As Scientists March, Will Trump give away US Science Lead to China?

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/scientists-march-science.html

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The marches for science in the United States and around the world are an expression of alarm about the Trump administration’s budget proposals, which slash public funding for science, medical and technology research and seek to increase the Pentagon budget by $54 bn.

Federal funding for certain kinds of research is absolutely crucial. There are diseases, for instance, that private companies don’t see as a priority because they strike a small number of people or the cure for which is unlikely to produce big profits because most victims are poor and live in the global south.

If you live in Florida or other semi-tropical parts of the US, and your family is expecting a child, you may be alarmed at the rise of the Zika virus. It is the National Institute of Health that is funding the search for a vaccine. Perhaps you remember the deep public concern about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. Who is working on a vaccine? The US government and Merck. In the US system, vaccine development is a government-private-public partnership: “Of the $1.4 billion that fund US vaccine research and development annually, 46% comes from vaccine sales, 36% from taxpayers, and 18% from risk capital.”

As for technology, entrepreneurs most often build on government-funding. Of a ten-mile journey toward innovation, 9 of the miles are often traversed by government-backed research, and the entrepreneurs come in for the last mile. Forbes admits, “the basic technologies that Apple AAPL -0.13% products are built on (and those of all tech firms), from the chips, to the Internet, to GPS, to the software protocols, were all supported or wholly developed by government programs.”

Trump’s cuts will not only make us sick and retard the technological advances that make our lives more convenient, he will harm us in precisely the area he imagines himself to champion– US competitiveness.

You don’t compete with the rest of the world by giving an extra $54 billion to the military and deeply cutting research and development (R&D) funding.

The National Science Foundation observes that China, South Korea and India are putting enormous government money into R&D, as well as investing in science education and the production of skilled science and engineering students. Trump, in contrast, gave away US education to Betsy DeVos, who ruined Michigan K-12 education and wants Americans brought up in fundamentalist charter schools. The NSF writes,

“Indicators 2016 makes it clear that while the United States continues to lead in a variety of metrics, it exists in an increasingly multi-polar world for S&E that revolves around the creation and use of knowledge and technology. According to Indicators 2016, China is now the second-largest performer of R&D, accounting for 20 percent of global R&D as compared to the United States, which accounts for 27 percent.

China is already increasing its annual outlay far more than the United States, growing R&D spending nearly 20 percent a year every year from 2003 to 2013. That rate of increase far outstripped that of the US in those years, and now Trump actually wants us to slash spending, while the Chinese go on investing in technological innovation.

The day when China outspends the US on research and development annually is just around the corner, and Trump’s budget would bring it even more quickly.

In some areas, China is nipping at our heels. The global share of the US in high-tech manufacturing? 29%.

The global share of China in high-tech manufacturing? 27%!

Almost half of all the bachelor’s degrees awarded very year in China are in Science and Engineering.

In the US it is only 1/3.

While China and South Korea massively ramp up government R&D investments, the Tea Party Congress in the US has been deeply cutting ours.

“In 2013, government funded R&D accounted for 27 percent of total U.S. R&D and was the largest supporter (47 percent) of all U.S. basic research”. . . “Indicators shows that Federal investment in both academic and business sector R&D has declined in recent years. . . Since the Great Recession, substantial, real R&D growth annually — ahead of the pace of U.S. GDP — has not returned. Inflation-adjusted growth in total U.S. R&D averaged only 0.8 percent annually over the 2008-13 period, behind the 1.2 percent annual average for U.S. GDP.

The world will not stand still while Trump undermines the nation’s science and technology capacity. And by the way, that won’t bring back jobs — it will send them away.

In fact, if Trump gets his way on the science budget, my advice to Americans is to start studying Chinese.

Ooops. Trump is cutting money for that, too.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The National: Global March for Science raises concern over Trump policies

How Trump put the Foxes in charge of the Hen House at Education, Health, Justice

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/charge-education-justice.html

By Steven Harper | ( BillMoyers.com | – –

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.— Steve Bannon to historian Ron Radosh on Nov. 12, 2013 (according to Radosh)

Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens’ daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.

Beware of the enemy within. With respect to the US government, the ultimate inside job is well underway. Through key Cabinet appointments, Trump is gutting federal agencies that have improved citizens’ daily lives in ways that most Americans will no longer take for granted.

 
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

In her confirmation hearing, billionaire Betsy DeVos made the world painfully aware that she isn’t an educator or expert in curriculum. She’s not familiar with the decades-old Individuals with Disabilities Act, or the fraudulent for-profit colleges and graduate schools that exploit their students. She seems unconcerned about the funding crisis that confronts public education in America. But she has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She’s a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

Keeping Trump controversies in the family, DeVos’ brother Erik Prince is the founder of the infamous Blackwater private security firm and was a $250,000 donor to the Trump campaign. In January, Prince met secretly in the Seychelles Islands with a Russian close to Putin. Russia’s goal in the meeting, according to The Washington Post, was to establish a back-channel line of communication with the Trump administration.

As a lobbyist through her organization — the nonprofit American Federation for Children — DeVos led the effort to privatize public education in Michigan. The result: widespread abuses, dismal performance and no accountability for taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of for-profit charter schools and management companies. In Michigan, DeVos helped to create a system that “leads the nation in the number of schools operated for profit, while other states have moved to curb the expansion of for-profit charters, or banned them outright,” the Detroit Free Press observes. “[Michigan is] a laughingstock in national education circles, and a pariah among reputable charter school operators, who have not opened schools in Detroit because of the wild West nature of the educational landscape here.”

