Friday, October 27, 2017

The American War Machine in Africa

The root causes of the conflicts are the same as elsewhere: environmental destruction, joblessness, war.
Photo Credit: BPTU /

On October 4th, US military personnel were on their way back to their forward operating base in Niger. They had been on a reconnaissance mission to the village of Tongo Tongo, near Niger's border with Mali. US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford says that fifty ISIS fighters ambushed them. The soldiers did not call for air support for the first hour, said General Dunford, thinking perhaps that they could handle the attack. By the time the drones came along with French fighter aircraft, ISIS had disappeared.

Tongo Tongo is in the middle of a belt that is ground zero for the illicit trade that defines the Sahara. West of Tongo Tongo is Gao (Mali) and to its east is Agadez (Niger). These are the main ports for South American cocaine, flown in on various kinds of aircraft (Air Cocaine, as they are called) and then driven across the Sahara Desert in trucks to be taken by small boats across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. Evidence of the cocaine trade is everywhere – whether in Gao's neighborhood known as Cocaine Bougou or in the nickname of one of the leading chiefs in Agadez – Cherif Ould Abidine – known as Cherif or Mr. Cocaine.

Cocaine is one dramatic commodity. There are others: refugees and guns. This belt of towns just below the Sahara played a historic role as caravanserais for the old trades in gold, salt and weaponry. The creation of nation-states closed off some of these routes. In particular, Libya – under the previous regime of Muammar Gaddafi – largely shut down the illicit commerce from Mali and Niger. NATO's war against Libya, which created chaos in that country, opened these routes up. Fleets of white Toyota trucks arrived in the desert to carry refugees and drugs to Europe and to bring weapons into central and western Africa. The trucks run from Agadez to Sabha (Libya) before they find their way to the port cities. There are several kinds of refugees – the adventurers (les aventuriers), many single young men who are leaving behind deserts of opportunity for Europe, and war refugees. Both are desperate, fodder in the hands of the smugglers who must get them – and the drugs – across the forbidding sands.

Firmly opposed to the refugee traffic across the Mediterranean, the European Union (EU) has joined hands with governments in Niger and elsewhere to make this southern border of the Sahara their frontier. Niger passed a draconian law in 2015 against smuggling. The EU provided funds to Niger's military and police, which have started an all-out war against the smugglers. In 2016, Niger arrested over a hundred smugglers and confiscated their vehicles. People in towns like Agadez, a World Heritage site for its beautiful red buildings, say openly that they are vulnerable to extremist groups. There are many to chose from – al-Qaeda in southern Mali and southern Algeria, ISIS in southern Libya and Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and into areas near Lake Chad. No wonder that the United States calls the belt from Mali through Niger the 'ring of insecurity.'

It is notable that the pressure on the traffickers has not decreased the terrible situation for the refugees and the 'adventurers.' They continue to come for reasons that have nothing to do with an open border or a closed border. But the new military presence has meant – as the International Organisation of Migration says – that the smugglers are abandoning the refugees at the first sign of trouble in the dangerous desert. The United Nations has rescued over a thousand abandoned refugees and many hundreds are said to have died along this route. The Nigerien Red Cross says that one group of forty refugees died in May when their truck broke down. It is legible to believe that the death count will never really be known as the European border moves south, from the northern edge of the Mediterranean to the southern edge of the Sahara.

