Amazon on fire

Cartoon by Arcadio Esquivel

The Amazon Cannot Be Recovered Once It’s Gone

The Atlantic: The Amazon is burning. There have been more than 74,000 fires across Brazil this year, and nearly 40,000 fires across the Amazon, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. That’s the fastest rate of burning since record-keeping began, in 2013. Toxic smoke from the fires is so intense that darkness now falls hours before the sun sets in São Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital and the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.

The fires have captured the planet’s attention as little else does. The Amazon is the world’s largest and most diverse tract of rainforest, with millions of species and billions of trees. It stores vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide and produces 6 percent of the planet’s oxygen.

So the Amazonian fires—which have been blazing for weeks and notoriously received less coverage than Notre Dame’s burning roof— seem like a potent symbol of humanity’s indifference to environmental disorder, including climate change.

But climate change is not the primary cause of the wildfires. Unlike, say, most California blazes—which are sparked by accident and then intensified by climate change—the Amazonian fires are not wildfires at all. These fires did not start by lightning strike or power line: They were ignited. And while they largely affect land already cleared for ranching and farming, they can and do spread into old-growth forest.

So the two scariest numbers for understanding the fires are this: There are 80 percent more fires this year than there were last summer, according to the Brazilian government. This surge in burning has accompanied a spike in deforestation in general. More than 1,330 square miles of the Amazon rainforest have been lost since January, a 39 percent increase over the same period last year, according to The New York Times.

Why are these figures so important? Because Brazil’s political leadership has changed in the past year. On January 1, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who has openly pined for his country’s authoritarian past, was sworn in as president. During his campaign, he promised to weaken the Amazon’s environmental protections—which have been effective at reducing deforestation for the past two decades—and open up the rainforest to economic development.

Now he is making good on that promise. The three Brazilian states with the worst spikes in fire this year are all governed by Bolsonaro’s allies, according to Richard Black, a former BBC journalist and the current director of the nonprofit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. The states governed by Bolsonaro’s political opponents have actually seen a decline in fires. And according to allegations by the global news site OpenDemocracy, leaked documents show that Bolsonaro’s government intends to strategically prevent conservation projects in the Amazon.

But recognizing that the fires are a political problem as well as an environmental one does not make solving them any easier. Bolsonaro has found success in part by casting himself in opposition to the rich global North. When asked about the fires, he implied that environmental NGOs were behind the burning. After President Emmanuel Macron of France called the fires a crisis, tweeting that “our house is burning,” Bolsonaro co-opted his words, accusing him of a “misplaced colonial mindset.”

That cynical attack points to the difficulty of a remedy. The Amazon rainforest does, in some sense, belong to Brazilians and the indigenous people who live there. But as a store of carbon, it is fundamental to the survival of every person. If destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is simply beyond humanity’s ability to get back: Even if people were to replant half a continent’s worth of trees, the diversity of creatures across Amazonia, once lost, will not be replenished for roughly 10 million years. And that is 33 times longer than Homo sapiens, as a species, has existed.

Robinson Meyer is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers climate change and technology. 

Yemen fallout

Cartoon by Osama Hajjaj

When the Saudis and Emiratis fall out

By David Hearst 

Middle East Eye: Just over a fortnight after he issued a decree stripping Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will arrive in Abu Dhabi on Friday to collect a prize - the Order of Zayed, the statelet’s highest civilian award.

This makes perfect business sense for the little Sparta of the Gulf, hell-bent on establishing its own seaborne empire, from the ports of Yemen to the Horn of Africa, the Indian Ocean and beyond.

India is the third-largest energy consumer in the world and the Emiratis’ second-largest trading partner. So why should the Emiratis care for seven million Kashmiris in Indian-administered Kashmir, whose internationally recognised dispute is now to be treated as an “internal matter” for India.

Its ally, lord and master, Saudi Arabia, should.

This is not such breezy matter for the House of Saud, which bases its legitimacy on presenting itself as the voice of Muslims, not least the four million living in the Kashmir Valley.

Elephant traps

The Emirati path to the unlimited markets of India is strewn with elephant traps for their neighbour Saudi Arabia.

It starts in Riyadh’s backyard, Yemen.

Emirati and Saudi strategies for a country the two nations have wrecked in their intervention against the Houthis have clearly diverged.

Both train and pay local militias. But the Saudis want the effort directed at the north, from where all the attacks on Saudi air bases, airports and oil infrastructure are launched.