Likewise, the Obama administration put pressure on for-profit colleges that exploit students and leave them burdened with debt. Trump, on the other hand, promised to reduce government intrusions and allow schools like Trump University to thrive. After Nov. 8, the stock of for-profit schools soared. DeVos is now fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises.

[S]he has all of the credentials required to serve in the Trump administration: She’s a billionaire with a mission to destroy the federal department she now heads.

Among her advisers is Robert S. Eitel, a lawyer on unpaid leave of absence from his job at Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Bridgepoint, a for-profit college operator whose stock is up 40 percent since Nov. 9, faces multiple government investigations. One ended recently in a $30 million settlement with the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau over deceptive student lending.

Another DeVos adviser is Taylor Hansen, a former lobbyist for the for-profit sector’s trade association that fought Obama’s “gainful employment” rule, which imposes minimal accountability on for-profit colleges. On March 6, 2017, the Education Department delayed the gainful employment rule deadline. Ten days later, DeVos rescinded an Obama administration rule that prevented student guaranty agencies from charging exorbitant interest rates. Until Jan. 1, the largest such guaranty agency was United Student Aid Funds Inc. ,whose president and chief executive officer is William Hansen, Taylor’s father. In a letter to DeVos, Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited ProPublica’s report on Taylor’s conflicts. On March 17, he resigned.

On April 11, DeVos reversed Obama administration guidelines aimed at protecting student borrowers and penalizing abusive loan servicing companies. Meanwhile, DeVos’ agenda to clear the field for private education profiteers revealed itself in Trump’s proposed budget: It would reduce Department of Education funding by 14 percent. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, lamented, “This budget takes a meat cleaver to public education.”

 
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price

Tom Price is an orthopedic surgeon who seems to have forgotten his profession’s seminal creed, “First, do no harm.” As a Georgia congressman, Price was among the most prominent critics of Obamacare, which has provided more than 20 million citizens with health insurance that they otherwise would not have. As the Secretary of Health and Human Services, he is now working to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

On March 7, Price wrote Congress to express support for the Republican repeal effort. By then, Trump’s campaign promise of “health insurance for all” had devolved into Rep. Paul Ryan’s notion of “universal access” in the form of subsidies that would cover only a fraction of the premium cost for those most in need. (But it did have a nice tax break for the wealthy.) The Congressional Budget Office estimated that under the Ryan/Trump/Price plan, 14 million Americans would lose coverage immediately; by 2026, the total would rise to 24 million.

Trump, Price and Ryan failed in their first assault on the Affordable Care Act, but they’ll be back. Watch for Price to issue rules and regulations that try to push Obamacare over a cliff. He’ll work at accomplishing administratively what Trump and Ryan could not achieve legislatively. Meanwhile, they and fellow Trump Party members push false narratives about “exploding premiums” when only 3 percent of Americans experience the individual rate increases they cite. They talk about Obamacare’s “implosion” due to insurers are leaving markets, but don’t mention that the Republicans — especially Sen. Marco Rubio — sabotaged the “risk corridor” program that reimbursed insurer losses for high-risk citizens. And they don’t acknowledge the latest studies showing that their “death spiral” rhetoric is simply a lie — unless Trump’s policies make it happen.

The Trump/Price impact on women’s health issues is becoming clear. On April 13, Trump signed a law aimed at eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood (after Vice President Mike Pence had cast the tie-breaking vote in the Senate). As for medical research, forget it. Trump’s proposed budget would cut HHS funding (and its National Institutes of Health) by almost 20 percent.

 
Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is just the person to send the federal agency charged with the pursuit of justice on a one-way ride back to a time of unspeakable injustice. In 1985 he led the prosecution of three African-American voter rights activists for voter fraud. As the US attorney for the southern district of Alabama, Sessions lost that case. Ruling that his theory was contrary to election law and the Constitution, the judge threw out many of the counts and a jury acquitted the defendants of everything else. A year later, even the Republican-controlled Senate considered Sessions too racist to become a federal judge after President Reagan nominated him.

In December 2016, a Trump transition team member told The New York Times that if Sessions had it to do over, he’d bring the 1985 voter rights case again. In his January 2017 confirmation hearing, he echoed that sentiment in response to Sen. Al Franken’s questions about Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims about millions of illegal votes for Hillary Clinton. Sessions equivocated, but the “voter fraud” mantra has now become an excuse for a new round of voter suppression efforts.

Once confirmed, Sessions went to work quickly on his mission to turn back the clock. On Feb. 22, his department coordinated with Devos’ to rescind the Obama administration’s restroom rule protecting transgender students. Shortly thereafter, the US Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision to hear a case on transgender rights and returned it to the lower courts in light of the Trump administration’s new guidance.

On Feb. 23, Sessions issued a memo reversing the Obama administration’s directive to phase out privately run prisons. Obama’s order had come after a scathing government audit highlighting safety and security problems in private prisons. Sessions’s move was good news for the corporations that run those institutions, which have been reliable Republican campaign donors.

On Feb. 27, the Department of Justice reversed the Obama administration’s six-year challenge to Texas’ voter-ID law. In 2016, a federal appeals court had ruled that the law discriminated against minority voters. But under Sessions, the Justice Department did a 180-degree about-face.

