Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Monday that Israel has been providing aid to Syrian rebels, thus keeping the Druze in Syria out of immediate danger. Israeli officials have previously balked at confirming on the record that the country has been helping forces that are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. *** “We’ve assisted them under two conditions,” Ya’alon said of the Israeli medical aid to the Syrian rebels, some of whom are presumably fighting with al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad. “That they don’t get too close to the border, and that they don’t touch the Druze.”
The fact of the matter is . . . there was no moderate middle. . . . [O]ur allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. . . . They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and . . . thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad except that the people who were being supplied were Al Nusra and al-Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis.
(Leaked NSA documents also show that Israeli special forces assassinated a top Syrian government official.)
Not all Israelis support this effort. For example, Jacky Hugi – an Arab affairs analyst for Israeli army radio – recently wrote:
Israel should back Assad *** Anyone who wonders why is invited to look at neighboring Iraq or distant Libya. What’s happening there is likely to happen in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad. *** In choosing between one bad thing and another, the balance tips toward the regime. The Israeli security establishment should gradually abandon its emerging alliance with the Syrian rebels … *** The survival of the Damascus regime guarantees stability on Israel’s northern border, and it’s a keystone to its national security. *** It is a dangerous, irresponsible gamble to choose Assad’s enemies and encourage his collapse — it would be playing with fire. The prominent elements among Israel’s potential future neighbors are mainly Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, or the Islamic State ….
So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have "full faith" that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was "no evidence of a struggle" on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.
In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state's "courtesy policy." The state said there was "no evidence" yet of criminal behavior on Encina's part.
So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.
Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching "legal analyses" concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina's part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too "complicated" to make this anything more than a tragic accident.
Media scandals are like criminal trials. They're about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.
Backing up: It's been interesting following conservative news outlets after the Bland case. They've been conspicuously quiet this week, holstering the usual gloating backlash of the "He'd be alive today, if he'd just obeyed the law" variety.
After the Garner, Brown and Freddie Gray cases, of course, law-and-order commentators flocked to the blogosphere to explain the secret to preventing police brutality.
It was simple, they explained. There's no police corruption problem. The real issue is that there are too many people who don't know how to behave during a car stop. Don't want to get murdered by police? Be polite!
A writer named John Hawkins took on the subject for TownHall.com in a piece last year carrying the not at all joking headline "How to not get shot by police." After revealing that his only real experience in this area involved speeding tickets, Hawkins lectured readers that "the first key to not getting shot" is to not think of the police as a threat:
"They're really not going to randomly beat you, arrest you or shoot you for no reason whatsoever. It's like a bee. Don't start swatting at it and chances are, it's not going to sting you.
"In fact, when a cop pulls you over, you should have your license and registration ready, you put your hands on the steering wheel so he can see them when he arrives, and you say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir.'"
It's hard to wrap one's head around the absurdity of someone like Hawkins imagining to himself that black America has not already tried using the word "sir" as a strategy to avoid beatings and killings. But over and over again, we heard stuff like this from the Fox/Real Clear crowd, which as time passed flailed around with increasing desperation in search of a non-racial explanation for all of these violent episodes.
After Eric Garner was killed, for instance, a New York Post columnist named Bob McManus argued that we should only blame – the word "only" was actually used – the "man who tragically decided to resist." Michigan's even dumber Ann Coulter wannabe, Debbie Schlussel, countered that Garner would still be alive if his parents had raised him better, and if he wasn't a "morbidly obese asthmatic."
But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she'd used her blinker. That's a bridge too far even for TownHall.com types.
Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.
Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn't like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.
She balked, and that's when things went sideways. Encina demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, "I'll light you up," and eventually threw her in jail.
Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for "failing to obey a lawful order," which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.
But this same kind of logic has underpinned modern community policing in big cities all over America for decades now. Under Broken Windows and other "zero tolerance"-type enforcement strategies, police move into (typically nonwhite) neighborhoods in big numbers, tell people to move off corners, and then circle back and arrest them for "loitering" or "failing to obey a lawful order" if they don't.