Having tried and failed to bring the defunct regime of the former Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh back to life through his son, the Emiratis have embarked on another strategy.

Amid a widescale troop redeployment, the UAE is clearly backing southern separatists.

With the Emiratis behind it, the Southern Transitional Council’s forces have seized the port city of Aden, and are now massing around a number of military camps in neighbouring Abyan province that are loyal to the exiled Yemeni president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Even amid the fog of war and the ever-shifting matrix of tribal loyalty and allegiance in Yemen, there is now little doubt as to what is going on in Aden.

Just before he was “deported”, as he termed it, from Aden, Hadi’s interior minister, Ahmed al-Maisari, posted a video congratulating his brothers in the UAE “for their victory over us”.

“We are leaving but only to come back. We are speaking to you from Aden, we are heading to the airport in an hour or two so that they can ‘deport’ us to Riyadh,” he said.

“Thanks to the [Southern Transitional Council] for robbing our houses, cars and personal belongings.”

Maisari said the separatist takeover of Aden had been powered by 400 armoured vehicles driven by mercenaries doing the UAE’s bidding.

Eyes on Hodeidah

Aden may not be only the only Yemeni port to fall to an Emirati-funded separatist southern state.

Dr Mohammad al-Rumihi, a Kuwaiti political analyst writing in the Saudi-controlled Asharq al-Awsat, suggested the breakup of Yemen, a state he depicted as being in a permanent state of war, was a good thing.

“However, if we have a true republic in the south that would pave the way for the building of a modern state there, it will then be able to control the mainland in the south and safeguard the Red Sea - the Strait of Mandeb,” he wrote.

“These are the two important terminals for international maritime. It will also prevent terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS from filling the political vacuum.”

Warming to this theme of the breakup of Yemen, Rumihi eyed the northern port of Hodeidah as the next prize for southern separatists.

“If we annex the port of Hodeidah (to the south), the north would then be able to find its own mechanism that would guarantee a certain degree of stability,” he posited.

This amounts to a policy of letting the unconquerable north of Yemen rot.

Is this in the interests of Riyadh, which already is hard put to protect its airports and military bases from Houthi drones and rockets deep inside the kingdom?

And who, by the way, has sent its troops “on a training and advise mission” to guard the Saudi royal family? Pakistan.

History of bad blood

The confidence that the Emiratis show in pursuing strategies which openly diverge with Riyadh’s is a relatively recent phenomenon in the relationship between the two Arabian Peninsula states.

As Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University in Beirut, writes, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have endured decades of hostility over land and sea disputes, and rivalry between the Zayeds and the Sauds.

“When the UAE came into existence in December 1971, Riyadh achieved its objective of excluding Qatar and Bahrain from the new federal state. Tremendous Saudi pressure forced the UAE to sign the 1974 Treaty of Jeddah that ceded claims to the Khor al-Udaid inland sea that linked it to Qatar,” Khashan wrote.

“Riyadh refused to recognize the UAE's independence until its president, Zayed bin Sultan, signed the treaty under duress although the UAE has not yet ratified the treaty. When UAE head Khalifa bin Zayed took office in 2004, he visited Riyadh and demanded the treaty's abrogation, ushering in an explosive crisis between the two states that took six years to subside.”

When a young, power-hungry Saudi prince in Mohammed bin Salman happened along, the elder and wiser Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed was not slow to seize his opportunity.

It was he and his ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, not the Saudi establishment, who beat a path to the door of the Oval Office for Mohammed bin Salman, as I have recorded in past reports.

This is not to absolve the Saudi crown prince of agency and responsibility for the terror in which he has plunged his country, arresting, torturing and plundering political opponents and family rivals alike - all under the guise of “anti-corruption” and “modernisation”.

But the fact that Mohammed bin Salman is now surrounded by henchmen whose primary loyalty is to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince has not gone unnoticed by the rest of the royal family.

Even with their pliant prince in total control of the family and kingdom, the Emiratis keep a close watch on affairs in Riyadh and monitor the slightest deviation from orthodoxy >>>

David Hearst is the editor in chief of Middle East Eye. He left The Guardian as its chief foreign leader writer. 

Disloyal Jews

Cartoon by Steve Greenberg

Donald Trump and the ‘Disloyal’ Jews

By Bari Weiss 

The New York Times: The major debate tearing apart the American Jewish community on this particular Wednesday is whether or not the 45th president of the United States just accused them — us — of disloyalty to Israel and the Jewish people or of disloyalty to the Republican Party and the man who has remade it in his image.