On March 17, the Justice Department filed a brief seeking to restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which secured a $30 million settlement against for-profit college operator Bridgepoint (the same firm whose chief compliance officer is now on unpaid leave as a Betsy DeVos adviser). Trump now seeks unrestricted power to fire the CFPB director.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a review of all reform agreements with troubled police departments nationwide. The Justice Department’s former chief of special litigation, which oversaw investigations into 23 police departments including New Orleans, Cleveland, and Ferguson, Missouri, called Sessions’ announcement “terrifying” because it raised “the question of whether, under the current attorney general, the Department of Justice is going to walk away from its obligation to ensure that law enforcement across the country is following the Constitution.”

On April 11, Sessions declared the dawn of “the Trump era” in immigration. In addition his earlier threat to deprive sanctuary cities of federal funds, he has ordered the hiring of “border security coordinators” for all 94 US attorneys offices, emphasized deportation for non-violent offenses, and promised a surge in the appointment of immigration judges to accelerate the flow of immigrants out of the country. Never mind that fewer than 3 percent of the undocumented have committed felonies — less than the 6 percent for the overall population.

 

Steven Harper

Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1.

BillMoyers.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Thom Hartmann: “How Is Trump’s Cabinet Screwing You This Week to Enrich Themselves?”

Taliban Attackers Kill at Least 140 Soldiers at Afghan Base: Officials

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/attackers-soldiers-officials.html

TeleSur | – –

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited the base on Saturday, and in a statement condemned the attack as “cowardly” and the work of “infidels.”

At least 140 Afghan soldiers were killed by Taliban attackers apparently disguised in military uniforms, officials said on Saturday, in what would be the deadliest attack ever on an Afghan military base.

One official in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where the attack occurred, said on Saturday at least 140 soldiers were killed and many others wounded. Other officials said the toll was likely to be even higher.

They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the government has yet to release exact casualty figures.

The defense ministry said more than 100 soldiers were killed or wounded.

The attack starkly highlighted the struggle by the Afghan government and its international backers to defeat a Taliban insurgency that has gripped Afghanistan for more than a decade.

As many as 10 Taliban fighters, dressed in Afghan army uniforms and driving military vehicles, made their way into the base and opened fire on mostly unarmed soldiers eating and leaving a mosque after Friday prayers, according to officials.

They used rocket-propelled grenades and rifles, and several detonated suicide vests packed with explosive, officials said.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Al Jazeera: “Afghanistan mourns after deadly Taliban attack on base”

Is there such a thing as a ‘Muslim vote’ in France?

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/there-muslim-france.html

By Fatima Khemilat | (The Conversation) | – –

On April 8, the well-known French television show Salut les terriens turned sour when guests discussed the very sensitive topic of the so-called “French Muslim vote”. The Conversation

One panelist, journalist Sonia Mabrouk, argued that Muslims in France are constantly used by opportunists, from politicians to intellectuals, as a constituency to serve their own purposes.

The incident recalled the final televised debate of France’s 2012 presidential election, when then-candidate François Hollande sparred with incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy over the “Muslim vote”.

Hollande was in favour of extending the right to vote in local elections to non-EU citizens living in France, while Sarkozy argued against it. The president claimed that such a move would lead to “identity-based voting practices” and “divisive sectarian demands”.

Women, it’s worth remembering, were once suspected of voting with their sex.

</p>
France’s 2012 presidential debate emphasised the issue of the so-called ‘Muslim vote’

As the French go to the polls on April 23 and May 7 to elect their new president, the question reemerges: is it reasonable to assume that Muslims’ voting behaviour is based on their religion and on the Quran?

The impact of religion on votes

Some 93% of French Muslims cast their ballots for François Hollande in the second round of the 2012 presidential election, according to a poll by OpinionWay. That’s 41% above than the national average, since Hollande was ultimately elected with 52% of votes.

Several attempts have been made to explain why French Muslims voted almost unanimously for the left.

In their 2012 book Français comme les autres? (As French as everyone else?), political scientists Sylvain Brouard and Vincent Tiberj concluded that the impact of religion on the voting practices of believers should not be overestimated.

Catholics in France and in the United States, for example, vote in ways diametrically opposed to each other. In France, people who identify as Catholic are today markedly in favour of the conservative Républicains, particularly since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2013.

In the US, on the other hand, they tend to vote for the Democrats, a more socially progressive party.

How can this difference be explained? According to Brouard and Tiberj, Catholics in the US vote Democratic for precisely the same reasons that Muslims in France went for Hollande’s Socialist Party: they cast their ballots for candidates who support minority rights.

Both groups are often found among racial and religious minorities – American citizens of Latin American origin and people of Maghrebian or African background in France – who have faced economic and social marginalisation in their respective countries.

In France, on the other hand, Catholicism is the main religious faith. Hence the difference in voting orientations (though a bastion of left-wing Catholic voters has also historically existed in France).

In other words, religion is not the be-all, end-all of a believer’s political choices.

Identifying as Muslims

Though the impact of faith must be taken with a grain of salt, it is not entirely irrelevant in the context of elections. Qualitative research I conducted in 2012 and 2013 found that the vote of French Muslim citizens I interviewed was indeed influenced by their religious identity.

Being a Muslim did not predetermine their answer to the question, Who should I vote for? But it did lead people to ask, Who shouldn’t I vote for? The impact was negative, helping them eliminate candidates deemed Islamophobic, rather than positive ([I] choose a candidate who defends my values, including religious values).

French Muslims took into account laws banning the headscarf or niqab, a veil that covers the face, as well as public comments against Islam, for instance, when weighing different candidates and their platforms. Candidates’ positions on foreign policy were also considered, with military interventions in Muslim-majority countries particularly frowned upon.