Some cities have tried to put a fig leaf of legal justification on such practices by creating "drug-free" or "anti-loitering" zones, which give police automatic justification for arrest even if a person is guilty of nothing more than standing on the street. Failing to produce ID – even in the halls of your own building, in some cases – or being seen in or around a "known drug location" can similarly be grounds for search or detention.
A related phenomenon is the policy governing "consent searches." Police stop people on the highways, in airports, on buses, really anywhere at all, and ask for their consent to search their property or their persons. Sometimes they do the asking with a drug-sniffing dog standing beside them.
Studies have consistently shown that black and Hispanic people are pulled over at a far higher rate than white people, usually more than double, even though white people are statistically more likely to have illegal drugs on them.
Add to this the whole galaxy of stop-and-frisk type behaviors, also known as "Terry stops," in which any police officer with an "articulable suspicion" that a crime of violence might be committed can pat down and question any person.
The end of New York's infamous program notwithstanding, there are millions of such stops every year. In Chicago, for instance, recent data showed a rate of about a million stops per year, with roughly 72 percent involving black people – and this in a city that's only 32 percent black.
You add all this up, and we're talking about millions upon millions of stops, searches and misdemeanor arrests and summonses that clearly target black people at a far higher rate than the rest of the population.
And if you're continually handcuffing people, sitting on them, putting knees in their backs and dragging them to jail in cases when you could have just handed over a summons, a certain percentage of these encounters are going to end in fights, struggles, medical accidents and other disasters. Like the Bland case.
We'd call it murder if a kidnapping victim died of fright during the job. Of course it's not legally the same thing, but a woman dying of depression during an illegal detention should be the same kind of crime. It's especially true given our long and sordid history of overpolicing misdemeanors.
In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander described how white America re-seized control after slavery by instituting a series of repressive "vagrancy laws," under which nonwhite Americans could be arrested for such absurdities as "mischief" and "insulting gestures."
In an eerie precursor to the modern loitering laws, many states even had stringent rules against "idleness." There were even states where any black male over 18 could be thrown in jail for not carrying around written proof that he had a job.
What exactly is the difference between being arrested for "idleness" and being arrested for "loitering in a designated drug-free zone"? What's the difference between an arrest for "mischief" and an arrest for "disorderly conduct" or "refusing to obey a lawful order"? If it's anything more than a semantic distinction, it's not much more of one.
Law-and-order types like to lecture black America about how it can avoid getting killed by "respecting authority" and treating arresting cops like dangerous dogs or bees.
But while playing things cool might prevent killings in some instances, it won't stop police from stopping people without reason, putting their hands on suspects or jailing people like Bland for infractions that at most would earn a white guy in a suit a desk ticket. That's not just happening in a few well-publicized cases a year, but routinely, in hundreds of thousands or even millions of incidents we never hear of.
That's why the issue isn't how Sandra Bland died, but why she was stopped and detained in the first place. It's profiling, sure, but it's even worse than that. It's a systematic campaign to harass people, using misdemeanors and violations as battering ram – a campaign that's been going on forever, and against which there's little defense. When the law can be stretched to mean almost anything, obeying it is no magic bullet.
Steal a Tree, Go to Jail; Steal a Forest, Meet the President
By Jeffrey St. Clair
Republished here with permission is a chapter from Jeffrey St. Clair’s 2008 book, Born Under A Bad Sky. St. Clair has provided an outstanding report of corrupt government at work. Even environmentalists in the Forest Service who are appointed to protect our national forests are part of the looting corporatocracy.
The power of money can be stronger than the power of government. We can see the power of money in the looting of our national forests. Even the environmental agencies established by Congress to protect the environment have fallen under corporate control.
Elected politicians, even if they intend otherwise, end up serving the corporatocracy.
The impotence of government to serve the public interest and general welfare is an important lesson both for progressives, who believe in the curative powers of government, and libertarians, who believe that government is inimical to private interests.
