Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Dear Americans: Enough, Already

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE
August 19, 2017

Lacking ear plugs strong enough to block the din from America blasting the world, or a mega-phone loud enough to counter the babble, I’m resorting to two letters.

Dear non-Americans:

A sign at the Women’s March protesting President Donald Trump’s inauguration in Vancouver, Canada, on January 21. © Deborah Jones 2017

There’s a big world out there. Please remember that fact as we remain transfixed on America’s latest horrific but predictable melt-down. Yes, a raging super-power warrants some global attention. It does not require us to gorge on outrage, 24/7.

We are riveted wholly on the United States at the expense of other things, many in desperate need of our attention. We risk burn-out, gawping at America’s raging inferno. Stuff, important stuff, is at risk elsewhere — and just as it demands vigilance, America’s freak show is diverting our eyes and minds, and crushing our appetite for the information we need.

Please, just for a moment, ignore America’s bigots, racists, Nazis, supremacists of all sorts, culture wars. Turn away from the anger and grief pouring out of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Choose any random sample of other urgent issues, and pay attention. Suggestions:

The deadly terror attacks in Finland and Spain; the hundreds who died in a landslide in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Venezuela imploding in  a political and economic crisis and seeking any kind of ally; Kenya’s explosive politics.

Note the trillion dollars, countless jobs and whole communities at stake in just-started talks between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Ponder the new twist on the peril facing Afghanistan, where America has now led a war for 16 years — foolishly helped by the professional militaries of many other nations. Afghanistan is still in ruins, arguably much worse. Now, American authorities have suggested sending in mercenaries to do what their soldiers could not. Think that will end well? At least, please, think about it.

Most of you who are reading this still live in democracies, albeit flawed. Most of us have voices that can matter — but only if we use them.

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My dear American friends:

You have my sympathy, but I for one can’t bear witness 24/7. Even if I could, you don’t deserve my, or the world’s, attention.

The fact is, just-more-than 19 per cent of you in the US, of voting age, voted for your current president. Another just-less-than 20 per cent voted for Hilary Clinton, his only feasible opponent (after your undemocratic Democrats stomped on Bernie Sanders).

What of the more-than 60 per cent of you who sat out and allowed idiots* to take over your country? You, who were apathetic? You, who failed to get your point across and convince others? (ie, politics in a democracy). You, who were too divided to come together for the big stuff you’re now screeching about? You, yes you, have some ‘splainin to do.

But, please, explain and talk to each other.

The rest of us in the rest of the world are deafened by your noise. I’ve tried to tune you out and turn you off for most of each day, but now you have sucked all of the oxygen from everyone’s air. And, frankly, we need that oxygen to deal with very real stuff that’s not all about you.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2017

Contact: djones AT factsandopinions.com (including for republishing.)

*Idiot stems from the Greek idios; it refers to a private person who is, literally, ignorant, in a culture that values the body politic, or “politics.”

If you value this story, the author would appreciate a contribution of .27 cents, Canadian, to help fund her ongoing work and pay for this site. Click on paypal.me/deborahjones to be taken to Deborah Jones’s personal PayPal page.

Credible world news sites:

Reuters World news France24BBC; Financial Times; The Economist

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DebJones in Spain

Deborah Jones is a founder of Facts and Opinions.

Her bio is here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations.

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The putz in America’s room

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
July 15, 2017

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The words belong to Howard Fineman, the “Intergalactic Editor” of the HuffPost, as he is called on the Washington-based podcast done by Tony Kornheiser of ESPN fame. Fineman was talking about the meeting between US president Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin and the other two people in the room, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavirov, have known each other for years. Trump was the only person who “was an outsider.” He was, as Fineman put it, “the putz in the room.”

What a perfectly appropriate description of Donald Trump at this moment in time. Personally, I prefer the urban dictionary definition of this wonderful word: “a stupid, ignorant person; someone who doesn’t pay attention to anything going on; one who makes stupid remarks.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Trump has been president of the United States for only six months. Some days it feels like six years or even six decades. As the Russia scandal continues to swirl around him, his family, and the campaign team that helped elect him, one can see the situation becoming increasingly like a Tolstoy novel with new revelations of meetings with Russian operatives that spring to light with each passing day.

The news this week that Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin to discuss “dirt” on former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has blown the situation in Washington DC wide open. No one talks of anything else.

Media coverage of the much-ballyhooed health care bill, which arrived in the Senate a dead letter and looks like it will leave as one as well, seems strained and foreign. Big papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC, are tracking the fate of the bill in the Senate but only out of a sense of duty. The real story is the Trumps, whose ludicrous bumblings and travails have become America’s favorite TV novella.

The reports of Trump hunkered down in the Oval Office, seething at “unfriendly” media reports, raging at his staff, watching endless tapes of “Fox and Friends” to keep his spirits up, circulate everywhere. Although this image of Trump is denied by numerous talking head flunkies on endless cable TV shows, no one believes them. Why bother? No sooner is the denial out of their mouth when Donald Trump is tweeting out the exact opposite nugget, brazenly confirming what his minions have tried so hard to deny.

Don’t be fooled, however, by the dysfunction on display. Things are happening in the Trump administration. After years of numerous presidents creating regulations and agencies without the approval of Congress, Trump and his surrogates are engaged in the destruction of the regulatory system in Washington DC. Whether it’s clean air, clean water, better schools, consumer protections – any regulation that exists to protect the American public but hinders American business in any way, the Trump administration is trying to get rid of it. Their success rate is worrisome.

It’s important not to sleep on the Trump administration. Granted, that seems a difficult task. How could you worry about an administration that makes the Keystone Cops looked like the A-Team? It just seems too surreal to contemplate. Yet one cannot totally rule out the idea that this all part of some master plan by Trump to “make America great again”… In his image of course. Heaven knows he’s pulled a fast one on us before. He is in the White House after all.

No, that seems a bridge too far. It must be that these successes for the Trump administration are happening despite the events in the White House. After all, what have we learned about Donald Trump in the past six months?

That he is thin-skinned to a fault. That he is a misogynist pig. That he has the diplomatic skills of a sponge. That he has the attention span of a potato. That he can’t keep his mouth shut or his hands off his smart phone when he should. That he is malicious, holds grudges and has the temperament of a five-year-old child. That he lies not occasionally but habitually.

Americans don’t seem to understand how dangerous it is to have a man like this in the White House. At this moment he has a team of Republican operatives doing opposition research on members of the media. He intends to get even with anyone who has slighted him. This means that no media organization – other than the obsequious Fox News – is safe from his demented desire for revenge. It’s not about protecting America’s interests, it’s always about looking after The Donald.

He is the putz in the room. And the joke is on America. Only we’re not laughing.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

See CONTENTS for our current stories. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Comey Lands Punches, But No Knockout Blow

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) speaks in Ypilanti Township, Michigan March 15, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Kevin Lamarque/File Photos

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
June 09, 2017

Now that was a day full of news. First the much-anticipated testimony of former FBI director James Comey in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dealings with US Pres. Donald Trump. And then later in the day the unanticipated flop of Teresa Mays’ conservative government in the British election.