This is similar to how French citizens who identify as Jewish tend to be especially sensitive to antisemitism and to the position of candidates regarding Israel.

According to my study, being a Muslim can have three different effects on a person’s vote: it can consolidate a choice previously made, based on factors unrelated to religion; it can help select among a few candidates on the basis of the Islamophobia criterion; and when a candidate’s attitude towards Muslims is negatively perceived, it can destabilise and change a person’s political orientation.

Take, for example, Youssouf, a self-made man who in 2007 voted for Nicolas Sarkozy, the Republican party candidate. But in 2012, after what he called “the unashamed Islamophobic discourses and public policies targeting Islam made by him and his governement”, Youssouf decided to vote for the left-wing François Hollande. Even though Youssouf didn’t at all like Hollande’s stance on economic and social issues.

Because of their lower socioeconomic status and the marginalisation they face, many French Muslims, especially those living in France’s banlieues (suburbs), might simply choose not to vote.

Some of them justify their abstention with religious explanations, claiming that “voting is not halal”, since France is not a Muslim country.

Calls for abstention in 2017

Generally, this position is only held by a minority of highly orthodox Tabligh or Salafist Muslims. But today, several public Muslim intellectuals, including leaders who are not necessarily from those sects are calling for an “active abstention” by Muslims of the 2017 presidential election. The intent is to escape the constant trap of voting for the “lesser of two evils”.

Nizarr Bourchada, leader of the Français et Musulmans (French and Muslim) party, advocates a similar approach. His is one of the first French political parties to claim a strong attachment to both Islamic and French Republican values.

This echoes French author Michel Houellebecq’s prescient 2015 novel Soumission (Submission). Set in 2022, the book imagines the rise to power in France of a Muslim political party that imposes polygamy and prohibits women from wearing clothes that make them “desirable”.

Within a few weeks of publication, Soumission had become a bestseller in France, Italy and Germany. It bolsters the idea that a collective vote of French Muslims, or at least their federation into a political party, would be a threat for French society.

The reality is quite different. But whatever the outcome of this election season, it seems that the fantasy of a “Muslim vote” will continue to haunt Europe’s imagination for years to come.

Fatima Khemilat, PhD Student, Sciences Po Aix

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

France 24: “‘Betrayed by the ruling class,’ French Muslims tempted not to vote”

What if Marine Le Pen won the French election? Graphic Novels imagine Fascist Dystopia

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/election-graphic-dystopia.html

Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils | (The Conversation) | – –

The 2017 presidential campaign in France has been full of surprises, from François Hollande’s decision not to run for a second term to former prime minister Manuel Valls getting defeated in the Socialist Party primary; from the rise of insider-outsider Emmanuel Macron to the standout debate performance by far-left candidate Philippe Poutou; from François Fillon’s rise, fall, and rise to Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s last-minute surge. The Conversation

All the twists and turns have increased the uncertainty of an election that was up in the air from the start.

One thing that’s nearly certain is the presence of extreme-right populist Marine Le Pen among the top vote-getters. Her party, the Front National (FN), has gone from a pariah in the 1980s to a major political force. While she and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, have fallen short up to now, what would happen if she won in 2017?

The answer can perhaps be found in – of all places – a graphic-novel series. Created by writer François Durpaire and artist Farid Boudjellal, the first volume, “La Présidente”, was the hit of the 2015 rentrée (the beginning of the literary season). It was followed by the second volume, “Totalitaire” in 2016, and together they have sold more than 500,000 copies.

Now comes the third volume, titled “La Vague” (“The Wave”), with Durpaire and Boudjellal joined by Laurent Muller. Together the three books provide an enlightening view on the collective anxiety of French citizens as they face a 2017 presidential election whose outcome has never been less certain, and whose consequences for the country and Europe could be profound.

Durpaire, Muller and Boudjellal are well-versed in the mechanisms of power within the FN and have a superb knowledge of the media and political machinations in France. The originality of the series – a sort of retelling of the near future – is to apply a historical methodology and then to put the imagination into action.

An unprecedented explosion

In the first volume, the authors imagine that on May 7, 2017, Marine Le Pen is elected president of the French Republic. Boudjellal’s sharply realistic graphic treatment and Durpaire’s insightful text allow the potential consequences of this election to unfold step by step. What seemed politically unimaginable in the second round of the 2002 presidential election – when Jean-Marie Le Pen was soundly beaten by Jacques Chirac – is today only too possible. Every voter has to think about it and to do so, it’s essential to better understand what would happen if she were to win.

</p>
‘La Présidente’, volume 1.
Les Arènes

The narrative is not a caricature: it applies to the letter the proposed programme of the FN, with direct extracts from official communications. “La Présidente” describes the first hundred days of Marine Le Pen at the Elysée palace, mobilising the political machinery and methods that the FN has employed through its history. The fiction was nourished by the advice of a team of political and economic experts, who make it possible to realistically explore the possible consequences of the FN’s taking power.

The graphic novel also extrapolates security propositions and technical advances already in place. In November 2015, former president Nicolas Sarkozy proposed electronic bracelets and house arrest for “S file” suspects, suspected of radicalisation, and in April 2016, Francois Hollande authorised the use of facial-recognition software. France itself is still under an extended state of emergency after the November 2015 terrorist attacks – one that will last at least through the upcoming elections.

And so we see it all unfold in the graphic novels: France’s exit from the euro, mass deportations, legal preference for French citizens and widespread surveillance through new electronic and digital tools.

And if the Front National wins again?