As both parties serve the corporatocracy, elections can change nothing.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961
A standing army - something that propelled the early colonists into revolution - strips the American people of any vestige of freedom.How can there be any semblance of freedom when there are tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, Blackhawk helicopters and armed drones patrolling overhead?
It was for this reason that those who established America vested control of the military in a civilian government, with a civilian commander-in-chief. They did not want a military government, ruled by force. Rather, they opted for a republic bound by the rule of law: the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, with the Constitution under constant attack, the military’s power, influence and authority have grown dramatically. Even the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which makes it a crime for the government to use the military to carry out arrests, searches, seizure of evidence and other activities normally handled by a civilian police force, has been weakened by both Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who ushered in exemptions allowing troops to deploy domestically and arrest civilians in the wake of alleged terrorist acts.
Now we find ourselves struggling to retain some semblance of freedom in the face of police and law enforcement agencies that look and act like the military and have just as little regard for the Fourth Amendment, laws such as the NDAA that allow the military to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens, and military drills that acclimate the American people to the sight of armored tanks in the streets, military encampments in cities, and combat aircraft patrolling overhead.
Making matters worse, we find out that the military plans to use southwestern states as staging grounds for guerilla warfare drills in which highly-trained military troops equipped with all manner of weapons turn American towns and cities in quasi-battlefields. Why? As they tell us, it’s so that special operations forces can get “realistic military training” in “hostile” territory.
They’ve even got a name for the exercise: Jade Helm 15.
Whether or not Americans have anything to fear from Jade Helm 15, a covert, multi-agency, multi-state, eight-week military training exercise set to take place this summer from July 15 through Sept. 15, remains to be seen.
Insisting that there’s nothing to be alarmed about, the Washington Post took great pains to point out that these military exercises on American soil are nothing new. For instance, there was Operation Bold Alligator, in which in which thousands of Marines and sailors carried out amphibious exercises against “insurgent” forces in Georgia and Florida. Operation Robin Sage had Green Beret soldiers engaging in guerrilla warfare in North Carolina. And Operation Derna Bridge sends Marine special forces into parts of South Carolina and the National Forest.
Yet if Americans are uneasy about this summer’s planned Jade Helm 15 military exercises, they have every right to be.
After all, haven’t we been urged time and time again to just “trust” the government to respect our rights and abide by the rule of law only to find that, in fact, our rights were being plundered and the Constitution disregarded at every turn?
Let’s assume, for the moment, that Jade Helm 15 is not a thinly veiled military plot to take over the country lifted straight out of director John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May, as some fear, but is merely a “routine” exercise for troops, albeit a blatantly intimidating flexing of the military’s muscles.
The problem arises when you start to add Jade Helm onto the list of other troubling developments that have taken place over the past 30 years or more: the expansion of the military industrial complex and its influence in Washington DC, the rampant surveillance, the corporate-funded elections and revolving door between lobbyists and elected officials, the militarized police, the loss of our freedoms, the injustice of the courts, the privatized prisons, the school lockdowns, the roadside strip searches, the military drills on domestic soil, the fusion centers and the simultaneous fusing of every branch of law enforcement (federal, state and local), the stockpiling of ammunition by various government agencies, the active shooter drills that are indistinguishable from actual crises, the economy flirting with near collapse, etc.
Seven years ago, the U.S. Army War College issued a report calling on the military to be prepared should they need to put down civil unrest within the country. Summarizing the report, investigative journalist Chris Hedges declared, “The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a ‘violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,’ which could be provoked by ‘unforeseen economic collapse,’ ‘purposeful domestic resistance,’ ‘pervasive public health emergencies’ or ‘loss of functioning political and legal order.’ The ‘widespread civil violence,’ the document said, ‘would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.’”
At what point will all of the government’s carefully drawn plans for dealing with civil unrest, “homegrown” terrorism and targeting pre-crime become a unified blueprint for locking down the nation?
What’s with all of the government agencies stockpiling hollow point bullets? For example, why does the Department of Agriculture need .40 caliber semiautomatic submachine guns and 320,000 rounds of hollow point bullets? For that matter, why do its agents need ballistic vestsand body armor?