Five hours drive north of Agadez is the town of Arlit, one of the key sources of uranium. Readers might remember that the United States had accused Saddam Hussein's government of procuring yellowcake uranium from Niger. This turned out to be a hoax, uncovered by Ambassador Joe Wilson when he went to Niger and met its former Prime Minister Ibrahim Assane Mayaki. The accusation against Iraq was false, but the Arlit mines are real. The town is a fortress of European mining companies, from Niger's own government company to a series of French firms, most prominently Areva. The road out of Arlit is known as Uranium Highway. It is this road that was used by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb when it came and kidnapped five French employees of an Areva mine in 2010. The Areva mines were also attacked by a car bomb in 2013. French Special Forces operate to protect these mines and the close to two thousand Europeans who live in this uranium town. 'One of every three light bulbs is lit thanks to Nigerien uranium,' noted Oxfam in 2013. It is too precious for the French to be ignored. That is why France's Operation Barkhane runs from across the Sahel, from Mauritania at one end to Chad at the other. It has its headquarters in Chad's capital of N'Djamena.
The French are not alone. The Americans not only have thousands of troops across Africa, but also have many bases. The most public base is in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier), but there are also bases in Ethiopia and Kenya as well as forward operating positions across the Sahel. The United States is also building a massive base at the cost of $100 million in Agadez. Air Base 201 will be mainly a drone base, with the MQ9 Reapers flown out of Agadez to collect intelligence in this resource-rich and poverty-stricken area. This base is being constructed in plain sight

It is, therefore, surprising to hear Senator Lindsey Graham – who is on the Committee on Armed Services – say, 'I didn't know there were 1000 troops in Niger.' He meant US troops.

There has been no evidence presented to the public that those who killed the US forces near Tongo Tongo were from ISIS. Privately US intelligence officials say that this is a guess. They are not sure about the combatants. In fact, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) official concur, saying that it is 'inappropriate' to speculate about the incident and those who attacked the US forces.

There is a particularly dangerous soup at work here. Certainly extremist groups operate in the region, such as the militants who freed over a hundred prisoners from a prison in Mopti (in central Niger). The dreadful desiccation of the Sahel has produced various feuds amongst herder communities in eastern Niger, where these have morphed into ethnic conflicts (and where certain groups – such as the Mohamid and Peuls – have used the opportunity to accuse the Boudouma of being, therefore, part of Boko Haram). Such opportunism was frequently used in Afghanistan, where tribes used American airpower to settle scores with their old adversaries (to blame someone for being Taliban was sufficient to call in an air strike).

The root causes of the conflicts are the same as elsewhere: environmental destruction, joblessness, war and the commodities (such as Cocaine and Uranium) that are essential to the West. None of this will be addressed. More troops will arrive in Niger. More destruction will follow. More sorrow. More anger. More war.

There will be no interest in the newly formed North African Network for Food Sovereignty (formed in Tunis on July 5th) and in its sensible charter of demands. Nor will there be any reflection on the assassination of hope for the Sahel, when Thomas Sankara – president of Burkina Faso – was killed thirty years ago on October 15th. 'We must dare to invent the future', said Sankara. What is before us from the American and French Special Forces and the militaries of Niger and Chad is not the future. It is wretched.

Vijay Prashad is the Chief Editor of LeftWord Books ( and the Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is the author of 20 books, the most recent being The Death of a Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution(University of California Press, 2016). His columns appear at AlterNet every Wednesday.

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Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Crisis Has Only Just Begun

San Juan. Photo: Carolyn Cole/LA Times via Getty Images

Puerto Rico is still powerless. More than four weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall, roughly 79 percent of the island has no electricity. The territory's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has promised to restore power to 95 percent of the island by Christmas. U.S. officials see that timeline as absurdly optimistic.

As of this writing, Puerto Rico's government has put the number of people directly killed by Hurricane Maria on the island at 48. But the number who have been killed by the (literal) darkness that the storm left in its wake may be in the hundreds. Puerto Rico's population is disproportionately elderly, and its elderly population is disproportionately impoverished. In this context, one would expect weeks without electricity — amid high temperatures and limited access to water — to be more fatal than the Category 4 winds that Maria brought ashore in September. And Vox's examination of local news reports since Hurricane Maria has found 81 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the storm, hundreds more with causes unknown, and reports of 69 people missing.

