrogate the treaty rights of the Lummi Nation, a tribe that opposed the project.

Since Donald Trump took the White House, environmental groups have mounted multiple lawsuits against his early environmental decisions, but the case before the Tenth Circuit is a carryover from the Obama administration.

Former President Barack Obama embraced the Paris climate agreement and, late in his tenure, implemented a moratorium on new federal coal leases, which Trump has reversed. Despite Obama’s public rhetoric about climate change, his Interior Department continued to approve new coal mining leases on public land, and his Justice Department aggressively defended those decisions, joined by the National Mining Association and other mining interests.

Last year, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled in favor of the federal government in the current case, “WildEarth Guardians et al. v. U.S. Bureau of Land Management et tal.” The Sierra Club’s Shoaff said his side is hopeful of a different decision from the appeals court, based on the judges’ questioning during oral arguments.

Depending on how the Tenth Circuit rules, its decision could prompt more extensive climate analysis of other energy projects proposed for federal government lands, he added.

“That’s true of oil, and also true of natural gas projects,” said Shoaff. “It could also have a big impact on projects like coal export terminals.”

Stuart Leavenworth: 202-383-6070, @sleavenworth

Rail cars filled with coal roll north of Douglas, Wyo. on Jan. 9, 2014. A pending federal court ruling could force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to more extensively analyze how expansion of coal mining on public lands affects carbon emissions, by keeping the price of coal low and attractive to electric utilities. Ryan Dorgan AP

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