November 1942. "Pittsburgh (vicinity). Montour No. 4 mine of the Pittsburgh Coal Company. Coal miner waiting to go underground."
All the talk is of Trump and Putin. What about Obama and Putin? Interesting from Lee Smith:
The single-mindedness with which the White House and the remnants of the Clinton campaign have pursued the idea that Donald Trump is a pawn of Vladimir Putin is not based on silly stories about peeing prostitutes or secret computer servers that connect the Trump organization to the Kremlin. Rather, it’s an attempt to manufacture more smoke to obscure the reality of Obama’s own determination to collaborate with a hostile Russian leader in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Sure, Obama recently sent 35 Russian diplomats packing and shuttered Russian diplomatic facilities in Maryland and New York, but this was after seven years of looking the other way while Russia seized Crimea, then Donbass; waged cyberattacks on the Baltic countries; brought down a passenger jet over Ukraine; sheltered Edward Snowden; and bombed schools and hospitals in Syria. All of these actions threatened global stability and American interests, yet Obama only puffed his chest after the cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta’s emails—long after it mattered, and after the moving vans have already started to haul his stuff out of the White House.
The reason top national-security journalists, policy mandarins, and much of the Washington establishment can’t fathom Obama’s relationship with Putin is only partly due to partisanship. The real reason it’s so hard to see how much room the outgoing president gave Putin is because misdirection has been Obama’s guiding principle for seven years.
The president made it look like he was at odds with Putin for much of his two terms—for instance, loudly poo-pooing the Russian campaign in Syria and warning of Vietnam-style “quagmires,” dismissing Russia as a weak country, sending an LGBT delegation to the Sochi Olympics to underscore his differences with Russia’s treatment of the LGBT community. All this helped obscure the fact that when it really counted, Obama took special care to signal the Russian strongman that their interests were aligned. That wasn’t because he has a man-crush on Putin, but because he had a larger purpose in view—securing the Iran nuclear deal....
For what mattered most to Obama wasn’t Syria, nor even was it the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is typically referred to as Obama’s signature foreign-policy initiative. Even that was a feint, cover for a larger strategy that entailed a realignment of interests in the Middle East and a new form of foreign-policy “realism” that would get American troops out of the Middle East—and put America in the same column as Iran and its allies, including Vladimir Putin.
Yes, as Obama believed, Americans were sick of the problems and psychoses of the Middle East, and angry that George W. Bush failed to win his two Middle East wars. But neither Congress nor the U.S. foreign-policy establishment was keen to see the United States dismantle a regional security architecture it took 70 years to build, and which Obama and his young aides saw as a guarantee of future friction, and future U.S. military engagement. Someone needed to smash that architecture with a hammer.
So the Obama White House made stuff up....
The reality is that the Russian campaign in Syria served vital Obama interests. There was no point in realigning with Iran if Tehran’s regional position collapsed. Putin saved not only Assad and Iran, but Obama’s realignment policy. It was the second time the Russian president rescued Obama’s realignment policy—the first being when he offered the deal over Assad’s chemical weapons that allowed the commander-in-chief to walk back his red line.
Obama owes Putin, which is why he let the Russians get away with nearly everything it chose to do the last seven years, including its attacks on the American political system. What’s left for Trump is to manage the Russia policy he inherited from Obama—or overturn the table.
Gaza Friday sermon by Hamas MP Marwan Abu Ras:
The Jews are the "filthiest nation" with "the worst moral values known to Mankind". They're recruiting prostitutes to the ranks of their army "in order to lure Arabs into their traps," and send "AIDS-infected girls to fornicate with Muslim youths, in order to spread fornication and AIDS among Muslim youth":
You cannot remain on our land. We shall never relinquish a single inch of our land....
Everyone on earth hates this filthy nation, a nation extrinsic to mankind....
Oh Allah, drive them out of our lands in submission and humiliation! Oh Allah, enable us to kill them!
So, how did that Paris peace conference go?
The Paris conference gets under way:
Delegates from 70 nations are expected to reaffirm support for a two-state solution to the decades-old conflict.
Palestinians have welcomed the meeting but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - who is not attending - says the conference is "futile".
As we all know - as we're always being told - the Israeli-Palestine conflict is the most pressing problem of our times. A settlement will undoubtedly lead to a peaceful and prosperous Middle East. How better, then, could all those politicians, those delegates from 70 countries, spend their time? There's nothing going on elsewhere in the Middle East - Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iran - that could possibly concern them.
And, as we see, the terms in which the failure of the conference will be explained are already set up. The Israelis will be intransigent - aren't they always? - and the Palestinians will once again be the victims.
Ben Cohen, in the Tower:
Maybe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he says that the Paris conference is the “final gasp” of a failed strategy. He has good reason, after all, to believe that, especially having heard the condemnation of Resolution 2334 from Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson.
Yet while the change of administration in Washington may strengthen Israel’s diplomatic position for the immediate period, and while the Palestinians will have to get to the back of the line in terms of international priorities, the Palestinian question itself will not disappear. In many ways, it will find its status enhanced.
To begin with, there’s the public domain. And this brings us to something that the Europeans have never understood: The historic Palestinian strategy has never been about achieving statehood, but about preventing a negotiated solution in order to perpetuate the image of the Palestinians as the people to whom history has dealt the cruelest blow. It’s why the Palestinians make deliberately unrealistic demands, like the “right of return”—a goal the Palestine Liberation Organization originally pledged to achieve through violence—and suing the United Kingdom for the 1917 Balfour Declaration.