Utuado. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The blackout will deprive Puerto Ricans of 20th-century comforts like fans, refrigerators, and televisions. But it will also hobble relief efforts aimed at securing the population even more basic goods: The island's water-treatment facilities require electricity to fuel their pumps and filtration systems. It is nigh impossible to run all the territory's water treatment plants at full capacity with generators alone. This is one reason why 1 million Puerto Ricans still lack access to clean drinking water.

If this state of affairs persists deep into 2018, Hurricane Maria may indirectly kill more Puerto Ricans — from heatstroke, dehydration, or water contamination — between now and the middle of next year than it has already.
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

President Trump's response to the island's crisis has been at turns callous, clueless, and inept. But as Vox's Yochi Dreazen explains, Puerto Rico's electricity crisis is rooted in flaws in its power grid for which Trump can scarcely be blamed:
Puerto Rico's biggest power generators are on the south of the island, but most of its inhabitants live on the north side, primarily in San Juan. There are four high-capacity transmission lines that carry power from the south to the north, and they pass through the center part of the island, the region Marin calls home. The problem is that central Puerto Rico is mountainous, full of huge swaths of thick forest, and mainly reachable only by driving on terrifyingly narrow dirt roads.
… The second major problem is a financial one. PREPA, the island's widely despised electric utility, hasn't done any major upgrades to the grid in decades. The median age of the island's power plants is 44 years, more than double the normal industry standard of 18 years, according to a report from FiveThirtyEight. The plants are so old that it's hard to find replacement parts when individual pieces of equipment break down.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration could have done far more to mitigate Maria's harms. The White House had several days notice that a Category 4 storm was likely to hit Puerto Rico — and that the island's electrical grid was unlikely to survive such an onslaught. The federal government had time to deploy satellite phones to the island, to avoid the communications blackout that isolated remote areas from the territory's government. It could have delivered reserves of food, fuel, and water to the island in advance of the storm, allowing local officials to spread these vital resources throughout the territory, before the hurricane lay waste to much of its trucking infrastructure. Instead, our president did almost nothing in the lead-up to the storm — and went on a four-day golf vacation in its aftermath.

Morovis. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

More important, there's more that our federal government could be doing right now. Just to restore the grid to its (ill-designed, vulnerable) pre-Maria state will cost $5 billion, according to the island's government. But PREPA, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, is, itself, $9 billion in debt. This will represent a massive financial problem for the island once the recovery is over. And there are signs that the utility's insolvency is already creating a humanitarian problem by delaying the restoration of electricity.

PREPA is part of the American Public Power Association (APPA), a trade group of U.S. municipal utility companies. Members of APPA have access to a mutual assistance program, which would allow Puerto Rico to call on the aid of mainland utilities during a time of crisis, with payment deferred to a later date. Florida and Texas recently activated this assistance program to expedite their hurricane recovery efforts. But PREPA has declined to do the same because it isn't sure that it can afford to pay the other utilities back.

Solar panels scattered by Maria. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

Instead, PREPA has entrusted Puerto Rico's paralyzed electrical grid to a two-year-old Montana company that had just two full-time employees as of one month ago.
As the Washington Post reports:
The company, Whitefish Energy, said last week that it had signed a $300 million contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to repair and reconstruct large portions of the island's electrical infrastructure. The contract is the biggest yet issued in the troubled relief effort.
Whitefish said Monday that it has 280 workers in the territory, using linemen from across the country, most of them as subcontractors, and that the number grows on average from 10 to 20 people a day.
… The unusual decision to instead hire a tiny for-profit company is drawing scrutiny from Congress and comes amid concerns about bankrupt Puerto Rico's spending as it seeks to provide relief to its 3.4 million residents, the great majority of whom remain without power a month after the storm.
"The fact that there are so many utilities with experience in this and a huge track record of helping each other out, it is at least odd why [the utility] would go to Whitefish," said Susan F. Tierney, a former senior official at the Energy Department and state regulatory agencies. "I'm scratching my head wondering how it all adds up."
Congress authorized $4.9 billion in loans for the Puerto Rican government in a broader hurricane and wildfire relief package earlier this month. Beyond the unseemly decision to provide a catastrophically indebted territory with a loan — instead of a no-strings-attached aid package — this sum is inadequate to Puerto Rico's needs. Were Congress to make more funds available, it's possible that the restoration of the electrical grid could be expedited. At the very least, federal funds could prevent PREPA from defraying the costs of repairs by jacking up Puerto Ricans' electric bills, once power is restored. The island's residents already pay some of the highest utility bills in the United States, despite their far lower median earnings. In the environment of high unemployment and economic instability that is sure to persist in the recovery's wake, the last thing the island's residents will need is a higher cost of living.