[A]s President Obama ushers in the end of what he called America’s “long season of war,” the former tools of combat — M-16 rifles, grenade launchers, silencers and more — are ending up in local police departments, often with little public notice. During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.
Why is the military partnering with local police to conduct training drills around the country? And what exactly are they training for? In Richland, South Carolina, for instance, U.S. army special forces participated in joint and secretive exercises and training with local deputies. The public was disallowed from obtaining any information about the purpose of the drills, other than being told that they might be loud and to not be alarmed. The Army and DHS also carried out similar drills and maneuvers involving Black Hawk helicopters in Texas, Florida, and other locations throughout the U.S., ostensibly in order to provide local police with “realistic” urban training.
What is being done to protect the American populace from the threat of military arms and forces, including unarmed drones, being used against them? Policy analysts point to Directive No. 3025.18, “Defense Support of Civil Authorities” (issued on Dec. 29, 2010), as justification for the government’s use of military force to put down civil unrest within the United States.
Why is FEMA stockpiling massive quantities of emergency supplies? On January 10, 2014, FEMA made a statement enlisting the service of contractors who could “supply medical biohazard disposal capabilities and 40 yard dumpsters to 1,000 tent hospitals across the United States; all required on 24-48 hour notice.” This coincides with other medical requests seeking massive amounts of supplies, such as “31,000,000 flu vaccinations,” “100,000 each of winter shirts and pants and the same for summer” and other goods and services requests as well like tarps, manufactured housing units, and beverages. And why does the TSA need $21,000 worth of potassium chlorate, a chemical compound often used in explosives?
Moreover, what is really being done to hold the Pentagon accountable for its doctored ledgers, fraud, waste and mismanagement, which has cost the taxpayer trillions of dollars?According to Reuters, “The Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments. That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for. That sum exceeds the value of China's economic output.”
Given the similarities between the government’s Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis, how much of what is being passed off as real is, in fact, being staged by DHS for the “benefit” of training law enforcement, leaving us none the wiser? These training exercises come complete with their own set of professionally trained Crisis Actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims in order to help schools and first responders create realistic drills, full-scale exercises, high-fidelity simulations, and interactive 3D films.
Why is the government amassing names and information on Americans considered to be threats to the nation, and what criteria is the government using for this database? Keep in mind that this personal information is being acquired and kept without warrant or court order. It’s been suggested that in the event of nuclear war, the destruction of the U.S. Government, and the declaration of martial law, this Main Core database, which as of 2008 contained some 8 million names of Americans, would be used by military officials to locate and round up Americans seen as threats to national security, a program to be carried about by the Army and FEMA.
Taken individually, these questions are alarming enough. But put them together and they add up to the kind of trouble that the American founding fathers not only warned against but from which they fought to free themselves.
Indeed, when viewed collectively, they leave one wondering what exactly the U.S. government is preparing for and whether American citizens shouldn’t be preparing, as well, for that eventuality when our so-called “government of the people, by the people, for the people” is no longer answerable to “we the people.”
Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria
Pacific Institute, Oakland, California
The devastating civil war that began in Syria in March 2011 is the result of complex interrelated factors. The focus of the conflict is regime change, but the triggers include a broad set of religious and sociopolitical factors, the erosion of the economic health of the country, a wave of political reform sweeping over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Levant region, and challenges associated with climate variability and change and the availability and use of freshwater. As described here, water and climatic conditions have played a direct role in the deterioration of Syria’s economic conditions. There is a long history of conflicts over water in these regions because of the natural water scarcity, the early development of irrigated agriculture, and complex religious and ethnic diversity. In recent years, there has been an increase in incidences of water-related violence around the world at the subnational level attributable to the role that water plays in development disputes and economic activities. Because conflicts are rarely, if ever, attributable to single causes, conflict analysis and concomitant efforts at reducing the risks of conflict must consider a multitude of complex relationships and contributing factors. This paper assesses the complicated connections between water and conflict in Syria, looks more broadly at future climate-related risks for water systems, and offers some water management strategies for reducing those risks.