In terms of building up public support around the world, it’s a strategy that has worked. Hence, we can assume that if President-elect Donald Trump does a 180-degree turn on President Obama’s approach to the Israelis, the narrative of the Palestinians—ignored by America, facing 50 years of “occupation” under Israel—will become emblematic of public resistance to the foreign policies of the Trump administration. In the American context, the Democratic Party is now the most significant barometer of that process.
The Palestinians can also play power politics. They can carry on with their campaign to achieve membership in international bodies as an independent state. They can curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the next stage of his conflict with the West. And they can insert themselves into domestic issues—rising anti-Semitism, the political culture on university campuses, the legality of boycotts—in a way that few other foreign policy issues can do.
As I said, Netanyahu may well be right about the last gasp of Obama’s strategy to secure Palestinian independence. But none of us should believe that these battles are over.
Update: well, good for us...
Dramatically breaking ranks with participants from 70 other countries, the United Kingdom criticized Sunday’s Middle East peace conference in Paris, arguing that it might harden Palestinian negotiating positions and refusing to sign a joint statement issued after the summit that called for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A Foreign Office spokesman said London had “particular reservations” about the Paris meeting taking place without Israeli or Palestinian representatives, especially since a new US administration is being sworn in later this week.
Indeed, the spokesman’s statement noted that the confab took place against Israel’s expressed wishes and “just days before the transition to a new American president when the US will be the ultimate guarantor of any agreement.”
“There are risks therefore that this conference hardens positions at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace.”
Due to these concerns, Britain had attended the Paris talks as an observer only and refused to sign the joint declaration issued after the conference, the spokesman said.
Here's Palestinian cleric Abu Taqi Al-Din Al-Safafi, in Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, expounding on the glorious history of Islamic science and exploration - and in particular how Ottoman admiral Piri Reis was the first to discover America. Columbus, we learn, stole the manuscripts of Muslim scholars, and then claimed the glory:
"What is the knowledge on which the West prides itself? They are nothing but so-called thieves."
I wonder which Muslim scientist was the first to develop that microphone he's using? Or the camera that's filming him?
More on the Piri Reis map here:
The Piri Reis map is a world map compiled in 1513 from military intelligence by the Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis. Approximately one third of the map survives; it shows the western coasts of Europe and North Africa and the coast of Brazil with reasonable accuracy. Various Atlantic islands, including the Azores and Canary Islands, are depicted, as is the mythical island of Antillia and possibly Japan.
The historical importance of the map lies in its demonstration of the extent of European exploration of the New World by approximately 1510, and in its claim to have used Columbus's maps, otherwise lost, as a source. It used ten Arab sources, four Indian maps sourced from the Portuguese, and one map of Columbus. More recently, it has been the focus of pseudohistoric claims for the pre-modern exploration of the Antarctic coast.
Pakistan's blasphemy laws are a disgrace - but is there any chance of reform in the face of concerted opposition from the clerics, and a population that seems all too easily swayed by religious bigotry?
A Pakistani Senate committee is set to debate how to prevent the country’s blasphemy laws being applied unfairly, despite opposition from religious conservatives who support legislation that carries a mandatory death penalty for insulting Islam.
Senator Farhatullah Babar told Reuters that the Senate Committee on Human Rights, of which he is a member, will start discussions on blasphemy laws as early as next week, based on recommendations from a 24-year-old report.
He said it would be the first time in decades that any parliamentary body had considered a formal proposal to stop the abuse of the blasphemy laws.
According to Babar, the committee would consider a proposal making it binding to investigate complaints before registering a case, to ensure “genuine blasphemy” had been committed and the law was not being used to settle scores, as critics say it is.
He also said the committee would debate whether life imprisonment was an adequate punishment, instead of the mandatory death penalty.
Well, good luck with that. The last person to suggest that the blasphemy law needed reform was Salman Taseer, who was promptly assassinated by Mumtaz Qadri, one of his bodyguards.
Hundreds of Pakistanis are on death row for blasphemy convictions, and at least 65 people, including lawyers, defendants and judges, have been murdered over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to figures from the Center for Research and Security Studies based in the capital Islamabad.
Pakistan’s religious and political elites almost universally steer clear of speaking against blasphemy laws, but a small group of lawmakers has been looking for ways to reduce abuses.
Babar said the Human Rights Committee hit a “gold mine” when he discovered a 24-year-old Senate report that called for a more specific definition of blasphemy and said further debate was needed on whether expunging “imprisonment of life” from an earlier law had been correct.
“So we convinced other senators that here we have a chance, we have a starting point, we have this report in hand. Let’s debate it and see how we can prevent abuse of this law,” Babar said.
However, powerful religious conservatives who have millions of followers strongly support the laws.
Tahir Ashrafi, head of the influential Pakistan Ulema Council of Muslim clerics, said it would oppose any change.
“Make new laws to punish those who abuse blasphemy laws,” Ashrafi told Reuters. “But no one can even think about changing this law.”...
But public opinion remains a major obstacle to reform. On the outskirts of Islamabad, thousands still visit the shrine of Mumtaz Qadri, executed last February for Taseer’s murder.
The large shrine, with a glass roof and shiny marble floors, was built over his grave days after the burial.
Taxi driver Waheed Gul says he has come to the shrine every day since it was built:
“What better way to spend my days than to pray every day at the grave of someone who sent a blasphemer to hell?”