San Isidro, Puerto Rico. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

But, at least for the moment, there's little sign that Washington sees an urgent need to increase aid to Puerto Rico. Last week, as 1 million American citizens on the island struggled to secure potable water, Trump gave his administration's relief efforts in Puerto Rico a "10 out of 10."

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ANALYSIS: Will Netanyahu risk exposing one of Israel’s secrets?

New law would tell Palestinian citizens in Israel that they are not equal, say experts
Making Israel nation-state of Jewish people seems be core to Benjamin Netanyahu's legislative plans (AFP)
Friday 27 October 2017 11:50 UTC
Saturday 28 October 2017 1:42 UTC

NAZARETH - As Israeli legislators returned to parliament this week, ending the long summer recess, Benjamin Netanyahu's government announced a packed agenda of reforms designed to push Israel further to the right.
Legislative proposals include weakening the supreme court's powers of judicial review, cracking down on left-wing civil-society organisations, expanding Jerusalem's boundaries to include more Jewish settlements and allowing the government to forcibly deport mainly African asylum seekers.
But none is likely to prove as controversial – or gain as much attention – as a measure concerning Israel's status as a Jewish state.

Right-wing activists outside Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem in October 2015 (Reuters)

This long-gestating bill is intended to join 11 existing Basic Laws - Israel's equivalent of a constitution. Netanyahu appears to be basing his wider legislative assault on the success of the proposed Basic Law: Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Its purpose is to give a constitutional-like standing to Israel's definition as a state that belongs not to its citizens – as is the case in a liberal democracy – but to all Jews around the world, including those with no connection to Israel.

Additionally, the bill is expected to downgrade the status of Arabic, the mother tongue of a fifth of Israel's population. It will also require the Israeli courts to give due weight in their rulings to Jewish religious law and Jewish heritage.

Who opposes the law

Basic Laws are much harder to reverse than ordinary legislation. Various versions of the Jewish nation-state bill have been under consideration since a first draft was introduced in 2011 by Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, Israel's secret police.

But after eight years as prime minister, Netanyahu appears impatient for progress. He insisted in May that the legislation must pass as soon as possible. A special committee has been hastily drafting a final version during the past few weeks.
After eight years as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu appears impatient for progress. He insisted in May that the legislation must pass as soon as possible
Opposition to the bill comes from three quarters in parliament, each with very different concerns.
The first is the Joint List, a coalition of parties representing Israel's large minority of Palestinian citizens - one in five of the population - who are the chief targets of the proposed legislation. However, their voice carries no weight in either the parliament or the government.

The second group are the small hardline religious parties in the coalition government, who have always had an ambivalent, if not hostile, attitude toward Israel as a state. They believe that Jews can be sovereign only when the Messiah reveals himself. In practice, however, if the legislation is carefully phrased, then these parties may not put up much resistance.

Most troublesome for Netanyahu is likely to be the antipathy from the centre-left parties on the opposition benches, especially the former Labour party, now rebranded as Zionist Union. Most of its legislators reject the proposed Basic Law - but not necessarily because they disagree with its provisions.

The age-old deception revealed?