My family was getting angry at me for spending so much time in front of a screen.

Let us focus, however, on Mr. Comey’s testimony. How you responded to what he said had a great deal to do with your own particular political persuasion.

Democrats celebrated when Comey called Trump “a liar,” and laid the groundwork for a possible obstruction of justice charge with the revelation of his one-on-one meeting with Trump, when he was asked to “let go” of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russians.

Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republicans, on the other hand, rejoiced at the fact that Comey confirmed that he had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation, and that Comey said former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch had asked him to fuzz the description of an investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server. Republicans also rejoiced when Comey seemingly outed himself as a leaker.

The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in between.

One of the most important questions is, who is lying – James Comey or Donald Trump? Tthey both can’t be telling the truth.

Comey testified under oath that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty if he wanted to keep his job, and that in a later meeting asked him to let go of the investigation into Flynn.

Trump’s private lawyer, in a statement that one that television commentator compared to a “goat rodeo”, denied that Trump said these things.

My money is with Comey, not because he is anymore likable than Donald Trump, but Trump has a record of falsehoods and misstatements going back decades. Comey testified under oath. And if anybody understands the penalties of lying under oath, it’s the former director of the FBI.

Most Americans share my view that Comey is more believable, according to public opinion polls – something like 70 per cent, according to the latest Pew poll.

There is something for everyone in the rest of the testimony. Allow me to enumerate.

  1. The fact that Trump made everyone, including the Atty. Gen., the VP, his Chief-of-Staff, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, leave the Oval Office before he spoke to Comey about the Flynn investigation, does not look good for the president. Even the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee commented on this occurrence. You don’t ask everyone to leave the room if you’re going to request an innocent favor from a high-ranking government official. This will be a problem for Trump.
  2. The private dinner that Trump had with Comey, where he asked Comey to pledge in his loyalty, falls into the same category. It just should not have been done. Some Republicans and Trump sycophants are trying to portray this as naïveté on Trump’s part. Which is fine, but ignorance of the law is no defense. To go back to the question of truthfulness, this is where the meticulous notes that Comey took after each of his meetings with the president give him the strong upper hand. It’s long been practice in criminal cases, for instance, that notes of a meeting or conversation made immediately after it occurred can be used as evidence.
  3. The news that Comey, after reading Pres. Trump’s tweet about possible tapes of their meeting, decided to leak news of those notes to the New York Times via a friend is not a plus for the former FBI director. He was careful in his testimony to say that he had not leaked anything of a confidential nature, and he has had a history in the past of selectively releasing information to the media that cleared him of any involvement in other damaging events. Comey is the consummate Washington insider, and he knows how the game is played. Republicans and Trump supporters will try to make hay from this news, but there is no illegality here. Comey is a private citizen and he is free to do what he wants with these notes, especially considering Trump had already tweeted about these events, undermining any chance of claiming executive privilege. The question, however, of how this will play in the public, is different. This looks too cute by half, and for a man who has spent much of his career decrying leakers and the damage that they do, you can bet that past statements will be used against Comey.
  4. There were two other people who did not do well yesterday: current Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch. Comey’s testimony about why Sessions recused himself from anything involving Russia and the Trump campaign created more questions than answers. It led to speculation that the current Atty. Gen.’s past involvement with Russian diplomats or agents was more complicated than previously understood. Like former Gen. Michael Flynn, Sessions could be in for a world of hurt. And the surprise news that Loretta Lynch had asked Comey to fudge his description of the investigation into possible misuse by Hillary Clinton and her staff of her private email server hurts Clinton’s complaint that Comey cost her election. It also shows why former Pres. Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Lynch on a private jet was so disastrous for the Clinton campaign. Combined with Lynch’s request to fudge the description of the investigation, it provides Comey with more than enough reason to justify taking the controversial steps that he did.
  5. The Russians are coming! And they mean business. If there was a non-political moment that stood out in Thursday’s testimony by Comey, it was his insistence that the Russians did try to undermine the United States election and its electoral system, and that they will continue to do so. And that this is a real threat to the United States. (This also gave Comey a chance to take another shot at Trump, by pointing out that for all his concern about his friend Mike Flynn, Trump never once asked about how the Russians had digitally attacked the United States and any possible future threats.) And this is a point that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Count on it getting a lot more exposure in the coming months.

In the end, Comey’s testimony hurt Trump, but it did not destroy him. There is certainly not enough here to impeach Trump. It did show that former FBI director, and now special prosecutor, Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with the Russians is now the only game in town.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Links: 

Watch the video of Comey’s appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on the Senate site.

Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,  James B. Comey June 8, 2017

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Trump Cries Havoc! – Dogs (still) Kenneled

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
June 10, 2017

Donald Trump in the last few days has given the world a master class on how ignorance and miscalculation by a United States president can trigger conflict and set the stage for war.

Look at what has happened this week since Trump’s pronouncement late last month that the rivalries in the Middle East are a “battle between good and evil.” Trump went on to pillory Iran as the main sponsor of terrorism in the region, and to pledge that the current White House regime is solidly behind the Saudi Arabian faction.

There has been a cascade of events triggered by that speech. It has brought the long-running rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran to boiling point. Even Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, bullish after winning a referendum to dramatically increase his executive powers, spotted an opportunity to follow his dream of re-establishing the old Ottoman Empire’s patrimony over the Middle East and strode into the ring.

As of today, a regional war is not imminent, but the rival champions are sizing each other up. The possibility of a major conflict is far more likely than it was before Trump’s speech in Riyadh on May 21.

Previous U.S. presidents have always leaned towards supporting Saudi Arabia, on which the U.S. depended until recently for its oil supplies, in the Riyadh monarchy’s rivalry with Iran. But until Trump, the U.S. chief executives maintained a degree of ambiguity in their dealing with Riyadh so as to restrain the House of Saud.

However, the emboldened Riyadh monarchy has interpreted Trump’s speech as a licence to strike out at its enemies. On Monday the Saudi government marshalled its allies Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Bahrain to join in the almost total diplomatic, economic and transportation isolation of the fellow Gulf State of Qatar.

Qatar has been an irritant for the Saudis for years. The emirate is fabulously wealthy from its holds on some of the world’s largest known oil and gas reserves. It has the world’s highest per capita income and the Emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, spends lavishly on projects that consume his interest.

One of his preoccupations is the Al Jazeera TV news network, funded from the Qatar state coffers. The English language side of the network was established and staffed by respected, and often well-known, figures from British, U.S., Canadian, and Australian networks, and has a reputation for independent and accomplished journalism.

The Arab language network is another matter, however. It is fiercely anti-Israeli and very pro the most extreme Islamic terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic State group, and other hardliners such as Hamas in the Palestinians’ Gaza Strip. It is also deferential towards the puritanical Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which briefly held power for a year after elections in mid-2012, until ousted in a military coup.

All these biases reflect the broader leanings of the Emir, who along with his family has been a major source of funds and support for radical Sunni Muslim terrorist groups. So too has the Saudi royal family and its hangers on, but that hasn’t stopped Riyadh getting increasingly irritated by Qatar’s influence.