</p>
‘La Présidente’, volume 2, ‘Totalitaire’.
Les Arènes

In volume 2, “Totalitaire,” we’re at the end of Marine Le Pen’s first term in office, in 2022. When the new campaign opens, a surprise candidate emerges from civil society around whom resistance begins to organise. The new candidate is polling higher than the current president, but is a fair election even a possibility? And what of Marion Maréchal–Le Pen, niece of Marine Le Pen and a political power in her own right?

By this point, technology offers an unprecedented capacity for monitoring and control – integrated chips in connected objects, robots, geolocation, and automated surveillance of all communications. We are far beyond Orwell’s “1984”, and the idea of France as a totalitarian country isn’t so far-fetched.

In a televised debate with former prime minister Manuel Valls in 2022, portrayed in the graphic novel, Marine Le Pen says: “You speak to me of responsibility, you who were in favour of passing laws. Me, I apply them.” The events then accelerate on a global scale, with a new US president and dizzying range of geopolitical consequences. In Paris, Berlin and Madrid, new alignments emerge, even as the French president oversees the education of “a new citizen”.

And when the time comes for the election, darkness wins again: the surprise candidate is imprisoned and Marion Maréchal–Le Pen is elected president after a single term by Marine Le Pen.

Dark thriller

</p>
‘La Présidente’, volume 3, ‘La Vague’.
Les Arènes

The third volume, “La Vague”, released at the end of March, unleashes a scenario worthy of the darkest thrillers. At this point, France will have struggled through two five-year terms under the FN. There is resistance, but also unquestioning support. With an alliance between Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Le Pen, is there any chance that democracy can make a comeback?

One way to read this science-fiction graphic novel is as an explicit criticism of the totalitarianism that could result were the FN to take power in May 2017 and the rise of nationalist politicians around the world. It also announces the end of a generation of leaders that has governed in a short-sighted way, as well as – and this is the reading I choose – the failure of a system where insiders reserve all the power and benefits for themselves, while leaving no place for the civility and mutual respect that are the very foundation of politics.


“La Vague”, “La Présidente” and “Totalitaire” are published by Les Arènes, Paris, France.

Beatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, Sociologue professeure d’université, Université de Cergy-Pontoise

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Journeyman Pictures: “Will Marine Le Pen Triumph in the French Elections?”

Trump Puts WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the Crosshairs

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/wikileaks-assange-crosshairs.html

TeleSur | – –

The U.S. has not formally laid charges against Assange, but many within the new administration are signaling a hostile approach.

United States Attorney general Jeff Session said the country was stepping up its efforts against leaks and that the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was now a “priority.” While U.S. policy toward Assange still has many guessing, reports are now circulating that the U.S. has already drawn up charges against the whistleblower.

“This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of,” Session said in a press conference on Thursday. “We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

“So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail,” the attorney general added.

According to CNN, the U.S. has prepared charges with the aim of arresting Assange and is trying to navigate the difficult legal territory around freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Sources close to CNN said that under the Obama administration, former Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice deemed that bringing charges against the Australian national would be too difficult.

Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack told CNN that the Department of Justice had not indicated to him that there were charges against Assange and were despite repeated ongoing requests were “unwilling to have any discussions at all.”

“There’s no reason why WikiLeaks should be treated differently from any other publisher,” Pollack said.

Session comments add to increasingly hostile rhetoric against WikiLeaks from the Trump administration. CIA director Mike Pompeo recently referred to the organization and its staff as “demons.”

“It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” said Pompeo. “Julian Assange has no First Amendment freedoms. He’s sitting in an Embassy in London. He’s not a US citizen.”

Assange embarrassed Washington by leaking 500,000 secret military files related to U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as revealing information about U.S. spy programs. He was also seen, though many say unfairly, as a factor that led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat to Trump in last year’s presidential election.

Weeks out from his shocking election win, Trump waved around a sheet of paper at a rally, boasting “this just came out, WikiLeaks! … I love WikiLeaks.” In 2010, however, Trump called Assange out for treason.

“I think it’s disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something,” Trump said.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012 where he sought asylum in the fear that if he was extradited to Sweden over sexual assault charges — which he denies — he would then be extradited and charged in the U.S.

In February 2016, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said that since being arrested in December 2010 as part the sexual assault charges in Sweden, Assange has been arbitrarily detained by Sweden and the U.K., and has been subject to a “deprivation of liberty.”

If Assange was to be extradited to the U.S., his work with WikiLeaks could see prosecutors push for decades of jail time.

Via TeleSur

——–

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Democracy Now! “As US Preps Arrest Warrant for Assange, Greenwald Says Prosecuting WikiLeaks Threatens Press Freedom”

ISIL Terror-Trolls French Election, Supporting far Right; Will French Fall for It?

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/isil-french-far-right.html

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Thursday’s shooting at the Champs Elysee, left one policeman dead, another gravely injured, a third lightly wounded along with a German tourist shot in the heel. It was carried out by Karim Cheurfi, a French national aged 39, born at Livry-Gargan in Seine-Saint-Denis. He had opened fire with a Kalashnikov machine gun and was killed by police at the scene.

The site of the attack was politically symbolic in French terms, near the Arch of Triumph and the presidential palace. It clearly was intended to help elect the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen. The question is whether the French electorate, which is pretty canny, will fall for this transparent terror-trolling.

Cheurfi had a record as a petty criminal, having been jailed four times in the past 10 years for theft, assault and attempted murder. While in prison he showed no interest in Muslim radicalism, and only began talking like that from last December, when he said he was angered by deaths of Syrians. (France joined the US coalition bombing Daesh (ISIL, ISIS) in Raqqa, Syria, from late summer of 2015, on learning of Daesh plots to hit France, which it did several times thereafter).