The Zionist Union's attitudes towards the Jewish nation-state bill are complex. They are rooted in the party's role in founding Israel as a Jewish state in 1948, on the ruins of the Palestinians' homeland.
Mohammed Zeidan is director of the Nazareth-based Human Rights Association, an advocacy group for Israel's Palestinian citizens. He said that Labour's leaders, especially the nation's father, David Ben Gurion, carefully crafted Israel's image in a way that would hoodwink most outside observers into believing it was a Western-style liberal democracy.
"The goal of the state's founders was to conceal the structural discrimination," he told Middle East Eye. "The mistake was to believe that a Jewish state can be a democratic one, and that it can uphold universal values and rights."

An Israeli soldier stands guard as settlers move into a disputed house in Hebron in April 2014 (AFP)

In the centre-left's view, Netanyahu's Basic Law risks pulling the veil off that immensely successful deception.
In fact, tellingly, the chief objections from the centre-left to Netanyahu's Basic Law are not that the measure is immoral or undemocratic in denying Israel's 1.7 million Palestinians equal status with Jewish citizens but rather that it is "unnecessary", "superfluous" or "gratuitous".
In 2014, when a draft of the legislation was brought before the parliament, the then-leader of Zionist Union, Isaac Herzog, observed: "Only a prime minister lacking in self-confidence, without a vision and a plan, needs laws that deal with the obvious, that will not improve any Israeli citizens' lives."
"Officials are often breaking the law if they do not discriminate. It is their job to discriminate"
- Mohammed Zeidan, director of the Human Rights Association
Similarly, Israel's liberal Haaretz newspaper has called the legislation "completely redundant". Abraham Foxman, as head of the New York-based Israel lobby group the Anti-Defamation League, labelled it "well-meaning but unnecessary".

In other words, the ideological successors to Israel's founding generation reject the Basic Law not because it will fundamentally alter Israel's character, but because it risks dragging its ugliest secret – well-concealed for nearly seven decades – into the bright light of day.

They fear that the Israeli far right will show Israel's hand by clearly codifying its status as a state belonging to, and privileging, Jews around the world rather than to its own citizenry, which includes a large proportion of Palestinians.

One law for Jews, another for Arabs

It is important to understand how Israel's founders deliberately obfuscated the apartheid-like legal and administrative structures they created to appreciate why so much is at stake for today's centre-left.
Israel's Declaration of Independence, published at the state's creation in May 1948, was effectively a sophisticated exercise in public relations. It famously promised to "ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex".

Thousands of Arabs were driven from their land during the Nakba of 1948 (creative commons)

But, Zeidan said, for many decades Israel has avoided enshrining the principle of equality in any of the Basic Laws. Instead, it has embedded inequality at a foundational level – in Israel's citizenship legislation.

What is most noticeable is that Israel has two citizenship laws. These confer different rights, based on whether a citizen is Jewish or not. In the United States during the mid-1950s, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision amid the civil rights struggle that "separate is inherently unequal" – and so it has proved in Israel too.

Israel's Law of Return of 1950 opened the door to all Jews around the world, allowing mass Jewish immigration. Any Jew who landed in Israel could instantly receive citizenship, as many hundreds of thousands of Jews did during the next seven decades.
The Citizenship Law was designed to guarantee a large perpetual Jewish majority by blocking access to citizenship for non-Jews
But Israel wanted exactly the opposite outcome for Palestinians. The result? It created a separate law, the Citizenship Law of 1952, for non-Jews. Its primary purpose was to strip the right to return home from the 750,000 Palestinians expelled by Israel four years earlier, during the Nakba, the Arabic word for "catastrophe".

Longer term, however, the Citizenship Law was designed to guarantee a large perpetual Jewish majority by blocking access to citizenship for non-Jews.

Today, there is only one path by which a non-Jew can gain citizenship in Israel – by marriage to an Israeli citizen. This exception is allowed because only a few dozen non-Jews qualify each year, thereby posing no threat to Israel's Jewishness.