What particularly gets the Saudi goat is the al-Thani family’s refusal to toe the Riyadh line on opposition to Iran. Indeed, Qatar has often been vocal in its opposition to Saudi goading of Tehran and has called for dialogue instead of political rivalry.

Qatar has good practical reasons for the strong lines of communication it keeps with Tehran. Much of Qatar’s wealth comes from the South Pars natural gas field under the Persian Gulf, whose ownership Doha shares with Tehran. Just the daily management of this vast resource demands open channels of communication.

Riyadh’s immediate justification for launching its sanctions attack on Doha was an article posted briefly on the Qatar News Agency website on May 23. The article quoted the Emir, Sheikh Tamim, as warning against confrontation with Iran in the wake of Trump speech. The story also quoted the Emir as defending the Palestinian group Hamas, and the Lebanese Shia Muslim movement, Hezbollah, which is Tehran’s proxy in the Syrian civil war.

Riyadh trumpeted this article as evidence of Qatari support for terrorists, and gathered its friends in Qatar’s neighbouring states to back the embargo. Trump, in his ignorance, even tweeted support for the move. He called it a major advance in the campaign against the Islamic State group, which is under siege in the territory it holds in the Iraq/Syria border region, and which has inspired recent attacks in Britain, France and Belgium by local jihadists.

However, it now appears from information from various western and Middle Eastern intelligence agencies that the posting of the story was a fake, and was planted by hacking of the site, probably by Russia.

In the meantime, though, the juggernaut of Riyadh’s sanctions started rolling. This ostracising is a very serious matter for Qatar. It is a desert nation with almost no agriculture and depends on imports for the bulk of its food supply, most of it coming from or through Saudi Arabia. Doha is also a regional financial centre, and the closing of airspace by all of Qatar’s neighbours has more or less shut down air traffic.

Qatar is a good example of why “hypocrisy” and “irony” are insufficiently potent words to describe Middle Eastern politics.

As well as being a major material supporter of the Islamic State group and other extremist outfits, Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military facility in the Middle East. There are about 10,000 U.S. military personnel at the huge al-Udeid Air Base, from which are launched most of the air and special forces attacks on the terrorists in Syria and Iraq that Qatar is funding. The Saudi embargo has given the Americans the very practical problem that military liaison officers from neighbouring Gulf States may no longer come to al-Udeid.

Qatar’s ability to walk in opposition directions on both sides of the street doesn’t stop there. While Doha is promoting links with Iran, it is also part of the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen against Houthi rebels who are supported by Iran and who have taken over most of the country.

By mid-week, Kuwait had offered to broker some kind of resolution between Riyadh and Doha. If that happens, Doha will have little option but to capitulate on most Saudi demands, especially on reining in Al Jazeera.

But on Wednesday there was another significant shift in the state of the game board. In a special night-time session the Turkish parliament rushed through legislation allowing the Turkish army to conduct joint military exercises with Qatar and for Turkish police to train their Qatari counterparts. This adds to Turkey’s establishment a year ago of a military base in Qatar where 3,000 Turkish troops are stationed.

The move by the Ankara parliament followed a speech on Tuesday evening by President Erdogan in which he said “I want to clearly say that we disapprove of the sanctions on Qatar.” Erdogan’s statement followed a round of telephone calls with all the leaders involved in which he tried to act as a peace broker. His decision to come down on the side of Qatar apparently came after he decided there was no peace to be brokered.

Erdogan and Sheikh Tamim share views on several issues, especially their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, a puritanical Islamic group active throughout the region, but mainly in Egypt. The Brotherhood, along with the even more radical Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, who benefit from the patronage of the royal family, are the main theological inspiration for the leading terrorist groups of recent years from al-Qaida to the Islamic State.

Although Turkey and Qatar are both adherents to the Sunni faction of Islam, they share a desire to keep open relations with Iran, which champions the rival Shia Muslim code. This illustrates well that the tendency from outside to define the divides in the Middle East purely along the religious lines of Sunni and Shia factions is overly simplistic. When all is said and done, the divides in the Middle East are the age-old ones of money and power.

For Erdogan, a major reason for a working relationship with Iran is Turkey’s perennial problem, largely self-inflicted, of its Kurdish minority. The 35 million Kurds live in eastern Turkey, north-eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and northern Iran. They are the world’s largest ethnic group without a nation state, but there are active hopes and expectations that if and when the dust settles in the Middle East, there will be a new, internationally recognized Kurdish state.

There has been a de facto independent Kurdistan in northern Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 1990, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. This week the Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani announced he intends to hold a referendum on independence on September 25.

Turkish president Erdogan has had generally good and functional relations with Barzani, who has helped him contain the Turkish Kurds. But this week Erdogan warned the Iraqi Kurds against seeking independence. Erdogan fears that if a Kurdistan is established in what is now northern Iraq it will further fuel the already blazing campaign for independence among the 14.5 million Turkish Kurds and the secession of Turkey’s eastern Kurdish region. Iran has similar concerns about its six million Kurds, which give Tehran a natural joint interest with Ankara.

Erdogan is already uneasy about the use by the U.S., Canada and other western states of the Iraqi and Syrian Kurds as the main frontline troops against the Islamic State fighters. The Turkish leader regards the Syrian Kurds in particular as indistinguishable from his own Kurdish separatists, the Kurdish Workers’ Party, whom he sees as terrorists.

Erdogan’s military actions in the Syrian civil war have been aimed just as much at the Syrian Kurds as they have at the troops of President Bashar al-Assad and the Hezbollah fighters from neighbouring Lebanon aiding him with Iran’s support. Indeed, on several occasions U.S. forces have put themselves in positions to prevent Erdogan’s troops from attacking the Syrian Kurds.

Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, with US President Donald Trump May 21, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo by Shealah Craighead, US government

Events came thick and fast on Wednesday. Most dramatic were simultaneous terrorist attacks in Tehran on the Iranian parliament and mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khmoeini, who led the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah and established the Islamic Republic. At least 17 people were killed and over 40 injured in the attacks by six terrorist, all Iranians, who were killed after lengthy gun battles. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, and there is evidence some of the terrorists had fought with the group in Syria and Iraq.

The timing of the attack was undoubtedly mostly to do with the Islamic State group trying to boost and burnish its image as it steadily looses territory and control of cities like Mosul and Raqqa. It is highly unlikely the Islamic State could have organized the Tehran attacks fast enough to be responses to the events earlier in the week. But the group had great luck with the timing. The attacks inevitably were meshed into the script of Trump’s speech, rampant Saudi Arabia, and the demonizing of Qatar.

There is a conviction among Iranian security and intelligence agencies that the Islamic State group and all other Sunni-inspired terrorist organizations are creations of Saudi Arabia. It’s a conviction for which there is good historic evidence, though the information on current official support by Riyadh is less definitive.

So it was inevitable that Iran would interpret Wednesday’s terrorist attacks on Tehran as retribution by Saudi Arabia for Iran’s support for the Assad regime in Syria. The attack is also seen in Tehran as a test of Iran’s resolve in the face of Trump’s granting of a free licence to Riyadh.