There are some twists on this story that raise question marks. Daesh very quickly announced on Thursday that they were behind this shooting. They made a significant mistake, however, in announcing that the terrorist’s name was Abou Youssouf Al-Beljiki. I.e. their operative was supposed to be Belgian. But Cheurfi is an ordinary Frenchman.

Le Monde reports that a piece of paper fell out of Cheurfi’s pocket that had the word “Daesh” on it. If this is true, it is even more suspicious, because while authorities and the press in the Arab world and France call ISIL ‘Daesh,’ the Arabic acronym, the group does not call itself that and resents the use of the acronym. They call themselves the “Islamic State” (which is a kind of terminological propaganda and terrorism, a way of trying to make journalists write that “today the Islamic State took over x city.”)

So ISIL did not know who Cheurfi was, and Cheurfi or his handler did not know to say “Islamic State” rather than Daesh.

Such incidents are murky, but I conclude that this attack was not a centrally directed Daesh operation. Cheurfi was until very recently just a petty criminal with no radical discourse, and he likely had never attended a meeting of the terrorist organization. He was happy to make his individual action look big and scary by attributing it to Daesh (without knowing enough to realize that this diction marked him as an outsider). Daesh itself was happy to claim responsibility unusually quickly.

Whatever is going on here, it seems obvious that the shooting was an attempt to intervene in the first round of the French presidential election.

In the first round, there are five major candidates. The two top vote-getters will then have a run-off.

The question if neo-Fascist Marine Le Pen will be one of the two. Whoever plotted out the Champs Elysees shooting was trying to throw the election to LePen. As a white supremacist, she has taken a hard line against Muslims and immigrants as well as against minorities like the Jews. The recruiter who ran Cheurfi knew that an act of terrorism near the election could well shore up her numbers and make her look more credible.

So you have the Republican Party candidate . Francois Fillon on the Gaullist, conventional right. He’s polling at 20 percent despite being implicated in a nepotism scandal.

Then you have left wing Socialist Emmanuel Macron, who is the front runner in the polls, just ahead of Le Pen.

And there is Jean-Luc Mélenchon at 19%, who is to the left of Macron and outpolling

the regular Socialist Party candidate – Benoît Hamon, who is polling well below 10%.

The race is fluid and dynamic, so any of the candidates could pull ahead. Obviously, if Mélenchon starts doing slightly better, LePen could slip to third place and be out of the race.

So I conclude Thursday’s shooting was intended to put Le Pen over the top and make sure she got into the run-off.

The French public has seen a lot of this kind of thing and they are much more sophisticated than an American public would be over the difference between the vast majority of Muslims and the small fringe of radicals.

The Daesh radicals want Le Pen to win because they know she will be mean to the French Muslims (5% of the population). They are hoping the French Muslims will be driven into the arms of Daesh.

So the question is whether the French public will fall for the Trap of Daesh.

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Related video:

France 24: “Paris Attack: Overview of Champs-Élysées shooting claimed by Islamic state group”

AG Jeff Sessions implies Asian-Americans in Hawaii not Real Americans

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/sessions-implies-americans.html

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was caught on tape saying the following:

““We are confident that the President will prevail on appeal and particularly in the Supreme Court, if not the Ninth Circuit. So this is a huge matter. I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”

Hawaii is the ultimate stumbling block for the white supremacist Trump administration. It is, along with California and New York, among the more ethnically diverse states in the country, with persons of Hawaiian islander, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, and Latino heritage in the overwhelming majority. Persons of northern European heritage make up only about a quarter of the state’s 1.4 million people.

Sessions’ remark was un-American in several respects. He questioned, as Tricky Dick Nixon once did, the ability of the judiciary to overrule a president. And in the service of diminishing the judge in Honolulu who struck down Trump’s second Muslim ban, Sessions attempted to demote Hawaii from being a state to being a mere “island in the Pacific.” Is one reason Sessions wants to put down Hawaii that it has an Asian-American majority?

If people like Sessions didn’t want Hawaii as a state, all they had to do is not make an illegal coup against the sovereign royal family there in 1893.

Sessions spent his career in Alabama politics but left it decidedly less well off (despite how great Alabamans themselves are) than Hawaii. Let us just compare the two places a bit.

Median household income in Hawaii is $64,514, (12th of 50 states).

Median household income in Sessions’ Alabama? $44,509 (47th of 50 states)

Alabama has, at 75.4, the lowest life expectancy in the country, unfortunately.

“Hawaii life expectancy at birth in the year 2010 was 82.4 years, which is 3.7 years longer than the US national average, where the life expectancy is 78.7.”

Not only that, but for those persons over 65, Hawaii has the highest life expectancy in the United States!

In Alabama, 68 percent of his voters do not have a higher degree. Over-all, 44.88% of Alabamans have some higher education. Alabama has the 2nd-worst record in the Union in funding education, with the expenditures down 17% since 1945. Just to make sure that nobody there can read and write, Sessions and his ilk have cut higher education funding 36% just since 2008.

In contrast, as the Hawaii state government notes,

“Hawaii had more educated people than the national average. 62.6 percent of population aged 25 and over in Hawaii had at least some college education, 4.2 percent age points higher than the national average.”

People like Sessions have run Alabama into the ground, whereas Hawaii is among the best states in in the country on some measurements, and perhaps that is why Sessions is threatened by it.