Under legal challenge, Israel passed an amendment to the Citizenship Law in 2003 to ensure that the vast majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories, and Arabs from many neighbouring states, cannot qualify for Israeli residency or citizenship under the marriage provision.

National rights trump citizenship

The Law of Return and the Citizenship Law are two of nearly 70 Israeli laws – the number is growing – that explicitly discriminate based on whether a citizen is Jewish or Palestinian. A legal group, Adalah, representing Israel's Palestinian citizens, has compiled a database of such measures.
But Netanyahu's Basic Law threatens to expose the deeper significance of this bifurcated citizenship structure.

Israel's 1.7 million Palestinian citizens, observed Zeidan, are discriminated against in a way that goes beyond that practiced against minorities in democratic states: that is, by the arbitrary, informal or unregulated decisions of officials and state bodies. In such democracies, officials are usually breaking the law when they discriminate against minority groups.

But in Israel, Zeidan pointed out, "officials are often breaking the law if they do not discriminate. It is their job to discriminate."

A section of the wall dividing the West Bank city of Al-Ram from East Jerusalem in February 2016 (AFP)

This state-sanctioned racism is achieved by establishing "nationalities" separate from citizenship. The primary nationalities in Israel are "Jew" and "Arab". The state has refused to recognise an "Israeli nationality", a position supported by the Israeli supreme court, precisely to sanction a hierarchy of rights.

Individual rights are enjoyed by all citizens by virtue of their citizenship, whether they are Jews or Palestinians. In this regard, Israel looks like a liberal democracy. But Israel also recognises "national rights", and reserves them almost exclusively for the Jewish population.

National rights are treated as superior to individual citizenship rights. So if there is a conflict between the two, the Jewish national right will invariably be given priority by officials and the courts.
The privileging of Jewish national rights is equally clear in the way Israel treats its most precious material resources: land and water
How this hierarchy of rights works in practice is neatly illustrated by Israel's citizenship structure. The Law of Return establishes a national right for all Jews to gain instant citizenship – as well as the many other rights that derive from citizenship.

The Citizenship Law, on the other hand, creates only an individual citizenship right for non-Jews. Israel's Palestinian minority can pass their citizenship "downwards" to offspring but cannot extend it "outwards", as a Jew can, to members of their extended family – in this case, the millions of Palestinians who were made refugees by Israel in 1948 and their descendants.
This privileging of Jewish national rights is equally clear in the way Israel treats its most precious material resources: land and water.

The commercial exploitation of these key resources is treated effectively as a national right, reserved for Jews only. In practice, noted Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, access to these resources is restricted to Jews through hundreds of rural communities across Israel, including the best-known – the kibbutz.

These rural communities are the places where Israel has made available vast swaths of land and offers subsidised water. As a result, almost all commercial agriculture and much industry is located in these communities.

The Kibbutz Tzuba vineyard in the Jerusalem Mountains in July 2010 (AFP)

But these resources can be exploited only by the Jewish population because each community is governed by an Admissions Committee, which blocks entry to Israel's Palestinian citizens on the grounds that they are "socially unsuitable".

"The committees govern entry to 550 communities in Israel, ensuring that the resources they control are available only to their Jewish populations," Zaher told MEE. "These committees are one link in a chain of racist policies, segregation and exclusion by the state towards Palestinian citizens."

The primary purpose of these rural communities is to enforce Israel's "nationalisation" of 93 percent of its territory. This land is "nationalised" not for Israeli citizens – as no Israeli nationality is recognised – but for a global Jewish nation.

Meanwhile, the fifth of the population who are Palestinian are confined to less than three percent of Israeli territory, after most of their lands were confiscated by the state and are now held in trust for Jews around the world.

No new Palestinian community has been built since Israel's creation 70 years ago, while dozens of Palestinian villages have been "unrecognised" by a 1965 Planning and Building Law. The 120,000 inhabitants of these villages, criminalised by this planning law, cannot build a home legally and are denied public services.