“Where has the Democratic Party gone? Where have they gone where they are defending these two people over the state of Israel?” President Trump said on Tuesday, referring to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, Democratic congresswomen who support the boycott movement against Israel. “And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

As my people say: Nu?

What do you hear in the president’s statement, which, like many things he blurts out, manages to be both opaque and outrageous at once? If you’re pro-Trump or Trump-curious, you’ll generously hear an assertion that Jews should be loyal to Israel. If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but hear echoes of the sinister charge of dual loyalty.

I’ve been around enough tables with pro-Trump Jews to strongly suspect that this is a riff on a theme Mr. Trump himself has overheard at many dinners with Ivanka and Jared, the favorite daughter and dauphin: dismay that even those Jews who have appreciated the president’s Israel policies — moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, cracking down on Iran — will never pull the lever for him.

It’s easy to imagine what they say: Look how much you’ve done. More than any other president. They should be grateful. Why can’t they see that? Why can’t they see that the Democratic Party has abandoned them? Meantime, you’re more pro-Israel than most American Jews! Indeed, on Wednesday afternoon at the White House, Mr. Trump clarified as much: “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

Brace yourself for further presidential Twitter rants on the matter because I do not believe that Mr. Trump is capable of higher-order thoughts about loyalty — loyalty to the office in which he sits, loyalty to the Republic, and, above all, loyalty to the idea of keeping America united. Fealty to him is the only litmus test.

Indeed, if we have learned anything about the former host of “The Apprentice,” it is that he looks at the world in the exact way he looked at those contestants. You’re a winner or you’re a loser. You’re for him or you’re a turncoat. In his small mind, if you’re on Team Jew, you vote for his party because Republicans are pro-Israel and, therefore, pro-Jew. If you’re on Team Anti-Semite, well, then you vote for the other guys.

All of which is why I have zero doubt that if the prime minister of Israel criticized Mr. Trump on the wrong day or in the wrong way, the president would dump Israel at that very moment. And it is why anyone with a shred of knowledge about Jewish history should be extremely concerned.

If 2,000 years of diasporic living has taught the Jews anything, it’s that an existence that is contingent upon the kindness of strangers is never too safe or too long lasting. A president with authoritarian tendencies who cares about nothing more than lock-step loyalty is not one American Jews, let alone anyone, can rely on.

More to the point: Will white supremacists, like the one arrested Monday in Ohio, or the one arrested Tuesday in Miami, parse these Talmudic distinctions about who was, in fact, the subject of the disloyalty in that Tuesday sentence? Or will they hear — as they have always heard in this president’s rants against the globalists, the elitists, the invading immigrants organized by George Soros, and all the shady forces keeping the hard-working men and women of America down — the word “Jew”?

The Jews of America are in the midst of a political crisis, sped along at breakneck speed by a president asking us, bluntly, to choose. Vote for a party whose base seems increasingly in thrall with newbie politicians who are unapologetic supporters of the B.D.S. movement, a new face of old anti-Semitism, even as the party’s leadership remains pro-Israel. Or vote for the party led by a man who is loyal to nothing but himself, who actively sets Americans against one other, and, more, genuinely seems to thrill at creating a disunited state of America.

We are increasingly a people apart. Which self-mutilation, so many of us wonder, is worse? Abandon the universal values our community has always championed? Or abandon the particularism without which we cease to be Jews at all?

Our predicament would be entirely familiar to the Jews of Babylon and Berlin and every community that has been erased in between. But that it is facing the greatest diaspora in Jewish history has shocked those who always believed we were the lucky ones.

To preserve all that has ever made American Jews — and America — great, we cannot allow this man to tear us apart.

Bari Weiss (@bariweiss), an Op-Ed staff editor and writer, is the author of the forthcoming book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism.” 

Hong Kong’s Challenge

Cartoon by Bob Englehart

Hong Kong’s Challenge to Xi Jinping’s Iron Rule

The Editorial Board

The New York Times: The Chinese government says the Hong Kong demonstrators are radicals using “conduct close to terrorism” to wrest their home back into the Western camp. But terrorists and zealots rarely apologize for violence or promise to learn from their mistakes.

No, the protesters in Hong Kong are not the small band of pro-Western troublemakers who Beijing wants the world to see, however wrong their moment of violence at the Hong Kong airport on Tuesday was. They are young people, a great many of them, who ardently don’t want to come further under the repressive rule of the Chinese Communists.