In a statement, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s most powerful military force which is overseeing much of the Assad regime’s fight against the Islamic State and other rebel groups in Syria, blamed Saudi Arabia and the U.S. for the attacks. “We will avenge the blood of those martyred in today’s terrorism attacks,” said Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Guards Corps.

Thus the stage is set for Act Two of the drama unfolding from Trump’s speech. As this action-packed week has shown, the Middle East story is spinning erratically and unpredictably, with actors from major, minor and even sub-plots suddenly appearing at centre stage.

Sadly, there are no signs that Trump has learned anything from four months as a tenant of the Oval Office. There is little reason to hope he will grasp the reality that what the President of the United States says, the words he uses and the sentiments he adopts are matters of life and death for many people.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.” Return to his column page.

 

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Journalism Matters: F&O’s fresh sheet, from Newfoundland to Israel

Palestinian visitors gather at a look-out point on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade in Jerusalem May 11, 2017. Picture taken May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Commentary:

Broad alliances trump Trump for Israeli security, by Jonathan Manthorpe  Column

Israel lives in a hostile neighbourhood, and has always had trouble making and keeping trustworthy friends.

Nothing’s Happening, by Jim McNiven   Column

There’s an old saying around the stock market: ‘Sell in May and go away’. Basically, it means that usually nothing much financial happens in the summer. This year, that might also be the slogan for a lot of other parts of society.

Roger Ailes’ special place in hell, by Tom Regan  Column

When Roger Ailes died this month, response was mixed.It was Ailes’ personal foibles that led to his downfall. But I want to concentrate on his legacy in journalism, where he left a very dark mark, called “thug journalism.”

Why Donald Trump won’t be impeached, by Tom Regan   Column

For all the bad news that Trump faces, he will not be impeached: his fellow Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

India’s Maoist uprising morphs into women’s armed insurgenc, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

Women guerrilla fighters are at the forefront of an emerging insurgent war in India aimed at protecting women from sexual violence and human rights abuse.

Why Ramadan is called Ramadan, by Mohammad Hassan Khalil

The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, started Friday, May 26, 2017. Professor Mohammad Hassan Khalil  answers six questions about the significance of this religious observance. The Conversation

Reports:

Newfoundland’s fourth offshore oil project set to sail, by Greg Locke

While Canada’s oil sands projects and the North America fracking companies are under scrutiny and financial distress, Newfoundland prepares to bring its fourth major offshore oil project online.

Israel marks 50 years of struggling, “United Jerusalem” by Maayan Lubell

A half-century after Israel captured East Jerusalem, the holy city remains deeply divided by politics, religion and ethnicity – and struggling with grim economic realities.

Real-life “Iron Man” has high hopes for jet suit, by Mark Hanrahan

The British inventor of an “Iron Man”-style jet suit has lofty hopes that his project, which started out as fun experiment, could become a practical tool for industries ranging from entertainment to the military.

Gulf States Curbing Opposition, by Sami Aboudi

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Gulf states have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for Web posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order. But in the past two years, unnerved by low oil prices and the slow progress of a war in Yemen targeting the influence of arch foe Iran, Gulf authorities became even less patient with dissenting voices in the media, analysts and rights groups say.

UK investigates use of personal data in political campaigns, by Reuters

Britain said it was investigating how politicians and campaigners use data to target voters with online advertising to make sure they comply with electoral laws and do not abuse people’s privacy.

NOTEBOOK:

For some perspective on what will matter long after the latest political outrage has faded in Washington, London, or Moscow, set aside time, soon, for the sobering interactive feature by the New York Times on the melting of Antarctica —  and how changes to its vast ice sheets will affect the world. World leaders are urging the United States to stay the course on tackling climate change. But one academic has an interesting contrarian’s view of the Paris Agreement: the world would be better off if Trump withdraws from the Paris climate deal, argued Luke Kemp, of Australian National University, in Nature Climate Change. He explained his view here, in The Conversation: “Simply put: the US and the Trump administration can do more damage inside the agreement than outside it.”
Recommended read elsewhere: Kafka in Vegas, by Megan Rose, ProPublica/Vanity Fair

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Misc:  As the Cannes Film Festival wraps on May 28, check out stories on France24. For an “odd news”break, the BBC reports on “Why humans, chimpanzees and rats enjoy being tickled.”

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Current Affairs Also tagged , , |

Broad alliances trump Trump for Israeli security

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 27, 2017

Israel lives in a hostile neighbourhood, and has always had trouble making and keeping trustworthy friends.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem September 30, 2016. Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS

Many of the European countries were supportive both before and immediately after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. That support, though, grew on a strong sense of shame for the treatment of Jews within Europe for a couple of thousand years, and culminating in the Nazi-led Holocaust. The guilt felt by one party is never a good basis for a relationship.

And lurking behind it is that anti-Semitism continues to lurk in Europe, often camouflaged as opposition to Jewish nationalism –Zionism – or support for Palestinians displaced in the creation of Israel.

The United States took over as the chief foreign patron of Israel in the 1960s, and that relationship remains essential. But Washington’s support for Israel has been tempered by its overall Middle East policy and, until recently, its strategic dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. These Arab states are major financial and political supporters of the Palestinians, including Palestinian terrorists.

Also, Washington’s enthusiasm for Israel has often depended on the personal chemistry between the President and the Israeli Prime Minister. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only disliked each other, their political philosophies had almost no meeting point.

So Netanyahu’s glee at the arrival of the avowedly pro-Israeli Donald Trump in the White House is understandable. However, what is evident from Trump’s visit to Israel this week, as part of his royal progress from Saudi Arabia to the G-7 summit in Sicily, is that support sometimes has a down side.

With an uncouth braggart like Trump, his friendship can be more deadly than his antagonism. First, in Washington, he boasted to visiting Russian officials that he had intelligence information about a plan by the Islamic State group to use bombs concealed in laptop computers to bring down passenger aircraft. Then, in Israel with Netanyahu at his side, Trump denied that he told the Russians the information came from Israel, thus confirming the source.

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The Islamic State group has doubtless gone on a hunt for the Israeli spy in its midst, and it was therefore no wonder that Netanyahu looked as though he was about to explode. The British also discovered this week, in the wake of the Manchester bombing and the leaking to the U.S. media of information about the police investigation, that with Trump in the White House, no one’s secrets are safe.

Solid and dependable diplomatic relations with supportive countries are becoming more important than ever for Israel in the face of the growing world-wide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The BDS was started in July 2005 by nearly 200 Palestinian non-governmental organizations. The purpose of the campaign is to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, and to try to force Israel to return that land to Palestinians. To that end, the BDS is focussing on the construction by Israel of illegal – that is the United Nations’ word – settlements, particularly in the West Bank, and what the campaign calls the construction of an apartheid-like domination of the Palestinians by the Israelis.