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley linked climate change to the rise of ISIS earlier this week. Conservativespounced. Score this round for O’Malley.
For three years now, leading security and climate experts — and Syrians themselves — have made the connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war. Indeed, when a major peer-reviewed study came out on in March making this very case, Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley said it identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought.
Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
“One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms — or rather, the conditions — of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence.”
Let’s run through the science underpinning what O’Malley, Admiral Titley, and others have said.
We know that the Syrian civil war that helped drive the rise of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) was itself spawned in large part by what one expert called perhaps “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent,” from 2006 to 2010.
That drought destroyed the livelihood of 800,000 people according to the U.N. and sent vastly more into poverty. The poor and displaced fled to cities, “where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011,” as the study’s news release explains.
The March 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”
Events leading up to 2011 Syrian uprising, with chart of net migration of displaced Syrians and Iraqi refugees into urban areas (in millions) since 2005. Source: Kelley et al. (2015)
The study identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought, Admiral Titley told Slate at the time. Titley is the former COO of NOAA.
In particular, the study finds that climate change is already drying the region out in two ways: “First, weakening wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean reduced precipitation during the usual November-to-April wet season. In addition, higher temperatures increased moisture evaporation from soils during the usually hot summers.”
This study and others make clear that for large parts of the not-terribly-stable region around Syria — including Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and parts of Turkey and Iraq — brutal multi-year droughts are poised to become the norm in the coming decades if we don’t reverse carbon pollution trends ASAP.
Climate models had long predicted that the countries surrounding the Mediterranean would start drying out. In general, climate science says dry areas will get dryer and wet areas wetter.
In 2011, a major NOAA study concluded that “human-caused climate change [is now] a major factor in more frequent Mediterranean droughts.”
Reds and oranges highlight lands around the Mediterranean that experienced significantly drier winters during 1971-2010 than the comparison period of 1902-2010. Via NOAA [Click to enlarge].
“The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone,” explained Dr. Martin Hoerling of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, the lead author of the 2011 study.
The connection between the conflict in Syria and climate change is not new. In March 2012, Climate Progress published a piece by Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell, co-founders and directors of the Center for Climate and Security, which made the case for the link between climate change and events in Syria.
In 2013, Tom Friedman went to Syria to learn firsthand about the connection between the drought and the civil war. His New York Times column, “Without Water, Revolution,” explains what he discovered.
Friedman also filmed his visit, where he talked to actual Syrians about the causes of the civil war. It was for the premiere episode in April 2014 of the Emmy-winning Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” which can be viewed on Netflix right here.
Perhaps the central takeaway from this area of research is that the greatest danger to humanity this century from human-caused climate change is Dust-Bowlification and the threat to our food supplies and hence global security.
That’s because large parts of the most inhabited and arable parts of the planet — including the U.S. breadbasket — face the exact same heating and drying that have already affected the Mediterranean. The 2014 study, “Global warming and 21st century drying,” projected this bleak future:
Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) for 2080-2099 with business-as-usual warming. By comparison, during the 1930s Dust Bowl, the PDSI in the Great Plains rarely exceeded -3 (see here). Source: Cook et al. and Climate Progress.
The bottom line: Homo sapiens is currently on track to make drought and extreme drying the normal condition for the Southwest, Central Plains, the Amazon, southern Europe, the entire region around the Mediterranean, and many other key areas post-2050.
As Femia bluntly told an interviewer in 2013, the time to act is now: “if you let this problem get out of hand you’re going to have a number of situations in the future, whether they’re major disasters or conflicts, that our security forces may have to respond to. It will cost us a lot more in the long term if we do nothing now.”
Returning to O’Malley’s comments, it’s pretty clear that they are quite reasonable and defensible. Personally, because the causes of war and terrorism are so complicated and interconnected, I prefer to say things like “climate change HELPED create conditions for rise of ISIS.” Not that nuanced phrasing will not spare anyone the attacks from the anti-science crowd.