That’s not hard to understand, given how China has treated its dissidents and ethnic minorities like the Uighurs or Tibetans. But the authorities in Beijing understand something else: The protests are no local matter, but a direct challenge to the Communist Party’s control. The broad demands for more self-rule, as well as for investigations into the police’s use of force, strike at the very heart of the party’s fiercely held monopoly on power and coercive violence.

In earlier times, when China was more secluded from the world, Beijing might not have hesitated to go in and crack down on the protests, as it did at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. But China today is a global economic power, and any direct intervention in Hong Kong would have global consequences, especially at a time when Beijing is already embroiled in a nasty tariff war with the Trump administration. So far, China has limited its reactions to disinformation and threats.

Yet Hong Kong poses an intolerable affront for a leader as stern and unyielding as Xi Jinping, who has steadily sought to increase China’s control over the troublesome enclave and bristles at any Western criticism. An editorial in Global Times, an outlet for the leadership’s views, described the Hong Kong protests as a “color revolution” by radicals determined to turn the city into a “base for the West to subvert China’s political system.”

In the beginning, when the protests focused on legislation that would have made Hong Kong residents vulnerable to extradition to the mainland and its politicized courts, Beijing was willing to retreat. The Hong Kong government eventually backed off from, but never killed, the bill, and the protests swelled into a leaderless, passionate, social-media-driven uprising essentially encompassing the city’s future and its character.

Over Monday and Tuesday, the protesters went too far. Thousands descended on the Hong Kong airport, seriously disrupting operations, scuffling with travelers and beating at least two men from China. At one fraught moment, a riot police officer cornered by protesters drew his gun but did not fire.

By the standards of more violent corners of the world, it was not a terrible clash. But Hong Kong’s role as a financial, commercial and transportation hub rests on its reputation for order and efficiency and the openness and politeness of its people. The scenes of chaos and violence at its normally impeccable airport threatened a huge disruption of the city’s economy, and came as a shock even to the demonstrators.

On Wednesday, contrite protesters came out with apologetic posters and posts. “Please accept our sincere apology to all travelers, press reporters, paramedics,” read one. “We will learn from our mistakes.”

The difficulty now is to ensure that the eruption of violence at the airport not be a point of no return, after which Mr. Xi concludes he has no choice but to react, but rather a shock that drives both sides back from the precipice. The United States and its allies have a distinct interest in the latter.

For that to happen, Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, and her superiors in Beijing must show restraint and convince the people of Hong Kong that they will not further erode the citizens’ rights and liberties, enshrined until 2047 in a treaty with Britain. President Trump, who has so far limited his reaction to saying, “Everyone should be calm and safe,” should join with Britain and other allies in insisting that China honor Hong Kong’s special status, and in making clear that any use of armed force to crush dissent would lead to stern and certain sanctions.

Denmark Offers to Buy U.S.


The Borowitz Report, The New Yorker: After rebuffing Donald J. Trump’s hypothetical proposal to purchase Greenland, the government of Denmark has announced that it would be interested in buying the United States instead.

“As we have stated, Greenland is not for sale,” a spokesperson for the Danish government said on Friday. “We have noted, however, that during the Trump regime pretty much everything in the United States, including its government, has most definitely been for sale.”

“Denmark would be interested in purchasing the United States in its entirety, with the exception of its government,” the spokesperson added.

A key provision of the purchase offer, the spokesperson said, would be the relocation of Donald Trump to another country “to be determined,” with Russia and North Korea cited as possible destinations.

If Denmark’s bid for the United States is accepted, the Scandinavian nation has ambitious plans for its new acquisition. “We believe that, by giving the U.S. an educational system and national health care, it could be transformed from a vast land mass into a great nation,” the spokesperson said.

Andy Borowitz is a Times best-selling author and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes The Borowitz Report, a satirical column on the 

Russian Gulf

Cartoon from GetLostRussiaFromIran

Russia Gains Stranglehold Over Persian Gulf

Oil Price: In a potentially catastrophic escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf, Russia plans to use Iran’s ports in Bandar-e-Bushehr and Chabahar as forward military bases for warships and nuclear submarines, guarded by hundreds of Special Forces troops under the guise of ‘military advisers’, and an airbase near Bandar-e-Bushehr as a hub for 35 Sukhoi Su-57 fighter planes has exclusively been told by senior sources close to the Iranian regime. The next round of joint military exercises in the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Hormuz will mark the onset of this in-situ military expansion in Iran, as the Russian ships involved will be allowed by Iran to use the facilities in Bandar-e-Bushehr and Chabahar. Depending on the practical strength of domestic and international reaction to this, these ships and Spetsntaz will remain in place and will be expanded in numbers over the next 50 years.