The BDS organizers call on supporters around the world to boycott Israeli goods, withdraw investments in Israeli companies and to apply sanctions they say are mandated by several UN resolutions. The hope is that economic purgatory will force Israel to retreat in a way that terrorism and military action by the Palestinians and their supporters have failed to do.

Branch organizations promoting BDS have sprung up all over the world, including in Canada, Australia, Norway, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Germany, Italy, Britain and India.

So far, however, the campaign has had only limited success. Several pension funds have excluded Israeli companies from their portfolios, so have some banks. There have also been some boycotts by various universities and academic organizations of Israeli scholars. But most western governments and individual political parties have refused to get involved in BDS, as have most of the major trades unions in Europe and North America.

One of the few exceptions is Canada’s Green Party, which voted last year to endorse BDS despite the objection of leader Elizabeth May, the party’s only Member of Parliament.

A study by the Rand Corporation in 2015 calculated that if the BDS campaign continued for 10 years, it could damage the Israeli economy to the tune of $US47 billion. While substantial, this would not be a death blow to the Israeli economy or be powerful enough to force the government to retreat from the occupied lands.

Even so, the Israeli government is moving to shore up and expand its diplomatic relations as a hedge against the possible success and expansion of the BDS campaign.

The Netanyahu government’s chosen forum is to expand its arms sales and defence co-operation, especially with Western and Eastern Europe, which accounts for 28 per cent of the nearly $US7 billion-worth of arms and security equipment exported by Israel every year.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel is the world’s sixth largest arms manufacturer, and its exports account for 10 per cent of the global arms trade.

China used to be a major market for Israel’s military equipment. But that was shut down by former President George W. Bush, who was upset about the sophistication of the weapons systems and technology Israel was selling to China. Now, India is the single largest customer for Israeli arms.

The Israeli military equipment industry is a natural development for a country that was forged in war and which has lived under a state of siege since its founding in 1948.

Israel decided to build a domestic arms manufacturing industry after the 1967 Six-Day War. Embargoes by former weapons supplies such as France exposed the vulnerability of Israel to political actions by its putative friends.

There was already a sophisticated Israeli small arms industry, and it moved into the production of major weapons systems first by adapting and upgrading other people’s products, such as British and U.S. tanks, or by filching plans. In the 1970s, Israel acquired through Switzerland the plans for French Dassault Mirage III fighter aircraft and started manufacturing its own version under the name Kfir. This aircraft became one of Israel’s first major export successes, including, in the 1980s, to the apartheid regime in South Africa, where the plane was called the Cheetah and faced off against Soviet-made MiG-23s flown by Cuban pilots backing the government forces in the civil war in Angola.

Since then, Israel’s arms industry has gained a global reputation for excellence in a number of niche areas. These include drones – unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), avionics systems and flight optics technology, surveillance reconnaissance equipment, military command and control systems, and an array of artillery and missiles.

Many of the weapons and surveillance systems Israeli manufacturers have developed spring from the country’s own pressing needs to secure its borders, and identify and neutralize terrorists.

Thus the streams of refugees heading for Europe in the last couple of years from the wars in the Middle East and impoverishment in north and western Africa have created a market for Israeli high tech goods. That, together with the waves of terrorist attacks across Europe, has spurred demand for Israeli equipment for border security, as well as continuing co-operation to learn from the Israeli experience in managing terrorist threats and such things as civil aviation security.

Immigration of Jews to Israel from Eastern Europe since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990 has created a ready link for Israeli arms manufacturers. Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and other former Soviet states are all customers for Israeli arms. Poland is Israel’s biggest customer and closest ally among the old East Bloc countries. Warsaw buys Israeli anti-tank missiles and is negotiating to buy $US1.1 billion-worth of UAVs.

Another major customer for Israeli UAVs is Russia itself, perhaps ironically given Moscow’s intervention in the civil war in Israel’s antagonistic neighbouring country, Syria. Despite that intervention, relations between Israel and Moscow are good at the moment, allowing Israel to sell military hardware to areas of Russian national interest such as the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. Department of Defense is not best pleased with Israel. Washington enables the sale of large amounts of U.S. state-of-the-art military gear to Israel and is therefore concerned about Israel’s military sales to Moscow and China. The Department of Defense is also miffed when Israel turns up as a competitor for U.S. business, such as Germany’ recent decision to buy Israeli drones rather than U.S. UAVs.

The overall picture that emerges is of a country that has found ways to survive and thrive in a hostile world. So Trump should not invest too much in his loudmouth promise this week to broker a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians that would create a lasting peace. In any case, having seen him up close it is unlikely that either the Palestinians or the Israelis would trust Trump to act as a go-between.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Gulf States Curbing Opposition

A worker walks past a balloon with a United States flag on it as part of welcome celebrations ahead of the visit of U.S. President Donald Trump, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 19, 2017. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

By Sami Aboudi 
May 19, 2017

DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, departing from his predecessor’s practice, is expected to sidestep human rights questions when he meets Gulf Arab leaders at the weekend and focus, to the dismay of beleaguered government critics, on business and security.

Civil liberties monitors point to freedom of expression as a right increasingly constrained in Gulf Arab states including summit host Saudi Arabia, which is planning to buy tens of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. arms.

Gulf Arab states began stepping up the muffling of political discussion in the dying months of former president Barack Obama’s term and have continued this under Trump, they say.

“Given Trump’s tenuous relationship with freedom of the press and free expression in general, we have no expectation that Trump would raise these issues during his visit,” said Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In Washington, a senior Trump administration official said human rights would not take centre stage in Riyadh, where Arab leaders are expected to discuss combating Islamist militancy and what they see as the growing influence of adversary Iran.

The official said Trump preferred to keep such conversations private, much as he did with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently when he obtained the release of an Egyptian-American humanitarian worker.

Trump’s visit is likely to contrast with one Obama paid to Egypt in 2009 when he made an appeal to the Muslim world promoting self-determination, democracy and individual rights.

The Saudis “don’t want any more talk about human rights, democracy, political reform or gender equality. They had enough of that from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton,” said Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington.

“They’re pretty confident they’re not going to hear it from Donald Trump.”

While experts are not surprised, since the Gulf states’ monarchies abhor discord and dislike free-wheeling political debate as practised in the West, they are nevertheless dismayed.

The output of several columnists, economists and clerics in regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia and some of its smaller neighbours has either dried up or grown circumspect since the second half of 2016 in what critics see as an unacknowledged state drive to stifle public criticism, rights monitors say.

Among those who have fallen silent are critics, both liberal and conservative, of the kingdom’s ambitious plan to diversify the economy and open up the country culturally under a plan known as Vision 2030.

Until late last year Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi commented about issues including Trump’s rise to power on social media and a column in the pan-Arab al-Hayat daily. He also spoke in public appearances at think tanks.

In December, news circulated on social media that Kashoggi, former editor of the Arabic-language al-Watan daily, one of the kingdom’s top newspapers, had been ordered to stop writing or Tweeting. His account has been silent since November last year.

Khashoggi declined to comment on the reported ban.

DISSENTING VOICES

Since the 2011 Arab Spring, Gulf states have stepped up efforts to curb dissent with tough new cybercrime laws, sentencing offenders to prison terms for Web posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order.