——

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Newsy: “Jeff Sessions on Hawaii: ‘Island in the Pacific'”

Does Climate change increase Threat of Terrorism?

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/climate-increase-terrorism.html

By Manon Flausch | EURACTIV.fr | translated by Samuel White | – –

“Poverty and insecurity can be factors in radicalisation.” [Manon Flausch]

From South America to the Middle East, the effects of climate change appear to exacerbate the problems of organised crime and terrorism. The UN and German think tank Adelphi have raised the alarm. EURACTIV France reports.

Millions of people in the Lake Chad region are threatened by drought and famine. But on top of the impending humanitarian crisis, the UN is worried about the broader societal impact on a region that is already fertile recruiting ground for the terrorist group Boko Haram.

The correlation between extreme climate events and radicalisation was also raised in a report published on 20 April by Adelphi, which concluded that while climate change does not directly lead to the emergence of terrorist groups, it creates the conditions in which they can thrive.
Africa builds ‘Great Green Wall’ against extremism and misery

With food insecurity, terrorism and migration to Europe reaching unprecedented levels, Africa is hoping that a “wall of trees” can help protect its people and stop these threats becoming global crises. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In the most vulnerable areas, climate change makes farming and rearing livestock more difficult, increasing competition for resources such as water. This can lead to violence between rival populations, population displacement, water shortages and famine, all of which undermine the rule of law and the power of the state.

It is these secondary consequences of climate change that provide the ideal conditions for the rise of terrorist or criminal groups. People affected by hunger, drought and poverty are more likely to be receptive to their financial promises and violent, angry rhetoric.

What is more, terrorist or organised crime groups often try to fill the spaces where weak states cannot act, providing basic services and rooting themselves in society.

Control over resources is increasingly a source of funding for these groups. In Syria, terrorist groups IS and Al-Nusra deal in oil, weapons, drugs and antiquities. It is this kind of economic power that wins the acceptance of local populations.

Climate change is not just about the environment. It is also about people. France’s Minister for Development, in conversation with EURACTIV France, following this week’s UN Climate Summit in New York.

Organised crime

These strategies are not just used by terrorists but are also staples of organised crime. This is particularly true of Guatemala, for example, one of the countries worst affected by extreme weather events.

After 36 years of civil war and with large parts of the economy dependent on climate and pollution-sensitive agriculture, the Central American country faces constant threats to its food security.

This has pushed large, poverty-stricken sections of the population to move to the overcrowded cities in search of work, or to find employment in illicit trades like drugs trafficking. The situation is aggravated by inefficient, often corrupt police services and an abundant supply of weapons, left over from the years of conflict.

Climate finance: The Global North is failing on its $100 billion promise

A report by the OECD has found that efforts will need to be stepped up if developed countries plan to honour their promise of providing $100 billion per year to the Global South from 2020. Journal de l’Environnement reports.

Strengthening and harmonising

And there is no shortage of other examples, from human trafficking in Bangladesh to the opium trade in Afghanistan. But in light of the many challenges this problem throws up, what can be done to tackle it?

Adelphi identified several areas in which action could be taken to cut the risk from terrorism, beginning with the protection of the climate, support for development and the strengthening of local governments in vulnerable countries. Support for the rule of law and local institutions also strengthens the hand of governments in the fight against terrorists and organised criminals.

The think tank also called for a holistic approach to tackling climate change, development, the threat of terrorism and security, in order to avoid aggravating certain problems while attempting to solve others.

For Adelphi, cities and agriculture also have a major role to play. Investing in climate adaptation for the agricultural sector would mean fewer farmers would lose their livelihoods as a result of climate change. And the populations of cities with plans to cope with expanding populations and increasing pressure on resources will be less likely to fall prey to terrorist groups and criminal gangs.

Cities and regions against climate change

Ahead of COP21, EU cities and regions are seeking a bigger role and an expanded toolbox to implement any climate agreement reached in Paris.

Via EurActive.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Big Think: “Climate Change Formula: Rising Sea Levels + Coastal Megacities = Forced Migration | Parag Khanna”

Trump’s 1984: Peace is War, Environment is Pollution, Health is Sickness

https://www.juancole.com/2017/04/environment-pollution-sickness.html

By Steven Harper | (BillMoyers.com) | – –

“If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason. And that is for the deconstruction [of the administrative state].”

At its best, government saves the environment from polluters, prevents companies from exploiting consumers, safeguards individuals against invidious discrimination and other forms of injustice, and lends a helping hand to those in need. None of those principles guides the Trump/Bannon government.

Two months into Trump’s presidency, historian Douglas Brinkley said it would be “the most failed 100 days of any president.” David Gergen, a seasoned adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, agreed. But they’re using a traditional scorecard. With the help of Trump Party senators and loyalists, Steve Bannon and his boss are remaking America. Future generations won’t judge kindly those who let it happen. Then again, if Trump’s trajectory continues, maybe there won’t be many more future generations anyway.

After losing his seat on the National Security Council, Bannon’s influence over US foreign policy may have waned. But regardless of his future, he has already had an indelible impact on the country. At CPAC, he declared that key members of Trump’s Cabinet were “selected for a reason.” In the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, that reason has become clear. They have demonstrated a collective determination to deconstruct not only the administrative state, but also the essence of America itself. They hold views that are anathema to the missions of the federal agencies they now lead. They blend kleptocracy — government by leaders who seek chiefly status and personal gain at the expense of the governed — and kakistocracy — government by the worst people.