This gradual roll-out of Russian capability in a country is the Kremlin’s tried and tested operating procedure for leveraging economic and/or political support for a country into that country allowing itself to be used as, effectively, one large multi-level forward military base for Russia. Exactly the same plan was used, and remains in place, in Syria, with Russia maintaining a massive army presence in and around Latakia, Syria, despite having repeatedly made assurances that it was to withdraw from this military theatre. In the early stages, these troops – again, in reality all Spetsnatz foreign operatives – appeared in the guise of military advisers and to provide ‘security staff’ for the huge Russian Khmeimim Air Base and the S-400 Triumf missile system in place in and around Latakia. This Russian presence was later duly expanded and formalised under an agreement signed with Syria in January 2017, which allowed Russia to continue its operations in Latakia and also to utilise the naval facility at Tartus for the next 49 years. This is precisely the format of agreement that has been agreed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the last few days, despite muted protest from the broadly pro-JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) nuclear deal allies of President Hassan Rouhani.

Given how poorly Iran has fared in its recent dealings with Russia – most notably over its Caspian Sea oil and gas rights– Iran’s decision to go ahead with this latest deal may seem surprising to many but is the product of two key reasons. First, Iran has no other choice of a potential geopolitical ally in its current fight against sanction-induced economic austerity and political marginalisation. There are only five Permanent Members on the United Nations Security Council: the U.S. (the prime mover against Iran), the U.K. and France (both toeing the U.S. line), China (whose support ebbs and flows according to its own agenda), and Russia. “If you have no means of getting food from the supermarket ten miles away then you have no choice but to shop at the store around the corner, no matter how crappy it is,” one senior Iran source told last week.

The second reason is that President Rouhani and his broadly moderate pro-West, pro-JCPOA supporters have lost the confidence of many who voted for him due to his inability to deliver the economic prosperity that he promised would result from the nuclear deal agreed in 2015 and implemented on 16 January 2016. “This includes [Supreme Leader, Ali] Khamenei, who supported Rouhani for the first few years but now has no choice but to go along with the IRGC’s recommendations, and this Russia deal is at the forefront of these,” said a senior Iran source.

Why is the IRGC backing this deal with Russia, given that its senior personnel are extremely capable people and hardened military officers, well aware of the trouble that the deal could create on a global scale? “Firstly, they [the IRGC] honestly believe that a corollary financial deal agreed with Russia last year is the only economic lifeline that Iran has that will stop it from falling into a popular revolutionary scenario, and the second reason is that some of the most senior figures in the IRGC also stand to gain monetarily by co-operating with Russia,” an Iran source told last week. The cornerstone deal in question was part of a wide-ranging 22-point memorandum of understanding signed by Iran’s deputy petroleum minister, Amir-Hossein Zamaninia, and Russia’s deputy energy minister, Kirill Molodtsov, at the time covering closer co-operation between the two countries across the board.

For the oil and gas sector, specifically, it involved Russia giving US$50 billion per year every year for at least five years so it could complete its top priority oil and gas projects to Western standards, which was estimated to cost around US$250 billion. Another US$250 billion would then be available for the following five years for Iran to build-out the remainder of its economy. In exchange for this, Iran would give Russian companies preference in all future oil and gas field exploration and development deals, to add to the seven already agreed at that time. These included: Zarubezhneft for Aban and Paydar-e Gharb, Lukoil for Ab Teymour and Mansouri, GazpromNeft for Changouleh and Cheshmeh-Khosh, and Tatneft for Dehloran. In addition – and crucial for what is now in view militarily – Iran also agreed to buy Russia’s S-400 missile defence system, to allow Russia to expand its number of listening posts in Iran, and to double the number of senior ranking IRGC officers that are seconded in Moscow for ongoing training, to between 120 and 130.