But in the past two years, unnerved by low oil prices and the slow progress of a war in Yemen targeting the influence of arch foe Iran, Gulf authorities became even less patient with dissenting voices in the media, analysts and rights groups say.

Madawi Al-Rasheed, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre, London School of Economics, said Riyadh was engaged in an effort to muzzle intellectuals with “dissenting voices”.

“There are so many of them, both men and women, who have left the kingdom,” she said.

Activists say muzzled writers include economists, academics, columnists and Muslim clerics. There are no precise figures on how many have been affected, but estimates by activists put the number at more than 20 from Saudi Arabia alone.

While some were merely advised not to air their views on social media, more vocal critics have found themselves behind bars, facing possible indictments on charges such as disobeying the ruler or incitement against the state, rights activists say.

“The pursuit by security is increasing rapidly and … it is killing the voice of moderation,” said Walid Sulais, a Saudi rights activist who fled abroad in late 2016 after authorities summoned him for questioning over his rights work.

PRESSURES

Gulf Arab officials did not respond to requests for comment on the issue of free expression. But asked about the expected absence of human rights from Trump’s agenda, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the issue was one of definition.

“We look at human rights as the right to safety, the right to a decent life, the right to a job, the right to food. We see it as the right to live your life without people imposing on you,” he told a news conference on Thursday.

“Every Saudi has the right to petition his monarch or the governors. The doors of our leaders are open. We have built institutions. We have a thriving press corps. We have a consultative council that started with 60 members, today it has 150 members, and 30 of them are ladies, distinguished ladies.”

Gulf states have increasingly chafed at what they see as a campaign of vilification by Western media and rights groups. They insist they respect rights which do not violate Islamic Sharia laws and their societies’ conservative traditions.

Political parties are banned in Saudi Arabia as are protests, unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison. Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, while top officials have said monitoring activists is needed to keep social stability.

In a statement on Jan. 15, Bahrain’s information minister scolded Gulf media, warning outlets to “shoulder their responsibilities” and counter foreign attempts to “spread sedition” in Gulf states – an apparent reference to Iran which

Bahrain accuses of fomenting unrest among Bahraini Shi’ites.

Iran denies interfering in the affairs of Gulf states.

Other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, have also been accused by rights groups of curbing free expression. In Qatar, activists noted that Faisal al-Marzoqi, a prominent commentator with more than 100,000 Twitter followers, had not tweeted since November 2016.

The UAE said on March 21 it had arrested political activist Ahmed Mansoor, an electrical engineer and poet, on charges of spreading sectarianism and hatred on social media, a move criticised by Amnesty International.

Defending the move, Mohammed al-Hammadi, editor of the pro-government al-Ittihad newspaper, wrote that Mansoor “either will be convicted or will be cleared through the rule of law and the justice of the judiciary, so what is the problem with this?”

In February Saudi social media reported the arrest of prominent clerics Sheikh Essam al-Owayed and Saad al-Breik.

In a Twitter post on Feb. 23, Owayed wrote in apparent reference to liberalising reforms: “Any decision-maker who thinks he can change the faith and identity of this country by opening the doors to decadence would be calling for a war in which he would be the main loser, no matter who he is.”

Owayed’s Twitter account has had no new postings since then, while the last Twitter message on Breik’s account dates to March 20. Neither Owayed nor Breik could be reached for a comment.

On May 4 on a visit to Saudi Arabia, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism Ben Emmerson urged Riyadh to stop using a 2014 counter-terrorism law and security prohibitions against human rights defenders and writers.

“When he is meeting with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries there, he should be equally as clear that any counter-terrorism efforts must include safeguards to protect the rights of individuals to express their opinions and assemble peacefully,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, told Reuters.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Why Donald Trump won’t be impeached

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 20, 2017

Masks of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump are seen at Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, China, May 25, 2016. There's no masking the facts. One Chinese factory is expecting Donald Trump to beat his likely U.S. presidential rival Hilary Clinton in the popularity stakes. At the Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory, a Halloween and party supply business that produces thousands of rubber and plastic masks of everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Spiderman, masks of Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces are being churned out. Sales of the two expected presidential candidates are at about half a million each but the factory management believes Trump will eventually run out the winner. "Even though the sales are more or less the same, I think in 2016 this mask will completely sell out," said factory manager Jacky Chen, indicating a Trump mask. REUTERS/Aly Song

Masks of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory in Jinhua, Zhejiang Province, China, May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song

The story goes that, in the 1970’s days of the Watergate crisis,, the editor of the Washington Post, Ben Bradley, would walk around his newsroom yelling out loud to his reporters, “Don’t gloat, don’t gloat.”

It is tempting to fall into that trap today, with nonstop shocking headlines about United States President Donald Trump: the connections between Trump, his campaign team, and the Russians, the firing of FBI director James Comey, and the appointment of a special prosecutor, Robert Mueller. All of this has brought out a certain Captain Queeg (of The Caine mutiny) personality in Donald Trump, with wild claims about his being the most persecuted politician in American history.

Yet for all the bad news that Trump faces, for the long months of investigations ahead by the special prosecutor and by two Congressional committees into the Russian hacking of the United States election, for his decision to hire former Gen. Michael Flynn to be national security advisor when it seems he already knew that Flynn was under investigation for his failure to disclose that he was a foreign agent for the Turkish government, for all the times that Trump changed his story, he will not be impeached.

To our supporters, thank you. Newcomers, welcome to reader-supported Facts and Opinions, employee-owned and ad-free. We will continue only if readers like you chip in, at least 27 cents, on an honour system. If you value our work, contribute below. Find details and more payment options here.

The talk this week of impeachment by some Democrats was hasty, premature, and quite honestly just plain stupid. The only way that a president can be impeached, according to the U.S. Constitution, is for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” And that’s all that it says. It doesn’t define what high crimes and misdemeanors are. It appears the founders of the country left that open to interpretation for the generations that followed them. An American president has only been impeached twice: Andrew Johnson, the successor to Abraham Lincoln, and in more recent memory, Bill Clinton. While both were impeached in House of Representatives, the Senate failed to convict either man, and they remained in office.

The main reason that Donald Trump will not be impeached is that his fellow Republicans control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And while there have been an increasing number of Republican voices calling for a more thorough probe into possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, the majority of Republicans, and this is certainly true of their leadership, have adopted a “there’s nothing to see here, move along, move along” attitude towards the entire debacle. The closest thing that any Republican leader has come to even criticizing the president was when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Washington could do with a little less “drama” coming from the White House.

It is a pure political calculation. While it may be true that many of us on the left are fighting the temptation to gloat, as I wrote just last week, there are parts of the country where Donald Trump remains incredibly popular.

Americans who support him see the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” and believe the mainstream media’s only goal is to bring Trump down. They see every negative story about him as “fake news,” and believe he is doing a great job. In almost every poll that’s been taken since Trump assumed office, the number of people that support Trump has barely wavered, ranging about 38-40 per cent.