 

Bill Moyers Essay: Scott Pruitt Will Make America Great
Again — For Polluters

Anyone who lived through the 1960s — or observes China and India today — knows what happens when polluters get a pass. Bill Moyers’ Jan. 31, 2017 video essay previewed how Scott Pruitt was poised to return the nation to the darkest chapter in its environmental history: contaminated water unfit for drinking or swimming; smog-filled air unfit for breathing; a deteriorating planet careening toward a time when it will be unfit for human habitation. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the EPA for a reason. Now it’s the victim of a hostile takeover.

After the election, Trump asked one of his billionaire friends, Carl Icahn, to screen candidates for the job of EPA administrator. As an unpaid adviser, Icahn wasn’t subject to the stringent ethics and conflict of interest reviews facing Cabinet appointees. During his interview of Pruitt, Icahn asked specifically about an ethanol rule that was costing one of Icahn’s oil refineries more than $200 million a year. Pruitt said he opposed the rule; Icahn then supported Pruitt for the EPA job.

Along with Icahn’s blessing, Pruitt had other uniquely Trump qualifications for the position. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, he sued the EPA 14 times; 13 of the lawsuits included co-parties that had contributed to Pruitt or Pruitt-affiliated campaign committees. He sided consistently with his state’s poultry farms, energy producers and other polluters. Explaining why for the first time in its 50-year history the Environmental Defense Fund opposed Pruitt’s nomination to head the EPA, the EDF’s president said, “[A]t some point when the nominee has spent his entire career attempting to dismantle environmental protections, it becomes unacceptable.”

On Feb. 16, 2017, an Oklahoma state court judge gave Pruitt five calendar days to release his email exchanges with the fossil fuels industry. But before another 24 hours passed, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and fellow Trump Party senators gave America the bum’s rush and confirmed Pruitt’s nomination to lead the EPA. A few days later, the release of 6,000 pages of Pruitt emails provided more proof of his cozy relationship with the industries he now regulates.

Once in office, Pruitt wasted no time. On March 9, 2017, he dismissed the impact of human activity on climate change: “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” That put him at odds with the EPA’s findings and contrary to international scientific consensus. But he’s in line with Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”

Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, labeled climate science expenditures a “waste of money… I think the president was fairly straightforward: We’re not spending money on that anymore.” And they aren’t. Trump’s proposed budget would slash EPA funding by more than 30 percent — to its lowest level in more than 40 years. It would reduce by half the EPA’s Office of Research and Development. It would cut civil and criminal enforcement personnel by 60 percent. It would eliminate regional water cleanup programs from the Chesapeake Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, from San Francisco Bay to the Great Lakes and from Long Island Sound to South Florida. Superfund money for cleaning up contaminated sites would decline by 30 percent. Appropriations for vehicle emissions and certifications would all but disappear.

While endangering the planet, Trump and his minions stage photo ops to support an ongoing disinformation campaign about illusory benefits from their unprecedented environmental destruction. At the EPA on March 28, Pruitt, Vice President Pence and a group of coal miners surrounded Trump as he signed a sweeping executive order aimed at reversing President Obama’s signature initiatives. His actions, which included rolling back emissions standards and lifting the moratorium on mining federal lands, won’t bring back coal jobs that were lost to technology, cheaper sources of cleaner energy and competitive market forces. But the Trump/Pruitt agenda will provide short-term profit incentives that encourage American companies to cede leadership in the development of innovative solutions to China, which has been doubling down on clean energy research for the long-term.

 
Secretary of Energy Rick Perry

Rick Perry’s appointment to head the Department of Energy is a perfect complement to Scott Pruitt’s selection for the EPA. During a 2011 Republican presidential debate, Perry had such disdain for the Department of Energy that he vowed to eliminate as president. Now he heads it. In April, he replaced Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.

In Secretary Perry’s first address to his department, he said Trump had told him to “do with American energy what you did for Texas.” But an approach that might work for one state competing with others doesn’t work for the zero-sum game that is the country as a whole. Even worse, there was a dark side to Gov. Perry’s lower taxes, less regulation approach. Texas public schools are among the worst in the nation; rates of teen moms and uninsured kids are among the highest, as is its rate of uninsured citizens: 27 percent. Residents of the state’s two largest cities, Dallas and Houston, are the least health-insured of any major metropolitan area in the country.

Perry’s agenda is consistent with his oil industry connections. Until Dec. 31, 2016, Perry served as a board member of Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners, which jointly developed the Dakota Access Pipeline that the Army Corps of Engineers had stopped before Trump took office. Four days after the inauguration, Trump blew past protesters carrying “No DAPL” signs and issued an executive order approving it. After the temporary employment of construction labor to build the controversial pipeline ends, it will create approximately 40 permanent operating jobs.

Two months later, Perry stood nearby as Trump announced his approval of the Keystone Pipeline that President Obama had stopped in 2015. Obama had said approving the project “would have undercut” America’s global leadership on fighting climate change. Reversing Obama’s order, Trump called it “the first of many infrastructure projects” and “a great day for jobs.” The pipeline will produce 35 permanent jobs.

 
The next installment in this series looks at what the secretary of education, the secretary of health and human services and the Attorney General have done during Trump’s first 100 days.

Steven Harper blogs at The Belly of the Beast, is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University, and contributes regularly to The American Lawyer. He is the author of several books, including The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis and Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story (a Chicago Tribune “Best Book of the Year”). Follow him on Twitter: @StevenJHarper1.

Via Bill Moyers

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “EPA: Everybody Pollute Anywhere”