The deal also ensured that there was a clause not allowing Iran to impose any penalties on any Russian development firm for slow progress on any field for 10 years, including not being able to re-offer these fields in new bidding rounds even if no progress at all was being made. Over the 10-year period the Russians would have the right to dictate exactly how much oil was produced from each field (to the barrel), when it was sold (to the day), to whom it was sold (by company), and for how much it was sold (to the cent). “Added to this is the fact that within the contracts there was another killer clause: Russia had the right to be able to buy all of the oil – or gas – being produced from fields that their companies were supposedly developing at 55 to 72 per cent of its open market value, for the next 10 years,” said one of the Iran sources. In just the last week as well, Russia – despite it swindling Iran out of its arguably rightful share of Caspian Sea resources – has offered to extract oil and gas from Iran’s sector in the Caspian and sell supplies on in the international markets >>>


Cartoon by Mikhail Zlatkovsky

Militarization Has Become Our National Religion

By William Astore

The Nation: When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I looked to the heavens: to God and Christianity (as arbitrated by the Catholic Church) and to the soaring warbirds of the US military, which I believed kept us safe. To my mind then, they were classic manifestations of American technological superiority over the godless communists.

With all its scandals, especially when it came to priestly sexual abuse, I lost my faith in the Catholic Church. I would later learn that there had been a predatory priest in my parish when I was young, a grim man who made me uneasy at the time, though back then I couldn’t have told you why. As for those warbirds, like so many Americans, I thrilled to their roar at air shows but never gave any real thought to the bombs they were dropping in Vietnam and elsewhere, to the lives they were ending, to the destruction they were causing. Nor at that age did I ever consider their enormous cost in dollars or just how much Americans collectively sacrificed to have top cover, whether of the warplane or godly kind.

There were good and devoted priests in my Catholic diocese. There were good and devoted public servants in the US military. Admittedly, I never seriously considered the priesthood, but I did sign up for the Air Force, surprising myself by serving in it for 20 years. Still, both institutions were then—and remain—deeply flawed. Both seek, in a phrase the Air Force has long used, global reach, global power. Both remain hierarchies that regularly promote true believers to positions of authority. Both demand ultimate obedience. Both sweep their sins under the rug. Neither can pass an audit. Both are characterized by secrecy. Both seem remarkably immune to serious efforts at reform. And both, above all, know how to preserve their own power, even as they posture and proselytize about serving a higher one.

However, let me not focus here on the one “holy catholic and apostolic church,” words taken from the profession of faith I recited during mass each week in my youth. I’d prefer to focus instead on that other American holy church, the US military, with all its wars and weapons, its worshipers and wingmen, together with its vision of global dominance that just happens to include end-of-world scenarios as apocalyptic as those of any imaginable church of true believers. I’m referring, of course, to our country’s staggeringly large arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, just now being updated—the term seems to be “modernized”—to the tune of something like $1.7 trillion over the decades to come.

A Profession of 21st Century All-American Faith

“Show me your budget, and I will tell you what you value” is a telling phrase linked to Joe Biden. And in those terms, there’s no question what the US government values most: its military, to the tune of almost $1.5 trillion over the next two years (although the real number may well exceed $2 trillion). Republicans and Democrats agree on little these days, except support for spending on that military, its weaponry, its wars to come, and related national security state outlays.

In that context, I’ve been wondering what kind of profession of faith we might have to recite if there were the equivalent of mass for what has increasingly become our military church. What would it look like? Who and what would we say we believed in? As a lapsed Catholic with a lot of practice in my youth professing my faith in the church, as well as a retired military officer and historian, I have a few ideas about what such a profession might look like:

* We believe in wars. We may no longer believe in formal declarations of war (not since December 1941 has Congress made one in our name), but that sure hasn’t stopped us from waging them. From Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan to Iraq, the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, and so many military interventions in between, including Grenada, Panama, and Somalia, Americans are always fighting somewhere as if we saw great utility in thumbing our noses at the Prince of Peace. (That’s Jesus Christ, if I remember my Catholic catechism correctly.)

* We believe in weaponry, the more expensive the better. The underperforming F-35 stealth fighter may cost $1.45 trillion over its lifetime. An updated nuclear triad (land-based missiles, nuclear submarines, and strategic bombers) may cost that already mentioned $1.7 trillion. New (and malfunctioning) aircraft carriers cost us more than $10 billion each. And all such weaponry requests get funded, with few questions asked, despite a history of their redundancy, ridiculously high price, regular cost overruns, and mediocre performance. Meanwhile, Americans squabble bitterly over a few hundred million dollars for the arts and humanities.

* We believe in weapons of mass destruction. We believe in them so strongly that we’re jealous of anyone nibbling at our near monopoly. As a result, we work overtime to ensure that infidels and atheists (that is, the Iranians and North Koreans, among others) don’t get them. In historical terms, no country has devoted more research or money to deadly nuclear, biological, and chemical weaponry than the United States. In that sense, we’ve truly put our money where our mouths are (and where a devastating future might be).