This may be one of the reasons why Trump occasionally flees Washington to a campaign event somewhere in “Trump country,” where he can be surrounded by the cheers of the adoring fans that he seems to desire so much.

The two words any Republican lawmaker, or any American lawmaker for that matter, fear most, are primary challenge. Currently Republicans in the house and in the Senate are weighing the political calculus of just how much they can criticize Trump without invoking the fury of his supporters and the resulting primary challenge — when an incumbent is challenged in an upcoming primary election by a member of his own party.

Yet on the other hand, there are more than a few Republican congressmen and women who won in areas where Hillary Clinton was popular. They know that if they are seen as being too close to Donald Trump, those Clinton voters will turn out in droves and toss them out of office. Thus, we have the current  kabuki dance of Republican politicians, trying to walk a line so thin you need a microscope to see it.

But let’s hypothesize a bit.

Even if the Democrats took every contested seat in the House, and Nancy Pelosi again became speaker, there’s probably no chance the Democrats could regain control of the Senate considering the number of Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018.

The situation is so dire for Democrats that if they just maintain the current total of 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and two independents (who caucus with the Democrats), it would be a minor miracle. So even if Trump were impeached in the house, if enough crimes and misdemeanors were found, there is very little likelihood that he would be convicted in the Senate.

So, love him or hate him, Donald Trump is here for a while.

On the one hand, as a journalist and columnist, this is the best of all possible worlds: there is never a want of controversial topics to write about.

For my country, on the other hand, it will be an ongoing nightmare. Seldom has there been a man so ill-prepared, so-ill suited, so wrong to be the president of the United States.

Yet in the end nothing can really be done about that. And gloating won’t help. It’s just temporary pain relief from a long-term headache.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Correction: An earlier version of this column identified Andrew Jackson as a previously impeached US president. It was corrected May 21 to Andrew Johnson.

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Trump-Kim smackdown leaves South Koreans cold

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
May 13, 2017

Moon Jae-in, 19th President of Republic of Korea, holds his first press conference on May 10. Photo: Korean Culture and Information Service, Jeon Han, public domain

For a while it looked as though Donald Trump was the white horse on a cresting wave of right-wing demagogy rushing to break over liberal democracies world-wide.

But the defeat of Trump’s neo-Nazi fellow travellers in Holland and France, and now the election this week of a left-liberal administration in South Korea, leaves the United States President looking more like the grimy spume left on the sand by the retreating tide.

The election to the South Korean presidency on May 8 of Democratic Party leader Moon Jae-in is primarily a demand by the country’s voters to reform government, erase corruption and improve social justice. Moon’s election comes as former conservative President Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office in March precipitating this election, awaits trial on 18 charges of abuse of power, leaking state secrets and taking $US52 million in bribes.

About 80 per cent of voters cast ballots, a high proportion of them young people wanting the country’s democratic institutions revived and strengthened. As remarkable as it may seem from outside, heightened regional tension as Trump ratchets up his rhetoric and calls for “maximum pressure” on North Korea to end its nuclear missile development program, was of only secondary importance to voters among South Korea’s 50 million people.

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South Koreans have got used to living under the daily threat of annihilation by the North’s massive arsenal of conventional weapons. Whether they are wiped out by high explosives or nuclear bombs is irrelevant. South Koreans’ most effective defiance is to get on with their lives, and to continue building one of the world’s most successful economies and vigorous democracies.

However, Moon’s election will give a nasty jolt to the always-precarious balance of security and political interests in the Far East between the U.S., Japan, China and South Korea.

Moon is no softy on dealing with what he calls “the ruthless dictatorial regime” of Kim Jong-un in North Korea. (Moon’s parents were refugees from the North who fled south during the 1950-53 Korean Civil War.) But he believes equally strongly that the reliance on sanctions and military threats followed by successive U.S. presidents, and pumped up to bursting point by Trump, are ineffective.

An immediate point of friction may be Washington’s deployment in South Korea last month of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. Trump ordered the deployment ostensibly as a defence against missile attacks by North Korea, and to protect the over 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. In an apparent attempt to appeal to his anti-foreigner followers in the U.S. Trump even said he would send Seoul a bill for $US1 billion for defending South Korea.

The deployment of the anti-missile system with its powerful radars has not gone down well with the Chinese government, on whom Trump says he is depending to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. Beijing complains that THAAD is a threat to the deterrence value of its own nuclear missile system. It has imposed economic sanctions against South Korea in retaliation for the outgoing interim administration’s agreement for the deployment of THAAD.

Moon opposed the deployment of THAAD, which went into operation last week. He says he thinks the Trump regime pushed to get the missile system set up before the new Seoul administration took office to make it more difficult to get THAAD withdrawn.

At this point, Moon has only said he will review the THAAD decision, and has made it clear that he won’t necessarily insist on the removal of the anti-missile system.

He has also said that his policies towards North Korea will flow from his basic commitment to the alliance with Washington. Unlike Trump, Moon favours pursing engagement with North Korea. Sanctions, he says, should be tailored to bring Kim and his regime to the negotiating table.

In this, Moon is following what was called the “Sunshine Policy” of the two liberal presidents of South Korea from 1998 until 2008. The first, Kim Dae-jung, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to open up dialogue with North Korea. Moon served as the chief of staff to the second liberal president, Roh Moo-hyun, in office from 2002 to 2008.

President Roh attempted to establish a network of links with the North that would be hard to unravel, and which would create a seedbed on which relations could grow. These included family reunions, regular diplomatic talks, and joint economic projects such as the Kaesong industrial complex in North Korea.

At Kaesong, several of the famous South Korean industrial conglomerates, such as Hyundai and Samsung, set up factories employing over 53,000 North Koreans. There were predictions that in time Kaesong could employ over 700,000 people and become the stimulus for economic development in the North. Before her disgrace, President Park last year ordered the closure of Kaesong as part of the global attempts to get Kim Jong-un to halt his nuclear missile development program.

Moon says he wants to re-open Kaesong, but it will be difficult for him to do so. It would require a functional relationship with Pyongyang, which doesn’t exist at the moment, and also a lifting of United Nations sanctions. As things stand, it would breech UN economic sanctions to re-start or re-invest in the Kaesong project.

The Sunshine Policy never really got off the ground in the early 2000s. It suffered from lack of attention to Asia by U.S. President George W Bush during his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And when he did pay attention to the Korean Peninsular in a speech in 2003, Bush ignited paranoia in Pyongyang by including North Korea with Iran and Iraq in his “axis of evil” troika.

The then leader in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il, took the entirely logical position that the only countries that Washington didn’t invade were the ones that had nuclear weapons. He therefore re-started North Korea’s nuclear program, leading to the first successful underground testing of an atomic bomb in 2006.

The world’s attempts to bring Pyongyang to heel have been on a downward slide since then, and North Korea’s weapons programs have accelerated since Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in late 2011.