The real danger of Basic Law

Observers say that Netanyahu's Basic Law risks exploding a seven-decade-old myth about Israel: that it is a liberal democracy where Israeli citizens, Jews and Palestinians alike enjoy equal rights.
The combination of the Law of Return, which entitles all Jews around the world to instant Israeli citizenship, and Israel's land laws, which reserve ultimate ownership to Jews as a global nation, has emptied citizenship of its accepted meaning.

Ariel Sharon gestures towards Jerusalem's Old City from the Mount of Olives in July 2000 (AFP)

Instead, according to Israel's existing legal structure, the state belongs to Jews collectively around the world rather than to the country's citizenry. The Jewish state is "owned" by world Jewry, even if many individual Jews have failed to actualise their citizenship by coming to live in Israel.
As Israeli scholars have noted, Israel should be classified not as a liberal democracy but as a fundamentally non-democratic state called an ethnocracy.

Ariel Sharon, a famous general and later a prime minister, once described world Jewry as the "landlords" of Israel. That leaves Palestinian citizens, one in five of the population, as little more than resident aliens or temporary guest workers, on licence so long as they do not threaten the state's Jewishness.
Israeli scholars have noted that Israel should be classified not as a liberal democracy but as a fundamentally non-democratic state called an ethnocracy
Israel's modern centre-left, Ben Gurion's heirs, rightly fear that Netanyahu and the far-right are about to air Israel's very dirtiest secret in public. Their Basic Law will reduce a complex and opaque system of laws and practices to one simple and easily intelligible Basic Law that may evoke comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa.

Or as Zaher observed, if Netanyahu's Basic Law is passed, it will "send a clear and dangerous political message to Palestinian citizens of Israel that you are not wanted, that you are not equal citizens, that, in fact, the state is not yours".

Today's far right cares much less about world opinion than Israel's founders did. In their zealotry, they wish to eradicate the last hold-outs among the liberal Jewish establishment – such as the supreme court, civil society and parts of the media – so that they can advance their more aggressive brand of Zionism, launch a new wave of anti-democratic legislation and intensify the settlement project.
The real danger of Netanyahu's Basic Law is not that it will change what Israel is, warned Zeidan. "What it does instead is provide a much more solid platform for what the far right in Israel intends to come next."

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Astronomers Race to Study a Mystery Object From Outside Our Solar System

Continue reading the main story
The path of the object known as A/2017 U1 as it moved through the solar system in September and October. NASA/JPL-Caltech

For the first time that we know, an interstellar visitor has zoomed through our solar system. The small space rock, tentatively called A/2017 U1, is about a quarter of a mile long and astronomers across the world are racing to study it before it departs just as quickly as it arrived.
"We've never seen anything like this before," said Rob Weryk, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy.

On Oct. 19, Dr. Weryk was reviewing images captured by the university's Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on the island of Maui when he came across the object. At first he thought it was a type of space rock known as a near earth object, but he realized its motion did not make sense. It was much faster than any asteroid or comet he had seen before. He quickly realized that it was not of this solar system.
"It's moving so fast that the Sun can't capture it into an orbit," Dr. Weryk said.

After contacting a colleague at the European Space Agency to discuss the find, he submitted it to the Minor Planet Center, which tracks objects in the solar system, to share with other astronomers.
Astronomers say that A/2017 U1 came from outside the solar system and is leaving again. Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

"I was not expecting to see anything like this during my career, even though we knew it was possible and that these objects exist," said Davide Farnocchia, a navigational engineer with NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Astronomers had predicted such an occurrence, but this is the first time that it has been recorded.
For the past few days Dr. Farnocchia has been calculating the strange object's path.

"It was obvious that the object has a hyperbolic orbit," he said, meaning that its trajectory is open-ended rather than elliptical like the objects in our solar system. That shows that it came from outside the solar system and will leave the solar system.