* We believe with missionary zeal in our military and seek to establish our “faith” everywhere. Hence our global network of perhaps 800 overseas military bases. We don’t hesitate to deploy our elite missionaries, our equivalent to the Jesuits, the Special Operations forces, to more than 130 countries annually. Similarly, the foundation for what we like to call foreign assistance is often military training and foreign military sales. Our present supreme leader, Pope Donald I, boasts of military sales across the globe, most notably to the infidel Saudis. Even when Congress makes what, until recently, was the rarest of attempts to rein in this deadly trade in arms, Pope Donald vetoes it. His rationale: Weapons and profits should rule all  >>>

Mental illness

Cartoon by Clay Bennett

America’s mental illness is guns

The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial 

Rattlesnakes are only poisonous if you think they are.

Women can stop their bodies from getting pregnant as a result of rape.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is prohibited from computerizing gun sale records into a searchable database that would allow them to easily trace guns used in crimes.

All of these statements are insane. And one of them is true: the ATF is forced to rely on primitive digital records on gun sales, forcing a cumbersome search, via paper or phone, whenever a gun used in a crime is investigated. Because gun owners want privacy.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, charged with our public health and safety, is prohibited by law (and lack of funding) from using its budget to research gun violence. The strict language is that research can’t argue for gun control, even if data suggests homicides increase in houses that have guns. Denying that gun violence — responsible for 30,000 deaths a year — is a public health problem is like saying cancer can be cured by the application of leeches.

When it comes to guns, we are expected to disbelieve everything that our own eyes — and our broken hearts — tell us.

When the mass shootings like those last week in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, occur, the talk quickly turns to mental illness. That isn’t wrong, but the true insanity is the outrageous things the NRA and its followers keep expecting us to swallow.

The fact is, our mental illness is guns.

Poll after poll points to huge numbers of American in favor of gun control laws to minimize the chance of mass slaughters. The majority support expanded background checks that close the loopholes that allow anyone, whatever their criminal history, to purchase a gun at a gun show or from a private dealer.

There is widespread support for heavier regulation of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. But mass murder after mass murder, Congress has done nothing.

The two mass shootings last weekend have given some people hope that this might be the “tipping point.” President Trump is indicating support for expanded background checks though with few concrete details. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is making similar noises.

We’d have more optimism if there was also noise being made to bring Congress back from its current recess, to start taking action now.

Also on the table is a “red flag” bill — Cease Fire PA prefers the term “extreme risk protection order bill” — through which family members or members of law enforcement can temporarily take guns away from someone in crisis. This, too, could help.

But a ban or heavier regulation of assault-style and military weapons that wreak so much human devastation? Not a whisper. And limiting the high-capacity magazines that are allowed to mow down lots of people? Not a peep.

It might be crazy to believe that things will change, given our violent history and Congress’ history of inaction. But so is surrendering to the idea that the interpretation of a 228-year-old amendment is more important than human life.

Tlaib, Omar Banned

Cartoon by Steve Greenberg

Jewish Groups Condemn Israel For Denying Omar, Tlaib Entry

Newsweek: The decision by Israel Thursday to ban two Muslim congresswomen from entering the country after tweets from President Donald Trump led some Jewish groups to lambast the decision.

The move to not allow Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to visit would only exacerbate current divisions between the minority Democrats and the Jewish state and forgo them the opportunity to better understand the country and its people, argued several Jewish advocacy and lobbying groups with varying political ideologies.

"The fact that the U.S. president would urge the Israeli prime minister to bar members of Congress really does a disservice to this bilateral relationship and is yet another attempt by President Trump to politicize this relationship," Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told Newsweek.

She called the move "unprecedented" and said that "never before have U.S. members of Congress been barred from entering Israel."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to ban Omar—who was accused of and condemned for making anti-Semitic tropes earlier this year—and Tlaib for "planning a journey with the sole target of strengthening" the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, highlighting the lawmakers' lack of intention to meet with Israeli officials.

BDS promotes boycotting the country over disputed territories, including the West Bank, and ongoing conflicts with Palestine. The ban was implemented despite Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer saying last week they would not bar any lawmakers from entering.

Omar said in a statement it was an "affront" that they would not be able to enter the country, adding that, with her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it's "both an insult to Democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation."

"Denying entry into Israel not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but also to enter the Palestinian territories," Omar added.

In a tweet, Tlaib categorized the ban as "a sign of weakness."