It is hard to see at the moment how Moon can start a new version of the Sunshine Policy without irritating not only Trump, but also Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has been as worried as anyone else by Trump’s unpredictable and ignorant performances on diplomacy and foreign policy. However, Abe is also using Trump’s unreliability as an ally to push his own aims to give Japan a more active independent security policy, including recent suggestions for acquiring the ability to strike North Korean missile sites ahead of any attack launched by Pyongyang. These aims are a significant step away from the pacifist constitution forced on Japan by the U.S. and its Pacific Theatre allies after the Second World War, and are heavily frowned on by a majority of Japanese people.

The Tokyo government had been hoping that a conservative candidate would win in Seoul, and reports from Japan say officials are scurrying around trying to get a measure of Moon.

Moon’s immediate pre-occupation on taking office will be to start addressing the concerns of the people who elected him. High on the list is changes to the political constitution, which tends to create an “imperial presidency,” South Korea’s president is given great administrative powers, but is only allowed a single, five-year term. It was only in 1987 that the country began to climb out of decades of dictatorship and military rule. The single, five-year term limit was designed to prevent backsliding into dictatorships. But it has created a situation where incoming presidents are lame ducks from soon after their inaugurations, and it has tended to encourage corruption.

These tendencies exploded in full bloom during the term of disgraced president Park Geun-hye. She and her long-time friend Choi Soon-sil are accused of soliciting bribes worth $US52 million from some of the leading industrial conglomerates – the “chaebol” – such as Samsung, Hyundai and Lotte in exchange for political favours. It is also alleged that Choi exerted unacceptable influence over Park in making decisions on government ppolicy and appointments, despite having no official position.

Moon’s suggestion for preventing any re-occurance of this scandal is to emulate the U.S. and other republics by having presidents eligible to run for two four-year terms. He has also suggested that many of the president’s executive powers be devolved to beefed-up cabinet ministers.

There is also much unhappiness among many voters at the chaebol system under which a handful of largely family-owned companies control whole swathes of economic activity. Moon agrees that the chaebol system is responsible for high unemployment and low wages, and that the country should move to a more balanced industrial structure. But dismantling the chaebol is not that easy. In the wake of the 1997 Asian economic crisis, South Korea’s first “liberal” president Kim Dae-jung attempted to break up the chaebol, insisting they sell off divisions of their conglomerates that weren’t part of their core businesses, and tried to root out corruption in the companies. He was only marginally successful. Roh Moo-hyun, another liberal president, tried to go further, but he too was not completely successful and there is much left for Moon to do for South Korea to become a more economically responsive and equitable society.

The best hope for South Koreans and Moon is that Trump is so engulfed by dealing with the challenges to his political legitimacy at home that he has no time to butt heads with Kim Jong-un and the Pyongyang regime.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Trying to listen in Trump’s America 

Signs like this one dot the American Mid-West. Photo by franleleon, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
May 13, 2017

In the heart of America, there are long, flat stretches of emptiness in the spring. Fields, only recently plowed and sown with the fall’s harvest, still look barren and soggy. No majestic fields of wheat or corn greet the eye.

I’m driving to Wisconsin to pick up my son from school, accompanied by my daughter. She goes to school in Canada, and so has been out for a couple of weeks. I asked her what she thinks of the landscape. She gazes out the car window, turns to me and says “The only thing I can compare it to is the ocean. So empty and flat.”

This is a trip to Trump country. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin. All states that voted for Donald Trump. In fact, one might say they are the states that elected Donald Trump, particularly the latter three.

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The signs along the road tell me that this is a different country than the one I left back east. “Jesus is Real” proclaims one large sign. A few miles on another one reads, “Praise be to the Lord, “ and includes a notation of a Psalm from the Bible.

I pull into a gas station and mini-mart somewhere in Ohio. There is a rack of T-shirts supporting the Second Amendment. “Pro-Life, Pro-Gun, Pro-God,” reads one shirt. A small blonde woman in in a torn jean jacket is looking at a T-shirt that reads “I’m a God-fearin’, Bible Believin’, Gun Packin’, American Lovin’ Conservative.”

It’s not all religion and guns, mind you. On the return trip, as we cross from Pennsylvania into West Virginia, the first sign you see is for Jill’s Gentlemen’s Club. “Class acts” the sign assures me.

Maybe it’s just the time of the year, maybe it’s just because things haven’t started to grow yet, maybe it’s just because I’m only driving I-70 and not actually going into any town, but there’s a sense of decay along the highways in this part of the country. While modern, brightly-lit trucks stops cater to the endless ribbon of semis that drive across this country, more often than not the gas stations I pull into need a new paint job, and the pumps don’t always work properly.

The sense of disappointment, of being left behind, hangs in the air like fog. It’s those feelings that helped elect Donald Trump.

I’ve lived in the East my entire life, either in Canada or the United States. Middle America is not my world, and I do not feel at home here. I feel like I have driven into an entirely different country. I’m not sure how to navigate that. People are friendly, but wary. The day I wore my T-shirt with an evolution joke on the front people eyed me a bit suspiciously.

In a motel where we stay, in the free breakfast bar, the television is tuned to a news channel talking about the firing of FBI director James Comey, and the backlash that this has produced among Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans. I asked the person at the next table what they think of the whole thing.

“Well, it was a bit clumsy, but Trump did the right thing. Getting rid of Comey was part of cleaning up the swamp. It’s what the Democrats wanted, so I don’t see why they’re so upset,” he tells me. When he asks me what I think, rather than get into an argument, I tell him I want to wait and see what happens over the next few days.

The most interesting conversation, however, came the next day at the next motel. As we were checking out, a young fella came over to me and started to talk. A truck driver from Alabama, he and his wife were in town to take a safety course at the new company for which he would be driving. The conversation is pleasant and enlightening.

“No, I own my own rig,” he says when I ask. “It’s only way to do it. That way nobody can tell me what to do and what to haul unless I want to. As it is, everybody hates you. The dispatchers, the shipping clerks, the guys who work at the total booths. Everybody just wants to give you a hard time. I’m just trying to make a living.”

He tells me that there is a need for almost 300,000 truck drivers in America. I think back to the highway and that line of semis that seems to stretch from horizon to horizon. And they need more? He says it’s because most truck drivers only last about a year. And then they get fed up with being told what to, and the long hours, and the bad pay, and quit. And move on to the next company.

And as we’re talking it strikes me that he just wants someone to listen to his story. Maybe that’s the key to understanding Trump country. People just want to tell their story, and have someone listen to them. And take them seriously. They want to be valued for what they do, and what they believe.

Then my moment of understanding is shattered by my daughter. I tell her that I think that people around here just want someone to listen to them. “Yes, but they’re not listening either,” she says. “It’s not a one-way conversation.”

I realize that she’s right, and that makes me sad. We increasingly live in two worlds in America. Two different cultures, with different priorities, different beliefs, different ideas of what it means to be American. Once upon a time the idea of being American is what held everybody together. Not anymore. And I believe that gap is growing, and getting harder and harder to cross with every passing day.

We’re back on the highway again, headed towards Wisconsin. We pass a series of Burma Shave-like signs: “I have a gun.” “It’s pretty and pink.” “It makes an attacker.” “Stop and think.”

And again I think that we’re all just talking, and the only opinion that matters is our own.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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