The object came closest to the Sun on Sept. 9, at a distance of about 23 million miles. With a boost from the star's gravity, it zoomed by at about 55 miles per second with respect to the Sun, Dr. Farnocchia said. Then on Oct. 14 the object came within about 15 million miles of Earth, zipping by at about 37 miles per second, with respect to the Earth. That's more than three times as much velocity as the escape trajectory for the New Horizons spacecraft, which completed a flyby of Pluto in 2015, he said.

Now it's moving away at about 25 miles per second, he said, and will exit the solar system at about 16 miles per second. That is faster than the current velocity of the Voyager 1 spacecraft, which became the first spacecraft from Earth to enter interstellar space in August 2012.

Never miss an eclipse, a meteor shower, a rocket launch or any other astronomical and space event that's out of this world.

Scientists around the world are watching its journey, hoping to glean as much information as they can before it gets too far away.

"We are just scrambling right now to secure big telescope time, prepare our observations and download the data," said Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy. Because the object came from outside our solar system, it may be made up of completely different material than the asteroids and comets that we have studied. She and other astronomers think that in the next few weeks they will have more insight into the composition and size of A/2017 U1, and in time, where exactly it came from.

Dr. Meech noted that scientists did not have much warning about this object when it came into the solar system because it was blocked by the brightness of the sun. It very much came without warning, she said.

But there is no need to panic, said Lindley Johnson, NASA's planetary defense officer. In the realm of things that could hit Earth and obliterate our existences, an interstellar Armageddon is pretty low on the list.

"The near-earth asteroids are many times, hundreds of thousands of times, more likely to occur, and even those are extremely rare events," Mr. Johnson said. "It's really nothing that people should worry about. I certainly don't lie awake worrying about it."
Continue reading the main story

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U.S. troops are conducting secret missions all over Africa

By Nick Turse Oct 25, 2017

U.S. troops are now conducting 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements per year, an average of nearly 10 missions per day, on the African continent, according to the U.S. military's top commander for Africa, General Thomas Waldhauser. The latest numbers, which the Pentagon confirmed to VICE News, represent a dramatic increase in U.S. military activity throughout Africa in the past decade, and the latest signal of America's deepening and complicated ties on the continent.

With the White House and the Pentagon facing questions about an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in which four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed, Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly indicated to two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Friday that these numbers are only likely to increase as the U.S. military shifts even greater attention to counterterrorism in Africa.
"The huge increase in U.S. military missions in Africa over the past few years represents nothing less than a shadow war being waged on the continent."
"You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less," said Sen. Lindsey Graham after the briefing. "You're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."

But the U.S. military has already seen significant action in Africa, where its growth has been sudden and explosive. When U.S. Africa Command, the umbrella organization for U.S. military operations on the continent, first became operational in 2008, it inherited 172 missions, activities, programs, and exercises from other combatant commands. Five years in, that number shot up to 546.

Today's figure of 3,500 marks an astounding 1,900 percent increase since the command was activated less than a decade ago, and suggests a major expansion of U.S. military activities on the African continent. (VICE News requested 2016 numbers, but AFRICOM failed to answer phone calls or
respond to email requests.)

A U.S. special forces soldier trains Nigerian soldiers during Flintlock 2016, a U.S.-led international training exercise with African militaries in Thies, Senegal, REUTERS/Sylvain Cherkaoui

"The huge increase in U.S. military missions in Africa over the past few years represents nothing less than a shadow war being waged on the continent," said William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

These developments stand in stark contrast to early assurances that AFRICOM's efforts would be focused on diplomacy and aid. In the opening days of the command, the assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, Theresa Whelan, said it would not "reflect a U.S. intent to engage kinetically in Africa." AFRICOM, she said, was not "about fighting wars."

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Nils Frahm - Montreux Jazz Festival 2015

Belief and The Truth use the word "believe": the acceptance as fact or truth without evidence to prove any of it...accept a perceived truth on faith instead of agreeing with a statement that can be proven...