The lobbying and advocacy group American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or better known as AIPAC, said that while they, too, disagree with Omar and Talib's policy stances and calls for a one-state solution, they "believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand." Omar has been critical of AIPAC in the past.

Jewish Voice for Peace, a progressive group, categorized Israel's move as part of its "increasingly authoritarian policies."

Omar and Tlaib have been highly critical of Israel and were planning a trip with a Palestinian-led nonprofit to visit various Israeli cities and the West Bank—where Tlaib has family—and to meet with members of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu's announcement came just after a morning tweet from Trump, in which he stated it would show "great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit."

"They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds," the president wrote, who previously told the minority women and other outspoken freshmen Democrats to "go back" to the countries they came from. "Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!"

Soifer and other Jewish groups argued that banning the congresswomen is "counterproductive." But she went a step further to say it "plays into Trump's goal of politicizing support for Israel." Soifer made it clear that her group has "vocally disagreed" with Omar and Tlaib on their decisions to support BDS and to side with Palestine over Israel on policy matters. But she stressed that, without them being able to visit, the lawmakers would miss out on experiencing the culture and interacting with Israeli citizens.

"It is important that they have this opportunity to see the facts on the ground. It is critical to actually live it and to see the realities that Israelis and Palestinians live with each day. A willingness to listen and experience and learn is important for any individual, especially members of Congress. That is, in effect, why members travel," Soifer said. "Now, do I think it would have changed their views? I don't know. I don't know. But it at least would have helped to inform them."

The advocacy group American Jewish Committee (AJC) labeled Omar and Tlaib's trip as "not a fact-finding mission, but rather a propaganda exercise" because of the lack of Israeli officials they planned to meet with. However, AJC made a similar argument about why the congresswomen should not be barred from entering the Middle Eastern nation, saying the right thing to do would have been to adhere to the original plan and allow them to visit.

"AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision," the group said in a statement. "While we fully respect Israel's sovereign right to control entry into the country, a right that every nation employs, and while we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative."

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote on Twitter that while he disagrees "100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel," denying them entry "is a mistake."

"Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state," Rubio claimed.

Many Democrats in Congress, ranging from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to rank-and-file members, also condemned Trump and Israel.

The American Immigrant

Cartoon by Peter Kuper

Trump’s Policy Could Alter the Face of the American Immigrant

The New York Times: The Trump administration has said the immigration overhaul it announced this week will ensure that new legal residents carry their own weight, without prejudice or favor. Yet the new rule for weeding out those who might be a drain on taxpayers will almost certainly disadvantage poor people from Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.

Over time, people who are granted green cards — the major step toward winning citizenship — will become wealthier but their numbers will shrink, researchers predicted. More green cards will go to immigrants with a good education and a measure of self-sufficiency; fewer will be granted simply because someone has a family member in the United States.

Immigrants from Europe and Canada are least likely to face problems under the new regulations, according to one study, which found that, by contrast, nearly three-quarters of recent arrivals from Mexico and the Caribbean have relatively modest incomes that would jeopardize their chances at a green card.

“Never before in our history have we closed off the American dream to strivers who aren’t already middle class,” said Doug Rand, who worked on immigration policy in the Obama White House and co-founded a technology company that helps immigrants obtain green cards. “This is an attempt to turn back the clock and dramatically change the face of new Americans.”

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The so-called public charge rule, which denies green cards to immigrants deemed likely to be heavy welfare users, represents a fundamental shift for a nation that has long welcomed impoverished immigrants from around the world who seek a fresh start in a country with more opportunity than where they came from.

There has always been a mix of immigrants, some arriving with skills and investment to make, while others bring little education or money. Immigrants seeking to live and work in the United States permanently may be engineers or construction workers, web designers or farmers, truck drivers or college students.

The new rule — pushed by the White House adviser Stephen Miller as a critical piece of President Trump’s America First immigration agenda — aims to reshape that immigrant community. Its backers want fewer poor people who might require public housing and food assistance. They want to turn away sick people whose maladies may end up requiring costly Medicaid services, paid for by the government. And they want to discourage those whose lack of English proficiency could hold them back from succeeding in a competitive economy.

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,’” Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said bluntly on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” adapting the poem on the Statue of Liberty to a more Trumpian view of the country’s duty to immigrants.

Asked later by CNN whether that meant that the Statue of Liberty’s historical invitation to “wretched, poor” immigrants was off the table, Mr. Cuccinelli clarified. “Well, of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe,” he said, “where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.” >>>